Manuscripts Burn


"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov

Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."

Monday, March 30, 2015

Review: EVER NEAR by Melissa MacVicar

Hail, blogketeers!  As you know from my guest policy (you have read my guest policy, right?) I'm not accepting review requests at this time, and I don't really read books quickly enough to ever turn this into a review blog.  That being said, I do owe favors all around town, so from time to time I do actually review books, and, when they're particularly deserving, crosspost to the blog.  Melissa MacVicar is a good friend who you may recall from our "rumble" two years ago.  I finally got around to reading her book and wouldn't you know it, it's pretty good.  So let's have a look.


Love is ever near. But trouble is never far.

Nantucket Island is haunted, but only sixteen-year-old Jade Irving knows it. Ignoring the disturbing spirits isn’t an option, because one dwells in the enormous historic home she shares with her newly blended family. Jade is finding it more and more difficult to explain away Lacey’s ghostly, anguished tantrums, especially with Charlie, her gorgeous, almost step-brother, living right across the hall.

When a power-hungry ghost hunter tracks down Jade and blackmails her, Jade’s secret teeters on the edge of exposure, and her entire future hangs in the balance. If anyone finds out Jade can talk to ghosts, her life will be forever changed.

Can she save herself, free Lacey, and hang on to her tenuous connection with Charlie? Or will everything she ever wanted slip through her fingers?
Purchase it on Amazon or Audible!


You should know this about me: I think ghosts are total horseshit. The idea of spirits and specters and hauntings and exorcisms and all that stuff are so patently absurd to me that I just can't even take it seriously.

You can imagine, therefore, that when it comes to paranormal fiction I have a high bar. No one's going to get the "ah, but you've heard creaking in your attic late at night" benefit-of-the-doubt kind of thing from me. And that's what makes Melissa MacVicar's debut EVER NEAR so great.

This is exactly what I imagine ghosts and mediums (media?) would act like in the real world. Jade Irving is a fairly ordinary sixteen-year-old girl who sees ghosts every now and then and wishes she didn't. Teenagers don't have time to be dealing with ghosts and shit. Jade's busy trying to carry on a steamy, semi-taboo affair with her stepbrother. Actually, the way MacVicar presents it makes me wonder why more step-siblings don't end up together. Hell, maybe they do. I dunno.

But back to the ghost thing. The only person who even remotely believes Jade is a complete charlatan. Martin is on of those ghost tour guys you see in every resort town, complete with a top hat and an overexaggerated style. Oh, which reminds me. MacVicar, a native of Nantucket, presents us with her home island as a world apart. We've all been to beach towns during the summer, and no doubt wondered idly what it got like when the tourists (in Cape May they call us "shoobies" and in Natucket, apparently, "Chads") are gone. This is the milieu we're introduced into, and I think it fits in well thematically with what's going on in Jade's life. There's the side you present to the world, and then there's the real you.

And the ghosts. Remember I said I think ghosts are horseshit? I think it's because we tend to project our own wants and desires on what we perceive as "ghosts." The ghosts of EVER NEAR have their own wants and desires, personalities, even including, notably, a Civil War-era ghost who doesn't even want to cross over because he fears the wrath of all the people he's killed. Makes sense, doesn't it? These aren't the cookie cutter ghosts of most of pop culture who are stuck bemoaning their fate because they didn't accomplish XYZ in their lives until Jennifer Love Hewitt shows up and solves their glib little problem so they can pass over.

MacVicar's ghosts have as much character as the living members of her cast. With a strong love story, excellent characters, a glimpse at a very unusual setting, and a unique take on the paranormal, EVER NEAR is top notch. This is supposed to be YA, but this OA didn't even notice because it's such an engrossing novel.

About Melissa MacVicar

Melissa MacVicar has lived most of her life on Nantucket Island. A true native, she’s able to trace her ancestry back to the island’s first settlers. After attending The Pingree School, she went on to graduate from Franklin and Marshall College with a degree in English. She also received a master’s degree from Boston University School of Social Work. When she turned forty, Melissa decided to renew her adolescent passion for fiction writing. Having once thought writing a novel to be an impossible dream, she’s proud to be achieving her childhood ambition.

Melissa currently lives with her husband and two children on Nantucket where she teaches 7th grade Writing Composition. When she isn’t teaching, parenting, and writing, Melissa enjoys running, eating expensive chocolate, and watching her beloved Patriots.

You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and her website.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Could You Be in the Presence of EEEvil? (Guest Post by Angela V. Cook, author of INTO A MILLION PIECES)

Welcome, blogketeers!  Today we've got a very special treat for you, the author of INTO A MILLION PIECES, James Frey!  Oops, I mean, Angela V. Cook.  Angela has agreed to soothe my lingering fears that she may, in fact, be an unholy demon from the bowels of Hell.  Make sure to stick around until the end for a giveaway from our mutual press, Red Adept Publishing.

About Angela V. Cook

Angela V. Cook lives a very unexciting, but never boring, life with her husband and two children just outside of Detroit. Like most writers, she’s been making up stories for as long as she can remember and can’t imagine a life that doesn’t involve creating worlds.

Angela loves to write novels for teens because it’s the best outlet for her sarcastic personality, immature sense of humor, and love of romantic firsts.

Prove to me that you're not really a succubus, Angela.

When I read what Stephen wanted this guest post to be about, I went through three stages of acceptance. First, there was the, oh-my-god-you’ve-got-to-be-freakin’-kidding-me stage. Then I thought, is this some sort of Red Adept hazing ritual? Stephen and I are pub sibs, after all, and he is sort of the class clown of the group.  (I'm the what?!?!?!)  Yep, definitely hazing. But then, somewhere in between taking the plastic wrapper off my Tombstone frozen pizza and tossing it in the oven (I’ll take my Mother of the Year Award now, thank you), I came to accept the challenge. I hummed the Rocky theme in my head and thought, I’m a writer, dammit! I can do this!

The only problem was, the more I tried to come up with evidence to prove I wasn’t a succubus, the more I realized I didn’t have any! In fact, there was only one logical conclusion: I just might be a succubus.

