My Ten Favorite Video Games of All Time

Lists like these can be a little silly. But MAN are they fun. For my swing at this I tried to choose games that have stuck with me over the years even if they aren’t perfect. So, without further ado, here are my ten favorite video games of all time!

10. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Assassin’s Creed series’ mix of stealth and crazy history has always fascinated me. Unfortunately, the games up until this one didn’t hook me. I took a chance on Black Flag though, hoping pirates would finally be the element that would suck me in. That first sea battle blew me mind. It was new and thrilling. Sailing and upgrading my own ship in a living and breathing Caribbean world kept me hooked for weeks. The familiar assassin gameplay left me smiling. This one is a true gem.

9. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance

You’d be hard pressed to find another game on the Game Boy Advance with more depth that Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. This strategy RPG had a deep class system, a brilliant and complex story, coupled with an art design that still holds up to this day. Battling a vast conspiracy in Ivalice and adventuring with your clan members makes for one hell of a game.

8. Dragon Warrior Monsters 2: Cobi’s Adventure

This is my ‘I’ve never heard of that game’ entry. Released in 2001 for the Game Boy Color, it was initially dismissed as a Pokemon clone. I’m here to tell you that it’s WAY more than that. DWM 2 puts you in the shoes of a monster battler trying to save his home island from sinking into the ocean. This adventure takes you through countless worlds with three monsters to back you up. Sounds simple right? It is. Until you dig into the breeding system. Breeding two separate monsters almost always gives you a new beastie. Chaining together specific combinations and you can build an unstoppable fighting force. With over 300 monsters to befriend/create, the game never gets old. The battle system is basic but it has an incredible depth if you pay attention. This game is incredibly underrated.

7. Batman: Arkham City

 I’m a major Batman nerd. Though Asylum, Origins and Knight have their charms, no game is better at making you feel like Batman than Arkham City. With a sprawling game world and a story that pits you against The Dark Knight’s extended rogue’s gallery, Batman: Arkham City is a testament to what a superhero game should and can be.

6. Fallout 3

What can I say about Fallout 3? What makes it so beloved? Is it the evil (but also funny) world of post-apocalyptic Washington D.C.? Is it V.A.T.S (which you use to strategically dismember, vaporize and behead countless enemies)? It’s both of those things and more. Fallout 3 is a masterpiece action RPG that can’t be missed. But you probably already knew that.

5. Pokémon Crystal

Ahhh… Pokemon. It’s a formula that has seen little changes over the past two decades. Pokemon X/Y brought us into the modern era of gaming. Sun/Moon shuffled some franchise staples around. But, for my money, I don’t think anything can knock Pokemon Crystal out of my memory as my favorite Pokemon game. It was my first major gaming obsession and Generation 2’s batch of new ‘Mons to catch, trade and battle are as iconic as the original 151. I know he has no competitive viability. But Typhlosion is still awesome.

4. Fire Emblem: Awakening

I’ve been playing Fire Emblem since the first GBA game graced the U.S. It’s a brutal strategy RPG that focuses on a cast of lovable misfits and warriors facing off against near insurmountable odds. Awakening hones this formula to perfect. I’ve never forget this cast and the nail-biting battles we fought together. The new time travel and marriage system adds depth to an already dense system. Fire Emblem: Awakening is a brilliant game packed into a small package.

3. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Thousands of gallons of ink have been spilled talking about this game. And it deserves every bit of it. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is an astonishing achievement in every way. The world building. The combat. The story. Every inch of this world is bursting with things to do and horrors to see. Watching your actions reflect upon the game world is horrifying. No other game world has transfixed me more than this one. This thing is a masterpiece that everyone has to play.

2. Skyrim

Epic. No. That’s not the right world. Expansive? Also not quite right. Flexible? You know what? It’s all of those things. There is a lot of incredible RPGs out in the world. Skyrim (and the rest of the Elder Scrolls series) are the most accessible way to step into a fantasy world. Skyrim is massive and welcoming. The combat is a blast, the quests are memorable, and the world is unforgettable. Skyrim, even all these years later, is still a masterpiec

And number one is…

Bioshock!

