Civilization fell again this week, in case you missed the memo. Sorry. Oh, and it has nothing to do with presidential primaries.

If you caught this week’s episode of Game of Thrones — season six, episode two, for anyone coming to this late — then you know what I’m referring to when I say “that scene.” If not, beware of spoilers below the graphic.

Ramsay(425)What happened: Fresh from a round of patricide, killing the father who had legitimized him, bastard-born Ramsay Bolton then lured his stepmother and newborn half-brother (his father’s true legitimate heir) into the kennels, to set the hunting dogs loose on them. In build-up, it was a master class in dread. In denouement, much was suggested, and nothing actually shown.

It’s always fascinating to watch the reactions when, in anything, THIS TIME THEY’VE GONE TOO FAR! The week didn’t disappoint, as the outrage machine continued to grind its sausage into some predictable patterns of hand-wringing and doom crying, capped off with a bit of tinfoil hattery.

There’s the flouncing so strenuous it could be an Olympic event — the gift that keeps on giving. I’ve seen the same people flouncing from the same shows for years.

There are the comparisons to ancient Rome: They were never as bad as this, as bad as we are now! Actually, they were. They routinely did this shit for real, instead of faking it with actors and effects crews and critters that are quite cuddly and well-behaved in everyday life.

There are the armchair psychologists making blanket diagnoses that the viewing public is being desensitized to such things in the actual world. I especially enjoy the self-righteousness baked into this one: Not ME, of course. MY sense of being appalled still works just fine. It’s the rest of you soulless monsters I’m talking about.

Now cue the conspiracy theorists. It’s all a nefarious master plan, because hey, if it’s on cable, naturally it follows that they — you know, they — might be steering us toward a society where such spectacles will be enacted for reals.

But to me, the most interesting knee-jerk — interesting in its unpacked implications — came from a writer I’ve long respected, long admired, long regarded as a deeply thoughtful creator. For decades, he’s also been no stranger to the fictional rough stuff, but for the time being, at least, he set that aside to do a fabulous impression of a pearl-clutching cultural scold.

This writer was the very first author of speculative fiction I was aware of who had a reputation for no-holds-barred extremes. For going there. So I was able to appreciate the irony of this from a broader perspective, a context that probably few people tuned in this week would have the memory or exposure to link together.

What led me to first discover him was seeing his then-latest novel excoriated by one of the leading genre magazines at the time. The review had nothing good to say about the book or its author. It was too much, was the gist of it. Too dark, too gritty, too gruesome. One narrative bit singled out for condemnation on prurient grounds was a description of a sacrificial victim’s breasts having been sectioned like halves of a grapefruit.

Hang in there long enough, and many things will eventually come full circle for you.

The curious notion served up by the writer in question, picked up on and amplified by others, is that of entertainment. That the showrunners intended for us to be entertained by the prospect of a mother and baby savaged by dogs. That we are indeed entertained by it because something has gone wrong with us. That, as one particularly strident screed alleged, we’re all so dead inside that we have to keep seeking out progressively worse atrocities just to break even and feel alive.

It may be splitting semantic hairs, but for me, the word entertainment has always had connotations of lightness, even frivolity. My dictionary seems to agree, defining it in terms of amusement and enjoyment.

So by those standards, no, I don’t find the demise of a mother and child entertaining in the least. I am not amused. And I doubt those are the intentions behind it. I don’t read or view heavy drama to be amused, and, as a creator, pure diversionary entertainment isn’t my sole motivation in writing it.

Instead, I view it and read it to be moved.

I do so to see characters I love prevail over the darkness that befalls them, or fail without ever giving up, and make hard choices even when they know doing what’s right will cost them.

I do it to see people regain or recreate meaning in their lives after they’ve lost everything.

I do it to see characters who’ve done terrible things atone for what they’ve come to regret.

I do it to see people devote themselves to caring for others, no matter what.

I do it to see characters find more inside themselves than they ever knew was there, or make themselves better than who they used to be.

