The fact that Batman: Mask of the Phantasm turns 25 this month blows my mind. It feels like such a massive part of my childhood. Because I was born in 1993, this was obviously not a theatrical watch for me. I owned a beatdown clamshell copy that I spent a lot of time watching and re-watching with our dusty ole’ VHS. It was that and Batman & Mr. Freeze: Subzero that gave me Batman fever.
But I always preferred Mask of the Phantasm. This was the best Batman movie of the time, and it wouldn’t be matched until Christopher Nolan came along to change everything.
But why? For starters, it was a feature length sequel to the always incredible Batman: The Animated Series. Same voice cast, same writers, same wonderful world. It’s noir chic and German expressionistic influences made the show’s look iconic.
The Animated Series had some stellar episodes. I don’t need to tell you that. But Mask is special. By giving us a big screen love story for Batman, we get to see the inner thoughts of Bruce Wayne. His fears. His regrets. Batman/Bruce is famously mopey. Thankfully, Mask gave us a reason for the moping other than, “My parents are dead”. The Phantasm is a formidable villain with an incredible design. Part Grim Reaper, part Dickensesque apparition. Over 76 minutes, we are given a heck of a Batman story. We’re shown his origins, his first doomed love, and a legendary battle with the Joker in a decrepit World’s Fair.
It’s honestly all very impressive. This was our first big screen Batman that had dimension. Couple that with sterling animation and a cast that still remains iconic to this day, you get a super hero classic. This is a Batman film for the ages.
It’s November, and there is snow in the air. This month was a festive whirlwind of dead leaves and lots and lots of turkey. I ate too much, and enjoyed a lot of time with family. What’s new with me? Well, let’s start with the obvious…
Stories Still Out in the Wild: 3
While these numbers were dismal this month, I did put some finishing touches on a new story that I hope to send out soon. I’m also doing edits for a story dropping next month. More to come on that…
What else have I been doing?
An interview with author Kelly Robson!
November’s Author Interview was with Nebula Winner Kelly Robson! She was just as breezy and fun with her interview answers as she is in her incredible fiction. During her interview we talked about her newest works, some stellar writing advice, and who she’d want to hang out with on a deserted island. You know… normal stuff.
A Review of Michael Griffin’s ‘The Human Alchemy’
I read Michael Griffin’s new collection a couple of month’s ago and LOVED it. Here are some of my thoughts on the book.
I hope you enjoyed Thanksgiving! Next month is the last month of the year (!), and I’m not sure if I’m ready for 2019. But much like death or taxes, it’s coming anyway. Here we go…
Heralded as one of the leading voices in contemporary weird fiction, Michael Griffin returns with his second collection, The Human Alchemy. Here you will find eleven magnificent tales of the strange and sublime, the familiar and the disquieting, where dreamlike beauty and breathtaking horror intertwine. Featuring an introduction by S.P. Miskowski.
Michael Griffin’s fiction has a way of crawling under your skin. This collection—made up of 10 stories and 1 novella—accomplishes just that. Though the stories have been published elsewhere in magazines and themed anthologies, the Griffin D.N.A is ever-present. ‘The Human Alchemy’ is filled with horror unspoken, fears and motivations hidden behind every enigmatic terror. His writing is clean and clear, laced with cerebral prose at every turn. His stories often take their time, but never overstay their strange welcome. The further I got into the collection, the more I began to notice the themes. Unreachable knowledge. Disintegration of body and mind. The insidious geometry of madness. It’s a testament to Griffin’s talent that each story surprised and thrilled me, even when I saw the writing on the wall for his poor protagonists.
It’s easy to see the fingerprints of the horror masters of yore in the collection. ‘A Slipping of Stones’ conjures the unreal quiet of Aickman’s best. The unrivaled terrors of domestic life build a home that even Shirley Jackson would have shuddered at in ‘An Ideal Retreat’. ‘Fire-Dancing’ charts a course through Laird Barron country and into a very interesting party. Though the fingerprints of other writers exist, each story felt wholly original.
Bottom line: the people at Word Horde have delivered another masterwork of a collection. Michael Griffin’s writing is efficiently drawn, but packed with dream-like and unique horror imagery. The stories enclosed are rich and varied. ‘The Lure of Devouring Light’ (his first collection) showed us a talent to watch out for. ‘The Human Alchemy’ shows us that the talent has arrived.
It’s November 7th and that means it’s time for this month’s Author Interview! Every month I’ll be interviewing authors and creators about their newest works, their lives, and what influences them. This month’s interview is with Nebula Winner Kelly Robson.