I had a hard time nailing down my number one choice. The Witcher 3 is a polished monster, and I’ve logged more hours in Skyrim than is healthy. But when I thought about the tragic saga of Rapture and the mad genius Andrew Ryan, I knew where Bioshock belonged on my list. This dark city beneath the waves hasn’t left my memory since the first time I stepped out of the bathysphere. I play through it every October just so I can once again step into the perfect combat and story that make up this game. No enemy is more terrifying than a Big Daddy. Nothing will break your heart more than meeting the Little Sisters for the first time. Now. If you haven’t played Bioshock… would you kindly go and rectify that?

Those are my Top 10 Favorite Games of all time. What do you think of my list? Am I crazy? Do I need to play more games? Maybe. Comment below and let me know.

Behind That Mask: ‘The Mask of Black Satin’

It’s the last week of the month so that means it’s time for a little Shameless Self-Promotion. This will be short and sweet. Well. Mostly.

This week we’ll be looking at:

My story ‘The Mask of Black Satin’ published in ‘Spooklights’ from Muzzleland Press, which you can buy here.

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This story was my first paid sale. I’d had other stories published but it was exposure only. I don’t think much beats out that feeling of getting that acceptance e-mail. Other writers can relate.

Re-reading this story for this piece did make me cringe a bit. The writing is fine. But it’s a little rough around the edges. Am I being over critical? Probably not. Or maybe a little bit.

It’s an interesting thing to look back on. This story was published three years ago. I’ve learned a lot since then. I’ve moved across the country. Published thirteen (spooky) more stories. What have I learned since then? I’m going to ponder that for awhile. In the mean time you should check out this anthology. There are a lot of great stories in this anthology outside of mine. Muzzleland Press releases some good stuff.

Thank you for tuning into Shameless Self Promotion. Please follow me on Twitter, Instagram and also check out my Amazon page. I’ll see you all very soon!

Book Review: ‘The Con Season’ by Adam Cesare

Note: this review originally appeared on my old blog (The Fiction & Film Emporium). I hope you enjoy.

the con season

Written by Adam Cesare

Published by Black T-Shirt Books

Plot is as follows:

Horror movie starlet Clarissa Lee is beautiful, internationally known, and…completely broke.

To cap off years of questionable financial and personal decisions, Clarissa accepts an invitation to participate in a “fully immersive” fan convention. She arrives at an off-season summer camp and finds what was supposed to be a quick buck has become a real-life slasher movie.

Deep in the woods of Kentucky with a supporting cast of B-level celebrities, Clarissa must fight to survive the deadly game that the con’s organizers have rigged against her.

Plot summary taken from the Amazon product description. 

‘The Con Season’ is a horror novel for horror fans. It’s takes a literary dive into the slasher genre, bathing us in gore and plenty of knowing winks.

Adam Cesare’s newest work operates on multiple levels. It’s outside is a highly inventive bloody romp, the written equivalent to so many classic 1980’s gore-fests. After the blood begins to flow you start to see the hidden skeleton beneath. It’s clear that Cesare not only understands the tropes and clichés, but that’s he’s willing to subvert and morph them to deliver a thrilling adventure that never grows stale under decades of genre history and expectations.

Our characters are introduced as a variety of known horror archetypes. The mastermind, the killer, the final girl, the tough guy and the level headed leader. My concern going in was that Cesare would stick to those well worn clichés and that the book would suffer. Thankfully, he avoids it. Clarissa is a great character, layered with the all too real fears and concerns that an aging actress would have. The major slashed villain, The Fallen One (awesome name!) was terrifying in a very visceral way. The rest of the cast, mostly filled in with aging horror celebrities and other villains, do a fantastic job of fleshing out this horrific novel.

As horror fans we love to worship our icons. Any self respecting fan gets a little excited when Jamie Lee Curtis drops in for a cameo or when Barbara Crampton plays a leading role in some indie piece. ‘The Con Season’ plays into that nostalgia, lampooning horror conferences and demonizing the worst corners of the fandom.

