Memories of ReaderCon Past

•18/07/2017 • Leave a Comment

This past weekend was ReaderCon 28 in Quincy, Massachusetts. While I didn’t attend the con, at the invitation of my publisher, ChiZine Publications, I was a part of a “salon reading” in their personal hotel room, and did hang out in the lobby for a while after hours to chat with some friends. The following article appeared in my Facebook memories today, and I thought it was worth sharing again, remembering a time when I did officially attend and had a wonderful time.

NOTE: I’ve made a couple of changes and clarifications here and there. Those are indicated [like this]. Otherwise, the post remains as it was originally published elsewhere.


This past weekend in Burlington, Massachusetts I attended Readercon [23], a conference as they describe it, devoted to “imaginative literature” — literary science fiction, fantasy, horror, and the unclassifiable works often called “slipstream.”

This is one of my favorite speculative cons as it is devoted (like my other favorites, Necon and Anthocon [the latter of which has lamentably ceased to be]) to literature–no cosplay, no gaming, and almost no media (there’s plenty of talk about movies in panels because movies can inform prose story-telling, but no movie panels). Although the conference is usually weighted a little more toward Sci-Fi and Fantasy than horror and slipstream, there are excellent horror writers in attendance like Gemma Files, Laird Barron, Nick Mamatas, to name only a few, and the guests of honor this year were dark fiction legends, Peter Straub and Caitlin Kiernan. Sadly, I will have to defer to other NEHW contributors for a recap of Mr. Straub’s contributions to the con as his panels and readings were concurrent with other panels I attended.1 Instead, let me give you a short recap of what were the high points from the panels I attended.

me and lucien soulban

Me (with a more rakish beard) and Lucien Soulban.

The dystopian fiction panel led by […] Jack Haringa, “Through a Glass Dystopianly,” was an excellent deconstruction of the recent trend in YA literature to make everything The Hunger Games. I’m not being fair. There’s a lot of good YA (and adult) dystopian fiction out there. But there’s a lot of drek too. […] When pressed on the issue of dystopia versus utopia versus post-apocalyptic setting, Haringa threw out my third favorite bon mot of the conference: “All science fiction is optimistic because it all assumes we have a future.”

Next on the list of favorites was the panel titled “Wet Dreams and Nightmares” about weird and transgressive erotica. This panel stayed blissfully distant from paranormal romance and actually addressed real erotica and transgressive sex in a mature and unflinching way. Would you expect anything different from a panel featuring Caitlin R. Kiernan? The give and take between Gemma Files and Kiernan regarding their distinct approaches to erotic body transformations and what they individually find sexy made this panel pure gold.

The panel on horror and the social compact (another one featuring Dear Leader Haringa) presented some interesting viewpoints on the scope of horror versus science fiction, wherein it was posited that it is actually very difficult to discuss horror in the context of a Hobbesian social contract. With a few exceptions (e.g., Soylent Green—which I’d say is both sci-fi and horror), most horror is about violation of trust and/or autonomy on a personal scale as opposed to a societal one.

This panel shared an interesting deconstructive quality with one on Sunday titled “Uncanny Taxonomies,” where the conclusion was also reached that taxonomies of speculative fiction (i.e., genres) weren’t all that helpful for anyone other than book marketers and possibly consumers. [One wonders how that panel would have been handled recently in light of the Guardian’s Post-Horror fooferaw. ] It was during this panel that Kiernan gave my second favorite line of the convention: “All [novels], by definition, are fantasy; they did not happen.”2

My second favorite session of the weekend was Dr. Laura Knight’s slideshow titled “Autopsy and Postmortem Primer for Writers,” which gave the audience a basic rundown of the process of a typical autopsy and human decomposition. The con organizers grossly underestimated the appeal of a dead body slideshow to fantasy and sci-fi (and a few horror) fans and about a quarter of the attendees to the session were left sitting on the floor or standing when all the seats filled up. One poor woman who was standing in the back of the hot room (possibly with her knees locked) fainted when Dr. Knight put up the slide of decompositional bloat and a little body degloving (I am sure the heat and having to stand were also contributing factors). Sadly, that attendee missed the next slide of the two people whose little yappy dogs had partially eaten their faces. (Cat lovers take note: Dr. Knight commented that in over 2,000 autopsies, she had yet to see a feline case of filiaphagia–but those nasty little dogs… they’ll turn on you in a minute.)

