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A Stone In My Mouth

It feels death-like, long before it is. Silence in every pore;
the lungs, frozen solid; the breath, stopped.
Words dried up at the root—the sentence
hovers, unpronounced. A prophecy foretold.

So write your name down, fast, before you forget.
Carve it deep.
Let the dust fall where it will, gritty on the tongue,
before the river washes it away.
These letters, this sense—this cold grey tide
eddying away to nowhere.

You cannot speak of this, it whispers.
These are sacred matters, set in silence.
Better to fold it all away
like a napkin, a cerement. Pull the sheet up
over your head and knot the string,
a seed-pod awaiting burial, flowering, harvest.

Oh, you unlovely thing. You doll of mud.
You cast-off shell, skin stuffed with bones.
This is what we all come to, eventually—
God's promise, broken by disobedience.

We each carry a corpse with us, back-straddled.
We each owe one death, no more.
No less.

Pick out a rock, nothing soft or singular;
inscribe it, letter by letter, then fold
the whole into your tongue's centre-crease,
edge down, so speaking draws blood.
Each word will be a wound,
an invocation. A sacrifice, yourself to yourself:
nine days and nights on the tree,
twigs scattered beneath your high-hung heels,
an alphabet of dirt, of magic lies.

You make the grave your bed, pull
cold earth over. Wait for the bell to ring—
morning, and the call to rise.

You may not know your own name when you hear it
again, after all this time.
Spit out the stone, and check.
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...to October, and I still haven't done all that much in terms of content generation. Maybe this is because most people start mainlining horror movies during this month, as opposed to (say) what I do every goddamn day--I don't think it's overstating the case to claim I probably watch more horror than anything else, whether onscreen, on BluRay/DVD, On Demand or on Netflix. The other day I found a YouTube copy of the recent Turkish horror movie Baskin, watched it long enough to figure out it had no subtitles at all, shrugged, and kept on watching. (Later I ordered a copy because it has genuine power, though I'm fairly certain I didn't miss much in terms of dialogue.)

So yeah, I already watch a lot of horror, probably "too much," by most people's standards. I watch so much horror I often forget I've seen things at all, even if I sort of enjoyed them when I was inside of them; that's where the "Keep Watching?" Netflix queue comes in handy. And that's not even getting into all the horror I read, or the horror I research, pursue, ruminate on. Right now, I'm walking around with a compilation of historical exorcism accounts in my backpack that my father-in-law found in a church sale and bought because it reminded him of me. It's called Exorcism Through The Ages, edited and by an introduction by St. Elmo Nauman Jnr. Thus far, my favourite section is "Demonic Encounters, by Caesar of Heisterbach," a collection of really short, open-ended, oddly provoking Mediaeval German exorcism cases. They all have titles like "The Obstinate Girl to Whom the Devi Offered a Goose" or "Henry of Soest, the Farmer Caught up by a Devil in the Form of a Woman and Set Down in a Field," and though they're curt, they're surprisingly bloody; one case involves a demon spitting stinking, burning mucus on a nun, while others talk about how the Devil beat one woman until "[a]ll her limbs looked like human entrails," while another dragged a soldier along the pavement until "his face was in four pieces." Or then there's the convert who ate meat in a cellar, until a demon, "with God's permission, ...unable to do otherwise, seized the glutton and spread him out like a garment on the roof of the bell-tower."

The particularly weird part about all this is that these fragmentary and unsatisfying sketches remind me of nothing so much as Malachi Martin's Hostage to the Devil, my all-time favourite "nonfiction" book about possession. In Martin's stories, demons sort sidle up to you unannounced and start whispering to you--they present themselves as chance encounters, as friends ("Just...friends," the Gemini Killer might put it, in William Peter Blatty's criminally underrated Exorcist III: Legion). And this, in turn, is the way that the new TV series based on The Exorcist seems to be playing it as well, which intrigues and creeps me out. I mean, I WANT to be creeped out by it; I want it to be straight-up Blatty-esque, not some borderline Renny Harlin shit that's more interested in spectacle than the proverbial cold finger up the soul-spine. Thus far, I've mainly gotten my wish.

Anyhow. More to say about that, but I'm not feeling so great, so here I break. Feel free to ask me for details.
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Fifteen hours of sleep over Friday night/Saturday morning vs. no hours of sleep on Saturday night, and that's how things have gone ever since, basically. Spent the latter part of the weekend fighting off (hopefully) the same cold that laid Steve low, so badly he actually didn't go to work yesterday. We literally spent most of the day in bed, which was really nice at the time. Still not able to even think about sleep until 3:00 AM generally, though; that needs to change.

Things actually got bad enough at one part that I subscribed to The Insomnia Project, a podcast literally designed to bore people to sleep, and lay there next to Steve while piping it directly into my ears. It involves two people with hilariously soothing voices discussing "mundane subjects" in as detail-oriented a way as possible; recent episode subjects include yoga, pickling, quilting and the clarinet. The main problem is that the conversations which result are both occasionally interesting--causing a little bit of cognitive whiplash, in context--and increasingly funny, in a Saturday Night Live sketch sort of way.

My favourite so far is #61, which is mainly about reviewing various types of staplers. It begins with both hosts describing everything they keep on their desks, in excruciating detail, before moving on to trying to hammer out whether or not a Swingline stapler is the absolute best option, when it comes to sticking pieces of paper together. Later, they note with surprise that they've apparently been nominated for a Canadian comedy award, "which is sort of disappointing." Maybe it was my overall state of sleep-drunkenness, but that was the point at which I started to laugh and couldn't stop.

So, yeah: not much going on that's very useful, these last few days. I did watch the pilot episode of The Exorcist: The TV Series and was happy to find it suitably Blatty-esque, especially in philosophical terms. It probably bears further explanation, but I'm suddenly too tired to manage that; back to it.

