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fungus of terror

As an aficionado of fungal horror and co-editor (with Silvia Moreno-Garcia) of Fungi, I have long wanted to get my hands on the first issue of Tales of Ghost Castle, a short-lived DC horror anthology comic from 1975, intended as a companion to House of Mystery and House of Secrets. The reason? Just check out that cover.

It turns out that the story that goes along with the cover is, as is often the case with these old horror comics, considerably more prosaic than what that promises, but it’s still of interest to the connoisseur of fungal terror.

A fairly standard “revenge from beyond the grave” tale, “The Mushroom Man” sees a gourmet who raises rare mushrooms strangled to death by his ne’er-do-well nephew Brian in search of an inheritance.

You can tell that Brian is a decadent layabout because he dresses like a mod version of Dr. Strange. He initially comes to his uncle looking for a loan to pay off his gambling debts before some dangerous Las Vegas bruisers show up to “[mess] up th’ rug with yer blood!”

His uncle refuses to pay, on the grounds that Brian is the aforementioned ne’er-do-well and layabout, but the breaking point comes after Uncle Jannis discovers a formula to grow the rarest mushrooms in the world, called “Nightdreamers,” which are impossible to market because they’re only ripe for three hours.

Brian wants to use the new formula to go into business, but his uncle wants to give it away. “Would you sell a cure for cancer?” he asks. “Make a blind man pay to have his sight restored?”

Not sure Uncle Jannis is familiar with the United States healthcare system.

Brian snaps and strangles his uncle to death with that fancy scarf, then buries him in one of his own flower beds. Months later, Brian is in charge of his uncle’s business, and living in his “palatial mansion,” which, since this is an old horror comic, is some sort of spooky old plantation house.

In the intervening months, the fungal beds in the basement have lain fallow, and now only one is sprouting any fruiting bodies – the one, naturally, where Brian buried his uncle.

The mushrooms growing from it are huge and red and ominous, so of course the cook puts some in Brian’s crab Oregonian (a dish that had no results when I tried to Google it) that night.

Upon eating the fateful mushrooms, Brian becomes terribly sick and, when the maid comes to clean his room the next morning, she finds a suitably frightful sight…

The rest of the issue is pretty standard fare for mainstream horror comics at the time; filled with jokey interludes and well-earned comeuppances and featuring art by Nestor Redondo among others. (Art chores in “The Mushroom Man” are handled by Buddy Gernale.) There’s a jab at dentists that I’m sure dentists don’t appreciate and a story of adoption horror that makes Jaume Collet-Serra’s Orphan seem positively buoyant by comparison.

Tales of Ghost Castle only ran for three issues before being discontinued, but I’m very happy to have added this one to my collection, finally.

Now that it’s December, I think I can say with finality that 2020 will mark the first year since 2015 that I haven’t had a new book out with my name on the spine. It would be tempting to chalk this up to, y’know, 2020, and it’s certainly why there may not be one in 2021 either, but publishing is a slow business, and anything that was going to come out in this dark year would have already been in progress before the year began.

In actuality, there is no reason – either sinister or benign – for there not being a book this year, just as there is no real reason for their being a book each of those others. My first collection came out in 2012, the same year that I co-edited Fungi with Silvia Moreno-Garcia. My second, Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts, was released by Word Horde in 2015. The following year saw the release of Monsters from the Vault, a collection of short essays I had written as part of a column about vintage horror cinema for Innsmouth Free Press.

In 2017, I released both my first and, thus far, only novel – a licensed work for Privateer Press – and a hardcover reprint of my first collection, with a couple of new stories and all-new illustrations by M.S. Corley. 2018 saw the release of my third collection, again from Word Horde, while in 2019 a follow-up to Monsters from the Vault hit shelves.

I have more than enough stories to complete another collection – probably a couple more – but the time is not yet right for any of them. The stories are there, but they do not all fit together. Eventually, those stories will find other stories and together they will form the collections they are meant to inhabit. Until that time, I keep churning.

The next book that’s likely to come out with my name on the cover is probably going to be Neon Reliquary, the short, occult cyberpunk novel that is currently being released in serial form at the Broken Eye Books Patreon. Some delays happened, and they are my fault, but the second installment should be up in the next month or two.

Several stories have already made their way out into the public in various places that are part of a “story cycle” based around Hollow Earths and similar pseudoscience. Once all of those have made their initial bows, the plan is to collect them – along with some original content – into a book, as well. Almost all of them are written and either published or pending publication – one has even made it into the Best Horror of the Year and been reprinted at Nightmare magazine – but various factors have delayed, well, everything, right?

I spent November working on a 40,000 word tabletop gaming-related work-for-hire project that I should be able to announce probably early next year. I had a few new stories published in 2020 that I’m quite proud of. More than in 2019, though not by much. “Prehistoric Animals” in the Weird Fiction Review, “The All-Night Horror Show” at The Dark magazine, “Manifest Destiny” in The Willows Anthology, which also reprinted some of my unfortunate juvenilia from a bygone age, “Screen Haunt” in It Came from the Multiplex, and “The Double-Goer” in Between Twilight and Dawn.

