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Tag Archives: John Skipp
John Skipp has reviewed Shock Totem #6 on Fangoria’s website.
“[Jack] Ketchum and I are in firm agreement that Shock Totem is living proof that we’re in a golden age when it comes to the short horror story. Some of the best stories ever written are being written right now.”
Earlier this year, Jan Kozlowski delivered her debut novella, Die, You Bastard! Die, via Ravenous Shadows, an imprint where every book is handpicked by John Skipp. This fact alone should be enough for most horror fans to take note, but if it isn’t let me up the ante: This book is hardcore!
Claire is a paramedic, and a damn good one at that, one who has spent her adult life trying to make up for and forget her childhood.
The novella opens with her and her partner answering a disturbing call: A little girl trapped beneath the body of a naked man. This case, coupled with a phone call, drags Claire back to the horrific events of her childhood and a lifetime of dark and dastardly suffering at the hands of her father.
Her father has been hospitalized, and in answering the call Claire is drawn into a warped scenario of revenge and double-cross and some of the most disturbing tactics ever committed to the printed page.
Ravenous Shadows debuted with a lofty promise of nearly forty titles a year, but sadly hit the wall after only five. Other than Jan’s, I have only read Adam Cesare’s wonderful Tribesmen, although I intend to track down and read the remaining titles.
Maybe after this unspecified hiatus Ravenous can get all oars in the water again and keep the line flowing. I truly hope so, but if not I am already grateful for being turned on to a pair of great authors I hope to follow for quite some time.
Dybbuk Press dropped this little collection, edited by Michael Stone and Christopher J. Hall, way back in 2006. Consisting of seven stories, all poised to slap you in the face and hopefully knock out a few teeth. It was a promise I found sadly unfulfilled.
We open with the tale “Pool Sharks,” by Gerald Brennan. This is more or less hood-heavy, thug drama with a simple ghost-story twist ending. Not a bad story, but not anything a veteran watcher of Twilight Zone would not have seen coming. Next up is Garry Kilworth’s “The Stray,” a strange little number that is heavy with metaphor and satirical symbolism. Quite clever at times and a little silly at others, I rather enjoyed it. Michael Hemmingson’s “Hardboiled Stiff” is an overlong exercise in noir and the undead.
Ronald Malfi’s story, “All the Pretty Girls,” is my favorite. What we get is a darkly strange and spiritual tale of a man working to appease his god—in a very sinister fashion. Gord Rollo gives us a standard evil-tattoo tale in “Moving Pictures,” while Davin Ireland delivers “The Essences,” a story with an almost-dark-fantasy vibe. Closing out the collection is Michael Boatman’s gory “Bloodbath at Lansdale Towers,” a morality tale with a knifey twist.
While I did enjoy Badass Horror, only Malfi’s made me stand and say, “Wow!” Overall I couldn’t help but feel there was not enough “badass.” But I was entertained and could not call the evening spent reading this a disappointment.
Before reading Black Bubbles, released by Thunderstorm Books, earlier this year, I was familiar with Kelli Owen only by name, having never read her work. After reading Black Bubbles, I can say that Owen is a very good writer of dark fiction.
Reliant on character over shock and awe, I found this collection to be good, with several stories hanging on the cusp of “Holy shit, this is brilliant!” There was, however, one story that floored me. So much so that I have re-read it at least five times since the initial read, and given the amount of stories I read a year, that is saying something.
I won’t go over all of the tales, but will touch upon a few that I dug. “The Tin Box” is a familiar theme but the angle and delivery are what makes this a standout. The passing of a grandparent opens up an atmosphere of reminiscence and love…until they find evidence of family secrets best left hidden. “Shadows in a Bowl of Soup” is a wonderful prose piece. “Dig the Hole” is a fantastic slice of dark reality. A groovy little violent satire on therapy and sociopaths comes in the name of “How’s That Make You Feel?”
But “Spell” is the one. THE ONE! This story punched me in the face, wiped the blood from my lips, and then drew a big L on my forehead for not having expected it. Simply amazing story. I’m not even going to mention its plot as that would be a disservice to it.
Black Bubbles is a solid collection. While some stories were very strong, and others seemed like they could have been a bit more fleshed out, I liked every one. I hope to check out more of Kelli’s work in the future.
