Archive for March, 2014

YBWeirdFictionMy story “The Key To Your Heart Is Made Of Brass” is appearing in YEAR’S BEST WEIRD FICTION, Vol. 1, edited by the great Laird Barron (for Undertow Press), and scheduled for an August release. You can pre-order it right here.

I am thrilled and honored to be included in this book, especially because “Key” was rejected NINE times by various publishers large and small over a period of about four years. Finally it was published by Pierre Comtois in the 30th edition of his terrific indie magazine FUNGI (#21) and released at the the 2013 NecronomiCon. (NOTE: That same issue also contains a sequel to “Key”, a story called “Flesh of the City, Bones of the World”.)

Now that “Key” has been picked by one of the genre’s most respected leaders for inclusion in a “best of” collection, I can only assume that the story was either ahead of its time or simply TOO WEIRD for anything else but FUNGI. Many thanks to Pierre for getting the tale into print, and to Laird for recognizing it.



This is going to be a brilliant inauguration for the YEAR’S BEST WEIRD FICTION series. Each volume will be edited by a different “guest editor,” and Undertow could not have picked a better captain for their first book: Laird Barron is not only one of the best weird/horror writers in the field, he’s also a helluva nice guy. But you’d never know that just from reading his terrifying fiction. I reviewed Laird’s first novel THE CRONING right here.


Table of Contents

“Success” by Michael Blumlein, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Nov./Dec.
“Like Feather, Like Bone” by Kristi DeMeester, Shimmer #17
“A Terror” by Jeffrey Ford,, July.
“The Key to Your Heart Is Made of Brass” by John R. Fultz, Fungi #21
“A Cavern of Redbrick” by Richard Gavin, Shadows & Tall Trees #5
“The Krakatoan” by Maria Dahvana Headley, Nightmare Magazine/The Lowest Heaven, July.
“Bor Urus” by John Langan, Shadow’s Edge
“Furnace” by Livia Llewellyn, The Grimscribe’s Puppets
“Eyes Exchange Bank” by Scott Nicolay, The Grimscribe’s Puppets
“A Quest of Dream” by W.H. Pugmire, Bohemians of Sesqua Valley
“(he) Dreams of Lovecraftian Horror” by Joseph S. Pulver Sr., Lovecraft eZine #28
“Dr. Blood and the Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron” by A.C. Wise, Ideomancer Vol. 12 Issue 2
“The Year of the Rat” by Chen Quifan, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, July/August.
“Fox into Lady” by Anne-Sylvie Salzman, Darkscapes
“Olimpia’s Ghost” by Sofia Samatar, Phantom Drift #3
“The Nineteenth Step” by Simon Strantzas, Shadows Edge
“The Girl in the Blue Coat” by Anna Taborska, Exotic Gothic 5 Vol. 1
“In Limbo” by Jeffrey Thomas, Worship the Night
“Moonstruck” by Karin Tidbeck, Shadows & Tall Trees #5
“Swim Wants to Know If It’s as Bad as Swim Thinks” by Paul Tremblay, Bourbon Penn #8
“No Breather in the World But Thee” by Jeff VanderMeer, Nightmare Magazine, March.
“Shall I Whisper to You of Moonlight, of Sorrow, of Pieces of Us?” by Damien Angelica Walters, Shock Totem #7.

Illustration by Dalton Rose.

Laird Barron doing his cosmic thang, as depicted by artist Dalton Rose for


ConanSavSword27The latest CROMCAST is a discussion of Robert E. Howard’s “Beyond the Black River,” a classic Conan tale, and a favorite of fans and critics alike.

The story was first published by WEIRD TALES in 1935, and by this time Conan the Cimmerian stood among the magazine’s most popular of recurring characters. Howard channels LAST OF THE MOHICANS here, placing Conan as a mercenary scout on the wild western border of Aquilonia. Thousands of primitive and bloodthirsty Picts, hereditary enemies of Conan’s northern folk, band together in the name of sorcerer Zogar Sag to assault a frontier fort along the Black River.

This swashbuckling story takes place later in Conan’s adventuring career, after he’s sailed two different oceans, traveled among the lost jungle realms of the distant south, and come back to the heart of Hyboria to sell his sword to the Aquilonians. He is a force to be reckoned with, and nobody captures that feral vitality quite like Howard himself did. Except maybe Frank Frazetta, decades later when his famous run of Conan paperback covers sold millions of copies.

