In 2016, I read 26 novels, 16 novellas, and 200 short stories.

Instead of limiting my favourites to lists of ten or fifteen titles, I’ve included everything I liked. (As usual, not all of these were published in 2016.)

Favourite Novels

Stalking the Angel — Robert Crais
Let the Right One In — John Ajvide Lindqvist
Bird Box — Josh Malerman
I’m Thinking of Ending Things — Iain Reid
Butcher’s Moon — Richard Stark
Plunder Squad
— Richard Stark
Vermilion — Molly Tanzer
Disappearance at Devil’s Rock — Paul Tremblay
The Martian — Andy Weir

Favourite Novellas and Novelettes

Man with No Name — Laird Barron
Story of Your Life
— Ted Chiang
— Richard Gavin
We Are All Completely Fine
— Daryl Gregory
— John Langan
At the Edge of Ellensburg
— Livia Llewellyn
— Livia Llewellyn
The Account of David Stonehouse, Exile
— Daniel Mills

Favourite Collections and Anthologies

Cold Hand in Mine — Robert Aickman
Can Such Things Be?
— Ambrose Bierce
Autumn Cthulhu
— edited by Mike Davis
Safe Inside the Violence
— Christopher L. Irvin
Hap and Leonard
— Joe R. Lansdale
Get in Trouble
— Kelly Link
Engines of Desire: Tales of Love and Other Monsters
— Livia Llewellyn
Hair Side, Flesh Side
— Helen Marshall
Things Don’t Break
— Richard Rosenbaum
Tiny Deaths
— Robert Shearman

Favourite Short Stories

“The Night Wire” — H.F. Arnold
“Andy Kaufmann Creeping Through the Trees” — Laird Barron
“Nemesis” — Laird Barron
“At Night, When the Demons Come” — Ray Cluley
“Click” — Brian Evenson
“Grave Goods” — Gemma Files
“A Natural History of Autumn” — Jeffrey Ford
“The Stiles of Palemarsh” — Richard Gavin
“Prisoners” — Ed Gorman
“Turn Away” — Ed Gorman
“The Truffle Pig” — T.E. Grau
“Shomer” — Glen Hirshberg
“Digging Deep” — Christopher L. Irvin
“Non Gratum Anus Rodentum” — Brian Keene
“The Oak and The Pond” — Joe R. Lansdale
“What Kept You So Long?” — John Ajvide Lindqvist
“I Can See Right Through You” — Kelly Link
“The Lesson” — Kelly Link
“Secret Identity” — Kelly Link
“The Engine of Desire” — Livia Llewellyn
“Blessed” — Helen Marshall
“Sanditon” — Helen Marshall
“Something Lost, Something Gained” — Seanan McGuire
“Family” — Maura McHugh
“Water Main” — S.P. Miskowski
“The Caretakers” — David Nickle
“Body Horror” — Richard Rosenbaum
“The Middle of Things or, 1922 and All That” — Richard Rosenbaum
“The Oughts” — Richard Rosenbaum
“Things Don’t Break” — Richard Rosenbaum
“After the Fall” — Jeffrey Thomas
“The Night is a Sea” — Scott Thomas
“Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” — Alyssa Wong

So, here we are again.

Looking back at another year past, summing up the highlights and the accomplishments, I feel a mixture of gratitude and disappointment, as I often do. I don’t feel like I accomplished a lot, but the things that I did were fairly notable.

I only had one short story published in 2016, but it was a Felix Renn story, and I haven’t had one of those out in a while. The story was called “Eyes Like Poisoned Wells” and it appeared in the first double-sized issue of Cemetery Dance magazine, which gave Felix and the Black Lands a nice little boost of publicity, and reminded me how much I like writing about that dark, creepy world. (I really do have to finish that Felix novel one of these days…)

Two things happened in 2016 that were pretty exciting. First, I finished a novel called The Underwood. Without spoiling the story, I’ll say it’s a book that builds on the themes and ideas explored in my collection Every House Is Haunted. The two books are separate entities with no connection to each other, but I feel The Underwood is the next logical step in my career as a writer.

