New Year, New Goals, 2021 Edition

What a dumpster fire 2020 was, eh, friends? I’ll say mine was better than some people’s and worse than other’s and leave it at that.

Here’s what I’d hoped to accomplish last year:

  • Decide what to do with Graveyard Mind and Graveyard Mind 2 and implement those plans.
  • Revise An Excuse for Whiskey.
  • Finish short stories I’ve started but not completed. As before, I would like to get at least six new stories out the door this year, but this year I’d also like to write one of those stories for submission to the online pro markets rather than for open call themed anthologies, as is my usual way.
  • Finish revising my WIP novel and get it out on submission.
  • Restart the agent hunt.
  • Read more.

How unrealistic was that in hindsight? I even had a stretch goal!

  • If I get my WIP out on submission, and Sandra and I finish An Excuse for Whiskey by November, I’ll take a run at NaNoWriMo again.

Nothing much has changed since my July 2020 update in regards to Graveyard Mind plans, or An Excuse for Whiskey. I’m still hopeful that I’ll find Graveyard Mind a home with a new publisher, but there’s nothing to report yet. Until I find Graveyard Mind a new home, or choose to self publish a new edition, its in-progress sequel will remain lying fallow. My Excuse for Whiskey co-writer Sandra has her new fitness website and YouTube channel, and is doing the pandemic single-mom thing, so she’s got her hands full. (You should totally check out Sandra’s fitness programs, she really knows what she’s doing, and has offered me plenty of advice in the last couple years as I became more serious about losing some weight and getting into better shape.) I actually blew past my realistic goal and then past my unrealistic goal. I’m back to my twenty-one year old weight which I wouldn’t have believed possible even a short while ago.

As I said in an interview with Derek Newman-Stille, I gave up on the revisions I’d been working on in favour of trying to draft a new book in this strange pandemic moment. Currently, that book is stalled at 41000 words, which means probably about halfway to a finished discovery draft; 30000 words is when a draft usually starts to feel like a book to me, but this one isn’t quite to that feeling yet. I think I’ve figured out what I want the finale to be, but I’m uncertain of the best steps to get through the soggy middle to get there. I didn’t get the draft done by the end of the summer as hoped, due to a lot of factors. I hope I’ll get back to it in 2021 when things settle down a bit more.

I did finish one more short story I’d previously started before the year ended–and it sold! Still, I was far short of what I’d hoped to accomplish. I only finished and submitted one novelette and one short story, but that novelette was not for an anthology, which was at least another short story subgoal hit. I got close to a finished draft on a third story, but you know the thing about close (horseshoes, hand grenades, that old chestnut). I’m still waiting on the revision notes from the editor and the contract to be signed, so I won’t say anymore about that last short story sale now. I also sold a reprint of my short story “Red” to the anthology Swords & Sorceries: Tales of Heroic Fantasy, my story “Cheating the Devil at Solitaire” was longlisted for the Sunburst Award, “All Cats Go to Valhalla” released in Swashbuckling Cats: Nine Lives on the Seven Seas, and “Golden Goose” released in Air: Sylphs, Spirits, & Swan Maidens.

About the only goal I consistently hit in 2020 was to read more, which is a good way of refilling the creative well, so hopefully that will bode well for 2021’s creative pursuits. I’ve been tracking my reading every month here on the blog, but I’ll write a reading roundup blog at a later date.

I’ve changed up a few process things that I used as motivators in the past. I used to keep all of my unfinished projects on a list near my desk, partly as motivation to finish, and partly to shame me into finishing, but that tactic stopped being useful. Last year I tried keeping only the five or so projects in various categories (novel, short story, novella) on the list, but new things kept creeping onto the list. Still, the two stories I did finish in 2020 had been on the to-do list for a long time, and I’m thrilled to have finally crossed them off. I’m limiting the category lists to three items this year. Obviously, it’s unlikely I’ll finish my three novels novels this year, but all three of those novels in progress are different goals, such as finish a first draft, edit a first draft, and revise and submit a final draft.

Looking forward at 2021 it’s hard to get excited for a new year when you know that it’s going to start off the same way the last one ended. Much of my early 2021 is likely to be filled with some of the uncertainty of 2020, so it’s unlikely I’ll get back to novel writing for many reasons. I’ll reassess my goals in July at my half year check in. That said, here’s what I hope to accomplish for 2021:

  • Finish short stories I’ve started but not completed: I’m only aiming for three new stories out the door this year, but again, I’d like to write one of those stories for submission to the online pro markets rather than for open call themed anthologies, as is my usual way.
  • Draft and submit a novella.
  • Read more in general.
  • Read more short stories.

Happy New Year, and write on!

The 2020 Reading List: December

Since one of my writing goals for 2020 was also to read more, I thought it would help to keep track of what I knocked off Mount Tsundoku. Here’s as good a place as any to post what I’ve read in 2020 to keep me honest, and what I thought of each book immediately after finishing.

In 2020 I decided to be a little more systematic about my reading plans. I started putting an actual to-read pile to stack on the nightstand and limited the stack to five books, which seemed doable for the month. Occasionally comics and graphic novels or roleplaying games jump the queue, but I typically tried to get through the pile in the order I stacked them. I also used this strategy to try and diversify my reading. The goal was for each to-read pile to contain at least one book by a BIPOC or LGBTQ2S+ author, one book by a woman, one non-fiction book, and one book by an author I know personally.

