Monday, September 19, 2011

Dark Moon Digest #5 featuring "Pearls"

About a year and a half ago I wrote a story called "Pearls." I was and continue to be proud of the piece--in fact, I think it's one of my best--but I had a great deal of trouble finding a home for it due to it being so, well, nasty. "Pearls" is a gut-churner, to be perfectly honest. I have a close friend who couldn't finish reading it because he was feeling too queasy. I submitted the hell out of it but I kept hearing variations of the same line: wonderfully written but too gross for us.

This summer, however, "Pearls" finally found a defender in Stan Swanson, editor of Dark Moon Digest, who decided to publish it in DMD #5, which came out this week. The issue is available on Amazon and is included in their 4-for-3 deal, which is awesome for everyone involved. Check it out. Or don't. It's your life, spaz.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Sawbones: A Serial Novel

Today I kick off my serial novel, Sawbones. I actually wrote the first draft prior to Bleed, though I’ve obsessively toyed with it ever since, and I’ve decided to serialized it online after seeing quite a few fun and successful ventures other authors have done similarly (Dan O’Shea’s Rotten at the Heart comes to mind).

My intent to post a new chapter three times a week—Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays—with occasional breaks for when I’m at cons and such. I encourage comments and emails and general word-spreading. A synopsis/blurb is below, along with a link to find Sawbones. I genuinely hope you enjoy reading it.

In the summer of 1865, a man who calls himself Dr. Septimus Whitehall arrives in war-ravaged Southern Alabama with murder on his mind. Whitehall has come to make himself into a killer, armed only with a list of names and a savage rage. First, he practices his craft. Then he begins his mission in earnest: killing each and every person on his list in revenge for an ambiguous crime against a loved one. From Mobile to Little Rock, Nebraska to the Dakota Territory, Whitehall slashes, shoots and burns his way across the country in the name of vengeance, all of which leads to the final showdown with the architect of his anger in New York City.

As Whitehall’s list grows shorter and the trail of blood, bodies and flame grows longer behind him, the origin of his resolution to kill gradually becomes clearer. He kills to avenge a mysterious red-haired beauty from the Bowery, but his sworn mission may be the result of delusion and fevered fantasy.

Begin reading Sawbones at

Friday, June 10, 2011

I Am a Child (or, I Don’t Wanna Grow Up)

Yeah, so my hairline is making a run for it, and my waistline won’t quit expanding; I’ve got a bad back and a heart murmur, high blood pressure and even higher cholesterol. The hair in my sideburns and around my neckline started turning stark white about a year ago, and I shave a hell of a lot more often since my chin whiskers followed suit. Christ, I’m getting to be an old man!

But I am a child. In that distinctively male way of immaturity in perpetuity, yes—just the other night I was watching The Karate Kid with friends, and I honestly couldn’t help but chuckle every single time Pat Morita said “wax off.” Saith my pal Hershal, “You’re such a child.” So yes, there’s that—god knows I stand firmly by my well-worn maxim every fart is funny—but there’s something else, too. Something I didn’t quite comprehend until a tiny ah-ha moment that slapped me in the face last night. Bear with me—I shall try to stay on track.

I was watching Hiroshi Teshigahara’s 1962 supernatural social reform noir Pitfall, an intense and moving surrealist film written by one of my favorite novelists, Kōbō Abe (if you haven’t read Woman in the Dunes, you need to unfuck that). I could probably prattle on about the intricacies of Teshigahara and Abe’s film, but it was something largely inconsequential (though not really) that struck me with regard to the topic at hand. The protagonist, an unnamed miner, is working one of the many mines he plans on deserting, and his young son is playing with the clods of earth he carries out in baskets. When the mine’s owner comes along to check up on the proceedings, he finds the boy spitting on the clay to moisten it as he shapes it into various strange formations. The owner finds this charming—the “work” of a child, as opposed to real, adult work. The sweat of the brow and all that sort of thing. Someday, the viewer might presume, this kid will grow up to toil in the mines, himself. And the time for shaping clay will be long behind him.

I was stricken thinking about this, because the dichotomy I was observing—childish creativity and adult toil—is hardly contained within the confines of the Kyūshū labor crisis half a century ago or any other social microcosm. It’s pretty universal: we encourage children to be creative, but choke it off when they come of age. By the time they’re nearing adulthood, we firmly look them in the eye and tell them they’d be idiotic to pursue creative endeavors as opposed to tried and true paths, steady and sensible. And hell, I’m not arguing with this—if I had a kid who announced he was going to be a poet, I’d probably faint. Good thing I don’t have a kid, because what a lousy hypocrite that would make me. I went to college, earned a mess of degrees, and then decided, “The hell with this—I’m going to write.”

Childish, I tell you!

Isn’t it? Isn’t the urge to create something from nothing—and I mean something with little to no teleological value, here, not a table or an engine or a better mousetrap—essentially the initiative of a developing mind? When I was child, I wanted to do everything creative people did. I wanted to be a cartoonist, a comic book writer/artist, a musician, an actor, a filmmaker. Over time, I determined that most of these weren’t as much fun as I’d hoped, or that I wasn’t any damn good at them, but some remained. In my 20s I blew a substantial portion of my late father’s inheritance bread making a 16mm film out in Hollywood (it was terrible). I also wrote middling plays, tired Bukowski-wannabe poetry and I even tried my hand at painting an extensive series of truly vomit-inducing self portraits. I look back now and think I was trying to find my voice. Everybody else figured I was a late bloomer. Somewhere in between these assessments, I was staving off adulthood as desperately as possible.

And I still am. The truth is—to quote Tom Waits—I don’t wanna float a broom. Sure, I’ve got a day gig, but I selected one that allows me to spend the bulk of my time writing. Sure, I’ve got Cup O’ Noodles for lunch today, but I’d rather worry over problems in my novel while eating that than worry about what I didn’t do (and why the hell didn’t I?) while dining on finer fare. Is that childish, or at the very least child-like? Probably…there’s some modicum of reality in the dichotomy between the miserable miner in Pitfall and his playful, creative boy. All children make art, while only very few adults still do, respectively. And yet, it takes the experience and insight of a grown-up to create something like Teshigahara and Abe’s harrowing masterpiece, or the marvelous Peter Straub novel I’m presently reading, for that matter, or anything of real consequence. Well, except Mozart. And Béla Bartók. Oh, and Picasso, of course.

And Alexander Pope, Leonardo Da Vinci, Albrecht Dürer…but there are always exceptions to the rule, right?

All right, so there are no absolutes. But that’s not my point. My point is that it takes a certain refusal to heed mean old Paul of Tarsus’ admonition to “put away childish things” to pursue what one might vaguely describe as artistic undertakings. (Though I would argue a good life philosophy would be to always circumvent Paul—that guy was such a prick. For realsies.) Does this mean every so-called artist is as much of an immature child as I am? Certainly not. I categorically refuse to wear neckties regardless of the occasion, I never finish my vegetables, I’d have Reese’s™ cereal every morning if my wife would let me, and I never—never—wear pants on weekends. I’d be like this if I never wrote a word in my life. But I argue it is because of my childishness that I am able to tap into that energy, to access those aspects Herr Kant’s perceptual manifold, as it were. It is my Key to the Kingdom, and if it means that I indulge in the occasional flatulence competition and helplessly titter at every perceived adianoeta (heh, I said titter), then so be it.

Yes, I am a child, and no, I don’t want to grow up. One of my greatest heroes, a well-known author, once offered a sound piece of advice to me upon my request for whatever kernels of wisdom he had for a young writer. “Don’t do it,” he said. “Not unless you have to.” It isn’t prudent, you see—I think that’s what he was telling me—nor is it in any way sensible to seek this calling. Don’t do it—it’s irrational, absurd, a child’s dream.

Yep. Absolutely. And it’s mine, all mine.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Review: Bleed

Nick Cato of The Horror Fiction Review has some very nice things to say about my novel Bleed.

If David Cronenberg and Frank Hennenlotter decided to remake LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS and HELLRAISER, BLEED would be the result. It reads like an 80s-styled horror novel with the gruesome feel of a classic splatter film--but where most gore-film inspired novels falter, BLEED finds its strength.

As it happens, I'm an enormous fan of Hennenlotter, so that's just about the best flattery I could possibly receive with regard to my humble little blood-spattered tale.

The review is at Antibacterial Pope at present and will appear in The Horror Fiction Review in June. And of course, you can find Bleed at and

(All other reviews are archived on the right sidebar.)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Dorchester Blues

I have read a very great deal of Dorchester/Leisure titles. Most of the classic Jack Ketchum and Richard Laymon novels I’ve read were Dorchester. Through Dorchester, I discovered a slew of wonderful and, to me, influential writers like Brian Keene, Wrath James White, Gord Rollo, Ray Garton and J. F. Gonzalez. Like many horror readers, I reached the point where I waited with bated breath for the next month’s pair of titles; sometimes I practically drooled over books promised months in advance. And, as far as I knew for a long, long time, Dorchester Publishing was just about the only game in town.

Of course, it wasn’t then and it sure as hell isn’t now. But I was stupidly unaware of the plethora of marvelous small press publishers out there (lookin’ at you, Deadite), and so when the books suddenly stopped coming, my heart sank. It was Richard Laymon’s Funhouse in particular that clued me in that there was trouble in paradise—the damned release date just kept getting pushed back. Then, the news broke: Dorchester was broke, and they were getting out of the mass market paperback business. My heart broke.

Between the end of 2010, when I discovered this sad news, and March of 2011, I finally caught up with the rest of the genre and discovered the multitude of other terrific venues for horror fiction. Always a day late and a dollar short, but hey, I got there. I bought and read a lot of books and a lot of authors who were new to me. I also bought a shitload of used books. Then, in March, Brian Keene dropped a bombshell on my head—he spearheaded the movement to boycott Dorchester Publishing, because they were screwing the hell out of their authors by denying them their due revenue and selling books to which they had no right. Brian built a mountain of evidence to back up his position, and he gained a hell of a lot of supporters that included authors, publishers, agents and readers. I was among them, because I was pissed. I still am. I’m a burgeoning genre author myself, and it chaps my hide to see respected artists treated this way. And I agree with Brian that readers ought to know where their money is going; I don’t want to spend my hard-earned bread on a copy of The Rising if Brian isn’t getting a penny of it. That’s bullshit. Hell, I even blogged about it. I was one hundred percent on board.

Fast forward a couple of months to World Horror 2011, which I discussed in detail here. As I’ve said before, two of my favorite people from that con were Jack Ketchum and Gord Rollo. Spectacular people, writers I admire. I spoke a little with Gord about the Dorchester kerfuffle, though I never mentioned it to Mr. Ketchum. Here’s the thing—Jack Ketchum had a new book coming out right after the con. It’s called The Woman, and he co-wrote it with Lucky McKee in tandem with their film version (review forthcoming). I was foaming at the mouth over this book. Ketchum is my hero, my favorite living genre writer and the guy most responsible for inspiring me to throw my own hat into the ring. There was no way in hell I was going to miss this novel.

Did I mention it was published by Dorchester?


I knew that, but I ordered it post-haste anyway. Didn’t even give it much thought. The Woman is one of DP’s new line of more expensive trade paperbacks, a chimera whose existence many have doubted, though I saw one of these mythical beasts during the WHC mass signing: Spore by John Skipp and Cody Goodfellow. Even Skipp seemed surprised by it, and it was sitting on his table. (To be truthful, I’d sure like to get my hands on that one, too.) And then there’s Gord Rollo’s latest release, Valley of the Scarecrow, which Dorchester was supposed to have released in mass market paperback last year. Now, in May, Amazon says they have it in stock in a trade paperback edition. The last time I talked with Gord, he said he hadn’t yet heard if anyone has actually held a copy in their hands. Valley is chilling in my Amazon cart as I write this, waiting on my next paycheck. Another Dorchester title for the guy who so vociferously joined the chorus of angry voices demanding the Dorchester boycott.

I feel like a fucking fraud. But I’m loyal to Jack Ketchum, and I’m loyal to Gord Rollo. I love their books; hell, I love them. I want to support their work. I want to read it as a fan. And I want them to get paid, for crying out loud, though whether or not my purchase(s) will contribute to that I don’t know.

What my puzzlement over these few books has made me realize is that it was easy to join the boycott when I didn’t think Dorchester was going to put anymore books out, anyway. Now, it’s not so easy, at least not for me. I still agree with everything Brian has said on the subject. I certainly wouldn’t buy any of his books that were being sold under shady circumstances detrimental to him, or any other author who has asked the same. But does that mean I should boycott The Woman, which Jack Ketchum does not want me to do (he had fliers for it at WHC), or Valley of the Scarecrow, or Spore? In March, the issue seemed pretty black and white to me. Today, I see varied shades of gray. I don’t have an answer yet.

So I’d like to open up the floor to discussion. There’s a comment section below, and I’d like to see authors, readers or anyone else with a stake in this issue chime in. Call me out, educate me, verbally abuse me if you must. I’m a big boy. I can take it.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Old Gods in Arkansas: Southern Gods by John Hornor Jacobs

Recent World War II veteran Bull Ingram is working as muscle when a Memphis DJ hires him to find Ramblin' John Hastur. The mysterious blues man's dark, driving music - broadcast at ever-shifting frequencies by a phantom radio station - is said to make living men insane and dead men rise. Disturbed and enraged by the bootleg recording the DJ plays for him, Ingram follows Hastur's trail into the strange, uncivilized backwoods of Arkansas, where he hears rumors the musician has sold his soul to the Devil. But as Ingram closes in on Hastur and those who have crossed his path, he'll learn there are forces much more malevolent than the Devil and reckonings more painful than Hell... In a masterful debut of Lovecraftian horror and Southern gothic menace, John Hornor Jacobs reveals the fragility of free will, the dangerous power of sacrifice, and the insidious strength of blood.

I recently had the privilege of meeting John Hornor Jacobs at the World Horror Convention here in Austin, Texas. I’d already connected with him to a small degree online, the result of my varied internet travels that led me to a new genre writer from my hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas. And his forthcoming first novel, Southern Gods, looked amazing.

Jacobs sought me out after a panel at the con, and we chatted a lot over the course of the event. He’s a great guy, very funny and gregarious, and I gather that he received a

lot of much deserved attention there. I was flattered when he told me he’d seen
my book in the dealer’s room and was planning on picking up a copy. Later, I devised a wily proposition for him: I told him I’d happily give him a copy of my book in return for one of those Southern Gods ARCs I knew damn well he had in his hotel room. To my delight, he accepted. And I tore right into that sucker almost as soon as the con was over.

First things first: Southern Gods is a terrific novel. It is Southern Gothic, noir crime thriller and intense Lovecraftian terror rolled into one marvelous story of bad blood, demons both personal and real, and hard-earned redemption. And Jacobs writes with such a sure hand you’d swear he’d sold his soul to the devil just like the folks in 1951 rural Arkansas whisper about Ramblin’ John Hastur in the novel. Of course, Ramblin’ John’s story is a great deal more complex—and more sinister—than that, but I have no intention of ruining the ride you have ahead of you. I’ll just say this: if William Faulkner, Jim Thompson and H.P. Lovecraft had an orgiastic blood sacrifice ritual to honor the Old Ones in the Delta Swampland at the height of the muggy Deep South summer at midnight, Southern Gods would probably be the result. Yeah, it’s that damn good.

I don’t see writing this tight too often, and the mounting tension is so expertly paced that I found myself breathlessly turning the pages. The denouement smashed me in the face with breakneck madness and terror that included a rare element lacking in a lot of horror fiction—heart. Jacobs’ characters are extremely rich, and their journey to the incredible close of Southern Gods all but left me gasping for air. This is the sort of book you just silently hold in your hands for a while after finishing it, thinking it over and basking in its masterfulness. That’s what I did, anyway.

Now that Jacobs has sold his second novel, This Dark Earth, to Simon & Shuster, I’m going to have to figure out a new scheme to get my hands on that, too. If anyone has any sordid details with which I can blackmail him, please pass them along. I don’t want to have to wait until the next John Hornor Jacobs hits the shelves.

I hereby pronounce myself a fan. And I reckon come August 9, we will be legion.

Southern Gods is available for pre-order now at Amazon and just about everywhere else. It comes out on August 9, 2011 from Night Shade Books. Do not pass it up. Because it’s fucking good.