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never bet the devil

So, it’s been a minute. (Approximately 28,800 of them, actually.) What have I been doing with myself during quarantine? Not what I would have expected, necessarily.

For example, unlike a great many people, I haven’t been watching a lot more movies or television, though, like, I gather, a great many other people, I also haven’t been reading any more books than I was before, maybe less.

Mostly, I’ve been working, and while that’s occasionally been on fiction, more often it’s been on, more or less, the same kind of freelance stuff that I was doing before the pandemic. I’ve also increased the frequency of my appearances on the Horror Pod Class, where we’ve been doing weekly episodes due to the lockdown.

Recent episodes have included talking with author Max Brooks about bigfoots and the reassuring quality of Peter Graves, chatting with Pitch editor and semi-professional podcast haver Brock Wilbur about how, where we’re going, we won’t need eyes to see, and just our usual bullshit about cursed films.

None of that new fiction stuff is in any fit state for public consumption just yet, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some news on that front, too. My story “Screen Haunt” will be showing up in mailboxes and bookstores (if there are still such things) later this year in It Came from the Multiplex, a fun-looking antho from Hex Publishers themed around ’80s horror. My contributor’s copy came the other day, and the book looks fantastic, even if I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.

Speaking of reading, I somehow managed to swallow down my anxiety enough to perform the narration of my story “Dream House” for Pseudopod recently. (Listen to the story and you’ll hear why.) You have my apologies for the narration, but the story has always been a favorite, and it brings back good memories.

The lockdown means that I haven’t been out to the theater in a while, and there’s been a commensurate slowdown in my reviews of other titles, as well. But I haven’t been idle! Earlier this month, I kicked off the first in a new recurring column that I’ll be writing at Unwinnable in which I talk about the eternal allure of board games … especially those that we pretty much never play.

The first installment talks about playing Horrified in the midst of a global pandemic, which has naturally limited my playing options. I have plans for future installments that will hopefully include, y’know, playing them with actual other people. We’ll see.

On a similar note, I’ve also been digging into 5e D&D for the first time in a while and … enjoying it a lot more than I would have expected. While the lockdown has put certain necessary constraints on my actual playing options, I’ve really been enjoying what we have done, and just paging through the books and acquainting myself with setting and rules. I’m surprised, but happy to be so.

Oh, and I did that Penguin Classics cover generator thing that was going around for a minute there with my books, too. So that’s fun.

I missed the official 100th anniversary of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari by a couple of days – it was apparently February 26 – but it seemed wrong to let the occasion pass by completely without at least marking it in some way.

Caligari was a film that I became obsessed with years before I ever saw it. Two decades ago, when Mezco Toys was still called Aztech, they released a line of figures based on classic silent horror films, including one of Cesare from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, looking a bit like Robert Smith of The Cure.

Cesare was the only one of the so-called Silent Screamers toys I ever bought – a decision I regret to this day, when I would love to get my hands on a Graf Orlok or a Golem. But I also still have the Cesare figure by my desk.

The long, sharp shadows of German expressionism and early silent films have long had a major influence on my own aesthetic, even before I had ever actually seen most of them. Caligari, which I first saw in college, not long after buying that toy, remains a movie that I’ve watched only a few times, and yet one that sticks with me in everything I do.

In part, this is because Caligari is a film that can be enjoyed in still frames almost as much as it can be as a movie. I’ve said before that most entire films aren’t as gorgeous or potent as any given frame of Caligari, and I stand by that.

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A few years ago, I was asked to contribute a story to The Madness of Dr. Caligari, a deluxe anthology of stories inspired by the silent classic, edited by Joe Pulver. The story I turned in, “Blackstone: A Hollywood Gothic,” concerns an ill-fated Poverty Row production of a 1946 movie called The Corpse Walks, which features some familiar figures.

But it’s far from the only story I ever wrote that had Caligari‘s long shadow over it. “Night’s Foul Bird” in Painted Monsters may be more concerned with Nosferatu and Faust and London After Midnight, but there’s no denying that Cesare is in there somewhere, or that the plot of Caligari (and its successors) runs like a dark vein through “Stygian Chambers,” the story I wrote for Pluto in Furs which, when I first started writing it, was going to be named for a line from the Robert Bloch-penned 1962 remake Cabinet of Caligari.

Even early stories like “The Mysterious Flame,” which anchors my first collection, are filled with the shadows of German expressionist cinema in general, with Caligari as maybe its most striking exemplar.

Nor am I likely to extricate myself from those painted-on shadows anytime soon. A hundred years gone by, and they’ve still never made another movie quite like Caligari – and it may be that they never will.

Unknown SkeletonAt the start of this decade, I made my first-ever professionally-qualifying sale. (Pro rates were somehow even lower then than they are now.) I had been writing since I learned how, and seriously attempting to publish since I graduated college not quite a decade before that.

In 2012, the first edition of my first collection, Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings, came out. In five years it would be out of print, then back in print, in a new, hardcover deluxe edition from Strix Publishing.

Looking back, it came out too soon. Not that I’m not proud of the collection – I am, completely, if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have allowed it to be reissued. I just wasn’t at the “first collection” stage in my career quite yet, but I didn’t know that then.

In the years since, I’ve published two more collections of stories, both with Ross Lockhart’s Word Horde press, not to mention two collections of essays on vintage horror films, both with Innsmouth Free Press. I’ve published more than fifty short stories, and been in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year three times.

I co-edited my first anthology with Silvia Moreno-Garcia, which got translated into Japanese.

I’ve done work for Privateer Press, writing short fiction and in-game content, adventures, and even a licensed novel that is technically my first published novel-length work. In the last year alone I’ve written nearly fifty movie reviews for Unwinnable and Signal Horizon, where I also now co-host a podcast.

I’ve written introductions for reissues of some of my favorite books, including Benighted and collections by Robert Westall, from Valancourt Books, and introductions to collections by some of my favorite contemporaries, including Nick Mamatas and Amanda Downum. I have nonfiction bylines in places like Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, and Nightmare Magazine.

I’ve been a guest at several wonderful conventions and festivals, gone on a great many podcasts, introduced movies at the local movie theatres, and much more. There are so many things on this list that, had you told me about them ten years ago, I wouldn’t have believed you.

Of all the many surprising things that have happened to me over the course of the last decade, though, perhaps the most surprising is that I quit my day job to write full-time all the way back in 2013, and I haven’t had to give it up yet.

Fiction writing certainly doesn’t pay the bills, so most of my time is dedicated to freelancing, but, as they say in Major League 2, a day of playing baseball is better than whatever most people have to do for a living.

It wasn’t until Grace was asking me if I was planning to do some kind of decade-in-review that I realized how much my life has changed in these past ten years, so it seemed worth taking note. I went from being virtually unpublished (I had sold a few stories, but not many) to having six or more books (depending on how you count) with my name on the spine and writing for a living.

Not too shabby, all in all.

I published my customary year end wrap-up back at the end of December, but in it I realize that I perhaps gave somewhat short shrift to my publishing accomplishments for the year, so I decided that a more in-depth post on the subject was in order.

Of course, the biggest writing news of 2018 was the publication of Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales, my third collection of short stories about ghosts, monsters, and sometimes the ghosts of monsters, and my second through Word HordeGuignol contains fourteen (14) strange tales, four (4) of them appearing in print for the first time.

Counting those four new stories, the total number of new stories I published in 2018 is nine (9). I also had two (2) reprints this year. “Goblins,” which originally appeared as a bonus story in the deluxe edition of Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings from Strix Publishing was podcast at Pseudopod just in time for Halloween, read by none other than the Old Gent himself, Leeman Kessler, and my story “The Granfalloon,” originally in Darker Companions, was reprinted in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year, marking the second time one of my stories has made it into that esteemed volume.

Other stories that came out in 2018 include “Hollow Earths” in Chthonic from Martian Migraine Press, “The Pepys Lake Monster” in Test Patterns: Creature Features from Planet X Publishing, “No Exit” in Lost Highways from Crystal Lake, “Masks” in the second issue of Forbidden Futures, and “The Hurrah (aka Corpse Scene)” at The Dark. That doesn’t seem like a ton of new fiction, but I’m proud of every one of them, and of the original stories that appeared in Guignol. I’ve also been hard at work on some other stories and projects that should be seeing the light of day in 2019.

In 2018, I was also lucky enough to get to pen the introduction to Amanda Downum’s long-awaited short story collection Still So Strange and I started publishing more of my film writing in places other than here, including reviews at Signal Horizon and Unwinnable. I’m particularly proud of this one.

There’s more stories, more film writing, and more monsters coming in 2019. In the meantime, if you’re so inclined, you could always throw a few bucks into my proverbial tip jar to help me keep doing this.

As I write this, it’s still Friday the 13th for a few more hours, but I haven’t watched a Jason movie yet. May not, at this rate, more’s the pity. Still, it’s been a good, busy day. Grace accepted a new position at her job today, as a QA Auditor instead of a QC Supervisor. It’s a move that’s been in the works for a while, and one that we’re both really happy about. It also means that she should be able to work from home a little more over the next few weeks, until she’s back on her feet and able to go back to work.

