Phantom Effect – My 2016 Release

Phantom Effect

PhantomEffectWithBloodSerial killer Jonathan Martin Delaware Deseronto is stuck with two flat tires on an abandoned construction site with the body of his latest victim, the lovely co-ed Marissa Madison, in the trunk.

What he doesn’t realize is that the girl was psychic, and her ghost will force Deseronto to live the last fatal week of her life inside her body as a passive passenger, making him experience the mind numbing terror of being stalked by himself.

Available for purchase on Amazon

 


Review by Publisher’s Weekly

Psychological obsession and surrealist complexity lend interest to fetishistic violence in a perverted parable that challenges traditional moral norms and reader expectations.

When serial killer Jonathan Deseranto gets a flat tire, an unexpected encounter leads to an automobile accident that, in turn, reveals the animated corpse of Marissa Madison, his most recent victim.

Cast into a purgatorial time loop and forced to inhabit Marissa’s life as well as his own, Jonathan realizes his victim had “gifts he didn’t know about.” Reliving Marissa’s domestic strife and enduring grim reunions with his abusive mother, Jonathan becomes both hunter and prey.

Razor-sharp description, breakneck action, and sympathetic characters undermine the reader’s preconceived notions of past and present, and of reality and delusion, in a thriller designed to question as much as entertain.

The genre staple of a killer’s psychosexual metamorphosis is invigorated by the theme of a fragmented identity haunting itself. Perspective shifts lend depth to a philosophically rich fearfest that’s recommended for readers who prefer their titillation to include some complexity.

Link to review.


Michael Aronovitz is the author of the acclaimed short story collections Seven Deadly Pleasures (Hippocampus Press, 2009) and The Voices in Our Heads (2013), Alice Walks (2013), as well as the novel, The Witch of the Wood (Hippocampus Press, 2014).

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Robyn Cage: An Exceptional Talent

I won’t put up a review on Metal Heads Forever unless the given artist talks to me personally. It’s got to be real or else I’m just another cheater. Anyone can comb the Web and deep-dive. It almost seems as if some feel this has become a legitimate alternative to a college education, next putting up embarrassing “participation” comparisons as if kindergarten teachers, suddenly qualified to prompt a classroom discussion. An example of this would be: “Anthrax or Slayer, GO!”

Since anyone can get that on Facebook (and join in this hideous and condescending practice) I figured long ago that I would leave that to the people who actually felt that there was meaningful self-measurement from “likes” to begin with. I long figured it was better to write reviews celebrating genius when I saw it, next getting the real story from the actual trend-setter so I could start some real discourse about process. And trust me, in my reviews, I’d never ask for a concrete response to a subjective – remedial question, and patronize my readers with – “GO!”

I contacted Robyn Cage about a week and a half ago, because I was looking for the meaningful shit in my feed, the music performance clips, some live, some not, that every so often came off solid enough to share on my timeline. Suddenly, I saw this stunning red head in a shiny dress fronting a cool band doing “Moonage Daydream” by Bowie. I want to avoid the more specific analysis here, as I say it better in the review I took a few hours to “make syntactically and stylistically bold and beautiful,” but to say the least, I was hooked.

I have attached said review below in a link. Please read. The video is on the actual piece three quarters of the way through, and even though the MHF guys somehow did this weird overlap of her logo onto her pic in the beginning (and I forgot to include my “By-Line…fuck…) the review looks really super.

The part I didn’t mention in the review is the email conversation I had with Robyn and the way she handled it. Robyn Cage, my friends, is a charming professional. I know she is busy. I know she has multiple projects going on and a plethora of obligations and responsibilities, but gosh darn-it, she took the time not only to respond, but respond in depth. I learned more about the business of being a star from her than all the conventions I’ve gone to featuring my horror books (and other “star” writers) and all the other rock reviews I’ve read and interviews I have seen. She made me feel that my questions were important and she treated me like a friend from the get-go. I have had similar positive experiences with Bill Leverty of Firehouse, Frank Bello from Anthrax, Halestorm’s management, Ralph Buso from Ravenscroft, the boys from Sifting (Eclipse Records), and Ben Bruce of Asking Alexandria, who talked to me on the phone in his limo, actually reading a short story I had written about Trivium as sort of my “audition” for his band. (It was the gig I had with Pure Grain Audio for a year, writing original horror stories starring actual band members). But hey…all that is awesome, but keeping it real…will my little article in the little rock mag I write for make Robyn Cage a super-star overnight? Probably not. But this front-goddess is doing it right, and as small a force as I am in the entertainment world, I would drop everything in a heartbeat to help Robyn Cage. Maybe the secret formula for success isn’t just talent and swag. Maybe you have to build an army. One person at a time.

http://www.mhf-mag.com/content/cd-reviews/robyn-cage-when-the-artist-becomes-her-own-sculpture-review/

 

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Castle of Horror Promo: Free Book Today!

We are running a one-day FREE promotion on the Castle of Horror Anthology– so if you haven’t read it, today is your chance! That’s right– the Anthology is FREE– JUST FOR TODAY!

https://amzn.to/2Ztxw58?fbclid=IwAR3jmChopX5efeCvjT51n__IKUe8QLlvWXveMFFQbFAhuizCU90ar36zDrA

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Review – Sifting “The Infinite Loop”

I recently posted this review in Metal Heads Forever Magazine. I thought it would be cool to blog it too. Here’s the link if you want to see it in the full layout with pics:

http://www.mhf-mag.com/content/cd-reviews/sifting-the-infinite-loop-album-review/

It is no secret that I am a fan of Sifting, the progressive metal band from Los Angeles, California who blew our doors off with their debut record, “All the Hated” in 2013 and wowed us in September of 2017 with their second full length record titled “Not From Here.” I was fortunate enough to have seen them at the TLA Theater in Philadelphia a year ago May, second row, dead center. Plainly, it was a stellar performance delivered with that perfect mix of dynamics, sophisticated instrumental wizardry, and explosive theatrical precision, comparable to Rush on the 1978 tour of their “Hemispheres” record, a concert I thought could never be topped.

