Well, 2017 has been…a year. Not a good one, to be honest, on pretty much any level. That’s all the intro I think I can muster. Here’s some things about some things.
All that said, I did manage to do a few things, and I’m grateful to have been able to work on them and have access to outlets that are interested. Here’s a round-up of interviews and articles I worked on at weirdfictionreview.com.
I finished my first work of fiction in 3 years since moving to Rhode Island, called “The Crickets Will Sing.” I’m pretty happy with it and feel it’s significantly more complex than any short horror I’ve written before. More on that when it has found the right home.
I’ve recently seen an update that Thinking Horror, Vol. 2, which has an essay from me but was delayed due to circumstances beyond the publisher’s control, is progressing along to the design phase. Final ToC is here, and I’m honored to be included next to so many people I admire or who have been on my radar to read. I’ve updated the ole bibliography page with some of this updated info and have also added a couple things that had been omitted. For 2018, I’m toying with the idea of self-publishing a few older works that I don’t really have a better home for but that I’m pleased with enough to put them into the world.
NecronomiCon 2017 came and went in the blink of an eye, I was delighted to participate in a number of ways. I spent some time volunteering, which is a wonderful way to be involved. I was also a panelist on a discussion called The Dreaded Surreal: Landscapes in Weird Fiction, with Craig Gidney, Mike Griffin, Eric Schaller, and Jeffrey Thomas. It was my first time doing such a thing and I hope it went well. I know I got a lot out of participating. For a list of some of the works that were discussed, have a Twitter thread.
I was also fortunate to have the opportunity to conduct the Guest of Honor interview with Stephen Graham Jones, a writer whom I greatly respect. The interview was published in edited form in the convention memento book, which is available at the Lovecraft Arts & Sciences store in Providence and features lots of worthwhile reading. The full version, which ended up at around 5k words in total, should also be available through other means in the future.
I met many wonderful people for the first time and caught up with some others I’ve become more and more acquainted with over the last few years. Too many to list here, but if I talked to you for any length of time at NecronomiCon, I enjoyed it. The drama stirred by and focused around certain (relatively) high-profile people is absurd and not representative of the experience of the convention if you’re there in good faith to learn, socialize, and have fun.
I feel like I’ve had hardly any time to read this year (thanks, miserable excuse for a healthcare and disability system in the U.S.). Some highlights:
I spent the early part of the year in Stephen Graham Jones-land, getting refreshed on some things I’d read and exploring some others that were new to me in preparation for our NecronomiConversation (I will not apologize for this neologism). Those few months significantly deepened my appreciation of his work, and I can heartily recommend digging in with a collection like “After the People Lights Have Gone Off” or the experimental novel “Demon Theory.” “Mapping the Interior”, released over the summer, is also stellar. I read some other work of his this year, but those are my three picks if you want a place to dive in.
Some other noteworthy things I read this year that you should seek out: Palladium at Night by Christopher Slatsky, The Weird and the Eerie by Mark Fisher, Shadows and Tall Trees Vol 7 edited by Michael Kelly, and She Said Destroy by Nadia Bulkin.
There’s a lot more that came out recently that I wish I’d gotten to read by now, like Nightscript Vol 3 edited by C.M. Muller, Borne by Jeff VanderMeer, Looming Low edited by Justin Steele and Sam Cowan, The Wardrobe Mistress by Patrick McGrath, and Never Now Always by Desirina Boskovich to name just a few.
Most of 2017 has felt like all crisis, all the time. To cap it off, our beloved feline companion was recently diagnosed with terminal kidney disease, which has been an ongoing heartbreaking experience these last few weeks. Most of what I’ve mentioned here has provided a needed and fulfilling respite from some of the onslaught. Maybe something you’ve read about here will help you find a bit of respite as well.
I’ve also finally added a damn contact page if you have need of such for some reason.
I’ve been slow in updating due to life stuff, but here’s what’s new since the last one.
NecronomiCon 2017: I’ll be volunteering at the convention and I’m also honored to have been included as a panelist on a discussion called “THE DREADED SURREAL: Landscapes in Weird Fiction”. I’ll be joining Craig Gidney, Mike Griffin, Eric Schaller, Farah R. Smith, Jeffrey Thomas for this panel. More info on this and the convention’s core programming can be found here.
I’m also delighted to have been invited to conduct an interview with Stephen Graham Jones, one of the guests of honor at the convention, which will be included in the souvenir book. This is easily the lengthiest and most in-depth interview I’ve worked on, and I think it’ll make for a great read. Stephen had some fascinating things to discuss and really challenged me to develop my own skills as an interviewer. The program book will be sold at the convention, but there may be copies available afterward through Lovecraft Arts & Sciences.
Thinking Horror, Vol. 2: Release date is estimated as late summer or early fall 2017. It will contain an essay from me alongside many other pieces that look like they’ll be well worth a read. Can’t wait to see it!
