Monday, August 29, 2022

Ask Me Anything (With the Splatterpunk Horror Readers Group)

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

Hey, everybody!  2022 has been the Summer of Skinwrapper.  In case you missed it elsewhere, make sure to grab a free copy here.  (But make sure you do it by Wednesday the 31st or you'll be SOL-aris, as we say in the sci-fi horror game.)  One of the fun events I've done was a takeover of the Splatterpunk Horror Readers group over on Facebook.

You should definitely join the group and check out some of the fun things I've been doing.  There are other giveaways still active over there, for instance.  But one thing I thought I'd share with you all over here on Across the Board is the AMA I did last week, which includes a look at my awards shelf and my personal library, as well as, naturally, a bunch of fun questions and interactions.  Check it out!

Thursday, August 25, 2022

On The Road Again: Advice For Writers on Getting Going

Last month, I attended the second portion of this summer’s annual R.O.T. Fest. Which was a wonderful weekend event set at The Raconteur. Featuring art trinkets, food trucks, a fire-eating act, and some very engaging story readings – the gathering took place in the heart of Highland Park, NJ. The self-description of which, goes as follows:

“It’s Ren Fair and Wasteland and Comic-Con and The Highland Games. It's sword-fighting and fire-spitting, It's winning an award for the most extravagant beard or for throwing a truck tire farther than anyone else. It's author readings and live music. Collectibles, antiques, vintage clothing, and trading cards. It's cosplay. It's taxidermy and outsider art. Pre-war motorcycles and hot rods. It's blacksmithing and glass blowing. It's raconteurs and roustabouts. Rotgut and goblin pulp. It's Neil Gaiman and Dr. Who, Hellboy, and Spirited Away. It's Mad Max. It's Diagon Alley meets Burning Man. It's books, books, and more books.”

For those unfamiliar, The Raconteur was originally a beloved Central Jersey bookstore popular for its artist-friendly reputation. The New York Times even once praised it as an avant-garde hangout and street theater emporium.

Originally based in Metuchen, NJ, the shop was for a time, the premiere place for anyone with an interest in culture. A genuine haven where one could find books, both new and old. A strange yet confidable safe space for young students who’d aspired to live in the worlds of imagination. 

It was very sad when the original Raconteur store closed for a time… And surprising, when it somehow, magically returned almost 10 years later. This time, as a dieselpunk used bookstore built atop a ‘59 flatbed truck. Parked in the central lot in town for the weekend. 

The new Rac-On-Tour serviced as a book truck. Like a food truck, but instead of sandwiches or empanadas or really cold smoothies on a hot summer day, this not-a-food-truck-store-truck doled out dusty old books for sale. Like a transformable traveling circus wagon, the Raconteur brought with it an artistic crowd with a debonair for flair. All flocked to a caravan of words and art and strangeness, beautifully packed away in this inner three-shelved book store. Which, despite all the fitting-in books, and the rear of the truck’s second-floor carpeting, still fit a Galaga/Ms. Pac-Man arcade machine in its corner, in defiance of space that would make the Tardis proud.

The shop is owned by a man named Alex Dawson. A full-time teacher in the creative writing department over at Rutgers. Alex instructed students on writing with a focus on fantasy, folklore, and strange fiction. He was one of the most well-read and surprisingly connected people I’ve ever met before, though, before all that, spent a large chunk of his life living as a bouncer and a bartender in some of the most demanding, and often, dangerous joints in NJ. 

For a solid, almost forty years, Dawson has ridden a motorcycle to get around. He has a penchant for shirts without sleeves and is one of the chillest authors you’ll ever meet. He was a hard-knocked guy, though one with, a genuine softness and squishiness to him, only in so, that I’ve never actually heard anyone say a damned or nasty thing about the man since I’ve known him. As Alex genuinely seems to have a kind heart.

Alex was also one of the people who’d helped with the Rutgers Writer’s conference. Which was a retreat for so many promising young authors. The last time I attended, I had my chance to meet my hero Neil Gaiman, which I mentioned in a post a little while back

Through this same writers network this past few months, I’d gotten to meet some really talented authors including authors Dave Rudden and Clay McLeod Chapman. All because of Alex and his classes, students, and the people he just attracts with his charisma to these events.

That Saturday was pitched to me by Alex over messenger as a part ren-fair meets live reading featuring a fire spitter, tire toss, and a wife and husband act who liked to do things like sit on a bed of nails or walk on shards of broken glass… open-toed barefooted - all for show. There was also some vinyl on sale and some trinkets sold by mom-and-pop shops from town.

It was a fun festival and one I highly recommend everyone visit at some point if you're in town.

While perusing, I’d ended up buying a comic book from an artist named Jack Shergalis, who'd drawn some trippy mushroom renditions of his journeys into the ecological preserve. The same one that I liked hiking in on the weekends. I sat down to read the comic when an older couple sat next to me to eat lunch, and while I fingered through… I couldn’t help but think…

“That this was… Today’s headliner… wasn’t it?”

Every ROT-Fest had a headlining act. A famous writer who’d read a piece for the event. I grabbed my phone to google and check that it was in fact, Michael Swanwick. One of the biggest short story writers in Fantasy and Science Fiction. He was the only person to have won five Hugo Awards in six years in a row, though is most popular for his adapted works which can be seen in the Science Fiction Netflix Anthology: Love Death + Robots

His short fiction story, Ice Age, was adapted in season one and starred Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Topher Grace. In it, they discover a lost civilization in the refrigerator that evolves before their very eyes. All for a breakneck-paced silly but beautiful short story.

