Monday, December 7, 2009

A rave review for a side project...

I'm pretty happy with this review for my novella The Lucid Dreaming:

Monster Librarian Reviews

Snippet: " of the best novellas I've ever read." Wow! Thanks to Monster Librarian and Rhonda Wilson for those kind words.

If you don't yet have your copy of The Lucid Dreaming (which includes gorgeous illustrations by the amazing Zach McCain), you can still order one at:

Horror Mall.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

And our first award nomination...

Thrilled as can be to announce that MIDNIGHT WALK has just been nominated for the Black Quill Award:

3rd Annual Black Quill nominations

Extra big thanks to Dark Scribe for this wonderful honor!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Free story from MIDNIGHT WALK!

In case you haven't yet grabbed your own copy of MIDNIGHT WALK, here's a little taste: Jodi Kaplan Lester's gorgeous and creepy "The Guixi Sisters" is now available free at

The Guixi Sisters

Yep, this isn't an excerpt or a synopsis - it's the whole doggone story! It's FREE! What are you waiting for?!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Lucky Number 13!

MIDNIGHT WALK has now received 13 reviews, and I'm pleased to report that they've all been quite favorable. The most recent reviews are:

Dark Discoveries
Dark Scribe
Horror Fiction Review

Dark Scribe calls MIDNIGHT WALK "literary tapas for the horror enthusiast’s soul", Horror Fiction Review says "Morton has done a fine job delivering some solid horror stories that are fresh", and Dark Discoveries notes that MW "has some very interesting and unconventional offerings."

Thank you to all the reviewers who took the time to read and critique MIDNIGHT WALK - we're honored and grateful.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Three of MIDNIGHT WALK's contributors - Lisa Morton, Mike McCarty and John Palisano - will be attending KillerCon in Las Vegas, September 17-20. We should have a few copies of the book on hand as well - this could be your last chance to get MIDNIGHT WALK signed by a fifth of its contributors!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Other fiction

I'd just like to offer a quick shout-out to Dark Scribe Magazine for this very kind review of my story "The Devil Came to Mamie's on Hallowe'en" (as seen in issue #61 of Cemetery Dance magazine). Click here (and you should be reading Dark Scribe anyway!).

Thursday, July 23, 2009

It Could Have Been A Zombie Story!

It's true - my initial submission to the MIDNIGHT WALK anthology was a zombie musketeer story. Yeah, even I have to smile when I think about it, but that's the honest truth. "All For One & Dead For All" wasn't quite ready for primetime and was rejected.

As an unofficial "zombie guy", it was almost a relief to not have another undead story published. I can write other things within the world of horror, honest.

Not one to take an ass whippin' lightly, I dug through the files and settled on a second effort, which turned out to be the "Late Check-in" ghost story. It was received with open arms, and actually sparked my decision to remain within the realm of fearful spirits with my upcoming bloody haunted house novel, THE BUTCHER BRIDE.

And good thing "Late Check-in" was accepted. My next best option was a zombie porno piece.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

But what is it REALLY about?

Somewhere in between the time I first get a notion for a story - be it an image, a dream, a fragment in something I've read - and when I actually sit down to write, I ask myself the single most important question in the writing process:

What is this story really about?

Take, for example, "Diana and the Goong-si", my story from MIDNIGHT WALK. It would have been easy to dismissively say, "It's about the fact that I love Hong Kong's hopping vampire movies, and thought it would totally rule to set a hopping vampire tale in the time of Dracula." Perhaps that wouldn't be a bad story; in somebody else's hands, it might even be better. Who knows.

But for me it wasn't enough. The story needed to be about something, be it a strong emotional hook or even a sociopolitical subtext. Because I knew this would be a long piece, I decided to go for both (and it was interesting how they ended up meshing). For the emotional pull, I made my protagonist a strong woman who is filling a traditional male role - that of an adventurer in search of a lost love. I realized I could play with that notion in a number of ways, exploiting not just Diana's yearning and grief, but I could also let her be slightly transgressive by putting her in (necessary) drag at one point. Some time after I'd finished the story, I would occasionally find myself thinking, What would Diana do in this situation? The character has lived on past the story for me, always a good sign.

But beyond Diana was something else that began pricking at my consciousness, something about the 19th century setting and a voyage that encompassed numerous British ports, and that was the notion of colonialism (or imperialism). When I was a kid, I'd see movies where some WASP-y protagonist would laughingly teach some native assistant English, and I'd think, That's such bullshit - why isn't Mr. Englishman learning the native's language? In the 18th and 19th century, the British went far beyond mere whimsy in their domination of foreign cultures; read a few historical accounts of massacres, slave labor and enforced drug trade in India and China, and quaint notions of wise and benevolent empire fall by the wayside pretty quickly.

