Farm-Strong Horror

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There’s strong, and then there’s farm strong. Here in the Midwest, we cultivate our own brand of tough. Farm Strong. It’s strength from working yourself ragged, trying to be the best.

If you’ve ever run into anything Slasher Studios has done, you understand they’re that kind of tough. I listened to their podcast and was amazed at the consistency and quality. I bought their short films, including the flawless Teddy, and was amazed at the consistency and quality. I started writing reviews for their website. When they announced Don’t Go To The Reunion, their full-length feature, I ponied up some cash and waited.

Guess what? Consistently great. High quality.

Don’t Go To The Reunion is an 80s slasher made by people who don’t cut corners. Kevin Sommerfield’s script sets everyone up for success, the cast hits all the right notes, and Steve Goltz’s direction (with Paul Bjorge’s excellent cinematography) holds it all together. If you like slashers, you watch this movie knowing you’ll watch it again.

The movie excels when everything comes together to make 80s slashers a reality again. Don’t Go to the Reunion avoids retro gimmickry and focuses on the mean-spirited, catty vibe that made watching victims-in-waiting charming. The Slasher Studios crew once again muscles itself through the dreck of nostalgia and actually re-creates and polishes the genre standards it loves.

You might call it a revival.

This crew improves with every project. Next time they ask for cash, give ’em double to see what they’re capable of. They’re Midwest tough – farm strong. They put every penny on the screen.

Dreaming for Others at Diversicon.

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Everyone carries a box full of dreams into Diversicon. They come together in conference rooms and around tables with stories in various stages of perfection. Some of the writers are published with a table of titles to prove it, and some are just beginning to put words onto their laptops. Each and every one of them has the dream living in their brains, and we all come to Diversicon to share the stories.

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Guest of Honor Jack McDevitt set the tone in his Q and A session and on a panel exploring researching fiction writing. McDevitt stressed avoiding cliched fistfights and over-description when they clog a story. He reminded his audiences that any alarm bells disrupting the reader from living in your dream are the enemy, and they must be destroyed.

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This theme extended to the other special guests. Roy C. Booth, my HooseCows collaborator, put together a panel with three of his collaborators, including me. Booth stressed the constant struggle to both preserve the author’s voice and flawlessly edit the manuscript toward perfection. In her panel on upcoming authors struggling to make connections with readers, Catherine Lundoff directly addressed the many obstacles between a writer’s dream and the reader.

And yet, everyone at Diversicon dreams their dreams. I think we all got together this weekend to feed our stories. The dreams matter. The fiction sorts out the muddled non-fiction section of our everyday lives.

After this weekend, I’ve improved my tactics and strategies for getting my dark dreams published, infecting nightmares all over the world. It’s a blessed chore, after all.

-Axel

Diversicon Time!

Short notice: I will be a panelist at Diversicon THIS WEEKEND.

I will speak on four panels over the weekend. I’ll discuss collaboration and writing with my co-author Roy C. Booth. I’ll also talk a little bit of gender and romance, and a little bit of lycanthrope.

Say hi if you’re in the neighborhood. If you ask really nicely, I’ll do my world-renowned Lon Chaney Wolfman face!

-Axel

The Haddonfield Women’s Studies Department.

Finding a good podcast is like opening the door to a diner where they’re always discussing life as you know it.

Michael Gets Educated
Never too old to learn, I guess.

 

I enjoyed three episodes of Faculty of Horror today, and I was glad to settle in for their conversation. Andrea Subissati and Alexandra West offer feminist views on horror flicks. Their thoughts are often critical and always insightful, but sitting to listen for a spell never feels like receiving a stern lecture. The Faculty of Horror is a true conversation;a pla ce where there’s room to think and form your own opinion.

Here’s the problem – you can’t talk back at podcast diners.

Because of this, I had to rush home to write some words about the women of Haddonfield, who I believe were slightly misunderstood in Episode 1: Halloween vs. Black Xmas.

Much of the discussion from Subissati and West, as I interpreted their conversation, was based on the idea that the women from Halloween were less well-rounded than the women of Black Christmas. I agree with this statement, and I also believe Halloween exists in a very masculine, patriarchal world where women are punished for not behaving.

My complaint? I believe regionalism must be taken into account when viewing Halloween. The massacre takes place in Haddonfield, Illinois, after all.

