John Dies at the End – A Review in Brief

John Dies at the End by David Wong

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

John Dies at the End (John Dies at the End, #1) by David Wong


When a book starts out with two young dudes fighting a monster made of deli cuts and spewing sausages, you know you’re going to have a good time. From the first few pages, John Dies at the End had me repeatedly laughing out loud and always kept me on my toes. There’s no way to predict what batshit direction the book is going to go next, because I’m not even sure David Wong knew when he wrote it. The strength of the inconsistent narrative and bizarre acid-trip-like turns taken in this adventure are both some of the highlights and lowlights.

The first half of this book is hands down my favorite, and feels like the most coherent portion of the story. Things get off the rails towards the back half when Wong dives into some Lovecraftian, interdimensional, jellyfish-slinging blood baths, but even when it was confusing, I was still enjoying it. No matter how muddled the narrative got, I always wanted to know what was going to happen next, and I cared about the well-being of these misfit characters.

In the end, David Wong has a unique voice and I’ve never read anything quite like this book. Is it perfect? No, but GoodReads doesn’t allow for half stars, so take a 5/5, David, you earned it.

Would recommend for fans of dark comedy, horror, and bizarre sci-fi.

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Are you a fan of adventure, drunk anti-heroes, or adventuring drunk anti-heroes? Maybe you should check out my books! Whiteout is the first in a planned trilogy, starring Nick Ventner, drunk monster hunter extraordinaire. Whiteout sees Nick pitted against the mythical yeti and a merciless mountain in a race against time with enemies hot on his heels.

More info on Good Reads:  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15019448.Ashton_Macaulay

I’m Struggling

Originally posted on Word Play, an excellent podcast hosted by Kristine Raymond who interviewed me last month.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve sat down several times to write this blog post, word jumble, rant, whatever you call it, and each time I’ve struggled. We’re all stuck at home, writing should be easier, right? Actually, it’s been the opposite. I don’t have anything particularly grand to say about the current crisis we all find ourselves in, but as a writer, here’s how weeks of isolation is affecting my work, and hopefully a few words of encouragement to keep us all going. I may have also memed my cat a few times along the way, because I’m stuck inside, and what else was I going to do?

I may not be a famous writer, but I am a prolific one. Every morning, I’m up a few hours before I need to leave for work (when I used to go in to work) so I can get in some time for edits, rewrites, and if time allows, a new story. Through that process, I’ve learned to embrace that some of the things I write will be horrible (that’s how this feels right now), but I’ll fix them in edits. Usually, that strategy works well, and I’m able to push out a lot of content I’m proud of. Not so in the current climate.

Every morning, I’m waking up to far too many texts, news articles, tweets, angry cat meows, all about the coronavirus and how it’s going to destroy life as we know it. That’s a lot to be assaulted by first thing in the morning, and it’s distracting. Every time I’ve sat down to write this post, I’ve been pulled away by a tweet, or an errant thought, and it’s been hard to get back on track. The truth is, I’m not writing as much as I was when I had less time.

I think the problems I’m experiencing stem from a single question: Why does what I write matter right now? In a time where people are starving and losing their jobs, it’s hard to think about a drunken monster hunter blundering his way through another adventure. Sure, I could go into a darker headspace and write some Black Mirror sci-fi shit (happens every few years), but I think that’s more likely to bring people down than lift them up. The point is, I’ve lost my drive, and getting it back has been a hell of a process.

Alright, that probably seems bleak, but here’s the good part. I’m guessing that I’m not the only one who’s been struggling with their own brain right now. It’s easy to forget we’re not alone. This pandemic is weird for everyone, and no one in the writing community is experiencing ‘normal’ right now. Whether you’re Stephen King or someone who hasn’t published yet, you’re experiencing radical change.

So, we’re not alone, but that’s still a lot of negativity to deal with, right? Yes, it is, but I’ve been working on a few strategies that have helped me significantly. My writing is not back to normal, but I sat down to put this post out, didn’t I?

  1. Media Blackout Times – I’ve started shutting my phone off from 8PM-8AM every day. The evening helps me sleep, and that unadulterated time in the morning helps me write before I’ve read my daily news. Getting that time to put words to paper before I’ve been exposed to the world for the day is a blessing. I’ve wanted to check my phone a hundred times while writing this, but so far, I haven’t (well I did once), and these words are on the page.
  2. The Egg Timer – Look, most of us don’t have egg timers, but I’m willing to bet you’ve got something that can be used as a timer. Set twenty minutes where you’re going to sit and write. For those twenty minutes, you aren’t talking to people, you aren’t checking anything else, and you’re not staring blankly at a screen. I don’t care if it’s “and then my characters went to the next scene because I was stuck”, make your fingers move and put something on the page. It’ll feel weird at first, but that’s going to help you get it out, and that is a damned fine feeling.
  3. Interact with People Honestly – It can be very tempting on Twitter or elsewhere to put on a persona that you’re thriving and doing your best work right now. If that’s true, more power to you, but I doubt it. When you’re interacting with people, show your true and honest self. Projecting a falsehood helps no one and is likely just discouraging other members of the community (I’m guilty of it, but I’m trying to stop). Talk to other writers about your experience and build new relationships. What else are you going to do, write?
  4. Remember Why You Started Writing – I started writing to give myself an escape from the real world, and I need it now more than ever. While that may not matter on the global scale, it matters to me, and that makes it important. Whatever your reason for writing is, it’s a good one, and it matters.

Look, even reading through this post, I still have my doubts about sending it off, but I sat here and wrote a thousand words this morning. That’s something to be proud of. Take the small achievements where you can find them, and remember, keep writing. One day, things will get better, but before they do, stories are a great way to pass the time. If you want to connect, you can find me on Twitter (@RealMacAshton), and I wish you the best of luck with your work in progress.

We got this.

Short Story – Necromantic Abominations Anonymous

Frank slumped into the tired remains of the long-abandoned fast-food chicken restaurant. The fluorescent lights had been repaired and most of the rats scared away, but it still didn’t feel like the best place for a meeting. There was a church across the street, nice old building, but of course, a gathering there would raise all sorts of questions none of them wanted to answer. No, instead, a circle of plastic chairs had been arranged right in front of the old checkout counter.

     “Good evening, Frank. Nice to see you made it back,” called Melinda. She was the leader of the group and certainly dressed the part. While she insisted everyone dress to their comfort level, Melinda always showed up in a fresh-pressed suit. Frank supposed that might have been her comfort level, but also knew it helped project authority over what could be a rowdy group of people.

     “Evening, Melinda,” Frank moaned. Every step he took towards the circle was a step toward a truth he really didn’t want to talk about. He never liked being the first one to arrive, but most of his kind were perpetually late. Something about their brains made it so easy to forget and go chase after a butterfly instead.

     “There’s donuts on the counter if you want some. Bought them fresh this morning.” Melinda smiled.

     Frank knew the gesture was more habit than anything but went over to the donut box all the same. “Thanks.” Sitting in front of the ancient register was a bright pink box filled with multicolored donuts of all shapes and sizes. Variety is supposed to be the spice of life, he reminded himself. Next to the box were two large saltshakers and additional single-use packets.

     Truth be told, for them, variety wasn’t the spice of life at all, salt was. Frank’s taste buds hadn’t worked in a long time, as was true with most everyone else who attended these meetings. As it turned out, salt was one of the few things they were still capable of tasting. So, whether it was stale donuts, pizza, or even a hot cup of coffee, without salt, it was like eating nothing at all.

     Frank picked through the pastries, finding a massive apple fritter. He poured salt on it until the donut was covered in a thick layer of fine, white crystals. From a distance, it could have almost been powdered sugar, and that made him feel a little more normal. After all, wasn’t that why he came to the meetings? Frank took his salty prize and made his way to the circle of chairs.

     Not wanting to sit too close to Melinda, but also not wanting to be directly opposite, he picked a spot halfway between. He hoped to hell she would let him sit in peace for a few minutes before starting. Even as he shoved a handful of fritter into his mouth, he could feel her eyes on him.

     “How’s work?” asked Melinda.

     “Fine,” he said through half-chewed bites of somehow crunchy apple. Frank worked pushing shopping carts at the local grocery store. It was simple, and some days felt like all he could handle. Most people in his situation couldn’t even do that, but Frank had practiced tirelessly. One of the goals for societal reintegration was to be as ‘normal’ as possible. Holding down a minimum wage job that would have starved the average living human seemed close enough.

     “Fine is good.” Melinda smiled.

     Frank stared at the mangled remains of his donut and prayed that others would start arriving soon. Eating delicately was a skill he no longer possessed. No matter how small he started, the process always turned into rips and tears. Staring down at the fritter reminded him suddenly of a brain and hunger stirred within him. He closed his eyes and counted to ten like they had all practiced.

     At that moment, the doors to the Chicken Shack burst open in a display of force that nearly shattered the glass panels. A large woman stumbled into the dim light. The sweatshirt she wore had black blood caked at the wrists and a mottled tear running down one side. Her eyes were glazed over, far away. Frank thought she looked more than a little worse for wear, but then remembered his own condition.

     “Adelaide, remember what we said about the doors?” Melinda’s voice was patient but firm.

     “Quiet,” murmured Adelaide and let out a prolonged groan. “Sorry, forgot.”

     “That’s alright. We’ve got fresh donuts on the counter.”

     Adelaide nodded and shuffled her way over to the counter, barely sparing Frank a glance as she went. That was fine by him, the less interaction, the better. The process of others slamming the doors open continued as the rest of the group filtered in. Melinda maintained her calm demeanor with each admonishment and hardly a hint of frustration. Frank admired her for that.

     Soon, all the chairs were filled and Frank was looking out at a sea of slack-jawed, slowly decaying faces. As a group, they were hard on the eyes to say the least. He thought of all the mirrors he had smashed in his own apartment to avoid his reflection and took some pity.

     Melinda clapped her hands together, the sudden noise drawing the rapt attention of everyone in the room. “Alright, thank you all for coming, as always. This marks the tenth meeting of Abandoned Necromantic Creations Anonymous, name still pending.” She chuckled at her own joke, but the only response from the group was a low moan from Adelaide. Melinda wasn’t deterred. “Okay, Frank, why don’t you start us off? Tell us about your week.”

     Frank’s mouth went dry – well – dryer than usual. “I um.” He faltered.

     Melinda waited patiently.

     Across the room, an overweight man named Bill picked a maggot out of his navel and put it on top of a frosted, pink donut.

     Frank closed his eyes and continued. “Well, I’m Frank.”

     “Hi, Frank.” The sound was like a hundred, out of tune, deep brass instruments playing discordant notes all at once. Surprisingly, it was better than usual.

     Frank continued. “It’s been three years since I was first raised back in New Orleans.” He paused. “Hell, it’s really been three years. Time flies when you’re pushing shopping carts and squatting in a construction site, I suppose.”

     “Brains?” asked Bill, holding up his donut with deep disappointment.

     “God I wish.” The words slipped out of Frank’s mouth with hardly any notice.

     Melinda shifted in her seat. “Bill, I think we all know that’s a trigger word for a lot of people here. What did we say last week?”

     “Brains!” exclaimed Bill, suddenly angry. He dropped the donut on the ground with a melancholy plop.

     “Bill!” hissed Melinda.

     Frank raised his voice. “I think what he’s trying to say is, it’s bullshit. I’ve pushed carts for three years, done my best to blend in, and I still can’t walk into a grocery store without starting a panic. I’ve got ‘monster hunters’ coming after me every weekend with a six pack and shotguns. It’s no way to live.”

     “Brains,” affirmed Bill and then added: “Sorry.” He made a slight bow to Melinda.

     A young woman stood up. “I was happy in my afterlife. I loved my fiancée, but I never wanted to come back.”

     “It’s not uncommon for death to push our loved ones to necromancy. That doesn’t make it right, but we have to recognize it for what it is, an act of love.” A soft smile crossed Melinda’s lips. It was working, people were talking.

     “It’s not an act of love, it’s a mistake, we’re a mistake.”

Frank was sure tears would have run down the young woman’s face if her ducts were still working. He stood up, planning to call Melinda out on the hypocrisy of seeing necromancy as an act of love, but all he managed was: “Brains.” Shit, he thought to himself.

     “Braaaaiins,” moaned a man sitting opposite Frank.

     Melinda raised her hands in an effort to bring calm to the group, but her eyes were wide. She might have been the most well-adjusted out of all of them, but there was only so many times she could hear that word. “I think we all need to breath and count to brains—” Her hand went to her mouth.

     Other members of the meeting were standing and shuffling towards the exit. Frank recognized the situation for what it was but felt propelled beyond himself. “Braaains,” he murmured, barely thinking anymore. The world was getting fuzzy. Warm rain kissed his face as he stepped outside. How did I get outside? They were moving in a group now; he could see that. Some might have called it a horde, but that was another trigger word.

     He held up his hands and found two halves of a donut, no salt, just a regular old donut. In that moment, he wanted nothing else in the world. Shoveling handfuls of the delicious pastry into his mouth, Frank let out an audible sound of delight. Maybe it’s finally working. Sense of taste was something that could come back, right? He closed his eyes, savoring every bite, trying to taste the individual flavors that had been so lovingly crafted.

     Raindrops continued to fall on his skin, heavier now. Dread crept into the back of his mind, slow at first, but building quickly. Frank opened his eyes, returning from his revelry and felt warm liquid dripping down his face. Ah shit. He knew that feeling.

Looking down, he saw a man wearing a visor and a tank top splayed out on the pavement, gurgling out his last breaths and then going silent. The poor man’s brains were spread across the pavement. Frank raised a hand to his lips, knowing exactly what he would find there. Not again. Disgust washed over him as he wiped away flecks of grey matter.

He looked around and saw other members of the horde in similar states of embarrassment. Melinda had a hand hanging out of her mouth, fingers still clenched between her jaws. The perfect suit she had worn was stained red and brown. Regret was plain on her face.

     Frank stood suddenly as the man beneath him moaned.

     “Braiiins,” the man said through a mixture of blood and bile.

     Frank swore. Well done. He held out a hand. “Come on pal, get up.” He pulled the freshly formed zombie to his feet. “I’m sure you’re a bit confused.”

     “Brains?” The man looked down at his bloodied tank top, growing faintly horrified.

     “Yes, unfortunately you’re a member of the undead now. Sorry about that…” He was delicious though… Frank slapped himself in the face. There was little feeling, but the act itself was grounding.

     “Brains!” cried the man, as if to say: ‘Aren’t you the one that killed me, asshole?’ It took the freshly resurrected time to gain any semblance of speech, especially when they were missing a few chunks of processing power.

     Frank put a hand on the man’s shoulder, hoping he wasn’t a biter. “Yes, it’s a lot to take in, but don’t worry, we have meetings!”

El Chupacabra – A History of the Mystery

This week on Cryptids Decrypted, we’re taking a look at one of the more famous mythical creatures of the modern day, El Chupacabra. Hailing from Puerto Rico, the chupacabra was first sighted in the mid-nineties, right around the time UFO fever was hitting a new high. The creature takes its name from chupar (to suck) and cabra (for goat) as more than a few of its sightings relate to attacking local livestock. Sightings and findings have been questionable to say the least, but that’s what makes for a good episode, is it not? Give it a listen and let us know what your thoughts on the creature are. Is it real, or is it bullshit? You decide.

Other Links: Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, all others can be found on Anchor.Fm

One thing is for sure, it has spawned some excellent movies:

Image result for chupacabra vs the alamo
Image result for guns of el chupacabra

Want to help with Coronavirus relief efforts?

In the podcast, I mention that I am currently selling signed books for charity. If you purchase a signed copy of Whiteout ($20) or Man of the Mountain ($15) through me, I will pay the shipping (domestic, international I’ll need some help), and all the profits will go to support Feeding America. We’re in the middle of a very weird time right now across the world and I want to help however I can. To place an order, go ahead and shoot me an e-mail (AshtonDMacaulay@Gmail.com) or message me on Twitter (@RealMacAshton). For more info on the books, check out my author page.

Stay safe, wash your hands, and reach out if you need anything.

The Tommyknockers – A Review in Brief

The Tommyknockers by Stephen King

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


The Tommyknockers has moments of greatness, but suffers from the same problem as some of King’s other works; it’s just too damned long. There were parts of the story that had me rapt, engaged, and wanting to know what happens next, but then there were also pieces that felt entirely irrelevant, never got fully resolved and felt like they should have been on the chopping block.

Much like other famous works of King’s, this tale sees another sleepy Maine town under siege by some blend of supernatural/extraterrestrial force. The main characters are strong as always, and when they’re in the story, it’s a joy to watch them interact. Where this book fell flat for me was some of the side characters. There are a lot of them, given that this is the story of a town, and not all of them are created equal. While some are given memorable moments, or sometimes even full on monologues, others are flat, not providing much beyond antagonism. King has proved through works like IT that he can absolutely write the hell out of side characters, making this outing a bit disappointing.

The story itself is simple, and engaging. Watching two friends dig up an ancient spaceship and observing its effects on a town full of unsuspecting folk is consistently entertaining. King does a great job of building mystery, and while the payoff isn’t perfect, I did leave the story feeling satisfied.

Overall, if you’re a king fan, and you’re looking for some pulpy scifi, you could do worse. Not a King fan? Not worth it.

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Are you a fan of adventure, drunk anti-heroes, or adventuring drunk anti-heroes? Maybe you should check out my books! Whiteout is the first in a planned trilogy, starring Nick Ventner, drunk monster hunter extraordinaire. Whiteout sees Nick pitted against the mythical yeti and a merciless mountain in a race against time with enemies hot on his heels.

More info on Good Reads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15019448.Ashton_Macaulay