The Floor Show

I have been to the Montreal Comiccon and I no longer fear hell.

The Palais des congrès, also known as the Lite-Brite convention centre due to its design atrocities and crimes against aesthetics, is conveniently located right on top of the Place des Arms metro station. Last Saturday, I came spilling out of the turnstile wearing my new Necropolis t-shirt with a QR Code on the back (or, as I call it to be technical, “blocky-blobby-stupid-phone-thingie”). The idea was to walk around the comic convention for twelve hours straight and see how many people would scan me and get directed to the Amazon book page. This, I was certain, was a terrible idea.

It was first thing in the morning, on the big middle day of the three-day show. And there were already thousands upon thousands of people there. It had been a while since I’d done a comic convention, but I recognized the usual misshapen body types, along with a phenomenon new to me since the last time I’d attempted an appearance. Never before have I seen so many tatted-up scrawny nerds. I’m used to seeing tattoos on people with more meat on their bones. Some of these kids looked like they weighed 98 pounds soaking wet, but were sporting the kind of ink you usually need to do ten years in a supermax to earn. They don’t make comic-book geeks like they used to.

Despite my comic background street-cred, I felt like an outsider. I was the sweaty middle-aged dude, grumpy about the early hour, dying in the July heat, eager to get into some air conditioning only to find it negated by so many human bodies packed shoulder-to-shoulder.

“I’m in the entirely wrong line to buy tickets, aren’t I?” I said, once I’d spent half an hour following the incorrect flood of people, spurred on by the convention centre attendants demanding “Avance! Avance!” at all the tourists who didn’t understand French.

The girl at the ticket-check smiled sympathetically and directed me outside to a whole other line for kiosks that weren’t even operational when I first passed them, forty minutes past the supposed opening time of the show.

Great start.

At least I didn’t need to be anywhere. The main point of the excursion was to get that QR Code in front of as many people as possible. And the people just kept coming. Surely some of the bored attendees in the queue would whip out their phones and scan my intriguing shirt to pass the time.

Once I was inside, one $55 ticket later, I took some time trying to get my bearings in the enormous hall. It’s always nice to pay that kind of money to get into a venue filled with nothing but people selling things for even more money. I stopped by the closest booth, and any illusions I had about not belonging there were dispelled immediately when I caught a father asking about the identity of a superhero Lego minifig on behalf of his young son.

“I don’t know all the DC guys,” apologized the shopkeeper.

“That’s Dr. Fate,” I said, feeling a certain shame in knowing that.

I was thanked profusely, yet still felt dirty.

I don’t know why I ever bother to feel dirty about knowing geek stuff or flogging my wares. If I was dirty, then everyone else there was absolutely filthy. Particularly the celebrity guests.

Yeah, I know it’s standard for them to charge for photos and autographs, but dammit Elijah Wood, you starred in three of the biggest movies ever made. Didn’t you save some of that cash?

$95 for an autograph, another $95 for a selfie? A selfie! That’s right, for $95 you have to take your own damn picture. Nobody will even press the button for you. Fuck you, Frodo! Can’t you at least get your bitch, Samwise, to handle somebody’s camera for them while they’re paying your exorbitant fee? It’s not like you’d even have to give him a cut. He’d probably do it all day long for a thimbleful of mead, a turnip, and a pat on the head.

Okay, I’ll try to give the guy a break. He’s been making a lot of indie films for the love of his craft lately, and I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore was my favourite film of 2017. But damn dude, even working for scale on all those projects has to add up.

At least I know who Elijah Wood is. And Lou Ferrigno. And Christopher Lambert. Some of the other guests? No so much. Describing them as celebrities is a use of the word “celebrity” I am unfamiliar with. Take it from a old pro, not everybody who appears on a TV show is famous. Or the least bit notable.

As I wandered up and down the aisles, looking at all the merch for sale, and marvelling on the rare occasion I spotted actual comic books, I quickly filled up my Bingo scorecard of cosplayers.

Darth Fatty? Check. Unintimidating average-height Michael Meyers? Check. Damaged girl dressed as Harley Quinn? Check.

Check. Check.

Checkcheckcheckcheckcheckcheckcheckcheckcheckcheckcheckcheck.

Goddamn, that’s a lot of Harley Quinns.

