I love excess in fiction.
I’ve spent the last week or so marathoning Phantasm, a surreal horror fantasy franchise that gets increasingly bizarre with each installment and makes barely any effort to acclimatize new viewers. These movies are creative, messy, visually stunning and occasionally confusing, and I adore them.
I like a taut, concise tale as much as anyone – but more and more, I find myself craving spectacle: quirky ensembles casts, unexpected genre mashups, elaborate sets, gonzo special effects, etc. I turn to fiction to see things I never could in real life.
I think that’s why I’m drawn to movies like Phantasm, as well as Reanimator, Evil Dead, Beetlejuice, and House of 1000 Corpses: giddily gory, off-the-wall stories where you can see the filmmakers trying to top themselves.
My current works-in-progress are firmly in that tradition. I’m almost at the 20,000 word mark of a novella that began as the simple story of a small-town curse and expanded to include a ghost; an angry mob; a half-dozen vicious, banjo-playing squirrels; and a vengeful Egyptian mummy. The last two stories I finished are unlikely fusions of crime fiction and cosmic horror. I also have on the back burner: a body horror political satire, a sword and sorcery epic, and a thoroughly weird supernatural horror story about a necromancer who flaunts his powers at a local amateur film festival.
You may see this theme in some of my recommendations: the bizarro gorefests of Brendan Vidito and Danger Slater; the disturbing fantastical horror of Stephen Kerr, Josh Malerman, and Hailey Piper; T.E. Grae and Frederick Gero Heimbach’s twists on Lovecraft. Not to mention the gothic opulence of Ozzy Osbourne’s latest album, Hayley William’s offbeat alt-pop, and the genre-bending rock-n-roll throwbacks of The Pretty Reckless.
Or perhaps there is no theme, and these meandering ramblings are just my way of justifying this very long blog post.
Oh well. Read on, if you will, for:
- New Releases: 4 chilling poems and 3 new tales of whimsy, terror, and revolution
- Coming Soon: Weird fiction and poetry
- Progress Report: what I’ve been working on
- New Music Showcase
- Reading Recommendations
New Story: “I Just Don’t Get The Hype Over the New Star Wars Movie” [Back Patio Press]
I’m not a huge Star Wars fan, so I hadn’t yet seen The Rise of Skywalker when I had a dream about going to see it, sitting in incomprehension as the sci-fi extravaganza morphed into a Historica Canada Heritage Minute.
The dream was so fun that I felt compelled to preserve it in prose, resulting in this weird little story. Many thanks to the fine folks at Back Patio Press (who publish a lot of delightfully quirky stuff) for going along with it.
Head over to Back Patio Press to read it.
Another New Story: “i am no threat to you” [Sci-Fi & Scary]
A mutilated ex-punk and a nurse face off against a tyrannical government in my dystopian short story “i am no threat to you,” which was published over at Sci-Fi & Scary on May 10th.
I wrote this one years ago: around 2016, an extension of a very bleak (and likely very bad) flash piece called “The Room,” written while I was in high school. (I have a nagging suspicion that every novice writer eventually comes up with an experimental, single-location piece entitled “The Room.” If you want to check another writing cliche off the list, this one was also inspired by a dream.)
Despite its inauspicious origins, I am actually quite happy with how this one turned out; I’m particularly fond of my narrator, a cynical rock singer who gets his tongue cut out by fascists:
“I was never a revolutionary. I’d talked a big game, done my fair share of antagonizing the government through rock-and-roll. Dumb, in retrospect. My sole accomplishment was getting an example made of myself.”
You can read it over at Sci-Fi & Scary..
New (and old) Poems: “Holy War,” “Cemetery Way,” and “The Last Poem” [Hook of a Book]
Prolific author, editor, and book blogger Erin Al-Mehairi was kind enough to share some of my poems as part of her #HookedOnPoetry project this month.
The first featured poem, “Holy War,” is a companion piece to my novelette “The Forest Dreams With Teeth,” a folk-horror story set during the heavy metal moral panic of the 1980s. The other two, gothic romance “Cemetery Way” and anti-censorship horror ode “The Last Poem” are reprinted from the 2019 Halloween issue of Truly U Review.
Check out my profile on her blog Hook of a Book.
New Poem: “The Idyllic Pre-Death of Isaac Plank” [The Haunted Dollhouse]
Poet and editor Kristin Garth has responded to these dark times by creating a new outlet for dark poetry. The Haunted Dollhouse is a companion to her journal Pink Plastic House, and features lots of wonderful gothic and horror-inspired verse.
I was thrilled when my narrative poem “The Idyllic Pre-Death of Isaac Plank” found a home there back in April. A companion piece to my in-progress horror novella “The Doom That Came to Mellonville,” the poem tells of a father, a son, and a curse.
You can read it over at KristinGarth.com, or scroll through this photo-thread I posted to Twitter and Instagram:
New Drabble: “Home Inspection” [Trembling With Fear]
My 100-word short story “Home Inspection” (which is basically a horror version of those “How Realtors Help” commercials) was appeared at Trembling With Fear towards the end of March, along with drabbles by Janine Pipe and J.A. Hammer, and a longer flash piece by Donna J.W. Munro.
Editor Stephanie Ellis also used the weekly feature to share some music by members of the Trembling With Fear family, including original songs by her son Dylan and blues singer Audra Blu.
Read it at Horror Tree, and be sure to check out the songs!
Short Story: “Dust in the Jail Cell” [On Time, Transmundane Press]
My short story “Dust in the Jail Cell” is appearing in Transmundane Press’s On Time, an anthology of chronologically-themed tales edited by Anthony S. Buoni & Alisha Costanzo.
“Dust in the Jail Cell” is a hybrid of epic fantasy, gothic horror, and weird fiction that allowed me to play around with some fantastical pulpy imagery.
It’s also my first story that I’ve had the opportunity to script a book trailer for, which was cool.
You can learn more about the book here.
Poetry: “Looking Out Windows,” “Cronenberg,” “U.F.O. Ridge,” and “My Monster” [M zine]
I’m a big fiction person, so even when I write about my own emotions, they often get filtered through a fantasy lens.
That’s the major thread connecting the four poems that will be appearing in the second issue of M zine this month.
A tribute to one of my favourite directors, “Cronenberg” is actually a hopeful ode to new beginnings, with a side of body horror. “U.F.O. Ridge” is a sci-fi story about loneliness and yearning for connection, and “My Monster” is a Frankenstein-referencing reflection on regret.
“Looking Out Windows” is perhaps the opposite of its companions, taking something as mundane as a window display and refashioning it into an abstract paranoid delusion.
Flash story: “In the Death House” [Weird Mask]
I love Matt Wall’s Weird Mask zine, so I’m very happy to have another story appearing in the upcoming 24th issue.
“In the Death House” is an old-fashioned weird tale about two explorers who get lost in the mountains during a storm, and seek refuge in a mysterious house where the moans of the dying can be heard in the wood.
The zine should also be out sometime in May.
Short Story: “Someone She’d Never Know”
This is one of those stories that you never intend to write – the ones that come at you as a result of your surroundings and demand to be told immediately.
I started writing “Someone She’d Never Know” as I was standing on a balcony after midnight, watching the comings and goings of the hotel across the street while the Lost Highway soundtrack played in the background. Predictably, the result was a neo-noir story with an alien.
Short Story: “Road Trip”
Years ago, while driving through rural Ontario in a minivan, my parents picked up a pair of hitchhiking punks and dropped them off at a music festival somewhere in the woods. I unearthed this rather innocuous event earlier this spring, while preparing a submission for a vacation-themed call (for which I was unsuccessful).
Chronicling two sets of travellers who meet opportunity and danger along the backroads of the Ottawa Valley, “Road Trip” is essentially two very different stories colliding within the structure of a traditional hitchhiker tale.
