Monday, January 30, 2023

I tried to get an AI to write my book. It didn't go well.

Sometimes, I feel like an AI. Taking inputs from the world around you and regurgitating what you think your audience wants to see and hear - that's, like, every day at my corporate day job. Especially since I work in marketing. I can't tell you the amount of buzzword-laden nonsense I've had to pump out.

So far from being afraid of being replaced by an AI, I say, let the machines have that crap. I don't wanna do it anyway.

Something else I don't really like doing is writing first drafts. Nothing scares me more than a blank page, and often, I wish I could just do the outlining / plotting part and then have someone - or something - else write the first draft for me. Then I'd rewrite it all in revisions, which, unlike a lot of writers, I actually like doing more than writing the first draft. It's like, give me something to work with, you know?

I've spent the past month or so trying to come up with a plot for the third and final book in my Flynn Nightsider dark fantasy series, and I've spent the bulk of it completely, utterly, thoroughly stuck. Turns out, it's hard to end a saga you started working on 11 years ago when you've changed your mind about the whole series' arc and purposely wrote yourself into a hole after Book 2 because it was the most interesting ending you could think of. 

While I was banging my head against the proverbial wall trying to figure out this damn book, I kept seeing article after article after article about how good ChatGPT, the AI text generator, is getting, and how it's going to replace us.

Okay, fine, I thought. I can't seem to get this book written anyway. Let's see what the machine can do.

I started by feeding it the most basic information about where I left off with Flynn: that he's a teenaged boy looking to take down an immortal wizard of sorts (since I didn't know if I could train the AI to learn all my little world-building details, I left it at that). Then I told it a few other details, told it that I needed a plot twist, and let it come up with a synopsis then write the first few paragraphs of the story in the style of a young adult novel.

Yeah, here's what I got:

I stand before the towering castle gates, my heart pounding with fear and determination. I know that inside lies Zoltar the Eternal, the immortal wizard who started the war and took my family from me. But I also know that I am the only one who can stop him and put an end to his evil plans. I've heard stories of his immense power and his ability to manipulate death and souls. I take a deep breath and steel myself for what's to come. I am ready to face Zoltar and bring an end to this war, no matter what the cost.

I push open the heavy castle doors and step inside. The grand hall is empty, but I can feel eyes on me, watching my every move. I call out "Zoltar! I've come to stop you and put an end to your evil plans!" My voice echoes through the hall, but there is no response. I start to walk deeper into the castle, my hand on the hilt of my sword, ready for any attack. Suddenly, a voice booms out "You are brave, young one, but you are also foolish." I turn to see Zoltar standing at the end of the hall, a smirk on his face. "You think you can defeat me? I have been alive for centuries and have defeated greater warriors than you." I take a deep breath and reply "Maybe so, but I have something you don't, a reason to fight. I will stop you, for my family and for the people of this land."


Yeah, halfway through laughing my head off, I told it to introduce a female character (a stand-in for Aurelia) just to see what would happen. Here we go...

I square my shoulders and prepare for battle, but then I hear a voice behind me. "Wait, Flynn! You can't fight him alone!" I turn to see a young woman, her hair pulled back in a ponytail and her eyes fierce with determination. "I'm here to help you," she says. "My name is Lila, and I'm a powerful sorcerer. Together, we can defeat Zoltar and end this war." I nod, grateful for the unexpected help. "Thank you, Lila," I say. "I'm ready when you are." Lila nods and we both start to walk towards Zoltar, ready to face him together.

"I have my own reasons for wanting to defeat Zoltar," Lila said, as we approached the immortal wizard. "My family was also taken by this war, and I won't rest until justice is served." I nod, understanding her pain and determination. "But that's not all," she continued. "I've been studying the ancient texts and I discovered that Zoltar is not just a tyrant, he is also the key to unlocking a greater evil that threatens to destroy the world. We have to stop him, not just for our own sake, but for the sake of all humanity." I look at Lila, impressed by her knowledge and determination. "Then we'll do this together," I said, gripping my sword tighter. "We'll stop Zoltar and save the world."

Wow. Such compelling writing. I told it to continue and describe the characters:

As we stood before Zoltar, I took a moment to take in my surroundings. The castle was grand and imposing, but it was also dark and foreboding. Zoltar himself was a tall, thin figure, with long white hair and piercing blue eyes. He wore a long black robe and held a staff that seemed to glow with an otherworldly light. I couldn't help but feel a shiver run down my spine as I looked at him. I may have been a young man, with a strong build and short brown hair, but I knew that I couldn't take him on alone. I was grateful to have Lila by my side, her small frame belied her powerful abilities as a sorcerer. Together, we would defeat Zoltar and bring an end to his reign of terror.

Without hesitation, Lila and I charged towards Zoltar, ready to engage in battle. Zoltar sneered at us and raised his staff, unleashing a powerful blast of energy. Lila quickly conjured a shield to protect us and I lunged forward with my sword. Zoltar was fast and powerful, but we were determined and fought with all our might. We exchanged blows and spells, each one trying to gain the upper hand. The battle was intense and it seemed as if it would never end, but we kept fighting, knowing that the fate of the world rested on our shoulders.

Still literally LOLing, I told it to introduce a plot twist:

Just as we thought we had the upper hand, Zoltar revealed his true intentions. "You fools!" he exclaimed. "You think you can defeat me? I am just a pawn in this game, a tool for the true enemy." With these words, he disappeared in a puff of smoke, leaving us confused and bewildered. Lila and I looked at each other, trying to process this revelation. "What does he mean?" Lila asked, her voice filled with uncertainty. "I don't know," I replied, "but we have to find out. We have to discover who the true enemy is and stop them before it's too late." With renewed determination, we set off on a new quest, not knowing what challenges and twists lay ahead.

