September 28, 2012

The Summer of Shorts Roundup

Now that summer has come to a close, so goes the marathon, and I'd like to thank each and everybody generous enough to participate. From June 20th to today, the blog focused on all things short fiction. Short stories, anthologies, magazines, novellas, and a bit of flash fiction, too.

I figured to cap off the season, I'd list all of the guest posts and interviews that were featured on the blog for the last three months. A nice little catalog for your convenience. If you happened to miss reading some of these blog posts, I encourage you to check them out, because everyone really came through in highlighting short fiction in all its goodness. Enjoy.

Interviews: Bruce Bethke (Stupefying Stories); Louise Bohmer (Old School); Maurice Broaddus (Dark Faith); Lincoln Crisler (Corrupts Absolutely?); S.D. Foster (A Hollow Cube Is a Lonely Space); Corey J.Goldberg (Abomination Magazine); Michael Kelly (Chilling Tales); Simon Marshall-Jones (Spectral Press); Tim Marquitz (Fading Light); Scott Nicholson (Missing Pieces); Anthony J. Rapino (Welcome to Moon Hill); Voni Ryan (The Light Side of Dark); Nathan Shumate (Arcane).

I'll be honest in saying this marathon was exhausting, at least as much as blogging can be exhausting. There's a ton of short fiction I wanted to get to through the summer, but just didn't have the time--and by the time September came around, the energy. But, believe me, I'll be pouring over even more short stories and novellas as time goes on. Compared to novel-length fiction, the short story seems to be under-appreciated by the casual reader. I find that odd, since it's such a perfect length of story for someone who doesn't feel they have a lot of time on their hands. I hope this marathon has at least opened the eyes of a couple people and enticed them to give short fiction a chance, where they might have otherwise ignored it.

For now, I'm just thankful this whole project didn't crash and burn. Thanks again to everyone who contributed, as well to everyone who visited and read the reviews, interviews, and guest posts. Maybe we can do this again next year.

September 27, 2012

Writing Like Crazy: Two More Stories Coming Soon

I have a little good news in the short story department.

My short story, "A Wolf Like Leroy," will be featured in a future edition of Stupefying Stories. It's a quirky tale involving two brothers, one of whom is convinced he's a werewolf. I'm really glad it's found a home

Secondly, "Tree Hugger" will appear in the next anthology from Nathan Shumate and Cold Fusion Media, Arcane II. It almost made it into the first anthology, but it needed some tweaking done and there just wasn't enough time. Nathan let it go, but told me that if it was still available this year, he'd love to include it. I guess he can thank the handful of editors who passed on it in the interim, then. It's another blend of humor, horror--with a dash of scifi--and another story I'm pleased to see making its way to publication.

The reception to "Where Coyotes Fear to Tread" has been pretty good thus far, as each review of Tim Marquitz's anthology, Fading Light, that has made mention of it has been positive. Mihir, over at Fantasy Book Critic, asked me on Twitter if I'll be expanding on the adventures of Lester and Carla. I think I might have a sequel or something along those lines in mind, as the original concept was much longer than what the word limit would allow. In any case, that's something I'll be tackle in the new year.

I wish there was more to report on the writing front, but I'll take what I can get. Plenty more stories are out there looking for homes, and I've actually pulled a couple to expand on them, as the feedback I've received from editors has suggested they are pieces of broader stories. Who am I to argue, so I'll be using each story as beginnings to longer stories. Although, once they hit novella territory, I have a feeling it'll be even harder to find suitable publishers.

For now, I'm just trying to write good stories and thanking my lucky stars that what stories are published are being enjoyed by readers.

September 26, 2012

Rabid Reads: "The Fields" by Ty Schwamberger

The Fields
The Zombie Feed (Apex Books 2011)
82 pages
ISBN 1937009025

It turns out that one way to go forward with the zombie genre is to go backwards--in time, anyway. Ty Schwamberger's novella, The Fields, offers up the story set in the days following the American Civil War of Billy Fletcher, a young plantation owner in dire need of help to keep the farm going before the tobacco crop dies. He inherited it after his father passed away, a cruel slave-owner who didn't just exploit those indentured on his farm, but tortured them as well, even burying slaves behind his expansive tobacco fields. Even his son wound up the receiving end of more than a few beatings for showing sympathy for the slaves and other deeds considered sins in his father's eyes.

But despite vowing to run the plantation differently from his father, to work the land himself rather than resort to slave labor, the young man is failing. Enter a man named Abraham who knocks on Billy's door one day and offers him a solution. There's no real telling where Abraham came from, but he sure seems to know a lot about Billy and his father, and assures Billy that what he needs to do is follow in his father's footsteps. And that's something that Billy is adamant about avoiding, because he doesn't want to be a slave-owner like his father. But what if the slaves are already dead?

This was a tremendously creepy zombie story, due mainly because of the racial current running through it. The idea that a person would only be enslaved during when they're alive, but when they're dead as well, is an unsettling one to say the least. One thing I had trouble envisioning as I read the book was the farm. Billy, Abraham, and the zombies jumped off the page, but the plantation itself felt very much like a stage-dressing when I was expecting something much more vivid. But, maybe tobacco fields just aren't that much to look at.

Apex seems to have a knack for showcasing books in the zombie genre that stray from the road most traveled, though it's sad to here the Zombie Feed imprint is no more.

