Dancing With Shadows: The Charles L. Grant Blogathon

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This post is part of the Charles L. Grant blogathon as curated by Neil Snowdon. All posts for the blogathon are available at that link as they appear.

I can’t remember in which of two ways I first encountered Charles L. Grant: was it through his series of Shadows anthologies, or his short story “If Damon Comes”? It would have been at roughly the same time, sometime in my late teens, and both made deep impressions upon me. The short story I found in David Hartwell’s anthology The Dark Descent, a book whose influence on me cannot be overstated, and it absolutely terrified me. I remember I read it over and over again, perhaps in the hopes that would somehow diminish its power, only to find the opposite happening.

It was a frightening story, but what made it work was Grant’s technique: his elliptical approach to storytelling, what he did not include. There was also the mundane tragedy of the story at its core, that of a broken marriage, a broken family. Grant was a master of getting at the psychology of his characters and revealing sometimes-uncomfortable truths about human nature.

I have always been under the impression that it was Grant who coined the term “quiet horror” although as I write it now I wonder if I’m wrong, but it was a term often applied to his work. “If Damon Comes” is a masterpiece of quiet horror and demonstrates how devastating and scary such an approach can be.

And then there were the Shadows anthologies. I must have read all of them, some of them multiple times—along with Stuart Schiff’s Whispers series, in my mind the two are indelibly linked—not even realizing that I was giving myself a foundational course in then-contemporary horror fiction, just reading them because I loved them. They were like a Who’s Who of 1970s and 1980s horror. Ramsey Campbell, Dennis Etchison, Steve Rasnic Tem, Manly Wade Wellman, Lisa Tuttle, Joe R. Lansdale, Tanith Lee, and Melanie Tem were just a few of its influential alumni.

I met Charles L. Grant once. It was either at the very end of the 1990s or the beginning of the 2000s, at a World Horror or World Fantasy Con. I waited in line to have him sign a book for me—Jackals, not one of his best novels, and published as the commercial horror boom was waning—but I’d been reading it on the way to the convention. I was in awe of him—I was in awe of anyone who was a writer—still kind of star struck with the idea that I could walk up to these people that I’d read and admired and, well, technically make conversation although in my case it generally just amounted to me approaching them with a book held out before me like some kind of shield and shyly mumbling something about how much I liked their work before slinking away. Anyway, what I remember about meeting him was that he was gruff and funny. I handed the book to him babbling something about how I hadn’t finished it yet but I was really enjoying it and he scrawled in it “Lynda, Finish the damn book!”

I love the vein of “quiet horror” in which Grant wrote. His manipulation of language and the slow burn of his storytelling isn’t for every taste but rewards those who have the patience for it. And this is the perfect time to seek him out, for in my memory of his work, in Charlie Grant Land, it is always autumn.

Ten Tall Tales

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(and ten limericks, courtesy of Ramsey Campbell)

It is the tenth anniversary of NewCon Press, which is a very fine small press indeed run by Ian Whates. In celebration, NewCon has been releasing a series of publications including this one–in which we were asked to write a story of dark fantasy or horror that incorporated something about the number ten. Just look at that terrific lineup! My story, “One Little Mouth to Kiss You Goodnight” is in there along with ten other excellent writers (nine stories plus ten limericks from Mr. Campbell). It will be launched at the British Fantasy Convention (with wine!), but if you can’t attend, fear not. It’s also available for pre-order at the NewCon Press website.

books to buy and read

Mostly, this blog post is all about telling you to buy things. Let’s think of it as an embarrassment of riches!

First of all, my new collection, You’ll Know When You Get There, which officially launches at the Dublin Ghost Story Festival this weekend, is now available. All pre-orders have now been sent out, and the first 100 numbered copies are history, but unnumbered copies are still available! If you happen to live in Dublin or will be in Dublin, there are also copies at Alan Hanna’s Bookshop in Rathmines.

Also available! Uncertainties: Volume I, which contains my story “The Seance.” For reasons not worth boring you with here, there is also, already, an Uncertainties: Volume II, which I am not in, but which a lot of other fabulous people are in, and so you might as well pick up the pair while you are at it.

