Art and the Dreadful Sublime: A Project and Some Thoughts on the Way to Charcoal

I was not without things to be frightened of as a child. I lived in a home that the locals told their kids to avoid, full of trauma and old memories and, I still maintain, something altogether darker that I would wrestle with in A God of Hungry Walls. It was a place where there were some fond memories, yes but something in that house tugged at you and made the never settling curtains and the creaks in the floor and the feeling of not being alone sometimes downright unbearable. But scary as this house was, the place we housesat for was darkened by something that to my child’s brain seemed altogether much more horrid.

The nice lady next door who we housesat for had a daughter who was an abstract artist. The paintings on the wall had a life of their own and were full of what felt like malignance. These paintings broke down things you know about the world and its structures. They were anarchic and wrong, the faces were nothing like faces. Lovecraft in his stories expresses not just a dread of the unknown but also of Non Euclidean angles. He reveals that simple geometry warped and repurposed could be maddening. I never slept under that roof surrounded by those paintings.

Art can have that power. It can take us to places where we can’t understand the world and we are certain we don’t belong. Dali’s abyss of melted watches scared my childhood imagination every bit as much as the chains and barbs of Hellraiser’s cenobites or the apocalyptic promise of Rosemary’s Baby. For a very large portion of my childhood, I was frightened of abstract and surrealist art. I would watch Rod Serling’s Night Gallery but the walk through the gallery would scare the living shit out of me.

But as a teenager, a few things happened. First, hours of the Sundance Channel got me really craving exceptionally weird cinema and secondly, an art class made me fall in love with the paintings of Edvard Munch. I was depressed, I was a wreck but for a moment standing before his painting Flower of Pain, I was so much less alone.

I saw there that even the ugliest, darkest feelings can momentarily liberate a viewer or reader from loneliness and that was amazing. I doubled down on the horror I consumed and produced from there. I owed that painting a lot and in some ways, I owe the abstract art that robbed me of sleep just as much. Charcoal would be forged from both experiences and sensations and the feeling of both great paintings and the torture that made them possible.

On the way up to the October release of this book, I’m taking some more trips out into the night gallery on my Instagram, creating a series of short pieces inspired by the dread and awe of great paintings. I hope you join me and we’re both a bit less lonely.

Charcoal Has a New Cover and Is Up For Preorder

As a kid, I collected a lot of comics. My favorite was Spiderman but since it was the 90s, it was impossible to get away from Chris Claremont’s X Men run. Claremont’s X Men featured not just colorful, strange and exciting situations and characters but also massive collectibility This was spurred on by the numerous alternate covers. Claremont’s X Men number one had I believe 5, each one focusing on a different facet of the same scene. It was pretty rad. The newsstand was an exciting place where you got to choose how your comic collection looked or be a completist and get them all.

I found myself wishing that the work I someday created would be as cool and collectible as those comics. Well, turns out that fate would one day conspire to make this so and to make me incredibly lucky. I am indie, I am cult, I am underground and yet because of things like Archelon Ranch and Murderland getting reprinted by other presses meant I had a chance for my books to appear between a number of gorgeous alternate covers, blessed by the work of talented artists. My upcoming book Charcoal is no exception to this.

Charcoal was picked up during a time of transition for my publisher CLASH. The book was ready for publication but CLASH got a distribution deal. They could either let the book come out at its original date or they could hold it back a year and get it much wider distribution. CLASH made the right choice. While preordered books met their preorder date and appeared at cons, the book’s actual publication date has been moved to October. With wider distribution, CLASH wanted a new look and to make both printings of the book something special. Christoph from CLASH grew up with Claremont X Men too, bought variant covers off the newsstand. I can’t help but think this might have informed this awesome choice.

This is Lynne Hansen’s badass second cover for Charcoal. I love the original but this is outstanding work. It captures so many wonderful aspects of the book and I’m lucky CLASH and Lynne believe in it. In fact, Lynne even gave CLASH some gorgeous signature sheets, a first for one of my books.

Breathtaking stuff. If you want one of your own, complete with a signed signature sheet, you can preorder below. This is the best thing I’ve ever written and CLASH is truly doing right by it. My ten year old self would be proud.

https://www.clashbooks.com/new-products-2/garrett-cook-charcoal-preorder

My Favorite Experiences of 2021

As a film buff, I was left tempted to do a writeup of my top ten films of the year but my year was made by a number of influences. I derived joy from a multitude of things and my life is not all reading books and watching films. Thought I’d describe my year in varied flavors and textures, in a more intimate and real way.

1.) Learning Game Design

It was a deep, difficult experience that took up Summer of 2020 to Summer of 2021 and while it was occasionally very stressful, the Lostlorn project allowed me to see all the things that went into making a tabletop game work. A few hundred hours of conferences, more documents than you can shake a stick at and a very tired group of designers doing their best are things I will never forget. Excited conferences with Mark Rein-Hagen, the creator of Vampire:the Masquerade helped me remember who I am, what I’ve done and what I could do. And while it all became too much in the end, I do support this project and hope it flourishes and succeeds. If I’m needed in the future on supplements, I will be available. Learning new skills is rough but getting to do something you love makes it worth it. Badlander, the first Lostlorn core book should be ready Spring of 2022 and you’ll get to see what the various teams made in the course of the process.

2.) Southeast Asian/ Indian Subcontinental Horror

Folk horror as we know it can be marred by the familiar. While I love the likes of The Wicker Man, Midsommar and Arthur Machen’s The White People, it’s good to examine cultures outside our own, to explore their anxieties, their tensions and their values. Shudder and Amazon Prime have been doing a wonderful job of curating Indian, Thai and Indonesian horror. Director Joko Anwar’s films were a great surprise, combining ghost stories, demonology and legacies of family trauma with the pageantry of Indonesian theater forms and locales. Queen of Black Magic, Satan’s Slaves and Impetigore are all on Shudder and all great. The Thai demonic possession mockumentary The Medium fires on all cyllinders and comes to a way more intense conclusion than most work of its ilk. On Amazon Prime, the Indian film Tumbbad combines history, dark fairy tale and morality play in a manner reminiscent of Pan’s Labyrinth.

3.) King’s Dilemma

This negotiating and bluffing legacy boardgame puts players in the role of a multigenerational family who sit on the council of the king of a fantasy kingdom that is not doing well…and will keep not doing well if I have anything to say about it. Your choices each game affect how the kingdom is run in future games too. Mechanically, each family’s job is to check off the boxes on its agenda, regardless of how good it is for the other players and definitely with no regard for the kingdom. It is not explicitly a roleplaying game but roleplaying is going to happen anyway. You name your family, you argue for their agendas, you bluff other players…yes, my girlfriend’s roommates around the game table are all very leery of voting in the interest of House Deeznuts. Which is exactly what I want them to think. Mwa ha ha ha

4.) Old Stickfingers

It’s weird for a single Magic: the Gathering card to make this year end list but to quote Marge Simpson: “I just think it’s neat.” You don’t need to even play Magic to understand the appeal of a grody old folk horror troll called Old Stickfingers. It was cool that Magic did folk horror this year but not as cool as there being a dude called Old Stickfingers. Thank you for your contributions to 2021, Old Stickfingers.

5.) Getting Back on Twitter

As sad and creepy and disappointing as Twitter can be, my year has been greatly enriched by being back there. There were a lot of old friends I don’t see often and a lot of productive conversation does happen there. It has provided me tremendous support as I try to knit together my long unraveled psyche. It also keeps me in touch with the CLASH books family. Which segues into the next entry.

6. CLASH books

I have long been kind of a weird uncle to this press. Christoph and Leza have long been dear friends but during the long genesis of Charcoal, I have felt as if I were on the press’ periphery. This year, things have been different. Though Charcoal was moved to October 2022, CLASH pulled out all the stops to make the limited edition’s launch work and start integrating me properly into the CLASH family. CLASH never stops growing and innovating and puts genuine care and attention into every project. Proud to be part of this with the limited edition of Charcoal and am even more psyched for the real launch in October.

7.) Titane

Occasionally, Cannes and I agree on a thing. They’re French and therefore there is a certain undercurrent of perversity with which I can resonate. But seldom have Cannes and I agreed this hard. To describe this film is to betray it. Few films have been so thoroughly unpredictable for me as Titane for me and fewer as cathartic. Titane is describable best by saying that it surfs the wavelengths of Buttgereit, Cronenberg and Sion Sono but takes cult canon in directions you cannot possibly anticipate. Edge is often measured in sex, violence, excrement and racial insensitivity and while sex and violence are prevalent, Titane transgresses deeper in so many ways that make filmmaker Julia du Corneau a true debaser.

8.) Bloodborne

My whole life, I have suffered from a major disability concerning visual, spatial and fine motor tasks. I am published in several countries but cannot tie a shoelace. Disability fucks with your head. It can make you feel like you’re leading a shameful double life where even proof of your competence is a grift, a way of pretending you’re something you’re not. This year I’ve been trying my damnedest to do what I can’t. So I tried Bloodborne.A 39 year old adult with a major coordination based disability is going to be ground into mincemeat by a From Software game. It’s practically physics. Bloodborne tested my coordination, challenged my timing and called out my lack of patience. But the great boss fights, the locales with design elements and sound design lifted straight from Herzog’s Nosferatu kept me resolute. I loved this game and when you love something, you will become your best and strongest self for it. Bloodborne made me strong enough for Bloodborne. A gothic grimdark masterwork that captures the cycle of escaping our nightmares, playing this game was one of the revelations of the year.

9.) EMDR Therapy

Death, rebirth, patience and the harrowing of our hells resonated through Bloodborne but echoed into my day to day life. 2021 is the year I found the strength to get better. Complex PTSD is a thief of time, a corroder of conscience and a breaker of bonds. In my book Crisis Boy, the elder god Nyarlathotep tells the protagonist “you know the difference between history and trauma? History stops happening.” My girlfriend Sophia has supported me personally and financially through some of the hardest years of my life and she deserves the company of someone who wakes from their nightmares. I deserve to wake from my nightmares and you do too. Following a bouncing ball on a computer monitor as I journey back into the hells I’ve crawled from shouldn’t bave enriched my life and knitted my brain but it’s working. I panic sometimes but I know that behind the panic, I am no longer being tortured by things that happened and can’t happen again. I learned to make and play games this year and I learned about the ones I play against myself and how to stop playing them. I go into next year as a person ready to better balance work and play and intertwine the two. I am grateful to even the challenges of 2021 but more grateful to all who made them surmountable. Have a Happy New Year and may 2022 be better.

2022 Workshop Schedule

2021 found me doing a lot to step up my game on the online writing workshops I teach. I added a new workshop variant, took more care and time with my recorded lectures and tried to add more one on one time with students. I’m going to emphasize all these things going forward and add occasional second lectures and games to the mix. Things are going to be different in 2022 in many ways.

Not the least significant of these is that I will be teaching every month. While I will be traveling some in July, there will still be a lower impact workshop, my first poetry and lyrics workshop. Other months that would be downtime, there will be the flash fiction and drabble workshops. Novella will be taught but will be on the rotation only four times. So, if you want to lock down your spot, prepay will help that happen. You can get into all four or all three novella and two others for an up front payment of 200 dollars. As always, donating slots to POC and LGBTQIA authors is welcome and I will donate an additional slot for each donation received.

The schedule is below

January

Novella workshop

Write a novella, starting at your pitch and guided through weekly milestones. Critiques and lectures weekly.

3 slots available $100

February 8th

Flash fiction and Drabble (6 slots)

With various prompts and exercises, create numerous very short pieces. Low impact and good for getting to know the format.

$25 until January 8th, 30 after

March 8th

Novella workshop (6 slots) See January

80 dollars until February 8th, 100 after

April 8th

Short Fiction (10 slots)

With prompts and exercises, create four short stories of up to 3000 words each

45 dollars until March 8th, 60 after

June 8th

Flash Fiction(10 slots) See February

25 dollars until May 8th, 30 after

Novella (10 slots)

80 dollars until May 8th, 100 after

July 8th

Poetry and Lyrics (10 slots)

Write poetry and lyrics using prompts, images and dream work.

45 dollars until June 8th, 60 after

August 8th

Novella workshop (10 slots) See January

80 dollars until July 8th, 100 after

September 8th

Flash fiction and drabble (12 slots) See February

25 dollars until August 8th, 30 afterwards

October 8th

Horror Tropes (13 slots)

With prompts, exercises and literary examples, explore the tropes of horror to expand and innovate.

45 dollars until September 8th, 60 afterwards

November 8th

Novella workshop (10 slots) See January

80 dollars until October 8th,100 after

December 8th

Poetry and lyrics (10 slots) See July

45 dollars until November 8th, 60 after

Email or Facebook message me if any of these sound interesting

Spooky News (*Spooky on Account of Scarcity and Urgency)

The next few weeks are going to be crazy. Halloween and early November get hectic for creators of horror and Bizarro stuff. There’s a lot you can get in on if you strike when the metaphorical iron is hot. Enrollment is open for three workshops, Charcoal preorders are running low and a group of spooky authors is coming together to entertain you. Let me explain more.

My October Workshop is almost done and that paves the way for November. November’s novella workshop is a place where writers can gather to create a book from stem to stern, starting at pitch and moving along to relevant milestones. Not everyone finishes their novella because well..you still gotta write the damn thing but I have seen plenty of book deals emerge from this. There’s one slot left, the cost is 100 dollars and it starts November 8th. Email me for details.

Early registration for December’s Flash fiction workshop and a January iteration of Novella workshop are also available. The cost for Flash fiction is 25 dollars until November 8th, 30 after and the cost for novella is 80 until December 8th, 100 after. Either of these is a fun experience and I hope you join me.

This Thursday and Friday, CLASH Books’ horror contingent are coming together to do a two night Zoom reading event. Thursday, I will be reading Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s chilling poem The Erl King as translated by Matthew Gregory Lewis, himself a legend in Gothic horror. This translation amps up the horror and urgency of this poem in wonderful ways. Other CLASH authors will be reading their own classic horror favorites and on Friday will share bits of their latest work. Tune in for this. Details below

https://www.clashbooks.com/clash/2021/10/21/spooky-story-hour

Lastly, if you want to read Charcoal, you will have to wait an entire year if you do not order one of the three remaining Limited editions. Get ’em now with a cool postcard or you will have to wait until next October.

https://www.clashbooks.com/new-products-2/garrett-cook-charcoal-preorder

Hope your Halloween is a safe and happy one.

Hooptober Reviews, Last Week for Charcoal and More

As well as an author and editor, I am a huge cinephile. Since I was a kid, film, in particular horror films have had a huge influence on me. Horror films have broadened my horizons, helped me find likeminded friends and inspired me deeply. So, each year, I try to fill my Halloween season with horror films, reviews and, when possible, excursions and events. This year, I saw that Letterboxd was doing a film challenge called Hooptober. This seemed like a fun and challenging new way to discover new and unusual films from throughout the genre’s history.

You can follow me on Letterboxd or you can check out my reviews here.

1 Poltergeist (1982)

My ★★★★ review of Poltergeist on Letterboxd https://boxd.it/29Rez3

2 Hunchback of the Morgue (1973)

My ★★★ review of Hunchback of the Morgue on Letterboxd https://boxd.it/2amghH

3 Tumbadd (2018)

My ★★★★★ review of Tumbbad on Letterboxd https://boxd.it/2av4gb

4 JD’s Revenge (1976)

My ★★★★ review of J.D.’s Revenge on Letterboxd https://boxd.it/2aGMdR

5 Titane (2021)

My ★★★★★ review of Titane on Letterboxd https://boxd.it/2aOAXf

6 Burial Ground (1981)

My ★ review of Burial Ground on Letterboxd https://boxd.it/2aRWC5

7 The Pit (1981)

My ★★★ review of The Pit on Letterboxd https://boxd.it/2bpRCH

8 Inside (2007)

My ★★★★ review of Inside on Letterboxd https://boxd.it/2bslC7

But of course, the Hooptober challenge is not the most important thing going on in October. In a few days, my book Charcoal’s small batch special edition will no longer be available. If you want to get this literary horror ghost story, you need to preorder now because the book will be unavailable until next Halloween. Supplies are limited as well. There are only about ten copies available so you should grab them now from CLASH. You’ll also get a gorgeous autographed post card.

https://www.clashbooks.com/new-products-2/garrett-cook-charcoal-preorder

This week is also the last chance to sign up for the October Horror Tropes workshop. There are only two slots left and the cost is just 50 dollars for a month of lectures and exercises on how to tell weirder, creepier and more imaginative stories. Come join me for this one. I’ve got some really fun things planned. On the 8th, early registration for November’s workshop also closes, so, get that discount while you can.

Thanks! Enjoy the film reviews and recs and hopefully I’ll see you in one of these workshops.

