Card-carrying membership

If you’ve ever perused the mini-wiki on this site devoted to Kellan Oakes, you’ve run across the name-dropping assertion that my fictional creation is part of a “proud literary tradition of occult detectives”. In theory, this could be up for debate, as matters of official taxonomy often are. But as of today, I have a splendid piece of evidence supporting my side of the argument, to wit that a Kellan Oakes story has appeared between the covers of OCCULT DETECTIVE QUARTERLY. Behold my bona fides:

“One of the most important new fantasy magazines of the decade.” – Black Gate Online

The fourth issue of ODQ is now available and contains, among other tales, “Abduction in Ash” written by yours truly and starring Kellan Oakes, who takes on a missing person case and finds himself once again at the wrong end of some nasty, gnarly forest folk. To pull back the curtain a bit, this is a story I wrote quite some time ago, when the Kellan Oakes series started taking on a life of its own and I was doing research into creatures of legend to find likely pegs I might hang stories on. I wound up digging into some fairly obscure corners, and I can only hope that I ended up doing justice to the original lore.

Feel free to judge for yourself – you can obtain your own copy of Occult Detective Quarterly #4 right here!


Convergent visions

I’m at the point where it’s still extremely gratifying and exciting to see a publisher go to the trouble of obtaining the services of an artist to illustrate one of my stories, particularly when said illustration turns out to be GORGEOUS:

This artwork is the handiwork of Russell Smeaton, who pretty much rules. It is intended to accompany my forthcoming Kellan Oakes tale, “Abduction in Ash”, appearing in the fourth issue of Occult Detective Quarterly any day now! The interiors of ODQ are black and white, so this will become a grey-toned rendering in the magazine, but I’m delighted to present it in glorious technicolor here.

Considering that Russell and I had never met before, and he had only the text of the story itself to work with, I think the manner in which he was able to capture something frighteningly close to my own mental constructs is phenomenal. I hope the story itself will live up to what’s promised here – watch this space for an update on the release soon!

Investigators of the transmundane

Somewhere around the middle of 2016, an announcement was made of the intention to launch a brand new periodical of short genre fiction: OCCULT DETECTIVE QUARTERLY. This appealed to me on a number of levels, mainly as a fan who enjoys reading stories about square-jawed heroes facing off against the supernatural, and as a writer always happy to see a new potential market for my own work. I’d feel a certain amount of both consumer enthusiasm and professional gratitude for any new venture whether its focus were pure robots-and-aliens sci-fi or throwback sword-and-sorcery fantasy, but Occult Detective Quarterly was particularly welcome because, of course, my recurring character Kellan Oakes is a private eye who regularly tangles with figures from druid lore and other magical, mystical spheres; he is, by very definition, an Occult Detective.

ODQ, as it has since become affectionately known, released its first three issues over the course of 2017 (the cover to #3 pictured above), with more to come in 2018. And I’m exceedingly pleased to say that there will be a brand new Kellan Oakes story appearing in one of those 2018 issues, schedule TBD and further announcements to come when final decisions are rendered. But in the meantime, much as I plugged Weirdbook for its own sake before it was possible to obtain an issue with my work therein, I am eager to signal-boost for ODQ, thusly:

THE MAGAZINE: Here is a link to Doomed Meddler Central, where you can find more information about the publication’s mission statement and also make use of links to the various issues available on Amazon.

THE ANTHOLOGY: ODQ also has a Kickstarter campaign running right now for a 300 page anthology, Occult Detective Quarterly Presents, featuring stories similar in subject matter to the magazine’s regular contents but more expansive in length, if that’s your cup of tea. The campaign is nearly over but to my way of thinking this is the ideal time to throw in: the project is fully funded, so you would basically be pre-ordering the book (and potentially subscribing to the magazine for 2018 as well, which again, will guarantee you a new story of mine in due time), and your backing would help achieve the stretch goal of fully illustrating the anthology.

Re-animated matter


They said it couldn’t be done, but they’ve done it again! Following up on last year’s premiere excursion into unholy pulp terror, the PulpWork Press 2017 Halloween Special is now available!

As usual, you can locate this year’s offering at Amazon. If you can restrain yourself, the Kindle edition will be available for FREE download for everyone between October 27th and October 31st. I am dead certain, however, that you will want to get your very own hard copy at your earliest opportunity – which is right now!

Once again I’ve stirred into the cauldron a brand new adventure of Kellan Oakes, this time in a throwback adventure from his pre-P.I. days. I’m stitched together in this exquisite corpse with Tom Deja, Josh Reynolds, and Joel Jenkins! Whether you’re in the mood for tricks or treats, the PulpWork Halloween Special is coming for you!

Creeping up

The most glorious time of the year is here, and that means we are drawing ever nearer to Halloween, and another PulpWork Press Halloween Special! The finishing touches are being put on the 2017 edition of the spooktacular as we speak, so it’s not quite time to reveal the availability details or the full cover … but I can provide a sneak-peek:

And since I’m not fully into hype mode for the anthology yet, allow me to indulge in some Real Talk: as you no doubt are aware, my druid private eye Kellan Oakes made his literary debut in the pages of a PulpWork Press Christmas Special. This will mark his fourth appearance in a holiday special from PulpWork, in addition to stories in CheapJack Pulp and other forthcoming projects to be announced soon. I have been posting recently about one of those on-deck projects recently, and my efforts to craft a Kellan Oakes tale which came in under a specified word limit and followed a classic pulp formula (see this entry and this one for details), all of which I think were worthwhile efforts. But I confess that one of the things I really enjoy about writing for the PulpWork holiday specials is that there are very few constraints in terms of either word count or style or subject matter beyond the obvious themes of pulp and whichever season is being celebrated. As a result, my PulpWork stories about Kellan tend to be a bit looser and shaggier, and this year’s is no exception. Sometimes it’s rewarding to follow the rules, and sometimes it’s gratifying to let it all hang out. Words to live by, I reckon.

… seriously, no idea what I’m talking about (2)

I posted recently about a story I had written in response to a specific open call. That post focused on stylistic editing and working within mandated word counts, partly because I found that angle interesting and partly because I didn’t want to talk too much about the story itself. Label me irrational or superstitious if you must, but since the story was merely under consideration at the time the post was composed, I felt I might cosmically undermine myself if I revealed even the smallest detail regarding the story’s subject matter.

The good news is, the story was accepted! More details to come when the anthology has a cover to promote and a release date and so forth. But for the moment, it’s noteworthy that my tale was accepted in a somewhat roundabout way, which provides an excellent entry point for discussing yet another aspect of Big Three (or Four) Genre Writing. I’ve made all the points I’m capable of making about how understanding genre, intuitively or otherwise, shapes how a reader experiences and interacts with a piece of fiction. Now I’ll tackle it from the writing side.

A good sense for the boundaries of genres, particularly the subgenres within them, is important for any writer trying to place stories in open call anthologies, because by and large those anthologies organize themselves along genre lines. If an anthology is supposed to have a science fiction theme, or more specifically hard sci-fi about human interstellar exploration, then no matter how entertaining your yarn about alien pirates who fly between the stars in leviathan jellyfish may be, you’re unlikely to be deemed “a good match” for the project. Whether you’re going through your personal back catalog of unpublished stories or sitting down to write something brand new, the genre expectation game should be a part of the process.

The call I responded to was for an anthology called “The Pulp Horror Book of Phobias”, which appealed to me with both “pulp” and “horror” right there in the title. Pulp is one of those overly broad categories that can encompass any number of genre-related ideas depending on whom you ask, but I happen to have my own pulp character always at the ready in the form of Kellan Oakes. I’m certainly no stranger to horror, and some of Kellan’s adventures have skewed towards that quadrant. What probably sealed the deal was the fact that the editor was looking for stories addressing very specific phobias, eschewing the more common (and understandable) fears of spiders and snakes and enclosed spaces in favor of strange and unusual phobias. Near the top of the alphabetical list was botanophobia, and if I couldn’t write a compelling story about the son of a druid facing off against someone deathly afraid of plantlife, then I might as well break my keyboard over my knee.

Venus flytrap
Anti-spoiler: the story is not about Venus flytraps. But this picture is pretty creepy.

The open call made direct reference to the Lester Dent Master Plot as a guideline for constructing a proper pulp story. I’d been aware of Dent’s formula for a while but never actually tried following the recipe to a tee, until I started working on the Kellan Oakes story I intended to submit to the Pulp Horror Book of Phobias. I outlined the story to hit the beats Dent suggested, and included the requisite number of twists and turns. The Dent formula recommends no more than 6000 words, as did the guidelines for the Pulp Horror Book of Phobias, which is whence the word count concern in the previous post arose. In the end, I wound up with what I thought was a gem, if I do say so myself. I had expanded Kellan’s supporting cast and fleshed out his background a little bit more. I had written a pulp tale of two-fisted action, no question, and I had incorporated one of the specific phobias being solicited. The only uncertainty I felt as I appraised the finished product was that it might not have enough horror in it. Clearly it had some horror ingredient, including an actual monster, but the overall mood was more thrilling than chilling. In the end, I simply submitted the story to let the editor decide what “pulp horror” was supposed to mean. Maybe the whole anthology was intended to be a broad spectrum of stories, some pulpy adventure stories with horror signifiers around the edges, some terrifying tales with a dash of pulp signifiers, some striking a perfect balance. Either it was a good match or it wasn’t, and if it were rejected, I’d find a home for it somewhere else.

I got the story in just before the deadline so I didn’t have to wait long to hear back. And what I heard back was … sorry, not exactly what we’re looking for. And while I had absolutely acknowledged that potential outcome ahead of time, the reasons the editor gave caught me off guard. It all came down to the botanophobia element, which the editor said didn’t match their vision. In hindsight, I realized that they probably wanted the main viewpoint character to suffer from the phobia in each story, either succumbing to it or overcoming it, to convey some visceral horror permeating everything in the tale. That wasn’t really an option for me once I decided to dive headlong into a new Kellan Oakes story, because I had no desire to make a previously undisclosed phobia a part of his character. So I incorporated it into an antagonist, where it became a plot driver but not really a vehicle for putting the audience directly through the emotional wringer. I respected the editor’s decision.

The emotional roller coaster took an upswing as the editor assured me that they really loved the story all the same, and then threw me for an even bigger loop-de-loop by asking if it would be all right if the story were accepted instead for a different anthology called Death’s Garden. I had been aware of the Death’s Garden open call as well, but hadn’t considered it for this story. From the title alone it sounds like a great fit, right? Botanophobia, Death’s Garden, same difference? Except that Death’s Garden had billed itself as an anthology of extreme horror.

As far as I ever knew, the extreme horror subgenre was the darkest of the dark, where no act was too unspeakable to write down and describe in literally gory detail. I’m not judging anyone who likes their fictional horror messy and in-your-face, but that’s never been my preference. And I never imagined that anything in the Kellan Oakes story I had submitted would come across as extreme. But, I’m not one to turn my nose up at an acceptance, however circuitous, so of course I agreed to have my story take root in Death’s Garden.

Even more so than usual, I will be curious to check out the anthology once it’s formatted, and see just how extreme the rest of the contents are. Maybe my Kellan Oakes tale will be the tamest in the bunch, or maybe the editor thinks extreme horror is anything even slightly more sinister than sparkly vampire romance. We shall see.

The point, once again, is that I would have thought the story I wrote was pulp horror, not extreme horror, and that it was a perfect fit for the Pulp Horror Book of Phobias and ill-suited for Death’s Garden. But apparently I was wrong across the board, so do I really have an unerring sense of genre conventions and distinctions? Probably not, but I still like to talk about it all the same.

… but don’t know what I’m talking about (1)

So, according to my last post, I love all genre writing, separated into pure distillations or combined into various subgenres. You would think this means I love all of the Big Three (or Four) genres equally, and then in turn you would think I write stories in each genre equally, as well. I would certainly think so, or would have before I started engaging in some self-quantifying.

To date I’ve published seventeen short stories, and the numbers break out like so:

Fantasy = 8
Horror = 6
Superhero = 4
Science Fiction = 1

A couple of observations. The numbers above add up to nineteen, not seventeen, because I counted two stories twice, one as both fantasy and horror and one as both sci-fi and horror. Honestly a lot of my stories combine genres, and I haven’t got any realist/psychological horror stories to my credit, so all of the horror tales could have double-counted as fantasy. The method I used for dividing them up was the emotional tenor of the story – was I using monsters to propel action, or create fear and unease? – up through and including whether or not the story had a happy resolution. Fear and downer outcomes went in the horror category, while thrills and action and upbeat endings went for fantasy.

My allegedly favorite genre, superheroes, comes in second to last in the output rankings. I’ve talked before about my specific take on what makes a superhero story; notwithstanding my assertion in the previous post about how comic book worlds are the ultimate genre mashup, I mainly consider a story to be in the superhero category if the protagonist meets my “could do anything but chooses to help others” criteria. As of now, I can claim to have four tales like that out in the world, all of them featuring Kellan Oakes. I have two more unrelated superhero stories accepted by editors and awaiting publication, plus a couple of Kellan’s further adventures in the pipeline, so that number will be growing shortly, and might very well have taken the lead by this time next year.

But that lone sci-fi story really sticks out, doesn’t it? As someone who grew up knowing Star Wars by heart, watching live-action Buck Rogers and cartoon Flash Gordon on tv, reading Asimov, and knowing the expansion of the internet, animal cloning, Mars exploration and more as current events, how can I have so little fiction centered around mad scientists, aliens and robots to show for it? I’m not a technophobe, I love scientific progress, but for some reason I gravitate toward the impossible in my fiction. Maybe I worry that my deep-rooted fandom for sci-fi would make anything I tried on my own too derivative. Maybe the longer I’ve been alive, the more rigorous the factual basis of sci-fi has become, and I’m intimidated by the standards it’s held to. Maybe things just come and go in cycles, and at some point just past the horizon I’ll feel burned out on fantasy and start transposing my ideas from mythic kingdoms to distant planets. Hard to say, for me at any rate.

So, again, take everything I say around here with a grain of salt, especially when I start making sweeping pronouncements about genres and the fundamental ideas underpinning them. Clearly I have blindspots of my own which make me a less than totally reliable source.