2015 Was a Year.
That much we can probably all agree on. It seemed like it took forever for this brainless rock to make it back to the approximate position it occupied in orbit around the sun on this day last year. I suppose it’s important to remember that it never comes back to the exact same spot. It was a mixed bag of extremes for me and mine, and I’m more than happy to put it into the past where all things eventually go.
This year (as I’ve probably already annoyed everybody to death about) I landed my second short story sale, which was my first to a print venue. I was excited to receive an acceptance and even more excited to see the names I would be joining in the Table of Contents. I was still more excited to see so much enthusiasm around it in this little weird fiction community (which, I might add, is overwhelmingly a positive bunch coming from a place of genuine pay-it-forward-and-back-itude).
That said, I expected to be spurred on and encouraged by the acceptance and generally quite positive reception. It has now been a year and a half since I wrote that piece, which I finished in a matter of maybe 6 hours total, including revisions from my cherished First Reader and my astute editor. Hardly a huge time investment, but it’s the sort of thing that just came together on its own and made me feel like a mere conduit. I have not finished anything creative since the big move, though I have two pieces in various stages of progress that I think have great promise. Those are the kinds of things that get written one painful sentence at a time jotted on a cell phone, though, not the conduit kind. I expected that arriving in a new state in which I knew no one and had no immediate channels for recreation would leave me with the time and motivation to sit down and do all the difficult grind-it-out work that is even more important than the inspiration part of the equation. That did not happen, and I have no real theories as to why.
Apart from my more serious endeavors, I did go through a brief spate of writing Claustrophobic Press articles in the middle of 2015 after being on hiatus from trying to be funny for quite awhile. I don’t think of these as creative, though, because in my mind they’re basically just a natural byproduct of reading the news and being annoyed by things. I think three people saw them, maybe. I don’t know if they’re any good or ever were, really, but it’s fun to do once in awhile at least.
In part, I can hide behind blaming my old writing laptop for dying on me and not being able to justify spending money on a new one, but that is a small part and sounds even to me like an excuse for not writing rather than an explanation. I can, however, say that I’m extremely grateful to have received a great laptop for Christmas that will hopefully allow me more opportunities to get some of these things done outside of the house, which seems to be filled with excuses not to write. I am also grateful to have been able to write/contribute to a few nonfiction pieces for Weird Fiction Review and SF Signal. This may be absolutely dorky, but the part of school I occasionally miss the most is writing research papers. It’s the best way to learn a lot in a self-guided environment.
I’ll wrap up this segment by pointing out a place in which Nightscript has been counted as a Best-Of anthology. I thought I saw it on another best-of list, but I’m not finding it at the moment.
Dark Musings: “I loved all the stories in here, all were of the highest quality and all were, indeed, darksome – creating images that still lurk in the dark recesses of my imagination. The 2015 Dark Muse for a multi-author collection therefore goes to Nightscript 1.
My reading life has been a wave with crests of frenzied activity and troughs of sheer burnout. I think it has now been a month since I cracked open a book, despite the fact that my to-read list would now take multiple lifetimes to get through. In terms of books I read, 2015 struck me as a year of very, very good. Almost everything I read could be described as such. 4 stars out of 5. I am a steadfast believer in Sturgeon’s Law and had arrived at the same conclusion on my own before I ever encountered the expression (I think working in a bookstore will do that to a person). But still, that remaining 10% is an intimidating number of books. People who complain that there isn’t enough good work out there are simply not looking in the right places or have not learned whose recommendations to trust. Nevertheless, although I can count the number of bad books I read this year on half a hand, I cannot think of anything I’d give an honest 5 out of 5 stars to. I reserve those for books that I not only think could not be improved in the slightest, but that I see as having a clear influence on what came after, or likely will if it was a recent release. I think William Gass’s “The Tunnel” or maybe Sasha West’s “Failure and I Bury the Body” are the last things I read that made me feel that way, and it’s been over a year since I finished those.