Also slated for July, I’ll have another interview up that I enjoyed quite a lot with an author I’ve become a fan of in the past couple of years. More on that later, want to keep it a secret for now. I think one of the best things about doing so many interviews in the last couple years is that it forces me to think about writing in a different way by trying to focus my attention on how others work, and that always prompts me to think more critically about my own creative processes. I’ve learned things from every single person I’ve had the privilege of putting questions to, so if that’s you: thanks!
You can follow me on twitter @ascannerburkely for stuff that’s about 75/25% politics/literature, because apparently I needed more outlets to vent in brief.
I realized recently that almost all of my reading for the past year has been for projects I was working on, so I decided I need a bit of a break for a couple of months until after the convention to see if I can do some reading strictly for pleasure and maybe feel like I have bandwidth to work on some fiction. I expect I’ll resume nonfiction endeavors after NecronomiCon. That said, the first thing I picked up was Shadows and Tall Trees Volume 7, which has been excellent. WFR has reprinted one of my favorite pieces from the anthology, “The Voice of the People” by Alison Moore, which I found to be elegantly simple in a good way, well executed, and quite relevant to our present moment. I was also really floored by the Conrad Williams story, ‘The Closure,” and can’t wait to read his upcoming collection from Undertow.
Alongside that I’m reading “Palladium at Night” by Christopher Slatsky, which I have no doubt I’ll enjoy as much as his collection, Alectryomancer and Other Weird Tales. In the world of nonfiction, I’ll soon be reading Mark Fisher’s The Weird and the Eerie, which looks right up my alley. I don’t always get around to reviews, but if you want to follow what I’m reading you can hit me up on GoodReads. I also saw a recent review of Nightscript Volume 1 that I was flattered to see call out my story as a favorite.
It seems the thing to do around now is a summation of reading and writing matters. This is all the introduction I’m going to do, so let’s begin:
My story, “The Drognar”, which was my first actual horror short story submission and subsequent rejection, has found a home this year in The Yellow Booke, Vol. 3
I placed an essay exploring the use of “supernatural” video as a plot device in horror fiction with the mighty fine Thinking Horror, Vol. 2, forthcoming in January 2017. I’m delighted to join many other folks whose work I esteem, including a second time sharing a ToC with Kristi Demeester. I read her chapbook, Split Tongues, early in the year and it was quite good. It’s sold out now, but you should give her other fiction a gander or ten. Thinking Horror, Vol. 1 was also a highlight from earlier in my year of reading, which makes the essay acceptance all the more pleasing.
I also got a little more official-like (I think) with a page on Amazon
I’ve been stalled at about the halfway point on another work of fiction that I’d hoped to have completed long before now, but life happens and this has been a shitty, stressful year for personal reasons as well as political ones.
Weird Fiction Review – Below are the reviews and interviews I worked on for WFR this year:
- 101 Weird Writers #44 — K.J. Bishop: The Anxieties of the Piñata-Corpus: Exploring Fabulism, Abjection, and Body Horror in K.J. Bishop’s “Saving the Gleeful Horse”
- Interview with Kij Johnson: Dream-Quests, Updating Lovecraft, and Combating Rodents
- Review: “A Natural History of Hell” by Jeffrey Ford
- Bees of Glass and Future Memories: Looking for the Weird at New York Review Books
- Interview: Rhys Hughes: “Rigour and mischief” is my motto
My favorite 2016 release was Greener Pastures by Michael Wehunt. One of the stories in this collection is also discussed in my forthcoming essay for Thinking Horror, Vol. 2, and not a single story in his collection was disappointing. For more, please see my brief review on GoodReads.
My favorite book read but not released in 2016 was Alectryomancer and Other Weird Tales by Christopher Slatsky, which was similarly consistent in quality throughout. Since I haven’t gotten a review up yet, I’ll mention that the two I most enjoyed were “This Fragmented Body,” which takes some plot devices often seen in horror literature and makes them new in a way that really connected with me, and “No One Is Sleeping in This World”, which is a really interesting work of what I’d call architectural folk horror. Though it’s admittedly a stretch, I found myself thinking of it at certain points as a kind of urban answer to Clive Barker’s “In the Hills, the Cities.”
