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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.

Dear Diary,

This is day XX of quarantine. It would be lovely to say that I don’t know how many days this has been going on because of the pandemic but, to be honest, sheltering in place is not much different than being a freelancer always is, with the exception that I can’t go to Analog Sunday and Grace is always home.

Life goes on, even under the strangest of conditions, and I figured it was high time for a check-in on what’s been happening for me in the writing arena – the stuff I can talk about, at any rate.

So far, 2020 has already seen the publication of three of my stories, which is the same number that I published in total last year, so that’s not nothing.

“The All-Night Horror Show” is live at The Dark. For those who attended last year’s Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird, this was the story that I read near the end of the Symposium, before the whole spook show presentation.

My story “Prehistoric Animals” is in the latest issue of the Weird Fiction Review from Centipede Press – bonus points to anyone who can tell me what the title is borrowed from. And most recently, my all-new story that is extremely critical of American imperialism, “Manifest Destiny,” is in The Willows Anthology. Pick it up, and you’ll also get a bunch of (probably regrettable) juvenalia written by me many years ag

More stuff is coming later this year, to the extent that we can predict anything ever or especially right now. I recently finished up a story with the hard-to-beat title, “The Robot Apeman Waits for the Nightmare Blood to Stop.” I wish that I could take credit for it, but it’s a misremembered paraphrase from an essay Ray Bradbury wrote about Disneyland, of all places.

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It’s bound for a shared-world anthology (something I generally steer clear of) that’s being put together by the minds behind The Willows – an anthology that’s currently accepting submissions, if you wanna try for a shot at sharing a TOC with that imposing title.

As usual, I’ve been working on nonfiction more than fiction of late, though most of it has been freelance work. Movie reviews have necessarily dropped off a bit, due to the whole pandemic thing, but they aren’t gone completely.

My first piece for Kansas City’s local dirtbag newspaper The Pitch – savvy readers of my work may recognize a thinly-veiled version of it as The Current in “The Red Church” – recently went live, in which I reviewed Robert Altman’s jazz opus Kansas City. Meanwhile, over at Signal Horizon, I covered the Vincent Price flick The Mad Magician and the Italian Exorcist knock-off Beyond the Door.

On Twitter, I’ve also been keeping a running list of my favorite new-to-me movies that I saw for the first time this year that didn’t come out this year.

Outside of the realm of direct reviews, I wrote about the works of Thomas Ligotti and cosmic nihilism in the film Gags the Clown, which we also talked about on the latest episode of the Horror Pod Class. (For those who don’t know, I’m now the regular co-host of the Horror Pod Class, which is weekly for the duration of the pandemic, satisfying my contractual obligation to co-host a podcast as ostensibly a white dude of a certain age.)

Next week, we’ll be talking about Attack of the Crab Monsters, so stay tuned!

Mummy 01To say that A Lot has been going on in the world lately is to engage in the most ridiculous understatement. We are living in unprecedented times, and things have taken a turn for the very strange and, let’s face it, probably very tragic, no matter how they shake out.

With any luck, we will manage to prevent the loss of countless lives to COVID-19, but some will still die (some already have), businesses will close, and people will suffer. The future is not necessarily bleak, but it does promise to be difficult.

Everyone has been coping with the pandemic and being on essentially house arrest in their own ways, some better than others. For me, not that much has changed. As a freelancer, I work from home anyway, so it’s just been business as usual, more or less, with the most significant difference being that Grace is currently furloughed and so I’m the only one gainfully employed at the moment – not something you ever want to say, when you’re a freelancer.

Ultra - ReigubasOne thing that’s been helping to keep my days a little brighter, though, and that I’ve been sharing on my various social media timelines in order to, hopefully, brighten the days of my friends and followers, is that Mike Mignola has been doing daily sketches.

The subjects of these sketches have ranged from The Flintstones to Ultraman monsters to a day of mummies to Godzilla and Gamera to Jack Kirby monsters to, most recently, figures from Ray Harryhausen movies. There hasn’t been a Ymir yet, but I’m keeping all my digits crossed.

RommbuThere’s not much of a news post to go with this. Just letting you know that I’m still here, and sharing a few of the drawings that have been helping me to keep my head up as the days of the pandemic tick by.

Between freelance assignments, I’ve been working on a longish project that unfortunately has to remain secret for now, and making good headway. I’ve written a few reviews and other nonfiction things that will be appearing in various places in the near future. Beyond that, there’s not a lot to report.

 

There is a gag in the MST of Hobgoblins where, after the film’s cold opening, the titles come up and Tom Servo goes, “Hey, the end credits! Well, it was a terrible movie, but at least it was short.” To which Mike replies, “These are the beginning credits,” and Servo says, “Oh, well, then kill me, please?”

Remember that, cuz we’ll come back to it.

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I don’t know if the turning of the new year is really a time when people make ill-fated resolutions to improve their lives, or if that was just a gimmick cooked up to sell gym memberships. But I do know that this time in the dead of winter – from Christmas Eve until … well, it varies, year to year, but sometimes the end of February – has routinely not been a great time of year for me.

Unfortunately, so far 2020 is no exception. In fact this whole first week (!) feels like every day has been about a year long by itself. Each time I realize that we’re only a week in, it feels like that gag from Hobgoblins that I mentioned above.

Years ago, Grace and I had to let go of our first cat, Corwin, in a fairly sudden and traumatic fashion on Christmas Eve. Yesterday, we had to say goodbye to our cat Abracadabra, or Abby, who we’ve had for twelve years – nearly a third of my life.

It was time, and I’m grateful that she’s no longer suffering, but it was terribly hard to say goodbye, and we already miss her so much. That was the year’s biggest kick in the teeth to me, personally, so far, but it was far from the only one.

Meanwhile, I’ve still got this hacking cough that I have had since October 30, the world is on fire in a way that’s more literal than usual, America’s warmongering and imperialism threatens to escalate a war that has, for all intents and purposes, been going on for most of my lifetime, and I’m sure there’s plenty that I’m forgetting.

I don’t know if all ages are as apocalypse-haunted as my generation, but it seems like I’ve grown up always in the shadow of the end of the world. I was a kid in the tail-end of the Cold War, and the threat of nuclear annihilation loomed large. The Day After was set and filmed not far from where I live now.

Our movies were preoccupied with life in the wake of a future that was sometimes literally post-apocalyptic, other times caught in the midst of the inevitable aftermath of late stage capitalism and its ravages on the planet. A world in which a handful of people lived in comfort while everyone else survived in the gutters, when they survived at all.

I graduated class of 2000, which means that I remember, vividly, the Y2K scare. I remember the fear of global pandemics. Outbreak came out when I was fourteen years old.

Revisiting the movies that I grew up on, I’m often flabbergasted by how quickly they expected the end to come. When you’re making a movie about a blasted future where humanity survives in dregs, and you set it a decade out? Let’s just say, that ain’t optimism.

I’m no kind of historian, but I do routinely consume media, both for work and pleasure, from a lot of different decades. And one thing I’ve learned is that the problems that we face now are, for the most part, the same as the problems we’ve faced all my life. Take a movie from two, three decades ago, strip away the markers of its moment in time, and you’ll find the same themes.

We knew that climate change was going to doom us all if we didn’t do something about it. We knew that the wealth gap was growing. We knew that our warmongering would only ever lead to more and more violence. We knew the self-serving hypocrisy of the “moral majority.” We knew that white supremacy underpinned much of our society – and that it was a trap that held both whites and PoC alike.

Sometimes it’s comforting to see how little has changed, and sometimes it’s terrifying.

Knowing that the fin absolue du monde has hung over us for longer than I’ve been alive helps me to not give in to the apocalyptic mindset that the news often seems so keen to engender, but I can’t deny that the images of Australia, in particular, have an immediacy and ferocity that is hard to ignore.

On the plus side, I made my first sale of the year this week, which is a nice, early start. 2020 may have punched us in the mouth right out of the gate, but sometimes the only thing you can do then is grin with blood in your teeth.

For various reasons, the last couple of months have been largely a dry spell for me when it comes to producing new fiction. But that doesn’t mean that you necessarily have to do without.

“When a Beast Looks Up at the Stars,” one of the four original stories in Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales, was just broadcast at Pseudopod, read by the great Jon Padgett. The story, which is one of the most personal I have ever written, closes out that particular collection, and shows that, while you can go home again, maybe you shouldn’t…

That’s it for new fiction at the moment – “new” here only if you haven’t already bought a copy of Guignol which, while I’m on the subject, if you haven’t already bought your copy of Guignol or, for that matter, Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts, now is a perfect time! Why? Because Word Horde is having a 20% off sale!

If you do already own copies of both of those books, why not pick up one of their other titles? A Spectral Hue by Craig L. Gidney? John Langan’s award-winning weird masterpiece The Fisherman? A collection by Livia Llewellyn or Nadia Bulkin or Jeffrey Thomas?

If you like my mixture of lost films and weird horror, you might dig Brian Hauser’s Memento Mori. If, like me, you enjoy The Thing and epic stories about rock bands snowed in at hotels, then Tony McMillen’s An Augmented Fourth may be perfect for you!

Frankly, anything Word Horde puts out is probably good. Ross is a hell of an editor – and I don’t say that just because he’s been goodly enough to publish me a few times.

I said that was it for new fiction, and it’s mostly true, but if you just can’t get enough, you can also hear me reading an as-yet-unpublished story at The Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird earlier this year in the latest installment of the Outer Dark podcast.

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So, that’s fiction taken care of, now on to movies. I’ve had a few reviews go live lately. In fact, over at Unwinnable, last week was all Orrin Grey all the time. I kicked it off with Knives Out, that rare review of a movie that isn’t at least a few decades old – go see it, if you haven’t, and then come back and read the review. It’s good, I promise. Then I followed that up with a review of the latest of many Blu-ray releases of RoboCop.

From there, you can read about Donald Sutherland’s mustache doin’ some powwow magic with the help of the Long Lost Friend in the underseen 1988 hex murder movie Apprentice to Murder, or read about James Cagney doing his best Lon Chaney impression in 1957’s Man of a Thousand Faces.

