Category Archives: Writing

Valar Morghulis and What Makes Good Storytelling

Warning: Massive Game of Thrones spoilers here. Don’t read unless you’re all caught up!  So my first premise here is that I haven’t read the books. I’ve got to get that out of the way. I’m a novelist myself. I’m a big reader, but fantasy isn’t really my genre, and I don’t have a lot of time to tackle Martin’s Westeros tomes. But I’m also a huge television fan, and from everything I’ve heard, I’m very happy to be on the show-train as my first experience. Sometimes film does it better, sometimes just differently.

(Edit: I also want to clarify that many folks who have responded to my opinion present the argument that the big problem here that I worry over is all good because it’s “the way it was in the books!” And so I’m referring to D&D and Martin as “Martin and Co.” because, though it’s “canon”, the story can still go down a problematic route, no matter whether it’s a show decision or a book decision. I’m not taking issue with the show. I’m taking issue with the story)

Anyway though, I love the narrative. I love the way it’s honed very directly. It’s good tight storytelling. But that’s what I want to talk about today: storytelling. Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 12.34.41 PM A week ago, I watched Jon Snow die before the credits rolled on the season five finale of Game of Thrones. GoT is a show fraught with controversy and the occasional misstep, but I love it. I think it’s rich and meaningful and smart. But the death of Jon Snow gave me some serious pause. If I were to look deeper, I’d probably realize I went through all the grief stages in about a week or something.

My first reaction was denial. Nope, I thought, he’s coming back. Right? He has to. He can’t be dead. I mean, nope. Just no. Then I read an interview with Kit Harrington that filled me with dread. Both Kit and the creators insist Snow is dead. Dead is dead.

In the week that has followed, a million posts have come to light calling for the resurrection of Jon Snow and the various clues that point toward it. From Lady Melissandre to the White Walkers to.. well, this whole article, really. But I want to approach this from a different angle.

Freaking out on Twitter, I announced that this was the first Game of Thrones death that (if it stands and there is no resurrection) makes me wonder if Thrones has finally lost the plot in favor of meaningless shocks. All the deaths before this, even the most shocking ones, were trimming the fat and honing the story. When you hone the story, you’re focusing in on the heart of the work: what’s moving toward the big end-game. It wasn’t Ned. It wasn’t Robb. It wasn’t Robert or Joffrey or Tywin. When I posted this, I was met with agreement, but also some jaded Thrones viewers who were now used to losing anyone and everyone on the show (“All GoT is about is Martin just killing off our favorites”), and some jaded Thrones readers who’d been chewing on this information for a year now (“…maybe Jon wasn’t as important as we thought”).

They defended it that, you know, one of the big Themes of GoT has been that people die. It’s a sort of a reality-based, dark world, where the hero doesn’t ride in on a white horse and save the day. There are few heroes, and many, many deaths. Just like real life, people don’t always reach their dreams, they don’t always fulfill the expectations people have for their lives. They make mistakes, and mistakes big enough to lead to coups.

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For the Watch!

And that’s a valid point. The deconstructionist in me wants to love it. The fantasy genre is filled with hero-stories about saving the day. It’s a defining characteristic of the genre, even. While there’s always exceptions to the rule, how cool that Martin and co. are subverting this tradition in such a shocking, public, and moving way? Build someone up, strip them down, remind them that life is a bitch.

Good theme. A cool way of illustrating it.. but… it still doesn’t sit right with me.

And that’s when I started to look at the value of art and storytelling. Here, we have this story, the Song of Ice and Fire. Fan theories have abounded, but in the same way as a writer, I feel around in the dark until I feel that one plot point that makes me say “holy shit, that’s it. That feels right. That looks right. That fits right. That’s what’s supposed to happen!” The R+L=J theory had that effect on me. It fit the story too perfectly. It gave weight and a central nature to the story. As half Stark (Winter) and half Targaryen (Fire), Jon Snow was literally the embodiment of the Song of Ice and Fire. The series is about winter meeting dragons, coming together in an epic clash amidst which people are both desperately trying to survive or take the Throne (or take their revenge, I suppose). So we’ve got these light and dark themes constantly shifting, constantly graying, amidst a very polarized backdrop. Maybe I’m biased because I love watching the themes of a story interplay and shift, but this theme, so intricately connected to the plot (I mean, it’s in the name), this is the story of Ice and Fire. It’s not the story of real world shocks. And Jon Snow, as the literal embodiment of this theme, I’d decided, was the main character. It’s a song about him as much as it’s a song about Whites and Dragons. It’s an intermixing of those themes in the characters and their decisions, which is crucial to this story because it’s so character driven at its heart.

And so we have two directions stemming from the end of season/book five. Jon Snow is dead, or Jon Snow will come back. If he’s dead… great? I guess that’s the priority theme. Pulling the rug out from under people. Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 12.35.05 PM But there’s something about storytelling that I balk at here. And that’s that I live in the real world. I know people die when it’s least expected/preferred. I know nobody really grows up to be the hero. I know that real life is flat and bland and only as romantic as we restructure our perspective on it. And yeah, there’s Literature that’s all about these themes. It’s all about taking whatever your angle is (depressing or otherwise) on the Real World and putting that into a painful artistic fiction. And I know that that’s sort of the defining characteristic of the Literature genre so upheld by academics over “genre” fiction. But that’s not really what I think Thrones is about. This show has always been about the conclusion. Whether happy or sad or triumphant or a letdown, it’s telling one complete story that has a beginning, middle, and (hopefully epic) end.

