Why Everybody Suddenly Hates The Walking Dead

There are really no spoilers at all ahead, except in the broadest general terms. I wouldn’t screw you like that. All you need to know, going forward, is that season seven began this week. And many long-time fans weren’t happy. It wasn’t just what went down this episode, though. It was more about tone.

The Walking Dead has been accused of jumping the shark several times now, but that’s not what happened on Sunday night. Nobody jumped the shark. Nobody nuked the fridge. What the show did was hop the track. No, it didn’t derail, it jumped onto a whole other track. Hard.

For six seasons, The Walking Dead coasted along as everybody’s favourite example of a particular sub-genre. It was a horror show and, specifically, it was a zombie-apocalypse horror show. And we got what was advertised, exceptionally well done – thus the popularity. In a zombie apocalypse, you expect to see some of your favourite characters get munched on, or die in battle against rival survivors who have turned into marauding maniacs since the collapse of civilization and all the rules and laws that go along with it. That’s been a staple since the genesis of the genre, under its originator and master, George Romero.

But this season premiere wasn’t zombie-apocalypse horror. Sure, there were zombies in a dangerous-scenery sense, but they were window dressing. This episode was a different sub-genre of horror entirely. It was torture porn.

Now, I like torture porn just fine when it’s done well. I like the Saw series, I think Martyrs is something of a horror masterpiece. But a lot of people are not cool with the oeuvre at all, thus the derisive name. “Torture Porn,” a moniker initially slapped onto this not-really-so-new wave of horror by displeased critics, has since been adopted as an official title of dubious honour. Like the term “Spaghetti Western” fifty years ago, similarly meant as an insult, it has now become its own thing, with its own fans.

There is not a lot of crossover between zombie-apocalypse fans and torture-porn fans, even if they’re both horror sub-genres.

What we saw last episode was a bunch of beloved characters being mercilessly terrorized and brutalized with no recourse. They were victims being victimized for a whole hour. They couldn’t fight back. They couldn’t help themselves. Rescue was not forthcoming. And it was hard to watch. By the end of it, even I felt a little ill, and I’m damn near unflappable when it comes to these sorts of things.

A lot of fans did not care for it. They didn’t necessarily know why. Surely we’ve seen awful things happen on the show before. Perfectly nice people have been torn to shreds right in front of us on many occasions. But this was different. Our heroes were helpless, and we were helplessly watching them suffer.

And that’s going to be an emotional deal-breaker for a lot of viewers. You can’t swap out genres like that. Sure, you can do a single fantasy episode of your sci-fi show, or a film-noir episode of your teen-comedy show. But you can’t drop torture porn on unsuspecting viewers and expect it to sit well with them. It’s too harsh – even for people who like their zombies with extra guts and arterial sprays.

“But it’s just following the comics,” is what I’ve heard in response to the shocking number of fans who have announced, “I’m never watching another episode.”

Yeah, fine. There have been developments to bring the TV show more in line with the comic-book story arc, but they have always been two entirely different entities with the same brand name. The comics are many many many times more brutal and horrific and uncompromising than the show. The comic books are like hell, the TV show is like the Disney-resort re-creation of hell. It’s just not the same. A lot of the people who love the show probably couldn’t stomach what goes on in the comics. And there are probably people who read the comics who think the show is for pussies.

This last episode left me feeling depressed and gut-punched, even though I had predicted much of what would happen months in advance and was prepared for a deeply uncomfortable hour. I thought it was well done, and it certainly established Negan as the new, improved, worst-threat-they’ve-ever-faced villain. But the show’s producers were playing with fire, and they may have been burned. In an effort to demonstrate how hardcore they’re willing to go (on a show where you’re still not permitted to say “fuck” mind you), they may well have cut down their viewership by numbers they won’t ever be able to recover.

Season seven, still in its infancy, hasn’t jumped the shark. Not yet. But did I just spot Fonzie strapping on a pair of water skis?

On a side (and more spoilery) note: I’m still spot-on with my call from nearly three years ago, marking The Five Most Unkillable Characters on The Walking Dead. I always know something bad has happened on the show whenever that post gets a spike in clicks. Don’t read it unless you want to know some of the names of who survived this season’s opener.