Here’s what was on the to-read stack in December!

December’s to-read pile: The Green Room by De La Mare, The Signalman by Dickens, Christmas Eve on a Haunted Hulk by Cowper, Silence of the Grave by Indriðason, Revenge by Ogawa, Armed in Her Fashion by Heartfield, The Skeleton Crew by Halper, Krampus by Brom.

Revenge by Yoko Ogawa: A short story collection in translation. The characters seem connected by threads, which made me change my reading strategy from jumping around between reading a story or two here and there and reading the book as a whole item, even though that’s not my preferred method of consuming short stories. This was a fantastic read; one of my favourites of the year! Not gory, not scary, but definitely unsettling; full of small horrors. Would absolutely read more by this author.

Krampus the Yule Lord by Brom: A fun little holiday tale. Not so little, really. The hardcover edition feels weighty, even if it’s not overly long. I’m always down for Krampus content. I also appreciated all the ties to Norse mythology. I primarily know Brom from his Dungeons & Dragons inspired art, but I’ve enjoyed his illustrated novels too, especially The Plucker and The Devil’s Rose. Brom did some gorgeous colour plates of a lot of the characters in Krampus the Yule Lord as well, which are included in the book, and black and white illustrations to kick off each chapter. Story-wise it reminded me of something I might read by Joe R. Lansdale, but Brom’s prose isn’t quite on Lansdale’s level (but then, for me, few people’s prose is).

The Signalman by Charles Dickens: Another in the Haunted Bookshelf series of novellas featuring classic ghost stories for Christmas. Like The Green Room, The Signalman had nothing to do with the holidays, although this one worked a bit better for me. It was a little shorter, and I was able to consume it in a sitting, which helped with the growing suspense. Honestly not sure I’ve ever actually read any Dickens before this, and while The Signalman hardly seems to be a representative work, I did enjoy it. Despite, that, I’m not likely to rush out to read more Dickens, contemporary fiction just speaks to me more.

Armed in Her Fashion by Kate Heartfield: Super embarrassed not to have gotten to this by now as Kate is a phenomenal writer and great person. I loved this book so much! The characters of Margriet and Claude especially spoke to me, but it was wonderful the entire way through. Kate was caught up in the CZP fiasco as was I, and sadly Armed in Her Fashion is now out of print, but I’m sure it’ll find a new home eventually. It’s too good not to.

The Skeleton Crew by Deborah Halber: My non-fiction read of this stack. Halber covers how the internet has led to a rise in amateur sleuths attempting to solve cold cases. A pretty interesting read. I liked how she used a couple cases as through lines running across the entire book.

Christmas Eve on a Haunted Hulk by Frank Cowper: The last of my Haunted Bookshelf ghost stories for Christmas, and the last book left on my to-read stack. I think I enjoyed this one the most of the three, possibly because it’s actually set during Christmas, which was something I’d hoped for from the others, and because the setting evokes something from a recent short story I sold: a spooky abandoned boat. I’ll definitely look into picking up more of these novellas for next December.

Since I cleared the to-read stack, I decided to indulge in a couple of comfort nostalgia rereads I picked up from my friends at local bookseller, Whodunnit.

Elfshadow by Elaine Cunningham: The first in Cunningham’s stories of Arilyn Moonblade and Danilo Thann, and Cunningham’s first published novel. I made it through Elfshadow, but didn’t finish Thornhold until after the new year rang in, so you’ll have to wait on that one. I found Elfshadow a little rough in places, but I still enjoyed it. The familiarity was just what I needed after a long year.

Here’s what I read in January.

Here’s what I read in February.

Here’s what I read in March.

Here’s what I read in April.

Here’s what I read in May.

Here’s what I read in June.

Here’s what I read in July.

Here’s what I read in August.

Here’s what I read in September.

Here’s what I read in October.

Here’s what I read in November.

New Year’s Eve 2020

It’s hard to get excited for a new year when you know that it’s going to start off the same way the last one ended. But, still, there is hope that this one will be better than the last. Is it a fool’s hope? Time will, as always, tell.

Years ago now, Ravenstone Books asked me to write up a list of Ted Callan’s resolutions for a blog post, and instead, I wrote a little vignette of his New Year’s Eve post-Tombstone Blues. I’m quite fond of this little pieces, so here it is for you again, as well as one of my favourite Tom Waits songs to mark the turning of the year.

New Year’s Eve

Thunder Road vignette

Outside of the hotel that had become his home, the cold bit into Ted Callan’s lungs with every breath.

What is your resolution for the coming year? Huginn asked.

Why do you fucking care? Ted shot back as he lit a cigarette.

Call it curiosity, the raven said. Everyone else seems to be making one tonight.

Doesn’t matter, they’re all bullshit.

“Cold out tonight,” a woman’s voice slurred from behind Ted.

He turned to see a middle-aged woman, shivering in her dress as she struggled to light a cigarette, and huddled under a borrowed suit jacket for warmth. He was glad that he hadn’t addressed his living raven tattoos aloud.

Ted nodded absently and muttered a yup as he lit her smoke and then went back to his own.

