Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Shape of Things to Come Lives in a Tunnel Beneath the Town: Occasional Beasts: Tales, Story Notes # 14: "The Land Lord."

Delayed a bit. Dealing with real life. And politics.

After I went through a break-up in 2005, and after a year in-between, I rented an apartment in Hayward, California. I would often take walks to a Starbucks (which is something I do rarely nowadays) or for food, which was about a mile away. Along the way, I would pass over a small bridge...which inundated me with the worst smells.

Where do writers get their ideas? Every-damn-where.

The seed was planted, that bridge is the opening sequence in my 15,500 word tale, "The Land Lord," that wraps up my collection, Occasional Beasts: Tales. We--my publisher and I--decided to bookend the collection with the two longest tales.

That bridge, those smells--I wrote them down way back when, started to build a story, but wasn't sure about the characters. I felt it needed something more, or needed to be told in a different way. I shuffled the two characters out--Regina and Jeff--and worked with a gay goth couple for a bit. That didn't do it, though I liked those characters enough to save that version and might drop them into another tale. I went back to Regina and Jeff and found their true paths, their voices, and finally could lock in and go for the ride.

But I needed something more between that opening and where it all ended up.

That's when the town itself, Hayward, helped out. Everything described in "The Land Lord"--the homeless, the hookers, the grimy feel of things--was inspired by that place.  The broken down auto shops.  The closed down businesses, everything became a part of the well as one curious addition: an element from the movie Jacob's Ladder.


Jacob's Ladder is a subtle, hallucinogenic mind-trip, those subtleties consistently nibbling at the edges; okay, it's not always subtle, there's some pretty heavy-duty nightmarish stuff, too.  Scenes in the movie where something moves, quivers off to the peripheral--or perhaps even right in front of the main character, like with the homeless man on the metro (bus, well, I don't remember; haven't seen the movie in too long and need to rectify that), when a strange appendage slips out from beneath his coat, before slipping back under. Did Tim Robbins' character see that...or was it just a trick of his tired eyes and mind?  THAT was the stuff I wanted. So I threaded in scenes where that kind of feel, that undercurrent of something not right--a twitch beneath an eye, for example; other physical oddities that might seem like nothing, but within the fabric of the tale, they help layer the overall odd tone--holds more weight because it only adds to the blurring of what's real and what's actually going on. That weight of something weird always nibbling at the edges was key for me in getting through the escalating dread and on to the resigned, bleak finale.

All of the pieces in place so that our narrator, Jeff, could meet the land lord. Not a landlord. The Land Lord. That thing that lives beneath the town...

Here's a sequence where Jeff has stopped one of the people who wanders the streets. Homeless? Well, you'll see.  It's late at night as this conversation takes place...


I stared at him as he searched for the words, his cadences crisp, his focus narrowing; no repetition driving him now.

“In reality, one just needs to adjust, I guess. To let go. To give in,” he said, amused, as if this epiphany meant the world to him.

Despite the more tranquil impressions he exuded, I felt my anger rise. “Christ, I should have known not to expect any real answers from a man in league with the vagrants, the homeless—

“Homeless? You think these people are homeless? They all live in the town. They’re all essential parts of the town. Like organs, or maybe blood. They flow through the town and the town thrives.” He glared up at me, eyes steely, features rigid.

“I own a shop like this one down the road, auto repair.” His focus altered, he continued: “I bought it a year ago, the rent was good and cheap. I had employees, the whole deal. But I was only open for about six months, lost my employees, lost myself as well.”

I looked deep into his eyes. He was here with me right now, not mentally somewhere else. He’d even stopped his pacing. I knew he was telling the truth. His take on the truth, at least.

“What do you mean you lost yourself?”

“I’ve been living in the building since my business closed down. Couldn’t afford two rents so I kept the business place, hoping to reopen but…it doesn’t care.”


“I slipped, heard about it, checked it out, and now… I need it but don’t want to give in to it, can you understand?”


He instantly switched into paranoia overload, looking everywhere, over his shoulder, over mine, a long trespass to the tunnel. Somebody’s listening

“The land lord,” he whispered.

“A landlord?” The landlord again?

“No. Not a landlord, but the land lord. A different entity than a landlord.” He split my one word into two, an ax to the trunk of a tree. I was at a loss. “Completely different.”

His whisper circled, then, swooped down as an owl snatching its prey. His tone changed—mutated—the chilled serenity of the whisper ground to gruel and devoured by his Mad Hatter alternate-ego. “Fucking stupid, trying to resist it now that I’ve had a taste. You’re feelin’ it, too, I can sense it in you. You should join us.” His smile grew wide, then crumbled under the weight of something I could not imagine. “No, you should leave, now… Leave now!”


Which, of course, brings me back to one of my favorite themes: addiction.  There's a sense that drugs are behind everything in this tale, but look deeper.  Look into that tunnel, to get to the truth.

Occasional Beasts: Tales is available to purchase now! Check the hyperlink by clicking on the title or right HERE.

I've enjoyed this overview, slim as it may be, of the tales in my collection. Looking back on them brought some memories I enjoyed, and that only could have happened while digging into these story notes.

Ah, but what's next? There's some anthologies out or out soon, with tales by yours truly in them. I'll give you some details about them soon!

Here is a photo of...The Gates of Hell, in New Jersey. It's a tunnel. Not unlike the tunnel "The Land Lord" lives in, perhaps...

Monday, October 29, 2018

Sex and Drugs and Weirdness abounds with "The Johnny Depp Thing." Occasional Beasts: Tales, Story Notes # 13

One of the keys to writing is to pay attention to the world around you. And to the people you know, because they might tell you something that will trigger your imagination and lead you down the darkest paths. "The Johnny Depp Thing" was born out of a tale my friend, Michelle, told me about. The tale was pretty much a drug-addled bit o' weirdness highlighted by what she said was "these dragging sounds outside of the door." If I remember correctly, she'd gone somewhere south, perhaps even Mexico, and was hanging out with a bunch  of bad folks into drugs, and there was a point in the evening when she was sitting on the floor against the door to an apartment and...those sounds happened. (I'm banking some of my recollection is off, but you get the gist.)

