Tag Archives: He Has Many Names

A Hell of a Night: An Excerpt from HE HAS MANY NAMES

Here’s another sample from my book HE HAS MANY NAMES available now!

Our hero Noelle has one month to ghostwrite a novel in a creepy hotel where her benefactor claims to have encountered a demon. Noelle is skeptical, but strange things keep happening…

•••

I was pacing the 19th floor at three in the morning. I was more than a little tipsy. To make matters worse, the light fixtures had started flickering. This hall was where I did the bulk of my thinking, writing, and verbal processing since I’d checked in. Something had to be done.

I decided to place a call to the front desk. I dug my phone out of my pullover. The voice memo application was still running from God knows when. A little waveform trailed across the screen. In the upper right corner I saw that my battery was at 10%.

Then the screen blinked off, and I heard a screech, like someone pushing furniture across a hardwood floor, followed by a crash and a door creaking open.

I checked the rooms. The suites with the vampire bat knocker, the wolf, the octopus, and mine were all shut.

A dozen ice cubes scattered across the floor. The icemaker tilted forward and spat out another mouthful of blocks and fell on its face. The condom dispenser, behind it, stood diagonal from the wall. There was a tall black door where the dispenser had been. The top of the door was adorned with a carving of three figures, holding hands, pointing downward.

What kind of hotel puts a condom dispenser in front of a door? The Oralia, of course.

I approached with caution. By the time I stepped onto the tiles the ice cubes had started melting. Water seeped into my cat slippers while I was busy examining the scene.

This new door had a knocker in the same place as the others. It featured a figure sitting atop the big brass ring with his fist to his chin. It took a moment to recognize Rodin’s famous sculpture The Thinker.

I moved closer and the other engravings revealed themselves as well. At first I thought they were simple floral designs, until I shifted my footing and a glare caught the finish—naked figures jumped out of the woodwork, twisted, writhing, and anguished, a collage of biceps, buttocks, and breasts. Each carving looked like it had melted into position, a liquid orgy of delight and despair.

The lights flickered and the figures seemed to crawl over each other. I jumped back and they vanished back into the varnish. I was too tipsy to trust what I was seeing.

I squeezed my eyes shut, raised my palms, and inhaled; I lowered my palms, exhaled, and opened my eyes. The Thinker watched me from the knocker waiting for me to make my move.

My curiosity got the better of me. I took the ring and knocked three times. Each hit echoed into the distance. When the last fell silent the door opened.

I stepped through the entryway to find not carpeting but cold stones. I felt the wall for a light switch and found more stones. I dared to announce my presence. “Hello?”

The door swung shut behind me and there was a clicking not far from where I stood.

I froze a few steps from the archway. Behind me was only darkness. Ahead was the crackling of a flame drawing me into the room. I followed the light toward the bedroom, taking in my surroundings as I went. The furnishings were made up of inquisition era torture devices: Catherine wheels, Judas Cradles, and Iron Maidens. Cat o’ nine tails, riding crops, and stocks were scattered on the floor while the walls were lined with shackles.

Something about that flame beckoned me. I followed the light to a pair of torches mounted to an archway. Standing at the threshold a breeze hit me harder than anything I expected from any bedroom.

I stepped through the archway and entered a cathedral so grand there was no way it fit inside the city, let alone the 19th floor of the Oralia. Torches ran from the floor to the dome of the ceiling. Firelights went so far off into the distance they seemed like constellations.

Each torch sat in the eye socket of a slick red skull. The skulls were stacked higher than any catacomb, and held together with a mortar of musculature and organs.

Support beams marked each of the columns. They looked like thighbones, with curved bodies and rounded joints, but they were longer than anything on the fossil record, longer than canoes, longer than limousines.

The vestibule was a cobblestone platform the size of a tennis court. Beyond that were steps so wide and so deep they could’ve been coliseum seats. They led to a swirling volcanic cauldron at the heart of the cathedral.

Tall flowing banners hung from the walls. Light danced down their fabric revealing a patchwork of hair, veins, and nipples. The banners were made from human flesh, flesh that had been branded with a ghastly coat of arms. I couldn’t help but examine the nearest banner. There was a rendering of Adam and Eve, naked as the day they were made, shackled to a shield, topped with a crown of horns, framed with raven wings. Upon the shield were the beasts of the sea and the dragon of the earth as described in Revelations.

The worst part of the cathedral was the cages hanging from the ceiling like a colony of bats, some were filled with people I’d known: producers I’d pitched to, agents I’d tried to court, and screenwriters who’d vanished.

I inched toward the stairway that went around the cathedral. Something was happening at the bottom. Lava shot up like a glowing orange geyser and all the cages rattled.

There was a pulsing hum, whoosh whoosh whoosh, followed by a series of sharp metallic clinks like an aircraft carrier haling up an anchor. Something terrible was swimming in that fire.

And then it emerged: a hulking titan with four giant batwings. At first I thought it was covered in boils, big white puss filled sacks, but then the boils squinted and I realized I was looking at eyeballs.

The titan’s head was a lopsided jumble with the profiles of beasts in place of his ears. The fangs of a lion roared out of his left side, while the snout of a bull flared out from his right. The grimace facing forward was human, as human as a chiseled brick could get. I tried to read his face, but despite his size, the titan was so far away it was hard to make out his expression.

This was the entity Ezekiel described in the bible: a Seraph of the highest order of angels, one of the Cherubim corrupted by his fall. This was no mere Devil. This was Satan.

Something told me not to look him in the eyes so I shifted my gaze to the ceiling. The cages started rattling. The captives went into violent convulsions. Their backs stiffened, their legs jutted out, and their toes pointed straight down. The prisoners gripped their bars as electricity surged through them. They gritted their teeth until their eyes rolled back and their jaws went slack. Light burst from their eye-sockets, nostrils, and mouths.

The prisoners sat up in a uniform position. “COME CLOSER.” They spoke as one, a congregation echoing a sermon.

“I can hear you just fine up here.”

“CLOSER.”

Thunder boomed. The floor quaked. The platform tilted downward. I looked for the archway, but it was high above me now. I could already feel a pull toward the cauldron. I fell back desperately trying to lower my center of gravity. I dug my heels into the gaps, but my slippers offered no traction and I lost my footing.

From the edge of the platform all the way to the pit, the steps fell like dominos. The coliseum transformed into a mile-long ramp. When the platform tilted I slid fast. The traction peeled my sweatpants up to my knees. The stones scraped my calves, chaffed my thighs, and battered my ass. They struck my tailbone, every column of my spine, and slammed into the back of my skull.

Satan’s caged congregation followed my movements. I fell so fast their eyes passed like comets.

I looked down into the cauldron. Satan’s wheels lowered into the lava, making it swirl and bubble. He waded in to meet me head on. CLOSER. When I neared the pit he opened wide to swallow me whole.

•••

Meet Noelle, 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?

Pick up HE HAS MANY NAMES today!

HE HAS MANY NAMES is out today!

My horror debut HE HAS MANY NAMES is finally here! If you’re looking for genre bending meta-storytelling nightmare fuel then you’ve come to the right place, but don’t take my word for it.

“I’m bummed. I just finished @DrewChial’s latest, “He Has Many Names.” I HATE finishing a great book!”

– Daniel Knauf, creator of Carnivàle, writer/producer of The Blacklist and Dracula.

“Drew Chial is the tour guide into your unnatural slide into the abyss. One weird ride that keeps gaining steam.”

-Keith Lansdale, comic writer for The X-Files: Case Files, Crawling Sky

“A love letter to Stephen King and Satan from a new an exciting voice in horror.”

– Christoph Paul, author of Horror Film Poems.

“If Clive Barker and Brian Keene wrote a book in one creepy ass hotel.”

– Jeff Burk, Head Editor of Deadite Press

HE HAS MANY NAMES

Submitted for your approval: a desperate writer and a sketchy publisher meet in a seedy hotel. Noelle, the hero of our little drama, represents our collective aspirations for artistic accomplishment. Matilda, the publisher, represents Barkley Carver, a hack fraud who hasn’t written any of the bestsellers bearing his brand. Matilda wants Noelle to stay in a room where Barkley claims he saw a demon. She’s certain Noelle is the perfect person to churn out a potboiler based on Barkley’s experience.

Noelle heads for the elevator with a smirk on her face and a stride in her step, blissfully unaware of what awaits her on the 19thfloor.

We invite you to check into the Oralia Hotel, a place where the paparazzi fly drones over balconies, where fantasy suites come alive, and the door to hell manifests behind the condom dispenser. A place where DO NOT DISTURB signs won’t protect you from our brand of turndown service, where torch-lit domes, volcanic caldrons, and hanging cages are part of the décor, and the line between nightmares and reality is forever blurred.

Read the first chapter here.

