Wednesday, December 28, 2011

"I don't discuss my process"

I feel like discussing the genesis of a story today. I always think that my stories are easily guessed, the low-hanging-fruit plots that anyone could come up with given ten minutes of thought on a theme. But it doesn't seem to be that way. I've gotten praise for my unusual stories, sometimes from editors, so apparently, my though process is unusual enough that I can sell stories based on it.

I want to be in a werewolf anthology. I don't seek out werewolf stories. There's much more interest in the other parts of the Universal Horror tradition. The werewolf tends to be a serial killer with a big furry coat, a Jeckyl and Hyde persona. An easy metaphor for the rage and anger we all keep bottled up.

How can I make my story different, yet still retain the essential "thing-ness" that makes a werewolf story a werewolf story?

First with the negative. I don't want this to be a 'spot the werewolf' story. We think the unfeeling brute in the story is the werewolf, and OOOH THE SURPRISE it's the meek little person who turns out to have been bullied and gets their unexpected revenge. Nor do I want this to be a story the lionizes the werewolf. While I write stories that involve violence, at the same time, I try not to present it as a way to solve problems. I prefer it to be a symptom of sickness, rather than something cool to do. Oh, and no silver. Silver was introduced in the 20th century, so I'm going to leave it out.

What I do want: a flourish of originality, and something touching on authentic folklore. Europe tends to have the richest werewolf tradition, so I think I'll go with those. And France. I want to set it in France. Probably because I enjoyed Brotherhood of the Wolf, but also because the wolf was wiped out in England in Medieval times, I tend to associate wolves and werewolves with France. I also want wolves, and wolf behavior. And it turns out that there's a strong association of werewolves with cannibalism, so I think that'll go into the plot.

So it's off to Wikipedia. As Wikipedia grows, it has a lot of links to specific instances and references. For example, you can find this entry in the werewolf entry linked to above:

A notable exception to the association of Lycanthropy and the Devil, comes from a rare and lesser known account of an 80-year-old man named Thiess. In 1692, in Jurgenburg, Livonia, Thiess testified under oath that he and other werewolves were the Hounds of God. He claimed they were warriors who went down into hell to do battle with witches and demons. Their efforts ensured that the Devil and his minions did not carry off the grain from local failed crops down to hell. Thiess was steadfast in his assertions, claiming that werewolves in Germany and Russia also did battle with the devil's minions in their own versions of hell, and insisted that when werewolves died, their souls were welcomed into heaven as reward for their service. Thiess was ultimately sentenced to ten lashes for Idolatry and superstitious belief.

That reminds me of an Italian society of dreamers I've read about in Ken Hite's Dubious Shards; the Benandanti, a group of Medieval Italian mystics who fought the Devil in their dreams. I also remember something about the winter of 1450, when the Seine froze, and wolves got into the walled city of Paris. They were eventually wiped out on the steps of Notre Dame. That Wikipedia entry also includes a link to Werewolf Witch trials, which happened in Estonia, where many witches were also werewolves. It was a long, very cold winter, with a poor harvest before it, so the winter of 1450 sounds like an excellent time to set a story about starvation.

So to make a small, possibly credible link with the Benandanti, I'll move the story to the Franco-Italian border, which was at the time in the hands of the Holy Roman Empire, a political entity I tend to forget about since it's not modern. With a little work from Wikipedia and Google Maps, I decide I'm going to put it in the Duchy of Savoy, the capital of which is Chambéry, and the Duke around 1450 is Louis. And that kind of research is a lot of fun. Another hour on Google Maps, and I'll have the very village the story takes place in.

In his Finishing the Hat Stephen Sondheim says that one of his guiding principles is that "God is in the details." Well the man writes some beautiful words, so I'm going to take him at his word and be very picky with my details. It gives me a background to hang the story on, allowing me to make casual mention of the Duke Louis, and Fredrick III is the Emperor (elect only, because he wasn't crowned by the Pope until 1452, but this was apparently just a formality). These details create an air of authenticity, even as I pick and choose my regional werewolf legends.

I don't want to make the werewolf sympathetic per se, but I do want to make them (I don't know what sex it's going to be yet) complex. Complex characters are always somewhat sympathetic because we understand them, and respond to the care used to create them. And because I want to use the cannibalism angle; it's difficult to make people like a cannibal, but I'm always up for a challenge.

So I've got this enormous pot of details and wants and not-wants, but you can see how the details are going to shape the story. And things may change. If I write myself into a corner, I may have to alter any or even all of these details to create a successful story, but as I progress as a writer, the need to change the story once I've started it is less.

