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There is a gag in the MST of Hobgoblins where, after the film’s cold opening, the titles come up and Tom Servo goes, “Hey, the end credits! Well, it was a terrible movie, but at least it was short.” To which Mike replies, “These are the beginning credits,” and Servo says, “Oh, well, then kill me, please?”

Remember that, cuz we’ll come back to it.

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I don’t know if the turning of the new year is really a time when people make ill-fated resolutions to improve their lives, or if that was just a gimmick cooked up to sell gym memberships. But I do know that this time in the dead of winter – from Christmas Eve until … well, it varies, year to year, but sometimes the end of February – has routinely not been a great time of year for me.

Unfortunately, so far 2020 is no exception. In fact this whole first week (!) feels like every day has been about a year long by itself. Each time I realize that we’re only a week in, it feels like that gag from Hobgoblins that I mentioned above.

Years ago, Grace and I had to let go of our first cat, Corwin, in a fairly sudden and traumatic fashion on Christmas Eve. Yesterday, we had to say goodbye to our cat Abracadabra, or Abby, who we’ve had for twelve years – nearly a third of my life.

It was time, and I’m grateful that she’s no longer suffering, but it was terribly hard to say goodbye, and we already miss her so much. That was the year’s biggest kick in the teeth to me, personally, so far, but it was far from the only one.

Meanwhile, I’ve still got this hacking cough that I have had since October 30, the world is on fire in a way that’s more literal than usual, America’s warmongering and imperialism threatens to escalate a war that has, for all intents and purposes, been going on for most of my lifetime, and I’m sure there’s plenty that I’m forgetting.

I don’t know if all ages are as apocalypse-haunted as my generation, but it seems like I’ve grown up always in the shadow of the end of the world. I was a kid in the tail-end of the Cold War, and the threat of nuclear annihilation loomed large. The Day After was set and filmed not far from where I live now.

Our movies were preoccupied with life in the wake of a future that was sometimes literally post-apocalyptic, other times caught in the midst of the inevitable aftermath of late stage capitalism and its ravages on the planet. A world in which a handful of people lived in comfort while everyone else survived in the gutters, when they survived at all.

I graduated class of 2000, which means that I remember, vividly, the Y2K scare. I remember the fear of global pandemics. Outbreak came out when I was fourteen years old.

Revisiting the movies that I grew up on, I’m often flabbergasted by how quickly they expected the end to come. When you’re making a movie about a blasted future where humanity survives in dregs, and you set it a decade out? Let’s just say, that ain’t optimism.

I’m no kind of historian, but I do routinely consume media, both for work and pleasure, from a lot of different decades. And one thing I’ve learned is that the problems that we face now are, for the most part, the same as the problems we’ve faced all my life. Take a movie from two, three decades ago, strip away the markers of its moment in time, and you’ll find the same themes.

We knew that climate change was going to doom us all if we didn’t do something about it. We knew that the wealth gap was growing. We knew that our warmongering would only ever lead to more and more violence. We knew the self-serving hypocrisy of the “moral majority.” We knew that white supremacy underpinned much of our society – and that it was a trap that held both whites and PoC alike.

Sometimes it’s comforting to see how little has changed, and sometimes it’s terrifying.

Knowing that the fin absolue du monde has hung over us for longer than I’ve been alive helps me to not give in to the apocalyptic mindset that the news often seems so keen to engender, but I can’t deny that the images of Australia, in particular, have an immediacy and ferocity that is hard to ignore.

On the plus side, I made my first sale of the year this week, which is a nice, early start. 2020 may have punched us in the mouth right out of the gate, but sometimes the only thing you can do then is grin with blood in your teeth.

Unknown SkeletonAt the start of this decade, I made my first-ever professionally-qualifying sale. (Pro rates were somehow even lower then than they are now.) I had been writing since I learned how, and seriously attempting to publish since I graduated college not quite a decade before that.

In 2012, the first edition of my first collection, Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings, came out. In five years it would be out of print, then back in print, in a new, hardcover deluxe edition from Strix Publishing.

Looking back, it came out too soon. Not that I’m not proud of the collection – I am, completely, if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have allowed it to be reissued. I just wasn’t at the “first collection” stage in my career quite yet, but I didn’t know that then.

In the years since, I’ve published two more collections of stories, both with Ross Lockhart’s Word Horde press, not to mention two collections of essays on vintage horror films, both with Innsmouth Free Press. I’ve published more than fifty short stories, and been in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year three times.

I co-edited my first anthology with Silvia Moreno-Garcia, which got translated into Japanese.

