Talk Talk (Red Beret Talk)

Okay, so sales if If Only Tonight We Could Sleep are ticking along, slow and steady. I’ve been surprised at how many I’ve been selling through local stores, and I can only hope that online sales have been at least as healthy. Thank you to anyone who’s bought a copy, and to the rest of you, thanks in advance (cough, cough).

A few new interviews and free-for-alls are up for your edification. Firstly, I took part in my first podcast interview with champion comedian/political pundit/grindcore drummer Jon Brooks, a fellow Pirie boy made good. We had a great natter for five hours, one and a half of which was recorded for posterity and edited down to seventy-six minutes of… well, stuff. Listen to us snipe about politics and the comedy scene – not that there’s a huge difference between the two in some cases – and reveal our past humiliating mistakes for all to hear as we discuss everything from the escapist nature of horror to our shared history in metal bands! You can find it on various platforms: here are the links to Whooshkaa, Apple, and Spotify. And here’s a sloppy snap of us afterward; sadly, I’ve cultivated not only an isolation beard (or at least the best I can approximate one) but also more than a few isolation pounds.

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Er, that’s me on the left. Glasses, beards, so much of us to love – it’s an easy mistake to make.

Also up now is my entry in the Australian SF Snapshot Project, a series of quick interviews with authors from Australia and New Zealand curated by Tehani Croft, and you can read that here.

I took part in a Booklove Tuesday online happening last week, along with gritty romance author B. Michael Radburn and poet Deb Stewart, and you can find that Facebook event here. Skip to the bottom and scroll up to read the posts in order, and check out the action in the comments where readers chime in and interact with us. It was quite fun and interesting, and I look forward to doing more things like that in the future. 

In terms of new publications… well, it hasn’t been announced yet, so I may be jumping the gun again, but I’ve had a novelette called “Heritage Hill” accepted into Outback Horrors, a collection of Antipodean frights from me old muckers at Things in the Well. It’s tragic and quite timely in subject matter, unfortunately – we’ll see how it sits alongside stories by Robert Hood, Marty Young, Lucy Sussex, and other luminaries. I’ve also been tapped for a tale for another upcoming anthology that promises some big names, but I’ll keep schtum about that one for now…

I’m currently isolated in my house after falling sick and being tested for COVID-19. I’m sure I’m fine – we’ve had it pretty easy here in South Australia, all things considered, and it’s highly unlikely to have reached me at this stage – but it does drive home the impact this pandemic has had on other states and countries. I’ve already been feeling the strain of that as well as recent political and social upheavals here and abroad, as weird as that may sound to you – I care deeply about my world and the people thereon, and bigotry hurts me even as a relatively pampered straight white male because a) I have friends of all creeds and orientations all over the globe who suffer from it, b) I have benefited from it indirectly even if I have never been actively complicit in it, and c) it’s just so fucking stupid and hurtful that I can’t wrap my head around it. So yeah, it bugs me, and it depresses me, and that makes acts of creation more difficult because they feel so meagre and trite by comparison to what’s really going down in the streets, in your homes, in our minds.

I know I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but if you’re about to vilify or abuse someone, or hurt someone – even yourself – then just stop and take a moment to think, please. It’s not so hard, and I promise it’s best for everyone. Come on, we’re all humans here… and to create schisms between us because of our genitals, or what we do with them behind closed doors, or whether we were born with them or not, or what pigment they are, is absolutely ridiculous after all these years of shared growth and experience and evolution. Truly, we’re all in this together, and the only ones who benefit from telling you otherwise are reaping profit from our blood and bile, which makes them our common enemy. Fuck the new dark ages. This is our time. It is always our time. It will always be our time. I called my band Blood Red Renaissance because that is what I want to see in the world, a new era of prosperity and intelligence and compassionate creativity, and those first two words don’t stand for violence or gore or the genocide of those that won’t change – they represent vitality, vivacity, virility – boldness, beauty, the stuff of life itself. We are up to the challenge if we set our hearts and minds to it. We just need to set our shoulders to the wheel and work to make it happen, and every little bit of effort counts – every story or song that encourages empathy or deeper thought, every piece of resistance to toxic bullshit, every act of love or courage or righteous defiance, however minor.

That’s what I tell myself, sitting in my house alone, unemployed, tapping away at my made-up stories about things that aren’t real for a tiny audience to read.

I try to believe. To persist. To survive.

I know that I have sometimes inspired people to be better, to try harder, so it’s just a matter of staying the course. Working what little magic I can. Hoping that you feel the same and pass it on, pay it forward, so we can all breathe a little easier.

Sometimes, just being here and being us is all we can do. And sometimes, that’s enough.

x

“Ahem… AWARD-WINNING author, if you don’t mind.”

Big news: I won both the Australian Shadows Awards for which I was shortlisted!

This one:

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And this one:

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Safe to say I’m pretty stoked, especially considering the calibre of the authors I was up against. Congratulations to my fellow scribes on their well-earned triumphs! You can read the full results here.

These victories really were the cap on a rollercoaster two days! Let’s see how my Aurealis Awards nominations turn out. Fingers crossed…

Mx

Never the Bride Forever and Other Obscure References

First post in a couple of months, and thankfully, it’s all good news!

I’ve had two works shortlisted for the 2019 Aurealis Awards: “Supermassive Black Mass” for Best Horror Novella and “Pilgrimage” for Best Horror Short Story! You can see the complete lists here.

And… I’ve also had two works shortlisted for the 2019 Australian Shadows Awards: “Supermassive Black Mass” for the Paul Haines Award for Long Fiction and “Steadfast Shadowsong” for Best Short Fiction! Click here for the complete listings.