Amended to add: Last night I ended up looking through my file of recently completed stories, because I have various anthologies coming out soon and wanted to reacquaint myself with what's coming down the pipe. One of them, "Sleep Hygiene," turned out to be good but utterly unfamiliar to me--I can barely remember writing it. Amusingly enough, it's about insomnia.
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Part of what I'm looking at with Nightcrawling is the fact that I've known at least two people who I once considered friends who disappeared inside a sudden onslaught of mental illness. In both cases, I eventually felt I had to detach myself from them, an action I felt like a blow--it seemed cowardly and cruel, which it probably was. It seemed like an unforgiveable betrayal, which it probably was as well.

In one case, the cause was schizophrenia, which the person in question had always feared, given he'd already watched his mother succumb to it at close range; I remember going to his house and finding her always sitting there in the dark, face swollen to the point of deformity from whatever drugs she was taking, chain-smoking endlessly. He was a a good-looking kid, delicate enough that I mistook him for a girl until I introduced him to somebody using the female variant of his name, and he quickly corrected me. Another friend later told me he'd shot through puberty and straight into the thick of his disease, becoming tall, hairy and grossly fat. I never had to see that, though, because I'd already cut myself away from him using sharp words, unkind observations. I made it so he wouldn't want to be with me anymore, so I could be elsewhere.

Bits of my other friend's illness have made it into various stories, particularly those starring Carraclough Devize. I'd known her since grade school--she and I actually met at Deer Park, sharing those horrible years before separating when I escaped into the alternative school system, then meeting again at City School. We drifted apart again when we got into different universities, and by the time I next saw her she'd begun to wrestle with manic depression, which first presented during her graduate studies and led to a full-blown episode while she was working south of the border, ending in her being committed to an American hospital, where she racked up enormous debt and was treated with drugs that damaged her heart. She's the person I once went to visit in the Clarke Institute for Mental Health, signing her out for a three-hour jaunt during which we couldn't see a movie because she had to get back early (she was under suicide watch). Once released, she settled into a routine: change prescriptions, adjust to the cocktail, feel better, stop taking it, have an episode, go back on until the meds stopped working, change prescriptions again, etc. Then she threw herself off a bridge, ending up in a wheelchair, and I stopped taking her calls.

The pain was a lot worse with my second friend. What hurt the most was that throughout the process, she kept claiming I was her best or only friend, hearkening back to Deer Park, to the impression I'd made on her. She thought I was brave, self-confident, honest--like Lawrence of Arabia; she'd tell the same anecdotes over and over, reminding me of when I'd blown up at her abusive, belittling mother on her behalf, screaming at her in her own kitchen, or when I'd confronted her stepfather for essentially saying she was functionally retarded just because she wanted to study physical education rather than a more academic subject. But the more she praised me, the more I knew I couldn't possibly be any of those things, most especially so because of how uncomfortable she was making me feel. So I cut her loose and I moved on, not looking back.

I understand now that that was self-protection in action, "self-care," an instinct which came directly out of my own issues, and I accept the consequences, even though I still consider scuttling both friendships one of the worst things I've ever done, the worst sins I've ever committed. God knows I've cut other friends loose since then, for similar reasons, and been far less divided about it; maybe it's because I knew exactly what I was doing, those times. Maybe it's because I had what I considered genuinely practical reasons for doing so, beyond a vague sense of "I just can't stand to be around you anymore, because you remind me how weak and context-dependent my own grasp on sanity can be."

One way or the other, however, I understand all too well what it is to feel so guilty you consider yourself forever stained, a social leper whose marks only become visible if you admit to them. And I know how it is to be listening to a story someone's telling about someone else while thinking: "But this is you, right? You're describing yourself. And I can't say anything about it, because you don't even get that yet. You wouldn't believe me, if I did."

So this is where things will start: with one person telling another about the awful thing they did when they were younger, how they loved someone who went insane and felt it like a betrayal, then betrayed them in turn--but seen through the eyes of the second person, the one increasingly unsure of how reliable a narrator the first person is. Thinking, more and more: This is YOUR story you're telling me, whether you know it or not. There's something wrong with you, and I want to help, but I don't know if I can. I don't know if that's even possible.

Back to it.
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So...Experimental Film just won the 2016 Sunburst Award for Best Adult Novel. Link here (http://www.cbc.ca/books/2016/09/gemma-files-wins-2016-sunburst-awardl.html).

Seriously, this has just been a really, really good year.
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Wwwwoooowwww. From April to September, in one fell swoop. What's been happening?

Basically, I got caught up in work, summer, taking care of Cal...all that. You may have heard that Experimental Film won the 2015 Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel. You might remember I was fuck-a-struggling to complete "Coffle," the novella I owed Dim Shores; that's finally done, at least. Then, in the last days of August, I attended a fundraising gala at ChiZine's ChiSeries Reading Series, for which I was supposed to bring in and read a sample of my juvenilia--I chose my first official horror story ("Gore in the Woods," written when I was eleven) and what was probably my first-ever film review (Star Wars, written when I was nine, with truly execrable accompanying illustrations), both of which went over pretty well. Going through the stack, however, I tripped across the remnants of a novel I'd tried to write while in high school, and suddenly I had a new project.

Like Experimental Film, Nightcrawling is firmly rooted in personal history/trauma. Specifically, it deals with a time in my life I truly tried my best to forget entirely, my tenure at a particular house on St. Clair East near Mount Pleasant, during which I attended Deer Park School. Granted, I hadn't exactly been well-adjusted or socially accepted before getting to Deer Park, but that place marks the absolute nadir of my public school experience: social pariah-dom, coordinated bullying by fellow students and teachers alike, violence practiced on and by me. It's also marked by an enduring fascination with that part of Toronto's ravine system which runs under the St. Clair bridge. Naturally enough, all of this is going in the book, and the process of making notes on it is already fascinating and sort of awful in equal portions.

Yesterday, for example, I found myself thinking about how not to approach the bullying, which (even now) I can only see at a very steady remove, framed by my adult understanding of a situation that absolutely baffled me while I was moving through it. As Sandra Kasturi observes, the sort of bullying girls inflict on other girls is cruel in a way that's somewhat unique; boys will hurt you but then get bored and move on, while girls will devote what seems like amazing amounts of effort on finding out your vulnerabilities, then using them to destroy what you love most--"rip out your heart and shit on it," is Sandra's evocative phrase.

