I’ll spare you all the “hey hey heys” and just say that what’s been going on is “a lot.” Besides the various personal stuff that I’ve already covered, my mom has been in and out of the hospital three times over the last month-and-a-half. The last time they resectioned a part of her colon, and we’re waiting to hear back on the prognosis, not about whether it was cancer (it was) but just how bad it was and what that means for the future. So that’s kept me away from here more than I’d like, and I’ve fallen behind a lot on the other stuff that’s been going on with me and my writing, so prepare for a bit of a dump of that stuff to try to get you all back up to date.

I already talked a bit about the fact that my story “Persistence of Vision,” which originally appeared in Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Fractured: Tales of the Canadian Post-Apocalypse, will be reprinted in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year Volume Seven. That’s obviously a big deal for me, but it’s by no means the only bit of publishing news I’ve gotten recently. So far in 2015 I’ve had stories in Scott R. Jones’ RESONATOR: New Lovecraftian Tales From Beyond, which is out now from Martian Migraine Press, as well as Sean Demory’s Slow Boat to Fast City and Ross Lockhart’s Giallo Fantastique, both of which officially street in May, but which are making their way out into the world as we speak. In fact, I just finished reading the latter volume, and I can say without bias that it is something special indeed. Possibly the best anthology yet by one of the best editors working today, it’s a surreal and heady cocktail of “strange stories at the intersection of crime, terror, and the supernatural.” Lockhart’s Word Horde press is on fire right now, having also just released Molly Tanzer’s debut novel Vermilion, which is currently sitting at the top of my to-read pile and getting glowing praise from outlets as prestigious as NPR.

I’ve also got stories forthcoming in Cthulhu Fhtagn! (also from Word Horde), Steve Berman’s Daughters of Frankenstein, and Gothic Lovecraft, edited by Lynne Jamnek and S.T. Joshi, as well as a few others I can’t mention just yet. On top of that, my nonfiction recently appeared in Clarkesworld Magazine and October Dreams 2 from Cemetery Dance, and I was asked by the folks at Valancourt Books to write an introduction to their reissue of Antique Dust by Robert Westall, one of my favorite writers. (It’s my second intro for them, after doing Benighted a couple of years ago.) And my first bit of writing for the Iron Kingdoms RPG–a Scoundrels & Sell-Swords piece bringing back a familiar face from my licensed novella Mutagenesis–just showed up in No Quarter #58.

Back to the subject of Word Horde for a moment, they’ll also be releasing my second collection, Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts, in October. Most stuff about it is under wraps for now, but I can tell you that it’s inspired by my love of horror cinema, and that the manuscript is complete and it’s out now to some pretty exciting people for possible blurbs and an introduction. More info about it should be forthcoming very soon!

In convention news, various factors have restricted my con budget quite a bit this year, but it turns out that I’ll be hanging around the World Horror Convention in Atlanta in a few weeks after all. I’ll probably mostly be barconning, but I’ll be around, and if you’re going to be in the area, definitely track me down and say hello! I may also be at ConQuest here in Kansas City later in May, but that hasn’t solidified yet. Again, I’ll likely be around, for sure, so if you’re going, feel free to drop me a line!

So yeah, I’ve been keeping busy, and there’s probably more news on the way sooner rather than later. Stay tuned!

A couple of weeks ago, I saw It Follows, which I liked, but was also really disappointed by. Since the majority of people seem to have loved it, and just about everyone has already seen it and formed their own opinions, I’ll spare you the breakdown of the whys and wherefores of my feelings on the film, and instead talk about something else. Before, and after, and on every side of seeing It Follows, I’ve seen and heard countless people call it the “best horror film of the decade,” with one guy going so far as to claim that it’s also the best horror film that will come out in the next five years, which seems like some pretty impressive prognostication.

Obviously, I don’t share the opinion that It Follows is the best horror film of the decade, which led me to the question, well then, what is? Except, of course, any time the question “best” comes up, I am probably not equipped to answer it, so instead I tried to think of what my favorite horror film of the last decade was. In attempting to figure out, I restricted my research entirely to my DVD and Blu-ray shelves, and I wasn’t too careful about when things came out, so it’s possible that I missed a movie from the finalist list that would have beaten out this winner because I thought that it was made before 2005, or because I haven’t bought it yet for one reason or another.

Which is a long way of saying that, without working too hard at narrowing down the field, and at the risk of completely torpedoing any and all “serious” horror cred that I have, I think my favorite horror flick of the last decade might actually be Insidiousespecially if I get to cheat and lump its successor in as well. Now, please, bear in mind that I’m not saying Insidious is the best horror movie of the last decade. If nothing else, The Conjuring is pretty clearly a better film. It’s more successful, with better scares and sharper production all around. But the “based on a true story” mythology of The Conjuring, while fine, isn’t nearly as interesting to me as the bizarre comic book mythology of the Insidious films.

