Women in Horror Month

Women in Horror Month is a time of celebration…though we’re here for the rest of year too!

I’ve popped on to let you all know that I’m the editor for The Horror Writers Association‘s month long special. For each day of the month I’ll be posting contributions from various names who haunt our bookshelves (& our hearts!), all focusing on the importance of our Dark Ladies in this fantastical genre.

So pop by each day to see who’s appearing, there’s some great pieces in already with room for more…just email Rocky Wood over at the HWA or drop me a note & I’ll see what we can do.

Fear the Reaper Special- Reposting in Memory of Lawrence Santoro

It’s my pleasure to present this week’s feature special…‘Fear the Reaper’. This is a superb collection brought together by the owner & editor of Crystal Lake, Joe Mynhardt. With a whole host of contributions from writers across the range of the horror genre, any reader is bound to find something to satisfy & chill the blood. Opened with an introduction penned by the one & only Gary McMahon we are reminded of the concept of Memento Mori, meaning of course, “Remember that you will die”. Cheerful eh? You may be wondering ‘Why would I want to delve into such a subject?’ but there’s a lot more to this collection then meets the eye. McMahon goes on to push the meaning of the collection home;

‘One day you, me, and everyone you’ve ever known or loved or hated, will die. There’s no getting away from it. So, until then, be sure to make the best of things. Don’t waste a single second of this life and treat each day as if it might be your last. Live large, read lots, create bravely, and treasure those closest to you.Ignore the bullshit and embrace the strange. In stark contradiction to the title of this volume, don’t bother to fear the Reaper. He’ll find you in the end, however you feel about him (or her!).’

So, without further ado, I give you the viewpoints & glimpses behind the tales with a few words sent over by the editor & a few of the authors. First off is Joe Mynhardt, the editor of the collection…

Firstly, thanks to Emma for having me. I’m a big fan of the Horrifically Horrifying Horror Blog, so it’s a real honour to..

talk to you all today, especially about a book I feel so passionate about. The idea for Fear the Reaper came to some time in 2012, and yes, the title does originate from the Blue Oyster Cult song. You’ll see that most of the book titles I use come from classic rock or metal songs. Well, it’s almost a year later, and Fear the Reaper is only days away from being released (it’s actually already available from Createspace at a special $12.99 price). And what better time to release a book about death and the Grim Reaper, than Halloween. Not only is it Halloween, but it’s Halloween 2013. You notice the 13 there, right? In this collection you will read about the birth of Death and read about lots of different ways to die, places to go, ways to ‘try’ and beat death, and so on. You’ll also be introduced to some of the best horror writers I’ve had to privilege of meeting. You can follow the Crystal Lake Publishing blog to read more about the authors and what they have to say about their individual stories. Gary McMahon (if you haven’t read his work, you’re definitely missing out) wrote an amazing introduction to this collection. Not to be missed, for sure. As always, the cover art was done by none other than Ben Baldwin. This 402 page monster of a book contains 21 stories, a poem and 3 drawings by the talented Will Jacques. It’ll be available in paperback and DRM disabled Kindle. On a sad note, one of the authors passed away while this project was underway, so I’d like to take this time to thank Christopher Golden and Holly Newstein Hautala, who ensured that we’d still be able to include a Rick Hautala story. May you always live in our memories and your words, Rick. RIP. So please support this amazing book and its authors. Advertise, promote, share links and hopefully buy a copy or two when the book is launched on the 25th of October. It’ll make a great Halloween or Christmas (or birthday) gift for your friends and love ones. Here are a few links you help you on your way, and the back page info just below it: Facebook Event Createspace Pre-Order Event Goodreads Giveaway

Goodreads Crystal Lake Publishing Blog

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This is a journey into the life of Death; a journey through this world and the next on the wordsoftwenty one of the best horror writers around. Will you follow them to stare into the eyes of the Grim Reaper? Can you handle the true story of the birth of Death, or the minute details behind catching or escaping Death, becoming Death? Dying? These are not just stories but horrific experiences of pain and death: the deaths of lonely people, famous people, entire worlds, and the death of innocence and the pain of those left behind as they wait their turn, wondering what it will be like – no one is safe from the Reaper! FEAR THE REAPER includes stories by: Taylor Grant, Joe McKinney,RickHautala, Gary Fry, Ross Warren, Marty Young, Stephen Bacon, DeanMDrinkel, Richard Thomas, Sam Stone, Eric S Brown, Mark Sheldon,SteveLockley, Robert S. Wilson, Jeremy C Shipp, Jeff Strand, Lawrence Santoro, E.C. McMullen Jr., Rena Mason, John Kenny and Gary A.Braunbeck. Includes a poem by Adam Lowe.

Introduction by Gary McMahon. Artwork by Ben Baldwin and Will Jacques. Edited by Joe Mynhardt.

