Sunday, December 29, 2013

TC Television Review: The Top Five Episodes of the Alfred Hitchcock Hour, by Amber Doll Diaz. Ep. 2 - 'Dear Uncle George'

A Review of “Dear Uncle George”, Alfred Hitchcock Hour
by Amber Doll Diaz

Episode title - “Dear Uncle George
Director – Joseph Newman
Series - The Alfred Hitchcock Hour
Broadcast date - May 10th 1963
Teleplay by - James Bridges, William Link, and Richard Levinson

Good evening.  It is well known to authoritative fans and casual watchers alike, that Alfred Hitchcock was a singularly  identifiable artist, in physique as well as technique and signature archetypes.  In “Dear Uncle George”, episode thirty in season one, we are afforded the treat of multiple Hitchcockian watermarks…but as has always been the case, blood is much thicker than water.

When you’re seeking a hare-footed, basic rendering of something truly Hitchcockian, be it for personal reference or for showing some noir novice a thing or two, do try consulting your “Dear Uncle George”. It may seem more efficient to break out your limited edition collector’s set for North by Northwest or Psycho, but hear me out: you have your unfettered, metallic-tongued platinum-blonde female lead, the innocent man accused of a crime, and in case you’re missing the kitchen sink, there’s even a charming duo of fairly incompetent police officers who can’t be bothered to follow up on fingerprint checking after a particularly suspicious murder has taken place. Astonishingly, all of this is well coordinated into just one finely written hour.

Meet John Chambers, advice columnist known to his many troubled and lovelorn readers under the pseudonym “Uncle George”. He resides in a swanky Art Deco-inspired penthouse on New York City’s famous Park Avenue with his sharp-witted and beautiful, full-bodied wife, Louise. Seems he’s got it made, but that’s not where our writers intended to keep him. Ironically, the man, who from the opening scene is leisurely dictating expert counsel to his secretary for his loyal fans, soon finds himself devoured by his own emotions and commits a heinous crime of passion (Well, he IS cutting up female paper dolls in that scene). Naturally, we then meet our officers of the law: Duncan, a young sergeant vying to further establish himself in the force, and Wolfson, a seasoned veteran who is just about to end his run as lieutenant.

Speaking of seasoned veterans, “Dear Uncle George” was directed by none other than Joseph Newman who produced ten episodes in total throughout Alfred Hitchcock Hour’s run. This is unquestionably an episode that was richly-conceived, having also been borne from a trio of the prolific and masterful: James Bridges, William Link, and Richard Levinson. Link and Levinson were lifelong collaborators, and creators of the well known mystery series’ Murder, She Wrote. I suppose they might have changed the ‘she’ to ‘he’ this time around.

Furthermore, “Dear Uncle George” is simply brimming with interesting nuances such as symbolism achieved mise-en-scène (a technical term meaning ‘the look of the scene’). For example, a lover’s fatal wound is inflicted with nothing less than a small statue of the god Cupid, as well as modernist paintings and abstract art are visible-even emphasized- in most shots of the apartment, featuring distorted faces, symbolizing the fact that a character is not what he or she seems. Not to mention a hot steam room in which a character’s true intentions are revealed, denoting human purification and emotional absolution, making the intimately enclosed room a confessional of sorts.

Due in part to Gene Barry’s (John Chambers) regrettably over-emotive ham acting, this installment is rich in comic relief, even if it does resort to falling back upon racial stereotypes such as a subservient Asian woman, and an Irish repairman who can’t resist a drink. Personally, I wouldn't come down too hard on such setbacks, being that production time was thin and many writers were forced to lean on such trappings. Hopefully “Dear Uncle George” does well to scratch any persistent ‘Hitch’ you might have. Here is where I end my own editorial advisory, but all I ask is that no reader approaches me seeking personal advice, lest I too meet a passionate, mysterious end.

Friday, December 27, 2013

TC Book Review & Interview: Ian Rogers Combines Two of Dark Fiction's Best-Suited Genres in Aptly Named 'SuperNOIRtural Tales'

Some things just go together.  Peanut butter and chocolate.  Lowell and Hardy.  Salt and vinegar.  Noir and the Supernatural.

As for the latter, I mean, why not?  Noir often (mostly?) centers on investigations of something unexplained, something dark and deadly.  These are the exact same concepts that anchor Supernatural Fiction.  As such, "Paranormal Investigators" have proliferated for years in various media, from television and film, to dozens and dozens of books. What sets Ian Rogers' collection SuperNOIRtural Tales (Burning Effigy Press) apart isn't the genre, but it's what he does with it, how deftly he handles it, and most importantly, where he takes it, which is to the Black Lands.

Many writers of dark fiction will entertain, but the writers who become important are the ones who CREATE, carving out that new real estate from the jungle that ends up one the permanent map.  Lovecraft did it with his limitless cosmology of amoral Elder Gods.  Jeffrey Thomas has done it with Punktown.  Ian Rogers does it with the Black Lands, which is a major development in Horror Fiction, ripe with endless possibility as a dimension of werewolves and vampires and creepy children and killer trees (yes, you read that right - and it works).  This dimension that exists parallel to our own, accessible by portals that are opening up with increasing frequency all over the world, is a surface that is just barely scratched at this point in SuperNOIRtural Tales - a title which seems a bit clumsy at first, until you read the stories, and then it starts to grow on you, as it totally fits.

The book is somewhat of a "concept collection" (think concept album, with less four chord harmonies and a lot more blood) made up of  four interconnected, consecutive tales (and a fifth that is related but stand-alone) centering on Felix Renn, a wise-cracking, world weary private investigator who falls backwards into becoming the go-to PI for any and all supernatural occurrences.  And in Rogers' contemporary Toronto, there are many, and none of them are tame.

After a glowing introduction by  Mike Carey (author of the Felix Castor novels and writer for the DC/Vertigo comic book series Lucifer, Hellblazer and The Unwritten), "Temporary Monsters" starts the collection, introducing the reader to Felix, his ex-wife/failed actress/now secretary Sandra, and the monsters that have leaked out of the Black Lands and are running amok in our world, and - in this case - have infiltrated the film and television industry in Toronto.  This is the weakest piece in the book, but also serves as the baseline for each story that comes after it, which incrementally increase in scope - and quality of writing - as if Rogers warmed to the tales as we do.  The overall effect is a raising of all stakes, a gradual elevation of tension and horror through "The Ash Angels" and "Black Eyed Kids" that comes to a head with the arrival of "The Brick," which is a major, meaty piece of writing - a beautiful, tragic, and legitimately scary story that marks the high point of the book, and a major contribution to contemporary Supernatural Fiction.

Rogers' style is a perfect fit for this sort of fiction, as his writing is clean and straight ahead, without a lot of jazz hands, while also dashing the stew with a necessary amount of sarcasm and bone dry, black humor.  But there is also a depth of character, and a firm respect for what makes both good Horror and good Crime Fiction.  Like a mellow scotch, Rogers' writing is the ideal blend of the spooky and the restrained, the shocking and the procedural, striking a balance that serves this sort of mash-up perfectly.

In the end, both Noir and the Supernatural are celebrated in SuperNOIRtural Tales, and will hopefully continue in new Felix Renn stories and novels to come.  As a fanboy of both, who loves his Reeses, I'll be waiting.

And now, please enjoy The Cosmicomicon's in-depth interview with the brainfather of the Black Lands, and the caretaker to those horrifying little Black Eyed Kids wherever they might appear...

To start off, give us a little background, for those sad few who haven’t run across your work.  How did you get into writing fiction, and what – or who - made you delve into the Dark stuff?  

I’d have to blame my mother for that one. I've always loved to read, and as a kid the books that were always lying around the house were horror novels by the likes of Stephen King and Dean Koontz. My dad didn't have much use for horror — he tended more toward Louis L’Amour and National Geographic, but I read those, too.

As someone who writes in many genres, I like to think I was influenced by both of my parents, although my love of all things horror and the supernatural comes from Mom. She didn't live to see me publish even a single short story, but I dedicated my collection Every House Is Haunted to her memory.

What writers do you regularly read?  Which authors do you think influenced you?

I read a bit of everything, which is probably why I write a bit of everything, but the authors on the horror side who influenced me most are probably Stephen King, Shirley Jackson, and Richard Matheson. They embody the type of horror and supernatural fiction that I enjoy the most, and that I write today.

On the noir/detective fiction side of things, my biggest influence would be Ross Macdonald, author of the Lew Archer novels (among others). Macdonald was one of the first writers to really explore the emotional depth of his detective and criminal characters. I’m also a big fan of Elmore Leonard, Thomas Harris, Lawrence Block (especially his Matthew Scudder books), John D. MacDonald, and the late Robert B. Parker. They've all played a part in shaping my own work.

We here at The Cosmicomicon are big Noir fans, especially the work of Lawrence Block.  Did any particular writer, or aspect of Crime and/or Noir fiction, point you in the direction of writing Supernatural Noir stories and characters?  What made you decide to combine Supernatural/Horror with Noir? 

I did know that you’re a fan of noir, which is probably why I am such a fan of The Cosmicomicon!

I've always felt that noir and horror go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Maybe it’s the element of mystery and the unknown that lies at the center of both types of fiction that makes them such a good pairing. I’ll let the scholars figure that one out. For me, I just love a good story, I don’t care what the genre is, and when I decided to start combining them, noir and horror seemed like a no-brainer.

Mike Carey
Of course, many other authors did this long before I came along, and with some truly incredible results. Blackwood’s John Silence stories are must-read material for anyone writing in this sub-genre. Same goes for Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg, and Clive Barker and his Harry D’Amour tales (although I wish he’d write more of them). I’m also a big fan of Mike Carey’s Felix Castor series.

I was already writing my own Felix Renn stories when I became aware of Mike Carey’s work. I had the chance to meet him and his wife (also an excellent author) when they were in Canada a couple of years ago. I built up the courage to ask Mike to read some of my work, and he ended up writing the introduction to my Felix Renn collection SuperNOIRtural Tales.

