[Insert Empathy Statement Here]

Something disturbing has happened lately. I normally restrict this blog to my own project updates and thoughts on writing, but I had to take a moment to share this story.

I am an independent author. I do not work at writing full time, and I have a “day job”, but writing is something that is very important to me, and getting exposure as an independent author is hard work, especially when you don’t have the time to invest in marketing and promotion.

A few years back, Craig Groshek of Chilling Tales for Dark Nights reached out to me for permission to feature some of my horror short stories on his website’s podcast. Three of my stories were given a fantastic treatment by veteran storyteller, Otis Jiry, and Craig was very respectful and courteous as we correspended about the permissions involved. The folks over at Chilling Tales for Dark Nights are a respectable and admirable group, and that has made it hard to witness what they are dealing with right now.

Earlier this week, their youtube channel was the target of a hacking incident. The hackers changed the channel’s name and privatized most of their videos, in essence erasing their brand identity and destroying their subscriber base in one foul swoop – all in an effort to post fradulent bitcoin videos.

The incident itself is awful, but the worst part is how YouTube is responding to the incident. As a result of posts made by the hackers, there were multiple community strikes made against Chilling Tales’ channel and they have had monetary losses as a result. This incident happened days ago and as of yet all that the channel has received from YouTube as a result of their many pleas for help are automated (bot) replies [insert empathy statement here], and generic messages telling them to await appeal.

This is a time where many are trapped at home, or unable to socialize with friends and family as they wish to. We are divided by a global pandemic, and one of the things that helps bring people together during these times of need is art. Art, and exploring creativity. The team at CTFDN not only promotes an interest in horror fiction, but promotes artists and authors in all that they do. They deserve better than this.

To help, please tweet @TeamYouTube regarding the strikes against Chilling Tales for Dark Nights (their YouTube channel name got changed to Tesla by the hackers). Thier official twitter handle is @ctfdn_official and they need all the help they can get.

Can I do this?

In 2012, I started writing a fantasy novel titled The Keeping of the Light – a story focussed around three point of view characters trying to survive in a post-war country where ancient magic seems to be coming back to life, with dangerous implications. The tale follows their personal journeys as they are forced to leave their homes and try to make sense of an unfamiliar and unfair world.

Pretty vague, I know, but if you’re looking for details, the rough drafts of the first 19 chapters or so are available on this website.

The thing that bothers me is I never finished writing the novel. About 3 years ago I reached the 50000 word mark and just… stopped. I ran out of steam. The tale had grown too large, too overwhelming, and looking back, I found that there were many errors and blunders that would need to be reworked and rewritten in irder for the story to be cohesive and clear. Also, my writing approach and ideas had changed, meaning the atory that I wanted to tell wasn’t the same as the story I had set out to tell. I didn’t feel like I was ready to tackle this task, and because I was focussed on my personal and professional life, writing came to a standstill. Since then, I have yet to write another word of the book.

I think I lost my drive.

Lately, though, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the story. I have always known the ending that I wanted to work towards, but I became overwhelemed with how to get there. Now, though, I’ve spent some time re-evaluating and I think I know where I want to go with the story.

I’m going to try to finish it.

I don’t know if it will be good, and I don’t know if anybody will like it, but I have to try. I want to finish this book, even if it is a peice of hot garbage because at least then I can say that I’ve done it. Then, if it takes me another 8 years to write another draft, then so be it – this is the story that I set out ti write, and It’s what led me to create this blog in the first place. It’s what got me writing, and I owe it to the story and these characters – and most if all, myself – to make it complete.

Happy writing.

Read (and write) between the lines (and in the margins (and in the footnotes (and anywhere you want)))

Book design has so many traditionally accepted formats that are taken for granted. There are standard rules for setting margins, line spacing, font, sentence structure, page layout, font allignment, image inclusion and so much more. We are so attuned to these practices that it really stands out when some starts breaking the rules.

But that’s the tricky part. In order to break the rules, you have to know what the rules are. There are three examples that immediately come to mind when I think of books that incorporate non-traditional page layouts and/or typesetting. Some work better than others. Let’s take a look.

Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities

Invisible Cities doesn’t sway too far outside the norm when it comes to the layout and formatting of the page. Instead, Calvino breaks the rules by exploring an atypical series of chapter and section titles, where chapters and sections are not organized chronologically, but by theme, and the ordering of these themes is based on a mathematical pattern rather than an arbitrary Chapter 1, 2, 3 and so on.

While the content of the book is highly stylized and artistically fluid, each section is fitted with a rigid structure of:

  1. A1
  2. A2 B1
  3. A3 B2 C1
  4. A4 B3 C2 D1
  5. A5 B4 C3 D2 E1
  6. B5 C4 D3 E2 F1
  7. C5 D4 E3 F2 G1
  8. D5 E4 F3 G2 H1

And so on.

This works, especially given the nature of Calvino’s work because despite a shared theme, the stories contained within don’t follow a traditional story format. If not for the highly planned-out table of contents, a reader could read the various descriptions, stories and sections in whatever order they please and still get lost in the journey of the book, however, the table of contents and the mathematical structure act as a sort of architecture to guide the reader through the tangled web of concrete, plumbing and beams that is the city of this book. The unorthodox arrangement gives the reader a sense of purpose in the text, which Calvino has used to cleverley set the reader up to search for and discover that purpose. Each reader discovers their own – led on by that mathematical road map.

Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Here, the author uses typesetting and page layout as a visual representation of emotion. While the ordering of the table of contents and the journey of the narrative follows a more typical format (albiet a non-chronological one), the individual pages and the formatting of the print of those pages are free to morph and change.

Outburts of emotion or anxiety-ridden revelations have the text running into itself, becoming more and more compressed and interwoven until it reaches a point where the pages become nothing more than a black scramble of ink, then solid black, then nothing. In another example, hand-written notes between a non-verbal character and others are represented as single lines or even single words on otherwise blank pages. In some chapters, words and phrases are outlined in ink, while in others images are printed among the words.

While the practice is effective in some circumstances, in others it comes across as a bit of a gimmick. I think that maybe this is due to a lack of consistency, and as a result it feels like Foer is just playing around with format. When it works, it’s brilliant, but the novel is quick to return to standard format after these explorations. Unlike Invisible Cities, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close fails to work (in my opinion, of course) because while the physical text represents the character’s emotions and journey, it doesn’t represent the reader’s journey, and it is the reader who is affected by the presentation of the story, not the characters.

Therefore, if we are breaking down the format and presentation of a piece of literature, it should both inform the reader and form a representation of the reader’s journey as they experience the book.

Mark Z Danielewski’s House of Leaves

Here, those two aspects come together brilliantly. House of Leaves excercises non-typical chapter formatting, font choice, page layout, images and even footnotes to convey the characters’ mindset, to reinforce the themes of the story and to represnt the readers journey by making the them an active participant in the progression of story and the actions involved in reading the physical book.

In chapters that explore labyrinthian themes, the reader finds themselves lost and trying to make sense of the confusing and overwhelming number of references and footnotes, winding back and forth through pages, forced to read backwards or even upside down. When action in the story becomes tense and threatening, the reader is forced to sprint through dozens of pages at a time, each page containing a single word or even just fragments of words in a clever representation of the stretching of time and space. Even the cover page of the book, like the walls of the house described in one of the narratives, is about half an inch too small to contain what is inside.

Of particular interest is the title: House of Leaves. The book is somewhat centered around the narrative of a house that is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. The book is as well. And what is a book if not a house for leaves of paper? As characters explore the titular house, the reader becomes an explorer as well, plagued by the eccentricities of Danielewski’s formatting choices. The formatting represents both the characters’ and the readers’ journeys in a way that creates a feedback loop where we begin to wonder if the characters and the book itself, for that matter, are not some representation of ourselves. What we find inside is informed by Danielewski’s text, but enforced by what we take in with us.

There are countless others, I am sure, that are exploring the boundaries of book formatting and presentation, but these represent three uniquely different approaches. This is a topic that I would like to revisit in the future, and it is a concept I am trying to explore in my own work.