A Scary Week Ahead

Like an exploding pumpkin sending pulpy orange shrapnel everywhere, next week promises to be the messiest wave of publishing in the history of Eyestrain Productions thus far.

sextapeebookcoverSex Tape will make its eBook debut on Amazon, becoming my first official novel despite the existence of Filmography. Filmography, you see, is technically only a novella, whereas Sex Tape is indisputably a novel. There are well-defined technical differences between the formats that mostly come down to word count. I won’t get into novelettes which, as far as I’m concerned, are only short stories with delusions of grandeur.

hotpenniesebookThen we have Hot Pennies, which is a novelette (dammit!) concerning horrible, nasty Halloween pranks, Just in time for the candy-giving pagan festivities, it’s out right now and available for purchase. Next week, however, it will be part of a big Halloween promotional package organized by the Self-Publishing Roundtable. More on that when the time comes, but there will be a shit-ton of themed eBooks up for grabs, all at once.

silentscreamscoverThe Silent Screams anthology has revealed its final design, which specifically names me on the cover as one of the contributors. Y’know, because I’m such a big draw. After a year-long delay, this book is due out shortly before Halloween, and is full of dark and creepy stories of injustice and exploitation. My story, Raw (another one of those novelettes!?!), will compete with the others to see which short story (or novelette) will prove to be the most disturbing.

The same week all this other stuff is coming out, we’re also going to see the launch of the Kickstarter for Holmes Away from Home from Belanger Books. This is the new Sherlock Holmes anthology I’m taking part in following The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories. The two volumes in the collection will be filled with stories about the missing years between Holmes’s faked death at the Reichenbach Falls and his reappearance on Baker Street just in time to capture Colonel Sebastian Moran. My story, The Adventure of the Melting Man, will close the collection of all-new material, detailing what happened on that final day before the detective’s survival was revealed to the world. And guess what. It’s long enough to be considered a novelette.

Like I said, delusions of grandeur.

Last Chance to See?

Last month I was asked to write a letter of support for the restoration of The Empress. The ongoing destruction of venerable movie theatres has long been a sore spot with me. Montreal has had a particularly shabby history of letting these heritage sites—even after they’ve been declared culturally significant—fall apart and eventually die by the wrecking ball. For the record, here’s what I wrote.

Montreal’s cinema heritage is dying.

In my lifetime, I’ve watched most of the grand old theatres on the island shutter their doors and get torn down, chopped up, or reduced to a facade for retail stores. It breaks my heart every time.

These were the screening halls I grew up in. This was where I spent so much of my youth, in the dark, absorbing cinema from around the world and a dozen past generations. These were the places where I learned what I wanted to do with my life.

I’ve worked in the film industry for my entire career. Recently, I published my first novel. It’s about movies and my love of film. So is the second one coming out later this year. Such is the impact cinema has had on my life—impossible without places like The Seville, The Rex, The Loew’s, The Kent, The Palace and The Paris to bring me in. All of them are now lamentably gone, obliterated beyond restoration.

But The Empress still stands.

Perhaps the single most important movie theatre of my youth, during its stint as the Cinema V repertory house, The Empress introduced me to James Bond, Alfred Hitchcock, John Waters, the Universal Studios monsters, Jerry Lewis comedies, Vincent Price thrillers, red and cyan 3D, Odorama, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Canadian genre pictures, cartoons for adults, and friends I’ve kept for decades.

It’s one of the very last of its kind, and one of the finest examples—not only in this city, but in the whole country.

Spare it the axe. Save it for those who remember its glory days, and those who will experience all it has yet to offer.

The Empress is also dear to me because it’s just a short walk away from where I live now. The idea of one day being able to pass through its doors and watch a movie again fills me with joy. The prospect of watching it being turned into condos, or worse, an empty lot, fills me with dread.


The Empress in 1928, the year it opened.

Check out this recent article about the ongoing effort to save it, or visit the project home page for more information and pics of the beautiful old lady.

My Sex Tape

If you’ve followed the blog long enough, you know about my sex tape—that shameful, humiliating experience I was subjected to about seven years ago now, that left me raw, exposed, and kind of sticky.

It was a gangbang, if I’m being perfectly honest. One of those screenwriter gangbangs I’d heard about in the film industry, where a single hapless hack is subjected to the wishes of a plethora of producers, each determined to have their way with an innocent, virginal script in whatever sick, perverted way they want.

There is, ironically, no filmed evidence of my sex tape. To my knowledge, there’s not so much as a single photograph of my participation in the gangbang. And yet it happened. I remember every excruciating moment well. And there was no happy ending—not for anyone, me least of all. A long week of living in various Delta Hotel conference rooms, fuelled by bad hotel food and thin, dishwater coffee, with a lanyard around my neck that ended in a laminated card reading, “Shane Simmons: Sex Tape” ultimately came to nothing.