I’ve also sold several stories that have yet to see publication but should be out sometime next year. A Lucio Fulci sword-and-sorcery tribute in Beyond the Book of Eibon, “The Robot Apeman Waits for the Nightmare Blood to Stop” in Tales from OmniPark – both of which were funded via Kickstarter – and new stories in that Hollow Earth “story cycle” I mentioned that will be out in New Maps of Dream from PS Publishing and Tales from Arkham Sanitarium from Dark Regions Press. Plus some others that I can’t name just yet.

2020 has been 2020 for everyone. Someone on one of the Slacks that I’m on said that we are all a decade older than we were this time last year, which sounds about right. But so far I’m hanging in there, and I’m still banging out words on the regular, so expect to see more from me as we end this accursed year and start another, hopefully better one.

I hope you’re all hanging in there, too. Stay safe, stay weird.

NBtD_FancyThe hours are condensing down into minutes and ticking away until I will be on a plane and headed for Portland and the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival. This will be my third or fourth year as a guest, not quite consecutively, at what has rapidly become my favorite convention. To make the whole thing sweeter, we’ll be celebrating the launch of the new deluxe edition of Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings from Strix Publishing. Copies arrived at the Strix Publishing offices yesterday. I have now seen photographic evidence that the book is a real thing and have been assured that it will be present at the Festival!

I’ll be participating in the mass author signing, and also hanging around the Strix Publishing booth in the upper theatre lobby to sign books probably sometime on Saturday afternoon. The rest of the time I’ll be watching movies, jawing with people, or participating in panels and readings. I believe I’m on two panels, one dealing with foreign horror films so that I can annoy all the other panelists by jabbering about Matango and Noroi, and one on fungi (where I can also talk about Matango)!

Unfortunately, I’m not feeling as much better as I had hoped to by now, but unless I take a massive turn for the worse in the next day or so, I’m better enough to head to the Festival. If you see me and I’m looking paler or more uncomfortable than usual, apologies in advance. I’m not contagious or anything, just stuck with a bunch of lingering symptoms that seem to have no intention of vacating the premises in a timely fashion.

In spite of my slow decay, I am extremely excited about the Festival, and especially can’t wait to see the world premiere of Phil Gelatt’s They Remain. For those who are coming out to the HPLFF, definitely track me down and say hi! I’m on the schedule, so I shouldn’t be too hard to find. And for those who won’t make it out, I’ll be posting to social media from the proverbial road, but you probably won’t hear from me on this here blog until I get back, so I’ll see you then!

 

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.

A few years ago, I co-edited Fungi with Silvia Moreno-Garcia. In the time since, my affection for William Hope Hodgson’s “The Voice in the Night” and its peculiar 1963 Toho film adaptation Matango–as well as all fungal monsters everywhere–has been well documented. However, in all that time, there was always another adaptation of “The Voice in the Night” that I had never gotten a chance to see. Until now.

In a recent interview with The Haunted Omnibus, I mentioned my frustrated desire to see the “Voice in the Night” episode of the 1950s TV series Suspicion, and lo and behold, Michael Bukowski came to my rescue with a link to that very episode on YouTube! The last time I had looked for it, I had been unable to find it anywhere except in a film archive in California. Sadly, the picture quality of this YouTube version is completely terrible, and large portions of the beginning and end of the episode are lost almost utterly to darkness, but still, it’s worlds better than nothing!

Essentially a two-person show starring Barbara Rush (It Came from Outer Space) and James Donald (Quatermass and the Pit) as the pair of hopelessly-in-love (she sells it better than he does) newlyweds who become lost at sea and marooned upon the ill-fated island. Also keep an eye out for Patrick Macnee and James Coburn as the sailors who hear the haunting tale. The human drama is actually pretty well-realized, and there are enough tantalizing glimpses of the derelict ship and the fungus-shrouded isle to make you long for a better print than the one that we have available to us.

Sadly, there are no fungus creatures–or maybe there are, lost somewhere in the sea of inky blackness that are the episode’s last couple of minutes–so it’s no Matango, but it’s still a fairly admirable adaptation of Hodgson’s tale. Hopefully someday it will get a high definition release of some kind so that we can see the lost ships and fungal landscapes a little more clearly. Until then, thanks to Mike for directing me to this, and that’s one more off my list…

Ellen Datlow has unveiled her long list of honorable mentions from the most recent volume of her annual Best Horror of the Year series. Three of my stories (“Almost Human,” “The Barghest,” and “Count Brass”) made the list. All of those stories are available in Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings. In fact, of the ten stories in Never Bet the Devil, six made the honorable mention long list for the respective year in which they were first published. Can’t get much better than that, right?

