America’s True Religion: Preorders Now Live for The Lesser Swamp Gods of Little Dixie

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“Magical Remingtons, Cornstalk-men, wild conspiracy theories and eldritch tomes—Raab takes the best of detective stories and weird horror to create something that celebrates the pulpiest of pulp, while examining the serious repercussions of oppression and racism in American history. The Lesser Swamp Gods of Little Dixie is a creepy, imaginative, and darkly humorous adventure.” – Christopher Slatsky, author of ALECTRYOMANCER AND OTHER WEIRD TALES

“It’s all-too-easy for fun stories to sound brainless, or for smart stories to come off as dry. With The Lesser Swamp Gods of Little Dixie, Jonathan Raab walks that tightrope, keeping the humor sharp, the action pulpy, the stakes human, and the weirdness weird, without ever stumbling on one side or the other. A rare gift indeed.” – Orrin Grey, author of PAINTED MONSTERS & OTHER STRANGE BEASTS

Thirty signed and numbered copies are available now!

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Interview with Orrin Grey, author of Painted Monsters … and an exclusive announcement about his next book!

Painted Monsters by Orrin Grey was one of the best books I read in 2015. Grey agreed to answer a few questions about the book and horror cinema—and his next project!

Painted Monsters is a book very much about horror cinema. Your work is highly referential and reverential, but still feels fresh. Did you set out to write stories that reflected your cinematic influences, or was this a happy accident?

OG: A little from column A, a little from column B … By the time I started putting together the table of contents for Painted Monsters, I’d already written several pieces that were highly influenced by film for one reason or another. From there, I stumbled upon the quote from Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets (1968) that serves as the epigraph for the book, and I felt like I could use that as a jumping-off point to construct a collection that was both a survey of my fiction and also kind of a crash course in the history of horror cinema. While most of the other stories were already completed by then and had been published in other places, the title novelette was written explicitly to tie all those threads together and give the collection some thematic unity.

What makes horror movies so alluring, considering their often grisly subject matter? Why do you think horror has such an impact on young people?

OG: That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? I’m not really sure I know the answer. I recently wrote an essay for the March issue of Nightmare Magazine, about writing and consuming horror that isn’t intended to be scary, because I feel like that’s mostly what I do. A lot of my favorite horror movies aren’t particularly grisly or scary; they’re the creaky old black-and-white Gothic chillers from the 30s and 40s, the Hammer horror movies, Vincent Price and Roger Corman doing Poe in vivid Technicolor. Ultimately, for me, I think I just love ghosts and monsters and spooky graveyards and all that stuff, and horror is where the monsters live.

As for why it has such an impact on young people, horror is capable of feeling transgressive—or at least of having that sheen of transgression—in a way that a lot of other genres struggle to manage. It can give you the sense that you’re doing something forbidden, that you’re seeing something you ought not see, and I think that’s a thrill a lot of us are looking for, especially as we’re growing up.

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Sometimes your characters are conscious of how their circumstances are similar to horror fiction and cinema. How did you manage to balance the direct and indirect references in ways that were natural to the stories?

OG: It would be great to have a pithy response here that made me look smart, but I think “instinctively” is the real answer. The stories that are particularly self-aware are written in a voice that sounds a lot like the voice inside my own head. I tend to see everything in terms of connections to other things, especially when it comes to movies and fiction, and so I am constantly making comparisons, allusions, and associations.

That said, I did really try to make sure that I wasn’t falling into the trap of just leaving Easter eggs for the reader to find and feel clever about. I try to use allusions and references to horror fiction and cinema as a shorthand, a way to add weight and other dimensions to the story without bogging it down. When I’m writing, I like to lay out a whole bunch of possible explanations or causes or implications for whatever is going on, and then let the reader decide for themselves, and often my allusions let me add those implications without having to commit to them.

The titular “Painted Monsters,” which concludes the collection, is somewhat symbolic in that it burns down the old horror tropes, creatures, and styles and makes way for the undefined new. What trends do you see horror cinema and fiction taking, for better or worse?