His second story, featured in the show's most recent season, was The Very Purse of The Machine. The story won a Hugo award in the 90s. In it, an astronaut experiences a transcendental experience while pumped with life-saving drugs while stranded on lo, a moon of Jupiter. On her last tank of oxygen, it is uncertain if her quest for survival is an otherworldly science fiction cog in the metaphysical machine, or simply, a drug-induced nightmare.

I sat there reading my comic trying my best not to stare, while Michael, rather patiently, sat with wife, Marianne C. Porter. 

There’s this antiquated proverb that behind every good man is an even greater woman. In the case of their relationship, I fully believed that this was true.

As we'd talked, I'd gotten to learn more about both of them and learned that Porter had owned her own nano-sized book publishing press. She was initially more open to speaking with me than Michael, or perhaps, just easier to speak with that day. That either gave me time was surprising, to be honest.

I’d opened to them that I was a journalist. That I was here, mostly to meet Michael, though not as an interview per se, just more out of professional curiosity as someone seeking writing advice. I told them that I was a person that interviews celebrities for a living. Someone who’d written about conventions, entertainment, and some video games-related media, including a short stint at IGN – which I’d described, more-or-less, as the New York Times of the video game industry. We began talking and I shared my writing journey detailing my career in mental health and how I called it quits to write full-time.

We had originally both came from science. Originally, when Michael was sixteen, his father caught Alzheimer's and so he sought out to be a scientist. But when that wasn’t working out as a life path, he inevitably, became a writer. Taking the leap and submitted some of his first short stories. I’d shared that I started out in science, psychology specifically, but then got out and pursued creative writing until what happened with my father a few years ago. 

How he died right in front of me from a heart attack. At least, for a few moments, until I had to resuscitate him, uncertain as to whether or not he would live or die as the paramedics restarted his heart.

I shared how afterward I was forever changed. How, though I was already on the journey to try and make a living off writing, I'd become absolutely dedicated to sort of give writing my all from that moment onward. At least, until the pandemic happened and sort of confused all of that plan.

Marianne empathized with my grief. She shared a story about how her mother died when she was much older, and how, even in her 60s, after losing mom, she still felt like an orphan. She spoke about how that feeling never seems to change. How parents will always sort of be your parents no matter the age. 

That comment stuck with me pretty hard. Recently, there’ve been a lot of deaths in my life due to everything. Parents who are no longer there anymore. Friends who’d lost their mothers and fathers of late. There were some friends as well, who had prematurely died, most, barely even into their 30s…

Death seems to surround me wherever I go. Like a distant voice of an old friend. It always has. I don’t really know if I’m better or worse for it.

It has though, given me a purpose. As I feel like I was put on this planet to do something very specific. That I was destined to convey these moments of loss and learning in stories. The art and rebirth in crafting something… some sort of lesson out of all this trauma, darkness, and loss.

I convinced myself, somewhere along this journey, that I guess, by some dangerous cocktail of messiah complex, along with a pinch of survivor’s guilt, I was destined to be an author. Not because I wanted to, mind you, but because, I think the world absolutely needs to hear my stories…

Hear them before it’s too late. 

Which, I think, is a better reason than most give as to why they write. 

That or I'm just plain stupid.

On a lighter note, Michael and I shared of our mutual love of the convention circuit during conversation.

How I covered every convention imaginable interviewing various types of celebrities and executives and folks, just way bigger than I. Michael, shared stories about attending writer's and science fiction conventions and what it was like traveling to China, the growing fandom for SF and Fantasy there, and overall modernization of the country, which coincidentally, was just announced as the next location (Chengdu) for the upcoming 81st World Science Fiction... AKA WorldCon.

If you don’t know, reader, the original WorldCon is the foundation of every comic con in existence. The Primal Convention per se of all the conventions that have come after. I wrote about the history of conventions for a piece about DerpyCon last year, Which I still think is pretty neat, in terms of conventional origins.


Together, Michael and Marianne gave me loads of advice about writing and… life. We’d spent what felt like an hour together just talking, me apologizing for taking up their lunchtime, but also, just picking their brains as there was so much they had to know that I still needed to learn. 

I remember, in terms of structure, Michael mentioned emphasis on the importance of the first few pages of any story and the necessity to WOW the audience. How editors go through the beginnings and the ends of the story, as those who approve of these projects go through a giant stack of slush piles for submissions. A revelation not all too different from screenplay scripting.

In turn, I’d shared a story about a screenplay I’d submitted to Screencraft that I’d written as a pilot spec script. An example of me ‘Wow’ing the reader to only have gotten a negative review panned for ‘not following the rules of the genre’.

The script was called: Social Work. I’d written it as a dramedy about the mental health field. Like Orange Is The New Black meets The Office, the story was about mental health workers and their clients, who I’d structured to serve as fun cases of the week... often, in supporting roles. 

What was different, was that the script detailed what it was like in the mental health field, not as some once-in-a-while closed-thearpy session of notes, but as someone living in the same spaces as the mentally ill. The unstable environment that is federally funded-backed treatment facilities, and really, diving into the headspace of what it’s like to be around someone with hallucinations and schizophrenia 24/7. 

Which I think no one has yet, done a great job at depicting in media.

The mental health side of my story was praised in its notes of feedback for its unique approach that’s never been told before, and to be honest, still hasn’t been told. But the genre I was submitting under was labeled drama and my script failed because there was too much comedy. Which, to be fair, is the problem for a contest where the options are Drama or Comedy and never: Dramatic Comedy.

