I’ve just been asked by my dear friend, author and Cenobite crush Barbie Wilde, to participate in this thing that’s going around. I answer these 10 little questions about my latest, and then ask 5 other writer friends to do the same. I post this week. They post next.

GOT IT? And away we go!

1. What is the working title of your next book?


2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

As I say in the book: I’ve lived in Hollywood long enough to have read some astonishing scripts that, for one reason or another, never got made. I’ve read others that wound up produced as shitty films that bear almost no resemblance to the scripts from which they sprang.

Through it all, I’ve found myself wishing that people who actually love to read – and who really love movies – could just get their hands on those wonderful scripts, and be presented with those best arguments for the films the screenwriters hoped you’d see.

SICK CHICK FLICKS contains three of my own favorites, all as-yet-unproduced, although one (“ROSE”) is in active pre-production.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Horror/thriller/screenplay/film studies. (The “Special Features” consist of a long interview, conducted by Cody Goodfellow, in which I discuss the rigors of transitioning from novelist to writer/director/producer.)

4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Since these are screenplays I wrote to direct, in most cases I had friends/friendly acquaintances in mind. The roles of Honey Love and Delilah (in AFTERPARTY) were written for Emily Procter, late of CSI: MIAMI. AFTERPARTY also has a great part for John Hawkes. And the title character of ROSE will be played by Chase McKenna, a little-known actress you’ll be hearing lots about.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Since there are three different stories, let me give you one for each:

AFTERPARTY – She’s a caretaker for Hollywood’s brokenhearted, he’s a collector of artists and other lost souls, and Death is a party that never ends in this haunting bohemian L.A. ghost story.

THE LEGEND OF HONEY LOVE – The outrageous adventures of a beautiful barmaid who – in thwarting a psycho killing spree – becomes a national hero… and the target of every wanna-be psycho killer on Earth.

ROSE – Welcome to “Rose’s Place”: a crazed cable-access/internet puppet show, where the songs and rescue stations run all night long… or at least until the zombies get in!

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It has come out in trade paperback from Cemetery Dance Publications. Their first trade paper, as it turns out.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

AFTERPARTY was plotted in two furious days, and written in about three weeks. ROSE probably took six. And I’m pretty sure I spent four months on HONEY LOVE. (My first drafts are very close to my last drafts, in most cases, rewriting as I go along.)

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

The closest comparisons would be FOUR SCREENPLAYS and FIVE SCREENPLAYS, both by William Goldman. His volumes taught me how to write a “reading script”, formatted for maximum reading pleasure. And each contains anecdotal info on the process, which is great.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I was inspired to make these three crazy movies, which is something I fully intend to do. Publishing them was inspired by my desire to get these stories out there, so that others could share my enthusiasm for making these films a reality.

10. What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?

These are three of my all-time favorite full-length original stories. I never turned them into novels because I’d rather just make the movies, and because the scripts themselves are so much fun to read.

For writers of prose with aspirations to film, I think this book will also be uniquely informative. The introduction alone is a crash-course on screenwriting vs. prose writing, and the writer’s relationship to directors, producers, and the rest of the colorful characters involved in moving a story from page to screen.

And finally, the book’s defining coolness for me is its cavalcade of fun, powerful, complex female characters. Writing great roles for women has become a crusade for me, as well as one of life’s great unbridled pleasures.

And here are the excellent writers I’ve tagged, who you’ll be hearing from next week! I love them so much that I’ve published them all, so you can love them as well. ENJOY!!!

Laura Lee Bahr is the author of the novel HAUNT from Fungasm Press; the short stories “Happy Hour” (published in the anthology DEMONS from Black Dog and Levanthal, winner of the 2012 Bram Stoker award for Best Anthology), and “The Liar” (published in the anthology PSYCHOS from Black Dog and Levanthal). She is also the screenwriter of the award winning movies JESUS FREAK and THE LITTLE DEATH.

Jan Kozlowski is a freelance writer, editor and researcher. Her first novel DIE, YOU BASTARD! DIE! was published in 2012 by John Skipp's Ravenous Shadows imprint. Her short horror stories have appeared in HUNGRY FOR YOUR LOVE: An Anthology of Zombie Romance and FANGBANGERS: An Erotic Anthology of Fangs, Claws, Sex and Love, both edited by Lori Perkins, NECON EBOOKS FLASH FICTION ANTHOLOGY BEST OF 2011 and WEIRD NOIR edited by Kate Laity. and

Violet LeVoit is a film critic, arts and culture journalist, and bizarro/erotica/horror fiction writer whose work has appeared in many publications in the US and UK. She is the author of the erotic novel HOTEL BUTTERFLY (Loose Id) and the bizarro short story collection I AM GENGHIS CUM (Fungasm Press). Born in Baltimore, she now lives in Philadelphia.

Eric Shapiro is the author of THE DEVOTED, STORIES FOR THE END OF THE WORLD, and SHORT OF A PICNIC. He directed the feature film RULE OF 3 and the short film MAIL ORDER, and is in pre-production on his second feature, LIVING THINGS.

Scott Bradley & Peter Giglio's first collaborative novel, THE DARK, was edited by horror legend John Skipp and released through his Ravenous Shadows line in October of 2012. The duo have also written, under option, a feature-length screen adaptation of Joe R. Lansdale's "The Night They Missed the Horror Show." Their stories have appeared in anthologies edited by John Skipp, Alvaro Rodriguez, and Trent Zelazny. Scott is the co-editor of the Bram Stoker nominated THE BOOK OF LISTS HORROR. Peter is the author of three solo novels (ANON, BEYOND ANON, STEALING NIGHT) and three novellas (BALANCE, A SPARK IN THE DARKNESS, SUNFALL MANOR). Scott lives in Los Angeles. Peter lives in Lincoln, Nebraska. They met in the fourth grade.


I don’t know about you, but where I come from, October is “Designated Scary Movie Month”. This means not only revisiting tried and true favorites, but setting aside time to start catching up with the latest crop, in search of new festive holiday favorites and genuine haunters that will stand the test of time.

And have I ever found some doozies for you!