But that is not to negate the fact that a year of LOTS OF VERY, VERY GOOD is certainly worth celebrating, and far better than most of the alternatives. Maybe I’m too curmudgeonly or not fully appreciating some of these things. That has certainly happened before.
It was very difficult to pick just 3 things for my contribution to the year-end WFR list, and I’ll mention a couple of works that didn’t make that cut because I had to trim my list down somehow, and I could honestly provide a good defense of most of the books I read this year. So my final three for that article came down in part as a result of whim and timing as much as anything else. In that piece, I also chose to give attention to three books that I had not already devoted a full review to, which ruled out “The Rim of Morning,” “Get in Trouble,” and “Sing Me Your Scars,” even though those are just as solid as my three picks in the best-of article.
A few others I read this year and enjoyed quite a lot that I haven’t been able to include elsewhere:
Matthew Bartlett – “Rangel”
Simon Strantzas – “These Last Embers”
Nicole Cushing – “Children of No One” (released in a previous year, but new to me in 2015…turns out Nicole and I were practically neighbors before I moved from Louisville)
I seem unable to listen to much that isn’t loud and/or abrasive (speaking of which, I wish Daughters would get back together now that I live in their stomping grounds—shame I didn’t discover them until after they went on a hiatus of sorts). Despite the above, the two shows I went to this year weren’t particularly loud or abrasive, but they were nonetheless a welcome diversion. Seeing Local H at the Met was like a little slice of home. They are probably the nationally touring band that I’ve seen the most (maybe a dozen now), and with their distinctly Midwestern background it felt like I was getting a treat from home. I also took in Symphony of the Goddess: The Music of The Legend of Zelda, which was a birthday present to my dear partner. Although the Zelda games were never quite my thing, I had a great time at this and so did she (I’m pretty sure).
The best new things I heard this year are:
Blacklisters – “Adult” | Hands down, this album kicks ass all over the place. This stands as my clear favorite of the year.
Chelsea Wolfe – “Abyss” | Wolfe changed gears significantly on this album, adding in some electronic elements, and I think it’s the best thing of hers I’ve heard.
Baroness – “Purple” | I’ve only listened to it once, but I’m liking this album a good bit more than the previous two
The anticipated things I heard this year that I have to admit were a little disappointing:
Metz – “II”
Girl Band – “Holding Hands with Jamie”
Christian Fitness – “Love Letters in the Age of Steam”
Emika – “DREI”
Apart from the most important thing, obtaining access to necessary medical care for my partner, NecronomiCon was probably the highlight of an otherwise somewhat low year for me. I got to meet a boatload of people whose work I enjoy and respect. Everyone I spoke to and worked with was friendly and genuinely excited. It was my first convention of any kind, and I could not have asked for a better one, despite the brief moments of nonsensical rantings of reactionaries who shall remain nameless. The overwhelming vibe was one of positivity, inclusiveness, and enthusiasm, and a couple of days there as a volunteer and civilian was a needed boost. I expect to go to the next one, and may just get in touch with the ReaderCon folks to volunteer there in 2016 as well.
Speaking of NecronomiCon, the convention organizers have graciously agreed to carry Nightscript on the shelves of their bookstore, Lovecraft Arts and Sciences, in the Providence Arcade.
Lest I appear an ungrateful whiteboy kvetching about problems that are objectively not nearly as bad as many others face who are in a lesser position of privilege, my wonderful partner has faced far more challenges than I have, and every complaint I make is with the caveat that at least I have my health when others do not. She fights every day and has to fight harder against more nefarious villains than simply malaise, boredom, loneliness, or career dissatisfaction, though she has to fight those as well.
