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What? Crypticon KC
Where? Ramada Conference Center, 1601 N Universal Ave, KC MO
When? Next weekend, August 16-18
Who? Myself and Sean Demory, with able assists from Lydia Ash

That’s right, this time next week I’ll be getting ready to try running a table at a convention for the first time, along with fellow author and all around bad dude Sean Demory and resident booth girl Lydia, who will be cosplaying as a couple of Sean’s characters. He’ll be selling copies of his books Zobop Bebop and The Ballad of the Wayfaring Stranger and the Dead Man’s Whore, and I’ll have copies of my (comparatively prosaically titled) collection Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings as well as hot-off-the-presses copies of Tales of Jack the Ripper , not to mention bookmarks, stickers, and other party favors. So if you’re going to be at Crypticon KC, stop by and see us! We’ll be somewhere in the ballroom, and you’ll be able to distinguish our table from the piles of books bearing the above-mentioned titles. (If anyone else has piles of those same books, well, that’ll be awesome. Feel free to buy them from them, too.)

Like I said, this is going to be my first time tabling a convention (did I verb that right?) and it’s also my first Crypticon (which I almost misspelled ‘Krypticon,’ a very different but equally geeky convention, I’m sure). I’m looking forward to it, and it sounds like they’re expecting a pretty big crowd. So we’ll see how long it takes me to get completely overwhelmed and end up hiding under the table.

I’m not doing any programming or anything, though Sean has promised Thunderdome-style reading battles of some sort! I don’t know what that means, but I know that you don’t want to miss it!

As a result of a conversation on Facebook some three months or so ago, several of my friends recently presented me with my very own, framed, official certificate of monster expertise. So now it’s official! Here’s a look at the certificate:

Monster Certificate

Thanks to Bear Weiter, Steve Scearce, Jeremy Tolbert, Marlyse Comte, Selena Chambers, Molly Tanzer, and anyone else who had any hand in this! I have the best friends!

In other news, some publication-related announcements. First off, Tales of Jack the Ripper, featuring my story “Ripperology,” is now up on Goodreads, so you can add it to your lists. It should be out in August. You can also catch a glimpse of the finished cover there, featuring some of the many fine authors with whom I’ll be sharing company.

A bit farther down the road, “The Lesser Keys,” my Lovecraftian Goetic demonology story set in 1920s Kansas City, will be appearing in Jazz Age Cthulhu in 2014, alongside new novelettes by Jennifer Brozek and Avery Cahill.

And I’m back from the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival and my trip to Portland. It was, in short, breathtaking, at least once literally, as I am apparently very, very allergic to something that was up near Pittock Mansion. I took a few pictures, which I’ll probably post, at least to Facebook and environs, once I get around to sorting through them on my phone. I’m still getting used to this whole robot phone thing.

While there I got to meet a lot of awesome people, had a lot of awesome conversations, and probably missed at least as many that I’d liked to have met/had. I saw a few movies, though not as many as I’d expected. Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut was worth the price of a plane ticket all by itself, though some of the rough footage was, well, really rough. Beyond that, a few shorts, and a re-viewing of Prince of Darkness, the only film I caught was The Thing on the Doorstep, which was a really quite good retelling, though there was too much fuzzy golden light for my aesthetic preferences.

I bought a lot of exciting books, and saw a lot of interesting sights. Oregon still has my heart, as it has ever since I first visited, and I renew my vow that I’ll live there someday, by hook or by crook, a vow that’s more poignant now than ever as I’ve met a lot of great people who call Portland and its surroundings home. During my trip, I was sad to learn that Ray Harryhausen had shuffled off this mortal coil, leaving behind a world that is just a little less wondrous for his absence. The night of my arrival back I hoisted a symbolic drink to this honor, and watched It Came from Beneath the Sea, which is about as close to a middle ground between Lovecraft and Harryhausen as I’m likely to find. Harryhausen was one of the greats, maybe the finest monster maker who ever lived, and his legacy has meant a lot to me. I’ll probably post a little more about him in the next few days. In the meantime, I think I might need to backlog my To Be Read pile a little bit and haul out my copy of The Art of Ray Harryhausen one more time.

I’m not even going to try for a list of all the people I met at the HPLFF. You know who you are, and to every single one of you, thank you for your time, and I wish there’d been more of it. Getting back into the swing of things has been hard, but just before I sat down to write this post I wrapped up revisions on an 8,600 word novelette that I’d written before I left, so that’s got me feeling a little bit better about spending too much time watching Community and not getting a whole lot else done.