Hello Kelly! I’m very excited to have you here on the blog today! I like to start my interviews off with the ultimate softball question: tell us a little bit about yourself. What made you want to be a writer? What do you do when you’re not sitting at your keyboard?
I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a little kid. Book have always been the most important thing in the world to me. But I caught the short SFF bug when I was sixteen and picked up my first issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine. Contemporary short SFF just blows my mind. It’s so powerful, so flexible.
I have a nine-to-five office job in downtown Toronto, which is only a fifteen minute walk from my apartment. I love not having a commute — it gives me time and energy for writing after work.
I discovered your writing through Tor.com late last year. It was ‘A Human Stain’ that drew me in. After I saw Sam Wolfe Connelly’s incredibly creepy art, I knew I had to read it. This story is a perfect example of how amazing speculative fiction can be. I think you must have performed some kind of gothic-magic to cram that much atmosphere and detail into 40 pages. Your story rightfully won the Nebula for Best Novelette. Can you give us some background on ‘A Human Stain’? What was it like to win that award?
Isn’t that cover art amazing? I love it so much. Ellen Datlow edited “A Human Stain,” and she put me through FIVE rewrites. One of the great things about horror stories is the sensory detail — it’s not horror if you can’t feel it! The story wouldn’t have won the Nebula if Ellen hadn’t pushed me to perfect it, and at the end, neither she nor I could really tell if the story worked or not. So winning the award was a complete surprise. I really expected not to win, and my co-finalists are all people I know and like so I was rooting for them. Then at the ceremony, I was busy live-tweeting the results on my phone, and was poised to take a photo of the winner when my name was called. I sat with my mouth open for a full ten seconds before moving.
Your book ‘Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach’ landed on shelves in March of this year. Though I haven’t got a chance to read it yet (it’s in my teetering TBR pile) it looks like you’ve created a very unique world. How did you go about writing this book and managing all the demands that world-building requires?
I go about world-building in an organic way, by reading a lot of interesting non-fiction and then synthesizing the best bits. I don’t really take notes, I just try to get an understanding of how the world works. So my Earth of 2267 is based on a lot of information from David Graeber’s terrific economics book Debt: The First 5000 Years combined with my own understanding of the professional services world to create a unique economic system. I really believe economics is the physics of world-building. Once you understand that piece, everything else falls into place.
A lot of young writers I talk to get discouraged with the grind (sending stories out on submission, etc.) and the constant struggle that is the publishing world. Do you have any advice for any writers looking to get published?
I tell new writers that the writers who make it are the ones who don’t quit, so to make it, you have to find the survival strategy that works for you. That’s going to be different for everyone. Maybe that means doing what I did: write a lot but not submit stories until I knew my stories were good enough to sell to the bigger SFFH markets. Other people find a way to enjoy the submission grind. Others go to a lot of workshops, and get tons of feedback on their drafts. So just do what’s right for you and don’t quit. If you never quit, you never fail.
What’s next for you? Any new books or stories on the horizon?
Right now, I’m working on a sequel to ‘Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach’. And I’m discovering that second books are really difficult.
Let’s talk about books for a moment. What’s in your To Be Read pile right now? Any books you’re looking forward to in the future?
I’m reading an arc of Caitlin Starling’s The Luminous Dead, which is an SF Horror and it’s simply terrific. It’ll be out next year. I’m reading a lot of horror right now. And I’m desperately looking forward to Annalee Newitz’s next novel, which I think should be out next year, too!
Last question: You’re stranded on a desert island with one historical figure from any point in history. Who’s it going to be?
Such a hard question! I think it would have to be Oscar Wilde, because I’d really like to collaborate with him on a decadent, epic space opera.
Happy Halloween! In a few hours, kids will be descending onto the streets for candy. They’re be dressed as ghosts and ghouls of every shape and size (as well as the odd Fortnite character for some reason). The dead autumn leaves will scrap across the sidewalks and the Jack-O-Lanterns will be glowing brighter in the expanding dusk.
This month was positively packed for me. Several deadlines for stories, lots of movies to watch, and, in my spare time, some books and video games. It was wild! It was October.
Let’s start with the important stuff.
As I’m sure some of you have noticed, I’ve delayed the release of HUNTER. It was set to be released on the 23rd of October. I decided to hold it close to my chest for a couple weeks more. It won’t be out in time for Halloween (obviously), but it will still make good reading in November.
Next order of business in this October council is of course story submissions:
Stories Still Out in the Wild: 2
Acceptance! Hurrah! This one is a story I’ve been shopping around for years. It’s a strange little beast, and I think it is as unique as any snowflake. Like usual, I can’t share to many details on the acceptance, just know I’m excited and you should be too. This will put me at 20 published stories! I’ve been publishing for five years, and I’m happy with that average. Hopefully the new stories still out will be as successful.
