I haven’t done an installment of “we’ll send him cheesy movies” in a long while now, but I just watched I, Madman, and I think it qualifies. Over on Facebook Pseudopod editor Shawn Garrett (who should know) described it thusly: “the first half plays like a cheap American giallo, the second like a pulp fantasy horror tale come to life.” He’s not wrong. I described it as a Richard Sala comic in movie form. I don’t think I’m wrong, either.

Written by David Chaskin, scribe of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 and one of the better episodes of Monsters that I’ve watched thus far, and directed by Tibor Takacs of The Gate fame (as well as something called Metal Messiah, which is on a grindhouse marquee in the background of one scene of I, Madman), the result is a delightful little movie that I had never even heard of somehow until Trevor Henderson posted a still from it on Facebook, which immediately piqued my interest, for reasons that I hope are obvious:

... and horror the soul of the plot.

… and horror the soul of the plot.

Speaking of plot, the plot of I, Madman concerns a woman named Virginia who works in a book store in Hollywood while taking acting classes. The book store is handling the estate of deceased author Malcolm Brand, among which she finds a couple of his books; the above-pictured Much of Madness, More of Sin and the titular I, Madman. The first book details an attempt to create a human/jackal hybrid monster, which is wonderfully visualized and definitely reminiscent of the creatures from The Gate, while the second is about the author attempting to fashion himself a newer and more pleasing face by killing people and taking their attributes. At first, Virginia just scares herself reading the books alone at night. But then gradually, events from the books begin to happen in real life, as they inevitably must.

Though the movie was released in 1989, there’s a very old-fashioned pulp novel L.A. Confidential vibe to the whole thing, helped along by the fact that the in-book scenes are obviously period-set. By the end, we’ve got a climax in a book store (including a nice scene with a staircase of books), we’ve got a Frankenstein-like giallo killer, and we’ve got a human-jackal hybrid. What more could a guy ask for? This would also make a great Blu-ray double-feature with my last obscure movie obsession: One Dark Night. Just a suggestion, Scream Factory.

I fear that I’m going to inevitably be guilty of a bit of vaguebooking (vagueblogging?) here, which I generally try to avoid as much as I can, but which is occasionally an inevitable peril of the writing life, but I did something recently that felt like a big deal to me, and I want to talk about it, to the extent that I am presently able:

Though I have been writing for a living for more than a year now, and almost inevitably write something just about–though not quite–every day, that something is not always fiction. In fact, though I currently have more than 20 short stories either sold or published in 2014 (a big jump up from the two or so that I published last year), the lion’s share of my income–and thus, the writing that I do–comes from freelance content work, producing blog articles, press releases, and even tweets for various companies and organizations, never with my own byline attached. So writing new fiction is still a great feeling, when I get the chance to do it, and recently I completed, in three days no less, what will probably be my third-longest published work, once it is published; a novella (or novelette, depending on your definition) that currently clocks at around 14,000 words and will be the centerpiece of my next collection, about which I can’t actually say much just yet, but there’ll be an official announcement coming soon, I promise.

I say that I wrote it in three days, and that’s true, in the sense that I typed 14,000 words over the course of three days (with a one-day break in-between when I had to do other things instead), but I have been working on this story for more than a year. I don’t know exactly when the idea for this story first came to me, but I know that it was before the HP Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland back in April, because I was already talking about it with people there. Over the months that this story took shape in my notebooks, it underwent several permutations, and I probably wrote the first 5,000 words of it half-a-dozen times. It has been sitting at the top of my perennial to-do list for so long now that I was beginning to think it would never get crossed off, before I finally sat down and knocked out that rough draft in three days of more-or-less continual writing.

I haven’t actually re-read the story since I (figuratively) typed “the end” on it–I try to always give my stories at least a few days before I so much as look at them a second time–but my first reader has taken a look at it already, and I feel pretty good about it. I’m excited about this one, and eager to talk, but I can’t really, not yet. So why am I writing a post about something I can’t really talk about? Well, it’s not the story that I felt warranted the post, so much as the process. The combination of a few days of intensive writing after months of notations and brainstorming felt like something that I wanted to document, though I don’t know how much anyone outside of my head is actually interested in reading much about process.