In terms of actual influences, I’d also cite David Goodis, who wrote some of the darkest, bleakest — which is to say best — noir fiction. He never included any supernatural elements, that I know of, but the sense of dread and miasmic doom within his body of work certainly played a part when I crafted the world of the Black Lands.

Writers tend to put a little (or sometimes quite a bit) of themselves into their protagonists, especially those who recur in several stories or books.  Where did Felix Renn come from, and how much of him is you, and what you’d like (or not like) to be?

I was actually just out for dinner with a book club who had read SuperNOIRtural Tales, and they asked me the same question. I told them they’d probably find out the answer for themselves by the end of the meal.

Strangely enough, I think they saw more of my wife (who was also at the dinner) in the character of Felix’s no-nonsense ex-wife/assistant Sandra than they saw of me in Felix.

Having said that, I think it’s safe to say that Felix’s smart-ass attitude comes from me. Speaking those kind of sharp remarks in polite society is usually a good way of getting your ass kicked, but I like to think that putting them in my Felix Renn stories keeps them from going to waste.

There are three women named Sandra in the office where I work, and they've all asked if I named Felix’s ex-wife after them. Unfortunately, I had to let them down and tell them I called her Sandra because I’m a big fan of Sandra Dee, which is why Felix calls Sandra by the nickname “Dee.” (I think if he called her Gidget she’d probably rip his lungs out.) The name Felix Renn is a nod to my favourite David Cronenberg film, Videodrome, which stars James Woods as a guy named Max Renn.

In terms of characterization, I've tried to make Felix, Sandra, and the rest as real as possible. They have flaws and quirks, all those things that make us human. I’m a firm believer that the more real you make your story, the easier it is to sell the horror and fantasy elements. It’s like lulling the reader into a state of calm and then frightening them with something that they know doesn't exist… and yet they’re scared of it anyway.

From a storytelling point of view, I’m much more interested in exploring how ordinary people are trying to live in a world where the supernatural is real. Felix is just a guy trying to make a living. He’s not a superhero. He’d strongly prefer if the supernatural didn't insinuate itself into his work, but that’s life in the world of the Black Lands.

How did you come up with the Black Lands?  As such a rich and potential-filled setting, what are your plans for this other world moving forward?  I could see it entering the wider Horror canon, and anthologies written by other writers set in this locale. 

The Black Lands is simply the darkest, scariest place I could think of, filled with every monster and every nightmare imaginable.

When I created the Black Lands, I wanted to do two things above all else. I wanted to make the supernatural as real as possible, and I wanted to make it a global threat. By which I mean, I wanted the reality of the supernatural to be an issue that everyone on the planet is forced to deal with on a daily basis.

The way I managed this was to say, Well, the Black Lands is this dimension that lies next to ours, but the only way creatures from that side can cross over is via these portals. Then I said, Okay, the portals allow the creatures from the Black Lands to dribble over instead of flooding into our world outright, but the portals can’t be closed, they’re here to stay. So even though the world governments are quick to say, Oh yes, you’re more likely to be struck by lightning than to ever encounter a supernatural entity, that threat is still looming over everyone’s head. Parents can’t tell their kids anymore that monsters don’t exist. Hell, they’re taught about the Black Lands in school!

These stories adhere to Arthur C. Clarke’s idea that magic is just science we don’t understand yet. I’m trying to come at ghosts and monsters from a scientific point of view, without sucking all the freaky fun out of them.

Do you have any more stories percolating that take place in or around the Black Lands?

My first non-Felix Black Lands story was recently published in the anthology Chilling Tales 2, edited by Michael Kelly. It’s called “Day Pass,” and it deals with a kind of halfway house for shapeshifters. People who have been infected by a Black Lands virus that’s basically the supernatural equivalent of rabies.

I've got a new Felix Renn story called “Eyes Like Poisoned Wells” that’s currently making the rounds.

And I’m currently working on a short story featuring Jerry Baldwin, the haunted house realtor from “The Brick.” It’s a tale of demons and exorcism called “Possession is Nine-Tenths of the Law.” Jerry’s stories tend to be a bit lighter. Not outright comedies, but less dark than the rest of my Black Lands stories. I like them because they let me explore not just another character, but another view of the world. Jerry’s outlook is very different from Felix’s. He doesn't like the way the Black Lands is intruding on our world, but he’s trying to make the most of it. Even more, he’s trying to make money out of it.

I’m not usually frightened of “spooky children,” on the page or in movies, as they just seem so… easy to drop kick.  But I have to admit that the Black Eyed Kids gave me certified chills a few times.  How did you stumble upon the BEK, and how does your take of this urban legend different from the traditional depictions?  

Of all the Black Lands stories published to date, the one I get the most feedback on is “Black-Eyed Kids.” I even managed to freak myself out writing a few of those scenes, which was how I knew I was doing something right.

I first heard about the BEKs from a friend at work. He knew I was into all things supernatural, and I believe we were talking about the TV show A Haunting, that my wife and I both enjoy (although it’s still a wonder to me why people think visits from priests or burning sage are ever going to do anything to fix their haunted house — it never works!). He had read about the Black-Eyed Kids on the Internet, which in turn prompted me to see what I could dig up online.

At that point I had published two novellas featuring Felix Renn. In the first one, “Temporary Monsters,” I established the characters and the world of the Black Lands, but I also wanted to get the traditional monsters (i.e., vampires and werewolves) out of my system. I wanted to say Yeah, those kinds of monsters are over there, but there’s all kinds of other things we’ve never seen before, that we don’t even have names for. I explored that a bit in “The Ash Angels,” with the titular entities themselves, which are kind of like ghosts, but really something else entirely. “Black-Eyed Kids” was my chance to continue that theme of introducing lesser known monsters.

One of the things I like most about the Black-Eyed Kids is that they demonstrate the evolution of the modern-day myth. The BEKs are really nothing more than an update of the old Men In Black myth (the black eyes, the sense of fear they instill) with a dash of vampires (their need to be invited into homes) thrown in for good measure. From a story-telling perspective this excited me because a number of the Black Lands stories explore how government and law enforcement agencies are attempting to deal with our world existing kitty-corner to a dimension filled supernatural nasties. When Felix ends up drawing the attention of the BEKs, it’s only natural that he seek help from a scientist at the Paranormal Intelligence Agency. I liked having the everyman perspective in Felix, as well as the bigger picture from the point view of the PIA. Probably because they’re both equally scared and lost. Not such a good deal for them, but it makes for some great fiction!

“The Brick” is a large, substantial work, and could stand alone as a novel.  Did you have any page length in mind when you began writing it?  Will Felix and the brick ever re-team in what has – to my mind – become one of the most bizarre yet effective (and even affectionate) “buddy stories” going today?  

When I first started writing “The Brick,” I thought it would be about as long as “Black-Eyed Kids,” around 25,000 words, and it ended up being twice that amount.  No complaints here. “The Brick” is my favourite Black Lands story to date (with BEKs a very close second), and I think it functions both as an entertaining story as well as a bridge to the Felix Renn novel series that I’m working on right now.

“The Brick” was the story that told me it was finally time to start the novels. If you look at the three previous novellas, you’ll see that they get bigger as you go. I guess it makes sense, but even though I’ve always known I would write Felix Renn novels, I still needed to tie things off with the shorter works. Which is why I was so glad to see them collected in SuperNOIRtural Tales.

In terms of the origin of “The Brick,” anyone who’s done any reading on parapsychology probably knows the story of Rosedale Cottage is my nod to Borley Rectory, “the most haunted house in England.” Right down to the photo of the burnt-out ruins and the floating brick. One day I just started to wonder what ever happened to that brick, and what would happen if someone put it into the foundation of their house. Happy thoughts like that.

“The Brick” also introduces Jerry Baldwin, which I enjoyed for two reasons. One, it provided Felix with a bit of a sidekick/foil. Two, it allowed me to show how someone else, in another field of business (i.e. real estate), was trying to find his place in this strange world. After all, if haunted houses exist, then someone had to sell them, right?

When Monica (my publisher at Burning Effigy Press) and I started putting together SuperNOIRtural Tales, I told her I wanted to make the book like a special-edition DVD, loaded with lots of cool extras and Easter eggs. We included author notes after each story (the book equivalent of an audio commentary track), a few teases about the Felix Renn novels, and a history of the Black Lands.

We stopped short of including deleted scenes, which I would have really liked to have seen in the book. There were some good ones in “The Brick,” including one where Felix goes to the airport, and the brick, getting up to dickens, ends up setting off the metal detector. Felix is taken aside for further screening, and the brick ends up setting off the radiation detector. Felix is arrested and strip-searched. Hilarity ensues.

I save everything I end up cutting, so maybe those scenes will pop up in some massive Black Lands omnibus someday.

What do you want to impart on your readers in your fiction?  Similarly, what are your personal goals when you sit down to write a story?

First and foremost, I hope the reader has a good time. I hope they’re entertained. It’s nice to make the reader think, to impart something deep and meaningful, but there’s no way you’re going to do that if the story sucks. You don’t see a lot of readers saying, “Oh the story was absolute crap, but the symbolism, man! The subtext!”

One of my favourite authors, Charles L. Grant, once said: “Now I have things to say in my books – but it's all below the surface, and I don't set out with a conscious theme. I just set out to tell a story. If there's anything else in there, that's cool. If the reader gets it, that's great. If the reader sees something I didn't intend, that's wonderful. But the important thing is that they get to the end of it, and they don't feel that I've cheated them.”

Louis L’Amour put it even simpler — he said he didn't care if he was remembered as a good writer, he’d rather be remembered as a good storyteller. I can get behind that, because even though opinions on prose styles may vary, people can usually agree on what makes a good story. I don’t think I’m a half bad writer — my prose is nothing too fancy, nothing to write home about (ha-ha) — but telling a story is definitely something I feel I can do.

What do you enjoy writing more, short stories or novels/long works?

Novels, definitely. I started out writing short stories, and I still write the occasional short piece, but these days my stories want to run long. Having said that, I admire the precision of the short story, where every word has to count. There are authors who are more comfortable in the short form, and I’m definitely not one of those people who feels that all short story authors must eventually go on to write novels, but for me it was definitely a process of building up the skill and the confidence to tackle longer stories.