Laurie Strode and her friends are more believable as Midwestern women. I view Laurie as a character whose innocence is stifled desire, where Annie’s great energy and spirit are suppressed to focus her attentions on her rather unimpressive boyfriend. I see Lynda as smarter than her beer-swilling lover, but having too much fun to rock the boat by letting her intellect show.

Are these simply projections of my own values and beliefs? Quite possibly, but these ideas do add something to Halloween. These women have not really lived yet. They are trapped in a culture of rules and values. They speak in cliches because it’s the only language they possess. Maybe if they were more free they could better help themselves.

This isn’t really a complaint. It’s  more of an attempt to keep a great conversation going by adding my two cents.

They’re planning on doing a new podcast every month, but I plan on hanging out in this diner in the hopes they just keep talking the whole  month long.

Or twice a month. Twice a month would be pretty good.

-Axel

Thurgood the Teen Mummy – A Poorly Written Grab For Teen Dollars.

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Thurgood the Teenage Mummy:

Horribly Written to Steal Tween Dollars!

by I. M. Non-Threatening

As I expected, the first day of school was completely wretched and awful. I didn’t know anyone there, and all of the other girls were six feet tall with flawless skin, as if hewn from rocks only found in Heaven itself. They had shiny blonde hair and they wore only the best clothing. I don’t think I could have made it through the day at all if I hadn’t had Thurgood to stare at.

He sat two seats in front of me in World History class, and he was a new student, too. DJ, the spunky girl who had instantly befriended me upon arriving at school, gave me all of the delicious details.

“He skipped out on last week, when we were discussing the ancient Egyptians,” DJ said. “No one knows why, but then again, no one knows much about the Bangles family.”

Thurgood Bangles sat only a seat away from me. I tried to make eye contact with him, but my whole body quivered in fear he might notice how ridiculously moronic my face looked. To avoid embarrassing myself further than I may have already, I slammed a textbook into my own face to cover up my own hideous face. I would have plunged a dull pencil into my own eye and twisted it around slowly, to punish myself for daring look on such a handsome man, had DJ not taken the pencil out of my hand and giggled.

“Boys!” she said. Then, she popped a piece of bubble gum loudly.

Thurgood Bangles was normal in height and weight, except that his massive biceps nearly tore through the tight sleeves of his polo shirt. He had eyes. I looked at his eyes a lot. I sure did like those eyes. I knew when I got home, I’d be saying “eyes eyes eyes eyes eyes” like some sort of cartoon lunatic, while shaving pictures of eyes on the cat’s back with an electric shaver. I like eyes!

Of course, then Dad just wouldn’t get it. Dad doesn’t understand girls. The other day, he asked why I didn’t use the urinals in public restrooms! Maybe he doesn’t know a lot about girls because he and mom weren’t married all that long. he definitely wouldn’t understand anything about boys. He’d just tell me, “Jesse, I love you no matter what you do.” He so doesn’t understand, but he’s still sweet in a dumb kind of way.

There was something different about that Thurgood Bangles I’d have to figure out this school year. Maybe it was the way my heart stopped when he looked into my eyes. Maybe it was the way the sun made his sandy blonde hair seem alive and on fire with aliveness. Maybe it was the small strips of bandage peaking out from his shirt sleeves, or even the way his entire face was covered in old, rotten bandages. Something about that boy seemed different to me, Jesse Blume. I’m a teen girl just like you!

Thurgood did something that filled me with amazement.

It happened on my way home for the day. I was busy putting on my second hoodie to make sure I gave everyone that extra-frumpy vibe. As I pulled the second hood over my head and slid in earbuds blaring sensitive, non-threatening feminist rock music, I couldn’t help but notice how much more sensitive and soulful I was then the tall, blonde, pretty girls.

Then my friend Stephen asked if I was going to the fall dance, and I actually cried that he thought I could ever view him as more than a human puppy dog. Stephen is nice and friendly, but the idea of him even holding my hand makes me want to punch him in the face.

When I got outside, I knew I had walked out of the wrong door. I had run into the no-goodniks from town. There were three men, of no discernible ethnicity or age. None of them appeared to be armed, and none of them had facial expressions.

“Give me your milk money,” the one closest to me said. Then, he added, “Please.”

I knew he was serious. My face nearly contorted into something resembling a human emotion, something that might make a reader like me. Fortunately, I stopped that from happening. I knew I was totally in some serious bad business.