I also would argue, that funny/sad is absolutely the field of mental health. Pointless moments of obsession, but oftentimes also, hilarity, found not just in the patients, but really, the mental health bureaucracy. Which was always imploding around you. As moments of severe trauma, loss, and open wounds filtered the cracks, the journey, or really, whatever ends up surviving through this strange period of time: is often the end result. AKA your cured person.

Changing topics again, we’d somehow found a conversation start regarding my favorite author: Neil Gaiman. A writer whose works have been heavily influenced by the style and who many are learning about now, given the massive success that The Sandman has been for Netflix. 

Michael had been a part of the literary scene for decades and had actually spent a good deal of time with some of the biggest names in science fiction and fantasy including Neil Gaiman and George R.R. Martin. This was, of course, before the gigantic fame both writers are experiencing right now.

The one thing that stood out to me regarding these stories of gossip and celebritydom that Michael shared with me, is that when you hit it big... you really start to separate yourself from everyone else. 

G.R.R.M from what I gathered, became the nerdy celebrity turned Jay Gatsby of the community. The popular kid amongst the losing crowd. At least, until that final season of Game of Thrones was out. Which was bad, and of course, some of the fallout involving himself and a certain mispronunciation of names.

This got him a lot of scorn, especially, in regards to what used to be his celebrity in the community. It was really bad when after botching that year’s Hugo awards, a blog essay entered the following year was nominated for a Hugo, entitled: “George R.R. Martin can Fuck Off Into The Sun.” Which you can read here. 

Anyway, As I learned more about the side of the industry I’d learned so much about a part I never really ever thought about: the parties, after parties, and awards ceremonies. Marketing tools and networking chances at these soirees.

I kind of realized writing isn’t what I always thought it to be.

Because there are writers, and then, there are… the ridiculously successful writers. The kinds of writers who have made a shockingly large amount of money to purchase castles and tiny estates on islands that I won’t get into details about, that else be crushed by the weight of my own pismire status as a writer, by comparison.

Hearing these stories made me feel alive for a second. It was, I think, for the first time in a long while where I’d felt like that.

My life… and really seeing the bigger picture of what it’s like to be a majorly successful author: the wealth, prestige, or otherwise, I guess hearing what that part of that world was genuinely like… was something I’d sort of forgotten about.

I've been always pursuing work and the story and what comes next… I’d forgotten what it meant to be a person who likes things like money... a long time ago. That side of things... stopped interesting me. As I feel like I write more to feel a sense of purpose and belonging, more than anything else these days.

Eventually, we took our seats to see what was happening. I spent the rest of R.O.T.-Fest doing what writers are expected to do: meet people, make contacts, and add acquaintances. There were a lot of interesting events and several readings from students though, to be honest, my mind was preoccupied with my… I guess, failure, of the past several years.

It’s strange.

I always wanted to adapt Cowboy Bebop as a live-action series as a script until I saw that Netflix did it. I also really wanted to be the person able to do the screenplay for The Sandman until Neil Gaiman, of course, took the task on himself. Of the bucket list of scripted adaptations, the only one that remains is an HBO script of The Last of Us, and even that, is coming out soon, and from what I gathered, will be strictly written by showrunner, Craig Mazin (who is a fantastic writer anyway).

I say this because, at the moment... my dreams are starting to die. As time continues, my heroes in the realms of story crafting, seem to keep either supplanting what could have been my dreams or just, keep disappointing me in some way (I was once the world's biggest Woody Allen fan, for instance). This is why it’s become harder to have heroes in my 30s. And I know now more than ever: I just need to be my own and release my stories. Be my own hero.

Something in me has changed. The culture shifted. The incessant nagging thought of anxiety constantly pangs at me: that the time of your relevance, unless you’re careful, can come to an end. You can become old news before you know it. The last thing you want is to give up what could have been your best years, having accomplished nothing.

I guess now I feel that pressure… mortality crushing your heart. Wanting to live before you die. That adage that you have to make do with the time you have now before it’s too late.


Towards the end of the event, Michael was asked to recite a poem by Doctor Seuss called, ‘What was I Scared of?’.

While reading it, Alex brought out a mysterious pair of green pants slapped onto a mannequin’s legs, and propped it behind Michael for us to see while he read on the makeshift outdoor stage. These ‘Green Pants’ were revealed to have belonged to someone else who’d really enjoyed writing. His name was Jack Kerouac, beatnik author of ‘On The Road’ and ‘Big Sur’. 

Before leaving, I’d seen Michael again and he gave me one final piece of advice that I think will be the one that stays with me most: 

“All advice is a tool. It’s up to the person to see what works and what doesn’t. The big thing,” which I didn’t know at the time, was absolutely bothering me in my heart of hearts and that I needed to hear at that moment “Is if it isn’t working out for you right now that’s not necessarily on you. Sometimes in life what you’re doing, the things that aren’t working, they might just be not the right tool you require at that moment. That real writing is in moving forward whether it works or doesn’t work.” 

“Eventually, you’ll find what you need to get going.” 

So I guess… maybe now’s the time to go do that.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Interview with Justin Park of Sinister Horror Company

This month, I had the pleasure of conducting an interview with the fantastic Justin Park (or J. R. Park, if you read his books), founder and owner of Sinister Horror Company, a small press that publishes some of the best in indie horror.

Q. How do you balance your work/life schedule with working a "regular" job, being a writer, and also running a small press? Are there ever enough hours in the day?

