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Big publication news, readers! I have released a new Sam Brody novella today. That’s right, a sequel to my urban fantasy series, which began with The Red Eye, is now out as a Kindle exclusive ebook. This novella is available for free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers and for only 99 cents otherwise.
This novella, entitled The Skittering, has been in the works for several years, but during our period of self-isolation and quarantine, I have managed to get a big writing push going and completed it just a couple of weeks ago. The Red Eye and its prequel, The House on Concordia Drive, were originally published by Alliteration Ink, which unfortunately has gone out of business. I had planned to bundle The Skittering with the previous Sam Brody adventures and release an omnibus edition, ideally shopping it around to new publishers. I may indeed still do that at a later date, but I also felt that releasing The Skittering now, while we’re all cloistered and in desperate need of reading material, felt like the right thing to do.
If you have not read the previous Sam Brody pieces, you don’t really need to know much to dive into The Skittering. Sam is a radio show host of a late night program called The Red Eye. His show is about debunking the supernatural, which becomes ironic when he discovers he is actually a telekinetic dragonslayer. His girlfriend, Heather, is the producer for his show, and he has a complicated relationship with a mysterious woman named Bridget, who is a seer and a witch. In The Skittering, Sam and Heather are attending a podcasting convention, when one of the organizers goes missing. Sam is called upon to help the convention investigate the disappearance.
I hope you enjoy this story! It’s definitely for fans of urban fantasy, quippy anti-heroes, and adventure. Stay safe and healthy, everyone!
Greetings, readers, and I must apologize for not blogging in a hot minute. Things have been hectic this year, and while I have discussed a lot of this in other social media, I figured it was time for a near-the-end-of-the-year wrap-up of things I’ve been working on and releasing!
First of all, late this summer, I started a podcast with author Carrie Gessner. It’s called PosPop: Positively Pop Culture, and you can find it on all your favorite podcasting apps. We discuss several pop culture things every week (new episodes drop on Wednesdays), all from the perspective of being enthusiastic and happy about what we’re watching, reading, and listening to. Every few episodes, we also watch the same old TV pilot and discuss how it holds up. You can follow our Twitter account for all the latest info about new episodes! I will also soon be appearing as a player on an RPG podcast to be released soon. More info on that when I have it!
Secondly, I released a Kindle exclusive ebook this month called Advent Writing: 24 Creative Prompts to Get You Inspired This Holiday Season. This is only 99 cents or free if you’re a Kindle Unlimited member, and it walks you through a prompt a day from December 1st through Christmas Eve. By the end of Advent, you’ll have written multiple poems and short stories. This would make a fun alternative (or supplement) to NaNoWriMo!
In other publishing news, I got three peer-reviewed articles accepted in academic journals and anthologies this year and two short stories accepted into anthologies. My drabble “Control” appears in Worlds: A Dark Drabbles Anthology (Black Hare Press), and my horror story “Parasomnia” will be in Dark Lane Anthology Volume 9 early next year. My short story “Doomed” was reprinted in FreedomFiction over the summer (originally published in the fabulous anthology Sidekicks!, which went out of print this year). I also appeared at two academic conferences and also PulpFest in Pittsburgh, which was super fun.
I wrote a lot of stuff this year that’s still out on submission, and I’ve been chipping away at several large-scale fiction and poetry projects, including The Girl with Mechanical Wings (the sequel to The Curiosity Killers), as well as The Skittering (the sequel to The Red Eye, which is now unfortunately out of print). Once the latter is complete, I’ll be working on a Sam Brody omnibus volume and seeking a new publisher for it.
The big thing that’s occupying a lot of my writing life right now is my Ph.D. dissertation. As of today, I’m about 80% done with the full first draft. This has been a long journey. I started my degree in 2016, and I’m still hoping to graduate sometime in 2020. I’ve learned so much about writing during this process, and I’ve started to think about what kinds of writing and creative goals I have when I’m done.
Wishing you and yours a fabulous holiday season! If you subscribe to my podcast or buy any of my books (they would make great gifts!), I hope you enjoy them.
Ragnarök Unwound is the new novel from Kristin Jacques, just released this week from Sky Forest Press, a publisher with whom I act as a consultant. The book is about a young woman whose estranged mother left her with the power to unravel the binding threads of fate. According to the publisher, this means our heroine is “stuck with immortal power in a mortal body,” resulting in her “turning her back on the duty she never wanted.” The problem comes into play when Ragnarok begins. Our heroine then joins forces with several magical creatures and has to save the world. While this sounds like a lot of chosen one stories, I love that this one is set in a world that includes Valkyrie, goddesses, and a rich mixture of mythology. Author Kristin Jacques got her start in the Wattpad Stars program and has since written for major media properties, including Warner Brothers and Hulu. Sky Forest Press is committed to putting forward voices of diversity and inclusion, particularly by publishing work with primarily female protagonists. You can read more about their mission on their website. The novel is available through major outlets, including Amazon, in paperback and ebook formats.
