Breaths

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Above is the desk, 2017.

Mostly paperwork, essays to read and grade, and my to-do list, but there’s usually project notebooks and whatever I’m reading or referencing. Actually, I think there’s a D&D handbook off-frame I was using as a reference for something Nightmare Party-related.

Oh, and of course the knife I keep around in the desk drawer for opening mail.

To get done;

  • THE SECRET PROJECT – Something I’ve been working on slowly. Involves working with other people. The script is haunting me, forever haunting me.
  • THE ACTUAL WORK – There’s a stack of essays to read and I’m working hard to stay on top of it all, better than previous semesters.
  • A FINAL SUBMISSION – The last of the batch of short stories and nonfiction essays I’ve been working on and shopping around, submitting since the end of last year.
  • CHAPTER 2 OF “PIONEERS” – I have…three pages of notes and haven’t even technically started yet. I should probably start.
  • THE THING ON THE THING – There’s a few blog posts to do, which I guess count as essays, with one in particular coming up next.

Alright, enough procrastinating.

Stranger In Fiction

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We tried. I really tried, I did.

While I’m sure the Netflix series The OA appeals to some, a weird mixture of science fiction, fantasy, and some kind of semi-spiritual journey, after three episodes, I have to admit I lost interest. It’s spacey, it’s sparse, it’s highly-reliant on mood and atmosphere and what I’m guessing is supposed to me dramatic pauses and dramatic interludes in general that just draws a lot of it out.

I don’t really like it, and I feel that not liking it (or feeling particularly interested in the vast majority of “Netflix Originals” or “Amazon Prime Original Series”) has a lot to do with some kind of TV burnout.

Overall, TV these days feels burdensome, to be honest, though when we finished watching WESTWORLD, I’d felt like I’d been exposed to something really amazing. That was a great show, an interesting ride I went on, just letting the story happen and seeing some great acting and great visuals. I really enjoyed WESTWORLD a lot more than I thought I would, in an inversely-proportional way that I didn’t care for The OA as much as I thought I might.

I remember when Netflix first launched. It was such a weird idea, an online version of Blockbuster’s, where I spent a lot of time as a teenager. At first, they had almost nothing, lots of shitty movies, Japanese anime, no real TV shows. It was early on in releasing TV for home media at the rate that it comes out these days. Because no one knew who the hell Netflix was, or what it was, no one gave them the time of day. The stuff they had the rights to rent was insanely bad, b-movies, foreign stuff, things like that. It coincided with an uptick in my taste in film, right as the local video store that sold the good stuff was closing down. The idea of a movie rental service being some kind of place for critically-acclaimed TV shows to exist on (or the great potential that I don’t think Netflix is capitalizing on as much as Hulu does in my experience, having troves of B-movies), was ridiculous and non-existent.

I loved the access, suddenly, to this trove of weird stuff, stuff that I’d never been able to find, much less conceive. It was early on in my exposure to regular cable TV (which meant I mostly just watched horror movies and scifi shows), so the idea of stuff like obscure channels and corners of public access on basic cable for old movies, weirdo documentaries and special, or bad cult stuff to watch for kicks wasn’t fully fermented in my head just yet.

We talk a lot about the “golden age of TV” (hell, even I have) in a post-BREAKING BAD, post-THE SOPRANOS world, where television is getting treated like somehow it’s this magic new and strangely-legitimate venue for artistic work. Which isn’t to say that it used to not be, but it was also very much a thing that for a long time wasn’t respected as good (even when it was very, very good). A huge part of this “golden age of TV” too is the ability for TV shows that want to be serious, dramatic, and “deep” now to have a wide range of possible outlets to be seen on. Regular TV, cable TV, HBO, streaming services like Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime, not to mention web-based TV channels that are on the far-left (edge of the dial) end of the cable channel options, popping up available on specific providers or through devices like a Roku or Amazon Fire or whatever Google decides to do to get in the game, which you know they will. Semi-related, I’m a little surprised that there’s no Apple TV network of shows, though Apple’s desire to stay in the hardware game is a much better cash flow, so…yeah, that probably answers my own question.

