“Different Angels” reprinted at Nightmare Magazine

The first story I ever published, “Different Angels,” has been reprinted over at Nightmare Magazine. I wrote this way back in the halcyon days of the late 1990s–a different world, that was–and it was published by The Third Alternative, the precursor to Black Static, in 1999. I’ve written elsewhere about what TTA Press meant and means to me and how important that first sale was–the first story I sent to Andy Cox!–so I won’t belabor that point here, but I did want to talk a little bit about the story’s origin.

Back in the 1990s, I was still very much finding my voice as a writer. And wow, I could not sell a story. I couldn’t even give a story away–believe me, I tried. Back then, nobody wanted the kind of stories I was writing, or didn’t want them from me, at any rate.

The stories we write are always stories that come from where we are in that particular time and place, and “Different Angels” is an angry story I could have only written in my twenties. I was still angry at the rural South where I’d grown up, and hadn’t yet figured out how to reconcile the things I hated about it–ignorance and bigotry and small-mindedness and religious fundamentalism–with who I was–unmistakably a product of that rural South, however much I wanted to deny it. So I wrote a story that twisted a lot of the values I was kicking against–religion, the family. I think I was also mainlining a lot of writers like Flannery O’Connor and Harry Crews around that time.

I used to hear a lot of writers say that nothing changes after you publish your first story, but I found that wasn’t true at all. I had wanted to be a writer ever since I could hold a pen, and I’d been seriously submitting stories for four years with no success. To finally get an acceptance, and to a magazine I admired so much, was a huge deal to me. I felt like a real writer at last–even if nobody in America had ever heard of the magazine or TTA Press back in those days and just looked at me blankly when I mentioned it. Plus, it plugged me into a community of TTA readers and writers, some of whom I’m real-life friends with today.

Of course, if you like the story, you can check out other stories by me that are available free online. “Different Angels” is also reprinted in my first collection, The Moon Will Look Strange, which is available at all the Amazons (even though I only linked to two) in Kindle or paperback. And you can pick up my second collection from Swan River Press, You’ll Know When You Get There.


Joel Lane 1963-2013

I wasn’t really planning to write something about Joel Lane here. His sudden death, while tragic, is not my tragedy in the way it is for his family and friends–and he had so many friends, who loved him so dearly, and I dislike people who piggyback on the tragedies of others and try to make them their own. However sad and angry I feel at the news of his untimely death, it is still a distant sad and angry compared to the visceral wounds of others.

But one of the things that keeps coming up is how central he was to the horror genre, how many of us he touched and influenced, and a fierce desire that his work not pass into oblivion. And on Facebook, Richard Gavin said that John Langan mentioned it must be the way the Lovecraft circle felt about the death of Robert E. Howard or Lovecraft himself. And I think about Charles Beaumont, and I think about Karl Edward Wagner, two other authors who were wildly talented, not well-enough-known and dead suddenly and far too young. Nobody wants to end up in that club. And all you can do with that anger and sadness is try to do better yourself, and try to keep that person’s memory alive in the way that means the most to you.

For me, that will in part be through the impact Lane had on my own fiction, and that’s what I want to talk about here, because I do want to help document how important he was.

In the 1990s, I was reading a ton of contemporary horror fiction and feeling quite discouraged. I loved a lot of older work from Shirley Jackson to Arthur Machen to Daphne Du Maurier to Robert Aickman and more, and I loved a lot of work from the 1970s and 1980s–Ramsey Campbell, Lisa Tuttle, Karl Edward Wagner, TED Klein, to name just a few, and the seminal anthologies Dark Forces and Prime Evil and Wagner’s Year’s Bests, as well as Charles Grant’s Shadows anthologies and Stuart Schiff’s Whispers. But I wasn’t connecting in the same way with a lot of newer stuff I was reading in the 1990s. I was honestly starting to wonder if there was a place for me in the horror genre as it currently existed.

Then I hit upon a vein of newer British writers in Year’s Best anthologies who were writing a kind of bleak, subtle, urban horror that for me hearkened back to one of my favorite stories, M. John Harrison’s “The Great God Pan.” Joel Lane and Nicholas Royle were the first two names that kept coming up for me. And I rejoiced! I loved the dark, gritty poetry of their fiction, the fierce intelligence that informed it. I didn’t know who these guys were but I wanted to be a part of it all. Then I discovered The Third Alternative, and saw those names in the first issues I picked up. What I’d found, it seemed, was a whole magazine dedicated to the same aesthetic that I loved, and when I sent Andy Cox a story and he bought it, my first published story, I was so, so proud to be in there, to be published alongside the other writers there whom I admired so much. I couldn’t really find anyone to share my excitement, though. TTA Press wasn’t yet known on the other side of the Atlantic, and every time I told an American I’d been in The Third Alternative they looked at me like I’d just said I’d been published in my cousin’s zine turned out on a mimeograph in his basement. I didn’t care. Well, no, I did care, actually, but I knew how amazing TTA was, and there was no other place I’d have rather placed those early stories even if it did give me absolutely zero cred initially on my side of the pond.

In the years that followed, I kept reading those British horror writers, and even occasionally selling something to TTA or another British market, and although what I was doing and what I aimed to do wasn’t the same thing, and although I am obviously not British and not a miserablist, what I admired was their prose and how their fiction was so rooted in realism and the way the weird intruded gradually. And then I began to slowly discover some American writers who appealed to me–here, the first two names that come to mind are Nathan Ballingrud (his “You Go Where It Takes You” left me stunned the first time I read it on scifi.com) and Glen Hirshberg–not like the British writers I was reading, but I loved their emphasis on story and character and fully realized settings, and a genuine humanity, and writing that was writing first and genre second, yet still clearly fully engaged with the genre, not shying away from it, not ashamed.

In 2010, I was living in the US, I had recently started writing for publication again after a few years off, and the World Horror Convention was in Brighton, UK. I hadn’t attended a convention for years, hadn’t wanted to, but at the time I didn’t know when I’d have another change to go to a UK convention, and I saw this as my big chance to see some of these writers who’d meant so much to me on panels and at readings. I didn’t know a soul, outside of having met Steve Jones a couple of times, who’d reprinted my stories in Best New Horror, and I didn’t care. I was fully prepared to be a wallflower all weekend if it meant a chance to hear Joel Lane read one of his stories, and to tell him how much I enjoyed his work.

So yeah, as I was actually just telling someone a few weeks ago, Joel Lane was one of the reasons I attended that World Horror Convention. Joel Lane and others I’d been reading over the years in TTA Press and Year’s Best publications. You all kept me believing in the genre even though I didn’t know any of you. I didn’t tell him that, of course, or any of you–maybe I should have; it’s so hard, to know where to draw the line, we don’t want to sound stalkery or sycophantic, but it’s true. I went to his reading and I told him afterward that his work had meant a lot to me and true to form, as so many have said of him, he turned it round to me. “Let’s go sit somewhere where we can talk,” he said, and once we’d settled. “How is your writing going? What are you working on?” I was flummoxed; who knows what I said. We talked, and I was shocked when he said he couldn’t seem to sell novels–he seemed discouraged about that, as you would be–and, you know, it was just lovely. I’ve always remembered him as so kind, to take time out for me like that and to chat with me with real interest. I was so pleased to have met him and heard him read and to have had a little talk.

Last year I ended up heading off to Fantasycon at the very last minute, and he was there, but I didn’t get a chance to speak with him again, as is always the case at these things, and who knows if he’d have remembered me or not (and–confession–I am shy, and although I absolutely love meeting new people at conventions and I love good conversation, it is extremely difficult for me to go up to people and just start talking to them, so sometimes I just don’t)–and you know, there’s always next year, that’s what you think, and I’d reintroduce myself again, because I wanted to talk with him some more. Yet there wasn’t a next year, as it turned out–I’ve only recently learned that he wasn’t at WFC because his mother broke her hip, but at the time I knew there was always York in 2014–

No. There won’t be a York, there won’t be anything, and this is upsetting for me, but it is unspeakably awful for those who knew him and loved him. I’ll say it again: this is not my tragedy. I’m a bystander. I didn’t know Joel Lane, but I did love him through his words, and they say you shouldn’t meet writers you admire but you know, I find that’s rarely true really, and in this case it certainly was not. The little bit I gleaned of who he was from our brief meeting seems to be exactly who he was: unfailingly generous, selfless, modest, and concerned about others. And while it is not as raw for me as it is for his loved ones, it does feel closer than the other writers we’ve lost this year because he felt more like a peer to me.

Joel Lane was an important writer, absolutely crucial to the genre, and to me personally; he is one of the writers who always filled me with hope for what could be achieved in horror and weird fiction. His writing is one piece of what made me the writer I am. If you have not read him, I urge you to seek out his fiction. He did not deserve to die so young, and he deserved to be better known in life. It is imperative not just that he is not forgotten, but that his work become better known, and that writers coming after can build on what he achieved.


Because I don’t know if anyone else is doing it outside of on his FB page (I wasn’t even FB friends with him, even though he joined earlier this year, and why? because, again, I worry about being stalkery and sycophantic), I’ve tried to collect as many of the tributes from blogs I could find; drop me a line over email or in the comments or on FB to let me know what I’ve missed, and I’ll keep adding to it. Read them all, if you haven’t already, especially if you weren’t familiar with his work, and you’ll start to understand why he mattered so much to so many, as a person and as a writer.

Simon Bestwick

Nina Allan

Gary McMahon

Simon Strantzas

Stephen Jones

Martin Roberts

Mark Valentine

Andrew Hook

Thomas Ligotti

Martin Sketchley

Michael Kelly

Jeremy Lassen

Mike Chinn

Peter Coleborn

Jonathan Oliver

Mat Joiner

Adrian Middleton

Rosanne Rabinowitz

Tim Lees

Black Static #36


Black Static #36 is out! In addition to my column, “Blood Pudding,” there are stories by Jacob A. Boyd, Stephen Bacon, Tim Waggoner, Christopher Fowler, V.H. Leslie, and Ray Cluley plus Stephen Volk‘s regular column “Coffinmaker Blues,” reviews by Tony Lee and Peter Tennant, an interview with the incomparable Nina Allan and the usual assortment of exceptional artwork.

Black Static is one of the premiere print magazines of the horror field, so if you love horror fiction and want to keep up with some of the best short fiction work being done in the genre, I highly recommend a subscription. You can also get it on Kindle in the US and in the UK.

Oh, and if you can’t get enough of my writing, you can still buy my book.

two announcements

The Moon Will Look Strange final

1. Above is the final cover for my forthcoming short story collection which, if you missed my earlier announcement, will be published by Karōshi Books later this year. To say I am delighted with the introduction by Steve Rasnic Tem would be a huge understatement.

2. From May, I’ll be the newest columnist for the British horror magazine Black Static, joining regulars Stephen Volk and Christopher Fowler. I’m thrilled about this as Andy Cox bought my first stories for its earlier incarnation, The Third Alternative (and the title story from the collection above appeared in there as well). Having an editor or two who believes in you in those early days is, well, pretty much what keeps you going.

Podcast: “The Chance Walker”

“The Chance Walker,” a story by me published in The Third Alternative back in 2003, is up now at Transmission from Beyond as a podcast. Read by me too!

I still like this story and since it’s never been reprinted anywhere, I’m really pleased it’s available again. The story comes from a couple of places. I taught English for a few months in the Czech Republic in the mid-90s, and while in Prague one day, I picked up a book of paintings by a Czech artist named Jiří Mocek. (In the past, googling him online I’ve found little out there. This time I found some nudes, but those aren’t representative of the book I have; my book is full of work more like this.) There’s so much amazing art and literature from that part of the world that never makes it outside its borders. Years later, I was sitting in my Portland, Oregon apartment, trying to write, and feeling blocked, and I picked up Mocek’s book and started flipping through it. One of his paintings was called “The Chance Walker” in translation, and from that and some of his other weird urban landscapes, parts of this story grew.

The story is set in a town about an hour away from Prague, where D and I lived in one of the grim Communist-era panelaks. A lot of real experiences made it into the story–including the WW II bunkers–and of course, as is always the case with fiction, plenty of it is made up as well.

Prague doesn’t figure into the story, but writing this makes me think of wandering its snowy winter streets. It is — or was then, I don’t know how the continuous influx of tourism and foreign residents has changed it — a fairytale of a city, with strange winding lanes full of odd little shops in the Staré Město, or Old Town. I remember looking down from Prague Castle at a sea of red rooftops and thinking that the whole place felt magical. Part of that magic was that it had been hidden from those of us in the West for so long, and when the revolution came even that felt like something out of a story–a Velvet Revolution, led by playwrights and punks! The buildings there, long-neglected during the Communist era, were all being restored, and the architecture was astonishing. I know I am being too romantic about the place, and Prague in the mid-nineties was already feeling wrung out by a burgeoning expat population, especially Americans. As a student said to me once, “First we were occupied by the Germans, and then the Russians, and now the Americans.”

The country did indeed feel haunted by its past, most especially by ghosts of its turbulent twentieth century. And so I wrote a story about that, and some other things, too.