I’ve never been much of a process person, really. While I have things that typically work for me–on most shorter stories, for example, I always type the thing out at least twice, because I find that rewriting, rather than simply revising, catches things that I might otherwise miss, things that aren’t quite mistakes, but that do make the story better–I also find that different work requires different approaches, and my process tends to change from one piece to another. That said, it’s worth noting that, in addition to being one of the longer things I ever finished, this is also the second thing I ever wrote entirely in Scrivener. (The first was Gardinel’s Real Estate.) I didn’t come anywhere close to using the full potential of the platform on this project, mostly just writing in it exactly as I would any other word processor, but I did make extensive use of the separate “notes” feature in order to store snippets for later use, and keep timelines and stuff straight. For Gardinel’s Scrivener was far more indispensable, since I was constantly making reference to Mike’s incredible drawings as I was doing the writing, and Scrivener let me toggle back and forth easily without switching windows.

The vagaries of freelance work often mean that it’s much more convenient to work in Word, but after this second run, I have a feeling that Scrivener will become a major fixture of my fiction toolkit, especially for longer and more complex works like the novel/la/ette I just completed.

big-hero-6-movie-sharedBeginning last year, I started keeping a journal in which I write down every movie that I watch. If I’ve already seen the movie before, I put a black asterisk by it. This serves a lot of purposes, including helping to jog my memory, but it’s also helpful at the end of year when it comes time to assemble the top 10 list that I’m expected to compile for Downright Creepy. It also helps me to keep a running tally of how many movies I’ve seen that came out this year, and in order to make end-of-the-year lists easier on myself, I’ve been keeping that tally in rough order of preference.

This weekend, I passed on seeing Interstellar–which I saw someone on Twitter describe as “Bullshit Space Dad Feelings Movie,” which probably isn’t at all fair, but more or less sums up my impression of the trailer–and instead caught an unexpected late showing of Big Hero 6, which rapidly jumped up near the top of that list.

There are a half-dozen or so movies jostling for my top spot of the year, and three of them are Marvel movies, and I think there’s something going on there, besides just that Marvel has got this making-movies-out-of-comic-books thing down. Big Hero 6 doesn’t look like it needs any boost from me–it beat Insterstellar at the box office, has an 89% at Rotten Tomatoes, and seems to be doing just fine for itself–but while I’ve seen several people talk about Big Hero 6 in a mostly positive way, it’s typically also been in a way that dismisses it as “entertaining and pretty,” as in the consensus over at the aforementioned Rotten Tomatoes. While I’m sure someone somewhere else has tackled this already, and probably more intelligently than I’m about to, I do think that, just as with my pick for number one movie last year in Pacific Rim, there’s something more important going on here than just a pretty, agreeable kids movie, and something that’s reflected in the other great superhero movies that came out this year, and that are rubbing shoulders with Big Hero 6 for my top spot.

In a word: Optimism. I grew up as a kid reading comics mostly in the 90s, during the Image boom which was defined by holographic foil variant covers, ridiculously big guns, and grim-n-gritty storytelling. As a kid, I didn’t mind. I ate that stuff up. I had tons of Spawn comics and WildC.A.T.s and all that other nonsense, and my best friend’s favorite artist was Rob Liefeld, and we didn’t think there was anything wrong with that.

But for a long while now, grim-n-gritty story lines have dominated the comics landscape, and pretty much until the launch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they were all there was when it came to even halfway decent superhero films. Grim-n-gritty has its place, and while we all may now look back and make fun of the early Image comics lineup–which we’re allowed to do, because we did time in those trenches–there are plenty of good comics that are grim-n-gritty. But while that may work for Batman, superhero comics (and films) are capable–I’d argue uniquely capable–of being a lot of other things, too. While Alan Moore’s (impeccable, don’t get me wrong) work on Watchmen and its various imitators have forever codified the previously-unspoken connection between superheroes and fascism (not to mention fetishism), superheroes are also inextricably linked to that much more pleasant -ism, optimism. And this has been a good year–maybe the best year in cinematic history–for optimistic superhero movies.

While you may be able to debate the optimism of what is probably this year’s best superhero flick, Winter Soldier*, it seems pretty indisputable that Guardians of the Galaxy and Big Hero 6 are situated firmly in optimistic territory. In the former we have a movie in which a lovable band of misfits literally save the world by holding hands, and both are films that are emphatically about the importance of teamwork and believing in the best in yourself. I’ve already talked about Guardians of the Galaxy, so let me touch briefly on Big Hero 6.

One of the key things preventing Big Hero 6 from being discussed in the more serious terms that we mostly seem to reserve for live action films and Pixar movies is that, on the surface, it isn’t really doing anything particularly new. The animation looks great, and San Fransokyo is a great setting, but fundamentally, a lot of Big Hero 6 feels pretty familiar, from the standard-issue comic book origin story to the action sequences and a flying scene that–while still touching–could have been lifted straight from How to Train Your Dragon. Like with Pacific Rim, the important stuff in Big Hero 6 is hidden under the hood of the narrative. But under that hood, a lot of big stuff is going on.

