ONE MORE KILL by Matt Hughes

Sneak Peek Extract:

ONE MORE KILL by Matt Hughes

For seven years, I’d thought of myself as a dead man walking. 

     Yes, I know it’s a cliché, but that was how I felt. Before those seven years of real-life zombiehood, I had spent more than twenty years as a US Army Ranger. The basic job of a Ranger is killing, so most of my Army years had been taken up with preparing to kill people or teaching others how to do it, interspersed with some brief periods actually devoted to taking lives. 

     But besides making me into a highly effective killer, the military had also made me a creature of routine. So once a month, during those dead-man-walking years, I would take the subway downtown to the VA center and wait in a big room full of plastic chairs and half-filled with people who didn’t talk to each other much, though some of them talked to themselves. I would wait until my name was called, then go into a small room where a youngish, moonfaced MD named John Oliphaunt – everybody called him Doc Ollie – took a few ccs of my blood. He slipped the vial off the needle and held it up to the light and said, “Well, you’re still a red-blooded American boy.” 

     Which was what he always said. And I always answered, “Then why didn’t the Army want me anymore?”

     He wrote a few words and numbers on an adhesive label then stuck the paper to the little container. “We’ll call you if there’s anything . . .” and left the rest of it hanging. Right where it had been hanging for every month of those seven years.

     After that, I would leave the VA Center and go on with the rest of my routine. I had been running a small travel agency in mid-town Manhattan since the Army had cut me loose on a medical discharge. So on this day like any other day, I rode the subway back, got off at the stop near the deli where I usually bought lunch, picked up four sandwiches and took them back to the office. Marj, who pretty much ran the business for me, looked a question at me when I handed her her ham-and-Emmental on pumpernickel. I shook my head and shrugged, told her, “Same old, same old.”

     Another cliché, yes. But there could be nothing new in my life, so there was no reason to find new ways to say the same old things.

     Shelley Cooper and Rosaline Amberson, my other two employees, were at their desks in the travel poster-decorated open area out front, both on the phones. I gave them their lunches, got smiles and nods of thanks, then went to my own little cubicle in the rear. I ate my roast beef on whole wheat and washed it down with black coffee from the carafe beside the sink. There was paperwork to do, so I did it. When I finished, I tidied my desk, got up and told Marj I was going for a walk. 

     “Be back before closing?” she said.

      I didn’t know. “If I’m not, close up, okay?”

     “No problem.”

     I went out into the fall sunshine. A few blocks east and I turned onto Eighth Avenue and went up to Columbus Circle then continued on to Central Park West. It was a toss-up whether I’d go into the park or stay on the sidewalk until I got to the Museum of Natural History. I’d had a thing about dinosaurs when I was nine or ten; it was the only part of my childhood I cared to revisit.

     But today it was the park. I walked about with no particular destination in mind, turning from one path onto another at random, thinking about nothing much because I had nothing much to think about. From the day of my discharge until my present age of fifty-three, I’d been like the man in the old Ian Tyson song: just getting up every day and walking around. Sometimes I’d sit on a bench to watch the passers-by, the tourists and the New Yorkers. They were all strangers to me. I had only ever made one friend in my life and, after he’d sold me the travel agency and arranged for me to take over the lease on his apartment, he’d headed south to play golf, drink whiskey, and let himself be chased by widows.

     When it started to get dark, I walked home. It had been a routine day, just like the one that came before it and just like the one after. But the one that came next changed everything, forever.

Available for Pre-Order.

Phantom Limbs by Margo Lanagan

Sneak Peek Extract:

‘The Goosle’ by Margo Lanagan

‘There,’ said Grinnan as we cleared the trees. ‘Now, you keep your counsel, Hanny-boy.’

     Why, that is the mudwife’s house, I thought. Dread thudded in me. Since two days ago among the older trees when I knew we were in my father’s forest, I’d feared this.

     The house looked just as it did in my memory: the crumbling, glittery yellow walls, the dreadful roof sealed with drippy white mud. My tongue rubbed the roof of my mouth just looking. It is crisp as wafer-biscuit on the outside, that mud. You bite through to a sweetish sand inside. You are frightened it will choke you, but you cannot stop eating.

     The mudwife might be dead, I thought hopefully. So many are dead, after all, of the black.

     But then came a convulsion in the house. A face passed the window-hole, and there she was at the door. Same squat body with a big face snarling above. Same clothing, even, after all these years, the dress trying for bluishness and the pinafore for brown through all the dirt. She looked just as strong. However much bigger I’d grown, it took all my strength to hold my bowels together.

