Posts Tagged ‘horror’

My apologies. The blog’s been dormant for a while. A bunch of stuff came up — primarily a new job — and I was obliged to put it on the back burner. But I’d like to start it back up. So how about I begin with a new, original novelette, presented to you for free?

Here’s the deal. I have a young, talented friend named Frank who portrays a character known as “Cuddles McSpanky” at haunted attractions. He knows I’m a writer. At a recent party, we got into a discussion about our mutual love of horror and noir. And we agreed that it might be fun if I tried writing a story featuring his character. I found myself really getting into it. To my surprise, the short story I initially intended to write somehow expanded into a novelette.

I tried including it in my short story collection, “The Devil’s Kazoo Band Don’t Take No Requests,” due out from Codorus Press early in 2016. But my publisher told me we’re a bit late in the process for that.

So I figured, what the heck. I wrote it mainly as a fun project anyway. And I’d like Frank to be able to share it with his friends and followers. So here it is, presented as a freebie. Enjoy. Share it, if you’re so inclined. And if you like it, keep an eye out for “The Devil’s Kazoo Band Don’t Take No Requests.” Or check out my Pushcart-Prize-nominated debut novel, “The Freak Foundation Operative’s Report.” You can find Cuddles McSpanky’s page here. And if you’re REALLY brave and/or crazy, you can go see him in person here.

For the record, this is a work of fiction and is not intended maliciously. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any other resemblance to actual events, groups or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

So here goes:

 

THE LEGEND OF CUDDLES MCSPANKY

By Tom Joyce

Based on a character created by Frank Paul Staff IV

 

 

Somewhere in the night-darkened pines to Kevin’s left, chainsaws buzzed like mechanical hornets. Followed by screaming.

Startled, a cluster of girls in Kevin’s group let out screams of their own, giggling at themselves immediately afterward. The Trail of Terror at the BloodShed Farms haunted attraction in Pierce Township, N.J., followed a snaking trajectory, frequently turning back on itself. Intermittent cries from the densely encroaching pines on either side signaling that the group ahead had encountered whatever as-yet-unseen horror would ambush Kevin’s group next, be it zombie, vampire or psychopath.

An unnerving effect, Kevin had to admit, jangling his already jangled nerves.

Kevin trailed behind a dozen or so teens and adults venturing through October darkness punctuated by pale lights on poles set at infrequent intervals along the paved path. Wishing that the night’s errand was already over. He yanked the brim of his baseball cap down lower on his forehead and pulled the hood of his sweatshirt tighter about his face.

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samatarphotoNote: The following material ran in a recent issue of the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers quarterly newsletter, which I edit. Here’s the fourth part of the piece, along with my original introduction. I’ll be running contributions from the other writers who participated in the days ahead.

Several things inspired me to put this project together. But mainly, it’s because I still frequently encounter the tiresome “nerdy boys club” stereotype regarding speculative fiction writers and readers. The widespread perception that our branch of literature is the domain of emotionally and socially stunted man-children who don’t want icky girls in their club unless they happen to be wearing skimpy cosplay outfits at conventions.

I think it’s important that we speculative fiction writers do everything in our power to help dispel that stereotype, and make it clear that women are a major, vital and respected part of our community. So I reached out to a number of prominent woman science fiction, fantasy and horror authors and editors, and invited them to share their perspectives.
Tom Joyce

Sofia Samatar is the author of the novel “A Stranger in Olondria,” the Hugo and Nebula nominated short story “Selkie Stories Are for Losers,” and other works. She is the winner of the John W. Campbell Award, the Crawford Award, and the British Fantasy Award. Sofia is a co-editor for “Interfictions: A Journal of Interstitial Arts,” and teaches literature and writing at California State University Channel Islands.

I don’t know whether things are worse for women in speculative fiction than they are for women in mainstream or literary fiction. What I do know is what everybody knows, if they pay attention: that the publishing industry, in both of these genres, is male dominated. It is also white dominated, and privileges heterosexist and ableist narratives. These inequalities create the atmosphere in which we work. To speak as a woman in speculative fiction specifically, the inequality creates a situation in which you know certain things in advance. Even if you’ve never been harassed at a con, you know it happens, and that knowledge shapes your interactions with other professionals. You know that you’re statistically less likely to rise to prominence than a male writer, to draw attention, to make people listen.

All of this explains why the past year stands out. This was the year Ann Leckie swept everything — award after award, it was amazing! All the Nebula award winners were women. This is also the year the folks at “Lightspeed Magazine” made ten times their goal amount with the “Women Destroy Science Fiction” Kickstarter, enabling them to do “Women Destroy Fantasy” and “Women Destroy Horror” as well. Now, that whole series started in response to the sexist notion, which some people actually hold, that women are destroying these genres. But the immense interest in the series, and the energy around it, shows that there’s a significant number of people who believe the opposite.

It might just be a coincidence. This could be the year we all look back at like “Hey, remember that year a bunch of women got attention?” But I really don’t think so. I think that transformation comes in waves, each one bigger than the last, and that this is a particularly big one. It will probably recede, but things won’t go back to the way they were. Every woman writing science fiction now is looking at Ann Leckie. Each change makes the next change possible. That’s why, all things considered, this is a pretty great time to be a woman in speculative fiction.

Rena MasonNote: The following material ran in a recent issue of the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers quarterly newsletter, which I edit. Here’s the third part of the piece, along with my original introduction. I’ll be running contributions from the other writers who participated in the days ahead.

Several things inspired me to put this project together. But mainly, it’s because I still frequently encounter the tiresome “nerdy boys club” stereotype regarding speculative fiction writers and readers. The widespread perception that our branch of literature is the domain of emotionally and socially stunted man-children who don’t want icky girls in their club unless they happen to be wearing skimpy cosplay outfits at conventions.

I think it’s important that we speculative fiction writers do everything in our power to help dispel that stereotype, and make it clear that women are a major, vital and respected part of our community. So I reached out to a number of prominent woman science fiction, fantasy and horror authors and editors, and invited them to share their perspectives.
Tom Joyce

Rena Mason is the Bram Stoker Award® winning author of “The Evolutionist” and “East End Girls.” A former O.R. nurse, an avid SCUBA diver, world traveler, and longtime fan of horror, sci-fi, science, history, historical fiction, mysteries, and thrillers, she writes to mash up those genres with her experiences in stories that revolve around everyday life. For more information on this author visit her website: renamasonwrites.com

As Robert Heinlein didn’t want to be pigeonholed as a sci-fi author, not all female speculative fiction authors are also writing some form of romance, paranormal or otherwise. With more organizations and companies promoting women, such as Women in Horror Month highlighting women in all aspects of horror, Nightmare Magazine’s “Women Destroy Horror” issue, Eli Roth’s The Crypt app highlighting women in horror, and the Horror Writers Association offering scholarships for women horror writers, along with more women stepping up to support one another in representing the genre rather than using a more popular or more accepted label for their works, women’s roles in the genre can only improve.

Note: The following material ran in a recent issue of the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers quarterly newsletter, which I edit. Here’s the second part of the piece, along with my original introduction. I’ll be running contributions from the other writers who participated in the days ahead.

Several things inspired me to put this project together. But mainly, it’s because I still frequently encounter the tiresome “nerdy boys club” stereotype regarding speculative fiction writers and readers. The widespread perception that our branch of literature is the domain of emotionally and socially stunted man-children who don’t want icky girls in their club unless they happen to be wearing skimpy cosplay outfits at conventions.
I think it’s important that we speculative fiction writers do everything in our power to help dispel that stereotype, and make it clear that women are a major, vital and respected part of our community. So I reached out to a number of prominent woman science fiction, fantasy and horror authors and editors, and invited them to share their perspectives.
Tom Joyce

ELLEN DATLOW

Ellen Datlow hard at work in front of her booksEllen Datlow has been editing sf/f/h short fiction for over thirty years. She was fiction editor of OMNI Magazine and SCIFICTION and currently acquires and edits stories for Tor.com. She has edited more than sixty anthologies, including the annual “The Best Horror of the Year,” “Lovecraft’s Monsters,” “Fearful Symmetries,” “Nightmare Carnival,” “The Cutting Room,” and “Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells” (the latter two with Terri Windling).
Forthcoming are “The Doll Collection” and “The Monstrous.”
She’s won multiple World Fantasy Awards, Locus Awards, Hugo Awards, Stoker Awards, International Horror Guild Awards, Shirley Jackson Awards, and the 2012 Il Posto Nero Black Spot Award for Excellence as Best Foreign Editor. Datlow was named recipient of the 2007 Karl Edward Wagner Award, given at the British Fantasy Convention for “outstanding contribution to the genre”; has been honored with the Life Achievement Award given by the Horror Writers Association, in acknowledgment of superior achievement over an entire career, and the World Fantasy Life Achievement Award for 2014, which is presented annually to individuals who have demonstrated outstanding service to the fantasy field.

