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I’ve been having adventures!

Two weeks ago today, I left town to spend a week in Colorado, just a few minutes outside of Denver. I didn’t spend much of my time there sightseeing, though I did visit a cool movie theatre, catch up with a couple of writing acquaintances, and make several trips to the Flatiron Crossing mall where I bought cool shirts, ate delicious crepes, and picked up a vintage Warhammer Armies book complete with Zoats, Fimirs, and really racist Pygmies. Most of the time, though, I was in the hotel room working while Grace was attending an alto flute workshop. I wrote a 5,000 word story in a day, and also caught up on a bunch of freelance projects.

On the way back from the trip, I stopped off at a dinosaur museum in Hays, one that I had passed I don’t know how many times on similar trips but had never visited. It was amazing, though perhaps the best exhibit wasn’t any of the dinosaur stuff but a giant alligator snapping turtle in a tank just inside the entrance. His name was Levi, and he was apparently unusually active that day, and watching him was pretty much exactly like watching a kaiju swim around.

After I got home I had to start playing catch-up on everything that didn’t get done while I was out of town, including finally getting around to buying a new desk and a new laptop. I’m still working on getting the laptop set up and configured the way I want it, so I’m currently still doing work (and typing this) on my old laptop until I get used to the new one. I got a Lenovo Yoga 910, in case anyone is curious. So far I like it, though I haven’t actually done much with it yet. I also made it out to our local cool movie theatre the Screenland Armour to catch a double-feature screening of Creature from the Black Lagoon and the practical suit-monster short film “Shallow Water.”

Catching up got interrupted a bit, however, in order to have more adventures when, for various reasons, Grace spontaneously decided that she wanted to go fishing and rock hunting his past weekend. I tagged along, made friends with a snapping turtle and a bug, explored what was clearly some sort of troll tunnel, found a mess of snakes and a tide pool, wandered among the flotsam on the shore of a big lake, and mostly had a great time. Shortly after I got back from that trip, I found a box on my doorstep containing a whole pile of copies of the first Japanese edition of Fungi, the anthology of weird fungal fiction I co-edited with Silvia Moreno-Garcia. (The Japanese edition is getting split into two volumes, so this one is just the first half.)

As you can imagine, I’m still recovering from so much adventuring, and also still catching up on work, so if I owe you anything, including responses about getting copies of Fungi from Japan for those of you who were contributors, please bear with me.

934No one is surprised that I’m a fan of Guillermo del Toro. Even when I don’t like his movies, they’re always full of plenty of creative nutrients for me to absorb and convert into something of my own, and his commentary tracks are, invariably, some of the best in the business, and always worth the price of the movie by themselves. Del Toro and Mignola are two influences that have been with me pretty much throughout my writing career, and both have been huge inspirations for me, not least in how they, themselves, proudly display their own influences and inspirations in their work.

So, of course, I’ve always been intrigued by GDT’s bizarre personal museum Bleak House, and when the opportunity came to get a tour of at least part of it in the form of the At Home With Monsters exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of of Art, I jumped at it. Along with some other local writing friends and colleagues, we piled into a couple of cars and made the seven-and-a-half hour drive up to Minneapolis, just long enough to see the exhibit and head home, pretty much.

It’s probably good that we didn’t budget anything else to do while we were there, because I could have spent all day inside the At Home With Monsters. Walking around the exhibit was a lot like walking around a physical projection of the inside of my own head. The overlap between GDT’s obsessions and my own may be less pronounced than mine and Mignola’s, but there’s certainly still plenty of overlap there, and I was overjoyed to find comics that I owned on the walls of comic books that the collection held.

949More than anything, it felt like a creative space, like a direct conduit between inspiration and generation. Highlights included, well, most of the place, really, but perhaps the most exciting was seeing the actual original sketches of one of Mike Mignola’s original designs for the Sammael creature in the first Hellboy movie, which has always been one of my favorite monster designs. I had seen most of the sketches before, but as is always the case with art, seeing it in person was a world of difference from seeing even a high-quality reproduction.

Speaking of that, there were a couple of original paintings there by Zdzislaw Beksinski, including one (unfortunately, I didn’t get the title) that was so jaw-dropping to see in person that I practically had to reach out and touch it to reassure myself that it wasn’t three dimensional. (I didn’t touch it, because the signs specifically asked me not to, but the urge was certainly there.)

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Well, the last few days have been extraordinarily busy and draining for me, to the surprise of probably no one. On Saturday night, I stayed out way too late watching mystery horror movies with the fine folks from the Nerds of Nostalgia podcast, thanks to whom I can now say that Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is a thing that I have experienced. Then Sunday I was supposed to introduce a screening of the Vincent Price/Roger Corman/Richard Matheson adaptation of The Pit and the Pendulum at the Screenland, but I got caught in a horrible traffic snarl, and so I ended up talking afterward. (Extroducing it?) I had a book giveaway and did a reading of my story “Guignol.”

Yesterday was my birthday, though I didn’t do a lot more to celebrate than what I’ve already mentioned here, having kind of partied out the night before with the movie marathon. Today I’m not doing a lot either besides catching up from all the aforementioned, but that doesn’t mean that a lot isn’t going on. Since it’s Halloween, we’ve got some special Halloween treats for all of you, including a free story! Head on over to the Word Horde website to read my story “Strange Beast,” about ghosts and kaiju and maybe the ghosts of kaiju absolutely free! “Strange Beast” was one of the original stories I wrote exclusively for Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts, and this is the first time it’s ever been available anywhere else!

Meanwhile, Simon Berman of Strix Publishing has fast-tracked a little Halloween treat for all those who’re waiting patiently for your copies of the new deluxe edition of  Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings. The book contains an all-new story that happens to be Halloween themed, and Mike Corley has been kind enough to show off the excellent illustration that he’s done to accompany it.

Meanwhile, Brian Lillie has assembled a whole passel of authors to make suggestions for suitably spooky Halloween reading. My humble contribution includes tales by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Jon Padgett, and Daniel Mills, all of which have been podcast by Pseudopod. That wasn’t an accident, and one of the reasons I chose to do it was because Pseudopod is currently running a Kickstarter. As part of that Kickstarter, they’re also putting together their first-ever anthology, which includes classic reprints along with all-new stories by yours truly, Damien Angelica Walters, A.C. Wise, and more! Here’s the newly-revealed table of contents, and we promise you, it’s true.

That’s just scratching the surface of what’s been going on lately, but I think for tonight it’s all I’ve got in me. Keep your jack-o-lanterns lit, have a happy Halloween, and always remember to check your candy…

I’ll leave you with what remains one of my all-time favorite Halloween illustrations by none other than the great Chris Sanders, and (unrelatedly) if you’re looking for something seasonal to do this evening,  you could do a lot worse than to plug a few hours into Halloween Forever!

chris-sanders-halloween

Those who’ve been around here awhile are probably already familiar with Pseudopod, but in case you’re not, they’re a terrific horror fiction podcast. I sold my first story to Pseudopod clear back in 2009, when I was still three years away from having a book out with my name on it. It remains a favorite, and you can listen to it here.

Over the years I’ve enjoyed a good working relationship with Pseudopod, and sold them a few more stories. The folks who work there are all great people who do great work, and though we (or at least I) tend to think of podcasts as something separate from, say, magazines, there are few horror publications going that consistently produce the kind of quality that you get from Pseudopod, full stop.

This year represents their tenth anniversary, and in honor of the occasion they’re holding a Kickstarter to raise funds to help pay narrators. (They already pay their authors pro rates, making them also one of the only consistent pro-paying all-horror markets around.) The Kickstarter has all sorts of great reward tiers, and one of the most exciting aspects is that the folks at Pseudopod have assembled their first anthology for the occasion, including some classic reprints from their archives but also featuring new tales by Damien Angelica Walters, A.C. Wise, and yours truly, to name a few.

I’m really happy with “New and Strangely Bodied,” the story that I wrote for For Mortal Things Unsung, and I’m excited for it to make its way out into the world. Besides the anthology, there’s a backer tier where you can get every one of my books, in case you don’t have those already, including the forthcoming deluxe edition of Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings from Strix Publishing. (And speaking of Strix, there’s also a backer tier that gets you Never Bet the Devil along with Strix’s first publication, The Book of Starry Wisdom, featuring a deluxe illustrated treatment of three of Lovecraft’s stories, along with essays by myself and several other, more notable voices in the weird field.)

But really, I don’t need to be telling you any of this, because a picture is worth a thousand words, and there’s only one thing you really need to know: Look at this freakin’ tiki mug!

pseudopod

Almost all of this story is true. Or no, wait, maybe most of it is a lie. Either way, I’m not going to tell you which part is which.

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So there we were, standing outside that bar near the Hollywood Theater–the one that isn’t the Moon & Sixpence or a pool hall, I can never remember the name. Pulver had stepped outside to smoke, and I had gone along to continue our conversation about jazz and improvisation and writing and how they all went together. Had I just met him for the first time earlier that day? I can’t remember now. It certainly wasn’t my first HPLFF, but I couldn’t recall if he’d been at the last one, if we’d been introduced. It was definitely the first time we’d talked at length.

I’d heard things about him, of course. Some people said that he was an actual wizard, and I knew that they called him “the bEast,” though I couldn’t figure why. He seemed cuddly enough, with his cookie duster mustache, like Wilford Brimley or a human Lorax. Of course, Wilford Brimley wasn’t so cuddly with that fire ax in The Thing, so I guess you never can tell, right?

Anyway, we were talking, expounding, improvising, when I noticed the shape. Not like the Shape, not Michael Myers or anything, but it was spooky. Just this person sitting on a bus stop bench across the street, like a clump of rags, but seeming somehow too dark in the gathering dusk. Pulver must’ve noticed me watching it, because he put a hand on my shoulder. “Don’t worry about it,” he said. “It’s not here for you.”

#

That’s the last part that anybody but me knows about; the last part that even I know about for sure. Here’s the rest, though, and you can make of it what you will. The last evening of the Festival, I was walking back from the Moon & Sixpence at the ass end of the night. My hands were jammed in my pockets because it had gotten damn cold, and I was walking fast, my shoulders hunched. I’d had a couple of drinks that night, which was unusual for me, so you can chalk it up to that, if you want.

The neighborhood was deserted by then, even the last dregs of the revelers having finally turned pumpkin-shaped and headed off to one bed or another. I was cutting across back parking lots and through dark alleys, making a bee-line for the shortest route back to my room at the Banfield, when I saw something move out of the corner of my eye.

It was in this dark crevice between two buildings–you wouldn’t call it an alley, not really, because it wasn’t wide enough for a car, barely wide enough for two people to walk abreast. The shadows in there were moving wrong, the humped, jerky motion of marionettes with twisted wires. And in the midst of them was Pulver. They were gathering around him, and they didn’t look friendly.

I thought about going to his aid–I may be a coward, but I’m not a complete asshole–but something stopped me, and it wasn’t just the memory of his hand on my shoulder, his reassurance that the shape on the bus stop bench wasn’t there for me. It was something about him, and it took me several skipped heartbeats before I realized what it was. He seemed to be growing, expanding. Like that guy in Big Trouble in Little China, but not funny. He was adding mass, adding height. Like he was drawing something up inside himself, like he was maybe eating the shadows that grew up around him. At least, that’s what I thought at the time.

My head spun, and I stumbled. When I woke up, I was in my bed back at the room, unsure whether I had dreamed the whole thing or what. I’m still unsure, so I’ll let you draw your own conclusions, but I’ll leave you with this: I saw Pulver the next morning, while those of us who hadn’t left the night before were still straggling out of our beds and our cocoons. He looked just as he always did, nothing amiss, but when he spotted me across the parking lot, he gave me a wink.

For Joe Pulver

I’m a few days back from the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival and sufficiently recovered as to make a token effort at a wrap-up post. As always, I had a great time at what is consistently my favorite convention/festival/gathering of the year, with my only complaint being that there is never enough time for all the people I want to see, movies I want to watch, and things I want to do. (Nor, for that matter, enough money for all the things I want to buy.)

Of course, the big news for me this year is that Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts is now a real, actual, physical book that real human beings (including myself) have now seen and touched and–given how long some peoples’ flights home were–maybe even read! My fantastic publisher was in attendance, and he brought a box of books so that we had copies to sell and sign at the mass author signing event on Saturday morning. I got to flip through my new book–which, if anything, looks even better in person–and smell that new book smell. It remains a pretty heady experience.

I actually flew into Portland on Wednesday night, and Mike and Lena Griffin were kind enough to pick me up from the airport and give me the run of their place Wednesday night and all day Thursday until it was time to fetch Justin Steele from the airport and deposit me at the Banfield, where I was rooming with some of my oldest and dearest friends, Reyna and Gavin Sparby. Our room at the Banfield this year was remarkably free of kicked-in doors, blood stains, or millipedes, though we overheard someone reporting a “mysterious pool of liquid” in one of the other rooms, which sounded about right. The greatest mysteries our room contained were a massive, faux-leather headboard about as big as the bed itself, a missing toilet paper roll holder, and a bathroom mirror that was clearly doing an inadequate job of covering up a hole in the wall. Oh Banfield, you are as inextricably a part of the HPLFF experience as anything.

While we were waiting for the HPLFF proper to kick off, the Kickstarter for Simon Berman’s latest project The Book of Starry Wisdom launched on October 1. I contributed an essay to this incredible tome, in which I talk about “The Call of Cthulhu,” Descartes, In the Mouth of Madness, and epistemological certainty. You’ve got until the end of the month to get this thing backed, and there are some nice stretch goals waiting in the wings, so everybody take a break from reading this and go throw some money into Simon’s hat so he’ll stop beating me.

The biggest change between this HPLFF and previous years is that I actually watched any movies this year. I had gone in with one big goal: to see City of the Dead aka Horror Hotel, a black-and-white 1960 Christopher Lee picture that I’d never seen before. Unfortunately, fate stood in the way, and my reading was scheduled opposite its only showing on Friday night. And because Amanda Downum and I are real, big time professionals, we did not put up an “IOU one reading” sign and go see Christopher Lee instead.

Later that evening, however, I did see the first of four feature films and a handful of shorts that I would watch over the weekend, making my total HPLFF 2015 film viewing almost fully double the sum of all the film viewing I did at both previous HPLFFs. That first night was Extraordinary Tales, and I also caught Final Prayer (aka The Borderlands), which Trevor Henderson has been on me to watch forever, as well as Black Mountain Side and a Greek film called The Winter. All of them were solid except The Winter, which would have made a good short, but felt stretched at 105 minutes. Black Mountain Side–about which I knew literally nothing going in–turned out to be my favorite film of the fest, and it seems that I wasn’t alone, since it took home the statue for Best Feature Film. Most of the actual shorts I saw were disappointing, and I was unfortunately compelled to miss The Mill at Calder’s End, since I was moderating a panel on cosmic horror in film at the time.

Maybe the best thing I got to see at the whole festival, though, was a live performance of Ask Lovecraft, in which I got to ask Lovecraft how many fish he could name. I am ashamed to say that I had never actually watched any episodes of Ask Lovecraft prior to this, though I knew Leeman from Facebook and from the TOC of Resonator and various other interactions, and getting to hang out with him in person–both in and out of character–was one of the real treats of the whole festival for me. In some ways, I’m glad that this was my first exposure to Ask Lovecraft, because getting to see it live for the first time was a unique pleasure.

The festival had a lot of other highlights, including a big robot named D.A.G.O.N. that hugged Simon and told him “There there, human. It’s okay that your life has no meaning.” As has been the case at previous festivals, most of the time that I didn’t spend doing something else I spent eating delicious food or hanging out on the back patio of the Moon & Sixpence. There were people I got to see a lot of and, as always, lots more people I didn’t see nearly as often as I would have liked. I did shake Jeffrey Combs’ hand, and also ran into him in the upstairs bathroom of the Hollywood Theatre. I know that he got passed a copy of the special HPLFF issue of Strange Aeons magazine, in which I wrote an extensive appreciation of his work, but it might be for the best if he never reads it, since I lovingly discussed Doctor Mordrid at some length.

Speaking of extensive, Monday while I was still wrapping up my festival, a very lengthy round table that I did with Adam Cesare before leaving went live on his monthly Paper Cuts column over at Cemetery Dance Online. In it, we hash out our favorite movie monsters of each decade, and discuss items of important interest like whether or not Michael Myers is a monster, my panhandling skills, swearing in PG-13 movies, whether or not metaphors count as monsters, and that comic book rack from The Mist. Because we are really good at staying on topic, is what I’m saying.

Since I didn’t fly out until Monday afternoon, Amanda and Josh and I went exploring at the Witch House, which was down a long trail full of fallen trees straight out of the spider pit sequence from King Kong. In spite of everything that movies and stories have taught us, we survived the experience, and Josh even found $20, which we assume meant that the witches were pleased with us. We also made the obligatory stop by Powell’s books, and discussed the necessity of an app that replaces the navigational voice on our phones with the Deer God from Black Mountain Side.

Upon arriving home, I had the pleasure of announcing that I’ll be hosting a FREE screening of Dario Argento’s Deep Red at the Tapcade here in KC, where you’ll have a chance to win copies of both Painted Monsters and Giallo Fantastique! More on that as it draws closer, and I return ever more to what passes for a human state around these parts. As for the HPLFF, apologies to all the people I failed to mention in this post, it was a joy and a pleasure as always, and I’m already looking forward to next year!

As was the case last year, I worked the Downright Creepy/Rotten Rentals booth at Panic Fest at the lovely and fantastic Screenland Armour over the weekend, once more in the face of some less-than-optimal weather, though much better than last year’s ice storm. Unlike last year, I actually got to see a couple of movies this time, including a double-feature of WolfCop and The Editor which kept me out until 2am on Friday (I guess technically Saturday morning, by the end there).

WolfCop was considerably better–and considerably weirder–than I had expected, in spite of containing more pee gags than is my usual threshold (which is roughly zero). Though the plot also did not go where I would have anticipated just from the synopsis, I think I was maybe most surprised by how good the film looked, especially some particularly nice crane and/or helicopter shots. If you get a chance to check it out, I think it’s probably worth your time.

The Editor I described on Twitter immediately after watching it as “if Anchorman had been a Giallo,” and I pretty much stick by that. If that makes you want to see the movie, then you’ll probably dig it. I struggle with exactly saying that I liked it, but I’m glad I saw it, and it was pretty hilarious, and if I was going to see it, at midnight in a movie theatre full* of excited Panic Fest attendees was the optimal way to do so. For those who haven’t seen it and are not of a prurient bent, be warned, it has more nudity than some pornos. Just a heads up.

*For values of full that include the dozen or so of us dumb enough to stay up til 2 in the morning to watch a movie we could have watched at some more reasonable hour later in the festival.

I’ve got a lot of other stuff going on right now, not all of which is great, some of which I’ll probably post more about later in the week. In the mean time, since I’m talking about Giallo, it seems apropos to point out that today is the birthday of Dario Argento’s Suspiria, which is probably my favorite Giallo film and, as fate would have it, Ross Lockhart will be unveiling the cover and table of contents for Giallo Fantastique sometime tomorrow, so keep an eye out on my various social media streams for that.

And while I’m on the subject, I’ve been obsessing over John Carpenter’s Lost Themes album, which drops in a couple of days and which I’ve already pre-ordered but which I have been (and you can be) listening to in its entirety here. I wish I’d had the “Mystery” track when I wrote my story for Giallo Fantastique, but the only solution to that problem is that I’ll just have to write more Giallo-inspired stories in the future.