Tag Archives: Jeff Strand

Splatterpunk #7

Splatterpunk has been a favorite of mine since I first received their second issue in the mail about two years ago. I love the old D.I.Y. look and feel of the thing. I also love the fact that Jack Bantry and his project have a growing legion of fans. He has also begun release chapbooks in the interim between issue releases.

Splatterpunk #7 is more of the same stuff they are known for; short and brutal tales of the horrific and sometimes strange. The issue opens with an article by Bizarro patriarch, Jeff Burk, an article in which he defends his adoration for film maker Eli Roth.

This gets us to the first story by Kristopher Rufty called “The Chomper.” A wildly off beat tale that has a familiar set up and arc but with a unique spin on the monster of the tale. A perfect small town that has a high price to pay for being allowed to live there. But instead of a beastly troll from the nearby woods or anything, we get a monster from a 1970’s Ed “Big Daddy” Roth decal. I loved it.

Jeff Strand gives us the second tale. He along with Cesare are becoming Splatterpunk veterans. In his story, “Awakening” a man with a disturbing hobby and a penchant for denial comes face to face with the consequences of his actions. Garrett Cook delivers a batshit tale that oozes dysfunction, brutality and mutilation with “Pas De Deux.” And the honor of closing out the issue falls upon Adam Cesare, one of the genre darlings and with good reason-he’s wonderful! His short “Readings off the charts,” shows us the outcome of a paranormal investigation at an abandoned mental hospital. All that is a really wordy way of saying Splatterpunk #7 is another solid issue.

Travelling across the pond with the above mentioned issue was the chapbook, Atrocious Madness. This trio of stories was written by Splatterpunk editor, Jack Bantry and Nathan Robinson. It begins with a story of death and toads called “Squish.” This collaborative story appeared in an earlier issue of Splatterpunk.
The second tale is entitled “Keep Safe” and is a Jack Bantry solo offering that concerns home invaders who pay a unique price for their greed when they stumble upon one house’s cellar secret.

The final story is by Nathan Robinson and is called “Weather Girl.” A bizarre and unsettling account of a young man with an obsessive crush on the local TV weather girl. When the crush elevates to stalking, things take a strange and disturbing twist…and just get twistier.

Another fine offering from this little press. These are great days for horror fiction and Splatterpunk is a great return to bloody roots.

Both might still be available via Splatterpunk Press.

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Horror Library Volume 5

I’m a huge fan of anthologies and collections. They’re great for those short attention span periods when you want to read but can’t commit to anything lengthy. They’re awesome for lunch breaks and in the bathroom. (Don’t give me that grimace, you know you read in there!) The problem with them is they are most times an uneven offering of material. Several great stories sprinkled in amongst a majority of meh or even terrible tales. Once in a while you get one that knocks the cover off the ball…but that’s rarer than a four-leafed clover.

Cutting Block Press has been putting out the Horror Library series for a few years now, but this is the first I’ve gotten the chance to dig into. Thirty stories rear their ugly heads here, the majority by authors I have not read before, but a few by those I have. Let’s get into the particulars, shall we?

We open with Pat MacEwen’s “Blown,” a gritty almost noir-ish tale of death and forensics. We go then into Ian Withrow’s wonderfully bizarre story of a lonely boy and his calling, entitled “Jerrod Steihl Goes Home.” John F.D. Taff’s “The Immolation Scene” is a grisly expose on arson and treachery. “A Body At Rest,” by Lorne Dixon, one of my favorites, is a darkly sad tale of loss and grief, drenched in terror and the surreal. This is followed by J.S. Reinhardt’s “By the Time I Get To Five,” in which we meet a man trapped in his own hell.

Next up is a fantastically eerie sliver by one of my favorite authors, Bentley Little, entitled “Notes for An Article on Bainbridge Farm.” Just chilling. Sanford Allen’s “Noise” is about a concert that is not intended for everyone’s ears. Shane McKenzie’s “Open Mind Night at the Ritz” is a weird story about flesh bending and performance. I was blessed to witness him read this at KillerCon a few years ago. Shane can always be counted upon to bring the “What the fuck?” With “Almost Home,” Kevin Lucia hands us a bleak and symbolic story of loss. Michael A. Arnzen’s “Pillars Of Light” explores faith and the powerful grip it can have.