And there you have it; the initial steps in the creation of the story I'm currently writing. Now to get to the difficult part of writing it.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Have I Told You to Buy My Stuff Lately?

I always feel funny telling people to buy my work. What I prefer is that other people do it for me.

Let's take Rod MacDonald's review of Andromeda Spaceways InFlight Magazine for If you're too lazy to click the link, I've copied and pasted the important bit below:

David Conyers and John Goodrich are the joint authors of ‘The Masked Messenger’ which features Harrison Peel in another Cthulhu Mythos story. The agent is in Morocco to investigate strange deaths where people end up being cut into thousands of pieces. Is this a conventional terrorist act or is it an act of a cult belonging to the Masked Messenger? There is a strange book, centuries old, which contains deadly secrets and there is also a portal in the Sahara Desert which leads on to another world completely different from our own. An excellent tale full of suspense and action, it's worth purchasing the magazine for this alone.

Rod seems like an excellent fellow. I think it's entirely worthwhile to follow his advice and purchase a PDF copy. I mean, I wouldn't want to be accused of ignoring Rod's advice.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


I've recently read and reviewed Ross Lockhart's The Book of Cthulhu. It's a really good anthology, and more than that, an inspiring one. There are so many extraordinary, well-crafted stories in it that I wanted to make my next story to be good enough to warrant inclusion. Could I write a story that could follow "The Oram County Whoosit" and not embarrass myself?

I don't know. I don't think so... yet. But I'm revising the story that I've said that about, and I think it's better than anything I've yet written. According to my initial review group, it shares the strengths of the majority of my work; strong characterization, and a good fight scene. I think it has more description and atmosphere that my work up to now.

It's been a long, hard slog. Between classes and work, I've had to assemble the story bit by bit, and that often makes scenes and events inconsistent. And writing style can vary from day to day, depending on mood and the events of the day. The protagonist is also a huge variation from my usual, as well as being set in the near future of a city I've never been to. In early writing classes, they say you should write what you know, but there comes a time when you run out of parts of your life to mine. And I can either continue to dig up my life's shallow grave, or I can strike out and try someone who has very little in common with me. Let's hope this character comes out as strong as I hope she does.

There's also a lack of exposition in this story, which may not be the best approach because it's set in the near future, and there's a lot of technology out there that isn't familiar to the reader. But the characters in the story wouldn't talk about that technology any more than you or I would talk about how our cell phones work. We use them when they work, curse at them when they don't.

I think it's a step up in terms of the quality of my writing. I'll ask what you as readers think if it gets sold and if you read it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

ANTHOCON was awesome!

Yeah. I drove three and a half hours, obeying several speed limits, to get there before Brian Keene's Keynote Speech. Which he posted on his website, and is an excellent read, by the way, so go do it now.

The company was good. The attendees were an enjoyable mix of pro and fan, with the vast majority of the authors from the Epitaphs anthology in attendance. So I did what I love to do when I'm in the company of writers; we spoke. We exchanged ideas, laughed at stuff, and talked. Authors love to talk.

We also spoke of the death of Les Daniels, and I have to say, I learned a great deal about the man. I knew him as the author of some terrific vampire novels, creator of Don Sebastian de Villanueva. Billed as "The vampire horrified by humanity" Don Sebastian consistently went to the most horrible places and times in history, such as Spanish Inquisition, the French Terror, and the lower classes of Victorian England. They're excellent novels. But Dan was much more than that. He was the first person to publish a book on the history of horror, Living in Fear: A History of Horror in the Mass Media, as well as the first serious look at comics: Comix: A History of the Comic Book in America. Les was, therefore one of the people responsible for raising two art forms that I enjoy out of their "it's pulp and no one should study it" gutters. He did a lot more, and his friends shared a great deal of the other work he'd done. Les was remarkable, no doubt about it. He will be missed.

Anthocon also featured at least a couple of people who were a little bit out of their element. Local author K. D. Mason writes murder mysteries set along New Hampshire's coast. We talked a bit. He was a nice guy. Among the vendors were a pair of college programs with graduate degrees in creative writing, and they looked bored. I got some literature from them.

But the real draws was the authors. Writing can be very lonely, because it's very seldom that collaboration happens in company. But talking with other people who write always makes the hard parts seem less difficult, because we all face the same problems. Editors! Reviews from people who didn't read the book! Finding time to write! But the conversation always circles back into "Have you read this book/story/series and what did you think of it." Because the New England Horror Community is a group of voracious readers, and they've all got informed opinions about what they're reading. Is the protagonist of Hunger Games nothing but a victim through the whole series? There's a couple of opinions, and they're all got a reason for the opinion.