So, okay, why do I like the Insidiouses so much? Well, first off, I like James Wan. I’m not a Saw fan, to put it mildly, but I’ve liked pretty much everything else he’s ever done, including his recent non-horror outing Furious 7. I think he’s got a pretty pitch-perfect grasp on timing a good jump scare, and I love the weird aesthetic (what Gemma Files dubbed “vaudeville creep”) that works its way into just about every one of his movies. For more about Wan and why I liked Insidious (and even his basically forgotten haunted ventriloquist dummy flick Dead Silence) so much, you can read my impressions from the first time I saw it here.

Insidious has only grown on me over time. For one thing, I think it’s more original than it really gets credit for. Sure, it’s not like there aren’t tons of ghost movies clogging up the multiplexes these days, and it owes more than a minor debt to things like Poltergeist (which, in an ironic turn of events, the trailer for the Poltergeist remake looks like it’s now taking all of its pages from the Insidious playbook), but Insidious is way more ambitious than it needs to be, creating a fully-realized mythology for its low-budget haunted house story, including a legitimate underworld and demonic figures.

I’ve talked before about one of the key differences that I see between older horror movies–say pre-1960s or 70s–and modern ones: The people in modern horror movies are frequently fairly random victims, while the protagonists in older horror movies are there voluntarily, for one reason or another. Sometimes they’re still victims, but often they’re explorers or investigators, who may have bitten off more than they had planned to chew, but who are in this because they chose to be. In many cases, they have the option of just walking away, but opt not to. Now, that’s an assertion that would probably require more legwork than I have room for here to prove, but I bring it up simply to stay that another thing I love about Insidious is that, while its first half is pure modern horror flick with an unsuspecting family menaced by spectral presences for no reason that they’re aware of, midway through in introduces a trio of characters who are a) among the better protagonist characters in modern horror canon and b) there by choice, not chance.

Again, there are clear precursors in horror cinema to the ghost hunting trio of Tucker, Specs, and the psychic Elise, including in the aforementioned Poltergeist, but seldom have there been any so delightful. To show how well Lin Shaye inhabits the role of Elise, she basically reprises it in one of the more effective scenes of last year’s otherwise pretty lackluster Ouija. And speaking of Ouija, it’s also worth mentioning that few other recent movies have had the effect on the entire ghost movie landscape that Insidious can boast. You don’t even have to watch many of its spate of imitators; just look at a trailer, and you’ll see the influence of Insidious taking shape. (Also probably Paranormal Activity, which I have to admit that I haven’t yet seen even one of, in spite of there being something like six at this point.)

I have probably worn out my welcome by now, but before I close this out, I wanted to also touch upon Insidious Chapter 2, which isn’t as good as its predecessor, but which makes the Insidious franchise better in aggregate by its presence. Part of this is because it resists the easy temptation to just be a retread of the first film, instead opting to wander off into different (if not necessarily stranger) territory, including some call backs to the first film that screw with time in a fashion that I found wonderful, instead of just tiresome, as I usually would. Insidious 2 also plays with what must be Wan and writer partner Leigh Whannell’s profound terror of old ladies (these are the two things you will take away from the majority of Wan’s filmography–creepy puppets/dolls and equally creepy old ladies) and touches upon the franchise’s unlikely Giallo roots in interesting ways, replacing the haunted house structure of the first film with what essentially amounts to an elaborate ghostly murder mystery combined with a possession film (the latter of which would also crop up in The Conjuring, out the same year).

When I walked out of the theatre after seeing Insidious 2, pretty much my first thought was that, if you’d told me a few years before that I’d be seeing a legitimate horror flick in 2013 in which a falling chandelier, a hidden passage behind a bookcase, and sheeted ghosts were all used as sources of genuine menace, I would not have believed you, but I would have been very happy to be wrong. We’ll see if the third outing can add to the total quality of the franchise without the aid of Wan’s sure directorial hand when it hits theatres later this year.

And I think, ultimately, that’s why I love the Insidious movies more than scarier, smarter, and even legitimately better horror flicks that have come out in the last decade. Insidious and its sequel are effective and spooky, well-shot and well-staged, more original and more clever than they’re usually given credit for, but they’re also fun and comic book-y and often delightfully old-fashioned in unexpected places, which more or less nails what I love most about this genre. If these things had more neon and better monsters, this would pretty much be my wheelhouse.

After watching Insidious–and at various other times after seeing Wan’s other movies–I compared the style of its scares to a dark ride. You strap yourself in, you take what the movie is going to offer you, and sometimes you find yourself jumping or getting scared, even when you know what’s coming. And when the ride is over, if you’re anything like me, you want to jump right back in and go through it again. Plus, I just love that ridiculous title treatment.

