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My Thoughts on the Flow Hive™

Me and Bees

No, really, I’m a beekeeper.

As a beekeeper with approximately thirty colonies at any one time, and as president emeritus of the Ontario-Finger Lakes Beekeepers Association, I’ve been almost overwhelmed by the Flow Hive™. Specifically, I’ve been tagged, e-mailed, shared with, tweeted at, shared with, tagged, tweeted at, shared with, tagged, shared with, and tweeted at to the point where I should feel grateful that so many people value my opinion on this topic, but all it really makes me want to do at this point is slap people just to make it stop.

But that’s not really fair, because they don’t realize the extent to which every beekeeper with anything even approaching a public platform has been barraged by news of and questions about this interesting gimmick. (Did he just call it a gimmick? He totally just called it a gimmick!)

So here’s my opinion on the Flow Hive™, even presuming it works exactly as advertised, doesn’t create additional places for parasites (such as varroa mites) and pests (such as small hive beetles) and molds to hide and thrive, doesn’t cause robbing frenzies when you use it, and never, ever breaks.

Hippy granola stuff and the unknown:

Many have objected that the Flow Hive™ separates the beekeeper from the bees he’s keeping, in a spiritual or psychological way. I don’t much care about this very common objection, and I think that keeping bees to make money is an entirely fine thing to do if done responsibly, so I don’t plan to address this issue here.

Similarly, many have raised the issue as to whether or not rupturing thousands of cells at once—in a place that traditional beekeeping has not ruptured them—is truly as unobtrusive and harmless as claimed. I doubt we know either way at this point what the long-term ramifications of that are, but addressing this concern goes against the “it works exactly as advertised” benefit-of-the-doubt I prefaced this with, and there are bigger fish to fry. So let’s put that aside as well.

Plastic is eeeeeeevil (or maybe not):

Many have also expressed concerns with the fact that it’s made of plastic, and plastic isn’t natural. This doesn’t bother me much. I use wax-coated plastic frames in my own hives, and responsibly replace them every three to four years. However, these frames cost me a little over a buck. Flow Hive™ frames are so expensive I laughed out loud when I clicked on their IndieGoGo campaign minutes after it launched. $230 for three frames, which won’t even fill a super, plus the tube and key you need to make it work…and not a single mention that in order to avoid pesticide buildup you need to replace your comb every three to four years—even though bees having to rebuild wax on that foundation costs a lot in both time and honey production–the old adage is that it takes eight pounds of honey to make one pound of wax, and bees can’t fill nonexistent wax with honey.

Black Frame

Beeswax starts off white. When it looks like this, it’s time to get rid of it. Or maybe a year past time.

You see, beeswax is astoundingly good at absorbing foreign chemicals, most importantly pesticides. It does this job so well that some have hypothesized that in the colony superorganism, the honeycomb serves to some degree as the liver and kidneys. But unfortunately, it doesn’t do as good as job as you’d like at isolating bees from the effects of those chemicals once it’s absorbed too much, and researchers have identified old wax as a significant source of contamination in modern hives.

Because of this, all conscientious beekeepers replace their frames (whether plastic or wax foundation) on a regular basis. It’s costly and burdensome to replace frames of drawn-out wax (that the bees are still willing to use) at a buck or so a piece, to the point that many beekeepers “stretch” old frames a year or two or three longer than they should. I shudder to think about the impact that a price of seventy-ish dollars a frame will have on your average beekeeper’s decision to replace their Flow Hive™ frames on a responsible schedule.

Stress in the honeybee colony:

The makers of the Flow Hive™ contend that this method harvesting honey is less stressful for the bees, because you’re not digging into the colony to get at the frames of delicious, lucrative honey. This claim is downright absurd, not because it’s wrong, but because it’s almost completely irrelevant to the practice of responsible beekeeping. Oh, but it’s also wrong, for two reasons. Let’s take those claims one at a time.


Western New York is almost unique in that there are two separate nectar flows, separated by a several-week dearth known as “early-to-mid August.” The vast majority of places have one continuous flow, which means that you harvest honey once a year. There are more and less intrusive ways to extract honey—from escape boards (which really aren’t stressful at all, but are more labor intensive) to strong essential oils that drive the bees down and out of the honey supers, to pulling the frames individually and knocking or brushing the bees off (which I wouldn’t recommend for a variety of reasons, despite the fact that they did it in The Secret Life of Bees). And you do it once, maybe twice a year.


My next point requires a little education on how bees make honey. The nectar foragers bring nectar, which is mostly water, back to the hive in their honey stomachs. They regurgitate it into cells of honeycomb, where other bees fan it to evaporate out the water. Once the moisture content is so low that contact with the honey will kill bacteria, the honey is “ripe” and won’t spoil as long as it’s kept in an air-tight container—which is why at this point the bees “cap” the honey with wax. When you extract honey, it’s important to pull only “ripe” honey, with a rule-of-thumb being 90% of your frames need to be at least 90% capped before you pull them for extraction. But when bees store honey, they start at the outsides of the frames and work their way in.

Flow Hive™

The Flow Hive™ only shows you the edges of the frames. (Also, there’s no way you’d get five gallons of honey out of one super.)

Because of that, there’s no way to tell by looking through the window in a Flow Hive™ whether or not the honey you’re about to take is ripe (and thus won’t spoil in the jar); to do that, you have to open the hive and pull the frames so you can inspect them. Huge commercial operations have reverse osmosis machines or evaporators that enable them to “ripen” honey once it’s pulled, to the tune of tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Your average Flow Hive™ user simply doesn’t.


…so if you don’t want to extract unripe honey, you have to disturb the hive anyway, in exactly the manner that the Flow Hive™ folks claim you don’t.

Even More Wrong:

Responsible beekeepers always ensure that they’re taking only excess honey from their bees. Doing so can benefit the hive—prevention of late-season swarming, for example. When they pull honey supers, they make sure that they’re leaving behind enough for the bees to make it through whatever time of year it happens to be, especially as one approaches fall and winter.


They need enough honey to get through this.

To this end, the beekeeper will often pull full frames of honey out of the supers and put them in the brood nest, or sometimes even leave an extra super of honey on top for the season ahead. This determination requires that you have to, you guessed it, disturb the hive in exactly the manner that the Flow Hive™ folks claim you don’t.

Honey processing is hard on the beekeeper’s back, it’s time consuming, it’s messy, and it requires some rather expensive equipment such as centrifugal extractors if you don’t want to make it even more of the former three. But unless you’re an idiot the one thing it isn’t is particularly hard on the bees.

Everything is trying to kill your bees:

The much more common instance where you have to disturb your bees (and despite your best efforts you’re going to squish some, and break apart things they’ve propolized (glued) together, and probably muck up the pheromone cloud with some smoke from your smoker) is when you pull frames from the brood nest. And the OFLBA recommends that seasoned beekeepers do this once a month during the spring, summer, and fall months, for reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with the honey harvest—and we figure your average newbie will do so about twice a month just to educate themselves on what’s going on in the hive.

Removable frames are a relatively new invention (circa 1850), but they’ve been required almost everywhere in North America (and elsewhere) for much of that time, for one specific reason: removable frames enable the beekeeper, or a government-appointed inspector, to inspect a colony for disease and parasites. It also allows the beekeeper to make sure that the colony is queenright (has a healthy, laying queen) and that everything is generally as it should be—and to do something about it if it’s not. Like any form of livestock management, most of your effort and energy goes into trying to keep your little darlings alive.

