Unfriending the Darkness

Francis Bacon: Three Studies of figures on Beds · Portrait of Michel LerisLots of bruised egos and hurt feelings this election cycle. Online friendships have been strained and broken, new alliances forged between unlikely social media partners, and more than one profile suspended altogether due to the rancorous and disheartening discourse of this pivotal campaign season.

Our distrust of the corporate oligarchy’s political machinery and our distrust of our fellow citizens has never been deeper or more apparent. For better or worse, both major parties and their supporters are showing their true colors on social media, and it ranges from less-than-ideal to downright horrific.

Brutal, but I’m okay with that. I’ve never been shy of a wee online dust-up. I’ve been vocal in my support of my candidate.

I’ve tried to be thick-skinned about it; I haven’t unfriended/unfollowed anyone who disagreed with me.

However, I don’t know how many people have unfriended/unfollowed me, and I don’t want to know.

Because I care. I am neither so young nor so foolish as to pretend that I don’t care. There is a word for people truly unconcerned with what others think of them. That word is sociopath. Sociopaths don’t care, in the final analysis, what other people think of them. They only care about the results. The most successful sociopaths are those who learn to manipulate the empathetic responses of their fellow humans.

The successful sociopath uses people successfully.

Which brings me to unfriending the darkness.

A sociopath from my youth resurfaced on social media. In the midst of the back-and-forth of this fractious, frantic political brouhaha, a little bit of darkness stole back into my life via my smartphone.

In half a century, twenty-odd countries and three continents, I’ve met only a handful of people I consider evil. This dude is one of them.

Some acquaintances think I love horror. They associate me with the soulless, cynical, dystopian splatterpunk zombie-fests that have come to dominate the horror market.

Nothing is further from the truth. I write Buddhist morality plays masquerading as paranormal thrillers. I have written elsewhere that I aspire to transform the merely macabre into the sublime (tell me when I get there, cause I might miss it), and I believe in the aspirational power of macabre literature.

It’s always, always been about seeking the light through the darkness, because I’ve seen both. I know evil when I see it.

The sociopath showing up on my smartphone was a reminder of that darkness. I took the opportunity to unfriend/unfollow him and a half-dozen people trapped in his grim and hopeless orbit.

I wish them well, but I’m out of it, and I slept more easily last night than I had in several days.

So if you and I are sparring on social media, I hope you believe me when I say we’re arguing about the best way to get to a better place. I may disagree with you and your thoughtlessness in allowing a narcissistic megalomaniac within a hair’s breadth of the highest office in the land, but I don’t think you’re evil.

I know evil, and you ain’t it.

Posted in Personal

THE DEVOURING GOD is out in PAPERBACK 7/12/2016!

The Devouring God (1)Runaways in southern Japan are stripping the flesh from their victims, and only a disgraced former detective can stop the spreading madness in this dark and thrilling sequel to The Drowning God.

It’s been three years since security guard Tohru Takuda and his reluctant band of monster-hunters defeated the Kappa of the Naga River. Now, a mysterious artifact is driving innocents in Southern Japan to flay their friends alive, and the grisly murders turn Takuda’s world upside down. Disheartened and impoverished, he struggles to lead his rag-tag team to find the artifact before it poisons the entire nation. Takuda is caught between the police, the bloodthirsty murderers, and forces conspiring to harness the artifact’s horrible powers.

And all the while, he must watch his back, because the most dangerous killer may be lurking among his own

Posted in annonce - Ankündigung - 発表 - announcements - news

The Drowning God is Here!

溺死の神様 (dekishi-no-kami-sama)The Drowning God, a paranormal thriller by James Kendley, available from Harper Voyager, ebook July 28, 20105, mass market paperback Sept. 1, 2015!

The Drowning God is one of 30 projects selected out of 4,500+ submissions for Harper Voyager’s new digital-first expansion.


To uncover modern Japan’s darkest, deadliest secret, Detective Tohru Takuda must face a living nightmare from his childhood: THE DROWNING GOD.

Few villagers are happy when Takuda comes home to investigate a foiled abduction, and local police enlist powerful forces to shut him out. Takuda sacrifices his career and family honor to solve the string of disappearances in the grim and backward valley of his youth, but his investigation reveals that more than a job is at stake. Behind the conspiracy lurks the Kappa, a monstrous living relic of Japan’s pagan prehistory. Protected long ago by a horrible pact with local farmers and now by coldly calculating corporate interests, the Kappa drains the valley’s lifeblood, one villager at a time.