And I do so knowing that some will inevitably be swallowed by the darkness, but that the deeper it is, the brighter the light is in contrast.

That’s the general outlook of everyone I’ve ever discussed these things with in any depth. And I dare say I find more decency and humanity and love in them than is displayed by someone who trumpets a fictitious atrocity as more proof positive that the human race is a plague upon the earth that doesn’t deserve to live.

How the trumpeteer plans on sorting out the children who haven’t been killed by dogs from the rest of us during this longed-for extinction isn’t clear … but you probably knew it wouldn’t be.

To people like the agitated fellow who decried that his “precious entertainment time” was being used as a conduit for trauma, I would never tell him that he shouldn’t find it too much. That’s his business, his sensibilities. Instead, I’d tell him to hike up his big boy pants, change the channel, and get on with his life. And maybe not be so eager to impugn the character and motives of those who leave the channel where it is because they approach things differently. And, if he really wanted to impress, gain a better sense of the history of drama and its functions.

I wouldn’t be surprised if, 2400 years ago, it was too much for some Greeks when Oedipus — who survived a planned infanticide — killed his father, boinked his mother, then gouged out his eyes when he realized what he’d done. Maybe a few of them even flounced from the amphitheater. But if you’d asked those who stayed why they found such a disturbing spectacle entertaining, they probably wouldn’t have understood the question.

That wasn’t why they were there. Not the sum total of it, anyway.

They were there because, to them, depicted tragedy was a kind of ritual. As qualified by Aristotle, heinous events — seen or unseen — evoked feelings of pity and fear, whose purgation from the audience was known as catharsis. They found social and psychological value in this. It gave them an outlet for emotions that didn’t serve them. It balanced them.

Haggle all you want over the purity and effectiveness of any particular evocation vehicle. Aristotle himself thought those who evoked the monstrous for no greater ends had lost the plot. So the old adage about trash and treasure comes to mind.

But if you’re wallowing in distress over made-up pictures, however ugly, on a screen you have total control over … if you really worry that the Hunger Games are right around the corner  … if you truly believe HBO subscribers and other assorted geeks are a bloodlusting horde about to descend on righteous little you … then you may actually need a bit more pity and fear in your diet, but just haven’t found the right dish yet.

Unleash the hounds.

The bands and musicians I love are legion, but Rush is the one band that has inspired me nonstop throughout practically my entire life, somehow remaining constant while always evolving. Always meeting me wherever I’ve been at the time.

2113-Cover(265)Every book and project I get to be part of is a privilege, but this one feels doubly so. I got to write a story inspired by one of my top favorite Rush songs, “Witch Hunt,” and took it so closely to heart that even before it was officially published, a practicing witch got in touch to tell me I got it right.

On the other hand, given that everybody relates to songs in their own way, I expect this book to be more polarizing than most anthologies. Kid you not, soon after the advanced reading copies came out, in the same hour I saw (a) someone bitching that most of the contributors adhered too closely to the songs for inspiration, and (b) someone bitching that most of the stories bore little or no resemblance to the songs that inspired them.

There’s no pleasing everyone, of course … but I hope it pleases you.


A Tale of Two Novels — One Old, One New

by Brian on April 7, 2016

in Fiction

Yeah, am I glad that’s over. The other day, I came to the end of a stretch in which I had seven weeks to write an entire novel.

More on this to come, but in a nutshell, I was invited to play in someone else’s yard — often a valuable experience, I think — and do an original novel set in the White Wolf gaming universe. The game designer’s world, but my characters, situations, settings, and so on. At this point, it sounds as if the book will be out later this year.

DarkAdventCDSometime during that mad whirl, my early post-apocalyptic epic, Dark Advent, was finally issued as an e-book. No more need for an electron microscope to see the type, as with the original edition. No need for a forklift to lug it around, as with last year’s hardcover edition from Cemetery Dance.

Meaning achievement unlocked: Where e-book editions are concerned, Dark Advent was the final holdout, so this makes all of them. All the novels, all the collections to date … out there in print and easily available again.

