June 29, 2012

Better than a Ghost of a Chance: an interview with Spectral Press' Simon Marshall-Jones

I recently had the good fortune of interviewing Simon Marshall-Jones, the man at the helm of Spectral Press. The small independent publisher has flourished over the course of the last year and it looks to be on track to even bigger and better things. But let's hear it all in Simon's words.

What was the impetus behind establishing Spectral Press?

It’s interesting because, before I was handed a couple of chapbooks published by Nightjar Press (run by Nicholas Royle) at FantasyCon 2010 in Nottingham, UK, I’d never even heard of the format. I’ve subsequently discovered that they have a long and venerable history, and that they’re especially popular in the poetry scene, as they’re an easy way disseminating this form of literature as well as being inexpensive to produce. I was a book reviewer back then, and I realised that it was a perfect form for showcasing the writing of some of the best talents working today. Aside from that, it was also a good way of starting up a small-press without having access to much working capital. Over and above that, however, is the fact that I just love the genre and its myriad possibilities, and this is my way of giving back what I have taken out of it.

I also wanted to steer away from the whole vampire/zombie/werewolf/apocalyptic scenario thing which appears to have taken over much of horror publishing in the last few years, and offer something a mite different. Which is why I decided to concentrate on the ghost story, a form of literature that I feel deserves to be more in the spotlight. Additionally, in these days of easy access to digital publishing technology and e-books, I wanted to remind people that physical books are objects of beauty themselves, and small objects of desire.

There's a pretty open adoration for the classic horror of the early 20th century and even late 19th century. What is it about that time that draws you in?

For me, it’s all about effect and atmosphere, as well as reliance on the reader’s imagination to fill in the blank spots, so to speak. I feel that with a lot of modern horror, imagination and reader participation are being squeezed out of the equation, which is why I have chosen to keep the spirit of late 19th/early 20th century ghost story literature alive with Spectral. Their appeal for me, though, is very simple: there’s no reliance on gore and excessive on-page violence, instead those are suggested artfully through carefully crafted prose. I feel the same about film – these days, a lot of it is fed to the viewer on-screen in all its gory technicolour glory, with nothing left to suggestion. In many ways, then, I see Victorian/Edwardian ghost literature in the same way as those old black & white films that used to be shown on late-night TV. Take a film like Carl Dreier’s classic Vampyr (1932): it’s frightening because it’s in monochrome, uses disturbing imagery and has an unsettling soundtrack. Despite its superficially nonsensical and surreal native, it’s made even more unsettling by the fact that it still has an internal logic which only makes sense within its own context, almost making this world seem out of kilter by comparison. Mostly, you have to work at constructing your own narrative out of the disjointed scenes presented, an aspect of both filmmaking and literature that seems to fallen by the wayside in the mainstream. When it comes to the written word, reintroducing those elements is one of the principal aims of Spectral.

Spectral Press focuses on shorter works with its chapbooks, rather than novel length fiction. Are chapbooks better suited to the more classical style of horror, or is there another reason behind highlighting those works?

One of the reasons why I chose chapbooks as my initial foray into the world of small-press is that I consider them to be perfect little arenas in which to showcase the work of some of the best writing talents out there. In any case, in terms of the ghost story, short stories and novellas seem to work far more effectively in the shorter form than in anything longer, in my opinion. Sustaining tension and atmosphere is best achieved by containing the narrative within a short burst, although this doesn’t mean that longer works can’t achieve the same effect. I just find that, when it comes to this form of literature, short stories work better in terms of impact for me – other people will find their approach to such things very different. 
Having said all that, the novellas that I have recently launched have a broader remit within what I would call ‘traditional’ definitions of horror, but simultaneously trying not to tread over ground already covered. I’ve always liked stories which look at ideas and themes from new angles, or ones which introduce original facets to familiar stories. But the bedrock upon which it’s all based is high quality – not just in terms of story, but presentation and all the other aspects of publishing as well.

Each story Spectral Press releases as a limited edition appears to sell out quite handily. How pleased have you been with the reception of each publication? And do you intend to stay focused on the limited editions or can readers expect wider releases in the future?

I’ve been more than pleased with the critical and reader reception, in fact, I would say it has exceeded my wildest expectations. After having run a record label (FracturedSpecesRecords) for two years, where sales were sluggish at best, the runaway success of Spectral has come as a bit of a surprise and has taken me completely aback. I learnt a lot of things from the record label, however, which I’ve applied to the running of Spectral. One of the worst things I did with FSR was to rush things – I’ve been a lot more cautious and have been releasing things slowly and very deliberately, without overstretching myself at any point. That has definitely worked to my advantage this time.

I do intend to publish more widely in the future – for instance, there will be a collection of all the chapbooks (along with new material, hopefully) either next year or 2014. The novellas I have started publishing are available as unlimited paperbacks as well as the limited signed hardbacks and there are still plans to release them as e-books at some point. Signed limited editions, however, will remain the mainstay of Spectral for the foreseeable future, but who knows what the future will bring?

You've published works from very accomplished authors like Gary Fry and Cate Gardner. But go back in time for a moment and name an author who you think would have been an exemplary choice to be published under the Spectral Press banner.

Gosh – that’s a difficult one. I can think of at least two, if not three, writers I would like to pluck from the past and ask to produce a chapbook story for me: they would be Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen and Robert Aickman. If we’re talking someone from the recent past, especially one who completely changed my perceptions of the possibilities of horror as a genre, then it would be Clive Barker.

The last year has seen five volumes released in your chapbook series, plus the longer novella from Gary Fry. Is that a pace you hope to maintain in the ensuing years or is there a change-up in the works?

