Surviving

Jeremiah and his wife, Mariah.

Early in Shaun of the Dead, Shaun bumps into his friend Yvonne, who asks him how he’s doing. He replies with, “surviving.” Later in the movie, when the zombie apocalypse is underway, Shaun and Yvonne cross paths again, only for Yvonne to ask the same question and get the same reply. Except this time, “surviving” takes on a darkly humorous connotation. Recently, I asked a friend how he was doing in the current crisis. I got the same comic response that Shaun got, and I mention all that to underline the fact that we’re living through a genuinely trippy time where Shaun of the Dead feels prophetic.

Mariah Cook's painting

First, let me say, I hope everyone reading this is doing well. I hope you’re avoiding the plague, and I hope you’re keeping yourself busy with creative endeavors. My wife has been painting and embroidering since her job closed, and she’s making some wild art. That’s her work pictured to the right. I managed to write three flash fictions and submit them to the NoSleep Podcast last week, but I’ve had a tough time writing because I’m working from home. Doing my day job at my writing desk, I’m finding it physically challenging to sit in the same space after my mandatory eight hours. I feel like my corporate gig has infected and morphed my place of passion like John Carpenter’s The Thing changed the unfortunate souls at Outpost 31. That said, I am incredibly grateful for my continuing paychecks.

Aside from the desk issues, I’m enjoying all the extra time with my good lady wife and cat. I keep reminding her that in any other circumstance, we’d be overjoyed to be staying home, guilt-free. We are still getting out for exercise by going for walks around the neighborhood and to our local park (yes, we’re staying a safe distance away from everyone else). When we’re not doing that, we’re playing one of our many games. We recently completed The Path to Carcosa campaign of Arkham Horror: The Card Game, and we played a bunch of Mansions of Madness yesterday. I love Fantasy Flight’s Arkham Horror Files games because they allow me to imbibe the sweet narratives of Weird Fiction while including my wife.

Of course, games aren’t the only narratives we’re enjoying. We finished the third season of FX’s Legion, which was quite strange. The primary antagonists were pulled straight from The Beatles Yellow Submarine cartoon, they’re the Blue Meanies. I think the series is worth your time if you like a good dose of psychedelia with your superhero tales. We’ve also been re-watching a ton of Community. How has that show been off the air for five years now? It’s a classic, and I especially love the fascinatingly strange season six, which initially aired on Yahoo. On top of those, we’ve been enamored with Devs, Lego Masters, and Better Call Saul, which are all currently ongoing. And last night, I found a gem on Netflix called The Autopsy of Jane Doe, which I loved.

I’m not just watching television, though. I recently finished Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. I loved seeing how much influence the novel had on Stephen King’s It and season two of Sabrina. Bradbury’s command of language is superb, but I would’ve liked a little more information on the villains of the story, their origins, and how their powers worked. After finishing Something Wicked This Way Comes, I started Creatures of Will and Temper by Molly Tanzer, and I am loving it. I briefly met Tanzer at Necronomi-Con in August, during the Tor Nightfire event. She was super friendly and kind, so it was only a matter of time before I checked out her work. There’s a lesson for all my fellow writers, if you’re kind to people, they’ll probably buy your stuff. Well, at least I will.

Okay, it’s about time I wrapped up this overindulgent self-reflection. Keep washing those hands and staying inside. Don’t forget to reach out to your friends and loved ones to check in on them, play lots of games, and enjoy some art.

Stay Froggy,

Jeremiah

Women in Horror Month

Ripley and Newt

I’ve wanted to write a post for Women in Horror Month since February 1st, but I couldn’t find the time until now due to a hectic few weeks. With my birthday in the rearview, I finally have some free time to jot down my thoughts. Without further ado, here is a list of my favorite women creating horror.

Gwendolyn Kiste

I had the pleasure of getting to meet Gwendolyn when she wandered past my table at Pulp Fest in search of other writers. She was kind enough to pick up a copy of the magazine I was selling, and I learned she was attending NecronomiCon the next weekend, where I got to listen to her on the Outer Dark’s State of the Weird Podcast. Since Pulp Fest, I’ve devoured many of her short stories, and her novel, The Rust Maidens, which I am planning to write a full review of soon, like I said, February was busy. You don’t even need to take my word for how excellent her writing is because she’s been nominated for two Stoker awards this year. That last line felt like a great one to end this blurb on, but I also must add that if you’re a writer looking for a social media role model, Kiste is an insanely supportive and nice member of the online horror community. She even does monthly submission roundups on her website, which I’ve used to find places to submit more than once.

