Well, folks. It’s that time of year again! Grab yourself a cup of coffee, OK? Perhaps some tea, a glass of Merlot, or a can of beer — whatever is your preferred comfort, and let’s have us a visit.
Late December is a fine time for self-reflection, and to tally what has gone on these previous twelve months. A tally of achievements, as well as failures — we can learn from both.
By my side, a cup of steaming black coffee. In the background, John Coltrane wails on his saxophone, heading somewhere for Heaven on that Immortal Blue Train. Outside, snow flurries in the wind and I am reminded we are all snowflakes, each and every one of us, blown by the wild, random gusts of the universe and one day to fall, one day to melt, then become new again.
That’s the Order Of Things, and I’m perfectly cool with it.
QUICK NOTE ON CURRENT EVENTS OF 2020
2020, in particular, has been a challenging year for the individual, the nation, the world. Every person who lived through this year (and lived to tell the tale) knows exactly what I’m talking about. I will only say that I have experienced first-hand — the panicky ransacking of grocery store shelves during the first months of the pandemic, a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest, legendary incompetence in leadership within the U.S. government, and I’ve even managed to contract Covid-19, a virus which has killed nearly 300,000 Americans, and well over a million people worldwide.
Highly unpleasant lower-back aches, chills accompanied by goosebumps covering every inch of one’s flesh, typical congestion, and absolute weariness are among the charming symptoms I experienced. Thankfully, I pulled through just fine, as did my fiancé and daughter. As for those who are immuno-compromised, for those who are not as well equipped to handle this virus, they have my sincere empathy. Take care of yourselves out there, friends. Be kind, and be courteous.
With those unpleasantries out of the way, let us get to my favorite part of this whole thing —- the joy of writing, reading, and publishing.
I wrote a lot this year, and this is about what it adds up to:
Forty-nine stories (including three 20,000 word novellas).
Half a dozen essays (not sure if they’re any good at all).
LOTS of vignettes (or, my term for them — musings).
Two journal books featuring personal reflections, 4AM rantings, and a writing progress log.
In total, an approximate word count of well over 300,000 words.
Now, for some writers that’s not so much. But for me, that’s quite a damn lot. I’m rather proud of the work I’ve done this year. I’ve grown significantly as a writer, and continue to grow every day, word by word and page by page.
Yet remember what I said about tallies at the beginning of this essay? We must tally our achievements as much as our failures. Not so that we may shame ourselves — oh, no. Only so that we may be honest with ourselves and see things clearly.
For example, the majority of the stories I wrote this year are downright awful. They are stories which, for one reason or other, just do not work. They are incomplete worlds, shallow characterizations, badly phrased, naively stylized pieces of junk-prose which will never see the light of day.
However! My personal view is, our failed stories pave the way for the really good ones. Therefore, thousands of wasted words, are not necessarily wasted. Just so long as we are learning — grueling page after grueling page.
Now, some exciting news: I have written a book this year!
MATTERS MOST MACABRE is my latest collection of short stories. It’ll be released in June of 2021. How’s that for exciting?! I’m quite proud of these tales, and I am absolutely thrilled to share them with you. The thirteen macabre tales herein will hopefully entertain you, have you turning the pages with that pleasurable and intense need to FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENS, and of course, the book may just weird you the hell out. That is my goal. That is my pleasure.
Now, before Matters Most Macabre comes out, I have a charming little book of just seventy-six pages available on New Year’s Day —- WEIRDSMITH: ISSUE ONE, courtesy of Too Much Weird press, contains two of my short stories. My talented friend, Terry M. West, aside from being a hell of a great horror writer, is the Editor-in-Chief over at TMW Press, and he’s set up a brand new series for readers who enjoy everything weird and horrific in literature. Weirdsmith will be a multi-volume series, each issue featuring one talented author doing great work in horror fiction. If interested, Issue One is available for pre-order now at only $.99, or you can even pick up a lovely paperback: (https://www.amazon.com/Weirdsmith-Magazine-Number-Tylor-James-ebook/dp/B08Q1WHZRQ/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1609162936&sr=1-1)
Let’s talk publishing. Hold on a sec, lemme check my tally . . . all right, here we are! Ahh, yes. Allow me to start with one of my total failures.
My story, Box of Chocolates, was all set up to be published. The story was to be published on the press-in-question’s website. I would received my measly $10 and that would be that. Then, after my story was accepted, I decided investigate some of the Editor-in-Chief’s work. I had a passing curiosity about the guy and, well, why not?
My simple Google search revealed racist and homophobic statements on behalf of the editor. Therefore, it became my moral obligation to retract the story.
So, that’s what I did. I politely apologized, explained my reasons for retracting the story, and that was that.
Now, here’s the good news:
“Box of Chocolates”, a strange tale about a man’s fiancé and mother-in-law turning into chocolate statues, was published just a few months later in issue #27 of THE LITERARY HATCHET.
I got my ten bucks, folks! And the story was published by a decent and reputable publisher. I’ve learned my lesson — always perform a cursory background Google-check on the people you plan on working and associating with. It’s a sad task, but one which we must commit ourselves to just the same — for the sake of our personal reputation, and for the moral quality of our friendships, business partners, ETC.
Okay. Here’s some successful publications from this year:
1. Box of Chocolates — published in The Literary Hatchet.
2. Independence Day in Holebrim, Texas — published in SCARE ME, a wonderfully creepy anthology from UK-based, Esskaye Books.
3. Behind the Door (Originally titled, “The Drip”) — published in HYPNOS MAGAZINE.
4. Old Dance Hall and Mosquito Summer — sold and soon-to-be-published in “WEIRDSMITH: ISSUE ONE” from Too Much Weird press.
5. Godly Business — sold and soon-to-be-published (in Jan 2021) by Penumbric Speculative Fiction Magazine.
6. A Skeleton Reads Shakespeare — published as a podcast by THE OTHER STORIES PODCAST (which you may listen to here, if you’d like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fja9JZklAZI
All tallied up, that’s seven tales published (or soon-to-be). Hey, that ain’t bad, Charlie!
Okay, enough gloating! — back to my failures tally.
In This Year of Our Lord, 2020, I have received . . . drumroll please? thank you . . . !
Over ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY SHORT STORY REJECTIONS.
Rejections aren’t fun. They never are. But they are part of the process of being a writer. In 2021, I hope to secure a hundred and fifty more . . . And maybe a few more story acceptances too, while I’m at it.
Another failure: I tried to write a novel. Tried is the operative word.
The novel was to be titled, Come Back, Grandma Jean. I got a third of the way through, and then I burned out. I found no inspiration in the characters, hadn’t a clue where the plot was going, and had written in way too many sex scenes. The book was turning into sheer smut — which is fine and dandy, just not the book I wanted to write. Hence: 20,000 words chucked down the garbage chute! Ahh, well. Maybe 2021 will see the creation of my first full-length novel. Maybe!
As anyone who’s even relatively acquainted with me knows, I love to read. It is among my very favorite things to do. I read fiction and non-fiction books alike, always doing my best to balance the two. As you can see by my reading list from this year, I ended up reading a bit more fiction than non-fiction.
The Books I Read in 2020:
1. In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan
2. How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression and Transcendence by Michael Pollan
3. The Institute by Stephen King
4. Abarat by Clive Barker
5. Long After Midnight by Ray Bradbury
6. Sunburst Woman & Poems by Jack Ontair
7. Braincheese Buffet by Edward Lee
8. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
9. On the Night Border by James Chambers
10. Borderland (story anthology, edited by Tom Montelleone).
11. Cry Down Dark by T.J. Tranchell
12. Strange Wine by Harlan Ellison
13. Where Nightmares Come From: The Art of Storytelling in the Horror Genre
14. Asleep in the Nightmare Room by T.J. Tranchell
15. The Resurrectionist by James Wrath White
16. I Sing the Body Electric! By Ray Bradbury
17. Of Foster Homes and Flies by Chad Lutzke
18. Transfer by Terry M. West
19. The Devil’s List by Terry M. West
20. The Midwives by Duncan Ralston
21. When You Find Out What You’re Made of by Michelle Kilmer
22. Stuck on You & Other Prime Cuts by Jasper Bark
23. Ceremony of Ashes by Robert Ducharme
24. The Cellar by Richard Laymon
25. God Bless You, Doctor Kevorkian by Kurt Vonnegut
26. Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier by Neil deGrasse Tyson
27. The Collection by Bentley Little
28. Beyond Where the Sky Ends by DS Ullery
29. Full Throttle: Stories by Joe Hill
30. The History of Philosophy by A.C. Grayling
31. If It Bleeds by Stephen King
32. An Edge in My Voice (columns) by Harlan Ellison
33. Alessa’s Melody (A Novella) by R. Ducharme
34. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
35. Ethics in the Real World by Peter Singer
36. Voltaire’s Revolution: Writings From His Campaign to Free Laws From Religion by GK Noyer
37. The Private Lives of Nightmares by T.J. Tranchell
38. Highway 181 by DS Ullery
39. Scare Me (anthology, edited by M. Leon Smith)
40. Quiet Places by Jasper Bark
41. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
42. The Believing Brain: From Ghosts to Gods to Politcs and Conspiracies — How We Construct Beliefs & Reinforce Them As Truths by Michael Shermer
43. The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking & L. Mlodinow
44. Island of the Flesh Eaters by Thomas S. Flowers
45. Radigan by Louis L’Amour
46. Needful Things by Stephen King
47. The Writing Life: Reflections, Recollections & A Lot of Cursing by Jeff Strand
48. Ashes and Wine, Book One: The Extraoridinary Lives of Intimacy & Love by Jack Ontair
49. Write Great Fiction: Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell
50. Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury
51. The Yellow Wallpaper & Other Stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
It was a great year for reading, and I thoroughly enjoyed the majority of these books. I learned quite a lot, both from the educational science books, as well as from the storytelling techniques employed by the likes of fiction-writers like Bradbury, King, McCarthy, and my contemporaries in the independent horror market.
However, my favorite book that I’ve read this year is undoubtedly, THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY by A.C. Grayling (British philosopher and Master of New College of the Humanities, London). This book was eloquent, accessible, and fascinating. It’s also over 700 pages. Quite the tome, but really well-worth the time and effort. I read it on summer evenings, cup of coffee by my side and Bach’s Goldberg Variations trickling into my ears.
As for books/authors I’d like to read in 2021 . . . Here’s just a few:
Letters to A Young Contrarian by Christopher Hitchens.
Anything by Ursula K. Le Guin
Anything by Sylvia Plath
Enlightenment philosophers, such as: David Hume, John Lock, Diderot, Rousseau.
Asimov on the Bible, and “Extraterrestrial Civilization”.
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari.
Anything by my Contemporaries-In-Horror: Duane Ullery, Terry M. West, Jasper Bark, Duncan Ralston, Michelle von Eeshen, T.J. Tranchell, ETC.
I’ll have to leave it at that . . . because there’s a million more books I’d love to read!
DAMN GOOD FILMS
I don’t watch a lot of films these days. Hence, this list will be short. However, I assure you, these films are among the very best. Some are new, some are black and white classics. Without further ado, the films I most enjoyed this year:
1. The Seventh Seal (1957, Dir. By Ingmar Bergman)
2. The Lighthouse (2019, Dir. Robert Eggers, starring incredible performances by William Dafoe & Robert Pattinson)
3. Night of the Hunter (1955, Dir. by Charles Laughton)
4. Jason & the Argonauts (1963, Dir. Don Chaffey, w/ effects by Ray Harryhausen)
5. Modern Times (1936, Charlie Chaplin)
6. The Thing From Another World (1951, Dir. Howard Hawks)
7. Paris, Texas (1984, Dir. Wim Wenders, starring Harry Dean Stanton)
8. Hereditary (2018, Dir. Ari Aster)
9. Midsommar (2019, Dir. Ari Aster)
10. Tideland (2005, Dir Terry Gilliam)
A FEW LAST WORDS
In conclusion: While I’m proud of my writing/publishing achievements, in a somewhat perverse sense, I’m even more proud of my failures. Those 150 story rejections, for example, are evidence for how much I care about this craft, and this business.
I’m also happy to have made many new writer friends. We may’ve only met each other via online interactions, but it’s been a pleasure getting to know you, chatting with you IM, working with you, and reading your works. You know who you are.
On a significant note, I would not be able to write if I didn’t have a night job which allowed me to do it on the clock. As a writer, I find myself in a nearly ideal situation. I sit up in the lonely clock tower, making sure nobody comes round to steal anything, and I chew my nails, drink gallons of black coffee, listen to scary sounds in the night, and I write books. I also have the utmost support from my lovely and wonderful fiancé, in all matters of endeavor. For her, I am absolutely grateful.
And now, for another cup of coffee, some music, a few more books, and whole lot more stories . . .
Wishing you a most happy and fulfilling New Year, fellow readers, writers, and friends,