Friday, December 23, 2016

Year's Best 2016

I haven't really done a year's best list in the past, just more a running review of the books I've read that I thought were noteworthy. The problem is, while I may buy a lot of books every year, sometimes it's a year or two before I work my way down the pile towards them. And believe me, I have a mega pile of books waiting to be read. Even reading several per week I'll never catch up.

However, with the exception of one book, the following were all released in calendar year 2016, and all very much worth you reading.

Best Novel
The Fireman by Joe Hill
First of all, Joe Hill is not his father. Lets get that out of the way right now. I'm SO tired of people constantly comparing him to Stephen King. Yes, Joe is a brilliant author, and that's where the similarities end. He has his own very distinct style and voice. A talent that has been successful in the comic and graphic novel markets. Is a master of the short story. He's really become one of my favorite new authors. The Fireman is an epic work of survival in a world gone to hell, almost literally. It's about the fragile state of community during a crisis that nobody knows how to fix. About finding love in the most unlikely of places. If you can only manage to read one book this coming year, pick this one up. You just may become a Joe Hill fan, and that can't possibly be a bad thing.

 A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
 This book came out in 2015 but I had to put it on this list because, first, I didn't read it until 2016, and second, I think you need to read it too. It's a brilliant book, and I don't say that lightly. A woman's recollection of the horrors her family is put through as her sister is gripped by a nasty possession while a producer seeks to exploit their terror and crumbling family for the television audience.  It's a gripping book, one you won't be able to put aside for a minute.

Best Short Story Anthology
Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories edited by Doug Murano & Alexander Ward
 I've blogged about this collection before, and for good reason. It's one of the best short horror story collections I've read. This book is full of some of the best talent out there; Barker, Gaiman, Campbell, Lucia...and many more. Plus, the interior artwork by Luke Spooner is as breathtaking as the tales themselves. This is a must read for all short story lovers, horror lovers, or anyone who simply loves great storytelling.

Greetings From Moon Hill by Anthony J. Rapino
 Expanded from the former e-book only 'Welcome To Moon Hill', this reincarnation is an amazing collection of stories centered around the mysterious eastern Pennsylvania village of Moon Hill, where nothing is as it seems, and dark things lurk in the shadows. I've been waiting year for this to be available in print form, and the work Tony Rapino and Tod Keisling put into this has made it well worth it. Backers to the project received varied extras, such as a map of Moon Hill, exclusive sculptures and more. The writing is not only amazing, but the presentation and layout is second to none.

Best Novella 
Detritus In Love by Mercedes Yardley & John Boden
 I don't read a lot of novellas. But, because Mercedes was involved in this one, well, I just had to. And I have to say, it's a wonderfully bizarre love story. This book swept me up in a world beyond the light and into the dusty realm of forgotten places. I don't know what words to use to describe it. If you're at all familiar with Mercedes' writing, you will understand. This is the first time for me reading Boden, but the book and storytelling is seamless. Dark and lovely and strange. I urge you to pick it up.

Best Horror Magazine Issue
Cemetery Dance #74/75
 I read a lot of horror magazines, mainly for the exclusive short stories they contain. Magazines such as Cemetery Dance, Black Static, Dark Discoveries, Gamut, and many more. And while I have a certain loyalty to CD because I've read it longer than all the others combined, I don't have a particular favorite. They're all excellent reads, every issue. However, CD's special double issue 74/75 was above and beyond fantastic. Not only did it contain a great interview with Joe Hill, and a new Hill short story that will blow you away, but the rest of the issue was literally jam packed with amazing stories, reviews and more. Pick this issue up! It will get you hooked on a magazine I have loved for many years now.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

A disturbing tale of Halloween.

 Prop Man 
Guy Medley
Artwork by Jimmy Boring

About two years ago I started to write a short Halloween story to put on the blog. For some reason, most likely laziness, I never completed it and it lay forgotten in a notebook. So, this year, as Halloween approached, I remembered it and dug it up and made a few changes and decided to finally post it. It's not spectacular, or particularly good, just a weird, somewhat humorous tale of holiday decorating gone perhaps a bit too far, depending on one's particular tastes in such things. I hope you enjoy it, and maybe get a little chuckle out of it.

