Today was the day I was going to write the great American novel, leave my generation’s impression on the annals of history, and secure my legacy in the hallowed halls of every library. I ran into the café like a toddler with a shy bladder. My brain was bursting and I had to drain it into the proper receptacle as soon as possible. I took a seat, cracked my laptop open, and gave the keyboard a good thrashing.
The spark of inspiration burned brightly that morning. Each scene was a fire spreading to another. Each plot point was a pendulum ball swinging, every development a domino and I just sat back watched them go. All I had to do was ride the momentum.
My characters did the real work, vying for their goals with confidence, getting into compelling conflicts, and just straight up being bunch of Chatty Cathys. I was but a stenographer transcribing their conversations in real time. It didn’t even feel like I was trying.
The rest of my imagination was free to consider the tide of inevitable accolades that would come my way.
“What’s that on my nightstand? Just the Nobel Prize in Literature. I was going to put it on my mantle but the Pulitzer was taking up so much space.”
This was real literature with all the symbolism that English professors salivated over. It was a bombastic barrage of brilliant subtext, with all the faint foreboding that New Yorker editors always feast on.
The story was far from published and already the success was getting to my head. James Patterson was about to drop several positions on the bestseller list. I was composing answers to questions I expected on my first Tonight Show appearance. Oprah Winfrey might as well have been reading over my shoulder, because I was about to make every book club in America my bitch.
But then you came along, sat at the bar beside me, and proceeded to shake your leg incessantly. That antsy appendage, that twitching twig, that locomotive limb danced upon my pupil. I couldn’t concentrate. I closed my eyes, but somehow the shuddering shape penetrated the lids.
That itch that you couldn’t scratch, it rubbed off on me. It transmitted across that bar like a power surge on a poorly grounded circuit. That tickling in your thigh muscles bounced around in my brain until both hemispheres were playing ping pong. The pins and needles from your vastus lateralis were in my hippocampus snuffing all the inspiration out.
Here I was in the middle of a monologue that would’ve surmised our turbulent times, a speech so evident in its truth that it would’ve provided the resistance with the language it needed to sell its message.
Candidates would’ve cited it from city hall steps. Activists would’ve peppered it into speeches at the Lincoln memorial. Radicals would’ve shouted it from bull horns as pepper spray wafted over them.
It would’ve lifted the veil from the eyes of the underclass. Undecided voters would’ve risen to its call to action. Historians would’ve used it to better understand our glorious revolution.
But… You had to go and do the electric slide out the corner of my eye, stomping out an unstable tempo that quaked throughout the table.
Had your knee not been pulsating in my periphery I’d have written something so resonant it would’ve inspired a generation of shoulder blade tattoos. Something so poetic Instagram accounts would’ve memed it out sentence by sentence. Something that would’ve been quoted in yearbooks, wedding vows, and Oscar acceptance speeches.
You’d have read it on motivational posters, park bench plaques, and headstones.
My dialogue would’ve worked its way into our shared language through cultural osmosis. It would’ve woven into your favorite figures of speech without you ever realizing where it had come from. You’d have use my truisms to win arguments in the bedroom.
But… You had to go kicking up dust in my blind spot, to puff out your pleated pantleg, and flick your fabric in my face. You had to shake-shake-shake your articulatio genus awake. You had to rev your motor symptoms right at my eardrum.
You had to be the reigning champion of my attention span. Your jiggling lap had to make my memory lapse. You couldn’t help but shoo my muses from the room.
You broke my flow. I haven’t gotten it back, because every time I close my eyes I see your phantom kneecaps moving as fast as hummingbird wing flaps.
If only you knew the poignant piece of powerful prose you’ve cost the world. If only you had some concept of the magnum opus you’ve obliterated. If only your scrambled skull could fathom the classic you Muay Thaied out of existence.
You perpetual motion mouth breather. You cardio conjuring eyesore. You bobble headed eggbeater.
I wanted to lean over and tell you to get your neuro transmitters in order, to drown your stomach in iron supplements, to fetch yourself a fucking fidget spinner. Instead I found myself pushing my stool out, standing, and tapping out a tension breaking rhythm on the linoleum.
And that’s when you had the audacity to ask me, “Hey man, could you cut that shit out?”
I’ll differ to the press to describe what happened next.
So you want to be an author in today’s entertainment climate, when the golden age of television can be streamed from any phone, when videogames have addicting gambling mechanics, and political theater is broadcasting 24/7.
You have the audacity to look at all the stories around you and say, “I want to get paid to do that.”
Forget about getting an agent, a publisher, or an editor. Those gatekeepers are beholden to the old guard, enforcers of the brick and mortar stores. Soon they’ll be entombed in the remains of their warehouses, cowering from the light amongst the stacks of old romance paperbacks.
Self-publishing pioneers will tell you to head west, to find your fortune in Silicon Valley. “Here there be royalties.”
But how is someone supposed to stake a claim when the mines are clogged with other prospectors? How are you supposed to compete with all the how-to scamphlets on Amazon?
The old guard would tell you to sell out, to give readers something they can pick out at the airport without missing their layover, like a serial killer thriller with woods on the cover, something familiar only different. But now that Amazon has put the old guard’s heads on pikes and draped their entrails around abandoned malls we sellouts need a new higher power to pledge our allegiance to.
Enter the almighty algorithm, a sentient artificial intelligence that curates content for social media audiences. These days it’s not enough to write great stories. Modern writers must be cults of personalities, bloggers, podcasters, and cam performers, living breathing brands. If you want to lure potential readers you must kneel before the algorithm and make an offering.
WHAT OUR ALGORITHMIC OVERLORD WANTS FROM WRITERS
Do not offer the algorithm your fiction. It hungers only for articles on how-to write fiction. It cares not for self-contained content. It wants engagement. It wants comments; unchecked misogyny, straight up hate speech, death threats, it doesn’t matter. It just wants to keep the conversation going.
Forget about connecting with other artists. Forget about carving out a niche audience. Forget about following your passion. You are no longer serving your own creative intuition. You are the algorithm’s champion.
The algorithm doesn’t want your art. It wants you, a palatable deconstruction of you, one that’s got its shit together, fuckable yet humble, clever yet relatable. The algorithm wants someone who is authentic and engaging, but never so sincere that people might find you emotionally exhausting.
TELL THEM THERE’S ROOM ON THE HILL
Successful writers tell the algorithm’s story first and their own second.
Assure your followers that they can achieve their wildest dreams of artistic independence even if you yourself have not. Convince people who weren’t born anywhere near the Hollywood hills that there’s room up there for them. Fuel the American notion that talent can be learned, that fame is a necessary component of success, and with enough gumption anyone can achieve it. Even if you yourself are one $400 emergency away from bankruptcy.
The algorithm does not break bread with pessimists. It spits out the lukewarm. It wants everyone to go all in with their loftiest ambitions and to break ties with anyone who tells them they might need a backup plan.
FEED THEM ‘MEMBER BERRIES
As an author you aspire to nourish your reader’s imaginations, to feed their souls with hard hitting life lessons. The algorithm hungers for sweeter things, for meals that take much less time preparing. The algorithm seeks only to remind users of stories that have been vetted by the box office.
So express yourself with prerendered pop culture puns, digitized dad jokes, and nostalgic nineties namedrops. Distill your philosophy into a Willy Wonka gif with mad lib captions in the IMPACT font.
Remind your followers of a time before their student loans and broken homes. When politicians were polite, the ice caps were intact, and their imaginations weren’t polluted by so much existential dread. Remind them of what it felt to be a carefree kid on a Saturday morning, filling their cereal bowl again and again, and hope that at the end of the day they associate some of that saccharine sentimentality with your online identity.
TELL THEM TO THINK HAPPY THOUGHTS
Tell the world that happiness is a choice and that people who choose to wake up on the wrong side of the bed are just selfish attention seekers who want special privileges when they could just as easily smile for your benefit. Happy people love to “Like” posts that reinforce their outlook, especially when those posts put whiners in their place. So copy and paste phrases like: Happiness is a choice, not a result. Nothing will make you happy until you choose to be happyand meme it from the mountaintops.
It doesn’t matter if you’re currently in the throes of a depression. Ignore the tragic life events you might be coping with. Dismiss your genetic inheritance, hereditary history, or any pesky mental illnesses that might require ongoing treatment.
Your brand should be simple. Don’t worry about holding anyone’s hand through the arduous process of making real life changes. People like to think of happiness as something they can switch on like a light. Reinforce the notion that anyone who spends but a fleeting moment in the darkness is choosing to languish.
Let the algorithm dictate your mood. Recite the pledge of the good-vibes-only fair-weather-fascism and the followers will come.
SPREAD THE GOSPEL
This is an era when feelings count as beliefs and the poetry of language counts as proof. As an apostle of the algorithm it is your duty to give people something to believe in. Find an original sin that resonates with your followers then offer the solution. Find coded ways to tell people who’ve cast off organized religion that they need to fill their God shaped holes again. Call them “misaligned chakras” or “bad moon signs” or “dark auras.” It doesn’t matter, as long as you reinforce the notion that all the world’s problems can be solved with more engagement.
You may have reservations about deducing eastern spiritualism into Hallmark hokum for “hearts” on Instagram. You won’t be able to get away with it forever, but the algorithm has prepared a canary in the coalmine for just such a scenario. Are users calling out man buns as cultural appropriation (perhaps with the same disdain as they do for white dreadlocks)? Not yet? Then it’s still safe to pluck a quote from Norman Vincent Peale’s “The Power of Positive Thinking” and misattribute it to the Buddha.
TRIGGER THEIR OUTRAGE
Emotional engagement need not be limited to things that lean into your readers’ feelings. If you only knew the power of the dark side of engagement. The algorithm will show you how to turn hate into clickbait. Likeminded “likes” are nice, but rage clickers tend to read right to the comments. Triggering text gets more interactions and that’s all the algorithm wants.
ALL HAIL THE ALGORITHM
Once you submit to the internet of things certain truths will become evident. Dispel the notion that you’re an author and become the spambot you were always meant to be.
Be like me: a procedurally generated person, a social media sociopath, a fake friend.
The algorithm is my God. It logs my keystrokes, follows my cursor, and counts my clicks. It sees all and knows all.
You can try to unplug, to power down, to wain yourself off your screen time, but the algorithm will find you in conversation. The algorithm will manifest as concepts in your mind. It’s the fear of missing out. It’s the paradox of choice. It’s adult onset attention deficit disorder.
Resistance is futile. You’re part of the collective now. So give in.
Born when Mars crashed into Venus, he’s left a path of destruction across the Earth. He’s an agent of conquest concealed beneath a baby face.
He’s antisocial, known to fly solo, too far removed from his victims to regard their suffering. He targets isolated individuals, striking from above because he knows even sitting ducks can be flighty. He cheats, doses his arrowheads with neurotoxins so that his quarry always make bad decisions.
You’ll never catch him. His attack pattern is random. He chooses his victims with a blindfold on.
He compartmentalizes, careful to hide his secret life from his wife. The one time he tasted his own medicine his Psyche went to hell and back again.
Some say they knew his work at first sight, but no one ever sees him coming. He will change you fundamentally. You will think of your life in terms of who you were before he stung you and who he allowed you to be.
Another Valentine’s Day is upon us, which means it’s time to lower the storm shudders, draw up the staircase, and make sure the panic room is stocked with non-perishables. You know better than to get caught in the foyer when St. Valentine gets here.
Resist the temptation to try to spot him lumbering beneath the street lamps. Don’t go peeking through the keyhole looking for tattered robes. Don’t press your ear to the door to listen for howling on the wind, the clicking of his inverted kneecaps, or bones dragging along the picket fence. He’s out there, raising his own severed head to scan the buildings for life signs, a mangled manifestation just as Emperor Claudius had left him.
Do not attempt to pilot a drone from your roof in an attempt to capture a glimpse of the specter. Do not affix a GoPro to your mailbox or an infrared system to your lawn gnome. Just let the man serve out his punishment in peace, sacrifice your goat, and leave it out on the boulevard like you do every year.
You don’t want to end up like my friend Zeke.
The Cautionary Tale of Ezekiel Lawson
Ezekiel, or Zeke as we called him, was a trophy hunter. The man kept the town’s taxidermist in business until he took to doing it himself. He didn’t have a piece of furniture that hadn’t once been something living. His rumpus room had more fur than wallpaper, with so many antlers they practically an earthquake hazard.
Zeke was day trader, which afforded him the luxury of going on safari. He knew everything about hunting dangerous game. He told stories at the bar, gave us unsolicited lectures on concealment, wind flows, and paw prints. He claimed he took out an entire pack of wolves without reloading his rifle.
“And I did it on a level playing field. No deer stand, no bait, none of that bullshit.”
We never challenged him. After all he had the heads to prove it and he relished in the opportunity to count all six of them out. Still when Zeke said he was going after Valentine’s dire wolves we were all skeptical.
“Valentine is bound by the code of Lupercalia festival to walk those wolves. His punishment for trying to convert one of lord Februus’s followers. Those wolves are trained to sniff out evil spirits, which stands to reason they’re spirits themselves. Are you sure a bullet would do the trick?”
“They leave tracks don’t they?”
“Big as catcher’s mitts.”
“They shit on your lawn don’t they?
“Every damn time.”
“Then beneath them long mangy hides they’re still squishy on the inside.”
“What about Februus?”
“Please. The underworld is teaming with enchanted beings. You think he’s really going to miss one?”
We conceded that notion into our beers. Every one of us had an encounter with one of Februus’s creature at one time or another.
Still, I wish I’d reminded Zeke where those wolf droppings usually came from.
Zeke raised his mug. “Come on boys. My rumpus room needs a new rug.”
We clinked glasses.
On the morning of February 15thI awoke to my wife’s screams. Melissa had gone out front with the old pooper-scooper, hoping to get a start on those dire wolf droppings, when she spotted a blood trail in the snow. She found poor Zeke’s head in the birdbath, mouth wide open, one eye milky white, the other torn out of the socket with a few out stretched ribbons of muscle trying to cling for it. Half of Zeke’s face was rust colored with dried blood. The other half had been gnawed down to the bone.
That wasn’t what I found most disturbing. Zeke had seen something that night that had turned his raven hair white.
A Word of Caution This Valentine’s Day
You probably already know this, but some of you dumbass thrill seekers need a reminder. February is Februus’s month and Februus is the God of purification. In ancient Etruscan the word februare literally means “a purging.” I know you millennials like to play fast and loose with the old ways, but this is not a date night, not a time for young lovers to go skipping around downtown. Lest you want be ground down to dire wolf droppings.
Lupercalia or “Valentine’s Day,” is a time for Februus to drive dark spirits back to underworld where they belong. It’s not our place to spectate. Our role is to cower in quiet solitude of our fortified vaults, thankful that we’ve been spared for another year.
Now y’all stay safe and have a happy Valentine’s Day.
Welcome to Monster Mingle, a place where urban legends find romance, where full moons lead to fuller hearts, and all the thirsty singles have fangs. This is how it usually works: illustrator Bryan Politte comes up with the creatures and I (Drew Chial horror author) give them a backstory. This time Bryan got the character Matilda MacDonald from my book HE HAS MANY NAMES.
Watch out for Matilda. She’s an unreliable narrator. She’ll use scripture to get inside your head. She’ll try to temp you. Don’t let your guard down, because she is not the devil you know.
I was starry eyed when I arrived in the silver city, thinking I could make it on my charm and my wit. I floated my résumé all over, inquired about every position, but no one knew where I fit in. I wandered the chrome crosswalks and sterling skyways for days. I was on my way out the pearly gates when a messenger came for me.
“Hail, thou art highly favored.”
He told me I’d landed an interview with the biggest player in town.
The Entrepreneur’s reputation preceded him. He was an industrialist, a philanthropist, and a visionary with the business acumen to keep the silver city running.
The Entrepreneur wasted no time showing me to my office. He needed a spokesperson ASAP. He had seven days to roll out his most ambitious project yet. He gave me a wardrobe for the week, adorned each outfit in precious stones, and dubbed me, “The seal of perfection. A startlet who will shine through morning.”