Riveting fiction, right?? Wellp, this exercise was useful in one way: I'm 125% sure that whatever I come up with will be better than the tale of ZOLTAR THE ETERNAL.

Just for fun, I also told the AI to give me a title and back cover blurb. Who wouldn't read this masterpiece???

Are you ready for an epic adventure filled with action, mystery, and betrayal? "The Immortal's Gambit" takes you on a journey with Flynn, a young warrior who joins the army to seek revenge for the loss of his family. But as he rises through the ranks, he discovers that the war is not what it seems and the immortal wizard who started it holds the key to a greater evil that threatens to destroy the world. Together with a powerful sorcerer, Lila, Flynn embarks on a quest to uncover the truth and stop the true enemy before it's too late. Get ready for a thrilling ride filled with magic, battles, and unexpected twists that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Don't miss "The Immortal's Gambit" a tale of war, betrayal and redemption.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

When Well-Intentioned Diversity Falls Short

I recently received a promotional email from Disney+. Which isn't anything out of the ordinary. I get a couple a week promoting their new releases. However, the one I got this week made me a little irritated and made me want to talk about corporate attempts at promoting diversity.

In the past few years, and especially since the murder of George Floyd, companies have been trying to highlight all the ways they're promoting diverse voices and viewpoints. Which is great! We need to hear from new and different and underrepresented voices! However, too often these come off as shameless corporate back-patting and just running down a checklist.

Since a middle-aged white guy talking about diversity is, well, not ideal, I turned to my friend and fellow author, Mary Fan to discuss what make a good project with a diverse cast and what needs to happen for it to rise above corporate platitudes.

VICTOR: So the event that made me want to talk about this topic: I got an email from Disney+ promoting all the great content they had to celebrate Lunar New Year with. And it was so sadly predictable.

I asked you to blindly guess what the films were, and you got them 100% correct: Turning Red, Shang-Chi, and live action Mulan. All of which were made in the last three years, and one of which (Mulan) is terrible. Which struck me as the lamest kind of PR approach to diversity. "Look! We have three whole movies!!!" At the same time, that's three more than they had a decade ago.

So my question to you, what can Disney (and other studios) do to showcase diversity without making it feel like they're checking a box on a list?

MARY FAN: What makes this list particularly hilarious is that none of them have anything to do with Lunar New Year. You wouldn’t see them promoting a Christmas movie list with random movies that take place in England or Germany or something — they promote movies that take place at and center on Christmas! In the case of wanting to promote Lunar New Year but having no movies, well, they’re Disney. They could have commissioned a short or two from new Asian filmmakers

VICTOR That would seem like the least they could do. And I think Turning Red is a fantastic movie! Easily the best Pixar film since Coco! But like you said, nothing to do with Lunar New Year. And they have those Pixar Academy short films! This should be easy!

MARYExactly! And in fact it’s kind of cluelessly insulting to showcase generally Asian movies for LNY because it implies that these movies are only worth thinking about on LNY. If it were Asian History Month it’d be a different story. Not to mention, lots of Asian countries celebrate Lunar New Year (which is why that’s the common term now instead of Chinese New Year) yet all the movies they showcase are Chinese. Really, Disney!

VICTOR: This is what I mean by “checking boxes” when it comes to diversity. Disney did a similar thing when it was AAPI Month - Lilo! Moana! And, uh, other stuff! And it takes away from those movies. Turning Red is great! Written and directed by a Chinese-Canadian woman, it’s a wonderful film. But it just becomes a box that gets clicked for an e-mail campaign.

Another thing that made me think about this was the new cartoon on HBO Max, Velma. This is based on the Scooby Doo cartoons, showing how the gang met in high school. One of the twists is that they’ve changed the races of the leads. Velma is now South Asian, Daphne is Chinese (but still with natural red hair), and Shaggy is black.

But the thing is, this seems solely designed to get outrage clicks from angry fans! There’s nothing in the show that would indicate how this could change or affect the character, it’s literally like they clicked a color menu. And that’s all the thought they put into it

MARYOh Velma. I haven’t watched the show but it does feel like they’re ticking boxes. Like, I’m all for “take this classic white character and make them a person of color”, but it should have some cultural context, maybe? Also based on all the commentary the show makes a lot of anti-woke “jokes” seemed to cater to right wing humor, which confuses me. Like, are you just trying to give everyone a common enemy?

VICTOR: Jokes is giving Velma too much credit. I reviewed Velma for another website and i panned it, but I tried to make a point about how I didn't like it because the jokes were awful.

The “diversity"just feels so extraneous to the show. Like there is no reason why Velma is South Asian now, it adds nothing to the plot except for a talking point for angry YouTubers Like I think there could be something interesting in making Scooby Gang different races and seeing how that impacts their ability to solve mysteries. But Velma doesn’t really care about that

MARY: I’m somewhat torn about premises like that. Like, on the one hand simply coloring in your cast feels cheap. But on the other, characters and creators of color shouldn't have to be tied to certain expectations. Like, I’m Chinese American, but I don’t necessarily want to write about the immigrant experience or whatever. Sometimes I just want to write about kids solving mysteries who happen to be Asian like me.

