A new book announcement, listener questions about brown shoes, and the legacy of the Satanic Denny’s.
Author and editor Tom Breen of Orford Parish Books joins us to talk his career, life, DIY, his childhood travails with horror, and more.
Faithful Frighteners is a series of interviews with persons of faith in the horror and weird fiction scenes. You can read the first interview with Scott R. Jones here.
Tom Breen is the author of Orford Parish Murder Houses: A Visitor’s Guide and co-author of Old Gory: Two Tales of Flag Horror. He also co-manages Orford Parish Books, which “specializes in the unsettling, the weird, the subtly troubling. Short fiction, illustrated books for strange children, themed chapbooks, [and] fake newspapers[.]”
JR: How, when, and why did you get into horror culture (film, literature, video games, etc)?
TB: When I was a kid, I was fascinated by collections of ghost stories, books about “real life” hauntings, and horror movies. This lasted until 6th grade, when I was 11 or 12, and my teacher decided all of these things, plus Dungeons & Dragons, were making me a danger to myself and others. Well, it was a different time (the 1980s, to be specific).
So I had to make weekly visits to the school psychologist, and any interest in the macabre was pretty much therapy’d out of me by the helping professions. This lasted until I was in college. For reasons that are now obscure to me, I started reading H.P. Lovecraft, an author my father liked. That was really it, though; I still had an aversion, bred by that early adolescent experience, to anything horror-related. I remember being 23 years old and driving to Chicago with friends, and being legitimately worried about reading a Ramsey Campbell book I had brought with me. I don’t know what I was worried about, I just had some deep, weird anxiety about plunging into this (literally, when I was younger) forbidden world.
Orford Parish Murder Houses is a slim and unassuming book, featuring cover art and design that look right out of a local tourism pamphlet. Beneath that (purposefully) humble exterior, however, is a volume of first-rate weird fiction. Tom Breen, author of the book and review contributor to Muzzleland Press, answered a few questions about the hilarious (and spooky) tome.
Q: What is Orford Parish? How did you come up with the idea?
Orford Parish, Conn., is America’s Mysterious Disappearance Capital, home to some 55,000 human and 3,000+ not-quite-human residents. Major sources of employment include local government, a shopping mall, and the manufacture of cursing tablets. Come visit, but don’t tell anyone you’re here!
A more, uh, straightforward answer would be that Orford Parish is my platonic ideal of the sinister New England town so familiar to horror tales. Except in so many of those books and movies and television shows, the New England town is this glamorous Gothic place, which never sat quite right with me growing up in Connecticut. My town had a lot more strip malls and fast food places and abandoned mills than it did spooky old mansions, so Orford Parish is a blend of the two.
The idea started coming to me in bits and pieces when a job took me away from New England for the first time in my life. I lived in the South for years, and found myself shockingly homesick for the place I had desperately tried to escape for most of my adult life. Orford Parish was my attempt to write my way back home, in that sense, but to a home knitted together from all the weird parts of all the New England backwaters I had ever visited.
Edited by Jack Burgos
Published by A Murder of Storytellers
Also available on Amazon
The democratization of publishing tools is a double-edged sword, for sure. You get a lot of people shoving out an unending sting of sub-par, shoddily edited (if at all) swill. I’ve listened to podcasts espousing the benefits of getting a ton of material out quickly—as in, 5,000 words or more a week—in order to start LIVING THE DREAM NOW. There’s reams of digital copy available online right now that would never pass muster with any self-respecting publishing outfit of any size.
The other consequence, of course, is that we now have access to the work of writers and editors who might not get a mainstream publishing opportunity. Few things are more enjoyable than when I discover a new writer (through a small press or self-published) whose work is unique and of high quality.
Broken Worlds is a book from an editor whose passion for genre literature is clear. This is the kind of book that has benefited from the digital and print on demand revolution. It’s got a ton of short stories from independent (and some underground-established) authors. The book is very uneven in terms of genre, writing styles, and arguably quality—but that’s what makes it charming. It’s big enough and diverse enough that you’re bound to find something you like. It’s books like this that represent the future of small press publishing: new editors and authors getting their sea legs under them, getting their work published and read, developing their voices and deciding where they want to go as artists—and those of us who take a chance on their work get to go along for the ride.
The book’s central theme is that we live in a reality of systems—and these systems degenerate or evolve (much like traditional publishing itself). Each story contains some sort of breakdown, whether of a social order, of innocence, or of reality itself. Beyond this wide apocalyptic conceit, however, the stories are very diverse in tone, style, and narrative. Again, this is both the book’s greatest strength and weakness. But it’s in this diversity that you’re sure to find something you like.
The stories I enjoyed the most were by a couple of authors I was already familiar with, and a couple that I had not heard of before. “The Wailing Women” by M. R. Ranier is at the front of the book and sets its tone as one of its strongest stories. “The Interview” by Shannon Iwanski is both hilarious and macabre, especially for anyone who has ever worked for a giant institution or government. Scott R. Jones is as always in fine form, this time offering us a story about language, words, and the unmaking of all things in “I Cannot Begin to Tell You”. Robin Wyatt Dunn’s “The Coens” mixes science fiction slipstream adventurism with cosmic finality. “Five Laments for the Horizon Summer Resort, to be Destroyed and Never Built Again” by Tom Breen (his short fiction debut) is a slow burn ghost story that reminded me of subtle yet emotionally powerful classical supernatural stories. I’d like to see what Tom can do in the full-on weird/horror forms.
The majority of the book’s offerings fall somewhere between science fiction and fantasy, but there are a few horror offerings here. That said, I wouldn’t recommend this for someone looking for a purely horror anthology. Reviewing such an eclectic book is difficult, as personal preferences in style and tone (and occasionally quality) vary so widely that I can’t really sum up a book like this. While I think the anthology would have benefited from a few less stories and a greater focus on theme (or genre), it’s still promising to see so many new (to me, at least) voices in a volume that is anything but another printing-mill short story anthology. It’s an exciting time to be a reader (and writer!) of genre literature, and Broken Worlds is a solid step forward into speculative fiction territory for young editor Jack Burgos and A Murder of Storytellers.