From the Monster Book of Monsters to Monstronomicon: How Haunted House Publishing Lost Any Good Faith

I didn’t think I’d be talking about another Kickstarter in this way, but this is too important to leave undiscussed. Once more, we have a case of artists being taken advantage of, and unfortunately this case comes from the “NoSleep” community of authors. I don’t care who it may be, but if someone is devaluing or stepping on artists for personal gain, it’s never acceptable. The fact this is coming from what I considered a fairly respectable community makes it all the more shocking.

On November 30th, a Kickstarter project titled “The Monster Book of Monsters Film Project” went live. It’s managed by Jeff Speziale, who is in Tobias Wade’s stable known as Haunted House Publishing—a company that specializes in works by reddit /r/NoSleep authors. Before we get into the pitch video they made for this, let’s take a look at what they had to say about their project:

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Who, whoah, WOAH there!

First problem: if you are uninitiated, the “Monster Book of Monsters” is the exact name of a fictional book that appears in the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling (which the Kickstarter page is also quick to point out.) And before anyone asks, yes, characters are protected intellectual property in most scenarios—even outside of trademarks.

Right from the start, it’s obvious what’s going on here. This isn’t a fan project for Harry Potter. This isn’t some kind of innocent homage to a work of popular fiction. This is blatant infringement by the creators—either out of ignorance, or as intended leverage to draw more interest to the Kickstarter—but that’s not the only thing that’s wrong here. Let’s scroll down.

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That’s it. I mean that literally; the two screenshots you see here show the entire text of the Kickstarter description.

Oh, and really quick—the video isn’t anything special. It’s an amateurish cut of a bunch of stock footage with text that essentially asks the viewer to help make the TV show a reality by donating. None of the project creators appear in the video, and no additional information is given.

Already, reading that for the first time, I found all the familiar red flags that almost always crop up with projects like these. The use of funds is described in a way that is disturbingly vague, and in one paragraph we’re told, “Additionally, royalties from the book’s sales will go directly towards funding the sizzle reel.”

You could interpret that pretty much one of two ways; either all the book’s earnings from sales is going into the sizzle reel, or a percentage of the book’s earnings from sales is going into the sizzle reel. The latter interpretation is more optimistic, but the use of language makes it impossible to tell which is correct.

But what is the problem with all the royalties going into the sizzle reel? Isn’t that reasonable?

It would be—if all of this wasn’t so ambiguous and shady as it is. Say a publisher wants to make a book where all the funds go to a charity. Fair enough. All that would be necessary is clear proof the money is actually being sent to the given organization. It’s another thing, however, to make a promise that royalties are being put toward a project that is a high-risk—such as a sizzle reel for a TV show—and say absolutely nothing about where any of the money is going.

Are these people trustworthy and responsible in the position they’re asking to be in?

What is their plan for the creation and execution of this project?

What are they spending this money on?

These are some of the most important questions to ask, and none of them are answered in this project. To me, this page reads like some random guy on the street approaching to say, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we made a NoSleep TV show? Can you give me thousands of dollars to make it? No promises, but if you give me all that money it might happen.” That’s not the kind of person to be giving money to—because if someone pitches you an idea like that, history shows they’ll take your money, walk off, and you’ll never see them again.

It would be a different story if someone approached and said they wanted to make a show, and made it obvious they had the drive, responsibility, and qualifications to demonstrate they’re capable of putting the idea into action—but that’s not what we’ve been shown here.

For all we know, it’s possible all the royalties from book sales are going into the weightless “maybe” of a potential TV show—which means none of the authors involved in this project are actually getting paid for their work. If that’s true, I feel bad for them, because all they’re receiving in return is naive hope that one day their story will be brought to life. Working for nothing isn’t necessarily a crime in the creative world, but it’s a terrifying thing to even see a vague hint that this publisher could very well be using this free material they’ve gathered to simply further themselves at the author’s expense.

