Tag Archives: Anthology

Shock Totem at Anthocon

After a long absence from conventions, this coming weekend, June 5–7, we will have a table at the fourth annual Anthology conference (AnthoCon) up in Portsmouth, NH. Special guests include Christopher Golden, Tom Monteleone, James A. Moore, Gene O’Neill, and more…

Cat and Barry will be manning the table and selling copies of all Shock Totem releases at a generous discount. Barry will also be selling his hand-drawn bookmarks, individually or as a set.

Anyway, it is sure to be a helluva good time. Stop by the Shock Totem table and say hello (and maybe buy a thing or two).

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Wicked Seasons: The Journal of New England Horror Writers, Volume II

Typically I shy away from short fiction collections unless I see the name King or Gaiman or some other major league writer on the cover in large letters. So to say that I approached Wicked Seasons: The Journal of the New England Horror Writers, Volume II, with trepidation is an understatement. However, what a treat it turned out to be, especially for this horror-loving writer and reader.

I was immediately engrossed (and a bit grossed out) by the stories presented in this annual collection. There’s not a lot here that one might label traditional horror, though the stories are definitely spooky, humorous, eerie and twisted. More akin to old episodes of Outer Limits, Alfred Hitchcock Presents or Tales from the Darkside. The thread of suspense and bizarre is definitely on display. However, every wicked story is right at home in this collection, and fit nicely into the breeding ground of dark fiction that is New England.

Wicked Seasons is edited by Stacey Longo and contains stories from Rob Smales, Scott Goudsward, Kristy Peterson Schoonover, Catherine Grant, Christopher Golden, and James A. Moore, to name a few. The collection does not stumble in presenting the strange, macabre, or downright grisly. You’ll not find the monsters and aliens of stories that might have appeared in the fifties or sixties in this anthology, but monsters of the more or less human kind.

Catherine Grant’s “Three Fat Guys Soap” is just such a story, in which a strange and horrific method of making soap becomes a stunning act of revenge, and is immensely satisfying for anyone who has ever been bullied by their boss.

“Blood Prophet,” by Scott T. Goudsward, is another example of the horror of humanity in which child abuse and religious dementia play a center stage role, and makes the ending all the more satisfying.

Christopher Golden brings us “The Secret Backs of Things,” which brings to mind Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. It’s a puzzle in which events are merely hinted at, leaving the reader to figure the rest out.

“The Basement Legs,” by Robert J. Duperre, tells about a man who comes to the defense of a young, pregnant Filipino woman who lives in his apartment building. Duperre earns kudos here for bringing a whole new meaning to your local UPS service.

Kristi Petersen Schoonover writes “To Chance Tomorrow,” a cautionary story about science’s role in our lives, and the dubious changes it provides for our future, but at what cost?

If it’s hauntings that scare you, Addison Clift’s “Furious Demon” is a deliciously creepy tale of a woman’s dead father coming back to haunt her and who very well may have molested her when she was a child.

Rob Smales’s “A Night at the Show” and Errick A. Nunnally’s “Lycanthrobastards” are dark werewolf tales that provide surprising departures from standard fare, with fantastic results.

The Wicked Seasons table of contents also includes Trisha J. Wooldridge, Lucien E.G. Spelman, Michael J. Evans, Paul McMahon, and Gregory L. Norris—all very entertaining and chilling reads. For someone who doesn’t often read anthologies, Wicked Seasons exceeded all expectations and converted this reader to seeking out other, similar collections. Also, don’t miss the introduction from Jeff Strand. It’s as entertaining as the central stories.

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Cellar Door: Words Of Beauty, Tales Of Terror

Cellar Door is an anthology of poetry, flash fiction, short stories, and visual art that all revolves around one common theme; the cellar door. Not just any cellar door, but the cellar door that we all knew as kids growing up. The one that always made you feel a little uncomfortable but that held such terrifying intrigue. The one where you made sure to watch over your shoulder as you turned your back to it. It’s the archetype of the cellar door that is seemingly so engrained in our minds and imaginations that has come to inspire each and every piece in this collection.