In the case of Velma specifically though I think there was a lost opportunity. You’re tying these non-white characters and creators to a legacy originated by white creators about white characters. From a business perspective I get that reimagining existing stories is an easier sell. But also you’re depriving these creators the chance to develop something new, and make characters who are truly their own.

At the same time, I get that it’s exciting to see a familiar character reimagined. Like how people call for a Black James Bond or female Sherlock Holmes. Characters that reach icon status start feeling more like myths than something with a specific canon. Like how stories such as King Arthur have been reimagined so many times before modern sensitivities had anything to do with it.

VICTOR: That very nicely leads into my next topic. I recently saw a production of 1776 on Broadway. If you’re not familiar, this is a Broadway musical about the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The cast is (usually) almost entirely white men playing the founding fathers. The twist here was that the cast was all female, trans and non-binary actors of various races playing the parts

This sounds great! Hamilton did something similar and that is a fantastic show! But, unlike Hamilton, this wasn’t an original musical, it was just the actors plunked into the old script and calling it a day. So, there was a black woman playing John Adams, but she was saying the same lines that Brent Spiner did when I saw the show in 1997. Plus the staging was extremely flat and static

Roundabout is a great company, and I’m sure they had the best of intentions but it just did not work at all

MARY: I remember that show! Hmm this is another topic I’m somewhat torn about. On the one hand, there are some great roles out there written for white men that other performers want to play. Like, who could deny Norm Lewis the chance to play the Phantom or Javert? Or heck, I want to play the Phantom or Javert — just let me take it up a fifth.

I also recall they revived Sweeney Todd once with a woman as Pirelli. But I guess it starts to feel performative when you make a point of gender and/or race swapping your entire cast without adding anything else (come to think of it, a Black Phantom or Javert does add some commentary to both those roles whether intentional or not).
And hey, just because you did an admirable thing in giving marginalized actors good roles doesn’t mean the production can’t stink.

VICTOR: Exactly! And I am pretty sure some African American actors have played Erik. I think I remember Robert Guillaume doing it. And Phantom cast their first black Christine Daae just before they announced their closing.

Fantasy is particularly bad about diversity since so much comes from that Medieval European template. There were fans angry about having one of the houses in the Game of Thrones spin off be black because it wasn’t “historically accurate.” News flash: if you have dragons and zombies the show isn’t concerned about history But it worked absolutely fine in the show!

MARY: Oh yeah, I remember all the hullabaloo about casting a Black Guinevere in Merlin back in the day. Or how those same types were upset about a Black Stormtrooper in Star Wars (they really have no excuses there…)
What these types like to yell about is how entertainment should just cast the best actor for the role. It never occurs to them that the best actor might not be white… Hey, Norm Lewis is my all-time favorite Javert. Before I saw him in the role, I used to detest that character lol

VICTOR: I could go on about this topic for ages, but I’ve kept you too long already. Any final thoughts on diversity done well or examples to follow?

MARY: Hah, we could talk about this forever! There’s so many layers and perspectives that it’s impossible to have one “right” answer. Personally I like the kind of color conscious casting they do in shows like Game of Thrones or Rings of Power or the Little Mermaid, where they cast actors of color in traditionally white roles though the mythology it’s based on is European (and in the case of Rings of Power, penned by someone who clearly reflects the race biases of his time). These stories have become so widespread and admired now, with fans from all backgrounds, and it’s great to give them some representation.
And then there are the utopian shows like every Star Trek ever, each trying to boldly go where no (or few) directors have gone before. It’s a hopelessly optimistic view but sometimes it’s nice. And of course we do need culturally specific entertainment, like the movies that started this whole conversation (Turning Red, Shang Chi, Mulan). We need lots and lots of it, and where there’s a gap, those with power should use their vast resources to fill it. So when you want to send out a Lunar New Year email, you have some actual Lunar New Year stories to showcase.

My thanks to Mary for joining me this week. And a festive Lunar New Year to all who celebrate.

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, January 23, 2023

Book Review: Hate to Feel by Chandler Morrison

 "Hate To Feel" by Chandler Morrison 

"And nothing can pull me out of it. No one extends a hand. All the others are too busy casually splashing about in their wading pools, with no fear of drowing. Yet, here I am, drowning every day." 

Derek Diver is a data review specialist whose had his fair share of bad luck with love, but something about Scarlet seems different, IS different. The only problem is his girlfriend Amy that he no longer wants to be with, and Scarlet's super douche of a husband Bryce. 

When things escalate to a full fledged love affair and then unexpectedly crash and burn, there are catastrophic consequences to Derek's life and the people in his life as well.

"When people express concern over your well-being, it's very rarely really genuine. They just want a reason to play amateur psudeo-psychologist. It's ego masturbation." 

"You're always looking for a reason to fall apart."

This book was absolutely heart aching. While I acknowledge Derek is a psychopath and one hundred percent wrong for the things he chose to do, his feelings of suffering and loneliness and hate were all valid. Morrison has written this story in such a way that he digs deep at your emotions, makes you hate those feelings that rise to the surface when you find a passage you whole heartedly relate to. I felt many times while reading that Morrison stole a page from my own life and made it his own. The topics of sexual abuse/trauma, drug use, and lost relationships all resonated deep with inside of me. The chapter that Tamara details the relationship between her and her uncle while speaking to Derek ate away at my core. I kept saying, "Chandler, how on earth could you ever know these things?" Things so deep and raw that I almost couldn't admit the similarities. 

"Maybe existence is just something to be suffered, not relished."