You could do something about this cold. Huginn’s cawing voice echoed shrilly in Ted’s mind.

I’ve done enough, he shot back.

It had been a brutal, miserable fucking winter, and it was a long way from over. The mercury had only cracked -20 twice since he’d beat back Hel’s army of the dead, and both of those times, a blizzard had chased in, nipping the heels of the warmer weather.

“What’s your resolution?” the woman asked, and then without waiting for Ted’s answer, added, “I think I’m going to quit smoking.”

They shared a chuckle, and then took a drag, exhaling plumes of smoke that coalesced in the frigid night air.

Resolutions had to be Ted’s least favourite part of the New Year, aside from his usual—and fierce—hangover. He couldn’t think of a single resolution that he’d ever kept. But at least tomorrow he wouldn’t be passed out, body half in the bathroom and his head pounding with thunder instead of his fist.

Muninn trotted out Ted’s list of past broken promises; it made quite the litany. All had been chosen spur of the moment to fulfill a cultural need, not out of any genuine desire to change, or to better himself.

Quit smoking

Take up the guitar again.

Get back in shape.

Quit smoking.

Eat better.

Eat less.

He took a drag of his cigarette, and exhaled in a long sighing breath. Quit smoking.

That one had definitely been the most common.

“Happy New Year!” the woman yelled, voice thick with drunken cheer, as she butted out her cigarette in the hotel’s sand-filled ashtray. She rushed back inside blowing on her hands as she went through the brass-edged revolving door entrance.

Judging from his chuckles, Muninn was having a grand old time continuing down the list of Ted’s failed promises.

Be more romantic.

Quit the Patch.

Travel.

Everyone is making a resolution, Huginn pressed, staring pointedly at Muninn. Thinking ahead. Forgetting the past.

Ted didn’t get why the birds were so fucking excited about resolutions, but he supposed making one was the only sure way to shut them the hell up.

“Fine,” he grumbled. “Kill Surtur. How’s that for a fucking resolution?”

Huginn and Muninn exchanged surprised quorks.

“Not good enough? What about: go to my buddy’s wedding without getting everyone killed? Oh, and maybe repair all the goddamned damage that Loki’s done to my godsdamned life.”

Ted took a last drag and mashed his cigarette into the ashtray.

The ravens waited in silence for a moment, and then together said, You would have a better chance quitting smoking.

Art by S.M. Beiko.

Happy New Year!

Eligible Works Published in 2020

It’s that time of year again! The Nebula Awards are accepting nominations and shortly the Aurora Awards and the Hugo Award will do the same. If you are one of those nominating or thinking about nominating works for science fiction/fantasy-related awards, in 2020 I published the following:

“All Cats Go to Valhalla” (short story, 5200 words) published in Swashbuckling Cats: Nine Lives on the Seven Seas, edited by Rhonda Parrish. Tyche Books. May 2020. You can read an excerpt here.

“Golden Goose” (short story, 6200 words) published Air: Sylphs, Spirits, & Swan Maidens, edited by Rhonda Parrish. Tyche Books. August 2020. You can read an excerpt here.

Thanks for reading, folks! If you’re voting on any the various speculative fiction awards this year and want to read more of “All Cats Go to Valhalla” or “Golden Goose” please drop me a line. If you’re looking for more additions to your reading list Cat Rambo and A.C. Wise keep pretty comprehensive lists of who published what in 2020.

Most of my reading for 2020 was older books, as I’ve been trying to clear my backlog and read things I’ve previously purchased. I did particularly enjoy The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin, and Fangs by Sarah Andersen, however.

The 2020 Reading List: November

Since one of my writing goals for 2020 was also to read more, I thought it would help to keep track of what I knocked off Mount Tsundoku. Here’s as good a place as any to post what I’ve read in 2020 to keep me honest, and what I thought of each book immediately after finishing.

I’ve decided to be a little more systematic about my reading plans. Now I’m pulling out an actual to-read pile to stack on the nightstand. I’m limiting the stack to five books, which seems doable for the month, even though odds are I won’t get through them all each month. Occasionally comics and graphic novels or roleplaying games might jump the queue, but I’m trying to get through the pile in order I stack them. The first time I did this, I basically grabbed the first five shinys to catch my eye, but for my next stack, I plan on adding some criteria to diversify my reading a bit. My intention is for each to-read pile to contain at least one book by a BIPOC or LGBTQ2S+ author, one book by a woman, one non-fiction book, and one book by an author I know personally (I’ve accumulated a lot of these over the years, and I’ve been a bit slower to get to many of them than I’d like. Sorry, friends!).

Last month was the first time I failed to clear the reading stack in a couple months, so I still had The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones and Scream by Margee Kerr to read at the top of the month.

Here’s the next to-read stack!

December’s to-read pile: The Green Room by De La Mare, The Signalman by Dickens, Christmas Eve on a Haunted Hulk by Cowper, Silence of the Grave by Indriðason, Revenge by Ogawa, Armed in Her Fashion by Heartfield, The Skeleton Crew by Halper, Krampus by Brom.