In hindsight, I can completely recognize the matrix this behaviour comes from: there's such a narrow, narrow range of allowable femininity, and popular girls are just as shaky inside that foundation as the rest of us, which is why they feel driven to make sure that anyone who falls outside that rubric is properly punished, made an example of: they can't leave us alone, because our very existence challenges the idea that there can be no exceptions to the unwritten rules of what girls are "supposed" to do, to like, to be. Within those standards, I was too tall, too developed, too smart, too unable to control myself; I have no doubt they were afraid of me sometimes, because I remember doing my level best to make them afraid of me, in hopes of being left alone. If I met me then, I'd probably be afraid of me too.

(This doesn't make me want to forgive anybody involved, so much, as it simply allows me to deal with the fallout. But the emotions that the act of merely thinking about these things summon up are still so raw that they amaze me. It definitely reminds me of the fact that all scars can be un-knitted, whether by scurvy or just by a situation which triggers "old tapes," making you flinch from threats that no longer exist. Nothing is ever "over.")

Anyhow: that's the seed. The framework itself is similar but different. Supernatural events may or may not be involved. I split myself into two equally unreliable narrators, and see where that takes me. The whole thing scares me, which is probably only fitting.

So yeah, those are the haps, partially. Cal is back at school and into his new schedule, which contains roughly twice as much music lessons as usual. The exciting development over the summer is that he's suddenly spurted ahead in terms of confirming music as his "language," his vocation--the last time we got to the Toronto Institute for the Enjoyment of Music, he sat down at the piano in the front room and immediately started to sing "See the Light" from Tangled, working out the chords as he went along. Then he immediately did it again, so I could catch it on my iPhone. A day earlier, I'd watched Mom tear up while watching him harmonize with himself, playing back a video of the same song that he'd recorded earlier--again, he immediately repeated the performance so she could get it for Facebook. All of which gives me tentative hope that we may actually be able to get him a placement in a Catholic high school with both an arts program and a good multiple exceptionalities stream to support him on the academic crap as he moves towards age eighteen. He's a great guy, but the future's coming in fast, and he doesn't know enough yet to worry about it the way I do.

(I can't even think about him having his own Deer Park-style memories in future--I won't let myself, period fucking full stop. At least he has a diagnosis, and a support system; my mother loved me, but she had her own problems, and she was alone. Still, she did manage to violently reject one psychiatrist's suggestion I might be potentially schizophrenic, so that's good. I owe her a lot, and strive to hold no grudges.)

Okay, back to it.
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...in case anyone's interested:

April 29, 2016, 10:00 pm - 11:00 pm
May Contain Graphic Violence - Richmond A

April 30, 2016, 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Chizine Authors Reading - Oakridge

April 30, 2016, 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Northern Frights! - Aurora

April 30, 2016, 8:00 pm - 9:00 pm
The Disappearance of the Beginning Middle and End - Markham B

This is at the same time as the Echo Women's Choir's Spring session dress rehearsal (Saturday, 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm) and performance (Sunday, 3:00 pm), so I'm going to be constantly in transit and probably pretty fucked up, which means that if we have an encounter and I seem spacey, that's why. See ya!
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I feel like I've been running a really long, useless race, wrecking myself and producing very little of value. As you may have noticed, for instance, I haven't done shit for my Patreon project except write ideas down in a notebook--being sick for a solid week will do that, I guess, especially while simultaneously dealing with Cal being sick for a solid week. I've also gotten progressively less and less sleep, culminating in yesterday's Viva! Youth Choir gala fundraiser marathon, for which I had stupidly volunteered my help in terms of silent auction bid sheet/display sheet formatting and event set-up.

The first part--formatting--Iid already gotten done with Steve's invaluable help (never dealt with Numbers/Excel before in my life, thank you) over two equally late nights. I then started the day itself by waking up to the news that I had to be at the venue by noon, at which point I checked my phone and realized it was already 11:58. Rushed to get dressed and out, got there by 12:45, spent the rest of the day setting up display items, then met Steve on site and attended the event itself, a sort of "date night." Which was great but still exhausting/energizing, which may explain why I stayed up 'til 4:00 AM doing chores and trying to wind down.

Still on the plate: two stories, one due for May 5. In between I have Ad Astra, and the Echo Women's Choir spring session performance, and the Bellefire Club, and all sorts of other shit. Mom is in Barcelona, having a good time; I took a side-job helping a friend with his Air B-and-B properties, which means I also have to be on call running backa nd forth doing laundry and giving people keys and crap. Etc., etc., etc

I think I just need to make a fucking pact with myself that no matter when I go to sleep, I'll get up at the same time every day. I basically am anyhow, if just to throw Cal out the door. And then my clock will simply be forced to readjust itself, and everything can go back to "normal."

Meanwhile, as payback for having to read the above bullshit whiny screed about how my life is just so HARD, mmmkay, have a wonderful article about British folk horror that calls England "a green and deeply unpleasant land" (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/apr/10/eeriness-english-countryside-robert-macfarlane?CMP=share_btn_tw), plus this promising teaser trailer for Antoine Fuqua's remake of The Magnificent Seven (http://bgr.com/2016/04/20/2016-the-magnificent-seven-trailer/). I like its diversity, though I can't help but note it suffers from the usual Smurfette Syndrome.

Back to it.
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So okay, I did it: my Patreon campaign page is officially up, here (https://www.patreon.com/user?u=763086&ty=h&alert=1). OTOH, it's not like I'm not going to do this project even if no one signs up, but OTotherH, it would just make my life a whole lot easier, especially in terms of giving me a deadline I literally can't afford to screw my way out of. So if you guys could see your way to chipping somethiong in, that'd be amazing.;)

Otherwise, still working on a roster of short stories, a screenplay outline that's currently kicking my ass (but what doesn't?), and dealing with a typical lack of sleep. Cal will be home soon, after which comes choir, after which comes a talk with someone about the Viva Youth Choir fundraiser. And on and on and on.
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The third cold, constantly rainy day in a row, and I find myself watching Nicholas McCarthy's At The Devil's Door yet again--a female Antichrist narrative with the same sort of feel as Ti West's House of the Devil, but far more modernized (obviously, given House is a period piece both in front of and behind the camera). Part of At The Devil's Door definitely takes place in the 1980s, or appears to; there's a diagetic song used as part of the action that has a serious New Wave vibe, "Break Under Pressure" by Jerry's Diner, though it seems to have been composed directly for the soundtrack. But with his non-linear story-chunking and frames inside of frames, McCarthy appears to be going for something larger than West is, something almost...operatic, or at least comic book-like. The not-quite-God's-eye POV of a being operating from outside space and time, perhaps.

Before we go much further, I'm going to punch the thematic elephant in the room right in the face: this is a story conceived and executed by a male writer/director that revolves around female loss of agency, specifically of the sort that comes from rape and forced pregnancy run through a supernatural filter. On the one hand, this is the sort of narrative we see all the time, culturally--women reduced to their parts, their childbearing potential. But the reason these things keep getting name-checked in horror is that they're frankly pretty horrifying, and I say that as someone who consented to carrying a parasitical creature inside myself for nine months. There's a caesarian section sequence which looks very familiar to me, but then again, I also lived through the era of Jack Chick and his proselytizing tracts, the post-Rosemary's Baby/Omen/Amityville Horror movies era in which the Devil was a constant presence, a serious possibility. So there are other sequences which ring just as "true," even though they're not things I've ever experienced directly: the shifts, the skews, the loops and impossibilities. Those nightmare moments when Hannah, our initial protagonist, becomes alienated from her own body and feels something else slip inside.

We begin with Hannah (raccoon-eyed, Joan Jett shag-cut Ashley Rickards), young and in love, whose California vacation boyfriend suggests she can make an easy $500 by playing out his crazy uncle's favourite urban legend scenario: sell your soul, or pretend to; go down to "where the roads meet" and say your name, "so he'll known who to call for when he comes." One cut later, she's back at home admiring the bright red high-tops she just bought when a voice does indeed seem to speak to her, and her life starts unravelling overnight.

Then we pop forward into the future, where the current economic downturn is driving workaholic Leigh (Catalina Sandino Moreno) to become the best junior realtor possible. She's approached to sell a house that turns out the be the same one Hannah used to live in, and on her first appraisal visit, she sees Hannah herself standing in the living room in an equally bright red slicker, dripping rain. Hannah runs off, and Leigh simply assumes she must be the family's missing daughter, mentioned during their initial interview.

Leigh's little sister Vera (Naya Rivera) is a defiantly solitary, loft-dwelling artist--"kind of dark," as Leigh proclaims, her tone both proud and slightly sad. Leigh can't have children and knows it, but hopes Vera eventually will, though the likelihood seems low; their parents are dead, and Leigh's slight accent vs. Vera's complete lack of same tells a subtextual story about immigration, Americanization, orphans who became everything to each other, only to be riven apart when one was forced to take on the parental role. Leigh admires but judges Vera, whiles Vera resents yet loves Leigh, and their bond is palpable, even in their smallest interactions.

When Leigh returns to the house, however, she finds Hannah there again--wet, silent, apparently traumatized. She makes small talk, telling Hannah about Vera, then calls the couple she believes to be Hannah's parents...who tell her they've already found their daughter. Looking through the property file, she finds an article dated at least fifteen years previous talking about Hannah's suicide and follows her through the house, demanding an explanation. Instead, Hannah lets her head first loll, then begin to separate from her body; Leigh, horrified, falls to the ground, has a heart attack and dies right there, her last fading sight the vision of Hannah splitting in two and falling away to disclose a gigantic shadow-figure, its head crowned with a curling rack of horns.

It falls to Vera to investigate both Leigh's death and, as an adjunct, Hannah's, which leads her to Hannah's former best friend, now a suburban homemaker aware that "there are bad things in the world." According to the friend, Hannah became convinced she was stalked and occasionally inhabited by the creature her boyfriend's uncle said would come to her, a being that "wanted to be all of someone." Her parents thought she killed herself because she was pregnant, as a used test found in the house confirmed, but Hannah was a virgin--a vessel, a "work-around for the Left-hand path," as the uncle once claimed. She killed herself so that this thing inside her would be trapped, at which point it took on her form, haunting the house it was trapped in. But now, knowing Vera's name, it sees a way out.

And so it goes. The denouement is fairly predictable, in the same primal way most fairytales are: Vera fights but is overcome, thrown headlong through a window only to wake up eight months later, pregnant as hell. After glimpsing her tormentor's face on the ultrasound, she demands the hospital perform an immediate c-section and gives the child up, closes out Leigh's home, packs her car, drives off. But six years later, she can't quite help herself: she contacts the child's single mother, asks to visit. She wants to confront the demon within, demand answers, take revenge...but who can kill a child, even one so overtly wrong? Unlike Damien Thorn, Vera's nameless daughter doesn't even pretend to be human, simply giving Vera every opportunity to choose for herself--exercise free will. She gambles that Vera will choose like a person, not an angel or a God, and her trust pays out; evil wins.

Or, maybe, individuality.

The film fascinates, at least for me. Technically, it's gorgeous, sustaining a penetrating mood of dread throughout, and the foregone conclusion doesn't disappoint. There's a sort of beauty to it. Which is why I upgraded my score to five today, from four: At The Devil's Door is exactly what it sets out to be, in every way. I can't fault it for that.
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From famine to feast: the Gemma Files story. Considering where I was last time "we" talked, it's hilarious to realize I'm beginning to think I've finally tipped past the point of busyness where keeping up with the churn of my own thoughts becomes impossible, at least in terms of regular posting. At the moment, I'm literally working on five things at once: a specifically-targeted short story, a novella due by June, a screenplay outline that should have been done two weeks ago, a short story I brainstormed yesterday while watching the pilot episode of A&E's new Damien TV show and a potential Patreon campaign.