This makes four years in a row that I’ve had works shortlisted, though this is the first time I’ve been nominated for Aurealis and Shadows awards in the same year. I’m yet to actually win any of them – always the bridesmaid, etc – but let’s hope this time I break that non-winning streak!

Black Dogs, Black Tales is available now – here amongst other places. It contains my story “Vision Thing” and all proceeds go to the New Zealand Mental Health Foundation.

In other news – it hasn’t been officially announced yet, so let’s hope I’m not jumping the gun here, but my story “Our Tragic Heroine” will be appearing in Tales of the Lost Vol. 2 from Things in the Well later this year. It’s a charitable anthology to benefit Save the Children’s Coronavirus response, and it will see my work published alongside such luminaries as Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill, Christopher Golden, Tim Lebbon, Lisa Morton, Tim Waggoner, Kaaron Warren, and Christina Sng, as well as my fellow Adelaidean/rad lady Chris Mason and others yet to be revealed. Pretty damn stoked to be sharing a TOC with this lot!

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If Only Tonight We Could Sleep has been finding its way into more bookshops, and I’m pleased to say that it’s also been finding its way out again! It’s now available at Colonel Light Books in Goodwood and Shakespeare’s Bookshop in Blackwood, and the first batch of stock at Meg’s Bookshop has sold out. It’s also available for borrowing through the Adelaide libraries OneCard network – if you’re a member of any SA library, you can request it and have it sent to your branch.

Not much more to report – I’ve been stuck at home for the past two months and I’m not doing so great, really, but I’m still kicking and that’s what matters. I’m lucky to be living in South Australia as we’ve barely been touched by the bastard pandemic so far, but the knock-on effects of isolation and deprivation don’t help anyone. Hope you and yours are coping with this shitty situation. We’ll pull through this and stride on strong.

Best wishes and good luck,

Mxxx

PS. Soundgarden had a song called “Never the Machine Forever”, but sadly, there are no further obscure references in this post. Unless talking about myself counts.

“See MRD Play” b/w “Cancelled Culture”

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Bad news first: my reading event at Meg’s Bookshop in Port Pirie has been indefinitely postponed, for obvious reasons. We’ll restage this when things have settled down somewhat. In the meantime, my book is available on the shelf there as well as a number of Adelaide locations, and it can also be ordered from Amazon – so if you happen to require some quality dark reading for your days and nights of seclusion, look no further…

Another review has come in for If Only Tonight We Could Sleep, this one from The Sci Fi and Fantasy Reviewer, and it’s a cracker! This is the kind of thoughtful and appreciative appraisal that writers hope for, that validates all the effort we spend alone slaving away at our beloved craft. You can read it here.

I’ve just posted a video for the live performance of The Cure’s “If Only Tonight We Could Sleep” from my book launch at the start of the month – you can watch it below. Feels a bit odd doing a cover, but it was so appropriate that I couldn’t resist! Thanks to Owen, Yolanda, and Brody for taking part, plus Bryan at the Broadcast Bar for having us and everyone who came along to check it out.

Well, that’s about it for now – there are a number of things bubbling under that I will report on when more may be said. In the meantime, stay safe, stay well, and look after each other. We’re all in this together, and that togetherness has never been more important – even if it currently means keeping apart from each other.

MxRxDx

If Only That Night You Could See

The book launch for If Only Tonight We Could Sleep was held on Sunday March 1 at the Broadcast Bar. Safe to say that the turnout was less than expected, but those who came were receptive and appreciative, not to mention appreciated. I read the entirety of “Debutante” and then excerpts from four other stories, broken up with a few musical numbers. We played two old songs I’d never previously found a home for (“Wouldn’t” and “The Tallest Poppy”), two songs from the first Blood Red Renaissance album Champagne Tragedy (“Amber & Ashes” and “Cemetery Girl”) and one rare but appropriate cover (The Cure’s “If Only Tonight We Could Sleep”). Many thanks are due to the folk who lent me their time and talents for the gig: my BRR and icecocoon brother Owen Gillett (acoustic guitar, backing vocals), Lande “Velvet Jeanie” Marie (violin, accordion), and icecocoon/session master Brody Green (drums). Here’s a snap of us performing “Cemetery Girl” at the end of the set:

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Snapshot by Meg Wright (aka Red Wallflower Photography)

There’s another reading event coming up, this one at Meg’s Bookshop in Port Pirie on Saturday March 28. Here is the Facebook public event page.

In other news, I have a non-fiction piece up on Kendall Reviews called “To Wish Impossible Things: The Cure for What Ails”, which you can read here; it’s about my enduring love for The Cure and the ways that band has influenced both my life and my writing. This Is Horror thought enough of it to include it in their 5 Must Read Horror Articles for the week! Also on Kendall Reviews now is my entry in their series The Graveyard Shift, where authors pick eight books, one album, and one luxury to take with them to their new job as cemetery caretaker; you can read my answers here.

“Supermassive Black Mass”, my novelette from Demain Publishing’s Short Sharp Shocks! series, is now available in paperback here.

Burning Love and Bleeding Hearts, a charitable anthology of Valentine’s Day-themed flash fiction and poetry to benefit those who suffered in the recent bushfires that ends with my longer story “The Ballad of Elvis O’Malley”, is now available here.

If Only Tonight We Could Sleep is now available in physical and digital formats through Amazon and Ingram online, and the paperback can be found in South Australia at Dymocks Adelaide, Dymocks Glenelg, Imprints, Clarity Records, Streetlight Adelaide, and Meg’s Bookshop (Port Pirie).

The first review of the book is in, and it’s four stars from The Book Lover’s Boudoir – you can read it here. There will be many more popping up over the next few months – I’ll keep you posted!

Wow, a bit of a linkfest this time – but they’re all worth following. Thanks for your attention, and I hope you’re all getting the sleep you need…

MxRxDx

Release Day… and BIG NEWS!

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Today’s the day! If Only Tonight We Could Sleep is now available in e-book and paperback form at Amazon here. (There may be a wait of a day or so before paperbacks are listed.) Stock will be on the shelves of numerous Adelaide stores (and one Port Pirie store) as soon as it arrives, so say a couple of weeks.

I did an interview on Radio Adelaide 101.5 today, reading an excerpt from “By the Light of a Drowning Sun”, and hopefully there will be more to come. (I won’t stuff up and not mention Meg/RWP by name next time. That was unintentional but unfair.) I’ve been doing a lot of online interviews lately, so expect a rash of those soon.

The book launch will be held at the Broadcast Bar, Grote Street, at 8pm on Sunday March 1, 2020. I’ll be reading selections from the book and breaking them up with a few songs in a stripped-down acoustic setting, and there will also be some special playlists. Entry is free and paperbacks will be available on the night.

There will also be an author event held at Meg’s Bookshop, Port Pirie, on Saturday March 28 at 11am. I’ll be reading from the book, which will be available there beforehand and on the day, and elevenses will be provided. (Is that technically correct? There will be wine and orange juice and nibbles, anyway.)

Oh, and I’ve had two more stories picked up for publication. “The Ballad of Elvis O’Malley” will be appearing next month in Burning Love and Bleeding Hearts, a anthology to raise funds for bushfire relief; “Vision Thing” will be featured in Black Dogs, Black Tales, a charitable collection dealing with mental health. Both these books, like my new release, are brought to you by Things in the Well.

“Supermassive Black Mass” looks to be out in paperback shortly, and it’s still available as an e-book. (I got my first royalty report today. Suffice to say… please buy it.)

And now, the BIG NEWS

I can finally announce that I’ve signed with JournalStone Publishing to release my first novel, Midnight in the Chapel of Love, in January 2021.

These guys have put out books by the likes of Laird Barron, Gwendolyn Kiste, Philip Fracassi, Gemma Files, S.P. Miskowski, Christopher Golden, and many more – so it’s a real thrill to be joining the roster.

So that’s one book out (maybe two), a running total of six short stories set to appear in anthologies this year (with more to come, no doubt), and a book dropping at the start of the following year. 2020 is shaping up to be a busy twelve months! Hope you stick around to see what else it brings.

Cheers and good wishes,

MRD

13 Great Short Story Collections – Part 5

To celebrate the impending release of If Only Tonight We Could Sleep (January 31 through Things in the Well), this week I’ll be giving you the rundown on some of my favourite single-author short story collections. Here you’ll find everything from the iconic and brilliant to the essential and influential – some of these tomes are defining works in their field, and some of them inspired my writing to a greater or lesser degree. For the most part, the covers I’ve included are from the editions I own. And so, with no further ado:

 

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Michael Griffin – The Lure of Devouring Light (2016)
An exemplar of the current crop of weird fiction writers who focus on the humanity amidst the horror, Griffin sets out his stall with this remarkable collection, and his wares will be bringing quite a few readers back for more. Poetic titles that border on pretentious, relatable characters in whom we can invest ourselves, horrors that don’t so much leap to attack but instead lurk in the shadows and intimidate with their weighty and unknowable presence – these are his stock in trade, and The Lure of Devouring Light is premium product indeed.

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John Langan – Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters (2009)
Intellectual but not impenetrable, allusive but not obscure, Langan writes diverse horror that is as substantial as it is accessible, handling action and emotion with equal skill, and his academic background bolsters his work rather than inspiring the self-important dribble that sometimes results from living in that rarefied atmosphere. Mr Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters was his first collection and it’s fair to say that he’s only gotten better since then, but it certainly marked him out as a writer of note.

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Camilla Grudova – The Doll’s Alphabet (2017)
More modern fairy tales, but these are not the kind you might be used to – Grudova’s weird world is populated with dolls, wolves, sewing machines, waxy Men, and romantic spider-people, and her first book could be imagined as a literary companion to Jan Švankmajer’s Alice. Comparisons to Atwood, Carter, and Lynch have also been aired, which should intrigue and attract the kind of audience that The Doll’s Alphabet deserves to draw in abundance.

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Lisa Tuttle – A Nest of Nightmares (1986)
The tales brought into being by Tuttle in this, her first collection after years of publishing awards-worthy tales, are generally less visceral than a lot of dark fiction at the time, but they’re weighty and distressing in a way that few contemporary authors could match. A Nest of Nightmares deals in a strand of emotional and soul-dark horror that strikes deep and lingers long, something that was almost exclusively the domain of female authors at the time but has thankfully become much more egalitarian as time marches on.

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China Miéville – Looking for Jake and Other Stories (2005)
One of the best, most progressive, and fiercely imaginative genre authors to emerge from England in the last couple of decades, Miéville produces scintillating and weighty novels fairly bursting with ideas, so it’s a given that his short fiction is going to be something special, too. Looking for Jake, his first collection, is a diverse collation of works that includes tales about invading shadows, mobile streets, and haunted ball pits, proving that there’s really no limit to the range of his fanciful faculties.