Takuda and his wife, Yumi, are among the few who have escaped the valley, but no one gets away unscarred. When Takuda digs into the valley’s mysteries, Yumi’s heart breaks all over again. She wants justice for the son the Kappa stole from her, but she needs an end to grief; even if Takuda survives the Kappa, the ordeal may end his marriage.

With Yumi’s tortured blessing, Takuda dedicates his life to ending the Drowning God’s centuries-long reign of terror. He can’t do it alone; a laconic junior officer and a disarmingly cheerful Buddhist priest convince Takuda to let them join him in the final battle, where failure means death—or worse. The journey of these three unlikely warriors from uneasy alliance to efficient team turns THE DROWNING GOD’s mystery into an adventure in friendship, sacrifice and courage.





WH Smith, UK

Rakuten JP

Posted in annonce - Ankündigung - 発表 - announcements - news

My blog post on tor.com: Five Japanese Books of Mystery and Imagination




tor.com blog post about books that changed my mind about Japan and directly influenced The Drowning God.

Posted in annonce - Ankündigung - 発表 - announcements - news

Science Friction: An Experiment

1) Read “Trade Surplus”

2) Watch Andrew Swainson’s “I Lovely Cosmonaut” (music by Monstrance, 2007)

3) Repeat 1) and/or 2) as needed

4) Report effects in Comments section


They first exported mesh bags of green plastic army men, tiny warriors tangled in platoons of prime numbers. Each soldier was unique. Each was svelte and androgynous. Each sported a monstrous hooked nose and an improbable weapon: this one aimed a defoliated tree branch; this one cradled a gigantic spiked dildo; this one stood tip-toe in the act of hurling a boomerang made of broccoli.

We passed them around. Trade them! Collect them! All one-hundred-and-thirty-seven!


When the clothing came, we fought over it. I wore a vest of acrylic burlap in shocking blue with seventeen pockets and an eye-shaped vent between the shoulder blades. The chill up my spine was small price to pay for an ironic fashion statement. My girlfriend wore a shimmering blouse with extra sleeves flapping like rectangular wings. We laughed aloud at the late-night talk show host who proudly displayed his new blue jeans and then had the cameraman zoom in on the superfluous fly at his left ankle.

It was open.


The initial injuries came with housewares. The filigreed tableware was hypnotically gorgeous, but even the spoons were frighteningly sharp. Trivets snapped like terrapins, salad tongs closed on their victims like medieval torture devices, and drinking glasses required bibs or tourniquets, depending on your luck.

Opinion on the goods was divided. Enthusiasts took a neo-Taoist approach. Gorgeously crafted nine-inch golf tees, for example, made wonderful chopsticks, and twelve-pound, razor-sharp butter knives were a chef’s dream come true. Use them for what they are, not what you wish they were. Just ignore the instructions.

Not an option in my set. The instructions were cooler than the products themselves, Zen kohan with stick figures engaged in absurd activities apparently unrelated to the products themselves. We blew them up on tee-shirts and bumper stickers:

(stick figure apparently shot from cannon)


(stick figure apparently crying or sweating on toilet)


(stick figure apparently asleep in colander)

and my favorite, the ominous and enigmatic

(stick figure apparently smoking a dog)

Consumer electronics appeared overnight. There were no design innovations to distinguish them from the products of established makers. There were, however, unexpected functional anomalies. We heard of these UFAs as rumor, but we all faced the reality sooner or later.

Eating directly from the new refrigerators destroyed melanin, which led one feebleminded school nutritionist to tell children that midnight snacks caused albinism. The picture quality of the new televisions was superb, but even limited viewing left owners with a desire to hoard ball bearings and a voracious curiosity about Paris in 1473 C.E. The new hairdryers left users starry-eyed and anemic, but their hair was so lustrous and full-bodied that few could forgo the pleasure.

The products were hard to avoid. We started buying them by accident, which ruined the irony—or worse.

A canned drink had me seeing infrared vapor trails with the first sips, then in x-ray at the half-way mark. By the time it was empty, I was counting mites on a bluebird three blocks away, and I was afraid to leave my bench due to the yawning crevasses and gigantic crawling creatures on the sidewalk, so unaccustomed was I to the startling shift from telescopic to microscopic vision. It was dusk when my sight returned to normal, and by that time, I had examined the can as no human had ever examined any object with the naked eye.

Just below the allergy information:

(three stick figures apparently fighting over a pizza slice)

The products penetrated all markets, everywhere. By the time we understood their synergistic interrelations, how using the products in close proximity to one another created new and more alarming UFAs, it was too late.

We had dug our own graves with our debit cards.

