Interview Between Geoff Cooper and Brian Keene (2005)

Interview Between Geoff Cooper and Brian Keene (2005)

To the casual observer, Geoff Cooper and Brian Keene’s relationship is an odd one. Cooper was best man in Keene’s wedding, and Keene is godfather to Cooper’s child. They’ve collaborated together a number of times, on everything from short stories to Jobs In Hell. Yet despite this, the two seem more like best adversaries than best friends. They constantly bicker and argue, and seem to know exactly which buttons to push on the other.

Many, including the staff here at Cemetery Dance, are surprised that they haven’t killed each other yet.

Case in point: We asked them to talk to each other about their upcoming collaborative novella, and this is what happened…

Brian Keene: Coop, are you as sick as I am of people thinking we’re joined at the hip?

Geoff Cooper: Hells yes.

Keene: Then why are we doing this?

Coop: Because Rich still has those photos.

Keene: @$#&ing blackmailer…

Coop: No kidding. I KNEW we should have been more careful with the whole hooker/trout thing….

Keene: That thing with the hooker was your idea, @$#&head.

Coop: Once again, I get blamed for something you did. Anyway, let’s get these @$#&ing questions done before he comes up with some more photos.

Keene: Good idea.

Coop: Of course it is. I thought of it.

Keene: How do you feel your writing has changed since the days of 4X4 and BUM PISS & OTHER CITY SCENTS?

Coop: It’s become readable. How is this novella different from your previous works? Will it alienate fans of THE RISING, TERMINAL, and CITY OF THE DEAD?

Keene: It’s different in that we have two and a half months to write the @$#&ing thing. But no, I don’t think it will alienate my readers. They’ve seen me collaborate with you before, and they’ve liked the results. How about fans of your Brackard’s Point mythos? Do you think they’ll mind me playing in their sandbox?

Coop: I doubt those who are familiar with Brackard’s Point will mind at all. It’s a new Brackard’s Point story—and those don’t come around too often. Besides, I’m right here. I won’t permit you to screw it up. I’ve seen message board threads about how one of us is going to wind up killing the other before this is all over, and I admit, there’s a few valid arguments in there: we’re both egomaniacs, for one—though in completely different ways—and neither of us are exactly known for passivity or softening things up in order to spare someone else’s feelings. Okay, the last may apply to me more than you.

Keene: Oh kettle, thou art black.

Coop: Whatever. What’s your take on such speculations?

Keene: My take? Our significant others are best friends. We live minutes from each other. We seem to spend a lot of time together. If we haven’t killed each other yet—be it at the bookstore or the shooting range or on a double date to the movies, then I don’t reckon we’ll kill each other while in the process of writing a story. Will we fight and argue? Sure. But we fight and argue all the time, anyway. We’ll probably fight and argue before the end of this interview. Case in point—you are wrong about 28 DAYS LATER.

Coop: Oh, come ON! 28 DAYS LATER was a piece of crap. I’ve seen the DEAD movies, read THE STAND and BLOOD CRAZY, so I’ve already read—or saw—all the movie’s good parts. Why, then, did I need to see this idiocy? Oh, that’s right—because you thought it would be, and I quote, “something cool to do with the girls.” I STILL want that hour and a half of my life back, pal.

Keene: I’m serious. Quit @$#&ing around. I think the truth is that both of us are happier when we’re writing, even when we’re forced to give up some of our creative control to a collaborator. I guess the speculations out there are based more on a public persona than who we really are behind the keyboard. We’re not exactly angry young men anymore.

Coop: No, not exactly. You’re middle-aged. I’m still angry.

Keene: You total monkey@$#&er. You’re middle-aged, too, @$#&hole. And you’re so not angry—these days you whine, rather than rage.

Coop: Newsflash @$#&head: you’re four years older than me, Mr. Grey-And-Balding Hypochondriac. I’ve still got a few years before I pass into that pasture, and when I DO, I’ll still have more hair on my head than you.

Keene: Certainly more hair on your ass.

Coop: Even if it does go grey overnight, I won’t be dying it. The only reason you don’t dye your beard anymore is because Matt Warner busted you at one of your readings, and that was only last year.

Keene: It was two years ago!

Coop: Mike, Mikey, and I hid your beard dye right before your wedding, and we knew about it from the 2001 WHC in Sea-Tac, because we saw it there. You had to get all prettied up for your adoring fans. Now I may be creeping up on middle age, but remember: you’re always going to be older than me, so get over yourself.

Brian: I may be older, but I’m also cuter. Ask your girlfriend.

Coop: Cuter? Not for nothing, but you’ve got a BROW RIDGE, you mother@$#&ing Neanderthal. And this bit about me whining? Oh, please. Ain’t THAT the pot calling the kettle black. You’ve got more whines than the Bible’s got psalms. Let’s go over a few of them, shall we? You: “Oh, I’ve got cancer of the lip. Cancer of the colon, cancer of the eyelid, cancer of the nostril… I’m constipated, I’m codependent, I’m manic-depressive… I’m going into therapy, I’m going on a pill, I’m going insane… I hear voices, I see dead people, my cat is telling me what to do, I think my dog hates me, I think my dog is listening to the cat, I think the cat sees dead people…” And these were only from the last three days! I might be a neurotic freakshow, but WHINE? Get out of my sight with THAT kind of noise.

Brian: At least I’ve got something to @$#&ing whine about, @$#&head. “Oh woe is me. I am Coop. My existence is my own bane, and the world is black because of it. Look how angry and moody I am! Look at me, @$#& it! Everyone hates me and that pisses me off, because nobody hates me more than myself.” Ya know, Coop, it’s always surprised me that you listen to metal, because you’re a @$#&ing poster-child for every black-wearing, Morrissey-listening, poetry-scrawling-in-little-notebook, suicidal mother@$#&er out there.

Coop: You’re putting words in my mouth.

Keene: So? You put words in my mouth, too, @$#head.

Coop: I’ve never used the word “bane” unless referring to LORD FOUL’S. What I HAVE said is “Everything sucks all the time.” So if you’re going to attempt to quote me, get it correct. Furthermore, I don’t think everyone hates me.

Keene: Yes you do.

Coop: Some do, sure, but I’m okay with that because last I checked I wasn’t out to win a popularity contest. I’m fairly certain the Morrissey you referred to is some band, but I can’t recall ever hearing anything by them. You, however, seem to be familiar enough with them to try and use it as a rip on me, so your entire argument becomes suspect. So @$#& you.

Keene: Now who’s whining? I swear to God—you’ve got more whine than Jesus Christ himself. “Waaa, I don’t have time to write. Waaa, I don’t get any sleep.” You can’t write? Too bad. Turn off the fucking History Channel and turn on your computer. What? Oh, that’s right—you’ve got a permanent game of Civilization III running on your computer. Can’t sleep? Boo-mother@$#&ing-hoo. Try drinking decaf, mother@$#&er. Newsflash, Cooper–you are NOT Foamy the @$#&ing squirrel, no matter how much you wish it were otherwise.

Coop: Okay, bud… YOU have your demon-spawn godchild running around like a Rhesus on acid all day long and tell me how you’re doing after two weeks—let alone two years—with regards to sleep and productivity.

Keene: Next time, wear a rubber.

Coop: And I haven’t played CIV III in months. You @$#&ing drama queen.

Keene: DRAMA QUEEN? @$#& you. Watch yourself, buddy, or I’ll tell everybody that you secretly own every Stryper album ever made.

Coop: Ha! You think they’ll believe that? Especially after you publicly admitted to your appreciation for Winger, Kix, and Journey?

Keene: I’m not the one with the Xanadu Official Motion Picture Soundtrack in his basement.

Coop: And you ever tell ANYBODY about that, I’ll tell them about the one place on your body where you still HAVE hair.

Keene: Okay, truce. Now, let’s get back to this interview.

Coop: Yes. Have some.

Keene: Okay. Let’s pretend—pretend, mind you—that there’s somebody out there, a loyal Cemetery Dance customer perhaps, who has not yet had the pleasure of reading our work. What reason can you give them to order this still untitled and unfinished novella? Why should they give it a try, especially after your abhorrent behavior in this interview?

Coop: I’d say there are a few good reasons to order this. The strict limitation of the hardcovers, for one. Only enough are being printed to cover the pre-orders, so it’s not like there’s going to be many on the aftermarket. To get a hardcover of our last collaborative effort, “Wild Kingdom,” (from 4X4) a reader might spend upwards of $500 on eBay. (Yes, that’s five hundred dollars. No, I am not kidding.). It’s a safe assumption that the aftermarket price of this novella will be far above what CD is asking for it—and you get a boatload of coupons also. Financially, it’s a no-brainer.

Keene: I agree. But what about the story itself?

Coop: It’s solid. While it is true that I’m biased in saying so—obviously—and it is still incomplete, I can tell you it’s got that which CD customers have come to expect over the years: dark crime-ish elements coupled with the supernatural, and the supernatural elements that ARE involved are not stock-horror items. No zombies, no werewolves, vampires, haunted houses, any of that. Your average small-press reader likes a new method, provided that method WORKS, and I’m certain that which we’re going to do in here will work. I’m putting my name on the thing, so it’d better. I know there are a LOT of CD customers that wouldn’t know us if we bit them on the nose, but I don’t think they’re going to be disappointed, is what I’m saying. Our regular readers will need less convincing, but they won’t be let down, either.

Keene: I hope they don’t shy away simply because it’s a collaboration. I’ve collaborated with you, Mike, Mikey, Tim Lebbon, and others, and you’ve collaborated with most of the same. I’ve always felt that, in the case of you and I, we force each other to do our best work, simply because of the antagonistic nature of the collaboration itself.

Coop: Some collaborations have a noticeable split where one author breaks and the other takes over. Many readers find this annoying. As with “Wild Kingdom,” this new one will have no such split. How it works with us is like this: Brian writes a scene. I re-write it, give it a nudge in the direction it’s supposed to go (and if there’s any question about this, we discuss it), then turn him loose again. With me doing all the re-writes, there’s no jarring break as in other collaborations, so it’s easier on the reader. We both wind up having our say, and though we may come close to blows during the process, the end result is worth the price of admission. At least, I think so.

Keene: I do, too. And all joking around and arguing aside, at the end of the day, we both give our best as a result, because we respect the reader—and we respect each other. Wouldn’t you agree?

Coop: Yeah, I respect you. Now go to the store and get me a pack of smokes, @$#&head.

Keene: @$#& you. Want to go to the range and shoot things?

Coop: @$#& it. Why not? We can work on the novella later.

Excerpt from The Corpse King by Tim Curran

Excerpt From
The Corpse King
(Novella Series #21)
by Tim Curran

Here were cadavers of every age and sex packed in sawdust and hay, sunk in wooden casks and barrels of brine. Here were babies pickled in bottles and salted limbs heaped in cupboards. Staring heads had been salted and women injected with preservative. They waited against the walls like mummies and leered from corners with rictus grins. A great assemblage of charnel harvest awaiting the highest bidder, supply and demand. Like the grisly pantry of a cannibal.

Clow grinned. “Aye, I look around me workshop and see coins spilling from every recess, I do. Would you agree, Mickey Kierney?”

“I would,” Kierney said, pulling a lid off a cask and pouring a bit of grain alcohol from a dusty bottle onto the bobbing head of a woman.

“And look here, would you?” Clow said. “Me latest offerings.”

He approached a table with two small forms shrouded in a graying sheet. Carefully, he pulled the sheet back. There were the cadavers of two four-year old twin girls laying there, cold as clay, eyes gummed shut, tiny stiff hands pressed over white bosoms.

“Oh, me fine darlings, look at you, look at the wonder of you,” Clow said, pouring himself a tin cup of gin and toasting them. “Your mother decided she would strangle you, did she? Decided life was better without you, eh? Well, no matter, me and Mr. Kierney will whisk you off to the medical college at first light. You’ll be in good hands there, I say. Better than the moss and crawlies of the churchyard, I be thinking,” Clow stroked their sunken faces, brushed a stray strand of hair away from the one on the left and cooed to the other, drawing a finger over her seamed, blackened lips. “Sssh, sssh, me doves, me lovies, me fine little darlings. We’ll have none of that now, will we? Samuel Clow will take fine care of you, he will.”

Together, Clow and Kierney gently lowered the bodies of the girls into a vat of brine to hold them over until delivery. Their blonde curls skated over the surface a moment, then sank from view.

“Bless ye, me angels,” Clow said, closing the lid.

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Excerpt from Mr. Darkness by Douglas Clegg

Excerpt From
Mr. Darkness (CDSS)
by Douglas Clegg

Chapter One

Youth is a cliff. You leap, and repair the broken bones later.

When you’re older, you draw the map, retrace the steps, and find the cliff’s edge again and wonder: would anyone ever jump if they knew how far down it went?