I’ve done work for Privateer Press, writing short fiction and in-game content, adventures, and even a licensed novel that is technically my first published novel-length work. In the last year alone I’ve written nearly fifty movie reviews for Unwinnable and Signal Horizon, where I also now co-host a podcast.

I’ve written introductions for reissues of some of my favorite books, including Benighted and collections by Robert Westall, from Valancourt Books, and introductions to collections by some of my favorite contemporaries, including Nick Mamatas and Amanda Downum. I have nonfiction bylines in places like Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, and Nightmare Magazine.

I’ve been a guest at several wonderful conventions and festivals, gone on a great many podcasts, introduced movies at the local movie theatres, and much more. There are so many things on this list that, had you told me about them ten years ago, I wouldn’t have believed you.

Of all the many surprising things that have happened to me over the course of the last decade, though, perhaps the most surprising is that I quit my day job to write full-time all the way back in 2013, and I haven’t had to give it up yet.

Fiction writing certainly doesn’t pay the bills, so most of my time is dedicated to freelancing, but, as they say in Major League 2, a day of playing baseball is better than whatever most people have to do for a living.

It wasn’t until Grace was asking me if I was planning to do some kind of decade-in-review that I realized how much my life has changed in these past ten years, so it seemed worth taking note. I went from being virtually unpublished (I had sold a few stories, but not many) to having six or more books (depending on how you count) with my name on the spine and writing for a living.

Not too shabby, all in all.

As regular readers are already aware, I got sick the day before Halloween. It followed a busy October in which I probably spread myself a little thin, and I’m sure it’s no more than I deserved.

I’d had a good month, and I was willing to let it tank my birthday and Halloween. What I wasn’t prepared for was that it would hang on for another entire month and then some.

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I got, apparently, the same thing a lot of other people have gotten – a cold that went away in relatively short order but left behind a cough seemingly caused by nothing and improved by nothing. I’m not writing this for advice. I’ve had it all. I’ve been to the doctor several times, tried every medication under the sun. They say that it may just hang on for up to six weeks.

So, I lost November. Pretty much entirely. I’ve been able to keep my head above water with freelance work, but everything I had been putting off because October was too busy got put off further because November was too sick. If you’re one of those things, I’m genuinely sorry about that.

Every time I tried to go out, the cough got worse, so I paid for every excursion with rough days and nights. It’s minor, in the grand scheme, but it’s also exhausting, frustrating, and depressing. For the most part, I’ve kept it together decently well.

If it’s gonna last for six weeks, I’ve got another week or two to go. I’m hoping that’s not the case, but we’ll see. Pretty intense rest seems to decrease the severity of the cough, but any activity sets it off.

In spite of that, I’ve done a few things. Put up the tree in the living room, hung Christmas lights inside – not outside, cuz it’s cold out there. I’ve kept caught up on my work, even if I haven’t gotten into some longer-term projects that I had hoped to by now.

Halloween is my favorite holiday. It’s kind of contractually obligated to be. Just as autumn is my favorite season. But Christmas is my (perhaps more unlikely) second favorite holiday.

Not for any religious reason – I’m an agnostic, and pretty much always have been. And not because I like receiving – or even giving – presents all that much. In fact, I rather despise the crass consumerism of the season, just as I rather despise crass consumerism more generally.

But I love the atmosphere of Christmas. I love Christmas lights more than just about anything. I love the cold, crisp nights. The green of pine needles and the red pop of berries. I love driving through town and seeing everything lit up against the long, dark night.

I love Christmas ghost stories and Christmas horror movies. I love the muffled hush of snow piling upon snow. I love the artificial isolation of a snowstorm.

I don’t mind Christmas music or all the Christmas decorations in the stores – if I ever complain about them, it’s only the creep that gradually replaces Halloween earlier and earlier every year.

I like this time of year – from the beginning of October through New Year’s Day. I like to participate in it as much as I can, but if I’m sick I’m sick, there’s not much I can do about it. Today, I put up the tree and watched Krampus. That’s a good thing to do on December 1.

Tomorrow, I’ll do something else. One day at a time, until this stupid cough is gone. That’s all I can do, and for now, at least, it’s good enough.

 

As any attentive reader already knows, I got sick on my birthday, which was twelve days gone now. I’m still sick. Most of the other symptoms have lessened with time, but I am stuck with a persistent cough that is painful, frustrating, and exhausting. Worse still, it won’t let me sleep.

This sleep issue is, at present, my chief concern. I’m also supposed to record for a podcast early next week, which could be … interesting, given how much coughing I’m still doing.