Do you think the short story is on the wane, holding serve, or becoming more valued?  The sentiment that “the novel is king” seems to be a constant refrain in contemporary publishing.

I don’t think short stories are any more on the wane than they've ever been. Short story collections have never been big sellers. Readers seem to prefer novels. There are exceptions, writers like Clive Barker, who established their careers based on their short fiction, but they seem to be the exception that proves the rule.

I don’t know why that is. Personally, I love short stories. Maybe people simple prefer longer works, something they can really sink into, like a warm bath. Maybe it’s a holdover from school, when we had to dissect and analyze short fiction for every little piece of meaning. My wife, no fan of short fiction, has told me this is the reason she prefers novels. She took English at university and it pretty destroyed her interest in the form. She loves novels, but she’ll only read short stories that I recommend to her, and then grudgingly.

Having said that, even if short stories and collections are no bigger sellers than they were 10, 20, or 30 years ago, I do feel that the form is more valued today. There seems to be more discussion on the subject, on blogs (like this one), on message boards, on social media, etc. Maybe it’s because there are so many great collections being published today. Or because there are some really excellent magazines and e-zines putting out quality work.

I see it as Marshall McLuhan’s global village on a literary scale. A worldwide awareness and appreciation of the short story. There’s something incredibly cool about going online and reading blogs or Facebook posts about Laird Barron’s latest collection, or someone discovering Robert Aickman for the first time, or that a popular Japanese horror story has finally been translated into English. Maybe it’s because of the inherent length of the medium, but short stories seem to have thrived on the Internet.

I always like to ask successful and respected contemporary writers of Horror/Weird Fiction to give their take on the current state of Speculative Fiction.  Do you feel it is in a good place?  Why or why not?  What do you think the future of Spec Fic holds?

I don’t know about successful and respected, but as a humble reader I can say this is a very exciting time for speculative fiction. I think the Internet and e-Books and all that technological jazz have done a great job of showcasing authors whom I may never have discovered otherwise. These days I’m reading a constant flow of great stories by authors from around the globe. I also think Jeff and Ann VanderMeer’s massive anthology The Weird will be the dark bible for our generation.

As for the future, I just hope that we continue to see authors bucking the trends and twisting the tropes, if not tearing them down completely. All fiction is fantasy, but authors of horror/sci-fi/fantasy are the ones doing the most interesting work, writing the most thought-provoking (and sometimes fear-inducing) stories. More of that, please!

How important of a role do you think social media plays in the fortunes of a fiction writer these days?  Do you think it is the same for writers of Dark/Supernatural Fiction as it is for those who write in more mainstream genres for bigger publishing houses?

I think social media can be a valuable tool for any writer, regardless of genre. One doesn't need to be Tweeting every five minutes or posting on their Facebook page multiple times a day to create an effective online presence. Do whatever feels natural but still allows you to get your writing done.

Author, Anti-Hero, Keene
Even though all writers can benefit from using social media, I think genre writers can probably make the most of it. Simply put: the Internet is geared toward geeks — and I mean that in the kindest way possible. I’m a geek. I love books, movies, comics, pop culture, all of it, and the best place to get a daily dose of these goodies is online. I followed the Tweets of authors like Joe Hill and William Gibson, I read blogs by John Scalzi and Brian Keene, and I chat with numerous writers on Facebook.

It can be hard to use social media to promote your work, because there’s nothing more annoying than a spamming writer. On Facebook I have to “unfriend” one every other week. But that’s the double-edged sword of the Internet, social media, and self-publishing. These things have made it that much easier for people to get their stories out, but since there’s no filter, no vetting process, a lot of garbage makes it way through, as well.

I think the key is to put yourself out there on social media on whatever personal level you’re comfortable with, and then use that platform to talk to readers and other writers, not just about your work but about everything. If you’re only out there to sell, sell, sell, no one is going to listen. Trust me on that. Writers need to use social media for more than just pimping their books. They have to see it as a way of connecting with people. Do I talk about my books on Twitter and Facebook? Of course. But I also talk about movies, music, food, and my cats.

Writers now have many non-traditional avenues to get their work out into the wider world.  In your opinion, is self publishing as legitimate as placing one’s work with a third-party publisher?

Self-publishing has come a long way, but there’s still a stigma attached to it that I feel is mostly well-deserved. The vast majority of self-published books simply aren't very good. But then what do you expect when so many of them haven’t been proofed or edited.

I’m not against self-publishing, but for me it’s a means of last resort. The reason why so many self-published books are crap is because most of the authors who choose to self-publish do so because they can’t deal with rejection, or they’re too lazy to do it the traditional way, or they see it as a get-rich-quick scheme. They’re not prepared to invest the time and energy to produce something decent. They just want to see their name in print, they want to make lots of money, and they view self-publishing as a shortcut to success.

I just read a blog that was sent to me the other day with a familiar title. It was called “Why I Self-Publish.” These are usually good for a laugh, because the author’s reasons rarely have anything do with a business plan. In this case, the author was choosing to self-publish because he was a former punk rocker, and as such he was against getting a major record deal (like all punk rockers, he said). Therefore, why should he have to deal with major publishing companies and all kinds of potential rejection when he already knew his book was great? The solution: self-publish!