A. I'm never bored, that's for sure. Time management has been something that I have worked on over the last few years. The most important thing is to recognise that there are only so many hours in a day and therefore you can only do so much. Setting yourself unrealistic targets puts unfair pressure on you, and means you are failing. I learnt this through a CBT course and it provided me with a method of splitting each day into hour blocks. At the start of the week I would write down the activities I wanted to do, then I would block them out in this grid of the week split into hours. This taught me what was manageable and what wasn't. Over time I learnt how to realistically pace myself and now only go back to planning hour by hour if I have enormous tasks and deadlines, but I do always list. A list helps to stop everything from slushing around my brain, and every time I get to cross things off, I have a small victory for the day. My focus can change depending on looming deadlines, but a bit of forward planning is invaluable.

Q. Can you detail the process of taking on a new book for Sinister Horror Company, from accepting a submission to releasing the book?

A. I will only fully accept a submission once I have read the completed manuscript. The manuscripts can come through submission calls, or from other means such as if  I'm chatting with an author at a convention and they talk about an idea that interests me, or if I read about it during an interview with an author. Once I've read the work I will then decided if it's something that I want to publish. The question I usually ask is: what makes this work different from all the other horror books out there?

I then approach the author and discuss terms and conditions. Once agreed, I will make editing notes on the manuscript and return them back to the author to review. I will ask them about cover ideas. Sometimes authors have very specific ideas, others don't have any ideas, and a lot come in between the two. It's important to me to work collaboratively in creating the look of the book. Once we have an artist working on the cover, I'll create the interior of the book. The look is very important, so I'll usually add a few little fun flourishes, then return to the author for approval. Together we'll write the blurb for the back.

Whilst this is all going on, we'll discuss the release date, come to an agreement and then prep for its launch. If we decide to do any kind of launch event, then that will be discussed and agreed on too.

Q. How often do you reject books compared to how often you take them on? Is there anything (thematically, stylistically, etc.) that is an instant "no"?

A. I am super picky on what I even approach to pick up, so my rejection rate isn't too high, but any rejection is sent back with comments, and usually detailed feedback on why I didn't like it, and what I think might help the story. Instant 'no's' for me is if the story or writing is just run-of-the-mill. It needs to stand out, and it needs to grip me. Aside from that I don't have any themes that put me off. I've published everything from soul staining extreme nastiness, to haunting, lingering quiet horror that will leave you in tears.

I ask two questions: 'is it quality' and 'is it original'.

Q. Can you tell me a bit about how you decided to open your own press?

A. When I decided to start writing, I went down the self-publishing route because I didn't know if anyone would want to read it. My idea was 'if I self publish I can produce a book and put it on my shelf, that's as much as I can ask for'. I did this at the same time as two of my friends. We then wanted to get our books noticed and reviewed but found it impossible to get attention. We decided to create a brand - a label - so if one book under the label got a good review, it would only benefit the others.

And so the Sinister Horror Company was born. We didn't mean to publish anyone else but out own, however, we read an interview with Kit Power where he discussed a book he was writing. We loved the idea, and said we could help him publish it. That book was Godbomb. From then we found all these other wonderful authors and stories, and just wanted to share them. There wasn't any thought about money, or a business. We read things, we loved them, we wanted others to read them too, and make them look the best we could make them. 

Q. What does the future hold for SHC?

A. Fame, fortune and speedboats...?

I honestly don't know. I do this for the love of horror - horror of all kinds - and for the love of the written word. Eventually horror literature may turn mainstream again and indie presses like mine aren't required any more, but I like to think we are also pushing the boundaries and daring to do something different. As such, I think there's always room for us.

Q. Which piece of your own work are you most proud of?

A. That is a really tough one. I like a lot of my work for a lot of reasons. If I've got to settle on one, I'd say Mad Dog. The style of narrative was a challenge (my books always are, when I start them), but this one was so specific in what I wanted to do, and I'm pleased that I managed to achieve it.

It's written in the way of a load of interviews, all spliced together, as people describe the event of a prison riot. It meant that the story telling, character and even the way of dealing with suspense and action had to be handled in very different ways than normal prose.

Q. Is there an indie book that you love that you wished you'd had the opportunity to publish through SHC?

A. Absolutely. There's a few actually.

I've published a number of Rich Hawkins' books, but I would love to have his novella Black Star, Black Sun under the label. It's a wonderful book, and would fit lovely with his others, King Carrion, and Maniac Gods, that I already published. A gorgeous book.

On a nastier front, Duncan Ralston's Woom is a very literate extreme novella. A masterpiece. I loved it when it came out, and it's nice to see it gaining a good audience after all these years.

Q. And finally, what's your favourite book that you've published through SHC?

A. The books are all my children, I can't have a favourite child. I love them all, dearly. If I didn't love them, I wouldn't have published them.

If you'd like to check out Sinister Horror Company and its other authors, you can check out the website here:


Home | sinisterhorrorco (

Thursday, August 18, 2022

How to Pick a Good Audiobook Narrator (Google Search)

 How to Become an Audiobook Narrator and Book Great Jobs

With programs like Audible, the world of audiobooks has expanded into a wider market. Far gone are the days where listening to your books was considered "cheating" or "not really reading." I for one, get most of my books in by listening to audiobooks, and I actually tend to prefer them over traditional reading. For one, it's more convenient. I can listen in the car on my way to work or while I'm out doing errands. For another, it's more fun. I like hearing someone do the characters' voices and convey the emotions of the scene. I feel no different in the way I imagine the story unfolding in my head, and it's easier on my eyes as a plus. So, for this month's Google search, I decided to delve into what does and does not makes a good audiobook narrator.

