Monday, October 24, 2016

A Haunting Time at HallowRead!

Reading poetry at the vineyard
on a windy autumn day.
I spent my weekend at the writerly and readerly genre book convention "HallowRead" - it was simply a great time, and I thought I'd share some of the highlights.

I wanted to attend the con first and foremost because I wanted to meet other genre writers in the local area.  Even though I've been in Maryland for more than ten years, I still haven't met many other writers.  I was hoping I'd come away with a few new contacts for writerly advice and friendship.  I also was hoping to learn and have fun!

My tarot spread - apparently I'm gathering
my resources for a change my friends already
know is coming.  Hmm.
I flew back into the area after attending a conference for work on the west coast - my red eye flight didn't let me attend the first two workshops on Friday, but I did make it to the next three, held at the Decoy Museum in Havre de Grace - a lovely location right on the water.  The first workshop I attended was Vonnie Winslow Crist talking about writing short fiction - pitfalls to avoid and guidelines to follow.  Then C.J. Ellisson shared her organizational techniques for working on multiple writing projects at the same time.  This included scheduling not just the writing itself, but things like research time, promotion milestones, and release dates.  We ended the workshops with Chris Stewart talking to us about grants and marketplaces.  This was particularly useful to me, as I was not really aware of all the opportunities for art and writing grants in the general Maryland area.

We got to wrap up Friday with a ghost tour.  I'd never been on one before, and I enjoyed crunching through the leaves on dark streets, hearing about hauntings.  But the best was the final stop.  We spent an hour in an antique shop having our tarot read, and listening for ghosts on the upper floor.  Very atmospheric and not just a little bit creepy!

The Fanged, Furry, and Fabulous Panel!
Glad to be a part.
Saturday was filled with panels and book signings.  From 9am to almost 3pm we had panels on a plethora of subjects from how to write ghost stories, to the nature of magic in fiction, to creatures and monsters.  If you are a fan of paranormal romance you would have loved it - many of the writers on hand were active in that genre and were giving away teasers and even whole books!  I was very happy to be on the Fanged, Furry, and Fabulous panel representing horror poetry.  I was one of the few poets present, and was really pleased to have the chance to provide that perspective.  In the afternoon, the authors with books headed to the new Havre de Grace library to sign and sell.  I stopped by and spent my book budget, coming away with some new reads.

The last of the group hanging out at
the vineyard on Sunday.
Sunday was such a pleasure, as we wrapped up the event at the Mont Felix Winery for "Read Between the Vines."  Those writers in attendance, including myself, all had the chance to read a bit of their work while tasting wines from the winery.  It was fun and relaxing, and I particularly enjoyed the warm mulled pumpkin wine they were bringing around!  I was so surprised and pleased at the reception my poetry received!  People really seemed to enjoy it, and it has solidified my resolve to get a chapbook out as soon as I can.

It was a fine weekend, and I encourage any lovers of fantasy, horror, or sci-fi to come out next year and join in the fun!  Many thanks to Rachel Rawlings, who organized the event!

Image Credits:  My pix of the panel, and the tarot, Rachel's pix of me reading and the group.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Blog Hopping for NaNoWriMo 2016

The NaNo starting blocks,
soon to be filled with racing writers!
Aaaaand the prep for NaNoWriMo 2016 has begun!  People are gearing up for this year's crazy sprint of 50K words written on their novel all in the month of November, and once again I aim to be among them.

I've been asked why a "serious writer would bother with something as amateur" as NaNoWriMo.  (I really have been asked this).  But that's not how I think of it at all.  I think of it as a time to share the excitement and joy of being a writer.  A chance to link with others who simply want to put words to page.  An opportunity to immerse with others in the creative process.  In other words, I find it fun.

And hey don't miss this, they are giving away a chance to write your NaNo novel next year in a castle!  CLICK here to enter!  Sounds amazing.

Anyway, what this post is really about is blog hopping.  I'm not exactly sure what that is, but someone has started a blog hop page, and I'm hoping this will give me the chance to meet other writers, especially local ones, who just enjoy writing and the whole NaNo experience.

So here's my info:

Name:  J.A. Grier - BUT I started my NaNo account with my old pen name, Bryce Ellicott.  So that's the name you have to look for there.  Now I can't change it, but I'm hoping they add that functionality someday.

NaNo Book Title:  "The Trentsville Terror."  It's my vampire/zombie/gay-romance novel.  The first part of which, "The Duke of Cantersburg," I wrote a couple of NaNos ago.  The book needs, oh, probably another 60 to 70K of words to finish up, and NaNo is the time to tackle it.

One Sentence Summary of Book:  Dude meets vampire, falls in love, and the two of them try to save the world from zombies.

NaNo Goals:  Well, 50K words is always my goal.  I usually do a bit more than that, and it would be great to actually push through and finish this book if I can.  Of course first I have to figure out the ending ...

Fun Facts About Me:  Most of this is already in my profile information - I'm a scientist, educator, writer, poet, paper artist, beaded jewery maker, cat-lover, and wine drinker.  I've written stuff from textbooks and scientific papers to essays and poems.  I just love writing, but particularly love anything in the 'speculative' fiction type genres - sci-fi, horror, fantasy, mythic, and general weird stuff.  I'm the kind of person for whom the first draft is not the problem.  Now getting things published, that takes more time.  But I've had success with a few dozen poems, a couple of stories, one of those textbooks and a load of papers and abstracts.  Now if I could get those novels out there ...

Social Media Presence:  Right here at and on Twitter at @grierja  I'm also on DeviantArt at, where I sometimes post free poems and stories.

Link to starting post(s):  

Image Credit:  Public Domain

Friday, October 7, 2016

A "Hell" of a Good Time - Hellish Horror Movies

Some bad, bad demon-types.
It's October!  The time of the year I can be unabashedly obsessed with gothic creepiness.  Now, this does not mean I am not obsessed with horror the other eleven months of year.  It just means that October is when I feel I can be overt about it and not look too crazed.

My creepy celebrations for this year have included going back and watching some horror, suspense, and thriller flicks.  I wanted a theme, and well, "Hell" seemed as good as any.  So my trio of terror included "Hellraiser," "From Hell," and "Hellboy."

Note - Spoilers galore.  If you haven't seen these yet, go watch some Netflix or something then come on back.

"Hellraiser," which I'm going to call HR in this post, is really the only straight horror flick of the three.  It is a classic of the 1980's horror scene, and expresses the pros and cons of that era.  The movie suffers from being old, with special effects that are not too realistic anymore, and come over as campy.  As far as standard horror goes, I'm not too much a fan of 'jump scares.'  I find them tedious.  So I was glad that there are few enough in this movie, which often shows you pretty much exactly what is going on.

Puzzle Box.  Do Not Use.
In spite of its failings, there is some good tension, and some creative villain-demon-thingies, like the iconic "Pinhead" character.  In fact, the villains (Cenobites) are really the best part of HR.  While this movie does not make it perfectly clear what these torturers are, "demon" is pretty close, given that they seem to admit to residing in Hell.  Apparently, they are called by use of a puzzle box by a human who is seeking the extremes of physical sensation (and who apparently does not care if that extreme is of pleasure or pain.)  The character of Frank in HR says this - that he wanted to experience the extreme.  And he clearly got more than he bargained for since he was very interested in escaping.

Other thoughts.  Ugh.  I hate movies with sexism, and that's a lot of movies.  Watching strange men come on to the female lead was just nauseating.  Gross and foul.  Watching the movers in one scene harass a young woman was infuriating.  It is so expected no one in the film even comments on it.  Blarg.  And the way the lead female was attracted to the blatantly abusive and manipulative Frank?   Oh ewwww.  Greasy.

I think it would have made a much better cerebral-thriller movie than horror.  The gore does not seem to serve the purpose of supporting the interesting conceit (puzzle box) and more interesting demons.  So overall, HR is okay for some popcorn fun on a rainy night, but not re-watchable.

Looks more impressive
than it is ...
"From Hell." (or FH ...) Now why does this movie rub me the wrong way?  I just don' t know, but it does.  As a re-telling of the Jack-the-Ripper story, it should have bean great.  So many talented actors and actresses.  The scenes are wonderfully dark, with a foggy, dreary London that is only beaten out by something like Burton's Sweeney Todd.  The secret-society-of-British-gentlemen angle is also an interesting plot driver.  

But a few things really stuck in my craw about FH.  Now to start, I want to say I know a great deal about absinthe and how it was used, and then prohibited.  How absinthe is portrayed in this movie is really ridiculous.  And setting it on fire?  No.  No, no, no.  People did not do that.  Hollywood invented that, and it might have been this very movie that is to blame for this misconception.  And Depp, who I normally like, just fell flat in this movie.  Did not feel like a real person, more like a sort of puppet.  He ends up OD-ing and I didn't care.  The fate of Heather Graham's character?  Also did not care.  And the gory scenes are not scary.  Just gore for gore's sake.

The movie does not work.  It needed to go either all out horror, or dial back and be more suspense/thriller.  It straddles the line and ends up not really working as either.  I simply didn't enjoy it.  So overall, I'd only watch this film if I really, desperately needed to see a horror movie with Depp and couldn't stream Sleepy Hollow.  Which means, nah.  I'll pass.

The good guy from Hell.
"Hellboy" i.e. HB.  I knew nothing of this film before watching.  Just needed another "Hell" movie to round out my trio.  It turns out to be the best of the three, but it's not a horror movie any more than 'Aliens' was horror.  ('Alien,' singular, now that was horror, and the best of the genre as far as I'm concerned.)  HB is a comic superhero vs. the monsters type of movie, with a lot of suspenseful moments, dark themes, and simply bizarre characters.  So if you like superheros and monsters, you will like this movie.

I like the conceit of a demon from hell having a choice to be good or evil.  This one seems to be working for the good guys because it was raised with compassion to be a 'real boy.'  I get the impression the actual named Hellboy from the comics is supposed to be more angsty and troubled.  This one is a bit brooding, but still comes over as a generally positive straight talker who just wants to get the job done.  A gritty guy, but not despairing at all.  I was bummed that some of the more interesting characters got waxed by the middle of the movie, and one was too injured to make it to the finale.  And they could have done so much more with the overall story line of Hellboy and his mysterious past and even more mysterious purpose in life.  It just does not come together well.

Still it was fun to watch, and the monsters were done well with pretty good special effects.  I'd watch this one again, even without the popcorn.   

Image Credits:  Cenobites, Fair use,  Puzzle box Public Domain.  From Hell Theatrical Release Poster  Hellboy Theatrical Release poster