Buried Beneath a Dollar Sign

I can be
So off the cuff, so genuine
Just watch me
As I moonwalk over landmines
You will find
My loose lips so engaging
You won’t mind
My constant calls for action

I will give
Too much information
I will live
Like there’s no filters on my emotions
My realist real
Will give you all the feels
My authentic appeal
Will seal a lot of deals

There are ads in the classroom
Influencers on the dance floor
Moneylenders in the temple
Because nothing’s sacred anymore
There’s sponsored content
In casual conversation
And the last shred of humanity
Is buried beneath a dollar sign

My big secret
Is a whisper campaign
I started it
Because I have no shame
I have no need
For an advertising agent
Now that eavesdropping
Is a form of engagement

It’s a calculated risk
Yeah, I’ve done the math
I’m a prophet with a motive
I’m a social media sociopath
So talk your shit
Spread it across the city
Call me a skeptic
Because I don’t believe in bad publicity

There are ads in the classroom
Influencers on the dance floor
Moneylenders in the temple
Because nothing’s sacred anymore
There’s sponsored content
In casual conversation
And the last shred of humanity
Is buried beneath a dollar sign

We ripped up Main Street
Gutted all the malls
Circled the supercenters
And tore down the walls
We pushed all the sales reps
Out the sliding doors
Now the retail sector
Knows no borders

There are ads in the classroom
Influencers on the dance floor
Moneylenders in the temple
Because nothing’s sacred anymore
There’s sponsored content
In casual conversation
And the last shred of humanity
Is buried beneath a dollar sign

KillerCon Travel Journal: Strange Rites

I’ve read books with gaudy covers because I’ve loved their authors and I’ve watched as the cover art shifted in my mind as I went. Geometrically the illustrations were in the exact same positions, but I’d attached new meanings. After putting the book down I was hard pressed to imagine any other cover. The design had improved upon association.

The same phenomenon applies to people. Charm can make an average looking Joe handsome and a sense of humor looks great on a woman. A positive association of someone attaches to their form, like an aura of positivity, and makes you eager to see them.

I felt these positive associations form in my brief time here at the KillerCon, getting to know established writers, up and comers, and the fans roving the hotel floors.

In my home city of Minneapolis I function on a safe predictable loop (yes, like the second season of Mr. Robot). I go to work, for coffee, and my weekly club night. I’m less likely to feel socially anxious when I know what to expect.

My first day at KillerCon I was out of element, a stranger in a strange land of splatter punks and hardcore horror aficionados who’ve traveled on the same circuit. At first I felt less like a participant and more like a pop cultural anthropologist.

Then I realized everyone was wearing conversations starters on their sleeves, literally tattooed right on: portraits of the Bride of Frankenstein, Edgar Allan Poe, Lovecraft, Pinhead, and Cthulhu.

Eventually those of us with thousand yard stares at the bar started looking closer at one another, laughing over shared obsessions, pitching stories, telling morbid tales of our own hometowns.

Since opening ceremonies we’ve tortured ourselves with hot sauces, death peppers, strange foods, and gross out stories. Last night I took the Malort challenge, shots of a drink whose creator says is for drinkers who disdain the light flavors of neutral spirits. If you enter #MalortFace into Instagram you’ll see a series of portrait of people who’ve taken the same challenge.

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#malortface

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That was last night, a whirlwind of hotel room parties, singing, and storytelling. This morning on the final day of KillerCon the event feels like summer camp. I wasn’t sure if anyone would like me on the day I arrived now I wish I had more time with everyone.

KillerCon Travel Journal Day 1-2: Meeting People is Easy

Windgate by Wyndham Conference Hall

Over the last few days at KillerCon I’ve met my share of purveyors of the perverse, like-minded lunatics, and kindred characters. This is an isle of misfits sporting Hellraiser t-shirts, Milhouse Van Houten tattoos, and black lots of black.

I came to KillerCon worrying I looked too straight laced, too clean cut. (Let’s face it mine is the sweatpants of haircuts.) I was afraid that my book HE HAS MANY NAMES was too light hearted. It’s a slow burning atmospheric surrealist work, with little tiny spurts of blood and gore. I was afraid I just wasn’t as hardcore as my peers, but my book has been selling. Turns out splatter punks, bizarro readers, and horror hounds have eclectic taste.