There are a ton of books that arrived this year that I unfortunately have not gotten to, but if I told you I got your book and it doesn’t appear below, that’s the more likely reason than that I read it and didn’t like it. Unfortunately life has slowed my reading quite a bit the last couple of years. In any case, the other works I read this year that ranked highly in my estimation and deserve your time and money are (in no particular order):
The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson
A Natural History of Hell by Jeffrey Ford (favorite stories: “Word Doll” and “Mount Charry Galore”)
Brightfellow by Rikki Ducornet
Gateways to Abomination by Matthew Bartlett
The Account of David Stonehouse, Exile by Daniel Mills
Fume by Richard Gavin
Some great stories I read this year outside the context of a single-author collection:
“each thing i show you is a piece of my death” by Gemma Files and Stephen J. Barringer (also discussed in my Thinking Horror essay)
“The Spindly Man” by Stephen Graham Jones
“An Atlas in Sgraffito Style” by A.J. Fitzwater (winner of best opening sentence of the year)
“Flowers of the Sea” by Reggie Oliver
“Logues” by Eric Basso (this is sort of a collection of sketches that are unified by setting, theme, and mood, rather than plot)
To start, I’m pleased as punch to announce that I have an essay that will be appearing in the next volume of Thinking Horror, a journal of horror and philosophy with criticism and interviews in the field. I was a fan of the first volume and am honored to be in the ToC among many writers whom I admire. The essay explores the use of “haunted” video and their consumption in a number of recent works of horror fiction that I’ve enjoyed. Estimated release of October 2016. This will be my first printed work of nonfiction
Next, I’ve finally gotten my lazy ass to professional it up another notch by creating an Amazon page, with Goodreads to follow shortly.
I will possibly be dropping in on this year’s Merrimack Valley Halloween Book Festival, which is free and open to the public. It’s a bit farther away than last year and who knows what my real-life schedule will look like in October, but last year’s was quite nice and I’d like to make it again.
I’ve updated ye olde bibliographye pagey to reflect most recent placements and online articles, including this here review I did of Jeffrey Ford’s newest collection, “A Natural History of Hell.” I’m also in the midst of a longer piece for WFR on one of my favorite authors, which I would imagine will appear by year’s end.
As I battle this bastard of a case of writer’s block (regarding fiction, strangely, but not nonfiction), it occurs to me that I need to accumulate more rejections if I’m to keep improving. Whenever my self-confidence dips into the Marianas Trench (which is weird, because I simultaneously think I’m probably okay and know at least somewhat what I’m doing), I stop and note that I’ve only got a few rejections and everything I’ve had rejected has been accepted on a second submission elsewhere with the sole exception of ye olde novel from 2010. The stats so far: 3 rejections, 3 acceptances of submitted material, 2 solicitations of already-written work for audio production (1 compensated and 1 gratis). Apart from the fact that I already knew that self-promotion and vigorous attention to the business side of writing are not my strong suits, I recognize that if one’s acceptance/rejection rate looks like those numbers, it means I need to start aiming at some more competitive markets on occasion, and thankfully I already know some great places that are a logical next step (not that this is at all a dig on any of the outlets I’ve managed to sneak my way into–I’ve shared ToCs with award-winners and authors that I hugely respect, and they’re releases that I’d gladly buy as a reader). And I realize just now that a portion of my creativity block on the fiction side of things might be, in part, a product of that realization because I’m trying to impose gradually higher standards on myself, as one should.
In terms of reading, I’m currently working on “The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe” by Kij Johnson and Michael Wehunt’s Greener Pastures. One of the stories in Michael’s collection, “October Film Haunt: Under the House,” forms a component of the essay that will appear in Thinking Horror Vol. 2. I’ve greatly enjoyed everything I’ve read in Greener Pastures, though, even if I have been slow in completing it. While seeking to properly contextualize the Kij Johnson novella, I dove into the Lovecraft original, “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.” My thoughts on that, as pasted from elsewhere: “I’ve liked some Lovecraft I’ve read quite a bit, but I find At the Mountains of Madness and, at present, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, to be insufferably tedious exercises in cataloging-as-worldbuilding.” As a person who has been aware of Lovecraft from a young age but never got around to reading him until encountering “The Dunwich Horror” in the VanderMeer Weird anthology, it strikes me that I’d probably have liked the aforementioned works a lot more when I was younger and had a greater interest in world-building and immersion in elaborate settings. More on the Johnson novella forthcoming.
On the nonfiction front, I’ve recently wrapped a review for WFR of a soon-to-be-released collection by an author with whom I was not very familiar at the time. Will include here when it goes live.
Events-wise, I’m looking forward to attending ReaderCon on the Saturday and Sunday of the convention, particularly the Shirley Jackson Awards. At the last convention I went to (NecronomiCon), I met lots of fantastic people whose names I’d only seen and respected through their work, and I also met plenty of people whose work I had not encountered prior and I’ve now come to appreciate.
Reading-wise, I’m working on Greener Pastures by Michael Wehunt, and it’s an excellent collection so far. I first encountered his fiction through Shadows and Tall Trees, which contained his story “Onanon.” That piece is included in Greener Pastures, and I’m glad to see he’s released such a strong debut collection. Alongside that, I’ll be starting S.P. Miskowski’s Stag in Flight shortly. She has been on my radar since first hearing about the Skillute cycle a year or two ago, but I haven’t been able to conjure the time to fit the longer pieces into the reading schedule yet unfortunately.
