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: Short Reviews
David James Keaton’s Zee Bee & Bee (a.k.a. Propeller Hats For The Dead), as it was called when it was sent to me last spring, has since been rechristened Zombie Bed & Breakfast (Zee Bee & Bee). Regardless of which title you acknowledge, this is one of the zaniest sort-of-zombie works I’ve ever read. Its audacity to be so smart and ridiculous at the same time is a feat worthy of your time.
In this novella, Keaton tells the story of a Zombie Bed & Breakfast, one of those themed places where folks pay to stay and be entertained. In this case, attacked by hotel workers dressed as the shambling dead.
Keaton has a keen eye for personality and pop culture references. The broken-down hotel workers are all schooled in their zombie lore and mythos and all know their script…but when things start to meander from the scripted path, chaos and bloodshed ensue.
Bizarro and smart. Keaton has a unique voice in his writing, the literary equivalent to Geddy Lee’s vocals—those who dig it are really going to dig it; those who hate it…you know what I’m getting at. It is also worthy of mention, an urban legend suggests that Tom Savini was so offended/insulted by this novella that it led him to “unfriend” the author on Facebook.
If I know David as well as I think I do, he wears that fact as a badge of honor.
Andrew Bonazelli steps up with his slice of world-ending pie, “The Dreamt and Deathless Obscene.”
His apocalypse is sort of quiet. Set in the mid 70’s, people just start acting strange. A plague has reduced half the populace to raving maniacs, while the rest don’t seem all that better off.
A group puts down roots in Philly and tries to start again, or at least live normally until a cure is found. In this, we are introduced to the Gall family, flawed and harboring their own insanities, well before the supposed plague began. The father and his two sons struggle to come out on top, through any means necessary.
Where Bonazelli elevates this above the typical post-apocalyptic crazy plague story, is with his unique grasp of the language. Quirky phrases and characters that are real and not at all the empathetic likeable survivor-types we’re used to. He takes all the templates of this genre and sets them aside, giving us a bleak and not-all-that-positive idea of the world ending—not with a bang, but with a whimper.
You can buy this book through Vitriol Press.
I don’t like worms. They’re icky and slimy. I get it. I’ve seen the world end at the hands of worms before. Keene served it to us and the 70’s film classic Squirm did as well. Worms are scary.
In 1991, Matthew J. Costello and Diamond Books gave us his novel Wurm. These worms are the scariest I’ve read about yet. Deep sea leech-like creatures that burrow inside and become what we are…and then become more.
Filled with great strong characters and frenzied pulp horror violence and gore, Wurm reminded me of all that I loved about the paperback heyday of the 80’s and early 90’s.
Wurm begins as an exploratory group is surveying a deep-sea volcanic rift and discovers countless species of strange life. Mainly worms. Big long worms. They go deeper…and are attacked by bigger, meaner worms who live in burrows. They return to the surface with a piece of a worm. From there, bad things happen and a new god struggles to rise.
Wurm is a quick read, a crazed comic-book fun ride through sci-fi tinged Lovecraftian landscapes. Recommended!
I first heard about Mark Allan Gunnells through James Newman, a mutual friend and a writer I consider family. On the merits of that alone, I knew Gunnells’s work must be special.
So I contacted Mark, and we quickly became friends. He is a sweet and humble guy. More importantly, he has a lot of heart. The one common thread that weaves through all that I have read from him, is the empathy and humanity his characters possess.
That is not always an easy thing to get across in print. In his short story collection, Tales from the Midnight Shift, Vol. I, Gunnells gives us a fine and varied compilation of these types of characters. From the fantastically titled “God Doesn’t Follow You into the Bathroom” to the breathtakingly surreal “Jam.” He goes from serious and somber to silly at the drop of a hat.
I won’t go into details on every story here, but I will touch on a few that left a lasting impression.
The tome opens with “God Doesn’t Follow You into the Bathroom.” While slightly predictable there is enough freshness injected here to keep your attention. Sometimes confession does not gain you the absolution you hoped for. This is followed by my absolute favorite in the collection, “Jam.” A traffic jam is the setting for this bleak exercise in tension and fear and humans being. “The Gift Certificate” teaches a valuable lesson about possession. “The More Things Change” is astounding, a heart-wrenching painting on bullying. This is one of the best things in the collection.
