Halloween Carnival Volume Four (Hydra, October, 2017) edited by Brian James Freeman includes four new stories and one reprint. Kealan Patrick Burke’s “The Mannequin Challenge” is a nasty little tale that’ll stab you in the eyeballs. “Across the Tracks” by Ray Garton is truly frightening, and it’s so well-written it deserves a Stoker nomination. Three middle-school boys are bullied by Ed Mortimer and his minions on Halloween, and you expect something really bad will happen. But what does happen, is beyond your expectations. “The Halloween Tree” by Bev Vincent has some intense moments each time the boys pass the tree and the Corrigan house. “Pumpkin Eater” by C. A. Suleiman is about pies and pumpkins and a marriage made in hell. “When the Leaves Fall” by Paul Melniczek is the longest story in the book, and one of the best. More than just a tale of a boy and his dog, it’s downright creepy. Halloween Carnival Volume Four is definitely worth a read.
Arcana 47 was held at Bandana Square in St. Paul, MN, September 29-October 1, 2017. This may be the last time I attend.
It’s impossible to return to the real world after spending three days and two nights in the realm of the imagination.
After nearly 50 years of Arcanas and Minncons, attendance has shrunk to a handful of surviving writers, editors, artists, booksellers, filmmakers, and fans. The annual pilgrimage to the former home of Poul Anderson, Gordy Dickson, Jon Arfstrom, Kirby McCauley, Donald Wandrei, and so many other great fantasists may be about to end.
Stalwarts like Jack Koblas, Eric Carlson, Jon Arfstrom, Bob Weinberg, and Gretta M. Anderson have passed away, and the rest of us are no longer young. Dwayne Olson, Eric Heideman, Dennis Weiler, and Greg Ketter have done the heavy lifting and held the con together. My hat’s off to them for making Arcana 47 one of the best cons I’ve ever attended.
Guests of Honor this year included William F. Nolan, Jason V. Brock, and Sunni Brock. Bill Nolan, still going strong at 89, shared his fascinating memories of Bradbury, Beaumont, George Clayton Johnson, Richard Matheson, and William Shatner, as well as reading a new sf story. Guests were always available and approachable, and I came home with personally-autographed books from Nolan, Brock, Roger Dale Trexler, Wayne Allen Sallee, and Rodger Gerberding.
But all good things must come to an end, and Arcana 47 is now history. Will there be an Arcana 48? Only time will tell.
This weekend was like returning home for me. I attended Arcana in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Arcana Con, for those in the know, is the Midwest equivalent of NECon. Currently located at the Bandana Square Best Western Plus in St. Paul, MN, Arcana 46 was held October 21-23, 2016. It’s a fantasy convention that appeals to collectors and lovers of dark fantasy and horror.
Bandana Square once housed the Northern Pacific Railroad’s Steam Locomotive repair shops. The hotel abuts where the locomotives were painted. The building has rails embedded in the floor and the doors look big enough to admit a steam locomotive. Freight trains still pass by within a half-block of the hotel.
Minneapolis/St. Paul was once home to some of the biggest names in pulp fiction. William Fawcett started Fawcett Publications there with Capt. Billy’s Whiz-bang. August Derleth and Donald Wandrei started Arkham House within a stone’s throw of the Twin Cities. Science Fiction greats like Poul Anderson and Gordon R. Dickson came from Minneapolis. Weird Tales cover artist Jon Arfstrom made his life-long home in St. Paul. Fedogan and Bremer was founded in Minneapolis. Literary agent extraordinaire Kirby McCauley got his start in Minneapolis after graduating from the University of Minnesota. John Sandford still lives and works there.
Jon Arfstrom’s painting on the cover of The Strange Company’s edition of The Devil Made Me Do It, 1985.
Jon Arfstrom’s portrait of me, 1986.
I began attending gatherings of Lovecraftians in Minneapolis and St. Paul in 1982 after meeting Jack Koblas and Eric Carlson at a World Fantasy Convention. Jack and Eric were editors of Etchings and Odysseys, a professionally printed small press fanzine devoted to Weird Tales-style pulp fiction. I, of course, had read most of HPL and Henry Kuttner by that time, and after Jack, Eric, and I carried on long knowledgeable conversations during the WFC, we became life-long friends (both Jack and Eric passed away much too soon, and I miss them a lot).
