Locus Awards — Vote!

I don’t comment much on awards on the personal blog. I do my offers of congratulations via social media and private emails. And on the official Apex accounts. But I’m changing that today–at least on a one time basis.There’s this thing called the Locus Magazine Reading List. The reading list is compiled by the Locus Magazine staff editors and professionals in the field. The Locus Awards winners are then selected from that list by reader voting.

Since Apex only has one item on the entire list (novel Rosewater by Tade Thompson–yay Tade!), I want to accomplish five things.

1) Help Rosewater make the Locus Awards top 5 in the novels–science fiction category.

2) Via write-in votes place “The Tomato Thief” by Ursula Vernon in the top 10 for novelettes.

3) Via write-in votes place The Kraken Sea by E. Catherine Tobler in the top 10 for novellas.

4) Via write-in votes place Stay Crazy by Erica L. Satifka in the top 10 for first novels.

5) Via write-in votes place an Apex Magazine story in the top 10 for short fiction. Based on popularity and critical input our most popular story of 2016 was “The Old Man and the Phoenix” by Alexander Baisden.

Voting is easy. Go here and fill out the ballot. There are lots of quality works–let your opinion be known fairly and in all the categories. Considering voting for Rosewater and writing in “The Tomato Thief,” The Kraken Sea, and Stay Crazy.

While you’re there, grab a subscription to Locus Magazine. It’s a fine publication that has earned the support of genre readers and writers.

If enough of our readers and fans make their voices heard via the Locus Award voting, perhaps the work of our fantastic authors won’t go overlooked!

Guest lecture at the University of Kentucky

Just got back from my guest lecture to an Intro to Writing Professions course at the University of Kentucky. Great students with some pointed and knowledgeable questions. Several were Apex fans!
Thank you to Dr. Mike Pennell for having me speak. I always cherish the opportunity to subvert the minds of young writers.
I meant to get a picture with the class and the professor but totally forgot. Instead, you get a picture of me in my teaching shirt.
Consolation prizes are such a disappointment sometimes.

Back to Nebraska, back to jamming to Kay Hanley

Random fact: the most popular blog post on this site is my love letter to the alt-rock women of the 1990s:

The highlight of that post was the confession that I harbored an innocent crush on the lead singer of Letter’s to Cleo. I mean, I still do, but I’m happy to jam to Kay Hanley’s music and follow her antics on Twitter.

For example, she’s still as cool and fierce now as she was back then.


Also, she still personifies the rocker grrrl aesthetic these days as much as she did back in the 90s.

Here and Now

Here and Now

A few months back Kay Hanley’s band, Letters to Cleo, released their first new music since 2008 in an EP titled Back to Nebraska.

How is it? Fun. Jaunty. Quite good. Kay’s powerhouse vocals are still intact. The band sounds as great as ever.

I’m reminded of how I felt when another 90s rocker grrl band, Garbage, released new material a few years back. Shirley Manson’s incredible voice remained in tack. The outstanding guitar and drum work was still there. But the music lacked the edge that drew me to it. It felt like going through the paces. Shirley Manson has mellowed with age. And I understand that, it happens as you mature.

(Granted, I keep waiting for my mellow, but it has yet to happen.)

Letters to Cleo is still delivering the goods that drew me to them 20 years ago (good lord, 20 years).

The EP opens with the fast, peppy pop-rock in “Can’t Say.” Jumps next into “4 Leaf Clover”, then a squeal and a twangy rock chord introduce the title track. “Hitch a Ride” is a pulsating punk-lite that recalls the best of 90s fast rockers.

Kay Hanley has described her music as “Gloomy lyrics” and “Happy-as-fuck melodies.” That’s exactly what you get in the new EP, and I love it.

The Detour

detour-tbsThe Detour is a road trip comedy series on TBS written by the husband/wife team of Jason Jones and Samantha Bee and starting Natalie Zea and Jason Jones. The second season starts soon, which makes now a great time to binge the 10 episode first season!

