The “I Love Everything about This Goddamned Book” Post: Husk, by Rachel Autumn Deering

Hi there.

At the start of this year, I took on the Goodreads Reading Challenge, putting an insane amount of books I quite simply don’t have time to read if I intend to work, write, parent, husband, eat, or sleep at some point this year.  Still, I’ve kept to it because, fuck, why the hell not?  Some books are better than others.  Some I don’t finish because they’re fucking awful.  Some are fucking great.  And some I absolutely loved. 

Here’s one of those books.


I don’t have the blurbin’ power of Brian Keene, but, for what it’s worth: “Rachel Autumn Deering’s Husk is a stunning, heart-pounding (and heart-wrenching) story that will force you to read one more page, and then one more, and then another, until you take in this entire novella in one sitting.”

In Husk, writer Rachel Autumn Deering effortlessly creates the world and the voice of a veteran suffering from PTSD and forced to rebuild his life after his final tour.  Kevin joined the military when his grandparents died, his last-living relatives.  While fighting, his unit is attacked and his best friend is violently killed right in front him.  Now Kevin’s come home, left with just the broken pieces of his life prior to serving, the pieces of his time in uniform, and not much else.  Worse, he’s begun to see things, out of the corners of his eyes, and those things are growing bolder.

The first thing that strikes a reader when they start Husk is the voice.  Not necessarily the voice of the characters, but of the narration.  This is a story one could imagine hearing told in the oral tradition.  The setting for the vast majority of the novella is in the South, but it doesn’t fall into the pit of stereotype; this isn’t caricature.  More, the narration itself is almost a character, filling in the gaps between dialogue like the side-comments of a trusted friend.

Kevin and, later, Samantha are fleshed-out figures, done quickly in keeping with the overall stories length and when the sense of doom builds, this makes the inevitable all the more impactful.  Even characters with almost no page-time–the receptionist in Kevin’s doctor’s office, Samantha’s parents–breathe freely here, moving throughout the world in a way that the reader senses that, when the scene cuts away from them, they might still continue moving and going about their business.  Deering doesn’t belabor the characterization, choosing key details that will resonate with the reader.  The reader knows someone like Samantha or Samantha’s mother or even Kevin’s best friend in the service.

The novella hinges on one conceit for the reader–is what Kevin seeing real or not?  Honestly, at the end of the day, you could go either way and not get much of an argument from me (Deering, although building some ambiguity, tips her hand a bit, but not enough that to argue one way or the other would be a fool’s game; YMMV).  Because of that seeming-ambiguity, the novella works all the more; it forces you to think of it after the final too-soon page passes through your fingers and you close the cover.

Really, the only problem with Husk is the length.  Deering built a world quickly and threw a ton of plot lines out into the fields; while she ties everything up, you won’t want her to.  Husk doesn’t beg to be a full-fledged novel, but you will.  Easily.


On a more subjective note, I tend to cull my collection of books pretty regularly; only so many bookcases in my house.  Will I reread this?  Have I reread it in the past decade?  Books that answer in the negative get donated.  Still, on the top shelf of my tallest bookcase are my go-tos.  My absolutely favorite novels.  David Morrell’s First Blood is up there, as well as Damien Angelica Walters’s Paper Tigers and Harlan Ellison’s Shatterday and Eddie Little’s Another Day in Paradise, among others.  When I finished Husk, I put it on the top shelf.  It fit right in.

You can pick up Husk here.  Go.  Buy.  Read.


I’m Here to Attack Your Eyes and Ears

Two brief things of note, gang:



The annual Halloween special of The Wicked Library podcast debuted this week; for it, host Dan Foytik brought back show creator Nelson W. Pyles to resurrect and reproduce a few “lost” stories from the show’s first season, including a production of my story “Love Song for the Rejected.”

Entirely recreated with noted voice actors Mike DelGaudio and Addison Peacock, with music by Nico Vettese, I am absolutely in fucking love with this.  Not just because, hey, it’s my story–everything they did was amazing.  Whenever I reread this story now, it’s going to be in Mike’s and Addison’s voices.

You can listen to the episode here, which also includes stellar stories (and productions) from Jessica McHugh, C. Bryan Brown, and Nelson W. Pyles.

If you’ve been curious if what I write is up your street, you could do worse than listen to this podcast–hell, “Love Song” is in Bones Are Made to be Broken.  The me-centric portion of the program begins, roughly, at the one-hour mark.



Holy hell–it’s here.  It’s finally here.  Almost a year to the day that the paperback and eBook came out, the deluxe, expanded, slipcase hardcover edition of Bones Are Made to be Broken arrived at the house.

Hoo, boy.  I couldn’t help it–I took pictures.

There are five copies left of the hardcover edition–which includes a bonus story (“Grownups”), as well as story notes–and you can get that here.

If the pricetag for all the bells-and-whistles is a bit much for you, you can pick up the Kindle or the paperback over at Amazon.

As we approach one-year-out since Bones was released, I have thoughts.  I’ll get to them soon.  Gotta noodle some more.  Also, life and deadlines get in the way.


Help Michael Bailey & his family recover from the California wildfires (a signal boost)



The family.

Hey all.

On October 9th, Michael Bailey and his family had seven minutes to evacuate their homes in order to escape the wildfires that are still, as of this writing, rampaging merry hell through California.

Jumping on top of this, novelist Brian Keene set up a GoFundMe for the Baileys because, flat out, they lost everything.  It is all gone and the pictures/video Michael has posted show the extent of the devastation.  Seen pictures of Dresden post-bombing?  Like that.

Brian put a modest cap at $5,000 and, within 24 hours, contributors (mostly colleagues of Michael’s in the horror industry because, a, Michael has done immeasurable good for our industry and, b, we know how to help a comrade out) doubled that.  We’re now, one week in, nearly at $15,000 for Michael, Kelly, and their kids to literally–and this isn’t by any stretch of the imagination hyperbole–rebuild their lives.  Hence, why I’m here, telling you.  A signal boost.

Go here and help out.  Hell, boost the link or this post if you can’t spare the scratch, but get it out there to those who maybe can.  Now, people, in light of these events, might be tempted to contribute goods.  However, as Karen Merzenich points out, this is usually the last thing they need.  Families need the money.  The GoFundMe Brian set up is immediately usable by Michael and his family.

So go.  Share.  Help out.

Honestly, I’m terrified of open water*

*I was going to title this post “My new stories are underwater”, but in light of the devastation in Texas…yeah, not going there.  It wasn’t like the various editors planned on releasing work that I happened to be in, that happened to involve water, around Mother Nature, but…yeah.

Some new story news because I like sharing things with my name in it. Also, who doesn’t like new stuff to read?

First up – Fearful Fathoms: Collected Tales of Aquatic Terror (Vol. 1 – Seas & Oceans) – Scarlet Galleon Publications


This anthology, which includes such people as Jack Ketchum, Laird Barron, and Richard Chizmar, includes an older story of mine, “Surviving the River Styx”, about a survivor of a terrorist attack on a cruise ship–one of the few survivors after everyone else on the ship has been reduced to psychotic murderers.  I have a terrible fear of open water, any time I can’t see land across the way I get unnerved, so this story was me working through that.  It’s an early story, published originally years ago, and I’ve always been pleased with how people have responded to it.  Big ups to Mark Parker, the editor for digging this.

You can pick up the paperback here.

You can pick up the Kindle here.

Second – Space and Time Magazine, #129


I’m still awed whenever I make the cover–like, hell, I might be a draw for people.  Not a big one, of course, but enough to justify slapping my name right where people’s eyes are gonna be drawn.  Like, damn.

My story in this bad boy is “How I Became a Cryptid Straight Out of a 1970s Horror Movie”.  Basically, a young guy gets cursed into a carnivorous lake and it gets weirder from there.  It was one of those, “Hey, let’s make a new monster”-type scenarios and I ran with it because it was just so much fun to think about.  Which says a ton about me.

Big-big thanks to Hildy Silverman, Gerard Houarner, and Gordon Linzer for liking this.

You can pick up the physical magazine at Barnes & Noble.

You can get the DRM-free eBook (for $3!) here.

The Summer Exile in the Goodreads Wastelands

What does Paul Michael Anderson do when he’s avoiding his actual writing work (“avoiding” in the sense of I have a metric fuck-tonne of dayjob shit to do)?  Updates his reviews on his website because of course he does. 

So, at the beginning of the year, I decided I wanted to both track my reading and read more since it seemed, last year, I hadn’t been reading as much as I had in the past.  I set up a Goodreads Reading Challenge–in which I set a high number and am hysterically behind–and got to it.  Throughout the beginning of the year (and because I’m a teacher, I automatically think, “Through the spring semester”), I was pretty good at keeping up with reviews.

And then summer vacation hit and…nada.