The big surprise for me, so far, has been the thread of remarkable intelligence running through my top picks. In fact, most of them are so structurally cunning, so packed with mind-bending surprises and powerful ideas, that there’s no way to discuss them in depth without ruining them entirely. So I won’t.

The other item of note is that almost none of them are even remotely conventional horror films. In fact, some may argue
that most if not all of them aren’t horror films at all. And in several cases, I’d be tempted to agree.

Except for this one thing.

When I gauge the horror quotient of a motion picture, I’m not just tallying up monsters and spooky mood music, the number of jump scares and gruesome kills. I’ve reached the point where paint-by-number formula thrillers are like yawn-inducing psychic wallpaper to me. Unless you’re bringing something new to the party – fresh ideas, startling energy, unique perspective, or staggering technique – my been-there-done-that gland kicks in, squirting boredom juice all over my brain.

To me, most of the best horror I’ve seen this year was NOT straight horror. It snuck in sideways – as psychological drama, as pitch-black comedy, as crime film or science fiction – and then delivered the genuine shocks, horrified laughs, and/or flesh-crawling insights that define true horror for me.

And here is my list, in alphabetical order:

The Cabin In The Woods
God Bless America
Kill List
The Raid: Redemption
The Skin I Live In
We Need To Talk About Kevin

Let’s start with The Cabin In The Woods, Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s elaborate deconstruction of not just every monster movie trope known to man, but also of the deeper cosmic horror underlying the myth-making machineries behind them (a.k.a. Hollywood), including the best explanation ever posited for why characters always do all those incredibly stupid things that inevitably get them killed.

I know the world is divided on this one, but I’m squarely in the love camp. If there’s one thing that makes me happy, it’s watching clichés get torn open and squirt all over the place. It’s a Darwinian culling of the herd, an Emperor’s New Clothes moment, which all-but-begs future creative artists to find new ways to scare us. Please.

I laughed my ass off all the way through, and was excited by the skillful way it both lovingly embraced and thoroughly dissected the genre. In that sense, it did for horror fans what Galaxyquest did for Star Trek geeks. Color me crazy, but I think that’s a beautiful thing.

On the flip side is Ben Wheatley’s Kill List, a British domestic drama that turns into an alarmingly violent crime film before revealing itself as the twisted horror movie it always was. We just didn’t know it.

When it wrapped, I found myself thinking, “What the hell did I just watch?” But the more I thought about it, the more excited I got. Mike Leigh meets Roman Polanski at Takeshi Miike’s house. And holy shit.

Likewise for Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In, a profound gender-rupturing art-film meditation on rape, role-reversal, and psycho-sexual identity that takes Franju’s 1960 shocker Eyes Without A Face as the leaping-off point, then gets roughly three times as weird. This is masterful filmmaking, intimate and obsessive and almost unspeakably human. By far the classiest film on the list.

Lynne Ramsey’s We Need To Talk About Kevin is more straight-up in its depiction of a mother’s attempt to cope with her psychotic child, and the familial blowback from his inevitable misdeeds. It’s not fun, but it’s incredibly well done, and there’s no arguing its immense tragic power.

Even grimmer is Jennifer Lynch’s Chained, the almost-too-horrible-to-contemplate story of a little boy kidnapped at the age of 9 by a serial killer, who keeps him around to clean house and learn valuable life lessons about why all women are whores who need to die.

This is a movie so claustrophobic, so surreal in its unabated matter-of-factness, and so impeccably rendered that it falls more in Jack Ketchum than David Lynch territory, with echoes of both, but a voice all its own.

If you’d prefer some fun in your psychotic killing spree, let me point you directly to God Bless America, Bobcat Goldthwait’s incendiary vigilante assault on everything stupid and corruptive about contemporary culture. Like James Gunn’s Super, and Matthew Vaughn’s Kickass – only without the superhero conceit – it both exalts and indicts our desire to fight back against bullshit and evil, not to mention common rudeness and “just not being nice”. It’s sharply written, insanely funny, painfully honest, deeply fucked-up, and completely adorable. As such, I love it to pieces.

David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis is harder to love, but astonishingly rewarding for those who hang in. It’s a cerebral horror story about our economy-gone-mad; and the sociopathic billionaire at its core is every bit as batshit crazy as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, except that – unlike the global financial rape at the core of it – all the sex is consensual. (The occasional bursts of shattering violence, of course, are not.)

For Cronenberg fans, this is not a return to the body horror of old. But it’s his most challengingly weird, daring, and brilliant work since Existenz, and fits into the Videodrome/Naked Lunch end of his vast filmic spectrum (scrupulously based on the novel by Don DeLillo, which seems so timely you’d think it must have been written last week, but actually came out in 2003). All in all, a very welcome return. And possibly his funniest film to date.

Speaking of timely returns to form, I include Oliver Stone’s Savages largely because of a) its staggeringly frank and muscular bursts of ultra-violence, and b) its detailed analysis of how the War on Drugs has handed the most beneficent weed in God’s Creation over to the most psychotic motherfuckers on Planet Earth, and somehow thinks that that’s a good thing. GUESS AGAIN!

As a life-long stoner now in his 55th year, delivering the marijuana biz to happily-decapitating Mexican drug lords is like forcibly handing Jesus a flame-thrower at gunpoint and saying, “Burn down that orphanage full of sleeping children, or we’ll do it for you, and then RE-crucify you for murdering all those kids.”

That’s institutionalized psychosis. And psychosis is horror. Whatever your politics – however you feel about pot – the fact that people are getting their heads chopped off because other people just like to get high is so insane, on so many levels, that I just gotta say: if that ain’t horror, I don’t know what is.

Plus, it’s a damn fine film. Skillful. Engaged. And entirely entertaining. The toughest Stone since Natural Born Killers. But sweeter. Whether you like it or not.

This brings me to Looper, the only bona fide hit on the list. And deservedly so. One of the best Hollywood films of the year.

Is it horror? Technically, no. It’s a science fiction crime story. Any moron could see that.

But does it have two of the most jaw-droppingly horrific scenes to hit the screen this year? Yes, it does. If you’ve seen it, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, you missed Rian Johnson delivering some of the best, most expertly shocking people-coming-apart sequences in out-of-genre horror history. CATCH UP!