The Flow Hive™ does absolutely nothing that would decrease how often you inspect your bees. On their IndieGoGo website they mentioned several times that you have to inspect your colonies twice a year. What a raging catastrophe that level of neglect would be for bees everywhere, and it’s good that in the face of criticism they now mention well down the page that you still have to maintain your brood nest just like any other beekeeper.

There are a depressing number of things that can and will kill colonies of bees. Many of these things are contagious from one colony to another—using drones (males) and honey robbing from weakened hives as vectors to spread, and many of them will spread enthusiastically unless the beekeeper acts with (relative) alacrity to either curb the problem or remove the problematic hive. Now, as Australians, the Flow Hive™ inventors don’t have to contend with American Foulbrood—which is an anthrax-for-bees-like disease so bad that in most states (including New York) a colony must be burned in its entirety and the ashes buried to keep it from spreading. But they have varroa destructor mites, and nosema apis and nosema ceranae, and tracheal mites, and… you get the idea.

A beekeeper spends 90% or more of their time on pest and queen management, and perhaps 10% on honey. Selling the Flow Hive™ on the notion that it makes beekeeping in general easier is, at best, hopelessly naive, and at worst cynically dishonest—and while I applaud them for changing their tune on hive inspection, it still means that they’re selling a tremendously expensive product that might make a small fraction of the work of keeping bees easier.

Speaking of cynical:

I Geek Beekeeping

I geek beekeeping, which is why I think the Flow Hive™ is going to cause well more harm than good for bees.

In conclusion, I’d have to say that this gimmick at best solves a problem that doesn’t need solving, overstates its benefit by an order of magnitude, and does nothing that would justify a tenth of its price tag.

My prediction is that the enthusiasm that brand-new beekeepers have shown for the Flow Hive™ will die down as their bees die out, and die out, and die out. The hands-off, lazy approach to honey-on-tap will not keep colonies alive, and I’ve seen enough beekeepers who are “doing it right” quit the hobby or the business in disillusionment and disappointment as they fail to keep their bees alive, so much so that I’ll confidently predict that those attracted to this gimmick will fall by the wayside in not too long a time. The only question is, what sort of damage will their disease-ridden, collapsing colonies do to others nearby, and bees as a whole, before they put their expensive, newfangled gimmick in the trash and give up the smoker and veil to do something else?

The Bram Stoker Award®

Badass Haunted House

The Bram Stoker Award

The other day a friend asked me a weird question: “What are you going to do if you don’t win the Stoker?”

My response was a long pause as I tried to suss out what the question even meant, or where it came from. I didn’t win last year, and lots and lots of people don’t win or even get nominated all the time, and I don’t think anyone spends a lot of time perseverating on what might happen if one doesn’t win.

I have no expectation of winning, so I haven’t made particular plans for not winning. Which is to say, I plan on having rather too much to drink and carousing with my friends and writerly colleagues after the banquet regardless of the outcome.

So let me turn it around and instead answer the question of what I’m going to do if I win:

1. Grin. Probably like an idiot, which is easy because I’m a bit of an idiot.

2. Be grateful, because a win would mean that my colleagues appreciate my work and that’s darn cool.

3. Attempt to say something gracious and witty at the podium, because I’m a ham and upstaging Jeff Strand is pretty hard, but I might be up for it.

Suffer The Children Cover

Great cover, isn’t it?

4. Wonder what the hell people were thinking, because Craig DiLouie’s Suffer the Children is on the ballot. Have you read this book? It’s freaking amazing. (No knocks intended on the rest of the books on the ballot, but this book sets the bar for what apocalyptic fiction can be–and sets it, like, eight thousand feet above our heads. Gut wrenching and gruesome personal, it’s one of those novels that stays with you long after you’ve read it.)

“A mysterious disease claims the world’s children before bringing them back. To continue surviving, however, they need to ingest human blood. As the blood supply wanes, parents struggle and compete to keep their children alive. In the end, the only source left will be each other. For them, the ultimate question will be: How far would you go for someone you love?”

And then, when all is said and done, and I’ve come home (with or without a haunted house trophy and the adulation of the masses) to the day job and robots and pets and bees and The Redhead™, I’m going to write another story, and another. And then more after that. And I’m going to work very hard to make each as good as Craig’s, because dammit, that man can write.

Something Different: Beekeeping, Kids, and PETA

Okay, so I have a busy week ahead of me, between robotics, trying to get a freelance writing gig with a company I love, and with a hard deadline for a novel coming up in May.

But I’m a beekeeper, too, and the former president of the Ontario-Finger Lakes Beekeepers Association…

…which is why I have no choice but to spend a few minutes fisking the absolute morons at PETA, whose ridiculous website “PETA Kids” put out an article called, 7 REASONS WHY BUYING HONEY HURTS BEES.

This insipid piece of propagandist crap is astounding in so very many ways, none of them flattering. I’d link it, but then you might click it and give them the impression that in some matter, even this small, they matter. And we wouldn’t want to do that.

The original is in italics and bold, my comments are not.


Just like pigs, cows, chickens, and other animals who are factory-farmed, bees are often treated poorly, injured, and forced to live in cramped conditions, and they must endure the stress of being transported.

Did you bother to do even the slightest, tiniest bit of research before spilling this insipid drivel onto the page? (Spoiler alert: rhetorical questions are rhetorical.)

Bees are not humans, they’re not even mammals—to say that they do not have a well-defined sense of personal space would not even come close to reflecting just how cramped bees prefer to be.

First off, in the book Honeybee Democracy, Doctor Thomas D. Seeley shares his research, wherein we learn that when left to their own devices, honeybees strongly prefer a colony on the order of ten gallons in volume—the size of a single deep hive body. As hives are traditionally given two deeps, with honey supers stacked on top to give them more room, the living accommodations for an average honeybee colony is vastly more spacious than what they get in the wild—with more space added as they want it.

Further, no matter how big the space, bees will pack it full of honeycomb so that there isn’t more than 3/8” of space in any direction anyway. They like it cramped, and if you give them more room, they’ll adjust it until it’s cramped.

Saying that honeybees are “forced to live in cramped conditions” is like saying that sparrows are forced to live in trees, or ants are forced to live underground.

So, that’s strike one. And given the stupidity of that one, and that this isn’t baseball, it should be enough. But dammit, you kept going.

When a new queen bee is about to be born, a process called “swarming” occurs, when the old queen and half the colony leave their home. They set up in a new place that worker bees have found for them to begin a new colony.

Holy crap, this is mostly true! (I mean, swarming doesn’t occur in the case of supercedure, or when the queen has suddenly died for some reason or another, but okay, the natural process of bee reproduction often involves one or more new queens and one or more swarms.

…upon which time the virgin queens mate with—and horribly, horribly kill by ripping their guts out by their junk—somewhere between a half-dozen and thirty male bees, called drones.)

Since swarming means that less honey will be produced, many beekeepers try to prevent it—often by clipping the delicate wings of the new queen or killing and replacing the older queen (1,2,3).

(Aside to the reader: Those footnotes are intended to give the impression that the idiot who vomited forth this useless tripe has any clue what he (or she) is talking about. (S)he does not.)

Wing clipping doesn’t prevent swarming, it just prevents the swarm from going very far, and causes a host of other issues, to the extent that where it enjoyed some misguided popularity in years past, it’s rather rare today. Note that with the one exception of swarming, after her sex-and-murder binge of mating flights, the queen never leaves the colony ever again, and thus never uses her wings.