Turning now to
the weather fiction, my story “The Drognar” was recently released through the annual (possibly now semi-annual) journal of weird fiction The Yellow Booke, published by Oldstyle Tales. Oldstyle Tales is a nonprofit publisher seeking to spread a love of horror classics, and they publish affordable volumes of both well- and lesser-known authors. Meanwhile, The Yellow Booke highlights current voices of similar persuasions. The electronic version of the latest volume is available for free here, and if you’re like me in preferring a nice tangible artifact that will eventually add up and make you never want to change residences again, you can get it through Amazon at a low price that primarily covers costs. I also want to take a second to thank Justin Steele and Scott Nicolay for a recent mention of The Yellow Booke, Vol. 3 on my favorite weird fiction podcast, The Outer Dark. I’m glad the show found a new home with This Is Horror after being on hiatus for a time. I’ve also been a fan of TiH’s own podcast, and I think they’ll work well together.
Some of those navel-gazey thoughts on writing process and that kind of thing, as relates to my most recent story to see daylight: I wrote “The Drognar” 2-3 years ago in a bit of a frenzy that rarely occurs for me. I included a quote from a favorite Kelly Link story, “The Specialist’s Hat,” because it was a partial inspiration for the piece. Though I lead with such a reference, I should state clearly that I’m in no way attempting to replicate the unique feats of which Mrs. Link is capable. However, the concept of playing dead as it appears in her story struck a chord that called forth a topic that has long fascinated me: the strangeness (seemingly to adults, anyhow) with which young people make games and other diversions out of the most serious of life’s defining processes–death and sex–before ever really having a concept of what either really is or means (and of course, one could say no one can ever truly know all of the realities and meanings of those two milestones). When I was very young, I used to hide under blankets and pretend that I had passed from this earth forever. While this was simply escapism in a sense, the fact that I specifically thought of it in terms of “experiencing” what it was like to be dead is something that, growing older, always struck me as both thoroughly normal and thoroughly strange. The converging fact of reading Kelly’s story and musing on my own personal experiences led me to start the piece, and during the time of its writing I also wanted to explore the boundaries between “reality” in an “objective” sense (no time to dismantle those here, sorry to say) and “reality” in a narrative sense. In other words, I was preoccupied with finding the points at which those two concepts overlap and/or collide to create tension, disarray, and psychological upheaval. I can’t say with certainty who the victor ever is in either case, but I do know that the worst of these shocks can inflict lasting trauma, and even the most trivial of them naturally accumulate to a difficult world for any conscious creature.
It strikes me that so many of the worst shocks to our psyche that we can experience are a direct product of foundational narratives around which we develop our own identities colliding with cold, hard reality, and wrestling with whatever emerges in the wreckage. Sometimes the wreckage becomes life, sometimes the wreckage becomes something beautiful, and sometimes the wreckage remains an ugly blot forever in our personal histories. The easiest example to point to of the kind of consciousness-altering realization I’m trying to explore is the process of dismantling one’s religious upbringing in the face of proven falsehoods upon which such narratives depend, but I’m also fascinated by the smaller shocks we all experience: discovering that Santa is mom and/or dad, finding out that making the right choices doesn’t always produce the right results, arriving at an understanding that race and gender are not fixed and objective facts but rather nebulous constructs that only exist because enough people think they exist, and so forth. And sometimes reality doesn’t collide head-on with illusion, but instead one is sideswiped by the other and they each remain tainted with little chance of a return to the alleged reality. I don’t know if I managed to call forth all of those things through the story, but some of these things were floating around in my mind in terms of the kind of horror I was seeking to evoke. And some aspects of these English major-y themes I only became aware of well after finishing. Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned in my few completed pieces of fiction is that it really isn’t that necessary to purposely set forth with a specific theme as a goal: if you concentrate on telling a decent story (and I’m not claiming to have accomplished that necessarily), resonant themes and coherent symbologies will emerge as a natural byproduct of the thought put into telling a good story.
To conclude on a different and shorter note, I hear tell that Ellen Datlow, one of the best editors out there, had the following to say about Nightscript in her must-have Best Horror of the Year series (no, seriously, I’ve read several “best-of” anthologies and hers are tops):
“Nightscript I: An Anthology of Strange and Darksome Tales edited by CM Muller (Chthonic Matter) is a very promising anthology debut of what’s intended to be an annual, with content along the lines of New Genre and Supernatural Tales magazines. The first volume has twenty stories. There are notable ones by Patricia Lillie, Daniel Mills, David Surface, Charles Wilkinson, Clint Smith, Damien Angelica Walters, Ralph Robert Moore, and John Claude Smith.”
