As I warned earlier, you haven’t heard a lot from me this month, because I’ve been engaged in hammering on a novel-length work-for-hire project that I, unfortunately, can’t say much about just yet. But I hit enough of a milestone on it today that it seemed worth stopping to mention, especially given the timing.

I’ve never written a novel, and I have never even attempted to participate in National Novel Writing Month (aka, NaNoWriMo). In my efforts to knock out 90,000 words on this project in two months, though, I inadvertently seem to have done so this time around. It took me ’til the very last day, due to some unforeseen other freelance obligations falling into my lap earlier this week, but as of today I am just over 50,000 words into this project, which I started on November 1.

Which is to say that I guess I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time ever this month after all, without really meaning to. It also means that this project is already the longest thing I have ever written, with another 40,000 more words to go in the month of December. More about it when I am allowed to say more, and in the meantime, don’t be surprised if you don’t hear from me for a while again. For now, I’m off to take a well-deserved break.

You want it darker… we kill the flame.

The Clutching Hand is ravenous, and its hunger is never sated, but in 2016 it seems to have taken so much more than its normal remit. All year long I saw friends and peers mourn the losses of artists like David Bowie and Prince, to name just a few of many, and I joined them in their mourning, but I knew that there was a death coming that would touch me as deeply as I saw those touch my friends and fellow creators. It seems that the hour has come round at last. From his official Facebook page comes the news that Leonard Cohen has left us at the age of 82.

It can’t really be called a tragedy, for Cohen led a long and tremendous life, and his art touched the lives of millions of people. He finished and released what he had intended to be his last album just a few weeks ago. I don’t know how much more most of us can ask than that. Yet it is news that has shaken me to my core. In a week filled with such momentous events, a week of so much upheaval and uncertainty, so much fear and so much passion–for good or ill–the death of one old man seems a small thing, but Leonard Cohen had an enormous impact on my life and on my work, and I know that I’ll be hearing from him long after he’s gone.

He’s not a name that comes up often when I’m asked to list influences, and the proof may not be as obvious as some names within the genre where I work, but it is certainly there, again and again down through the years, ever since I first discovered him–by his lyrics first, then later by his music–in high school and early college. Leonard Cohen had as profound an influence on my work as any horror or weird fiction writer ever did, to be sure.

Many of the writers who influenced me were already dead before I came to them, and I’m in the unique position that the majority of the living writers whose works have affected me most profoundly are people I have met, or at least exchanged pleasantries with on Facebook or Twitter. But I never spoke to Leonard Cohen, never wrote him a letter, even missed my chance to see him perform live when he was in Kansas City a few years ago. So I never got to tell him what an impact he had on me; that he was my favorite songwriter, my favorite living poet. (I guess this means that I need to find a way to write a letter to Tom Stoppard, to thank him for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead…)

So many of Leonard Cohen’s songs deal with loss and love and mourning, with art and inspiration and passion, that there’s an overabundance to choose from to mark the occasion. And so many of his songs seem so perfect right now, given the state in which the country and the world finds itself this week. “The Future” leaps to mind, of course, and “Anthem,” and maybe most especially for me, “Democracy,” with its odd juxtaposition of hope and threat. There are songs that mean a lot to me, personally, and there are songs that are just so utterly Leonard Cohen-y, like “Humbled in Love” or “Boogie Street.” It’s tough to know what to choose, so just choose your favorite, I guess, and listen to that tonight.

The Tower of Song doesn’t seem like the kind of place where they let you rest in peace, but I’ll hope that his room there is at least comfortable, now, and that he’s got a decent view. We are left with his enormous body of work, by which he will continue speaking to us sweetly. I suppose that will have to be enough.

Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye…

If you follow me on social media (or, heck, even if you follow me here) then odds are you won’t notice much difference, but nonetheless, I felt it needed to be said that for the next two-and-a-half months or so, I’m going to be diving hard into a big freelance project that’s clamped down tight under a non-disclosure agreement, so there’s a good chance that I won’t be posting a lot here until sometime early next year.

Given that I already don’t post a whole lot on here, the change may not be very substantial, and as I said, if you follow me on social media, you’re likely to continue to see me around, as I’ll need to come up for air from time to time. That said, if I follow you on social media, then apologies in advance if I miss a lot more of your posts than usual over the next couple of months. Things are going to be a bit hectic around here. (More on it as soon as I have the freedom to share.)

Considering how hectic things have already gotten over the last few days, I had a good birthday and a quiet but otherwise good Halloween, even if I did end up turning in before midnight for maybe the first time in my life. (My pumpkin stayed lit, though, so I’m okay.)

Also, perhaps a bit surprisingly, perhaps not, I watched more movies in the month of October than I ever have in a single month since I started keeping my movie journal. 47, all told, which is probably what happens when you spend most of the month recovering from a tonsillectomy and unable to do much of anything (including sleep) besides stare at a flickering screen.