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J.G. Ballard – The Atrocity Exhibition (1970)
Less a collection of short stories and more a mosaic which constantly shifts and changes around its core themes and touchstones (a la Naked Lunch, which is regarded as a novel and hence is not listed here), this mindfuck of a book is quite difficult to explain for anyone not familiar with the more outré elements of Ballard’s style. Suffice to say that if repeated ruminations on fractured psychology and geometry, the sexual aspects of the Kennedy assassination, and the penile likeness of Ronald Reagan’s face sounds like your cup of mushroom tea, The Atrocity Exhibition will not disappoint; if you’re after actual stories that begin and end and make sense, it certainly will.

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J.S. Breukelaar – Collision (2019)
Weird and dark but not necessarily horror as such, the stories in this collection build their worlds layer upon odd layer and the cumulative effect is alien but not alienating. Breukelaar brings a lot of heart to her tales of strange people in strange situations, ensuring that Collision is relatable even when exploring the outer limits of reality; the fear that we will be unable to reach our loved ones in the event of a calamitous event is a potent one, and it’s mined for a fair amount of black gold here.

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Robert E. Howard – The Conan Chronicles Vol. 1: The People of the Black Circle (2000)
Sometimes you want deep stories that say something profound about the world, and sometimes you just want the prose equivalent of a smartly dumb action movie – enter Howard, who defined the whole sword-and-sorcery thing so well that mediaeval fantasy is still shaped by his work to this day. The man was a workaholic, pumping out top-notch pulp adventure and horror at a tremendous rate until his sadly Oedipal death in 1935, and Conan is only his most popular tough-guy protagonist; the movies and comics are okay, even sometimes the additional stories written by other authors, but go straight to The People of the Black Circle or any other unexpurgated volume for the real thing.

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Tananarive Due – Ghost Summer: Stories (2015)
Historical hauntings, modern numinosity, post-apocalyptic Afrofuturism – Ghost Summer covers a lot of ground in its fifteen tales, and every inch of that soil is rich in wonder and emotion. Due uses encounters with the inhuman to contrast and enhance her explorations of the very human, whether it be the suffering caused by hatred or the transformations offered by love, and the result is a crop of tales that leaves the reader both satisfied and hungry for more.

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Shirley Jackson – The Lottery and Other Stories (1949)
Often thought of in horror terms though rarely delving into anything most would recognise as such, Jackson is rightly regarded as an author that anyone looking to write thoughtful weird fiction must investigate – even if she had only ever written The Haunting of Hill House, her place in history would be secure. The terror she evokes best is simply the everyday pressure of being a woman – the domestic expectations, the public dismissals, the double standards, the constant unspoken threats – and it’s no wonder so many of her characters bend or break before the end; the world can be a surreal and dangerous place for a woman, and it’s in the explorations of this theme that The Lottery truly shines.

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Richard Laymon – Dreadful Tales (2000)
Hardly the world’s most sophisticated or subtle writer, Laymon packs his second collection with all sorts of depraved characters and deadly situations, and as in his (admittedly far superior) novels, they come tagged with the raging hormones and distasteful desires that define his work and make it a thrill ride for some readers, a tiresome chore for others. But Dreadful Tales has to be included here for its unexpected twists, influential violence, and ribald enthusiasm if nothing else, and as David Cronenberg once said, we all need periodic releases from the tyranny of good taste.

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Alan Baxter – Crow Shine (2016)
Baxter’s long-form fiction often blends crime and the supernatural into a hard-boiled fantasy, but his shorter works are more diverse; here, you’ll find moments of touching beauty amongst the eruptions of violence, and tough guys meet their match in unassuming souls who are no less determined. Crow Shine is populated with witches, nurses, toymakers, magicians, and even pirates, making for a dramatic, dark, and sometimes dire journey into unknown and unsuspected folds of our weird world.

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Lisa L. Hannett – Bluegrass Symphony (2011)
Bringing a little Southern Gothic to the Australian weird fiction scene, Bluegrass Symphony weaves dark magic time and again with its tales of dying girls comforted by moths, minotaur rodeo marriage rituals, and oracular chickens. Hannett is afraid of neither whimsy or brutality, transcendence nor terror, and they all live side by side here in a symbiotic relationship that is brought to aching life by her beautifully rich wordcraft.

 

Well, that’s it – five days of thirteen collections, sixty-five books in all, and there were a few tomes that didn’t make the cut for one reason or another, so be thankful – I could’ve kept going! But one thing I’ve learned from this exercise is that critical writing, even two sentences at a time, is hard graft. I’m starting to feel like I’ve used up all the superlatives I can think of, so let’s quit while we’re ahead!

A few things I’ve noticed doing this: a large number of the books are first collections, though many of these authors have subsequently put out others equally as strong or better; almost all the listed authors are American, English, or Australian, and they’re almost all white (my novel-length reading is more diverse, but it’s a little worrying to note this nonetheless); and a fair chunk of the books were released in the last ten years, which makes sense as that was when I became more invested in writing and discovering new writers.

Maybe one day soon, another author will draw up a similar list, and there, amongst the great and the good, we’ll find If Only Tonight We Could Sleep… one likes to hope, or else why would one bother…?

Well, I’m knackered. Thanks for sticking it out! Stay tuned for more and more stuff as January 31 draws ever nearer!
MRD

13 Great Short Story Collections – Part 4

To celebrate the impending release of If Only Tonight We Could Sleep (January 31 through Things in the Well), this week I’ll be giving you the rundown on some of my favourite single-author short story collections. Here you’ll find everything from the iconic and brilliant to the essential and influential – some of these tomes are defining works in their field, and some of them inspired my writing to a greater or lesser degree. For the most part, the covers I’ve included are from the editions I own. And so, with no further ado:

 

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Paul Tremblay – Growing Things and Other Stories (2019)
This author has made a real splash lately with his last three novels, and this collection lives up to that high standard – like them, these stories experiment with form but never come off as gimmicky, even when they’re presented as Choose Your Own Adventure-style narratives or a series of emails from hired dogwalkers. The tales are substantive and they come packed with heart and soul, even at their most bleak; Growing Things, along with the rest of Tremblay’s catalogue, might well be suggested as an excellent crossover point for literary readers wanting to try out horror, or vice versa.

