Shock Totem #10 (Jan 2016)
- The State of Shock Totem Publications, or We Are Not ChiZine Publications
- 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
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Tag Archives: Lee Thomas
Our latest holiday issue is now available!
Cover art by Mikio Murakami.
Treats abound, in this special edition of Shock Totem are seven short stories, one poem, and five nonfiction pieces. Of the fiction, John Boden and Bracken MacLeod venture into dark and weird neighborhoods in “Halloween On…” In “Out of Field Theory,” Kevin Lucia gives us a shadowed glimpse of what lurks beyond the frame. David G. Blake’s “Night in the Forest of Loneliness” smells of autumn and the beautiful death she brings.
Learn why sometimes it’s better to stay home on Halloween in “Tricks and Treats,” by Rose Blackthorn. Kriscinda Lee Everitt’s “Howdy Doody Time” is a poignant nod to the past. The shadows come alive in “Before This Night Is Done,” by Barry Lee Dejasu, and in my story, “The Candle Eaters,” I explore faith and hope and a darkness that haunts us all.
In addition to the fiction, Sydney Leigh provides a very fine poem, “Allhallowtide (To the Faithless Departed).”
Authors John Langan, Lee Thomas, and Jeremy Wagner, as well as filmmaker Mike Lombardo and the always wonderful and brusque Babs Boden, provide anecdotal Halloween recollections.
No tricks, all treats.
Table of Contents:
* Halloween On, by John Boden and Bracken MacLeod
* Night in the Forest of Loneliness, by David G. Blake
* Kore, by John Langan (Holiday Recollection)
* Out of Field Theory, by Kevin Lucia
* Tricks and Treats, by Rose Blackthorn
* Witches and the March of Dimes, and Mike Warnke, by Babs Boden (Holiday Recollection)
* Howdy Doody Time, by Kriscinda Lee Everitt
* When I Scared Myself Out of Halloween, by Jeremy Wagner (Holiday Recollection)
* Before This Night Is Done, by Barry Lee Dejasu
* The Mansion, by Lee Thomas (Holiday Recollection)
* Allhallowtide (To the Faithless Departed), by Sydney Leigh (Poetry)
* Flay Bells Ring, or How the Horror Filmmaker Stole Christmas, by Mike Lombardo (Holiday Recollection)
* The Candle Eaters, by K. Allen Wood
* Howling Through the Keyhole (Author Notes)
Learn more about our holiday issues here. And as always, thank you for the support!
Please note that if you buy the print edition through Amazon.com, you will also receive the Kindle edition for free.
Set in 1932, Lee Thomas’s stunning and tragic novel, Butcher’s Road, manages to mix gang warfare, small-time criminals, and alchemy into a heady cocktail of darkly sinister whodunnit the likes of which I hadn’t read in some time.
It is the story of Butch Cardinal, a small-time hood, who never mixes in the big nasty stuff—until the day he becomes an unwitting pawn in a strange and brutal shell game, where the red rubber ball is in fact an occult article that can provide a powerful service. Butch, a former wrestler, is forced to run and not trust anyone or anything to be as it seems.
Along the way, Thomas gives us a fantastic cast of characters: the aforementioned Butch, a deep and flawed man, living most of his life in a cloak if denial and shadows of guilt. Rabin, a hit man like no other you’ve ever encountered, so brutal in his craft I kept waiting for him to break out a dental drill and ask if it was safe. Hollis, another former wrestler and club owner who provides solace and an anchor for Butch when the wasters get rough. You will meet the “Alchemi,” a mysterious group of men with special talents who are also after Butch. These well-drawn folks and lots more can be found in Butcher’s Road, as they weave in and out of the grimy neighborhoods and suburban crime-boss estates, seedy hotels, and damp alleys.
From Chicago to New Orleans, Butcher’s Road is a long and winding road, unpaved and rough at times…but what a satisfying journey it is.
Butcher’s Road is available from Lethe Press.
Lee Thomas is one of the strongest writers going today. If you aren’t familiar with his work, reconcile that. Stunning writing, believable characters, and horrific…well, horror. He’s the real deal, folks. Lee was kind enough to drop by ST Manor for some tea and playful banter…
John Boden: While I have a lot of your books, I have not read them all…yet. What I have read has been wonderful. Of all the possible charms I could go on about, the rich and realistic portrayals of emotion and character are staggering. Truly. There are also recurring themes of inner struggle as well as the given outer struggles. All of it delivered with such deft edge and detail. Do you put a lot of yourself in your work? Meaning, do you tend to infuse characters with struggles and feelings you have had or have?
Lee Thomas: Yes. I imagine most writers do. A character is an author’s conduit to readers, so characters have to express feelings accurately, whether through action, speech, or thought. We all know what fear feels like, and we all know what love feels like. Granted I’ve never encountered a horrific visage of an old god on a fog-shrouded eve, but I’ve spun around in a car after losing control of it and felt that ice cold, near-paralysis in the process. I’ve waited in a hospital room while my partner was undergoing heart surgery, and I went through a spectrum of emotions about it. You use those things. Granted, that’s oversimplifying, but most adults have enjoyed and/or endured the range of emotions. They are available to us, and they need to be employed. When you’re writing, you’re not just dropping info and walking readers through a series of events, you’re trying to engage them and make them believe that what you’re sharing feels real, even though they know it isn’t. Characters are the primary way to do this. If what your characters feel reads as authentic, you won’t have readers pulling back and thinking, “Huh?”
JB: I recently read your novel The German. (I know I was late to the party on that one…all of them, sadly.) I would imagine there was a great deal of research that went into the historical aspects of that novel. It was so rich with detail. What was the inspiration for such a book?
LT: I enjoy research, though I try to keep it unobtrusive. I don’t want to weigh a reader down with a bunch of information that I might find fascinating, but which has no bearing on the story or the characters. With The German, I drew inspiration from a few places. They all hit at once within a relatively narrow window period. The first was a documentary on The History Channel, when they still did the occasional piece on history. It focused on a high-ranking German soldier who was openly gay. His name was Ernst Röhm, and it struck me as odd I’d never heard of him before. Fascinating stuff. That night I sat down and wrote what would become the prologue of the novel, and then it was out of my system, and I went back to other projects. Not long after, a week or two, I went on a day trip to Fredericksburg, a small town in the hill country out here, and they really play up the area’s German heritage. I hadn’t been living in Texas for very long at that point, but the fact it had been so heavily settled by Germans surprised me. Back in Austin, I found that there were still German music clubs and the like. So I had a protagonist and a setting (though I changed Austin to a smaller, fictional town named Barnard). The last piece was just random. I won’t go into it. It includes adult entertainment.
JB: I know you to be a music fan (a fellow “metal head”), so I feel obliged to ask: how important is music to your creative process? Some find it distracting, others can’t work without it. If you need or like music to create, what are some of the soundtrack favorites?
LT.: Music is important to what I do. Before starting a project, I’ll try to find music that might enhance the tone of a piece while I’m putting the first draft together. The first draft of The Dust of Wonderland, which was written in a compulsive haze over the course of a few weeks, was written almost entirely to NIN’s Pretty Hate Machine and the first Candlebox record. Back then it took effort, okay minor effort, to pop a CD out and throw another in to change the music. It didn’t really matter. I was so lost in the story the music barely registered. I’d occasionally think, “Head Like a Hole” must have played a million times by now, but it still sounded good so I kept going. I need dead silence when I’m editing, but when I’m writing I like to have the music blaring to mask other distractions. Sometimes I’ll rework a title from a favorite song and use it for a short story or book. I’ve done it a few times. Of course the story or book has nothing to do with the lyrical content of the song. It’s just that metal and horror share a language palette. The cadence of the words gets into my head. Most of the titles I do from scratch, but there are a few that would certainly sound familiar to the hard rock set.
JB: I am always quite interested to hear how people got where they are today. Did you always want to be a writer? How young were you when you first began that journey?
