Paperback Re-Covery

One of the great things about DIY publishing is, if you don’t like the cover of your book, you can always change it. I try to resist doing this too often because it can create a bit of confusion among readers. Still, when I’m dissatisfied with a book cover, it nags at me until I can’t take it anymore and have to replace it with a better, more thematically appropriate and visually striking one. Hence, I recently redesigned the covers for my novels Master of the Moors and Currency of Souls.

While I was in the spirit of things, I also went ahead and made my collection Milestone and the new novella Blanky available in paperback editions with spiffy covers of their own.

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You can find all of these titles in digital and paperback on Amazon.

NOTE: The digital edition of MASTER OF THE MOORS is currently on sale for the next few days.

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Writing is Hard Work

With the advent of digital publication, getting published is easier than it’s ever been. All you need to do is write your book, format your manuscript, slap a cover on it, and hey presto, you’re published. This is both a good and a bad thing. On the good side, it allows the publication and discovery of some superb writers for whom mass market publication proved elusive. On the bad, it removes the filtration system, the much-maligned “gatekeepers” so that there is little quality control. Amazon are distributors, not editors, and they care little for quality if they’re making money, and they can’t be faulted for that. They’ve never pretended to be anything else. But here’s a personal example of why gatekeeping is important.

About eighteen months ago, a woman contacted me via Facebook asking if I’d be interested in reading a few pages of her first novel-in-progress. My advice was the same as it always is: finish the novel first and come back to me. It’s rarely a good thing to get feedback on a few pages. If the response is negative, then it can kill your drive to continue. Present it as a whole and then get a critique, I advised. She insisted, however, so, feeling magnanimous, I agreed to read the first chapter. At best, it was derivative to the point of being plagiaristic; at worst, it was atrociously written. I wrote fourteen pages of notes (on a six-page chapter) outlining what I thought were the worst issues, and giving her some advice on how to proceed.

She never responded. Later that day, she unfriended me.

This is not uncommon, and it’s pretty much why (time constraints aside) I rarely agree to read an unfamiliar writer’s work when asked for a critique anymore. It’s because not everyone who asks for one wants one. Not really. What they want is validation, to be told they’re the next Stephen King. And I’m not interested in stroking egos or the dispensation of false praise. As a result of my (solicited) critiques over the years, I’ve been trolled and harassed, have garnered negative reviews of my books from writers who felt slighted, and have heard at conventions that those same writers have been spreading rumors about me. So it goes.

At the start of this year, I got a newsletter I hadn’t signed up for from the same woman. Her book had just been released on Amazon and had twenty-one five-star reviews. Quotes from magazines and reviewers I didn’t recognize were comparing her work to that of Stephanie Meyer and Suzanne Collins.

I visited the book page, clicked on the preview and saw that it was exactly the same first chapter she had sent me, misspellings, grammatical errors, nonsensical sentences and all. She hadn’t changed a word. And based on the rankings, the book was selling very well.

I was happy for her success, but also saddened that this had become the way of things.

It seems like nobody wants to do the work anymore. Nobody wants to earn their way up the ladder. Instead, they want instant gratification, immediate validation. They want the fame, the kudos, the recognition. The want to call themselves a WRITER, because it’s a romantic term that gives you a place in the world, lifts you above your own perception of mediocrity. Unwilling to commit to an endeavor if the process is too long or complicated, these people surround themselves with like-minded folk who do nothing to dispel their shared illusion. If someone wanders in and offers valuable, time-tested advice, they’re descended upon en masse by an army of the author’s familiars who take each and every attempt to help as a personal attack.

What’s truly suffering here is not me, not the author, not other writers, not even the industry, because all of these things will, in one way or another, survive.

What’s suffering is the craft. And that’s truly something to be mourned.

New writers today often ask me how I did it, and I’m always happy to tell them. But sometimes the question is couched in frustration and bitterness. It sounds like the question is actually: “Who gave you your success?”, “Who owed you a favor?”, or “How did you fall into it?”

