Come September, I will have been working full-time as a freelance writer and editor for two years. When I first started out, I had more work than I could really keep up with, but since then I’ve had a couple of my bigger clients reduce the amount of work they’ve been asking for, which means that I am currently actively seeking new clients for just about any kind of freelance writing, editing, critiquing, or content creation. I’ve done SEO work, blogging, written websites, done licensed fiction and RPG writing for Privateer Press, critiqued and proofread both fiction and nonfiction, as well as producing lots and lots of short stories. So if you or anyone you know is looking for fast, reliable, and high-quality freelance work in any of those areas, drop me a line at orringrey [at] gmail [dot] com for rates and specifics.
I’ve made it pretty clear in the past that I’m a fan of the Insidious franchise, so I was looking forward with both interest and trepidation to series writer and co-creator Leigh Whannell’s debut in the director’s seat. After all, while the prior films had more than just well-timed scares going for them, there’s no denying that much of what set them apart from the rest of the ghost movie crop was director James Wan’s sure hand behind the camera. (He does make a brief cameo in this film, in that absolutely jaw-dropping theatre that you can see in the trailers.) Fortunately, while Insidious: Chapter 3 may not stack up quite as well as its predecessors, it’s a solid installment in what is definitely my favorite currently-running horror franchise.
The heart and soul of this series is Lin Shaye’s Elise, and fortunately this movie knows it. While the trailers make this out to be the story of a young girl (Quinn, played by Stefanie Scott) who tries to communicate with her dead mom and instead gets more than she bargained for, this is actually Elise’s movie. She’s the clear protagonist of the picture, and the storyline gives Lin Shaye more room to show her range than in previous films, since this time her character’s got an arc, rather than simply being the film’s Van Helsing. (Don’t worry, she’s still that, too.)
Making the decision to craft a prequel to the other two Insidious movies sounds like a poor choice on paper, but it gives Whannell an opportunity to go in and flesh out not only Elise’s character, but her relationship with Specs and Tucker who, along with Elise, comprise probably my favorite paranormal investigators. Maybe ever. Whannell and Angus Sampson reprise their roles as Specs and Tucker, suitably dressed and coiffed to make this that odd period film that takes place sometime in the early 2000s or thereabouts.
While this is pretty clearly Elise’s show, Quinn and her family get plenty of screen time, and continue the Insidious tradition of featuring protagonists who you rarely want to slap. Dermot Mulroney, in particular, acquits himself nicely as Quinn’s father, who is clearly in over his head but just as clearly wants to do the right thing. Like previous installments, Insidious 3 does a lot with very little, and boasts some great locations. (I want to live in pretty much every house that’s ever shown up in one of these movies.) Also like the others its got a very effective main ghost, though I’ll admit that I kinda wanted the Man Who Can’t Breathe to proclaim something “Mediocre” at some point. It’s not quite as scary as I remember its forebears being, but it does deliver a few very effective jolts, including one that comes from an almost entirely un-supernatural source.
What Insidious 3 adds to the mix is a surprisingly understated portrayal of grief and loss and moving on, as played out in both the characters of Quinn and Elise. While it’s more than a little lumpy, and some elements seem like they maybe wound up on the cutting room floor, or were stuck in at the last moment, Lin Shaye’s central performance carries it through any rough patches. It’s a welcome third installment to a wonderful and uneven and wonderfully uneven franchise. Insidious movies, you can stop now, while you’re ahead. If they do continue making sequels, I hope it’s just Specs and Tucker and Elise’s ghost going around solving cute mysteries, as implied by the end of the second film.
