Apr. 29th, 2013 | 03:01 pm
Many of the 22 short stories in Every House is Haunted, the debut collection by Ian Rogers, feel connected. As the title suggests, this is a book about hauntings, though the stories Rogers tells venture beyond the well-worn template of the haunted house tale. On top of this unifying theme, several stories also feature paranormal investigators, something like agents Mulder and Scully of the X-Files, or hint at a shadowy group overseeing such intrusions. Rogers seeks to establish a common world in which paranormal events and entities are controlled, studied and policed by a broad and shadowy organization devoted to these functions.
Rogers starts off strong with "Aces," on its surface a routine family drama in which Toby's sister has trouble in school and exhibits weird behavior, like many adolescents. This seeming normalcy masks the extreme strangeness of what's really going on with the sister, who is obsessed with finding "aces," playing cards which she discovers in strange places, such has hovering in mid-air. Toby only comes to understand his sister's unusual nature when paranormal investigators arrive and explain.
Another strange and surreal piece early in the book, "A Night at the Library With the Gods" again displays Rogers' skill for creating a familiar, mostly normal world, then gradually increasing the strangeness until the reader recognizes they're in something more akin to nightmare. In "The Dark and the Young," linguist Wendy takes a mysterious job, translating an occult "black book." Some of the rituals described in this bizarre text make Wendy and some of her coworkers hesitant to participate.
A few less mature stories are sprinkled throughout, and in my opinion Rogers could have made a stronger debut impression by omitting these. I understand the desire to include early work, and indeed this flaw is so common in first collections I'm hesitant to mention it. At any rate, the few less-compelling pieces are more than offset by a high overall quality. The more recent stories seem generally darker, more macabre or surreal.Rogers closes the collection with a powerful series of tales, deftly and confidently told.
In "The Inheritor," Daniel Ramis unexpectedly inherits a house from his father, with whom he had a terrible relationship. He visits the childhood home, a place evoking the terrible memory of his sister's early death. Daniel always thought his father had sold the house when he moved, and can't understand why he'd held onto it. Along with the house, Daniel is also left contents of safe deposit box: a gun, and a note from his father hinting at explanation. All that remains is for Daniel to discover what responsibility comprises the most horrible aspect of his father's legacy.
A husband in "The Candle" gives his wife a guilt trip about possibly forgetting to blow out a candle before coming to bed. Time passes, and feeling guilty, he goes downstairs and finds something weird and disquieting in the dark. Here's another story that starts off realistic, then takes a weird disconnect, making a subtle and eerie observation of the ways we open gaps in relationships through small acts of selfishness or distrust.
The last tale, "The Secret Door" makes a powerful ending to the book. Sarah and husband move into an old country house, and find a secret door bricked up on back side. She sleeps, and wakes again to find her husband's not there. Other details, such as the bed and their car, inexplicably have changed. The story veers more deeply into surrealism. Sarah envisions a boy yelling from the bottom of a well, telling her she's the one who put him there, hinting at connection to her earlier decision never to have kids. Her experience swerves between alternating realities, now alone and sick, then with her husband telling her she's not well. It depicts increasing detachment from reality, a creepy back-and-forth between the real and the surreal.
Every House is Haunted is an above-average short fiction collection, especially noteworthy as a debut. The writing is both transparent enough for mainstream readers, and artful enough for those who like their prose with an edge. At his best, Rogers is very compelling, and the growth demonstrated within these pages suggest he's one to watch.
Apr. 28th, 2013 | 08:00 pm
Die, You Donut Bastards is the latest collection of short fiction and prose poetry by Cameron Pierce. The whimsical title and cover art may suggest a mostly humorous approach to Bizarro, a genre which can range from arty surrealism to shock-focused extremity, and also at times encompassing more conventional storytelling with a subtler twinge of the surreal. While many authors focus on a single approach, Pierce here shows himself capable of covering all the bases.