First, there’s the undeniable truth: my husband’s physical condition has deteriorated since marrying me. He was the perfect image of health and vigor before our vows, but soon after, things started going very, very wrong. Things like hair loss and the gaining of a few pounds could be attributed to the normal aging process, but his doctors could not explain why he was suffering from the same types of ailments that usually riddle men twice his age. Surely, there must something sinister going on. Why else would a man in his mid-thirties be told he had the back of seventy-year-old man? Something was causing his bones to weaken. It was almost as if the life was being sucked right out of him. *insert evil, maniacal laughter*

Exhibit number two: my children. Many a time, I have posted comments on Facebook about my children acting like devils. Could it be that they truly are demon spawn? I’m almost positive my son gains pleasure from seeing me so upset that blood vessels start popping out on my forehead, and like a child of Satan, I do believe he feeds off of my anger and displeasure and grows stronger from it. 
Then there’s my daughter. As a toddler, she was cute and lovable, but now I see it was just a ploy to reel me in, to gain my trust. Things changed a few years ago when this sweet, little angel began to slowly transform into a relentless she-devil. My daughter has never spewed green vomit, and I don’t think her head has ever done a three sixty, but she has screamed so loud that animals outside howled and glass shattered (okay, so the glass shattered because she knocked her mirror over while screaming—tomato/tomahto). 

I think the evidence proves that I just might be a succubus—maybe not one hundred percent like my main character in INTO A MILLION PIECES—but I think there definitely might be some succubus blood running through my veins. 


Allison McKready is a succubus. So is her twin sister. But while Allison spends her summer break hiding in the library behind her Goth makeup, Jade fools around as often as she can. Allison can’t believe Jade would ignore their mother’s fatal example so recklessly, but concealing a cursed bloodline and its dangerous effects is far from Allison’s only problem. Mean girl Julie’s snob mob is determined to ruin her summer, and Aunt Sarah’s Bible thumping is getting louder. Only her new friend, Ren Fisher, offers safe haven from the chaos of her life.

When one of Jade’s risky dates leads to humiliation and sudden tragedy, Allison reels, and Ren catches her. But as her feelings for him grow, so does her fear that she’ll hurt him—or worse—in an unguarded moment. The choice is coming—love him or save him—but Allison might not live to make it. One way or another, the curse will have its due.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

"H" is for "Hustlin'"

People pirate shit.  A lot.  The coming of the Information Age has brought with it a bevy of riches, but also a cornucopia of horseshit.  I can google what time it is in New Zealand, tweet at Jason O’Mara, and watch a Youtube video of how to tie a Full Windsor all in a matter of seconds.  On the other hand, there’s cyberbullying, trolls, the constant threat of becoming an internet pariah, and, of course, piracy.

I should probably take a hard and fast stand against piracy.  Probably should parrot the party line about it.  You remember those old commercials (I say “old,” but, of course, we’re talking about like 2007, not, like, 1952) where they used to say, “You wouldn’t steal a car, would you?  You wouldn’t rape a grandmother, would you?  Then why would you download a movie?!?!?!?!?!?!?”

I mean, I exaggerate here (slightly) but the point of those commercials was clear: stealing is stealing is stealing, and trying to differentiate between stealing a physical DVD and downloading a pirated movie is just splitting hairs.  Except…that’s horseshit.  I mean, you can intellectualize it to yourself that way.  “By not paying for the goods or services that I generated, that person is in effect taking money from my pocket.  Therefore: he stole from me.”

This doesn't really have anything to do with the blogpost, except that I think people are more likely to click on a post with a picture of Jennifer Lawrence.  And the title of the post is "H" is for "Hustlin'" since I couldn't really come up with anything better.  And "American Hustle" is a movie you might pirate.  Or buy the correct way.

The problem with that is the idea of money you would certainly have spent versus money you might have simply saved.  In other words, since it's easy for me to download, say, "Pee Wee's Big Adventure," perhaps I do.  But if it hadn't been available, would I have immediately gone to the store and purchased it on DVD?  No, probably not.

Of course, there are some instances where piracy does equate to stealing.  If my desire to see "Fifty Shades of Grey" is so strong that I would have paid for it even if it wasn't available to pirate, then I did indeed withhold money that theoretical would have gone to all the people who worked so hard to bring us that fine piece of cinema.

And then there are questions of residual payment.  Suppose I pirated the first "Harry Potter" book, then after that I buy every "Harry Potter" book, stand in line for every movie, and visit the theme park multiple times, because pirating it made me a fan for life.  In a way, I ended up giving a lot more money to J.K. Rowling over the course of my life than if I hadn't pirated it, right?  I'm not saying it's all shades of grey (ha!), but it's certainly not as black and white as those old "Reefer Madness" style commercials would've had us believe.

And, I admit, the average Pirate Bay user is not thinking about these things in an ethical/moral/philosophical sense.  It’s like pure id: see, want, take.  “I wanna see this week’s 'Game of Thrones,' it’s free online, let me DL it.”  There’s a component whereby this is a terrible thing, because taken en masse it effectively devalues art to the point where people treat all art as though it were free.

However, is internet piracy what’s really devaluing content?  Admittedly, that’s a component of it.  But I would argue that what’s really devaluing content is that everyone is pretty much giving it away for free.  There was a time when if you wanted to watch a video you had to either pay up through the basically direct pay system of paying for a movie ticket, which feeds the studios, which feeds the actors, writers, directors, and crew, or you had to watch advertiser-supported television, which was a more indirect method, but everyone still got paid by their advertisers.  Now, though, I can get a half hour of entertainment on YouTube for free from a bunch of jackasses who think falling over is funny.  Or popping zits.  Or whatever.

That’s free content.  Genuinely free.  And blogs are free and websites are free, and there are free novels out there, and the equivalent of free novels in terms of length, if that’s the kind of thing I’m into.  And free games and, well, free everything really.  The internet itself devalues content because there’s so goddamn much of it.  In this new paradigm I don’t really blame people for not wanting to pay for content just because the intellectual property owner wants to charge.