Finally, at the top of my list of favorite events at Readercon (unrelated to standing in a blacked out hotel bathroom staring at disintegrating atoms in a spinthariscope—look it up—and drunken yoga in the hotel lobby) was “A Story from Scratch.”

The basic conceit of the session (in several parts over three days) was that using models from the audience and props provided by celebrity guests, Hugo-winning writers Michael Swanwick and Elizabeth Bear will crowd source a story outline and write a short story to be professionally brought to life by photographer Kyle Cassidy and illustrator Lee Moyer. On Sunday, the story would be read aloud by Swanwick and Bear accompanied by a slide show of the work that Cassidy and Moyer produced. Bear provided a very condensed version of her course on effective fiction writing and the small crowd of participants began throwing out ideas for the story. What eventually took shape was the sad tale of a Chinese restaurant owner whose wife has been taken hostage by the Yakuza (I know), and must find the ransom before her wife (it is Massachusetts after all) loses all of her fingers and her entire memory (somehow stolen with each successive finger chop).

When the call was made for volunteers to be photographed by the amazing Mr. Cassidy, of course I volunteered. Given my cuddly and welcoming appearance, I was immediately cast as one of the Yakuza gangsters. The short version of the rest of the story is that, as one could predict, this became another instance of “and then Bracken took his shirt off” at a con. Fortunately, this bout of semi-nudity led to Cassidy and Moyer making me look like the coolest fucking American Yakuza since Viggo Mortensen and Bear and Swanwick crafting a Philip K. Dick style story containing my single favorite line of the entire Con: “Tom and Bracken were evil men, but not brutal.” (As soon as the story, titled “Dismemberance,” and photos are posted online I’ll be sure to link to them.)

[Once upon a time, it was online, but I can’t seem to find it now. My apologies.]

[…]
Cheers!

1 I know. I know. Revoke my horror fan card if you must.
2  Other excellent lines came from Michael Swanwick: “Wincing equals good fiction,” and Elizabeth Bear, “The worst reaction a reader can have to your story is ‘Fuck you!’”

Space Monkeys and Book Sales

•15/06/2017 • Leave a Comment

Have you been wanting to pick up the short story collection that the New York Times Book Review called “superb” (pron. soo-POIB) and compared to the work of Flannery O’Connor, Ambrose Bierce, and Cornell Woolrich, but money is tight? Well now, here’s your chance to see what the hub-bub is about, bub. Follow the instructions below from my publisher, ChiZine Publications, to get an e-copy of 13 VIEWS OF THE SUICIDE WOODS for $1.99! Nosir, you can’t beat that.

While you’re there, you might as well give up coffee for the rest of the week and splurge on some more books. They’re all great. But buy mine first. 😉

THE WOODS HAVE BEEN WAITING.

Okay, people at the party, here we go!


In honour of Albert II’s sacrifice back in 1949 as the first monkey in space, CZP is dropping its eBook prices to $1.99 ACROSS THE BOARD! (Don’t ask what the connection is; that’s a secret!) Simply go to this link:

http://chizinepub.com/books/

scroll down, and send the titles of the book(s) you want in an email to savory@cogeco.ca (anything that has a “Buy the eBook” link at the bottom of its page—which is nearly everything—is fair game!). You’ll then receive a PayPal invoice for the total amount. Pay it, then we send you your books. Easy-peasy! If you’d prefer to pay by eTransfer, we can absolutely do that, too—I would just send you a PDF invoice instead.