Most of the pieces are just a page or two, and focus on wild invention and playful absurdity. I detect in these shorter works the influence of Russell Edson, the master of surrealist prose poetry, though Pierce is less oblique, less blatantly symbolic, and more confrontational. Readers approaching this book from outside the Bizarro realm can expect a lot of zany humor and intentional absurdity, but will also discover a great degree of subtlety and sensitivity. In fact, those seeking a full-on Bizarro blast may be surprised by the restraint and emotional honesty present in the longer stories.
The lengthiest of these, "Lantern Jaws," is a lovely tale of wonder and emotion, both subtle and graceful, reminiscent of something Kelly Link might create. In it, a teenage boy falls in love with a girl schoolmate who carries a vaguely Lovecraftian doom or curse. It's a gentle, touching story, characteristics which may seem at odds with some of the extremes on display elsewhere in the book, yet it's also quite dreamlike and surreal.
Another longer story, "Death Card" shows a couple, Tristan and Emily, shifting from youthful, carefree obsessions, such as Tristan's comics and his collection of vinyl figures, to more adult concerns now that Emily is pregnant. Tristan goes along, half-reluctantly boxing up his collection to make a room for the baby. The story focuses the feelings of impending loss and disconnection from self, arising from Tristan's recognition that life's simple freedoms and youthful pleasures are soon to change.
In "Pablo Riviera, Depressed, Overweight, Age 31, Goes to the Mall," an odd outsider catalogs an endless stream of pleasures, mostly fast food, during a trip to a shopping mall. This litany of cheeseburgers, taco corn dogs, and other excessive treats could be seen as Pablo's attempt to numb the pain of his solitude and isolation, or perhaps simply exhibits the weirdly alienating effect of our obsession on grotesque, commercialized pleasures.
"Disappear" is the weird story of a pregnant woman's baby disappearing right out of her belly. It turns out the fetus was stolen by horror author Stephen King, who apparently steals unborn babies and installs them into his typewriter as fuel or grist for new stories.
In "Mitchell Farnsworth," one of the more transgressive pieces, Katie recollects once having sex with her boyfriend, the Mitchell Farnsworth of the title, while watching the movie Alien. After Mitchell moves on, the story recounts Katie's long string of boyfriends, forming a detailed catalog of explicit sex acts, foods and drinks consumed, and the movies she watched with each -- often Alien, sometimes The Exorcist or other horror films. Katie is increasingly stuck, unable to stop and reflect on this pattern, until she hears news about Mitchell Farnsworth.
In Die, You Donut Bastards, the shorter, weirder stories are greatest in number, and seem more geared toward a Bizarro audience. The longer stories, comprising about half the collection's page count, exhibit greater emotional realism and even a bit more seriousness mixed in with the strange pop surrealism. I enjoyed the provocative range of styles, moods and approaches on display in Die, You Donut Bastards. It makes me eager to check out more Pierce's work.
Apr. 28th, 2013 | 02:23 pm
Chick Bassist is Ross Lockhart's debut as a writer of fiction, after establishing himself as a fantasy and horror editor best known for two successful Lovecraftian "Book of Cthulhu" anthologies. Despite Lockhart's genre editing background, the only fantasy in Chick Bassist is of the rock-and-roll variety.
This book is crazy fun, often funny, but it also has a serious feel, as troubling and difficult as real life. It tracks the passions and conflicts of an enjoyably grungy cast of dysfunctional characters, every one of them f**ked up in a charmingly rock-and-roll sort of way. Lockhart realistically captures the fun and filth of the garage music scene, the transitory existences of bands, the passionate creativity and train-wreck lifestyles. The characters and their scene are clearly personally known to the author, and will seem familiar to anyone who has played in bands or at least been part of that milieu.
Told from multiple viewpoints, the story not only switching character perspectives, but also juggling first, second and third person points of view. The title refers to Erin Locke, "the Queen of Rock," who leads the band Heroes for Goats until things implode, and she takes off to play bass for a more successful band. Other points of view follow Robbie Snow, the bassist kicked out of Heroes for Goats for acting all mental after Erin had sex with him, and Christian, who ends up getting a severe beating by Robbie after Erin makes Christian kick him out of the band.