At the aforementioned Sifting gig (where they were opening for Sons of Apollo) I caught a guitar pick which currently sits on my desk right by my computer. I screamed myself hoarse. I was fortunate enough to get an interview with the band after the show, out in the rain, under an overhang across from the venue on South Street, and I was so taken with the spectacle I’d just witnessed, the emotive perfection, the superior execution and outright fucking joy with which these guys played, that I didn’t even conduct a real interview. I just raved to them about the parts that blew my mind apart. I said to founder, guitarist, and lead singer Edu, that his vocal melody choices were of the most original I’d ever heard. He asked specifically where, and I sang back to him the chorus of “Not From Here.” He could have laughed at me. He didn’t. He sang it with me and the band joined in…did you just fucking hear me? I sang for a moment with Sifting in the street in the rain under an overhang…a dream come true I will NEVER forget.

My son was with me for the show and interview, home from college, and we’d been bickering a bit as parents and older children might. After that evening however, we forgot what we were arguing about, and I want to thank Sifting right here and now. You made my cynical son look up to me. You made me feel like a boss. Every time I listen to your music, which is often, I get that same rush. I like feeling that way. I want it all the time, bro.

When Paul Gilbert came out with his new progressive blues record titled “Behold Electric Guitar” this past May, I named it the album of the year in the column I write for Heavy Music Headquarters. I want to state officially; however, that Sifting’s new record titled “The Infinite Loop,” dropping September 27th, 2019 shares that honor, in fact, I don’t think you can look at one without the other. Paul Gilbert is the greatest living shredder. I know there are arguments for many others, so many I won’t name them here for fear of missing ten or twenty, but if you will allow me a moment of subjectivity, I believe I can make the case that Gilbert and Sifting are linked. Gilbert is in the latter stages of a monster career, including, of course, his work with Mr. Big and Racer X. He is the past. His present is spectacular, yet quite definitive, as he has now put out a blues record with what I would call a phenomenal (yet casually dressed-down) bar band. I recently saw him at an intimate five hundred-seat club and enjoyed his performance, through which he proved himself a true master-craftsman, commanding the stage-space in a smart black suit and playing the blues. He made that guitar talk…weep…tell stories. He is the aesthetic twilight.

Sifting are the spectacular sunrise, the present, the morning – crisp blue skies with majestic jets doing fly-overs. Their album “The Infinite Loop” rounds out the binary starting with Gilbert’s former contribution to the equation as the exiting elder connected to this fresh kid reinventing the game.

Sifting’s new album, “The Infinite Loop,” is of the best I have ever heard. To drop some names, I want to say here that I believe Edu (Eduardo O Gil) is a genius with star power and the potent musical instincts one could compare in certain ways to David Bowie. No, Edu doesn’t sound like him, but he has a distinct crooning sort of tone in his repertoire just as did Mr. Stardust, and he somehow comes up with chord changes in his melodies that are “distinctly Edu,” as did Sir David. The difference is that Edu can also sing in momentous high tenor, heartfelt baritone, powerful mid-range, a modern growl, and in a clean or slight rasp, always bold, always bolstered by fundamental authenticity and technical mastery.

In terms of the drums, Joey Aguirre is an absolute MONSTER. He reminds me of Neil Peart in a way that is different from other drummers who may be mechanistically sound, even superior, yet machine-like, all numbers. Joey can and does pull off the speedier tempos with an awesome mix of feel and expertise, even going triple and quadruple-time when everyone else is dancing on the halves, and therefore, delivering to us the wonderful oxymoronic mix of fierce rapidity and monumental heartfelt undertow (a trick used by many black metal bands). However, he can also pound with the best of them, and I challenge anyone to find me a band with a current record that confronts us with a richer “wall of sound.” In reference to “impression” and interpretation, we can especially appreciate Joey’s accenting techniques. He has the ability to architect a “regular beat” and make it amazingly special without hindering the makeup of the overall product, and that, my friends, is the mark of both the prototypical champion and the consummate professional.

That being said, Wins Jarquin is the kind of bass player that doesn’t just play “roots.” He stands out when appropriate, and cements the band’s sound on an exotic sort of footing, almost like a sculptor, especially considering the mixed meter time signature changes Sifting employs with the apparent ease of taking a stroll on a mid-summer day. Across the stage, newcomer Xavi Leon is outstanding. To be able to manage the guitar acrobatics along with Edu can only be described as “magnificent,” and the songs on “The Infinite Loop” are absolutely bad-ass.

The opening track, “Agony,” begins with an acoustic vibe, full of passion and anticipation. The drum work is superior, especially in the sense that Aguirre establishes early that he is not over-dependent on double-bass tricks, though he whips off those hummingbird sixteenths with the best of them. His tom-tom work is intricate and tasteful, filling your mind with pictures, and when the band “patterns-in” with a feel like Metallica on steroids, they deliver that “Sifting” vibe that makes the experience both rich and funk-a-licious. For me, however, the signature of the record is established with the first chorus, through Edu’s vocal choices that can not be compared to anyone, current or classic. The harmonies both break your heart and lift you the fuck up, no exaggeration, no lie. It is the crucial element that makes this band different: metal with meaning played by progressive pioneers not caught up in equations but more the meter of the soul.

The second track, “A Critical Affair,” is a show-piece number, batting second for a reason. It is the song built upon the prior-mentioned rapid time signature juxtaposed up against the vocal in half-time, and featuring an amazingly complex platform guitar solo. This composition is an establishing piece…a mark in the stone, a line in the sand, making it quite clear that this band is musically superior. It is very much like a fighter coming out of his corner in the second round and establishing himself with a hard-right hook straight to the jaw, fuck the jabs and body shots, I’m coming for you. I’ve trained harder, planned better, and developed quicker than you’d ever expected, and tonight, you’re in for a spectacle.

