No Country for Old Muggles: an excerpt.

•28/09/2017 • Leave a Comment
I don’t know said Harry quietly as he struggled with the pain of knowing all his life was a lie though now faced with great things being expected of him that he couldn’t comprehend despite the evidence of even greater things happening all around and everything going his way while he staggered across the imagined border between muggle and wizard. Quiddich came as naturally to him as sitting a broom and if he’d been born into a world without it one imagined Nimbus Two Thousands might have willed themselves into being just to suit him. But the game was only that and had no bearing on his struggle to be the chosen one the wizarding world expected to rise above a challenge that never took form except as a suspicion in the back of his mind that there was someone who could not be named that left him with a scar and no direction other than the one that swept him away like an reluctant martyr carried along by a throng of ecstatics overwhelmed by the song of the sorting hat and its incontenstable revelations –HUFFLEPUFF –GRIFFINDOR. A prophecy of determinism that reduced each student to an idea before they ever realized who they were themselves and wouldn’t have the chance to free themselves from, not if the world had its way and the world always had its say louder than a simple boy who grew up living under a flight of rickety old stairs wanting a better life and having it thrust on him the same way deprivation had been. It was all meaningless and sorrowful and Harry wrapped himself in his invisibility cloak and thought this might be the truest way he’d ever appeared and was guaranteed to be the future of him throughout eternity once the sun set on Hogwarts like it set on the whole world.
–What are you looking for boy?
–Nothing said Harry.
Five minutes later Ron and Hermione joined him suddenly shaking their heads and they quickly went off to dinner where Harry had never in all his life had so much. The wizarding world in which you seek to undo the miscast spell you make is different from the world where the spell was made.
–You’re now at the crossing said Snape. And you want to sort yourself, but there is no sorting. There’s only accepting. The sorting was done a long time ago.


•27/07/2017 • Leave a Comment

Author Christopher Golden says,

I founded this event in 2015. Last year, the turnout was huge and I promised that this year would be even bigger and better. I intend to deliver on that promise. Last year, a number of authors debuted new books and chapbooks at the event, and I know the same will be true this year. I anticipate a great many debuts and exclusives—including something of mine, but that’s for later.

The MERRIMACK VALLEY HALLOWEEN BOOK FESTIVAL 2017 will be held on Saturday, October 21st, 2017, from 10am till 4:30pm. Once again, the event will be held at the Haverhill Public Library (Haverhill, MA) and is FREE and open to the public. Sponsored by River City Writers, Andover Bookstore, Haverhill House Publishing, and–of course–Haverhill Public Library.

So…who’s going to be there? We’re expanding a bit this year, adding a number of writers primarily known for their mystery and thriller novels, and our total number of attending authors and artists has passed FIFTY. Among them, we’re thrilled to welcome back Joe Hill. Joe’s new book, Strange Weather, debuts around the country on October 24th…but we’ve made special arrangements with Joe’s publisher and our friends at Andover Bookstore to have Strange Weather make its official debut three days early, at the Merrimack Valley Halloween Book Festival. Joe will be on hand to sign them, of course.

We’re also thrilled to welcome Alice Hoffman, who will join us as part of her tour for her own October release, The Rules of Magic. One of our panels during the festival will be “Joe Hill & Alice Hoffman: In Conversation.”(Please note…the Joe & Alice: In Conversation event WILL require registration. The event is free, but due to space concerns, you will have to register in advance for that event. More information to come.)

But I know you want the full list of attendees, so here you go, first for newsletter subscribers, as promised!