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Robert Aickman – The Unsettled Dust (1990)
Aickman is one of those authors who can be frustrating to read, providing little in the way of explanation or explication and often no true ending that can be understood as such, but that is exactly where his power lies – it’s left to you to make what you will of his tales, and often it’s the mood and the accumulation of mysterious detail that lingers in the mind rather than the thrust of the stories themselves. Reading should be no means be a passive experience, and The Unsettled Dust proves that point with aplomb, its seemingly staid surface covering up subtle strata of sexual urgency and personal confusion.

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Jon Padgett – The Secret of Ventriloquism (2016)
If you like your stories weird and pitch-black and inscrutable, The Secret of Ventriloquism might just be your new jam; the style is an acquired taste, but once you’ve acquired it, you’ll never stop wanting more. Vastarien editor Padgett is an acolyte of Ligotti, and that should tell you whether you’ll click with these odd tales of transformation and transcendence or run screaming from them like a dummy that just started moving and talking on its own.

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Dan Simmons – Prayers to Broken Stones (1990)
Genre is a slippery thing in the hands of Simmons, who turns from SF and horror to crime and literary historical fiction as the mood takes him and often blends them together to stunning effect. His work is immaculately researched and totally convincing in its immersion, no matter where it takes him, and though his novel-length fiction is where he shines brightest, after reading Prayers to Broken Stones it’s easy to see why no less a luminary than Harlan Ellison was impressed from the get-go.

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Margaret Atwood – Stone Mattress (2014)
Canadian writer Atwood is a true literary treasure who’s been turning out intelligent and incisive work for sixty years now without any sign that age is blunting her edge, and her poet’s eye for a turn of phrase lifts even the most mundane of movements. Her intimate and uncompromising explorations of female characters and perspectives makes her work fiercely feminist without ever being didactic about it, and a lot of male authors would benefit from a crash course in her work before writing women – one of her many novels would be a good place to start, but for smaller portions, you can’t go wrong with Stone Mattress.

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Robert W. Chambers – The King in Yellow (1895)
This collection is the foundation upon which Chambers’s reputation is built – it’s a rare reader who could name another of his books – and even then, only four of the stories within touch upon his famous Carcosa mythos, but the world’s ongoing fascination with The King in Yellow is testament to the deftness of his imagination. He knew well the power of insinuation, giving so little detail and yet providing generations with enough mystery to keep them coming back, and even though most of his fiction is romantic rather than horrific in intent, even the lighter stories here paint a vivid picture of a fin de siècle world that is open to all kinds of possibility.

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Christos Tsiolkas – Merciless Gods (2014)
Though he doesn’t write horror, Tsiolkas can evoke as much brutality and painful truth as any scribe at the darker end of the spectrum, and he doesn’t pull punches or spare delicate sensibilities. Merciless Gods touches on the edgy gay fiction that made his name, but he’s about so much more than that, and he doesn’t so much titillate as stare unflinchingly at the things people do, rarely demanding a justification for them – he conjures a universe where hope and love are balanced by the selfishness of personal desires, the impositions of class and inherited hatred, and the sense that we’re all stumbling blind through a life that couldn’t care less for our ambitions.

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Richard Christian Matheson – Scars and Other Distinguishing Marks (1987)
A dark and witty talent runs through these veins – Matheson, son of the legendary Richard Matheson, is savagely fluent in the flash fiction form, the tales in Scars and Other Distinguishing Marks remarkable for their mordant twists and chilling punchlines. The best exemplar of his work is probably the masterful “Vampire”, which lays out a new kind of modern predator and their hunting methods in nothing but single-word sentences, but he also uses his experience of working in Hollywood to devastating effect.
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Carmen Maria Machado – Her Body and Other Parties (2017)
Another writer who’s broken out recently, to the extent that this collection is being adapted into a TV series – and rightfully so – Machado deals in a kind of colourful but exacting feminist fantasy that teeters on the brink of horror, queer fiction at its core but disinterested in limitations of any sort. Anyone who can make a story out of re-writing Law & Order: SVU episode descriptions into a set of surreal narratives that never happened is worth a little of your time, and that’s just one of eight substantial treats in the excellently titled Her Body and Other Parties.

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Edgar Allan Poe – The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe (2016)
We all knew it had to come to this – you’ve got to have King and Lovecraft, and you simply cannot overlook that haunted figure whose stories revitalised and redefined not just horror fiction but crime writing as well. For all the pastiches and parodies piled on top of the originals over the years, and for all the luridly purple prose that sometimes teeters on the verge of excess, Poe’s work has stood the test of time and looks set to do so for centuries to come; his morbid tales of love lost and vengeful revenants echo throughout pretty much anything in pop culture that walks in the shadows, and rather than pick away at his work piece by piece, you should really just head straight for The Complete Tales and Poems.

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Joe R. Lansdale – High Cotton: Selected Stories of Joe R. Lansdale (2000)
Saddle up, boys and girls – Lansdale will take you on the wildest ride you ever did see, and you might not come back the same, if you come back at all. His Southern-fried stories are hard as nails and not for the faint of heart – the casual racism of some of his Texan characters jars in its repetition, even as he makes it quite clear that he considers this attitude painfully stupid – but it’s not all grim and gore by a long chalk; High Cotton leaves you with the impression that its author could have done well writing literate redneck comedy novels for hipsters, if his yen for the haunting and horrible hadn’t kept rearing its head to gnash its foamy teeth.