Oh, I read, but I wasn’t talking about what I read–even in the echo-chamber that is this website. And I read some good shit.  But, even if I wasn’t reading that good shit, books and reading, to me, should be the beginnings of conversations, always and forever.

So, let’s talk about a writer’s version of How I Spent My Summer Vacation, okay?

universal harvester

Universal Harvester (FS&G, 2017) by John Darnielle is ultimately an uneven “horror” novel that, while well-written, will leave readers at the end of the story cocking their head to the side and going, “Huh.”  Not in a confused sort-of way, but, rather, “I don’t know what to think about this.”

The story depicts a group of films at an old-school rental store (a majority of this story takes place on the cusp of Y2K) that, inexplicably, have patches of another movie sewn through.  The novel unfolds in the past, the 1990s, and the “present”.

The problems with this novel begin with the depiction of the “scenes” in the regular movies.  They’re described as upsetting the viewer, but, ultimately, they’d at most be described as bizarrely mundane, with only one scene–a woman sprinting away from the camera, down a dirt road at night–that could be construed as frightening.  The rest, even when some violence like punching are kicking is thrown in, come off as…hum drum.  Weird, but not like watching a snuff film.  Still, the characters have a visceral aversion to the scenes, even as they become fixated on the shots, and that can lead to disconnect with the reader.

Ultimately, a majority of the mystery is explained–Darnielle points the reader in the right direction, but leaves it to you to figure it out. That can leave some readers disappointed and some satisfied; it all depends on how detailed you like your maps drawn.

When the novel works, it does so with the familial relationships–Jeremy and his father, or the present-day family that discovers the tapes–showing the space and tension and isolation that trauma, or witnessed-trauma, can have between loved ones.  The plot line that focuses in the past is, probably, the most emotionally and intellectually satisfying because it’s the most realized. More, the novel’s horror elements, to this reader, come from the sense of being stuck, or left behind–by parents, by choices, by lifestyles and friends.  This helplessness powers the engine for the novel’s unsettled tendencies.

Ultimately, Darnielle writes in an easy, forward manner–lyrical at times, but never to the point of pretentious obfuscation or incoherence.  You enjoy hearing his voice.  Still, the melody he creates doesn’t seem to reap the rewards of a musical pay-off (and I’ll stop with the musical comparisons now, thanks).

Three out of five stars for this bad boy.

You can pick up Universal Harvester here.


Kristi DeMeester’s Beneath (Word Horde, 2017) is an off-beat novel that mixes cosmic horror, late-20th-century angst, the ghosts of an unsettled past, and some of that ol’time religion.

DeMeester makes the easy (for her) transition here from the short form to the long form in this story of Cora, a journalist sent to report on a snake-handling church in a small Southern town.  Cora has her own issues with religion, stemming for her childhood, and takes an instant dislike to the pastor, Mike.  Meanwhile, the town itself is undergoing a change, with mythical creatures underground assuming control.

It’s an interesting premise and can easily become tangled in clumsy hands, or fall down into vague, pedantic (and LOUD) proclamations about god, but DeMeester has a confident hand and keeps the reader as Cora and Mike try and fail (wash, rinse, repeat) to figure out a way to save the town, the people, and themselves.  Set during the 1980s, the novel has that typical 80s feel of small towns that King and Koontz mined in that decade, but it’s set apart by, again, DeMeester’s confident hand.  She ratchets up the tension as the plot-walls close in on our heroes and you won’t struggle to root for them (or keep reading), even when you get a sense of futility in their actions.

With that said, there were instances where the reader may wonder how the outside world responds to the cataclysm; DeMeester references it, but keeps the focus on Cora, which could lead some people to feeling vaguely claustrophobic about the narrowness of the view.  Elsewhere, it’s hard to get a bead on Mike as a character–someone who has as many flaws as virtues and, at times, alternates between both extremes–but it can be argued that, because we’re predominately in Cora’s head, this is due to the fact that Cora can’t get a bead on the preacher.

Overall, Beneath is not your typical “first novel” and it’s all the better for it.  In terms of story alone, it’s a strong, solid piece, and the writing is top-notch.

Four out of five stars.

You can pick up Beneath here.


The first thing I picked up at Scares That Care 4, Detritus in Love by Mercedes Murdock Yardley and John Boden (Omnium Gatherum, 2016) is a bizarre novella of magic realism and probably can have as many detractors as it does admirers.  I fall in the latter category.

