Shock Totem #10 (Jan 2016)
- Closing for Submissions
- Shock Totem Returns!
- Apex Publications Acquires Shock Totem Book Line
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 8
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 7
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 6
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 5
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 4
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 3
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 2
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Tag Archives: Laird Barron
There is a saying that goes, “Everything old is new again.” I’ve always found this to be true. In fiction, we are currently seeing a resurgence of “weird” fiction (not to be confused with the Bizarro movement). This is fiction of an almost speculative nature that happens to be…well, weird. Think of the works of Robert Aickman or Gerald Kersh, even some of Harlan Ellison’s stuff, and you’re nearly there.
Scott Nicolay is one of the newish crop of weird peddlers. And a good one at that.
His collection, Ana Kai Tangata: Tales of the Outer, the Other, the Damned and the Doomed is a surly beast with teeth (I say teeth as they feature prominently in a lot of the terrors Nicolay delivers). After an introduction by the mighty Laird Barron, we open with the tale “Alligators,” wherein a man cannot shed the shackles of his past and the possibly imagined trauma he endured. He takes his daughters to face his fears and discovers that, sometimes, not only does the past stay as it was, it grows hungrier and hungrier. “The Bad Outer Space” is almost like a Bradbury tale, told from the point of view of a child, except for the nameless space horrors that swarm and writhe in it. A wonderfully paranoid excursion.
“Ana Kai Tangata” is the titular story and concerns caving scientists, archaeologists who venture into a cavern system only to encounter terrors they could not have foreseen even through the ever-repeating lens of history. “Eyes Exchange Bank” is one of the weirdest yet compelling. As two friends explore a strange mall, things devolve into a yawning nightmare. “Phragmites” takes us on a quest for a long lost historical site, which as you can probably guess is not the smartest journey to make. Were it not for Nicolay’s prose and deeper story to elevate it, “The Soft Frogs” would almost be equivalent to a B-movie full of slimy monsters.
“Geshafte” is another strange one about appetites. Sort of. Closing out the collection is “Tuckahoe.” This is the most ambitious of them all and one of the strongest. A Detective is called to look into an road accident that left three people dead. There happens to be an extra arm in the mix—one that isn’t human. As the man digs deeper into the case and origins of the extra limb, things get quite bizarre…and dark.
Nicolay writes with strength and purpose. A few times his prose gets heavy and threatens to weigh down the story but it usually recovers. His style is clearly influenced by Ligotti and Lovecraft, and I even saw some early Ramsey Campbell in the mix. I liked this collection, for it did what collections are supposed to do: it showcased the many angles from which the writer can deliver a story. Grab a copy if you can find it, and keep an eye on Scott Nicolay. He’ll be one of the foresurfers of this ever growing weird fiction wave!
Ana Kai Tangata is available through Fedogen & Bremer Publishing.
John Langan is well on his way to becoming a contemporary horror legend. Not only are his ideas brilliant, but the style and authority with which he crafts his fiction makes his work required reading for anyone even remotely interested in the genre. His stories have frequently appeared in best-of-the-year anthologies as well as several of the themed anthologies edited by John Joseph Adams and can be found in his two collections, Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters (2008) and The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies (2013). Whether you’re a fan of monsters, literary analysis, or the weird, you’ll find something to love between the covers of either collection. Langan’s novel House of Windows (2009) is likewise recommended. Co-founder of the Shirley Jackson Awards and an instructor at SUNY New Paltz, Langan is also an accomplished academic.
I recently had an opportunity to speak with the man himself about monsters, family, writing advice, and his host of new projects on the horizon.
ZCP: Your work tends cover a wide range in terms of literary and genre horror. In one story you’ve placed readers in a classroom for a lecture about Poe while in the next you’re speaking with authority about space vampires. What’s it like to call so many corners of the genre home? Do you find your process changes from one story to the next?