What Else Have I Been Doing?
An interview with author Orrin Grey!
Orrin Grey is one of my top ten favorite authors, and his newest collection (Guignol and Other Sardonic Tales) came out earlier this month. I interviewed him in a special October edition of my monthly Author Interviews! Next month’s interview will be with Nebula Winner Kelly Robson!
My story ‘The Mouth That Opens’ will be featured in Sanitarium Magazine!
I mentioned an acceptance in August’s Monthly Review and here it is in all it’s glory! It was supposed to be released this month, but it may come in the next week or so. It will be in the first issue of the recently revamped Sanitarium Magazine (both digital and physical). This is my first time being published in a magazine, which has always been a hard market to crack. It can be VERY competitive, and I’m extremely happy to add this new publication to my shelf! Once this guy is officially out, I’m going to push it out to some ‘Best Horror of the Year’ anthologies. I think it has the power to hang with the big boys.
Playing horror centric video games is one of my favorite October activities. This year I change things up and play something a little more spooky fun than run-and-hide scary. Destiny 2 is a great game that has a lot of problems. But their Halloween event is very good.
The houses on Packard Street no longer celebrate Halloween. When the 31st of October rolls around, we engage our deadbolts and close our blinds. The porch lights remain dark and we wait for the Halloween Freaks to arrive.
They first came the year after Jenny passed on. Jenny loved Halloween more than any other holiday. In the 53 years we’d been married, it was this autumn night that she looked forward to the most. She loved to see the kids in their costumes, their eyes bright. She’d welcome them with handfuls of candy, grinning in the way that made her so beautiful. I never cared much for the whole thing. I keep a smile and went along with it though. I would have followed Jenny to hell and back.
That Halloween that they arrived, I poured myself a drink and sat at my window. The street was teeming with excited children and parents doing their best to keep them near. I figured I could watch the festivities and think back on Halloweens past. Looking back, I wish I hadn’t done that. I could have flown to another place, spending the holiday on a beach somewhere. Then I maybe could have stayed there. Let the house rot. There is nothing left for me there anyway.
The kids couldn’t see them. Neither could their parents. But my neighbors could. I could. There is something about the people that live on Packard that makes us cursed. We see them on our porches. We see them in our gardens. Lurking near windows, poised just out of sight…
How would I describe them? Long. Withered. Skulls that glowed, amorphous eyes tethered wetly in cavernous sockets. They don’t have feet. Just legs that dangle and sway as they float above the ground. They don’t speak. They don’t call out to us. They float and they shine and they only come along when the sun sets on Halloween night.
When I saw them for that first time, I thought it was some kind of complex costume. I remember leaning forward, nearly pressing my brow to the blinds to get a better look. That’s when I saw them open their glowing lips and letting that foul orange light out that I realized exactly what I was seeing. Some kind of supernatural event, creatures birthed from some kind of darkness. The creatures’ heads twists and that light spin over everything, giving the shadows unholy life.
Someone called the police after. They came, lights flashing. I watched Mrs. Myers talking to them, her eyes bulging and her face flushed with fears. The officers left, shaking their heads. Of course they wouldn’t believe. Why would they?
No one talked about them after. We went about our lives. Pretended that we didn’t see what I called the Halloween Freaks. But I think that everyone dreaded the return of autumn.
They came again that next year. I drank nearly an entire bottle of whiskey as I waited. That year they floated from one end of the street to the other. There was less kids that Halloween. Even though no one else could see the Freaks, I think they could feel them. Perhaps it was the pull of their unholy light. I know I felt it. The nightmares I had that night were dark and foul. Jenny was in them all, her lips glowing. And, when she opened her mouth, the world twisted and squirmed, colors running together like blood down a shower drain.
Why do they come? What do they want? Are they spirits, tethered to this earth? Demons escaped from the deepest bowls of hell? I don’t know. I’m not sure if anyone does. They float from one end of the street to the other, lingering to gaze into windows, their inner light shining over everything.
The children have stopped coming. The street is nothing but dead leaves now. I’m 80 years old. I started coughing earlier this year, and bits of blood have started to appear on my handkerchief when the fits get particularly bad. It’s Halloween Day, about an hour before dark. They’ll be coming any minute now.
When they do, I’ll be waiting. I’ll put on my coat, pick up my cane, and I’ll walk right down my warped front porch stairs. I intend to greet these Freaks, perhaps touch their withered flesh.
Maybe they have some secrets to share. Anything is possible. After all, it is Halloween.