Tag Archives: Kelli Owen

Lamplight: Volume One

Being aware of the competition is one of the first things they teach in business classes. One of the magazines that Shock Totem is sometimes mentioned with is Lamplight. Edited by Jacob Haddon, Lamplight delivers short fiction and classic public domain tales that are usually—and wrongfully—long forgotten. These are corralled with great interviews and a series of non-fiction pieces written by J.F. Gonzalez that chronicle varying stages and movements in horror literary history. Very inspirational and educational work there.

This compendium gathers all printed work from Lamplight’s first year, four issues, and most of it is quite good. From Kevin Lucia’s staggering tale of guilt, regret and the special ghosts they make to Elizabeth Massie’s story “Flip Flap,” which is quite a wonderful tale of sideshow revenge. Robert Ford gives revenge a new face and it’s muddied with garden soil. Kelli Owen’s “Spell,” which I raved about when I reviewed her collection last year, is still one of my favorite short stories of all time. Brilliant and harrowing.

Nathan Yocum hands in one of the saddest and sweetest apocalyptic tales I’ve ever read in “Elgar’s Zoo.” In and around these tales are numerous others. William Meikle’s retro-styled “The Kelp” buoys alongside Tim Leider’s angry rantosaurus of a tale, “A Gun to Your Head.” The stories are all fairly solid. In fact, were I to harbor any sort of negative criticism at all, it would be the directed at the interviews, rather the lack of creativity in them. The same questions are asked of each author. Very little interplay, which makes them come off sort of contrived. As an interviewer myself, I know they can be a bitch to nail. I hope that in time this fellow learns to inject a little personality in the mix.

Overall, Lamplight is a great publication with a fine eye for dark fiction. A comrade more than competition. In this business, we need more of the former and less of the latter. We’re all on the same ship, in the same choppy waters, and I would gladly share a lifeboat with Lamplight. Give them a shot.

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Waiting Out Winter

Nick and his cronies have been out of town on their yearly summer hunting excursion. They return to civilization to find things changed. The streets are devoid of any signs of life. Windows boarded up or covered in plastic. A stop at a gas station and the subsequent encounter with a sickly old man only escalates their dread and growing unease.

They arrive to their town to find it much like the others they’ve traveled through: desolate, empty and aching. They find their own homes boarded up and foreboding. Upon reconnecting with their families they learn what is behind the drastic changes in the atmosphere and demeanor of the town, the people—them. The small culprits will not be easy to avoid but if they can just hold out until winter…

Kelli Owen speaks with a very stern voice in this nervy tale of man messing with nature with dire consequences. You can tell from the writing that there is a great angry passion here, flowing from the writer to what is written. Which is not to say it is handled in a heavy-handed manner, quite the opposite, it plays out so realistically and understated that you almost don’t realize you’re getting a slim sermon while being frightened by what’s buzzing in the sink.

Waiting Out Winter is available through Kelli Owen’s official website.

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Toxicity

Having read his collection of flash fiction, They Might Be Demons, I was curious as to what this novel would be like. Max Booth III writes in a very bombastic and somewhat over-the-top style. Sort of like if Masterpiece Theatre was cast with pro wrestlers and performing play versions of Lansdale novels. That kind of madness. So when I was asked if I’d like to review Toxicity, I said sure.

Toxicity is the story of several hapless fuckers. All of them in various miserable situations, all of them shitty but almost likeable.

Maddox Kane is just out of prison and anxious to reconnect with his daughter. His daughter and her boyfriend are busy playing Badlands and trying to stay ahead of the fuzz and hide the bodies. One of her friends, Johnny, has just had his family pull up stakes for greener pastures, after winning the lottery with a ridiculous numeral sequence. Johnny’s crazy mom has revved up her odd obsession with dolls while Dad hides in his basement bunker masturbating to Warcraft, as his obese brother eats Cheetos and watches endless television. Johnny fills the familial void with strange drugs that allow him to see between existences. He meets Jesus—in the form of a fly.

Maddox just keeps tripping from one bad situation to another, each messier and more fucked up than the previous. His dumb-ass brother gets them held hostage by a beastly whore and he keeps missing the calls from his parole officer. And the Goths teach Johnny that throwing grapes at hellhounds can save your tripping ass.

All of that is in here…and much more. It sounds ridiculous when splintered apart, but it works quite well. The storylines meld and part but never compromise the flow of the story. An exercise in fluid pacing and an altar to high octane fun. This is modern noir-cum-bizarro. This is cool.

Available through Post Mortem Press.

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Die, You Badass Bubbles, Die!

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.

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