Ups and downs

I have not had much to report here on the blog through the spring of this year, partly due to a lack of free time to devote to generating new fiction, and partly due to long wait times hearing back from various outlets. But as the summer officially begins, I do have a couple of updates to share. As always seems to be the case, it’s a mixed bag, up and down, an acceptance and a rejection.

I’ll start with the acceptance: I’m deeply gratified to announce that my story “An Excerpt from the 2022-2023 Molitor University Course Catalog” has been accepted for publication on the Between the Shelves section of the Archive of the Odd website. This story is a bit outside my wheelhouse, in a couple of ways. It’s short, and it’s non-traditional prose; as the title implies, the tale is told entirely via course descriptions from a fictional institute of higher learning. It should be available to read in early August, and I will of course provide an update with a link to it when it debuts.

I won’t mention the title of the story I recently received a rejection for, as I’m still actively shopping it around, but I wanted to include it here not merely for the sake of yin/yang balance but because I was given substantive feedback on it, which is a rarity that I do appreciate. Said feedback also included the following line: “the image of the baby lapping the blood was nice and creepy” and honestly, any day where an email with a sentiment like that arrives in your inbox can’t be all bad.

Pre-order specials from LVP

I don’t have any recent news to share on story sales or publications, but I did want to take a moment to use this platform to promote some upcoming releases from Lycan Valley Press Publications. LVP is an outfit I’ve been published by in the past and will continue to work with in the future, and they have some solid offerings coming this year.

Books currently available for pre-order include:

Pink Triangle Rhapsody

Bottled Spirits and Other Dark Tales

Dreadful Fancies

Give one, two or all three a try! Support small and independent publishers!

Not all heroes

Available now! SUPER A.F.!, an anthology of fiction re-imagining six of the characters who appeared in the Ajax-Farrell line of comic books in the 1950’s, featuring my story “Divine Treasures and Cursed Things”.

I feel compelled to note that these are unauthorized updates, although authorization is a moot point, since Ajax-Farrell was one of many also-rans from the boom days of comics and their pantheon of heroes has fallen into the public domain.

I wound up taking part in this anthology because I was corresponding with the editor about a completely different project (more on that at a later date) and he had a writer drop out of SUPER AF. The editor asked me to step in and I gladly did so, because superheroes are one of my great devotions. In general, my fiction tends to oscillate wildly between two poles of darkness and light. I write a lot of horror and dark fantasy that traffics in the unsettling and weird, but I also write a lot of straight heroic stuff. Some, like my Kellan Oakes stories, are about a decently good guy trying his best to make things right, and some, like my Snow Wolf origin, are 100% funnybook fodder. Either way, the superhero comics I grew up reading are a massive direct influence on that sunnier side of my output. So of course when the editor of SUPER AF gave me a list of heroes to choose from, minus the ones already claimed by the other authors on the project, I chose … the one that wasn’t really a superhero at all.

“Hexmaster” is really more of a horror host, the staple narrator character archetype from the broad genre associated with EC Comics and the pre-Marvel era parental panics. You know, guys like the good old Cryptkeeper so memorably brought to life when HBO aired a Tales From the Crypt anthology series.

Of course, since the tales in this anthology are modernizations, the adaptation of the source material is loose to begin with, and although I went with a perhaps unintuitive choice I did warp it back around to the superhero motifs, ending up with a riff on the classic origin story that I hope is equal parts weird and costumed crusader comfort food for your inner twelve-year-old.

Head over to Amazon and get your copy today!

Return to the Arborian Age

Please forgive the terrible pun, but I couldn’t resist once again combining references to both Conan the Barbarian, and his pseudo-historical setting in the Hyborian Age, and my own creation Kellan Oakes, born the son of a druid priestess and raised amidst her pseudo-mystical arboreal culture. The latest Kellan Oakes adventure, “The Undying Past”, is now available in the new anthology Sidearm & Sorcery!

The book is full of all-original stories, which means Conan himself does not appear, but there is a thematic connection, which I explained in depth in a previous blog post and won’t rehash here.

As for announcing the release itself, technically this book came out in the waning days of 2021, at least in Kindle format. But it is now available in both e-book and paperback formats, so don’t delay – get your copy today!

The spirit of giving

You might remember that in December of last year I published a serialized Christmas horror story here on the blog, as a holiday giveaway. This year, I am pleased to announce that story, “All She Wants For Christmas”, has been included in The Colour Out of Deathlehem, a charity holiday anthology benefiting The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.

Please consider supporting a good cause and continuing the tradition of scary ghost stories at Christmastime by picking up a copy for yourself!

As an added bonus, below are a few annotations for my story to enhance your reading experience. If you read the story here on the blog last year, or purchase the Deathlehem anthology this year (or both!) I hope you enjoy the following peek behind the curtain:

Annotations

This is a story set at Christmastime and in many ways about Christmas traditions, so of course I tried to incorporate as many Christmas references as I could.  In order of appearance:

Lizz Gaspar – I chose the name ‘Lizz’ because it just seemed fitting for a romantic lead, a recognizable nickname for a classic feminine name with a slightly quirky alternate spelling.  ‘Gaspar’ was one of the Magi, aka the Three Kings or Three Wise Men.  Given that Lizz makes some rather unwise decisions in the story, I suppose this name is ironic.

Peartree – it probably goes without saying that this is one of many references to ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’, everyone’s favorite cumulative Christmas carol.

The Partridge – ditto.

Steven Wren – ‘Steven’ is a bland enough manly name but it also helps that the Feast of Saint Stephen is December 26, while Wren’s Day is a pre-Christian winter solstice celebration also observed on December 26. 

Hans Trott – aka Hans Trapp, and clearly I went with the slightly lesser known version of the name because it’s the less sinister-sounding of the two, and I was trying to delay the big reveal as long as possible.  This is a real bit of European folklore, by the by, and it’s insane.  First of all, Hans Trott/Trapp was based on a real person named Hans von Trotha, who was an aristocratic knight in the 1400’s.  The foyer mosaic in the story is in fact the historical heraldry of von Trotha.  Hans got into some heated property disputes with the Church, as one did in those days.  After his death, he became a figure of folklore, not only depicted as a miser of epic proportions but also as a Satan-worshipper, child murderer and cannibal … while he was alive.  Then, he received swift divine justice in the form of being struck by lightning and killed.  THEN, he became an undead scarecrow monster who continued to terrorize the living, and at some point got folded into Christmas legends in the region as the counterweight to Saint Nicholas, punishing wicked children while St. Nick brought presents to good children.    

Alsace-Lorraine – because this is the region in which Hans Trott/Trapp is a regional Christmas terror, this is the kind of cuisine Steven Wren cooks at the Partridge.

Sheriff Douglass – like a Douglas Fir, get it?  I nearly named the character Sheriff Tannenbaum (or Tannen or Baum) but backed away from being THAT on the nose.

Early and often

The official publication date is January 26, 2022, but you can now pre-order Generation X-ed, which includes my story “Parker Third West”, and why wouldn’t you? Visit Rowland Books to check out all of the authors who contributed to the Gen-X horror anthology and secure yourself a copy well in advance!

Also while you’re there you can visit the Zazzle store for Rowland Books and pick up a t-shirt, mouse pad, or bee glass as seen above. And again, now that you know the possibility exists, why wouldn’t you take advantage? Shop early, shop often!

Talking about genre II

Earlier this month I was working on the introduction for my first collection of short fiction, which is nearing the end stages of production and should be coming out soon. The entire book, entitled Assorted Malignancies and featuring short stories both reprinted and never-before published, drabbles and poetry, falls squarely in the horror genre. On the one hand, that’s understandable, as it gives the collection some marketable focus, which was part of the overall pitch I made to the publisher, Lycan Valley Press, who in turn tends to focus on horror themselves. I also write fantasy and science-fiction and pulpy adventure, and I’ve ruminated on the overlaps and differences between those before, but for my debut as the sole credited author on the cover of the book, it’s going to be all horror all day.

Spoooooooky

An excerpt, from said introduction, to whet your appetites:

Then as I got deeper into my teen years, I found horror.  Or possibly horror found me.  As an older adolescent I was still fundamentally a happy kid and was slowly developing a sincere appreciation for not just how stable my home life was but how rare a thing that was in the world.  But I was being subjected to the same biological social pressures as my peers, to prove myself as a worthy mate.  In the old stories that meant leaving home to find one’s fortune; in the suburbs of the late 80’s and early 90’s, that meant watching scary movies and not being a wuss about it.  And it worked its way into my writing, too, as seemingly overnight I wanted to write about ghosts and visions of madness more than magic swords of destiny.  I’m sure it was all part of my nominally maturing outlook, a way of processing my place in the world and all of my hormone-driven feelings about it.  I don’t think I ever made it all the way to being a full-fledged cynic, but I definitely became more aware of darkness than ever before.

It goes without saying that I will post more in the future once there is a pre-order capability for the collection, and a set release date, and all of those goodies. Stay tuned until then!

Merely mortal

I just signed the contract yesterday, so let the word go out across the land: a new Kellan Oakes story is coming! “The Undying Past” will appear in a new anthology published by StoryHack in the coming months. I’m always pleased when I find an open call that feels like a good fit for my erstwhile-druid-turned-P.I. and this was no exception. In fact, it may have been the Platonic ideal of that scenario.

The editor of the anthology announced his desire to publish a collection of stories which blended sword and sorcery with urban fantasy. I immediately realized this was not just a reasonable market to offer a Kellan Oakes story, but quite possibly the perfect distillation of the character’s milieu.

‘Assuming, of course, that one is familiar with the nuanced definitions of those bits of subgenre jargon. Urban fantasy is fairly easy to understand: a story which is set in something like the modern world, as opposed to prehistory or a secondary realm, that incorporates just enough fantasy elements to make things interesting without rendering the world unrecognizable. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, What We Do In the Shadows, Harry Dresden (a direct inspiration for Kellan Oakes which my stories unabashedly wear on their sleeve), and so on. I just realized those three top-of-mind examples have a lot to do with vampires, one way or the other, which may go a ways toward explaining why I’ve shied away from writing any tales of Kellan Oakes encountering vampires; I’ve got to differentiate myself somehow.

Meanwhile, sword and sorcery is less well-understood. Many people probably think that it describes any kind of Dungeons & Dragons-esque tale, where everyone has swords and there’s a fair amount of sorcery being flung in all directions, but it actually refers to something more specific. The setting almost always does resemble something out of high fantasy epics, but the protagonist is very specifically non-fantastical. It is usually a lone human, skilled and formidable but possessing nothing in the way of supernatural abilities or powers, making his or her way against all odds in a world full of wizards, monsters, demons and the like. The sword is the hero, and the sorcery is both the setting and the opposing forces arrayed against the hero.

So you could think about the StoryHack anthology premise in terms like that, where each story will have a human, non-spellcasting, non-demigod protagonist, and will be set in a modern city full of recognizable institutions and technology, and will still feature some otherwise inexplicable primordial weirdness creeping in to complicate things. Or, you could acknowledge that the most famous and arguably purest example of sword and sorcery is Conan the Barbarian and simply say “It’s like Conan, but with guns.”

Yes, I know, this is more “Conan Versus Guns” but I just love using Marvel Comics covers to make a point.

In fact this is probably why the editor proposed the title “Sidearm and Sorcery” for the anthology, swapping swords for guns but keeping the alliteration nicely. And my elevator pitch for Kellan Oakes has always been that he is just a regular guy, who was raised by a druid priestess and therefore knows a lot and has been exposed to a lot, but still has no supernatural powers and is just doing his best to make his way in a world where occasionally woodland myths show up and cause trouble, plus he is a private eye and carries a gun. So that works out pretty well.