The world is awful, so here is a Los Nefilim snippet for you:

I know a lot of you haven’t had the opportunity to read Carved from Stone and Dream yet [obligatory plug to add it to your Goodreads list or to please pre-order], but I’m busy working on the third Los Nefilim novel, A Song with Teeth.

I know everything is terrible right now, and I needed something to lift my own mood. I’m not sure if this scene will make it the final draft of A Song with Teeth yet, but if you want to see Diago and Miquel in a quiet moment when the world isn’t throwing bullets and evil at them, here is a non-spoilery scene from the current WIP:

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Diago reclined on a divan and held the locket up to the lamplight. The gold chain caught the firelight and winked in the bedroom’s darkness. “Did Francois say anything else?”

Miquel took off his shirt and tossed it over the back of a chair. “No.” He came to the divan and gently extracted the locket’s chain from Diago’s fingers. “Enough work.” Turning to one side, he placed the necklace on their night table. Then he leaned over Diago and held his gaze. “What did I promise you this afternoon?”

“To wine me and dine me and whatever comes next.” Diago noted how the shadows played over Miquel’s torso. He reached up and traced his finger over his husband’s dark skin. “But a bottle of beer and a cold sandwich are poor substitutes for wining and dining.”

“There is a war going on, comrade.”

“Excuses, excuses.”

A wicked light gleamed in Miquel’s eyes as he straightened. “I see you’re going to play hard to get.” He went to the wardrobe and withdrew his bag. “I thought this might happen. So while I was at the black market this afternoon, I took the liberty to do a little shopping for us.” He returned to the divan with a bottle, a corkscrew, and a wine glass. “Hold this for me.”

Diago pushed himself upright on the seat and accepted the empty glass. “Is that—”

“Château Margaux.” Miquel poured. “Say you love me.”

“I love you.” Diago swirled the wine gently and inhaled the aroma. This particular vintage was perfumed with an earthy scent accompanied by subtle hints of violets and oak.

Miquel watched him with a smile. “Are you going to sniff it or drink it?”

Diago lifted the glass to his lips and allowed himself a single sip. The sweetness flowed over his palate and filled his mouth. He closed his eyes and relished the luxurious flavor. The wine resurrected days long gone when they had lived in Santuari. In Catalonia, they had spent their evenings in wine and song, rather than intrigues and war.

Miquel sat beside him, and Diago opened his eyes. He noted Miquel held no glass of his own. “Aren’t you going to have some?”

“I’d rather taste it on your lips.” Without waiting for a response, he leaned forward and bestowed the gentlest of kisses on Diago’s mouth before withdrawing. He licked his upper lip and pretended to evaluate the flavor. “Hmm, sweet, not overly so. There is just a hint of acidity, but I can’t tell if that is you or the wine. Take another sip.”

“Are you trying to get me drunk?”

Miquel leaned close and brushed his thumb across Diago’s mouth. “Hush and play the game.”

More intoxicated by Miquel’s presence than the wine, Diago took another sip. Miquel smiled and leaned close. It was a game that lasted deep into the night.

Hot shots: Marianne, Ghoul, The Wrath, Belzebuth, and Tigers Are Not Afraid

Looking for the spooky stuff?

Then you’re in the right place. I wanted to review each of these individually, but so far, I’ve only had time to review one. So I’m going to give you hot shots of highly recommended movies to get you through the month of October:

Netflix:

Marianne [French] is a rocket to ride. Filled with jump scares, a twisty-turny story that will hold you riveted from beginning to end, and a positively stellar cast, Marianne is on Netflix and definitely should be on your to-watch list. Think Hill House, but better than Hill House, and with the perfect ending.

Ghoul [Indian] is one that I saw a year ago, but that makes it no less worthy. It’s still streaming on Netflix and if you want a tense, edge of your seat flick, Ghoul will deliver.

Shudder:

The Wrath [Korean] is a ghost/possession story that will keep you guessing until the very end. Nothing is ever as it seems with this strange, haunted family.

Belzebuth [Mexican] is one that I reviewed in full right here.

Tigers Are Not Afraid [Mexican] is a dark fairy tale on par with Guillermo del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone. It’s a story about children for adults and is both magical and tragic in every way. I hope to have time to review it in full later this month. This movie devastated me, both with it’s depiction of children caught in the drugs and the brutal honesty with which Issa López treats her subject. It’s a must see.

That’s it for now. I’ve got the final page proofs for Carved from Stone and Dream, and I’m hard at work on A Song with Teeth. I’ll have more for you later …

Watch for me.

A Story is born at Bishop O'Connell's blog: A Quiet Pint

I don’t usually write too many guest posts nowadays, but Bishop is a very special person, who bends over backwards to help others. He kindly offered me a spot on his blog to kick off his new series, A Story is Born, and I couldn’t say no.

At Bishop’s blog, I tell you how my Los Nefilim series came about, and I also talk about how to deal with rejections, especially for those stories that are close to our hearts:

In the beginning …

King Solomon was dying. That was how the first incarnation of Los Nefilim began. It went something like this:

In the garden beyond my window, a night bird cried a sublime song while in the distance, a guard called the watch. Otherwise, the palace slept as I, Solomon, third King of all Israel, lay dying with only an angel at my side.

She was a small creature, this angel of mine who cradled my hand, her wings folded demurely at her back. When I was a young man, the tip of her head barely reached my collarbone. Now she towered over my deathbed. She seemed larger somehow; an illusion amplified by the darkness and my fear of the dark.

Except that book didn’t sell … [Read the rest at A Quiet Pint]

Belzebuth [movie review]

No dejes de razar — don’t stop praying

No dejes de razar — don’t stop praying

If you’re on Shudder, you might want to check out a couple of their newest offerings. I watched three over the weekend and I’m beginning this week’s movie reviews with my favorite of the three, Belzebuth.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a sucker for a good exorcism flick—for obvious reasons—and Belzebuth hit all the sweet spots for me. It is a movie that could have easily descended into a gratuitous gore-fest. Instead, director Emilio Portes shows a restrained hand toward the violence to shift the focus to the actual story and the backstory of the characters, which is full of twists, some of which are surprising—not necessarily in the ohgod-wtf-did-i-just-see/jaw-dropping-scene-like-Hereditary (and those of you that saw the movie know what I’m talking about), but more in line with Cool!-That-was-neat-and-nicely-done!

And I’ll take nicely done any day of the week, because Portes took a tired trope and gave it the human aspect that is often forgotten in horror films. I’ve always argued that one of the aspects of writing that makes Stephen King’s books so enjoyable to people who don’t normally consume horror is the way in which he writes characters that are both relatable and sympathetic. Guillermo del Toro also knows how to draw the viewer into his stories through the characters. Both King and del Toro take the time to make the reader/viewer care so that when the bad things start to happen, we’re sucked into the story and rooting for the good guys.

Portes has achieved the same effect with Belzebuth, and he’s done it with an excellent cast that begins with Joaquín Cosío as officer Emmanuel Ritter (and for those of you that keep asking me what actor should play Los Nefilim’s Guillermo, I can tell you that I’ve finally found him). Cosío is perfect as the loving father turned ruthless investigator.

The story begins in Mexico but reaches across the border into America and Cosío reflects both worlds in his language and his knowledge of how the two cultures intersect … or don’t. When the paranormal forensics investigator, Ivan Franco (Tate Ellington), wants to know why the police never searched for missing children in a certain town, Ritter very matter-of-factly explains that it is a narco town and not even the police will go there.

As a secular protagonist sucked into a supernatural war, Cosío gives the viewer the perfect shift from disbelief into belief, and he morphs from the angelic protector into the tough cop and an antagonist with a magnificent performance. Ellington is often overshadowed by Cosío’s gravitas; although to be fair, Ellington’s character is in the role of the outsider looking in. José Sefami as Demetrio, on the other hand, is a veteran actor, and he is the perfect sidekick for Cosío’s Ritter. Unfortunately, Demetrio is usually fending off the brass for Ritter, so it’s not until Tobin Bell shows up as the rogue priest Vasilio Canetti that Cosío’s Ritter gets another actor who can play off Cosío’s strengths. The two compliment one another with excellent performances.

Portes helps all of this along with just the right camera angles and lighting to offset his actors and their performances. The script gives the audience slower moments that enable us to care about Ritter and his companions without wallowing in melodrama. I was invested the characters and definitely rooting for them.

There is violence. The opening scene in the nursery is made more horrific because you CAN’T see what’s happening. Portes delivers the horror through the screams and faces of those helpless to stop the carnage, yet he’s also careful and doesn’t drag out these scenes to the point of absurdity. If you want a good example of excellent pacing in a horror film, Belzebuth succeeds beautifully.