Fear not! I am not merely a shill for Swan River Press. You should also pick up the Alchemy Press title Something Remains, now available for pre-order at Amazon UK and Amazon US and, I am certain, all the other Amazons out there. This is the tribute anthology that is (sort of) co-written with Joel Lane that I blogged about recently. This will launch in September at the British Fantasy Convention and a lot of contributors will be on hand, so if you’re attending, you may want to pick up your copy there.

Finally, not something to buy, although I expect you will want to buy things or at least pay a visit to your local library after following this next link! This is very late, but weeks ago Mark West posted the American Horror Mixtape, companion to the Brit Horror Mixtape. This time around my candidates included Karl Edward Wagner’s “Sticks” and Shirley Jackson’s “The Summer People,” and a number of my other favorites made it on there as well. I was also surprised and happy to see that Laura Mauro (a very good writer whose short fiction you should check out) had included one of my stories on the list! Go there to see whose story ultimately made my cut.

 

New collection: You’ll Know When You Get There

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I am delighted to announce that my second short story collection, You’ll Know When You Get There, is now available for pre-order from Swan River Press. This is a limited edition of only 400, so buy early and often before they are all gone!

I was fortunate enough to get a lovely introduction from Lisa Tuttle, a writer whose own stories have been very influential for me, and the cover art is by Savannah artist Tobia Makover–I love Tobia’s haunting photographs, go check them out for yourself!

I’ve also been interviewed about the book by the very fine writer (and fellow Shirley Jackson Award winner for 2015) Steve Duffy. You can read that over at the Swan River Press site as well.

The book will be officially launched in August at the Dublin Ghost Story Festival, where I will be a guest along with a whole slew of luminaries.

 

Something Remains: A tribute to Joel Lane

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Last year, Peter Coleborn of the award-winning Alchemy Press contacted me about a project he was working on with Pauline E. Dungate that I couldn’t possibly have said no to: an anthology based on some of the unfinished work of the British writer Joel Lane. After Joel’s untimely death in 2013, his loved ones found that he had left a lot of fragments behind. Those of us working on the project were sent scans of the manuscript fragments to choose from, and I selected a fragment called “The Other Side.” What I had to work with were two handwritten pages, one partly notes and prose and the second all prose based on the notes of the previous. I used Joel’s second page of prose almost exactly as it appeared and built my own Lane-esque story around it.

It was an enormous honor to work on this and also an extremely moving experience. I had selected the fragment that spoke to me the most personally, and worked hard to get into a mindset that would produce a story that was truly a collaboration between Joel and me. As someone who had only a passing acquaintance with Joel personally (but who has loved his work since the 1990s), it was surprising how close I felt to him over the course of writing the story. I do not literally believe that I was visited by some spirit in the process of writing it, but I absolutely felt his presence and influence throughout. I was happy with the result–not something that I always feel on completing a story–and I hope Joel would be as well. Above all, I hope his friends and those who admired his work think I have done a decent job in acting as his collaborator.

Something Remains will launch at the British Fantasy Convention in September, and copies will be available there and through Alchemy Press. No one is making any money from this effort; all proceeds will be donated to Diabetes UK in memory of Joel.

I’m sharing the table of contents with a number of talented writers, many of them close friends of Joel’s:

  • Foreword by Peter Coleborn
  • Introduction by Pauline E. Dungate
  • Not Dispossessed:  A Few Words on Joel Lane’s Early Published Works by David A. Sutton (Essay)
  • Joel by Chris Morgan (Verse)
  • Everybody Hates a Tourist by Tim Lebbon
  • The Missing by John Llewellyn Probert
  • Charmed Life by Simon Avery
  • Antithesis by Alison Littlewood
  • Dark Furnaces by Chris Morgan
  • The Inner Ear by Marion Pitman (Verse)
  • Broken Eye by Gary Mcmahon
  • Stained Glass by John Grant
  • Threadbare by Jan Edwards
  • The Dark above the Fair by Terry Grimwood
  • Grey Children by David A. Sutton
  • The Twin by James Brogden
  • Lost by Pauline Morgan (Verse)
  • Through the Floor [1] by Gary Couzens
  • Through the Floor [2] by Stephen Bacon
  • Bad Faith by Thana Niveau
  • Window Shopping by David Mathew
  • Clan Festor by Liam Garriock
  • Sweet Sixteen by Adam Millard
  • Buried Stars by Simon Macculloch
  • And Ashes in Her Hair by Simon Bestwick
  • The Pleasure Garden by Rosanne Rabinowitz
  • Joel Lane, Poet by Chris Morgan (Essay)
  • The Reach of Children by Mike Chinn
  • The Men Cast by Shadows by Mat Joiner
  • The Winter Garden by Pauline E. Dungate
  • Natural History by Allen Ashley
  • The Second Death by Ian Hunter
  • The Bright Exit by Sarah Doyle (Verse)
  • Blanche by Andrew Hook
  • The Body Static by Tom Johnstone
  • You Give Me Fever by Paul Edwards
  • The Other Side by Lynda E. Rucker
  • Of Loss and of Life: Joel Lane’s Essays on the Fantastic by Mark Valentine (Essay)
  • Shadows by Joe X Young
  • I Need Somewhere to Hide by Steven Savile
  • Coming to Life by John Howard
  • The Enemy Within by Steve Rasnic Tem
  • Afterword: The Whole of Joel by Ramsey Campbell (Essay)

