Drift, dark and low, wide and deep

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DRIFT CBC ECOVER“Her husband was a pious man, a man who had not desired to become a monster. He had simply desired her, and what he had done to have her had made him monstrous.”

One of my cover artists was putting out premades, and one of her covers caught my eye while I scrolled through Facebook. I rarely buy a cover without some idea of what to do with it, but this one was just so beautiful, and my favorite color of blue that makes me feel so peaceful, that after agonizing over whether to buy it, I gave in to the impulse.

Just a few hours later, on one of my evening walks, still exhilarated by the beauty of the cover, I came up with the story to go with it—with a series of simple, surreal, powerful images that strung together into a story more sensory and cinematic than any other that I’d played with. The title given on the premade even worked, so that didn’t change.

From writing Deep Down and Drift, I’m reminded that, no matter how much I love my series and will continue to enjoy multiple-book stories, there’s something incredibly satisfying about standalone novels. Series allow for slower character arcs, but standalones require much more efficient storytelling, and you know that when you finish the book, you’re done with the story (not with the project, of course, but you don’t have to keep thinking ahead). The writing is cleaner, tighter, and because a style doesn’t have to be sustained over multiple books, there’s a lot more room for experimentation.

By necessity, a novel needs more fibrous filling than a movie. A wordy medium is like stitchcraft, with words serving to re-create the illusion of sensory stimuli rather than the sensory stimuli doing its work on its own—a middleman that photography and movie-making isn’t as dependent upon. A book cannot do what photos and videos can do, but the exhilaration is in the effort to mimic the same effect.

I was inspired by those slow-burn, surreal, high-style, almost-horror movies that show far more than tell, with spare dialogue and impressionistic experiences. I couldn’t quite replicate those experiences, because words require a different touch, and the authorial voice is still undeniably mine. But each of the images that hit me so strongly during the inception of the story each made their way into the novel, and there’s definitely less dialogue, much like Deep Down, because there’s less occasion for it, which forces a more sensory drive to move the plot forward.

Drift isn’t a horror novel. I would classify it as fantasy, heavily inspired by folktale and one or two fairy tales, but it’s infused with the unsettling influence of American gothic, a complementary subgenre to modern folktale as well as historical horror.

I had to wait a year after conceiving Drift before I could write it, then waited another year to edit it, because I had other things already on my schedule. If I don’t follow my schedule, I’m too beholden to my latest idea rather than giving more established ideas their due, plus I need to block the proper time for editing. The wait allowed me to flesh out the plot beyond impressions, build tension inside myself just aching to release (yes, storytelling and sex have a lot in common), and to enjoy it better when I was finally able to sink into Dani’s story.

Interestingly enough, to go along with the perpetual rain of the story, is it a coincidence that the July when I was writing DRIFT was one of the wettest in DFW history, and that the June when I was going through my editors’ notes was also one of the wettest in DFW history? Yes. It was a total coincidence. But it didn’t feel like it. It felt significant, as though the story had power. And it’s consistently felt good, even though the anxiety’s ratcheted up as well, more fear than I felt with Deep Down or the Thorns series.

As another interesting aside: I’ve released enough books now that there are enough titles for a title page.

Slide into the water…


You can purchase the e-book now, and it’s enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, so if you have Prime, you can read it for free. The paperback is going to be a bit longer in becoming available, just because of timing issues.

After her mother’s funeral, Dani nearly drowns at the lake where she’s lived her entire life. She learned to swim before she could walk, but the water tingles and prickles over her skin, drawing her under.

She’s saved by a stranger who claims that the rains follow him, who sees when her father treats her the way a father shouldn’t.

Her mother left behind more than just memories and an empty lake house. And if Dani can’t find it, she’ll never break free from the shackles that her mother couldn’t escape.

“I have so much to tell you, my love. I can only hope that you heard me.”

DRIFT description

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CBC Drift partialHopefully available by the end of the month, Drift is a standalone novel inspired by fairy tales and folklore, with a splash of American gothic.

After her mother’s funeral, Dani nearly drowns at the lake where she’s lived her entire life. She learned to swim before she could walk, but the water tingles and prickles over her skin, drawing her under.

She’s saved by a stranger trespassing on her father’s boat who claims that the rains follow him, who sees when her father treats her the way a father shouldn’t.

Her mother left behind more than just memories and an empty lake house. And if Dani can’t find it, she’ll never break free from the shackles that her mother couldn’t escape.

“I have so much to tell you, my love. I can only hope that you heard me.”