Of those 47, 26 were new to me, keeping nicely with my “more movies that I haven’t seen before than movies that I have” goal for 2017.

Well, the last few days have been extraordinarily busy and draining for me, to the surprise of probably no one. On Saturday night, I stayed out way too late watching mystery horror movies with the fine folks from the Nerds of Nostalgia podcast, thanks to whom I can now say that Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is a thing that I have experienced. Then Sunday I was supposed to introduce a screening of the Vincent Price/Roger Corman/Richard Matheson adaptation of The Pit and the Pendulum at the Screenland, but I got caught in a horrible traffic snarl, and so I ended up talking afterward. (Extroducing it?) I had a book giveaway and did a reading of my story “Guignol.”

Yesterday was my birthday, though I didn’t do a lot more to celebrate than what I’ve already mentioned here, having kind of partied out the night before with the movie marathon. Today I’m not doing a lot either besides catching up from all the aforementioned, but that doesn’t mean that a lot isn’t going on. Since it’s Halloween, we’ve got some special Halloween treats for all of you, including a free story! Head on over to the Word Horde website to read my story “Strange Beast,” about ghosts and kaiju and maybe the ghosts of kaiju absolutely free! “Strange Beast” was one of the original stories I wrote exclusively for Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts, and this is the first time it’s ever been available anywhere else!

Meanwhile, Simon Berman of Strix Publishing has fast-tracked a little Halloween treat for all those who’re waiting patiently for your copies of the new deluxe edition of  Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings. The book contains an all-new story that happens to be Halloween themed, and Mike Corley has been kind enough to show off the excellent illustration that he’s done to accompany it.

Meanwhile, Brian Lillie has assembled a whole passel of authors to make suggestions for suitably spooky Halloween reading. My humble contribution includes tales by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Jon Padgett, and Daniel Mills, all of which have been podcast by Pseudopod. That wasn’t an accident, and one of the reasons I chose to do it was because Pseudopod is currently running a Kickstarter. As part of that Kickstarter, they’re also putting together their first-ever anthology, which includes classic reprints along with all-new stories by yours truly, Damien Angelica Walters, A.C. Wise, and more! Here’s the newly-revealed table of contents, and we promise you, it’s true.

That’s just scratching the surface of what’s been going on lately, but I think for tonight it’s all I’ve got in me. Keep your jack-o-lanterns lit, have a happy Halloween, and always remember to check your candy…

I’ll leave you with what remains one of my all-time favorite Halloween illustrations by none other than the great Chris Sanders, and (unrelatedly) if you’re looking for something seasonal to do this evening,  you could do a lot worse than to plug a few hours into Halloween Forever!

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Okay, it’s three days before Halloween, or will be by the time you read this. I’m writing it early, because I’m going to be busy the weekend of Halloween with one thing and another. For starters, the 30th is my birthday, and I’ll be hosting a FREE screening of The Pit and the Pendulum at the Screenland Armour at 2pm that day, if you happen to be local and want to drop by.

Normally, I would post this on Halloween itself, but this year Halloween night is on a Monday, which is just insult to injury, so if anyone is going to be celebrating with late-night horror movie marathons (as is right and proper) they’re probably going to be doing it today or tomorrow.

To help you out, I’ve gone ahead and programmed one for you that’ll run from dusk til, well, pretty late, anyway. Starting in at 6pm, just as the sun starts going down, and running until around 2 in the morning, by which time it’s safe to extinguish your jack-o-lanterns and start drifting off to bed or whatever else you might be doing. (Just a few minutes shy of 8 hours, to give you time to grab snacks, pause to hit the restroom, and rewind to watch particularly great scenes.) The theme of this year’s movie marathon is: horror movies that take place on Halloween!

6pm: Halloween (1978)
Arguably the Halloween movie (I mean, it’s right there in the name), John Carpenter’s classic is a good, restrained lead-in to the night, and may be at its very best when capturing the feel of Halloween afternoon leading up to the night itself, even while Haddonfield looks suspiciously non-autumnal for a town that’s supposed to be in Illinois (but is actually in California).

7:30pm: Trick ‘r Treat (2007)
Few things capture the Halloween spirit better than an anthology film, and when that anthology film is about Halloween, well, all the better. Mike Dougherty’s directorial debut may be the most Halloween-centric horror film ever made, and is the perfect movie to watch during the trick-or-treating hours.

9pm: Halloween 3 (1982)
It’s time. Don’t forget to put on your Silver Shamrock masks while you watch the big giveaway at nine, or just the most bonkers Halloween movie ever made, complete with, well, just about everything, from robots to Stonehenge to druid plots and masks that fill kids with crickets and snakes. Plus, the most nihilistic ending of the evening…

11pm: Night of the Demons (1988)
We’re heading into the midnight hour now, and so it’s time to dust off Night of the Demons. If Halloween captures the atmosphere of the night and Trick ‘r Treat conjures its spirit, then Night of the Demons is the closest you’re going to get to hanging out at a crappy Halloween party in a haunted house. Let it carry you through the witching hour, and then…

12:30am: The Guest (2014)
Blow out your jack-o-lanterns and get ready for  your Halloween marathon cool-down with The Guest, a movie every bit as rooted in Halloween as any other film on this list, but also one that’s standing at the edges of the party, making everyone uncomfortable. It’s a blast to watch, and a perfect way to end the night, easing out of Halloween mode without leaving the holiday behind completely.

By now it’s 2am, but if you want to keep the party going, feel free to drop a couple of other movies into the mix. Adding in Creepshow (1982) and The Midnight Hour (1985) ought to be enough to get you an all-night horror-thon that runs from dusk til dawn.

Those who’ve been around here awhile are probably already familiar with Pseudopod, but in case you’re not, they’re a terrific horror fiction podcast. I sold my first story to Pseudopod clear back in 2009, when I was still three years away from having a book out with my name on it. It remains a favorite, and you can listen to it here.

Over the years I’ve enjoyed a good working relationship with Pseudopod, and sold them a few more stories. The folks who work there are all great people who do great work, and though we (or at least I) tend to think of podcasts as something separate from, say, magazines, there are few horror publications going that consistently produce the kind of quality that you get from Pseudopod, full stop.

This year represents their tenth anniversary, and in honor of the occasion they’re holding a Kickstarter to raise funds to help pay narrators. (They already pay their authors pro rates, making them also one of the only consistent pro-paying all-horror markets around.) The Kickstarter has all sorts of great reward tiers, and one of the most exciting aspects is that the folks at Pseudopod have assembled their first anthology for the occasion, including some classic reprints from their archives but also featuring new tales by Damien Angelica Walters, A.C. Wise, and yours truly, to name a few.

I’m really happy with “New and Strangely Bodied,” the story that I wrote for For Mortal Things Unsung, and I’m excited for it to make its way out into the world. Besides the anthology, there’s a backer tier where you can get every one of my books, in case you don’t have those already, including the forthcoming deluxe edition of Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings from Strix Publishing. (And speaking of Strix, there’s also a backer tier that gets you Never Bet the Devil along with Strix’s first publication, The Book of Starry Wisdom, featuring a deluxe illustrated treatment of three of Lovecraft’s stories, along with essays by myself and several other, more notable voices in the weird field.)

But really, I don’t need to be telling you any of this, because a picture is worth a thousand words, and there’s only one thing you really need to know: Look at this freakin’ tiki mug!

pseudopod

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Rarely (if ever) has there been as great a jump in quality from a movie to its sequel (or prequel, as the case may be) as the one from Ouija to Ouija 2: Electric Boogaloo Ouija: Origin of Evil. That’s what I tweeted when I got home from the theatre, and I stick by it. Which is not to say that Origin of Evil is necessarily the greatest sequel (or prequel) of all time, merely that sequels this good normally come from movies that were already pretty great, whereas the kindest thing that can be said of 2014’s Ouija is probably that it was a harmless enough way to spend 89 minutes.

It’s tempting to lay this at the feet of Mike Flanagan’s sure directorial hand, which he has demonstrated time and again, even if I am in the minority in finding Hush, one of his earlier 2016 efforts, merely okay. But the quality of Origin of Evil owes at least as much to the smart, human script by co-writers Flanagan and Jeff Howard (who also worked together on the superb Oculus and this year’s Before I Wake, which I haven’t yet seen). Since it’s a prequel, there’s really no need to have seen Ouija beforehand, though the storyline dovetails with what I remember from the original in ways that I think will probably improve both films, in the long run. Another rare accomplishment for a sequel or prequel.

Origin of Evil is The Conjuring to Ouija‘s Insidious, not just in its period setting and Catholic trappings, but in its family dynamic and choice to deepen its chills by the juxtaposition of moments of real warmth. (And also an unnecessary scare scene with some blankets that feels lifted directly from The Conjuring.) The script is an incredibly slow burn for a movie with a relatively brief running time of only 99 minutes, but in the final reel things go from exposition to full-on haunted house bonkers at the drop of a hat. It’s an explosion of weirdness that is all the more potent for how restrained the movie has been up to that point.

There are missteps along the way, mostly in the execution of a few of the earlier jump scares and obligatory “creepy kid” moments–Flanagan appears to be better at a kind of creeping realization or hopeless desperation than at delivering a sudden shock–but the extravagances of the last act go a long way toward erasing them from memory. There’s one moment in particular during the film’s absurd spookshow climax that feels like it comes bungee-jumping directly out of Junji Ito manga, in all the best ways.

While the sequel to one of 2014’s worst ghost movies may seem an unlikely place to find one of 2016’s best, sometimes we get something better than we deserve, and it’s tough to imagine a better Ouija movie–sequel, prequel, or otherwise–than the one Mike Flanagan and company have brought us here. Recommended.