LT: I was always interested in reading, but I thought writers were the anointed few who were identified as brilliant and predestined to have writing careers. Turns out…not so much. When I was in the Third Grade, I wrote a series of illustrated “novels” based on the Universal Horror canon. My teacher caught me working on one and asked to see them all. He typed up the stories and photocopied the pictures and made books out of them for the class. Great teacher. That was the last inkling I had from educators that I might be a writer, or have any useful skills at all. When I was sixteen I wrote my first full-length novel: 400 pages of a painfully bad werewolf story that was basically a modern interpretation of The Wolfman. I wrote another when I was in my early twenties. I probably wrote 10 “practice” novels, but I didn’t think to do anything with them. Then, a friend of a friend hooked me up with a literary agency. They were legit and worked really hard for me, but my focus on characters “fraternizing,” which was their nice way of saying “the characters are doing too much gay stuff,” pretty much nailed the coffin shut for a while. I was fine with that. Writing was something I did, not a career I dreamed about. Early versions of Stained and The Dust of Wonderland were both written during that period, about 10 years before either saw publication. Then, in 2001 I took a speculative fiction course with Terry Bisson. He encouraged me to send some stories out, so I did. I sent out six stories and three or four of them got picked up. The first acceptance came from Brian Keene at Horrorfind.com. So yeah, blame Brian. Ha. One of the others went to Gothic.net, which was a pro market, and the story received some praise from writers I had heard of. It felt strange to suddenly have my work out in front of people, but it also felt pretty good. More short stories followed, and in 2004 my first published novel, Stained, was released.
JB: Being an avid reader, I find endless inspiration in the books I read. I try to get at least two books in a week. Plus all the submissions for Shock Totem. So I read A LOT. Are you a voracious reader and what sort of books do you like to read?
LT: I was a voracious reader as a kid. I picked up whatever book was lying around the house (some of which should not have been left lying around, I might add). I also made regular trips to the library, because we didn’t have much money, so I couldn’t buy comics or the books I saw at the grocery store. The library was always a good place to hang. I fell away from reading in my late teens and ever since I’ve gone in spurts. I’ll read a dozen books and then nothing for a while, usually when I’m working on a novel. A few years back I was a judge for the Shirley Jackson Awards, and I spent six months reading everything they sent my way. It was wonderful. It was also a little exhausting because I was, at the time, organizing a World Horror Convention, starting my masters degree, and meeting deadlines for my own books. I’ve read a few books recently that other authors have sent me to blurb or edit. It’ll be a bit before I can pick things up from the bookstore and see what’s new.
JB: After I finished The German, I tore through Stained and The Dust of Wonderland. I can’t help but wonder why these and so many other incredible small-press offerings have not translated into crossover mainstream success. It sometimes seems as though the small imprints are an invisible fence, and I guess it’s open for interpretation as to whether they’re to keep us in or others out.
LT: I never thought of fences in regard to the small press. Many successful writers in our genre write for both major publishers and the small press. Tim Lebbon, Joe McKinney, Gary McMahon, and Tim Waggoner are just a few of those that come to mind. Granted, I know of few small press titles that are picked up and re-released by big houses. Norm Partridge’s Dark Harvest went from Cemetery Dance to Tor, I believe, but I can’t think of other examples just now.
The small press serves a valuable service by publishing quality books that are perceived to be non-commercial. It also produces a good amount of bad books, but then so does mainstream publishing. Most of the spec-lit writers I admire these days–Barron, Ballingrud, Langan, and just about everyone who’s published by Chizine–thrive in the small press, primarily. I could list a dozen folks whose work should be mass consumed but isn’t. Over analyzing it doesn’t really help things. Commercial trends are ocean waves and you can ride them in or continue to struggle against them. What you shouldn’t do is scream at the waves and complain about them going the wrong direction, because it’s a waste of breath.
For me the quality of the work isn’t in question. I’ve had interest from editors at big publishers for all of the titles you mentioned, but when it came time for the marketing folks to chime in, the books didn’t hit the right commercial notes. The sales teams didn’t think they could sell to a large enough audience and the editors came back with rejections. Not great, but it doesn’t make me question my skills. I’d love to make high five- or six-figure advances (or more) on all of my books, but that’s only happened a couple of times. I’m grateful for it. The fact is, what interests me in regard to content isn’t always perceived as having mass appeal, as noted above regarding the “fraternizing.” I accept that, after I stomp and fume for five or ten minutes. All I can do is keep writing stories that fascinate me, and write them as well as I can. There’s already an audience for it, and in time that audience will grow.
JB: I also started your collection, Like Light for Flies, and I am just as gob smacked with it as I am the novels. Truly unique and horrific, very much reminds me of the early masterworks of Clive Barker. Where do these ideas come from?
