Fighting as Storytelling

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Photo via Showtime Boxing

I’ve been watching lots of fights lately. Boxing, UFC, and even the bare-knuckle stuff (which I enjoy, but also can’t believe it’s legal). People often ask me why an intelligent, literate dude like me enjoys watching people beat the crap out of each other. They say my love of combat sports runs in contradiction to my personality. An easy answer would be to simply say people are full of contradictions, and then just put it to bed, but this is a blog, so let’s dig a little deeper.

I’m both a storytelling enthusiast and a storyteller myself.

A fight is the oldest and most primal type of story there is.

Before I dive into this further, I want to clarify a couple of things. First, I’m not a meathead. I don’t fancy myself a tough guy, by any means. Second, I think fighting outside of a sanctioned, sporting event is almost always foolish and unnecessary.

With that out of the way, what is a fight, really?

Two combatants who want the same thing (a win, sometimes a championship). Each of them must stop the other in order to accomplish this goal.

So, what’s a story?

Two characters who want the same thing (a win, usually some form of self-fulfillment). Each of them must stop the other in order to accomplish this goal.

Here are some random examples off the top of my head:

In MOANA, the lead character hopes to restore the world to its previously balanced state. The lava monster Te Kā, a heartless shell of the goddess Te Fiti, also wants to balance the world. Their methods are different (much like each fighter has their own style). Moana seeks restoration. Te Kā seeks the eradication of humanity.

In STAR WARS, the rebels and their Jedi allies seek balance to the galaxy. They believe restoring the Republic is the way to do so. The Empire and their Sith allies also seek that balance, but by contrast, they believe domination and the destruction of the Jedi is the key to achieving this goal.

In my book SAINT SADIST, the protagonist sets out on the road, not just to escape an abusive environment, but to become herself. The multiple antagonists she faces aim to mold her into who they believe is the most perfect version of herself. Their methods are abusive and their visions for her are skewed because they aren’t her.

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In a mystery, the criminal wishes to get away with their crime, while the detective hopes to solve the crime. While their goals are different, they, like fighters, aim to outdo the other in their achievement of their goal.

In a romance, the hero and the heroine, are both looking for love. They often find themselves at odds with each other, because their own damage prevents them from seeing how perfectly matched they are. “Love is a battlefield,” as Pat Benatar said, and like fighters with good sportsmanship, the battle ends when the combatants, no matter how bloody, embrace each other.

I could go on and on.

Perhaps, I’m simplifying things, but I don’t think so.

 

 

Austin Comic Con

This weekend I tabled at Wizard World’s Austin Comic Con with my friends Max Booth III and John Wayne Comunale. Between meeting readers, we talked all the joys and frustrations of this writing life. We also debated Midsommar and the new Creepshow series, caught up on small-press gossip, and talked shop in general.

We met a ton of new people, some of them aspiring writers themselves and others just excited about books. I thought about giving shout outs, in case some of these wonderful folks drop by my blog but I’m bound to forget someone and don’t want anyone to feel left out.

It’s been a tumultuous eighteen months for me. Talking to my buddies reminded me I’m not the only one who’s struggled. Due to lots of ongoings in our scene and my own mental health issues, I’ve reevaluated who my friends are and who I intend to keep as mere acquaintances. When I first got into this writing scene, I wanted to be everybody’s close friend. As I’ve continued doing my thing, I’ve been reminded of how unrealistic such a goal is.

At the end of the day, you’ve got to decide whose flaws are worth tolerating and whose aren’t.

But the ones who you really gel with and don’t prove themselves toxic are goddamn priceless. I never expected to get rich doing this writing stuff but I did expect to make some of the best friends I’ve ever had. That expectation has been exceeded over and over.

I’m happy to see John Wayne doing well for himself. He’s one of the hardest working writers I know and it’s nice to see it pay off. The two secrets to his success, I think, are his positivity and his nearly militaristic organizational skills. I work hard and I’m positive. Organized? Not so much. That’s something I intend to work on once National Novel Writing Month is in the rearview.

Speaking of. That’s going well. I’ve got 21,000 words on a new manuscript and had a major breakthrough that allows me to combine two narratives I really enjoy into one book. I won’t say much except it’s a coming of age cosmic horror novel. I think there’s a lot to explore by marrying those subgenres. Lots of cool opportunities to play with opposing themes.