All the best, Joe Mynhardt

Next up is Lawrence Santoro, the brain behind Tales to Terrify…

BEFORE YOU ASK “It is well that war is so terrible–lest we grow too fond of it.” – Robert E. Lee Let’s start here: war is horror. It had been a long time since I thought about the military in a personal way, but when Joe Mynhardt put me on the
invitation list for Crystal Lake Publishing’s “Fear the Reaper” anthology—a list that contained some truly incredible writers—the years between 1966 and 1970 popped directly into the frontal lobes. “Fear the Reaper” was to be about death, the fear of death and the lengths to which some go to dodge death. The best death-avoidance story I know is W. Somerset Maugham’s monolog retelling the “Appointment in Samara” tale (see it, below). Since that tale’s already out there and damn-near perfect, I tuned in on whispers from 43 years ago. The story I wrote, “Instructions on the Use of the M-57 Clacker,” is a Vietnam-era horror tale. You want to ask, so go ahead. The answer is, no, I never went to Vietnam. I was in the U.S. Air Force, spent most of my time in England, with TDY (Temporary Duty) assignments all over Europe. Even so, death was out there. Death was a place they could send you on a whim, a moment of history turns, they cut orders and you’d be there. Like/that. Maybe because they dwelled too much on that, maybe because of other, now unknowable factors, several poor sods did themselves in within my personal perimeter. One guy hanged himself in the dayroom during basic training, another shot himself on duty, a third literally stole a plane and crashed into the Irish Sea. These were people who, like we all did, faced a possibility but not the probability of being sent… There. Samara. I enlisted in the Air Force because I had run out of deferments. I was about to be drafted. That year, being drafted meant either the Army, or for a brief time, the Marine Corps would take you. So, to the Air Force, to basic training, Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas. My TI in basic… “TI?” you say. Think “drill sergeant” but say, “Training Instructor.” My TI was Technical Sergeant Bugg (his real name). Sergeant Bugg called us his “draft dodgers” (as in, “drop ‘n gi’me fifty you draf’ dodgin’ summbitch” or “Young Airman, I will deck your draf’ dodgin’ ass!”). Yeah. Draft dodger. And lest you think Sergeant Bugg was atypical of the image the Air Force wanted to project of a well-educated, technically trained, smoothly polished enlisted cadre, let me say that in addition to being a 6 foot 4, red faced, buzz-cut, 300-pounder, a muscle-bound Texas tornado siren lifer, Bob Bugg also had a PhD in psychology. It was during that basic summer in Texas, 1966, that the guy hung himself in a closet of the barracks’ day room. Why? No idea. After basic, I was assigned to Air Police Security–the ground combat arm of the Air Force. Exactly what I dodged the draft to avoid (see, “Appointment in Samara,” below). I did advanced infantry and weapons training in mixed company with Army and Marine Corps officers and enlisted personnel at Camp Bullis, Texas. Off to England, to RAF Lakenheath. It was there, while I guarded nukes in the idyllic Suffolk countryside that the guy shot himself somewhere down the flightline. A time later, that other guy, a loadmaster on a C-130, stole his plane and tried to fly it home. Like the poor, terminally homesick guy in the day room closet in Lackland, these two found two ways of literally beating the reaper but…see “Appointment in Samara,” below. The security gig lasted six months. I’ll not say how my job situation changed but, after a side-trip to a number of military shrinks and a detail in which I helped turn a grassy section of the base into a nine-hole golf course, I cross-trained into the Office of Information–public relations. I assisted at press briefings, where I chuckled away weekly question about UFO sightings over and around RAF Lakenheath (they persist. Look it up). I also conduced base tours, wrote for the base newspaper and was a stringer for the European edition of “Stars and Stripes,” a semi-house organ of the U.S. military that’s been around since the Civil War. Eventually I auditioned for and got into the cast of “On Target,” a military acting company. How to explain that? Along with three other Air Force actor dudes and three British civilian actors, I toured Europe doing “comedic shows with an informational component” (“Save your money,” “Be nice to host-nation civilians”). Sketch comedy. Think “Saturday Night Live” but dirtier and with a P.R. angle. This was probably the best military duty available to anyone during the Vietnam War. I knew that. I have been forever grateful. About Nam. I had a lot of friends who had been there. I knew a lot of guys who were going, who couldn’t wait to get there. Each had his own reason for the urge. My editor at the base newspaper, a smart, articulate, witty little nerd named Ben Langer kept chomping at the bit to go. Why? “Because it’s our war,” Ben said, that little Ben smile, barely there, but there. “Yeah, but a shitty one.” “Yeah, but it’s the one we’ve got, you and me.” Ben was a good writer. A good friend. One day, he was gone. I don’t know if he made it to Nam but for years after I imagined that sly, bespectacled smile doing military reportage out of Da-Nang or Cam Ranh Bay or some damn place or other and tried to image what he would write about it and what he’d keep for himself for later. My favorite weapons instructor at Bullis had been an Air Force sharpshooter–there are such people–who had already done the maximum allowable combat tours. He was teaching at Bullis while in the process of separating out of the Air Force and heading to the Army which had promised to let him back into combat. The man was the most relaxed, friendly, competent dude I’d encountered in the Air Force up to that time. I also had no doubts that he was a stone killer. Much of the anecdotal material in “Instructions on the Use of the M-57 Clacker,” comes out of bull-sessions and conversations, drunken and not-so, that took place in barracks, long night-flights in On-Target’s C-47, in guard shacks, on the flight line, in the backs of trucks, or at Airmen, NCO, and Officers clubs from Lakenheath, England to Turkey and back. Much of the talk was “war stories,” which I always assume to be mainly lies wrapped ‘round a kernel of tooth-cracking truth. No, I wasn’t there but I got a picture of it. War is horror. It’s also youth, friendship, intensity, joy, release. War is horror and we always bring it home. “The Appointment in Samarra” (as retold in 1931 by W. Somerset Maugham) The speaker is Death “There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, ‘Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture, now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.’ The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, ‘Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?’ ‘That was not a threatening gesture,’ I said, ‘it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.’” In 2001 Lawrence Santoro’s novella ‘God Screamed and Screamed, Then I Ate Him’ was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award by the Horror Writers Association. In 2002, his adaptation and audio production of Gene Wolfe’s ‘The Tree Is My Hat’, was also Stoker nominated. In 2003, his Stoker-recommended “Catching” received an Honorable Mention in Ellen Datlow’s 17th Annual ‘Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror’ anthology. In 2004, ‘So Many Tiny Mouths’, was cited in that anthology’s 18th edition. In the 20th, his novella, ‘At Angels Sixteen’, from the anthology A DARK AND DEADLY VALLEY, was similarly honored. Larry’s first novel, ‘Just North of Nowhere’, was published in 2007. A collection of his short fiction, DRINK FOR THE THIRST TO COME, was published in December, 2011. Before that, Larry spent thirty years as a director, producer and actor in theater and television. Since its inaugural show in January of 2012, Larry has hosted the weekly horror podcast, Tales to Terrify’ (http://talestoterrify.com/), the sister-show to the Hugo Award-winning StarShipSofa. His Vietnam-era horror tale, ‘Instructions on the Use of the M-57 Clacker’ will be part of the Hallowe’en anthology, FEAR THE REAPER from Crystal Lake Publishing. His Lovecraftian story, “Jars,” will appear this November in CANOPIC JARS: TALES OF MUMMIES AND MUMMIFICATION from Great Old Ones Publishing. He lives in Chicago and is working on a new novel, ‘A Mississippi Traveler, or Sam Clemens Tries the Water’, as well as adding to a linked collection that spins off from his steampunk novella, ‘Lord Dickens’s Declaration’. Stop by his blog: http://blufftoninthedriftless.blogspot.com/ or listen weekly to Tales to Terrify,http://talestoterrify.com/

Next up is Richard Thomas…

I was in a competition over at LitReactor.com and our prompt was, “It is enough that the people know there was an

election. The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.”—Joseph Stalin. I knew that I had to address the voting aspect. A few years ago I took an online class with Jack Ketchum, and he told us to take more chances, to risk more, with our stories. He encouraged us to write about the stories we don’t want to write, the things we fear the most. For me it always comes back to my children. The idea of my daughter being included in a kind of lottery, a drawing, obviously scares me to death. You can certainly see the influence of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” in this story, but I honestly didn’t think of that when writing it. It’s been ten years since I’ve read that story, but the comparison exists. And while I’ve seen The Hunger Games movie, I haven’t read the book yet, and only saw the movie a few weeks ago. I really thought more of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, and Wolves of the Calla, and wanted to write something set in a similar world. The end of the story is where I wanted to twist it a bit, change up the expectations. I won’t reveal it here, but I thought about the lengths that I would go to as a father, the expectations of the community in this story, and what should be done, what decision made the most sense, regardless of the actual outcome or destiny.

Next up is author John Kenny…

The Final Room – When Characters Dictate Otherwise ‘The Final Room’ had a curious genesis in that I started off with one idea and ended up with another. For many years I’ve been fascinated by Freeman Dyson’s concept of the last possible form of life that could exist in the

universe. Using a model of the universe that just peters out, spreading across ever greater expanses, Dyson proposes a form of life that could exist in such an environment: vast non-corporeal agglomerations of data that encompass whole galaxies and feed off the feeble light of dying stars. The image this conjured in my mind has stayed with me since I first encountered the concept in an issue of Omni back in the ’80s. And I have struggled over the years to find the right story in which to explore the implications of, essentially, the end of time. My first attempt was a straightforward science fiction story called ‘Survival of the Species’ that involved a Star Trek-like away team discovering a civilisation that had, in its search for a non-corporeal immortality, accidentally triggered a process of devolution in their species, propelling them back to an amoeba-like level of existence. In their tampering they have trapped a tiny portion of one of these Dyson creatures, which has remained anchored for millennia to the alien planet, etc., etc. For various reasons, the story just didn’t work, so I brought the story back to the here and now and decided to write it as a horror piece along Lovecraftian lines. The main character would be sucked into the collective consciousness of Dyson’s creature and lose all self-awareness at the end. Again, it just didn’t work. I felt the story had to have a more personal impact on the main character and pose some kind of threat to others. And so to an early draft of ‘The Final Room’, which was called ‘The Dark’. Dyson’s creature is still in this one, but is searching for a human conduit through which it can draw in souls in a vain attempt to ease its loneliness out at the edge of time. The problem with this version of the story was that the main character, Sam, took on a life of his own that dragged the story in a different direction, which made the inclusion of Dyson’s creature feel tacked on at the end. I dropped Dyson’s creature, took the story from about halfway through, and allowed Sam to lead me to the story’s very different and inevitable conclusion. Of course, I’m back to square one with my Dyson creature. One of these days I’ll get that one right. Anyone want to co-write it with me?

Here’s Eric S Brown….

For those who don’t know, I am a huge David Drake fan. I credit Mr. Drake with teaching me how to write and it’s

true. I learned to write from reading his Hammer’s Slammers books over and over. When I was asked to write a tale for this anthology, I instantly thought of Drake’s early horror tales before he became the “King of Military SF”. My tale here pales in comparison but it was loosely inspired by Drake’s story “The Guardroom”. I hope you find it both fun and disturbing.

