Ghosts of Lost Dreams, Lost Innocence, and Lost Loves

plague of shadows


Plague of Shadows: A Written Remains Anthology, edited by J. M. Reinbold and Weldon Burge (Smart Rhino Publications, Fall 2018) is the kind of book writers and readers need. Writers need it because it showcases their work and readers because it offers fresh perspectives on complex subjects.

Plague of Shadows is a theme anthology about ghosts, featuring original stories and poems by the Written Remains Writers Guild, plus a handful of reprints from well-known invited authors.

Starving Time by Jane Miller
Bark of the Dog-Faced Girl by Maria Masington
McMurdo Sound by Billie Sue Mosiman (reprint)
For Number 11 by Carson Buckingham
Powder Burns by J. Gregory Smith
The Bottom of the Hour by Phil Giunta
Neighbors from Hell by Graham Masterton (reprint)
Finding Resolution by Patrick Derrickson
The Fierce Stabbing and Subsequent Post-Death Vengeance of Scooter Brown by Jeff Strand (reprint)
On the House by Jacob Jones-Goldstein
No Good Deed by Gail Husch
Haunting the Past by Jasper Bark (reprint)
To Heart’s Content by Shannon Connor Winward
Twelve Steps by Jeff Markowitz (reprint)
Song of the Shark God by JM Reinbold
Dollhouse by Jennifer Loring
The Black Dog of Cabra by Patrick Conlon
The Angel’s Grave by Chantal Nordeloos (reprint)
Vindictive by Weldon Burge
A Hanger in the World of Dance by Stephanie M. Wytovich

Not surprising, two of the best original stories are by the editors: “Song of the Shark God” by JM Reinbbold and “Vindicative” by Weldon Burge. Others that  will haunt you are “Bark of the Dog-Faced Girl” by Maria Masington , a marvelous tale about adolescent angst; “For Number 11”, an ambitious tale that mixes history with the supernatural; and “Bottom of the Hour”, an interesting twist on “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”

My favorite story is “Finding Resolution” by Patrick Derrickson. It’s more science fiction than pure horror, even if the spacecraft does have a ghost. But not only is it very well-written, the inevitable ending is so fulfilling and satisfying it brought tears to my eyes. Kind of the way Tom Godwin’s “The Cold Equations” did when I first read it more than half-a-century ago.

“To Heart’s Content” by Shannon Connor Winward is my second favorite story in this anthology. It’s  an apocalyptic tale of a lost innocence and a lost love haunting a handful of survivors.


4 Outstanding Stories in Dark Screams 9

Dark Screams 9


Dark Screams: Volume Nine edited by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar (Hydra, January 2018) includes three new stories and three stories originally published in Cemetery Dance Magazine. Since the editors of Cemetery Dance edit this anthology series, it’s easy to see how they’re able to put out dozens of anthologies in just a few years and edit a magazine, too. They have twenty-five years of reprints to choose from and only need to add three new tales to create an anthology.

There are four outstanding stories in this anthology.

Best of the bunch is “Torn” by Lee Thomas. Although it’s a reprint from 2012, it has a great plot embellished with all of the tricks of the storyteller’s art: fully-developed characters, multiple mysteries to solve, dire time constraints, apt metaphors, and believable personal conflicts between husband and wife, neighbors, and first responders. It’s the longest story in the book, and it’s an almost perfect story of human compulsion and how compulsion can tear a person apart. Sheriff Bill Cranston fights monsters to save his family and his town, and the monsters are a lot different than anyone expects.

Almost as strong but not as long, “The Blackout” by Jonathan Moore is an original supernatural revenge tale that reads like a police procedural. Detective Nakamura investigates the disappearance of a girl’s corpse during a storm that’s blacked out electrical power in Hawaii and finds more in the dark than he bargained for.

“The Dead Years” by Taylor Grant is a haunting tale of a modern-day Helen of Troy and the price of beauty. It’s also original to this anthology.

“Invitation to the Game” by Kelley Armstrong is well-written and suspenseful with a couple of nice twists. It’s also original.

“Summer of ‘77” by Stewart O’Nan and “Variations on a Theme from Seinfeld” by Peter Straub, both reprints from 2009, were competent but disappointing.

The four outstanding tales make Dark Screams: Volume Nine worth the price. Consider the other two stories an added bonus. Highly recommended.


Halloween Carnival Volume Four Definitely Worth the Read

Halloween Carnival Vol 4



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.


You Can Go Home Again

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.

To me, it’s like home.

Yes, Virginia. You really can go home again.

My Latest Collection of Stories



The Devil Made Me Do It Again and Again

I love short stories. I grew up in the pulp era and read short stories and novellas in monthly magazines printed on pulp paper. I haunted newsstands weekly and bought arm loads of pulp magazines to devour at home. I graduated to buying and reading paperback collections of short stories, then to hardbounds borrowed from the library. I have fond memories of reading Grof Conklin’s sf reprint anthologies filled with stories from the pulps, and original anthologies of stories that contained stories by my favorite pulp authors. Periodically, I reread some of those stories. Each time I reread a story I discover something new I missed the first time around.