We threw it all out. The streets were littered with indestructible, immaculately wrought objects generating overlapping fields of complementary and increasingly deadly UFAs. The goods neither rotted nor rusted nor faded, and no one collected them. The sanitation workers had been issued the new cell phones.

We quickly learned to hit the dirt when we heard that peculiar, warbling ringtone.

I saw one up close. Bits of the former owner clung to it with a sort of molecular desperation, but it was clean enough that I could read the single instruction on the receiver:

(stick figures apparently joined at the heads)

As UFAs tore the world apart, the decision finally came to use beta testers. The legacy of our journalism and of our culture is the cynicism of the final headlines:

(stick figure kneeling in prayer)


(stick figure exploding)

We forage now. We’ve even learned to joke as we skulk beneath the crisped husk of the little girl catapulted into a tree by her own bicycle or as we step over the poor shivering bastard whose skin has melded with the lining of his seven-sleeved fleece hoodie or as we dodge the lurching woman whose headset has burrowed into her brain.

Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now?

We cannot laugh, but we joke. We are still urban sophisticates, after all.

We hope for escape to the suburbs, but energy-smart and passenger-hungry vehicles prowl day and night, and the new traffic signals are dreadfully efficient. Petrified forests of would-be jaywalkers crumble at every bridge and tunnel leading out of the city.

We forage till one of us opens the wrong cabinet or uses the wrong can opener or steps on the wrong floor tile.

We forage, and we read labels. We’re don’t care about high fructose corn syrup anymore.

We look for unusual instructions. We look for the ubiquitous point-of-origin label:

(stick figure and ice-squid apparently playing pat-a-cake)

Ice-squids from a gas giant, little entrepreneurs with big dreams.


Nobody’s laughing now.



• Monstrance was an experimental improvisation project featuring XTC’s Andy Partridge (guitar), Barry Andrews (keyboards) and Martyn Barker (drums). Get Monstrance here.

“Trade Surplus” appeared previously in a daily supplement to a for-the-love online litmag.

Posted in Fiction

Family Romance: Our Cup of Meat

Jaded Ibis guarantee: visuals came first, then verbals

Kendley Fiction confirms it: Bizarro fabulist Tom Bradley exists, and he appears to be entirely human.

Taller than most, and much redder, but still.

I know Bradley exists because he taught alongside me at a Japanese institution of higher learning in the mid ’90s. I met him at a spring semester start-up confab. This was a seasonal ritual in which gaijin EFL instructors reassured a harried consortium secretary that they could dress themselves, show up on time, and remain more-or-less sober during short presentations.

We played Japanese. It was fun! We smiled and bowed and sat in neat rows. The secretary was pleased. Everything was great.

Then came the turd in the punchbowl, a ginger giant in a voluminous Hawaiian shirt. He made it clear that the whole thing was a complete waste of his time. He split the second it was over, leaving the rest of us standing forlorn in our cheap Korean suits.

Months later, my mentor at that college told me of a manuscript received from a colleague. Tom Bradley, he called this colleague. A tall fellow…

“And red?” I asked tremulously. “Very red, favoring shirts Hawaiian and floral?”

It was so. Bradley’s manuscript had displeased my mentor, who declined to pass it along to a friend at the William Morris Agency.

“It just wasn’t my cup of meat,” he said, employing a conflation of aphorism and euphemism he had used to great effect in his own manuscript, Let’s Practice Colloquial English.

Time passed: I returned to the States with Renée, my honeycrunch Canadienne; my mentor hunkered down to spawn in the jungles of darkest Siam; and Tom Bradley emerged as the inakamono anchorite godfather of Bizarro letters.

Now, two decades years later and half a world away, I can say without qualification that Tom Bradley’s Family Romance is Kendley Fiction’s cup of meat.

Even the initial premise is irresistible: Nick Patterson provided ninety illustrations, and Bradley wove among them a tale of life under an industrialized, militaristic theocracy dedicated to the genocide of the relic Amalekites, wretches cursed by Jehovah in the first book of Samuel way back in the porno-scriptural times before whatever Big Thing brought us to this point, said genocide undertaken in order to recover the Weapon of Sparse Destruction allegedly developed by said relic Amalekites.

Our narrator, growing up in the shadow of an absent father, resides in urban catastrophe on the banks of the Judeuphrates River with his sister (nearly catatonic thanks to the tender ministrations of the Grand Religiopath and/or his minions) and Mom.

Let’s conjure the voice of Bradley himself to tell you about Mom.