Before that, I had reviewed both the latest release of An American Werewolf in London and the entire Ringu Collection over at Signal Horizon. So, if you like me writing about variously old movies, I have got you covered in that department, at any rate.

And if even that isn’t enough for you, you can also listen to me and Tyler Unsell talk about The Tingler and phenomenology on the latest episode of the Horror Pod Class. What more could you ask for?

I got so wrapped up in the fulfilling of pre-orders and the like (not to mention the run up to NecronomiCon, which is in less than a week somehow) that I almost forgot to acknowledge the fact that today is actually the official book birthday of Revenge of Monsters from the Vault!

If you pre-ordered your copy direct form the publisher, it should be hitting your mailbox any day now, if it hasn’t already. If you didn’t, well, there’s not time like the present to correct that deficiency.

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I love writing spooky short stories, but I also love writing about monster movies – on my best days, I manage to smash the two together to relatively satisfactory results. In my freelance work, I am lucky enough to write occasionally about movies both modern and antique, but one of my favorite things to do is to just share the joy that I get from tracking down some moth-bitten old movie filled with cobwebbed sets and some painted monsters.

Those are the movies that, as Joe R. Lansdale hisownself once put it better than I ever could, “kick open doors to light and shadow and let us view something that otherwise we might not see”.

I’ve been lucky enough to get to write about a lot of them and, with any luck, I’ll get to write about a lot more before I go to wherever good skeletons finally go, but Revenge of Monsters from the Vault closes the door on a chapter, to be sure.

When I first started writing for Innsmouth Free Press, I wasn’t yet a very established voice in the field. Silvia Moreno-Garcia was kind enough to give me a soapbox from which I could share my love for these delightfully creaky old movies, and she was even kinder to add another step to that soapbox by re-publishing all those columns in Monsters from the Vault.

Now, together, we’ve gone a step farther yet. With any luck, Revenge of Monsters from the Vault won’t be the last time I write about these movies, but it will probably be our last trip to the Vault of Secrets. We’re sealing up that tomb and moving on to unearth another.

It’s not an occasion for mourning, however, but celebration. I got to write about Mystery of the Wax Museum and Horror Island and The Return of the Vampire and Zombies of Mora Tau and The World of Vampires and Yog, Monster from Space. And, what’s more, somebody put all of that writing into not one book but two.Most poor skeletons never even get half so lucky.

I hope, if you choose to read either of these volumes, that you come away from them with a new favorite movie that you otherwise might not have seen. I think I agree with Mr. Lansdale that that’s the purpose of all great art, and while I don’t think these books are necessarily great art, hopefully they can be your portal to some.

Long, long ago, as the internet reckons time, I was a contributor for a magazine called The Willows, which also has a role to play in my secret origins. Named for the Algernon Blackwood story, the remit of The Willows was to publish weird fiction in the classic style. What this meant, in practice, was partly stories inspired by the weird fiction of the turn-of-the-century and partly stories that were set prior to 1920 or thereabouts.

I actually got involved with the magazine because I wrote to its publisher, Ben Thomas, with my complaint that I felt that these two guidelines were not intrinsically tied together — by which I mean that I thought it was possible to write classic-style weird fiction that was set in modern times. The dialogue that followed developed into a friendship that has persisted these many years, though Ben and I never met in person until this year’s Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird.

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“Contributor” in this case means that I published a couple of stories in The Willows, to be sure, but it also means that I occasionally helped out in other logistical and editorial capacities, and that I wrote an infrequent column called something like “Sir Orrin Grey’s Cabinet of Esoteric Manuscripts,” one installment of which was later re-adapted into what became my first major non-fiction sale, “The Condition of a Monster: A Personal Taxonomy of Supernatural Fiction” at Strange Horizons.

While my own poor contributions to The Willows are probably best consigned to the dustbin of history, the same isn’t true for all of my fellow contributors–writers, poets, and artists of the decadent and Weird, thriving around the turn of another century, in a time that seems almost as long ago as the Victorians we were aping. Now, however, that time can be resurrected.

Ben has returned from his globe-spanning adventures with a scheme to bring The Willows back into print in the form of an attractive hardbound volume collecting all the extant issues of the magazine, along with new stories by yours truly, Gemma Files, Brian Evenson, John Langan, and Jesse Bullington. He just needs a bit of your help to do it.

It seems that all the original files of the magazine were lost during one of Ben’s many excursions into strange, far places. Fortunately, I still had all my print copies of the magazine, which I handed off to him at that fateful meeting at the Outer Dark Symposium, itself so much like something from the annals of Weird history. Now, all that remains is to raise the funds to bring The Willows back in a new and more glorious form.

For my fans, this means a new story, but it also means a glimpse at some juvenalia unavailable in any other location. For my enemies, some ammunition to back up any claims that I am a hack writer not worthy of the epithet. For everyone else, plenty of work by other luminaries of the field, not to mention forgotten gems lost to the ravages of time.

All you have to do is click this link, and your journey into mystery will begin…