Jack and Eric invited me to submit an article for the special Henry Kuttner tribute issue of E&O, and they also invited me to attend MinnCon (the forerunner of ArcanaCon) the following October. I agreed to write the Kuttner article and to appear on panels at MinnCon. I also received an invitation from The Strange Company publisher R. Alain (Randy) Everts to attend MadCon in Madison, Wisconsin the following May when E&O #4 would be released with my Kuttner article in it. Randy invited me to submit original fiction to The Arkham Sampler, and he bought several of my stories (he actually paid me cash money and bought me meals at expensive restaurants). He (The Strange Company) also published The Devil Made Me do It, a collection of 20 of my early stories, and a chapbook of Love Till the End of Time. I also sold him a couple of my early down-and-dirty novels that other packagers didn’t want. Randy supposedly published them under pseudonyms. I cranked out two 65,000 word novels on a manual typewriter every month for four years, and some of them were pretty bad (downright, god-awful bad) but they helped me learn my craft.
Then I married Gretta, took a regular 9 to 5 job with a medical publisher and later with Mutual Fund Sourcebook publisher Morningstar, and my fiction output dwindled.
Gretta and I attended MadCons and MinnCons every year from 1983 until 1990. I appeared on Lovecraft and Horror panels, and Gretta appeared with other small press editors on editing and publishing panels at several of the first ArcanaCons after MadCons and MinnCons ceased and Arcana became a full-fledged annual convention instead of just a gathering of friends and Lovecraft scholars.
We stopped attending sf and fantasy conventions entirely in favor of attending professional psychology educational conferences (APA, APS, Illinois Counseling Society, NGH, and alternative healing and wellness conferences).
This year I returned to Bandana Square for ArcanaCon 46.
Most of the people I knew from MinnCon and earlier AracanaCons have passed away or moved out of state. Koblas and Carlson died. Jon Arfstrom died just last year. Bob Weinberg died just last month. Randy Everts is reputed to be living in Hawaii. R. Dixon Smith is now in California. David Pudelwitz was last seen in New Mexico. Roger Gerberding no longer lives in the twin cities, but he is still alive and still painting. Audrey Parente is busy with PulpAdventureCon in New Jersey and Florida. Roger Dale Trexler was unable to make this con but promises to make next year’s ArcanaCon when the GOH will be William F. Nolan. I did spend quality time in conversation with Scott Wyatt, Eric Heideman, Dwayne Olson, and Greg Ketter of DreamHaven Books. I also got to meet the delightful Kathe Koja, this year’s ArcanaCon GOH.
What I like about ArcanaCon is the attendees are all readers and book collectors. The con is small and intimate enough to get to know everyone and talk with everyone.
Once upon a time, attendance at MinnCon was by invitation only. When it became ArcanaCon, it was opened to the public but never widely advertised. It’s one of the best-kept secrets in fandom.
Zippered Flesh 3: Yet More Tales of Body Enhancements Gone Bad, edited by Weldon Burge (Smart Rhino Publications, October, 2017), contains nineteen stories, more than half of which are new. Reprints are by Billie Sue Mosiman, William F. Nolan, Jason V. Brock, Jack Ketchum, Graham Masterton, Sandra R. Campbell, and James Dorr.
The book leads with Mosiman’s “Horns, Teeth, and Knobs”, a viciously twisted tale with a shocking ending. Billie Sue is a wonderful writer, and this story showcases her skills. It’ll make you think twice about who your real friends are.
“Upgraded” by Shaun Meeks is about teenaged angst over acquiring the latest and greatest electronic gadget. “Going Green” by Christine Morgan has a similar theme, but it’s as different as night from day, the language rich and verdant, the futuristic gizmos even farther outside the box. “Worm” by Jeff Menapace leaves one feeling hungry. “Reduced to Tears” by Adrian Ludens turns body mutilation into a religious observance, proving less is more. “A New Man” by William F. Nolan tells what bad things might happen if there’s a high-tech software glitch. “Transposition” by Jason V. Brock tells of a face-transplant gone terribly wrong. “The Rose” by Jack Ketchum is about a rose tattoo come to life. “Consume” by Daniel I. Russell is another “less is more” story with scary religious overtones of a supernatural nature.
“All Will Turn to Gray” by Jezzy Wolfe is a remarkable story, textured in rich hues and overtones unlike anything you’ve seen before. “Invisible” by E. A. Black is a meaty tale of repressed anger. “And the Sky was Full of Angels” by L. L. Soares is about coming home from war a changed man. “Shopping Spree” by Meghan Arcuri imagines Photoshopping people. “Closer” by Charles Colyott is a wonderfully poignant and romantic story you really should read. It’s the perfect emotional segue to “Dog Days” by Graham Masterton, another real tear-jerker.