“Get away from her,” Thurgood the Mummy Teen said. I had barely heard him slowly dragging his dusty, sandy teen body toward me. Just looking at him made my heart tingle, even as my face was free from any recognizably human emotion.

“Okay,” the troublemaking bad guys said. They walked away together, all at the same time.

“I’m sorry that got so rough,” Thurgood said. “Even though I never actually move or do anything at all interesting, I want you to know I would have done some very bad things to them.”

At that exact moment, his bandaged arm fell off and fell to the floor.

“You’re just going to have to trust me on that,” he said.

Thurgood showed me something magically magical today.

I sensed something was different about him. I had been up for hours at night, using my computer to look up information about ancient Egyptians. Dad was downstairs watching a bowhunting TV show and drinking beer. I could have used some time with my mom, but she was off giggling with her new boyfriend, the cabana boy who wasn’t much older than me but was pretty nice because he bought me a pair of cute boots for Christmas.

Then, Thurgood Bangles appeared in my room. He very slowly appeared. He tossed one of his bandages into my open window and crawled up it, being careful not to let the strain tear off his newly re-bandaged arm. When he finally crumpled over my windowsill and collapsed into a heap, then stood up and walked beside my bed.

“There’s something different about you,” I said. A giant Egyptian scarab crawled out of his collar and scurried down his back.

“I want to show you something,” Thurgood said. Slowly, he unraveled the dirty bandages covering his face. The first thing I noticed was his perfect hair, which was tousled to precision. Then, I saw his face.

Thurgood’s face was smooth, free of blemish and anything resembling an actual facial expression — just like me! The amazing part, however, was the way his face glowed. It did not glow in any colors that might upset or raise a person’s blood pressure in any way, like in baby blues and soft pinks. Even more than that, I could see beautiful phantom spirits of unicorns, kitties, and puppies. They crawled over my face and cooed and purred.

“Thurgood, you’re a magical, wonderful creature!” I said.

“”Being a mummy is my sad, sad curse,” he said.

“Do you live in a pyramid?” I asked Thurgood. We were in the lunchroom. I had gotten a plain ham sandwich, an apple, and a lukewarm glass of water. Normally, such an exciting meal would have held my complete attention, but I had so many questions.

“No,” Thurgood said. “But I do still sleep in a sarcophagus.”

“Do you miss your internal organs? Are they all still in jars?” I asked him later, as he was driving me to a building outside of town. Thurgood had heard they had just painted, and he thought, if we hurried, we could get there in time to watch the paint dry.

“I use tupperware now,” he said. “And know, I don’t miss them. My clothes fit so much better now.”

“But don’t you have a pet sphinx or something?” I asked him, as we sat on a park bench, measuring how much the grass grew by the hour. He had taken me on a wild date straight out of my loveliest dreams.

“Shouldn’t we be doing something, other than just sitting around while you ask me all of these questions?” Thurgood wondered out loud. “It feels like we need some sort of conflict right now. I mean, doesn’t it?”

“So do you have a sphinx?” I asked again, stroking the bandages around his head.

“No,” he said. He sighed.

Then there was a bad mummy, and Thurgood beat him up.

He came to visit me in the hospital. Somehow, in the short amount of time the bad mummy was around, he had pushed me and I broke my toe. I sure would look pretty cute and vulnerable in a cast!

“Take me to the big dance,” I asked him.

“I’m a mummy,” he said.

I started to talk.

“Fine. I’ll take you to the dance,” he said.

“Make me a mummy,” I said.

“Not until at least book three and a major motion picture deal,” Thurgood said. He looked at me, gave me a thumb’s up, and smiled.

Then, his thumb fell off.

There Ain’t No Hockey Mask On A Gold Statue.

The weather in the Midwest doesn’t usually change after the Academy Awards. Winter keeps us trapped in our houses, watching movies electronically and giving Hollywood less money per viewing than they’ve come to expect.

After the Oscars are finished, there might be a day or two of arguing about who won versus who should have one. People might even take the time to remember a past winner or two. If those movies are very lucky, they’ll get dusted off and watched again. After that, caring about the Academy Awards gets boxed up like a holiday decoration and tossed in the basement to wait for next year.SAMSUNG

Maybe that box of Oscar joy gets set next to the Halloween decorations. Maybe on top of that box of Halloween decorations lies a bloody hockey mask.