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Fritz Leiber – Night Monsters (1969)
Another master of the mid-twentieth century horror tale, Leiber was one of the first to turn urban landscapes into figures of terror in themselves, moving the form away from cosy Gothic stories and fireside cigar-and-brandy narratives and bringing it right into your home, your room, your bed. “The Girl with the Hungry Eyes” is remarkably prescient for a story written in 1947, given its fascination with media presentation and information collection wrapped up in a thoroughly non-traditional vampire tale (with not a drop of blood spilled) – and though a classic chiller, it’s actually one of the less horrific tales to be found in Night Monsters, which more than transcends its bland title.

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Kaaron Warren – Dead Sea Fruit (2007)
A lot of ground is covered in this Australian collection, from men who steal the appetite of anorexics with an ashen kiss to apocalyptic bone diseases, from the deeply personal to the universal, and Warren handles every change of gear with a calm and measured skill. Some writers rely upon emotion to drive home the point of their stories and can be overcome by that, but Dead Sea Fruit sees its author keeping a slight distance, reporting on every intimate detail without blinking or judging – which is not to say that the book doesn’t resonate with personal truth, for it certainly does, and its seamless blend of fantasy, science fiction, and horror is top-shelf.

 

I hope you’ve found a few items that have tickled your fancy enough to be added to your TBR list! Feel free to leave a comment if you’ve anything to say about my selection. Thanks for reading, and please do pop back here tomorrow to check out Part Five. Part Three is here.

Cheers,
MRD

13 Great Short Story Collections – Part 3

To celebrate the impending release of If Only Tonight We Could Sleep (January 31 through Things in the Well), this week I’ll be giving you the rundown on some of my favourite single-author short story collections. Here you’ll find everything from the iconic and brilliant to the essential and influential – some of these tomes are defining works in their field, and some of them inspired my writing to a greater or lesser degree. For the most part, the covers I’ve included are from the editions I own. And so, with no further ado:

 

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Thomas Ligotti – Songs of a Dead Dreamer (1989)
The cover blurb suggests slotting this book in between Poe and Lovecraft, which is an adequate summation – but Ligotti shares a common skill with Ramsey Campbell (who introduces this volume) in that he can soothe and threaten and disturb even when nothing much seems to be happening; he’s a master of manipulating mood, and he cares not one jot if you don’t understand what’s going on at the surface. There’s a reason why he’s regarded so highly in the weird fiction community, and Songs of a Dead Dreamer should be enough to convert any inquiring mind to his wilfully obscure cult – rarely has a collection been more appropriately named.

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Kelly Link – Get in Trouble (2015)
You can’t tell me that we don’t all crave a little trouble from time to time, and the characters in this collection take that appetite to heart in a big way – whether the stories feature futuristic Egyptian teens or ghost boyfriends or superheroes or astronauts, everyone’s looking to land themselves in it somehow, and usually they do. Link’s broadly imaginative tales trample over genre boundaries like elephants chasing their heart’s desires, and this invitation to Get in Trouble is one that you should be delighted to accept.

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Kim Newman – The Original Dr. Shade and Other Stories (1994)
Literary mash-ups are all the rage these days, but Newman’s been ploughing this particular furrow longer than most; his brain is a veritable archive of fiction and film, and many of his stories and novels are deftly arch combinations of elements taken from all points of pop culture. But he’s much more than a wry gentleman in a waistcoat serving up genteel remixes of public domain properties – some of his fiction hits hardest just when you expect it to be winking back at you, touching on contemporary fascism, unrestrained capitalism, and the dark paths our societies contemplate these days, and the title story of The Original Dr. Shade is a brutal case in point.

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Richard Matheson – Duel (2002)
Another past master of the scary short, Matheson’s six decades of work included episodes of The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery as well as a wide array of written fiction that counted The Shrinking Man and I Am Legend among its high points; Duel collects a number of his darker classics, and thus is an important tome for anyone interested in horror’s pre-King days. Like his contemporary Robert Bloch, his prose is unfussy and economical and allows him to get on with the job of telling startling stories of suspense and dread that few could match then or now.

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Damian Murphy – Daughters of Apostasy (2017)
Murphy specialises in tales that are thick with unspoken meaning and obscure occult detail, giving those who are willing to engage with his work a lot to chew on. His characters delve into the world as if it were a complex and esoteric game, often finding that they’re more right than wrong, and the layers of cartography, liturgical mystery, programming lore, and the outright numinous ensure that Daughters of Apostasy takes on some of the inscrutable nature of the tomes featured in its stories, hinting that it, too, contains keys and codes invisible to everyone except those with eyes to see.

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Harlan Ellison – Deathbird Stories (1975)
One of the keystone writers in the speculative genre, Ellison is infamous both for his prodigious output and his controversial behaviour – but there’s no doubting that whenever he opened his mouth or put his fingers to the keys, something colourful and didactic was bound to emerge. Deathbird Stories displays him a couple of decades into his career, his splenetic prowess in full flight, and though he’s best known for his satirical and influential science fiction, scathing contemporary stories such as “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs” are dark and bitter as black coffee and hit the heart just as hard.