Ask Haversham about cliffs and broken bones.

If she could talk, she’d tell you all. I bet she knows the Throat of Manhattan — that cavernous well that drops to the pitch black boulevards of Deep City. I bet she knows the inhabitants of the lightless world–who exist below the squalid tunnels of the city — those people who are less than human (some say) because they’ve lived for generations in the dark.

There she is now — see her? Sitting in her wheelchair, far from the subway platform, half in shadow, half in light. Old beyond years. Shriveled. Her eyes, clouded. Her lips curled slightly in an unintended snarl.

What does she think when she watches that girl — does she remember being young?

Haversham is all white hair and translucent wrinkled skin; her hands, scored with the lines and veins of old age; she makes strange movements with her hands when the arthritis doesn’t knot them up as if they’re snakes wriggling in mid-air.

In her lap, the little gray cardboard shoe box, its lid tied down with twine.

But who is she, really? — when the lights go out and her whisper is against your cheek.  Do you smell her sour milk breath? Do you feel her curled hand reaching toward you as if she wants you to listen?

Do you really want to know what’s inside that plain shoebox, what secret she’s keeping? Does it hold photos of her youth — or wads of dollar bills — or even the brown shoes she once went dancing in when she could walk?

Haversham, with her little knit blanket and flower-print dress and scrawny bird-head and the way she tries to speak, but can’t seem to form the words she wants to say — almost as if she doesn’t know language anymore.

And if she could speak — will you stop to listen?


My name is Mina, and my brother’s name is Leo. Leo mostly raised me — even though he’s just a year older than me, he managed to be cook, thief, nurse and even my protector. Our father could do none of this.

Our father is Howard and he’s blind and prone to fevers and muscle pains. Our mother — Marguerite — died when I was young.

In those days, we lived under Sixth Avenue in Manhattan, but not so far down that we are in Deep City. That’s important to know, because it means we’re still above the darkest part of the underworld that opens beneath Macy’s and Saks and Bloomingdales and, yes, even the Excelsior Hotel off of Sixth Avenue.

We fell through some cracks, once upon a time. My father feels we jumped, but I think we were shoved.

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Excerpt from Walpuski’s Typewriter by Frank Darabont

Excerpt from
Walpuski’s Typewriter
by Frank Darabont

“Yes? May I help you?”

Howard froze in the open doorway, letting the wind howl through the long, narrow shop like a wounded beast. The scabrous old man behind the counter was grinning — not smiling, but grinning and rubbing his hands together with a predacious glee like John Carradine in a bad movie. He was positively ancient, a bald fossil in green tweed, sporting a pink roadmap of eczema on his scalp. He reminded Howard of a praying mantis.

A rumble of thunder rolled down Hollywood Boulevard and rattled the windows in their frames. Howard stepped inside and closed the door, shutting out the gale. It wasn’t a dark and stormy night, not yet, but it was getting there in a big, ugly way.

“May I help you?” the proprietor persisted.

“Uh, yes, I hope so.” Howard hefted the battered black typewriter case onto the counter and opened it to reveal the equally battered and black IBM Selectric II within. “I’m afraid my typewriter broke down this morning.”

Broke down, hell. It had self-destructed with an oily belch of smoke and a prolonged, wheezing death-rattle. The sound it made as it expired was that of an old dog farting.

Howard saw no point in relating all the sorry details. “I’m not really sure what the trouble is.”

“How tragic,” murmured the old man, and leaned over the carcass of the machine with a look of overwhelming sadness. Then his grin returned, so sudden and unexpected that Howard took a nervous step back. “You’re a writer,” he croaked. It wasn’t a question so much as the accusation of a hooded Inquisitor.

“Well, yes,” Howard admitted.

“I spotted it right off, didn’t I? I am Cyril Pratt. And you are…?”

“Howard. Howard Walpuski.”

“Feel free to browse around, Mr. Walpuski. See what strikes your fancy. Will you be using the dearly departed,” he nodded at Howard’s IBM with the solicitous air of an undertaker, “as a trade-in?”

Howard shrugged, non-committal. The truth of the matter was he had the sum of his wordly wealth riding around in his wallet in the form of five wrinkled dollar bills and an RTD bus pass. He noticed the faded REPAIRS MADE ON CREDIT sign mounted on the wall and gestured vaguely in its direction. “Actually, I wondered if you might be able to—”

“Affect repairs?” spat the old man. Again, it sounded like an accusation: Zoo, you vant your typewriter repaired, schweinhunt? Und on credit, no doubt! Hmmm…you haff relatives in Argentina, perhaps? Howard felt his face redden, suddenly sure that Pratt knew he had only five bucks to his name, knew about the phone company threatening to disconnect him for non-payment, knew about the nasty letters his bank was sending him with the words INSUFFICIENT FUNDS and OVERDRAWN screaming at him from every paragraph, knew…well, everything.

“Yes,” Howard stammered. “Affect repairs.”

“Well, we’ll just have to see about that, won’t we? We’ll just have to see if repairs are in order.”

Pratt removed the carriage housing cover and poked his nose into the IBM, prodding around with his index finger, whistling and grunting softly under his breath.

Howard turned away and pretended to browse the typewriters that lurked in the shadows on musty shelves and pedestal displays, hating himself for letting the old man make him feel ashamed and small, praying that the Selectric could be mickey-moused into functioning again. He had a deadline to meet, rent to pay.

He’d been to damn near every typewriter shop in the city, lugging the beastly black IBM till the muscles in his neck and shoulders sang arias about muscular aches and pains. Most of the repairmen had simply smiled as politely as possible, shaken their heads, and shown him the door. One guy had actually laughed in his face and said, what’d you do, buddy, use this sucker to barbecue? Howard had resisted a blinding urge to remove all the man’s teeth with one mighty swing of the typewriter; he’d simply thanked him and left, the back of his neck flushed and hot.

There was no reason to hope that Pratt would be any different, none at all.

Howard glanced at the counter and was shocked to find the old man staring at him. He was suddenly sure Pratt had been watching him all along, studying him instead of the typewriter. He pictured himself lying on the counter in the IBM’s place, the top of his head removed like a carriage housing cover, Pratt peering inside his skull and poking his finger around, making those soft sounds under his breath.


“Yes,” said Pratt, “I think repairs are called for. Much needed repairs.”

Howard’s face lit up. For a brief moment he even found himself liking the old guy. “Great! How long do you think it’ll take?”

“Major repairs,” continued Pratt, ignoring the question. “Beyond just the obvious. The typewriter is the least of it.”

Howard blinked. “I’m not sure I follow.”

“Answer me this. If you had an infinite number of monkeys randomly hitting the keys of an infinite number of typewriters for an infinite amount of time, do you know what you’d get?”

Of course Howard knew; this had been standard in every philosophy course he’d ever taken in college. “You would eventually get all the great works of literature?”

“YOU’D GET BULLSHIT, THAT’S WHAT YOU’D GET!” screamed Pratt, causing Howard to jump several feet in the air. “And do you know why you’d get bullshit?”

“Why?” blurted Howard.

“Because monkeys can’t write!” Pratt unfurled a long, gnarled finger and jabbed it in Howard’s direction. “You, Mr. Walpuski, are like one of those monkeys. You just keep hitting the keys, and all you keep producing is bullshit.”

Howard’s mouth dropped open like a trapdoor. “Now wait just a damn minute…”

“Yes, I will affect repairs. On credit, of course. You need pay only a small deposit now, say perhaps . . . five wrinkled dollar bills?”

This stopped Howard cold. He had just been working himself into a good rage, too — had, in fact, promised himself to grab the nasty old codger by the frayed lapels and shake him till his head fell off — but this brought him up short like a bucket of water between the eyes.

“Fuh-fuh-fuh-five . . . ?”

“Wrinkled dollar bills, yes. The remainder of my fee will be 10% of all your earnings from the three novels.”

“Three novels?”

“Yes, of course,” said Pratt, waggling three fingers impatiently in front of Howard’s nose. “My work is guaranteed, you know. For three novels.”

Before Howard could respond, Cyril Pratt tucked the big IBM effortlessly under his arm, case and all. He strode to a door near the back of the shop and threw it open, revealing rickety wooden steps leading down into darkness. He spared a glance over his shoulder. “Well? Come, come! I haven’t got all night, you know!”

The old man plunged into darkness.

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Excerpt from Blue November Storms by Brian Freeman

Excerpt from
Blue November Storms
by Brian Freeman

The five men lay motionless on the roof of the hunting cabin, and they stared at the full moon and they talked about everything, their breath turning to fog in the chilly night air. The cabin known to them as The Summer Place sat at the top of a rocky hill, perfectly perched so the men could look down on Beacon Point Lake where the moon’s shimmering reflection glazed across the water’s dark surface.

These five friends had built the cabin when they were in high school, but now, twenty years and five lifetimes later, none of them could remember what had compelled them to start the project in the first place. During their formative years they were called The Lightning Five because of their prowess on the football field, but the nickname had stuck with them for the rest of their lives for another reason. They had done something as teenagers that people still talked about—although no one else knew what had really happened on that humid August day when they were eighteen.

A certain amount of pressure grew from knowing the truth, and holding that pressure inside could make a person implode.

But tonight wasn’t about pressure, it wasn’t about myths. The men hadn’t yet spoken of what they had done twenty years earlier or why they had never let the complete story be known or why a girl had died and yet they were still called heroes. Tonight was about escape and destiny.

And little did the men know, this was going to be their last trip together. Ever.

But before they could come to The Summer Place for the last time, one of them had to return from the dead.

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Excerpt from Kill Whitey by Brian Keene

Excerpt from
Kill Whitey
by Brian Keene

Her name was Sondra, and when she asked me to kill Whitey, I said yes.

What else could I say? If you could have seen her, if you could have watched the way her pouting, glossy lips formed the words, or if you looked deep into her sad eyes, or heard that sorrow in her sweet, pleading voice-you would have said the same thing.


Sondra was beautiful. Her dark hair was so black that sunlight got lost inside it. Her eyes were the same color. Her long fingernails were red, matching her lipstick. She had Russian facial features; a Slavic forehead, chin, nose and cheekbones. She was slim, but had a heart-shaped ass and perfect tits. No boob job for her. No way. Sondra’s breasts were one-hundred percent real. You could tell it by the way they moved when she walked. Or arched her back. Or just breathed.

Damn. That sounds bad, doesn’t it? I hate to make her sound like a piece of meat. She wasn’t. Sondra was much more than that. And I’m not one of those guys, in any case. I respect women. Like the great comedian Sam Kinison used to say-what are you gonna do without women? Give sheep the vote? You’ve got to respect women. And I did. But put that aside for a moment. Sondra was what she was-a surefire cure for erectile dysfunction. She put Viagra to shame. You know those women that you see-the exotic ones that you could never ever get? Not in a million years? She was one of those women. And I got her.

She was the type of woman that men would kill or die just to be with one time. She inspired the imagination. She was who you closed your eyes and fantasized about when you made love to your wife for the five hundredth time. Straight guys wanted to fuck her. Gay guys wanted to be her friend. And women… some women wanted to do both. Well, except for those that instantly hated her-and maybe even some of them wanted to be with her, too.

Sondra was her real name, too. A lot of those girls-especially the Russians-use stage names. But not Sondra. She didn’t have to. Her presence was more powerful than any name she could have taken.

Shit. I’m not a poet. I’m a fucking dockworker. I don’t know how to make it any more palatable for you. I don’t have the words or the ability. What you need to know is this-Sondra was sex, plain and simple. She exuded it. It was in her aura, in her pheromones. It dripped from her pores and followed in her wake like a vapor trail. Sondra was desire and lust, and I wanted her from the moment I saw her.

Was it love? I don’t know. Maybe I thought so for a little while, but even now, after all this time and everything that happened, I just don’t know for sure. I’d been in love before. More than once. I knew what it was like. How it felt. What it did to a man. In the short time I was with Sondra, it certainly felt like that. But it also felt like something more-or maybe, something else.

I don’t know if I loved her, but I was damn sure crazy about her.

And that’s why I said yes when she asked me to kill Whitey.

Saying it, making the promise, was easy. Doing it was harder.

Much harder…

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Excerpt from Black Fire by James Kidman

Excerpt from
Black Fire
by James Kidman

The doctors say this will help me heal.

In the days since I awoke from the white haze, the world has been a blur of blinding lights and muffled noises and distorted memories fading in and out of reality, in and out of my dreams and nightmares. Machines beep and hum. Voices carry down the hallway. Somewhere, someone screams for reasons I can only begin to imagine.

I’m trapped in my own little hell.

A personal inferno.

The lights are bright during the day. At night they dim so I can sleep. That’s never a problem, although my dreams are haunted by visions of the recent past. Nothing solid. Every moment is like gazing into a broken mirror. Echoes of confusion. Flashes of movement. But those echoes grow louder and the flashes become brighter with each passing night.

I’m eighteen years old, and the doctors say I’ll recover from my wounds.

Right now my side aches, as if the bullet is still in there. I feel the burning, like a white-hot knife is being jabbed into my flesh.

The drugs create a fog in my head, but I can’t imagine the pain without them. The pain comes in waves, blinding me, branding my mind.

I can’t remember much. Not yet.

But I know a way to recover the memories, to rebuild what I once had.

I told the doctors how I can remember what happened, with a little help from them.

I told the doctors I used to write every day.

The act of putting words on paper has helped me through a lot of difficult times. My fears and dreams, spoken through other people’s mouths. My fears and dreams, acted through other people’s bodies. Nothing real, all fake, all make-believe, yet all reflections of reality.

After some discussion, the doctors have decided it’s what I need to do now: I need to write.

My memories are distant and disjointed, but I’ll try to make this as coherent as I can.

The doctors tell me to write, so that’s what I’ll do.

I’ll write about the day my life changed forever.

I’ll try to explain The Showdown, if I can discover what that really means.

I’ll write this down like any other story I’ve ever dreamed up.

Like any work of fiction that has ever lived inside my mind, and inside my mind only.

What I can’t remember, I’ll piece together along the way.

I’ll pretend it’s all make-believe.


This is real.

This is what happened.

This is why we had to run.

Why my flesh was torn open.

Why I’m here now.

It’s why I’m alive and others are not.

I’ve lost everything that ever mattered to me.

But I’m going to get it back.

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Excerpt from Friday Night in Beast House by Richard Laymon

Excerpt from
Friday Night in Beast House
by Richard Laymon

Mark sat on the edge of his bed and stared at the telephone.

Do it! Don’t be such a wuss! Just pick it up and dial.

He’d been telling himself that very thing for more than half an hour. Still, there he sat, sweating and gazing at the phone.

Come on, man! The worst that can happen is she says no.

No, he thought. That isn’t the worst. The worst is if she laughs and says, “You must be out of your mind. What on earth would ever possess you to think I might consider going out with a complete loser like you?”

She won’t say that, he told himself. Why would she? Only a real bitch would say a thing like that, and she’s . . .

. . . wonderful . . .

To Mark, everything about Alison was wonderful. Her hair that smelled like an autumn wind. Her face, so fresh and sweet and cute that the very thought of it made Mark ache. The mischief and fire in her eyes. Her wide and friendly smile. The crooked upper tooth in front. Her rich voice and laugh. Her slender body. The jaunty bounce in her step.

He sighed.

She’ll never go out with me. But jeez, he thought, why not ask? It won’t kill me to ask.


Before today, he never would’ve seriously considered it. She belonged to another realm. Though they’d been in a few classes together since starting high school, they’d rarely spoken. She’d given him a smile from time to time. A nod. A brief hello. She never had an inkling, he was sure, of how he felt about her. And he’d intended it to remain that way.

But today at the start of lunch period Bigelow had called out, “Beep beep!” in his usual fashion. Alison hadn’t dodged him fast enough, so he’d crashed into her with his wheelchair. Down she’d gone on the hallway floor at Mark’s feet, her books flying.

“Jerk!” she yelled at the fleeing Bigelow.

Mark knelt beside her. “Creep thinks he owns the hallways,” he said. “Are you all right?”

“Guess I’ll live.”

And the way she smiled.

“Can you give me a hand?”

Taking hold of her arm, he helped her up. It was the first time he’d ever touched her. He let go quickly so she wouldn’t get the idea he liked how her arm felt.

“Thanks, Mark.”

She knows my name!

“You’re welcome, Alison.”

When she stood up, she winced. She bent over, lifted the left leg of her big, loose shorts and looked at her knee. It had a reddish hue, but Mark found his eyes drawn upward to the soft tan of her thigh.

She fingered her kneecap, prodded it gently.

“Guess it’s okay,” she muttered.

“You’ll probably have a nice bruise.”

She made a move to pick up one of her books, but Mark said, “Wait. I’ll get ’em.” Then he gathered her scattered books and binders.

When he was done, he handed them to her and she said, “Thanks, Mark. You’re a real gentleman.”

“Glad I could help.”


He stared at the telephone.

I’ve got to call her today while it’s fresh in her mind.

He wiped his sweaty hands on his jeans, reached out and picked up the phone. He heard a dial tone. His other hand trembled as he tapped in her number. Each touch made a musical note in his ear.

Before pushing the last key, he hung up fast.

I can’t! I can’t! God, I’m such a chickenshit yellow bastard!

This is nuts, he told himself. Calm down and do it. Hell, I’ll probably just get a busy signal. Or her mom’ll pick up the phone and say she isn’t home. Or I’ll get the answering machine. Ten to one I won’t even get to talk to Alison.

He wiped his hands again, then picked up the phone and dialed . . . dialed all the numbers.

His arm ached to slam down the phone.

He kept it to his ear.

It’s ringing!

Yeah, but nobody’ll pick it up. I’ll get the answering machine.

If I get the answering machine, he thought, I’ll hang up.

Hang up now!


Oh my God oh my God!

“Hi,” he said. “Alison?”


“It’s Mark Matthews.

“Ah. Hi, Mark.”

“I, uh, just thought I’d call and see if you’re okay. How’s your knee?”

“Well, I’ve got a bruise. But I guess I’m fine. That was really nice of you to stop and help me.”

“Oh, well . . .”

“I don’t know where Bigelow gets off, going around

crashing into everybody. I mean, jeez, I’m sorry he’s messed up

and everything, but I hardly think that’s any excuse for running people over, for godsake.”

“Yeah. It’s not right.”

“Oh, well.”

There was a silence. A long silence. The sort of silence that soon leads to, “Well, thanks for calling.”

Before that could happen, Mark said, “So what’re you doing?”

“You mean now?”

“I guess so.”

“Talking on the phone, Einstein.”

He laughed. And he pictured Alison’s smile and her crooked tooth and the glint in her eyes.

“What’re you doing?” she asked.

“The same, I guess.”

“Are you nervous?”


“You sound nervous. Your voice is shaking.”

“Oh, sorry.”

“The answer is yes.”

“Uh . . .”

“Yes, I’ll go out with you.”

I can’t believe this is happening!

“That’s why you called, isn’t it?”

“Uh, yeah. Mostly. And just to see how you’re doing.”

“Doing okay. So. I’ll go out with you.”


“How about tomorrow night?” she suggested.


“Sure. Yeah. That’d be . . . really good.”

“On one condition,” she added.


“Don’t you want to hear the condition first?”

“I guess so.”

“I want you to get me into Beast House. Tomorrow night after it closes. That’s where we’ll have our date.”

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Excerpt from Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge

Excerpt from
Dark Harvest
by Norman Partridge

A Midwestern town. You know its name. You were born there.

It’s Halloween, 1963… and getting on towards dark. Things are the same as they’ve always been. There’s the main street, the old brick church in the town square, the movie theater—this year with a Vincent Price double-bill. And past all that is the road that leads out of town. It’s black as a licorice whip under an October sky, black as the night that’s coming and the long winter nights that will follow, black as the little town it leaves behind.

The road grows narrow as it hits the outskirts. It does not meander. Like a planned path of escape, it cleaves a sea of quarter-sections planted thick with summer corn.

But it’s not summer anymore. Like I said, it’s Halloween.

All that corn has been picked, shucked, eaten.

All those stalks are dead, withered, dried.

In most places, those stalks would have been plowed under long ago. That’s not the way it works around here. You remember. Corn’s harvested by hand in these parts. Boys who live in this town spend their summers doing the job under a blazing sun that barely bothers to go down. And once those boys are tanned straight through and that crop’s picked, those cornstalks die rooted in the ground. They’re not plowed under until the first day of November. Until then the silent rows are home to things that don’t mind living among the dead. Rats, snakes, frogs… creatures that will take flight before the first light of the coming morning or die beneath a circular blade that scores both earth and flesh without discrimination.

Yeah. That’s the way it works around here. There are things living in these fields tonight that will, by rights, be dead by tomorrow morning. One of them hangs on a splintery pole, its roots burrowing deep in rich black soil. Green vines climb through tattered clothes nailed to the pole and its crosspiece. They twist through the legs of worn jeans like tendons, twine like a cripple’s spine through a tattered denim jacket. Rounded leaves take succor from those vines like organs fed by blood vessels, and from the hearts of those leaves green tendrils sprout, and the leaves and the vines and the tendrils fill up that coat and the arms that come with it.

A thicker vine creeps through the neck of that jacket, following the last few inches of splintery pole like a backbone, widening into a rough stem that roots in the thing balanced on the pole’s flat crown.

That thing is heavy, and orange, and ripe.

That thing is a pumpkin.

The afternoon sun lingers on the pumpkin’s face, and then the afternoon sun is gone. Quiet hangs in the cornfield. No breeze rustles the dead stalks; no wind rustles the tattered clothes of the thing hanging from the pole. The licorice-whip road is empty, silent, still. No cars coming into town, no cars leaving.

It’s that way for a long time. Then darkness falls.

A car comes. A door slams. Footsteps in the cornfield—the sound of a man shouldering through brittle stalks. The butcher knife that fills his hand gleams beneath the rising moon, and then the blade goes black as the man bends low.

Twisted vines and young creepers root at the base of the pole. The man’s sharp blade severs all. Next he goes to work with a claw-hammer. Rusty nails grunt loose from old wood. A tattered leg slips free… then another… and then a tattered arm….

The thing they call the October Boy drops to the ground.

* * *

But you already know about him. After all, you grew up here. There aren’t any secrets left for you. You know the story as well as I do.

Pete McCormick knows the story, too… part of it, anyway. Pete just turned sixteen. He’s been in town his whole life, but he’s never managed to fit in. And the last year’s been especially tough. His mom died of cancer last winter, and his dad drank away his job at the grain elevator the following spring. There’s enough rotten luck in that little sentence to bust anyone’s chops.

So it’s not like the walls have never closed in on Pete around here, but just lately they’ve been jamming his shoulders like he’s caught in a drill press. He gets in trouble a couple times and gets picked up by the cops—good old Officer Ricks in his shiny black-and-white Dodge. First time around, it’s a lecture. Second time, it’s a nightstick to the kidneys. Pete comes home all bruised up and pisses blood for a couple of days. He waits for his old man to slam him back in line the way he would have before their whole world hit a wall, maybe take a hunk out of that bastard Ricks while he’s at it. But his father doesn’t even say a word, so Pete figures, Well, it looks like you’re finally on your own, Charlie Brown… and what are you going to do about that?

For Pete, it’s your basic wake-up call. Once and for all he decides he doesn’t much care for his Podunk hometown. Doesn’t like all that corn. Doesn’t like all that quiet. Sure as hell doesn’t like Officer Ricks.

And maybe he’s not so crazy about his father, either. Summer rolls around and the old man starts hitting the bottle pretty steady. Could be he’s noticed the changes in his son, because he starts telling stories—all of a sudden he’s really big with the stories. We’ll get back on our feet soon, Pete. They’ll call me back to work at the elevator, because that chucklehead Kirby will screw everything up. That gets to be one of Pete’s favorites. Right up there with: I’m going to quit the drinking, son. For you and your sister. I promise I’ll quit it soon.

It’s like the old man has a fish on the line, and he’s trying to reel it in with words. But Pete gets tired of listening. He’s smart enough to know that words don’t matter unless they’re walking the hard road that leads to the truth. And, sure, he can understand what’s going on. Sure, the nightstick that life put to his old man makes the solid hunk of oak Officer Ricks used to bust up Pete look like a toothpick. But understanding all that doesn’t make listening to his old man’s pipe dreams any easier.

And that’s what his father’s words turn out to be. The bossman down at the elevator never calls, and the old man’s drinking doesn’t stop, and things don’t get any better for them. Things just keep on getting worse. As the summer wanes, Pete often catches himself daydreaming about the licorice-whip road that leads out of town. He wonders what it would be like out there… somewhere else, far away from here… on his own. And pretty soon that road finds its way into another story making the rounds, because—hey—it’s September now, and it’s about time folks started in on that one crazy yarn everyone around here spins at that time of year.

Pete catches bits of it around town. First from a couple of football players waiting to get their flat-tops squared at the barber shop, later from a bunch of guys standing in line at the movie theater one hot Saturday night. And pretty soon the story picks up steam at the high school, too. Again, Pete only hears snatches of it—in the bathroom out back of the auto shop where guys go to sneak cigarettes, in detention hall after school—and sure it’s pretty crazy stuff, but the craziest thing is that those snatches of conversation all fall within the same parameters, and that simple fact is enough to start Pete thinking this might be the rare kind of story that actually makes the trip from the campfire to the cold hard street.