Four ways to read Family Romance:

1) an ironically pseudo-semi-autobiographical take on boyhood in Utah during the age of above-ground H-bomb testing, perhaps Bradley blowing off steam left over from Fission Among the Fanatics,

2) a scathing allegorical satire of modern America gone off the rails in a jingoistic, genocidal frenzy of right-wing Christian extremism,

3) an extended and elaborate Rorschach test in which we examine the relationships between Patterson’s disturbing stimuli and Bradley’s horrifying, outrageously funny responses,

4) or a heartwarming coming-of-age story.

Take your pick.

The real point of reading Bradley, aside from his illumination of the ridiculous and grotesque world around us, is the rolling cadence of his pitch-perfect writing. We prize competent prose here at Kendley Fiction, but we absolutely adore Bradley’s strong, steady voice guiding us with spot-on verbiage and heady switchbacks to revelations by turns disgusting, divine, and gut-bustingly hilarious.

He’s always a treat, and knowing that Nick Patterson’s drawings came first gives us a little more insight into the mind of Tom Bradley (see option 3, above). Presented with these disturbing and downright frightening illustrations, why did Bradley choose this direction for his narrative?
• A Relic Amalekite cleansing its fundament with tufts of tall grass — yup. What else would this illustration portray, now that I read the text?
Mom is crowned Equestrienne Princess at the gala defense expo. She employs her formidable vagina to point out the superior vertebral development of her urban assault vehicle.
• Mom employing “her formidable vagina to point out the superior vertebral development of her urban assault vehicle” — check.
moth explodes face
• This illustration engenders the phrases “Sneeze Catastrophic” and “off-the-shoulder love-sarongs.”

Of course it does.

But who the hell would make those particular associations in the first place?

Bradley, that’s who. He’s one of a kind.

In the long run, our own reactions to Family Romance may be the greatest revelation of all. Learn more about Tom Bradley — and perhaps more about yourself as well, liebchen. Kendley Fiction guarantees that, at the very least, you will not, cannot, be neutral about Family Romance, our cup of meat.

This post was previously published in a for-the-love-online litmag. We meant it then, too.

Posted in Entertainment

Blame Horror Movies, Pt. II: Late-Night Time Capsules

Spirits of the Dead French theatrical release poster

Spirits of the Dead

A 1968 French-Italian production of three Edgar Allan Poe tales, narrated by Vincent Price. Federico Fellini signed on to direct the segment “Toby Dammit” thinking the other segments would be directed by Orson Welles and Ingmar Bergman, but he was depressed to learn the other directors would be Louis Malle and Roger Vadim. Sure enough, Malle’s and Vadim’s segments (“William Wilson” and “Metzengerstein,” respectively) are stylish and forgetable-to-tedious, but Fellini’s “Toby Dammit,” the last and longest segment, is well worth the rental. Terence Stamp plays a strung-out British film star nodding past a cavalcade of classic Fellini caricatures, all the time haunted by the figure of a little girl bouncing a white ball…Very, very spooky.

Time Capsule: Also featuring Alain Delon and a scantily clad Brigitte Bardot (“William Wilson”) and a scantily clad Jane Fonda on horseback falling in love onscreen with her brother Peter (“Metzengerstein”).


"Oscar Wilde said something to the effect that if there were not a devil, we'd very likely invent him. He serves many a purpose, and this grim-visaged character here is proof of that rather bitter pudding in a story that tells what happens when evil collides with evil. The painting is called The Devil Is Not Mocked."

Night Gallery

Wednesday is still my favorite day of the week, thanks to Rod Serling. The only thing good about living in the Central Time Zone was being able to stay up late enough to see Night Gallery. Yes, it’s time to talk about Serling’s OTHER best macabre television series ever. Serling introduced each segment by way of a work of art, a painting or sculpture often as creepy as the segment itself. The segments, especially in the 1970-’71 season, largely avoided the topical concerns often expressed in The Twilight Zone, replacing social consciousness with…bite. “Midnight Never Ends” – “Sins of the Father” – “Little Girl Lost” — even the titles were chilling. Night Gallery on DVD is the perfect antidote to torture porn and tweenie-targeted vampire(ish) nonsense. It’s fast-paced enough for modern audiences, but the writing ranges from rock-solid to excellent, and the performances uniformly reach heights we just don’t see in slasher-trash (sorry, fans of Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasance, Malcolm McDowell and a cast of little-knowns, but now we’re talking about Vincent Price, Orson Welles, Ray Milland, Cesar Romero, Sam Jaffe, Burgess Meredith, Agnes Moorehead, Godfrey Cambridge, Roddy McDowall, Raymond Massey, William Windom, Jack Cassidy, Wally Cox, Robert Morse, Rudy Vallee, Victor Buono, Jack Albertson, Lawrence Harvey, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Patrick O’Neal, Leslie Nielsen, John Carradine, John Astin, Pat Boone, Mickey Rooney…) Oh, yeah. And bits of it were scary as hell. Between light-hearted segments like “A Midnight Visit to the Neighborhood Blood Bank,” “Dead Weight” and “The Flip-Side of Satan,” we had “Something in the Woodwork,” “Pickman’s Model,” and one of my personal favorites, “The Doll.” Laugh if you will, but I still can’t sleep in a room with a doll, with those glassy eyes and that frozen little smile just waiting to widen into a big, toothy grin…damn!