Ty is an emerging talent in the horror genre, to be sure. I'd only read some of his short fiction prior to this, so it was nice to sit down with a longer work and see how he brings a story to life when there's a little more room to breathe. I've got a couple more of his novellas on my to-be-read pile, and I'm definitely looking forward to checking them out, too.

Rabid Reads: "Stupefying Stories 1.6" edited by Bruce Bethke

Stupefying Stories 1.6
edited by Bruce Bethke
Rampant Loon Press (August 2012)
ISBN: 978-1-938834-06-6

After a bit of a wait, I got my hands on the latest issue of Stupefying Stories. This time around, the issue has been dubbed the "Weirder Home and Gardens" edition, as decreed by its editor Bruce Bethke. I don't have a green thumb these days, so if I tried to grow anything out in the garden, chances are it would sprout something pretty weird. All right, I'm on board. Let's see what this issue has to offer.

Things start off with a rather humorous, albeit ghastly, story called "No Onions" by M. Bennardo. With a air of two proper Englishman discussing ghoulish details over tea, a story of a garden with a decidedly horrific harvest. Not exactly an explosive start to the book, but the payoff at the end was good, and the theme of the edition was firmly established.

"The Growing," the second story, from Sylvia Hiven, struck a chord much more to my liking. Surreal at the start, almost out of focus, but as it progresses things become clearer until what you thought you were gazing at becomes something else entirely. And it all started with a lonely woman growing a rose in her flower garden.

"Helen Went Beep" by Erin Entrada Kelly had a fiendish bit of humor to it, with a man at wit's end, insistent with a telephone operator that his wife is a robot--going "beep" in the corner of the room. I also give the story credit for having the best title of the bunch. Funniest story goes to Peter Wood's "Mission Accomplished" about a--shall we say--botched Martian invasion.

My favorite story from this assemblage of a dozen stories, however, is Michael Heneghan's "Rooting for You," though I thought the title a little too clever, but I can appreciate a good bit of wordplay. A writer named Dominic suffering writer's block and a recurring dream of an old man turning into a tree. From there, the story manages to cover a lot of ground as Dominic's life and love are dismantled piece by piece, though not in any graphic manner, but a slow, arduous life of bad choices and regret. It's probably the most poetic of all the stories here, and I'd dare say the one that carries the most resonance--at least for me.

While 1.6 lacked the blockbuster story that 1.5 had, this was another strong outing from Stupefying Stories, and fast becoming one of my go-to spots for speculative fiction. The next edition is already out, released a few weeks ago, so I certainly won't have to wait long for my next fix.

September 25, 2012

Chasing Tale [Kindle Edition]: A Summer's Worth of Short Stories

Summer is gone. Shit.

I actually enjoyed this summer a little more than most, which is strange as I will take a blizzard over a heat wave any day. There were a couple weeks in July that were ungodly for this polar bear, but overall a good summer. Could've used more rain, that's for sure, but--ah well.

Reading e-books in the sunshine was a whole lot easier this year thanks to the Kindle I got for Christmas last year. Last summer, I was reading e-books on my laptop, and anyone who uses a laptop outside knows what a pain in the behind that can be. Short stories and novellas were the focus this summer, what with the Summer of Shorts Marathon here on the blog, and for as much as I read, I downloaded even more. So, here's a peak at the review copies, freebies, and bargains I added to my to-be-read pile this summer: 

Stupefying Stories 1.6 edited by Bruce Bethke - This edition, released in mid-August, was a little late in getting published, but better late than never. Considering the 1.5 edition houses one of my favorite short stories of 2012 so far, I'm curious to see if there might be another home run somewhere in its pages.

1 Dozen by Milo James Fowler - I've spied Milo's short stories here and there, and enjoyed quite a few of them. This collection brings together a dozen of his flash fiction pieces, which I don't believe I've read before, so I'll be interested to see what this quick read has to offer.

The Thing in the Mist by John S. Glasby - I'm at a loss to think of any stories by Glasby that I've actually read, despite his prolificness. So, I should be thankful Redrum Horror is putting out this collection of eleven short stories. Problem solved.

Still Life by Nicholas Kaufmann - This is a collection of nine short stories published by Necon, most of which have been published previously by short fiction markets like Cemetery Dance. Now they're brought together for this e-book offering with a great introduction, which I sneaked a peak at, by James A. Moore.

Mad Dog Summer and Bubba Ho-Tep by Joe R. Lansdale - I'm a little late hopping on the Lansdale bandwagon, but I'm on board now. Mad Dog Summer came out on KHP'scatalog from Black Death Books, and Joe put out word on Twitter at the end of August about Bubba Ho-Tep being a buck on the Kindle Store.

Our Blissful Bayou Beginnings by Danielle Peterson - This is the first novella in Danielle's series, The Duck and the Doe. Not terribly sure what it's about, but I'm more than willing to give it a chance, so I added it to my review pile.

The Nine Deaths of Dr. Valentine by John Llewellyn Probert - The latest novella from Spectral Press is out now, and this one has an amazing title. I'm not familiar with Probert's work, but Spectral has never let me down before.

Two Men, a Rat, and a Lady and Dinin' by Ty Schwamberger - After recently enjoying Ty's historical horror novella, The Fields, I got my hands on this novelette and novella respectively. I might hate rats even more than zombies, but I do love dinin'. So, we'll see.

Care and Feeding by T.C. Starr - This is a trio of horror stories I downloaded to my Kindle over the summer after Tina hit me up for a review. Never read her work before, but I like the premises for each story, so we'll see how it goes.

Ninjaworld by Zoe Whitten - Zoe threw out an offer to perspective readers over the summer, giving away various e-books with no strings attached. A generous offer, so I checked out her catalog again and spied this bizarre novella that peaked my interest.

September 24, 2012

Rabid Reads: “Other Worlds Than These” edited by John Joseph Adams

Other Worlds Than These
edited by John Joseph Adams
Night Shade Books (2012)
400 pages
ISBN 1597804339

Prior to hearing about this anthology, it never really occurred to me just how much I enjoy stories set in alternate worlds. The Wizard of Oz, Stephen King's The Dark Tower, Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials--heck, even Quantum Leap back when I was a kid. It makes sense considering there is already an other-worldliness to the fantasy and science-fiction genres. So with a premise like that, I had to wonder what kinds of worlds would be presented in this anthology.

Things started off on the Moon of all places with Stephen Baxter's "Moon Six." The whole concept of multiple universes converging on a site on the Moon's surface was really intriguing, particularly through the main character's ordeal of being stranded in a universe that was not his own, but the fragmented manner in which the story was told, jumping back and forth in time, just made it too much of a chore to really enjoy.

A highlight from the anthology came a little later from Seanan McGuire's "Crystal Halloway & the Forgotten Passage." It felt like a coming-of-age tale for a teen girl who still regularly visits the fantasy land she discovered at the back of her closet as a little girl. Just a really good story that plucked every heartstring my inner child has.

Where Seanan's story tackled the story of a girl disappearing into a different world, Carrie Vaughn's "Of Swords and Horses" dealt with the parents that are left behind when the child is gone. This one had a nice is-she-or-isn't-she-gone mystery, as the mother tries to come to terms with her fantasy-obsessed daughter vanishing. Everyone else naturally assumes she was abducted, but the mother is sure there is something more it. A tragic bit of storytelling that stood out in this anthology.

All in all, the anthology was about half-and-half with me when it comes to the number of stories I enjoyed. I was surprised by how often I skipped over stories that just didn't hook me or interest me at all, and by extremely accomplished authors to boot. It's the roll of the dice when it comes to anthologies, as it's a mixed bag and not everything is going to resonate. There's definitely a wide variety of stories, between fantasy and sci-fi, and between adventure-oriented and character-oriented. For me, however, it didn't wow me as much as I'd hoped, and many of the worlds showcased are worlds I'm not in any hurry to revisit.

September 21, 2012

Rabid Reads: "Seven Stories" by Brian James Freeman

Seven Stories
by Brian James Freeman

Seven Stories is a collection of just that: seven stories. All previously published, Brian James Freeman and Cemetery Dance offer up this relatively modest collection, and given how much I enjoyed his novella, The Painted Darkness, I didn't hesitate adding this to my Kindle.

While a couple of the stories are truly horrific on a visceral level, the majority of this collection follows a quieter path in scaring the reader. "Walking with the Ghosts of Pier 13" is a strong example of the latter, as a man wanders a boardwalk amusement park in the wake of terrorist attacks across the country that have devastated the nation's psyche and targeted amusement parks specifically. It's more of a look at the aftermath than the act itself, but all the more disturbing because of it.

Stories like "Running Rain" and "The Punishment Room" offer some unsettling twists on familiar ideas, serial killers with the former and torture and justice with the latter. Both were two stand-outs among seven very strong offerings. If there's a runt in the litter, it might be "What They Left Behind," which I thought had a great creature feature vibe as a couple office workers explore the dessicated warehouse of where they work. Good, but forgettable compared to my favorite of the bunch, "Where Sunlight Sleeps." That story, which tugs the ol' heartstrings with a tale of a father taking his son on their weekly tour of his dead wife's mundane travels, at the behest of a grief counselor to help the son cope with her death. Really touching and really disquieting as it goes along.

This collection is relatively small compared to the more conventional books you see on shelves, but as an e-book it's a very convenient size for curious readers that would like to take Freeman's writing for a test drive. If Freeman has more stories waiting in the wings, I eagerly await the chance to read them.

September 19, 2012

Where Pirates Sail: a guest post by Alex Bledsoe

I read my first Alex Bledsoe novel last year with TheHum and the Shiver, which I thought was just great. When checking out what else he'd written, I gravitated more towards the vampire novels (Blood Groove) than his Eddie LaCrosse novels. That is, until I saw what Alex had planned with the fourth installment. Now I'm thinking I need to put this series on my watch list too.

Aspart of Alex's blog tour, promoting Wake of the Bloody Angel, he was generous enough to write a little bit about some of the research that went into the novel. Enjoy.

Where Pirates Sail
Sources for “Wake of the Bloody Angel”
by Alex Bledsoe

When I decided pirates were going to be the main topic of my fourth Eddie LaCrosse novel, Wake of the Bloody Angel, I began researching real-life buccaneers in addition to watching and re-watching as many pirate movies as I could find. I wanted my book to have the feel both of those films, and of real-life pirates. That sort of thing is found in the details of real pirate life, and in the sprawling action scenes surrounding Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power.