As time goes by, I see this more and more, the implication that what success I have wasn’t earned, rather I came by it by accident, or it was bestowed upon me after beating an editor in a poker game. And the answer now is what it always has been, what it always will be: hard work.

I love writing. I never want to do anything else. It’s also the hardest job I’ve ever had. For all the validation you get when you finish a book and people like it, there’s also the isolation and loneliness required to write it in the first place. And if that’s not enough, the process of bringing a book to life is typically fraught with self-doubt, self-criticism, and feelings of inadequacy. And to write the dark stuff, you need to be familiar with the darkness in your own life, and rather than run away from it like most sane people do, you grab it with both hands, eat it, and then vomit it back out in prose form. That process is many things, but fun isn’t one of them.

Writing is tough, exhausting, at times dispiriting.

When you’ve labored over the writing of a novel for the better part of a year, when the idea has been with you for four, when you’ve lived in the world you’ve created, become the characters and bestowed all manner of horror upon them, and essentially lived no life outside of writing, and the first review you see is a one-star, one-word review: “Meh”, yeah, it can make you wonder why you do it at all. But you do it anyway, because failure is not an option. You do it because you have no choice, because you were born a writer and will die one, because you need to create these worlds and these people and these nightmares. Because it’s who you are.

When I was starting out as a writer, and by “starting out”, I mean attempting to break into publishing after years of writing for nobody but myself, I thought the process was a simple one. Not that it would be easy or that I’d be accepted into the literary world without paying my dues. I just thought I knew how the equation worked: (a) Write a story, (b) Find the market, and (c) Submit. It would either work out, or it wouldn’t. There was no grey area.

Driven by dreams and lifelong ambition, I was nevertheless aware that my chances were slim. After all, my work had never been judged by professional eyes, so I had no idea if I could even write worth a fig. However, I wasn’t about to be stopped by uncertainty, so I submitted my stories to the magazines and anthologies I felt were the best fit for what I was trying to do.

Months would pass, and every day (long before email submissions were commonplace) I would check the mailbox for a large brown manila envelope (I always enclosed a stamped, self-addressed envelope, so that I could pop that sucker back in the mail to another editor.) And for the longest time, every one of those envelopes contained a rejection. Some were form letters (“Due to the large volumes of submissions we receive, we are unable to respond to you personally…”), some were personal, and encouraging.

Others were brutal.

Despite the disappointment and the increase in uncertainty that I had any idea what I was doing, I persisted and sent more stories out into the world. And eventually, as I read and wrote and learned and clenched my teeth in feverish determination, they started getting accepted. It was slow at first, a ratio of maybe one acceptance for every ten rejections. But over time, that ratio changed and I was suddenly getting published in many of my favorite magazines, like Cemetery Dance and Subterranean. It got so that rejections were not the norm, though they never surprised me when I did receive them. (I get them still.) And the harsher critiques I got were invaluable. I tacked them up above my desk and referred to them whenever I needed to be reminded that my work was and probably always would be flawed in some way. Because it always is.

My dream has always been to be a published writer. I remember sitting in my bedroom as a teen daydreaming about winning a Bram Stoker Award (which I saw mentioned on the covers of many of the books I was reading) and giving readings to a packed house as part of a book tour. I imagined traveling the world, seeing displays of my hardcovers in bookstore windows. I imagined an office that looked out over a serene lake, my shelves lined with my books, the gaps between those shelves bearing the poster art for the movies they had made from some of them.

Cut to today, and now I do write for a living. I did win a Bram Stoker Award (God bless you, Turtle Boy, you ungainly, overwrought mess of a novella). To achieve the goal of professional writing, I had to leave my friends and family back in Ireland and relocate at age twenty-three to live in a country I had never been to before, with people I didn’t know, but that was the extent of the world travel. I’ve been doing this, professionally for over sixteen years now, but my books are not displayed in bookstore windows. There are hardly any bookstores left. I’m not rich, or well-traveled. I don’t own that house by the lake. My shelves are filled with copies of my books, most of them issued by independent and small press publishers. There are no movie posters on my walls (though a number of the books have been optioned), and yet, I have never been happier than I am right now.