This coming weekend, at the fourth annual Killercon convention in Las Vegas, joining the likes of F. Paul Wilson, Wrath James White, Jack Ketchum, John Skipp, Adam Cesare, and more, the Shock Totem Five will be meeting in person for the first time ever. We will have a vendor table all weekend long. If you’re attending, we’d love to meet you.
We are hosting a party Friday night as well. I say party, but since everyone shot down all my great ideas–bouncy castle, Sumo wrestler outfits/matches, Andrew WK karaoke battles–I’m not sure how much of a party it’ll be, but it’ll be fun…because when it’s time to party we will always party hard!
Yeah, I went there.
In addition, we will be doing a special pre-release of our upcoming collection, Beautiful Sorrows, by Mercedes M. Yardley. Own it weeks before its official release. We’ll have fifty paperback copies available (there will also be a limited edition hardcover release) at a special discount price. Mercedes will gladly autograph your copy. She’ll be doing a reading from the book as well.
For more info, click here. Preorders for the official paperback and hardcover release will go up later today and tomorrow. If you have any questions, please let us know.
Hope to see you there!
Some staff news, ya’ll! Cue banjo!
This coming October, if not sooner, Apex Publications is set to release Appalachian Undead, a new anthology dedicated to the walking dead. I contributed a quirky tale called “Long Days to Come.”
[ click for full image ]
The brilliant artwork was created by Cortney Skinner. Quite a lineup, too: Elizabeth Massie, Jonathan Maberry, Tim Waggoner, S. Clayton Rhodes*, Maurice Broaddus, Bev Vincent, Tim Lebbon, Steve Rasnic Tem, John Skipp* & Dori Miller, and Gary A. Braunbeck, to name a few more than a few.
If you’d like to check out the full table of contents, click here.
You can also pre-order via the above link (and get 5% off if you tweet the link), but before you do, check out this groovy contest they’re running for those who do pre-order.
As always from Apex Publications, you can expect quality.
Not to be outdone, Mercedes and John each have stories—“Murder for Beginners” and “Intruder,” respectively—in Psychos: Serial Killers, Depraved Madmen, and the Criminally Insane, the latest slab—and I do mean slab; these things are massive—in an ongoing series edited by the inimitable John Skipp which has thus far included Zombies: Encounters with the Hungry Dead, Werewolves and Shapeshifters: Encounters with the Beasts Within, and Demons: Encounters with the Devil and His Minions, Fallen Angels, and the Possessed.
[ click for larger image ]
Psychos is due out in September via Black Dog & Leventhal, and features new and classic fiction from the likes of Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, Jack Ketchum, Joe R. Lansdale, Lawerence Block, Neil Gaiman, Leslianne Wilder*, Violet LeVoit, Weston Ochse*, Kathe Koja, and many more.
If you order now, Amazon has it for $10.07. That’s 608 pages for $10! No-brainer.
We hope you’ll buy both!
* Shock Totem alumni.
A Conversation with Sarah Langan
by John Boden
A Conversation with Sarah Langan
by John Boden
As some of you may recall, I doled out a high-praising review of Sarah Langan’s Bram Stoker Award-winning second novel, The Missing. I knew it was a semi-sequel to her debut, The Keeper, but that had no bearing on my enjoyment of the novel.
Having recently found a copy of the debut, I excitedly went to work devouring it over a weekend. Upon its completion, I was shamed at waiting so long.
The Keeper tells the tragic tale of Bedford, Maine, a small town built on the back of a paper mill. The Mill, now closed, employed most of the townsfolk and paid for its existence. But as the story unfolds and its deeply textured characters are introduced, we find that this small town is quite unlike others. It is haunted. Haunted in a very unique way.
A thickly veined historical horror that begins when the town does and continues throbbing and festering until it culminates in the events chronicled in The Missing. I will not give away any details, other than to say this book is packed full of so many deeply disturbing visuals and delightfully surreal flourishes, that to call it a haunted-town story, or a nod to “Ancient Evil in a small town” books, would be a white lie, true at its basest level but highly inaccurate at the same time.
Recently, I was lucky enough to have the chance to ask Sarah a few questions and she was kind enough to answer them.