And, like I said, as an intellectual property owner I should probably be solidly on one line in this debate.  I should probably shout, “Pay me what I’m worth!” from the rooftops.  But I'm a pragmatist.  And I can also look to the past for exemplars.  Metallica did not come out of pounding and pounding against music downloading looking good.  They looked like entitled assholes, which, whatever the merits of their arguments, did not help their argument.  Nobody likes to listen to an entitled asshole, no matter how morally upright their argument is.

So here's a proposal I came up with.  It would be cool if it took off, and I think it splits the difference between Lars Ulrich raging against everyone who's ever pirated an episode of "Doctor Who" they missed and pretending like piracy won't ultimately ruin it for everybody.  One of the things that's most important to content creators is reviews.  So what if it became common courtesy that when you pirate a book or a movie or a CD, since you didn't pay for it you go to Amazon and review it?  It probably would take you exactly as long as DLing it did to leave a twenty word review, even if it's a bad one.  (Actually, I think Amazon may have rescinded the twenty word minimum.)

What do you think?  Best compromise ever or total cop-out?  Let me know in the comments.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Six Must-Own Books

Hey, everybody!  I didn't really have a plan for today's post, but I have noticed that sales have really kind of taken a nosedive so I thought it might not hurt to just flat-out do an advertising post.  If you enjoy my blog and you like the idea of me being able to live off my writing someday, the two best things you can do to help are to buy my books and to leave reviews on Amazon after you're done.  So here's a quick rundown on all six of my extant titles.  If you want to buy one, just click on the cover.  And if you own all six, you have my eternal gratitude and I hope you will, indeed, leave a review for each, whether you loved it or hated it.

Thanks everybody!

AT HELL'S GATES II is a charity anthology featuring my short story "The Man With Four Scars."  100% of proceeds go to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, servicing veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI.  Just picking up a copy is a good deed, even if you don't enjoy horror.

FAT ZOMBIE is an anthology about the weirdos, freaks, geeks, losers, and unusual survivors of the zombie apocalypse.  My entry, "The New Dark Ages," is by a wide margin my most transgressive work, even trampling the few taboos I hadn't shattered with my sophomore novel, THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO.

AT HELL'S GATES, like its sequel, is a charity anthology with all proceeds going to the IFHF.  This features my story "Exploding Shit Zombies," of which I am very proud and I think is equal parts hilarious and gruesome.

BILLY AND THE CLONEASAURUS is my shortest novel to date, and my least gory.  It's closer to dystopian sci-fi than horror, so it's probably a good jumping-in point for folks that aren't such big fans of horror.  It does have its darker elements, though, and is quite nihilistic.

THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO is my masterpiece, a grand guignol epic of extreme hardcore horror as well as my most literary and philosophical work to date.  Not for the weak of stomach, but my proudest achievement.        
Ah, BRAINEATER JONES.  The novel that started it all.  Everybody loves BRAINEATER JONES, I can tell you that.  It's goofy, gory fun, not exactly horror in the traditional sense, but still a blast for gorehounds and non-gorehounds alike.  And if you're not really into the whole "reading" thing, it's also available as an audiobook.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Is How we Debate as Important as What we Debate?

If you've read my books or followed my blog for any length of time you've probably got an idea where on the political spectrum I lie.  I try not to make a big thing of it, because I don't care to alienate any of my readers (although, of course, some authors make big bucks alienating about 50% of their readers.)  I personally want my blog and my literature to have an inclusive atmosphere, where people from all walks of life will feel welcome - although, there I might be betraying my political leanings again.

I'd be lying if I said I never use my blog as a soapbox, but I tend not to, hewing to the principle that literary agent Janet Reid recently laid out on her own very popular blog: if you follow me, it's because of things other than political rants, so you'll probably forgive me the occasional political rant.

I don't especially want to rant about politics, but rather I'd like to rant about the way we debate things in this country.  And, yes, I'm afraid we're going to veer into some lefty/righty stuff, so fairly warned.  With all that as preamble, I want you to just take a look at this rather popular Facebook post which I've screencapped here:

I'd wager that how you react to this is going to be based on your political leanings.  If you're a conservative, you're probably going, "Yeah!" and if you're a liberal you're probably shaking your head in dismay.  You may not even know why you're doing either of those things.  It's just kind of a given: if someone makes a point you agree with, you'll tend to take their facts at face value, and if you disagree, you'll probably find some reason, even a piddling one, to disagree with them.

Now, this is the point where I guess it's going to get kind of political, hence my lengthy preamble, but, okay, fairly warned.  My problem with this post, as an exemplar of the political conversation in our country, is that it's utter horseshit.  This is the sort of thing my 9th grade Speech and Debate teacher wouldn't have let fly, if not my 4th grade arithmetic teacher.

The problem, for those of you on both sides of the aisle attempting to grapple with it, is that Ms. Harris - if she indeed came up with any of this - is comparing apples and oranges.  This is, like, basic math here.  She's cherrypicking two particular numbers at the farthest possible extremes, and comparing them side-by-side like that's where they belong. 

She's comparing a theoretical $15 fast food worker's salary of $31,200 (let's say this will actually occur in, I dunno, 2030) with a current private's salary of $18,378.  If we represented this graphically it would look like this:

Job 2015 Salaries 2030 Salaries
Fast Food Worker ? $31,200.00
Private $18,378.00 ?

I mean, it's total horseshit.  Why did she pick those two numbers to compare?  Because they look the worst side-by-side.  She'd rather pretend those other two numbers don't exist, because they paint a more complete picture.  Which, what the hell, let's look at it.

Job 2015 Salaries 2030 Salaries
Fast Food Worker $15,080.00 $31,200.00
Private $18,378.00 $38,023.45

Wow, that'  That paints a completely different picture doesn't it?  It almost completely undermines her argument.  First of all, in terms of stark contrast, the fact that a fast food worker making minimum wage and working full time only makes 15K a year is mortifying.  That's our minimum wage, people.  That's considered something you can live off of.  If you're reading this on a computer screen you paid for yourself, odds are you're probably make twice that, if not four or five times that amount.

Then there's the other point she's ignoring, which is that if the minimum wage was raised, a private would necessarily have to make more, even if he was only making the minimum wage.  But the truth is that military pay rates are decided based on an algorithm which makes them competitive, with certain considerations, with similar civilian jobs.

Now, just providing the full math paints a much fuller picture.  Just comparing apples with apples and oranges with oranges provides a solid basis from which both sides of the debate could proceed.  Reasonable adults can disagree.  That's the basis of a civil society.  With these numbers, both sides could pick and prod and raise deeper issues.  But Ms. Harris doesn't provide us with these numbers.  She just shows the most stark comparisons, even if they are, essentially, nonsensical.  Which leads to my first bullet point of disdain about debate in modern political discourse:

1.  Facts are cherry-picked

Now, assuming I give both sides the benefit of the doubt, and believe that no one simply out-and-out lies - which is decidedly not the case - there are still issues where a politician trying to make his case simply doesn't lay out all the facts.  It's as though they fear that providing us with all the facts may make us come to a different conclusion.  Which is, come to think of it, not a terrible assumption to make.

But let's dig a little deeper.  Ms. Harris used an insanely simple method for coming up with her numbers.  She pulled the private and the sergeant's pay from a monthly payscale (presumably from 2014 since it's changed now) and multiplied by 12.  Then she took a $15 per hour wage, multiplied it by 40 hours a week, and then by 52 weeks in a year.  But she didn't say any of that, and part of the reason why she didn't may have been an honest oversight, but it may well have been because it would wildly undermine her case. 

Because, looking at those calculations in context any reasonable person would go, "Holy shit!  That means literally zero time off!"  That means no holidays, no sick days, no planned leave of any sort.  That means working non-stop, Monday through Friday, every goddamned week of the year.  Also, not every year has exactly that many working hours, but that's a minor quibble; I probably would have used the same calculating method myself.

It also means no overtime, no holiday pay, no shift work, no nothing, which is all part and parcel of a wage job, as anyone knows.  Harris is applying the thought processes of a salaried position to a wage position.  So there's a deeper contextual issue here.  For one thing, she's comparing a salaried position (military) with a wage position (restaurant worker.)  And those are difficult things to compare.  But we also have to wonder, why did she choose those two particular jobs to compare in the first place?  Probably for emotional reasons to help her case, but no matter, the choices were made, so let's go with them.

Now what's truly problematical for me here is that I actually served in the military and I know how pay is calculated, and I know what all goes into it, and Ms. Harris either doesn't know, or is deliberately ignoring all of that.  Any E-1, E-5, or for that matter O-7 knows that basic pay is not the end of the story.  You also get housing allowance, subsistence allowance, and, oh yeah, benefits.

A military private pays $0 for total health care coverage.  He also doesn't pay for his food, clothes, or house.  His commuting expenses can be as minimal as free if he lives on post.  Oh, and, he also gets an enlistment bonus and periodic re-enlistment bonuses, and periodic promotions if he's not a fucking idiot.  Ms. Harris also deliberately brings up that these fellows are under fire, except...

Not if he's making 18K and change a year.  Because there's also hostile fire pay when you're in a war zone, not to mention that wartime wages are not taxed. 

My point is not that a Service Member makes too much.  Christ knows they don't make nearly as much as they should.  My point is that ganking the number $18,378 off a payscale tells a story bereft of all context.  As does multiplying the minimum wage a couple of times and ignoring living expenses.  In other words:

2.  Facts are presented out of context

Now that I've more or less given you the rest of the facts and given them to you in context, you can probably think a little bit harder about the situation, and a little bit deeper.  Maybe you still draw the same conclusion.  As I said, reasonable adults can disagree, and there is a far greater context to the minimum wage debate than either Harris or I have presented thus far.

For one thing, will raising the minimum wage cause employers to rely more heavily on automation, and thus reduce overall jobs?  What about real-world examples?  Rather than drawing chalk figures on an imaginary board, what happens in places where wages are high vice low?  For that matter, if you raise wages, aren't you giving disposable income to a ready customer base, i.e. your employees, who are already in your store and perfectly willing to buy your products?

There are so many things to examine, we have a plethora of conclusions to draw.  But in the screed above we're presented with one:

Raising the minimum wage means that fast food workers will make more than Service Members.

This seems morally reprehensible.  Of course, it's complete horseshit, as I've already laid out in excruciating detail.  But once you've drawn this conclusion, it's hard to back down from, isn't it?  It's hard to leave behind the moral highground and fight fact with actual fact.  Which leads to:

3.  Erroneous conclusions are defended rather than exploded

And one final point.  It's so minor, I hesitate to even bring it up in light of the much greater logical issues I've already addressed.  But, it's such an important part of Ms. Harris's argument, I can't ignore it altogether.  Every time she makes a point, she belittles her strawman of an opponent.  "Johnny Fry-Boy," "Sally McBurgerflipper," and so on. 

Her point is she hates fast food workers.  She hates the idea that she would have to take their feelings into account.  She's probably on to something from a debate standpoint, actually.  Each and every one of us has had a bad experience at a fast food restaurant, either a jacked-up order or a cracked-out cashier or a shortchanging or something.  We ignore the hundred (thousands?) of times in our lives that everything goes swimmingly at the McDonald's, and remember the times it doesn't. 

Part of that is just human nature overall.  We attribute coincidence to good or bad fortune, and ignore countless instances of failed coincidence.  We look for patterns where there are none, and see faces on Mars.  The point is: the general public probably has a bad taste in their mouths about fast food workers.  (Which, incidentally, is probably why Harris chose that particular minimum wage job rather than hospice worker or something more sympathetic...but I digress...)