COMING SOON – DRIFT

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CBC Drift partialThe water calls, my dear, my love,
So dive into the deep,
Where fish will feed and nourish you
And whales sing you to sleep.

The water calls, my dear, my love,
As moon calls to the shore.
From cracking ice and rising seas,
We’ve come this way before.

The water calls, my dear, my love,
Against your thicker skin.
Hide it when it sheds away
To protect the one within.

The water calls, my dear, my love.
Beware the hearts of men,
For they will tempt with hollow words
And steal from you your skin.

The water calls, my dear, my love,
So dive into the deep,
Where fish will feed and nourish you
And whales sing you to sleep.

REVIEW: Green Room

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Green_Room_(film)_POSTERIt’s difficult to begin a review of Green Room without mentioning the tragedy of Anton Yelchin’s death. Green Room was Yelchin’s last theatrical release prior to his death. For those, like me, who fell in love with him as the youthful Chekhov on the Star Trek movie reboot or perhaps as the disturbed teen with homicidal OCD on Criminal Minds, we lost a quietly charming, sharp-featured talent far too soon.

What I liked about this movie was that, although Yelchin’s character could be called the protagonist, the story didn’t rest on him, nor did he have to carry it. Yelchin is quite comfortable taking a humbler place, and it’s part of what allows him to blend in wherever he’s cast. He’s not a chameleon, but he’s undemanding, which really lets a story shine through whatever star power he could have if he wanted it.

Imogen Poots has horror cred, but Patrick Stewart was the real name in this movie. Yet not even Stewart overpowers the movie. The director’s use of him was smart, his choices more understated than the usual warmth and gravitas that he brings to a screen. In fact, it’s a completely unexpected choice. It’s hard to believe that we live in a universe in which Stewart plays a neo-Nazi leader, but not making him a scene-chewing villain saved this movie from being something forgettable.

Instead, our actors just play people. The band is completely out of their depth, with the strongest of them among the first to get cut down, because authority issues and a background in school wrestling aren’t that effective against fighting dogs and shotguns. Yelchin is just a pale, skinny cinnamon roll who is woefully out of his depth in a fight situation, which is a point he makes in a really good monologue peptalk about paintball (that was apparently based on a real event that the director experienced). And Stewart and the other neo-Nazis are utterly banal evil, their matter-of-fact racism an armor for greed. The kills are vicious and extreme but without fanfare, and unlike slashers, senseless.

Green Room is a stark, smart, tight, intense, realistic indie horror thriller. Completely recommend.

REVIEW: The Forest

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the forest movie(Not to be confused with The Woods. Different horror movie entirely.)

Being good can forgive a multitude of sins. Unfortunately, The Forest can never be forgiven. The only virtue in this movie is that I got to spend some time in the company of Natalie Dormer, who is quite pleasant to spend time with. Too bad it was in such a forgettable dud.

The Forest endured some well-deserved controversy for exploiting the real tragedies of the actual Aokigahara forest in Japan. Suicide, especially in highly ritualized places, has context, context that shouldn’t just be transformed into ‘the bad ghosts made them do it’ and that’s the end of it—sort of how ‘because they’re crazy’ shouldn’t be the end of the conversation.

There are a few other horror movies that tread a problematic line but recover—sometimes shakily—because they respect that line yet still tell a good story. If you’re going to exploit real people’s tragedies, you sure as hell better do a good job, or else you wasted everyone’s time and money AND pissed a lot of people off. Congratulations.

The Forest, however, brings absolutely nothing new to the horror table—just twin magic (the movie establishes that the main character is a twin multiple times over in the first thirty minutes, as though the first five times just weren’t emphatic enough), a series of jump scares that we’ve all seen before, getting lost in a forest that was much more unsettling when Blair Witch did it, Japanese demon makeup that we’ve seen done better, (American) tourists making bad choices, and no real understanding for why Aokigahara is a suicide forest in the first place.

I’m not going to belabor the point. The horror elements of this movie failed so hard that it really isn’t worth the effort.

Here’s what they could have done to make it better:

Scrap the Japanese suicide forest idea. The Grudge remake with Sarah Michelle Gellar did a decent job showing the disorientation of being in a different country, but The Forest barely addressed its setting except in the most sweeping, simplistic, inaccurate, and sometimes insulting terms. Why did the twins go to Japan? Because that’s where the forest is. That’s it. So scrap Aokigahara entirely. We have forests aplenty in America, Canada, and Europe that can have just as unsettling backstories (see: the blooming Folk Horror subgenre). You can make shit up and still say it’s ‘inspired by true events’ because Aokigahara was the springboard.

