November 30

Dark Journeys is now on Barnes & Noble!

My short story collection, Dark Journeys, is now available at the Barnes & Noble website. I’m hoping to have it uploaded to the Apple bookstore later this coming week (more hoops to jump through). I’ll also have a paperback version available in the next few weeks (just in time for the gift-buying season…hint, hint!).

And for the Kindle readers, you can get a copy at Amazon.

And yes, it’s still only $0.99 (US)!

Cheers!

RB

November 27

An Interesting Self-Publishing Experience

So I’ve published my first book, a collection of short stories that I’ve written over the past fifteen years. A few of them were previously published in magazines and anthologies, but the majority of them were never submitted or published. I’ve found the “submit and wait” game was becoming tiresome. I’d send out a story for consideration and wait months, occasionally over a year, for a response. Then there are the handful of times I never heard back, even after repeated queries. The publishing world has been changing over the last quarter century and I’ve learned that I don’t have the patience to work on a story then wait and see if anyone likes it enough to publish it.

I’ve had a decent run of acceptances and my fair share of rejections. The rejections don’t bother me. In fact, I’ve kept all the rejection letters/emails I’ve received over the years. Badges of honor. Most were form letters, but I was lucky enough to get some personal responses, encouragement and constructive suggestions. I appreciate that. The acceptances, well, those were always confidence-boosters, little nuggets of gold in an otherwise dreary cycle of submit and resubmit. The only problem I ran into was payment…there wasn’t much. With the state of fiction magazines over the past few years, payment seems to be dropping off. And while I want to support the magazines I can’t afford to subscribe to all of them. Even the ones that suggest I subscribe before submitting a story for consideration. That’s not a game I want to play.

So I began looking through all the completed stories in my Documents folder. There’s quite a few in there, pieces that I’m happy with, some that I tolerate because I received positive feedback on them despite the fact I wasn’t satisfied with the final product. I started thinking about the ordeal of continuing to send them out, the waiting, the sometimes cryptic responses or lack thereof. I was dreading having to continue the routine.

Then a friend of mine that I collaborate with on occasion suggested I just publish them myself. I hadn’t considered it, really. I mean, I have two novels in progress and planned to publish those once I get to the point where I’m comfortable abandoning them (writers never finish their stories, they give up and abandon them). But a short story collection was an intriguing suggestion.

I sat down one afternoon, glass of wine at hand, and began rooting through all those folders on my hard drive. So many stories, so different, so eclectic. That was the first obstacle to overcome – trying to figure out what to include. My writing interests are not mainstream. My head doesn’t work that way. So my stories are a mix of horror, erotica, science fiction, weird fiction, speculative fiction, and surreal experiments. I also had to get over the fact that a collection of my fiction isn’t going to appeal to a mainstream audience. No mass market for me. No, I’ll be in this weird little niche in the corner.

I decided to include a couple of stories that had already been published because I knew those would be good anchors. I then began reading through other stories looking for ones that caught my attention. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular. I tried not to think about whether or not people would like specific ones, or if I might offend someone, or scar them with something too far outside the norm. I looked for stories that I enjoyed writing and the ones that I enjoyed reading once I was finished with them. I have a couple of “beta readers” (basically, my partner and a couple of friends who give honest feedback) and I took into account the stories they liked. It took longer than I anticipated – several months – but I finally decided on the ones I felt good about.

For those who have self-published, you can understand what I went through next. The formatting was an interesting experience. I’m a Mac user, so I don’t have Microsoft Office (which is recommended by Amazon). I tried using Pages, but it wasn’t doing what I needed it to do. I ended up having to download  LibreOffice and that finally gave me the ability to format the way I wanted to. Then there was the converting with Amazon’s book builder. Then back to LibreOffice for more tweaking. Then converting. Then back to…well, you get the idea.

I finally got it all clean and polished (or at least, as close to that as I could). And then I did the upload, clicked the Publish button, and sent that baby onto the virtual bookshelves.

It was an interesting and educational experience. I’m glad I did it and I think it’s given me the confidence to do it again. I still have more stories on my hard drive that haven’t yet seen the light of day. Maybe in another six months or a year I’ll publish another collection. In the meantime, I have those two draft novels to complete. Wish me luck.

RB

November 25

Dark Journeys is Now Available!

I’ve finally published my short story collection, Dark Journeys. It’s an eclectic selection of horror, sci-fi, and weird/surreal speculative fiction. It isn’t mainstream fiction by any stretch of the imagination, so it won’t be for everyone. But if you’re interested in fiction that’s outside the norm, then please pick up a copy. It’s only $.99!