The passages between Derek and Jack, especially those about love and drug use were SO hard to get through. Having experienced my own profound loss of relationships and drug use, I couldn't agree more with so much that was said. Love is the ultimate sacrifice of self; you give away every piece of you to someone in hopes they won't stomp the beauty out of your soul and most times you just lose yourself along the way while they never appreciate any of you at all. Derek absolutely caused some, if not most,  of his own pain. The same can be said about us as people as well though. I can very much see and understand how all those hurtful and resentful things caused the train reaction we get from this book and from Derek's character. And who knows, maybe that's what Morrison wanted all along, for us to hate to feel.

"I'm a miserable, coke-addled, pill-popping alcoholic. I'm living proof. And I use the word 'living very loosely. So, no, Vera didn't do this to me. But my love for her did." 

Morrison doesn't get nearly enough love for this book. I know he's known for his incredibly controversial "Dead Inside", and it's an amazing book, no shade there. BUT Morrison is MORE than THE SCENE in the abortion clinic. His writing is magical and profound. It's life changing. And this book is life changing. This is the book to read, this is the book that needs talked about as much as THE SCENE. Definitely read "Dead Inside", but maybe start here first. See what Morrison is really about, because this story is deep. There are no satiric's in this story. This is real life and it fucking hurts. 

"Why is it the things that give us the most pleasure, the things that make life manageable, aren't sustainable?"

I wondered A LOT while I read this how much of the story and setting was based off Morrison's own experiences living in L.A. I find it hard to believe some of this isn't a piece of his own heart beating off the paper, allowing us a glimpse into his own soul. If it's not, I don't want to know. 

"But beauty isn't everything, Derek, and that's all you really have. 

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Hobbies for The Sake of Joy

Today's post is brought to you by this tweet from one of my favorite authors:

This isn't the first time I've seen this bit of advice go around the internet, but it is the first time it has inspired me to write a post. That may have to do with my newest (going strong for over a year now, so "new" isn't exactly accurate) obsession for crochet, and how I've found myself eager to protect this hobby from the temptation or the social pressure to figure out how to turn it into a side-hustle for money.


I feel like I've talked about this offhandedly or abstractly in past posts, but today I wanted to talk about 
My small collection of Chef's Coats from a past life
it more directly, starting with my passion for cooking as a young person. I came from a line of talented home-cooks/bakers. The women in my family were skilled in the kitchen, which imparted in me a great love of food. When I started attending middle-school and got home on the bus early in the afternoon, my Dad suggested I cook dinner, daily, for the family, since I had the time. Some kids might've hated that chore, but I was excited for the opportunity. I loved cooking!.

Eventually my love of home cooking inspired me to be a chef. So, I threw myself into pursuing that goal. I thought about attending culinary school , but I ultimately compromised with my more practical and life-experienced father and pursued a B.S. in Food Service Management. I worked in almost every aspect of food service at some point--though my favorite place was always in the kitchen--for over 15 years.

There came a point, however, when the practicalities of adult life made a foodservice career less desirable. The unsteady pay, the irregular hours, the time away from my family, the physical demands. Most of all the burn out. What had been a hobby full of joy became decidedly less so when I was subject to the demands of both the customer, superior management, and the bottom line. Making a new hors-d'Ĺ“uvre was fun the first two or three times, but after the hundredth or thousandth time, I was sick of it. It was no longer fun, but a tedious chore. When keeping the lights on and a roof over my head depended on making money from something I used to do just for fun, I found myself resenting it. That was no way to live.

When I finally quit cooking professionally, I looked forward to regaining my joy of home-cooking that I knew would come from doing it only to please myself or my loved ones. Food is still one of my loudest love languages.

While I have gone on to find a career I enjoy doing and that I don't resent (probably because it was never a beloved hobby), I still made the mistake of monetizing hobbies a few other times before I learned my lesson (I hope). It's a little hard to admit, but that's basically what has happened with my writing career, particularly when it came to *publishing*. I've loved writing ever since I was a kid, but I didn't make a serious thing of it until about 10 years ago. Until then, I had written solely for my own pleasure. Once I started publishing short stories, and then my first novel in 2015, I threw myself into the hustle. And for a while it was fun. Now... not so much. I'm definitely experiencing burn out, and when I think of writing another book, I feel a little dread at the thought of what comes after that: the querying (IF I decide to go that route. Or maybe I'll just stick my finger in a light socket for a good time instead), the editing, the begging for reviews, the ads, the promotions, the shilling on social media...
Midnight Burning (2015) was my first published novel

I think there will be a day down the road where I can get back to writing for the joy of it again, but I'm not there yet.

So, as you may know, I've been putting a lot of my creative energy into crochet, lately. Or "yarnin'" as my husband calls it. So far I've been quite satisfied with making things that I want and then foisting them onto my friends, who have been nice enough to at least pretend they are happy to receive my yarn offerings. Once in while I catch myself thinking about creating an Etsy store or an Instagram account to promote my stuff. 

A pair of reindeer I made and gave away as Christmas gifts this year.

Then a very loud voice in my head will say, "NO! Haven't you learned your lesson yet?"(Besides the practical fact that it would be impossible to monetarily recoup, in dollars-per-hour, the amount of time it takes me to make something.) So, for now, I'll protect the joy of my newest hobby. I'll make what I want, when I want, and continue foisting it on friends and family. Until they cry for mercy, that is.

Monday, January 16, 2023

New Kindle Vella Release - WALIAFPSNTTTOFG

Another quality post brought to you by Steve! 