Yeah, that's right--I too am going to be joining the throng, looking for patronage to keep things fluid while I produce content for a very specific project; luckily, it's the sort of content I find pretty easy to produce on a regular basis, even when nobody's paying me for it. And all that's without even talking about the next novel, which is definitely still in the planning stages...five more options, at the very least. Five more stories to husband through their various developmental stages.

It seems churlish to worry about having too much on my plate, too many things to take advantage of, because when you're used to not having a lot of options, you get to believe that turning anything down is a straight-up asshole move. So when ideas come to me, these days, I write them the hell down; I'd rather have too much than too little. I'd rather have people talking about me and expecting things from me than not, no matter how exhausting that can sometimes be.

So yeah, that's what I'm doing. In and out, up and down. It's better than the block, any day.

March First

Mar. 1st, 2016 04:30 pm
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...and keep on marching, damnit. I went down to New York and read at KGB, staying overnight in an Air B&B whose building had a faulty front door lock and whose floors were so slanted as to seem non-Euclidean; I kept slipping around in my stocking feet and wondering what was making me queasy, 'til I finally realized that if I'd had a marble I could have set it down on one side of the room and watch it roll to the other without even giving it a flick. The next week was the novella night panel, which went pretty well, and my Mom is still in the Azores. I finished and sold that most recent story. Etc.

And still, the numbness persists. This general feeling I'm slamming my head against a rock every time I sit down in front of the computer. It's all very fast, and I'm tired, and my head hurts constantly; every line I write seems like the first sentence from a new story, but none of the stories seem to have second sentences. All that.

I have to make some hard choices, and stick to them. Have to schedule that second plumber's visit, then set up a tax appointment, get that done. Have to figure out a way to start enjoying myself again.
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So yeah, I had the Plane Bug too. Oh boy, did I! Things got worse and worse throughout the week, so much so that by mid-Thursday I was bent over groaning, achey all over, hot sweat and chills, and by very early Friday I was literally vomiting my guts out while sitting on the toilet. I woke up on Friday morning riding the tail end of everything inside me being disgustingly liquid, but otherwise cramp- and nausea-free; by eleven I was in bed, however, so exhausted I slept through a business call I'd set up while in Tasmania. Thankfully, they were understanding and I was able to reschedule quickly.

Saturday I was okay enough to run actual errands, including finally having that welcome home dinner Mom wanted, before falling asleep by 6:00 PM and pretty much staying there, aside from waking up for an hour or so around 3:00 AM. I'm still not rock-solid, but at least my brain seems to be working again, albeit in short spurts--enough so to start worrying about how utterly, shamefully behind I am on every fucking thing in the world.

Today's the 7th. By next Wednesday, the 17th, I need to be in New York, reading at KGB Bar's Fantastic Fiction evening. I'm already wondering how little time I can get away with spending there, but an overnight at an Air B & B seems like the easiest way to go. Then I've got a panel on novellas the week after, and this afternoon I have a very impromptu appearance on Mike Davis's Lovecraft eZine talkshow, in reference to Women in Horror Month. Then there's the stuff I haven't mailed yet, that short story, that novella, other things. A two-sheet screenplay pitch for a producer. Etc.

Anyhow, more on all that later, and other things. This is just to explain where the hell I've been, doing what. And now I must go.
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In case any of you wonder, I've been in Australia for about a week now. It's fun but somewhat gruelling. Every day is a wild ride of "let's go here, let's go there, let's do this and that," etc. I'm appreciating being here as an adult, but I need to get myself back in the swing of things; I'm still working on a short story that's kicking my ass, for example. And now I have to go.
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The metrics for film-viewing in 2015 break down thusly:

Seen In Theatre

1. Jupiter Ascending
2. Furious 7
3. Insidious: Chapter 3
4. The Man From UNCLE
5. The Visit
6. Sinister 2
7. Crimson Peak
8. Mockingjay Part 2
9. Inside Out
10. Spy
11. The Shaun The Sheep Movie
12. Minions
13. Avengers: Age of Ultron
14. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
15. Room

Seen At Home

1. The Voices
2. Mad Max: Fury Road
3. Ex Machina
4. The Collection
5. Spring
6. Honeymoon
7. Big Bad Wolves
8. Final Prayer/The Borderlands
9. Red Riding: In The Year of Our Lord 1983
10. It Follows
11. At the Devil's Door
12. We Are Still Here
13. The People Under the Stairs
14. The Purge: Anarchy
15. The Purge
16. Extinction
17. I, Madman
18. Let Us Prey
19. Kiss of the Damned
20. Vamp
21. Black Water
22. Project Almanac
23. Elysium
24. Under the Skin
25. Only Lovers Left Alive
26. Lucy
27. Monsters: Dark Continent
28. Predestination
29. What We Do In The Shadows
30. Antichrist
31. Always Watching
32. Ejecta
33. The Dead 2
34. Nomads
35. Inner Demons
36. The Atticus Institute
37. The Quiet Ones
38. The Possession of Michael King
39. Rigor Mortis
40. The Canal*
41. Mr Jones
42. The Calling
43. Soulmate
44. You're Next
45. Jessabelle
46. We Are What We Are (Nickle)
47. The Eclipse
48. Mercy
49. Entity
50. The Lazarus Effect
51. Wolfcop
52. The Damned
53. Beneath
54. Devil's Pass
55. The Nightmare
56. Contracted
57. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
58. The Hole (Dante)
59. Cries and Whispers
60. In Fear
61. Starry Eyes
62. Penumbra
63. Life Itself
64. The Babadook
65. The Guest
66. Song of the Sea
67. Nightbreed: Director's Cut
68. The Town That Dreaded Sundown (Blumhouse)
69. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
70. Dod Sno 2
71. Housebound
72. Proxy
73. Citadel
74. Resurrect Dead: Mystery of Toynbee Tiles
75. An American Ghost Story
76. Devil's Backbone Texas
77. Rec 3: Genesis
78. The Sacrament
79. Side Effects (Soderbergh)
80. The Pact 2
81. Area 51
82. The Call
83. Bathory: Countess of Blood
84. Exeter
85. The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears
86. Last Shift
87. The Haunting of Whaley House (Asylum)
88. Goodnight Mommy
89. Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension
90. The Hive
91. Blind Alley
92. Killers