Was it sheer coincidence that I was also pondering America's role as an empire over the last 10 years? Well...

So I had Diana's character and a commentary on imperialism suddenly burrowing into this story, and - as I mentioned above - it wasn't long before they began to intertwine, as Diana discovered her own unease with her country's ruthlessness, adding even more to her emotional turmoil.

With those elements in place, the story virtually wrote itself for me (thank you, story!).

And yes, this philosophy serves me well on other work as well. I was, for example, recently invited into a new zombie anthology, and told that the parameters of the story had to include the traditional Romero zombie tropes: Flesheating corpses that must be shot in the head, etc. etc. I could probably have thrown together a fairly typical zombie action shoot-'em-up pretty quickly, but I wanted something else. I thought about what I'd be like in a post-zombie apocalypse world - alone, scared, barely surviving - and I realized I'd also be very lonely. So my story, "Joe and Abel in the Field of Rest", became a story about loneliness and some of the many forms of love. The story will be out later this year in the book THE DEAD THAT WALK, edited by Stephen Jones.

I hope some of you will tell me what you think these stories are really about. Your answer might be very different from mine, and that will make me very happy.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

So How Did I Get Here Anyway?

I feel compelled to answer my own version of R. B. Payne's question from his earlier post on June 27, 2009: "Why horror?" For me, though, it wasn't other people asking me this; rather it was a question I asked myself.

While my friend R. B. was busy with his science fiction, I had my nose deep into crime fiction. The darker, more hard-boiled it was, the better. Even true crime caught my attention frequently enough. But never once did I think I would be writing within the realm of horror. In fact the very first novel I wrote was a crime novel. Come to think of it, the whole thing was a crime in and of itself, something I filed away deep into a box somewhere hoping never to see it again, yet unable to completely cast away the noble effort it took for me to write it.

It actually wasn't until my early adulthood that I was introduced to horror in any and all media. But when I started reading tales of the supernatural, dark fantasy, speculative fiction, non-gore horror, I found a world that I absolutely loved. To me, there was nothing more mysterious, not even a crime or mystery novel, than these sub-genres of "what-if" horror.

Funny thing is, my husband was the one whom we always expected to be published on the horror front. Yet he chose to set his horrors within the framework of a crime novel (An Occasional Dream) and was fortunate to be published by the wonderful gents, Jim Pascoe and Tom Fassbender, at UglyTown, a crime fiction publisher who has since, unfortunately, closed its doors.

So, the horror writer all of a sudden became a crime writer (though not for long as horror will always circulate through his veins), and the crime writer all of a sudden became a horror writer (where she will most likely stay).

And they lived happily ever after.

Monday, June 29, 2009

MIDNIGHT WALK's first two reviews

...are raves!

Famous Monsters of Filmland

Fatally Yours

Thanks to both publications for taking the time to look at the book and then review it in detail (and so quickly!).

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Secret of my Distress

One of the most significant questions in my life is: why don’t I write science fiction? Why the hell am I writing horror? (Seriously, this question bothers me more than why are we here?)

As a boy I read nothing but science fiction and pulps for years. Although I have many favorite writers, as a young writer seeking inspiration, I grew attached to Jack Vance. His imagery, turn of phrase, and wry sense of humor appealed to me. His stories are marvels of creating distant places and other times.

If I wore a hat, I would tip it to Mr. Vance. If you haven’t read his work, I encourage you to seek him out. He is not a science fiction writer per se, in fact, his work defies categorization. I read an interview with Mr. Vance once, and he remarked (this is a paraphrase) that “he never saw himself as a genre writer. He just wrote whatever came out.”

When I started to write, it was horror that came out. My friends, my wife, even my cat looked at me askew – what’s wrong with you? they would ask. (Of course, the cat only talks to me after a few glasses of wine.)

Answer: I am distressed.

By nature an introvert, by age, an activist. I grew up in a time when people believed we could change the world. I still believe that, it’s just turned out that it’s a lot harder than protesting in the streets and going to rock concerts.

To change the world, one has to look at it. Not through the illusions that we filter our everyday life with, but the unsanitary sewer that is reality. All of the answers are not on television, neatly wrapped up in an hour. For me, that’s what horror is – an unblinking look at reality.

Reality with all the tasty bits sliced off.

So I figure that horror stories come out of me because I am unhappy with the way the world works and I am trying to make some sense of our journey among the living. Death is not only the next station on this line – it appears to be the only stop once we are on this train.

So why not look reality in the eye?

Commit to reading a horror story every day.

It might just make you a better person.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Inspirational Boundaries: The Evolution of The Guixi Sisters

by Jodi Kaplan Lester

The idea for "The Guixi Sisters" came to me when I saw a photograph of my niece with two of her orphanage sisters. In the picture one of the girls had this particularly mischievous look on her face, and that's where my story began: three girls and ensuing mischief. Little did I know it would become much more to me than that.

As I began writing, I realized that my inspiration went much deeper than the picture. It was the love I had for my niece that became the driving force. Had she never been adopted, this story never would have come to be. But she was, and it opened up a whole new world for me as I was not just a passive observer.

I watched as my sister and her family jumped through all the hoops to bring their baby girl home. I counted the days, watched the clock. I was there. Three months before leaving for China, my sister got the first bit of information on her baby girl, including her Chinese name and two pictures. She sent them to me immediately. There she was, a pudgy blockheaded baby girl with wrinkly ankles, now my sister's daughter, now with a name. Now my niece. I couldn't wait for her to come home.

I helped my sister get ready for the trip to China. Sorting through all the paperwork, going through the checklist of medical supplies so she would be prepared for any of the common possibilities that inflict orphanage babies, running down the gifts she needed to get, the money and which denominations, the red envelopes. The list of cultural cues and etiquette seemed endless, yet were important because at a moment's notice they could be denied their baby girl.

I will never forget the night she was brought home. Sitting in my sister's house in the big chair with my back to the window, every time a car drove by I'd twist around to see if it was them. I waited with the rest of my family, now my niece's family. It was an amazing, joyful evening. When she arrived, she was a tiny little thing, nothing like her picture.

Not long after her arrival I started taking days with her. About once a month I would take her wherever, it didn't really matter, just so I could spend time with her. Our days would usually include a visit to Dark Delicacies because to me imagination sparks horror and horror sparks imagination, so I wanted to introduce her to this dark but fairly benign world. I also wanted to be sure that books were a big part of her life. I would always buy her a memento of some type. As much as she loved sucking on the devil ducks' horns, I stuck to the cute little fuzzy teddybear bats, things like that. She was my little something.

And so she grew and my love for her did as well, and then one day I found myself in the middle of this supernatural tale about Chinese orphanages and orphanage sisters that was moving in a dark direction, and I became concerned. My main character was not my niece, yet she was inspired by her. The whole story was. The information I used as material for my story was that which came from my experience of her as an adopted baby and often stemmed from questions my niece asked and things she said as she realized her parents were not biological, her name came differently from others, and that she was Chinese while the rest of her family was not. I couldn't stop my story now, but how do I continue it without exposing or exploiting my little love? I posed this question to some of my fellow Midnight Walk contributors and was encouraged to continue, for as the story grows, my character would eventually shed the skin of my niece and become her own individual.

So I kept writing. I looked closely at anything that came directly from my experiences with her and asked myself, "Is this something that is unique to my niece or is it something any child, adopted or not, from China or elsewhere, would ask or do or encounter?" If I only worked with events that were fairly universal I could avoid undesired exposure. And so I worked in this way, within these parameters and was able to finish the story.

Although the fate of the three girls in my story twists into a dark tale, I know deep in my heart that my story changes nothing about my niece except for maybe bringing us a little closer.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Here's a short video from the signing at DARK DELICACIES, courtesy of Yasmine Zapp!

Monday, June 15, 2009

The MIDNIGHT WALK Launch Party!

We had an astonishing release for MIDNIGHT WALK at Dark Delicacies yesterday - we sold out of Dark Delicacies' entire order of 60 copies in just over an hour! Major thanks to all who came out to support us. Here's the photo of this crazy group:

Left to right: Lisa Majewski, George Willis, Jason M. Light, Joey O'Bryan, R. B. Payne, Lisa Morton, Richard Grove, Mike McCarty, Jodi Kaplan Lester, Kelly Dunn, and Del Howison (taken at Dark Delicacies on June 14, 2009)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

MW signings

Don't forget: The official MIDNIGHT WALK launch party happens this coming Sunday, June 14th, at Dark Delicacies. The festivities begin at 2 p.m., and we hope to see some of the Stoker Weekend stragglers join us!

And speaking of Stoker Weekend: If you can't make the Sunday signing, many of the contributors will be in attendance tonight at the Stoker Weekend mass signing at Dark Delicacies. We will have copies of the book available, and you can also get books signed by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, F. Paul Wilson, Gary Braunbeck, Deborah LeBlanc, Heather Graham, John Skipp, John R. Little, and several dozen more fine authors!