Hey, kids!  Happy MLK Day.  For the first time in what seems like many, many years, judging by a brief look over my past posts I seem to be relatively optimistic for the future this MLK Day. I can't say all fear for the destruction of civic society has abated, but I think things are going in somewhat the right direction again after a long, long time in the wilds.

That being said, perhaps this is an appropriate day for me to share my latest project, which was definitely written during those last few years while wallowing in existential despair:


This story is kind of an analysis of my lifelong fascination with the very banal people who don't even seem to notice as they compromise their lives away into monsterhood.  Which is not an indictment, per se.  I've certainly done it myself on at least two occasions.  And more of you than I guess would care to admit probably have as well.  And who is the titular fucking guy responsible for our collective woe? Well, you'll have to read it to find out, although that's a bit disingenuous, because you'll really have to read between the lines to actually find out.

In any case, now is definitely the time to check this out because three episodes are up as of yesterday and they are all free to read. This story has been my first attempt dipping my toes into the world of Kindle Vella and I should say that the jury is still out.  I guess I won't really know until next week, when the first "paid" episode comes out, how interested people are in continuing this story.  But for now, it certainly can't hurt you to go check it out for free.

I've got a ton of irons in the fire right now, so I will just let this one be for now and talk to you all real soon with tons more cool news.  Thanks, everybody!

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Every Story Is A Moment In Time

I am writing this after having just watched Everything, Everywhere, All at Once. For those who haven't seen it yet, this is arguably one of the best films of last year. One of those once-in-a-lifetime movies that defies everything that's "supposed to be a story". 

It's a nonsensical tale that begins as a family drama, then becomes a sci-fi/martial arts story about failure, existentialism, and family feuding, as Everything Everywhere sees a multidimensional black hole unraveling at the center of the multiverse. Though the hows, whys, and who's after it, all center around the family drama.

Told from the perspective of Evelyn, an Asian mother and the movie's unlikely heroine, one fateful day, while having to pay back money owed to the IRS for the Wang family laundromat business, Evelyn's reality fragments mid-meeting, with her husband from another reality arriving essentially revealing that she's the chosen one meant to bring balance to the universe.

Alternate reality Evelyns can range from being a successful martial artist actress, to a teppanyaki chef, and then, hot dog-fingered lesbian. Getting to synch with an ability means tapping into improbability, making it pretty out there as a film, with lots of funny acted moments, but also, a lot of heartfelt diatribes. For every moral lesson of finding happiness in the beauty of the now, there is also a dildo-slapping butt-plug-bearing scene of battle-ready stupidity. Which is kind of the point of everything everywhere all at once.

I spent a long time avoiding this movie because I knew whenever I finished it... I'd be forever changed.

The best way I can describe the movie is that it's about learning how to be okay with yourself in the now, which I was not super ready to handle.

Acknowledging this as someone who's likewise, felt like he never lived up to his own potential, I think what works so well about the movie is how most of it is framed into little chunks of time.

Histories, moments, and missteps frame every alternate's characterization and abilities. All focused on moments of Evelyn's life defined by her relationship with her family. 

I relate to this a little too much... I think most audience members do.

See, when I was younger I was really into superheroes. This idea of right and wrong, saving the day and making everyone happy. I liked to pretend to be an adult, and what that meant to young, dufus, Christian, was that you had to expose yourself to traumatic things.

I was particularly into Batman the animated series as a child. My older cousins really liked how 'adult' and 'grown' up the Dark Knight was, and the movie: Batman Returns, was one of the first VHS tapes I think most of my extended family members bought in the late 80s and early 90s. A first purchase owned by every first-generation Filipino American parent...

The first big superhero... for everyone.

Then, in college, I read a lot about existentialism. Superheroes, while a childlike interest, were less of a concern to me as I'd begun the journey of discovering who I was supposed to be in life. I'd begun with cognitive psychology, but soon after, moved into personality theory and abnormal psychology. Where Martin Heidegger's Being In Time became sort of this template of what exactly that meant to be in the moment...

Philosophy was something I obsessed over into my early 20s. A passion that oddly, came back into superhero comics once I began reading Neil Gaiman's Sandman... though that's a story I've already shared here. Soon after, I sort of studied more about writing and became obsessed with the hero's journey, which is, by all means, is rooted in almost every superhero story.

All of these moments. Ideas that the surrounding worlds of experience, the things that built and shaped you into the continuously experiencing being. The I, that in turn experiences the world in this exact moment in time, making decisions, influenced by culture, reflecting and reacting and engaging in an endless dance of what it means... to just be.

Culture changes. Narratives shift. The classics of today's reform become rehashed stories told a million times over. Every movie is just Star Wars. Your influences will disappoint you. Who would have thought J.K. Rowling would turn out to be such a horrible person? Or that my own cinema hero in my 20s, Woody Allen - whose works I obsessed over and studied religiously as they implemented existential psychology, would likewise prove to be a horrible human.

They say never meet your heroes...

I say these things not to be cruel but to adapt. To stress all of these weird little moments. These changes. Things that were important then and the things that have become important now... Like family, and friends, and living a balanced life.

Every story of finding yourself is a piece of that time of the here and now. Moments encapsulated forever in the art that the words, ideals, and beliefs of the person come out to be.

It's Everything. Everywhere. All at once.

And that's a beautifully tragic thing.

Monday, January 9, 2023


Dark Greetings, everyone!

Normally, I like to talk about other people's work here - books, TV, film, basically whatever writing has inspired or entertained me in an above average kind of way. To that end, last August, I started a review website called Happy Goat Horror. I thought I'd kick off this year by talking about this - my own project, which funnily enough, is a promotional venture for other people's projects.

On the website, we cover anything that comes under the umbrella of Horror. So far, the vast majority of our posts have been book reviews mostly for indie authors. We plan to expand into film reviews, and also game reviews (we have a YouTube channel ready to go for both of these, and are currently working on content).

Where books are concerned, our focus will remain primarly on the indie horror community. We'll talk about horror from mainstream publishing, if one of us reads something we want to discuss, or something is sent our way as a request, but indie horror is where our dark, bleating hearts are.

I'd like to share why I started this project, and why it means so much to me.

Seven or eight years ago now, I started submitting horror stories to anthologies. They were all unpaid, "for-the-love" projects and I couldn't have cared less about being financially compensated for my efforts - I just wanted to be published. I had no real idea how the indie book community worked - I didn't know how to find submission calls, I didn't know there were groups dedicted to horror on social media - hell, I didn't even know there were such things as small/indie presses. I stumbled upon all of this after using my good pal Google, and coming across a website called Spinetinglers, where five stories per month were published on the website, chosen from submissions sent in by members. I signed up and started submitting, with nothing but rejections for a while, and then I cracked the top 5. Eventually, I cracked the top 3 once or twice (and if you make it to the top 3, you get paid!).

I went from that to charity anthologies, paid anthologies, and going to horror/writing conventions. I discovered indie horror books and started buying them. I fell in love with one particular press - Sinister Horror Company - whose books I always enjoyed, were always immaculately presented and edited, and were of consistent high quality. I found my first indie author that would sit alongside Stephen King as one of my favourite authors of all time - Kit Power. I discovered and started writing reviews and articles for Gingernuts of Horror, and Spooky Isles.

I submitted a story to Sinister Horror Company, hoping it might fit an anthology or collection of some kind, but they had nothing lined up for which it was suited. However, they did like the story and asked if I'd like to work with them to release it as an ebook. I was thrilled. After that, they asked me if I'd be interested in publishing a short story collection through them - an offer which I found profusely flattering.

I was new to everyone, really, when my collection was released, but the support I had from the indie horror community - most of whom I'd never met in person, many of whom I'd never even talked to on social media - was overwhelming. Jim (GNOH) had it reviewed on the site, people were sharing it across FB, other authors messaged me to congratulate on my first paperback release - honestly, these people were more proud and supportive of me than most of my real-life friends (I said most, not all! I love and appreciate you, my real-life friends).

Fast-forward a few years and many of these Internet authors who I knew by name and book only have become very dear to me, and some of my closest friends.

I was on an upward trajectory, writing-wise, and nothing could stop me. I was receiving a lot more acceptances when submitting work, and had started getting approached by other presses. But somehow, and I really don't know why, I managed to lose complete confidence in myself. I stopped submitting work.

Fast-forward a little further, and I started working as a personal assistant for Stephen Kozeniewski, an author who I was somewhat familiar with because I'd once reviewed an anthology he'd contributed to and had been absolutely blown away by his story. I do the usual sort of admin things, but the things I have learned about the writing world from him are invaluable. Quite frankly, I have come to view him as some sort of Author Jedi Master. He is Yoda.

Stephen is an extremely kind and humble person and if he reads this, I'm sure this lament about his character will embarass him, but credit where it's due, and it's due in abundance here. He has taught me how to approach reviewers (and this was a shock to my system because as obvious as it is to seek out reviewers, it had never even occured to me to be proactive about this with my own work), how to construct agent queries, and he's introduced me to book awards, websites, competitions, opportunities, and new people.

One of the first things he talked to me about was that book bloggers/reviewers are to be respected always, because whether they give you a good or bad review, they have done you a favour by accepting your review request. Even if they hated your book, you ought to be appreciative for their time and hard work. I've met some wonderful book reviewers during my time as Stephen's assistant, and it's because of working for him that I've learned how invaluable they are to indie authors. Word of mouth is absolutely everything when you don't have the benefit of a mainstream publisher's marketing budget behind you.

It's the culmination of all I've told you that brought me to the decision to start my own review site. I love reading, I love horror, and I love the community that has raised, praised, accepted, and befriended me. I wanted to do something to promote the work I love in a bigger way than leaving reviews on amazon (very important - please do this!). So I created Happy Goat Horror, set up Facebook and Instagram accounts, and started writing reviews.

I did not expect the influx of requests that we received almost immediately, but we welcome them all (and WILL get around to them - just give us time)!

Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised by the amount of support my community gave me with this project, but I was - they were promoting the hell out of the website for me without being asked or asking for anything back. I don't care what people think of horror fans - these people are the loveliest, most enthusiastic group on the planet.

So here's where I'll get cringe-worthy, because here's where I'd like to acknowledge the people directly responsible for giving me the confidence to put Happy Goat Horror together. I really love the site and my goat team - it takes an extraordinary amount of my time but I LOVE it. I'm proud to be able to promote wonderful authors and books. And I would not have the time or know-how if it wasn't for Stephen Kozeniewski - an unbelievably cool person to work for who trusts me to manage my own time (and therefore affords me the time to fit in consistent hours on my own passions), and is always willing to give me his time to answer questions, give me advice, and encourage me in my own writing. He's an unbelievably hard-working person who deserves every book sale, every glowing review, and every success. He's an inspirational person to work for, and I respect him immensely as both a person and an author.

David of Spooky Isles, and Jim of GNOH are people who took a chance in allowing me to contribute to their websites, and gave me the strange idea that, actually, people might be interested in my thoughts on things.