Tales from the Midnight Shift, Vol. I was the first example of Mark’s craft I encountered. I have since delved deeper into his work and have yet to be dissappointed.
Despite its short stature of 67 pages, Asylum has a lot of substance.
At a glance, the premise—a group of misfits, standing tall to fight off the zombie apocalypse—doesn’t seem all that original. Mark peoples this story with an almost entirely gay cast, sets it in a gay club, and spatters it with plenty of gore and sex.
But where Asylum shines is with the deep textures given to the characters.
They are not mincing caricatures or flaming queens—well, maybe one is—but instead they are presented as the flawed human beings that we all are.
Once again, this proves to be Gunnells’s strong suit—painting pictures of people.
Just in time for this past Halloween, Mark gave us all this little gift—Dark Treats, a five story collection, with all tales revolving around the October holiday.
Opening with “Halloween Returns to Bradbury,” we get a riotous romp about how the devil has grown disgruntled with the commercialism of his holiday and returns to show us how it’s to be done. Some fantastic and ridiculous imagery ensues. “The Neighborhood that Halloween Forgot” is a slightly cliché tale of tolerance.
“My Last Halloween” is a sad little coming-of-age tale. “Treats” finds us in cheesy 80’s horror movie territory—silly monsters, rational logic, great fun! The collection ends on the somber “Family Plots,” which, while good, seems a bit cramped, begging to be worked into a longer work someday.
Mark Allan Gunnells is one to watch. His work is consistently entertaining and full of heart and soul.
Sometimes that’s what you need.
Simon Marshall-Jones’s Spectral Press is setting itself up as a force to be reckoned with. Spectral releases limited-edition, professionally-designed chapbooks. I reviewed the first two releases last year. Both shared a theme of loss, guilt, and coping with that loss.
So it’s no surprise that the next two titles in the catalog share a theme, as well. The third published title from Spectral is Nowhere Hall, by the wonderful Cate Gardner. I was familiar with her quirky style and prose from her connection to Shock Totem (her story “Pretty Little Ghouls” was featured in issue #2).
Nowhere Hall follows the bizarre adventures of Ron, a man who seems to teeter on the edge, both courting and fleeing from Death. He ends up in a dilapidated hotel, peopled with odd mannequins and living shadows. Ron plays cat and mouse with Death and learns the power of a good umbrella. A more whimsical one-man version of The Shining through the looking-glass.
The visuals are strong, and though sometimes the prose gets a bit coiled and confusing at times, there is a lot to process here. Incredible descriptions and a depressing mood ooze from the pages. Were I not already a fan of Cate’s work, this would be a step toward winning me over.
The next release was Paul Finch’s King Death, a daring story set in 1348.
A plague-battered England is a smorgasbord for Rodric, a morally bankrupt looter and opportunist. He trolls the countryside stealing from the dead. As he roams, he encounters a strange young boy and presents himself as King Death in order to scare the boy into leading him to his estate, where he envisions wealth and shelter.
The boy does in fact lead him to his manor, and it is here where things begin to turn, where Rodric learns things are not always as they appear and that Death is, in fact, an entity that is best not toyed with.
Incredibly deft writing is what makes this story so enjoyable. These types of tales, set in this period are usually dry as hell and leave the reader frustrated at trying to decipher what they just read. Finch tells his tale with ease and in a way that flows smoothly. The few characters are strong and the atmosphere presented is bleak and hopeless.
So far, Simon and Spectral Press are four for four, and I can’t wait to read what comes next.
I first met Darrell Schweitzer a few years ago at Necon 29, where he was selling books in the dealer room. I bought a few things from him, including his book Living with the Dead, a collection of interconnected short stories set in the bizarre world of Old Corpsenberg. It’s a short little thing, presented as sort of a novella, but its impact on me was immense.
I have numerous old fantasy anthologies and magazines with Schweitzer tales in them, but I became a fan after reading Living with the Dead.
And so this past July, at Necon 31, I picked up two more collections, Transients and Other Disquieting Stories, Refugees from an Imaginary Country, and the novels The Shattered Goddess and The White Isle.
Transients and Other Disquieting Stories, to put it simply, is a fantastic little collection of darkly weird fiction. Not surprising coming from the longtime Weird Tales editor. My favorite story in the book is “Clocks,” a bittersweet ghost story about love and the difficulty of letting go. Other great tales include “Peeling It Off,” “Pennies from Hell,” “Transients,” and “The Spirit of the Black Stairs.” The rest are quite good as well.
