#17 – Don’t Bend Over and Take that Advice

Navigating Life in a Literary Minefield

I’m not in the habit of taking advice. Of any sort. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure a lot of advice is wonderful, applicable in a variety of circumstances, and sincerely helpful. And it’s not even that I don’t think it applies to me, or I know better. Cause I damn well don’t. I just choose not to take it. Why? I’ve a stubborn streak a mile wide and I grew up telling myself I’d never let anyone tell me what to do, or how to do it. I’d find my own way – good or bad, hard or easy. My boss of the last twenty years used to growl that he may run the company, but he didn’t run me. I think he’s dead now, but it’s not my fault. I don’t listen to my wife’s advice either, though some consideration must be made to prevent marital Armageddon and all out thermonuclear war. Friends? Colleagues? Authority figures? Smile and wave boys, smile and wave. Of course, you can only pull it off with an excessive level of insanity, be willing to ignore any and all dire consequences, and have a cavalry worth of horseshoes up your ass. Your own results may vary.

But I’ll come right out and say that everything amazing comes from not listening to advice. Cases in point:

“Don’t eat a hotdog from the back alley food cart in Mazatlán at 2 a.m..”
“Don’t drink behind, under, on top of, or in that burning dumpster.”
“Don’t run a hundred miles in eyeball melting heat without pickle juice.”
“Don’t pet that beaver. Even if it’s a porcupine. Especially if it’s a porcupine.”
“Don’t stick your arm in that hole.”
“Don’t start that publishing company.”
“Um, you should see a doctor about that.”

Advice given. Advice not taken. Stories for the ages.


That’s life though, and we’re here to trash talk and throw shade on more literary pursuits. Now you’re probably thinking “But Noggy, we already know better than to become a poet-musician.” And you’d be right. But that’s just common sense.

I’m way more interested in thrashing the pile of advice you’ll find spouted from many a famous author and quoted from many a writing craft tome and lapped up by the desperate and sycophantic masses.

And I understand the irony of providing advice about ignoring advice. Please ignore everything I’m about to say. Trust me, it’s for the best.

The Road to Hell is Paved with Adverbs: Sure, sure, adverbs can be lazy crutches used to hobble through flowery prose where stronger words, built up through years of soul sucking thesaurus drudgery, might be considered better. But if adverbs weren’t useful, they wouldn’t exist. There’s what, literally a thousand adverbs in the English language? So, if you feel like using a fucking adverb, use a fucking adverb. If you use too many? Well, then you’re probably a poet, in which case all bets are off anyways. Besides, you need to give your editor something to bitch about.

Show Don’t Tell: Chekhov said, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Sometimes it’s just the moon. And it’s shining. This is the reason people write two hundred and fifty-thousand-word fantasy novels where absolutely nothing happens. They’re too busy showing you every god damn thing. Yes, yes, a story that’s all telling reads like a Pontiac Aztek repair manual, but when your character walks out of the house into the rain, you can just say “Jesus, it’s fucking raining again, where’s the damn umbrella? I’m going to chug a gallon of whisky and call in sick.” instead of “The splash of God’s tears washed away my anxiety and fear, leaving me cleansed and refreshed as I made my way to the bus stop to be whisked away to my dream job as a Walmart greeter.”

Kill Your Darlings: Why? I swear this advice is half the reason most writing is so wretchedly dull. Yeah, kill all the cool little bits that you love and may or may not need to be in the story just because some rich, famous mansion dwelling uber-author tells you to. Then again, my definition of darling may vary from the norm. Cause honestly, if something great in your story really needs to go for the good of the entire story, then it’s probably not that that darling to begin with.

Write What You Know: If everyone wrote only what they knew, all writing would be memoirs and grocery lists. All literary – all the time. How many writers have been to a galaxy far, far away, or Faerie, or belong to some super-secret spy organization that regularly assassinates brutal dictators with weapons that can’t possibly exist? Sure though, if you have some cool personal experience or skill or knowledge you can transfer directly to your story to make your Arby’s meatcraft salesman more authentic, by all means give him that Hentai tentacle fetish. And be specific. Most writers like to think they’ve had an extraordinarily cool life they can draw upon. ROFL. Pulease. So, write whatever the hell you want as long as you’re mindful of your subject. Expropriate and die. Simple as that.

Write Every Day: Nice thought. And yes, actually decent advice. I’d love to be able to write every day. And I do when I can. But I’m not going to beat myself silly trying to make it the #1 priority that trumps all others. I got a bloody life that’s full of frankly other priorities, some of which I’ll write a book a book about when I’m dead.