Gunther had worked feverishly the past week, setting-up and perfecting every little detail of the Halloween display that had slowly transformed his meticulously manicured front lawn into a necropolis of unimaginable horrors.

Still, there was much more that needed done yet, and time was quickly running out. The judges would be by tonight to evaluate and score his hard work, and this year he was certain he would take the top prize for best display. He had worked tirelessly, put many months of painstaking planning and effort into it. He just had to win. He was determined he would.

Gunther looked out through the large picture window at his work so far, only to witness a handful of thieving crows atop his centerpiece, missing the irony it being a scarecrow. They went about happily plucking delectable eyes from the holes of the masked corpse, trailing optic nerves wiggling free from their sockets like groups of long bloody worms.

“Oh, you little bastards!” he yelled, running for the door. Gunther flew from the porch, arms waving furiously, scaring the vile creatures off, fearing they had ruined his wide-eyed scarecrow and any chance he might have had at winning first prize.

 Gunther thoroughly  inspected the damage to the figure, which stood proud and impaled upon a blood slicked post, front and center facing out toward the street. He was relieved to find the scavenging crows had in fact, if anything, improved upon the look he was striving for. Newly dislodged chunks of gore dangled from ragged eye holes between the battered and frayed burlap mask, giving the totem a new sense of wicked blight. He liked it. No, he absolutely loved it!

He raised a friendly hand into the crisp autumn air, saluting his new carrion eating friends, who still circled high overhead, no doubt eyeing other prospective meals from neighboring sections of his yard display. Perhaps taking a newfound fancy toward the neatly de-skinned gentleman that hung festively from the corner oak tree on an oversized and rusty meat hook.

Gunther went about his preparations with military-like precision. No detail, no matter how slight or seemingly insignificant, went unnoticed, unattended to.

The yard was festooned with a plethora of Jack-O-Lanterns that Gunther had made himself, lovingly hollowing out dozens of skulls. He lit candles within each one, the flickering light dancing playfully about, glowing a beautiful sunset red through the voided eye sockets.

From the depths of the basement, he carefully carried up his old woman corpse. She was his oldest, most fragile piece, having dried to a delicate dusty shell that smelled like nutmeg and old leather shoes. She was his favorite, so grandmotherly in appearance and smell. He supposed she very well could have been, most likely had been, someone’s grandmother at one time. But now she was his, and during Halloween she had always taken on the roll once again for children all over the neighborhood. Gunther set her in a creaky old rocker on the front porch, leaving the lattice work of a year’s worth of spiders webs intact to complete the look. He fluffed up the ancient lace collar of her dress, picking away the stray strands of brittle grey hair that tangled in the pattern, fixing what was left of the hair that still clung in a tight bun to the dry skin of her scalp. She had always been the perfect prop to use as candy distributer. Gunther placed a large silver bowl full of treats in her bony lap and gingerly contorted her dry brittle fingers so that they appeared to be grasping the sides. Her eyes had long since sunk and withered to dust, deep grey wrinkles taking their place like puckered lips, as if her eyes were now smiling.

Gunther had filled the silver bowl, like always, with his best Halloween treats, relishing the sound they made as they plopped against the cool metal. Candied eyes, caramel coated fingers, brightly colored kidney balls, and of course his favorite, chocolate toffee stuffed tongues. It was a festive treat bowl if he ever saw one. The trick-or-treaters would no doubt swarm his house once word got around tonight.

Just as Gunther was inspecting the last of his work, approaching footsteps echoed along the sidewalk, crunching through dry leaves. From the darkness appeared five well-dressed individuals who stepped up to his front gate sporting wide smiles each. The judges had arrived.

Gunther was all smiles, ear to ear, as the judges ooh’d and ahh’d over his yard displays, commenting over and over again at how incredibly life-like everything was. They praised his custom Jack-O-Lantern skulls and their uniqueness, and were especially pleased with the masked scarecrow centerpiece, looming over it all. It looked as if his hard work and perseverance was going to finally pay-off.

One of the judges let out a shrill scream, followed by nervous laughter. “Sorry,” she said. “It just moved and brushed against my leg. Very effective.”