It also turns out most horror writers are surprisingly sweet and gentle people. Maybe it’s because we purge our anger on the page.

For me the last few days have filled with conversations about The X-Files, Clive Barker, Paul Tremblay,Silent Hill, and Marilyn Manson.

We’ve had intense readings of subtle emotional tragedies and casual readings of brutal slaughterhouse situations. We’ve had panels on religious mythology in horror, the virtues of good villain, and the tropes we just can’t stand.

I just watched a hot wing contest where the participants read their one star reviews, flash fiction about hot sauce, and a mad lib, all while brutalizing their tongues. The Scoville units escalated quickly. Soon the table was lined with sliced bread and tall bottles of milk, which of course were only available to those who bowed out.

This was all capped off with a tasting of slices of Carolina Reaper the hottest pepper in the world. I don’t know what it is about the sight of someone doubling over in pain and then going back for seconds that’s so entertaining, but it was damn good fun.

Here’s to another day at KillerCon.

KillerCon Travel Journal Day 1: Check-in and My Room

Windgate by Wyndham Round Rock

Turns out I’m not afraid of being alone in a creepy hotel room. (The ghouls, phantasms, and phantoms have all been accommodating.) This king-sized bed is my element. It’s the lounge filled with strangers that scares me: laughter growing to a cackle, individual speakers cutting through the crowd walla, referencing authors I really ought to know by now. I’m at the front desk checking in. I can’t see them, but I’m casting them in my mind. I just know they’re covered in conversations starters: Clever horror t-shirts, sleeve tattoos that tell stories, and then there’s me still rocking a wallet chain I bought in the 90s. Now I’m looking at the mirror thinking I really should’ve learned to accessorize before I came down here.

After a long flight and a long drive all I want to do is amble across the highway and get me some Taco Bell. Daddy needs his guilty pleasure comfort food and he’s willing to hike through the 102 degree Texas sun to get it… But that wouldn’t be making the best use of my time here. I should be networking, talking fiction, and inserting business cards into hands.

I’m going to assume that fleeting moment of social anxiety is a natural part of con and that the only remedy is fear aversion therapy. So. Here. Goes.

KillerCon Travel Journal Day 1

Minneapolis International Airport

It’s been a while since I’ve found myself biding my time in an airport lounge hours before a flight. The last time was in the early aughts, back before there were complimentary charging stations, free Wi-Fi, and touch screens drilled into every flat surface. Back when a book, a Discman, and a beer were your only distractions. Now everyone is plugged in, multitasking on multiple screens: dual wielding tablets and laptops, smartphones and smartwatches.

I’m one of them, typing in my awkward little chair, cutting out the boarding announcements with my giant head cans, and scrolling through Paul Tremblay’s t-shirt collection on Instagram. I went to my gate without setting foot on the moving walkway just so I could check how many calories I burned on my Apple Watch.

I’m not saying that if it weren’t for all these screens the frequent fliers would lean over their dividers and start getting to know one another. There’s just something to be said about being trapped with your own thoughts for several hours. There’s a mandatory meditative quality. Boredom has a way of forcing the imagination to surface.

Maybe we’re all maladaptive daydreamers, scared that too much time to ourselves will have us looking back on our lives wondering what could’ve been. So we lean into our connections. We keep things real, stay in the present.

There’s something to be said for indulging in fantasy, cartoonish, spooky, outlandish fantasy (even if you’re not a writer). The imagination is a muscle far too many people let atrophied.

That said: my flight boards in a half an hour and I’m going to get myself a drink.

See you in Austin.

Why Stories About Satan Are Still in Fashion

I’ve always loved deal with the devil stories. From The Devil and Daniel Websterto Needful Things. There’s something about the whole situation I find appealing: the downtrodden hero, the devil incognito, the reality-bending bargain, the buyer’s remorse, and the last ditch effort by to find an escape clause. I’ve always found the situation compelling.

Despite the theology these stories draw from they’re essentially fables about grifters trying to outwit one another. But speaking of theology, I like how these stories play off our need to find cosmic conformation for our values, toy with our sense of mysticism, and challenge our beliefs.