 

I’ve been editing short science fiction, fantasy, and horror since 1980. When I was promoted from Associate Fiction Editor to Fiction Editor of OMNI Magazine, there was some blowback against me for not emerging from fandom (which was overwhelmingly male and from which most of the sf editors up to that point came). There was some silly talk by a few male writers who criticized the entry of female sf editors into positions of power. These women — again, most of whom did not come out of fandom — were assumed to have had no experience in the genre, although we were all longtime readers of sf/f and we all worked our way up from the bottom.
I’ve been involved more with fantasy and horror than science fiction for a number of years so I’m not as familiar with who is writing what in science fiction these days. But my perception is that fewer writers are writing science fiction at all. Saying that, there are certainly many excellent female writers of science fiction and if a male editor chooses an entire sf anthology with stories only by men it means they just aren’t looking beyond their old boys network comfort zone.

Pay DeadI’ve got a weird obsession with cards.

A while back, for reasons I can’t fully explain, I became fascinated with card sleights and began seeking out magicians and card mechanics who could show them to me.

I’m not talking about one of those ponderous, drawn-out, self-working card tricks your 12-year-old nephew tries to show you at family gatherings. I’m talking about someone who can swiftly, elegantly and invisibly shift cards around. Who can draw one card that magically turns into another in his hand. If you’ve never seen that kind of effect performed up-close by someone who really know what he’s doing, it’s hard to describe just how mind-blowing it can be.

The reason, I think, is because we tend to think of cards as inherently random. “It’s all in the draw of the cards.” You play the hand you’re dealt.” The idea of someone being able to manipulate them feeds into a primal fantasy of telekinetically directing the roulette ball’s trajectory, or the fall of the dice. Of controlling the very principle of randomness.

So I guess it was inevitable that I was gonna like the horror novel “Play Dead,” by Michael Arnzen, which is all about cards and that fantasy of controlling fate.

The story concerns a professional poker player named Johnny Frieze, who loses everything at the beginning of the book. He ends up in a Las Vegas homeless shelter. This being Vegas, many residents of the shelter owe their destitution to gambling.

But Johnny gets word of a high-stakes contest that could reverse his losing streak. Turns out there’s a mogul recruiting gamblers from the shelter to take part in a game called “Butcher Boy.” Here’s the catch. Players have to make their own decks — out of Polaroid photos of their murder victims.

I don’t even want to offer any hints as to what the rich puppetmaster’s motivation is, other than to say it’s very clever. “Play Dead” also incorporates one of my favorite narrative approaches to horror, in that it keeps you guessing as to whether something supernatural is really going on, or whether major characters just happen to be bugfuck insane.

The story unfolds as a tense, chilling and queasily hilarious exploration of obsession, addiction, gambling, chance, fate, and the kind of my-dick-is-bigger-than-your-dick dynamics that crop up whenever men compete in any endeavor. Arnzen manages the difficult trick of letting the horror and humor serve as counterpoints, with neither detracting from the other.

It’s a good book for the horror fan who’s getting a bit too jaded, and wants to read something new. It doesn’t easily fit into any subgenre of horror that I’ve ever encountered. No werewolves, vampires, ghosts or zombies here. Doesn’t even really fit the psycho killer mold either.

I don’t want to give the false impression that “Play Dead” is some kind of anti-gambling screed. Still, Arnzen seems to understand that the very existence of a multimillion-dollar gambling industry — one that owes its profitability to vast numbers of people voluntarily offering themselves up as de facto human sacrifices — is eerie enough without throwing any vampires or zombies into the mix.

clownHappy Halloween, everyone! Seems an appropriate day to address this subject.

By “horror,” I’m talking about the fiction genre. This isn’t going to be some kind of Nietzsche-ian rant about embracing the inherent horror of existence. If you want that, you’ll have to look elsewhere. (You also might want to consider lightening the hell up.)

This is strictly about how books and movies with monsters in them tend to be pretty freakin awesome.

I could talk about the roller coaster adrenaline rush of horror fiction. But for now, I’d rather talk about the artistry.

Now, I know that some serious literature types would snort into their cognac at the preposterousness of using the word “artistry” to describe horror fiction. As I’d be the first to admit, I’m a man of simple tastes. I like my genre fiction.

Let’s leave the subject of literature for a second and talk about visual art, as in paintings. Personally, I’m not a big fan of abstract art. The whole idea of a painting a light blue stripe on a dark blue background and saying it represents the existential despair of life in the post-industrial age seems too easy somehow. Representational art may be the domain of bourgeois Philistines like myself. But it at least sets a baseline for craftsmanship, for competence, that the artist has to reach before accomplishing anything else.