I grabbed and already read the first issues of Chaotic Flux, Kinetic, and Lady Frankenstein and the Mummy’s Brain, plus an old issue of Marvel’s Chamber of Chills and the first trade of a series called Cover of Darkness. I don’t read comics often but when I do, I tend to enjoy them. Indie stuff seems to be where it’s at these days, as in literature as well.

I’ve been able to write the books I want to write thanks to the small press. I hope eventually I’ll get to do this for a living but that’s still a ways off. And honestly, things are pretty good. The reviews for Saint Sadist reflect exactly what I wanted the book to do. I’ve got a decently paying screenplay gig in the works. I’ve got two releases slated for next year.

Also, this anthology just went up for preorder: The Big Book of Blasphemy, edited by David G. Barnet and Regina Garza-Mitchell, it features stories by Brian Keene, Ryan Harding, Wrath James White, Monica O’Rourke, myself, and many, many more. My story, “Sister Scar,” is basically a Hemingway-esque WWI story but nunsploitation. You preorder The Big Book of Blasphemy right here.

Last but not least, Blood and Brimstone, the sequel to Flesh and Fire has come to an end. It’s serialized on my Patreon the last few months. You can read it in its entirety here.

That’s it for now, gang. Take some time this week to appreciate the people in your life. You’ll be glad you did.

My Books and the Works that Influenced Them

This past summer, after watching Quentin Tarantino’s newest, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, I’ve been thinking a lot about people who influenced me. After all, Tarantino proudly wears his influences on his sleeves, and he’s certainly inspired me over the years. From the nonlinear narrative of Pulp Fiction to the insane midpoint twist in From Dusk Till Dawn, he taught me how to defy an audience’s expectations. He’s certainly defied mine, over and over.

But before this becomes a Tarantino love-fest, I want to get us to the meat of this blog. I want to talk about my individual works and the specific works that influenced them.

A few things to keep in mind. First, I will do this in chronological order of release, starting with Flesh and Fire. Next, I will exclude my collection Engines of Ruin, because I think that probably warrants its own post. Last, this is probably not comprehensive; some of my influences are bound to get overlooked, so apologies in advance.

Now, without further ado, let’s get into this.

Flesh and Fire was probably most obviously inspired by the show Supernatural. I love the Winchester boys, and the first five seasons are especially excellent (Season 7 is pretty tight, too, so don’t tap out after 5). However, a less obvious influence, though one that Brian Keene picked up on, was the novel Animals by John Skipp and Craig Spector. The way that book is paced, particularly in its first half, and the feelings of longing and loss the work depicts stuck with me in a way few books have. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend checking it out. There are some admittedly dated elements and the latter third of the book feels rushed, but those flaws are easy to overlook. It occupied a good amount of headspace while I was writing Flesh and Fire.

Mania, my novella about a cursed screenplay, is just one in a long tradition of cursed media horror stories. From Ringu to the plethora of stories featuring the Necronomicon, there is no shortage of this type of horror. Mania’s strongest influence though comes from the John Carpenter-directed episode of Masters of Horror titled “Cigarette Burns.” It’s plot concerning a film that, when screened, can drive an audience insane. In that respect, it almost plays like an epilogue to his 1995 masterpiece In the Mouth of Madness. It certainly has it’s own surprises though, and it’s haunted Hollywood vibe was definitely something I wanted to pull from for this book.

Gods of the Dark Web remains my most extreme book. Lots of folks have bestowed this honor (?) on Saint Sadist, but there’s a scene in this book that I refuse to revisit. If you’ve read it, you know the one. The inspiration for the work as a whole came from listening to dark web stories on a YouTube channel called Dorset Ghost. He pulled the stories from various subreddits and creepypastas. The dark web as this doorway to the forbidden recalled the long tradition of cosmic horror and works like Frankenstein that depicted technology-based forays beyond the natural realm. I decided to tell this kind of story, but give it a contemporary face-lift.

We Are the Accused was the book where I pulled most from my life and the town where I grew up. It started as my attempt at a traditional small-town horror tale and then became something else. My jumping off point was Brian Keene’s A Gathering of Crows, but I also pulled from the Preacher comics and, again, Supernatural. My declining mental health was probably the biggest influence on the last third of this book. Not an excuse, just a fact.