Invincible Ultimate Collection Volume 5 by Robert Kirkman, Ryan Ottley, Bill Crabtree, FCO Plascencia: Decided to finally expand my Invincible collection, so this volume was new to me. Invincible’s younger brother wants to join him in the hero business and his relationship with Atom Eve becomes more serious. I still love the series. This volume even managed to not make the same dialogue issue I had with past volumes, so that made me happy. Getting really excited to see the animated series, and to read Volume 6!

Terra Obscura Volume One by Alan Moore, Peter Hogan, Yanick Paquette, and Karl Story: Another reread. Terra Obscura features reimaginings of old public domain characters mixed in with elements of Moore’s Tom Strong work. I had super fond memories of this one, and it mostly held up, although I feel like Paquette’s work here is a little cheesecake-y for my tastes. I did a flip through volume 2 afterwards, but didn’t reread it, and I think I’m content to let these two books go from the collection.

Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser by Howard Chaykin, Mike Mignola, and Al Williamson: Another reread, a fantastic take on two of my favourite sword and sorcery characters created by Fritz Leiber, and with art by Hellboy creator, Mike Mignola! I love Mignola’s rendering of both the characters and their home of Lankhmar and Chaykin’s take on the characters’ personalities. After rereading so much Hellboy recently, it was interesting to see how Mignoal’s art has evolved, and see his strengths on display even in this earlier work. Definitely makes me want to dive back into my Fritz Leiber collection.

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones: My first experience with Jones’ writing, although there’s been a few other works that I’ve meant to get around to. This was so good! I need to track down more of Graham’s work. Creepy, unsettling, and filled with so many unique turns of phrase. I also appreciated the thread of basketball throughout the novel, which I hadn’t been expecting, but as someone who used to play a lot basketball, it brought back a lot of muscle memory as I read, which only heightened some of the scares.

Arclands: The Spellforger’s Companion by Verse Studios: A Kickstarter prize that uses the Dungeon & Dragons Fifth Edition rules set to build a new world and lots of character options. I backed this campaign because of the book’s spellforge mechanic which presents a custom spell creation system that I thought might be useful for a homebrewed campaign world I wanted to use for a future D&D game. The other new options are less likely to get use at the table, and unfortunately the spellforging is more closely tied to the new Arclands character classes than I’d like, but it still looks like it could be useable with some work.

Wolverine: The Jungle Adventure by Walter Simonson, Mike Mignola, and Bob Wiacek: Another graphic novel reread. Hard to believe I’ve held onto this since 1990 when its $6.25 cover price would’ve seen a lot more dear. Walt Simonson is another one of my favourite comic creators from back in the day. Loved his work on Thor, X-Factor, and more lately, the excellent Ragnarök. This is also another pre-Hellboy Mignola work. There’s a lot to love in this short story set in the Savage Land with dinosaurs, robot dinosaurs, and some hints at Wolverine’s then still mysterious origin that I can’t remember if Marvel ever followed up on.

Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear by Margee Kerr: Tonally not what I was looking for, a little dryer than I’d hoped, but some really interesting observations. I got more into the book after the initial chapters. I’m not really interested in thrill rides, but the chapters on haunted houses, Aokigahara, and Bogotá were more to my liking. Also, fucking top kudos to the cover jacket designer for the glow in the dark elements. It was occasionally a little unsettling to wake in the night and see the word “SCREAM” glowing next to my bedside.

Raiders of the Lost Artifacts by Darren Watts, Thomas Denmark, and David Pulver: Never let it be said that Twitter doesn’t sell books, because I saw this recommended by a fellow traveler in the gaming sphere and it looked super fun, so I ordered up a copy. Raiders uses original edition Dungeons & Dragons rules to emulate Indiana Jones-style adventures. Looks like it’ll be a lot of fun if I ever get it to the table.

Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indriðason: A Nordic crime novel set in Reykjavik. I read a couple later books in the Erlendur series, and enjoyed them, I even had an opportunity to interview Indriðason years ago. This one was good. Dark, but good. Lots of domestic abuse surrounding the murder, which was tough to read. It was interesting to have a case that wasn’t a ticking clock, the murder they were trying to solve was decades old, which also led to some interesting history of Iceland. I normally read about the viking era, not World War II when I read about Iceland. I liked that element of it. Half remembered plot elements from future books in the series rattled around, but didn’t spoil the read for me. I’ll probably return to the series in the future. I like Indriðason’s writing.

The Green Room by Walter de la Mare: Part of Biblioasis’s Haunted Bookshelf series of classic Christmas ghost stories, “designed and decorated” by cartoonist Seth. A fun little novella involving a mysterious back room in a book store, and a found manuscript. A little too much poetry in it for my tastes, and at times a bit dated, which I expected. I wish it had a bit more Christmas connection, to be honest (and I never thought I’d say that), or at least more strongly set in winter, as that’s why I decided to add the Haunted Bookshelf novellas to this stack in the first place.

Here’s what I read in January.

Here’s what I read in February.

Here’s what I read in March.

Here’s what I read in April.

Here’s what I read in May.

Here’s what I read in June.

Here’s what I read in July.

Here’s what I read in August.

Here’s what I read in September.

Here’s what I read in October.

New Contributor Copies

Look what arrived in the mail recently! I love when new books for the brag shelf show up!