The representational artist can still make her painting into a statement about existential despair in the post-industrial age if she’s so inclined. But she first has to achieve enough competence in her craft to make buildings look like buildings and people look like people.

That’s why I’m a fan of vaudeville-style entertainment such as juggling and stage magic. There’s also that element of a baseline level of craftsmanship before you can achieve anything else. Want to incorporate some social commentary into your juggling routine? Go ahead. But make sure those balls stay in the air. Want to turn your magic act into avant garde theater meant to illustrate profound truths about the human condition? Fine, as long as the audience doesn’t see that card go up your sleeve.

So it is with two genres of writing in particular — humor and horror. (And for the purposes of this post, I’ll expand “writing” to include movie screenplays.)

When I was on a writers panel at the Western Md. Independent Lit Festival at Frostburg State University earlier this month, I mentioned a quote by the great writer Joe Hill to the effect that humor and horror operate by essentially the same mechanism.That made sense to me. Humor and horror must both have two components to work — transgression and surprise.

But another similarity between humor and horror is that both require that baseline level of craftsmanship I was discussing. As with literary fiction, you can use them to explore whatever topic or theme you want. That’s not enough. In the case of humor, you have to provoke amusement in your audience or readership. And in the case of horror, you have to generate fear.

Nowhere near as easy as you might think, in the case of horror. Just throw in a monster, a killer or a ghost, right? Add a few jump scares. The monster jumping out of the closet or whatever. Then call it a day.

It’s a lot more complicated than that, especially if you’re writing for horror fans. They know all the conventions. Adhere to those conventions too closely, and the story becomes predictable to a point where it’s no longer scary, or even interesting. Ditch all the conventions entirely, and the story’s probably not going to work. The reason those conventions exist in the first place is because they’re effective.

A good horror author, or director, walks a fine line. He has to rely on certain conventions and techniques to get effects, yet wield them with enough creativity and innovation that he achieves the element of surprise so crucial to his chosen genre.

It doesn’t have to be anything really elaborate, either. Simplicity often yields the best results.

Prime example? During the panel, I mentioned the 1982 movie “Poltergeist.” (Written by Steven Spielberg, and directed by the great Tobe Hooper of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” fame.) Specifically, I brought up the scene with the toy clown, and knew I’d hit a nerve.  You could practically feel a shudder run around the room as people relived the first moment they saw that scene.

Bit of a spoiler coming up here, so be forewarned if you haven’t seen “Poltergeist.”

Anyway, sure it’s scary as hell when the animated toy clown reappears to attack the kid. But the REALLY scary part comes before that. The kid looks at the toy clown, sitting in the chair and staring at him with that creepy rictus grin. The kid makes a visible effort not to think about it as he pulls up the sheets and attempts to sleep. He can’t stop thinking about it, of course. He pulls down the sheets to check on that clown one more time. And the chair … is empty.

Man!

Think of the movies with hugely expensive setpieces and CGI effects that don’t achieve one tenth of one percent of the soul-chilling terror that “Poltergeist” pulled off by the mere act of removing a toy clown from a chair.

THAT, my friends, is artistry!

 

 

drunken comic book monkeysIf you go to a book fair, horror convention or science fiction convention in the Central Pennsylvania region, you just might encounter a small collective of literary visionaries — made up of writers, editors and publishers whose mission is elevating speculative fiction to unprecedented levels of quality and craftsmanship.

You might also encounter The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys.

But seriously, folks. The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys are Brian Koscienski and Chris Pisano. I’ve run into them at a few events, along with their project manager and handler Christine Czachur.

They, along with editor and writer Jeff Young, comprise Fortress Publishing. I’ve become a big fan of their magazines “Trail of Indiscretion” (science fiction, fantasy, and horror) and “Cemetery Moon” (horror).

I also picked up their “Scary Tales of Scariness,” in which Brian and Chris pit themselves against a variety of adversaries, including Cthulu, zombies, vampires, and The Potato People (don’t ask). It’s really funny.

They’ve got a bunch more publications, including a sequel to “Scary Tales of Scariness,” that you can check out at their Website here.

Of course, the Federal Bureau of Nickname Registration would have long-since revoked their license to call themselves “The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys” if they weren’t also a fun group.

So in the following interview, I try to convey the magic. The madness. The raw, unbridled sensuality that is … The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys experience. Read on. (more…)