Shirley Jackson Award–Best Short Story

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So, while I was sitting on a beach in Whitstable enjoying a beer on Sunday, I found out I had won the Shirley Jackson Award for Best Short Story for my story “The Dying Season” that appeared in Aickman’s Heirs, edited by the fabulous Simon Strantzas and published by Mike Kelly’s Undertow Publications. This is an amazing honor, as was the original nomination–I genuinely did not expect to win and am just thrilled to have done so. Also, the anthology itself won the Best Anthology award.

The rest of the lineup of winners is amazing–Best Novel to Gemma Files for Experimental Film, Best Novella to Liz Hand for her wonderful Wylding Hall, Best Novelette to my compadre Steve Duffy for “Even Clean Hands Can Do Damage” from Supernatural Tales, and Stephen King for best single-author collection with The Bazaar of Bad Dreams. But as you’ll see from the link above, the nominees themselves were equally impressive (the novella category being a particularly tough one this  year).

I’ve never even been nominated for an award before, so to be nominated and win all in one fell swoop the genre award that is perhaps the one I hold in highest regard is just, well, massive. I’m very happy. Now go and read all my fellow nominees and all the other wonderful stuff on that shortlist, because it truly demonstrates the literary skill and depth of so many people writing dark fiction today.

The following day, Aickman’s Heirs also received a World Fantasy Award nomination for Best Anthology, as did another anthology I’m in, Cassilda’s Song, while Selena Chambers’s story from that same volume, “The Neurastheniac,” was nominated for Best Short Story. A good few days for awards and award nominations!

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Advance reading recs

I’ve had the pleasure of getting sneak previews of a couple of things coming out soon, one a short novel and one a novella.

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David Longhorn is the editor of the well-regarded Supernatural Tales magazine [disclaimer: yes, I have had a few stories published there] and his debut novel proves that he’s as adept at storytelling as he is at selecting stories. Sentinels is the first of a trilogy and has the same old-fashioned feel to it as a Jonathan Aycliffe novel (and here I mean “old-fashioned” as a compliment). Fast-paced and fun, Sentinels, set in England in 1940, mixes horror with international intrigue (Nazis! Spies!) and a dash of M.R. James (and maybe some Tombs of the Blind Dead, although that my just be my own undying fondness for that film coming through that made me picture the “Raggedy Men” as those scary undead Templars). I can’t wait for the next installment. This is available on Amazon on June 17, and you should check it out–you can preorder it for a mere 99 cents as an ebook, and it’s also available as a paperback. (Also available on Amazon UK.)

muscadines

If you aren’t already familiar with her, Shirley Jackson Award-nominated S.P. Miskowski writes stories about very bad, very real women. In other words, not women who are, say, bad but sexy. Or “women that you love to hate.” Miskowski’s characters are complex and terrifying and they probably will remind you of at least one person that you know or have known. Or maybe that’s just me.

Muscadines is a very dark novella that is coming soon from Dunhams Manor Press.  Here’s what I had to say about it elsewhere: “Narrated in prose as languid and deceptively dreamlike as a Georgia summer afternoon, S.P. Miskowski’s Muscadines feels like a fairy tale recast as a Southern Gothic—a fairy tale of the old, savage, unsanitized-for-modern-children’s-consumption variety. Nobody does very bad women like Miskowski, and this deeply disturbing story further establishes her as a master at exploring the psychological terrain of the kind of women who aren’t supposed to exist.”