New Music Showcase
Ozzy Osbourne – “Ordinary Man” [review]
Ozzy Osbourne’s Ordinary Man is his most personal release yet – and also one of his darkest:
“The spectre of [Osbourne’s] turbulent history has always been present in his records, from conflicted confessionals like “Road to Nowhere” and “Mama, I’m Coming Home” to prescient early tracks like alcoholic cautionary tale “Suicide Solution.” But (with the possible exception of Scream standout “Latimer’s Mercy”) the despair on this album is deeper than anything we’ve previously seen from the troubled Prince of Darkness.”
Full review here.
Alice Cooper – “Don’t Give Up”
I’m somehow not surprised that shock rocker Alice Cooper has released the most uplifting pandemic song yet.
Musically, the song evokes Alice’s very bleak Brutal Planet/Dragontown era, but the song’s spoken word verses and gritty power ballad chorus provide a hopeful message to all of us who are trying to stay sane in quarantine.
Danzig – Danzig Sings Elvis
The former Misfits frontman pays tribute to one of his greatest influences in this covers album.
The production on this record admittedly leaves something to be desired, but Danzig’s voice is in fine enough form. I enjoyed it over a few drinks on a Friday night.
The Pretty Reckless – “Death by Rock and Roll”
If you like old-school rock and don’t listen to The Pretty Reckless, you’re missing out.
A lot of rock fans looked askance at this band when they debuted in 2009, fronted by then-teenaged Gossip Girl actress Taylor Momsen. But there was always something more to The Pretty Reckless than a “Model, Actress, Whatever” vanity project, and they only grew more assured and ambitious with each record.
It’s been nearly four years since their last album, which was a modern fusion of classic rock and gothic, grungy alt-metal tied together by Momsen’s angsty, idiosyncratic lyrics.
Their latest single sounds like a mix of bluesy seventies hard rock and triumphant eighties hair metal. Knowing The Pretty Reckless, I suspect this new sound is just the tip of the iceberg.
Hayley Williams – “Petals for Armor”
The Paramore frontwoman’s first solo album features her most revealing lyrics and eclectic arrangements.
The album was influenced by Williams’s struggles with depression, and its best songs have an unsettling edge. Singles “Simmer” and “Cinnamon” are eerie, restrained alt-pop odes to anger and isolation. “Creepin'” and “Sudden Desire” suggest infatuations that can’t quite be trusted, and darkly catchy betrayal confessional “Dead Horse” begins with the startling line: “Every morning I wake up / from a dream of you holding me / underwater.”
Petals for Armor is very dark, but the arrangements are glitchy, funky and infectious. “Over Yet” is so unabashedly danceable that Williams actually made a workout video to accompany it.
Brendan Vidito – Nightmares in Ecstasy [Clash Books]
Reading Brendan Vidito’s award-winning collection is like entering a basement laboratory to find hundreds of unspeakable things sealed in jars, peering through the murk to glimpse eyeballs and tentacles and other mutated appendages that appear unnervingly human, but somehow not.
A man reeling from a breakup falls in love with the tapeworm growing in his gut. An abuser grows a replica of his dead wife in a rancid bathtub. A mysterious video game infects the brain and invites players to assimilate into a perverse hive mind. A woman mutilates herself to become one with an alluring adult film star from an ancient videotape. These are some of the more explicable stories to be found in Nightmares in Ecstasy.
“[Like] Barker at his most visceral and Cronenberg at his most surreal…Just when you think Vidito’s reached a new low in repulsive content, he hits you with transformative emotional catharsis.”
Stephen Kerr – “Swishbone” [The Were-Traveler]
I grew up around carnivals, and I love editor Maria Kelly’s concept of “freakpunk” – horror stories incorporating the weird and wonderful world of sideshows and circuses and midways. It’s a genre that’s been shaped by everyone from Ray Bradbury to Rob Zombie, and it’s about time it had a suitable name. And Stephen Kerr’s very short story “Swishbone” – about an evil clown and his rotation of mutilated accomplices – is a worthy addition to the canon.
