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A few years ago, Neil Gaiman suggested this idea that he called All Hallow’s Read, in which we would all start a tradition of giving each other suitably spooky books on Halloween. I don’t think it ever really caught on, but I do know plenty of people who have annual traditions of reading a certain book every year around this time, whether it’s A Night in the Lonesome October or Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree.

So whether you’re looking for a scary book to give as a gift this Halloween, or just want something seasonal to read for yourself as the leaves start to turn, I thought I’d throw together a quick list of recommended Halloween reading, limiting myself pretty strictly to books by authors who are currently still alive and working.

Besides mostly avoiding books in which I had any hand (with one exception), I tried not to include books that I haven’t read myself just yet, though you can see that I missed the mark in some ways. That left out a number of books that might otherwise have made the cut, including John Langan’s The Fisherman and Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts or Disappearance at Devil’s Rock. I also limited the list to prose books, though I bent the rules a little bit there too with the last inclusion, leaving aside any of the dozens of graphic novels that might otherwise have dominated the list, and preventing it from being an All Mignola, All the Time list, as it otherwise would have been…

  1. Creeping Waves, Matthew M. Bartlett
    Besides being perfect for the Halloween season, Matthew M. Bartlett’s Creeping Waves is just one of the best weird/horror books I’ve read in years, full stop. And hey, it’s on a massive sale from the publisher for the entire month of October, so there’s no better time than the present to pick it up!
  2. All-Night Terror, Adam Cesare & Matt Serafini
    Really, pretty much any of Adam Cesare’s books could go on this list handily, and if you’ve already read All-Night Terror, I recommend subbing it out for Video Night. Either way, this nails that feeling of sitting down for a horror movie marathon with a big tub of popcorn and some of your best friends, while also bringing in a little of the feeling of those E.C. horror comics. Plus, it’s on sale for cheap on the Kindle for the month of October!
  3. Every House is Haunted, Ian Rogers
    The big news surrounding Ian’s short story collection from back in 2012 is that one of the stories from it, “The House on Ashley Avenue,” recently got optioned for an NBC TV series from the writers of Bates Motel and The Grudge! But long before that had ever happened, Every House is Haunted was already one of the best single-author horror collections out there, with an assured and enchanting mix of scary stories that are utterly perfect for autumnal reading.
  4. The Bone Key, Sarah Monette
    An old favorite, Sarah Monette writes some of the best contemporary ghost stories that you will ever read, and many of them are collected right here in The Bone Key, which bears the irresistible subtitle, The Necromantic Mysteries of Kyle Murchison Booth. Really, how can you go wrong with that?
  5. The Secret of Ventriloquism, Jon Padgett
    I’m cheating a little bit on this one, because I haven’t yet read the entire collection, and it’s not actually out yet. But it is available for pre-order, and it should be shipping soon, and while I haven’t read every single story in it, I’ve read enough to know how excited I am for this one. Creepy ventriloquist dummies, malformed skeletons, and plenty of Ligottian nihilism make this one a perfect fit as the days grow short and the nights grow tall.
  6. The Last Final Girl, Stephen Graham Jones
    What would Halloween be without a slasher flick or two? And Stephen Graham Jones delivers a slasher flick as only he can with his incredible novel, The Last Final Girl. When I first read it back in 2014, I called it “the book he was born to write, the book he’s been training for all this time.” I stick by that.
  7. Giallo Fantastique, ed. Ross E. Lockhart
    Speaking of slashers, here I am bending my rules just a little bit, this time by including a book that I’m featured in. And if I was gonna do that anyway and recommend a Word Horde anthology, I should probably be shilling the just-released Eternal Frankenstein, even though I haven’t gotten a chance to read it myself just yet. But for me, there’s no more brilliant concept for an anthology around than Ross’s incredible Giallo Fantastique, a vibrantly-colored mixture of crime, horror, and the bizarre that’s perfect reading for Halloween, or any other season.
  8. Dreams of Shreds and Tatters, Amanda Downum
    And while we’re on the subject of things that are yellow: Think of Dreams of Shreds and Tatters as urban fantasy by way of The King in Yellow and Lovecraft’s Dream Cycle. Or think of it as the coolest World of Darkness game you could ever imagine playing. However you think of it, pick it up. While the setting may be a bit wintry for October, it’s a perfect read for the end of fall, as the air starts to get that extra bite of cold to it.
  9. Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters
    Designed as a companion to the exhibit of the same name that’s currently running at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, At Home with Monsters is another book that I haven’t quite read from cover to cover just yet, but I don’t need to in order to know that it’s also a great companion for monster season. Full of images and insights from del Toro’s collection, it’s a perfect book for any monster lover.

Don’t let how long it took me to finish reading Ted E. Grau‘s debut collection throw you; my reading schedule has been all screwed up lately, and various things kept coming along to interrupt the process, and, frankly, I didn’t want to rush things. I wanted to savor each story, at least a little bit, and these aren’t the kinds of stories that you want to read while you’re waiting at the doctor’s office or something. These things require a certain amount of ceremony. Reading The Nameless Dark is the kind of thing that feels like it needs to be done right.

Like a lot of contemporary horror authors–myself included–Ted wears his influences on his sleeve in these stories, and if you know me at all, then you know that I think that’s for the best. While several of the stories in The Nameless Dark got their first printings in Lovecraftian anthologies, and often default to some familiarly Lovecraftian ideas, the more telling influences often come from other places, notably names like Bradbury or Barron. But as I was reading, I was surprised to find that my mind kept coming back to King, as in Stephen. Not that these are necessarily Stephen King-ish stories–with the possible exception of “Beer & Worms,” one of several stories in this volume that have that added bite of an E.C. Comics-style twist in the tail–but rather that almost all of the stories in The Nameless Dark partake of King’s affinity for normal people who aren’t so normal, and unusual people who are maybe more normal than they appear.

While the Lovecraftian trappings, when they come, may seem familiar, they never feel faded, always given a new life, a new immediacy that elevates them above the crush of Mythos mimics out there. Nowhere will you find anything as simple as a string of Yog-Sothery or a “and they were all fish people!” ending. Instead, even the most familiar tale is invested with a beating human heart that brings grit and breath and blood and bone to the lofty cosmic horror conceits. See hallucinatory stories like “Return of the Prodigy” or the dynamite collection-ender “The Mission” for perfect examples. And then, just to show that Grau is capable of taking the Mythos and turning it on its ear in some different way, there’s a story like “The Truffle Pig,” which was one of my first exposures to Ted’s writing back when we shared a table of contents in Ross Lockhart’s Tales of Jack the Ripper.

In fact, I was already familiar with several of the stories in The Nameless Dark before I ever picked up this volume. Besides Tales of Jack, I’d shared anthology space with Ted in The Children of Old Leech and Cthulhu Fhtagn! So I knew that I was in for a treat, but I still found new surprises, and new stories to love. I think my favorite piece in the whole book is one that, unless I am mistaken, is original to this collection, and is also the one that opens the volume: “Tubby’s Big Swim,” a story that is darkly humorous, full of heart, and with a voice that only Ted could manage.

But you don’t have to take my word for it: The Nameless Dark was just this very afternoon nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award for best collection! You can pick it up direct from the publisher or via most of the usual channels.

So, I’m jumping the gun a bit on this, as we’ve still got a couple weeks of 2014 left, but there’s pretty good odds that I won’t see any movies or read any books or publish anything that I don’t already know about or anything else of note between now and then, and if I do, I’ll put up an addendum to this entry. So, looking back at 2014, what’s the biggest thing on my mind, besides how amazingly fast it went? Well, the main thing is that this means one full calendar year of me running my own business as a full-time writer, and it’s been pretty great. There have been periods that were financially lean–we’re actually in the midst of one right now–and ones that have been fairly flush, but all in all, it’s been a ride, and even if everything goes pear-shaped from here, I’ll at least have known what it was like for a while.

It turns out that having nothing else to do all day–and having your mortgage depend on your doing it–does wonders for your productivity, and I’ve sold and published quite a lot of fiction in the past year, even while it wasn’t my main source of writing income. I published seven stories in 2014 and one reprint, as well as selling several others that have yet to see print, and writing a decent body of licensed work for Privateer Press, some of which has seen print and some of which remains to be announced. I got to see my name in an actual core rulebook for Hordes, which was a pretty fantastic feeling. All told, I sold or published around two dozen pieces of fiction, including licensed work, over the course of the year. That’s a pretty big jump, especially considering that in 2013 I only published two stories, three if you count licensed work.

I also put out Gardinel’s Real Estate with my friend M.S. Corley, which sold out in only a couple of weeks, though you can still get a digital version via Gumroad. I participated in the online Deltorocon convention, attended the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival as a guest for the second year in a row, and wrote my first introduction for a collection by a contemporary writer, The Nickronomicon. Along with a host of other stuff that either hasn’t been announced yet, or that I’m forgetting to mention.

My goals for next year are mostly more of the same. I want to diversify the revenue streams for my business, so that slow months don’t hit as hard, and I want to keep on keeping my head above water, which, only a little over a year in, still feels doable, but like a big enough goal, thanks. The one really big piece of news on the horizon that I already know about is that 2015 will see the publication of my second fiction collection, this time through Ross Lockhart’s Word Horde imprint, where you can expect some really big things in the coming year. The collection is tentatively titled Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts, and you’ll have to wait a bit longer to learn too much more, but I can tell you that I just recently wrapped the first draft of a brand new novella for the book, and I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.

Another goal for 2015 is to read more. I’ve actually seen a big dent in my reading time since I quit my day job. Previously, I spent the couple of hours a day that were otherwise consigned to the limbo of the city bus reading, and without that bracket of pre-loaded time, I’ve found it harder to put away the books at the pace I once could. I only read about 20 books in 2014, and as usual for me, most of those were graphic novels. Of the non-Hellboy stuff I did read, some of the standouts include the first collection from Daniel Mills (The Lord Came at Twilight), the latest collection from Slivia Moreno-Garcia (Love & Other Poisons), a couple from Adam Cesare (Video NightAll-Night Terror), and The Children of Old Leech, which also contained my story “Walpurgisnacht,” but hopefully that doesn’t make me too biased.

Movies, on the other hand, I had no trouble watching in 2014, though I still only managed to catch 21 that were released this year. My top ten list is currently live at Downright Creepy, but there are literally piles and piles of almost certainly great stuff that didn’t make the cut simply by virtue of my not catching it yet. Of the ones I did see, though, that’s a pretty accurate representation, and I didn’t have to leave anything on the cutting room floor due to DRC’s rubric of only allowing horror, thriller, sci-fi, and comic book flicks. (It was, as you can see, a great year for comic book flicks!) I may do some kind of total movie watching metric once the year is actually closed out, but we’ll see.

At this rate, I may have to wait until we’re a ways into 2015 before I do a Year In Creatures roundup, because while there were plenty of creatures in at least some of the movies I watched in 2014, very few of them really stood out. It seems that, whatever the best creature of the year was, it must have been somewhere outside of my experience so far.

The end of my first full year as a full-time writer is a big milestone, and I’m hopeful–if also a little anxious, as is usual and customary for me–for more good things to come in 2015. As I finish out the last few days of December, I’m thankful for all the opportunities that I’ve had, and for all the friends and family who’ve stood by me. One of the best things about doing what I do is that I get to meet and work with some of the best, coolest, and most exciting people I can think of, and I couldn’t have done it without the lot of you. Thanks to all of my friends both online and off, particularly to my dear friend Jay, who this year honored me immeasurably by asking me to be his best man at his wedding. Perhaps most of all, though, I couldn’t have done it without my loving and supportive wife, Grace, who has always believed in me, even and most especially when I myself did not.

Here’s to the end of 2014, and the beginning of bigger and better things for all of us in 2015! Soupy twist!

Immediately following Crypticon KC I came down with a bad case of the ol’ con crud which put me out of commission for the better part of two weeks. Shortly after that, I raised up my head and it was suddenly a week into September. The best part about September, besides its close proximity to October, is that it means I can finally put up my Pusheen calendar, which automatically improves, well, everything.

Has lots happened since Crypticon? Absolutely. Can I talk about most of it? Sadly, no. But here’s a few things, in bullet-point form, because I haven’t done that in a while:

  • Fractured: Tales of the Canadian Post-Apocalypse hit shelves, though I haven’t actually held a copy in my hands yet. It’s the latest anthology from my Fungi co-editor and frequent co-conspirator Silvia Moreno-Garcia, and I get to be an honorary Canadian for it, with my story of the ghost apocalypse, “Persistence of Vision.” It references Pulse AND Ghostbusters 2, among others, so what’s not to like?
  • Meanwhile, the roster of contributors was finally announced for Letters to Lovecraft, the first anthology edited by my good friend Jesse Bullington, which will include my story “Lovecrafting,” which, appropriately enough, is maybe the weirdest thing I’ve ever written, at least structurally.
  • Blood Glacier showed up on Netflix instant, and I made the mistake of watching it. Let me spare you the same fate.
  • On the other hand, I also watched (on YouTube, of all places) a surprisingly great movie called One Dark Night, the first film from Tom McLoughlin, who would later make the sixth Friday the 13th movie and the adaptation of Stephen King’s Sometimes They Come Back, as well as something called The Staircase Murders. In addition to being pretty fantastic (the first and last reel are, I think, truly great, while the middle is solid 80s horror cheese, he said as if that was a bad thing), and featuring psychic vampirism, floating corpses, and excellent use of hot pink, One Dark Night prompted me to observe that horror flicks in the 80s and early 90s were set in graveyards a lot, an observation which may yet bear an intriguing harvest. More on that later.
  • I finally read Stephen Graham Jones’ great The Last Final Girlwhich, as I said elsewhere, feels like the book he was born to write.
  • Assuming it updates, I will once again be participating in the Countdown to Halloween. I got an email from the organizers, so in spite of the ossified status of the website, hopefully it’s alive and well, or at least clawing its way free of the loamy earth like a suitable revenant. Even if it’s not, though, I’ll be doing something to mark the occasion, though I haven’t settled on a theme or anything yet.

Loads of other stuff is in the works, some of which I should be able to talk about very, very soon. In the mean time, I’ll try to avoid illnesses, so as to also avoid month-long gaps in posting, but we all know the actual likelihood of that second thing happening, don’t we, dear reader?

Today marks the official release date of The Children of Old Leech, though copies have been showing up in the wild for a while, and I got mine last week. Still, if you’ve been waiting around to pick up a copy, there’s no better time than right now. The editors reached out to all the authors and suggested that we all lift a glass of our poison of choice to Old Leech today, to commemorate the occasion. Like my friend and ToC-mate J.T. Glover, I opted to go with the “first and truest” drink of the day, though he and I have slightly different thoughts about just what that is.

To Old Leech!

Raise your glass to Old Leech!

As always, I’ve got a queue of books to read that is deep and wide, but every now and then there’s a book that comes along and effortlessly jumps to the top of the heap, whether I mean for it to or not. Anything with Mike Mignola’s name on it always manages, and now I can add to that list anything from Ross Lockhart’s Word Horde press. Last year’s Tales of Jack the Ripper was one of my favorite anthologies in ages, and while I’m only six stories in so far, The Children of Old Leech promises to be, if anything, even more special.

Maybe it’s poor form to heap praise too highly upon books in which my own stories appear, but honestly, look at the table of contents that editors Lockhart and Justin Steele have assembled, all paying homage to one of the greatest living writers of the weird tale. My stuff entirely aside, these names aren’t going to steer you wrong. So far I’m five stories in (not counting my own) and there’s not been a dud in the bunch, and I expect that train to keep on a-rolling through the end of the book.

I’ll post more of my thoughts once I’ve actually finished reading, but this one’s going to be a big one, and you’ll kick yourself if you miss it, guaranteed.

 

I read around 40 books all the way through in 2013, not counting skimming individual short stories out of collections and anthologies, or re-reading graphic novels that I had just read (I tend to read any Mike Mignola stuff through two or three times in rapid succession shortly after getting them). Here’s a quick top ten, though putting them in any kind of order is a mug’s game.