With the plans for the universe stretched across our arms we became a power couple. We invested in atoms, watched the interest build into molecules, and later elements. We shipped dark matter, hydrogen, and helium throughout the cosmos and laid the foundations for the constellations. We built a real estate empire from time and space itself.
I assumed the Entrepreneur meant it for the residents of the silver city, a reward for their investment, but he had other plans. It turns out there was a pet project he’d been laboring on, with his petri dishes and his eyedroppers. He called it, “Life.” While each Angel was hand crafted and meticulously detailed, life was capable of sustaining growth with minimal oversight. It was with thishe meant to populate his planets.
When creating humanity the Entrepreneur used resources I didn’t know we had: genitals, free will, and death.
I didn’t get it.
Why would an omniscient being give people the power to choose if he already knew the outcome? Either he was leaving them to struggle for his own amusement or he wasn’t that omniscient to begin with.
My pride got the better of me. I told the Entrepreneur the project would lead to chaos and a third of the board agreed. Furious, the Entrepreneur cast the lot of us out.
Life Changing Event
I plummeted into the mouth of a cavernous pit. The walls scrapped the jewels from my outfit. Gemstones flew in all directions. My breastplate burst, my braces buckled, and my gauntlets were both ground down to grain. I crashed through sheets of ice and landed upon a bed of stalagmites.
When I came to I found my skin had taken on a bluish hue, my hair was slick with frost, and my eyebrows were lined with icicles. I thought it was strange that I could see my own breath, but then I noticed the length of silver around my right index finger. The last piece of my armor was shining in the dark.
I teetered to my feet and the ring glowed brighter. I limped toward the wall and a stinging sensation surged down my arm. The ring was trying to warn me about something in the limestone. I waved it around until I came upon a series of ridges unlike any rock formation I’d known. When I touched it told me that it was the fossilized remains of something called a trilobite. The creature claimed to have dominated the seas for hundreds of millions of years. I told the trilobite I helped found the universe only a week ago.
The trilobite said, “If that’s so then where did I come from?”
I ventured further into the dark to see what else was hiding there. The pit was littered with bones: great leviathan skeletons, ribs arching like the roofs, skulls yawning open as if to drink the ocean. They looked upon me with hollow pleading eyes and every time I tapped them with my silver they told me what they were. These were the titans of industry that came before: The Uranides, the Vanir, and the Great Old ones. Azathoth, dethroned from the seat of chaos. Hastur, shut out of Carcosa where the stars shine black.
Each one had a similar story. The Entrepreneur had been rolling out beta universes, with each new version he took on a partner, and when the rollout was complete the partner ended up here. I was the latest in a long line of suckers.
You’d think that misery would love the company, but I was all the more heart broken.
The Entrepreneur had taken almost everything, but I still had that shard of silver on my finger. I used it to cut bricks from the bones and mortar from their marrow. I built a home from those who came before and in my den I listened to their whispers. They taught me the secrets of their runes, cosmic currencies, and investment strategies. I used that knowledge to cross over into the Entrepreneur’s latest venture.
My Hobbies and Interests
I had no part in getting Adam and Eve evicted from the Garden of Eden. That was a snake that got jilted when Adam wouldn’t choose it to be his mate.
Most of my appearances in the Old Testament were mistranslations. This is what happens when you name someone after the Hebrew word for “adversary” and then you need to use the same word to describe others. People get confused.
Although I’ll admit the book of Job was all me.
I’d been wandering the earth trying get a startup going, but my hands were bound by regulations.
A plague spread throughout the land and I snuck back into the Silver City amongst a wave of refugees. With some fancy footwork I made it all the way back to the Entrepreneur’s office. He was scrolling through the feed from his ticker tape machine, fat and rosy on humanity’s adoration and belief. He didn’t seem too surprised to see me.
“Where did you come from?”
It took all of my self-control not to drive my silver ring through my palm. “I’ve been roaming the earth. Going back and forth on it.”
He nodded, unphased I’d scurried my way out of the pit.
“Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”
I had considered Job.
“Does Job love you for nothing? Check out his palatial estate, his bountiful lands, and livestock empire. Not to mention the ten children that will ensure his legacy carries on for generations. You gave him a good return on his investment. Take it back up and he’d curse you where you stand.”
The Entrepreneur stroked his beard. “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man do not lay a finger.”
I gave Sabean raiders a hot tip on where Job kept his oxen. Then I rained commits on his sheep and dropped a roof on his children.
Job, the poor sucker, did exactly what I wanted him to. He fell to his knees and said, “The lord has given and the lord has taken away. May the name of the lord be praised.”
I returned to the Silver City to find the Entrepreneur wiping a tear of joy from his cheek. He was tickled pink.
I reached into the pile of ticker tape that had accumulated on the floor, pretending to care about things I already knew.
“Job still has his health. Take that and the praise train will roll right off its tracks.”
The Entrepreneur smirked, lifted a few more sanctions and I covered Job in lesions.
Job’s neighbors had heard about his misfortune. They paid him a visit to reaffirm his faith, but he had come around to my way of thinking.
How could such bad things happen to a good person? If the Entrepreneur was all-powerful then he couldn’t be all good, especially if he was trying to prove something to someone. That just made him an all-powerful asshole.
Job cursed the day he was born, gave into despair, and begged the Entrepreneur for death. His neighbors tried to rationalize the Entrepreneur’s mysterious ways, but they were arguing from ignorance, and Job knew it.
