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Never Bet the Devil CoverAs you have no doubt gathered by now, the brand-new deluxe edition of Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings from Strix Publishing is a real, physical object that has actually happened and is currently sitting on my shelf. What you may not yet know is that it can also be sitting on your shelf, even if you missed out on the Kickstarter and/or didn’t see us at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival. Through the magic of something called “the internet,” you can now order your very own copy of Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings, featuring two (2) new stories not published in the previous edition, all new illustrations and header images for every story by the phenomenal M.S. Corley (who is also responsible for that amazing cover), and a new (and very kind) introduction by Nathan Ballingrud!

(And hey, if you’re going to pick up a copy, now’s the time to do it, because you can get it at 15% off thanks to Strix’s Halloween sale!)

Speaking of Halloween, I recently wrote up a recommendation list of five vintage vampiric movies for you to watch on Halloween, which you can read over at Innsmouth Free Press? Why would I do that, you ask? The better question might be, Why wouldn’t I? But in this case it’s actually all part of an elaborate scheme meant to help promote Monsters from the Vault, my collection of essays on vintage horror cinema, collected from across more than five years of writing columns for Innsmouth Free Press. Why vampires, though? Well, that just kind of happened. But you’re certainly not limited to vampires. Pick up a copy of the book and you can find plenty of mad scientists, alien invaders, werewolves, mummies, murderers, unusually large insects and rodents, blobs, apes, skeletons, cults, and just about anything else you might want for your seasonal viewing pleasure.

The list also serves double duty by making me feel a little less bad about not being a very good contributor to the Countdown to Halloween. This October has been a little rough. It got off to a good start with the HPLFF, but there have been a variety of other setbacks that have kept me from celebrating the season with the same vigor that I might have on previous occasions. Fortunately, I have at least gotten Halloween decorations up, and tomorrow night I’m heading out to the Tapcade for a horror anthology triple feature courtesy of the Nerds of Nostalgia. I attended the first of these “Nerdoween” triple-features a couple of years ago, and they’ve since become an annual tradition. Thanks to them, I’ve discovered both Demons and Night of the Demons and, to a somewhat lesser extent, both 28 Weeks Later and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Since this year’s entertainment is anthology film-themed, the odds of me not having already seen all of them decrease sharply, but we’ll see what they can dig up!

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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!

Slow Boat to Fast CityStarting tomorrow, I’ll be joining Sean Demory and the rest of the Pine Float Press crowd to celebrate the launch of Slow Boat to Fast City at ConQuest in KC. I’ll be doing a handful of panels, and a reading on Saturday. Here’s a link to my full schedule, which I’ll also reproduce below. Slow Boat to Fast City is a shared-world “raygun Gothic pulp sci-fi” anthology of stories about Mars, and features my Edgar Rice Burroughs by way of L.A. Confidential story “The House of Mars,” which you can also pick up as a standalone (with amazing cover art by the extremely talented Bernie Gonzalez) in either electronic or chapbook formats. If you want the full experience, though, Slow Boat to Fast City will be available in person at ConQuest, or you can order it in one of three affordable formats: electronic, Lulu-edition pocketbook, or paperback.

Besides launching Slow Boat, I’ll be talking about Gothic stuff, body horror, and reading scary stories. Here’s my full schedule:

Friday, May 22
5pm – Is it REALLY Gothic?
10pm – Body Horror: The Last Ewwww

Saturday, May 23
12:30pm – Reading
2pm – Anatomy of an Anthology (along with all my Pine Float partners in crime)
10pm – Late Night Scary Stories

Whenever I’m not at one of those things, I’ll probably be hanging out at the traveling Pine Float Press floating VIP lounge, where you’ll pretty much always be able to find me. It shouldn’t be too hard to spot, as we’ll probably be pretty loud, and at least two of us are really tall.

This year, ConQuest is being held at the Kansas City Marriott Downtown, which is just across from where Spectrum will be happening at the same time. I’ve heard rumors that there might be West Side Story-style dance battles between the two cons, but even if there’s not, if you’re going to be downtown for one, feel free to stop on over to the other and say hello. In the immortal words of Sean Demory: “You’ll pay for your whole seat, but you’ll only use the edge!

Some time back, my friend Mike Corley approached me with an idea: He was drawing spooky houses, and he suggested that I should write descriptions of them and we’d put them together into a fake real estate pamphlet. I’d been a fan of Mike’s work since way before I ever got to know him online, and had been wanting to do a project with him forever, and as anyone who knows me knows there’s very few things I love more than writing about spooky houses, so I jumped at the chance. Thus, about a year later, Gardinel’s Real Estate was born!

Mike drew the houses and sent them to me, and I came up with a suitably haunted history for each ominous domicile, all narrated by our estate agent, Cedric Gardinel. We printed it up ourselves (with Mike handling the lion’s share of that end) and the result is a sharp-looking 32 page ‘zine that we’ll be offering in a limited print run of 100 signed, hand-numbered copies, 50 of which just showed up on my doorstep today. Thirteen houses, beautifully illustrated by Mike, with words by me, including stories of witchcraft, hidden fortunes, accusations of vampirism, demonic portraits, a haunted chair, and several experiments of a “most unusual nature.”

Gardinel’s Real Estate will go on sale from both Mike and myself on October 1, just in time for Halloween. More details will be forthcoming then.

[UPDATE: On sale now, here’s the link!]

 

Recently, I was invited by the extraordinarily talented and awesome Mike Bukowski to be one of a handful of authors participating in a special Nyarlathotep project at his website, Yog-Blogsoth. If you’ve never checked out Mike’s work before, you’re in for a treat, though I must warn you, much of it is not exactly safe for work. For some time now, he’s been drawing pretty much every creature that Lovecraft ever mentioned (over 400 of them now, I believe) and recently he went on a kick drawing various avatars of Nyarlathotep. To crown the project, he came up with the idea of inviting several contemporary authors to contribute their own original Nyarlathotep avatars, yours truly included. You can read a little more about the project here.

As you can see from that lineup, I’m in the company of some absolutely incredible authors here, and I’m honored to be included. I’m especially proud of my involvement in this project because I was able to help facilitate the inclusion of a few of the other authors, and getting cool people together to work on fantastic projects is maybe the best part about doing what I do.

For my contribution, which Mike dubbed the “most ridiculous,” a badge I will wear with great pride, I tried to design something that I thought Mike would enjoy drawing, and something that I’d love to see done in his inimitable style, and also something different than any of the other monsters I’d described in any of my stories. The result is probably the closest I’ve ever come to designing a Castlevania boss fight, so I’m pretty happy.

The excerpt describing the creature is from a story that hasn’t been written yet. Before Mike asked me to contribute to this, it wasn’t even an idea in my notebook, though now it certainly is. Inspired in part by The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake, which I wrote about in my Vault of Secrets column recently, “The Cult of Headless Men” is definitely a story that you’ll see from me one of these days, it’s just a matter of getting the time to actually write it. (And yes, for readers familiar with “The Barghest” from Never Bet the Devil, I do just steal all my ideas from questionable old B movies.)

The first week of the Nyarlathotep project wrapped up today with a contribution from Molly Tanzer, and also featured Nyarlathoteps by Laird Barron, John Langan, and Victoria Dalpe. Keep an eye on the ‘blog, though, because next week will feature another batch, with Nyarlathoteps by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Phil Gelatt, Livia Llewellyn, Wilum Pugmire, and Gemma Files!