Brain Babies: How to Nickel-and-Dime Yourself to Death!



Probably, like me, you’ve been told your whole life that you need to save, Save, SAVE!

Set up that nest egg, that rainy day fund; make sure you have enough when you retire.


Where’s the fun in that?


Okay, so you might find it difficult to kick the saving habit. I’m here to help.

There’s something you’re probably doing already, that you can increase with surprising ease

Drink more coffee!

If you drink, say, two cups a day now, drink five! And none of that “free refill” nonsense either. Go to different cafes; don’t bring your own cup (they give you discounts for that). And, if you drink the regular stuff, switch to lattes; they cost at least twice as much.

And the best part? You just piss it all away!

Speaking of which, alcohol is another great choice: not only is it even more addictive than caffeine, it’s also more expensive.

You may be a collector. I know I am. Now, here you have to be careful. Things like stamps, coins and baseball cards can actually increase in value. Nobody wants that.

I used to play Magic the Gathering. When I finally kicked the habit, I sold all of my cards (some 200 or so) at once at a con. I had two Mox Pearls and a Black Lotus; I got $10 for all three. Nowadays, those are worth hundreds, if not thousands of dollars! The key is getting rid of them in a timely fashion, before they appreciate too much.

But, hey! If you somehow miss that window, it’s okay. Remember, trading cards are made of paper, and paper is flammable. In fact, so is money!


Stop working. Right now. This instant. Walk up to your boss, look them straight in the eye, and let them know just how much you really hate them. Then, because this might not actually be enough to get you fired (especially if you’re in a union), pee on their shoes. This is easier for people with penises, but manageable for everyone if you’re willing to put a little effort into it.

That, right there, will drastically decrease money coming in, and make it so much easier to get rid of what you have. You see how easy it can be?


Give whatever you might have saved up away to a charity, but don’t get a receipt. This is crucial, because, at the end of the year, you could get money back in taxes. Nobody wants that.

If you have a car, leave it running somewhere. Don’t worry; someone will steal it, even in a nice neighborhood. Teenagers, in particular, just can’t resist going for a joyride.

But, please, make sure you don’t have insurance on it. It’s important to plan ahead.

If you own a home, great! Most of your money is already going into paying for it! However, if you’re not careful, a house can actually become more valuable. Be sure you don’t fix anything! It’s also helpful to leave your doors and windows open at all times, so that wildlife can come in and help destroy your environment. Bonus: thieves will have full access to your other possessions, which frees you up from having to find other ways to get rid of them.

If you rent, even better! You’re basically throwing your money away! I strongly suggest you also rent your furniture and appliances, too; this is a great way to hemorrhage your cash.

Did you know you can rent cars, too? Find a really nice one: they cost a freakin’ ton every month.


Well, there you have it. In no time at all, you can be freed of your worldly assets, and live your life not having to worry about paying the bills or sending the kids to college.

No responsibilities. No pressures. No cash.

For the complete how-to guide and workbook, please send $17,000 to Ken MacGregor. It’s a great start!

Brain Babies: Trigger Warnings

I’d like to believe I’m sensitive to people’s feelings. I would. And, I think, for the most part, I am. But, I gotta tell ya, this whole “trigger warning” thing has gone too damn far.

I recently heard from a guy who does stand-up comedy, in a New York City burlesque club, for fuck’s sake, that he got complaints about his material. Someone felt that they needed a “safe space” and that his material had “triggered” an upsetting emotional response.

I’m sorry, but … WHAT?!? It’s fucking comedy, you asshole. It’s supposed to push the envelope, to shock, to disturb. Why the hell were you in a burlesque club for a comedy show in the first place? Why were you even outside of your cozy little room, if you’re so sensitive you can’t take a joke?

(Takes a deep breath to calm down, so he can type again without bashing the keys)

All right. So, let’s talk about trigger warnings and books. I write horror, among other things, as, I imagine, do many of you. I’ve written some pretty sick shit, too. Body parts being hacked off, people being eaten, genital mutilation (yeah, I went there) and other stuff I won’t mention here because it’s too gross.

I’m pretty sure some of that stuff is going to trigger a reaction. In fact, I’m fucking counting on it. I want to spur an emotional response in my readers. I want them to care about the characters, to really develop a meaningful attachment to them. That way, when I stick a knife in the character’s lower back, severing the spine and paralyzing them from the waist down, the reader feels it¸ too.

Here’s my take on the whole thing: if you feel something might be upsetting to you, that it might cause some trauma to resurface from the depths of your subconscious … don’t go anywhere near that thing. Simple, right?

If you’re reading horror, or, say, going to a comedy show (in a fucking burlesque club in NYC!), you should be prepared to experience some shit you might find disturbing. And, you shouldn’t expect an apology from the writer/comedian/whatever.

You sure as shit shouldn’t demand one.

It’s not my job to protect you from the things that might hurt you. It’s your job to protect yourself. Stop blaming the artists for your own discomfort. Fuck you. You know what my job is? It’s to make you uncomfortable.

So, yeah. With all due respect to people who’ve had traumatic experiences (haven’t we all?), it’s on you to stay away from the stuff that’ll trigger you. It’s not up to me. It’s not up to the stand-up comic. We’re supposed to be edgy. We’re expected to be dangerous.

If you want someone to hold your hand in the darkness, fine. No problem.

But don’t ask me to do it. You’re likely to pull back a stump.

Brain Babies: How are We Supposed to Compete?

Okay, so this is HorrorTree, right? So, I’m going to go out on a limb here, and assume that the majority of the people reading this are, in fact, horror writers. Or at least writers who dabble in horror. Dabbling in horror sounds ridiculous. Like “dabbling in murder.” Which I may have to use somewhere, ’cause I like the sound of it.

Anyway, I, at least, write horror. I write other stuff, too: fantasy, (light) SF, and even kids’ stuff. All under my own name. I catch flak for this once in a while. People are all like, “You write erotic horror (I do) and children’s books under the same name?!? What if someone reads your kids’ books and decides to see what else you write?”

Um, great! As long as they don’t show my erotic horror to their kids, I don’t see a problem. And, even if they do, that is not on me. That’s shitty parenting. Not my fault. I sure as fuck don’t show the nasty stuff to my own kids. Hell, I don’t even show the creepy, unsettling stuff to my kids. When they’re older, sure, if they want to read it. But, no way am I going to scar my children for life as they read graphic depictions of torture and dismemberment (along with a joke or two, usually). They can read that stuff when they’re teens, I guess. But, not the erotic stuff. They aren’t reading that until they’re, I don’t know, thirty? Maybe when I’m dead. I don’t want them to have to look at me afterward, to know the kind of sick, evil shit that goes on in my mind.

My six-year-old, after I said “Hi” to about four total strangers in a row (she and I were walking home from the park), asked me why I did that.

“I’m being friendly,” I said. “I like to be friendly. I think the world would be a better place if more people took the time to say ‘hello’.”

She said, “Okay, yeah, but why are you friendly? You write horror.”

I explained that I write horror to get rid of the ugly, unpleasant things in my mind. To give an outlet to the more disturbing, awful thoughts we all have. And, in a way, this makes it easier for me to be friendly. I’m generally in a pretty good mood most days. I don’t think it’s all because I get the icky stuff out in fiction. I have a lot to be happy about, too. But, you know, I think it helps. Maybe a lot. Most of the horror writers I have met are really nice people. Some of the sickest fuckers on the page are some of the kindest and most supportive friends you could ever want.

Coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not.

Which brings us back to my original topic for this particular Brain Baby: how are we supposed to compete? What do I mean? I mean the real world, folks. The real, sick, twisted, violent world.

I’m trying to wrap my head around everything that’s going on around me right now, and to tell you the truth, I’m having a hell of a hard time.

Cops are killing people because of the color of their skin. Snipers are shooting cops. Terrorists are blowing up buildings, trains, buses, themselves. The presumptive Republican President of the United States is a bombastic, hate-spewing bigoted Oompa Loompa with a dead mongoose on his head. His opponent damn near went to jail.The potential leaders of the free world, folks!  Kids – fucking high school kids – are walking into schools and shooting their classmates. And, most of this is happening right here in America. In the good ol’ U.S. of A. My home. My backyard.

What the unholy fuck, world?

In the face of this, I wonder why I even bother. How do I compete with such utter appalling atrocities? And, why should I? I’ve had people tell me, “I don’t read horror. The real world is bad enough.”

They’re right. The real world is bad enough.

But, here’s the thing. I’m gonna keep on writing it. You know why? Because, as I told my daughter, I do this to get the icky stuff out of my system, to make it easier for me to be a happy person, to be friendly.

And, maybe, just maybe, something I write will resonate with a reader. Maybe one of my stories will speak to someone who is on the edge of doing something ugly, something in the real world, something permanent.

I know it’s a long shot. I know my stuff may never do anything more than entertain (I hope it entertains. Or makes your skin crawl. That’s entertaining. For me.) But, what if it works? What if someone reads one of my horror stories and thinks, “I get this! I have all this horrible shit in my head, too! I need to write it down, maybe get someone to read it. Maybe get it published.”

And, if that happens, ladies and gents (and others), maybe the world will have another horror writer, maybe a damn good one. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll have one less horrible statistic. One less young life lost. One less hate crime.

I don’t know if what we do makes a whole lot of difference, but I hope so. If we, as writers, can make even a little difference, make the world a little less terrible, then it’s worth every rejection. It’s worth all the research, the editing, the self-doubt.

‘Cause, unless something changes, this world is fucking doomed.

Thanks for listening.

Brain Babies: A Crisis of Faith (in Oneself)

Recently, a writer friend (who shall remain nameless because I didn’t ask if I could talk about this) stated that they might just be done trying to be a writer. The reason they gave (see how careful I’m being about using gender-neutral pronouns?) was that the industry seems driven by cronyism (my word choice) and numbers (I imagine this is alluding to boosting sales via pushing rankings on the various book-buying platforms, but again, I didn’t ask).

I said, in a nutshell, Hey! Don’t let that stuff get you down. I said that, while I haven’t made more than a few thousand (dollars, not words – I’ve made a few hundred thousand of those) over the last five years, I’ve made some amazing connections with some super-cool people. Hell, I even wrote a book with one of them. We are still impatiently waiting for that to come out. I also said that what really matters, to me anyway, are the readers.

So what if I’m not ever going to be a New York Times bestselling author? So what if I never quit my day job (I actually like my day job. How crazy is that?)? So what if they never make a movie out of one of my stories? Again. I’d like to point out here that there is, in fact, a 16-minute short film out there that I wrote, co-directed, co-produced, and acted in. It’s on YouTube, all free and shit. Called “The Quirk and the Dead.” It’s a horror/comedy, zombie love story. Go check it out. I can wait. No, really. It’s funny.

(Sixteen minutes later.)

Good, right? Thanks. I’m really proud of that one. It was nominated for an award at one of the film festivals. Didn’t win, but that’s cool.

I’ve completely lost track of where I was going with this. Oh yeah! Why we write. I remember now.

So, I said to this person, and am clearly elaborating far more here (and plugging my movie – did you watch it? No? What are you waiting for? Go. This will still be here.), the reason we write is not to get famous. It’s not to make a bunch of money.

It’s for the readers.

When someone reads something of mine, someone I’ve never met before, someone maybe on the other side of the world, takes the time to seek me out, to tell me something I wrote moved them in some way… My god – that is an amazing thing.

So, I tried to impart to this other writer, who was clearly experiencing a crisis of faith in themselves, that it’s not about the numbers, or who you know (their words this time). It’s about the readers.

It’s about getting the words out, and trying to make each new story better than the last. It’s about sharing these crazy little Brain Babies with the world and maybe, just maybe, connecting with someone who just fucking gets it.

So, my fellow scribes, wordsmiths, hacks (I use this in the complimentary way, like when you’re such good friends with someone you say, “What’s up, dickhead?” – Other people do this, right? It’s not just me?), if ever you are feeling (and who among us does not, from time to time) that the whole thing is worthless, pointless, that you’re never going to “make it”, take heart. It’s not about you, babe. It’s about the reader. That’s why we are doing this.

Never forget that.

Brain Babies: Up the Motherfucking Stakes, Man!

First of all, I call everybody “man” or “dude” or some such. I don’t assign gender to anything except genitals. And, even then, only to my own. Yours are none of my business.

With that out of the way, I’d like to talk about how to beat the shit out of your characters and why.

Okay. First of all, let’s clear the air about one thing: I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume you are horror (or at least dark speculative fiction) writers. We are not talking about romance, or YA or light fantasy where everyone lives happily ever after. Those stories are fine. Some people like them. So I hear.

Me? I like to hurt my fictional playthings. A lot.

Let’s start with why, shall we? Okay. This should be obvious, but I’ll say it anyway, just in case you’re one of those writers who feels guilty about hurting people.

Make your characters suffer!

Because (we’re doing “why” remember?), if they are not suffering, they are boring.

Nobody wants to read about Tommy Twiddlefuck having a nice day, sipping a latte and having pleasant discourse with his boyfriend, Benjamin Twatwaffle. Not because they’re gay either. That part, at least is mildly interesting. But, it’s only interesting if it draws a rabid, slavering homophobe into the story who wants to kill them both and mount their dicks on the hood of his car.

Otherwise, people having a nice time is boring as hell. Nobody cares. You need to heap abuse on your characters. Especially the protagonist. Make that motherfucker bleed. Copiously.

Break his bones. Ruin her life. Turn everyone they love against them. Beat that fucker down.

Sorry. I get excited about this.

Okay. Moving on the “how” of things. I know I just touched on it in general terms, but I’d like to get a little more specific.

Of course, we know that we need to hook the reader with the first couple lines, right? Especially in today’s world where your average person has a four-second attention span.

Still with me? Good.

So, hook ‘em. Get ‘em interested enough to keep reading. Then, you start small.

Let’s say Tommy of the unfortunate surname is heading out to meet his heart’s desire at the cafe. Benjamin had texted him saying, coffee, bitch usual place now. But, when Tommy steps to the curb, wearing his fly as hell chinos, Bam! A car hits a mud puddle, splashing it up to his thighs.

Tommy’s pissed, but whatever, they’re just pants, right? So, he walks on. The man needs his coffee.

He’s almost to the cafe, when a couple dudes see the rainbow lettered “PRIDE” on Tommy’s T-shirt. One hits the other’s arm. He mouths “fag” and points at Tommy with his chin.

Tommy sighs. He rolls his eyes.

“Look, fellas. I don’t want any trouble. I’m just heading out for some coffee. I’ve already been splashed with mud. Give a guy a break, huh?”

One of the dudes grins, gives an exaggerated shrug and slaps Tommy on the face, open palm.

“Fuckin’ degenerate,” he says. He and his friend laugh. They jostle Tommy as they pass him, nearly knocking him on the sidewalk.

With a handprint clearly visible on his cheek, and wet, muddy pants, Tommy enters the cafe with wide eyes, verging on tears. That slap hurt!

(So, here’s the moment where you give your protagonist a tiny reprieve. You let them think everything’s going to be okay after all. It’s not.)

When Benjamin sees Tommy, and the state he’s in, he rushes over.

“Are you okay?”

“I’ll live. Rough morning. And, I could really use that latte.”

They order, and sit silently for a bit. Benjamin is waiting patiently to speak. Tommy senses it.

“What’s up? You look like you’re about to burst.”

“Oh, Tommy. I’ve met someone else. I’m sorry.”

Tommy is stunned.

“You asked me out to coffee to break up with me? Jesus, Ben.” He shakes his head, blows on the coffee and takes a sip. “Who is he? Anyone I know?”


“I was so horrible, you’re leaving not just me, but our whole gender?

“You’re not horrible, Tommy. What a thing to say.”

“Then why are you leaving me?”

Benjamin won’t meet his eyes.

“You’re … boring.”


There. You have (I guess it was me, but go on, take some credit; I don’t mind.) successfully beat this guy down. You made him miserable. You upped the motherfucking stakes!

If anyone wants to get pissy about gay-bashing here, I’d like to point out that I regularly beat the shit out of straight characters, too. I don’t discriminate. If you’re in my story, fuck you! You’re going down, baby.

That’s the other thing about being horrible to your characters: not only should you do it, because it makes a better read … it’s fun!

Sure, people say it’s cathartic. Gets all the venom out of your system so you’re a nicer person. And, yeah, there’s probably some truth to that. But really? It’s fun. I enjoy it.


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