If It Makes You Squirm… [Brutal Light]

Brutal Light

Recently, I went over the links in my old promotional page for my debut (and so far only) novel Brutal Light from 2011, and discovered that a bunch of the links were dead. Which shouldn’t be surprising, since blogs come and go, and these essays and interviews came out twelve years ago now. So over the next few months, I’m going to be reposting these here, starting with “If It Doesn’t Make You Squirm…”, which I originally wrote for Lincoln Crisler’s blog on 12/6/11.

One of the most valuable bits of writing advice I ever read (from a source, sadly, I can no longer recall) went something like this: “If it doesn’t make you squirm, it won’t make the reader squirm.” It was a passing bit of advice with no context–at least, none that I recall–but it’s stuck with me like nothing else, and is always at the back of my mind whenever I write.

The first question as a reader you might ask is ‘Why would you want to make me squirm? What did I ever do to you?’ (That is, unless your first question is ‘Are you wearing pants?’ If so, you’re likely already squirming.) To me, as a fiction writer, it means I’ve connected with you on a fundamental level–it means I’ve successfully put you ‘behind the eyes’ of my main characters and gotten you to feel what they feel. I’ve somehow connected you with their terrors, trials, exhilarations, despairs, and joys. Ultimately, it means I’ve given you an experience that will stay with you a while.

So why do I, as a writer, have to squirm to make that happen? I got myself a nice cushioned chair to sit in while writing and possibly being pants-less, so why would I make myself uncomfortable in it?

To me, it means sincerity shouldn’t be faked. A writer who unflinchingly faces her or his fears will be able to write those fears with an authenticity that a writer who doesn’t want to step outside of his or her comfort zone will find hard to duplicate. I’m not just talking about the things that are stock-in-trade for a dark fantasy or horror genre writer–vampires, zombies, serial killers, giant snakes, and the like. There are day-to-day fears that are even harder to face with honesty.

Take the fear of opening yourself up to another person–to not only admitting your vulnerabilities to yourself but letting your guard down so that someone you love can see them and possibly mock you for having them. Take the fear that you will someday be forced to look at what’s beneath the carefully woven tapestry of words you call your identity, and you’ll discover that there’s nothing there. Take the fear that you’ll end up alone, that the one you’re with will wise up and leave you, and she or he will be right in their judgment. Even if these are not your fears, specifically, chances are you have others that cut this deep.

Horror and dark fantasy provide canvases like none other to explore these fears. Zombies, vampires, cannibals, werewolves, and even stranger beasts can give voice to our fears of what the world holds, and the desires we publically disdain while privately fantasizing about. There’s nothing like a demon for uttering something cruel and monstrous, which may be a lie but is even more terrifying if it is true.

I have fears. They make me squirm, when I give them too close an examination. So I write them–grossly magnified and distorted, mixed in with things from the dead places and lots of bloody mayhem. I have no idea if they’ll make you, the reader, squirm–my squirming is just a prerequisite, not a guarantee of success, and my fears may not be yours–but you’ll know I’ve taken my best shot.

By the way, I am wearing pants. There’s enough fear in the world without people wondering about that.


Gary W. Olson is the author of the dark fantasy novel Brutal Light and a contributor to the dark fiction anthologies Fairly Wicked Tales and The C.A.M. Charity Anthology: Horror and Science Fiction #1. His blog originates here.

Like a bad penny [writing]

WritingAnd so goes by another year and a month…

I’m determined to post here more often. At least enough to flush entries from previous years and… er… decades off the front page of this here blog. Thus, I am typing this now. Hello!


It has been an eventful year since the previous post (August 2022). I’ve stopped and started on the novel rather a lot, amidst moving from one city to another and other assorted interruptive events. The novel not being, for the record, Redscale: Severance (though I may revisit and retool what I did get done with that one someday), and not (yet) the collection of short fiction I had in the works.

What it is, is Tropic of Madness, a comic mad science thriller set on a South Seas island home to all manner of weird and ill-considered experimentation. I’m up to 68.8k in verbage on my first-ish draft, and it looks like it’ll end up in the 120k range by the end, though a vigorous editing will likely claw it back to the 100k range. I’m letting my freak flag fly with this one, and am really looking forward to unleashing it on anyone standing still long enough to read it. Though I don’t know when that will be yet, so you’ve got a good head start.

In other news, I went back to the previous post and removed the AI-generated artwork that once graced that entry. It was a fun novelty when it first came along, but I soured on it on learning about all the stolen bits that went into it. I do promise that any art that turns up here in the future will either be by my hand, or purchased/licensed for use here (as is this blog’s title bar art).

It’s good to be back. Again. And again. And again. And…


Gary W. Olson is the author of the dark fantasy novel Brutal Light and a contributor to the dark fiction anthologies Fairly Wicked Tales and The C.A.M. Charity Anthology: Horror and Science Fiction #1. His blog originates here.

the long way ’round again, again [it burns! it burns!, writing]

WritingLook, I didn’t mean to be gone for so long. I took a wrong turn on the expressway, and next thing I knew, I was in Tijuana, herding llamas and putting worms in those little bottles. You know how it is. I only just now got back.

Well, ok, maybe not. Maybe I just took an ill-advised two-and-a-half-year detour into buying, owning, and then ultimately selling a house someplace I shouldn’t have considered in the first place. Maybe I made a few starts at writing during that time, but couldn’t keep it going because of the constant distractions and pressure. Maybe there were llamas, but they were herding me.

Whatever the case, all those maybes are in the past. I’m in a new place, the lessons are learned, the pressures are lessened, the llamas are on their way to Hollywood, and I’ve carved out a regular block of time when I can just write (or edit, or blog, or whatever). I’m finally back to writing.

I’ve revamped the blog, and this site–added a new picture of my meaty mug, and cut down on the clutter of the sidebars. I also added a mobile theme for people viewing the site on their magic rectangles, figuring it was about time the site joined this decade.

As far as my books go… I regained the rights to my novel Brutal Light at the start of this year, and plan on self-publishing a new edition later this summer. I took down all my self-published short stories at the same time, and am planning on publishing my first collection in the spring of 2018.

Writing-wise, my top goal for the last seven months of this year is to finish my next novel, Redscale: Severance, though I’ll likely do a couple short stories in that time as well.

Finally, I do have a new short story, “The Path of Needles,” that will soon be published, in The C.A.M. Charity Anthology: Horror & Science Fiction #1 in a couple days. I’ll ramble on about that in another entry.

It’s good to be back! Watch out for llamas!


Gary W. Olson is the author of the dark fantasy novel Brutal Light and a contributor to the dark fiction anthologies Fairly Wicked Tales and The C.A.M. Charity Anthology: Horror and Science Fiction #1. His blog originates here.

Get Fading Light before it fades away! [Fading Light, Fairly Wicked Tales, writing]

Fading LightIn case you haven’t read the news, Angelic Knight Press, which published two anthologies featuring stories of mine, has been acquired by another press (and is set to become that press’s new horror imprint).

That’s good news for Fairly Wicked Tales (which includes my story “Sweetheart, the Dream is Not Ended”), which will be reissued in early 2015. Not such good news for Fading Light: An Anthology of the Monstrous (which includes my story “Goldilocks Zone”), which will be going out of print at the end of the year.

So… if you’re still hoping to get a copy of Fading Light, either ebook or dead-tree version, you don’t have a lot of time left. Get thee hence to a bookseller!

(If you’re into the whole actual physical book thing, you hardcore antiquarian you, you can get a copy of Fading Light from CreateSpace for 25% off with this coupon code: EQHG7CPV )

Happy Christmas! Merry holidays! Hail Krampus!

Edit (4/24/15: Removed links, as Fading Light is now out of print)


Gary W. Olson is the author of the dark fantasy novel Brutal Light and a contributor to the dark fiction anthologies Fading Light and Fairly Wicked Tales. His blog originates here. Fading Light cover art: Jesse Lucero.

Fabulous Beasts (a dark fantasy short story) [e-stories | writing]

(Edit 4/24/15: Updated buy links)

Fabulous BeastsReeling from a breakup with his girlfriend Jean, Paul Miller encounters Cyane, a wealthy model who wants to hire him to create disturbing paintings for nameless clients. But that work is only the start of what she wants from him. With her seductive song, she lures both he and Jean past desires for flesh, into a hallucinatory hunger for ecstasy and transcendence. To save Jean, himself, and his unborn child, he must learn who and what Cyane really is, and make a harrowing choice.

Here’s an excerpt of the start of the story:

The ropes that held me to the mast of the ship were loose. I found that as frightening as the dark shapes that thrashed just over the side. The men around me rowed on, ears stopped with wax, oblivious to the howls that rose above the roiling waters. I pitied them, for they wouldn’t know what they missed–voices sharp enough to cut thought and honeyed enough to clot the wound.

Though I could have easily freed myself, I remained still. In this place, I could hear the song. If I moved, it would dissolve into feral noise. My understanding of this grew with every change of the vast and beautiful voices that wove through the near-liquid air.

My ropes fell to the deck with the fading of the last octave. The men stopped rowing and stared with fearful eyes at the sea.

I walked toward the bow. The rush of her feathers came as a gasp of hungry breath that voided every other sound.

“Not this way.”

Her voice held a quiver from the song.

The wooden deck barked my knees when I slumped. She landed before me, dark brown wings in angelic spread, eyes locked with mine. Her human face could have been real, though my instincts whispered that it was not. Her sinuous body moved in ways more reptilian than avian. Her sharp red lips drew back into a grin.

Talons flashed. Blood ran down my neck.

“There is no easy way,” she said. “If you want it, it will hurt.”