Daniel Mills​ tagged me to name “seven things about my writing that you may not already know,” which is the sort of thing I would normally agonize over for several days before unceremoniously dumping it onto the Internet in the middle of the night. However, I don’t really have time for agonizing right now, so I’ll just skip straight to unceremonious dumping. Here are the first seven things that came to mind that might possibly qualify:

  1. While I don’t really have a process–it changes pretty drastically from story to story–I try, whenever deadlines permit, to write everything out completely at least twice. I find that in the course of writing it the second time, I catch things that I wouldn’t have noticed if I had simply been revising.
  2. I used to write to music compulsively, but these days I find that I can’t do it. Just about any kind of music seems to kill the rhythm of writing, with the recent notable exception of John Carpenter’s Lost Themes.
  3. Nathan Ballingrud once lamented that he couldn’t decide if he wanted to be William Faulkner or Robert E. Howard. (I believe I got those names right, Nathan?) I told him that I was pretty sure I just wanted to be Robert E. Howard (though Mike Mignola or E.F. Benson would probably have been better examples), and he basically told me to go out and do the best job of that I could. I’ve been trying to live by that advice ever since.
  4. I’ve known that I wanted to write pretty much forever, but probably the biggest turning point in my development as a writer came when I was introduced to Roger Zelazny through his Chronicles of Amber books. Something about Zelazny’s prose transformed me from someone who wanted to write, into someone who wanted to write better.
  5. Though it is, I think, somewhat unfashionable to admit such a thing right now, my writing is heavily influenced by film, though less, I hope, in the form of “here’s a thinly-veiled fanfic of my favorite TV show” or “here’s a story that I really wanted to be a screenplay but I figured I could sell it quicker this way” and more simply that years of watching and digesting movies has left an indelible stamp on my imagination. In his own version of this meme, Daniel mentioned that he was “critical of the influence of film on contemporary fiction,” and went on to enumerate a number of reasons, all of which made good sense. One of those was that “the first-person tense is eliminated.” A look over my stories shows that I am, at least, not in any danger of that, since I dearly love writing in both first- and the much more oft-maligned second-persons.
  6. I currently write for a living, but the majority of my income doesn’t come from fiction–licensed or otherwise–but from content work for various corporate websites and blogs. Which is not as much fun as writing about wax museums, lost films, and unlikely ghosts, but it does pay better, at least for now.
  7. If I were ever to print out some sort of motivational saying and have it framed above my desk to inspire me when I’m writing, it might well be a quote from Alan Moore’s introduction to the second Hellboy collection, Wake the Devil: “The trick, the skill entailed in this delightful necromantic conjuring of things gone by is not, as might be thought, in crafting work as good as the work that inspired it really was, but in the much more demanding task of crafting work as good as everyone remembers the original as being.”
I remember seeing this VHS art when I worked at the video store, but never picking it up for some reason.

I remember seeing this VHS art when I worked at the video store, but never picking it up for some reason.

A couple of weeks ago, I watched this movie when it showed up on Netflix, rather than waiting for today when it would have been more seasonally appropriate. Another in the vast crop of holiday-themed slasher pics that littered the horror landscape of the 80s, April Fool’s Day is essentially And Then There Were None, slasher-style, complete with all the expected Gothic trappings including secret histories and an evil twin. Or maybe it isn’t that at all?

I was expecting a passable entertainment, at best, but I actually sort of fell in love with it, even (especially) the much-reviled twist ending that grants the film an unusual distinction amongst slasher flicks. Directed by Fred Walton (When a Stranger Calls) and written by Danilo Bach (Beverly Hills Cop) the film is probably at its best in the early moments when the assembled crew are succumbing to various weird and mostly harmless April Fool’s Day pranks, though there are also some surprisingly effective scenes littered throughout, including a ferry accident and the revelation of one character’s secret back story.

The ending is what will make or break the film for most people, though, and in spite of the fact that it’s what the movie is best known for, and that the film is almost thirty years old, I’ll refrain from rehashing it here. Suffice it to say that I was in the “make” category. It didn’t hurt that the starring role was played by Deborah Foreman, who I loved in Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat.

Two weeks ago yesterday, my dad passed away peacefully from renal failure. I posted about it to Facebook and social media, but I didn’t say anything here because, at the time, I didn’t really feel up to it, and I don’t have a lot to add about this whole experience, or about my relationship with my dad, that I didn’t already cover. Besides which, in the weeks that have intervened, some other stuff came up that I wanted to talk about.

My dad had been sick for a long time, and on dialysis for over a year. Even if my relationship with him had been perfect, I would have welcomed the end. Caring for him was taking a huge toll on my mom’s health, and about a week before he passed away, she suffered from a mini-stroke, which she fortunately caught before any significant damage was done, and which the doctor’s chalked up pretty much entirely to stress.

I’m grateful that hospice was there to give my mom some respite and to make my dad’s last days as painless as possible–for him and for us. By mutual agreement, there won’t be any funeral or memorial services. My mom is doing well and taking it easy for the first time in a long time. I’m searching for something to say to wrap this up, but there really isn’t anything. I guess I just mean this to be a marker, to say, “This happened.” I don’t have any more insight than that. So there it is. This happened.

I’m very proud to announce that my story “Persistence of Vision” will be appearing in the inimitable Ellen Datlow‘s Best Horror of the Year Volume 7. It is, as I said on Facebook when I first made the announcement, my first time appearing in one of Ellen’s Best of the Year volumes, and I’m sharing the TOC with some of my favorite writers and favorite people in the field, so it’s a singular honor. “Persistence of Vision,” my story of the ghost apocalypse as told through the eyes of a film blogger, was originally published in Fractured: Tales of the Canadian Post-Apocalypse, edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and published by Exile Editions, and it will be collected in my forthcoming second collection from Word Horde.

Here’s the full TOC for Best Horror of the Year Volume 7, with my contribution highlighted, because I am egotistical (actually just excited):

“The Atlas of Hell” by Nathan Ballingrud
“Winter Children” by Angela Slatter
“A Dweller in Amenty” by Genevieve Valentine
“Outside Heavenly” by Rio Youers
“Shay Corsham Worsted” by Garth Nix
“Allocthon” by Livia Llewellyn
“Chapter Six” by Stephen Graham Jones
“This is Not for You” by Gemma Files
“Interstate Love Song (Murder Ballad No. 8)” by Caitlín R. Kiernan
“The Culvert” by Dale Bailey
“Past Reno” by Brian Evenson
“The Coat Off His Back” by Keris McDonald
“the worms crawl in” by Laird Barron
“The Dog’s Home” by Alison Littlewood
“Tread Upon the Brittle Shell” by Rhoads Brazos
“Persistence of Vision” by Orrin Grey
“It Flows From the Mouth” by Robert Shearman
“Wingless Beasts” by Lucy Taylor
“Departures” by Carole Johnstone
“Ymir” by John Langan
“Plink” by Kurt Dinan
“Nigredo” by Cody Goodfellow

Ellen has been editing Year’s Best anthologies for almost as long as I’ve been alive, and it’s always been one of my professional goals to someday see my name in one. I’m extremely thrilled and honored to see that particular dream coming true, and if you follow me on social media at all, you can expect to see me documenting every single stage of that happening, culminating when I Instagram, like, thirty pictures of my contributor’s copy when it arrives.

The Oscars are tonight. I don’t really care too much about them any year, and this year is no different, mostly because I haven’t seen the vast majority of the movies that are nominated for anything, so I can’t have much of an opinion either way. About the only category where I have a horse in the race is Best Animated Feature, where I’m hoping Big Hero 6 takes home the statue it so richly deserves, though I’m thinking that How to Train Your Dragon 2 will probably win it as an apology Oscar for snubbing its predecessor back in 2010.

I’m not here to talk about the Oscars, though. I’m here to talk about the year in movie monsters. I’m a little late with what will be my third annual Year in Creatures, but I honestly held off this long because I just kept thinking that there must have been more good monsters in movies in 2014 than I had yet seen, and that any moment I would stumble upon them, but as the Oscars are upon us and we’re now well into 2015, I think I’ve just got to acknowledge that 2014 wasn’t a very good year for movie monsters, and call it a day. (We can’t have a Pacific Rim every year, after all.)

This year followed the established pattern that the majority of screen creatures were not in horror or monster movies at all, but rather in big budget sci-fi, superhero, and fantasy spectacles. There were a few non-ghost monsters in lower budget horror films, but of those, few were especially memorable, and even the fantasy epics this year tended toward generic critters, with some exceptions coming in the form of the aliens from Edge of Tomorrow, the surprisingly decent MUTOs from the otherwise lackluster Godzilla, and, if they can truly count as creatures, the future Sentinels in X-Men: Days of Future Past. The only creature to really give this year’s winner a run for its money, though, was the breakout star of Guardians of the Galaxy, Groot. Who might have been monster of the year had it not been for…

The Babadook 

jennifer-kent-babadook-2014-05-06-004

While the film itself was one of the year’s better horror films, don’t get me wrong, it suffered a bit from overhype and a somewhat weak third act. But the titular monster stole the show, with its combination of silent movie aesthetics and a Pokemon-esque tendency to say its own name. (Particularly effective in a chilling phone call scene.)

Would the Babadook have been able to hold its own in a year with stronger monster representation? Who can say. All I know is, two months into 2015, it’s still my pick for last year’s Movie Monster of the Year.

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