The review at Bloody Disgusting has a few mild spoilers, but Dax gives a good overview of the film’s strengths and weaknesses. I agree with everything but the rating.

Four skulls out of five. Highly recommended.

SALE: Where Oblivion Lives (ebook) on sale for $1.99

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If you’ve missed all the announcements everywhere else, here is a quick post and reminder that the first Los Nefilim novel (ebook), Where Oblivion Lives, is currently on sale for $1.99. If you’re looking to get into the series before Carved from Stone and Dream is published in February 2020, here is your chance to do it on the cheap!

For a limited time (August 30, 2019-October 1, 2019), Where Oblivion Lives (ebook) is on sale for $1.99 at all your favorite outlets: Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes and Noble, Google Play, HarperCollins, and Kobo.

I’d also like to take this chance to thank everyone for the overwhelming response to the newsletter request to share the word about the sale. You guys are simply tremendous!

If you missed the newsletter, I published this one publicly so you may read and share at will.

Please help me keep the momentum going throughout the month. If you happen to see me tweet or talk about the sale and you have a moment, I’d greatly appreciate any RTs or mentions.

Thank you all again!

If this series becomes a success, it’s because of you!

A few updates on the newsletter, cover art for Carved from Stone and Dream, and AtomaCon

I’ve been primarily posting on Twitter, but I know not everyone follows me there, so here are a few tidbits you might have missed:

The B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog gave Carved from Stone and Dream a cover launch last week. See Second Verse: Revealing Carved from Stone and Dream for the new cover and a very brief excerpt from the upcoming novel’s prologue.

Pre-orders are love, so if you’re really looking forward to Carved from Stone and Dream, please consider pre-ordering the book from your favorite retailer. I usually send people to the HarperCollins website, because they have links to all the places, including IndieBound. Pre-orders help my publisher gauge interest in the novel, and those numbers also count toward my first week of sales so if you can, please pre-order.

Newsletter subscribers can look forward to a much longer excerpt from Carved from Stone and Dream that will feature everyone’s favorite long suffering spouse, Miquel. That nugget will be coming to your email boxes soon. If you haven’t already subscribed, go to my home page and subscribe by the end of this week so you can be in loop! If you’re worried about being inundated with weekly updates, never fear—you won’t be getting those from me. My newsletters are often related to news and events, and you can unsubscribe at any time, and my feelings won’t be hurt … okay, maybe a little, but that’s okay, I’ll get over it.

On November 22-24, I’ll be attending AtomaCon in Charleston, SC. The guest of honor this year is Myke Cole and the special author guest is Faith Hunter. It’ll be a great weekend, and I hope to see you if you’re down that way. AtomaCon will be my last con for 2019.

Book plates with some kick. I’m working with Jihane Mossalim to design original art for book plates that I can sign and send out to people outside the states. Newsletter subscribers will be the first to see these, so you know the drill … go ahead and subscribe if you haven’t already.

Signed copies of Where Oblivion Lives are at:

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Scuppernong Books in Greensboro, NC has ONE SIGNED COPY. If you go to their website and scroll down, you can find their email address—they do ship books.

Barnes and Nobel at the Friendly Center, 3102 Northline Avenue, Greensboro, NC 27408 — 336-854-4200 has TWO SIGNED COPIES. I couldn’t locate an email address for the B&N at Friendly, but their phone number is there if you want to see if they’ll ship a copy to you.

I redesigned the website a little bit in order to make things easier to find. I streamlined my sources so that if you want to see the sources and inspirations for the different Los Nefilim novels, you can check them out and know which books were used for each novel. The Los Nefilim series also has its own page now with links to each of the books and their pages. I’ll be including excerpts on the book pages as we get closer to the publication date of each novel, but as usual: newsletter subscribers will see the lengthier excerpts first.

Of course, while all this is going on, I’m working on the third Los Nefilim novel, A Song with Teeth, which is coming along very nicely, and working on promo materials for Carved from Stone and Dream’s upcoming 2020 release.

As always, watch for me …

Bucket List Movies: The Thirteenth Warrior, Das Boot, Taxi Driver, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Okay, because I know someone will ask: I’m not dying.

Even so, I do have a huge list of movies that I’ve always wanted to see but never have for one reason or another, and I figured why wait until I only had a limited amount of time to live before trying to cram them all in at once? So I’m starting now.

These will all be, for the most part, older movies and they’ll be splayed across wide genres, because I love a little bit of everything. I’ll give them to you with mini-reviews, and if it’s an older flick, I’ll let you know how well it holds up to a modern audience.

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The Thirteenth Warrior (based on the Michael Crichton novel Eaters of the Dead)—This is a movie that is definitely worth your time, primarily for the Vikings and Antonio Banderas. From a historical aspect, it has its ups and downs.

If you want to see every type of armor all mashed into one movie, this is your flick. Beowulf actually takes place in the 6th century, but in The Thirteenth Warrior, you’ve got a good sample of everything from 10th to 15th century armor. Also, there is no way that Antonio Banderas threw on that chain mail shirt while running, but I will forgive the error and suspend belief because it is Antonio Banderas, and if anyone could toss a chain mail shirt over his head in hurry, Antonio could do it. Don’t @ me.

However, if you shut off your history-brain, it’s still a good movie. In spite of all my ribbing, and the film’s really weak premise, the film works primarily due to a strong cast with a ton of chemistry. It’s a cool re-imagining of the Beowulf tale, and if the antagonists had been stronger, the plot might have rocked my world. As it was, The Thirteenth Warrior, was entertaining and well worth my time.

Recommended

Das Boot—With the new series coming to Hulu, I wanted to finally sit down and watch the movie from beginning to end. I made it through the first half. The acting was top-notch, but they were Nazis (although they tried to portray them as military men not necessarily married to the Nazi ideology, they were still fighting for Nazis in a Nazi war, so Nazis), and because of that, I wasn’t really on the characters’ side. None of them were either likable enough or interesting enough to engage me, and I didn’t care if they lived or died, which led me to lose interest in the overall plot, so I did not finish.

DNF/YMWV*

Taxi Driver—was exceptionally innovative when it premiered. De Niro gives a stellar performance and CYBILL SHEPHERD! Unfortunately, you can’t turn on the news today without seeing another Travis Bickle splayed across the screen, so I had to switch it off.

DNF/YMWV*

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Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf—Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton at their best and most sublime. If you’re into black comedy, this is your gig. The daughter of the university’s president, Martha, and her husband (the university’s history professor), George, invite a young couple to their house for a night of fun and games.

Only it’s mind games.

Everyone is hysterically drunk, secrets of ambition are revealed and while she has but a small role, Sandy Dennis was positively hysterical as Nick’s wife, Honey. Released in 1966, the film has held up exceptionally well, primarily due to Ernest Lehman’s faithful screen adaptation of Edward Albee’s play.

Highly recommended

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*DNF/YMMV — Did not finish/Your mileage may vary

A snippet from A SONG WITH TEETH

All I have for you this week is a snippet from my current work-in-progress, A Song with Teeth, the third Los Nefilim novel. This comes from the first page and may or may not make it through the final edit:

“I will tell you a story,” the Nazi murmurs in his captive’s ear. “About two brothers …”

He pauses and stares outside the window, seemingly lost in the thread of his thoughts. For several minutes, the only noise is the susurrations of snow, whispering across the glass.

From somewhere within the great house, a door is shut, rousing the Nazi from his dream. He shakes his head and smiles a terrible smile full of bitterness and teeth—such long teeth he has …

The captive shivers.

The Nazi’s lips widens and now he grins. “A story about two brothers under night and fog …”

CODENAME: NIGHTINGALE
30 December 1943
Mauthausen Concentration camp

Prologue

They call him the Nightingale. It is his codename and it follows him into the camps.

In the beginning days of the conflict, the Nightingale is a new member of Los Nefilim, not yet tested. His handler is known as the Violinist. They barely had time to know one another before the war came, but when it did, the Violinist gave the Nightingale the most precious of gifts: his trust.

The other members of Los Nefilim call the Violinist a fool for assigning his MACHIAVELLI line in Paris to the Nightingale, but the Violinist is an old nefil of rank—none dare do more than grumble. The Nightingale is entrusted with composing songs, the first notes designed to be the Morse code that will convey messages to the Resistance. As his music is played on German radios, the Nightingale slowly earns Los Nefilim’s respect.