Not only is this a movie about teamwork and being yourself, and a flick that actually earns its “revenge isn’t the answer” message, it’s also an extremely science-positive, all-ages adventure that champions learning and caring–as exemplified by the diverse team of geniuses whose powers all derive from their interests and personalities, and the fact that Baymax, the movie’s symbol and anchor, is actually a caregiver robot. Given that, pretty much until the release of Iron Man back in 2008, superhero movies almost universally downplayed the intellects of their characters in favor of their more aggressive traits and cool emotional problems, that’s a big deal.

Like I said earlier, there’s a place in superhero comics and movies for grim-n-gritty story lines, but for my money what superheroes do best is to highlight the best of what people are capable of. When they’re firing on all cylinders, superhero stories can tell optimistic, all-ages tales about teamwork, friendship, and believing in yourself better than just about any other medium. It’s easy to dismiss optimistic stories in favor of grimmer ones, but looking around the world right now, I think those messages are ones that we sorely need, and I’m thrilled to see them getting the kind of big screen treatment that they deserve. Long live the optimistic superhero movie!

* I’d argue that Winter Soldier is as much about teamwork and believing in people (instead of systems) as any of the other movies I talked about here, but those themes are encased in a more chilling paranoia-driven thriller story structure that makes them perhaps a bit less accessible.

As you may have noticed, I did not, in fact, make it back here to write anything else before Halloween and, as it turns out, both the portentous day of my birth and the greatest holiday of the year came and went about as unmarked as they ever have around the Grey household. The reasons for this are myriad and, frankly, not very interesting, and they can be summarized by saying that October was, from top to bottom, pretty stressful. Fortunately, November seems to be off to a better start.

did receive a couple of pretty great presents from myself, things that I had pre-ordered months ago (when, thankfully, I had a little more ready cash) and which just now arrived on my doorstep, notably a slipcased, hardcover collection of all six volumes of Clive Barker’s The Books of Blood. While I’m widely considered a Lovecraftian author–and I have some thoughts about that to maybe delve into at some later date–there is probably no single book, and certainly no single single-author collection, that ever had a bigger impact on me than The Books of Blood, which I read when I was maybe too young, and which left an indelible impression. I’ve been waiting for a decent hardcover set of all six of them pretty much ever since, and I’m thrilled to have it sitting in pride of place on my desk, even if I’ve only had time to revisit a handful of the stories.

A few days after Halloween, I got a late present in the form of Ellen Datlow posting her longlist of honorable mentions for 2013. Considering that I only published two eligible stories that year, I was very pleased and proud to see that “Ripperology,” from Tales of Jack the Ripper, made the cut.

Somewhere I had meant to write a post about my first anniversary as a full time writer, which came and went back in September. My birthday would have been a good time for that, but, as it turns out, it wasn’t such a good time for it after all, so maybe this will have to suffice. There have been ups and downs of course, but in all, and in spite of dry spells, hard times and badlands it’s been a good year. I’ve got some more story sales coming down the pipe, and a big announcement on the not-too-distant horizon, and all in all, a day of playing baseball writing is still better than whatever most people have to do for a living.

Okay, time to just admit it: I dropped the ball on this whole Countdown to Halloween thing this year. It’s only four more days ’til Halloween, and I’ve managed to post all of three times this month. October has been a weirdly busy and stressful month, for a variety of reasons that aren’t very interesting to go into here, but rather than wallow in my own crapulence shortcomings, I’ll instead settle for dropping some news items on you before the month is out:

