CHIRAL MAD 2: CONTENTS, PART 2

CM2: TOC, PART 1

TABLE OF CONTENTS, PART 2

Rumors have been floating around about the possibility of Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails appearing in Chiral Mad 2. Yes, having Trent in the Table of Contents was in the works (and it was damn close), but, on behalf of the publishers of each of the compositions on the chirality discussion table, his legal representation respectfully passed on this opportunity. After much discussion with lawyerly folks, and in turn with his various publishers, he will unfortunately not be a part of Chiral Mad 2; he will instead be apart. Perhaps volume 3?

The last blog post teased at a story from the “scariest guy in America,” Jack Ketchum. The anthology is now slated to start with a new short story by Jack called “The Right Thing,” which is short, powerful, and the proper way to start this book.

Submission word count is reaching three million. Hundreds of rejection letters (350+). Seven more acceptances. And the maybe pile is growing. There are enough brilliant stories collected thus far to fill three anthologies (I’m toying with starting Pellucid Lunacy 2 and an unnamed horror/sci-fi project), and they are coming in from all over the world.

Since the last post covered the previous seven acceptances, as well as the Jack Ketchum teaser, below you will find information on the next seven acceptances (after a quick recap, and in no particular order):

1. “TIGHT PARTNERS” by GENE O’NEILL
2. THE CHUTE” by GARY McMAHON
3. WELCOME HOME, ALL YOU UNINVITED” by ERIK T. JOHNSON
4. INTERFERENCE” by ANDREW HOOK
5. THE WORD” by RAMSEY CAMPBELL
6. THE COUNSELOR” by MORT CASTLE
7. ORANGE IS FOR ANGUISH, BLUE FOR INSANITY” by DAVID MORRELL
8. THE RIGHT THING” by JACK KETCHUM

9. FLOWERS BLOOMING IN THE SEASON OF ATROPHY” by MAX BOOTH III

School shootings are touchy subjects, but, when a story of such controversy is formed by beautiful words and pieced together masterfully by someone who really knows what he’s doing, like this Max Booth III character, it somehow works. “Flowers Blooming in the Season of Atrophy,” as the title hints, is a multi-POV work of art told through passion/suffering.

Max is the author liar of speculative fiction, so states his blog, and responsible for a few novels in the works: Toxicity (Post Mortem Press, March 2014), The Mind is a Razorblade (Kraken Press, September 2014), and The Catch-Lie People. If you’re like me and can’t wait, I recommend starting with his short fiction collection, True Stories Told by a Liar.

10. “ANOTHER MAN’S BONES” by MASON IAN BUNDSCHUH

This guy taught me three chords on the ukulele at the latest KillerCon in Las Vegas, and together we jammed. He can play a rather impressive rendition of Hurt by Nine Inch Nails, which you can check out here (with John Palisano from Chiral Mad fame playing the wall in lieu of drums, and Mercedes Yardley playing a red Solo cup filled with chocolate chips, and various others making noises). Before all that, however, he sent me a marvelous story about a man and his many reflections.

Find more of his short fiction in anthologies such as Whispers from the Abyss (forthcoming, 2013), Historical Lovecraft, Strange Tales of Horror, and The Immortal Art of the Deal. And hopefully look for musical recordings soon.

11. “WHITECHAPEL” by P. GARDNER GOLDSMITH

This story is Gard at his finest. I’ve known this guy for a few years now, and every time I read one of his stories, or hear him reading from one of his stories, I’m mesmerized. He has an unforgettable voice (literary and vocal) that moves the reader through “Whitechapel” until the breathless last page. P. Gardner Goldsmith’s “Sigil” appeared in the first Chiral Mad. This guy’s awesome. What more can be said?

Bite,” his novella from Pendragon Press, is now available. As Brian Keene states, and I tend to agree, “Gard Goldsmith’s prose is like the edge of a knife. Definitely a writer to watch!” I will be watching this guy for the rest of my life.

12. “PLAYING WITH FIRE” by RICHARD THOMAS

Richard Thomas sent three submissions for Chiral Mad 2 consideration, and all were wonderful. I’d publish every one of them. But I passed on all three. Why? Because anthologies are pieced together like jigsaw puzzles. Some pieces fit; some don’t. This is a great example for writers that not every story is the right for an anthology, although quite possibly brilliant, such as with Richard’s work. His persistence at wanting to be in this anthology led him to send a fourth story, “Playing with Fire,” and he nailed it. Just the right piece. No hammer necessary. As stated on his blog, “expect wolves, fireflies, waking up in a field, a lost love, a hut on a hill—you know, the usual.”

Richard is the author of the neo-noir thriller Transubstantiate (Otherworld Publications, 2010). His short fiction can be found in Shivers VI alongside Stephen King and Peter Straub, as well as Warmed and BoundChiZine and many other places. Seek him out. Perhaps someday he’ll connect me with Chuck Palahniuk, whose schedule was too busy this year for Chiral Mad 2 (another near miss).

13. “A GUIDE TO ETIQUETTE AND COMPORTMENT FOR THE SISTERS OF HENLEY HOUSE” by EMILY CATANEO

I received an email from Dallas Mayr, who more-often goes by the name Jack Ketchum. He simply questioned, “Are you open to contributions from good new writers?” My answer was, “Always.” The first Chiral Mad had four previously unpublished writers, such as Meghan Arcuri, Patrick Lacey, Amanda Ottino, and Julie Stipes. “I strictly judge contributions by their quality and look forward to discovering new voices,” I emailed back. “Do you have someone in mind?” He referred me to Emily Cataneo, who recently took the Odyssey Writing Workshop where Dallas was guest-lecturing. He remembered her story, “A Guide to Etiquette and Comportment for the Sisters of Henley House” and instantly thought of Chiral Mad. Well, the rest is history. New voices. I love finding them and introducing them to the world.

Outside of writing remarkable fiction, Emily has freelanced for Bay Windows, the Cambridge Chronicles, the Needham Times, the South End News, and has served as the staff reporter for Gatehouse Media’s Watertown TAB. 

14. “EMPATHY” by JOHN SKIPP

What can I say about yer pal, Skipp? (I’ve linked the Wikipedia page to his name above until johnskipp.com goes live). John is a splatterpunk horror and fantasy author, editor, songwriter, screenwriter, film director and film producer. He does it all. This guy helped me out with Psychotropic Dragon a while back when I hit some speed-bumps, and we’ve kept in contact since. When Chiral Mad 2 rolled around, he sent me “Empathy,” which is right up the chirality alley.

You may know him from his collaboration on Book of the Dead (featuring Stephen King, Robert R. McCammon and Ramsey Campbell), or perhaps from his Bram Stoker Award winning Demons: Encounters with the Devil and His Minions, Fallen Angels, and the Possessed for Superior Achievement in an Anthology, from which “Empathy” originates. Or perhaps you remember him from the Nightmare on Elm Street sequel he doesn’t like to talk about.