While my piece was not deemed “notable” (which I wouldn’t really have expected anyhow), I’m honored simply to have been in the Table of Contents, and congratulations are due all around for C.M. and all the contributors for earning a mention in the book. While I haven’t read all of them, a couple of my favorite discoveries I found in “Best Horror of the Year” are “The Ballad of Ballard and Sandrine” by Peter Straub & “Omphalos” by Livia Llewellyn. I’ve read them both twice now, which is a rarity these days for me.
Here’s a consolidated thingie of recent writey related matters of note that have happened in my section of the planet.
I’ve got a survey of some favorite works put out by one of my favorite publishers, NYRB Classics, over at Weird Fiction Review: Bees of Glass and Future Memories: Looking for the Weird at New York Review Books | A brief comment: I’ve noticed in a couple of places that folks are pointing to other works from NYRB that might well have been appropriate to include in my survey. The works I’ve seen suggested most often are certainly worthy of inclusion, but there are many that I simply couldn’t get to due to time and space and other such matters. Some I even acquired (Red Shift, Ice Trilogy, Thus Were Their Faces), either for this project or prior to its conception, and have every intention of reading and possibly writing about at some point in the future.
In my previous post I mentioned submitting a story, and I’m delighted to say that I received a quick and (surprising to me) enthusiastic acceptance of the piece. “The Drognar” will appear in the 2016 edition of The Yellow Booke from Oldstyle Tales, which has previously published a couple of Nightscript folks, so I feel I’m in good company. I wrote “The Drognar” a couple of years ago and it was really the first thing I wrote that I felt was worthy of shopping around. After a rejection I basically shelved it, forgot about it, and occasionally thought back and wondered if it actually was any good or if I’d been carried away with these bizarro feelings of confidence. However, Yellow Booke seemed an appropriate venue for it, so I dug it out after a two year hibernation and gave it another go.
Speaking of Nightscript, I’m pleased as Punch or perhaps Judy to see that none other than Lovecraft eZine has included it in their 2015 Best-of list. Bonus points for it appearing alongside what was probably my personal favorite of last year, “The Visible Filth” by Nathan Ballingrud.
Work in progress continues, albeit at a glacial pace and with frequent attempts at progress that often find themselves thwarted. Que sera sera. Like a dog…
Today I submitted a story called “The Drognar”, vaguely inspired by Kelly Link’s “The Specialist’s Hat”, to a venue that I shall keep hidden unless it is accepted. I wrote it a couple of years ago and after an initial rejection I shelved and forgot about it, but an opportunity came up for an outlet at which it might be better suited. I need to get better about the businessy end of these things.
Progress continues on another piece, working title “Hope Lake.” It was first written as a 1-page flash fiction story, and I am now envisioning it as a chapbook once it’s finished.
I’ve also recently wrapped an article I’ve been working on intermittently for about 9 months, surveying a number of books I enjoyed from a favorite publisher. Will post link here when it becomes available.
The first article I wrote for Weird Fiction Review over here was largely concerned with the work of K.J. Bishop. I was delighted to wake up the other day to an e-mail from Ms. Bishop stating she’d read the piece and found it to have plenty of mind-food for which to reconsider her own work from a different angle. That marks a bit of a swooning highpoint for me so far for the year.
I’m currently reading “Brutal Pantomimes” by Rhys Hughes and “Brightfellow” by Rikki Ducornet, a signed ARC of which I was delighted to receive last month.
2015 Was a Year.
That much we can probably all agree on. It seemed like it took forever for this brainless rock to make it back to the approximate position it occupied in orbit around the sun on this day last year. I suppose it’s important to remember that it never comes back to the exact same spot. It was a mixed bag of extremes for me and mine, and I’m more than happy to put it into the past where all things eventually go.
This year (as I’ve probably already annoyed everybody to death about) I landed my second short story sale, which was my first to a print venue. I was excited to receive an acceptance and even more excited to see the names I would be joining in the Table of Contents. I was still more excited to see so much enthusiasm around it in this little weird fiction community (which, I might add, is overwhelmingly a positive bunch coming from a place of genuine pay-it-forward-and-back-itude).
That said, I expected to be spurred on and encouraged by the acceptance and generally quite positive reception. It has now been a year and a half since I wrote that piece, which I finished in a matter of maybe 6 hours total, including revisions from my cherished First Reader and my astute editor. Hardly a huge time investment, but it’s the sort of thing that just came together on its own and made me feel like a mere conduit. I have not finished anything creative since the big move, though I have two pieces in various stages of progress that I think have great promise. Those are the kinds of things that get written one painful sentence at a time jotted on a cell phone, though, not the conduit kind. I expected that arriving in a new state in which I knew no one and had no immediate channels for recreation would leave me with the time and motivation to sit down and do all the difficult grind-it-out work that is even more important than the inspiration part of the equation. That did not happen, and I have no real theories as to why.