  • The Wide Carnivorous Sky & Other Monstrous Geographies, John Langan
    Probably my most anticipated book of this year, and one of my favorites. John Langan is one of the best writers working in the strange and dark fiction field right now, and this collection represents his best work to date. Sadly, his story from Fungi isn’t in here, so we’ll just have to wait for the next collection for that.
  • This Strange Way of Dying, Silvia Moreno-Garcia
    My co-editor on Fungi is also a hell of a writer in her own right, as is demonstrated by this wonderful collection. It skips around from supernatural to science fictional to magic realism, but it’s always got a beautiful uniformity of voice and tone, and a flavoring of Mexican folklore, with dashes of Lovecraft and other traditions, to create an intoxicating batch of fantastic tales.
  • The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All, Laird Barrron
    As I said in my review, I don’t think I really need to sell anyone on Laird Barron at this point. The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All is more of what we’ve all come to expect from one of the brightest stars in the horror/weird fiction pantheon.
  • Rumbullion & Other Liminal Libations, Molly Tanzer
    Molly Tanzer is a good friend, but she’s also one of my favorite contemporary writers. Rumbullion provides a great sampling of her talents, like one of those platters that lets you try a little bit of every kind of appetizer at a restaurant. If you like what you taste here, definitely pick up her other collection from last year, A Pretty Mouth, which is, if anything, even better!
  • Tales of Jack the Ripper, Ross Lockhart (Editor)
    This ripping (ahem) good anthology from one of the best editors in the genre does contain my story “Ripperology,” but it would have a home on this list regardless. Lockhart’s deft editorial touch gives it a consistency that few anthologies match, and great stories from some of the best names in the field, including standouts from Laird Barron, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, T.E. Grau, and Ennis Drake, do the rest.
  • Benighted, J.B. Priestley
    Technically I read this one in 2012, because I was writing the introduction for the Valancourt Books edition that was being released in 2013. This is the second book on this list in which I had some direct involvement, but nonetheless, Benighted is such a favorite of mine, and Valancourt did such a fantastic job putting this edition together, that I’d be remiss not to give it a place here.
  • Uzumaki, Junji Ito
    Another reissue. Junji Ito is one of the greatest practitioners the weird tale has ever seen, and Uzumaki is widely considered his masterpiece. This hardcover edition collects all three volumes into one attractive book that’s a must-own for any fan of the genre.
  • B.P.R.D. VampireMike Mignola & Others
    This was a good year for Mignola-related titles, and there were a lot that came out that could have made this list. Among them, B.P.R.D. Vampire was a clear standout. Continuing what has become one of my favorite Mignolaverse storylines from the B.P.R.D. 194- series, and expanding on the fascinating vampire mythos that they’ve been gradually building, this does much more than even that, creating a story that feels at once personal and as epic as anything that’s ever happened in the Mignolaverse titles, no easy feat in a series where current continuity has giant Lovecraftian god monsters destroying most of the world. The art from Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon is fantastic as always.
  • Baltimore: A Passing Stranger, Mike Mignola & Others
    I love the Baltimore comics so far, and this one is easily my favorite of the bunch. Partly that just reflects my preference for small, stand-alone spooky stories, but partly it’s because of the way this installment really begins to show the vast scope of the world that Baltimore inhabits. Ben Stenbeck’s art is fantastic as always, and shows why he remains one of my favorite artists working in comics right now.
  • Great Showdowns: The Return, Scott C.
    Not exactly a book, in the usual sense, this second collection of Scott C.’s fantastic Great Showdowns comics may not be quite as gobsmacking as the first, but he’s still one of the most brilliant artists around, distilling cinematic conflicts into strangely good natured–and amazingly iconic–images.

And now, a couple of books that were technically published at the tail-end of last year, but that I didn’t get around to reading until this year, and that deserve a spot on this list regardless.

  • Chick Bassist, Ross Lockhart
    I already mentioned that Ross Lockhart is one of our best editors, but he’s also a hell of a writer, and his debut novel is a propulsive, compulsive rock and roll novel that was hands-down one of the best things I read this year.
  • The Folly of the World, Jesse Bullington
    Jesse is another friend, and another long-time favorite writer. Folly isn’t my favorite of his novels, that plum goes to The Enterprise of Death, but it may be his most ambitious, and is filled with wonderful characters and untoppable scenes.