SSC26In the 70s Marvel Comics adapted the story in a two-part SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN story. Jim Starlin did the grimly effective cover painting for SSC #26, and Bob Larkin knocked it out of the park with his cover for SSC #27.

Reading classic Robert E. Howard tales is twice the fun when you can listen to the CROMCAST gang talk about the stories as you go. I’m guessing that when they finish all of Howard’s Conan stories they’ll be moving on to other Howard work. Personally, I’d recommend the KULL tales, which are more Shakespearean in ideal and execution than the later Conan tales. But then again my all-time favorite REH tale is “Valley of the Worm”…

Weird_Tales_1935-11_-_Shadows_in_ZamboulaWherever the CROMCAST crew decides to go, it’s sure to involve some fascinating discussions. Next up, it’s “Shadows in Zamboula” from WEIRD TALES November 1935, where it was published under the more hardcore title of “The Man-Eaters of Zamboula”.

See you in Zamboula…

DeliriumsMistress-HC-FrontNorilana Books’ TaLeKa imprint just released the fourth book in Tanith Lee’s classic FLAT EARTH series, DELIRIUM’S MISTRESS.

This gorgeous volume is another triumph for Norilana, but it’s also a farewell. Sadly, Norilana won’t be releasing any more FLAT EARTH books. Hopefully the remaining volume, NIGHT’S SORCERIES will be released by another publisher, not to mention the two new additions to the FLAT EARTH mythos that Norilana was planning: THE EARTH IS FLAT and EARTH’S MASTER.

The original FLAT EARTH trilogy (NIGHT’S MASTER, DEATH’S MASTER, and DELUSION’S MASTER), has been released in previous years, reviving one of Lee’s greatest accomplishments and one of the fantasy genre’s most legendary set of tales. DEATH’S MASTER won the British Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 1980. NIGHT’S MASTER and NIGHT’S SORCERIES  were both nominated for World Fantasy Awards (in ’79 and ’88, respectively).

DeathsMasterAll of the Norilana editions (hardcover and softcover) have new introductions by Tanith Lee herself, who also does her own striking cover illustrations, which are transmogrified into ethereal, jewel-like pieces of art by her husband John Kaiine. The newest (and last) Norilana volume is a massive, glimmering emerald of a book.

DELIRIUM’S MISTRESS was the last complete FLAT EARTH novel (the remaining books in the series being collections of short stories), and in some ways it is the best book of the series. After composing its opening chapters, Lee took time off to write a historical novel, and then returned with a vengeance, her storytelling powers waxing greater than ever, and sealed this landmark series with a big, sorcerous kiss. (Except that it wasn’t sealed…it lives on in the forms of the scads of FLAT EARTH short stories—the ones collected in the next two volumes—which will hopefully find a home now that Norilana is defunct.)

DelusionsMaster-TPB-FrontThe TaLeKa versions of the FLAT EARTH books are the definitive versions, and their releases over the last few years has given me a great excuse to re-vist and re-experience each book. Now I look forward to doing that with DELIRIUM’S MISTRESS.

Get your copies of the FLAT EARTH books and other Norliana/TaLeKa books right here. Buy them for yourself or for a friend who needs the power and beauty of Tanith Lee in their life. Norilana won’t be printing any more, so get ’em while they last.

Shattered ShieldsBaen Books has released the gorgeous Todd Lockwood cover for their

The book goes on sale this November and is available now for pre-order. The concept? “Swords and Shields. Faith and Magic. Soldiers—ordinary and otherwise–struggling against extraordinary odds to survive the day…epic landscapes and characters…but also epic battles.”

“Yael of the Strings” is my contribution to this collection, and it marks a return to the World of Zang for me, a universe I haven’t visited in at least seven years. Most of the  Zang Cycle stories were collected this year in The Revelations of Zang, but this is a brand-new excursion into that world. The protagonist isn’t a soldier at all, but a minstrel whose fencing skills become his only chance at survival when the red tide of battle overwhelms. “Strings” revisits the nation of Ghoth with its behemoth spiders (from “Oblivion Is the Sweetest Wine”), and introduces Sharoc, Land of the Griffon.

Here’s the complete Table of Contents:

  1. “Ashes and Starlight” (Runelords) by David Farland
  2. “The Fixed Stars” (October Daye) by Seanan McGuire
  3. “The Keeper of Names” by Larry Correia
  4. “The Smaller We Are” by John Helfers
  5. “Invictus” by Annie Bellett
  6. “Rising Above” by Sarah A. Hoyt
  7. “A Cup of Wisdom” by Joseph Zieja
  8. “Words of Power” by Wendy N. Wagner
  9. “Lightweaver in Shadow” by Gray Rinehart
  10. “Hoofsore and Weary” by Cat Rambo
  11. “Vengeance” (Frost) by Robin Wayne Bailey
  12. “Deadfall” by Nancy Fulda
  13. “Yael of the Strings” by John R. Fultz
  14. “The Gleaners” by Dave Gross
  15. “Bonded Men” by James L. Sutter
  16. “Bone Candy” (Black Company) by Glen Cook
  17. “First Blood” (Paksenarrion) by Elizabeth Moon

This edition of SONGS was my first exposure to Ligotti’s work, a triumph of lyrical prose and existential horror.

I don’t pre-order books very often, but when I found out that
Thomas Ligotti—quite possibly the greatest horror writer on the planet—had returned to writing fiction after many years away, I pre-ordered THE SPECTRAL LINK immediately.

Ligotti rose up from indie horror mags about 25 years ago to become a regular contributor to WEIRD TALES and one of my personal favorite authors. I discovered Ligotti’s unforgettable work in 1990 when his first collection SONGS OF A DEAD DREAMER appeared in my local bookstore.

I was about 20, living in my home state, and had just graduated from the University of Kentucky. I was staying on the couch at a friend’s apartment and had a college degree, but could not find a decent job thanks to the general nature of Kentucky and the Great Recession of the Early 90s. Needless to say it was not a very happy or productive time for me.

41cJpbrkjSL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_When SONGS OF A DEAD DREAMER fell into my hands (or I should say when I scraped up the last of my heard-earned cash to buy the book), I was utterly captivated. My problems disappeared as I poured over the arcane secrets of its pages. Here were stories with the cosmic horror of Lovecraft, the creeping terror of Poe, and the kind of florid, surreal imagery that only Ligotti can create.

My desperate, couch-dwelling youth was transfigured by beautifully weird stories such as “The Lost Art of Twilight”, “The Troubles of Dr. Thoss,” “Masquerade of a Dead Sword,” “Sect of the Idiot,” the entrancing “Vastarien,” and the mind-bending “Notes on the Writing of Horror: A Story.”

Ligotti’s horror was metaphysical, personal, phantasmagorical, and completely mesmerizing. Not to mention inspiring as hell. I was still trying my best now and then to sell a story to WEIRD TALES, a goal I had set during college two or three years earlier. My fiction endeavors were fueled by a string of terrific rejection letters from that mag’s editor (Darrell Schweitzer) and the encouragement he gave me with every rejection. So writing was in my blood, but it had not yet flowered into something significant. It was a raw and burning passion. Ligotti’s brilliant darkness fed that fire inside me. More than ever, I wanted to WRITE.

1_Grimscribe-Jove-FrontI soon quit my craptastic minimum-wage job and moved off my friend’s couch (couldn’t even pay my third of the rent). After a few months back at my parents’ house I set out to get my own first apartment. Another crappy (restaurant) job served to bring a smidgen of stability to my life. What the hell—I no longer had any interest in pursuing a job with my degree—I was more interested in forming a psychedelic hard rock band with some fellow college graduates and underclassmen. Which I did. (Long live the Wild Love Rebellion! We rocked. Seriously…)

Suffice to say, life improved greatly from there on out, despite a rough patch here or there. In 1992 I was thrilled to find a second Ligotti collection, GRIMSCRIBE: HIS LIVES AND WORKS. I immediately devoured it. In 1994 Ligotti’s third collection, NOCTUARY, was released, bringing another assortment of terrific terror tales into my life. More cosmic inspiration.

1_NoctuaryCarrollPaperFrontSoon Ligotti’s muse practically dried up. He no longer felt the spark or passion to write—or if he did, he lacked the inspiration. His life, as I came to understand it, was a complicated and neurotic existence, and his personal difficulties with consensual reality and “the real world” had inspired most of his work. Yet he was nice enough to let me reprint one of his early stories (“Ten Steps to Thin Mountain”) in my online fiction ‘zine COSMIC VISIONS. (This was ’96-’98—WAY before online fiction ‘zines became common or popular.) COSMIC VISIONS was an experiment that was ahead of its time, but it did give me experience as an editor that would come in handy later.

Now and then an obscure Ligotti story would appear in WEIRD TALES or possibly even somewhere else. I learned to keep an eye out for him. Several more collections emerged in the years that followed, including THE NIGHTMARE FACTORY, which presented stories pulled from previous Ligotti anthologies. During this time I had spent almost two years living in Chicago as a working-wage stiff. When it became apparent that my marriage was beyond salvation, I moved to California for better opportunities (and a better lifestyle) in late ’98. I had come a long way, but I was still “chained to the desk” of a job that I really didn’t enjoy.

myworkisnotdoneIt was with great pleasure that I discovered MY WORK IS NOT YET DONE: THREE TALES OF CORPORATE HORROR in 2002. An instant classic with a limited print run, this was Ligotti applying his sense of existential dread and cosmic horror to the mind-numbing tedium of corporate slavery. In these stories the horror comes from a vast and faceless corporate entity that controls the lives of “regular” people with mysterious rules, invisible personages, and the foggy hell of haunted nowhere towns.

At this point in life I had my fill of corporate, cubicle-dwelling life. I hated everything about it. Some people weren’t meant for cubicles. The stories in MY WORK IS NOT YET DONE resonated with a deep core of dissatisfaction and dread that I carried with me every day, as I tried to tow the corporate line in the professional prison of the office cubicle. Ligotti had created another disturbing masterpiece.

A couple years after reading MY WORK IS NOT YET DONE, I finally divorced myself from all corporate jobs and decided to become a teacher. Best decision I ever made, and it also supported my goal of being a professional writer. After I’d established myself as a teacher, I could write in the summers and holidays.

schoolofrock2It was a plan that, funnily enough, actually worked. Teaching and writing are my two passions. Perhaps it took Ligotti’s characterization of corporate existence as a soul-killing prison to give me the courage to break free. Although more directly, it was the movie SCHOOL OF ROCK that inspired me—the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. If Jack Black could do it, so could I! Still, Ligotti’s work underscored my own loathing of the corporate/cubicle lifestyle, cementing the idea that I was not alone in reviling it. Discontent is the catalyst of action.

1_Ligotti-Reader-FrontAs for Thomas Ligotti, once again the Master’s muse left him high and dry. He wrote next to nothing for the next few years. He made statements in interviews that he might never write again—that it was no longer in him. Like any great artist, he was struggling with his own demons, which didn’t always support or sustain his writing. An unproduced script appeared, along with more reprint volumes, graphic novel adaptations, an infamous essay, and even a book of DEATH POEMS. But there wasn’t much hope that Ligotti would finally write a novel, or even another collection of short stories. The author himself didn’t know if he had any more fiction to write, and he was brutally honest about this lack of inspiration.

Recently I was thrilled to discover that the Master has come back to fiction. Subterranean Press is releasing a brand-new Ligotti book called THE SPECTRAL LINK on June 30. It includes two new stories—not a lot to be sure—but even TWO new Thomas Ligotti stories is a major event in the worlds of horror and weird fiction. Here’s some of what Amazon’s page has to say about the book:

weirdtales331“Throughout Ligotti’s ‘career’ as a horror writer, many of his stories have evolved from physical or emotional crises. And so it was with the surgical trauma that led to the stories in THE SPECTRAL LINK, an event that is marginally mentioned in the first of these stories, ‘Metaphysica Morum.’ In the second story, ‘The Small People,’ Ligotti returns, although not precisely in the usual fashion, to his fixation with uncanny representations of the so-called human being. Having nearly ceased to exist as he lay on the surgeon’s table, the imposing strangeness of the nature and vicissitudes of this life form once again arose in his imagination.”

If you’re a fan of horror and/or the weird, and you haven’t read Ligotti yet, now is the perfect time. Pre-order THE SPECTRAL LINK here, or look for other Ligotti books here.

This July is going to be extra-creepy (in a good way)…

Welcome back, Thomas Ligotti!

You were missed.

realistic_frazetta_conan_by_sdsfx-d4vq68hThe newest episode of THE CROMCAST, featuring an in-depth discussion of Robert E. Howard’s “The Jewels of Gwahlur” -AND- an interview with Yours Truly, is now posted for listening.

Don’t miss it!!!!

Click here to begin your CROMCAST experience…