Killing and replacing an older queen doesn’t prevent swarming, either. Younger queens tend to lay faster than older queens, filling the brood boxes faster, and thus increasing swarming. You really, really didn’t bother to learn even the basics of what the hell you were talking about before writing this, did you? (Spoiler alert: rhetorical questions are rhetorical.)

But older queens do certainly get killed. Do you know who kills older queens, a lot? Bees do. When the queen starts to age and her laying slows down, the worker bees will gang up on her and murder her, raising a new queen from her eggs. This is called “supercedure.” Some beekeepers will accelerate this process because it maximizes the chances that the colony will survive—it’s beneficial to the colony as a whole to have a young, healthy queen, and not just for honey purposes.

But it doesn’t prevent swarming.


When bee farmers collect honey, they’re often careless and end up tearing off the bees’ sensitive wings and legs. Farmers also cut off the queen bee’s wings to make sure that she can’t leave the hive. Can you imagine if someone ripped off your arms or legs? Talk about ouch! =(

Unfortunately, even careful beekeeping kills some bees. I’ll worry about this overmuch when you give up driving, flying, living in buildings, or eating farmed vegetables—because all of these activities kill animals as well, in droves.

We’re talking insects here, so let’s consider that. Ever drive through a cloud of midges at sixty miles an hour? You disgusting insecticidal monster! =(

Ever live in or use a building? Digging that foundation slaughtered countless ants, grubs, and worms. Can you imagine if someone caved in your home and crushed you in the ruins, leaving you to die cold and alone in the wreckage? You disgusting insecticidal and whatever-a-worm-is-icidal monster! =(

Ever eat a vegetable? Ever walk the fields after it’s been plowed, and count the mangled bodies of mice, voles, moles, grubs, worms, grass-nesting birds, and other such critters obliterated by the machinery? Now we’re talking wholesale slaughter on an incredible scale, and we’re making the terrible, terrible mistake of harming CUTE animals. You cute-icidal monster, how can you even begin to live with yourself? =(


Plants make nectar to attract pollinators (bees, butterflies, bats, and other mammals). These buzzin’ bugs (and mammals) naturally pollinate plants and play a huge role in helping new ones to grow. If bees are imprisoned by the honey industry, how will nature’s plants continue to reproduce?!

I’m sort of impressed. The last sentence of this paragraph takes the cake as the dumbest thing ever written down by anyone, ever.

How do you, dear author, reconcile in your tiny little brain the fact that bees collect nectar from plants in order to make honey with the idea that the beekeepers—excuse me, “bee farmers”—imprison the bees so that they can’t do that? Dumbest. Statement. Ever.

(Side note: nectar-collecting bees don’t collect pollen, and pollen-collecting bees don’t collect nectar. The foragers have different jobs, and it’s a myth that bees “accidentally” pollinate while collecting nectar—they naturally pollinate while collecting pollen. But I’m sorry, that distinction might cause you to actually know something, and that wouldn’t be fair.)

Clearly, blathering idiot, you didn’t bother to find out that commercial beekeepers make most of their money—far more than through selling honey—through pollination contracts. Beekeeping is not “the honey industry,” it’s “the pollination industry,” with honey as a beneficial side-product. All those flowers and trees and plants that require pollinators would die out in a matter of a few short years if it weren’t for beekeepers keeping their bees alive to pollinate them. You herbicidal monster. =(

The vast majority of fruits and vegetables we enjoy in the United States aren’t indigenous to the hemisphere, and neither are honeybees. You get that? Those all-natural honeybees are an invasive species introduced by white settlers about five hundred years ago, and have almost completely transformed the ecosystem of the continent, even the parts you think are “wild.” And you want to perpetuate this cultural, hegemonic imperialism by “saving” the honeybee—good thing your stupid plan would backfire and they’d all die, then, right?

That’s right. With all the threats to the honeybee today (most especially varroa destructor mites, nosema ceranae, and American foulbrood—all natural, in case any PETA-induced stupidity keeps you from looking them up), without beekeepers there would be no wild bees in North America, and perhaps anywhere—and so all those plants you’re boo-hooing about would be dead.

See, this is what happens when you don’t know what you’re talking about but want to change the world “for the better.” You slaughter entire species and starve most of the planet. =(


Bees need their honey to survive in the winter. It’s made with certain nutrients that they must have, and a colony needs around 60 pounds of honey in order to make it through the cold months. Oftentimes, large honey businesses will take a hive’s honey and replace it with a cheap sugar substitute that’s not as healthy for the insects.

This is even kind of true, except for, you know, the parts that aren’t, specifically the “must have” and the “oftentimes.” “Must have” is demonstrably false, because bees can survive through the winter on sugar alone, and have done so many, many times.

Some bad beekeepers will take too much honey and try to make it up with syrup, but this is almost never true of large commercial beekeepers. The large beekeepers make so little per pound wholesaling honey that it’s not even kind of worth the money spent in labor to take too much and then feed syrup to supplement. It hardly qualifies as “oftentimes.” Remember, it’s the pollination industry, not the honey industry.

(Side note: almost all of the large commercial operations overwinter their bees in the south, where they don’t need as much honey—not so they can take more money, but because the warmer climate is less stressful on the naturally tropical bees.)

In colder areas, if the keepers consider it too costly to keep the bees alive through the winter, they destroy the hives by setting them on fire. We don’t know about you, but we would be pretty sad if someone set our homes on fire just because it got cold outside!

What ignorant gibberish are you blathering about, now?

There is not a beekeeper in the world who sets their bees on fire because they won’t survive the winter—even if the bees are probably going to die (which nobody wants), the woodware in which they live is worth good money. You’re probably confusing something—I have no idea what, as I haven’t crawled up your rectum to find your head and ask you—with what happens when a colony gets American Foulbrood.

Most US states (plus Canada) have laws that say if a colony is found that is infected with American Foulbrood it must be incinerated, with all of the woodware as well, because this horrific disease will wipe out every honeybee in the world if it’s allowed to run rampant. AFB is terribly infectious, the spores last essentially forever, a single microscopic spore in a drop of honey is enough to start a pandemic that will destroy an entire colony—whereupon other bees will rob out that honey and thus infect themselves, and it has a 0% survival rate without human intervention.

It has nothing to do with winter survival, or survival of that colony at all—bees with AFB are burned because they’re dead anyway, and they’ll spread the infection if they’re not completely sterilized by high heat.


Bees are overworked just so that large organizations can make money from their honey. That’s like if you worked really hard to create something and then someone else stole it from you, sold it, and even kept the money. So not cool.


In the wild, worker bees work themselves to death in about six weeks. They work themselves to death in about six weeks in a beekeeper’s—pardon, I mean “bee farmer’s”—colony, too. They never sleep, they never rest—they just change from job to job until they literally can no longer function, and then they fly or crawl away from the colony to die where their body will not cause extra work for, or spread disease to, their colony.

Bees are not domesticated. It is impossible to “overwork” or “underwork” a honeybee—she is going to do what she is going to do regardless of whether or not her home is human-managed or not, except that she’s likely going to die out if a beekeeper isn’t there to keep diseases and parasites in check.

Overworking a honeybee is as possible as overwatering a fish.


Bees are just that! A single worker bee may visit up to 10,000 flowers in one day. That’s a lot of flowers! But even after visiting so many plants, they produce only about one teaspoonful of honey. That goes to show just how precious honey is to bees.