“Got me a bat. Brand new Louisville Slugger.”

“That ain’t what you need. It’s too hard to swing a bat when you’re on the run, and you’re too slow as it is, anyway. Just look at that table muscle hanging over your belt. You couldn’t catch my great-great grandma rolling her ass uphill in a wheelchair with a couple of blown tires if your life depended on it.”

“I don’t have to catch your great-great grandma, stupid. I don’t have to catch anyone. All I have to do is plant myself in the right place. I’ll let my chuckleheaded cousins do the catching. They’ll flush that sucker like a prize buck, corral him in a blind alley. And that’s where I’ll be waiting… all ready to take my cuts.”

“Fat chance. You spend the night of the Run hanging out in some stupid alley, you might as well set up housekeeping there for a whole goddamn year.”

“Uh-uh. You boys’ll be the ones who end up hanging around this jerkwater town for another year, not me. I’ll have a walking nightmare’s carcass chained to my bumper, and I’ll be across the Line and gone for good by the time you take your first piss of the morning.”

Pete’s been thinking about that conversation for the last few days, putting it together with all the other stories he’s heard. Adding it up one way, then adding it up another… just to see if he can make it come out any other way than the crazy spookshow equation it wears for a face.

And, hey, just lately Pete’s had plenty of time to think about all that stuff. Because it’s the tail-end of October now, and his father’s had him locked in his bedroom for the last five days. Nothing to eat in there. Only water to drink, and—when the old man’s feeling generous—maybe a glass of OJ that’s a long way from fresh-squeezed. You want sufficient opportunity to become a believer, well, there you go. Try feeding a five-day hunger with some OJ that tastes like a cup of freezer-burn, and nothing to wash it down but a bunch of words you can’t get out of your head.

But even with all that chewing around inside him, Pete can’t quite buy into the stories he’s been hearing. Oh, sure, he can believe the part about the kids and the crazy stuff they get up to with their baseball bats and pitchforks on Halloween night. After his run-in with Officer Ricks, he’s certain his hayseed hometown could breed a nasty little square dance like that. But the other part—the spookshow part—Pete’s not so sure he can make the whole trip there.

You can’t really blame him, can you? I mean, think about it. Remember when you were just a little kid, the first time you noticed your older brother locked up tight for five days and nights during the last week of October? Remember the first time you heard that the whole deal had something to do with a pumpkin-headed scarecrow that runs around on Halloween night? It wasn’t exactly easy to believe that one no matter how scared you were, was it?

Not until you experienced it yourself, of course.

Until you were the guy locked up in your bedroom.

Until you were the guy who saw what went down when you hit the streets on Halloween night.

But Pete hasn’t seen any of that. Not yet. Like I said, he just turned sixteen. Tonight is his first crack at the Run. So it’s not really surprising that hisdisbelief isn’t completely suspended. But he’s getting there. And the more Pete thinks about it, the less important the whole spookshow equation seems. The way Pete sees it, what he believes or disbelieves doesn’t really matter much when you look at the big picture.

Do that, and other stuff starts to matter.

Uh-huh. What matters is that his old man has kept him locked up for five days. What matters is that he hasn’t had anything to eat. What matters is that he’s dead cold certain it’s been just that way for every other guy in town between the ages of sixteen and nineteen. The high school is closed—has been for five days. The streets are empty. And guys all over town are pacing crackerbox bedrooms in the wee small hours, gearing up for Halloween night like bulls penned up in tight little chutes.

Pete sits on his bed and thinks about that. Right about now, it seems like a pretty full bucket of validation. So he lets his mind tote that sucker, and he gets comfortable with the load.

He thinks about baseball bats and pitchforks, and butcher knives, and two-by-fours studded with nails, and a couple hundred young guys hitting the streets as darkness falls.

He thinks about a scarecrow running around with a pumpkin for a head.

He thinks about what running down that scarecrow might mean for a guy like him.

Then, as the old Waltham clock on his nightstand ticks down the dying embers of Halloween evening, he stops thinking about all that stuff.

After that, he only thinks about a couple of things… the really important things.

He thinks about the door to his bedroom swinging open.

He thinks about what he’ll do when he steps outside.

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Excerpt from Hornets and Others by Al Sarrantonio

Excerpt from
Hornets and Others
by Al Sarrantonio

Too warm for late October.

Staring out through the open door of his house, Peter Kerlan loosened the top two buttons of his flannel shirt, then finished the job, leaving the shirt open to reveal a gray athletic tee-shirt underneath. Across the street the Meyer kids were re-arranging their newly purchased pumpkins on their front stoop — first the bigger of the three on the top step, then the middle step, then the lower. They were jacketless, and the youngest was dressed in shorts. Their lawn was covered, as was Kerlan’s, with brilliantly colored leaves: yellow, orange, a dry brown. The neighborhood trees were mostly shorn, showing the skeleton fingers of their branches; the sky was a sharp deep blue. Everything said Halloween was coming — except for the temperature.

Jeez, it’s almost hot!

Behind him, out through the sliding screen door that led to the back yard, Peter could hear Ginny moving around, making an attempt at early Sunday gardening.

Maybe it’s cold after all.

He opened the front screen door, retrieved the morning newspaper he had come for, and turned back into the house, unfolding the paper as he went.

In the kitchen, he sat down at the breakfast table and studied the front page.

The usual assortment of local mayhem — a robbery, vandalism at the junior high school, a teacher at that same school suspended for drug use.

In the back, Ginny cursed angrily; there was the sound of something being knocked against something else.

“Peter!” she called out.

He pretended not to hear her for a moment, then answered, “I’m eating breakfast!” and began to study the paper much more closely then it deserved.

On the second page, more local mayhem, along with the weather — sunny and unseasonably warm for at least the next three days — as well as a capsule listing of the rest of the news, which he scanned with near boredom.

Something caught his eye, and he gave an involuntary shiver as he turned to the page indicated next to the summary and found the headline:

Hornets Attack Pre-schoolers

Another shiver caught him as he noted the picture embedded in the story — a man clothed in mosquito netting and a pith helmet holding up the remains of a huge papery nest; one side of the structure was caved in and within he could make out the clumped remains of dead insects—

Again he gave an involuntary shiver, but went on to the story:

(Parkerton, Special to the Herald, Oct. 24) Scores of pre-schoolers were treated today for stings after a small group of the children inadvertently stirred up a hornets nest which had been constructed in a hollow log. The nest, which contained hundreds of angry hornets, was disturbed when a kickball rolled into it. When one of the children went to retrieve the ball, the insects, according to witnesses, “attacked and kept attacking.”

Twenty eight children in all were treated for stings, and the Klingerman Pre-School was closed for the rest of the day.

The nest was removed by local bee-keeper Floyd Willims, who said this kind of attack is very common. “The nests are mature this time of year, and can hold up to five hundred drones, along with the Queen. Actually, new drones are maturing all the time, and can do so until well into fall. With the warm weather this year, their season is extended, probably well into November. The first real cold snap will kill them off.”

Willims continued, “Everyone thinks that yellow jackets are bees, but they’re not. They’re hornets, and can get pretty mean when the nest is threatened. At the end of the season, next year’s Queens will leave the nest, and winter in a safe spot, before laying eggs and starting the whole process over again with a new nest.”

As of last night, none of the hornet stings had proved dangerous, and Klingerman Pre- School will reopen tomorrow.

Peter finished the story, looked at the picture again — the bee-keeper holding the dead nest up with a triumphant grin on his face — and gave a third involuntary shiver.


At that moment Ginny appeared at the back sliding door, staring in through the screen. He looked up at her angry face.

“I can’t get that damned shed door open!” she announced. “Can you help me please?”

“After I finish my breakfast—”

Huffing a breath, she turned and stormed off.

“Aren’t you going to eat with me?” he called after her, hoping she wouldn’t turn around.

She stopped and came back. “Not when you talk to me with that tone in your voice.”

“What tone?” he protested, already knowing that today’s version of ‘the fight’ was coming.

She turned and gave him a stare — her huge dark eyes as flat as stones. She was as beautiful as she had ever been, with her close cropped blonde hair and anything but boyish looks. “Are we going to start again?”

“Only if you want to,” he said.

“I never want to. But I don’t know how much more of this I can take.”

“How much more of what?”

She stalked off, leaving the door open. After a moment, Peter threw down the paper and followed her, closing the sliding screen door behind him and dismounting the steps of the small deck. She was in front of the garden shed, a narrow, four foot deep, one story-high structure attached to the house to the right of his basement office window.

“Well, I’m here,” he said, not at all surprised that she momentarily ignored him.

Jeez, it is hot! he thought, looking up at a sun that looked summer-bright, and then surveying the back yard. The colored leaves fallen from the tall oaks that bordered the back yard looked incongruous, theatrical. There was an uncarved pumpkin on the deck of the house behind theirs; it looked out of place in the heat.

Peter turned to stare at Ginny’s little garden, to the right of the shed, which displayed late annuals; they were a riot of summer color which normally would have been gone by this time of year, killed by the first frost which had yet to come.

“I’ve been weeding by hand,” she explained, “but I’d like to get some of the tools out and get ready for next spring. I’ve been having trouble with the shed door again.”

He stepped around her, pulled at the structure’s wooden door, which gave an angry creak but didn’t move.

“Heat’s got the wood expanded; I’ll have a look at it when I get a chance.” He gave it a firmer pull, satisfied that it wouldn’t move.

“Isn’t there anything you can do about it now?”

“No.” He knew he sounded nasty, but didn’t care.

She reddened with anger, then brought herself under control. “Peter, I’m going to try again. We’ve been through this fifty times. You’re punishing me, and there isn’t any reason. I know it’s been rocky between us lately. But I don’t want it to be like that! Can’t you just meet me halfway on this?”

“Halfway to hell?”

She was quiet for a moment. “I love you,” she said, “but I just can’t live like this.”

“Like what?” he answered, angry and frustrated.

“No matter what I do you find something wrong with it — all you do is criticize!”

“I…don’t,” he said, knowing as it came out that it wasn’t true.

She took a tentative step forward, reached out a hand still covered in garden loam. She let the hand fall to her side.

“Look, Peter,” she said slowly, eyes downward. “I know things haven’t been going well for you with your writing, believe me I do. But you can’t take it out on me. It’s just not fair.”

Male pride fought with truth. He took a deep breath, looking at her, as beautiful as the day he met her — he was driving her away and didn’t know how to stop.

“I…know I’ve been difficult—” he began.

She laughed. “Difficult? You’ve been a monster. You’ve frozen me out of every corner of your life. We used to talk, Peter; we used to try to work things out together. You’ve gone through these periods before and we’ve always gotten through them together. Now…” She let the last word hang.

He was powerless to tell her how he felt, the incomprehensible frustration and impotence he felt. “It’s like I’m dry inside. Hollow…”

“Peter,” she said, and then she did put a dirt-gloved hand on his arm. “Peter, talk to me.”

He opened his mouth then, wanting it to be like it had been when they first met, when he had poured his heart out to her, telling her about the things he had inside that he wanted to get out, the great things he wanted to write about, his ambition, his longings — she had been the only woman he ever met who would listen to it, really listen to it. He had a sixth sense that if he did the wrong thing now it would mean the end, that he had driven her as far away as he dared, and that if he pushed her a half step farther she would not return.

He said, “Why bother?”

Again she reddened with anger, and secretly he was enjoying it.

“I’m going out for the day. We’ll talk about this later.”

“Whatever you say.” He gave her a thin smile.

She turned away angrily, and after a moment he heard the screen door slide shut loudly, the front door slam, and the muted roar of her car as she left.

Why did you do that? he asked himself.

And a moment later he answered: Because I wanted to.

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Excerpt from Hallows Eve by Al Sarrantonio

Excerpt From
Hallows Eve
by Al Sarrantonio

Any train ride through any town, any October.

The soothing clack of the rails almost had him asleep. His newspaper lay crumpled in the empty seat beside him; the lights in the train car had flickered off in the middle of the sports page and he finally gave up, leaning back against the stiff headrest and turning to watch the night outside. They were passing endless cornfields under a mounting harvest Moon; under the strong white light the stalks looked dry as paper, stiff at soldiers at attention.

Something caught his eye ahead in the field of corn, towering above it — an orange and yellow shape that resolved itself into a scarecrow topped by a pumpkin head.

As they drew abreast of the figure a fire ignited behind the triangle eyes, the sickle mouth, and it turned its head to look at him. As the train left it behind, Corrie watched the scarecrow move one of its long arms to point directly at him…

(Later on our protagonist is compelled to get off the train and look for the scarecrow…)

The night was still and cold, the chill of pre-winter with the sharp bite of a hard apple. Dry cornstalks crackled beneath his feet. Far off, amidst the lights of Orangefield, he heard a dog howl mournfully, hungry or afraid.