“Footprints Fading In the Desert,” by Eric J. Guingard, is a story with an almost urban legend vibe. “The Vulture’s Art,” by Benjamin Kane Ethridge, is heavy in its symbolism and grisly with its message. “Activate,” by Boyd E. Harris, left me slightly confused but seemed to carry a sinister tone. Adam Howe’s “Snow Globe” is an old fashioned tale of the repercussions of dark deeds. “Intruders,” by Taylor Grant, delivers a somber premise as to what imaginary voices are really about. And Steve McQuiggan gives us an off-kilter, slightly bizarro haunted house story with “The Boathouse.”

While not the most even anthology out there, Horror Library Vol. 5 has its fair share of solid fiction. It is a good companion for waiting rooms, bathroom breaks, and the lunch table, and is available through Cutting Block Press.

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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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Splatterpunk 4

I received the fourth issue of Splatterpunk last week, and wasted no time digging into it. I am a big fan of Jack Bantry’s nostalga-dripping DIY zine. He was also kind enough to throw me a copy of the larger size debut issue so I now have a complete collection.

But enough of that, let’s get our gloves on and dissect this bad boy, shall we?

Opening with a short editorial by Bantry himself, which gives way to a wonderfully witty essay by Jeff Burk on why he loves extreme horror, we then have our first story of the issue, “I’m On My,” by Shane McKenzie. This tale of accidents and bad choices made with the best intentions is raw and throbbing, like a fresh wound. We follow that story’s blood trail to a great interview with both McKenzie and John Skipp, which is both insightful and fun.

Next we have “A Bit of Christmas Mayhem” by the always wonderful Jeff Strand. This story made me laugh out loud. It is so darkly insane and funny as we follow the main character, Mr. Chronic Bad Luck, who finds himself in the most ridiculous of Christmas Eve situations.

We are then given a glimpse into the truly twisted and hardcore life of “Wicking,” a violent and twisted tale by editor Jack Bantry and Robert Essig.

We get a chance to breathe when we pull into the reviews column, where Bantry and Gambino Iglesias give us the scoop on some newish books we should check out. And rounding out the fiction is a story by J.F. Gonzalez, “Ricochet,” which is a frightening glimpse into the perils of Internet technology and secrets. After which we get a short interview with Mr. Gonzalez.

Overall, Splatterpunk 4 is another great issue of over-the-top horror stories presented and paired with great artwork. Splatterpunk is a consistent little zine and one that packs as much heart into each issue as some larger presses manage to do in a year’s time. If you like your horror fresh and bleeding and harder than heroin, give Splatterpunk a chance. You won’t be disappointed.

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Splatterpunk 3

After only reading one issue of the U.K.’s best DIY flavored extreme horror magazine, I’d call myself a fan. So when Jack Bantry sent me the next issue, I dove right in.

I’ll begin by showing my ignorance as to who the cover art is trying to portray, but I’ll be damned if the M*A*S*H fan in me doesn’t want it to be a psychotic Alan Alda brandishing a butcher knife. And again, Wrath James White’s cover blurb—“It makes me nostalgic”—could not be more truthful.

But let’s get to the meat of the sandwich, shall we? The fiction begins with “Balance,” a strange tale by J.F. Gonzalez, wherein a man wakes up to find everything in his life skewed, but not quite that skewed. The same people occupy this life but in differing roles. A heady but not all that extreme tale.

Ryan C. Thomas offers up “Ginsu Gary,” a darkly comedic take on an old urban legend. In this one we meet a flustered mafia henchman as he tries to get the “cleaner” to stop pitching products and get to work.

Splatterpunk editor Jack Bantry teams up with Nathan Robinson to deliver a strange tale of odd justice in “Squash.” Never before have amphibians and revenge worked so well together. Robert Ford turns in a story entitled “Maggie Blue,” which, while being written well and cringe-worthy in its nastiness, seems a bit disjointed and wonky in its logic.

As always, the stories are wonderfully illustrated, this time the guilty parties are Glenn Chadbourne, Dan Henk, and Daniele Serra.

The featured interview this time around is with the always witty Jeff Strand, he of the twist ending and nasty premise, who is not afraid to show a lovable goofy sense of humor. Dig him.

Rounding things out are another interview with editor Paul Fry and reviews (including a great one for Shock Totem’s reissue of James Newman’s The Wicked).

While I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as I did the last, it was still great fun. Please, do check Jack and Splatterpunk magazine out. They have their black hearts in the right place and aim to entertain. And that is the best target.