I’ve made it no secret Saint Sadist is my favorite of my works. It also has the widest and perhaps strangest range of influences. When I came up with the idea, I very much wanted something between Martyrs and Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac. Stylistically, however, I looked to Faulkner, Milton, Henry Miller, Carson McCullers and Daphne du Maurier. Truthfully, I had no choice. I was reading all of these people while writing Saint Sadist. I wanted something stream-of-consciousness, Southern, and poetic. I even wrote the first draft entirely in verse. This project was the most fun for me to write and is still the most satisfying to revisit in spite of its disturbing content.


A couple of final things: 1. I’ll likely update this list next year when more of my books come out. 2. I’ve been posting daily content on my Patreon, so now is a great time to subscribe. A dollar gets you free stories, writing advice essays, and access to serial novels.

Extinction Peak-A Novel of Dinosaur Horror

I’m about to make what will likely be one of my final passes on Extinction Peak, my dinosaur horror novel. Some of my work comes from my subconscious and flows rather easily. This book was not one of them. I wrote the first draft almost five years ago. The version that exists today has only the title in common with that old draft.

Weirdly, this book will likely be more fun to read than some of my other titles. It relies heavily on world-building and action, not symbology and style. That’s not to say it lacks depth. If you’re looking for it, my thesis will present itself. That’s all I’ll say about that for now.

Jeff Burk made it official the Monday after Killer Con, so I’ll announce it here: Extinction Peak is set for publication in 2020 by his new press Section 31 Productions.

Unfinished, Unpublished, Unaccounted For (Part 2)

A few weeks ago, I published a post called Bibliography in which I listed every book I’ve ever had published, along with some notes about each piece. It got a nice response and got me thinking about all the projects over the years that I either finished but never published or completely abandoned during the writing process. For brevity’s sake, I think the only way to do this properly is to only talk about books. If I also went into short stories in this category, we’d be here forever. What follows is Part 2 of a list of all my unpublished or unfinished books, from the time I started writing up to the present day. The best way to do this, I think, is to divide this post into three parts. The first was my childhood works. Today’s entry will cover my teenage writings. Part 3 will be my adult pieces.

ARNOLD BANE: This was me writing a pulp hero before I knew what a pulp hero was. Probably obvious, but I got the name by combining Schwarzenegger with a Batman villain. In most of these stories, he fought to save his city from his seemingly immortal nemesis Nick Jackson (who I probably named after a bully). As the series progressed, I incorporated a revenge narrative where the hero loses his family and tries to find their killer, and a story in which he gets framed for something and works to clear his name. I don’t remember if I wrote any of these down, to be honest, but I acted them out in my backyard pretty regularly.

LIFE FORM, WHERE THERE’S SMOKE THERE’S FIRE, THE ALIEN WARS: These are three books that might not have been intentionally related, but could very easily have been a series. You know the deal. Alien invasion apocalypse. Starts small, escalates, lots of shit blows up. My attempts to write these down never really satisfied me, but I kept at them for years. I kind of want to revisit them now.

STEELTECH, TX-2000, DARK FUTURE: I remember no plot details, but I’m sure they were my attempts to ape what I liked about the first two Terminator movies (which was FUCKING EVERYTHING). I don’t remember how much I wrote down, but I did some cool drawings I’ve since lost. I know they were cool, because a kid in my sixth-grade class threatened to kick my ass if I didn’t Xerox some copies to give him. Hey… maybe he still has them. Maybe he has the originals. Jerk.

THE ENEMY: A court jester from medieval times that’s also a vampire wreaks havoc on a small Pennsylvania town for some reason. Two kids and a priest band together to thwart it with an ancient dagger.

CRIMSON FALLS: An ancient creature that’s lived under a town for so long that it’s part of the town takes the shape of a wolf/dragon thing and terrorizes a group of kids. I really fucking wanted to write IT when I was younger. Jesus.

NEON LASER X: This was my fucking epic. A prison of war in a dystopian/cyberpunk future joins a group of rebels to overthrow the tyrannical government. Followed by the sequels, NEON LASER XTREME (back off, it was the 90s) and NEON LASER X 3000.

Well, that was… a thing. I hope you’ve enjoyed laughing at my expense.