I want to unpack why these stories work so well for me.

We’re Wired for Mysticism

Humanity has a tendency to see patterns in the chaos of nature. Scanning the forest we see faces in the bark. When the breeze shifts we feel the trees are reaching out for us.

We see things in the shadows, because darkness is not the absence of light, it’s the presence of mystery, of phantasmagorical figures and imperceivable whispers.

When our minds fail to grasp something we mystify it. Storytellers know how to exploit this glitch.

When you woke up paralyzed and saw a dark figure at the foot of your bed it might have just been a waking hallucination… but deep down you suspect a demonic visitation. Storytellers know how take your suspicions and turn them in myths.

How Satan Came From Mysticism

Stage magicians used to tell wild stories about the origins of their tricks. They’d say traveled to a misty mountain monastery in the east, in the Far East, where monks worshiped not the one true God, but many deities. It was safe for the magician to presume no one in his audience had been to the region so he filled it with giant sea monsters, strange customs, and cannibalism. The audience would believe him because they were already primed to fear what they don’t understand.

We’re wired to fear everyone outside of our tribe and the devil is the ultimate outsider.

Early Christians mystified foreign Gods by recasting them as devils. The biggest victim of this transition was the horned God Pan. At the time Greek sculptures had made more idols to Pan than any other figure. Perhaps they found his horns and hooves intriguing. Perhaps they identified with his naturalistic philosophy. Perhaps they enjoyed depicting his giant dong.

Early crucifix salesmen couldn’t handle the competition so they launched a campaign to smear Pan’s brand. The only problem was there was already an adversary in Christianity: Lucifer.

Lucifer was a fallen cherubim, a race of angels with four wings, four heads, and skin covered in eyeballs. The bible never says Lucifer changed forms when he fell from heaven, but theologians (beginning with Eusebius) decided that Satan should look like Pan. They gave the Shepard God the old Mephistopheles makeover. No longer would Pan guide weary travelers out of the woods. Now he’d try to swindle them out of their souls.

Many a Pagan deity got the same Satanic mani pedi, and in their demonization their titles got added to those of the devil. He has many names, because not all of them were his. They were stolen and handed down.

The Mystique of the Devil in the Details

The dated mysticism of the foreign other doesn’t work in a woke wired world. These days we need new unknowns to mystify. Judging by the popularity of shows like Black Mirrorwe are now mystifying technology. Even the most conditioned coders can’t help but fear the future. Most of us have a nagging suspicion that social media algorithms are unraveling our souls. There’s room for a new devil in all those ones and zeros.

Perhaps Satan is lurking in all those terms and conditions no one ever feels like reading. I mean do you have 76 days to scan through the privacy policies you agree to annually? For all we know there are incantations between the lines and that subconsciously we’ve found ourselves at the mercy of a form of bleeding edge bibliomancy. Which brings me to…

The Satanic Contract

Part of the appeal of the deal with the devil story is how it upsets the established order. The established order of things is unfair. The playing field isn’t level and many of us will spend our entire lives just scrapping by. It’s easy to be righteous when you’re rich, but when you’re sinking in the quicksand of car payments and student loans morality is a luxury.

So in walks a goat legged eccentric with a pocket full of cheat codes. He says with a little up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, b, a select starthe can grant you whatever is in your heart. All it will cost you is that 21 grams of something that goes missing when you stop breathing. “I mean, what is a soul really?”

You take the Faustian bargain, make a pact with Satan, and get exactly what you want… only to realize it wasn’t what you wanted after all and that the game isn’t satisfying you play it in easy mode. You want to buy your soul back, but you can’t afford the interest. Turns out the devil is a predatory lender, a shifty genie who never grants the extra wish that lets you get your ass out of debt.

Now you’re staring down the barrel of hell, your back is against the ultimate wall, and the stakes have never been higher. You’re going to have to get creative if you’re going to claw your way out of this.

I fucking love these stories.

Not because of Satan. He’s just the catalyst. He forces the hero to evolve, to better themself, and muster up all of their cunning. I love scary stories with well placed mysticism and epic villains, but secretly I long for a hard won happy ending, with a good life lesson. Deal with the devil stories are great vehicles for this. Continue reading Why Stories About Satan Are Still in Fashion

Messing With Texas: I’m Coming to KillerCon!

