My Heart Is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones

After The Only Good Indians last year, Stephen Graham Jones set the bar higher than most authors could dream of achieving. I say that because The Only Good Indians was easily one of the best novels I’ve had the pleasure of reading, regardless of the genre…ever. My Heart Is a Chainsaw isn’t likely to leave quite as profound of a lasting impact as that book, but it’s a different sort of beast altogether. And boy, is it a beast.
Jade Daniels is a walking, talking archive of all things slasher-related, or even slasher-adjacent. She’s a socially awkward outcast who speaks to others in slasher genre shorthand. To her, everything in life can be easily compared and contrasted with plot points of one or more of her favorite movies. Every occasion has an appropriate quote from the slasher genre. As a person, she’s equal parts aggravating and endearing to the reader–assuming the reader, like me, is a hardcore slasher fanatic.
Finally, her dead-end life in a dead-end Idaho town appears to be heading toward a fantasy come true. With the arrival of Lethe Mondragon, the final piece falls into place as Jade determines she’s located the archetypal “final girl” for the real-life slasher horror to play out.
Is Jade another Cassandra, doomed to warn everyone of the impending nightmare and tragedy, only to be dismissed as all youth are in the movies she so adores? Is she simply a troubled girl who has lost the capacity to differentiate between fantasy and reality, on the verge of returning to the institution from which she’d only recently been released? You’ll have to read the book to find out. If you’re familiar with Jones as an author, you should know you won’t be disappointed.
As you reach the halfway point of this novel, everything begins cascading out of control with a feverish pace and such a dizzying assortment of horrors that you’ll hardly see the next twist coming–and there are indeed twists.
The novel is so much more than a slasher story. I’d love to tell you more, but I’d be giving too much away. My Heart Is a Chainsaw is also a coming-of-age tale about an indigenous girl haunted by her past and fixated on the haunted history of the mountain town she calls home. This is a story of friendship, a dysfunctional family, and an even more dysfunctional community.
My Heart Is a Chainsaw should assure any readers that Stephen Graham Jones is–I say this without a doubt in my mind–perhaps the single greatest writer currently active in the horror genre.

Rule of Cool by Matthew Siege: Narrated by Felicia Day

From a literary standpoint, Rule of Cool is certainly not the best example of the LitRPG genre…but it is far from the worst. I don’t expect epic fantasy literary prowess from LitRPG novels–because I’m not a complete idiot–but there are plenty of books within the genre that successfully combine skilled storytelling, captivating characters, and ample humor. This one had a fair bit of humor, some slightly worthwhile characters, and a story that could have been assembled from a story-in-a-box plot development application.
Personally, I prefer the stories where there’s some explanation–even a flimsy one–as to why we (and the characters) are exposed to stats, rolls, and other such RPG-oriented elements. Otherwise, it seems like a poor attempt to simply pad and shoehorn a story–decent or not–into a niche genre hoping to ride the coattails of those who came before. Combine all of that with a healthy dose of the fan service and the almost desperate geek appeal of Ready Player One, and you’ll have a good feel for Rule of Cool.
A story focused on life within an RPG world from the perspective of a bitter, moody NPC has a lot of potential. Sadly, Matthew Siege couldn’t bring that potential to life the way the concept deserved. The world itself is nonsensical. Rule of Cool is centered on a starter town, Hallow, where prospective heroes begin their journey to obtain levels and make names for themselves. For some inexplicable reason, Hallow is filled with detritus from the real world for no apparent reason, except that it somehow slipped from our world into this fantasy realm through a rift that is never adequately explained nor explored. It struck me as a poorly conceived ploy to justify random pop culture references littering the narrative, much the same way that damaged electronics and toys from our world litter the realm where Hallow’s located.
It’s not all bad. Don’t get me wrong.
This is a fun, albeit generic zero-to-hero tale centered around a trio of gearblins (a hybrid of goblin and gremlin) struggling to take their home back from the heroes who have been grinding them into the muck for generations. There’s social commentary embedded in the plot that–while unsubtle–appeals to me in a Marxist workers’ revolt sense.
The best aspect of Rule of Cool was that I listened to the audiobook edition. Felicia Day’s narration is fantastic, sufficiently so that it drags the story–kicking and screaming the whole way–to a higher level of quality than it would have had if I’d simply been reading the book.
I can’t recommend reading this book, but I would recommend the audiobook because the superb narration makes other aspects of the story far more tolerable than they probably deserve to be.

Black Hills Con 2021

This weekend has been a busy one for me.

In 2017, my friend and fellow author, Adrian Ludens, had asked if I might be interested in sharing a table with him at the local anime, science fiction, and pop culture convention. At that point, the local convention was SoDak Con–previously SoDak Anime Convention. Unfortunately, due to a planned and scheduled vacation in the Pacific Northwest, I was unable to partner up with him.

I’m sad to say that I might not have done so even without those prior obligations. At that point in my writing career I had only the novel, Unspoken, and my collection of short fiction and poetry, Errata, available. Both titles had been self-published and neither had been particularly successful or generated much by way of buzz or interest beyond people who knew me to some extent. I would have felt like a fraud, sitting there next to him. Adrian had sold probably dozens of stories to various publications and anthologies at that point…and who the fuck was I?

Since then, I’ve come a long way in feeling more comfortable and secure in calling myself an author. My next self-published novel, Innocence Ends, was more successful than both of the previous titles combined–and then some. Thanks to the sales associated with Innocence Ends, I was able to join the HWA (Horror Writers Association) as an Affiliate Member. My new novella, You Will Be Consumed, was published by a small press I respect and appreciate–in addition to since being adapted into an audiobook with a fantastic narrator doing the heavy lifting.

When the new convention–now Black Hills Con–was announced for June of this year, I reached out to Adrian and asked whether he might be interested in sharing a table with me. I was pleased to discover he was interested.

This would be my first time attending a convention of any kind as a guest and a vendor. I was never particularly big on attending conventions in the first place, being as anti-social and riddled with anxiety as I find myself to be when surrounded by crowds of any kind.

I neglected to request time off from work on Friday. Thus, I had to get up at 3:45 AM and begin my shift at the television station at 4:30 AM. I directed the hour and a half of Good Morning KOTA Territory from 5:30 to 7 AM and then KOTA Territory News at Noon from 12 to 12:30 PM. It had already been a long day, as you can probably imagine, before I pulled out of the parking lot and made my way to the hotel where the convention was being held.

I arrived at the hotel and was directed to the vendor room where Adrian and I would be sharing our table. I was pleased to see that my old friend, Tom Rasch, was at the table right next to us. Tom is a comic book artist/creator who has been active in that industry for quite some time, in addition to having done a good deal of video game character design back in the day. He was there to promote his various independent comic properties, Black Alpha and Salem Tusk in particular, as well as a documentary film that is detailing his efforts to bring these properties to life in the way they deserve to be realized. At some point in the relatively near future, he’s likely to have a Kickstarter campaign going live, and I’ll be sure to share those details here.

Needless to say, I felt a wash of relief, knowing that I had familiar faces right there next to me.

The next five hours turned out to be a great deal more fun than I suspected they might be…additionally, I managed to deplete a fair amount of the books I’d brought with me for the convention.

Using a trick I’d developed for coping with social anxiety, I carried my camera with me and captured photos of the events, separating myself from them by placing the lens in between myself and the rest of the world.

I was exhausted when I arrived home shortly before 7 PM on Friday. I ate dinner and took a nap before waking up and going to the gym around 10:30 PM. I have a difficult time breaking from routine, and I try to always go to the gym on Friday evenings, regardless of what my day consisted of.

On Saturday morning, I woke up at 6:30 AM and took a shower before taking the puppies outside and making sure my daughter was ready to go. We stopped for coffee and arrived at the convention location right at 8 AM as everything was getting started. I made my way to the vendor room–it was closed to all but the vendors until 10 AM–while my daughter went to watch Saturday morning cartoons that were being projected on the screen of the large conference room by the convention staff.

Most of the vendors weren’t there yet, so it was nice to just relax and chat with Tom while I put everything out on the table, including some creepy photo prints I’d brought with me to see if they might also sell. Adrian arrived not too long after.

Tom was hosting a panel on Saturday morning, sharing his experiences in the comic book and video game design industries and talking about his current projects. I attended some of that panel because I wanted to see at least some of it instead of spending all of my time sitting at the table.

Throughout the day, my daughter sporadically returned to the vendor space with different friends in tow and it was fun to see the teenagers enjoying themselves so much. My daughter also took advantage of the fact that Adrian had brought the rolling, steel table from a morgue with him.

The second day of the convention was a marathon, though slightly less of a marathon than the first day had been for me. We held our post in the vendor room until just after 6 PM when it was time to pack it in and head home. I returned home with only four of the copies of You Will Be Consumed that I’d brought with me, and none of my other books. All in all, I’d say it wasn’t a bad day.

It was great being able to spend time with friends I don’t often see in real life and to meet new people.

Before leaving the hotel, I gifted two of my photo prints to the two special guests of the convention–voice actors in various anime films–because someone had mentioned it was their first time visiting South Dakota, and I thought they might like something a little less tourist-oriented as a memento. One of the two brought over a signed art print that made my daughter’s day, because she had considered getting one until she saw the prices they were charging.

The other remaining photo print, I gifted to another of the vendors who had been awesome to talk with here and there.

As tired as I was, I must admit I was sort of sad to see the convention ending.

All things considered, I have to say I think my first experience as a guest of a convention was a success. I look forward to doing it again.

I have to thank the folks who organized Black Hills Con 2021, because they did an excellent job of making sure everything ran smoothly and that everyone was comfortable and taken care of. The atmosphere was a positive one and free of some of the toxicity and gatekeeping that I’ve heard about regarding similar conventions around the country.