My last film of 2015, as it turned out, was Star Wars: The Force Awakens again; we took Cal to it on New Year's Eve, his first Star Wars film ever, and he was very good, though I don't think he actually liked it much. I did, though, as did Steve--in fact, I think it's likely to be my next fandom, because it's managed to kick my long-dormant love of the franchise as a whole awake once more. Well, that and A) the supplements (Kieran Gillen's Darth Vader comics, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, etc.) plus B) Adam Driver's huge, hang-dog haughtiness as Kylo Ren, with his sad radiator mask-face, his lightsaber tantrums and his unbelievable Force-fluffed hair. I mean, I love Rey, Finn and Poe dearly, and seeing all the originals made me smile, but I do know myself.;)

Some of these will look familiar from me talking about them on my blog. As for the rest...well, how's this: ask, and I'll answer. I saw very little this year I'd give less than a three.
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So here are some metrics. In 2015, I wrote:

Experimental Film (108,215 words)

Short stories:
“Grave Goods” (8,122 words)
“What You See (When The Lights Are Out)” (8,438)
“The Thin Places” (2,617 words)
“Red Words” (15,850 words)

“That Girl (Is A God Damn Problem)” (13,199, plus 5,000+ of unposted additional notes)

This came out to a grand total of 161,441 words for the year, with every professional project I finished either published or accepted for publication. So that's good.

Other stuff I did: a couple of blog posts, taught my Litreactor course for the second year, read for and judged the World Fantasy Awards. I also outlined what may or may not be my next novel, brainstormed some other novel ideas, and did serious work on a short story I hope to complete in the new year. Now I owe a novella by maybe March or so, plus a short piece to a market I very much don't want to disappoint ASAP, so it's not like I can stop working anytime soon. The trip to Australia may or may not help, I guess, on that score.

Because of my crazy grind of a writing schedule in the first quarter of the year, I ended up slacking off horribly in terms of working out, which needs to be fixed going on. But at least I continued my core training, cultivated some friendships with other writers, did what needed to be done for/with Cal, etc. Things could've been more social, but I was struggling with near-chronic insomnia, which made going out a bit of a chore. Kept up the Echo Women's Choir, though, and that's good.

Moving into 2016, I need to keep myself on track and not let myself get sidelined. I need to not worry about replicating Experimental Film, because that'd be impossible. Instead, I need to pick projects that'll make me happy to do them, then do them. Finishing two books would be a smart idea, but who knows if that's possible? Nobody, I guess, 'til you do it, or don't.

Okay, back to it.
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Zack Parker's Proxy (avilable right now, on Netflix) is, to put it mildly, a very odd film. We begin with heavily pregnant Esther Woodhouse (Alexia Rasmussen), who's walking to the bus stop after her final sonogram when she's suddenly attacked by a person in a red hoodie who knocks her unconscious, then takes a brick to her enormous belly. Rushed to hospital, she survives, but her baby--a son--doesn't. In the wake of this horror, the already flat-affected Esther seems barely functional; she hangs around the hospital she recuperated in, barely eats, examines her deflated body in a full-length mirror, doesn't return to work. An overextended care worker suggests she attend grief counselling, or at least go to some sort of support group.

At a group for bereaved parents, Esther meets blonde, beautiful Melanie Michaels (Alexa Havins), who claims she lost both her husband and her son in a car accident. Melanie's self-confidence and easy charm seem to spark something in Esther, and when Melanie suggests they meet outside the group, Esther eagerly agrees. They sit in a park near the children's playground, watching happy families interact as Melanie probes Esther's wounds with a skill that quickly begins to seem vaguely sadistic--Melanie also delivers a monologue about how the people she feels sorriest for are those whose children have been abducted and never found, but if that was her, she'd pray that her kid was already dead--yet Esther keeps on coming back. Obviously, the connection means a lot to her.

By sheer accident, Esther is filling out a job application in a downtown department store when she sees Melanie walk by out of the corner of her eye, and follows her. She watches Melanie act out a strange scene in which she pretends to have lost her son--"Peyton, his name is Peyton, he's four years old...oh GOD, how could I have taken my eyes off of him?! Help me!"--and throws a frantic fit, enlisting the help of a nearby security guard, before finally going back out to her car, retrieving the (very much alive) child in question and bringing him into the store to be "found."

It's around this same point that we discover Esther's lack of affect has very little to do with the grieving process, as we watch her be suddenly dragged into her own bedroom to act out a strap-on-enabled rape fantasy with tough, facially-tattooed Anika Baron (Kristina Klebe). Anika's been observing Esther's interactions with Melanie from afar and demands to know if Esther is interested in starting an affair with Melanie, but Esther blows her off, distracting her with oral sex. It quickly becomes clear that it was Anika in the red hoodie and that she "attacked" Esther at Esther's request, staging the assault to engineer a very late-term abortion. Esther's earlier claim that she got pregnant by sperm donor is also probably untrue, since we then watch her celebrate her freedom with a session of increasingly rough sex with male strangers in the bathroom of a local bar.

Soon enough, Esther invites Melanie to her apartment and makes her move, after admitting that while she enjoyed being pregnant because it was the first time in her life that everybody around her had ever actually looked at her, she never really wanted to be a mother. She tells Melanie that they obviously have that in common, and reveals that she knows the only way Melanie can apparently cope with the stresses of being a wife and mother is to act out fantasies of her husband and son being dead. Then she tries to kiss Melanie, who slaps her face and orders her to never come near her again.

From here, things plunge even further into a maelstrom of even worse behaviour, to the detriment of everybody involved. What's consistently interesting is how the most extreme-reading person in the mix--Anika, with her anger issues and her criminal record, a plain blue prison ink constellation bracketing one eyebrow--quickly turns out to be the least complicated person in the mix; she's attracted to Esther's craziness ("That's what [makes] her such a good fuck," she remarks) and more than willing to rape, torture and kill in order to avenge what happens to her later on, but can't begin to fathom the depths of Melanie's own perversity, her cheerfully sociopathic need for attention and validation, especially in the public. Every tragedy subsequently heaped on her thus becomes a sidelong black miracle, a chronicle of losses foretold which only serve to render he a figure of dreadful charisma ennobled by sorrow, someone who's gained entry to a fairytale world of pain-porn reality media stardom: book tours, TV interviews, maybe even a movie adaptation. And after a certain point, nothing anyone does to her can derail that particular train.