I’m proud to consult for Sky Forest Press, and I believe their mission of bringing certain stories and voices to the speculative fiction market is vital.
My horror novella, We Shadows Have Offended, is now newly available as a Kindle ebook exclusive. If you have Kindle Unlimited, you can get this title for free; if not, it’s just 99 cents.
This work began life as a writing prompt many years ago, probably as far back as 2009 or so. In a writing group, I was given the concept of “shame” to work with, and for the longest time this piece was a story titled “The Beginning of Shame.” The bones of the piece are based in the facts of an obscure court case from the 1950s wherein a young military man was shot and killed by a stranger just outside of Chicago; the stranger was not found guilty, and yet the facts of it were confusing to me and seemed somehow obscured. I love reading about odd true crime tales, but I decided to infuse this one with outright supernatural horror, combining other things like ethnicity and class difference in subtle ways. In a lot of my early horror, I am clearly being influenced by the dialogue acumen of Stephen King, and this is no exception.
The original edition of this novella was released in 2011 by Etopia Press and later anthologized in their paperback horror collection A Touch of Darkness. Both of these versions are now out of print, but this new release is the same text, just now available through my Dioscuri Books imprint. If you didn’t get a chance to read it before, I hope you’ll give it a shot now.
It’s been a long time since I’ve updated this site with my writerly goings-on, and the main reason for that is school. In 2016, I began a new chapter in my scholarly life as a Ph.D. student, which involved a whole lot of coursework early on, new teaching preps, and living part-time in a new city. Fortunately, the coursework phase of my degree is now done, which has allowed me to live back in my primary residence full-time; let me tell you, splitting my week between two homes is not the glamorous, jet-setting lifestyle of the rich and famous, and I’m delighted to be done with it. Currently, I’m preparing for my qualifying exams, teaching online, and writing a lot, including a more regular return to creative work.
Today, I’m delighted to announce a guest post on the blog Unbound, in which I discuss common misconceptions about feminism. I also have some exciting new pieces coming out, including my contribution to Carrion Blue 555’s third volume of fifty-five word short stories, 555 Volume 3: Questions and Cancers. My contribution to that anthology was quite challenging: fifty-five short stories of fifty-five words each. I wrote the bulk of them during my few few terms at grad school, lonely and away from home, and I think that stress shows through (to good effect). I’ve also resumed work on the sequel to my science fiction novel The Curiosity Killers (Dog Star Books, 2016), tentative titled The Girl with Mechanical Wings. Sadly, that novel had to take a backseat to my studies, but I’m delighted to be back in the thick of it, with a goal of finishing a first draft by the end of summer 2018.
In other fiction news, I’m releasing a new edition of my 2011 novella, We Shadows Have Offended, through my own Dioscuri Books imprint. This will be a Kindle exclusive and likely available through both Kindle Unlimited and as a regular Kindle ebook, priced very low. I’m delighted about this and can’t wait to wrap production on it.
In the past two years, I’ve also been doing a lot of scholarly writing and presenting on everything from TV shows (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Travelers) to paranormal romance novels, women in punk rock, feminist imagery in music video, and Victorian prison design. I love the fact that my degree program (focusing on cultural studies, film and media, and gender) allows me to explore such a diverse array of subject areas, and yet I’m also excited to have the breathing room to do some original fiction and poetry work this summer, too. My next adventure that combines my love of popular fiction and my scholarly work will be to present at a science fiction conference this summer.
Watch this space–I should have an announcement about the new edition of We Shadows in the next month. Until then, wish me luck as I buckle down and do some heavy lifting on preparing the digital copy.
To celebrate next year’s release of my first science fiction novel, The Curiosity Killers, I will be posting my responses to the Confessions of a Writer Tag survey (http://nicoletteelie.com/2015/10/02/the-confessions-of-a-writertag), with a few responses to each of the twenty questions parsed out over October and November interspersed with other news and events.
- What was your first piece that you can remember writing? What was it about?