Sex Tape was the name of my feature-film pitch; a detective-fiction mystery about a hotshot Hollywood publicist pursuing a stolen celebrity sex tape to the porno-distribution underbelly of Montreal, determined to stop it from going public, and discovering some people were willing to kill for it.

Shortly after I cashed my cheque for a development deal and finished a first draft, I was informed that no one was likely to touch my funny-sleazy-mystery movie in the current political climate. The sitting government had recently lost their shit about tax dollars backing a feature film called Young People Fucking, even though the dirtiest thing about it was the title. Common wisdom suggested that no movie called Sex Tape, involving the porn-and-sex industry in Montreal, was ever ever EVER going to get produced under a Stephen Harper mandate. And that mandate lasted nearly a whole damn decade. Stuck in a film industry so beholden to government backing, the movie had hit a wall, and my Sex Tape had, indeed, left me thoroughly fucked.

Years passed.

But Sex Tape continued to weigh on my mind. I thought often of Alexandra Middleton, the plucky L.A. publicist given an impossible task to accomplish in a completely alien city during the madness of the Christmas holiday season. I retained much love and affection for Sid Volke, the burnt-out ex-paparazzo slob, bottom-feeding his way through life as a cheap private snoop. And I still wanted to tell their story of trying to stop a scandal that would do damage to the career of America’s bitch-queen sweetheart Helen St. Simone and, more importantly, put her used and abused staff on the unemployment line come the New Year. My tale, which specifically took place somewhere in the first decade of the new century, wasn’t getting any younger. And even with a new non-Harper government in place, my hopes of getting it made by the dysfunctional Canadian film industry (or any other dysfunctional film industry) seemed remote. There was only one solution—a novel solution.sextapeebookcover

Sex Tape is the new novel I’m coming out with later this month. Once again, I’m looking to recruit readers so I can get some reviews up early on Amazon.com. If you’d like me to send you an eBook version of the book for free in the next few days, visit the contact page and drop me a note. You’ll get it a couple of weeks before anyone else.

And remember, if you’d like to keep up to date on what I’m putting out next, or be the first to hear news and special offers from Eyestrain Productions, FOLLOW the blog by hitting that button on the right-hand side of this very page.

Grave-robbing for Fun and Profit

Filmography, in case you missed it, is back to zero dollars and zero cents on Amazon, from now until October 2nd.

Now’s the time to grab a copy for free while you can. I’ve blown through my five promotional days, and won’t be able to have a sale or a giveaway again for quite some time — assuming I ever do. While Filmography has offered me another valuable learning experience, it’s on to the next book, which is currently in eBook draft mode, waiting for me to hit the “publish” button just as soon as I’m satisfied with it.

Incidentally, I’m already looking for readers who will want a free advanced copy of that novel — Sex Tape — in exchange for an early honest review on Amazon. Contact me if you’re interested. More information about the sordid history of this next tawdry tale I’m publishing will be forthcoming shortly.FilmographyeBookcoverWebsite

Anthology Binge

As I work on publishing three novels and (hint hint) a few graphic novels, I haven’t been producing and submitting nearly as many short stories lately. But that hasn’t stemmed the tide of how many new anthologies I have coming out.

In a volume that tries to break the record of how many times you can put the name “Sherlock Holmes” on a cover, we have The Haunting of Sherlock Holmes and Other Stories. One of those “other stories” is “The Song of the Mudlark,” reprinted from The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories Part I: 1881-1889. It took me a long time to confirm which one of these books from Jaico I was in. They’re an English-language publishing house from India that’s been around since 1946, and these volumes are only available in the sub-continent. As a result, I can’t even order a copy. So if you’re somewhere in the world that’s in the right distribution territory and can help me score one, drop me a line.

Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes. Did we mention Sherlock Holmes?

Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes. Did we mention Sherlock Holmes?

Next up we have Silent Screams: An Anthology of Socially Conscious Dark Fiction. This was delayed from last year because the editor spent much of 2016 doing irresponsible things like falling in love and getting married, the sap! Now it’s back on schedule with my story “Raw” leading the pack as the first one accepted soon after the book was originally announced. Because when you think of me, “socially conscious” leaps to mind. Oh, and “dark.” Stupendously fucking pitch-black dark. “Raw” is among the darkest things I’ve ever written.

Not the final cover, but close.

