Friday, September 16, 2016

An Interview With Yours Truly.

Well, that says it all right there, up in the subject line.

This'll be a quickie, though I must utilize this blog in a better way, and more often, y'know?  Yes, you and I both know this. 

The exceptionally cool Gwendolyn Kiste asked me some questions, I gave her some answers.  It's up on her website.  This was fun and I hope you enjoy it...and perhaps it inspires you to purchase some of my books, even the latest book, which isn't linked with the other books, because it's not on Amazon yet, but will be soon.

(Yes, by all means, click on the links, they'll lead you places.  Not Alice in Wonderland down-the-rabbit-hole places or, well...maybe, maybe some of them will...)

;-)

Next post, oh yes, one much sooner than a month down the road--within the next two weeks, damnit--I will be doing an overview of some of the books I've read this year.  Some reviews and what-not. 

Yes, it's finally going to happen!

Stay tuned.



Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Beauty of Death: the Origin of "Rotten Apples."

A few days ago, up-and-coming writer of dark, strange fiction, Daniel Braum, invited me to write a post for his blog about my tale in The Beauty of Death anthology.  We'd been discussing the anthology on Facebook and I mentioned the origin of my tale, "Rotten Apples," which piqued his interest.  So, click HERE and find out the origin for yourself.

While I'm here, it would be remiss of me not to mention that Daniel and I share the TOC in this massive anthology with...well, here's the whole list of talented writers: Peter Straub, Ramsey Campbell, Edward Lee, John Skipp, Poppy Z. Brite, Nick Mamatas, Shane McKenzie,Tim Waggoner, Lisa Morton, Gene O'Neill, Linda Addison, Maria Alexander, Monica O'Rourke, John Palisano, Bruce Boston, Alessandro Manzetti, Rena Mason, Kevin Lucia, Colleen Anderson,Thersa Matsuura, John F.D. Taff, James Dorr, Marge Simon, Stefano Fantelli, K. Trap Jones, Del Howison, Paolo Di Orazio, Ron Breznay, Mike Lester, Annie Neugebauer, Nicola Lombardi, JG Faherty, Kevin David Anderson, Erinn Kemper, Adrian Ludens, Luigi Musolino, Alexander Zelenyj, Daniele Bonfanti, Kathryn Ptacek, Simonetta Santamaria). As a first anthology from Italy's Independent Legions Publishing, it's a knockout.  You can purchase a copy HERE via Amazon.

Also of note, Braum's debut collection, The Night Marchers and Other Strange Tales, was published recently.  It's one I look forward to digging into, probably in September, as I'm wrapping up reading some chapbooks and collections and even a novel or two, many for inclusion in a blog post that will be full of reviews.  I'll get that together after finishing a couple more collections.  I'm in Rome for the summer, which means write write write...and catching up with reading, too!  I need this.  Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah.  Braum's collection can be ordered HERE (print), and HERE (digital).     

I'll be back sooner than later with that post with reviews, as well as some details from the three tales from my new chapbook, The Wrath of Concrete and Steel, which is available HERE via the publisher, Dunhams Manor Press, and soon from Amazon, too!

Until then...Rock On and Stay Weird...or something, what the heck?! 
;-)








Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Wrath of Concrete and Steel. New Chapbook, Pre-Order Info.

That's right!

The Wrath of Concrete and Steel is my new chapbook from lovely Dunhams Manor Press.  It contains three tales clocking in at close to 23k words.  What's it all about? 

Well.

I do not want to be pigeon-holed as a writer who does this or that and only this or that. I would like to think no matter what I do, the tales are distinctly John Claude Smith tales, just as when you read a tale by Laird Barron or Joe Pulver or Damien Angelica Walters or--you get my drift--those writers use words in ways that are distinct to them and their tales, and I for one am interested in wherever their muse leads them.  Unexpected places are welcomed.  Anyway, my point is, I believe many think, though what I write may qualify as literary (it has been said; really!), a lot of what I write is also...let's call it 'loud.'  Weird...yet also Horror and, yes, the Horror is with a capitol 'H' and is quite appropriate.

It can get messy and graphic, but that's not all I want to do. 

With these tales, there's perhaps a more subtle strain. (Okay, 'subtle' is a matter of perception; I know the last tale is, yet it's also got the freaky horror element. I know the first tale is, but it has its...moments...)  I think they are more subtle, yet distinctly me with moments to please those who've enjoyed what I've done before, while also appealing to those who might be looking for something less...harsh?  Sure, why not?

I am honored to have received this blurb from one of the true special talents in the Weird fiction genre, Mr. Christopher Slatsky, whose Alectryomancer and Other Weird Tales is an astonishing debut collection.  He wrote:


John Claude Smith creates these dense atmospheres filled with decaying streets and dilapidated cities in all their splendor, and he does so in prose that gleams like a freshly stropped razor.

That is downright beautiful, eh? 

In the same email, he also wrote a bit about each tale, which I hope he does not mind I post here.  I was going to get into them myself, but this works juuuuuuust fine, yes indeed.


All three stories are wonderful symphonies of grotesque body horror and the threat of urban decay spiraling into a deliriously poetic squalor. They all piggyback and complement each other quite well despite being unique tales on their own; a melancholy strain running through The Land Lord and The Wounded Table—the former with the sadness of addiction, the latter with the pain of love; and the pitch black humor of The Wrath of Concrete and Steel, with its horror as absurdity, like a grinning skull behind a phantoms brightly colored mask, or voracious sewer systems…

Oh, damn!  I'd buy that.  How about you?  Ha, I read that line, 'grotesque body horror' and think many who've read my tales are thinking, but that's what you do, JC?  But these are...different. Trust me on that. Or buy the chapbook and see for yourself. 

I should just shut up now and leave the pre-order link, eh?  (Why, yes, JC, please do!)
The link is for DMP, but the book will also be on Amazon, so be on the lookout there as well.
:-)
Link--> The Wrath of Concrete and Steel

I will probably do another blog post digging into each tale, but for now, I'll roll with this and the exquisite cover art below.











Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Numbers of the bEast...An Appreciation of XPULVER!

A spontaneous post inspired by the flood of mad words being tossed in the direction of the one and only Joe Pulver today, Saturday, April 16, 2016. 

I'll post my tribute (or whatever it is), then post a link so you can check out more of the tributes by some wonderful writers for one of our Masters.


***

(for Joe Pulver)




It’s 2:30 A.M.
It’s always 2:30 A.M. at the Bohren & der Club of Gore.  It’ a place, not a band.  A distortion in reality.  A yellow dream, soundtrack of slow jazz.  
Doom jazz. 
This is how you spend your Saturday nights. 
Waiting for her.
You’ve just stumbled home from the club.  You’re not even sure how you made it home.  The door to your rathole apartment is ajar.  You push it open, slumping against the wall as you enter.  Lights flicker, could be the TV.  Perhaps you left it on, but what of the door?  Were you so stupid as to have left the door open?  So anxious to leave and blot out your existence in the bottom of a shot glass? 
Then you see her, the girl of your dreams.  The flickering light caresses her as you wish you were doing.  Just as suddenly, she’s gone.  Was she really there?  Perhaps it’s just a hallucination because you’re drunk.  Again.  But she laughs, you hear that much.  In a sustained, slow-motion flash of light, you see her lips, only her lips, and want to kiss them. 
But all she does is laugh. 
All you do is want. 
Head-nod wrecking ball drop and awaken at your regular table at the club.
Cassie dances on the stage, slipping out of something barely there in the first place. 
That something is your dream. 
The tattoos on her flesh move as she does: a winding hallway, a door ajar, flickering lights… 
At the center of her torso, you see the woman’s face just beneath the ample swoop of bosom and desire.  A place where the sweat tastes like nectar.  Not even that could distract you as you stare into the woman’s eyes at the center of Cassie’s torso.
The woman stares back.
You make the swift decision to rise from your seat and approach Cassie.  She undulates, rolls her body like the unfolding, incoming tide, and the woman speaks. 
Whispers.
You cannot make out her words as the slow, doomy jazz ricochets like lazy shrapnel all around you.
You move closer and Cassie twitches. The woman on her torso winks. 
Whispers again.
You lean in closer, so close…
Two goons grab you by the arms.
“Watch it, Mustache Boy.  Don’t touch the merchandise.,” Goon # 1 says.
“Pervert,” Goon # 2 says, then turns to Goon # 1 and says, “Mustache Boy.  Priceless.”
“But she was whispering.  Whispering to me.”
“Yeah, yeah, she whispers to everybody.  You’re nothing special,” Goon #1 says.
“Nothing special,” Goon #2 reiterates. 
“But…”
And the woman’s face on Cassie’s torso starts to laugh.  In a sustained, slow-motion flash of light, you see her lips, only her lips, and want to kiss them. 
But all she does is laugh. 
All you do is want. 
Head-nod wrecking ball drop and awaken at your regular table at the club.
Again.
This is how you spend your Saturday nights.  Your Sunday nights.  Your Monday, Tuesday, WednesdayThursdayFriday nights. 
Waiting for her.
You pick up the cigarette that’s never eaten by the ash at the end not in your mouth and take a deep drag.  Smoke fills you but does not warm you. 
Just like her.
The woman.
The woman you’re waiting for.
The woman you will never, ever kiss…

…but that’s not where this tale will end. 
You reach into the thick caterpillar resting above your lip and it hands you a red pencil.
“No, that’s not how it ends at all,” you say, and get to work.
 
***
Here's the link to Mike Griffin's blog, where he's collecting the posts. 
Enjoy!
 
 
 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A Little Bit About My Weird Tale, "Those Who Dwell In The Periphery."

I haven't written a blog post in...too long.  With the publication of a new tale, let's rectify that (new tale? Well...you'll see).


Writing fiction is a strange process.  I don't have a set method, though I do have certain modes of attack I like to use while writing tales.  There's even different approaches when writing short fiction and novels--and all the gangly beasts in-between--with lots of overlap, but still, I have no set process, yet.  I may never have one perfected, but it doesn't really matter as long as I keep writing and stories keep getting completed.   Daily word counts may help, but being with the words on a regular basis is what works best for me, because word counts happen when I am writing all the time.  Consistency, that is the key.   

The point is, with a still formative and/or flexible process, some tales take only a few days, perhaps a month or three.

Other tales take...years.

Then there's "Those Who Dwell In The Periphery."

"Those..." is one of my Portland, Oregon tales.  What does this mean?  A strong element of the mysteries of nature serves as catalyst for the weirdness.  But...I lived in Portland over ten, eleven years ago.