The current plan is to keep releasing the quarterly chapbooks until the end of 2013, after which the frequency will change to one every two months. As for novellas, I plan to publish two every year. That will be in addition to the annual Christmas Ghost Story anthology every December and the Spectral Signature Editions single-author collections (which will come out once a year, in all likelihood).

What has been the biggest preconception shattered or overall revelation you've discovered with Spectral Press?

Probably amongst the biggest revelations for me is just how much of a juggernaut Spectral has become in such a short time. From conception to the present is a mere twenty months, if that. But that isn’t down to just luck – it’s also down to sheer hard work and also knowing what makes a good story. On top of that is ensuring that each title is carefully edited so that no typo ever reaches print, as well as ensuring that the story is the best it can be. Plus there’s the delicate balancing act of keeping Spectral in the public eye without being over-bearing about it. If there’s one pet-hate I have, it’s the constant spam of people essentially urging us to ‘BUY MY BOOK!’ – the main purpose of my promotion is to make people aware of the imprint, the kind of material it publishes, where it can be obtained and to explore if they so wish.

However, if we’re talking about shocks, then the biggest would have to be Spectral Press gaining not one, but TWO, nominations in this year’s British Fantasy Awards – King Death by Paul Finch in the Short Fiction category and Spectral Press itself in the PS Publishing Independent Press Award. The Awards will be presented at FantasyCon2012 in September, to be held in Brighton in the UK

Can you offer a glimpse of what readers can expect from Spectral Press through the second half of 2012 and beyond?

Just about to be released is Volume VI in the series of chapbooks, The Eyes of Water by the bestselling author Alison Littlewood, to be followed in September by Mark West’s What Gets Left Behind and then in December David Tallerman’s The Way of the Leaves, the story which recently won the Spectral/This Is Horror short story writing competition. Also in September will be the second in the Spectral Visions line of longer works, John Llewellyn Probert’s The Nine Deaths of Dr. Valentine, an affectionate and blackly humorous (if somewhat gruesome) homage to the films of Vincent Price. And, of course, there’ll be the first Christmas Ghost Story Annual in December.

Looking further afield, there are chapbooks coming from the likes of Paul Kane, Simon Bestwick, Terry Grimwood and Angela Slatter in 2013, as well as a novella by Stephen Volk (screenwriter of UK ghost film The Awakening and creator of the infamous Ghostwatch television hoax documentary). In the summer of that year will be the first of the Spectral Signature Editions single-author collections, this one being by World Fantasy Award nominee Simon Kurt Unsworth. The chapbooks’ print run will also be increased to 125 per issue from Volume IX (March 2013). More exciting still will be a chapbook story forthcoming from the pen of Peter Atkins, screenwriter of Hellraiser II, III & IV. Publication date has yet to be set on that one.

There are exciting times ahead for Spectral Press – please visit http://spectralpress.wordpress.com/ and sign up to be kept abreast of the latest developments with the imprint. You can also purchase 1, 3, and 5 year subscriptions to the chapbook line, ensuring that you never miss one, considering they sell out quite fast. You’ll also be able to catch up with the latest news and reviews, and read about the occasional exciting competition. Hope to see you there!

Thanks again to Simon for taking part in this interview. As for the rest of you, I encourage you to keep an eye on Spectral Press if you're not already--especially if you have an affinity for ghost stories like I do.

June 28, 2012

Rabid Reads: "The Respectable Face of Tyranny" by Gary Fry

The Respectable Face of Tyranny
82 pages

Quiet horror is something of a real treat to read, especially after reading something blatantly shocking or terrifying. It was after a particular graphic novel that I turned to Gary Fry's Respectable Face of Tyranny as a kind of decompression. The thing about quiet horror though, is how it can claw at the back of your mind a tad more insidiously than the knife-wielding maniacs.

In this novella, Josh, a divorcee dad, has moved to a quiet coastal town in the wake of a financial drubbing in his portfolio, not to mention the shellacking his ex-wife's lawyer put on him. The idyllic little burg is meant to serve as a getaway from the hustle, and hopefully offer a way to reconnect with his teenage daughter, Sally. It's not working out. Josh's mind is consumed with what amounts to a quietly devastated life and he's at a loss to put things back together. And it's starting to take a real toll on the relationship he has with Sally, who has started into her rebellious stage. During introspective walks along the seaside, Josh sees strange things along the beach, including--but not limited to--odd scratchings of symbols in the sand and macabre creatures etched into the cliffs--and just as tall.

While I didn't connect with Josh all that much as a character, I was rapt by the imagery Gary provides through this tale. The weird comes out in fits and bursts, and keeps you guessing as to whether it's all in Josh's mind or if there are things in the little town that are starting to come out of the woodwork. The alchemy of the father-daughter relationship rings true, and I actually wound up feeling more fearful for Sally than Josh.

Another engaging little gem from the folks at Spectral Press.

June 27, 2012

Rabid Reads: "The Eyes of Water" by Alison Littlewood

The Eyes of Water
by Alison Littlewood

Each time I read a chapbook from Spectral Press, I'm delighted by how effectively the atmosphere of the British Isles is captured. This time, however, marks what I believe is the first time a story has featured a different locale. Mexico, no less.

Alex, a young traveler is to meet up with his long-time friend, Rick in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. Rick, always the more adventurous of the two, has gotten into swimming the cenotes in Mexico, underwater caves that seem full of equal parts wonder and danger. When Alex gets a call one day while exploring a site along the coastline, it's from a childhood friend, Kath. She tells him they've found a body in the water and that it's Rick. Alex heads into the town and finds the body in the morgue, but it's nearly impossible to identify the body given the battered condition of the skull. It's only by a childhood scar on the knee that Alex can identify his friend.