 Gunther looked quizzically at the object in question, a twisted corpse rising half out of a burial plot. The corpse, which obviously now seemed wasn’t a corpse at all,  moved again, twitching a bloody arm, its fingers raking through the grass. As he approached it let out a soft, exasperated moan. It was ruining his display and he was none too pleased and morbidly embarrassed.

“Excuse me,” Gunther said, mortified by this most unfortunate oversight. He grabbed hold of an axe that was lodged firmly into the torso of a young girl laid atop a fake boulder, and with a grunt pulled it free and returned to the twitching grave corpse.

 With the axe raised high over his head, Gunther brought it down swiftly, forcefully, and repeatedly with maniacal determination, slicing into the corpse’s back with bone crunching whumps. Blood and gore flew about in a widening arc, covering himself as well as the five judges, who all gasped in wide-eyed unison. Intestines oozed out from the corpse’s gaping mouth, and alas the cursed thing twitched no more.

The now bloodied judges stood frozen in place, silent, looking at the axe now buried to the hilt in what little remained of the grave crawling corpse. And, as if a switch had been thrown, they all simultaneously began to applaud and cheer, elated in the efforts Gunther had endured to deliver such a realistic and original interactive yard display. Smiles erupted from faces running and dripping with blood.

“This is a first rate display,” said one judge as he wiped away blood from his forehead.

“First prize without a doubt,” said another.

Gunther beamed with pride, his first place ribbon pinned proudly to the front of his gore splattered shirt, and he began thinking about the Christmas display he had planned.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Pairing Your Books With Beer

Lets face it, regardless of what some hoity toity blogger says, beer pairs about the same with any food. IPA, stout, lager, wheat....they all go equally well with a burger and steak. They're not fooling anyone. But how does one go about pairing their fine collection of heavenly suds with a book, you might ask? Well, as with anything, tastes will vary, so this is only my personal preferences, and only pertain to horror fiction. The list would be much longer if I included sci-fi, which may be another post in the future. This was a difficult task, seeing as my taste in beers is always maturing, and is far from the mainstream, as is most of my reading materials. You may have your own preferences, and if so, I'd greatly appreciate hearing what they are.

 Imperial Stout
This dark, rich, full bodied beer pairs well with straight up horror. It's warm and cozy and comforting when you're sitting in your favorite chair and enjoying some truly horrific tale. There are many great imperial stouts available today, such as Narwhal by Sierra Nevada Brewing.

 Chocolate Porter
Chocolate porters and chocolate stouts tend to pair well with classic subtle horror such as the many brilliant works of Bradbury. I don't know if the smooth, creamy texture somehow compliments the work, or vise versa, but it seems to work really well together.

 Blond & Pale Ale
A crisp, clean American style ale is what I turn to when reading a good mystery. There's something that links that satisfying freshness with intrigue and suspense. A heavier beer will bog you down with this kind of book. 

For intense horror, one needs an intense beer. A beer that delivers a mega punch to the gut, much like the type of horror it pairs best with. If blood and guts is your thing in fiction, then you need a drink that delivers the purest essence of what makes a beer a beer, and I can think of no other style that meets that standard than an IPA.

The classic wheat beer is one of those beers that, realistically, will pair nicely with just about any type of book. Well, maybe not romance novels, but everything else. A nice wheat with a bit of fruit brewed into it, I think pairs best with more whimsical fiction, or even dark fantasy.

Yes, I put Guinness in it's own class, I like it that much. And frankly, there isn't anything I can't read with a Guinness by my side. But, if I had to choose, I'd say it pairs best with speculative fiction. It's dark and mysterious, which lends well to a segment of fiction that has the same qualities. In fact, I'm enjoying one even as I type this.


The Short Story Junky Early Summer Edition

It's been a while since I last posted anything from the Short Story Junky. In fact, since the last time, I've probably read well over 5,000 short stories, as I tend to read a dozen or more daily. So, this is by no means a comprehensive listing, but rather what I have read over the last month that I thought was noteworthy. Honestly, this collection of five books of shorts is perhaps the finest gathering of shorts I have read in quite a while. There's not a bad one in the bunch and I highly, highly recommend any, or better yet, ALL of these books to you. I'll keep the reviews to a bare bones minimum, because I'd rather you form your own opinions on them.

