After a not-so-brief derailment, my thesis project seems to be back on track. I’ve decided to go with the Atreval idea again–largely because I already have nearly 100 pages written. The only question now is where to go from what I have.

One of the myths about writing (or any self-motivated creative endeavour) is that if you don’t have a burning desire to be doing it all the time–if you don’t find it near-impossible to pull yourself away from your keyboard–you’d best quit and go find a real job, because you’ll never make it in the biz.

This isn’t true. Certainly not for everyone. For instance, I know I have a hard time writing whenever I’m not reading (or when I’m reading material that doesn’t inspire me). Anxiety, depression, and many other issues can also put a damper on self-motivated work. It’s easy to work when you’re under the lash, but when you’re the one with the cat o’ nine tails, you have a tendency to cut yourself a wee too much slack.

I’ve been remiss for far too long now. The good news is, I think Tales of Atreval may be innovative enough to interest a publisher, despite not technically being a novel (the stories are chronologically linked and feature most of the same characters, so it’s sort of a novel).


I’ve removed the “Projects” section, primarily because my writing plans change so frequently, having the projects section seemed rather useless.

Eventually I hope to add a “Bibliography” section–if and when the things actually get published.


Another update–just to reassure my two or three readers who aren’t friends or relatives that I’m alive.

The writing is still in flux. I’m becoming a bit concerned–my mind flip-flops on what to do for my thesis project about every twenty minutes, and I’m going through my annual “Is this really what I want to do with my life?” crisis. As you can see, it’s got me writing personal blather here on the blog instead of staid updates on my craft.

I caught the new episode of The Family Guy last night. After some of the rather tame jokes in the ads, I’d been worried that the new episodes would be less edgy (due to Fox’s discomfort with creator Seth MacFarlane’s envelope-pushing). I was wrong–the show is as sharp as ever.

The same can’t be said for The Simpsons. Watching Family Guy after not one, but two new Simpsons episodes made me realize how I’m beginning to lose interest in the latter. It’s been on too long now. It’s still funny, but…

And then there’s American Dad, a new cartoon from Family Guy‘s Seth MacFarlane. I think MacFarlane conceived the show as a way to parody the current conservative political climate in America, but I’m not sure the concept is that funny. But more importantly, American Dad just wasn’t interesting enough. Family Guy survives its standard sitcom plots through its cutaways and asides. American Dad–or the first episode, at least–plays like a regular live action sitcom (much like The Simpsons in its first seasons).

It was a pretty noticeable contrast in the living room; I chuckled at The Simpsons, laughed my ass off through Family Guy, then sat in stony silence for most of American Dad.

If I had to guess, I think Dad will make it through one season, whereas Family Guy has a chance at not being cancelled (again). And to be fair, Dad might improve–the first episode of FG wasn’t nearly as good as the one last night.


Sorry for the long absence–I’ve had a tough couple of months. But I’m back and, while not better than ever, I’m at least better than never.

Progress has continued on my Dunwich Horror screenplay, primarily because it has to (I’m writing it for a class). Fortunately, it seems to be going fairly well–I’m not getting bogged down anywhere, and I think I’m finally getting a good grip on the characters.

The big news is that I’ve changed my graduate thesis plans. Instead of writing Tales of Atreval, a collection of linked short stories, I’m going to write the first Jon Shade novel. I made this decision for two reasons. The first is pure self-interest; novels are easier to sell than collections of short stories, particularly for new writers. The second reason is, I recently read Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest and The Dain Curse (as well as re-reading The Maltese Falcon), and those books reminded me that I grew up on novels rather than short stories, and when I write, I have a tendency–or used to, anyway–to write longer works.

In other news, I finally got out to the theater to see a movie–Sin City. I’d read the first graphic novel (which matches the first story in the film, the one featuring Mickey Rourke as Marv). I enjoyed it, though by the third story, it all was getting a bit tiresome and repetitive. It’s a beautiful film and is probably as close as one can get to an image-to-image cinematic translation of a comic without resorting to animation; but it’s so faithful, it shook my long-held preference for uber-faithful movie adaptations of literary works.

As one reviewer wrote (I think it was in Newsweek), if adaptation is good enough for Jane Austen, it should be good enough for Frank Miller. I’m a big fan of both the Hellboy comics and the film version, but the film is its own entity, and both versions have their strengths and weaknesses. The same goes for the Lord of the Rings films; to say the film is better than the book, or vice-versa, is an apples-and-oranges comparison. I’m not sure the same could be said of Sin City.

Still, I recommend it. The second story, which stars Clive Owen and Benicio Del Toro, is particularly interesting. Visually, the movie is stunning, and I expect it will be fairly influential.


Here’s something troubling: Student Arrested For Terroristic Threatening Says Incident A Misunderstanding.

“My story is based on fiction,” said Poole, who faces a second-degree felony terrorist threatening charge. “It’s a fake story. I made it up. I’ve been working on one of my short stories, (and) the short story they found was about zombies. Yes, it did say a high school. It was about a high school over ran by zombies.”