JL: My process remains pretty much the same from story to story, which is to say, I try to write about a page a day, sometimes more, sometimes less, until the story’s done. What changes from piece to piece is the narrative voice, which adapts to and shapes the material of the story. Once I can hear the voice of a particular story, usually in an opening line, I’m off and running. If my work covers a lot of ground, then that’s because I see the horror field as a rather large and baggy tent. No doubt, it’s a consequence of growing up during the horror boom of the seventies and eighties, when so many writers were doing so much work that was widely-available, and all manner of reprint and year’s best anthologies were available, too. A book like Stephen King’s Danse Macabre, with its very catholic view of what might be considered a horror narrative, exerted a tremendous influence on my own thoughts on the matter. I see that variety as a fundamental strength of the horror field, a tremendous asset for those of us working in it.
ZCP: What draws you to write about monsters and madness? Did you have any childhood interests that steered you toward the horror genre?
JL: I write what I do because I love it, because it speaks to me and energizes me in a way that cuts right to the heart of who I am. I’ve always loved monsters: initially, the big ones, Godzilla, especially, and Gamera and Gorgo (who should have starred in a series of films of her own–what a missed opportunity!), and then the human-sized ones, the vampires and the werewolves, the gill-men and the zombies. I love their gaudiness; I love the way they embody what I see as one of the horror narrative’s central concerns, the irruption of the irrational into our daily experience. I expect my affection for them grows out of a number of different childhood passions: for dinosaurs, for comic books, for the mythology of the Greeks and the Vikings.
As for madness, I suppose it’s the complement to the monsters. If they represent that incursion of the irrational as an external force, then madness figures it as internal, a rupturing of the self by the self. I imagine my interest in it grows out of early exposure to the works of Poe, as well as to the history of Jack the Ripper and what was during my childhood the contemporary figure of the Yorkshire Ripper, whose crimes and taunts of the police terrified me, an ocean away. I would guess, too, that as someone who was a literature major in college and graduate school, I’m informed by the interest in madness that permeates so much of the literature of the last few hundred years, from the work of the British and American Romantics to a figure such as Rimbaud, and up through the Moderns and Postmoderns.
ZCP: In past interviews you’ve mentioned working on a second novel with a working title of The Fisherman. How is that progressing?
JL: I’m pleased to say that I finished work on The Fisherman at the end of 2013, and currently, my agent is shopping the book around. It’s the story of a pair of fishing buddies who venture to a haunted stream, wrapped around an account of the secret and terrible history of the construction of the Ashokan Reservoir in upstate New York. Fingers, obviously, crossed.
ZCP: You also have a third short story collection in the works, correct? You’ve said you view The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies as a continuation of your first collection, Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters. Will the new collection share traits with the first two?
JL: Absolutely: there will be the same mix of monsters and narrative approaches, anchored by an original, lengthy novella. If there is a difference, it’s that the stories in this book all cohere around the idea of betrayal. This wasn’t a conscious decision on my part; it was more a matter of, when I was looking at the stories that would go into the third collection, I realized that every last one of them revolved around some notion of betrayal. This, in turn, affected my decision about the new piece I wanted to include. I haven’t started showing this book to publishers, yet; I’d like to have the novel settled, first. But I would imagine it will appear in either 2015 or 2016, with a fourth collection appearing two to three years after that, and a fifth another couple of years on from that, the Good Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise.
ZCP: In 2011 Prime Books released Creatures: Thirty Years of Monsters, which you co-edited with Paul Tremblay. Do you two have any other shared projects on the horizon?
JL: Paul and I have a few paragraphs of a story we’ve been planning to co-write for something like five or six years, now. Eventually, we’ll get to it. Paul’s an outstanding writer; his 2010 collection, In the Mean Time, is essential reading. Our other ongoing project is the Shirley Jackson Awards, of which we’re founding members. With JoAnn Cox, Paul is responsible for the smooth running of the whole shebang; I show up for the awards and look thoughtful.
ZCP: The Year’s Best Weird Fiction, Volume One, which is being edited by Laird Barron and Michael Kelly, is slated for release in August and contains your story “Bor Urus.” You’ve been a supporter of weird fiction for a long time. What’s it like to be included in the first wave of this new anthology? Do you think weird fiction may get more of the attention it deserves?
