Tag Archives: Reading

Broken thumbnails


Gateways to Abomination: Collected Short FictionGateways to Abomination: Collected Short Fiction by Matthew M. Bartlett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gateways to Abomination consists of a number of vignettes and flash fictions tied together by a framing device, a fictional radio station way to the left on the dial, and by the rot that exists within a small town. It doesn’t have any plot, possesses little forward movement or narrative structure. It’s somewhere between a new-wave novel and a themed collection, and what it has, in spades, is an overwhelming sense of dread, an anything-can-happen atmosphere, which gives the events that take place within a certain non-sequitur quality. Things just happen. Strange things, disturbing things, things that go bump no matter what time of day or night it is.
Nothing is defined or explained, and this opacity lends itself well to the mysterious occurrences in Leeds. It’s unclear whether WXXT is the cause of or merely the reflection of the rot in the town’s heart, or whether it just chronicles the happenings, but the whole bundle is very effective at communicating a sense of foreboding, and the spot-on thumbnail sketches of the people, animals, and places within add an element of hyper-realism to the proceedings.
Definitely not your run-of-the-mill portal. Pass through this gateway and you’ll never be the same.

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Hooked Up


guttedGutted by Doug Murano

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was fortunate enough to be advanced a copy of this book prior to publication. And I mean fortunate. This book is destined to generate strong sales, firstly on the strength of the names involved (Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell), and then on the strength of the poem and stories included.
Stephanie M. Wytovich leads off with an effective piece of verse, which leads into what I think is the best story in the book: Brian Kirk’s “Picking Splinters From a Sex Slave.”
That story illustrates what lengths a person might go to to accomodate a loved one, in exquisite detail. The actual tableau is revolting, but the internal logic is inescapable. The tone is perfect.
“Splinters” is followed by Lisa Mannetti and then Neil Gaiman. Both stories are good — not pedestrian, but are overshadowed by the excellence of Kirk’s piece. Christopher Cooke’s “Dominion” levels up one from those and leads into a tetralogy of really effective horror tales by Mercedes M. Yardley, Paul Tremblay, Damien Angelica Walters, and Richard Thomas, before Clive Barker takes center stage with his “Coming To Grief”. I’m not going to say that this story is as good as “classic Barker” pieces like “In the Hills, the Cities”, but it is a Barker story, and has a certain resonance.
The second-best story, John F.D. Taff’s “Cards for His Spokes, Coins for His Fare”, which has distinct Kingian undertones, is set in the early 70s of my own childhood and morphs into a fairly classic ghost yarn. Cheers for the setting and characters.
Amanda Gowin contributes a decent piece, “Cellar’s Dog”, with a good portrait of po’ white trash, and Kevin Lucia adds “When We All Met at the Ofrenda”, which again hits me especially, as I live in the Southwest and am familiar with the lore that contributes to the setting and setup.
That’s followed by good pieces from Maria Alexander and Josh Malerman, before the capstone, Ramsey Campbell’s “The Place of Revelation”, which does not disappoint.
Strong, strong, strong. Pieces that find beauty in grotesquerie, love amid the ruins, that entice you with beauty and magic and then hang you on a meathook, still wanting more.
Gutted will have out your liver and lights in an instant, after you give your heart willingly.
An easy five stars.

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Of a mind to…


Nightmares from a Lovecraftian MindNightmares from a Lovecraftian Mind by Jordan Krall

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Smooth, polished, professional. Disturbing, subtle, and definitely nightmarish. The stories in this volume are not so Lovecraftian as the title would have you believe. There is a dollop of cosmic horror, but none of the usual suspects are present. No hooded cultists, octopus-headed monstrosities, cyclopean ruins, non-Euclidean space.
Headspace is more the issue. The Lovecraftian “mind”, indeed. Some of the matter-of-factness of JG Ballard, the inventive weirdness of David Lynch, the slightest hint of Philip Dickian mindrape, a tinge of the existential, a small infusion of the Gnostic. The reading of strange texts informs the text. Mr. Krall has been turning some strange pages indeed, and he melds all of those disparate elements into a surreal collage all his own.
These are pictures of minds after “experiences”, continuing to try to function in mundane space, and largely failing.
Recommended reading.

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More to come.
I really enjoyed this book. It kept me from sleeping soundly, both by engaging my attention while reading late at night, and then speaking to me in my dreams.
This was not my introduction to Jordan Krall’s work but it is the first full-length book I’ve read of his. I have seven more, which will appear in these pages at some point.
I also have another nine bearing the name of his small press. And I’m not a serious collector. I just buy the best that I can find.

Neon noir in the Cities of the Red Night


rtcRiding the CentipedeRiding the Centipede by John Claude Smith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Terrance Blake is the best man in his world and would be a good man in most worlds. Rudolf is a mutant villain without a shred of decency, but still disciplined and purposeful. They are on a collision course, and don’t know it. Jane and Marlon Teagarden are only the twin rails that the story rolls along on, and only one of them is Riding the Centipede.
I get the sense that a lot of the actual journey was cut. The scenes of experience don’t seem as protracted as they might be. And that may be for the best.
The setting and denouement are determinedly Burroughsian, though there’s not as much of the old up and out and more of the Burgessian ultraviolence as Chernobyl performs his version of art. Though Jane Teagarden could use a little more fleshing-out of character, that would probably detract from the hold-your-breath movement of the narrative, which comes to an explosive climax.
Background-5;plotting-5;characters-4;style-5. Round up to 5.
Highly recommended.

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“High” School and absent friends


Took me a little walk down memory lane this morning. Cat woke me up real early, again, and I decided to stay up rather than stare at the ceiling.

It came to me that I don’t really want to adult today of all days. Gonna have to a little, as I have things to write, but that gave me several hours to screw around in. I hatched a plan.

Went across the street and got a 2-liter diet 7-Up and a pack of rolling papers. Came back, poured the 7-Up into a pitcher, turned the bottle into a bong in the time-honored fashion (of course I have an old bongshaft in my toolbox — who doesn’t?). Ground up a goodly amount of herb, rolled two joints, and then rolled two more.

I dug out my old ear buds, charged up an old TracFone, outfitted it with a playlist. Found a short-sleeved shirt that fit me (was my style in those days to wear a short-sleeve over a band shirt), collected my quarters, stuck my oxygen tank in my backpack. Headed out. To high school…

THSHCKWVRD1976First stop was Church’s chicken. I sat on a curbstone and smoked the first joint, remembering when I used to do that in the parking lot of KFC, at 75th and Clarendon Hills rd, instead of going to first hour study hall. I would read instead. I had my kindle with me, and I read from something period — John Brunner’s extravagantly excellent The Shockwave Rider, which I had gotten from the library the first day in school, when I noticed it in the window.
My friend Dave Trojnair thought that was just weird. He thought it even weirder when I explained it. That never discouraged me. I had a different book every day. I read them while everybody else was finishing their work.

I was only at that school for a few months. Circumstances dictated that we had to move, and so we did. New friends time. I moved too. I got on the bus and rode to Campbell and Glenn, to the “Old Chicago” restaurant there. Old Chicago was the name of an indoor amusement park/mall that used to sit at I-55 and Rt. 53, in the Romeoville/Bolingbrook borderlands. It was there that I used to stop before 1st period, to brighten up my day.

I sat in the parking lot and smoked my second joint, remembering the day I saw an old friend from South Hinsdale named Jim Jackson, at the record store in the mall (I was buying “Love is the Drug/Both Ends Burning”, by Roxy Music). We laughed, remembering when I borrowed his 8-track of “In the Wake of Poseidon”, leaving my “Dark Side of the Moon” as damage insurance, and got all the way back to his house on my rickety old bike, with the tape in my hand, running into a stone in the driveway and flinging it high in the air. Jim got to keep “Dark Side”. Later that week, the B. Dalton at the mall stocked all of the John Holmes Ballantine Lovecrafts, and I bought the set.john-holmes_the-shuttered-room_ny-ballantine-1973

I remembered my friends Bill and “Brother”, whose real name was “Leydelle”, but he didn’t like to go by that. Bill was totally into Bowie. I remembered talking him into buying Genesis Live, which he hated, and gave to me. I remembered eating a huge plate of manicotti and then getting on the Rotor. (interestingly, Old Chicago isn’t listed in the wiki article…but the ride was there for sure.) That didn’t end well. Slops!

I laughed, and watched the opening cooks drain the grease trap. That was smelly, so I took the cue to depart.

The next stop was more problematical. My third school was in the middle of the inner city of Joliet, and looked like a castle. I went in for sports at first there, but soured on that all and went in for pool-playing, auto theft, and coffeeshop ennui instead. It was just as well. I was an outfielder then, and Jesse Barfield was at the school. Mark Grant was a few blocks away, at Joliet Catholic, on my way home along Jefferson st.

Eventually, I came up with a solution, and got back on the bus(es).

There’s a metal-working shop on Ft. Lowell that has a little castle out front, with what looks like a haunted house next door. I sat on the grass between them and puffed away on the remains of the second joint and some of the third one. I watched people head for work. By now, the mixtape was about midway.

I walked home from there to the strains of UFO, forgoing the second stop at Church’s, having covered half of my high school years. The second half, the employed half, was about to begin.

The two-liter bong needed water. I filled that up while getting the music ready for the next stage and having a few hits. In my files, I have an abortive attempt at doing ELP’s “Knife Edge”. The keyboard part is complete…which is what I needed. I got my guitar, tuned it, plugged it in, got the thing going, closed my eyes.

I was back jamming with my friend Al Dvorak, gods rest his soul. I remembered the eagle painted directly on the wall, and the weird stuff I painted that night while seated on the left hand of my good friend Mr. Natural. “Just a step cried the sad man
Take a look down at the madman
Theatre kings on silver wings
Fly beyond reason
From the flight of the seagull
Come the spread claws of the eagle
Only fear breaks the silence
As we all kneel pray for guidance…”

We shouted in unison. Ba ba ba babbaba ba babbaba ba, said the instruments.

Just to make things perfect, I scraped some resins out of my bowl, and smoked that, and made an egg concoction for breakfast. Scott wasn’t there this time — he usually was. I had bong hits for all three of us with my coffee, and got to work in lieu of school.

School’s out forever.engine_summerEngine summer’s here, 1979.

I spent the summer in school, too, getting my grades up for a bid at a better school. I took graphic arts, making tshirts and posters out of scrawlings and ruining a jean jacket with a bad silkscreen job. That was the summer that I developed my writing method, which stands to this day, the hippie speedball method, and finished my second novel.

Was not very innocent, but life was cleaner then. Purer. There were times when emotions were unmixed, when things didn’t overcomplicate themselves…hoo boy, it’s getting DEEP in here.

Gimme a break, me. I’ve just aged four years in an hour. I’m for a nap.

 

Son of the Big Dumb Object


EgoOne of my very favorite things in the world of fiction is that cosmic force, the presence that is imposing just because of its size, the very Big Dumb Object itself. An example, seen below, adds consciousness to the mix. The presentation is excellent. I love the image. But not enough was done with it, plotwise, back in the day.
One of the things that makes me create is the desire to see a better version of things, at least in my eyes. My first writing was done in response to a comic-book villain I thought terrible (the Stilt-Man, as in DD#48). So I come by it naturally. My art is, at least initially, imitative.dd48 It always has been. I like a certain amount of structure, a framework to stand on, before taking the great leap into the unknowable seas of imagination. My first drafts, first versions of things, almost always have a large portion of synthesis, of combining previously-known ingredients into a new stew, stirring it up, and then improvising over the changes. Continue reading

Monday musings 3/21


grovesm

Photo by Ian Sidlow

Monday. Edit/rewrite sorta day. The NIGHTMARE GROVE collection opens with the story “Ink,” which was cribbed from the CRAZYTOWN collection since it was originally set in Oak Grove and only recently moved to Tuxtown.

So I have to fix the references (for the most part-there are connections between the two collections) and there are a couple of scenes that could work more smoothly.
“Ink” is based on one of my more successful stories, “Parchment” in its original incarnation. It was published in three languages, and in seven separate magazines/ezines, and also kindled a fabulous audio reading by the redoubtable Morgan Scorpion (Parchment).
“Ink” makes the process of transposition clearer and ramps up the body-horror and psych-horror.
There is a sequel, which will be part of CRAZYTOWN, perhaps with some input from the inestimable Frederick J. Mayer. That’s getting processed after “Ink” and “stars” Nate Jenkins, who had previously appeared in the BROWN JENKINS series of stories and in “Pnakotic Reaction”.

crazytown

Art by Candra Hope

I’m reworking the text for the CRAZYTOWN cover. It looks like there may be a few things to add. Maybe a blurb or two, and the ToC has been monkeyed with. This is a copy of the original art, which is just beautiful, with the rot beneath the surface admirably depicted. Also in the current pipeline are the novella Fear and Loathing in Innsmouth, which is as gonzo as gonzo gets, a weird/bizarro treatment of the themes of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth and the preoccupations and subtext of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I do plan to run that one by Nick Mamatas and Brian Keene before it hits the stacks. They should be amused, as the authors of The Damned Highway, which has some of those ideas embedded within its pages.
FALII…

fin

Art by Will Jacques

Unfortunately, the graphic novel version of this story never got off the ground. But this version should knock everyone’s socks off.

Also in the 2016 pipeline is BETROTHED TO YOG-SOTHOTH, a Barbara Cartland meets Tom Tryon sorta version of the Dunwich Horror, with a lot of Lavinia’s biography filled in. The novel was inspired by a piece of art from someone at deviantart that doesn’t answer their email, and so that picture won’t be on the front cover. Instead, I have this evocative art:

yog

Art by JB Lee

Those are the four books I have planned for this year. They’re all in the finalizing stages — the i’s have been crossed and the tees dotted. Walpurgisnacht and the 4th of July, All-Hallow’s Eve, and Xmas are the projected release dates.

They’ll all be under my Planet Moderan imprint, and will be available in both ebook and treebook incarnations. I’m going to revive BEFORE CRAZYTOWN instead of sticking its stories into NIGHTMARE GROVE. That’s getting done this week too.

Tinfoil Baseball Cap


As usual, we’ll cover a lot of subjects with a too-small, too-thin blanket. But cover them we will.
Firstly…Saturday night, for a little while, my one-man internet band moderan was the #1 band in Tucson/Rock, according to data from music-posting site Reverbnation. I’m sitting at #2 right now.

It was pretty easy to get there, and the maneuver was mostly pre-planned. I embarked on a series of cover tunes, some of which I’ve actually registered. Eventually I’ll register them all, but they’re about 20 bucks each, and I plan to do a LOT of them. Cuz they’re fun. I have a system for producing them quickly, based on midi drums and the forty or so years I’ve spent playing those songs, off and on. The music ranges from pop tunes like Killing Me Softly through progrock epics such as Dance On a Volcano.

I sing, play all of the guitars and basses (with a couple of notable exceptions for collaborators), most of the keyboards, some of the strings, and arrange and produce the tracks. The drums are fashioned from midi tracks, which means faithful timing. I seldom monkey with the structures, though I add or change instrumentation.

You can listen here: Continue reading

Reviews Confuse, Amuse.


At last count, I have thirty or forty volumes in my to-read or just-read queue, all of which clamor for at least a capsule review. It looks like the “June” portion of my summer vacation is accounted for. I jut don’t think I’m going to have a lot of concentrated reading/writing time until then.

That is to say, I’m busy. I’m apparently trying to become a somebody. I say apparently because it isn’t entirely intentional, and the intentional part isn’t going according to plan.

Ok by me though.

Progress is progress. Continue reading

The Best I Ever Had…


usHad to knock off early to watch the child, and didn’t manage to finish the stuff I started.
We had a running conversation about “ownership” of tasks after she did a crap job of sweeping the front room, angling to go outside.
Nuh-uh.
I explained what we want if she runs into a roadblock (ask for help), since she claimed to be stymied by the bird crap and seeds that were stuck to the floor. She couldn’t SWEEP them up, you see, so the task became impossible.
Kids.
I watered the area a little (can’t use a cleanser cuz Dammit Bunny​ might lick it) and scraped the poo up with the poop scooper. It dried in a few seconds, and I used the hand broom to brush it into the dustpan.
So she saw how it could be done.
“You know,” I said. “This is where your OCD should kick in (she has a bad case of it). You’d get so much more done.”

She just looked at me blankly. She was not having a good time.

Wah.

We continued to talk some about owning her tasks, and this was parlayed into the writing of her chores on the daily calendar in the hall, so she knows what she is to do each given day, since she almost never has homework any more.

Her homework consists of reading a half hour daily. She insists that twenty minutes is the figure, because that’s what her teacher assigned, but I tacked on the extra ten long ago, because she desperately needs to acquire some kind of vocabulary.
She’s very hard to understand. She does not express herself well, and she habitually lapses into this little-baby-girl quiet voice, which one can’t hear over the constant noise of the parakeets.
I hate that. It makes me virtually foam at the mouth. That and the refusal to answer a direct question. Those are the pettiest of my peeves.
And the more I ask her, tell her, to speak up, please, the more she does it. Agh!

She was disobedient about a couple of things before that–everything was all about getting to play. I understand the urge, but she knows very well what the score is, and copping an attitude isn’t going to gain her any freedom.

She ended up with a time in the corner, to think things over. I went through and re-swept the front room, and did the hallway, the kitchen, and the bath, while I was at it.
Told her she had an hour after she started scuffing her feet and scratching, intending to give her fifteen minutes or so and then releasing her to blow it all off.
She was still in a mood later. So was everyone else. The floor was made of eggshells.
But it was mostly a positive afternoon. Something to build on if she can live up to her promises.
Go you.