I first heard about Mark Allan Gunnells through James Newman, a mutual friend and a writer I consider family. On the merits of that alone, I knew Gunnells’s work must be special.
So I contacted Mark, and we quickly became friends. He is a sweet and humble guy. More importantly, he has a lot of heart. The one common thread that weaves through all that I have read from him, is the empathy and humanity his characters possess.
That is not always an easy thing to get across in print. In his short story collection, Tales from the Midnight Shift, Vol. I, Gunnells gives us a fine and varied compilation of these types of characters. From the fantastically titled “God Doesn’t Follow You into the Bathroom” to the breathtakingly surreal “Jam.” He goes from serious and somber to silly at the drop of a hat.
I won’t go into details on every story here, but I will touch on a few that left a lasting impression.
The tome opens with “God Doesn’t Follow You into the Bathroom.” While slightly predictable there is enough freshness injected here to keep your attention. Sometimes confession does not gain you the absolution you hoped for. This is followed by my absolute favorite in the collection, “Jam.” A traffic jam is the setting for this bleak exercise in tension and fear and humans being. “The Gift Certificate” teaches a valuable lesson about possession. “The More Things Change” is astounding, a heart-wrenching painting on bullying. This is one of the best things in the collection.
Tales from the Midnight Shift, Vol. I was the first example of Mark’s craft I encountered. I have since delved deeper into his work and have yet to be dissappointed.
Despite its short stature of 67 pages, Asylum has a lot of substance.
At a glance, the premise—a group of misfits, standing tall to fight off the zombie apocalypse—doesn’t seem all that original. Mark peoples this story with an almost entirely gay cast, sets it in a gay club, and spatters it with plenty of gore and sex.
But where Asylum shines is with the deep textures given to the characters.
They are not mincing caricatures or flaming queens—well, maybe one is—but instead they are presented as the flawed human beings that we all are.
Once again, this proves to be Gunnells’s strong suit—painting pictures of people.
Just in time for this past Halloween, Mark gave us all this little gift—Dark Treats, a five story collection, with all tales revolving around the October holiday.
Opening with “Halloween Returns to Bradbury,” we get a riotous romp about how the devil has grown disgruntled with the commercialism of his holiday and returns to show us how it’s to be done. Some fantastic and ridiculous imagery ensues. “The Neighborhood that Halloween Forgot” is a slightly cliché tale of tolerance.
“My Last Halloween” is a sad little coming-of-age tale. “Treats” finds us in cheesy 80’s horror movie territory—silly monsters, rational logic, great fun! The collection ends on the somber “Family Plots,” which, while good, seems a bit cramped, begging to be worked into a longer work someday.
Mark Allan Gunnells is one to watch. His work is consistently entertaining and full of heart and soul.
Sometimes that’s what you need.