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The Scariest Part: Jasper Bark Talks About STUCK ON YOU AND OTHER PRIME CUTS

Stuck On You

Welcome to this week’s installment of The Scariest Part, a recurring feature in which authors, comic book writers, filmmakers, and game creators tell us what scares them in their latest works of horror, dark fantasy, dark science fiction, and suspense. (If you’d like to be featured on The Scariest Part, please review the guidelines here.)

My guest is Jasper Bark, whose essay below is one of my favorites I’ve run in this feature so far. It discusses an issue that all writers face at some point in their careers and really resonated with me. His latest book is the collection Stuck On You and Other Prime Cuts. Here is the publisher’s description:

A word of caution gentle reader, these tales will take you places you’ve never been before and may never dare revisit. They’ll whisper truths so twisted you can only face them in the darkest hours of the night. They’ll unlock desires so decadent you’ll never wash their taint from your flesh.

All it takes is a single turn of the page and your taste in dark fiction will be transformed forever. So you have to ask yourself: “How daring do I feel…?”

Includes a foreword by Pat Cadigan.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Jasper Bark:

There were lots of scary parts to writing my latest collection, Stuck On You and Other Prime Cuts. Believe it or not, the scariest part wasn’t walking away from a huge sum of money in order to do it.

A year or so ago I was writing a script for a major UK gaming company. It was tedious work, the people I was working with had no imagination and would unfailingly ask me to take anything imaginative or even halfway interesting out of the script. What was left was bland, pointless and often incomprehensible. As you can imagine it was soul destroying work, but the money was great and they’d also offered me two further contracts for even more money. I was set for several years.

But I was trapped.

Until my wife kicked my butt and told me I was never going to get anywhere as a writer if I kept on taking jobs simply for the money. I’d given up a well paid career as a film and music journalist to write full time and mostly I was doing hack work. That was no way to establish a name or a career as a writer. It didn’t matter how good the money was, she argued, if I was serious about becoming a real writer I should be doing something else.

Yes, I have a wife that awesome. Don’t ask me how I managed that. She’s impervious to mind control, blackmail or old school voodoo (believe me I’ve tried) so it’s probably down to pure dumb luck on my part.

So I walked away from the job to sit down and write horror stories, a genre with which I was increasingly becoming identified. It was terrifying but it wasn’t the scariest part.

Writing about what scares you as a person is a truly frightening prospect. You’re not going to scare your reader unless your story deeply scares you, that’s why you have to write about your own worst fears. However, admitting what frightens us most means making ourselves incredibly vulnerable to a bunch of strangers, because we’re publicly revealing our worst traits, our weakest failings and the ways in which we can be most deeply and irrevocable hurt. We do this in the hope that other people share those fears and, by facing them together, we can become stronger and more able to deal with them. But owning up to things that we rarely tell even our nearest and dearest is a scary prospect. However, it wasn’t the scariest part of writing this book either.

Squaring up to my blank laptop screen, and determining what I was going to say, in my one shot at leaving behind something of note for future readers, that was quite honestly the scariest part. That meant finding my real voice and accepting that it deserved to be heard.

For all the encouragement we get growing up and as an adult, we also face a certain amount of discouragement. The teacher who gives you a low mark on a great piece of writing because of its punctuation, the Goodreads reviewer who didn’t finish your book but gave it one star on account of the first chapter, the guy in the front row of your reading who yawns and snickers the whole time when everyone else is held rapt. The people who ask you what right you have to write the things you do, without ever once asking what right they have to ask that question.

Twenty people might tell you how much they loved your book and one person might tell you it stank and I can guarantee that’s the comment you’ll take away. We hang on far more tightly to negative feedback than positive, and sometimes it can build a wall between us and our confidence. It also feeds the little voice at the back of our minds that tells us we can’t write, anything we produce is rubbish and bound to fail, so we really shouldn’t try in the first place.

Overcoming that voice is a regular and unavoidable part of being a writer. Everyone who writes has to deal with it and it never becomes any easier, because shouting that false voice down is what finding your real voice is all about. It means proving that you not only have something to say, but that you can say it in a way that no-one else can and that’s why you deserve to be heard. That was truly the scariest part of writing this book.

I’m glad I faced that fear because it’s taken me to a whole new level as a writer. So far the advance reviews have all given the book five stars and it’s winning me new readers every day, many of whom have been kind enough to drop me a line and share their appreciation. So if I’ve learned anything from this experience, it’s this:

The scariest part of writing something is actually the most necessary.

Jasper Bark: Website / Facebook / Twitter / YouTube

Stuck On You and Other Prime Cuts: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell’s / IndieBound

Jasper Bark finds writing author biographies and talking about himself in the third person faintly embarrassing. Telling you that he’s an award winning author of four cult novels including the highly acclaimed Way of the Barefoot Zombie just sounds like boasting. Then he has to mention that he’s written 12 children’s books and hundreds of comics and graphic novels and he wants to just curl up. He cringes when he has to reveal that his work has been translated into nine different languages and is used in schools throughout the UK to help improve literacy, or that he was awarded the This Is Horror Award for his recent anthology Dead Air. Maybe he’s too British, or maybe he just needs a good enema, but he’s glad this bio is now over.

Ten Years of New Who

Today marks ten years since Doctor Who came back on the air. It’s hard to believe so much time has passed!

In my opinion as someone who has been a huge fan of Doctor Who since my childhood many decades ago, writer-producer Russell T. Davies and the others responsible for bringing it back made absolutely the right decision in having the new program be a continuation of the classic series instead of a complete remake. It honored the past while marching boldly forward with modern sensibilities (and often much better acting, writing, direction, and special effects!). As a fan, I feel grateful to Davies and the rest of them, not just for bringing Doctor Who back, but for treating it with respect and bringing it back well.

From the first moment he appeared, I thought Christopher Eccleston was a revelation in the role of the Doctor. When I heard he would be leaving after the first season, I was devastated. I could have watched many, many more seasons with him. I resisted David Tennant for a while at the start of his tenure, but he quickly grew to become one of my favorite actors in the role ever. (In my personal top five, he’s second only to Tom Baker.) I could have watched many, many more seasons with Tennant, as well. (And Donna Noble, who remains my favorite companion of the reboot, and maybe my favorite companion of all time.)

Longtime readers of this blog know I never warmed to Matt Smith as the Doctor. He was great with comedy, less great with drama and the obligatory running down corridors, and absolutely dreadful, for reasons I still don’t understand, when it came to how the Doctor treats the women around him, even the ones who are supposed to be his friends. I thought the scripts got successively worse throughout his tenure until his final season, which was so spotty I was ready to throw in the towel for good. The 50th anniversary special, “The Day of the Doctor,” changed that for me, and I stuck around for Peter Capaldi’s first season in the role. Despite some glaring issues, I thought it was a step up and now I find myself at least a little more invested again.

The reboot also introduced us to several new, recurring aliens, chief among them the Slitheen, the Ood, the Weeping Angels, and the Silents. Of the bunch, I found the Ood most interesting and would love to see them make a return. The Weeping Angels were scary and interesting in the episode “Blink,” but for me it was diminishing returns after that. With each new appearance, they became something less than they were before. Part of the problem was that the rules and abilities of the Weeping Angels kept changing. The Silents were also scary and interesting at first, and I thought very spookily designed, but their plot line became such muddled nonsense that now I don’t even like to think about them. I thought the Slitheen were stupid from the start. They looked like giant babies and they farted all the time. Ugh. Doctor Who for six-year-olds. Aside from the Ood, I thought the reboot did a much better job with bringing back recurring aliens from the classic series. I got such a thrill seeing the Daleks make their first reappearance, and the Cybermen, and the Sontarans, and the Master! And then, finally, the Zygons showed up again, too! This is all catnip to a lifelong Whovian.

The Eccleston and Tennant years still remain my favorites of the reboot. To me, the show today ain’t what it was when it came back on the air in 2005. But then, Doctor Who is always changing, isn’t it? By the time the classic series reached its tenth year, it was already on its third Doctor, Jon Pertwee, who was as different from his predecessors Patrick Troughton and William Hartnell as Peter Capaldi is from Matt Smith, David Tennant, and Christopher Eccleston. Ten years into the classic series also brought us our first multi-Doctor adventure (“The Three Doctors”), the final appearance of Roger Delgado as the Master (“Frontier in Space”), and the last story with popular companion Jo Grant (“The Green Death”).

I’d love to see the new Who do something special to celebrate ten years — maybe they can finally convince Eccleston to come back for a multi-Doctor episode? — but I suspect they may not. We just had the 50th anniversary, after all. Also, though it’s been ten years since Doctor Who came back, due to an extra year’s semi-extention of the fourth season it’s not actually the tenth season yet, just the ninth. I expect they’ll wait for the official tenth season before doing anything to celebrate. They’ll have some distance from the 50th anniversary by then, too.

So, even though it sounds like I’m being critical of a lot of stuff here, I’m actually thrilled that Doctor Who returned to television ten years ago and has continued to be such a success. The show is unique in its ability to continually reinvent itself, a fact that has kept it going for five decades now. Will there be five more? It sounds daunting, but if the unexpected and unprecedented longevity of Doctor Who has proven anything, it’s that anything is possible. As the Doctor once said, “Time will tell. It always does.”

Afterlife with Archie

Afterlife with Archie Book 1: Escape from RiverdaleAfterlife with Archie Book 1: Escape from Riverdale by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Spectacular! Remarkably, writer Aguirre-Sacasa plays it absolutely straight, penning none of the jokey Riverdale antics we’ve come to expect from Archie and the gang into the story. Instead, the characters we’ve all come to know and love are presented as authentic human beings, although the personality traits we associate with each of them still manage to come through charmingly and recognizably. Artist Francavilla follows Aguirre-Sacasa’s lead by eliminating the cartoonishness of the original character designs and drawing the characters realistically. (Or sometimes hyper-realistically. Trust me, you’ll never look at Sabrina’s two aunts the same way again.) The zombie mayhem is well rendered and satisfyingly distributed throughout, and even in just these five issues all the characters get their chances to shine. Aguirre-Sacasa has really done his Archie homework, bringing in characters from LIFE WITH ARCHIE that I’d long forgotten existed, only to have their appearance here instantly spark those dormant memories. This is a must-read for fans of zombies, horror comics in general, and anyone who remembers Archie and his friends from their youth. I can’t wait for the next volume, and for ACP to start collecting the spinoff series THE CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA, too. Bring it on!

View all my reviews

Clive Barker Quoted Me

Meanwhile, on Twitter…

See the Nicholas he mentioned? That’s me! Feeling so cool right now.