Because this is the calling, and wherever I am on that lofty career ladder, I earned my place there.

When I tell these things to newcomers, to some of them, writing suddenly seems like too much work and not the idealized image that had driven them to try. Because the truth is, many people who get into this business do so under the illusion that it’s easy, that all it takes to be a successful writer is to sit down and write. And that’s partly true. But you also must be willing to learn. You must be willing to be told you are not special, that your work is not the best it can be, that you need to improve. The committed writer is always learning, always pushing to be better, and will die never reaching perfection. The goal is to try, and to entertain some folk along the way.

Because, yes, while it’s now easier than ever to be a published writer, it’s just as hard today as it’s always been to learn how to be a good one, and you have to want to, because without putting your heart and soul into it, without putting the work into it and earning your stripes, you’re just waiting at the train station for a ride that isn’t coming.

 

 

 

 

DARK CITIES

Dark CitiesThe Titan Books anthology DARK CITIES, edited by Christopher Golden and featuring stories set, as the title suggests, in cities just this side of normal, has officially been released upon the world.

And, as books like this generally don’t get much in the way of a marketing push, it would be great if you could help spread the word. Of course, buying and reviewing the book is an even better strategy, but any assistance raising awareness of the title would be much appreciated, if only so we get to do more of them.

 

Here’s the table of contents:

THE DOGS by Scott Smith
IN STONE by Tim Lebbon
THE WAY SHE IS WITH STRANGERS by Helen Marshall
WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE PARIS by M.R. Carey
GOOD NIGHT, PRISON KINGS by Cherie Priest
DEAR DIARY by Scott Sigler
WHAT I’VE ALWAYS DONE by Amber Benson
GRIT by Jonathan Maberry
DARK HILL RUN by Kasey Lansdale & Joe R. Lansdale
HAPPY FOREVER by Simon R. Green
THE SOCIETY OF THE MONSTERHOOD by Paul Tremblay
THE MAW by Nathan Ballingrud
FIELD TRIP by Tananarive Due
THE REVELERS by Christopher Golden
THE STILLNESS by Ramsey Campbell
SANCTUARY by Kealan Patrick Burke
MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH by Sherrilyn Kenyon
GRAFFITI OF THE LOST AND DYING PLACES by Seanan McGuire
THE CRACK by Nick Cutter

You can grab a copy of the book here.

Short Stories: 2017 Edition

It’s been quite a productive year for me already, and while (as per usual) I can’t spill the beans on everything that’s cooking right now (as much as I’d love to), I can at least share some news about stories that are on the way in various publications.15319120_1192194820869660_8567178783653999739_n

My story of dwarves tasked with finding their errant brethren in territory governed by the dead, “Down Here with Us” will appear in Tales of the Lost Citadel, a shared fantasy world anthology edited by C.A. Suleiman. There’s no release date yet, but as I’ve already received a sample copy, I imagine it can’t be too far away. More news on this as I have it.

“Andromeda”, about a technological and possibly cosmic plague, will appear in an upcoming chapbook from Sinister Grin Press.

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The wartime story “Go Warily After Dark” about a family who pick the wrong place to seek shelter during an airstrike, will appear in Crystal Lake Publishing‘s forthcoming anthology Tales from the Lake Volume IV, edited by Joe Mynhardt and Ben Eads, due August 30th.

One of my rare erotica pieces “She Comes” is slated for publication this month in Great Jones Street‘s My Bloody Valentine series.

“Traveler”, a nasty little piece about a body-hopping entity who uses his unwitting victims to commit unspeakable crimes, will be featured in Dark Fuse Magazine in March.

hbyaoh-tpb-cvr-solMy novelette “A Wicked Thirst”, about an alcoholic whose date goes gruesomely wrong, will appear in Garden of Fiends: Tales of Addiction Horror, edited by Mark Matthews. As a rather cool incentive, the first 25 people to order the book can choose a free book by any of the authors listed on the table of contents.