On a related note: ladies, if you’re wearing a costume that would make a stripper say, “Girl, get some clothes on!” rethink that. In fact, any outfit concept that has you walking around the show half naked, rethink that. I’m talking to you too, gentlemen. Nobody liked Jared Leto’s Juggalo-Joker. Nobody. Tuck your boy-titties away.

Props, however, to the guy dressed as Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. At least somebody was trying to get laid by dressing for success.

I should say that not all of the more repulsive cosplayers put me off. A small child crying in terror at the sight of some murder-clowns brightened my day. I’ll admit it: I had to hide my face behind my program to stifle a laugh.

One of my key goals of the show was to scout out Artists Alley and see if it was well-travelled, or a desert of tumbleweeds and bored artists with no one to interact with. I have a notion I might want to pay for a table of my own next year and see how many books and comics I can hustle.

Once again, keeping to the theme of modern comic conventions having as little to do with comic books as possible, I was several rows into Artists Alley before I even knew I was there. Where were all the comic artists? Tucked into the very last stretch, it would seem. Most of the tables were manned by artisans of a different sort, selling all sorts of derivatives of comic-book culture without tainting their displays with any art that ever appeared in an actual comic. It’s great if you want a fashion accessory with an Avengers logo on it, not so great if you’re looking for someone who had anything to do with an Avengers comic book to sign your back issues.

I remain on the fence about dropping the chunk of change necessary to secure my own shop next year. It might prove to be money well spent, or it could turn into a PR fiasco. Speaking of which…

So how many confirmed pings did I get on my blocky-blobby-stupid-phone-thingie after exposing it to tens of thousands of nerds who would probably enjoy the hell out of Necropolis if they gave it half a chance?

Last I checked…four.

Promotion ain’t no easy thing.

Listen to the first half of last week’s episode of Cinema Smackdown if you want to hear additional details of my Comiccon adventures. Broadcast version is here.

Are Comics Still a Thing?

It’s been a while.

I can’t quite remember when I last attended a comic-book convention. I used to go to the one in Montreal all the time. No, not The Montreal Comic Con—the big one in the convention centre with all the celebrity guests—I’m referring to the boutique one. When I used to go, it was a little show in a hotel off the highway in the middle of nowhere. It was stuffed full of comic retailers, back issues, and an average of three guests. Usually two within driving distance, and one real guest they had to pay to get there for the day.

It was small time. So small time, I was a guest once or twice.

There were other conventions. More generically science fiction and fantasy conventions. One downtown—I can’t even remember what it was called—had me for a few panels. It was the single worst experience of my entire professional career and it made me swear off ever attending another local con.

In the realm of the big time, I did San Diego twice and Dallas once. That was back in the ‘90s. So long ago, comic-book conventions were still mostly about comics. They were experiences worth having.

Montreal has had its own similarly huge comic convention for several years now, and I’ve been tempted to go more than once. But when even an appearance by Malcolm McDowell failed to draw me in (to get him to sign my DVDs of the Mick Travis trilogy, of course) I figured I was never going to attend.

And yet.

For a variety of work-related reasons, I’m compelled to scout out the show this year. It’s going on right now, but I’ll be there for the big Saturday festivities, wandering around aimlessly, watching the clock until I can go home. If you’re there, come say hello. I’ll be the one in a Necropolis t-shirt. Unless I end up giving some away, in which case I’ll be just one of the guys in a Necropolis t-shirt.

Exhaustion permitting, I’ll stick around for the Pornomedy Hentai Edition show at 9:00 pm. Monica Hamburg is hosting, and we just had her on last week’s episode of Cinema Smackdown talking about all sorts of filthy porn-related things, including her time at the Eve porno theatre (featured in David Cronenberg’s 1977 film, Rabid) that burned to the ground shortly after she started working the projector there. An unrelated event, I’m sure.

Listen to the episode at the CJLO archives, or watch the raw studio feed below.

I’ll be back on the radio on Sunday, so I’m going to skip a return visit to the comic con that day, even though there’s some local-kid-made-good named Bill Shatner who’ll be there. He was on an old TV show or something. I’d turn out to support the ex-Montrealer, but I’m pretty sure I’ve bumped into him before.