One of the books I’m most looking forward to reading in 2014, Daniel Mills’ collection The Lord Came at Twilight, just dropped into my mailbox as an advance copy, so I’m going to dive into that just as soon as I finish the customary act of reading a few M.R. James ghost stories before Christmas.

Lots of people have favorite books that they re-read every year at about the same time. Perennial October classics include Something Wicked This Way Comes and–with a very special place in my heart–Roger Zelazny’s A Night in the Lonesome October. Last year, I contributed a story to the Lovecraft eZine‘s Night in the Lonesome October tribute issue.

For me, the annual October traditions are more likely to involve movies than books–I try to watch Monster Squad (1987) and Trick ‘r Treat (2007) at least once a year around this time, along with other seasonal fare–but I try to get into the Halloween reading spirit as well. This year, my workload is ensuring that I do less reading than I usually might around this time, but I have been making my way back through Junji Ito’s classic Uzumaki, which just got a fresh hardcover release.

It’s worth noting that a year or two back Neil Gaiman started up an All Hallow’s Read campaign, encouraging you to “give someone a scary book for Halloween.” This is an idea that I can wholeheartedly get behind. So if you’re looking for some good scary books to hand out to folks, I’ll toss out some suggestions of a few recent ones that I’ve enjoyed that seem particularly germane to the season at hand.

Valancourt Books are purveyors of fine Gothic and other out-of-print and hard-to-find titles, ranging from horror to pretty much anything else. They’re fine folks, and they used to be local here in Kansas City, and they’re going to be releasing, just in time for Halloween, The Monster Club by R. Chetwynd-Hayes. I’ve never read the book, but I’ve seen the movie, and I’m mostly familiar with Chetwynd-Hayes as the guy whose stories inspired flicks like it and the Amicus anthology picture From Beyond the Grave.

I’m particularly fond of Valancourt because they also released another book that would make a great Halloween treat: J.B. Priestley’s Benighted, for which I wrote the introduction.

Back on the subject of books that I haven’t read yet, I haven’t yet knocked out Adam Cesare and Matt Serafini’s All-Night Terror, but I have no doubt that it’ll be a perfect read for the season, and at a price that can’t be beat. Also, how could you resist that premise?

Now on to books that I actually have read! I just finished The Halloween Legion, which is a cute, pulpy comic book that’s equal parts 50s sci-fi film, early Fantastic Four comic, Ray Bradbury, and those live-action Disney flicks from the 70s, all with great art by Thomas Boatwright, one of my favorite artists and a guy who hasn’t yet hit as big as he really should. As I said in my Goodreads review, it’s really hard to go far wrong with a book that’s got a mummy, a zombie alligator, and flying shrunken heads all within the first two pages.

Earlier in the year I read and talked about my friend Ian Rogers’ debut collection Every House is Haunted, but it bears repeating. It’s one of the best horror collections I’ve ever read, full stop, and it’s got the perfect atmosphere for the autumn season. If the tastes of the people on your All Hallow’s Read gift list lean a little less toward the spooky and more toward the erotic or the hilarious or both (with still more than a dollop of spooky), you could do worse than to pick up Molly Tanzer’s debut A Pretty Mouth, which came out last year around this time. Molly’s one of the best of us, and she’s got a new collection on its way out from Egaeus Press, so you’ll want to snap this one up so that you can say you were reading her back when.

There are no shortage of other books I could recommend for your October reading edification, but I’ll run out of time and space long before I hit them all. Try Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s This Strange Way of Dying or John Langan’s brilliant second collection The Wide Carnivorous Sky. Looking for something from a variety of authors? Try Tales of Jack the Ripper, if you haven’t already, which features my story “Ripperology.” Red Jack may not be the first thing you think of when Halloween rolls around, but there’s plenty of fog and autumn chill in those pages, I can assure you.

And of course, I fancy that my own humble collection, Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings would make a pretty solid late-October read, or All Hallow’s gift. This is my season, after all, and I like to think that my love for it, and for all things spooky and monstrous, comes through in all my stories.