Justin Park of Sinister Horror Company has become a close and valued friend over the years, who is also the epitome of hard work and dedication, and an excellent writer. He just will not let me give up on writing, and it's largely because of his unending and unwavering encouragement and advice that I spent 2020 writing my first novel (no it's not good enough to publish, but I'm okay with that!). He got me back into the swing of things. I'm really proud to be among Sinister Horror Company's authors, and I want to give back to it as much as I can.

Kit Power - the man, the writer, the legend. Or at least he will be by the end of his writing career. I swear, if it's the last thing I do, I will get more people reading his work. I don't understand why more people aren't... why EVERYONE ON THE PLANET isn't. I'm so obsessed with his books that it sincerely infuriates me that he isn't known and beloved worldwide. It's just inconceivable to me that he isn't a household name yet. Writing amazon reviews and telling my friends about him didn't seem good enough, and I swear it was this weird fixation I have with his books that was on my mind as I was building the site. I don't know how exactly I thought my website was going to aid his career at all, but the goats will never give up on this mission.

And to the indie horror community in general - you inspire me, entertain me, and I love you all dearly.

I think I've rambled quite enough.

Uhhhhhhhh, bye.

Thursday, January 5, 2023

My Writing Plans for 2023

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Another year has passed, and the slate has been wiped (mostly) clean. So, it's time for those resolutions I've been putting off to kick in. First on the agenda is to uh...write.

I've been slacking a lot lately, partly because of S.A.D., partly because of my other responsibilities, but mainly out of laziness. I haven't had the discipline or the will to write much in the last few months. Every year, I try to publish at least one book. With 'Pendulum' coming out last year, I now have no more excuses to put off the book I've been working on off and on for the last two years. So, that's the first and most important goal I have for 2023.

After that, I'm pleased to announce I will be co-writing a book with my friend, Stephanie “Stubby” Webb, who is an illustrator and writer herself. We've worked on a few small projects together in the past. She illustrated 'The Littlest Cock' for me a couple of years ago, and has published her own book 'Lucas: Service Dog', which I wrote about in an article several months back. I'm not at liberty to discuss the details on it yet, but I will say it will tie into my 'Exotic Bird' series. I'm super pumped about that one! You can visit Stubby's website to see her books and art at

I also plan to read more. I go through about 10-12 books a year, and I plan to try and ramp up that number. I've just finished 'Fantasticland' by Mike Bockoven, and have started another, so that resolution will be easy to fulfill. I plan to explore more authors and genres this year instead of sticking to my favorites. I believe it will be good for me creatively to open myself up to more literature.

As of now, those are my plans. I will be attending more events than I did the last two years, and just generally trying to be more social than I was during the Covid fiasco. I look forward to another year of blogging here, and hope you all have a fabulous year.

Stay Weird.

Monday, January 2, 2023

Hello, 2023! Here's what I've got planned for you!

Happy New Year, everyone! Mary here, and like many writers around this time, I'm looking ahead to whatprojects I've got planned for the next 12 months or so. The writing / publishing world is a weird one in that, unless you're 100% indie, there's so much you can't really plan for (and even for indie projects, you're still dependent on others... editors, artists, distributors...). But here's what I've got going on... though you know what they say about best laid plans...

Brave New Girls: Tales of Girls Who Engineer and Explore
We'll be back in July with a new volume of Brave New Girls - our seventh! Submissions are still open, by the way, so if you've got an idea for a story about a STEM-savvy teen girl, check out our guidelines here. Like with all previous volumes, proceeds will be donated to the Society of Women Engineers scholarship fund. Who will this year's Brave New Girls be? What kinds of adventures will they go on? I can't wait to read the submissions and find out myself ;-). I'm also planning to contribute a short story (which I need to get going on...) - a solarpunk tale, mostly because I like to challenge myself to write in new genres/sub-genres, and I haven't done solarpunk before.

"The Woman from Wuchu," in Thrilling Adventure Yarns 2022/23
The latest volume of the Thrilling Adventure Yarns anthology series from Crazy 8 Press (edited by Bob Greenberger) was supposed to come out in 2022 but is now looking more like February 2023 (hey, delays happen!). My contribution is a noir short story about a mysterious woman in Chinatown who's willing to do whatever it takes to solve the murder of a sex worker, written as a tribute to midcentury noir films with my own twist. It's been finished for a while now, just waiting on a release date!

"Above the Salt," in Phenomenons: Seasons of Darkness
The second volume of the Phenomenons superhero shared-world anthology series from Crazy 8 Press (edited by Michael Jan Friedman) is also scheduled for a Februrary-ish release date. My character Sarcastic Fringehead, a teen girl with the power to control salt, returns in a few crossover adventures with other Phenomenons, and my story follows her efforts to find her friend after he's kidnapped in the middle of a school talent show. This one's also finished and just waiting for release.

Flynn Nightsider and the Ire of Inferno (Flynn Nightsider, #3)
Did I just drop a title reveal there? I think I did! Anyway, the grand plan for 2023 is to finally wrap up the Flynn Nightsider trilogy I first started writing in the summer of 2012... ten and a half years ago (crumbles into dust). I've already claimed August on Crazy 8 Press' release calendar (we're an indie author collective, so we set our own schedules). Will it happen? Well, Shards of Shadow (Book 2) miraculously did, so I still have hope... even though I kind of wrote myself into a hole with that one... oh, how's the manuscript going? I ain't started...