This thought came to me, set the words loose, and the weirdness took a truly bizarre turn, what with the added element of Johnny Depp, the actor, as the focal point, an escape route, in a way, for a woman in a bad relationship. But not only is it a bad relationship, her tendency is to latch on to whatever her present boyfriend is into. So, if he's into heavy-duty drugs, well, she's along for the ride. Not strong enough to stand on her own two feet, she hitches a ride into the darkest avenues of the lost soul. Or something like that.

Drugs have played a big role in a few of my tales, as well as my Bram Stoker Award nominated novel, Riding the Centipede. I don't exactly know why, as I've done minimal drugs in my life...but as noted above, I pay attention to people, listen to their tales, and since a couple of my best friends have had considerable drug experiences, welllllll…

Why Johnny Depp?  Partly Michelle's fault--well, a strong element of her character insinuates the character of Erika Jonkers, our narrator of the tale. She likes Depp.  She likes her bad boys--she being Michelle--so since I sculpted Erika from Michelle, he became her fantasy.  Partly I just needed a male sex symbol, one who could sway her into giving all of herself...even if it means giving into something that's not quite what it seems. When you've been in abusive relationships, the illusion of something better will suffice. At least that's my thinking here.

Depp, soon after I completed the tale, went off and had an [alleged or not, I don't remember specs] abusive finale to his marriage, so it kind of fit, in a weird way, with the type of man Erika goes for, though he's not even "him"--the real Johnny Depp--to be honest, haha... I mean, it's all fiction and warped out of true. She may pick bad boys, but he's not even a he, he's an it.

(And did I mention Clark Gable makes an appearance, too?!  You'll see...)

There was a point, though, with the Depp controversy going on, that I contemplated changing the sex symbol from him to some other actor. Ethan Hawke was a momentary stand-in, but I decided to stick with Depp, baggage and all.

While I was writing this tale, I was reading Scott Nicolay's excellent debut collection, Ana Kai Tangata: Tales of the Outer the Other the Damned and the Doomed. Something of his style infected the original version of this tale. As in, details abounded!  The original version clocks in at 6800 words; the version in the collection ends up around 5600 words. If there's ever a Scott Nicolay tribute anthology, this tale needs to be included! Perhaps the extended version, haha...

Names: Also at that time, I had discovered, via my girlfriend, a south African poet named Ingrid Jonker. Erika's last name is almost hers, adding an "s," as you can see. A nod to a great poet...kind of...

The tale is tonally the blackest of black humor, yet totally a weird tale as well. You'll see in the snippet here, as Erika leans against that door, her boyfriend, Ransom, asleep in a recliner, while the dragging sounds have stopped and something calling itself Johnny Depp expresses its desire to be her new boyfriend.


“So you really do look like Johnny Depp?” Erika asked one more time, for triple, hell, quadruple no lie confirmation.

“Spittin’ image. And Johnny wants to be your new boyfriend. Johnny wants a kiss.”

“You want to be my—Oh. Oh! What the…”

Erika quickly turned to Ransom, noted she hadn’t awakened him with her squeals, then turned back to the door.

Glistening moistly and sliding up from the slit at the bottom of the door was what looked like a tongue. She gathered it was about as thick as her skinny wrists, but considering what it was, that was pretty damn impressive. And freaky. It stopped about twelve inches from the floor, the tip tapping the wood left and right.

“I want a kiss,” the voice said from the other side of the door. Johnny Depp’s voice. Johnny Depp.

Erika had never read in any gossip rags or read on the Hollywood Sleaze Underground site she frequented online about Johnny Depp’s super long tongue. She even wondered how he could talk if his tongue was hanging out like that.

“I can’t… I mean…”

She didn’t know what to say as she watched the tongue tap, tap, tapping, as if looking for that kiss she wasn’t sure she was up to. She couldn’t even picture putting that thing in her mouth.

Erika remembered way back when she was a teenager and digging KISS before she got good taste and moved on to punk and hardcore, fantasizing about Gene Simmons’ flicking tongue while she masturbated.

Christ, imagine what Johnny Depp’s super long tongue would feel like? Especially since it’s attached to him!

Erika also remembered reading on the Hollywood Sleaze Underground site that Simmons had had a cow’s tongue or donkey’s tongue sewn on to the end of his, like an extension. Like she sometimes added to her short black Betty Boop do. Hair Extensions. She figured Johnny Depp had to have done this, too. No way this was real.

“All real, dude,” the voice said.

Again with the cool mental connection. As if their thoughts were already making love.


Also of note: In researching heroin and making up my own form of heroin-based drug for the tale, for months afterward I got spam in my email from rehab or related places, wanting to help me with my, um...issue...

"The Johnny Depp Thing" is one of the four original tales included in my new collection, Occasional Beasts: Tales, hyper-linked right there, so click on the title and go buy your copy now!
Please and thank you!

Here's a photo of Mr. Depp reading some Hunter S. Thompson, before he gets into Occasional Beasts: Tales.

The final entry in my Story Notes is next. You'll meet "The Land Lord," and a whole town under his ominous influence.

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Sinister Power of the Alternative Translation of "Vox Terrae." Occasional Beasts: Tales, Story Notes #12

The original title of this tale was "The Alternative Translation." My girlfriend is a translator, so I'm sure I was influenced by that as I wrote the tale.  I'm also a fan of words being something more than words. You know this already if you've been paying attention. My novella, the title story of my mini-collection, Autumn in the Abyss, is the best example of this. Another would be my story from the Joseph S. Pulver Sr. edited Walk on the Weird Side anthology, 'Eouem Chumkpaa." Yeah, say that three times fast. So, words, living things, or something else, yes, I dig that idea.

Here's a snippet from the tale that leads you along that line of thinking...


The necessity of this journey wore me down, whittled the bark off the thin branch, though not with the goal of sharpening my perceptions. No, attrition was the goal, shedding the outer shell, shedding to reveal that which lived beneath until all that remained was nothing more than memory; then dust.

At the doorway, I stopped. Candles everywhere, colors richer than ever imagined—pure white heart wrapped in melting blue glass that rippled in the hemorrhaging crimson sun that devoured the room. Blackthorne stood front and center, a dark blemish, details left to my imagination. Not a good thing under the circumstances.

“Language is not simply spoken.” A buzzing—flies hovering over a carcass. “You think your race dictates the rules of this world, of everything? You think you are even the dominant species of this planet? There are many layers. You don’t even know how to cross between them, as my race does, and we are low on the totem pole of this planet’s residents. Language is not simply spoken as you understand it. It is experienced in many different ways.

“Would you like me to show you the alternative translation that Alicia knows so intimately, Kenneth?”

I nodded weakly, the words beyond my tongue, defeated. But I needed to know.

 The searing light flickered, then darkness…


This tale might perhaps be perceived as OTT description-wise, but man, it was so much fun to write.   Even as some of the sequence that follows the above sample was written years ago. I mentioned "Dandelions" was the oldest tale in the collection, but this tale contains the oldest handful of paragraphs, manipulated into shape to fit the parameters of what this tale needed.

That's how writers sometimes do it, y'know?  I had an old tale called, "Unveiling the Hell Machine," in which, not unlike a man opening Barker's Lament Configuration, the narrator ends up in a place where torments beyond his imagination are undertaken. He ends up being devoured then shat out and remolded into something almost human. Aaaand, you're gonna love this--I should find the paper manuscript, because the version I have in a file is incomplete; the typed up version has dates and makes me wonder (wonder what, JC? Well...)--well, in the original, after the person put through hell is shat out, he eventually becomes...President of the United States!!!  An evil, malignant president, with designs on annihilation of the world

Prescient, eh?

Fucking hell, I just remembered that was where it all ended up. I really need to pull the box out of the closet and see about the timeline. For all I know, I predicted the current abhorrent and quite dismal state of affairs, to put it mildly.

Anyway, in "Vox Terrae," we hook up with Kenneth as he searches for the alternative translation of the occult tome upon which the story was eventually named (as suggested by publisher Jordan Krall of Dunhams Manor Press, who published the standalone chapbook in which it was featured), with his sights set on finding out the meaning as it pertains to the death by suicide of his girlfriend, who suggested the alternative translation was her modus operandi for killing herself.

Oh, what a dark and sticky web of supernatural oddness I weave.

It gets even weirder as he collects his old friend, who's also into exploring books and ideas that tend toward obtaining forbidden knowledge, Ivan Sangkor--a character based on a person I met while looking over the occult section in a book store...just as I wrote in the story, haha...--and they head to Northern California to speak to Lorraine Blackthorne, the woman responsible for the alternative translation.

All kinds of surreal fun follows, especially within the old house she lives in.  A house that never seems settled.  A house that also makes a completely different appearance in a tale in final edits I'm presently writing, "Winter in the Wasteland."  I don't think that will be the last time I deal with that monstrous house, either.

I've said enough.  There's a lot going on here and it's all rather grim when you get down to it, but an entertaining kind of grim, I hope.

"Vox Terrae" can be found in my latest collection, the reason I'm even writing these Story Notes.
You can buy Occasional Beasts: Tales by clicking on Occasional Beasts: Tales because that will take you to the link. So do that and enjoy this tale...and the rest.

Here's a picture of an old grimoire, perhaps a cousin to Vox Terrae...


Next up, the penultimate tale in the collection, which features a guest appearance by...Johnny Depp.  Kind of...  

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Don't Shoot The Messenger--"Chrysalis." Occasional Beasts: Tales, Story Notes #11

It starts with the bird...


“What in the…?”

The black bird plunked down on the kitchen tiles and skidded along the floor to Regina’s feet. She turned and immediately took to standing on her tip-toes before her balance wavered and she set her heels back down on each side of the trembling creature. She shuffled to one side, the shock of the intrusion one to shake her out of the doldrums of her dreary existence.

While listlessly washing the dishes, she’d once again been daydreaming about suicide as a legitimate goal in life. A goal she knew she was too weak to attain. She used to write bleak, depressive poetry, which might seem a cliché many maudlin young girls on the cusp of womanhood undertake, but her aspirations and talent were obvious. A few years later, as Regina had begun to make a name for herself, the weight of her dead whale marriage crushed her Muse. She allowed real misery to derail her burgeoning writing career before it truly got off the ground. It sank without a struggle, an anchor tied to the ankle of promise.


...and immediately puts you in Regina's misery-laden world.  But it didn't always end up at Regina's feet.  She may have been the original focal point, but I went through stages, attempting to find another protag (who knows why, I don't; before I knew who she was, she was perhaps too "normal") and a reason for this bird to come crashing through a window. Another version had a junkie living in an abandoned building, but I ended up coming back to Regina.

Regina? Even though I like her here, I took the name from the girlfriend of one of my best friend's when I was 8-9 years old who told him he couldn't hang out with me and another of my friends because we weren't cool. Here name was Regina, and that stuck with me.  She may have been right, we may not have been cool, but when you're an awkward, shy kid, being cool doesn't matter. Survival without embarrassing yourself in front of the other kids did.

Anyway, with this tale, the bird crashing through the window was the key in unlocking part of a quirky poem Regina is meant to know.  Other messengers, some inanimate, come along to give her other pieces of the poem. She learns in the process, the poem is something more than simply words, it's a means to an end.

As my friend Marco Cinque, Italian poet extraordinaire once said, "Words are living things."  I believe this, in my own writerly way. I also used this as the opening epigraph for the title story to my collection, Autumn in the Abyss.

The words as living things in this tale inspire transformation which, if you've been paying attention, is one of my favorite subjects. You can read more about it and other worthy writing stuff, as well as more about the new collection in my Hellnotes interview.

Another amusing tidbit.  As the story unfolded--and often, as I am writing tales--some of what's going on around me made it into the tale. In this case, my girlfriend had either submitted a poem to, or mentioned, an online magazine called, Menacing Hedge. I mentioned liking that title, so decided to...borrow it, as you can read here.


She could make out the outline of the menacing hedge that rimmed the lower portion of the window; menacing because it seemed more a moat around a castle, filled with sleek, razer-fanged serpents that did not allow her to step any further than the front porch. Excursions beyond were always accompanied by Derek, except for grocery shopping, which he hated. He timed those brief outings, limiting her freedom, which she knew was only an illusion. She was never free. The sinister king, the sadistic ruler of this dismal empire, made sure of this.


It may all seem bleak, hell, those samples confirm it is, but it ends up in a place of absolute bliss. This was not totally of my doing. Sure, what I had originally set down was a positive outcome for Regina, but it was more subtle. When I submitted the story to Scott Dwyer for the excellent Phantasm/Chimera: An Anthology of Strange and Troubling Dreams, he said he wanted something more.  Something to really sink one's teeth into.  I gave him what he wanted and what I should have known from the beginning, because it really gave the story the proper finale. You'll just have to read it to see for yourself.

Where can you read it? In Occasional Beasts: Tales, my new collection. Please do! Let me know what you think of it. Order your copy at the link above or right HERE. Mwah!

Here's a piece of cool bird art. I bet those birds have many messages to spread around the world, eh? All except who the artist for the piece is, though it looks as though it was the cover for an album by a band called The Gloaming. Anyway, I like it.

Up next: the alternative translation of a rare book leads a man to a strange house, to find his lost love, who may or may not be dead. What the...?  You'll find out in "Vox Terrae."

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Beholder--"Beautiful." Occasional Beasts: Tales, Story Notes #10

"We are beautiful.

We of nine limbs and three pleasant smiles. We, with we one great silver eye and many large breasts. We, one of a kind and special because of it.

We are beautiful."


Sometimes, a sentence teases you into taking a writing trip that's so bizarre, you STILL don't know what to make of it.  So goes "Beautiful," whose lines above came to me out of nowhere, the writer just scribbling whatever comes up, but along with those lines, the voice was clear.  Crystal clear, though the voice itself, of our narrator, Belladonna, is anything but "clear." What I mean is, there's a distinct rough edge, one shaped by defiance and gargled stones and an understanding about one's self that's outside of the norm, because the norm has never been a part of Belladonna's life, that somehow came along with the sentences.

But what to do with it.  Really, what could I do with that opening?

Embrace it.  So I did. Here's what follows, the distinction of voice in full force:


They, male they and female they, sit across from we, ugly in they gray and navy-blue fabric, ashamed of they naked flesh. We understand they shame, though. Two arms, two legs, two eyes, two of they, everything so uniform. Just like all the rest of they.

Not special like we.

Granmama made we clothing before we born, sewed shirts and pants, but we did not fit those clothes. We are different. Special. Granmama still made clothing, for hobby, in Granmama’s sewing room. But we always naked to show off we beautiful we.


The tale was work. Keeping that tone, that voice in line, was not an easy task.  Especially as Microsoft Word Office was screaming at me with red squiggly lines throughout the text.  Didn't matter.  I had to lock in and do the work, especially in keeping the regular pronouns at bay, and keeping it all consistent. I enjoy pushing myself, forcing myself to stretch, and experimenting as well.  "Beautiful" was not easy in any way, but it was worth it.  I learned a lot about writing in creating this one.

Also: if you've been paying attention, you will have realized a lot of the tales in Occasional Beasts: Tales are from the female perspective and/or the perspective one would qualify as "other." (9 of 14, to be precise.) Though I am a middle-aged white male, I would be bored if all the characters in my tales originated from within that already battered box, or were related to it in some way. Hence, a love of slipping into the skin of diverse characters and hopefully doing them justice.

Also of note: toward the end, the Frankenstein element (perhaps), a kind of inverted, self-mutilation into self-revelation into true self, was something I don't remember seeing until I got there.  Part of the fun of writing, as noted before, is not knowing where it's all going to end, and being pleasantly surprised by the results.

Another also: Transformation.  I recently did an in-depth  --> Interview <-- over at Hellnotes, and we touched on transformation, and how transformation is a key element within a lot of my stories. Transformation is here...and as usual, it's not from a well-worn perspective that transformation takes hold.  Read the interview for more about that.

"Beautiful" is my most reprinted tale to date.  I remember when it first sold, Fossil Lake anthology editor Christine Morgan's reaction was (and I paraphrase): "I can't believe somebody sent this tale to me, something this good."  Well, that's close, the specs, I don't think I saved them, haha...  Then, in a reprint form, Ted E. Grau, editing Strange Eons, initially noted how striking the tale was, but didn't accept it for reprint because he needed more words. About a year later, for a special all-fiction issue of Strange Eons, I got the email from Grau, the tale having stuck with him, so he asked me if I would let him publish it in that issue. I, of course, said of course! It has appeared most recently in the Strange Behaviors: An Anthology of Absolute Luridity from NihilismRevisited.

Occasional Beasts: Tales is out in the wild and romping around, awaiting your perusal. Purchase your copy today. Read it, review it, rank it, love it, be disturbed my it, but go...Buy. Now! It loves you.  Love it back.

Here's a photo from the popular Twilight Zone episode, Eye of the Beholder.  I expect these folks understand a lot about how Belladonna feels.

Next up, strange messages from even stranger messengers: "Chrysalis."

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Bluebeard & Lovecraft = "I Am..." Occasional Beasts: Tales, Story Notes #9

First of all, took a slight break to get Occasional Beasts: Tales out into the wild.
Yes, you can order your copy Now!

Now, let's get back to the story notes blog posts.

I'd gotten an invitation to write a tale for an anthology dealing with a Lovecraftian spin on fairy tales called, A Mythos Grimmly. The fantastic weird fiction writer, Joseph S. Pulver Sr., had suggested me to the editor/publisher, opening the door.

With the invite at hand, I had to pick a fairy tale to mesh with something Lovecraftian. Since they didn't want overlapping fairy tales, and the list was already getting filled up, I mentioned this to my girlfriend, Alessandra, and she immediately said, "Bluebeard." I was like--what? She explained the plot, I researched it further, and knew that, yes, "Bluebeard" would be the fairy tale I would use to construct my tale. I knew I would modernize it, but the foundation would be derived from that fairy tale.

The only problem was, I could not figure out how exactly to weave these elements together. I mulled over if for a while. I had received the invite while in Rome; I didn't get to it until later in the year.  The idea for how to shape the tale came to me on one of my walks from the house in which I rent a room to the Quik Stop, as I am wont to do, a little fresh air, perhaps pick up a bite next door at the pizza place on one side or the donut shop on the other. I remember walking away from there, back to my room...when an image hit me like a sledgehammer.

The image was so harrowing I, a horror writer, pushed it away. It was too harsh, too grotesque, too cruel an image. What was it? It was a graphic depiction of somebody pouring gasoline on a woman's face...and setting it on fire.  I tried to push this horrific image away, but it persisted...until I got toward the house and the room...and something was taking shape.

Yes, out of the ashes of something that made me truly uncomfortable, the tale rose up like a Phoenix, forcing me to look at it, forcing me to use it. Why? Because it was a gift, in a way, charred and skin-curling and all, and it was the trigger that sent the tale along its path.

Here's that opening sequence, the aftermath of the attack:


I am…

Waking in fire.

I feel eternally in flame.

My breath rises from singed lungs, climbing my esophagus, exiting in clipped bleats from a throat scarred by smoke. I feel I am gagging just to breathe. I feel I am drowning in fire.

I am drowning in fire.

Somebody says, “Calm down, Miss. Calm down. I’ll get the doctor.”

I am in a hospital. As my eyelids flutter open, my vision is blurred, though the room is dark. Perhaps my perception is skewed by the darkness; a cloying, pervasive darkness. Yet, I sense I’ve not used my eyes in a while.

How long? I do not know.

The skin of my face and neck sings a song of severe distress. My brain takes the flood of input and swerves toward shutting down, but I stall it. I hold my breath and stall everything. Though my nerve endings attempt to scatter, seek refuge in the internal sanctuary of blood, viscera, and possibly soul, it is to no avail. This song must be endured. This pain. This experience.

Even with the chorus rising up in chattering, masticating timbres, gleefully gnawing on the chaos-filled realm of gray matter that is my brain, my mind—these spiraling, absurd thoughts—I am able to raise my left hand to my face, to feel the soft, coarse texture. Gauze, not skin.

Then, I remember:


Well, whatever she remembers, you'll have to read the tale to find out. You'll also have to read the tale to see how something Lovecraftian fits into the mix.

Here's a hint, but it doesn't tell you nearly enough. Yes, that's one take on the Necronomicon. I've got another one for you. But for now, yes, this one's pretty cool.  I believe it was created by Richard A Poppe.

Remember: Occasional Beasts: Tales is out now and I consider it perhaps my finest book to date. A variety of weird horrors await. Don't keep them waiting, they'll get agitated, and then, hell, they may show up at your door when you least expect them and...

It won't be pretty.

Invite them in. Purchase your copy now!

Up next, beauty is in the eye of the beholder in one of the strangest tales you'll ever read, "Beautiful."

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Depeche Mode, Joe R. Lansdale, A Stroll in Rome = Occasional Beasts: Tales, Story Notes #8: "Personal Jesus"

That's quite a mouthful, eh? And it's all here!

Where do you get your ideas? Stories come together in the strangest ways.

Alessandra and I were walking along the trail to view the Ninfeo di Egeria here in Rome, which I described in my tale, “Slorp” as follows: “At the end of the path, after a long trek, we walk on an iron grate and view the ruins of the Ninfeo di Egeria, our destination.   There’s not a lot to the place, though the pond blanketed with dense green algae that spreads to the stones and plant life at its rim draws our attention.  We stand at a distance, as the swamp ground is not a Welcome mat allowing further exploration.”

Yes, that means two tales have been inspired by our walks to those ruins. The second one is the subject of this blog post, “Personal Jesus.” You already knew that, though.

During the summer of 2017, we were again taking a stroll along that path when we noticed a surreal farmyard scene playing out to our left. A menagerie of animals were present, full of every farm animal you could imagine, and many of them were odd, some seeming oversized, but odd no matter what.

And there was a sound coming from behind the closed doors of a large building.

As we stood there, it came to me what the sound was: music. It was loud, distorted to the point of eye-crossing if one was to stand to close to it, but we were on the other side of the fence, standing at a distance, when I realized what the song was: Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus.” Yes, standing on a trail in Rome, emanating from within a large building, Depeche Mode were cranked to ear-bleeding…and a tall, curious looking fella who looked as though the last thing in the world he’d listen to was Depeche Mode was tending to the animals.

Perhaps the music wasn’t for him.

A story started to stir, but I wasn’t sure how this would come together yet. I mentioned my burgeoning story idea to Alessandra, as I often do, and she said to me something out of left field, about my Joe R. Lansdale story.

Why did she mention this, I have no idea; she has no idea.  But that was all I needed to give the situation direction; the situation being the tale spinning crazily, yes, crazily(!!!!) In my head.

The Joe R. Lansdale story is not one I wrote, it’s one I experienced.

During February of 2002, I had reached critical mass for my flailing sanity and needed a break from everything. My personal life was a disaster. I’d decided I needed to get away from everything—probably me just wanting to run away, y’know, instead of dealing with the mess; no, this was not my best moment, but there wasn’t a whole lot I could do, anyway, or so it seemed at the time.

I went on a three-week road trip through the southwest with the intent of salvaging my mind and getting my focus back. I needed to breathe again. I started in early February with my girlfriend at the time in tow.  As we made it to east Texas and approached Nacogdoches, I remembered Joe R. Lansdale lived there, and thought we should say Hi, in a way. We went to a phone booth and, um…borrowed the page with his address on it and headed out to drop a letter in his mailbox, letting him know how much we loved his writing. Lansdale’s always been one of my faves! We did this, found his house, set back from the road, and there it was. A mailbox awaited out trespass or, well, at least it was there so we could drop the note in it and be on our way.
(Other elements of this road trip have made it into my fiction: There’s a sequence in my novel, Riding the Centipede, that takes place in Roswell, New Mexico, that was derived from my time passing through there.)

A funny connective aside: I’d told Alessandra this story at some point and she remembered it when Lansdale did a reading in Rome. She bought one of his books and told him the story. He told her he remembered the note and that we should have walked up and knocked on the door and said Hello.


Just damn, haha…

Annnnyway, so there you have the pieces being tossed in the mental mixer that eventually took shape in “Personal Jesus.” Also added to the mix was the title of one of the characters--la dea maiale, swino divino. More on her in a second.

Where do we as writers get out stories? In the case of out lead characters, Harmon and Cliff, who decided to divert their road trip to drop by and do as I had done on my road trip and visit a famous horror writer by the name of, ahem, “Joseph G. for Gore, motherfucker, Brakeland,” they found out more than they could have imagined.

Here’s a bit from their predicament that hints at what la dea maiale, swino divino, is…


     He wasn’t sure this was a possibility, what with a madman who both he and Cliff praised to friends and each other for years as a writer of the grittiest, goriest horror, holding them hostage, while the answer to a question he did not care to know hung like a guillotine about to drop and completely sever Cliff and him from reality.  

     Where do you get your stories, Mr. Brakeland? 

     What had his response been in the interview with an Italian horror magazine he’d watched on You Tube?  What had he said?  Something absurd…

     “La dea maiale.  Swino divino,” he answered to the Italian interviewer.  “The pig goddess. The divine swine.  She shits out the stories, I mold the shit into shape.  Write stories about those creatures.  Simple as that.”  The interviewer, bouncing between Brakeland’s limited Italian and the English translated into Italian, guffawed after the interpreter had completed the translation.   

     “Where do I get my stories?”  Brakeland asked. 

     But Harmon already knew, as the back half of the huge building lit up, and Cliff screamed. 


There are also fictional story titles in the tale as Harmon and Cliff recall some of Brakeland's best tales.  I’ve contemplated writing the stories to go with them, as they have teasers about what they would be about, as a Joseph G. Brakeland collection, though perhaps an anthology with contributions from other writers would be cool, too. What? Either way, it's fun speculation, and that's what we writers do. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this installment, it was a lot of fun for me, too. Where do our stories come from? Our twisted minds! 

Occasional Beasts: Tales is out Monday. Yes, Monday, September 17. The link here for digital should include the print version at that time as well. Though you can order the print directly from my fabuloous exc publisher, OmniumGatherum, if you want. Just…do it!  

Print again (On Amazon)

Here’s Depeche Mode looking at lot like they should be working at the ranch house in the tale. SEE HOW IT ALL MAKES SENSE!!

Next up, a three-pack, perhaps one at a time or separately, not sure yet, but hey, the lead tale will be “I Am…”

Monday, September 10, 2018

Occasional Beasts: Tales, Story Notes #7: "This Darkness..."

Based On A Real…Incident…?!!

Well, yes, the idea stems from a midnight jaunt up a mountain outside of Portland, Oregon.


Let me step back and set you up properly.

I lived in Portland, Oregon from mid-2002 to October of 2005. Life had gone completely off the rails beforehand. I only ended up there because my ex-wife—though we may not have officially been divorced at the time (long story, don’t ask, haha; for all I know it may end up in a story at some point, so you can find out then)—had moved with my son up to a small town in southern Washington, to live near her sister. Portland was across the Columbia Gorge from where they lived, and no matter our losing our way, I needed to be near my son, to be a part of his life…through all the madness that led us all to this point.

Things settled down, I made Portland my home.

One evening, my girlfriend and best friend up there and myself decided to drive up to the top of one of the mountains east of Portland; can’t remember which one, I want to say Larch mountain, but think that’s probably not correct. We drove up late one night to the top, where the asphalt ended in a parking lot which we could barely see the lines to distinguish parking places…as if it mattered. We were alone, and it was dark. Places where only the lights of nature intrude—the stars, the moon, the red eyes of demons—change the way one sees and feels things. It’s a different world. It’s almost oppressive, suffocating in a way. We hung out briefly, wandered around, feeling instantly lost once we exited the car, as we could barely see a foot in front of us once we moved away from it; I honestly don’t remember if I turned the lights off while stopped, but no matter with what followed...

Just as we left the parking lot, heading on our way down, I turned the lights off. We hung there for a few moments in a darkness that felt as though it might crush the car, and us within it. A truly harrowing sensation. The real surprise, though, was when I turned on the lights…and a bear was running in the road in front of us, caught in the lights and leaping off the road and into the forest.

We freaked out. It amped the harrowing sensation brought on by the darkness to a point where, I’m sure, each one of us had adrenaline pumping in overdrive through our bodies.

I remembered the incident and knew it would somehow take shape in a tale. I think it surprised me that the bear, or at least a bear-like creature, also made it into the tale. This one’s subtly cosmic when it gets to the creature. The darkness, “This Darkness…” insists Susie, our main character, walk on by the beast, if she has any ideas on surviving the ordeal she’s already witnessed so far.

Shall we walk along with her?


     Susie expected animal musk, the gamey scent of the wild, the stink of nature’s bloody victory.  What she got was beyond comprehension.  What she saw was a silhouette, a misplaced shadow--something undefined—perhaps just a black shape from which freezing waves from the wasteland of its being emanated.  With a slight twitch of her head she glanced closer at the beast, into an immeasurable cosmic gulf littered with shards of bone and constellations cognizant of her trespass as the beast, this thing, an emissary from this darkness, wailed into the starless sky.  It was the roar of planets being birthed; it was the keen of suns going supernova; it was the alpha and omega of eternity; it was infinite yet steeped in the here and now.


There’s a lot going on in this tale about the choices we make in life. There’s also the darkness, “This Darkness…” which is given a voice. 
"This Darkness..." originally appeared in the Crystal Lake Publishing anthology, For the Night is Dark

As I type this, Occasional Beasts: Tales is one week away from being published!

It’s time you pre-ordered a copy, don’tchathink?


Here’s some cool art that works for the tale, in a way. Because, y’know, the creature in the tale is not a bear, it’s something more…cosmic and horrific, but it relates to a bear. This art is from a game called Shadow of the Colossus. I do not know who made the art, but I like it.

Next up, the age-old question of where writers get their ideas gets answered in a grim and quite unexpected manner, as we meet our “Personal Jesus.”

Friday, September 7, 2018

Occasional Beasts: Tales, Story Notes #6: "The Occasional Beast That Is Her Soul"

When I was trying to figure out what to call the new collection, there were many variations of [something] Monster and [something] Beasts, and some related creatures, finally realizing I had a tale with a good name for the collection but didn’t want a tale to be designated that way. So, I simply took the part I needed…and there you go.

But that tells you nothing of the tale.

It originated as response to a blog post by writer Zoe Whitten dealing with shapeshifters. She detailed all aspects of her spin on shapeshifters, which I found utterly fascinating, and made a lot of sense to me. As I dwelled on her observations, I also realized I wanted to dip my quill into a tale dealing with shapeshifters, perhaps not in as an intense a manner, but still… Shapeshifters fascinated me already—transformation being a major theme in my work, even if not directly stated as a shapeshifter—so I thought it a good idea to explore deeper.

This inspired not one, but two tales as a response.

