Category Archives: short stories

Rabid Reads: "Shock Totem #4" edited by K. Allen Wood

Shock Totem #4
edited by K.Allen Wood
131 pages
Shock TotemPublications (2011)
ISBN9781463754709
Lee Thompson was charitable enough to give away a few copies of ShockTotem’s latest issue and I was lucky enough to snag one. When itcomes to periodicals, I buy the electronic versions exclusivelybecause of shipping costs to Canada, so this was a real treat. Ibought and read a Kindle edition of Shock Totem #1 not toolong ago and was eager to read some more.
This time around there was a very diverse ensemble of authors fromvarying backgrounds, with established names like Weston Ochse, aswell as first publications for authors like Tom Bordonaro. There’salso a couple of interviews, one with Kathe Koja that turns into anopining on the state of publishing today, and a chat with one of thisissue’s contributing authors, Renny Sparks, that includes discussionabout her music career. And one of the missing sections from digitaleditions is the book review portion, with some interesting looks onbooks, films, and albums by John Boden, Robert J. Duperre, and thewitticisms of Ryan Bridger. There’s also a brief essay by headhoncho, K. Allen Wood, that provides a surprising punch to thestomach.
As far as the stories are concerned, this issue begins with a tragicgem by Lee Thompson called “Beneath the Weeping Willow,”about Davey, a young autistic boy’s ordeals within his family as heand his older brother, Jacob, cope with the break-up of theirparents’ marriage. The story is told in the rare second-personperspective, which is a hard nut to crack, but Lee seemed to have theperfect story in which to use it. As for the relationship betweenDavey and Jacob, it’s heartbreaking and all too believable.
From there, we jump into the absurd with the debut story of TomBordonaro, “Full Dental,” about an office worker at hiswit’s end over the demonic coworkers he must work alongside. Tomwanted to approach this story in the same way you might approach asketch comedy routine, and I think he hits just the right note withthe juxtaposition of bloody mayhem and office politics.
I think my favorite story of the bunch came from a very short storyby Michael Penkas called “Dead Baby Day.” Now, before youget your quills up, the title is a tad misleading. It’s really abouttwo brothers. Unlike, Lee Thompson’s Davey and Jacob, Michael’s Lukeand Mark don’t have quite so caustic a relationship. Mark does ribhis little brother about his origins as they lay in their beds. Youknow how big brothers are sometimes: a-holes. Well, Luke’simagination starts running wild when Mark tells him about Dead BabyDay, which happens to fall on Luke’s birthday. Creepy, funny stuff.
There’s plenty more packed into the 130 pages and is a kind ofthree-ring circus for dark fiction. Don’t like the clown car? Thenstick around for the lion tamer. And make sure you read Cafe DoomCompetition winner’s story, “Fade to Black,” by JaelitheIngold. It feels a tad predictable at first, but the ending remediesthat.
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Filed under book review, horror, Lee Thompson, Rabid Reads, Shock Totem, short stories

Rabid Reads: "Shock Totem #1" by K. Allen Wood (editor)

Shock Totem #1
edited by K. Allen Wood
Shock TotemPublications (2011, digital edition)
originally published in 2009
It seems short fiction markets are a fleeting thing. Some crop up out of nowhere, then disappear as quickly as they came. The ones that survive are to be commended–and read. Shock Totem came out with its first paperback issue in the summer of 2009, and this summer sees its fourth edition coming out as a physical copy. But, at the same time, Shock Totem #1 has been re-released as an e-book. An insanely affordable one at that, with an asking price of only $1.99 on the Kindle Store. How could I resist?
Now, with the digital release, a couple things have been left out. Namely the reviews and artwork. But, the stories and interviews are intact, and that’s the meat of this publication as far as I’m concerned, anyway.
After a brief introduction from its editor, K. Allen Wood, Shock Totem #1 kicks off with a barn-burner of a story by T.L. Morganfield called “The Music Box.” Just imagine those cuddly plush dolls that we used to love playing with as kids, and maybe some of us have passed those toys down to our own children. Now imagine those toys are alive–and they know how to hold a grudge. Yeah, this one was creepy in all the right places and really set a tone for the rest of the book.
More horror abounds, with a quick, quirky read from Mercedes M. Yardley called “Murder for Beginners,” which has a couple of women having a remarkably casual conversation while standing over the corpse of their former lover, a married man they’ve just murdered. Yikes.
Another couple of the standouts for me were Don D’Ammassa’s “Complexity” and David Niall Wilson’s “Slider.” And best title has to go to Kurt Newton’s “Thirty-Two Scenes from a Dead Hooker’s Mouth.” Just read it. Disparate in tone, each brought something really dark to this little collection. In fact, as you read from cover to cover, you find the diverse array of stories really only has two things in common: they’re dark as hell and really well written.
If the fiction isn’t enough, there are a couple of interviews with the likes of John Skipp and Alan Robert. All things considered, Shock Totem may not be as shocking as you might expect it to be, but it certainly taps into those dark facets of human nature, one way or another. It’s also nice to see each author explain at the end of the book the impetus for each of their stories. With such diversity, the book feels like a three-ring circus of the most macabre variety.

