Moving Forward

Well, the unexpected always rears its head sooner rather than later, and this past Saturday, it took the form of my publisher announcing that after fifteen years in the industry, he’s decided to close up shop.  In September, StoneGarden.net Publishing will be no more.  The contract for the prequel to The Uncanny Valley is gone, and Scaring the Crows, The Uncanny Valley, and On the Edge of Twilight will soon be out of print – temporarily, at least.

I’ve decided to approach this as a positive development…it’s the only way.  After a few rough days, I’m now moving steadily forward in the hunt for a new publisher, and I’m amazed by the kindness, support, and helpfulness that many of my colleagues and friends, both in and out of the writing and publishing community, have already shown me.

So here, now, is the good news as I see it:

To begin, my current publisher is kind enough to allow his writers to terminate their contracts at any point between now and the official disbanding of the company in September.  That means that if I locate a new publisher to reprint my current books and publish my new one, I can move forward immediately; no copyright issues, no delays.

On top of that, my fine illustrator, John Randall York, is still interested in working on our projects together.  All of the illustrations he created for these books, both cover and interior, will be available for reprint editions, and he’s still on board for work on future books, too.  That’s an enormous comfort.

Having the freedom to work with a new publisher may also open up whole new avenues of marketing potential for the existing books, as well as the prequel to The Uncanny Valley.  StoneGarden was excellent on many levels, and I am eternally grateful to them, but perhaps now I can move on to a somewhat larger publisher that offers more advanced marketing, better distribution, and other benefits that aren’t often available to the smaller companies.  Bringing these books to a wider audience would make me incredibly happy.

Right now I’m picking through a copy of The Uncanny Valley with a fine-toothed comb, checking little details, revising here and there.  With any luck, that will be the first of my existing books to find a new home, and the prequel can follow directly—so I want to have it in perfect shape now, should the right person ask to see it.  But I also have ideas for the stories in Scaring the Crows and On the Edge of Twilight, so with any luck, moving forward, everything will soon have a home once again.  Writers live, at least in part, through their work.  Here’s hoping these works, so much a part of who I am, have a fine future ahead of them.

Sometimes, the unexpected isn’t so bad.  Sometimes, maybe even often, it’s actually very good.

Onward.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Winter Continueth, but Spring Also Cometh

Well! Months have passed, and I’ve been quiet here. I don’t know what it is, but winter tends to do that to me…I generally become a hibernating bear, only rousing myself for the most necessary things (work, family) before grumbling back into low-ebb mode for the rest of the day. The cold does it, and so does the lack of sunshine; I’m sure I suffer at least a little from Seasonal Affective Disorder.

But even if I’ve been a bit hermetic and sluggish in some ways, I’ve still been doing my best to keep busy in others. In addition to my always-present teaching and grading, I’ve managed to continue, slowly but steadily, editing what I’ve written of Darkness in the Valley, which as of this writing has reached 66,000 words. The book has become a fairly complex web of plots and characters, and continues to grow in the telling. Even so, I’m sticking to my goal of having the first two parts of the story completed and in “fighting shape” by the time June rolls around. That way, I can write the third, final part of the book this coming summer with everything else relatively polished, and all the plot points relatively consistent.

I fully expect that the finished draft will end up around 85,000 words; in other words, a full-blown, 400-page novel. In addition, I have some fun plans and ideas for the formatting of the book, which I look forward to working on with my publisher, and John York is beginning to develop his ideas for the cover art. So, things move forward apace, and as spring approaches I’m sure I’ll begin gearing up for the final, big push.

In other writing news, I just learned, very belatedly, that another of my short stories from The Uncanny Valley made Ellen Datlow’s list of the Best Horror of the Year for 2011. “Ms. Jennings’ Family” was included on the list in 2010, and “The Winter Noise” in 2011. It’s a thrill see my work on a list that also includes writing by Stephen King, Joe Hill, and Neil Gaiman, among so many others authors I respect.