Monday, June 8, 2009

A small brag

Here's the current Dark Delicacies Bestseller List for Paperback Fiction (week ending 6/6/09):

(1) Midnight Walk - Lisa Morton (ed) -- Dark House
(2) A Nameless Witch - A. Lee Martinez -- Tor
(3) Blood Red - Heather Graham -- Mira
(4) Gun Work - David J. Schow -- Hard Case
(5) Coraline - Neil Gaiman - Harper Entertainment
(6) Breathers - S. G. Browne -- Broadway
(7) Cover - Jack Ketchum -- Leisure
(8) Bloody Good - Georgia Evans -- Kensington
(9) Dark Delicacies - Howison/Gelb (eds) -- Ace
(10) Dark Delicacies II: Fear - Howison/Gelb (eds) -- Ace

Congratulations to the entire contributors roster for MIDNIGHT WALK!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Favorite Places Revealed in "The Mysterious Name"

The countdown is on until the official release of Midnight Walk. I am really looking forward to this anthology's debut!

Within the pages of Midnight Walk my story, "The Mysterious Name," awaits you. This particular tale features a few of my favorite places: Victorian houses, antique stores, and vintage churches.

In such locales I find the kind of beauty that inspires me: the beauty of the rare, the ideal, the forgotten standard. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, I have always loved to "cool my hands in the grey twilight of Gothic things." And in turn, these things fire my passion for themes weaving the past with the present.

Thus, the contemporary events of "The Mysterious Name" transpire in a setting reminding us of the past. And the question emerges: Where is our collective soul, and is it in a place we would like it to be?

On June 14th at 2 p.m., you can come see my Midnight Walk colleagues and me at another one of my favorite places: the Dark Delicacies bookstore in Burbank, California. If you have never been to Dark Delicacies, I encourage you to come in and experience it for yourself.

The store has a nice atmosphere, with background music and themed decorations. There are books and magazines galore, of course, but there are also DVDs, soundtracks, collectibles, greeting cards, and some super-cool Halloween goodies! I think there's a little something for everyone. It's the perfect place for a Midnight Walk—or an afternoon book signing. I'll look forward to seeing you there.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy your own favorite places … wherever they are.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Memory, Halloween & "Silver Needle"

I've been thinking a lot recently about how my Midnight Walk story "Silver Needle" came to be written. Ideas for stories come easily to me, but the actual writing is much harder. I suppose it's because I've always been a bit of a dreamer. Imaginary games/worlds came to me early in life primarily as a means of coping with violent and unpredictable parents. So much easier to forget your fears and play "war" or "monster". I remember I'd be out by myself in the backyard for hours and hours. Only reluctantly would I come in for dinner or to go to bed. And night was always the best time for games because everything became mysterious and shadowy: just the way I liked it in my imaginary worlds.

Of course, Halloween was the most important holiday of the year for me. It far eclipsed even the fun of getting presents at Christmas. Dressing up as a favorite monster (I didn't really need the costume) and going out trick or treating was a wonderful experience. Really just an extension of my play in imaginary worlds, only this time everyone was playing with me.

So, I knew that when I was invited to submit a story for the Midnight Walk anthlogy, it would be about Halloween in some fashion. I haven't written a short story in many years, so I wanted to write about something that was based on my own real experience.

For days I sifted through my Halloween experiences as a young boy. And one particular experience came back to me several times. Even today I can't quite figure out what exactly happened as it is still clouded with fear and strangeness. Here's what happened.

It was during my first year out by myself on Halloween. Always in previous years one of my two sisters would accompany me as I made my way up and down the streets trick or treating or just having fun running around in my costume. My sisters were in their teens and were much more interested in getting out to their Halloween parties than taking care of their nutty brother, so they pushed and pushed me to hurry up. And once I got home, I could still go out in the yard, but I couldn't go out into the neighborhood on my own. I was too young then (10 or 11 years old).

But when I turned 12 (I think it was around 12), my mom started letting me go out on my own. At first I was so thrilled I just ran all over the neighborhood trying to see everything and fill my bag with candy at the same time. On that particular Halloween as I made my way further away from home and towards the elementary school I attended, the neighborhood changed and became more upper class with precisely cut hedges and only very simple Halloween decorations (if any).

I always made it a point to try and stop at every house on the block even if it was dark or had no decorations. But there was one house that my sisters wouldn't let me stop at when I went out with them (they never explained why). It wasn't a very spooky house. Just a simple rectangular home with a small pecan tree in the yard and a hedge out near the side walk. You had to walk through the hedge (which hid you from the street) down a cement path to get to the door.

I remember that night I came to this house I really wanted to see who lived there. I suspect it was also a little bit of a rebellion against my sisters, but I was genuinely curious. So I walked down the path and when I came to the door I tried to ring the bell. It didn't seem to work though. So I used the brass knocker that was on the door.

I stood there for a long time. So long in fact, I remember hearing other trick or treaters pass the house by. I don't remember being afraid, but it was strange to be out of site of anyone on the sidewalk or street.