Track number three, titled “Enough,” is not only the song of the album, but possibly the song of the year. It might very well be the tune that makes Sifting superstars, and I don’t at all find it ironic that the composition is “ballad-like.” This band is technically superlative, with double guitar attacks like blistering fireworks and time signatures that would confuse physicists with two Ph.D.’s, but the locus of their appeal is emotion and heart. To be blunt, the song is lovely, an immediate classic. It is everything you would want in a “slow burn” that marks a place in your life you always look back to with fondness. I know I am showing my age, going old-school, but this one is to Sifting like “Dream On” was to Aerosmith. I would not at all be surprised if “Enough” became part of playlists on stations other than (yet including of course) Octane, this genre’s and generation’s Holy Grail. I would predict that major rock stations in the biggest markets would pick this one up, hell, I’ve never been into “art for art’s sake devoid of the importance of mass public appeal.” If I were “that guy,” I’d be writing to you about some deep dude playing an acoustic in Harvard Square with a coffee can for change by his knee. Sifting are superstars. Period. It’s about time everyone knew it.

Track four, “Stop Calling Me Liberty,” is the cornerstone for the guitarists, making a frame with the second cut in terms of musical virtuosity. At the 3:06 minute mark, there is a lead that is rather amazing, and at the 3:18 mark or so, the tone and structure is so unique and striking, it is difficult to picture exactly how the patterns are being expedited on the fretboard. The listening experience here rings similar to the way it felt when Eddie Van Halen unleashed the tapping technique for the first time. I look forward to seeing Sifting pull off this specific move live.

Track five is the “artist’s special,” titled “The Fifth Element.” It is where Wins Jarquin stands out with bass-licks taking over the melody like some glorious hood ornament, and the band comes together behind him with a crush that would make Ozzy jealous. At the 3:10 mark, it is difficult not to notice how cleverly and distinctly Joey Aguirre dresses up a more standard rhythm, and the guitars take on a personality akin to some mad scientist making magic in the lab. In “School of Rock,” they jokingly called it “musical fusion.” Sifting aren’t joking. They are showing us something new.

Track six, “What If (Dichotomy) is a song defined by a great hook and pleasing harmonies, seemingly acting as an introduction for the album’s second big heavy hitter titled “To Who I Am.” Sifting has an uncanny sense for overall structuring and like the novelist, often use “threads” for theming purposes, positioning songs for dramatic foreshadowing and payoff, or what I would call “come-backers” in my horror books when I revisit something introduced earlier, and blast it onto the new page in fresh context. “To Who I Am” is linked to the blockbuster-to-be, “Enough,” and it’s more than an echo technique. The vocal here is so unique to this style of music, that it becomes the back half of a signature. A definitive one that alters the playing field, not only for Sifting, but metal as a genre.

Track eight, “Ghost of a Lie,” is where the band pulls out all the stops. Here, it seems they open their treasure chest of musical expertise and give us a glimpse of the most sophisticated gems in the hoard. It is a multi-faceted, intricate lexicon filled with innovation and historical allusion, awesome technique, and a bold sort of psychological perception that maintains the integrity of the song for the sake of pure composition yet lets the band members shine. This was a significant mechanism in the Deep Purple playbook back in the day, and it is no surprise that Sifting brought in Derek Sherinian of Sons of Apollo, Dream Theater, and many other famous projects (Billy Idol, Kiss, and Alice Cooper to name a few) to solo on keys. The performance is outstanding and dovetails perfectly with Edu’s falsetto, his vocal hooks, Wins Jarquin’s standout bass work, and the guitar acrobatics by both axe grinders that epitomize the hybrid of drama and speed.

Track nine, “Emotionless Shells,” for me, is the necessary composition on any metal record that would offer solid proof of agility and technical speed. Though this band is “progressive,” I am sure they don’t want the reputation of simply being “tricky” with meter. Metal bands play fast and they play hard. The genre, especially today, demands super-human execution and dexterity, and the idea that humans can create such rapid virtuosity directly addresses those who just sample stuff (like Kanye West) and basically tells them to fuck off. I am sure the purpose of this record is not political, but witnessing heroes, true maestros who play their own shit at supernatural velocity, is part of the tattered banner we wave. It is why metal will never die, and so a salute here to Sifting for carrying the flag and melting our faces like they are supposed to do.

The last song, the title track “The Infinite Loop,” is not even a “song,” but more a canvas on which we can paint our emotions. There is a huge difference between the ballads that almost become parodies and the idea that “deep” can come at you from a more centered location, delivered patiently, slowly, lovingly. I actually teared-up when I listened to the beginning of this song. The introduction was as good as any musical score I’d ever heard at the end of any great film I’d seen over the years, and the vocal line took me on a journey down the paths of my own personal life-map. Yes, I get it. They are my paths, so how did Edu know? My answer to you, is that writing a good tune makes you a rocker. Writing a song that somehow becomes the blueprint for the given listener’s past…each listener with a different mural, a different story to tell…makes the composition a classic. Timeless greats offer us templates so we can fill in our own experiences. That is why these masterpieces never get dated. This song is a classic, as is the entire album. The only regret I have is that often, when a classic first hits the streets, it is not recognized as such. We do that best in retrospect. How lucky we are; however, to be a part of this thing from the start.

“The Infinite Loop” is the record of the year. It has something for everyone, and it is one of those rare albums that doesn’t have a weak track. You can pre-order it here.

https://www.eclipserecords.com/release/infinite-loop-sifting/

I would do so, now. I have been writing about music for years, and I know a good one when I hear it. “Join the revolution,” as the band says. Good music can heal, inspire, and invigorate. “The Infinite Loop” does all of that, and then some.

 

Michael Aronovitz is a music reviewer, college professor, and horror author. His latest story titled “The Tool Shed” is featured in the anthology “Castle of Horror” edited by Jason Henderson (author of Van Helsing), that which dropped July 1st, 2019.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07QMBYLLG

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Horror as Misrepresented Literary Fiction

There is an ongoing discussion concerning the relative position of “horror” fiction as compared to other types of storytelling, and the more popular pre-conceived notions are rather distasteful. The horror genre is known as a gratuitous one, filled with feeble protagonists caught up in cheap twists of shock-theater, all leading to poorly foreshadowed scenes of hyper-violence that would transparently replace meaningful catharsis.

The problem is that horror, or at least developed horror, is not genre fiction to begin with. Genre fiction reads easily, presented in a surface text that follows a given formula while meaningful horror by design is anti-design, a rebellion against formulas, expectations, and trendy beliefs. Not that good horror is the voice of evil or counter-culture, but more a demonstration of truths, usually the darker ones harder to defend. Why? Because it makes for a better story when the bad guy isn’t shallow and cardboard. Because it makes for a superior reading experience if we learn something about ourselves through a reading process that strips away comfortable euphemisms.