The major lesson learned? Brian Keene can tell when someone is telling a Harlan Ellison story from twenty feet away. If that's not a superpower, I don't know what is.

Excellent con.

Friday, November 11, 2011

After twenty years, I'm going back to Portsmouth!

This weekend, I will be the guest (my first time as the guest of a convention) at Anthocon, hosted by Shroud Press, in Portsmouth, NH.

Portsmouth is a lovely town on the New Hampshire coast... I used to visit there when I was in college. Among other things, it has the USS Nautilus, the US's first nuclear submarineUSS Albacore, formerly the US Navy's fastest submarine (Thanks to Donovan Loucks and Dan Foley for correcting me on that). But it was a nice little touristy place, quite attractive, with some nice shops. And now I'm going back.

Why? Because Shroud Books is publishing Epitaphs, the first anthology of the New England Horror Writers Association. And I'm in it.

I wrote "Not an Ulcer" for the gay-themed Unspeakable Horror anthology. It was one of my bridesmaid stories, and something like the third story I’d seriously written. The anthology asked for a rewrite, which they ultimately rejected. But just being asked for a rewrite was pretty big. But Lee Thomas had a story with a similar concept called “I’m Your Violence.” Do I stack up against Lee Thomas? I think not! But hey, I got asked to do a rewrite! At that time, 2008, I was in the running for several anthologies, and although I was in the second-to-last cut for all of them, I didn’t get into any. I started calling these bridesmaid stories on this blog; always a bridesmaid, never a bride.

The story is based in some way in my job time in California, but no character is based on anyone I knew. I wanted to do a story about someone at war with himself. At first, there were several Rush Limbaugh references, but I’ve cut them out. People read stories to be entertained, not to be preached at.

The story takes a real chance with the main character–the first line makes it quite clear that he’s a bigot, very difficult to sympathize with him. But I'm good with character, and I like a challenge.

I originally send “Nicaragua 1986” for consideration, which was written with the intention of submitting it to Epitaphs. I sent “Not an Ulcer” as an off-chance, since it had been rejected by five different markets but Tracy liked it. I don’t do body horror often, and I did polish it a little after every rejection, so it’s a much stronger story now than when it was submitted to Unspeakable Horror.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Apologies, people. There was a hurricane, and then a class that is eating my brain. It's a good class, but I'm spending some fifteen hours a week on a three-credit course. It's a good coruse, field expereince an all that, but sometimes I wish that it took up less of my time.

I need to update this blog. Since I last posted, two stories have been published: 'The Masked Messenger" by David Conyers and myself, in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #52. It's a good story of terrorism, violence, hatred, arrogance, and horrible things from outside of time and space. Pretty much everything you've come to expect out of a story I'm part of.

Second, on the 12th, which is to say Saturday, I will be at Anthocon because I placed a story in the New England Horror Writers Association's anthology Epitaphs. "Not an Ulcer" has been around the block a few times, and I will provide a little insight into this story later.

I've also sold a story to Undead and Unbound, a Brian Sammons anthology. I''ve been invited to contribute to a couple other anthologies, also. One story is taking shape nicely. So yeah, I've been busy, and not just with playing Fallout: New Vegas.

Although it was a lot of fun.

Monday, August 29, 2011

And I'm Back

"The whole matter began, as far as I was concerned, with the historic and unprecedented Vermont floods of November 3, 1927.... Shortly after the flood, amidst the varied reports of hardship, suffering, and organized relief which filled the press, there appeared certain odd stories of things found floating in some of the swollen rivers; so that many of my friends embarked on curious discussions and appealed to me to shed what light I could on the subject. I felt flattered at having my folklore story taken so seriously and did what I could to belittle the wild, vague tales which seemed so clearly an outgrowth of old rustic superstitions."

H. P. Lovecraft, "The Whisperer in Darkness."

Hurricane Irene has made a mess of a fair amount of Vermont, but there was some wisdom in buying a house that's been in the same place for a hundred years. A bridge near us is unsafe, and there is currently only one way to get into or out of Bennington. The Woodford Bridge collapsed, to there's no way to get into or out of Bennington to the East. That'll take some time to fix.

Stepping back a little, my summer classes are over, and my computer died, and had to be replaced. So I don't currently have a program to update my website, or upload pictures to my blog. On the upside, I did finally get to play Fallout: New Vegas. It is an excellent game, and I will be playing it again.