I couldn't simply turn Eddie into a pirate, though. I'd done three prior novels that established his character and career. Still, I needed to get him to sea quickly, and in the company of the sort of people I loved seeing in pirate movies. So I came up with Jane Argo, another sword jockey who was previously both a pirate hunter and a pirate herself. The ship on which they spent most of their time is captained by Dylan Clift, a man who physically resembles both Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks, but is a lot more complicated. There's also a supporting cast that I hope has the same sense of community and camaraderie found in such classics as The Sea Hawk and Captain Horatio Hornblower.

But since I was also writing a fantasy novel, in a universe in which I'd already established the paranormal (discreetly, to be sure, but undeniably), I had to include things that had no historical basis. And that was where it got interesting, because although there are plenty of paranormal tales about real-life pirates (Blackbeard's headless body supposedly swam around his ship seven times after he was decapitated), they aren't part of classic pirate fiction. At least, not until Tim Powers and On Stranger Tides.

This 1987 novel was so seminal that Disney used it as the basis for its fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie (after years of people saying the whole PotC series had been ripped off from Powers in the first place, a claim that does seem to have some basis when you read the book). It was the first, or at least certainly the most popular, pirate novel that brought in real supernatural themes and ideas. And with the ongoing success of the Pirates of the Caribbean films, the connection between pirates and the supernatural is now fixed.

So the trope of the supernatural pirate adventure is a relatively recent one, but one whose success demands you take note of it. Not everyone does: Michael Crichton's posthumous 2009 novel, Pirate Latitudes, includes nothing supernatural. Peter Benchley's dire 1979 novel, The Island, tries to bring classical pirates into the twentieth century, with rather disgusting results. But most writers, myself included, now see the supernatural as, if you'll forgive the wordplay, part of the pirates' natural world. And how does the supernatural manifest in my book? You'll have to read it to see.

The last classic element I wanted to bring in was the idea of the sea monster. When I told him the story of the novel I was writing, my seven-year-old son insisted I needed a monster, and he was absolutely right. That, too, has never been specifically linked with pirates, but in the broader sense of sea-based fiction, it's been around since Homer, and reached its apotheosis with Jules Verne and Herman Melville.

So Wake of the Bloody Angel, like the previous Eddie LaCrosse novels, takes a particular trope, adjusts it to fit into Eddie's world, and then runs with it. This allows me, as the writer, to both tell an original story and at the same time include everything about the particular trope that I think is cool. Ideally, if I've done my job correctly, you'll get it both ways: as knowing shout-out and self-contained narrative. Readers don't have to know pirate lit to enjoy this book, but if they do, they'll hopefully get a giggle from some bits. If not, they'll (also hopefully) get a swashbuckling mystery that keeps them turning pages until the final reveal.

September 18, 2012

Those Bloody Canadians: an interview with Michael Kelly

After reading the Canadian anthology, Chilling Tales, I had the chance to ask its editor, Michael Kelly a few questions about writing, horror, and Canada. Enjoy.

Gef: What, if anything, do you feel sets Canadian horror apart from horror in other countries?

Michael: Well, in my introduction to Chilling Tales (an all-Canadian anthology) I posited an argument that there’s a certain ‘disquieting solitude’ pervading Canadian fiction, especially horror fiction. Perhaps it’s a combination of our ties to the British monarchy and this vast, barren land of ice and wheat we inhabit. On the surface, Canadian horror fiction, of course, is a variant of the American and British strains. But there’s an ontological approach that many Canadian writers, even ones writing ‘urban’ fiction, follow. A subtle distinction, I believe, that sets Canadian horror apart.

Gef: For a casual reader, Canadian literature might be associated more with Muskoka chairs and melancholy. Do Canadian horror and dark fantasy authors have their work cut out for them in getting their voices heard?

Michael: Writers of all stripes have their work cut out for them in this regard. Do Canadian writers have it harder? No, I don’t particularly think so. Good writing will always be heard. And Canada has some of the best. There’s been a bit of a renaissance recently in relation to the Canadian horror scene. That’s because we have a number of Canadians, from all across the country, writing at the top of their game. And since I’m closely connected to the Toronto scene, I can tell you that it’s an exciting and creative time. I’ve seen this building for a number of years now, though, so it doesn’t surprise me. Also, publishers like ChiZine, and anthologies like Chilling Tales and Tesseracts are showing that Canadian speculative writing is as good as any.

Gef: How did it come about that you not only helmed the Chilling Tales anthology, but also its follow-up?

Michael: I was a big fan of the Northern Frights anthologies that Don Hutchison edited in the mid-nineties.

It was my strong belief that we needed something akin to that again. So, I approached Brain Hades at EDGE, which was Canada’s most well-known genre publisher at that time, and pitched him the idea of a new “Northern Frights.” I didn’t say I wanted to edit the volume, just that I thought someone should do it. Having seen the success of the Toronto horror community, I knew it was a viable project, that there was enough quality material. Brian said sure, but only if I edited it.

So, I was happy to do so. Volume 1, in my estimation, was a success. Two of the stories ("Looker" by David Nickle, and "Stay" by Leah Bobet) were reprinted in The Best Horror of the Year, Volume 4, edited by Ellen Datlow, and eleven others received Honourable Mention. Volume 2 will be out in March 2013, with another cracking line-up.

Gef: Not only do you edit, but you also co-wrote my favorite novel of 2009, Ouroboros. How much of a gear shift is there from working as an author to working as an editor?

Michael: Thanks for the kind words, Gef. Really gratifying to hear you liked the novel. To me, the transition from author to editor is a difficult one. They are two very different beasts, with different skill sets.

Writing, to me, is intuitive and organic, while editing suggests a more critical approach. Perhaps it’s just the way I’m wired, but I can only seem to work at one of the tasks, author or editor, at a given time.

If I’m writing, I have to finish that project before I can switch to the editor’s hat, and vice versa.

Gef: When it comes to short fiction, who are some of your favorite authors?

Michael: Robert Aickman, Charles Beaumont, Ray Bradbury, Italo Calvino, Ramsey Campbell, Raymond Carver, John Collier, Harlan Ellison, Dennis Etchison, Elizabeth Hand, Glen Hirshberg, Shirley Jackson, Kathe Koja, Fritz Leiber, Thomas Ligotti, Richard Matheson, Haruki Murakami (when he writes a short), Joyce Carol Oates, Flannery O’Connor, Reggie Oliver, M. Rickert, Lisa Tuttle.

And here are some contemporary writers and friends who are doing interesting work: Nina Allen, Stephen Bacon, Nathan Ballingrud, Laird Barron, Ray Cluley, Gemma Files, Richard Gavin, Adam Golaski, Alison Littlewood, Gary McMahon, Ralph Robert Moore, David Nickle, Ian Rogers, Nicholas Royle, Lynda Rucker, Simon Strantzas, Halli Villegas.

So, as you can see, short fiction is in good hands.

Gef: How much does working on short fiction contribute to being able to write longer works?

Michael: While I think that writing short stories and novels need different approaches, they both, unlike editing and writing, are of the same skill set. Writing is writing, after all. And it’s better to write than not to write. I’m not of the mind-set that says that if you want to write novels you should start by writing short stories. That is a distinct unkindness to all the short story writers.

If you want to write novels, then write novels. If you want to write short stories, write short stories. The important part is the writing.

Gef: What other projects do you have on the go, and where can people find out more about your own work?

Michael: Well, as mentioned, Chilling Tales 2 will be out Spring 2013. I have short stories appearing this Fall in Tesseracts 16, A Season in Carcosa, The Grimscribe’s Puppets, and Supernatural Tales. Also this Fall I’ll be attending the World Fantasy Convention. Hope to see some of you there. And I edit and publish the acclaimed journal Shadows & Tall Trees. You can find out more about it here:

... and I’m also on Facebook, Google+, LiveJournal, and Goodreads. Thus far, I’ve resisted Twitter.

Thanks for having me over, Gef!

September 17, 2012

Rabid Reads: "Chilling Tales" edited by Michael Kelly

Chilling Tales: Evil Did I Dwell; Lewd Did I Live
edited by Michael Kelly
Edge Science Fiction & Fantasy Publishing (2011)
206 pages
ISBN 9781894036524

Being a Canuck and all, I should be reading more Canadian literature. Whether it be TV, movies, music, or literature, we are a nation whose voice that can be easily drowned out by our American neighbors. They do outnumber us ten to one though, so is it any wonder? I'd rather read a book based on the likelihood that I'll enjoy it, which luckily enough is what I got with Michael Kelly's anthology, Chilling Tales. Forget the fact that the contributing authors are all Canadian, this book has no borders.

The book starts off with a story that wound up being one of my favorites from the bunch, "Tom Chestnutt's Midnight Blues" by Robert J. Wiersema. A Crazy Heart kind of singer/guitarist finds himself searching his adoring fans for the perfect girl to tell his story, while suffering the eternal company of his dead wife. More tragedy than thriller, the story bleeds out the true nature of the story slowly, so by the time you hit the final page, the poetic punishment that Tom Chestnutt endures is all too clear and just.

From there the anthology dove into the weird with Richard Gavin's "King Him" and Barbara Roden's "404," the latter of which had a wonderful touch of satire. Simon Strantzas' "The Deafening Sound of Slumber" offered a really creepy look into clinical research with experiments on sleep aids, and the horrific secrets behind the apparent side effects. Nancy Kirkpatrick's "Sympathy for the Devil" was another memorable one with a drunk driver hospitalized and unwilling to accept the role he played in the death of a young man, and the fitting torment he must endure.

A couple of the stories were near misses with me, but the anthology was a real treat overall. The book also struck a balance with names both familiar and new. I've already had opportunity to read--and be impressed by--the stories of Gemma Files, Ian Rogers, and David Nickle. But the book gave me a chance to read stories from authors whose work I'm only beginning to find, like Suzanne Church and Sandra Kasturi.

You might not expect such an idyllic, quaint country like Canada to house such dark tales. We are, after all, just so damned polite up here. Canada has had its fair share of horrors, however, and we can write as chilling a tale as any country on the planet. Countries like Great Britain, Sweden, Japan, and spots in America like New England and the South have all got a kind of timbre to their horror literature. I don't think Canada has that yet. Maybe it does, and if so, I'd like to think this anthology lends to it. What this anthology does accomplish is shining a spotlight on eighteen inarguably talented writers, each with their own brand of bloody terrors.

September 14, 2012

Rabid Reads: "The Illustrated Man" by Ray Bradbury

The Illustrated Man
by Ray Bradbury
first published in 1951
186 pages

It was sad news to hear of Ray Bradbury's death a few months back, though not surprising. The man had what had to be the epitome of a prolific writing career. It was actually only a couple of days after I began reading this collection for the first time that I saw the headline of his passing plastered across the internet. So it was with some measure of dolefulness that I read one of Mr. Bradbury's most heralded collections.