Lip Reading

Authors often get roped into doing readings of their work in front of audiences. It typically happens in bookstores during launches, but the pressure to perform can sneak up on us at other times.

I’ve never really understood it. We’re writers. We spend countless hours sitting alone in a room, usually thinking, sometimes typing, and rarely speaking to anyone. Few of us are very outgoing, none of us are really performers.

Yet we’re still expected, from time to time, to get up in front of a bunch of other human beings and read these words we’ve written off a page in a book or a sheet in a manuscript.

More often than not, we do a shitty job.

Yeah, yeah, I know. Some authors are good at it. So good, in fact, they read their whole damn novel for the audiobook edition. But most of us suck at it. We stumble over our own words like we’ve never seen them before, we forget to breathe while we’re reading aloud, and we often end up sounding like illiterate boobs who never made it through a junior-high English class.

Despite my better judgement, I did a reading on live radio yesterday. I don’t know how it panned out. I didn’t listen to the show. I don’t really want to know. I barely want to link to it, but I will.

This latest episode of Cinema Smackdown was utterly self-serving. I was promoting the release of Epitaph: The Necromancer Thanatography Book Two, and we used it as a segue to talk about unsexy vampires throughout movie history. The section of the book I read was about vampires—how they’re perceived by pop culture versus how they really are. It was one of the first things I wrote for this new novel, and it’s a passage I still hold dear.

You can listen to the complete broadcast version of the episode in the CJLO archives. That’s where you’ll get the clean, crisp sound at the expense of having to listen to the news and advertisements.

Alternatively, you can watch the raw studio feed from my YouTube channel that is only as good as an old flip camera can manage, but includes some of the behind-the-scenes chatter that is rarely fit for broadcast.

Meanwhile, check out Epitaph on Amazon for Kindle and Kindle Unlimited. And, this week only, grab Necropolis, the first book in the series, for free.

Pushed Out of the Nest

There comes a point when you just have to stop tinkering with a text. It’s hard when that text is running close to 144k words of epic fantasy and there’s so much to tinker with.

To give you some context, that’s longer than either The Two Towers or Return of the King. It would even be longer than The Fellowship of the Ring if J. R. R. Tolkien had had the sense to cut out all that Tom Bombadil bullshit.

Epitaph is now the single largest project I’ve ever worked on. A direct sequel to Necropolis, it picks up the narrative of The Necromancer Thanatography right where we left off—except it’s three years later and a lot has changed. Readers of the first volume will know why it might have taken so long for our protagonist to pick up the pieces, but I won’t get into spoilers here.

It’s been two years since the last book came out, and it’s felt like multiples of that amount of time. My plan to finish and release the book in 2018 was thwarted by 2018 being a personal dumpster fire that fell off the side of a cliff and remains, to this day, smoking at the bottom of a rocky embankment, waiting for me to climb down, piss on it, and put it out forever. Yeah, it was one of those years.

Epitaph was my escape. It occupied my mind, gave me a purpose, a reason to go on. I needed this book like I needed oxygen to breathe. I wouldn’t be here without it.

But, y’know, the book’s real funny and shit. So, uh, laugh it up!

And it’s got vampires in it. Nasty, horrible, awful, stinky vampires that DO NOT SPARKLE.

I feel like I should have that somewhere in the tagline. “It’s got vampires!” Because people do like their vampires. And some people—like me—want their vampires to be as repulsive as possible. None of those sexy Euro-trash assholes. Give me putrid, vile, undead monsters, dammit!

The ebook is now available on Amazon. The paperback edition is currently being designed and will be out in the coming weeks. I might have released both versions simultaneously, but if I sat on the book any longer, it might never have hatched.

This is something of a soft-launch period, during which I’m only telling people who read the blog and follow me on social media that the book is out at all. A larger, more formal announcement is planned for next week, along with a bigger promotional push for the series.

I’ll need something to distract me from all this formatting and promo-booking crap. I guess that’s where Book Three comes in.

It’s called The Boneyard, and I’m 21,389 words in.

So far.

Success in a Den of Thieves

There’s been a steady, minor surge in sales of Raw and Other Stories in recent weeks and months. It’s always placed a solid third in the hierarchy of my best-selling publications, well behind Necropolis but surprisingly close to Sex Tape.