Of the two writers, I’m less familiar with Boden (I’ve read a short story here and there, like in LampLight) than with Yardley, whose collection Beautiful Sorrows I own (as well as her novel Nameless), but the styles blend well here in this story of Det, a teenager with a ghost dressed in a Nazi Halloween costume for a best friend and is in love with a dead girl.  Det’s opposite is literally an Opposite, and the plot follows Det as he comes to terms with his diametrically-opposed Other as the Opposite upsets Det’s life, world, and reality.

The pacing is brisk, the characterizations sketched and all the better for it, the writing as clear as it is lyrical and given to Yardley-stamped description.  That said, while I loved the surreal nature of the prose and plot–particularly the ending–this surrealism might prove to be a turn-off for some readers.  Some people like finely-detailed maps in their stories; others like sketches; still others like a shotgun-blast of abstract, the details thrown in the air for the reader to assemble and come to terms with.  Detritus falls between that sketch and shotgun-blast and I love it for that alone.

In the end Detritus in Love is a fun, surreal romp.  Four out of five stars.

You can pick up Detritus in Love here.

boys night

[I’m gonna wind up spilling the most words on this one because it involves rape and perspectives on the feminism movement and I can only really review this novella if, first, I discuss these two things.  So, um, bear with me.]

Boys’ Night by Wrath James White and Matt Shaw (Matt Shaw Productions, 2017) avoids falling into the trap of being a remix on I Spit on Your Grave through a fairly decent plot twist, but this could prove as problematic as the subject manner of rape itself.  In this instance, the extreme violence takes a backseat.

Boys’ Night tells the story of Emily, a popular but incendiary blogger on feminist issues, pitted against a group of good ol’ boys who don’t like what she says and decide to teach her a lesson.  In the center is Sandra, Emily’s ex-girlfriend, and, really, the viewpoint character for the audience–both Emily and the boys are extremes and its hard to connect with them versus Sandra.

Now, the topic of rape and feminism in fiction is a…troubled one, to say the least.  In this conversation–one reviewer, two writers–it’s worth noting that, oh hey, we’re all a bunch of dudes.

Moreover, the use of rape as plot device has become a bit of a bear in media–take a look at the blowback Game of Thrones has taken over its use–with people broken into various camps. One camp wants creators to stop using it, period; the trope can only be used so many times before a viewer has to say, “You got nothing else to explain female agency, do you?” Another camp is less against the use of rape in media but more of a yes-rape-happens-but-let’s-not-exploit-it-okay; these are the people who felt GoT (which, I should note, I’ve never seen and can’t weigh in on) was fallen into exploitation given the frequency (among other things) of its use.

When it comes to rape in media…that’s for you to make a decision on.  For me, if I’m going to read something with rape in it, my benchmark is the opening scene of John Grisham’s A Time to Kill; it was awful and it was painful.  There was nothing sexual about it; it was dehumanizing and oppressive.  Grisham rubbed his readers’s noses in it to make them understand why the perpetrators had to die and put you in that mindset to fully identify with the protagonists.  Rape isn’t about sex; it’s about control and removing humanity and toxic power.

Moreover, feminism–in 2017–is as unclear to some people as ever.  Some will view feminism in the way Emily uses it (read–an almost caricature extreme); others will (hopefully) see feminism from Sandra’s perspective, which is about the basic units of equality and agency.  Your mileage may vary here.

With that all that said, Boys’ Night avoids the exploitative aspects; while James and Shaw (the latter who, before this book, I had never heard of) rub their readers’s noses in the violence, it’s about power and control, and the descriptions follow this thread, to the extent that the reader is only in the victim’s POV. That’s still thin-ice to skate on, story-telling-wise, but it’s enough.

The story, overall, is about power, really.  Emily is not that much better than her enemies here and, in the end, when the blood can begin drying, the reader will find themselves identifying with Sandra, Emily’s ex, more than Emily.  This may turn off readers–the person they’d been sold on, from the back cover to the summaries, is less a hero and, really, as awful as the villains.  This isn’t a switcheroo by the writers, nor a statement on feminism (knowing Wrath, I feel I can make this statement), nor also a spoiler.  This is extreme horror with extreme people in it.  Again, Sandra will most likely be the person people relate to because she looks at both sides and goes, “What the fuck?”

In the end, the writing is clear and the pacing brisk (I don’t know how the writing duties broke down between the two people); while detailed, James and Shaw don’t linger on this or that violent tableau for too long.  It could be argued that the villains are a bit stock (depending on your socio and ideological views, you could argue the same with Emily), but that doesn’t make the comeuppance any less brutal.