Genre fiction, though a wonderful and valid art form in itself that creates the illusion of movement, remains inevitably predictable like one of those rants on Facebook defending some position most people have already decided to support. This kind of stance seems more like the teenager arguing in fits of righteous rage than the experienced adult who takes the time to identify the adversary’s two or three strongest points in order to prove him or her incorrect. In scholarly circles we call this dismantling the opposition, yet in layman’s terms it means winning the debates, the good heated ones, and not championing issues already weaved deep into the current public view. Moreover, the horror writer (or the good one at least), takes the initial positions of “A” against “B” and exposes the possibility that good debates can never be fully won, and that the universal answers to the world’s most difficult riddles are more painful and multi-faceted than anyone wants to admit. Then he gives examples no one wants to hear.

To give a more specific illustration, genre fiction could be represented by the social critic or unsatisfied parent who bashes the government for the pedagogical failures in urban and deep rural areas, crying out about the crumbling, overcrowded schools and the fact that children need a choice concerning which facility they might attend. To this there is a roar of public approval. Well, of course we need choices, and vouchers, and charters! Overcrowding causes mayhem, and dismal, decayed institutions breed dissatisfaction, bullying, and gangs!

“Ahh,” the politician answers smoothly from behind his own podium, “but once you move the individual please explain to this humble public servant what happens to the education owed to those left in the overcrowded classrooms, the bullies who could become computer experts, teachers, psychologists and social workers, and the gang members who could have been doctors and lawyers? It’s all about money, money, money, more money, and damn it, we need funds, stipends, scholarships, and equal spending across the board that would finally destroy the idea that it is acceptable, common practice to allow real estate taxes to determine the quality of one’s didactic experience!

Here, here, we have a winner! Bring up the house lights, roll credits, and I’ll meet you at the voting booth.

But out working the parking lot is the horror writer, nodding “Yes to all,” in absolute agreement, yet initiating a different kind of vision, exposing the underside harder to stomach, the part that borders impropriety and political blasphemy, by suggesting that there are those who sometimes tragically rehash cycles of failure as part of the culture, making it so toddlers are seen and not heard, eventually coming to these crumbling institutions ill-prepared for learning in the first place. The good horror writer then hands out flyers with a story printed on both sides, showing us a fictitious world through which the government passes litigation stating that parents who do not pass an eighth grade reading test and concurrently provide proof on video that they read to their small children each night, are denied welfare and food stamps. In this strange, controversial tale it is made clear that many of the parents were already priming the little ones for school and developing their pre-reading skills. Some who were not begin to adapt. Others refuse to comply and start to go hungry. They initiate campaigns of secret night time cannibalism, and if the horror writer wants to really connect some dots, he modestly proposes that they eat the children they were originally meant to read to.

Genre work tells a story, and lets us ride the wave.

Horror buries us under the foamy surface and makes us taste the saltwater.

The problem is that literary fiction has almost as distasteful a stigma as the “horror genre,” the former indicating a certain stuffiness or metaphorical level unattainable to the “regular reader” and the latter a misconceived stereotype that certain writers have bought into, attempting to pass off the condiment (gore) as the main ingredient (a mix of character, story-peril, sentence poetry, and tragic theme).

“Genre” horror shows us a serial killer in a long leather coat riding a jacked-up muscle car hotel to hotel and then killing people with a variety of “cool” weaponry. Good horror makes every moment real and gritty through style and clever syntax, not only illustrating the killer’s wake but his viewpoint in context. And if we can finally (or suddenly) understand it, the epiphany was in us all along, buried, dormant, and glossed over…that’s the horror, and it’s anything but “schlocky.” I suppose if we had to affix a genre label (or rather a “genre-image”) to horror we might go for the archetypes: Vampire, Werewolf, Witch, Warlock, Monster, Ghost, Zombie, and Water-Beast, but the artists using these historical models and using them well, are finding new ways to make them relevant by positioning them as devices that would dismantle the norm and expose the darkest corridors of the human heart. That’s a literary function, an intellectual endeavor, and it’s anything but stuffy and boring.

Ask the given professor with the given MFA in creative writing what makes something a piece of literary fiction, and you will often get a slippery, dichotomous response, first claiming that a valid story according to our rich Anglo/Saxon history built upon strong western philosophy is structured in three acts, the first staring with an opening image leading to a set-up, a theme stated overtly or with subtlety, a catalyst, and a dilemma. Act II would consist of a new journey, a thematic revisit, a midpoint where antagonists close in, and an “all is lost” phenomenon including a dark night of the soul that would lead to a literal or metaphorical death. Finally in Act III we enjoy a rebirth, an attempt to rise from the ashes, and a merging of character and theme with a victory that comes with a price. The irony here, is that going hand in hand with this ludicrous rigidity is the misguided idea that “literary fiction” isn’t “about anything,” in its attempt to show real people facing ordinary issues that would disguise some cerebral, cleverly buried, deliciously complex, multi-leveled paradox teaching us about ourselves as seen from a variety of intellectual viewpoints.

Still, anything following even the most basic of dramatic structures is “about something” and in reference to the viewpoint riddles, well forgive me, that’s horror.

To briefly digress, I would also argue that the Three Act Roadmap is no more than a template to build from, like the five paragraph essay is only the starting point for expository prose, and I would also claim that concurrently, good horror fiction doesn’t have to have a nice but dumb cop, a Goth girl, a hideous murderer, and inevitably someone who goes up to the attic against better judgement, or falls down for no reason, or says “Let’s split up,” when it is obvious that there is strength in numbers. If things of this sort define the “genre” portion of horror everyone keeps talking about and using as a label, I would point out that five paragraph essays in Comp 101 are for freshmen at the beginning of the first semester no less, and there are four years of more advanced writing required for an undergraduate degree. In other words, maybe “genre” horror is a throwback to what was once new. Maybe “genre” horror” is our current starting point, something to build from.