This sale will last for one week only (starting immediately, and ending June 21st at midnight EST), so please spread the word to your friends, family, fans, and foes.

We won’t be doing this again anytime soon, so don’t delay!

I Know What You’ll Read This Summer – The New York Times

•01/06/2017 • Leave a Comment

Oh, Dark Lord! I can’t even begin to tell how you cosmically happy I feel at this exact moment. I feel like I could eat black holes and shit stars!

^_^

ASSEDIO!

•09/05/2017 • Leave a Comment

It’s (temporarily) out of print in English, but if you read German, and soon ITALIAN, my first novel, MOUNTAIN HOME is out there! For Italian audiences it’s titled “Siege,” but most importantly, between the covers it’s the version of the book I want readers to have. Coming soon from Good Kill Edizioni.

In the meantime, check out this cool cover by Giampaolo Frizzi!

 

Good Kill

COVER REVEAL: Hank Early’s HEAVEN’S CROOKED FINGER

•07/04/2017 • 1 Comment

Look at this beautiful cover for my friend, Hank Early’s debut novel, HEAVEN’S CROOKED FINGER.

crooked

I am more excited about this book release than I am about anything else I can think of this year! (Well, anything else that I didn’t write, natch.) Hank Early is the pseudonym of one of my favorite writers, John Mantooth. This guy’s work is astounding, and not only should you pre-order this book NOW, I’d encourage you to go back and get his work under his other name. You will not be disappointed.

But don’t take my word for it!

“Hank Early’s Heaven’s Crooked Finger is a twisty, page-turning, modern Southern Gothic that packs an emotional wallop. His everyday and down-and-out characters are authentically rendered. Fans of Daniel Woodrell and Donald Ray Pollock take notice, Heaven’s Crooked Finger is the real deal.”

-Paul Tremblay, author of A Head Full of Ghosts and Disappearance at Devil’s Rock

A short excerpt:

I was sweating when the door to the inner sanctuary swung open, and I saw the throng already swaying to the sporadic thunking of Aunt Mary Lee’s arthritic fingers on the tuneless piano. Daddy held two snakes, a large rattler he’d been using for years and a smaller cottonmouth found a few days earlier in some brush down near Ghost Creek. Stepping into the sanctuary, I believed I felt it. The wind. Daddy said it was a breath, and when it took a hold of you, you might feel your feet lifted off the ground, your lungs expanding with the fresh air of heaven. I waited, closing my eyes, willing it to come in.  

I had always wanted to believe in something. I still do.

– From Heaven’s Crooked Finger (available 11/7/17)

PRE-ORDER HERE

Thirteen Days to the Suicide Woods: Day 13 — The Thirteenth View

•13/03/2017 • Leave a Comment

Before I was a writer, among other things, I was a philosopher. I taught ethics, but before that, as a graduate student, I studied Existentialism and the works of Albert Camus and Friedrich Nietzsche.  The epigraph to 13 VIEWS OF THE SUICIDE WOODS is a favorite quote of mine by the latter:

“And perhaps many will, like myself, recall how amid the dangers and terrors of dreams they have occasionally said to themselves in self-encouragement, and not without success: ‘It is a dream! I will dream on!’”
—Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy

I write and read and watch fiction because it allows me to dream. When I engage with fiction I can dream of being someone else for a little while. I get to be a person who isn’t afraid of drowning, who knows exactly what to do in the worst circumstances, who does the right thing even though it’s emotionally difficult. In fiction, I get to be young again, I get to be Black, I get to be a woman, I get to be gay, I get to be all the things I’m not but I wish I could understand just a little bit so that I can know better what it’s like to be fully human. When I read fiction, I get to dream. I can dream of being free and strong and unrestrained. I can dream of standing up and being better than I am.

Mostly though, I dream of not being afraid.

Because everything I’m afraid of is another view of my personal Suicide Woods. Everything I’m afraid of is the place where I will go to give up and die. And fiction is the force that holds on to me and says, you can weather this too. But still, I am afraid.

I am afraid of the water.

