Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Liar Liar Pants on Fire!

You can't judge a book by its cover, but damn this cover is cool! This brand new anthology of flash fiction is now up for pre-order HERE.

59 flash fiction fables from 29 of your favorite Post Mortem Press authors.
What? What? I thought you said 44 Lies by 22 Liars?
Well, the editor is a liar too ...

Flash fiction from ...
J. David Anderson, Paul Anderson, David Bernard, Max Booth III, C. Bryan Brown, Kenneth W. Cain, Brad Carter, Kyle Dickerson, Emma Ennis, Robert Essig, Teel James Glenn, Scott Goudsward, KT Jayne, Tally Johnson, MF Korn, Christian A. Larsen, Michael Matula, Josef Matulich, Jessica McHugh, P. Andrew Miller, Georgina Morales, Billie Sue Mosiman, g. Elmer Munson, Andrew Nienaber, Cynthina Pelayo, Nelson W. Pyles, Patrick Scalisi, Rob Smales, and Tim Waggoner.

I happen to have three stories in this book. To tell a little bit about a tiny story is pretty difficult to do without giving something away, but here it goes.

"Moonlight Sonata" is perhaps one my oldest ideas, spawned from a poem a good friend wrote when we were in Arkansas on a family vacation. He told me I could use the idea. The draft I wrote back then was atrocious (I was about sixteen), but the idea stuck with me, so I rewrote it into a flash story and I think it's quite effective. We were metal heads, but we could also appreciate classical musicians such as Bethooven, Mozart, Mussorgsky and Brahms.

When I was a kid I was always fascinated with what people carved into tree trunks, the lunch tables at school, or even fresh concrete. I remember the word SLAYER in the concrete near my grandma's house and an amazing rendition of Iron Maiden's Evil Eddie on a table at my grammar school. "Names in the Sidewalk" came straight from my childhood brain, because there's something deeper to a name in the sidewalk than someone merely stumbling upon fresh concrete.

I have no recollection of writing "Meeting the Quota." I do recall that I wrote it for a Blood Bound Books anthology of which I landed three other flash fiction stories. As for where the idea originated...

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Last Horror Fan to Watch It Follows?

I'm late to the party, which isn't unusual for me, but I finally watched It Follows, and what follows are my thoughts on the film and some examination of the themes. There are spoilers aplenty, so if you haven't yet watched this fine film, refrain from reading on (and do yourself a favor--watch It Follows!).

I like to go into a movie with no expectations. I prefer not to see the trailer, read any reviews, or even look at the synopsis if I can help it. Not such an easy thing to do with people posting their thoughts on Facebook and Twitter and whatnot. I've learned the fine art of ignoring (which, consequently, is also great for cat memes and political nonsense). That being said, I had seen a lot of posts about how good It Follows was, but I didn't read about the film any further than that.

A few days ago my wife and I watched It Follows and we loved it, plain and simple. Better than Babadook, Cabin in the Woods, all the gross-out horror films from the past decade and just about anything I've watched in recent years. That's my opinion. You may disagree.

There's so much to like about It Follows. Like any great horror film, you're pulled into the plot right from the get-go and the movie doesn't let up until it's done with you. The credits roll and you're thinking, shit, that was crazy. I was left thinking that I'd finally seen something new that made me feel what I'd felt after watching horror films when I was a kid, what made me fall in love with the genre. Even movies I've enjoyed in the past decade or so leave little impression. Yeah, Strangers was good, but I don't remember a damn thing about the plot. Was that the one with people terrorizing a couple in a house? Were the killers wearing masks? Was it that one? Yeah, I liked Sinister, but I don't really remember the plot. Was that the one with the people who hanged themselves in a tree in the backyard? Does it have something to do with reel to reel film? I can't remember, because the impressions were so faint. It Follows, however, left a fucking pothole on my mind, and that's a damn good feeling. That's what great art is all about.