Even so, police say the nature of the story makes it a felony. “Anytime you make any threat or possess matter involving a school or function it’s a felony in the state of Kentucky,” said Winchester Police detective Steven Caudill.

Poole disputes that he was threatening anyone.

“It didn’t mention nobody who lives in Clark County, didn’t mention (George Rogers Clark High School), didn’t mention no principal or cops, nothing,” said Poole. “Half the people at high school know me. They know I’m not that stupid, that crazy.”

When I was in seventh grade, I wrote a short story called C.H.E.T. (Cannibalistic Humanoid Education Teacher). It was a parody of the movie C.H.U.D. In my story, the teachers in our school (and I referred to them by their real names) get turned into zombies and run amok attacking the students (again, all referred to by real names). The kids get eaten, the teachers get blown apart with shotguns, and so forth. I was young and stupid. Most of the kids in the story were friends of mine–not enemies I wanted to kill by proxy. I was probably one of the nicer kids in my class. I just thought the idea of the story was funny. And it’s common to write for a very specific audience–e.g., your friends at school–when you start your career at that age, so I made my friends the stars and the teachers the bad guys, since the teachers were, after all, the ones made us do homework.

I shudder to think what might have happened to me in the same situation as Poole. Drawing pictures of your teacher with bombs dropping on them or whatever is a rite of passage for teenage boys. From the way it sounds, Poole’s story was even less specific and violent than mine was.

I know I showed the story to a couple of other kids, though I don’t think I showed it to any teachers. However, I also don’t recall being that careful to keep it out of teachers’ hands. I did show my English teacher a later story in which terrorists take over the school and my friends and I have to kill the terrorists to save everyone. A teacher or two may have bought it at the hands of terrorists in that story, but my teacher didn’t scold me. I don’t know what she thought of it, actually, but she continued to encourage my writing, so she must have seen something in that Z-grade Die Hard rip-off (thanks again, Mrs. Gill).

Of course, there may be more to the story. In this article, the school’s principal claims the word “zombies” doesn’t appear in the story, though that really doesn’t mean anything. Poole could have referred to the monsters by some other name. I just checked C.H.E.T. (yes, I still have a copy of it), and the word “zombie” doesn’t appear in it, either.

Neither article gives much information about the actual story itself–all we get are second-hand descriptions by Poole and the principal. But as of right now, I’m inclined to give Poole the benefit of the doubt, because there but for the grace of Mrs. Gill and a pre-Columbine world go I.

In other news, I’m taking the week off from work(s). It’s spring break at Emerson, and I could use some time to sleep and write.

Here’s a bizarre news story. Inexplicable dog suicides off an eerie bridge? How many short horror stories are being written about it at this very minute?

I came across this amusing Lovecraft pastiche by Neil Gaiman.

Until next time, Cthulhu fhtagn!


I’ve been busy writing, but there isn’t too much to update on at the moment. I’ve written the first ten pages of my screen adaptation of “The Dunwich Horror,” and am still working on the second Tales of Atreval story.

I’ve also started work on a new horror story. I’m going to keep it under wraps for now, as I hope to send it out once it’s done.

Other than that, the only writing-related issue I’m struggling with is whether to make the first Jack Sheed book a novel, a collection of short stories, or a progressive series of short stories that add up to a kind of novel (a la Tales of Atreval). Novels are easier to sell than short story collections. And the only such collections I can think of are by authors who have already established their universes in novels, like Le Guin’s recent Tales of Earthsea. Books like Leiber’s collected Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser tales–my model for Tales of Atreval–are made up of stories that, while progressing chronologically, were written and published at random over a number of years. Same goes for the collection of Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories.

I suspect I’ll end up keeping Tales of Atreval as a chronologically-linked series of stories, while Sheed will become a novel. But we’ll see.


I’ve added a new Projects section, where you can read about the various writing projects I’m working on.

I’ve also added Tom Bruno to my SOI section–Tom is a friend of mine and a fellow worker at Widener Library. He’s also a scholar of ancient history and languages and is currently working on a novel. It was Tom who informed me that the 1979 cult film The Warriors was based on Xenophon’s Anabasis.


I’m taking an independent study course, which means I determine the syllabus and reading list and just meet with a professor once every other week to talk about it. The course is on early horror fiction, and the syllabus was inspired by my desire to read some of the authors who preceded and influenced H.P. Lovecraft. The list includes E.T.A. Hoffman, Arthur Machen, Ambrose Bierce, William Hope Hodgson, Algernon Blackwood, and other authors that are revered in horror circles but forgotten in most others.

The class has made me examine my fondness for Lovecraft. Coincidentally, Salon magazine recently published an article on Lovecraft in honor of his induction into the Library of America. While I respect the author, Laura Miller, the article rather damns him with faint praise (the subheading, which probably wasn’t written by Miller, calls Lovecraft “America’s greatest bad writer”).1

Miller rehashes a lot of armchair psychoanalysis regarding Lovecraft and his work. This surprises me a bit, since the current lit-crit establishment, while being very interested in the historical context of a work, seems to be maintaining its New Criticism aversion to allowing an author’s life to reflect (in a significant degree) on his work. Lovecraft was an odd duck, no question. But the tendency to view his work in a biographical context (Freud is often mentioned) seems have become a bit ghoulish.

