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Godless CoverWell, it kind of crept up on me, but today is actually the release day of my very first novel, so if you always wanted to read a novel by me, you’re into Warmachine, or you just like the idea of devout religious types with big robots burning heretics and fighting monsters, you might want to pick up a copy of Godless, the first book in the Fire & Faith series from Privateer Press! (It’s available in print or digital via Amazon, or you can check the Skull Island eXpeditions website.)

If you had asked me several years ago how and when I would write my first novel, I would not have guessed that it would be a licensed Protectorate of Menoth novel for Privateer Press. Even when I had already started doing various freelance work for them, and wrote what was, heretofore, my longest published piece of fiction–the 30,000 word novella Mutagenesisthe idea of working on a licensed novel never crossed my mind until Mike Ryan at Privateer Press gave me a call. (Godless is just over 90,000 words, so working on it was a big jump out of my comfort zone.)

In a lot of ways, writing Godless wasn’t like writing a novel the normal way. I’ve compared it before to what I imagine writing a novelization of a movie must be like. The Privateer folks gave me a very substantial outline, and I followed it more-or-less to the letter, with input and help from Mike, Matt Goetz, and Doug Seacat every step of the way. Which is not to say that I didn’t put my own stamp in there, both in how the book is written and also in creating some of the supporting cast.

When I’m writing a story for myself or even for an anthology invite, I generally have almost total freedom. An invite may demand that a story adhere to a certain theme, but within that theme I have an awful lot of creative wiggle room. Working on this novel–and, indeed, everything I’ve done for Privateer Press–was a different sort of challenge, because instead of deciding what happened, I already knew what happened, and had to decide how, and how to sell the beats that I knew the story needed to hit.

From that (very detailed) outline, I wrote Godless in just under two months. (I believe it was 57 days when I turned in the first draft.) Add in another few weeks for revisions, and my first novel was done. While I was able to turn it around in that time, and I think with help from Matt and Doug and everyone the finished product is pretty strong, I also learned some valuable lessons for the next novel, including that two months isn’t enough time to write one, especially if you’re also trying to do your normal freelance work and recovering from a tonsillectomy. So next time we’ll try to take it a little slower.

So what’s the book about? If you’re coming to it from my weird/horror short stories, you’ll find that it’s a big departure, but maybe not as big as it at first appears. This is a fantasy story about war and faith, about knights, robots, monsters, and epistemological uncertainty. As someone who’s been a fan of the games and the settings for years, I’m not sure how much the novel will mean to anyone who isn’t at least passingly familiar with Warmachine, the Iron Kingdoms, or Privateer Press’s line of products. But for those who are, or those who want to learn more, well, Godless is available right now.

Odds are you don’t need me to tell you that 2016 was a rough year. Even leaving aside any political… happenstance, we lost a lot of great people in 2016. Some were losses shared by the world, others hit closer to home. But if I restrict my sights to only those things that were localized entirely within the walls of my house, 2016 was actually a pretty good year. Freelance work picked up considerably from its low point in 2015, Grace got a new job that she is extremely happy with, and I published two books: Monsters from the Vault, a collection of my Vault of Secrets columns from Innsmouth Free Press, and The Cult of Headless Men, a chapbook novelette from Dunhams Manor with an incredible cover by Michael Bukowski.

Since my first collection, Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings had fallen out of print at the end of 2015, this past year also saw the launch of a successful Kickstarter to get it back in print in a deluxe, fully-illustrated hardcover edition featuring killer art from my good friend MS Corley. The new edition is due out sometime this year from Strix Publishing, and should be available for order direct from them for those who missed the Kickstarter.

Following on the heels of the Kickstarter, the last few months of 2016 were a little hectic for me. I ended September with a tonsillectomy, which more or less put me out of commission for the month of October, and then spent November and December writing my first novel in only 53 days! For those who missed the previous announcement, that novel will be a Protectorate of Menoth novel set in the world of the Iron Kingdoms from Privateer Press. It’s the first in a proposed series called Fire & Faith, and the book itself is going to be called Godless. It’s due out later this year. I’ll be posting a lot more about it–and the process of writing it–once things have gone a little farther, but for now you can read a brief interview with me over at their blog.

Over the course of the year, I published only 6 new short stories (not counting The Cult of Headless Men), but I’m pretty proud of all of them. They showed up in venues like Autumn CthulhuSwords v. Cthulhu, Children of LovecraftEternal FrankensteinThe Madness of Dr. Caligari, and Gothic Lovecraft. (Lots of “Lovecraft” and “Cthulhu” titles this year.) Thanks to Children of Lovecraft, I finally got to check my lifelong dream of appearing behind a Mignola cover off my list, and my story from Autumn Cthulhu made the Bram Stoker Award reading list, which I think is a first for me. I also made my debut in the pages of Nightmare magazine, albeit in nonfiction form, writing an entry for their H Word column about creating and consuming horror that isn’t meant to be scary.