Speaking of jaw-dropping: if you haven’t seen The Raid: Redemption, this astonishing Indonesian actioner by Gareth Huy Evans – about a team of cops fighting their way floor-by-floor up a highrise occupied entirely by violent criminals – is so stupidly, crazily, amazingly packed with non-stop hyper-kinetic mayhem that you won’t be able to stop for a second and go, “Is this horror?” OF COURSE IT IS! Did you see that shit?

Wrapping the list is Excition, the wildly-outside-of-the-norm feature film debut of one Richard Bates Jr., which has flown straight to the top of my “Omigod, omigod, you gotta SEE this!” cult film pantheon.

Equal parts early John Waters-style wrongness, Heathers-style teenage black comedy, Jodorowski-style mind-blowing art film, and Cronenbergian full-blown body horror, Excision drags us into the life of the most messed-up young female protagonist since Lucky McKee’s May. That he managed to not just juggle but fully integrate these elements into something far larger than the sum of its parts is a marvel that I am still marveling at, days later. It’s an extraordinary film, with by far the greatest gut-punch of an ending I’ve seen this year.

And that’s the thing. Every single one of these films has genuinely stuck to my ribs, pleasuring and provoking me ever since, in ways that most genre films unfortunately don’t.

Throw in TV’s American Horror Story and The Walking Dead, and you’ve pretty much got my fresh recommendations for the things you should catch up with this holiday season.

That said: what will I be watching this Halloween?

The Cabin In The Woods
Dead Alive
Evil Dead II
Return Of The Living Dead
Trailer Park Of Terror

Cuz that sounds like a party to me.



Dear gang –

This one’s for the writers and small press publishers in the studio audience tonight, and all those at home, who’ve read my work and/or my thoughts on modern storytelling, and thought, “Jeez, I wish that John Skipp fellow would apply his fancy-pants editing skills to slicing the fat, focusing the moments, and amping the impact of MY new book!”

As fate would have it, I’m on temporary furlough from acquisition duties at Ravenous Shadows. We’re not buying any more new books at the moment (no, we will not approach 40 titles this year, but get ready for our launch of THE DARK on Oct. 16).

As a result -- and in order to keep fighting the good fight, with a roof over my head – my trouble-shooting six-guns of love are up for freelance editorial hire, as of right this very second.

What does this mean?

Well, if you’re a new writer who believes you’ve written something powerful, and maybe even important – which means, basically, ALL of you – but wants to take it to the highest possible level, I just might be the guy to help get you there. For a reasonable price.

At this point, rather than toot my own horn, I suspect some incredibly glowing testimonials might be in order, all volunteered by some of the very kind, immensely gifted authors I’ve edited and published over this past year.

“Having John Skipp edit my novel was like taking an intensive, masters level course in horror writing with the coolest, smartest, most talented professional in the business. If you ever are lucky enough to have the chance to work with Skipp, JUMP on it.” --Jan Kozlowski, author of DIE, YOU BASTARD! DIE!

"Skipp's a colossal editorial talent, in there at a particle level, knowing precisely the moves required to wring maximum emotion, resonance, depth, and entertainment value out of any piece of work. It would be an injustice to say he enhanced my book -- for he did more than that. He enhanced my discipline and self-awareness as a writer, and stretched me in ways that I didn't think possible." -- Eric Shapiro, author of THE DEVOTED

"John Skipp is a brilliant editor with laser-sharp eyes and a wealth of experience. Not only does he understand how fiction works, he knows how powerful your story can be. Hire him now, thank me later." - Peter Giglio, co-author of THE DARK

"John Skipp is not only one of the great writers of our generation, he is both mentor and a truly great editor to new and up-and-coming authors. He is an editor who truly 'gets' story, from the experimental to the traditional narrative. Skipp is the most valuable asset an author can get." – Laura Lee Bahr, author of HAUNT

“To say that working with John Skipp has been a dream come true would not only be a cliché, it would be an understatement. Skipp's editorial style is that of a high-end personal trainer. He pinpoints the areas of the work that need focus, tones everything up, and helps an author cut out every square inch of flab. John left me with a deeper understanding of pacing, and his influence had made me a much better writer.

“John's editorial insight is exceeded only by his interpersonal skills. Although we're located on opposite ends of the country, I never once sent an email that was not responded to within 24 hours. In most cases, an informative, encouraging response was at my inbox within a matter of minutes. He was a pleasure to work with, and my book was made innumerably better by his input.” – Adam Cesare, author of TRIBESMEN

THANKS, YOU GUYS! I loved working with you, too!

But like any gunslinger worth his weight in mayhem, I don’t risk my hide on every project that’s offered. So here are the three criteria I need you to take note of:


I’m not accepting embryonic manuscripts or pitches. You can’t afford my help in constructing your story from the ground up, and I don’t have that kind of time.

I’m here to fix existing works that are almost there, but need the extra firepower perspective it will take to authentically kick ass.

Works, in short, that I believe in. And believe I can truly help.

From there, please know: I have zero interest in overwhelming your voice, or turning it into my own. My job is to help you make sure you told the story you wanted to tell, the way you wanted to tell it. Focusing in on what you’re up to – from story to style to technique to intent – and getting that sucker nailed.


Not everybody responds to editing well. Nit-picking through your work is hard, and often hammering. There’s a lot of serious back-and-forth involved.

Bottom line: the most important elements in an author/editor relationship are trust, respect, and the ability to get along. Love and fun are right up there, too. But quite frankly, I love and enjoy a lot of people I could not possibly work with at the level of creative intimacy required to make a good book great.


Like any gun-for-hire, the words “for-hire” are the lynchpin. Flat out: I’m soliciting gigs because

a) It’s a skill I have
b) I love to work hard at things I believe in, and
c) I need the money.

There are lots of people on the open market who are willing to fiddle with your book with you, if you pay them enough. Maybe it’ll help. Maybe it won’t.

But if you know my work, you know what I bring to the table. You know what kind of attention to detail I apply to everything from character and story arc to action scenes and grand finales.

I’m not asking for insane rates. Just competitive ones. As shown below:

And just so you know, up front: I’m not gonna milk my hourly rates, find ways to drag things out indefinitely. I’m not a guru or a therapist, engaged in life-long exploration. I just wanna get in and out – with tactical precision, and tangible results – as quickly as possible. Earn my pay. Receive it. And ride off into the west.