I am afraid of being weak.

I am afraid of not being liked by everyone.

I am afraid of losing my family.

I am afraid of not being able to cope with my feelings of inadequacy.

I am afraid of letting people down.

I am afraid of getting old.

I am afraid of being alone.

I am afraid of being with people.

I am afraid of how being a victim of sexual abuse has broken me.

I am afraid of destroying myself because I push down pain and sadness to appear strong.

I am afraid of myself.

I am afraid.

13_views_final

 

But still, I dream.

And I will dream on!

The Woods Have Been Waiting

Thirteen Days to the Suicide Woods: Day 12 — Vineyard Horror

•12/03/2017 • Leave a Comment

One year at my favorite writers’ conference, NECON, I was standing in the hotel lobby, staring at the flyers beside the check in desk, trying to find a menu for a local pizza place, when I ran across a card that showed a wet, red foot. Intrigued, I pulled the card and saw it was advertising a local winery. Anyone who knows me even a little bit knows I love wine. More than any beer or other spirit (yes, more than whisk(e)y), I love dry, tannic, earthy reds—pinot noir especially, but also barbera, and tempranillo wines. None of these varietals grow well in New England, but I was still intrigued by the image of a glistening red, nude woman’s foot.

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This wasn’t the picture, but you get the idea.

The picture was sensual, but it also more than hinted at gore with the red juice and dark grape skins sticking to the foot in the image. To me, in that setting, there was something very sinister about the implication of what that woman had done. How she had become stained. She had crushed something delicate and wore the evidence of its destruction on her skin.

Yes, yes, I know. Most people who’d see this advertisement would think of people laughing and having fun getting dirty making something delicious, meant to be drunk in fun. Maybe they think of that episode of I Love Lucy. I’m not most people. I think about the violence of winemaking. I think about the intimacy of that violence, the sexuality of it done with nude feet (though mostly by press, but let’s indulge our imaginations) and rolled up pants, or even better, a playfully lifted skirt.

The thought of it immediately made me recall the Poème de la vigne (Poem of the Vine) sculpture by Gustave Doré in front of the de Young Museum in San Fransisco.

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Gustave Doré created this vase for French winemakers, who exhibited it at the 1878 Paris World’s Fair. It represents an allegory of the annual wine vintage, taking the shape of a colossal wine vessel decorated with figures associated with the rites of Bacchus (the Roman god of wine). The revelers include cupids, satyrs and bacchantes, who protect the grape vines from pests. [source]

dsc_3705

That, naturally, made me think of Frederick Hart’s Ex Nihilo sculpture on the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. (and how its design was stolen and inverted—or perverted as he successfully charged in his lawsuit—for the movie The Devil’s Advocate). My imagination was off to the races.

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I’d long wanted to write small town occult horror story in the tradition of Thomas Tryon or The Wicker Man, and by the end of the conference weekend, the story of an outsider coming to an insular and somehow threatening wine making community was finished in my head. I just needed to get it down on paper. Most of the time I come home from any conference, but after NECON in particular, I am driven by creative inspiration that burns bright and hot. This fire was uniquely kindled, however.

I wrote the whole thing in about forty-eight hours, inspired by an image of a single woman’s foot, and all the sensuality and carnage it implied. I’d joked at the con that I wanted to start a new movement as a subset of what I thought of as “Harvest Horror,” titled instead, “Vineyard Horror.” Scary stories that revolve around wine and intoxication. Since then, I’ve met a couple of kindred spirits (notably Michael Griffin, whose Dim Shores novella An Ideal Retreat is something you NEED to read) who feel the same way about the subject. Like other writers provide soundtrack listening suggestions for their work, we’ve discussed pairing our stories with wine recommendations and tasting notes. The world of Vineyard Horror is ripe on the vine, in my opinion.

So, please, open a nice Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, have a couple of glasses, and enjoy The Blood of the Vine.

The Woods Have Been Waiting

NEXT STOP: The Thirteenth View