Edited by Shawna L. Bernard and published by James Ward Kirk Publishing, this anthology is one of huge volume and contains dozens and dozens of pieces to get lost in, and at first glance upon the subject matter it may seem as though the theme may become a little redundant, but rest assured, this is certainly not the case.

Poems and short fiction that are included vary so much in voice, style, aesthetic, and even the use of the theme of the cellar door are so well implemented, that time and time again you are pleasantly surprised at the creativity and pure originality of each piece and each author. Influences ranging from Edgar Allen Poe to Stephen King are all present and it is really neat to compare and contrast each piece.

Flipping to any random entry will surely draw you in and soon enough, you yourself will be conjuring up your own ideas and stories about cellar doors. Each story will harken you back to a time where that aging frame and rustic door handle sent chills down spine. The diversity that can be found in Cellar Door is great and it is so easy to just get lost in a quick story or two when you may not have enough time to fully lose yourself in a novel.

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Chiral Mad

“Chirality” is, by definition, an object or system that does not match up to its mirror image. Hands are a common example of this. And we all know “mad” to mean insane or mentally ill. The two words that title this brilliant anthology basically tell you that these tales of varying madness and insanities will not be like anything you’ve read before. More than a title, it is a promise and one that is delivered upon.

The twenty-eight stories that make up Chiral Mad are all quite good. I will not go into all of them but will touch on my favorites.

I was not blown away by the lead story, Ian Shoebridge’s somewhat hallucinogenic “White Pills,” and worried I’d be wading through a volume full of that sort of thing; but the second tale, by Gord Rollo, laid my fears to rest. His “Lost in a Field of Paper Flowers” is a tragic tale of transcendental revenge that made me smile. A dark little smile.

Gary McMahon delivers another sliver of shimmering disturbia and repressed memory with “Seven Pictures in an Album.” While Monica O’Rourke’s “Five Adjectives” is a brutal diorama of denial and avoidance. Chris Hertz gives us firebug lovers in “There Are Embers.”

Eric J. Guingnard turns in “Experiments in An Isolation Tank,” a tale of inheritance, madness and perception, all darkly shaded in Lovecraftian hues.

In Julie Stipes’s “Not the Child,” a young mother sees the harbingers of death in her neighborhood and discovers it was not by accident. Jeff Strand’s “A Flawed Fantasy” takes the picking-up-a-strange-woman-at-a-bar trope and changes the game with a clever ending.

Jack Ketchum turns in a squirmy tale of marital discourse, nosebleeds, and strange visitations with “Amid the Walking Wounded.”

And then there is “Need,” by Gary A. Braunbeck. (Deep breath.) This might be the best short story I have read years. Its premise is simple: We are all saviors and we are all monsters. Told out of chronological order, it chronicles a tragedy in a town and the mark the heartbreaking event made on those who live there. It’s a haunting tale, one I found, and still find, playing on my mind. It hurts.

None of these stories are bad. Not a single one. Some resonated with me more than others, but that is to be expected. The writing is topnotch, and the subject matter is widely varied and innovative. These folks dug their toes in and went for big game. They have the trophies to show for it.

And if a collection of outstanding horror is not motivation enough for you to plunk down your hard earned money on Chiral Mad, I offer this enticement: All proceeds go to Down’s Syndrome charities. So buy a copy. And another for a friend or relative. Maybe a few more to sock away for Christmas gifts. Support the cause and read these stories.

I applaud Michael Bailey for publishing this…

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The Horror Society Presents Dangers Untold

The Horror Society is an online group where like-minded writers, artists, editors and other professionals meet to discuss their love of all things horror. Dangers Untold is an anthology conceived by Scott Goriscak and edited by Jennifer Brozek. This anthology does not contain the usual monsters; rather, the editor wanted unusual monsters and situations, and the contributing authors delivered.