That being said, I have much to learn. In the meantime I will be seeking out other texts that push the envelope in terms of book design and format. If you have recommendations, please leave them in the comments below.

Thanks, and keep writing.

I shouldn’t make promises that I can’t keep

Today was a good day for writing. I made real progress with my short story sequence “One Final Round,” almost ready to consider part 2 complete. Exciting stuff!

If you’re new here, welcome. One Final Round is a short story in a collection of horror tales I’ve been working on now – most of which are available for viewing here on my website. The eventual plan is to release the entire collection (a planned 10-12 set of stories) in ebook format.

Days like today, where I’ve made good progress, I feel excited to make some sort of big announcement, like this: “the collection should be completed by this fall!” or this: “expect an update soon on where you can download the completed ebook!”

As much as I want to be optimistic and make those sorts of excited announcements, I’ve been writing long wnough now to know that I shouldn’t make promises that I can’t keep. I’ve done it in the past, setting targets and deadlines for myself. I don’t typically succeed at meet those targets. It’s not fair to myself to keep setting these goals and celebrating them in advance when, in all likelihood, I will actually take much longer to accomplish them. It’s certainly not fair to anybody who is following these posts. Being isolated at home for these past few months has made me take stock of a few things.

So, I won’t say that the stories will be finished soon. I won’t say the ebook will be available for download soon. I won’t say that I have been dedicating all of my time to the project to get it out in the public as soon as possible… (I haven’t).

What I will say is that today was a good day for writing, and it feels good to have made some progress.

Something changed

For the first time in months, I am writing again.

This pandemic had really got me in a creative slump, but today something changed. Whatever the case, I’ve found my voice again, and this time I’m not immediately tempted to delete what I’ve written.

Stay safe, all. More updates to come soon.

Horror Adventures in Audio!

I am a real sucker for audio narrations of fiction, and especially horror. A couple of years ago my story “Deep Sleep” was featured on the Stories Fables Ghostly Tales Podcast, and the host did a fantastic job developing it for the audio format.

I went back to that episode recently and thought, “wouldn’t it be great if he could give Part 2 the same treatment?” So I reached out to the host, Simon – who’s great, by the way – and asked if he’d be interested.

The result is incredible. He did a fantastic job adapting the story and I’ve linked both episodes of the podcast (which is totally free, by the way) below.

If you enjoyed the story so far, I highly recommend listening to the audio adaptation, complete with sound effects and fitting background music. And, be sure to check out other episodes of the podcast as well for more horror narrations. If you enjoyed this one, you might want to add SFGT to your listining agenda!

Deep Sleep (Part 1) – Falling

Deep Sleep (Part 2) – Sinking

The Great Migration (a short story)

Oh, I remember it well, the great migration, if that’s what you insist on calling it. That’s not the name they were giving to it back then, but these things change, I understand. Back then they called it an “opportunity” and that sounded better than “resettlement” so that’s what we called it. I guess there wasn’t enough opportunity for financial growth created by our little town of fishers so the ones in charge of things took the opportunity to stop providing shipments of food, goods, medical supplies… you get the idea.

The way up was out – or in, rather. In was where they wanted us all to be, not out. Goodness knows, out there on the fringes of everything, on the coastlines and shorefronts we must have cost the the folks in the city quite a bit of money. Those outside places – “outports,” they say nowadays – were a risk to a bigger and better and more comfortable way of life. The only trouble was for the boys in charge to get us in on the whole idea, and people tend to agree to things with a few extra dollars in their pockets.

And with that business sorted out, out, we must go.

The problem with resettling a settlement is this: settlements are more than just the people that settled themselves there, they are also made up of all the things that those settlers settled around themselves. We – being the sure set folk that we were – had naturally settled ourselves quite solidly into the setting, and to reset ourselves and our settlement was to set for ourselves a detestable task. One that we were sure to solve, though, having set ourselves to start.

So it was, then, that the entire community started to pack its things up and prepare to vacate the premises.