The Devil Made Me Do It Again and Again (Crossroad Press, May 2016) is a collection of ten of my own stories that appeared in magazines or original anthologies over the past forty years, plus three new stories never seen before in print. I wrote a brief introduction to each story, and Irwin Chapman wrote a revealing Introduction to my Foreword. I included some of my hard-learned secrets of writing in an Afterword.

Crossroad Press published a nice reprint of my earlier The Devil Made Me Do It (Miskatonic University Press, 1985) as an e-book in 2014, and The Devil Made Me Do It is currently available for Kindle or Nook at or It’s also available from Kobo. The paperback is out of print.

It seemed natural to offer the latest collection of my short stories to Crossroad Press, and I’m very happy with their editing and cover art. You can order copies for your Kindle at or for your Nook at

Happy 2016

2015 was a great year, and 2016 will be even better

My modest goals as a writer: Write and sell two novels and two short stories every year. I started that practice in 1982, and I completed two novels and ten short stories that year while working a full-time job as a hotel manager. I also served thirty days on active duty as a Chief Warrant Officer with the U. S. Army Reserve. I sold one of those two novels the following year, and the other novel sold in 1985. Four of the ten stories saw print by 1984, and the other six were gobbled up by small press magazines before 1990.

I continued writing two novels and ten short stories each year through 1994. I sold eight novels and fifty-six short stories during that twelve-year period. All eventually appeared in print.

Most went out of print before the start of the new Millennium, although several of my short stories continued to be reprinted in anthologies from Pinnacle or in translations appearing from foreign publishers in various European and Asian languages.

When I returned to writing fiction in 2012, I had the same goal: write two new novels and two new short stories each and every year. I completed Abandoned and Deviants in 2012, Winds and Darkness in 2013, Light, Icepick, and Spilled Milk in 2014,and Meat Cleaver, Axes to Grind, Running Out of Time, and Pinking Shears in 2015. I sold Abandoned and Deviants both in 2014 (Eldritch Press published Abandoned in March 2015 and Damnation Books still hasn’t set a definite pub date for Deviants). Crossroad Press brought out new digital editions of The Devil Made Me Do It, Claw Hammer, and Daddy’s Home in 2014, and they published Pickaxe, Icepick, Pinking Shears, Axes to Grind, Meat Cleaver, and Running Out of Time in 2015.

Three of my short stories appeared in print in 2015. “Dolls” was published in Weirdbook 31 in September, “After the Fall” was published in the Fall 2015 issue of The Horror Zine, and “Who Knows What Evil Lurks” was revised for the August 2015 issue of Pulp Adventures 18.

2015 was very good year.

2016 promises to be even better.

The Devil Mad Me Do It Again and Again, a new short fiction collection containing twenty stories previously-published in anthologies and magazines,  should be out by March.

I’m putting final revisions on Sledgehammer, the latest novel in my Instruments of Death series. Impossible is an sf thriller, part of my Under the Gun series. I’m working on sequels to Spilled Milk, Winds, and Daddy’s Home. Come Hell and High Water is a supernatural thriller about the End of Times. And Final Exam is an exciting forensic science novel with an aging female pathologist who is teamed with a retired detective to teach criminology at a State University. When faculty members become targeted by a serial killer, two over-the-hill sleuths and a handful of students must track down the killer before they become victims themselves.

I’m also experimenting with first-person present tense in short fiction.

2015 was a busy year for public appearances and autographing, and 2016 promises to be even busier. I’m already committed to attending MidAmericon II in KC, Thrillerfest in NYC, Bouchercon in New Orleans, Stokercon in Vegas, and Wiscon, World Fantasy Con, and Windycon in the Midwest.

I wish all of my friends and fans the world over a very Happy New Year. I look forward to seeing you in person in 2016.

Meet a few vampires you never knew existed before

Seize the Night, edited by Christopher Golden (Gallery Books, Simon and Schuster, October, 2015, ISBN 978-1-4767-8309-3, $18.00, 544 pages) is a horror anthology about vampires. Golden wanted to put the terror back into vampire legends, and he succeeded.

He collected 21 original stories from some of the best horror writers around. Two common themes connect the stories: surprise twists and good writing. You may also be surprised to discover Tony Orlando described as a real dog in several of the tales. Dawn is nowhere to be found.

Scott Smith’s “Up in Old Vermont” is reminiscent of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” in its tone. This is unstated horror at its best.

“Something Lost, Something Gained” by Seanan McGuire is beautifully written and comes close to being a true masterpiece. The pacing, the imagery, and the right words in the right place make the story’s opening a joy. Louise—a thirteen year old caught out in a summer storm when her evil step-father had warned her she was getting too old to hunt fireflies—fears the lecherous creep will beat both her and her mother when Lou returns home soaked to the bone and carrying a jar full of fireflies. But Lou rushes home anyway because it’s still her home—the home her real father had left her—and her mother is waiting. The story takes a much darker turn when Lou falls into a rabbit hole, breaks her leg, breaks the jar filled with fireflies, and the broken glass slices her chest and carotid. When Lou dies out in the storm, POV shifts to Mary, Lou’s mother. I only wish McGuire had made the story longer, taken the time and space to more-fully develop the supernatural elements. McGuire does little more than hint that lightning and fireflies, also called “lightning bugs,” have more than a name in common. “Something Lost, Something Gained” is one of the four best stories in this anthology.

“On the Dark Side of Sunlight Basin” by Michael Koryta turns indian legends and an evil man named Medoc into a night terror for a girl who wont say die. “The Neighbors” by Sherrilyn Kenyon is very short with a weird twist at the end. “Paper Cuts” by Gary A. Braunbeck presents a different perspective of history and gives new meaning to the term “Banned Books.”

Charlaine Harris contributes “Miss Fondevant,” a chilling tale about a girl who suspects her teacher of being an energy vampire. Is Miss Fondevant really a vampire? Or is Susan delusional? What will happen when Susan tries to kill Miss Fondevant?

“In a Cavern, In a Canyon” by Laird Barron illustrates why Good Samaritans finish last and also asks the vital question, “What Would Clint Eastwood do?”

“Whiskey and Light” by Dana Cameron is another Shirley Jackson-type/Hunger Games tribute tale. Farmington, a farming community near Stone Harbor, is haunted. Every fall, Farmington residents leave tattooed sacrifices at a mound to placate the resident demon. Animal sacrifice plus ritual blessings from the local priest prevent the demon from devouring the town. This year, however, the priest has died and there is no time to fetch another. To placate the demon, Marr’s sister Jenn is offered. But without the priest’s blessing to confine the demon, the entire town is decimated and only Marr is left alive to kill the demon.

“We Are All Monsters Here” by Kelley Armstrong is the tightest tale in the book, a brilliant rendition of what a vampire story should be. This story alone is worth the price of the book. But there isn’t a single lemon in the entire anthology, and they are all worth a read.

“May the End Be Good” by Tim Lebbon features Winfred, a Roman Catholic monk during the 11th century siege of William the Conqueror. With French troops rampaging through the English countryside, rape and cannibalism have become common. In the midst of so much evil, what can a good man do besides pray?

“Mrs. Popkin” by Dan Chaon and Lynda Barry is just plain weird. But it’s weird in a fantastical way that draws you in before it spits you out. It’s about mothers and children and rabbits. More than that, I won’t reveal. You need to read the story to discover on your own all the horrors hidden beneath a coat of fresh paint.

“Direct Report” by Leigh Perry is a twisted tale about an out-of-work woman executive who finds upward mobility in a new job can be a real pain. “Shadow and Thirst” by John Langan tries to pack too much into a short story, and I got lost several times before reaching the end. Time and space shifts in a maze-like tunnel, plus multiple Tonys, made the tale a bit too complicated for my tastes.

Joe McKinney is the consummate craftsman, and his finely-wrought stories are always a treasure. McKinney’s “Mother” ties together Aztec legends with a sound scientific explanation for a different kind of vampire. When five children are murdered in a small town in south Texas, paranormal investigator Dr. Ed Drinker wants to learn the truth almost as much as he wants to beat arch-rival Charles Marsh to the story. Drinker does learn the truth, but at what cost?

“Blood” by Robert Shearman is a strange tale about a teacher and an underage student on holiday in Paris. He knows it’s wrong, but he’s compelled to do it anyway and compulsion can be dangerous. “The Yellow Death” by Lucy A. Snyder is half-vampire lore, half mythos. It’s about a woman’s strength as she wanders through hell on earth. “The Last Supper” by Brian Keene is a grim tale about loneliness. For so it is written, What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?

“Separator” by Rio Youers takes place in the Philippines after a typhoon and tsunami kill thousands. David Payne, a Canadian real estate developer, believes in the reality of money, not the superstitious nonsense of the local populace. David pays dearly for his irreverence and his sins, of course. But will the sins of the father die with the man? This is another of the top four.

“What Kept You So Long?” by John Advide Lindqvist is an exquisitely devised tale of longing. Longing for blood. Longing for redemption. Longing for another person like you who feels the same longings. The tight writing and final twist make this another contender for my top four picks.

In “Blue Hell” by David Wellington, a young girl is tossed down a well as a sacrifice to the rain god. She had gone willingly to insure rain for the crops her people planted. But she does not drop all the way to the bottom where the gods await. She lands on a ledge that shatters one leg and shakes up her beliefs. At first she is ashamed that she failed to be the sacrifice her people wanted and needed. But when a skeletal creature emerges from the depths to suck her blood, she decides she wants to live. She intends to somehow get out of the cenote and inform her people about the monsters in the well, and to tell them their beliefs are only a bunch of lies. There are no gods in the well to accept the sacrifices. There are only monsters and the bones of countless sacrificial victims. The story, told from the sacrificial victim’s POV, is nicely done.

All 21 tales are worth reading. There are all kinds of vampires in the world, and Seize the Night will introduce you to a few you never knew existed before. Definitely worth the read.