Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

Coming Soon: The Outer Dark Interview


Fans of modern weird fiction may already be familiar with The Outer Dark Podcast, created by Scott Nicolay. The podcast has been on hiatus for a few months but is about to return with a double episode. The first half features a long interview with me, and the second half is an interview with a young author who has recently been winning acclaim and awards. If this is the first you’re hearing of the show, the archives are full of fascinating interviews and well worth delving into. Might as well subscribe to this podcast right away and start catching up before I start yammering tonelessly in your ear, causing permanent damage that will make it impossible for you to hear anything except muffled screams.

Your Old Paperclips May Not Be Archival


For the past two days I have been scanning nearly four decades’ worth of manuscripts and other paper-based ephemera. My fingers smell like rusty paperclips; there are copious microinjuries. When a certain variety of paperclip, presumably manufactured in the ’70s or ’80s, gives in to decay, it sheds a shiny outer layer that is twisted, somewhat sharp, and snags in carpet and flesh. I feel at risk for tetanus. And yet, this hazardous undertaking is not unrewarding. I have filing cabinets full of text I generated (or as we old timers might say, “stories I wrote”) in a distant pre-digital era. It has made me nervous to think that almost none of that stuff exists anywhere else, except in increasingly fewer increasingly moldy magazines and paperback anthologies.

I’ve now got around 60 old stories scanned and OCR’d, which I am going to be cleaning up and posting here on my website. Most of it will go into the Online Fiction section, though there are a few odds and ends that are harder to categorize. Found the full transcript of an interview with David Lowery of Camper van Beethoven, done during the Key Lime Pie tour, of which only bits and pieces appeared in Mondo 2000. A thing called “Michael J. Fox as Wormboy” which is really just the most extended dream-journal I ever wrote, following a dream so weird that I woke up and promptly spent most of a day writing it down. But mostly it’s just stories, old ones, with some new Author’s Notes appended.

Stories such as “Spawn of the Ruins,” my first real publication, from 1977.

And “Sneakers,” the only story I sold to the late Charlie Grant for his celebrated Shadows series.

I’ve got more to clean up, a lot more, and I’ll post them as I go. Some of the formatting is a real mess. Old dot matrix manuscripts don’t play nice with OCR, it turns out.

And if you spot any errors or typos (I am sure there will be plenty), I would be much obliged if you would drop me a line at the contact page and let me know!

“Kapu” in Darker Companions

My short story, “Kapu,” will figure obscurely in Joseph S. Pulver’s forthcoming anthology, Darker Companions, itself a tribute to the work of Ramsey Campbell. “Kapu” was not written to order for the collection, but there is no question that the spirit of Ramsey Campbell animates it and has since its inception. Never has such a short story given me so much trouble, but the thought of coming off badly in a tribute to one of my idols must have scared me into finally getting it all figured out.

Ramsey was my first editor, having bought my first solo sale, “Tissue,” for his landmark New Terrors collection. He improved that story, and sharpened my own technique, by adding four little words to one sentence. “That’s how it’s done,” I thought, and I’ve been trying to keep that lesson in mind for 40 years.

Here is the opening of “Kapu”:

The moment he reached the edge of the shore, he felt the sand give way [add four words here]. The beach was fine and white above, coarse and black below [this sentence needs something]. He stepped back quickly, before his wife and son caught up [need four more words].

The waves crashed in, making a green roil from the horizon to a tumble of lava boulders that edged the cliffs where they touched the water, aslant from jungled peaks high above [four words to come]. Only this thin crescent of sandy beach remained untouched, and even that was being eaten away steadily by the sea [do what Ramsey does].

Join me in awaiting the official announcements of the anthology’s contents and publication date. From what I’ve heard, the line-up of contributors is very strong indeed. That Pulver guy knows everybody!

Wetherfell’s Reef Runics: New Story Alert

F&SF has officially announced acquisition of my latest short story, “Wetherfell’s Reef Runics,” which is tentatively slated for early 2017.

To mark the occasion, I present the first paragraph:

The visitor drowned at Hollows Reef while Ambrose Sabala, mid-snorkel, was making a gleeful mental inventory of the morning’s haul—not of fish, but of books. Ambrose drifted over the dull, trampled coral beds with ears full of seawater, snorkel mouthpiece firmly clenched in his teeth, three-pronged pole spear dangling, and did not hear the sirens wailing louder and softer and louder again as emergency vehicles raced along the folds of the ocean highway. He had raided the Friends of the Library bin outside the Schefferville Library that morning, and with one ten dollar bill taken away a stack of first editions in good and even mint condition. A Bret Easton Ellis, stowed in someone’s luggage, then unpacked and left behind—no doubt to make room for a resin tiki or a seashell mug. A biography of Robert Louis Stevenson, also unread. An untouched copy of The Marriage Plot, or anyway one that had been touched only in order that it might flatten a dozen photographs of a bat mitzvah and family surfing lessons. Ambrose pulled his spear back taut on its rubber sling and released it half-heartedly in the direction of a trigger fish, which failed to react except to swerve away slowly from the empty triple threat of his barbed prongs.

This is the first of what I hope will be a new series of stories centered on Castaway Books, a secondhand bookshop located on the slightly skewed Hawaiian island of Tauai.


The Ghost Penny Post


Now available, wherever fine rare periodicals are sold, “The Ghost Penny Post” is the cover story for the March/April 2016 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. This beautiful and stunningly weird cover is by Jason Van Hollander. The issue has been reviewed by a few online websites, including Amazing Stories, Tangent Online, and SFRevue.

An idea I’d been carrying around for over 15 years, it was finally written in response to a request for stories about videogames; but ultimately, while it does involve games, the video element is nonexistent. It might be considered steampunk thanks to the Victorian period setting, but the only steam in it comes from a kettle. The keen observer might notice that it takes place partly in the bewildering village of Binderwood, referenced elsewhere on this site. There are no coherent observations to be drawn from this, however. I had simply run out of names for made-up places, I assure you. Please don’t see patterns where none exist!

Bless Me, Ray Bradbury


Sometime in early 1976, Ray Bradbury came and talked in the Laguna Beach High School auditorium. Afterwards I went down with my friend Robert Gillespie to meet him. We peppered him with questions, and Bradbury commented that he had corresponded with Clark Ashton Smith, at which my enthusiasm must have overcome me, as he reached out and sort of gave me a noogie. Robert never let me hear the end of it: “Oooooh, Ray Bradbury tousled your hair!” Gillespie tortured me with this embarrassing information for quite some time. In the end, I prepared this card and sent it to Bradbury, who kindly signed it. I carried it in my wallet for quite a while.


Covers of Books I Never Read

1972. Seen in a book rack at the Grand Canyon Gift Shop during a summer car trip with my grandpa Laidlaw. I picked it up, gawked at the cover, put it down because it was time to get back to the car, and thought about it for the next hundred miles, regretting that I hadn’t pleaded for the funds to buy the copy. Although I collected and read many, many, many DAW paperbacks, I never acquired this one and never read it. I think it’s probably awful but I have never forgotten that title…or the weird cover that went with it.

The Sliming of James Joyce

In honor of the published works of James Joyce entering the public domain as of midnight on New Year’s Eve, let the mash-ups begin:

“A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to slime again. He watched sleepily the blobs, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: slime was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly globbed on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the slime falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the undead.”

There’s nothing like having the freedom to screw up one of the finest stories in the English language.

Next Up: Cthulhulysses!