“Switch” by Jasper Bark is extreme horror, very graphic, that may offend some readers. But Krasinski is a real asshole in more ways than one, and he deserves whatever bad juju or bad dodo comes his way. “Hypochondria” by Michael Zeigler tenderly tells of the dangers of medical misdiagnosis and afflictions of the heart. “Gehenna Division, Case #609” by Sandra R. Campbell furnishes a guided tour though Hell. And “Golden Age” by James Dorr celebrates the pioneering tradition that connects past generations with future generations.
My three favorite stories are: “All Will Turn to Gray” by Wolfe, “Horns, Teeth, and Knobs” by Mosiman, and “Shopping Spree” by Arcuri. “Dog Days” by Masterton is also exceptional, and one of the most satisfying stories I’ve read this year. “Going Green” by Morgan is so original, timely, and well-written it deserves special mention (and maybe a Stoker). Kudos to Burge for putting together another fine anthology of cutting-edge fiction.
Since I read an uncorrected ARC of Zippered Flesh 3, I don’t have a picture of the cover to show you. But the first two covers give you a good idea of what the third will look like.
Today, August 1, 2017, is the official release date of JackHammer for Kindle, Nook, and e-book. The trade paperback will appear this fall.
JackHammer is filled with depictions of graphic violence and bodily mutilation. It’s a taut thriller, a realistic police procedural, and a gruesome psychological horror novel all-in-one. I want readers to experience fear. I want to engage your fight, flight, or freeze response and make you shake in your shoes.
But JackHammer is also a love story. And love can conquer fear.
Connie Kelly and Andy Sinnott are two of my favorite characters because they’re madly in love with each other. Both appear in Meat Cleaver and SledgeHammer, and Andy is a major character in Pickaxe and Icepick. Troy and Sally Nolan are back, as are Linda Davis, Rat, and Harvey “George” Fredriks. Their ongoing story arcs constitute the bulk of the Instruments of Death series, of which JackHammer is Book Nine.
Tom Wesley and Danny Norman from Daddy’s Home also play important parts in JackHammer. They, as well as Illinois State Police Lieutenant Dave Mullins, will return in Tire Iron and other novels as the series progresses.
Next up in the series is Box Cutter, followed by Nail Gun.
Once upon a time, I worked for the US Army Construction Engineers, both as a reserve officer and as a DA Civil Service employee. I was a supply man at headquarters S-4 and G-4 shops. I supervised the supply and maintenance of all types of construction equipment. I planned and accounted for the men, money, and materiel allocated in TOEs and TAs. I budgeted for and approved requisitions, arranged transportation of heavy equipment, and visited job sites around the country. I personally transported demolitions and acted as an armed escort on convoys. That was long time ago, but I still have fond memories of seeing sunrises at job sites.
I live in the State of Illinois where politicians are notoriously corrupt. I went to school with, or worked day jobs with, close relatives of prominent organized crime figures. My own neighborhood is currently riddled with daily crime and violence, and I see and hear red and blue flashing lights and sirens throughout the night. Many of my friends and neighbors are thinking of leaving the state, but I’m sticking around. What better environment for a crime writer to have?
You may notice I’ve taken some artistic liberties with campaign finance reporting requirements. These laws have become so complicated not even the politicians know what’s currently required.
JackHammer is a work of fiction, and I am, first and foremost, a fiction writer. None of the events depicted in this novel happened, to the best of my knowledge.
But beware! They could.
As I explained at F. Paul Wilson’s panel on writing horror during Thrillerfest2017, I write cautionary tales that teach you how to survive. Demented serial killers and mass murderers are a reality. Do you know what you would do if you met one? What makes you vulnerable? How would you react if you were choked, bound and gagged, and your body was about to be violated or mutilated? How would you escape? How would you flee? How would you fight?
These are the very real situations confronting characters in JackHammer. How would you react differently if your loved ones were threatened instead of, or as well as, you?
My novels are survival manuals as well as thrillers.
Johnny Worthen’s What Immortal Hand (Omnium Gatherum, October 2017)is one hell of a weird story. It’s the darkest horror I’ve read in a long time.