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Nina Allan – A Thread of Truth (2007)
It’s hard to describe exactly what Allan’s writing is – contemporary fantasy might be a simplistic and suitably broad descriptor, but her stories are about as far from hot vampire slayers and romantically-fraught witches as it’s possible to get. The worlds she evokes in A Thread of Truth and her other works are almost identical to ours, but the quotidian exists side-by-side with a rich seam of wonder and ineffability, and even if you don’t always understand where you’ve ended up or quite how you got there, you’ll never question the lingering beauty of the journey.

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Claire Fitzpatrick – Metamorphosis (2019)
A relatively new voice on the Australian horror scene, Fitzpatrick pitches her first collection largely along the lines of body horror – and though there’s a lot of transmutation going on here, numerous misfits taking on new shapes and forms for better or worse, the stories have deep pockets of raw emotion bubbling just under the surface that sometimes erupt to swamp the narratives and wash you away along with the characters. Metamorphosis is much like the figure on its cover: crawling out of a pupal state and still growing, a little awkward as it adapts to its surroundings but already displaying a mature grace that promises ensuing stages of great beauty.

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Koji Suzuki – Dark Water (1996)
If you know Suzuki for anything, it’s probably for his novels upon which the Ring movies were based – though if you’ve read them you know they take quite a different path than the often one-note films do – and Dark Water contains the title story, which was also adapted quite successfully in both the East and the West. But you won’t find many sodden, black-haired ghosts here, nor classical leanings toward the rich mythology of Japan; these stories are resolutely modern in approach, though less technological than his novels, and deliver chills as much in line with contemporary Western horror as with the kwaidan tradition.

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Damien Angelica Walters – Sing Me Your Scars (2015)
Like many of the best contemporary horror writers, Walters sings of the strange and the broken, of the lost and the lonely, and there is a great beauty to be found there where others may only see something ugly or negligible. These dark songs resonate with empathy and compassion, and if Sing Me Your Scars was an album, it would be an LP of black-shaded beauty, chilling and caring in equal measure, echoing in your heart long after the last groove has run out.

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Tanith Lee – Nightshades (1993)
One of Britain’s foremost fantasists, Lee turned out dozens of novels in her life, but if you’re pressed for time and can’t afford to delve into another series, take a look at her shorter fiction as showcased in volumes like Nightshades; it’s just as pungently detailed, and the romance of it all is erotic and repulsive in equal measure. Whether taking on fairy tales or touching on the more quotidian aspects of life, she finds the thorns on the roses and tucks them gently into your willing hands.

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Robert Bloch – Atoms and Evil (1962)
One of the undisputed masters of the form, Bloch is essential reading for anyone who wants to see how we came to be where we are now – he excelled at delivering darkly entertaining amuse-bouches that turn on you and sink their stingers deep come the last line. A journeyman writer who delivered science fiction as easily as thrillers or horror, his Atoms and Evil will leave you impressed by his deft command of economical prose that, in hindsight, tells so much more than you initially thought.

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Kirstyn McDermott — Caution: Contains Small Parts (2013)
Unlike some of the more substantial collections on these lists, Caution: Contains Small Parts is comprised of a mere four stories, and not one of them a sprawling novella – it’s more an appetiser for McDermott’s work than a satisfying meal. That said, everything that appeals about her work is present here in spades – the heart, the darkness, the strangeness – and it leaves the reader hungry for a full-blown collation of her short fiction over the past couple of decades.

 

I hope you’ve found a few items that have tickled your fancy enough to be added to your TBR list! Feel free to leave a comment if you’ve anything to say about my selection. Thanks for reading, and please do pop back here tomorrow to check out Part Four. Part Two is here.

Cheers,
MRD

13 Great Short Story Collections – Part 2

To celebrate the impending release of If Only Tonight We Could Sleep (January 31 through Things in the Well), this week I’ll be giving you the rundown on some of my favourite single-author short story collections. Here you’ll find everything from the iconic and brilliant to the essential and influential – some of these tomes are defining works in their field, and some of them inspired my writing to a greater or lesser degree. For the most part, the covers I’ve included are from the editions I own. And so, with no further ado:

 

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Stephen King – Skeleton Crew (1985)
You simply cannot discuss horror fiction without including the Big Fella – the man who revitalised and redefined the genre whilst colouring outside the lines drawn to keep it in its place, and who rightfully remains at the very peak of the pantheon to this day. While he’s a better novelist than short story writer, Skeleton Crew is a big, messy, delightful tribute to his many interests and ferocious talents; it’s inconsistent, wilfully egregious, and sometimes unwieldy, but it’s our beloved King through and through.

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Joel Lane – The Lost District and Other Stories (2006)
Ramsey Campbell aside, no-one does urban decay, desolation, and decadence with the eloquence and heartfelt verisimilitude of Joel Lane. His talents are now sadly lost to us – his relatively early end almost appropriate in a way, considering the themes of loss and incompletion that hang heavily over much of his work – but he left us a few volumes of quality short fiction such as The Lost District, as well as some less horrific but equally powerful novels, and his legacy lives on in the work of England’s current crop of dark imaginers.

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H.P. Lovecraft – The Haunter of the Dark and Other Tales (1970)
Like King, Lovecraft is a presence that cannot be avoided when discussing the short horror tale – he has loomed over the field following his untimely death in 1937, and one wonders what he would think of the way his work has been propagated, popularised, and perverted since – and despite his unpleasant tendency toward, shall we say, social contempt in some matters, his writing is essential for anyone seeking to add cosmic awe to their repertoire. It’s easy to overlook the man’s work as a collection of overheated adjectives and creaky coincidences, but closer examination reveals that he’s less guilty of that than his slavish imitators, and his fecund imagination is almost as wide as the yawning gulfs he so loved to intimate – as the slew of classics to be found in The Haunter of the Dark so capably demonstrates.

