Thursday, March 22, 2018

A Kiss in the Dark From a Stranger

I've been quiet. Graduate school will do that to you. So while I figure out how to get back in the swing of writing horror again, I'll give you a short essay, a reprint, on my love affair with the short form:

The relationship between the writer and the reader has been described as an intense but brief love affair, distant yet freakishly intimate. While a novel can be seen as a lengthy romance, Stephen King suggested “a short story is like a kiss in the dark from a stranger.”
What makes that kiss so compelling to me is what isn’t said, the words that go unspoken. As a reader, you don’t say goodbye to a good short story; you watch her walk away, mesmerized by her poetry and powerless to call her back for explanation. And when she looks over her shoulder at you, you will remember that coy smile for many years. A good short story leaves its lipstick on your collar while you fumble in your pocket for a pen to take down her number.
Speaking as a reader, I think the best short stories are those kisses in the dark that leave me guessing. Joyce Carol Oates has a tendency to end her short stories abruptly, often seemingly in the middle of a scene, and with no apparent resolution. They end without explaining why they end, a lover who kisses you but never returns your phone calls. I both love and hate this, however in imitating this tendency of hers, I think I’ve created some of my strongest work.
The very best horror stories, the ones that have stayed with me over the years and the ones I reread as often as possible, have confused me at first. They’ve angered me on the second reading, and then burrowed into my imagination, crawling through my thoughts and pushing aside folds of brain matter until the maddening itch they inspire make me pick up the book and read them again. And again. And yet again. I love those stories even as I resent the intrusion of their paranoid and often horrific universes into my waking reality. I can’t forget them; they inform and influence everything I read and write, even now.
As a writer, I consider the short story the ultimate think-tank. It’s an incubator for ideas, craft techniques, and characters. You can hold the entirety of a short story universe in your head, all at once, which gives you a wider perspective when you’re experimenting with things like structure and form. You can explore the same story from different points of view, without feeling like you’ve “wasted” months or years of work. The first draft of a short story, even for a slow writer like me, is at its lengthiest an investment of only about a week’s time. I’ve played with spending a month writing the same story three or four different times in different ways. Fiction’s short form is where we writers can easily engage in this kind of experimentation, dressing a story up in different clothes to see which looks the best.
Anthologies are the ultimate short story porn for me: a dozen or more encounters in the dark, strange kisses all tasting of different bitters and sweets; a select few that bite my lip as they draw back, while I lick away a drop of my own blood and scramble backwards through the pages to recapture the moments leading up to that last sentence. It takes me months, sometimes, to get through an entire anthology, despite a promise to myself that I will first read each story only once.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Lost Signals is here!

One of the single most enjoyable moments of my fledgling horror writing career was getting this email:

If you're reading this email, that means you've submitted a short story to our Lost Signals anthology. It also means you've all made it past not only our first round of reading, but our second, third, and fourth. At this point, we're still in the process of narrowing down the table of contents. Since it's after the 15th, I just wanted to send out a quick update. If you haven't heard back from us yet, your story is still under consideration. Very, very strong consideration. Right now, we have a strong selection of just over 200,000 words we would love to accept. The fact remains that we simply cannot publish an anthology so large. There are some very tough decisions ahead of us, and we plan to have all stories responded to by the end of November, so we are asking for a little bit more time to go over all these wonderful stories a few more times.

Followed quickly by THE most enjoyable moment, that of reading this:

Thank you for sending us "Rosabelle, Believe". After many, many rounds of reading, we have decided to accept your story.

This piece almost didn't happen. I sat on the submission call for months, hoping the muse would drop some ideas in my lap, until finally a decent one hit me.

Lost Signals drops today. Go get it, read it, and let me know what you think. It's a beautiful book and I'm honored to have a story included in it.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Hit em with both barrels

I'm exceptionally happy to announce my participation in the Double Barrel Horror series, curated by Matt Weber over at Pint Bottle Press.

Showcasing two stories by each author, and eventually collected as an omnibus, Double Barrel Horror is the first in what I predict will be a super cool series. 

Final Omnibus Edition is here!  Get it for kindle here:

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

It's Officially Official. I'm going back to school!

On the way out the door to take my son to a carnival, I noticed mail in the box. Usually I ignore mail, unless it's from Powells or Amazon, but this letter seemed to glow, like it might have wanted to be delivered by owl post.

The initial scan revealed the phrases that I'm hoping will change my life:

MFA program
Graduate student

And wow. I didn't tell a lot of people I was applying, in case that process crashed and burned, but I wanted to shout it from the rooftops once I made it in.

So I'm going to graduate school. To study writing. Fiction writing, yo.

Life is good. This should be interesting.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Read me!

It's been a busy last few months, and I'm pleased to see some of last season's stories making it to print.

Idolators of Cthulhu

There are those who chant the eldritch songs, who gather in nameless places to celebrate the return of the great Old Ones. For millennia their tales have not been told. Within these haunted pages you will find their stories of yearning, terror, murder, and a faith that defies the understanding of humanity. Come and look into the minds of the Idolaters of Cthulhu.

That's how the new anthology from Alban Lake Publishing is being described. With stories expanding the popular Cthulhu Mythos originated by H.P. Lovecraft, this anthology explores the darker side of an already dark subject. 

The Idolaters of Cthulhu is edited by H. David Blalock and Herika R. Raymer. The anthology is structured in three parts with a foreword by Blalock and atmospheric poetry from classical writers adding to the overall picture. The anthology opens with Beyond the Wall of Sleep by Lovecraft himself and closes with the powerful poem Afterwards by Clark Ashton Smith.

My story, "Fatwa" is the second story in the Incursion section.

Copies are available from Alban Lake Publishing and from Smashwords and Amazon.

 And in the FLASH category:

 I'm also happy to report I will have TWO new flash pieces in the lovely graphic anthologies produced by The Daily Nightmare.

(In case you missed it, my piece "RIP Ellipses" can be found here:  22 More Quick Shivers)

The new anthologies, one focused around the concept of "bugs" and the other featuring authors from the Midwest, will be decorated flash fiction, words transformed into images via creative typography. I was extremely impressed with Daily Nightmare's previous anthologies and the word on the street is that they're going to try a Kickstarter for a color edition of one of the new ones! I'll post the links when they become available.


I'm a guest at this year's Imaginarium in Louisville, KY, so stop by and say hello!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

READ THIS: Horror Library: The Best of Volumes 1-5

Horror Library: The Best of Volumes 1-5


Equal parts weird and creepy

This book opens with a story that stabs you in the soul, and each successive piece twists the knife a little more. Collected from previous Horror Library volumes, this is an anthology of tales ranging from the darkly fantastic to the utterly terrifying.
Several of the stories are what I consider subtle horror: creepy and unnerving, low-key and readable, but the kind of material that will haunt you for weeks after you read it. All stay within the boundaries of good taste, even those containing the most violence. If you’re looking for splatter and gore, you’ll want to look elsewhere. If you’re looking for contemporary horror, the kind that evolves out of the complex and conflicted world of the 21st century, you’ll love this book. 
There are some weird stories, a few wicked ones, and some that will send parents to their child’s bedrooms in the middle of the night, just to check, you know. The stories are arranged in an up and down of pace and tension, so reading the whole anthology through in one sitting is like riding a roller coaster on a replay loop that lasts for 300 pages. 
One Caveat: As a novice horror writer, I found the work in this book to be slightly demoralizing. Usually in an anthology this size there are a few truly noteworthy stories, some good ones, and a few that are unremarkable. This book, however, is literary gold from page one. The elements of craft are so well-polished, the writing techniques so varied, the stories themselves so unique and fresh that aspiring writers might be tempted to chuck it all and take up gardening instead. My advice: treat this book like a textbook on horror writing. Analyze what the authors did and how they did it. Read the book a few times for pleasure, then read it again with an eye on structure, character, dialogue, setting, plot. Then go forth and write scary.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Timeline of the Submission Process

Breakdown of the fiction submission process:

Day One:
Submit story to publication. Double check 15 times that you have the correct email address.
(If using Submittable, double check that you didn't accidentally withdraw the manuscript.)

Days Two through Fourteen:
Check email every 12 seconds.
Experience outrage that publication does not respond instantly.

Day Fifteen:
Alternately assume rejection while at the same time assuming an acceptance with the same level of enthusiasm as what was shown in Ralphie's "theme" day dream in "A Christmas Story."

Day Sixteen:
Read over submitted manuscript and realize it still has serious structural problems. Secretly hope to be rejected so you can fix said manuscript.

Day Twenty:
Assume manuscript lost in the ether. Consider resubmitting under a different name. Ultimately decide to let it go gentle into that dark night.

Day Twenty Five (or Ninety One, depending on the publisher): Hour One:
Receive rejection email.

Same day: Hour One and one minute:
Experience outrage that someone would reject such brilliance.

Same day: Hour One and six minutes:
Happy dance over the opportunity to revise rejected manuscript

Same day: Hour One and eight minutes:
Experience outrage that someone would reject such brilliance.

Same day: Hour One and ten minutes:
Question your abilities. Confirm confidence in your abilities by reading poorly-written erotica. Have a drink. Start new story.

Same day: Later than night:
Experience outrage that your work isn't on the level you want it to be. Finish new story and start second new story.

Following weeks:
Revise rejected story. Submit revised story. Go back to day one and do it all over again. Repeat process for the rest of your natural life.