I say surprisingly because I was warned, when I first started down this publishing road, that short-story collections don’t sell. Regardless, I forged ahead, if only because I had a backlog of stories that had appeared in various anthologies, plus a selection of new material that had yet to see the light of day. They begged to be collected, particularly since one of them—“Raw”—had been shortlisted for a Bram Stoker Award nomination.

I chose an overarching theme of “crime” for the book, with some of those crime stories getting nasty enough to cross into the territory of “horror.” I drew the line at supernatural. None of my ghost or zombie or demonic stories made the cut. They’ll be collected sometime in the future, once there’s enough of them to fill another volume.

Right out of the gate, Raw and Other Stories made more sales and got more page reads through the Kindle Unlimited program than I expected. Lately though, a couple of years later, copies—particularly paperbacks—have been moving at a much quicker rate than they probably should. It made me wonder what was up. Had someone reviewed the book somewhere or mentioned it on a podcast? I’ve seen sales correlations in the past with people doing as little as posting one of my covers on Pinterest. Every bit helps, and any mention is good promotion. But this was a much bigger anomaly.

A Google search later, I had my answer. Raw and Other Stories has been pirated by one of those book-theft sites out there. Someone is peddling a PDF and, discouragingly, it’s had more downloads there than it has ever had on Amazon—even when factoring in my free-promo days. More encouragingly however, is that even with the good review rank on Amazon, it’s even better reviewed on the pirate site. So…um…glad you liked it, I guess.

I figure some of the pirates have enjoyed my book enough to want to have a physical copy in their library. Paperbacks aren’t so easy to pirate. You might as well buy a copy. What’s your alternative? Find it in a library and spirit it away to a Kinko’s? Sounds like more trouble than it’s worth.

I guess I’ll just be happy that my paperbacks are getting free advertising in the dens of thieves and the coves of pirates. As Epitaph approaches publication, I’m working more and more on the next collection of short stories, Petty Crimes and Vindictive Criminals. I’ll have that ready for you to pirate as soon as possible, I promise.

Nineteenth Century Continuity Problems

I have a bone to pick with Herman Melville. A whale bone.

Keeping continuity straight in your stories and novels can be tough. The longer the work, the harder it gets. Series are especially brutal. It’s why, for instance, Harry Harrison started writing prequels to his Stainless Steel Rat books. Less continuity to remember.

Continuity seems to have become more of a concern for recent generations. Now that we have superfans tracking everything, and a World Wide Web to complain about each inconsistency uncovered, it’s become ever more important for writers to remember what they wrote (typically on a whim, often drunk, with little consideration beyond getting through the current paragraph).

Nineteenth Century authors got to be exceptionally lax about their continuity. I’m looking at you Sir Arthur Conan Doyle! Yeah, I see you, playing havoc with my pastiches of your work based around a child character who, apparently, didn’t age at all between the years 1881 and 1888.

Even when I’m not playing in the public-domain sandboxes created by writers of eras gone by, they can still screw up my own, original work.

I’m finally finishing the fine-tuning edit of Epitaph (yes, it’s been long and drawn out and I’ll probably complain about that in a future post). This final edit is all about catching micro errors, tiny typos that everyone missed thus far, and second guessing myself about certain word choices that most readers will never give a shit about. One of the biggest points of contention between myself and my lead copy editor is the spelling of Moby-Dick.

Or is it Moby Dick? No hyphen.

Necropolis fans will remember the harbinger, a lesser demon, who got trapped inside the remains of a reanimated goldfish and became a pivotal prop in a regurgitator act. It’s complicated. Anyway, he’s back in the sequel, and he’s still being snidely referred to as “Moby-Dick” by Rip Eulogy, professional necromancer and unprofessional asshole protagonist.

I hyphenated the name in the first book of the series, and will continue to do so in the second, just to remain consistent. But it’s been a hot debate (admittedly over unimportant minutiae). It would be great to go to the source to get a definitive answer, but Melville himself is the reason there are two versions of his white whale’s name.

I opted to use “Moby-Dick” as it appears in the title, right there on the cover. It is, after all, what he named his damn book. But then Melville went on to consistently use “Moby Dick” in the actual text. So which one is it? Does it even matter? Probably not, but it keeps me up at night.