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Rabid Reads: "Cthulhurotica" by Carrie Cuinn (editor)

Cthulhurotica
edited by Carrie Cuinn
Dagan Books (2010)
344 pages
ISBN 0983137307
Available via Amazon
If you think this anthology amounts to little more than tentacle porn, think again.
Carrie Cuinn has assembled short stories that are not merely about monsters having sex, though more than a couple do feature some remarkably … unusual intimate encounters. The majority of stories come from authors who explore jealousy, loneliness, betrayal, morbid curiosity, and a slew of other facets, all wrapped up in a pastiche that is either directly influenced by the stories of H.P. Lovecraft or at least offer allusions to those stories.
Personally, I’m not much of a Lovecraft fan. That is to say I am not among those who deify the man and his work. Certainly, there is something to the mythos he created that has latched on to the minds of readers, and I do find the broader ideas of his stories to be quite appealing. But, the suffusion of his bigotry is noticeable to a point that makes some stories unpalatable, and the rather dated flourish to his prose only makes it harder to appreciate his stories. I’m not one to close myself off to an artist’s work though, as I still manage to appreciate Roman Polanski’s films, so I had no qualms in seeing what other authors could provide as a way to better understand Lovecraft’s work.
I found most of the stories avoided imitation and provided their own styles, though there were a couple of instances where the language felt so Lovecraftian it almost felt satirical. The real draw for me was the way the stories approached existing characters and settings from a whole new vantage point, and its through this method that I came to enjoy the stories and hop on board the bandwagon.
The stories I liked most were varied. Some took a more contemporary approach, some had a more streamlined style to Lovecraft’s while hanging onto that imitative flavor. Stand outs for me included: “Descent of the Wayward Sister” by Gabrielle Harbowy, which was the first story and did an excellent job in setting the tone for the rest of the book; “Infernal Attraction” by Cody Goodfellow, that had an ending I found to be deliciously bleak and sinister; “Turning On, Tuning In, and Dropping Out at the Mountains of Madness” by Ahimsa Kerp, which was absolutely saturated in a sixties milieu that felt almost too fun to belong in a Lovecraft world; and “Transfigured Night” by K.V. Taylor, which effectively used journal entries to ramp up the horror–and I usually stray from that journal entry style.
There are plenty of stories here, ranging from poetic to prurient, and the collection is something I’d highly recommend to any Lovecraft aficionado, as well as those who like stories that offer new twists on old material. I suppose it is much like Lovecraft’s own work, in that it can be easily dismissed by the unfamiliar, but there is a lot more slithering beneath the surface than we might give it credit for. I say give it a chance if you’re feeling adventurous.

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Filed under anthology, Carrie Cuinn, Cthulhu, Cthulhurotica, Dagan Books, erotica, horror, Lovecraft, short stories