So, in summation:

I am available, for a limited time. If you want to make your book kill, and think I could help, then now’s your big chance.

Drop me a private note here or on Facebook for further details, okay?

Yer gunslingin’ pal,


Dear gang –

Lemme slap my cards down on the table here, right up front.

I’m looking for five actresses. Five really great actresses. Who can authentically strip onstage.

Or to flip it around: I’m looking for five strippers. Five really great strippers. Who can authentically act onscreen.

Reason being, co-director Andrew Kasch, production partner/star Steve Walter and I are about to shoot a bodacious trailer for THE LONG LAST CALL: a feature film we’re crazy to make, based on my screenplay and subsequent book.

[For those of you not familiar with it, here’s the Amazon link: ]

Bottom line: it’s an intense, hyper-compressed little horror extravaganza set in a backwoods strip club at closing time… when a mysterious dark stranger with a briefcase full of cash whips the war between the sexes into nightmare overdrive.

 As such, five of the main characters in this ensemble piece are dancers at the club. To whit:

1) Pearl is one of the club’s top draws. She is tough, smart, resourceful, smokin' hot but plays it cool. Mercenary as hell, but not without feelings. She's an extremely skillful dancer -- advanced pole work (spinning, going upside down) is a MUST -- and can fight when she has to.

As shit goes down, Pearl emerges as one of the good ones. And her arc is both psychologically and emotionally complex: she goes through some serious changes. She is easy to love and hard to trust. But we gotta love her a lot. And fear her a little.

Pearl is a redhead with milky-white skin, which she exposes. There is nudity (topless and g-string) involved, just to be clear. But also serious acting chops. (This is true for all of the following roles.)

2) Ambrosia is the queen bee: ruthless, shameless, smart, mean, insanely beautiful and bountiful and hot. She’s got a fiery temper and a wicked sense of humor. There’s nothing she won’t do to get what she wants. And she wants everything.

She’s a great villain even before she turns into a monster. Then she’s even scarier. Think Tura Satana (in FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!) kicked into supernatural overdrive. She could beat the shit out of every woman and more than half of the men in the room.

Ambrosia is exotic (all ethnicities welcome), and incredibly built. She is a wholly amoral sexual force of nature.

3) Daisy is the new girl, incredibly ripe and sweet and young, innocent-looking to the point of angelic. But she has already seen and done too much.

Daisy has one of the hardest physical roles, in that she has to start out dancing/stripping awkwardly, then evolve in the course of one sequence into an extremely skillful dancer: advanced pole work (spinning, going upside down) is a MUST.

Daisy is by far the most lovable dancer at the club. We never stop rooting for her, no matter how horrible things get, or how tragic. She must radiate light and kindness. I always pictured her as a midwestern blonde, but we’re open to surprises.

4) Kristan is a college girl who drives out to the boonies, stripping for farmers to pay her rent and tuition. She’s the punkiest dancer, in a violet wig, so tats might be welcome. She is young, hot, sharp, amoral, and intense.

She likes to think she’s above this, but circumstances dictate otherwise. So she does what she has to. But doesn’t take shit off of anyone, and could walk at any second. Is therefore a wild card. (Again: ethnicity wide open.)

5) Lily is the veteran, 10 years older than the rest, with a hard body she’s worked hard to maintain. But she’s on the way out, and knows it. She’s lowest on the stripper pecking order, drinks heavily, is nice to losers, hangs in as best she can.

When she turns into a monster, she’s sad, and so are we. But she does monster out, with frightening glee. So she’s both heartbreaking and terrifying. (Again: ethnicity wide open.)

There are ten other interesting roles in this ensemble piece, all of them juicy. We’ve put a lot of thought into who might play them, have excellent choices in mind.

But with these five women, we don’t know who they are yet. All we know is this that they have to be amazing, and that they’ll likely either be

  1. established pros who are excited by the parts, and willing to throw down that extra naked mile, or
  2. talented unknowns who are burning for a break, and want to make a significant splash doing something wild.

And this is the thing.

Every film has its unique demands. Picking the right people is A-#1. Casting is everything, both before and behind the camera. You need talented people who are fun, perceptive, creative, collaborative, easy to work and play with.

There’s a lot of intimacy involved. And a lot of trust.

If you’re a serious actress who is asked to get naked (or nearly) in front of the camera, rule of thumb is that there better be a really good reason.

So this is my promise to you.

  1. These are really strong, demanding, toothy, utterly kickass roles you would have a blast with.
  2. We love this movie, and are determined to make it great.
  3. We have a strict “No Hitting On The Actresses” policy. So it ain’t about that.

Casting on the trailer begins this week. We aim to shoot it before the month is out. We’re hoping to find the incredible actresses who will wind up in the actual feature. That is the goal.

Auditions will be conducted at a location with a stripper pole (we’re looking at workout spas in North Hollywood), so bring a monologue and a dance routine, along with the song of your choice. We will also do a little verbal improv, to say how you play off others.

If you know an actress who could kill this shit, please point her toward me at once. If you are that actress, please drop me a note right here, on Facebook, or at any of the casting sites we’re hitting. THANKS!

We are looking for the next Tura Satana, and then some: five iconographic femmes fatale that film lovers will be watching, discussing, dreaming about, and hunting down autographed photographs of, for years to come.

We know you’re out there, and look forward to having you kick our asses.

Yer pal in the trenches,



Dear gang –

Jeez, it’s been a while. SORRY! I’m a bad, bad blogger.

And here to prove it… I’M BACK, with a lightweight installment featuring no business whatsoever, but some thoughts I’m kinda itchy to share.

Last weekend, I let a cold deck my ass out in bed for four days straight, on a chicken soup and orange juice diet. And when that happens (maybe once or twice a year), it's catch-up time for all the motion pictures I've been missing.

The result was roughly 37 hours of relaxed and studious viewing, muddied only slightly by being sick and such. And what I saw was the following, in the following order:

ICHI THE KILLER (Takashi Miike)
DEADWOOD SEASON 2 (multiple directors)
THE DESCENDENTS (Alexander Payne)
A DANGEROUS METHOD (David Cronenberg)
MELANCHOLIA (Lars van Trier)

As with all such marathons, I feel like a lot was learned.