“Sanctuary”, about a child sent to retrieve his father in a city forgotten by the rest of the world, will appear in Dark Cities, edited by Christopher Golden, and published by Titan Books. Look for it in May.

“Verstedkt”, in which our titular hero is sent to an Alpine village to investigate claims of a witch, will appear in the prose anthology Hellboy: An Assortment of Horrors, edited by Christopher Golden and Mike Mignola, due in August from Dark Horse Books.

Lastly, I have just turned in a short story “The Mannequin Challenge”, about an antisocial man who reluctantly agrees to attend the office Halloween party, and quickly wishes he hadn’t, to the Halloween Carnival anthology, edited by Brian Freeman, to be published by Cemetery Dance Publications and Random House.

I’ll update this list as more news develops…

Charles L. Grant’s The Orchard

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In the midst of writing a new essay for Dancing with Shadows, The Charles L. Grant Blogathon, I realized that I had said many of the same things before, and much more succinctly, in my preface for Necon Books’ digital reissue of The Orchard, which is not only one of my favorite titles from Charlie’s extensive body of work, but also one of my favorite collections, period. So, rather than repeat myself, I thought it more prudent to share that essay with you here (with slight edits for clarity):

There’s no better time to write this introduction than today, October 24th, because this is Charlie’s season. As I sit here pecking away at the keyboard, the light is an eerie shade of tarnished gold through a persistent rain. Dead leaves scratch across the porch like dirty paper airplanes thrown by sullen children. The wind is not quite howling, but it’s considering it, as it whips through the woods around my house. The branches are gnarled and bare, casting long thin shadows that look like rotten ropes poised to pull in the encroaching dark. The earth is sodden, the air smells like smoke. The river is thick and full and muddy as it rushes under the small wooden bridge that leads away from here.

This is Charlie’s season.

And this is what I said to my girlfriend a few days ago as we bundled up and took a stroll along the lane that meanders through these woods. “I love fall,” I told her. “The quality of the light, the taste of the air…it’s Charlie Grant’s season.” She did not need to ask who I meant, as she has heard me go on (and on, and on, God bless her patience) at length about my favorite writer. I have read passages to her from his books; she has seen the towering stack of yellowed paperbacks bearing his name that materializes beside the bed at this same time every year. She knows I edited a book called Quietly Now, which was a celebration of the man and his work. And she has heard me speak of him as a writer whose style I emulate over all others. There are any number of reasons why this is the case, most of which I’ve covered in the various essays and tributes I’ve written since Charlie passed away, so I won’t rehash them here. Besides, if you’re reading this book now, then chances are you already know them.

orchard-uk-pb-grantOf everything Charlie wrote, my favorite books of his are those that combine quartets of stories linked by a central motif and packaged as novels, books like Nightmare Seasons, The Black Carousel, Dialing the Wind, and this one you’re reading now. It has long been argued that, for horror writers particularly, the novella is the ideal length for a story. It allows character development and plenty of darkness, while negating the need for rambling or filler. For the reader, it’s just long enough to be worth the investment, but not so long it seems daunting. Charlie seemed most at home with novellas, and indeed they represented him at the height of his power, and nowhere is that more evident than in The Orchard.

Here, our connective tissue is the titular venue, an old orchard on the outskirts of town that has somehow managed to be forgotten by most of the people in Oxrun Station. And perhaps it wants to be forgotten. There was a fire there, you see, and although apples still grow on the trees that escaped the flames, it is inadvisable to eat them. Doing so changes things, changes you, and unleashes an insidious evil, whether within or without.

But people will always find places not meant to be found, and amid the shifting mists and half-glimpsed shadows, the orchard spreads its tendrils into the minds of the weak, exploiting the unrequited love of poor, overweight Herb Alstar in “My Mary’s Asleep”, and the loneliness and paternal insecurities of policeman Brett, in the ironically titled, “I See Her Sweet and Fair”.