OG: Man, who knows? It’s easy to look backward and see trends, it’s much more difficult to look forward and predict them. I think one of the great things that’s happening right now in both horror fiction and film is that the ubiquity of the Internet is giving rise to an increasingly fragmented field, where lots of different people are doing really exciting work taking the genre in all kinds of different directions, and they’re able to find an audience that responds to what they’re doing.

What trends do you see your fiction taking? What ideas, concepts, or even other genres would you like to explore as a writer?

OG: Again, it’s hard to say. I love writing the kinds of stories that went into Painted Monsters, and if audiences keep reacting well to them, I’ll probably keep writing stories that play with film and cinematic influences for as long as I can. But I’d also really like to go back to doing more stuff in the tradition of the great old English ghost stories by guys like M.R. James, E.F. Benson, Robert Westall, etc. I’m already a good chunk of the way toward my third collection—which is shaping up to be more varied and experimental than my previous two—but I’d love to see my fourth be dedicated to those guys, and full of those kinds of stories.

What are you reading now? What are you reading next?

OG: Right now I’m taking a break from contemporary stuff to read a couple of titles from Valancourt Books, who do these wonderful reissues of out-of-print volumes both classic and obscure. A few years ago, I was lucky enough to have a small part in helping them usher J.B. Priestley’s novel Benighted—which is one of my favorite books, and the basis for one of my favorite movies, James Whale’s The Old Dark House—back into print, and I’ve since written a couple of other introductions for them, most recently for The Stones of Muncaster Cathedral by Robert Westall. I just finished reading Wax by Ethel Lina White, which was a pretty delightful little mystery novel with a wax museum setting, and now I’m getting into Fingers of Fear by J.U. Nicholson.

After that is probably Ted E. Grau’s 2015 debut collection, The Nameless Dark, which promises to be utterly fantastic. I’ve read several of the stories where they were originally published, and they’ve all been phenomenal. I’m not sure what’s next after that; my to-read pile is precarious and unpredictable.

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What authors, contemporary or otherwise, do you find having an influence on you? Who is challenging you to be better?

OG: Well, of course Mike Mignola, first and always. Those aforementioned English ghost story guys. William Hope Hodgson, Manly Wade Wellman, Fritz Leiber, T.E.D. Klein, Roger Zelazny, Junji Ito, Clive Barker, a lot of the usual suspects. I could make a list of classic weird authors all damn day and still leave somebody out. But I’m also a big fan of writers like Holly Black and M.T. Anderson, which might be less obvious.

There are so many great people working in the horror and weird fiction fields right now that it feels futile to name names, but I think a few of the ones who most consistently make me go, “Shit, I’d better up my game” are probably John Langan, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Stephen Graham Jones, Amanda Downum, and Gemma Files.

Who are a couple of up-and-coming authors that we should be keeping an eye on?

OG: I always hate this question, because I could list dozens of people and still miss some great ones. I already mentioned Ted E. Grau up above. Jon Padgett has a collection coming out from Dunham’s Manor in 2016, and I’ve loved everything that I’ve read by him so far, so I’m really looking forward to that, and to checking out more stuff by Matthew M. Bartlett and Christopher Slatsky sooner rather than later …

What are you writing now?

OG: The answer to this question is almost always “more short stories.” Most writers I know are perpetually plugging away at their next novel, but, while I’m sure I’ll write a novel one of these days, I’m in love with the short form and not in any hurry to leave it. Right now I’ve got a few solicitations in the works for some upcoming anthologies that I can’t yet name, as well as a chapbook for Dunham’s Manor Press that ties in with both the title novelette of Painted Monsters and a project I did with artist Michael Bukowski a while ago…

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Where should we be looking for more of your work in the future?