The Illustrated Man features eighteen short stories, all previously published between the years of 1948 and 1951 (the year this book was originally released). The stories themselves are disparate in subject matter, all neatly fitting under the broad umbrella of speculative fiction, and introduced to the reader through the emergence of a tattooed character that the narrator meets on the side of the road. It's through each of the stranger's livid illustrations that the stories come to life and haunt the man who sees them. The Illustrated Man only actually appears at the beginning and the end of the book, the rest of the pages belong entirely to the stories.

Right off the bat, I was treated to one of my all-time favorite short stories, "The Veldt," about a husband and wife fretting over the growing obsession and sinister nature their children share with a virtual reality room in their home, and the African landscape that the room ceaselessly displays.

The thing about Bradbury is that sometimes he is subtle with his stories, hiding whatever intended meaning there might be behind a thick veneer of trippy scifi elements. Other times he is as subtle as a cinder block with political or cultural messages, like in "The Highway."

A few of my favorites from this collection include "The Fox and the Forest," not simply for my namesake, but because the idea of escaping a dystopian war-torn world of the future to hide out in the mundanity of the past is accomplished with far more entertaining results than that ill-fated TV show, Terra Nova, could have ever dreamed. "Zero Hour" was another gem with neighborhood children playing a game called Invasion that amuses the parents until they realize the game is happening everywhere with eery similarities. The growing up aspect of the story was played up incredibly well, too. And "The Rocket Man" had one of those tragic stories of family life at odds with occupation and obsession. Loved it.

Not all of the stories were a hit with me, but that's hardly the point when it comes reading Bradbury's work. There is a wellspring of wonder in this book's pages and is easily among my favorite collections now. The man had this grandiose way about storytelling that made even the most preposterous of situations feel genuine. I mean, if you can read a story about astronauts hiking across the rain-soaked Venus landscape without laughing at the absurdity of it all, the guy who wrote it has got to be good.

September 12, 2012

Some "Fading Light" Links

Fading Light: An Anthology of the Monstrous has been out for a couple weeks now, and for all intents and purposes, it looks like it's being received positively by readers. Good news for me, as I'm one of the contributing authors.

I've already posted my own--and entirely biased--thoughts on the book, and I even have an interview with our editor, Tim Marquitz, for all to read. So today I'm going to offer a small slew of links to other blogs and sites where you can learn a little more about the anthology.

There is a three-part group interview with some of us contributing authors, which can be found on Lincoln Crisler's blog: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

There's another multi-author interview that can be found on The Nocturnal Library: Part 1 and Part 2.

And yet another multi-author interview at Fantasy Book Critic: Part 1 and Part 2.

Plus, there are reviews that can be found on: The Horror Fiction Review, Fantasy Book Critic, Natasha McNeely's Guide to the Beyond.

I'm especially happy to read that a couple of the reviewers particularly enjoyed my story, "Where Coyotes Fear to Tread." I'm not used to folks reviewing my work one way or the other, so for the good reviews to be the first experience is nice. I'll just have to get ready for the criticism and/or vitriol down the road.

Oh, and if you'd care to read a guest post I did on the Fantasy Book Review blog, you can check that out too: Where Coyotes Come From

For now, I'm just happy Tim's labor of love is finding success.

Wish List Wednesday #120: Fran Friel's "Mama's Boy and Other Dark Tales"

WLW is a recurring blog segment in which I highlight a book I have on my wish list. Sometimes it's a new release, sometimes a beloved classic, and sometimes it's a hidden gem.

Apex Publications has a great track record as far as I'm concerned, so far as publishing some very good books. I've read a half-dozen or more and I haven't been disappointed yet. So when I heard that Fran Friel had a short story collection, then heard it was published by Apex, that cinched its spot on my wish list.

I've read a few of Fran's stories here and there, and there's little doubt as to why she's as accomplished as she is. The fact she has a penchant for horror literature makes it all the better. I haven't actually read one of her books before though, and I suspect I should probably start with Mama's Boy and Other Dark Tales. It's a collection of fourteen of her short stories and poems, including her Stoker Award nominated novella, Mama's Boy.

Now, I'm not a fan of poetry. I don't hate the stuff, but given the choice I'll stick with the stories. Still, I am won over from time to time, and if Fran is as good with the poetry as she is with the stories, I'm more than willing to give it a chance.

Any poetry fans out there? How do like it when authors blend poetry with fiction?

September 10, 2012

Rabid Reads: "Fading Light" edited by Tim Marquitz

Fading Light: An Anthology of the Monstrous
edited by Tim Marquitz
350 pages

Note: Since I've got an invested interested in this anthology (I'm one of the contributing authors), this is less a review than shameless self-promotion.

Fading Light, for me, offers the epitome of monsters in all their splendid forms. Oh sure, not all monsters are hulking beasts roaming the countryside like Bigfoot, but there's no question that monsters do exist. And the monsters you'll find in this anthology are not quite so benevolent like Bigfoot or the Cookie Monster. The book is full of sharp teeth and cruel intentions.

Tim Marquitz brings together thirty stories, all dealing in one way or another with darkness and the monstrous. Me, I went pretty literal with the premise in the story. The Sun goes missing and very big monsters come out to play. Other authors, like Dorian Dawes with "Angela's Garden," take a bit more subtle approach, while Gary Olsen's "Goldilocks Zone" a bit more surreal. The fact of the matter is: with thirty stories, plus a few more with the companion e-book, there is no shortage of variety in an anthology that might otherwise appear keenly focused on its theme.

