03william-mortensen-l-amour_900I first discovered the work of William Mortensen on Pinterest, of all places, when someone shared the image that accompanies this post, “L’Amour.” Upon seeing it, I immediately knew that I had to learn more about its history and context, and, in my seeking, I wound up learning more about the man who had created the photograph.

Called “the anti-Christ” by Ansel Adams (and we writers think that our squabbles get heated), Mortensen was a fascinating photographer who used various techniques to create captivating, often grotesque photographic effects that frequently look as much like paintings or drawings as photos. Thankfully, about the time I was being introduced to his work, he was experiencing something of a renaissance in popularity, and I had several books available to learn more about him, including the recently published American Grotesque: The Life and Art of William Mortensen and a reissue of one of Mortensen’s own books, The Command to Look. (If my story intrigues you at all, I highly recommend both.)

In researching Mortensen, I became fascinated, not merely by his methods and the images they produced, but by his life. And gradually, I knew that I would eventually write a story about him, at least roundaboutly. And that story eventually became “Mortensen’s Muse.” In it, I took as my jumping-off point the real-life relationship between Mortensen and then-undiscovered ingenue Fay Wray. Given my fascination with Golden Age Hollywood stories, the combination was too tempting to resist.

At one time, the story was probably going to go ahead and feature William Mortensen, but as I wrote it, I discovered that, as much as it hewed close to the facts in many places, it also diverged from them in important ways, and not just in its supernatural denouement, so I decided to change some names. William Mortensen became Ronald Mortensen, and the names of our “unidentified” narrator’s films all changed subtly, though her co-stars and directors remained the same.

“Mortensen’s Muse” was written for Ellen Datlow’s anthology Children of Lovecraft, where I’m ecstatic to say that it represents two very important firsts for me. It’s my first time in an original Ellen Datlow anthology (my story “Persistence of Vision” previously appeared in her Best Horror of the Year Volume 7) and my first time behind a Mike Mignola cover. Considering those have both been life goals of mine, you could say that I’m pretty happy with this publication, and not be at all incorrect. Below is a photo of my contributor copy, which came packaged very neatly from Dark Horse, and just today a very positive review of the antho went live at Cemetery Dance Online, in which the reviewer says of my story, “If H.P. Lovecraft had written for The Twilight Zone, this could have been the story he would have written.” There is definitely worse praise to get than that…

children-of-lovecraft

Over the last few weeks, I’ve acquired a lot of new Facebook friends and Twitter followers, thanks, I imagine, in no small part, to the recent Kickstarter to launch a deluxe second edition of my debut collection Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings through my friends at Strix Publishing. Whatever it is that brought you here, though, I figure all these new faces are as good an excuse as any to stop, take a step back, and sort of remind everyone of who I am and what I do.

As my bio says, I’m a skeleton who likes monsters. I’m also a writer, editor, amateur film scholar, and monster expert who was born on the night before Halloween. (Before you ask, yes, skeletons are born, where else would we come from? We hatch out of coffins, just like everyone else.) I’m a full time freelance writer, and when I’m not doing content marketing work or writing licensed stuff for Privateer Press or penning articles about true crimes and other weirdness for The Lineup, I write stories about monsters, ghosts, and sometimes the ghosts of monsters.

My stories have appeared in dozens of anthologies, including Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year, and been collected into two collections, with a third on the horizon probably sometime in early 2018. Right now you can pick up Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts, my second fiction collection, from Word Horde, and that aforementioned deluxe edition of Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings should be available to those who missed out on the Kickstarter very soon.

I have had stories recently published or forthcoming directly in Children of Lovecraft, which managed to cross two items off my bucket list (be in an original Ellen Datlow antho, and have something of mine appear behind a Mike Mignola cover), as well as Eternal Frankenstein, which you can pre-order now from Word Horde, The Children of Gla’aki which is nearing the end of a pre-order campaign at Dark Regions Press, and The Madness of Dr. Caligari, which you can pre-order from Fedogan & Bremer, to name just a few. I’ve also got a new novelette, The Cult of Headless Men, which is being released as a chapbook by Dunhams Manor, with an incredible cover by Michael Bukowski.

For a relatively succinct summary of my philosophy regarding my own work and my relationship with the genre of horror in general, check out my essay for Nightmare Magazine’s The H Word, “But Is It Scary?

I also spend an inordinate amount of time writing about horror movies, which you can find right here on my blog, as well as at my Patreon and occasionally other places, like the forthcoming October issue of Unwinnable, where I will be nattering on once again about Monster Squad, while all of my literary betters show me up by discussing more intellectual things, I have no doubt.

And if you can’t get enough of reading my rambling opinions on especially creaky old monster movies of yesteryear, all five-or-so years of my column on vintage horror cinema for Innsmouth Free Press have recently been collected into an affordable volume that you can buy right now, Monsters from the Vault.

So, for newcomers or those who just have a tough time keeping up, I think that’s a decent crash course in who I am and what I’ve been up to. There’s a lot more announcements in the works, so keep your radio tuned to this dial until long after you hear the static. That’s where the good stuff lurks…

blair-witch

Seventeen years ago, I sat in a theatre and watched The Blair Witch Project. It may have been opening night; if not, it was close. A friend had wanted to go, and I was always up for a horror movie, but I didn’t know much about what I was getting into except that it was maybe really true (but of course probably not).

The next 81 minutes were harrowing, but how much of that was from the movie itself, and how much the experience, the diving in cold, the “is it real or not” buzz, I can’t say, because I’ve never revisited the film since. Nothing ever seemed like it could touch that first time.

When I sat down last Wednesday night to a preview screening of Blair Witch, I wasn’t expecting that same thrill. I wasn’t expecting much, not really. I had been cautiously excited for the movie back when it was still going under the working title The Woods, to keep its status as a direct sequel to The Blair Witch Project–ignoring the already extant, ill-starred 2000 sequel Book of Shadows, which I’ve also seen but don’t remember–a secret. But my excitement came not from anything I’d seen in the teasers, but from the filmmaking duo of Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, whose previous films You’re Next and, especially, The Guest, had managed to surprise me in ways that I really enjoyed.

When it was revealed that The Woods was actually Blair Witch, my ardor cooled, but I still hoped that maybe Wingard and Barrett would manage to extract something equally interesting from the nearly twenty-year-old franchise that kickstarted the modern fascination with found footage horror films. For me, they never quite made it.

Which is not to say that I didn’t like Blair Witch. It was fine enough, settling firmly in a spot near the middle of my “movies I’ve seen this year” list, nowhere near as lousy as the worst nor as good as the best, but I was hoping for more of what I had come to expect from Wingard and Barrett, and instead I got more of what I have come to expect from The Blair Witch Project‘s slew of imitators over the years.

There are plenty of moments in Blair Witch that work–I particularly liked one especially large stick figure–but there is also a lot that feels overly familiar, either from this film’s predecessor or from the innumerable found footage horror flicks that have succeeded it. Blair Witch takes good advantage of its sound design, but while the sound of huge trees snapping that accompanies most of the film’s scary moments is very effective, after a while you realize that the majority of the scares are just that noise, followed by people screaming and running and then… nothing.

The stuff that does happen in Blair Witch tends to hew pretty closely to The Blair Witch Project template, although always taking it just a little bit bigger, but never quite as much bigger as I wanted them to. The things that were inexplicable one-offs there become rules here, exposited to us by the characters, and what worked as a creepy image in 1999, doesn’t work as well as a rule in 2016.

Ultimately, how you feel about Blair Witch may depend, in part, upon how much of a fan of the original movie you are, and what you’re excited about in this sequel. Even if the film itself didn’t make it abundantly clear (and it does), the Q&A that followed my screening showed that Wingard and Barrett are die-hard fans of The Blair Witch Project, and they’re coming at this movie with a lot of reverence for the source material. For other fans of the film that may be a feature. For me, as someone who was hoping for more Wingard and Barrett and less Blair Witch Project, I felt like it tied their hands, keeping them from reaching the same heights that their previous films together have enjoyed.

 

 

Last night, while I was sitting in a theatre watching Blair Witch (more on that at a later date, probably) and eating a delicious sandwich, the Kickstarter for the deluxe edition of Never Bet the Devil from Strix Publishing that I’ve been flogging non-stop for the past month closed out. Not only did we fund–we had actually funded quite a bit earlier in the day–but we exceeded our funding goal by $520!

Simon says it as well as I can, but I needed to chime in and add my own personal, heartfelt thanks to every single person who backed, shared, or otherwise supported the Kickstarter. And to everyone who didn’t, or couldn’t, but who put up with my posting about it with good humor and never once told me to stop annoying everyone with my shilling. It means an enormous amount to me that so many people would step up and have faith in this book, and in us.

And now that I’m not trying to sell it anymore, I can say that I really, truly do think this book is going to be something special. I’m assuming that everyone who bought it wants the stories, but honestly, even if you don’t, Simon and Mike Corley have already done an amazing job of making this thing beautiful and unique in ways that my writing alone never could. The success of this Kickstarter is a testament to their hard work and amazing talents, as much as (or more than) anything I did.

If you missed out on the Kickstarter, the book will be available down the road, first to pre-order through Backerkit and then directly from Strix. You can keep up with how things are progressing by checking the Kickstarter updates here.

This was my first Kickstarter, and working on it–even as tangentially as I did–was an exciting, rewarding, exhilarating, exhausting experience, and one that, you have my word, I will not be repeating anytime soon. Thanks again to everyone who chipped in in any way to help make this one such a success!

 

graveyardgiant_final

Behold the Cemetery Giant! Another illustration of a fan-favorite scene from my novella “The Mysterious Flame” by the great M.S. Corley.

Today is the final day of the Kickstarter for the brand new deluxe edition of Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings from Strix Publishing! Which means that soon I get to shut up about it, and you guys get to stop hearing about it! But in the meantime, you’ve got around 12 hours left to get in on this new edition at its cheapest price, not to mention Kickstarter-exclusive rewards like prints by M.S. Corley, Never Bet the Devil-themed playing cards, and even some one-of-a-kind sculpted book covers by Jason Soles (which nobody has sprung for so far, and I can tell you, as someone who’s seen these in person, you’re missing out).

As we head into the final hours, we’ve got less than $800 left to raise, so the end is well and truly in sight, and I’m pretty sure that, thanks to all your help, this little book is going to become a really real thing that you can hold in your hands. And let me just say, not even taking my stories into account, that it’s going to be an amazing volume. M.S. Corley has outdone himself with the cover design, and the interior art that he’s turned in so far is equally impressive, with lots more striking illustrations still to come!

That’s not even mentioning a new introduction by Nathan Ballingrud, and a couple of new stories by yours truly, making this the definitive edition of Never Bet the Devil, for first time readers and old fans alike. And since we’re now well beyond our goal of 250 backers, that means everyone who pledged at least $30 will be receiving a free PDF of (mostly) never-before-seen Never Bet the Devil ephemera, only available to Kickstarter backers (you can get a taste of that here). Didn’t pledge $30? It’s never too late to bump it up a bit!

The campaign isn’t over yet, but as we head into the final hours, I just wanted to extend my sincere thanks to everyone who has already pledged, shared, or helped spread the word about this project. It’s been a dizzying, exhausting, exhilarating, amazing experience, and we couldn’t have done it without each and every one of you. Now let’s make these last few hours count, shall we?

final-hoursAs of my writing this, the Kickstarter to publish a deluxe, hardcover edition of my out-of-print debut collection Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings is counting down in hours, rather than days. (Which isn’t to say there aren’t still a couple of days left.) Soon it will all be over except the crying crushing my enemies, seeing them driven before me, and hearing the lamentations of their women actual work of publishing the book, with any luck.

This also means that it’s your last chance to get on board. 48 hour notices will be going out shortly, and we’re keeping our fingers crossed for the usual boost in the last couple of days. My publisher (who has a lot more experience with these kinds of things than I do) seems very confident that we’re going to fund, which means that this beautiful book will be a real thing very soon!

If you’ve already pledged, shared the link, or otherwise boosted the signal, thank you very much! If you haven’t, check out the Kickstarter, we’ve got a lot of cool stuff going on. And even if you already have the original edition of Never Bet the Devil, I urge you to check this one out! It’s going to be illustrated throughout by the great M.S. Corley, whose work on it has been absolutely stunning so far, and it will contain at least two stories not included in the original edition, “A Night for Mothing,” which originally appeared in The Mothman Files but has never been previously collected, and “Goblins,” an entirely new story written exclusively for this volume. Plus a new introduction by Nathan Ballingrud, and did I mention those M.S. Corley illustrations?

Plus, once we reach 250 backers–and we’re getting very close!–everyone who pledged at the $30 tier or higher (to get the physical book) will also be getting a PDF of (mostly) never-before-seen ephemera written to complement several of the stories in Never Bet the Devil. For a taste of what you can expect from the ephemera, check out the one for “Black Hill” here. And if you’ve never read “Black Hill,” you can do so for free right now on the Strix Publishing website. Or check out my story “The Barghest,” which has never before been published outside of this collection, over at Aeryn Rudel’s Rejectomancy blog!

While I will be spamming social media about the Kickstarter nonstop over the next few days, there’s a decent chance that this is close to the last you’ll hear about it through these channels. So whether you’re new to my work or an old fan, there’s no better time than now to jump on board the Kickstarter for Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings and help us make this very special book a reality!

… left to back my Kickstarter. As you are no doubt aware by now, since I’ve been shilling it Jay Sherman style for what feels like a year but is really only three weeks, there’s a Kickstarter running to release a hardcover, deluxe edition of Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings, my currently out-of-print debut collection. This will be the definitive edition of the book, featuring new stories, a new introduction by Nathan Ballingrud, and illustrated throughout by M.S. Corley.

“How can I get my hands on this fabulous volume?” I hear you asking, and the answer is that you can secure your copy today by backing the Kickstarter, where you can also get other great stuff including prints by M.S. Corley and Never Bet the Devil-themed playing cards! There are even a handful of sculpted book covers available from Jason Soles, creator of the infamous Call of Cthulhu cover, in case you want a suitably eldritch-looking tome.

For those who have already pledged, or who are otherwise sick of hearing about this, worry not. We’ll have a big push as we head into the final week, but once this Kickstarter is over I’ll not be doing anything else like it for a good long while, I promise, though there’ll be plenty of other exciting projects in the works from Strix Publishing, including a follow up to their debut project The Book of Starry Wisdom which may feature a little something by yours truly…

nbtd