I’m a firm believer that if something is easy then everyone would be doing it, and just because self-publishing is easy, it doesn't mean everyone should be doing it. Most of these people are simply looking for the quick thrill. They don’t want to have to work to get their book published. They want it to be easy and they want it now. They are instant-gratification writers pumping out the types of books that, for the most part, would never normally see the light of day, usually with good reason.

Sure, there’s the occasional self-published book that’s decent, the rare success story of someone who actually made some money from such a venture, but they are very few and far between.

Ultimately a writer should do whatever they feel is best for their career. If they feel self-publishing is their best option, then they should go for it. I may even read their book one day… but probably not. I’m sure there are good self-published books out there, but really, who has the time to dig through all the crap to find them?

Sometimes letting EVERYONE into the party means that eventually guests will arrive who have no business being there. 

Precisely. It’s a free-for-all designed for amateurs who tend to have little to no regard for any sense of standards. Self-publishing is like the reality TV of literature.

When I see one of these self-publishing pundits talking about how to boost your Amazon rating or the best way to spam people with a Facebook fan page, I can’t help but think of used-car salesmen or guys going door-to-door selling steak knives. These writers are like the Ron Popeils of publishing. And the sad part is, some of them, the ones only interested in the bottom line, probably think that’s a compliment.

My final word on the subject is, the best thing about self-publishing is that anyone can put out a book. The worst thing about self-publishing is that anyone can put out a book.

What’s next for Felix, and what’s next for Ian?

I actually just put the finishing touches on my first novel, which is not the Felix Renn novel (sorry!). It’s a very weird sci-fi comedy that I've been describing as “The X-Files” meets “Arrested Development.” It’s a story about UFOs, conspiracies, and family. I like it a lot, but I know comedy genre novels are sometimes a hard sell, so I don’t know what’s going to happen with it. I guess I’ll wait and see what my agent thinks of it first.

With that novel in the can, I’m finally ready to begin work on the Felix Renn novel (yay!). I've actually had the first three Felix books outlined and ready to go for some time. The first one is called Sycamore. My biggest challenge will be introducing Felix and the Black Lands to new readers without having to whitewash over the stories in SuperNOIRtural Tales. This is not a reboot, but since I’m hoping to do these books with a bigger publisher, and thereby reach a wider audience, I can’t assume that all of the readers will be familiar with the previous stories.

I look at the entire Black Lands series as a supernatural version of “The Wire.” Where each season of the show focused on a different aspect of life in Baltimore — from the illegal drug trade, to the docks, to city hall, etc. — each of my books will explore how different people around the globe are trying to live in the world of the Black Lands. To date we've only seen one perspective, that of a Toronto-based private investigator, but I have plans for another series, following an agent of the Paranormal Intelligence Agency, as well as other novels featuring characters from other walks of life as they try to find their way in this dark world. I've also got a few stories featuring Jerry Baldwin, my huckster of haunted houses.

Dropping a reference to “The Wire” will get you EVERYWHERE with The Cosmicomicon…

Would you ever turn in lesser work (say, in a cheesy genre that doesn't really speak to you) if it meant a big paycheck?  No one is really getting paid in Speculative Fiction, so I often wonder if the art vs. commerce debate is rarely broached in Supernatural/Weird Fiction because there really isn't much commerce available to taint the art in the first place.  

I guess it would depend on the job. I’m not such an artiste that I wouldn't consider a job offer, especially if the money allowed me the time and the opportunity to pursue work that’s closer to my heart.

Take, for example, tie-in novels. Books based on movies and TV shows and other existing properties. Some authors look down their nose at such things, but the fact is, plenty of great writers have written tie-in books, and done some pretty good ones, too.

I don’t put down any particular genre. I was on a panel a few months back at Fan Expo/Festival of Fear, and the subject of the Twilight books came up. I had the perfect opportunity to trash those books, make some clever barbs, but I didn't. I was on the panel as an author guest, and while I certainly have my own opinions regarding those books, the last thing I want to do as an author is alienate prospective readers by saying certain books — books other people may enjoy — are total crap. It’s just not my style. I don’t get off on making fun of what people read. If you enjoy it, you shouldn't be made to feel bad about it just because someone else doesn't like it. People should read what they want.

Case in point, the Twilight series. I’m a 37-year-old man. Those books weren't written for me. So by saying that I don’t like them, or to go further and make fun of them to an audience who’s come to listen to me talk, to listen to my advice on writing, and let’s face it, to advertise my work to a certain degree. Well, among those who do enjoy the Twilight books, I’m probably not going to be getting any new readers for my Felix Renn stories.

So while I would rather write Black Lands novels, if a job came along to write something that wasn't really my bag, I might do it. But if I did, I would try to do my best. Just because I may not like the genre, I don’t see that as an excuse to produce lesser work. Even if it didn't work out, at least it would be a new experience, and I may end up learning something new in the process.