I found myself thinking about It Follows while at work the day after watching it. I have so many questions about so many elements of the story that weren't tied up and pretty like a Christmas present. And I like that. Why should all the elements be so neat? Life isn't neat? We die with things unwrapped, undone, unfinished, so why should a movie have to be so goddamned neat? The other night over drinks my wife and I had a great discussion on the film and we came up with some interesting speculation on potential themes.

To put it in a nutshell, so to speak, It Follows is a metaphor for sexually transmitted disease. I don't know that the writer took that into consideration while dreaming up this idea (it did originate from a dream, but I'll get into that later), but it's fairly obvious when you think about it. The person being followed can only stop the thing from following by having sex with another person who then carries the burden of being the one followed; however, if the current person being followed is killed by the follower, the follower goes after that last person and will continue down the line, killing all who have been infected. There's no beginning, no one knows where this thing comes from or why, it's just there, and it can only be transmitted through sex. And it will find you no matter where you run to. It's worse than AIDS. Kind of makes you wonder if wearing a condom would prevent it from being passed along.

Another element of the story that intrigued me was the time frame. My wife and I were both confused as to what decade this film was supposed to be in. I assumed, while we were watching, that it was intentionally filmed to have no recognizable era, kind of like Donnie Darko and Blue Velvet. It's a method that can be jarring at times, but also charming. My wife did a quick search and found out that the director purposely blended generations to give the film an ambiguous, dreamy sort of feel. You watch and wonder why the car is an old station wagon, why the characters are always watching black and white sci-fi movies on an old television, and what kind of reading device the one girl has that is shaped like a sea shell compact (the director said that he was inspired to create the so-called shell phone from a shell shaped makeup compact that was popular in the fifties). The director also said that the idea was inspired by recurring dreams of random people following him for no apparent reason. He wanted to preserve that dream-like theme and general ambiguity of the villain by creating a familiar world that doesn't really exist, and I think he achieved that. Well done!

There's also an element of paranoia at play, which is best shown in the character who passes on the, for lack of better term, disease in the beginning of the film. When the afflicted girl tracks him down, he's shifty and frightened about everyone around him. That's the beauty of the bizarre permutation that stalks the infected. You never know who it is and you have to assume it can be anybody. This element of the story creates a sort of viewer paranoia. I found myself watching the background and wondering, is that the follower? Is that? By the end you're kind of mentally exhausted, but in the best possible way.

I used to have quite a collection of horror movies on VHS. I still have a lot of them, but my collection has been thinned out over the years. I still have a VCR and I still watch movies on it. I will until it breaks. That's just the way I am. I love old horror films. I'm a sucker for sixties and seventies horror film, but don't discriminate the good ones from any generation. That being said, as I get older, I like what I see much less. As I mentioned above, most of the films I've seen in the past decade are ultimately forgettable, even the good ones, and I certainly don't get that feeling I used to get that causes me to want to buy a movie and watch it over and over again. Part of this is due to getting older and having a shit-load of responsibility that prevents me from sitting on my ass and watching old movies all night, but it also has to do with lost interest.

I'm going to buy It Follows. It will be the first modern horror film I've bought in a loooong time, but hopefully not the last.


Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Brightest House on Candy Cane Lane

Harold was a block away from home when he saw baby Jesus crawling the sidewalk like a wounded animal in search of a place to die.

“Jeez. It gets worse every damn year. What’ll they think of next?”

Two houses further he saw Frosty the Snowman peeking around a hedge with shifty coal eyes. On the other side of the street Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer galloped, white electric cord dragging like a malformed tail.

Harold grumbled. Animatronic props must be the in thing this year, he thought. By the time Christmas came, the whole street would be crawling with ‘em.

When Harold pulled into his driveway, he just about lost his shit.

He’d lived in this neighborhood for fifty years and for fifty years everyone decked out their houses with obnoxious lights and tacky decorations. Somewhere along the way it became known as Candy Cane Lane, but really it was a month long traffic jam.

Harold and his wife had never participated. That’s why he became filled with anger when he arrived home to find lights on his fascia and one of the Wisemen on his lawn. He knew one day the bastard neighbors would take it upon themselves to decorate his house. They hated him. Called him a Grinch, a regular bah humbugger.

Cursing under his breath, Harold grabbed a string of lights from a low hanging eave and yanked, but the lights pulled back. Harold paused. “What the…?”

The string of lights wrapped around his hand and spooled up his arm.

“Christ!” Harold pulled away and bumped into another Wiseman who grabbed Harold by the shoulders as more light strands slithered across the street like malnourished serpents. The lights connected with one another and wound their way up his body, entwining around his limbs.

He hollered for his wife. “Martha! Martha!”

The milti-colored lights wrapped around and around locking male-pronged heads into female-pronged tails, one after the other. A shape was being formed.

Harold’s voice was now muffled. “Martha!”

Reindeer pranced into the yard. Frosty creeped along the bushes. Wreathes rolled up the drive like red and green wheels. Christmas lights crawled into Harold’s yard, climbing the woodwork like tentacles with tiny glass bulbs rather than suction cups.

Harold’s voice was nothing more than mumbles behind an impenetrable layer of holiday lights that formed three balls stacked atop one another in the creation of a snowman. Frosty removed his top hat and placed it on the tangled mass of Harold’s head. A variety of heavy-duty extension cords found available sockets in the stucco and connected to the double prong plug sprouting from what had once been Harold’s feet.

He lit up in a brilliant glow of color with darkness where the coal eyes should be.

Martha opened the front door. “Dammit, Harold, what’s—“ The words dropped from her mouth like a hunk of lead.

Santa Clause stood there with a jelly belly and a rosy grin. He opened his big red sack, which was suspiciously empty of gifts. Martha took a tentative step back. That’s when the elves crowded around and hurled her into the gaping maw of Santa’s gift sack. The jolly fellow pulled the rope tight and knotted it while Martha screamed and flailed. Santa then used a gutter and lattice to climb onto the roof where his reindeer waited.

As dusk fell, the house lit up like a cheerful explosion. The neighbors gathered ‘round and marveled at the brightest house on Candy Cane Lane.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Fictional Worlds in Real Places

Special guest post by Mark Allan Gunnells

Some writers create fictional places in which to set their tales. I’m not talking just talking about fantasy or sci-fi novels that take places in other dimensions, realities, or planets. Sometimes books set right here on Earth in the here and now take place in fictional places.

King is the most prime example of this with his town Castle Rock, Maine. Castle Rock is based on real Maine towns, but the town itself doesn’t exist except in King’s imagination. As a writer myself, I’ve done this as well, such as with the fictional town of Sunset Ridge, South Carolina, in my novel Sequel.

And yet I don’t do this often. More often, I like to set my novels and stories in real places, places I’m familiar with. This may be places I’ve visited—like Savannah or New Orleans or Atlanta—but usually it’s the area in which I live.

The place I visit most often in my fiction is Limestone College in Gaffney, SC. This is my alma mater, where I spent four pretty enjoyable years of my life. I have a deep affection for the school, which seems to manifest itself in a series of tales where horrible things are always happening on campus. Weird, I know, but hey, I’m a horror writer. Weird is my bread and butter.

One of my most recent releases, the zombie novella Fort, takes place at Limestone. The story deals with a group of students trapped in one of the dorms by hordes of the undead, the thrust of the plot focusing on a desperate mission to get to the dining hall for food.

There is a particular joy in setting a story in a location that is real and familiar. In some ways it makes it easier, you already know the geography. For me, it’s also fun to imagine scenarios and situations that can happen in various places. 

When plotting out Fort, before the actual writing began, I actually visited the campus, walked around, thought, “Oh, I should set a scene here” or “This would be a great place for such-and-such to happen.” Since so much of the story took place inside the Fort dormitory, I enlisted the help of my friend Megan who is the daughter of the college President (and subsequently I dedicated the book to her) to get me inside the dorm while it was closed down. I wandered the halls, made notes and took pictures of everything, and that helped tremendously when I sat down to actually craft the tale.

In some ways, this can really be a thrill for readers who are also familiar with the location, as they may get a kick out of recognizing the various places and buildings. I know I feel that way when I read something set in a place I’m familiar with. For those who’ve never been there, they may not get anything out of it on a conscious level, but I do think it helps make the place feel more real to the reader when the writer is writing with such authority.

I will admit there are times I fudge on the realism when the story demands it. I call this “fictional license.”  For instance, I altered some of the construction of the dining hall at Limestone for Fort because it worked best for the story. I don’t think that’s cheating, it’s just the nature of blending the real world with the fictional world.

I had so much fun working on Fort and setting it at Limestone that I hope that it is infectious for the reader, and whether they’ve ever been to the college or not, I hope when they read the novella the world I created becomes real to them.

 Fort is available at Amazon. While you're there, be sure to check out Mark's author page, where you can find his other books.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

New Short Story and News About Salpsan

Step right up! There's room for everyone in the tent. Don't be shy. We're all friends, well, er, fiends here.

I could give you some kind of self loathing cheese to go with my desperate whine, but what fun would that be? Yeah, so it's been a slow writing year (well, not the writing part, slow on the publishing end), big deal, right? It's a goddamned competitive business and there's a lot of talent out there right now. There isn't room for all of us in the micro world of anthologies and magazines whose pages are even worthy of being graced.

Yep, I could bring you down with all of my self doubt, and I've probably started to do that in one freaking paragraph, but alas, I have a new short story out with a publisher I have been trying to work with since they first came on the scene several years ago. I talking about none other than DarkFuse Magazine. Those of you in the horror community know of DarkFuse. If you don't, chances are you're living in a cave in the desert with no wi-fi. My story is called "Inflatable War." It fits somewhere between bizarro and horror and it's weird and wonderful. I couldn't be more proud to have my work grace the DarkFuse website. If you're interested in reading a story about a man dangerously obsessed with an array of inflatable animals, and I know you are, head on over to DarkFuse's website. It only costs .99 cents for a month subscription or twelve bucks for a year, which allows you access to all of the short stories they've published over the years. That's an incredible deal!

Now, about Salpsan. For those of you taking notes, Salpsan is my novella forthcoming from Damnation Books. Some of you are cringing at the mere mention of Damnation Books, but let your hearts not be troubled. Despite all of the bad press DB has had from disgruntled authors, there has been a major change. They have been taken over by Caliburn Press and a lot of changes are underway, most notably for me, the release of my long awaited novella (well, I know I've been waiting a long time for it!). I'm not going to get into the issues DB had with their previous ownership. If you're interested, you can google it. I just hope they can resurrect themselves and polish off their tarnished reputation.

Communication with the new ownership has been stellar. I have been told that Salpsan will be published early to mid December. As publication nears I will make updates with cover art and some teaser posts. I'm really excited for this one. It's quite different from my previous novels, most of which I would classify as urban horror. This one is a dark Gothic tale set in the countryside of Spain. More info to come.

Advanced Praise for Salpsan:

"Robert Essig has crafted one creepy-as-hell tale of modern Gothic horror that sets an ominous tone from the first few words and never lets up. Told from the POV of an unconventional narrator with secrets of her own, Salpsan is a dark, dark story that will prove you wrong several times when you think you know where it's going. I enjoyed it immensely, and can't wait to read more from this writer!"
          -- James Newman
              Author of The Wicked, Animosity, and Ugly as Sin
"With Salspan, Essig takes you on a twisted journey through the Spanish hillside;
one full of intrigue, memorable characters and hellish encounters. 
This is a story that will stick with you, long after turning the last page."
           --K. Trap Jones
              Author of The Sinner, The Harvester and The Charm Hunter

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Local Horror Author Panel Podcast

Last Saturday at the big downtown San Diego Central Library I took part in an event with a few of my fellow local horror authors where we discussed out favorite horror novels, short stories, movies and what it is about horror that gets our gears going. It was a fun and lively panel and Horror Imaginings Film Festival & Podcast brings the event to you this week in episode 147: Halloween Super Special with SoCal Horror Authors! Have a listen HERE. Pictured, from left to right: me, Ryan C. Thomas, David Agranoff, Bryan Killian, Scott Sigler, Miguel Rodriguez.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Books on Sale

My novel People of the Ethereal Realm is on sale for the month of October, along with many other Post Mortem Press titles. Just .99 cents for kindle download. This is the month everyone else celebrates horror. Join the club. I celebrate every damn day of the year. Read a good book and leave a review.

Monday, October 5, 2015

How I Got Into Horror--Origins of a Disciplined Madman

Some people think that horror authors are nestled at the bottom of the literary barrel with the discarded bones, residual muck and furry mold. People who don't "get it" often ask: "Why horror?" as if we have a choice. Like maybe we woke up one day and said to ourselves, "You know, maybe I should write something. What genre should I choose? Hmmm... I know! I'll write horror."

Nope. Doesn't work that way. Not for me, and not for most authors in our field. It's a passion that, for many of us, started when we were youngins. Some authors dabble in many genres, but many of us who write horror have no choice. I've started so many dramatic stories with the intention to stay away from the gruesome stuff and every time, by the end of the story, someone died, blood was shed, or it became horrific in one way or the other. It's in my DNA.

So how does one get into horror? I blame Fangoria and my good friend Jon, both of which were catalysts for what became my passion for horror and the macabre. Also, good ol' video stores. I didn't get into reading until I read Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" in Jr. high, but I was a fan of horror long before that.

On the playground at school my buddy Jon would tell me about Freddy Kruger. He'd seen several of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies and he would tell me all about them. It would be a while before I saw A Nightmare on Elm Street, but I couldn't wait. Back in those days my mother would pick me up from after school day care and sometimes stop by the market on the way home. I hovered over the magazine rack while she shopped, face planted firmly in the latest issue of Fangoria. I went home with horrors in my head, bouncing around the ethers of my mind. Sometimes after dinner I would go out in the backyard and wander around, thinking about the gruesome stuff I'd seen in Fangoria, making up my own stories for Freddy and Leatherface.

Little did I know, that at that young age, I was creating. Yes, the stories in my mind were "fan fiction" based on characters of which I had never actually seen on screen, but they were stories nonetheless. My mind was something I used a lot, being an only child. I came up with all kinds of stories, some of which I have actually written all these years later.

As a young teen I pretty much rented every movie in the horror section at our several video stores along 2nd Street. Favorites included Hellraiser, Dead Alive, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Evil Dead, Halloween, The Toxic Avenger and many others. I watched all the sequels, the crappy direct to video releases and even the older cult classics, which eventually became my preference. I'm a sucker for sixties and seventies horror cinema.

Once I discovered the written word via Shirley Jackson, HP Lovecraft, Stephen King and Clive Barker, I was hooked. What once was a cinematic gorehound had quickly become a voracious reader. I only wish there had been someone there to lead me to some authors other than the bestsellers. I wish I'd been a more diverse reader back then. But that's another subject for another blog post.

Those are my horror origins condensed into a few paragraphs.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Free Flash Fiction

My story "Hooked" is this weeks feature on Strange Story Saturdays. Check it out!

"Hooked" was inspired by a troupe of performers I saw at the bay two summers ago. I won't tell you what they were performing, because that would ruin the story. I will say that they were featured an a TV show called Taboo, and their performance became good fodder for my imagination.


