I start off this episode with a shout-out to some awesome author friends of mine who have been doing dynamite work recently: children’s author (and my illustrator for Hello, Halloween) Donovan Scherer; award-winning horror author Matthew Harrill; and hilarious master parodist Paul Erickson. Pick up their books for your loved ones this Christmas!
Now, on to the meat of the show, where I read you the first story from my book Christmas Calamities. ‘The Lost Helper’ tells the tale of a poor elf left behind in a family fireplace on Christmas Eve. Things only get worse when the household children discover him. Will he be able to get back to Santa in time?
Listen in to find out!
And while you’re at it, pick up the book! ‘The Lost Helper’ is only one of several fun holiday yarns therein. It’s inexpensive, easily transportable, and makes a great stocking stuffer. Enjoy!
First off, I apologize for taking so long to get this episode out. I actually did this interview a while ago, but since then I’ve been in the midst of a move from Chicago to Phoenix, and I only just got my internet hooked up in my new location, so…
Here it is! [I know, I know, I already broke my New Year’s resolution to publish one episode a week. (But aren’t such resolutions made to be broken?) They’ll get more regular from here on out, I promise!]
A few weeks back I had the honor of speaking with J. Thorn. J. is a best-selling horror author whose name has graced the top of the charts alongside the likes of Stephen King and Dean Koontz. How epic is that?
What has rocketed J. to a permanent place in the list of the top 100 (and occasionally the top 5) horror authors on Amazon?
In addition to the quality of his work, though, it helps J.’s sales that he is incredibly prolific. I count over 20 separate (non-overlapping) titles on his Amazon page – many of which are full-length novels. Not bad for a career that only started in 2011! J. also has a great head for book marketing, and, being a friendly and cooperative soul, he has joined with other great horror and dark fantasy authors to create bargain book bundles, each of which costs only $0.99, and each of which features 7 or more funtabulously frightening novels. (Click the pics below for those great bargain buys.)
Last year J. got even more ambitious in his collaborations, and became one of the authors (as well as the compiler/editor) of a 10-author collaborative novel, The Black Fang Betrayal. It’s a fascinating dark fantasy, blending the imaginations of some great modern authors into a single cohesive story. (I compare it to George R.R. Martin & friends’ Wild Cards series.) Grab that one now. It’s seriously cool.
Speaking of collaborations, if you want to be a good person, why don’t you drop $0.99 to join J. and other great horror-makers as they Scare Cancer to Death?
Now, if you haven’t already, listen in as Mr. Thorn and I discuss the business aspects of being an independent author, the good feelings even the tiniest bit of success can give us, our favorite horror/dark fantasy books and movies, and many other weird topics.
J. lives in Cleveland, where apparently no one but him rocks anymore. But the man has spent large parts of his life performing heavy metal – so, of course, we talk about our favorite metal bands, and how they may or may not inform our literary tastes.
Along with everything else he’s done, J. was the co-host (with Richard Brown) of the Horror Writers’ Podcast. That ‘cast is sadly no longer going – and of course I give J. a hard time about that – but I encourage any fiction writers out there to listen to the back episodes! It certainly informed and inspired me in its brief run, and I someday hope to hear J. once more sharing his wisdom in the podcastsphere.
As I said, J.’s a good dude, and he proves it by looking out for his fellow indie authors. Check out his thoughts here:
J. convinced me to join Pinterest a few months ago, though I confess I still have no idea how to use it. He does, however, so go ahead and follow him on Pinterest. It’s hella-entertaining.
I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did! J.’s a fantastic author, a hell of a businessman, and an all-around cool guy.
Comment below or shoot me an email at email@example.com and let me know what you thought of this episode! And while you’re here, don’t forget to sign up for the Fun with Fiction Newsletter – your way to keep abreast of all the awesome stuff going on in the made-up world.
First off, an announcement: I (your host, Luke J. Morris) will be at Mighty-Con Comic Show in Wheaton, IL this Saturday (12/13/14). The show takes place at the Dupage County Fairgrounds, building 1, from 10 AM to 5 PM. I’ll be selling and signing copies of five of my best books, as well as posing for photo ops, networking with other creatives, and generally nerding it out with all the great fans who drop by my table. So come on out and say hi! I’d love to see you.
Now, on to the podcast.
Happy am I to welcome my best friend and illustrator Mo Simpson back to the show!
This episode is similar to an Eyeteeth outing, in that we talk about everything. Well, almost everything. I think my initially-planned topic was going to be “favorite Christmas movies”, but we never touch on that at all.
We do discuss reality television, the nature of fame, the idea of branding yourself (no, not like a horse), and the benefits and hazards of building that brand. Steven Pressfield‘s The War of Art comes up repeatedly. I point out the similarities between the Kardashians, Honey Boo Boo, and Madonna – using Pressfield’s idea of employing yourself – and your image – as a brand (separate from your true identity as a person).
Mo laments Tim Burton‘s lack of fulfillment on his early, Batman-era promise. Is Johnny Depp to blame for his recent string of less stellar movies?
Mo and I both hates us a poorly-written book. (On an entirely unrelated note, Dan Brown will probably never come on my show.) But we often love bad movies, and we tend to appreciate things that are over-the-top, a la Meat Loaf. See the great Mr. Loaf team up with Michael Bay (and a young Angelina Jolie!) here:
We talk about a lot more stuff in our compact hour, but I’m tired of writing about it. Listen to the podcast!
And once you’ve done that, rate it on iTunes. Please tell your friends about us. Spread the word that Fun with Fiction rocks! (If, y’know, you think it rocks. If you think it sucks, just keep your big mouth shut. Thanks luv!)
As long as you’re here, sign up for the Fun with Fiction newsletter, why don’tcha? You’ll get some great free fiction, and news about upcoming events and things that be going on with the podcast. Don’t you owe it to yourself to know all that?
I met Paul at the Chicago Wizard World Comic-Con last year, where he hosted a panel on “Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing”. We immediately hit it off – both of us being indie authors, native Oak Parkers, and Tolkien geeks. We’ve had several hilarious discussions on Middle Earth and George Lucas, so I was thrilled to finally get one of those talks on the record for you, my lovely Fictioneer. Enjoy it well!
And if you want to pour yourself a tasty adult beverage while sampling this geeky aural debauchery – go right ahead. Paul and I were each indulging in a drink, and I believe it gave our talk a touch of the savoir faire that all discourses of great pith and moment need.
And if you’re in the Chicago area in April, come see Paul (and hopefully me) at C2E2! It’s a blast, guaranteed.
Speaking of blasts, drop by Mighty Con in Wheaton this coming Saturday! I’ll be there selling and signing paperbacks of some of my best books (including the ones below). The whole Parable Comics crew will be there, as well. Come check it out!
Thanks for listening, my friend. Don’t forget to sign up for the Fun with Fiction newsletter to receive some fun free fiction, along with breaking news and updates. And email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or suggestions (including requests to be on the show!).
It’s mid-November, Fictioneer. What do you like to read at this time of year?
Okay, okay, I’ll tell you my favorite Fall fiction first.
Everything’s dying, so the horror & dark fantasy genres are perfect (yes, even after Halloween) – particularly the ghost story.
What is a ghost story?
Definition from Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
a story about ghosts
a tale based on imagination rather than fact
(Incredibly helpful, that.)
a tale in which such elements as ghostly visitations and supernatural intervention are used to further the plot and a chilling, suspenseful atmosphere.
(That’s a bit better!)
A ghost story may be any piece of fiction, or drama, that includes a ghost, or simply takes as a premise the possibility of ghosts or characters’ belief in them. The “ghost” may appear of its own accord or be summoned by magic. Linked to the ghost is the idea of “hauntings”, where a supernatural entity is tied to a place, object or person.
While ghost stories are often explicitly meant to be scary, they have been written to serve all sorts of purposes, from comedy to morality tales. Ghosts often appear in the narrative as sentinels or prophets of things to come. Belief in ghosts is found in all cultures around the world, and thus ghost stories may be passed down orally or in written form.
(I guess that’ll do.)
For me, a ghost story isn’t just a story with a ghost in it, or just any scary story. A true ghost story requires three elements:
A supernatural visitor. This may the spirit of a dead person (most common), an invisible malevolent entity (such as a poltergeist), the mystical personification of an idea (the spirits of Christmas Past, Present, & Yet-to-come), or the spiritual energy inhabiting an old house (as in the traditional haunted house tale).
A human (or otherwise ‘normal’) protagonist. A tale of a group of ghosts hanging out and getting on each other’s nerves may be a “ghost story” in the prosaic sense, but it’s not the kind of lore you share around the campfire on a dark night.
An eerie mood, a creepy vibe, a haunting atmosphere. This is a more esoteric element, harder to pinpoint than the other two. It must be conveyed through the interactions between the humans and their supernatural foils, and the time and place in which those interactions happened.
Word choice is crucial in creating the atmosphere. The order of events is very important in conveying the story effectively. Establishment of character is important in making the haunting real to the reader, and in making the reader care about it. (Yes, these things are important in all forms of fiction – but in the ghost story they are crucial.)
So, let’s have some examples!
To begin with, I disagree with Wikipedia that a ghost story has to be short. A ghost story can be any length, from a single sentence to a series of novels.
I’ve already talked about Poe, Lovecraft, & Stephen King ad nauseum (that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop).
Most of Poe’s & Lovecraft’s works have elements of the ghost story in them – though in Lovecraft the supernatural goes far beyond ghosts, while in Poe most of the ghostly elements are in the characters’ minds. That doesn’t diminish their power or disqualify them as ghost stories, however.
Outstanding modern, full-length novel ghost stories include King’s The Shining and Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. (Yes, Gaiman’s tale does feature a bunch of ghosts hanging out with each other – but there is a human protagonist, a haunting atmosphere, and a human antagonist more threatening than any ghost.)
The best full-length work of the genre, though, may be Peter Straub’s Ghost Story. Hell, that may be one of the best horror novels of the twentieth century. Why is it so effective? Because it begins with characters that seem like real people. Characters with good points and flaws and human emotions. Characters that we, as the readers, can’t help but care deeply about. When horrible things start happening to those characters – when they start to become haunted – we want to know how, and why. As the ghost is revealed, bit by bit, the mystery deepens, the danger increases, the atmosphere becomes more oppressive. Straub ratchets up the fear with an expert’s touch.
But it’s true, ghost stories more often play in the short form rather than the long.
Ghost stories may be my favorite form of horror fiction. When I say horror, I’m not talking about gore – I’m talking about psychological horror (with or without paranormal elements). Ghost stories usually do feature the supernatural – but sometimes (as in Poe) the ghost’s are all in protagonist’s mind.
In some of the best of the genre, you don’t know for sure whether the ghosts are real or not. Classic ghost stories like The Turn of the Screw by Henry James leave it an open-ended question.
Other great ghost story authors include:
M. R. James (author of Ghost Stories of an Antiquary and other collections; huge influence on H.P. Lovecraft)
Of course no discussion of Halloween would be complete without recommendations for great horror movies. Mo and I both highly recommend Cabin in the Woods – Joss Whedon‘s twisted meta-horror take on the entire ‘cabin in the woods’ horror genre. Seriously, even if you’re not a horror fan, watch this movie. It’s so much more than you expect!
Back to books! Mo delves into the mystical creepiness of Aleister Crowley, occultist and contemporary of the great H.P. Lovecraft. Seriously – if you think Lovecraft and his creations (like Cthulhu) are weird, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Crowley is the godfather of magick and the occult movement. Wonderfully whacked out, and frighteningly fascinating.
Our conversation turns well beyond fiction and delves into the realms of religious tradition, philosophy, and the argument of free will vs. determinism. We draw the connection between superheroes and gods, gods and monsters. Examples range from the adolescent wish-fulfillment of Superman to the superhero deconstruction of Watchmen.
Oh – regarding Mo’s top obscure suggestion of the day – click the pic below to get an illustrated collection of some of Aleister Crowley‘s best works – including the Book of Lies, which Mo most highly recommends – for only $0.99!
For this Halloween season Mo and I also recommend our own book, Cthulhu 4 Kids: Old Ones at the Beach! (Totally unbiased recommendation, we swear.) Cthulhu 4 Kids II: A Day in R’lyeh is coming out later this month, so grab the first one today. We think Lovecraft would approve.
And lastly… this conversation isn’t over! We continue our discussion into the Eyeteeth Podcast. Mo and I start that episode with a discussion of troubles going on in the world today, but quickly transition into the much more fun topic of superhero movies. If you like Fun with Fiction, you’ll love this! Give it a listen below, and subscribe to the Eyeteeth Podcast on iTunes. (And while you’re there, don’t forget to rate and review Fun with Fiction. This helps me keep this podcast alive. Thanks!)
Thanks for listening, Fictioneer! Keep on reading, keep believing.
P.S. If you want to meet me, and get gorgeous prints and signed paperbacks of mine and Mo’s books Cthulhu 4 Kids and Tales from the Teeth, come out to Ultimate Con tomorrow! The comic-con takes place at 3601 N. Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL, on Saturday, October 11, 2014 from 10 AM to 5 PM. I’ll be at the Parable Comics booth with some fantastic artists. Hope to see you there!
I had lots of fun putting this week’s show together for you. That’s because this time I lay it all on the line and tell you my top 5 favorite fiction authors ever.
Okay, to be fair, the list is always adjusting, and picking an all-time top 5 is actually an impossible task… but I did it anyway! Check it out below, and click on the pictures if you’d like to buy the books at Amazon and find out what all the fuss is about.
Also, let me know: do you agree with my picks? Disagree? Want to murder me with a hatchet for having such horrible taste? Who are your top 5??? Comment below, review me on iTunes, and email me at email@example.com to tell me off.
I ordered my top 5 mostly arbitrarily, but I can say with near-certainty that my favorite fiction pharoah is and always has been J.R.R. Tolkien. Author of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and other masterworks, he is the father of fantasy and one of the greatest minds to ever put pen to paper.
Next on my randomly-ordered list makes the giant leap from fantasy to sci-fi: Robert Heinlein. The founder of future history is one of the primary reasons science fiction became a major force in contemporary literature.
That’s my list! I call out a dozen runner-ups in the show, and have another hundred that I could add (since truly picking a top 5 is, as I said, impossible), but I’m sticking to my story. If you haven’t read any of these authors, click one of the pics above and grab it on Amazon (for cheaper than you’d get it in most brick-&-mortar bookstores). This helps the Fun with Fiction podcast out, and doesn’t cost you a penny more. 🙂
What, you want to challenge my palette? Bring it! I’d love to hear from you. (Also don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter for free books and stuff!)
I apologize for my summer-long hiatus, and I hope you returning listeners will forgive me and stick around for some of the great stuff I have planned. And for you new listeners – welcome! I shall strive to keep you informed and entertained beyond your wildest imaginings. Or somethin’ like that.
To begin with – in order to make up for my fair-but-harsh treatment of Divergent a few months back, I here offer a far more positive, uplifting review of Guardians of the Galaxy – both the movie, and the comic books. They are excellent. Read them. And watch the film (still in theatres, I believe). It’s totally worth it. The combination of humor, action, and pathos is on a par with Casablanca.
Except in space. With a talking tree.
You’ll love it, I swear.
Let me know what you think about this episode! Comment below, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and sign up for my mailing list to get the latest news and cool free stuff.
Also, just so you all know, I will be at Mighty Con Comic Show in Wheaton, IL on September 27th (less than two weeks away!), signing books and meeting fans and fellow creatives/enthusiasts of awesome. If you’re in the Chicago area, I’d love to see you there. Stop by my booth and say hi!
Part 2 of my conversation with Mo Simpson starts off on a brilliantly blasphemous note, introducing a neo-pagan interpretation of Biblical scripture and an insane but believable etymology of the word “Hollywood”. Did you know Hollywood, the right arm of the government, was founded by Druids?
You do now. Consider yourself edumacated.
Speaking of Hollywood, we can’t resist discussing the tenuous relationship between comic books and the movies. Just how unfaithful is Hollywood’s recreation of Watchmen? Is Alan Moore right to condemn the medium of film for corrupting the art of the comic?
From there we transition to a discussion of the various film incarnations of a certain nocturnal superhero (I’ll give you three guesses). Who was the best Batman? The best Joker? The best supervillain in general? And the controversial topic of the day – Ben Affleck as the Dark Knight: horrible mistake, or spitting in the face of God?