You can download a copy at Amazon.

 

November 19

Review of Songs of a Dead Dreamer & Grimscribe

Back in September I began looking for something interesting to read to get me in the mood for Halloween. I wanted something a little different from the popular vampire and zombie stories, something a bit more eldritch. I ended up stumbling across a post on a literature message board that recommended Thomas Ligotti. I’d never heard of the author, but a quick look at his Wikipedia page and I decided to give him a shot. I mean, how can I pass on someone the Washington Post called, “the best kept secret in contemporary horror fiction”?

I picked up an e-book version of Songs of a Dead Dreamer & Grimscribe (2015). This is an omnibus of his two short story collections. Songs of a Dead Dreamer was his debut collection from 1986, while Grimscribe was published in 1991. I didn’t know much about the collection beforehand, other than it was described on the message board as “throwback horror”, meaning, the stories are reminiscent of horror stories from yesteryear. I enjoy older horror, stuff by Poe, Lovecraft, Stoker, and Shelly, for example. I like the dark, brooding horror, the stuff that isn’t necessarily graphic. I like a slow burn, horror that’s more cosmic and ethereal.

I’m not going to delve into the nuts and bolts of these stories. I don’t necessarily care for book reviews where they tear the stories into their components and analyze what the author was trying to convey. That’s up to the individual reader, if they care that much. Me? I’m more interested in discussing what I thought about the stories, whether or not I enjoyed them and the book overall, and what I took away from my reading.

So, yeah, these stories are heavily influenced by gothic and eldritch horror. It feels as if Ligotti is channeling some of the old masters with the way he writes, the tone of his narrative, and the word choices. If there’s any doubt, one of the stories, “The Last Feast of the Harlequin”, is dedicated to Lovecraft.

Quick side note: Yes, I’m aware of Lovecraft’s racist viewpoints and the unfortunate depictions of minorities in his stories. However, I keep two things in mind when it comes to situations like this. First, I separate the artist from the art. A lot of great artists are assholes, but they can still tell a good story. I can appreciate the art and ignore the artist. Second, Lovecraft wrote during a different time, when racism was more accepted and was prevalent in society. Kind of like Tom Sawyer. I can accept the unpleasant portions of a story because I know it’s merely a time capsule. We can’t forget the past, but we can learn from it. Luckily, Ligotti avoids that influence from Lovecraft.

Now back to Ligotti. As I was noting above, the stories are very reminiscent of Poe and Lovecraft, that long, flowing prose, extravagant descriptions, and dark, brooding atmosphere. The horrors in these stories are somewhat supernatural in nature, but these aren’t your typical ghosts and ghouls. These stories focus on existential horror, creatures and boogeymen that aren’t from our plane of existence. One of the things I enjoyed was that Ligotti didn’t give explanations as to where these things came from, how they access our world, or in some cases, what they actually look like. There’s a lot left to the imagination. Ligotti sets up these dark scenarios, throws in an innocent protagonist (or not-so-innocent one), and adds an otherworldly creature. The results are fantastic.

No, there really aren’t any run of the mill monsters in here. They hide in the darkness, in the shadows, and Ligotti gives just enough description to send a chill up your spine. A few of the stories, like “The Greater Festival of Masks”, reminded me of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos. It takes place in an isolated town where some of the population isn’t…right. There’s a mystery around an annual festival, a dark ceremony, and ancient passageways beneath the earth. This was one of the creepier stories in the collection.

I also found it interesting that the settings for these stories are ambiguous. Countries, locations, even time periods are vague and mostly undefined. I think that added to the eeriness.

I think what I liked most about Ligotti’s stories is how he handled the weirdness. What I mean is, I like that he just drops some weird, bizarre situation in a fairly normal setting and does it in a way that I didn’t question it. I find that too often, authors feel the need to give a little too much detail. They describe their monsters down to the nitty-gritty, they let you know where they came from, their motivations, their intents. In some stories this works, but I like it when they hold some of it back. There’s a quote, maybe it was Hitchcock, about horror and scaring an audience. Basically, it was along the lines that you have to leave enough to the imagination because the viewer (or reader) will come up with something much more horrible in their own minds than you can show them on the screen (or the page).