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Welcome to the Church of Speculative Fiction

I wrote a guest blog post that was featured on Dark Moon Digest's Last Writes blog. Head on over there and have a read. When you're finished, do me a favor and pick up a copy of my latest novel In Black. It's still only .99 cents for an ebook and $9.99 for a good ol' dead tree copy. The link is at the end of the blog post. Enjoy!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

IN BLACK on Sale for .99 Cents!

My publisher had dropped the price on my latest novel to only .99 cents for a limited time. Get your digital copy now and dig into some horrifying summer reading.

The first 5-star review is in: "I received the book on Thursday and read it by Friday cause I couldn't put it down..."

Available for kindle HERE.  

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

In Black is Now Available!

In Black, my latest novel of horror from Eldritch Press, is now available in ebook and trade paperback.

Chase Little thought he’d been hired to do some painting, but when the paint dried, it created a black void that leads to a dungeon. Appalled yet fascinated, he flees, burning down the house and stealing the inky liquid. Fearing that he will be arrested for arson, Chase and his girlfriend Leah flee to the rundown town of Needles in the Mojave Desert.

Leah soon disappears, leaving him alone, learning too late of the true nature of the black paint and the evil that lies beyond the veil of darkness it creates. He was warned about the black paint, but didn’t listen. Now he has to find and destroy it before more innocent lives succumb to its unfathomable darkness.

Here are a few links to buy the book, only $2.99 for an ebook or $9.99 for print: Amazon & Nook: Barnes and Noble.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Smell of Memory

Sometimes things happen in a way that beg for them to be spoken of or written about, as was an experience I had the other day while walking up the stairwell at a complex where I was doing some painting. What happened is something that I have experienced before, each time having a greater or lesser degree of submersion into the past, and it all starts with a smell.

Yesterday I began reading Robert R. McCammon's Boy's Life for the first time.  The beginning of the book has a sort of forward by the narrator where he discusses life. In that small intro our narrator mentions how a song or sight can illicit long forgotten childhood memories like a trigger to launch one directly into the past if only for a fleeting moment. This I know is true. I too know that any one of the five human senses can act as such a trigger. For me, the most potent of such triggers is smell. Always has been.

Have you ever smelled a perfume that brought you back to an earlier day? Perhaps it was one your Aunt wore when you were a child, perhaps a neighbor. Have you ever smelled the perfect mingling of food odors that made you feel like a youngster playing with toys as your mother cooked dinner? Have you ever smelled something indistinguishable, yet so alluring and mysterious that you could actually feel the brilliance and joy of youth?

I have. In fact, I did the other day and it started me on a thinking path, as these sort of things often do. Mostly I thought about how precious youth is and how quickly the experience is extinguished and all but forgotten, preserved in photographs and remembrances of monumental events. We don't know any better as we are always told to think about the future and college and a career and what we're going to be when we grow up, and before we know it, it's gone and will never come back except for when triggered by an old song, a once favorite TV show or perhaps a cryptic smell, something to unlock memories buried deep in our minds.

I smelled one such fragrance in the hallway of a milti-unit complex. I was instantly brought back to the little library at my elementary school, to the shark book I liked so much, to the Halloween books I found so fascinating. I was brought back not only to the memory of it, but the feeling of sheer joy and happiness that my childhood was willed with. Random fragments of memory invaded as if some chasm had been opened. It only happened for a moment and was gone, but it left me with a sense of melancholy that had me yearning for a Ray Bradbury story or two. The experience had me thinking about life in general, but more importantly, it had me thinking about the life of a child, any child.

There were two tragic stories in the news the other day. One was about a woman in court for child endangerment after leaving her children in the car on a hot day. While in court, it was found that she had left her children in the car. Another story local to San Diego was about a three-year-old left on a balcony for hours in arms reach of a knife. The mother claims the child's grandmother was supposed to be watching, while the grandmother says the mother often neglects the child to go out and party. Last year the same child was found abandoned on the streets of Chula Vista (I don't even like being on those streets and I'm a grown man!). He was supposed to have been being watched by his grandfather, but gramps was off somewhere shooting heroin. Now the child is in protective custody.