Write Drunk, Edit Sober: While this quote is attributed to Hemmingway, I think it was Faulkner who actually subscribed to it. Good ole Faulkner. A legend really, I’d call him a demi-god if he hadn’t dabbled in poetry, but nobody’s perfect. Could have went further though. Write Drunk, Edit Drunker, Publish Drunkest. Best to dull the pain at every step. And writing is pain. A good bottle of Blanton’s or Hibiki 17 or Oban is medicinal, take that from Dr. Noggy. Look, I’m sure there’s nothing wrong with being sober. I’ve heard stories about sober people being healthier and happier and such. I’ve also heard similar stories about Cryptids. Can’t believe everything you read.


So, yeah, whatever. Just remember this isn’t advice. This is opinion, written for promises of ice cream and beaver petting. It’s all about the priorities, man.


Rad Recent Reads

Lola’s Picks

You know what’s great? Books not written by white people. So we’re sharing some recent reads so delicious you should definitely buy them and lick every page with your horny eyeballs. BIPOC voices are crushing it, and if it’s been a while since you waded off white author island, you really ought to dive in because the water is glorious.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Noemí Taboada is a Mexico City socialite sent to check on a sick cousin at High Place, a dilapidated Victorian mansion in the mountains, and the ancestral home of a once wealthy English family that owned the nearby silver mines. Soon Noemí finds her cousin has married into a family with secrets eating away at them much like the strange mould devouring the wallpaper, carpet, and draperies of High Place. At a loss for how to help her cousin or herself, Noemí’s dreams turn to dark horrors and every flicker of light leads her down yet another haunted corridor.

This book serves up mood and atmosphere big time, steadily dialling up the dread, violence, and desire. It’s Noemí, however, that keeps the story from tilling up the same gothic soil farmed over and over again by so many others. She’s spoiled and beautiful. Sharp and tenacious. Neither a damsel in distress nor a Strong Female Character perfectly executing roundhouse kicks. She’s a young woman still discovering who she is and what she stands for in a world controlled by men. She’s also frequently bored, and enjoys rubbing one out in the bathtub on occasion.

Between the ghosts, family tragedy, eugenics, mycology, feminism, and romance, Mexican Gothic lives up to the hype and leaves you with a lot to think about.

Catch the author on twitter @silviamg

5/5

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

This book isn’t horror, but it’s pretty fucking horrible, in the very best ways. I’ve got a stygian sense of humour, and damn if this novel doesn’t tickle my blackened funnybone.

It’s pre-911 NYC, and the unnamed narrator is tall, blonde, pretty, and above all, thin. An art history major, recently fired from her job at a shitty gallery. Her best friend Reva is sleeping with her boss and obsessed with her twin interests of “weekend plans” and pouring tequila into cans of diet Mountain Dew. She’s a wretched human, but she’s all the narrator has left. Both her parents are dead, and though they were objectively terrible people, she can’t bring herself to sell their house. She decides to sleep on it. For a full year. Sleep as much, and be awake as little, as possible. Her project requires that she seek out a goofy psychiatrist and manipulate her into prescribing ever increasing doses and varieties of tranquilizers, downers, sleeping pills. All taken with an OTC chaser of NyQuil, or Benadryl. In her passionate dedication to hibernation, she hopes to find a way to truly wake up.

This novel is so, so dark, and utterly hilarious. You’ll cringe, you’ll laugh, you’ll want to black out for three days and wake up on your couch wearing nothing but a Brazilian bikini wax and a mink coat with broccoli in the pockets.

5/5

Noggy’s Picks

I’ve had the good fortune to read not one, not two, but three fabulous cosmic horror novellas over the last number of weeks, and there are few things I love more than cosmic horror novellas. They hit the sweet spot. Long enough to tell a fleshed out story, short enough to devour in one or two jaw distending gulps without leaving you cramped and bloated. Which happens more frequently than you’d think – especially to hairless guinea pigs – but that’s a different horror entirely, one we totally don’t need to get into right now. Unless you want to? I’m here all night.

Anyways, on with the show.

All three of these are about the monsters within us, either figuratively or literally. In these cases, definitely leaning on the literal side.

Hammers on Bone and A Song for Quiet by Cassandra Khaw

I’ll start with a two-fer, a pair of delightfully dark stories starting off Cassandra’s “Persons Non Grata” series (which I’m now impatiently waiting for more – so chop chop!). This is cosmic horror of the Lovecraftian persuasion, with just enough to anchor you to the mythos.

Hammers on Bone tells the story of a John Persons, a unique private eye cut right out of the detective classics. While there are the elements of that homage you’d expect, it’s just enough to give you a warm fuzzy and not make you roll your eyes and mumble “oh god….” John’s a monster who hunts monsters and the story is solid and excellent with a great hook: A ten-year-old kid hiring him to kill his step-dad. Wow. Not something you see every day.