The Right Voice for the Right Book

Having the right kind of voice for the book being narrated is key. If the book is a romance novel coming from the viewpoint of a young Southern woman, you probably wouldn't want a scratchy voiced, middle-aged man with a Bronx accent reading it to you, however skilled he may be. Making sure the narrator's voice pitch, tone, and accent fits the story is the most important aspect in audiobook creation. Also, it is important that the voice is clear, easy to listen to, and without mispronunciations or stumbling. That can take you out of the story quickly.

Dialogue and Accents

Being able to do dialogue is very important to any audiobook. There needs to be a key distinction between characters' voices so as not to confuse the listener on who is talking. If a man is narrating a book and must do a woman's voice, he should soften his own while he is speaking her part. If it's a woman doing a man's part, she must lower hers. When a narrator is good at this, you hardly notice you are hearing the opposite gender speak for the character. Being able to do passable accents is also important. I recently listened to a book (which shall remain unnamed) where the main character was Australian, yet the narrator only went into the accent a few times and it became confusing and irritating. Narrators should be able to hold certain accents and speaking styles throughout the book so the character can be properly conveyed.


Read it Like You're There 

There is nothing worse than listening to an exciting, heart-pounding action scene being read by a flat, monotone voice. Narrators should read the story as if they are part of it. Emotion should be expressed even when no character is talking. The build up of emotions during a particularly intense or action packed scene should be obvious in the narrator's tone. If the characters are exploring a haunted house, I don't expect the narrator to sound chipper, I expect a sense of dread and foreboding to make the book come to life.


Quality Control

Most professional voice artists have the proper equipment and editing prowess to successfully create an audiobook, but there are some instances where you are listening to one, and then hear feedback on the mic, have one section that is too quiet, or you hear the narrator clear their throat before a line. This is distracting and can take away from the overall mood of the story. It's important that narrators listen back to their work to check for mistakes like this. 

All of this is important to me when it comes to selecting an audiobook narrator for my own work, and it also influences whether or not I am going to listen to one. Just as the wrong actor can ruin a movie, If I don't like the narrator's voice, it's going to be pretty hard for me to get into the story. Audiobooks are sort of a happy medium between TV and books. Though there is still some controversy in the literary world as to whether it constitutes "real" reading, I believe that no matter how you choose to take in an author's story, it is no less valid than another person's way.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Back-Jacket Hack Job: Flynn Nightsider and the Shards of Shadow

Hey everyone! Mary here with a Back-Jacket Hack Job! Been a while since I did one of these. Basically, for those who are unfamiliar, a Back-Jacket Hack Job is where we absolutely butcher the back cover description of a book. I have a habit of picking on my own books, and this time is no different. Back in 2018, shortly before I released my YA dark fantasy, Flynn Nightsider and the Edge of Evil, I made a hack job of its book description. Now, I've released the sequel, Flynn Nightsider and the Shards of Shadow, so here we go!



Poor, poor Flynn Nightsider. Like most teenaged protagonists of YA fantasy novels, he just wanted to save the world against impossible odds. But his author was mean to him and that didn't happen (if it had, this sequel wouldn't exist). So despite spending about 400 pages fighting supernatural beasts and evil government agents in a dystopian world ruled by totalitarian wizards, he's still got more work to do.

So, where did we leave off? Actually, I can't really spell it out here without spoiling Book 1. Let's just say that after Flynn joined the rebellion to restore freedom and all that, things didn't exactly go as planned. But being a good little YA hero, he's going to try again to save the world. Except it's harder this time because bad things happened at the end of Book 1. Oh, and the rebellion's MVP, teenaged monster slayer Aurelia "the Firedragon" Sun, is pissed off at him because some of those bad things were kind of his fault. 

Aurelia, who is decidedly not a good little YA heroine, has a few secrets, by the way. Also, don't expect to find her in the middle of some gooey love triangle. She'd jump out of my computer and slice me in half if I tried to write her into one.

Anyway, there's a big bad villain chasing Flynn, Aurelia, and the rest of our scrappy band of rebels, but again, I can't tell you who it is without spoiling Book 1. What can I tell you about this book? Basically nothing, except that there's more monster fighting and more running from evil government agents. 

And the few of you who actually read it might just reach through time and space and smack me upside the head when you get to the end.


Book 1 of the series, Flynn Nightsider and the Edge of Evil, is on sale for $0.99 on all e-book platforms through September 5! And in case you want to check out its sequel, here's the link to Flynn Nightsider and the Shards of Shadow!

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Everything's Gonna Be Alright

 Two weeks ago, my wife had a stroke. 

It was scary, of course. My beautiful, capable wife suddenly couldn’t put weight on her right foot or hold a cup in her right hand, her wit and verve suddenly lost in a brain fog. It wasn’t like the hospital soaps, where people dramatically grab the sides of their heads and then scream and collapse. She woke up in pain, and couldn’t stand up. 

The good news is that it was fairly minor as strokes go. They expect her to make a full (or close to full) recovery.

So every day for the past two weeks, from 11ish to 7ish, I’ve been at her bedside in the hospital, through her procession of roommates over the first week (including the lady who would just randomly shout broken spanish at her at all hours). I’ve been encouraging her in her rehab exercises. The biggest motivator in her getting strong enough to get out is her quest to escape from the terrible food. She is eagerly doing her hand exercises so she can throw her plate at the person who brings her the same terrible chicken leg four meals in a row. I’ve been trying to talk her out of this, but frankly I’m coming around to her point of view. 

I’ve been a production manager and a stage manager for live events for over two decades now. A big part of that is the ability to remain calm and collected while people are freaking out all around you, to literally be the eye of the hurricane. I used to tell my students that my stage manager’s philosophy was cribbed from the legendary Flyers coach, Fred Shero. He would write inspirational sayings on the locker room blackboard, such as “Be like the duck. Calm on the surface but paddling like hell underneath.”