Eventually, a very old woman opened the door slowly. She had turned on the porch light and it was hard to make out her face until came closer to me. I very clearly remember her face when she saw me in my costume (could it have been one of the Morlocks from "The Time Machine"?)

She was delighted to see me. She had a huge smile on her face, I remember. It gets a little fuzzy here, but I know that after I said "trick or treat" loudly, she opened the door wider, stepped back and said something like, "Yes, do come in" or "Come on in". Something like that. And beyond her, I could see a light at the end of a long hallway.

Of course, I was petrified. "Come in to someone's home to get candy?" Never on your life. My head had been filed with razors in apples and boys abducted from homes and crazed psychos.
I had no idea what to say.

And yet I found myself following this elderly woman (who had that 'old persons' smell along with plastic on all of the front room furniture) down a hallway to... what?....hell or something? She was nice. Her smile was nice and..I liked her in some way.

Eventually, we turned the corner at the end of the hallway (I looked back and the door was still partly open) and into a kitchen where her husband (I assumed) sat behind a small table and smiled and smiled at me. The table had three or four bowls of nuts in them.

I remember the room was very old fashioned, but super clean. The old woman went and stood behind her husband who then wished me a very happy Halloween. And they both smiled at me. Waiting for something...

I was confused and scared a bit as nothing like this had ever happened in my Halloween experience. I wondered if they were for real or not. Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion, I recall. I don't think I took off my mask or anything.

The old woman gestured at the bowls on the table and said something like "have some nuts" or "take some nuts". And I went over to look and found that most of the nuts in the bowls were pecans. So they had to be from the tree in their front yard. I really wanted candy, but nuts were good, too. And I grabbed a handful of nuts and dumped them in my bag.

By this time, the my nerves and imagination had gotten the best of me and I turned and ran out of the house and back on to the street. I don't remember hearing anything from the old folks. I just ran and ran until I got to the school and could sit down, have some candy and think about what just happened.

That memory has stayed with me for years. I've had dreams about the house. I've used the memory in acting excercise. I've daydreamed about it. There's always a feeling behind the memory. And, you know, I never went back to the house again. Although I always looked and wonders what ever became of those two lonely old people.

Because that's what they really were. Over the years I've discovered that the meaning I make of this memory is that they were old, lonely people who loved Halloween, but never had anyone come calling. That's why they were so thrilled to have me there. And since they were from another age and time than me, their way of sharing Halloween was very different than my own.

So, this memory became the kernal of "Silver Needle". After reading Lisa's Halloween Encyclopedia, I was also fascinated with the Faeries and how they figured into Halloween night. Eventually, while searching for a good story idea, it just hit me that perhaps that experience I had with the old people could be re-imagined as night where a special young boy was tempted by the Faeries, but manages to outsmart them in the end.

Since I had recently been reading several of the Last Apprentice series young adult novels by Joseph Delany, I hit upon the idea of using his simple prose style. I also wanted to emphasize the environment the story would take place in (like Delany) since it would allow me to spend time remembering details like how the air smelled and how the trees looked. I especially wanted to describe the light in each scene as I loved that twilight time where everything became mysterious to the imagination of a young, 12 year old boy. And to a 50 year old man looking back at moments of great feeling and wonder.

I'm very grateful to the members of the writing group and Lisa Morton in particular for help in getting this memory re-imagined into a short story. Many, many versions later I'm proud that "Silver Needle" is included in the Midnight Walk anthology along with so many good stories (and writers).

I plan on completing a trilogy of "Silver Needle" stories in the future where I'll follow the young boy and his encounter with Faerie as he grows older.

Why Won't Daddy Stop?

Here are a few ramblings about Eddie G. and his stop at the Gates of Hell.

In about 1957 or ‘58, my family traveled Route 66 from Kansas City, somehow skirting Los Angeles, and ending up in San Francisco. I have a solitary memory from that trip, after all, I must have been four or five years old. That memory is this: late at night, long after dark,  my father woke me from a sound sleep to see the turn-off sign to the Grand Canyon. I can distinctly remember his words – “Look. It’s the Grand Canyon.”

Which it wasn’t.

It was a wooden sign. He must have slowed, but he would have never stopped. In subsequent years, we would shoot by giant teepees, meteor craters, and  concrete dinosaurs at sixty or seventy miles an hour. Never slowing, never stopping, unless we needed gas.

When I conceived of “Eddie G. at the Gates of Hell,” the story idea was rooted in my childhood frustrations. Just once, I’d like to stop at one of those roadside attractions. Then it hit me: there had to  be a reason why my father never stopped.

My best guess: he must have been on the run. On the lam, like in those black and white movies. I know (now) that he was a womanizer, he didn’t love my mother, and was unconnected to his children. Still, he was a charming guy that everyone liked.