Starting tomorrow, I’ll be joining Sean Demory and the rest of the Pine Float Press crowd to celebrate the launch of Slow Boat to Fast City at ConQuest in KC. I’ll be doing a handful of panels, and a reading on Saturday. Here’s a link to my full schedule, which I’ll also reproduce below. Slow Boat to Fast City is a shared-world “raygun Gothic pulp sci-fi” anthology of stories about Mars, and features my Edgar Rice Burroughs by way of L.A. Confidential story “The House of Mars,” which you can also pick up as a standalone (with amazing cover art by the extremely talented Bernie Gonzalez) in either electronic or chapbook formats. If you want the full experience, though, Slow Boat to Fast City will be available in person at ConQuest, or you can order it in one of three affordable formats: electronic, Lulu-edition pocketbook, or paperback.
Besides launching Slow Boat, I’ll be talking about Gothic stuff, body horror, and reading scary stories. Here’s my full schedule:
Friday, May 22
5pm – Is it REALLY Gothic?
10pm – Body Horror: The Last Ewwww
Saturday, May 23
12:30pm – Reading
2pm – Anatomy of an Anthology (along with all my Pine Float partners in crime)
10pm – Late Night Scary Stories
Whenever I’m not at one of those things, I’ll probably be hanging out at the traveling Pine Float Press floating VIP lounge, where you’ll pretty much always be able to find me. It shouldn’t be too hard to spot, as we’ll probably be pretty loud, and at least two of us are really tall.
This year, ConQuest is being held at the Kansas City Marriott Downtown, which is just across from where Spectrum will be happening at the same time. I’ve heard rumors that there might be West Side Story-style dance battles between the two cons, but even if there’s not, if you’re going to be downtown for one, feel free to stop on over to the other and say hello. In the immortal words of Sean Demory: “You’ll pay for your whole seat, but you’ll only use the edge!“
The World Horror Convention in Atlanta has been in the rearview for almost a week now, though I feel like I’m the one who’s still catching up. I hadn’t originally planned to attend this year, but local writing compatriots Bear Weiter and Steve Scearce decided we should get our road trip on and head on down to Atlanta for the weekend, which made the trip not only a lot more feasible, but a lot more fun. On the way down, we discovered cologne dispensers in truck stop bathrooms, saw lots and lots and lots of billboards for sex shops, and briefly got lost in St. Louis.
This year’s World Horror was held in the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, which is by far the most striking location for any of the World Horror’s that I have yet attended, with an interior straight out of an HR Giger painting. We got in Wednesday night, and left on Sunday morning. Since we were technically just crashing the party, we didn’t get to see much of the convention itself, though we met up with folks at the mass author signing on Friday night, and we had lots of drinks and food and good conversations in the bars and restaurants around the hotel.
I don’t want to start listing the people I got to spend time with, for fear of leaving anyone out, but it was fantastic to see everyone I saw, and this convention is notable for marking the first time that Jesse Bullington, Selena Chambers, J.T. Glover, Molly Tanzer, and myself were all in the same place at the same time, an event that was commemorated with a guerrilla reading on Saturday morning, staged in John’s hotel room.
Aside from the great people and great conversations, the highlight of the adventure for me was a trip out of the con proper to the Center for Puppetry Arts, where we were shown around by my friend Jordan. As a life-long aficionado of puppets and other simulacra, it was a blast to see a lot of puppetry history, and there were several Henson items on display, including a full-size Skeksis. If you’re ever in Atlanta, I cannot recommend a trip out to the Center highly enough.
On Sunday we spent the entire day driving back, during which time I was plagued by some kind of soda fountain curse, as I hit three gas stations before I found one that worked. Aside from that, a brief but intense rainstorm, and a particularly dramatic accident along the highway that shut the whole thing down (not the plane that crashed on the highway in Atlanta, which happened while we were at the convention, prompting text messages from people back home who had seen it on the news) our trip home was otherwise uneventful. This was my fourth World Horror Convention in the last five years, and it was a good time, as they all have been. I doubt I’ll make it out to next year’s, though I’m hoping to be at the HPLFF again this October, and in about a week I’ll be at ConQuest here in KC, where I’m actually going to be on panels and shit. More about that next week.
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 Insidious, especially 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”