You can learn more about Gwendolyn Kiste by visiting her website: http://www.gwendolynkiste.com/

E.V. Knight

Few things bond you with someone like going through Seton Hill’s Writing Popular Fiction Program together. I had the good fortune of getting to attend six semesters with E.V. Knight. It was obvious from the earliest days that she was a serious writer who’d hit the ground running after graduation. Now, her first novel, The Fourth Whore, which I’ve heard a little of, is on the horizon, and she is co-hosting the excellent Brain Squalls, a podcast where she and her husband, and sometimes guests, use prompts to create new stories in every episode. It’s incredibly humbling to have gone to school with such a talented and smart writer.

You can learn more about E.V. Knight by visiting her website: https://evknightauthor.com/social

Lucy A. Snyder

While attending Seton Hill University, I was incredibly lucky to get the chance to attend a class on writing and selling short stories taught by Lucy A. Snyder. This class was filled with pragmatic lessons I started applying, and am still applying, to my various short story publication attempts. In fact, I just got good news on that front, and I don’t think I ever would’ve come this far without Lucy A. Snyder’s class. My only regret is that I didn’t get to work more with Lucy A. Snyder while I was attending Seton Hill. The one drawback of that program is that it’s overflowing with talented people to learn from, and you can’t absorb all the lessons in the short time you’re there. Suffice it to say, Lucy A. Snyder is an incredible writer, and you should find her work wherever you can.

You can learn more about Lucy A. Snyder by visiting her website: https://www.lucysnyder.com/

Jennifer Loring

When I was preparing to present my academic paper at NecronomiCon this past year, I was shocked to discover a fellow Seton Hill alumnus presenting alongside me. I am terrified of presenting, as I think many people are, and I was immensely calmed by knowing Jennifer would be by my side because, since we’d both come from the Hill, I knew I could count on her support as a fellow Griffin. The Seton Hill bond is strong, and if you, dear reader, like creative writing, you should go to Seton Hill too. After the convention, I got to read Jennifer’s story, A Violent Beating of Wings, in the NecronomiCon Memento Book, and I loved every word.

You can learn more about Jennifer Loring by visiting her website: https://jennifertloring.com/

Gemma Amor

Time for a break from writers I’ve met or know personally, next is a woman whose stories I’ve loved for years on the NoSleep Podcast. While all of her works on that podcast are excellent, a personal favorite of mine was the tragic tale of weird plants, Foliage. Gemma has also been nominated for a Stoker Award for her first novel, Dear Laura.

You can learn more about Gemma Amor by visiting her website: https://gemmaamorauthor.com/

Olivia White

Another veteran of the NoSleep Podcast, Olivia doubles as both a Content Manager and a writer. That’s something I am in awe of considering I have a tough time managing only six people on New Pulp Tales. I can’t imagine handling an endeavor as huge and successful as the NoSleep Podcast. She recently ran the NoSleep Podcast’s New Decayed mini-season, and it was an eclectic mix of humor, sex, and existential dread. So, in summation, it was a fantastic listen. I’ve been lucky enough to chat with her about Resident Evil games and Lovecraftian board games on Twitter on a few occasions. She’s also got a short story collection called Bright Lights & Glass Houses: Therapy Edition for sale.

You can learn more about Olivia White by visiting: https://www.thenosleeppodcast.com/about/contributors/olivia-white

Sara Tantlinger

In my very first semester attending Seton Hill, I got to watch Sara Tantlinger recite a poem at the annual Speculative Fiction Writer’s dinner. I was incredibly impressed and a little intimidated by her talent and confidence in delivering her work to a room filled with other writers. That night, I made it one of my goals to be able to read at the Speculative Fiction Writer’s dinner before I graduated, like Sara. Side Note: all the writers in the program are incredibly supportive of each other, but you can’t help feeling like every writer in the room is going to tell you how bad your work is when you read it aloud. Fast forward to this past year, and I got to do a reading with Sara at Pulp Fest. While I’d graduated from Seton Hill in the time since I’d last met her, she’d gone on to become a Bram Stoker Award-Winning Poet. She’s also nominated for another Stoker Award this year.