Cesare is a very skilled writer, using a clear knowledge of horror pitfalls to make his high concept seem plausible at every turn. His open ending left me pondering where this story goes next. ‘The Con Season’ is a horror movie turned into a horror novel. What kind of ending are we getting?

‘The Con Season’ is a lean and mean novel. It pulls no punches. Filled with interesting characters and some truly thrilling sequences, this is a novel that everyone should immediately go out and download.

My 5 Favorite Batman Villains

I am a huge Batman fan. No. Seriously. I own way more Batman shirts than any adult man has any right to. I finished up a recent play through of Rocksteady’s Arkham video game trilogy and I’m currently loving everything Batman. So, because it’s fun and because I want to do it, I’m sharing with you my five favorite Batman villains (ranked!). Ready? Let’s go!

5. Ra’s al Ghul

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“I deem it my mission to purify this planet, to restore it to its former beauty… a mission I will brook no interference in.”

The Demon’s Head. The head of a cabal organization called the League of Assassins. He has possession of a device called The Lazurus Pit that makes him immortal. Most villains only want to see Batman dead. Ra’s al Ghul is different because he respects The Dark Knight and sees him as a worthy successor. It’s a fascinating relationship that leads to some truly awesome battles.

4. Bane

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“I shall simply BREAK YOU.”

He is the man that broke the Bat. As cunning as he is powerful, he is well trained and very brutal. A childhood spent in a South American prison will do that to you. He’s as driven and determined as Batman but with none of the ethical hang-ups. Not many enemies can match The Caped Crusader punch for punch. Bane does that and more.

3. The Court of Owls

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“Oh, don’t worry, my dear. We have so many MORE of them.”

Batman is Gotham. The Court of Owls are awesome because they question that very notion. They are well funded and have an immortal army at their disposal. Not only that, but those masks are CREEPY. Their systematic attack on the Wayne family over the decades makes them a unique enemy for Batman to face.

2. The Scarecrow

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“Shhh… it’s okay to be afraid.”

Fear. It’s Batman’s ultimate weapon and Doctor Jonathan Crane’s obsession. Often portrayed as cunning and cold, his weapon of choice challenges Batman in a way most of his rogue’s gallery cannot. I love Scarecrow because he’s a intellectual opponent for Batman in a very real way. Many of Batman’s foes serve as physical manifestations of his attributes. Fear toxin. It just sounds cool.

1. The Joker

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“This time. No more games. No more jokes. I’m just here to close up shop.”

Everyone loves to hate The Joker. He’s completely insane but at the same time COMPLETELY aware of every action. His every action is part of something bigger. He’s often one step ahead of Batman, which is pretty hard to do. He’s been the star of dozens of some of the greatest Batman storylines (including my personnel favorite, ‘Endgame’). A crazed Ying to Batman’s logical Yang in every way. When The Joker shows up, you never know what you’re going to get. He has no weakness. And that’s why he’s my favorite Batman villain.

Those are my top 5! What do you think? Do you love these nasty bunch of bad guys? Sound off in the comments below!

 

Lessons Learned: Tips for Getting Your Short Stories Published

I want to start with a disclaimer: I’m not an expert here. Anything but. At the date of this post, I have 15 published stories. I’m still a newbie to publishing. But in that time I’ve sent out a boatload of submissions to nearly every market that might be able to use one of my stories. With every rejection/acceptance I feel like I learn something new about the crazy world of short story submissions. Hopefully this advice can save you some time. When I first started sending my stories out, these tips would have been a huge help.

Make Sure Your Story is Perfect

This is the best place to start. You’ve poured your heart and soul into your short story. But, before you send it off, you should take that extra step to make sure that every word is exactly where it needs to be. Run spell check. Do a slow read through to make sure you haven’t missed any omitted words and to catch any awkward phases. Also: here’s a formatting tip. Many places I’ve submitted to in the past prefer the Shunn Manuscript Format. It’s a common enough request that I now format all stories I write this way (unless the market states otherwise).