JL: I’m delighted that my story is appearing in the anthology, tucked in amidst truly stellar company. Of course, it’s always nice to have your work recognized, and for it to be in such a high-profile venue as this is the proverbial icing on the cake. Between the VanderMeers’ recent anthology, The Weird, and now this, it does seem as if the weird is on the cultural radar. Certainly, it would be nice for a writer such as Michael Cisco, who for a decade and a half has been writing brilliant fiction that exemplifies much of what I understand the weird to be about, to receive the recognition he so richly deserves.
ZCP: You’ve had a close friendship with Laird Barron for some time now. Any chance we’ll see you two team up as a dynamic duo to frighten readers?
JL: Laird is one of my favorite people, and one of the contemporary writers who most makes me throw up my hands and shout, “How did he do that?” We’ve been kicking around ideas for years, now; I think the first one centered on Godzilla vs. Cthulhu. (I actually wrote a couple of hundred words on it.) It’s something we still plan to do, once our plates become a little less full. Our latest plot involves a global pursuit and at least one monster.
ZCP: Aliens or Predators?
ZCP: Earlier this year you set up a new blog. You’ve already put up a list of works and interviews as well as some advice on writing. Any plans for the blog’s future? How would you say your overall use of social media has changed since your career took off?
JL: To put the matter kindly, I’ve tended to under-use the various social media platforms, from Livejournal, to Facebook, to Twitter, to whatever’s looming on the electronic horizon. In part, this has been a result of trying to balance those platforms with a marriage, a family, a day job teaching, and a night job writing. I’ve preferred to devote the majority of my writing time to working on my fiction. And, to be honest, I’m not particularly good at the kind of rapid-fire discourse that flourishes online. Probably as a result of my academic training, I prefer to take a longer time working through whatever subject or issue is in front of me, by the end of which, the online community will have moved on to the next thing. I used to feel worse about this, especially when I considered those writers who were all over the place on the web. More recently, I’ve noticed a) how many of those same writers haven’t written much except for their online commentary and b) how many of them will declare their need to go offline in order to complete their next work. This said, I have established a new blog. I wanted a single place where I could link to what I’ve published online, which turned out to be more than I’d realized. I imagine I’ll continue to use it to that end, and also try to employ it to somewhat the same end as my Facebook account, which is to say, as a place to bring together things I think are interesting and cool.
ZCP: What is one piece of bad writing advice you think gets passed around too often? What good piece of advice doesn’t get passed around enough?
JL: As a fan of the adverb, I’m annoyed at their continuing denigration. I understand the purpose of telling beginning writers to do without them, as I understand the reason why the whole “slaughter your darlings” adage is passed on to them. Both strike me as reductive and constrictive. My feeling is, if a piece of writing advice helps you to write more, then take it to heart. If it stops you from writing, then ditch it.
As for good advice: read. And do what you love. If you don’t love what you’re doing, then why do it?
ZCP: You currently teach as an adjunct instructor at SUNY New Paltz. Would you ever consider teaching in an MFA program?
JL: Depending on the program, sure. The biggest challenge to me doing so is location and duration. My family and I are pretty settled where we are, now–my wife has tenure; my younger son’s in middle school–which means I would need to teach either someplace locally, or someplace with a low-residency program. Of course, given that the low-res programs tend to be more genre-friendly, that might not be such a stretch.
ZCP: You’ve mentioned your family a few times now. How does being a husband and father inform your writing? Do you find bits of that portion of your life slipping into your work, or do the two remain relatively separate?
JL: I wouldn’t be the writer I am today without my wife and sons. When my wife, Fiona, and I first started seeing one another, she was completing her dissertation on the fiction of Jack Kerouac (not so much On the Road as Dr. Sax and Visions of Cody). We talked about her work on Kerouac a lot, especially his use of popular culture. Through those conversations, Fiona helped me to realize that popular cultural forms such as horror fiction were as capable of serious literary expression as anything, which had been something of an anxiety of mine during my twenties. Then, when we first started living together, Fiona and I watched reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, after which, we would discuss the episodes. I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone who understands narrative in so fundamental a way as my wife; discussing Buffy (and later Angel) with her was like a master class in the dynamics of narrative. Once I returned to writing horror, and before our son was born, I would read whatever story I was working on to her and she would critique it–continuing, I suppose, my education.