The moon was rising above the cornfield to his left, making everything whiter, colder…

Why had he come here, this was madness–

He heard something rustle in the stalks to his left, off the path. He stiffened, waiting for a cold wind to brush his face, but the corn stalks were perfectly straight, unbowed.

He heard the rustle again and thought of that dog; he did not like dogs…


The wet whisper brushed his ear at the exact moment a dry arm was thrown around his shoulder. He felt heat, and saw the glow of the orange face between himself and the cornfield. It had stepped swiftly out of the ranks —

“Let’s walk, shall we?”

Petrified with fear, he turned to look into the pumpkin face inches from his own. He felt heat from a candleless glow within; saw wet seeds adhering to the scraped inside of the head, through the sharply-etched nose, eyes, smiling mouth.

The scarecrow laughed, pulled him closer with boneless fingers. It made a dry, ticking sound as it walked–

“You can call me John, if you like.”

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Excerpt from “Maternal Instinct” by Robert Bloch from Mondo Zombie edited by John Skipp

Excerpt From:
“Maternal Instinct” by Robert Bloch, which was published in Mondo Zombie  edited by John Skipp

It wasn’t at all what Jill expected.

To begin with, there was no sign or inscription-nothing to identify that this was 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

And of course it couldn’t be, technically speaking, because you had to circle around blocks away on a side street, toward what looked like the kind of abandoned warehouse the hero always goes to in a cop picture.

Only Jill wasn’t a hero or a heroine or anything in between. She was just her usual self, but caught in a bind halfway between uncomfortable and unprepared. She sat silently as her driver halted the limo on the driveway before a double door and took out a beeper, some kind of subsonic item. For that matter the driver had been pretty subsonic himself; not one word out of him since he’d picked her up at the hotel. Soul of discretion, right?

But suppose he wasn’t a driver? Sure, he’d flashed his papers and wore a uniform, and the limo had the look and feel of a military vehicle. But papers can be forged, uniforms faked and vehicles stolen.

Maybe she was being taken to an abandoned warehouse after all, and the bad guys were waiting in ambush behind the packing-crates or on the catwalks.

A sudden whirring sound jarred Jill’s thoughts as the double door slid upward and the limo moved through the opening, headlight beams tunneling through darkness. In their periphery Jill couldn’t see either crates or catwalks; the structure was an empty shell concealing the route.

Now the stretch ahead slanted down. Down into the dark, down and dirty. Thank God the limo was air conditioned. Jill wondered how this tunnel was ventilated, if at all. And why no lights? Creepy down here. Welcome to the White House, heh-heh-heh. This is your host, Satan, broadcasting to you from the Evil Office-

Jill tensed, uptight. Why were they stopping?

Another beam of light bobbing toward the limo from ahead, fanning the windshield and hood. She could see him now, another uniformidable figure with a flashlight. And behind him, in shadowy silhouette, a carbon copy carrying an Uzi.

Lots of gesturing. And the driver’s window going down, his hand extending to exhibit some plastic. The gun-barrel dipped toward him, monitoring his movements. When the flash-beam invaded the car to flood her face she already had her plastic ready. She moved very slowly, because a sudden shot would probably damage her contact lenses and everything behind them.

Inspection completed, the driver rolled up windows and the car moved on, rounding a corner into a lighted white walled tunnel angling upward. Another sliding door automatically activated ahead, and they wheeled past into a neon-lit underground parking area. Two clean-cut thirty-ish clones in suits with shoulder-holsters were approaching the limo as it pulled into a vacant slot. One positioned himself at the driver’s door and the other walked up to hers. As he signaled she unlocked it and he nodded, smiling. When she opened the door he helped her out of the car; always the perfect gentleman, but don’t forget that shoulder-holster.

“Welcome to the White House,” he said. But there was no heh-heh-heh, and no pretense of an introduction. “Follow me, please,” was all she got as he led her to an elevator on the far wall.

Her driver started up the limo and made a U-turn in the direction from which they’d come; apparently he hadn’t been invited to spend the night in Lincoln’s bedroom. If there really was a Lincoln’s bedroom upstairs. Hey, so it wasn’t a warehouse, but that didn’t prove it was the White House either. Her heart began to thud: no world-class coronary, but noticeable.

Jill and her escort entered the elevator; its door closed and the car moved upward in silken silence. Then the door opened and her heart really started to pound.

Because she was in the White House. It stretched before her, beyond the opened elevator door. now the suit stepped forward, nodding. “This way,” he said.

The hall ahead seemed immense. Those high ceilings, that’s what did it, dwarfing Jill and her guide as they moved down the carpeted corridor between the fancy-framed portraits and the don’t-you-dare-sit-on-it furniture. Antiques. Antiques, priceless but impractical for use, like the high ceilings built in a time before everybody except the rich and famous became accustomed to living in cramped quarters. Under the bright lights everything here seemed spacious and gracious.

But where were the rich and famous?

The hall was deserted, side doors closed. Thick carpet muffled footsteps along an aisle empty of everything, even echoes. Yoohoo, where is everybody?

Jill tried to remember things she’d been told in childhood. About a time the alphabet had been used solely for language, not to designate an FBI, a CIA and other bureaucratic alphabet-soup. A time when ordinary citizens visited the White House without special invitations to participate in some planned political photo-opportunities. They came because it was their desire to spend Sunday afternoon pressing the flesh of a Harding or Coolidge, but now such innocent events were history.

True, she was here by invitation herself, but not for a photo-opportunity. And there was nothing innocent about this meeting with the President.

Her heart started thumping again, just thinking about him, just as it always had since the days when she first got this thing about him. They were both juniors then-she in college, he in the U.S. Senate. After that she graduated and got the dream-job in the think-tank and he got re-elected; then there was that Clancy woman, thank God he didn’t marry her, the silly little bitch would have ruined his chances for nomination for sure, she was just like all the others, those publicized, glorified one-night stands. Long ago-yes, way back in college when she’d first framed his picture from the magazine cover, Jill knew the kind of woman the President should marry. Somebody with looks and smarts, that was obvious, but he needed more than that. He needed someone with a real depth of devotion, who could make the White House a home; somebody fit to bear his children. And long ago, when she fitted that magazine cover photo into a frame, she knew who that woman should be. The magazine had picked him as the ideal candidate for President. Right then and there she’d nominated herself as First Lady.

Talk about silly bitches-okay, so he’d been elected, he was not halfway into his second term, and he’d never married. He wasn’t gay, that’s for sure, but there’s been no lasting relationships. Just as there’d been none for Jill, immersed in the deep end of the think-tank all these years because she was waiting for Mr. Right, that White Knight in the White House; someone who’d never set eyes on her in his life, let alone put her picture on the stand next to Lincoln’s bed or Nixon’s shredder.

Knock it off, Jill. It’s not politically correct. You’re thirty-two and he’s forty-seven, and you’re not on your way to make schoolgirl dreams come true. This is nightmare time.

No sense worrying about her biological clock; she had a job to do. Right now the politically correct Secret Service man was reaching out to open the door at the end of the corridor. They passed through an entryway-probably equipped with sensors and metal detectors, although the SS man’s weapon didn’t trigger a buzz because he halted behind her, then backed out, closing the door and leaving her alone to enter the big room beyond the entry.

At first glance it looked only vaguely office-like, furnished in a style she labeled Early Middle Management-no file cabinets or business machines, just a couch and a couple of comfortable chairs grouped around the coffee table in the corner, and a solitary desk before the window at the center of the room. The setting didn’t seem very presidential, and neither did the man behind the desk.

He was plump, balding, and as Jill observed when he rose from his chair, quite short. His eyes, captive behind thick glasses, peered out at her without expression. Jill hoped her own gaze was noncommittal, offering no hint of her surprise and disappointment. Her heart wasn’t pounding now; it was sinking.

And he was coming toward her, holding out a pudgy hand, smiling an avuncular smile, saying, “Pleasure to see you, I’m Hubertus-”

“No names, Doctor.”

He had entered the room from a side door at the left, and at the sound of the familiar voice she looked up and saw the familiar figure, the familiar face. His figure and face, not something lighted and made-up for the cameras as she’d feared when she first saw the man behind the desk who might have undergone such tricks of transformation in order to project a youthful image.

But the President was youthful in his own right-a young forty-seven with no wrinkles except those around his eyes when he smiled.

He was smiling now and taking her hand, his grip firm, warm, electric. Electric enough to set off the ringing of her biological time-clock.

Ought to ask the Doctor about that, Jill thought. Dr. Hubertus. She knew that name. Surgeon-General of the United States. Here with her and the President.

He was gesturing toward the furniture grouping at the coffee table. “Please make yourself comfortable,” he said.

Jill seated herself. “Thank you, Mr. President.”

“No formalities, please.” Smiling, he took the chair across from her as Dr. Hubertus moved to the couch. “We don’t have time for that.” He paused, smile dimming. “Or does it matter now?”

“I’m afraid it does,” Jill said. “It matters very much…” She was conscious of something ticking, but not her biological clock. This was more like a time-bomb. A time-bomb ready to explode.

“Then let’s get started. You brought the data?”

“Yes sir.”

“Forget the sir business.” The President eyed her expectantly. “What have you got for me-is it in microchip?”

“I’m your microchip,” Jill said.

Both men raised their eyebrows, but it was Jill who raised her voice, quickly. “Safer this way. Anything that can be stored can be stolen. Copied, duplicated, faked, you name it. I’ve had eight separate task teams on this project, each with different approaches to the problem. Five of them don’t even know the other exist. And I’m the only one with total input from all eight. All the findings, all the projections, all the hard stats.”

The President was staring at her. “Why you?”

“Why not? I have close to eidetic memory. And more important, nobody remembers me at all. I’m low-profile, even in my own field, which makes me right for the job.”

“What if the wrong people got hold of you?”

“Don’t worry, I’d keep my mouth shut.”

“And if they tried to make you talk?”

“I’d shut my mouth harder,” Jill said. “Bit down on the capsule I planted in a crown. Old fashioned, but very effective.”

The President glanced at Dr. Hubertus, who shrugged. “Suppose we get down to essentials,” he said. “We can cover details later on. Right now I’d like to play questions and answers.”

“Ready,” Jill said.


“Still unknown. Undetectable micro-organisms from an as-yet untraceable source, possibly long-latent in certain mammalian life forms but presently only observed in humans when recently energized by undetermined-”

“Skip it,” said Dr. Hubertus. “We get all that mumbo jumbo from our own witch doctors. Idiots don’t have a clue, probably never will. They still haven’t even been able to pinpoint the source of the AIDS virus, let alone this one. Besides, its source doesn’t matter now. What matters is that it’s here.”

“Here, there and everywhere,” the President said. “That damned, elusive pimpernel.” His light tone was forced, quickly disappearing as he faced Jill. “What are the current stats? Not the press-release stuff-do you have a handle on real figures?”

“Latest computation places the domestic total in the neighborhood of one-and-a-half percent.” Jill leaned forward. “Which doesn’t sound all that threatening until you realize this translates into almost four million people.”

Former people.” Dr. Hubertus nodded, eyes grim behind glass. “Dead people. Dead-alive. Who stay alive by eating the living. Who in turn become dead, and they in turn re-animate to eat more of the living who-”

“Food-chain,” said the President. “That much we do know. And you don’t need more than grade-school math to figure what happens once the exponential growth factor really kicks in.”

“It may be worse, worldwide,” Jill said. “Hard to project on a global level because we’re still getting denials and censorship. But our medics team estimates domestic cases doubling in three months, doubling again a month later. In China, India, Indonesia, Latin America, the rate of increase could be much greater. If we don’t come up with a solution-”

The President scowled. “How much longer have we got? I’m talking cover-up. Bottom line.”

“A week.”

“That’s all?”

“It’s cropping up all over, and there’s no way of our controlling the spread. And word-of-mouth transmits faster than mouth-to-mouth. Gossip spreads an epidemic of its own.”

“We’ve done our best,” the President said. “But censorship can’t contain it, even if we could jam every broadcast frequency in the world and ban checkout-counter journalism. Not with terminal patients jumping out of deathbeds and morgues running on empty. Of course cemeteries are the real problems. Empty graves are dead giveaways. So far these-these uprisings-seem to take place in rural areas where old-fashioned interments are still common. But once the cities start to go with their Forest Lawns and the kind of places you find in Long Island-” He sighed. “We’ve had meetings with the funeral-director people. They can’t explain why these things are taking place almost at random. It isn’t all that easy to break out of a modern coffin, maybe sealed and imbedded in concrete, then burrow up through six feet of earth to the surface. Even if the grave’s in sandy soil-”

Jill broke in. “You’ve talked to undertakers. We asked seismologists. Underground temblors are common everywhere. Earth moves, rock formations shift enough to splinter cheap caskets, loosen dry soil, even if the quake never damages anything on the surface. So wherever and whenever there’s enough subterranean movement, the necros may claw their way out.”