Much like all the amazing music created in the Pacific Northwest in the early 1990’s, do you think Canadians would write less Dark Fiction if the weather was better?

Hard to say. The weather doesn't figure much in my writing. Although my office is in the basement, which is as cold as a meat locker, even in August, and in the winter I have to work with a space heater on. I write when I’m happy, and I’m happy when I’m warm. I can see the appeal of wintering in warmer climes. John D. MacDonald and Elmore Leonard seemed to do all right in Florida. Maybe I’ll get a place down there one of these days.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

TC Television Review: The Top Five Episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Reviewed by Amber Diaz. Ep. 1 - 'The Paragon'

The Cosmicomicon is very proud and excited to bring you a new feature that will be unspooling right here over the next several weeks, as each Sunday night we will be publishing a new review of the five favorite episodes of the Alfred Hitchcock Hour as selected by Dark Fiction writer and editor Ives Hovanessian, through weekly pieces written by Amber Doll Diaz.  Special thanks to both of these wonderful women for gracing The Cosmicomicon with their taste and talents.

Now then, cozy up in a dimly lit room and please enjoy the following review and full episode, and be sure to click on by each and every Sunday night (or blurry-eyed Monday morn) for another review of what is - for my money - perhaps the greatest television series devoted to Noir fiction ever broadcast.

A Review of “The Paragon”, Alfred Hitchcock Hour, by Amber Doll Diaz

Episode title - "The Paragon"
Director – Jack Smight
Series - The Alfred Hitchcock Hour
Broadcast date - February 9th, 1963
Teleplay by – Alfred Hayes
Based on - "The Salt of the Earth" by Rebecca West
First print appearance – The Harsh Voice: Four Short Novels (1935)

“Ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become insipid, with what shall it be salted again? It is no longer fit for anything but to be cast out and to be trodden underfoot by men.” – Matthew 5:13

Good evening. One of the most rudimentary (but relatively newfound) findings within the field of psychoanalysis is that when people or persons attempt to help the less fortunate in even the highest of altruistic senses, they are found by researchers to have been doing so with subconsciously selfish motives. Volunteer humanitarian workers studied in 2006 were found to be ultimately aiming to satisfy individual moral values, to develop their understanding of the world around them, and to increase their self-esteem as well as their sense of control. A shining example of all these scientific findings is truly the lead character in “The Paragon”, Alice Pemberton.

Portrayed by, well, the paragon of Hitchockian female stars, Joan Fontaine, Alice is a wealthy high-nosed housewife possessing all that her heart desires: beauty, a loving husband, servants tending to her home, and plenty of family members well within her toxic reach. These opportunities have afforded Alice a sense of false philanthropy with which she makes her constant rounds, advising virtually everyone around her on what they should be doing with their lives, if of course they’d like to be as fortunate as she. Unbeknownst to Alice, her deluded busy-body ways are driving her family and friends to hate and resent her, leaving her husband John (Gary Merrill) the only person with an ounce of patience left. But even her good fortune in that regard is about to run out.

“The Paragon” is based upon a short story originally titled “The Salt of the Earth” and written by a novelist considered to be one of the most excellent and refined prose authors of twentieth-century England: Rebecca West. With Alfred Hitchcock being known for his plethora of femme fatales and unwavering leading ladies, it is no surprise that the famous feminist’s work should be included in his anthology series. Ironically, Joan Fontaine, star of “The Paragon” had originally appeared in Hitchcock’s first American film entitled Rebecca. Plenty of cause for Suspicion, if you ask me.

Fontaine’s lilting charm deserves an hour all its own, as her flawlessly fluid acting in this installment is almost enough for one to overlook the predictability of it all…almost. Within this “mystery”, as I will loosely describe it, there is an overabundance of clues stridently thrown in, as well as too few moments of tension, thanks to an overly-forgiving husband whose wits’ end is stretched to the moon, and an almost comically-inclined script. Although the episode begins with a fairly foreboding premonition, not much builds upon the sequence, and ultimately, this hour-long segment would have profited from being chopped down to an Alfred Hitchcock Presents piece. The aforementioned premonition scene was certainly meant to be the zenith of the episode in terms of suspense, but it turned out to be the biggest flop of all, as I can’t imagine anyone being frightened by the silhouette of the substance from Flubber (1997) looming closer and closer in a dark room, 1960’s audience or not.

Perhaps this is the sole Alfred Hitchcock Hour episode I would only re-watch out of insomnia-desperation at the witching hour. Despite the episode’s manifest failures, a tremendous positive within was teleplay writer Alfred Hayes’ meticulously crafted dialogue. I was dazzled and fully engrossed, staying glued throughout the hour without the suspense I craved, as most characters owned a sense of eloquence and tact, despite often being exorbitantly frustrated with Alice’s incessant meddling. Heavy on filler and low on tension, dedicated fans of Hitchcock might be interested in skipping this one, but it is without a doubt a treasure for members of the Joan Fontaine fan-club, which I will be joining post-haste.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

TC Book Review: J David Osborne Carves Deep and Dark into Rural Noir with Arresting Second Novel 'Low Down Death Right Easy'

Good Noir can come from anywhere, and from anyone. I’m talking GOOD Noir, now, not some half slung hash, over-spiced with reheated Chandler cliches and goopy private eyes.