The Real World doesn’t have an End — capital E — Where we all look around at eachother and nod with satisfaction and go sit in a room for the rest of eternity because We’ve Done It. We’ve ended. That’s death, and as we’ve already established, death in the real world is random and painful and rarely tied up with a bow.

And so I worry that if the Real World is Martin and co.’s theme here, the ending that’s been such a direction for this entire series won’t really be an ending. In fact, if the Real World really is a theme, well, let’s Simpsons and Soap Opera this shit up, let’s let Thrones run for thirty seasons, because life will always go on past each end.

But I take a step back. I have to question myself. I’ve trusted Martin and co. this far, why not trust them some more? Frankly: I do. I’m gonna still hit season six with excitement and curiosity, but a wariness now.

Another step back: it’s Martin’s story. He’s not under any obligation to write it how I want — how I think it should go. The same way he’s not my bitch, I’m also not entitled to a Great Story That I Like. I’m only entitled to the story that he is writing.

But, as a reader, I am entitled to an opinion about whether or not it’s any good. That’s where the buck stops with writers, is that readers get the final say. As a writer myself, I’ve accepted that. I might think my first novel is the best thing I’ll ever write, and it may never get more than the 15 amazon reviews it’s got. I accept that. That’s what sharing your art is. So, I’ve got to say, if Jon Snow is dead (like, dead dead), I’m not sure that was the best move. Maybe it works out. Maybe it’s brilliant and satisfying…

Just a totally misleading photo so you can share this  post without being burned alive for spoilers.

Just a totally misleading photo so you can share this post without being murdered for spoilers.

But, in the wake of all the resurrection brainstorms from people, we’ve got two options really: resurrection by White Walkers, or resurrection by Lady Melissandre. Which is to say, resurrection by fire or ice. And holy shit, how brilliant! Suddenly I’ve come around to this death plot point because THEMES! Kill the boy, let the man be born! Jon is already Ice and Fire, but holy shit, if he’s resurrected by one of the two (or both?), he’s even further the LITERAL manifestation of these themes. How does that carry out? Is he some leader of the Whites? Is he corrupted by them or the Lord of Light? (shoot, even corruption is better than death. Though I’d miss good-hearted Jon Snow, this is a show about grays between good and evil, and it’s Jon’s story… just let him have a story). All of these questions, as they directly pertain to fire and/or ice are a seriously richly thematic sandbox to work with. And it’s a sandbox that is furthering the plot in a possibly BIG way toward the final showdown between the ice and fire that we’re all so excited about in season 7! (or eight I guess, but please no more than that, HBO!) And having a character embody those themes rather than just having characters caught up in those themes… well that’s good writing.

But the alternative? The real world sucks. Just go and enjoy Dani and Tyrion while you’ve got a chance. Maybe Arya and Bran will do something cool. Maybe they won’t. The world’s a crummy place, after all.

That’s our big overarching narrative theme? That’s depressing (and this coming from a guy who LOVES depressing — seriously, The Road, amazing piece of literature).

But I want a good meaty story. Unhappy ending? Sure. Kill Dany and Jon and Tyrion as they reach the throne. Put a White Walker on it. Or zombie Joffrey. I don’t care. Just get our people where they need to go, or better yet, crop your story to the right people’s stories. Tell those stories. Don’t blue ball us at the expense of great theme. Play with those themes in big, character-driven ways, as you have to this point. Bring it together and then end it how you like. But… I mean, actually bring it together.

Jon killed at the end of season five as the Walkers descend, by his own grouchy Night’s Watch, and poof. That’s that? Our Theme Personified made a misstep and now he’s done? Somebody else takes up the mantle of White Walker Herald and things just go on? Just, no…

We need our big crazy titular themes. We need our heroic face of Winter.

Our Winter needs Snow.

Karl Pfeiffer is a novelist, photographer, and ghost hunter. He’s the author of the novel Hallowtide, the short story collection Into a Sky Below, Forever, and the forthcoming Amarricages. He won the first season of Ghost Hunters Academy, went on to work with the GHI team, and now lectures across America and leads the weekend ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel. He’s also a portrait photographer and conceputal artist based in Northern Colorado. Follow him on Twitter: @KarlPfeiffer

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Dear HBO: Keep GoT to 7 seasons.

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Last night, the first episode of Game of Thrones, Season 5, premiered in London. Chatter about the end-date for Game of Thrones, mixed with premiere reviews discussing the way season 5 feels like it’s moving the wheels toward an endgame has me wanting a soapbox.

Now, it’ll be very, very interesting to see what this show does in terms of telling a complete story. I think much of we’ve seen from the broadcast renaissance is reaching its pinnacle in Game of Thrones, specifically in terms of narrative and storytelling.

TV in the 80s, 90s, and much of the early aughts has been transitioning from procedural, episodic, killer/monster-of-the-week plots to overarching, narrative-heavy, serial dramas. That’s a transition. Network executives love to cash in on a prize show for as long as possible. In the days of the procedural, this was easy enough, because the more minor overarching story arcs could be manipulated and dragged out for ten seasons or more. Look at CSI (and the various spinoffs, since it’s the same show), Law and Order, NCIS, etc.

The X-Files was one of the earlier shows to try on a bigger narrative thread, and it was the first to be met with criticism for lasting far too long beyond its run. The creator’s plan for the show was a five season arc with three movies to wrap up the story. Instead we got five seasons, a movie, a renewal, four more tired seasons, a tired movie, and perpetual chatter of a third movie and possibly a reboot (both of which I think are needed, as despite the #9SeasonsAnd2Movies run, the story is yet unfinished.

But the X-Files didn’t teach network execs much Supernatural, for instance, went for five perfectly good seasons, blending monster-of-the-week procedural with a BIG story arc that became the show’s driving powerhouse for its final two seasons… Well, I say final, because after they wrapped the end of the world apocalypse plot, the creator left, his original five-season-arc being told… and CW renewed the show because fifth season was so successful. And then they renewed it again. And again. And now we’re in season, what? Eleven? Though the fanbase is strong, I’m sorry to say the story has been told.

Lost was a crucial transition to present-day TV as we know it. Lost set the perfect balance of episodic problems in the midst of a huge overarching narrative that continued to promise and promise (all on JJ Abrams now-exhausted Mystery Box theory) that the writers knew where the show was going. Though the show went maybe a season too long, and despite now hearing too many suggestions that the writers never had a plan past season 2, Lost set an end date (and one long before some whimpering season 12 finish) and the network went for it (even on a powerhouse network show like Lost) and it was a HUGE success. Sure, not everyone liked it. Sure, a lot of people completely misunderstood the end. But the show was a success. ABC treated the finale as a network event, and the finale saw ratings better than it had seen in two seasons.

It paved the way for creator control over when to end a show in a landscape of serial television that’s now cropping up everywhere, from cable to network. Breaking Bad is one of the perfect examples of such a show, which may have meandered for a season or two before finding its groove, but once the writers saw their story arc clearly, it was full steam ahead to either an epic finale, or, well, Meth-Selling, the soap-opera.

And now we have Game of Thrones. The series whose end is mentioned in just about every article written about it. Largely due to whether or not the show will surpass the book series before it’s completed by Mr. Martin. But Game of Thrones is a show that’s been based on a book series that will be finished at some point, and it’s always been a show that asks “Who Will Win?” Fans are foaming at the mouth to know who will take the iron throne before we Cut to Black.

Right now, it’s a show that’s been telling a tight story. Political intrigue, betrayal, amassing armies on a (semi) realistic scale that takes time to do. But it’s too easily a show that could get lost within itself. With no promise of the end that’s so needed, we just watch old enemies form alliances, and then new friends betray each other, over and over, until the numbers have dwindled so far that the network finally cuts the life support. And Game of Thrones has never been a show that’s wanted to do that.

So when Weiss and Benioff start talking about how they see seven seasons (and maybe a movie) to wrap up their show, I’m over here fist-pumping like a champ! Let’s do it. Let’s wreck shit. Let’s see who winds up on that throne and what it’s all going toward.

Certainly everyone brings their own perspectives to a post like this. Many fans just love spending time every week with their characters, like friends on the screen, and every episode is going to provide the needed escapes week to week.

But what I lobby for is good, powerful, tight storytelling. A story with a beginning, a middle, and a fucking crescendo of an end. Kill everybody, I don’t care. Just follow through on the promises the show has made through its run, rather than stringing what once was a good story with big promises into a soap opera of old situations between different characters.

And then there’s the network execs, who say, “Well, gosh, I love this show! The fans love this show! And as a fan I don’t want it to end! I’d love to see ten seasons or more of such a great work of art!”

Which leads me to two retorts, the first being that dragging a good story on for too long (like a bad joke or a, well, bad story that a friend may be subjecting you to) stops it being a great work of art. And the second being that it’s a bit scary to start reading between the lines of the HBO executives comments, who, even in text online, appear to be saying one thing with a forced smile while making murderous hand gestures. Says HBO President of Programming Michael Lombardo, “We’ll have an honest conversation that explores all possible avenues. If they weren’t comfortable going beyond seven seasons, I trust them implicitly and trust that’s the right decision—as horrifying as that is to me. What I’m not going to do is have a show continue past where the creators believe where they feel they’ve finished with the story.”

So, sure, on paper, he respects the creators knowing when a show is going to end! But when a person who has “President” in their title at the network your show airs on uses the word “horrifying” to describe ending the show at seven seasons, and suggests having an “honest conversation to explore all possible avenues,” that hair on the back of your neck has gotta be standing up at this point.

I can only hope it’s seven or eight seasons. I can hope that Weiss and Benioff stand their ground and pull this thing together in a spectacle of awesome. And I just really, really, do not want to see this thing go for ten to twelve seasons.

Nobody wants to see a rusty iron throne by the time some old, bored, actor/actress gets there.

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Karl Pfeiffer is a novelist, photographer, and ghost hunter. He’s the author of the novel Hallowtide and the book, Into a Sky Below, Forever. He won the first season of Ghost Hunters Academy, worked briefly with the Ghost Hunters International team and now travels the world lecturing about approaches to paranormal research. He’s also a portrait photographer based out of Colorado. 

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How the Series Finale of Dexter Was Brilliant and Why it Sucked

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(Needless to say, there’s gonna be spoilers)

Let’s just get it out of the way first, shall we?

Why Dexter was so Awesome:

1. The final shot. The buildup and crushing rejection of Dexter’s entire growth as a character for eight seasons.

2. Both the thematic potential of Dexter’s new-found family and the parallels with his old family.

3. The way he killed Debra. It had to happen. And it was poetic.

Why Dexter was so terrible:

1. The final shot was unearned. Dexter’s decision came out of nowhere and barely made sense.

2. The family-figures were meaningless. Man of Steel all over again. Simply shells with unearned emotions.

3. There was no tension in the first 11 of 12 episodes in the final season.

* * *

That all said, I want to go a little more in depth on exactly why this episode was brilliant, and how it was equal parts such a godawful letdown.

I want to start with the final shot: Dexter, sitting down in a logging cabin. Isolated. Gray. Alone. Hard.

Though many online took up arms to make fun of Lumberjack Dex, the moment itself was incredible.

The brilliance of this shot came first in the filmography. For a show that fell apart at the seams in the final three seasons in terms of technical appearance (look no further than those godawful Florida skies in the final episode, which could have been photoshopped by the kid who played Harrison), this final shot was commanding and moody and emotive. The symmetry. The careful camera motion. The lighting. It all spoke toward the darkness we know as Dexter.

The only problem with it was the whimpering fade-out rather than a hard cut.

But the emotion was astounding, if overlooked.

One of the staples of old-school television is that the characters don’t change. Networks want to hook an audience and keep them. By changing their main characters radically over the course of a show, the network model believes that this will ultimately alienate the audience that grew attached to such a character in the first place.

Not only does this give little credit to the audience, but it limits the range of good storytelling. Any basic writing class will emphasize that, in short work or long form, the character has to undergo a change.

Dexter has been quietly at the forefront of the changing landscape of the television industry because Dexter himself has been undergoing a radical change for years. He’s becoming a human being. He’s learning that he’s not so much a sociopath as he thinks. This wasn’t just an abandoned season eight plot point, it’s been developing since season one.

Season One: Dexter learns that his need to kill may be less genetic so much as born from his childhood trauma. Season Two: Dexter learns that he can have feelings. Whether that’s in a relationship, in sex, or in the thrill of being on the run. Season Four: Dexter learns that by pretending to be a father, he actually likes having a family. Season Five: He learns empathy, and that trauma-based dark passengers can be lost. Season eight: He learns that he might not even be a sociopath, and that he’s capable of truly loving.

The writers had two places they could go with this progression: they can either let Dexter go off on his happily ever after and embrace the fact that he’s finally human. Or he reverts back to the stone-cold Dexter of first season.

As we watch the final shot push in on Dexter at the end, we see that this is again the Dexter that we’ve always known: the cold, calculating, closed-off Dexter that nods to us in the opening credits each week.

And this feels very right, to see Dexter back here: alone, cold, but back full-circle (a lot of finales seem to love this idea of coming full circle. TV is a very cyclical beast, it would seem). It might not be very happy or pleasant. But it’s very right.

Now, even though the writers recognized the right end, they failed to present it well. They didn’t earn this finish, and that disparity threw most viewers. The immediate impression of the last shot felt tacked on rather than right.

On first viewing, it seemed that Dexter’s decision to bail on his new family was out of the blue. Deb died because of a series of badly-written accidents stemming from Dexter’s decisions. And that was enough to prompt him to abandon the only things in his life that make him happy?

It’s a stretch only if you forget that it wasn’t Deb’s death alone–but also due to the loss of his mother-figure, Vogel, and his son-figure, Zack. The problem here is that, well, I actually did forget this.

For having such an instrumental impact on Dexter as pieces of a life he’s trying to build, their deaths had no drama. I was bored as I watched Vogel bleed out. I was unsurprised to see Zack, dead in Dexter’s chair. And of course Cassie, the passing-love-interest-neighbor, was so clearly a throwaway character that I was betting friends against how long it would take for her to be killed off (Seven episodes. There’s twenty bucks I won’t be seeing again).

This is purely a problem in execution. A problem in pacing, in filming, and writing. We didn’t understand whether these people were really important to Dexter. We weren’t convinced that we ever really wanted them around–or that Dexter even really wanted them around. There was no tension, no suspense. No risk.

And so, not only were their deaths relatively meaningless, but they were easily forgotten.

Dexter’s final decision seemed impulsive because we didn’t get to watch him with his struggle. We didn’t understand deeply enough that he blamed himself for these deaths. When we watched Dexter with Hannah and Harrison, we didn’t get to see Dexter questioning whether he deserved such happiness or whether he’d ruin it.

The risks of Dexter’s  lifestyle were never risks to the people most important to him: Hannah and Harrison. His lifestyle was a risk to Deb, and it proved fatal, but he was leaving Deb. The writers had already established that Harrison and Hannah were more important to Dexter than Deb, despite Deb and Dexter’s relationship being the crux of the series.

Instead, for eleven episodes, the characters we had no investment in were the ones experiencing all the risk, and the characters that we actually love, Hannah, Harrison, Deb, and Dexter were only ever at risk due to Hannah’s exploits. And, when it came to risk, those scenes were more awkward than suspenseful, with the final undoing straw being Harrison running on a treadmill and–“Ow. I cut my chin.”

Where’s the tension of season two? Where’s the unraveling of Dexter’s life the way we’ve been waiting for since then? Where’s the edge-of-our-seat tension as we wait for the law to come down on Dexter, as we wait for some master serial-killer to put Dex out of his misery? Where’s the drama of Dexter’s police family unraveling as everything they knew about Dexter crumbles? Where’s Dexter, a wreck, because he’s trying to build a life as it all comes falling down?

Where’s the possibility that now, here, in the final season, literally anything can finally happen?

Instead, the only thing that crashes down–until the final episode–are tacked-on characters we don’t care about.

If we’re going to fully appreciate the final scene, we need to have the appropriate build-up for it. We have to watch Dexter struggle as his world falls around him. We have to watch Dexter’s decision to be a human being crash down far more epically than Deb’s being shot in the stomach. (If not, I mean, at least give us a bit of finesse).

For threatening Deb’s death, did they even bother to take their time with it? To bother with some close ups? Some slow motion? Some kind of emotion in finding Deb shot on the floor of an abandoned hospital?

Nope. Cut to soap opera wide. Deb’s cop family chatting normally about whether they should call Dexter.

The only way that we earned the final scene was in Dexter finally killing Deb. If there were two moments the writers needed to build to in the final season, it was Dexter killing Deb–or vice versa–and the final shot on Dexter, alone and empty.

Dexter killing Deb is massively important because it takes the essence of Dexter (the drive to kill) and puts him in the most dramatic of situations, in which he must finally break his code to kill someone not only innocent, but someone that he actually and truly loves. The flip side is that Deb has to kill Dexter, bending her own morality for the greater good, and in essence becoming the very thing that she’s killing. These types of murderous moral ambiguities have always been at the heart of the show.

Of course, if Deb can’t kill Dexter because we need the final shot of Dexter, then we’re left with the former. And the writers set up a good situation. Deb’s a vegetable. Dexter is forced to kill her to put her out of her misery. If not cliché — with uncomfortably transparent moments for goodbyes and flashbacks — it is a relatively poetic and twisted situation.

Even still, I have to wonder how the show-runners didn’t include a nod to almost every murder from earlier seasons? How did Dexter not run a thumb across Deb’s cheekbone before he pulled the plug? Where he sliced the cheek of his victims as trophies, how did they not allude to this STAPLE of the show in Dexter’s final kill?

It’s oversights like this that characterize the season as a whole. Rushed. Inattentive to the details: pacing; character; the small, dramatic, artistic moments.

The way we earn the final scene is to take our time with these dramatic moments. To pace the play of emotional extremes that are ripping and tearing at Dexter, that push him to turn his back on everything that would make him happy for everything he most truly is. We earn the final scene by watching Dexter make every effort to be human and have those efforts destroy the ones he loves and the life he lives. Have him actually ruminate on the fact that it’s only in his humanity that such hurt stems.

Deb’s death (too little too late, overall) wasn’t enough to convince us. Deb wasn’t Dexter’s whole world. Deb wasn’t enough to make Dexter give up a life. For that matter, Vogel and Zack weren’t Dexter’s whole world either.

As a viewer, I didn’t believe that Dexter’s trying to be a human being would result in tragedy for those he loves. That, single-handedly, is why the ending didn’t work. That’s bad writing. Plain and simple. We have to make that decision with Dexter. But we didn’t.

What could bring us to that decision? What about killing Harrison? What about forcing these moments four episodes before the end? What about giving Dexter some time to deal with the emotional drama of these consequences? Rather than a shot of him standing in front of a thunderstorm, in which we don’t really, fully grasp or share in what is most truly pushing him away from what’s left of the life he tried to build.

By taking our time, by watching Dexter’s world ripped away, only after he loses almost everything–only then would we understand why he’s sitting alone in a logging cabin. This way, we’d understand, immediately, as we slowly zoom in on the beard and the hollow cheeks, as we watch him close his eyes–only then would we see the way he blocks out the humanity he’s discovered. Only THEN would we understand that this is who Dexter truly is: walled-off, flat, hard. And intentionally so. He’s a human being who doesn’t allow himself to love.

THAT’S tragedy. THAT’S drama.

But it seems the writers were more interested in tacking this kind of drama on in the last five minutes and leaving the rest of the season to focus on Masuka’s daughter.

* * *

Karl Pfeiffer is a novelist, photographer, and ghost hunter. He’s the author of the books Hallowtide and Into a Sky Below, Forever. He writes for the TAPS Paramagazine and occasionally contributes to the Paranormal Pop Culture Blog. He’s the winner of the first season of Ghost Hunters Academy, he’s appeared on Ghost Hunters International, and he lectures across the nation about paranormal phenomena. More can be found at http://www.KarlPfeiffer.com

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Into a Sky Below, Forever Official Release Day!

Sky-Below-1The day has officially arrived! My second book, Into a Sky Below, Forever arrives at stores across the web today.

Here’s the cover description:

Moving. Disturbing. In Denver, a young woman grows up terrorized by something massive and unnatural that watches her while she sleeps. In west Texas, a boy’s world unravels as his brother relates an encounter with a strange figure in the woods. Struggling with insomnia and depression, a man named Mitch begins speaking to a creature of folklore in the trees behind his house. And along the plains of the Rocky Mountains, two college students discover a house that should not exist.

These stories and more make up Karl Pfeiffer’s first collection following his debut novel, Hallowtide. Ranging from fiction to non-fiction, from the poetic to the profane, Into a Sky Below, Forever examines the thin places, where the wild leaks into the refined, the supernatural bleeds into the physical, reality blends with fiction, and where the only things left holding the world together are the things that truly matter the most.

This is a book about birth and rebirth: it’s a study of cycles, sex, and ouroboric processes; it’s an examination of the ways we grow up, grow strong, grow together, and grow apart; an autopsy of the ways we love and rage and reproduce and repeat again.

As always, it’s about finding light amidst the darkness.

On Twitter, three weeks ago, I posted a call to arms for my followers to buy the book today, Monday, if at all possible. With the lack of a presale option for indie-published authors, we’re immediately put at a severe disadvantage compared to the traditional approach, despite all Amazon does to support indies. The only reason pre-sales are well-loved is because they take three month’s worth of early sales and put them through on the same day, shot-gunning a book to rapid-seller, and most-popular lists in an instant.

So I ask that, if you are interested in this book at all, if you might buy it one day, you drop $.99 on a Kindle copy today. Hell, even if you don’t have a Kindle, support the book! It’s the price of a coffee size-upgrade.

But if Kindle’s not your thing, there are other places to pick the book up too. There are sites that will be carrying the book, but because of various approval processes, this could be the difference of hours or days. However, each format is available somewhere on the web. I’ll list them below as they stand now, on the release-day morning.

Kindle is available on Amazon. (The hard copy will be there whenever Amazon’s robots decide they should push their button)

The hard copy is available right now through the Createspace e-store. (in the interest of full disclosure, shipping is kinda expensive on this option, for whatever reason).

Nook is available through Barnes and Noble.

The iTunes epub file may not be going up on the iTunes Store at all (because iTunes is the biggest nightmare to work with in the world), but you can download the epub file from Smashwords. (Or you can download the Nook file, and it should look and function the same).

I’ll keep you updated as to when Amazon starts pushing the hard copy.

Otherwise… buy, read, and I do so hope you enjoy it.

-Karl

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12-Year Floods

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The things I’ll remember: the flies.

The smell of sea salt on the air as the rain started falling. This was Tuesday night: the tenth. This was after beers with a buddy. This was the start of the storm, and we couldn’t help but wonder aloud why the fuck it smelled so much like the ocean.

I’ll remember how on Wednesday I sat in a coffeeshop and watched the rain come down, remembering how, twelve years ago, September the 11th wasn’t like this; it was crisp as an autumn morning, the sky as blue as summer, and it was clear enough that we could hear the towers fall from 1800 miles away.

I’ll remember how on Friday, the sea smell was everywhere on my clothes and body when I walked inside from shooting it all. The sun had come out, and I’d ran with sweat as I climbed down the rocks toward the mud and water. I’ll remember how I didn’t know if the salt and smell was me.

I’ll remember:

Most of the rocks were still solid and didn’t wiggle under my feet, even the ones that rested between the base of the concrete overpass and the rushing waters; two sapling trees lasted much longer than the logs that swept downstream; I didn’t notice that the footbridge was gone until my mom pointed it out. Only then did the previously ineffable space the water covered make sense; On the ground, it’s rushing water. From the sky, it’s mostly puddles; This afternoon, children ran and played in the greenbelt behind our house and they seemed totally oblivious, the way our dog seemed totally oblivious–the way I seemed totally oblivious almost twelve years ago to the day.

I remember how September 11th gave my seventh-grade heart a thrill. I remember laughing at my friend for making up stories about planes and bombs and New York. I remember watching teachers staring at a television screen through the glass front window to the office. I remember how I started to realize his laughter wasn’t because he was pulling a fast-one. I remember rushing home with hopes of breaking the news to my folks, as if they didn’t already know. I remember almost rooting for the towers to fall because it would mean something had finally changed, something else had happened: the stasis had broken, something, anything but those towers and the smoke chugging into the air, and the questions and the insecurity and obscurity and the unsurity of the anchors on TV: my blue balls of adolescent need: the attention deficit in being twelve.

I’ll remember, today, people gathered along the rivers and flooded intersections with cameras below the humid sky and a sun that hadn’t been seen in days; they stretched their legs by revelling in the awesome destruction. They feel alive by being alive, where saying “wow” is at once as superficial as cameraphone photos and as resonant as a yawp.

I’ll remember sitting on the couch watching nightly news anchors, the same way that I remember, twelve years ago, standing from the couch to leave the room at eight in the evening because I couldn’t stand watching those goddamn talking heads plaster cameraphone photos and try to say “wow” in every way except “wow.”

I’ll remember how, before, it was a creek: a river at its best. And I’ll remember how, in the night, from our house, we could for the first time hear the water rushing.

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Into a Sky Below, Forever Cover Release!

Kicking off August and the late summer, the cover for my next book, Into a Sky Below, Forever — a collection of short stories, non-fiction, and poems — is finally here!

Into-a-Sky-Below-3D-2The back cover description (subject to change):

“In Denver, a young woman grows up terrorized by something unnatural that watches her while she sleeps. In West Texas, a boy’s world unravels as his brother relates an encounter with a strange figure in the woods. In a small suburban neighborhood, a man named Mitch begins speaking to a creature of folklore in the trees behind his house. Along the plains of the Rocky Mountains, two college students discover a house that should not exist. And on the Oregon coast, one young man comes to terms with the inevitability of all things. 

These and other stories make up Karl Pfeiffer’s first collection following his debut novel, Hallowtide. Ranging from fiction to non-fiction, from poetry to the profane, Into A Sky Below, Forever again brings us to Pfeiffer’s territory of the thin places: Thin places where the wild leaks into the refined and the supernatural bleeds into the physical; Places where reality appears in fiction, and where fiction disturbs the delicate fabric of reality; Places where it’s only poetry that can grasp at what it is that’s beyond us, where the only things left holding the world together are the things that truly matter the most.

This is a book about birth and rebirth. It’s a book about cycles and it’s a book about sex. It’s infancy and childhood and relationships and divorce and death and spirit, and the way these things repeat in time. As always, it’s about finding light in the darkness.” 

September 16. 2013.

 

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Game of Thrones, Mindless Television, and RISK

Wanted to write a quick blog inspired by a twitter conversation (because I need to blog more and this is exactly the kind of thing that should be blogged).

And so it’s going to be in TWO PARTS!

Part One: I hate you because you’re BRILLIANT.

I was perusing the glorious re-tweets of the twitter account @RedWeddingTears. If you’ve been living under a rock the past few days, Game of Thrones penultimate episode of season 3 rocked the minds and hearts of its fan base with a shocking death. (I suspect its not much of a spoiler to point out that all the hubub revolved around a death).

And though many of the tweets are quite hilarious,

Screen Shot 2013-06-06 at 3.40.51 PMOthers are quite saddening.

Screen Shot 2013-06-06 at 3.40.05 PMOf course, I’m instantly reminded of FilmCritHulk’s recent column about spoilers and the different ways of consuming media. Which (spoiler) essentially breaks down as such: There are four types of movie-goer: the ones who go for a good experience, the ones who go for an EPIC experience, the ones who appreciate the thematic and symbolic nuances, and the ones who appreciate the craft and making of the film itself.

I like to think I’m firmly in the third category, with a healthy appreciation of the other three. While I think that a tremendous amount of weight falls into this third category (I’ve had intellectual engagement with films that falls on a level far more profound than a purely emotional one), a tremendous amount of weight falls upon the first two.

And I find it equal parts hilarious and tragic when people say that a show should be cancelled (or that they’re going to stop watching television altogether) because they’ve had such a profound reaction.

To say, through tears, that Game of Thrones is “treacherously written” is laughably ironic.

And not simply for the sake of the unintended “treacherously” (I suspect “terribly” to be more the idea). Eliminating treacherous writing would eliminate all sense of tension at all.

But that in a lot of ways is George R. R. Martin’s whole point. We’re far too used to watching our heroes with the expectation that they’re going to succeed. He’s flipping our traditional notions entirely on their heads. Is that his only trick? I’m not sure that’s the case, but with good writing, it’s a fine single trick to have.

See, the great irony of these tweets is that if writing can force you into a reaction that profound and gut-wrenching, that’s incredible writing. The hardest jobs of a writer is to address the main two categories of consumer: the ones who want to be emotionally moved, and the ones who want to be intellectually moved. Game of Thrones is doing both right now. Emotional, political, and loosely social themes contextualized by painful and wild plot twists? That’s an achievement.

And if you’re watching to not be moved to the edge of your seat, it means that you either want a story that’s predictable and banal, or that the writing has failed in making you care. Right now, Game of Thrones is neither banal nor un-sympathetic.

My twitter conversation then moved into the idea that if such people are threatening to stop watching television entirely, perhaps that’s a good thing.

Which leads me to Part Two: Is television still an evil that’s sucking our brains? 

We’re in what I like to call the second golden age of television right now. Which is to say, despite the advent of reality television and the cut-throat nature of network primetime mostly-procedural television, cable networks have risen and given intellectual, broad-scoping, serial television a place to thrive. This began by their trust in their audience, and the shows that they invite. Breaking Bad is debatably the greatest show on television right now. But Breaking Bad would not have gotten to the place that it is now without having to fight its way through the first three seasons. I only watched Breaking Bad because I wanted to watch the bumbling figure of Walter White in his first season transform into the face on the season four DVD cover.

Breaking-Bad-Season-4-posterA show like that (regardless of the clash in formats) would never make it that long on network television. And yet, here it’s the best on all of TV.

Because of this uprising in cable shows, we’re having this second golden age in television. We’re realizing again what TV can be. And it’s not what we thought it was. Though TV has been reinventing itself for longer than I’ve been alive (even since my birth, we’ve watched the rise of both episodic crime television and reality television), we’ve hit a new age in the intellectual and emotional capacity TV can hold. Game of Thrones is shocking audiences across the world. Mad Men, Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, American Horror Story and others are doing things unheard of and reaping the rewards of smart audiences flocking.

Netflix, in the best decision they’ve ever made, recognized the long-term audience in their publication of old television serials that hook audiences for weeks at a time as well as the success of serial narrative-driven cable television, and they dove headlong into House of Cards, which in my opinion easily rivals the brilliance of Breaking Bad. Of course, Hemlock Grove and the revival of Arrested Development have only driven their success further. 

The point here being that though we’re engaging different parts of our brains, though we look like automatons when our glazed over eyes watch endlessly the dancing images on the boob toob,

tumblr_m7javtQmec1qzguyto1_r1_500there is finally a genuine intellectual and emotional work being done through the medium of television.

Is it a healthy stand-in for reading? Perhaps not as much. But is it finally an intellectually engaging one, challenging us on moral, social, and thematic issues? Absolutely.

And, I’d beg to suggest, if you can’t handle those emotions, or having those things you fall in love with be torn from you, or having the things you take confidence in believing suddenly subverted, I’d stick to reality shows. But if you want to step up and finally engage in something profound, that could change your life, these types of stories are becoming more and more available.

I can only hope that purely reactionary viewers realize that, and that the cable networks don’t become so flogged with competition for viewers’ eyes that they forget that good art takes time.

As a viewer, that’s not always fun. And as a network, it’s not always safe. But that’s risk. And risk is crucial.

Karl Pfeiffer won the first season of Ghost Hunters Academy and went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team. He’s the author of the novel Hallowtide, writes for the TAPS Paramagazine and Paranormal Pop Culture Blog, works with investigative teams across Colorado, lectures across America, and leads the public ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel. More can be found at www.KarlPfeiffer.com

 

 

 

 

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Into A Sky Below, Forever

As I mentioned last night on Paranormal Happy Hour over at LiveParanormal.com, I’m planning on releasing my next book early this fall.

It’s going to be called Into A Sky Below, Forever.