Good horror makes us think, makes us feel, makes us question ourselves with flashes of terrifying insight in regard to the human experience. Hannibal Lecter is incredibly human, not in the sense that he kills and devours his victims of course, but more in that we share his immediate affection for Clarice Starling. Congruently, Buffalo Bill is not just a serial killer, but a man who wants to transform, to sew the skins of his victims together so he can become something he would consider beautiful. He also loves his small dog, and though he is evil, repulsive, demented, and cruel, there is a brief flash where we might connect with his love for the small dog.

Aside from these moments of strange empathy, there is also the issue of the writing, down in the trenches technique for technique, and I am in no way claiming that there isn’t a lot of bad horror out there, “genre” or otherwise. With Amazon and other self-publishing platforms absolutely decimating the bookstore industry and providing a pulpit for a lot of white noise, there is a “trendy” sort of pressure out there to tell it and tell it quick. I see a lot of work that celebrates brevity to the point that we are actually starting to accept exposition as plot as opposed to the more difficult (and antiquated) pleasure of refusing to listen to the guy sitting across the desk and reading the protagonist’s confidential file to him, reminding him (and informing us) of all his character traits in one quick, cheap exhalation.

Good, developed horror takes its time. It has to. If one tries to do horror quickly, or formulaically for the sake of joining a trend, or with a scattering of tiny two-to-three sentence paragraphs where characters tell each other all the backstory then run down a dark hallway screaming, we get comedy, and unless you are into the wacky bizarro-stuff, that is death to a horror writer.

You don’t speed up to see a car accident.

You don’t tell a hideous deviant to get on with it already and kill you.

Horror text is thinking text, and the more we ruminate, the more frightening the hallway, the closet, the shed, and that dark patch of woods. Metacognition and figuring out dangerous puzzles is the mainstay of developed, literary horror, and thinking is the primary instrument of the scholar. The difference is that the scholar works in the library and the horror writer makes his home in the psyche, the dark part, where he forces the reader to question his morals. And if the horror is written well, with intricate ideology and poetic imagery, our reader might realize he isn’t so far away from the dark figure waiting with an ax down in the basement by the rolls of old insulation and chicken wire.

The thing we need to do as horror writers is finally concede that the game has changed since Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. We have to understand that stereotypes and archetypes are not staples, but launching points for what might scare people in an age where even the most violent acts of murder and road rage are shown on national television in prime time. What scares us is us, but we’ve become desensitized by seeing it on You-Tube, once removed by hiding behind email, and allegedly absolved by bitching about it on Facebook. Horror writers need to find a way to interpret the world and lift off the cover of euphemism in a way “Little Brother” does not, through poetic prose, through a literary experience, by making readers think and get their hands dirty.

Because again, times have changed. Monsters are not necessarily frightening any longer, yet more the wax figures we keep going back to for posterity, and as a result, of all things, security.

But horror is not safe.

And neither is good fiction, and maybe this essay is meant for all writing, genre-specific or not.

That said, whether live in the skin of some horrid beast or hiding behind the gentle eyes of a “loving father,” horror exposes points of view we normally choose not to acknowledge. And modern horror writers have to work harder than their Victorian predecessors. For Stevenson invented the antagonist Hyde and made him a dwarf in order to show that man’s evil side was smaller than his moral one.

Maybe it is the job of the modern horror writer to claim Stevenson got it wrong.

Maybe it is the poetic charge of the modern horror writer to force us to think harder about our position in the universe, making us see that our own “Hyde’s” are closer to the surface than we’d once thought, that they reside in both the heart and the fiber, and if drawn out and “categorized,” they might not be personified as the ugly little munchkin in a top hat with a cane anymore, but rather the dark hulking figure standing tall, eye to eye.

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Be a Patriot / Be a Teacher

Michael Aronovitz's Blog

I see a lot of rhetoric lately about the women’s U.S. Soccer team being unsportsmanlike and unpatriotic, so stop. Right here. They are heroes. If you are going to get your feathers all ruffled because they cussed a bit in the thrill of their celebrations, please remember that many of you still call Kobe Bryant an icon, just as you do Ben Roethlisberger…both of these athletes accused (and I believe rightly so) of rape. Bengals running back Joe Mixon punched a girl in the face, but fans still cheer a good run up the middle. Kareem Hunt was accused of three violent incidents, proof positive, but Browns fans are slobbering and panting in hope he will be allowed on the field. Aaron Hernandez was found guilty of first degree murder and is serving life in prison, but Patriots fans didn’t miss a beat cheering their team. Maybe the “outrage” here…

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Be a Patriot / Be a Teacher

I see a lot of rhetoric lately about the women’s U.S. Soccer team being unsportsmanlike and unpatriotic, so stop. Right here. They are heroes. If you are going to get your feathers all ruffled because they cussed a bit in the thrill of their celebrations, please remember that many of you still call Kobe Bryant an icon, just as you do Ben Roethlisberger…both of these athletes accused (and I believe rightly so) of rape. Bengals running back Joe Mixon punched a girl in the face, but fans still cheer a good run up the middle. Kareem Hunt was accused of three violent incidents, proof positive, but Browns fans are slobbering and panting in hope he will be allowed on the field. Aaron Hernandez was found guilty of first degree murder and is serving life in prison, but Patriots fans didn’t miss a beat cheering their team. Maybe the “outrage” here isn’t about over-celebrating. Maybe it is really concerned with the idea that the Right despises Megan Rapinoe for announcing she doesn’t have plans to visit the White House. Hmm. I don’t want to turn this into a Left versus Right thing, not today, but how many famous people must refuse to go to the White House (besides the absolute tool, Kanye West) until we start looking at it through the lens of who is sitting in the oval office to begin with…and maybe he is the problem and not the other way around?

Anyway. My feeling is this. For anyone who is bitching and moaning about the “liberals” and the anti-Trumpers being unpatriotic, I have a suggestion. You want to make a difference? Let’s make a new law that resembles Israel’s requirement of serving in the army for two years before one goes and starts an adult life. For us, however, let’s make it law that after graduating high school, Americans must teach their expertise in a failing public school for two years, at a school-teacher’s salary. A company in search of their services will promise them a job at entry level after the two years of American service. Of course, even for high school graduates versus college, the annual pay would be less in the classroom than what would be attained in the business world, so the difference is donated back to the school for supplies, trips, guest speakers, and broadened curriculums.