The first tale I wrote with this element is called, “Blood Echo Symphonies,” written as a nod to a writer whose work I’ve enjoyed, yet only I know this, and you probably cannot tell by reading the tale who the writer is. The tale is kind of word-heavy, full of poetic nips and tucks, and works as a curious, futuristic exploration of eternal love. This might not be evident until the end of the tale, as the core deals with a band, a club, and the all-around ambience of that world just around the corner, but love, yes love, is what drove the tale. 

The second tale, written right after it, was “The Occasional Beast that is Her Soul.” Also set in a future world, this was to be my attempt at something steampunk, believe it or not. I used only the trimmings, as I did not want to lose the gist of what was the tale’s heart, which was more about love (again), yet from the angle of one not understanding what happens to herself in situations of love, how her body turns on her. By the end of the tale, she realizes perhaps what she needs from love has nothing to do with one-on-one intimacy, but something much larger and profound. Have I said too much? Well, you can see for yourself when you read the tale.

Ellen Datlow does an honorary mentions listing online for tales she finds worthy each year, in accordance with her Best Horror of the Year anthologies. “The Occasional Beast that is Her Soul” was my first mention on the list.

Here’s the opening sequence:


     Tonight she wished for wings.

     Thea at the window, wishing for something more than the wayward enticements of this earth, or the fickle fantasies that roosted glumly in the minds of her potential partners.

     Tonight there will be wings…

     It was not the first time Thea had nurtured this thought.  With the malleable condition of her body as shaped by the emotional resonance within her psyche, wings would be a much better transmutation than what has transpired so far; than what she always has become: a beast of ill intent...

     Talons to tear into the meat of her lover.

     Pincers to pluck out the cooling gray matter from the bowl of the cranium she had cracked as one would an egg, red runny yolk staining the carpet.

     Wings would be her only means of escape this evening, the dizzying height demanding something different.  Always running from something, maybe flight would bring her freedom.  But wings had failed her before, bony stubs along the parchment expanse of flesh so thin the wind tore from them the ability to glide along the invisible ether byways above everything.

     They would have to be strong wings, she thought, then frowned, a shifting of flesh with which she had actual control.

     Because her control was as much driven by shock and panic as by wish-fulfillment.  Shock and panic and the wayward imagination of her lovers, as muddled by that which resided within her...

     She had rarely become something more than the occasional beast that is her soul.  


Occasional Beasts: Tales, will be published in less than two weeks! Pre-order your copy now!

(The Print will be available on Amazon and elsewhere soon; the book will be published on the 17th of this month, so by then, for sure!) 

“The Occasional Beast That Is Her Soul” was initially published in White Cat magazine, and reprinted in the anthology, Street Magick:Tales of Urban Fantasy.

Here’s the cover art for the latter.

The next Story Notes blog post will reveal what I really found in “This Darkness.”

Friday, August 31, 2018

Occasional Beasts: Tales, Story Notes #5: "The Cooing"

You're going to like this one. Well, I hope you've enjoyed the previous Story Notes posts, of course...but I'm giving you something extra with this one. Something special! ;-)

"The Cooing" is the shortest tale in the collection. The idea came to me...while Alessandra and I were on vacation a few years ago, somewhere in the middle of Italy. We were wandering around, as we do, and I heard a bird. A bird that did not sound well. I mentioned this out loud. I heard it again. It was a strange, uneasy sound.

As you know, sometimes, that's all it takes.

A couple, Magdalene and Sam (Samantha), end up in the middle of nowhere, investigating an abandoned house. Sam is a photographer and finds the desolation fits her mindset, while all Magdalene wants is to get away from the place. Weird bird sounds commence. Things turn ugly. Oddly enough, as I wrote this one, perhaps swayed by the title, I thought of it as a very British horror tale...yet it takes place in the southwest of America.

Also of note: the Alberto Savinio quote you'll find in the sample(s) below was something Alessandra pointed in my direction when I was writing the tale. It fit perfectly with both the tale and Magdalene's mental state, so I had to use it somehow. I love how it snuck into the finale. 

When the tale was accepted for publication by CM Muller for the debut issue of his excellent anthology series, Nightscript, he wanted me to tone down the ending a bit, give it more subtlety; pretty much, to lose a paragraph that went further than he liked. I took his suggestion and made the change, which I really liked. That said, I held onto the file with the original, extended and more gruesome ending, which I will present to you here.

I will post the published version first, and the original second, for comparison.

The published ending:

     Sam gasped, breath released, surrender at hand.  Her legs gave out as she stumbled backwards, landing hard on the wooden chair at the head of the table. 

     Magdalene started to whimper as a passage from one of her favorite books, Alberto Savinio’s Lives of the Gods, flashed within the dimming light of her thoughts: “Don’t judge me by what you see now; I don’t take care of myself, my sufferings have sharpened my beak, and I do nothing but laugh.”  She pulled her legs even closer, a taut, trembling ball, and tried to make herself smaller.  Tried to disappear. 

     “Coo, coo,” it said, a throaty, ugly sound--wrong as Magdalene had suggested; as she had known--as it stepped into the room…

And the extended, more gruesome version:

     Sam gasped, breath released, surrender at hand.  Her legs gave out as she stumbled backwards, landing hard on the wooden chair at the head of the table. 

     Magdalene started to whimper as a passage from one of her favorite books, Alberto Savinio’s Lives of the Gods, flashed within the dimming light of her thoughts: “Don’t judge me by what you see now; I don’t take care of myself, my sufferings have sharpened my beak, and I do nothing but laugh.”  She pulled her legs even closer, a taut, trembling ball, and tried to make herself smaller.  Tried to disappear. 

     As shocking as the figure was, though, the matter of appearance took the back seat to what it held in its peeled flesh, bony fingers made to look like talons.  In its right hand, hair clumped in the fist as three recently severed heads dangled limply.  In its left hand it gripped the severing weapon, a huge knife still dripping blood to the wooden floor.

     “Coo, coo,” it said, a throaty, ugly sound--wrong as Magdalene had suggested; as she had known--as it stepped into the room, raising the left hand, intent on adding to its collection.

Y'know, I could go either way with which one works best, haha...

Occasional Beasts: Tales will be published in less than three weeks. Here's the pre-order info. Order up. Please and thank you!

Print <--via Omnium Gatherum
Digital <-- via Amazon

PS. Yes, the print version will eventually make it to Amazon.

Here's a surreal piece of strange bird art courtesy of Savinio…

Next, we have a tale of transformation, "The Occasional Beast that is Her Soul." Actually, many of these tales contain an element of transformation... Hmmm...