First? No, no, no. Goodness no, we weren’t the first to be resettled. That being said, I like to think that we approached the whole situation with a level of creativity that the others could only dream of. Yes, our little town wasn’t about to go quietly and simply disappear into the crowd. We didn’t want to go – of course we didn’t – but we had taken the money and we had agreed to vacate the premises in search of gainful employment in the city and we were – and I like to think, still are – true to our word.

Commotion? Well, I don’t recall us being difficult about the situation, but I suppose that’s a matter of perspective, isn’t it? I guess you could say we were stubborn, but that is to be expected when you ask – or tell, rather – a community of people to just go away. You see, most would take an instruction like “vacate the premises” to mean “vacate yourself from the premises.” That’s mincing words, in my humble opinion. My neighbors and I – being the very literal folk we were – took “vacate the premises” to mean “vacate the premises.” Doesn’t seem that controversial to me.

We started with the houses, thinking to tear them down and rebuild in the city once we could find some empty lots. This, however, presented a challenge. The ones in charge had only given us a month to leave in the contract, and to tear down a town’s worth of buildings for repurposing would take much longer than that, even with all hands on deck. It was old Aunt Islay, who came over from the old world, that suggested we avoid the trouble of tear-down altogether. So we decided to drag the houses behind us, floating them over water and sliding over land to resettle them in the city. Great barges, floats and skis were constructed to prepare, and like a circus caravan for giants, our homes were fitted to coast, slide and roll through the miles to the city. It wasn’t easy work, but we were used to that.

Some folk might have stopped there but we had spent years cultivating the land for our needs – sowing crops, growing hedges, stacking great stone walls – and it felt wrong to leave it all behind. After all, hadn’t we agreed to vacate the premises? We took them too. All of it. Every fence post, every wall, every woodpile leaning against an old rotten stump – it was all carried with us. The trees whose shade we had rested in, the nests of birds whose music we enjoyed, the fertile patches of garden soil, the spring that brought forth cold fresh water perfect for drinking, the rabbits and foxes and mink who we often trapped for pelts (they made such fine hats for winter, you wouldn’t beleive), the old log in the cove where we’d sit and watch the sunset, the swimming hole with the deep pool and waterfall that fell down from the mountains above and oh, the mountains! Goodness, we couldn’t possibly leave those mountains behind! The cemetery with all its tombs and monuments. The hollow in the woods where young lovers were apt to visit. That hillside overlooking the harbor with the most perfect, enchanting view. We packed it all up, and made our way into the city.

And what a sight we must have been. Ha! How those city folk must have laughed and shook their heads at us as we moved our things in, laden with the premises, the settlement and all that. How they must have turned up their noses when we couldn’t find a lot big enough for it all in that rolling expanse where the buildings chafe when the wind blows at night and neighbors stare out of windows, into windows. While the boys in charge had requested us, it became clear very soon that they hadn’t bothered to make room for us and our resettling of everything.

“There,” old Aunt Islay pointed, “by that bus stop. That’s as good a spot as any.” It was there that we laid our burdens down.

I suppose I can understand the fuss. Once we had unloaded our things we took up quite a lot of space, and naturally things didn’t fit quite right. There were houses atop houses, gardens on government buildings, woods growing out the tops of intersections and museums – there was a particular commotion that arose because we had set down our harbor in the middle of a city park, but we thought the place was much improved by the seabirds gliding and the marine sunsets in summer. The locals didn’t much share our thoughts on the matter. A difference of perspective, I suppose.

Despite our differences we lived with the cityfolk for a while. Days went by. Months, years. After a while the locals seemed to grow a fondness toward our way of life. There were times when we’d find teenagers climbing up the streetlamps into our market to haggle prices on pelts and fresh fish, offering to trade in their pre-torn jeans and hamburgers. Other times we would catch sight of passersby gazing up from the busy streets, goggling dreamlike at our simple daily tasks in the town above the city. A few of the locals even went as far as to settle themselves on our native land, raising homes and clearing land amongst the woods and grassy hillsides of our patchwork neighborhood. Things became, in time, rather good.