By making her opponents look foolish, Harris is attempting to sway the sympathies of the undecided.  "If only a stupid burger flipper is for this, then what are you?" she seems to be asking.  In other words:

4.  Ad hominem attacks

I'm sorry for picking on Jennifer Harris, by the way, who I don't know from Adam, nor do I feel particularly strongly about this issue.  It's certainly not my most passionate cause or anything.  I just felt that this one small excerpt seemed to encapsulate everything that's wrong with the way we discuss things with one another in just a few short paragraphs, and I hoped that a well thought-out exegesis could be illuminating.  You might disagree with my conclusions, in fact abut 50% of you probably do...but let's try to look past our political thoughts and analyze our logical arguments.

So what do you think?  Are these sorts of discussions always going to be reduced to the lowest common denominator?  Do intelligent people know better?  Do intelligent people know better and not care, as long as the argument supports what they already agree with?  Should we look at better methods of fighting our political fights?  Feel free to let me have it in the comments.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

"G" is for "Ghoul"

Welcome back, blogketeers!  Today we’re going to be discussing (hopefully briefly) my magnum opus:


The development of THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO actually predates any of my other extant novels by a wide margin.  I began working on this piece around 2003 or 2004.  My initial plan was to develop a zombie television series which was, of course, a unique idea for the time.  I had trouble with the fact that a zombie show would necessarily be gory and a television series would be limited by FCC guidelines, which at the time seemed a much more insurmountable issue.

What was more important, though, was that I was limited by my own ignorance.  I didn’t know, per se, how to get a television series made, but I also didn’t know how to get a book published, so neither seemed like a particularly futile effort.  I know now, of course, that television shows are quite simply not made on spec (that is, on speculation, or, rather, by some asshole off the street pitching an idea) whereas novels are.  So I was essentially wasting my time.

My original idea was a sort of “Battlestar Galactica” with zombies.  This does predate the “Battlestar Galactica” reboot by a bit, but in later iterations in 2005 and 2006 I knew that was what I was doing, a wagon train story, essentially, set after the zombie apocalypse, with an ever-diminishing band of mingled civilians and Soldiers travelling from the east to the west across the United States with some mad hope in mind.

I developed a rather lengthy story arc for the series.  Season 1, as I described, was the wagon train story.  Season 2 would then switch focus to the South Pacific.  What I knew about season 2 was that there would be a band of zombie-worshipping pirates on the high seas, and an essentially marooned crew who would be heartened by the appearance of the mainland survivors.  Season 3 was to have been a throwback season, set entirely in the Middle Ages and chronicling an earlier zombie outbreak and explaining the mechanics of the later apocalypse.  Season 4 would have wrapped up all the loose ends.

In 2008 I left the army, and in 2009 I resolved to get published in earnest.  I quickly realized none of my extant work was good enough to get published.  Basically, I had been working under false assumptions for some years, believing people were interested in sweeping, multi-POV stories a la Harry Turtledove.  The most common complain I got about my queries was that there was no single main character to focus on.  It chafed me to have to go back to square one, but I did, and in 2009 wrote BRAINEATER JONES as a lark, with the intention of having a saleable novel.  It sold.

In 2013.

And in the meantime, as I focused on selling BRAINEATER, I returned to work on THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO, which as you’ve probably guessed evolved out of the Season 2 proposed storyline for my TV show, which I realize now I had forgotten to mention I was going to call “Flesh.”  TGA evolved and developed so much as a story in those years, and remained so close to my heart that I doubt I’ll ever be able to recreate the greatness of that work.  I consider it my best.  So check it out, I hope you enjoy!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Am I Ready for CPaCC?
I've got a fat stack of BJs...
...I'm stacking GHOULs like they're 3x5 cards...
...I've got mad BILLY...
...collateral courtesy of everybody's favorite sci-fi author...
...I'm flush with paper in case you need change...
...and if you don't have money, that's no issue - I take credit...
Should be one Hell of a con...

Why not stop on by?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

"F" is for "Fat"

Let’s talk a little bit about FAT ZOMBIE. Contradicting the name, the anthology is not actually about fat zombies, per se, it’s about fat people. Fat people, old people, handicapped people, and just plain weird people. The point, as I understood anthology curator Paul Mannering’s submission call, was to focus on schlubs and losers, the unusual survivors of a zombie or otherwise apocalypse, rather than the thin, athletic, sexy people we normally see on TV.

(Of course, one supposes that no matter how overweight you are at the beginning of a zombie outbreak, by the end you ought to be pretty svelte. Or dead. But I digress…)

This is a “fresh” collection, or maybe that’s not the word, but all of the stories are unpublished. Which is probably for the best, but when I heard the submission call I immediately thought of one of my all-time favorite horror shorts, “Jerry’s Kids Meets Wormboy” by David J. Schow. If you’ve never read this brief masterpiece…well, I won’t belabor the point, just go find it and read it. It strikes me as the quintessential FAT ZOMBIE story, and for all I know may have been the inspiration for it.

Bearing that in mind, I considered it a sort of an obligation to write something transgressive. The result was “The New Dark Ages,” easily by darkest, most extreme piece both in style and content. To date, my most transgressive work, by almost all measures, is THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO. I have to say, though, that what few taboos I had left untrampled in TGA I finally got around to in “The New Dark Ages.” I didn’t even really do that intentionally, it just so happened that there were a couple of double-plus-creepy things that fell into place with “The New Dark Ages.”

“The New Dark Ages” actually features some characters I’m pretty familiar with. They show up again in my on-again, off-again labor of love KINGDOM as well as the forthcoming sequel to TGA (though, once you read the short, it’ll be fairly obvious that the ones in the ghoulverse are alternate iterations.) But, yeah, long story short, Lucky, Mercedes, Nick, Harvey, and Jenny are characters with a lot of baggage, a lot of background, and I know them pretty well. It was kind of disturbing to me, even, to take them in such a dark direction, even though I knew it was just for a one-off and “didn’t really happen.”

(Of course, nothing anyone writes “really happened” – it’s just squabbling over what’s canon or not, you know. And “The New Dark Ages,” as I said, is not canon, at least, not in the ghoulverse.)

I don’t really have any special reason to pimp FAT ZOMBIE. I got paid a lump sum outright for it, so its sales don’t really affect me one way or another. But I am very proud of the story of mine that it includes, not to mention that it also includes work from such luminaries as Rachel Aukes and Jay Wilburn. So do yourself a favor and grab you up a copy of FAT ZOMBIE. I guarantee you won’t regret it…or, maybe you will. Who the fuck am I, Svengali?

Monday, March 9, 2015

2015 Appearances

***My 2016 appearances will be posted March 2.***

CPACC's right around the corner and that can mean only one thing: convention season is kicking off!  I thought this year, for my benefit and yours, I'd start listing all of my public appearances.  Make sure to check back to this page often (I'll be adding it as a tab to the main page) for updates.

If you'd like me to make an appearance at a convention or other event you're organizing or attending, feel free to contact me and we'll discuss it.  Most events in Baltimore or Philadelphia are a slam dunk for me to attend, but I'll consider travelling if invited.

Central Pennsylvania Comic Con
Dates:  Saturday and Sunday, March 14-15
Location:  Wyndham Garden Hotel (Formerly Holiday Inn)
​2000 Loucks Rd, York, PA 17408
Sunday 10:30 am - "How to Navigate Publishing in 2015" - Susquehanna Room

The Horror Show with Brian Keene
Date:  Thursday, April 30 7:00 pm
Location:  Virtual

Date:  Sunday, May 24 10:30 am - 5:00 pm and Monday, May 25 10:30 am - 3:00 pm
Location:  Hunt Valley Inn
245 Shawan Road, Hunt Valley, MD 21031

CHS Sci-Fi Saturday
Date:  Saturday, May 30 11:00 am - 5:00 pm
Location: Swartz Building, Carlisle High School
623 West Penn Street, Carlisle, PA 17013

Book Signing
Date:  Saturday, June 13 11:00 am - 2:00 pm
Location:  Event Horizon Games
1496 Garner Station Blvd, Raleigh, North Carolina 27603

Date:  Friday, July 10 8:15 pm
Location:  Virtual

Shore Leave 37
Dates:  Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, August 7-9
Location:  The Hunt Valley Inn
245 Shawan Rd., Hunt Valley, MD 21031
Friday 4:00 pm, Derby Room - "Writing Groups and Beta Readers: How to Give and Receive Criticism"
Saturday 12:00 noon, Derby Room - "Publishing: The Good, The Bad, and The Indie"
Saturday 2:00 pm, Derby Room - "Generations Geek: Families and Fandom"
Saturday 3:00 pm, Salon E - "Military fiction vs. Real Military Life"
Saturday 5:00 pm, Chase Room - "Brave New Girls"
Sunday 10:00 am - "Canon or Not: Tie-Ins’ Relation to Source Material"
Sunday 2:00 pm, Salon E - "Switching It Up: Writing Different Kinds of Books"

Brooklyn Book Festival
Date:  Sunday, September 20, 10:00 am - 6:00 pm
Location:  Brooklyn Borough Hall and Plaza
209 Joralemon Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201

Dates:  Friday, Saturday, and Sunday November 27-29
Location: The Radisson North Baltimore (formerly North Baltimore Plaza)
2004 Greenspring Dr., Lutherville-Timonium, MD, 21093
Friday 6:45 pm, Greenspring 2 - "The Art of Bad Science: Preparing for Your Turkey Award Submission"
Friday 8:00 pm, Greenspring 3-5 - "Discussion Group: Questions From a Hat"
Friday 9:15 pm, Greenspring 2 - "Getting Published in 2015 (and Beyond)"
Saturday 10:00 am, Greenspring 3-5 - "Rethinking the Zombie Apocalypse"
Saturday 11:15 am, Chesapeake 1-2 - "Fantasy/Legendary Water Creatures"
Saturday 12:30 pm, Greenspring 3-5 - "Turkey Awards Panel"
Saturday 4:15 pm, Greenspring 3-5 - "Beyond Sauron: Complex Villains and Questionable Heroes"
Saturday 6:45 pm, Atrium - Mass Signing
Saturday 8:30 pm, Greenspring 1 - Reading (30 minutes)
Saturday 10:30 pm, Greenspring 3-5 - "Beyond Doctor Who, Star Trek, and Buffy"
Sunday 11:15 am, Greenspring 2 - "Military Science Fiction vs. Real Military Life"
Sunday 12:30 pm, Chesapeake 6 - KaffeeKlatsch
Sunday 1:45 pm, Greenspring 1 - "How Much Do I Worry About My Own Canon?"

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Trifecta of Trifecta Trifectas

Finding a good reviewer (or, hell, even a bad reviewer who actually follows through) is hard to do.  And reviewers as I've outlined elsewhere are the lifeblood of a budding author's career.  (Was that a mixed metaphor?  No wonder I can't find any damn reviewers...)

Anyway, the point is, I like to highlight my favorite reviewers when I can, because their success is my success, obviously.  Twice before I've highlighted three reviewers who have completed what I jokingly call the Kozeniewski Trifecta (reviewing BRAINEATER JONES, THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO, and BILLY AND THE CLONEASAURUS.)  That makes this the third time (or trifecta) of highlighting a trifecta of reviewers who have completed the trifecta...get it?

I actually (and obviously) have a soft spot for anyone who's actually read all three of my books.  (Notice I don't say praised...some trifecta winners have been constructive in their criticism, and I appreciate that just as much.)  But today's not about a lengthy introduction from me.  Today's about celebrating the three newest entrants into this lofty and much-vaunted club.  Let's meet them all now!

Christina Torretta

Bohemian with a dark side. Lover of horror and serenity! Currently studying psychology and plan to get my PhD to become a Neuropsychologist. Clinical and Cognitive studies are my goal. Until then I am reading horror of all kinds (ZOMBIES!!) and the odd romance, cause why not?!

You can find Christina on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, LinkedIn, and, of course, her website Creating Serenity.

And here are the links to Christina's completed trifecta: BRAINEATER JONES, THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO, and BILLY AND THE CLONEASAURUS.

Erin M. MacCallum

Living in the backwoods somewhere in Alberta Canada, E.M. MacCallum spends most of her time reading, stabbing at her keyboard and transferring the stories in her head onto paper.
Currently she is hard at work on her next story and also running The Reader's Hollow blog which is about books, stories and those who love them.

You can find Erin on Twitter, her author Facebook, her blog The Reader's Hollow, The Reader's Hollow Facebook, and her website.

And here are the links to Erin's completed trifecta: BRAINEATER JONES, THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO, and BILLY AND THE CLONEASAURUS.

Trista Borgwardt

Trista Borgwardt is a writer, focusing on horror/supernatural novels. As a young writer she started out writing short stories and later on delved into poetry and fiction. Reading interests her just as much as writing does. Having her own personal library would not hold enough books for her. Proudly holding a Bachelor's Degree in the Science of Nursing, she currently works as a nurse, helping to care for others. Animals hold a soft spot in her heart and she has a few pets of her own. In her spare time, she likes to spend time with her family and friends or go for a drive through the beautiful Black Hills.

You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, or her website.

And here are the links to her completed trifecta: BRAINEATER JONES, THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO, and BILLY AND THE CLONEASAURUS.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

"E" is for "Equality"

It would be a stretch for me to call myself a minority in any meaningful sense. I’m a straight, white, adult, cis-gender male living in the contemporary United States. I speak English as a first language, I’m a citizen, I have no notable handicaps either mental or physical. I’m past the age of majority but not past the point where my age becomes a liability. (Honestly, I put it that way because I have no idea what “young” or “middle-aged” mean anymore.)

Sometimes when I think about this issue I try desperately to think of ways that I’m a minority. I was raised Roman Catholic, which is technicality a minority sect of the overall Christian religion in the U.S. But that strikes me as more than a little like splitting hairs. It’s not like it’s 1848 and the Know-Nothings are beating me up for being a Papist.

Today I’m an agnostic-verging-on-atheist, which, again, is technically a minority in the U.S., and according to all studies, the most actually discriminated against one. But to be frank this last sentence I just wrote write here on my blog may be the first time I’ve ever admitted that publicly, and it’s not like I’m avoiding family Christmases and Easter celebrations because I’m such a raging anti-deist. I’m vaguely Christian in the way that 78% of Americans are vaguely Christian. If I don’t make a big fuss about it, for the most part my job and my reputation are safe.

The point of all this preamble is that I am playing the game of life on what John Scalzi so aptly calls in his metaphor “the lowest difficulty mode.” That being said, you may also notice something interesting in the last few paragraphs. I mentioned that sometimes I try desperately to come up with a reason why I may be in the minority – in other words, why I may be put upon.

Now think about that. In THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV Fyodor Karamazov said, “There are times when it is rather pleasant to feel wronged.” I’ve always found that to be a universal human impulse. And not only the desire to feel wronged, but to feel that when people have wronged you, it is not because of who you are as a person, but rather what you are.

Gay. Straight. Black. White. Tall. Short. Something. We each like to believe that as individuals we are unassailable, and therefore if anyone finds fault with our behavior it must be because of some other aspect of our identities, preferable one we can’t control.

I think this impulse explains things like belief in anti-Christian discrimination or misandry. Now, are there people who genuinely hate men and will discriminate against them in certain situations, given half a chance? Sure. That takes nothing away from the fact that our society is overwhelmingly weighted in favor of males. The same goes for a Christian. If you dig deep enough, are you going to be able to find an anti-Christian imam or rabbi or something in the U.S.? Sure. If you dig deep enough you’ll find people who genuinely believe in Slender Man and the Illuminati. It takes all kinds to make up a free society.

Which is where we get to the real root of what I want to talk about: situational majority-minority shifts. That’s a terrible term, and I’m sure there’s a correct one in sociology or anthropology, but for my purposes as a layman it’ll have to do. And what I mean is, there have been times where I’ve been thrust into (or, hell, volunteered for) a situation where I was the minority.

I’d venture to say that most of my jobs have been skewed at least 6:4 or 7:3 in a female: male ratio. Every boss I’ve had, except for a few in the army, has been a woman. Now, being a rational human being I’ve taken that information with exactly the grain of salt it requires. I worked at a phone bank, a profession traditionally dominated by women. I worked at a medical clinic, a profession traditionally dominated by women. The same goes for the library I worked at. Hell, the same could probably be said of the publishing industry I’m now trying to make a go of.

For that matter, I grew up in an unusually densely Jewish area. I didn’t realize, until I moved out of the town I grew up in, how overwhelmingly Christian most of this country is. I just remembered feeling left out because I didn’t get to have a bar mitzvah and shit like that.

So, basically, I’m face with two options when presented with tales of inequality in this, the land of the free and the home of the brave. The first option is when someone says, “I felt discriminated against because I was a woman” I can chime in and say, “Nuh uh, I worked in a place once where my boss was a woman and all my co-workers were women and I felt discriminated against there, so being a woman doesn’t make you discriminated against because it happens to men, too!”

The other option is I can think back to times when I was the minority because of an odd situation. I can reach down way deep inside and try to find that emotion I think the muggles call “empathy.” And then I can pull up my big boy pants and recall the logic and reality of society writ large. And with both of those things – my capacity to understand how someone else feels because I also felt put upon once and my intellectual ability to be aware of how my society discriminates against actual social minorities – I can say, “I can really empathize with that. Is there anything I can do to help?”

I think if you’re doing the former and not the latter, you’re a douchebag. Because if you know how bad something feels and you’re okay with it happening to somebody else because it also happened to you, you’re a douchebag. So there you go. In the words of a woman far wiser than me, “Be not a douchebag.”

Monday, March 2, 2015

Some Thoughts on Leonard Nimoy's Passing

It's pretty cool lately to shit on the idea of mourning a celebrity's death.  "You didn't know him," the general argument goes, or, "It's not like they were really a part of your life."  I could probably write a whole blogpost on that subject, but the short point is that's kind of a jaded outlook.  If there's ever an appropriate time to celebrate someone - especially someone we perhaps take for granted - it's probably in the wake of their death.  At a minimum it makes sense because you can judge their entire body of work.