Framed like low-rent Hitchcock crossed with something by Todd Solondz, the twist-filled, Grand Guignol spookhouse ride that is Proxy stays chilly but fascinating throughout,and its three main performances remain quite amazing even in hindsight--Esther's creepiness contains layers of terrible loneliness and a strange innocence, while Anika's rage speaks of an interior world so truncated she doesn't seem to be able to feel anything which doesn't involve either hurting or getting hurt. With Melanie, meanwhile, Havins and Parker evoke a peculiarly modern nightmare figure, a career wife and mother for whom her spouse and progeny have little value outside of the attention their figurative or literal suffering can attract from others. She's a brittle, hollow, beautifully calculated shell of a person, flourishing under the spotlight but wilting whenever it's wrestled away. She's capable of anything, and you'll never seen it coming.

Final verdict: looking back after the fact, it's hard to say if Proxy is admirable or even particularly enjoyable, except in the suspense-filled moment; the traumas it depicts are indeed shocking, but the all-too-human apparent inhumanity of its characters is where it really starts to shine, albeit entirely bleakly. What it's definitely not, however, is boring...and in fact, its sheer macabre, trashy ambitions are such that they make me very interested indeed to see what any of the people involved in its creation will do next.
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So...this morning I woke up and found a note I'd written reminding myself that I had a dentist appointment at 10:20 AM, which was good, because I was just about to go back to bed when I found it. As a result, I am now out and about, sitting in Balzac's trying to clock some words while also attempting not to think about the fact that there's enough decay on the back of two of my front teeth that it's visible if you angle a tiny mirror just so. Having been assured I probably have almost a year before it starts breaking the teeth down, however, I've decided I'll be getting that fixed in March, right after my next appointment.

In other news, I spent the weekend getting two, two! sick sinus headaches in a row, AH ha ha ha. Probably weather-related, which means I should go see the doctor and figure out what (if anything) can be done to make sure that doesn't keep happening. I also blew through Netflix's Jessica Jones, in two big chunks. The short story short version is that it's generally fucking brilliant, particularly in terms of meeting various issues head-on: the villain--KIlgrave the Purple Man (David Tennant), who I prefer to refer to either as Kevin Thompson (his actual given name) or Murdercorpse McSnuffcarcass, combining Jessica (Krysten Ritter) and Claire Temple's mutual complete dismissal of his chosen monicker--has the power of mind control, which you just know most critics would rush to call a metaphor for rape, but as the show and Jessica both point out, the violation here was anything but metaphorical. 'Cause telling somebody they want to have sex with you and then having sex with them when you damn well know they can't really consent to it? That's rape. "Oh, I hate that word!" Kevin scoffs, to which Jessica just gives him a look that could melt glass: Yeah, you WOULD, asshole. It's your bread and fucking butter.

I wish I could say it surprises me that some bits of fandom are already bending over backwards trying to explain why Kevin isn't entirely responsible for his actions and sidelong shipping him with Jessica, as though his much-repeated vow that he he really does "love" her and if she only gave it a chance, she could get to "love" him too were to be taken at anything like face value. One of the Purple Man's most creepy qualities, as befits a guy whose personality seems to have stopped developing around the age of ten, is his complete inability to stop blaming other people for what he does to them; it's a "you made me do that" world for him, just as much as it's a "oh, but I didn't do that, I just told you to and you did" one. His privilege and cruelty is staggering, but it's those moments where Tennant lets you see the kid whose parents literally ran away from him peep out that hurt the worst; much like Francis Dolarhyde in Hannibal, you feel intensely for little Kevin, even though the adult Murdercorpse himself is a waste of space who needs killing so bad your teeth start to hurt just looking at him.

The truly great part about Jessica Jones, though, is watching its main character finally realize she isn't simply the human wreckage left in another metahuman's wake--that while she may indeed be a "hard-drinking, short-fused mess of a woman," she's still a kind of a hero, too, and always was...her own kind. As flashbacks reveal, she would probably always have been impatient, unambitious, sarcastic and dour, but she's entirely capable of being annoyed into caring about other people, especially those who've already (in her opinion) stupidly started caring about her.

But it a way, it's her trauma that seasons her, cracking her open enough to appreciate the suffering of others beyond her immediate circle of one--Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor), her best friend/foster sister, a former TV child star turned radio talk-show host with enough positivity for both of them and a well-developed sense of justice. Her guilt, survivor's and otherwise, also puts her on a collision course with bar owner Luke Cage (Mike Colter), another "exceptional" person living undercover; when she gets drunk enough they fall into bed together, realize they can't hurt each other and have fun testing the limits of that unbreakableness, 'til other issues intrude. Colter is a wonderful presence, warm, humane and tough as hell--he even gets to use the classic "Sweet Christmas!" line a couple of times. I can't wait to see him strut his stuff in his own series, next on the Netflix slate.

So yeah, lots to like. I haven't even talked about Carrie-Anne Moss's unapologetic lesbian shark of a lawyer, Jessica's occasional employer/legal advisor, who spends the series cheating on her wife with her secretary while trying to prove Jessica's claim that a man with mid control powers forced one of her clients to kill her own parents, or the fact that a guy I remember from one particular Daredevil comics run turns up in the background--yet another failed super-soldier with a bad drug habit, who I mainly recall having shot up Hell's Kitchen while yelling: "Give me a red! Give me a blue! A white, give me a white!" (At least he doesn't have an American flag tattooed on his face, in this version.) And then there's the people in Jessica's rat-trap building plus the therapy group's worth of fellow Purple Man victims she accumulates around her, some of whom occupy both slots. It's all beautifully put together, and it moves like a motherfucker.