Apparently, Rick dove into a cenote that fed into a whirlpool just off the coast. But only Rick's face suffered any punishment from the jagged rock walls of those underwater caverns. It doesn't make sense to Alex, who feels compelled to explore those same cenotes and find out what really happened to his friend.

The characters come through crystal clear, but Alison Littlewood's ability to bring the Mexican scenery and underwater enclosures to life was mesmerizing. There are a couple of moments that feel genuinely claustrophobic, but I was one of those little kids growing up that was afraid to dunk his head underwater until I was like ten. So water can still manage to frighten me once in a while, even though I love it. I thought the ending was a little hard to grasp, but the imagery and terror is very real and the ending feels just right.

If you have an interest in reading some horror that ventures beyond the borders of America and Britain, I'd wager this story would be a good spot to visit. You might be a little more wary of what lurks under the water after you read it.

Canada Day Blog Hop Giveaway

In honour (notice the "u," Yanks) of Canada Day, three blogs (Snowdrop Dreams of Books, Rabid Reads, and Stitch Read Book) are co-hosting the 2nd Annual Canada Day Blog Hop, with even more joining in, yours truly included.

Each blog is hosting their own giveaway with a Canadian twist. In my case, I'm offering a book by a Canadian author to one lucky winner. That book being a trade paperback copy of Louise Penny's The Murder Stone (alternately titled A Rule Against Murder)

From Goodreads:

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, Louise Penny's wise and engaging '21st-century version of Hercule Poirot' ("Publishers Weekly", starred review), is looking forward to celebrating his wedding anniversary at the remote, luxurious Manoir Bellechasse. The only other guests are members of the Finney family - rich, cultured, and respectable - who have arrived at the height of summer to unveil a slightly startling memorial to their late father. As the heat wave gathers strength, it's surprising when Peter and Clara Morrow, from the well-loved village of Three Pines, turn up at the family gathering - but much more of a shock when old secrets and buried resentments turn out to be only a prelude to murder. As Gamache's holiday becomes a busman's anniversary, he learns that the seemingly peaceful lodge is a place where visitors come to escape their past, until that past catches up with them. Agatha and Anthony Award-winning author Louise Penny breathes brilliant new life into the classic drawing-room mystery.

If you'd like to win this book, there's only two requirements: 1) be a resident of Canada or the United States; 2) be a follower of this blog in some fashion. You can follow Wag The Fox via Google Friend Connect, Twitter, Networked Blogs, e-mail subscription, RSS, or even Facebook. Just pick one, if you're not already a follower, then enter the giveaway through the Rafflecopter form below. The giveaway runs from June 27th until the end of July 1st--Canada Day!

After that, be sure to visit the other blogs for chances to win even more great books and prizes. Good luck!

Oh, and if you'd like to check out another giveaway I'm hosting right now, just click on this link and find out how you can enter to win a trade paperback copy of Lisa Morton's Monsters of L.A.--most assuredly not a Canadian book.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

June 26, 2012

Stronger, Smarter, Darker, Weirder: an interview with Nathan Shumate

Nathan Shumate is the editor of Arcane, an anthology highlighting stories from talented up-and-coming dark fiction writers, published by Cold Fusion Media. You can click here to read my review of the anthology, and here for my thoughts on the sampler that preceded it. For today, I had the chance to ask Nathan a few questions about the anthology, dark fiction in general, and short fiction in particular. Enjoy.

Gef: For you, what's the draw towards short stories?

Nathan: Short fiction is a great venue for single-idea stories -- where the point is to explore a discrete situation or sketch a single character. A lot of story ideas simply won't sustain a novel, and that's fine; they're not bad ideas, they're just not as expansive. Short fiction allows a reader to get in, get the nut, and get out.

Gef: Arcane highlights my favorite kind of fiction: dark fiction. What drew you to the more macabre elements of speculative fiction for this anthology?

Nathan: I love dark fiction, too. And in particular, I love ominous fiction, which can be dark without being transgressive or "extreme." I like fiction that evokes a mood rather than showers me with guts. I just find it more entertaining and satisfying to read. So that's what I wanted to publish: an anthology of well-written, evocative fiction which focused on being weird and unsettling instead of gruesome. Gore has its place, but it's place is not the dead center of the spotlight.

Gef: Arcane was initially envisioned as a periodical before becoming an anthology. What was the mitigating factor behind that decision?

Nathan: I got smarter. With the new e-publishing models, it's very possible for a small press to reach an audience which would have been out of its reach just a few years ago, thanks to strictures on breadth of distribution and the costs associated with economies of scale. However, as e-publishing is in its infancy, the information available to practitioners is scarcely comprehensive. One of the facts that emerged from the data in the span after I published the first issue of Arcane as a magazine is that e-publishing success relies on the "long tail" -- the idea that a publication doesn't need to sell stupendous numbers out of the gate, so long as it sells consistently over a longer span. Unfortunately, publishing Arcane as a magazine would have made each successive issue seem "stale" as soon as the next one was out; people can be a lot more excited about an anthology published a year or two back than they can be about back issues of a magazine. The anthology format helps avoid the "disposable" connotation which a magazine can carry.

Gef: How has Arcane differed for you compared to previous editorial stints, namely Arkham Tales? Or is it just another day at the office?