This is going to be a wild month, with Spectrum and ConQuest both looming on the horizon, and while my presence at both will be limited-to-nonexistent, if you’re coming into town for either don’t hesitate to let me know. I’ll be at Spectrum for at least a day to stalk Gary Gianni like a weirdo, and we’ll take it from there.

So, it’s now been 2013 for a little over twelve hours here. I slept most of those, and spent the others watching Castle, though we did ring in the new year last night with a handful of friends from college, all of whom are now paired up, even though at least one pair didn’t get together until years after we’d all graduated. That was very pleasant, and seems thematically appropriate for auld lang syne in a way that didn’t occur to me until I sat down to type this. So thanks everyone for coming over, and making a very nice new year for us. I’m glad that we’re all still friends, after all these years and, in at least one case, all these miles of separation.

Now is the time of year when a young man’s fancies turn to year-end recaps and best-of lists, so that’s what this post is going to be all about. 2012 was a big year for me, as anyone reading this probably already knows. My first two books both came out this year, one as author and one as editor.  Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings is my first collection of weird, spooky, and supernatural tales, and Fungi is the anthology of fungal stories that I co-edited with Silvia Moreno-Garcia. I’m extremely proud of both of them, and I couldn’t be happier with how they turned out. You’ve already heard a lot about them, and you’ll hear more in the coming year.

In addition, I had a few short story sales this year, the biggest one of which was my reprint appearance of “Black Hill” (originally from Historical Lovecraft) in Ross Lockhart’s The Book of Cthulhu 2. I also got asked to write an introduction to a forthcoming Valancourt Books reissue of J.B. Priestley’s Benighted, which I’m extremely excited about both because it’ll be my first time writing an introduction and because I’m very excited about the release itself.

This year saw some major changes in my daily life, as I changed positions at my day job (a couple of times, actually) and we did some work on the downstairs floor of our house, which resulted in me having a fairly nice office, from which I’m typing this right now. There’s still a little work left to go on the office, but expect pictures when everything is done.

But that’s enough news about me, now it’s time for the obligatory year-end lists. I’m not going to do top tens or fives or whatever, in no small part because there’s too much stuff that I wanted to get to that didn’t happen, but I’ll mention a few high points, and apologies in advance for anything and everything that I leave out. Starting with movies, 2012 was a good year for me and the cinema. I saw a pile of good stuff in theatres, with a few of my favorites (in no particular order) being AvengersCabin in the WoodsLooper, and Skyfall. I was also surprised to really enjoy Men in Black 3, which I saw on DVD, and which was actually better than either of its predecessors. (Also, that makes two movies featuring time travel in the main plot that I saw this year and really liked. Mark it down, because it is unlikely to happen again.) I also saw The Innkeepers in theatres back at the beginning of the year. Though it technically came out in 2011, it might just be my favorite of the whole bunch, so I’m making it a point to mention it here.

As good as 2012 was for movies, it was even better for books. I read a pile of great books in 2012, an unprecedented number of which actually came out during the year. My top reads (from books released in 2012) were Molly Tanzer’s bizarre debut A Pretty Mouth and Ian Rogers’ superlative collection Every House is Haunted, along with the aforementioned Book of Cthulhu 2 and the latest book in Holly Black’s Curse Worker series. 2012 was also the year that I was introduced to the crime writings of Dashiell Hammett for the first time, and I’ve devoured pretty much all of them in the course of the year, and loved them all.

As many great books as I read in 2012, though, there were more that I didn’t get the chance to crack open yet. Chief amongst them Richard Gavin’s latest collection At Fear’s Altar, Jesse Bullington’s The Folly of the World, Ross Lockhart’s Chick Bassist, and Stephen Graham Jones’ Last Final Girl. 2013 is looking just as impressive (and damaging to my bank account), with a plethora of exciting releases on the horizon, including a new collection by Laird Barron, a long-overdue debut collection from Nathan Ballingrud, a YA novel from John Hornor Jacobs, and a brand new book by Holly Black. There’s also a new collection by John Langan on the way, entitled The Wide Carnivorous Sky & Other Monstrous Geographies, which I don’t have a way to link to yet, but am very eagerly awaiting. And that’s all just off the top of my head.