Also, reviews for On the Edge of Twilight have begun trickling in, and I’m very pleased with how the book has been received. The one that moved me the most was unquestionably Gabino Iglesias’s article for BuzzyMag.com. He wrote, in part,

“The great Ray Bradbury once said Miller had a ‘bright future.’ With the master of uncanny literature gone, Miller’s work becomes even more relevant. The author is not here to replace Bradbury, who’s simply irreplaceable, but his delightfully strange stories, wild imagination, and simple-yet-elegant prose make him the go-to author for those looking for literature than makes reality dissolve.”

Considering the book is dedicated to Ray’s memory, this is perhaps the greatest complement it, or I, could receive.

Here are links to a few recent reviews and features for it:

Teri Harman’s short but very positive review

BuzzyMag.com’s wonderful review by Gabino Iglesias

A great one from DanielCann.com

A sample story, courtesy of Books and Tales…

…and an interview.

More to come, and sooner rather than later next time!

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Out Today!

Today is the official publication date of On the Edge of Twilight: 22 Tales to Follow You Home.  I’m very happy with how it turned out; everyone involved truly rose to the occasion to create something special.  Seeing these books through to their final form is a great source of satisfaction, and knowing people will soon be reading this one is just as much of a thrill as it was with my first.

I’m currently planning several signings/readings to promote it, especially as Halloween is less than two months away, and most of my stories are October Tales at heart.  I’ve also gained a solid list of interested book reviewers, and still have several more free copies to give away, should anyone else care to write an honest paragraph or two about it on Amazon, Goodreads, in a blog, etc.  So the next few months should see the ball really begin rolling for this one.  Small press promotions are time consuming and require patience…but the rewards are always worth the effort, as, bit by bit, the titles find their way out into the world and into the hands of readers.  I hope there is pleasure to be found in On the Edge of Twilight for everyone.

Oh!  And the Kindle release to accompany the paperback publication is just around the corner…probably in a week or so.  Stay tuned!

Find it on Amazon here.

And here’s the finished cover, by the incredibly talented John Randall York:

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

On the Edge of Twilight: 22 Tales to Follow You Home

My 11th year as a teacher is now under way, and along with that, my third StoneGarden.net Publishing book, On the Edge of Twilight: 22 Tales to Follow You Home, is on the cusp of publication!  If all the deadlines are met, On the Edge of Twilight will be available in paperback during the first week of September, and shortly after that on Kindle.

Like my previous two books, it’s a mixed bag of genres; this one includes a few warm stories, some “weird tales,” a handful of all-out screamers, one that happened to me and is completely true (can you guess which?), and even a post-apocalyptic ghost narrative. Hopefully, there’s something in it for everyone to enjoy, and I’m eager to know your thoughts.

And to top it all off, John Randall York, who illustrated Scaring the Crows and The Uncanny Valley, has also offered up his great talents for this one, with beautiful and haunting results.  In addition to the cover (his most detailed yet), John has also completed 13 full-page interior illustrations, all of which capture, through visual metaphor, the heart of the stories he chose.  At this point, I honestly can’t imagine publishing a book without his participation…and for a sneak-peak at his extraordinary cover art, and a few of the interior illustrations, scroll down and click on the gallery.

In a few weeks I’ll receive some extra review copies of On the Edge of Twilight, so if you’re interested in publishing an honest review on a blog, on Amazon.com, or in print, please just drop me a line! Meanwhile, I’m currently setting up several signings and readings in Pittsburgh and State College, just in time for October and Halloween — the time of year all my stories celebrate.

As for 2013?  I see a full-blown novel-form prequel to The Uncanny Valley in the cards.  I have 57,000 words already written, and I’m not finished yet.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

On the Death of My Friend

Two days ago, July 5th, marked a month since the passing of Ray Bradbury, my great hero through all the years, whose work jump-started my interest in writing back when I was 13, and inspires me to this day. More than a hero, Ray also became a dear, dear friend, mentor, and teacher to me. As a child, I only had one grandfather. Later in life, Ray became my second.

I first met Ray in February 1996, a week before my 18th birthday, but our friendship truly formed in March 2003, when I booked a flight out to Los Angeles to see him at home for the first time. From then until this past April, just over nine years later, I flew from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles to visit Ray 32 times.