At its best, rock and roll is about ambition and failure, about lessons learned too late, about love, and also death. Chick Bassist is crammed full of these things. If you think you might enjoy a punk/grunge flavored book about underground bands and musicians, you'll love this Chick Bassist. I browsed the first pages of this book when I was already in the middle of reading something else, and this one immediately sucked me in.
As for the "Would you read a sequel?" test, Chick Bassist easily passes. I'd gladly read the further adventures of Lockhart's rock and roll characters. Bring it on!
Apr. 19th, 2013 | 08:59 am
If you're more interested in my fiction writing, you should follow @griffinwords
My blog (mirrored on Dreamwidth and Livejournal) is griffinwords.wordpress.com
Of course for all my Hypnos (ambient music) stuff just go to hypnos.com
For more personal goofing around, I'm on Twitter @mgsoundvisions and on Facebook
Apr. 18th, 2013 | 11:12 am
My story "The Lure of Devouring Light" in the latest Apex Magazine received a very favorable review in Locus Magazine (the SF/Fantasy trade journal) this week.
If you haven't read "Lure of Devouring Light" yet, and are intrigued enough by the mini-review to give it a look, it's available to read for free online. Again, I'd like to thank everyone at Apex for making this happen!
Some other things coming soon...
The next issue of Black Static magazine (#34, May 2013) will contain my story "Arches and Pillars." I'll have more information about this as May approaches.
The next issue of Lovecraft eZine (#23, April 2013) will include my story "Nectar of Strange Lips." The issue is not yet available to read, but you can purchase the podcast/audio version now, for just 99 cents!
That's not 99 cents for just my story, but 99 cents for the entire issue, all the stories and Robert Price's new nonfiction feature... almost 3 1/2 hours of great stuff!
Apr. 17th, 2013 | 02:37 pm
Fungi, edited by Orrin Gray and Silvia Garcia-Moreno, collects about two dozen weird and fantastic stories focused on the theme of fungus, including mushrooms, molds and a whole related class of bizarre life forms.
I expected mostly dark tales of decay and derangement, but many of the tales here turn out to be lighthearted, whimsical, even silly. Whatever one's preference in terms of tone, Fungi undeniably contains a healthy measure of strong genre fiction. Whether due to my own predisposition toward more serious horror and dark fantasy, or because the more playful efforts are not as strong, I consider the most successful stories here to be those darkest or most surreal in tone. The work of John Langan, Laird Barron, and E. Catherine Tobler stood apart in my estimation.
Langan's lead-off "Hyphae" is a concentrated dose of nastiness. I dare anyone to read this without at least once letting out a disgusted, shuddering moan. I haven't seen Langan write something so viscerally gruesome until this. So awful, yet wonderful. I loved it.
Laird Barron never disappoints, and his "Gamma," a cynical yet emotionally powerful survey of childhood, adulthood, entropy and decay, balances a boy's recollection of his father killing a lame horse named Gamma against a present-day, adult contemplation of his wife leaving him for another man. The story looks outward to embrace death and human existence more generally, and finally broadens to face horror on a truly cosmic scale.
It's worth noting that E. Catherine Tobler's "New Feet Within My Garden Go," which may well be my favorite piece in the book, is a bonus story present in the hardcover but not the paperback version of Fungi. It's a shame many readers will miss Tobler's tale, which is complex, detail-rich, and overflowing with delicious, poetic weirdness. Beautifully and artfully told.
Another handful of stories deserve mention. Nick Mamatas describes in "The Shaft Through the Middle of It All" an apartment building where fungus growing in a ventilation shaft can bring harm to residents, though another use of fungus brings a kind of retributive power. J.T. Glover's "The Flaming Exodus of the Greifswald Grimoire" tells of two brother sorcerers, adventuring grimoire hunters who find trouble when they try to snatch a tempting tome in a house they assume is empty. Paul Tremblay's "Our Stories Will Live Forever" has the feel of straight realism, until a character dealing with terror of flying undergoes a transformation. Lastly, "The Pilgrims of Parthen," by a writer new to me, Kristopher Reisz, suggests a society taken over by the visionary trips brought on by newly discovered mushrooms, which seem to transport the user into a distinct and transcendent separate reality.
Several more, despite falling short of total success in my judgement, possess strengths of expression or concept sufficient to at least partly recommend them. These include works by W.H. Pugmire, Ian Rogers, Daniel Mills, Jeff VanderMeer and A.C. Wise. Also, one humorous story in Fungi that I think works (by virtue of going way over the top) is Molly Tanzer and Jesse Bullington's "Tubby McMungus, Fat From Fungus," which describes a showdown between rival merkin-makers for fashion-conscious society felines.
Where other stories fell short, lapsing into slightness or forgettability, was often in making a story's entire point nothing more than someone being consumed by mold, or surprised by the druggy effects of mushrooms. Of course, some that miss the mark for one reader may please others looking for different approaches to the subject. Whatever tone the reader prefers, Fungi contains a more than sufficient number of challenging and artful takes on the theme. Readers receptive to the fungal theme, and familiar with at least some of the authors contained here, should find in Fungi a successful weird fiction anthology and an overall satisfying read.
Apr. 17th, 2013 | 01:35 pm
"The Day and the Hour & Drone" is a short book (roughly novella length) containing two stories by Ennis Drake, whose debut novel 28 Teeth of Rage I reviewed previously. As in his debut, Drake's strength is his artful, powerful prose, as well as the confidence with which he evokes perceptual distortion, hallucination or possibly insanity on the narrator's part.
The longer and more ambitious of the two, "The Day and the Hour," features Jason Grae, a man tormented by his gift of sight and prophecy. Aware in advance of a series of seemingly connected catastrophies, yet unable to stop their cascade, Jason posesses the vision of a divine being along with the seemingly powerlessness of an ordinary man.
"Drone" tells of another tormented soul, in this case the "pilot" or remote operator of a drone aircraft, a fighter in the long-distance conflict modern warfare has become.
Both stories show Drake's improvement as a writer, and demonstrate ample proof of the confident, poetic style with which he's capable of drawing a narrative. This writing is full of unrestrained feeling, packed with visual detail and psychological resonance. Ennis Drake shows a dexterity of language and command of narrative that indicate he's on the verge of even greater things. This is a name to watch.
Apr. 9th, 2013 | 01:12 pm
I've seen a few writers link to this article about professional jealousy. It's just as applicable to aspiring musicians, artists, ballet dancers, astronauts, athletes and actors. Many of them (us) have lots of friends who are also "the competition," at least from a certain point of view.
Go read the post, then come back... I'll wait!
Reflexive envy or jealousy occurs commonly when someone we know, chasing similar goals, finds success that at least momentarily exceeds our own. This sense of "Why not me?" is something everyone must feel at some point.
More than a year ago, I decided to try to stop wallowing in feelings of unfairness or futility related to the struggle against rejection. I'd seen many writers suggest something along the lines of "Forget trying to get published -- focus on writing better." This may seem like the sort of platitude to which the writer replies, "Well, yeah, but..." then returns to obsessing over factors outside their control. But it's important.
Energy and time spent this way are wasted. Not only are energy and time finite resources, they're the very stuff out of which our work is built.
To overcome this reflex, to defeat the mindset that someone else's success means you are now less likely to succeed, is a crucial step toward achieving the resolve, perspective and inward-directedness we need in order to improve.
Imagine if all the energy spent worrying about rejections, fellow writers, unpredictable editors, failing markets, or any other factors outside your control, could be freed-up, reallocated toward fixing plots, strengthening characters, improving voice, refining and improving your writing in every aspect. Not only is this possible, it's what we all must do.
Next, consider accepting the notion that if we write good enough stories, we will no longer need to worry much about finding places that want to publish them.
For my part, I realized that I was not the best judge of my work's suitability for publication. That's something editors get to decide. They don't have to tell me what they're looking for, how I fell short, or what to do differently next time. But if I write a story that grabs them and won't let go, that's enough. That's all I have to do.
The "Why not me?" attitude shields the writer from facing the need to improve. Tell yourself the deck is stacked, that it's all cronyism, and you can't get published because of race or sex or age or whatever. This absolves you of facing the responsibility to WRITE BETTER STORIES.
I finally let all that go, or at least endeavored to do so, sought that clarity of mind as an ideal, and kept reminding myself whenever backsliding occurred. This allowed me to focus on what really mattered. I improved my writing. I'm still trying to make better stories, all the time, even now that I've started finding outlets for my fiction. I work to make myself stronger, rather than worrying about "competition."
Let go of jealousy. Stop focusing on someone else who got something you wanted. Instead, work harder. You're not good enough yet to give up trying, put your hands on your hips, and whine about "Why not me?" Really, are you good enough? I know I'm not. We all need to write better stories.
That's hard enough without worrying about things outside our control.
Apr. 3rd, 2013 | 02:56 pm
I'll have more to say about this magazine and this story, but for now, here's a link. It's available to read for free, and you can also purchase a PDF or a (Kindle) MOBI or (iPad/Nook) EPUB file.
My thanks to Editor Lynne Thomas and Publisher Jason Sizemore for featuring my work!
Mar. 26th, 2013 | 07:40 pm
I’ve just learned that I’ve been accepted as a “guest” at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival coming up this May.
I’ve very much enjoyed the HPLFF on the two occasions I attended previously, both times with my wife Lena. We planned to attend again this year, especially after we heard our friend Joe Pulver was going to attend.
The good people who are organizing the festival, Gwen and Brian Callahan, held a Kickstarter to help fund and support this year’s event. The last stretch goal, reached with two days to spare, helped pay to fly Joe over from Berlin, as well as to bring in Mike Davis of Lovecraft eZeine from Texas. We’re putting Joe up at our place while he’s in Portland, in fact, Mike Davis is staying with us for a night too. The Griffin residence will be the coolest place in Southeast Portland!
Here’s a partial list of guests, straight from the Kickstarter page:
CONFIRMED! Sandy Petersen, the creator of The Call of Cthulhu® RPG, is our guest of honor!
CONFIRMED! Clive Barker’s Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut will make it’s Pacific Northwest premiere (and only scheduled showing in this part of the country) at our festival, introduced and with Q&A by restoration director Russell Cherrington.
CONFIRMED! Robert M. Price, Editor and Lovecraft scholar will be a guest at the festival and officiating alongside Cody Goodfellow, author, at the Cthulhu Prayer Breakfast.
CONFIRMED! Joe S. Pulver, author of Sin & Ashes, and Mike Davis, creator of the Lovecraft Ezine are coming to the fest, thanks to our Kickstarter backers!
CONFIRMED GUESTS! Even more guests will be here to entertain, amuse, and horrify you. So far, you could meet Nick Mamatas, Orrin Grey, Ross Lockhart, Wilum Pugmire, Mike Dubisch, Jeff Burk, Edward Morris, Keith Baker, Lee Moyer, Nick Gucker, Molly Tanzer, Richard Lupoff, Sean Branney, Thomas Phinney, and many more!
What a great list of eminent cool Lovecraftians! And me, of course.
Joe nudged me to fill out a guest application for the event. See, the festival runners choose potential guests among the many Lovecraftian filmmakers, authors, editors, publishers, scholars and assorted other talented and interesting types. Though I may lack both reputation and eloquence as compared to these other excellent folk, I’ll try to hold my own, and will compensate by wearing my red pants at least once.
Luckly I’m not at all afraid of getting up in front of a crowd. More the opposite, really – eager to jump around and spout nonsense.
More seriously, I’m not sure if this “guest” thing will involve being on one or more panels, or participating in a group reading, or what. Really looking forward to this, not just the guesting, but the chance to see many great friends, including some never before seen in the flesh!