Check out this video excerpt.

Buy HE HAS MANY NAMES right here!

Getting Lit with Leza: Drew Chial Interview

Here’s a link to an interview I did for the Get Lit with Leza podcast.

As an interviewer Leza has a talent for drawing out honed artistic statements and intimate details from her guests. She effortlessly navigates the professional, the personal, and in this case the paranormal.

We discuss the sleep paralysis I experienced throughout my childhood, the shadow demons looming at the foot of my bed and how I tried to cry out in terror. I never thought I’d get tipsy and joke about it all these years later. It was strangely fun deconstructing the neuroscience behind waking hallucinations with Leza as we unpacked the archetypes that make our minds see demons. Continue reading Getting Lit with Leza: Drew Chial Interview

Video Reading: He Has Many Names

Here’s a reading from my new book HE HAS MANY NAMES available on October 23 from Clash Books!

Here’s the same reading live at Killercon.

Continue reading Video Reading: He Has Many Names

How Not to Promote Your Novel to Strangers

This is one of those opposite day posts (with a little too much truth revealed in jest). There’s a note to myself: STOP DOING THESE THINGS and some good advice in between the lines. Writers ought to get a laugh out of it.

•••

In this age of hyper capitalism it’s important for salespeople to always be closing, influencers to always be networking, and authors to always be pitching.

If you’re a writer I can only assume you know all that already and that you’ve had a lot of success, naturally, of course you have. Print is more alive than ever and everybody reads all the time.

If you’ve taken the time to put words on paper then you’re probably racking money into your front door, but you know what they say, “Mo’ money, mo’ problems.” Sometimes don’t you wish you had a little less “problems?” Don’t you wish your novels were just a wee bit less successful? Don’t you wish the people you meet on the street were a little less interested in what you’re working on now?

Well, if you’re looking to turn your good fortune down a notch than you’ve come to the right place. Here is my strategy for making sure your writing connects with no one. Follow these steps and you’ll be riding a wave back to that sweet sweet obscurity you crave.

PITCH IN THE WRONG PLACE AT THE WRONG TIME

Pitch your cerebral introspective hero’s journey in places where people don’t go to be cerebral or introspective like karaoke bars, trivia nights, and dance halls. Watch young lovers give out their numbers while you hand out links to places readers can preorder.

Try out your material on every captive audience. It doesn’t matter if they’re a barback washing the counter or a police officer taking your prints. They’ve got ears, put them work.

If your Uber rider rating is too high make it a point of pitching to every driver.

Pitch your story to clerks as lines build up behind you.

THROW PITCHES AT THE WALL HOPING ONE STICKS

Rehearse your elevator pitch until you’re certain you can nail it in fewer than three floors. Give all the major story beats a room in your memory palace and charge down that hall at full speed. Use finely tuned phrases with evocative language to encompass your plot points. Relish in your success when you wow a strange so much that they call a friend over. Then find yourself muddling the retelling because you’re concentrating too hard on trying to make it sound organic. Take your time improvising your elevator pitch like you’re riding the lift up to a space shuttle. When you realize you’re loosing your audience jump ahead to an out of context spoiler that while indeed is fascinating, completely ruins the story you’re trying to tell.

When it’s clear that this whole encounter has been socially awkward and your new friends could use an exit undermine your pitch by saying, “Well horror nerds will get it. It’s really for them.” Openly acknowledging that you’ve wasted everyone’s time.

BECOME YOUR BRAND IN THE REAL WORLD TOO

Social media personalities struggle with portraying themselves as relatable, down to earth, authentic individuals and being their actual true down and dirty selves. They work at honing a realistic personality that’s consumable without coming across as calculated and political. Yet the person we’re seeing in those punchy quick-cut YouTube videos is really just for show. It’s a brand.

In the real world writers are more than the niche genre enthusiasts they portray themselves as online, but if your aim is to NOT PROMOTE your novel then you have to be your brand full time so as to alienate anyone for whom you might make a genuine connection.

A great way to do this is to shoehorn book blurbs into otherwise organic conversations. When friends are talking about a film with a similar subject interject how your story does things a little different. Turn their informal chats into pitch meetings. When they share paranormal encounters hijack their breezy banter and give a sales presentations. When it becomes abundantly clear that someone you have a crush on isn’t reciprocating switch from flirting to networking on a dime. If you can’t make a connection then make a conversion.