But I'm finally decompressing from the summer, and am back to writing. I'm overdue on a story I've been asked for (never turn someone down when they ask for a story), but it is coming together, and I expect to have the first draft done this week. Then it goes to the on-line workshop, and then the physical workshop.

It's good to be back in the saddle.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Splinter Fleet Mordiggian for Battlefleet Gothic

Dodging classes and work, I've managed to collect and paint up an acceptable fleet, although several of the escorts still need painting. I've got a thousand point, sixteen-model list... but I was painting first and adding up the points later.

This is Splinter Fleet Mordggian, as it currently stands. One official Hive Ship. The snail-like ships are Phalons from Ground Zero Games' Full Thrust. I like the Phalon models a great deal, the battleships make excellent capital ships and the smaller scouts are good drones. Top left is a Shadow Scout with the tentacles put on backwards. I thought it came out kind of cool.

Splinter Fleet Mordiggian with Phalons

On the right is a a Phalon Mothership. The shells have these wonderful swooping patterns on them, and it was worth the extra painting time to emphasize them. On the left is a Phalon Corvette, which will be an escort drone. The middle is a little guy I found from Reaper Minis: the Rift Blights, which are ridiculously cool as tentacle drones. They come in two flavors: Spaghetti, and Spaghetti with Meat (pictured). There will be more on these guys later

Phalon Carrier, Phalon Scout, and a Rift Blight

A Phalon Battleship on the right, and I'm fairly pleased with the way the pattern on the shell came out. To the left is another Rift Blight. These guys painted up very nicely, although I'm not a particularly good photographer. In the back is that Shadow Scout.

Phalon Battleship, Shadlw Scout, and a Rift Blight

Three Phalon cruisers (left and right are heavies, a battlecruiser in the center) that are going to substitute for torpedo Kraken. I think the camera focused on the hive ship's tentacles, instead of the other ships.

Three Phalon Cruisers

This is the best picture I made. It's a Rift Blight from Reaper Minis, and it's such an awesome model. The tentacles have teeth on them, which you can actually see in this picture.

a Reaper Mini Rift Blight

The "Spaghetti with Meat" Rift Blight. It's a got a huge, exposed brain, but also the same sort of thorny tentacles. These guys are going to look great chowing down on Imperial ships.

another Reaper Mini Rift Blight

Next I have some larger ships to build. The Phalon Carrier is just about the size of the Tyranid Hive Ship, and my next figure is going to be a Goroloth Drone, which is about the same size. The larger Goroloth mini, as yet unacquired, is between an quarter and a third larger than that. My big guy, however, is going to be the monstrous Armorcast Kraken, which will dwarf both of these.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Some notes on "N is for Neville"

Dead but Dreaming 2 is out, and it contains my story "N is for Neville." You should go buy it from Miskatonic River Press. The cover is slightly different from the one previously posted, but the contents are pretty darn good.

Dead but Dreaming 2 from Miskatonic River Press

For those of you who like your metatext fresh, here are my story notes on "N is for Neville."

All my stories are special. They’re all pretty personal pieces, expressions of myself, my heart and sweat on the page. And hey, if someone pays me money to print it, that's extra gravy.

“N is for Neville” is its own kind of special. I worked it for a while before it came out in its current form, including a month-long period in which I was stuck. I couldn’t get the tone right, the characters didn’t speak to me, and the words just hung on the page, lifeless.

What got me through it was Wilum Pugmire. I was reading his Sesqua Valley and Other Haunts, followed by The Fungal Stain and Other Dreams and I realized what I was missing decadence. The characters needed to be arty, wealthy, and bored. And Wilum’s writing showed me how to get that across. Which is why he appears in the story, and why the story is dedicated to him.

What I didn’t expect was for Wilum to write a story that Tuckerized me, and to sell it to the same anthology. And that’s something that warms my blackened walnut of a heart. One of the reasons I write is so that I can consider these smart, eloquent people who love words as my peers. Because I love the conversations writers have. To listen to people throwing out idea after idea and pass them around, building on each others concepts until you have this grand, hypothetical castle in the clouds; that’s magic. Ideas are magic.

I met Wilum at the 2007 World Fantasy convention. Like most writers I’ve met, he is enormously pleasant to talk with; intelligent and a fascinating conversationalist. More than most, Wilum has brought a great deal to my life and my writing. This story is dedicated to him because I would not be where I am today without his generosity and fascinating stories. Thank you, Brother Wilum.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Sharing a Small Pleasure

A few years ago, we set up a 'pie' fence. A rhubarb patch and some raspberry canes--the sort that the locals call "black caps." It wasn't all that difficult, just transferred some brambles and canes that were crowded next to the garage out to the fence. It's worked like a charm, you can no longer see the ugly chain-link fence the previous owners had.