The President frowned, “Necros?”

Jill shrugged. “It sounds better than ‘ghoul.’”

Dr. Hubertus cleared his throat. “Your people must have made some projections about this thing going public. What happens then?”

“Panic. Hysteria. Right now government control is based on military power, but gunfire won’t kill the dead. And when people lose faith in government they turn to religion, but established beliefs in resurrection won’t offer much comfort. The consensus here is that there’ll be an explosion of crazy cults-Zombies For Jesus, The Church of the Living Dead, that kind of thing, which solves nothing.”

“What does?” said the President.

“Using what we already do know about the situation.”

“Such as?”

“To begin with, studies indicate we may be dealing with two kinds of necros. Type A would be those recently deceased from causes which didn’t involve prolonged mental or physical malfunction. Such cases would still be driven by anthropophagism, and subject to necrosis, but at a much slower rate. We have no verified reports of any answering to this description, but the medics don’t rule out the possibility, if there was no major impairment prior to death or as a result of escaping from interment.

“The big problem is Type B-victims of violence, accidents, crippling disease, or injuries escaping from their graves. They’ll be most vulnerable to necrotic symptoms, and the longer they’ve been buried the faster they’ll decay. Trouble is, it won’t be fast enough. If their numbers increase at the present rate we’ll be dealing with millions, tens of millions, hundreds of millions, all traumatized by their experiences but a majority simply brain dead, driven only by a mindless hunger to feed on living flesh. You’ve got to take steps to prevent this situation.” Jill paused, then took the plunge. “You’ve got to, or in a few years the earth will be blanketed with bodies-or body parts-of the living dead. The earth and the oceans. Clumps, islands, continents of wriggling corpses-”

Dr. Hubertus gestured his interruption. “Tiffany Thayer forecast it for us sixty years ago. Doctor Arnoldi, published by Julian Messner in 1934.” He nodded. “You think-tank people aren’t the only ones who do their homework. Our own researchers have covered everything in fiction which applies to this reality. Lots of scenarios, but no solutions.”

“That’s why you’re here,” the President said. “Solutions.”

Jill leaned forward once more, “We think we have one.”

“What is it?”

“Cremation,” Jill said.

Dr. Hubertus shook his head. “Won’t work.”

“Why not?”

“It’d take years to build facilities. We’re facing an emergency.”

“Then use emergency facilities,” Jill said. “For starters, there are steel mills closed down all over the country, and industrial plants with blast furnaces. Modify present equipment and you’re in business.”

“That kind of business will stir up some real opposition,” Hubertus told her. “We’d need a lot of secrecy-and security-for such operations. Then there’s environmental pollution. Most of these installations are in large urban areas, and we can’t relocate them.”

“What about military bases? There are hundreds closed and idle.” The President and Dr. Hubertus were listening intently now as Jill continued. “They have everything we need. Airstrips, roads, rail access already in place. Housing and accommodations for personnel. Improvise some temporary crematoriums and build permanent structures as you go along.”

Jill watched the President out of the corner of her eye as she spoke. His profile was ruggedly handsome, granite-jawed. She imagined how it would look carved on Mt. Rushmore. Or, better still, lying on a pillow next to hers.

Dr. Hubertus was clearing his throat. “Sounds like a Nazi death camp.”

“I know, but do we have a choice?”

The President had risen, moving to the wall beside a portrait of Washington. Jill’s thought strayed. Father of his country. Father of my child-

“This-uh-final solution of yours,” the President said. “Did you come up with it yourself?”

“I told you there was input from each of the teams on the project. But I’m the only one with access to all of the data. What I did, you might say, was put the pieces together.”

“And came up with this.” The President flicked his forefinger along the side of the portrait frame. “Just wanted to make sure the picture was straight.”

He glanced at Dr. Hubertus who stood up, moving left to a point beyond the range of Jill’s peripheral vision. “What do you think?” the President said.

“It could work. In which case she’s right about there being no choice.” Dr. Hubertus’ voice sounded from behind her, and Jill started to turn, but the President was nodding, smiling to her, speaking to her.

“Well, then,” he said. “Welcome aboard.”

Jill felt a stinging sensation in her neck, so sharp and so swift that she never had time to bite down on her tooth.

She was dead before she hit the floor.

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Excerpt from Roll Them Bones by David Niall Wilson

Excerpt From:
Roll Them Bones (Novella #12)
by David Niall Wilson

Jason pulled his sleek black Volvo in beside a faded, rust-pocked Chevy truck in front of Macomber’s General Store and killed the engine. He couldn’t suppress a shiver. If it hadn’t been for the peeling paint on the side of the building, and the new feed and grain store across the street, he’d have believed the trip was all a dream and he was twelve again. So little had changed.

Old Bob Macomber was on the porch of the store, rocker creaking slowly as he took in Jason’s car with a dubious stare. Curiosity, like everything else in Random, was slow to blossom. Jason stepped from the car and closed the door slowly, turning to scan Main Street. The Post Office and the Sheriff’s office were one building, a duplex, grey-concrete blocks bonded with cement and too-thick coats of paint. The American flag hung at a forty-five degree angle beside the front awning of each door.

“Hasn’t changed much, has it boy?” Old Bob’s voice broke the silence like a stone through glass, and Jason started, turning back with a sheepish grin.

“Not much at all,” he agreed, stepping toward the porch, and the store. “It’s been a long time, Bob.”

Bob nodded toward an empty rocker a few feet to his side. “Sit a spell, Jason. It ain’t every day one of our wandering sons returns.”

Jason stepped up to the porch and took the offered seat, watching the old man with a slowly spreading grin. “Don’t even offer a beer?”

“You know where the beer is boy,” Bob rumbled, “And if you know what’s good for you, you’ll bring two. It’d damned hot out here. And don’t be thinking ‘cause you’re Glen Stiller’s boy you’ll be running a tab. Ain’t nothing free here.”

Jason laughed. He rocked forward and stood in an easy motion, turning to the store and pushing through the door. The cooler stood along the wall, just to his left, as it had stood when he’d gotten his first Coca Cola about twenty years in the past. The hum of electricity and the sudden sense of deja vu nearly stole his breath.

It was like stepping through a time-warp portal into another place. Hank William’s Sr. yodeled from an ancient, RCA radio on the counter. Flies buzzed around a barrel of apples in the corner, and on the wall above the cooler, James Dean winked at him slyly from a poster advertising a brand of cigarettes that no longer existed.

Jason leaned on the old cooler for a second, the cool porcelain supporting him easily, then he lifted the lid, snagged a couple of long-necked Budweisers and turned toward the door. The cooler closed behind him with a soft “whoomp.”

He handed one to Bob and returned to the empty rocker, unscrewing the top of the bottle with a quick twist of his wrist and tossing the cap in a lazy arc toward the can beside the door. It clipped the rim, then rolled in.

“Lucky,” Bob grunted. “Always was lucky.” He flicked his own cap into the can with practiced ease. “I guess you’re lookin’ for Ronnie?”

Jason stared at the bottle in his hand. Condensation had beaded the deep brown surface and dampened his fingers. He nodded. “I guess I am,” he said softly. “He called me about a month ago.”

Bob rocked, sipping his beer. He didn’t speak for what seemed hours and was probably not a full minute.

“He called some others, too,” Bob said at last. “Lizzy is here, and Frank. Ain’t seen a one of you since you graduated high school, but here you are.”

“They’re here?” Jason said, maybe too quickly.

Bob looked around slowly, then laughed, tipping the beer bottle up and draining it. “You see ’em?”

Jason smiled despite himself. “Nope,” he answered, swallowing his own beer in a single gulp. He rose, taking both bottles and returning to the store.

As he slipped through the door once more, Bob called after him. “Lizzy is here. She’s staying over at Mae’s. I reckon there’s a couple more rooms. Frank is due in tomorrow, or so Edna says.”

Jason grinned again. Edna would know. Edna knew everything that happened in Random, or nearby. The only contact with the outside world was the phone lines, and the phone lines went through Edna.

“They ever put in that automatic switchboard?” Jason called, as he grabbed two more beers from the cooler.”

He slipped back out onto the porch, noting that the sun had dropped a little closer to the skyline. It was a deep orange sunset, seeping over the tops of the trees and staining the black asphalt of the road as it stretched away across endless miles of open farmland.

“Nope,” Bob answered with a chuckle. “Edna couldn’t figure how to tap into it, so she put them off another year.”

“What is that, about fifteen years she’s ‘put them off,’?” Jason chuckled again. This time his bottle-cap sailed into the can cleanly.

“Something like that,” Bob answered, and for the first time, the old man grinned. “It’s good to see you boy. Don’t you think for a minute I’ve forgotten you owe me for ten comics, either.”

This time Jason’s laughter was clear and loud. “Let’s see,” he replied, “at twelve cents apiece…”

The silence that followed was deep and comfortable, and Jason sipped the beer, rocking gently and letting the voices of a thousand crickets calm him.

Mae’s was just down the street, and Jason let his gaze fall on the faded, white-washed front of the old building. In it’s day, the place had been a saloon, a flop house, even a temporary school. Now it served as motor lodge, hotel, boarding house and general rent-all. Whoever needed a room, for however long, was welcome. Jason felt welcome, and he hadn’t even left the store. It was good to be home, odd as it felt, out of place as he was in his Ralph Lauren Chaps and his Italian leather shoes.

The trees were painted with all the colors of autumn, and the air was brisk, but not yet cold. The high school would be getting ready for homecoming soon, and the scarecrows and fake spider’s webs already lined the street. Jason glanced over at old Bob and grinned.

“What’s the going price on toilet paper and paraffin?” he asked.

“You better believe it’s gone up,” Bob laughed. “Won’t be too many kids can find the price of a good paraffin stick this time of year.”

Jason grinned and drained the beer, standing quickly.

“I’d better get on over to Mae’s,” he said. “Don’t want to miss dinner. I’d hate to have to come back and wake you up.”

“Don’t sleep so much these days,” Bob said softly, more softly than Jason had anticipated. “Seen a lot of sun ups, and sun downs, boy. Reckon these days I prefer to be awake for both. You get on over to Mae’s, but you need a beer, or a sandwich, or a pair of ears to yak at, you come on back. Reckon I’ll be right here.”

Jason nodded, then took the space between them in a few quick strides, extending his hand.

“It’s been way too long, Bob,” he said. “I’ll be back to take you up on that beer before I head out. You can count on that. Likely be here for a couple of those sunrises, as well.”

“You do that, boy,” Bob smiled, showing that at least two of his teeth had not weathered the test of time. “You bring that Frank with you. I’d like to see how old Jim Moss’ boy turned out. Seems everyone leaves Random before they get old enough to have any sense, and those that stay. . .”

Tom’s words trailed off, and Jason didn’t question him. He turned with a quick wave and headed up the block toward Mae’s, leaving his car parked where it was. No sense starting it up to drive 100 yards, and for some reason he didn’t want to crawl back into the stuffy interior of the car just then.

The loud jingle of a bell startled him as gravel shot out of a too-quickly turned tire as a boy, maybe ten, sped past on an old Schwinn bicycle.

“Jeez, Mr.,” the boy called back, leaping the bike onto the sidewalk and whipping around the first corner with practiced ease. “Watch where you’re goin’.”

Jason laughed, trotting the last few feet to Mae’s. He hesitated as soft laughter floated out through the screen door. The voice was familiar, achingly so, and moments later he heard Mae’s throaty chuckle joining in. No mistaking that voice.

Jason knocked, then pulled the screen door open and stepped inside. Back in New York this would have been rude, but as each moment passed, he felt the sense of home more strongly. Etiquette in Random was a wholly different animal, subject to an older set of rules.

Those gathered around the dining room table fell silent as Jason entered. Lizzy looked up, then down to the floor with a shy blush that made Jason smile. He knew it was her. He hadn’t seen Lizzy in over twelve years, but he knew that smile, and that blush.

“Hey Lizzy,” he said softly, then turned to the head of the table. “Mae,” he nodded.

“Hope you got a room with a soft pillow and a real air conditioner.”

Mae laughed, standing slowly. She flowed from her chair, flowered dress spinning out around her in a whirl of color. To say Mae was a large woman would be like saying the Ocean was a big pond. The floor groaned with her weight, and her rumbling laughter rattled the china in the cabinet along the wall. Long, braided red hair fell over her shoulders and tumbled across her breasts. Her eyes flashed green across the room and Jason tumbled back through time.