LT: Thank you. That’s great to hear. I wish I had a quick and snappy answer for you, but the ideas come from all over the place. There’s no real process involved. My stories don’t emerge from dreams or deep transcendental states. I see a news story and think, “This is exactly like a news story I saw last month, which was exactly like a news story I read the month before that,” and I sit down and write “Testify.” I watch a brain-blasting marathon of Italian horror flicks and think, “They must lose something in translation, because they’re awesome, but most make no damn sense at all,” and I want to do that, so I write “The House by the Park.” An editor asks me to write a story about a Bruce Springsteen song, so I throw on my favorite tune of his and the musical structure becomes integral to the structure of the story, and I come up with “Nothing Forgiven.” I want to write a story about my dog and think about her as part of an adventure, so I write “The Dodd Contrivance.” Somewhere in the process of writing, themes and metaphors emerge that tie into bigger issues. If effective I play those up. If not, I leave them buried. Whatever works for the story.
JB: Thanks so much for chatting with me, Lee. I have said many times, the greatest perk of working with Shock Totem has been the experience of getting to meet and befriend many wonderful and talented writers, and that definitely describes you. Anything you’d like to say or rant on before I have our driver take you home?
LT: Oh, just the usual promotional nonsense. “Buy my books.” “Leave your reviews on Goodreads or your favorite online retailer site.” “Tell your friends!” And more seriously, “Thanks for reading my work. I hope the stories hit a nerve or two.” And thank you, John! I enjoyed the chat. \m/
Visit Lee Thomas at his website and then spend the rest of the day tracking down all of his books.
For every big name horror author that you hear about—Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Clive Barker or Brian Keene—there is an extremely unsettling number of lesser known writers who deserve to be every bit as famous or well known for their work. And I get that. Music works the same way. We all know about Johnny Cash, but how many have ever heard the great Jerry Jeff Walker? I love it when I am not only impressed by someone I’ve never read before, but impressed to the point where I must track down and read all I can from them. Lee Thomas impressed me like that.
I had the pleasure of reading Ash Street nearly two years ago, for review. I liked it. For some reason I forgot about Lee Thomas, until we connected online and discovered a mutual affinity for heavy metal. I got some more of his work and devoured them all—greedily. So the verdict would now be that he is amazing. You ought to be reading him. All of his work.
With his debut novel, Stained, Lee introduces us to what will become his recognizable style: strong, character driven with realistic attitudes towards the fucked up things that are going on. Said fucked up things in this novel include an almost viral evil that possesses its victims and then tweaks and perverts their deepest longings. Upon completion, I could barely believe this was a debut novel it was so strongly written. No wonder it won a Stoker! The original printing from Wildside Press is quite rare but worth tracking down.
The Dust of Wonderland takes on a Southern Gothic sort of premise and punches it in its ghostly face.
A man is called to New Orleans under tragic circumstances—his son lays in coma near death and the events that surround it all seem to tie to the frayed psyche of Ken Nicholson, a man who has built his unstable life on a shaking pile of secrets and stones. Things take strange turns and all fingers point to a man long dead. This book ups things a notch. The pacing is superb and the realistic characters and reactions are wonderful. Had Lee been putting these novels out in the early 80’s instead of this millennium, he’d be a paperback bestseller and mentioned in the same frantic fanboy breaths as Straub and King.
After that, I read his superb novel The German. I thought the others were good…this was fantastic! Gripping from page one and it does not let up until the last sentence. Reading like a shadowy memoir of sorts, it tells the sad tale of a small Texas town plagued by strange murders and the mysterious German who seems to be the one they want to be responsible. Straddling the barbed wire fence between To Kill a Mockingbird and The Stranger, The German is a gritty affair but reads smooth and generates a well of emotion and outrage. Simply put, it is one of the finest novels I have read.
His chapbook The Black Sun Set, from Burning Effigy Press, is a nifty cocktail; one part noir and two parts metaphysical horror. A chilling post card of sorts.
His collection Like Light for Flies shows us what Thomas is capable of in a shorter word count. The stories are eclectic and smart, some copping an early Barker vibe and a few holding a severely classic voice. You’ll read about a man and his dog and how they try to save the world from monsters from another dimension. There is twisted noir with supernatural shades. Plenty of shocks and cringe-inducing images, all handled with deft precision.
And there you have it, a sort of Lee Thomas burrito. A brief encapsulation of what I have read, save for Butcher’s Road, which I have not yet finished but will review upon completion.
Be on the lookout for my interview with Lee very soon!
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.