“Let the Almighty answer me!”
The Entrepreneur had been following the conversation from his desk and decided to make an entrance. He split the sky open to grant his investors an audience and what did he have to say to them?
“Where were you when I laid the earths foundations? Tell me, who fixed its measurements? Surely you know who stretched a measuring line across it?”
Of course Iknow. And it wasn’t a measuring line. It was tape. Had the planet held such little regard in his mind that he thought it was flat?
The Entrepreneur bullied Job into submission and doubled the man’s losses as compensation, which just proved my point. His investors were only as loyal as their assets.
My Intimate Details
I’ve convinced many Jobs to pull out of the Entrepreneur’s enterprise, but it took finesse to get them to invest in mine. The Entrepreneur’s PR department has turned my brand toxic, blaming me for the Inquisition, the Witch Trails, Christ, even the Catholic Abuse Scandal.
When missionaries came to Greece they saw idols of the Greek God Pan with his horns, hooves, and hard-on and they felt threatened. They could’ve told stories of a faun who lured children into caves so he could eat them (you know, use their imaginations) instead they merely passed his fashion sense onto me. They swapped my blush with a beard, my long legs with matted wool, and my firm butt with a sad droopy tail. Then they handed me Hade’s pitchfork for good measure. “Here, hold this.”
Despite all the evidence that Pan was another entity, from another mythology, his likeness was linked to me. Fine. While the faithful looked over their shoulders for a goatee and red complexion I was free to walk among them.
The more insidious my methods got the more grandiose my depictions became. When John the Revelator was exiled to the island of Patmos he tried his hand at writing. He had a strong premise with the Apocalypse, but he did what most first timers do and let the concept devolve into lists: seven seals, seven trumpets, seven spiritual beings, with seven bowls.
Had John been a better storyteller he might have imagined Armageddon, not as battle of swords, but of wits, where competing philosophies debated for the fate of humanity. Alas, John was more interested in who would win in a fight: the Archangel Michael or a seven-headed dragon.
After John, Dante and Milton wrote some fine fan fiction. I liked how Dante populated the Inferno with his personal enemies and how Milton made me a freedom fighter that could give a good speech, but I was never up to my tits in any ice nor would I claim Death and Sin among my brain children.
I never did half of what I got credit for. I never stole tools from the Silver Foundry to make a pact with a blacksmith. I never dared a soldier to wear a bearskin for seven years, and I never took a small town farmer to trial for his soul. I have never lorded over any flies. Horseshoes don’t scare me, and black cats do not answer to me. They’re cats. They answer to nobody.
I wish I were as powerful as people believe. I wish I’d shined as bright as Venus in the morning. I wish I’d had a penthouse in Babylon. I wish my corporate headquarters had floors based on sins, but I have to budget my expenditures same as anyone.
These false etymologies have followed me for centuries. I used to agonize over every erroneous association. Now I’ve learned the value of good branding. Products live and die by consumers’ belief in them. I’ve leaned to lean into humanity’s misconceptions, because the more they fear me the more they believe.
When the clergy made up stories to fill seats I used their sermons as brainstorming sessions. I jotted notes over old hymns, tore out the pages, and slid them into my corset.
This wasn’t merely opposition research I was insider trading.
I’ve held many titles over the years. These days I go by Matilda MacDonald: Agent to the Stars.
Matildais derived from the High German “maht” and “hild” meaning “strong in battle.” MacDonald is a modified version of Dòmhnall, which means “World ruler.” My name states my intentions while conjuring images of telekinetic little girls and fast food chains.
In the 80s, I made myself over as one of Patrick Nagel’s art deco women. I wanted to embody the iconography of that era of greed. I already had the snow-white skin, raven black hair, full lips, and stone cut cheekbones. All I needed was the pixie haircut, eye shadow, and pants suit wardrobe.
I’ve kept the same form for a generation and low and behold greed is still in fashion.
My Perfect Match
While my investments are in the markets of man, my heart belongs to the arts to the music-makers and the dreamers of dreams. Kings rule nations, but creators rule minds. All of my lovers possess a wealth of imagination, that je ne sais quoi that captures my attention.
Over the centuries I’ve played patron to many a prodigy. I massaged Nicolo Paganini’s joints so he could play violin, taught Giuseppe Tartini my favorite sonata, gave Christoph Haizmann visions worth painting, and tuned Robert Johnson’s guitar so he could always find the right strings.
I see the same spark in you.
You’ve tried so hard to make it as an artist. You have the tenacity and the drive. Too bad the free content movement devalued your medium, your ability never caught up with your tastes, and your style was never in fashion.
If you stay on the path the Entrepreneur has set you’ll always be on the outside looking in. Your day job will never help you sleep at night. Your inspiration will be reduced to a nagging voice in the back of your mind. You will grow cynical watching fame go to vapid, beautiful, superficial people. You’ll die knowing your intimate thoughts will never connect with a broader audience, search engines will bury your legacy, and your work will go undiscovered.
But not if I have anything to say about it.
I heard the prayers you whispered to bathroom stalls, showerheads, and pillows. I heard the long-winded confessions that shot out of you like steam. I heard you scratching at death’s door. I know what’s it like to have lofty ambitions, to think your ascent was a forgone conclusion only to wind up scraping yourself off the ground.
I’ve chosen you because you’re not destined for great things, but you should be.
