My Favorite Books of 2017

Hello everyone! 2017, for what little it was worth, has come and gone. I won’t look back at this year fondly. It wasn’t a banner year for me for a lot of reasons. The one thing I did have success with was my reading challenge. I pledged 50 books through the Goodreads’ challenge. I finished my 50th book on the 13th of December, both tired and excited to pick up my next one. I think I learned a lot over the year. I read books from several different genres and enjoyed most of them. I’ve put together a couple of categories to highlight some of my favorites. If you want to see the full list, here is a separate post that has them all. Shall we begun?

My Favorite Novel I Read This Year:

The Fisherman by John Langan

‘The Fisherman’ is a horror epic packed into a small page count. It’s a rusty hook legend at the center of a heart-breaking tale of loss. After I set this book down I couldn’t help but feel sad for so many good reasons. Figure that out. It won the Bram Stoker Award this year and MAN does it deserve it. This is the best novel I’ve read this year and it belongs in everyone’s TBR pile.

Runner-Ups: Little Heaven by Nick Cutter, Hell House by Richard Matheson.

My Favorite Novella I Read This Year:

Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw

This is another award winner I found myself playing catch-up on. What I loved about this one was its ability to take a tired trope (private eye on the hunt) and make it feel VERY new. This world is a Lovecraftian scab of a world that drips with menace. Cassandra’s prose is beautiful, even if the horrible acts her characters commit are not. I think about the way this action plays out in my head and I get chills. It’s that good.

Runner-Ups: The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson, Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

My Favorite Short Story Collection I Read This Year:

Behold the Void by Philip Fracassi

This was the most painful category for me. I read a TON of fantastic collections in 2017. I loved all of them. I discovered some great writers through my literary adventures. But the author who had the strongest showing this year for me was Mr. Philip Fracassi. His cinematic style creates some truly breath-taking tales. ‘Altar’. ‘The Horse Thief’. ‘Mandala’. Three gems in a collection packed with them. I look forward to whatever Philip releases next.

Everything That’s Underneath by Kristi DeMeester, Painted Monsters and Other Strange Beasts by Orrin Grey

Biggest Surprise I Read This Year:

Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris

Between you and me

This book made grammar fun. Mary Norris’ experience as a world class editor makes for a fascinating read. I had my doubts. Books about writing or the English language are rarely as fun as they strive to be. Mary makes pencil sharpeners fun. Go figure.

I hope you enjoyed this peek into my reading experience this year! Any book on this list deserves your attention and I hope that you give them a chance. Until next time…

My Reads For 2017

Hello world!

In 2017 I took on the Goodreads Reading Challenge. I met my goal of 50 books over the course of the year. I’ll be posting an article talking about some of my favorites. If you click the link below you can see all 50 of the books I read:

https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10212625875816566&id=1075071250

Book Review: ‘Beneath’ by Kristi DeMeester

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Written by Kristi DeMeester

Published by Word Horde

When reporter Cora Mayburn is assigned to cover a story about a snake-handling cult in rural Appalachia, she is dismayed, for the world of cruel fundamentalist stricture, repression, glossolalia, and abuse is something she has long since put behind her in favor of a more tolerant urban existence. But she accepts the assignment, dredging up long-buried memories as she seeks the truth.

As Cora begins to uncover the secrets concealed by a veneer of faith and tradition, something ancient and long concealed begins to awaken. What secrets do the townsfolk know? What might the handsome young pastor be hiding? What will happen when occulted horrors writhe to the surface, when pallid and forgotten things rise to reclaim the Earth?

Will Cora–and the earth–survive? The answers–and pure terror–can only be found in one place: Beneath.

Plot summary taken from the Amazon product description. 

‘Beneath’ is a lot of things. It’s a modern Lovecraftian horror dipped in gore. It’s a fists-up throw down against that particularly toxic form of religion that haunts our world. DeMeester’s debut novel succeeds in taking the well worn horror stand-bys (reporter plunging into a BAD situation & a town being consumed by the evil inside of it) and gives them a fresh coat of slimy paint.

This novel’s female lead is powerful and smart, which makes for great reading. As the book progresses her anger drives her forward into the horrible events around her. I like this heroine just as I fear the antagonist that she is pushed up against. The antagonist of this story (the occulted horrors referenced above) are unique and well-drawn.

DeMeester’s writing style is rich and flowing. You can smell the mountain air and feel the dark oppression that this crazed religious community has over it. We’re introduced to a lot of characters here (I want to list them but I don’t think I can without jumping into SPOILERS) but I never felt lost. ‘Beneath’ is well paced and confident. It’s a stunning debut through and through.

There it is. Kristi DeMeester is an incredible writing talent. I’m glad I picked up this novel. Her first collection, ‘Everything’s That’s Underneath’, has moved up a couple of spots in my TBR pile. If you want a gonzo horror novel for this autumn, you can’t go wrong with this one.

 

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.

spooklights

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

ra's ah gul

“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

Who's_Bane

“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 rejection 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.