Publishing News!

You know what’s always been a pet peeve of mine? When someone—a writer, a band, anyone—makes a vague pre-announcement to let everyone know they’re going to have another announcement coming soon. I always thought it was either, a) fabricated just to make people think things are happening behind the scenes, or b) some kind of precious way of announcing something when they could wait until they’re allowed to talk about said “big things coming” in full.

Well…guess who has two thumbs and has had a change of heart about vague pre-announcements since they have a vague pre-announcement of their own?

Yes, I’m a hypocrite. But! I do have exciting “pre” news!

I found out last week that a novlette I submitted in December is going to be published in a new anthology coming out this spring! Unfortunately, until the publisher makes the official announcement next month, all I’m at liberty to say is that I’ve been accepted and the contract has been signed.

This is the longest piece I’ll have ever had published, and the most high profile publication for me by far, so to say I’m anything less than excited would be an understatement.

There’s a lot of work to be done in the meantime, though. I just got my manuscript back from the editor, so there’s that, plus filling out promotional materials they want to send out after the announcement, but that’s all cake at this point. Plus, not to be a total tease, but I might (might) have more publication news right around the bend, too! Trying not to get too excited about that one yet, but either way 2020 is looking to be back on track for my writing and quite possibly my biggest year ever! Yay, pre-announcements!

My New Work in Progress

I guess that title is a little misleading. I mean, like a lot of writers, I have a lot of balls in the air. Seeing one project all the way through to the end before starting another seems almost quaint. For anyone keeping score at home, I currently have:

One novel I’m continuing to sub—I’ve had three full manuscript requests for this one, so I’m trying to stay optimistic that it just needs to find the right publisher.

A second novel that I’m getting ready to sub—query letter, summary, synopsis, etc. I’m hoping it’s ready to start sending off by the end of the month.

A third that is currently in limbo. I wrote a first draft that I feel *really* good about, and I think with some of the usual tweaks and rewrites could be something really special. I will probably tackle the second draft of that after…

A fourth project that is just a nugget of an idea right now. I’ve jotted notes and have a general outline in my head. I need to get it out on paper, mostly because I feel like I need the freedom of writing a first draft before I buckle down and start getting real with editing and rewriting.

None of that, however, is what this post is about. I have yet another work in progress, and it’s arguably the most important one of them all. Let me back up a few days.

I was in my garage, tidying up and rearranging boxes and whatnot to make some more room for things we need to store out there. Among the boxes of “stuff” we still haven’t unpacked since we moved last summer were four trunks. My dad insisted I take these four trunks with me when I moved out of the house years ago, and I have schlepped these trunks from address to address from California to Kansas, for the better part of two decades now.

I knew they held old things—I think my grandpa’s sheriff’s uniform is in one, photos and mementos, things like that—but I honestly couldn’t remember ever looking in them. I was hefting them around (and they are heavy) when I stacked the last one on top of the other three and said to myself, “What the hell is in these things, anyway?”

I opened the latches and lifted the lid.

Newspapers. Photos. Greeting cards. Yearbooks (my mom’s). And right on top, my baby book.

I opened the baby book half-interested and casually flipped through it and my jaw dropped. It was packed full of writing. It had some of my baby teeth taped in it, a $2 bill, silver dollars from my great-grandma, and entry upon entry upon entry. I went back to the front of the book and started to read. As I read my mom’s cursive writing about what I was like as an infant, I was completely overcome with emotion.

It was such a complex mix of emotions, none of which I had anticipated. So many of the family members my mom wrote about are no longer around, including her, which hurt to think about how much they would all love my son if they could see him. But on top of that, I felt some guilt.

Here I was, decades after it was written, seeing all the time my mom took to document these special moments from my childhood (I had to get a tetanus shot after stepping on a nail when I was around six, and came out of the hospital saying, “Whatever that nurse did sure hurt my butt.”), and I look at my 18 month old son and realize the time has flown by and I haven’t done anything like that for him.

Don’t get me wrong, I have hundred of photos, and video clips of some of his first laughter, one of his first walks across the living room on his own, etc. but…looking at that baby book, the stuff I was doing suddenly didn’t seem like enough.

And so, with that, I began yet another writing project: writing letters to my son, to look back on someday and see what he meant to his mom and me, and how much he’s loved. I’m not sure on the frequency with which I’ll write them—monthly seems about right, maybe more often if something especially significant happens.

I’d love to put together a baby book for him, too. My wife has a locket of hair from his first haircut, so we’re on the same page there. But either way, with the letters he’ll have something to look back on and hopefully feel a little of the gratitude I felt when I saw how much time my mom spent writing about my early years.

Besides, what’s one more writing project on the pile, right? 🙂

High Tension [2003]

This one was quite the roller coaster ride, for reasons both good and bad.

I remember hearing mostly good things about Alexandre Aja’s French thriller/horror movie High Tension when it was released in the US in 2005. I didn’t know much about it, but the title and the image on the poster of a young woman with a power saw always stuck in my brain, so when I stumbled across it on Amazon Prime, I decided to jump in.

