Now Available: Caravans Awry & Weirdbook #40

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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!

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Bow Down to the Savior of Modern Literature!

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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

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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

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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:

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A Yuletide Miracle: Test Patterns is Here!

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Looking for a last minute present for X-Mas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Yule? Trying to decide what to get with all those gift cards you’re sure to get from unimaginative gift-givers? Well, fret no more; Test Patterns is finally available!

The debut anthology from Planet X Publications, Test Patterns features all-new original stories and poetry inspired by such classic horror, sci-fi, and fantasy TV shows as The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, and The Outer Limits.

My story, “I Am Become Death,” is about a WWII combat photographer who, after documenting the devastation at Hiroshima, returns to America only to find that some shadowy thing has come home with him.

Check out the full list of contributors below.

Table of Contents:

  1. “The Woman in the Forge of Saturday Night” by Joe Pulver
  2. “Evidence of Absence” by Scott Graves
  3. “I Am Become Death” by William Tea
  4. “The Judge” by Philip Fracassi
  5. “The Snake Beneath My Skin” by Sarah Walker
  6. “The Hands of Chaos” by Ashley Dioses
  7. “The Nomenclature of Unnamable Horrors” by Peter Rawlik
  8. “Golden Girl” by S.L. Edwards
  9. “Scenes From a Forgotten Diorama” by Brian O’Connell
  10. “You Can’t Go Wrong with Grass-Fed Beef” by Jill Hand
  11. “Abettor” by Ruth Asch
  12. “Work Group” by Pete Carter
  13. “The Cliffside Tavern” by Sean M. Thompson
  14. “One Evening in Whitbridge” by Scott Thomas
  15. “The Velveteen Volvo” by Nathan Carson
  16. “Outre Non-Limitations” by Frederick J. Mayer
  17. “The Kumiho Question” by Frederick J. Mayer
  18. “I’ve Lived in This Place a Long Time” by Can Wiggins
  19. “The White Terror” by Frank Coffman
  20. “Symptom of the Universe” by John Claude Smith
  21. “Sustenance of the Stars” by Scott J. Couturier
  22. “Alien Shore” by Rob Martin
  23. “Ye Hermit’s Lay” by Adam Bolivar
  24. “Bridge” by Don Webb
  25. “Balls” by Russell Smeaton
  26. “Call Me Corey” by Matthew M. Bartlett
  27. “Hero Mother” by Cody Goodfellow
  28. “Red-Eye” by Mark Rainey
  29. “Séance” by K.A. Opperman
  30. “Looking for Ghosts” by Duane Pesice

Yes indeed, this anthology is surely the perfect holiday surprise for that special someone you love. Or for the one you just kinda like. Or for the one you hate. Or for yourself. For anybody, really!

Art Inspired by… Me???

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Well, this is a first! I can’t quite wrap my mind around the idea of someone liking something of mine enough to be a “fan” of it, but I’m nevertheless amazed and humbled to know that a story I wrote (“Reset,” from the video game-themed horror anthology Terror in 16-Bits, which you can get through the Muzzleland Press webstore or Amazon.com) inspired someone else to create something. If you’ve read “Reset,” you know all too well the critical moment this illustration depicts; if you haven’t, then you should probably get yourself a copy so you can find out all about it! Anyway, major props to Mat Fitzsimmons of Feral Teeth Press for making this image, and additional thanks to Terror in 16-Bits editor/publisher Jonathan Raab for bringing it to my attention. I love this so much!

The Yellowed Page: An Appreciation of Vintage Paperbacks

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Paperbacks from Hell, the new book from Grady Hendrix (author of Horrorstör and My Best Friend’s Exorcism), came out yesterday. Unlike Hendrix’s previous releases, Paperbacks from Hell is a work of non-fiction, although at times the absurdities it recounts make you wonder how they could be true.

How could Zebra Books flood grocery stores with all their garish, goofy skeletons and still be taken seriously for so long? How could Rex Miller take Chaingang, the 400 lb. homeless serial killer/rapist from his 1987 novel Slob, and reimagine him as a superpowered crusader of justice with a soft spot for puppies over the course of just a few sequels? How could talented writers like Ken Greenhall and Joan Samson remain obscure and unloved in an era when every yahoo with a typewriter could somehow land a gushing blurb from Stephen King?

Paperbacks from Hell is a smart, humorous, and affectionate look at the gory glory days of the ‘70s and ‘80s horror publishing boom. If you’ve enjoyed reading Hendrix’s blogs for Tor.com, ever spent an afternoon marveling over gorgeous and insane relics of vintage paperback cover art on Will Erickson’s website Too Much Horror Fiction, or regularly come away from used book sales with armfuls of William H. Johnstone and Ruby Jean Jensen titles, Paperbacks from Hell is an essential buy. Shit, I preordered my copy months ago.

Having spent all of last night and most of today flipping through it, I can’t understate how much of a rush it’s been seeing all these forgotten names given ample limelight, not to mention gorging myself on so much beautifully lurid artwork replete with evil dolls, killer crabs, and, of course, a neverending parade of skeletons. It makes me want to hunt Hendrix down and give him a big, fat, sloppy kiss, because it almost feels like he wrote this book just for me.

I was born in 1987, the waning days of the horror boom. Even still, I grew up very much in its shadow. When you’re broke, you really can’t waste money on such a luxury as new books, and I grew up broke. Being a voracious reader with an appetite for the dark and fantastic, I was left with few options other than whatever was cheapest, and what was cheapest were the battered ‘n’ tattered secondhand paperbacks I found at flea markets, yard sales, and the Salvation Army. It was either subsist on bottom-of-the-barrel books for bottom-of-the-barrel prices… or shoplift. I’m not too proud to admit I did plenty of both.

When I say “bottom-of-the-barrel,” though, keep in mind I don’t mean it as a knock on the quality of such books, more as an acknowledgment of how they were (and still are) valued (or not) by more “serious” literary types. Those typerwriter-fingerbangin,’ Stephen King blurb-scorin’ yahoos I mentioned earlier? I poke fun, but I still respect the hell out of ‘em. Shit, I’d sell at least 50% of my working limbs for a Stephen King blurb. Maybe more.

The bargain bin may be where the “bad” stuff lives, but it’s also where the purest stuff lives, the stuff that relishes being about ghosts ‘n’ goblins and doesn’t feel the need to “elevate” itself. Even better, it’s where the weird stuff lives. These are not New York Times Bestsellers. These are the curiosities that slipped through the cracks: splatterpunk sickos taking sex and violence to a whole new level, extraterrestrial orgasms that kill innocent housewives, horny werewolf ghosts, sadomasochistic nazi leprechauns, and, for some reason, a whoooole lot of incest.

Call ‘em crass. Call ‘em crude. They’re also some of the wildest, most imaginative stories you’re likely to come across. They don’t play by the rules, and that is often their downfall, but you don’t find ideas this outré if you’re playing by the rules. They may be crazy, but they’re also earnest, and that counts for a lot.

I grew up on a steady diet of this stuff (so now you know where to point the blame). For that reason, I have never and will never look down on any writer or publisher or subgenre of horror for being too strange or trashy or low-brow or unrefined. Ultimately, horror is supposed to be all those things; it’s the punk rock of literary genres, just one step up in the publishing hierarchy from full-blown pornography.

Though no longer a penniless youth (which isn’t to say I’m not still broke, I’m just slightly less broke), I still buy a lot of used books. Not necessarily because I have to, but because I want to. Because I enjoy it.

I enjoy trawling overstuffed shelves and rickety milk crates at flea markets and secondhand stores. I enjoy hunting for secret treasures hidden beneath piles of James Patterson cast-offs. I enjoy finding old authors who are new to me, reading the outlandish back-cover copy of impossible-to-summarize pretzel-logic plots, and drooling over eye-popping masterpieces pieces of lush, pulpy cover art the likes of which you simply can’t find today. All those cut-outs and step-backs and the shimmery holofoil; gotta love ‘it!

I also enjoy the sense of history you get with used books. One of my favorite things to find in an old beat-up paperback is a “This book belongs to…” notation, or a library stamp, a dog-eared page, an inky smudged fingerprint, a bookmark, a note to self, anything of that sort; I like the idea of being another link in a chain that stretches back to god knows how many other people over the course of god knows how many years.

The yellowed page may be ugly, it may be ripped and brittle, it may even smell a little… off. But damned if it doesn’t hold wonders just the same. Like VHS and vinyl, there’s just something magic about it.

Cheers to Grady Hendrix for paying tribute to that.