The issue here though is that, in the same way that you can’t pre-emptively create a true “cult” hit (which defeats the purpose of it being cult), you can’t expect something to be considered “serious” and dramatic if you try to aim for those as targets to hit rather than as after-effects of something that’s simply good.

And that’s the thing. Not a lot of what’s out there, what’s pushed at us, is actually good. But the desire to try to get the next actually-good thing kills what made me initially like and actively use a service like Hulu or Netflix (weirdly enough, I also remember when Hulu initially sold itself as a place JUST to watch broadcast TV online to catch up).

I’d rather watch movies, to be honest. I’d rather be able to watch a couple of movies a week instead of “marathoning” a TV series (being one of those young modern households that watches TV through the Internet rather than broadcast or cable), one of the dozens that seem to pop up weekly ,half of which are just knock-offs of other shows, or just suck, or are just repackaged British and Norwegian or whatever TV, not an original new show just for that outlet as they claim half the time. It can be an overwhelming selection, and getting burned over and over again looking for good storytelling fucking sucks. Movies are, to me, a better option for trying this out because even thought you might fall into something shitty, the investment of time, something I find myself much more conservative with wasting these days, is less. Sure, I can lose two hours or so, but better that compared to eight to twelve hours that I have to slug through over two to three nights to get to the goddamn point.

The TV I like to consistently watch (on repeat, in the background) is so far from what would actually be considered popular or modern (science cooking shows and old true-life mystery and crime stuff like old episodes of Mythbusters or Forensic Files, or the latest season of Top Chef and episodes of Chopped), stuff I can watch and not pay too much attention to, something that doesn’t present itself as a puzzle to be solved, just entertainment to be enjoyed. TV shouldn’t be a fight, it shouldn’t be a chore (no entertainment should, ultimately, be a chore, but that’s a broader thing). It should be some dumb mindless downtime to unwind you at the end of the day, it should be some background noise while you putter around the house and can’t find something good on the radio or in your music collection.

Maybe I’m just hard to please, but less and less, I don’t care about TV. I don’t care about TV we all claim to love, or adaptations of other medium, or TV on some new interesting platform. I just want something actually good and interesting that speaks to me, that entertains me, not something that demands respect or fucking homework.

Check Me Out On “The Alexandria Archives”

If you’re into fictional narrative podcasts and, like me, a big weirdo about horror, you’ll enjoy the podcast The Alexandria Archives. The very strange late-night/early-morning college radio broadcasts of Alexandria University, a strange Southern college with some…very odd proclivities that college student broadcaster Morning Wood deals with. I really like listening to it with

Also…the latest episode in particular is of interest because it features a short story by yours truly, me! You can check out episode 8, “Labyrinth,”here!

You can also check out the whole podcast archive here, or on iTunes here to catch up. It’s a relatively new show, with some cool stuff and good voices (some of the stories that are on previous episodes are really interesting), so definitely give a listen, and not just because I wrote for this latest one.

Olly Olly

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One of the games I really liked playing last year was OXENFREE, from Night School Studio. A group of kids gathering to have an all-night party/hangout on an old semi-abandoned island off the coast of their town, exploring a place that has a lot of weird mysterious history. The story continues to grow from the simple relationship interactions of the start to a much more in-depth mystery/horror/sci-fi thread that I ended up loving a lot for a variety of reasons. It was probably one of my favorite video games of 2016 (of the few I played admittedly) and is one I look forward to going back and playing again, something you can do thanks to the multiple paths and potential endings.

The mystery and story of the game unfolded really well and I ended up loving it because, like any good story, it starts small and builds. That whole idea of not starting with vast big concepts, but building layer upon layer is a difficult one in storytelling, honestly, because I see it screwed up in storytelling a lot. I think part of it has roots in childhood and teenage imaginations, when you think about it. Basic small concepts that build into larger things are the roots of most childhood play. We’re explorers. OK, what are we exploring? Uhh, this old house, because it’s got something in it we want…and so on, and so on.

Anyway, like a lot of first-person/POV games that exploded last year, it’s both travel-driven (walking through the environment to specific locations) and dialogue-driven (depending on how you respond to speech prompts, the story alters), but it looks more like a side-scrolling/traveling/whatever game, so it’s a little more old-fashioned in traveling around the world of the story, videogame-wise. It’s described as having a “2.5D perspective”, which is a good way of describing it.

The game’s major flaws is the weird viewpoints that can make looking at the action on screen, the movement, and the dialogue bubbles/boxes difficult at times. The background art is so beautiful in the usage of pastels and shadows, and the light or lack thereof works really well naturally  (as time progresses from dusk to dawn), that it sorta sucks to feel it’s all wasted pushed far back into a zoomed-out background. The story of trying to unravel the mystery of the odd signals that seem to be saturating the very air around the island, which was a research facility for odd radio wave-related technology in WW2. There’s something that may or may not be an extradimensional alien force that seems supernatural driving the weirdness of the island, tied to a horrific tragedy

What I really thought about when this game was on the TV in front of me, honestly, was the basic idea that it’s a group of kids left alone to explore the remnants of war, paranoia, and Cold War infrastructure, as they wander the island in search of their friends and answers. It struck a weird chord with me, not just in the nostalgia factor (in that a lot of the game relies on the usage of radios) but in the exploration factor.

As a kid, I’d be left alone a lot when shipped off to visit family in Greece, out on the island(s) alone for hours at a time. My Greek was pretty poor, I couldn’t sit inside and read all day unfortunately, I’d get restless and want to go out. The valley villages and beachfront towns I stayed in with relatives were nothing like I’d ever see before, places where abandoned  but seemingly-new houses stood alongside near-wrecks that people still lived in. Construction would sit dormant for years, paths cut across fields and all over the sun beats down, mercilessly.

Mostly, I just walked around.

I walked through people’s yards, never knowing if they were inside napping in the daytime heat or if the house was abandoned. I have a memory of fleeing in terror from someone’s weird front yard I was exploring because the house had some strange 80’s semi-“Golden Girls” look to it and I was fascinated, thinking the levels of dirt everywhere was a sign the inhabitants weren’t there. They were, and when I heard the door unlocking from the inside I ran in a blind stupid panic down to the beach, in full view of whoever came out.

A lot of the houses had been abandoned either before or during WW2, when Greeks fled en masse and became refugees in Asia Minor, in Egypt, in Ethiopia (like my grandparents). When the war was over, some only came back to the islands to gather what they could and contact relatives in Canada, America, and the UK to go live there, the country ravaged by famine and occupation. After that, those empty houses would be reused and repurposed by whoever was left in those villages in the 70s. Houses and taverns now turned into what I assumed was storage for church stuff. The old abandoned school that only went to 10th grade. The building made out of cinder blocks in the early 1990’s that’s become the mini-market, walls and shelves stocked to the ceiling with stuff now, constantly humming from the three freezers in there. I’d walk all over and marvel and old and semi-abandoned places, thinking about adventures that could be happening there, about who lived in these buildings and what was going to happen to these half-built and half-abandoned structures littering these tiny villages.

OXENFREE feels like that, in a way, listening in on weird half-forgotten stations in the airwaves and wandering through the ruins of former lives and former inhabitants, from the spookiness of the old mines and military bases to the empty storefront windows of the waterfront “tourist” part of town. The things that your brain does when places are abandoned is kind of fascinating, the leaps that it can make, be they correct or incorrect, are so cool. I thought that construction sites were abandoned military posts because I knew there were supposedly some old forts and stuff around, someone told me someone had told them. When I was really young and out there left to my own devices (those nostalgia-tinged halcyon days of being left alone all day during summers as a kid regardless of where you were), I’d play alone in these ruins, pretending I was a gunslinger or a pilot of an explorer or whatever, only the goats and the lizards and the half-done cinderblock walls hearing me.