Of course, none of this is really covered in the story. Other than the fact that Eddie G. is somehow a version of my Dad.

A child’s angry version twisted by time.

And then I touched my own fear. Even as a child I sensed something was not right with our family. There was always an edge, a razor-wire waiting to be yanked, to slice, to cut, to hurt. Now that I’m older, and supposedly more reflective, I wish I knew why my father never stopped.

To his dying day, my father insisted that we had stopped at the Grand Canyon.

Which we hadn’t. I should know. I didn’t see the Grand Canyon for another twenty-nine years. I drove to the same spot, slowed, and made the turn. I thought a lot about my father that day. He must have had a really, really good reason for speeding by.

“Eddie G. at the Gates of Hell” is my best guess why he always kept his foot on the gas pedal.

Let's Take a Midnight Walk...

So, Midnight Walk was the title I came up with a few years ago for my first & only short story collection. I fancy myself a novelist, and writing short stories just takes up too much time for what I consider way too little reward. So, I figured someday I would package up all the short stories I'm way too uncaring about to shop around in between decent selling novels.

Now, my title is being used for this great new antho, though it only includes one of my stories, "Late Check-in", instead of the gazillion stories I had planned to unload on the horror reading public.

*Heavy Sigh*

By the way, "Late Check-in" is a haunted motel story I'd actually written a while back for a themed anthology about -you guessed it! - a scary motel. I would have definitely included it in my own Nightshift-esque collection. It's a fun story, though there isn't nearly enough sex in it for my tastes.

I should have thrown in some heaving bosoms or something.

But now it's too late. See, if "Late Check-in" was a novel, I could just throw in some sex and nudity like an old grindhouse drive-in flick, and Shazam! the problem would be fixed.

Anyhoo, I gotta go think up another cool title for my future short story collection. Maybe something subtle like Heaving Bloody Bosoms. But in the meantime, groove on the other 13 kick ass stories in Midnight Walk that aren't mine.


Friday, May 29, 2009

Laying it all out

When my pals decided to start up this Darkhouse outfit, I immediately threw my figurative hat in for the job of book layout...even though I'd never done it before. And what a great learning experience it's been.

Do you ever hold a book and stop to think how it was put together? You might admire the illustrations, but what about the text, how it reads on a page, how the chapter headings look and the title page? I've always been interested in the physical object of the book, and had always had a yen to try my hand at designing one. I've been involved with a lot of other areas of graphic design - I've even done book illustrations and layout for convention booklets and theater programs - and it was time to try a book.

As the text was being completed, I started with both the cover design and the basic layout template. Suddenly I was faced with some interesting facts about books I'd never considered - like the fact that you don't leave the same margins on every page (because that doesn't take the binding process into account). I found a template for Microsoft Word that took into account "mirror margins", and I tweaked the headers and footers on the template until I had something I liked.

Once the cover art was approved, I started looking at fonts. I like the idea of the same font being used for the title and for interior chapter headings, so we looked at fonts that were expressive of dark fiction but still classy and readable, and we ended up with Ameretto.

I'm a big fan of the book design work of Chip Kidd, and I love his juxtaposition of big blocks of color and graphics, so I borrowed some of that idea of MIDNIGHT WALK's cover. For the rear cover, I created a track of footprints that I laid under the text (that same graphic appears in a slightly altered form on the title page).

Next, came designing chapter headings, and again - I confess I stole, this time from the interior design of the DARK DELICACIES anthologies (although I'd prefer to think of it as "homage"!). A large black bar would hold the Ameretto text title of each story.

I wanted a unique section break device, and so again, I created a track of footprints.

For the main font, there really wasn't much choice but Garamond 12 point. I compared a number of fonts the major publishers use to Garamond, but Garamond won out.

Several of the stories ("The Guixi Sisters", "The Svancara Supper Society") included special little graphics as part of the story. The authors and I worked carefully to place the graphics properly and to choose an ideal font for the engraved invitations in "Svancara" (we opted for Shell).

I also had to learn how to place a bar code. It sounds simple...until you realize there are some very specific rules regarding placement. We were working with a one-piece cover - meaning front cover, spine, and rear cover were one big file - and it took a fair amount of jiggering back and forth to get everything placed properly.

I know Word is not the ideal for book layout, but it ended up serving this project quite well. We did have a file so big it frequently threatened to crash the computer (!), but I was actually quite happy with the end result - I think the book is attractive, easy to read, and has a distinctive character. I hope you'll agree.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Bear Who Swallowed the Sky

I live in Oklahoma, where it sometimes seems it’s more important to know everything about the starting quarterback than it is to know everything about the English language.  Consequently, I’m often asked where I get my ideals.  I used to respond with a correction:  Ideas!  Ideassssss!  But then I just started answering honestly.  I’d say that I get my ideals from my parents.  If they gave me that strange look, which was every time, I’d say that I get my ideas from dreams, or from being inspired by something I read in the paper or saw on the news, or even something I read in someone else’s book or story.  Sometimes, as in the case of my story in Midnight Walk, an idea literally just falls from the sky.

Before 1974, some people erroneously believed that the town of Emporia, Kansas was protected from tornadoes because it was situated between the Cottonwood and Neosho rivers, and tornadoes did not cross water.  Emporia was struck again in 1991.  In March of 2000, an F-3 twister hit the downtown area of Fort Worth, also believed to be “immune” from a tornado strike.  Several high-rise buildings were heavily damaged, with large panes of glass raining down from the sky for days afterwards.  It was shortly after this incident when I first heard The Bear Who Swallowed the Sky roaring in the distance.  I knew then that I had to tell its story.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Destination Unknown: "The Mysterious Name"

There are plenty of paths to choose as you begin your Midnight Walk. Sometimes you'll walk alone. But now and then you'll realize that someone else, sunk in shadow, is matching your stride. As you go on, a few more strangers join in on the journey. Nobody speaks, but all of you sense you're traveling to the same place. At first the mood is one of great anticipation. Yet the dread increases as each step brings you all closer to your destination. The time comes when you would give anything to turn back. You want nothing more than to scream at the others to run away while they are still able. But you can no longer speak.

And then, finally, you understand. You thought this trip would decide your destiny. But it isn't just about you anymore. You look around and suddenly recognize the faces of those walking with you. And you know that, without meaning to, you've dragged along your family, your dearest friends, and passing acquaintances. Even the bystanders whom you wished no harm are with you and must share to some extent in your doom. Examining your companions more closely, you now see the reason why.

You are all connected with a link stronger than any chain. It is a fetter forged with words spoken, glances given, deceits encouraged and love withheld. All of your actions, minor and major, have rippled outward and ensnared the guilty and the innocent alike.

Sometimes, a Midnight Walk begins with one person, with just a single step down. But sometimes, the step that begins with one can send an entire society into an abyss.

That's the concept I explore in my story, "The Mysterious Name."

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Living In The Past: "The Measure of a Man"

When I was young my mother was friends with a woman who was about to celebrate her 104th birthday. As the beautician in the retirement home, my mother did the woman's hair up when a photographer came to take her picture for the paper. That night over dinner our family discussed the sheer magnitude of living for over a century. We marveled at what this little old woman had seen in her lifetime. She came to California in a covered wagon from South Dakota. At the ripe old age of 12 she was a school teacher in a one-room schoolhouse. She lived through every war from the Spanish-American War to Vietnam. During the 100+ years of her life, the Wright brothers first took flight at Kitty Hawk and Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon.

Since then, technology has advanced in leaps and bounds. We have at our fingertips incredible amounts of information. You can look up almost anything and find some sort of info on it. Maybe even a video clip. The internet has become a vast global repository of knowledge. If you were to wake up at 3am with a sharp pain in your back, you could go online and find out what it is or isn't. You no longer have to wait until the doctor's office opens at 8am to find out that it was nothing. You can learn how to build a working replica of the Apollo Guidance Computer from scratch, pay your bills, buy concert tickets, book trips, and so much more, all without having to leave the comfort of your home.

We are so used to all this technology, it seems natural, like an extension of ourselves. Devices like iPods and laptop computers are commonplace. But what if you didn't have all these modern conveniences? What if you were put in a situation where you had to rely solely on your wits to survive? Could you? That is the starting point for several of my stories. I enjoy writing historical fiction and putting myself in the skin of my characters. I try to figure out how I would cope with the situations they face. With no modern technology, weapons or tools, how would I survive?

The hardest part of writing these sorts of stories is putting aside everything you know and seeing the world through the eyes of someone like the main character in "The Measure of A Man". In it we meet Lindani, a young Zulu training to be a warrior. He lives in a time when men take to the seas in masted sailing ships to travel great distances. At twelve years of age, Lindani is about to come face-to-face with some gruesome, relentless creatures. The only things he has to protect himself are a sharp stick and his wits. Put in that situation, how long would you last?

In Search Of Monsters

By John Palisano

When I set out to transcribe the many fleeting images from within my mind’s eye it’s more often than not a difficult task. My usual method involves a pad, a pen, and rather blunt usage of my primitive drawing skills. These images, so often captured from dreams, fade quickly. For years I tried to transcribe them into writing. Problem was by the time I thought of the proper descriptive words details were lost and my time wasted. Using a quick sketch method remains the closest to taking a snapshot of the subconscious.

Just such a daydream brought the Tennatrick to life. I’d been reading about a rather terrible fire season in Southern California. Which made me curious: how could there be so many fires? It felt unnatural, as though someone or some-thing quite diabolical were purposely starting the hillside infernos.

I fell asleep in my childhood bedroom; I was visiting my parent’s house on the East Coast. My dreams filled with a strange monster combing the California mountains after having pushed its way through the earth. Its hibernation over, the creature broke free from its shell. Preservative oils within spilled to the ground and caught fire.

In my mind’s eye I crouched behind a tree. Was it in vain to hope the creature wouldn’t find me? Unfortunately the creatures had many eyes, each much more advanced than my own. It spotted my hiding pace and charged toward me. The burrs on the end of its arms swung threateningly. It screeched and clicked, producing a sound similar to its name.

The monster towered over me and I realized then there were bodies near the foot of the beast, torn in two, oozing gut and gore. I was toast.

Staring into the monster’s face and getting a whiff of its oily breath, I knew I’d soon be another pile on the ground. I shut my eyes, because in dreams, it seems impossible to move or run.

A greater noise, deafening in volume, made me bend lower. It continued and I waited for the killing blow. It did not come, but the noise continued. I looked up to discover a second creature fighting the first. A classic monster movie distraction played out right in front of me. A cliché, sure, but who was I to complain?

Waking with that scene in my head, I sketched the creature, the environment, and the fire behind. I also wrote some key words that would help me remember details. Oily breath. Flesh colored guts. White ash like snow.

From there I was able to assemble the story now published in MIDNIGHT WALK. It went through several draft. My strange dream crossed over from the mysterious world of imagination to a printed page.

Picturing myself as a kind of explorer, I’m constantly searching for strange monsters among dark frontier borders. There are many new uncharted species out there, but it’s likely they’d choose to remain hidden.

I’m just starting to explore, so if you’d like to get a backpack, I’d be grateful for company. Just do yourself a favor and bring along a reliable pen and a good notepad. You never know what you may stumble upon.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

"Diana and the Goong-si"

Hopping vampires - goong-si. Yeah, I love 'em.

Of course I'd like to think there's more to my story "Diana and the Goong-si" than just hopping vampires (like, say, a little comment on the injustices of colonialism, maybe even a bit about feminine empowerment in the 19th century), but I'd be lying if I didn't admit that the idea of a westerner fighting a quintessentially Chinese monster wasn't the chief genesis behind the story.

Although my Chinese friends tell me that these critters have been around eastern culture for a long time, they - like their western counterparts - have been largely defined by their movies. The hopping vampire has probably made almost as many appearances in Hong Kong cinema of the last thirty years as European-style bloodsuckers have in Hollywood movies. It was 1985's superhit Mr. Vampire that really put 'em on the map; although Mr. Vampire is a spectacularly loony film with plenty of laughs (largely provided by Hong Kong comedy superstar Ricky Hui), it's also got some genuinely spooky moments, like when our heroes hold their breath to keep a goong-si from finding them. Mr. Vampire set up most of the basic points of the hopping vampire: That they're dead and can only move by hopping; that they seek out the living to extract their blood; that certain kinds of rice can affect them; and that a knowledgeable priest can control them by placing a written sutra, a sort of prayer, on their foreheads.

Mr. Vampire spawned dozens of sequels, ripoffs and homages (funny how often those two are confused, isn't it?). But one of the most interesting additions to the whole hopping vampire movie cycle came nearly 20 years later, when Tsui Hark's Vampire Hunters introduced a new spin to the legend: That a powerful master goong-si could suck your blood without even touching you. This particular film largely dispensed with the humor that's traditionally lightened Hong Kong's hopping vampire movies, and proved that the goong-si could still invoke plenty of fear.

For some reason a couple of years ago I was briefly obsessed with writing fiction about hopping vampires. It hasn't been done much in western fiction; the only appearance that's garnered any real attention, I think, was a guest star bit in Kim Newman's Anno Dracula. I wondered if it was possible to take something that began life as a comic monster from another culture and use it effectively in western genre fiction. I actually wrote two hopping vampire pieces (the other, a story entitled "Mr. Hop in WongTown", should be making its appearance next year). "Diana and the Goong-si" started life as a story in which Dracula's antagonist Van Helsing fought the nasty hoppers, but I eventually realized I was far more interested in a western woman taking the things on. Travel to Canton (now Guangzhou) in Van Helsing's era (the 19th century, in other words) was difficult (even after the Suez canal finally opened and steamships replaced sailing vessels), and it would have taken a woman of rare determination and courage to even make the trip alone. Now take that woman and pit her against hopping vampires, and...

Well, you'll have to read "Diana and the Goong-si" to find out the rest.
MIDNIGHT WALK is hitting the streets in one month. Stay tuned for more...