TURN EVERY CONVERSATION INTO A BAIT AND SWITCH

Pretend you’re fascinated by what someone does for a living. Get them going. Ask about their aspirations, their five-year plan, and how it fills their life with meaning. Keep asking questions about their career path only to veer off into a conversation about what it means for you to be an author, which is really what you wanted to talk about the all along.

A good conversation is like a game of catch, but you’re trying to have a bad one, so it ought to play more like a game of hot potato and then dodge ball, in that you let them speak for a moment before blitzing them with information they don’t want.

CHOOSE A SUBJECT THAT ISN’T APPROPIATE FOR ALL VENUES

Base your story on something you think of as a dated mythological figure, like say the devil, you know a character others still take deadly seriously. Go ahead and name your story after Satan and put his likeness on all your business cards. Hand them out with no concern over alienating anyone with religious convictions. Design your pentagram promotional materials next to a pair of recovering alcoholics while they discuss their higher power.

Pitch your nightmare-inducing story at your day job. Bring up the seedier aspects of the plot around customers and clients.

Replace your social media thumbnails with your cover art and make the creepy iconography your sole identity.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Anyone can become a bestselling author. Everyone has a dozen great novels in them and they’ll all more than likely be made into movies (and in most instances the characters will be played by actors chosen by the author). I know this. You know this, and yeah, sometimes all that success can be overwhelming, but if you follow the above tips then hopefully you’ll sell a little less and have more time for that sweet sweet self-loathing you crave. Continue reading How Not to Promote Your Novel to Strangers

Book Excerpt: HE HAS MANY NAMES

Chapter 1: The Oralia

I’d been trying to get ahold of my agent for months. I was beginning to think she was dead. Then she called, at dawn, sounding like she’d run up a flight of stairs. “Noelle, drop whatever you’ve got going on tonight.”

Box wine and ramen, done.

“A publisher wants to meet with you at the Oralia Hotel. It’s super swanky and upscale. So doll yourself up.”

I hung up and spent more time putting my pitch together than my outfit. I got ready at the eleventh hour, ruined a zipper in my panic, and did my makeup in a series of swift strokes right before my Uber pulled up.

I scooted into the middle seat nervously adjusting my necklace in the mirror. It was a bib of emerald laurels mom had given me for just such an occasion. I have no idea how much it set her back, but it was priceless on waitress’s salary. And…I had it on backward. I unlatched the bib, flipped it around, and struggled to get it back on.

“You know what you look like with your good bag and cheap shoes?” I muttered in my best Hannibal Lecter voice. “You look like a rube.”

“What was that?” My driver squinted through the mirror.

“I was just wondering if you could go a little faster.”

•••

The Oralia was hard to pick out of the skyline. Its bricks were so black it blended into the storm, but there was no missing the hotel when facing it dead on. Spotlights shot up the columns, like something off the poster for a silent film. The entrance was made of dark marble tiles separated by a grid of gold. A golden maze-like pattern ran up the side of the building. The balconies started on the third story.

I walked inside and a bellhop stepped forward. “Welcome to the Oralia. May I take your things?”

I handed him my umbrella and kept my briefcase to myself.

I strode past chandeliers that looked like pipe organs, gorgeous gargoyles, and a giant clock that assured me I didn’t have time to appreciate the art deco architecture.

It felt like I was rushing through the set of a Busby Berkeley film. Big buxom sculptures grazed my case, water fountains sprayed my forearms, and ballroom music beckoned me in.

The archway between the lobby and the check-in counter featured a gilded recreation of the entrance: a skyscraper lit from the bottom up. Behind the front desk was a smaller version of the same thing.

From the stained glass stars to the bright red carpeting, the lobby screamed Golden Age Hollywood. Even the name Oralia meant golden. I felt certain that this was one of the last bastions of elegance and class from an era when there was still tinsel in tinsel town.

I scanned the plaque on the counter to confirm my suspicions.

And… The hotel was founded in 2008.

The concierge didn’t notice me. She was face deep in a paperback. I leaned over to see what it was. I couldn’t catch the title, but I caught the hunk of beefcake on the cover.

At this stage of my career in publishing I was in the retail sector, working at an establishment whose name rhymes with Yarns and Global. The hardest part of my job was when I had to tear the covers off of the romance novels that weren’t selling. The publishers didn’t want them. They just needed to know we weren’t giving them away, so they had us send back the remains. I felt bad for the male models on the covers, all their bench presses gone to waste. I felt worse for the women on the back, smiling with their eyes so full of hope, yearning to be loved.

