The Best Horror Film of 2018 isn’t a Film at All

btmfdr

Gory greetings, boils and ghouls!

Some of you may know that in addition to writing fiction yours truly also occasionally writes reviews and other articles pertaining to the horror genre, mostly for The Ginger Nuts of Horror. Well, this month I had a chance to do a guest post for the website Dread Central, where I reviewed the 3-part comic book miniseries Bottomfeeder from Eibon Press. I won’t say too much here (read the review, that’s what it’s there for!), but I will provide you with just one quote from my write-up, which I think gives you a nice taste of why I consider Bottomfeeder, a comic book, to be one of the best horror movies of 2018:

“The most important thing Bottomfeeder has is balls. Big, swingin’, sweaty, ugly, gross, hairy balls. And the willingness to teabag you in the face with ‘em every chance it gets.”

Finally, I just want to say thank you to the good folks at Dread Central for having me. Here’s hoping this is just the first time, not the last.

Advertisements

Now Available: Caravans Awry & Weirdbook #40

cawb

As if there weren’t enough reasons for a horror fan like me to love October, I’ve got some great news to share, just in time for Halloween: This month, yours truly has two new stories available for purchase! C’mon, you know you want ’em.

First, I’ve returned to the prestigious pages of Weirdbook Magazine, alongside some of my favorite writers working in the genre today, including John Linwood Grant, Russ Parkhurst, Glynn Owen Barrass, and more. My story, “The Thirteenth Step,” sees a man’s home mutate into a maddening labyrinth, one that reflects the traumatic memories of a childhood spent in the shadow of his mother’s crippling obsessive-compulsive disorder. Weirdbook #40 can be purchased in paperback from Wildside Press and Amazon.com.

Then, in another happy return, the good folks at Planet X Publications have included my longest story published to date (it’s a novelette, really) in their new anthology, Caravans Awry. This is a story that has been rattling around in the back of my head for quite some time, so I’m especially excited to share it with you all. Inspired by the fiction of Ray Bradbury, the music of Nick Cave, a Catholic upbringing that didn’t quite take, and an adolescent visit to the sideshow that did, “Red Right Hand” finds a young runaway rock-star wanna-be torn between loyalties, one to a benevolent carnival freak and the other to a seemingly supernatural, misanthropic clown. Caravans Awry can be purchased in ebook and paperback from Amazon.com.

Oh yeah, and here’s the most important thing I have to tell you…

Happy Halloween!

Bow Down to the Savior of Modern Literature!

list

Don’t mind the post title, I’ve just gone a little bit mad with power. It seems Silent Motorist Media has named yours truly as one of their “10 Weird Writers to Save Us All in 2018.”

While my kneejerk response is to quote a certain Stabbing Westward song (“I cannot save you / I can’t even save myself”), I can’t deny that it’s insanely flattering to see my name listed alongside writers I myself look up to, such as Jon Padgett and Betty Rocksteady and S.L. Edwards and… well, I don’t want to spoil the whole list for you. Give it a read yourself; hopefully you’ll discover some authors you haven’t heard of yet.

That is, after all, what the list is really all about. That whole “savior” thing is just a fun way of bringing together a motley mismatch of under-the-radar and up-and-coming writers beneath the same umbrella. As the folks behind Silent Motorist Media themselves said to their readers when asking for authors suggestions a few weeks ago, this list is meant to shine a light on “weird, bizarro, horror, and otherwise experimental writers who haven’t quite received the exposure you think they deserve.”

And that, more than anything, is why my inclusion on this list means so much to me. It’s not just a list put together by some random blogger rattling off his or her own personal favorites; every writer on this list is there because actual readers liked their work enough to email Silent Motorist Media. As a relatively new author with few published credits to my name, Imposter Syndrome weighs heavily on me. I often find myself wondering if anyone even reads my stories, let alone likes them.

So thanks to anyone and everyone who nominated me for this list, thanks to Silent Motorist Media for putting it together, and thanks to the other writers on it for being such damn good company.

Diversity in Publishing: Good Ethics, Good Business

priv

Don’t mind me. I’m nobody.

I have no experience as a publisher, editor, or anthologist. Hell, I’ve only been an active member of the genre writing community for a couple years, and I have barely a handful of published credits to my name. As such, my opinion carries little to no weight.

That’s okay. I don’t think I’m smarter than people who have been doing this for decades. I don’t think I have all the answers. I don’t think I know better. All I know is what I believe, and if you don’t agree with me, well, feel free to chalk it up to me talking out of my ass.

Recently, the issue of diversity in publishing has reignited as a hot topic in the horror, bizarro, and weird fiction communities. It’s not a new issue. Nor is it one that necessarily impacts me, a (mostly) hetero-leaning white cis male, all that directly. I’m fortunate in that way. I’m privileged enough to not have to look very hard or very far to find my own perspective reflected back at me. A vast majority of the art and entertainment I consume is dominated by characters I can easily relate to, produced by creators who come from a similar background.

That doesn’t mean the issue of diversity in publishing doesn’t impact me whatsoever, though. It impacts every last one of us, in fact, and we should all view it as a matter of utmost importance. After all, isn’t the value of reading widely one of the great truisms which both readers and writers hold dear? That doesn’t just mean reading a wide variety of styles or genres; it also means reading a wide variety of authors, voices, and perspectives. Being open to a multitude of different worldviews, lifestyles, experiences, and identities is not just the hallmark of a good reader, but of a good person. In turn, our own life experience becomes all the richer for it, exposing us to possibilities we might have otherwise never dreamed of.

Which is why it disappoints me so much when I look at the table of contents of some new anthology and see not even one woman, person of color, or LGBTQ author listed as a contributor. It’s the kind of thing that makes me double-check the copyright page just to make sure that, yes, I am indeed holding a product of the current century.

Even when unintentional, this kind of oversight is especially damning when it comes to anthologies, wherein part of the whole point of the thing is to offer up a veritable witches’ brew of diverse voices. For all the variety that differing writing styles, plots, themes, and characters can provide, even if some contributors are specifically trying to represent perspectives different from the ones they personally identify with, the fact remains that you can line up a hundred hetero white guys and not one of them will be able to reproduce the unique viewpoints of just one woman, person of color, or LGBTQ author.

Of course, we are, all of us, different and unique and we all have our own singular life experiences, blah blah blah. That’s a given. But there are nevertheless some experiences which more or less all individuals of a certain background are more likely to be able to relate to. One hetero white guy may overall have very different life experiences from another hetero white guy, but chances are there remains a common baseline of experience uniting them simply because they are both hetero white guys. It might seem like a small thing, but that’s the kind of fundamental difference that stacks up over time. It affects the way you think and what you expect from life. It affects the very way you understand reality.

In a very real, meaningful way, women experience the world differently than men, people of color experience the world differently than whites, and LGBTQ individuals experience the world differently than straight folks. This does nothing to diminish the value of any individuals’ experiences, nor does it validate or invalidate any of those experiences above or below the others. None of this should be seen as excuse to hold biases against those who are different. Quite the opposite, it should motivate us to reexamine what biases we may already hold because of our individual privileges (or the lack thereof).

Therefore, an anthology which deprives readers of a truly diverse lineup of contributors in turn deprives readers of entire swaths of possibility and experience. Such an anthology inevitably falls far short of its full potential. And, frankly, in a market overflowing with competition, why should any reader be expected to waste their time and money on something that isn’t the very best it can be?

A few days ago, I said as much in a thread on Facebook, only to have my opinion completely dismissed by a writer and editor far more experienced and respected than myself. I don’t disagree with this person being held in high regard (in truth, I count myself as a fan). Nor do I dispute the validity of said person’s own experiences.

And yet…

Here’s the thing. In the simplest terms, this person’s argument boiled down to a rehash of the idea that it is not an editor or publisher’s responsibility to seek out and cultivate diversity, and that an editor or publisher shouldn’t be expected to do anything beyond simply rifle through whatever submissions they receive and select the very best stories they can, regardless of who wrote them.

Seems like pretty sound logic, right?

Eh, not so much.

I’m not even going to go in-depth into the disingenuousness of claiming editors/publishers always accept only the best stories regardless of author (admit it, if Stephen King submitted a pile of barely readable crap, most of us would probably accept it sight unseen, if only to guarantee the book healthy sales numbers and a shot at attention from mainstream media). Nor am I going to spend much time tackling the ugly underlying implication that women, POC, and LGBTQ authors would be published more if only they were good enough writers (independent from the fact that many of the very best writers working in genre fiction today are women, POC, and LGBTQ individuals, this notion blithely ignores years upon years of marginalization and homogenization through which minority voices have often, at best, been treated as novelty items and, at worst, been told in no uncertain terms that they are not welcome here).

Instead, I’m just going to focus on the question of what constitutes an editor or publisher’s “responsibilities.” At first blush, it seems reasonable to suggest that an editor/publisher should be beholden to nothing more and nothing less than the requirement that he or she put out the very best anthology they can, selecting the very best stories from whatever submissions that have found their way to them. Putting aside my earlier assertion that an anthology without a diverse set of contributors is inherently not the best it can be, the flaws with this line of thinking become apparent the moment we start thinking about everything else that we, both writers and readers, contributors and customers, expect from any publisher who wants to be taken seriously.

In general, we expect publishers to not only produce “good” products, but ethical ones as well. Otherwise, why would it cause a scandal when a publisher violates a contract, infringes copyright, fails to pay their writers, exploits rookie authors through predatory “for the love” submission calls, or employs someone with a proven history of sexual assault or who is literally Hitler?

Conducting business in an ethical manner is not just a responsibility of publishers; it’s a responsibility of all people, everywhere, at all times. Arguably, you can be a “good” publisher without being an ethical one, and you can be ethical publisher without being a “good” one. But, as previously noted, the market is awash with competition. When there are publishers out there who are indeed both “good” and ethical, why settle for anything less?

So then, what does it actually mean to be an ethical publisher? Well, aside from avoiding the obvious aforementioned pitfalls of shortchanging authors, employing white supremacist scumbags, etc., being an ethical publisher means, surprise surprise, seeking out and cultivating diversity.

Actively encouraging diversity is important. Not just because it inherently improves the quality of your product and enriches your costumers’ experiences with it, but also because it’s simply the right thing to do.

Why? Because women, POC, and LGBTQ individuals are still drastically underrepresented and often reduced to stereotypes, both on the page and behind the scenes. Because decades of this exact sort of thing has made the overall literary community into a place that is in some ways subtly intolerant and in other ways openly hostile towards voices which do not reflect the already accepted status quo. Because minority voices are already starting from a disadvantaged position which their majority peers can breeze right past, thus making “equality” an impossibility unless steps are taken to correct systemic prejudices.

These days, publishers are too frequently viewed, both by themselves and by writers, as godlike behemoths who exist to pass judgement on that which “good” and that which is “bad,” blessing the “good” with publication and banishing the “bad” to the hell of rejection. Publishers, in this context, become passive beings, monuments which we writers must trek to and grovel before, and if we don’t or can’t make that journey, well, that’s just one less supplicant for the publisher to pass judgement on. No worries; there are still many, many others eager to take our place.

Not all publishers embrace this view, but those that do, those who see no reason to actively search for and court new and different voices, are just plain lazy. Good publishers are not stationary gods. Good publishers are treasure-hunters.

Some publishers may protest, claiming they don’t have the time, energy, or resources to reach out to authors beyond their established pool of reliable contributors. As a reader, though, how am I supposed to trust that such a publisher will indeed put in the work required to make a final product worthy of my hard-earned money if I can’t even trust that publisher to put in the work required to put together a fresh, diverse line-up of contributors?

No one expects the unreasonable. No one expects your average small-press publisher to send out a network of undercover scouts to every community-college workshop and open-mic night on the eastern seaboard in hopes of discovering the next great diamond in the rough. But is it too much to request that a publisher or editor put in a few extra minutes of effort to ensure their latest submissions call explicitly asks for and encourages diversity? Or to ensure that said submissions call is posted in places where diverse authors might actually see it? Like I said at the start, I myself am not an editor or a publisher, so maybe I’m wrong here, but it doesn’t really seem like that taxing a request.

Either way, being that I’m not an editor or a publisher, I don’t really have a whole lot of power to directly correct what I perceive to be a genuine injustice in genre fiction. As a writer, though, I do have the power to say “No thank you, I don’t want to be involved” to any project pretending it’s 1955 and that heteronormative whitebread sausagefests are still acceptable. And, more importantly, as a reader I have the power to say “Fuck you, you will not get my money” to any product whose creators are too lazy to be bothered to put in even the bare minimum of effort to ensure diversity.

I may be nobody and my opinion might not carry much weight, but my cash sure does. Some editors and publishers can’t see past their own privilege, but they sure as shit can see the difference between good business and bad business.

Vote with your dollars, friends. Don’t just ask for better. Demand it.

Con Report: Things I Did at StokerCon 2018

stokercon

Last year featured a major milestone for me, as I attended my first professional writers’ conference, NecronomiCon Providence. So memorable an experience was it that I ended up writing a gargantuan, rambling, two-part blog about the experience (which you can read here and here). This year, I attended my second such event, StokerCon 2018. But because I’m now a jaded veteran of the con scene, I’ll keep my blog about it short.

Actually, it’s just because I have a lot going on in my personal life right now, and I just don’t have the time to write something as exhaustive and, frankly, exhausting as I did for NecronomiCon. Besides, you don’t want to read something that long again, do you?

Before I start rattling off some of my favorite memories from my trip, I will say this much about StokerCon: It’s very different from NecromiCon. It is somehow both bigger and smaller, with a much more limited array of panels and events, but also a decidedly broader range, which comes from encompassing horror in all forms and formats (as opposed to focusing specifically on, say, Lovecraftian and weird fiction). One thing I noticed (and, as a novice author, appreciated) was that StokerCon seemed to offer more content for attendees interested in the craft and business side of writing, while NecronomiCon put a greater emphasis on the themes, philosophy, and history of genre literature.

Personally, I enjoyed both events about equally, and I feel I got a lot out of each. I would definitely recommend either one in a heartbeat. In fact, I hope to attend both cons again regularly in the future. I assure you, I have not been paid by either StokerCon or NecronomiCon to say these things.

Yet.

Anyway, here are some of the more memorable things I did at StokerCon 2018:

I…

…stayed at the Providence Biltmore, purportedly one of the most haunted hotels in America.

…paid my respects to the dearly departed Jack Ketchum at a special memorial panel.

…talked to editor Don D’Auria about how instrumental the Leisure Books imprint was in inspiring me to write horror.

…scored a signed copy of Amber Fallon‘s TV Dinners From Hell straight from the author herself.

…geeked out over Borkchito with Matthew M. Bartlett.

…compared neuroses with Sean M. Thompson.

…ran into fellow Wilkes University Creative Writing Program survivor John Koloski.

…gushed to Eraserhead Press founder Rose O’Keefe about how bizarro fiction changed my life.

….did my best impression of a wallflower at a get-together in Kenneth Vaughan‘s suite.

…was almost blinded by the light reflected off of Bracken MacLeod‘s smooth, shiny noggin.

…talked Nathan Carson‘s ear off and got signed copies of his new comic, The Willows.

…caught readings by the legendary Ramsey Campbell and Caitlin R. Kiernan.

…had the likewise legendary F. Paul Wilson and Tom Monteleone ask me for directions and miraculously managed not to turn into a stammering fanboy.

…ate my body weight in cheese.

…pushed this button:

button

Remembering Ron

ripron

Who is Ron Gelsleichter?

For those of you who’ve picked up a copy of the new anthology Test Patterns and read “I Am Become Death,” the story he and I share credit on, you may or may not have wondered this. Of the book’s 30+ contributors, Ron Gelsleichter is the only one with no other publications to his name. While my own credits are admittedly few (and of debatable noteworthiness) they still exist. You can look me up on Goodreads or on Amazon any time you want and find my bibliography. You can track down a copy of one of my books and find my name immortalized there on the table of contents. Slight as it might be, there remains a record of my contributions to the world of fiction, one which will persist even after I’m gone.

Who, then, is Ron Gelsleichter? Well, he was one of my very best friends, for starters. In fact, he was one of only two that I can honestly say have ever completely and utterly known the real me, one of the very few I truly felt comfortable sharing anything and everything with. For more than ten years, since I first met him in 2006, hardly a week went by where we didn’t spend at least a day together. I often joked that my weekly visits with Ron were the only thing keeping me sane. There’s truth to that; no matter how stressful or depressing things in my life got, a night hanging out with Ron, eating greasy takeout and riffing on bad movies, always helped me recalibrate. Ron’s house was like a decompression chamber where I could go and have my mood instantly lifted, so as to return to the “real world” refreshed and renewed.

No one shared my sense of humor like Ron did. No one had tastes in art and entertainment so similar to mine.  No one reflected my own past and present back at me so totally, in such a way as to forge a bond of unshakeable camaraderie. Ron was undoubtedly the closest thing I’ve ever come to having a brother. That last sentence reveals something I only just now realize in the very moment that I write those words. You ask me who Ron Gelsleichter was and the truest answer I can give you is that he was my brother.

Last year, Ron died very unexpectedly. He was only 32.

Today is my birthday. Today I turn 31.

Ron remains 32. He will never be older than 32.

Though Ron and I had much in common, there is one way in which we were still very different.  Something we occasionally laughed about was the idea that he and I were actually the same person from alternate universes, the one major difference being that, as introverted as I might be, I had learned at least some social skills. Indeed, Ron was an extremely private person with very few friends and almost no real family. Aside from his warehouse job, he had little interest in leaving his house or interacting with the vast majority of humanity. And despite having one of the keenest minds for storytelling I’ve ever seen a person display, he was reluctant to put any of his own work out into the world.

Though Ron’s brain was always whirring away with all kinds of crazy, wonderful ideas, he rarely finished any of the myriad projects he started. Hell, he didn’t even start that many, despite the seemingly infinite reservoir he’d been blessed with. In the end, I think, his storytelling instincts may have been too keen. Whenever we discussed a story or a movie or a TV show, Ron’s critiques generally proved the most insightful and on-the-nose. He always knew exactly what was wrong with something and he could rattle off a dozen ways to make it better. That ability to recognize flaws, however, could be damning; it’s not hard to see how it could mutate into a kind of self-defeating perfectionism that disinclined him from seeing any endeavor through to the end since he knew all along how flawed it would inevitably be.

I was upfront with Ron about how much this bothered me. It was frustrating knowing how many lesser talents, myself included, were able to make at least some kind of name for themselves as storytellers while this quiet prodigy would continue to remain largely invisible. It was just a month or so before Ron’s passing that I convinced him to collaborate on a story with me. We both agreed to brainstorm ideas separately before meeting up sometime in the near future to see what we’d each come up with. But that meeting never came. That story will never be written.

Ron’s funeral was modestly attended.

There’s no shame in that. Like I said, he was a very private person who was highly selective about who he wanted to be friends with. If any more people came to pay respects to him than he himself would have preferred to bother with, that would be insulting. Nevertheless, my heart ached (and continues to ache) thinking about how few people out there will ever truly fathom the wonderful personality, the wild sense of humor, the brilliant mind, and the gifted storyteller the world lost with his passing. Ron deserves to be remembered. He deserves to be on the record. He deserved to be immortalized, in some small way.

That’s why Ron Gelsleichter is my co-author for “I Am Become Death.” In truth, he could rightfully be credited as co-author for everything I’ve ever written and everything I ever will write. Of all my close friends, it was his opinion I trusted the most, his approval I sought the most, and his criticism I both valued and dreaded the most.  The first time I had a story published, he was the first person to get a copy. In fact, he was the only person I consistently made sure got a copy every single time I had a story published, because his thoughts on the final product mattered so much to me.

“I Am Become Death” is influenced heavily by Rod Serling’s classic TV series The Twilight Zone. The anthology it appears in, Test Patterns, is specifically meant as a tribute to shows like The Twilight Zone. Ron and I were both big fans of The Twilight Zone. More than a few of those days we spent cooped up in his house were days spent marathoning episodes, debating our favorites, and perversely hunting for what could be definitively called the worst Twilight Zones ever (we both had a strange fascination with seeing the things we loved most at their absolute worst).

“I Am Become Death” was the first story of mine accepted for publication after Ron’s passing. It seemed a decent way of paying tribute to him. Just writing “In Memory Of” didn’t feel like enough. So instead, anytime someone ever comes across a copy of Test Patterns in the wild, they will find his name there right alongside mine. Right alongside Joe Pulver’s and Cody Goodfellow’s and Matthew Bartlett’s and Philip Fracassi’s and a dozen other of the best and brightest names in contemporary weird fiction. Right where it belongs.

I have to confess, I wrestled with myself a long time over whether or not I should write this blog at all. I didn’t want it to come across a self-congratulatory, like I’m patting myself on the back and saying “Look at what a swell guy I am for being willing to share credit with my dear departed pal.” I never wanted to make this about me. But then I realized that if I didn’t say something I’d be robbing you of any information about who Ron actually was. All because… what? Because I’m afraid how that might reflect on me? No, if say I want Ron to be remembered only to play coy about who it is I’m sharing credit with on this story (and why), then the whole effort is self-defeating, isn’t it?

For many, “Ron Gelsleichter” will just be a name, one readers may or may not notice as they turn the page and continue on to the next tale. But for me he was a lot more. Certainly more than I could ever hope to summarize even if I wrote a thousand more paragraphs, though I hope this tiny fragment I’ve offered here communicates at least some idea of who Ron Gelsleichter actually was, of how much he meant to me, and of how much the world has been deprived by not seeing his name on more stories.

R.I.P. Jack Ketchum

ripjk

“The worst is missing them, you know? And knowing they won’t be back again. Just knowing that. Sometimes you forget and it’s as though they’re on vacation or something and you think, gee, I wish they’d call. You miss them. You forget they’re really gone. You forget the past six months even happened. Isn’t that weird? Isn’t that crazy? Then you catch yourself… and it’s real again.”

~ from The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum

I’m sad to say I never really knew Jack Ketchum except in the sense that I was an avid reader of his work. In the days since his recent passing, I’ve heard a lot of my fellow horror writers who did know him share fond memories using his real name, Dallas Mayr, but I don’t feel I’ve earned the right to talk about him like that. For better or worse, he’ll always be Jack Ketchum to me.

When I was a freshman in high school, I read my first Ketchum book. It came in the mail, a random selection from the Leisure Horror Book Club, of which I was a member. The book’s title? The Girl Next Door. I had no idea what I was in for.

Inspired by the true-life murder of 16-year-old Sylvia Likens, The Girl Next Door is a heartbreaking, stomach-churning, limit-testing story of pitiless monstrosity hiding not beyond any veil of the supernatural, but in the hearts and minds of everyday people who are all too willing to act on their darkest impulses when given permission. Far from an exploitation of the Likens case, Ketchum’s fictional remix is more an exploration of the tragedy’s most damning philosophical and psychological implications. As Alan Moore once famously wrote, great artists uses lies to tell the truth. Sure enough, Ketchum was indeed a great artist.

To date, I still consider The Girl Next Door to be one of the best horror novels I’ve ever read. I’m not going to lie, the first time I got through it I cried. See, one of the things that made Ketchum so special as a writer was not just the way he directed your eyes towards the harshest real-world atrocities imaginable, all while daring you not to blink, but the way he was able to do so without sacrificing genuine emotion to one-dimensional shock or sadism. The point of Ketchum’s horror was not merely to dwell on human cruelty, but to cut through to the sorrow beneath it. For Ketchum, no character was merely a disposable victim; they were all living, breathing, suffering people. Violence was not something to revel in; it was something to fear and loathe, an expression of one broken soul’s own trauma, which only served to spread that trauma to others.

Jack Ketchum broke my heart with The Girl Next Door, and he did it again later with his novels The Lost, Red, and The Woman, and with his Bram Stoker Award-winning short story “The Box.” Again and again and again, Ketchum challenged me to face true horror and, in doing so, tasked me with not just being a better reader and writer, but being a better person. Ketchum didn’t just want his too-real terrors to scare us, he wanted them to hurt and anger us; he was encouraging us to do better, to not tolerate injustice, to always have empathy for those who have fallen victim to it.

That’s what the name Jack Ketchum means to me: A brilliant storyteller who didn’t just write entertaining stories, but powerful ones. His fiction was, as I interpret it, specifically designed to make the world a better place even if, to do that, he had to shine a light on just how awful it can so often be.

With all that he gave to me and to millions of readers the world over, it’s a great regret of mine that I never had a chance to to meet Jack Ketchum, to say “thank you” to him, and to maybe get to know Dallas Mayr a little, too.