In a similar vein, the radio kind of tied into this as well for me then (just as the radios carried by characters in the game), especially in such a weird isolated place. I had no idea what I was hearing, stuff that’d never come back after the first time I’d find it, odd signals and sounds that came from who knows what (maybe military stuff nearby? The many boats that traveled the waters of the Aegean?), snippets of Western pop music both old and new, voices in languages (Turkish mostly, as well as heavily-accented Greek beyond my ability to translate) that I didn’t understand. I’d turn the dials on AM and FM back and forth every night sometimes, or during quiet afternoons when it was too hot to be out, just trying to see who was out there talking, and what it would be like to intercept some kind of secret message, a crude understanding of numbers stations somehow half-forming in my brain.

It was, in hindsight, kind of dangerous. Not the radio stuff, that just fueled my overactive imagination. The exploring, I mean. I admitted about some of my exploratory ventures from those summers to my mom once and she basically said she’d beat exploration out of me, mostly because the older abandoned houses we’d go into in those desolate corners of those villages were full of rotted walls and floors, with half-hidden wells and septic tanks underneath them, traps waiting to catch and drown us like they actually had quite a lot of people through the years. There’s even a ghost story from those little Greek villages of naiads luring drunk single young men off the roads at night from the tavern, out into the fields to lay in the grass with them. You step off the well-worn road, into the grass, following this ghostly beautiful young woman, and step over a half-covered old well, falling in and breaking your neck.

Oh well.

That sense of exploratory uncertainty is probably the best part of the whole thing, moreso than the story, which is still excellent. I liked the blurring of the lines between the horror and the science fiction elements, something I don’t see a lot of (at least not well), it ties a lot into an idea of embracing the uncertainty of unknown enemies and not worrying too much about “explaining” them. Unknown voices and time glitches/reality manipulations that come from some weird tear in the world around us? Enough explanation for me.

There’s a bunch of criticisms of OXENFREE that I completely understand, from the dialogue (everyone’s sorta relaxed considering the danger they claim to find themselves in) and puzzle-wise it’s sorta light, though as something coming out in the visual/walk-through narrative “era” of video games that seems to be happening nowadays, it fits. I’m kinda excited to see what else Night School do.

I’m curious what other buttons from my weird exploratory childhoods they’ll end up pushing, because when done well, it’s less cashing in on nostalgic experiences or mining them for material, and more expanding on the origins of imaginations that began during periods of time we tend to look at nostalgically.

Twenty-Sixteen Demo


So, 2016, huh. It’s…actually been a busy one, in addition to getting engaged, a lot of teaching , and a trip to Greece with the lady. Professionally, despite how awful 2016 has been in the world, it was pretty good for me, and I can’t really apologize for that. You gotta grab the good things while you can. I wrote a lot;

I wrote a lot of essays at my website. Now that I look back on it, I wrote fairly regularly actually, which I don’t really remember doing. This year was also the year of Nightmare Party, where I started using Twine to tell  short stories and make puzzles/games. I self-published my chapbook Buried: Short Stories, a collection of horror short stories I’ve been working on and I’m incredibly proud of. It’s a place where I very much feel my own fiction-writing voice coming through naturally.

I also finished and compiled Save Changes together into handy novella form, my weird little mystery story I didn’t think much of but after I threw it out there as a free download, it turns out over 200 people ended up reading, which is very excellent by my standards if I do say so myself. Speaking of fiction, I also managed to get some short fiction done just for kicks at my website. There’s one here, another here, and here (this one is actually in the chapbook Buried: Short Stories). This summer I went to Baltimore during a four-day stretch of 100-degree days for Otakon 2016 and wrote about my experiences for Medium.com. That was actually pretty fun. An interesting idea I’d been thinking about got turned into a SECRET PROJECT thanks to some buds old and new, which should blossom in the upcoming year.