I daydreamed writing romance under a penname, giving single women the bearded billionaire bondage experience of their dreams. I’d like to say it was artistic pride that kept me from doing it, but really, it was fear of not being able to pull it off. Romance wasn’t my area of expertise.

The concierge felt my eyes on her. She buried her guy-candy in a drawer, folded her spectacles, and stood up.

“May I help you?”

I gave her a nervous smile. “I’m here to see Matilda MacDonald.”

The concierge pointed to a vampish figure on a couch in the corner.

Matilda wore a black pants suit that was all pleats and leather, with no undershirt. The Pradas she’d kicked up on the footrest were patent leather with heels that went on forever. She wore her jet-black hair in a pixie cut. Topping off her look was an armored ring that ran the length of her index finger.

Matilda swiped at a phone in an embroidered leather case. In her clutches, it looked like a forbidden text filled with spells for calling up the dead.

I extended my hand. “Matilda MacDonald?”

Matilda extended the hand with the armored ring. “Noelle Blackwood. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.”

I held my briefcase to my chest. “The pleasure is mine. Publishers never reach out to mid-listers. Who do I have to thank for floating my name in your direction?”

Matilda smirked and took her seat. She reached into her bag and slid a book across the table. “I trust you’ve heard of Barkley Carver.”

Barkley Carver, his name always made me think of trees, especially since there were evergreens on the covers of all of his books, including this one Out on a Limb.

Cover artists used tree lines as visual shorthand for shallow graves, which fit since all of Barkley’s stories started with hikers discovering a body. Barkley filled his fictitious funeral plots with the segment of the populace that made up his audience: upper-class white women; the same ones the media turned into saints whenever they went missing, say while jogging through the woods. This is why the mystery section of every bookstore looks like a forest mural.

Barkley took this theme a step further by working it into each of his titles: Fruit from the Poison Tree, Shake Like a Leaf, and A Tree Falls Silent.

I flipped the book over to find the same portrait Barkley Carver had used for the last twenty years. The author stood proud in his bomber jacket, full flight suit, and helmet. He leaned on the nose of a fighter jet and looked to the sky in big aviator shades.

Matilda signaled to the bellhop. He set a storage bin on the table, and flipped it open.

I peered inside. “What’s that for?”

Matilda nodded at my luggage. “Your briefcase, your coat, your phone, and a smart watch if you have one.”

I tapped my luggage. “What about my manuscript?”

Matilda drew a piece of paper from beneath the table. “Think of this meeting as less of an acquisition and more of a commission. Go ahead put it in.”

“Then I suppose you’ll want my Wi-Fi glass eye and fiber optic hair extensions?”

Matilda rolled her eyes. “Would you be so kind?”

Joking aside, Matilda wasn’t going to pass anything my way until I gave up my phone, so I did, and the bellhop left with the bin.

Matilda slid the piece of paper across the table. It wasn’t an offer. It was a nondisclosure agreement. I skimmed far enough to get to the part where I realized Matilda’s proposition wouldn’t start until I’d signed.

I drew a squiggle and slid the agreement back. “Why all the secrecy?”

Matilda swapped the agreement for a manila folder. “This offer is for you alone. Barkley and I, we’re not like other publishers. We don’t take submissions. We seek out talent and your name, Noelle, has come up several times. Your screenplay for The Identity Thieves just made the blacklist. Script readers gave it their highest marks, but do you know why it will never get made into a film?”

I shrugged. “Because it doesn’t have the words ‘fast’ or ‘furious’ in the title?”

Matilda nodded. “Because it can’t be retooled to fit an existing franchise, yes, just like your first manuscript couldn’t be softened into teen lit, and your last one couldn’t be sold as fantasy or horror. Your work defies traditional branding. Now that’s where we come in.”

I shook my head. “What is it with the royal we? I thought you only published Carver’s titles.”

“Oh we do, but we publish 5 Carver titles a year. We’d like to ratchet that number up to 15.”

“Those are James Patterson numbers.” I slouched into the sofa with an underwhelmed sigh. This was all starting to make sense. “You want me to ghostwrite for Carver. You know, serial killer thrillers aren’t really my forte.”

Matilda leaned forward and tented her fingers. “Barkley chose you because he wants to explore a new direction.”

I cocked my head. “He’s read my work?”

Matilda pushed her armored ring back and forth. “You know that paranormal investigations podcast you’re on?”

Ohhh. “So he’s heard my work.”

“We’ve listened to all nineteen episodes.”