The second thing was the news that my story, “The House on Ashley Avenue,” which has been optioned these past couple of years by Universal Cable Productions, is now in development as a TV series for NBC. A couple of writers are currently working on the pilot, and if the show is picked up, I’ll be working on it as a co-producer (and writing an episode, too!).

It’s all very exciting, but still far from a done deal. I’m doing my best to enjoy the ride as long as it lasts, reminding myself that even if the show fails to materialize, that I still got a hell of a lot further than most writers ever do in the Hollywood game.

I think I’m okay with that because I never dreamed of making it big with a career in movies and television. Mostly I look at it as a means to an end. I think of the money as a way to subsidize a career writing books, which is a hard thing to do from publishing alone. And if the TV people want me involved in the show, then great. If not, that’s okay, too.

Speaking of books, I spent the first few months of 2016 writing The Underwood. I started in November of 2015, and I wrote every day, finishing the 120k-word beast in March. I didn’t miss a day, and I was proud of that, but the end result was that I burned myself out for a while, and I wasn’t able to get back to the next draft for several months. It took a long time, but eventually, armed with some helpful notes from my agent, I was able to get back to it, and the next draft should be done in the next few weeks.

There have been dark days with the book. Times when I’ve looked at the thing and felt I wrote it too fast, or that the idea simply wasn’t as good as I thought it was. Doubt is a normal part of writing, but that doesn’t make it any less easier to deal with. Sometimes the doubts seem to pile up so high I can’t see anything else. All I can do is keep my chin up and do my best, and hope that it’s good enough in the end.

This is the process, and although I may be biased I feel that writing requires the most discipline and the most courage of the creative arts. Because it doesn’t matter if you’re Stephen King or a relative nobody like myself, a writer works alone. There may be encouragement from friends, family, and other writers, but in the end they can’t help you with the work. Sometimes writing feels like Fitzgerald’s dark night of the soul, where it’s three o’clock in the morning day after day. That sounds melodramatic as hell, but any writer who has made a serious run for the brass ring knows it’s true. Writing is often hard, lonely work. You have to really love it — and really believe in yourself — to keep going, and it’s perfectly normal to constantly ask yourself, Am I a fool? Am I deluding myself?

Maybe I am, but the fact is, I enjoy writing, I enjoy telling stories, and I figure as long as the enjoyment outweighs the doubt, then it’s still worth doing. The support of my wife, my friends, and the many writers I know help me on the days when I can’t help myself. Like most things in life, it’s about balance, and I couldn’t do it without them. The people that keep me from falling over. The people that help pick me up when I do.

Thank you all.

See you on the flip-flop.

From Deadline Hollywood:

NBC Buys Haunted House Drama From ‘Paranormal Activity’ Writers & Vertigo

NBC is developing a haunted house procedural drama from a team with genre credentials, Jason Pagan & Andrew Deutschman, writers on the fifth Paranormal Activity movie, and Vertigo Entertainment, whose credits include the A&E’ series Bates Motel and The Grudge horror movie franchise. Universal Cable Prods. is the studio.

Written by Pagan & Deutschman, The Eight is based on the short story, The House on Ashley Avenue, by Ian Rogers. It is set inside the High Risk Claims Department of an AIG-like insurance company – a small secret unit that specializes in insuring haunted houses. After the death of the company’s enigmatic Founder, the department is forced into a high-stakes race to find The Eight – a mysterious group of properties, hidden across North America, connected by a terrifying and powerful force.

Pagan & Deutschman executive produce along with Vertigo’s Roy Lee and Michael Connolly.

Pagan & Deutschman also wrote Project Almanac for Paramount, which was produced by Platinum Dunes, and have drama Run and Gun in the works at USA Network. They are repped by WME, Underground and attorney Andrew Horwitz.

Vertigo Entertainment, which also produced the Oscar-winning movie The Departed, is producing the TV series reboot, which is being developed at Amazon.

NBC’s veteran supernatural drama, Grimm, is coming to an end this season but the network is not abandoning the genre, introducing new drama series Midnight, Texas in midseason.

The novel is finished.

I wrote every single day from November 4, 2015 to March 22, 2016. Final word count: 124,762 words. 493 double-spaced pages. This is a first draft, so that number will come down in the rewrite. But it’s done!

Now, time for a drink.

Oh, and the book is called The Underwood.

First draft of "The Underwood"

In 2015, I read 43 novels, 26 novellas, and 225 short stories.

Instead of limiting my favourites to lists of ten or fifteen titles, I’ve included everything I liked. (As usual, not all of these were published in 2015.)

Favourite Novels

The Darkest Part of the Woods — Ramsey Campbell
14 — Peter Clines
The Monkey’s Raincoat — Robert Crais
The Acolyte — Nick Cutter
From Russia, With Love — Ian Fleming
Gone Girl — Gillian Flynn
Horrorstör — Grady Hendrix
The Friends of Eddie Coyle — George V. Higgins
Darkness on the Edge of Town — Brian Keene
Finders Keepers — Stephen King
The Bottoms — Joe R. Lansdale
A Fine Dark Line — Joe R. Lansdale
Last Days — Adam Nevill
Clementine — Cherie Priest
The Damned — Andrew Pyper
Ruthless — John Rector
The Score — Richard Stark
A Head Full of Ghosts — Paul Tremblay
Annihilation — Jeff VanderMeer
Authority — Jeff VanderMeer
Acceptance — Jeff VanderMeer
Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits — David Wong
Westlake Soul — Rio Youers

Favourite Novellas and Novelettes

Skullpocket — Nathan Ballingrud
The Visible Filth — Nathan Ballingrud
Water for Drowning — Ray Cluley
Rub-A-Dub-Dub — Kurt Fawver
What Do You Do?
— Gillian Flynn
A Terror — Jeffrey Ford
Mother — Philip Fracassi
Painted Monsters — Orrin Grey
Burn Cards — Christopher Irvin
Her Deepness — Livia Llewellyn
Burnt Black Suns — Simon Strantzas
One Last Bloom
— Simon Strantzas
Ghosts in Amber — Jeffrey Thomas
Life Work — Jeffrey Thomas
The Curious Affair of the Dead Wives — Lisa Tuttle

Favourite Collections and Anthologies

Gateway to Abomination — Matthew M. Bartlett
The Night and the Music — Lawrence Block
Women and Other Constructs
— Carrie Cuinn
Fearful Symmetries — edited by Ellen Datlow
Forever, In Pieces — Kurt Fawver
Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts — Orrin Grey
After the Apocalypse — Maureen F. McHugh
To Usher, The Dead — Gary McMahon
The Moon Will Look Strange — Lynda E. Rucker
Ghosts of Punktown — Jeffrey Thomas
Worship the Night — Jeffrey Thomas

Favourite Short Stories

“Hinterkaifeck Again” — Nick Antosca
“The Atlas of Hell” — Nathan Ballingrud
“The Worms Crawl In,” — Laird Barron
“With the Angels” — Ramsey Campbell
“Shark! Shark!” — Ray Cluley
“About the Mirror and Its Pieces” — Carrie Cuinn
“The Last Love of the Infinity Age” — Peter Darbyshire
“The Spider” — Hans Heinz Ewers
“A Wish from a Bone” — Gemma Files
“The Old Pageant” — Richard Gavin
“Walpurgisnacht” — Orrin Grey
“Persistence of Vision” — Orrin Grey
“Strange Beast” — Orrin Grey
“The Muffled Drum” — Kenneth J. Harvey
“The Spindly Man” — Stephen Graham Jones
“Episode Three: On the Great Plains, In the Snow” — John Langan
“Ymir” — John Langan
“The Bull Ring at Blisston” — Elmore Leonard
“The Only Good Syrian Foot Soldier Is a Dead One” — Elmore Leonard
“In the Year of Omens” — Helen Marshall
“The Good, Light People” — Gary McMahon
“The Other Tenants” — Gary McMahon
“The Woman in the Wood” — Daniel Mills
“The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill” — Kelly Robson
“In Death’s Other Kingdom” — Lynda E. Rucker
“These Things We Have Always Known” — Lynda E. Rucker
“The Storyteller” — Robert Shearman
“On Ice” — Simon Stranztas
“These Last Embers” — Simon Strantzas
“The Hungry Stones” — Rabindranath Tagore
“Good Lord, Show Me the Way” — Molly Tanzer
“Telling” — Steve Rasnic Tem
“Notes from ‘The Barn in the Wild’” — Paul Tremblay
“Closet Dreams” — Lisa Tuttle
“Sticks” — Karl Edward Wagner

Phew… so that was 2015. Looking back at last year’s review of 2014, I’m reminded of what an up-and-down year it was. 2015 was quite different in that it was neither a year or ups or downs. It just sort of… was.

On the writing front I was in a bit of slump. I’m not proud of that, but I can admit it. I had just come off an important meeting with my literary agent in which we both agreed this was not the right time to publish the first Felix Renn novel in a market oversaturated with urban fantasy and supernatural noir fiction. It’s true what they say, timing is everything, and this was not the right time for Felix.

When I decided to capitalize on the small success of my debut collection Every House Is Haunted, I had an idea for what I thought would be a great standalone horror novel. I’d been squirrelling away notes on this book for years, and I was very excited to write it.

I wrote two chapters and stopped. It was the last thing I wrote for almost the entire year.

At the time I didn’t know what was happening. I’d never had a problem with writer’s block before. I had almost the entire book outlined and ready to go. I knew the story, the characters, all the beats and broad strokes. All I had to do was write the damn thing. Easier said than done, I guess.

I thought maybe I was more upset than I thought about having to switch tracks from working on the Felix Renn novel. In my mind I had planned to write many books in the Black Lands series, and now I wasn’t writing any of them. It made sense that I was still upset about that, maybe even nervous about what people would think of this new idea.

Despite that, 2015 wasn’t entirely unproductive. Universal Pictures renewed the option on “The House on Ashley Avenue” and work continues to progress on the project. I had three short stories published, and they were all big ones for me. I had what was probably my biggest anthology appearance to date with “The Lighthouse of Midian,” which appeared in Midian Unmade: Tales of Clive Barker’s Nightbreed. I was also invited to take part in an exciting project, a collection of unauthorized James Bond stories called Licence Expired. I wrote a story called “Two Graves,” which I’d describe as “What would happen if James Bond was a character in Nevil Shute’s On the Beach?” It was a lot of fun to write and it’s one of my proudest accomplishments to date. My final published story of the year was “The Veils,” a spooky tale about hidden images in stock photography, which appeared in the The 2nd Spectral Book of Horror.

On a personal note, the year’s biggest highliight was bringing a new cat into our family. Kathryn and I weren’t sure when it was going to happen – we’ve still been feeling the loss of Thor from last Christmas – but these things have a tendency of announcing themselves. So it came as no surprise when, a couple of months into the new year, we ended up going to a local animal shelter and getting a new cat. The part that was a surprise was finding out how much we needed him. Barnabas (or Barney, as we affectionately call him; as well as Titus Barndronicus, BarnTown, and Shithead) has brought a much-needed dose of happiness to our lives.

Two very good friends of mine got married over the summer, which was wonderful, and two others got very sick. One of them spent several months in the ICU, while the other passed away. I don’t know if it was any of these things individually – more likely it was all of them combined – but I was eventually able to crawl out of my writing funk and get back to work.

I remembered a piece of writing advice I heard, not just from one author but from lots of them. They said to write something every day. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but try to stick with it, do something, anything, every day. It will help to turn your writing into a routine, and even if it’s only 250 words, one page of writing, then at least it’s something. And it adds up over time.

Like all writing advice, there are people who don’t agree with this method, and that’s fine. I think the only universal truth of writing (and I’m sure it’s the same for the rest of the creative arts) is that you should do the thing that works best for you. Some writers love to go on about their routine as if it’s the One True Way. If I’ve learned anything from writing and publishing it’s that there is no such thing as the One True Way, and those who say otherwise are usually selling something (probably a book on writing).

The point is, writing every day worked for me. It kept me honest when I was tempted to slide back into depression and self-pity (neither of which was going to get my book finished). I started with 250 words a day, and after a month, when I saw I was exceeding that on a regular basis, I bumped it up to 500. One of the ways I held myself to this was by recording my daily word counts in a small notebook. It got so that I didn’t want to miss a day because I didn’t want any gaps in my record. It was a small thing, but it worked. I started writing again on November 4th and I haven’t missed a single day, not even Christmas or New Year’s. As of today, I’m currently sitting pretty on 45,000 words of the new novel. Not too shabby for two months’ work, but mostly I’m just glad to be back in a place where I enjoy writing again.

If I can maintain my current pace, I should have the first draft completed around the end of February. Wish me luck.

See you on the flip-flop.

Recently I had a long talk with my literary agent about my writing career — past, present and future. It was a good talk, and while there were parts that I didn’t particularly want to hear, I knew it was only because he was speaking the truth.

Although the creative arts may seem exciting and mysterious to some people, a writing career is really not all that different from other careers. Some parts can be planned, others cannot.

I have always wanted to write books for a living. Ever since I was a little kid and stumbled upon my mother’s collection of Stephen King novels and my father’s collection of Louis L’Amours and National Geographics. It was all I ever wanted to do.

When I first came up with the idea for Felix Renn and the Black Lands, I felt I had struck upon something special. I didn’t know if other people would feel the same way, but I knew this was what I wanted to do as a writer.

Even though I was completely happy with the idea of spending the rest of my life writing Black Lands books, I also planned to write other, standalone novels. The first one I ever wrote was a science-fiction comedy called The Zane Conspiracy, a twisted tale about UFOs and family that I think of as The X-Files meets Arrested Development. I also had ideas for several horror novels.

In the past ten to fifteen years (maybe longer), the urban fantasy genre has kind of exploded. Laurell K. Hamilton and Jim Butcher may be two of the genre’s most successful authors, but they are certainly not alone. It’s a crowded pool, and even if the genre isn’t necessarily oversaturated, I think it’s fair to say that an author attempting to launch a series at this point in time certainly has his work cut out for him.

As such, my agent and I came to agree that this is not the right time to publish the first Felix Renn novel.

This was not an easy decision to make, especially since the book in question was already half written, with the next two in the series outlined and ready to go. But I decided it was better to wait until the time was right than to rush ahead and finish the book, publish it, and watch it vanish into the overcrowded urban fantasy market.

Some may say there is no right time to publish a book, and market trends be damned, and I would agree with that, to a certain degree. A trip to the bookstore will show you that I’ve got a lot of competition in the urban fantasy field, and frankly I don’t know that many of these authors will see their series continue past the second or third book. I believe in my series, I believe in my skill as a writer, but sometimes it is better to wait. Timing, as they say, is everything.

The current state of the urban fantasy genre was only part of the reason for this change in plans. The other was a bit more personal.

Although I released two books in 2012, back to back, it’s clear that the first one, Every House Is Haunted, received much more attention than the second, SuperNOIRtural Tales. There are reasons for this, which aren’t particularly relevant here, but the situation never really bothered me. I always figured that once I published the first Felix Renn novel, those readers who enjoyed it would end up seeking out SuperNOIRtural Tales.

It was my agent who emphasized the important of an author’s first novel. There was nothing wrong if said novel was the first in a series, especially if I was content to write those books for the rest of my career, but considering the attention I received for Every House Is Haunted — the ReLit win, the Shirley Jackson nomination, the Universal Pictures deal — he thought it would be in my best interests to follow it up with a standalone horror novel.

Even though I was disappointed to put away Felix and the Black Lands (at least for the time being), I had to admit he made some very good points. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Consider the progression of my writing career to date, this felt like the next natural step.

So for those of you waiting for a Felix Renn novel, I’m sorry to say you’ll have to wait a little bit longer. I don’t expect this will be a crushing blow for a great many people. Felix doesn’t have a huge fan base, but like all things in life, it’s not about the quantity, it’s about the quality, and the fans I do have are very important to me, and I know some of them will be disappointed.

All I can tell you is that the new book I’m working on, a woodsy supernatural thriller that I pitched to my agent as The Blair Witch Project meets Videodrome, is coming along well, and I think at the very least it will tide you over until I get back to the Black Lands.

I don’t know how long it will be until you finally see a Felix Renn novel, but I can promise you it will be worth the wait.

In 2014, I read 35 novels, 17 novellas, and 157 short stories.

Instead of limiting my favourites to lists of ten or fifteen titles, I’ve included everything I liked. (As usual, not all of these were published in 2014.)

Favourite Novels

A Walk Among the Tombstones — Lawrence Block
The Girl with All the Gifts
— M.R. Carey
Dead Men’s Boots
— Mike Carey
— Blake Crouch
The Deep
— Nick Cutter
The Peripheral
— William Gibson
Death Bed
— Stephen Greenleaf
Grave Error
— Stephen Greenleaf
The Glass Key
— Dashiell Hammett
The Thin Man
— Dashiell Hammett
Dying Is My Business
— Nicholas Kaufmann
— Stephen King
Our Lady of Darkness
— Fritz Leiber
The Ritual
— Adam Nevill
— David Nickle
— Nic Pizzolatto
Wild Fell
— Michael Rowe
Night Moves — Alan Sharp
Letters from Hades — Jeffrey Thomas
The Fall of Hades — Jeffrey Thomas

Favourite Novellas and Novelettes

The Good Husband — Nathan Ballingrud
Jaws of Saturn
— Laird Barron
Texas City, 1947 — James Lee Burke
All Through the House
— Christopher Coake
Mefisto in Onyx
— Harlan Ellison
— Tom Franklin
— Nick Mamatas
Faithless — Joyce Carol Oates
The Green Hands — Jeffrey Thomas
Midnight Emissions — F.X. Toole

Favourite Collections and Anthologies

North American Lake Monsters — Nathan Ballingrud
The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All — Laird Barron
Turn Down the Lights — edited by Richard Chizmar
The Best American Noir of the Century — edited by James Ellroy and Otto Penzler
Voices from Punktown — Jeffrey Thomas

Favourite Short Stories

“The Hospice” — Robert Aickman
“The Same Dog” — Robert Aickman
“The School Friend” — Robert Aickman
“Clean Slate” — Lawrence Block
“The Gulf” — Poppy Z. Brite
“Mrs. Henderson’s Cemetery Dance” — Carrie Cuinn
“The Paperhanger” — William Gay
“Render Unto Caesar” — Ed Gorman
“Iris” — Stephen Greenleaf
“At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom” — Amy Hempel
“Paranoia” — Shirley Jackson
“Old Doc Yak” — Louis L’Amour
“The Naturalist” — Maureen F. McHugh
“Elevated” — Gary McMahon
“Dial Tone” — Benjamin Percy
“Ghost Birds” — Nic Pizzolatto
“The House on Cobb Street” — Lynda E. Rucker
“The Last Reel” — Lynda E. Rucker
“Fry Day” — Melanie Tem
“The Color Shrain” — Jeffrey Thomas
“Saigon Dep Lam” — Jeffrey Thomas
“Spider Gates” — Jeffrey Thomas
“The Swing” — Don Tumasonis
“Bookends” — Michael Wehunt

Random Writing Quote

"Early on, I decided that submitting my fiction to markets that didn’t offer at least a token payment was a waste of my time. I never submitted stories to markets that paid nothing at all (i.e. “4theLuv” markets), or markets that paid in contributors’ copies. If an editor wasn’t willing to invest at least a token sum in me, I wasn’t willing to invest my talent in him or his product."
Norman Partridge

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