Look, Hustle Happens: I am Probably Not Young Stepdad But I Am Open for Pitch Consultations

Some of you might have noticed that my book Diary of a SoundCloud Rapper has the same title, premise and cover as books by a dozen or so authors in my immediate periphery. Upon some examination of the evidence at hand, it appears that I might not be SoundCloud Rapper Young Stepdad. From a straight up arithmetical standpoint, I don’t like my odds. Also, turns out that I might not be Slenderman either.

But what I am is happy to see what people find to be the least fun part of writing turned into something fun. This multitude of SoundCloud rappers manque and the real Young Stepdad (probably Kevin L Donihe) got together to do something fun and wild to attract attention to what promises to be an awesome book. It’s good to have a gimmick, it’s good to have fun with every part of the process and believe in yourself, your work and your experience.

The development process doesn’t have to be tedious or scary. Marketing doesn’t have to be a chore. Help is out there. To those who want to fine tune their premise, I offer pitch consultations. I know publishers and what they want. I know the creative process. I know when a writer’s eyes are bigger than their stomach on a project. 50 dollars gets you a one hour consultation on your pitch and guidance through writing a short synopsis for a back cover or query letter. You can schedule it with one click from the page below. Let’s get hustling

Book Announcement:Diary of a SoundCloud Rapper (Writing as Young Stepdad

I’ve kept this under wraps for a bit but I think we could all use a bit of good news. I’ve looked at horror from many angles from writing pulp mummy smut as Henry Price to intense literary horror in Charcoal, I explored a world where right wing conspiracy was insane reality in Crisis Boy and spoke through the voice of a possessive and depraved haunted house in A God of Hungry Walls. But as the world started to really lose its shit, I wrote a book that captured the grasping fame hungry sociopathy of our time through the perspective of SoundCloud rapper Young Stepdad. While I am putting this out under a pseudonym, I decided, with the and guidance of thoe closest to me that I should still step up and own this shit. Enjoy Diary of a SoundCloud Rapper.

It was not easy to come forward as the author of this piece but I think this is worth getting excited about.

Interview and Reading

A couple weeks ago, podcaster Steve Becker put up the most thorough interview with me that’s ever been conducted on his podcast Horror Makes Us Happy. It was odd to explore my connections and roots in the genre so deeply and brought out what I feel were some very thoughtful responses. If you’re interested in such a deep dive into the origins of a horror and Bizarro author, check it out here. If you are a horror author and get the chance, you should do this podcast.

Horror Makes us Happy Interview

Also, this Friday at 4, I will be reading as part of this year’s Killercon Austin online. Come listen and get a peek into a world just on the periphery of our own, an excerpt from a book that never was that touches upon the realest of horrors.

Workshop slots and special editions of Charcoal remain so get ’em while you can!

Fall Workshops Open For Registration: Flash Fiction and Horror Tropes

Most of you who follow me on any social media know that I run various writing workshops. My years as an editor and mentor have given me a lot of insight and experience to pass on. I do not pretend to be a paragon of success but I have helped many careers begin and restart. I am more grateful for this than most any of my personal achievements. While I value the freedom to create my own art, the capacity to help others make theirs happen is so much bigger and broader.

I will be running workshops until November, when I take a one month break. Next week, my novella workshop begins, wherein a group of authors each develop a novella. I have seen many books finish during the duration of this workshop and even more that finish the book up within a month. I have three slots left in this one and each comes at the cost of 100 dollars. During early registration the price of novella workshops is discounted to 80. November’s novella workshop is open to early registration so you can enroll at that price. There are 9 slots available

A cheaper and more casual option comes in September with the flash fiction and drabble workshop. I was going to take the month off but a student asked if i could run this and it looks like there is some interest. I’m going to provide suggestions, prompts, moodscapes and exercises to create several pieces of flash fiction and drabble. There are seven slots available and the cost is 30 dollars. If this works out, I will be teaching another of these in January.

Lastly, I celebrate each October by teaching Horror Tropes. This workshop examines horror archetyoes and how to both utilize and break them down. This is one of my favorites and I always see the most unique and fun pieces out of this. There are 7 slots available for this one and the early registration cost is 40 dollars, available until September 8th when the price jumps to 50.

These months are going to be packed and I hope you join me for them. Remember that I match any donated workshop slots with an additional free one, so a single donation gets two LGBTQIA writers a slot.