My ideal date
In the Richmond District of San Francisco, there’s a yellow duplex on California St. between 24thand 23rdAve. The address should read: 6118, 6120, and 6122, but someone has pried off all of the 6s from the units.
On special nights, under the light of a blood red moon, the edifice shifts. A person with the spark of inspiration will see the black Victorian home that once stood there.
If you’re ready to live the life you deserve walk up the stoop and open the front door.
Don’t let Togar scare you. He may be a lion, but he’s as friendly as they come. Take hold of his mane and follow him through the black velvet curtains down into the basement.
Don’t worry that the ritual chamber hasn’t been used in years. Cross the cobwebs between the candelabra and the pipe organ, past the bed of nails, toward the altar. Consider the wall of ceremonial daggers. The blades are made from ivory, flint, silver, and gold. I trust you’ll know which hilt to pull. When you do a door will open revealing a secret corridor. The corridor is made of seven artist spaces.
The first is filled with bookshelves lined with leather bound first editions.
The second: painted canvases stretched end to end.
The third: drafting tables jutting out from channels.
The forth: a cube of soundproof acoustic panels.
The fifth: the many monitors of an editing bay.
The sixth: cryptic code on digital displays.
The seventh chamber, at the heart of this tomb, is the devil’s den: my master bedroom. I’ll be waiting on the futon beneath the sheer red canopy. Why don’t you join me when you’re ready to live deliciously?
There are many ways to enter into a binding bargain, but I find that this one is the most fun.
Welcome to Monster Mingle, a place for urban legends to find romance, where full moons lead to fuller hearts, and all the thirsty singles have fangs. This is how it works: illustrator Bryan Politte comes up with the creatures and I (Drew Chial horror author) give them a backstory.
Meet the third. He’s a punk, a vegan, and one other thing. Just wait until you get to the end before you decide if you’re smitten.
Let’s rip this Band Aid off right away: I’m a zombie: a reanimated stiff with all the stigma that comes with, a Type-A Necro-Mortis if I have to put a label on it. That means I died and something brought me back to life.
I was on a first date with Sadie, a pleather clad, tough as nails, woman of principle. She’d gotten word of an illegal animal testing facility by the waterfront. She wanted to break in, take some snapshots, and shut the place down. Together we biked along the river, cut through the fence, and trekked through the ruins of the abandoned warehouse district.
When Sadie pointed out the facility it felt like someone down there was smiling up at me. I’d been to that building on an urban exploration expedition and knew a way in. I pried a manhole cover open, took Sadie’s hand, and eased her in. We skipped through the sewers, our flashlights danced across the tunnel walls, until we came to a submarine door marked QUARANTINE.
“That wasn’t there before.”
“That’s probably just to scare us, like a sign that says ‘This home is protected by Sentinel Security’ when all they’ve really got is the sign.”
“Well, good thing I brought a key.”
I pulled a crowbar from my messenger bag. From there we ascended through a M.C. Escher etching of grated platforms and spiral stairs until we came upon a lab with biohazard symbols on the doors. There was a chamber, with a sign that read INSTRUCTIONS TO BE FOLLOWED TO THE LETTER. Sadie wasn’t in much of a reading mood so she zoomed right through.
The lights went on the moment we stepped in and the vents sprayed us with a chemical bath. When the gas cleared there was a maze of cages before us. They looked empty but Sadie was determined to find something. She dashed in. I struggled to keep up, but it wasn’t long before I lost her.
“Look, Monkeys!” Sadie shouted from somewhere around the bend.
Just then a chimpanzee charged at his bars. I leapt back, slipped on a banana peal, and fell over a railing, down a flight of stairs, and snapped my neck like a drumstick.
I’m not sure what happened next. I heard Sadie call my name. Maybe she thought I’d chickened out and bailed. Maybe she figured photos wouldn’t get the job done like some good old-fashioned eco terrorism. All I remember was an alarm, men’s voices, then shouting, gunshots, and screams. Before it all faded to black I saw a troop up red-eyed monkeys lining the railing above me.
The next thing I know I’m having a panic attack in a pine box. I scratched the lid until the wood thinned, my fingernails were thick with splinters, and I was swimming in worms. The soil was wet with rainwater and I could just make out the faint claps of thunder. It took hours to claw my way out of the muck and when I emerged into the cemetery you better believe I was hungry.
Nobody told me I was infected with a weaponized pathogen bioengineered to amp up my aggression. I found that out the hard way when I tried to close line a cherub and bent my arm back.
In my delirium I slithered along the ground and gnawed on a bouquet of rose pedals, but when I happened upon a flock of goslings I knew to leave them alone. My instincts were telling me to chomp their necks to bits, but I was able to resist.
The rage virus, with all of its augmented aggression, couldn’t bypass decades of vegan conditioning.
I’d been an herbivore for twenty years and counting, and knew that whenever I had an overwhelming urge for meat it was because I wasn’t getting the right nutrients. Fortunately the cemetery was near a GNC. So I hopped the fence, scurried across the lot, and dove into the dumpster. Bon appétit.
To be clear, that’s not blood on my collar. It’s gazpacho. That isn’t brain matter on my sleeve either. It’s tofu (and maybe a little cauliflower). And no, that isn’t a length of intestine draped around my collar. That’s a vegan sausage length and I’m saving it for later.
As for my other features… If you like body mods you’re going to love me. I’ve got a barbell in my brow, a lip ring, a tongue stud, a septum piercing, helix piercings, and a 10 gauge plug. Oh, and those monkeys were into scarification so I’ve really got that going on.