It leaves the moment feeling like an especially timely jumping point for the future, given everything that’s either on the way, in the works, or in the planning stages.


3 New(ish) Interviews

by Brian on February 26, 2016

in Press

Further carryover from late 2015: Cat, of the Cat After Dark book blog, manages to come up with author interview questions I’ll bet most writers have never been asked before. She put me through the paces, too. And if you poke around, you might find a sweet capsule review of the novella “In the Negative Spaces” from Dark City.

RueMorgue161(265)Then, over at Rue Morgue magazine, the November issue celebrated the 125th birthday of H.P. Lovecraft. Since the old man isn’t here to speak for himself, a handful of us were called on to do it for him. I was honored to be asked to weigh in on HPL and his legacy, along with authors Thomas Ligotti, Charles Stross, and Simon Strantzas; editor Stephen Jones; and scholars S.T. Joshi and Jeffrey A. Weinstock.

An online rejiggering of the whole thing includes most of us from the print version, and adds thoughts from editor Ellen Datlow and author Gemma Files.

Because interviews always get pulled apart and the pieces recontextualized for a round table like this, here’s my Q&A in its original form. Some of it actually makes more sense that way.

And finally: Sometime when my back was turned, I apparently became some sort of minor Lovecraft authority. How else to explain not just the Rue Morgue thing, but also the student from the Ursuline Academy getting in touch this month for an interview about Lovecraft and cosmic horror for a school project? She asked great questions! So here’s that.

Here’s a bit of sweetness for whole big overlapping bunches of you: Rush fans, sf/fantasy fans, fans of any and all of the 18 of us whose work makes up the forthcoming book 2113: Stories Inspired by the Music of Rush.

2113_Sampler(265)First, the publisher has issued a limited edition sampler containing co-editor John McFetridge’s story “Random Access Memory,” inspired by the song “Lakeside Park.” For as long as they last, you can nab this collector’s item for just the cost of shipping, through the web site of other co-editor Kevin J. Anderson. Who has a bit more to say about it here.

Second, all kinds of ecstatic would be the order of the day if this book were to hit the ground running in April with at least 2113 copies pre-ordered before it drops. If you’re inclined to get it later, there are Reasons and Forces at work such that sooner is better. Lock it in now, and April will be kind to you.

And, we hope, the rest of us.


Same Story, Different Accolades

by Brian on February 11, 2016

in Fiction

So this is the other news about “This Stagnant Breath of Change” that I’ve had to sit on while awaiting the green light for all to be revealed.

Best-Horror-Vol-8(265)In addition to its making the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2015, editor Ellen Datlow has tossed it into the pot of savory stew that is The Best Horror of the Year, Volume 8. To which my culinary contribution was plenty of aerial meat chunks.

Lately, I find myself increasingly compelled to give editors the credit they’re due, but often don’t get. For Shadows Over Main Street, editors Doug Murano and D. Alexander Ward came up with a superb concept: Lovecraftian horror in golden-age small town America. For me, projects set off a ping when I learn about them. This one pinged my radar really really hard.

As for the reprint, up there’s the freaky cover art already. Works for me.

And here’s the Table of Contents, for what should be an early June release. As ever, it’s excellent company. Can. Not. Wait.

“We Are All Monsters Here” – Kelley Armstrong
“Universal Horror” – Stephen Graham Jones
“Slaughtered Lamb” – Tom Johnstone
“In a Cavern, In a Canyon” – Laird Barron
“Between the Pilings” – Steve Rasnic Tem
“Snow” – Dale Bailey
“Indian Giver” – Ray Cluley
“My Boy Builds Coffins” – Gary McMahon
“The Woman in the Hill” – Tamsyn Muir
“Underground Economy” – John Langan
“The Rooms Are High” – Reggie Oliver
“All the Day You’ll Have Good Luck” – Kate Jonez
“Lord of the Sand” – Stephen Bacon
“Wilderness” – Letitia Trent
“Fabulous Beasts” – Priya Sharma
“Descent” – Carmen Maria Mach-ado
“Hippocampus” – Adam Nevill
“Black Dog” – Neil Gaiman
“The 21st Century Shadow” – Stephanie M. Wytovich
“This Stagnant Breath of Change” – Brian Hodge

Last year it was one slot, this year it’s two. I’m really really happy to have made the cut twice over in Locus magazine’s Recommended Reading List for 2015.