“Then you know I’m just the token skeptic, there to make the show seem balanced.”

“Maybe that’s why they hired you, but you’re the star of the show. Every week you break down all of their supernatural pseudo science into simple psychology.”

Turning a screw into my skull, I quoted myself. “Stimulate the anterior insula and you too can see a ghost.”

“Have you?”

“Of course. We’re hardwired to see faces everywhere.”

Matilda raised an eyebrow. “Seriously?”

“I’ve seen them in wallpaper, marble tiles, even a chain length fence when the light hit it just right.”

Matilda cocked her head. “And you never flinched?”

I shrugged. “Our ancestors had to spot predators in an instant. So sometimes we see face where there are none, the Virgin Mary on toast or a cloud shaped like Donald Trump. It’s just a glitch in evolution.”

Matilda nodded recognizing this talking point from the podcast. “People don’t hallucinate that much, do they?”

I nodded. “Oh yeah. No need for drugs or schizophrenia. With enough anxiety people will see all sorts of things.”

Matilda leaned forward. “Are you speaking from experience?”

“About anxiety or hallucinations?”

Matilda tilted her head back and forth.

“On the podcast, when I said part of my writing ritual involved speaking to my characters like they were actually there-“

Matilda perked up. “Walk ins you called them; imagined figures that felt like they were literally in the room.”

“I was being hyperbolic to prove my point.”

Matilda feigned a smile. “Still, you’re clearly qualified for this, so much so that Carver is eager to lend you his name.”

I looked down at my boots, still wet from the walk. “Yeah, but isn’t that cheating?”

“It’s collaborating. He’s the architect. You’re the engineer. He draws the blueprints. You build the house.”

“And how extensive are Carver’s blueprints?”

Matilda tapped the manila folder with her pen. “He’s written a ten-page synopsis.”

“So it’s a sketch on a bar napkin?”
Matilda shrugged. “It’s bare bones, but think of how much freedom that’ll give you.”

I waved my hands in the air. “Yeah, but it’s Carver’s name on the building. How does that help my career?”

Matilda leaned forward. “Right now, your name, with your following in the paranormal community, might get you into a local bookstore. Carver’s name will get you that prime checkout counter space at a national grocery chain.”

“Were you a real estate agent prior to your career as a publisher?”

“I’ve been many things.” Matilda smiled and passed the manila envelope across the table. “This one little book will earn you royalties for the rest of your life. It’ll buy you time to get your own magnum opus in print.”

I shuddered. “I could always put it out myself.”

Matilda pursed her lips, feigning optimistic approval.

“It’s true, as a group, self-publishers are taking bigger bites out of the e-book pie, but as individuals most of you are starving. Anonymous reviews don’t have the sway of syndicated columns, podcasts don’t have NPR’s listeners, and trendsetters don’t have the influence of traditional publishers. Go ahead and throw your book at the wall, see if it sticks, but when readers have so many options they prefer established brands.”

I unbuttoned the top button of my blouse and let out a low sigh. “How does this bestseller factory of yours work?”

Matilda raised her eyebrow, knowing she had me.

“You’ll stay here, in the Oralia, until you’ve finished a draft. We’ll comp the room, the pay-per-view,” she tilted her head back and forth, “and room service within reason.”

I looked toward the concierge. “Why put me up here? Doesn’t Carver trust anyone to keep his secret?”

Matilda bit her lip to conceal her smile. “It’s something new we’re trying. Think of yourself as an artist in residence. The Oralia isn’t old, but it was built by people who remember when this town was filled with magic. Soak it in.”

I scanned the lobby of the creepy hotel that was to be my home.

“This is starting to sound a lot like a Stephen King story, one that didn’t end well for the author in it. Is there any kind of advance?”

Matilda produced an attaché case and took her time entering the combination.

The locks clicked open and she slid the case across the table. It was lined with stacks of cash. They were twenties, but more money than I’d ever seen.

Matilda slammed the case shut. “This will be in a safe behind the counter. Send us a draft in one month and management will be authorized to hand it over.”

“One month?”

“It’s how Carver wants it done. It’s in the contract. Think of it as a writing marathon.”

I reflected on my first semiautobiographical novel. I labored on it in my twenties, sold it for pennies, and watched it barely make back the advance.

I looked back at the cash. “All that for one month’s work?”

Matilda nodded.

“When can I check in?”