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From the cover:

“In Denver, a young woman grows up terrorized by something unnatural that watches her while she sleeps. In West Texas, a boy’s world unravels as his brother relates an encounter with a strange figure in the woods. In a small suburban neighborhood, a man named Mitch begins speaking to a creature of folklore in the trees behind his house. Along the plains of the Rocky Mountains, two college students discover a house that should not exist. And on the Oregon coast, one young man comes to terms with the inevitability of all things. 

These and other stories make up Karl Pfeiffer’s first collection following his debut novel, Hallowtide. Ranging from fiction to non-fiction, from poetry to the profane, Into A Sky Below, Forever again brings us to Pfeiffer’s territory of the thin places: Thin places where the wild leaks into the refined and the supernatural bleeds into the physical; Places where reality appears in fiction, and where fiction disturbs the delicate fabric of reality; Places where it’s only poetry that can grasp at what it is that’s beyond us, where the only things left holding the world together are the things that truly matter the most.”

Into A Sky Below, Forever is set to be released in September.

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FREE PDF of HALLOWTIDE

I self-published my first novel, Hallowtide, this past October. It’s March now and I want to give it away for free. I put seven years into this book, writing revision after revision, enlisted the help of a number of brilliant editors, and worked on the book’s design for six months before its publication. There’s always errors and more to fix, but I wouldn’t release something I’m not proud of, and there’s nothing I’ve done yet in life that I’m more proud of than this novel.

To go to a free PDF of the novel Hallowtide, go ahead and click this link: Hallowtide Free PDF

or click the photo below.

A self-published debut novel is a hard sell. I get that. There’s a lot of crap out there. I also get that free is the way of the future. It’s more important to me to have my work spread first, and trust that it’s good enough to help support me later. Writing is one of my two greatest passions, and it’s the dream to be able to support myself financially while working on the next project.

The only thing I ask in return is your time to read it and chew on it a bit and, if you feel so moved, to maybe toss a review on amazon to help generate more interest. Of course, digital and hard copies are also available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iTunes if you’d like something fancier.

Thanks all! I hope it moves you the way it has moved me for the past seven years.

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Hallowtide is the story of one young man and a journey to Hell. Thought he can’t remember it, Will Andrews was a victim of a high school shooting in 2001. They found Will, bleeding out beside the gunman, pistol in his hand, apparently having saved what could have been hundreds of lives. Now, five years later, he’s crippled by nightmares of Hell.

These nightmares, his therapist  believes, are likely one half of himself desperately trying to communicate with the other. But the deeper Will digs at both the dreams and the shooting, the more the lines between reality and fiction are blurred, and he finds himself in a place where nightmare bleeds into memory, the spiritual leaks into the physical, and the world as he knows it threatens to dissolve entirely. 

Both heart-wrenchingly beautiful, and deeply harrowing, Hallowtide combines Jungian theory with echoes of classic descent narratives, deconstructing western philosophy, depression, religion, and the 21st century sense of the self, while following one young man’s fall into Stygian wasteland and the journey that will change him forever. 

Again, you can click the graphic above to read the free PDF,

You can always find more at HallowtideNovel.com

And you can always find me at www.KarlPfeiffer.com and on twitter @KarlPfeiffer

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HALLOWTIDE CONTEST

Here’s goes! I’m announcing a brand new, month-long contest for my novel, Hallowtide!

If you’ve yet to get on board with the Hallowtide train, well, for one: NOW is the time. For two: Here’s a link to the website if you’d like to check it out..

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At the start of the month of April, I’m releasing an updated edition of Hallowtide to fix the occasional formatting issues or grammatical error that was overlooked in the initial editing sprint that ended last summer.

With this edition, I want to include some front matter from you guys. The readers.

There’s been a lot of love flying around for the book online already, and I want to bring that together in a Reader Review section at the start of the book, which will be made up of blurbs from YOU GUYS.

It’s going to be very simple. Here’s how it’ll work:

You pick yourself up a copy of Hallowtide. Kindle. Hard copy. Mobi. Whatever fits your fancy.

But you know what, money is tight these days too, I know. And you know what, I’m asking you guys to do me a solid. And you know what, I’d rather my book spread right now than demand ALL THE MONEYS from you.

So I’ll tell you what, I’m offering Hallowtide, in its entirety, FOR FREE as a PDF file through the end of March.

You can download or view the files HEREHallowtide PDF

Go ahead and send your friends copies. Tell them what I’m up to. I don’t mind.

It’s so simple:

Check out the book. Read the whole thing, digest it, and then head on over to Hallowtide’s page on Amazon, Barnes&Noble, or iTunes and leave a review. Include your first name, last initial, and state/country.

Now, obviously, blurbs are generally positive, but I value honesty over ego-boosters. So,

If you don’t like it, let me know. If you liked some parts and not others, let me know. I appreciate wit and insight. Leave your review in an honest, enthusiastic, witty, insightful, or comedic way, and I promise I’ll try to put it in the book.

The deadline for the reviews will be March 31, 2013. I’ll do my best to turn them around and have the book available for you guys WITH your blurbs at the front, by April Fool’s Day.

At the same time, I hope to have a page on the novel’s website for special ordering directly through me for personalized and signed copies, which are otherwise unavailable right now. Those will have a bit more of a delay, because I’ll have to order copies, sign, then resend them again to you.

And that’s the contest. Read the book, for free if you like. Leave a review. Get a blurb in the book or all over the website. Become famous for writing the greatest book review ever. Everybody wins. 

All I ask is your time.

(No purchase necessary, batteries not included, void where prohibited, side effects include but are not limited to death by hungry hungry hippos.)

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