I didn’t read very many books in 2016 (a little less than 30, most of them graphic novels), but of those, a few were actually published in 2016 and were legitimately great, perhaps most notably Matthew M. Bartlett’s Creeping Waves and Jon Padgett’s The Secret of Ventriloquism. I was also lucky enough to provide blurbs for a couple of books that came out in 2016, including Pete Rawlik’s most recent addition to his rollicking Wold Newton-ish universe Reanimatrix, and Jonathan Raab’s The Lesser Swamp Gods of Little Dixie. (Though really, with a title like that, why do you need a blurb from me to sell it to you?)

I did watch a lot of movies in 2016, however. 333, to be exact. 47 of those were in the month of October, which is what happens when you have a tonsillectomy and can neither sleep nor do much else besides lay on the couch and watch movies. In continuing my efforts to see more movies that I haven’t seen than ones that I have, 197 of those movies were new-to-me, though of those only about 25 actually came out in 2016. Nothing I saw in 2016 ever managed to beat the first movie that I saw in theatres last year, so The Witch is probably still my favorite movie of the year. Other good ones that I saw include Green Room, I Am Not a Serial Killer, Ouija: Origin of Evil (yeah, I’m as surprised as you are), Captain America: Civil WarThe Nice GuysZootopiaThe Shallows, and the first half of The Autopsy of Jane Doe. The last movie that I watched in 2016 was Blood Diner, and the first one that I watched in 2017 was Cellar Dweller, so that seems about right.

In breaking with my annual tradition, there probably won’t be a Year in Creatures this year because, frankly, I just didn’t see enough movies in 2016 that had creatures in them. The big alien in Independence Day: Resurgence was totally wasted, and besides it and a few ghosts there was, what, a shark and that thing from I Am Not a Serial Killer? I guess Black Phillip would about have to be the Monster of the Year in 2016, though if there are good creatures I’m missing in movies that I didn’t see do please let me know, because I want to track them down!

In 2017 I’m hoping to read more books, which may entail watching fewer movies, but we’ll see how the year pans out. I’ve already picked up my full-weekend pass for Panic Fest this year, so that’s a pile of movies I’ll probably be seeing later this month. There’s a lot of cool stuff in the works for 2017, including that aforementioned novel, so you’ll be hearing from me more down the line. For now, let’s finish kicking the detritus of 2016 to the curb, and set our sights on getting through the next few days, months, and then years.

 

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.

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…

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Tonight is Walpurgisnacht, which, if it means nothing else, means that we’re at the halfway point on our trip back around to Halloween. Along with your bonfires and whatever else, I recommend some seasonally appropriate reading to mark the occasion. As you probably already know, I’ve got a story called “Walpurgisnacht” that takes place tonight and which initially appeared in The Children of Old Leech, though you can also read it in my second collection, Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts, both of which are available from Word Horde. Want a taste? You can read an excerpt from the beginning of “Walpurgisnacht” right here.

And speaking of Word Horde, this auspicious day also marks the debut of Mike Griffin’s, well, debut collection, The Lure of Devouring Light, published by, well, you guessed it.

If your reading card is all filled out for the night, might I recommend a suitably witchy film for your Walpurgisnacht enjoyment? Suspiria is always a good bet, but may be too familiar. Hammer’s The Witches is a little less often-seen, and is a particular favorite of mine. And though I don’t actually remember much about it, I’ve now got an ingrained soft spot for Virgin Witch, thanks to a late-night viewing with Simon Berman of Strix Publishing on the heels of the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival a couple years back.

Whatever particular form your libation or revel may take this evening, happy Walpurgisnacht to all who celebrate! Tend to your bonfires, watch out for strange shapes in the sky, and beware of music from beneath the ground. See you all in May, when we’re on the downhill slope toward All Hallow’s Eve.

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Well, it took me a while to get to this, so here we are almost two months into 2016, but here’s a recap of how writing went in 2015. First off, it was my second full year as a full time freelance writer. It was also, by far, the hardest year as such, but unexpected factors came into play to help get us through it, and so far 2016 is looking up (knock on wood).

Of course, the big writing event in 2015 was the release of my second collection, Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts from Word Horde. The second-biggest piece of writing news last year was probably my ghost apocalypse story “Persistence of Vision” getting reprinted in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year 7, marking my first (and so far only) best of the year publication.

Besides Painted Monsters and the three original stories contained therein, 2015 saw the publication of six new stories by yours truly. I also continued to do freelance work for Privateer Press and started doing regular freelance gigs for The Lineup. Plus I got to check something off my bucket list by making my first sale to Clarkesworld in the form of a nonfiction piece about bugs in the films of Guillermo del Toro.

So in spite of being a rough year in a lot of ways, 2015 was also a pretty great year for writing in a lot of other ways. And 2016 is off to a promising start. I’ve got at least one book coming out this year, Monsters from the Vault, a collection of my Vault of Secrets columns from Innsmouth Free Press. (More on that very soon.) I’m also in talks to get a new edition of Never Bet the Devil back into print sooner rather than later.

I’ve already got six stories in press that should be coming out in various anthologies in 2016. Some of them I’ve already talked about, others are still a secret for now, and there’s one that’s still under wraps that I’m very excited about. Besides that, I’ve also got four stories in various stages of progress for various anthology invitations, plus a project that I’m working on for Dunhams Manor. And I’m working on a pitch for an illustrated mid-grade book with Eric Orchard, among other projects. So 2016 is shaping up to be an exciting year.

Cthulhu Fhtagn!Yesterday was the 125th birthday of that cantankerous Old Gent from Providence himself, HP Lovecraft. Today, just about everyone I know is at the NecronomiCon in Providence, a convention celebrating the works and influence of one of the most important writers in the history of weird fiction, even as debates continue to rage within the genre about his racism, and various other problematic aspects of his life and work.

My name is one that is, I think, pretty closely tied to Lovecraft’s, whether I want it to be or not. Of the fifty-plus stories that I’ve published or sold to various places over the years, more a dozen have been in explicitly Lovecraft-themed publications, the most recent being Ross Lockhart’s Cthulhu Fhtagn! which was just released from Word Horde. In October I’ll be attending my third consecutive HP Lovecraft Film Festival as a guest. I don’t guess I get to deny that I’m a Lovecraftian writer, but at the same time, I’ve worked very hard to avoid dipping more than just the very tips of my toes into what I think of as the Mythos, instead taking cues from Lovecraft’s themes, the atmosphere of his tales, and running with those.

For last year’s HPLFF, I drove from Kansas City to Portland, picking up fellow guest and good friend Jesse Bullington on the way. During the long drive through countryside that was at turns bleak and beautiful, we talked of many things, and one of the topics that came up was “Why Lovecraft?” What was it about the man that made his legacy endure, while others were, if not forgotten, then certainly not remembered with such fervor by so many? I hypothesized that Lovecraft’s lasting influence had a lot to do with the fact that he was a kind of crossroads where many prior traditions of weird and supernatural fiction intersected, and from whence they then spread out again to go their various new directions. It’s a thought that I expanded upon a bit for my contribution to last year’s online DelToroCon.

Like a lot of people–maybe most people, in this day and age–Lovecraft was essentially my introduction to weird fiction. I came to Lovecraft by way of Stephen King, whose obvious homages to him in stories like “Jerusalem’s Lot” led me inexorably to checking out the work of the Old Gent himself. From there, Lovecraft was both the key and the door to an entire pantheon, not of hideous and ancient god-monsters, but of other writers of weird and spectral fiction both before and since.

On that same long car ride with Jesse, while acknowledging that I was considered a Lovecraftian writer, I said that, in a more perfect–or perhaps simply more accurate–world, I would instead be known as a Bensonian writer, or a Jamesian one (MR, not Henry), or a Hodgsonian or a Wellmanian one, and so on. Lovecraft was my introduction to that world, and as such he will always have a place in my DNA, but as far as the shape that my own writing has taken, there are hordes of other names that share at least equal blame in making me the creator that I am today. Jean Ray, Fritz Leiber, Roger Zelazny, Richard Matheson, Clive Barker, and countless others all threw their particular influences into the mix. And of course none of that is even mentioning movies, which have had a huge impact on my imagination and my writing, or the person who is undoubtedly my greatest influence, Mike Mignola.

Mignola has a story that he tells in interviews, about how it was reading Dracula that made him really realize that all he wanted to do was draw and tell stories about monsters. My similar clarifying moment came about as a result of reading Mignola’s own work on his ever-expanding Hellboy universe. The fact that Mignola–like Lovecraft–proved to be a portal through which I discovered many of the other writers and creators who have most influenced me was icing on the cake.

So here’s to you, Mr. Lovecraft. If you’re not already chilling with the ghouls in the Dreamlands, may our continued excavations leave you and all your forebears and descendants restless in your graves.