Nathan: Well, the difference between the two mentioned is very little, aside from the name; for the last three issues of its run, Arkham Tales was owned by an outside publisher, with me staying on as editor. When it folded (and the publisher subsequently declared bankruptcy), I decided that there were too many legal hassles trying to take Arkham Tales back, so I decided to start another venue with an intentionally similar name. The only real difference in the editorial requirements is that I'm not as overtly inviting to Lovecraft-influenced fiction with Arcane, mainly because I found out from Arkham Tales' slushpile that there's a lot of really, really bad Mythos fiction out there.

Gef: As a guy who has become a fan of the weird western lately, I noticed a few stories in Arcane that fit nicely in that genre. Is that a particular favorite of yours, or was it just that they got included on account of the quality of each story?

Nathan: It just so happened that more than one excellent story with that "weird western" vibe crossed the transom while I was putting Arcane together. I like westerns too, both weird and traditional, but I honestly hadn't even noticed that more than one story in the anthology shared that flavor; I was just focused on quality of storytelling.

Gef: In the introduction to Arcane, you mentioned how themed anthologies can sometimes fence in authors and fail to impress. But is something like that you're open to in the future with the Arcane label?

Nathan: I think that the Arcane series of anthologies will continue to showcase an eclectic mix of dark and weird fiction, without any "special theme volumes" in the future. However, I'm not entirely opposed to thematically linked collections; by the end of the year, Cold Fusion Media will publish SPACE ELDRITCH, a collection of Lovecraftian pulp space opera novelettes from a team of hand-picked authors. I think that's as specific as I'll ever get in putting together a book, though; there are plenty of other small press operations out there who plan extra-specific anthologies, "gay vampire/werewolf erotica set during the JFK administration" or whatnot.

Gef: There's a second Arcane anthology on the drawing board. What should readers of the first anthology expect from the second? A continued focus on dark fiction in all its varied forms, or do you have a different game plan in mind?

Nathan: What is this "game plan" of which you speak? No, the second Arcane anthology will be much the same as the first -- that is, well-written tales whose only similarity is a focus on intriguing "weird fiction." So if you liked the first one, you'll like the second. And if you didn't like the first one, there still might be plenty to enjoy in the second.

June 25, 2012

Rabid Reads: "Arcane" edited by Nathan Shumate

edited by Nathan Shumate
Cold Fusion (2011)
340 pages
ISBN-13: 9781468067521

Right out of the gate, through the introduction, editor Nathan Shumate makes it clear that he's not a big fan of the themed anthologies prevalent in speculative fiction. The themes tend to be too restrictive to readers and writers alike, with the end results often presenting a collection of stories too closely resembling one another. Well, such an accusation cannot be heaved at Arcane, which presents as eclectic an array of stories as I've read in a while.

Arcane weighs in with thirty stories, some flash fiction, a couple teetering on novella-length, and all of them striking their own chord. A few of the names are familiar, but most are brand new to me and I give Nathan credit for finding some very promising writers who should be on the rise in the years ahead.

One of the familiar names is Milo James Fowler with a weird western tale called "El Diablo De Paseo Grande." I've developed an affinity for weird westerns over the last year or so and this one didn't disappoint. The hard-bitten posse on the trail of a predatory and parasitic creature was a good mix in personalities, and the thing wearing the proverbial black hat was just damned cringe-worthy.

Another name, one I suspect will become very familiar to horror readers soon enough, is Damien Walter Grintalis. I've had the good fortune to check out her short fiction over the last couple years, as if periodically shows up on various e-zines and websites. With "The Web of Legends," I am almost positive I read an early incarnation of the story during a flash fiction contest we both participated in, and back then I thought it was really good. In this anthology, with a little spit and polish, it's just about perfect.

Another story that fits the weird western mold--sue me if I seem a bit biased--is "Tied" by D.T. Kastn, an author whose work is new to me. The protagonist, Lidy, a Calamity Jane type of gunslinger was really enjoyable to read, especially as her vulnerabilities shined through in her interactions with the man she's captured named Paul.

The anthology offers a real mixed bag as far as genres go, and there is definitely something for everyone, from those weird westerns, to fantasy, some science fiction, and don't forget the horror. I didn't gravitate towards all of the stories, and there were a couple I just had to skip over out of disinterest, but with thirty to choose from I had a wellspring of quality yarns to read. Anthony J. Rapino had a a good story with "Destination Unknown," as well as Gemma Files with a novella called "Black Bush" that is so good it reminded me I need to hurry up and read the next book in her Hexslinger series.

I remember when Arcane initially started as a periodical before switching to an annual anthology format. While the method of delivery has changed, the quality of stories hasn't, and it's one of the better anthologies I've read that gives a stage to authors on the rise. Personally, I'm not at all opposed to themed anthologies, in fact I've read a couple this year that have been downright amazing. With that in mind, there is something to be said for a book that can offer a motley crew like this.

June 22, 2012

What Are Your Favorite Short Story Collections?

Prior to really engrossing myself in the online venues for short fiction, physical books were my sole source for reading short stories and novellas. Stephen King in particular has been a longstanding favorite when it comes to short stories, which should come as little surprise. Nor should you be surprised when you see I've listed one of his books as my all-time favorite collections.

I'm curious what your favorite short story collections are, though. Which author has entertained you the most with their stories? One of the reasons I ask is because you will see my five favorite collections below and none of them are written by women. That is a god-damn travesty, in my opinion. Now, don't get me wrong, as I've read a few very good collections by female authors (notably Cate Gardner's Strange Men in Pinstripe Suits and Poppy Z. Brite's The Devil You Know), but none have had enough punch to break into my fave five.