JB: First, Sarah, allow me to thank you for taking the time to grant this little interview. I will get the giddy fan boy stuff out of the way and say I love your work. LOVE, in all capitals. I read the first two out of order and it had no impact on my enjoyment of each; both are highly effective and greatly visual novels. I also read and enjoyed Audrey’s Door. That was actually the first book I bought of yours, solely on the fact that John Skipp told me to. Then, when I was interviewing Jack Ketchum, he dropped your name, and I decided I was missing out on someone special.
I was right.
Earlier tonight, John Skipp won the Stoker for his epic of an anthology Demons: Encounters with the Devil and His Minions, Fallen Angels, and the Possessed, which Mercedes has an excellent story in.
A well-deserved win for a great editor and a fantastic anthology. Congrats to all involved!
One of the greatest rewards that comes from publishing Shock Totem is being able to watch young writers evolve within their craft. Even when I read something less than great from them, there remains something special about it.
It’s in the knowing that they’re going to eventually come back with something that will knock my socks off, I think. There’s an it factor, involved—easy to see, but impossible to explain.
And Adam Cesare has it.
Tribesmen is Adam’s debut novella, and it’s a thing of bloody-good brilliance. Setting the bar even higher, it was published under John Skipp’s new imprint, Ravenous Shadows, which is quite a place to make a literary home.
The book centers around a cast of filmmaking misfits attempting to create a movie that is less an homage to and more of a blatant rip-off of the Italian exploitation horror films from the 80s. In the spirit of Ruggero Deodato’s feel-awful classic from 1980, Cannibal Holocaust, Cesare’s Tribesmen takes place on a small Caribbean island, where the indigenous people become much more than visual props by instead making their directorial debut.
This is a character-driven book fueled by fear, greed, lust, violence, and the blood-red lure of cinematic glory. Tribesmen is a smart, visceral, and poignant commentary on the ugly side of humanity. Which, in this case, is a beautiful thing.
I briefly met Sarah Langan at a convention this summer, and by “briefly met” I mean, I think I said “Hello” as I walked by. I’m a bit shy at times. I picked up this book after hearing wonderful praise for her most recent novel by revered authors like John Skipp and Jack Ketchum. I’m glad I did.
The Missing is a sequel to her debut novel, The Keeper, but is a fantastic standalone read. It concerns the haunting of a small town, in both the literal and figurative sense. A school field trip to a disaster site serves as the catalyst of darkly disturbing events. A troubled young boy strays from the group, only to awaken something malevolent and hungry that will not stop until it has consumed all. What the boy and the other affected do over the course of this book played back in my head for days upon completion. The infected and their “de-evolution” to an almost animal state, as well as the feedings, made me almost giddily jittery. This novel gave me a feeling I have not felt in a long long time while reading. It was a nostalgic vibe along the lines of what my teenage self would feel when a new Stephen King book dropped.
Langan’s prose is lean and smooth and carries an old-school tone, both intelligent and easy to read. Not to say it is simple, but that it is a classically constructed novel. The characters are brilliantly painted and the setting and events are well rendered. Above all of these other positive attributes, and most importantly, it is a scary book.
It has been widely documented that I have been a fan-boy of the mighty John Skipp since I was a teenager and I was loaned that paperback copy of The Light At The End. I have since read almost everything available from this twisted genius. Reading a John Skipp book, solo or collaboration, is usually like having a conversation with a hyperactive savant, a “Rain Man” raised on monster movies and Rock & Roll. The latest collaboration, Spore, once again with evil cohort Cody Goodfellow, is well up that twisted razor-edged bar.
Spore tells the surrealy bizarre tale of a nice young couple, Rory and Trixie, hip deep in love and trying to forget their troubled pasts. A wild turn of events finds them up to their necks in an adrenaline drenched horror show. A sentient fungal entity has rooted itself beneath the city of Los Angeles. It works itself into the drug supply, mixing its spores in with the cocaine that is oh-so-readily available. The spores infest the brain and eventually drive the infected to acts of barbarism and savagery.
While some of the characters seem to be more caricatures, it plays out smoothly and is an over-the-top festival of fun. Jaw-dropping images are a main staple of this tale, some of which will no doubt haunt you for a long time to come. It’s a Hollywood zombie apocalypse as only these cats could write. It’s the slam-dancing progeny of The Stuff and Scarface. But more important than all of that, it made me fucking smile.