Actually, I could have lived without “The Man Who Wasn’t Nice to Pumpkin Head Dolls.” It had a overly cheesy Twilight Zone feel to it—which, now that I think about it, was likely intentional as it first appeared in Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine. Not a bad tale, though, just dated and kind of goofy.
In fact most stories in this set were published in the 80s, so a few others read a bit dated, too; but despite this they’re all done really well. Schweitzer’s use of language is smooth, succinct, and at times downright poetic. I’m amazed this guy isn’t more popular.
He should be.
And in parting, I should mention that the stippled illustrations by Stephen E. Fabian are, as always, fabulous.
This was my first experience reading William Ollie (unless you count the novel excerpt from KillerCon we published in our debut issue), and it was pleasurable one.
Into Hell is part of the Delirium Books novella series. The story follows two post-9/11 scenarios: a group of war veterans struggling to survive during and after a bank heist gone awry (present day) and the same group struggling to survive on the front lines in the Middle East (past).
It’s a fast-paced and fun read, with a slight supernatural element. Very well-written, though done so in a rhythmic staccato fashion with lots of short, two- or three-part sentences that tend to detail the same thing. That might bother people who want a slower, less in-your-face approach to character development, but with it being a novella, and one on the shorter side of things, I felt the quicker pace worked to its advantage.
My one complaint would be that I found it a bit confusing at times. Both story arcs mirror each other, and when a new chapter started, I found myself wondering if this was war or post-war until something distinct appeared on the page. (Though with the luxury of having finished it, I can tell you that the chapters simply alternate back and forth between present and past right till the end.) Either way, both scenarios are depictions of war, one being from without and the other being from within.
Complaint aside, Into Hell is a solid read. It’s too bad that, for now, only 150 copies are available.
I’ve been lucky enough to witness Lee Thompson grow as a writer. I’ve read a lot of his short fiction, from the not so good to the excellent, so it’s a no-brainer that I’m sticking with this cat. He’s got the chops and delivers them yet again with Iron Butterflies Rust.
This is a tale written close to home, I think, one of love, hate, failure and redemption, and the richness—the realness—of it all shines through even the darkest moments of the story. And it’s plenty dark.
There were a couple parts in the beginning that lined up too conveniently for me, and Frank Gunn can be a bastard of a character to sympathize with at times, but overall Iron Butterflies Rust is a fantastic and heartbreaking little tale.
As with Ollie’s Into Hell, this is part of the Delirium Books novella series, thus equally as limited in quantity. A shame. Hopefully this and future Frank Gunn tales (there are more coming) will be released together in a more widely available format at some point.
For now, though, pay attention to Lee Thompson. He’s the real deal.
Over the past year or so, I’ve been slowly adding old Dean Koontz publications to my collection. Though a lot of his early novels and stories were written when he was barely beyond his teens, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at just how good this guy was back then.
It was only inevitable, then, in the January 1969 issue of Amazing Stories, with the novella “Temple of Sorrow,” that Dean proved to be a human writer, one capable of writing the sort of tripe all young authors write.
“Temple of Sorrow” is a convoluted and confusing sci-fi tale about a plot to blow up the world. There’s a spy, a bear-man that speaks in broken English (though later, miraculously, finds his human voice again, for no apparent reason), naked female “Angels,” priests, bishops, two Earths, other dimensions, and an Atom bomb. Kaboom! Explosion of meh.
It’s not even worth going into further detail. It’s no wonder Dean plans to keep this one out of print for eternity.
“Shambolain,” published in the November/December 1970 issue of Worlds of If, is no “Temple of Sorrow.” Yet again, here is a story that shows a great writer in the making.
“Shambolain” tells the tale of a small group of Freaks, shunned citizens with myriad deformities. They’re the opposite of Straights. Then there are the Creeps, those Straights who are attracted not to the Freaks but precisely what makes them freaks, their deformities.
While the narrator has a third foot, and lives with people with far more disturbing malformations of the body, it is Shambolain that changes everything in their little world. His name is likely a play on “shambolic,” which is typically used to describe something disorganized.
Shambolain, a Freak in his own right, has a large oval head, lips so thin they’re nearly nonexistent, eyes too low on his face, and no arms—or so it appears. And this is the heart of the story. Because of his affliction, the other Freaks come to see Shambolain as a freak. It is here that, despite their own abnormalities, the hypocrisy of the human condition comes through.