So, after you check out the five books I count among my absolute favorites--and to look at them now I can see there will probably be little surprise to most horror readers--I'd like you to leave a comment and share which short story collections you cherish most. I'm a long ways off from being as well read as I'd like to be, and the collections already sitting on my to-be-read pile (Joe R. Landale's The Complete Drive-In chief among them) are a mere few of the much ballyhooed books I should read sometime before I die. So help a critter out, would ya?

#5: 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill - When it comes to Joe Hill's amazing ability at spinning yarns, I'm left to weight the options of nature versus nurture to explain how he got so good. This collection is a triumphant display of the twisted and the touching.

#4: I Am Legend and Other Stories by Richard Matheson - This collection might go by some other name, but I picked up the 2007 Tor Books movie tie-in release with Will Smith on the cover, so who knows. What I do know is that this is a remarkable glimpse into the genius that is Matheson. I've got his Button, Button collection (another Tor Books tie-in paperback) on my to-be-read pile and wonder if it might be even better.

#3: The October Country by Ray Bradbury - Oh, Bradbury. We lost one of the good ones earlier this month. I had just picked up The Illustrated Man the weekend before his death, and I've been slowly savoring each story in it since. It might have made the list if I had finished it in time, but I can easily rank this magnificent collection as one of the very best I've had the pleasure to read.

#2: The Books of Blood by Clive Barker - I'm referring to the first three volumes here, which I have in one big hardcover. These are easily the most chilling and downright disturbing stories in this little list, and some are really not for the squeamish. If you can brave reading any of the volumes, however, I guarantee you're in for a superbly written treat.

#1: Skeleton Crew by Stephen King - I could easily have put more than one of King's collections on this list, but hardly seems fair. So I narrowed it down to this one, mainly because it contains the incredible novella, The Mist. Night Shift and Everything's Eventual get honorable mentions for some amazing short stories, but Skeleton Crew is not without its own fair share of memorable stories.

There you have it. I'll have another fave five list later on this summer to discuss my favorite anthologies, too. For now though, let me know if any of these books make your fave five and name some collections I need to track down.

June 21, 2012

Rabid Reads: "Blood and Other Cravings" edited by Ellen Datlow

Blood and Other Cravings
edited by Ellen Datlow
Tor Books (2011)
320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780765328281

When I was a kid, I would faint at the sight of blood, or at least get woozy. Odd that I would grow to become a fan of horror fiction, yes, but the written word is far easier on my frailties than gashing my leg open on broken glass (that was not a fun day). This anthology of short fiction isn't a prurient bloodbath though, and it would silly to expect such from Ellen Datlow. This collection focuses rather on the other word in the title: cravings.

Blood and Other Cravings isn't strictly a vampire anthology, though there are some stories that fit the bill. Instead this is a look at obsessions, addictions, parasitic relationships, and deviant appetites. And the table of contents for this book is impressive in the number of acclaimed authors Ellen Datlow has brought together. From Kaaron Warren, who kicks off the anthology, all the way to the final story by Laird Barron, there's a great grouping of longstanding authors to those just breaking into the writing world on a big stage.

As mentioned, things are kicked off by Kaaron Warren's "All You Can Do Is Breath," about a coal miner trapped for days in the wake of a cave-in and sees a creature crawling between the rocks to prey on a fellow miner behind a wall of coal. Then, after he's rescued and tries to carry on with his life, he sees the creature again. The story had a great, lingering vibe running up its backbone and effectively showed that this anthology was not strictly about vampires.

Right after that one came a story that turned out to be one of my favorites from the book, Elizabeth Bear's "Needles." This one was a hard-bitten, bleak vampire story that explored a very deep, very primordial craving for a vampire with a fairly macabre maternal instinct. This is one to bookmark should you decide to get this anthology.

Reggie Oliver's "Baskerville's Midgets" was a fun, frightful tale about a stage performer's encounters in a old boarding house's weird tenants and sorrowful owner. One of the sadder stories comes in the form of Melanie Tem's "Keeping Corky," which starts off inside the unsettling mindset of a woman who has lost her son.

Another of my favorites was called "First Breath" by Nicole J. LeBoeuf, which is the first time I've ever enjoyed a story involving someone named LeBoeuf (anyone who has had the misfortune of sitting through a Shia LeBoeuf film knows what I'm talking about). "First Breath" had a bit more ghostly appeal to it than most other stories, and had a great balance between scary and sad. The ending really brought it all home, too. Incidentally, this story was Nicole's first professional sale as an author, so I'll be interested to see if I stumble across her work in the near future, as this was a very good showing.

All in all, there is nothing the least bit critical I can say about this anthology. Ellen Datlow's Supernatural Noir was my favorite anthology of 2011, but Blood and Other Cravings was published last year as well, and had I read it last year I'm inclined to think I may have ranked it just a hair's breadth higher on my faves list. No matter, as it stands as my favorite anthology of 2012 so far, and further cements my adoration for Ellen's keen eye for short fiction.

June 20, 2012

The Summer of Shorts Marathon: Introduction + Giveaway

Welcome to the first day of summer, everyone, and welcome to the first day of the Summer of Shorts marathon.

This is the beginning of a summer-long dedication to short stories, something I decided to do when I saw the plethora of short fiction on my to-be-read pile. There's going to be a blog post each weekday for the rest of the summer that in some way highlights short fiction. Sounds a bit daunting, I know, which is why I've finagled a lot of talented writers to help me, so they will be stopping by the blog all summer long.

I'm talking anthologies, magazines, short story collections, and even some novellas. Expect to see interviews, guest posts, round tables, fave five lists, and a few giveaways.

