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“Hardboiled Horror” Now Online [Apr. 16th, 2014|11:06 am]
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My article for the exemplary Nightmare Magazine, “The H Word: Hardboiled Horror,” is now available to read for free on their website. Here’s a snippet:

Some of the best authors of horror and dark fantasy have been utilizing noir for decades now. William Hjortsberg’s famous novel Falling Angel dates back to 1978 (and was adapted into the movie Angel Heart in 1987). It features a hardboiled private investigator, Harry Angel, who takes on a missing person case that turns into a phantasmagoria of ritual murders, voodoo, and Satanism. Peter Straub’s novels Koko and The Throat take a number of noir tropes—murder, amateur detectives, and a colossal distrust of the supposed rules of a civilized society—and mix them with a strong dose of psychological horror.

Click on through to read the whole thing. For free, even!

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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The Scariest Part: James Maddox & Jen Hickman Talk About THE DEAD [Apr. 15th, 2014|09:51 am]
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dead02_01

Welcome to the inaugural edition of The Scariest Part, a new, recurring feature in which authors, comic book writers, filmmakers, and game creators tell us what scares them in their latest works of horror, dark fantasy, dark science fiction, and suspense. I’m thrilled to have James Maddox and Jen Hickman as my first guests. Together, they’re the creators behind the ongoing digital comic The Dead. Currently, they’re also running a Kickstarter campaign to fund a graphic novel print version of the comic. Here’s a description of the series:

When Sam opens his eyes after dying, he expects to see heavenly clouds or hellfire. What he’s faced with instead is “The House” – a surreal and often-dangerous afterlife of interconnected rooms. As Sam travels deeper into this new world, he finds the strange creators of these rooms aren’t the only residents of The House. Here there be monsters, and if he isn’t careful, Sam’s stay will take a horrible turn.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest parts were for James Maddox and Jen Hickman.

James Maddox, Story and Writing

The Dead is the story of what happens after you die. And before you ask, it’s not a zombie comic. Rather, our story drops readers into an afterlife made up of rooms that are customized by its individual residents. These rooms have the ability to encompass the entirety of any imagination, so as you may have guessed, the settings for this book can get dark and surreal at times. Some of the horror concepts that emerge in The Dead are graphic in their violence, but the scariest parts for me are more subtle and cerebral than simple gore.

In issue two, I decided to show these two particular approaches side-by-side (i.e. human versus natural horror). Here we find a gang of zealots, the Seraphim, who have banded together to kill one of our main characters, Velouria. Though V and her hatchet bloody the ground with viscera and gore at the beginning of the scene, the advantage quickly turns against her. Soon the strength of the Seraphim’s numbers overcome Velouria and the gang of bastards prepare to deliver her to a gruesome and painful death.

Just before the violence against Velouria kicks into high gear, a monster to which I allude in issue one is finally revealed. Called “the Frail”, it takes the ghostly appearance of a beautiful and gentle woman. In our story, the Frail are creatures that look inviting, but cause mental instability in the nearby population. In this example, the Seraphim begin to attack each other and themselves, allowing for Velouria’s escape from danger. One man tears out his eyes, while another is stabbed through his stomach, a victim of a crazed ally. While at first glance this may seem to be supernatural as opposed to natural, there is no real reason for the Frail’s effects. They are a natural and elemental force in this world.

Unlike a human act of violence, the Frail doesn’t cause horror because it hates or covets. As the scene unfolds, we don’t see her become angered or upset. In fact, she seems concerned for the people who are tearing each other apart thanks to her presence. It’s like a tornado: from a distance it is awe-inspiring and beautiful in its enormity; but, up close a tornado is one of the most horrific and terrifying things you could experience. And whether you are a bystander seeing it from a mile away or unfortunate enough to find yourself in the thick of its fury, the tornado doesn’t care in the slightest.

Violence inflicted on one person by another who holds different beliefs is something we can understand on some level. Wars are fought over differences in belief and (mis)understandings. Even if our understanding is that something is sick and demented, it’s still able to be put it into a framework most of us can fathom. Because I am able to wrap my mind around it, this approach to horror is made more real and visceral, but has less of an overall hold on my imagination.

Perhaps this is why I tend to lean more toward the natural force when I read horror and why the Frail are the scariest part of my own work. I get people’s reasons for violence, as dark and disturbing as they may be, but a force such as the Frail (or a tornado, or a sandworm, or a werewolf, or an earthquake,) can’t ever have reasons that can be understood by a human mind. It is the human mind that fills in the blank spots, and with our speculation we make these things more frightening. Is there anything more terrifying than the stories and details that swell in our minds to explain the things bigger and more strange than us? For me, there’s nothing scarier.