If you are an artist, you teach art. If you are a computer game wiz, you teach computer game creation. If you are a welder, you teach welding.

There would be too many teachers flooding into the schools, you say! Good. It would decrease class size. Hell, maybe public school would become one on one tutoring sessions centered on the given expertise. I’m in. How ’bout you?

Wait. The high school grads wouldn’t have a teaching degree, so how would they know how to teach? Uh. Hello…now the certified teachers can be bosses. Certified teachers oversee student teaching all the time. Certified teachers, take what you know about the art of teaching and…teach it! Maybe, just maybe, these young future experts in the field will realize how awesome it is to teach children, and they will switch careers, become teachers, and enrich that community!

There still would be too many teachers versus kids you say! Ok. If the school has reached its capacity for one on one instruction, the balance of graduated experts putting in their two years would be required to go to low income houses for home visits, teaching illiterate parents to read. That way, they would read to their kids and make sure the next generation doesn’t come into kindergarten and first grade without pre-reading skills.

Stop bitching about our heroes kneeling for a good cause or celebrating a great win. Stop thinking that the head of the Department of Education can simply donate money to the Republican party, and therefore be qualified to run education in this country. Stop bitching at the “other” simply because it feels good to bitch. They are Americans too, and until you have gone in and taught in the public schools, you have NO IDEA how to solve the problems in the country or the world.

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Horror Writing and Metal Music – Similar Process

I know. My pic makes me look like a priest, but I am a rocker through and through. I also write professional horror stories, and the mechanics of forming a metal band and writing a horror novel are eerily similar.

I was in a professional glam band in the 80’s, playing the same clubs as Skid Row, Cinderella, and Bon Jovi, so I know what you go through to get a band up and running. I realize that equipment has evolved, but please enjoy my antiquated examples for the sake of posterity.

Fall in love with rock. Choose your idols and study them. For me, it was anyone who invented a guitar sound immediately recognizable: Tom Scholz of Boston, Brian May of Queen, and of course, Eddie Van Halen of Van Halen.

Fall in love with horror. If you haven’t had a recent taste and books aren’t your thing, see the Jordan Peele films “Get Out” and “Us.” Yesterday. He puts on a clinic of utilizing the genre for the sake of aesthetics and social messaging in a way that is ultimately refreshing. For me, in my teenage years I was utterly sold when I saw Carpenter’s Halloween in 1978, and followed this up by reading everything Stephen King wrote. As for the former, no director had taken an image and made it so frightening (Michael Meyers in partial sightings with loud synthesizer stingers erupting when he entered certain shots) and in reference to the latter, no author got to the kernel of a character better than King.

Learn your instrument. For me, it was vocals, and I sang along with my records, practicing my moves out on the porch every single night with the windows giving me a “theater in the round” effect with the reflections. I also learned to play guitar, so that I could appreciate what my future musicians were going to be dealing with.

Learn the craft of horror writing. Learn to hide the monster, practice dialogue mechanics that avoid overuse of exposition, experiment with stories of different lengths, find your “voice” without being pretentious.

Find your band mates. Find a drummer who shines but doesn’t do “falling out of bed” fills that leave the band wondering where the cymbal crash is going to come at the end of a measure. Find a guitar player who enjoys the rhythm behind the vocal as much as his platform solo spots. Find a bass player willing to tether himself to that fucking bass drum and still have a personality.

Find your genre. If you’re a horror guy, write like a horror guy. If you like the detective strain, work out all the plot threads. If you’re a splatterpunk, make the scenes of climax majestic and poetic. If you’re into dark psychology, do your homework. Never follow a trend. In both music and writing, by the time you get signed, the trend will have changed. Be true to yourself.

Figure out whether you need a second guitar or you are going to go pure “power-trio.” If you have a second guitar, it fills in during the lead so you don’t sound like you just cut a huge hole in the music like a doughnut. It also opens you to more ego hassles and possible muddied verses if both guys are slamming the same power chord.

As a writer, try not to slam the same metaphorical power chord. Don’t spend so much time writing beautiful strange scenic paragraphs that bog down the story. Narrative summary, scene work, dialogue mechanics, and character descriptions need rhythm and balance. You are not trying to create a product that will have the reader say, “Gosh, the writer is good.” You are trying to create the platform that will act as a movie in the reader’s head, created mostly by the reader.

Avoid hyperbole. The worst thing a band can do is overplay their “popularity” in the moment. Don’t play a “Freebird” cover and say “How ’bout you?” Don’t dance like Mick Jagger. Own your space. Flaunt it in confidence, not arrogance. Hyperbole destroyed the 70’s and gave room for the God-awful intrusion of New Wave. We just got sick of going to Yes concerts and getting half hour solos by Rick Wakeman.

Horror writers should avoid hyperbole as well. Don’t have an antagonist stab someone “FIFTY TIMES!” Once is enough. Don’t have five chase scenes. Don’t over-explain the kill moments. Let the reader fill in some of the blanks, and for God’s sake SLOW DOWN! No one, repeat, no one speeds up to see a car accident.

Don’t let the sound man screw you if you are an opener. Their favorite trick is to give you no bass, no treble, and especially no monitors. Pay them off if you have to.

As writers, don’t let petty magazine editors break your spirit with the dumb shit. If they say first person voice is sloppy seconds to third person limited, write in first person and find a better editor. Flashbacks are good if there is a purpose and multiple viewpoints are a necessity. Don’t believe the hype. Many of these editors are jealous no-minds who can’t write their own way out of a paper bag. They spent a lot of money on an MFA, and basically just learned to write dumb-ass symbolic shit, like having a cow in a field staring at a microwave on a manure mound, just so their jealous, egotistical psuedo-intellectual classmates could argue all night as to whether it represents Marxism or totalitarianistic geo-politics…or some such lame horseshit.

Make a video. Lip sinc it and make it look live. Do it well. I know you hate it, but it is part of the game.

Writers, make a social media platform. I know you hate it, but it is part of the game.