15. “MNEMONICIDE” by JAMES CHAMBERS

James Chambers blew me away with his submission for Chiral Mad 2. “Mnemonicide” is a word I couldn’t pronounce until I realized the first M was silent. A mnemonic is a learning technique that aids information retention, while -icide or -cide is the act of killing. And there you go… This guy knows what I like.

James and I first met at the Borderlands Press Boot Camp many, many years ago, and I’ve silently stalked him ever since. He most recently received the Richard Laymon Award from the Horror Writers Association for his dedication in helping the horror community. He has some books out as well: Corpse Fauna, a series of four novellas: The Dead Bear Witness, Tears of Blood, The Dead in Their Masses, and The Word of the Dead.

Fifteen beautiful stories so far in this incredible Table of Contents. How many more? Probably eleven, twelve, maybe thirteen. Look for more announcements soon (big, exciting announcements) on the various social media outlets.

Once another chunk of acceptances rolls around, I’ll post a TABLE OF CONTENTS, PART 3. Who knows, you may see something soon for Pellucid Lunacy 2, and that unnamed horror/sci-fi anthology.

Until then…

CHIRAL MAD 2: CONTENTS, PART 1

CM2: TOC, PART 1

TABLE OF CONTENTS, PART 1

Chiral Mad 2 is shaping nicely, one incredible story at a time. Acceptances have been announced / teased through Facebook and Twitter up to this point, but it’s probably best to summarize the book as it stands thus far (basically, modified plagiarism of the previous social media posts). After hundreds of rejected stories (250+  / a lot of them worth publishing) and a bunch of amazing stories that have progressed to the maybe pile (20 or so / pending how this anthology progresses and how such stories fit the mold), here’s the current line-up:

1. “TIGHT PARTNERS” by GENE O’NEILL

This new short story, in my opinion, is one of his best (Gord Rollo seems to agree); so good, in fact, that it bypassed the “maybe pile” completely. This guy has always astonished me with his fiction. He writes from the heart.

Gene appeared in the first Chiral Mad with his short story “The White Quetzal”. His collection, Taste of Tenderloin, won the Bram Stoker Award in 2010, and he was previously nominated for The Confessions of St. Zach (long fiction) and “Balance” (short fiction). His new collection, Dance of the Blue Lady, is coming soon from Bad Moon Books.

2. “THE CHUTE” by GARY McMAHON

This story will make you squirm with every page until you go mad. Gary’s “Some Pictures in an Album” appeared in the first volume, a story that is now reprinted in The Best Horror of the Year, Volume 5 (edited by Ellen Datlow)

Gary is the award-winning author of several novels, collections, and numerous short stories. Some of my favorites: Pretty Little Dead ThingsDead Bad Things, and The Concrete GroveWhy this guy doesn’t surpass Stephen King in terms of sales is beyond me. This guy’s work is incredible.

3. “WELCOME HOME, ALL YOU UNINVITED” by ERIK T. JOHNSON

If you’ve read Johnson, you know his literary work to be rather unique. Written Backwards first discovered Erik with his story “The Inconsolable Key Company” in Pellucid Lunacy, and then “The Apologies” in the first Chiral Mad.

Look for his slightly insane (aka genius) short fiction in anthologies such as Box of Delights, and Song Stories: Volume 1, among other places. He’s just freakin’ good. Plain and simple. Well, not really plain and not really simple. Seek him out wherever you can.

4. “INTERFERENCE” by ANDREW HOOK

This is a perfect story about a man with a chiral existence: MATT (even the letters in his name have symmetry). Speaking of symmetry and perfection, Andrew’s story “The Perfection of Symmetry” appeared in the first Chiral Mad.

Andrew is a writer of slipstream fiction, the genre that bends the others, and is published in over a hundred places. I recommend starting with his short fiction collections: Residue, Slow Motion Wars (co-written with Allen Ashley), and NitrospectiveGraham Joyce says “Andrew Hook is a wonderfully original writer.” And I agree.

5. “THE WORD” by RAMSEY CAMPBELL

This novelette is about the release of a new book as influential as the Bible or Koran. This will be one of the few reprints in the anthology. “The Word” first appeared in Revelations (edited by Douglas E. Winter) in 1997. It’s time to resurface this fine story.

I first met Ramsey at the 2013 World Horror Convention is New Orleans not long ago, but have read him my entire life. He has won basically every award you can think of (in multiples), including the World Fantasy Award, British Fantasy Award, Bram Stoker Award, the WHC Grand Master Award, the HWA Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Living Legend Award from the International Horror Guild. Oxford Companion to English Literature calls Ramsey “Britain’s most respected living horror writer.”

6. “THE COUNSELOR” by MORT CASTLE

This story pulls at the heartstrings. Mort means a lot to me, and I am honored to publish a story with such emotional impact. Along with mentoring me early on in my writing endeavors, Mort also helped me obtain rights to Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 for my short story “Primal Tongue” (which I have recently nicknamed “The Fireman”).

I was privileged to sit next to Mort at the 2012 Bram Stoker Awards ® ceremony and watch him win for his excellent anthology, Shadow Show: All New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury (with Sam Weller), and then for his fiction collection, New Moon on the Water. He even let me hold the statue for a moment.

7. “ORANGE IS FOR ANGUISH, BLUE FOR INSANITY” by DAVID MORRELL

This is one of my all-time favorites. This novelette first appeared in the masterpiece Prime Evil (another anthology by Douglas E. Winter) back in 1988, and is a perfect fit for Chiral Mad 2. Along with Thomas F. Monteleone, F. Paul Wilson, Douglas E. Winter, Mort Castle, Elizabeth Massie and Gary A. Braunbeck, David Morrell was one of my early writing mentors.

David is probably best known for creating the character John Rambo with First Blood, an excellent novel. He is a co-founder of the International Thriller Writers Association, but has also written horror. From what I’ve discovered, his writing is flawless. He’s an Edgar, Anthony, and Macavity nominee, as well as a three-time recipient of the Bram Stoker Award. Whether or not you’re a Rambo fan, pick up The Brotherhood of the Rose, or Creepers / Scavenger, or his latest epic masterpiece, Murder as a Fine Art.

8. “?” by JACK KETCHUM

“Who’s the scariest guy in America? Probably Jack Ketchum.” Stephen King once blurbed that about Jack Ketchum. I’ve met the guy in person (Ketchum, not King), he even sent a reprint for the first Chiral Mad, but I do not yet believe the words of Mr. King.  Jack is a sweetheart; although, his fiction will scare the living crap out of you. If crap lives, he will scare it out of you. Enough said. What is he submitting to Chiral Mad 2, you wonder? I’m wondering the same thing. I’m not really sure, but I do know this: it will be an original short story by “The Scariest Guy in America” and I can’t wait.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading Jack, I highly recommend starting with Red to ease you into his world, and then The Girl Next Door to ruin your world completely, and then I’m Not Sam (with Lucky McKee) to show you his true mad genius. He’s won all sorts of awards. And he rightfully deserves them.