Jen Hickman, Illustrations and Colors

For me, fear in storytelling arrives at the moment when we remember just how vulnerable a character (and by proxy we ourselves) is. It’s that moment before anything happens, when your protagonist is standing in his PJs while a lumbering monstrosity chases after him, when all you can think is, “Oh god! He’s just a pile of delicate biological systems that almost anything could destroy!”

In The Dead our protagonist runs into a bunch of these situations, teetering on the edge of safety and danger. What’s fun about the story is that James doesn’t stick with just one type of peril– there’s a little bit of everything. Fear of heights, ineffable Frail, beastly Wretched, backstabbing, and good old-fashioned well-armed zealots. For me, the scariest part is that there are many, many opportunities to remember just how easy it is to die.

The Dead: Website / ComiXology / Amazon / Kickstarter (As of this writing, there are only 9 days left to support their project, so if you’re interested, hop to it!)

James Maddox
After completing titles like the critically acclaimed The Horror Show and Nightmare Unknown, Maddox has continued his comic career with stories like The DeadClown, and the wildly anticipated Blue Nemesis. A versatile and prolific writer/creator, Maddox has only just begun to find and impress his audience. He can be found online at jamesmaddox.net and on Twitter as @jamescmaddox.

Jen Hickman
Jen Hickman is a graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design’s Sequential Art program. Her credits in the comic industry include the successfully crowdfunded publications The Playlist Anthology and the digital sketchbook Tip Jar. She can be found online at umicorms.com and @umicorms.

Remember, if you’d like to be featured on The Scariest Part, you can read the guidelines here.

 

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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Announcing “The Scariest Part” [Apr. 14th, 2014|08:12 am]
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In the tradition of John Scalzi’s “The Big Idea,” Mary Robinette Kowal’s “My Favorite Bit,” and Chuck Wendig’s “Five Things I Learned,” and with their blessings and advice, I am very excited to announce that I will be starting a recurring, guest-written feature right here on my own blog: “The Scariest Part”! The first guest blog post should be appearing this week.

The guidelines are below and can also be found on this permanent page of my website: The Scariest Part. As of today, I am open to queries. Please read the guidelines very carefully before querying. Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you!

What is “The Scariest Part,” anyway?

The Scariest Part is a recurring guest blog feature in which authors, filmmakers, comic book writers, and game creators discuss the scariest parts of their latest works of horror, dark fantasy, dark science fiction, and suspense. The definition of “scariest part” is actually pretty flexible. It can be the scene that gave them the most chills, or some personal threshold they had to cross during the creative process. The goal is to help promote these new works to a wide audience of people interested in all things scary. A new guest blog will appear every week, give or take.

Hey, I write stuff and/or make movies! How can I be one of your guest bloggers?

Glad you asked! Anywhere from two months to one month before the official release date of your new work, send me an email at nick.kaufmann@gmail.com, with the subject line: “THE SCARIEST PART QUERY: [Your Name] [The Title] [Release Date].” (Please note: If your comic is monthly or otherwise ongoing, you can query me at any time.) In the body of the email, please give me a brief description of what you’re promoting. I’ll try to get back to you within a week to let you know if there’s space available. If you don’t hear from me after two weeks, feel free to check in with me to make sure I received your query. If I give you the thumbs up, I’ll assign you a run date for your blog post.

Just a heads up: Traditionally published books are more likely to get a slot than self-published books. That’s just the way I roll. Sending me angry emails about it won’t change my mind. Showing me you respect my guidelines might.

Do I also have to send you a copy of the book/comic/film/game?

Not unless I ask, but thanks for offering.

Hooray, you’ve given me a slot! Now what do you need from me?

Send me a short essay (as a Word file or equivalent, not in the body of an email) about the scariest part of your new work. By short, I mean in the 400- to 1,000-word range, roughly. Remember, you get to decide what “scariest part” actually means. Is it a scene that made you look over your shoulder even as you were writing it? Is it something so grotesque you were surprised that your own imagination came up with it? Is it a bit of real-world research you did that made you wonder how something so awful or strange could have happened? Is it confronting something difficult in your own life in order to better write about it? Consider this an opportunity to tell your audience what freaks you out, gets under your skin, or just gives you that indefinable frisson that all good scares provide.

Be sure to include a short bio. About 150-200 words should do. Also be sure to add any links you’d like to include, such as links to your website, your social media, and where to purchase the work.

In addition to your essay, I will need an image file of your book or comic cover, movie poster, or game box art. It doesn’t necessarily have to be high resolution, but the better the quality, the better it’ll look online.

Your deadline is one week before the scheduled run date. I’m flexible about deadlines, but please do not send anything earlier than that. Send your essay and your image file together to nick.kaufmann@gmail.com, with the subject line “THE SCARIEST PART ENTRY: [Your Name] [The Title] [Scheduled Blog Date].”

What’s with all the fancy-schmancy subject lines you’re asking for? Control-freak much?

Hey, I get a lot of email and I don’t want your queries or posts to get lost in the shuffle. Sue me.

Is there anything else I need to know?

Yes, two things, and they’re both important, so pay attention.

First, respectfully, I don’t have time to be your copyeditor or personal spell check. When you hand in your blog post, be sure it’s as free of typos, misspellings, and grammatical errors as possible. Remember, you’re trying to entice your audience into purchasing the work you’re promoting. Take the time to put your best foot forward.

Second, I reserve the right to reject your blog post or ask for edits if it includes something I find offensive. I’m not easily offended, so I don’t expect this to happen often. However, I don’t take kindly to homophobia, sexism, racism, or any other kind of bigotry. If there’s something in your blog post that swims in those waters, you can expect to hear from me.

Okay. Anything else?

That’s it! Have fun with it!

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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Goldenland Past Dark [Apr. 13th, 2014|04:17 pm]
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Goldenland Past DarkGoldenland Past Dark by Chandler Klang Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An accomplished and beautifully written debut novel from an author from whom I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot more. A coterie of circus “freaks,” a cynical helper monkey, and a seriously disturbed family all share the spotlight in this affecting tale of a circus clown named Webern who is losing his grip on sanity. Webern may be the protagonist, but it’s the female characters in his life who are the most interesting to me: Nepenthe, the reluctant “lizard girl” of the freak show; Bo-Bo, Webern’s outlandishly eccentric grandmother (who really should have been in the novel for longer than she was); and perhaps most of all, the twins Willow and Billow, Webern’s spooky, witchy sisters who share their own nonsense language, speak to others only in rhyme, and make art out of dead animals. While the characters are extraordinarily well drawn, I did find myself wishing there were more of a through-plot on which to hang my hat. But it’s not really that kind of novel. It’s far more interested in letting you explore its world at a leisurely pace, much like the sideshows to which it pays such loving homage. Well worth reading. I’m looking forward to whatever the author comes up with next!

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Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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Reading on Sunday, May 4th in New York City [Apr. 10th, 2014|11:49 am]
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Hey, everyone! I’m going to be doing a reading on Sunday, May 4th, along with Chandler Klang Smith and Karen Heuler! (Aside from being amazing authors, Chandler and Karen have also been published by ChiZine Publications, the same folks who published my novella Chasing the Dragon. We’re CZP family!)

Where: The HiFi Bar, 169 Avenue A, at 11th Street. We’ll be in the back room, unless lots of people show up, in which case we’ll take over the bar. Please help us take over the bar!

When: Sunday, May 4th, from 5pm to 7pm.

Admission is free! Drinks will be cheap and plentiful!

Copies of our books will be available for purchase and signing at the reading. Or bring your own and we’ll sign those, too. We’re not picky.

Hope to see you there!

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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What Went Wrong With the Finale of “How I Met Your Mother” [Apr. 3rd, 2014|08:20 am]
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[No spoilers here, although some will undoubtedly appear in the comments.]

I’m not a big sitcom guy these days. I can count on one hand how many sitcoms I tune in for. How I Met Your Mother was one of them. I didn’t start watching it from the beginning. In fact, I was barely aware of the show until I started catching cable reruns on the weekends in 2011. I fell in love with the characters and found myself watching it more and more, catching up on everything I missed on Netflix. I found Ted, Barney, Lily, Marshall, and Robin all relatable in their own ways, and even when an episode’s plot would go off the rails, the emotions at its core would remain authentic. And while I’ll admit that Ted’s plotline quickly faded to the background for me in favor of all things Barney, the show’s conceit, that future Ted (inexplicably voiced by Bob Saget) is telling the story to his children of how he met their mother, and its inherent mystery remained compelling to me on some level. With every new woman Ted dated, I wondered if this, finally, would be the woman he winds up with. She never was.