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Karl Edward Wagner – In A Lonely Place (1983)
A somewhat tragic figure whose dissolution took him from us far too soon, Wagner was a beloved presence on the horror scene, but his darker works never really got the attention they deserved – he’s remembered primarily as an editor and a skilful fantasy novelist in the Howard vein, but In A Lonely Place should sit proudly on the shelves of anyone who favours substantial, deeply human fiction. His best stories are as heartfelt and personal as they are grim and violent, deftly handling anything from over-the-top pulp to subtle ruminations on loss and regret; he was not always consistent in tone or even quality, but these stellar novelettes are cornerstones of modern horror fiction, laying a foundation for kindred spirits like Laird Barron to build upon.

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Betty Rocksteady – In Dreams We Rot (2019)
One of the freshest voices to emerge in recent years belongs to Rocksteady, who brings far more than a cool name to the party with her debut collection In Dreams We Rot. But if we run with the conceit of a party for the moment, she’d be the charming oddball holding court in the corner with a cat on her lap, regaling us with tales of terror and transmogrification that would send us straight back to the punchbowl for a refill, only to make us wonder if she’d slipped a little something into it that brought those visions so vividly to life in our minds.

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David J. Schow – Seeing Red (1990)
Schow doesn’t just epitomise the true relevance and worth of the movement known as splatterpunk – it was he who coined the term in the first place. He was at the vanguard of the younger, brasher generation that burst through horror fiction’s doors in the mid-to-late 1980s, spilling cocaine, heavy metal, and intestines all over the carpet, and while his street-level smarts and no-shit approach guarantee he’ll be a punk for life, his work is far too nuanced and eloquent to be considered mere splatter; Seeing Red is as much about hearts and minds as it is blood and guts.

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Thana Niveau – From Hell to Eternity (2012)
With a wide-ranging imagination that conjures everything from psychotic old ladies rampaging with knitting needles in off-kilter historical mansions to doomed deep-sea divers to self-harming models bleeding beautifully for the camera in burned-out factories, Niveau makes a strong impression with this, her debut collection. From Hell to Eternity is a wonderful introduction to an author who is adept at shaping the shadows and deserves a prominent place in the ranks of modern English horror writers.

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Christopher Fowler – The Bureau of Lost Souls (1989)
Few authors manage to nail the anxieties, trials, and contradictions inherent in modern society as well as Fowler, and none with the kind of dark wit that makes reading his work such a pleasure. The Bureau of Lost Souls evokes the short-lived highs and chilling lows of urban existence with skill and aplomb, and the fates met by his working class odds and middle-management sods are no less terrifying for often having nothing at all to do with the supernatural; his mission statement would seem to be to remind us of Sartre’s famous position that hell is other people.

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Kij Johnson – At the Mouth of the River of Bees (2012)
Fantasy collections don’t come much more diverse or affecting than this, Johnson’s debut in the short form format. At the Mouth of the River of Bees injects the odd and inexplicable into everything from Japanese folklore to quotidian urban life like it was benign poison from one of the titular insects, and the result is a series of tales that explore a myriad of formats whilst never forgetting that the bizarre is just weirdness for weirdness’s sake unless its centre holds a huge throbbing heart.

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Angela Carter – The Bloody Chamber (1979)
If you like fairy tales reimagined as feminist-leaning parables, where the sexuality inherent in the original is brought to the surface and twisted to provide such outcomes as the potential meal eloping with her erstwhile predator or the alpha male being brought undone by a common woman’s wiles – and that’s a genre unto itself these days – well, The Bloody Chamber is where that all began. Witty and unsentimental, Carter retains the blood and the teeth of the old myths whilst stripping out the whimsy they’ve accrued through generations of children’s adaptations, and these stories bite hard.

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Terry Dowling – An Intimate Knowledge of the Night (1995)
Not only is this collection a superb display of Dowling’s many talents, but its tales are tied together by one of the most brilliant conceits imaginable for such a book: as he’s putting the stories in order over the course of a long night, a friend continually rings him to discuss each one and to ruminate on the broader concepts that they evoke, providing a framework that makes An Intimate Knowledge of the Night as much a mosaic novel as a collation of short stories. You won’t find mundane horror or hackneyed tropes here, and the dizzying sense of disconnection aroused by such things as an open space or (elsewhere) a flapping curtain pushes this work into the realm of the tantalisingly ineffable.

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Nathan Ballingrud – North American Lake Monsters (2015)
This stellar debut collection put Ballingrud firmly on the map, to the point where he’s since had a movie (Wounds) made of one of his novellas (This Visible Filth) and this very book is now being adapted into a TV series. The attention is justified – North American Lake Monsters is a wide-ranging and seriously impressive opening salvo, its unique and substantial tales and fully-fleshed characters marking out their creator as someone to keep watching for years to come.

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Jonathan Carroll – The Panic Hand (1995)
Like a couple of other authors on these lists, Carroll lulls the reader into a false sense of security by seeming to promise whimsy and amusing social fantasy, only to spring a stinger on them when their guard is down – but not all the time, because if there’s one thing he isn’t, it’s predictable. The Panic Hand brings us dogs who can detect werewolves or who take pity on us for our kindness when the animal revolution comes, but though it’s not a horror collection as such, there’s enough darkness at the heart of these stories to ensure that we can’t take anything we read in it for granted.

 

I hope you’ve found a few items that have tickled your fancy enough to be added to your TBR list! Feel free to leave a comment if you’ve anything to say about my selection. Thanks for reading, and please do pop back here tomorrow to check out Part Three. Part One is here.

Cheers,
MRD