My relationship with Ray was –is– one of the deepest and most meaningful I will ever have. As a friend, he was enthusiastic, honest, and devoted. As a mentor and a teacher, he didn’t just teach me about the craft of writing; he reaffirmed and expanded my understanding of the joys life itself has to offer. As Ray so often said, he was an “optimal behaviorist,” and taught others how to “behave optimally.” Many, many times in the past month, I have recognized ways, some profound, others small, that he has positively influenced my life. So many other people, across several generations, have said the same about his impact on theirs –through friendship, conversation, a chance meeting, a lecture, a letter, or, of course, his writing. What a constant and lasting gift from him to the world.

This article is brief for two reasons: 1) Ray taught me that in writing, less is often more, and 2), I still miss him terribly, so writing about this is very difficult. But in conclusion, I thought I would share the following:

At Ray’s funeral on June 12th, I read his poem “This Attic Where the Meadow Greens,” my favorite of all the beautiful poems he composed over the course of his long life. For years, this poem, especially the last four lines, gave me comfort when thinking about loved ones I’ve lost. Now it also gives me comfort when remembering Ray himself.

The last four lines read:

“I only know on days like these
I hear his rushing run above the trees
Where his ghost tells me what life means
From attic where the meadow greens.”

Ray Bradbury taught me never to be ashamed of or embarrassed by saying “I love you.” I said it to him all the time. I still do.

I love you, Ray.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

This, That, and the Other Thing

March cometh, and I realize almost four months have passed since my last blog/update. That’s entirely too long, but sometimes life has a way of making us forget just how fast it’s passing.

Anyway, no overarching topic for this one, just lots of little things to mention!

First, StoneGarden.net Publishing offered up The Uncanny Valley as a free Kindle download for just 48 hours this past month. It’s usually $2.99, but FREE has a certain ring to it, and the results were fantastic. By Sunday morning it had reached #6 on Kindle’s bestseller list for short story collections and #20 for Kindle horror books, and it remained within ten or so numbers of that throughout the rest of the day. By the end of the 48 hours, over 750 people had downloaded it, which really makes me happy. I hope everyone enjoys it…Just knowing that so many new readers have the book in-hand (so to speak) is gratifying. I never take a single one for granted.

On top of that, my first collection, Scaring the Crows: 21 Tales for Noon or Midnight, is now available for Kindle! Check it out here.

Next up, bestselling fantasy author Piers Anthony, who so kindly reviewed Scaring the Crows in 2010, also offered to review The Uncanny Valley after I sent him a copy shortly before the turn of the year. I hadn’t expected him to review it, and told him so when sending it along; he’s a busy man, and I was already grateful that he’d reviewed the other book. Yet he went ahead and reviewed The Uncanny Valley anyway, and just published his thoughts in the February edition of his online newsletter. Moreover, he enjoyed it, which means a great deal to me. Piers always goes above and beyond in terms of kindness and consideration, and moreover is honest – so if he compliments my work, I not only appreciate it…I believe him. And here’s the link.

I’ve had many irons in the fire lately. In addition to meeting my new students and getting the new semester started with them, I’m also working on two editing project by people I greatly admire. The first is a collection, Fog, and Other Stories, by author/poet Laury Egan. Laury has been a great proponent of my work, and edited a middle draft of The Uncanny Valley, also suggesting a change in the order of the stories that undoubtedly made the book stronger. It is my pleasure to now have the chance to repay the favor, especially because Fog… is a true gem. StoneGarden will be publishing it sometime in the next few months, and I will certainly link it here.

The other project is a YA book from none other than John Randall York, the extraordinary artist who has illustrated both of my books, and who, if I have any say in it, will illustrate all those still to come. John has turned his hand to writing, and has not one but two books coming out from StoneGarden this year: Blerbin, which I’m editing, and a picture book called King Bronty. Blerbin takes place in a zoo that has far more to it than meets the eye, and I’m having great fun reading the early draft.