Let’s start with DEADWOOD, since it plays most directly into the long-vs-short discussion already in progress, and has the most revelations. (At roughly 24 hours of viewing time, it most certainly fucking should!)

I’d already watched Season One, which was to me an inarguable masterpiece of epic storytelling, warranting every second it commanded onscreen. The stunning ensemble cast, towered over by magnificent human monster Al Swearengen, yanked my allegiance at every turn. And the writing!, the writing! – grand Shakespearian gutter talk of Biblical proportions – took my breath away with its savage sweep of hard lessons learned, weaving myth out of history.

So yeah, I was dying to see where it went, and frightened to see how it died.

And though I direly hate to say it, I gotta admit that by the time I hit the home stretch on that third season, had I been an HBO executive, I would have pulled the plug, too.

“WHY?” you may ask, in both enraged and beseeching tones.

1) Because the historical narrative had worked its way to the last exciting climax it actually had to offer.

2) Because it fumbled the ball so hard at the end that there was no reason to believe it was going to get better.

When David Milch – the certified genius who created and spearheaded the series – turned his attention elsewhere (namely, JOHN OF CINCINNATI), he left all those incredible ingredients (great cast, great crew, great setup, great incredibly expensive set) in the hands of people who either weren’t sure what to do with what they had, or were just not up to the task.

Much like Season Two of TWIN PEAKS, when David Lynch went off to make WILD AT HEART, the result was much heartbreaking floundering. (James Hurley’s road trip, anyone?)

But unlike TWIN PEAKS – which utterly rallied at the end, and delivered a climax so astounding that those of us who hung in were rewarded with one of the most terrifying hours ever broadcast on television – DEADWOOD frittered away its last hours as if it had all the time in the world, killing its legitimate tension at every turn by half-assedly checking in with all its subplots before getting around to a punchline that never really came.

My point is, the show had run its course. It had nowhere else to go that would match the grandeur of its inception. Even the guy who cared most about it was on to something else.

Tragically too long by more than half is my final heartbroken verdict. Not because the material wasn’t there. But because it choked in the final clinch, and pissed away all its steam.

Which brings me to MELANCHOLIA, a meditation on depression’s practical application to the end of the world or something, brought to you by both one of our finest and most infuriating filmmakers.

Ever since he terrorized otherworldly imp goddess Bjork so completely on the set of DANCER IN THE DARK that she tried to eat her own costume, and climb the fence of the compound, in order to escape his sadistic machinations (or so the story goes), my stance on Lars van Trier has been, “I’ll watch your movie if I get to punch you in the face first. Just so we’re even. You emotionally abusive bullying prick.”

Which is to say, I admire his brilliance, but am utterly tired of being beaten up by his films. He’s one of those guys that make me think he doesn’t give two shits about us: he just pushes our buttons because he can. And, as such, was fully prepared to never watch anything he ever made, ever again.

But too many smart people I respect were telling me that I needed to see this thing. That it was beautiful, and important, and profoundly different, and maybe the best film of the year.

So I capped off my marathon with it. Watched an hour and ten minutes of barely-sufferable glacial slowness, which tried my patience to the snapping point. Until – when our main character couldn’t even summon the will to lift her leg into the bathtub – I said, “ENOUGH! You have wasted all the time you’re gonna get.” And turned the fucker off.

But I was haunted by the notion that people thought it was surpassing brilliance. So I did something I never, ever do. I fast-forwarded to the closing credits, then bumped one chapter back. And watched the end.

And though the buildup to the end struck me as insufferable, I stayed for the last shot.

Which was so deeply profound and astonishing that I had to take a break, and reconfigure.

Over the following hour, I went to Rotten Tomatoes, and read every review both pro and con. In the process, I heard about some of the key points I’d missed (a suicide, a kid’s device for gauging the proximity of doom, and Kirsten Dunst nekkid in the moonlike light of a new world).

At which point I went back, watched the stuff that I missed, and was forced to admit that the film is in fact some sort of haunting masterpiece. One with which I philosophically disagree with like crazy. But which, for the first time in a long time – since BREAKING THE WAVES – made me want to hug rather than punch Lars van Trier.

This is a movie that’s not for me, in that it somewhat self-righteously endorses a depressive worldview I do not share, wherein you’d have to be an idiot to harbor the slightest shred of optimism. Kind of a statement of principle, like MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON for depressives who wish we would all just die.

Slicing away hypocrisy is one thing – I’m a huge fan – but patently dismissing enthusiastic engagement with life always rubs me the wrong way, much as such dispositional cheerfulness (like mine) clearly annoys the shit out of many smart, honestly unhappy people (like van Trier).

Which brings me to ICHI THE KILLER: a staggeringly sadistic yet shockingly innocent film that I’d put off watching for years and years: largely because word was it was just one stylistic ugliness on top of another -- an exercise in ferocious gross-out one-upmanship – and the older I get, the more I feel like maybe I’ve suffered enough.

But honestly, I’d always been itchy for ICHI, for precisely that reason. I’m a hardcore completist. I need to see the best of the worst, and the worst of the best. And I absolutely love Takashi Miike, from SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO to AUDITION to the astonishing VISITOR Q (the Japanese equivalent of John Waters circa DESPERATE LIVING or PINK FLAMINGOS, in both shamelessly vile transgression and unseemly adorableness).

Miike is important like van Trier is important. Love him or not, he’s the real deal: an unflinching filmmaker in utter command of his tools, with crazed technique that breaks ground every time it turns around.  And utter devotion to fucking you up, every single chance he gets.

David Fincher is another of our directorial greats, whose adaptation of FIGHT CLUB ranks as one of the most subversive big-budget virtuoso masterworks ever to emerge from the Hollywood system. So I was more than a little curious to see what he’d do with this DRAGON TATTOO business that seems to be all the rage.

Having not read the book, I found Fincher’s THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO to be a solid and exquisitely mounted thriller, the only truly standout sections involving the rape and payback scenes. But I gotta be honest: I carved the word “Rapist” on a rapist 25 years ago, in my novel THE CLEANUP, so this wasn’t revelatory news to me.