Everything You Need by Michael Marshall Smith.
Maybe the best collection of single author short fiction I have read aside from Bradbury. I wouldn't say it's horror fiction, but perhaps bizarre fiction. Subtle hints of the strange. If you like Ramsey Campbell, you'll like this. Every story has a way of slowly inserting the reader deeply into the story, and then twisting it to the hilt. If you don't have it in you to read any of the other books on this list, I say you owe it to yourself to at least read this one. You won't regret it.

Madhouse edited by Brad C. Hodson & Benjamin Kane Ethridge.
Madhouse is a shared world anthology, meaning it's full of short stories that all center around a central theme and setting. That setting being, of course, a madhouse. I love this book. Not only are there dozens of great authors contributing their little pieces of madness, but the illustrations that accompany each one by artist Aeron Alfrey are amazingly creepy. This is a true horror collection and is brilliantly done.

North American Lake Monsters by Nathan Ballingrud.
Another single author anthology that will not disappoint. It always amazes me how often I'll find a collection of stories by an author I've never heard of before and think to myself, why haven't I been reading this person's stuff until now? I very much enjoyed every story in this collection and will be looking for more of his work in the future, as I hope you will as well.

Robbed of Sleep, Vol 4 edited by Troy Blackford.
Anybody that reads this blog, all three of you, knows I'm a fan of this series by author and editor Troy Blackford. But I have to say, in my opinion, volume 4 is the best collection in this ongoing series so far. There are some really strange, weird, and fun stories within these pages. I never know what I'm going to read with these books, and to me, that's part of their appeal.

Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories edited by Doug Murano & D. Alexander Ward.
This is one of those anthologies that I know will become a classic. I felt privileged to have had the opportunity to proof read the original manuscript for Crystal Lake Publishing, to have read the words of some truly great authors whose work makes up this book. I can't wait for this collection to come to print. There is no link associated with this yet, as it's still in the process of being published. I'll be sure to add it when available, because this is a book all fans of horror fiction need on their shelf.
**Gutted is now available for pre-order at Amazon! Click the title above**

Monday, May 9, 2016

Mental Ward: Experiments

My short story, "Dread Pink" is available in the just released horror anthology "Mental Ward: Experiments" published by the great folks over at Sirens Call Publications, and is available in e-book format for your Kindle, or in print at Amazon CreateSpace.

I'm pretty excited to be included in this book. My contribution is probably my favorite horror story I have written to date. There are some weird crazy twists involved, and as the reader, I'm hoping you're left wondering what exactly happened. If nothing else, it'll make you question your own sanity next time you go visit your doctor.

I hope you're able to pick up a copy of this book and help support a wonderful small press. Remember to write a review on Amazon, even if it's just a few words. It makes a huge difference. And feel free to let me know what you think of 'Dread Pink' or anything I've written for that matter. Writing is a lonely business, so feedback, be it good or bad, is most welcome.

Monday, March 28, 2016

An Easter tale to delight!

This is yet another unfinished, unedited story, one I had started years ago and then put aside for some reason. It's just a gory, vile, silly little thing, but was fun to write. Yeah, I know, I'm late, as Easter has come and gone.

Adam lay beside Racheal, tucked snuggly into the sleeping bag, a single green LED camp light casting a soft glow within their tent. The rhythmic chirping of early spring desert crickets was interrupted with the less that rhythmic grunts and moans coming from the adjacent tent, where Brian and Leslie were well within a make-out session, the second such endeavor since the foursome retired to their tents that night.

                “God, I hope we don’t sound that stupid when we do it,” Rachel said, eliciting a mutual laugh as they stared up at the tent canvas, unable to put the commotion out of earshot or mind.

                Deciding he might as well partake in the action, Adam leaned over and kissed Racheal, softly at first, and then more deeply. He moved his hand to her warm body and cupped her right breast, feeling its smooth warm roundness. He could feel her nipple hardening against his palm, goosebumps piling up along her firm body as they both became more aroused. He worked up the courage to slide his hand further down her quivering body, to her stomach and then her hips and then-

                Racheal’s body spasmed violently, jerked up, arching her back. She coughed abruptly, covering Adam’s face in a hot sticky mess. He pulled back and wiped his face with the back of his hand. It was covered in thick blood that dripped onto his chest and ran down to his elbow.

                “Jesus, Rach….you ok?” He started to bend back towards her when she wretched upwards again, her right breast exploding in a volcano of blood and gore. Fuck, that could have been his hand just seconds ago, was all he could think at that instant. The gaping hole where her perfect breast had been just seconds earlier, filled with a blood marred white furry rabbit, its razor sharp teeth gnashing madly in the green light.

                Adam fell back, screaming, scrambling to remove himself from the confines of the sleeping bag, trying desperately to flee the tent and the terrors within. Just as he finally freed his legs and began his frantic search for the flap zipper, Racheal’s face exploded as another bunny burst through her head. Brains and shattered skull rained against the inside of the tent and Adam in clumps of viscus goo.

                Adam escaped the tent, nearly toppling it in the process and stumbled towards the fire pit that had burned itself down to mellow coals. Puffs of dust filled the desert night all around him as more and more of the terrible little white bunnies sprung from the dry land, their insane teeth clicking and clacking hungrily.

                He turned toward the other tent and saw Brian’s body sprawled in the dirt just paces from its opened flaps, three large bloody holes blown through his twisted torso. Each hole filled with a small white bunny head that turned and inspected him with dastardly pink eyes.

                Brian and Leslie’s tent stirred, shifted violently. Adam watched in horrified fascination as Leslie stumbled from within, a gaping wound torn through her side flowing with an impossible amount of blood, shattered rib bones protruding like storm damaged branches. She make it only a few steps beyond the tent and collapsed beside Brian, her head bouncing in the sand sending up a cloud of dry dust.

                Adam started towards her, but before he can move his legs, Leslie’s back erupted with dual bunny tunnels, and he fell back, stumbling drunkenly almost falling into the smoldering fire pit, before regaining balance and fleeing blindly into the darkened desert night.

                Against whatever improbable odds he faced during his escape, Brian found himself a few hours later seated in the sheriff’s office facing an amused looking deputy sipping coffee from a paper cup.

                “So, you say these little white bunnies just popped up out of the ground and ate your friends?”

                “They didn’t eat them,” Adam explained. “They popped right through them, right from the ground.”

                The deputy eyed him suspiciously. “You been drinking?”

                They had been drinking, but Adam felt more sober than he had ever felt in his entire life right then. Terrified beyond rational thought, but sober nonetheless. Not getting a satisfactory answer from Adam, the deputy decided he’d just have a look himself, just in case something weird was going on. It was a slow night anyways. Maybe a little entertainment was in order.

                From the back of the cruiser Adam directed the deputy to the scene. He didn’t need to be told to stay in the car, despite the deputy’s instruction to do so. He wasn’t getting out for anything. The deputy stepped from the cruiser, clicking on his powerful flashlight and sweeping the area, freezing in place almost instantly.

                “Holy mother of fuck!” he said, taking in the grisly scene before him. He had seen plenty of horrible messed-up shit during his deployment to Iraq, but nothing quite like what he was seeing now. Blood pooled the dirt like entrances to dark caverns. Intestines uncoiled from the ruined destroyed bodies. Bones splintered and broken sprung like dead forests through flesh and around ragged holes bored through the victims. It was like seeing the destruction from a grenade at close quarters, but worse. Much worse he thought.

                “Fuck, get back in here, man,” Adam whispered as he watched the deputy take in all the horror. He realized he was trapped, locking in the rear of the car, away from the radio and guns and any form of help. He was about to yell out to the deputy to return to the safety of the car when a sudden burst of dust erupted and a bunny catapulted right up the deputy’s ass and exited through his neck, splattering the cruiser’s windshield with blood.

                Adam recoiled, slumping as far into the seat as he could, as the hollowed body of the deputy fell to the ground. It was then that he saw something new amongst the gore and brutal remains. Colorful eggs sat cradled within the remains of Brian and Racheal, almost festive looking if not for the stinking nest in which they were placed.

                As he stared at the eggs, bewildered, he noticed they were changing. One by one they begin to crack and split open, their insides not as wonderfully colorful as their outsides. No, the insides were dark and menacing. And then something beyond the previous horrors of the night emerged from each, and Adam screamed as his mind severed its cord with sanity.