October 20, 2014

A 1-minute film based on the ultrashort story, guaranteed to produce chills. Goodnight, Alex!

Some other great 1-minute films here.

October 17, 2014

Social media has been buzzing of late with Permuted Press’s decision to cease print-on-demand publication of many of its new titles. I was planning on staying quiet about the whole mess until I read this horribly inaccurate and slanted story in The Digital Reader.

If you’ve been following this and you’re interested (both long shots, I know), here’s my take for what it’s worth as a Permuted author:

Permuted’s contract is slanted to the publisher, but so are most small press contracts. (I just turned down a contract from a reputable small publisher that made Permuted look like philanthropists.) The version I signed with Permuted was based on Simon & Schuster’s. In response to complaints, the Horror Writers Association is reviewing the current contract model and cited some issues with it, which they will make public. I support that, and this kind of activity is why I’m a proud member of HWA. The result will benefit authors and hopefully also Permuted.

Based on their email to the authors, the company couldn’t handle their current workload for and didn’t see the value of the time and money required to develop print-on-demand editions, as print sales are a very small part of overall sales for a small press like Permuted (sales of my Permuted zombie books have been historically roughly 80-90% ebook, 10-20% print, for example). Since the company’s acquisition by new owners last year, Permuted had signed contracts with a massive number of authors. The result for many new authors was delayed production and now no print edition.

What Permuted did was legal, but the way they handled it hurt some authors, particularly those who’d sold preorder copies and otherwise set up promotions for the print edition. The company seemed surprised by the backlash and took too long to respond to what fast became a PR nightmare. The thing is, even though print sales are a small part of overall sales for the average Permuted title, authors feel like they’ve made it when they hold a print copy in their hand. Authors use print copies for giveaways, to sell at cons, something they can sign, a prize on their shelf. In my view, if Permuted had released their acquired print-on-demand rights back to the author (limited to self publication), allowing them to make their own print editions, it would have gone a long way to avoiding the backlash they’ve gotten.

Sadly, differing opinions among the some 200 Permuted authors resulted in things getting ideological and even personal. That is one of the most unfortunate things about the whole mess. Some authors are so angry they’ve publicly attacked the company, and respected authors like Brian Keene have chimed in. Other authors, who are sticking with Permuted, are upset with them because they feel an attack on Permuted is an attack on their chances of success with the publisher.

If Permuted isn’t doing print on demand for many of its new titles, what are they offering authors they can’t do themselves? That’s a question any author, new or established, should ask anytime they approach any publisher. “Legitimacy” is important to new authors–affiliation with a positive brand as a way to get validation and recognition and build their own personal brand on. For many, however, a print copy is part of that. The challenge for Permuted in continuing to attract great talent is to articulate a winning value proposition that doesn’t necessarily include a print edition.

I’ve been asked how I’m personally affected by the changes, and I’m fortunate to say I’m not other than dismay that good people have been hurt and now so is a good brand and company that has done business with me honestly. Otherwise, my zombie titles will continue to be offered in ebook, trade paperback and audiobook versions. Even better, Permuted is making a move into bookstore distribution for select titles, meaning The Infection and The Killing Floor, which will be printed as a single bind-up edition, will be getting significant brick-and-mortar distribution for the first time later this year. More on that later.

I share all this with you not to say one side is right–as I honestly sympathize with both sides–but to give you what I believe to be an accurate, nonpartisan view on what happened and the issues involved. If you’re a fan of horror and in particular good zombie fiction, simply support your favorite authors while recognizing that Permuted, despite its problems, will continue to produce quality fiction. If you’re an author hoping to sign with Permuted or any other publisher, be prepared that not all promises (unless clearly stated as obligations in the contract) may be kept because things change in business (and businesses occasionally make mistakes), and support organizations like HWA, which advocates for authors.

October 17, 2014

the descent by jeff longTHE DESCENT by Jeff Long is one of my favorite horror novels. Part horror, part grand adventure, and thoroughly imaginative and penetrating, it’s an amazing read.

First, this book should not be confused with the film of the same title, though the film borrows some of the same elements. I enjoyed the film for what it was, but the book is amazing. If you like horror–hell, if you like books at all and can stomach something tense and frightening–you should read it.

