Home for the Holidays (5)

Hey everyone, apologies that it took so long to get this chapter out, but I was spending time with my family and didn’t find much time to write. If you’re enjoying the story, consider checking out my free audio drama A Man of the Mountain. The first four episodes are streaming for free on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and most other streaming platforms! Also, if you are enjoying the story, please let me know by commenting hear or sending me a message on Twitter!

Links to Catch upChapter 1/Chapter 2/Chapter 3 /Chapter 4

Chapter 5 – A Holiday Miracle

Nick slipped and slid his way to the car and fumbled with the ancient trunk. With the freezing cold and the decrepit state of the vehicle, it felt more akin to opening a tomb. The ground shook with thunderous footsteps as the second beast stomped its way out of the house. Despite the cold, sweat ran in rivulets down Nick’s back. “Come on you bastard, open up.” He kicked at the trunk’s lock and it sprung open with a pained groan.

James fired his shotgun again and the cacophony it made was swallowed up by the howling wind that had grown around them. The beast responded with an aggravated roar. Nick looked up from the trunk just in time to see the second wendigo advancing on James. It was larger than the first, and horrible spurs of bone poked through the ragged skin on its back. The creature crossed the distance from the house to James in a few short strides, gripped the barrel of the shotgun and bent it backwards with great, rending force.

“Do you have any idea how much that cost?” asked James, backing away from the creature.

The wendigo chuckled and then spoke in a voice that echoed through several ethereal planes at once. “It’s a small price to pay for what you did to my partner.” The creature held a long and deadly finger out towards the fried wendigo hanging off the roof. “By my mark, you’ve still got a balance for me to collect.”

“Hey, Nick, they talk.” James’s voice was dazed and full of fear.

     “Great, kid, keep him busy!” Nick swept aside holy symbols, a few landmines and a jar of holy water to pop open the trunk’s side panel. Harpoons spilled out, clattering far louder than he would have liked. He picked one up, hands shaking and tried to jam it in the barrel. “Of all the fucking times to get the shakes!” He slammed his hand down on the metal siding of the car, trying to beat the tremor out.  

     “I’ll deal with you in a minute,” called the wendigo in a strange warbling tone.

     Each word vibrated the edges of Nick’s skull, making it feel as though they could crack at any moment. He peaked out from behind the trunk and saw James firmly in the creature’s grasp, growing paler by the moment. The Wendigo looked at James, curious, like a dog about to rip a chew toy to shreds. Nick clenched his fist, trying to keep it steady and jammed a harpoon in the barrel of the rifle. There was a hiss of gas filling the firing chamber and he breathed a brief sigh of relief.

     The wendigo made a strange, high-pitched whistle that carried through the wind as if it weren’t there.

     “Hey, can you keep it down?” shouted Nick. “You’ll wake the neighbors and I have a raging hangover.” He shouldered the harpoon rifle and pointed it at the creature.

     The wendigo turned to him. “Really? Can’t wait your turn?” It flung James without ceremony into the garage door where he crumpled, motionless.

     Nick took a deep breath, steadying the rifle as the wendigo approached. The creature cocked its head inquisitively as if it weren’t staring down the barrel of a weapon. It took a few more lumbering steps and Nick couldn’t wait any longer. He closed his finger around the trigger and let the harpoon fly. With the short distance, it had less time to curve and stuck right between the creature’s ribs.

     The wendigo growled, low and angry, then reached a hand down and plucked the harpoon out. Black blood oozed from the wound, but otherwise, it seemed unaffected. It chuckled. “I thought I asked you to wait.”

     Nick bent down to pick up another harpoon, but the creature moved with surprising speed. By the time his fingers were closing around the shaft, it had him. A cold, clawed hand wrapped around his chest and squeezed, pushing all the air out of his lungs. Holiday stars danced at the edges of his vision, twirling and spinning in a dazzling display of fading consciousness.

     The wendigo turned him, so that Nick was looking at the still-smoldering corpse of the other beast. “Any idea how long we’ve been together?” asked the wendigo in a deep, gravelly voice.

     Nick tried to answer, but nothing more than a wheeze came out.

     “It was rhetorical. I come from a long line of creatures just like me, and we all grow up knowing your name. You think we look scary? Imagine what our people think of you.” The creature spat a black gob of something awful into the snow.

     “Thank. You,” managed Nick, seeing spots jump up before his eyes. “Flattered. Very flattered.”

     James groaned in the snow, trying to make his way over to them.

     “Don’t even think about it, child. Try to relax, it’ll all be over soon.”

     A black tunnel closed in on the edges of Nick’s vision, chasing the features of the snowy world around him away.

     “Oh no, you’re not getting off that easy.” The wendigo loosened its grip, allowing sweet oxygen to flood Nick’s lungs.

     “Five pages,” Nick panted. “Five pages, and never once did he mention wendigos love god-damned monologuing.”

     The creature clucked its tongue and turned Nick to face it. The stink of decay and rot was overpowering, and Nick watched as a maggot circled the inside of the beast’s eye. “You don’t like creatures like me, do you?” The wendigo’s voice was soft and almost playful.

     “No shit, Sherlock. Don’t have to be a psychic being to figure that out.” Nick tried to look away from the rotting face, but it kept moving to be in his eyeline.

     “Let’s take a look at what we have in store for you.” The creature’s eyes glowed hot like fire.

     James found his feet and ran towards the wendigo, knife in one hand. With a lazy sweep, the wendigo batted him away and sent him crashing into the car door. “Please, stop trying to do that. You got lucky with my partner.”

     James moaned and then fell still.

     The wendigo huffed. “Now, back to business.” The glow in its eyes grew to a fiery, deep red and Nick felt it burning into his own gaze. It was a strange feeling, like a hot poker had been shoved in the back of his brain. He could feel something reaching backward through memories and then forward through a substance he couldn’t quite understand.

     An image of a mountaintop covered in blood flashed before his eyes. Liquid dripped down the pristine white slopes, carving deep, red trenches down its side. The image changed and he was sitting in his childhood body, hiding underneath a table while a thunderous shouting match played out overhead. He could feel the fear as if it were happening in the present moment rather than a memory. The scene shifted a final time, filling the air with the hot, sickly stink of the jungle. Insects buzzed about around and his skin felt like it was on fire.

     “My, my,” the wendigo exhaled heavily, breathing the cold fury of a winter storm back into Nick’s world. Disappointment and malice flickered across the creature’s face, vying for dominance.

     “What the hell was that?” gasped Nick, his heart pounding furiously.

     “I’m in a bit of a quandary here, Mr. Ventner. While killing you would bring me great joy, your future holds so much pain. It would be a shame to rob you of it.” The wendigo’s body shuddered as it took a contemplative breath.

     “Get it over with you Ghost of Christmas Past, Dickensian fuck.” Nick spat bile and blood into the snow.

     “A decision like this requires deliberation.” The red glow in the wendigo’s eyes darkened. The horrible stench of its breath enveloped every word. “No, I think you should live, Mr. Ventner.” The words clearly caused the creature great pain. “You will live to experience the horrors I have just seen.”

     “Well, I wish I could say that was true for both of us.”

     The wendigo recoiled as James pushed the barrel of a pistol against the back of its neck.

     “Stronger than he looks,” commented Nick and shut his eyes tight.

     “And I always pack a spare.” James couldn’t help but grin. “Bend this.” He pulled the trigger, spewing red hot fire and a thermite-loaded, hollow point slug from the end of the pistol’s barrel. The wendigo’s surprise quickly turned to pain as its skin melted away, exploding outward. Fire and blood coated the fresh, white snow.

     Nick felt the creature’s claw loosen just as warm goo blanketed him in an all-too-familiar, unpleasant fashion. He fell backward, landing hard on the driveway. The wind went out of him. Stars flashed in the darkness of his closed eyes, but they quickly faded as he regained his breath. With a freezing hand, he wiped the gore from his face and opened his eyes.

     The body of the headless wendigo toppled backward and caught fire like a tinderbox. Soon it was blazing on the front lawn like an ancient bon fire. Nick coughed and spluttered, wanting nothing more than to be curled up with a fresh handle back in his flat watching television re-runs. “Bend this? Really?” he managed through labored breaths.

     James wiped bits of wendigo off the end of the pistol with a dirty rag. “It’s a work in progress.”

     “Clearly an early prototype.”

     “Fuck off, Nick. Show a little gratitude.”

     Next door, the neighbor’s front door opened again. “What the hell, Bill? You can’t barbecue on the—” The man stopped mid-sentence, staring at the carnage. With both wendigos dead, there was nothing preventing him from seeing it all. Once corpse still smoldered, hanging from the roof, and the other decorated the lawn in horrifying globs and bits. “I-I-“ he started, and faltered. “Martha, call the police!” He slammed the front door.

     “That’s our cue.” Nick stood up. “James, get the car running.”

     James looked to the car, and to the mess on the front lawn. “Right, probably smart.” Both men did their best to clean off what they could, but the second they climbed into the sedan, it was clear, some smells would never leave. James turned the key and the engine guttered to life. “Small miracles,” he said.

     “This is why we never do charity work.” In the absence of immediate pressing danger, a furious pain returned to Nick temples. “Let’s head back to my flat. I’d say we’ve each earned a bottle after this.”

     James looked out the window as they backed away. Childhood memories of the house and time spent with his aunt and uncle flooded back. “Yeah, a bottle sounds nice.” He stepped on the gas and they sped out of the suburbs. Houses flashed by in a blur and as they neared the freeway, James saw the pulsing red and blue lights of police cars. “Wonder how they’re going to explain that.”

     Nick sighed. “Oh, they’ll find a way.” He put his head against the cold window. “Mutated bears from a nuclear test site is my bet.”

     James scoffed. “You really think they’ll buy that?”

     “People will believe anything to avoid a scarier truth.” Nick watched the flakes fall out of the sky and thought about what the wendigo had seen. Enough pain to let me live. Only one way to chase off a prophecy like that. “James, let’s get a road beer along the way. The Haven has to be open.”

     James shook his head. “Whatever you say, master.” There was heavy sarcasm, but also obedience in the words. Despite his best efforts, the apprentice was learning.     

     “Wake me when we get there.” Nick shut his eyes.

     “Sure thing.”

     “And James,” Nick started, nearly falling into sleep mid-sentence, “happy holidays.”

The End

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Enjoy what you’ve read so far? Please share it with your friends or anyone else that might enjoy it. Also consider checking out my published works for purchase here: https://www.amazon.com/Ashton-Macaulay/e/B07C1J3V8P

Home for the Holidays (4)

Hello friend! If you enjoy my writing, consider checking out my new audio drama, A Man of the Mountain. The first four episodes are available free on Anchor.Fm and most streaming platforms, and the full production is now up for purchase on Audible for $13! If you can’t buy it, no big deal, the best way to support me is to share pieces you like. Every share, like, demonic circle, helps, and I really appreciate it.

Happy holidays!

Links to Catch up: Chapter 1/Chapter 2/Chapter 3

4 – To Hunt a Wendigo

James kept watch with the shotgun while Nick washed his face off with cold water from the sink. Despite his desperate attempts, even a modicum of sobriety eluded him. The room spun gently on its axis and Nick hung his head in his hands trying to process what exactly was happening. James had shown him the page with the Wendigo several times, but none of it was making any sense. “Come on, buddy, come back to me.” Nick slapped himself, hard.

     “Who are you talking to?”

     “My brain.” Nick tried to focus. He remembered the creature from the car again and the radio going all static. “Ha!” he exclaimed. “I was right!”

     “Yes, now quiet down and get a weapon of some type. We need to find the other one before it causes more damage.”

     “I had a weapon.” Nick pointed to the harpoon lodged in the ceiling, then, fishing around in his waistband, grabbed one of the many knives he had concealed. “I’ve got a few of them, because I knew I was right!”

     James rolled his eyes. “We need to find the other one.”

     “Find the other one?” asked Nick. “We need to get the fuck out of here. These are psychic beings, very dangerous, and more importantly, no one is paying us to take them out.”

     “Really? You’re going to bring up pay at a time like this?”

     “Don’t tell me your on about holiday charity? Is there a better time to bring up pay? If we start killing beasties for free, we’re going to be full of good will on an otherwise empty stomach.” Nick felt his guts slosh at the mention and decided to leave them out of future invectives.

     “That’s my family, Nick.”

“They were your family, James. I’m sorry.” Even as he said it, he knew he had been too harsh.

     A tear welled in James’s eye, but he blinked it back. “You’re an asshole, you know that?” He moved out of the bathroom, swinging the shotgun’s tactical light back and forth.

     “Believe me, I know.” Being an asshole was a basic requirement in his trade. Nick stepped forward and picked up the spent harpoon gun on the ground. Carefully, he tucked it under one arm, then pried the harpoon out of the ceiling, sending more plaster to the floor.

     “How is that thing still in working order?”

     “Old faithful,” Nick patted the gun, “will be around long after you’re dead.” He jammed the harpoon back in the barrel. It clicked into place and there was the sound of hissing gas as pressure built up in the firing chamber.  “This will finish what your pea shooter started.”

     James scoffed. “Wendigos hate fire, you ass. This is going to do—”

     A roar from outside cut them off.

     “You ready for this?” asked Nick.

     “Not really.”

     “Yeah, me neither.” Nick pushed the harpoon gun against his shoulder and ran out the open door. The wind whipped through his clothes immediately, bringing a bitter chill and the closest thing he could find to a hangover cure. Snow continued to fall in heavy flakes, making even the neighboring houses seem like ghostly lights floating in a white fog.

     “Why hasn’t anyone called the police?” asked James.

     “My guess is they can’t even hear what’s happening right now.” There were a myriad of reasons Nick hated fighting psychic beings, but altered reality was near the top. He swung the harpoon gun around, looking in the snow for any sign of either creature, but found nothing.

     Two red lights near the top of the house shone brighter than the rest and caught Nick’s attention. Despite the snowflakes between them, the red light did not waver and in fact seemed perfectly clear. “James, there,” Nick whispered and motioned slightly with his gun. “On the roof, and I don’t think it’s Rudolf.”

     James looked up just in time to see the creature shake off a fine coat of snow. The wounds from his initial shot were still there, but if they had impeded the creature at all, it didn’t show it. Lightning flashed through the snowstorm and briefly illuminated its horrifying silhouette. Grisly fur ran down its shoulders, ending abruptly at its mid-section where bones that might have been ribs stuck out at odd angles. The red glow came from deep within empty sockets, just beneath its deadly horns. As the lightning died away, the creature let out another deafening roar.

     The light attached to the end of James’s shotgun and all the lights in the neighborhood flickered.

     “No need to shout,” called Nick. He pointed his harpoon gun to the left of the creature, and without much thought, pulled the trigger. Wind caught the projectile almost immediately, curving the harpoon through the air. There was a moment where he thought he had calculated the trajectory perfectly, but it took a further bend and buried itself in a shingle. Nick cursed. “Sorry James, really thought I had that one figured out.” He went over the mental math he had done, realized there was none, and wished he had more harpoons on him.

     The creature made a sound like barking laughter.

     Nick staggered back. “Shit, I really thought that would work.”

     James pointed his shotgun at the creature. “Don’t worry, Nick, this will finish what your pea shooter started. Come and get a taste, you bargain-bin, zombie, reindeer-looking, fuck.”

     The wendigo’s rotten face split into a grin as it took a step forward, preparing to leap. Unfortunately for it, the tile Nick had hit split right down the middle, and the roof construction in the suburbs was shoddy at best. One-by-one, the other tiles shifted slightly. With the weight of the snow and the creature walking atop them, it didn’t take much. There was a shatter as one of the tiles fell to the driveway. For a second, it looked like that would be it, but then the dam burst, and the whole roof began to move.

     The wendigo growled, but slipped, falling flat on its back. It slid down the side of the roof with the rest of the tiles. On the way, it caught the blinking lights that had been so painstakingly affixed. Falling fast, it was unable to free itself and the strands tangled with its massive form. It cried out in surprise and frustration, but at the same moment, went over the edge of the roof. Some of the light strands broke, exposing ancient wires that had no business being in service, but others held, wrapping around its neck.

     “That was clever,” breathed Nick, watching the creature struggle with the lights. As it tried to escape, arcs of electricity shot across its body in lazy sputters. Wherever the light touched, small fires sprang up and the creature’s skin split. They quickly spread until the wendigo was engulfed in a holiday conflagration. The smell of roasting meat wafted on the wind. The wendigo struggled against its bonds, screaming, but could do nothing.

     Both Nick and James stared up at the house in disbelief. “That worked?” asked James.

     The wendigo gave a final kick and fell still, smoldering.

     Next-door, a portly man stepped onto his porch, illuminated as a silhouette from the warm light within. “Hot damn, Bill! I’m not sure what you’re cooking, but we better get some of the leftovers tomorrow.” He chuckled heartily and shut the door.

     “The fucking suburbs.” Nick wiped sweat from his brow and tried not to vomit.

     “I’m starting to agree with you.” James was about to lower his shotgun when an anguished roar came from inside the house.

     “One down.” Nick spat in the snow. “There’s more harpoons in the trunk.”

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Enjoy what you’ve read so far? Please share it with your friends or anyone else that might enjoy it. Also consider checking out my published works for purchase here: https://www.amazon.com/Ashton-Macaulay/e/B07C1J3V8P

Home for the Holidays (3)

We’re getting very close to Christmas now, and what’s better to spread holiday cheer than a story about Wendigos and a sweet, old couple in the suburbs? Enter Chapter 3 of my newest Nick Ventner tale, Home for the Holidays. If you need to catch up, here’s a link to Chapter 1/Chapter 2!

Excuse the makeshift cover art!

If you’re an artist and are feeling this story, please send halp for this cover!

3 – A Few More Cups

Nick was drunker than he had been in a long time. One of his least favorite parts of lacking income was the inability to get good and truly tossed without a fair share of guilt. Sharing booze with ‘family’, he had no such obligation. From the moment Bill had handed him his first cup, Nick had taken on a singular goal: Forget any misgivings, and possibly the rest of the evening.  

     Luckily for him, it turned out Bill and Marie could really throw them back. What started as a quick game of cards with several convoluted drinking rules he couldn’t remember, quickly turned into a straight drinking contest. The alcohol turned on him before he even noticed, and the room took on the pulsating, spinning blur quality that only existed on the other side of the line.  

     As he sat back in a plush armchair, there wasn’t much else in the world he cared about beyond himself. His fingertips were numb, but there was a fresh cup of something brain-smashing between them. Was there anything else that mattered? An instinct, more than anything, tilted his head to look at James. The kid was curled up under an electric blanket, brooding. His eyes flicked watchfully between the three of them, and Nick felt he was missing something important.   

     When he couldn’t figure it out, Marie took notice and prodded. “What’s going on, James? Don’t want to join in all the festivities?”

     James worked his hands, trying to keep the cold out of them. “Sorry, I think I just had a bad burger or something on the road.”

     Nick looked at him quizzically. Years ago, he had implemented a simple rule: No stopping for apprentices. They hadn’t stopped for burgers anymore than they had traveled through a magical candy-cane village. Nick sipped his drink. Candy canes! That’s what this is made of.

     “Where’s the bathroom again?” asked James. His face looked gaunt in the dim light of the living room.

     Be it imaginary burgers or moodiness, something was wrong with the kid, even Nick could see it. A flash bulb went off in the corner of his mind showing a mess of fur in the snow, but it was gone too quickly to grasp fully. Suspicion crept back into Nick’s booze-addled brain. He couldn’t figure out why, but it was getting stronger every second.   

     “Just down the hall on the first floor. Can’t miss it.” Bill pointed in the direction Nick had been exploring earlier.

     “Thanks, hopefully it’s just indigestion.” James slunk off in the direction of the bathroom looking more melancholy than food sick.  

     “He’s a good kid, you know?” Nick’s words were thick, dripping from his mouth like a decadent sauce. “Always does—” Nick faltered, “mostly does what he’s told. One of the better apprentices I’ve ever had.” James was many things, but he wasn’t a liar. Nick knew there was something to the burger comment, but in his current state of half awareness, he was having more than a little trouble connecting the dots.

     Bill’s eyes narrowed. “Do they have apprentices in accounting now?”

     Nick hiccupped, only half realizing his mistake. “Oh yes, accounting, loads of numbers. Have to get them all figured out somehow, don’t we?” The room was starting to spin. Why was the room starting to spin? Nick’s stomach turned and he felt the horrible rush of bile come bubbling up into his throat. “Oh god, will you excuse me.” Nick took off running for the bathroom. “For the love of god, James, I hope you—” his sentence was cut off by vomit spewing forth from him like a vengeful internal volcano.

     “Oh god, I’m sorry about that, I’ll clean it up!” Nick fell to his knees, holding his head between his hands. A great pain had come barreling back from the corner of consciousness he tried to banish. “Oh god, don’t get sober on me now,” slurred Nick, trying to convince his own brain.

     James stepped out of the bathroom. “I wouldn’t worry about the floor.” His tone was dead and flat.

     “No, come on now, I won’t be a rude house guest.”

     “Too late for that.”

     “Why are you being so pissy, my boy, aren’t we having a good time.”

     “For someone with so many rules, you don’t seem to pay much attention to them.” James pulled a shotgun from behind his back and pumped it, loading a shell.

     “What the fuck?” Nick backed away reflexively and tried to pull the harpoon gun from his jacket. A switch snagged and the weapon extended, pushing through his coat pocket and sending a harpoon flying into the ceiling. Plaster rained down, mixing with Nick’s vomit on the floor and forming a grey-brown slurry. “Oh god, I’ll pay for that too, but in fairness, you did pull a gun on me.”

“I’m not pulling it on you, idiot.”

Nick shook his head. “Wait, then who’s it for? Is Bill a hunter?”

     “Bill and Marie have been sober for over a decade.” James held up Nick’s tome. “You dog-eared the page. Turns out, much like you, wendigos like their liquor.”

     “Wendi-what?” A roar cut through the house and all at once, the lights went out.

     “You just had to make a scene, didn’t you?” James turned on a flashlight attached to the end of the shotgun. “And to think, you didn’t want me to spring for the extra tactical gear.

     “Hey, who’s the apprentice and who’s the?” A clawed hand caught Nick from behind and threw him in the air. He collided with the ceiling, missing the embedded harpoon by inches. The concealed rifle tore the rest of the way through his jacket and clattered down the hallway. Nick landed in a squelching pile of his own sick and the smell almost made him vomit again.  

     Thunder roared through the entryway as James fired the shotgun. Pellets of bright white fire spread out in a cone, briefly illuminating Bill whose eyes glowed red in the darkened house. The pellets ripped through his skin, starting little fires wherever they touched, and spraying brown-black liquid onto the floor.  

     Nick rolled to his side and watched as Bill batted at the fire, his skin tearing where it had touched. From somewhere beneath the human formerly known as Bill, a larger creature began to emerge. His bones creaked, growing and pushing against the taught cover of skin. Fur sprouted in ugly patches, tearing and rending his human form. A horrible crunching filled the room as two bloody elk horns extended from the man’s skull.

     “Ahhhhh!” Screamed Nick. “James, it’s a Krampus!”

     “It’s not a Krampus, dumbass.” James fired another blast from the shotgun. The creature screamed and turned away. With a single, hulking blow, it ran through the front door, sending the weak, wooden rectangle flying off and into the snow storm. Before James could get another shot off, it was out of range and lumbering through the storm.

     “It’s not?” Nick asked, watching the door resentfully. “I’ve always wanted to fight a Krampus.”

     James held up the tome again. “Wendigo, remember?” He shook the book like someone would shake keys for a small toddler.

     Nick vomited again. “Oh, right, right, of course, the wendigo.” He wiped his mouth. “Well, either way, that leaves us with a pretty significant problem.”

     “What’s that?”

     “Well, you’ve pissed one of them off, but where’s his dear partner?”

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Enjoy what you’ve read so far? Please share it with your friends or anyone else that might enjoy it. Also consider checking out my published works for purchase here: https://www.amazon.com/Ashton-Macaulay/e/B07C1J3V8P

Link to Next Chapter!

Star Wars – The Re-Review – Episode 8

Here we are, at the end of the Skywalker Saga, almost ready for Episode 9. It’s been a long process with good movies, bad movies, and some that floundered in between. Today, I’m taking another look at Episode 8 – The Last Jedi, arguably the most controversial film in the Star Wars series. Critics lavished it with praise, and yet audience scores told a completely different story. I remember loving Last Jedi when I first saw it in theatres, and it definitely holds up on the re-watch. So, let’s get into it, feel free to fight me in the comments or on Twitter if you disagree, I’ll be waiting.

Here’s a quick refresher on where I scored the other films so far: Rogue One (3.5/5)A New Hope (4.5/5) The Empire Strikes Back(5/5)The Phantom Menace(2/5)Attack of the Clones(.5/5)Revenge of the Sith (3/5)Return of the Jedi (4/5), and The Force Awakens (4.5/5). You might notice, I’ve skipped Solo, but I will come back to it at a later date. I just got busy making an audio drama, a podcast, and writing a holiday story for y’all.

Last Jedi’s opening is incredible. It’s got humor, tension, great space fighting, and feels like it carries some real weight. For the first time in the series, we’re shown the consequences of running in, guns blazing, and staying until every last fighter is gone. The Resistance is nearly broken at the beginning of the film with only a handful of ships left to stand against the ever-increasing presence of the First Order. Despite all that, Poe is still joking with General Hux while he’s stalling for time in their master plan, and I love it.

Poe’s character is delightfully flawed in all the ways you’d expect from a hot shot pilot. Take him out of space and he would fit in easily with Tom Cruise’s Maverick from Top Gun. The only problem is, historically, Star Wars has never shown any consequences for that kind of behavior. In all the previous films, being a good pilot was enough to get you through three movies without losing anyone all that important along the way (unless you turned to the Sith). That’s why it feels so important to watch Poe fail in this movie and fail repeatedly.

About halfway through the film, Yoda says to Luke: Failure the best teacher is. This movie could not encompass that lesson more. From Luke’s failings as a Jedi Master, to Poe’s misguided hatred of Commander Holdo, or the half-baked plan on the Casino Planet, Canto Bight, it’s all about the main characters failing. A lot of people raged against that, and I don’t understand why. Part of me believes they were uncomfortable with so many of the lessons being handed down by women in positions of power, but that’s a rant for another time.  

Fuck yeah, Yoda commits arson, what else did you expect?

The main complaint I hear about Last Jedi is that it doesn’t feel Star Wars enough, and I frankly don’t see it. The thirty minutes on Canto Bight are exactly the kind of side plot shenanigans we’d expect, complete with a sweeping shot of a sweet alien Casino and prison breakouts with loveable rogues. The only missed opportunity there was having horse racing instead of pod racing… I mean come on, when I saw the casino rumble, I was excited and then immediately disappointed. Sure, the b-team spending their time releasing a bunch of alien horses was a bit cliched, but Canto Bight on the whole was such a cool creation, that I’m willing to forgive it a bit.

Now this… isn’t podracing, but it’s still pretty great

Luke’s entire training of Rey is exactly like what Yoda did for him on Dagobah, just extended and adapted for a modern audience. Rey also faces the dark side in a way that’s more real than any character we’ve seen before. That’s right, I mean you, Anakin. Her struggle is palpable and only underscored by her constant, mysterious connection with Kylo Ren. Together, they’re learning more about each other and themselves, and their final meeting led to one of the most epic saber fights I can remember. Is it disappointing to see Snoke go out so quick? Yes. Do I believe he’s gone entirely, no, because as Luke says: No one’s ever really gone.

I mean, this is pretty savage…

A quick aside, my money is on Snoke being some kind of avatar for the nearly-dead Emperor and that we’ll watch that play out in Episode 9. Luckily, if I’m wrong, you can tell me real soon.

 Getting back to my thread, if Luke’s training and Canto Bight weren’t Star Wars, the final ground assault on Crait absolutely is. This last stand against an army of armored AT-ATs and a miniaturized Death Star cannon is excellent and well shot. Watching the speeders kick up trails of red dust as they fly toward their inevitable doom was one of the cooler shots in the film. The resolution of the battle in the form of Luke’s last stand is powerful, badass, and exactly how I wanted him to go out. He’s cheeky to the very end, and still has one last lesson to teach his padawan. IF THAT’S NOT STAR WARS, I DON’T KNOW WHAT IS.

Ranting aside, watching the main characters learn from their own failures and the failures of others sets up the end of the movie perfectly. As The Resistance is starting to rise from the ashes and recover, so too are our beloved heroes. Poe finally gets his command, but he’s learned a valuable lesson, and will make a better leader because of it. Finn’s suicide mission is aborted by the very person who stopped him from running away in the first place. The list goes on, and I love the way Rian Johnson tied all these lessons together.

Overall, The Last Jedi was a very enjoyable breath of fresh air for the series. It would have been very easy to pump out another cookie-cutter Star Wars film, but instead, Johnson gave us something we had never seen before. Once Episode 9 comes out and ties up the story, I think we’ll find more people revisiting Episode 8 and truly appreciating what it set up. It might be rough around the edges, but Last Jedi still holds a spot near the top for me.

Star Wars – The Re-Review – The Force Awakens

Ten years passed between the release of Revenge of the Sith and The Force Awakens. Walking into the theater, the anticipation for the film was palpable, and I don’t think I’ve ever been in a more nervous/excited crowd for a film. Where the prequels stumbled and blundered their way through a wonderful universe, Force Awakens brought back what the series was known best for. With standout side characters, an intriguing new set of villains, and plenty of space/saber battles, it felt like coming home. Before we dive in, here’s a quick update on where the rest of the movies ranked: Rogue One (3.5/5)A New Hope (4.5/5) The Empire Strikes Back(5/5)The Phantom Menace(2/5)Attack of the Clones(.5/5), Revenge of the Sith (3/5), andReturn of the Jedi (4/5).

Force Awakens sets itself apart from the other films in the first fifteen seconds by taking time to focus on a group of people the series has basically ignored, storm troopers. Attack of the Clones showed us the creation of the original troopers, but clones only last so long. Force Awakens gives us one of the best characters by exposing what exactly it’s like to become a storm trooper and how people might get into that life in the first place. Finn is a wonderful new addition to the universe and brings a new level of understanding to the previously bland and seemingly endless opposition, all within the first twenty minutes of the movie.

The opening also does a perfect job of balancing moments of humor with darkness. Poe’s banter with Kylo Ren is appreciated comic relief, but also underscored by the fact that there’s a buzzing bolt of laser that Kylo straight up stopped with the force. Not only is Kylo powerful, but also ruthless. He skips the pre-amble of general villainy and gets right to the murdering. In the first ten minutes, he orders the destruction of an entire village of innocent people, setting the stage for Finn’s choice to desert and showing us what this new villain is all about.

And what he’s about, is tantrums

Kylo is moody, broody, and dangerous. While that might sound familiar from the prequels, Adam Driver is able to pull it off where Christiansen failed. Kylo feels like a realistic villain and his impulsive nature justifies the decisions he makes throughout the film. He is the dark side incarnate, living on emotion and filled to the brim with fear. What’s interesting is where that fear comes from. We’ve seen the light side struggle with the dark, but never vice versa. Kylo Ren is the first Sith we see genuinely wrestling with a pull to the light and trying to prove at all costs that he has what it takes to master the dark. It’s a beautiful, tragic motivator for the character and gives him life.

But, the villain would be nothing without a plucky new light-side user to oppose them, and Rey provides that in spades. Ridley’s character mirror’s Ren in so many ways and sets up the conflict between them perfectly. Like Ren, Rey is afraid that she has been left behind forever and feels alone in the universe. Her journey from scrapper on Jakku to eventual padawan parallels Luke’s in a way but feels different enough to not seem like a direct copy.

Love this ‘stop holding my hand’ scene. Also, apparently, this gif brought to you by #FallonTonight?

Which, brings me to one of the main criticisms I see of this film, it’s parallels to A New Hope. Many think it steps over the line of homage to straight mimicry, but on this watch through, I don’t see it.  There are some character similarities, but there are also some brand-new additions we’ve never seen in the franchise. Now, that doesn’t mean the film is without errors, and one of them is also its most blatant copy, Starkiller Base. I really hate that the climax of this film is once again about destroying a planet-size weapon that destroys other planets. It’s been played out twice, it didn’t go well for The Empire either time, and frankly I’m bored of it.

The final assault on Starkiller Base is a fun sequence with an amazing aerial dogfight and one of the best saber battles, but it’s worn ground. Now, I do feel that Kylo’s idolization of Darth Vader and The Empire means a direct copy of their old plans makes sense. He’s always trying to finish what Vader started, and one can only assume the shadowy Snoke shares the same basic agenda. All the same, watching another massive super weapon destroyed in less than ten minutes of screen time felt like things were too easy. If they really needed to do a planet-destroyer again, they could have let it survive the resistance’s initial assault, but alas, no cigar. If they bring back another planet destroyer in Episode 9, I’m going to be pissed.

But I’ll admit, this was cool

Speaking of the parallels to Hope, it’s nice to see the original cast back, even if Luke is only there for fifteen seconds. I would have liked to see the trio of Han, Leia and Luke reunite one, final time. Fortunately, I actually think it’s better this way. Harrison Ford brings the same life to Han that he always had, and somehow, Carrie Fisher only got better with age. Leia in Force Awakens is by far my favorite incarnation. Her whip-smart humor has been honed, she’s sarcastic as ever, and the fear she inspires in Han is wonderful and great comedically. Their reunion on Takodana at Maz’s castle is one of the most impactful scenes in the movie and carried strong emotional weight.

Overall, I absolutely love Force Awakens. I was going to try and pick it apart, but there’s not that much wrong with it. Starkiller Base is a misstep in my opinion, but it also doesn’t hurt the film that much. The new generation of characters we’re introduced to have some of the best emotional depth in the series and prove they’re worthy to catch the torch from the old guard. I can see some similarities to A New Hope, but honestly, I think there’s a lot of people who are just going to be angry at new Star Wars because it’s not the original trilogy. Personally, I think the modernization is a good thing, and leads to some needed innovation in character and plot. Which is all to say, I’m sure we’re going to get in some real spicy fights over Episode 8.

Star Wars – The Re-Review – Return of the Jedi

Finally, after making my way through the ‘extended flashback’ that was the prequels, it’s back to the mainline trilogy. As a quick check-in, that means I have three films left to review in the fourteen days until Episode 9 releases. I’ll do my best to get a review for Episode 7 soon and Solo/8 following shortly after. Meanwhile, here’s a quick update on where the rest of the movies ranked: Rogue One (3.5/5)A New Hope (4.5/5) The Empire Strikes Back(5/5)The Phantom Menace(2/5), Attack of the Clones(.5/5), and Revenge of the Sith (3/5).

For as long as I can remember, Return of the Jedi has been my favorite film in the Star Wars franchise, and while there are a few scenes that warrant that, I’ve found more issues on my rewatch than I expected. Coming hot off the heels of the prequel trilogy in this watch order, it’s easy to see Return as a masterpiece, but comparing it to Hope and Empire, it’s got some real problems. First and foremost, the idea of re-hashing the conflict from Hope. It’s no secret, George Lucas didn’t think he was going to get a full trilogy when he made Hope, so he moved the trilogy’s climax to the first film. Years later, we get to Return of the Jedi and rather than trying something new, we just get a second, more vulnerable Death Star.

At least we got this line

Aside from that, Return’s plot does host some high points for the series. Ian McDiarmid made his debut as The Emperor, and his performance is fantastic.  Sure, his character does quite a bit of monologuing, but it’s hard not to be captivated by his sarcastic, confident demeanor. The Emperor is a wonderful villain, and it’s through the lens of his expert manipulation that the audience is finally able to feel some sympathy for Vader. Now, that sympathy doesn’t go a long way once you’ve seen Anakin murder children in Sith, but looking at the original trilogy on its own, it works.

It’s also fantastic to see the trio of Han, Luke and Leia back together after they spent so much of Empire apart. The three of them had amazing screen chemistry, and it’s really a shame that this is the last film we get to see them all together in. Hamill continues to build on Luke’s character, leaning into the calm, collected, deadly nature of a Jedi. This change is apparent from the first moment he comes on screen, strolling into Jabba’s palace like he owns the place.  His farm boy and willful apprentice aesthetics are gone, and in their place is a true hero. Through these character developments, Hamill manages to steal most of the scenes he’s in and for the first time, doesn’t feel like he needs to be propped up by side characters.

One of the best exchanges

In fact, that’s a theme felt through the entire cast. Every character in Jedi feels like they could stand on their own and carry the film. It makes their interactions even more of a joy to watch, especially in the first half of the movie where they’re given plot to work with. The 20-30 minutes where the team is rescuing Han is easily one of my favorite moments in Star Wars. Jabba’s palace is an incredible set piece with unique aliens around every turn and all sorts of crazy shit (see dancing twileks and carnivorous beasts in the floor) that feels right at home.  My only complaint about the first half of Jedi is Boba Fett going out like a punk. There was a lot of potential in that character, and he’s gotten life in the expanded universe of books/comics, but I would have loved to see more of it on screen.

RIP little buddy

Now, that’s the good half of the movie, the back half has some serious issues, and a lot of them stem from George Lucas getting a little merchandise happy. The entire sequence on Endor, while fun, does seem like it’s just him being determined to get teddy bears in the film, so he can sell more toys. The whole battle on Endor ends up feeling silly compared to the dark tone of the rest of the film, especially when it’s being directly contrasted with Luke’s struggle against the emperor. That’s a real shame, because for a lot of the movie, Return boasts one of the darker plots of the franchise (second to Rogue One and the last 20 minutes of Sith).

Watching the film’s protagonist struggle with the very force that overthrew his father is fascinating and makes the film feel like it’s got real stakes. That’s even more apparent watching it on the heels of Sith, because it’s clear how quickly a Jedi can turn. The final saber fight between Luke and Vader is methodical, but more importantly telegraphs a bigger struggle behind the scenes. There are some flashy flips and a couple of saber twirls, but for the most part, they’re hitting with powerful, targeted strikes. When Luke finally lets the anger out and cuts off Vader’s hand, he’s on the razor’s edge, and for a moment, there is genuine uncertainty that he will remain good.

Luke gets electrocuted for a while in this film…

Meanwhile, ignoring that heavy plot, the movie is content to ping-pong back and forth to the murderous little Ewoks thrashing the Empire. It puts the film off balance for me, and creates tonal inconsistency, which as I’ve said in other reviews, is a serious pet peeve of mine. This only got worse in the nineties remaster with the addition of crazy bug musical numbers, beaked sarlaacs, and more. Don’t get me wrong, that musical number in Jabba’s palace is weird and wonderful, but it doesn’t feel like it belongs with the rest of the movie. It’s like Lucas had two very conflicting ideas of how the movie was supposed to go and rather than reconciling them, smashed them together and called it good.

But, we got the original Thicc Boi

Of course, it’s the original trilogy and there had to be a popcorn ending, but it could have felt more earned if the film had maintained a darker tone until the end. Really, almost every part of the film aside from Endor maintains that aesthetic and it’s sad to see it cheapened. Still, through it all, the final battle and Vader’s sacrifice are an emotionally satisfying conclusion to the saga. Personally, I would have been fine seeing the franchise end at Jedi, even with some of the excellent films we got after. It wraps things up nicely and still left plenty of openings for fan fiction and the expanded universe to fill gaps. But, as Yoda said, there is another…

What is A Man of the Mountain?

Hello everyone, if you’ve been following me on social media recently, you’ve probably seen me talking about my latest writing project, A Man of the Mountain. So, I figured I’d take a second and answer some questions about what it is exactly.

What is it?

A Man of the Mountain is a prequel novella (think shorter book) to my first novel, Whiteout. BUT, you don’t have to have read Whiteout to enjoy this. It stands completely on its own and if anything, might be more fun to listen to before the novel.

In an unconventional twist, we’re releasing it as an audio-drama before putting out physical copies. What’s an audio drama? It’s basically an audio book with higher production quality, more sound effects, and a cast of different people reading different characters. Leigh James, a man we met on Reddit, fits given that I met my publisher on Craig’s List, recorded most of the narration, found all the actors, sound effects, and music for this. He did an incredible job, and is the real hero here 🙂

How much does it cost?

That’s the beautiful thing, it’s FREE! You can listen now on any platform you get your podcasts from: Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and six others. You can also listen to it on the player below:

Now, that doesn’t mean we’re not going to sell it eventually! The episodes will always be free on your podcasting platforms, but in a month or so, we’ll be releasing the full audiobook for those who don’t want to wait for the episodes to release.

In addition, we’ll be selling the novella in e-book and physical formats, beginning on the day the last episode drops, 3/3/20. Pre-orders are live for the e-book with paperback/hardback coming soon.

Episodes release every two weeks!

What does this mean for your other podcast?

TWO CHRISTMASES! I’m still working on Cryptids Decrypted and will still be putting out around two episodes a month. In fact, next week, I’ve got an awesome episode releasing where I interviewed David George Gordon about inter-dimensional sea/lake monsters. It’s pretty fantastic. If you don’t want to wait for me to edit it, I’ve put up the raw interview video. Apologies in advance for the quality, I blame Skype and my lack of lighting knowledge.

Bonus Round: When is the full sequel to Whiteout coming?

We haven’t pinned down a date yet, but likely sometime in the first half of 2020! It’s called Downpour, and here’s a link to a sample of the first few chapters. Call it your reward for making it this far in the post 🙂

Star Wars – The Re-Review – Attack of the Clones

Hello and welcome back to my re-review series for the wonderful Star Wars Skywalker Saga, and a few spin-off movies along the way. So far, I’ve reviewed Rogue One (3.5/5)A New Hope (4.5/5) , The Empire Strikes Back(5/5) and The Phantom Menace(2/5) which unfortunately means it’s time for… Attack of the God Damned Clones. I’ll be honest, going into this movie, I knew that I was going to have some strong opinions, but I tried my best to keep an open mind. There must be a reason it’s rated 13% higher than Phantom Menace on Rotten Tomatoes, right? Wrong, dead wrong, good lord, this movie is hot, and I mean burning to death on Mustafar level hot, trash.

Much like Menace, Clones has a lackluster opening mired in political intrigue. There’s a short scene telegraphing that Padme is in danger by blowing up a hand maiden no one really cared about (sorry Corde), and then we’re immediately brought to the political theater. There’s even a line in the immediate aftermath of the attack where Captain Panaka tells Padme: “This vote is too important, your highness.” Where the original trilogy always opened on some intriguing predicament for our heroes, the prequels instead tend to dive headfirst into exposition. If I had a say in it, I’d throw the assassination attempt in the opening crawl and start the movie with Obi Wan and Anakin’s chase through Coruscant looking for the assassin. It’s one of the better scenes in the movie and gives the audience an interesting look at a planet that is otherwise just a backdrop for political machinations.

More of this, please

Luckily, Lucas did start to take the hint with Clones and moves the politics into the background for the most part. Unfortunately, the new focus of the movie is somehow worse, a love story between Anakin and Padme. Setting aside the age difference, how they met, and the creepy, stalker vibes Anakin gives off… Never mind, can’t set it aside, this plotline completely wrecks the movie. Attack of the Clones has plenty of interesting directions to go, but the bulk of it is spent watching Anakin’s transformation from obsessed teen, to creepier, murder-happy obsessed teen. The worst part is, it works on Padme, and we’re forced to watch some of the most painful romantic interactions I’ve ever seen on screen.

It’s shit like this that makes for great memes, but kills a film

Focusing on Anakin was a given based on how Menace was made, but unfortunately, the script does nothing to move him forward as a person. Instead, Lucas rests on the fact that we know he’s going to become Darth Vader to justify a landslide of increasingly bad decisions with literally no character motivation to drive them. Maybe it could have been helped if Hayden Christensen had a bit more experience at the time, but the dialogue isn’t doing him any favors either. It’s easy to put the blame on Mannequin Skywalker, but the fact of the matter is, Hamill wasn’t that great in his first movie either.

What made Hamill’s lackluster performance bearable in A New Hope was the support from an amazing cast of characters and a very clearly defined character vision. Anakin has a pre-set story from the beginning, but none of the actions that lead him there feel earned. Instead we have: I hate sand, my mom is dying, better go slaughter an entire village of Tusken Raiders. It doesn’t help that he’s not given anything to play off with other characters either, because in the prequel universe, everything revolves around Anakin. It’s hard for a character to show growth when literally every conversation is about them and nothing else.

My feeling about any scene with teen Anakin

When the Jedi council meets, they’re talking about the Sith, but also Anakin. Padme isn’t given more than five lines that aren’t about Anakin. In fact, the only person that does seem to care about something else is Anakin’s alleged teacher, Obi Wan who fucks off to the other side of the galaxy for most of the film. So, rather than an engaging teacher-student relationship where we can watch Anakin transform, he’s sent to a boring planet with the object of his lust. And I do mean object, because this movie straight takes a machete to Padme’s character, removing everything that made her interesting and hog-tying her plot to Anakin. It makes me viscerally angry. At the beginning of the movie, Padme is a bit of a badass, working as a politician, sure, but still a strong character. She’s refuting Anakin’s advances, which good, because the age difference is weird as hell and he’s a creep, but she’s also got some good one-liners.

Somehow, over the course of a thirty-minute flower-field romp with bulbous ass-cows on Naboo, she falls helplessly in love with her stalker and forsakes everything that gave her character purpose. The love story that Attack of the Clones is firmly about never really has time to breath, feels rushed, and isn’t believable in the slightest. As far as I can tell, Anakin wins over one of the smarter characters in the prequels using cheesy pickup lines and by leering at her even after she’s asked him to stop. It’s especially unfortunate given that Natalie Portman could have supported Hayden Christensen with her acting had she actually been given something to do.

Now, while the love story in Clones is by far my biggest issue with the film, it’s also not the only one. The B-plot belongs to General Kenobi’s adventure to Kamino and Geonosis. The Kamino plot in particular is very problematic and confusing. Even as an adult, I found myself heading over to Wookiepedia afterward to try and understand just who the hell Jedi Master Sifo Dias was and why they had ordered a clone army. Dooku gets into a bit on Geonosis, but honestly, it’s needlessly complicated. It would have been just as easy to create a plot where Dooku orders the clones when he’s still part of the Jedi Order and say that’s why he had a falling out. There’s another freebie for you Lucas.

Put your helmet back on and go do some cool jet pack tricks

Kamino also does a disservice to a fan favorite from the original films, Boba Fett. Clones establishes that Boba is in fact an exact replica of his father, Jango, a bounty hunter that has similar Mandalorian armor to what Boba Fett wears in Empire/Jedi, but with a different color scheme. The problem here is, we see Jango without his helmet for most of the movie, and that’s a big sticking point for Mandalorians; they’re never supposed to do that. Just watch the first episode of The Mandalorian and they’ll tell you, once you put that helmet on, it never comes off. This pokes a few holes in Boba’s later plot lines, and also, feels completely unnecessary. The clones didn’t need to be modeled after a fan favorite character, and much like Boba Fett later in the films, Jango is done dirty and killed quick with less than ten minutes of total screen time. At least this time we got a few good fights out of him.

Which finally leads me to the only truly enjoyable part of Obi Wan’s arc, and that’s Geonosis. Aside from the stupid I love you line between Anakin and Padme, the twenty minutes the film spends on Geonosis are its best.  We get to see a droid creation facility, Padme spends most of her time trapped in a bucket, and we get some cool lightsaber battles. Before I get to that final climactic battle, I want to talk briefly about another side character that is just given some weird motivation in this film, R2D2.

I really enjoy the droid factory scene, it’s fun, it’s got some decent CGI and Padmanakin don’t have time to make doll eyes at each other. However, there’s a big problem for me in the way it starts. R2D2 and C-3P0 are supposed to be friends, but R2 straight pushes C-3P0 to what should have been his death. It’s a bizarre choice for C-3P0 to come along period, because, well, he’s not exactly the most mobile of characters, but even weirder to have R2 try to kill him. Even if it’s supposed to be tongue and cheek, that should have been a lethal fall, just saying. C-3P0 then gets his head swapped with a battle droid and somehow retains a weirdly inconsistent set of functions… In the final battle, both bodies are still shooting at the Jedi, and it just doesn’t make any sense to me. But, major gripe, R2 is a murdering sonofabitch, moving along.

At least 3-P0 gets some good puns and R2 brings his head back…

Alright, the last bit of this review, because it’s getting long and I could go on for days about how much I truly, deeply dislike this film, is going to be about the battle on Geonosis. This battle kicks ass, gave way to a bunch of great video game levels, and is generally fun to watch. It’s the one time in the series where we get to see an army of lightsaber-wielding Jedis go into battle and fuck shit up. Sure, they’re losing until the clones show up, but it’s an awesome sequence to watch. Mace Windu gets to bust out his purple lightsaber and decapitates Jango in front of his son, it’s a fun time for all. Even the lead-in with Padme, Anakin, and Obi Wan fighting a trio of CGI monsters is great and feels like a callback to the Rancor in Jedi.

When the clones show up, the battle retains its cinematic quality, albeit interspersed with some terrible dialogue again, and keeps the tension up. It leads us to the climax of the film where Obi Wan, Anakin, and eventually Yoda fight Count Dooku, and hell, that lightsaber fight is incredible. I still got chills when Yoda ignited his lightsaber for the first time and watching him flip around that room like a deadly pinball is awesome. Also, Anakin loses an arm, so, full circle for the Skywalkers.

This almost makes the film worth it… almost

Overall, Attack of the Clones is a hot mess. It focuses on the wrong parts of the storyline and the wrong characters for the most part. The film is at its best when it’s shadowing Obi Wan and not getting too bogged down in the convoluted evil plot working in the background. The dialogue and character growth are by far the worst in the series, spearheaded by the Anakin-Padme plot which is almost unwatchable. I think in future re-watches, I might skip this one. Attack of the Clones is the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull of this franchise, and critics should be ashamed for rating it higher than Phantom Menace.

Got a different opinion? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter/Facebook.

Star Wars – The Re-Review – The Phantom menace

Well, with The Mandalorian coming out tomorrow, it’s time I get back to my reviews, and here we are, the prequel trilogy. You will never find a more wretched hive of bad dialogue and poor plot decisions… Or at least that’s what some people say. The prequel trilogy has provided the internet with fantastic meme fodder, and I’ve still got pleasant memories of watching Phantom Menace as a kid (I was 9), but let’s see how it holds up on a re-watch 20 years later. As a quick reminder, here’s where I am in the order, and here are links to my reviews for Rogue One (3.5/5), A New Hope (4.5/5) , and The Empire Strikes Back(5/5).

Unlike most of the other Star Wars films, Phantom Menace does not open on its best note, in fact, it opens clumsy. The better part of the movie’s first half is slow, with exposition-heavy dialogue and little to no character development beyond the basics (e.g. Jar Jar is a bumbling idiot that can jump real good, Obi Wan has a rat tail, and Qui Gon Jin is dour). Sure, the audience is introduced to a host of new and exciting planets, but the story is bogged down by the one thing no Star Wars fan ever wanted more of, politics. Re-watching the struggles of the Naboo and the Galactic Senate is a painful reminder of just how slow and inefficient governments can be. It’s interesting in the lore that it creates, but it should have been a footnote, not the plot of the whole damn movie.

One of the many memorable lines of shit dialogue

The story is especially damaging to one character in particular, Obi Wan. Going back to watch the prequels, I was particularly excited for Obi Wan given his relatively short presence in the original trilogy. Sadly, in the Phantom Menace, he’s not given much to work with and is practically reduced to a side character. Aside from the film’s opening, Obi Wan sits on the sidelines for the majority of the film until the final, climactic battle. One can only imagine the better decisions that might have been made on Tatooine had they brought him along for the ride. There are glimmers of Obi’s dry charm and humor, but ultimately, this story isn’t about him.

Unfortunately, rather than an interesting character, this story is about Anakin, a walking pile of terrible dialogue and awkward child-teenager romance. The one thing I can say is Jake Lloyd surpasses Hayden Christensen in the role, but that’s only because adult Anakin is just so god damned creepy (more on that in the next film). Anakin’s plot on Tatooine is boring, formulaic, and hosts one of my least favorite scenes in the entire saga, his first meeting with Padme. All I had to hear were the words “Are you an angel?” and immediately my headed exploded Scanners style.

For those who need reminding

Luckily, there’s a glimmer of greatness at the end of Phantom’s stay on the miserable desert planet, and that’s pod racing. The Boonta Eve sequence is one of the coolest in the franchise, and arguably better street racing than the Fast and the Furious series (come at me Vin Diesel). There’s a memorable cast of racers, amazing effects, and to this day, it’s still exciting. As a bonus point, it also spawned one of the better Star Wars video game incarnations and should be brought back as a modern game immediately.

Dear EA, do something good with the Star Wars license, please

Now, the pod racing scene was amazing, but in the words of Yoda, there is another. The fight between Qui Gon, Obi Wan, and Darth Maul at the end of the film is the best saber fight in the entire series, hands down. Once more, I encourage you to fight me if you disagree. With one of John Williams’s finest scores, Duel of the Fates, pumping in the background and some excellent fight choreography, the scene holds up and is still incredible to watch. However, and there’s a big however, this scene also kills of the film’s two most interesting characters.

Missed opportunity for a great death line

Darth Maul is set up as an amazing baddie that could have easily carried over to menace Obi Wan through the rest of the prequel series, but sadly, he’s the one Star Wars character that can’t recover from dismemberment.  Of course, Darth Maul had a big presence in the expanded universe of books, television, and even in Solo, but he could have really helped the prequel trilogy along. By killing him, Obi Wan completes what could have otherwise been an exciting emotional journey. Struggling with the need for revenge and a pull toward the dark side could have given him better character beats moving forward, but these films aren’t about characters, they’re about CGI.

And boy, a lot of the CGI does not hold up well here. As a kid, I remember thinking the battle of Naboo was one of the more memorable in the series, but as an adult, it’s hot trash. Not only do we have Jar Jar as a clumsy, but somehow lethal general, the CGI battle with the droids feels like a miss and lacks some of the weight of the other fights in the series. Especially coming hot off watching the Battle of Hoth in Empire, this one is hard to stomach. The accompanying space battle is great, but the ground game could have used some more up close scenes with practical effects.

No, but I would watch The Fast and the Furious Tatooine Drift

In the end, Phantom Menace felt like Lucas really wanted to flex his newfound CGI muscles, who didn’t it was the late 90s, but in the process, he lost the realness of the original trilogy. Even going back to watch those older films forty years later, they still hold up better than the 20-year-old Phantom Menace. That’s the problem with CGI, it advanced so rapidly, that even more recent films start to look old faster. It doesn’t help that the computer-generated characters were also tropes with little personality beyond being various racist stereotypes (Looking at you trade federation).

 Overall, Phantom Menace is just bad. It can be fun to watch at times and has some of the coolest scenes in the series, but action scenes knit together by politicians providing exposition does not make a film. While the original trilogy was heavy on tropes and didn’t offer an original overarching story, we knew why the characters did what they did, and their actions were consistent. Phantom Menace shortchanges its best characters in exchange for cheap, walking piles of CGI garbage that are forgotten almost as soon as they’re off screen (except you, Jar Jar, Lord of the Sith). Together, all this makes for my lowest ranking in my rewatch so far.

How to Finish NaNoWriMo

Happy Halloween, everyone, and to all the writers shitting bricks about tomorrow, happy NaNo Eve! While Halloween is sure to be delightful, tomorrow kicks off NaNoWriMo, the month where millions of writers will attempt to complete a 50,000 word novel in less than a month. Every year, I come up to November 1st dreading it, but every November 30th so far, I’ve out the other side with a brand new, word-vomited manuscript that I can go back and edit later.

This year marks my 12th year participating in NaNoWriMo, and while many of those projects never saw the light of day, one of them ended up being my first published book, Whiteout. Now, there are still 10 other mostly-dead manuscripts sitting around, but 1/11 ain’t bad, and some of those others might yet make it out. All that to say, I might not be a hot shit writer, but I do know how to finish a book and finish it quick. If you’ve ever struggled to complete NaNoWriMo, here are a few tips that get me through every year.

My NaNo Credentials: https://nanowrimo.org/participants/mac_ashton

1. Embrace the word vomit

I’ve said it a million times, but somehow it doesn’t seem to always get through. There are going to be days this November where you feel like you’re writing beautiful prose and every word is perfect, but the vast majority of them will feel like slinging shit at an empty screen. That’s ok. Even when the words are clumsy, you’re still writing, and every word is experience. Write words and fix it in post!

2. Don’t be afraid to deviate

Outlines are great, they help keep you on track through the month and make sure you know where you’re going. I’ve done novels with and without them, and it’s really a toss-up as to which came out better. But, either way, don’t be afraid to deviate from your vision. If you’re getting bored with what’s happening, have the characters go do something else. Sometimes these little asides can become the best part of your book (looking at the cannibal cult in Whiteout).

3. Set aside time

You’re not going to complete NaNo if you don’t set aside time to do it. This might sound silly and obvious, but making the effort to schedule writing time is important. I get up earlier than usual in November and get a lot of my writing done before I’ve even gone into work. Tell your loved ones what you’re doing, and ask them to encourage you along the way. It helps when there’s others yelling at you to go write 🙂

4. When your stuck, use the egg timer

If you don’t have an egg timer (because it’s 2019), use your phone. I learned this tip from the great Stephen King in one of his interviews. If you’re stuck, set a timer for 20-30 minutes, turn everything else off and write. I don’t care if it’s: “and then the characters went here so the plot could move along” (I’ve done that more than once), but write. It doesn’t matter what it looks like, because whatever you write in NaNo is a draft. You can go back and fix it later. By the end of the 20-30 minutes, I often find I’m through whatever plot block was vexing me and itching to keep going.

5. Have fun, remember, it’s just a draft

Tying into my previous point, you’re never going to produce a perfect, finished novel on the first try, especially if its through NaNoWriMo. A month is far too little time to produce something publish-ready, and that’s ok. The most important thing is that you got the words on the page, you gained experience, and hopefully, had some fun. Look, I won’t lie, NaNoWriMo can be stressful, but at the end of the day, I feel satisfied knowing I put in a month of good work and have something to show for it. Even if last year’s book was an ill-advised sci-fi romp through post-apocalyptic Seattle (yeesh), I still wrote it.

That’s all!

I wish you the best this year with NaNo, feel free to connect with me on the site, Twitter, wherever. Always happy to offer words of encouragement or to talk through plot quagmires. See you all on the other side, you beautiful novelists, you. Here’s to this being us in 30 days:

Star Wars – The Re-Review – A New Hope

It’s hard to review A New Hope without some aspect of nostalgia filtering into my opinion. This is a movie I’ve seen easily twenty times, if not more, throughout my life, and that makes it difficult to look at it through an objective lens. For a quick refresher, below is my watch order for the films, and if you haven’t already, check out my review of Rogue One which some think is a spicy take…

This is the watch order, deal with it

A New Hope is a wonderful start to a traditional Campbellian journey where a plucky, young, moisture farmer discovers a hidden talent and goes off to fight evil. Right from the start, this film leaves no room for interpretation in its black and white painting of a galaxy in crisis. The bad guys look an awful lot like Nazis, only in space, their leader dresses all in black and Princess Leia wears white. The pace at the beginning of the film is quick and manages to maintain its tension, even to this day after I’ve watched it far too many times. I still get a kick out of C-3P0’s pithy sarcasm, and Vader still cuts an imposing figure when he first comes through the smoke-shrouded doorway. It says a lot when a film that was made in the 70s can still successfully evoke emotions and immerse the viewer some forty-odd years later.

Most of what makes this possible in my opinion is the film’s emphasis on practical sets, as well as an unforgettable soundtrack. The music in A New Hope is easily one of its best features and a highlight for the series (Duel of the Fates aside). Binary Sea is one of the most iconic scores in film and still conjures up images of the twin suns setting over Tatooine. The music is constantly complimenting the film and is one of the main reasons it’s so memorable. I could keep naming tracks all day, but then I’d likely just wake up drunk in front of John Williams’s house again, so it’s best to move on.

The special effects in A New Hope were ground-breaking at the time but can feel distracting in the modern era. It might be easier to ignore them if George Lucas hadn’t spliced a healthy dose of 90s CGI here and there to try and give the movie a punch up. While most of these reworked scenes are unnecessary and serve as an opportunity to throw weird lizards in unused set space, there are a few I’d like to call out as exceptional. First, the trench run rework really adds something to the film, and actually makes the iconic battle better. Second, the little touches like removing the orange haze from beneath Luke’s speeder help the film age a little better.

Sure, it’s a bit video gamey, but it still looks cool

Unfortunately, Lucas wasn’t content to just mess with the effects, he had to add a few scenes too. I could talk about these all day, but I’m going to practice some restraint and do a few quick bullets:

  • Han shot first, and it should have stayed that way. It was a great moment for his character and gave him some much-needed darkness to contrast Luke’s goody-two-shoes routine.
  • The scene with Han circling Jabba does give some interesting context for Return of the Jedi, but it’s also awkward as hell when Han ‘steps on Jabba’s tail’ (gif below).
  • Adding Biggs into the final scene before the trench run is interesting, but thematically confusing as the only bit we’ve heard about him is that he ran off to join the Imperial Academy. There’s lots of great fiction about what happened to him, but we get none of that context, and it leaves me with a ton of questions.

Now, back to the original film. The scenes that hold up the best are character focused, with the practical sets and iconic costumes carrying the movie. Even with the corny lightsaber effects, the battle between Obi Wan and Darth on the Death Star carries weight and is entertaining to watch. It’s a far cry from the flashier sabre battles of the prequel and sequel trilogies, but the methodical samurai-like combat has a menace of its own that is engaging and beautiful to watch.

Name a more iconic Star Wars couple, I’ll wait

The actors themselves are a mixed bag, and I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that. Mark Hamill did what he could with some pretty lackluster lines, but in the end, Luke is whiny and not all that interesting (in this movie). Luckily, like Rogue One, the protagonist is once again saved by an interesting cast of supporting characters. Harrison Ford’s Han is iconic and carries every scene he’s in. Han’s constant bickering and poking at Luke provides the relief the audience desperately needs from what is otherwise a traditional hero story. Obi Wan serves to ground the action and give Han at least a little push back while Luke is taking a verbal ass-whooping for the first half of the film. Despite starting out as just some guy living in the desert, Alec Guiness made Obi Wan into one of the most memorable characters, even with a relatively short screen time.

One of my favorite Han lines

The detailed supporting cast of A New Hope unfortunately serve to highlight Luke’s lack of character. Throughout the film, he’s going through a lot of changes, and the reasoning behind them can seem ham-handed. When we first meet Luke, he’s daydreaming about joining The Academy, and spoilers, there’s only one of those, it’s the Imperial Academy. If Luke hadn’t been lucky enough to be duped by a runaway R2D2, he might have been heading off to be an Imperial pilot, fighting The Rebellion. It takes ten minutes for Luke to completely change his mind on the subject after a meeting with an old wizard in the desert who he barely knows. Shortly after, his family is killed, allegedly by imperials, but he never sees that and ends up taking the old man’s word on faith… Soon, he’s gung-ho about joining The Rebellion, and somehow all of his friends are there (thanks 90s Lucas)… Yes, the same friends that joined the Imperial Academy. It would have been great to see a small character beat between Luke and Biggs where they at least talk about what happened, but instead, it’s left hoping that we’d have forgotten.

There are a lot of little character inconsistencies like this riddled throughout A New Hope, but the main story distracts us from them with its glory. Look, no one is going to say that this is one of the greatest tales ever told; it’s generic, a bit overdone, and unoriginal, but it’s the world it all takes place in that makes it shine. Watching Luke and Obi Wan walk into a bar in Mos Eisley and listening to the iconic cantina band is an adventure in itself. The details scattered throughout the world make it impossible to escape its magnetic pull (almost like a tractor beam). Every character in the cantina scene feels like they could have some wild backstory, but the film leaves it up to the viewer’s imagination.

Still waiting on their new album to drop…

It’s the side interactions with these characters too that serve as some of the most memorable moments in the film. Luke’s confrontation with Butt Face (I refuse to call him anything else) and his partner in crime is one of the best scenes in the saga. It shows us Luke really doesn’t know what he’s doing, Obi Wan is a lean, mean slicing machine who is not to be fucked with, and that the denizens of the Mos Eisley Cantina see way too many people murdered. That’s a lot of story, setting, and character communication, and it takes all  of about thirty seconds. I only wish the rest of the film had that sort of concise storytelling, but hey, it’s still got a lot to offer.

Finally, before I run out of words here, a quick word about the opposition, the evil Galactic Empire. For the most part, they are characterized by incompetence in this film, and without Rogue One’s addition of the Death Star being sabotaged, they’d look like complete idiots.  Storm Troopers are supposed to be precise, and yet, Han Solo literally runs into a wall of them, shoots one in the head and gets away unscathed. They might be good at murdering farmers and Jawas, but anytime it comes to a real fight, they shit the bed.

Now, the Empire’s leadership? Full of petty infighting and scrambling for power. That is a believable story that somehow still mirrors the corporate world, and that’s a little bit scary. Peter Cushing’s Tarkin is a great, stereotypical villain with some incredible one-liners that serve to hold him in memory even after he’s blown up aboard his technological terror. Vader likewise isn’t given a ton of screen time, but when he’s there, he’s memorable, mostly due to the iconic James Earl Jones voiceover. My one gripe: Vader is allegedly the best pilot in the galaxy, and yet he still manages to miss the hulking form of the Millennium Falcon coming up behind him in the final battle? Maybe he should have tried spinning, I heard that’s a good trick.

In the end, I still love A New Hope despite its flaws. The world building is amazing and set us up for decades of fan fiction, lackluster prequels, and great sequels. While the story is very predictable and doesn’t do much new, it does it in a galaxy that no one had ever seen before, and that alone was enough to captivate people. Adjusted for nostalgic inflation, I still think this movie holds up and will continue to delight new audiences, especially with all the new Star Wars media coming out.

As always, if you disagree, I encourage you to fight me on Twitter/Facebook, it really drives the viewcount up on these pieces 😊

Star Wars – The Re-Review – Rogue One

We have ten weeks until Star Wars – Episode 9 – The Rise of Skywalker releases, and conveniently, there are ten films in the series that come before it (yes, I’m counting the spinoffs). To view Episode 9 with the proper perspective, and gain shameless views for my site, I’m going back to watch all ten movies and review them with fresh eyes. Now, before I get into the first movie, a couple of notes.

First off, I love Star Wars, always have, always will, but on this run through I’m going to be looking at them a bit more critically. So, know that while these reviews might harp on the films, they are still some of my favorites.

Second, my watching order. I’ve thought about this for a while and am going with a modified version of the Ernest Rister order. I may have lost some of you already but let me break it down with a picture to explain who the heck an Ernest Rister is and why I’m following him.

Now we have that out of the way, let’s talk about the first film.

Rogue One – The First Star Wars Story

From the moment the movie starts Rogue One tries to carve a unique space for itself in the Star Wars universe. There’s no opening crawl, and instead we’re thrust straight into the action, a first for the Star Wars series, and a good indicator that this sits outside the mainline films. Unfortunately, in an effort to set a new tone and quickly introduce us to all its characters, Rogue One’s first hour feels very disjointed in both tone and filming style. In the first thirty minutes we’re introduced to a myriad of new planets never seen on the screen, and each is barely given enough room to breathe before the film cuts somewhere else. This is understandable given the film’s already two-hour run time, but it can definitely be confusing, even for a fan of the series.

Putting aside the jumpy first half, Rogue One does introduce some memorable characters with the standouts in some of the more minor roles. Personally, K-2S0, yet another sassy robot, and the pair of Baze and Chirrut are some of the most interesting characters, despite not being the leads. K-2SO’s one-liners help break up the film’s darker tone with some comic relief, Chirrut gives us some insight into what happened with the Jedi temples after Order 66, and Baze carries a damned big gun. Saw, played by Forest Whitaker is another standout side character, but he’s given so little screen time, that its hard to really enjoy his performance.  

A blind jedi boi and a thick gunner make eyes at each other on the beach
Name a Star Wars couple you’d ship more, I’ll wait.

Getting to the leads, their characters aren’t bad either, but Cassian Andor, Rogue One’s captain, swaps between cold-blooded assassin and suddenly hopeful rebel at the drop of a hat. While I like the idea of showcasing a more problematic character in Star Wars rather than another cookie-cutter hero, Cassian wasn’t that. Instead, he came off like a half-baked Han Solo with more dramatic flare and it just didn’t work.

Jyn Erso on the other hand is a bit more interesting. Born the daughter of the Death Star’s architect, she’s got plenty of reasons to be confused by the way the factions of the world work, and her character works best when she’s all the powers at be. Unfortunately, the story of Rogue One ends up being pretty cut and dry, leaving a simple black and white position for her character to take. When it comes to siding with the plucky rebels, or The Empire, hell bent on destroying whole planets with their shiny new Death Star, there’s not much of a choice. There wasn’t anything the writers could have done to ameliorate this as the plot was set from the get-go, but it does shortchange an otherwise memorable character.

If only this line had been given a sarcastic delivery

There’s also a few returning characters that are a heavily mixed bag. Through the magic of ridiculously expensive CGI, a not-so-believable Grand Moff Tarkin returned, and to be honest, he felt unnecessary. The scenes with him were distracting just because of the uncanny nature of his animation and didn’t do much to further the plot. Vader on the other hand is a true badass, aside from possibly one of the worst lines in Star Wars history…

Darth vader has a terrible fucking one liner
Just… SO bad. Who thought this was a good line? Was Lucas involved?!

Yeah, oof, and this is in a series that had the lines “I hate sand” and “She died of a broken heart”. Even with those in mind, this is by far the worst line in the entire saga. On the bright side, the rest of his screen time is memorable and sets up his entrance in the next film beautifully. Come to think of it, that’s what Rogue One is best at overall: setting up A New Hope.

At its core, Rogue One is a film about filling one of the series’s biggest plot holes and making it seem like a stroke of narrative genius. As a quick refresher, and another spoiler, Episode 4 ends with the rebels blowing up the immaculately constructed Death Star by having a farmer shoot 2 torpedoes into an exposed vent on the station’s surface. This causes a chain reaction that blows the whole damned thing up. Originally, fans were left to believe this was a terrible design flaw on the Empire’s part, but Rogue One has a better answer: sabotage.

Rogue One’s narrative of an engineer at odds with the Empire’s goals of creating a planet-destroying weapon works, and creates a believable reason for the Death Star to be more vulnerable. It’s aspects like this, bridging the gap between movies where Rogue One really shines, and most of them happen in the film’s back half. The last forty-five minutes of Rogue One are arguably some of the best in the Star Wars franchise. The battle for Scariff is memorable, has a point, and unlike many of the other films, does a fantastic job of demonstrating the human cost of such an effort. It gives more weight to A New Hope and shows the audience exactly what the cost was to set up Luke’s miraculous trench run.

Overall, despite these misgivings, I still really enjoy watching Rogue One. It’s a fun film that gives us something different from the mainline saga. The battles are intense and easily some of the best in the series, most of the characters are memorable, and we are introduced to some cool new worlds, albeit briefly. The script’s tone and some of the more gratuitous fan service (looking at you CGI Tarkin) were definitely not necessary, but they don’t take the film down as a whole.

Final verdict: 3.5/10 – Absolutely worth watching if you’re a fan, and gives great context that somehow makes A New Hope even better.

Roswell – A History of the Mystery

This is the fifth episode of Cryptids Decrypted, the podcast where we talk about all things on the fringe of reality, we’re covering the history of the Roswell Incident. For those who are unfamiliar, Roswell is one of the most high profile UFO sightings in history and has spawned a myriad of theories about alien life, as well as government conspiracy. For this pod, my friend Tyler and I break down the mystery from start to finish, looking at all the available evidence from both the side of the skeptics and the true believers!

The link to our Anchor page is here, but Cryptids Decrypted is available on just about every streaming service, so take your pick!

The Patreon Is Dead – Long Live the Patreon

Hey Everyone, a few months ago I started a Patreon and today I took it down! All content that was posted there will now be posted here free of charge. Below is a copy of the statement I sent out:

Hello fine and lovely patrons, and a few bots someone created to win last month’s short story contest… Today, I have some news. Last night while I was looking over the loan agreement on a new Tesla and sipping on cognac, I realized something: I don’t need your money. Your support through this Patreon experiment has been incredible and I truly thank you for it, but I’m going to start producing all of my content for free again. So, with that in mind, let’s answer a few of the sure-to-be burning questions on everyone’s mind. 

What happens to the money we gave you this month, jerk?!

So glad you asked. I’ve crafted a very special advertisement to target some of our more – politically interesting? – readers. It seems that whenever we run a Facebook ad, I get a bunch of likes from gun-toting, conspiracy-loving, white nationalists, so, I figured we should exploit that by running the following: 

If you’re not on board with me exploiting and targeting people of a certain, offensive political leaning, this is the perfect time to jump ship. I’d say I’ll miss you, but eh…Also, I have paused the October billing cycle, which means you won’t be charged next month and I can leave this post up a bit longer. However, on October 1st, I will unlaunch the Patreon, which means all content will be unavailable… Except for I will have reposted it all at   https://macashton.com

Does this mean we get two Christmases? 

Well, no, but it does mean that pretty much everything is going to stay the same with a few key differences. 1. No one will be paying for content anymore – Part of what I’ve realized about this Patreon is that I don’t like gating content behind a pay wall. If I’m going to share a chapter of Chadpocalypse or a new episode of Cryptids Decrypted, I want everyone to be able to enjoy it at the same time. Likewise, rather than paying for the right to suggest short stories, I’d like everyone to be able to do it (sorry Max, I know you had more erotica suggestions planned, but now you’ve got competition)2. The content will be in a different place – Over the next few weeks, I’ll begin transitioning my content back to my website  https://macashton.com/ . It needs a bit of a face lift, but it’ll do. 

What happens to the monthly short story?

Suggestions are still open until next Monday, but the difference is, I will take suggestions from social media too. I’ll post polls everywhere and whichever topic gets the most votes, I will write it up and share. 

What about those sweet Cryptids Decrypted stickers?

Oh, these bad boys? Turns out, no one was interested in them! So, if you do want one, just e-mail me and I’ll send it over to you for free. AshtonDMacaulay@Gmail.com 

Any closing thoughts?

Look, all of the people that supported me are my friends, including Jeremy, who turned out to be my girlfriend with a fake e-mail the whole time… Good one, pal. I really appreciate you continuing to support my creative endeavors. It means a lot to me, you all rock, and I’ll put a big-ass thank you page in my next book for all of you (and probably send out some free copies whether you want them or not). If you enjoy the work I’m producing, the best way you can help now is share it around. Every person we expose to the virus that is my artistry is a step toward a global epidemic of my future best sellers.Oh, and I made you this video:

Thank you again,

Ashton

Take Me to Your Leader

Every month, members of my Patreon submit short story topics for me to write. Last month, a friend of mine had a very intriguing prompt about the Area 51 raid that garnered the most votes. I hope you enjoy it!

Original Prompt: ” Hundreds of thousands of people gather to storm the gates of Area 51, meanwhile, the ringleaders of the whole ordeal are using it as a distraction for something else… ”

Take Me to Your Leader

Suggested by: Check541

A loud bass-heavy beat thumped across the temperate night air of the Nevada desert. Mitch and his associates looked out from behind their clutch of rocks in disbelief. Technicolor lights shot into the sky and occasionally a crowd cheered over the slight wind that had picked up. Meanwhile, the blinking, barbed-wire perimeter of Area 51 was dead silent.

     The three of them had sat and watched all day as guards patrolled the exterior, stacking up towards the music festival that had congregated mere miles from the facility’s gate. Whatever they had said publicly, it was clear the guards were ready for a crowd of fanatics to swarm the installation at any time. All this from a poorly worded Facebook invite, thought Mitch. Things had progressed so rapidly that he hadn’t had time to bask in their success.   

     “Are you sure this is going to work?” Kira’s eyes flickered in the dark, glowing yellow.

     “We’re going to get him back,” soothed Mitch. “Our man on the inside is going to take care of everything.” Their man on the inside was a 21-year-old college student. Months ago they had abducted him, and on a whim tried a new hypnosis technique they were working. For his money, Mitch thought they had botched it a little, but after they set the kid down in a corn field, he did almost exactly as he was told. Sure, there had been some creative liberties taken with the message, Mitch didn’t know what a ‘Naruto’ was, but in the end, it worked.

     “Run it by me again,” hissed Kira, growing impatient.

     Mitch held out a placating hand. She had been on edge ever since her husband’s kidnapping, and he supposed he’d be on edge too if the situation were reversed. “It’s very simple. We’ve studied the behavior of the youth on this planet for a long time, right, Bill?”

     Bill was a full head taller than the rest of them and had clearly not taken much care in his human transformation. His neck was still far too long, and his head looked as though it had been over-inflated. Oddly enough, no one seemed to notice. When he spoke, it was with an uneasy baritone that sounded a bit like a freshman learning to play a tuba. “Mitch is right. I’ve watched these youth interact at festivals before. As soon as a few things go wrong in the right order, they will riot.” He smiled and clasped his hands before him. “Remember Fyre?”

     Mitch nodded. “Exactly, and our man on the inside is going to make sure more than a few things go wrong. This may have been converted into a music festival, but when the lights go out…” He let out a low, warbling whistle. “Well, then the chanting will start, and soon after they’ll start to wonder why they haven’t stormed the base. Shortly after that, they’ll carry through the event’s original purpose.”

     “To ‘see them aliens’,” quoted Bill, laughing.

     Even Kira cracked a smile at this. “You couldn’t have tried a little harder to learn the human language before the hypnotism?” she asked.

     Mitch sighed. “I don’t see a problem, do you?” As he said it, the music at the festival grew suddenly to a fever pitch, and stopped abruptly.

     “And just like that,” said Bill, clearly pleased with himself.

     For a few minutes, there was silence, apart from the wind rustling across the desert. There was a hollow click and an electrical whine as Area 51’s perimeter lights turned off. Mitch’s eyes adjusted, and with his impeccable dark vision, he saw soldiers moving around the edge of the base. They were dressed in all black, wearing slim, night-vision goggles, and wielding heavy rifles.

     “Think those are loaded with non-lethal rounds?” asked Bill. “Usually when it’s a protest, it’s non-lethal.”

     “This isn’t a protest.” Mitch felt some responsibility for the fate of the humans, but then remembered what they had done to Kira’s husband and refocused. “And that’s not a peacekeeping force, it’s a secret branch of the U.S. military. We know what’s in there and so do they.”

     Bill nodded in agreement and the three of them watched in silence as the soldiers passed. They were all congregating on the far side of the base, filling out foxholes and barricades that had been erected in preparation for the event. It was a formidable defense by any stretch. Even as the last soldiers moved into place, boos and jeers rang out from the festival venue.

     “Is it time?” asked Kira, impatiently.

     “Not yet, wait a minute.” Bill had his eyes trained on the horizon, looking directly at where the festival lights had been. A few short minutes later, hundreds of white lights appeared on the horizon. “I can’t be sure, but I think those are cell phones.” Bill grinned again. “I can’t believe it, but we did it.”
     “ATTENTION FESTIVAL-GOERS,” boomed a woman’s voice from what felt like a hundred loudspeakers. “RETURN TO THE FESTIVAL SITE IMMEDIATELY.”

     From a much weaker microphone across the desert came the voice of the assault. “WE ARE HERE TO SEE THEM ALIENS. YOU CAN’T STOP US ALL.”

     There was an audible click as hundreds of rifles were racked at once. “PLEASE, DON’T DO THIS. COME CLOSER AND YOU WILL BE FIRED UPON.” The woman’s voice was tired and conflicted.

     “That’s our cue,” said Bill, standing.

     Kira sprinted toward the fence as they had planned, keeping an eye out for guards along the way.

     Mitch pulled a razor-thin stick from his back. From a distance, it would have been hard to spot, but it wasn’t the size that mattered. He pushed a small button and a red, holographic targeting system appeared in the air above the stick.

     Kira began cutting through the facility’s electric fence, ignoring the low hum from beneath her gloved fingers.

     Above her, a sniper in all black appeared, checking the perimeter. Mitch got the man in his sights, muttered a quick apology, and with a snap-hiss, dispatched him. The man vaporized, leaving a thin, red mist behind him that quickly dispersed in the evening breeze.

     “Good shot.” Bill clapped him on the shoulder.

     Mitch laughed. “I never imagined it could be this easy.”

     Kira finished cutting open the fence and motioned for them to come in. Bill and Mitch ran forward and hopped through the small hole she had made, taking care not to bump the exposed fence that crackled with violent electricity. Once through, they rounded a corner to a service entrance. Mitch silently praised the man who had given them the intel, albeit unwillingly.

     In the distance, the crowd roared and charged. Everything was going exactly to plan. “Praise Facebook,” muttered Bill and pushed the service door open.

     On the other side, three soldiers stood with their weapons ready. One fired, but Mitch was quick, dispatching him with another snap-hiss. Red spackled the hallway in minute specks. He looked at the remaining two soldiers, saw one was beginning to shake, and shot the other. The bolt caught him on the side, causing more spray than the first, and splattering the remaining soldier.

     Mitch trained his rifle to fire again but waited with his finger rested on the trigger. The soldier was no longer in firing position. His mouth had dropped open and his gun was pointing at the floor.

     “Drop your weapon,” hissed Kira.

     The soldier did so without thinking, the black assault rifle clattering to the hallway’s smooth, concrete floor.

     “Very good.” Again, Mitch couldn’t believe just how easy it was. Slowly, he sidled up closer to the soldier, making sure his gun-barrel never left its target. When he was close enough to speak comfortably with the solider, he whispered: “Now, take me to your leader.”

If you enjoyed what you read, consider becoming a member of my Patreon! For $2, you can suggest topics for this month’s short story!

Cover image: “Area 51 Nevada”by tdeckard2000 is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Update on Upcoming Projects

Hi Everyone, I know, it’s been a long time since I’ve posted on the site, but I’ve been working on a host of projects that are all coming out soon! I wanted to take this time to provide a brief update on where everything is and how it’s coming along.

The Patreon (Yes, I have one of those now)

I know, shilling for money on a Patreon can be a turn off, but rest assured, I’m using those earnings to fund all sorts of cool projects. Not sure what a Patreon is? I made a video for that.

The latest of these projects is going to be a podcast series where I talk with experts in the field of Cryptozoology, discussing portrayals of cryptids (think bigfoot, yeti, etc.) in fiction compared to how the experts believe they exist in the real world.

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Our First Guest, David George Gordon, The Bug Chef

The first episode of the podcast is going to air next Friday and will be an interview talking all things Bigfoot with Author, David George Gordon.  While a lot of his fame stems from his ability to cook up a good insect meal, David has also written a field guide about Sasquatch, and frequently speaks about cryptids nationally. The podcast will air one week early for Patrons on July 19th, and will be available on all podcast platforms the week after. 