So, now you have a taste of Chiral Mad 2. How’s that for an early line-up? Look for more announcements soon on the various social media outlets. Once another chunk of acceptances rolls around (thanks to the cutting block floor), I’ll post a TABLE OF CONTENTS, PART 2.

Until then, I will keep reading, looking for the next story to accept.

CHIRAL MAD 2

CHIRAL MAD 2

VIRAL INVITATION

Written Backwards is accepting submissions for Chiral Mad 2, an anthology of psychological horror. While the first two anthologies by Written Backwards were open to submissions following initial invites, Chiral Mad 2 is by viral invitation only.

What does that mean? Well, if you can read this, you are invited. It’s that simple. You know someone or heard about this incredible opportunity by someone, or read a thread on Facebook, or twatted a tweet on Twitter, or found out somehow on one of the other social media outlets, or you possibly know a highly-respected acquaintance of yours truly, and here you are. Personal email invitations were sent to a select few prior to this page going live, like before, but you are now reading this, and this will soon go viral, so, well, you are invited to submit a story.

Who’s the editor? This anthology will be edited by Michael Bailey, creator of the Chiral Mad and Pellucid Lunacy anthologies, and author of Palindrome Hannah, Phoenix Rose, and the upcoming Psychotropic Dragon. He has a few collections as well (Scales and Petals and the upcoming Inkblots and Blood Spots), and has appeared in some other books and magazines. You may have heard of him, maybe not. What really matters is this next book.

Why should you submit? To date, Chiral Mad and Pellucid Lunacy have raised over $6,500 for Downs syndrome charities, with a majority of that donated to the Down Syndrome Information Alliance (DSIA). That’s why. Well, that’s the main reason. There are other reasons: both have received nothing but positive reviews, critical praise, and some awards. Pellucid Lunacy, during its run, won the International Book Award and the USA News “Best Book” Award. Chiral Mad, still alive and making headlines, has received the following accolades: 2013 International Book Award winner for fiction anthologies, London Book Festival winner for anthologies / collections, shortlisted for the Eric Hoffer Award Grand Prize, This is Horror “Anthology of the Year” runner-up, shortlisted for the Foreword Reviews Book of the Year, finalist for the Indie Book Awards, finalist for the USA News “Best Book” Awards for both anthologies and cover design, and an honorable mention at the 2012 Halloween Book Festival.

Here’s how the first book turned out:

CHIRAL MAD

Introduction by Thomas F. Monteleone

01.  White Pills – Ian Shoebridge
02.  Lost in a Field of Paper Flowers – Gord Rollo
03.  The Perfection of Symmetry – Andrew Hook
04.  Some Pictures in an Album – Gary McMahon
05.  Five Adjectives – Monica J. O’Rourke
06.  Enchanted Combustion – Amanda Ottino
07.  There are Embers – Chris Hertz
08.  Brighter Her Aura Grows – David Hearn
09.  Underwater – Barry Jay Kaplan
10.  Experiments in an Isolation Tank – Eric J. Guignard
11.  Need – Gary A. Braunbeck
12.  Not the Child – Julie Stipes
13.  The White Quetzal – Gene O’Neill
14.  Mirror Moments – Christian A. Larsen
15.  Alderway – Patrick O’Neill
16.  Sigil – P. Gardner Goldsmith
17.  The Persistence of Vision – Jon Michael Kelley
18.  The Bad Season – A.A. Garrison
19.  Storm of Lightning – Aaron J. French
20.  Inevitable – Meghan Arcuri
21.  Send Your End – Patrick Lacey
22.  Cubicle Farm – R.B. Payne
23.  A Flawed Fantasy – Jeff Strand
24.  The Apologies – Erik T. Johnson
25.  The Shoe Tree – Pat R. Steiner
26.  Gaia Ungaia – John Palisano
27.  Amid the Walking Wounded – Jack Ketchum
28.  Underwater Ferris Wheel – Michael Bailey

Interested? Good.

What’s acceptable? Fiction that disturbs the nonlinear fabric(s) of reality. Mindbenders in the range of 1,000 to 5,000 words that could not only be classified as horror, but as psychological horror with chirality as its backbone (please query for anything longer than 5K, but if your story pushes over 5K a bit, no worries). This anthology suits stories that push the limits of the human condition. The keyword being ‘human.’ Strong character development is a must, and all stories must have some element of chirality, whether it is in character reflection, physical and/or mental symmetry, structure, or any other way you can manage.

What’s the payment? For the first time ever, Written Backwards is paying pro rates. $0.05 US per word, up to 5,000 words, or $250 US max. If your story is a reprint and you were not personally invited to submit a reprint, please query first, but note that payment will be at $0.025 US per word.

What happened to charity? The previous two anthologies were successful enough to warrant pro payment for Chiral Mad 2. Writers should get paid for writing. As for the charity, please note that this is a non-profit anthology. All profit from this anthology, after publication cost and paying writers for their stories, will go directly to Downs syndrome charities, just like the previous two anthologies. All profit will be donated.

Here’s what is needed. Send your work via e-mail as an attached .docx, .doc or .rtf. How you format the story is not an issue. You are a professional. What’s really important is story. Send one to cm2@nettirw.com with a brief introductory message if you feel one is necessary. If you have references, or referrals, use them. Nothing too wordy. Use “Chiral Mad – Submission Title” as your subject line and don’t forget the attachment. We’ve all done it…

And in case you thought all of that was too much to read and scrolled to the end to get to the good stuff (or maybe you simply need a recap), here you go:

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES

Deadline: November-ish, 2013, or until filled.

Release: Scheduled for a winter 2013 publication (or early spring 2014, depending on how this thing takes off). If there’s any indication from the first Chiral Mad, the book will fill up fast and publication will begin sooner than originally anticipated.

Format: Trade paperback.

Word count: 1,000 – 5,000 words (longer work may be considered, but please query first).

Payment: $0.05 US per word, up to 5,000 words (upon acceptance) and one contributor copy (upon publication). All profit from this anthology will be donated to support Downs syndrome by Written Backwards. Copies will be available for cost as long as you donate profit received to a charity organization of your choice.

Reprints: $0.025 US per word, by invitation only, or if queried first and accepted.

Rights: one-time anthology rights for publication in the English language within the United States of America, with no publication elsewhere for 12 months, upon which time rights revert back to the author.

More information on chirality can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chiral, or feel free to pick up a copy of Chiral Mad.

POSITIVE +

The world is negative. Admit it. I’ve slowly learned this through life, which is why I radiate positivity. I don’t try to be positive, it just happens. I am a positively charged being. If you’re close, you can feel it flowing off me like some kind of magnetic field, and if you are feeling negative, my superpower will draw you in and wrap around you like a blanket and keep you warm. I will make the hairs on arms stand on end. I will make you smile. And if you don’t, there’s something seriously wrong with you.