The anthology starts with a great story, “Haunted,” by Erik Scott de Bie. A man sees his life in mental snapshots, conversations and interactions burned into his brain. He cannot escape them, or edit them; he constantly relives every embarrassment, every mistake he’s made. When his girlfriend tells him something he knows he’ll never be able to forget, he takes care of the newly-made memory in a horrific way.

If you’re afraid of flying, that fear will be reinforced big-time when you read Jason V Brock’s “Black Box.” Remember the episode of The Twilight Zone that featured William Shatner as an airplane passenger who saw a gremlin on the wing? In “Black Box,” that was based on a true story—and it’s happening again.

You wouldn’t think that cute and cuddly stuffed animals could be creepy, but you’d be wrong. In “Innards,” by Erik Gustafson, a little girl discovers that her toy animals come to life—but not in the cute, Disney kind of way. These plushy animals have TEETH.

The last story, “Man with a Canvas Bag,” by Gary Braunbeck, is gut-wrenching, especially if you’re a parent. I can’t really tell much without giving a lot away, so I’ll just say that this story is the best one in a book of great tales. It’s obvious what’s going to happen, but you’re powerless not to read it because it’s so gripping. Fantastic story.

Dangers Untold is one of the best anthologies I’ve read this year, put out by a little group a lot of people haven’t heard of yet. If you love anthologies as much as I do, this is one you definitely need to add to your collection.

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You Shall Never Know When the Veil Drops

The thirteen tales collected in You Shall Never Know Security, by J.R. Hamantaschen, are strange. Dark and strange. I’d even go so far as to use the term “bizarro” for some of them. Not all, but a few.

At the ripe old age of twenty-seven, Hamantaschen has a deft hand when it comes to language, but sometimes the wordage grows unwieldy. Sometimes less is more, as they say. One of the few complaints I have with this collection is that some of his word usage made me feel stupid and wishing I had a dictionary close by.

But onto more important things, the stories.

We begin with a high school drama, a la Lovecraft, titled “A Lower Power.” This one is full of adolescent snark and otherworldly snarl. “Wonder” is one of my favorites from the collection and there is not much I can tell without spoiling the magic. “Endemic” is a high tech off-kilter tale of Internet popularity. The literal title of “A Parasite Inside Your Brain” tells you all you need to know about this one.

There is a great deal of black humor to these, none more evident than in “Jordan, When Are You Going to Settle Down, Get Married and Have Us Some Children?” where a very nervous man, saddled with a unique curse, rediscovers why he has remained alone. “College” is an exercise in humanity courses, taken to the Nth degree. “Nothing” is another fist to the forehead. And the volume closes with the darkly brilliant “There Must Be Lights Burning Brighter, Somewhere.” This novella-length tale is compelling and unique. Well worth the price of admission alone.

If you like your fiction unique and on the darker side, if you wonder what Robert Aickman would sound like had he written in the Now instead of the Then…your answer is here.

For When the Veil Drops is the second release from West Pigeon Press, the first being the Hamantaschen collection above. While the previous is a single-author collection, For When the Veil Drops is an anthology featuring work by fifteen authors, Hamantaschen included. It contains some brilliant work, as well as a few that left me shaking my head.

Christian A. Larsen’s “724” gives us a scenario we’ve read before but delivered in a very strong way. “The Chopping Block,” by Doug Murano, is a slightly surreal and brutally effective survival drill. Yarrow Paisley gives us a Lovecraftian plague in “The Persistence of Frondu.” One of the strongest pieces comes from Michael Wehunt, whose “A Coat That Fell” is haunting in its bleakness and raw power.

Another that I favored was Samuel Minier’s “The Third List,” wherein we find out that sometimes, in regards to Santa, two categories is never enough. J.R. Hamantaschen turns in a fantastic neo-noir revenge story with “Oh Abel, Oh Absalom.”

The stories that I didn’t mention were not exactly bad, they just failed to resonate with me for some reason…but trust me, the ones that did make it well worth your time and money. For a new press, and a table of contents full of mostly newer names, this is a strong anthology. I have feeling we’ll be seeing quite a few of these authors for some time to come.