A Song for Quiet is not a direct sequel, but shares the setting including John Persons in a cool supporting role. This story is a deeper one, more musical than pulpy. Lyrical. Deacon James is a bluesman haunted by a lot of things, including the music in his head that wants, and needs, to get out. Though that’s not a great thing. For him. Or everyone on the planet.

I adore the covers. Black and white and red. Powerful stark imagery. One of the things that drew me to them me when I saw people gushing on Twitter. Where you should definitely follow Cassandra at @casskhaw.

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor Lavalle

I’m a slacker. I’ll come right and say it. I’ve been meaning to read this since it came out, but somehow never did. Why? It kept popping up in my “this is your thing, why haven’t you read it yet,” list and yet… Yeah. Anyways, I did read it and I did love it. And now I have The Devil in Silver sitting on my table staring at me, taunting me. I’ll slack less with it. I promise.

The Ballad of Black Tom is a retelling of H. P. Lovecraft’s story “The Horror at Red Hook” through a substantially different lens. I read that original story way way back, and it comes up often as quintessential Lovecraft horribleness, so it was cool to see how Victor turned it on its head.

Tommy Tester aka Black Tom is an interesting fellow, a not so great musician, but with a knack for doing jobs and going into white neighborhoods where his fellows fear to tread. One of these jobs lands him in the sights of a the police and goes swiftly off trail from there. There are some great cosmic horror elements at play, with a spooky old lady that’s obviously way more than she seems, cryptic books, dark cults, a rich occultist, and powers beyond time and space.

I’d highly recommend it, especially for the rich setting and feel of 1920’s New York and the racial conflict which is as real today as it was then (which makes you realize how much HASN’T changed in a century).

Victor is also found on Twitter, at @victorlavalle, and is always worth listening to.

5/5 For the lot

Cover Reveal! End of the Loop by Brent Nichols

Cover design: A. Bilawchuck

David isn’t sure why he lives in the Institute. He’s not sure why the doors are locked and guarded. He doesn’t know why he has to take pills that turn his memory to mist.

But one day he doesn’t swallow his pills. On that day, he starts to remember. Once, things were quite different. Once, he went outside. He had friends, a lover, a life.

Once, something bad happened. 

Soon the staff will notice. They’ll make him take his pills, and these precious scraps of memory will fade away. There’s only one way to prevent it. Only one way to find out what’s truly going on.

He must escape.

“A tensely suspenseful reconstruction of a cold case reclaims a life lost to unimaginable tragedy.” ~ J.E. Barnard, author of When the Flood Falls

Tiny Sledgehammer: Fall 2020

Gary’s got great news!

Untuck your tentacles and unfurl your freak flags…

The Seventh Terrace is delighted to announce the Spring 2021 publication of Unfortunate Elements of My Anatomy by Hailey Piper. Eighteen stories of queer horror, isolation, and the monstrous feminine, including an original grim novelette, “Recitation of the First Feeding.”

This collection is darkly fantastic, queer as hell, and we can’t wait to share it with all of you.

Hailey Piper is the author of Benny Rose, the Cannibal King from Unnerving, and her short fiction appears in Daily Science FictionThe ArcanistTales to Terrify, and elsewhere. She lives with her wife in Maryland, but can be found online at www.haileypiper.com or on Twitter via @HaileyPiperSays.

Detonation #15: Do Us A Favour And Don’t Share That Covid Poem

Navigating Life in a Literary Minefield

The news is dominated by ‘rona coverage. Most online content is at the very least pandemic adjacent in focus. You could escape into a book but that requires an attention span, and yours went out the window in March, approximately eleventy-hundred days ago.

We’ve got COVID on the brain and it’s hard to make good art when you’re distracted.

The solution: make COVID art!

Well, aren’t you fucking original. I’m sure no one has thought of that. You must be confident that everyone is starved for yet more angsty plague-centric literature and especially poetry. We can’t get enough. Riveting accounts of weight gain, images of a soggy magpie, or LOLOLOL your quarantine-drunk, spear-wielding spawn rampaging through your 9am Zoom meeting. Here’s the thing, these experiences are now universal to the point of cliché. In other words, anything but novel.

And what’s with the relentless insistence on the essential nature of poetry in this bonkers world where your closest relationships are with your co-workers’ nostril hairs and double-chins? I’m not a doctor or anything, but I dunno how essential it is to read something that feels like reading nothing. Scratch that, less than nothing. A nothing that leaves a little bit of itself behind, like a tiny malignant egg laid in your ear, whispering its nonsense in poet voice.