     ‘Don’t come a step nearer.’ She held a red fire-banger in her hand, but it was so dusty—if I’d not known her I’d have laughed.

     ‘Madam, I pray you,’ said Grinnan. ‘We are clean as clean—there’s not a speck on us, not a blister. Humble travellers in need only of a pig hut or a chicken shed to shelter the night.’

     ‘Touch my stock and I’ll have you,’ she says to all his smoothness. ‘I’ll roast your head in a pot.’

     I tugged Grinnan’s sleeve. It was all too sudden—one moment walking wondering, the next on the doorstep with the witch right there, talking heads in pots.

     ‘We have pretties to trade,’ said Grinnan.

     ‘You can put your pretties up your poink-hole where they belong.’

     ‘We have all the news of long travel. Are you not at all curious about the world and its woes?’

     ‘Why would I live here, tuffet-head?’ And she went inside and slammed her door and banged the shutter across her window.

     ‘She is softening,’ said Grinnan. ‘She is curious. She can’t help herself.’

     ‘I don’t think so,’ I said.

     ‘You watch me. Get us a fire going, boy. There on that bit of bare ground.’

     ‘She will come and throw her bunger in it. She’ll blind us, and then—’

     ‘Just make and shut. I tell you, this one is as good as married to me. I have her heart in my hand like a rabbit-kitten.’

     I was sure he was mistaken, but I went to, because fire meant food and just the sight of the house had made me hungry. While I fed the fire its kindling, I dug up a little stone from the flattened ground and sucked the dirt off it.

     Grinnan had me make a smelly soup. Salt fish, it had in it, and sea-celery and the yellow spice.

     When the smell was strong, the door whumped open and there she was again. Ooh, she was so like in my dreams, with her suddenness and her ugly intentions that you can’t guess. But it was me and Grinnan this time, not me and Kirtle. Grinnan was big and smart, and he had his own purposes. And I knew there was no magic in the world, just trickery on the innocent. Grinnan would never let anyone else trick me; he wanted that privilege all for himself.

     ‘Take your smelly smells from my garden this instant!’ the mudwife shouted.

     Grinnan bowed as if she’d greeted him most civilly.     ‘Madam, if you’d join us? There is plenty of this lovely bull-a-bess for you as well.’

     ‘I’d not touch my lips to such mess. What kind of foreign muck—’

     Even I could hear the longing in her voice, that she was trying to shout down.

     There before her he ladled out a bowlful—yellow, splashy, full of delicious lumps. Very humbly—he does humbleness well when he needs to, for such a big man—he took it to her. When she recoiled he placed it on the little table by the door, the one that I ran against in my clumsiness when escaping, so hard I still sometimes feel the bruise in my rib. I remember, I knocked it skittering out the door, and I flung it back meaning to trip up the mudwife. But instead I tripped up Kirtle, and the wife came out and plucked her up and bellowed after me and kicked the table onto the path, and ran out herself with Kirtle like a tortoise swimming from her fist and kicked the table aside again—

     Bang! went the cottage door.

     Grinnan came laughing quietly back to me.

     ‘She is ours. Once they’ve et your food, Hanny, you’re free to eat theirs. Fish and onion pie tonight, I’d say.’

     ‘Eugh.’

     ‘Jealous, are we? Don’t like old Grinnan supping at other pots, hnh?’

     ‘It’s not that!’ I glared at his laughing face. ‘She’s so ugly, that’s all. So old. I don’t know how you can even think of—’

     ‘Well, I am no primrose myself, golden boy,’ he says. ‘And I’m grateful for any flower that lets me pluck her.’

     I was not old and desperate enough to laugh at that joke. I pushed his soup bowl at him.

     ‘Ah, bull-a-bess,’ he said into the steam. ‘Food of gods and seducers.’

Available for Pre-Order.

Wakulla Springs by Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages

Sneak Peek Extract: Wakulla Springs by Andy Duncan & Ellen Klages

“Aaahhh-eeeeeeee-aaahhhh-eeeee-aaaahhhh-eeeeee-aaaahhhhh!”

A long, ululating cry pierced the quiet of the jungle.

“That’s Tarzan!” Boy said. “He’s going for a swim!” Boy grabbed Cheeta’s paw and they raced through the wiry grass until they came to the bank of the mighty river. A fallen tree lay across a branch of a taller tree, overhanging the water. As nimbly as any young ape, Boy scampered up the steep angle to stand beside his father, leaving Cheeta below to watch.

Tarzan stood high above the slow-moving river, naked except for a triangular loincloth low on his hips, his knife sheathed at his side. He was a magnificent man, his thick hair long and dark, his skin the color of honey. He was poised and ready to dive, every inch of his smoothly muscled body as sleek and lithe as an animal’s, showing at a glance his wondrous combination of enormous strength, suppleness, and speed. His deep, brooding eyes scanned his realm.

The ape-man might be ignorant of the ways of civilization, uneducated, childlike in his puzzlement about the tools of the white man. But this was his world, and in it, he was the most cunning, the most intelligent, the most respected—and most feared—of all the creatures. King of the Jungle.

“Umgawa!” he said to Boy. And without another word—for he was a man of few words—Tarzan took another step out onto the limb, flexed his powerful legs and—

“Cut!” yelled the director.

Johnny Weissmuller relaxed. He looked down into the crystal clear waters of Wakulla Springs for a moment, then cuffed little Johnny Sheffield on the shoulder, and the two actors climbed down the ladder hidden from the cameras on the far side of the tree. On the ground, his assistant helped him into his white terrycloth robe, its edges stained brown from his full-body makeup. Weissmuller was as tan as any man in Hollywood, but Tarzan had to be flawless.

“Boy go for swim?” he asked.

Sheffield shook his head. “I’ve got to do my schoolwork. Union rules.”

“Swim tomorrow,” Weissmuller said, and ruffled his blond curls.

A colored boy rowed them across the water to the movie encampment with its folding canvas chairs, tents, and trunks of equipment. Weissmuller slouched into the chair stenciled BIG JOHN, and watched as Little John ran across the manicured lawn and into the Lodge for his lessons.

Cameras were mounted on a floating barge in the middle of the river. Beyond them, two stunt doubles now stood on the tree branch, and at a signal from Thorpe, the director, they dived headfirst into the deep, clear water. One of them faltered and made a huge splash.

“Crap!” said Thorpe. He turned to the swimming coordinator.

“We have to shoot that again, Newt. Tarzan doesn’t splash, for crissakes.”

“Can do.” Newt Perry waited for the two Tallahassee lifeguards to swim over to the platform. “He wants it again. Make it a clean entry, this time.”

The smaller of the two boys grinned. “At fifty bucks a dive, I’ll go in any way he wants.”

“Just dry off and get back up there. The sun’s almost below the trees.”

Johnny watched from his chair. Even with the canvas umbrella, he could feel the heat of the sun on his back. Time for a cold one. He waited for the cameras to roll again and watched as two men carried a big wooden crate around the side of the hotel, struggling to keep it upright.

With a grunt, they lowered it to the ground next to a big wire cage outside the prop tent. Weissmuller could hear angry screeches from inside the box.

“What’s in there?”

“Monkeys.” The man opened the cage door and jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “Two more crates up there. Turtles and some kinda birds. Parrots, I think.”

He pulled on a pair of heavy gloves while his partner used a crowbar to open the lid, splintering it. The gloved man grabbed the nimble little animals by the scruffs of their necks as they clambered out, and tossed them into the cage.

“How’re you going to ship them back?” Weissmuller pointed to the ruined crate.

“Don’t have to. One jungle’s the same as another. We’ll just let ’em go when the shoot’s over.” He closed the cage, rattled the handle to make sure it was latched, and headed back toward the hotel.

“Quiet on the set!” the assistant director yelled through his megaphone.

Johnny turned back to the action above the river.

The next dive was as slick as a whistle, almost as good as he could have done himself. He flexed his shoulders. He hated the idea of a stunt double, but the studio demanded it. At two grand a week, he was too valuable to risk. He glanced at the thirty-foot diving platform over the deepest part of the springs. Thorpe had been away yesterday afternoon for a meeting, and Johnny had spent an hour diving off again and again, happy as a kid. The other guests at the Lodge had gathered around, applauding.

That was okay, too.

“We almost done?” he called to the assistant director after he’d yelled Cut!

“Yeah. Losing the light.” The man walked over, looking at his watch. “I should remind Thorpe he’s got dinner with Mr. Ball in an hour. Coat and tie for the dining room.”

And a direct line of sight across the lawn to the platform. No diving tonight. “Okay.” Weissmuller stood up, towering over the other man. “I’m going to change, drive into town.”

“Thorpe says—” He paused. “—He says to keep it in your pants and go easy on the booze. You’ve got close-ups tomorrow. Ten o’clock call.”