OG: Aside from the aforementioned, I’ve got stories on their way in Swords v Cthulhu from Stone Skin Press and Children of Gla’aki from Dark Regions. I’m also always thinking in terms of the next collection, and I’ve got a lot of material already together for it, so I doubt if it’ll be three years between them this time.

Besides all that, I got the go-ahead from my publisher to give you a scoop on an upcoming project that I haven’t announced anywhere else yet: 2016 will see the publication of a book-length collection of the Vault of Secrets columns on vintage horror cinema that I’ve been writing for Innsmouth Free Press for the past few years. It’ll be called Monsters from the Vault, and it’ll also have some original material, and a cover from an artist I can’t announce just yet, but am very excited to be working with.

You can follow Orrin Grey on Twitter, and keep up with him at his blog.

We’re just getting started.

Early in 2015, we released High Strange Horror, hsh_cover06which continues to be our best online-selling title. It’s an anthology featuring authors that took on the subjects of cryptoterrestrials, aliens, men in black, UFOs, and government conspiracies. I’m very proud of the work, and consider it our flagship release of 2015. While Spooklights was our first release back in 2014, I believe we upped our professional and editorial chops with this book.

 

The Shot

Writer-editor Doctor Gaines‘ first long-form release, The Shot, is a dystopian, madcap science fiction adventure a la I Am Legend and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

 

 

 

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The Devil’s Engine by Robert Stava is a fun YA horror yarn about secret Nazi technology, the occult, and three teenagers unlucky enough to activate a semi-sentient, bloodthirsty locomotive. It’s a fun, short little ride, perfect for the young (and young at heart) horror fan.

 

 

I was honored that The War Writers’ Campaign published my debut Flight of the Blue Falcon Covernovel Flight of the Blue Falcon. It’s not horror or weird – but it’s a deeply personal book about the Afghanistan War, based on my time serving with the U.S. Army. If you have any interest in what the Long War was (is) like for so many servicemen and women, please consider picking up a copy. All proceeds benefit the Campaign, which is a nonprofit dedicated to publishing veteran literature and war writing. Communication is the best form of therapy, and writing this novel helped me exorcise more than a few ghosts of my own.

Just before Halloween, Literati Press Comics & Novels released my second thumbnailnovel, The Hillbilly Moonshine Massacre. This is a horror-science-fiction-conspiracy-theory-pulp adventure tale about a war veteran who returns home to find his rural ski town community grappling with UFOs, police brutality, and an outbreak of violence triggered by psychotropic moonshine. Of course, not everything is as it seems, and only the paranoid part-time county sheriff (who happens to be the host of a late night call-in paranormal talk show) knows what’s really going on. It’s X-Files meets Trailer Park Boys; Ghostbusters on magic mushrooms and cheap local beer. It’s a book I had a blast writing, and if secret societies, local crime, and alien abductions are your thing, I think you’ll love it, too.

We also significantly expanded the blog’s content and review catalog. While we can’t review everything that comes out in the horror and weird fields, we covered a lot. My favorite books of the year, in no particular order:

Scott R. Jones edited an incredible RESONATOR_cover_ebook-e1421651477512collection of stories centered on the resonator device from H.P. Lovecraft’s classic tale “From Beyond.” I loved this book from beginning to end.

 

 

Alectryomancer and Other Weird Tales by Christopher AlectryomancerSlatsky was one of the best single-author collections I read. I love conspiracy theories and alternative history, but Slatsky’s knowledge and use of the esoteric  in horror settings puts me to shame. I can’t wait to see more from him.

 

Orrin Grey’s end of year collection PaintedMonsters_cover_001_FC_small-663x1024Painted Monsters blew me away. There was not a single story in here that didn’t keep my attention. No other writer does such a great job of translating the cinematic weird to the page, marrying an obvious love for horror film with literary talent.

As for 2016, we’re staying busy. We’ll continue to do interviews with authors and reviews of horror and weird fiction and film. We have at least three releases slated for the year, including two novellas from first-time authors, and a short story collection from a very prominent new voice in the weird.

