monster_thriller_scifi_headerPanic Fest is something that I look forward to every year; after all, why wouldn’t I? A world-class horror/monster/sci-fi film festival right in my own backyard, put together by my good friends at Rotten Rentals and the Screenland Armour; what’s not to love? But for me, at least, Panic Fest has become something of a fraught weekend.

Two years ago, just as I was leaving the house to go to Panic Fest, I got a phone call about my dad’s declining health. It wasn’t the first phone call on the subject, but it was one of the ones that triggered the fall of dominoes which made up the end of his life, the realization of a lot of trauma and baggage, and various other things that I’ve been dealing with in one capacity or another for the last two years. As such, Panic Fest always feels like an anniversary: the last weekend where I got to feel normal for a while and just have some fun.

Every year since, when Panic Fest has come around it has brought with it a weird combination of emotions–fraught, like I said. This year was the first time I attended as a “private citizen.” In the past I’ve helped out with the fest in some capacity; manning the Rotten Rentals booth or whatever. This year I just bought my ticket like everyone else and showed up to watch movies and bullshit around in the (really nice) vendor loft. I picked up a copy of the really great-looking book Unsung Horrors, which contains a couple of essays by my friend (and former boss, way back when I still worked at a video store) Jeff Owens.

I also watched four movies over the course of the weekend, along with a handful of really good shorts. That is, I believe, fully twice as many movies as the most I ever managed at a previous Panic Fest, so I’ll call it pretty good. To make matters better, I enjoyed all four movies, which is always nice. Here are my brief thoughts on each, presented in ascending order of quality.

The Barn – An 80s-style VHS throwback, The Barn was funded at least partially via IndieGoGo, and it shows. Because of the film’s intentionally low-rent aesthetic, the budgetary limitations are never really a problem for it, and the result is something pretty charming for anybody who has a nostalgic yen for 80s slashers and monsters that are just guys in Halloween masks. What The Barn can’t do is rise much above that. It’s never quite funny enough to function as pure parody, nor strong enough to stand on its own as anything else. So what you get is a pleasant throwback that seems like it ought to be watched on an old tube TV, popped out of one of those clamshell VHS cases; but a surprisingly crowded theatre at a horror film festival is probably the next best thing.

Don’t Knock Twice – A few days before Panic Fest, I watched last year’s Lights Out for the first time. Don’t Knock Twice shares a lot of parallels with that film–minus its specific light-related central conceit–but Lights Out suffers every time by the comparison. Which is not to say that Don’t Knock Twice is any particularly great shakes, but it stands up better than most of the familiar ghostly fare that so often haunts our multiplexes these days.

The Void – Imagine if the Astron-6 guys couldn’t decide whether they wanted to make a fan film of HellraiserThe ThingPrince of Darkness, or The Fly–so they just did all four. That’s pretty much The Void in a nutshell, and as such it manages to seem both inventive and derivative, while also feeling more like watching someone play Resident Evil than the Resident Evil movies ever managed. The visuals are strong, and there are plenty of gloppy monsters all done with practical effects, so I love that, but I also can’t help noticing that all of the effects feel like they would probably have been more confidently deployed in the hands of any of those other directors.

It’s been called Lovecraftian–as anything with cultists, tentacles, or horror on a larger-than-human scale will be (and The Void certainly has all three in spades)–but it owes a much bigger debt to Barker than to Lovecraft. Call it Hellraiser with the aesthetic of Carpenter and Cronenberg and you’re damn close. All this probably sounds a little down on The Void, but it absolutely isn’t meant to be–it’s sitting in my number two spot here, after all–it’s just that, for all its promise and its many great qualities, it never quite rises to what it almost is. (A problem that, honestly, seems to plague many of even the very best of our crop of contemporary horror movies.)

Train to Busan – In a year that has already been full-to-bursting with surreal moments, few were as jarring as walking out of Train to Busan to the news of Trump’s Muslim ban. Train to Busan is, essentially, a Korean zombie movie of the contemporary fast, swarming zombie school, and one that, as you’ve no doubt heard from other people than me, is handled brilliantly well. There’s a lot going on in it, but possibly its biggest and least subtle theme can be summed up as: Turning people away because you are afraid makes you into something worse than the monsters that scare you. As such, it has maybe never felt more topical than in this moment.

All that aside, though, it is also just an extremely solid movie. Like Frank Darabont’s adaptation of The Mist from a few years back–which was also very emphatically a product of its moment with a very heavy social message, but that still plays fine without that context–Train to Busan holds up amidst a sea of similar fare as one of the best of the modern crop of swarming zombie flicks.

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.

 

Along with everything else, 2016 decided to give us one last kick in the teeth on its way out the door. Just a few days before the New Year, my adopted dad passed away. I should probably put adopted in quotes, since it wasn’t anything that was ever legal, but he was my dad as far as I was concerned, and I think as far as he was concerned, too.

JT was my friend Jay’s dad. Jay and I met in college. After we had graduated, he lived with Grace and I on a couple of different occasions, rooming with us both in our previous townhouse and in this one. He’s watched more godawful movies with me than anyone else on the planet, which would probably be enough to make him my brother, even if nothing else did. I’ve always been of the opinion that the family you make in life is more family than the one you’re born into, and Jay and his folks are the proof of that.

A couple of years ago–just before Jay got married; I was the best man at his wedding–we made it “official,” and Grace and I adopted JT and Sandy as our parents, too. It just made sense. After all, whenever we were over there, we always got introduced as “and this is my other son, Orrin,” that sort of thing.

When we did that, JT was still vivacious and healthy. Still “just full of it,” as he always replied whenever anyone asked how he was doing. Still telling terrible jokes that Grace couldn’t get enough of. He remained that way after his cancer diagnosis, too. In fact, he kept telling bad jokes pretty much right up until the moment he couldn’t really talk anymore.