“Shambolain” is a tale of human weakness. Not great, but very enjoyable.
Lee Thompson is a cool-cool dude. He’s also a fantastic writer who is making some serious waves in the small press. Forthcoming this year, he has a novel (Nursery Rhymes 4 Dead Children) and novella (Iron Butterflies Rust) coming out through Delirium Books; and another novella, As I Embrace My Jagged Edges, is currently available in digital format through Sideshow Press, with a hardcover version coming soon.
And in July, his story “Beneath the Weeping Willow” will be published in Shock Totem #4.
If I remember correctly, it all started with “Daddy Screamed With Us”, a short story released through Darkside Digital last year. Naturally I wanted to support his writing, which is why Lee took my digital virginity. No pain, a little blood, and it was a good time.
“Daddy Screamed With Us” is a story about choices, or maybe one of necessary evil. Or both. When Jeremy’s release from prison is up for review, it’s up to Doctor Kerr to determine if the killer is fit for release into society or a continued life behind bars. But there’s more to it than that; it’s not up to Doctor Kerr to make that decision. Jeremy has to make his own choice.
Jeremy is in prison for killing Edward Singer, but he says he’s killed more than once, and Doctor Kerr wants to know about that. It’s in Jeremy’s telling that his past is revealed and his fate is sealed.
As an introduction to Lee’s work, “Daddy Screamed With Us” doesn’t disappoint. And at a cost of $1.49, really you can’t go wrong. Sure, it’s digital fiction, but if you purchase this story now maybe we’ll see it in print someday, in a nice glossy collection. Buy it!
I picked up this limited chapbook last year at Necon. It’s sat on my bookshelf since then, just a sliver of white, a mere fifty pages, practically invisible to me. I’d thought it was part of the spine of another book! Anyway, though limited, it’s still available at Horror Mall for five beans.
The story I read this week was “The Blood-spattered Mirror Ball,” by L.L. Soares. The story is about those social misfit-types who were never invited to gatherings of the so-called social elite. While alive, anyway. See, because they’re dead, and now their ghosts are determined to have a damn good time, invited or not. Even if, for one of them, it means entering not through the velvet ropes but out of a horse’s ass. Yes, folks, a ghost emerges from a horse’s ass. I’ve read a lot of absurd stories in my day—I remember Fagula, the gay vampire who turned those he bit into homosexuals; and then there was the witch who selflessly fed her vampire lover during her menstrual cycles—but usually they make me cringe. This time I laughed.
Surprisingly, “The Blood-spattered Mirror Ball” is a lot more serious than I expected. Yes, there is a high level of absurdity here, but it was an enjoyable—dare I say, moral—tale that transcended its humor. Looking forward to reading the other two tales.
Been on a Dean Koontz kick lately, and it’s been a blast. Old Deany-poo is my favorite, you know. Soon I’ll be reviewing more of Koontz’s early, obscure work, but this week it’s back to Strange Highways. “Miss Attila the Hun,” to be precise.
This story seems to be something of a transition point for Dean. It’s a dark tale but still incorporates a bit of his early sci-fi mojo. In fact, it’s sort of cut from the same mold that Winter Moon (originally Invasion, released under the pseudonym Aaron Wolfe) was cut from. It involves an alien being, little more than a sentient mass, which takes over its hosts for the sole purpose of world domination and spreading chaos. But while this being has encountered love on other planets, it has never encountered the overpowering strength of human love.
“Miss Attila the Hun” is enjoyable if a bit hokey. And Dean seems to have forgotten the black alien stalks and tendrils that burst through people’s chests, because when it’s all over…there are no gaping, bleeding holes. Say what? Maybe I missed something. Either way, a fun read.
And that’s it for now. As I’ve said before, if you enjoy something, support the hell out of it! So click those links.
Dean Koontz, as I mentioned here, has published well over fifty short stories—and probably he’s written countless more—though for most fans—myself included, until now—there have been just eleven of them available, in Strange Highways. Much of his short work was written very early in his career and is largely science fiction. And that’s what we have here in Wondermakers 2, edited by Robert Hoskins.
As you can see by the image to the left, Dean was such an unknown at the time that his name along with just four others out of nineteen, including William F. Nolan, did not even grace the front cover. Crazy.