Play loud, but control your stage volume. No use making the singer scream during the traditional vocal parts.

Write big, but control your ego. You’re not writing to make Mom proud. You’re writing to create a story that will (hopefully) make you faceless.

Metal and horror are joined at the hip. I believe hard rock is part of this too. Both are directly linked to our formative years, thrills, and rebellion. Both are sweet and dark and often glorious.

 

 

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Social Media Basically Sucks

Of course I use social media, but it still basically sucks. Before discussing its uses (and misuses) as commercial and political conduits, let’s just look at what most people post. From my perspective, I am a small market horror writer and rock reviewer who loves metal, so my Facebook and Twitter pages have “friends” and “followers” who are fellow writers, musicians, and horror enthusiasts. I suppose it is a different story for someone who happens to be on one of my pages ( I have personal friends who fall into this category) for the sole purpose of sharing pics and thoughts with actual friends, but I just happen to scroll past such dumb shit every day (the minute or two I spend going through the feed) that I just have to speak out about it.

First off, we should all check the grammar. I see posts that are basically illiterate. You are allowed to edit yourself before posting. Do it. Posting stuff like, “Do anyone used Gibson les pauls anymore?” is similar to handing in a college paper done the night before. When can we learn that “drafting” isn’t necessarily good writing? You don’t need an MLA or APA guidebook to know when a sentence is goofy. Fix it.

The addition of the word “Go!” after requesting some sort of favorite list must end. Now. Since when does anyone think it is cool to say “ready, set, go” to adults, as if we are in kindergarten? I realize I have bitched about this before, but it is actually so annoying it deserves second mention.

I see a lot of trolling on music group pages, with set-up questions that are idiotic because of their obvious subjectivity. Not to start one of those psuedo-intellectual discussions about art versus craft versus garbage versus innovation, but really…how many times do we expect people to participate in ridiculous contrasting ultimatums, like “Anthrax vs. Slayer?” or “Priest vs. Maiden?” If people throw money at it, the shit is good. Music isn’t just math. If it was, I’d still be reading geometry textbooks for fun. If it gets you in the heart or the hips, it’s fucking good.

I see a lot of requests for prayers. Yes, I mentioned this before, but I think it is incredibly inappropriate to spill your hardships onto the net. Yeah…ok…you’re in the hospital…a loved one is sick…you’re down on your luck. This is PUBLIC (like this statement). Some things are not anyone else’s business, especially if they don’t know you personally.

Comedians. Yeah, I guess…Some pictures and little film shorts are, in fact, funny. A ton of them aren’t, and they reflect that we have become a film-clip generation who would rather see a chick fall into a basement stairwell staring into her phone than read a good book.

Sayings. Yeah, again…I guess. Quoting someone else’s “cute” saying doesn’t make you a prophet or modern day Ben Franklin. If you quote someone else’s quote, cite it. If it ain’t yours, don’t plagiarize. Here’s a thought. Why don’t YOU invent one?

Rap-metal just sucks. I listen to metal so I don’t have to listen to assholes like Kanye West. I like Drake. I like Eminem. Time and place. Leave my fucking metal alone.

Pictures of animals. Cute, yes. But we are spending our precious time when we could be working, creating, innovating…looking at…cats.

Politics. Hmm. I’ve never seen so much dumb ass shit, especially from the right. Conservative racism should not be tolerated and never given a voice. The biggest problem I have is with Fox News, which is not news at all, but hate rhetoric delivered in ridiculous snippets of bad propaganda containing such obvious logical fallacies, that viewers should be ashamed of themselves. Fox’s purpose is to divide the country and make Americans hate other Americans. Period. I have friends who are conservatives, and while I sometimes disagree ideologically, we have all come to the agreement not to post on FB our anger at the twisted current politics of the world. I am happier that way. I don’t watch CNN either.

The Internet as a conduit for sharing artistic endeavors is a slippery slope. Some may think posting about a new book we have out or a new EP we’ve produced is shameless promotion, but that is why I got on FB and Twitter to begin with. I certainly didn’t start up these accounts to post selfies or ask for comments answering kindergarten questions, prompted by the condescending, pretentious word, “Go!” I like seeing what people are creating. I think the problem is that book publishers nowadays, especially in the small market, look at my number of friends and followers and make an immediate assumption (and judgement) about my aesthetic process. I am fifty-seven years old. I’m not the best looking guy in the world, and I am no good at clever little puns and pics. I’m proud to say that I am a college professor, horror author, and rock reviewer, but a fifty seven year old writer doesn’t get the same kind of likes-quantity (and I honestly am not trying for them) as a twenty-year old country singer with long flowing hair, short jean shorts, and cowboy boots. Hey…not complaining. I write horror, and it is a small market, niche game. It just pisses me off that publishers and literary agents nowadays look at my likes and don’t give a solid read to new work. Social media is not the game. It is the mouthpiece FOR the game, and many are caught up in a blurry perception of this basic fact.

Showing the food you are about to eat. Ok. Still, it usually it looks gross. Sometimes it looks cool and gives me an idea for the kitchen, but I would rather watch the cooking channel.

On the other side of this, there are some cool things I’ve seen on social media. Pictures of families, cool vacation spots, sports headlines, music videos, links for cool new books, movie shorts, nifty guitars and other musical instruments…all these are interesting. I also like the idea that through social media, I can actually talk to people I wouldn’t ordinarily have access to. I connected with fellow horror writers Tamara Thorne and Alistair Cross through FB. (Tamara wrote the introduction to my second collection and gave the front cover blurb for the electronic version of my first novel, “Alice Walks”). I saw guitar goddess Sophie Lloyd first on FB, and after a brief (and very cool) communication w/her, I wrote an article for Metal Heads Forever. Through Twitter, I met DJ Metal Angel, and we created a music podcast. I also communicated with a number of bands as well as the awesome guy running the deathcore label Eclipse Records, Chris Poland.

I get it. Seeing “likes” releases dopamine in our brains. But altogether, what are we looking at? A public conversation creating a new awareness? Or is it just space-vomit? Personal graffiti advertising how low our standards have become…

 

 

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Review of Jordan Peele’s “Us.”