Finally, I’m also finishing up the latest round of edits on my own new project, On the Edge of Twilight: 22 Tales to Follow You Home. This one is slated for publication in August, and the revision process is finally reaching the point where I’m beginning to feel satisfied, more or less, with all of the stories I’ve chosen to include. I’d like to have the entire project in fighting shape and ready to go by the beginning of summer, because I’m starting to think about Uncanny Valley again. Last summer I wrote 27,000 words of the prequel, and I have about that much still to go. I think Uncanny has many stories left to be told, and only a few have yet been written. This one is a doozy…and some of the plot points that had been giving me trouble toward the end of last summer are no longer standing in the way. The path forward is now obvious – but it will take a great deal of work to clear it completely.

Some other odds and ends:

One of my unpublished short stories, “The Eleventh Hour,” will be appearing in Mark Crittenden’s forthcoming anthology, Dreams of Duality, under Mark’s Red Skies Press publishing imprint. It’s a pleasure to be appearing in another of Mark’s projects. Here’s a link to his site.

The new, big-budget version of The Woman in Black is now out in theaters. I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts.

Other Movies I Want to See This Year:

The Dark Knight Rises
The Avengers
The Hobbit
The Raven
Prometheus
The Hunger Games
The Great Gatsby
American Reunion

Wishing everyone a Happy March (and hopefully an early Spring),

Greg

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

“A Pleasing Terror” – When (and How) Horror Truly Does Its Job

Well, October has come and gone, and Halloween, my favorite holiday, is now just a recent memory. Unfortunately October, which I love dearly, is also always my busiest month of the year – and this year was no exception.

So before I knew it, Halloween was upon us. I didn’t dig out my beloved Halloween decorations until the same afternoon, and was barely able to decorate the front of the house and the yard before the neighborhood kids started hitting the streets and it was time to take our own out (as Eeyore and Tigger) for their brief, enchanted evening. But I did get it done, and was even able to spend the late night after everyone else went to sleep watching scary movies. Yet knowing I’d missed my chance to enjoy the weeks leading up to Halloween still saddens me.

And now, as luck would have it, I find myself suddenly caught up with work and able to write, read, and watch movies again – in the second week of November. So I’ve decided I’m going to make the best of it. There are still some red and gold leaves on the trees (despite the freak blizzard last weekend), and apple cider is still well-stocked at Giant Eagle. I’m not willing to let the holiday go just yet. It’s a state of mind, after all – just like Christmas or Thanksgiving. So tonight I’m going to heat me up some cider, steal some leftover Halloween candy from my kids, and catch up on some scary movies.

For me, this can be a challenge, because very little by way of film or writing gives me what the great ghost story writer M.R. James referred to as “a pleasing terror.” I love horror movies and I love ghost stories – but they, like everything else, are bound by Sturgeon’s Law: “ninety percent of everything is crap.”

It’s difficult to examine all the things, both great and small, that make horror movies (and, by proxy, horror stories) work. But the greatest mark of success is how well the writers and directors in the genre understand and act upon H.P. Lovecraft’s famous statement: “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”

Working under the general assumption that what applies to film also applies (or at least translates) to the written word, I’ll focus on movies from here on out to prove the point.

In film, what we don’t see is universally scarier than what we do. Suggestion is all it takes, coupled with well-placed, short moments of revelation…usually toward the end. There are exceptions to the rule, but they are very rare.

Why? Because the imagination is humanity’s greatest gift as well as its greatest enemy. In horror, the merest suggestion of the uncanny allows our minds to fill in what we don’t see with the worst things we can possibly imagine. Hence, our intrinsic, genetic fear of the dark.

In Japanese culture, supreme horror is felt not through blood, guts, violence and a great slathering of special effects. Instead, to see someone simply standing in the corner of a room – someone who shouldn’t be there, or who couldn’t be there – is enough to create the “pleasing terror” of which James spoke.

The best example of the effectiveness of this “less is more” approach can be found by comparing two movies, both released in 1999.

The first is The Haunting, an hour and a half of big-budget eye candy that, on first glance, would seem likely to have everything going for it. The film is based – loosely based – on Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, perhaps the greatest haunted house novel of the 20th Century. That, coupled with a solid cast including Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Owen Wilson, gave horror aficionados hope.