Maybe you’re compelled to indulge this shitty impulse to wax lyrical over a pile of rocks or giving birth in a rain barrel as a metaphor for social distancing. Maybe it quells your anxiety or lubes your ego to think someone might read your tortured placental images of loneliness and swoon. Maybe they will, but it’s the kind of swooning you do when you find the cat busily decapitating a rabbit on the front porch. The kind where it seems physically impossible to have eaten the amount you just vomited.

Real talk, okay? Poeming about COVID is not a noble pursuit. This drivel is for you, so stop inflicting it on others. We’re all struggling to find ways to cope and function in such times. Your poetry may be a balm to your soul, but it’s an acid bath to mine, so Jesus frick-fracking Christ, keep it in isolation.

P.S. Octoclot was in a mood when she wrote this. She’s also a wretched hypocrite who admits to writing a poem or two herself.

If It Bleeds by Stephen King

“AMAZING!” ~ slavish fan

“King at his best.” ~ slavish reviewer

“Loved! But the cover sucks.” ~ some dork from goodreads

Before you get mad, I’m not here to drag the King. I read almost everything he wrote up until 2010-ish. Needful Things, Pet Sematery, and Different Seasons are among some of my rare re-reads. I’m possibly the only person out there that really loved Duma Key. And King writes some of the greatest short stories and novellas out there. Apt Pupil is relentless horror on so many levels. The Road Virus Heads North is a master class in punishing suspense in the short form.

But he’s not incapable of mediocrity. Cell, anyone? He’s also a frequent idiot on Twitter, but whatever. Boomers gonna boom. Never meet your heroes. (Also, I haven’t read any of The Dark Tower books. Shut up, I don’t care.)

Now for the review! I picked up If It Bleeds because of the clever cover. I like animals all up in each other. It’s fun. Like the cat-rat version of turducken. Without the third thing. I don’t know what that would be. Maybe a fish or a lizard.

Now the review, for real this time. I was ready to settle into the comfy pair of slippers that is a Stephen King book and If It Bleeds did not disappoint. This book is very King-y. Four novellas containing all his greatest hits. Folksy olds. Poignant moments of loss. A child’s world existing just below the line of adult sight. And, of course, a struggling writer.

I’ll go through one at a time and give my thoughts.

Mr. Harrigan’s Phone

A ghost story for the digital age. Young boy earns a few bucks each week reading the newspaper to a retired finance industry titan. Eventually the old man dies, but not before the boy teaches him how to use an iPhone. Life goes on, but in some ways stays rooted in place where it begins to sicken and rot. It’s a story about grief. In a sense, all the novellas in this collection are about grief, but Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is the most explicit, and it sets the tone nicely. Also harkens back to the advent of the smart phone with a certain nostalgia and horror. This story felt the most fully realized of the four, but the novelty of tech doesn’t make it a novel King story. If an AI was programmed to generate Stephen King stories, this would be one of them.

The Life of Chuck

This one reads almost experimental, like a China Mieville novel. Told in three acts in reverse order, or from the inside out, or from the top down. I don’t know really. Chuck is born, he lives, he dies, and the world he carries within dies with him. I can’t say more than that without spoiling because this one isn’t a thriller chiller. It meanders, and does so delightfully. As a whole the story doesn’t quite take shape the way you sense King wants it to, but that’s why it’s my favourite of the four. It takes a risk and does something King doesn’t normally do. It surprised me.

If It Bleeds

You get the feeling the other stories are just blubber padding out the headliner. I didn’t read The Outsider. I hear it’s good. Maybe I should read it because this one was just okay for me. The premise is cool, a face shifting monster orchestrates a middle school bombing and Holly Gibney is on the case. This is what happens when an author loves his characters too much. This story is indulgent. King tries to get our hearts to bleed for Holly, but I didn’t feel it. She’s basically perfect with a few quirks. He loves her too much to give her actual flaws. It was a fun read, but nothing that resonated on the level I know King is capable of.

The Rat

I’m just going to say it. This story was some dumb shit. A recycled mish mash of Bag of Bones, 1408, and The Secret Window and probably any story where King is clearly writing some externalized version of himself. Writer is having trouble writing. Writer goes to cabin. Writer experiences a strange. Writer makes Bad Deal. Consequences. I kept waiting for King to subvert his own trope, but he doesn’t. If I had to guess, I’d say this was a trunk story he hauled out to meet a page count that would justify a $38 hardcover.

Overall, I enjoyed this collection, and with the exception of The Rat the stories were entertaining. The Life of Chuck was nearly brilliant, and I give King credit for taking that risk, considering the rest of the stories play it incredibly safe. Maybe the cover says it all? We’ve got the cat and mouse (or rat), which is clever if familiar. What’s missing is the third ingredient that surprises and makes the whole thing memorable. If It Bleeds is not bad, Constant Reader, but it’s no turducken.

3/5