“Good evening, and welcome to a private showing of three paintings, displayed here for the first time. Each is a collector’s item in its own way, not because of any special artistic quality, but because each captures on a canvas, suspends in time and space, a frozen moment of a nightmare.”

—Rod Serling, from the Night Gallery pilot

The Bride of Frankenstein theatrical release poster

The Bride of Frankenstein

Four years after Dracula and arguably at the height of Universal’s gothic splendor, The Bride of Frankenstein lacks the misplaced angularity borrowed from German Expressionism that characterized many of the Frankenstein sequels, and it retains a warmth and peculiarity that makes it one of the most human and humane monster movies ever. Thanks to James Whale’s subversive direction, Ernest Thesiger’s evil and effete Dr. Pretorius chills and delights, Karloff horrifies as the monster in his first speaking appearance, and Elsa Lanchester entrances as the iconic Bride. It’s a beautiful bit of cinema history that raised the bar for Hollywood horror, and there’s still nothing else quite like it.

“Sometimes I have wondered whether life wouldn’t be much more amusing if we were all devils, no nonsense about angels and being good.”

Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger)


Theatre of Blood theatrical release poster

Theater of Blood

Vincent Price chews up the scenery as Edward Lionheart, a Shakespearean actor who commits suicide in front of the critics who’ve thwarted his career. As critics begin to die in bizarre fashion, twistedly reminiscent of the gruesome and unexpected murders in Shakespeare’s plays, chief critic Peregrine Devlin begins to see a startling pattern… Along the lines later aped by Se7en, but far more clever and much, much more fun with a heavyweight supporting cast including Diana Rigg, Harry Andrews, Jack Hawkins, Robert Morley, and Swindon’s own Diana Dors.

A remarkable performance. He was overacting as usual, but he knew how to make an exit.”

Peregrin Devlin (Ian Hendry)

Can you think of more DVD delicacies to keep the kiddies up late at night? Feel free to detail them in comments below!
Posted in Entertainment

The Monster in My Office

after Monstra Humana by Münster

There’s a monster in my office, and it gnaws at me.

This monster dwells in the twilight world between life and death, never daring to crawl out of the shadows. It’s too hideous for the light of day; bloated and grotesque, its malformed appendages flap spastically. No wonder I keep it in the dark.

If you ever looked more closely, as several people have, you would see that its individual parts are quite lovely, even if they don’t fit together like clockwork. Were the extraneous bits sliced away and the remainder stitched up neatly, we could see what massive reconstructive surgery might get this creature on its feet.

For now, the monster remains in the shadows. I lock the bottom drawer to keep it from wandering out.

It’s my first novel, The Wine Ghost, in which we consider the terrible freedom of Frank Boyles, the last Baby Boomer. Set in Arizona, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Nepal, and Thailand, The Wine Ghost was twelve years in the making. I wrote at least 350,000 words on three continents to get the present 110,000, and I learned lessons in writing that no classroom can contain. The Wine Ghost is so dense, challenging, and chaotic that it’s unpublishable in its present form, but writers who’ve read the whole thing (and the handful of agents who’ve read the pitch and substantial excerpts) have said it’s a remarkable achievement, despite the fatal flaws.

Here are some of those fatal flaws (from my current perspective):

• The first half of the novel is a nosedive, and readers begin to wish for the final collision 30 pages in. As it is, it takes 60,000 words for Frank Boyles to fall off Japan.
• The upward spiral of the second half provides stronger structure, and it’s less relentlessly depressing than the first half, but the pacing is crippled by chapters up to 9,500 words in length.
• Those overlong chapters end like short stories, depriving readers of thrills, chills, or cliff-hangers that might help them keep turning the pages.
• Even at a slim 110,000, it’s nearly Dickensian in the number of characters and subplots, a ridiculously overdrawn expat milieu that drowns a simple tale of disgrace and redemption.
• Its many stylistic indiscretions (i.e., showing off) brand it as an irretrievable semi-autobiographical first novel from a boy who had read too damned much Cormac McCarthy and far too little Hemingway.