I’ve been doing a lot of paddling. 

Before my dad passed away a couple years ago, he had been sick for a decade with lymphoma, gout, diabetes, and a number of ailments that would flare up and recede. My mom spent a lot of time in hospital rooms and trying to get information out of doctors. (Another way that movies lie to you: there’s no scene where the doctor sits you down and tells you what’s wrong with your loved one. You have to tackle one in the hallway and literally sit on them till they tell you something.) 

Since this started, she has been telling me to make sure I take care of myself. It’s easy enough to just eat crap because you’re too tired or distracted to cook. (In a quirky coincidence, the deli across the street from the hospital that sells ok coffee and decent pizza is called Strokos. Perhaps Canceros was too on the nose?) My mom said she did a lot of retail therapy, and I will admit to buying a spiffy new Hawaiian shirt or two on eBay. So I’ve been doing that. I’ve been watching a lot of Mets baseball (which for once had been a relatively stress-free experience), lots of comedy shows and action movies (Big thumbs up to Prey, Only Murders in the Building, and What We Do In The Shadows!),

But mainly, I’ve been centering myself with a trip to Wakanda. 

By coincidence, my wife had her stroke the week after the San Diego Comic Con, which was where they debuted the trailer for the Black Panther sequel, Wakanda Forever. 

The trailer is a lot. It features the funeral of King T’Challa, which is also a memorial to the late actor Chadwick Boseman. There are lots of tears from his family, Wakanda is under attack from Prince Namor, the Submariner, and Angela Bassett has the only line of spoken dialogue, where she screams about how she has lost her entire family. 

That would be plenty to tug at the heartstrings, but then we add the music. 

It starts off with No Woman, No Cry, as sung by the Nigerian singer Tems, which sets the mood. There’s a lot of sad women crying against sunsets. 

Good friends we have and good friends we've lost

Along the way

In this great future, you can't forget your past

So dry your tears, I say

As the trailer goes on, this song starts to blend into the song Alright by Kendrick Lamar, and the plaintive song grows more driving and propulsive until the conclusion of the trailer where the new Black Panther unsheathes his or her claws. 

Everything's gonna be alright

Everything's gonna be alright

Do you hear me, do you feel me? We gon' be alright 

Uh, and when I wake up

I got home the first night after the hospital, and I was feeling pretty raw. I hadn’t eaten all day. I still didn’t know what the  diagnosis was. Our dog, Dany, sat by the door waiting for Kim to come home. After aimlessly surfing through YouTube, I put on the trailer. I’d already seen it on the weekend, but I played it again.

And it just destroyed me and then built me up. The sadness of the first half, the percussive beat of the Kandrick riff, it just connected with what I had been keeping inside. 

Do you hear me, do you feel me? We gon' be alright 

How much I’d been white knuckling it the first day, trying to keep her calm, trying to get any information out of the doctors.

Do you hear me, do you feel me? We gon' be alright 

So every day that first week, I’d come home, walk Dany, heat up some chili from the big pot I made so I wouldn’t just eat Big Macs all week, and watch the Wakanda Forever trailer once or twice or four times. 

We gon' be alright 

After a week, Kim got moved to rehab. It was a quieter floor so she could get more rest. Her walking has improved daily, her hand has gotten stronger, her wit and her beautiful smile returned. Dany is even scheduled to come and visit her. She has a release day scheduled. The road ahead looks easier than it did ten days ago. 

I don’t know exactly why I latched onto the Wakanda Forever trailer. I can’t tell you why certain pieces of

art or pop culture hit so hard if you catch them at the right time. All I can tell you is that Wakanda has a

place in my heart thanks to this, and it helped me through a difficult time, and I thank it for that.

Victor Catano lives in New York City with his wonderful wife, Kim, and his adorable pughuaua, Danerys. When not writing, he works in live theater as a stage manager, production manager, and chaos coordinator. His hobbies include coffee, Broadway musicals, and complaining about the NY Mets and Philadelphia Eagles. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @vgcatano and find his books on Amazon

Monday, August 8, 2022

Book Review: Our Dead Girlfriend by Jon Athan

 "Our Dead Girlfriend" by Jon Athan 

💥Proceed with caution in regards to this read as it is an extreme horror novella and is NOT for the faint of heart💥

Daniel, Gavin, and brothers Connor and Tyler stumble across a dead body one day while walking through the woods. While all the boys are intrigued, Daniel shows serious interest and tosses out the idea of keeping her for themselves, making her their "girlfriend". At first the idea is exciting and new, molesting the body and keeping this secret is sort of fun. Until "Jenny" begins to decompose. Her decomposition brings everyone to their senses except Daniel. A series of snowballing events leads Daniel to feel the need to protect his love for Jenny. After years of abuse and bullying, this newfound love is empowering and exciting for him. What follows is a tale of horror and degradation, scenes of violence you'll remember in your sleep. 

This was a read that I know will stick with me for a while. This packed a serious punch to my psyche, the creep and shock factor is a solid 10+. The ending of this I most definitely didn't see coming and I am anxiously awaiting the anticipated sequel. I rate this a well deserved and well written solid 5 🌟 and if you haven't already read this then you need to!