Here’s Robert Shane Wilson…

So, one day I was sitting around thinking about that old saying about walking out in the rain, “You’ll catch your death.” And I’m a big fan of taking phrases literally or twisting their meaning in some other way, so I visualized

someone actually “catching” a death. What I saw in my mind’s eye was a big ball of light—a spirit—falling down into a deep canyon ending in a black abyss. And I thought, what if there were people out there who were gifted with the ability to dive down there and catch your spirit and therefore “catch your death” and bring you back to life? And as soon as I wrote that first line, “I caught my first death when I was only sixteen,” the rest of the story just came to me. And of course I had no choice but to eventually take one of my characters beyond that deep black abyss itself. What is fiction if we can’t have a little fun—if we can’t explore a little with it from time to time?

Jeff Strand on his very creepy tale, ‘Stumps’….

“Stumps” was inspired by the traditional wisdom that if you’ve gone to all of the trouble of acquiring eternal life but don’t also have magical healing powers to go along with it, it’s important to take extremely good care of your body.

Our main character has committed a horrific act to gain immortality, but before he can get any real enjoyment out of his success, he’s caught and punished. For a long, long, long time. It’s really a story about the contrast of tone and subject matter. “Stumps” is a tale filled with torture, gore, and appalling characters, but it’s narrated in a rather casual manner. It’s not a big wacky joke-filled comedy like much of my work; it’s simply a story of ghastly atrocity told with a dry sense of humor. And, hey, for some demented reason, many of my books and stories involve body parts being removed, so fans of that sort of thing should note that the title does not refer to ex-trees. Jeff Strand www.jeffstrand.com

Here’s Taylor Grant with a unique viewpoint…


“Men fear death as children fear to go in the dark.” –Francis Bacon Generally speaking, death is a taboo topic in mixed company. Most of us don’t like to be reminded about our inevitable death. And when it does strike near us, we usually do our best–with the help of our friends, family and the

funeral industry–to soften and sanitize death, making it as palatable as possible. Death to fictional characters, on the other hand, is a different matter entirely. For what greater stakes are there than the death of the characters we are emotionally invested in? This is why death, or the threat of death, is at the core of much horror fiction. Death will never stop intriguing us, for death is the ultimate mystery. What makes Fear the Reaper so unique is that it explores not only the threat of death, but the many different aspects of it. What happens after death? How did death come to be? How can we avoid death? What are the consequences of cheating death? These fascinating questions and much more are explored within the pages of this new horror anthology. My story Spectres revolves around a man who returns to life after spending a decade in suspended animation. It was inspired by a question that has always intrigued me: what happens to the soul of a person who is frozen for years (clinically dead)—and then brought back to life? An interesting side note is that the surprise ending of the story (specifically the idea behind the last line) came to me when I was probably 8 years old. After these many years, I found the perfect story to use this idea—born long ago in the imagination of a young boy doing some basic math on his mother’s calculator. Originally, I had planned for Spectres to be either a screenplay or a novel. I’ve always felt the premise has the potential to be either. But when Joe Mynhardt, the editor, solicited me for a story, he inadvertently forced my hand. I knew that I might never find the time to explore a novel-length version of Spectres. Joe’s book offered the perfect opportunity to write the story and get it out into the world. Is a full-length Spectres novel or screenplay in the cards for me? Will I live long enough to expand the work into another format? I suppose only the Reaper knows for sure…

Now for the last of our author insights, here’s Mark Sheldon…

Birthing The Life of Death

When Joe Mynhardt approached me about a chance to submit a short story for Crystal Lake Publishing’s upcoming horror anthology, I naturally jumped at the opportunity. Since the theme of the anthology would be death, I spent several days thinking about death and different angles I could take on portraying it. I wanted to focus not so much on the ethereal concept of death, but on the personification of Death himself, a.k.a. The Grim Reaper.

The first idea that came to me dealt with a young woman who wakes up to find herself suddenly and unexpectedly in some sort of doctor’s office waiting room, only to discover in time that it is, in fact, Death’s waiting room, and she is left to try and discover why and how she died.

I had barely gotten into that story, however, when it became clear that it was going to turn out too long for this particular anthology, so I quickly put that idea aside for the time being and began plundering my mind for other ideas.

One of the few advantages to having a forty-five minute work commute, is that you have a lot of time to think and plot out ideas. A few days after moving on from the waiting room idea, I started thinking about the Grim Reaper, and his (or her) backstory. From those thoughts came the title The Life of Death, and the rest just more or less wrote itself.

The natural starting place for such a story was, of course, the birth of Death, and that concept led to the logical conclusion that if Death had been born, then in the time prior to that birth, there would have been no death, no dying.

As for making Death a female, there were a few motivating factors behind that. Firstly, there was the simple fact that most commonly the Grim Reaper is conceived of as being a male, and I wanted to explore the idea of reversing that stereotype. Secondly, I found it somewhat logical that Woman, being the giver of Life, would also be the taker of Life – “She that giveth shall also taketh away.” Thirdly, it is common knowledge that there is only one force on Earth that could be powerful enough to destroy a paradise of Eternal Life, and that force is the wrath of a woman scorned – and from that concept came the attempted rape of Morrey.

All in all, once the idea had grabbed hold, it only took a few days, maybe a week, to finish the first draft, and then probably another week to whittle it down so that it would fit into the length guidelines established for the anthology. I had a great deal of fun writing this story, and hope that the readers of Fear the Reaper will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed creating it.

Please join us again next week for a full review of Fear the Reaper…

Pulp with Substance: An Interview with Guy Adams, Author of “Once Upon a Time in Hell”

Guy Adams

The term “pulp” lately is something of a double-edged sword. Say it in a phrase like “the old pulps” and people get wistful, pining for the days when the pulps existed as struggling outlets of experimental genre literature. But say it in a phrase like “pulp novel” and the attitude becomes disparaging. We think of the kinds of books cranked out on a monthly basis by writers who are essentially telling the same story in every volume, books that sit within a wire rack throne by the cash register, books that, it seems, are always somehow there.

 So I feel conflicted when I describe an author as a “pulp writer.” I don’t inherently inject any judgment into the description. The phrase for me as a nostalgic intonation of awe for me. Indeed, the works of Bradbury and Lovecraft would once have been defined as “pulp writing.” And while there’s no denying that a huge portion of pulp novels are absolute garbage (I honestly don’t care if Alex Cross dies, he’s overstayed his welcome), it is also blind foolishness to believe that there is no literary value to the pulp field.

Pulp exists largely to entertain, and it serves this purpose best when it does so by exploring themes pertinent to the average reader. When they do this, pulp novels enter into an area between simple storytelling and actual literature. They become, one could say, pulp literature.

Guy Adams’ Heaven’s Gate Trilogy is a sterling example of this type of fiction. Combining beloved pulp genres – spaghetti westerns, steampunk fantasy, and supernatural horror – The Heaven’s Gate Trilogy is a searing exploration of religious and moral themes. Set within a wildly entertaining world where the terrors of Hell and the rapture of Heaven have bled into the Old West, the trilogy makes sly references to classic pulp while also delivering a unique subversion of classic reader expectations. Providing a blistering introduction to the characters and setting in The Good, the Bad and the Infernal, in Once Upon a Time in Hell Adams expands upon a truly epic plot line, exploring with fervor the world (really, worlds) in which his trilogy is set. Beyond the thrilling entertainment value, however, The Heaven’s Gate Trilogy serves as an examination of human morality, and subverts the spiritual conceits many of us take for granted.

Adams was kind enough to agree to an interview recently, and discussed his trilogy and the process in which he built its unique mythology.


The Horrifically Horrifying Horror Blog:

            So tell us something about yourself. Where do you hail from? What were you doing before you set the Heaven’s Gate Trilogy down to print? Feel free to include any fetishes or kinks you think might spice things up! I’m an open-minded guy.


For the last seven years I was setting all manner of other silly things in print, everything from the World House novels to lousy biographies about dead comedians. Since stumbling into a career as a full-time writer I’ve been lucky enough to stay busy. Once Upon a Time in Hell is my twenty sixth published book, a number I’ve just had to go and check and now feel terribly daunted by.

Before that I was an actor for about ten years. It’s hard to truly qualify how many years you’ve been an actor because you spend so much of your time not acting. If I only allowed myself to count the period when I was actually in work it would be a miserable figure, bolstered by stretches of work as a tour guide, museum curator, newsagent, kitchen worker and gigolo. That last is a lie but the list felt too dry without it.