I read this book in my late teens, about seven years after it was released, and though I didn’t revisit it until Captain of the Good Ship Necon, Bob Booth, approached me to write this introduction, the one story that had never left me was “The Last and Dreadful Hour”, which I recalled with almost perfect clarity. It’s a terrifying piece, a veritable chiaroscuro of horror, and my favorite kind of story—one that traps people together in a single setting and pits them against some type of invasive, unknowable evil. After I first read this, visits to my dilapidated local movie theater were never quite the same, and as I sat in the gloom, usually alone, waiting for the movie to start, I would always find myself squinting into the shadows beneath the stained screen, wondering if there was something hiding there. It’s a testament to Charlie’s power that he can write something so moody, so dark and dirty, that it sticks in the mind decades after you first read it. And that’s one of the reasons I love his work so much. It is less a reading experience than an immersion into a meticulously crafted and lyrical carnival of shadows you find difficult to forget.

Similarly, the closing segment of The Orchard, “Screaming, In the Dark” documents a man trapped (this time by injury and not supernatural means) in a hospital bed as odd things begin to occur in the hallways and rooms around him. What I like most about this one is how Charlie subverts the use of darkness and somehow manages to make dazzling bursts of white light even more threatening.

The Orchard is bookended by the story of Abe Stockton, the current chief of police, who is not long for this world, and the man he brings to the orchard to educate about the ways of the place. To assist him, he has brought along some files, and it is those that make up the stories in the book. This introduction and epilogue could be considered incidental, but they’re anything but. In addition to making the book read more cohesively than most novels, they’re also just as skin-crawlingly unsettling as the stories themselves.

If you’re reading these stories for the first time, I envy you. And I can’t help wondering what Charlie would have made of seeing his work presented in digital form. Some authors still rail against the new medium, and I completely understand why. Like them, I too have a deep attachment to physical books. To me, it’s as much a part of the reading experience as the stories themselves, and it’s still how I prefer to read, if possible. The argument could, and has, been made that digital reading is too cold and impersonal, but to be fair, I think this misses the point. The medium is irrelevant, merely the means by which the stories are brought to you. Deliver them via papyrus scrolls, cave paintings, pulp, movies, audio, digital screen, retinal scan, or brain implant (for who knows what comes next!), it is the stories, and only the stories that matter. I don’t think Charlie would have cared how you read his work, only that you enjoyed it. And it is my hope that having his work available digitally exposes it to a new and expanded audience. It is nothing less than he deserved.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve prattled on long enough, and I am due another walk with my better half. It is the perfect day for such things, just as it is the perfect day to reminisce about my favorite writer and mentor.

Because now the light is fading and streetlights are coming on, sending shadows sprawling across the porch and toward the door. The wind has indeed risen to a howl, moaning once more about the things it seeks to change. The leaves are scratching at the door, tapping on the windows, asking to be let in, eager for me to come out. The river hurries on, and there’s a chill in the air that foretells of the coming storm.

It’s Charlie Grant’s season.

And it always will be.

 

 

THE TENT Free on Wattpad

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You can now read my novella THE TENT for free on Wattpad.

“If JAWS was the story that made people stay away from the ocean, THE TENT is the mean little novella that will keep them out of the woods.” – Norman Partridge, author of DARK HARVEST.

“Burke has concocted a tasty mix of THE THING meets INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS meets THE TWILIGHT ZONE, and he made sure to marinate it in a couple of gallons of blood before setting it free.” – FEARNET

John Carpenter’s TALES FOR A HALLOWEEN NIGHT, V2

I have a story (“Mr. Goodnight”) in the upcoming graphic novel anthology John Carpenter’s Tales for a Halloween Night, Volume 2, edited by Sandy King Carpenter. As a lifelong fan of John and Sandy King Carpenter’s work, to say it’s an honor to be included in this book is an understatement.

Look for the book in stores on October 18th, or preorder the book here.

From John Carpenter, the man who brought you the cult classic horror film Halloween and all of the scares beyond comes 12 more twisted tales of terror, tricks, and treats. In volume 2 of the award-winning graphic novel series, Carpenter brings together another stellar ensemble of storytellers from the worlds of movies, novels and comics for a collection of stories that will haunt your dreams at night.

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