Yes, the initial version of this tale was written that long ago.  It also had a different title, "It Is Not Time."  I even sent it out for possible publication back then, but it was always rejected, because it had yet to become the tale it is now. 

You see, some tales require time...and a willingness to revise and revise and revise.  I enjoyed the core ideas within the tale, and much of it has remained as it was initially written, but there were key elements that didn't quite click, especially with the ending.  And the title, haha. (The tale had three other titles before I sent it to Jordan Krall for the second issue of Xnoybis magazine.  I remember changing the title within a week or two of sending it to Jordan to what it is now, what it was always meant to be.  The previous titles: "It Is Not Time," "Fair Warning," and "Behind the Peripheral.")

Many older tales, I like to leave them back there.  They are a part of my history, not something I need to dwell on now, as I continue to move forward with what I do as a writer.  "Those..." wouldn't leave me alone.  I really enjoyed the tone, the voice of the narrator, and most of the ideas, as noted above, and the 'reveal.'  Perhaps because the tale was Weird and not just horror, I found myself repeatedly drawn back to it instead of letting it be and leaving it back there, in the dust of writing ideas never perfected.  (You know about those, dear writers: check your files and tell me how many pieces of tales and even mostly completed tales await your participation, just to get them wrapped up.)  But it took dipping into the tale over the years and tweaking this, revising that, to find it.  To finally lift the veil off an idea and set it forth as it was always meant to be seen.

I've written on this blog about another tale I had published by Krall's Dunhams Manor Press, "Dandelions."  It's similar in a way, a story from back then that was closer to what it needed to be, even though I tore it apart and stitched it back together, a process to make Dr. Frankenstein proud.  It was also a Weird tale.  The older tales that touch on this stick with me.  I suppose that's telling me something, eh?

How about another connective thread, this time between stories?  My tale, "Strange Trees," from my debut collection, The Dark is Light Enough for Me, also dealt with the fictional anthology within "Those..."  I had mapped out a few more related tales and the mysterious circumstances of deaths and disaster that haunted the anthology.  It's a really good idea, a collection of tales for a fictional collection, that in reading this now, makes me want to go back and--no, no.  Maybe.  No. 

Moving forward.

(Another weird aside--look, I haven't written one of these in a while, so I'm shaking off the rust.  The original title for "Strange Trees" was..."Shadows and Tall Trees."  Yes.  Like the U2 song...and the magazine.  I don't know if Michael Kelly remembers, but a few years back, before there was the magazine, I had submitted "Shadows and Tall Trees" to him as he was the editor of...some other magazine or, well, let me see: 12-04-2004 I sent it off to Chizine.  Michael Kelly [now head of Undertow Publications, who publish the annual Year's Best Weird Fiction anthologies, amongst other high-quality books] used to be an editor there and rejected it, but it was a really good response, according to my notes...and he mentioned liking the title and how it would be a good one for a magazine... So there ya go!  A bit o' weird fiction history, haha...)

Okay, moving forward for real now...


You can read the final results in the just released Xnoybis issue two.  I share the TOC with a truly exceptional array of writers.   Purchase a copy before they are sold out, as it's limited to 100 copies. 
Here's the link: http://dynatox.storenvy.com/products/13885491-xnoybis-2-quarterly-journal-of-weird-fiction-dunhams-manor-press

And here's the cover:




Tuesday, October 27, 2015

"The Perfect Pumpkin." Your Favorite Halloween Tale. You're Welcome... :-)

Yeah, it's kind of a tradition now.  An annual treat...
I don't write many tales around holidays, but this is one and it usually gets...interesting responses...ahem. So, without further ado, let's get to "The Perfect Pumpkin," and you can let me know your take on it, too.
Enjoy!

***


The Perfect Pumpkin

by John Claude Smith

 

 

     “If it wasn’t a week before Halloween, I’d be scared crazy.  But I know you well enough, Danny, to know that you like to tell stories, and I’ve already heard this one a dozen times over the last two weeks.”

     “But it’s true, Melinda.  Cutter’s farm is where old Dr. Ranier does abortions, or at least did them.  Look, it’s perfect: it’s just far enough out of town as to be kind of anon … anonymous.  He used to be a doctor, a…a baby doctor—”

     “Obstetrician.”

     “Yeah, yeah, an obstetrician.  And he was disbarred—”

     “That’s for a lawyer.”

     “Well, shit, Brainiac!  He lost his license and moved out here, about ten, maybe twelve-years-ago, and since he’s not really a farmer, he has to have some income, so he—”

     “So he sets up office as a country abortionist—”

     “And the babies are supposed to come back to haunt anybody who trespasses—”

     “Stop!  I’ve heard enough.  He must be doing some farming now, otherwise, where’d all these pumpkins come from?” 

     “I dunno, they must grow wild.  Creepy stuff, eh?”

     “Just nightmares or rumors.  Made-up stories meant to scare teenagers from having sex, and in this case, ‘cause of the abortionist slant, getting pregnant and all that.  Kind of a gruesome safe sex message, don’t you think?  And isn’t that what all horror stories made primarily for teenagers are up to, anyway?  Just like in the movies, if you’re a teenager and you have sex, the boogeyman’s gonna get you—ooooOOOOOoooo, I am  so frightened.”

     With whiplash precision, she shifted her attitude from mockingly scared to salaciously seductive, easily distracting him.  “Danny, oh, Danny, bab-eeeee...” She purred the last syllable, long and languid.  She grabbed his crotch, squeezing hard, whispering something nasty and oh-so-enticing in his ear.  As his penis turned to steel, his brain turned to mush.  

     Having gotten his attention, she let go and backed away.  “You gonna help me get a perfect pumpkin from this patch or not?”

     “What about my—”

     “Later, big boy, when we’re out of range of any sexually oppressed boogeymen disguised as abortionist farmers.”

      Danny Cruise peered out at the fog-mottled field, wispy tendrils like plumes of thickening smoke eerily weaving through the pumpkins, looking like a congregation of ghosts…or a herd of monstrous beasts lashing the pumpkins with writhing tentacles.  His imagination sprang back to life with a potency that unnerved him while coinciding with the deflation of his penis.  Melinda Harner, his girlfriend, folded her arms across her burgeoning bosom, trying to fend off the October chill.  She peered at him, obstinate in her quest to obtain the perfect pumpkin.  Now that she had spotted what she claimed was the most perfect pumpkin for miles around, in which she would carve the winner in the school contest, something that brought a wee bit of fame in a small town like Bloomfield, she was dead set on obtaining this pumpkin, and only this pumpkin.  No other pumpkin would suffice.     

     Danny hopped over the barbed-wire fence, ragged metal tips ripping two fingers.  He winced, put the stinging fingers in his mouth, and sprinted toward the fog-embraced pumpkin patch.

     “Which one did you want?”  His voice seemed not to carry, trapped in the puffy white shroud of fog.   But it did carry, and she responded

     “There,” Melinda harrumphed, pointing to his right at the perfect pumpkin for her to carve a masterpiece.  Her voice hit Danny with the force of a thunderclap; goose bumps tickled his flesh. 

     After having heard about the fat, perfect pumpkins in this patch, as well as the sordid recent history of the farm via whispers in the hallways at Lincoln High, anxiously retold by Danny mere minutes ago, Melinda knew she had to check it out.  Her nature was competitive and she was always looking for that special edge.  If this patch actually had the perfect pumpkin she coveted, she knew the edge would be hers.  No horror stories were going to stand in her way.  

     “Here?” he said, pointing at one of the dozen or so seemingly perfect, unblemished pumpkins in the direction she had pointed.  How could she even tell the difference?   

     “No, there,” she bellowed, the volume almost knocking him over again.  It was cold and he was tired and if he didn’t really love her, he’d already be anywhere but here with a space heater melting his icy flesh and thawing out his freezing blood. 

     Without speaking, he pointed, and she shook her head, yes--thank God!  He pulled out his switchblade and cut the coarse vine, trying to disengage the pumpkin.  After a brief struggle he was victorious, but noticed he’d smeared blood all over the ragged stem.  

     He plucked it from its roost, amazed by its weight.  It was about as big as a slightly super-sized basketball.  Not huge, but its heft made his arms ache.  She better be really appreciative for this, he thought, and ran back to the fence.  He handed the pumpkin to her so he could hop over the fence again.  

     “Careful, it’s heavy,” he said, as he put it in her eager hands.  She grunted and agreed.

     “Damn!  For its size, that’s gotta be the heaviest pumpkin I’ve ever felt.”

     Danny braced himself and leaped, this time with even less grace, catching his foot and plopping down hard on his butt.  Melinda laughed at his awkward predicament.  He frowned at her.

     “What?  I do this favor for you and you laugh at me now, ‘cause I’m cold and tired and…”

     She leaned over and kissed him on the forehead as he brushed the weeds out of his hair and clothes.

     “Carry this, would ya?”  More insistent than requesting, already handing him the pumpkin.

     “I’m just your slave—”

     “Slave to my beguiling charms.”  She put on the act, puppy dog eyes and pouting lips on full display. 

     They started the two-mile trek back into town, their pace brisk, trying to keep warm.

     “It’s probably cursed.  Probably why I tripped up going over the fence.”

     “You’re just clumsy.  There’s no curse for takin’ a pumpkin.  No dead babies gonna haunt you.  I’m just gonna carve a winner out of this one.”

     “That stuff is true.  I mean, all that about Dr. Ranier doing abortions and stuff.”  He put his fingers in his mouth again, balancing the pumpkin against his chest.  Apparently the cuts were deeper than he’d thought, and continued to bleed profusely. 

     They both fell silent for a handful of minutes, purposeful strides taking over as the night grew even colder.  The overcast skies portended rain and they just wanted to make it home before it started. 

     And then Danny stumbled, dropping the pumpkin.  Not hard, catching it before it really hit the ground, but enough to have it land with a leaden thump on the dirt.

     “Damn it, klutz!  Do you need walking lessons or what?”  Melinda was beside herself with anger, squatting to inspect the pumpkin.  All this for naught, she thought; all this for naught.

     “Shit, Melinda.  It’s not like I meant to—”

     “You bleedin’ on it?”

     “Yeah, cut my finger on the fence, bled on the stem.”

     Melinda scooted away from the pumpkin, inexplicably alarmed.  “How can that be?  The pumpkin’s got blood comin’ from inside.”

     They both watched as a thin line of blood trickled from a miniscule crack at the bottom, where it had hit the ground.  The red liquid pooled in the dirt.

     “T-That’s impossible,” she said.  “Can’t be any blood comin’ from inside a pumpkin, only pumpkin, seeds and all.  You must have bled a lot more than you thought.”

     She forced a smile, obviously in denial of what she was witnessing.  More blood seeped from the crack. 

     Danny pulled out his switchblade and approached the pumpkin.  He knelt before it, not really sure what he was going to do, but feeling safer with the knife in his hand. 

     “Danny?”

     With suddenness, curiosity took over, and he plunged the knife into the thick hide of the pumpkin.  Blood gushed out, mixed with another unknown fluid that diluted the crimson tide, along with stringy pumpkin guts and pumpkin seeds, spattering the dirt and his shoes.  He pried with the knife and his fingers, pulling the pumpkin apart. 

     “Oh, Christ!”  He moaned in revulsion at what he saw. 

     Melinda squealed, “What is it, Danny? What is it?

     The pumpkin had split wide open like a cracked egg.  Danny jumped to his feet, hands dripping wet.  An intolerable stench was belched from within the split pumpkin, forcing him to cover his face with his sleeve, while Melinda openly retched, dry and empty.  She was on her feet as well, fingers digging crescents into Danny’s arms.  He didn’t feel a thing.  They both just stared in horror and disgust.

     Within the womb of the pumpkin, entwined within a network of ripped veins, a ruptured clear sac, and pumpkin guts and seeds, two large yellow eyes, like jaundiced moons devoid of pupils, attempted to blindly seek out the source of intrusion.  It probably did not see them, thought Danny, as his stomach roiled like a fist-sized hurricane, battering his insides. 

     It was a fetus, a mutation of inconceivable ugliness borne of nightmares and rumors and curses made real. 

     “Oh my God, Danny…Danny!  Melinda cringed, teetering on hysterical.

     The obscenity, skin stained with blood but otherwise as orange as a healthy pumpkin, turned itself in the direction of Melinda’s voice, the tiny holes where ears should be steering it in their direction.  Gurgling noises emanated from its throat, wet sounds and orange spittle passing by its lipless slit of a mouth. 

     “We need to go--now! Melinda, beside herself, doing a nervous dance of desperation.  She wanted away from here posthaste…or sooner!       

     “Wait,” Danny said.  “I think it’s trying to…say something.”

     Melinda pulled harder on Danny’s arm, afraid to leave without him, the night and clouds and vast darkened landscape uninviting despite her urgency to run as far away from here as possible.   

     C’mon! Let’s go!

     The sound that rose from the baby’s mouth unhinged the muscles in Danny’s legs.  He slumped to the ground, transfixed by the fetal abomination squirming and convulsing and hideously alive within the pumpkin.  Melinda tumbled with him, but not for long.  He scrambled to his feet and dragged her to hers, his feet pounding the dirt like a chorus of hammers, matching the freight train rhythm of his heart.  His swiftness almost lifted Melinda into the air as one would a kite.   The utterance, repeated again and again, insistent, scarred the night with its cawing message, resonant and haunting, cursing both of their ears forever. 

     One word, only one, but Danny and Melinda would remember it until the day they died. 

     “Daddy,” it screeched, it begged.

     “Daddy!”      

*** 

There ya go!  Did you like that?  Icky enough for ya?  Heheh...

Shameless Self-Promotion:
There's three books by yours truly ready for your perusal this Halloween.  Check the blurbs and reviews and rock 'n' roll, folks. Buy one, buy all.  Riding the Centipede is my latest, a true wild ride, the best thing I've as yet had published, though The Dark is Light Enough for Me and Autumn in the Abyss bring the weird/horror/or-just-plain-Dark goods, too.  Just click on the titles and check 'em out!  Thank you!

The Dark is Light Enough for Me

Autumn in the Abyss

Riding the Centipede

Anyway, enjoy your Halloween, everybody!
:-)

Perhaps this Great Pumpkin creature is a relative of the pumpkin baby in my story, eh?  Well...
Art courtesy of Phill-art. 


Friday, October 9, 2015

Weird & Horror & Weird Horror Recommendations: Collections...and a few Chapbooks.


I’ve been meaning to do this for a few weeks, but with my own writing locked in high gear, I’ve been too busy.  Until now.   (Not that I’m not still busy, oh no, it’s just time.)  This is in no way comprehensive, it’s more an overview of most, but not all, of what I read over my summer here in Rome, Italy.  At least when it comes to collections and chapbooks.

Before I get started, a note: there are a lot of links in this post.  Please go to those links and support these wonderful writers by purchasing the books.  I wouldn’t be writing about them if I didn’t think every one was worth your attention.  In some cases, though, with the sold-out chapbooks, I’ve linked to a writer’s Amazon page, Goodreads page, or something pertinent that relates.  Again, every one of them deserves your attention.  Every one of them inspires me, as a writer.  We live in phenomenal times for speculative fiction of all sorts, and Weird fiction specifically. 

(Really.  I mean, I’m sitting here writing up recs, cobbling together notes and impressions, while my brain is still humming from the absolute brilliance of Kristi DeMeester’s opening salvo from CM Muller’s first volume of Nightscript, “Everything that’s Underneath,” a story I read over a week or two ago!  More about Nightscript in a follow-up blog post, otherwise, this one might overload and erupt all over your computer monitor.  Like I said, we are living in phenomenal times for the lovers of all branches of speculative fiction.)  

Without further ado (as I backtrack to move forward)…

Last year, being a member of the Horror Writers Association, my inbox was inundated with Opt-In requests, meaning: when a writer or publisher has a novel, short story, collection, etc., they want to opt-in to HWA members with a free copy of said novel, short story, etc, for Bram Stoker Award consideration.  At some point, I noticed Taylor Grant opting in with three tales.  I thought, sure, let’s see what Grant is about as a writer, since he seems a cool guy otherwise.  I remember reading those three tales and was blown away by them, the natural voice, and the dread and horror he threaded through each.  One tale, “The Infected,” stands as one of the finest straight-up Horror tales I’ve read over the last few years.  I remember getting in touch with another writer friend (Jason Duke, who, trust me, once he gets his novels out, all bets are off, my friends.  He’s a truly fabulous writers and I can’t wait for you all to read what he can do. One novel, Wolves & Lambs, that one’s going to leave an impact much like a crater left by a nuclear bomb…) (Yeah, excuse that, but I’m just rolling with this, so…roll with me) and telling him, “Hey, Taylor’s damn good.  He knows what he’s doing.”

Anyway…

When Grant asked me to blurb his debut collection out later this year, I was more than happy to comply.  And what a collection it is!  Now, with blurbs, one must say more about the overall impressions and less about specs, it seems, so this is more like that.  Also of note, I don’t actually read a lot of primarily Horror, most of what connects with me is from the Weird branch of Horror, but this collection is pure Horror.  Straight-up and to the grisly point.  In a way, it re-invigorated my love for Horror.  Here’s the blurb I wrote for Grant’s debut collection, The Dark at the End of the Tunnel

Taylor Grant brings the writing chops of a seasoned pro to his debut collection, The Dark at the End of the Tunnel.  His style is crystal clear and scalpel sharp, but his intentions are laced with blood and dread.  There’s no messing around as Grant tosses the reader into the horrific fray from page one.  These beautifully crafted tales culled from the deepest recesses of Grant’s devious imagination feature an array of horrors, including faces shaped by our dark side yearnings, shadows baring sharp teeth (though the origin of these shadows is even more shocking), how a secret hidden away in a footlocker spreads like an infection, and even vampires at the far edge of the universe.  Grant’s obvious glee in depicting these horrors and more makes this collection a joy for the reader into the work of classic horror writers such Richard Matheson and Stephen King, yet it’s his talent as a storyteller dealing with modern themes that lends these tales depth and humanity of which we all can relate.  Highly recommended!”– JohnClaude Smith, author of Riding the Centipede & Autumn in the Abyss.

(Yes, please excuse the shameless promotion of myowndamnself by adding the links, but since linkage is happening…ahem.)

(Grant’s collection is not yet available for pre-order.  I’ve linked to his website.)
 
(Yes, I thought it amusing as well I would link you to Matheson and King. :-P  )

 

The Nameless Dark: A Collection—T.E. Grau

“A Collection,” it states.  Grau’s The Nameless Dark is so much more than that!  This collection is a beast, unafraid to wield words in every way imaginable to make its points.  Spitting and snarling, the writing is full-bodied, muscular.  It growls, it roars, and slashes with a mighty talon.  Okay, enough of that, but you get my point.  Grau is fearless.  Description and details, the depth of ideas—nothing here settles for ‘small’ in the scope of the horrors unleashed.  Apocalyptic, often Lovecraftian designs are threaded through many of the tales, though not in a familiar manner.  The best tales?  All of them.  There’s no clunkers here.  “The Screamer” resonates eternally, like the wail in this tale of corporate hell on a global level.  “Clean” is a nasty dollop of perversion made more so by the unexpected place it goes.  When I finished reading “The Truffle Pig,” I actually paused and said aloud, “Goddamn!”  A Jack the Ripper tale that takes a decidedly different turn, this might be my favorite JtR tale Ever.  Just read it and see.  “Mr. Lupus” feels like a Christmas Fairy Tale, but then it gets so much Grimmer.  I think one of the finest tales that showcases exactly what Grau does is one that at first seems quite light (I was thinking this, knowing what was to follow; more on that in a second), “Twinkle, Twinkle.” It seems a simple tale, a contemplation of grief and how a young girl and her father deal with it, yet Grau takes this precious connection…and annihilates it with a discovery made through a telescope. Never small, nothing Grau does is small.  And what follows?  “The Mission,” in which the old West is brought to life with precision (the staging, the details, the language; as throughout this collection, Grau is a master at conveying these elements as if he were there himself) (he may be a time-traveler, he’s that good!)…and what the group of grizzled men on a mission discovers is something to behold.  This one’s a stunner, and brings the collection to a grand finale. 

Impressive is an understatement.  Grau’s The Nameless Dark a beast ready to devour the minds of readers of Weird Horror willing to make the sacrifice.  I can still hear it chewing on mine!  
Highly recommended!

 
Then there’s Christopher Slatsky.  Oh, Christopher, Christopher…

Alectryomancer and Other Weird Tales by Christopher Slatsky

I‘d never read anything by Christopher Slatsky until Jordan Krall's Dunhams Manor Press branch of Dynatox Ministries published a chapbook by him (they are also the publishers of this collection), “No One is Sleeping in this World.”  That one wormed into my head, intrigued me in curious ways.  The best fiction, as far as I care, does this.  I wasn’t initially sure about the characters, then realized upon re-reading the tale a couple times, how perfectly constructed they were within the constructs of their exploration of the living city/architecture…and those who live within that dark place.  Utterly fascinating.  Then the title story of this collection was published…and I was stunned.  Here was a tale so different from most any other I had read within the realm of Weird fiction…or any fiction.   Slatsky combines Depression-era cockfights, a unusual book, UFOs, a suggestion of time-travel and more, to create, well, excuse me, I’m going to steal from my Goodreads review here: “…it’s all wrapped in a hallucinatory realm that feels, because of some peripheral elements, as though they might have been plucked from a Daliesque nightmare.  There’s a sense of a dream within a dream…and I’m not sure if either thread qualifies as “reality” as we think we know it.”  There’s such a breadth of ideas woven into each of the tales here it’s rather mind-boggling.  Beyond that, the variety of characters and ‘voices’ for each tale are so well defined, even with a tale that had me stumbling at first—“Scarcely Have They Been Planted”—when I found my footing (I needed to find it, no fault of Slatsky’s as he knows exactly what he’s doing), I adjusted to the ‘simple’ voice of the narrator, a voice that rings so true the reader is captivated by the strangeness that unfolds. 

I figure it works like this: Slatsky reads widely and whenever a subject comes up he is intrigued by (and, judging by the scope of these tales, there’s not much that doesn’t intrigue him), he writes it down on a small piece of paper and drops the paper into a hat; a magician’s hat, of course.  The hat is overflowing with ideas.  Slatsky reaches in and picks out two, three…maybe five ideas at a time, and then molds the disparate ideas into a single unique tale, a Slatskyian tale, a polished gem of indescribable beauty and oddness, something only he could do.  The wonder of discovery for the reader is not only in the strange confluence of ideas, but the depth of diverse characters and, ultimately, the presentation, how he stitches it all together.  Because Slatsky is a student of the Weird…and makes it his own.  Every tale brings a dollop of magic, intelligence, and story-telling panache of the highest caliber.  Because these ARE utterly Slatskyian tales, and what he does IS magic.

Either that or he’s from another planet, studying the human race, trying to figure us out while he studies every facet of our world.  I’m going on a bit, wanted to get into more of the 13 thought-provoking tales in this collection (and expect to with the release of the hardcover next year, with two additional tales) but you get my gist, don’t you? 

Yeah, it’s rather obvious: I am in awe.

 

Briefly, two more collections from before my summer that demand your attention.  These are more mini-reviews or blurbs, but I cannot dismiss them because they were not major parts of the last couple months of reading:


These are emotionally wrenching tales sculpted from the body, digging to the bone, the brain, the essence of what it means to be alive and human and, primarily, female, though any reader with a wee bit of empathy can fully relate to the splendor, dread, and often grim circumstances overcome in many cases.  Rich, enthralling, felt as much as read.  Walters’ tales wipe me out, exhaust me; it’s as if I live in them, an astonishing experience.  She’s one of our best and a writer well worth the attention of everybody into all branches of speculative fiction.


I find it hard to read Pulver’s tales.  Not for any negative reason, but no other writer triggers the creative juices for me than Pulver.  And it’s less about tales and more about paragraphs that sing and soar, screech and howl.  Pulver is a poet first, and it’s obvious.  His mastery of the way words should play together, the way he lets words frolic freely, with no inhibitions, is a revelation I gleefully embrace.  My appreciation of the beauty and horror in this stellar collection is unbounded.  I love to dip in, read a tale (a few paragraphs, a sparkling sentence), and step back, my brain reeling, my imagination on fire.  Joseph S. Pulver is a marvel!  Highly recommended. 

PS. There's separate links for the title and the author for the previous two reviews, click on both.

Oh, Christ, I’m running long.  I will try to be a little more precise with these brief overviews of some Dunhams Manor Press and Dim Shores chapbooks.  (I expect I will fail miserably...) 
PS. I've linked some of the artists below, too.  Both publishers are putting together some eye-catching books.

The Infusorium—Jon Padgett

The Infusorium combines many elements that make the astute reader of Thomas Ligotti smile, yet Padgett breathes humanity into the elements and this strange tale set in a dense, fog-swathed town in which our narrator, Raphaella Castellano, a female homicide detective, makes bizarre discoveries, including elongated skeletons, that leads her to The Brotherhood of the Black Fog.  I enjoyed Castellano’s voice, her perceptions, and the way Padgett keeps adding to the weirdness as the tale goes on.  Good stuff, and Padgett has a collection coming out next year, The Secret of Ventriloquism, I’m eagerly looking forward to reading. 

Cool, creepy cover art courtesy of Dave Felton.     



Joseph Lowe, a man with no allegiance to anybody but himself, makes the mistake of getting the niece of an aristocratic magnate, Gregory Bath,  pregnant, after which a kind of warped symbiotic connection is made between him and the rich, very old—immortal…?—guy.  The events unravel when one of Bath’s sons, Arthur, decides it’s time he got his slice of the family fortune.  I like the way Smith fills this tale to the brim, often overflowing.  And the ending is exquisite!  Of note, Smith’s tale from Nightscript—yeah, it’s what I am reading right now—is excellent as well.    