My partner and I emigrated to Spain from the UK seven years ago. I have spent most of the time since sat in the dark making things up. Which is a terrible waste of sunny skies and palm trees but we need to eat.

No particularly fruity kinks or fetishes to report I’m afraid. Despite the fact that certain elements of Once Upon a Time in Hell might lead you to think so! I have no doubt that enthusiasts of tentacle porn might find themselves tickled pink by a certain character but I don’t eat seafood let alone sleep with it.

In some ways the books are about diversity and acceptance and there are elements of that at play all over the place in the story.

The Horrifically Horrifying Horror Blog:

            Where did the desire to write the trilogy come from? Was it borne of a love for westerns, a love for steampunk, or a desire to be as imaginative as possible?


I always desire the latter certainly and I hope I’ve succeeded.

This trilogy has been rolling around in my head for years, slowly gathering details and ideas. I had the initial idea long before I was a professional writer actually.

I do love westerns, and have always wanted to write one. Of course, being me, I’ve written one that features cowboys in Hell talking to dogs.

The Horrifically Horrifying Horror Blog:

            How did you conceive of the town of Wormwood? How much of it is drawn from mythology and how much was conceived on your own?


There was no real mythology to it, though I admit the old movie Brigadoon was an influence, as were the standing sets for the spaghetti westerns that litter parts of southern Spain. Ghost towns built to inhabit dreams.

I wrote a story about that once actually, a man visits an old spaghetti western location only to find it’s inhabited by the dreams of old gunfighters that were brought into being there.

For me, stories always begin with atmospheres not details. They come later, in order to nail down the atmospheres and images I want to play with.

The Horrifically Horrifying Horror Blog:

            The Man with No Name is a popular archetype in westerns (as well as the samurai genre, crime noir fiction, etc.), even beyond Sergio Leone’s acclaimed Dollars Trilogy. Often the character type is presented with supernatural undertones, such as in Clint Eastwood’s “High Plains Drifter.” The Old Man in your trilogy reads almost as an effort to present this character type with a much more overtly mystical aspect. Was this your intent? What did you draw from when you constructed the character?


My Man with No Name has one by the end of Once Upon a Time in Hell and things will fall in place for the reader from that point onwards. Mind you, he had one in each of the Dollars movies too, though we always forget the fact.

Certainly it was intentional on my part to evoke the archetype though. He’s powerful. The namelessness strips a character of its history. The Man with No Name is a driving force. He is like an element of weather. He is the point around which the other characters spin.

I’ve tried to make his lack of name important in the books rather than just an affectation, however much people try and ask him what he’s called they can never say the question out loud. He is nameless by supernatural means.

To say what I drew on would spoil things but I’ll admit he looks like Clint Eastwood in my head, Eastwood as he is now, old and angry, parchment stretched over a grimacing skull.

The Horrifically Horrifying Horror Blog:

            The steampunk machinery Elisabeth and Lord Forset uses is wildly inventive. Did you imagine the gadgetry before writing the trilogy, or have you invented it as you’ve gone?


I’ve invented everything as I’ve gone. I’m really not a planner. Obviously, with a trilogy, you need a rough shape, a general sense of the overall story, but I always try and leave room for invention, it’s what stimulates me as I work (and, on the days when you end up staring at the screen, it’s what terrifies me).

Sometimes the technology served the story’s needs, sometimes it was there just to be relished. Of course, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. I’m also a fan of littering things in my stories in case I later find a use for them. That happens a lot. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been staring the climax in the eye and then realised that an object or casual sentence dropped earlier is exactly what I need to tie things up.

The Horrifically Horrifying Horror Blog:

            The blind gunslinger Henry Jones is a very interesting villain, even beyond the unique abilities he’s given as a result of his deformity. I was almost inclined to sympathize with him, were it not for the character’s ruthless cruelty and viciousness.


I hope that’s something of a running theme. I have littered the book with characters that do bad things. I think westerns thrive on that. They are stories where we take the best we can get when we’re looking for heroes, in that world of dust and bullets they can be hard to find.

It’s something that will come to a head in the third book. The people who do the best things are not necessarily the best people.

The Horrifically Horrifying Horror Blog:

            How did you go about planning the threats that the characters would face during their journey to Wormwood in the first book? Is there special meaning to the threats that confront each group?


No special meaning really. The journey to Wormwood needed to be hard. The world needed to lose its grip on reality the closer they got to their destination. On one hand I wanted to take recognisable western situations and subvert them — such as the ghost town or the attacking ‘Injuns’ (or perhaps, in my case, engines). On the other I just wanted to achieve as potent, and hopefully enjoyable, a blend of fantasy and western as possible.

I like writing books that are feasts, filled with unusual set pieces and characters.

The Horrifically Horrifying Horror Blog:

            The novel makes heavy use of geographic isolation to keep Wormwood from being observed by the wider world. Is there a possibility that civilization proper will have to contend with the town’s supernatural horrors?


I wouldn’t want to spoil any surprises.


That’s what the final book is all about.

The Horrifically Horrifying Horror Blog:

Wormwood seems to exist throughout time and space. Will this play a significant role in the trilogy’s plot, or will the narrative focus chiefly on the main characters and their shared timeline?


The narrative focuses exclusively on these characters in that time period (although there is a gap of six months between the events of Once Upon a Time in Hell and the final book, For a Few Souls More). That said, I have plans for new stories, linked to this trilogy, that happen in different eras. Of course, I may never get to tell them. That’s a writer’s lot, but I certainly hope to.

In writing this trilogy I have created a world that I’d like to keep coming back to.

The Horrifically Horrifying Horror Blog:

            So if you don’t mind my asking…why is Hell so hairy? Is it because Hell’s supposed to be awful, and being that hairy itches? Cuz I could see that.


It must say something terrible about me psychologically! Honestly? I don’t know. I just went with it. The idea of a place called The Bristle popped into my head and then the shores became covered in thick hair with a bloody lake at its centre. Freud would have something to say about that for sure. Though in my head it was a mouth surrounded by a heavy beard, as if the characters were crawling across the cheek of a recumbent giant, rather than any other orifices that may spring to the reader’s mind.

The Horrifically Horrifying Horror Blog:

            In “Once Upon a Time in Hell,” not everyone who exists in Hell is suffering. In point of fact, many seem to enjoy their life there. There even seems to be something of a system of justice in place, though maybe not one that we would altogether agree with. If Hell can be so relatively orderly and multilayered, is it possible that Heaven will prove to be equally terrifying within your series?


Heaven is the worst place of all isn’t it? Though to say why I think so would blow one of the surprises of the book.

This plays into one of your earlier questions about the expectations of heroes and villains. The whole trilogy subverts that frequently. Which is not to say Hell is a paradise, naturally not, but it’s certainly not the place you might expect it to be.

The Horrifically Horrifying Horror Blog:

            The Heaven’s Gate Trilogy seems, to some degree, to be exploring the issue of personal responsibility, particularly responsibility that comes with power. Characters in “Once Upon a Time in Hell” even make a point of stating that omnipotence only works when one bothers to apply it. Does this reflect any personal views you have, religiously or otherwise?


I’m exploring a number of things in these books, and yes, that includes my religious views (if that term can even be applied, I’m an atheist).

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say I’m exploring human nature. The suffering suffer in Hell because they think they deserve it. Nobody is forcing that state of mind on them. The dead arrive there and immediately begin pulling on their hair shirts. They want to be punished, to be purged of the sins they believe they’ve committed.

We’re all our own God and Devil, we empower or restrict ourselves every single day. What do we need deities for? We’ve taken the job on ourselves. Perhaps we always had.

As for omnipotence, what’s the point of it? Can you imagine the misery of knowing everything? Best just to dip in and out as the situation requires I’d say.

The Horrifically Horrifying Horror Blog:

            Any possibility that the mythologies of other religions will play a role in the trilogy, even a small one?


There will be a few small nods to them in the final book but for the most part no. I have enough on my plate dealing with one mythology, let alone several.