Read it in The Were-Traveler’s 13th issue: Come One, Come All! To the Southern-Fried Freak Show.
Danger Slater – Impossible James [Fungasm Press]
Danger Slater’s Impossible James is a bizarro sci-fi comedy that fuses apocalyptic fiction with family saga.
The novel begins with an alarming diagnosis that sends our hero James Watson into a nervous breakdown: he shows up to work disheveled, half-naked, and covered in filth, shoves a screwdriver through his skull, and eventually finds love with his company’s staff psychiatrist, who gamely helps him impregnate himself with his own clone.
From there, things get very weird.
There’s a healthy dose of existential terror underlining the absurdity. The shadow of death – not just of the individual, but the complete and utter annihilation of all matter – hangs over Impossible James like a giant, fleshy blimp. The writing is also consistently, unrelentingly hilarious.
Kyle Darbyson – “The Perfect Man (2005) review – rotten to the core (Corner Store Cinema)
Speaking of bad parenting – Heather Locklear plays one of cinema’s worst fictional mothers in 2005 rom-com The Perfect Man.
Brandon Sun reporter Kyle Darbyson (who I had the pleasure of writing for back when he was an editor at The Fulcrum) has a great blog where he reviews movies he finds in convenience store bargain bins, so I was eager to hear his thoughts on this Hilary Duff “classic.”
Kyle’s spot-on analysis probably puts more thought into the plot than anyone involved in the creation of this movie. He also dug up a geektastic deleted scene set at a comic book convention and some Styx-related fun facts about the movie that almost make me want to re-watch it. Almost.
Read it here.
Frederick Gero Heimbach – “The City Above the Shelf” [Mysterion]
I’m a fairly regular participant in Mysterion‘s monthly Discord chat, and I was immediately intrigued when author Frederick Gero Heimbach described this story.
In his words, “The City Above the Shelf” reimagines Lovecraft’s “A Shadow Over Innsmouth,” “from the POV of an undersea Dagon-worshiping monster” who ventures onto the land and watches in horror as his “friend is seduced by the evil, blasphemous rituals they observe in the ‘temple’ there–which is really just a Lutheran Church in rural Sweden.”
Read it here.
T.E. Grau – “Transmission” [Lost Signals, Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing]
If you like your Lovecraftian horror on the more traditional side, you’ll want to check out T.E. Grau’s “Transmission,” which may be the best Cthulhu Mythos story I’ve ever read (and that includes the the originals).
It’s perhaps a spoiler to reveal that “Transmission” is a Lovecraftian story; Grau leaves revelations of eldritch horrors and non-Euclidean geometry until the very end, first taking the reader on an ominous road trip through the American desert. It’s beautifully written.
Grau’s tale is included Perpetual Motion Machine’s Lost Signals anthology, which collects radio wave-themed horror by various authors, including Matthew M. Bartlett (whose surreal “If He Summons His Herd” opens the book) and Bird Box author Josh Malerman.
You can pick up a copy here.
Josh Malerman – Carpenter’s Farm [JoshMalerman.com]
Speaking of Josh Malerman: his new serial novel Carpenter’s Farm is a slow-burning psychological folk horror tale that will force you to question the very nature of identity.
The whole thing is free to read on Malerman’s website, alongside a full original score and companion pieces by other authors and poets.
Hailey Piper – “Endless Parade” [Flash Fiction Online]
I don’t want to spoil this wonderful dystopian horror piece by Hailey Piper for you. It’s a story where the nature of the world reveals itself gradually and the revelations are dispensed with care up until the last terrifying surprise.
Read it at Flash Fiction Online.
Once again, thank you for reading this rather unwieldy blog.
I hope everyone is staying safe!