Luckily, we went to see them for Christmas this year. It was the last time I would ever see him alive. He passed away just a few days shy of what would have been his 37th wedding anniversary. I bought my first suit to be a pallbearer at his funeral. It was my first time carrying a casket, feeling the weight of it in my hands, solid and surprisingly light, with six of us sharing the load.

I haven’t said anything about any of this for various reasons, and I’m unlikely to say much more than this. Those who’ve been following along online probably didn’t notice anything except my increased absence, which largely went unremarked because I was already absent working on the novel for Privateer Press for the last couple of months.

I miss him, and I know that I’ll continue to miss him, but my grief is so much cleaner, so much purer than my grief when my biological dad died. Unencumbered by trauma or mixed feelings or repressed memories. I loved JT, and I miss him. Simple as that. And I’ve still got family in the form of Jay, Veronica, and Sandy. It doesn’t make it any less painful, but it does make it easier to carry, and that’s not nothing.

durantart03So, I’ve been a little scarce the past couple of weeks months, for reasons both good and (more often) not-so-great. Some of them you already know–I’ve been working on a long freelance project, I had a tonsillectomy–while others (both good and bad) I’ve been keeping under my hat. So now the time has come to talk about at least a few of them, and I’ll start with some of the good news:

That long freelance project, which has, up ’til now, been secret, is I suppose secret no longer, since the official announcement and an excerpt from the work-in-progress has already gone up on the publisher’s website. So what’s the word? For the past two months, I have been working non-stop on a full-length Protectorate of Menoth novel, due out later this year from Privateer Press and Skull Island eXpeditions. Those of you who have been following along for a while know that I’ve written several things for Privateer Press before, including my heretofore longest published work, Mutagenesis. But this is my first novel. Not just for Privateer Press. Ever.

I’ll talk more about the process of writing it, and what the future holds (both for it and for me) later on, but for now, I know that I’ve been pretty coy about this project for some time, and I’m very happy to finally be able to announce what it is.

For now, the book is going to be called Godless (which sounds nicely like the title of a KMFDM album), and it’s the first book in a proposed series called Fire & Faith, focusing on the Protectorate of Menoth. You’ll learn more when I have more to announce. In the meantime, I’ll get back to that bad news I mentioned up above sometime in the next few days, and then after that I’ll probably try to do the obligatory year-end wrap-up posts before we get too far past the end of the year. More (hopefully) soon.

On November 1, I more-or-less shuttered my online presence because I was diving into a work-for-hire project that I knew would dominate all of my free time. I was also under a non-disclosure agreement that prevented me from talking about said project in any but the most abstract terms. (Still am.)

Over the next 53 days, I wrote 87,000 words on it, making it the longest thing I have ever written by almost double its next-longest competitor, and almost three times longer than the longest thing I have ever published. During those same 53 days, I also wrote around 50,000 words of the various freelance work that I do most every month in varying quantities. So, suffice it to say, I haven’t been online much since the end of October, and I’ve been writing a lot. However, as of last Friday, I got to the end of the manuscript on that big, secret work-for-hire project.

Given that it was the day before Christmas Eve, and I hadn’t really had a day off in ages, I decided to take a couple off for the holiday. I didn’t really even get on my computer at all over the weekend, so today is pretty much my first time back, and even today I’m not doing a whole lot here. So if you’ve missed me around Facebook or Twitter or what-have-you, that’s why.

I’ve still got some freelance projects lined up to close out the month, and there’s still a lot more work to do to get even this really rough draft of the secret project manuscript ready to go out for the first round of revisions, but for now I’m just happy to have gotten through it at all, even if, as I predicted over on Facebook when I hit “then end,” all 87,000 words are terrible.

Regardless, it’ll be out of my hands again (for a little while) in about a week’s time, and then hopefully you’ll see me around a little more often. If nothing else, I’ll try to do at least a post or two recapping some high (and low) notes from this weird, surreal, often terrible but sometimes great year gone (mostly) by. Until then…

swamps_godsI’m pretty new to the notion of being a big enough deal that anyone would even think that a blurb from me would go any distance toward helping sell their book (and probably still a long ways off from that actually being true). The first book I was ever asked to provide a blurb for was an odd choice, a fascinating nonfiction tome on the confluence of Lovecraft and actual occult practices called, reasonably enough, H.P. Lovecraft and the Black Magickal Tradition. I liked it, and said so, though I imagine that my poor blurb was overshadowed by praise from such luminaries as Cherie Priest, Nick Mamatas, and Richard Gavin, to name a few.

More recently, Jonathan Raab, publisher and proprietor of Muzzleland Press and my co-conspirator on the occasional Creature Feature Conversation, asked me to read his latest novella, The Lesser Swamp Gods of Little Dixie. I was happy to do it, and once again I was happy to provide a blurb, though honestly, between that title and that cover, I doubt most readers of this blog need me to say anything in order to convince them to pick it up. If you do need a little extra push, though, here’s what I had to say about Mr. Raab’s delightful little book:

“It’s all-too-easy for fun stories to sound brainless, or for smart stories to come off as dry. With The Lesser Swamp Gods of Little Dixie, Jonathan Raab walks that tightrope, keeping the humor sharp, the action pulpy, the stakes human, and the weirdness weird, without ever stumbling on one side or the other. A rare gift indeed.”

You don’t have to take my word for it, though. There’s also a glowing recommendation from no less a figure in weird fiction than Christopher Slatsky, whose debut collection Alectryomancer and Other Weird Tales I have on my shelf but haven’t yet gotten the chance to read. Plus, the whole thing’s only $8, and, let’s be honest, you’d probably just waste that money anyway…

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.