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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.

James Whale’s 1932 film The Old Dark House is one of my favorite movies of all time, full stop. It’s definitely my favorite of the great Universal films of the 30s, where it’s nestled amongst some very stiff competition. I can’t remember under what circumstances I first saw it, but I fell in love immediately. I bought the Kino DVD of the film, which at the time cost more than I was accustomed to paying for DVDs, but it was worth it. The minute someone puts it out on Blu-ray, I’ll be buying it again. I’ve talked about the movie before, in other places, but if you’e never seen it then I seriously urge you to do yourself a favor and check it out. It’s my favorite movie from one of my favorite subgenres, and I seriously doubt there are many people reading this who won’t love it.

Sometime early on, after I’d seen the movie a time or two, I learned that it was adapted from a 1927 novel by J.B. Priestley called Benighted. I was passingly familiar with Priestley’s name, and had run across one or two weird stories by him in anthologies over the years, and of course I wanted to read the book. Unfortunately, it was out of print, and had been since before I was born, which made it a little bit difficult to come by. I wasn’t able to scare up a copy of the book until just last year, when I finally got to read it for the first time. Happily, I loved it every bit as much as I loved the movie. Sadly, snagging a copy to read via interlibrary loan proved to be a lot easier than acquiring a nice copy for my collection.

So, when the folks at Valancourt Books, purveyors of fine reissues of Gothic and other hard-to-find volumes, said that they were looking for suggestions for 20th Century writers to add to their growing catalogue, I was quick to recommend that they take a look at Benighted. To make a long story slightly less long, they not only managed to pick it up, but also a collection of Priestley’s macabre short stories The Other Place (forthcoming). What’s more, they asked me to write the introduction to Benighted.

The point of all this is to say that the Valancourt Books edition of Benighted is now available, both in paperback and on Kindle. I just received my contributor’s copies in the mail yesterday, and the book looks fantastic. I have been really lucky so far in how great the books that I’ve been in have looked, and I can say without hyperbole that this one is one of the best. Take a look for yourself:

BenightedsThe folks at Valancourt were able to get the original jacket art of the first edition, which remains one of my favorite covers of all time. The book itself is a quick, charming read that also manages to pack in a surprising thematic density. I talk a lot more about that in my introduction, which I believe you can still read in full on Amazon’s “click to look inside” feature. It was the first time I’d ever been asked to write an introduction, and I can’t think of a more perfect book for it. Hopefully I acquitted myself well, and if not you’ll still have a fantastic novel to read once you get through my blathering.

While this book has very little of me in it by comparison, I’m every bit as proud of my involvement in it as I am in Never Bet the Devil or Fungi, so if it sounds intriguing, I’d urge you to pick it up, and browse the rest of Valancourt’s catalogue while you’re there, because they do great stuff.

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!

You know I’ve been busy when it takes me over a week to post about this:

Hellboy in Hell, as anyone reading this probably already knows, marks Mike Mignola’s first time drawing Hellboy in way too long. It also marks an entirely new chapter in Hellboy’s existence as a character, and one that I’ve been very excited about since it was first announced. There’ll be some mild spoilers, so read at your own risk.

I like Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. and Baltimore and everything else, but so far my favorite of anything I’ve seen Mignola ever do is the Amazing Screw-On Head & Other Curious Objects book. The big star of that book for most people is the reprint of Amazing Screw-On Head, but the best stuff for me is the more recent stuff that Mignola drew to fill out the rest of the book. There’s a couple of reasons for that. One, it’s Mignola completely unfettered. It’s pure imagination, distilled onto the page, and nobody does that better than Mignola. Two, though he claims to be rusty, Mignola’s art has really jumped up a notch in recent years, and he’s at his best in stories like “The Witch and her Soul” and “The Prisoner of Mars.” The exciting thing about Hellboy in Hell is that, not only is Mignola back on art duties, but both of those things that made the Amazing Screw-On Head book so magical are largely true here, too. Though still telling the larger, interconnected story of Hellboy and his mythos, the move to send Hellboy to Mignola’s version of hell has freed Mignola from the constraints of a story set in the (increasingly complex) real world of the ongoing B.P.R.D. comics, and gives him free rein to pour his imagination directly onto the page again, both in storytelling and in art.

As a result, Hellboy in Hell #1 is probably the most abstract Hellboy comic to date. There’s a fantastic transition in which Hellboy’s heart becomes Hellboy himself. There’s the panel referenced on the regular cover, which may be among the most striking Hellboy panels I’ve seen. Hellboy in Hell #1 is also about as close to what I think of as “pure Mignola” as anything you’ll find. There’s what appears to be a visual nod to Goya, and there’s a fight sequence that’s more Kirby than anything Mignola’s done in a while. There’s weird leaning Victorian houses and portraits of random people, and of course there’s a puppet version of A Christmas Carol, which actually provides some tantalizing hints of the structure of this first Hellboy in Hell story arc. 

Really, the only problem with Hellboy in Hell #1 is that it feels too short. Not that it’s any shorter than normal, it isn’t, but it’s something I feel like I’ve been waiting so long for that I want it all right now. I think this first story arc is one that will benefit from multiple readings over time, and I’m really looking forward to reading the whole thing again when it’s collected into a trade.