I guess that’s why I originally chose to write psychological horror. My work typically highlights beautiful things hidden in the darkest of places. If you’ve read Palindrome Hannah or Phoenix Rose, or any of my short fiction or poetry in Scales and Petals, you know what I’m talking about. Since I first started writing horror (sometime in 1999), and then publishing (2001), my work progressively darkened.

Palindrome Hannah, the debut novel, questioned coincidence and dealt with subjects such as suicide, multiple personalities / possession, domestic violence, child abuse, poverty, mental instability, bullying, and other horrible things. Dark, horrid puzzle pieces that hopefully formed something more beautiful.

Phoenix Rose, the follow-up novel, questioned reality and dealt with sad subjects like family loss, childhood trauma, mental disorders, and the unforgiving balance of life and death, while also focusing on spirituality, hope, sacrifice, and rising from one’s ashes.

While writing those two novels, I published Scales and Petals, a collection of short stories and poems. While a few of the works are on the lighter side of the dark, the rest dive into some rather horrid places. And it only gets darker from there.

Psychotropic Dragon, what I’m currently calling my last horror novel, is ultimately a love story. It is also the darkest, most difficult thing I have ever written. It has taken me over ten years (12?) to get this thing on paper. I kept putting the project on hold because I just didn’t want to finish the damn thing. I’d revisit the novel over the years, writing in bursts of 5,000 to 10,000 word chunks, and then the manuscript would sit for a while. Over a year, at one point. Finally, I gave myself a goal and cranked out the last 15,000 words over the course of a few weeks. Such an exhaustive process. And now it sits again, unfinished, waiting to be edited and rewritten, and edited some more. A few pre-readers are taking a shot at it, but there’s still work to be done. What’s it about? Psychotropic drugs, hallucinations, sex (the good and the absolute worst), child abuse, sexual abuse, dissociative identity disorders, the great eclose of the human condition, and other “real” things. Sick stuff. Some sick, beautiful stuff. It’s a love story, right? Right…

Anyway, there’s even more dark stuff in the works with Inkblots and Blood Spots, what I’m calling my last horror collection. This book contains the short stories and poems written between Phoenix Rose and Psychotropic Dragon. Dark, dark stuff. Dark, but transitional. After closing both of these future books, however, you will realize why these may be my last two “horror” projects. I hope you understand. Truth be told, only a tenth of what I read would be considered horror, and my writing style appears to be going down that path as well.

What about the anthologies?

DSIAPellucid Lunacy was my first editing project, a collection of psychological horror that raised a little over $2,000 for Breast Cancer and Down Syndrome research (donations split down the center), and was a recipient of the International Book Awards and winner of the USA Book News “Best Book” Awards.

The second anthology, Chiral Mad, also psychological horror, fared much better in terms of funds raised for charity. The Chiral Mad tally currently stands at $4,260, with all proceeds going to the Down Syndrome Information Alliance. That is positively amazing. Recently, the DSIA sent a thank you letter for their first check of $3,000. To date, Chiral Mad has received rave reviews and is the recipient of the following:

– Shortlisted for the Grand Prize of an unmentionable award, to be announced May 6th, 2013!
– London Book Festival winner for Anthologies/Collections
– This is Horror Awards, Anthology of the Year runner-up
– USA Book News “Best Book” Awards (Fiction: Anthologies), Finalist
– USA Book News “Best Book” Awards (Best Cover Design: Fiction), Finalist
– Halloween Book Fest Awards, Honorable Mention
– A few more surprises are in store soon…

While I may be cutting back on my own horror fiction (perhaps cutting it out completely), I will continue to edit and publish charity anthologies. That is a certainty. Will they all be psychological horror? Perhaps not, but perhaps yes. Perhaps most certainly yes. If I’m invited to write for a specific horror-themed anthology, I will consider it, but I don’t see myself writing horror anytime soon. What I write will probably have dark elements, but will not be straight up horror. My latest 5 or 6 published stories are borderline horror anyway, so I’ve already started down a more positive path with my writing. “Primal Tongue,” “Bootstrap” and “Hiatus” are examples of this.

Before I forget, I need to mention that Surviving the End (in which my story “Hiatus” appears), edited by Craig Bezant, recently won the Australian Shadow Award for edited publication. This is sort of the equivalent of the Bram Stoker Awards for Australia. Awesome news. “Birthday Suit,” a short story by Martin Livings, also in Surviving the End, won for short fiction.

Anyway, what shall I write? Am I retiring from writing horror altogether? I’m not sure. I’m leaning toward young adult fiction, or even a younger audience. Maybe both. Maybe more than both. Kids are reading, but I look on the shelves under “Young Adult” and I see crap. Vampires, Sex, Werewolves, Sex, Zombies, Sex… it’s too much. Kids need to read something more realistic, something positive. If I go down this route, there will be dark elements in my fiction, but my work will be overall positive, because that’s what the world needs.

Positivity rocks.

THE LONELIEST PYLON

pylonA strange title for a blog, I know, but it sums up my stay in Maryland last weekend during the latest Borderlands Press Writers Boot Camp. Why the pylon? I woke up Friday morning in my hotel room after a long day of traveling, looked out the window, and noticed a lonely orange traffic pylon keeled over in the middle of an empty field blanketed in snow. My first thought: I’ve never written a story from the point of view of an orange traffic pylon. No joke. That was my first thought of the morning. Me and my roommate, Richard, then began brainstorming ‘what if’ story ideas. What if the pylon thought it was one of a kind? What if the pylon somehow made it to an Interstate repaving project, only to be placed alongside thousands of other identical pylons? Would it be happy? Sad? What if the pylon was sex-deprived? What would it feel if sandwiched between other pylons? What if the pylon didn’t have a hole? We created about 30 scenarios for this poor, lonely pylon stranded in the snow, which we then coined “The Loneliest Pylon.” That’s basically the mindset of sleep-deprived speculative fiction writers. We get weird. And those are some of the more tame scenarios…

Anyway, the boot camp. For the last few months, me and sixteen other writerly types edited and critiqued the short stories and novel chunks submitted. This was a lot of work, but an extremely healthy habit for fiction writers. Every writer should do this regularly. I tend to do it often (my fifth boot camp?) In the past, I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside Thomas F. Monteleone, F. Paul Wilson, Douglas E. Winter, John R. Douglas, Mort Castle, Elizabeth Massie, Gary A. Braunbeck, and David Morrell. This year, Tom, Paul and Doug took the lead, with Brian Keene visiting Saturday night to give us the dirty on writing full-time.

Let me state something incredibly important right now, before I recap the camp (and this has nothing to do with Brian’s incredible speech, if you’re wondering)… I don’t plan to write full-time. Ever? Probably not. Writing full-time, I’m guessing I could crank out a few books a year, maybe edit an anthology or two, publish a bunch of short fiction, but full-time? No. Why? I’m not that crazy. A little crazy, but not that crazy. But, I will never stop writing, or editing, or publishing, and that’s the point. I’ve got this writer sickness in me. It’s terminal. Writing is a sickness, a disease. I had to state that because I get asked this question often. In fact, I was asked this question today at work. “Why don’t you just write full-time?” Well, now you have your answer.

After dissecting these submissions to death at home, we then met in Maryland to dissect them even further, as a group. Tom focused on plot, Paul on dialogue/voice, and Doug on character/point-of-view. After much instruction Friday night (lasting until 2-ish in the morning), as well as receiving a writing assignment to turn in Sunday morning (I’ll get to that later), we met Saturday morning bright and early in smaller groups for round-robin critiques. My room was used for Tom’s plot discussions, which means I work-shopped with him first and was able to sleep in for an extra 5 minutes (sleep-deprivation is common at these things, so 5 minutes of extra rest is a blessing). Each story received 20-30 minutes of intense discussion, with each grunt and lastly the instructor taking a turn. Then we room-hopped. I spent time with Paul next, and after lunch, took a hefty beating by Doug (as expected). I think we finished the round-robin critiques sometime around 5, which brings me back to the assignment.

bootcamp1We were each handed a random sheet of paper with a news headline. By Sunday morning, we had to produce roughly 750-1,500 words about that headline. My headline read: MAN HIRES HIT-MAN TO KILL HIMSELF, CALLS IT OFF… TOO LATE? or something similar. You get the idea. Leading up to that point, I was hoping to write my assignment from an orange traffic pylon’s point of view… Well, I had to change gears a bit. A few of my returning boot camp writerly friends, Richard Payne, Tracie Orsi, and my HWA mentoree, Meghan Arcuri (pictured, left to right), sacrificed sitting down for a nice dinner to instead participate in a foursome writer orgy. It’s not what you think… okay, maybe it’s what you think. The four of us returned to one of the rooms and sat quietly, writing our stories. We tossed around ideas and random chaotic thoughts (many laughs), but, for the most part, we remained silent and worked on our stories. We each cranked out about 200-300 words. Brian Keene was up next, so we snagged some food and brought it with us.

I need to interrupt myself here to tell a quick story. I found out late Thursday night (midnight maybe), that I barely missed seeing a good friend of mine, Susan Scofield. If you haven’t seen her artwork, you are missing out. Quality stuff. Anyway, I knew she’s neighbors and good friends with Brian Keene, somewhere in Pennsylvania, but my knowledge of eastern U.S. geography sucks, so I didn’t realize how close she was to the hotel in which we were staying. Before falling asleep for the night, facebook told me she had just returned home from Maryland. She was literally (I don’t use that word often) down the street with some writerly friends I knew as well. I flew over 3,000 miles, and we missed each other by minutes, by miles! “Have Brian slap me for you when he gets here,” I told her, but that wasn’t enough.

So, Saturday rolls around and I’m in a room chatting with some of the instructors and a few newbie writers as we’re wrapping up when Brian barges in. “I have to tell you this amazing story!” he says, and everyone turns around. “I was just standing around and this BEAUTIFUL blonde woman comes up to me, and I’m thinkin’ alright… and she says to me, ‘Hey! Are you Brian Keene?’ I tell her, ‘Well, yeah, I’m Brian Keene,’ thinking this is kinda cool and all, and then she says, ‘You’re going to the Borderlands boot camp thing, right?’ I tell her yeah, wondering where this is going because I’m famous and all, and she says, ‘Do you know Michael Bailey? Can you give this to him?'” He then gets all pissy at this point like I stole his girl and acted out this big scene and it was rather awesome, and he hands me this note…

susan_note

Message received, Susan, but I love you anyway.

Where was I?

“On Writing Full-Time (circa 2013)” followed later that night. Click the link if you want to read Brian’s speech. It’s incredibly informative and provides much perspective on writing full-time. I’ve met Brian a few times in the past, and look up to him (he even had some nice things to say about me). Please, read the attached speech, and read his work. He stayed around late to answer hundreds of questions and to discuss writing in general with the instructors and boot camp grunts. I can’t quite remember the time, but 12:30-ish ticked by when we headed back upstairs to finish our assignments. The foursome writer orgy continued for the next few hours. It’s quite liberating, really. Richard and Tracie sat at the table while Meghan and I kicked back on the couch. I’ve never written fiction while seated next to someone before. It felt strange at first, but I’m incredibly comfortable and open around these amazing people. Combined, we probably produced close to 5,000 words (Tracie providing the most pages). Laughs interrupted keystrokes every so often, but the four of us cranked out quality fiction. I will need to do this more often. I left the room with a writer high, and stayed awake another hour to read.

Coffee was definitely our friend during the stay. Sunday morning, each of us staggered out of bed, somehow dressed and made ourselves presentable, hashed out some last-minute edits, printed, and then submitted our work. To be read aloud…

Norman Prentiss (another friend and an amazing writer), read some of the stories, along with Doug and Paul taking turns. Tom read only one story… mine, and he read it well. In fact, if you click the link below, a 3-page story called “Fine Print,” you can listen to Tom reading the madness I produced during my sleep-deprived stay in Maryland. And yes, the story involves an orange traffic pylon and garnered some laughs.

“Small Print” – Read by Thomas F. Monteleone.

That’s the boot camp in a nutshell. There’s much more to it than that, but it’s difficult to express what goes on at the boot camp in so many words. The most difficult part is saying goodbye. Luckily, most of us stay in contact. I’ve been to five of these things now, and try to stay in contact with fellow grunts over the years. I’ve made some great friends along the way. And I always leave feeling inspired to write, and to edit, and to re-write, and to re-edit. It is definitely a sickness, or a disease, but I’m glad to share this disease with so many fine individuals.

I leave you with one final photograph from the boot camp, with Tom and Doug on the left, Paul on the right, and some of the grunts sandwiched in between.

bootcamp2

2012 BRAM STOKER AWARDS® PRELIMINARY BALLOT

Zippered FleshThe Horror Writers Association recently announced the Preliminary Ballot for the 2012 Bram Stoker Awards®, and I am proud to announce my short story “Bootstrap / The Binds of Lasolastica” made the list. “Bootstrap” was published in Zippered Flesh: Tales of Body Enhancements Gone Bad! by Smart Rhino Publications. This is an excellent anthology. I recommend snagging a copy.

Horror Writers Association members may request a PDF or print copy for consideration by emailing written@nettirw.com.

Congratulations to everyone who made the preliminaries this year! I see many familiar names. Some I have published, some have published me, and some have shared the table of contents with yours truly in various anthologies or magazines over the years.

SHORT FICTION

“Bootstrap / The Binds of Lasolastica” – Michael Bailey
“Surrounded by the Mutant Rain Forest” – Bruce Boston
“The Journal of USS Indianapolis Survivor: Stefanos “Stevie” Georgiou – Kevin James Breaux
“A Catechism for Aspiring Amnesiacs” – Nicole Cushing
“The Cancer Catechism” – Jay Lake
“Bury My Heart at Marvin Gardens” – Joe McKinney
“Righteous” – Weston Ochse
“Available Light” – John Palisano
“Magdala Amygdala” – Lucy Snyder

It’s an honor to be listed alongside such talented individuals. I believe at least three of these writers are from California!

Find the complete list of preliminaries here:

2012 PRELIMINARY BRAM STOKER AWARDS® BALLOT

Bram Stoker AwardMany from the Chiral Mad lineup are on the list this year, including John Palisano for his short story “Available Light,” Jeff Strand for his young adult novel A Bad Day for Voodoo (Sourcebooks), Gene O’Neill for his long fiction “The Blue Heron” (Dark Regions Press), Jack Ketchum for his long fiction “I’m Not Sam” (Sinister Grin Press), and Eric J. Guignard for his anthology Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations (Dark Moon Books).

Good luck everyone!

CINEMA 13 – BEST OF 2012

People often ask one of four questions when they discover I write horror: 1) Where do you get your ideas? (my head never shuts up), 2) Would you ever want to write full time? (the answer is no), 3) What kind of books do you read (the ‘you’ inflected, as if I hold some sort of stereotype, in which case my answer is always everything, and in which case I typically add something clever like, “What do you people like to read?”), and 4) What kind of movies do you watch? (also with the implied ‘you’re a crazy person, right?’) So, the answer to question number 4 can perhaps be covered by listing / reviewing my top 13 movies of 2012. I’m a crazy person, I write horror, and this blog is my answer.

I have seen a lot of movies this year (none of them were horror, except for one). I like movies. I enjoy going to the theatre, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends, sometimes my shoes making that sticky thwok-thwok-thwok sound with the floor as I find my seat. I try not to smell the burnt popcorn, and do my best to ignore those around me who should have stayed home. Movies are necessary escapes from reality. Anyway…

Below are my top 13 movies of 2012, seen in theatres (DVD/Blu-ray don’t count), ranked in an order that will make you shake your head one way or the other. The rankings are based on the overall movie-going experience: Was I immersed or pulled into the movie in a way that made me forget how shitty our world has become? Did the story and its characters move me? Did I care? (I write horror, so what should I care?) Was the writing (yes, movies are written) spectacular, as well as the acting, the dialogue, the pacing, the tension, the art, the score, the script, the cinematography, the direction? Was it fun? Was I disappointed to see it end? Did I stay through the credits contemplating?

Whether or not you agree with my list, I’ll try to justify each of my choices. And I will start at the top (because everyone else does it the other way around and I do things backwards):

1. Cloud Atlas

1_cloud_atlasWhat can I say? With a nonlinear mesh of storylines (sound familiar?) all told at once, spanning centuries upon centuries, Cloud Atlas is the top movie for 2012. Why? A slave ship on the Pacific Ocean (1850), love letters shared between a composer and his partner in Belgium (1931), a murder mystery in California (1975), a vanity publisher avoiding his gangster client in Britain (present), a dystopian future set in Korea (22XX?) involving “fabricants” and a post-apocalyptic / nearly-primitive society (unspecified date hundreds of years after the fall of the previously mentioned dystopian future). Yes, all of that. All at once. Souls rippling and re-emerging through time to inspire a revolution in a distant future. Consequence weaving through the past, present and future. This movie is an unsteady mix of history, romance, comedy, sci-fi, fantasy and horror. Six storylines to follow, all at once, thrown at your face and then slowly pieced together through some amazing filmography. This is my kind of movie! And to top it off, each actor / actress plays anywhere between 3 and 13 roles. Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Ian McKellen, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon, Jim Broadbent… the list goes on and on. I must admit, I went into this movie thinking it would be a disaster (sounds like it from this horrible summary) because Cloud Atlas is one of my favorite novels by David Mitchell (Ghostwritten, Number9dream, Black Swan Green). This is the guy that got me into writing, so if you think my novels are convoluted, you can thank David Mitchell. Unlike the movie, where all six storylines simultaneously occur on screen (not really simultaneously, but snippet after snippet of one story to the next, rinse and repeat), the novel gives us the first half of each story in turn, with one in the middle, followed by the second half of each, in turn. The book is complex enough to warrant six separate movies, yet Andy and Lana Wachowski (The Matrix) somehow pull it off in this nearly 3-hour epic masterpiece. I think that is the main reason why Cloud Atlas ranks #1 on my list. The movie did not hinder my appreciation for the novel, but expanded upon it. I watched this movie three times in theatres. Cloud Atlas is an incredible adaptation, probably one of the best original takes on an adapted screenplay I’ve ever seen. I only wish the movie were longer, or never ended. And, believe it or not, this is an indie film, and will probably get overlooked, especially for award nominations.

2. Django Unchained

2_django_unchainedQuentin Tarantino is the king of dialogue. Yes, he’s a cinematography copycat, but he’s the best at it, and he has a good taste in music and camera angles and the overuse of fake blood. If I could describe Django Unchained, I would probably call it a spaghetti western mix of Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, both Kill Bill volumes, Inglourious Basterds, and nearly every other movie he’s made. Django is ultra-violent and ultra-funny. And serious, believe it or not. Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds, Water for Elephants) is one of my new favorite actors (not new to acting, but somewhat new to acting in the US). He plays a witty German cowboy bounty hunter disguised as a dentist (you read that right), alongside Jamie Foxx, a freed slave in search of his wife, a slave owned by Leonardo DiCaprio. Leo plays a villain remarkably well, as does Samuel L. Jackson, a cutthroat slave trader (you read that right as well). The most fun I’ve had at the movies in a long time. And I may see it again. I’m not sure if this is one of Tarantino’s best films, but it’s one of the best films this year, which says a lot for his work. The supporting actors in this film should win some awards this year.

3. Argo

3_argoHate what you will about Ben Affleck, but the man can direct. And act. And allegedly write, or at least “co-write.” He fell off my radar after co-writing and acting in the Oscar-worthy Good Will Hunting (one of Robin Williams’ best performances) alongside Matt Damon (How you like them Apples?), but reappeared on my radar when he directed his younger brother in Gone Baby Gone (co-wrote the screenplay), and then directed and starred in The Town (co-wrote as well), an adaptation of the novel Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan. This gave me high hopes for Argo, a movie about a joint CIA-Canadian operation to extract six American hostages out of a revolutionary Iran in 1980. Like the previous two films, I was pulled into this movie from the opening scene and was never let go until the credits rolled. And the tension is nail-biting. Although you already know how the movie ends before it ends, it still holds you on the edge of your seat with your heart palpitating. The characters played by John Goodman, Alan Arkin and Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) are still memorable. This movie deserves some best Screenplay nominations.

4. Prometheus

4_prometheusI don’t give a crap what you think about Prometheus. I loved it. And the original Alien, as well as the sequel, Aliens, are two of my favorite movies of all time. Someone once asked what my favorite horror movie was, and I blurted out Alien without thinking. There’s something about the setup of that movie that intrigues me. The fear of what you don’t see. I constantly hear complaints about Prometheus from both Alien and non-Alien lovers, mostly about a lack of aliens: “I was expecting to see more alien creatures, you know, like those in Alien and Aliens” or “This isn’t a direct prequel to Alien!” If you want to see a bunch of those little cat-like buggers, then watch the CGI-heavy / horrible Alien vs. Predator (AVP) movies and be done with it. Ridley Scott is a brilliant writer and director, and he brings his A-game (the A stands for ‘Alien’ in this case) to Prometheus, a story about the origin of mankind. And no, this is not a direct prequel to Alien. It could be considered a prequel of prequels, as we will most likely see a few more Prometheus-like movies in the future to fill that giant gap. My only gripe is that the Blu-ray version of the movie is disappointing and that all Charlize Theron had to do was run to the side… just sayin’. They changed the ending from the one I saw in theatres. The original ending is now considered a deleted / altered scene, which just pisses me off. Noomi Rapace (the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) is amazing as the woman in distress and has an unforgettable scene in an automated surgeon tube, and Michael Fassbender (Magneto from X-Men: First Class) is stellar as an android named David, and Charlize Theron (Monster) is a downright evil bitch in this movie. Guy Pearce, however, was dreadful in his role as the old man in bad makeup. Overall, I dug it. A lot.

5. Looper

09_looperThis movie is probably one of the surprises to appear on the list of top movies of the year, probably because not a lot of people saw it in the theatres (similar to Cloud Atlas). Time travel movies rarely work. There’s always some kind of logic that ruins it for me. In Looper, set in the 2040s, time travel is invented 30 years in the future, but illegal, and only used on the black market by the mob because murder is nearly impossible in the 2070s. Whenever they need someone ‘gone,’ they send their victims 30 years into the past, where a hired gun, such as Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception, Brick, 50/50), takes them out. The Looper waits near an empty white sheet, a hooded body materializes, the Looper blows that person away (without hesitation) with a weapon called a Blunderbuss. The body is strapped with silver bars as a form of payment. There is also a villain known as ‘The Rainmaker’ who has been closing the loop on his hired guns by sending Loopers (from the future) to the past, tricking the Loopers into committing a 30-years-in-the-future suicide. Gold bars are strapped to these bodies instead of silver. A retirement fund to spend over the next 30 years before they no longer exist. When the main character (JG-L) is confronted with his older self (Bruce Willis), he hesitates, and chaos ensues from that point onward. His older self has come back to kill three little boys (one he knows will become ‘The Rainmaker’). This movie explores string theory, and explores it well. I sat long after the movie contemplating, and was reminded of Inception, one of my favorite movies from the year before. I can’t wait to see this one again.

6. Life of Pi

05_life_of_piAh, Life of Pi, another of my favorite novels. A boy on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean with a tiger, a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan, and a rat. What could go wrong? I remember finishing this book from Yann Martel 10 years ago, closing it, and saying, “This should be required reading in schools.” Well, I found out a month ago it was recently added to the curriculum at a few schools in California. Rightly so. The book is incredible. The movie industry will screw this one up. That was my thought going in to the movie. And then I remembered it was directed / produced by Ang Lee, so it was either going to be excellent, or it was going to suck. And then I remembered the cast was not composed of modern heartthrob-teeny-bopper-wannabees, but actors I had never heard of, so maybe Mr. Lee could pull it off. And then I saw the movie with a good friend of mine. Wow. Every frame of every shot is absolutely beautiful. Stunning, even. Life of Pi stayed true to the novel, for the most part, enough for me to enjoy the movie and place it in the number 6 spot. While I wish the movie focused more attention to symbolism and the orangutan’s importance, it was a great adaptation from book to film. Richard Parker (the tiger) deserves an Oscar for his performance.

7. Moonrise Kingdom

6_moonrise_kingdomYou either love Wes Anderson, or you hate him. Understand him, or hate him. That seems to be the consensus with his movies (Rushmore, Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited, Fantastic Mr. Fox). He writes, directs, and produces his films, and for whatever reason, I enjoy every one of them. Moonrise Kingdom is a love story between two twelve-year-olds who make a pact to run away together into the wilderness: Sam is running away from Camp Ivanhoe, while Suzy is running away from her parents. The film features offbeat performances by Scout Master Edward Norton, the boy’s parents, played by Bill Murray and Francis McDormand (Fargo) and small town authority, Bruce Willis. Like I said before, you either love Wes Anderson movies, or you don’t. And this movie screams Wes Anderson. The film is distributed by Focus Features. To date, I haven’t found a Focus Features… feature, that I haven’t absolutely loved.

8. Lincoln

11_lincolnDaniel Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood, Gangs of New York, The Last of the Mohicans) is probably the finest actor working today. With each of his movies, he transforms into his characters, and Lincoln is no different. He is not Daniel Day-Lewis playing Lincoln, he is Lincoln. And he doesn’t even have to fight off vampires in this one! This movie ranks up there with Steven Speilberg’s best history films: Schindler’s List, Munich, Saving Private Ryan, and Amistad. I went into the movie expecting one Civil War battle after another, something like a Civil War version of Saving Private Ryan. The typical “two sides clashing together in epic fight scenes” that have become expected in nearly all movies today. But Lincoln is different. The war takes place off screen. Lincoln focuses on the man, his family, and the politics behind his course of actions to do three important things for this country (all at once): ending the civil war, reuniting the nation, and abolishing slavery. Most of those in the 25-and-under range watching the movie were restless throughout, wanting explosions and action, and a few even left the theatre bored. But those are the same people that think Schindler’s List is boring. Lincoln, both as a movie and as a character, perfectly portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis, is incredibly engaging. Daniel Day-Lewis will win the Oscar for this movie. No doubt. There are also some other amazing performances: Sally Field as Mary Lincoln, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as their son, Robert, and Tommy Lee Jones pulling off one of his best acting roles to date as Thaddeus Stevens (stealing the show every time he appeared on screen). Lincoln is a film that should be shone in schools.

