Cover Reveal: HIVE by Alex Smith

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Next week, journey into terror with a troubled couple recovering from the emotional turmoil of their abortion. They seek refuge in a refurbished New York City apartment building in an “up-and-coming” neighborhood, only to discover the Cronenbergian terror housed in the hive below. Secret medical experiments, social anxiety, and hideous reproductive cycles collide in this descent into true horror.

“Alex Smith takes the bleakest feelings of forced change and weaves into it the monstrous embodiment of creation, of wicked evolution. HIVE is a gruesome reminder that our cyclical lives are constantly thrust into this terrifying, blood-soaked battle of rebirth, of emergence, against the dark evils we must defeat if we have any chance of surviving the chrysalis.”
-Philip Fracassi, author of Mother and Altar

“Rarely have I encountered such a fantastic debut. A deliriously dark masterpiece worthy of Cronenberg, HIVE is a shining black gem in this weird world.”
-Brian O’Connell, Editor at the Conqueror Weird

Copies will be available via Amazon, Kindle and our Storenvy storefront.

The politics of horror (and the horror of politics): An interview with Jason V Brock

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Jason and his wife Sunni.

It was a pleasure to meet you at World Horror Con. The convention was a bit… Sparsely attended, so I enjoyed our conversations. What was your experience?

Jason V Brock: It was awesome meeting you and your wife as well! I was on about eight panels, so it’s all a bit of a blur now. In addition, we attended StokerCon in Las Vegas two weeks later, which was fun. But I must observe that the attendance to both cons was a little on the low side, likely due to the two of them being so closely scheduled.

I’d say that World Horror was better organized, whereas StokerCon was more of a party. Both have their advantages and drawbacks.

What were some other positives about this year’s convention, despite its lack of attendees?

Brock: The best part is hanging out with people, of course. It was great to talk more with old friends such as Jack Ketchum, Michael Bailey, the Collings family, Bailey Hunter, Kevin J. Anderson, Linda Addison, Jeff Strand, and so on. It also affords a chance to make new friends—such as you guys, Darren Shan, and the fine folks working the convention—especially when there are not so many things going on at once, as there was in Vegas, which was a bit jammed with activity. All the panels that I saw at WHC were very good, too.

Another thing I didn’t appreciate until Vegas was how clean the air was in Utah! HAHAHAH! Vegas was just dreadful with the smoking in the casino. Continue reading “The politics of horror (and the horror of politics): An interview with Jason V Brock”

Make Yourself at Home: An interview with Tom Breen, author of ORFORD PARISH MURDER HOUSES

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.

Continue reading “Make Yourself at Home: An interview with Tom Breen, author of ORFORD PARISH MURDER HOUSES”

Love, Marriage, and the Weird: A review of Philip Fracassi’s MOTHER

Published by Dunhams Manor Press
Available Here
Review by Billy Lyons

There comes a time in almost every marriage when one’s spouse seems remarkably different from the person they married. The person you thought you knew better than anyone else on earth becomes a stranger, and you wonder if you ever knew them at all. Fortunately, many such marital crises resolve on their own with little or no damage to either party. But there are exceptions. A horrifying example of one such exception is found in Mother, the terrifying new novella from Philip Fracassi.

Mother is the story of Howard and Julie, who meet in college and find happiness in each other’s arms. After three years together, they marry and move far away from their college town to West Virginia (in itself a terrifying proposition), where they hope to build a happy life together.

Unfortunately, things go wrong almost from the start. Howard accepts a teaching position at a local community college, while Julie stays home to concentrate on her art. Howard is happy enough, but Julie becomes dissatisfied almost immediately. She doesn’t fit in with Howard’s friends, and has little success in finding a gallery that will showcase her work. Before long, their once promising partnership falters.

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As the first years of their marriage pass, Julie goes from being merely bored and distant to exhibiting behavior that is both secretive and bizarre. When Howard discovers her standing naked in her studio amidst some bizarre occult symbols, he very correctly worries that things have gone too far. As he delves deeper into his wife’s hidden affairs, the secrets he uncovers will endanger not only his marriage, but his very soul.