The show flew under my radar. When it popped up on Hulu, I was intrigued. It looked funny. It sounded funny. I was going in blind.

Here is what I  knew of Jason Jones prior to the first episode. All this knowledge was gleaned from his time on The Daily Show.

1) Dude likes to get naked.

2) Good at playing a slightly obnoxious know-it-all type.

3) Will do things that make you wonder how he got away with it on basic cable.

4) Married to Samantha Bee.

Here is what I knew of Samantha Bee prior to the first episode. All this knowledge was gleaned from her time on The Daily Show and Full Ranting…er, I mean Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.

1) Lady knows how to curse.

2) Good at playing a slightly obnoxious smarter-than-you type.

3) Will do things that make you wonder how she got away with it on basic cable.

4) Married to Jason Jones.

On to the big question: is The Detour any good?

Yes, but…

The first episode is the best and one of the funniest half hours I’ve seen on TV in a few years. It’s offensive, it’s clever, has amazing sight gags, and unlike the family car, it runs on all cylinders. The other 9 episodes exhibit a disappointing diminishing of returns as it veers into attempts at uncomfortable humor that do not work. There’s also a wraparound story that distracts from the main plot and added nothing to the show. I also wanted more Sam Bee. Granted, she has three cameos as Nate Parker’s (Jason Jones) mother that are hilarious, but Bee is a star, dammit! She needs more face time!

Despite the lack of Sam Bee, the main cast are quite good. Natalie Zea (who I last saw in Justified) plays well against her usual type of harried wife as a kind of wildcard alcoholic mom who keeps Nate off-balanced and is the yin to Nate’s yang. Ashley Gerasimovich plays thirteen-year-old daughter Delilah, and has some great moments being the lone voice of reason in the Parker clan.

If you’re a fan of the National Lampoon Vacation movies, then The Detour is a show you’ll enjoy. Or if you enjoy Jason Jones and Samantha Bee’s odd style of humor, you’ll really enjoy this show.

Shaking the bushes for freelance work

I’m looking to pick up a few freelance clients in the next 6 to 8 weeks. If you have anything you need edited, evaluated, converted to digital, etc., I might be the guy for you.

$30 per hour for digital conversions.

$100 per 10,000 words for novels.

$10 per 1000 words for short stories.

I also write fiction! I’m happy to write a short story for YOUR anthology or zine. 🙂

If you’re interested, shoot me an email at

Crap jobs; feedback loops

Prior to becoming a publisher full-time, I spent 20 years doing software development for a wide range of companies: uptight mega-corps, a dot-com during the web bubble in the early 200s, state government, county government, upstart private companies, and state universities. Before that, I worked in a chemistry lab. Prior to that, I cleaned toilets at the county courthouse in Manchester, KY.

Every job had their merits. At the courthouse as a teen, I learned the machinations of local government. In the chemistry lab, the sweeter it smells, the more likely you should clear out. Being a developer for the county government is the easiest and least paying job a developer can have.

I also can tell you every job had its bullshit. The toilets at the county courthouse were nasty. What’s nastier was the old woman who constantly harassed me, yanking at my jeans and always trying to slip her hands down my trousers.

My boss at the chemistry lab hated me, and I’ve never known why. While the other student workers prepped classes for lab, I had to rinse out the boss’s Coke cans, mop the lab floors, and always work the 7am shift.

I was fired from the upstart private company because I missed an “important” meeting when I elected to visit my cancer-stricken grandmother in the hospital while she was lucid (she was placed on a ventilator and morphine drip soon after and died a couple weeks later). Oh right, I almost forgot, my wife was 8 months pregnant with my second kid, too.

I quit my county job because I refused to lie about the program director’s unethical behavior.

I quit the job at the mega-corp because my boss accidentally sent an email to me meant for HR outlining his personal distaste for me and was giving me a poor assessment of my work because of it.

There is no way I’m alone when it comes to receiving bullshit. Switch my gender, change my skin color, and the bullshit gets amplified ten-fold. This I recognize.

Now that I work for myself, I think the bullshit has grown. The corporate shield no longer prevents some of the ridiculous from happening; now it just happens. The checks and balances are no longer the well-meaning but disinterested men and women in human resources. It’s the threat of internet dogpiling. The accumulation of well-timed lies, rumors, and half-truths that builds a sense of distrust and unease regarding the intentions of anyone. Part of this is caused by the political climate. Social media and civil unrest are on a feedback loop.

Trump and his supporters used this style of defamation to win a presidential election. My dad, a lifelong sensible moderate (a rare thing in the hills of Kentucky), now bows to the gospel of Trump. Many people I know in the business of writing and publishing engage in many of the same tactics. On both sides of the ideological spectrum. Were doing it before Trump. Are doing it after Trump. No one is immune to the power of the internet.

I sometimes wonder if the advent of the greatest communication tool ever invented–the internet–will be the cause of society’s decline. It’s too easy to dogpile when you’re anonymous and hiding behind a profile picture on Facebook or Twitter or a blog. It’s too easy to lie (or exaggerate) for the gain of your private agenda. It’s too easy to email everyone you know a falsehood/accusation in an act of pettiness.

This feedback loop grows stronger and stronger. Be vigilant. Stay out of its pull, or it’ll pull you under.

The Young Pope wants your Cherry Coke Zero

There's a new pope in town.

There’s a new pope in town.

I had a fevered dream this past weekend.

In this dream, the Pope climbed from under a mountain of babies. He showered and I saw his buttocks. A man with a grotesque mole was put in his place. I learned that Cherry Coke Zero is the breakfast of champions.

And all of this madness? It played out like some Euro-cult cinema classic from the 1970s.

Naturally, I’m speaking of my experience watching the first episode of The Young Pope. It’s the latest drama rolled out by HBO. I’ve never seen John from Cincinnati, but I’ve read many articles describing its strangeness, and I can imagine the same executives who gave the green light to that well-known strange show jumped at The Young Pope. I’ve only seen the pilot episode, so I don’t know if The Young Pope holds its narrative thread better than John from Cincinnati, but I sure hope so.

Ostensibly, I can’t tell you what points the show is trying to make or where the plot will turn. It’s not because of spoiler worries. It’s because I don’t know. The series pilot is a lucid dream. It is disjointed, but it works. Similar to how David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive works while Lost Highway didn’t (to most viewers).

The biggest revelation to this viewer is how astoundingly magnetic and believable Jude Law is as Pope Pius XIII. He’s an actor I’ve always enjoyed, but I’ve never seen him as a thespian of the highest order. His best roles have always been his looser, edgier characters (think Gigolo Joe in A.I. or Ted Pikul in eXistenZ), and he completely inhabits Pius XIII.

Cardinal Voiello doesn't have a chance.

Cardinal Voiello doesn’t have a chance.

The barest of setups is provided in the pilot. The Vatican cardinals have elected Lenny Belardo. Lenny is American and, of course, young (particularly by pope standards). The cardinals, behind Cardinal Voiello, feel they can manipulate him due to his inexperience.  Sister Mary, played by Diane Keaton (who, like Jude Law, is fantastic), is the one person who truly knows Lenny (she helped raise him), but you get the sense that even her influence on the young pope is minor despite the respect he shows her.

The cinematography is inspired. The costume design is on point. The Euro-cinema style fits the tone.

I look forward to watching the rest of the episodes in the coming weeks. Would I suggest it to you? I would if you’re a fan of incredible filming and acting. If you like straightforward stories, then maybe not.

An Aside: Pope Pius XIII forgave my sins on Twitter. Now I’m feeling good about my chances of stepping through the pearly gates.

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

Many followers of this blog are probably familiar with A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay. It made several 2015 year’s best lists and won the Stoker Award for best novel. Rightfully so because it is an excellent book.

Merry Barrett, our narrator, recounts her experiences as a child when her sister Marjorie becomes the subject of an exorcism and a reality television show. The narrative alternates between Merry’s memories as an eight-year-old, present-day Merry, and blog entries that focus on the reality show (The Possession) featured on a pop culture website. It’s an acute examination of mental health, religion, celebrity, sexuality…and…well…a hell of a lot of things.

The skill that Tremblay displays mashing all these ideas into a rather short book is impressive. The Barrett family are all fleshed out well. You feel the bonds Marjorie and Merry have with their mother. The growing gulf between father and daughters is a palpable. The skeeviness of Father Wanderly (who suggests the exorcism) adds an uncomfortable layer to the proceedings. The way the television production team ambivalently sexualizes a mentally-ill fourteen-year-old in the interests of ratings will make your stomach turn.

Invariably, as you read A Head Full of Ghosts, your mind will turn to the late, great William Peter Blatty’s seminal The Exorcist. Both books concerns themselves with similar ideas and tread the same thematic grounds. And Tremblay doesn’t shy away from any comparisons, calling out Blatty’s classic by name on numerous occasions. Both mine bundles of psychological horror around the debasement of a young girl. Tremblay, however, plays coy with Marjorie’s possession. Is she actually possessed by a demon? How much can we rely on the memories of a little girl?

Some people like to differentiate the category of horror and thriller based on whether the book has a supernatural element. Is A Head Full of Ghosts horror? Or is it a thriller?

I urge you to read it. Make your own decision. You’ll have a devil of a time figuring it out.

Click the book to buy the book.

Postmortem: Confusion 2017

Detroit Rock City.

Well…technically…Novi, Michigan. But close enough, right?

For the last three years I’ve heard many positive things about Confusion. No less than an (ir)reputable source as Scalzi had told me it was where the cool kids went to play. I’m a cool kid, right? This means I needed to be in the middle of that action.

Although the convention states that it runs Thursday-Sunday, I didn’t see much happening on Thursday. No panels. No dealer room. Just a handful of writers and friends hanging out at the hotel bar and lobby. If I venture north next year for Confusion, I might consider arriving Friday afternoon.

Confusion has the feel of a “family” event (much like the dearly departed Context that used to be held in Columbus, OH). Many of the attendees are regulars, and many regulars travel great distances. There is a friendly intimacy that is hard to describe but familiar to those involved in fandom and genre events. The convention goes out of its way to make everyone feel welcome.

Confusions’s consuite game is strong. After hours, the suite offered free locally-brewed ale. I drank way too much free bourbon ale.

The hotel’s bar/restaurant was moderately priced (as far as hotels go). After the price travesty that was the World Fantasy host hotel restaurant ($18 for a breakfast buffet?), I could grab a meal in a pinch and not want to throw up afterwards due to buyers remorse.

I do have three complaints.

  1. The dealer room was placed in the far reaches of the hotel. None of us were happy with its placement. Apex had a decent showing, but with a better location, it could have been so much better.
  2. All my panels were lightly attended. Maybe people were avoiding having to listen to me pontificate, but a panel with Cherie Priest, Jim Hines, James L. Sutter, Sarah Gailey, Mishell Baker, and me should draw more than 6 people (even on a Saturday @ 10am).
  3. The fog. Christ, I felt like I was in Silent Hill. No doubt that Pyramid Head was lurking somewhere.

I will probably go back next year, weather permitting. I met several folks in person for the first time that I’ve known a long time via social media but the standouts was Delilah Dawson. Lady has personality for days.

Here are some awesome pictures of awesome people have a good time at Confusion.

Courtesy of John Scalzi:

Courtesy of Jim C. Hines:

Finally, a thank you to the delightfully happy and sweet barista at the Starbucks.

Writers Group: Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror at The Carnegie Center for Literacy

The Winter session of my quarterly writer group meetings starts next Monday! They are held at the Carnegie Center for Literacy in Lexington, KY.

For registration information go here:$78

The sessions run from 5:30 to 7:00pm.
Every Monday beginning January 23rd through February 27.

My group size averages around 6 participants, though I’ve had as many as 14 and as few as 2.

If you do sign up, please consider bringing something to read for the first session.