Dean’s story is called “The Twelfth Bed,” and according to the short bio preceding the story, it was (at the time, of course) his favorite of all his short stories. It was originally published in 1968, in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, when Dean was but a wee lad of twenty-three.
“The Twelfth Bed” is a tale of sadness and hope, about the final days and months and years of the elderly in some far-off future. Essentially a futuristic look at a nursing home; this particular home being the Old Folks Without Supporting Children Home. Its residents, twelve to a sealed-off-from-society room, haven’t much to look forward to. They’re just waiting to die. That is, until Gabe Detrick shows up.
Gabe is too young to be in the home; he’s there by way of some mix-up with his dying elderly neighbor. Unfortunately for Gabe, the home is manned solely by robotnurses—there are no humans but for the patients and no way to contact the outside world if there arises a grievance, such as being twenty-seven and trapped in a temporary home for the soon to be dead. Despite his predicament, Gabe is something of a light in the dark for the dying patients—mediator, entertainer, confidant, friend. But eventually Gabe concocts a plan to escape the room, and things don’t go quite as smoothly as he’d planned.
I can understand why Dean called “The Twelfth Bed” his favorite. It’s a fantastic little tale, one that shows glimpses of what would become Dean’s signature dark-but-hopeful storytelling style. It’s all in the final paragraph. I’m not sure why Dean refuses to publish more of his early work, but it’s unfortunate any way you slice it, especially for the fans. You don’t get to be a writer of Koontz’s stature without having talent, and while his early work may not be up to his standards of today, there’s no doubt it would bring pleasure to many a fan. And in the case of “The Twelfth Bed,” that pleasure would be very justified.
I’m actually curious to know how he feels about it today, if still he considers it his favorite.
I read a few other stories in this anthology. Ward Moore’s “Dominions Beyond” is an absurd tale of a ridiculously-named Englishman, Humphrey Howard Clarence Beachy-Cumberland, who accidentally becomes the first Man to land on Mars, unbeknown to all but Humphrey and the man who built the ship that propelled him to there at a million miles an hour. Humphrey comes right out of a Monty Python skit. (He was John Cleese in my mind.) He is greeted by an alien race of savage beings intent on killing him, but Humphrey’s indignant, aristocratic personality catches the aliens off guard and they’re not quite sure what to do with him. In the end, Humphrey helps create society, civilization, political systems, religion. And eighty-five years later, when the “first” manned ship lands on Martian soil, the crew is in for a fairly unexpected surprise.
See? Absurd! But “Dominions Beyond” is an extremely enjoyable—and very tongue-in-cheek—tale. Moore died in 1978, but I’d love to read more of his work.
Though one of the most prolific writers of science fiction, this was my first experience reading work by Isaac Asimov. (Yes, that’s insane. I know.) His story, “Living Space,” is about the greed and shortsightedness of Man. Far into the future, Earth’s population has reached a trillion—far too many people to inhabit just one Earth. The solution is a simple one: With an infinite number of parallel Earths out there, people rent their own uninhabited Earth, like an apartment. Hundreds of billions of Earths, each occupied by a single family.
This works, until Clarence Rimbo and his wife hear loud noises and rumblings on their planet. Rimbo complains that his planet is inhabited and pompously demands an investigation. During the investigation it is discovered that indeed Rimbo’s planet does have visitors—Germans, in fact, from a parallel Earth where history played out in a very different way. It is only then that the consequence of such encounters—with people from Earth and beyond—is pondered. But by then it may be too late.
The very end is a bit hokey, but despite that, “Living Space” is a great story.
Another early Dean Koontz story is found in Infinity Three, also edited by Robert Hoskins. This time, though it came out before Wondermakers 2, Dean’s name made the front cover. His story, here, is “Altarboy.”
“Altarboy” is rather political, about Consensus government. In this future, people are often required to vote, and in the instance of this story, for or against war. Those voting against are considered Dissenters; but luckily they are given three chances to change their vote. These chances are of the persuasive type—mind control, essentially. Those that still vote against after three attempts are arrested as Dissenters and given a fourth, more invasive brain probe. Those poor souls that continue to vote against are considered incurable, Absolute Dissenters. They’re then turned over to the Executioners.