I’ve seen it before: authors sometimes give away their film rights in publishing contracts, and then as soon as the publisher is contacted by a studio, they sell the rights and run off with all the money because they are legally allowed to do so—leaving the author without a dime for any of their effort. I’m not saying that’s what’s going to happen here, but this is a very real concern that is left in the air. It’s cautionary tales like these that lead me to tell artists that you should never work for nothing. “Hope” is not payment. “Exposure” is not payment. And the only person it’s going to hurt in the long term is you as an artist. Do you want everyone else to profit off your work while you remain financially stagnant? That’s likely in the world of the “free market.”

Since the initial launch of this Kickstarter, the page has been revised. They removed their intent to use J. K. Rowling’s intellectual property, and changed the title of the book to “Monstronomicon.” It’s kinda hilarious considering that too is also the title of an already existing work:

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Either way, it seems either Rowling and her team told them to back off, or maybe they realized the error in their ways and opted to lower their legal risk. I want to be optimistic and less cynical, but it’s hard after seeing the patterns that become clear having witnessed projects collapse on themselves.

I was pretty much neutral in regards to Haunted House Publishing before. I’ve worked with authors and other creatives who have been involved in their work, and was overall happy to see something bigger coming out of the community in the form of serious indie publishing. After this though, it puts their credibility into question at the very least. The fact they are willing to use property they do not own without hesitation suggests the possibility that they won’t hesitate to step on fellow creatives to further themselves. It opens the door to speculate that they’re willing to be amoral in how they run their business.

If Jeff Speziale, Tobias Wade, or anyone in the Haunted House team happen to be reading this, I hope to be clear in saying I don’t hold anything personally against you—though I’m admittedly disturbed by the way you’re running your Kickstarter. For all I know, the lot of you could be trustworthy, qualified, and more than capable of making a quality sizzle reel and pitching it to networks. Even if that’s true, you’ve done a poor job of presenting yourselves.

For everyone else, this is yet another warning to those who back crowdfunding campaigns. These are the red flags to be looking out for. If I were you, I wouldn’t be giving these people my money. It’s too late now; they’ve already passed their $5,000 goal with another sixteen days left as I write this. But how can you take action? Ask questions that need to be asked. Let artists bear the responsibility of proving they are capable and qualified, and do not give them your money unless they do so.

Credit where credit is due, thanks to Kyle “TheLawliet10” Riley for bringing all this to my attention and coming up with the title that sparked this post.

The Stepford Wives: Why Ira Levin was a Master of Suspense

stepfordwivesFirst and foremost: if you don’t know what The Stepford Wives is about, don’t look it up; the plot twist is damn near everywhere you hear the story talked about. It’s difficult to not spoil. And if you pick up the newer edition with the introduction by Peter Straub (pictured here,) do not read said introduction. Straub takes away all the surprise before you are even given the chance to enjoy it.

That being said, I won’t be spoiling anything. Let’s jump in.

When most people mention foundational stories in horror and suspense literature, seldom do I ever hear mention of Ira Levin. Arguably, Levin is best known for his novel Rosemary’s Baby, which isn’t what I recommend to readers who want to begin exploring his work, mostly because the pacing and development. However, many of Levin’s other works are as sharp as they come—even if they take time to build up suspense.

Continue reading “The Stepford Wives: Why Ira Levin was a Master of Suspense”

My New Short Story & Upcoming Reviews

DB-AUTUMN-2018Just wanted to let you know: I’ve been writing. Lots. One of my new suspense/horror pieces, “I Want You,” is now available in DimensionBucket Magazine #1 as an ebook. This issue also features many other talented authors in genre fiction, so I highly recommend checking out this project for an assortment of voices and thrilling tales.

I’ve also been reading a lot, as you would expect, and I plan to review most of what I read here on this blog. Some upcoming titles to look forward to include The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin, and Bad Ronald by Jack Vance. These will come along between any new short stories and books I release.

Thank you for staying tuned. It’s exciting to be back at the desk, and I look forward to seeing what you think of the new content!

Review of “Come Closer” by Sara Gran

51B2yAly-TL._SX306_BO1,204,203,200_It’s no secret that, when executed well, I love demonic possession stories. But seldom is the execution ever close enough to the mark for me; it’s a difficult type of story to write. I love Blatty’s The Exorcist, and it’s unfortunate to me that most books in the sub-genre tend to fall into the same kinds of plotlines.

Strange sounds begin. Random things are found missing. The blame is put on coincidence or carelessness. Then these strange events ramp up and grow increasingly hopeless until “Well I guess we can call an exorcist.” An exorcism is performed, insane, disturbing stuff goes down, and then everything’s okay. The demon’s gone, and life continues—mostly unaltered.

If ever you need a formula for a demon possession story, there it is.

Sara Gran has admittedly taken a very different approach to exploring these tropes. The setting is definitely contemporary (though at one point it’s revealed that Edward, the husband in this story, doesn’t have a cellphone. Perhaps the 80’s or 90’s?) The novel is also told from the first person, which is unique choice in this case.

The book starts on a great note—suggesting the horror that is to come, while also displaying Gran’s skills as a humorist. I accidentally discovered Come Closer after seeing it pop up on Amazon, and after being drawn to reading the first couple pages on a whim, it had me hooked. Gran makes this a riveting story with very short chapters, and wastes no time with the details.

The humor soon fades, however, and it’s clear this isn’t a cheery bedtime story. Our protagonist, Amanda, is slowly consumed by the demonic evil that finds her to be the perfect vessel. That’s all you should know going in, and that’s all I’ll say on the plot.

What I Liked

There was a lot that initially impressed me with this book. The chapters are short and addictive, and I blasted through this book quickly without ever finding a dull moment. While I can’t say there were moments that were especially surprising, some of the classic possession tropes were used creatively. To be more specific: there’s a scene that involves lipstick that assists conveying an intriguing subtext that plays out in the background.

Gran’s writing style (or I guess Amanda’s writing style?) is very simple. Blunt. Direct. It almost reminds me of Ira Levin’s work in that sense. Levin has a way of being clear and upfront in his portrayal of “ordinary” settings that creates excellent suspense and contrast with the horror in his work—and you can see a little bit of influence here. Certain scenes stand out as being especially chilling; there’s one involving spiritual visualization, and another with one of Amanda’s friends that build a surreal and disturbing atmosphere.

Finally, the ending has an excellent resounding note that stuck in my mind long after I’d finished the last few lines. The subtext of this story is really the gem that is to be found, and it’s what separates Come Closer from all the other possession stories out there. It raises a pretty chilling question: if one is possessed by desire and obsessed with an idea, is it any less of a possession than one that is demonic? And would it mean on some level, that we are all possessed in some way?

What I Didn’t Like

Unfortunately, the fast-paced execution of this story is also a problem. It’s addictive to read, but leaves a lot to be desired in the way of emotional connection to the characters. I love what’s here in Come Closer, but more character development and expanding on certain ideas could have gone a long way. Classic ghost stories often take their time to build dread and let the evil steadily grow more present, but here a lot of that potential is missed out on for the sake of telling things as quickly as possible.

Although I appreciate the writing style being blunt as I mentioned earlier, this story lacks subtlety—and this is an even bigger issue. Some of the dread that is missing could easily be returned by suggesting or implying certain things happening—instead of just telling the reader directly like Amanda’s character does many times. It completely destroys the mystery that would have made made plenty of scenes more effective. For example, without spoiling anything, there’s a scene that involves our main character and an irate magazine stand owner. Amanda makes no secret of what she did (or what she thinks she did) in that scene, and the whole bit flops as a result. Amanda just nonchalantly moves on with telling her story, leaving the reader to think “eh, whatever,” and move along with her.

It’s also impossible to ignore certain character reactions and situations that seem unrealistic/unlikely or “convenient” to the plot. Not as big a gripe, but one I can’t disregard.

Furthermore, the edition I read (the first edition hardcover) is riddled with errors. It’s not as bad as some things I’ve read, and it’s nigh on impossible to have a perfect manuscript, but this needed another couple passes in the editing house. These errors were blatant and in enough numbers for me to mention them, so I think that says enough.

The Final Verdict

Come Closer is worth checking out. It has issues, and it’s not the most original or groundbreaking story, but I could enjoy it despite the flaws. I’d say if it’s at your local library, or if you can get a good deal with the ebook or print copies, give it a shot. Avoid the hype and keep your expectations low. It’s a short book anyway, so if it’s not for you, there isn’t much time at stake.

Check out Come Closer on Amazon