Well, what to do with a monster like this? “Kill your darlings” comes to mind, but there’s still good meat on those awkward bones. I’d be a fool to just delete it.

Five ways I’m putting The Wine Ghost to work:

• plucking out whole works of short fiction
Done and done. From The Wine Ghost, I’ve harvested short fiction (“Dry Wash” in The Bicycle Review, “Coolie Tales” in not from here, are you?, “The Belly Lesson” and “Tracy-baby Tells a Ghost Story” in a for-the-love online litmag) and poetry (“The Algerian Witch’s Abandoned Brood” in Hauptfriedhoff, for which I also penned the foreword). This is good exposure and possibly good advance PR, as long as I credit these appearances in my final MS.
Oh, and as long as I eventually rewrite and sell the book.

• repurposing plot, setting, and character
Check. If The Wine Ghost is to become a viable novel, I must cut 40,000 words of extraneous characters and subplots, and I’ll be damned if they’re going to waste. Almost all of that 40,000 words, including an entire valley and one of the most frightening maniacs I’ve ever written, is going into my paranormal thriller series. A no-brainer, as they say.

• entering first-chapter contests
Consider this: your first novel, like mine, may be unpublishable in its current condition, but you polished the living daylights out of that first chapter, didn’t you? Despite structural flaws in the work-as-a-whole, you might still get some cash out of that first chapter. Dr. John Yeoman has put out a straightforward, thoughtful guide titled “How to Win Writing Contests for Profit.”
Now you know.

• thematic analysis: the rut or the sweet spot?
We make and break patterns in our writing over the years. Sometimes patterns emerge because we’re caught in the loop of trying and failing to get it right, and sometimes such patterns remain because we got it right the first time and it works so damned well. Because we’re swinging for the fences and bursting with things to say, our first novels are perfect for spotting the beginnings of larger thematic patterns in our writing.

The Wine Ghost is no exception. My old friend, developmental editor Zak Johnson, says this: “I think you’ve mined your Wine Ghost for more than you even realize. (the evil uncle from “Dry Wash”) has reappeared as the obscene old man in many of your works … if you do (rewrite The Wine Ghost as a commercially viable novel), keep the original as a relic of the exorcism that brought it out of you.”

Or as a standalone shrine to my daddy issues. Enough said there.

A re-read of that novel may show you patterns to build upon or abandon. Don’t just write it all off as juvenilia.

• just one more draft, I promise
After 30 years as a professional writer and editor, I put The Wine Ghost aside and started submitting fiction in 2009. I have a completed and competitive genre novel making the rounds of publishers, and I’m halfway done with the sequel. I can’t drop that to start draft five of The Wine Ghost, especially knowing that it would take a sixth and seventh draft to get this beast on its feet. I have too much going on. I sometimes want to just strip off everything I can repurpose from The Wine Ghost and leave it like a car on cinderblocks. I’ve moved on, I tell myself.

If only I could. I’ve planted crossover elements in my paranormal thriller series such that it occupies the same time and space as The Wine Ghost. It’s not just the paranormal thriller series, either. I’m constantly laying Easter eggs and setting breadcrumb trails that lead back to the monster in the bottom drawer.

I don’t kid myself that The Wine Ghost will ever, ever make more money or even gain more critical acclaim than a genre book. It’s not that I miss the freshness and urgency of the literary expression that led to my writing The Wine Ghost; I’m a much better writer now than even a few years ago, when I wrapped up the fourth draft.

The dreadful fact is that it’s an important book, the book that called me to write it because it may speak to some teenager as confused and depressed as I was when I first got a little relief by reading Samuel R. Delaney’s Dhalgren or Lord Dunsany’s Pegana tales. It may show some kid a path out of a darkness that almost took my sanity and my life.

This monster gnaws to tell me that I must keep honing my craft in order to do the story justice. Every genre chapter I write, every blog post I submit, every short story that goes over some indifferent editor’s transom — it’s all surgical training to reanimate the monster in my office.

I’m lifting weights here, people.

And it may sound perverse, but I hope you have a monster in your office to keep you moving as well.

Visit it sometimes. Thank it for keeping you working. Promise it that you’ll stop by more often and that you’ll eventually bring it to life and set it free on an unsuspecting world.

It doesn’t hurt to make these promises, even if you don’t intend to keep them.

And don’t worry if you forget to go to see your monster every once in a while.

