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Monday, September 21, 2009

Horror Realm 2009

Just this past weekend I ventured out to Horror Realm 2009 here in the Pittsburgh area. I've never attended any convention like this so I wasn't sure what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised!

It was a fairly small convention held in a few conference rooms in a hotel. Among the delights were meeting horror legend Tony Todd, along with Ken Foree, David Naughton, Leslie Easterbrook and Tiffany Shepis (who is involved in an astonishing 26 movies in the next couple of years, as per IMDB!)

There were also several independent films screened each night. I caught the showing of "Die-ner: Get it?" It was much better than a lot of the other independent horror films I've seen and was equal parts tense and humorous. The lead role had an Ed Norton/John Cusack look to him and even his voice and delivery were similar. I had the pleasure of meeting his parents after the screening, who happened to be sitting right in front of me (good thing I didn't say anything bad about his performance!)

But the real highlight of the trip was meeting various horror authors from all levels of success and reknown. First I met D. L. Snell who was with Permuted Press promoting his first novel "Roses of Blood on Barbwire Vines." He combines vampires and zombies vying for the rights to a post-apocalyptic world. Mr. Snell was very enthusiastic about his project and I am equally as enthusiastic to finish my copy!

Other authors in attendance were Jonathan Maberry of "Patient Zero" fame (and a writer for Marvel as well, who knew?), Z. A. Recht whose 'Morningstar Saga' I've heard only great things about, and S. G. Browne, author of "Breathers: A Zombie's Lament." Each of these fine gentlemen took the time to answer my questions and provide insight on, not only writing, but the perspective from behind the veil of the publishing industry. Thanks to each of you! (And I'll be sure to post review for both "Breathers" and "Roses of Blood on Barbwire Vines" here!)

Also, a quick shout out to the very talented artist Sherrie Spencer and the Library of Horror Press! I'm looking forward to attending more of these shows, horror or otherwise. Maybe someday soon I'll be hawking my novel out to the terrified passersby like some sort of crazed Bazaar salesman. One can only hope!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Short List

Today, in one of the publishing blogs/newsletters I subscribe to, I saw a familiar book title. As a matter of fact, I was looking at the very book on my shelf just last night as I was editing "Crawl." The book is 'American Rust' by Philipp Myer and it is up for The Center for Fiction's first novel award. You can check out the other finalists here:

Now Myer's book is the only one I've read out of the finalists, but I can remember the story clearly. More specifically, his characters which really jumped off of the page. This is a case of judging a book by its cover, since the rusty railroad spike on a bleak background grabbed my attention in the bookstore. I remember picking it up and reading the jacket, discovering it was a debut novel with a story based in the very section of the country that I call home.

Even then, I put the book back on the shelf, walked away and came back to look at it again multiple times. I don't think I bought it that first visit, but rather saw it on a subsequent trip and decided to give it a chance. The cover and the setting intrigued me, and that was enough to warrant a read.

As I said earlier, the characters were very fleshed out in multiple dimensions and I can still recall each of their personalities (even if their names escape me.) All in all it was an enjoyable read, though personally I felt it had an "Edgar Sawtelle" feel without as much depth or layering. Not being a literary critic or scholar myself, I'm sure I missed out on something along the way.

Either way, Philipp Myer's 'American Rust' is a worthy finalist for this prize! Check it out at your local bookstore!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

SY: One - Day One

“They may have fired first, but our guns are bigger,” said Grandpa Jack. The old man could still remember the twin bombs Little Boy and Fat Man being dropped on Japanese villagers. I believed he really thought our American muscle would get us through this. The slight tremor in his voice was the only indication that he wasn’t completely confident in our victory or our survival.

An old war veteran of 100 plus years and me, a 25 year old college dropout, sitting together watching what could be the end of the world on our 15 inch TV screen. We had just seen a demonstration of the alien technology. We watched now as our brave soldiers attacked the ship from the ground below. I couldn’t help but fear for them, and for us, some 400 miles away.

“You watch, boy, we’ll whip ‘em good,” said Grandpa Jack, unable to take his eyes off of the screen. After that strange swarm dismantled the helicopter earlier, it hadn’t taken long for the ground troops stationed at the safe zone to move in and open fire. The city became a war zone, a chaotic port town defending its fleeing citizens from some unknown menace.