Johnny shrugged. “Tarzan have fun.” It wasn’t his idea to film in a dry county. He stepped over the tangle of cables and headed for his room in the Lodge. His robe open, his feet bare, he padded quietly across the terrazzo floor of the lobby, almost as silently as if he were the king of this jungle.

Twenty minutes later, showered and shaved, his long hair slicked back and tamed with Brylcreem, he stepped out of the elevator and looked around the ornately tiled lobby. He’d been told the hand-painted designs on the cypress beams of the ceiling were Moorish, with a little art-deco Mayan, like Graumann’s, but they reminded him of the barns in the Pennsylvania Dutch country where he grew up.

He smiled and strode down the hallway to the front door. It would have seemed unlikely to any observer that the man in the crisp, short-sleeved tropical weight shirt and knife-creased linen slacks had been swinging half-naked through the primeval forest an hour before.

“Black Packard,” he said, tossing the keys to a colored boy.

“Yessuh.” He brought the convertible around, chrome winking golden in the last of the afternoon sun, and held the door open.

Johnny Weissmuller nodded his thanks, flipped the boy a coin, and got behind the wheel. He slid his sunglasses from under the visor, put them on, and angled the sleek car out on to the highway that led north to Tallahassee. Twenty miles between him and the admiring young co-eds of the Florida State College for Women. A good night to be a movie star.

Now available for pre-order.

ODIN’S GIRL by Kim Wilkins

Sneak Peek Extract: 

ODIN’S GIRL by Kim Wilkins

At three months of age, Sara had crushed her grandmother’s index finger. Turned the bone to sawdust. By ten months she had broken six cots and her mother gave up and let her share the double bed. Nobody was allowed to give her wooden toys. Wood, for some reason, aroused more acutely the desire to break and crush. She fared better with stuffed teddies, which she loved to cuddle and stroke. As though their lack of resistance to the world made them safe from her unquenchable desire to smash everything to pulp.

By her third birthday, she was starting to learn self-control. As strong as she was, she still hadn’t worked out the buttons on the remote control. The threat of missing Playschool could make her behave. Then Disney princesses taught her meek beauty. She couldn’t plough her shoulder into the wall as fast in pink plastic high-heels.

But she was always aware of the dark thing inside her. It thrilled her and it frightened her, and she quickly learned to be ashamed of it; though the shame didn’t make it go away. Behind the long backyard was an empty block, and she spent furtive hours every afternoon breaking branches, turning over rocks, chucking broken bricks into the iron fence. School was hard: so many other children to get along with. They had to move town four times, change schools, start over. Broken monkey bars. Water bubblers wrenched off their weldings. A whiteboard eraser thrown so hard at the wall that it made a hole through the plasterboard and sailed through to the other side.

By sixth grade she was fatigued from being the new kid. She learned to be gentle. She learned to pull the rage out of her hands and arms, compress it into a white-hot ball behind her ribs. She sometimes broke a desk or a chair by accident, and gained a reputation among her teachers for being clumsy. Of course. A girl her size had to be clumsy.

That was it. She came to heel.

 *  *  *

Only that wasn’t it. There was one other incident, wasn’t there? She just didn’t like to remember it. High school, bitchy teenage girls, a Queen Bee. Sara always kept her eyes down, but she nudged six foot, with red-gold hair and generous curves. She couldn’t stay invisible. The rage bubbled over. It seemed so long ago now since she had felt that power move up through her veins and sinews…

Sara had seen Queen Bee just two weeks ago, across the road in the distance. She was still in the wheelchair. The clumsy-fingered churn of guilt had started all over again. Nobody had been around to witness that fight. The injuries weren’t consistent with a schoolyard smackdown, so nobody believed Queen Bee and of course Sara denied everything.

Sara was used to denying everything.

Now available for pre-order, here.

Best New Horror #28!!!

We’re ready for action with BEST NEW HORROR #28, in both trade paperback and regular hardcover states and surely-to-goodness sporting the best yet cover art of total depravity and downright unpleasantness.