It was not to be…Literally ten minutes in, a fountain fills with blood and a cheesy CG hand reaches out to grasp one of the characters – and that’s all it took. The mystery was dispelled, the ghosts were campy; the unknown was known and the audience wasn’t scared.

The next 80 minutes were no different. The movie hit us with every CG spook its writers and effects team could devise. These included, among many others: talking wooden heads; a bed that comes alive; an enormous, animate fireplace; and, finally, the big baddie himself, all CG darkness and writhing vapor.

No one so much as gasped. It was unbelievable, it was overkill, and most importantly, it left nothing to the imagination. Famous actors and a mountainous budget couldn’t save this film…in fact, they killed it.

At virtually the same time, a small underground film began making itself known through word of mouth, a few scattered magazine articles, and a then-new viral method: the Internet.

Stephen King has gone on record as saying that he walked out of the theater during The Blair Witch Project…not because he disliked it, but because it disturbed him. And that’s a very good sign.

I saw Blair Witch in the theater, after the initial buzz had died down and viewers were already firmly divided into two camps: those who felt the movie was a cheap, overrated mess about nothing; and those who felt the movie was a cheap stroke of genius that had single-handedly revitalized the mainstream horror genre after a decade-long slump.

As you can probably guess, I fall in the latter camp.

The Blair Witch Project, like its descendant Paranormal Activity franchise, cost next to nothing to make, and ended up grossing hundreds of millions of dollars – giving it one of the greatest cost-to-profit ratios of any film ever made.

More importantly, as a horror movie it works.

Nothing is ever seen. Nothing. No witch. No monsters. No ghosts. No spirits. And there are certainly no special effects. The creepiest moment (besides the ending) is when the increasingly unhinged and desperate trio see little hands beating on the outside of their tent and hear the haunting laughter of children – deep in the woods, in the middle of the night. And, of course, when they open the tent flaps, what do they see?

You guessed it.

Suggestion is more powerful than direct presentation. The imagination is more powerful than any special effect. And it is this example of contrasting horror films that proves it, although there are dozens and dozens of others that support it too (perhaps not as dramatically).

M.R. James also believed in the “slow build” – providing a normal setting with a normal, even boring character, and then slowly, ever-so-slowly, pulling the rug out from under him until before he even realizes what is happening, he’s fighting for his life against a malevolent supernatural force. At that point, it’s either fight or die, so he has to accept the reality of the ghost – and often even that isn’t enough to save him. We relate to such stories because they are convincingly mundane…and then quite gradually not, until the final blow falls and the screamer of an ending knocks us happily sideways.

Beautiful.

One film that fits this mold perfectly is the 1989 made-for-television adaptation of Susan Hill’s classic ghost story, The Woman in Black. Shown only a few times on TV, released for just a short time on VHS before being yanked, it has since garnered a large and devoted following of horror fans who feel it ranks among the best horror films of all time. Again…no special effects, no gore, a PG rating…but it delivers some of the scariest moments ever put to film, simply because we can relate to Arthur Kidd’s circumstances and aren’t smacked in the back of the head with too much, too soon. Eventually, like in the best M.R. James stories, we see enough to leave us palpitating…but only when the time is right, and never before.

I’ve shown this movie to my high school students as a study in mood, foreshadowing, suspense, and character development, usually after we read The Great Gatsby (which, believe it or not, shares many story-telling devices with it). And this coming February, all my former students who have watched the original version with me will get to sit down in a theater and watch the new version, starring Daniel Radcliffe. I’ll be there too. Judging from the trailer, this second adaptation is more atmospheric, more graphic, more intense…more everything than the original. But will it be more scary? I really, truly hope so, but it has a very fine line to walk.

I could go on, but after a three-month silence I’m eager to post this and let everyone know I’m still alive. Next time, if anyone is interested, I’ll include a list of what I consider to be some of the most effective ghost stories ever written – and a list of some truly creepy (pleasingly creepy) movies, too.

Now I’m off to raid the kids’ candy again…

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments