Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sunday Supplement 3/27/11

If you remember the first generation low-tech video game The Oregon Trail, check out The Organ Trail. Forget dysentery, busted wagon wheels, and buffalo meat for breakfast... here there be ZOMBIES.

Looking forward to the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie? While you're waiting, check out the eBook of Cast in Dark Waters by Ed Gorman and Tom Piccirilli. This one's got pirates, zombies, and vampires, and I had a blast reading it one summer afternoon a few years ago. Forget Johnny Depp, Cast in Dark Waters is as much fun as a great old school Maureen O'Hara pirate movie, and my only complaint about it is that it wasn't a couple hundred pages longer.

3o Days of Night returns to comics, with Joe R. Lansdale writing. Oh, yeah.

It's been raining here for weeks. Last week I spotted drowned worms floating in the swamped lawns at work. Then I made the mistake of listening to a podcast of Orrin Grey's "The Worm That Gnaws." Man. That's a double-shot of creepy, right there.

Yes. It really is a horror movie.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Best Horror 3 Cover

Editor Ellen Datlow posted the cover for her forthcoming Night Shade anthology, The Best Horror of the Year, Volume 3. This one includes my novella, "Lesser Demons," and it'll be out this June. As always with Ellen's books, I'm looking forward to this one as a reader (and this time out, as a contributor, too).

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Boycott Dorchester

If you're a horror reader -- and especially if you're a lover of paperback originals -- you need to check out former Leisure author Brian Keene's post here. Many of your favorite writers are currently trudging through this mire, and I'm not stretching the metaphor to say they've got a pack of lagoon creatures clawing their backsides (and apparently their wallets, too).

My advice to you? Let your conscience be your guide.

My advice to the folks at Dorchester? DO THE RIGHT THING.

Crucified Dreams (And Author Bios)

Just got my contributor's copy of this new Joe Lansdale anthology, featuring my tale "The Mojave Two-Step." Also spotted a new review of same over at Horror World, spotlighting "Mojave" for praise. Nice way to start the morning.

I've got to admit I'm one of those readers who always flips to the author bios before I start reading an antho. I just can't help myself. I'm the same with story notes. Best unknown tidbit in Crucified Dreams so far: Noir master Tom Piccirilli apparently co-authored a book of lit crit called Deconstructing Tolkein... which makes me wonder what other secrets Pic's been hiding from me. C'mon, Tommy. Give 'em up, and while you're at it answer this question for me: Who'd win in a fight between Aragorn and Robert Mitchum?

My own bio takes a little bit of a wrong turn, though. It puts me on the map as a San Francisco guy, but I'm born and bred in the North Bay (Vallejo), now living over the hill from Oakland in Lafayette. In other words, I'm not a big city guy. I need some hills around. We've still got a few of those here. We even have a few cows on 'em. About five miles from my house there's a redwood grove that makes you feel like you're a couple hundred miles up the coast, somewhere between Eureka and Crescent City. And last year I spotted a coyote while out on a walk. All that works for me just fine.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Mr. Gaunt Meets The October Boy

A couple scans from one of my favorite books in my personal library, John Langan's masterful collection Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters. This drawing just gives me another reason to be jealous of my talented buddy Mr. Langan. I wish I could draw cool cartoons like John, but (as those of you who've bought my signed editions know) I can barely scrawl my name.

In fact, every time Tia hears me at work with my squealing Pentel Sign Pen, she always says: "Are you making the mark of Zorro on the dining room table, or are you signing sig sheets again?"

Sunday, March 20, 2011

This Goes Double For Writers (Part 2)

"Jack [Elam] did a nice piece of work for director Sam Peckinpah in the 1973 Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid. (He gets gunned down by Kris Kristofferson's Bill Bonney.) Peckinpah's drinking was legend around Hollywood. When William Holden died after hitting his head on a coffee table and bled to death in 1982, Peckinpah said, 'It isn't the booze that gets us, it's the goddamned coffee tables. Get rid of the coffee tables.' Sam once said to Lee Marvin, when they were drunk, 'I hate all actors.' To which Lee replied, "All actors do.'"

--Burt Kennedy
Hollywood Trail Boss
Boulevard Books, 1997

Saturday, March 19, 2011

This Goes Double For Writers

Jack Elam had this great bit about the arc of an actor's career:
  1. Who is Jack Elam?
  2. Get me Jack Elam.
  3. Get me a Jack Elam.
  4. Get me a young Jack Elam.
  5. Who is Jack Elam?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Man With The Barbed-Wire Eye-Patch

Up here, people come out of nowhere.

That's the way they disappear, too.

And that's the way it was with Patch. He showed up in town one day in a pickup that was more rust than Detroit steel. Stopped at my diner for a piece of Saskatoon berry pie. That's where I met him. Saskatoon berry pie is my specialty. See, I'm a Canuck, misplaced by a border and a thousand miles. Don't like this state. Don't like this town. Don't like this diner. But work is work, so I stick to my pie and my business. Meaning: I stick to the two things I know best, even if all the dollars in this country are as green as raccoon shit and look exactly the same. Me, I like my money with queens on it, and just a little bit of color that might have bled out of a Union Jack.

Anyway, back to pie. Patch ate one slice of Saskatoon, then another. Then one more to grow on. Three cups of coffee to chase down every one of 'em. Regular, not unleaded. Black. Hot. You top off a guy's cup that many times, you notice a few things about him. But the main thing I noticed about this guy was the patch. You couldn't miss that. It was a hunk of black leather with a Special Forces insignia on it, and it was cinched around his skull with what looked like a braid of barbed-wire.

"That rubber?" I asked.

"No," he said.

I shrugged. Couldn't figure why a guy'd walk the earth with a prickly-pear Jesus hatband cinched around his skullcap, but it really wasn't my business one way or another. So I didn't ask, and he didn't tell.

He had other things on his mind. "Any work around here?"

I thought about that (as a businessman), but just for a second. I needed a dishwasher, but not a guy like this. There was more to it than the barbed-wire patch. His other eye bounced around in the socket like the black plug of an exclamation point. Made you wonder what thoughts were firing back there in his brain-pan. Plus, it seemed like the only reason he blinked now and then was that he figured it might be fun to flip that wild iris off his eyeball like a Tiddly-Wink and watch it roll across the counter. As for the rest of him, everything below the eye was kind of squared-off. Like something Jack Kirby would have drawn back in the day. Picture the Thing if he'd never moved out of those sewers where he hung his hat back in Fantastic Four #1. Except this guy wasn't orange and made out of rocks.

"Still with me?" Patch asked. "Any work around here?"

"Nothing much," I said, totaling his check and trading it for the empty coffee cup. "But there's a cannery about ten miles south, roosting out on a little peninsula. You can't miss it. Seems like you might fit in there just fine."

* * *

Scrape the varnish off those words and they were only half a lie. Meaning: No one who could fit in anywhere else came to this particular stretch of nowhere, even if the law was nipping at his ass like a starving Kodiak. But that was exactly the kind of guy who ended up working at the cannery. One kind, anyway. The other was the kind of guy who didn't think or talk much about what happened out on that little finger of land... the kind of guy who'd already lived there all his life, and whose granddaddy had lived and worked at the cannery same way as his granddaddy before him.

Turn off what passed for the main road and you'd end up on couple miles of two-lane blacktop that led out to the place, jutting a little bit south along that peninsula so that the stretch of road had about as much twist as the wrung neck of a chicken. Along the way there were trailers, some occupied by the old-timers, some by stragglers like Patch who'd ducked in for a buck and a breather in a corner of the world where no one was likely to find them.

That's the way the place worked a hundred years ago, and that's the way it worked until the end. About halfway down the two-lane you ran into a gate, and a guy with hammerhead eyes would give you a look and either wave you through or tell you to hit the bricks. Hey, it was quicker than filling out a job application. Seemed to work just as well, too.

The guard must have waved Patch through when he showed up. Past the gates. Past the security cams someone had mounted way back when in the eighties, snaked with coaxial cables that connected to not so state of the art Toshiba VHS decks manufactured when a guy named Reagan was still in the White House.

Not that I cared about any of that. I didn't think about the cannery or Patch for damn near a month after he paid for his coffee and shambled out of the diner.

Then, one night, he showed up again.

I'll never forget the look of him.

I'll never forget the things he said, either.

* * *

You probably never worked in a cannery. You do that for any amount of time, you learn one thing quick -- everything cinched up inside a fish is already dead. Couldn't stink so bad if it wasn't. You breathe that smell day in and day out, you cut it up and gut it and stick your fingers in what's left, you work double-shifts and fifteen-day stretches, and it puts your mind in a different place. A pink, meaty place. A place where the only thing you hear is the soft whisper of a blade, and a hundred black fins cutting water somewhere south of Davey Jones' locker.

Over the years, I'd seen plenty of guys walk into the diner who had nothing much left in their heads but those sounds. Every one of them looked a month past dead. Only words that would pass their lips was their order. Then they'd sit alone with those whispers, and eat, and pay, and leave.

As bad as any of them looked, Patch looked worse on the night he showed up for the last time. He came in and sat down at the counter. It was way past late. He was the only customer. Sweat on his brow, and little flecks of blood around that barbed-wire strap. He ordered a piece of Saskatoon berry pie but just picked at it with his fork. He looked kind of sick, in places that couldn't get better.

"That thing was full of eggs," he said finally, picking at his pie. "They looked just like these berries."

"What thing?"

"The thing they brought in on the black trawler."

"What are you talking about?"

He just sat there, staring at me with that Tiddly-Wink eyeball of his. Looking at me like I was stupid, like he wanted to flip his eye right over my head.

I don't mind telling you: It made me a little nervous.

A couple minutes later, Patch set down his fork without taking a single bite.

"They had gills," he said. "The people who worked at the cannery."

I didn't say a word, just slid the plate away from him.

"Most of them did, anyway."

He smiled, the fork in his hand again, digging the tines into the empty counter between us.

It scratched across the surface, carving little trenches.

"Gills," he said. "That's what they had. And that's why I killed them all."

* * *

Of course, I figured Patch was crazy. Watched him stumble out the door, into the night. Heard his rustbucket truck start up. Figured he'd pile himself into a tree before he made it a mile down the road. And maybe that would have been the best thing that could have happened to him.


Because it wasn't long before I started hearing the stories. Folks talking about a black trawler they'd seen cruising past the docks at night, heading for the cannery with nets slung low and heavy like they were heaped with dead babies. That got under my skin, dug in down there and curled up with Patch and his scraping fork. And one afternoon I mentioned the whole thing to a State Trooper, who decided to head out to the cannery and ask some questions about Patch.

What he found there... well, he found plenty. Dead bodies. Blood on the floor. The remains of something that stunk worse than a million dead salmon. Something that was filled with eggs.

Of course, no one believes much of that. I wouldn't, either. Except that Trooper was a friend of mine. He got hold of those VHS tapes from the surveillance system at the cannery. Shoved them in one night when we were sharing a bottle. And that made it one night where one bottle was not enough.

Because Patch did his work, all right. We saw it all on those tapes. He worked on those gill-men who'd run the cannery for generations. And he worked on the thing they unloaded from the black trawler -- the thing that made those misfits drop to their knees and cough up a bunch of words that seemed like they'd be right at home in the mouth of a fish, the thing that was full of eggs as dark and shiny as jellied blood.

Patch did his work and then some. With knife, with gun, with hands that might as well have been claws. I saw it on television. I know it happened. But that wasn't the end of it.

Because when he was done, Patch got busy. He worked beneath the soft whisper of a blade, and the sound of a hundred black fins cutting water somewhere south of Davey Jones' locker. He worked on man and monster and things that lay between. He worked from night until morning and back again.

And everything he'd killed, he canned.

* * *

And who knows what happened to Patch after that? I don't. Not for sure, anyway, but I've heard stories. The one I like best came from my State Trooper buddy. A friend of his had a hookup with some colonel in Special Forces who heard a story about a guy with a barbed-wire eye-patch who ended up in Arizona. Guy said he'd never leave the desert. Said he didn't want to be anywhere near the ocean ever again. The way my buddy told the story, the guy would yank a pistol if he so much as heard a toilet flush.

Maybe that was Patch and maybe it wasn't. Either way, I think about him sometimes. Early mornings, late at night... mostly when I'm spooning a filling of dark berries into a raw crust. I think of those black eggs in the belly of that dead thing I saw on television, and I imagine Patch out there somewhere in the desert. Under a moon, sitting in the back of that rusty pickup, a dry wind blowing up from Mexico whistling through the pockmarked bumper. He's got a can in one hand and a grapefruit spoon in the other, and a hundred empty cans are scattered in the sand dunes behind him from a hundred nights that came before, and there isn't a lake or a puddle anywhere within a hundred miles. He's staring up at the stars as the serrated tip of that spoon does its work, cutting the tightly packed meat inside, sliding it bite by bite into his mouth.

Chewing. Remembering. Then chewing some more.

For more tales from The Secret Life of Laird Barron... click here.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Year's Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2011

Paula Guran has slapped a Cthulhu-sized bear-trap on "Lesser Demons,"grabbing the tale for The Year's Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2011. In my book that's good news times two, because Ellen Datlow chose the same novella for her own Best Horror of the Year compilation just a few weeks ago.

Conclusion? I guess I should write stories about monster-killing sociopathic sheriffs more often.

Here's the complete TOC for Ms. G's anthology:

  • How Bria Died, Michael Aronovitz (Weird Tales #356)
  • Frumpy Little Beat Girl, Peter Atkins (Rolling Darkness Revue 2010)
  • The Broadsword, Laird Barron (Black Wings)
  • Thimbleriggery and Fledglings, Steve Berman (The Beastly Bride)
  • The Dog King, Holly Black (The Poison Eaters and Other Stories)
  • Tragic Life Stories, Steve Duffy (Tragic Life Stories)
  • The Thing About Cassandra, Neil Gaiman (Songs Of Love And Death, Tales Of Star-Crossed Love)
  • He Said, Laughing, Simon R. Green (Living Dead 2)
  • Hurt Me, M.L.N. Hanover (Songs Of Love And Death, Tales Of Star-Crossed Love)
  • Oaks Park, M.K. Hobson (Haunted Legends)
  • Crawlspace, Stephen Graham Jones (The Ones That Got Away)
  • Red as Red, CaitlĂ­n R. Kiernan (Haunted Legends)
  • Mother Urban’s Booke of Dayes, Jay Lake (Dark Faith)
  • A Thousand Flowers, Margo Lanagan (Zombies vs. Unicorns)
  • Are You Trying To Tell Me This Is Heaven? Sarah Langan (Living Dead 2)
  • The Stars Are Falling, Joe R. Lansdale (Stories)
  • Sea Warg, Tanith Lee (Full Moon City)
  • The Mystery Knight, George R.R. Martin (Warriors)
  • The Naturalist, Maureen McHugh (Subterranean Magazine, Spring 2010)
  • Raise Your Hand If You’re Dead, John Shirley (Dark Discoveries #17)
  • Lesser Demons, Norman Partridge (Black Wings/Lesser Demons)
  • Parallel Lines, Tim Powers (Stories)
  • The Moon Will Look Strange, Lynda E. Rucker (Black Static #16)
  • You Dream, Ekaterina Sedia (Dark Faith)
  • Red Blues, Michael Skeet (Evolve)
  • Brisneyland at Night, Angela Slatter (Sprawl)
  • Malleus, Incus, Stapes, Sarah Totton (Fantasy Magazine, 20 December 2010)
  • The Return, S.D. Tullis (Null Immortalis)
  • The Dire Wolf, Genevieve Valentine (Running With the Pack)
  • The Things, Peter Watts (Clarkesworld, January 2010)
  • Bloodsport, Gene Wolfe (Swords & Dark Magic)

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Fishing Expedition

Was trading emails with my buddy Tom Piccirilli late last night about Hollywood. Most of the time, it's a real longshot proposition for writers, and if you develop any kind of career you end up getting lots of nibbles that don't go anywhere. Especially if you get a good review in a high-profile venue -- say a starred review in Publishers Weekly -- you're going to hear from people. Of course, most of the time nothing happens. It's just a fishing expedition, or (to mix my metaphors) Hollywood's way of checking your literary pulse.

Still, it's hard not to get excited. Or amused. I remember the first nibble I ever got, for my novel Slippin' Into Darkness. It came from Dick Clark Productions, and I'm sure the only reason they wrote me was because they figured they'd be able to clock a whole bunch of seventies hits into a movie with that title and ramp it up. But man, when I heard from them I slapped a copy of Slippin' in a FedEx envelope and sent it off double-quick. God knows what they made of it when they ripped open the envelope and took a look... though every once in awhile I like to imagine Mr. American Bandstand himself sitting there reading my tale of dead cheerleaders, grave-robbers, insomniac cops, and ghosts. Now there's a picture to contemplate.

Needless to say, I never heard another word from Dick. Oh, and the FedEx thing? That was a lesson learned too. Ed Gorman taught me that one. He told me: "Every time you hear from someone in Hollywood, they'll want you to FedEx them a book. Just tell them you'll be happy to do that, and ask for their account number. Or send 'em to Amazon. Even better."

Thursday, March 10, 2011

On Dangerous Ground

This anthology of western noir is coming soon from editors Ed Gorman, Dave Zeltserman, and Martin H. Greenberg courtesy of the fine folks at Cemetery Dance. My story "Durston" is included, and it's in dangerous company. You can check out the full Table of Contents over at the Cemetery Dance site.

A few words about the tale itself: On rare occasions, lightning strikes. This was one of them. Ace writer/editor Ed Gorman asked me for a hardboiled western with a brutal, noirish bent, and the opening of "Durston" came to me as soon as I sat down at the computer. From there it was a race to type fast enough to tell the story without forgetting any of it. Even better, "Durston" was one of those stories that hit the page at final-draft quality. I wish every story went like that. I'd wear out a lot more keyboards if they did.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Locus on "Vampire Lake"

"Vampire Lake" has snagged Lois Tilton's Good Story Award in her latest Short Fiction column over at Locus. In part, Tilton says of my forthcoming novella in Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy 2: "This is it. In many anthologies there is a standout story, one that readers will always recall when the book comes to mind. ["Vampire Lake"] is the longest, darkest tale in the book, a dark dark fantasy in the Western mode... There is more than spatter here, there is hemorrhage. There is horror."

Tilton also makes an interesting point about the Weird Western, writing that it's a subgenre which "not only tolerates but encourages hyperbole and highly-colored language." Which, in truth, is one of the major attractions for me. Stories like "Vampire Lake," "Durston" (in Lesser Demons), and "The Bars on Satan's Jailhouse" were flatout fun to write, allowing me to bust off the cinches more than a little bit and go for it.

I like that... and it's just one reason I'll be writing more Weird Westerns.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Happy Birthday, Frankie!

Today is American Frankenstein's first birthday... and all I can say is, "Wow. Time really does fly when you're having fun."

Thanks to Kevin Nordstrom for (yet another) boss illo, and thanks to all of you for tuning in to the blog. Here's hoping you'll keep on clicking over in the year to come. After all, that's what puts the jolt to this particular monster... so thanks for the lightning, one and all.

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Man's Got To Know His Limitations

I've often wished I was a faster writer. Oh, sometimes I have been. One of my best writing memories is finishing my first novel in a one-day marathon. Yep. I wrote the last several chapters of Slippin' Into Darkness in a blur, as close to a feeling of automatic writing as I've ever come. Seems to me it was about 50 pages, but that number may have been inflated by time and distance from the event itself. Memory has a way of doing that -- especially memories of the pleasant variety. Still, that one day at the computer left me with an amazing feeling that has endured... as did the novel I managed to write in six weeks (The Ten-Ounce Siesta).

But mostly, I'm not fast. I suppose I'd rather get a story right than get it done half-assed, and more often than not that takes time. Plus life and job and commitments have a way of bucking you out of the saddle at the worst moments. Still, I always think I can get things done faster than I can, and I'm always disappointed when I fall short. You'd think I'd learn the simple lesson Dirty Harry laid out in Magnum Force a long time ago: "A man's got to know his limitations."

Or maybe (with me, anyway) it goes like this: I know my limitations; the problem is I always think I can defy them.

Damn. I wish I was faster.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Promise

"I'd been out of the recording scene for three years, I was in my mid-twenties and already trying to prove I wasn't a 'flash in the pan', a 'one-hit wonder', a creation of the record-company star-making machine. I knew who I was (well, I was pretty sure) and who I wanted to be. I knew the stakes I wanted to play for, so I picked the hardest of what I had, music that would leave no room to be misunderstood about what I felt was at risk and what might be attained over the American airwaves of popular radio in 1978. Power, directness and austerity were my goals. Tough music for folks in tough circumstances."

--Bruce Springsteen
Liner Notes
The Promise

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Chilling Tales

Checking in today with some news for fans of my bride's fiction -- you can find a new Tia Travis story in Chilling Tales, an anthology edited by Michael Kelly and published by Edge. Tia's tale is called "The Weight of Stones," and it's the closer in this all-Canadian compilation of dark fiction.

Chilling Tales has a street date of March 1, so grab a copy soon (Amazon is taking preorders). Tia received her copy today, and it's a sharp little package. I'm looking forward to reading new fiction from Gemma Files (always a fave), my buddies Ian Rogers and Jason Ridler, and a host of Canuck talent whose names are familiar but whose work I've yet to sample. In his introduction, Mike Kelly promises "...a distinctly Canadian worldview, a disquieting solitude, perhaps, or a tangible loneliness, that permeates all these stories and makes them truly chilling tales."

For those who'd like a sample of Tia's story, check out the opening below:

She sleeps beneath ninety million tons of limestone.

A sigh that might be the wind siphons through the Pass. Gustiest corridor in the territory, a convergence of plates where mountains break loose from the sky, where violence is measured both in moments and eras, where sunlight splinters through crevices and flowers live and die in darkness. If you listen, you might hear a grain of sand sift through the labyrinth of boulders.
If you listen, you might hear her breathing.

I hold my own breath and map the movements of her heart... the rise and fall of her lungs. I held that last breath for her until I passed beyond the need for it. The desire for it.

Lie still. I will find you...