Okay, back to the real stuff. That short story's not gonna write itself, more's the pity.
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...or so it seems, as I emerge from this twenty-two day-long silence and peer vaguely around, blinking into the light with my face scrunched up, wondering how in the fuck I got here. Because first there was getting ready for WFC 2015 and then there was the thing itself, followed by a week of decompression and recovery during which I had at least two sick sinus headache episodes. Still, fuck it; I'm back, and tomorrow is the actual release date for Experimental Film, yaaay. Back on track, hopefully.

In terms of deadlines, I have a story that has to be in by December 1, which is not impossible, but I also have to lay down track for that novella I owe the dude from Dim Shores, which is probably due for sometime in January (from frickin' Australia). I should try to get as much of that done before the trip as I can, really, but the holidays are provably shit for that sort of thing. Guess we'll see.

Good news: got Cal's passport paperwork in, finally, and God willing it'll be here sometime next week. Bad news: I think my right little toenail might be coming off for some reason, probably related to trying to break in a pair of Doc Martins-esque boots I bought, because it's suddenly greyish-black and it feels odd. Also good news: Litreactor's over, the cheque is in the mail, they probably want me for next year; I did a lot of meet-and-greet at WFC, which may hopefully lead to good things of various sorts. Also bad news: Well, there's always something. And back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

In news of not-so-conspicuous consumption, meanwhile, I finally started watching Netflix again after a few weeks away from it, and blazed through Hemlock Grove Season One, a gorgeously shot and supremely weird series based on a book I found more ambitious than satisfying--a trailer-trash Romani werewolf and a confused rich "upir" share a high school in some tiny Pennsylvania town, collaborating on trying to solve a series of murders which might inadvertently out them both the authorities. The upir's Mom is played by Famke Janssen, wielding a truly bad pseudo-British accent; his little sister Shelley (ha ha) is a monstrously large, looming, silent figure with bandage-wrapped hands, a shy smile and one eye three times the size of the other. She "talks" either through her phone's text-to-talk app or in chatty, oddly happy emails to her psychiatrist uncle and the doctor who may have brought her back from the dead. There's also a cousin who's fallen pregnant by an angel (supposedly), a convincingly traumatized lesbian monster-hunter who claims to be from Fisheries and Wildlife, and a mysterious ouroboros symbol carved everywhere. Also, the sweet girl next door, who fancies herself a writer, accidentally kisses a corpse, then starts thinking she's been cursed. Given the rest of the town overall, you already know she'll inevitably turn out to be right.

In other news, I also watched Big Bad Wolves, former film teacher/film critic Navot Papushado's Hitchcockian thriller, co-penned and -directed with his former student Aharon Keshales. Unlike their first movie, Rabies--Israel's first slasher film, apparently--it's a physically beautiful yet emotionally gruelling piece that also has long sequences of pitch-black humour: Micki (Lior Ashkenazi), a ridiculously corrupt cop, suspects Bible Studies teacher Dror of being a notorious local pedophilic serial killer, so he tries (and fails) to beat the truth out of him with a phone-book, thus losing his own status as a detective and possibly making sure an already-kidnapped little girl ends up decapitated, just like all the rest. Later, he kidnaps Dror only to have the kidnapping hijacked by the final victim's father, Gidi, who installs Dror in the basement of his very remote cabin and tries to apply all the various tortures Dror categorically denies having practiced on these dead kids in order to get Dror to tell him where his daughter's head ended up. Soon enough, Gidi's own father gets involved, an army veteran who interrogation and black ops skills might go right on back to Israel's formative years. Still, Dror refuses to crack, leading to a truly horrific denouement, in far more ways than one.

Last night, meanwhile, I caught the pilot episode of AMC's new series Into the Badlands, a frankly demented post-apocalyptic wu-xia Western pitting various warring Barons and the martial arts magicians sworn to die for them against each other over a tiny bit of remaining resources. Thus far, I like it a lot--both Daniel Wu as the main career killer antihero and his chief antagonist, the beautiful yet lethal Widow (Emily Beecham) are a heck of a lot of fun, and the other characters are pretty great too. There might even be magic.

All right, back to it.
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Full disclosure--this is a mirror post from my pro blog, because stuff has happened, as ever, and I'm slowest to update here, again as ever. Part of that's because I'm three weeks into the Litreactor course and behind on my feedback, after two crazily busy weekends in a row. But the rest is just me being slow, frankly.

First up: my very short horror piece "Thin Places," done for The National Post's Halloween week coverage, is up here (http://news.nationalpost.com/arts/books/thin-places-by-gemma-files). It was partially inspired by having to go to choir camp with my son, but don't worry, none of that ended up happening. The power of pre-visualization in action!;)

Second: I was interviewed about H.P. Lovecraft, the all-female anthology She Walks in Shadows, and how I can reconcile my own dislike of Lovecraft's racism/gender issues far enough to write Lovecraftiana here (http://www.ttbook.org/book/racial-and-gender-problems-hp-lovecrafts-work), on NPR's To The Best of Our Knowledge. Having already been called an idiot for my views at least once since this link went up, I'll preface this by stating that my position on Lovecraft is two-fold: not only can I state without equivocation that he did indeed hold what are now truly unacceptable views while still feeling he has things to contribute to horror culture, but I feel like the impulse to consign him to the dustbin of history constitutes a sort of distancing we really shouldn't allow ourselves, especially if we check off more than one box on the supposed white/cis/male/straight mainstream cultural default.

In Othering Lovecraft, in other words, we're trying to say we're not like like him and never will be--but if there's one thing I believe wholeheartedly, it's that there's nothing more universally human than the impulse to Other other people. Lovecraft's guilt and hypocrisy is thus everybody's guilt and hypocrisy, and we owe it to ourselves not to let ourselves forget that, especially if we consider ourselves fans of horror...because part of an appreciation for horror, maybe the biggest/best part, is the deliberate cultivation of an ability to consider and process our own worst qualities, our most negative traits, with passionate objectivity.

This is a large part of what I was trying to get across in the interview, and if it didn't translate, then that's my fault. But it feels good to say it here, if nothing else.

By the way, "Red Words" is finished, and I'm on to the next one(s). In case you were wondering.
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