Apart from my more serious endeavors, I did go through a brief spate of writing Claustrophobic Press articles in the middle of 2015 after being on hiatus from trying to be funny for quite awhile. I don’t think of these as creative, though, because in my mind they’re basically just a natural byproduct of reading the news and being annoyed by things. I think three people saw them, maybe. I don’t know if they’re any good or ever were, really, but it’s fun to do once in awhile at least.
In part, I can hide behind blaming my old writing laptop for dying on me and not being able to justify spending money on a new one, but that is a small part and sounds even to me like an excuse for not writing rather than an explanation. I can, however, say that I’m extremely grateful to have received a great laptop for Christmas that will hopefully allow me more opportunities to get some of these things done outside of the house, which seems to be filled with excuses not to write. I am also grateful to have been able to write/contribute to a few nonfiction pieces for Weird Fiction Review and SF Signal. This may be absolutely dorky, but the part of school I occasionally miss the most is writing research papers. It’s the best way to learn a lot in a self-guided environment.
I’ll wrap up this segment by pointing out a place in which Nightscript has been counted as a Best-Of anthology. I thought I saw it on another best-of list, but I’m not finding it at the moment.
Dark Musings: “I loved all the stories in here, all were of the highest quality and all were, indeed, darksome – creating images that still lurk in the dark recesses of my imagination. The 2015 Dark Muse for a multi-author collection therefore goes to Nightscript 1.
My reading life has been a wave with crests of frenzied activity and troughs of sheer burnout. I think it has now been a month since I cracked open a book, despite the fact that my to-read list would now take multiple lifetimes to get through. In terms of books I read, 2015 struck me as a year of very, very good. Almost everything I read could be described as such. 4 stars out of 5. I am a steadfast believer in Sturgeon’s Law and had arrived at the same conclusion on my own before I ever encountered the expression (I think working in a bookstore will do that to a person). But still, that remaining 10% is an intimidating number of books. People who complain that there isn’t enough good work out there are simply not looking in the right places or have not learned whose recommendations to trust. Nevertheless, although I can count the number of bad books I read this year on half a hand, I cannot think of anything I’d give an honest 5 out of 5 stars to. I reserve those for books that I not only think could not be improved in the slightest, but that I see as having a clear influence on what came after, or likely will if it was a recent release. I think William Gass’s “The Tunnel” or maybe Sasha West’s “Failure and I Bury the Body” are the last things I read that made me feel that way, and it’s been over a year since I finished those.
But that is not to negate the fact that a year of LOTS OF VERY, VERY GOOD is certainly worth celebrating, and far better than most of the alternatives. Maybe I’m too curmudgeonly or not fully appreciating some of these things. That has certainly happened before.
It was very difficult to pick just 3 things for my contribution to the year-end WFR list, and I’ll mention a couple of works that didn’t make that cut because I had to trim my list down somehow, and I could honestly provide a good defense of most of the books I read this year. So my final three for that article came down in part as a result of whim and timing as much as anything else. In that piece, I also chose to give attention to three books that I had not already devoted a full review to, which ruled out “The Rim of Morning,” “Get in Trouble,” and “Sing Me Your Scars,” even though those are just as solid as my three picks in the best-of article.
A few others I read this year and enjoyed quite a lot that I haven’t been able to include elsewhere:
Matthew Bartlett – “Rangel”
Simon Strantzas – “These Last Embers”
Nicole Cushing – “Children of No One” (released in a previous year, but new to me in 2015…turns out Nicole and I were practically neighbors before I moved from Louisville)
I seem unable to listen to much that isn’t loud and/or abrasive (speaking of which, I wish Daughters would get back together now that I live in their stomping grounds—shame I didn’t discover them until after they went on a hiatus of sorts). Despite the above, the two shows I went to this year weren’t particularly loud or abrasive, but they were nonetheless a welcome diversion. Seeing Local H at the Met was like a little slice of home. They are probably the nationally touring band that I’ve seen the most (maybe a dozen now), and with their distinctly Midwestern background it felt like I was getting a treat from home. I also took in Symphony of the Goddess: The Music of The Legend of Zelda, which was a birthday present to my dear partner. Although the Zelda games were never quite my thing, I had a great time at this and so did she (I’m pretty sure).
The best new things I heard this year are:
Blacklisters – “Adult” | Hands down, this album kicks ass all over the place. This stands as my clear favorite of the year.
Chelsea Wolfe – “Abyss” | Wolfe changed gears significantly on this album, adding in some electronic elements, and I think it’s the best thing of hers I’ve heard.