I’ll be attending the KillerCon in Austin Texas from August 23-27. You’ll find me hovering around the Clash Books table talking about my latest horrifying creation He Has Many Names. I’ll be reading an excerpt on Sunday the 26th(at 1pm, location TBA).

This will be my first public reading of the book tour, and my career. No pressure, right? I mean what’s the worst that could happen? Scaffolding near the stage could come undone the moment I step behind the podium. A steel beam could impale me through the lungs. I could cough out a geyser of blood as my stomach lining seeps down my lap. I could stagger forward a bloody bile encrusted mess and realize my fly has been down the entire time. Now that would be embarrassing. If this plays out as I’ve foretold then I promise to haunt the Conference Center of the Wingate hotel as the Fly-down Phantasm(I expect a listing on hauntedrooms.com by the end of the month).

I’ll be really honest. This is my first one of these events and I have no idea what I’m supposed to do. I assume I’m supposed spend the first evening waving a microcassette recorder around my hotel room, checking for electronic voice phenomenon.

“Is there anyone here who wishes to speak, someone with perhaps with some insights into men’s casualwear?”

“How many of the spirits with us identify as fashionestas?” “Is an all black ensemble slimming or does it make me seem less approachable?

“Is this Edgar Allan Crow t-shirt ironic enough for this venue or does it look like I’m trying too hard? Be honest. I’ll appreciate it.”

I’ve scanned through the event programming. There are screenwriting workshops, panels on mythology, horror movie screenings. All stuff I’m keen on. I’m probably going to do the same thing I do every time I’m faced with the paradox of choice: wave an enchanted pendulum over a map of the grounds and scry out the best option. If the ritual keeps pointing me to the hotel bar well then that’s where the universe has decided I need to be.

In any event I’d like to meet like-minded lunatics with an affection for the abnormal, a penchant for the paranormal, and a weakness for weirdness.

If you’re attending the KillerCon in Austin between the 23-27, find me at the Clash Books table or drop me a line at drewchialauthor@gmail.com.

How Silent Hill Inspired My Writing

Stories with exceptional world building stick with you long after you put them down. They invite you on detours to take in the surroundings: the blimp filled skyline, the gear filled horizon, the towers of steam. These things leave an impression. Stories that veer away from their champions to explore strange civilizations, with nonsensical norms, invite us to image how we’d fit in. Universes with different natural laws, where magic is real and sorcerers can recreate their results lead us to conduct our own thought experiments.

Stories with exceptional world building take up prime real estate in our imaginations. Their authors build the steel frames of civilizations, but leave us with enough ambiguity to fill in with our own details. That’s why people keep returning to the shires of Middle Earth, the dunes of Arrakis, and the rose fields of the Dark Tower.

This phenomenon transcends mediums, down yellow brick roads, through galaxies far far away, and even virtual Matrixes. In fact one of my favorite imagined universes comes from a videogame series called Silent Hill.

I want to explore what makes these games so haunting and what they can teach writers about the importance of world building.

What is Silent Hill?

For those of you who’ve never been to Silent Hill it’s a ghost town in rural Maine. A place where the mist hangs low and ash falls like snow. A mining community that went up in smoke when a coal deposit ignited, perhaps from a accident, perhaps from a ritual sacrifice gone wrong. The fires rage to this day, pumping plumes of smoke through cracks in the street, concealing the town’s tragic history beneath a fog of toxic fumes.

While other ghost towns are a draw for urban explorers Silent Hill attracts a different type of visitor.

Silent Hill through James Sunderland’s Eyes

James Sunderland receives a cryptic letter from his wife Mary, inviting him to join her in their “special place.” The problem is their special place is in Silent Hill at the heart of a burning hellscape. The bridges there have collapsed. Highway patrol officers guard the roads into town. Oh and Mary has been dead for three years. James goes anyway, parking at a rest stop, and trekking through the wilderness until he finds himself in Silent Hill.

On his way James encounters Angela and Eddie, others like him, summoned by the ghosts of their pasts. They mutter to themselves, thinking aloud on past sins. They all seems too far-gone to make for helpful companions.