Lisa's short story collection
 set in Los Angeles.
Speaking of giveaways, I figured I'd kick this marathon off right with a little giveaway. I looked over my bookshelf and decided to give away Lisa Morton's collection, Monsters of L.A. I reviewed this book back in January shortly after its release. If you're interested in reading my review and getting my two cents on it, you can click here.

To give you an idea of what the book is about, here's the book info via Amazon:

In these pages you’ll find the dark stars you grew up watching: Frankenstein, Dracula, Mr. Hyde, the Phantom, the Hunchback…all the silent ones and the first to find their voices are here, and they’re even presented in roughly the order in which they first appeared on a silver screen. The Haunted House of the ‘30s gives way to the Werewolf of the ‘40s, the Monsters of L.A. Creature of the ‘50s, and so on, all the way up to our favorite modern boogeyman, the Zombie.

In some of these stories, you’ll find an earthly incarnation of a famous namesake: Frankenstein is a patched-together, homeless vet, the Invisible Woman is so ordinary you’d never see her; but some of these familiar friends — Dracula, the Devil, or those seriously creepy Clowns — will be instantly recognizable.

The rules for the giveaway are super easy. All you need to do is be a follower of this blog in some fashion, and live in Canada or the good ol' U.S. of A. Just enter via the Rafflecopter form down below between now and July 2nd, and I'll pick a winner at random on July 3rd.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

June 19, 2012

Five Weird, Funny Novels You Should Read: a guest post by Jeff Strand

Jeff Strand is in full swing getting the word out for his new YA novel, A Bad Day for Voodoo, but he's stopping by Wag The Fox to offer up five book recommendations to the readers with an affinity for a blend of humor and the strange. I know my wish list just had a couple books added after reading this. Enjoy.

Five Weird, Funny Novels You Should Read
by Jeff Strand

Note that this is not a list of the five funniest novels of all time--just five funny, weird novels you should read, assuming that you like funny, weird novels.

1. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Yeah, I'm starting off with an obvious choice, but the books in this series (well, okay, the first three) are some of the most hilariously insane novels of all time. This isn't the place to go for laser-focused storytelling; Adams continually and cheerfully goes off on wild tangents, and that's a lot of the fun.

2. The Unnatural by David Prill. So here's the premise: it's a world just like our own, except that instead of watching baseball, sports fans watch...competitive corpse embalming! Yes, this is the tale of a young farmboy with talent and a dream. If you're always saying that you'd read more sports-themed novels if they were about trying to set the record for number of corpses embalmed in a single season, this dark and funny book is for you.

3. Bad Chili by Joe Lansdale. Lansdale has written several books featuring Hap & Leonard, and all of them mix beautiful writing with lowbrow, laugh-out-loud humor. This one opens with a rabid squirrel attack that is the funniest thing I have ever read in a novel.

4. Go, Mutants! by Larry Doyle. Nobody packs more jokes into a book than Larry Doyle. This one is a loving tribute to 1950's sci-fi movies, and though there's all kinds of over-the-top alien craziness, much of the humor is so understated that if you read too fast, you'll zip right past it.

5. John Dies At The End by David Wong. Yeah, I'm jealous that I didn't think of this title. A combination of Big, Deep Ideas and gross, demented humor. You will laugh. You will think. You will gag.

June 18, 2012

Rabid Reads: "Blue-Blooded Vamp" by Jaye Wells

Blue-Blooded Vamp (Sabina Kane #5)
by Jaye Wells
Orbit (2012)
352 pages
ISBN 0748129979
ISBN13: 9780748129973

I'm not used to finishing a book series, so this book was a little bit of a milestone for me. Aside from the Harry Potter novels, I've never slogged my way through more than a trilogy. It helps when the protagonist of the series is an ass-kicking vampire like Sabina Kane. I'll take her over a toe-headed wizard any day.

Blue-Blooded Vamp picks up almost immediately after the end of the fourth book, Silver-Tongued Devil (you can read my review here),in the wake of Sabina's sister's murder at the hands of Cain. Sabina wants revenge against Cain--yes, the cursed brother of Abel--and it turns out Cain is on the hunt for Sabina, too. Sabina has been able to defeat her malevolent grandmother, killing the dominae of the vampire world, but Cain is still out to use her as a way of resurrecting Lilith. And that's bad news for everyone.

While Sabina has amassed quite a few allies in the previous four books, things get boiled down to the original two sidekicks of sorts: her demonic minion, Giguhl, and her mage lover, Adam. The three of them head for New Orleans in order to find a way to get at Cain, tying up some loose ends along the way, and then it's off to a brand new location for the series. Italy. There she has to join forces with the elusive Abel--no, not that Abel--and find out how to finally kill Cain without suffering the fabled consequences. Given the iconic American locales in the series, like New York City, Los Angeles, and New Orleans, Italy was a bit of a curveball. It works well though, giving an added sense of history and significance.

Jaye adds smatterings of backstory for those silly enough to read this book without having read the others in the series, and I suppose it would be enough to keep an uninitiated reader up to speed, but to really appreciate the big finale of a series like this, you really need to be caught up with what has happened so far. Part of the reason comes in the form of cameo appearances from characters that popped up here and there in previous books. In fact, Blue-Blooded Vamp is almost like a yearbook of sorts for the series, as much as it is the capper.

There wasn't a great deal of lingering on the Italian setting, and I didn't really feel immersed in that, but Italy is really just a throughway for Sabina and the others to meet the all-important Abel and go on her final quest to defeat Cain. Abel, by the way, isn't the biblical Abel, but a man who is the sworn enemy of Cain and adopted the name in his own quest to bring the original murderer down.

The middle of the book feels like it is running in circles for a bit, despite the relentless action, due in part because of a brand new revelation concerning Sabina's past that rears up. And for a little while I was wondering if Sabina was more concerned with drudging up old skeletons than dealing with the big bad she had swore revenge on. All in all, however, the book provided enough excitement and twists to keep me entertained the whole way through, and I thought it was a very good end to one of my favorite urban fantasy characters.

I'm not sure what Jaye Wells is cooking up for her next project, but if she can present a hero half as fun to read as Sabina Kane, then I'm on board.


June 15, 2012

Getting Graphic: "Preacher Vol. 3: Proud Americans" by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon

Preacher Vol. 3: Proud Americans
written by Garth Ennis
illustrated by Steve Dillon
Vertigo Comics (1997)
232 pages
ISBN-13: 9781563893278

Last summer, I read what I thought was the third volume in the Preacher series, but it felt like I'd missed out on some stuff. Turned out that the book I read was a hardcover edition (Preacher: Book Three) instead of the trade paperback, so there were actually some stories I missed. In actuality, it looks like I skipped right over this entire third volume, Proud Americans. And that's a damned shame because this was an absolute treat to read. I guess I gotta be more attentive when putting in requests for these volumes at the library.

While some might complain that this volume was predominantly made up of backstory, I thought it was well-timed after the first two volumes, Gone to Texas and Until the End of theWorld, because it added a lot of depth of not just Jesse Custer, but a really enlightening look back at the life of Cassidy before he met up with Custer and Tulip.

The book starts off with an interlude from the main story, as Jesse crosses paths with a Vietnam vet at an airport bar who was great friends with Jesse's father during the war. The story, unsurprisingly, was a touching one, and had the added touch of see Jesse's father meeting John Wayne. Since the Duke haunts Jesse, visiting him from time to time, I found that particularly enjoyable.

As for the main story, Starr has Cassidy locked up in a dungeon and brings in an exceedingly sadistic hitman to torture the Irish vampire to death, but Jesse and Tulip are on their way through France in a rescue attempt. But Jesse wants Tulip to hang back and meet him back in New York, because he's already seen her killed once and he can't bare the idea that it could happen again. She, to her credit, takes offense at Jesse's chivalry, because she's not slouch with a firearm and general thuggery and wants to do her part in springing Cassidy from the Grail's clutches.

Now, I loved the first two volumes, so maybe absence makes the heart grow fonder because I ate this book up with a spoon. Everything is played to the hilt, whether it's the action, the pathos, or the raunchy humor. I mean, when you consider this entire series is based on a former preacher hunting down God so he can kick His ass, it's pretty safe to say that there are going to be some risque subject matter--at least to a conventional comic book audience. There's a morbidly obese, bulimic cult leader and the comically inbred messiah in his care, the sexual proclivities of Starr in the wake of his ... altercation with a sexual deviant gangster, and a deity on the run with a huge chip on his shoulder against Jesse Custer and his friends.

The book might be a little heavy on dialogue and backstory, but that's some of the best stuff I though, especially when Cassidy retells how he became a vampire and his journey from Ireland to America. I may have already read a fair bit of what's to come in the fourth volume, Ancient History, but I can't wait to re-read those issues in time and better appreciate them after having read Proud Americans.

June 14, 2012

There's a Big Hole in My Story: a guest post and giveaway by Edward Lorn

Edward Lorn has a new novel coming out this summer, a sinister sounding book called Dastardly Bastard. He's in the midst of a blog tour at the moment to get the word out, so I threw out the ol' welcome mat for him to come and give us all a glimpse of what we can expect from that bastard of a book of his. Enjoy.

There's a Big Hole in My Story
by Edward Lorn

From The End Times, Bay's End's local newspaper. In 1991, Officer Mack Larson was quoted, saying this about Waverly Chasm:

"Back in the `30s, Waverly Fairchild and his boy, Scooter, happened upon a hole in the ground. Well, 'hole' don't quite cut it, as the crack run two miles in length and a hundred yards wide. Waverly knew he'd come across somethin' significant. He took stories back home to Bay's End, spreadin' word about the majestic beauty of the chasm. Sad bit is, Waverly ne'er did get a chance to appreciate his find. When him and his boy went back to the chasm, Scooter fell off the side, ne'er to be seen again. Waverly was all tore to pieces about what happened to his youngun', so he gave the chasm up to Pointvilla county. Do you blame him for not wantin' to see that blasted place again? Pointvilla turned the site into a touristy type place, givin' tours and sellin' souvenirs. You gotta see the morbid side, though. Scooter weren't ne'er found, so his bones are still down there, collecting dust, while people sightsee and have a good ol' time. Damn tragedy, if'n you ask me. Pardon my French, o'course."

For my sophomore novel, Dastardly Bastard, I put a big hole in my story. I needed a place that could be both inviting and scary at the same time. I've always found seemingly bottomless things quite frightening. Whether it be a gopher hole, or something as big as a canyon, if I can't see the bottom, I don't wander too close.

Being a fan of local lyrics—urban legends passed down within communities through songs and rhymes—my journey into Waverly Chasm began with a poem:

"The Dastardly Bastard of Waverly Chasm
Does gleefully scheme of malevolent things
Beware, child fair, of what you find there
His lies, how they hide in the shadows he wears
`Cross wreckage of bridge, is where this man lives
Counting his spoils, his eye how it digs
Tread, if you dare, through his one-eyed stare
This Dastardly Bastard is neither here, nor there…"

I wrote the poem an entire year before I started the book. I'm not a poetry buff, but sometimes words just fit together in the proper way, and I can actually use them. The poem became a jumping point for the mythology surrounding Waverly Chasm, where the book is set.