Gary W. Olson is the author of the dark fantasy novel Brutal Light and a contributor to the dark fiction anthology Fading Light. His blog originates here. Fabulous Beasts cover art: Sergey Nivens/BigStock.com.

Long Time Gone [it burns! it burns!, writing]

PersonalLAST TIME ON GARY’S BLOG: Our hero, the looming yet strangely beguiling Writer Lad, was hip deep in writing a first draft of an urban fantasy with talking raptors and flying sharks and things like that, unaware that he was moments from being captured by Amphi-dodecahedron, the Avatar of Fish-Based Geometry, to be used as an oblique angle in his decidedly fussy war against Cartanga, Finder of Small Pebbles, whose underhanded tactics and undercooked pasta were the subject of thousands of savage Yelp reviews, all written by Professor Ivan Sharpski, ex-KGB tap dancer and girl friday to Gummo Lemmingsnort, noted New York Times Bestselling Author of “That’s Not Chicken, and Probably Not a Taco, Either” and several not-so-bestselling horror novels featuring occult detective and part-time spatula Bacon McGee, a concept derived from a 1923 article on Bootlegging Badgers and the Flappers who Love Them, as mis-transcribed by Randall Everwood, a.k.a. the Shadow Over the Breakfast Nook, aided by a ratty English-Klingon dictionary, a vole paid off by Joe Don Baker, and Dr. Leslie Ann Cartier, inventor of the least joyful whoopee cushion ever documented.

We join Gary, already in progress.

Hmmm, guess it’s been a while since I last wrote a non-repost blog-entry. See, what happened was I broke free from the chains that bound me to the black pit and roamed the moors, slaking my thirst for blood just got busy with a lot of stuff, both writing and non-writing, and something had to give. Also, an anniversary trip to Niagara Falls, some car crash and replacement car buying drama, work stress, and so on. I’ve moved on, why can’t you?

Ha! Seriously, though, you don’t want to hear my lame, lame excuses. You want to know what’s going on now. And that is… writing. I’ve got a steampunk horror story I’m trying to wrestle into shape, and another short that may or may not get written after that. Redscale is on hold until the new year. Possibly longer, if I go and rewrite/polish/finish off/ship out The Morpheist, the biopunk novella I first-drafted more than a year ago. I’m putting together another short, Fabulous Beasts, for self-publicational glory later this month. My next non-self-publication is coming in January, with a story in Angelic Knight Press’s Fairly Wicked Tales.

Plus, December is eating my head, and we’ve barely started the month. So there’s that.

Reading-wise, there’s a lot of good stuff out there that I’m gonna take this opportunity to push at you. If you’re an urban fantasy fan, you’ve gotta check out Manifesto: UF edited by Tim Marquitz and Tyson Mauermann. It’s got twenty-three envelope-pushing urban fantasy tales by the likes of Lincoln Crisler, Jake Elliot, Teresa Frohock, and many more. If ghost stories are more your speed, check out Bryan Hall’s The Girl. It’s an evocative and compelling story heavy on atmospheric dread that I enjoyed a lot.

My friend Eric Burns-White has been putting out entries in his Mythology of the Modern World series on Amazon and Smashwords. They’re short, sharp, sometimes satirical, sometimes haunting mythological stories composed as answers to reader questions posed to him. The Sky of L.A. is Yellow/Gray is my favorite of these so far, but all of them are highly entertaining.

Another friend, Angi Shearstone, put out the second issue of her BloodDreams comic not too long ago. It’s a sharp tale of a conflict between vampires and hunters that ensnares a troubled punk rock singer and his friends, with gorgeous fully-painted artwork. Absolutely no sparkling going on, I promise. (I reviewed issue 1 a long while ago.)

Bryan Thomas Schmidt, meanwhile, has two anthologies out, both of which began life as Kickstarter projects. Beyond the Sun, which features science ficton tales of colonization of new worlds, has a number of outstanding stories (by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Cat Rambo, and Maurice Broaddus, among others). Raygun Chronicles, an anthology of golden-age-style space opera stories, just recently came out, and I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but I’m looking forward to it.

Speaking of books I’m really looking forward to reading, Emmy Jackson’s second novel, Empty Cradle: Shiloh in the Circle (set in the world of his previous novel, Empty Cradle: the Untimely Death of Corey Sanderson, which I reviewed a long time ago). The first one was damn good, and I’m expecting this one will be as well. Plus there’s Greg Chapman’s new horror novella, The Last Night in October… holy crap I have a lot of reading to catch up on!

(Note: there are a lot of Amazon links above. I’m not participating in any affiliate thing here, I promise–it’s just convenient for me to link there, to show you I didn’t just come up with these things in a caffeine-and-pork-rind-fueled fever dream. Because I know that’s what you’re thinking.)

That’s all for now. I’m signing off and heading for the tub. Don’t forget to tip your server!


Gary W. Olson is the author of the dark fantasy novel Brutal Light and a contributor to the dark fiction anthology Fading Light. His blog originates here. Photo: Elena Ray/Bigstock.com.