Shortly after finding a radio James encounters a figure in a tunnel. It staggers into the light revealing its arms are bound in a straight jacket of flesh, its feet are fused with stiletto heels, and its face is featureless apart from a long zipper leading to a gash from which it spews acid vomit. The creature’s very presence makes the radio burst with static.

From here on James embarks on violent journey into the fog, through boarded up buildings, rust strewn corridors, and unspeakable horrors.

Battered and shook James makes it to Mary’s special place in the park, where he encounters Maria, Mary’s physical double and emotional opposite.

This is when story takes a turn for the abstract and James starts to question the authenticity of what he sees. Just as the town reveals its darkness James reveals the darkness within himself.

We learn Mary had a terminal illness and spent her final days in hospice, where she grew hostile to her husband. James responded by drinking himself into a deep depression. He should’ve known his wife was dead when he came into town, because he’s the one who killed her. James smothered Mary with a pillow. He’s been in denial ever since he entered Silent Hill. His journey through the city mirrored the stages of grief.

It turns out the monsters are manifestations of things James has tried to keep buried. The knife wielding nurses in their low cut shirts and short skirts represent his pent up sexual animosity, as do the leggy mannequins chasing him through dark hotel rooms, but the ultimate manifestation of James’s repressed feeling comes in the form Pyramid Head.

Pyramid Head is a giant with a Judas Cradle on its shoulders, a long apron stitched together from human skin, dragging a sword the size of a surfboard across the floor. This unrelenting boogieman represents James’s desire to punish himself. Continue reading How Silent Hill Inspired My Writing

Questions Writers Hate Answering

Where do your ideas come from?

I can’t speak for other writers, but all my ideas came to me after I’d signed a contract with a strange fellow named Mr. Scratch.

A group of guys in my improv class had dragged me to a cabana party in the Hollywood hills. We found ourselves in an endless pool with a breathtaking view of West Hollywood. This was at the Chateau of a big director with an appetite for young actors. He was snorkeling through the shallow end dressed like a lifeguard. My buddies didn’t mind. They were hoping the situation would score them a role. I was hoping to score a drink. Good thing there was a bartender in the water. I drank until I was good and beached-whale-drunk. I propped myself up in my palm as everyone gossiped around me.

“Hey Drew, what do you think of all this Lindsay Lohan controversy.”

“I literally couldn’t give a shit.”

“So you’re constipated then?”

“What?”

“You said that you ‘literally’ couldn’t give a shit. So I took it to mean that you were incapable of shitting due to your use of the adverb literally.”

I found myself wandering through the woods in my swim trunks, ranting about how I’d be hot shit too if only I could put my thoughts into words.

“I’d literally be the toast of Hollywood, or wait, does that mean I’d be burned to a crisp?”

That’s when Mr. Scratch staggered into my path. He walked with a limp, because one his legs had been replaced with custom cloven hoof prosthesis.

“Shit, that’s cool.”

“I know right.” Continue reading Questions Writers Hate Answering

HE HAS MANY NAMES: Full Book Art Reveal

Behold the fold book design for He Has Many Names by Matthew Revert.

Submitted for Your Approval 

MeetNoelle, a Hollywood transplant that’s been subsisting on instant ramen and false hope. She’s on the verge of moving back into her mother’s trailer when her agent convinces her to take a meeting at the Oralia Hotel. Enchanted by the art deco atmosphere Noelle signs a contract without reading the fine print.

Now she has one month to pen a novel sequestered in a fantasy suite where a hack writer claims he had an unholy encounter. With whom you ask? Well, he has many names: Louis Cypher, Bill Z. Bub, Kel Diablo. The Devil.

Noelle is skeptical, until she’s awoken by a shadow figure with a taste for souls.

Desperate to make it Noelle stays on, shifting the focus of her story to these encounters. Her investigations take her through the forth wall and back again until she’s blurred the line between reality and what’s written. Is there a Satanic conspiracy, is it a desperate author’s insanity, or something else entirely?

Clash BOOKS invites you enter a zone in-between afternoon and midnight, a place if unnamed does not violate of copyright. You’ll find it in a tome of forbidden knowledge, a book called He Has Many Names.

PREORDER NOW!

Design by Matthew Revert

Advice for writers, stories about the world they live in.

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