In 2017, I read 32 novels, 14 novellas, and 162 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 2017.)

Favourite Novels

Little Heaven — Nick Cutter
Last Days — Brian Evenson
Lily — Michael Thomas Ford
Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier — Mark Frost
Harrison Squared — Daryl Gregory
Sleeping Beauties — Stephen King & Owen King
I Am Providence — Nick Mamatas
The Death House
— Sarah Pinborough
A Perfect Machine — Brett Savory
Blue War — Jeffrey Thomas
Deadstock — Jeffrey Thomas
The Lighted Hand — Michael Wehunt
Miami Blues — Charles Willeford
What the Hell Did I Just Read? — David Wong
Nine Princes in Amber — Roger Zelazny

Favourite Novellas and Novelettes

Tomahawk Park Survivors Raffle — Laird Barron
Rangel — Matthew M. Bartlett
Loaded — Joe Hill
Agents of Dreamland — Caitlin R. Kiernan
A House at the Bottom of a Lake — Josh Malerman
Red Cells — Jeffrey Thomas

Favourite Collections and Anthologies

Swift to Chase — Laird Barron
Cathedral — Raymond Carver
Probably Monsters — Ray Cluley
Sylvan Dread — Richard Gavin
The Nameless Dark
— T.E. Grau
The Collected Stories — Amy Hempel
The Earth Wire and Other Stories — Joel Lane
Hap and Leonard: Blood and Lemonade — Joe R. Lansdale
Greener Pastures — Michael Wehunt

Favourite Short Stories

“A Small, Good Thing” — Raymond Carver
“All Change” — Ray Cluley
“Bloodcloth” — Ray Cluley
“I Have Heard the Mermaids Singing” — Ray Cluley
“The Cyclorama” — Laird Barron
“Termination Dust” — Laird Barron
“Word Doll” — Jeffrey Ford
“Beach Town” — Amy Hempel
“Jesus Is Waiting” — Amy Hempel
“The Clearing” — Joel Lane
“Other Than the Fair” — Joel Lane
“The Mainz Psalter” — Jean Ray
“The Shadowy Street” — Jean Ray
“The Gladiator Lie” — Kelly Robson
“The Dying Season” — Lynda E. Rucker
“The Town of Cats” — Hagiwara Sakutaro
“It Flows From the Mouth” — Robert Shearman
“Genius Loci” — Clark Ashton Smith
“Beside Me Singing in the Wilderness” — Michael Wehunt
“Dancers” — Michael Wehunt
“An Ending (Ascent)” — Michael Wehunt
“October Film Haunt: Under the House” — Michael Wehunt
“Onanon” — Michael Wehunt
“The Gales of the World” — Robert J. Wiersema

What a difference a year makes.

2017 was a rough year for a lot of people. When I think of the Orange Shadow that fell across our neighbours to the south (and the rest of the world, to a certain degree), I know I don’t have as much to complain about as others. But then, life isn’t a competition; we don’t tally up the good and bad things on some sort of celestial score sheet (thank god). The things that happened to me last year may pale in significance to those that took place — and continue to unfold — in the world at large, but that made them no less difficult.

It was around this time one year ago that I found out I was being laid off from my job. The news hit me particularly hard since I’d had a full-time job since I graduated high school, and I’d never been fired or laid off before in my life. Since I had a few months’ notice, I had a chance to prepare — insomuch as someone can for such a thing — but it still knocked me for one helluva loop.

On top of that, I found our later in the year that NBC had ended up passing on the pilot script for the TV show based on my short story, “The House on Ashley Avenue.” This was upsetting if not surprising. I knew from the beginning that it was extremely unlikely that the project would actually go much farther beyond that step. To have “Ashley” go into development was a pretty big coup, and although it’s a shame the show didn’t end up happening, I know that I still got a helluva lot farther along in the process than most writers get.

Not too long after that, my literary agent and I parted ways. There’s no need to go into the particulars, except to say that he’s a fine agent, just not the right one for me. This happens all the time and I didn’t take it too much to heart. But… on top of the news about the job and the TV show, it was a lot to take. Not to mention the year was only about half over at this point. I was a little worried about what 2017 had in store for me next.

I’m glad to say that the Fates more or less left me alone for the rest of the year. I’ve spent the last six months licking my wounds and getting back into fighting shape (both mentally and physically). Instead of rushing right out and getting another soul-sucking office job, my wife Kathryn suggested I take some time for myself. We’re fortunate enough to be in a position to allow that for a time, and as Kathryn pointed out, I would never simply quit my job to write full time. That decision has been taken out of my hands, she reasoned, so I might as well give it a shot.

I received a very helpful and extremely much-needed boost in that direction in the form of a new literary agent. She picked me and dusted me off and helped me get back on my feet. My first novel, The Underwood, is currently out on submission with a number of publishers, and I’m looking forward to hearing back from them soon in 2018. No guarantees that it’ll sell anywhere, but then if you want guarantees or sure things, then the creative arts are not for you. I took more than a few hits this past year, and I didn’t stick with it because I thought I’d get rich. I did it because I love it. Because I can’t imagine doing anything else. That might make me a fool, but I’m a happy fool, and I’m happiest when I’m writing.

This was a hard review to write. I’d much rather tell you the story of Felix Renn and his nightmarish encounter with a town called Sycamore. That story is coming soon, I promise, but I had to write this one first. It was hard to write it, not because it means reliving those things that happened, but because I tend to be a private person, especially online, and the things that happened to me in 2017 were, for the most part, intensely private. But they had to be said. I try to keep full transparency in these year-end reviews, and I do believe there’s something therapeutic in talking about our thoughts and feelings. Don’t worry, though. I’ll be back to cat videos and dinner experiments in no time. Also, Felix is waiting for me. I’ve been promising him a novel for a long time now. That’s a promise I made to a lot of other people, too, and while 2017 knocked me down and kicked me a few times, I remain still a man who keeps his promises.

See you on the flip-flop.

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.

Random Writing Quote

\"I\'ve been writing professionally for 20 years, and I\'ve been offending people with the things I\'ve written for 20 years. I\'ve offended the Left. The Right. Men. Women. Whites. People of Color. Christians. Atheists. Muslims. Jews. The elderly. Youth. Feminists. Mens Rights Activists. First Amendment Supporters. Anti-gun protesters. The 1 Percent, the Tea Party, and the Occupiers. Hipsters and Hip Hop. If you fall into any sort of social, racial, political, pop-cultural, national, or gender label, chances are I\'ve offended you in some way at some point. I\'ve been told my books have too many non-traditional protagonists (LGBT, females, POC, etc.). I\'ve been told they don\\\'t have enough. I\'ve been accused of writing both Liberal and Conservative-slanted fiction. I\'ve been accused of writing in support of both a religious agenda and an atheist agenda. At the end of the day, the only people I answer to are my children, my partner, and myself. I know who I am, what I believe, what I stand for, what I\'ll fight for, and what values I try to instill in my kids. I simply do not care what anyone else thinks. To try to pacify everyone, especially in the age of social media, is absolute madness and will cripple any sane entertainer, be they a writer, actor, musician, etc. Don\'t like what I said in an interview or what I wrote in a book? Guess what? There are a bazillion other authors out there whom you might enjoy more.\"
Brian Keene

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