LocusMag265Under the Short Stories category, there’s “This Stagnant Breath of Change,” from Shadows Over Main Street. And under Novelettes, landed “One Possible Shape of Things to Come,” from Eulogies III.

Credit where credit is due, though: the editors who put me up to them. That would be Doug Murano and D. Alexander Ward; and Christopher Jones, Nanci Kalanta, and Tony Tremblay. Whatever creative lightning may have struck, these are the people who first set up the rods to draw it down.

Lies & Ugliness now an E-book: Yeah, that did take a long time, huh?

January 25, 2016

Sometimes things fall through the cracks of time and take waaaay longer than they should to get where they’re going. And so it was with Lies & Ugliness, my third collection, which has at last been released in e-book formats by Crossroad Press. It’s available there and the other usual outlets: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, […]

Read the full article →

The Monstrous: “Our Turn Too Will One Day Come”

January 12, 2016

Happiest of new years to you, and as we play catch-up on recent business, this has been out for a bit — Ellen Datlow’s latest lovely excursion into all things monstrous. My corner of it is “Our Turn Too Will One Day Come,” another float in my endless parade of really messed up families, originally […]

Read the full article →

Writers On Writing, Volume 2: Just like having an established author come over and eat all your food and tell you what you need to hear

November 15, 2015

August saw the release of Writers On Writing, Volume 1, the first in Crystal Lake Publishing’s new series of punchy little collections of essays from those of us in the trenches. Volume 1 implies a Volume 2, does it not? And lo, it has arrived. My share of it is Part 2 of “The Infrastructure […]

Read the full article →

Win Yourself a Free Procrastinator’s-Special Copy of Dark City: A Novella Collection!

October 21, 2015

So you haven’t yet nabbed your very own copy of Dark City, the novella collection that Gerard Houarner and I pitched in on? Then aren’t you the lucky one. Potentially. Over at Goodreads, the book’s publisher, Necro Publications, has just launched one of those ever popular Goodreads giveaways, putting 15 copies up for grabs. It opened […]

Read the full article →

This Sunday: Live Lovecraft eZine Chat, Tentacles Optional

August 27, 2015

This Sunday, August 30th, I’ll be making my second appearance as the sacrificial guest on the Lovecraft eZine’s weekly talk show. Because punctuality matters, that’s at 6:00pm Eastern / 3:00pm Pacific, and if you don’t know how the time zones break down from there, you probably shouldn’t be near a computer anyway. Place? Show up […]

Read the full article →

Writers On Writing, Volume 1 and New Interview

August 14, 2015

It’s two-for-one day here in the update mines. First up: I’ve somehow landed in the Author Spotlight at the Secondly: If you have any of the sort of writerly inclinations that keep a butt welded to a chair for long periods of time, Crystal Lake Publishing’s new Writers On Writing series should be of […]

Read the full article →

Dark City and “In the Negative Spaces”

August 7, 2015

Released into the wild today: the result of what happens when you give a couple of writers half a book each to do with as they please. Nobody planned it, but a sort of urban theme developed. Gerard Houarner split his half between a couple of longish tales: “Burning Bright in the Invisible Night” and […]

Read the full article →

Eulogies III: “One Possible Shape of Things to Come”

July 30, 2015

Back in the late spring/early summer zone, I had what appeared to be a story-of-the-week club going, as pieces written at different times came out all at once. Between the rest of them, and other things coming up and going on, this one got lost in the shuffle, announcement-wise. These things happen. For me, one […]

Read the full article →