More generally speaking, being a father to both my sons has made my life richer than I would have dreamed possible. With my sons in my life, even the bad times are better than they would have been, otherwise. There’s definitely been a bleed-over from my life to my fiction, from my older son asking me to write stories about certain monsters, to my wife and younger son appearing in not-too-subtle disguise in a couple of stories and my first novel.
ZCP: In the past you’ve given shout outs to writers. Is there anyone out there readers should keep an eye on who maybe doesn’t have the readership they should?
JL: There is no shortage of writers doing great work, right now. I mentioned Michael Cisco above as someone who’s been on the cutting edge for years and has yet to receive what I consider his due. I’m sure your readers are aware of Laird Barron and Sarah Langan (who is, incidentally, no relation); if they’re not, however, then I would heartily recommend all of Laird and Sarah’s fiction, starting with The Imago Sequence and Other Stories and The Keeper, respectively. The last few years have seen a number of very strong debut collections; I’d call attention to Livia Llewellyn’s Engines of Desire and Nathan Ballingrud’s North American Lake Monsters as well worth your readers’ time and attention. Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of reading new collections from Scott Nicolay and Damien Angelica Walters. Scott’s Ana Kai Tangata is out, now; I believe Damien’s Sing Me Your Scars and Other Stories will be released in the fall. As they say, run, don’t walk, to get them.
ZCP: Thanks so much for taking the time. Is there anything you’d like to say in closing? You have the floor.
JL: Thank you for inviting me to speak with you, and for asking such interesting questions. The only thing I’d like to add is a thank you to the people who have read and who continue to read my fiction. What success I’ve had, I owe to my readers, and I’m grateful for them.
The TOC for the Year’s Best Weird Fiction, Volume 1, edited by Michael Kelly and Laird Barron, has been released. We’re very proud to announce that Damien Angelica Walters’ “Shall I Whisper to You of Moonlight, of Sorrow, of Pieces of Us?” from Shock Totem #7 made the final cut. Well deserved indeed.
So a huge congratulations, Damien!
And though hers is the only Shock Totem tale included, she is not the only Shock Totem author. Also appearing will be A.C. Wise (Shock Totem #4) and Kristi DeMeester (Shock Totem #7). Congrats to you both, as well!
Here is the full TOC:
* “Success” by Michael Blumlein, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Nov./Dec.
* “Like Feather, Like Bone” by Kristi DeMeester, Shimmer #17
* “A Terror” by Jeffrey Ford, Tor.com, July.
* “The Key to Your Heart Is Made of Brass” by John R. Fultz, Fungi #21
* “A Cavern of Redbrick” by Richard Gavin, Shadows & Tall Trees #5
* “The Krakatoan” by Maria Dahvana Headley, Nightmare Magazine/The Lowest Heaven, July.
* “Bor Urus” by John Langan, Shadow’s Edge
* “Furnace” by Livia Llewellyn, The Grimscribe’s Puppets
* “Eyes Exchange Bank” by Scott Nicolay, The Grimscribe’s Puppets
* “A Quest of Dream” by W.H. Pugmire, Bohemians of Sesqua Valley
* “(he) Dreams of Lovecraftian Horror” by Joseph S. Pulver Sr., Lovecraft eZine #28
* “Dr. Blood and the Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron” by A.C. Wise, Ideomancer Vol. 12 Issue 2
* “The Year of the Rat” by Chen Quifan, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, July/August.
* “Fox into Lady” by Anne-Sylvie Salzman, Darkscapes
* “Olimpia’s Ghost” by Sofia Samatar, Phantom Drift #3
* “The Nineteenth Step” by Simon Strantzas, Shadows Edge
* “The Girl in the Blue Coat” by Anna Taborska, Exotic Gothic 5 Vol. 1
* “In Limbo” by Jeffrey Thomas, Worship the Night Ranger“Moonstruck” by Karen Tidbeck, Shadows & Tall Trees #5
* “Swim Wants to Know If It’s as Bad as Swim Thinks” by Paul Tremblay, Bourbon Penn #8
* “No Breather in the World But Thee” by Jeff VanderMeer, Nightmare Magazine, March.
* “Shall I Whisper to You of Moonlight, of Sorrow, of Pieces of Us?” by Damien Angelica Walters, Shock Totem #7.
As you can see, a brilliant lineup! Congrats again, ladies! And to everyone else who made the final cut, of course. =)
You can read more about this collection here.
The New Black is a collection of twenty neo-noir stories. That is the promise from the back cover of this new anthology put out by the fine folks at Dark House Press and edited by Richard Thomas. No, not the guy who played John Boy on The Waltons. This cat is cooler. Way cooler.
Now, full disclosure: I have no idea what neo-noir means. I don’t much give a flying fig about genres and sub-genres and their sub-genres. I like good stories, interesting stories. I love strange stories, especially. And I loved this anthology. Loved!
After a forward by Laird Barron, we get to the stories. Opening with a tragic and deeply troubling tale by Stephen Graham Jones, “Father Son, Holy Rabbit,” which stuck in my head for days! This is followed by Paul Tremblay’s “It’s Against the Law to Feed the Ducks.” Another gut-puncher of a story about loss and regret and fear…and love. I almost jumped ship after this one, as I was not sure I could troop through another eighteen tales of this caliber of heartbreak. But I soldiered on.
Lindsay Hunter’s “That Baby” is a sideshow freakazoid parental nightmare. “The Truth and All It’s Ugly,” by Kyle Minor, is a disorienting re-tooling of Pinocchio or Blade Runner. Kind of. Craig Clevenger’s “Act of Contrition” gives faith fangs and something sharper and deadlier. With “The Familiars,” author Micaela Morrissette delivers what is my favorite of the bunch, a stunningly beautiful and terrifying tale of a child and his imaginary friend. Really, this one will knock you out.
“Dial Tone,” by Benjamin Percy, is a tale of loneliness and loss of one’s self. Roxane Gay’s “How” is a unique and wonderfully odd little story told in short instructional blocks. Roy Kesy’s “Instituto” is about vanity and its ultimate price. Craig Davidson’s “Rust and Bone” concerns a boxer and revenge. “Blue Hawaii,” by Rebecca Jones-Howe, is a scathing diorama of a deeply flawed pair and their demons. Joe Meno’s “Children Are the Only Ones Who Blush,” is a stunning and strange drama about an ostracized and pained young man and his struggles with getting on in his world.
“Christopher Hitchens,” by Vanessa Veselka, tackles faith and loss and stars grief and dolphins. “Dollhouse,” by Craig Wallwork, is an effective haunted house story, and that’s a very simplified synopsis. Trust me. “His Footsteps Are Made of Soot,” by Nik Korpon, is a haunting tale of home surgery, resentment, and mortality. Tara Laskowski’s “The Etiquette of Homicide” is a how-to guide to being a killer for hire. This story has one of the best last lines EVER!
“Dredge,” by Matt Bell, shows us a twisted glimpse into the lonely and odd circumstances of a sad man and the dead girl he finds. Antonia Crane turns in the metaphorically titled “Sunshine for Adrienne,” wherein we wallow in the tragic misery of a very broken girl. Richard Lange’s “Fuzzyland” is a brutal excursion into denial and running from yourself. And then we hit the final story, Brian Evenson’s “Windeye,” a delirious nightmare about a house with an extra window.
The New Black is a great collection of incredibly unique fiction. I honestly liked every story in here, and I usually don’t say that about an anthology. It was also nice to encounter so many authors with whom I was unfamiliar. A strong compilation of talent. Very strong.
I reviewed Tim Waggoner’s Skull Cathedral a few years ago—quite favorably, if memory serves—so when I saw that he had a collection coming out, I was looking forward to it. When I saw the chance to snap up a copy of said collection from the Post Mortem Press table at AnthoCon, I did it.
Bone Whispers is a collection of eighteen stories. Now, I’d be derelict in my duties if I didn’t warn the uninitiated that a Tim Waggoner story is NOT like any others. He deals out vicious, wriggling slivers of off-kilter horror, slathered in strange and stitched with surrealism. This is my favorite type of story, truth be told.
