The Lovecraft e-zine Podcast Interview, with book list/links

Yesterday, I had the great pleasure of being interviewed on The Lovecraft e-zine Podcast, which is one of my favorite weekly podcasts.  Thanks to Mike Davis, Pete Rawlik, Phil Fracassi, Matt Carpenter, and Kelly Young for their hospitality and good conversation.  If you’d like, you can listen to the broadcast here.

During the show, in conjunction with discussing my recent reviewing for Locus magazine, I mentioned a number of books that are well worth a look.  Some of them appeared this past year, some are a bit older.  I thought it would be a good idea to post links to them here.  If you have a little disposable income, and want to read excellent novels and stories, you might want to check out a few (or all) of these.

Looming Low, eds. Sam Cowan and Justin Steele:  This struck me as one of the major anthologies of 2017.  It brings together a number of up and coming writers of weird fiction with more established writers in the field, and in the process offers fresh insights into the relationships between their work.  (Pair it with Joe Pulver’s Walk on the Weird Side, and you have a nice overview of the state of the field.)

UBO, by Steven Rasnic Tem:  Tem is one of the legends of the horror field, and his latest novel demonstrates why.  It’s an alien abduction story, of a kind, in which monstrous insects spirit people from their beds to a strange planet where they’re strapped to strange machinery that drops them into the consciousnesses of some of (human) history’s greatest villains.  Nothing else I read last year compared to it in terms of sheer weirdness and sheer humanity.  (I also mentioned Tem’s collaboration with his late wife, Melanie, The Man on the Ceiling, which is one of my absolute favorite horror novels of the last decade plus.)

My reviews of S.P. Miskowski’s I Wish I Was Like You and Gwendolyn Kiste’s Pretty Marys All In a Row were posted at the Locus website, but I also wanted to recognize their recent collections, Strange is the Night and And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, respectively.  Kristi DeMeester had a two book year, as well, with her debut novel, Beneath, and collection, Everything That’s Underneath, establishing her as a strong voice in horror fiction.  Nadia Bulkin’s She Said Destroy is a welcome collection of her searing stories; while Philip Fracassi’s Behold the Void contains one of my favorite recent horror stories, the novella, “Altar.”

And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe     She Said Destroy     Everything That's Underneath: A Collection of Weird and Horror Tales     Behold the Void     Strange Is the Night

Finally, during our conversation, I had a chance to mention the work of Thomas Tessier, whose werewolf novel, The Nightwalker, remains a favorite decades after I first came across it in a used bookstore after literally years of searching for it (based on Stephen King’s recommendation in Danse Macabre).  It may be the horror novel I’ve re-read the most; certainly, it’s among the top three or four.  Slender and elegant, Tessier’s novels are overdue a revival.  If you like The Nightwalker, take a look at Finishing Touches or Phantom.

Image result for tessier the nightwalker

 

 

 

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The Numbers of the bEast–Gripped

Gripped

 

For Joe Pulver

 

This was maybe ’91 or ’92.  The economy losing its footing, stumbling into recession, the glories of the Gulf War receded in the national rearview.  The turn of the century—of the millennium—no longer a description of past events, but a predictor of things on the way, less than a decade’s distance.  Across central Europe, groups manacled by toppled tyrants massaged raw wrists, regarding one another from the corners of their eyes while reaching for the knives.  HIV-AIDS rampaged through the bloodstreams of young and old, rich and poor, celebrity and nobody.

Joe was working as a bouncer at the End Zone, a strip club in Latham.  Most of his job consisted of taking money at the door and maintaining a generally hostile expression to everyone who handed him cash, from the college boys up from SUNYA, down from Sienna, or over from RPI, to the truckers and businessmen in town for the night, to the assorted regulars, most of whom knew how to circumvent the club’s no-alcohol policy by gulping from their bottles in their cars in the parking lot.  He kept the camo patrol cap on because it added to his bellicose appearance, and when he inclined his head forward the bill made it more difficult for the customers to be sure where he was looking.  Even in the club’s air-conditioned atmosphere, his denim jacket rapidly grew humid, but it lent a good ten pounds to him, and he figured the bigger he seemed, the less chance there was of a random asshole trying anything with him.  Plus, the jacket’s pockets were capacious enough to hold a flask of rye on the right and a dog-eared paperback of French poetry on the left.  The liquor, he treated himself to after locking the club’s door behind the last patron to exit.  The verse, he read as the alcohol’s heat spread from his stomach and the girls changed into their regular clothes and prepared to leave.  He murmured the French:  “Comme je descendais des Fleuves impassibles,” “La lune s’attristait,” “A la fin tu es las de ce monde ancien.”  When it was time for the girls to go, he walked those who did not have rides waiting for them to their cars.

He encountered less trouble than he’d been warned to expect by the man who hired him.  In most cases, his arrival was enough to put a stop to whatever bullshit was in progress—usually, a guy who couldn’t or wouldn’t get the message that the dancer he was crowding wanted him gone.  Every so often, he found it necessary to grip the arm of the offender high on the bicep and steer him to another part of the club, up to and including the front door.  Although plenty of customers played tough, thrusting out their chests and glaring at him, they were roosters, showing off for the other cocks.  The only one who truly made him nervous, to the point he retrieved the aluminum bat he’d propped behind his stool at the front door, was a short guy with curly red hair and a van dyke who entered one afternoon not just drunk but angry drunk, his face flushed, his eyes sparked bright by an altercation with his girlfriend, or the woman he thought was his girlfriend, from what Joe overheard of the tirade the man unloaded on Kelly, the bartender, and then to the mirror behind the bar.  Before he was done with his speech, he grabbed the empty glass in front of him and smashed it onto his forehead.  When he stumbled off his seat, blood was streaming down his face, shards of glass shining in his hair.  He opened his mouth and screamed, a howl of frustration and rage that turned all the heads in the room his direction and sent Joe hurrying for the baseball bat.  His fingers had just closed on it when the man burst into tears and sat down on the floor.  Kelly was already on the phone to 911, and although Joe hustled to where the man was sitting, the situation was over.  During the five minutes the Sheriff’s deputies took to arrive, the man screamed twice more, but no one paid attention to him.  That night, Joe remained in the club after the last girl had departed, smoking his way through a pack of Marlboros and reading Baudelaire:  “Dans des terrains cendreux, calcinés, sans verdure, / Comme je me plaignais un jour à la nature.”  As dawn was bloodying the horizon, he crept into the backseat of his Dodge and plummeted into dreams of men with glass studding their skin.

A week after that, Joe had his encounter with the shirtless guy.  It was closing time, the last girl left from the stage, the music switched off, the house lights raised.  Joe had thought all the customers were gone.  But when he glanced at the stage, he saw a lone figure seated on one of the chairs that lined it.  One sneakered foot propped on the railing that ran the stage’s perimeter, the guy had pushed his chair up on two legs.  Didn’t your mother ever tell you, Joe thought.  At some point after entering the club, the guy had doffed whatever shirt he’d worn in, which had escaped Joe’s notice—odd, because if there was one thing the patrons of a strip club were absolutely obliged to do, it was to remain clothed, themselves.  The guy was skinny, but his flesh was roped with muscle.  None of the girls had mentioned a ride waiting for them inside, so it was likely Mr. Shirtless was waiting to surprise one of them with his attentions.  Joe approached quickly and quietly.  He considered kicking the guy’s chair out from under him, but on the off-chance he wasn’t there for some nefarious purpose, Joe opted for the usual bicep grab, ready to ease the guy to the floor should he startle and topple the chair.

Instead of closing on the man’s arm, however, Joe’s fingers grasped the man’s right hand.  In a move whose serpentine specifics happened too fast for him to follow, the guy corkscrewed to his feet and twisted to catch Joe’s grip in his.  Joe’s brow lowered, his frown becoming a grimace as the shirtless man tightened his hold.  The guy couldn’t weight more than one-fifty, and that was assuming you threw in the sneakers and black corduroys hanging from his hips, but he possessed circus-strongman strength.  As best he could, Joe returned the pressure, but it was no contest.  The man squeezed his hand, pain lighting Joe’s arm as his bones gave to the brink of breaking.  No telling what the guy’s next move was going to be, but if it was preceded by breaking Joe’s hand, it couldn’t be anything good.  The baseball bat was hopelessly out of reach; Joe clenched his left hand and brought it back for a roundhouse.

And the guy released him and stepped away, hands open and up.  “Well,” he said, “I guess I should be going.”

“Yeah,” Joe said once he could catch his breath.  “I guess you should.”  In the combined relief and pain that rushed over him, he saw that the guy was older than he’d first taken him for, at least his age.  He had a tattoo of some kind on his right shoulder, a figure Joe didn’t recognize, done in jaundiced ink.  Rubbing his right hand with his left, he walked the shirtless man to the front door and out into the parking lot.  He wanted to watch this guy get into his vehicle, start it, and drive away from here.

The man took half a dozen steps across the gravel, stopped, and turned.  There was a cigarette Joe hadn’t seen him roll or light between his lips.  “Almost forgot,” he said.  He reached his left hand behind him.  When he brought it around front, it was holding a pistol, a black automatic Joe had failed to notice tucked into the guy’s waistline as he trailed him.  The man held the gun by the bottom of the grip, dangling it upside down.  “Here,” he said, holding the weapon out to Joe, “take it.”

He couldn’t see how a gun in this guy’s possession was a good idea.  He caught the pistol with his left hand and the man released it.  “Two bullets,” the guy said, holding up the index and middle fingers of his right hand.

“Two,” Joe said.  “Why?  For what?”

“You’ll know.”

Joe slid the gun into his jacket.  He heard gravel crunching, looked up to the sight of the shirtless man striding out of the parking lot and along the shoulder of the road.  Before Joe lost sight of him behind the silhouette of the auto parts place next door, the guy shouted something at him Joe couldn’t distinguish.  It sounded French; something to do with Carcassonne, maybe.

His right hand hurt for days, to the point he considered a visit to the emergency room.  He opted to increase his intake of rye.  It didn’t help, nor did the painkillers Kelly slipped him.  What reduced if not relieved the pain he discovered one night he was playing with a ballpoint pen.  Silver, the kind with the button on one end you click to extend and lock the point, and again to release and retract it, it had been left behind by one of the customers.  Doubtful the owner was going to return for it, but Joe had it at his place at the front door, just in case.  Bones aching, he pressed the button over and over—until, prompted by a sudden and ferocious impulse, he dug the book of French poetry out of his pocket and opened it to the inside back cover.  His hand felt as if it was filled with fire.  He pressed the tip of the pen to the blank surface, and started to write.

The room wheeled.  High overhead, the moon rolled across the sky, crashing through the stars, cracking the firmament.  The pen drove across the paper.  Cities shuddered, burst, collapsed in glittering ruin.  Across a great distance, someone was speaking.  Joe leaned forward to hear what was being said.

 

 

 

 

Syl Disjonk’s Ethereal Chrysalis

At this past Necronomicon, Henrik Moller introduced me to Syl Disjonk and told me I should watch Syl’s short film, Ethereal Chrysalis.  I finally got around to doing so, today.  It’s an impressive piece.  I was struck by all that Syl was able to accomplish in such a short amount of time.  He describes the film as Lovecraftian, which I suppose it is, but I think it’s the Lovecraft of the dream stories–or it may be the dramatization of those semi-coherent speeches Lovecraft’s characters make after they’ve had their glimpses of the unutterably horrible.  It struck me as sharing the spirit of some of Joe Pulver’s fiction, too.  Take a look for yourself:

Necronomicon Providence 2015–Four Weeks On

I returned from the 2015 Necronomicon Providence with my older son and his family about to visit, and with my younger son and I about to test for our next promotions in Tang Soo Do.  As a result, it’s taken me a little while to sit down and set down my thoughts on the second of these conventions.  The short version is that I had an even better time at the 2015 Necronomicon than I did at the 2013 one, which I’m not sure I would have predicted possible.  I was very busy with programming, participating in a couple of readings and a number of panels.  There were also room parties.   In between, I spent time with a host of friends, signed numerous books, and wandered the dealers’ room.  I think I saw the convention developing in interesting directions.  The 2013 con focused more on Lovecraft and his set, with attention given to some contemporary horror writers (mostly those who fit best with HPL’s legacy).  The 2015 con seemed more evenly divided between HPL and his set and more recent horror writers.  It’ll be interesting to see what happens in 2017.

So:  some highlights from this convention:

–Thursday evening dinner with Brian Evenson, Paul Tremblay, Michael Cisco, Nikki Guerlain, Simon Strantzas, and Richard Gavin at a swanky restaurant whose name I’ve forgotten, but whose food was top-notch.  There was a great deal of laughter, and I received some good advice about a minor publishing quandary.  Afterwards, Cisco and Nikki and I wandered the streets of Providence until we came to a restaurant with outdoor seating, where we sat and discussed Gemma Files and Mike Griffin (which is to say, Cisco analyzed their fiction while I nodded and tried to keep up).

–Speaking of Paul:  Stephen King had just tweeted a very kind notice of Paul’s novel, A Head Full of Ghosts, that weekend, and all of us who love and respect Paul spent every available moment teasing him mercilessly about it.  He didn’t care, nor should he have.  It was nice to be able to spend time with one of your friends after he’s received some much-deserved praise from one of his heroes.  (Which reminds me:  have you read A Head Full of Ghosts?  If you have, good.  If not, what are you waiting for?)

–Speaking of Simon and Richard:  in addition to participating in panels and readings together, we had a nice, quiet dinner together on Saturday night at the local Mexican restaurant, where the waiter began our meal by expressing his regret over the news that actor Steven Seagal had just died (which, as it turned out, was not true).

–Then there were the room parties…  With my roommates, Bob Waugh and Eddy Eder, I had rented a suite at the convention hotel.  We invited a few people to stop by on Friday and Saturday nights.  They did.  They brought some more people, and also some very fine alcohol.  There was much good conversation.  I’m told the air in the room was at one point ninety-five percent Scotch, but I believe that’s an exaggeration; it couldn’t have been more than seventy-five, eighty percent, tops.  What I do know is that I can still stay up till four in the morning, if it’s to listen to Matthew Warren Richey read an excerpt from an autobiographically-inflected story and discuss the apocryphal Mormon view of Bigfoot.  I also know that, if you have to liberate extra glasses from somewhere in your hotel, Michael Cisco is the man for the job.

–Speaking of Eddy:  this was his second convention since beginning to focus on his weird artwork.  He was warmly and graciously received by the artistic community at the convention, who made room for him to display and sell prints of his work on one of their tables in the dealers’ room.  He also made contacts with some of the publishers who were there.  I was very happy for him.

–Speaking of artists:  I finally had a chance to meet and shake the hand of the uber-talented Michael Bukowski, who gifted me with an absolutely gorgeous compendium of his Nyarlathotep illustrations.  I was as bowled-over by his generosity as I was his talent, and that’s saying something.

–Speaking of publishers:  I had good conversations with both Derrick Hussey of Hippocampus Press, about my third collection, forthcoming in early 2016, and Ross Lockhart, of Word Horde Press, about possible future projects.

–And I met and spoke to so many talented writers, I don’t know where to begin.  I had the chance to hang out and have lunch with Dave Zeltserman, whose The Caretaker of Lorne Field is a recent favorite.  We talked about the joys of martial arts for the aging male body.  Anya Martin made me a gift of one of her late father’s books, which was very moving and for which I’m very grateful.  Scott Nicolay gave me a copy of his beautifully-designed chapbook, After.  Marc Fitch gave me a copy of his novel, Paradise Burns, with a very flattering inscription.  I was able to purchase copies of Matthew Bartlett’s latest collection and chapbook, and to spend some time talking with him and his wife.  I was able to get the ferociously-talented David Nickel to sign copies of his books for me, and to talk with him about the joys of writing fiction that’s too literary for the genre imprints, and too genre for the literary imprints.  I talked to Mike Griffin about his upcoming collection.  Justin Steele and I cursed each other out.  The Miskatonic Musings guys caught up with me for a brief interview.  Joe Pulver took me aside to talk to me.  Cisco had me convinced to spend a lot of money at one table in the dealers’ room, and I would have, if that bookseller had taken credit cards.

–What else?  Jack Haringa, floating in a cloud of nicotine, snark, and Scotch.  Matt Burke, whose art I like a great deal.  Michael Wehunt, who’s a very interesting writer.  Jeff Thomas, signing my books.  Ramsey Campbell, always at one end of a line of people waiting for him to sign their books.  Michael Marshall Smith, glimpsed across a room but, sadly, not spoken to.  Cody Goodfellow looking like Moses.  Or Karl Marx.  Or that guy in The Professor and the Madman.  The madman.  Getting to shake Henrik Moller’s hand and tell him how much I enjoyed his short film, Inviting the Demon.  (Really, it’s very good:  go check it out on YouTube.)  Watching Leeman Kessler chase his young daughter, and imagining for a moment it’s Lovecraft playing with his child.

So, well done, all those responsible for and involved with the staging of this convention.  I haven’t been to a better one this year.

ETA:  And shortly after I post this report, I realize I forgot to mention meeting the ferociously talented Damien Angelica Walters, and Phil Gelatt, and Jason Brock, and Mike Davis, and Steve Mariconda, and Alex Houston, and Dan Mills, and I also forgot to mention signing books for any number of folks who were kind and gracious enough to ask me to.  Sorry about that, folks!