If nothing else, I’ll be seeking more from Wrath James White.

Three out of five stars.  You can pick up Boys’ Night here.

baby hater

C.V. Hunt’s Baby Hater (self-published, 2014) is short, vicious romp through the life of a woman who feels shunned due to her inability to have children.  If you have friends or family who don’t have children, or you don’t, or you had children “late” (whatever our culture deems “late” for child-rearing, anymore), you will find shades of this book.  It was good.

The story is ridiculously short, so the plot can literally be boiled down to, “Woman who can’t have kids feels shunned by the world and grows to hate the babies of others.  Begins punching them.  Hilarity ensues.”  It’s a semi-ludicrous premise that nevertheless leaves the reader uneasy because–oh, shit, son–you can see people being this way.  On a personal level, my wife and I didn’t have our daughter until we were twenty-seven, and it wasn’t planned, and we spent the first three years of our marriage being asked when we were going to have children and why aren’t we having them.  More, every one of us knows someone who is looked down upon because they can’t have kids, or put their careers first, or–again, oh, shit, son–doesn’t want to have children.  I could go on a rant about the cult of children in this country, and Mommy-shaming, and father stereotypes, but I won’t (mostly because it’s late; I really like ranting about those things), but, in the end, this premise isn’t so far-fetched.

Of all the books I’ve read this summer, this one is the story that gets closest to my heart, if for no other reason than I can recognize every single person in the book.  Hunt nails her characterizations and even the vaguely-ironic, Palahnuik-type ending fits here.  My only complaint is that this is only a novella; Hunt left herself so much room to explore these people, if the story had dictated it.

This one’s a five-stars, guys.

You can pick up Baby Hater (and you should) here.


Bracken MacLeod’s Come to Dust (Trepidatio, 2017) asks a very simple question: What would be the ramifications–social, emotional, religious–if dead children returned to life?  In his third novel, MacLeod brings the pathos and what’s become his trademark action and put it into a blend that continues the streak of heartfelt entertainment.

Mitch is a down-on-his-luck ex-con, trying to build a stable life for himself and his niece Sophie (abandoned by her flighty mother).  When he decides, for once, to go out on a date, Sophie is killed by the negligent and abusive babysitter.  He’s distraught and struggling with how to pick up the pieces of his life…when Sophie wakes back up.  Now Mitch must fight to protect Sophie from the fearful, the authorities, her “reformed” mother, and a religious zealot hellbent on using the dead children towards his own horrific goals.

When I first heard the premise, my mind instantly clicked over to Suffer the Children by Craig DiLouie, a harrowing twist in the vampire trope, but it immediately becomes apparent that these are two different animals sharing only the initial spark (dead kids coming back to life).  Moreover, it needs to be clear that all dead kids, regardless of when they died, are coming back; if they have some meat on their bones, they come back–and not as zombies, either.  These are our children…but different.  Sadder.  More terrifying because of what these pale children can now do.

Bracken, not known from a soporific line of prose, keeps the story running without allowing the pathos of such a situation and our reactions to it fall by the way side.  Mitch is fully realized and his anguish easily translates from the page.  This emotional core keeps the novel from devolving into a standard zombie-fare, even as it sometimes may seem like it moves over to the passenger seat in favor of the action–particularly in the third act.  The action never subdues the emotional core, but it’s clear to readers that, now that the emotional foundations of these characters have been fully laid out–MacLeod doesn’t patronize his audience with constant reminders of why Mitch (or any of the other parents) feel as they do–the final half of the novel is devoted to seeing where these characters will go and what they will do.  To put it another way, MacLeod winds the top and then lets it fly.

With a novel that’s good and solid, it’s going to have people who wanted more action in the beginning, or more emotion in the end.  Personally, I found myself wanting one final confrontation (to reveal between who would be a spoiler) and felt cheated that circumstances never allow it to happen (before anyone asks–the book is the boss; to force the wanted-confrontation would’ve cheated the story), but that’s more of a testament to the characterization MacLeod imbues his people with.

Four out of five stars.

You can pick up Come to Dust here.


I meant to review Fight Club 2 in this one, but I’m still getting my thoughts in order on it.  In other news, though, this is how I spent my summer vacation–reading books.  Because–well, fucking, duh.