Check this for a line-up, believers:

  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction: Horror in 2016 – The Editor
  • Pale Tree House – Angela Slatter
  • The Light at the Centre – Maura McHugh
  • En Plein Air – J.T. Glover
  • India Blue – Glen Hirshberg
  • Walking with the Cross – Peter Bell
  • Bedtime Story – Richard Christian Matheson
  • The Symphony of the Normal – Darren Speegle
  • The Ballet of Dr. Caligari – Reggie Oliver
  • Who is This Who is Coming? – Lynda E. Rucker
  • The House That Moved Next Door – Stephen Volk
  • Princess – Dennis Etchison
  • A Home in the Sky – Lisa Tuttle
  • On These Blackened Shores of Time – Brian Hodge
  • The Enemy Within – Steve Rasnic Tem
  • The Court of Midnight – Mark Samuels
  • Far from Any Shore – Caitlín R. Kiernan
  • The Fig Garden – Mark Valentine
  • White Feathers – Alison Littlewood
  • Over to You – Michael Marshall Smith
  • In the Dark, Quiet Places – Kristi DeMeester
  • Mare’s Nest – Richard Gavin
  • The Red Forest – Angela Slatter
  • Necrology: 2016 – Stephen Jones & Kim Newman
  • Useful Addresses

We’ll have to hold off for a while until the signature sheets for the limited edition have made their way around the world . . . but you know the drill on that score: we’ll get as much done as we’re able.

Meanwhile, we’re delighted to announce that BEST NEW HORROR #29 is now open to submissions of materials first published in 2017. All the details can be found, here.

Deadline is January 2018.

SOME NOTES ON A NONENTITY: THE LIFE OF H. P. LOVECRAFT

 

SOME NOTES ON A NONENTITY covers Lovecraft’s entire life from birth to his untimely and painful death and will be launched at NecronomiCon this coming weekend with a presentation from Sam and Jason on Saturday morning. I wish we could be there—break a leg, guys!

Since his death in 1937, H. P. Lovecraft and his works have become an overwhelming part of popular culture.

His creation, Cthulhu, has appeared in films, cartoons, video games, music and virtually all other parts of popular media. However, although many may know Lovecraft’s creations, few people know the details of his extraordinary life. SOME NOTES ON A NON-ENTITY: THE LIFE OF H. P. LOVECRAFT is a biography of this enigmatic and legendary writer.

SOME NOTES ON A NON-ENTITY is a 120+ page graphic novel written by SAM GAFFORD and illustrated by JASON ECKHARDT.

Based on years of research into the primary sources regarding Lovecraft’s life, this graphic novel spans Lovecraft’s youth to his later years. Episodes covered include his odd relationship with an overpowering mother; his brief sojourn in New York City and disastrous marriage; the creation of his most amazing tales; and his physically painful decline to an eventual death while considering himself a complete and utter failure.

Gafford is a weird literature scholar who has written about Lovecraft for several critical magazines and is a founding organizer of the NecronomiCon convention which celebrates Lovecraft’s life and work. Eckhardt is an award winning artist who has received great acclaim for his covers for such publishers as Necronomicon Press, Hippocampus Press and others. Recently, his work has been featured in the highly reviewed ANNOTATED H. P. LOVECRAFT by Leslie Klinger. Together, these two respected creators have developed what will surely be considered THE graphic novel biography of the man who has been hailed as second only to Edgar Allan Poe as America’s most important writer of weird literature.

Available to order, here.

Sneak Peek Extract: Black Wings VI Edited by S.T. Joshi

Sneak Peek Extract:

Introduction by S.T. Joshi 

THE INFINITE MALLEABILITY OF LOVECRAFTIAN MOTIFS, as exemplified by the contents of this volume, calls for some discussion. Why has H. P. Lovecraft’s work been such an inspiration to writers of weird fiction over the past century or so when other meritorious writers—ranging from the “modern masters” identified by Lovecraft himself, Arthur Machen, Lord Dunsany, Algernon Blackwood, and M. R. James, to such recent luminaries as Stephen King and Ramsey Campbell—failed to do so?

The history of Lovecraftian pastiche would make an interesting study in itself, and I have attempted to do so in my treatise The Rise, Fall, and Rise of the Cthulhu Mythos (2015). That book shows that, once writers put aside the mechanical imitations—which in many cases extended merely to the invention of a new “god” or new “forbidden book,” even if the overall theme of the story was anything but Lovecraftian—practised by such writers as August Derleth and Brian Lumley, a new era emerged. Writers now began searching more deeply into what exactly went into the making of a “Lovecraftian” story—and came to the conclusion that a multiplicity of motifs could be drawn upon, in contexts Lovecraft himself would scarcely have recognised, with the result that writers could infuse their own personalities into a work that nonetheless draws upon themes pioneered by the dreamer from Providence.