The floating ship continued sending out tiny clouds of what looked like insects swarming in a burst of hazy air. Every mortar, rifle or rocket they came into contact with instantly fell to pieces. Ambitious soldiers took the time to reconstruct their weapons only to have a second shot pull them apart again. Tanks fell to pieces around their stunned drivers, the welds and tread locks dismantling on impact.

The ground under the alien behemoth became littered with unspent missile fragments and small arms ammunition. It was hard to tell from the TV footage but it didn’t look like anything we fired had made a scratch in the hovering menace. The ground troops quickly ran out of options and functional weaponry. Not a moment too soon three fighter jets screamed onto the scene, rocking the nearby news helicopters hovering to record the chaos.

“The cavalry’s arrived!” yelled Grandpa Jack. The old man actually stood up for a moment and hollered in excitement before crashing back down into his easy chair. I couldn’t tell if he was enjoying the fight, thinking it was an afternoon movie, or if he was really as terrified on the inside as I was. A part of me prayed that Grandpa Jack was right, that our technology would prove superior and this would be our turning point.

The jets rocketed into and out of the frame, all the while circling the giant airship like sharks around a whale. Tracer fire lit up the sky, cutting bright trails blazing toward the alien craft. The skin of the ship shimmered and rippled, shrugging off the machine gun fire. Hot lead rained down onto the ground in torrents. Not one bullet managed to snipe its way through the alien armor.

News copters pulled back from the area and captured the scope of the skirmish with their cameras. As the pilots realized their bullets were having no effect, one of them loosed a rocket into the belly of the ship. In a blink, the missile made contact, appeared to be swallowed by a bulge in the ship’s side and fell to the ground in pieces, harmless and undetonated.

Before another rocket could be fired, a burst formed from the ship and detached, chasing the jet through the sky. For a moment I thought the pilot might be able to evade it. But it appeared the strange swarm was simply toying with its target.

“Bastards,” grumbled Grandpa Jack. We stared in disbelief as the jet fell apart, its velocity pitching the pilot forward and gravity pulling him down to the ground, surrounded by his piecemeal plane. Luckily his chute opened to slow his fall, though he still slammed into the ground hard, then lay motionless. That was all the invitation the other pilots needed to open fire.

Missiles, flares and tracer fire assailed the alien ship without success. They struck the armored sides whole and functional, became swallowed up by the strange swarms and then fell in impotent pieces to the ground below. The second jet met a similar fate to its predecessor when it collided with a swarm burst and fell scattered to the Earth.

The final pilot was out of weapons and out of his league, but not out of options. As the frantic news reporter announced the pilot’s final act of desperation, the jet rocketed towards the ship with no intention of stopping. Rather than become a swallowing, swarming mass, the alien armor seemed to harden. The jet exploded on impact in a massive fireball.

“Oh, sweet Jesus,” said Grandpa Jack. Tears streamed down his face as he remembered in that instant all of the soldiers and friends he’d lost throughout his long life. I held his hand as the air raid sirens sounded through the TV speakers. It sounded like a banshee wail signaling the end of the City that Never Sleeps.

A few brave journalists remained at Ground Zero even as the final evacuation order went out. A full two-thirds of Manhattan were stuck on the fabled island, unable to escape even as the missiles closed the gap between their submarine launch sites and their target, the hovering alien menace.

Grandpa and I watched in reverent silence, along with the rest of the world, as three missiles slammed into the ship. The behemoth rocked to one side from the impact. A full bloom of its armor shifted to meet the missiles at the point of contact. The silver skin flowed outward and down, forming an umbrella-shaped shield that reflected the nuclear explosion away from the ship. The last image we saw before the cameras and their operators were vaporized was a column of bright light mushrooming out from beneath the ship, scorching the Earth, sea and sky.

Reports drifted in over the next few hours. A massive section of the city had been leveled and millions were dead or dying. When the dust cleared, the alien menace remained, quite unharmed. The panic didn’t set in until the ship began to move. It traveled slowly at first, attracting an entourage of ground and air-based escorts, all attacking the ship seemingly without organization, direction or success. Soldiers vented their frustrations on the hovering leviathan, attempting to slow its progress or somehow destroy it completely. Over slow miles, their ambitious attack never wavered, but neither did the behemoth’s ever westward movement.

It wasn’t until the next day that we realized the ship was heading for us.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

'9' Review

Just got home from seeing the movie '9' and thought I'd post a quick review of it.

From reading the early reviews at I had the impression that the story was a little weak. This notion seemed to be spot on, but first the good stuff!

I'm a big fan of Tim Burton and am watching Bekmambetov closely (check out Night Watch and Wanted if you haven't already). '9' had all the sinister darkness and visual richness of Burton with the action sequences of Bekmambetov. Visually this film is very beautiful and engaging. Each of the little sack dolls 1-9 have their own physical traits that make them stand out and each of the machined monsters are unique and creative. I can't imagine how twisted a playground the inside of Burton's mind must be, but it produces some truly beautiful and original creations.

Along with the visual delight, the voice acting is very well done. Sometimes in these films, voice actors take away from the ability of the story to fully engage the audience (Jack Black, Nicolas Cage and the upcoming George Clooney as Mr. Fox are all examples of voices I just can't identify with anyone/thing but the actual actor). In the case of '9' each sack doll was brought to life by vocal talents equally matched to the visual appearance.

That being said, '9' had much more potential than the plot seemed to want to explore. I'm not sure if this was a studio decision to pare down the 'death' and violence (though it still received a PG13 rating...huh?) or if it was just poor writing in the original script, but I felt let down by it. It felt to me like an all or nothing type situation for the characters involved but it ended with a very unoriginal and predictable outcome (minus the glowing rain...go see it to figure out what I mean.)

All in all, I'll give '9' a 7 out of 10. Great action scenes, fun characters and even a few laughs in this dark and original approach to a post-apocalyptic tale, but it falls short in its depth of plot and its unfortunate reluctance to reach its full potential.

Worth a watch!


Labor Day Weekend!

I know it's a little late, but I hope everyone had a fun and safe Labor Day weekend!

As for me, I spent most of it on the road between Pittsburgh and Philly. Traffic wasn't too bad considering the holiday so I had ample time to let my mind wander.

I don't know about you, but when one half of my brain is focusing on a somewhat mundane task like driving (God bless cruise control), the creative side of my brain tends to take off. It's another reason why I'll do chores when I'm feeling particularly blocked creatively: wash the dishes, vacuum, fold laundry, really anything that's mindless helps to allow your mind to wander.

So, while I enjoy the scenic ride home (the middle of Pennsylvania is beautiful this time of year, even if the trees are starting to change a little too early for me) I really get to enjoy the freedom of thought that goes with it. At one point, I came through a mountain pass that I haven't taken before and stared in wonder as it opened up into the vast area known as the Lehigh Valley. I couldn't help but wonder how this woodland must have looked in its pristine past. How did the first explorers to this area see it and did they stand at roughly the same point and marvel at it?

Sure now it's dotted with developments, slashed with highways and pockmarked with shopping malls, but there are still patches of old forest in between that hint at its natural state. It was quite the sight, even at 65mph.

Other than those musings, I also came up with a few random topics for future projects, which I hurriedly jotted down as soon as I got home. Some were brand new stories, some were additions to other works in progress. The most notable revelation concerns the story I'm currently posting on this blog. I toyed with the idea of combining it and another story tentatively titled 'Analog' into one work. An interesting idea, but still in its infancy.

I also changed my mind about how I'd like one of the main characters in this story to pan out, so keep watching and let me know your thoughts! Look for the next SY: One post soon!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

SY: One - Day Zero

They arrived without warning, late in the year 2020. The media had named it “The Year of Hindsight.” How fitting that I’m now looking back on the arrival after all these long years.

I can still see that day clearly, same as any human who lived through it and still breathes today. That strange ship entering our atmosphere, an image burned into our memories. It was our Hindenburg, our Pearl Harbor, our 9/11.

The strangeness of it! It appeared as a massive silver swarm one moment, shifting rapidly to a smoothness of polished metal and dark glass the next. The way it eased itself through our sky, swelling, shifting, shimmering into view. The world stared in awe for those early moments. Then the disastrous first contact shook us out of our reverie.

The silver behemoth hung in the sky, shimmering in the daylight as if covered in a haze. It had settled over the once-great city of New York, then a bustling metropolis, still populated by millions of us, millions of human lives. The ship hovered there with no observable means of support or propulsion. Every new observation of the ship gave rise to a hundred questions which spawned a million more.

The world itself seemed to stop, waiting for some sign from the alien ship. Most had stopped sleeping out of excitement or out of fear. They chose, instead, to watch the 24 hour news coverage of the newly arrived visitors. The US government had declared a no-fly zone all around the UFO, so news helicopters hovered at the restricted border, landing only to refuel and change pilots. Billions of eyes around the world watched as a solitary army helicopter broke through the invisible barrier and approached the ship. We watched and waited for one side or the other, the humans or the aliens, to blink. We blinked first.

I remember it as if it happened this very morning. Both ships hovering there in relative silence. The human ship was a whirring gnat of gunmetal blades and glistening warheads, the alien vessel a stoic leviathan, pulsing with that strange swarming shimmer. Even the media broadcasters fell silent, waiting for a resolution, for a sign, waiting to breathe.

A section of the alien ship bulged and rippled towards the presumed front of the craft. It broke free from the mothership, a pixilated cloud racing forward in the open air. It slammed into the helicopter.

There was no fireball, no dramatic explosion. The human ship simply…disintegrated.

No, that’s not the right word. Dissociated, is more like it. The helicopter fell apart. Every screw, nut, bolt and rivet failed, falling back to Earth in separate pieces. Even the weapons fell dismantled in midair, the rockets and explosives separating into harmless components. It was as if the ship had never been built, but was rather a floating box of parts now turned upside down.
The pilots, apparently unharmed and still quite whole, fell to Earth along with the dismantled metal bird. Their parachutes opened, blessedly intact and functional. The alien ship remained unresponsive after its momentary show of strength.

As soon as the helicopter’s pilots hit the good earth, all Hell broke loose. All excitement turned to fear, demanded a swift response, a protective reaction. The first shot fired triggered a war, a change of the way we lived our daily lives. Every citizen became a soldier for the army of the Earth. Borders were erased, differences set aside. Their arrival changed the way we viewed our daily lives, changed the very definition of the word ‘tomorrow.’ We began to live each day by the hour, not knowing if we’d survive to see the next sunrise.

I’m writing this journal to provide a record of the invasion. I’m not sure how much of our news archives still exist. Someone needs to know our history. Someone needs to study our struggle. This is a tale of the first invasion between worlds. This is a story of how we humans fought to take back our Earth.

My name is John Rysk, Captain of the Roughnecks, and this is the diary of my death.

Now Presenting...

I don't know about you but I'm pretty excited about this idea!

Excited doesn't necessarily mean 'good results' however. But I've liked this story idea for a long time and it's a pretty fun way to get it out there. No agents, no publishers, no rejections (externally anyway) and no stress! Just pure, good ol' fashioned fun free writing!

The idea is to get the 500 word chapters out on the first go, with very limited editing. Most of them I'll probably write by hand when the mood strikes me, then perform an on-the-go editing session as I transcribe the words to type. I'm trying to get a very organic and fluid feel to this story as if you're reading it as it's happening. I'll even take comments into consideration when deciding the next step in the sequence (though the ending is very much decided, sorry). Think of it as a choose-your-own-adventure!

Tenses may change, plot holes will undoubtedly open up to swallow characters whole, and I don't care! While my left brain is busy editing 'Crawl' for the umpteenth time, my right brain will be the one having fun!

Now, without further adieu, I present Chapter 1 of SY:One

More Ambitions

In the spirit of karma, I'm going to attempt to give weekly reviews of books I'm currently reading, have read recently or would like to read in the near future.

For the first installment I'd like to rave about Joe Abercrombie's 'First Law Trilogy.' If you like your fantasy fast and furious or are just a fan of vivid, three-dimensional characters, definitely pick up the first book in the series, "The Blade Itself." You won't be disappointed!

After you become acquainted with such savory characters as The Bloody-Nine, Fenris the Feared and Superior Glokta, you'll be itching to pick up "Before They Are Hanged" and "The Last Argument of Kings."

I'm looking forward to picking up my copy of his newest book "Best Served Cold" which was recently released in the states. Check out the author and his works here: