A very long time ago, when LiveJournal was still a thing, my standard user icon there was an old convention sketch that Mike Mignola had done of what would later become his signature skull-head guy. I used it so often, in fact, that I came to sort of be known for it.

Back then, I was also doing some work for a now-defunct magazine of classic-style weird fiction called The Willows. Ben Thomas, editor of The Willows, was putting together a masthead for the magazine that included little portraits of all the staff, done by my old friend Reyna. I asked if I could have her draw her own take on the skull-head guy to use as my staff portrait, and Ben agreed.

To go along with the portraits, we were all supposed to contribute a short bio. I’ve never enjoyed writing bios for myself, and so I was dragging my feet, as usual. In order to do layout, Ben composed a one-sentence bio for me as a placeholder. It read, simply, “Orrin Grey is a skeleton who likes monsters.” It has been my bio ever since.

Because the skull-head portrait was now sort of made official by its inclusion in the bio, when it came time to publish my first collection, Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings, I decided to check with the publishers at Evil Eye Books to see if I could stick with it. They agreed, and Reyna drew up a new version, which decorates the back cover of the first edition of Never Bet the Devil. By then, my identity as a skeleton was cemented, and there was no going back.

I used a version of the portrait on my website and my business cards. Before I started using it officially, though, I felt like I had to make sure it was okay. I reached out to Mike Mignola, told him the story, and asked him if he’d mind. He was kind enough to give me his blessing.

A few years later, I asked Mike Corley to do up a new version of the skeleton portrait, which currently decorates my website and business cards. Mike Corley would also illustrate the Strix Publishing reissue of Never Bet the Devil, where another take on the skeleton portrait appears as my “author photo.” A stand-in for my skeleton persona has since appeared on the covers of just about all of my books, with Nick Gucker handling the art duties on both Painted Monsters and Guignol and Thomas Boatwright doing me up for Monsters from the Vault.

TattooAll of this sort of came full circle recently when I saw someone post a photo of their tattoo on a Mike Mignola appreciation group that I’m a member of on Facebook. I recognized the tattoo immediately as… my author photo! The individual in question had never heard of me or Mike Corley, and didn’t know where he had gotten the image. He had made a couple of minor changes and embellished the whole thing with some tentacles, but the resemblance was unmistakable.

We had a nice conversation about it, and I sent him a copy of Never Bet the Devil, because it’s not every day that someone gets a tattoo of me, even by accident.

It’s not the only time that the resemblance between my skeleton persona and Mike Mignola’s skull-head guys has been noted, and it probably won’t be the last. It isn’t something I did on purpose, but I’m pretty happy about it. After all, Mike is probably my single biggest influence and inspiration, when it comes to the kind of work I do, and it’s nice to have my infatuation with his work tied up in my authorial persona this way.

Today is his birthday and, because I am good at stuff, I didn’t plan anything for it like I normally would, but the tattoo thing happened not that long ago, so I’m telling this story now, to mark the occasion.

So, of course, the big news is that my latest collection, Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales is less than a month away! It’s currently available for pre-order from Word Horde, not to mention on all your favorite electronic devices! I’ll be talking a lot more about it as we get closer to release, but in the mean time, other things continue to happen, too…

My story “No Exit” appeared in Lost Highways: Dark Fictions from the Road from Crystal Lake Publishing not too long ago. “No Exit” is another in my very loose story-cycle of tales that take place in the same world–or, perhaps more accurately, the same version of this world–along with “Hollow Earths” in Chthonic: Weird Tales of Inner Earth from Martian Migraine Press and a few others that haven’t actually seen print yet and some that have before I knew that I was writing a story cycle. More on that as it develops.

Speaking of stories, I have a very short one called “Masks” in the latest issue of Forbidden Futures, a magazine inspired by (and featuring) the art of Mike Dubisch. “Masks” tells the tale of what waits in the cluttered townhouse of an old makeup artist who has passed on, but left a few things behind.

Aside from writing stories, I spend most of my time on various freelance content jobs. Not too long ago, one of my freelance clients put me on retainer to write original mysteries for a sort of monthly murder mystery box called The Murder Chronicles. The contents will include “found documents” like newspaper articles, journal entries, notes, photographs, and more, all painting the story of a new mystery every month in the fictional Kansas town of Baker City. So far I’ve written a few months worth, and the first one should be shipping as I write this!

Murder Chronicles

Because they’re work-for-hire you won’t find my name on them anywhere, and because they’re written to order, the results are much more your typical “cozy mystery” than the weird horror stuff that you’re used to from me. But if a monthly murder mystery sounds like your cup of poison, it would probably help keep me gainfully employed if you were to subscribe and see how you like it.

A few months ago I was also a guest on the Lit KC podcast with my friend and former co-worker Jason Preu. The episode went live today as the show’s season finale, and in spite of the fact that I recorded it in the midst of the various stresses that have been my last year or so, I actually seem relatively coherent throughout, though my facts about Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales are necessarily somewhat dated. For one thing, it is actually going to have no less than four (4) original stories, though it’s still only 14 stories long. (Ah, the mysteries of publishing!)

That’s about it for now, but the Halloween season has officially begun, with stores starting to stock suitably spooky doodads, so there’ll be lots of seasonal content coming from me, not to mention lots more about Guignol in the coming days and weeks. Stay tuned!

 

The day night has finally arrived, dark and stormy, as is only appropriate. A skeletal usher shows you the way into a moldering old movie palace, the seats hard and smelling of dust and old libraries. Above, in the darkness, something stirs, and you hear the rustling of a thousand leathery wings.

gost-cov300In front of you there is only a faded rectangle of light, the silver screen, waiting to show you its dreams and nightmares. You turn just a bit in your seat, trying not to draw attention to yourself, hoping to make out the faces of the other theatregoers, but you can see only blotchy shapes in the waiting dark behind you. Then your eyes are drawn back to the screen as the projector rattles to life. Up there are letters nine feet tall, written in crawling, shivering font that is now black, now purple, now red.

What do the letters say?

They say that Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales, my latest collection of weird stories, is now up for pre-order from the fine and fiendish folks at Word Horde! Fourteen tales of terror and torment and, yes, more than a few monsters, all specially prepared with author’s notes and an introduction by Gemma Files, all for your delectation, nestled within a cover by Nick Gucker. What’s more, four of those tales have never seen print before, while several others are little-read or hard-to-find, including my out-of-print novelette The Cult of Headless Men.

Alongside those new tales are stories that previously appeared in Autumn CthulhuChildren of Gla’akiEternal FrankensteinGothic Lovecraft, and more! There are stories of ghosts and wizards, demonology and dark deeds done in the dead of night, stop-motion monsters and the lost episodes of old television shows, hidden passages in old houses and unusual methods of communicating with the dead. There are stories that take place in far-off and imaginary lands, on phantom planets and in times gone by, and there are stories as close as your own back yard.

I’ll be talking more about Guignol as it gets closer to publication, but in the meantime, if you really want to see what’s going to happen next on that sleeping silver screen, you’ll just have to buy your ticket and take your chances

 

There’s been a link making the rounds on Film Twitter lately alleging that 1994 was the Best Year For Movies Ever, or somesuch. I haven’t actually read it yet, and any time I’ve seen it posted it’s been in the form of someone indignantly asserting that, in point of fact, it wasn’t even the best year of that decade, etc. I’m not really here to talk about that.

Here’s what I am here to talk about: As I’ve watched people debating the merits of specific years in the ’90s, I’ve come to the realization that 1999 may be the most important year in film for me, personally, at least when it comes to seeing movies in the theatre.

I’ve loved movies for literally as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until high school that I started to regard loving movies as a part of my identity, for lack of any better way to put it, and seeing American Beauty in 1999 is probably the moment that made me realize that I liked movies, not just movies about ghosts and monsters–that I loved the form, as well as the content.

I’ve got clear, sharp, important memories of seeing movies in theatres prior to 1999: TremorsMonster SquadAlien 3Jurassic Park, an ill-fated attempt to take a date to see Screamers, which may go a long way toward explaining why I didn’t have more dates. But in 1999, I went to the movies just about every weekend, and I may have seen more movies on the big screen than any other year, before or since. (A more accurate portrait would extend this timeline both backward and forward, including parts of 1998 and 2000.)

American BeautyLake PlacidHouse on Haunted HillThe Mummy, the list goes on and on. I already liked movies before that year, but the movies I saw on the big screen in 1999 played a role in setting the stakes of my taste in movies, and letting me know that I had a taste, that there was something to the movies I liked that was distinct from them necessarily being “good” or “bad.” There was something about them that drew me, specifically.

I went to see The Haunting on opening night, through a theatre lobby filled with fake fog and cheap Halloween decorations. I had friends wave away my warnings about The Haunting and drag me back for a second showing, after which we went to see Lake Placid as penance. I drove with a bunch of other friends all the way to the other side of the city to see Princess Mononoke, the first anime I had ever seen on the big screen. I saw The Blair Witch Project on opening night, when the hype around it was still fresh and seeing it felt like an experience. I learned that I liked House on Haunted Hill more than ostensibly better movies like The Sixth Sense.

I also got to familiarize myself with the phenomenon of hype and disappointment, as I joined every other nerd on the planet standing in line for Star Wars Episode 1 only to get, well, Star Wars Episode 1.

Not everything I saw that year was something I liked, even then, and not everything that I liked then has stayed with me in the years since, but I learned a lot about myself, and my relationship to film, and to moviegoing, that year, and a lot of that has stuck with me, even as specific films faded away.

Over the years, I’ve seen a lot more movies on home video than I ever did–or likely will–in theatres, and movies from a lot of different decades have had a huge impact on me at various times. If I had to pick a favorite year for movies, I have no idea what year I would decide on, and if I had to pick a favorite decade, it almost certainly wouldn’t be the ’90s. But if there’s one year of going to the movies that “made me,” then 1999 would probably be it, for better or for worse.

As someone with a pretty significant anxiety disorder, I get asked a lot why I write (and read, and most of all watch) horror, and most of the time I don’t really have a very good answer. In her latest essay for Nightmare Magazine, Nadia Bulkin certainly hits on part of it. That desire for control, that need to experience our fear in digestible quantities, in a safe space. It’s not a new idea. It’s been trotted out to explain our fascination with everything from scary movies to Halloween haunted houses to rides at the state fair. But it never quite rang true for me. My relationship with horror, as I said on social media when sharing a link to Nadia’s essay, has always been more chummy than cathartic, for reasons that I still haven’t completely figured out.

I think a part of it is quite simply this: Horror doesn’t really scare me. Not the way that it’s supposed to. Not in the hands-over-your-eyes, middle-of-the-night-call-from-the-hospital way that Nadia describes. Maybe there was a time when it did. When I was a little kid, hiding behind the couch from the dog body strung up in C.H.U.D. or getting nightmares from the dead mother with a dog’s head sitting at the foot of Edward Furlong’s bed in Pet Sematary 2. (As a kid, I was pretty scared of dogs. Still am, if they bark, though I’ve gotten more used to it.)

Mostly, though, it was real life that scared me. Horror felt like a place I could escape to. One that acknowledged the darkness and pain of the world–that, in fact, elated it, to some extent–but that also offered something else. Beauty, sometimes, and the opportunity for transcendence. Someplace where pain became elegaic, rather than quotidiain.

That’s part of it, sure, but there’s also this: Horror didn’t scare me, but it let me feel scared. What’s the difference? I’m honestly not sure I know, let alone can explain, but I’ll try. My particular condition causes me to “get out of my body,” as my therapist says. I stop feeling much of anything. Feeling anything becomes dangerous and scary all on its own, regardless of the nature of the feeling. Horror movies let me feel in a way that also feels safe. I can wrap myself in them, and then I’m both in my body and not at the same time.

I think that may be why I can’t do it in the light. Why I need horror to keep at least some ragged vestiges of its edge to work. Why it isn’t enough for a thing to have monsters, it needs to also have a little bit of atmosphere. That atmosphere is the dark room; the place where fear bleeds in and reality bleeds away, so that I can feel without feeling too much.

Or maybe I just like monsters.

It has been a tough week. I had a rough couple of days about this time last week, and on Thursday I got some bad news. The Grey household has had a couple of additional wrenches tossed into the gears of our current health situation, and, in all, things have been a little more difficult than I would prefer.

That said, on Friday night, we headed out for a semi-impromptu road trip, driving three hours west (and apparently twenty years into the past) to arrive in Salina, where we spent the night before heading on to Lindsborg, a delightful little town forgotten by time, where I saw, among other things, an actual phone booth and a card catalog. Not to mention lots of beautiful houses and spooky old buildings.

While we were in the area anyway, we stopped by Coronado Heights, a place that I visited many times as a kid. At least ostensibly the place where Francisco Vasquez de Coronado gave up on his quest to find the seven cities of gold, I was fond of it as a kid because there’s a picnic shelter there designed to look like a castle. As an adult, the castle is still neat–and still small–but the actual hill upon which it is built is probably cooler, a sandstone bluff etched with graffiti and covered in unusual-for-the-area plants.

Grace had never been, so we went out and she even climbed the stairs in the castle, in spite of her cast, so that she could look out from the rooftop over the surrounding countryside. It was a good trip.

Thanks to the one-thing-after-another nature of the last year’s worth of assorted health incidents, I remain behind on just about everything. I hope to return to relative normalcy soon, but we’ll see.

Coronado Heights

So, as astute readers may already be aware, I used to have a Patreon. For various reasons, I shut it down. Notably, I didn’t agree with some changes Patreon made to their funding model. They have since walked those changes back, but they weren’t the only reason I made the decision I did, and so that ship has sailed.

However, some people have expressed a desire to still be able to give me money, and far be it from me to argue. So I recently set up a Ko-fi account for just that purpose.  Now you can give me $3 anytime you feel so inclined.

And if you do happen to feel so inclined, now would honestly be a great time, because between medical bills from all of our recent health-related mishaps and the time Grace has had to spend off work due to same (I freelance, so I’m never off work, though I won’t lie and say that health stuff hasn’t impacted my productivity overall), our fiscal situation has certainly been better at other times than it is right this minute.

We’re not in bad shape, so if you can’t throw $3 into the digital hat, don’t worry about it. We’ll be fine for now, and once these particular health issues all pass, we’ll be back in the black in short enough order, I’m sure. But even then, if anyone ever feels like throwing some cash into the ring, it helps me to produce the kinds of projects that are a little more fun and a little less guaranteed a paying home. Stuff like writing about Toho’s “Bloodthirsty Trilogy” for Unwinnable, or a proposed essay about the Gothic elements of the 2005 version of House of Wax, for example.

(Speaking of that kind of writing, I recently learned that a very old essay of mine on Carpenter’s “Apocalypse Trilogy” was actually quoted in the book on In the Mouth of Madness by Michael Blythe from the Devil’s Advocates series!)

It also helps me to focus more on my fiction. Freelancing pays the bills faster and more reliably than any other writing, which means that Ko-fi money helps to give me breathing room to work on projects that don’t have as immediate a return.

I’ve dropped a Ko-fi button into the sidebar of my site here, and you can throw three dollars into the jar by clicking on that or on this link right here. If you ever feel like it, it’s much appreciated, and if you would rather support me in a way that gets you something more concrete in return, you can always do so by buying any of my books, which is even more appreciated!