Detonation #5 – Ending It, One Way or Another

Navigating Life in a Literary Minefield

Warning: Explicit language and mature themes. If you’re offended by such things, you might want to venture elsewhere.

If you’re a rational human bean you undoubtably spend more than a trivial amount of time contemplating the end. It’s inevitable, right? Everything has a beginning and an ending. Everything. It’s a fundamental law. The universe began with a singularity programmed by an alien basement dwelling nerd and will succumb to painful, spasmodic, heat death, billions of years in the future.

Entropy is a bitch, and there is no appeasing her.

So yeah, everything ends, and the literary landscape is no exception. Books have beginnings, middles (we’ll delve into those horrid soggy messes another day), and endings. When you spend your ill-gotten lucre on that piece of trash dead tree, recommended by someone you’ll never trust again, you’re invested. You dive in, praying you can figure out what the fuck those metaphors actually mean, and crawl along, double checking the back copy every fifteen minutes to make sure you’re actually reading the right book. Maybe you’ll put it down so you can re-enter your pointless existence for minutes, days, or in rare cases, years, but you will eventually finish it. You will! Unless it blows chunks, or the book is Alan Moore’s Jerusalem. At twelve hundred and sixty-six pages, you’re likely to kill yourself first.

And the end, after you’ve put in so much time and energy, has an excellent chance of not meeting your expectations, and in many cases, just plain disappointing. There’s a ton of reasons for that of course, the primary one being that writing awesome finales is hard. Like brutally hard. Authors are vicious, emotionally conflicted monsters when they write, and unless they’re pumping out four shitty, cookie cutter books a year, they want their books to be award winning masterpieces from start to finish. But, unfortunately, that doesn’t mean they’re capable of doing just that.

Here are a few bits we dislike about endings, in no particular order except metaphysically.

It’s better to Burn Out than Fade Away: Chuck Wendig swears even more than Noggy, and that’s saying something, so when he talks about the third and major climax of the book needing to hit Holy Goatfucker Shitbomb! magnitude we tend to agree. Too many endings fall short by not exceeding what came before, ramping down instead of up. The last thing a reader wants to find when they’ve clawed their way to the top of Mount Doom is that the eagles got there first and those idiot hobbits could have retired to the Prancing Pony for ale and weed.

John doesn’t Die in the End: You’ve set the stakes high. The moment arrives where everything is on the line and you pull the punch right before it lands, striking a glancing blow or missing all together. On purpose. WHY? A poet-musician has to die, or at least be brutally maimed, or your reader is going to break the spine and use the pages to line their neurotic parrot cage. If your book says Poet John has to die, you better bloody well kill the bastard.

Too much of a Known Thing: Noggy and Lola step out for ice cream. One thing leads to another and they’re racing down the blacktop, police cars and angry spouses and various aggrieved parties hot on their trail, a famous yet poor life choice thriller writer bouncing around in their trunk. And then? Off the preverbal cliff, nose diving two thousand feet into the bottom of the Grand Canyon. The end of the road, both figuratively and literally. Everyone suspected it would end that way, hopefully with some inspired screaming.

Entertaining? You bet. Unexpected? Not at all. You, the reader, knew they were going to going to be eating fireball sandwich the moment they snatched the drooling lush from his opulent digs and roared away in their Pontiac Aztek. At least set the damn story in Gloucestershire with a subplot involving a cheese wheel race for god’s sake.

Overstaying your Welcome: While the climax and end of your story aren’t technically the same thing, we’re in the camp that feels they should be close together. If your heroine slays the dragon and gets the girl and then goes home and bakes cookies for a hundred pages, there better be something sinister about those cookies. Just because Tolkien got away with it at the end of Lord of the Rings doesn’t mean you can. After a world spanning adventure of epic proportions, he earned it (though the movie version destroyed a generation’s worth of bladders).

Best to leave the bar before they toss you out.

Ends that Aren’t Ends: While standalone books need hard, satisfying endings, the current genre writing trend is trilogies (which, contrary to the laws of mathematics, can comprise anywhere between two and fourteen books) where endings are often just transitions to the next episode. This is often extremely unsatisfying. Every book should stand on its own, with an ending that wraps up the story the book is telling, even if there is MORE ending at the absolute end. And don’t get us started on cliff hangers if there’s a better than average chance of abandoning your baby, or dying of old age before you write the next one (I’m talking to you George. And you, Lola…).