The Loving Dead was another recommended read. Skipp touts this novel quite a bit, and I usually listen to whatever he tells me (I know, I know!). Amelia Beamer gives us a zombie novel that is not about zombies much at all. It is a stark portrait of the real monsters. It’s about us. People, with their dishonest nature and skeevy motives, even in the face of a major crisis and looming danger, we can’t get our heads out of our asses, our minds out of each others pants and just get down and be “real” with each other.
Kate and Michael are housemates. They also have a thing for each other, one of those mutual-but-held-down-so-tight-that-no-move-has-ever-been-made sort of things. The story begins with Kate saving her belly-dance instructor from a feral derelict. She takes her home where there is a party in full swing. Things happen, people get naked…and a zombie virus rears its ugly head. Zombie virus…as in STD. The only apparent warning symptom being horny moaning followed by a breathy “something’s happening,” after which it’s all milky eyes, cannibalism…and fucking. Lots and lots of fucking.
The shuffling nympho-dead are more of a set piece than anything in this novel. The skeleton of this book is about people and how they interact, how we interact. We are selfish and distrusting as well as untrustworthy. The characters are honest and scarred…and scared. Sympathetic and not entirely likeable. This is what made this such a compelling work.
If the fate of the free world hung from your shoulders would you shrug or bear it as long as you could, and would you still find time for a quickie in the restroom?
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:
- One copy of our upcoming novel (title to be revealed once the contest is won), signed by the author.
- One copy each of the first four Shock Totem issues.
- 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.
- A one-year (12 issues) digital subscription to one of my favorite publications, Apex Magazine.
- 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 email@example.com explaining how you came to that answer.
I first heard the name Mehitobel Wilson during the historic Shock Totem John Skipp interview of 2009, which first appeared in Shock Totem #1. Skipp is a walking Rolodex of information, and hers was a name that was mentioned a few times during the phone call. I added her work to my list of things to seek out.
I finally procured a copy of her collection, Dangerous Red, and now see why Skipp touted it so heavily. Wilson doesn’t just kick ass, she straps on gigantic Herman Munster-style boots with razored cleats and stomps your ass. It is a brilliant collection of fresh dark fiction and then some.
While I liked most of the stories, I will only name check a few. “Cut Glass” is a wondrous ghost story. “Madeline in Effigy” gives us new reasons to second-guess the vain. “Blind in the House of the Headsman” is a gory, sexually-depraved surreal sketch…maybe. “The Mannerly Man” has done its best to make politeness a thing to be fearful of. Then there is my absolute favorite of the collection, “Strays,” which takes on the issue of homelessness and sprinkles it with enough dread and disturbing imagery to give you nightmares for weeks.
Wilson’s prose is quick and artful, the images and ideas strong and haunting. I look forward to reading more from her.
When I came across a copy of his chapbook Redemption Roadshow, I picked it up. Ochse writes in a clean style, and his characters are aching and have a depth you can immediately connect with. This story concerns Dolan Gibb, an Arizona highway patrolman who discovers you can’t outrun guilt and that the past will always catch up. Dolan discovers a group—almost a sideshow troupe—that seem ever present at roadside memorial shrines. Among them is the “Long Cool Woman,” a medium who bridges the space between the living and the dead, with unexpected consequences.
This short tale is so packed with grippingly heavy images, I found myself thinking about it for days after I had finished it.
I also recently rectified the fact that I am sadly under-read in the Tim Lebbon category.
I had read The Nature of Balance, and loved its dark dreamy images and language. When my friend, Simon, recommended The Thief of Broken Toys to me, I listened. I’m glad I did.
In this novella, Lebbon explores the deepening shades of grief and how loss is a thing of many facets. Ray is a broken man, slowly drowning in a self-made sea of loss and alienation. His only son has died and his wife has left him. Every day is a weighted exercise in existence. He comes to believe through honoring promises made to the dead, he can win back the slivers of time and love lost. He begins with the promises to fix his son’s damaged playthings. He then meets the Thief of Broken Toys, who helps in ways unimaginable and teaches him things that can’t be unlearned.
And then things start to change.
Lebbon has created a heartbreaking story with The Thief of Broken Toys. The loss and longing of Ray are painted so adeptly that I felt that heaviness in my chest, tears threatening to show themselves. Very subtle in its horror, but it is indeed there. One of the best, I’ve read this year. Available from Chizine Publications.