If your monster is anything like mine, it will come to see you.

Versions of this post have appeared in Blood-Red Pencil and Write Now, Right Now

Have a novel languishing in the bottom drawer? Feel free to post ideas about putting it to work in the comments below.
Posted in Writing Life

Blame Horror Movies, Pt. I: The Mystery of Dead Ernest

"Watch This Channel Grow!"

an early 1970s ad for Ted Turner’s WTCG 17

For decades, Atlantans argued that Dead Ernest was none other than Ted Turner. That’s right. We honestly believed that before satellite Superstation WTBS, before CNN or The Cartoon Network, before Turner Network Television or Turner Classic Movies, this media mogul had dressed as a warbling backwoods ghoul to introduce the Friday night horror movie. It was an irresistible rumor.

It was plausible, too. There are no clips or stills of Dead Ernest, nothing to mark his passage, and that fits with the story that Dead Ernest was chiseled from the obelisk as an embarrassing relic of Turner’s small-time UHF past. Even the time frame was an estimate: Dead Ernest hosted Friday Night Frights on Turner’s channel 17, WTCG (“Watch This Channel Grow!”) from around 1972 to 1974 or 1975. Nobody seems to remember exactly when it started or ended (although some will remember that the slick intro superseding Dead Ernest’s stint on Friday Night Frights was just a collection of ominous video effects set to “Bruce’s Theme” from Jaws).

Who wouldn’t want to erase the memory of playing Dead Ernest? He rose from a plywood coffin wearing a tie-on cape, pasty make-up and a pair of dime-store vampire fangs. Thanks to the fangs and his thick southern drawl, his agonizingly drawn-out patter was nearly unintelligible. He was a joke, a bizarre waste of airtime, an excuse to go get another popsicle during the station identification break. We called him “Count Crackula from Peckervania,” but we showed up at the tube faithfully, every Friday night at 7:30.

We showed up despite Dead Ernest. We showed up for the movies, which were wonderful. AIP or Amicus to start, with racier Hammer films topping off the double bills. Toward the end of the evening, the station identification breaks featured Dead Ernest reading the newspaper or pretending to bathe in his coffin as if he had run out of his limited schtick by the end of the first feature. He was no Robert Osborne.

He was no Ted Turner, either. Diligent researchers at E-Gor’s Chamber of TV Horror Hosts reveal that he was Bob Chesson (he passed away in 1990), then an employee of Turner’s Charlotte, N.C., Channel 36 WRET (“Robert Edward Turner”). The segments were pre-recorded to run in Charlotte one weekend and then sent USPS to Atlanta for the following weekend.

The mystery has been solved, whether Atlantans want to believe it or not.

Of course, what with his AOL/Time Warner shares going tits-up, Turner might consider revisiting the Dead Ernest option….

Ever wonder about your local TV horror host? Check out E-Gor’s Vault @ http://myweb.wvnet.edu/e-gor/tvhorrorhosts/index.html.

Also, watch American Scary, a loving tribute to the men and women who hosted our late-night horror movies, from Vampira to Son of Svengoolie. Streaming on Netflix.

Posted in Entertainment

The Role of the Troll

Albert Jærn, from Asbjørnsen and Moe's classic fairy tale The Three Billy Goats Gruff

I rest easy in the long, lonesome place between completing a novel and making the sale, all thanks to a forum troll.

It’s not fun, mind you. Agents queried thus far have passed. Contests and direct submissions aren’t panning out either. It’s disappointing, but it’s just business, and these people are polite and professional.

I rest easy mainly because I have faith in the project but also because a troll fulfilled his role. I’m inoculated. If my own dear mother called to say I should give up this writing business, I would smile and nod and keep right on doing what I do.

But let me just tell you the story:

In 2009, my favorite online home-away-from-home was a fan forum for XTC (the band, not the drug). This unique bunch, XTC fans of all ages from Scandinavia to the Antipodes, are by far the wittiest, most knowledgeable and kindest online family it’s ever been my pleasure to meet. I count several of them as “actual” friends, not just online friends, and in the days before Facebook, we shared personal details on the forum we wouldn’t share online today. It’s a pretty tight group.

I took several months offline to complete the first draft of The Drowning God, a paranormal thriller. When I got back online, I was eager to tell my fellow fans about the novel and other projects. It went something like:

(between chapters of The Drowning God)… I also wrote something much more Gothic and ornate: an eight-part 1930s-serial-style Lovecraft Mythos/Clive Barker mash-up. It’s about 18k of crazy layered with Lovecraftian paranoid prose, teased with a dash of Borges, and topped with Stephen King/Michael Crichton “actual doc” verisimilitude frosting. Yum.

