Spondulix and What to Do with Them

A few new releases worthy of your hard-earned spondoolies:

Outback Horrors Down Under: An Anthology of Antipodean Terrors is out now, featuring my novelette “Heritage Hill”, and you can grab a copy here (I’ve linked to Amazon Australia, with whom the publisher has had some pricing issues, but you should be able to find the book on any of the major Amazon pages).

Shadowy Natures is also out now, featuring my story “Walking on Knives”, and you can grab it from the AM Ink store here (use the code DAVIS10 and you’ll get 10% off).

Trembling with Fear: Year 3 has just been released, featuring my drabble “Under the Bridge Downtown”, and you can buy it here. (Fair warning: a drabble is a story of exactly 100 words – this book compiles all the drabbles, poems, and flash fiction published on The Horror Tree in 2019.)

That’s about all that’s going on for the moment. The remainder of 2020 should see the release of Trickster’s Treats #4, Tales of the Lost Vol. 2, and Flashes of Hope, whilst Nightmares in Yellow (both volumes) has been pushed back into 2021.

Something I should really be doing is adding a little tag to each post to let you know what I’m reading, listening to, and watching. So let’s start now, yes? Have yourselves a lovely day, and I’ll be back to drop some more science in due course.

MxRxDx

Reading: Moranthology, Caitlin Moran; Doctor Who: Paradox Lost, George Mann; Lost Futures, Lisa Tuttle

Listening: Medium Rarities, Mastodon; Three Men and a Baby, Mike & The Melvins; Vamp, Lux Lyall

Watching: The Field Guide to Evil; If All Goes Wrong (The Smashing Pumpkins); Ready Player One

Running Up That Hill

I’ve recently had a couple of shorter pieces picked up for publication: “Hole to Feed” will appear in Flashes of Hope, a COVID-19 themed charity anthology of flash fiction, and “Tender Age in Bloom” will be published in Trickster’s Treats #4, Things in the Well’s annual Halloween digest. I’ve had stories in each issue of Trickster’s to date, and I’m glad I’ll be featured in this one since it will probably be the last.

Aurealis Magazine #133 features a review of If Only Tonight We Could Sleep, and it’s a cracker! Some selected highlights: “Davis is an exceptional writer. His attention to detail – no matter how terrifying that detail is – from description to word flow is evident in his excellent body of work… you can see the care Davis has gone into to get each story right… a wickedly enjoyable read… a great read from a fantastic author… a must for any horror fan’s library.” Wow! It’s so gratifying to have a reader notice the painstaking work one puts into these tales. Thank you, Belinda Brady! And in the spirit of reciprocation, I urge you, the reader of this humble blog, to check out the whole issue; you can buy it here.

Outback Horrors is nearing release, and it’s available for Kindle preorders here (there will be a paperback, too). This book features my novelette “Heritage Hill”, a furious meditation on the unending cycle of racial hatred, and I’m curious to see how that one is received. Its theme is horribly timely and relevant, but then, when isn’t it?

Shadowy Natures is out next month, and AM Ink are running a series of author interviews on their website. You can read mine here, and the others, too.

I hope you and yours are doing well. Look after each other out there.

Mx

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