At the same time, stories from Fungi received a whopping ten mentions on the long list, with nods going to John Langan’s “Hyphae,” Nick Mamatas’ “The Shaft Through the Middle of It All,” Ian Rogers’ “Out of the Blue,” Ann Schwader’s poem “Cordyceps Zombiii,” E.Catherine Tobler’s “New Feet Within My Garden Go,” Paul Tremblay’s “Our Stories Will Live Forever,” A.C. Wise’s “Where Dead Men Go to Dream,” Laird Barron’s “Gamma,” Richard Gavin’s “Goatsbride,” and Chadwick Ginther’s “First They Came for the Pigs.”

You can check out the full list here and here.

It’s Fungi Week at the Weird Fiction Review, in honor of Fungi, the anthology of fungal fiction that Silvia Moreno-Garcia and I edited!  You can read a story from the book, the excellent “Where Dead Men Go to Dream” by A.C. Wise, and there’s also an interview with Silvia and myself, in which Adam Mills managed to get me to say “bucket list,” a fact for which I will be forever ashamed. Plus, a lot of really awesome and bizarre fungal photographs from Taylor Lockwood, the “Indiana Jones of mycology.”

I’m very honored to have been a guest over at the WFR, and I definitely recommend everyone head over to check out the fungal goodies, and then stick around for the rest of their assorted weird and wonderful content. And if you just can’t get enough fungus, here’s a link (again) to Pseudopod’s podcast presentation of William Hope Hodgson’s “The Voice in the Night.”

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!

In spite of what the quote in the subject line there would imply, the present is actually pretty pleasant indeed, but the “lot of things to do” part is true enough. The two books that have been on their way out are both out now. The official release date for Fungi was yesterday, though copies started finding their way into the wild a little early, as they are wont to do. I haven’t actually received mine yet, but some of the contributors have, and they’ve been posting pictures, of which I am deeply envious.

do have my copies of Never Bet the Devil, though. There’s a pile of them sitting next to me as I type this. If I owe you a copy for any reason, or if you’d just like to buy one direct from me and get it signed, drop me a line, either in the comments here or by email, or any other way that you know to contact me, and I’ll get you hooked up.

Both books are on Goodreads now, if you’re into that sort of thing. (I recommend it.) Never Bet the Devil is here, and Fungi is here. If you’ve read either, or both, please consider putting up a review on Goodreads or Amazon or your ‘blog, and feel free to direct my attention to it, because getting reviews is still a novel thing for me, and I’m ravenous for more!

There have been a few Amazon reviews showing up for Never Bet the Devil already, including a gem from Jesse Bullington, author of The Brothers Grossbart and The Enterprise of Death and the forthcoming The Folly of the World (which you can win right here by inventing a cocktail recipe). He calls me “the best kept secret in the cemetery” and compares my book favorably with “Telly Savalas’ moves,” which is about all I could ever ask for from a review.

Book-related stuff is more than enough to keep me hopping lately, especially combined with an unusually busy period at the day job, and various other writing obligations, both pleasant and less-so. If that all weren’t enough, though, along with holiday stuff and Alfred Hitchcock marathons, we’ve also been doing some pseudo-remodeling, trying to convert our living space into a space that’s better for living and working in. So far the results are encouraging, though there are still piles of books, well, kind of everywhere.

I’ll try to post some photos of my office, once it looks more like an office and less like a place where I piled all the things that might one day make up and office.

For yesterday’s Next Big Thing post, I focused mainly on Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings, but today I’m going to talk a little about my other book that’s coming out in just a couple of weeks, Fungi. I needed to talk about it anyway, to remind everyone that the pre-sale for it ends tomorrow, so if you want to pick it up at a 20% discount and ensure your copy of the extra-content hardcover, now’s the time! But a fortuitous circumstance occurred to go ahead and prompt this post, which is that (as the Internet informed me, it’s good about that sort of thing) today is the birthday of William Hope Hodgson.

For those who may yet be unfamiliar with Hodgson, he’s the single writer most responsible for inspiring Silvia and I to put Fungi together and, in fact, for there being a thread of weird fungal fiction in the first place. Here’s a link to a post I made some time ago about Hodgson and fungal fiction and his influence on Fungi.

Hodgson is pretty well known in weird fiction circles, but his praises remain undersung elsewhere. His prose style can get pretty stilted at times, but he writes about the best stuff. He was an early practitioner of cosmic horror, and he wrote about monsters better than just about anyone else before or since. In addition to kicking off my love of fungal fiction, he was a big influence on my own writing in a lot of ways, and specifically my story “The Labyrinth of Sleep” in Future Lovecraft owes a lot to Hodgson’s weird novel The House on the Borderland. If you want to check him out and never have, I recommend beginning with “The Voice in the Night,” which is available here in audio form from Pseudopod, and if that whets your appetite, Nightshade Books just put out an attractive-looking best of volume.