Charles L. Grant’s The Orchard

14194284_10208452468722357_2081263356_n

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.

 

 

Announcing SECRET FACES

Secret Faces smallI am pleased to announce that my new short story collection SECRET FACES is now available for preorder on Amazon, Smashwords, and Kobo, with all other vendors to follow in the coming hours. Here’s the lowdown:

“If you are hiding from yourself, don’t expect anyone else to see you.”

Everyone has a secret. Everyone is someone else when the world isn’t looking. Sometimes that person is good, sometimes that person is not. In Bram Stoker Award-winning author Kealan Patrick Burke’s latest terrifying collection of short stories, you’ll meet thirteen people who discover the horror of what happens when those secret faces are removed and the true darkness that dwells within us all is unleashed.

Table of Contents:

Home
Stalled
The End of Us
The Red Light is Blinking
Mother/Nature
I’m Not There
Memory Lane
Terminal
Forced Entry
The Quiet
The One Night of the Year
Pig
Hoarder

With an introduction and story notes by the author.

Preorder on Amazon here.

 

 

Everybody Loves SOUR CANDY

Sour Candy - Resized

Okay, not everyone, because that’s pretty much impossible (and for those of you who didn’t, I tried, I swear), but I am certainly gratified by the positive feedback I’ve received for my humble little (read: weird and twisted) novella. In addition to the overwhelmingly great reviews from readers and reviewers alike, some of my favorite writers also weighed in with the following praise (a kindness for which I am endlessly indebted):

“SOUR CANDY is spectacularly good. A brilliant premise, marvelously executed, it’s as close to a perfect story as I can remember reading. I only wish I’d written it myself.” – Bentley Little, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of THE POLICY and THE CONSULTANT.

“On top, SOUR CANDY is a parental nightmare. But just under the lid is a mindscrew-story of a man’s life exploding. Like The Twilight Zone and the great, shorter stuff by Beaumont and Matheson, Kealan Patrick Burke opens a door that we didn’t even know was in the house.” – Josh Malerman, author of BIRD BOX

“SOUR CANDY is Kealan Patrick Burke at his beautifully hideous best. Original, compelling, and unsettling as hell, it’s must-read horror!” -Christopher Golden, New York Times #1 bestselling author of DEAD RINGERS

“An unexpected knife-turn in psychological suspense…” Christopher Fowler, author of NYCTOPHOBIA, THE SAND MEN, and the Bryant & May series.

If you haven’t already found out why Phil Pendleton really shouldn’t have accepted candy from a strange kid, you can procure your SOUR CANDY here.

 

“The Red Light is Blinking”

Focusing on Internet trolls and vengeance, my latest short story “The Red Light is Blinking” is now available to read for free at Nightmare magazine and Dread Central. Alternatively you can download the complete magazine for Kindle at Nightmare magazine or Amazon.com.

And you can read the nonfiction postscript “Random Acts of Silence” on this very blog here.

New Release: THE TENT

TheTent

THE TENT

The perfect getaway…

The perfect place to hide…

Hocking Hills, Ohio is an oasis for campers, hikers, nature enthusiasts, and for those who just want to get away and lose themselves in the wild.

And as long as you follow your guide’s advice and stay within the permitted areas, you can expect to survive the night.

Because deep within the dark woods, something insidious awaits, something few have ever seen, something ancient, unknowable, and insatiable.

If you go down to these woods today, you won’t live to see the sunrise…

A brand new novella from the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of THE TURTLE BOY and KIN.

Available now on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, B&N, and Smashwords.com. Available via all other vendors soon…

THE SEVEN: Gary Raisor

Continuing my interview series called THE SEVEN, in which I invite some of my favorite authors to answer seven questions about their most recent projects, today’s guest is Gary Raisor, a writer I first discovered in the pages of the much-missed magazines Night Cry and The Horror Show, and more recently in Cemetery Dance and Grave Tales. His mosaic novel (a linked series of stories) Sinister Purposes, also released by Cemetery Dance Publications and now available digitally, ranks as one of the best single author collections I’ve read. Empty Places, his graphic novella released by Crossroad Press, is also a particularly fine read, with wonderful artwork by Jeff Austin.

* * *

Q. What is your most recent release?

Less Than Human to Crossroad Press.

Q. What inspired the project?

A desire to mix two of my favorite genres, westerns and horror.

Q. What is the primary theme you’ve chosen to explore with this project?

The nature of friendship, particularly the boundaries.

Q. Of everything you’ve written to date, which project has been the most difficult for you?

Rewriting some parts in my next release Sinister Purposes. I felt like I missed it the first time around. Got another chance, but damn it’s hard to find that same mindset as the first time I wrote these stories.

Q. Which title would you suggest as a good introduction for newcomers to your work, and why?

I’d go with Less Than Human. It’s the one that I’ll be remembered for, if I’m remembered at all.

Q. What are your thoughts on the burgeoning digital market?

It’s a jungle, and I’ve lost my compass. Help!

Q. What’s next for you?

Hopefully a new novel, soon as I wrestle Sinister Purposes into shape.

* * *

Visit Gary at his blog here.