We open with “Thou Art God,” wherein a man makes the difficult discovery that he is God and much to his chagrin, that doesn’t equate to unabashed love and adoration from his fellow man. “Bone Whispers” takes us on a painful journey of sad nostalgia and coming to terms with tragedy…and a giant supernatural groundhog. “Some Dark Hope” give us a pathetic loner who finds a way to use his particular life “skills” to make some money in a very special house of ill repute.
Visit an orchard where the living dead sprout like trees in “Harvest Time.” “Surface Tension” delivers a very odd story of a man afraid of puddles, with good reason. “Best Friends Forever” shows us how powerful denial and guilt are when working together. “No More Shadows” is a bizarre exercise in paranoia and loyalty. “Unwoven” is a trippy little shard of existential humor…shaded darkly.
Marking the book’s equator is “Skull Cathedral,” a nightmarish kaleidoscope of surreal brutality. “Do No Harm” is a sort-of zombie apocalypse story without any zombies, but the vibe is eerily similar. “Country Roads,” which happens to be my favorite in this book, tells the tale of a sad man looking for validation in the echoes of his youth. Outstanding! “Darker Than Winter” gives us a tale of snowman murder and terror in the bold tradition of the old horror comics from the 50s.
“Swimming Lesson” corrals the weirdness into a public pool, while “Conversations Kill” finds a man confronting his woman issues in a very unhealthy way. “Long Way Home” is an apocalyptic tale of survival and resentment masked as guilt that, with it’s crazy monsters, plays like a Del Toro film. “Sleepless Eyes” is a crazy little scene in the most horrific roadside dive you’ve ever visited. “The Faces That We Meet” is a story that allows a dark glimpse into the secret habits and lives of those we know and think we know well.
The collection closes with “The Great Ocean of Truth,” a gonzo tale that channels the authors inner Kafka and brews it in a Norman Rockwell coffee mug to be poured down your throat while still scalding hot.
Bone Whispers is an astounding testament to the talents of Tim Waggoner. I have (and I hope to remedy this soon) only read his short fiction and I have loved all of it. Ranking among Brady Allen and Bentley Little in the halls of Weird Fiction Manor. toothy and terrifying and delightfully devilish. Good stuff that will leave stains and scars.
Shock Totem Publications is very happy to announce that our seventh issue is available for purchase!
“I see the bad moon rising. I see trouble on the way.”
Shock Totem steamrolls ahead with its seventh issue, featuring tales of classic horror, creature features, heartbreak and loss!
The legendary William F. Nolan offers up “The Horror That Et My Pap–and Other Swamp Stuff,” a tale the likes of which you have never read before. S. Clayton Rhodes delivers “The Gates of Emile Plimpkin: The Gravedigger’s Legacy,” a novelette that veritably oozes horror borne of the 1800s. Damien Angelica Walters (formerly Damien Walters Grintalis) gives us the heartbreaking “Shall I Whisper to You of Moonlight, of Sorrow, of Pieces of Us?” And M. Bennardo supplies this issue’s creature-feature with “Thing In a Bag.”
Newcomers are front and center, beginning with the one-two punch of “Consumption” and “Among the Elephants,” by Victoria Jakes and Amberle L. Husbands, respectively. In “The Long Road,” Kristi DeMeester leads us to the water’s dark edge and tempts us to drink deep, drink long, because we are so very thirsty. Rounding things out is Dominik Parisien’s excellent poem, “Smoking, The Old Sergeant Remembers 30 Mins Past Ceasefire.”
In addition to all the great fiction, you will find conversations with literary stalwart Laird Barron and Violet LeVoit. The early 70s are explored in the fifth installment of the horror-in-music serial, “Bloodstains & Blue Suede Shoes.” Narrative nonfiction is handled by Kurt Newton, and with “The Hook, the Hole, and the Garden,” John Boden delivers possibly the most heart-wrenching piece of nonfiction ever published in Shock Totem.
Come see why Shock Totem is billed as “…one of the strongest horror fiction magazines on the market today” (Hellnotes).
Interested in our back catalog? All past issues are still available digitally and in print and can be ordered directly from us or through Amazon and other online retailers
As always, thank you for the support!