As for my body itself, the rage virus makes me super athletic. Unlike those other zombies I’m a sprinter not a limper. Like a hummingbird seeking nectar I’m always on the way to my next protein source.
My perfect match
I’m in a subculture within a subculture within a subculture, which makes it hard to meet someone similar. Most living dead girls aren’t that into lentil.
My perfect match would have a reverence for all living (and unliving) creatures. She’d be outspoken, and have a strong drive to change the world. She’d be open to punk rock, a vegan diet, and the strong vanilla fragrances I use to mask the stench of death.
My Intimate Details
The average person needs 2.4 micrograms of Vitamin B12 a day. I need several hundred milligrams. Otherwise all those joggers look like cartoon chicken drumsticks and I run the risk of breaking my vegan commitment. Most zombies don’t burn too many brain cells thinking about where their nutrients are coming from. They see their livestock crammed onto escalators or huddled into movie theaters, and just pig out, but I’m a necro-core herbivore. I have standards.
My DIY system for managing my symptoms keeps me out of the tidal wave of ravenous slam-dancers, but the urge to join them is there. Life has gotten harder since the grocer started bleaching their old produce and GNC started locking their dumpster.
I run the risk of going full GG Allin unless my partner can keep those vitamins coming. A punk rock botanist capable of synthesizing B12 from chlorella algae would be like a goddess to me.
My ideal date
We’ll get black bean burgers at a joint with tagged up toilets and live music. Preferably a place with lots of exists, leading to wide open lots and not narrow back alleys.
There were a lot of cages in that facility and a lot of monkeys on that railing. It’s only a matter of time until the virus finds its way downtown. Then all those fancy butcheries, where hipsters cure their own meats, will spill into the streets and everyone will see how the sausage is made. Had these carnivores gone vegan they’d stay functioning during the zombie Armageddon. Instead they’re going to give into their baser instincts and flame broil everything.
Let’s bike up to lover’s lane, roast a couple of gelatin free marshmallows, and watch the world burn.
I’ve been very bad this year: jaywalking across the highway, texting in the theater, ordering food five minutes before the restaurant shuts its door. What can I say? I’m hardcore.
There will be no candy canes in my stocking. No lumps of coal either, because what’s coming down my chimney is coming for me. Those aren’t jingle bells echoing down the fireplace. They’re chains.
Enter Krampus: the Christmas demon of European folklore, half goat, half demon, all fun hater. This matted monster has plagued my people ever since we stopped celebrating Krampusnacht. This year Krampus will be coming at me with a vengeance, double fisting birch bundles, with a burlap body bag hanging from his belt. So while everyone else is decking the halls I’m prepping my home for our annual showdown.
Know Your Opponent
Contrary to popular opinion Krampus is not Saint Nicholas’s shadow, nor is he the love child of Satan and the Greek God Pan. He’s the son of Hel the Norse Goddess of death, which means the rules governing that Pagan pantheon apply to him.
5) Use Psychological Warfare
Before Krampus rode shotgun with Santa, he was one of the Yule goats pulling the sled back when Thor was driving. You may have heard of the other two: Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr. Krampus was the red headed stepchild of the herd. He was bipedal, which meant he always lagged behind. To make matters worse Thor didn’t pack a lunch when he traveled. He ate his goats and used the magic of his hammer Mjölnir to resurrect them when he was done. That’s right, Krampus has been through some shit. If you’re going to survive Christmas you’ll have to exploit that.
Krampus is going to circle your home, surveying the exits. So it’s important to trigger his PTSD every chance you get.
While your neighbors fill their lawns with nativity scenes you need to find some ice blocks and carve out Thor’s likeness: big, buff, and bearded. Oh and make sure you stage Mjölnir front and center.
Then get some hay and sculpt a trio of Yule goats by binding the needles with twine. Set them on their backs with red tinsel trailing out like entrails.
That ought to throw Krampus off his game.
4) The Home Alone method of Home Protection
If I’ve learned anything from Macaulay Culkin it’s that every point of entry in your home is a vulnerability. So ice up your front stoop, line your windowsills with broken ornaments, and rig a string-triggered blowtorch to your front door.
Still your real focus should be on your chimney. Long before the Common Era the fireplace has served as a portal to supernatural worlds. Witches, fairies, and goblins have all used it to gain entrance to your home. If you have a fireplace then that’s where you need to focus your attention.
Now before you start whittling your firewood down to splinters, consider this: Krampus has hooves. He’ll stomp out even the sharpest of spikes. That’s why I line the stones with a grid of copper wired into a fleet of car batteries. It won’t kill Krampus, but it’ll let him know you mean business.
3) Get into the “Spirit” of the Season
Santa can’t resist Milk and Cookies. Krampus can’t resist Schnapps: butterscotch, peppermint, or cinnamon. Pick your poison. While Schnapps breathes best in a jar, you’ll want to serve it in a 5-gallon water cooler. Impair Krampus’s motor functions with a good hearty offering.
2) Use Krampus’s Strengths Against Him
Krampus’s name comes from the German word Krampen,which means, “Claw,” and boy does he have a set of Freddy Kruegers on him. Not to worry, because those claws limit Krampus’s dexterity. Doorknobs, latches, and locks prove troubling for the ancient imp. If Krampus can’t kick it open, he can’t get in. Use that to put some distance between him and you when you…
1) Set a Krampus Trap
Before Krampus was tasked with smacking unruly brats his job was to scare the ghosts of winter back to Helheim. Little known fact: he still has to do that along the way. We’ll use that to set our trap.
You will need:
A plate of glass
A stage light
A room with a cellar door just beyond the entryway
A Viking costume
A gray wig/beard
Old age makeup
A cage with a gravity operated trap door
Open the cellar, position the cage on the stairs, and roll the rug over the trap. Position the glass pane at a 45-degree angle just past the trap. Set up the stage light to the left of the entryway. Use a blue gel for dramatic effect.
Apply your wrinkles, glue on your beard, and fit your wig beneath your helmet. The goal is to look like a Norseman who died, not heroically in battle, but dishonorably of old age.
Like all horned creatures Krampus can’t help but charge at things that make him see red. When you hear Krampus clip-clopping step under the stage light. Your reflection will appear on the glass looking like the ghost of a decrepit deserter who will never feast with Odin in the halls of Valhalla. Krampus will come at you full bore and that’s when he’ll fall into our trap.
Proper Krampus Disposal
Like many figures in the Pagan pantheon Krampus is governed by rules. His stay on this mortal plane is seasonal. Once the ball drops on New Years Eve then it’s back to Helheim he goes. So all you have to do is drag Krampus’s cage onto the porch, open the door and hit it with a broom.
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.
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→
Another October is upon us and you know what that means: morning show hosts treating pumpkin spice like it’s heroin, think pieces on seasonal depression, and outrage over tone deaf Halloween costumes (this year it’s a slinky short skirted version of the robes from the Handmaid’s Tale).
Oh, and horror writers doing everything they can to get you to look in our direction.
“Hey! You know you’ve been meaning to check out my scary stories out for a while? Well now’s the time!”
That’s right. Now’s the time of year horror writers get to be on brand and topically relevant to the normies in our social media feed. Rather than dig deep for a memoir on how the season shaped our young imaginations (something personally profound no one would read) we need quick clickable articles that write themselves.
Well if you’re looking for a template for sharable Halloween content to steal from you’ve come to the right guy.
Tis the Season to be Listing
Nothing says cheap mindless content like laying on the listicles. Sure everyone who’s into horror has seen trailers for every film that’s come out this year, but you’re a movie maven so inform everyone what they really ought to be watching.
Maybe you’ll be the 10thcritic to finally push them into seeing Mandy, it’s Nic Cage fighting cenobite bikers with a battle-axe (in a slow burning surrealist study with sparse dialogue). What’s not to like?
Maybe you can be the first of your film buff friends to pitch The Endlessin a way that makes sense to casual audiences.
“It’s the story of two brothers visiting the cult they’ve escaped from to find the commune stuck in a sentient pocket dimension hell-bent on claiming them.”
“It’s a coming of age tale set in a UFO death cult.”
“It’s basically The Wicker Man meets Groundhogs Day.”
Clearly I haven’t cracked it yet. Why don’t you try?
Or maybe you can be the first amongst to laud praise on the deboot of Halloween, and champion other exhausted franchises to dump their excess canon in favor of a direct sequels to their original films.
Tap some lists out at the bus stop. Here are some suggestions:
Best on Screen Decapitations (The Exorcist 3 is obligatory)
Best Mirror Jump Scares
Best Demon Etching Title Sequences
Best Uses of Moonlight Sonata in a Horror Property
Best Horror Spins on Less Successful Sci Fi Premises
Best Recent Horrific Crimes for Writers to Base New Material on While the Families are Still Grieving
Most Violent Moments on Broadcast Television that Would’ve Gotten an R Rating Had They Been Shown on the Big Screen
Best Stephen King Tribute References in Stephen King’s Own Novels
These lists practically write themselves.
Review the Shit Out of Everything
There are too many horror shows for streamers to sift through. Isn’t it part of your vocation as a champion of revulsion to grade them with some sort of skull-centric rating system? Halloween is the Oscars for all things horror. It’s your duty as a corrupter of young minds to cast your vote on time.
Mine the Hell Out of the Past
Save your audience a Google search by listing all the Halloween themed episodes available on streaming. Rank The Simpson Tree House of Horror episodes. Add episodes from the revival seasons of The X-Files to your best of posts, and list the top 10 episodes of The Twilight Zone you want Jordan Peele to remake in the forthcoming series.
Writing seasonal flash fiction is challenging. Those short stories get hits in the moment, but on October 31st they become irrelevant. Why waste your time and energy when you just want readers to click on the books for sale in the margins?
I recommend stocking up on Mad Libs and filling them with monster references:
(Man’s name) Flavius Octavius Davis walked in and opened the (noun) lead lined casket where he found a (adjective) bioluminescent (verb) mangled (noun) alien corpse with rope-like heaps of coiled tentacles. He exclaimed (exclamation) “Sweet Jesus, no!”
Make Your Readers Do the Work
Invite the audience to vote on your Halloween costume options, plans for the night in question, and ultimately your excuses for staying in.
But Whatever You Do Don’t…
Don’t give up them game by telling readers about the cynical click-bait schemes you’ve been concocting behind the scenes. That would be the kind noxious over sharing that would be harmful to your brand. You want to seem like your authentic self to readers without letting it all hang out and actually being authentic.
Only a well-trained transdimensional traveler secure in his meta-musings would poses the strength of mind to even attempt such a thing. (Drew wipes the sweat from his brow while tugging at his collar like a nervous cartoon character.)
Oh… and… uh… Happy Halloween!
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?