The Horrifically Horrifying Horror Blog:

            “Once Upon a Time in Hell” hints at a formerly close bond between Lucifer and God. Can we expect this bond to be somewhat different than the traditional “former golden child” narrative most of us are fed in Sunday school?


It is slightly different yes, though not a vitally important part of the narrative. Lucifer is not a man inclined to live in the past. He has his eyes set in the future.

The Horrifically Horrifying Horror Blog:

            Have you ever given any thought to designing rides at theme parks? Seriously, I can see that bladed paddleboat idea taking off around Halloween, provided you could get enough volunteers to, um…stock the lake. Also, bits of Heaven struck me as downright technological, in a futuristic sense. What I’m getting at is: will we be seeing more of the general topography of Heaven and Hell with Book Three?


Well, the topography of it is going to change rather dramatically so… yes and no!

There was a definite temptation in Once Upon a Time in Hell to drag my heels and linger in Hell so as to really get a feel for the place but that wouldn’t have fitted with the pacing of the overall story so I settled for exploring a couple of places well and then moving on.

If I do get to return to this world I’ve created though, there will always be fresh landscapes to explore, new people to meet.

The Horrifically Horrifying Horror Blog:

Are there any alternative western or steampunk books and movies you would recommend to others?


I would suggest everyone tries to watch Grim Prairie Tales, but I know few will manage to do so as it’s notoriously hard to get hold of. (I’ve just checked and this is a lie, the whole damn thing is on YouTube! Not the way to watch a movie, frankly but if no official method is available I see no harm in mentioning it.) It’s a portmanteau movie, a collection of western horror tales that I’ve always loved. James Earl Jones tells Brad Dourif ghost stories over a campfire. It’s a flawed movie but, at its best, wonderful fun.

The Horrifically Horrifying Horror Blog:

            So what are you reading in between writing sessions?


At the moment I’m mainly reading comics (last year I started writing them too and, while I’ve always read a lot I’ve been immersing myself in them more than ever). I’m also reading a lot of non-fiction, mainly about film because I’m a wee bit obsessed. I’m slowly working my way through Jonathan Rigby’s American Gothic and Tim Lucas’ All the Colours of the Dark, and watching the films discussed (which is why they’re taking me so long).


The Horrifically Horrifying Horror Blog:

            What are your plans once you wrap the Heaven’s Gate trilogy? Are there other creative projects you’re working on alongside your writing?


I’ve been working on three novel series all at the same time so I keep flitting between them. As well as Heaven’s Gate I’ve been writing the Deadbeat series for Titan and The Clown Service for Del Rey UK so that’s kept me busy for some time. Once they’re done it’ll be on to pastures new, who knows what they’ll be? I have a number of ideas (I always do) and I hope 2014 will bring more comics writing as well as a book on movies I’m hoping to co-author with John L. Probert.

The Horrifically Horrifying Horror Blog:

            Well Mr. Adams, I want you to know I certainly appreciate you obliging me with your time. I’ve very much enjoyed your series so far, but fair warning: if Book Three doesn’t rock my socks off as much as Books One and Two have, I’ll hunt you down and sic my dogs on you (after I’ve acquired an appropriate number of dogs, that is).


            I’ll lend you mine, he’s a backstabbing son of a bitch.

The Magic Elves Who Make Our Shoes

Good evening all.

Today I am mostly going to be talking about that thing which is something of a Marmite when it comes to authors; the Editor. Cue dramatic music. Some love them, some hate them. Personally I’ve never understood the latter.

This is the process: as a writer, you create a story. A world, a universe, a bunch of characters within it. Your own rules and laws, your own laws of physics maybe, your own conditions for how these guys know each other, who loves who, who hates who, who’s related to who, and so on and so on. All this comes from your head, it’s a wonderful gift. And for some of us, it’s not enough to just leave all this in our heads. We want to write it down. We want to share it with people. So we do. We put those images and voices in our heads down into words and sentences and paragraphs…..often with quite a few typos, or maybe that’s just me…..and literally ‘put it down on paper’. This is basically like creating a door to the world we created, and getting ready for people to step through it.

But why do we do that? Why create that door at all? Well, simply put, because we want people to enjoy our world. We want our characters to make them laugh, to make them cry, to get them excited, to put them on edge. To keep them up nights when they just can’t wait until tomorrow to find out what happens next. Yes there will always be those writers that are in it for the money, and will write any old toss they are told because they know it’s going to sell. But I’m not talking about them. The Fallen Ones. I’m talking about real writers. The story-tellers, who do it whether they make money or not. Because satisfaction comes not from the dollar or the pound, but from the look on someone’s face when they say “how long do I have to wait for book 2???”. Me personally, I physically couldn’t write about anything other than the characters in my head. Yeah, I could make more money by writing some trashy romantic teen vampire fiction or a sleazy Fifty Shades knockoff, but I just can’t make myself do it. I have my worlds in my head, and as far as writing goes, it’s them or nothing. That’s the story I want to tell, those are the characters I want the world to meet. Maybe they’ll be financially rewarding, maybe they won’t. Obviously I hope it’s the former, I’m only human and I still have to eat and pay a mortgage, but it’s not the PURPOSE of the characters or the world I created them in.

So where do Editors come into this? Well, they’re the people who help refine your characters and your world into the perfect version of them. Imagine you’ve just built a house. You came up with the design, the size, the shape, the location. But to finish it off, to you need that person who’s going to walk in and say “those walls would look much better in red”, or “a hard wood floor would work better in here than carpet”. It’s still the house YOU designed, it’s still your project, but someone else is helping you put the finishing touches on it. Because you can’t do it all yourself. Because there is such a thing as ‘being too close to see the flaws’. Because getting help isn’t a dirty thing, contrary to some Right-leaning Western beliefs. Your Editor is that person who comes in and tweaks the colours a bit, suggests where you put some or your ornaments, and puts that last coat of gloss over everything. They turn it from a nice house into a bloody beautiful house. It’s a joint venture. Yeah, the lion’s share comes from you, but without them, you’d be left with a shoddy house that seems unfinished. Still in need of some work. Sure, people can see ‘what you were aiming for’, and might even like the house. But not as much as when the Editor has been in and done their bit. That turns it from ‘pretty good’ to ‘fantastic.’ They work WITH you, not AGAINST you.

To accept that, we writers have to put aside a certain bit of pride. To appreciate that we’re not always right the first time, and that maybe…..just maybe…..someone else might know better in some cases. If we get the Hell over ourselves and believe this, and remind ourselves that editors are their for OUR benefit, to help refine the World we created and turn a decent book into the best possible version of itself, then we can see them for the wonderful thing that they are. Not our enemy, not someone forcing their vision onto our work, but someone helping turn our planted seed into a mighty oak tree. They’re not trying to make it their own tree; they know whose tree it is. They just want to help you grow it, so everyone can enjoy its fruit. And that metaphor is annoying ME now, so I apologise to the rest of you for sounding like some dodgy motivational speaker for a moment.

Obviously there is a line with all this. We’ve all heard horror stories (and not the kind we like) about a writer’s work being bastardised and corrupted by TV Network bosses, turning it into something so far removed from their original vision that it barely resembles their original seed. That’s something different. Your Editor shouldn’t be telling you to kill of a main character because they don’t like them, to completely change the flow of the story or anything like that. That would be like saying “I know you planted an Oak Tree, but I’d personally prefer a Peach Tree”. That’s an abuse of power, that’s taking things too far, and that’s not what they exist for. Done right, though, an Editor might well be the best thing that ever happens to your book. You get over the initial grumbling when someone reads your book and gives you a list of things to change, and then when you take a step back, you think “actually, that IS better now that character is introduced earlier……..”, or “yeah, that chapter does have more impact if I put it there rather than here…..” You see what they’re looking at, you see the World you created through the eyes of someone other than yourself, and it makes you smile. Because it actually does look better now.

I’m not speaking about this all just ‘in principle’. It’s going on right now, which is why it came to mind. My book is being edited by this website’s own Emma, who is a consummate professional Editor but also a good friend of mine. I was even fortunate enough to contribute a story to the book that was published as a birthday gift for her. Anyone who knows her, though, will confirm that the fact she’s a friend doesn’t impact how she goes about her Editing role. If she thinks something is crap then she’ll tell me, she doesn’t mince words when it comes to doing a job right. And boy, does she do it right. She’s a fierce editor, and she’s already pointed stuff out that needs changing in my book that I wouldn’t even have thought of. My immediate reaction is always to feel a little hurt that my work isn’t perfect…….which I maintain is human when you’ve worked so long and hard at it…..but that soon passes, I read her points again, then think; “she’s right, that really does need looking at.” Then I go away, change what needs changing, and read the bit again, and find that it genuinely is better. Which is what I want. Because I am planning on this book being released pretty soon, and what I want to put out there is the best damn version of it that I possibly can. And that is not something I can do on my own. I need that person to spot the flaws, to polish the sideboards, to recommend a colour scheme when all I see is black, and to make sure that the house looks perfect before we start letting people in. Because anyone who’s going to spend money on a book I’ve written deserves nothing less, quite frankly, than the best I can give them. If you’re going to part with cash to get enjoyment from something I’ve created, then the only way I can feel comfortable with that is by knowing that you are gonna get your money’s worth. And for that I need my Editor.

So contrary to what some overly-proud writers tend to think about such things, I’m going to state this boldly and even risk sounding a little corny:

She’s not the enemy. She’s not a dampener on my creativity. She’s a friend. She’s a helper. She’s Alfred to my Batman. She’s the reason people will be passionate about this book instead of just luke warm. She’s my Editor. And we all need one, whether we easily admit it or not.


Damn Kids, Always Subtexting

Or does it?

Recently, I read Frankenstein and Philosophy: The Shocking Truth, edited by Nicolas Michaud, part of Open Court Publishing’s Popular Culture and Philosophy series.

And the truth is: “Frankenstein” is the name of the scientist, not the monster. SHOCKING!

As a former philosophy major, and a current lover of pop culture, I’m a big fan of this series. Generally, the essays in each book do one of three things: They either 1) use the pop culture subject to explain philosophical ideas, 2) use philosophical ideas to analyze the pop culture subject, or 3) discuss the philosophy of the subject. It’s the third one (sorta) that brings me here today.

There are 27 essays in Frankenstein and Philosophy, and, it seemed to me, each one had a different interpretation of what Frankenstein had to say. Now, while I would agree that Mary Shelley’s novel has some subtext, I find it difficult to believe that there are 27 different messages in the story. Art is a mirror, of course. 27 different philosophers, from 27 different schools of thought, each see their beliefs reflected in Shelley’s text.

I’m of the belief that the artist’s intent is more important than the audience’s interpretation. The reader is freer to believe what they want, but that doesn’t make it right.

(Side note: I have a friend who told me that she has never read a horror novel that she didn’t find funny. “They’re unrealistic and ridiculous.” She couldn’t understand why I thought the authors of those novels might find her attitude to be insulting. Am I wrong? But, I digress…)

If an author says that his vampire novel is about the degradation of small town values, who am I to say “No. It’s about the 1% destroying the lower class.”?

I read to be entertained. If I happen to glean a bit of subtext along the way, that’s fine. But that’s not what i’m there for; that’s just gravy. (By the way, the message I get from Frankenstein is “Don’t be a shallow, self-centered douchebag, who doesn’t take responsibility for his actions.”) As a writer, I write to be entertaining. I can’t say that I have ever purposefully written anything deeper than a puddle. Perhaps my subtext is subconscious.

If I may, here are a couple of anecdotes; one from the perspective of a reader, and one as a writer:

In freshman english class, we read the short story “Thus I Refute Beelzy” by John Collier. It’s a great little story (Google it. Read it. Enjoy it.) that caused a 30 minute argument between my teacher and myself. My teacher insisted that the story was an allegory, and that the events at the end did not really happen. On the other hand, I argued that it was a straight forward horror story, and that everything happened exactly as described. I was 14 at the time, and wouldn’t have known subtext if it hit me in the face with a fish, but, still…

(Side note #2: For the past 30 years, I thought the title of the story was “Mr. Beelze,” and only learned the actual title when I Googled the story, to find out the name of the author. The Google search also resulted in a long list of articles analyzing the story. The search for subtext rears it’s head again.)

A few years later, I wrote a short story titled “Scratch.” After reading it, a friend of mine mentioned that she liked the title because it not only referenced the scratching in the story, but because it was also another name for The Devil.


“You’re so clever,” she said. Uhm…no. Scratching at the window was what the story was all about, and I suck at coming up with titles, so…

(Side note #3: The best story title I have ever had, “Children of the Corn Festival” is not only an obvious rip-off, but it wasn’t even my idea.)

I guess that all of this rambling is leading up to some questions.

As a reader, are you looking for something more than “character X fights monster Y?”

Do you like to dig around to find out what the author is really trying to say?

(For me, it depends on my mood. Sometimes I want something mindless, other times I want something a little challenging.)

As a writer, how important is subtext?

Do you always have something to say, or do you sometimes (always?) want to simply entertain your audience?

Am I talking out of my ass?

(Side note #4: I have often said that I would love to be the Kurt Vonnegut of horror, so that I could go on a tour of colleges, and, when a student asked something like “Does the monster represent the economy, trying to undermine the small business man?” I could reply with “The monster represents a monster. It kills people. Sit down and shut up.” or “Do the blue walls represent the protagonist’s depression?” I could say “When I was describing the room, I looked up, and someone on TV was wearing a blue sweater. Sit down and shut up.” Yeah. I’m kind of a dick.)

So, Frankenstein is about the consequences of man playing god, and “Scratch” is about something scratching at the window.

Sometimes, a tentacle monster is just a tentacle monster. Unless you’re watching Hentai.

Warning to Those Who Abuse the Horror Community

There are many sharks in this big old sea of the horror genre. They may be authors, bloggers, would-be authors, ‘publishers’…but today, I am going to concentrate on one in particular.

This ‘man’ likes to send others in the community, especially the female professionals, abusive & threatening emails, post articles on his many blogs & just about every social platform going. I have received numerous threats from him, but this does not mean that I fear him. This guy is called Nikolaus Pacione- or Little Nicky- as we all know & fail to fall for his pathetic & somewhat dubious attempts at intimidation.

He is also widely know for his many scams involving other authors, stealing & printing the work of others in his ‘gazettes’, slamming various members of the horror community from Brian Keene to Ramsey Campbell on his blogs & ‘throwing gauntlets’ that make no sense to any living thing above the amoeba level of evolution.

Today, on the first day of WiHM, he decided to start posting abusive & frankly quite inadequate attempts of insults surrounding myself. Even on Twitter I found this.

THIS is just one of them.

Emma, if you’re vowing to screw me over — go drink a pint of cyanide laced vodka and leave me the fuck alone you leftist bitch.

Emma, when I got that story for Issue 12 he had been more than cool to me so when you bastards are making these accusations of me — it’s disgusting because it is saying it of someone I greatly respect as an author and as a human being. You bastards like The Rusty Nail if you’re going to be glass bottom boats, go to video and say it you cowards
Emma, kindly fuck off

If someone was a con artist would one be trying to get the publication in the hands of their high profile friends, Brian Keene takes a shit on your face on every whim. I am not a fucking con artist you glass bottom boat. I am not going to approve your comments if you’re going around acting like a prolapsed rectum. Keene, just because I refuse to kiss your puckerhole, that doesn’t give you the reason to try to make an attempt to end someone’s publishing career because that makes you look like a cocksucker in my eyes. You’re a billy no-mates.

Hiding behind formality doing to it too and makes me sick. You call me out of name as in calling me “Nicky” I am not going to approve your comment you fucking cubicle snob.

I think you get the idea! This came after I commented on Brian Keene’s post about a stolen story, where Nicky had taken the work of an author- using copy & paste of all things!- & then proceeded to print it in his 12th pile of trash.

Please note: I have had to warn Mr Pacione that if he refused to stop sending abusive & threatening emails to me at my personal contact email accounts that I would get myself a lawyer. He continued.

This is were the buck stops…please share.

Tiny Windows Interview – James Everington.

“Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner.” – Neil Gaiman.