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Goodreads Giveaway: Epitaphs: The Journal of New England Horror Writers

Three copies of Epitaphs: The Journal of New England Horror Writers, the Stoker Award nominated anthology featuring work from Kurt Newton, Rick Hautala, Christopher Golden, L.L. Soares, K. Allen Wood (that’s me!), and twenty-one others, are being given away through Goodreads.

If you’re interested in this fantastic collection, toss your name into the virtual hat by clicking Enter to Win below.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Enter to win

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A Wicked Awesome Shock Totem Contest

As some of you know, issue #5 has been delayed until July 2012. However, in March 2012 we will be publishing our first novel. In celebration of that, I thought we’d hold a contest.

The first person to figure out the cypher at the bottom of that picture will win the following:

    1. One copy of our upcoming novel (title to be revealed once the contest is won), signed by the author.
    2. One copy each of the first four Shock Totem issues.
    3. One copy of Werewolves and Shapeshifters: Encounters with the Beasts Within, a massive tome edited by John Skipp and featuring our very own Mercedes M. Yardley, among other greats.
    4. A one-year (12 issues) digital subscription to one of my favorite publications, Apex Magazine.
    5. And because I have an extra, one old-ass (but in very good condition) copy of The Magazine of Fantasy of Science Fiction, from July 1970, which features the only appearance of Dean Koontz’s “The Mysteries of His Flesh,” the short story that would later be expanded to become his sixth novel, Anti-Man*.

      * Trivia: Dean’s preferred—and better—title was the same as the short story, “The Mysteries of His Flesh,” but the publisher thought it sounded “too gay.”

      Obviously this contest is a bit tougher than most, but I want you to work for those prizes. That said, it’s not as hard as it looks. All the clues you need to lead you to the answer are in this post.

      Post your answers in the comments below. First person to post the correct answer wins!

      (Some of you are ineligible to win, as you know the answer. We know who you are!)

      Amendment: If you guess right, I will ask how you got to that answer. A wild guess that happens to be correct will not count. If you have truly figured it out, you will have no doubt that your answer is correct.

      Amendment #2: If you think you have the correct answer, please post it in the comments section below like others have been doing, that way your answer is time-stamped. But also send me an e-mail at ken@shocktotem.com explaining how you came to that answer.

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      The Zombie Feed, Vol. 1

      I love me a good zombie tale. Dawn of the Dead is my favorite movie of all time, Romero is a god to me, and my first book is about those meandering, rotting corpses. So when I was sent The Zombie Feed, the new compilation put out by Apex Publications and edited by Jason Sizemore, for review, I was more than pumped to dive right in.

      Inside this volume are 17 tales of zombies in all of their various forms. At first I expected a grouping of run-of-the-mill apocalyptic, undead stories. I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered how different the collection is, with how many various directions the authors took what very often are clichéd tropes and plot devices.

      In order to adequately break down this fantastic collection, let’s look at The Zombie Feed story by story.

      Not Dead by BJ Burrow: A woman wakes up on her deathbed, questioning if she’s still alive. A touching story of the nature of faith and what really defines humanity.

      Tomorrow’s Precious Lambs by Monica Valentinelli: An original, if somewhat clunky, take on the origins of the outbreak and the privileged nature of the wealthy. It could’ve been spectacular given the original premise the author came up with, but it falls flat. A little too “Ah, gotcha!” for my taste.

      Cold Comfort by Nathaniel Tapley: What is this? A zombie tale without a true zombie? A fantastic story dealing with the undead that only exist in the narrator’s head, as a Russian mortician whose wife is cheating on him communes with his recently-departed patients. Ironically enough, in this particular tale it isn’t the dead who should be considered zombies.

      The Final December Day by Lee Thompson: This one follows more along the lines of a traditional zombie tale. A lone cop, searching for his long-lost partner on his last day on Earth, runs across a young photographer. An interesting take on the apocalypse where the zombies are simply drug-addicted, insane humans, and aliens roam the earth. I enjoyed the message, but it fell a little short. This is one short story that begged to be longer.