You can learn more about Sara Tantlinger by visiting her website: https://saratantlinger.com/

Serena Jayne

Like Gwendolyn Kiste, Serena Jayne is another pillar of the writing community who always seems to be there to lend support when other writers need it. She’s also the only woman on this list whom I’ve had the honor of publishing in New Pulp Tales Magazine Issue 1. While she writes in many genres, I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to sing her praises.

You can learn more about Serena Jayne by visiting her website: http://serenajayne.com/

Kourtnea Hogan

This woman in horror has the distinction of owning the coolest freaking tattoo of John Carpenter’s The Thing I have ever seen. But that’s not all. She’s got an Indiegogo campaign running right now to turn her short film, Mantis, into a feature. Why not support an indie horror endeavor with your cash? She’s also been a guest on the awesome Ink to Film Podcast, where she discussed Raw Head Rex and its film adaptation.

You can learn more about Kourtnea Hogan by reading her work at https://morbidlybeautiful.com/interview-andrea-subissati/

These are just a few of the amazing women working in modern horror, the ones most familiar to me. There are a ton of other exceptional creators who deserve a spotlight shined on them. So, make sure you get out there and support all the fantastic women found in horror. And when you find ones you can’t stop reading or watching, be sure to shout about how good they are on whatever platform you have, even if it’s just a small one, like mine.

Stay Froggy,

Jeremiah

Music is My Muse

Father John Misty doing Bored in the USA

One of the earliest projects I remember envisioning was a story written using Rush album tracks as chapter titles. I eventually focused this idea into a short story inspired by the song The Necromancer off Rush’s Caress of Steel album. Music has never stopped influencing and inspiring my writing projects.

After my freshmen year of college, I was hurting from my first major breakup. Like every young artist before me, I channeled my feelings into a project, The Village Green Preservation Society. This evolved into my first novel, and I completed it over the course of my last teenage summer. Music aficionados will recognize the title as belonging to a classic album of the same name by The Kinks. I listened to the album on repeat as I harnessed its themes and characters to contribute to my growing world.

Years later, I’d find myself in graduate school pursuing my writing popular fiction degree, and I’d return to using music to help my writing. This time I didn’t use the music to help me create though. Instead, I created a Spotify playlist of fantasy songs that evoked my love for the genre. I pulled in music from The Lord of the Rings soundtrack, the Game of Thrones soundtrack, Harry Potter’s score, some Led Zeppelin, and of course, a little Rush. This helped me get into the right headspace while finishing my first draft of The Swords of Fellowship and editing its subsequent drafts. I’ve been using that playlist to help me write every fantasy story I’ve penned since.

This past weekend, I started a new novel. This one is horror, and it concerns my hometown. So, my playlist is filled with songs that remind me of that location. You can check out the, tentatively titled, Homeless Problem Mix here. Growing up, I’d hear The Pennsylvania Polka almost every night as I flipped past the local channels, so I had to include that. Then there were bands I was into while I lived in Hazleton, and I had to include them. Finally, I pulled in some songs that speak to my antagonist and to the mood I’m trying to achieve with this project. That’s where Father John Misty (pictured above) comes in. I got to see him live in Philadelphia a few years ago, and the experience helped kickstart my ideas on this project. Overall, my new playlist is an eclectic and strange mix that perfectly orients me to write about the world I’ve already dreamed up.

I know many people have already thought about using, or already used, music to help their writing, but I wanted to share my experiences on the subject. My father is a musician, and my family members are all deeply into music, so using it for my artistic endeavors has always been second nature to me. For those writers or artists out there who are new or just haven’t thought about this idea much, I hope this post gives you some ideas of your own. If you have a different type of muse, don’t be afraid to tell me about it in the comments below.

Stay Froggy,
Jeremiah

The Narrative Appeal of Board Games

Mansions of Madness BoxesThe first time I got really “into” board games was in 2003. I received Risk: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy Edition on Christmas Eve, and I made my Dad play it with me that night on my Pap Pap’s dining room table. Over the next several years, I warred with my family while the One Ring marched its way across the board to Mount Doom and the game’s end. We kept track of our battles with little pieces of notebook paper that calculated points for the winners (18 of these survive to this day). These sometimes also collected little notes from the game, such as, “I wish to destroy Don because of his betrayal,” and “I only fought three battles in this war and won through intimidation.” This game was fun for many reasons, but the biggest one, for me, was the narrative. Yes, Risk games may not have a traditional narrative in the vein of some games today (which I’ll get to later), but in our Risk: Lord of the Rings games we built our narratives throughout our ongoing conquests.