Then, at last, the mother appeared briefly at the end of season 8, although really she didn’t become a character until season 9. We were shown the mother meeting each of the gang separately, all leading up to the big moment when she and Ted would meet. In between, we were treated to flash-forwards, Lost-style, to their courtship and life together. It built an expectation that the last episode, maybe even the final scene of the last episode, would bring it all together in the sitcom equivalent of a harmonic convergence.

And then the final episode came, a two-parter called “Last Forever,” and it was seriously disappointing. Some people liked it. Most hated it. A few, like author Chuck Wendig, seemed personally offended by it. It’s not hard to see why. The finale is wildly problematic, but its biggest narrative fumble is that it marginalizes the mother completely and makes her irrelevant to the story.

This marginalization is demonstrated perfectly in a scene at MacLaren’s, the bar that has been the characters’  home away from home for nine seasons, where the gang asks the mother to take a photo of them all in their favorite booth. So they all sit together for the picture, and the mother stands away from them and takes the photo. I kept waiting for one of the characters — and really, it should have been Ted, her fucking fiancé — to say, “Hold on a moment, you should be in this picture too,” and get someone else to take it. But the writers obviously cannot imagine such a thing, and so the photo is taken to commemorate the moment without the mother even in it. Later in that same scene, the gang makes a toast that’s all about Ted and how it’s been a long, hard trip to this moment of lasting coupledom, which is sweet, except nowhere in the toast do they even mention the mother…or even say her fucking name! IN A TOAST TO THE HAPPY COUPLE! AND SHE’S SITTING RIGHT THERE!

It is clear that to the writers the mother literally does not matter, except as the source of Ted’s children. This irrelevance is further borne out in the final minutes of the episode, which succeed not only in negating everything the show was building toward, but also nine seasons’ worth of character development. I really liked in the episode before the two-part finale when Robin wonders if she should be marrying Ted instead of Barney, and Ted tells her, “I’m not that guy anymore.” No, scratch that, I loved that scene. It was character development at its finest. Ted has moved on. Emotionally, he’s ready for what’s coming next. Bravo, writers! And then they fuck it up at the end of the finale with the most tone-deaf few minutes the show has ever, ever had. Ted hasn’t changed or grown or learned, the writers seem to be saying. Ted is pretty much exactly the same as he was from the start. Mother? What mother? Thanks for watching.

This is what happens when you plot out your finale nine years before and then rigidly adhere to it without allowing room for spontaneity, character development, or the ability to change your mind when you realize something else might work better. In the end, How I Met Your Mother, which I had been very close to calling one of the my favorite TV comedies ever because of its intricate and clever plotting, closed out its story with a lazy contrivance that left a bad taste in my mouth. One that’s very hard to forgive.

Edited to add: Some kind soul on the Internet has edited their own version of how the finale should have ended, and it’s a thousand times more perfect than what we got.

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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“Hardboiled Horror” at Nightmare Magazine [Apr. 1st, 2014|12:43 pm]
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My article “Hardboiled Horror,” about the intersection of horror and noir, is featured in the April issue of Nightmare Magazine, the fabulous online horror and dark fantasy magazine edited by John Joseph Adams. Those of you with a subscription can read it now. Those of you without a subscription will have to wait until April 16th to read it online for free. For now, though, here’s a taste:

Consider the works of Poe, who saw nothing but the inevitability of death and decay in all human relationships. Or Lovecraft, who watched the frantic hubbub of our daily lives with the icy gaze of a disinterested spectator and told us nothing we did mattered. (“Life is a hideous thing,” Lovecraft wrote as the very first line of “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family,” and if that’s not a noir sentiment, I don’t know what is.) In Shelley’s Frankenstein, the creature is the ultimate outsider. Everywhere he goes he is greeted with only hatred and fear, until finally he accepts this as the true dark, seething heart beneath society’s friendly façade. Once he embraces it by murdering Victor Frankenstein’s brother William, friend Henry Clerval, and wife Elizabeth, the creature becomes the very monster everyone thought him to be, and thus becomes an equal at last.

This issue also features stories by Dale Bailey, Nancy Etchemendy, Martin Cahill, and the mysteriously named Bones; Julia Sevin’s art showcase on digital artist Federico Bebber; and Lisa Morton’s author interview with Darren Shan. So if you haven’t subscribed yet, what are you waiting for? Nightmare Magazine is where it’s at!

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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R.I.P. Kate O’Mara [Mar. 30th, 2014|06:09 pm]
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Multiple sources are reporting the death of British actress Kate O’Mara at the age of 74. She was best known for her role in the 1980s primetime soap Dynasty, but I knew her as the Rani on Doctor Who.