The novel begins with separate stories that suggest there is a predatory race of creatures among us that come out when it’s dark. It’s discovered they live in the ground under our feet. Exploration leads to discovery–the crust of the planet is laced with a vast labyrinth. After the creatures that live there seemingly vanish over the years, nations and corporations spill into the interior to exploit its rich resources. One corporation recruits a scientific expedition to march across a vast tunnel under the Pacific Ocean and claim it for itself. The scientists are being used but go anyway to reveal the underworld’s scientific secrets.

Then things go wrong.

THE DESCENT is a work of soaring imagination bordering on genius. The underworld Long creates is breathtaking in its scope, detail and dangers. The creatures that live there, possibly descendants of an underground civilization who regard humans as slaves and meat, are truly terrifying. The characters are interesting and we come to deeply care about them. The story combines the best of horror, survival fiction and a science fiction thriller in the vein of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.

Highly recommended.

October 15, 2014

In DESCENDENTS, the planet’s air growls foul with a pathogen that turns its victims into zombies. The remaining humans live in domed cities, sending out the military to exterminate the infected on sight.

Growing up in this world is Camille, a nine-year-old girl who is immune from the virus; the zombies, in fact, won’t even attack her. Over time, she meets more children like her, and they build a community. But the military will not abide anything outside the domes to live.

I had mixed feelings about the film. It had some terrific elements, particularly the earth in ruins with its grainy, foul air. The basic story of a girl surviving in the wasteland, hiding from soldiers and zombies alike as they fought over what was left, was interesting. But the girl seems too detached from what’s going on. Too clean and well fed, almost like she walked out of the present to tour a Zombieworld amusement park that barely interests her. It seemed the director was striving for pathos, but sometimes, for me at least, the end result came across as bland, without real stakes or sufficient tension.

If you’re into zombie films, give it a go, but be warned. Despite the eye candy of the world building, the intriguing possibilities of the story’s setup, and the occasional flashes of action with some pretty interesting zombies, the end result comes across as sluggish and overstylized. A for effort and ambition, but more sizzle than steak.

October 13, 2014

Played my first two games of BETRAYAL AT HOUSE ON THE HILL a few weeks ago with pals Adam and Dave, and it was a blast. The board game plays like a haunted house movie.

It starts as an exploration game. Each player picks a character–I got Father Rhinehart–and together you explore a haunted house one revealed map tile at a time. The Abandoned Room, the Game Room, the Kitchen, the Laboratory and more on three levels–main floor, upstairs and basement. Each room has a symbol, which may be an Item (draw a card to get an item that will help you), an Event (something creepy happens that affects you) or an Omen (an item or happening). Every time an Omen is encountered, you have to roll–a poor roll triggers the Haunt.

There are many Haunt scenarios depending on the Omen and the characters in play. One of the characters becomes a Traitor, betraying the others to effect the Haunt, while the others become the Heroes, trying to stop the Haunt. In the first game I played, Father Rhinehart ended up being a hero, tasked with finding a statue and an item that animated the statue. Once Dave and I did that, we were able to animate the statue and slay the evil character played by Adam, who was actively hunting me as a human sacrifice. I appropriately fled screaming while Dave did all the hard work. We were saved by Adam ending up on the “coal chute” map tile and ending up trapped in the basement for long enough for us to find the items we needed to activate the statue.

In the second game, I played Professor Longfellow. The Haunt turned out to be these evil plant monsters that spread tentacles all around the house. Adam was strong enough to fight them while I was smart enough to whip up the plant killer spray. Unfortunately, through massive bad luck, my flashlight died, giving me limited movement, and I ended up doing the fighting while Adam grabbed the Book we needed and, through a miraculous die roll, got himself into the kitchen to make the spray himself. Meanwhile, I did just fine for a bit thanks to a stick of dynamite, but ended up being dragged screaming into the chomping maw of one of the killer plants and turned into bloody fertilizer. Again, I did a lot of screaming while my comrade did most of the heavy lifting, killing the plants for another win.

Overall, it’s a really fun game, plays quickly, isn’t too complicated, and captures the flavor of a haunted house movie perfectly.