Episode Thirteen by Craig DiLouie

It’s been a while since I’ve read a good ghost story, and there’s a reason for that. The genre has become so defined by its tropes that it’s formed its own subgenre of reality TV, which itself has tropes. Genres evolve, but between evolutions, they fall out of favor, the proverbial haunted house going inactive during the daylight hours.

Now, I’m loving what Mike Flanagan is doing with ghost stories on film. He seems to be progressing the genre into character-driven territory in which the horror is driven by environment instead of gorey thrills. As above, so below, what Flanagan brings to film, Craig DiLouie is bringing to literature.

His latest, Episode Thirteen is a further evolution to the ghost story genre, taking a ghost hunting reality TV show and fictionalizing one particular hunt where the show maybe gets a little too real.

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What It Means that HBO’s The Last of Us Is Good

Book-to-film adaptations can be hit or miss, but it seems like a rule that video-game-to-film adaptations are always bad. Good and bad in any artform are, of course, matters of taste, but there’s a persistent, nagging sentiment in popular media that, when filmmakers consider a video game adaptation, they take its success and built-in fan adoration for granted. Producers wield more power than actual talented filmmakers and writers, and the whole affair leans further into entertainment for entertainment’s sake, because the popular sentiment of video games is still driven by people who think Mario and Luigi saving Princess Peach from Bowser’s clutches is the standard in video game storytelling. 

(Relevant note: The plot of the forthcoming Mario adaptation is that Mario and Peach are trying to save Luigi from Bowser this time.)

I consider myself a little weird as a fiction writer with some academic decoration, because I am a life-long gamer. We’re not as weird as you’d think, it turns out, but in many literary circles, video games are still considered anathema to good storytelling. I think, considering some of the truly great writing and storytelling I’ve experienced through video games in my life, that’s tragic. The literary world is warming up to TV and films as legitimate mediums for good writing, but video games are still viewed as a medium for children despite the average age of a gamer being 33, and their artistic validity beyond their use of art as resources is still questioned

(Sure, this is an old post, and Ebert is a bit of a punching bag on the subject, but it’s illustrative of the argument, which I’d argue is flawed because the distinctions he made aren’t independently exclusive, but that’s not what this post is about.)

This year, HBO released a series adapting a video game called The Last of Us, which was developed by video game studio Naughty Dog. I played that game in 2013, and it not only redefined for me what good storytelling is in video games, but it also demonstrated a new potential for immersive storytelling experiences that only video games can provide: in this way, I felt The Last of Us offered new justification not only for the validity of video games as art but that we should consider video games a new artform in their own right.

I can’t overstate the profound effect this game had on me as a storyteller, and it isn’t a game that made me want to make games. It’s a game that made me want to tell better stories, and I think that’s important: the influence The Last of Us had on me transcends the medium.

I can’t think of a better definition for art.

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On Knowledge and Understanding

I’ve been noodling an idea I’m not sure what to do with. It basically goes like this: Our culture encourages competition under the premise that it breeds progress, but what if it generates only a certain kind of progress and hinders others? Namely, knowledge and understanding.

Just as capitalism inspires businesses to make the better product and come out on top, we butt heads on the individual level. Turn on any talk show and listen to competing sides debate a particular issue. Their goal isn’t to foster understanding; their goal is to win.

I can’t recall ever seeing anyone on TV or any stage in front of an audience yield when proven wrong. It’s so obvious we have an Internet meme for it. I’m sure there’s a subreddit dedicated to sharing videos of people being proven wrong and not admitting it. Watch this recent Jon Stewart interview if you need to see what I mean. Stewart is a bit too aggressive at first, but after a few minutes, you come to understand he’s frustrated because he’s so obviously right, but the other guy just won’t budge even though you can see it in him: he knows he’s been proven wrong, and instead of choosing to grow as a person (something that might let some others who follow him grow as people), he turtles. 

The trouble is knowledge and understanding just don’t work under these conditions. They need open, earnest idea and experience sharing. They require generosity, fairness, and good faith. They require concession and admission when you’re wrong. This is how we grow as people. This is how we learn.

Even when teaching debate, I would bet all the moneys the goal is winning, to overcome the other side by formulating the more compelling argument. That’s great for the individual and the winning side’s interest, but it is terrible for the whole. Whoever wins, we lose.

Granted, I do think there is value in striving for the better argument. In so doing, you come to better understand your own ideas, and that’s great.

That said, you should never enter a debate with the goal of proving you’re right. Enter with the goal of earnestly sharing your ideas and experiences because they’re valid, and in so doing, the group objective should be to combine those ideas and find something greater. To learn something together.

I think it would be a mistake to conflate this with compromise. That’s different. I’m also not suggesting there is no such thing as right and wrong. Of course there is. But what I’m talking about here is truth. 

I’ve also been noodling the idea that, since each of our individual understandings of reality is subjective and flawed, taken through limited perception, no individual can understand reality alone. Each of our realities isn’t real. To find the real, we need each other.

What a world it would be if we weren’t always trying to beat each other into submission but, instead, working together to discover the thing that is true about our shared reality, something none of us can really fathom on our own.

Discuss on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, or Mastodon.

‘Fairy Tale’ by Stephen King, A Review With a Long, Self-Serving Preamble

Stephen King was fundamental to my formative years in storytelling, and I know I’m far from alone in that. His writing has touched millions, and his reputation has preceded him for many more than that. You know all of this.

(If you really just want the review, scroll down to the subheading. You can’t miss it.)

When I was discovering fiction writing as a central part of my life, I found myself connecting with and inspired by his stories more than many other writers’. Like the literary elite, who might still puzzle over what it is about King’s work that people like so much, I’ve spent much of my studies thinking about why his work resonates with me. Is it the fascination with the dark and macabre? Is it some deep-seated psychological need for me to gaze into the unknown? Do I ironically find delight in terror? Wait, is there something wrong with me? I think if it were any of these things, any horror author would do, and that’s at least not how I work. 

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Re-Reading The Handmaid’s Tale, a Review

At the end of 2018, I re-read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. After 15 years (and this time picking it up because I wanted to, not because I needed to for a class), I found it extraordinarily powerful and prescient. I then wrote this review but never posted it. Oops. I figured I’d post it now with some edits because these thoughts weren’t doing anyone any good sitting on my hard drive.

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Ko-fi…Co-fee…cough-ee

I haven’t shared much publicly since I finished my MFA program, but for the time being, I’m full steam ahead on writing fiction. However, if you recall, authors are people, and people have bills to pay. Since you’re a person (presumably), I’m sure you agree that’s stupid, but here we are.

The goal is to get to the point where I can make a decent living on my fiction. If you’d like to help me get there and have already bought my books, please consider giving Ko-fi a shot.

Predator, Prey, Feminism, and You

Predator is one of my favorite films (and Arnie’s best, IMO). With Prey releasing this year, it’s getting roped in with the “woke-ism” (or whatever) conversation as forcing feminism. However, one of the reasons why Predator is exceptional is because it’s a feminist film.

Yup, Arnold Schwarzenegger, during the height of the American action film, made a feminist film.

Trust me.

(FYI, spoilers for both films below.)

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Achievement Unlocked: Mastery of the Craft

After three years, I am a master of the fine art of creative writing. According to George Mason University, anyway. Anyone can proclaim to be a writer, sure, but self-proclaimed masters are usually full of it. I proclaim nothing myself.

Anyway, as I take stock, reflect, and prepare for the transition into a new phase of my life, I thought I’d take a minute to update the blog a little. Three years ago, I essentially vanished to go find more time to write and otherwise grow as a writer. Today, I look back on those three years and realize I found a mixture of things I expected and things I didn’t. I went into the program with the goal of coming out with a finished novel. That didn’t happen. I have a decent start on one, but progress has been slow on that front. I also had the goal of coming out of the program with enough short stories for a collection. That didn’t happen either. I have several I’m extremely proud of, two of which were published last summer. However, the last three years of my writing life have been about quality over quantity.

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Two New Shorts Out This Summer

Bringing to an end this long drought of new stories in print and plentiful rejections, I have two new shorts out this summer. One is the previously mentioned “I Am Emergent,” a story about two computer scientists, their life’s work in artificial intelligence, and the lengths to which we’re willing to go to save someone we love. This one is out now in the anthology WHAT REMAINS from Inked In Gray Publishing, which you can find here.

The most recent one is a story I’m particularly fond of. “The Only Memorial You Can Ever Have” appears in vol. VIII of Deracine Magazine. It is one that I set out to challenge myself with in every conceivable way. From perspective to tense to narrative voice to narrative distance to character perception and beyond, virtually everything in this story is something I’ve never even attempted before. And after everything, I think it works, and it moves me powerfully. I hope you check it out and agree.

Of note, I think, is that I don’t think “The Only Memorial You Can Ever Have” would have come out of me if not for the MFA program I’m currently in. We often talk about the value of MFA programs, and I think, in those conversations, they’re viewed as whether they’re necessary or whether they produce writers of greater caliber. After two years in one, I think that’s the wrong way to look at MFA programs.

The value of my MFA program, to me, is in this story. It provided me the environment to experiment and take risks. It offered the support structure that held me up when I took those wobbling steps. If I hadn’t pursued an MFA, I’m confident this story wouldn’t exist, because I wouldn’t have pushed myself in ways I needed to push myself for this one to come out.

That isn’t to say I think MFA programs make better writers, that they’re always good, or that they’re even necessary. It’s just to say this is a story that came out of my MFA program that I’m proud of and demonstrates how my writing has grown, broadened, and evolved.

Thanks to both Inked in Gray and Deracine. I hope you check them out.

Story Coming in What Remains, an Anthology

It’s been a while since I’ve had anything in print, but very soon, I’m going to have a story in the upcoming anthology from Inked in Gray Press. Recently (yesterday), they unveiled the cover and opened the Kickstarter and preordering.

You should check this one out. It’s going to be a cool book, yes, but I like what Inked in Gray is doing. They understand the future of publishing is in community, and they work really hard to build that through the celebration of stories. There’s a purity in what they’re doing, I think, and I’m excited to be a part of it. Any of you fellow writers out there would do well to follow them on social media and submit some writing in the future.

Also, my story, “I Am Emergent,” is one that I’m very fond of. It’s about two scientists working on an artificial intelligence named Vic and the lengths we’ll go to prove to ourselves we’re the hero in our individual stories. This one is about the dark side of love, what we would sacrifice in its service.

I hope you contribute to the Kickstarter, preorder, or check it out when it’s available. I’ll let you know when it is.