Stay tuned, and stay spooky.

-Jonathan

We’re the ones who shape their nightmares: A review of Orrin Grey’s Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts

Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts by Orrin Grey
Published by Word Horde
Available here

Do you like monsters, horror movies, old dark houses/haunted mansions, skeletons, kaiju, giallo films, Vincent Price, F.W. Murnau, spooks, specters, or ghosts?

Of course you do. And so does Orrin Grey. He likes them. He likes them a lot, so much so, that he’s built an impressive body of short stories that function not only as thrilling, entertaining reads, but also as masterfully-crafted love letters to the great (and countless not-so-great) celluloid monsters and horror film actors and filmmakers of the past and present.

While some might not appreciate cinematic storytelling in horror literature (as baffling as that is to me), I wholeheartedly embrace it as a reader of the form. Grey goes further than merely mimicking or taking inspiration from horror films—he directly and indirectly references a great number of them in these stories. But he incorporates both inspiration and reference in a way that doesn’t feel contrived, wink-laden, or forced. Sometimes, the characters are aware of the intersection of their present circumstances with those that exist in specific cultural artifacts and the broader horror zeitgeist. Combine this horror geek sentimentality with a voice that can deliver action, detail, pathos, and atmosphere in equal measures, and you’ve got one hell of a fun ride.

Yes, this book is fun to read. Grey’s storytelling is liberating and utterly unpretentious—a fresh breath of midnight air.

It’s difficult to pick just a few stories to highlight, as there’s not a single clunker in the book.

In “The Worm That Gnaws,” resurrection men pay a high price in their final dealing. Back-to-back vampire tales “The White Prince” and “Night’s Foul Bird” play with different concepts of the vampire in different classical settings. “Walpurgisnacht” is likely my favorite story of the collection, a simple occult-inspired tale of an elite’s goodbye party gone wrong, chock full of haunting imagery right out of a Roman Polanski or Kubrick film. “Red Church” drives us into slasher territory, but with nods to Lovecraft’s “Pickman’s Model” and Kathe Koja’s The Cipher.

“Persistence of Vision” gets a mention for a PaintedMonsters_cover_001_FC_small-663x1024positive Ghostbusters 2 reference (it’s great, dammit!). Although heavily inspired by Pulse (a film that tried my patience [does my preference for Ghostbusters 2 over Pulse publicly confirm that I’m a philistine?]), this one stands on its own as a tale about despair amidst a ghostly apocalypse. “Strange Beast” is an example of how the found footage motif can be used to great effect, even in literature. It’s a tribute to both the best of the subgenre and to Japanese kaiju films.

“Painted Monsters” is the main feature here, more of a novella than a short, and functions both as a great final ride through Grey’s spook-filled imagination and as a coda for the rest of the book. It’s a tribute, among other things, to foreign horror films (in this case, specifically Mexican mid-century horror cinema), and contains elements from many other stories within this collection. It’s powerful in its symbolic burning of auteur ego and classic conventions to make way for the new, while simultaneously celebrating the very legacy it sets to the flame.

This is a writer having a good time, and his love for the tropes, characters, and settings here is infectious. Grey’s work is a wonderful counterpoint to the genre’s drift toward more vague, cerebral weird fiction. That’s not to say his stories lack intellectual reward or stylistic value. Far from it! But Grey is channeling pop-horror, niche-horror, and classic-horror in fun and exciting ways. Painted Monsters is one of the best books of the year, and Orrin Grey has cemented himself as one of my favorite contemporary writers.

Painted Monsters is a thoughtful, fun, and spooky ride through the horror culture of films and literature of the last hundred-plus years, filtered through the imagination of a man who sees the most ridiculous of rubber-suited monsters, the creakiest of old dark houses, the brightest of Technicolor bloods, the vampiest of horror cinema icons, and the foggiest of midnight graveyards—and smiles.

If skeletons could smile, that is.