  • While the limited-run print edition of Gardinel’s Real Estate sold out within the first couple of weeks, artist M.S. Corley and I have released a digital version on Gumroad. You can pay as little as $2, or as much as you’d like, if you’re feeling generous. While it may not be as cool as getting the print edition, hopefully it’s the next best thing for those of you who missed out.
  • The Nickronomicon–a vile tome of Lovecraftian tales from author Nick Mamatas and publisher Innsmouth Free Press, for which I wrote the introduction–is currently available for pre-order on the cheap, and the pre-order sale has been extended through Halloween, so if you want to grab a copy, now’s the time.
  • Also available for pre-order is Letters to Lovecraft from Stone Skin Press, edited by my good friend Jesse Bullington, and featuring my story “Lovecrafting,” which is probably the weirdest thing I’ve ever written.
  • While I’m on the subject of stories, I can officially announce that I sold my story “The Red Church” to Ross Lockhart over at Word Horde for his forthcoming anthology Giallo Fantastique, which I can assure you is going to be every bit as awesome as that title suggests.
  • For many of the same reasons that I haven’t managed to post more frequently this month, I actually haven’t seen many seasonally-appropriate movies in theatres, in spite of a wealth of great programming from local powerhouses the Alamo Drafthouse KC and the Screenland Armour. However, I did go out to an advance screening of Ouija and wrote up a review for Downright Creepy.
  • Lest I am making my October sound too drab, however, today’s mail brought me an early birthday present in the form of the Subterranean Press slipcased hardcover editions of Clive Barker’s The Books of Blood. No contest, there has never been another original single author collection that had a bigger impact on my formation as a writer, and I’ve been waiting for a full, six-volume hardcover set of The Books of Blood what feels like my entire life. And of course, it couldn’t come at a better time of year, though it may be November before I get to do much more than admire them on my shelf.

A bunch of other stuff has been going on to keep me hopping during this spookiest of all seasons, and around everything else I’ve managed to watch a few movies and take some long walks and one long drive amid the changing foliage, so all is not lost. I’ll try to fit another post in before November 1, but in case I don’t, I’ll see you all on the other side of All Hallow’s, at the beginning of ghost story weather…

And that’s it. After two weeks and one day, Gardinel’s Real Estate is completely sold out! There may be a digital version coming in the near future, but more on that when it happens. In the mean time, for those of you who got a copy, we hope you enjoy it, and for those who missed out, Mike and I have already talked about doing something similar again in the future.

In the mean time, I was recently interviewed by Jeremy Maddux as part of his Surreal Sermons podcast, where we talked about Gardinel’s, fungi, found footage horror, the fact that I’ve never seen I Drink Your Blood, the carnivorous cosmos of Laird Barron, why I want to be Mike Mignola when I grow up, the William Hope Hodgson renaissance that we both hope is coming, and lots of other topics, including my next collection. Plus, if you always wanted to hear me say “um” and “so” a lot, this is the place!

Just a week-and-change into October, and we’re already most of the way through our stock of Gardinel’s Real Estate, helped along by an appearance yesterday on Super Punch. So if you haven’t already picked up your copy, do it now before you see a big SOLD sign out on the lawn. It’s been a hectic start to October, trying to process all the orders and make sure every copy got to its intended recipients, but the first batch of orders are now out in the world, and people have already started receiving them, so if you ordered yours over the weekend or before, it should be winging its way to your mailbox directly.

Last week I did a guest post for author G.G. Andrew wherein I discussed my abiding fondness for haunted real estate. I threw out a few examples in that post, but I thought that I would get in my Countdown to Halloween requirement while also further exploring that angle by running down some of my favorite houses from horror movies. I got the idea–and several of the images–from John Rozum‘s Countdown to Halloween post from a few years ago, which is well worth checking out, along with a follow-up that he did the next year. This list is by no means exhaustive, and is in no particular order.

1. The Bates Motel

univ_psycho_frame_aYou can’t start out a list like this without a nod to one of the great horror houses, and one of the great sets of all time. Someday I’ll make it down to the Universal back lot to see it for myself.

2. The House from The Changeling

changeling

Also one of my favorite ghost movies, The Changeling (1980) boasts one of the best houses in horror history. Sadly, it was just a facade that was torn down after filming was completed, so you can’t actually go visit it, but there was supposedly a real house in Denver that inspired the story!

3. The House from Drag Me to Hell

drag-me-to-hellDrag Me to Hell (2009) was sadly not a great movie, but it had a great house, in the form of the Doheny Mansion in Beverly Hills.

4. House of Wax
Ext-House-of-Wax_web

I’ve made no secret on here that I love the 2004 “remake” of House of Wax a lot more than maybe I should, and a big part of the reason for that is the delightful wax town at the center of the film. And at the center of that is the titular House of Wax, a building constructed entirely out of, you guessed it. The whole shebang was designed by Red Circle Projects.

5. The House from Deep Red

DeepRed

Deep Red (1975) is one of my favorite giallo films, and at the heart of its mystery is this particularly striking house, which is actually the Villa Scott in Italy. At the time that the movie was filmed it was the location of a boarding school run by nuns (seems suitably giallo-ish, right), while now it is unoccupied. So who knows what secrets you might find walled up in there?

I could keep going with these all day, but I promised that I’d limit myself to five, so there they are. If you share my affection for spooky houses and ominous locales, pick up your copy of Gardinel’s Real Estate today!

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