The first concrete piece I remember writing that I think would qualify as a real piece of fiction was a short story I wrote in high school called “The Conspiracy to Catch Dierdre Long.” It was a romantic comedy about two teachers set up by their students. I also remember writing a horror romance in early college—the title now escapes me—about a rock star who quits performing to lead a quite life out of the spotlight but is then found out by a stalker.
- What’s the best part about writing?
The best part about writing is shutting out the real world for a bit and envisioning my scene. I try to engage all five senses and truly feel as if I’m my point-of-view character, then just allow the scene to play out, seeing how it would unfold both adhering to my outline and perhaps deviating from it, and experiencing moments for their greatest emotional and thematic impact. I like being able to slow moments down and speed them up and experiment with them until I’m happy with how they look and feel in my mind’s eye as I get that first draft down on paper. Revision is somewhat painful and tedious, though necessary of course, and pre-writing activities (outlining, character creation, getting the essential elements decided) is also sometimes tedious. The idea generation stage doesn’t bother me, as I tend to have strange concepts occur to me at odd times, which I then just file away in a notepad document on my phone to comb through later when it’s time for the next project. But it’s that golden time of the actual hands on the keyboard, first draft where everything just flows out and gets filtered through my brain that is the most creative, zen-like time of my day. I can imagine and create and first draft for several hours at a time and feel like barely a second has passed. That is when I truly feel like my best self, like I’m engaged in what I was always meant to do.
- What’s the worst part about writing?
Even worse than revision is proofreading copy prior to going to press. By that point, I’ve read and re-read the material so much that I’m blind to the tiniest of errors. I usually read aloud, very slowly, or enlist a second reader to help so that I can actually catch any final typos that even my editor missed.
- What’s the name of your favorite character and why?
In everything I write, I tend to get a favorite character and enjoy working on their scenes quite a bit. In my Red Eye series, it’s Sam Brody, a damaged, snarky guy who’s flippant to a fault. With Sam, I tried to design a character around the premise “What if the ‘breakout character,’ the audience favorite, the comic relief, the ‘Fonzie,’ if you will, was the protagonist?” The thing about a comic relief character is that you don’t necessarily want them foregrounded all the time, as their attitude can often be their downfall. It definitely is with Sam, which is why he’s kind of an almost anti-hero in a way, suffering from a need to entertain himself and others even when the fate of the world is at stake. In my upcoming science fiction novel The Curiosity Killers, I’m quite fond of Eddy Vere, the “mad scientist” character, as well as Rupert Cob, the playboy adventurer. Both are complex creatures, but Vere is more damaged and full of gravitas, while Cob is more a mixture of two types of hero: comedic and tragic.
I’m going to make a claim of something very out of character, given the nature of much of what I write.
There is such a thing as too much research.
Relic, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, is a horror novel suffering under the weight of its own research. The monster is half-glimpsed, tangential, and less fully realized than the catacombs of the museum sub-basement or the DNA computer program some characters use to identify the creature. In a book that could have made its central monster a metaphor for evolutionary biology, the AIDS crisis, cultural appropriation and exploitation, environmentalism, or any number of other exciting hot-button issues, it instead ignores this potential by focusing on trying to make its setting more realistic.
I now know more about the politics behind the hierarchical staff structure in Preston and Child’s fictionalized Museum of Natural History than I do how anthropologist John Whittlesey turned into the cannibalistic Mbwun creature. I have more information about blueprints, night watchman rounds, Smithback’s book and Margo’s doctoral thesis than I do about the look and killing methods of Mbwun. And even through shoot-outs and terrifying treks through flooded catacombs, I felt no sense of urgency or action or even real threat or dread. The characters casually reveal important things—Mbwun’s existence in the museum for years, the method of killing the creature—as almost offhand things, barely worth mentioning, let alone showing center stage.
Now, if Preston and Child’s goal was to make a scary monster story, the above are all reasons why it failed to frighten or build suspense. However, if the authors’ goal was to write about the banality of evil and show how administrative red tape can be just as dangerous as a post-human lizard man who needs to eat part of people’s brains for its own survival, then they did a good job there.
Administrators are shown as craven publicity hounds who will cover up murder if it means not giving the museum a bad reputation. Academics like Kawakita are willing to throw away years of dedication to science in order to make a quick buck, even if it means endangering society. The only heroic characters are the naïve and the damaged, but the epilogue’s nihilistic (and sequel-friendly) coda seems to undo all the heroics they managed. It’s all ultimately pessimistic and highlights the worst in humanity, particularly amongst fame- and funding-hungry scientists.
Academics and non-profiteers are the real monsters here, and though that’s an interesting target, it makes for a dull read.
There’s a reason why certain genres are popular and others relatively non-existent. There’s no market for academic thrillers, as opposed to crime and horror. People want to read about cops and lawyers and doctors because they’re in the trenches of crime and problem solving. Reading about Margo typing things into a DNA sequencing computer is boring. It’s real, sure, and it’s exciting if you’re the one doing the science, but it’s a boring read. Monsters trudging around basements and sewers could be exciting…but not so much when they’re pitted against anthropologists, botanists, and biologists.
I think I would have liked this book a lot better if Pendergast had been the protagonist, rather than just a supporting character. Because as much as I like scientists in real life, they make for deadly boring monster fighters.
John Carptenter’s 1982 film The Thing has a lot in common with Alien (which I reviewed two weeks ago). We have a working-class crew in relative isolation, we have a creature invading the safety of the crew’s home/workplace, and we have almost all members of that crew being picked off by the creature. But unlike Alien, The Thing’s annihilation of the invader doesn’t result in even a modicum of hope. We’re left with the lone survivors—MacReady (Kurt Russell) and Childs (Keith David)—out of supplies and shelter in the Antarctic with no way to communicate their emergency to the outside world. As they watch the remains of their research station burn (presumably along with the last of the alien invader), they pass a bottle of scotch back and forth and exchange a bitter, resigned moment of wary camaraderie as they wait for death.
Grim. Very grim.
I rather like my horror to have be more of the “final girl” tradition, which Alien was, wherein at least one character triumphs and survives and we knowshe’ll be okay. Sure, Ripley was kind of aimlessly floating in her suspended animation with her cat, but she had supplies and a spacesuit and her wits about her. She was probably going to make it. In Carpenter’s other work, we may still have a hint that all is not well and safe (such as in 1978’s Halloween, but ultimately Laurie Strode finds relative safety in Halloween II), and yet here we’re presented with merely temporary safety, temporary calm, and no relief from the monster’s threat. Sure, Mac killed it, but he even voiced the idea that no one was leaving the station long before the final scene, telling Nauls (T.K. Carter) and Garry (Donald Moffat) that the best they can hope for is to destroy it, even if it means destroying themselves in the process.
Did I already mention this movie was grim?
Much like the various interpretations of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the biggest horror of The Thing is the fact that the alien can assume anyone’s identity. Paranoia, then, is the monster, the suspicion among friends (or at least friendly colleagues) that the person sitting next to you may no longer be who he appears to be, and that the man walking next to you may not be covering your back but waiting to stab you in it instead. Other than the obvious similarities with Alien, The Thing also reminded me of an Agatha Christie drawing-room murder mystery, where the killer could be anyone and everyone. It’s a logic puzzle, ultimately, with the viewer trying to figure out which characters have disappeared off on their own during some of the onscreen death scenes.
But perhaps the reason The Thing didn’t ultimately scare me as much as Alien could be the lack of empathy I felt for any of these characters. The threat comes upon them so quickly, we don’t get to see this crew in anything resembling “the calm before the storm.” Alien did a good job of showing the camaraderie of the shipmates before things went to hell, but The Thing’s crew is thrust into madness and uncertainty from the first minute. The cast is excellent, full of “Hey, it’s that guy from that thing!” types of veteran character actors, and yet they aren’t allowed to show their full range due to each one having limited screen time. I would have preferred fewer characters with more room to get to know each one, so that their gruesome deaths actually had some impact. As it is, I felt The Thing was as cold and isolating as the Antarctic scenery itself, and its hopeless ending left me wondering why Mac didn’t suggest blowing the station up to begin with. If you’re going to die anyway, go out with a bang, not a whimper.
Carpenter, John, dir. The Thing. Universal Pictures, 1982. DVD.
After the extreme horror of “Rawhead Rex,” I was a little nervous to read Clive Barker’s “The Yattering and Jack,” which is also included in his Books of Blood collection. And yet this was an almost whimsical, precious little tale comparatively (if anything can be called “precious” that includes multiple cat murders).
The Yattering is the antithesis of Rawhead. Where Rawhead was a confused, child-like ancient demonic creature, the Yattering is a lesser demon, all ephemeral and subject to the instructions of middle management. His job is to essentially haunt the house of bland milquetoast Jack Polo and annoy him to insanity. Polo takes the jabs in stride, appears to not realize the source of them, and rolls with it all, even as his wife commits suicide and his daughters begin to be adversely affected.