Gettin’ on the Coveted Cover

So Hildy Silverman, publisher and editor-in-chief, of Space & Time magazine, recently revealed the cover for issue #129 on Space & Time‘s Facebook page:


Oh, it’s nice to have top billing.  I mean, it could totally be ordered alphabetically–check the last names–but, damn, that doesn’t even matter to me.  The cover–done by Thomas Nackid–is beautiful and I’ve wanted to be in Space & Time for years; their fiction editor, Gerard Houarner, is a friend who, in the past, has helped me with stories in other venues (specifically, “A Nice Town with Very Clean Streets”), and is a stellar writer on top of that.

A  Nice Town_edited-2.jpg

Illustration for “A Nice Town with Very Clean Streets” by Pat R. Steiner, from Bones Are Made to be Broken.

The story that’s going to be within those pages is called “How I Became a Cryptid Straight out of a 1970s Horror Movie”.  It’s told from the perspective of a guy who gets turned into a lake–so, y’know, not the typical thing I write.  But, hell, it was fun to try to figure out the sensory details for a creature that’s literally a fucking lake, and Hildy and Gerard both liked it.

I’ll post more when the issue becomes available online and at Barnes & Noble.  Hope you pick it up.

Until then, you can always pick up Bones Are Made to be Broken


–or the latest issue of Unnerving magazine, which contains my new story “The One Thing I Wished for You”


Scares That Care 4: A Report of Awesomeness


So, last week, I attended Scares That Care 4, a charity event–to use Brian Keene’s term for it, since it’s a fitting one–down in Williamsburg, Virginia.  It’s taken me a week to write this, not only because I have a kid and about a million other things to handle on a day-to-day basis, but also to…kinda lose my glow about the whole thing, I guess?

It’s been five years since I attended a con and, while the last con was fun–if nothing else, I have an awesome Gary Braunbeck story to tell from it and learned how fucking silent Jonathan Maberry is when he moves–I was also the head of horror programming for what is, really, an SF & Fantasy con.  Programming’s something I wouldn’t wish on the person I hate the most.  (Actually, I would, ’cause fuck that prick, but you get the idea.)

So, coming to Scares That Care, just as an attendee–I didn’t have a vendor booth and I sure as fuck wasn’t part of the celebrity room (you, in the back–stop laughing at that idea or leave, please)–was a completely different experience.  It’s taken me the past week to get my thoughts in order to mention some of the highlights.  I already fucking know I’m going to forget someone who was awesome and I had great interactions with, but don’t take it personally if it’s you, okay?  I literally met scores of fucktastically-awesome people and some of the faces and names have blurred.

For those that don’t know, Scares That Care is a charity organization that raises money annually for various people–three families, I think, though I don’t know how those families are selected–who are suffering from cancer, or childhood diseases, or any of the millions of things that can and do fuck people up royally.  The organization is 100% volunteer and after overhead–bookings, location rentals, etc.–is covered, all the money goes to the people who need it.  I’m talking tens of thousands of dollars at a crack, going to kids and victims of cancer to help keep things on an even keel.  At one point over the weekend, I talked to Brian Keene about it, just chatting, and one could literally see a wistfulness cross his face when he told me, “I’ve been along on one of the times they’ve delivered a check to a family.  There’s nothing like it.”

Gotta admit, right at the top, I was a little nervous.  I knew almost no one there beyond that faux-reality that is social media: the two people I felt I really did know–if only because we e-mailed and texted each other–were Damien Angelica Walters (if you don’t know who this is, but somehow know of me…what the fuck is wrong with you?) and Jacob Haddon, editor of LampLight.  Damien had to bail on the weekend for a very good reason, leaving exactly one person I felt I actually knew, and I worried I would do that oh-no-I’m-in-a-strange-place thing where you kinda hang on onto the one familiar thing around.  I wasn’t looking to be a millstone or an albatross, y’know?

Not that I needed to worry, really, and that’s the best thing about Scares That Care: it’s a family.  It’s easy to forget who’s an attendee, a “writer’s block” (as the event called them) guest, a vendor, or a volunteer at the con.  This is a place where a conversation can start with two people on opposing sides of the table (say, like, a signing) and, within five minutes, both are on the same side, sitting and chatting.  Hell, half the people I met happened because I stepped outside for a cigarette.

The best part of a good event is the skewering of tropes.  Horror fans are seen as, let’s be honest, mouth-breathing lunkheads, the kind of people who rate a film’s quality by the gore ratio and how many tits pop up on screen and for how long (actually, I envision the horror fan stereotype as kinda like Seth Rogen’s friends in Knocked Up).  You can’t imagine these people putting together a single fucking sentence, let along reading a book that isn’t 85% pictures.