***

Call us negative Nellies if you must, but yeah, so many bad endings. Can we explain what makes a good one? Sure. Avoid writing a bad one. As we said, not easy, but honestly, not THAT difficult. There are eight million stories in the naked city, and every one of them has potential for a horrible, gruesome, unhappy ending. So get writing.

A Body of Work, Colleen Anderson

Colleen Anderson is one of those versatile authors who can write in any form and any genre and you know it’ll be solid, entertaining, and probably oddly disturbing, even if you’re not entirely sure how or why.

This collection from Black Shuck Books is case in point, sixteen short stories spanning the gamut of science fiction, dark fantasy, urban fantasy, cyberpunk, and outright horror. As with any collection, some stories claw into your brain more than others, but I enjoyed them all, even the ones that left me thinking WTF.

My favourites? In no particular order: The Collector (I loved how the elemental magic worked, and I’m a sucker for soul reaping spirit stories), The Blade (who doesn’t enjoy a self serving intelligent sword?), A Book By It’s Cover (Virtual nirvanas are never what they seem and really, really be careful what you wish for, it might come true), Red (There’s ALWAYS a bigger predator in the forest), Season’s End/The Brown Woman (A pair of excellent Green Man tales), and The Book With No End (A little Indiana Jones, a lot ‘this is going in a very sinister direction and I’m not sure what direction that is.. exactly.’).

Great stuff – track down a copy, worm your way into your blanket tent, and prepare to be entertained.

4/5

The Author: Colleen Anderson

The Publisher: Black Shuck Books

Dreams of Lake Drukka & Exhumation, by Mike Thorn

If you’re looking for someone to deliver impactful short sharp shocks, you’ve come to the right place. Mike Thorn has crafted two delightfully dreadful stories demonstrating that family secrets are best kept buried and once you leave home, there’s no going back.

Dreams of Lake Drukka: Two sisters return to the scene of a sinister family mystery and learn the true price for success.

I loved the sister’s strained, yet connected, relationship with both each other and their father, and the atmosphere built up as they discover what’s waiting for them in that cold, grasping lake.

Exhumation: A man returns home after many years to attend a family funeral – and gets way more than he bargained for.

This one is creepy as hell and reminded me why the next funeral I’ll go to is probably my own. Really. Don’t go to funerals and talk to people you don’t remember. Don’t!

Mike impressed me with his fabulous collection Darkest Hours, and these two tales are a solid addition to his body of work. Well worth your time! (and while you’re at it, check out the rest of the Short Sharp Shock’s series – great stuff)

5/5

About the Author: Mike Thorn

Mike Thorn is the author of the short story collection Darkest Hours.

His fiction has appeared in numerous magazines, anthologies and podcasts, including Dark Moon DigestThe NoSleep Podcast, DarkFuse, Unnerving MagazineTurn to Ash and Tales to Terrify. His film criticism has been published in MUBI NotebookThe Film StageThe Seventh RowBright Lights Film Journal and Vague Visages

He completed his M.A. with a major in English literature at the University of Calgary, where he wrote a thesis on epistemophobia in John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness. 

Publisher: Demain Publishing

Detonation #2 – The Six Lives Theory

Navigating Life in a Literary Minefield

Warning: Explicit language and mature themes. If you’re offended by such things, you might want to venture elsewhere.

***

There’s a terrible word echoing across the thankfully not endless blacktop of life. If you slow down and poke your head out the window, you’ll hear it, day in and day out. You might even hear yourself scream it, whether consciously or unconsciously. It’s insidious. Always out there, easy to snatch from the wind and repeat without conscious thought.

Busy.

It’s the go to for thousands of authors and poets on this rotting planet, toiling away in their pit stop cafes and roadhouse lairs and squalid pits. And you know exactly what I mean. It doesn’t matter what situation you’re in, when someone, typically not desiring an actual answer roars by and asks you how you’re doing, you inevitably mumble “Good, just goddamned busy.”

Bullshit. (A word not used nearly enough in our humble opinion!)

Busy. Yeah, what else is new, everyone is fucking busy. At this stage in our evolution, it’s the norm. The word means nothing.

It’s not that we don’t get it. Everyone has a lot going on, we know that, and making the time to write can often be difficult, if not seemingly impossible, but it’s not because you’re busy.

It’s because you’re a shitty driver with no self-control, and you don’t make it a priority.

But, if you’re reading this, you’re either looking for cheap entertainment, or you desire our simple brand of… enlightenment, so hang on tight baby, we have both. 

***

Here’s the true’ism we’re going to force down your miserable throat, one we’re calling The Six Lives Theory, which is sort of self-descriptive, semi-deep, and bloody obvious.

In a nutshell?

Everyone has six lives. Well, maybe not everyone. It would, in hindsight, be better to call it the Many Lives Theory or the More Than Two Lives but Less Than Eight Lives Theory, but six lives has a certain je ne sais quoito it, so we’re going with it.

So, six lives, let’s examine this for a moment though a totally fictional author named Noggy Splitfoot. Noggy is a ‘busy’ fellow, though if you ask him how he’s doing he’ll probably just shrug and go back chugging from his brown paper bag and scrawling words on the side of the cardboard box he’s living in behind his small yet opulent mansion. You see, Noggy, for all his business, haspriorities, and writing is way up there, probably close to the top. If Noggy had to make a list, it would look something like this:

Life 1: Family and/or Friends and/or Pets

Life 2: Work

Life 3: Ultra-Running

Life 4: Publishing

Life 5: Dirty Deeds Done In the Dark.

Life 6: Writing

Six separate highways that may or may not intersect with each other, roads that need to be driven day in and day out. The first couple are, of course, mandatory unless you don’t actually happen to have family, friends, pets, or work—in which case, fuck, how could you possibly be complaining about being busy, you’ve won the bloody lottery mate—but in all likelihood you’re shackled to that 2001 Pontiac Aztek you know will eventually crash and burn, leaving you a smoldering blackened marshmellow praying for a death prolonged by unaffordable health care. 

Then there are your hobbies. The sports of all sorts. Reading trash because you don’t know quality literature if it bashed your face in. Overpriced video games. Netflix and Chill with discount hookers. Travel to exotic destinations like haunted gopher hole museums and Bigfoot hunting grounds. Posting fake news and feral cat pictures on FB and Twitter. We could go on and on (and we could, trust us, we soooo could).

Publishing we just tossed in there because… well, let’s just say if anything is a time and money sinkhole, that’d be it. But everyone has one of those, a life that consumes, like a black hole, everything that comes in contact with it. Sure, it brings joy—in theory at least—but it sucks, both literally and figuratively.

Noggy’s fifth life? Let’s just say if we told you the details we’d have to kill you, and nobody will know the absolute truth until he’s dead, missing-presumed dead, and/or the sun goes cold. Intrigued? You should be. A secret life. A… sinister sounding secret life. Everyone worth more than a wooden nickel has one of these puppies whether it involves collecting vintage porn from a creepy old bastard named Lazlo, going to late night strip karaoke, or cuddling chickens in an intimate, yet shocking manner. Stuff you’d never cop to, yet there you are.

And that brings us to writing. Noggy, bless his cursed and twisted soul, needs to find time to write. Needs to make it a priority. And, even with all those lives crowding him, sideswiping him, pushing his kitted out futuristic, yet oddly retro camper van, onto the shoulder so he plows through all manner of road kill and unfortunate cyclists, he needs to put his foot on the gas and stay on course. Not in the fast lane maybe (except to pass, he’s not a savage. Usually.), but in one of the lanes that doesn’t make it too easy to take an off ramp to the Olive Garden.

So how? How can you get any goddamn work done when you have to deal with the endless stop and go? Great question.

Two words.

Zipper Merge.

You’re welcome. Look it up, learn how it works. Don’t fuck it up and you’ll be ahead of the game in no time, nudging your way to the front of the line, weaselling your way in between every other car clogging your six lane life.

Get up an hour early and write before work. Run at lunch so you free up that hour to write in the evening. Take the bus so you can write on your commute. Wedge yourself into those cracks, take advantage of every opening. Sure, you gotta be aggressive. Fearless. Willing to endure the seething hate from all the clueless drivers who never read the classic Advances in Queueing: Theory, Methods, and Open Problems by Jewgeni H. Dshalalow and, you know, actually get it. But trust us, it works and your life will never be the same again.

Only Pretty Damned, by Niall Howell

Who doesn’t love clowns? Oh right… Well, better question. Who doesn’t love those small, cool circuses and carnivals that rolled into town periodically when you were a child (and yes, I’m assuming everyone reading this is both ‘this’ tall and ‘this’ old -> points to to the wooden cutout of a cartoon character)? You know the ones I mean. If you close your eyes you can still still smell the popcorn and the elephants, imagine the aerialists and the knife throwers and, yes, the clowns.