And yet Jack is more than meets the eye. It slowly dawned on me as I read that since we’re predominately getting the Yattering’s point of view, we don’t know if Jack’s mildness and c’est la vie attitude are genuine failure to see what’s happening to his house and home or if, as I suspected toward the end, he knew darn well what was going on and chose to essentially ignore it so as not to give the Yattering the satisfaction.
The Yattering and his bosses reveal through the course of the story that the reason Polo has been targeted at all is that his mother had been a follower of their kind but had renounced them in death. Therefore, hell must wreak revenge on the family, targeting Jack’s mother’s closest living kin—himself.
Unlike “Rawhead Rex”’s quick, violent, and deadly ending, where we barely get to savor the hero’s victory as Rawhead had already killed the man’s son, in this story we see the human truly triumph over adversity, with Jack very effectively tricking the Yattering and ultimately becoming his master, without killing himself or his daughters in the process. The Yattering thinks itself so clever, cunning, and intelligent (and he is, especially compared to Rawhead), but his smug surety of his own abilities is precisely what leads to his hubris and ultimate downfall. Jack is able to trick the Yattering into a rage, provoking him to go outside where he is forbidden to go. Crossing the threshold of the Polo residence causes the Yattering to become visible, corporeal, and therefore controllable. Jack is the Yattering’s new master. And though the Yattering warns Jack that “‘it’s considered ungodly to have any contact with the likes of me […] People have been burned for less’” (63) and that this could mean Jack can’t get into Heaven upon his death (64), Jack responds with the refrain he’s voiced throughout the tale: “‘Che sera, sera.’” (64)
The phrase itself has an interesting history, according to linguist Lee Hartman, and appears to be an invention of English speakers looking to exoticize the proverb “whatever will be will be” by making it appear as if it has roots in Spanish, Italian, or French, when in fact it does not. It also has no regular spelling, appearing sometimes with multiple accent marks and sometimes as “que” instead of “che,” as it does in the song popularized by Doris Day. (Hartman) In essence, Jack Polo has made a motto of an aphorism that sounds fancier than it actually is, a phrase borne of appropriation and invention, much like both Polo’s mother’s flirtation with demonic worship and Jack’s own apparent calm masking just as much cleverness and cunning as the Yattering.
Words and names generally are important in this tale. “Yatter” means “idle talk; incessant chatter or gossip” with the implication that the content of the talk is a bit frivolous and uninteresting, as is further evidenced by “yammer,” “chatter,” and “natter” all having similar origins and derivations (“Yatter,” OED). So the Yattering’s entire identity is wrapped up in spewing nonsense at a man who counters back with a phrase derived of nonsense which essentially means nothing other than “I acknowledge that events happen outside of my control.” Isn’t this phrase, then, essentially a bit meaningless? We therefore have two forces of nothing combating one another.
And yet Jack Polo’s name isn’t meaningless. “Jack,” often a nickname for “John,” is a name, a word, a noun, a verb…it serves multiple purposes and can connote actions such as propping up a car or providing comic relief (as when used to signify a jester). A “jack-of-all-trades” is a master of multiple practical avocations, in fact, and therefore Jack’s practical dispatch of the Yattering is quite well foreshadowed by his name alone (“Jack,” OED). “Polo” is a game, which further extends the battle between the two; while the Yattering sees it as a war, to Jack it might be less fraught than it seems, and to have a whimsical personal refrain, a practical first name, and a surname taken from a sport implies a kind of pragmatic strategy on Jack’s part. Yes, it’s a game of nonsense, but one must be careful in the arranging of the pieces and the players. Game theory itself is an entire academic discipline comprised of logic, mathematics, and philosophy.
Thus the story takes us from Point A, wherein the Yattering is the clever imp and Jack is the dull victim to Point B, which sees the Yattering reduced to a simpering servant and Jack triumphant and clever. While the result is not terribly horrific per se, reversals are a thread running through a lot of horror literature and media. The turn, the moment the plot becomes dire for one or more characters and something irrevocable occurs is something good horror employs quite frequently. In this story, we may be delighted to see it work out for our hero, and yet it’s also frustrating in a way, since the reader is pulled along through the action from the Yattering’s perspective. Is it satisfying to see him reduced to servitude? Or are we happy that for once human ingenuity wins out?
Barker, Clive. “The Yattering and Jack.” Books of Blood Volumes One to Three. New York: Berkley, 1998.
Hartman, Lee. ““Que sera sera”: The English Roots of a Pseudo-Spanish Proverb.” Southern Illinois University, 2013.
“Jack.” Oxford English Dictionary.
“Yatter.” Oxford English Dictionary.