As a villain, the Rani was an interesting character. Yet another in a long line of renegade Time Lords, she wasn’t evil the way the Master was. Where the Master was a megalomaniac who wanted to rule the cosmos, the Rani was merely a dedicated scientist who treated everyone and everything as secondary to her research. In her quest to extract and study human brain chemicals, who cared if a few humans died along the way? She hated the Doctor, presumably for his morality, but hated the Master just as much. She thought the Master’s ridiculous rivalry with the Doctor had turned him stupid, saying about him once, “He’d get dizzy if he tried to walk in a straight line.”

Unfortunately, this was 1980s Doctor Who, which meant that even if she was an interesting character, nothing all that interesting was ever done with her. She only appeared in two serials (I’m not counting 1993′s “Dimensions in Time,” because no one should). The first was 1985′s “The Mark of the Rani,” in which she, the Master, and the Doctor all wind up in Killingworth during the Luddite riots of the 19th century. The Doctor saves the Industrial Revolution while his companion Peri, wearing a hideous, ill-fitting yellow and pink dress that looks like she bought it from a blind, deranged dressmaker at a Renn Faire, is menaced by stagehands dressed as trees in a field. The Master doesn’t do much of anything except try to team up with the Rani to defeat the Doctor once and for all, or something. His presence is completely superfluous to the story. The whole thing is terrible.

Her second appearance, 1987′s “Time and the Rani,” is even worse. (Both serials were written by Pip & Jane Baker, a writing team that I think bears most of the blame for the awful Doctor Who scripts of the 1980s.) This is also the first appearance of Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor, taking over for Colin Baker, who was the Doctor in the Rani’s previous serial. The story is such a disaster (the Rani tries to trick the newly regenerated Doctor by impersonating his companion Mel with the help of nothing more than a curly red wig, which I guess she had lying around somewhere) and the Rani’s plan is so ridiculous (gathering the minds of all the greatest thinkers of the galaxy into a giant brain) that “Time and the Rani” is best left to the dustbin of history, where it can be rightfully forgotten.

As you might imagine, the Rani was hardly my favorite Doctor Who character. Both serials she was in were really bad, but Kate O’Mara herself was such an amazing actress, and such a strong presence, that she turned every awful line into gold. In the hands of better writers, I’m convinced the Rani could have been a lot more than she was. But O’Mara did the best she could with what she was given, which wasn’t a lot, and she still managed to blow everyone else off the screen.

I also remember O’Mara from the 1970 Hammer film The Horror of Frankenstein, which, while not as revered as the Frankenstein movies Hammer did with Peter Cushing, is still a lot of fun. In that one, she plays Alys, the villainous chambermaid who tries to blackmail Dr. Frankenstein. That same year, she starred opposite Ingrid Pitt and Peter Cushing, again for Hammer, in The Vampire Lovers, which is one of my favorite vampire films. As the governess Mme. Perrodot, she is enthralled by the beautiful vampire Carmilla and becomes her willing tool in wreaking havoc. (O’Mara also appeared in an episode of The Avengers in 1969, but it was a Tara King episode, and who remembers those?)

Kate O’Mara was an incredibly versatile actress. She didn’t always have the best scripts to work with, but she brought a lot to every role. Her death is a sad loss to the acting world. She will be missed.

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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Beneath the Surface [Mar. 29th, 2014|08:06 am]
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Beneath the Surface (Revised & Expanded)Beneath the Surface by Simon Strantzas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Strantzas’s debut collection marks the arrival of a refreshingly different voice in the horror field. But make no mistake, these are tone pieces, more concerned with atmosphere than plot cohesion. You won’t find any Twilight Zone twists or monster mashes here. Instead, you’ll find stories of encroaching darkness, physical and emotional corruption, and cosmic futility. However, the tone remains too consistent throughout the collection, resulting in an unfortunate sameness to the stories and too much repetition of certain themes. Strantzas’s overly formal prose style can also put too much distance between the story and the reader to achieve the desired emotional effect. But as a debut, this collection of horror tales is quite accomplished and far more creative in its imagined terrors than most. I’m eager to read Strantzas’s follow-up collections to see how his themes and style have expanded, and where his impressive imagination will take me next.

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Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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The ARCs of DIE AND STAY DEAD Are Here! [Mar. 25th, 2014|10:34 am]
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ARC of DIE AND STAY DEAD

Ooooo, pretty!

 

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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