“You’ll be lucky, and happy, to get a bed with clean sheets and a room with a ceiling fan,” Mae asserted, hands dropping to her ample hips. “And if you don’t sit that skinny butt down in about two seconds and start eating, you can say ‘excuse me, Mae, for missing dinner,’ and high-tail it back to that store for Doritos.”

They all burst out laughing at that, and Jason regained enough control of his limbs to seat himself next to Lizzy, letting his gaze trail over her soft features. She still wasn’t meeting his gaze, but she was smiling. Jason glanced instinctively down to her finger. No ring. That would be a tale for later, he guessed.

Without hesitation, Jason grabbed a plate and spooned a generous helping of mashed potatoes into the center. There was gravy for the potatoes, meatloaf, corn and a casserole of mushrooms and spinach coated in thick cheese that had Jason’s mouth watering just from smelling it. Some things never changed. No one could eat a meal at Mae’s table and really wonder how she’d reached such prodigious girth. The real question was how those who surrounded her avoided it.

“You want to pass me that milk?” Jason asked, nudging Lizzy gently.

As she moved to grab the carton, he added. “You look great, Lizzy.”

“You leave that girl alone,” Mae called from the end of the table. Her eyes were twinkling, but it was clear that she wanted Jason to know she was looking out for Lizzy.

“Um…” Jason laughed, “I can’t reach the milk, Mae.”

Lizzy slid the carton within reach and Jason poured the glass full with a smile.

“You know what I meant, son,” Mae chuckled. “You just mind your manners, and we’ll all get along fine. She’s been through enough.”

“Mae!” Lizzy cut in quickly, the pretty blush returning.

Mae didn’t answer, but she let it drop. Jason watched Lizzy for just a second, then smiled and turned back to his food.

“Frank will be here tomorrow,” Lizzy said softly.

Jason nodded, not looking up.

“Ronnie will probably be here later tonight. He’ll want to talk to you, Jason.”

“I know,” Jason replied between mouthfuls. “I guess he’ll want to talk to us all, eventually. Isn’t that why we’re here?”

Lizzy looked away again, and Jason sighed. “It will be okay, Liz,” he said softly, laying his fork aside for a moment and placing his hand gently on her shoulder. “We’re not kids anymore, you know? Even Ronnie must have grown up. He did actually write the letter.”

Liz nodded, and Jason saw the hint of a smile crease the corner of her lips, but she didn’t really laugh. He watched her for a moment longer, then turned back to finish his food in silence.

He wasn’t really looking forward to seeing Ronnie either. Ronnie Lambert hadn’t been anyone’s close friend when they were younger. They’d hung with him because the alternative was to have him beat the crap out of them every time he saw them for not hanging with him. Besides, Random Illinois didn’t boast a huge population of kids at any given moment; their options had been limited.

Now here they were, Jason, Lizzy, and pretty soon Frank, all gathered together like a bunch of school kids because Ronnie Lambert had called them. Red-neck Ronnie still had that control, that tone in his voice, even when the words were written and not spoken. Jason felt suddenly foolish, and pushed back from the table and his empty plate with a sigh.

“Was a time you liked my meatloaf,” Mae observed, cocking one eyebrow.

“You know it isn’t the food, Mae,” Jason said thoughtfully. “It’s been a long time, is all,” he added lamely. “Guess after driving fifteen hundred miles I’m finally asking myself what I expected to find here.”

Lizzy turned, suddenly reaching out and laying her hand across his.

“I’m glad you came,” she said softly. “Very glad, Jason. I was worried you wouldn’t.”

It was Jason’s turn to blush.

“Hell,” he said softly. “What fun would it be spending Halloween in the city, alone? It was about time I got back here anyway.”

Mae watched the two for a moment in silence, then cut in.

“Kids are like really good books, you know?”

They all turned to her, and Mae nodded, continuing. “You read the dang thing once, and it’s wonderful. Every bit of it sticks with you. Then it’s out of sight, out of mind. You get to living and learning and forget about it, but flashes of what you read stick with you all your life, until one day, there it is. You have some time, and you pick that book back up, and damned if you didn’t miss a lot the first time. I can read an old book over and over, Jason. It’s good to have you home.”

Jason smiled. Mae could always put a thing into words. Among the kids, it had been Frank who had that gift, tall, bespectacled Frank. Of them all, it was Frank they would recognize most easily. His face was splashed regularly over the New York Times book review pages and the novel racks at every bookstore, airport, grocery and news stand in the country. Skinny little Frank with his piles of spiral-bound notebooks and his wild ideas.

Very suddenly Jason missed Frank. He had the urge, quickly stifled, to lean over and hug Lizzy. Whatever happened over the next few days, he knew he was going to make certain it wasn’t the last time he saw them. All his life he’d been running, running from the little dead-end town, running from relationships and responsibilities. He’d run to college, run out with a degree and found a good job.

In those days, the job had been the bottom line. Everything would be fine as soon as he had a job that paid him approximately twice what his small-town parents had made and let him have shiny cars and shinier women. That had been the formula for happiness. Life, add money. Live and learn.

The door opened again, and before Jason could pass on his new sentiments, there were quick, heavy steps and a hand smacked down on his shoulder.

“Hey, Jason,” Ronnie’s voice boomed too loud in the once-comfortable silence. “Good to have you home.”

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Excerpt from Stephen King: Uncollected, Unpublished by Rocky Wood with David Rawsthorne & Norma Blackburn

Excerpt from:
Stephen King: Uncollected, Unpublished
by Rocky Wood with David Rawsthorne & Norma Blackburn

Wimsey is a story fragment from the Lord Peter Wimsey novel King worked on in late 1977. The piece is a double-spaced, typewritten manuscript, containing the first chapter, of fourteen pages, and only the first page of a second chapter. Although it has never been published copies of this fragment circulate in the King community.

The attempted novel was the result of both the King family’s abortive move to England and a discussion between King and his editor of the time, Bill Thompson. The discussion revolved around the writing of a novel using the detective character, Lord Peter Wimsey, created by Dorothy L Sayers. More of Wimsey and Sayers later.

The King family moved to England in the Fall of 1977. King was reported in the Fleet News as saying he wanted to write a book “…with an English setting.” The house they settled on was Mourlands, at 87 Aldershot Road, Fleet in Hampshire. Beahm reported that the Kings had advertised for a home, reading: ‘Wanted, a draughty Victorian house in the country with dark attic and creaking floorboards, preferable haunted.’ King’s US paperback publisher, NAL, issued a press release stating King had moved to England to write “…a novel even more bloodcurdling than the previous ones …” Although this does not sound at all like a genteel British detective novel, we can perhaps forgive the publisher’s enthusiasm for its best-selling writer.

Once in England King did not find the inspiration required for an English novel, perhaps explaining the fragmentary nature of Wimsey, but he did begin one of his most famous novels, Cujo during the three months the family remained in the country. One story based in England did result from the trip, however. In mid-October 1977 the King family had dinner with Peter Straub and his wife in the London suburb of Crouch End. This resulted in King’s Lovecraftian story, Crouch End, originally published in the 1980 collection New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos and in a heavily revised version in 1993’s Nightmare and Dreamscapes.

Of course, the best result of the England trip may have been the beginning of King’s long and fruitful relationship with fellow author Straub, which has so far resulted in both The Talisman and Black House, with a reasonable likelihood that a third Jack Sawyer novel will be written.

Apparently King sent the fragment of Wimsey to Bill Thompson for review but Thompson’s reaction is unknown. We can only presume it was either not positive or King himself had lost interest in the concept. In retrospect this is likely to have been a good thing. Despite King’s typecasting as a horror novelist, which resulted from Night Shift, The Stand, The Dead Zone and Cujo being the books to follow Carrie, Salem’s Lot and The Shining, it is likely King’s career has been all the more fruitful as a so-called horror novelist than as a so-called detective or mystery writer, along the lines of Sayers or Agatha Christie (although King’s take on Death on the Nile might be interesting, to say the least).

In what we can read of this aborted novel Lord Peter Wimsey and his servant Bunter are on their way, through ‘beastly rain’ to a party at Sir Patrick Wayne’s estate in the country. Wimsey had last met Sir Patrick in 1934. Wimsey and Bunter discuss the foul weather and the death of Salcomb Hardy, which has put Wimsey in a funk. During the trip the two men’s dry sense of humour becomes apparent.

After they cross ‘…an alarmingly rickety plank bridge which spanned a swollen stream…’, Wimsey calls for a toilet stop and, alerted by the contrast to its more solid nature the previous time he had crossed it, looks at the bridge, only to find that the supports had been cut almost through. Somehow this dangerous discovery seems to have enlivened Wimsey, who calls with ‘…more excitement in his voice than Bunter had heard in a long time … he could not remember how long.’ However, Bunter thinks this flash will pass, ‘… gleams of what Wimsey had been and could not even yet deny utterly. It would pass, and he would become the Wimsey that was in this dull aftermath of the war that had made their war seem like child’s play  a dreary ghost-Wimsey, distracted and vague, a Wimsey who did too much solitary drinking, a Wimsey whose wit had soured.’

Returning to the car Wimsey states that if the heavy weather continues the bridge will collapse. When they return to the road Wimsey even wonders if ‘Sir Pat’ was not himself responsible for trying to isolate his home from the world, considering in particular his ‘…invitation, renewed so tiresomely over the last month and a half, until we quite ran out of excuses. It began to take on a … a flavour, did it not?’ Wimsey and Bunter begin to consider that Sir Patrick might have a problem ‘…requiring certain detective talents…’ Then, ‘Wimsey said quietly, “I don’t detect. I shall never detect again.” Bunter did not reply. “If I hadn’t been off detecting for the British Secret Service, I … what rot.”’ Apparently Wimsey blamed himself for his wife’s death in the Blitz.

Now their thoughts turn to Miss Katherine Climpson, another of Wimsey’s employees. Wimsey tentatively asks how ‘she’ was and Bunter does ‘… not affect to know of whom Lord Peter spoke’. We discover that Climpson is mortally ill with cancer in a hospital near Wimsey’s Picadilly flat and that he had ‘…gone to visit her himself in the first nine weeks of her stay, but at last he had been able to face it no more. He cursed himself for a coward, reviled himself, called himself a slacker and a yellow-livered slug … but he did not go.’ The slow decline of Climpson was, ‘Too much. Harriet was dead; his brother was dead; even Salcomb Hardy was dead; Miss Climpson was dying and Sir Patrick Wayne, a rich old bore who had been knighted for making himself richer at the expense of thousands of lives, was alive and apparently doing fine. “Is tomorrow Halloween, Bunter?” “I believe it is, my lord.” “It should be,” Wimsey said, and helped himself to a cigarette. “It bloody well should be.”’

As Sir Patrick’s house approaches the brakes fail and their Bentley crashes (Bunter, still in character, laconically comments, “We appear to have lost all braking power, my lord”). Chapter One ends at this point.

In the aftermath of the crash and the beginning of Chapter Two Wimsey wakes and calls for Bunter. At this point what we have of the story ends.

Although Wimsey is relatively short there are a number of interesting facts to report.

Sir Patrick Wayne’s estate is seven miles from Little Shapley, England. If the bridge collapsed, there was only one other road, barely a cart track, out of the estate. Wimsey and Bunter were driving to the estate on 30 October 1945 (“is tomorrow Halloween?”), less than six months after the end of the Second World War in Europe.

The only details of note that King provides us with about Wimsey himself are that he was formerly a detective with the British Secret Service, that his wife Harriet Vane Wimsey had died during the German blitz and the reader’s presumption that the elder Duke of Denver was Wimsey’s brother.

Wimsey’s nephew, the current Duke of Denver (‘Jerry’) had visited Sir Patrick Wayne’s daughter until she had become engaged to another man. Jerry had served in the RAF during the Battle of Britain and was one of the relatively few survivors of that action.

Katherine Climpson seems set to be an important character in the novel. She ran Wimsey’s typing bureau, was unmarried, and was dying of cancer in a hospital on Great Ormond Street, London. Salcomb Hardy, who had recently died of a stroke, was a crime reporter and heavy drinker. Wimsey read his obituary in The Times.

King adopted a style for Wimsey that is indeed very English in tone, including a rather dry tone of exchange between Bunter and the title character. It is clear that King was quite capable of delivering in this style, as one might expect from a premier novelist. In one passage, as Bunter pulls the car over for a comfort stop, he reminds his employer, “If you would not take it amiss, my lord, your heavy overcoat is one the hook directly behind you. I’m afraid of the effects of the rain might be on that worsted.” In another Wimsey says, “Let’s go back to the car, Bunter, before we take a chill,” in the best of British aristocratic tones of the 1940s.

Wimsey is mentioned as a literary character in both Bag of Bones and Apt Pupil. Adding this to the fact that King attempted a Wimsey novel leads us to speculate that King is probably a fan of the Wimsey series. King listed Wimsey’s creator, Dorothy L Sayers, as one of the authors he most admired during an interview for The Waldenbook Report in late 1997.