While we’re on the subject of gods, does anyone else think that superheroes are our modern versions of the ancient Greek deities? (I mean, heck, some of them areancient Greek deities!) I do, and I make my case fantastically, if I do say so myself.
This leads to a discussion of mythology and the necessity of myth in providing meaning to culture. No one recognized this better than J.R.R. Tolkien, who created his Middle Earth to provide a new mythopic structure that Britain was sorely lacking. Granted, he did this in a very Catholic way (see my friend Brad Birzer‘s book J. R. R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth: Understanding Middle-earth for a better understanding of that), but it’s hard to deny the brilliance of his symbolism, no matter what your beliefs are.
We talk about varieties of myth throughout the ages, the benefits of reading The Bible and other spiritual texts as literature (whether or not you believe they are literally true), and what makes myth still essential to the modern man. Calling something a myth, in the traditional sense, is not saying that it is untrue. Myth was rather a way of stating the truth – that is, telling the truth through a story that people could relate to and understand.
People need myths. This is why Nietzsche, anti-Christian that he was, lamented the “death” of God. While Newton’s mechanistic view of the universe might have had the positive result of turning many people away from irrational superstitions, it left a void; it left people with nothing to believe in. Those of us who no longer hold to religion – or no longer hold it as a dominant force in our lives, whether or not we nominally believe in it – must find a new locus of meaning.
Throughout this discussion, Mo peppers us with historical etymologies of numerous terms, including “Lord of the Rings” (Saturn?), “Luke Skywalker” (Horus, Loki, or Lucifer?), and “The Holy Trinity” (um… you just gotta listen to this one). I point out the difference between symbolism and allegory, and Mo adds that his favorite fiction is the real world that we face every day.
That last happens to be my least favorite fiction, as media-fed B.S. is more depressing than enlightening. This is why I read (well, one reason of many).
What do you think? Does myth have a function in the modern world? If so, what kind of mythology do you turn to – religion, superheroes, esoteric theories, or some other collection of weird and wonderful concepts?
Speaking of books, I have a new one out! It’s Captain Napalm vs. the Grungious Gundabad, based on disturbingly hilarious superhero stories I’ve been telling my son at bedtime. The Kindle version is available on Amazon for only $0.99, so if you want to support the Fun with Fiction podcast, pick it up today!
Or here’s an even better option: if you’re into superheroes and sophomoric humor, you’re interested in reading Captain Napalm, and you’re willing to write it an honest review on Amazon within the next month (it’s not a long book), send me an email at email@example.com, and I’ll send you a free review copy! (In the interest of sanity I have to limit this offer to the first 25 people who email me, though – so shoot me a message today.)
Thank you all, Fictioneers! I hope you’re enjoying my ramblings. If you have anything to say – what you like, what you hate, what you want more of – let me know. Comment below, review me on iTunes, or just shoot me an email. I’d love to hear from you.
That’s right – Mo Simpson is back on the Fun with Fiction podcast, talking to Luke J. Morris (yours truly) about the struggles of artists, the connection between religious texts and ancient mythologies, the shortcomings of the classical “hero’s quest” version of story, the tenuous relationship between books and the movies (or TV shows) they spawn, and the great weirdness that is Chuck Palahniuk.
This is a two-parter, folks, so don’t forget to tune in next time, when things get even crazier!
Turns out he wrote Clapping because he really likes comedy, and he noticed a dearth of fiction works dealing with the lives of improv comedians. He’d also never written a children’s/young adult book before, and he wanted to try his hand at that. So naturally he penned a 4-part novel about a boy who loses an arm in a horrific accident. The best of both worlds!
(And honestly – if you don’t want to read the book after a pitch like that, why the hell are you listening to my podcast?)
As for 188 – that’s just Drew trying to mess with our heads. He tells 188 stories of 188 words each, but they’re actually the disconnected pieces of 47 stories, which all fit crazily together into one larger narrative. I think he just hates the concept of linear time. But so did Homer, and The Odysseyand The Iliadare still pretty popular.