"The Four Opera Singers of the Apocalypse," in The Four ??? of the Apocalypse

Oh, this one's been written since summer of 2021, and the Kickstarter for the anthology has been funded since around then too. When is it coming out? Ask Keith ;-)

Magic Under the Big Top
I don't think I've talked about this one publicly yet, so, surprise! I'm editing a collection of circus stories for Snowy Wings Publishing (also an indie author collective). There's no set release date yet, as it'll depend on contributing authors' own schedules. I've booked the cover artist who did two of Snowy Wings' other anthologies, Magic at Midnight and Sing, Goddess!, and should have something to share in the summer! Of course I'm also planning to contribute a story, and in the spirit of "let's try a different genre," I'm thinking of doing a contemporary rom com set at a circus camp. Whether that happens will depend on The Muses...

Confessions of Former Teen Heroes
Another project I haven't talked about publicly before! This one's the most up in the air since there are a lot of dependencies, but basically, Kevin Dilmore and I got to chatting on Twitter about what happens to YA heroes who save the world at, like 16, and thought it'd make a fun anthology theme. The title isn't necessarily final, by the way - it's just what we've been calling it. At some point, we're going to run a Kickstarter for the whole thing... At the moment, we're still in the planning phases, and aiming for a Summer 2024 release through Crazy 8 Press.

Another anthology project I don't know if I'm allowed to announce yet
Basically I was invited to participate in an anthology project that we're supposed to be Kickstarting in the summer, but I don't know what I'm allowed to say about it yet, so that's all I can give ya ;-). 

Fated Stars #2
Ok, now we're getting into the super speculative part of the list. At some point after I finish the Flynn Nightsider trilogy, I'm going to finally get cracking on the sequel to Windborn, the first book in a planned 5-part YA fantasy epic, which I first started working on in 2014 and finally released in 2020 with Snowy Wings Publishing (yikes, what even is time). I actually already have the whole thing outlined, plus a cover image. Now, I just have to write the damn thing (and settle on a title). Maybe this will be my NaNoWriMo project...

Phantom / Fantastic
For those of you who've been following my social medias, you might've heard me talking about "the shower thought book". Basically, I took a shower on November 23 and got what I thought was a brilliant, brilliant, brilliant! idea. Is it actually brilliant? Who knows, but it got me excited (it's a YA fantasy set at a steampunk circus). On November 28, after finishing my NaNo manuscript, I started fleshing it out. By December 12, I had a 75,000-word manuscript. I sent it off to beta readers shortly before Christmas. I'm actually planning to let this leapfrog the manuscript I originally promised my agent (more on that in a sec) and send it to him after incorporating their comments... here's hoping he finds the idea as brilliant as I do (after a WTF moment, I'm sure lol). Anyway that pic isn't meant to be a real cover... I just made it for fun in Canva when I was bored one day.

Gifted & Talented
This is the manuscript I was originally supposed to send my agent in early 2023. Sometime in 2022, I pitched him the idea for what was then my "next" book - a YA murder mystery set at a prep school for the supernaturally gifted - and he liked it. In August I said I would work on it in the fall and have it for him in a few months. Well, I wrote the book as planned, but as happens sometimes, it didn't exactly go as planned. Mostly because I kept changing my mind in the middle of writing and making notes to go back and revise earlier chapters for continuity... anyway, at some point in 2023, I'm actually going to do that. And then see if he's still interested in it (assuming it's coherent). P.S. That cover is also a mock one I made in Canva while bored.

Untitled Circus Fantasy Project
For those of you who've been following my socials... remember how I wrote a circus fantasy book and even commissioned some character art (to the left, done by Niru Sky Art) for it just for fun? I started writing this manuscript in fall of 2020 and finished it in late spring 2021. It's been treading water ever since, mostly because neither I nor my agent can decide what to do with it. Oh, it went through some rounds of revisions, which is part of the reason behind the delay. But it's also been a lot of "hmm, what now?" I wrote it as YA, but at about 140,000 words it's too long for that market, in this economy at least (hey, Children of Blood & Bone was about that long, so I had reason to hope!). And the way it's composed, I can't just chop it up into shorter books (I tried... another reason for the delay). Could we pitch it to the adult market? Never say never, but given some of the feedback received on previous manuscripts of mine, probably not (my voice is just too YA). So... I don't know what's going on with this one lol. Hopefully by the end of 2023, I'll at least have decided whether to let it continue treading water in hopes of a traditional deal or if I should just take it back and indie publish the thing.

Project Sherlock
Another unsold manuscript, which died in submissions to editors. I'm mostly including it here to remind myself that it exists. It's a re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes as an AI girl in a Star Trek-y space-faring future. The character has made some (non-canon??) appearances in a few short stories of mine already, and people seem to like the concept, so maybe I'll indie publish this one too. Someday.

Whatever Crazy 8 Press asks me to write next
We've got a few anthology ideas in the pipeline over at Crazy 8 Press, which I won't disclose just yet, and I plan to contribute to whichever one(s) become reality, so I'm on deck for whatever short stories are coming next!

So basically, the Grand Plan for 2023 is to release a few short stories I've already finished, release the next Brave New Girls, complete the Flynn Nightsider trilogy, work on the two anthologies I'm editing (and possibly release one, depending on how things go), get cracking on the next Fated Star book, and maybe, maybe, maybe, decide to publish the start of what could be an all-new indie series (the circus one? Sherlock?), which I originally forbade myself from doing while I still had a gazillion sequels in the pipeline.

Let's see how many of these plans actually pan out... Happy 2023, y'all!

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