Leonard Nimoy, perhaps more than any other recent celebrity who passed away, has been a ubiquitous presence in my life since...well, since I was born.  Honestly, that's fair to say of almost anyone who's been born since 1966, with varying degrees of accuracy.  I've watched Star Trek since I was old enough to turn on the TV.  I've seen probably every episode of every series, as well as the movies.  Spock's presence, and by extension Leonard Nimoy's performance, looms heavily over all of it, and as a result, over my childhood, and as a result, over my life.

Leonard Nimoy isn't just Spock.  He was a writer, director, host, actor, and, by all reports, a genuinely decent human being.  Honestly, I haven't seen an outpouring of such unironically detached love and affection since Mr. Rogers's death.  No, Leonard Nimoy wasn't just Spock, but Spock was his gift to posterity.  If he hadn't been a genuinely good person, we might be more conflicted about his legacy, but since he was, we have this: a universal sadness at a great man's passing and a universal joy at his positive impact.

This all sounds rather lame, doesn't it?  It's 2015.  We're all very...jaded.  We all survived the Bush years, the Great Recession, two Kafkaesque wars.  We all kind of hate one another.  We don't trust anyone.  We don't believe anyone will shoot straight with us.  We certainly don't trust the entertainment industry, who have long been purveyors of pap and never thought anything of manipulating our emotions to sell candy and soap.

If I was a different person, I could try to take you back to 1966, or 1982, and try to tell you how things were different.  But I'm me, and I can only take you back to the '90s, and what it meant to be someone like me back then.  I was a nerd.  A geek.  Whatever you want to call it.  Today, nerd culture is so ubiquitous (not to mention profitable) that there's no real social stigma attached to being a nerd.  You hear supermodels talk about what nerds they were in high school.  Yeah, sure, Kate Upton.  I'm sure you were all about the Mercedes Lackey novels and shit.

Nerdy is chic now.  Thor is a sex symbol.  People know who Ant-Man is, for Christ's sake.  But in the '90s - and I'd be willing to bet for quite a few decades before that - being a nerd meant being ostracized.  It meant if you were lucky you would find a few other nerds to hang out with.  But most of your time in public was spent feeling out of your own skin.  I didn't go to the kind of school where kids got beat up for being different.  It was kind of a wealthy school, and like I said, it was the '90s so it wasn't like I was a Jew in Catholic school in the '30s or something.  But you could still feel miserable non-stop for being different.

And we didn't have the internet back then.  Or we did, but it was nascent.  It wasn't like today where I could find out about every zombie movie ever made if zombies were my thing.  Discover little subcultures of nerddom was often a very solitary pursuit.  If I was reading WORLDWAR or playing Warhammer, I was probably the only one in my group doing that.

There were a few universals, though.  Every nerd had to know inside and out about a few things: "Star Wars," LORD OF THE RINGS, "Dungeons and Dragons," and..."Star Trek."  Sometimes, even today, nerds are portrayed as having these rival fandoms.  Fantasy fans will go to war with sci-fi fans, or "Star Trek" fans will go to war with "Star Wars" fans.  That was never my experience, and I'd be willing to bet it was never anybody's experience.  You might fight until your face turned blue about minutia, but it wasn't like "Dungeons and Dragons" players laughed at Trekkies or something.  I dunno.

I feel like I'm veering off course, but here's where we come back to it.  Leonard Nimoy - Spock - was just like me.  And by "me" I mean all of us.  He was out of his skin.  He was half-Vulcan, half-human, and welcome in neither world.  He had problems with his father, he had problems with his co-workers.  Hell, when the Enterprise met Romulans for the first time, his crew practically turned on him.

He didn't wear glasses - the eternal sign of the nerd - but he was physically different.  His pointed ears were the mark that he could never get rid of, the outward trait that proved he was different on the inside.  Nimoy's portrayal of Spock was a lot like how nerds felt about themselves.  We stuck out.  We couldn't hide our physical differences.  We often felt like we were thinking on a whole other plane than the people around us.  We were unappreciated, despite being clever or wise or whatever.

Spock was naturally endearing for all those reasons.  And a funny thing happened as time went on.  As the movies progressed, Spock began to become...chill.  He was still funny, peculiar, awkward, and smarter than everybody else.  But he had learned to accept it.  He rockets up the mountain in Star Trek V to save his friends.  When McCoy tries to trade barbs, we understand they're toothless at a certain point because they value one another.

Spock goes on to become a captain in his own right, and an ambassador, and to try to do the impossible: to reunite Vulcan and Romulus in "Star Trek: The Next Generation."  Spock never changed, but the world around him did.  Marching to the beat of a different drummer for however many decades had been painful - he had been the object of ridicule, when not outright having his loyalties questioned - but ultimately it had paid off.  Later Spock was proof that being a nerd didn't have to end horribly.  You could be a nerd forever and ultimately just end up appreciated.

Leonard Nimoy brought all of this to people like me - millions and millions, judging by the outpouring of support - over the years.  As I said, Nimoy was not just Spock, but Spock was his enduring gift to the world.

Last year, I went to the Shore Leave Star Trek convention in Baltimore, MD.  Leonard Nimoy was supposed to be there, but he was already suffering from lung cancer.  Well, no doubt he had been suffering from lung cancer for many years, but this was the first time I had heard about it.  He couldn't make it, and had to attend via video teleconference.  I could have gone - depending on the ticket price and the time.  But I ended up working my table all day, trying to sell copies of my books.  "Another time," I thought, "And when he's here in person."

Well, I guess that day will never come now.  It's very sad to lose someone who feels like a friend, even if you never met them, not even once.  And some friends and even family come in and out of your life.  Leonard Nimoy is someone who was never really absent from my life.  How far was I ever really from an episode of Star Trek?  A week or two?

So it might be nerdy, or even worse, it might be lame, but, yes, I will miss Leonard Nimoy, even though I never met him personally.
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