Matilda slid another document across the table. “Right after you sign on the dotted line.” Continue reading Book Excerpt: HE HAS MANY NAMES

How Being A Writer Makes the Ads I See Weird

When I was researching He Has Many Names, a story about the devil and a sleazy hotel, I Googled my share of strange things. Most of the story takes place in a forest-themed fantasy suite. As the suite’s interior decorator I had to fill the space with the right furniture. Now I can’t scroll through my Instagram feed without seeing ads for live edge redwood coffee tables, cherry blossom desk lamps, Styrofoam stalactites, moon shaped lanterns, and vine-themed sex swings.

My research queries ended up in my cookies and swapped information between all my logins. My inquiries into the etymology of the devil, his many forms, and the Satanic panic of the 1980s follow me like toilet paper on the bottom of my boot.

Thanks AdChoices but no I’m not interested in BlueDevil Head Gasket Sealer, Dirt Devil vacuum cleaners, or New Jersey Devils apparel. Try harder.

When Searches Go Public

In 2006 a large number of AOL’s users search history leaked online. The 2013 documentaryTerms and Conditions May Apply shows what happened when several anonymous users were identified by their search terms.

One AOL user in particular had a most intriguing search history. He’d looked up “How to kill your wife” multiple times along with “decapitated photos” and pictures of “murder victims.” Alarmist headlines dubbed him the scariest user on AOL and several armchair sleuths set out to unmask him.

Eventually the documentary filmmakers caught up with Jerome Schwartz and pressed him to see if these search terms were his. He admitted to looking up all of them and a slew of other macabre things. Turns out he was writer for the TV show Cold Caseand these search queries were research for his work.

In the documentary Jerome speculates what would happen if a government algorithm had flagged his searches and the FBI came knocking. I’ve joked about what would happen if the feds confronted me with my search history going so far as to turn the scenario into a short story. If these invasions of privacy become the norm a lot of authors are going to need alibis (this is why I write in public). #WriterProblems.

The New Abnormal

I have a feeling AdChoices will damn me to awkward public encounters for years to come.

I’ll be scrolling through FaceBook when someone will catch some strange shit in my border columns.

“A rhinestone codpiece, shackles, and a gimp mask? I had no clue you went in for all that.”

“I’m writing a scene set in a bondage club so those keep showing up.”

“And the adult sized Winnie the Pooh costume with the open butt flap?”

“Oh well, I am into.”

My Killer App Idea

What if there was a browser extension that recognized the online behaviors of writers and adjusted searches, ads, and results accordingly? And no I don’t mean constantly showing us ads for Grammarly or Scrivener. I’m talking about ads that are fine tuned to enhance the research process be it the intricate procedures that make up your characters’ careers, deep dives into the mythology you’re drawing from, or visual inspiration for the buildings that fill up your plot of the astral plane.

If our cookies spread our data from one site to another wouldn’t it be nice if the cookies contextualized the data as it went? The app could let sites know when we’re looking for home décor and when we’re looking for props for our settings, when we’re shopping for apparel and when we’re putting costumes on characters.

If advertisers have to mine my data they could at least draw the right conclusions from it.

Until they do I’ll just keep an ad blocker running. Continue reading How Being A Writer Makes the Ads I See Weird

A Poem to Pitch a Novel

Here’s a pitch for my new novel He Has Many Names in the form of a poem.

An aspiring author
A predatory publisher
And a Faustian bargain
A month to pen a novel
In total exile
Confined to an art deco hotel

A forest themed suite
A woodland nightmare
And a shadow figure
An obsessed writer
A paranormal investigation
Through the fourth wall and back again

A meta mystery
An unreliable narrator
An unseen string puller
A lure, a trap, a plan
A pagan has-been
And a satanic showdown

All of these things and more
In the new novella:
He Has Many Names Continue reading A Poem to Pitch a Novel

5 Lessons I Learned Writing He Has Many Names

When struggling writer and paranormal podcaster Noelle Blackwood gets the opportunity to ghostwrite for a bestselling thriller author, it seems almost too good to be true. The only catch is that she has to stay at The Oralia hotel until she’s done. Method becomes madness as she falls deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole of her own story and the demons it awakens. He Has Many Names is a fresh spin on the Faustian bargain, a deal with the devil story in the age of artistic desperation.

•••

WRITING FROM A FEMININE PERSPECTIVE TAKES NUANCE

In the first draft of He Has Many Namesmy editor wasn’t sure if the hero was a man or a woman. The protagonist was named Noelle but she spoke with the stock phrases one might find in a detective film. I’d just been writing a mystery and the lingo had rubbed off on Noelle.