9. Les Miserables

10_les_misI have to tell you something about Les Mis. If the movie rating was based solely on Anne Hathaway’s performance of “I Dreamed a Dream,” this movie would be number 1. I would pay full admission price to watch her sing that song, over and over again. Anne is the perfect Fantine, which unfortunately means she’s not in the movie very long, but watching her sing “I Dreamed a Dream” will make the tears flow, make you hold your breath, make you do all sorts of emotional things. She is simply amazing. Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean is equally impressive; his singing is incredible and makes you wonder why he ever left Broadway to focus on film. He should be recording music. There are some other standout musical performances by Éponine (Samantha Barks… never heard of her before), and the little boy. Helen Bonham Carter (Sweeney Todd, The King’s Speech, Alice and Wonderland) and Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat, Hugo, he’s even in Django) are quite comical as Madame and Monsieur Thénardier (the masters of the house). Russel Crowe as Inspector Javert was kind of abysmal (his singing, anyway), and Amanda Seyfried as Cosette had some good soprano, and some bad soprano. Overall, this is an amazing take on Les Miserables.

10. The Avengers

7_the_avengersThis is a Joss Whedon geek-fest, plain and simple. Whether or not you like super hero movies, The Avengers kicked some serious blockbuster ass. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hulk #3 (Mark Ruffalo, although Edward Norton would have rocked this character like before), Thor (sorry, Chris Hemsworth, but out of all of the Marvel movies, yours downright sucked; the modern-day stuff was entertaining, but your home world is on the lame side), and don’t forget Nick Fury (Samuel F. Jackson (the F. was a MF’ing joke, MF!), and Jeremy Renner (I mean Hawkeye)… and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and on and on and on. The plot’s lame, but there’s so much going on in this movie in terms of eye candy that who really cares if the plot’s any good? It’s The Avengers. Together. All at once. As long as a movie can pull you out of reality for a few hours, that’s all that really matters.

11. The Hobbit, part whatever

08_hobbitNow you hate me. Why isn’t this number 1? Why is it below The Avengers and all of those other movies? Well, if all three movies were out at once, and they were combined cumulatively to a 4-5 hour version of The Hobbit (instead of nearly 8-9 hours by the time this saga is over), it would probably be much higher in the rankings, but not number 1. The Hobbit, part whatever, reminded me of the first Lord of the Rings movie, The Fellowship of the Ring. It was slow, but entertaining, and the movie pulled me into J.R.R. Tolkien’s world easily enough… familiar territory now that we’ve lived through 10 hours of the Lord of the Rings (or 14 hours of extended cuts). The troll scene at the campfire was fun to see on screen (although their voices were a little high-pitched like Cosette from Les Mis), and Gollum once again made the movie, but I felt the film was more kid friendly (which, I know, it should be), and spent too much time with the line of dwarfs (dwarves or dwarfs? I can’t remember… I think Tolkien used dwarfs) marching along in the typical Peter Jackson zoomed-out landscape shot followed by zoomed-out landscape shot with awesome music in the background, or the more typical ‘everyone running at the same time through an impossible number of easily-defeatable foes that swarm like ants but part like the red sea when the good guys coming running with daggers and hammers and whatnot with Gandalf saving their hides every time the group requires him as their deux ex machina’ kind of scenes. Ian McKellen plays Gandalf well, and Andy Serkis hides behind the CGI to help create the best Gollum yet, but the movie was just… okay. The Hobit, part whatever, only makes my top 13 because I’m a Tolkien fan.

12. Skyfall

13_skyfallSecond from last is Skyfall, which has received some stellar movie reviews from critics. I have no idea why. Believe it or not, The Dark Knight Rises ruined this movie for me. They have the same plot elements. As I was watching Bond, I was thinking, This is Bruce Wayne a few movies ago. They could have called the movie James Bond Rises. But, it’s a good movie. I like the Daniel Craig version of Bond much better than Brosnan, Connery, or Moore, which is probably some sort of 007 blasphemy to Bond fanatics. Skyfall has some of the best action scenes I’ve seen this year, such as the rooftop motorcycle chase and the opening train scene. The main reason why Skyfall makes the list is Ralph Fiennes (another brilliant actor), and Javier Bardem playing his creepiest villain role since No Country for Old Men. Judy Dench as M was annoying though. By the end of the film, I was wanting her character dead. Speaking of the end of the film: Home Alone. I couldn’t help but think of Macaulay Culkin barricading himself inside the house and setting traps. Like I said before, this is a great film, but I have no idea why critiques are praising it.

13. The Dark Knight Rises

12_dark_knightI watched The Dark Knight Rises in the theatre as the finale to a Batman marathon, which I believe is why it ranks last. Honestly, the first time I watched it, I didn’t like it at all. Christopher Nolan (Memento, Inception, The Prestige) is one of the best directors / producers / writers working today, especially when he gets his brother involved, so there was a lot of expectations with this film. A repeat viewing on Blu-ray has bumped the film onto this list. The marathon started with Batman Begins (my second favorite in the series), the beginning to Nolan’s revamp of the Batman saga. The marathon then should have concluded with The Dark Knight, one of the last films featuring Heath Ledger, who gave us the best performance ever captured on film (my take, anyway) as The Joker. Then the marathon actually concluded with The Dark Knight Rises (a title that basically adds ‘Rises’ to the previous). I think the main problem with seeing all three movies in a row like this was the brilliance of The Dark Knight. That film is so good, it makes The Dark Knight Rises look paltry, or at least a strong downward curve of this three film arc, especially at 3:00am when the film ended. Truth be told, I could not get over Bane’s voice: sort of a mix between Sean Connery from Indiana Jones and Goldmember from Austin Powers. I kept expecting Bane to say, “Bat-man, we named the dawg Indiana, because I like Goooold.” But, after repeat viewings, I was able to get over the voice and enjoyed the movie more; although, Anne Hathaway ruins it for me as Catwoman. Her character had no place in this film (unlike her role in Les Mis). Christian Bale as Batman… a little rough in the second movie, but better in this one. The savior of this film is Joseph Gordon-Levitt (he’s in three of my top movies this year) as John Blake. He gave a certain human emotion that held the entire movie together, which makes sense if he’s going to take over as Robin.

So, that’s my top 13 for the year. Below are a few movies that either didn’t make the cut, or I haven’t seen yet.

Movies I enjoyed, but didn’t make the cut:
Cabin in the Woods (would have taken the 10 spot if I had seen it in the theatres), Expendables 2 (absolutely fun), The Grey (would have made the 13 spot if I hadn’t moved The Dark Knight Rises onto the list).

Movies I enjoyed, but found extremely overrated:
The Hunger Games, Dark Shadows, Snow White and the Huntsman, Ted, Spiderman.

Still want to see (expect to be good):
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Killer Joe, Robot & Frank, Arbitrage, The Master, Trouble with the Curve, End of Watch, Seven Psychopaths, Hyde Park on Hudson.

Still want to see (expect to suck):
The Campaign, The Bourne Legacy, Total Recall, Savages, Lawless, The Words, Woman in Black, The Raven, Taken 2, M.I.B. 3, Sinister, Flight, Killing Them Softly, Jack Reacher.