Fortunately, Lovecraft’s supporters raise a spirited defense. One letter-writer, Tom Grant, gets in a good shot: “[W]ithout any sense of irony, Salon has printed article after article about the presumed genius of J.R.R. Tolkien.” I’d argue that many of those articles did have irony–few so-called intellectuals (myself included) will defend their penchant for something popular without qualification–but Grant makes a good point.

While the article is ambiguous in its assessment of Lovecraft, Miller does touch on one thing about Lovecraft that I’ve been thinking about lately: his stories aren’t scary.

I recently came across a transcript of a symposium on Lovecraft from the early sixties. The panel members included Fritz Leiber and Robert Bloch. At one point, someone asked whether Lovecraft actually scared anyone. A few people said he did (Leiber, for one) but the general consensus was no, Lovecraft wasn’t scary.

I agree. For one thing, he’s always giving away his endings through his use of the “as if” or “seemed like” clauses.2 Once you know the ending of a Lovecraft story, it loses most of its suspense, and Lovecraft constantly spoils his own plot. Here’s an example from “The Dunwich Horror”:

Dr. Armitage, associating what he was reading with what he had heard of Dunwich and its brooding presences, and of Wilbur Whateley and his dim, hideous aura that stretched from a dubious birth to a cloud of probable matricide, felt a wave of fright as tangible as a draught of the tomb’s cold clamminess. The bent, goatish giant [i.e., Whateley–JFCC] before him seemed like the spawn of another planet or dimension; like something only partly of mankind, and linked to black gulfs of essence and entity that stretch like titan phantasms beyond all spheres of force and matter, space and time.

Naturally, all of Dr. Armitage’s wild speculation turns out to be accurate.

But this isn’t Lovecraft’s only problem. As Miller points out, piling on the obscure Anglophone adjectives doesn’t a creepy story make. But I think the real problem is regarding Lovecraft as a “horror” writer at all.

As a writer of horror stories, Lovecraft never impressed me; but as a science fiction writer, his influence is strong. Lovecraft bridged the gap–or perhaps found the middle ground–between Edgar Allan Poe and H.G. Wells, with a little Arthur C. Clarke thrown in. All his beasties–Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth, the Elder Things–are technically extradimensional creatures or space aliens, not supernatural demons. Whereas Poe, Bierce and HPL’s other predecessors confined themselves to the psychological and (less often) supernatural in their horror tales, it was Lovecraft who pioneered the realm of “science horror.” Without Lovecraft, there might be no Alien.

My attempts to write like Lovecraft3 have been pretty unsuccessful. He can be parodied (as I intend to do, lovingly, in Tales of Atreval), but not imitated. He’s too intellectually and philosophically idiosyncratic. His writing does tend to be overwrought. To my admittedly inexperienced writerly eye, he seems to have approached the craft of fiction writing from a theoretical, almost scientific standpoint–reading the stories of his favorite authors and then mixing and matching their stylistic templates to build his own. Lovecraft designed his stories carefully (if not always sucessfully) to achieve particular “effects,” but his thin characters, dense prose, and general paucity of dialogue can become wearisome–to write, at least; I have a much better tolerance for reading his work than trying to write like it.

I admire Lovecraft for the way he struggled with modernity, for his pained depiction of a universe in which humanity has little or no significance, but most of all, for his marvelously imaginative cosmogony. How can I not love the creator of such a bizarre pantheon of alien demigods, with names like Great Cthulhu, Azathoth, Yog-Sothoth, Shub-Niggurath, and the Crawling Chaos Nyarlathotep? Lovecraft is deserving of his legacy, in all its dichotomous glory.

1 I object! I think Lovecraft at least deserves to be called America’s worst good writer.
2 Tzvetan Todorov discusses this weird tale tradition in depth in The Fantastic.
3 In addition to the recently-shelved “Advanced Operators,” those would be “The Black Cloth” and “The Burying Ground” for you future biographers.


I’ve posted a new story to the Fiction section: “Johnny Sniper and the Cave of Fear”. It’s a WWII-era horror story, though it owes more to Robert E. Howard’s work in the genre than that of HPL.

I finished a four-page treatment (i.e., plot summary) of my “Dunwich Horror” adaptation last night. It will be critiqued/savaged in class today; then begins the long process of actually writing the screenplay.


I’ve decided to put “Advanced Operators” on the backburner. The story has become a victim of my difficulties with plotting. I’ve revamped the story so many times I’m no longer sure where it’s going. I don’t like the characters very much, and I can’t use them to propel the story (as I usually do) because of the artificial restraints I’ve placed on the myself (i.e., the traditional “weird story” style, after Machen and Lovecraft, which favors description and atmosphere over dialogue, my forté). I could drop the constraints, but then I’m left with some fairly uninteresting characters.

I’ll try to return to it when I’m older and wiser. For now, I’m off to Atreval, where I’ll be spending much of my time this year.

And I think it’s time I gave Jack Sheed his due. Who is this fellow I keep teasing you with? With any luck, I’ll have his first adventure jotted down soon.

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