Meanwhile, on the Conan Doyle front, the latest MX collection of Sherlock Holmes stories is out, with my own “The Adventure of the Ambulatory Cadaver” featured. Remember when these books were supposed to be a trilogy ten volumes ago? Neither do I.

The proceeds still go to charity. Not so for another Sherlock Holmes story I wrote that got accepted into a forthcoming anthology. That one I was going to get paid for.

I say “was going to” because I’ve already withdrawn the story. It was the first Holmes short I wrote, originally for a totally different collection. Even though it didn’t get in that book, it drew the attention of David Marcum and MX Publishing, and the rest of my contribution to the genre is history.

I’d been looking to make a clean sweep of my Sherlock Holmes adventures, landing them all in solid publications. This early attempt was the sole loose end, and I was pleased to find it an appropriate home. But then I saw the contract…with more publisher shenanigans, the likes of which I’ve complained about here before. For what amounted to a token fee, they wanted rights to the story that would echo into perpetuity, with the publishing house claiming a piece of the pie for anything and everything that might one day be derived from my concept.

I would have told them to fuck off if they were paying a hundred times what they were offering. I might have tried negotiating, but this sort of crap littered clause after clause after clause. When someone is trying so hard to screw you, don’t waste your time trying to spot and counter all the points where they’re being a bad actor. Just get out.

Back to my personal slush pile of unsold and uncollected stories it goes. Thankfully, I’m a publisher myself, so nothing I write has to wither and die in a drawer if I don’t want it to. I’m pretty sure, when the time comes to sign that contract, I’ll let myself keep all the rights to my work.

The 700 Movie Mark

I’ve mentioned the weekly movie night I’ve been curating for the last 16 years on this blog many times before—so much so, it has its own sub-category.

This week will mark the 700th unique feature-length film we’ve screened. There had been more movie nights than that, but I’m not counting a limited number of repeat screenings and the few nights when we watched nothing but shorts.

Partly due to this milestone and partly because we were stuck for topics to talk about, this Sunday’s episode of Cinema Smackdown was devoted to the primordial-ooze days of movie night. I blathered on at length about how this phenomenon came about, the first ten or so movies that were screened, and my close personal ties to this gathering (bizarrely, I now live in the original venue where movie night began in September of 2003).

Cinema Smackdown continues apace, with Michael and I doing weekly shows, almost without failure (admittedly I missed one show a couple of weeks ago because I was so damn sick). I don’t like to constantly promote it because it feels like every time I blink, we’ve done another episode. But if you’d care to delve deeper into the lore of movie night, let me point you at the last hour of radio we did.

You have two options to listen in. You can watch the raw studio feed I post on my YouTube channel (don’t be shy about subscribing or watching other episodes). That will let you listen in on our chatter before and after the show, as well as during commercial breaks. Or, if you want the actual broadcast version, complete with better audio, the news from the top of the hour, and the aforementioned ads, you can check out the CJLO archives. Here’s a direct link to the episode in question.

The Kids Are Alright

We’re now 15 volumes in, and I’m proud to have been a part of The MX Books of New Sherlock Holmes Stories project since volume one back in 2015. My latest Holmes & Wiggins story, “The Adventure of the Ambulatory Cadaver,” will be appearing in this round of 66 original stories.These Kickstarters are the best way to get your copies first and for a lower price. Check the higher tier pledges to get the earlier editions as well, in your choice of hardcover, paperback, or PDF. As usual, all profits go to charity.

Now that Undershaw (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s home) has been restored to its former glory, profits will continue to go to the Stepping Stones school for children with learning difficulties, housed therein.

Since all my Holmes stories to date involve Wiggins of the Baker Street Irregulars, you might also want to check out David Marcum’s recent article about children in the world of Sherlock Holmes. Six adventures in, and my contribution to this facet of the Sherlockian universe is worth a mention. Number seven is in the works.

Oscar Indifference

It’s an Oscar year so uninspiring that the Academy couldn’t even book anyone to host.

This is the second year I’ll be unplugged from my former cable service, and I’m doubly disengaged and more disinclined than ever to seek out a stream or screening. If it weren’t for my friends and colleagues David Fine and Alison Snowdon being nominated for their animated short, Animal Behaviour, I probably wouldn’t bother at all. Even so, the Oscars are old hat for them. They already won a golden statuette for Bob’s Birthday years ago. Been there, done that. I suppose the drama of Alison’s double lung transplant during production makes for a compelling backstory to the film. Maybe.