Rabid Reads: "Arcane: Issue #1 (Spring 2011)" edited by Nathan Shumate

Arcane: Penny Dreadfuls for the 21st Century Issue #1
edited by Nathan Shumate
Cold Fusion Media Empire (2011)
Available via: Amazon
There is a new dog in the hunt for short horror fiction and its name is Arcane. I finally got a chance to read the inaugural issue, which was made available in late spring. With a subtitle of Penny Dreadfuls for the 21st Century, the tone is made readily apparent, which is a welcome change over some of the ambiguous titles of magazines and other short fiction markets.
Issue #1 contains a brief introduction by its editor, Nathan Shumate, as he lays out the format of the book is irrelevant compared to the subject matter. From there, readers are treated to twelve short stories from various authors. Rather than long established authors, Arcane features new voices, up-and-coming and a couple brand spanking new. As for the horror, there’s a hodgepodge of styles and intensity. Where one story holds nothing back and reveals a visceral scene, another story takes a more lighthearted approach even revealing the absurdity of the situation.
When it comes to the more visceral side of things, there’s Stephen Hill’s “Laundry Night” with its shadowy laundry room in the lower ranks of a condominium. It’s not a splatter-fest, but it’s one of the more–if not the most–graphic stories in the collection. For lighter fare, there’s Tom Wortman’s “Dear Management”, which is told via memos from a new employee to his superiors as he contends with a foul stench in his office. Most stories, however, offer a creepy vibe with varying levels of suspense and intrigue. A couple of my favorites come from Amanda C. Davis, whose “Courting the Queen of Sheba” offers a historical piece set in the early 20th century as a traveling carnival–I’m a sucker for stories involving carnivals and sideshows–and its latest attraction, a mummified corpse heralded as The Queen of Sheba. Another especially enjoyable story was S.M Williams’ “Ricky and the Elder Gods”, which offered two points of view in nearly real time, as one character hunts the other only to have the tables turned midway through the tale.
Like any periodical, it’s a matter of hit-or-miss as you read each story, some resonating more than others, and invariably coming across one or more that fall flat. It’s the nature of the short story collection. For an upstart magazine like Arcane, it’s nice to see one more home for the pulpy goodness that comes from speculative fiction. There’s a nostalgic quality to some of the stories, while others offer a taste of the present. While there isn’t anything within its pages I would say advances the horror genre, the authors highlighted show that they are deftly carving out their own niche with some entertaining spine-tinglers.

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Filed under anthology, Arcane, book review, horror, magazine, penny dreadfuls, pulp, Rabid Reads, short stories

Writing Like Crazy: I’m Not Quite What You’re Looking For

It can be disconcerting at times when you wait for a response from a publisher or periodical, only to wind up falling just short of the mark. They like the story, but it’s simply not quite what they’re looking for.

Ouch. It’s the kind of phrase that stings despite the good will behind it. The story isn’t bad–an editor will have no qualms in telling you that, I figure–but it either isn’t a good enough fit for the magazine or collection, or there is some indefinable piece of the story that is holding it back.

I don’t know, I suppose it’s nothing really. What one person doesn’t accept, another may very well scoop up. It’s like fishing with a gun, the refraction of the water winds up distorting your aim just enough so that you miss that elusive fish. Just gotta adjust my aim and pull the trigger again when the next fish comes around.

Okay, enough of the clumsy aquatic metaphors.

In some happier news, Fearology 2: Beware All Animals Great and Small, is inching its way toward publication through Library of Horror Press. My story, “Walk ‘Em Up,” will appear inside its pages, and I’m really looking forward to reading what everyone else has written.

Here’s a shot of the cover art:

Pretty cool, if you ask me.

In the meantime, I’ve got over a dozen other short stories submitted to various markets. Fingers crossed. And I’ve got more on the way.

Just noticed that the flash fiction market, Everyday Weirdness, seems to have died. Well, I noticed it back in February, but Duotrope made if official, pretty much. Oh well, I had a story submitted there from back in November. Alas, “King Lloyd” will have to try his luck someplace else.

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Filed under Duotrope, Fearology, Library of Horror Press, short stories, Writing Like Crazy

Writing Like Crazy: Multiplying Like Rabbits

After collecting a few more rejections this month I finally hit some pay dirt with a short story submission. Fearology 2, an anthology from Library of Horror Press comprised of animal-themed horror stories, accepted my story “Walk ‘Em Up.”

I had originally intended to submit a story that’s been collecting dust this year that I like, which involves a boy and his dog–and a zombie dog–but I was informed that they wanted to steer clear of zombies and dogs, since they’d been receiving plenty of submissions involving both. So, I had to cook up something else. The suggested story of about a rabid fox didn’t pan out as I attempted a rough draft, so I ditched that and created a little tale with a fluffy little bunny as the animal of choice. After I submitted it, I discovered it was up against 140+ other stories, and my hopeful optimism waned … until I got the e-mail letting me know I made the cut.