To soothe my ego, I'll talk about my story for a little bit, then move on to the rest of the book. "Where Coyotes Fear to Tread" tells the story of a ne'er-do-well Tennessean named Lester who rushes to Knoxville to save his ex-girlfriend, Carla, when the world goes dark. Lester's intentions might be honorable enough when it comes to Carla, but otherwise he's a crook and a coward. And when Carla is chosen by a strange name Moon to save the day, Lester's overriding instincts for self-preservation are butted up against Carla's heroism. Oh, and there's a giant snake in it, too.

Adam Millard's "Parasitic Embrace" kicks things off with a really creepy story of a world gradually plunging into darkness after a volcanic eruption that unleashes something a wee bit worse than ash. Nick Cato's"The Equivalence Principle" was another cool one that didn't take the obvious route, instead using Nick's own agoraphobia to create an exciting approach to a character that is afraid to go outside--with a very good reason why.

One of the longest stories in the book also wound up being one of my favorites. Mark Lawrence wrote a story called "Dark Tide" that had such great pacing and escalating tension, as a family tries to survive as an oily liquid bubbles up from the earth and keeps rising higher with each ebb and tide. Gene O'Neil's "Lottery" is another good one, albeit one I'd read previously (maybe the only reprint in the anthology, but a fitting one). "Rurik's Frozen Bones" by Jake Elliott was a nice surprise with its viking adventure. William Meikle was another author who took to the adventure side of things in exploring the darkness with "Out of the Black."

Like I mentioned before, I'm biased about this book. I will say it's aimed directly at readers that are fans of monsters and things that go bump in the night. Lots to love in this book if you fall into either of those categories. If not, well, why are you reading this--or visiting my blog for that matter?

Monstrous Ambition: an interview with Tim Marquitz

Since I'm dedicating this week to the Fading Light anthology, of which I am a part, it seemed only right that I corner the book's editor, Tim Marquitz, and ask him a few questions about his first time behind the wheel of an anthology. Enjoy.

Gef: Thinking back on those classic monster movies, like Godzilla Vs King Kong and Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, which two monsters from Fading Light would you like to see in a showdown?

Tim: Given the word monstrous is in the title, there really is a lack of classic monster-types in the anthology, which makes this a hard question to answer. While there’s a dragon, a doppelganger, and even a zombie, I think I’d like to see a battle on a more atmospheric and surreal level. I’d choose the beings in Regan Campbell’s "Torrential" and Gary Olson’s "Goldilocks Zone." It’d be like riding out a hurricane on LSD.

Gef: How about a bit of backstory on how the idea for this anthology came to be?

Tim: As I wrote in the introduction, I’ve been taking a number of my directional cues from my friend Lincoln Crisler. He’s a marketing and promotional machine whereas I’ve been way too content to write and leave the rest to chance. He and I talked about his experiences with Corrupts Absolutely? and it got me interested in the process. And as a firm believer that authors should help one another, I wanted to see if I could create something that would help open doors for other authors.

As for the specific backstory, I’ve always loved the dark imagery of storms. There’s something epic about the way the clouds roll in, how the earth shakes under a barrage of thunder. That image combined with Lovecraftian themes and movies like Stephen King’s The Mist are a wellspring of inspiration to me. What lurks inside those clouds, inside the fog that obscures our view of the world we know? It could be anything, and that’s what I wanted to know: what would authors imagine.

Gef: What preconception about editing an anthology was quickly dashed once you began Fading Light?

Tim: Not many, actually. I expected a lot of work (and I’m grateful to Rebecca Treadway and Stacey Turner for their help) and that’s what I got. What I didn’t expect was just how many stories I would receive. I ended up with hundreds of them. I also didn’t realize how hard it would be to choose between the stories I received.

Gef: How did the slush pile work out for you? In the introduction to the companion stories, you mentioned having to pass up on stories you liked. Was the wheat-to-chaff ratio better than you expected?

Tim: It worked out well…too well, almost. I received a ton of great stories, and found I had to stick closely to my concept or I’d never be able to finish the job. While there were some stories that were easily discarded due to them being something completely removed from what I wanted, there were many more that were spot on. At a point there, I was looking for reasons to reject rather than accept. And while that sounds bad, it truly is a testament to the quality of the stories I received and the limitations of cost and space that need to be taken into account.

Gef: I can't recall seeing an anthology come out with companion stories. What prompted this, and how did you go about it?

Tim: The idea was two-fold. First, the companion stories are going to be in their own book and sold separately (for 99 cents) as a kind of primer for the anthology. This would create an affordable option for readers interested in the anthology but might have some doubts. (eBook copies of the companion book will be provided free to folks who buy the trade paperback edition.)

Second, the companion book allows me and Angelic Knight to represent and support a few more great authors than we would have been able to within the constraints of the main book. There were simply too many wonderful stories to draw the line at less. I wanted to pack Fading Light with quality, and doing the companion book allowed this without forcing us to price the book out of reach.

Gef: Name an author who you consider a go-to source for great monster stories (only half points for citing Lovecraft).

Tim: As much as I like Lovecraft’s themes, I don’t really like his storytelling. It’s an old, dry style that doesn’t work for me beyond the world and pantheon he created. That said, I much prefer a Brian Keene or William Meikle book for monsters. Both write with a simplistic brutality and charm that hits all the right nerves. There’s no pretention. I also enjoy the occasional Eric S. Brown tale. All of the above authors write to entertain and they do it without fail.

Gef: What other projects do you have in the works and on the horizon?

Tim: I’ve just started work on the third and final book in the Blood War Trilogy, and I’m shooting to have it released by November. I’ve also started another novel, which is a sword and sorcery style with assassins and zombies, but I’m not really sure where it’ll fit into my schedule. I also plan on writing book five in the Demon Squad series before the end of the year, and I’m in promotion mode for Fading Light and my Genius Book Publishing debut, Prey/Anathema, both of which come out in September. I’m also finishing up a short story for an anthology invitation I’ve received and will likely submit to another before the end of August.

Lastly, I’ve a number of projects with publishers that I’m waiting to hear back on. Once I have those responses, I’ll have a better idea as to what I’m doing and putting out in the near future.

Thanks, Tim.

Be sure to pay Tim's site a visit and get your hands on a copy of this promising anthology.

September 7, 2012

The Long and Short of it: an interview with Scott Nicholson (+ a giveaway)

As much as Scott Nicholson is known for his novels, the man also has a slew of short fiction on his mantle, so after I had a chance to read and review one of his more recent collections, Missing Pieces, I had the chance to ask Scott a few questions about short fiction and their relation to the new digital landscape. Enjoy.

Gef: Missing Pieces is a collection of stories that supposedly didn't fit in with the other collections you've published. Do you find yourself thinking of stories like that as runts of the litter or the loner kids in class, or is it just something like looking for a balance with the book that certain stories upset a little bit?

Scott: Well, it wasn’t a very calculated decision. Part of it was I trimmed a couple of the earlier collections to make them more focused, and part of it was I’d had some new stories published since I put together my first ebook collections in 2010. So there is a mix of old and new, but the difference is that the stories in Missing Pieces are a mix of fantasy and horror, whereas the earlier collections are broken up by genre. Plus I wanted to use a creepy doll’s head on the cover, so the theme created itself.
Gef: With the digital age hitting a new plateau right now, how do see its effects on short fiction, for good or ill?

Scott: I think the pricing isn’t right for individual short stories. They should be 25 cents each, or 49 cents at the most, but the major markets have a minimum price of 99 cents for any digital product. So people put out short stories for 99 cents even though a lot of indie writers sell entire novels for 99 cents. I am happy to give 10 or so stories for 99 cents to $2.99, so a collection seems like a fair way to offer them for a low price yet still worth it for me. Of course, right now digital publishing is wide open, but it’s also confusing for readers, too. A digital short story looks exactly the same as a digital set of encyclopedias.
Gef: How has the reception been towards your collected short stories as opposed to your novels with regards to digital publishing? Does it add up to a niche market or have readers gravitated to one as a result of reading the other?

Scott: It’s hard to tell. Discoverability is so different now. I don’t think many people make a calculated effort to go find all my books, or they would all sell in roughly the same numbers. Instead, I think people come across them in different ways and go, “Hmm, I’ll try that one” or “I don’t have that one yet.” And because I have written in so many different genres, I can’t even promise that if you like one you will like them all.
Gef: How much of a gear shift is there for you when you're writing a short story instead of a novel?

Scott: Basically it’s the difference between a sprint and a marathon. I usually write stories in one or two sittings, riding one idea and one emotion with intense focus. Novels require some weaving and character-building and usually reflect a phase of your life, where your head is at when you’re writing them. Novels need multiple ideas to sustain them.
Gef: When you put together a collection, do you have a particular game plan in mind before hand, or do you simply look for some stories that might fit well together?

Scott: Aside from Missing Pieces, the other eight were built from existing inventory, so it was pretty easy to divide them into genres, such as science fiction, fantasy, supernatural, mystery, and psychological horror. I even have a literary collection, These Things Happened, which contains some realism, biographical essays, and poetry. I guess I’ve really piled it up over the years.

Gef: Have there been any authors over the years that have had a greater influence on your short stories than your novels?

Scott: Ray Bradbury, certainly. I always wanted to write that well, with such graceful, musical adjectives. I guess Kurt Vonnegut was an influence, too, but remember, when I was cutting my teeth, most markets wanted 3,000-word stories, unless you were Stephen King. I got to where I could finish a story within 100 words of 3,000 without ever checking the word count function. Some of my science fiction stories run longer, but usually if you went over 8,000 words, it was almost impossible to find a magazine market for it. Of course, magazines are virtually extinct and size no longer matters. How quickly and dramatically everything has changed during my short career.

Gef: What's next on your plate in terms of your short stories and novellas?

Scott: I’m writing a short story for the wonderful Jeani Rector of Horror Zine, and I may have one or two other commitments. After piling up hundreds of rejection slips, I have a hard time turning down any editor who asks me to write a story, although I rarely start one on my own. Commercially, it is better to write novels, and after writing nearly 100 stories, I don’t know if they can serve as warm-up acts for me anymore, since they are a great vehicle for writers experimenting and finding their voices. Maybe 15 years in, I am who I am. But if the right idea starts bugging me…never say never.

A big thanks to Scott to taking the time to answer a few questions, as well as offering up a free e-book to a few lucky winners. If you want to get your hands on a copy, all you have to do is leave a comment between now and September 14th. That simple. Just be sure to leave an e-mail address (youremail at whatever dot com) so I can contact you afterwards.