Swords & Sorceries: Tales of Heroic Fantasy contains a reprint of my story “Red” from Shared World Volume 2. You can read an excerpt here, and check out Parallel Universe Press for copies of the anthology.

Air: Sylphs, Spirits, & Swan Maidens features the first appearance of my Thunder Road ‘verse story “Golden Goose,” a post-Too Far Gone tale featuring Ted and Loki, and a lot of riled up Canada geese. Read an excerpt here, and check out Tyche Books for copies of the anthology.

I hope you’ll check these out.

The 2020 Reading List: October

Since one of my writing goals for 2020 was also to read more, I thought it would help to keep track of what I knocked off Mount Tsundoku. Here’s as good a place as any to post what I’ve read in 2020 to keep me honest, and what I thought of each book immediately after finishing.

I’ve decided to be a little more systematic about my reading plans. Now I’m pulling out an actual to-read pile to stack on the nightstand. I’m limiting the stack to five books, which seems doable for the month, even though odds are I won’t get through them all each month. Occasionally comics and graphic novels or roleplaying games might jump the queue, but I’m trying to get through the pile in order I stack them. The first time I did this, I basically grabbed the first five shinys to catch my eye, but for my next stack, I plan on adding some criteria to diversify my reading a bit. My intention is for each to-read pile to contain at least one book by a BIPOC or LGBTQ2S+ author, one book by a woman, one non-fiction book, and one book by an author I know personally (I’ve accumulated a lot of these over the years, and I’ve been a bit slower to get to many of them than I’d like. Sorry, friends!).

Here’s the to-read stack for October!

You may notice there’s six books instead of my usual five, but I’ve reread A Night in the Lonesome October a chapter a night in October for the last several years, and 2020 isn’t taking that away from me. You may also notice a CZP title in there, and while I’ve severed ties with them, I purchased this before that went down and I don’t want to punish the author. David Demchuck got the rights back to the book, and I believe there’s a new edition pending, so check that one out if it intrigues, and support another author who was taken advantage of by their publisher.

Atomic Robo Volume 2: Atomic Robo and the Dogs of War by Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener, Ronda Pattison, and Jeff Powell: Continuing my Atomic Robo reread. Most of this one takes place during World War II, but there are “B” stories included that happen throughout Robo’s career.

Atomic Robo Volume 3: Atomic Robo and the Shadow from Beyond Time by Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener, Ronda Pattison, and Jeff Powell: Next on my Atomic Robo reread. Now there’s some cosmic horror! H.P. Lovecraft makes an appearance along with Charles Fort, but my favourite cameo belongs to Carl Sagan. Reading the “B” stories reminds me of another similarity I’ve noticed between Hellboy and Atomic Robo for me, and that is, I also vastly prefer Robo drawn by Scott Wegener. Something in the expressions just never feels right otherwise.

Atomic Robo Volume 4: Atomic Robo and Other Strangeness by Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener, Ronda Pattison, Jeff Powell, and Lee Black: An anthology of one shots, this volume features the gloriously wacky Doctor Dinosaur! I fucking love Doctor Dinosaur.

Atomic Robo Volume 5: Atomic Robo and the Deadly Art of Science by Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener, Ronda Pattison, Jeff Powell, and Lee Black: A tale of Robo’s early days with lots of pulp hero inspiration.

Atomic Robo Volume 6: The Ghost of Station X by Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener, Ronda Pattison, Jeff Powell, and Lee Black: A missing building, an assassination attempt, and Alan Turing make Atomic Robo public enemy number one.

Atomic Robo Volume 7: The Flying She-Devils of the Pacific by Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener, Ronda Pattison, Jeff Powell, and Lee Black: Another tale of Robo’s past, set in the post-WWII Pacific Theatre area. Lots of fun! I have a bunch more Atomic Robo I could read, but this was the point were I started buying it in single issues, and I don’t feel like hauling out the comic long boxes.

Leave it to Chance Book One: Shaman’s Rain by James Robinson and Paul Smith, with Jeremy Cox: I’ve loved a lot of Robinson’s work over the years and Paul Smith illustrated my all-time favourite issue of Uncanny X-Men back in the day, as well as collaborating with Robinson on The Golden Age (one of my old favourite superhero graphic novels, which will probably end up on the reread pile soonish). Lots of fun concepts that didn’t necessarily age well. I enjoyed revisiting this volume, but when I tried to continue on with Book Two, I quickly lost interest. I think I’ll be donating this part of my collection.

Saga Volume One by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples: Another graphic novel reread. I still love this series so much. Staples’ designs are as striking as ever and I love the relatively simple idea of star-crossed lovers just trying to get by in a galaxy at war. Also, rereading it, Hazel’s narration and the foreshadowing embedded within it hit so much harder. I both want, and do not want a Lying Cat of my own.

Saga Volume Two by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples: Briefly continuing my reread, as after this point I started buying the series in monthly issues, and as with Atomic Robo, didn’t feel like hauling out the long boxes.

Trick or Treat Murder by Leslie Meier: From a Halloween Murder omnibus. Cozy mysteries aren’t my typical reads, but I found I needed some lighter fare than expected this month. It was fun. Arson in small historic town leads to murder. Interesting characters, but as I was mostly in it for fun Halloween content, I likely won’t dive too deeply into the rest of the series, which is substantial.

Invincible Ultimate Collection Volume One by Robert Kirkman, Cory Walker, Ryan Ottley, and Bill Crabtree: When this book came out it quickly became one of my favourite superhero books. I also enjoy it far more than the other property Kirkman is probably better known for, The Walking Dead. Teen hero Invincible is the son of the world’s greatest hero, Omni-Man, and once his powers kick in he starts getting his feet wet in the family business. Ryan Ottley takes over art duties from co-creator and original artist Walker halfway through, and ends up being a perfect fit for the series. This volume’s shocking conclusion upends what the reader thinks the story’s dynamic will be, and reverberates throughout the rest of the series (at least as much as I’ve read). I haven’t read through it in ages, the appearance of the trailer for the upcoming animated series probably thrust it back into my mind. I still really dig this series, with one caveat, and that is the characters occasionally use “gay” or the r-word as a pejorative, in the guise of friends joking around with each other (particularly when Invincible carries a male friend while flying, which becomes a running gag). I remember both words being used that way more commonly when the series was being published, and it definitely dates the dialogue and struck me every time I encountered it going forward in my reread.

Invincible Ultimate Collection Volume Two by Robert Kirkman, Ryan Ottley, and Bill Crabtree: Another reread. Invincible deals with the fallout of the revelation of his father’s true nature, as well as graduating from high school, and ends up creating a new arch enemy.

Invincible Ultimate Collection Volume Three by Robert Kirkman, Ryan Ottley, and Bill Crabtree: Invincible discovers some unexpected family and a lot of long running subplots come to a head in this volume. Kirkman’s pacing on this series is just immaculate, and Ottley’s art is as good as ever.

Invincible Ultimate Collection Volume Four by Robert Kirkman, Ryan Ottley, and Bill Crabtree: This was the end of my Invincible collection, and so the end of my reread. Despite my minor issues with some dated dialogue, I really enjoy the world of Invincible, and I think I’ll try and track down the next volume or two, which I don’t think I ever read, and keep going with the series. The series accomplishes a lot of what I loved in Chris Claremont’s epic Uncanny X-Men run from my formative comic-reading years.

Nextwave Agents of H.A.T.E Volume One: This is What They Want by Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen: This used to be one of my favourite series, and Warren Ellis used to be one of my favourite writers (in another life I won an award from his publisher for promoting his debut novel) but after revelations of Ellis’s toxic behavior, I didn’t want to keep his work on my shelves. I decided to give Nextwave a quick reread before it hit the donate pile, and while I’m kind of sorry to see it go (as it contains another of my favourite single comic panels, and I love the character of Elsa Bloodstone, and Ellis’s particular take on Machine Man), but also happy to have it gone. I decided not to bother with reading the second volume in the series.

Wicked Witch Murder by Leslie Meier: The second book in the Halloween Murder omnibus. Enjoyed the first enough to keep going, but I know I’m in it for the Halloween-y content, so I’m unlikely to dive much deeper into the Lucy Stone series, unless Meier has more Halloween books in her catalogue (pretty sure she does).

Clan Destine Classic by Alan Davis and Mark Farmer: Another graphic novel reread. This one has the first eight issues of the comic that Davis and Farmer worked on (the less said about what came after, the better) and a miniseries that teams up the Clan Destine with the X-Men. Davis is still hands down my favourite superhero artist. The X-Men team up didn’t hold up as well as I’d hoped though, largely because I’ve moved on from the X-Men in recent years.

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter: So lush. I wish the print were larger, but the small print made me take more care with Carter’s perfect sentences. Fairy tale reimaginings include Bluebeard, Beauty and the Beast. I didn’t care for Puss in Boots, the only story I didn’t love in the collection, actually. One of my issues with single author collections is that’s not how I tend to consume short stories. I read far more anthologies than collections, and stories that I find online. My other issue with this book, the print…so tiny on my aging eyes, which to be fair, is hardly Carter’s fault, but it made it difficult to digest her prose at times.

Black Canary and Zatanna: Bloodspell by Paul Dini and Joe Quinones: Another reread. Zatanna is probably my favourite character in the DC universe, and Paul Dini writes her so well. Dini was also one of my favourite writers on Batman: The Animated Series. Still fun. Dini’s voice is great for the two main characters. Quinones’ art nails facial expressions and reactions better than action moments in my opinion, but was pretty well suited to the story.

The Bone Mother by David Demchuk: Most of my experience with this collection of eastern European-inspired stories has been hearing the author read from the book at various events and conventions. This has the interesting effect of me hearing Demchuk’s voice in my head while I read the book. The Bone Mother was full of wonderful bite-sized tales of terror. Highly recommend it.

Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: A Mexican narco vampire novel. Moreno-Garcia’s a fantastic writer, and every time I’ve read one of her books, it’s ended up on my favourite books of the year list. Somehow, I was expecting something different from this one, not sure what, exactly, but I loved it in spite of my initial expectations not being met. Great characters, and a really interesting take on vampire lore. Especially loved Moreno-Garcia’s portrayal of Mexico City.

A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny: One of my favourite books, and one I’ve reread almost every year since I finally tracked down a copy of my own (it was out of print for far too long). The novel unfolds over the month of October and each chapter covers a single day as Jack the Ripper’s faithful dog Snuff tries to help prevent the rise of the Elder Gods in a game of Openers and Closers. Sometimes I’ve read the novel all in a burst, and that was how I first consumed it (it’s a pretty quick read), but for the last several runs at the book, I’ve read it a chapter a night over the month of October, and I find that’s how I best enjoy it. Already looking forward to next October’s reread!

Zatanna the Mistress of Magic Volume One by Paul Dini, Stephane Roux, Chad Hardin, and Jesus Saiz: A reread. I have all the individual issues of this series, but I’m not sure if they were ever all collected. As I stated above, I love Dini’s take on Zatanna. Jesus Saiz delivered my favourite art of the collection, pity they were only on board for a single issue. Stephane Roux’s pencils capture the spirit of the character excellently as well.

So my reading went a little of stack this month. There was a lot going on down Thunder Road Way, and so I sought some comfort in rereading old graphic novels. When I moved I decided to limit my graphic novels to one shelf (in a past age, at their height, I had almost two full bookcases in my collection but I realized I only ever reread the same stack of them). It was good in a way, as a few things I’ve been hanging onto for years without actually enjoying them are now free to be enjoyed by other readers, and no longer cluttering my shelves, while other series have reminded me that I’ve been meaning to get caught up for ages, but didn’t because of space limitations.

Here’s what I read in January.

Here’s what I read in February.

Here’s what I read in March.

Here’s what I read in April.

Here’s what I read in May.

Here’s what I read in June.

Here’s what I read in July.

Here’s what I read in August.

Here’s what I read in September.

Music Monday: Until Morale Improves the Beatings Will Continue by Murder By Death

It’s been a while since I’ve made a Music Monday post, but as Winnipeg enters another lockdown, I couldn’t help but get this old favourite stuck in my head. Stay safe, friends!

“ninety days of sweat and dirt feels like one night when you’ve got nothing left
till there’s nothing left to do but die

buckshot is my bread and I’ll drink whiskey instead of water cause I can’t stand to be sober in this place

your hands on my face every step of the way tryin’ to peel away the pain”

The 2020 Reading List: September

Since one of my writing goals for 2020 was also to read more, I thought it would help to keep track of what I knocked off Mount Tsundoku. Here’s as good a place as any to post what I’ve read in 2020 to keep me honest, and what I thought of each book immediately after finishing.

I’ve decided to be a little more systematic about my reading plans. Now I’m pulling out an actual to-read pile to stack on the nightstand. I’m limiting the stack to five books, which seems doable for the month, even though odds are I won’t get through them all each month. Occasionally comics and graphic novels or roleplaying games might jump the queue, but I’m trying to get through the pile in the order I stack them. The first time I did this, I basically grabbed the first five shinys to catch my eye, but for my next stack, I plan on adding some criteria to diversify my reading a bit. My intention is for each to-read pile to contain at least one book by a BIPOC or LGBTQ2S+ author, one book by a woman, one non-fiction book, and one book by an author I know personally (I’ve accumulated a lot of these over the years, and I’ve been a bit slower to get to many of them than I’d like. Sorry, friends!).

Here’s the to-read stack for September!

to read september

I’m hoping to make it through all of these due to Halloween-related reasons. I want to curate a spoopy reading list for October.

September:

Vaesen: A Wicked Secret by Free League: A companion book of four mysteries for use with the Vaesen Nordic Horror Roleplaying Game, also from Kickstarter. I really enjoyed reading each of the four mysteries. I think they’d all bring something interesting to the table. I typically don’t run modules when I run games, and because of that I think the book’s layout might cause me some consternation when I try to run these, but with a bit of extra prep, that’ll be a small issue. The mysteries cover a number of different locales and seasons, which is great. They’re all rural though, and I kind of wish there was at least one in the city where the players are supposed to be based.

Snakes and Earrings by Hitomi Kanehara (translated by David Karashima): A short little crime adjacent book full of kind of shitty people who were very compelling to read about. Body modification is a big theme, the book’s title gets its Snakes from a character who split his tongue, and its narrator who’s obsessed with getting larger and larger plugs for her earrings, and later decides to pursue forking her own tongue. Pain and pleasure bleed together in this twisted story. If any of Kanehara’s other works are translate into English, I’d check them out.

Kraken Bake by Karen Dudley: The second book in Dudley’s Epikurean Epic novels. This one was sort of a reread, as I read the book back when it was in manuscript format. It was even funnier than I remembered! Anachronistic and punny in delicious way. While I’m sad there don’t seem to be any more books in her series, Dudley gives the beleaguered Pelops a good send off here, and it makes for a satisfying ending for the character.

Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice: I first encountered Waubgeshig Rice when he read from his story collection Midnight Sweatlodge at Winnipeg’s THIN AIR festival. I’ve been meaning to read this one for a while, ever since I saw Rice on a panel about the Indigenous post-apocalypse at a convention in Ottawa. This was a tough read at times, but worth it, I think. It hit home reading about a mysterious apocalypse during the COVID-19 pandemic, and while maybe not my smartest choice of reading material for these anxious days, I also found I couldn’t put it down. Really looking forward to reading more of Rice’s work.

We Don’t Need Another Hero by Sierra Dean: I’m most familiar with Dean’s Secret McQueen series, but this was a fun little one off. I burned through this one, and sorry-not-sorry for the pun considering the protagonist Rebecca “Bex” Beckett has fire control powers. This is a superhero story, and I’d like to see Dean play in this genre playground again even if she doesn’t return to these particular characters.

Hellboy Volume 2: Wake the Devil by Mike Mignola: This was a reread. I finished We Don’t Need Another Hero but wasn’t ready to start a new book right before going to sleep, but also wasn’t ready to go to sleep, so I grabbed one of the nearest graphic novels I could reach. This has long been one of my favourite arcs in the Hellboy series, and I’m pretty stoked about the upcoming Hellboy RPG, so this whim may have spurred a full series reread.

Hellboy Volume 1: Seed of Destruction by Mike Mignola and John Byrne: Another reread. “May have” indeed. Rereading the first Hellboy collection reminds me how much I loved Guillermo del Toro’s take on the character, how badly I wanted to see a third movie starring Ron Perlman, and how disappointed I was in the most recent cinematic outing. The story and Mignola’s art is definitely holding up better than my old paperback, which is starting to show its use!

Hellboy Volume 3: The Chained Coffin and Other Stories by Mike Mignola: Another reread. I think this is one of my favourite collections in the Hellboy series. I love the anthology style for a character like Hellboy, lots of short bursts of weirdness from various points in the character’s career. I also appreciate the little asides Mignola offers before each story about its origin.

Hellboy Volume 4: The Right Hand of Doom by Mike Mignola: Continuing my Hellboy reread. I didn’t enjoy this one as much as the previous collection, but it does include what is probably my favourite three panel sequence in comics. Also, Hellboy falls through a lot more floors than I remembered.

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Hellboy Volume 5: The Conqueror Worm by Mike Mignola: Lobster Johnson! This volume was my first introduction to Mignola’s pulp-inspired hero. Characters like Lobster Johnson, the Shadow, and the Phantom are definitely my jam. One of the reasons I created my Midnight Man character for short stories was to dip my toes in that pool. A big turning point for Hellboy in this volume, which I really enjoyed revisiting.

Hellboy Volume 6: Strange Places by Mike Mignola: Another anthology of shorter tales, and one that also contains another of my favourite Hellboy panels. I think some of the stories in this one came out around the same time as the Hellboy movie, so Mignola wanted to get out ahead of it with some of the origin of his cosmic horror side of the ‘verse.

drinking with skeletons

Hellboy Volume 7: The Troll Witch and Other Stories by Mike Mignola, P. Craig Russell, and Richard Corben: Another anthology of shorter tales, and the last one in my personal collection. Not my favourite Hellboy volume, even if I loved the titular story. I’ve found over the years I don’t enjoy reading Hellboy when it isn’t also illustrated by Mignola. Artist Duncan Fegredo comes closest for me, but this was the point where I stopped buying the book. Might have to check out further volumes again from the library down the road and get caught up.

The Science of Monsters: The Origins of the Creatures We Love to Fear by Matt Kaplan: I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting with this one, but it somehow didn’t fulfill those nebulous expectations. Kaplan organized it in a sort of chronological run through the human-monster experience, which led to a bit of my disappointment, as I didn’t particularly enjoy ending the book with a chapter on aliens. I understand the why, it just wasn’t what I wanted. Despite that issue, The Science of Monsters was an entertaining read (I particularly enjoyed the salty footnotes) but it didn’t make me wish to rush out to try Kaplan’s follow up, Science of the Magical. Maybe someday.

Atomic Robo Volume 1: Atomic Robo and the Fightin’ Scientists of Tesladyne by Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener, Ronda Pattison, and Jeff Powell: Another reread started because I finished a book before I was ready to go to sleep. I can clearly see the line from my Hellboy reread to the start of my Atomic Robo reread. They share a lot of similar bones, and I think both heroes would get along, and enjoy using their violence on giant monsters, extradimensional threats, and undying Nazi scientists. Atomic Robo has a more science fiction feeling compared to the folklore and cosmic horror of Hellboy, and the humour is a little more in your face, but I love it.

Here’s what I’ve got on deck for October!

October to-read

You may notice there’s six books instead of my usual five, but I’ve reread A Night in the Lonesome October a chapter a night in October for the last several years, and 2020 isn’t taking that away from me. You may also notice a CZP title in there, and while I’ve severed ties with them, I purchased this before that went down and I don’t want to punish the author. David Demchuck got the rights back to the book, and I believe there’s a new edition pending, so check that one out if it intrigues and support another author who was taken advantage of by their publisher.

Here’s what I read in January.

Here’s what I read in February.

Here’s what I read in March.

Here’s what I read in April.

Here’s what I read in May.

Here’s what I read in June.

Here’s what I read in July.

Here’s what I read in August.

StoryBundle Interview

Douglas Smith interviewed me recently as part of the Dark Fantasy and SF Exclusive StoryBundle featuring a bunch of former ChiZine authors.

Check it out! This StoryBundle is only available until September 9th, 2020!

All Covers Large

And don’t forget to check out these interviews Douglas Smith did with my fellow bundle authors:

Matt Moore

Claude Lalumière

Tone Milazzo

Paul Di Filippo