Friday, August 5, 2022

Doing the Side-Hustle Shuffle
 Unless you're one of the privileged few who can afford life by making enough from writing alone, then you probably have a day job that pays the bills while you grind out manuscripts. The topic of author pay is trending right now on social media because of the antitrust enforcement hearings regarding Penguin Random House's pending acquisition of Simon & Schuster. The consolidation of that many big-name publishers could potentially create a monopoly (or something close to it) that further limits competition in the publishing marketplace, driving up profits for the publishers while driving down wages for authors and publishing industry drones. It could also potentially limit the number of books published overall and increase prices for the consumer.
11,500 Pounds Sterling converts to about 14000 Dollars, US

Making enough to pay the bills is an issue plaguing everyone today, not just authors, thanks to rampant inflation. Per a recent article from Politico: 

“U.S. inflation hit a new 40-year high [in May 2022] of 8.6 percent…Economists do expect inflation to ease this year, though not by very much. Some analysts have forecast that the inflation gauge the government reported Friday — the consumer price index — may drop below 7 percent by year’s end. In March, the year-over-year CPI reached 8.5 percent, the highest such rate since 1982.” --

It's no shock to anyone for me to say the cost of living has risen steeply, but for 99% of us, wages have not. The dollars we bring home in our pay checks (or royalty checks if we're lucky) aren't going very far, so many of us have gone looking for extra employment.

I'm lucky that my husband and I both work good jobs and live a relatively comfortable life, BUT we have felt the squeeze a bit more this year, particularly in our "fun money" budget. I'll preempt this next part by saying that I understand how extremely privileged it is of me to be able to talk about a "fun money" budget when there are people struggling with their "roof over our heads" and "food in our bellies" and "life-saving prescription medicines in our cabinet" budgets.

I put money aside in my retirement accounts like I'm supposed to, but I've found it a lot harder, lately, to put funds in my discretionary funds accounts. But the discretionary funds, in my opinion, is where the (excuse the lame cliché) spice of life is at. Maybe I do get up and go to work every day to pay the necessary bills--food, housing, medical--but it's life beyond the basic needs that really motivates me. The older I get, the more I think about reaching the end of my life, looking back, and finding some aspect of my limited time on Earth wanting. If we really get only one chance at this conscious experience, I want to do as much with it as possible. However, "doing as much as possible" is rarely free. Hell, it's rarely even affordable. I was also raised by parents who were fastidious and disciplined savers, and they've lived a bountiful retirement as their reward. My dad never took money out of our regular budget to pay for vacations (or at least not the more "extravagant" ones). Instead, he got a side job (usually running a paper route) to save up and pay for our trips. 

My husband and I are now quasi-empty nesters. Without the demands of child-rearing, we have more time and freedom to go and do things. Our to-do list is getting longer and longer, but our travel budget can't keep up with the demand. And, like my dad, I'd rather not defer from my retirement savings. Not when I have other options. So, rather than bemoaning my tighter budget, I've started on my quest for secondary employment to fill the fun-money pot faster. 

There are a lot of reasons I don't want to go with something like Uber or DoorDash. Besides their not-great reputations for fair employee treatment, I'm not interested in putting that much wear and tear on my personal vehicles (and also have you SEEN the cost of gas lately?? And yeah, I know, it's a tax write-off but taxes and I are enemies enough already). Instead, I'll probably fall back on my past experience in food service and catering to find extra work. I'm looking at some catering serving positions because they tend to fit my schedule and offer  a little bit of flexibility.

But before I made a real commitment, I decided to hit up Craigslist to see what gigs I could find. Turns out, I had some good luck. I'm working this weekend at a local Beer, Bourbon, and Barbecue festival (not sure what I'll be doing exactly, but probably taking tickets or serving food). Another week from now I'll be working at show for a big name stand-up comedian.

Free festivals and comedy shows AND I get paid? Getting money to do those "spice of life" things I mentioned?

Hey, maybe this side-hustle thing won't be so bad after all...

Monday, August 1, 2022

Scares That Care VIII Autopsy!

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

Hey, everybody!  I hope you're all having a good week.  I just got back from my favorite event of the year, Scares that Care in Williamsburg, Virginia, which means it's time for another convention recap!

Those of you who have been following my previous misadventures may recall that I've been trying to suss out what, exactly, constitutes the best period to attend this con.  I've done everything from the super abbreviated (Friday afternoon to Sunday morning) to the extra elongated (Wednesday afternoon to Monday afternoon.)  But I think I've finally hit on the Goldilocks period: Thursday afternoon to Monday morning.

I kept my long-suffering girlfriend Amy up half the night Wednesday creating this tremendous piece of art to celebrate HORSEMEN, the piece I put published for this convention in a limited, 50-copy run:

There is rope inside that balloon and the pot has been personalized with my name and the balloon with my title and even a cow skull logo.  Air Studio delivers as always!

Anyway, as I said, I departed Thursday morning and arrived in Williamsburg around 4:00 pm.  The desk clerk was absolutely enamored of my balloon, as is only fitting.  Thursday afternoon I put the finishing touches on my reading and Gross-Out Contest entry for the weekend, which I imagine must have freaked out my neighbors, since I memorized it by loud recitation.

In any case, I headed down to the bar and caught up with Armand Rosamilia and Tim Meyer, who I hadn't seen in ages, even before the pandemic.  I was most thrilled, though, when the Scaraoke kicked off.  For those of you who don't know me, I love to perform, and karaoke is one of my favorite things.  I hadn't really expected to get to perform, though, as even in the years when I've tried to get on stage I haven't been able to due to time restrictions.  So I hot-footed it to the stage and managed to slip in as the second entry.  Since I hadn't prepared myself for anything more complex, I performed my old standby, "Maggie May."