Baroness – “Purple” | I’ve only listened to it once, but I’m liking this album a good bit more than the previous two
The anticipated things I heard this year that I have to admit were a little disappointing:
Metz – “II”
Girl Band – “Holding Hands with Jamie”
Christian Fitness – “Love Letters in the Age of Steam”
Emika – “DREI”
Apart from the most important thing, obtaining access to necessary medical care for my partner, NecronomiCon was probably the highlight of an otherwise somewhat low year for me. I got to meet a boatload of people whose work I enjoy and respect. Everyone I spoke to and worked with was friendly and genuinely excited. It was my first convention of any kind, and I could not have asked for a better one, despite the brief moments of nonsensical rantings of reactionaries who shall remain nameless. The overwhelming vibe was one of positivity, inclusiveness, and enthusiasm, and a couple of days there as a volunteer and civilian was a needed boost. I expect to go to the next one, and may just get in touch with the ReaderCon folks to volunteer there in 2016 as well.
Speaking of NecronomiCon, the convention organizers have graciously agreed to carry Nightscript on the shelves of their bookstore, Lovecraft Arts and Sciences, in the Providence Arcade.
Lest I appear an ungrateful whiteboy kvetching about problems that are objectively not nearly as bad as many others face who are in a lesser position of privilege, my wonderful partner has faced far more challenges than I have, and every complaint I make is with the caveat that at least I have my health when others do not. She fights every day and has to fight harder against more nefarious villains than simply malaise, boredom, loneliness, or career dissatisfaction, though she has to fight those as well.
I also lost my dear father in 2015 to a long battle with cancer. Although I tried always to be brutally honest with myself since I was a teenager that this was the likely scenario that would develop after a life of heavy smoking, it does not make it any easier. My parents visited me in August during a period of remission. We had a great time, and it was probably the best visit and final memory I could have asked for. But a short two months was all it took for it to come back, this time for good. I think we were all lulled into thinking the remission would last just a little longer. I have been to too many funerals in the last ten years, and they keep getting closer and closer to me. Dad and I were almost always clueless about how to talk to one another and find common ground after I hit teenagerdom, but the last couple of years saw a real opening up on that front and I’m glad to say that I think we both made progress, though stumblingly and imperfect, with how to relate to one another, and I can genuinely say that I had fun being around him the last few times we saw each other.
Which brings me to a topic that people who know me personally understand I’ve been passionate about for a long time, and I’m going to take some space here to mention it again, because it occupies my mind every single day of the year. And I have to assume that there are millions of people whose minds it occupies every single day of the year, because I am by no means in the worst position one could be in with respect to the issue. That we do not, in the wealthiest, most powerful nation on the planet, treat access to healthcare as a fundamental right is absolutely an unforgivable crime. I say this while I fearfully watch the news headlines out of Kentucky, where their new governor is preparing to piss on the Affordable Care Act in every way he can so that the upper class can have a few more dollars (and really, I mean “a few”) for their new SUVs, and all I can do is hope that his disgusting waste of an ideology does not land on too many of my friends and family. But it doesn’t matter if a person is my friend or family, because every single person who has their medical care access reduced is just another me or you, and every single one of those people is also someone else’s friend and family, and even those without friends and family deserve to be treated with dignity rather than “Other” trash to be discarded because we as a society have a very real difficulty internalizing the problems of others.
If people whine (and that is exactly all that it is, whining) about constructing a healthcare system founded on a premise of standardized access to care being some kind of infringement upon freedom, as Kentucky’s asshole, bigoted, classist senator Rand Paul likes to do, my and my partner’s story offers a counternarrative. The whole reason we moved to Rhode Island is because it is literally the only state in which we can have a reasonable guarantee of access to necessary treatments for Lyme disease, due to state legislation that could just as easily exist at the federal level. So this is quite literally a case of our freedom of movement being restricted, ironically enough, to the smallest state in the union because healthcare is not treated as a basic right for all. Subsidized insurance and prohibition of discrimination against persons with preexisting conditions, along with some of the other portions of the Affordable Care Act, are steps very much in the right direction, but they are simply not going to cut the mustard as a comprehensive, systemic change, and I will not stop being furious about our healthcare system until this is remedied.
It has been almost eight years since I finished my M.A., and I have long since lost the illusion of being able to make a dent in repaying the loans from that. I say this because our education funding model, much like our health care model, is a woeful, unsustainable lemon sold and eagerly lapped up by previous generations that clearly undervalued both of these things as worthy social investments with high returns if done properly, as many other developed countries have already figured out. If treated as a right, health care and education enable freedom, rather than restrict it. We desperately need to move past the idiotic notion of freedom as “the freedom to starve underneath a bridge” and mature the fuck up.