Gasper Bantam is a man whose sister, Rangel, mysteriously disappeared thirty years ago.  Time alters memories.  Memory often alters itself in need of self-preservation.  We shape our memories so we can move forward.  But for Bantam, those memories won’t let him go as he is driven to head back to the town of his youth, and sister’s disappearance.  The finale takes place at the town’s Halloween celebration, which turns into a beautifully bizarre Boschian nightmare.  After the celebration, the reader is given a glimpse of the truth; a truth not altered by the memories of our protagonist.  Bartlett has a clean, crisp style.  Just enough details, before he pulls the knot out of the ribbon of reality and the unraveling nightmare is all that remains.  This is perhaps my favorite Bartlett tale so far, but I’m happy to report there’s a lot in the pipeline, what with a collection out later this year (Creeping Waves from Muzzleland Press), and another one next year (The Stay-Awake Men from Dunhams Manor Press). 

Art for Rangel by Aeron Alfrey.  When I first saw the cover, I thought, “This is so perfectly Bartlettesque!


after—ScottNicolay

How does one deal with a broken, abusive relationship that goes on and on, with no viable means of escape?  For Colleen, ditching responsibility and heading out to inspect a post-Sandy seaside cottage she and her significant (shouldn’t that be detrimental?) other, Derrick, own, the break seems mandatory.  It gives her time to contemplate strategies she’ll never embrace... 

The key to what Nicolay does as a writer is how he willfully gives in to every nuance as dictated by each tale.  With “after,” we are fully immersed (full immersion IS what Nicolay demands of his readers) into the details of…everything—the details are honed to piercing clarity.  But the details aren’t only about what Colleen observes all around her, on the outside, so much as the inner workings of her spiraling through chaos mind: the questions wondered and random thoughts that traipse through the undertow of sour thoughts are the glue that holds “after” together.  Stephen King is a master of this kind of inner dialogue; here, Nicolay is better.  Early on, Colleen decides to stick around, even though supplies (and sanity? Maybe…maybe not; I’ll explore this below) run short.  Colleen decides to break into the houses of her absent neighbors, but while walking along the beach, she is stunned to discover a strange creature.  Does this creature scare her off?  No.  Not exactly.  Any sane person would leave.  Yet, who are we to judge another’s sanity?  Colleen, like many a protagonist in the work of J.G. Ballard, especially the early novels, embraces the situation.  (“Embracing One’s (Personal) Apocalypse: The Desolate Path Toward Psychological Fulfillment in the work of J.G. Ballard and Scott Nicolay’s “after.”  That’s an essay I want to read in Thinking Horror.)  (Another Ballard connection: the repetition of questions within the inner dialogue.  That’s a stand-by for Ballard’s mid-to-late period work.  Crash is built on repetition.)  What does she do?  She sets up a schedule, trying to elude the creature while still sticking around…until the creature’s presence is made unavoidable.   

An aside: I can justify in my mind that the creature in the tale is a purely psychological manifestation of what Colleen needs as much as a statement on personal survival when one is in a relationship that is destroying one’s soul.  Think about it.  No matter her constant evasion of the creature, she doesn’t just leave the abandoned seaside town, as most people would do.  She stays, because leaving, even when life is being balanced on the edge of the razor and any false move might lead to death, is the worse choice.  There’s still discovery to be made by staying and dealing with the creature.  (And really, what’s to say the creature’s intentions are malicious?  Because it’s so different, the reader may think the creature’s intentions are of a negative design, but in reality, or at least the reality of the tale, it might simply be something new and different and curiosity might be its sole purpose in exploring the town as it does, or finding solace in the same house as Colleen.) (You’ll find out for sure when reading the tale in Nicolay’s follow-up collection to my personal favorite book from 2014, Ana Kai Tangata; the new collection should be out in 2016.) In leaving, she knows what she faces.  In a way, dealing with the creature presents a less harrowing existence, the better choice for survival beyond misery and anguish.  

“after” is a breath-taking exploration of the lengths one person will go in order to avoid (what they sadly deem) the unavoidable, as much as it is about a woman secluding herself in a cottage and her dance with a creature that might just be her star-crossed lover…

All kidding aside, I consider “after” a modern classic of the Weird. 

I really dig Michael Bukowski’s art for this tale, too.  Having read the tale as a beta-reader, more or less, many months ago, seeing the cover, well…Bukowski really captured the essence of "after."

The Dim Shores titles come with art prints, too.  I can't wait to hold them in my hands when back in the states soon.
 

I will be breaking this blog post apart and posting the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads in a few days, probably when back in the states next week.  I am also a member of the HWA and at some point (also next week) I will be recommending every title here as well, along with much more—I’ve made a list and will be checking it twice, er…yeah, whatever… I figure the HWA could use an influx of Weird Horror...

This was fun. I should not take so long between blog posts and posts with reviews.  I hope you enjoyed this. Me...my brain's fried, think I'll drop. 

Whew! Done...for now.  The photo below is how pretty much how it felt putting this blog post together.  Writing here, reading notes there, checking for links, etc.  I needed at least three heads just to keep everything straight.
Art by 25kartinok.