On the other hand, ICHI THE KILLER never ceased to stun and amaze me with its angles of attack, its oddball character insights, its daring directorial flourishes and palpable excitation. The movie is utterly insane, but so alive it’s almost ecstatic, even as it delivers scene after scene of the most horrifyingly unexpected mayhem imaginable.

Compared to ICHI, Fincher’s film felt positively stodgy, like a creepy college professor with human leather patches on his elbows. And maybe that’s not a fair comparison. But when it comes to movies about guys who get boners every time they hurt someone, as far as I’m concerned, the choice is clear.

ICHI THE KILLER was the first thing I watched. And as far as I’m concerned, it was far and away the best. The only one I watched twice. And actually can’t wait to watch again.

As for the rest…

THE INKEEPERS was a slight-yet-likable piece of spookeria by up-and-coming indie horror phenomenon Ti West. I can’t wait to see his HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, which made his mark, and which I hear is great. But this was a slim 20 minutes of story at most, very loosely packed into an hour-anna-half, cruising mostly on the charm of lead actress Sara Paxton and moody Steadicam moves through the haunted hotel, like a no-budget THE SHINING made by Kubrick’s stoned teenage nephew.

THE DESCENDENTS is a very nice film about kind-hearted people making the best of a tragically fucked-up family situation. I enjoyed it, found its Hawaiian soundtrack a treat (though woefully short of slide guitar, the yodeling was great), and cannot for the life of me justify its Oscar nominations.

DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS is another of those films I’ve been needing to see for years. Now I have. I’ve got a weakness for cult faux-hippie horror from the 60s and 70s, and was pleased by its atmospheric blend of Euro-eroticism and fang-free vampirism. Didn’t love it, but I liked it a lot, and appreciate its place in the canon.

Same goes for David Cronenberg’s A DANGEROUS METHOD, a fascinating yet intensely restrained look at the moment of fracture between Sigmund “It’s All About the Sexual Drive” Freud and Carl “This Is Waaaay Bigger Than That” Jung. As always, at such historic junctures, there’s a woman at the heart of it whose immeasurable impact has been completely ignored. God bless playwright Christopher Hampton, non-fiction chronicler John Kerr, and matured maverick genius Cronenberg for attempting to rectify this typically dumb injustice.

So, in summation, what did I learn (aside from everything I already said)?

I REALLY, REALLY LOVE MOTION PICTURES. Am completely smitten by how many ways this most elastic and expensive of art forms can be played. Even the least of them represent such hard work, by so many people, most of them unsung.

I am honored to be joining their ranks. And hope to be at least half as good as the best of them, some day soon.

P.S. – THE CABIN IN THE WOODS is fucking genius, and one of those rare films I hit in the theater twice. My official blurb: “I couldn’t have been happier if someone blew me in the theater, and danced all the way home.” SCREAM, SHMEAM: horror film has never been so spectacularly deconstructed. And AVENGERS, SHMAVENGERS: I have never loved Joss Whedon more. (I could write a whole essay on this one, and probably should.)

While we’re at it, I just caught the remake of FRIGHT NIGHT. And as the guy who co-wrote the novelization of the original, I gotta say, “That was fun!” One of the best remakes ever of a disposable pop classic. I grinned, throughout, from ear to ear. Just like a vampirized Imogen Poots.


Dear gang –

As some guy who thought being a pimp was cool once said, “It ain’t easy bein’ a pimp”. Poor ol’ Willy Loman had a similar predicament in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, currently raking it in on Broadway. Except, you know, without the ho’s.

My point being: sales is tough. It’s a dirty job for hungry people who haven’t figured out an easier way to live. But it’s also a series of techniques for survivors; and can, in fact, somehow weirdly become a noble occupation, even an art form. Depending on how you approach it. What you’re selling. How well you’re selling it. And why.

Now I’m not gonna pretend that I’m a world-class salesman. I am, at most, a passionate enthusiast who loves to share great things he loves with as many people as possible. Which is to say, people who might love it, too.

I make my job both easier and harder by only selling things I’m passionately excited about. Most sales people should be so lucky. And most of them aren’t.

But you can only sell what you can actually sell. And if people don’t buy it, you’re either a) not a very good salesperson, b) unclear about how to best sell it, or c) trying to sell something that people just aren’t all that interested in.

This is, of course, where sales and marketing teams come in: experts at targeting demographics, charting trends, crunching numbers, weighing risks, and making decisions based on probability charts.

There’s an art and science to all this, without a doubt. The science is in the market research. The art is in vision: how you see what you’re selling, who might like it, why, and how to successfully convey that vision to your hoped-for consumer/audience.

These are the tricks I am hoping to learn.

Minus the bullshit. Just as much as I can.

Because if there’s one thing we know about advertising, marketing, and so forth, it’s that it’s roughly one trillion percent bullshit. We are constantly wading through one false claim or hilariously grotesque overstatement after another, every time someone hypes us. Which is roughly every time we turn around.

This is where smart, thoughtful friends come in.

We all know the old saw about opinions and assholes. How everybody’s got one. And it’s true. You could go all hardass, like the classic Harlan Ellison quote, and say, “No, you have a right to an informed opinion,” thereby making all the stupid shit look as jarringly, painfully stupid as it actually is.

But also making a lot of things that aren’t stupid at all – but merely differences of perception and experience – get tarred with the same dismissive brush.

For me, a potentially more helpful truth is:

We like what we like, for whatever reasons: be it our DNA, upbringing, souls, past lives, God, the Devil, Cthulu, Nothingness, or whatever we think is happening.

We are who we are, and we like what we like, and we don’t what we don’t. It’s as simple and complicated as that. Attracted to some things. Repelled by others. It’s all extremely personal.

Speaking as a person who loves some things and doesn’t much care for others, I’m always gratified when someone steers something I’m liable to love straight down my alley. Hits my sweet spot. Says, “Oh, yeah, you are gonna love this.” And isn’t lying.

That, to me, is successful sales.

So let me say this, from one opinionated asshole with a soul to another:

The whole point of this blog – and of everything I’m doing, on my own and with all the wonderful people I work with – is to connect with all the rest of you guys and gals who might resonate with it, surf the same crazy waves we’re surfing.