In the geography of my mind, Waverly Chasm sits between Bay's End and Chestnut in Pointvilla County, Ohio. If you've never heard of these places, it's because they're a product of my imagination. I've been telling stories set in and around Bay's End for about two years. I was working on a piece one evening and found I hadn't named the town where the story took place. Bay's End popped into my head, and I continued writing, not knowing that town would become the backdrop for much of my future work. I've always been a fan of stories set in small, rural towns. Places like Bay's End are disappearing, and I think that's the draw. Scenic America is dwindling, becoming a part of a bigger picture, and small towns are suffering. Mom-and-pop shops are being replaced by corporate conglomerates. Independently owned bookstores are being closed because they cannot compete with eBooks and the larger chain stores. Because of all this, many people are holding tight to their memories of small town U.S.A.

I hold a certain place in my heart for folklore, so Waverly Chasm was a pleasure to create. Unsubstantiated stories passed down through the years have always fascinated me. When I was a boy, the Grimm Brothers fairy tales were quite often the last thing I would read, or have read to me, before bed. But as with everything else I read, my folklore must have a darker side. I can't imagine I was the only one upset at watching Disney's Snow White as a child, but maybe I was. I felt let down. When the Grimmies told that story, there was nothing cute about it. Disney left out the part where the Queen ate the boar's heart the Huntsman returned with, thinking it was Snow White's. Not to mention the Queen's comeuppance at the end in the original version. If you don't know how it goes, I’ll just say the Evil Queen has some pretty "hot" dance moves.

The secrets hidden within Waverly Chasm are important to the plot of the book, so I can't go into great detail without spoiling the story. I will say that the chasm serves as a backdrop for the story, a place where evil lives. The members of the tour group have no idea what awaits them on the trail, but they are faced with a monster whose appetite is insatiable. In that sense, The Bastard's needs mirror the chasm's depths—they're both endless.

Because of the way I write, I walked the trail right along with the character's my group was comprised of, unearthing mysteries as I went. I had no idea the story would take the arc that it did, but I was pleasantly surprised. Waverly Chasm became more than just a figment of my imagination. The locale became a memorable place that I will not soon return to, for fear that I may not leave.


A big thanks to Ed for offering up some insight into his novel and love of folklore. But that's not all that he's offering here today, as we've got a little giveaway to get to now. Down below, you should find a Rafflecopter form that you can fill out for a chance to win your own copy of Dastardly Bastard. So if you're as intrigued as I am about this book and would like to get your hands on a copy with as little effort as possible, all you've got to do is throw your name in that.

And to learn a little more about Edward and his work, you can find him on his blog, as well as Twitter and on Amazon.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

June 12, 2012

Rasputin's Bastards: a guest post by David Nickle


David Nickle has a new novel out this summer, Rasputin's Bastards, out this month actually, courtesy of Chizine Publications. Considering how much I've enjoyed every other book I've read that Chizine has published, I'm optimistic about this one, too. To help get the word out a little more, David was generous enough to write a guest post, giving some insight on how the book came about--and what took him so long to get it published. Enjoy.

Nostalgic for the Cold War
Rasputin's Bastards
by David Nickle

Rasputin's Bastards is a book long in the making. I'd completed a draft of the book around the time it is set -- in the late 1990s. It might have been a quicker book if I'd had the sense, and ability, to sell it from outline. Because of course a couple of years later, things changed in the world, and in the world of espionage fiction. When the two 757s smashed into the World Trade Centre, all of our thoughts and anxieties, and let's be honest, fascination with the Cold War evaporated.

So my novel about psychic savants running intelligence operations on behalf of the Kremlin -- and themselves -- went onto the back-burner for a time. And the lesson was learned: my next novel, Eutopia: A Novel of Terrible Optimism, I set back in 1911. Current affairs wouldn't step on this book's toes.

But current affairs marched on. The United States went to war, in Afghanistan and then Iraq. Torture, or something so near it as to be indistinguishable, became a standard M.O. in the War on Terror, which like the War on Drugs, appeared to be endless. There were two presidential elections, and despite great promise, the new American president showed little interest in stepping back the incursions on person and privacy that his predecessor had begun.

And in Russia, ex-KGB man Vladimir Putin ushered in a new era... of corruption, repression and economic chaos, just like the old days.

It was enough to make me nostalgic for the Cold War, when all we had to worry about was Mutually Assured Destruction, communist infiltrators and double agents. And it made me -- and the editors over at ChiZine Publications -- think that maybe, the time had come when a novel set in the 1990s, concerning itself with the fall of the Soviet Union, the secret history of the Cold War of the Mind, wasn't as dated as all that. That it might be kind of reassuring... harkening back to a simpler time, as it were.

So we went back to work on it. It's a big book -- over 180,000 words -- and I apologize in advance if it's a little intricate. Such is the nature of both Cold-War spy novels, and Russian novels -- not to mention novels about mind-reading, body-swapping psychics engaged in their own Great Game.

Rasputin's Bastards is coming out this month, and should be available in bookstores everywhere by July, easy. It is a beautiful package; ChiZine's cover artist/designer Erik Mohr has, I think, outdone himself on this one. It is the first of my books designed by Erik that shouldn't give anyone nightmares.

And that is appropriate, I think. Because the nightmares of the Cold War are over.

The ones we're having these days are of an entirely different genus.