There is much to like about Jordan Peele’s 2018 horror film, “Us,” that which he directed and wrote. First off, many of the shots are meticulously filmed and delightfully choreographed. The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk (and beach) work quite well here, especially the latter, in the shot (for example) from overhead when the family walks on the sand casting shadows so lovely, they seem to come from a painting. The movie is filled with these “filmatic portraits,” ranging from zombie-doubles holding hands across the landscape, to rabbits in cages in strange underground hallways…illustrating for us that deliberate positioning of the camera and the texture of the pictures we see are more important aspects of a given film than its star-power or computer-generated effects. Typically, “horror movies” don’t offer us this kind of royal treatment, and trust me, it is refreshing.

As for a plot, and the movie as a whole, I am torn. The beginning and the end are spectacular. The middle sags. I actually got bored, but I think it is important to discuss why Peele loses the viewer between the bookends. His ending is such a twist, so glorious and majestic, that it explains the middle in a way that makes the spectator reevaluate everything. What we need to determine is whether or not the reevaluation is a “good witch” or a “bad witch.” In other words, when we go back over everything, is it an aesthetic and wonderfully pedagogical experience in itself, as offered with “The Sixth Sense?” Or does it simply make us say, “Wow. That was rich. Why did I have to go through the mud just to get to the good part?”

Again, I am torn. Without giving the plot away in a direct summary (gosh…that would be boring) it is more intriguing to explore here, one of those old (but always good) philosophical writing questions. If my ending justifies the middle, was the middle worth it if on its own, it fails?

I am more on the “no” side. With “The Sixth Sense,” I was captivated with the middle part as it was playing out in its own “real time.” The end was a cherry on top, and the general mechanics of this are simple. The story I thought it was, remained consistent with the parameters I was first given. Peele does not do this. He keeps changing “the base of the house” as we call it in Creative Writing 101. For those of you who never signed up for one of these, the universal “rule” or “truth” is that with fiction (or film) you can invent any world with any rules you like. However, you can not change the “rules” halfway-in to make your plot move forward. It cheats the reader or viewer, and there really aren’t any exceptions. The thing that often makes a piece move successfully, and retain viewer or reader interest, is sticking the protagonist in a metaphorical “box,” and seeing him or her work a way out of it…inevitably leading to another box until the climax. To continue this old metaphor, we confirm here that the box changes. The world containing it can’t.

Example. You can’t have a character terrorizing a family in a work of realistic crime drama, and then when our “clever antagonist” is about to be defeated, offer him magical powers. That is as “illegal” and as transparently bad as saying at the end, “It was all a dream.”

In “Us,” the viewer gets caught up in multiple bases of houses. First it is a one on one fear film. Then family on family, so far, ok, yet all too soon it turns into the idea that ALL the families suddenly have doubles, lessening the credibility and intensity of the initial players. If it happens to everyone, the family we have been sitting with is just one of the many. Plus, the other family we zone in on isn’t nearly as interesting, and so now we have a “zombie” template, where everything is just ugly target practice. Sure, there are still cool bloody kill shots and those jack in the box jumps and starts, but I started with intensive, psychological one on one, and broadened to dumb-ass mass monster stuff. In other words, the middle wasn’t scary.

That being said, the ending, again, is majestic. It does explain the multiples of doubles, making the gestalt absolutely brilliant. Problem? The center of this thing, before the unmasking, was horribly slow, regular, nondescript, generic, and almost comically poor. If you give us a cupcake with awesome frosting, yet a body that is stale, many of us won’t even get to the glorious filling in the center. And those of us that do, will still have crumbs on our face and a bad aftertaste in our mouths.

That being said…I still can’t get that awesome ending out of my head, so very clever, that I wish I could have been brilliant enough to come up with it. Altogether, yes, I am torn, possibly for good reason, maybe for what many would consider trivial, but I must say in the end, bravo on this one. Can’t wait for Peele’s next project.

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The Story Behind “The Tool Shed”

Re-blogging today about the inclusion of my short story, “The Tool Shed,” in Jason Henderson’s first anthology titled “Castle of Horror” (released on Amazon July 1st, 2019). I did talk about this more briefly on July 1st, but I thought I’d post this again if that’s cool.

First, about Jason…he’s an amazing artist who has branched out into many different parts of the playing field, authoring computer games, novels, and several comic book series. Most notably, Jason is the writer of the young adult novel series Alex Van Helsing, and I was pleased to meet him when I was a guest on his podcast, “Castle of Horror” a few years ago, first with the release of my second novel, “The Witch of the Wood,” (Hippocampus Press) and later, following the release of the electronic version of my first novel, “Alice Walks,” (Cemetery Dance Publications).

This past summer (late July) I was between projects, winding down the “Music Hell” series with Pure Grain Audio Magazine (I wrote semi-monthly short horror stories and horror novellas starring members of famous bands with new material being released: Trivium, Electric Wizard, Asking Alexandria, Anthrax, Slayer, Carpenter Brut, and finally, my favorite current band – Halestorm). I was still riding high from Lzzy Hale’s personal approval of the piece just put out, titled “Dream Fever,” through which I was a character meeting members of the band in scenarios taking on famous bad guys, (Jack the Ripper, Dracula, etc.), and I had decided I was going to write my fourth novel.

While charting out the first chapters in my head, I had another idea that had been swimming around for awhile about a haunted tool shed. In order to “clear space” for the upcoming project, I decided to hack out the story mentally and write the damned thing already. I wanted it to seem grainy and black and white, so I had it take place in the 1960’s. I wanted to be the opposite of romance-story settings in exotic places, so I went for a tool shed with a ghost buried in the floor under a thick, oak tanning table, and I invented an abusive father worth despising. I’d also been dabbling with the idea of murderers using acids to make bodies disappear (I’d done some work with this in the Slayer piece), and I got the thing written in about three weeks.

It was one of the few lucky breaks I’ve gotten in the writing biz, as I got an email from Jason literally a day after finishing the draft. He was putting together an anthology comprised of authors he’d interviewed on his podcast. I sent the tale to him immediately, and I don’t think he was expecting these things submitted that fast. Fortunately, he liked the piece, and so here it is in his first anthology!

 

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