Initially, the game served a different narrative purpose for me. It was a vehicle that allowed me to replay the epic battles of Middle-earth. After that, I created new conflicts across Tolkien’s maps by putting different spins on the existing tales. What if good’s last stand against evil took place in the Shire instead of Minas Tirith? What if Sauron’s forces overran the southern defenses? These were just some of the questions I tried to answer via Risk. My fascination with board games has always been in their ability to create and tell stories.

I was first introduced to the new wave of board games around 2013. I’d just graduated from college, and I found myself back in my hometown. Me and two of my friends went in on buying a game called Mansions of Madness. It sounded interesting because I’d read and enjoyed Lovecraft intermittently since high school, and the game put you in a Lovecraftian world. One person played the role of a keeper (storyteller/master of monsters) while the other players were investigators (who tried to survive long enough to figure out what was going on in the narrative). After playing through many of the scenarios that came in the box, I even created one of my own. Unfortunately, the game had an insanely long set up time, and I moved out of town for work in 2014.

Fast forward to 2016. I’m enrolled in my first semester at Seton Hill University, and I discover the Game Table Café in Mechanicsburg, PA. Through the Game Table, my fiancée and I meet up with two amazing friends for the first time due to our shared love of Game of Thrones: The Board Game. This game, much like Risk: Lord of the Rings Trilogy Edition, lets you recreate the war for the Iron Throne portrayed in the Song of Ice and Fire novels. Not long after that, I discovered Mansions of Madness Second Edition. In this updated version of the original game, the keeper is replaced by an app which allows everyone to play through a story together. This was a huge leap forward for me, and I went gonzo for this game. I’ve bought every expansion to date, and I’ve spent hours upon hours playing it.

Fantasy Flight, the publisher of Mansions, is a company that knows how to take advantage of narratives for its board games. It produces games based on Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings, as well as various others, but I’m most drawn to the Arkham Horror Files (of which Mansions of Madness is part) because I love horror, specifically Lovecraft’s brand of cosmic horror. While other board games use the Lovecraft theme to great effect, the Arkham Horror Files are special because Fantasy Flight has built its own connected universe using their characters and the Cthulhu Mythos. If you play any of their Arkham Horror File games, there is a crossover between the gameplay, characters, settings, and monsters. It creates an immersive narrative experience, and many of their games directly feature narrative as a gameplay component. Progression in the board (or card) game leads to revelations in the tale you and your fellow players are participating in. It’s a great formula.

As a writer, I am actively inspired by board games such as Mansions of Madness. I use the feelings and narrative surprises to fuel my own twisted tales. However, it’s not just horror writers who can gain some inspiration by playing a good board game. There are games that allow you to immerse yourself in practically any kind of world. Writers can colonize Mars, run breweries, build their careers as stage magicians. Take advantage of this fun way to jumpstart your imagination as an author. Just don’t start neglecting the writing for the board gaming.

Stay Froggy,
Jeremiah

My First Public Reading

I think it’s important to celebrate the milestones. This past Saturday was an extremely eventful one for me as a writer. I delivered my first public reading. The video above captures the full recitation of my tale, Feeding Time, complete with an oddly noisy air-conditioner near the story’s climax.

Overall, it was a great experience, and I am honored that the Ligonier Valley Writers picked my flash fiction work as the winner. While at the event, I also got to meet and listen to the other talented writers who entered the contest. Each story contained its own uniquely fascinating elements.

Finally, I wanted to thank everyone who made the trip out to support me. There are a few people who deserve special mention.  The first two are my father and step-mother, who recorded the video above. The next are two of my Seton Hill writing mentors, Jason Jack Miller and Heidi Ruby Miller, they even brought a very cool Seton Hill alum with them for the fun. Fourth is my fiancée’s best friend who tagged along with all the shenanigans this past weekend. Lastly, my wonderful fiancée herself. She never fails to support, and read, the crazy things I spew out of my brain onto a page.