One of the things that makes Mother so successful is Fracassi’s superior writing. His development of the two main characters is superb. I found myself identifying with them early on, and as a result I was invested in their success or failure. When things began to go wrong for Howard and Julie, I found myself genuinely concerned for their future. As a writer, I can tell you that creating such vivid and relatable characters is no easy feat.

Fracassi also does a wonderful job of establishing and building mood. As Howard and Julie’s relationship progressed, I felt my own emotions running the gamut, from happy optimism on their wedding day to general discomfort as their partnership began to collapse, to sheer terror once their story reaches its terrifying climax.

And believe me, it is a terrifying climax, one worthy of Lovecraft himself. The last few pages of Mother scared the hell out of me, and coming from someone who eats, sleeps, and breathes horror, that takes some doing. I also found Mother’s ending to be reminiscent of Stephen King’s Revival, a novel I consider to be this century’s most significant contribution to weird fiction.

Although Philip Fracassi is already an accomplished screenwriter and novelist, Mother is his first attempt at horror. After reading it, I hope it won’t be his last.

You can follow Philip Fracassi at his blog and on Twitter.

The Hillbilly Moonshine Massacre by Jonathan Raab – Trailer and Pre-Order

I’m very excited to announce that my latest novel, The Hillbilly Moonshine Massacre, published by Literati Press Comics & Novels, is now available for pre-order. It’s a horror-weird-science-fiction-action-comedy-conspiracy-thriller.

Here’s the trailer:

All orders made through our online store are signed. The first ten copies sold get a free poster thrown in as well!

The book will also be available at the Literati Press store and Amazon by the end of the week.

From the back cover:

When the arrest of known moonshiner (and possible alien abductee) Larry “Bucky” Green goes south, several cops are left dead and Bucky goes on the run. His latest batch of moonshine is driving the locals mad—literally. Anyone who drinks it falls victim to some terrible form of mind control. They start tearing each other apart and building strange altars to forgotten gods.

Strange lights in the sky, mob violence, militarized police, creatures from beyond time and space, and sinister government agencies descend on the idyllic autumn countryside, sowing chaos and terror in their wake.

Only the paranoid Sheriff Cecil Kotto—who also happens to be the host of a popular conspiracy theory radio show—has any clue about the truth behind it all. He recruits a new deputy and joins forces with an ambitious public access television reporter to track down Bucky and stop the apocalypse from kicking off.

Who’s behind the evil of the age? FEMA? The Illuminati? Reptilians? Aliens? The Red Cross? Secret societies? The DHS? The CIA? The EPA? The Council on Foreign Relations? The Trilateral Commission?

Only Sheriff Kotto and his team can find out. Only they can stop…

THE HILLBILLY MOONSHINE MASSACRE

High Strange Horror – Weird Tales of Paranoia and the Damned

High Strange Horror is now available for pre-order through Amazon. The Kindle version is a measly $2.99; the terrifying paperback version is an unlucky $13.

The book will also be available as an e-book through Barnes & Noble, the Apple Store, and other online retailers.

The book will be released on April 20th, but advance copies will be available at MiniCon in Minneapolis, MN on April 2-5, and at StarFest Denver April 17-19.

Table of Contents:

On the Weird and the Damned (introduction) by Jonathan Raab

Investigations by Michael Bryant

So You’ve Lost Your Edge. Now What? by Charles Martin and Will Weinke

Frosty Pyramid Treats by Jonathan Raab

The Dead Wait by Toni Nicolino

The Keepers by David A. Owens

Night Dog by Matthew M. Bartlett

The Pirate-Ghost of Hole 19 by Doctor Gaines

The Lights Are Off by Christopher Fraser

Púca by C.R.J. Smith

Brought Low by J. Howard Shannon

Black-Eyed Children, Blue-Eyed Child by Billy Lyons

The Vampire Sea by Amberle L. Husbands

Ascendance by Julie Godard

Cats by Jake Skillings

The Projectionist by Mer Whinery

Excerpt from Look For Me by Colin Scharf

I Want to Believe (post-script essay) by Colin Scharf

What is “High Strange”? 

It’s the men in black erasing your UFO research. It’s a corporate takeover by bio-occult horrors. It’s losing your edge, and finding it again at the bottom of the cosmos. It’s your television telling you to eat your government-approved genetically-modified breakfast cereal. It’s the unexplained lights in the sky and the faceless gray woman haunting your dreams. It’s ancient legends working under contract. It’s the forbidden film playing at a haunted movie theater. It’s the medical staff making sure you stay crazy. It’s the 19th round of mini golf with a disembodied pirate. It’s the outer reaches of human experience.

Where conventional reality ends, High Strange begins.

Over a dozen authors mine the deepest reaches of consciousness and Fortean phenomena.

Are you ready to see what lies beyond the veil?

Book Review: The Children of Old Leech

Published by Word Horde; Edited by Ross E. Lockhart and Justin Steele

Review by Michael Bryant

We are all food. From our birth to well after our death, we serve to nourish other life forms. We who hold ourselves the supreme rulers of this planet—and the only known “intelligent” life form in the universe—are merely food and spawning grounds for the “lower” and older organisms.

This is the truth of Old Leech, Negotium Perambulans in Tenebris (“the pestilence that walketh in darkness”), who loves you.

Such is the nature of the work of Laird Barron, who focuses the template of cosmic horror through a lens of carnivorous savagery. If you have never read Barron’s’ writing, you most certainly should; however, familiarity with his mythos is not required to read the tribute anthology The Children of Old Leech edited by Ross E. Lockhart and Justin Steele.

The book features numerous authors skilled in the art of the weird. While each tale offers a standalone testimony to the love of Leech, together they form a colloquy on the carnivorous cosmos and the terrible beauty of unbridled nature. Think Blackwood with teeth, Lovecraft with brutality, the monstrous and the godly indivisible.

I have dubbed this anthology an “album” for just as music decorates time and stimulates passion, so does this collection paint the temporal cortex with original artwork. Through this beautiful thing, we come to know Old Leech and his love, and move to the warm embrace of his jaws.

Justin Steele sets the tone in the introduction with a desperate yet pointless warning against reading this, the New Testament of Leech. The fool still harbors the delusion of hope, although he seems to know his place and role in service to Leech, but does not yet accept or understand it. No matter, his troubles are over now.

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Gemma Files contemplates the underworld and deceit of the light in “The Harrow”. T. E Grau gives us an account of pilgrimage to the fossil ossuary under the mountain in “Love Songs from the Hydrogen Jukebox”. We take communion alongside Richard Gavin in “The Old Pageant”, and rejoice of a young man’s coming to Leech at the end of his quest in Paul Tremblay’s “Notes for The Barn in the Wild”. Daniel Mills thrills us with the opulence of temptation and ultimately seduction, and sends us dancing in Lilith’s embrace in “The Women in the Wood”.

To hear more of the good word, you’ll have to read the book, available in paperback and in e-book formats. Elevations of the spirit and metamorphoses of the flesh will not be possible without the knowledge contained therein, and brother, you’ll need it on the Day of His Coming. So come with me into the deep wood, ascend the mountain to the caverns, and enter to pray before the broken circle. Let us go to find the beautiful thing that awaits us all.

5/5 Infectious Worm Gods

Available Here

Late to the Party: True Detective as Weird Fiction (or not)

At first, I was disappointed.

Weird fiction/horror author Orrin Grey has described works that tease the supernatural but offer realistic explanations in their stead as “spookblocking,” a term that I intend to steal and use from now on. After watching the final episode of the critically-acclaimed True Detective, I thought the show had perhaps crossed into that territory.

Upon reflection, I’m not sure that’s the case.

True Detective is a show that garnered a lot of praise—and a lot of criticism—as it acted less as a generic police procedural, and more as a live-action vehicle for the philosophical ideas of Nietzsche, Thomas Ligotti, and even H.P. Lovecraft. What starts out as a high-quality murder mystery show quickly metastasizes into an exploration of the Weird Tale, more in line with Ambrose Bierce than Raymond Chandler; more Robert W. Chambers than David Simon.

Without getting too far into spoiler territory, the murder mystery begins with a single individual, but strands and threads are tugged and pulled to reveal a larger web of Southern-fried gothic conspiracy. Not only is there a killer on the loose, there is a whole network of influential people in very important positions in our society, all engaged in ritualistic “devil” worship.

Except, of course, that their particular devil isn’t the one of Judeo-Christian tradition. It’s of a much more alien variety. The object of their worship appears to be Chambers’ King in Yellow, an extradimensional figure that may or may not be a figment of everyone’s imagination.

Ah, that last line may have caught your attention. Grey’s analysis of his own frustration—resulting in the sexual innuendo-laden “spookblocking” term—may be begging your interpretation of this plotline. Matthew McConaughey plays Rustin “Rust” Cohle, one of the (if not the) titular detectives, slussing out this bizarre mystery, one lead at a time. Early on we learn that Rust is prone to hallucinations—damaged neurons resulting from his years of undercover work wherein he was forced to take drugs to avoid blowing his cover. It’s from his perspective that we witness several strange events—weird lights flashing by him as he drives; a flock of birds forming a spiral symbol; and the (pen[?])ultimate vision of a cosmic cloud moving to consume time and space amidst a serial killer’s dungeon altar.

Drug use; a damaged past. Can what we see through Rust’s perspective be trusted, or is this just HBO’s own version of spookblocking?

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Typically—and, admittedly, in the moments following my viewing of the last episode of True Detective’s first season—I thought the latter was the case. Here was another high-profile show, content to take two steps toward the Weird and the Unknown, only to take three steps back at the show’s conclusion. How frustrating to be treated to a grown-up’s version of Scooby-Doo. The monster is always just Old Man Jones, wearing a hokey monster mask and employing some lo-fi special effects to scare the kids.

But is that really the case? Does weird fiction—which most would agree this show falls into that category—have to be a binary, post-modern, either/or proposition? That is—would the writers that this show draws influence from have employed spookblocking, or is the idea of spookblocking perhaps not always applicable to a work that leans toward one explanation and form (realism/literary fiction) over another (supernaturalism)? Is spookblocking even applicable to weird fiction?

So, I thought about this show for a while. Season one was an immensely enjoyable ride, with twists and turns that never felt cheap or convenient. The detective work conducted by the two leads was always easy to follow and not at all overwrought, engendering a sense of participatory understanding in the audience; the cinematography was gorgeous and often intentionally understated; the dialogue was whip-smart with the exception of Rust’s ridiculous anti-religious, anti-rural folk screeds. While some reviewers have pointed out the problematic interpretation (or outright plagarization, depending on who you read) of the popular works of Ligotti, the true influence on this show is Robert Chambers’ The King in Yellow.

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Understanding that the King is a character in this work, and that Chambers’ (and, to a lesser extent, Bierce’s) proto-weird fiction is a driving force, the idea of this show being an example of spookblocking becomes less relevant.

That is, in weird fiction—especially in the tradition of Chambers’ The King in Yellow—what the Truth is (capital “T”) is less important that what the characters’ experiences are. In real life—or in the cultural mythology that we build and call “real life”—strange things happen. Odd coincidences crop up, patterns emerge, or outright terrifying and unexplainable events (UFOs, poltergeists, cryptids, etc.) happen to seemingly stable, regular folk. It’s not just the backwoods, moonshine-drunk yokel who sees spacemen wearing silver suits and football helmets (full disclosure: there’s nothing wrong with backwoods, moonshine-drunk yokels… I happen to be a member of that particular population); it’s also the trained observer aircraft pilots, police officers and even several ex-presidents.

Although the horror-hound in me yearned for a more gee-whiz, flashbang supernatural ending, the subdued, almost reserved denouement made sense in light of what Chambers’ work with the King was. In his short story collection, there’s never a concrete explanation of who the King in Yellow really is, or what he wants, or what he’s doing. He does speak, in a fashion, and his influence is felt everywhere. But whether he was a demon, a hallucination, a government-created fabrication, or something else entirely is left up to speculation. The reader becomes an active participant in determining what the Truth behind his malevolent influence really is.

Even Lovecraft, in his vaguery and obtuse style, would often over-explain cosmic horror/weird concepts (in a relative sense, at least). Cthulhu was an organism, after a fashion. There was a hierarchy of Great Old Ones, forgotten gods, Crawling Chaoses, and so forth. That there exists a cosmology to his world, as bleak as it may be, makes it understandable, quantifiable. In Chambers’ treatment of the King in Yellow, no such stratification exists, and, therefore, our lack of understanding contributes to the terror and weirdness that he sows within our imagination. Each story could very well be a hallucination or the result of mental illness on the part of the various characters we meet. And yet—it is weird fiction. Solidly, inarguably.

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I’m not making a judgment call on whose style I prefer. I’ve read more of Lovecraft, but find Chambers’ work intriguing and beautiful. Lovecraft was inspired by Chambers, and took his ideas (and settings and characters) in new and interesting directions, just as Chambers was inspired by other proto-weird writers (such as my fellow Army-veteran-turned-writer, Ambrose Bierce).

Writer Nic Pizzolatto and director Cary Joji Fukunaga have given us a work of weird fiction worthy of inclusion in such a pantheon. They’ve taken the ideas of literary weird fiction and converted them into a live action story about two men pushed to the brink: professionally, personally, and by their own misdeeds.

While I was tempted to consider this an example of spookblocking—to chalk up the supernatural elements as merely frosting on a cake built of convention and familiar tropes—it’s since become clear that Chambers’ work was often obtuse and strange, lacking definitive answers and explanations, even if we expected them to be pronouncedly supernatural.

My personal preferences tend toward the cosmic, the weird, the fictional, the supernatural—but true weird fiction doesn’t have to play by my rules. It doesn’t have to play by anyone’s rules—and that’s the point. Weird fiction, like its twin brothers horror and supernatural fiction—challenges conventions, ideas, and easy explanations. Grey’s posit that spookblocking is a tired, worn-out trope rings true. True Detective, when appraised from a historical, true weird fiction perspective—is anything but.

The King in Yellow is available for free from Project Gutenberg.

Book Review: Together In Terror, You and Us

We Live Inside You by Jeremy Robert Johnson

Short Story Collection Published by Swallowdown Press, 2011

Review by Michael Bryant

Author Jeremy Robert Johnson spins his yarns in a deeply introspective tone, with an unorthodox creative style that finds the soft spot in your imagination and buries the ice pick.  We Live Inside You is an anthology of short stories that are not all classic horror or weird fiction, but carry a strand of darkness and morbidity throughout.

Genocidal Buddhist monks who chant viral incantations deliver a firm and somewhat unnerving handshake as we are introduced to Mr. Johnson’s style in the opening story “The Oarsmen”. “When Susurrus Stirs” brings the reader into Johnson’s curio-phobic relationship with parasites where an apparent symbiotic relationship turns gruesome with a vulgar metamorphosis. “The Gravity of Benham Falls” is a classic ghost story that provides, as the author describes it, “…a mid-read break from all the surrounding intrafamilial homicide.”jrj-entry

“A Flood of Harriers” starts with a roadside confrontation on an Indian reservation and descends into psychedelic madness centering around the apocalyptic vision of Wokova, and “Laws of Virulence” brings us back to the parasitic horror at the center of Johnson’s mind with insidious arthropods whose hosts gaze trance-like with seaweed eyes.

The collection concludes with a bonus section; four stories including a different version of “Persistence Hunting”, which appears in the earlier part of the anthology in a more trimmed, edited form, that is one of non-weird tales but a tragic one. Also included is a review of The Mars Volta’s Album “The Bedlam in Goliath”, formatted as a supernatural story centering around the band’s encounter with a ouija board and their musical attempts to exorcise the dark forces that plague them.

Among the several stories that are not weird fiction in the collection I found “Trigger Variation” to be true horror in its rawest form, exploring the self-inflicted demons within. This story in particular stuck with me, and I still find myself drifting back to it and chewing it over. I enjoy stories that make you think, and this anthology is a buffet of food for thought.

While this collection is worth the read, it does have a couple of duds. I found “Consumerism” to fall absolutely flat, and while “States of Glass” is well written with a good story, I found myself becoming bored and began skimming to the end. However, taste varies. The author’s notes at the end provide the personal touch that always adds icing to the literary cake.

If you’re looking for writing that veers from the beaten path and isn’t afraid to experiment, We Live Inside You provides horror that shoots away from the traditional format, featuring monsters both human and otherwise. Check it out in e-format and print, and if you like what you read you can find more at jeremyrobertjohnson.com.

 4 / 5 Soul Devouring Parasites

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