Know Your Markets

Do some research. I write horror fiction. I use websites like Dark Markets or Horror Tree to find places to submit my stories. Then, once I find a location that I might have a story for, I read the submission guidelines. And when I say ‘read the submission guidelines’ I really do mean that. Look at word count, formatting tips, and stick to them. The short story market is competitive enough without making it harder on yourself.

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Stay Organized

Once you get a bunch of stories out on submission calls, it can get a little tough to track where they are and how long they’ve been out. I like to use a Google Spreadsheet to track what stories are out and what stories still need to be submitted. It makes my process a lot easier when it comes time to draft that e-mail or upload that story into Submittable. It may seem silly. But hey! Baby steps are still steps.

And perhaps, most importantly:

Don’t Lose Hope

Sending out a lot of stories gets you a lot of rejections. Seeing that same form e-mail over and over again can sap you of any hope that you will ever get published. I’ve been there. Believe me. A lot of writers have. The first Harry Potter book was rejected by over a dozen publishers. Stephen King had so many rejection slips early in his career that he had to use a spike in his wall to hold them up. Every rejection I receive is an invitation to get better. I always try to remember that the only way to improve is to keep my head down and keep writing. Even when it hurts.

Those are some small tips. Hopefully my myriad of failures will help you on your endeavors. What lessons have you learned from your submissions? Feel free to comment below.

Battling in the Arena: ‘Red Sands’

It’s the last week of the month so that means it’s time for a little Shameless Self-Promotion. This will be short and sweet. Well. Mostly.

This week we’ll be looking at:

My story ‘Red Sands’ published on thewritersarena.com. Read the story here.

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The Writer’s Arena is a genius idea. Basically the site gives two writers ten days to write a story based on a very specific prompt. Once the stories have been turned in they’re put on the site and they’re voted on by both a team of judges and by the readers of the site. I’ve participated in this literary grudge match twice and both times I’ve LOVED it. My story ‘Red Sands’ was from my first visit. My prompt was ‘Sand’  for this go around.

One problem I have as a writer is focus. This was a fantastic challenge in a lot of ways. The 10 day timeframe forced me to narrow my focus. The prompt kept me reeled in. And the voting made me work extra hard to make the story just right.

This go around in The Writer’s Arena made me realize something. Being challenged is a good thing. Creative muscles are just that. If you don’t flex them they can get weak.

Thank you for tuning into Shameless Self Promotion. Please follow me on Twitter, Instagram and also check out my Amazon page. I’ll see you all very soon!

Book Review: Deadfall Hotel

Note: this review originally appeared on my old blog (The Fiction & Film Emporium). I hope you enjoy.

Deadfall Hotel by Steve Rasnic Tem

Published by Solaris

Plot is as follows:

This is the hotel where our nightmares go…

It’s where horrors come to be themselves, and the dead pause to rest between worlds. Recently widowed and unemployed, Richard Carter finds a new job, and a new life for him and his daughter Serena, as manager of the mysterious Deadfall Hotel. Jacob Ascher, the caretaker, is there to show Richard the ropes, and to tell him the many rules and traditions, but from the beginning, their new world haunts and transforms them.

It’s a terrible place. As the seasons pass, the supernatural and the sublime become a part of life, as routine as a morning cup of coffee, but it’s not safe, by any means. Deadfall Hotel is where Richard and Serena will rebuild the life that was taken from them…if it doesn’t kill them first.

deadfall

Deadfall Hotel is a haunted place. When the novel begins, with Richard Carter and his young daughter Serena taking on the job of the new management position for the haunted hotel, they aren’t sure what to expect. They are told by the current manager, an eccentric man by the name of Jacob Ascher, that the hotel is perfectly safe.
That can’t be further from the truth.

The hotel defies all forms of logic. Doors lead to nowhere. Staircases, depending on when you climb them, lead to different places. The guests are almost never human. And, when they are, something is terribly wrong. The book unfolds in a series of powerful vignettes. Richard and Serena moving in. Jacob attempting to teach Richard the day to day dangers of running a place that seems to have a life of its own. Danger comes from all angles. A guest that has a literal taste for children. A religious group that is harboring a deadly secret. Richard’s quest for understanding is a major through line as he struggles with the nightmarish logic of such a place. Through these episodic chapters, the relationship between Richard and Serena evolve.