Executioners are an elite group of citizens capable of stealing the immortal souls of beings and keeping them trapped within their own minds, a sort of purgatory. The souls are denied an afterlife so long as the Executioner lives. However, the protagonist Executioner in “Altarboy” is having problems containing one of his taken souls. To combat this, espers whisk him away to a time long past to steal the soul of a near-mad—and suicidal—American Nazi Party member (who, oddly, is named Weissner for a page or so, then becomes Weisserman). Weissner-Weisserman’s soul is taken for the purpose of keeping the other souls within the Executioner in line. But Weissner-Weisserman isn’t interested in just controlling souls; having his own soul ripped from his body has pushed him over the edge and into the depths of insanity, and his brand of insanity demands more.
“Altarboy” is a decent story, but strangely mistitled. An altarboy is one that removes the corpse of the soul-taken; they’re mentioned one time, in a single short line (“Special altarboys removed the corpses on gravity sledges”), and are entirely inconsequential to the story. Unless I’m missing something. The prose is a bit flowery at times, especially when Dean is describing how the souls react within the Executioner’s mind, but when it works it’s solid Koontz all the way. Probably not the best example of his early work, but the concept is good enough that I’m surprised he never reworked it. Possibly it’s too political.
Jeremy C. Shipp has one hell of an imagination. Sheep and Wolves is his first collection of short fiction, and if you like it bizarre, then look no further. Bizarro is not my favorite kind of fiction, but I can appreciate the beauty of it even if, maybe, I can’t figure out what the hell a story is about.
“Baby Edward” is one such story.
Shipp is a fantastic writer; let’s get that right out of the way. The man can write! But it is strange. “Baby Edward” is about Ed, a man struggling with the demands of fatherhood—metaphorical or literal? is the question—and a baby’s hunger to be fed, even if its on those Ed loves, or at least needs, maybe a mother-figure. For me, the story is about a man reconciling his years of anger borne from a childhood he’s been trying to keep locked away.
Then again, this is Bizarro fiction, so it’s probably about the Volkswagen Bus declining in popularity due to pervasive breast-feeding in public. But it was a damn good read. Highly recommended.
Back in 2009 I did a Q&A for D.L. Snell’s Market Scoops. There was a question that asked what do I find horrifying, in fiction and in life. My answer for the latter: Humanity.
Jack Ketchum understands that well, I think. His horror is of the human variety. I’ve read a short of his that had zombies, but they were secondary to everything else. Ketchum’s stories are brutal in their honesty.
I’ve been reading his collection Peaceable Kingdom for a few months now—which is generally how I read short-story collections, snatching bits between longer works—and this past week I read the stories “Forever” and “Gone.”
“Forever” is something of a love story between a husband and his wife who’s dying of cancer. It’s a sad tale, and a good one…right until the last line, which I thought sort of ruined it, went for the shock ending. Good, though.
“Gone” is another sad one, about a mother struggling with the guilt of possibly being responsible for her then three-year-old daughter’s abduction (she left her in the car as she ran into a convenience store). This one fares better in its ending, which retains the same sort of melancholy felt throughout the tale without opting for a surprise ending.
Both quality stories in an already excellent collection.
I’ve been meaning to go back and re-read every Dean Koontz book I own—at least the early novels. Whether I’ll find that time or not remains to be seen. But I can definitely fit in some short stories. So I started with Strange Highways, his one and only collection of shorts despite having written over fifty short stories in his career. And the book has just eleven of those plus two novellas. (I think it’s time for a new collection, Deany-poo.)
I jumped right past the first novella, “Strange Highways,” and read “The Black Pumpkin.” It’s a rather traditional kind of spooky tale about a young boy that tries to stop his older—and meaner, crueler—brother from buying a evilly-carved and black-painted pumpkin from a creepy pumpkin carver. The pumpkin costs whatever he wishes to pay, but it comes with a cryptic caveat: You get what you give.
And later that night, they all do. Good stuff.
I’m a Kurt Newton fan. He’s a good dude and an equally good writer. Sadly, I haven’t read most of his work as it’s not available. I missed the damn boat! Good thing he’s still writing.
One of his more recent stories is “The Wooden Grandpa,” which is available in the fourth issue (spring 2010) of the very cool A Cappella Zoo. You can order the print version (always recommended), or read the story by clicking here.
“The Wooden Grandpa” is a tale of a family coming to terms with and finding strength, even companionship, in the extraordinary passing of their grandfather. It’s a sweet and sad and bizarre story. Excellent, too. Read it!
Read them all.