The movie starts innocently enough, as almost all slasher type movies do, with a pair of friends, Alex and Marie, driving to the French countryside to visit Alex’s family for a long weekend. Once they’re almost to their destination, we’re introduced to the film’s antagonist. We can tell he’s a bad guy because we see him fellating himself with a severed head, which he disposes of when he’s finished by tossing out the window of his dilapidated truck. Still with me? If you are, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy at least 90% of this movie.

As the title suggests, there is plenty of tension to go around, with nail-biting scene after scene. The bad man follows the girls to Alex’s house and kills her parents and little brother, and kidnaps Alex. Marie avoids detection, but ends up in the killer’s truck with Marie, determined to save her. I enjoyed this part of the movie thoroughly, until…the twist ending ruined it.

Doing a little research before writing this, I found out that High Tension largely plagiarizes the Dean Koontz novel (which was also adapted into a TV movie) Intensity—a point director Aja practically admitted in an interview around the time of the film’s release. For Koontz’s part, he put out a statement advising he was aware of the comparison but would not sue “because he found the film so puerile, so disgusting, and so intellectually bankrupt that he didn’t want the association with it that would inevitably come if he pursued an action against the filmmaker.”

As you can tell from the above quote, the level of violence (and graphic violence at that) is quite high. I would assume most people would not be phased by that if they’re wanting to watch a slasher-style movie, but just in case, take that info and do with it what you will.

Now, back to that twist ending. Jesus, what a way to crap all over the largely good film you’ve put down up to that point. In reading on the internet, I did encounter a few people who actually liked and appreciated the twist, but I (and the majority of people, apparently) found it utterly ridiculous. It was completely unnecessary, and part of me wonders if they did it just to avoid having the film be even more similar to Koontz’s novel.

Is it so bad that it makes the movie not worth watching? That depends on you. If you’re a slasher fan, I would probably still recommend checking it out, if you don’t mind a bit of a let down at the end. Still, with some of the duds I’ve watched so far this month, this is in the top two or three, although I suppose that’s not really saying much.

Await Further Instructions [2018]

While I’ve never claimed to be a huge fan of Sci-Fi, there are always exceptions, especially when it crosses genres and blends with one of my favorites, horror.

I knew virtually nothing about Await Further Instructions when I stumbled across it on Netflix. The description seemed vaguely ominous—it sounded like some sort of low budget take on the Saw franchise. It turned out to be something much different altogether. As with all movies (and horror movies in particular), your mileage may vary, so once you’ve read my write up be sure to set your standards accordingly.

Await Further Instructions begins with British Nick and his Indian girlfriend Annji coming to Nick’s family home to visit over the Christmas holiday. We get to meet, in quick succession, Nick’s somewhat racist and quite pregnant sister Kate and her doofus baby daddy Scott, his downright batty mother Beth, lifelong military man and ultra-authoritarian dad Tony, and not-as-senile-as-he-appears, very racist grandpa.

None of the characters are fully developed—they seem more like caricatures than actual characters. Luckily, the plot moves along quickly enough that we don’t spend too much time on their thinly veiled racist comments to Annji, or the bad blood between Tony and Nick that led to Nick not coming home to visit for a few years. Soon enough, we are treated to the meat of the story, which to my surprise turned out to be more Twilight Zone (or, perhaps more accurately, weak Black Mirror) than Saw.

Nick and Annji decide to go back home early one morning, and discover they can’t. The front door—and as they soon discover, the entire house—is covered with…well, something, that is blocking anyone from getting into or out of the house. Not long after their discovery, the television goes black and displays the following message:

This is where the fun, and best part of the movie, begins. The family argue and hypothesize about who could be sending the message, then argue more as the messages change and become more and more outlandish as time goes on. The pacing is good, keeping things moving before it gets too redundant, and despite the lack of depth of the characters, some of the scenarios that play out seem painfully realistic.

That is, until, the final act.

I won’t spoil anything, other than to say the climax is when things go full bore Sci-Fi, and the actual premise behind it is not bad—the real problem is that the ideas behind it exceed the movie’s apparent special effects budget. What could’ve worked with a bigger budget instead comes off as cartoony and lame. The climax isn’t totally ruined, and I kind of liked the closing shots, but my enjoyment definitely dipped during the film’s last 15-20 minutes.

Like some of my other picks so far this month, you could do worse than Await Further Instructions, but you could also do better.

The Basement [2018]

‘A serial killer with multiple personalities kidnaps and tortures a poor hapless soul’ sounds like a decent premise for a horror movie, doesn’t it? You’d think so, if you haven’t seen The Basement, now on Netflix.

This poster and all the promotional material is misleading. Mischa Barton is not one of the leads in this movie.

The less said about this one the better, honestly. I finished it without skipping ahead, which is more than I can say for In the Tall Grass, but that’s not a very high bar.

The story is derivative, the acting is weak, the plot twist at the end is kind of lame, and the writing is borderline awful. Most of the serial killer/victim interactions feel like a second rate episode of Criminal Minds.

There are a couple scenes of cringey gore if you’re into that, and the actor who plays The Gemini Killer gives a decent performance(s), considering how ridiculous some of the scenarios are. My guess is that this movie may have gotten made solely because they landed a name actress (Mischa Barton) for one of the roles.

You could do worse than The Basement, but lord knows you could do better. This will be the last horror movie I watch for a few days, here’s hoping my picks for next week fare a little better.

In the Tall Grass [Netflix, 2019]

Unless you happen to be stumbling across this blog for the first time (and if you are, welcome!), you know how I revere Stephen King. I’ve written before about how much of his earlier work shaped me into the rather odd duck I am today. To this day I regret not going to the reading he did here in Wichita a few years ago. He is one of the only people I can think of that would leave me utterly starstruck.

Still, he’s not perfect. Any prolific artist is bound to have some misfires—he’s cranked out some notoriously bad books in his career. There’s also been a longstanding problem with filmmakers adapting his work in a way that works. Many directors can’t seem to figure out how to make a King story translate from the page to the screen (Frank Darabont and Mike Flanagan being the notable exceptions). So, with that said, and as someone who hasn’t read the Stephen King/Joe Hill co-written novella upon which it’s based, it’s hard to know why Netflix’s new film adaptation of In the Tall Grass doesn’t work—whether it’s merely another poor adaptation of the master’s work or it was based on subpar source material and therefore doomed from the start. One thing is for sure, though: In the Tall Grass doesn’t work.

The premise sounds silly on its face: a horror story about some sort of malevolent grass that traps people with no hope for escape. Throw in some bizarre time travel aspects and an all-knowing, all-seeing rock, and it all sounds absolutely ludicrous. But here’s the funny part—for the first thirty minutes or so, it’s actually pretty compelling.

I was completely on board as siblings Cal and Becky stopped on their trek to San Diego so the expecting Becky could puke on the side of the road. Soon after, they hear a boy in the roadside field of tall grass calling for help. He tells them he’s lost and asks if they can help him. The pair decide to help, and enter the grass to their (obvious to us) peril. Things quickly grow confusing as the pair get separated and can’t seem to find each other no matter what they do. The confusion grows as the boy’s mother is heard yelling at him to stop asking for help, and dead animals are found among the grass. Becky ends up encountering the boy’s father, then things begin to go a little sideways.

I won’t spoil anything in case anyone wants to actually give the movie a shot, but In the Tall Grass goes from sixty to zero alarmingly fast. In the span of maybe 20 minutes, I went from fully engaged to completely uninterested. I started checking my phone, leaving the room without pausing it, and then I did something I almost never do: with about 25 minutes left in the movie, I started fast-forwarding to just get the godforsaken movie over with. I was invested enough to want to know how it ended, but not invested enough to actually watch it to find out.

The highlight of the movie is Patrick Wilson’s (The Conjuring) performance as Ross, the father who may or may not be who he seems. He gives it his all, but he can’t save this dud. If you’ve read the book and are genuinely curious I can understand wanting to check it out, but there are far better scary movies out there to be checking out this October, so my advice is to skip it and don’t waste your precious time.

Hell House LLC. [2015]

As I did last October, I’m trying to immerse myself in as many horror movies as humanly possible before Halloween. Last year, I condensed all my mini-reviews into one post around the 31st, but that seemed counter intuitive since it would leave less time for anyone wanting to check the movies out before All Hallow’s Eve to actually see them. So now, I’m going to shoot out an individual review for each movie I watch—that way if I gush about something or you’re curious about one, you can check it out with plenty of time to get in the spooky spirit!

Kicking things off for me this month is Hell House LLC, currently on Amazon Prime.

To say I was skeptical about this one is putting it mildly, because a) it’s a ‘found footage’ horror movie in the spirit of The Blair Witch Project, and b) that cornball title. Luckily, this turned out to be a pleasant surprise.

A group of (mostly) friends who have been running a haunted house for the past few years move locations, finding an abandoned hotel for the new year. Of course, the hotel has some secrets…

As the friends go about setting up the haunted house, odd things start to happen—things being moved, strange noises, etc. The friends begin blaming each other, one goes missing, one refuses to call it all off, and on opening night disaster ensues.

The story is told as a documentary after the fact. A film crew goes through YouTube videos and interviews people who were there the night of the disaster, trying to figure out exactly what happened. Then, as luck would have it, a member of the crew shows up and provides them with film that had been hidden so as not to be confiscated by police.

The film does an excellent job of getting creative to provide scares and a big creep factor despite it’s obviously low budget. They use pretty much the standard haunted house fare (masks, creepy clowns and the like) to escalate the tension, and the acting, while not great, is just good enough to sell it.

While definitely not a masterpiece, Hell House LLC is way better than I expected, and better than it really has any right to be. A perfect movie to get you in the mood for Halloween.