The table of contents (viewable on the Library of Horror forum here) for the anthology will include:

  • Running With The Pack – D. K. Latta
  • Cat Food – Joleen Kuyper
  • Walk ‘Em Up – Gef Fox
  • The Monkey’s Sandwich – Craig Saunders
  • Horseman – Renee Carter Hall
  • Alien Registration – James Peak
  • Revenge On Apex Mountain – Michael Hodges
  • What Doesn’t Kill – K. A. Dean
  • Roaches – Amanda Northrup Mays
  • Goats Do Roam – Christopher King
  • Mahishasura – Richard Marsden
  • A Murder Of Crows – Henry Snider
  • Sons Of Gula – R. M. Ridley
  • Canis Finalis – Aaron Legler
  • Feeding Oscar – Donald Jacob Uitvlugt
  • Night Of The Widow – Alex J. Kane
  • Smells Like Neurosis – Kent Alyn
  • Peek-A-Boo – Eric Dimbleby
  • Beastial – Martin Rose
  • Infestation – Tom Harold
  • On The Banks Of The Royal Marsh – Daniel Powell
  • Doctor Dolittle He Ain’t – Wayne Goodchild
  • The Tora Bora Horror – Gregory L. Norris

Side-notes:

– I’ve also capped off the month with a couple more submissions. One to Northern Frights Publishing for their anthology, Fallen: An Anthology of Demonic Horror, and another one to Library of Horror Press for their anthology, Malicious Deviance. Fingers crossed on both of those.

– Next up on the short story plate are about a half-dozen open calls for submissions, with deadlines between mid-September and Halloween. There’s a ghost story anthology from Whitlock Publishing, another anthology from FableCroft, and the second volume of Tattered Souls from Cutting Block Press. I’m hoping to have something suitable to submit to each of those, as well as others.

– I found out from Jodi Lee on the Library of the Living Dead forums that the edits for the impending Dead Bells anthology are coming up soon. That’s good news, as I’m not only excited at the prospect of seeing that book published in the coming months, but I am eager to dive into my contributor’s copy to read all of the other stories as well.

– I’ve been pouring through my contributor’s copy of Zero Gravity from Pill Hill Press and have really been entertained by some of the stories I’ve read so far. A couple of real treats to read have been Peter Freeman’s “A Space Romance” and Alethea Kontis’s “The Unicorn Tree.”

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Filed under acceptances, Fearology, Library of Horror Press, short stories, Writing Like Crazy

"Zero Gravity: Adventures in Deep Space" is Available Now

If you’re interested in science-fiction, particularly short stories, then this schill will be right up your alley.

“The Stand-Ins,” my latest short story to find its way into publication is now available through Pill Hill Press and the new sci-fi anthology, Zero Gravity: Adventures in Deep Space, edited by Alva J. Roberts. Here’s the write-up straight from their site:

This thrilling collection features thirteen fantastic adventures set in the cold vacuum of space. Read about rogues, scoundrels, aliens, robots, heroes, junkers and priests as you explore the rich and creative diversity of the following stories:

  • “Junker’s Fancy” By Rosemary Jones
  • “Leech Run” By Scott W. Baker
  • “A Space Romance” By Paul A. Freeman
  • “Hawking’s Caution” By Mark Rivett
  • “Parhelion” By David Schembri
  • “To Stand Among Kings” By Kenneth Mark Hoover
  • “The Unicorn Tree” By Alethea Kontis
  • “The Beacon of Hope” By Gregory L Norris
  • “Tangwen’s Last Heist” By C.B. Calsing
  • “The Stand-Ins” By Gef Fox
  • “Glacier Castle” By Will Morton
  • “Rescue” By Margaret Karmazin
  • “At One Stride Comes the Dark” By Murray Leeder

I’m pleased to see my first science-fiction story in print, and I’m very much looking forward to reading everyone else’s stories. From what I’ve heard about the other stories, it should prove to be a widely varied colletion of interstellar tales.

Click Here to Puchase From Amazon

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Filed under anthology, Gef Fox, Pill Hill Press, science fiction, short stories, Zero Gravity