I have high hopes for 2013, and while I’m not really a resolutions kind of person, I think that as close as I have to one this year is to remember that what I’m getting to do is pretty awesome, and to behave accordingly. Thanks to everyone reading this, to everyone who picked up a copy of either of my books, to everyone who left a review somewhere or sent me some kind words, to all my friends and everyone who helped make 2012 a pretty great year. Here’s to hoping that 2013 is even better, for all of us. Soupy twist!

We’re into the home stretch of our November Alfred Hitchcock marathon here at the Grey household. As I type this, we’re gearing up to watch Psycho. Which means that I should have a marathon wrap-up post coming to you very soon.

When I started this project, I’d hoped to have a variety of guest posts to carry us through the month, but various logistical difficulties meant that mostly didn’t happen. But I did get one guest post, anyway, from Pseudopod editor Shawn Garrett, who joins us to talk about one of the (many) aspects of Hitchcock’s career that I have completely neglected. So, without further ado, here’s Shawn Garrett on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and the Hitchcock Brand:

***

When I was a child, growing up in the mid-70’s, as a fan of all things scary I was well aware of Alfred Hitchcock. How could that be, you ask – we’re talking about a period in which I was roughly 8 to 12 years old and Alfred Hitchcock made very adult movies. Well, you see, Mr. Hitchcock was a very savvy man and he naturally understood a little thing which marketers would later come to call “branding.”

First of all, Hitch’s movies were being constantly replayed on television at this time – and this was back in the day when you had to catch something when it was on, or you risked not having the chance to see it again for years and years (thus, every movie was an event – paid attention to closely and imprinted on your mind for dissection with your peers or on your own). I won’t bend the truth here – I’ll admit that most of the Hitchcock films I saw as a child did not hold my interest, or at least didn’t begin to until I hit my teens. Like a lot of Western movies, it would take an adult’s perspective for me to later grow to appreciate subtle nuances like character dynamics and plot development – at that age, I was looking to be scared. Understandably, certain ones did stick. The Birds, obviously, and I remember being severely discomfited by Marnie and the bits I saw of Frenzy (understandably so). Psycho was, like Night of the Living Dead, one of those rare cinematic grails that eluded me for quite some time. I saw more pop-culture references to Psycho (Anthony Perkins on Saturday Night Live and a particularly funny segment of Don Adams’ old game show Screen Test both leap to mind) than I had chances to see the actual film.

Then there were the paperback anthologies – Death Bag, Scream Along with Me, Stories They Wouldn’t Let Me Do On TV, Breaking the Scream Barrier and the like – all stuffed with stories culled from genre and pulp classics or the equally omnipresent Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine (which must have been a favorite of my deceased Grandfather as I discovered a stash of them in my Grandmother’s back pantry in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn). Again, while I was a voracious reader of short fiction by this point in my life (thank you, bookmobile and Scholastic Scope), I didn’t have the maturity to grasp the point of crime and noir fiction but I would relish the creepy covers on the paperbacks and dip into them from time to time to discover a gem or two (in particular, I have vivid memories of a story about Jack The Ripper’s knife, and a longish science-fiction piece about an ever-growing blob of energy that prowls an isolated lake-shore community absorbing the inhabitants – this would have been “Dune Roller” from 1960 by Julian May, later filmed as The Cremators in 1972).

On top of all this, Hitch was savvy enough to brand himself for the children’s market, long before R.L. Stine and the like! Wondrous anthologies like Monster Museum (with truly creepy collage artwork by Earl E. Mayan) and Ghostly Gallery were right up my alley – introducing me to genre greats by assuming I was capable of reading stories originally written for adults (like the notorious “Slime” by Joseph Payne Brennan and “The Desrick on Yandro” by Manly Wade Wellman) which I’m still convinced is the best way to get kids reading short fiction. Equally important to my young world were the Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators series, which grabbed my imagination when THE HARDY BOYS proved to be a bust (as Bart Simpson said re: the Hardy’s mysteries, it truly was “always smugglers”). I could wax eloquent about the intrepid trio (and their creator/author Robert Arthur, one of Hitch’s personal editors) but I do have a time limit here. Suffice it to say, in retrospect it surprises me there was no Alfred Hitchcock anthology comic book to compete with Boris Karloff’s Tales of Mystery.

When Orrin asked if there was a Hitchcock film I’d like to write about, I asked in turn if I could compose this piece on Alfred Hitchcock Presents – probably the most important piece of Hitch branding there ever was. I loved anthology shows as a kid and while I tended to go for more fantastic fare like The Twilight Zone and One Step Beyond, it seemed like AHP was continually programmed in syndication throughout my youth. Watching the show with my mother or grandmother taught me how to appreciate subtly crafted stories of suspense and macabre humor. It stamped the figure of Alfred Hitchcock into my mind so strongly that I had no problem imagining him as a character when he showed up in the Three Investigator books – no “Hector Sebastian” (the ersatz figure they replaced Hitch with in later printings after the director’s contract deal had expired) for me!

Of course, Alfred Hitchcock did not direct every episode of Presents – in fact, he personally directed only 17 of the 200-plus shows – but that misses the point. Week after week, the entire show served to reinforce a brand character for Alfred Hitchcock – the catchy, limping “Funeral March of a Marionette” opening music by Charles Gounod, the memorable caricature/logo and, of course, the droll and macabre monologues which presented the whole topic of crime and murder (while also taking some stabs at the commercial sponsors) with deadpan humor and charm (“Good Eveeeening”). AHP could run the gamut from tough noir gangster pieces to suburban homicide comedies to “twist in their tale” yarns and you never knew what to expect. Some of my strongest memories of being seriously unnerved as a child come from episodes of the show:

Joseph Cotten paralyzed by a car accident and about to be autopsied in “Breakdown”

David Wayne menaced by a motorcycle cop as he’s trying to transport his wife’s murdered corpse in “One More Mile To Go”

The powerful doppelganger episode “The Case of Mr. Pelham” (as a rule AHP tended to not feature fantasy genre content, but every once in a while they would pitch a change-up to throw you off guard) this episode features one of the most chillingly matter-of-fact lines I’ve ever heard: “You’re mad, you know?”

“The Glass Eye” (one of a number of episodes about ventriloquism) has a twist most modern viewer will almost certainly guess, but the deployment of it is still very disturbing.

Lonely spinster June Lockhart marries a man through a lonely hearts club but begins to suspect he may be spending an inordinate amount of time in the basement towards devious ends in “The Second Wife”

And finally, perhaps the strongest memory I have of the show is catching a repeat (in broad daylight no less) of the fifth season episode “Special Delivery”, adapted from “Boys! Grow Giant Mushrooms in Your Cellar!” by Ray Bradbury. As the plot of this episode began to unfold into the climax (a father suspects there may be something sinister in his son’s mushroom cultivating hobby), my young self began to sloooooowly and uncontrollably back out of the room, eyes fixed on the screen, fascinated but terrified of what might appear when a shadowed face came into the light. I stood in the hall doorway, ready to literally turn tail and run if the episode paid off on its suggested imagery, paralyzed but unable to not watch. It still remains one of my most pleasing memories of pure terror.

I would suggest anyone who desires to experience some quality television to consider accessing the series through Netflix – you’ll get great stories (adapted from the likes of Roald Dahl, Dorothy L. Sayers, Cornell Woolrich & Ray Bradbury, just to name a few), great actors (John Forsythe, Darren McGavin, Joseph Cotten and on and on and on – memorable character actor Henry Jones from The Bad Seed is in quite a few episodes) and great directors (Robert Altman, Arthur Hiller, John Brahm, etc.). While not every episode is a winner, the show is so consistently good that I feel secure in saying that you will not be disappointed.

My friends Richard Gavin and Ian Rogers both tagged me simultaneously as part of their Next Big Thing posts (which you can learn more about by following those links). The gist of the idea is that you answer ten standard questions about your next/newest book, and then tag five other authors who do the same a week later. Like both of them, I’ll be talking mostly about a book that just came out, rather than one that is on its way…

1. What is the working title of your next book?

My debut collection Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings was just released by Evileye Books. It’s a collection of ten of my supernatural stories, including my previously out-of-print novella The Mysterious Flame. The title comes from the shortest story I ever wrote, a 150-word flash piece that opens the collection that was done as an entry into a contest  that Jeff VanderMeer held as part of his work on the Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities. (It didn’t win.)

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

Short story collections are my very favorite types of books, and short stories are pretty much all I write, so putting together my first collection has always been the plan. The ideas for the individual stories that make up Never Bet the Devil came from all over the place; old horror movies, comic books, other supernatural tales, etc. The specific influences of each story are discussed in the author’s notes that are included in the book, because I love that kind of stuff.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

I always have a lot of trouble answering this question. In a bookstore, you’d find it on the “horror” shelf. “Supernatural horror” is what Richard Gavin said in his answer to this question, and I think that’s a true answer for mine as well. At other times I’ve used phrases like “weird fiction, “strange fiction,” and “dark fiction.” When people outside the field ask me what I write, I have taken to saying “ghost stories,” and while many of the stories I write don’t actually contain what are usually thought of as ghosts, it does seem to get the idea across pretty well.

4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I love movies, and I love fan-casting, but since this is a collection of different stories, all with different characters, it’s hard to answer this question. That said, I would try my mightiest to work Jeffrey Combs in there somehow.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

I’m not good at this sort of thing, but here’s the (cheating!) two-sentence synopsis from the official ad sheet:

Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings is the first collection of supernatural tales from acclaimed author Orrin Grey. These ten stories haunted by ghosts, ghouls, and other anomalies are a unique tincture of the classic sensibilities of writers like M.R. James, Lovecraft, and Poe, mixed with contemporary comic book and cinematic influences to create an elixir that is equal parts wonder and unease.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Never Bet the Devil was published by Evileye Books.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

The stories in Never Bet the Devil were written variously over the course of the last ten years or so, though most of them were written in the last three or four years. The first draft of The Mysterious Flame, the novella that makes up a little over a third of the book and is the longest single thing I’ve ever written, took me about six months.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

The comics of Mike Mignola, of course. (See the answer to question #9, below.) Lovecraft, Leiber, M.R. James, E.F. Benson, William Hope Hodgson, Jean Ray, etc. Comparing oneself to modern writers is always awkward, but since Ian Rogers and Richard Gavin both tagged me in this thing, I think it’s safe enough to say that I sometimes flatter myself that if you like their work, you might also like mine.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I’ve got a lot of inspirations, and I tend to like to talk about all of them at great length. But the biggest one is Mike Mignola. This book is dedicated to him, and he’s the person who had the single biggest impact on my approach to supernatural storytelling. He tells a story in a lot of his interviews about how, when he read Dracula for the first time, he suddenly knew what he wanted to do with his life. I had a similar moment, but for me it wasn’t Dracula, but Mignola’s own work on Hellboy that provided that jolt.

10. What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

In addition to my stories and author’s notes and assorted rambling, the book is fully illustrated by the great Bernie Gonzalez, who also provided illustrations for the hardcover edition of Fungi, which I just co-edited with Silvia Moreno-Garcia for Innsmouth Free Press. (And which is presently available for pre-order for a couple more days!)

There you go. Sadly, I haven’t managed to tag five authors, since a couple of the people I tried to tag turned out to have already been gotten to by others first. So here’s a couple of authors, and my apologies for bodging: Molly Tanzer & John Hornor Jacobs.

Yesterday, on my bus ride home, I finished Ian Rogers‘ debut collection Every House is Haunted. I’d read it over the last three days, and I couldn’t have asked for better material to close out the Halloween season.

Full disclosure, before I get into the meat of this review: Ian and I are friends, though we’ve only met in person a couple of times. I’ve known him since we were both published together in Bound for Evil back in 2008, and we both did our first ever book signing at that year’s Readercon. You can rest assured, though, that while our friendship affects how excited I am to see him have such a handsome book in print, it wouldn’t be enough to make me be as effusive in my praise as I am about to be.

Every House is Haunted, in addition to having a great title, is about as assured a debut collection as you’re ever likely to find. Ian writes in the grand tradition of folks like Stephen King, Richard Matheson (albeit with fewer Twilight Zone endings), or Shirley Jackson, but he also manages to make the stories entirely his own. Many of the stories involve haunted houses, as you might gather from the title, but rarely are they haunted in the usual sense. Many other stories, including some of my favorites, feature a sort of blue collar approach to the supernatural. The agencies that deal with the occult in Ian’s world are believably bureaucratic, peopled with the kinds of folks you’d find working in cubicles in any office building.

In fact, a big part of what makes Ian’s stories so good is their very human heart. While often ominous or creepy (and occasionally very funny), the stories in Every House is Haunted never feel the least bit mean-spirited. There’s always a warmth and sympathy at the center of each story, no matter how grim the subject matter becomes.

I have favorites from the book, of course. “Cabin D,” “The Cat,” and “Inheritor” all jump to mind. But really, it’s not any one story or stories that makes Every House such a success, but the way they combine to form a whole that is more than the sum of even its (already quite exceptional) parts.