The central message of Lovecraft’s work, to be sure, is cosmicism—the depiction of the infinite gulfs of space and time and the concomitant insignificance of the human race, and all earth life, in the overarching history of the cosmos. In his earlier stories, Lovecraft used the figure of the “god” Nyarlathotep as a symbol for this cosmic menace. Archaeological horror was also a powerful means by which Lovecraft conveyed the essence of cosmicism, and Ann K. Schwader (“Pothunters”), Lynne Jamneck (“Oude Goden”), Don Webb (“The Shard”), and Stephen Woodworth (“Provenance Unknown”) have followed this methodology.

For Lovecraft, the sense of place was supremely important. Here was a man who spent every spare penny in exploring havens of antiquity from Quebec to Key West, from Marblehead, Massachusetts, to Charleston, South Carolina. He enlivened his native New England with an entire constellation of imagined cities where anything can happen; and in this volume, Tom Lynch’s “The Gaunt” takes us to Lovecraft’s Arkham, while Aaron Bittner (“Teshtigo Creek”) duplicates Lovecraft’s regional horror in North Carolina, while veteran W. H. Pugmire (“To Move Beneath Autumnal Oaks”) etches new lines of terror in his carefully crafted Sesqua Valley in the Pacific Northwest. Darrell Schweitzer does much the same thing in the rural Pennsylvania setting of “The Girl in the Attic.”

Alien creatures—whether it be the fish-frog entities from “The Shadow over Innsmouth” or the inbred gorilla-like monstosities of “The Lurking Fear”—are ever-present in Lovecraft, signalling his fascination with the anomalies of hybridism and the potentially loathsome mutations of the human form. It is this motif that animates such variegated
tales as William F. Nolan’s “Carnivorous,” Nancy Kilpatrick’s “The Visitor,” and Steve Rasnic Tem’s “Mister Ainsley.” Jonathan Thomas’s “The Once and Future Waite,” an ingenious riff on “The Thing on the Doorstep,” suggests unthinkable transference of soul and body, while Jason V Brock’s “Satiety” not only plays a clever riff on the half-plant, half-animal entities in At the Mountains of Madness but makes pungently satirical references to recent controversies about Lovecraft’s status in contemporary literature.

Caitlín R. Kiernan takes Lovecraft’s “forbidden book” theme and turns it into a means for probing the psychology of fear in “Ex Libris.” In their various ways, Mark Howard Jones’s “You Shadows That in Darkness Dwell” and Donald Tyson’s “Missing at the Morgue” make use of Lovecraft’s recurrent theme of other worlds lying just around the corner from our own. David Hambling’s “The Mystery of the Cursed Cottage” performs the nearly impossible by fusing the locked-room detective
story with Lovecraftian elements.

This volume includes not one but four poems in the Lovecraftian idiom—a testament both to the renaissance of weird poetry in our time and to the felicitous adaptability of Lovecraftian motifs in the realm of verse. Ashley Dioses, Adam Bolivar, K. A. Opperman, and D. L. Myers have all distinguished themselves as poets of technical skill and emotive power, and their verses exhibit the quintessence of terror while adhering to the strictest standards of formal rhyme and metre.

There is no reason to believe that Lovecraft’s dominant role in the creation of contemporary weird fiction will end anytime soon, and the future should reveal still more innovative treatments of the themes and imagery he fashioned out of the crucible of his imagination.

Available for pre-order.

Black Wings VI edited by S. T. Joshi

Synopsis:

This sixth volume of S. T. Joshi’s acclaimed Black Wings series demonstrates as never before how infinitely malleable are H. P. Lovecraft’s weird conceptions. The twenty-two stories and poems in this book run the gamut of modes and genres, but each of them is fueled by elements large and small drawn from Lovecraft’s inexhaustibly rich corpus of writing.

Cosmicism is central to Lovecraft’s imaginative vision, and it oftentimes is manifested in tales of archaeological horror. In this volume, stories by Ann K. Schwader, Lynne Jamneck, Don Webb, and Stephen Woodworth treat this motif in varying and distinctive ways. Lovecraft’s work is also infused with a profound sense of place, as he himself was attached to the familiar locales of his native New England but also travelled widely in search of new vistas to stimulate his imagination. Here, stories by Tom Lynch, Aaron Bittner, W. H. Pugmire, and Darrell Schweitzer summon up the landscapes of diverse realms in America to tease out the horrors embedded in them.