Bees each have a specific job to do, depending on things like their age, whether they’re male or female, and the time of year. By interfering, humans can really mess up their system.

Without human interference, honeybees will die out. They did die out in North America, over 99% of colonies that were not human managed, while beekeepers spent hundreds of millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of man hours to keep theirs alive.

Beekeepers do not “mess up” their system, they ensure that these non-indigenous, tropical creatures can survive to pollenate the fruits and veggies that you eat.


We think we can all agree on that. So why is it OK for people to steal bees’ precious honey from them? The answer is easy: It’s not! Bees need their honey to live, and we don’t. It’s as simple as that!

Yeah! So remember, dear reader, next time this greedy bastard steals an apple, which a tree spent so much effort and energy on so that it can procreate—and hit him in his giant-yet-somehow-tiny head with it until he loses the urge to consume it. Trees need their fruit to live, and we don’t! It’s as simple as that!


It’s not hard to bee a hero for these awesome insects! You can simply avoid lip balms, candles, and other products that include ingredients like honey, beeswax, propolis (or “bee glue”), and royal jelly.

Yes! Remove the financial incentive for beekeepers to do what they do, and you’ll be a hero! Pat yourself on the back while nosema ceranae, varroa destructor, and American Foulbrood wipe the honeybee off the planet, because nobody is left to keep the bees from dying.


There are also tons of humane alternatives to honey, like agave nectar, rice syrup, molasses, maple syrup, and dried fruits and fruit concentrates that can help keep your diet sweet and bee-free!

Let’s take those one at a time, shall we?

Agave—pollinated by bats and some other insects, but primarily by honeybees, which will die out once humans stop keeping bees. Sorry, no agave syrup, kid.

The WWF reported in 2004 that sugar cane is responsible for more loss of biodiversity than any other crop. How’s that molasses and syrup taste now?

Rice syrup—let’s take this one together with maple syrup.

Maple syrup…. We make seven million gallons of maple syrup a year total. We make about twelve million gallons of honey just in the US. So how’s that math work, exactly?

Maple syrup and rice syrup are energy-expensive products, requiring the burning of tremendous amounts of fuel (generally fossil fuels or wood) to produce comparatively small amounts of syrup. It typically takes 4.1 gallons of fuel oil (three gallons in a highly efficient system) to make a single gallon of maple syrup—so as we replace honey with maple syrup we’re going to burn how much more oil? Another forty million gallons a year? Or at one cord of wood per 15 gallons of syrup, how many more trees are we going to cut down to feed our maple sugar habit? I don’t know how much fuel it takes to make brown rice syrup, but the process involves elevating the heat level for several hours before even boiling it down, so I can’t imagine it’s going to look good on the final outcome here.

Dried fruits and fruit concentrates? Sorry, we’re not going to have any of those, because the fruit will die out shortly after the honeybees once there are no beekeepers to keep them alive.  =(

Conclusion: You’re an idiot, and parents should protect their children from people like you who pretend they know what they’re talking about but are, in fact, laughably stupid, fanatical propagandists without any interest in even pretending to use the truth to spread their message.

Horror and political correctness

I don’t consider myself a horror writer–I write whatever I feel like writing, and thus far most of it has been labeled horror by people other than me. I love horror as a genre, and am proud to count myself among those who write horror, but I don’t believe in the supernatural, take a pragmatic view of the darker side of human nature, and have never read anything that has horrified or even scared me. So I’m never quite sure if the label is appropriate.

Either way, the thing I appreciate most about the genre, from Jonathan Maberry to Jack Ketchum, is the unapologetic look at life, both real and fictional, without worrying about who might or might not be offended by it. Writing “horror” is the freedom of not shying away, not turning my head, not succumbing to what may or may not be appropriate in favor of examining that which is meaningful. Even if, in the case of some of my favorite authors like John R. Little and Thomas Ligotti and Christopher Golden and Peter Straub, what is and isn’t meaningful is muddled by the vagueries of human existence.

I don’t set out to horrify, but I don’t set out not to, either. From divine meddling to the stark callousness of a clockwork universe, there’s a lot to explore that might unnerve or disturb, and in this age where offensiveness is a cause for censorship, labeling myself a horror writer gives me the freedom to explore meaningful plotlines without a concern for political correctness. I’ve written things that cause umbrage, offense, even outrage, and I’m pleased to have done so if for no other reason than having done so.

There’s a pernicious idea in modern society that offense itself is somehow meaningful, that taking umbrage at a statement or idea lends some sort of moral authority beyond vulgar opinion. It doesn’t. To quote the great Stephen Fry, offense is “no more than a whine. It has no purpose. It has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I am offended by that.’ So fucking what?”.

And it’s that triumph of reason over knee-jerk feeling that makes me proud to call myself a horror writer. Thinking “outside the box” is all well and good when “outside the box” is well-defined, boxlike, even, so as not to upset anyone overmuch.

Horror burns that box, and doesn’t even apologize to the inhabitants. Which is as it should be.

The 2014 Bram Stoker Awards® Preliminary Ballot

So the Bram Stoker Awards® Preliminary Ballot is out, and I’m honored to be on it in a couple of places. I figured I’d throw some thoughts around about some of the categories, without indicating anywhere who I might move to the final ballot. In most cases, if I don’t mention a work it’s because I haven’t read it, yet—and I won’t be voting in several categories because I won’t have read everything on the preliminary ballot before the deadline.

There are a boatload of excellent tales here. I know a good chunk of these authors personally, and many more on Facebook and Twitter. They’re delightful people, and possess the imagination and skill to make you glad you turned the page, even when you’re cringing in terror.

Superior Achievement in a Novel
Tim Burke – The Flesh Sutra (NobleFusion Press)
Adam Christopher – The Burning Dark (Tor Books)
Michaelbrent Collings – This Darkness Light (self-published)
Lawrence C. Connolly – Vortex (Fantasist Enterprises)
Craig DiLouie – Suffer the Children (Gallery Books of Simon & Schuster)
Patrick Freivald – Jade Sky (JournalStone)
Chuck Palahniuk – Beautiful You (Jonathan Cape, Vintage/Penguin Random House UK)
Christopher Rice – The Vines (47North)
Brett J. Talley – The Reborn (JournalStone)
Steve Rasnic Tem – Blood Kin (Solaris Books)

So let me dispense with the obvious bias and say that of course I’m honored and humbled that Jade Sky is here. Thank you so much to everyone who read it and liked it enough to recommend it.

As for my competition? Holy. Crap. There are some excellent books here. This Darkness Light by Michaelbrent Collings, Suffer the Children by Craig DiLouie, The Reborn by Brett J. Talley and The Vines by Christopher Rice are all fantastic, mind-blowing stuff. I couldn’t be more honored to get stomped by these excellent tales, and I look forward to reading the few I haven’t.

In this category I really wanted to see the incredible Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer on the ballot. I’m also surprised not to see more popular authors like Thomas Ligotti and Stephen King, but to be honest I didn’t read any new King this year, either….

Superior Achievement in a First Novel
Maria Alexander – Mr. Wicker (Raw Dog Screaming Press)
J.D. Barker – Forsaken (Hampton Creek Press)
Janice Gable Bashman – Predator (Month9Books)
David Cronenberg – Consumed (Scribner)
Michael Knost – Return of the Mothman (Woodland Press)
Daniel Levine – Hyde (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Josh Malerman – Bird Box (Harper Collins)
Whitney Miller – The Violet Hour (Flux)
Chantal Noordeloos – Angel Manor (Horrific Tales Publishing)
C.J. Waller – Predator X (Severed Press)

I’m light on this group, to the point where I won’t be voting because I haven’t read them all and won’t have the time to do so. I enjoyed Forsaken, Return of the Mothman, and Angel Manor, and with all the buzz Bird Box is next on my TBR (and my Kindle). Some great stuff here, and these are writers to watch!

It’s always great to see new authors getting some recognition, and I wish everyone the best of luck—with the awards, with their novels, and with their writing careers. Getting published is a good first step, but from my experience getting read is the truly hard part. Go get em!

Superior Achievement in a Young Adult Novel
Ari Berk – Lych Way (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)
Jake Bible – Intentional Haunting (Permuted Press)
Ilsa J. Bick – White Space (Egmont)
John Dixon – Phoenix Island (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books)
Kami Garcia – Unmarked (The Legion Series Book 2) (Little Brown Books for Young Readers)
S.E. Green – Killer Instinct (Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse)
Tonya Hurley – Passionaries (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Micol Ostow – Amity (Egmont)
Peter Adam Salomon – All Those Broken Angels (Flux)
Sam Swanson and Araminta Star Matthews – Horror High School: Return of the Loving Dead (Curiosity Quills Press)
Johnny Worthen – Eleanor: Book 1 (The Unseen) (Jolly Fish Press)

In this category there are two I haven’t read, which I’ll rectify before ballots close, so I can give everyone a fair shake. Of those I have read, the two that really stuck with me are All Those Broken Angels and Unmarked.

All Those Broken Angels might well be the best book I’ve read all year, in any genre. You can’t go far wrong by buying and reading every word Peter Salomon puts on paper.

Superior Achievement in Long Fiction
Michael Bailey – Dandelion Clocks (Inkblots and Blood Spots) (Villipede Publications)
Taylor Grant – The Infected (Cemetery Dance #71) (Cemetery Dance)
Eric J. Guignard – Dreams of a Little Suicide (Hell Comes To Hollywood II: Twenty-Two More Tales Of Tinseltown Terror (Volume 2)) (Big Time Books)
Kate Jonez – Ceremony of Flies (DarkFuse)
Joe R. Lansdale – Fishing for Dinosaurs (Limbus, Inc., Book II) (JournalStone)
Jonathan Maberry – Three Guys Walk Into a Bar (Limbus, Inc., Book II) (JournalStone)
Joe McKinney – Lost and Found (Limbus, Inc., Book II) (JournalStone)
Gene O’Neill – Ridin the Dawg (Mia Moja) (Thunderstorm Books)
John F.D. Taff – The Long Long Breakdown (The End in all Beginnings) (Grey Matter Press)
Gregor Xane – The Riggle Twins (Bad Apples) (Corpus Press)

Of these the only one I haven’t read is The Riggle Twins by Gregor Xane. I intend to fix that ASAP. This category is so packed with amazing stories that I don’t even know where to begin to whittle them down. I mean, wow, you know we’re in a renaissance of short(er) fiction when you find this many incredible tales—and there were more besides that could easily have made the list.

If you want to see what’s fresh and new and incredible in horror fiction today, you starting with the authors on this list won’t lead you far astray.

One might worry about a personal bias because Limbus II is a JournalStone anthology—but c’mon, you can’t go wrong with Maberry, McKinney, and Lansdale. Three incredible authors; I buy everything they write anyway.

Superior Achievement in Short Fiction
Dale Bailey – Sleep Paralysis (Nightmare Magazine, April 2014) (Nightmare)
Hal Bodner – Hot Tub (Hell Comes to Hollywood II) (Big Time Books)
Patrick Freivald – Trigger Warning (Demonic Visions Book 4) (Chris Robertson)
Sydney Leigh – Baby’s Breath (Bugs: Tales That Slither, Creep, and Crawl) (Great Old Ones Publishing)
Usman T. Malik – The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family (Qualia Nous) (Written Backwards)
Alessandro Manzetti – Nature’s Oddities (The Shaman: And Other Shadows) (self-published)
Rena Mason – Ruminations (Qualia Nous) (Written Backwards)
John Palisano – Splinterette (Widowmakers: A Benefit Anthology of Dark Fiction)
Sayuri Ueda – The Street of Fruiting Bodies (Phantasm Japan) (Haikasoru, an imprint of VIZ Media, LLC)
Genevieve Valentine – A Dweller in Amenty (Nightmare Magazine, March 2014) (Nightmare)
Damien Angelica Walters – The Floating Girls: A Documentary (Jamais Vu, Issue Three) (Post Mortem Press)

Here’s another category I’m in, with Trigger Warning. Fun enough, this story was inspired by a beta read of Michael Bailey’s Dandelion Clocks (up in the Long Fiction category)—not in content or even tone, but in style. I’d never tried experimental fiction before, but Michael’s incredible, poetic prose inspired me to try it. I’m overjoyed at the reception.

The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family, as well as Ruminations, appear with my story Twelve Kilos in the amazing anthology Qualia Nous, edited by, who else, Michael Bailey. The man’s a mad genius, and I count myself incredibly lucky to have been published alongside such talented authors. (There are many more within. Go buy it and read it, because it’s amazing.) Both of their stories are touching, personal, visceral, and a bit off-center. I can’t recommend them enough.

John Palisano’s Splinterette is similar to but quite different from a short story I’ve written but haven’t published, called, of all things, Splinter. Splinterette is a great story, a different riff on a similar theme, and highlights just how kickass John is with this whole wordsmithing thing.

Hot Tub is dark and twisted and occasionally laugh-out-loud-while-shushing-yourself-in-shame funny, much like a conversation with the indomitable Hal Bodner. Just delightful.

Baby’s Breath makes me want to pay for Sydney Leigh’s psychiatry bills. What a whallop this story packs—it’s mind-blowingly gross, but so much more than that.

The Floating Girls: A Documentary is in some small way reminiscent of A House of Leaves; a sort of found-footage clipping of various media sources to tell a story, but all in prose. It’s heartbreaking and sad in all the right ways.

It’s an honor to count myself amongst these incredible authors.

Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection
Michael Bailey – Inkblots and Blood Spots (Villipede Publications)
Stephen Graham Jones – After the People Lights Have Gone Off (Dark House Press)
John R. Little – Little by Little (Bad Moon Books)
Helen Marshall – Gifts for the One Who Comes After (ChiZine Publications)
David Sakmyster – Escape Plans (Wordfire Press)
Terrence Scott – The Madeleine Wheel: Playing with Spiders (Amazon)
Lucy Snyder – Soft Apocalypses (Raw Dog Screaming Press)
Robin Spriggs – The Untold Tales of Ozman Droom (Anomalous Books)
John F.D. Taff – The End In All Beginnings (Grey Matter Press)
Alexander Zelenyj – Songs for the Lost (Eibonvale Press)

I have yet to read The Madeleine Wheel: Playing with Spiders. The rest of these I’ve read, and holy crap I’m glad I did. The renaissance in short(er) fiction is apparent here, along with some short fiction and some novella-length works. I don’t know how it’s possible to choose between the astounding collections grouped here.

I’ve already gushed over Michael Bailey. John R. Little is one of my favorite authors, and so is Stephen Graham Jones. Lucy Snyder’s Soft Apocalypses is exactly what I’ve come to expect from Snyder: excellent stories with impact. I discovered Helen Marshall, David Sakmyster (despite the fact that he lives thirty miles from me), Robin Spriggs, Alexander Zelenyi, and John F.D. Taff this year, and I’m so glad I did. These collections are astounding.

Superior Achievement in an Anthology
John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey – The End Is Nigh (Broad Reach Publishing)
Michael Bailey – Qualia Nous (Written Backwards)
Jason Brock – A Darke Phantastique (Cycatrix Press)
Ellen Datlow – Fearful Symmetries (ChiZine Publications)
Kate Jonez – Halloween Tales (Omnium Gatherum)
Eric Miller – Hell Comes to Hollywood II (Big Time Books)
Chuck Palahniuk, Richard Thomas, and Dennis Widmyer – Burnt Tongues (Medallion Press)
Brian M. Sammons – The Dark Rites of Cthulhu (April Moon Books)
Brett J. Talley – Limbus, Inc., Book II (JournalStone)
Terry M. West – Journals of Horror: Found Fiction (Pleasant Storm Entertainment)

More “how am I supposed to choose?” goodness here. (Again the disclaimer: I’ve got a story in Qualia Nous. The one I haven’t read is The Dark Rites of Cthulhu.)

Many of the stories and/or authors I’ve mentioned are in the above anthologies. Each is very different, but all excellent. I may have to flip coins, draw straws, or consult a Magic 8 Ball to pick between these excellent books, and it’s an honor to have read them. Where decades past saw magazines as the pinnacle of horror fiction stories—and there are still some that are excellent—methinks one can make a compelling case that anthologies are where it’s at in short fiction today.

Superior Achievement in a Screenplay
Scott M. Gimple – The Walking Dead: The Grove, episode 4:14 (AMC)
James Hawes – Penny Dreadful: Possession (Desert Wolf Productions/Neal Street Productions)
Jennifer Kent – The Babadook (Causeway Films)
Alex Kurtzman and Mark Goffman – Sleepy Hollow: “Bad Blood” (Sketch Films/K/O Paper Products/20th Century Fox Television)
John Logan – Penny Dreadful: Séance (Desert Wolf Productions/Neal Street Productions)
Greg Mclean and Aaron Sterns – Wolf Creek 2 (Emu Creek Pictures)
Stephen Moffat – Doctor Who: Listen (British Broadcasting Corporation)
Cameron Porsendah – Helix: Pilot (Tall Ship Productions/Kaji Productions/Muse Entertainment/Lynda Obst Productions/in association with Sony Pictures Television)
Jack Thomas Smith –Infliction (Fox Trail Productions)
James Wong – American Horror Story: Coven: “The Magical Delights of Stevie Nicks” (FX Network)

I watch little TV and fewer movies. Of these the only ones I’ve seen are TWD, AHS, and Wolf Creek 2. While of those my clear favorite was Wolf Creek 2, I can’t in good conscience vote in a category while so ignorant of its contenders.

Superior Achievement in Non-Fiction
Massimo Berruti, S.T. Joshi, and Sam Gafford – William Hope Hodgson: Voices from the Borderland (Hippocampus Press)
Jason V. Brock – Disorders of Magnitude (Rowman & Littlefield)
Hayley Campbell – The Art of Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins Publishers)
S.T. Joshi – Lovecraft and A World in Transition (Hippocampus Press)
Leslie S. Klinger – The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft (Liveright Publishing Corp., a division of W.W. Norton & Co.)
Joe Mynhardt and Emma Audsley – Horror 101: The Way Forward (Crystal Lake Publishing)
Robert Damon Schneck – Mrs. Wakeman vs. the Antichrist (Tarcher/Penguin)
Lucy Snyder – Shooting Yourself in the Head For Fun and Profit: A Writer’s Survival Guide (Post Mortem Press)
Tom Weaver, David Schecter, and Steve Kronenberg – The Creature Chronicles: Exploring the Black Lagoon Trilogy (McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers)

I keep telling myself I should read more non-fiction….

Superior Achievement in a Graphic Novel
Charles Burns – Sugar Skull
Emily Carroll – Through the Woods
Victor Gischler – Kiss Me Satan
Joe Hill – Locke and Key, Vol. 6
Joe R. Lansdale and Daniele Serra – I Tell You It’s Love (Short, Scary Tales Publications)
Jonathan Maberry – Bad Blood (Dark Horse Books)
Paul Tobin – The Witcher

Here I’m only familiar with Bad Blood and Locke and Key, both of which I’d recommend to those who like graphic novels. Other than that, I don’t have enough experience to make any informed commentary here.

Superior Achievement in a Poetry Collection
Robert Payne Cabeen – Fearworms: Selected Poems (Fanboy Comics)
G.O. Clark – Gravedigger’s Dance (Dark Renaissance Books)
David E. Cowen – The Madness of Empty Spaces (Weasel Press)
Corrinne De Winter and Alessandro Manzetti – Venus Intervention (Kipple Officina Libraria)
Wade German – Dreams from the Black Nebula (Hippocampus Press)
Tom Piccirilli – Forgiving Judas (Crossroad Press)
Michelle Scalise – The Manufacturer of Sorrow (Eldritch Press)
Marge Simon and Mary Turzillo – Sweet Poison (Dark Renaissance Books)
Tiffany Tang – Creepy Little Death Poems (Dreality Press)
Stephanie Wytovich – Mourning Jewelry (Raw Dog Screaming Press)

In this last category, I can only state that my experience with poetry is limited to Magnetic Poetry haiku, and dirty limericks. It’s never been something on my radar, so I can’t comment in any meaningful way on any of these works.

So there you have it. One author’s opinions on what a bunch of other authors are up to. I can’t tell you how nice it is not to hide negative comments behind positive–these works are excellent, and will stand on their own if you give them a try.

Again, I’m honored to be counted among them.

Horror, Community, and the Internet

Yesterday, Jim Mcleod over at Ginger Nuts of Horror talked about a failing sense of community in the horror genre, and people freaked out at him in a demonstration of exactly the narcissism he was talking about.

I disagree with Jim a little–at least from my own lens the horror community is extremely helpful and friendly. The people I’ve met, both IRL and online, have by and large been supportive, friendly, interesting, awesome people who recognize that this isn’t a zero-sum game. We all write because we love to write, and read because we love to read, and are happy to promote stuff that we find promotion-worthy. We help each other out because we’re all enthusiastic about the good stuff that’s out there.

But then again, maybe he’s right. I delete a gazillion posts a day from the Horror Writers Association Facebook Page that are of the BUY MY BOOK BUY MY BOOK spam variety, and on Saturdays (Spammerday) I let through another giant pile from HWA members, some of whom never interact on the page or the forums except to advertise. The vast majority of authors–not just horror authors, but authors–on social media are little more than meaty spambots, who never say or do anything interesting at all. This is why most writing-related groups on Facebook are utterly useless, just never-ending streams of desperate authors trying to shill their work to other desperate authors.

I mean, I want more people to buy and read my books, too. Every writer does. Writing novels and short stories is fun, but ultimately you go through the oft-aggravating process of submission and rejection and ultimate publication so that people will read and enjoy your stuff, and my plans for world domination take a kick to the baby-maker every time people pass by my work…I mean, c’mon, who doesn’t like thrillers or high school satire twisted up with zombism? BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK!

…but this desire doesn’t make me special. It does quite the opposite, it makes me uncomfortably like the meatbots that everyone finds so boring and annoying. Everyone thinks their work is worth someone else’s time, someone else’s money. Most of those people are wrong, and most think they’re the exception. Hell, you have to think you’re the exception to grind through the publication process; and yet, by definition the majority can’t be the exception to the rule. (Here’s where my self-doubt goes all Hulk on my Lokian ego. Puny god.)

As a relative newcomer to this scene–my first novel was published in 2012, and my fourth last May–I don’t have a lot of perspective on how large or small the horror community used to be. I don’t know if the community has shrunk, or if it’s just being washed out by (BUY!) the meatbots. But I can speak to what it looks like from here.

I interact daily with a huge number of great people who Like and Share and review and promote, who work at helping other people not out of some sense of expected reciprocity but because they love great stories, they love writing and reading and things that go bump in the night. I found these people in a crowd of desperate BUY MY BOOK narcissism, and they found me, not through some magical happenstance or favoritism or clannishness or guildership or privilege, but by being and behaving like real people.

So Jim is wrong and Jim is right. There’s an incredible sense of community in the horror genre, but only among those who are…well…communal. The sea of BUY MY BOOK white noise is vast, but navigable, and you can find and be part of a tremendous community. If, you know, you act like an actual person worth communing with instead of a desperate meatbot.

My Writing Rules

In the past however many years, I’ve read a whole lot of work, in various stages of development.

From rough drafts to polished manuscripts to submissions to my editing blog to self-published books to books published by the big guns, I’ve collated a variety of thoughts on writing, most of it in terms of the mechanics of the language itself as it pertains to commercial fiction (novels and short stories), that have helped me along my way—some of which I had to learn the hard way!

Without further ado, here are some of my rules for writing:

I. Memorize the Turkey City Lexicon, which includes a lot of the fundamentals such as Show, Don’t Tell and Said Bookism. And take it to heart. Even if you don’t write science fiction. I’m a terribly picky reader, and fully half of the criticisms I have for others’ writing could be avoided if authors did this.

II. If it can be said with fewer words without changing the content, do it. If you haven’t pored through your entire work to make sure you’ve already done this, your work isn’t ready for publication. “Good” isn’t good enough–it should be perfect.

Please note that in this case, tone and voice are part of the content.

III. There is no such thing as an acceptable typo, except those you have no control over due to other people (or annoying computer programs) formatting your stuff. They’re going to happen, but it’s your job to make sure they don’t.

Note: in the original version of this that I posted on the ABNA forums many moons ago, I’d used “poured” instead of “pored” above. I should have caught it!

IV. Parentheses should never be used in commercial fiction. After all, when was the last time you saw them used in a brilliant work (aside from this one)? As well, be judicious in your use of the emdash—like this—and in clauses separated by commas.

V. Rhetorical questions are bad. Wouldn’t you agree?

VI. You don’t generally realize what you’re bad at. This is why someone other than you should edit your work—someone experienced and diligent. (I, for example, am terrible with commas. No matter how I study the rules, my brain has a steadfast block on just exactly how the little monsters should be used.)

Professional editors range from cheap to expensive, from excellent to total crap. Do your homework and try not to get burned!

VII. Adverbs are the enemy. If it ends in “ly”, you have only two reasonable options:

1. Cut it, and lose nothing in the edit.

2. Cut it, and change the verb to something more appropriate.

Example: “He walked cockily into the room.” = “He sauntered into the room.” (Or better yet, “He sauntered in.”)

i. Every adverb isn’t the enemy. Just 99.999% of them. If you include an adverb in your prose, you’d better have a damned good reason why it’s there instead of a better verb.

ii. “Really” is the worst of them. “Actually” and “totally” are almost as bad. “Very”, while not an “ly” adverb, sucks just as much. “Suddenly”, “quickly”, “immediately”, and so forth are pernicious.

iii. “A little”, “a lot”, etc, all count as adverbs for these purposes.

iv. Approximations are often overused. “Six feet four or so” vs. “six-four”. “About two hundred pounds” instead of “heavy-set”. Etc. “About”, “approximately”, “nearly”, “almost”… They’re all adverbs whether they look it or not.

VIII. Pick a character POV for any given scene, and if that character doesn’t or shouldn’t have knowledge of it, then it shouldn’t be included in that scene. …and ideally, scenes should never have to be re-written for this, because the author picks a POV going in.

a. This means that sensory verbs such as “he saw”, “he smelt”, “he felt”, etc are all redundant, because the description while inside the character’s POV means that of course the POV character saw/smelt/felt whatever it is.

b. This also means that anything the POV character doesn’t experience shouldn’t be in the scene.

c. Omniscient POV works well for movies. It rarely works for fiction.

IX. “Started to”, “began to”, (or replace “to” with “[verb]ing” in either case), etc. can all be cut without any loss of content. “Started to strum the banjo” and “strummed the banjo” are functionally equivalent, but the latter is better because it is more condensed. The one exception to this is that sometimes, it’s important to the story that the action is interrupted—in this case “started to” might be appropriate.

X. Dialogue tags (“he said”) should be limited to “said,” (and perhaps—once in a while, whispered or muttered, maybe—and always without an accompanying adverb,) but can often be replaced with an action tag, thus allowing another opportunity to add characterization, or to remove unneeded words.


“Did you see this?” Bob said, pointing to the newspaper.
“No,” Laura said. “What is it?”
Connie slammed her hand on the table. “Can we not talk politics at breakfast, please?” she said.


“Did you see this?” Bob pointed to the newspaper.
“No,” Laura raised an eyebrow. “What is it?”
Connie slammed her hand on the table. “Can we not talk politics at breakfast, please?”

Both are clear, but the latter is both less clunky and adds a touch to Laura’s character.

XI. Any instance in which your character is waffling is an indicator that you weren’t sure what to write. Shakespeare barely pulled it off with Hamlet. You are not Shakespeare. Pretentions toward Shakespearean wafflism are rarely justified, and successfully accomplished almost never.

XII. Most conjugations of “to be” make your work more passive and less active. This is a Bad Thing™ in most cases. Indeed, “was” should only appear in dialogue, nowhere else.

XIII. Speaking of active vs. passive, check your work for passive voice. If you can add “by zombies” to a sentence and it remains grammatically correct, it’s passive voice and should be changed.

Example: “It’s passive voice and should be changed…by zombies.” I often use passive voice when critiquing others’ work, because it softens the blow to some degree.

XIV. Similes are like poop on toast–they ruin the otherwise sublime. Yuck. Analogies are a close second, and rarely have a place. Hyperbole might be worse, but might not be, and either way needs to be cut. Metaphors of the “as though” or “as if” variety are equally crap. Strive to describe without borrowing imagery/sensation from other phenomena.

XV. If it doesn’t add to the plot or to characterization, cut it. And if it adds to only one and not the other, then you might want to consider cutting it anyway.

Example: “She clenched her buttocks and copied the advice from the board” is only a good thing if (a) you’re writing a comedy and (b) you want to portray the character in question as a tight-ass apple-polisher.

XVI. Show, don’t tell. “Protagonista was cold” is not as good as “Protagonista shivered.”

XVII. Monolithic evil is boring, but not as boring as monolithic good.

XVIII. Looking in the mirror to get a first person POV character description is about the most cliché thing you can include in your book. Cheating by use of a pond or window is not better.

XIX. “And then”, “next he/she/it”, and so forth are the enemy. Sequentiality is almost always inferred without help from the author, and such phrases drag. If necessary, “and then” can almost always be replaced with “then”. “Before” often falls into this category as well, and any instance of its use should invite further scrutiny.