When asked to make Noelle more feminine I didn’t want to emphasize what she was wearing or file her jagged edges down. Characteristics we identify as feminine like gentleness, tolerance, and sensitivity don’t fit Noelle. The Hollywood studio scene has hardened her. This doesn’t mean she’s stoic, like many women written by men, just that she’s tired embodying all those things people in her field consider feminine.

Leza Cantoral gave me great notes on Noelle’s voice. It helps having a female editor.

Noelle has traits that aren’t traditionally feminine in horror fiction (especially in films). She’s skeptical of the supernatural, ambitious to a fault, quick-witted, a tad catty, a bit jealous, and extremely resourceful.

SinceHe Has Many Namesis a story about storytelling from the perspective of a writer I thought it would be fun for Noelle to comment on what audiences expect from women in stories (especially in film). A producer once told Noelle she shouldn’t write herself into her own stories because she’s not very likeable. They want women to be sympathetic and vulnerable, but so resilient they never waste time whining or sulking. They want women to be gorgeous yet so modest as to be unaware of their beauty. They want women to be driven but not competitive.

I thought it’d be cool if Noelle acknowledged those contrasts before telling the audience she’s not going to write herself like that.

IF YOU PROMISE A DEVIL DELIVER ONE

The title He Has Many Namesis a direct reference to you-know-who.

Who has horns on his head?

Who has skin that’s very red?

Who has a beard on his face?

Who keeps souls in a case?

Horns on head, skin that’s red

Beard on his face, souls in a case

Must be Satan, must be Satan

Lord of the dark realm

In the first draft the entity haunting Noelle was something else entirely. I thought I was being clever setting up Satan and then hitting the audience with a sucker punch, but it was a let down. While the final draft retains many of its twists the true devil makes a grand entrance. Make no mistake Hell factors heavily into this story.

As much as I wanted to play with the audience’s expectations I forgot the “Chekhov’s gun” rule of storytelling: if a pistol is hung on the wall in the first act it ought to go off in the second. In the same sense: if someone speaks of the devil in your first act the devil better rain brimstone down on everyone in the second.

CENTER EVERYTHING AROUND THE THEME

When I started writing He Has Many NamesI had a good concept: horror writer is sequestered in a haunted hotel room, but no clear theme, no thesis statement to leave readers with, no enlightenment to go with my entertainment.

The theme presented itself in the second draft (which was more of a reimagining than a mere edit).

He Has Many Names is about creators’ relationships with their audience. Be it a writer contemplating what horror readers are looking for or a devil pondering the quality of worship their reputation hath wrought. It’s about creators using art to take control of their lives only to then lose control of their art.

Once I knew the theme it informed every storytelling decision I made from then on.

THERE IS SUCH A THING AS BEING TOO META

At a certain point in He Has Many Namesit’s revealed that the story we’re reading is the one Noelle is submitting to her publisher. This is shown in a scene where Matilda McDonald, the publisher, tears everything we’ve just read apart. It’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever written and I tried to replicate that scene one too many times later on.

I’d over-complicated the story by including references to Noelle’s imagined ending, an alternate scenario that pandered to the psychological thriller twists readers had been conditioned to expect. It was my way of playing with the readers’ expectations while promising them that this story was going someplace different.

The problem with Noelle’s prophetic ending is that it made her an utterly unreliable narrator. While it’s clear that Noelle is taking artistic license in describing these events I didn’t want the reader to feel like she was bullshitting them. So I made some adjustments. Noelle references the alternate ending, but assures us we’re reading the one that’s based on actual events.

NOT EVERY SCARY STORY NEEDS TO END WITH AMBIGUITY

Some of my favorite scary stories leave readers wondering if anything supernatural happened at all. For great examples of this type of horror check out Paul Tremblay’s ambiguity trilogy: Head Full of Ghosts,Disappearance of Devil’s Rock, and The Cabin at the End of the World.

He Has Many Namesstraddles the line between psychological and supernatural horror but ultimately it picks a side. I thought about ending the story in such a way where the reader had to sift through clues to suss out what happened, but decided it would be more rewarding if suspicions were confirmed and given a hard “yes.”

I wanted to reward attentive readers for paying attention, while giving everyone a big bold note to go out on. Without spoiling everything I chose a grandiose conclusion over an ambiguous one. Continue reading 5 Lessons I Learned Writing He Has Many Names

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.