And, yes, we grew to enjoy the city life as well – I’ll be the first to admit it! After a hard day of hauling traps or fishing it made life easier being able to board our canoes and paddle downtown to pick up a pepperoni pizza for supper that night. We’ve always been a folk to enjoy a good party, and what a good many times we had with those city dwellers – kitchen parties, cocktail parties, festivals, raves. Over time we changed the way they lived their lives and, undoubtedly, they changed us as well.

The one thing that hadn’t changed, it seems, was the opinion of those in charge of life around the city. As it turns out, our stubbornness had thrown what one might call a wrench into their plans of economic development. We had angered the boys in charge by tangling up their idea of a bigger, better way of life by dumping our setting over the top of theirs, and they weren’t about to let us get away with it. I mean this in the most literal sense.

The day came when those politicians and investors came marching to our doors and – without as much as a day’s notice – evicted us from the premises.

“Out,” they said, “out!” And what choice did we have? We’d be painted as criminals, outlaws, disturbers of the peace and wellbeing of the city. Our town above the city was messy, unsightly, in the way. They weren’t having it. We hauled up our boats, gathered our children and animals and belongings. We scrambled to collect everything we’d brought with us but by then it wasn’t so easy as that. The roots of our trees had taken hold in their soil, and the branches of theirs had brought forth fruit from which we ate. Our worlds had become not quite one, but together. We had become settled.

We found our way home, or back to the place where home used to be, at least. Our flight back over land and sea was a hard one, plagued by sickness and danger and terribly dull reading material, and once we had set ourselves back down at our space by the sea, we set ourselves to making things the way they once had been. The mountains were slid into place, the harbor positioned, the houses and trees and fence posts restored. Our memory had faded over time, so it became difficult to get things just right, and even when we called to our elders – the ones with the greatest knowledge of our home – they had lost interest. Old Aunt Islay said “Just put it over there. There, by that… whatever you call it,” and waved her hand dismissively when we asked whether it was right before going back to her tabloids.

Some of the city folk had come with us, I think, but they were nice enough and took the places of those that must have hidden away and stayed behind. We tried our best to put it all back – every rabbit, every field, every subway station – but it seemed impossible to make it all as it had been. We came to accept that, and in time even came to forget the things we left behind. Slowly, with some reservation, our setting became settlement again, and whether it’s the same as before or not, that sunset is just as beautiful as I can ever remember it being.

What is lost in translation?

I’ve been spending a lot of time exploring ideas for “Oceans Under Oceans” recently, and when I write I often find myself taking breaks to read some of my influences to get a grasp on what it is about them that I adore so much.

When it comes to short fiction, for me there is no finer collection than Italo Calvino’s “Cosmicomics.” The way that he can thrust the reader into fantastic settings where time and space are arbitrary, the characters are almost entirely non-human, but you connect immediately with the tale in a deeply emotional way is nothing short of amazing. It really is superbly written.

But – I reminded myself today – I’ve never read it as Calvino originally wrote it. I’ve only ever read the English translation. Admittedly, the English translation is superb, but one wonders how many liberties were taken to make the works work in English. It would be incredibly interesting to be able to read Calvino’s work in both English and the original Italian. The inverse would be interesting as well – how do McCarthy, Steinbeck, and Dickinson read in French? Italian? German? What about the reading experience changes? What remains the same?

Just a thought.

Keep reading, keep writing.

A flash of inspiration!

I am just overwhelmed by creative inspiration right now and it is incredible. The last year for me has been a very difficult one, and I have struggled to find a consistent outlet for my creative thinking. I feel like this is coming to an end, and I am enjoying riding the wave. While it may be a temporary high, it sure is a good one. Peace and love, good people. And as always…


Oceans Under Oceans (a short story collection)

I’m excited to announce that I am working on compiling a collection of short fiction, entitled “Oceans Under Oceans.” This will contain a selection of nine short stories, including “The Town That Moved,” “The Water’s Edge,” “The Definition of Fog,” and six more that have not been published anywhere online. This collection of non-horror short fiction will follow a common theme of nautical life and serve as a sort of faux folktale compilation. I can’t wait to share more, but for now, here’s a working cover design: