Writing is Hard Work

With the advent of digital publication, getting published is easier than it’s ever been. All you need to do is write your book, format your manuscript, slap a cover on it, and hey presto, you’re published. This is both a good and a bad thing. On the good side, it allows the publication and discovery of some superb writers for whom mass market publication proved elusive. On the bad, it removes the filtration system, the much-maligned “gatekeepers” so that there is little quality control. Amazon are distributors, not editors, and they care little for quality if they’re making money, and they can’t be faulted for that. They’ve never pretended to be anything else. But here’s a personal example of why gatekeeping is important.

About eighteen months ago, a woman contacted me via Facebook asking if I’d be interested in reading a few pages of her first novel-in-progress. My advice was the same as it always is: finish the novel first and come back to me. It’s rarely a good thing to get feedback on a few pages. If the response is negative, then it can kill your drive to continue. Present it as a whole and then get a critique, I advised. She insisted, however, so, feeling magnanimous, I agreed to read the first chapter. At best, it was derivative to the point of being plagiaristic; at worst, it was atrociously written. I wrote fourteen pages of notes (on a six-page chapter) outlining what I thought were the worst issues, and giving her some advice on how to proceed.

She never responded. Later that day, she unfriended me.

This is not uncommon, and it’s pretty much why (time constraints aside) I rarely agree to read an unfamiliar writer’s work when asked for a critique anymore. It’s because not everyone who asks for one wants one. Not really. What they want is validation, to be told they’re the next Stephen King. And I’m not interested in stroking egos or the dispensation of false praise. As a result of my (solicited) critiques over the years, I’ve been trolled and harassed, have garnered negative reviews of my books from writers who felt slighted, and have heard at conventions that those same writers have been spreading rumors about me. So it goes.

At the start of this year, I got a newsletter I hadn’t signed up for from the same woman. Her book had just been released on Amazon and had twenty-one five-star reviews. Quotes from magazines and reviewers I didn’t recognize were comparing her work to that of Stephanie Meyer and Suzanne Collins.

I visited the book page, clicked on the preview and saw that it was exactly the same first chapter she had sent me, misspellings, grammatical errors, nonsensical sentences and all. She hadn’t changed a word. And based on the rankings, the book was selling very well.

I was happy for her success, but also saddened that this had become the way of things.

It seems like nobody wants to do the work anymore. Nobody wants to earn their way up the ladder. Instead, they want instant gratification, immediate validation. They want the fame, the kudos, the recognition. The want to call themselves a WRITER, because it’s a romantic term that gives you a place in the world, lifts you above your own perception of mediocrity. Unwilling to commit to an endeavor if the process is too long or complicated, these people surround themselves with like-minded folk who do nothing to dispel their shared illusion. If someone wanders in and offers valuable, time-tested advice, they’re descended upon en masse by an army of the author’s familiars who take each and every attempt to help as a personal attack.

What’s truly suffering here is not me, not the author, not other writers, not even the industry, because all of these things will, in one way or another, survive.

What’s suffering is the craft. And that’s truly something to be mourned.

New writers today often ask me how I did it, and I’m always happy to tell them. But sometimes the question is couched in frustration and bitterness. It sounds like the question is actually: “Who gave you your success?”, “Who owed you a favor?”, or “How did you fall into it?”

As time goes by, I see this more and more, the implication that what success I have wasn’t earned, rather I came by it by accident, or it was bestowed upon me after beating an editor in a poker game. And the answer now is what it always has been, what it always will be: hard work.

I love writing. I never want to do anything else. It’s also the hardest job I’ve ever had. For all the validation you get when you finish a book and people like it, there’s also the isolation and loneliness required to write it in the first place. And if that’s not enough, the process of bringing a book to life is typically fraught with self-doubt, self-criticism, and feelings of inadequacy. And to write the dark stuff, you need to be familiar with the darkness in your own life, and rather than run away from it like most sane people do, you grab it with both hands, eat it, and then vomit it back out in prose form. That process is many things, but fun isn’t one of them.

Writing is tough, exhausting, at times dispiriting.

When you’ve labored over the writing of a novel for the better part of a year, when the idea has been with you for four, when you’ve lived in the world you’ve created, become the characters and bestowed all manner of horror upon them, and essentially lived no life outside of writing, and the first review you see is a one-star, one-word review: “Meh”, yeah, it can make you wonder why you do it at all. But you do it anyway, because failure is not an option. You do it because you have no choice, because you were born a writer and will die one, because you need to create these worlds and these people and these nightmares. Because it’s who you are.

When I was starting out as a writer, and by “starting out”, I mean attempting to break into publishing after years of writing for nobody but myself, I thought the process was a simple one. Not that it would be easy or that I’d be accepted into the literary world without paying my dues. I just thought I knew how the equation worked: (a) Write a story, (b) Find the market, and (c) Submit. It would either work out, or it wouldn’t. There was no grey area.

Driven by dreams and lifelong ambition, I was nevertheless aware that my chances were slim. After all, my work had never been judged by professional eyes, so I had no idea if I could even write worth a fig. However, I wasn’t about to be stopped by uncertainty, so I submitted my stories to the magazines and anthologies I felt were the best fit for what I was trying to do.

Months would pass, and every day (long before email submissions were commonplace) I would check the mailbox for a large brown manila envelope (I always enclosed a stamped, self-addressed envelope, so that I could pop that sucker back in the mail to another editor.) And for the longest time, every one of those envelopes contained a rejection. Some were form letters (“Due to the large volumes of submissions we receive, we are unable to respond to you personally…”), some were personal, and encouraging.

Others were brutal.

Despite the disappointment and the increase in uncertainty that I had any idea what I was doing, I persisted and sent more stories out into the world. And eventually, as I read and wrote and learned and clenched my teeth in feverish determination, they started getting accepted. It was slow at first, a ratio of maybe one acceptance for every ten rejections. But over time, that ratio changed and I was suddenly getting published in many of my favorite magazines, like Cemetery Dance and Subterranean. It got so that rejections were not the norm, though they never surprised me when I did receive them. (I get them still.) And the harsher critiques I got were invaluable. I tacked them up above my desk and referred to them whenever I needed to be reminded that my work was and probably always would be flawed in some way. Because it always is.

My dream has always been to be a published writer. I remember sitting in my bedroom as a teen daydreaming about winning a Bram Stoker Award (which I saw mentioned on the covers of many of the books I was reading) and giving readings to a packed house as part of a book tour. I imagined traveling the world, seeing displays of my hardcovers in bookstore windows. I imagined an office that looked out over a serene lake, my shelves lined with my books, the gaps between those shelves bearing the poster art for the movies they had made from some of them.

Cut to today, and now I do write for a living. I did win a Bram Stoker Award (God bless you, Turtle Boy, you ungainly, overwrought mess of a novella). To achieve the goal of professional writing, I had to leave my friends and family back in Ireland and relocate at age twenty-three to live in a country I had never been to before, with people I didn’t know, but that was the extent of the world travel. I’ve been doing this, professionally for over sixteen years now, but my books are not displayed in bookstore windows. There are hardly any bookstores left. I’m not rich, or well-traveled. I don’t own that house by the lake. My shelves are filled with copies of my books, most of them issued by independent and small press publishers. There are no movie posters on my walls (though a number of the books have been optioned), and yet, I have never been happier than I am right now.

Because this is the calling, and wherever I am on that lofty career ladder, I earned my place there.

When I tell these things to newcomers, to some of them, writing suddenly seems like too much work and not the idealized image that had driven them to try. Because the truth is, many people who get into this business do so under the illusion that it’s easy, that all it takes to be a successful writer is to sit down and write. And that’s partly true. But you also must be willing to learn. You must be willing to be told you are not special, that your work is not the best it can be, that you need to improve. The committed writer is always learning, always pushing to be better, and will die never reaching perfection. The goal is to try, and to entertain some folk along the way.

Because, yes, while it’s now easier than ever to be a published writer, it’s just as hard today as it’s always been to learn how to be a good one, and you have to want to, because without putting your heart and soul into it, without putting the work into it and earning your stripes, you’re just waiting at the train station for a ride that isn’t coming.






Kill the (FB) Messenger



Last night, out of the blue, my phone made a sound like someone punching a squirrel full of nickels in the stomach. This is the notification tone for Facebook Messenger, better known as that app the powers-that-be insisted you get even though there was no need for it (what was wrong with getting messages IN Facebook?), and which for some inexplicable reason makes it appear as if you’re always online, even—especially, it sometimes seems—if you’re not. Whether I’m asleep, underwater, or dead, Messenger cares not a whit. I’M HERE, it proclaims, ALWAYS! And when people see that toxic-waste-colored M&M next to your name telling them you’re desperately in need of attention, they do the natural thing and send you a message.


“Pour your spirit milk on my soul-flakes, author man.”

Sometimes, this is a very cool thing indeed. Through Messenger. I have reconnected with people I haven’t spoken to in years, made some new friends, and even conducted some pretty cool book-related beeswax.

Mostly, I fucking hate it with the fiery passion of a dozen dirty football helmets full of sunspots.

Why? Because 26% of the people who use it to contact me are people I don’t know or want to hear from, people who, despite never having said a word to me over the past thousand years, decide on a (usually drunken) whim to reach out and touch somebody. And unfortunately, the somebody getting touched is me and I’m sitting there pants-less with my baby balloons swinging in the wind.

Take last night for example. I’m watching the series finale of Frasier and getting a little misty-eyed in the process. The dog is curled up at my feet and trying her unconscious best to smoke me out of the room with Pedigree Chum-scented mustard gas, when I get the familiar beating-on-a-money-squirrel tone. Curious as to who might be trying to initiate a convo at 11.55 p.m., I pick up the phone and check the app. I don’t recognize the name, which I shall protect for his sake. Let’s call him C.D. Montelban. What’s confusing is that I seem to have wandered into the middle of a conversation he’s having with himself. It goes thusly:

Hey bud.

Did you move here?

I know you. It’s cool.

My parents are from Brazil, but only my sister knows.

Reading your book. Is it good? How did you write it, or no?

Cool, yo.



I stare at the phone for about five minutes, my finger hovering over the reply button, if only to ask Montelban what in the gastronomical fuck he’s waffling on about, when another burst of messages barfs onto my screen:

Sorry about that.

Went to Ireland once.

Are you from there?

Yeah. You are.

I’m not from there.

I remember.

You like clowns, or nah?

Cool, yo.

Another problem with Messenger, aside from it lying to everyone and telling them you want to hear from them during sex, is the shitty little check-mark that pops up to show the other person you’ve seen their message. I can smell your perfume, Clarice, that check mark says, and all it really does is get the other person’s hopes up that you’ll reply, and make you feel like a shitpigeon because you have no intention of it. It’s like when your well-meaning relatives try to set you up with someone they think is perfect for you and she has no head, so you run away screaming like Kermit the Frog and nobody ever mentions it again.


It’s a situation best avoided, but Messenger robs you of the wonderful basic human right to ignore people by making them aware in real-time that you’re reading their words. I picture them on the opposite side of the screen wearing pajamas made of cats and colanders on their heads, going “A-HA! YOU’RE THERE!” And once that cat’s out of the bag, it’s hard to not be.

Which leaves you two options, neither of which are always very appealing. You can reply and do your best to muddle your way through a conversation you don’t really want to be having, like “Why doesn’t your penis work anymore?” or “Whose skin is this?” and just tap out after a while knowing you played along for the sake of the other person’s feelings, or, you can delete the message and pretend it didn’t happen. The problem with this last option is that it’s the same as ignoring them. You’re just committing to NEVER respond to that person and that’s harsh. It’s also though, completely understandable. Life is fraught with awkward moments you’d rather—and often, cannot—avoid. Why then should a frigging smartphone app keep making it worse? If I don’t want to talk to someone, I shouldn’t have to..

And I know, I know, I’m avoiding the question: “If you don’t want to talk to this person, why have them on your Facebook in the first place?”

I accept friend requests all the time from people I don’t know unless we have less than thirty mutual friends in common, which is the requisite number of cohorts you need to have to convince me you’re not some Bolivian gangster who sells coked-up killer penguins from the back of an army truck. It’s not a foolproof method. Sometimes these people rack up writer friends and then spam the hell out of us all. Other times, they’re just really, really good frauds. Most often, they’re either fellow writers or readers. But I still don’t know them very well. Thus, when one of them decides to message me near-midnight with some kind of bizarre David Lynch-like soliloquy, I can hardly be blamed for finding it unexpected and unwelcome.


“For all the me serious, man-friend, I am the legit.”

And yes, yes, I’m aware that you can tap a button and turn the whole thing off so you actually are offline, but that kind of defeats the purpose of the app. Plus, I frequently forget that, operating on the naïve assumption that if the app is closed, so too is my availability. Besides, I want people to know I’m online so they can contact me. I just want the people I want to contact me to be the only ones who do. Capisce? And I also know you can mess with it and filter preferred contacts into groups and yadda, yadda. That’s too much work and there’s too much of a risk that you’ll leave somebody out, or worse, leave somebody in and then it all gets very messy.

Besides, it’s not that I don’t want to talk to them.

It’s just that I don’t want them to talk to me.

Because if I wanted to get in touch, I would do it the right way and Facebook fucking Messenger them at 11.57 p.m. when they least expect it.

Cool, yo.



Cinema Paradouche-o (or How to Behave in the Movie Theater)

So I’ve been to the movies twice this week (to see IT and MOTHER!, both of which were excellent), but both occasions were marred by the behavior of other people in the theater. Now I’ve bitched about this before, but not often, because such instances weren’t all that common. This no longer seems to be the case. I’m absolutely expecting some of you to defend disruptive behavior in movie theaters because, well, someone always does, and that’s pretty much where we are as a society now.

“People should be allowed to check their phones during a movie.”

No, they really shouldn’t. That’s why there’s a giant notice to that effect on the screen before every movie. I’m not paying $20 to see a movie I’ve been looking forward to for an age just so I can be forced against my will to have my attention drawn to your phone because your bae wants to know where the bong is or because your child exploded in Target.

godupdates strangers help screaming woman in grocery store fb

“I don’t care that you’re at the movie theater. Billy’s like, spread across three aisles!”


During IT, the woman sitting right next to me had some weird, blinding stroboscopic light on her phone that went off every ten minutes until she eventually left the theater an hour into the movie to take a call.

During MOTHER!, the woman (note, I didn’t say teen, because she was at least in her forties) seated right in front of me spent the entire running time of the movie scrolling through Facebook. Which meant that while I’m looking at the movie screen, I have this glowing white oblong of light right underneath it.

Solution? If you absolutely have to be on your phone during a movie, turn the brightness down. Way, way down.

godupdates strangers help screaming woman in grocery store fb2

Like, this much.

Back to IT: when the flash-phone lady wasn’t guiding ships through the fog with her fucking Samsung, she was talking loudly with her boyfriend. Now, it’s important to note that I’m not someone who complains often, and never in public. I don’t even send my food back if they mess it up at a restaurant.


“I ordered the onion rings, but whatevs.”

But this couple were so loud and so distracting, that I eventually asked them–politely–to keep it down. And they did, but not without the boyfriend glaring at me for the rest of the movie as if I’d asked him if his balls had a strobe light too.

During MOTHER! the women seated next to Facebook-phone lady decided to MST3K the movie about 30 mins in, right about the point they realized it wasn’t a jump scare movie. When they weren’t doing this, they were standing up and blocking the screen so that they could discuss what food everyone wanted from the concession stand.

And still, STILL there are people who defend this behavior, and as a result it’s now a pleasant surprise when a movie ISN’T disrupted by some scuttlefart with a cell addiction.

Talking in the theater

“What did you say about, Billy? Sorry, hun, there’s a bunch of quiet people being rude to me.”

It’s not about the variety of reasons you ABSOLUTELY OMG HAVE to have your cell phone with you (babysitters, relatives in need, 7 days since you watched that weird videotape in the cabin), rather it is, like so many of the issues affecting us today, about nothing more than common courtesy.

And we appear to be running low.

Turn off your phone, turn off your mouth, or stay at home. You have a wealth of entertainment options at your fingertips. There is no longer any excuse for you to ruin mine.

EDIT: A lot of you are suggesting weekday screenings as a way of avoiding this behavior. I saw IT at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, MOTHER! at 7 p.m. on Thursday.


My new novella Blanky is now available for preorder on Amazon, with an official release date of September 12th.

Here’s the official synopis:

Blanky2“In the wake of his infant daughter’s tragic death, Steve Brannigan is struggling to keep himself together. Estranged from his wife, who refuses to be inside the house where the unthinkable happened, and unable to work, he seeks solace in an endless parade of old sitcoms and a bottle of bourbon.

Until one night he hears a sound from his daughter’s old room, a room now stripped bare of anything that identified it as hers…except for her security blanket, affectionately known as Blanky.

Blanky, old and frayed, with its antiquated patchwork of badly sewn rabbits with black button eyes, who appear to be staring at the viewer…

Blanky, purchased from a strange old man at an antique stall selling “BABY CLOSE” at a discount.

The presence of Blanky in his dead daughter’s room heralds nothing short of an unspeakable nightmare that threatens to take away what little light remains in Steve’s shattered world.

Because his daughter loved Blanky so much, he buried her with it.”

Preorder the book via any of the following links:

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amazon CA


Dark CitiesThe Titan Books anthology DARK CITIES, edited by Christopher Golden and featuring stories set, as the title suggests, in cities just this side of normal, has officially been released upon the world.

And, as books like this generally don’t get much in the way of a marketing push, it would be great if you could help spread the word. Of course, buying and reviewing the book is an even better strategy, but any assistance raising awareness of the title would be much appreciated, if only so we get to do more of them.


Here’s the table of contents:

THE DOGS by Scott Smith
IN STONE by Tim Lebbon
DEAR DIARY by Scott Sigler
GRIT by Jonathan Maberry
DARK HILL RUN by Kasey Lansdale & Joe R. Lansdale
HAPPY FOREVER by Simon R. Green
THE MAW by Nathan Ballingrud
FIELD TRIP by Tananarive Due
THE REVELERS by Christopher Golden
THE STILLNESS by Ramsey Campbell
SANCTUARY by Kealan Patrick Burke
MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH by Sherrilyn Kenyon
THE CRACK by Nick Cutter

You can grab a copy of the book here.

Cheap Candy

For the next day or so, you can pick up SOUR CANDYSour Candy - Resized at a discount at Amazon. 99 cents today and tomorrow, $1.99 for a few days after that until it returns to its regular price. So, if you haven’t read it and want to, now’s the time to grab it for less than the price of a cup of coffee. And hey, it’s #WorldBookDay, so you have two reasons to grab it.
“an excellent terror-filled novella….a stomach-twisting ride through the depths of horror, breathing new life into an often-stagnant part of the genre.”
Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)
Sour Candy is spectacularly good. A brilliant premise, marvelously executed, it’s as close to a perfect story as I can remember reading. I only wish I’d written it myself.”
— Bentley Little, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Resort, and The Store.

Short Stories: 2017 Edition

It’s been quite a productive year for me already, and while (as per usual) I can’t spill the beans on everything that’s cooking right now (as much as I’d love to), I can at least share some news about stories that are on the way in various publications.15319120_1192194820869660_8567178783653999739_n

My story of dwarves tasked with finding their errant brethren in territory governed by the dead, “Down Here with Us” will appear in Tales of the Lost Citadel, a shared fantasy world anthology edited by C.A. Suleiman. There’s no release date yet, but as I’ve already received a sample copy, I imagine it can’t be too far away. More news on this as I have it.

“Andromeda”, about a technological and possibly cosmic plague, will appear in an upcoming chapbook from Sinister Grin Press.


The wartime story “Go Warily After Dark” about a family who pick the wrong place to seek shelter during an airstrike, will appear in Crystal Lake Publishing‘s forthcoming anthology Tales from the Lake Volume IV, edited by Joe Mynhardt and Ben Eads, due August 30th.

One of my rare erotica pieces “She Comes” is slated for publication this month in Great Jones Street‘s My Bloody Valentine series.

“Traveler”, a nasty little piece about a body-hopping entity who uses his unwitting victims to commit unspeakable crimes, will be featured in Dark Fuse Magazine in March.

hbyaoh-tpb-cvr-solMy novelette “A Wicked Thirst”, about an alcoholic whose date goes gruesomely wrong, will appear in Garden of Fiends: Tales of Addiction Horror, edited by Mark Matthews. As a rather cool incentive, the first 25 people to order the book can choose a free book by any of the authors listed on the table of contents.

“Sanctuary”, about a child sent to retrieve his father in a city forgotten by the rest of the world, will appear in Dark Cities, edited by Christopher Golden, and published by Titan Books. Look for it in May.

“Verstedkt”, in which our titular hero is sent to an Alpine village to investigate claims of a witch, will appear in the prose anthology Hellboy: An Assortment of Horrors, edited by Christopher Golden and Mike Mignola, due in August from Dark Horse Books.

Lastly, I have just turned in a short story “The Mannequin Challenge”, about an antisocial man who reluctantly agrees to attend the office Halloween party, and quickly wishes he hadn’t, to the Halloween Carnival anthology, edited by Brian Freeman, to be published by Cemetery Dance Publications and Random House.

I’ll update this list as more news develops…