Yes, this was very silly (although it’s an accurate description of In the Red, my 2009 novella), but keep in mind that these are my people. We’re the last hardcore fans of XTC, a British punk band that went pastoral and even orchestral and survived till 2006, and we’ve survived with them. On that level — our shared obsession with the sublime and sometimes frightening music of Andy Partridge and XTC — no one understands us as we understand one another. So silliness is not out of bounds there. We’re an odd online family, but family’s what we are.

Except for one spiteful and maladjusted bastard stepchild who called himself H0neyc0mb Jack. Jack lurked on the “friends” forum, which he had chosen not to join. He responded the next day on the “official” forum, an entirely different entity:

Hay Guys!
Good to be back! I’ve been away researching my new novel and its a spinecrackler! At least three (Count’em, losers) internet publisher ibook download companies have picked up on the idea and guess what?! I’ve actually written it and people are telling me it IS good! I cannot believe I am this close to the Booker Prize at age fifty laugh.gif . My first novel!!! Based on black and white films catapulted into a Die Hard present mixed with Sopranos vava voom and tossed off with words written in another style, I cannot BELIEVE the hum it is stirring blink.gif blink.gif . If you had asked me at age seventeen when the sap was still rising if I could have written anything so erudite and funny and musical and in touch; well, I would have said…NO WAY laugh.gif laugh.gif laugh.gif
Thanks for the support guys, because without you all,there is no way I would have written this blink.gif blink.gif
Peace wub.gif

Juvenile mockery, but it was good enough. The troll fulfilled his role.

Familiar and not-very-interesting troll strategies here:
• posting on a different forum for deniability (“Dear boy, my post had nothing to do with you! Just trumpeting my successes and whatnot. But what is this? Do you scribble as well? What a coincidence!”)
• exaggerating the target’s claims (“But of course you’re shooting for the Booker Prize, old sock. What young Turk like yourself would not?”)
• and the troll’s best game, playing on my perceived weaknesses: academia’s scorn of genre writing, the rapidly changing publishing market, my advanced years (I was 47 at the time, not 50), my lack of contacts, and my wide-eyed naïveté.

I kept on writing and submitting. Several friends PM’d to commiserate about his unwarranted cross-forum cruelty, but I held my tongue. That in itself was unusual. At the time, I loved an occasional wee online dust-up, and I’ve never been one to let a bully have the last word, online or off. But this was different because there was something to be learned here. This troll had touched a nerve somehow, and I sucked it all in and examined it instead of lashing out.

I kept on writing and submitting. I looked up the Booker Prize to see how hard he was mocking me.

And I kept on writing and submitting. With a full-time job, a new baby, three moves, and an overlong sojourn in the barren gulag archipelago of for-the-love online litmags, I kept on writing and submitting. I joined a professional writing organization, The Horror Writers Association, and a couple of local writers’ clubs. I put out 80,000 words of short stories, essays, and reviews, and I polished The Drowning God to within an inch of its life.

That was the lesson. I kept on writing and submitting. Over time, the truth in the action dispelled the troll’s lies.

Think of it this way: every environment has a scavenger, a bottom-feeder that turns dead matter and excreta into energy. In the process, it removes toxins and debris to make room for new life.

Trolls and haters are good for the writer’s mental environment. They uncover the fears, thus helping to turn toxins and debris into new energy and new work.

Thank you, bottom-feeding scavengers.

Thank you, H0neyc0mb Jack, wherever you are.

As for Kendley Fiction, I will meet meaner, stronger, smarter trolls. That’s part of the deal.

I write.
I submit.
I am rejected.
I am disappointed.
I write.
I submit.
I am rejected.
I am disappointed.


I write for today. I also have hopes for the future, but I write for today.

Oh, the future:
Every dog has his day.
Kendleyness is next to dogliness.
Therefore, I will have my day.
Quod erat demonstrandum.

[update 10/11/2013: I wrote this post assuming that H0neyc0mb Jack pissed off into the ether on Jan. 31, 2011 either because he tired of trolling well-adjusted adults or because forum admins finally booted him. However, astute forum members correlated Jack’s disappearance with the suicide of a long-time XTC fan, a man with a similarly troubled online history. Honeycomb Jack seems to have taken his own life. Weirder still: at one point, the troubled XTC fan in question, the man who was probably Honeycomb Jack, friended me on Facebook.]

Have a troll story to share? Feel free to post it in the comments below.
Posted in Writing Life
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