Joe Hill
Hank Phillippi Ryan
Sarah Smith
Gregory Bastianelli
Matt Bechtel
Stephen Bissette
Daniel Braum
Dana Cameron
Glenn Chadbourne
Jason Ciaramella
Joseph Citro
Kristin Dearborn
Rachel Autumn Deering
Barry Lee Dejasu
Amber Fallon
Dan Foley
Craig Shaw Gardner
Christopher Golden
Scott Goudsward
Catherine Grant
Kat Howard
Christopher Irvin
Nicholas Kaufmann
Brian Keene
Toni L.P. Kelner
John Langan
Fred Van Lente
Livia Llewellyn
Bracken MacLeod
John M. McIlveen
Hillary Monahan
James A. Moore
Holly Newstein
Errick Nunnally
Jason Parent
Philip Perron
Charles R Rutledge
Mary SanGiovanni
Rob Smales
Thomas Sniegoski
Paul Tremblay
Tony Tremblay
Kenneth Vaughn
Trisha Wooldridge
Douglas Wynne
Rio Youers

I hope to see you all there!
Saturday, October 21st, 2017!


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.]


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. 😉


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:

scroll down, and send the titles of the book(s) you want in an email to (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!



•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


•07/04/2017 • 1 Comment

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


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)


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.



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 • 2 Comments

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.


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.


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]


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.


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


Thirteen Days to the Suicide Woods: Day 11 — Easter Eggs

•11/03/2017 • Leave a Comment

I throw “Easter eggs” into a lot of stories. Little hints and names and nuggets that are supposed to pass by you if you aren’t familiar with them. But if you are familiar, they’re meant to make you smile or think a little.


For instance, a few stories in 13 VIEWS OF THE SUICIDE WOODS are set in places familiar to me and a few other people.

I wanted to set The Blood and the Body on the top floor of a three-story house to subvert the imagery of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven stacked on top of one another. As Em ascends, things become more sinister for her. But I didn’t want to have to think too hard about the layout of the house or the neighborhood around it, so I set the story in a friend’s former condo. I wanted a setting I could easily call to mind, but also, I wanted to poke at my friend by doing bad things to people in his study. I think he was amused. His only comment to me about the story (when he read an early draft), is that his back yard below the deck was brick, not concrete.

In The Bones has a similar moment on a high wooden deck, though it’s not the one at that friend’s condo. That one’s set outside on a law school friend’s apartment in Connecticut. Both scenes outside, however, are informed by my own experience with my first cigar on that deck.

My law school friend had smuggled at Cuban Cohiba across the border from Canada for me (those lawless Canadians!). He gave it to me at a party and left me to my own devices on the deck. Though I hadn’t ever smoked one before, I used to smoke clove cigarettes in college and thought I knew what I was doing. I got the thing evenly lit like I’d watched a couple of other people out on the same deck doing and then took a big drag, filling my lungs. I found out rather quickly, you don’t inhale cigar smoke. I didn’t want to choke and let on that I had no idea what I was doing, so I held the smoke in. I couldn’t breathe, I went blind, my head was spinning, and I was death-gripping the rail of his third story deck so I wouldn’t topple over the side and fall to my death. My friends saw how badly green I was turning (despite the dark night) and all had a good laugh. The friend who gave me the cigar informed me that it wasn’t a joint, I didn’t have to hold it. Lessons learned. I now know how to smoke a cigar, and I tend to get nervous on upper story decks.

The second half of that story is set in the hospital where I had my appendix out.

Blood Makes the Grass Grow takes place in a couple of locations I encountered on a family getaway in Maine a few years ago. We were vacationing with friends who had a dog who got injured jumping into a pond after a stick. The vet is the one we found on Yelp. And yes, that organic farm with the Rasta flag and the sign with the vegetable pun on it really exists (though everything about the proprietors, their real business, and their visitors are all fiction). That’s my dark vision of the Maine state motto: The Way Life Should Be!

Finally, The Boy Who Dreamt He Was a Bat and This Last Little Piece of Darkness are stories unique to this collection. Only a handful of people have read them. Bat is set in the house I lived in as a child in the Berkshires and on the shores of a lake in which I almost drowned. Darkness was also set in a childhood residence—this time in a duplex on the other side of the country. They’re chilling places that make me feel little and helpless when I think of them. I don’t expect anyone to find those Easter eggs. Those were hidden a long time ago in places only I know, so no one would ever find them. Except, I’m giving them to you now.

The Woods Have Been Waiting

NEXT STOP: Vineyard Horror