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Splatterpunk 2

The blurb on the cover from Wrath James White says it all: “It makes me nostalgic.”

Splatterpunk is a blast from the past, seriously 80s fanzine past, as in folded and stapled papery goodness. When Ken said he was sending it to me, I was sort of expecting something else but was quite happy to be disappointed.

The brainchild of editor Jack Bantry, each issue of Splatterpunk features a handful of stories—hardcore and guaranteed to make you squirm—and the usual zine fodder: reviews, columns, and interviews.

The interview in this second issue is with the genre legend Ray Garton. The stories feature an illustration for each, beautifully rendered in stark black and white.

Four tales make up the fiction in this issue, which opens with “Fair Trade,” by Jeff Strand. This unsettling tale chronicles a hapless man called out on his infidelity by his wife. She gives him an ultimatum that becomes heavier than initially thought, and then Strand smacks us in the face with a twist ending. He’s good at this, a master.

The second tale is by Shane McKenzie, a young man I can say I’ve been watching since the beginning. He turns in “Fat Slob,” the grossest of the four stories. In it, our morbidly obese hero embarks on a weight loss journey. It features no smoothies or treadmills, no squat thrusts or carb reduction. Just a flab-hungry demonic creature, gruesome and downright icky. Shane does not disappoint when it comes to inducing the cringe.

Barry Hoffman delivers the third tale, “Room for One,” which is quite different in tone than the others. Almost dreamily surreal, but stark and raw in its emotional punch. This short tale of revenge and urban decay is superb and not easily forgotten.

Closing us out is Ronald Malfi and his tale, “The Jumping Sharks of Dyer Island.” A stunning parable about vacations and fraud and things not being what you expect them to be. To say anymore would be a disservice.

Splatterpunk is the real deal. A bare bones gooey love letter to extreme horror. I hope to see it around for a long time.

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Resurrecting the Backlist: The Dead Book LIVES!

As a reader, the first time I came across a new edition of a backlist book was Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series. First published in 1983, it was full of wonderfully outdated references that, as an 80s child, I felt right at home with. In 2003, Duane re-released the series under a “New Millenium Edition,” complete with bonus material and updated technology like cell phones. I didn’t understand it, so I dismissed it as a marketing gimmick.

My second exposure to the subject of backlist books was as a writer this past July at Necon. I attended a panel moderated by Lynne Hansen, where she, Christopher Golden, Lori Perkins, Heather Graham, and John Douglas discussed the act of “resurrecting” the backlist and general marketing advice for one’s writing. The panel not only interested me as a writer, but also as a reader. Established authors dusting off their “old” novels creates a library of undiscovered stories released either before I was old enough to read them, like Young Wizards, or that just escaped my attention.

Lynne Hansen, owner at Lynne Hansen Designs, specializes in “book covers that tell a story” and helping authors resurrect their backlist titles. Her clients include Christopher Golden, Amber Benson, James A. Moore, Owl Goingback, Jeff Strand, and Rick Hautala. When I asked Lynne about the top benefit for an author to look at their backlist, her answer echoed my own excitement as a reader: “When a fan discovers you for the first time, you hope that they’ll love your work so much that they’ll want to read your other books. The more books you have in print, the more they’ll have to love.”

In the past few years, many veteran authors are discovering that they are sitting on a gold mine of backlist material. Of course, the reason for books to go out of print is that bookstores can’t carry new releases, classics, and backlist titles in brick-and-mortar stores. However, with the emergence of e-books and the Amazon marketplace, space is no longer an obstacle. Many midlist authors are hoping to again have the luxury of cultivating a fan base without the insane pressure to either hit decent sales numbers or see their books out of print.

Throwing books out of print after a short sales period is a publishing practice that pushed veteran authors like Holly Lisle over the edge in favor of self-publishing their work. On her site, Lisle echoes the sentiments of many authors. “Now,” she says, “frontlist is all that matters, backlist dies, and writing fiction for a living has become not building a career but playing the lottery.”

However, Amazon has kept up with it’s reputation for driving change in the industry and has become the best place to find “new” backlist titles. “I don’t think readers look for re-released titles the same way they look for discount e-books,” said Hansen. Sites like Amazon ensure that multiple editions, “paperback, hardcover, audiobook, etc., are all linked together,” which has been a benefit to authors and a convenience to consumers.