Alien creatures are featured in many of Lovecraft’s greatest tales. In this volume, William F. Nolan, Nancy Kilpatrick, Steve Rasnic Tem, Jonathan Thomas, and Jason V Brock summon up multiform monsters inspired by Lovecraft’s notions of hybridism and alien incursion. The forbidden book theme is deftly handled by Caitlín R. Kiernan, and the notion of other worlds lying just around the corner from our own is the subject of stories by Donald Tyson and Mark Howard Jones. Finally, David Hambling cleverly adapts Lovecraftian concepts to the locked-room detective story.

In commemorating the incredible efflorescence of weird poetry in our time, this book presents poems by four leading contemporary poets—Ashley Dioses, K. A. Opperman, Adam Bolivar, and D. L. Myers. Each of their works fuses skilful use of rhyme and metre with compact evocations of Lovecraftian themes. H. P. Lovecraft’s work is likely to continue inspiring writers for many generations, and this volume presents a vivid snapshot of what can be said in this idiom by sensitive and talented authors.

Here’s the full line-up:

Introduction – S. T. Joshi
Pothunters – Ann K. Schwader
The Girl in the Attic – Darrell Schweitzer
The Once and Future Waite – Jonathan Thomas
Oude Goden – Lynne Jamneck
Carnivorous – William F. Nolan
On a Dreamland’s Moon – Ashley Dioses
Teshtigo Creek – Aaron Bittner
Ex Libris – Caitlín R. Kiernan
You Shadows That in Darkness Dwell – Mark Howard Jones
The Ballad of Asenath Waite – Adam Bolivar
The Visitor – Nancy Kilpatrick
The Gaunt – Tom Lynch
Missing at the Morgue – Donald Tyson
The Shard – Don Webb
The Mystery of the Cursed Cottage – David Hambling
To Court the Night – K. A. Opperman
To Move Beneath Autumnal Oaks – W. H. Pugmire
Mister Ainsley – Steve Rasnic Tem
Satiety – Jason V Brock
Provenance Unknown – Stephen Woodworth
The Well D. L. Myers

Now available for pre-order.

Sneak Peek Extract: DARK PLACES, EVIL FACES Edited by Mark Lumby

Introduction by Shaun Hutson 

Horror is one of the most popular genres in literature and always has been.

I know some of you are probably wondering how I’ve come to that conclusion as most bookshops these days don’t even have a horror section and those that do keep it tucked away somewhere as if they’re ashamed of it. When I talk of horror I am not referring to the kind of insipid dross that has invaded the shelves in the past ten years like Twilight or any other “teenage love story with a supposedly creepy background.” I am speaking of real horror. Real “scared to turn the light out, nightmare-inducing, bowel-loosening, spine-tingling” horror.

Throughout my 30 odd years of writing horror and seeing the book business from every angle imagineable, I cannot recall a situation like the one we have now. Horror is hugely popular in the cinema (much of it generic and plain poor admittedly) and has been for years but, for the first time I can remember, this trend has not spilled over into literature. Normally cinematic trends are reflected in the book business but many publishers seem resolutely determined to ignore horror if they can. I cannot understand this reluctance so it’s refreshing when someone tries to redress the balance. That has been done admirably in this collection of stories you are about to read.

Horror lends itself brilliantly to the short story medium and the authors of the tales contained in this anthology have produced work that illustrates this perfectly. Short stories are a difficult skill to master. By definition they need to be tight, punchy and to the point. You can’t spend page after page trying to convey details and characters. This all has to be done with economy and brevity and you will find that has been achieved beautifully within this collection.

My first introduction to written horror was via short stories. The Pan collections of horror stories were among some of the earliest horror stories I ever read. They were the natural successors to writers like
H. P. Lovecraft, August Derleth, Edgar Allan Poe and M. R. James and many other well known and classic exponents of this art. And make no mistake, short story writing is an art.

You have to grab the reader as quickly as possible and you have to keep your grip on them. The worst fault an author can have, in my humble opinion, is to over-write. Stick to the point. Get your ideas across in the least amount of words possible. Don’t waffle. The short story allows a writer to do this but it also makes demands on the writer that a novel does not. You can take three or four pages in a novel to describe action or characters. You can’t take that time in a short story. Everything has to happen quicker and yet still retain that smoothness so the reader doesn’t back out of the story. It is a task that many shy away from but one that the authors of the tales in this anthology have embraced.

There is a danger that a short horror story can end up as just a prolonged sick joke and I must confess that is sometimes one of my failings when it comes to this medium. Everything builds to that one single pay-off line sometimes. If it works, it works beautifully. If it doesn’t it’s clumsy and contrived and horror should never be contrived. It should flow, straight from the mind (possibly warped and twisted) of the writer onto the page and into the consciousness of the reader.