The amazing thing about social networks – the whole reason Facebook has us call each other “Friends” – is because it’s really good to have friends. Both like-minded and otherwise.

A friend who both knows you and cares about you will know what you like, whether they like it or not. And if they see something that makes them go, “Oh, Joe or Lucy would love that!”, they send it off.

That’s sales, the old-fashioned new-fangled way.

Word of mouth, be it virtual or otherwise.

So that’s my meditation on the subject for tonight. Hope it wasn’t too esoteric. Believe me, more nuts and bolts than you might care to swallow, coming up!

Speaking of which, and in conclusion: It may be hard to be a pimp, but it’s way harder to be a ho.

That said, I believe it is possible to be both the seller and the sold, without falling into either of those previous categories.

This is the mission. This is the goal. And the incentive for every creative, hard-scrabbling Willy Loman among us not to kill his fucking self, while we’re at it.

Cuz that, as we all know, is an American tragedy big and sad enough to rattle the whole wide world.

Yer pal in the trenches,






















Dear gang –

Apologies for absentia! I’ve had a lot going on, not the least of which has been the sudden deluge of last-minute entries to my latest anthology PSYCHOS: ENCOUNTERS WITH SERIAL KILLERS AND THE CRIMINALLY INSANE. Published by Black Dog and Leventhal. Due out this September. And for which the iron door slammed shut today.

Why do so many fine writers wait till the very last minute to submit their stories? Sometimes, it’s because they’ve been rigorously honing them to pinpoint precision. Sometimes, it’s because they looked at the calendar and went, “FUCK!” Then fired that thing they’d been thinking about straight into their word processor like a cannon.

I know both feelings, believe me. And whatever works works for me!

All I can say is: I have more powerful stories than I can possibly buy, even for a book that will measure 640 pages. I might squeeze in 38 stories, max. I have easily twice that amount of serious shit to choose from. Believe me. I could publish two books – maybe three – and not begin to exhaust the quality being ladled upon me daily.

So what does this say about modern writers, and the state of the contemporary short story?

In my opinion, it says some pretty good things. Particularly with regard to psychological probity: a factor that only seems to deepen, the more recent the fiction is.

This may be surprising to a lot of people who think we’re just getting stupider and stupider. There are evidence trails to suggest that. But my evidence trail does not.

I find that these writers are getting – if not smarter and smarter than previous generations – at the very least honester and honester. Their characters are admitting more, exposing more, getting more frank about both their confessions and their emotional reactions, or lack thereof. More clear in their depictions.

Does this mean better writing?

In many ways, I think it does.

The more I read, the more impressed I am by how much remains unexplored. Or would, were it not for these cunning explorers.

It gives me hope about modern literature.

For lovers of books, this is a beautiful thing.

My thanks to all the brilliant people who have sent me stories. I’d buy them all if I could. (The brilliant ones, that is!)

But for this book, the iron door has slammed down. If you didn’t slide in under it, I’m sorry.

Astonishing Table of Contents, soon!

Yer pal in the trenches,



Dear gang –

There’s nothing like an exciting challenge. And nothing like putting a theory to the test.

So I’ll tell you about my big exciting publishing challenge for 2012. And then suggest one or two for you!

When I was offered the job of Editor-in-chief at Ravenous Shadows, they told me that they wanted to publish 40 books a year. I said, “Well, then they’re gonna have to be short, punchy books, cuz I’m not wading through 40 big blobby bastards. I don’t have time.

“And there will have to actually be 40 good books, cuz I don’t wanna publish crap just to pad out the line. No restaurant could survive serving half-baked dishes, and we wouldn’t, either. People have to be able to count on us to deliver tight, cool, wildly-entertaining books, They gotta feel like they’re always gonna get their money’s worth.”

Fortunately, they agreed to my preposterous terms. So I took the job. And the experiment began.

As such, my challenge is this: to find – or otherwise provoke – 40 great short books for publication. Work with the writers to get said books into tip-top fighting shape. And then find ways to make these books popular, so that they might prosper. Make money. Go out and multiply their enthusiastic readership.

This is, of course, absolutely insane. But by no means impossible.

And this is where you come in.

First, lemme address the writers in the room. Cuz I’m guessing there are a bunch of you, wondering what the fuck we’re up to here, and if there’s anything in it for you. Good. That’s what we’re wondering, too.

So your challenge is this, should you choose to accept it:

WRITE ME A GREAT, SHORT BOOK. I’m talking 30-60,000 words. The essential ingredients are horror, crime, mystery, suspense, and/or any of the other things that qualify a story as a thriller.

That said: what I’m really looking for are exciting, provocative, tightly-focused, plot-driven, character-intensive, shockingly original cliché-hammering tales with ass-kicking endings that make people sit up and take notice.

I’m looking for skillful, insightful writing. Singular, idiosyncratic voices. A genuine will to entertain. And a whole lot of giving-a-shit.

Which is to say, deeply caring about the story you’re telling, the subject matter you’ve engaged, and the people you’ve chosen to go through it with you.

Including not just your characters, but the potential audience for them.

In other words, I’m looking for books that people might feel passionate about. Not just sort-of like, shrug off as a passable time-killer, or curse as a useless time-waster, but actually love. Or at least really like a lot.

I know how many genuinely talented people are out there, looking for a break, or a chance to do something special that just can’t be ballooned into 300 pages plus. I know the strictures of mainstream publishing all too well. The idea too daring. The voice or angle too offbeat. The big-budget door too narrow for anyone but current bestsellers (or something just like them) to fit through.

And again, the Procrustean bed: wherein – if you’re somehow too long – they will hack your arms and legs off till you fit; but if you’re (more likely) too short, they will stretch said limbs till the bones pop out of their sockets.

Can we all agree that Procrustes was an asshole?


The bad news is, our advances are teensy. The good news is, our royalties are triple what the big boys pay. So the more you sell, the more you might actually make money.

The other good news is, these books don’t take forever to write. At least they don’t have to. A writer on a roll, with a clear idea of where they’re going, could burn one down in three weeks to three months. Factor in up to a month of tough editing (as needed), and that’s a pretty quick turnaround for a book that’s really good.

Of course, if you nail it the first time around, that would speed shit up considerably.

Ideally, the books I’m looking for have roughly as much story as a feature film. And should be read in roughly the time it would take to watch said feature film. A story you can inhale in a couple of hours is a wonderful thing for a reader. I would like us to give them that thing.

And just to be clear, here at the end of my pitch:

I want your A-game. I want the best you can do. No half-assed trunk novels that nobody else wanted, but you’d love to find an easy home for. I’ve got an eagle eye for slop, and have been known to stop three sentences in. As I mentioned before: I ain’t got time to waste.

But the good ones... ahhh, the good ones… are the ones I want to see.

I am, above just about all else, an enthusiast. Constantly searching for new things to love. Eager to share them, and tell the world about ‘em. Get me excited, and I’ll go to the wall. I really love this stuff. Any chance I have to share that love, I take.

Write me a great book, and I will push it like crazy. Do everything I can to get it seen, and known. Put it in the company of other great books. Encourage the tide to swell.

Bottom line: I am looking for books that make me so wildly enthusiastic that I can’t help but want to tell the world.

Write me that fucker.

And let’s go to town.

Having made that as utterly clear as I can, let us now move on to the readers.

HEY, READERS! Here’s your part of the challenge!

What I urge you to do is: take a look at the first four Ravenous Shadows titles. Compare and contrast them with what you’re currently reading. Let me know how they stack up.

If you like and/or love them, say so on Amazon, or B&N, or any blogs or social networking sites you frequent that might care about such things.

Weigh in – not just on these books – but on the whole notion of long vs. short, If I’m making sense, TELL THE WORLD! If I’m not, TELL THE WORLD I’M AN ASSHOLE! All sincere response is welcome.

I personally feel that this is one of the great debates of the Great Publishing Transition. Ebooks and POD have transformed the landscape, and things are gonna change all over.

This is a potential shift in the brainscape I feel so strongly about that I’m taking a full year off from writing new books myself, in order to push this notion 40 times harder.

It seems like a more-than-worthwhile trade.

In conclusion, and believe me: I’m not trying to kill big books. The best big books are magnificent achievements, and probably changed my life as much as yours.

All I’m saying is, there are a whole lot of stories that would benefit greatly by being a whole lot shorter. And I would love to prove that, in the pop culture Entertainoscape – where genre tropes get to transcend their tiny niches, and explode into substantially larger niches – this just might be the way to go.

What we all really want are the best books possible. And an avalanche of readers both old and new, excited about what books can do.

That’s the challenge. LEMME KNOW WHAT YOU THINK!

Yer pal in the trenches,


Dear gang –

Yesterday, the Horror Writers Association (HWA) announced their nominees for the Bram Stoker Award.  And amongst those selected for Superior Achievement in an Anthology (Editing), you’ll find Demons: Encounters With the Devil and His Minions, Fallen Angels, and the Possessed. Edited by yours truly.

Does this make me happy? Why, yes, it does!

The biggest happy-making ingredient, for me, is that it’s testimony to how great these stories are. How lucky I was to get them and then weave them – like the spun gold they are – into a gamut-spanning showcase for everything astounding about the field.

These are 37 great fucking stories, flat-out. (Well, maybe except for mine. But we were eight pages short, and out of money. We had no other choice!)

Which means that, basically, my job was to a) find already-existing greatness, and b) instigate brand-new greatness. In other words, the “Good Taste” Award for Excellence in Recognizing Excellence.

So here are the true nominees, from Demons:

CHERUB – Adam-Troy Castro
THE DEVIL – Guy de Maupassant
THE BOOK – Margaret Irwin
THE HOUND – H.P. Lovecraft
THE BLACK CAT – Edgar Allen Poe
NELLTHU – Anthony Boucher
THE HOWLING MAN – Charles Beaumont
THE EXORCIST (excerpt) – William Peter Blatty
HELL – Richard Christian Matheson
EMPATHY – John Skipp
VISITATION – David J. Schow
BEST FRIENDS – Robert R. McCammon
INTO WHOSE HANDS – Karl Edward Wagner
THE BESPELLED – Kim Harrison
NON QUIS, SED QUID – Maggie Stiefvater
DEMON GIRL – Athena Villaverde
HE WAITS – K.H. Koehler
HAPPY HOUR – Laura Lee Bahr
DAISIES AND DEMONS – Mercedes M. Yardley
MOM – Bentley Little
EMPTY CHURCH – James Steele
ANGELOLOGY (excerpt) –Danielle Trussoni
OTHER PEOPLE – Neil Gaiman

The coolest thing, for me, is the chance to provoke so much fresh ass-kicking original fiction (well over half the book is new), then juxtapose it with time-honored classics: some well remembered, some tragically forgotten.

And show, very clearly, that some of the best short fiction ever written is being written right now. By masters in the making. By the legends to come.

Insofar as I’m concerned, these authors have already won the best award I can possibly give them: the “I Love Your Story!” Award. It’s the award that every reader gives to every story they excitedly hand to a friend, going, “Omigod, you have to read this!”

The most coveted award on Earth.

THANKS, HWA! For honoring these writers: some new, some old, some so old they’re 100 years dead. I think it’s a sweet and wonderful thing, and totally hope we win.

CONGRATS TO ALL NOMINEES, IN ALL CATEGORIES! It’s nice to be noticed, ain’t it?

And to all you dreamers who remain unnoticed – or at least un-nominated -- just remember:

Every time someone authentically loves your story, you already won the one that counts.

Yer pal in the trenches,


Dear gang --

Here's the first in what's sure to be a flurry of interviews about Ravenous Shadows, my new genre imprint, wherein all these theories about short punchy books are being put to the test. This one courtesy of of Derek Clendening, who I think did a bang-up job.

What I like about this piece is that it

a) summarizes what we're up to, in a nice, condensed way, and 

b) lays out my personal history a little, for people who have no idea who I am, or what I do, Also good for people who remember me only from 20-some years ago, when I was just a wee splatterpunk lad.

Anyway, hope this is both informative and entertaining. In other words: GLORIOUS INFOTAINMENT! With more or it, coming soon!

Yer fairly shameless pal,