No shit. That happened.

Other than that, the Oscar ceremony is poised to be even more boring than usual.

If you want some more contrarian opinions about the Oscars (which will probably be more entertaining than tonight’s show) we spent this afternoon’s entire episode of Cinema Smackdown talking about it on CJLO.

Check out the rest of my YouTube channel for other recent episodes. Subscribe to get the raw video feed with all the inappropriate off-air chat that happens during the commercial breaks. You can also listen to the actual broadcast versions on the CJLO website archives, complete with better audio and ads.

We’re live online and on 1690 AM every Sunday afternoon at 2:00 pm Eastern Time.

Best Before

I had food poisoning a day ago.

Been there, done that a couple of times before. But this time it was a whole new level of bad. Sure I felt like I was dying on those previous occasions, but I’d never been reduced to slapping myself in the face—hard—to maintain consciousness. I might have called 911, but the phone was an impossible distance away from the cooling surface of the bathtub side, where I was resting my flop-sweating head and waiting for my body to make its coin-flip choice of which end was going to handle the evacuation.

I was alone and far from assistance. Well, almost alone. One cat—the smart one—figured out something was wrong, and tried to comfort me with meows and face rubs, ignoring the danger she was putting herself in, crossing one potential line of fire repeatedly. I made a note to leave the tap running for the felines in case I didn’t make it. That would take care of their water supply until my body was found. As for food, I’ve always made it clear that my pets are free to help themselves to my mortal remains in order to survive until rescue arrives. What do I care if I’m dead? I’m not using the old meat-sack anymore, I’m not into open-coffin funerals, and the crematorium ovens don’t care how pretty your corpse is.

Morbid?

Well, I did write Necropolis. And the sequel, Epitaph, coming soon.

After you go through this sort of experience and you realize you’re not going to die after all, your thoughts go to figuring out why this horrible thing happened. I pointed a few fingers, and I did my research about the gestation periods of different types of food poisoning. In the end, I had to admit it was my own damn fault. The exact thing I’d been joking about with friends for the last year had come to pass. I’d poisoned myself.

I’m moving soon. And I’ve known this for many months. Among all the books and DVDs and collections in my house was a long-standing horde of emergency food. I’m in Montreal. I lived through the great ice storm of 1998. Disasters happen. Supply lines can get cut off. I like to have enough canned food on hand to see me through at least a month or two of interrupted services. If the shit hits the fan and store shelves empty out, I’d prefer to avoid the bread lines.

And, you know, if there’s a zombie apocalypse, you really don’t want to have to go outside for anything.

It was only once I started going through stuff that I realized how long my long-standing horde had been stashed away in those basement cupboards. Every single can down there was several years past its expiry date.

Which, of course, was no big deal. Expiry dates on cans of food are mostly bullshit, unless the can got dented or corroded in some way. Otherwise, it’s an airtight seal that will allow you to enjoy the tin-encased contents well beyond any end of the world you’ve happened to survive.

Right? Right.

Admittedly, I composted all the canned peas and carrots and corn and beans. Canned vegetables taste like crap compared to their fresh counterparts. I’d bought them for an emergency, and there was no emergency unfolding that was dire enough for me to subject myself to that bland crap, much as I hate waste.

But the canned fish… Ah, the canned fish. Again, fresh is better, but cans of tuna and salmon can make for a fine sandwich. So, over the past year, I’ve been eating two or three of those cans per week, always subjecting them to a thorough sniff test first. Always cautious about what I was about to put in my body.

And it worked out fine right up until it didn’t.

I think it was the can of salmon I had for breakfast that morning that did me in. I can’t be sure. But it’s a prime suspect and, just in case, I threw the rest out. Then I threw out more stuff that was probably fine but had crossed the expiry date. Then I threw out stuff that should be completely inert and incapable of going bad, just because it had committed the unpardonable sin of getting old.

It all had to go, and it all went, without pity. Waste be damned.

I now have a very modest pantry. There’s nothing I want to stock up on until after this move happens and I have new cupboards to fill.

I dodged a bullet this time. I’ve mended my ways. And now I’ll have to come up with a new way to neglect myself to death.