That is what the writers of these stories have done so well. I’ve been asked many times during my writing career what the purpose of horror really is and I’ve always said the same thing. It should be to scare the hell out of the reader. People don’t pick up a horror story because they want a good laugh (not even the really bad ones!). They choose horror because they want to be scared. They want to be shocked. They want to be challenged. It’s a genre where there are no limits. No restraints on your imagination as a writer or reader. Anything goes.

You can be transported to some dingy old house, a dungeon in a faroff castle, a tomb in a long-forgotten cemetery, an abandoned hospital or prison, a menacing waxworks or some underground tunnel somewhere and you look forward to that trip. You relish the horrors the author has in store for you. You want to be forced to see things you’d never normally see outside your worst nightmares. You relish those images. You savour the horror.

And you love it because it’s all experienced from the safety of your armchair or your bed. You can put the book down when you’re finished and just forget about it. Unless the author has done a particularly good job and then that story stays with you. That image haunts you. That turn of phrase remains stuck in your brain like a splinter in your flesh. But that’s what we all want from horror. We want it to disturb us. To stay with us.

Over the years I’ve had letters from people telling me that my work has given them nightmares, forced them to sleep with the light on and even, in a few instances, caused them to throw up. I always take those comments as compliments. If I’ve got the ability to disturb someone so intently with what I’ve written then I must be doing something right. If you picked up a humorous book you’d want to laugh. If you read a romance you might want to cry so, if you pick up horror, then be prepared for whatever may come your way. It goes with the territory.

So, if you’re sitting up in the middle of the night after reading this collection of stories don’t curse the writers, thank them. They’ve done their job properly. They’ve scared you and they’ve made you think.

You might hate them a little bit for keeping you awake but what the hell. It’s a small price to pay.

Now available for pre-order.

Mark Lumby chats about his new charity book, DARK PLACES EVIL FACES.

Dark Places Evil Places was originally going to be a collection of my own stories. It was a project to make money for myself. But around the time the idea came into my head, my wives friend got the big ‘C’. My wife had taken 6 months out of our lives from myself and our children to care for her and help her through chemo. She was doing so much and I was doing nothing. So I decided to make DPEF into a charity book, and Macmillian was close to my heart as they had cared for others who had lived and died within my family. True, it could have been any cancer charity; they’re all worthy; they all do great things. But, to me, Macmillian was the obvious choice.

But it would be tough to do it all myself in the time scales I had wanted to achieve. So, I put an open call out for submissions on social media and through my own blog site. The response I received was overwhelming. I also knew specifically the authors that I wanted in the book, the big names. ‘If you don’t ask you don’t get’ is my philosophy. So, I asked and they contributed.

I also had author friends on social media whom I had heard great things about, so I approached them also. The result was, to me, a fantastic, yet strange combination of writers. At that time, the book was only going to be digital, although I did have my sights on something more. It was all about raising as much money as I possibly could and I felt that the profits from an ebook wouldn’t be enough. That was until I asked PS Publishing, and they helped me to put all this together, to create both a book and ebook. They have been extremely generous and I couldn’t have wished for anything better.

How I chose the authors? My choices were not based on collecting the same type of storytelling; I wanted to mix things up and show totally different styles. I didn’t want a theme—personally I don’t like theme based collections. I didn’t want to read one ghost story and then another. That’s why, when reading this anthology, you will find that not one story is relevant to another.

I had the authors; I had a publisher. I didn’t have great artwork. This is when I contacted Tomilav Tikulin. He had been involved in creating many amazing Stephen King covers. This was the type of imagery I wanted for Dark Places. I asked him if he could come up with something for me. He agreed to be involved and gave free range of a selection of artwork I could choose from. It didn’t take long to realise which one!

The title choice was an instant one. Because this was a collection of horror stories, Dark Places, Evil Faces seemed fitting, although some might argue that the title is a bit cliche.

Then, in January 2017, my determination to compile this anthology took on an extra lease of life. My mum was diagnosed with cancer. It was stage 4 and had reached her liver and bowel. Now, this book was all about her. It had become extremely personal and I wanted to strike cancer where it hurt.

As much as this anthology is about my mum, it’s about everyone else, too. It’s for their brothers and sisters, mum and dad’s, and friends. It’s about my sister who also got Cancer this year. And I’m sure that the authors involved in this anthology have been hit by the trauma it causes, whether it being themselves or watching someone else go through the pain and grief.

Now available for pre-order.