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Occasional Beasts: Tales, Story Notes #4: "Dandelions"

"Dandelions," at least in its original version, is the oldest tale in this collection. Of course, as with most tales, that original version resides in the rearview mirror and is long forgotten.

I remember a writer with whom I had a regular email correspondence with in the early 2000s, before he passed away--we'd exchange tales, give feedback; I remember perhaps eighty percent of his tales ended with him having his penis bit off by some evil woman/monster, so he had some damn streamlined focus with the subject, ahem--noted after reading the original version of "Dandelions" around, say, 2004-5, he thought the ending was the most poetic and bleak thing he'd ever read. Of course, when coming from a fella obsessed with penis-eating female monsters, one might question the validity of such a statement. But I had similar responses from most all beta readers--the few over the years--so I knew there was, perhaps, something that worked there. At least I held on to that with all the revisions this one went through.

Anyway and whatever.

Around 2009-10, the story was accepted for a new, pro-paying magazine, they were going to build their debut issue around it! This was wonderful news...while it lasted. The magazine never made it off the ground, but in their comments upon acceptance, they said, "You do know, the tale starts on page 4." It wasn't a question, it was a fact, something I immediately took to heart and revised to move the story forward in a quicker manner.  (Seems "moving forward" in one form or another is the theme of this blog post...)

More revisions followed as I was put in touch with Jordan Krall, who publishes books and, in this case, chapbooks, as Dynatox Ministries/Dunhams Manor. "Dandelions" was published by Dunhams Manor a few years ago, after even more tweaks, of course.

Though I can be quite graphic/loud/extreme with my fiction at times, "Dandelions" was purposefully subtle and strongly Weird.

The tale involves two couples taking a coastal drive, destination unknown, as a break from the technology-cluttered world they lived in. They end up at a curious hotel just off the beach, near a mysterious field of dandelions. The folks running the hotel radiate oddness in indescribable ways. The whole ambience of the hotel seems steeped in some liminal space, as if...well, you'll have to see.

Here's a snippet from one of the early reviews of Occasional Beasts: Tales, courtesy of Char's Horror Corner:

DANDELIONS: There was something about this story that put me in mind of Shirley Jackson. Maybe it was the feeling of the characters that something was wrong with the geometry in the hotel in which they stopped for the night? Other than that portion though, I doubt Ms. Jackson would have recognized the warped reality to which Mr. Smith delivered us, kicking and screaming. Bravo!

A cool reference, a great review!

Pre-order the digital version of Occasional Beasts: Tales HERE.

Or the print version HERE.

But please, do pre-order it! The book will be published in less than a month!

Here's the cover art done by Krall for the out-of-print chapbook. Dig it. I do!

What's that sound? Must be "The Cooing," up next!

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Occasional Beasts: Tales, Story Notes #3: "A Declaration of Intent"

I’d made a declaration of intent last week (excuse that), planning to get the Story Notes blog post for the third tale in my forthcoming collection, Occasional Beasts: Tales, out on, say, Thursday or Friday. Last Thursday or Friday. Well, as I was finally wrapping it up on Saturday, delayed by internet connection issues here in Rome—just something we have to deal with, especially when storms hit--one slight misstep zapped the post into cyberHell, where it remains to this day; well, it’s only a few days later, but you get my drift.

That’ll teach me! That’s why I am doing as I had done with the first two posts, typing them up in a file.

Let’s see: “A Declaration of Intent” is one of the most visceral tales you will ever read. No really. The inspiration behind it was Brian Evenson’s tale, “The Brotherhood of Mutilation,” which I’d read at some point just before writing it. That and Gary Braunbeck’s stunning, horrific novel, Prodigal Blues (my favorite by him), which I’d read quite a while ago. Elements of that novel still lingered within my writer’s brain as a possible path of exploration. The central connective tissue between those two wildly disparate tales, as hinted at more solidly with the title of Evenson’s tale is mutilation.

My tale starts subtly: 

     I am naked, lying on my stomach on the cool, dark sheets of a bed.  Everything in the room is dark, so my perception about the color of the sheets might be skewed by the absence of light.  I don’t feel right, don’t feel like myself.  I feel smaller.  I might be a child, but I don’t think like a child.  I think like myself, as I am now.  Now being relative, as dictated by the ambiguity of my present condition.

     I realize the sense of feeling smaller might be a feeling of being less than I was before this moment.  Less mass, less me.  

Before the scalpel slices deeper: 

     I am still naked, perhaps leaner than I remember.  There are markings all over my flesh.  A few quarter-sized chunks of flesh have been gouged out of my body.  I glance from the mirror to my body, noting the markings look to be made with ink. 

     These are the blueprints of some thing, of some place, I do not want to explore.

     Each quarter-sized hole is surrounded by dried blood and red, infected skin.  Pus oozes around the ridges of some of the puncture wounds.  I get the impression these holes were done as some kind of testing, perhaps to gauge how my body would react to…something more being done to it.  The markings on my flesh indicate patterns with purpose.  As if something has begun to take shape.

     A new me?   

It only escalates from there… 

If you’ve read my fiction before, you already know I enjoy body horror (“Broken Teacup,” anyone? “The Dark is Light Enough for Me”? Riding the Centipede, of course! Even The Wilderness Within, though the body transformation is less horror and is, well, something more positive; wish fulfillment?). I may veer weird, but I’m your Weird writer who enjoys messing with the body as much as the mind. I like to touch the reader in all possible ways. Horrors experienced via the physical are something all of us can relate to, especially if presented in an unflinching manner, as I try to do. With “A Declaration of Intent,” the slow mutilation with a purpose, as sculpted into the body, interlinked like puzzle pieces, perhaps—you’ll see; you’ll Read!--is done out of love. A warped, obsessive spin on love…but love, nonetheless.

*I believe my love of body horror comes from being a big fan of David Cronenberg’s movies, of which, as I am sure you know, the early ones veered deep into the horrors of the body, while still being intellectually complex, something I like to do with my fiction. Anyway, this thought came to me to earlier today as Alessandra and I were out discussing such things. 😉

Here’s the


pre-order info for Occasional Beasts: Tales.

And here’s some tattoo art that seems appropriate…

Next up, what could be so haunting about “Dandelions”?