Before the novel begins, Richard’s wife and Serena’s mother dies in a terrible accident. From that event, the novels theme comes to the forefront. Grief is a major force behind each story. The lengths that our characters must venture to find release from their pain is chilling.

As a gothic horror novel, Deadfall Hotel really works. Rasnic Tem’s prose is lyrical and dense, each description and plot turn helping to grow the titular hotel into the mysterious oddity that we receive. That being said, some humor, mostly from Richard’s confusion and Jacob’s cryptic instructions. Jacob and Richard’s interactions, from the calm veteran to the terrified newbie are a major highlight.

This isn’t a pop horror novel. I think, as a genre, horror is often scoffed at as being lesser than it’s more lofty, serious kin. ‘Deadfall Hotel’ destroys that old adage by being equal parts intelligent and terrifying. It’s clear that Rasnic Tem had something to tell us. A lesson to pull from the shadowed halls of the ‘Deadfall Hotel’.

If you are looking for a violent horror novel, you may want to look elsewhere. The threats, while just as tangible as a serial killer or the like, often come in the form of more psychological adversaries. In this hotel, your nightmares have a way of coming after you. While it may be light on bloodshed, the novel’s palpable atmosphere and world building are second to none. I’ve already ordered Steve Rasnic Tem’s newest novel. It’s been quite some time that I’ve read a horror novel that feels so grounded and yet so fantastical. Every chapter is a surprise. Every character is perfect.

I can’t wait to check back into the Deadfall Hotel. I hope to see you there.

 

 

My Three Favorite Stephen King Novels

Last week I wrote a post outlining my three favorite Stephen King short stories. While researching stories I got thinking about all of Stephen King’s longer works and all the scares they’ve given me over the years. His books are often cement block sized monstrosities. Stephen King has published 54 novels. I want to take the time to highlight some of my all time favorites. Cool? Hold on to your butts because here we go.

Salem’s Lot

‘Salem’s Lot’ is Stephen King’s second novel. This is the novel that introduced us to so many things that turned out to be King staples. Huge casts of characters. Working class towns. You grow to hate/love these people. When tragedy finally befalls Jerusalem’s Lot, it hurts.

IT

Pennywise the Dancing Clown. The Loser’s Club. Derry, Maine. ‘IT’ is not only one of my favorite Stephen King novels, it’s one of my favorite novels PERIOD. The sheer breadth of terror and imagination poured into this 1,489 page behemoth is awe inspiring. Pennywise is one of literature/films greatest monsters. Derry is a city, that by the time the story wraps up, feels alive. And, unfortunately for our heroes, it is rotten to the core. WE FLOAT. WE ALL FLOAT.

11/22/63

This one got me right in the feels. ’11/22/63′ belongs to his more recent string of novels. This novel may have a lot less supernatural horrors (it does have time travel though), but it’s not a slouch when it comes to the scares. The evils here are resoundingly human and that makes them all the more blood chilling. Watching Jake Epping (a everyman teacher) experience love and loss in a long-gone time is riveting. You know that tragedy is coming. And you can’t help but keep turning the page to see exactly how it plays out.

Those are my three! I love nearly everything Stephen King has written. Making this list was pretty tough. What are some of your favorites? ‘The Shining’? ‘The Stand’? Let me know in the comments below!

My Three Favorite Stephen King Short Stories

If it wasn’t for Stephen King I would not be a writer. I think most horror writers would probably say the same thing. When I was 13 I was drawn in by King’s behemoth horror masterwork ‘IT’. But, when my stepmother saw me pick it up, she suggested I read a less scary book to start me off in the world of Stephen King. She handed me ‘Pet Sematary’. I devoured it and moved on to ‘IT’, then ‘Carrie’, then ‘Salem’s Lot’. I spent the next couple of years scouring local thrift stores for dog-eared copies of King’s bibliography. I loved them all. And as much as I love his novels, I think his short fiction has stuck with me the most.