I also lost my dear father in 2015 to a long battle with cancer. Although I tried always to be brutally honest with myself since I was a teenager that this was the likely scenario that would develop after a life of heavy smoking, it does not make it any easier. My parents visited me in August during a period of remission. We had a great time, and it was probably the best visit and final memory I could have asked for. But a short two months was all it took for it to come back, this time for good. I think we were all lulled into thinking the remission would last just a little longer. I have been to too many funerals in the last ten years, and they keep getting closer and closer to me. Dad and I were almost always clueless about how to talk to one another and find common ground after I hit teenagerdom, but the last couple of years saw a real opening up on that front and I’m glad to say that I think we both made progress, though stumblingly and imperfect, with how to relate to one another, and I can genuinely say that I had fun being around him the last few times we saw each other.
Which brings me to a topic that people who know me personally understand I’ve been passionate about for a long time, and I’m going to take some space here to mention it again, because it occupies my mind every single day of the year. And I have to assume that there are millions of people whose minds it occupies every single day of the year, because I am by no means in the worst position one could be in with respect to the issue. That we do not, in the wealthiest, most powerful nation on the planet, treat access to healthcare as a fundamental right is absolutely an unforgivable crime. I say this while I fearfully watch the news headlines out of Kentucky, where their new governor is preparing to piss on the Affordable Care Act in every way he can so that the upper class can have a few more dollars (and really, I mean “a few”) for their new SUVs, and all I can do is hope that his disgusting waste of an ideology does not land on too many of my friends and family. But it doesn’t matter if a person is my friend or family, because every single person who has their medical care access reduced is just another me or you, and every single one of those people is also someone else’s friend and family, and even those without friends and family deserve to be treated with dignity rather than “Other” trash to be discarded because we as a society have a very real difficulty internalizing the problems of others.
If people whine (and that is exactly all that it is, whining) about constructing a healthcare system founded on a premise of standardized access to care being some kind of infringement upon freedom, as Kentucky’s asshole, bigoted, classist senator Rand Paul likes to do, my and my partner’s story offers a counternarrative. The whole reason we moved to Rhode Island is because it is literally the only state in which we can have a reasonable guarantee of access to necessary treatments for Lyme disease, due to state legislation that could just as easily exist at the federal level. So this is quite literally a case of our freedom of movement being restricted, ironically enough, to the smallest state in the union because healthcare is not treated as a basic right for all. Subsidized insurance and prohibition of discrimination against persons with preexisting conditions, along with some of the other portions of the Affordable Care Act, are steps very much in the right direction, but they are simply not going to cut the mustard as a comprehensive, systemic change, and I will not stop being furious about our healthcare system until this is remedied.
It has been almost eight years since I finished my M.A., and I have long since lost the illusion of being able to make a dent in repaying the loans from that. I say this because our education funding model, much like our health care model, is a woeful, unsustainable lemon sold and eagerly lapped up by previous generations that clearly undervalued both of these things as worthy social investments with high returns if done properly, as many other developed countries have already figured out. If treated as a right, health care and education enable freedom, rather than restrict it. We desperately need to move past the idiotic notion of freedom as “the freedom to starve underneath a bridge” and mature the fuck up.
I have tried very hard to be positive about the move and keep myself open to discovering new people, places, and activities. So far it has been a mixed bag despite my best efforts. NecronomiCon has really been the only occasion on which I met people I would consider acquaintances apart from work. Rhode Island feels like a state of decaying suburbia that has some nice beaches in the places that aren’t decaying. 95% of the restaurants outside of Providence are chain restaurants that you can find in every other suburb in the U.S. It feels like a place with history and character, but no personality, if that distinction makes sense. I’ll gladly take its politics over those of Kentucky, but I cannot remember the last time a person outside my home made me laugh. The two independent book stores closest to our house have closed up shop between our date of arrival and today.
Job opportunities are few and far between if you’re not in the medical business. Drivers seem to struggle with fundamental concepts, such as parking and right-of-way, and don’t even bother to get out of their car to make sure you’re okay if they rear-end you. There is nowhere I can find that fills me with enthusiasm to get back on my bike, nor are most of the roads constructed in a way that would make me feel safe doing so. I seem to have lost the love of the ocean that I used to have. Instead of seeing it as beautiful, I now seem only to be able to think of it as a symptom of a cruel disease that encounters some sand at certain parts of the land mass we call home. But I’m also grateful to have it just down the road, because my partner thrives on it and that in turn makes me happy.
I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions.
Nevertheless, I wish to conclude on a positive note and say that I’m very grateful to still have friends and family when others do not, and that they are supportive. I would be in a much less desirable place in life without that. I hope that 2016 does not subtract any from me and instead adds a few.
Looking for some good gifts for the book lover in your family? I’ve recently contributed a few of my favorites from this year to the Weird Fiction Review End-of-Year Book List, alongside picks from the likes of Lincoln Michel, Sofia Samatar, Usman T. Malik, Helen Marshall, and more.
There are also some great book gift ideas over on Reddit’s WeirdLit community
I figured I would collect here the first few reviews from outside of Goodreads/Amazon that have appeared for Nightscript. They’ve all been favorable so far and hopefully the trend continues. Several of them were kind enough to mention my piece by name, so if you’re reading this, it’s much appreciated! All are full-length reviews, but I’ve included a quick summation of the review as well.
- Michael Kellermeyer at OldStyle Tales Press – TL;DR: “A purchase of this anthology is highly recommended to fans of intelligent and well-crafted horror.”
- Anthony Watson at Dark Musings – TL;DR: “Nightscript 1 is a worthy heir to Shadows & Tall Trees – C M has taken the mantle and run with it, producing an excellent book containing some of the best writing you’ll come across this year. It’s a book I recommend highly that you should purchase.”
- Rising Shadow – TL;DR: “Nightscript: Volume 1 is a splendid and fascinating anthology filled with weird and well written stories that will entice and chill readers in equal measure.”
Last, editor CM Muller appeared on weird fiction podcast The Outer Dark. You can listen to the episode here and subscribe to the show here. I’ve been enjoying the show and have listened to almost every episode since meeting Scott briefly at NecronomiCon in August. He, CM, and reviewer Justin Steele had many nice things to say about the collection and a couple of kind mentions of my story. If any of them are reading this, thanks again!
I’ll also take a few lines to summarize some recent work I’ve read by others that I’ve enjoyed.
- Nathan Ballingrud’s The Visible Filth | Nathan has been on my radar since we stocked his Small Beer collection, North American Lake Monsters, at the store where I used to work. I buy most things from Small Beer as long as I can fit them into the budget (or did at the time, rather, when I had a store account), but for one reason or another I just kept putting off buying that one. That was clearly an error of judgement, as I found “The Visible Filth” to be difficult to put down. I think I read it in two sittings, and if I hadn’t been traveling at the time it would have probably been just one. It was revolting in just the right way, perhaps a few hints of Ligotti, and a fine finish. I’ll definitely read something else by Nathan again soon.
- Thomas Ligotti’s “Songs of a Dead Dreamer” and “Grimscribe” | Many times have I gazed forlornly at the $400 used copies of the Subterranean Press edition and wished I could justify the expense. Thankfully, Penguin wised up and released regular trade editions of these two collections in their Classics series. I’ve enjoyed them so far, but what strikes me is just how far he has come since these first two releases. I think most of the work in Teatro Grottesco feels much more developed than the pieces in these collections. Likewise with what might be his best story (that I’ve read), in my opinion: “The Small People”. There are a few stories I’ve come across in Songs and Grimscribe that really didn’t do anything for me, but when he gets it right, he really hits it out of the park.
- Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts | This was a really tight horror story with plenty of interesting deconstruction and metacommentary on the genre, along with a charming and convincing narrator. There is a ton of reference candy for genre aficionados, and plenty of story whether you are one of those folks or not. This book seems to be doing pretty well, and I think that’s very much deserved. I was fortunate to attend a reading that Paul gave on the book’s initial release, and it was a really cool discussion about different takes on the possession story and how the book interacts with the tradition it draws from. This is another one that could be read in one or two sittings.
The book is available at Carmichael’s Bookstore, my wonderful former employer and independent store of choice. I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s also purchasable directly from publisher or at Amazon.