I started playing and paying more attention to video games (again after a VERY long time away) video games, as well as the old standard of board games. Exploratory 1st-person narratives blew up in 2016 with stuff like Firewatch (which I loved), and played quite a few of (this past year Gone Home came to PS4 and I’ve been loving replaying that a few times too). There was Until Dawn, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, DOOM, and Oxenfree (which I have something to write about brewing) as well, really ushering in games that appeal to someone like me, who doesn’t give a shit about AAA stuff like the tenth CALL OF DUTY game. I really like the horror board game Betrayal At House on the Hill, which we’ve hosted for a few times here. I forgot how fun a board game can actually be if you’re actually interested in it, so 2017 will definitely be more of a board game year and gaming year in general.

I didn’t read a lot of “new” books and comics really, mostly older stuff and re-reading classics. I quite enjoy Warren Ellis doing his Morning.Computer quick writings, semi-nonsense jotted out first thing upon waking with no thought or real structure. Joe Hill’s The Fireman was great, HEAD LOPPER from Andrew MacLean is an excellent comic, and I read a bunch of Mary Roach. I enjoyed Kaleb Horton’s work on politics and culture through the year, and really loved any time Laura Hudson wrote about video games. Someone’s been leaving John D. MacDonald novels at the local take-a-book/leave-a-book shelf by the subway station, which are interesting reads for PI/mystery-minded types like me.

Newsletters really were full-swing this year, which is a trend in writing and internet-ing that I’m glad is “back”, so to speak. I enjoyed getting stuff from Jess NevinsAnne Elizabeth MooreAlex SeguraSarah WeinmanWarren Ellis (again), and Jamelle Bouie, among others. I can’t get too much nonfiction in me because so much of it tends to be depressing honestly, but at the same time there can be some great stuff out there, like the folks above, which can definitely inspire you to move forward with whatever it is you want. Whatever gets you moving, ya know.

Anyway…be good, look out for each other in the upcoming year. Whatever and however you celebrate, enjoy your holiday season. Keep those knives sharp, your eyes sharper, and don’t forget to scoop out the litter box.

Enjoy my short story “Skies Dance”

I wrote this to work out some ideas and feel through some approaches I’d been wanting to try, and figured I’d throw it up here, see what people think. Read it below and enjoy, lemme know what you think. Continue reading “Enjoy my short story “Skies Dance””

Hey, check out “BURIED”

Halloween is closing in, so in celebration of the spooky holiday season, my favorite, I threw this little chapbook together with some of my short horror stories, something for your ‘zine bookshelf or while you’re watching horror movies this excellent October season.

BURIED: Short Stories contains three shorts, one of which has appeared in the newsletter and on here, with the other two being new originals. You can get BURIED with my stories “The Iron Space,” “The Photo,” and “Cigs” for less than $4 in print (with a free digital download) or digital-only for $0.99.

 

I’m using Magcloud to publish BURIED, so shipping is a little pricey (it’ll be about $3, but that covers the printing/material costs basically).

Anyway, check it out, get a copy, spread the word, enjoy some written horror and support an indie self-publishing writer like myself!

If you’re into Facebook…

…I got a Facebook author page.

You can check it out for older work I’m re-sharing, as well as some newer stuff eventually.

Hope everyone is enjoying their summer. There’s stuff to come…

Enjoy my short story “The Iron Space”

If you’re a newsletter subscriber, you got this early, but if not, it’s OK. This is just a little short story I wrote to scratch an itch recently, and extended and polished up when I was having work done in the apartment and  was just sitting here with no internet and only half the electricity working.

The story’s a little bit Poe, a little bit Lovecraft, a little bit all over, but I like how it came out, especially in terms of voice and sentence structure (if that makes sense).

Anyway, enjoy.

“The Iron Space” by Costa Koutsoutis

Continue reading “Enjoy my short story “The Iron Space””