The reality, of course, is pretty fucking far from this tired trope.  Sure, you have the pinheads (not the Pinhead, but, y’know, regular-ass pinheads), but even the pinheads can probably hold forth on the mise en scene in, for instance, Se7en, or discuss the writing of Bob Bloch.

Fuck, my thoughts are still really skewered on STC, with one thing or another jumping up and saying “talk about me next!”, “No–ME!”, “No, fuck those other things–ME-ME-ME, DAMMIT!”

So, lemme break it down this way, with scattered highlights; they won’t follow chronologically, and they’re not ordered from best to least-best (seriously, aside from one minorly awkward moment, there wasn’t an off-note about that weekend), but they’ll do as a kind-of abstract montage that gives you an overall of the weekend:

The Highlights

I wound up in the bar, starving and reading Detritus in Love by John Boden and Mercedes Yardley while waiting for my burger to arrive, when John Skipp walked in.  After chatting with Nanci Kalanta , the former owner of Horrorworld, Skipp and I wound up outside, smoking and talking about kids (his grandchildren and my daughter) and the art they make, as well as the benefits of editing hard-copy versus editing on a screen.  We finish our smokes and dump them in a trashcan–couldn’t find one of those alien-dildo-like-things where cigarette butts go–only to have Skipp worry that our cigarettes weren’t really out and we’ve set the trashcan on fire.  We went back and forth for ten minutes, inside and out, bringing cups of water to dump into the can.  It never did burst in the flame.  So, win, I guess?


I step outside in the evening to have a smoke and find, amongst a crowd of people, this middle-aged dude talking to Skipp, only to have the dude realize he’s talking to Skipp.  Dude geeks out, total fanboy moment, and excitedly babbles how he stole his local library’s copy of Book of the Dead because it’d meant so much to him.  Skipp and the dude hug it out.  Seriously, it was actually kinda beautiful.


11 p.m. reading, the first night of the con, called “The Witching Hour.”  Kelli Owen, Jacob Haddon, and John Boden bring the house down in tears over their stories.  The good-story tears, the tears that come when the story gets you in the gut and squeezes.  Before Kelli reads, she turns to John, wiping her eyes, and goes, “Fuck you, John.  Seriously.  Fuck you.” She then proceeds to read and a handful of other people burst into tears.


Walking through the celebrity room, where people lined up to get Kane Hodder or Jeffrey Combs to sign something.  The authorial pool is in the center.  Skipp, sitting next to Wrath James White, recognizes me, introduces me to S.G. Murphy, who has a book of short stories coming out soon.  We all realize we’re starving and leave the con for a seafood restaurant someone had heard of.  Great service, great food.  Skipp starts the conversation by ruminating how great the structure would be to film in, what kind of scene would take place here.  Wrath, S.G., and I add on, talking about a group of guys bullshitting around the table with standard, over-the-shoulder shots for coverage, the camera eventually pulling back to reveal these guys are having normal conversations while a corpse lulls at the head of the table.

After the meal, we talk about cats versus dogs and farmer’s markets.  Apparently, it’s perpetual hunger than makes us talk weird shit.  Sun rain erupts outside, to which our waitress remarks, “The devil must be beating his wife.”  We all loved the phrase (Wrath had heard it before, but not since he was a child).

We missed out on the fire alarm back at the hotel, so pluses all around.


Not-too-infrequent-but-sort-of-frequent exchange:

Them – “So, you’re a writer? What’s your book called?”

Me – “Bones Are Made to be Broken.”

Them – “Nice title!  Do you have a table around here?”

Me – “Nah, but I brought some books, just in case.”

I sold a few books that way, which was hoped-for, but not expected.  (I apparently never told Jacob Haddon I had books, but I could’ve sworn I did.)


The podcasting room was small, too small for the crowd that came for Brian Keene’s The Horror Show.  I’m sitting in the second row, beside Jacob and his wife, breathing in the scent of too-many-humans.  More humans spill out into the corridor.  People line the walls.  I watch the writer Amber Fallon and others present Brian with an award, midway through the show (which consisted of two recorded episodes), a thanks for his encouragement of their respective careers over the years.  My phone buzzes in its pocket and the call ID says “Heidi” – my wife.  I hop, leap, and scurry around the people and the noise, opening my phone as I head downstairs.  It’s my daughter.  “When are you coming home?” she asks.  I tell her tomorrow.  She says okay, she misses me, and jumps off the phone–it was the only reason she called.  Now I have to find my way back to my seat.