When the MACHIAVELLI line is compromised by outside sources, the Violinist manages to send a message. It comes too late for the Nightingale to evade the Gestapo, but the Violinist’s instructions are clear: Hold out for forty-eight hours, then tell them what they want to know. If they take you to the camps, find the Spaniards. You are one of us. We will watch for you.

And that’s the work-in-progress. I have a lot more and this is heavily edited, but it gives you an idea of how the third book begins. All of this might stay, or it might change drastically in the final edits.

Hagazussa [movie reivew]

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One of Shudder’s newest entries, Hagazussa, is written and directed by Lukas Feigelfeld. The poster claims it is “A SPOOKY, SPELLBINDING AUDIOVISUAL SYMPHONY” and “MIND-BLOWINGLY CREEPY.” Reading those blurbs now, I realize that neither mention the story, which is probably apropos, because while the quotes aren’t lying to you, the movie is spooky and creepy, any evidence of a story is almost nonexistent.

You will find spoilers in this review, so if you’re one of those NEVER SHOW ME SPOILERS people, turn back now. That’s all the warning you’ll get, so off we go …

Set in the fifteenth century, the film focuses on a mother and daughter that live in a remote cabin outside of the village. In the opening sequence, Martha takes Albrun sledding, but she never moves close to the other mothers, and Albrun, for her part, reaches the top of the hill to find all the other children are gone. So the idea that even among others, they are alone is very nicely handled.

After a long spooky walk through the woods, they arrive home from the sledding trip. That same evening, three villagers turn up outside their cabin. The men are wearing animal heads for some bizarre reason that is never quite explained. They bang on the door and circle the cabin threateningly while accusing Martha of being a witch. Then they go away and that’s that. Seriously. They’re never seen or referenced again.

Shortly thereafter, Albrun’s mother suffers from a strange disease. The doctor and a nun come to the cabin, examine the mother, and then they leave the child, Albrun, to take care of her. It seemed … odd to me that they would leave such a small child with a desperately ill mother, but hey, maybe it’s a cultural thing, so I let it slide. Later, Albrun awakens to find her mother gone. She leaves the cabin and follows her mother’s trail to find Martha has died in a bog with snakes crawling over her body.

Then the film flashes forward fifteen years to Albrun living alone in the same cabin with her infant daughter. No explanation is given for the infant’s presence. We never see or hear about the child’s father, but Albrun is a good and patient mother, except for those times when she leaves the infant alone for hours and hours, because who does that?

Anyway, a village woman named Swinda seemingly befriends Albrun, only to betray her and facilitate her rape by another villager. Let me pause here to state that nothing in this film is graphic, nor does that hurt the movie. Aleksandra Cwen, as the adult Albrun, reflects the horror of the act with her expressions.

However, this is where Hagazussa seemed to lose me. Maybe it’s because I’m tired of seeing rape being used a character device to bring out the evil in a woman. In Hagazussa, the act is given double duty to show us first Swinda’s wickedness and then as the reason for Albrun’s decline into madness, or witchcraft, or something.

Needless to say, now that she’s been raped, all of Albrun’s evil inclinations are released. She takes her revenge, not with nefarious witchcraft, but by placing a dead rat in the village water supply, which, as it turns out, is actually more effective. When the villagers, including the wicked Swinda, die, Albrun wanders into the woods, eats a mushroom, and falls into madness, or witchcraft, or something, we’re never exactly sure.

And that fairly sums up Hagazussa in its entirety. Stunning cinematography of the Alps and its dense forests—lots and lots of haunted views of the Alps. Long, long atmospheric shots ... loooonng atmospheric shots of adult Albrun standing, sitting, walking, leaving her infant daughter alone in a crib for hours and hours and hours at a time (seriously, who does that?), Albrun having a sensual moment beside her goat (don't ask), Albrun going mad in the woods … you get the picture.

The imagery is meant to evoke Gothic dread, including a scene with a priest in the church’s ossuary, and while all of these moments perform a slow-burn of creepiness, the tension never quite results in any type of cathartic release for the viewer. Each scene seems meticulously designed to move toward that magical moment when all the pieces fall into place, but the puzzle remains broken right until the end.

It would have been great if all that atmosphere had added up to a plot of some substance. As it is, it's more of a character study (and I don't mind those), but Hazazussa went on far longer than it needed to and quite often felt like a series of haunting shorts without ever reaching any form of cohesion.

Rating: YMMV (i.e. give it a view, your mileage may vary)