XX. Redundant phraseology sucks. “He shrugged his shoulders.” “She nodded her head.” “He blinked his eyes.” “He chewed his food.” None of these sentences should continue past their second word.

XXI. “Echoes” are bad. Avoid the use of the same obvious noun, adjective, verb, or phrase in close proximity. (Innocuous words like “the” and “an” might be an exception, but don’t overdo them, either!)

XXII. Big paragraphs are always worse than small paragraphs. Ditto long sentences vs. short.

XXIII. Reflexive pronouns are almost never good. “Himself”, “herself”, “itself”, “themselves”, etc, should be avoided.

XXIV. “Indeed” almost indubitably needs cutting. (As do “almost” and “indubitably”.)

XXV. Watch your tense. “Shooting his gun, he closed the door” = bad.

XXVI. “Notice that,” “Clearly,” “Without fail,” “You can see that,” and so forth fall into a category I call “overfamiliar douchbaggery.” It is a very rare narrator that addresses the reader directly and gets away with it.

XXVII. Beware phonetic clunkery. “Stop,” “hop,” “shop,” and “pop,” should never appear in the same paragraph.

XXVIII. Avoid onomatopoeia.

XXIX. Never use a perfectly good English word to mean something other than what it means.

XXX. Be judicious with your ellipses…

XXXI. Double punctuation and capslockism are a no-no. YOU MEAN THIS ISN’T THE INTERWEBS!!?!!

XXXII. Redundancies are often difficult to spot. They consist for the most part of:

a. Sentences that repeat what is already said in other sentences.

b. Paragraphs that repeat what is already said in other paragraphs.

XXXIII. If you’re making up words, you’re probably making an editor, agent, or reader roll their eyes. The English language is sufficiently diverse without your thinking it just isn’t special enough to describe your [insert whatever idea you think is too good for the English language here]. Fantasy readers (and editors) are more tolerant of this, but that doesn’t mean you should be!

XXXIV. Don’t use semicolons; chances are that even if you know how, your prospective agent/publisher thinks you don’t.

XXXV. Taking two paragraphs to describe a building or a person drags the story to an unacceptable level. Give exactly enough detail for the imagination to fill in, and no more.

XXXVI. Colloquialisms in dialogue (from “‘Sup” to “Ayuh” to “yer cheatin’ heart…”) are unacceptable—dialect should be conveyed through word choice. And I’m gonna stand behind that statement.

XXXVII. Always say what it is before you give details. “Ziebart grinned. The enormous cat stood…” is more confusing than, “The enormous cat grinned. Ziebart stood and…”

XXXVIII. “Seemed to” is poison. Never use it. Ever. And don’t cheat by trying to get away with “appeared to”. If something seems to have happened to the POV character, then for the purposes of that scene it happened and should be presented as such.

XXXIX. Characters with tiny roles should have tiny descriptions. If all he does is take your protagonists’ coat, he shouldn’t have a two-paragraph description.

XL. Honorable characters with despicable careers are oxymoronic, and thus insulting to the reader.

XLI. As with all rules, everything here can be broken. However, breaking the rules because you don’t know them or can’t be bothered to follow them is not going to work out well. If you break a rule, do it with intent and to achieve a specific purpose that cannot be better achieved within the rules.


So, dear reader, what did I miss?

NYCC — New York Comic Con…

…was awesome!

Gollum and I

Talking up the HWA

I spent two days manning the Horror Writers Association booth, met a lot of awesome people–including Larry Correia. Larry writes the awesome Monster Hunter International books and the Grimnoir Chronicles–I got a signed copy of the latter, and gave him an autographed JADE SKY. Hilarious on social media, he’s a giant teddy bear in person, one of the most congenial and delightful people I’ve encountered.

Jeff LaSala was also at the Baen booth. I’ve known Jeff’s name for a long time–he’s been heavily involved in the Dungeons and Dragons scene for a long time, and was also instrumental in putting together one of the coolest cyberpunk projects I’ve ever seen, FORESHADOWS: THE GHOSTS OF ZERO, which is an anthology where each story has an accompanying song written for it. Our mutual friend Brian Matthews tipped me off that Jeff would be there, so I had to take the opportunity to say hello!

Jeff LaSala and I

From bumping into the singer/songwriter of my favorite band (Claudio Sanchez of Coheed & Cambria) to selling twice as many books as I thought I would to meeting members of the HWA’s New York/Long Island chapter to taking Horror Selfies with Charles Day and this charming fellow…

Horror Selfies

Oh, right. Horror Selfies. The Horror Writers Association has launched a campaign to promote reading horror. Take a picture of yourself and something about reading horror, and upload it to by Halloween. One lucky selfier (not a word, but is now) will win a collection of over fifty horror novels, including works by me, Ramsey Campbell, Peter Straub, Tim Waggoner, and many more.

Here’s mine:

Say it with Signs

My favorite moment of the weekend: One girl came to the booth in anticipation of meeting Jonathan Maberry–she’d met him there last year–and in disappointment learned that she’d missed him by a day. Fellow author and HWA member Jim Chambers handed her a copy of JADE SKY and pointed to the blurb on top. “Look what Jonathan Maberry had to say about JADE SKY.”

This woman, in her early twenties by my guess, squealed in delight, bought the book, had me sign it, hugged me, and then literally hopped out of the booth in excitement, clutching it to her chest. She’s already asked when the sequel will be out. (May, if all goes well.)

Yeah, NYCC kicked ass. I’ll be back next year, no doubt about it.

Qualia Nous Table of Contents

I’m excited to announce that my short story, TWELVE KILOS, has joined an impressive list of stories from amazing authors such as Stephen King and William F. Nolan in the anthology QUALIA NOUS, forthcoming from Written Backwards Press and edited by Michael Bailey.

Coming soon from Written Backwards Press

The working TOC is:

“The Jaunt” by Stephen King
“The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family” by Usman Tanveer Malik
“The Shaking Man” by Gene O’Neill
“Dyscrasia” by Ashlee Scheuerman
“The Rondelium Girl of Rue Marseille” by Emily Cataneo
“The Angel Chaser” by Erik T. Johnson
“Psychic Shock” by Ian Shoebridge
“Peppermint Tea in Electronic Limbo” by D.J. Cockburn
“Second Chance” by John R. Little
“The Effigies of Tamber Square” by Jon Michael Kelley
“Shades of Naught” by Lori Michelle
“The Price of Faces” by James Chambers
“Simulacrum” by Jason V. Brock
“Lead Me to Multiplicity” by Peter Hagelslag
“Cataldo’s Copy” by Chrisitian A. Larsen
“The Neighborhood Has a Barbecue” by Max Booth III
“The Jenny Store” by Richard Thomas
“Night Guard” by Erinn L. Kemper
“A New Man” by William F. Nolan
“Voyeur” by John Everson
“Kilroy Wasn’t There” by Pat R. Steiner
“In the Nothing-Space, I Am What You Made Me” by Paul Anderson
“Dura Matter” by Lucy A. Snyder
“Ruminations” by Rena Mason
“Good and Faithful Servant” by Thomas F. Monteleone
“Twelve Kilos” by Patrick Freivald
“Breathe You In Me” by Mason Ian Bundschuh
“18P37-C, After Andrea Was Arrested” by Elizabeth Massie
[ untitled ] by to-be-announced…

w/ poetry by Marge Simon, and another TBA.

Inclusion in an anthology with so many authors that I admire is humbling and delightful. I’m honored to be a part of the project, and can’t wait to read the whole thing!