At that point, Brian Keene, who doesn't normally pop his head up on Thursdays due to con organizing obligations, had arrived, and I got to speak with him a bit as some other folks, like Rio Youers and Wile E. Young trickled in.  I also got to catch up with Zach Rosenberg, a newcomer to the industry who I met briefly at Authorcon in April.  Zach was a breath of fresh air in a room full of old farts, both metaphorically and literally.  I learned he's sold his first few shorts and is very close to nailing down a novel deal!  (More on Zach later.)

Wes Southard and his wife and baby showed up quite a bit later.  But we were already planning, as is now tradition apparently for a gang of people who live within two hours of Philadelphia, to go to Rick's cheesesteak shop for an extraordinarily early 11:00 am lunch.  (Although, as a government employee, I just call that "lunch.")  We caught up with Jeff Strand, Bridgett Nelson, Kenzie Jennings, Emily Young, and a few others at Rick's.  (As I've done in past con recaps, I'll avoid naming family and friends who are not public figures.  Please don't take offense.  I haven't forgotten any of your names, I just don't know whether you want them out there for public consumption.)

Then it was time for the miserable process of dragging four boxes of books from my car around the back of the hotel in the sweltering July heat.  I made the mistake of showering before setting up my booth, when in retrospect I probably should have waited until after.  Here you can see me sharing that healthy patina of perspiration with my table-mate Wile E. Young.  What you'll also find amusing about this picture is that Wile E. is so much taller than me I have to stretch my arm to the limit to catch his shoulder with my fingertips, while he very easily claps me wholly around the neck without even trying.

It was also nearly impossible to get anything behind the table around the setup of John Wayne Comunale, who was sitting catty-corner to us, but he made up for it the rest of the weekend with beer and jibes.  After the traditional blessing from Father Evil, we were off to the races!

Here we are attempting to take a picture with Bridgett Nelson, which the Emo Joker, I mean John Wayne, felt the need to photo bomb.

We may or may not have have gotten him back, though.

Sales on Friday were spectacular.  I never know how conventions are going to go, but I know that STC has never disappointed me yet.  I even had one copy of HORSEMEN walk right off as soon as an attendee looked at the balloon display!

Instead of getting pizza from the worst place on earth due to Wile E.'s Oklahoma-addled sense of taste as we have in years past, this year we got it from Wes Southard's favorite, a place called Mellow Mushroom.  I must have absolutely terrified the poor fellow at the hostess's booth when I walked in and said, "Three pies for Wesley, please" because he looked like a deer caught in the headlights.


"I have a pickup for three pies under Wesley."

That only made things worse, and now he gave me a look like I was threatening him with bodily harm.  He looked over to the pickup station with an "I don't know" shrug so I repeated it again.

The lady at the pickup station was practically beaming when she announced, "We don't serve pie here...only pizza!"

"Is this some kind of Virginia thing?" I asked.


"All right, well, there should be an order for three pizziola rondoles under the name Wesley, please."

I still can't figure out if they loved me or hated me there.  In the comments, please let me know: is "pie" a particularly regional way of referring to pizza?

Anyway, that night we caught up with Candace Nola and several moving pieces of her immense family (again, no names for civilians) before heading back to the lobby.  In a rarity for Scares, I got to bed early Friday night.

Saturday was the long day.  HORSEMEN moved like crazy, but I was even more surprised by how randomly everything else moved.  I think I sold two to three copies of each of my books, which is unusual.  Most conventions have a way of bringing one or the other of your pieces to the fore.  But I guess everyone was just in an esoteric kind of mood this particular weekend.

I want to thank everyone who stopped by.  If you have pictures, let me know, but the only one I've caught so far was with Paul Synuria. 

On Saturday at 2:45 pm I did a reading with Daniel Kraus, which was a great honor.  I think we must have been reading right during the thick of celebrity autograph signing and photo ops, because it was sparsely attended.  I did my usual nonsense, and Daniel read from his latest THE GHOST THAT ATE US, which sounds absolutely tremendous.  I was really glad to get to chat with him and tell him how much I enjoyed his work.

That night, in addition to the usual suspects, I got to have dinner with Amanda Headlee, who was great to have as a neighbor while vending.  We hooked Amanda up with a reading spot when Steven Shrewsbury was unable to attend, and her reading went smashingly.  After dinner I went back to my room to attempt to take a nap before the Gross-Out Contest, but my body was simply having none of it.  So I headed downstairs to chat with Jeff Strand, Bridgett Nelson, the greatest copy-editor on the planet Kyle Lybeck, and a few others.

The Gross-Out Contest has not been good to me the past few years.  I thought maybe, just maybe, performing without a script would endear me into the hearts of some of the judges.  But I made the damn fool mistake of being gracious and helping Jamie Benedi, who came late, get on the roster.  So because of my compassionate largesse Jamie won and I was reduced to receiving the Bunny of Shame or some shit.

Sunday everyone started to roll out early, but I was shocked by how good sales were for those of us who remained in the vendor's room.  Somer Canon, who debuted YOU'RE MINE (which I talked about here last month) at the convention even sold out!  And Phoebe from the Horror Show sold all of the dear departed Dave Thomas's book collection.  

Sunday evening turned out to be the best evening of the con.  I got to buttonhole Jay Wilburn, who is one of my favorite people in the world to talk to, for a solid hour or two.  Then, when the bar shut down I was able to hang out in the lobby and share the beauty that is Old Crow with Brian, John Wayne, Kristopher Triana, John Urbancik, Anton Cancre, and a few others.  

And that was my Scares that Care VIII!  If you want one of the remaining copies of HORSEMEN, you can contact me through my personal blog, but you'll have to do it soon, because this is a limited release.

What about you?  Did you attend STC this year?  What was your experience like?  Let me know in the comments below!
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