My second greatest concern is that tonight is Analog Sunday. This may seem a small concern compared to not sleeping, and, indeed, it is. But at the same time … this cold already functionally robbed me of one Halloween; Analog was something of a second chance.

About a week ago, I attempted to reason with this illness, offering it whatever it is that colds want in exchange for being gone by today so that I could go watch a movie about killer scarecrows projected off of a VHS tape. I have my priorities, after all.

Sadly, the pestilence has proven obdurate, and so now we are at an impasse. At this point, if I go to Analog, it will be to spite the malady, and not because I actually feel well enough to do so.

Also, I wouldn’t be sleeping anyway, apparently, though I don’t know how much my fellow Analog habitues would appreciate me coughing sporadically throughout the picture.

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As I write this, it’s my birthday, October 30, 2019. At least it is for another few hours. This year, I promised myself that I would do Halloween all the way to the hilt if it killed me in October. And I did. And it looks like maybe it did.

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Art by HamletMachine

No, it’s nowhere near that bad. I was hoping to have a few friends over and maybe watch a movie or two this evening, but unfortunately this morning I woke up with a sore throat and as the day wore on I began to feel more and more under the weather, so I just stayed in and drank tea and didn’t do much besides work today.

Which is okay, because I had a lot of work that needed to get done before the month was over and also because it started to snow today, anyway. Plus, if I’m going to get sick on Halloween, which is the pits, at least I didn’t get sick earlier in the month when I had ten thousand various social obligations to be met.

Knowing I was going to be exhausted, even if I was otherwise fine, I was already planning for a relatively low-key birthday/Halloween, so this works out, even if I’d still rather not get sick, thanks.

It’s been a good month. I had lots of work to do, some of it more fun than others. I saw a lot of movies in local theatres and even hosted a few of them.

I got to show two of my very favorite William Castle/Vincent Price flicks to packed houses, which was an absolute joy. I saw Goblin perform live not once but twice. I kept up my yearly tradition of going to the Nerdoween triple feature and even added in Dismember the Alamo for the first time. I went out to a local haunted house in Independence with my buddies from Magnetic Magic and Forever Bogus. I did a reading at Afterword Tavern & Shelves.

So far this month, I’ve only watched 28 movies. I’d have to watch three movies between now and midnight tomorrow to average out to a movie a day for all 31 days which is… unlikely, but not inconceivable. I guess we’ll just have to see.

It probably depends, more than anything, on how I feel when I wake up tomorrow. As of right now, though, if I’m too sick to do any Halloweening whatsoever tomorrow, I think I’ll still chalk this October up as a win. And I’ve learned some valuable lessons for next time…

I can’t remember a time that I didn’t love resort towns. I never got to go to them very often when I was a kid, but anytime I did I felt instantly enchanted. This goes double for resort towns along the beach, even though I’ve been to all of maybe three or four of them in my whole life.

I’ve thought a lot about why this is. I think it’s because they are such a combination of liminal spaces. Resort towns are ethereal constructions at best; built on a population that is temporary and ephemeral. They are made up of structures and infrastructures that feel theatrical. Like set-dressing rather than real places.

Resort towns that are built on the edges of the water are more liminal yet. Their boardwalks occupy that unclaimed space between the sea and the land; a space that transforms with the coming and going of the tide.

Or maybe I just watched The Lost Boys when I was really young and never got over it.

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Whatever the case, I was excited to go to Myrtle Beach for an actual vacation in July. I travel a couple of times a year, usually, but it’s to go to conventions. Traveling just to travel is a rarity indeed. And traveling with Grace is rarer still.

We flew in to Charlotte, North Carolina to meet up with two of our best friends from college, spent a day or two with them, then we all drove down to Myrtle Beach. It was fun, absolutely, but also disappointing. The hotel room was very nice, with a balcony that looked out over the beating waves, but many of the logistics of the trip didn’t work out as intended.

I loved being so near that strip of beach, even if the closest I came to going in the water was a midnight walk along the swash and beneath the piers as high tide rolled in. I wanted to ride the skywheel and never managed it, but I enjoyed it always being there, lit up at night and hanging over the boardwalk. I wanted to go to the haunted house down the way, but passed for various reasons.

We did go to an amusement park (basically a midway, another liminal space I have loved ever since I was a kid) down the beach, where we rode a dilapidated wild west-themed dark ride (the best kind of ride) where we shot light guns at outlaws.

I went with Grace on a chartered fishing trip that never actually managed to go out into the deeper ocean because the sea was too rough. The fishing was bad, though they caught flounder and a shark, but we nonetheless got to see a sea turtle and a ray and I got to hold a cannonball jellyfish which had a tiny little crab living inside it who came out to say hi.

Things never really got better than standing on the balcony at night, the lights of the boardwalk off to my right, a red, red moon rising over the waves as the surf crashed against the sand.

Then we drove back to Charlotte, played King of Tokyo, which I really loved and am going to have to buy, though I’m holding out for one of the original printings because I like the old artwork much better than the new, and then flew back to Kansas City.

Probably the best parts of the trip actually happened in Charlotte, not Myrtle Beach. We went to an exhibition of Tony DiTerlizzi artwork at the Mint Museum in Charlotte which was absolutely amazing.

My first ever exposure to D&D was through DiTerlizzi’s artwork in Planescape and the 2e Monster Manual, and he was probably one of my first ever favorite artists. Seeing that art, which I had grown up with, in person was a rare pleasure.

Now I’m back, chopping my way through the thicket of freelance deadlines that sprang up while I was away. On the other side of them, I hope to make some time to watch a few movies – I had a lot of good mail just before I left and waiting for me when I got back – before I get ready for my next trip, which will be to NecronomiCon in Providence in the second half of August.

Even though I just got home and am generally a pretty sedentary person, I’m already looking forward to that next trip. I can’t wait to see a bunch of my favorite people who I see altogether too rarely and, in several cases, have never actually met in person before.

In a rarity for me and conventions, I’m actually looking forward to many of the panels being presented, and I’m on a couple of them, where I’ll be talking about Manly Wade Wellman (one of my favorite topics) and film adaptations of weird fiction authors (another of my favorite topics). I’m also participating in a group reading for the recently-released anthology Pluto in Furs, which includes my very weird story “Stygian Chambers.”

There’s a lot to be done between now and then, though, so I had better get back to it.

 

 

This isn’t going to be a review of Midsommar, which I watched last night, but instead a discussion of one aspect of it. I don’t think it’ll really have anything in it that qualifies as spoilers, but on the off chance, y’know, watch out.

I didn’t love Midsommar and I didn’t hate it. I don’t think I liked it as much as Hereditary, and I don’t think it brought much that was terribly new to the folk horror table, besides a real meticulousness. But again, I said this wasn’t a review, and I don’t mean for it to be.

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The main character in Midsommar (played brilliantly by Florence Pugh) has an anxiety disorder. She has it before the traumatic events which propel her onto the ill-fated trip that makes up the meat of the movie. Probably she has always had it. Just like me.

And more so than maybe any other movie I’ve ever seen, Midsommar, in its first half-hour or so, nails what it feels like to have an anxiety disorder, at least for me.

When I got home from the theatre, I called its first 20 or 30 minutes “basically the tunnel-visioning run-up to a panic attack put on film.” I guess it would be easy to read that as “it’s scary,” but, while Midsommar is many things, it is emphatically not particularly scary.

“It’s definitely a horror movie,” one of the people I saw it with said afterward. “But it’s not a scary movie.” I’d be inclined to agree.

And yet, I took half an alprazolam about the time they got on the plane. This before the “horror” part of the movie had really kicked in.

Normally, movies don’t trigger my anxiety. Ever. At all.

My therapist used to find it ironic that I had a significant anxiety disorder and suffered from frequent panic attacks but that I also watched horror movies practically for a living. But movies–pretty much no matter how tense or shocking or disturbing–have always been my safe place. Horror movies especially.

And I didn’t pop an alprazolam because Midsommar was scary or shocking or tense. I took one because the film felt so much like the run-up to a panic attack that I could feel one of my own just starting to flutter its wings somewhere deep down in my ribcage, in the dark space behind my own eyes, tingling at the tips of my fingers.

Anxiety as a disorder–rather than simply a natural reaction that people have to traumatic or frightening situations–isn’t something that movies get right very often. Whatever your thoughts on Ari Aster’s approach to mental illness in his films so far (and I think there are a LOT of thoughts to have on the subject), this depiction of anxiety felt right to me.

(The scene of her stalking around, arms rigid, fists clenched at her sides to keep from scratching at herself, telling herself over and over again to, “Stop it. Stop it.” I have literally done that exact thing more times than I can count.)

So, if you don’t suffer from anxiety, or do and it takes a different form, and you want an idea of what it feels like to be me–sometimes more than others, of course, but never gone completely–watch the first part of Midsommar, everything up to the scene where Dani wakes up after they take the mushrooms. That’ll give you a taste.