Next, respect the reasons for suicide locales. If you know the reasons why people go to specific places, and if you acknowledge cultural patterns of suicide, you’ll be able to create a richer mythology, because the tragedy will be real rather than exploitative.

Focus less on the supernatural horrors, especially if you don’t know how to do them properly. In movies like this, supernatural horror only exists to enhance the real kind. The most interesting, human part of THE FOREST was the guide who led the journalist (Taylor Kinney, if it matters to you) and Dormer into Aokigahara on his suicide rounds, a job that he does pro bono to help dissuade people from suicide if they’re still alive or mark where the bodies are if they’re not. It’s a thankless, joyless, incredibly poignant task. That’s where the emotion is, which is where the story wants to be.

The heart of horror is often sorrow, and horror should be human before it’s monster. When studios want to make a horror movie, their biggest misstep is usually prioritizing the monster over the humans, meeting the creepy visual and jump-scare quota to justify the genre label over producing a good story, because horror audiences will watch whatever commercialized crap they put out.

I’m not saying we won’t. After all, I didn’t go to the theater for The Forest, but I caught it on Netflix, hoping it would be better than I heard it was. I’m willing to watch a lot of dreck churned out by the horror movie machines, looking for hidden gems among the rubble, but this isn’t one worth repeating. It has no staying power, no potential to become a cult classic, and ultimately needs to be forgotten.

Someone get Natalie Dormer a good horror movie. I’ll wait.

REVIEW: Silent Hill: Revelation

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61123974_SH_6x8_1R1After all this time, there are a number of movies I’ve wanted to write a review for, but for some reason, I went back to a sequel of one I’ve already written about, because I was craving a bit of Silent Hill. Silent Hill is one of my favorite movies, and Silent Hill soundtracks accompanied me a great deal through the editing portion of Deep Down.

Silent Hill: Revelation is not nearly as good, which doesn’t seem to be all that important, because I’ve watched it more times than I should watch bad movies, so there must be something bringing me back, other than familiarity. Like most bad movies I watch regularly, I think what draws me is potential. Underneath all the roughness, there’s a gem, even if the people responsible for mining and shaping it utterly mangled the job.

Part of the problem was the same thing that drew Silent Hill down, which was the shoehorning in of men where they didn’t need to be. Sean Bean once again plays the part of Sharon’s father, and he technically has more screen time, but his role doesn’t really get any more useful. Then we see a young Kit Harington, youthful and a bit too Raphaelite for the setting, intended as a love interest of sorts, but Laurie Holden and Radha Mitchell had more chemistry without actually being love interests. But goshdarnit, we gotta have a man in here. And if Sharon’s going to be eighteen, goshdarnit, she’s gotta have a love interest. (Why it has to be Kit Harington, only the casting director knows.) Then throw in a PI and two cops who seem to belong to other movies altogether and disappear after the first part of the movie, completely irrelevant to the story. Malcolm McDowell has a notable cameo, but he was criminally underused in an attempt to bank on his horror legacy.

Perhaps I’m looking at it all wrong. Perhaps I should be encouraged that, although there’s more testosterone on the soundstage, they’re taking on roles typically saved for women—the husband waiting at home, taking care of the kid; the father getting kidnapped and held hostage; the stale, two-dimensional love interest that doesn’t rise beyond a few flat notes.

But frankly, the women aren’t much better. Whereas the original featured a strong core of complicated, fleshed-out female characters, here we have Deborah Unger reprising her role as Alessa’s mother in a far less necessary expositional cutscene. She literally brings nothing new to the table, and the makeup budget didn’t support putting her in her full original get-up, so I don’t even know why she was brought in at all.

Then we have Carrie-Anne Moss, whose motivations are all over the place and who’s more interesting when she’s the Missionary (i.e. Less Carrie-Anne Moss) (parenthetical #2: Not that the Missionary made much sense). Her brand of underacting doesn’t lend itself to the dramatics that the role required of her. I got strong hints of her channeling Miranda Richardson from Sleepy Hollow, but frankly, Richardson might have been a better fit. The role itself, however, was thankless and criminally under-considered, because an undeveloped villain gives our hero no real foil.

Adelaide Clemens, as grown-up Sharon, does a passable, committed job, although I wouldn’t call it a breakout. Clemens’ vulnerable strength and eerie similarity to Radha Mitchell make her an adequate inheritor of the lead adventurer’s role. (True, Sharon was adopted, but children often grow to look like their family anyway, biological or not.) She and Bean are the anchors in this otherwise churned-out, effects-driven money-grab.