In this new segment I hope to explore the short form in genre fiction. Everything form anthology reviews to author interviews right down to portmanteau films and TV shows. If it’s short and genre you’ll find it in Tiny Windows

I’m really happy to have James Everington along for the inaugural Tiny Windows interview. James excels in short fiction and he’s a writer headed for big things.

Tony Cowin- Hi James. First I’d like to talk about the benefits of the short form. All the work I’ve read by you has been in short form, whether short stories or your novella The Shelter. Do you think these avenues are a way to experiment and to find your voice before writing a novel?

James Everington- I’m not sure about that. I really dislike the attitude that writing short stories is in some way a training ground before you become a ‘real writer’ and write a novel. Short stories are an art form in their own right, and I write them because I love them, not because I’ve still got the stabilizers on my bike. Whilst I want to write novels in the future, I can’t ever see a point where all I’d want to write are novels.

That said, for a new writer starting off with short stories is obviously an easier way in, because if you’re going to mess up you do it earlier, and messing up is how you learn.

TC- If the novel is a telescope pointed at the universe, is the short story a microscope focused on just one person?

JE- Broadly speaking I’d go along with that. Some short stories are like you’re just glimpsing part of a character’s life, from outside, and there’s something voyeuristic about that. And sometimes, the microscope has a mind-reading button too, and you’re right there in the character’s thoughts.

It’s one of the reasons why every detail in a short story needs to work overtime, to advance the plot or create atmosphere and show how your character views the world. I often think it’s like that thing where you get a new car, and suddenly see that model of car everywhere. Nothing’s changed really, but the way you filter reality has. The details in a good short story should show, implicitly or explicitly, how your character is filtering their reality. Hopefully, they’ll be doing so based on something much more exciting, horrific, or fundamental than an automobile purchase…

TC- There’s an ongoing discussion around internet forums suggesting horror is suited to short stories more than other genres. Personally I’m not sure that’s necessarily true, but I do believe the restraints of short fiction heighten the unravelling fear. Do you enjoy the limitation of the short story in both writing and reading horror?

JE- Again, I’m not really sure if I’d phrase it in those terms – I don’t see the shortness of a short story as a “limitation”, especially. I tend to see horror fiction in terms of atmosphere, a rising atmosphere of dread and insecurity. And it’s very hard to do that for the length of a novel, without it either becoming tedious or having some temporary relaxation of that tension. Look at something like Adam Nevill’s The Ritual, which is very much a novel in two halves. The first is almost like a novella in itself, with the dread building and building and building… and it has to stop, and change tack for a bit. It’s an interesting change, and The Ritual is a fine novel, but for me it illustrates that element of dilution that all but the greatest horror novels have.

Whereas a short story can be gloriously single-minded and relentless in its approach, and I think for horror that can be a great boon.

TC- You’ve said you prefer you work to be described as weird fiction rather than horror. Do you think the term horror is too claustrophobic? Possibly in the minds of readers at least, who may see it as something shocking or gory with other literary forms excluded from the genre?

JE- I’m not adverse to the term ‘horror’, it’s not a snobby thing. I see ‘weird fiction’ (or ‘strange stories’, to use Aickman’s preferred description) as being a sub-genre of horror, and one that encompasses such people as Kafka or Doris Lessing’s The Fifth Child as well as stories that have come out of the horror tradition. But I don’t get too hung up on genre definitions – life’s too short. I guess I felt it was just a more accurate way of telling people what they were getting if they bought one of my books.

TC- When you started reading genre did you discover short stories before moving onto novels? Also if yes can you name some writers you found this way?

JE- Well, the first horror writer I really read was Stephen King (thanks Dad!) so that was mainly novels, although I did read Night Shift pretty early on. I think what really got me into horror short stories was a secondhand copy of Dark Feasts by Ramsey Campbell that I bought when I was about sixteen. Some of the stories in there are still amongst my favorites ever; he’s one of the best writers going in any genre, never mind horror. We should be building statues to Ramsey Campbell.

TC- Zadie Smith said short stories create an environment where real human beings begin to cautiously appear on the page. Do you think the short stories cuts through to a more human tale, something that may become lost in a novel?

JE- What a great quote; I love Zadie Smith. I’m assuming what she means is that in some novels the plot becomes so involved and intricate that the characters themselves seem caught up in something outside themselves, rather than something they’re actually influencing. Mind you, that could well describe an MR James or Shirley Jackson story as well, couldn’t it? Maybe I don’t know what Zadie Smith meant after all. It’s still a great line though, even if I don’t understand it.

TC- I think you nailed the definition. Many people had their first experience with genre fiction through TV. Did you enjoy any of these TV shows growing up?

JE- I vividly remember watching Doctor Who and a show called The Tripods, both of which had moments of horror. I can still remember the scenes from The Tripods where people got ‘capped’, even though I’ve never seen it since. Great stuff.


TC- Of course besides TV I also fed my love of horror through the portmanteau films of Amicus and the like. Do you enjoy anthology films?

JE- I don’t particularly remember watching any portmanteau films when I was growing up; I think by the time I was old enough to watch horror films they were already on their way out. Obviously I’ve seen a number since then, and it would be nice if they made a mini-resurgence.

TC- I found many pieces in your collection, ‘Falling Over’ to have a cinematic or televisual quality (Falling Over, Public Interest Story and The Man Dogs Hated stand out). Would you like to see any of your short stories adapted for the screen?

JE- It’s interesting you should say that, because it’s not something I’ve ever really thought about before. I certainly don’t write stories thinking ‘this would make a good film’ but if some of the imagery or scenes seem to have the cinematic air to them then that’s good. Any if any rich film directors are reading, they should obviously feel free to get in touch…


TC- There are some brilliant small presses out there with new ones popping up all the time. Do you think they play an important role in promoting short genre fiction?

JE- Yes, definitely. Without the small press they’d be bugger all opportunities for horror writers at the moment. Publishers like Spectral Press, Darkfuse, Omnium Gatherum – they really are putting out some of the most interesting stuff around, and it’s lifeline both as a reader and a writer. And then there’s magazines like Black Static and Supernatural Tales that also consistently publish issues packed with great short stories.

TC- I completely agree. Great recommendations for anybody looking out for high quality genre fiction. Another changing aspect of publishing is the boom in e-readers. Do you think the success of e-readers and self-publishing has encouraged more people to write short stories and novellas?

JE- I think it has, and in some cases there’s some superb stuff being released that way: The Side Effects Of The Medication by Lauren James and Iain Rowan’s Ice Age spring to mind.

There’s a lot of shit as well though, let’s be honest. And also a trend where people write a novel and then write a related short story to promote the novel. Sod that. I’m not interested in writers who treat short stories as mere advertisements.

TC- You’re drabble ‘Haunted’ was first published in an anthology in which we both had 100 word stories published. (100 Horrors: Tales of Horror in the Blink of an Eye. Cruentus Libri Press) I really enjoy working in this constrained form. Now most short story writers are asked about ‘stepping up’ to the novel. I wonder however, if you’ll produce more flash fiction or drabbles in the future?

JE- Yeah hopefully, although ‘Haunted’ really did come out the blue. I read the submissions call for 100 Horrors and then worked the story out in my head whilst cooking pasta that evening. Because it was so short I could hold it in my head word for word until I got chance to actually write it down.

Maybe I should try and work on one every time I cook pasta…

TC- Finally is there any work, presses or authors you’d like to recommend to the readers?

JE- There are lots of great writers out there (some of whom I’ve already mentioned above), so I’ll just list some more until I run out of breath: SP Miskowski is brilliant; Alan Ryker is ace; Mark West is awesome; Adam Golaski is terrific; Nicole Cushing a revelation; Cate Gardner exceptional; Nina Allen terrific; Gary McMahon inspiring; Robert Dunbar wonderful; Simon Bestwick incomparable, and Gary Fry…. well, Gary’s one very dark cookie.

TC- Yes Gary Fry does take the biscuit. Oh I see what you mean sorry :)

Great answers James and a lot of interesting fiction to look out for.Thank you.

James Everington’s second collection of short fiction, Falling Over, was published last year by Infinity Plus. (Falling Over is certainly weird fiction in the British tradition of Aickman, subtle, understated, enigmatic… an excellent collection, well-crafted, imaginative and chilling” – Amazing Stories). You can find out more about it, and whatever else he’s currently up to, at his Scattershot Writing site.

Tiny Windows Review- Little Visible Delight- S.P.Miskowski & Kate Jonez.

“Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner.” – Neil Gaiman.
Publisher: Omnium Gatherum Media (December 3, 2013)

Little Visible Delight from Omnium Gatherum is a collection brimming with obsessions. As readers we already understand the compulsive effect words and stories can have on us, so imagine how those things touch the lives of writers. Well this anthology examines that very question.

When S.P. Miskowski and Kate Jonez pictured an anthology of dark writing by authors who had recently caught their eye, they both knew obsession would be the theme. The editors allowed the writers to explore their own interpretations of obsession and compulsion, and this free reign resulted in a collection of tonal variety that explores some very dark areas of life and the human (or not so human) condition.

The Receiver of Tales by Lynda E. Rucker is the first of the eleven stories in this book. A tale that mixes its obsessions. The protagonist Aisha is clinging to the memory of a man who lived next door, his art and the stories they shared. While the story is slightly overlong it at least uses the words to dig deep into human compulsions. Aisha suffers from a hunger like any other compulsive person, only her obsession is to absorb words and stories, to make them part of her like skin and bone. When full, obese on words, tattooed bones and ink for blood she rejects her fixation. The results are handled beautifully by Rucker whose lyrical writing may be the result of her own heart rushing words through her body.

Cory J. Herndon’s tale is of killing time, well killing and time travel to be precise. What starts off as a simple revenge story soon turns into complex tale of fixing the past to live forever. At first I was a little uneasy about Herndon’s time travel inclusion into this collection. I thought I may as well go and read some Jack Finney than read another time-travel by numbers plot.

But Herndon hit me over the head with a unique twist on the sub-genre. The second half of this story is something I’ve never come across before, unless I have and I wiped it from my memory by travelling to my past. A great plot and a fresh look at time travel.

A Thousand Stitches by Kate Jonez is a beautifully written American story. Laura Beatty dreams of a good life away from the back room at the dry cleaners. She hopes for the bright lights and fashion world of New York. But everything from her boss to her mother seem to be throwing bricks at her dreams. Just when she thinks they may be shattered forever something happens to change her life.

This is a well-crafted story that never once makes the reader feel comfortable. Each stich in the back room threatens to draw blood and spike with pain. The balancing act and the perfectly paced conclusion are a delight to read.

The point by Johnny Worthen is one of the rawest descriptions of obsession here. It deals with that unnerving thing many of us have dealt with, the conspiracy of apocalypse. Has the end of times truly been predicted? Did the Mayans, Nostradamus, Revelations and all the other sources offer codes to predict the end of the world? These subjects are traps far too easy to fall into. Getting out is often the difficult thing.

Johnny Northen has written this cautionary tale of conspiracy compulsion like a man who has been caught in those bear traps. It’s fevered, well-constructed and littered with sublime references and characters. The only downside is the conclusion wasn’t really well hidden, but that said the journey along the way was a frightening in its execution.

Calligraphy by James Everington is another fine example of what he does best. A tale set in everyday conditions that are shifted slightly to induce terror into the protagonist’s life. Everington has a precise way with words, he uses only what he needs and you can feel the slices and cuts between the lines where he’s killed so many darlings. So a story about words, or more precisely the power of words seems like a natural tale for him to tell.

With tones of Richard Matheson and Rod Serling and an idea so strange this is a fine example of obsession and the monster it can create.

The Many by S.P. Miskowski is a Halloween tale that deals with obsessive nature of parents. The helicopter mothers who stifle the childhood of their kids. The ones who think failure is stitched together with imperfection of their parenting skills. But what happens if they take their eye away for a minute? What happens if they allow the other mothers whispers distract them?

This story will resonate with a lot of parents out there and will make them pause for a moment and think.

JP by Brent Michael Kelly reminded me of a tamed version of Graham Masterton’s ‘Eric the Pie’. It’s a monster tale where we never quite know who, or what the monster is. Told in a creepy first person narrative JP reels us in to the brutal story with ease. That being said I felt the build of the story and characters were never urgent enough. It often felt like Kelly was holding back on us too much. But with a neat reveal and horrific conclusion I’m sure it’ll appeal to a lot of horror fans out there.

Imagine a life where you felt no pain. That would be great right? But what if it also meant you felt no pleasure either? That’s exactly the condition of Kestrel, the eponymous protagonist from Mary Borsellino’s tale of isolation. Kestrel is probably one of the better drawn characters from all of these tales, mainly due to the empathy we feel for her as we travel through her numb life.

If there is a string of obsession in this tale then once again it has to do with words. The compulsion as humans for us to tell stories, to be heard, to unravel the secrets of life by writing them down. While most of Kestrel is heart-breaking, Borsellino wraps it up with an ending that may fix those broken pieces back together.

An Unattributed Lyric, In Blood, On a Bathroom Wall by Ennis Drake reads more like an essay on obsession and the obsessive nature of art than a straight story. Parts of this are gleaming gems that will strike a chord with artists of all disciplines. Other parts read like an insular exploration and nothing to do with anybody else in the universe. Which is fine because it’s about obsession. And while we may sometimes feel as though we are pulled along in a collective compulsion there’s nothing quite as sharp as an individual being caught up in the tangled world of their own creation. Drake has taken a lot of chances with his structure and while I applaud his bravery I’m afraid a lot of it feels self-indulgent rather than self-exploratory. Nevertheless you cannot help but admire his passion for the subject. That oozes from each sentence in this piece.

Black Eyes Broken by Mercedes M. Yardley is so infused with beauty you may be forgiven to ask why it’s in a horror anthology. As we read on we soon discover the darkness that lurks inside Natalia, the damaged protagonist of the story. Her life is made of broken glass ennui. Everything from love to hope is tinged with darkness, a cloud so huge it threatens to cover any sunshine that may have fallen into her life forever.

Mercedes M. Yardley never holds back from this languor that infects Natalia’s life right up to the end. But the writing is exquisite and dark which adds truth and a certain honesty to the fiction.

Bears: A Fairy Tale of 1958 by Steve Duffy is a reworked fairy tale. A McCarthy era story of Goldilocks. Like Calligraphy by James Everington Bears links back to The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street, as so many stories of collective obsession tend to do. But both stories take unique angles and make the idea their own.

This isn’t a nursery bedtime story. This is a witch hunt tale dealing with very modern issues such as racism, immigration and conservatism. I like allegorical tales that deal with both personal and ideological politics. I think Duffy has hit this one right on the head. As M.A.S.H was a Vietnam critique set in the Korean War, so Bears is like a state of the nation Richard Yates story holding a mirror to our continued western problems.

I enjoyed all the stories in Little Visible Delight. Some I enjoyed more than others and some dealt with the theme with a keener eye and a sharper pencil. In conclusion both S.P. Miskowski and Kate Jonez assembled a fantastic group of writers that delivered a collection worth buying. I look forward to any future projects the pair have planned.

Circumventing the Zombie Genre

I think we can all agree that horror needs to get away from the zombie genre and start a new fad. It’s not that they’re terrible, I love a good zombie apocalypse story, but it does feel like the whole concept has rather overdone. Seems like each and every one is a tale of disease, massacre, and a group of survivors trying to beat the odds. It just gets tedious after a while.

This is why I really like seeing stories that alter the expected conventions. Not only is it refreshing to see what kind of effect a few changes can have on the plot, it can also highlight different aspects of the human condition in unexpected ways. Some mainstream examples include Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion, or NaughtyDog’s The Last of Us, but I’d like to introduce you to some of the lesser-known stuff that I think you’ll enjoy…

Exploring wolf references: “Wolf in sheep’s clothing”

The idiom “a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” has Biblical origins. Ancient Greek fables offer warnings similar to those offered in the Bible. Today, the phrase serves as a warning against anyone with a friendly face and malicious intent.

The phrase remains popular. In fact, it has its own Tumblr page.

Apparently, the phrase is a popular inspiration for tattoos as well.

This subject was inspired by #WerewolfWednesday, which I hold each week on my Facebook page.