First period, 10th Grade Honors English. Roughly 9 a.m.
That’s when I heard the news.
Even today, as I write this, I feel a chill. Looking back, it was not only a surreal and an unbelievable experience…it also offered a moment of affirmation for me as a teacher that hasn’t been rivaled, since.Continue Reading
I’ll speak more at length about this when I discuss the influence Ray Bradbury has had on me in a future edition of my column Revelations, but suffice to say: I discovered his work late in life. I’m sure I was assigned several of his short stories in junior high and high school—probably the oft-assigned “All Summer in a Day,” “Soft Rains Will Come” or maybe even “The Fun They Had”—but I never had a teacher really bring me to Ray Bradbury. This is probably why—as most of my former and present students will attest—I’ve made it my personal mission to ensure that all my students experience the work of Ray Brabdury while they’re in my class. Whether they love his work, are ambivalent toward it, or don’t like it, they’ll never be able to say they don’t know who Ray Bradbury is, or what his place is in American Literature. Continue Reading
When I first decided the horror genre was for me, (about twelve years ago now, believe it or not), I wrote some stories which were “okay” but were very bound by genre clichés (many of these are featured in my first short story collection, Things Slip Through). Monsters, werewolves, wendigos, women in white, haunted houses, evil doctors, Mothman knock-offs, a few campy vampire stories which thankfully never saw the light of day (one of them, embarrassingly enough, titled “Blood Diner”), serial killers, people who go mad and do terrible things, and some “okay” Lovecraftian pastiches. Continue Reading
Reading Emily Cantaneo’s short fiction collection Speaking to Skull Kings is a wonderfully surreal trip into the fantastic unknown. The stories collected straddle all sorts of genres. Each take place in their own universes—realms far stranger than our own, or perhaps only slightly askew of our reality—with their own sets of rules, their own logic. There’s plenty of humanity here, however, and that’s what gives them their power.Continue Reading
And Her Smile With Untether the Universe is an amazing collection of speculative fiction by Gwendoyn Kiste which touches on surreal fantasy but never loses its grip on an all too tangible—sometimes painfully so—sense of reality. This is important for me, because I often find that happens with surreal stories of the fantastic. While I admire the world created and the surreal experience rendered, I sometimes feel distant from the characters and their experiences, and the stories fail to really impact me on an emotional level.Continue Reading
At one time, T. M. Wright was like Alan Peter Ryan, Charles L. Grant and so many others—just another name I’d heard here and there, most often in a quote from Ramsey Campbell (also, at that point, just another name), which said: “T. M. Wright is a one-man definition of quiet horror.”Continue Reading
In a documentary filmed many years ago, bestselling author Peter Straub lamented the fact that, ever tongue-in-cheek and self-deprecating, Stephen King once referred to his own work as the equivalent of a “Big Mac and fries.” Straub considered it an unfortunate comparison which didn’t do King justice, that his work was far more substantial than mere intellectual junk food. Continue Reading
For the most part, this column travels in semi-chronological order, chronicling the writers I’ve discovered the last few years who’ve had an impact on me as a writer. I will, however, occasionally stray from this chronological path, simply because, well, I feel like it. This is one of those cases, as we discuss writer Paul F. Olson.Continue Reading
Kevin Lucia has been creating strange stories for a long time. It’s a passion project for him, borne out of a love for reading and an overwhelming desire to share the people, places and things that dominate his dreams and nightmares. His work has appeared alongside many genre greats in numerous anthologies and magazines, and now he’s looking to take his efforts to the next level with the pursuit of his very own Patreon. Recently I swapped a few emails with Kevin about his latest project (among other things—he is, after all, the Reviews Editor for Cemetery Dance magazine and Cemetery Dance Online). Enjoy!Continue Reading
I see the sentiment expressed in horror circles often: “I read and write horror, but I don’t often read anything which actually scaresme.” Of course, the word to consider here is “scare.” I have this discussion with my English classes every year when we read The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. They always ask, as I’m handing out Jackson’s seminal haunted house novel, “Will this be scary?” I always answer, “Let’s talk about that word and what it means.” We discuss the differences between the adrenaline-based reaction they refer to as “scary”—what they experience while watching a horror movie in the theaters—and the nature of “horror” and being “horrified.”Continue Reading
Seven years ago I was sent an ARC (Advance Reader Copy) for a novel called Snow by some author named Ronald Malfi. I’d not read anything by him then, and at first the novel looked pretty pedestrian. Monsters devastate a town during a blizzard. The initial setup seemed to point in that direction: a flight is cancelled because of the snowstorm, so several folks set out in a rental car to try for home the long way, and come upon a town cut off by the storm. It looked like a fairly simple paint-by-the-numbers affair, albeit written very well.Continue Reading
I can’t remember where I read it—one of his blog posts, or in one of his now out-of-print blog collections—but Brian Keene once recounted the story of how he and some fellow writers, early in their career, visited a used bookstore while at a convention (maybe World Horror; I can’t remember). Excited at their own writing futures, while browsing the stacks, looking for their favorite classic authors, they discovered, with a rising sense of unease, a number of authors they had never heard of before. Writers who had at least ascended to paperback fame (of a kind) only to descend once again beneath the waters of obscurity, with barely a ripple. Continue Reading
I absolutely love coming of age stories. I don’t know why. Maybe because I’m an overgrown kid myself. Maybe there’s something inside me which looks back on those years fondly, but also remembers how hard it was to be a kid. Everyone expects you to “grow up” and figure out what it is you want to do with your life, all before your sixteenth birthday. I remember those years well, and as a high school teacher, I see it enacted before me, in living color, every single day. So I’m always a sucker for a well-told, engrossing coming of age tale. Continue Reading
I first encountered Al Sarrantonio the same way others most likely did; in his Orangefield Cycle, which regales the tale of the strange Pumpkin Capitol of Orangefield, New York, through the novels Halloweenland, Hallows Eve, Horrorween and the novellas The Pumpkin Boy and Hornets. In Orangefield, strange things happen around Halloween. People die mysteriously, create suicide pacts, conduct pagan rituals, and see strange things from other worlds. Like the mythical Pumpkin Boy, a robot with a pumpkin for a head. Or Samhain himself, trying to take advantage of Halloween’s thin dimensional walls in his repeated attempts to sneak into our world as the advance scout of an unholy army lead by something far worse. Continue Reading
This sentiment haunts me. It has since I first heard it quoted by Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society. The quote in its entirety, by Henry David Thoreau, is even more chilling:
The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with the song still in them.
The implications make me shiver. Most men lead lives of quiet desperation. Most of us are gripped by worry, anxiety, fear, and a crippling helplessness. But it’s repressed deeply inside; quiet, restrained, shackled, bringing us to the brink of madness without ever quite plunging us over the edge. And in the end, we go to the grave with the song still in us, never able to express what we wanted to—needed to—while shuffling through this numbing thing called “life.”Continue Reading