Tag Archives: Ronald Malfi

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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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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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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Horrorfind Weekend

This coming Friday through Sunday, John, Sarah and I will be down in Gettysburg, PA, for this year’s Horrorfind convention. Shock Totem #3 authors Amanda C. Davis and S. Clayton Rhodes will be in attendance, as well as James Newman, who will also be reading from The Wicked Friday evening.

We had hoped to have a bigger presence this year, possibly seeing some of our authors on panels and the Horror Writers guest list. Unfortunately, despite for three months calling the number on the website, leaving voicemails, and e-mailing the people in charge of organizing the event, we were never able to make it happen.

I got one reply out of at least a dozen e-mails sent, and that came on August 20, seventeen days after I sent the e-mail it was in response to (and months after I first contacted them).

“Unfortunately, our author guest list & reading schedule has already been finalized and we are not taking any additional requests for readings at this year’s event.”

According to the website, there are ten authors on the guest list, eight of which are Samhain Publishing authors. With absolutely no disrespect meant to those authors or the publisher, I find that to be rather unprofessional. Of course, that should come as no surprise to anyone who reads Brian Keene’s blog.

If this sounds like complaining, it’s not. It’s disappointment. Not only were we ignored by the organizers, but our authors were as well, and I know that stings them more than it does me.

That said, I’m glad to see the fantastic Damien Walters Grintalis on the guest list. She’ll be selling pre-release copies of her debut novel, Ink. Yeah! And Ronald Malfi, who is quickly becoming my favorite small-press author, will be on hand, so I’m looking forward to meeting him if possible, and maybe picking up some of his work I don’t own. Nick Cato will be there. Mangos! David G. Blake and his lovely wife, Dawn, will hopefully be there. Plenty of other cool-cool cats will be on hand as well (I just can’t remember who at the moment).

And us! Yes, we will be present and available. And we will have limited copies of Shock Totem, The Wicked—which James will gladly sign—and a few other things our work is featured in. If you’d like to buy anything, let us know. Perhaps we’ll set up shop in the lobby or have a boot sale in the parking lot.

On Sunday we’re planning a pilgrimage up to York to visit the York Emporium, which according to John is the “coolest bookstore” he’s ever been to. Looking forward to it.

See you there?

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Best of 2011: Shock Totem Staff Picks

As we enter 2012, let’s take a quick look back at some of our favorite things (that we could actually remember) from 2011.

FAVORITE SMALL PRESS NOVEL/NOVELLA/NOVELETTE:

Ken’s Pick

Skullbelly, by Ronald Malfi

Mercedes’s Picks

Bear in a Muddy Tutu, by Cole Alpaugh


“Map of Seventeen,” by Christopher Barzak

John’s Pick

The Damned Highway, by Brian Keene and Nick Mamatas

Nick’s Pick

Animosity, by James Newman

FAVORITE ANTHOLOGY/COLLECTION:

Ken’s Pick

Full Dark, No Stars, by Stephen King

Sarah’s Pick

The Zombie Feed, Vol. 1, Edited by Jason Sizemore

FAVORITE MAINSTREAM NOVEL/NOVELLA/NOVELETTE:

Mercedes’s Pick

Mrs. Peregrin’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs

John’s Pick

There Is No Year, by Blake Butler

Nick’s Pick

11/22/63, by Stephen King

Sarah’s Picks

Tie between Treachery in Death and New York to Dallas, by J.D. Robb

FAVORITE MOVIE:

Ken’s Pick

Red State

Mercedes’s Pick

Hugo

John’s Pick

The Muppets

Sarah’s Pick

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

FAVORITE DISCOVERY:

Ken’s Pick

The brilliant work of Darrell Schweitzer

Mercedes’s Pick

Gemmy Butterfly Collection™

John’s Pick

The Memphis Morticians

Nick’s Pick

The Parlor Mob

Sarah’s Pick

Lie to Me

FAVORITE ALBUM:

Ken’s Pick

Dystopia, by Iced Earth

John’s Pick

Bad as Me, by Tom Waits

Nick’s Pick

Thirteen, by http://www.megadeth.com

Unfortunately, for various reasons, we couldn’t all give picks for certain categories. I didn’t read a single novel last year that actually came out in 2011, for instance. So no Novel pick from me. Sarah didn’t read any small-press novels/novellas/novelettes that came out in 2011, so no pick from her.

And the old gray matter just failed us on other things. Which of course means right after this goes live the answers will become clear…

Anyway, as you can see, we have varied tastes that extend well beyond horror. Check out some of our picks; you’ll probably discover something great.

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