The beginning stumbles, even more awkward than the original, with EX-PO-SI-TION! as tell-y rather than show-y as it gets. It felt like a cutscene from a video game, but the original Silent Hill worked best when it nodded to the games rather than tried too hard to fit into them. If an audience needs that much explanation for things to make sense, your story is in desperate need of some doctoring. Conversations through mirrors, special symbols on a secret box, half an arcane seal… Not even Bean could make this dialogue less cringe-y. You ever get the feeling the script was written in a day and never edited? There’s even a part where we’re EX-PO-SI-TIONED! that Silent Hill was built on ancient Indian burial ground. Seriously? Seriously?!

When a movie goes this spectacularly wrong, in spite of a wealth of potential built by the first movie and a squandered budget, I like to look at what could have been done to make it better. I think, for all the deviations from the story set up in the original (most notably, the ending), a sequel would have been better served by being a completely different story with completely different main characters. Then we wouldn’t need so much freaking explanation to try to fit it into movie- and game-universe at the same time. However, if they absolutely had to bring Sharon and her dad into the story, they would have benefited by not going back to Silent Hill, but instead focusing on how Sharon brings Silent Hill wherever she goes, because (spoiler) Alessa came out with Sharon at the end of the first movie.

The school scenes had some interesting elements and could have been even better with alterations. For instance, I couldn’t tell why Sharon’s outfit was any different than the rest of her classmates enough for the requisite popular kid to deride her for it. I mean, I’m not much into fashion, but Sharon was rocking trendy layers, so I’m not sure where the loss in translation happened. Chalk another one up to the cringe-tastic bad script and a wardrobe mismatch?

But there was something about the school scenes, especially with the disorientation within the windowless halls, as well as the mall scenes that reminded me of Nightmare on Elm Street. They really could have played up her hallucinations to show us how Silent Hill is just beneath the veneer of reality and Sharon/Alessa makes the barrier between them weaker. Rather than the Missionary as the primary antagonist, I would have her be the secondary, trying to destroy Alessa or possess her for her own power, while Alessa herself was Sharon’s primary antagonist—Sharon’s personal reality crumbling and bringing the rest of the world with her. It would have been far more interesting to see Silent Hill bleed into the real world than just go back to the town, which was somehow the same Silent Hill and another version of Silent Hill at the same time. The filmmakers couldn’t agree on that, so it ended up not working as either one.

If they were going to make it the same Silent Hill, they should have made it feel more like the original and less haunted carnival/underground cult/insane asylum. If they were going to make it different, they should have committed to that. Not going one way or the other led to disjointed filtering and a complete annihilation of anything approaching reality rules. Also, with so many versions of Silent Hill represented, the filmmakers never got to focus on any one, so the creepy creatures felt just as throwaway and disjointed as the characters and setting.

The original Silent Hill worked because it knew what its world was and what its rules were. If it had creatures, it focused on ones that had a specific, unsettling purpose to each scene—a kind of burned, decayed, mummified poetic justice, even if we didn’t know what it all meant at the time. Three-dimensional characters had a purpose at every part of the story, and the filmmakers took their time to show rather than tell.

The sequel, on the other hand, tried to be too many things and succeeded at none of them and couldn’t ground itself in any theme or plot line. It lurched from element to element, performing back-breaking gymnastics to try to fit them together, and left me nothing but good music, a few good visuals, and a serious hunger for better.

Throwback: Vultures

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File under “Sometimes I get mad.” I wrote this last year as an indictment against systemic racism, from incarceration to economic opportunity, set in a reimagined world of non-human animals. Because what can I say, I watch a lot of Disney.

VULTURES

Scavengers caught in cages
Different stages of difficult phases
Fangs filed, claws clipped
To the bone, wings snipped.

Ribs press against skin
As spectators stare in
At beasts who never stood a chance
And never stand a chance again.

Fresh apples in dead mouths
Fresh blood, draining down
Decaying flesh, begging hand unfurled.
When did vultures get to rule the world?

Gold glints in their eyes
Black velvet circling the skies
Safe from the kill, prey the predator’s own.
When did vultures get to rule the world?

Beasts of work, beasts of burden
Unburdened by strain of security
Best to stay low to the ground
Better to maintain the purity.

Hungry eyes, the grass is greener
Where it isn’t needed.
What’s a hare to do
With something to care for, my dear?
Just another bit of roadkill.
No one’s crying, my dear.