      Broken Bough by Daniel I. Russell: A particularly heartbreaking tale of the end of the world, told from the point of view of a young family of three struggling with the ultimate decision. Truly sad, it makes you wonder what you might do should the unthinkable happen. Would you be able to take the actions necessary? Haunting.

      The Sickness Unto Death by Brandon Alspaugh: A somewhat convoluted tale of the recently departed rising up, remembering their pasts and able to act as human, though they’re no longer living. A bit confusing, and written in a way that I think might seem like the author is trying to “put one over” on the reader. I’m all for an original, inventive story, but this one seemed too clever for its own good.

      A Shepherd in the Valley by Maggie Slater: Now this one was creepy. A man, all alone and living in an old airport, has figured out a way to “tame” the dead. A heartening examination of a parent’s love and the sacrifices one must make in the face of absolute terror.

      Twenty-Three Second Anomaly by Ray Wallace: Eh, I could give or take this one. The story of human experimentation and how exact science can be. Interesting, but the punch isn’t punchy enough and the emotions seems forced. Not bad, but could be better.

      The Last Generation by Joe Nazare: Another very interesting and not-quite-zombie story. All people have fallen over and entered a state of non-death, and only a few wake up, albeit minus their memories and sense of self. An inventive story, but lacking in some important information (such as how do they remember pop culture references and not their names or pasts) that could have made the story much more affecting. Decent nonetheless.

      Bitten by Eugene Johnson: One of the few standard zombie tales in the whole collection. A very short story of a bunch of folks trying to protect a house at the end of the world. It is what you’d expect.

      Lifeboat by Simon McCaffery: A very entertaining story of a group of people surviving the apocalypse by sailing the ocean on a cruise ship. Intriguing and imaginative, the narrative takes twists and turns I never expected, coming out at the end in an intense, hell-bent-for-leather climax. One of the best in the bunch.

      Rabid Raccoons by Kristen Dearborn: Now this is what I call taking a genre and flipping it on its head. A teen girl does her friend wrong, only to be assailed (possibly mystically) by zombie raccoons. A stupendous job of telling a story from the viewpoint of a young adult, this tale captures the sense of seclusion and fear beautifully. Great story.

      Zombies on the Moon by Andrew Clark Porter: Another short tale, and while the imagery of a moon cluttered with zombies has stuck with me since I’ve read it, this is another example of a story that could use some fleshing out to be perfect.

      The Fare by Lucian Soulban: The absolute best story of the bunch. A lonely man in the aftermath of the world’s end hires a mysterious cabbie to help him obtain closure for his past sins. A tremendous study of the human condition, of how guilt can guide our actions after a traumatic event, no matter if we were in the right or not.

      What’s Next? by Elaine Blose: This is the only story that I don’t think belongs in this collection. It wants to be campy, describing a world where aliens bring about the zombie apocalypse, only to have monster after monster appear in their wake, but it comes off as amateurish. The rest of the stories in this collection are so strong and insightful, it seems entirely out of place.

      Goddamn Electric by K. Allen Wood: Another ingenious story, imagining a “different” sort of zombie, when the skies open up during an apocalyptic storm and fry everyone who wasn’t smart enough to find shelter. High on anxiety and even (surprisingly) emotion, this story follows an old man who’s lived a long life and isn’t quite ready to give it up.

      Hipsters in Love by Danger_Slater: This is the oddest story of the bunch. I absolutely hated it until I was a couple pages in, when I went back to the beginning and re-read the title. This is a complete farce of a tale, a satire poking fun at a certain segment of our modern culture, complete with kids and their ironic t-shirts worrying about obtaining some Pabst Blue Ribbon in the face of the undead. A highly funny romp, it’s the perfect choice to end this anthology.

      So that’s it! In all, I’ll say this is well worth the read, and the best zombie anthology to come out in years. Congrats to Apex and to Jason Sizemore. You’ve collected something highly entertaining and even touching. I highly recommend this to anyone who loves this genre of story.

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