Sayers’ character, Lord Peter Wimsey was immensely popular in the 1920s and 1930s and the books are still read avidly today. The BBC made two successful television series based on the character, starring Ian Carmichael and Peter Haddon in the lead roles, and there were also 1935 and 1940 movies based on two of the novels.

The fourteen novels and additional short stories were all published in the 1920s through the early 1940s and feature Lord Peter Death Bredon Wimsey, the younger brother of the Duke of Denver and a World War I veteran. His manservant is Bunter. An avid rare book collector, Wimsey develops a penchant for investigating crime, often assisting Detective Inspector Charles Parker, his brother in law. Sayers’ imaginary life of Lord Peter ends in 1942, with Wimsey married to Harriet Vane and the father of three sons. From the Author’s Note in Thrones, Dominations we know that he served in Military Intelligence in World War II.

It seems that King has been faithful to the Wimsey mythology, as we would expect. He has Wimsey married to Harriet, although he extends the mythos by having her die in the Blitz. He also has Wimsey serving in the British Secret Service during the War, linking the note of his serving in Military Intelligence. Readers will conclude from the text that he is the uncle of the current Duke of Denver, which is the way Sayers had it.

Sayers herself was acquainted with a number of the literary circles of her time, being a friend of T S Eliot and C S Lewis. She was a figure of some controversy, having had a child out of wedlock in 1924 and being accused of anti-Semitism in her writing. Apart from the Wimsey and Vane stories (Harriet Vane was also an amateur detective), which set her up financially and which she then retired from writing, she also wrote religious essays and plays in an orthodox Anglican manner; and translated some of Dante’s writings. Interestingly enough, she also translated the Song of Roland from the Old French. That work is an anonymous Old French epic, dating to the 11th Century and is regarded as the first of the great French heroic poems known as chansons de geste. Born in 1893, Sayers died in 1957.

King has continued to show an interest in crime and detective stories and has presented his Constant Readers with a limited but quality selection, including The Fifth Quarter, Man with a Belly, The Wedding Gig, The Doctor’s Case and Umney’s Last Case. The Colorado Kid, King’s novel, published in October 2005 was specifically written for the publisher, Hard Case Crime, which has revived ‘the storytelling and visual style of the great pulp paperbacks of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s’.

Click here to read more about this book!

“They’re All Writers (And You Can Too)” by Hank Wagner

“They’re All Writers (And You Can Too)”
by Hank Wagner

When CD approached me about doing this piece on how-to writing books, I first asked, “Why?” Their response was “Why not? We’ll pay you.” After the quick dismissal of all that philosophical baggage, I then asked, “Are you sure you want someone who doesn’t write fiction?” Again, they soothed me: “That’s exactly what we want, just do a survey, and throw in a bit of opinion, and viola!” So, first understand that fact: I don’t write fiction, I write about fiction, and so read this type of book primarily for biographical info on the writers I enjoy, and then to see what I can learn about writing that might inform my reviews and interviews (ok, and maybe a little to see if I could actually do it some day, a temptation I’ve so far happily resisted—like Helen Holm of The World According to Garp, I seem to be a reader by inclination). That said, here comes the first pronouncement. It is my firmly held belief that:


That’s the skinny, the unvarnished truth. Any published writer worth his or her salt will confirm this: it’s like diet pills, or get-rich-quick schemes, or playing Beethoven to your baby to insure he becomes a genius, and all that other mystical, magical, pseudo-scientific hogwash that we all instinctually long to believe in: nothing comes for free, especially publishable prose. Most agree that becoming a proficient writer comes only through hard work, determination, and, perhaps most important of all, persistence. No magic wands, no magic bullets, just good old, mundane, endurance.

So, how do you become a better writer?

I think, first , that, you need to be a voracious reader, better yet a critical reader, to be a good writer. So, read, read, read, and make it a point to read outside of the genre you wish to work in. Other people have been there before you, and the evidence rests in libraries and bookstores everywhere. Read to learn.

Then, instead of reading so-called how to books about writing, you’re probably better off first investing in a small reference library, which includes, but is not limited to, the following invaluable items:



THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE by Strunk and White









Once you have these basic tools of the trade, however, feel free to purchase all the writing books you desire, both as learning tools, and as cheap sources of inspiration. There are many, many books on the subject, many of them worthy. Well organized, certainly memorable, any or all of the following should help aspiring writers in their unending quest for guidance and reassurance:

ON WRITING, by Stephen King, worth the price of admission if only for his rant on adverbs and his sage advice about relying on Strunk and White’s little masterwork.

LESSONS FROM A LIFETIME OF WRITING: A NOVELIST LOOKS AT HIS CRAFT, by David Morrell, a very intimate, very informative, very engaging book.

A WRITER’S TALE, by Richard Laymon. Laymon tells it like it was, for him. Heartbreaking at times, but inspiring too.

THE COMPLETE IDIOT’S GUIDE TO WRITING A NOVEL, by Tom Monteleone. You’d have to be a complete idiot to ignore this book (ok, not the joke I really wanted to do, but Tom is a pretty formidable fellow).

WRITING POPULAR FICTION and HOW TO WRITE BEST SELLING FICTION, by Dean Koontz, both oldies, but goodies.

WRITING THE NOVEL, SPIDER SPIN ME A WEB, and TELLING LIES FOR FUN AND PROFIT, by Lawrence Block. Block has likely forgotten more about writing than most writers will ever know.

WRITING HORROR, edited by Mort Castle, HOW TO WRITE TALES OF HORROR, FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, edited by J. N. Williamson, and ON WRITING HORROR: A HANDBOOK BY THE HORROR WRITER’S ASSOCIATION, all featuring articles from stars of the genre.

DARK DREAMERS and DARK THOUGHTS ON WRITNG, edited/compiled by Stanley Wiater. Books about writers.

UNDERSTANDING COMICS, by Scott McCloud. Yes, it’s about comics, but it’s also about storytelling.

ZEN AND THE ART OF WRITING, by Ray Bradbury. Hey, it’s Bradbury.

WRITING SHORT FICTION, by Damon Knight. Knight knows his way around the short form.


ON WRITING, by George V. Higgins, THE MERRY HEART and READING & WRITING, by Robertson Davies, and BIRD BY BIRD, by Francine Prose, because it’s my article, damn it.

But, you don’t have to rely on these obvious suspects. There are also other sources of wisdom about writing and the writing life from non- traditional sources. Some say, for instance, that Hemingway’s book, DEATH IN THE AFTERNOON, is really about writing, rather than bullfighting. I’ll leave it up to you to decide.

Paula Guran’s 2001 article “Tribal Stand,” available on the web at tells a lot of truths about the horror genre and the writing profession, things that many people still don’t want, but need to, accept. Another source of wisdom about the writing life would be the numerous introductions and story notes that Harlan Ellison has penned over the years for his collections, which inarguably provide a wealth of information about one writer’s journey, and about the trials and tribulations and joys of pursuing the craft.

OK, we all long for simplicity, so let’s put up some lists. One fruitful source of practical wisdom about writing is Norm Partridge’s MR. FOX AND OTHER FERAL TALES, an outstanding collection featuring a lot of his fiction and nonfiction. Here’s a piece Partridge culled from that work for an article which originally appeared in the e-magazine Hellnotes back in October 2005. I’ve further whittled that summary down, without, I hope, diminishing its impact (Partridge’s preferred version can be found on his website,

10 TIPS FROM MR. FOX & MR. PARTRIDGE by Norman Partridge

1. YOUR WRITING IS YOUR BUSINESS: Whatever your chosen field of endeavor — whether you want to write screenplays, short stories, novels, or comic scripts — it’s wise to remember a point Jack London made a long time
ago: the works you produce as a writer are marketable goods.

2. KNOW YOUR MARKET: Become familiar with an editor’s product before you submit your work. Read his magazines or previous anthologies. Study his editorial guidelines. Understand the kinds of fiction he’s bought
in the past and you’ll understand what kinds of stories he is likely to buy in the future.

3. NEVER WASTE AN EDITOR’S TIME: Most editors don’t have much of that particular commodity. If you want to do business as a writer, show editors that you know what being a pro is all about. Follow guidelines. Submit
polished manuscripts. If you have a question to ask, ask it.

4. DON’T WORK FOR FREE: Early on, I decided that submitting my fiction to markets that didn’t offer at least a token payment was a waste of my time.

5. MAKE YOUR WORK WORK FOR YOU: You need to learn to pick your shots. You need to learn to make those shots count. If you give away your best story to your buddy’s webzine before trying to sell it to a well-paying market with a high circulation because you’re too impatient to wait a few months for a professional editor’s reply, what good has that story really done you? If you “sell” a story to a POD anthology that pays in shared royalties (and that maybe twenty people will read), how has that advanced your career? If you spend a year writing a novel, and you cut a deal with the first small publisher who buys you a beer at a writer’s convention instead of working to find an agent who can represent your book or a publisher who will treat it as more than a cool hobby he can tinker with on weekends (unless it’s football season, that is)… well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

6. TOP MARKETS ARE A TOP PRIORITY: If you’re a newcomer submitting to top-drawer anthologies or magazines, you need to bear down, work hard, and get about as serious as a heart attack, because your story doesn’t just have to be as good as the submissions from the “name” writer you’re competing against, it has to be BETTER… and I’m talking better by a long shot, not by a hair.

7. REJECTION IS INEVITABLE: Simple fact of life — your stories will be rejected. When that happens, don’t feel sorry for yourself. Don’t give up. Toss that rejection in the waste basket. Pin it to your wall and use it for inspiration. File it in your filing cabinet and forget about it. But whatever you do, get back in there. Sit down at your desk. Turn on your computer. Get to work.

8. KEEP CLIMBING: Always have your eye on the next rung of the career ladder.

9. YOUR KEYBOARD IS BUILT FOR ONE: Some writers swear by the group method.  They believe in workshopping a story. I don’t.

10. INSTANT GRATIFICATION IS NOT YOUR FRIEND: I’ll say it one more time–always start at the top when marketing your work. It’s a much harder road. I doubt you’ll find one bit of instant gratification on it. You’ll probably get more people grinding their heels into your ego than you would if you focused exclusively on the small press. But remember-the ultimate point of writing is communication. You’ve got to aim for a larger readership
if you want to build a real audience for your work.

A little more streamlined are Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules of writing, which although incorporated into a longer how-to book by Morrow in 2007 (titled, not surprisingly, ELMORE LEONARD’S 10 RULES OF WRITING), first appeared as a part of an article in the New York Times, titled “Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle.” They are, as paraphrased from that article:

1. Never open a book with weather.

2. Avoid prologues.

3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.

5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more
than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.

6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Leonard’s most important rule is one that sums up the preceding 10: if it sounds like writing, he rewrites it.

You can learn a lot from professors Partridge and Leonard, I think. I’d like to close this article, however, with two bits of profound wisdom I’ve picked up in my travels. The first is from Neil Gaiman, who, reflecting on the best
advice he ever got from a writer, wrote the following on his 4/22/08 blog:

In the shower today I tried to think about the best advice I’d ever been given by another writer. There was something that someone said at my first Milford, about using style as a covering, but sooner or later you
would have to walk naked down the street, that was useful…

And then I remembered. It was Harlan Ellison about a decade ago.

He said, “Hey. Gaiman. What’s with the stubble? Every time I see you, you’re stubbly. What is it? Some kind of English fashion statement?”

“Not really.”

“Well? Don’t they have razors in England for Chrissakes?”

“If you must know, I don’t like shaving because I have a really tough beard and sensitive skin. So by the time I’ve finished shaving I’ve usually scraped my face a bit. So I do it as little as possible.”

“Oh.” He paused. “I’ve got that too. What you do is, you rub your stubble with hair conditioner. Leave it a couple of minutes, then wash it off. Then shave normally. Makes it really easy to shave. No scraping.”

I tried it. It works like a charm. Best advice from a writer I’ve ever received.

Finally, perhaps the sagest, most succinct advice on writing you’ll ever encounter is set forth below. Gleaned from the writings of notable East Texas philosopher and word wrangler, Champion Joe Lansdale (you can find a slightly longer version in his Introduction titled “Livestock, Roses, and Stories” from FOR A FEW STORIES
MORE), the two tenets of his faith are set forth under the heading:

“LANSDALE’S GUIDE TO WRITING (Not Rules of Writing)”

1. Put your ass in a chair and write. (Okay. I lied. This one is a rule.)

2. Turn off the TV and read. All kinds of things. Not just what you want to write. (This one is also a rule.)”

I hope the two quotes above put everything in perspective. If not, get cracking on reading all those how-to books listed above.