The Friday the 13th film series is one of the least critically respected series in one of the least critically respected subgenres (the slasher) of one of the least critically respected genres of film (horror). It started off as just a title, and its famous  murderer Jason Voorhees was never really supposed to exist. He was tacked on as a jump scare in the first movie, came to stay in the second, and didn’t get his hockey mask until the third.

In fact, the entire Friday the 13th series came into this world as a combination of dumb luck and blatant commercialism. You can read all about it in Peter M. Bracke’s excellent book Crystal Lake Memories.

And yet, if you imagine those two boxes in the basement again, which do you think gets to come out and play out of season? Academy Award fever or love for the big, dopey slasher villain Jason Voorhees? Like the saying goes: It may not be art, but people know what they like.

I have to figure ole Jason is shaking his gunny-sacked head as he sits beside Crystal Lake, his battered hockey mask in his hands. Like the films he stars in, he’s put together to get the job done without looking pretty doing it. He’s done his job so well he’s been in remakes, tattooed on flesh, featured as a toy, and impersonated for holidays. For whatever reason, he’s clearly in demand.

The cultists of the gold statue? They spend hours analyzing movies, many of them breathtaking works of art. And yet, how many of those films last as long as a character rarely played twice by the same actor? Are they out-of-touch elitists, or are we witnessing the death of high culture?

Then again, maybe the real answer lies somewhere in-between. If filmmakers can bring high art to the fears and anxieties that truly connect with people. Maybe Oscar needs to get his hands dirty.

And if Jason Voorhees doesn’t know what that looks like, perhaps an old friend could have him over for dinner and show him what that would look like.

-Axel

2012 Was The Opening Band for 2013.

2012 had its flaws, especially since it ended with my dear lil Great Dane Stella surviving serious medical problems.

However, when it comes to writing, 2012 was positively charmed. I was able to make connections with amazing people who have provided me with instruction and inspiration. I’m still working with some of these people in 2013, and I’m excited to see where this work will lead me.

The HooseCows did not get published in 2012. I’m going to review my draft and attempt to find a new home for the baseball horror novel. Still not sure if it’s a baseball novel with horror in it or a horror novel with baseball in it — a distinction important in finding the right publisher. Thoughts?

I’m keeping busy on several writing projects, but one you can check out every week is my Not Quite Horror series at Slasher Studios.In this column, I explain how some non-genre films can be watched as horror films – with interesting results.

Slasher Studios has a cool site, too. They update it regularly. While you’re there, you might as well go donate to support their feature length slasher film Don’t Go to the Reunion? If you loved Jason, Michael, and Freddy when you were a kid, this is a way to keep the tradition alive for the youth of today. They do good work.

My blog at Twins Daily is going to see more action this year. Taking inspiration from King and O’Nan’s Faithful, I’m going to write about the Twins 2013 season from the perspective of a grouchy fan. Expect zero quality analysis (the other writers on the site provide more than enough of that), but count on plenty of attitude.

Between those regular gigs and three projects still getting going, 2013 is the year I’m really a writer doing things and not a writer talking about doing things. No matter how successful any of these projects are, I’m still proud to be right where I am at this moment.

-Axel

A Shell of a Book

The Devil’s Spiral Shell is finished, and my third year of completing National Novel Writing Month is at an end.

Here’s a breakdown:

22 days of typing (after missing the first two with an anniversary trip)

50,324 words (2287 words per day)

184 pages (8.4 pages a day)

 

When I began this project, I wasn’t sure what would happen in the book. Here’s a look at some quotes from when I began the book and my thoughts on those quotes now.

— I’ve dreamed up a main character, a basic plot, and something evil to keep them all busy.

The plot changed very little from the rough outline I imagined before I began to write.

Eldon, my main character, went through a lot less suffering than I had imagined he would. He ended up a man on a mission instead of a man crippled by anxiety and barely able to leave his house. This kept the story interesting. Eldon also had to share the story with Derrick, who became a co-lead character. Derrick’s devil-may-care attitude helped me pull anxious, fearful Eldon out of his shell and into the story.

The evil keeping those two busy got worse as the story progressed, and I dig that. Anytime I thought of something that had ever made me squirm, I forced myself to work it into the story. By the time I finished, The Devil’s Spiral Shell was a detective story exploring a museum dedicated to my own worst fears.

— I have no idea how it will end, or if there will be romance. I don’t think it will be gory, but I make no promises. This is the least I’ve planned a novel for NaNoWriMo, so we’ll see if that ends in inspiration or embarrassment.