Carrion desiccation
Unrepentant desecration
Each poor dying soul strung like a pearl.
When did vultures get to rule the world?

Everything collapses
And dignity lapses
There’s always dissatisfaction
For them to feast upon
A battered, bloody violent reaction
For them to feast upon
As though it doesn’t matter
Which beast they feast upon.

And the predators know
To leave a generous share.
Let the thoroughfare war
Over whether it’s fair.

There’s always more dead to go around.
Always something to blame farther down on the ground.
When did vultures get to rule the world?
When did vultures get to rule the world?

…because tomorrow you might be dead

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abstract black and white blur book

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When you’re looking through glass at tomorrow’s history lesson, there are just some things that go through your head.

I worry that I won’t get everything done, that all the things I planned to write over the next ten years won’t get written. That I’ll die with series unfinished and stories untold and unshared.

I’ve gone a lot of places, I’ve met plenty of people, but writing is my life, and I don’t know if I’m going to be alive next year. That’s just truth.

I’m sheltering at home, but so many people in my area aren’t, and without masks. I don’t know anyone who’s died of coronavirus, but I don’t know how many people I know who will. And one of those people could be me. That’s just truth.

I work from home and I don’t go out. My dad is a Whedon dad; he does all the leaving for the household.

This is doing nothing for my paranoia and agoraphobic tendencies, to say the least for my thanatophobia.

One small but significant thing that’s changed is that I eat the ice cream and pizza now. Because if I’m going to die soon, I’m seriously not going to tell myself I can’t have the ice cream. It’s a good thing I really like working out.

Entertaining Devils

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ancient architecture art carved stones

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File this under “Sometimes I Get Mad.”

ENTERTAINING DEVILS

They say demons that tempt you walk in deserts
And the deserts are expanding all the time
Tumbleweeds are our new unit of measure
We just passed the last rusted street sign.

They say there’s gold in them there hills
At night, you hear cries and flashing lights
The moths flock in to eat their decaying fill
Promised cold ends in a warm paradise.

But the games are all rigged
And the house always wins,
The promise a mirage,
Successes the sins.

There are many roads and doors
To a hell with many levels
Another one bites the dust
As soon as the last red dust cloud settles
The wolves, they wear white wool
And the lambs howl like rebels
If we’re entertaining angels
Then aren’t we also entertaining devils?

There is more than one dead end coming
Red paint on cardboard says an end is nigh
With long dead language, the demons are summoned
With living words, the demon have learned to lie.

Abundant feasts have gone brown and spoiled
Laughter follows as the weakest fall
Nothing but fog for which men have toiled
Dancing in the streets from the latest thrall.

The party continues on
Until we wear through the soles
When laughs turn to screams
There’s no buying what we sold.

There are many roads and doors
To a hell with many levels
Another one bites the dust
As soon as the last red dust cloud settles
The wolves, they wear white wool
And the lambs howl like rebels
If we’re entertaining angels
Then aren’t we also entertaining devils?

From the view of the mad, the sane seem worse
Sanity’s heart is sanity’s curse
Hell’s unemployed, basking in the glow
There’s no telling how far man will go
To keep the wheels turning
And the candles burning
And the spirits yearning
For something already sacrificed
To the discerning gentleman
With scotch on ice
Who makes sure no one’s learning
What feeds the beast, what feeds a man

What need have we for devils
When we do so well ourselves?
Half the fun of wreaking havoc
Is knowing how many angels fell.

There are many roads and doors
To a hell with many levels
Another one bites the dust
As soon as the last red dust cloud settles
The wolves, they wear white wool
And the lambs howl like rebels
If we’re entertaining angels
Then aren’t we also entertaining devils?

 

Warning Signs

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white rose and pink smoke

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The coming mist glows yellow
With sulfur in its smell
A smoky sky, hanging low,
Carries dangerous stories to tell.

Red sky in the morning
Blood on the moon at night
An ill-swept wind blows in
With an eerie kind of light.

The world is lit with warning signs
The roads run dark and still
Cyan bruises on these lips of mine
Purple sage upon the hill.

Red eyes from the mourning
Blood on the sheets at night
A sickness marks our subtle sin
The beast will have its bite.

In all the colors of all the signs
We saw but haven’t seen
That we bring ourselves to an end of times
When all we can see is green.
When all we can need is green.

A person must be wicked
If a person’s to be heard
Were I a witch, with verdant skin,
Could the lesson be learned?

Red hives in the morning
Blood from the mouth at night
The edge of green is browning
And blackens into white.