I have tried very hard to be positive about the move and keep myself open to discovering new people, places, and activities. So far it has been a mixed bag despite my best efforts. NecronomiCon has really been the only occasion on which I met people I would consider acquaintances apart from work. Rhode Island feels like a state of decaying suburbia that has some nice beaches in the places that aren’t decaying. 95% of the restaurants outside of Providence are chain restaurants that you can find in every other suburb in the U.S. It feels like a place with history and character, but no personality, if that distinction makes sense. I’ll gladly take its politics over those of Kentucky, but I cannot remember the last time a person outside my home made me laugh. The two independent book stores closest to our house have closed up shop between our date of arrival and today.
Job opportunities are few and far between if you’re not in the medical business. Drivers seem to struggle with fundamental concepts, such as parking and right-of-way, and don’t even bother to get out of their car to make sure you’re okay if they rear-end you. There is nowhere I can find that fills me with enthusiasm to get back on my bike, nor are most of the roads constructed in a way that would make me feel safe doing so. I seem to have lost the love of the ocean that I used to have. Instead of seeing it as beautiful, I now seem only to be able to think of it as a symptom of a cruel disease that encounters some sand at certain parts of the land mass we call home. But I’m also grateful to have it just down the road, because my partner thrives on it and that in turn makes me happy.
I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions.
Nevertheless, I wish to conclude on a positive note and say that I’m very grateful to still have friends and family when others do not, and that they are supportive. I would be in a much less desirable place in life without that. I hope that 2016 does not subtract any from me and instead adds a few.
Looking for some good gifts for the book lover in your family? I’ve recently contributed a few of my favorites from this year to the Weird Fiction Review End-of-Year Book List, alongside picks from the likes of Lincoln Michel, Sofia Samatar, Usman T. Malik, Helen Marshall, and more.
There are also some great book gift ideas over on Reddit’s WeirdLit community
I figured I would collect here the first few reviews from outside of Goodreads/Amazon that have appeared for Nightscript. They’ve all been favorable so far and hopefully the trend continues. Several of them were kind enough to mention my piece by name, so if you’re reading this, it’s much appreciated! All are full-length reviews, but I’ve included a quick summation of the review as well.
- Michael Kellermeyer at OldStyle Tales Press – TL;DR: “A purchase of this anthology is highly recommended to fans of intelligent and well-crafted horror.”
- Anthony Watson at Dark Musings – TL;DR: “Nightscript 1 is a worthy heir to Shadows & Tall Trees – C M has taken the mantle and run with it, producing an excellent book containing some of the best writing you’ll come across this year. It’s a book I recommend highly that you should purchase.”
- Rising Shadow – TL;DR: “Nightscript: Volume 1 is a splendid and fascinating anthology filled with weird and well written stories that will entice and chill readers in equal measure.”
Last, editor CM Muller appeared on weird fiction podcast The Outer Dark. You can listen to the episode here and subscribe to the show here. I’ve been enjoying the show and have listened to almost every episode since meeting Scott briefly at NecronomiCon in August. He, CM, and reviewer Justin Steele had many nice things to say about the collection and a couple of kind mentions of my story. If any of them are reading this, thanks again!
I’ll also take a few lines to summarize some recent work I’ve read by others that I’ve enjoyed.
- Nathan Ballingrud’s The Visible Filth | Nathan has been on my radar since we stocked his Small Beer collection, North American Lake Monsters, at the store where I used to work. I buy most things from Small Beer as long as I can fit them into the budget (or did at the time, rather, when I had a store account), but for one reason or another I just kept putting off buying that one. That was clearly an error of judgement, as I found “The Visible Filth” to be difficult to put down. I think I read it in two sittings, and if I hadn’t been traveling at the time it would have probably been just one. It was revolting in just the right way, perhaps a few hints of Ligotti, and a fine finish. I’ll definitely read something else by Nathan again soon.
- Thomas Ligotti’s “Songs of a Dead Dreamer” and “Grimscribe” | Many times have I gazed forlornly at the $400 used copies of the Subterranean Press edition and wished I could justify the expense. Thankfully, Penguin wised up and released regular trade editions of these two collections in their Classics series. I’ve enjoyed them so far, but what strikes me is just how far he has come since these first two releases. I think most of the work in Teatro Grottesco feels much more developed than the pieces in these collections. Likewise with what might be his best story (that I’ve read), in my opinion: “The Small People”. There are a few stories I’ve come across in Songs and Grimscribe that really didn’t do anything for me, but when he gets it right, he really hits it out of the park.
- Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts | This was a really tight horror story with plenty of interesting deconstruction and metacommentary on the genre, along with a charming and convincing narrator. There is a ton of reference candy for genre aficionados, and plenty of story whether you are one of those folks or not. This book seems to be doing pretty well, and I think that’s very much deserved. I was fortunate to attend a reading that Paul gave on the book’s initial release, and it was a really cool discussion about different takes on the possession story and how the book interacts with the tradition it draws from. This is another one that could be read in one or two sittings.