Not the final cover, but close.

Most recently, we have a book with an odd, but cool concept, The Binge-Watching Cure: Fabulous Stories that Start Small and Grow Longer. The idea is to start with tiny little short stories to get readers going and increase the word count until, before they know it, they’re reading some hefty fiction. “Ashes to Ashes” will be featured at the 10,000-world level, which puts it towards the end of the collection that climaxes with a 25,000-word novella.

If you can binge the latest Netflix fart, you can binge this too.

If you can binge the latest Netflix fart, you can binge this too.

As usual, there’s more I’m not supposed to announce, so I won’t. I’ll just hint at more dark fiction, more funny stuff, and more Sherlock. Hit the “follow” button on the right to keep up-to-date.

Let’s Get Physical

It’s time to stop being coy about the launch of Filmography.

Yes, it’s out, and has been for over a week now. The important news is that it’s now available as both an eBook for Kindle AND a paperback.

This has been my first venture into book design (not counting all those comic books I’ve published since the early ‘90s) so it was a trial-and-error journey to get things just so. Three proof copies later, the novella is now greenlit for distribution, and can be ordered right alongside the eBook for those who still demand a physical experience with their books.

From a design point of view, there’s way more you can accomplish on paper, flexible as eBooks can be. With an eBook, at least half of the aesthetics are decided by the reader. They choose the font and the size, and can make a number of other fiddly choices that can greatly affect how the book presents itself. With a paperback, all those choices are made for them, and it can have a profound impact on the mood of the piece.

closedfilmographyopenfilmographyExperience Filmography however you wish, but it’s nice to be able to curl up with a bit of fiction on a hot September day, turn some pages, and snort the new-book smell until you get that pulp-mill high bibliophiles have been tripping to since the advent of moveable type.

An Entire Career for Nothing

The eBook of Filmography is now up on Amazon in what has, thus far, been a stealthy soft launch. Before going wide, shilling its release across more platforms, I’m giving people who follow me on Facebook and Twitter, and those who read the blog, a chance to get their hands on it first.

For free.

Today only, you can grab yourself a copy for your Kindle (or Kindle software) for nothing at all. After that, it goes right back to its exorbitant price of three bucks. So act fast and save yourself as much as twelves quarters (fifteen in Canada).

Any reviews you’d care to leave on Amazon and/or Goodreads will help tremendously in the algorithm battle for the attention of potential readers, so please take a moment to click a star rating and type a couple of words once you’ve had a look at my latest opus. Literally two words can count as a full review. Just ask the insightful reader who deemed my collection of Red Baron articles, frequently reprinted and referenced over the past twenty years, “poorly written” and gave it one star. A special shout-out to him, in particular. Thank you!

No, I’m quite serious. Thank you.

A few bad reviews from the transparently inarticulate actually adds balance to a rating of any book. If there’s nothing but praise and five-star reviews, readers will correctly detect something fishy—as in the case of some novels that brag “Over 800 five-star reviews!” Right. All of them honestly earned as per Amazon’s terms of use, no doubt.

So keep your opinions honest, well reasoned and, hopefully, out of the troll mosh pit. Those people may add balance, but I don’t want to see them tip the boat either.

Filmography now sits atop my author page as it (hopefully not too briefly) outsells the rest of my credits.

Filmography now sits atop my author page as it (hopefully not too briefly) outsells the rest of my credits.

A Face for Radio, a Voice for Silent Film

Despite my better judgement, I’ll be a guest on CJLO’s chit-chat show, Cinema Smackdown, today (Tuesday) at 7:00 pm EST. Mostly I’ll be there because it’s an opportunity to plug my book, Filmography, to a receptive audience of movie geeks. Unfortunately, they’re not going to let me scream “Buy my book!” into the microphone for the whole hour, so I’m going to have to perform like a monkey and show off my vast, self-indulgent knowledge of film like the obnoxious smarty-pants I turn into whenever somebody lets me out of my cage.

If you’d like to listen to me make an utter fool of myself, you can tune in 1690 AM if you’re in Montreal (and within brick-throwing distance of the radio station itself). Or, if you have one of those new-fangled computer things with an interwebs connection, you can go to CJLO.com at showtime and hit the “listen online!” button.

That’s when the magic will happen. And by magic, I mean crushing humiliation and lifelong embarrassment. Maybe. I’ve done radio several times before, but only twice live. Once was an interview that went fine. The other was a news broadcast that was an unmitigated disaster.

So, I figure, 50/50.