Our berry harvest is pretty astonishing. We pick twice a day so the birds won't get at them. And this is what we get:

Black Caps from our back yard

The above represents two days worth of picking. Berries from our own yard... one of the small pleasures of living out of the city. They go really well on ice cream.

Monday, June 13, 2011


Interesting the hand position used to handle a fencing foil is virtually the same one used for venipuncture. Thumb on top of the instrument, extending the elbow directly out from the body.

Now, how to use my disengage?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Community College Instructors

I've attended three different colleges, gotten a Master's degree, and now I'm back on school for a professional certificate.

In all of my previous University experience, I've been taught by academics. People who have dedicated their loves to the study of their particular focus: Shakespeare, computers, etc.

What the Community College offers is a more motley collection of people. However, I have to say, they're a lot more colorful. I've been taught anatomy by a former chief of surgery, and now I'm being taught microcomputer apps by a Roller Derby coach who posts her own videos. It's quite the different perspective.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

My writing is... inscrutable?

In my copious spare time, I sometimes Google myself to see if there are any new reviews of my work out. This has led to several quite interesting discoveries. Most recently, I came across this review of “God of Chickens” at Scary Minds. It's a good and detailed review. And in the middle of the fourth paragraph, there's this little sentence:

“John Goodrich lays down the gore track with the amazing God Of Chickens, like a good Harold Pinter outing it works but try figuring out exactly how!”


I'm pleased to announce another sale, this one to Henrik Harkesn's Urban Cthulhu: Nightmare Cities. Editor Harksen's his first anthology, Eldritch Horrors, Dark Tales was a solid read, and I wrote “The Neighbors Upstairs” specifically for the follow-up. I'm quite tickled that he liked it.

Thus far, the table of contents includes:

• “the guilt of each… at the end…” by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.
• “Dancer of the Dying” by Jayaprakash Satyamurthy
• “The Neighbors Upstairs” by John Goodrich
• “Carcosapunk” by Glynn Owen Barrass
• “Architect Eyes” by Thomas Strømsholt
• “Slou” by Robert Tangiers
• “Ozeelah’s Lake” by Morten Carlsen
• “The Statement of Frank Elwood” by Pete Rawlik
• “Night Life” by Henrik Sandbeck Harksen

Mmmm. Urban Cthulhu.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

I think I Needed a Little Time Off...

I still do. The school semester's over, and I've got to test out of something to get a class I've already taken (don't ask). I'm working more, and I have less time to write than I want because it's Spring, and in the Spring I get all ambitious and want to actually go do things.

Last night, for example, we went out to see a movie for the first time in months. We don't go out to the movies much. There's a lot of crap being produced. As a friend said, Hollywood has the reverse of the usual business model. You can see the good parts of a movie for free in the trailer, but you have to pay to see the crap.

Part of a movie's charm is the ambiance in which you see it. For this reason, and because we were hopeful but not expecting greatness, we went to the drive-in.

Mostly there for Thor, which could easily have been an enormous disaster, and Rango, which was only of vague interest.

But hey, Hathaway's drive-in! I've blogged about it before, but this time, I brought the camera. It was a mild Spring day, the sunset was lovely, and the bugs were outside the car. You kind of bring your own environment when you see a movie from the comfort of your own car. Families were there, and kids were throwing a ball around before the show. It was just that sort of bucolic, rural scene that does happen every now and then, not just in peoples' nostalgic biographies.

We used our radio for sound this time, and it sounded a lot better than using the provided speaker. We also visited the snack bar for tasty local burgers, pretty good fries (they provide vinegar for those of us who like them that way) and surprisingly tasty popcorn.

An enjoyable way to watch a couple of films. It's not really the way to watch a film you really want to pay attention to, because there's people walking around, drivers entering and exiting, and overall a fair mount of distractions. But the average film doesn't require you to pay attention to every frame, so it's fine. I will want to pay attention to every frame of On Stranger Tides, so I'll be seeing it in a more traditional theater. But I'm hoping we'll catch another double-feature before it closes for the winter.

Oh,the movie? Kim Newman was right, and Thor was well done especially considering the comic. The perfect drive-in film. Entertaining, pretty to look at (that the costume designer managed to turn Kirby's designs into wearable clothing is Oscar-worthy), with just the right amount of things blowing up. Rango was an amiable film, neither knocking my socks off nor wasting my time.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Return to the Tombs of Horror

The Return to the Tomb of Horrors was written and released some twenty years after the initial Tomb of Horrors. The Return was to be an event; one of TSR’s (now owned by Wizards of the Coast) last boxed sets, it contained a book for the main adventure (printed in two colors), a booklet of maps and monsters (printed in color), a small journal from a previous survivor of the tomb, and a color card of art. Where the original adventure looks very much like it was typed out, twenty years had brought a fair amount of progress to desktop publishing. Return is printed in two colors, with border art and a watermark. This makes it more visually pleasing, but I can’t really say it improves the adventure itself.

Return to the Tomb of Horrors has a very late nineties feel. Dungeons and Dragons had expanded enormously from its original days of a largely terrestrial combat encounter game to setting within a larger multiverse with dozens of planes that could be visited. Multiple campaign settings had come been published, including the dimension-hopping Spelljammer, which took place on sailboats that plied the spaceways between magical stars. There are unfortunate aspects to the period, also. The term ‘demon’ is never used in the text. Following the Satanic Panic of the late 80's, the term demon was replaced with tanar’ri. Because if you change something’s name, you change its nature, right?

Second edition mega-adventures don’t start at the door of the dungeon. Return has two adventure sections before the adventurers even reach the Tomb. The lead-up provides the adventurers with information concerning the ultimate end of the adventure, as well as a string of clues that get them to the tomb without the GM having to say “You arrive at the Tomb of Horrors.” As someone used to the investigative play style of Call of Cthulhu, I find the clues that link the plot to be fairly weak and easily missed.

The adventure does have a fairly grand plot behind it. The original Tomb simply had the trap-laden tomb with Acererak waiting passively in the middle. The Return features a grand plan of apotheosis for the lich, interplanar locations, a spooky city in the midst of nowhere, and a second dungeon-style Tomb, the Fortress of Conclusion, out in the planes.

The Return shows how much Dungeons and Dragons had changed in twenty years. Now there was a great deal happening behind the scenes of the adventure, which the adventurers would only become aware of as they progressed in the adventure. Acererak now had a background that could be learned, and an overarching plot that had to be foiled. The characters’ motivation is no longer “treasure” or “because it is there” but because very bad things will happen if they do not pursue the adventure to the end.

The Return also encompasses the original Tomb, giving it a sense of continuity. Return is literally built around the original tomb, creating a continuity from the old adventure to the new. I can’t view it as pastiche, because it expands on the original adventure, retaining certain iconic elements (the Green Devil Face, for example) while introducing a far more than the first adventure.

Although the Return also includes a booklet of images to show the players, these are poorly chosen. The originals were there to hand clues to the players. These are much less necessary. Do we really need a drawing of a room with a dirt floor and three coffins? Or a walkway stretched over a room full of bones?

Ultimately, The Return to the Tomb of Horrors is a reasonably satisfying continuation of the Tomb of Horrors. The traps are less crazy deadly; there are few “characters are dead, no saving throw” traps. It’s a good read, longer than the original, with a lot more change of setting, and much more plot. It has a lot more polish, but in places seems to lack the ferocious creativity Gygax put into giving the players, and their characters, a real challenge.

Friday, April 8, 2011

AVP, or How to Lose My Interest in A Single Scene

After watching and really enjoying Aliens, I decided to try the newest series in the franchise, AVP, Aliens Versus Predator. This was not a mistake, because it did not waste a lot of my time, and it gave me something to write about.

I made it to the second scene, at which point, the film strained my credulity beyond my interest in continuing.

Here's the scene: An ice-climber in Nepal. We are told this on-screen. Nepal.

The ice-climber's phone rings. I live in Vermont, and there are places where you can't get cell reception. I seriously doubt that there is good cell coverage in Nepal, let alone on isolated ice flows. Strike 1.

And then the ice-climber, hanging on a vertical ice flow, answers the phone. Yes, this was pretty inevitable when the phone rang, because it doesn't do to have a phone ring and no one answer it. But it just heightened the unfolding absurdity. Ice-climbing alone, and answering our cell phone as if it were a priority. Strike 2.

The third insult, and the point at which I turned the film off, was the "awesome reveal" at the end of the scene. After having a conversation with the person on the other end of the line, the ice-climber decides to go meet with the person who has called her. And she climbs to the top, and it is revealed that the guy she's on the phone with is up there, with a helicopter, ready to whisk her away.

This is another example of a tiresome trope of "What happens off-screen is silent." You can't sneak up on anyone with a helicopter, especially not somewhere as silent and abandoned as an isolated ice-flow a few days from civilization. Are we to believe that he flew in while she was sleeping and set down? That he's got a cool stealth-copter? That he flew in, landed, and she just didn't notice?

The scene is clearly intended toward the reveal of the helicopter already being there, impressing us with the Company's reach and grasp. Nowhere is beyond the Company's grasp, and they've got the resources to find you no matter where you are. But the scene doesn't make sense if you think about (yes, I understand that's a problem) what had to happen off-screen to make the scene work. And that attitude, in my experience, does not make for a good script.

So goodbye, AVP, it was time to watch a film with a better thought-out script.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Tombs of Horror

March 2011 will not go down in history as my best or most productive month ever.

When I’m stressed and encounter long stretches when I have difficulty concentrating, I tend to read role-playing game supplements. RPG adventures and setting books don’t require the sustained attention that a novel does.

One of the first adventures to be published for Dungeons and Dragons was Gary Gygax’s Tomb of Horrors. Probably more fun to read than to actively participate in, the Tomb of Horrors is a death-trap meat-grinder. Where most adventures are a string of combat encounters strung together by the thinnest semblance of a plot, the infamous Tomb has three combat encounters and dozens of traps designed to kill and maim the greedy, the inattentive, and everyone around them.

Unique among adventures up to this point, Tomb of Horrors includes a booklet of pictures so that the players can see what their adventurers see. Which is very important given the technicality and lethality of the traps, but also went a long way towards establishing a ‘feel’ that few other modular adventures have. Anyone who has encountered the Tomb of Horrors remembers the Devil’s Head illustration, for example. It has also become a central point for all of the future expansions and revisions.

Tomb of Horrors also saw the birth of the riddling undead archvillain trope. Acererak, whose tomb this is, leaves a helpful hint in the form of a poem, in the entrance of his tomb. This was followed by Keraptis in White Plume Mountain, the Dread Crypt of Srihoz, and various other would-be poets that are found in RPGs with some frequency. This trope, for , but seldom appears in other fictions. Partially, this is because of the interactive nature of the game. A riddle handed to a book or television show character doesn’t require the viewer or reader to figure it out. Which is a pity. I love the trope.

I think the real key behind the Tomb’s popularity is that is was true to itself. Originally envisioned as the location of an evil undead horror that did not want to be disturbed, the traps were lethal (sometimes exceptionally so), and secret doors and passages placed where they were unlikely to be detected. The players/characters were only encouraged to succeed through the corrective of being killed if they weren’t. Without a lot of luck and foresight, they would not succeed. Most adventures point the characters in the right direction with not-so-subtle clues, or hand over the necessary magic item just before it is required. Not so much with the Tomb of Horrors.

Like any good piece of pop art, the Tomb has spawned a number of spin-offs, rip-offs, tributes and homages. D&D has produced a continuation of the Tomb of Horrors at least once per edition, and there have been many imitations, good and bad. For me, they're all wonderful comfort reading. In my head, I can see half a dozen different ways that the characters would react to a trap, and how would they try to avoid it, and what sorts of players' characters are likely to get caught and killed. I find it very relaxing.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

With My Name on the Cover!

I think this is what they mean when they talk about "momentum." Midnight Echo #5, from the Australian Horror Writers Association, is out, with my story “God of Chickens”. With my name on the cover.

You can order it in PDF as well as print from the AHWA website.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Ephermeral Eons...

With all the snow, we've developed layers in our snowbanks like a geological cross-section from a road cut through rock. I've enjoyed the study of certain types of ephemera, and wondered if there is any point to being able to learn the layers of snow. "This fall was light and fluffy, but it was later compacted by the action of heavy wet snow and sleet on top of it."

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Message received by Battle Barge Glad of War, in service of the Rune Bearers chapter of the Adeptus Astartes

My Lord Grettir;

Contact has been reestablished with the xenos provisionally designated Splinter Fleet Mordiggian

As my lord can see, Splinter Fleet Mordiggian has grown significantly since the last report was submitted. Previous contact was with small forces which displayed minimal diversity. This is sadly no longer the case. Recent sightings have indicated large numbers of genestealers, termagants and hormagaunts, indicating the explosive growth and rapid development of the Splinter Fleet.

Larger genus have been seen at a distance. To the right, a Trygon can be seen, and an enormous Tyrannofex crawls below it. I think I need not remind my lord the dangers such horrors present. Where before this splinter fleet had a single zoanthrope, now there are two. Two hyperintelligent psyker minds now guiding these Tyranid horrors.

Most distressing is the identification of this enormous Tervigon, capable of spawning hundreds of hormagaunts. None of this genus have previously been seen in this sector.

The fleet is known to have clashed inconclusively with Chaos Space Marines and was badly mauled by incursions of Eldar as well as Orks. None of these have managed to rid us of the menace.

I pray that my lord would make haste to deal with this tenacious enemy. The Adeptes Astartes have ever been the hope and savior of Mankind, and the Rune Bearers known for their victorious action against the Tyranid foe.

May the Holy Emperor guide your hand,

Johann of Eorthscraef

Friday, January 14, 2011

Viva Las Vegas!

OK, not my first glimpse of New Vegas, but the first dramatic enough for a screen capture.

So I give you "Viva Las Vegas," the Dead Kennedys version:

Bright lights city gonna set my soul
It's gonna set my soul on fire
Got a whole lot of money that's ready to burn
So get those stakes up high
There's a thousand pretty women waiting out there
They're all waiting the Devil may care
And I'm just a devil with love to spare, so


How I wish that there were more
Than the twenty four hours in the day.
Even if I ran out of speed, boy
I wouldn't sleep a minute away

Oh there's blackjack, poker and the roulette wheel
A fortune won and lost on every deal.
All you need is sonar and nerves of steel, so


Viva Las Vegas with the neon signs flashing and
The one arm bandits crashing
All hopes down the drain.
Viva Las Vegas turning day into night time
Turning night into daytime
If you see it once, you'll never be the same again.

Gotta keep on running
Gonna have me some fun
If it costs me my very last dime
If I wind up broke
Then I'll always remember
That I had a swingin' good time.

Oh, I'm gonna give it everything I've got
Lady Luck's with me, the dice stay hot
Got coke up my nose to dry away the snot, so

Las Vegas!!!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Dead But Dreaming 2 Lineup

The table of contents for Dead but Dreaming 2 has been posted to It looks like an excellent line-up, and I'm very pleased to be included, especially since I loved the first Dead but Dreaming, and also because my words gets to appear with Wilum Pugmire's.

"Foreword: Messrs. Cthulhu and Lovecraft Have Arrived", Kevin Ross
"Taggers", Walt Jarvis
"The Unfinished Basement", William Meikle
"Plush Cthulhu", Don Webb
"Class Reunion", Darrell Schweitzer
"First Nation", Scott David Aniolowski
"Your Ivory Hollow", Wilum Pugmire
"The Spell of the Eastern Sea", Michael Tice
"Dark Heart", Kevin Ross
"Transmission", Ted E. Grau
"N is for Neville", John Goodrich
"The Timucuan Portal", Daniel W. Powell
"No Healing Prayers", Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.
"The Dissipation Club", Adrian Tchaikovsky
"Lure", David Annandale
"The Call", Rick Hautala
"Christmas Carrion", Donald R. Burleson
"The Depopulation Syndrome", Erik T. Johnson
"Uncle Sid’s Collection", Cody Goodfellow
"Father’s Day", Brian Sammons
"Innsmouth Idyll", Darrell Schweitzer
"The Hour of Our Triumph", Will Murray
"Here Be Monsters", Pete Rawlik

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Praise of the Praiseworthy...

Writing can be a very daunting task. Unless you're damned good at it, you're going to get more rejection than acceptances, and those are going to be weighted towards the beginning. Which can be discouraging. Do I persevere? Will I ever get any accepted to anything?

And once the story is bought and released, there is still the worry that said story sucks. Did I spend enough time making sure that this point was made? Did I spend too much time hammering away at that one? The most frightening thing about writing is that there are precious few guidelines. And when reviews come in, they can be enormously mixed, depending on what the reader was expecting, which is sometimes not the story they read.

That said, yesterday Brian Keene posted his Top 10 Books of 2010. And I'm on it.

The review of some random person carries some weight. When an Amazon reviewer is moved to write: "I was confused as to why this had been written, as it seemed to have no overall point or connection to the cthulhu concept." Then perhaps I didn't pay as much attention to the words as I should have.

Positive words by a professional writer such as Ellen Datlow or Brian Keene, outweighs this by far. And I have to keep remembering that out of two stories eligible to get name-dropped in Year's Best Horror, both have been singled out for praise. I may not be taking the publishing world by storm, but I'm not even close to the bottom of the barrel, either.