A podcast I really enjoy (The Lovecraft Ezine Podcast) had a episode recently where they discussed their favorite Stephen King short stories. That conversation brought me back to all those hours I spent going over all my favorites. So, without further ado, these are my three favorite Stephen King stories!

‘One for the Road’ – Published in ‘Night Shift’

For my first story here I wanted to start with one of my first favorites. ‘One for the Road’, published in his first collections, feels like a classic horror story in every sense. A quiet bar. A blizzard. Vampires. It might not be the most original tale, but it makes up for it with pure atmosphere.

‘The Moving Finger’ – Published in ‘Nightmares and Dreamscapes’

Let’s get weird. ‘The Moving Finger’ brings it in spades. This story was my introduction to Weird Fiction as a genre. A simple conceit wrapped around a unforgettable image makes this story a mean little beast. From the little details (the game show) to the maniacal wrap-up, I love every word of this one.

‘1408’ – Published in ‘Everything’s Eventual’

When it comes to haunted hotel rooms, everything does seem eventual. We’ve all heard this kind of story. Shoot, Stephen King has written about these kind of things before. But over the course of this novella (I know, I’m kind of cheating, it’s not a short story) we see receive a legend of a VERY haunted hotel room. The intro takes it’s time before allowing our protagonist Mike Enslin into that room. Paintings change. Demonic voices howl through phone receivers. ‘1408’ is a masterpiece and is one of my favorite Stephen King stories.

There you have it! Those are my three. Am I crazy for loving these? Feel free to yell at me in the comments below or chime in with your all time favorite stories!

Recommends: Horror Writers (And Some Short Stories to Start You Off) Part 1

Horror and weird fiction is in an amazing place right now. With so many great authors doing such awesome things, it can be hard to know where to start. I wanted to write a little post to recommend some writers to check out, as well as some short stories they’ve written to ease you in. This is not an all-inclusive list (that would be impossibly long) and I intend to do follow-ups to this post in the future. Cool? Cool. Let’s jump in!

Laird Barron
The Story to Get You Started: ‘Blackwood’s Baby’ from The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All

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Laird Barron is my current favorite author. His style is wholly unique. It’s a mix of white-knuckled adventure tales and truly awe-inspiring cosmic/weird horror. I know it’s common for people to say “So scary it gave me NIGHTMARES” but, in my case, it’s true. I was staying at my in-laws and reading my Kindle while my wife slept next me. I read until I couldn’t keep my eyes open before shutting my Kindle down. One of his stories from his newest collection leaked into my dreams. It was scary. And I loved it. ‘Blackwood’s Baby’ has all of his trademarks in spades.

Orrin Grey
The Story to Get You Started: ‘Painted Monsters’ from Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts

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Orrin Grey writes monsters. And I don’t think anyone does them better. This collection is chock full of them. My favorite story (though I like them all) is the title story ‘Painted Monsters’. I don’t want to give anything away, so I won’t. I will say this though: It’s crazy, fun, and filled with references to decades of horror cinema. This story is the final story in the collection and I feel like it’s a terrifying wrap-up to all the stories that came before. It’s Orrin Grey’s fiction distilled. Just be careful. It’s a little slimy.

John Langan
The Story to Get You Started: ‘The Revel’ from The Wide, Carnivorous Sky & Other Monstrous Geographies

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I feel kind of dumb when I read John Langan. Which, if you think about it, is a good thing! His fiction is dense and smart, and he often slices up the genre, usually reveling (pun intended) in all the gooey bits beneath. This collection is solid all around, but I think ‘The Revel’ is a good jumping off point. It, like most of John Langan’s work, is uniquely structured. It’s a werewolf story, a look into the tropes of horror film, and one heck of a story all around. If you like your horror intellectual, this is a great place to start.

That’s all for now! There are plenty of writers that I love that deserve acclaim, and I can’t wait to fill you in! Until next time everybody…