Saturday night reading, this one adults-only.  The readers are David W. Barbee, Christian Jensen, and Wrath.  Barbee reads a surreal tale about a father and son frog recalled a time when humans licked frog asses to get high; Barbee affects a Louisiana accent and utilizes a frog puppet for  this.  Jensen reads about Bigfoot sex.  Wrath tells a story about a masochist on the hunt for a sexual serial killer to achieve the greatest pleasure.  Brian Keene and Mary SanGiovanni sit behind me and John Wayne Comunale, and at one point I glance bacl to see Brian nudging Mary and pointing at our row, grinning.  I learn later that Brian was telling Mary to watch our cringes and gasps as the stories unfold.


CV Hunt, on a panel about splatterpunk, extreme horror, and bizarre, gives the premise of her novella Baby Hater while illustrating another point.  Edward Lee, also on the panel, shakes his head and leans towards Skipp, “That’s fucked up.”  After the panel, I immediately go pick up Baby Hater from the Grindhouse Press table.


John Wayne Comunale and I talk punk rock in the side-lobby, going through our love of good pop-punk and hardcore.  He tells me about his band, johnwayneisdead.  The horror genre seems to be home to the punk rockers and metalheads.  I love this industry and John’s band, I learn later, is fairly decent.  Go Youtube “Party!”


Getting up Sunday morning, I get a message on Facebook from Jonathan Janz: “We need to talk.”  The dude’s been besieged all weekend, so I hadn’t even had a chance to say hi to him, let alone talk.  I message him back, telling him that I’ll be at the con around 11:30.  I get there and do my goodbye rounds before visiting Janz, who just wanted to hang out and chat.  This goes on for about an hour, enough time to pass for John Boden to come in and call me the worst-leaver ever.


Wrath, Barbee, and Jensen’s reading lets out and I run into Amy Harris as she heads into the Rocky Horror showing.  I didn’t think I’d see her or her husband, Mike, again, so I wanted to say goodbye and asked where Mike was (I’d spotted them during the reading, but they’d dipped out).  Amy leads me to a side room beside the restaurant where a handful of people sit and drink and eat pizza and play a game called Werewolves (Werewolfs?), which is kinda like an RPG mixed with that classroom classic Seven-Up.  I’m the third Paul in the room and the group organizes us as Norse Paul (me, since someone had remarked I look like Thor), Thunder Paul (for the owner of Thunderstorm Books), and the Other/Original Paul (for Paul Tremblay, although a guy named Steve wanted to call Tremblay “Paultry Sum” since Tremblay is a math teacher). Mike, it turns out, is Christened “Nintendo Kevin”, given that he wore a Nintendo shirt on Friday and everyone’s drunk enough to keep forgetting his name.

The group of us play the game until 2:30 and both bottles are kicked (I don’t drink, but everyone else had a merry time).  Melissa, an Irish woman with a personality as exuberant as her orange hair, keeps accusing me of being a werewolf and I kept getting lynched by the townspeople.  At one point, Other Paul dashes in with a takeaway box with a one-bite-missing cheeseburger inside–he found it at a random table.  Other Paul and I discuss our mutual love of Bob Mould and he tells me about Bob’s new record, which came out last year.  We’re loud ghosts and the villagers keep telling us to shut up.


Are there more events?  Possibly.  Hell, probably, but they all jumble together like clothes in a dryer.  It’s a mark of a good weekend.

The People

Because I probably am forgetting events, let me just rundown every name I can remember.  These people are awesome.  I’ve sprinkled links throughout the above to various people’s projects and books and I hope you check them out.  In any event…

To Dee South, D. Alexander Ward, John Boden, Jacob Haddon and his wife Leah, Mary SanGiovanni, Patrick Lacey, Jessica Deering, Rachel Rampage, Bob Ford, Andersen Prunty, John Wayne Comunale, Steven Wynne, CV Hunt, Hannah Carroll, Melissa Hayward, “Anna” (Αερικό Ποιμενικό), Amy Harris, Mike Harris, John Quick, Thom Lyons, Wrath James White, John Skipp, Brian Keene, S.G. Murphy, Armand Rosamilia, David Barbee, Paul Tremblay, Jonathan Janz, Paul Goblirsch,Nanci Kalanta…

…Yeah.  Thanks for making the weekend not suck.

Also, my Amazon book wishlist is approximately a metric fuck-tonne, now.  So, y’know, that’s good.