Good Noir comes from J David Osborne, possibly without even him knowing it. Because he’s such a natural, unaffected writer, he probably has no idea that his not just hard boiled, but hard scrabble stories are imbued with the essence of Noir – that life altering darkness which creeps up from the interchangeable ground to squelch even the most optimistic character or sub-plot. Some writers just write dark, married to it on a cellular level and unable to escape that particular minor key. A singer can’t change the voice that bubbles up the esophagus when the vocal chords start to hum. Writers are like that. J David Osborne is like that.

In what will someday make one hell of an NPR interview, Osborne hails from the flatlands of Norman, Oklahoma, performs hip hop, hangs with Bizarros, and pens some of the most refreshingly original and fully mature stories that I've recently read, all without yet crossing over into his third decade. I say “mature” not in that school marmish, ratings board sort of way, but as a vehicle to describe his well-formed, lived-in prose, stripped away of showy trappings of a young writer eager to show off all that dime store plumage. “Full grown,” as John Spencer once sang.

Osborne writes older than he is, meaner than he is, maybe even leaner. His style is post-Weird and rural Beat, influenced by Dirty South dubs instead of Harlem jazz, set in septic backwaters rather than humming capitals of culture. Patient minimalism is dotted by blooms of true poetry, with acres of arable subtext filling in the blanks. He brings home along with him, as the grit of Oklahoma clay country courses through his ink, tinging all that black with a measure of red. And just when you think everything more or less makes sense, here comes the slider, cutting sharp and inside, to back you off of the plate.

With his second novel, Low Down Death Right Easy (Swallowdown Press, 2013), Osborne once again reaches out into the scabrous hinterlands of landlocked nowhere to unveil an intertwined collection of reluctant dreamers and three time losers, all trying to get by while navigating the rusted out refuse of the American Dream gone rancid. His sidewalks aren't cutting through Manhattan, but just as gritty and choked with weeds, leading past convenience store ice heads and rundown bars on out to the end of town, where “suburban” means greasy double wides and ATV tracks. Strange, brutal, yet disturbingly familiar, this is the sort of story you can taste on the back of your tongue like a hangover that stretches into nightfall, and makes you appreciate every last clean and hopeful thing you have in your life.

The familiarity stems from his diverse cast of characters of varying races tight-roping that narrow rung between working class and barely working poor, and those who work all of them over. The kind of New Heartland Americans who fish for their dinner, in between trips to KFC, after shopping at the newly erected Big Box monstrosity that grew up like a sowthistle over the last bones of Local Color left in a thousand small cities doting the less cluttered parts of the map. Hovering over all this meat and posturing is a fragility that lends a sadness to the day-to-day routine, the explosive howls of violence, the slow ride in the mud caked pickup truck after another failed job interview. The right thing is right in front of you, but the wrong thing is even closer, and doesn't demand that you bend down to get it.

That spine of Low Down Death Right Easy is the vertebra of brotherhood, as we follow the sometimes interconnected lives of two sets of brothers. Everyone crosses paths in a small town, and in an Osborne story, that doesn't usually end well. In a series of short, punchy chapters that structure the book, we are introduced to the lead character Danny Ames, who is looking for his missing brother, when not dealing with his mother’s worry and the local knuckleheads at the flypaper raver club where he works muscle, which gives the IRS a distraction away from his similarly heavy fisted after-hours gig. I've told Osborne that I think Danny deserves his own line of books, a la Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder, and I meant it. Ames is that fascinating a figure - the sort of person who changes the air of a room when he walks into it, no matter how low key they are attempting to be. He’s just one of Those Guys. You can’t take your eyes off of Danny Ames, even when you can’t actually see him. The other pair of siblings are Sepp and Arlo Clancy, the latter married and the former adrift in that transitional haze of youth abutting the bleak reality of limited options and the immovable criminal justice system, who give readers a more domesticated side of this world, yet both struggle with keeping their heads screwed on straight. It’s not as easy as it sounds, as the distractions of the low road pop up everywhere. And the catfish pond is never too far away.

When I read Osborne’s writing, first introduced to me through his award winning debut novel - the gulag nightmare By The Time We Leave Here, We’ll Be Friends - I have the sneaking suspicion deep in my marrow that we’re witnessing the foundational bricks of an Important Career. Osborne would probably snicker at this, then take of sip of his warming can of beer, look off into the flat horizon, and see something that none of the rest of us ever will. Those with that sort of sight, shaded by the darkness, by that Noir that is waiting for us in even the most brightly lit corners of life, are the writers I want to read. And so I will.

J David Osborne lives in Norman, Oklahoma with his wife and dog. He is the author of the Wonderland Award-winning BY THE TIME WE LEAVE HERE, WE'LL BE FRIENDS and LOW DOWN DEATH RIGHT EASY. He is currently writing the free, online pulp serial GOD$ FARE NO BETTER, which can be found at He is also the editor of the brand-new crime fiction imprint Broken River Books, and would love to see your best stuff at