GuignolYesterday, I turned in the page proofs for my third collection, coming later this year from Word Horde. It’s going to be called Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales, and it’s a little rougher than my previous collections. Not as far as story quality or presentation–hopefully that’s all still pretty polished–but as far as the tone and tenor of the stories. Don’t worry, I think I’m still writing fun horror, but some of these come from–and go to–a darker, harder place than I’ve gone before. I think there may also be more monsters-per-page in this book than in any of my others, so that’s something to look forward to.

It was good timing, because today the Publishers Weekly review of Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales went live. They called it “a veritable smorgasbord of horrific thrills and chills” and “a must-read for hardcore fans of horror,” so it could be a whole lot worse. I’ll have more info about Guignol as the release date gets closer, and we should have a pre-order link coming hopefully very soon.

If you absolutely can’t wait, there’s also a flash sale going on right now at Strix Publishing where you can get Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings for 15% off!

Grace’s broken leg, page proofs, and freelance work have been keeping me pretty busy of late, but I have managed the time to knock out a couple of other projects, including writing about Toho’s “Bloodthirsty Trilogy” of Dracula movies for Unwinnable. I think that’s it for this Friday the 13th. Maybe I’ll watch that Jason movie after all…

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’ve still got, like, a week left, but it’s highly unlikely that I’m going to publish anything more in those few days, so let’s go ahead and get this dumpster fire of a year behind us, shall we? (Remember when we all thought that 2016 was kind of the epitome of a bad year? We were so adorable.)

Given the way the last few months of this year, especially, have gone, with various health crises and escalating stress, it’s easy to forget that I accomplished much of anything at all during the rest of it, but I actually published a few stories and, hard as it is to believe, two books in 2017! And by “a few” I mean roughly five new stories of mine came out in 2017, six if you count the one new story in the deluxe hardcover edition of Never Bet the Devil. I had stories in The Children of Gla’akiFor Mortal Things UnsungTerror in 16-BitsTales from a Talking Board, and Darker Companions. (For those keeping score at home, that’s actually two Ramsey Campbell tribute anthologies, and not a single overtly Lovecraft-themed one. Maybe a record?)

On top of that, 2017 saw the release of my first novel, in a manner that I would never have expected in a million years. Godless, the first volume in a proposed series chronicling the adventures of Tristan, nicest of all the Protectorate of Menoth warcasters, was released by Privateer Press back in April. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I also got the distinction of being the first writer to permanently kill off a major in-game character, so that was pretty cool. The book was written in something of a rush to meet my deadlines, but it seems to have been received fairly well. I dedicated it to Ray Harryhausen, and earlier this month I got to visit an exhibit of Ray Harryhausen models, storyboards, concept art, and other ephemera in Oklahoma City, which was a rare pleasure indeed.

In non-licensed work, 2017 also saw the re-release of my first collection, Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings, in a fancy deluxe hardcover edition courtesy of Strix Publishing. The (jaw-dropping) cover design and pitch-perfect interior illustrations are all the work of Mike Corley, one of my favorite artists in the business and pretty much my first and only choice to work on this book. Besides adding new illustrations by Mike, I wanted to make sure that the deluxe edition had some added value for those who had already purchased the (now out of print) paperback original, so we also included two additional stories that weren’t in the first release. One of them, “Goblins,” was entirely original to the collection, while the other, “A Night for Mothing,” is a difficult-to-find rarity that was originally published in The Mothman Files all the way back in 2011.

Besides heading out to the Ray Harryhausen exhibit in early December, I managed to make a handful of convention appearances throughout the year, despite my wretched health. I attended Panic Fest here in Kansas City back in January for the first time as a civilian (previous years I had helped out with booths and other odds-and-ends), something I plan to do again this year. I was a guest of the Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird in Atlanta back in March and at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland in October, where we actually launched Never Bet the Devil & Other Warning. I’m told that no less a personage than Barbara Steele stopped by the booth to inquire about the book, but at the time I was out getting a burrito, which is probably just as well, so that I couldn’t pitch it to her by explaining that, “I think it’s got ghosts and stuff.”

In-between all of those, I also made a trip up to Minneapolis to see the Guillermo del Toro exhibit At Home with Monsters, and a trip to the Boulder area of Colorado, mostly to accompany Grace to a low flutes retreat, though I also used the opportunity to meet up with some writing acquaintances and do a bit of writing myself, including penning a story that I’m pretty proud of which is part of a lengthier story cycle that I mostly finished during the course of this year, though none of the new additions to it have seen print just yet.

Lots more stuff happened in 2017. I watched a lot of movies, read a few books, was sick a lot, had an emergency surgery, spent my birthday recovering from that, and did a whole host of the other usual stuff that you do in a year, even one where everything is on fire. I’ll have most posts about the movies I watched in 2017, as well as a Year in Creatures, most likely, but those will have to wait until the year is actually over. For now, that’s most of what I accomplished as far as writing and publishing go, and that’s what we’re here for.

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!

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!

 

So, good grief, I guess it’s been four years ago  already that I wrote a blog appreciation post on Mike Mignola’s birthday that said just about everything that I’m going to say here again, today. In the years that have passed since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet Mike several times in person, and chat with him frequently on Facebook. (I think I had already met him a time or two by then, as well.) In fact, there’s a fair-to-middling chance that he’ll read this, although maybe not, because he’s on the set of the new Hellboy reboot movie (!) right now, which probably means that he’s got better things to do.

In that four-year-old post, I mention a story that Mike often tells about how reading Dracula as a kid made him realize that all he wanted to do was draw monsters, and I say that it was Mike’s work on Hellboy that made me have a similar realization. That’s all still just as true today as it was four years ago. I’ve been in a lot of Lovecraft-themed anthologies over the years (more than any other kind). I came to Lovecraft early on, along with Barker and others, and he definitely had a big impact on my work. But if you really want to understand what I’m trying to do in my stories, you’re better off looking at guys like Manly Wade Wellman, William Hope Hodgson, and E.F. Benson. And I came to most of those guys through Mike.

More than just an artist, I was inspired by Mike as a storyteller. When someone asks me who my favorite artist or my favorite writer is, the answer is pretty much the same. His approach to the supernatural. His way of repurposing his own inspirations. His ability to make surrealism approachable, to make horror both creepy and fun. Those are what I aspire to in my own work.

If I had an inspirational quote tacked up above my desk (instead of a framed Mignola print), it would probably be this line from Alan Moore’s introduction to Hellboy: Wake the Devil, “… the trick, the skill entailed in this delightful necromantic conjuring of things gone by is not, as might be thought, in crafting work as good as the work that inspired it really was, but in the more demanding task of crafting work as good as everyone remembers the original as being.”

That or perhaps this perfect line from Joe R. Lansdale’s introduction to Baltimore: The Curse Bells, “Isn’t that the job of all great art, to kick open doors to light and shadow and let us view something that otherwise we might not see?” Put those two together, and you have a pretty succinct summary of what makes Mike’s works so brilliant, and what I strive toward whenever I sit down in front of the computer.

In that previous blog post, I mentioned that my first collection was dedicated to Mike, and that, if there were any others, they just as easily could be too. Since then, there has been one other, plus a variety of chapbooks, a collection of essays on vintage horror films, and even a licensed novel for Privateer Press. None of them are dedicated to Mike (I already used that dedication up early on), but most of them probably could be. And maybe it’s no coincidence that my first collection is due back in print in a new deluxe edition sometime in the next few weeks, with pre-orders closing literally tomorrow. When it’s released, that dedication to Mike will still be there, front and center.

So happy birthday to my favorite creator and my biggest creative inspiration. If you are (somehow) reading this and are unfamiliar with Mike’s staggering body of work, do yourself a favor and go pick up one of his many books. They’re all good.

Why can't they all be that easy

This hasn’t been a big year for conventions for me. While I attended the Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird in Atlanta, I missed NecronomiCon by a hair, which means that I have to wait two more years for another chance to go rub shoulders with all the east coast weirdos. However, I will be attending the 22nd annual H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland the first full weekend in October.

What’s more, not only will I once again be attending as a guest, I’ll also be contributing to the round-robin Challenge from Beyond, which you can pick up as an add-on to your pledge to the HPLFF Kickstarter which, wouldn’t you know it, is happening now!

So why am I extra-excited about this particular HPLFF, besides that it’s still my favorite convention, I get to see a bunch of old friends and meet Phil Gelatt in person finally? Because the brand new, deluxe edition of Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings from Strix Publishing will also be launching at the HPLFF this year! I recently saw photographic evidence of the proofs, which have arrived at the Strix Publishing offices, and the book should be ready by the time the festival rolls around. If you can’t make it to the fest and didn’t Kickstart the book, no worries, you can still pre-order a copy right here and they should ship around early October, if all goes according to plan!

I’m sure I’ll have more to say about the HPLFF as it draws nearer, but for now, I’ll see you there, if you’re going!

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