Rising Shadow has issued a highly favorable review of the collection. The short blurb on my piece states “This story has a good and gripping ending.” I’ll take it!
I have some commentary on a new edition from one of my favorite publishers, New York Review of Books, of William Sloane’s two novels, collectively titled “The Rim of Morning”, over at Weird Fiction Review.
Also, I have received my contributor copy of Nightscript. Photos of the cat doing cat things in the same frame as the book shall appear forthwith.
On a related note, I hear tell that Nightscript editor C.M. Muller is scheduled to appear on Scott Nicolay’s fantastic podcast, The Outer Dark, on Oct. 27. I briefly met Scott at NecronomiCon and have been listening to his show ever since. It provides some excellent in-depth looks at writing process, genre, specific works, and other related matters. I just received a copy of his novella, “_after_” from Dim Shores, and I can’t wait to get into it.
I’ve got a few words in the weird fiction episode of SF Signal’s Mind Meld series today, alongside several other folks such as Ann Vandermeer, Laird Barron, Mike Allen, Ross Lockhart (who I got to meet briefly at NecronomiCon–super friendly!), John Klima, and more.
I’ve also recently completed a review of an excellent new release from New York Review of Books, which should run soon.
Last, this coming weekend I’m planning to truck it on up to the Merrimack Valley Halloween Book Festival, where several of my favorite authors will be speaking and signing.
I’m going (as a fan) to The Merrimack Valley Halloween Book Festival, which looks to be promising. I’ve had the privilege of meeting several of the invited guests before, at NecronomiCon and readings elsewhere. But although I have signed editions of all of her books that I know of (except one small collector’s edition of “Stone Animals”), I have not yet gotten to convey my appreciations in person to Kelly Link, which I hope to do at this event. “Two Houses”, from her new collection (and previously published elsewhere), is one of my favorite short stories of the last decade, maybe of all time. I glowed about it some over in this review. Although she’s one of the most consistently top-notch authors I know of, that piece really deserves to be remembered as much as “The Specialist’s Hat,” which seems to be the go-to story when talking about her fiction.
Here’s a fun anecdote and brainriddleteaser: the first thing anyone says in the story I’m working on right now is, in fact, literally nothing at all.
Readingwise, I’ve been consumed by a spate of works from New York Review of Books, most recently William Sloane’s “The Rim of Morning,” due out in a couple of weeks. More on that shall be forthcoming forthwith.
Added a bibliography.
Pursuant to which, C.M. Muller’s Nightscript is out soon. Witness below the fantastic table of contents. I was lucky to be able to briefly say hello to Daniel Mills and Michael Wehunt at NecronomiCon 2015 at a reading of Aickman’s Heirs (Undertow). I’ve read their fiction before and enjoyed it, and I can say the same about several others in here.
EDIT: Mr. Muller is now taking preorders here
- “Everything That’s Underneath” by Kristi DeMeester
- “Strays” by Gregory L. Norris
- “In His Grandmother’s Coat” by Charles Wilkinson
- “The Cuckoo Girls” by Patricia Lillie
- “The Sound That the World Makes” by David Surface
- “Below the Falls” by Daniel Mills
- “The Keep” by Kirsty Logan
- “She Rose From the Water” by Kyle Yadlosky
- “Animalhouse” by Clint Smith
- “Tooth, Tongue, and Claw” by Damien Angelica Walters
- “Momma” by Eric J. Guignard
- “The Trees Are Tall Here” by Marc E. Fitch
- “A Quiet Axe” by Michael Kelly
- “The Death of Yatagarasu” by Bethany W. Pope
- “The Cooing” by John Claude Smith
- “A Knife in My Drawer” by Zdravka Evtimova
- “On Balance” by Jason A. Wyckoff
- “Learning Not to Smile” by Ralph Robert Moore
- “Fisher and Lure” by Christopher Burke
- “The Death of Socrates” by Michael Wehunt