Ligotti is definitely the heir to Lovecraftian eldritch horror. If you’re a fan of that type of fiction, I recommend you check out some of Ligotti’s work. Dark, weird, and disturbing are three words that aptly describe this collection of short stories. Give it a try if you’re up for it…and remember, the Great Old Ones are watching.

RB

November 16

Some Thoughts on Mental Health

I’ve been seeing more open discussions on mental health lately. It’s been on the news, commercials, social media. I’m glad to see it becoming less taboo, that people are more comfortable talking about issues, about stress, depression, anxiety, and the other ailments that we all deal with.

But it got me thinking about mental health in general. Partly because of the stereotype that all artists are batshit crazy, but also because I wonder how similar we all are when it comes to psychological issues.

I mean, we all have our baggage, the crap we carry around in our heads that helps to make us who we are. Childhood traumas, insecurities, emotional demons. Obviously, some have it worse than others. That’s a given. But I think that, at some level, we all have similar baggage we’re carrying.

The thing is, some people process their issues better than others. I think that we all have, at some level, anxieties and fears. Deep down, we all wonder if we’re going to make it, we all wonder if we have a breaking point. We’re all a little afraid of the unknown, of the chaos around us. We all wonder if we’re good enough, strong enough, to carry the load. It’s what makes us human.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s no shame in being anxious or afraid. Sure, some people have a harder time dealing with it, processing it. Those are the people who need to talk to someone, a professional, and maybe need some pharmaceutical assistance. It’s not weakness. In fact, I think the people who recognize they need help and go and get it are the strong ones. They are aware of their weaknesses, their faults, and they know they can’t manage it as well as they should. That takes strength.

Unfortunately, there are the other ones, the people who refuse to accept they have any issues, who refuse to look inside and take stock of their own shortcomings and needs. The thing is, I find that looking inside every so often is useful. Being self-aware not only of our strengths, but also our weaknesses, can make us healthier and happier human beings. We have to acknowledge our anxieties, our fears, our faults. We can’t address them unless we are aware of them. Once we do that, then we can start on the path to becoming healthier individuals.

For example, say you have anxiety in social situations. You’re aware of it and try to avoid any environments that can set you off. That’s a start. But what about digging deeper and finding the reason you feel that anxiety. Where is the root cause? What happened in your past that has driven you to this point? Along with that, what are the things that trigger you? Sure, crowds of people, strangers, can upset you, but why? What specific things trigger than anxiety? When you start asking yourself these questions and actively search for the answers, you’re on your way to healing.

And no, I’m not a mental health specialist. I’m someone who isn’t much different from anyone else on this planet. I’m just as anxious about the future, about life in general, as anyone else. I understand what it’s like to feel as if you’re in free-fall, that you don’t have control over anything. That’s life. We’re all experiencing it, but we can’t ignore it. We have to accept our current state of mind and see what we can do to process these feelings in a healthy way.

I try to be self-aware. I take stock of my action and reactions. When I get annoyed by someone, I try to understand what it is about them or the situation that annoys me. Or is it just me, something in my past that makes me feel this way in this type of environment?

Everything we’ve experienced in our lives has made us who we are at this exact point in time. Every joy, sadness, elation, fear, trauma…it’s all inside of us, inside our head. People often say that something that happened to them in the past is the reason they feel they way they do now. That’s true for all of us, but I have a caveat for this line of thinking. Everything in our past is the reason we are who we are, but it’s not an excuse for us to behave or react they way we do. In other words, we don’t have to let the past control who we are today. Sure, a bad relationship and breakup may have jaded you for future relationships, but are you going to let it affect your future relationships? Or can you process it in a way that you acknowledge the trauma, the pain, the anger, but realize that was a one-off? That last partner may have been an asshole, but the next person you go out with may be awesome…and if you let that past relationship jade you, then you may end up being someone else’s asshole.

I think that we all could use a little self-assessment in order to better ourselves, help ourselves be mentally stronger and healthier. There’s no shame in talking to a counselor about the things that keep you up at night, that stress you out, that make you worry. I mean, where’s the harm in simply talking to a professional about it? You may not think you need any guidance, but if you got some, maybe it will help you to understand yourself better, improve your relationships and interactions with others. Maybe it will make you happier. That’s not a bad thing.

RB

November 4

No Podcast This Week

I’m taking a little time to work on some other projects, so I won’t be recording or publishing a podcast episode this week. There will be new content coming soon, both for the website and the podcast, and I hope (crosses fingers) that my short story collection will be published in the next week or two.

Cheers!

RB