Michael Oswald stares into the Abyss. He’s already lost his wife, his home, his kids, and now he’s about to lose his job. He feels himself on a slippery slope sliding into nothingness. His self-destruction is nearly complete. He feels as if he has no past, no future. It’s as if time itself plays tricks on him. He loses hours, days, weeks, maybe even years.
He can’t remember his early childhood the way other people can. He can’t even remember half of what happened yesterday. To the world, Michael Oswald is a loser because he values none of the trappings of civilized society. Michael has always been different than others. He believes it’s because he was raised within the foster care system, a ward of the state. He’s had many names, a different last name each time he entered a new foster home, and he has no idea at all who he truly is, who his real parents are, or who raised him during those influential years from three to seven.
Who is he? Where is he? When is he?
What is he?
All his life, it seems, Michael has been aware that there is a caste system—a natural order—at work in the world, even in democratic America. There’s always been haves and have-nots. There’s always been thugs who prey on Travelers. Some people deserve to die and need to be killed as a public service. But, in the end, all living things must die.
If God gives you lemons, get another god. Everyone is born of a Mother, isn’t he or she? And isn’t everyone reborn again and again?
One hell of a weird story! Surreal and spellbinding. Johnny Worthen’s What Immortal Hand is the darkest tale I’ve read in a long time.
The four wise monkeys of ancient oriental myth — hear no evil, see no evil, say no evil, and do no evil — give the killer in The Fourth Monkey by J. D. Barker (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, June 28, 2017) his name. The 4MK abducts women and sends an ear to the next of kin. Two days later, the victim’s extracted eyeballs arrive in the mail. Then the tongue. Two days after that, 4MK positions the victim’s mutilated body where easily discovered.
Hear no evil, see no evil, say no evil, do no evil. Those are the rules.
Detective Sam Porter, on bereavement leave following his wife’s tragic murder by a convenience store robber, receives a phone call from his partner. The Four Monkeys Killer was accidentally run down this morning by a Chicago bus on his way to mail an ear of his latest victim to Arthur Talbot, one of the richest men in the city.
Sam’s chased the 4MK for five years. Seven dead girls he couldn’t save. Now it appears Talbot’s illegitimate daughter Emory will be 4MK’s next victim. The clock’s ticking as Sam assembles his task force and tries to find Emory before she dies of dehydration.
The killer’s diary found on the man hit by the bus tells what it’s like to be raised in a family of psychopaths. Barker effectively rotates POV among Porter, Emory, task force members, and the diary. The burning questions become: Is the diary real? Is the dead man the 4MK? Will Emory survive? What did Talbot do to warrant punishment by 4MK? Who killed Heather, Sam’s wife, and what will happen to him?
Set in metropolitan Chicago, the action delves into underground tunnels once used by bootleggers where thousands of rats thrive and Emory may be sequestered. Will she be eaten by rats, die of hydration, or have her eyes and tongue plucked out before 4MK is through with her?
Suspense builds as time runs out. Sam, who was neither able to protect his wife nor the seven previous 4MK victims, is desperate to reach Emory before she perishes.
The Fourth Monkey is as much a great horror novel as a mystery or thriller. Very highly recommended for readers with strong stomachs, insatiable curiosities, and time on their hands because they won’t be able to stop until the very end.
John Urbancik’s style is spellbinding. He’s a consummate craftsman. His writing seems like a cross between Raymond Chandler and Stephen King, with maybe a little Richard Thomas thrown in. Maybe some Lewis Carroll, too, to make it even more surreal.
The Corpse and the Girl from Miami (Dark Fluidity, 2017) is a mystery within a mystery. It’s noir and a supernatural thriller all in one.
And, despite everything else, it’s also a love story.
It’s set in Boston, MA, not in Miami. There are some displaced Floridians (Ofelia, Mr. Maker, Armando Luis Salazar) prowling the New England darkness one unusually stormy night, but they have no special love for Bean Town. Neither does The Corpse.
Imagine waking up in a cemetery with three bullet holes in your chest and no pulse. You have no remembrance of who shot you or why. You can’t even remember your name.
Piecing together his identity and solving the mystery of his murder turns into a herculean task for the dead man. There’s another walking dead man and a burgeoning cast of characters, some of whom may be aligned with powerful supernatural forces, to complicate the plot.
No one tells the truth. Ferreting out who killed whom, who is working for whom, and who’s a good person and who’s a bad person keeps the reader turning pages.
If you like a good mystery in an urban fantasy with supernatural elements, you’ll love The Corpse and the Girl from Miami.