Rowland’s World Class Circus. You see the sign and know you’re in for a real treat. And you are entertained! How could you not be. Every performer a talented professional. You especially love the warm up for the main event. Freddy Folly. A clown’s clown. Once a headliner on the trapeze, but… well, let’s just say it’s complicated.

Toby (Freddy) has been with the circus a hell of a long time. He has his ups, his downs. Drinks entirely too much (but hey, it’s a stressful job). And knows things. Dark things. About the circus. About other performers. About himself. And he knows most of all, he wants back on the trapeze. One way or another. It’s noir, however. Carnival Noir. So the going is going to be rough.

I love the atmosphere of this book. The feel of it. All the bits oozing out as the character’s populating the story come alive, transporting me to a different time, though definitely not a simpler time. So next time you see a clown, wonder what he or she is thinking of under that makeup, understand that they probably aren’t plotting your unfortunately demise – but if they are, you probably deserve it.

4/5

Detonation #1 – Embracing Auto-correct for Fun & Profit

Navigating Life in a Literary Minefield

Warning: Explicit language and mature themes. If you’re offended by such things, you might want to venture elsewhere.

***

We’ve all be there. One moment you’re slamming away on the keyboard, a trickle of bottom-self Bourbon leaking down your chin, when you stop to read your last chunk of dialog.

“I’m sorry Mrs. Harris, Katie won’t be at school today. She got dick yesterday and spent the evening bent over the toilet.”

Hmm, you think, both synapses misfiring in sympathy with the piece of shit 2001 Pontiac Aztek parked outside the mouldering, rat infested writer’s pad you inhabit. Hmm. There’s something about those words that aren’t… quite right. You realize what’s happened, of course, by the fifth re-read. Katie wasn’t technically bent over the toilet; she was leaning her head against the seat so her crazy Rapunzel hair wouldn’t end up soaking in vomit or flushed. And technically, given your sketchy as fuck outline, it’s Saturday morning and thus no school.

But still. Hmm.

You hmm a lot these days, cylinders spitting and sputtering, so close to compression, yet producing little more than black, oily smoke. Your fingers deform the red Solo cup left over from your bestie’s Solstice smudge party and you take a sip of the rotgut and grimace, knowing your feeble mind is missing the obvious.

Only one thing to do: what every responsible Hemmingway wannabe does in a situation like this. You wrap a ribbon around the troublesome prose and fire it to your closest writer compadre. And wait.

The response is immediate. “Lol.”

“What?”

“Brings me back to when you wrote all those Penthouse Letters in college. Awesome.”

“Uh, thanks,” you reply, hastily re-reading for the sixth time and finally catching the elusive switcheroo your firmware refuses to acknowledge.

You select the word and type in the intended adjective, watch it magically revert to it’s erotic alternative, and mash your face into the keyboard.

***

Auto-correct is both a blessing and a curse. Sure, if you’re using a heavy-duty word processor or some ancient nostalgia relic like WordStar, it’s probably not a huge issue, but if you write on your phone or tablet, using the same learning algorithms you sext with, it’s an inevitable fact of life.

Most of the time you’ll get some sort of bullshit gibberish, or wildly obvious replacement. You groan or shake a fist at the gods or even laugh, if it’s silly enough. And you fix it, hoping it’ll stick.

So what if I told you there’s a better way?

What if I told you to embrace your worst auto-correct transgressions and run with them? Because face it, most writing is dreary. Literary. Memoirs and poetry. It desires spice. Requires spice. Nobody wants to read boring crap, unless they are old or responsible for grants specific to non-commercializable artistic ventures. Your subconscious yearns for more. The algorithms designed by a thousand horny nerds yearn for more. You just need to give in, embrace it.

Look at this sad, bland throwaway:

Billy wiped his forehead with a soiled handkerchief, reached down between his scuffed knees, and jammed his hand into the roiling muck bucket.

Or this gem:

Willy wiped his forehead with a soiled handkerchief, reached down between his scuffed knees, and jammed his hand into the roiling fuck puppet.

Yeah. I thought so.

Billy, the poor orphan, abandoned on the doorstep of Conception Abbey and forced into menial drudgery suddenly becomes Willy, a rough and tumble sort of fellow, going all in with his insatiable Factory girlfriend. Maybe you won’t win any awards, but it’ll pop. 

Screw the red pill. Blue all the way baby. Dive head first into that rabbit hole and see where the twisted tunnel leads you. You wont’ be sorry.