A Man of the Mountain

If you’ve followed my posts, you’ve probably seen me talking about this one a lot. A Man of the Mountain is a prequel Novella to Whiteout, and takes place in the fictional town of Clearwater. The story follows Jonas, a man hell bent on maintaining the legend of Bigfoot at all costs, and Shirley Codwell, the intrepid tabloid reporter hunting him down. Things escalate after real monster hunters are called in, including our favorite, Nick Ventner, and the chase begins.

Man of the Mountain will be released in two formats. Beginning this summer, we will release episodes of the story as an audio drama with full  music, sound effects, and the work of some incredible voice actors. Two trailers are up below if you want to check them out. A pre-release of Episode 1 will go out to Patrons at the end of this month.

A Man of the Mountain will also be releasing as a paperback through Aberrant Literature later this year, so keep an eye out for more news on that!

Downpour

The first draft for the sequel to Whiteout is complete and is now out for edits with the man, the myth, the legend, Jason Peters, head of Aberrant Literature. We’re planning for a release sometime next year, and for those who absolutely can’t wait, I’ll be sharing some early chapters, yes, on the Patreon (my apologies, but it really helps us with getting money for ads and events).

I had so much fun writing this book and examining a different part of Nick as he treks through the South American jungle searching for the entrance to the Land of the Dead. There are plenty of myths, legends, and old friends for Nick to encounter on his journey, and it’s shaping up to be a worthy successor to Whiteout.

Chadpocalypse

I’m now in the process of writing Book 2 of Chadpocalypse, the story of a lowly drunk who is thrust into the role of thwarting the apocalypse. The entirety of Book 1 is up for reading through the Patreon and once I’ve finished Book 2, it will be up there as well. The plan is to find a publishing home for this eventually so I can release it in paperback, but I’d say that’s a 2020 goal if I’m being honest. It’s only $2 to read the first part in its entirety right now, so if you’re interested, consider checking it out!

Wanderword

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As some of you are aware, I also spent a good part of my winter working on an interactive short story for a new platform, Wanderword. Wanderword aims to let players step into their story by offering meaningful choices in an immersive choose-your-own-adventure audio format with full sound effects and music. My first story, Sweet Dreams, deals with a company trying to monetize dreams, and puts the player in the shoes of Jackie, a woman testing this new application.

There’s no release date yet for the story, but I’ve had a chance to play through some sections and it’s going to be a lot of fun! If you want to check out an excellent story that is already out, try 63rd and Wallace, a horror-mystery about the murder castle in Chicago. The first episode is free, and very well written.

That’s all for now!

If you’re still reading, thanks for bearing with me, I’m really excited to share all these new projects with you very soon! For frequent updates, I suggest following me on Twitter as that’s where I’m most active these days. Have a great end to your week, and I’ll see you around.

–Ashton

Please Pick My Book by Its Cover – The Perils of Indie Authorship

It’s been a while since I posted on the site, so I figured I’d share a recent piece I wrote for Advanced Literate as a companion to my interview.  Hope you enjoy!

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Please Pick My Book by Its Cover – Ashton Macaualy

Being an independent author is simultaneously one of the easiest and hardest things I’ve ever done. The easy part? All you need to do is write a few words, slap your name on them, and BOOM, you’re an Indie Author. Congratulations. The hard part? Getting people to read those words, or better yet, getting someone else to pay to publish them. The harder part? Finding people to buy those books once you’ve wrangled a publisher and have your cover on the digital shelf. It’s a never-ending cycle; one that I’ve been heavily engaged with for about four years now. So, if you’re new to the scene, struggling to get your work out there, or just tired of the infinite shameless self-promotion loop on social media, strap in and let’s talk about it.

It was four years ago when I started to think of myself as a hot-shit writer with a manuscript that could sell. I had just moved to Seattle and was, as a lot of writers are, jobless. Those long days in my 400 square foot apartment were spent watching Seinfeld, applying for jobs, and submitting everything I had ever written to anyone who would pay a few bucks on Craig’s List. Sure, I submitted to a few of the big publishers as well, but its four years later and I’ve never heard a word from any of them. Want ads aren’t what a lot of people would call the traditional route to getting published, but it worked.

About two months into this rinse and repeat cycle of applications and submissions, two equally incredible things happened. The first is that I got a job working as a contractor at Xbox; pretty sweet, a dream gig for me. The second is that out of the hundred or so submissions of my work to various entities, I received two responses. Both were similar, offering to buy one of my short stories for a twenty-five-dollar flat fee. The first, I accepted immediately, jumping at the chance to have anything published. The second I rejected, hoping to hold out on that story for later (recently published in Aberrant Tales).

After selling that first story, I didn’t hear back from the publisher for almost six months. I continued to write every morning before going to my 9-5, but interestingly, the publication hadn’t been a life-changing experience. That changed the day a brown bubble envelope arrived on my doorstep. I opened it up and to my surprise, I had become a published author. The feeling of holding that red-covered Aberrant Literature Short Fiction Collection – Volume 3 and seeing my name on the author list was unlike anything I had ever experienced. That’s how I met my now publisher, Aberrant Literature, and the man behind it, Jason Peters. That collection spurred our writing/editing/promoting partnership that’s been going strong ever since, but none of it would have happened if I had been above submitting my work on Craig’s List.

That’s the thing about writing: no one should be above anything. If your goal is anything other than getting as many people as possible to enjoy your work, I hate to say it but you’re in the wrong business. I put a lot of time and effort into getting my first short story published, and there was a lot of rejection along the way, but holding it in my hand made me happy because it meant someone had liked reading it enough to print it.

Fast forward three or so years, (time has a funny way of slipping by when you spend it with your imagination behind a keyboard), and my first novel has been out for about nine months. Jason and I worked tirelessly on that manuscript for a solid two years before it ever saw the light of day, and yes, even after it came out, I still needed to keep my day job. The work only intensified after the book came out because getting readers takes effort – not just some of the time, but every day.

Since May of last year, we’ve tried just about everything to promote Whiteout, and it hasn’t been easy. As it turns out, getting people to pick up a paperback from an author they don’t know is pretty damn difficult. I’ve tried just about everything: In-person events, hiding books in airports/supermarkets, tweeting relentlessly into the echo chamber that is #WritingCommunity (it feels good, but doesn’t move copies), paid promotion, and many more. At the end of the day, the best luck I’ve had has been at those in-person events, or interviews like this one for Advanced Literate. The most effective way to get someone to pick up your book is to engage with them on a personal level and convince them it’s worth their time.

I know, getting in-person gigs isn’t easy, but like this whole crazy profession, it requires persistence. I’ve walked into around fifteen bookstores to ask about opportunities to sell my work and sign copies. Of those fifteen, two of them were nice enough to let me come to Indie Author Nights and talk. Those experiences were some of the best I’ve had as an author. I interacted with others in the community – some of whom I still talk to, some of whom I avoid with a ten-foot digital pole – but more importantly, it gave me experience. Seeing your readers in person shows you how they react when you communicate certain aspects of your work and teaches you what delights them. I’ve carried those lessons over to my digital interactions, and while we’re not selling hundreds of copies a month, sales aren’t stagnant either.

Alright, this was a lot of words about the process, and you might be feeling discouraged. However, while it sounds like a slog, there’s one thing I haven’t mentioned: I’ve loved just about every minute of it. Sure, there have been nights where my eyes are burning red from staring at the screen too long and every word I type feels like the work of a fifth grader, but when I shut off the computer, I’m happy. Writing is one of the few things in this world that makes sense to me, and any opportunity I have to do it fills my spiritual tank (sounds gross when I say it out loud). No matter how many books I sell or copies I sign, I’m still going to get up two hours before I need to be at work every morning and write. So, if you love the craft as much as I do, stop reading this blog post, open up your manuscript you’re procrastinating on, and get to it.

Praise for Whiteout

Whiteout has almost been out for a month, and the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. I couldn’t be happier with the reception, and am so happy to see people enjoying Nick’s adventures as much as I do. Thanks to the fans, we currently hold a 4.73/5 on GoodReads and a 4.8/5 on Amazon.

Want to see what all the hype is about? Order through your local bookstore on Indie Bound, or pick up a copy on Amazon!

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In addition to the positive reception from fans, Whiteout has also been reviewed by Kirkus!

“In Macaulay’s debut contemporary fantasy novel, a monster hunter pursues a yeti in the hostile winter landscape of the Himalayas and discovers the entrance to a hidden world.

Nick Ventner is a blue-collar hunter—a whiskey-soaked, seasoned pro in all things lurking in the shadows. Nick and his apprentice, James Schaefer, think they’re rescuing a village in the Himalayas from creatures called wargs, but it’s not wargs that have been picking off entire teams of climbers. It’s a yeti, and Nick’s nemesis, a rival hunter named Manchester, knows it too. ” Full Review available on the Kirkus site.

Finally, I just wanted to say a huge thank you to everyone who has helped get Whiteout to this point. I can’t wait to see where it goes next, but holding the book in my hands, getting the opportunity to talk about it at local bookstores, and seeing everyone’s reactions has been amazing. Thanks to all  of you!

Whiteout Pre-Orders are Live

Hey Everyone,

The time has come! Whiteout is now available for Pre-Order on Amazon! Release is only about a month away (May 1st), and I am so excited to share the final product with you. If you’re a fan, or a friend, or just want to help, please share our pre-order link around. A lot of our marketing for this book is going to be word of mouth, so every share is important! These shares are going to help make the book more searchable across platforms and help make us more noticeable. Easiest way to find it right now is by searching ‘Whiteout Ashton Macaulay’ or ‘Whiteout Aberrant Literature’, or by following one of the links above.

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This is not a drill, this is real!!!

For those who prefer other sites to Amazon, we are getting those pages up and running as well. As of now we are up on Barnes and Noble, iTunes, and Kobo.

Now, for those of you who backed our GoFundMe campaign, the first wave of merch just came in (as evidenced by this poorly-shot mirror selfie, apologies, my cats can’t hold a camera). Once I get all the paperback copies, I’ll frenziedly sign them all and then get to shipping!20180330_074641

Thanks again to everyone who helped make this happen, cannot wait to share Whiteout with you all on May 1st!

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Cannery Row – A Review in Brief

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cannery row is less of a story and more of a description of a place in time. Steinbeck describes a coastal town with incredible detail using a constantly shifting perspective, examining the town through the eyes of a given person or place. It takes a few chapters to get used to, but as time went on, I felt like I got to know the setting better than most other works. Even in the short 181-page length, the author builds a memorable cast of characters and paints a thorough picture of their day-to-day lives. If you’re looking for a story, Cannery Row has a few, but none of them are central to the book’s purpose. Instead, Steinbeck makes the setting the main character, and its evolution through a short span of time the plot. It’s a very unique read, and I highly recommend it.

View all my reviews

Review in Brief – Secondhand Souls – Christopher Moore

Secondhand Souls (Grim Reaper, #2)

Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A Dirty Job is one of my favorite books I’ve read in recent memory, meaning the bar for Secondhand Souls was impossibly high for the jump. The story picks up right where A Dirty Job left off, and is at its most interesting in the first half. While the book focuses on the same characters, it ends up feeling like some of them lose their depth in favor of leaning more heavily into tropes. It’s unfortunate, because I love Charlie Asher so much, but he feels a little short-changed in the sequel. Fortunately, the new characters introduced for the sequels are standouts, with the villain, Lemon being one of my favorites.

The story is fun and intriguing, but ultimately feels handicapped by its conclusion. The book wraps up at a blinding pace with a bit of an anti-climactic showdown and ends up feeling a bit hollow. I would have liked to see a bit more depth in the last third of the book, but overall, the story was still enjoyable.

For fans of A Dirty Job, I’d definitely recommend picking it up. If nothing else, it gives more time with the characters we’ve come to love and has Moore’s trademark humor.

View all my reviews