Hansen is passionate about her work, not just for her clients but for readers who “say they’ve wanted to read a book for years but could never find it, and they just downloaded the e-book. And I’ve heard folks say they’re re-reading a book, or even an entire series, now that it’s available electronically. That’s a nice bonus.” As a reader, I appreciate Hansen’s dedication. Nothing makes me happier than finding a new author that has a vast catalog that can be ordered with the click of a button.

Of course, one of the largest benefits to authors using a print-on-demand (POD) service like Amazon and Createspace is “you don’t have to print 10,000 books and store them in your garage just to get an affordable per-copy rate. Companies like Smashwords make it easy for you to upload a single Microsoft Word document and get your e-book distributed to a gazillion different retailers.” As Hansen also mentioned, it isn’t so much the format of the e-book that has made maintaining a backlist possible again, but rather the affordability of the process and the accessibility of those titles to readers.

I’ve heard varied arguments for or against self-publishing. There is an impression that “indie pub” has created a market flooded with unedited first drafts, thrown up for public consumption by amateur writers that are not doing their homework, which is making good writers look bad. Hansen has a much different view: “People like to think that self-publishing is The Great Leveler, but it’s not. Good books still rise to the top and bad books still (generally) fall into obscurity. Sure, there are more opportunities, but there are also a lot more challenges, especially when you’re faced with the prospect of having to do all the production work yourself.”

Fortunately for readers, there is a level of professionalism and dedication that an established author possesses to do it right. The writer seeking to resurrect their backlist has intense work ahead of them in order to re-launch and market their title, which is where Hansen comes in. “If your car breaks, you don’t pop the hood and start checking wires unless you have those skills.” Authors are great at writing books, but a lot more goes into releasing a backlist title for a new market. Obtaining the needed components to resurrect a backlist title take time and energy. This energy is better spent doing the most important task to a writer—actually writing.

“That being said, reissuing a book isn’t as simple as pulling up the Microsoft Word document and adding a copyright page,” said Hansen. “You need to make certain you have the final, edited version of the manuscript and have incorporated any line edits that came from the original publisher. You need the dedication, introduction, acknowledgments, afterword, bio, and links to your online presences.”

Hansen also suggests hiring a cover artist. “You want your name and title crisp and readable, and an image that is striking when it’s small. Most importantly, your book cover needs to resonate with the readers of your genre. If it’s a thriller, it needs to look like a thriller, not like a horror novel. You need a designer who understands marketing, because ultimately, your book cover and blurb are the best marketing tools in your arsenal.”

One difficulty Hansen has faced with marketing her client’s backlist books is “they’re not new books. They’ve already been reviewed and promoted and odds are that your die-hard fans have already read them.” Even authors with an established platform would still need to promote their backlist to a new audience. This might be as easy as appealing to a new generation of fans or hitting the market with the right book at the right time, such as Christopher Golden and Rick Hautala’s Body of Evidence thriller series, featuring young protagonist Jenna Blake.

“In today’s marketplace, the Jenna Blake books would be categorized as ‘new adult’ and is much more likely to be read by adults than by teens. It’s a category that didn’t even exist when the books were being written. For the re-issues, I designed covers that were more familiar to thriller readers than to young adult readers, and we tweaked marketing descriptions to reflect the new focus. It’s really helped the entire series reach many more readers.”

One way that authors can promote their backlist titles might seem obvious: “Backlist books are the gravy, not the meat,” said Hansen. “The best way to promote an old book is to write new ones.”

Personally, I’ve snapped up quite a few backlist titles that were released on Amazon in the past year, including Strangewood by Christopher Golden and The Wicked by James Newman, the latter released by Shock Totem in May of 2012. I was also excited to find Closed Circle Publications, a site created by award-winning sci-fi and fantasy authors C.J. Cherryh, Lynn Abbey, and Jane Fancher to market their backlist titles.

Keep an eye out for the above authors and their amazing, high-quality re-releases coming to an Internet near you. I personally will continue to forgo the trip to Barnes & Noble (which I’ve never been a fan of, honestly) in favor of staying at home with a beer, or a coffee if it’s early enough, and scouring Amazon and Google in search of new backlist titles from veteran authors. So far, my purchases have been more than worth it and have exposed me to stories that would have otherwise gone unexplored.

If any Shock Totem readers have questions about specific backlist projects, please e-mail Lynne Hansen or visit her website for further information.

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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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