Drew’s favorite author is Wilson Rawls, author of Where the Red Fern Grows, one of the most painful children’s novels ever written. (Seriously. I still get teary-eyed when I think of it, and I don’t think I’ve read the book in two decades.) It’s beautiful storytelling – with a beginning, a meaty middle, and an end that punches you in the gut hard enough to knock your spine out your back.
In a work of fiction, Drew says, “I want to be transported to a place I’ve never been before; and if I have been there before, I want to learn something about it that I didn’t know before – something that may or may not even be true.” I think a lot of us can relate. Otherwise, why read fiction?
What would you like to see more of in the fiction world? For Drew, “People need to get a lot more weird. And they need to be comfortable with being weird.”
Amen, my brother.
To that end, we discuss authors as diverse as Jack Kerouacand H.P. Lovecraft, with a nice plug for my book Cthulhu 4 Kids – my Batman Begins, as it were. And he raises a few good questions, like: How do you pronounce ‘Cthulhu’? Are there boat tours to the sunken city of R’lyeh? What’s the connection between Lovecraft and Gene Roddenberry? We also discuss Metallica‘s brilliant Lovecraftian tribute songs ‘The Call of Ktulu’ and ‘The Thing that Should Not Be’.
So if weirdness and transport to a new place or new perspective are what’s good, what sucks in fiction today? Drew’s answer: derivative work. Veronica Roth‘s Divergent, for instance, is the latest instance of a formula that was already overdone beforeThe Hunger Gamescame out.
This leads, of course, to talk of Hollywood, and how almost every film released is either a sequel or a remake of some previous work. The upside of this is Quentin Tarantino– one of the greatest storytellers in the medium of cinema today.
Tarantino knows how to tell a story – from quirky badass characters to mucking around with time to leaving the right things out to entice the viewer’s interest – that sucks you in and won’t let you leave till the credits are done. (I use the word “brilliant” about 15 times in about two minutes, but that’s okay, since the subject deserves it.)
But back to the written word…
Drew’s plans for the year – once Clapping is complete – include delving into the Book of Genesisand rewriting the story from an altered perspective. He doesn’t mean to insult religion outright, but he does want to challenge readers to think about deeply held beliefs and ideas in a new way. (And really, look at the source: talking snakes and massive floods and 600-year-old men. What’s all that about, huh?)
Like any dedicated writer, Mr. Flynn is constantly working to improve his craft. To that end, his (and my) advice to fellow authors is to…
Keep writing. Write as much as you can, as often as you can. (Every day if possible.)
Keep reading. Fill your brain with good stuff – the quality of work you’d like to produce.
Get feedback. Have editors and beta readers that you trust read your work and give you their honest reactions to it. What’s good about what you’ve written? Where could it be better?
Use proper grammar, dammit! If you are going to break the rules, make sure you do it consciously, in the right way and for the right reasons.
Welcome to the very first episode of Fun with Fiction – the podcast that’s all made up.
What is this podcast about, you ask? I’m glad you asked! I make my best stab at a complete answer here, but to sum it up: this is a podcast (and a blog) 100% dedicated to stories.
But not those real-life, boring-ass news stories.
No, this site is about stories that are 100% made-up, unreal, far more fun, and arguably more important than mere fact.
Yes, I’m a writer. But more importantly, I’m a reader, and a fan of (almost) all genres of fiction, in all the various media such weird and wonderful tales may present themselves.
Here in Episode 1 I narrow my focus to the fiction world today, pointing out the wonderful and horrible possibilities that the self-publishing movement brings to the fiction landscape, and giving a brief overview of a few of my favorite contemporary authors – particularly Chuck Palahniuk and Neil Gaiman.
After a brief review of both, focusing on Gaiman’s Sandman work, I give a short reading from Neil’s short story collection Smoke and Mirrors (very short, Neil – please don’t sue), and let your minds melt on that for a minute.
After geeking out on Gaiman for a bit, I discuss various ways one might consume fiction – be it novels, short stories, plays, movies, or television. I also bring up some resources for readers, including Goodreads – one of the best social media sites for readers – and Bookbub, a service for finding good books on sale for nearly nothing.
I follow that up with a teaser for potential guests for next time (book illustrators!), and a topic to consider for next time, which is:
What makes a story good, and what makes it bad? How do you determine that?