The ending of the book came as a surprise, but I was happy about how it came together. It felt satisfying, even though it left much of the mystery intact.

No romance. Poor Eldon has a long way to go before he’s even able to start dating.

I don’t think the book is that gory, but it is definitely upsetting and gross in places. I told my wife about a few key scenes and she shuddered, so that can’t be all bad.

I’m inspired by the end product, but I’m also a little nervous about the overall cohesiveness of the narrative. The story moved along so quickly, and the pace is so frantic, I’m not sure I gave the reader enough information to stay in the chase. I also worry about the level of detail in the set pieces. I can imagine each with enough horrifying detail to get my heart pumping, but I’m not sure if I adequately shared that terror with the rest of the world.

Months from now, when I can approach it with a clean slate, revising The Devil’s Spiral Shell will make for an interesting experience.

-Axel

I Know the End is Nearing, Because I Know the Ending – NaNoWriMo Day 20.

Today The Devil’s Spiral Shell cruised past 4o,ooo words. I am on pace to officially finish the novel on the first available opportunity — November 25th. If I’m am feeling especially saucy, I will be ready to submit the final novel at 12:01 AM on November 25th.

Rather than talking exclusively about the time I spend at the laptop writing (90 minutes to 2 hours each day), I decided it would be more revealing to talk about how I live inside the novel for a full month.

When I wake up and make my way to the shower, I’m back in the novel before I’m fully awake in the real world. I know I have a date with the computer coming up, and I don’t want to run out of story before I start typing. Imagining in front of a computer is like lying to someone who has proof you’re guilty – you can never come up with material fast enough to save your own ass.

Most days, I go straight from the shower to the keyboard. I eat breakfast and start typing between bites of cereal, and then I’m typing like mad when the bowl is empty. Some days I have a trashy horror movie playing while I type, other days I type in silence. Neither seems to provide me with any clear advantage. During this time, I keep typing and refuse to get stuck. If something in the plot doesn’t add up, or if I don’t feel inspired, I force the words onto the screen until it does work. Some of my happiest accidents have happened this way.

When I knock out 2000 words, I update my progress and save the file. I put the computer away, but I never really leave the world of the novel.

For the rest of the day, when I’m not involved in anything that requires deep thought, I am back in the novel with Derrick and Eldon, my protagonists. Sometimes I focus on where they are going and where they currently are. Sometime, I revisit where they’ve been to find details to weave into the story.

If you see me staring into space in November, I’m in the book. In October Derrick and Eldon didn’t exist. Now, I can walk through a department store and tell you what they would notice, and how they would react. Their enemies didn’t exist, either, but know I can tell you the entire history of the people who want Derrick and Eldon dead, back hundreds of years ago. In my private time, I’m always taking the bits and pieces from real life I need to thicken their story, so it’s real when I open the curtains and show everyone the monsters.

After I kiss my wife goodnight and listen to her fall asleep, I try to find the feel of the book. Sometimes, I find music that takes me there, and other times I imagine a certain style of lighting or a mental snapshot. I imagine the story I’m writing until it makes me feel the same way I want readers to feel. I’m never exactly sure when I fall asleep, so I know I’m dreaming inside the book I’m creating.

Then I wake up, gather what’s left of my dreams, and put together another day’s worth of writing.

The moral of the story? I’m going to be lonely without these characters on November 25th. National Novel Writing Month gives a writer the focus and motivation to magically create a world with pure imagination and then live inside of it for one full month.

Sometimes, the book feels like a nice fringe benefit. Taking the trip is the real headliner.

-Axel

The Fear is Growing – NaNoWriMo Day 10.

In one week, I have written 19,498 words, which amounts to 70 typed, double-spaced pages of writing. Here are some notes.

1) The scope of this thing is going to kill me. Originally, The Devil’s Spiral Shell was supposed to be a claustrophobic horror tale of a guy coming to terms with the horrors of death and aging. Now, the book has taken place in two major cities and is headed to the third. Characters keep popping in and out. I’m dreading the second draft of this one.

2) The character of Derrick was supposed to be a foil to Eldon, my main character, and not much more. Now he’s competing to become a secondary main character. I just can’t stop writing dialogue for him.

3) I’m working in so many of my own personal phobias of awful things to have happen to you physically. Writing out that kind of nastiness is both relaxing and unnerving.

4) Still not sure how it’s going to end, but I know which characters I wouldn’t trust if I were you.

-Axel