These children will not have beautiful flashes of memory conjured at a random tingling senses. Not the way I do at least. That parents make such egregious decisions breaks my heart, and it happens all over the world. This kind of parenting certainly makes a case for implementing a license to bear children, not that I want to venture into that kind of brave new world. It is sad, though. Childhood can be great whether poor or filthy rich and just as easily, in either condition, be just as bad if not worse than the examples above. What it hinders on are the parents. Right here I could say, "Go hug your children," but you should be doing that anyway. You shouldn't have to be reminded by some blog post.

Image result for memoryWhen I smell something or hear the right tune that brings me back to my wonderful childhood I get a little sad that I didn't better preserve my memories. I realize now that no one does. In youth we're too fresh at mind and eager to experience life to waste time even considering how important those formidable years are not only to our development, but our psyche in general. As it turns out, those memories have been preserved. In the taste of sorghum molasses over buttered biscuits, in the smell of some long forgotten perfume, in the melody of a golden oldie. You can't choose to visit these memories and when you do get the opportunity they might not even make sense, but they are there, waiting to be released, to elicit melancholy, sadness, happiness and longing all at once. Cherish those memories and cherish your children so they too can experience such flashes of memory.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Hell Awaits is FREE over Memorial Day weekend!


Available for free kindle download HERE.

After an ancient tribe of sentinels disbands, the realm between Earth and Hell devolves into a land where vile beasts roam free and corruption reigns. In this aberrant land time is only relative, and pain can last forever. On Earth there are three strangers in search of something tangible, something real, something that gives meaning to their lives. Little do they know that a grisly murder in San Diego will mark the beginning of a series of events that will draw them to a world of madness, torture, and lawlessness where they will be forced to fight for their desires and their lives. Once in the realm of the In Between will they ever be the same again? Is there a way back home to Earth, or does Hell await?

“For fans of down and dirty horror!” - Daniel I. Russell, author of Samhane

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

What Happened to Our Butcher Knife?

Before you read this little story about what happened last Sunday in the Essig household, I would advise you to hop on over to Armand Rosamilia's blog and read my guest post from about a year and a half ago. Go ahead, and come back here when you're finished.

Okay, I hope you made it back. Here's the story:

Last Sunday my wife, son and I went to the park to kick around the soccer ball and swing on the swings and do all those things you're expected to do after paying three bucks just to park your car in the lot. The place was crawling with people. It was like an aggravated ant pile. There was a baby shower, some kind of company barbecue, birthday parties, a dog owner who shamelessly allowed their pet to take a shit right in front of the swings and didn't even bother to pick it up. And, of course, their were folks like us who just wanted to spend a few hours in the park. It was fun, but too many people for my taste.

We headed for the 99 Cent Store after that, got some groceries, had to wait in line so long I thought the the frozen goods were going to melt, and then we were back home for the rest of the afternoon into night. On walking into the house our son made a B-line for the back yard. He opened the sliding glass door and was off to play with sticks and immerse himself into worlds only LSD could possibly illuminate for us adults. After unpacking our fifty bucks worth of groceries, I decided it would be a good time to prep the chicken wings we planned on eating for dinner. I wanted to get them into a bag of seasoned flour for maybe an hour before frying them up and soaking them in butter and spicy Buffalo sauce.

I grabbed the bowl of wings from the fridge and began to pull them out when I realized that they were whole, which meant I would have to chop off the tips and then half the rest of the wing into little drumsticks and wingettes. I pivoted and reached out my hand to a butcher block that was missing the most important knife. The big knife. The Micheal Myers knife.

The butcher knife.

I looked in the dish drainer. No knife. I looked in the sink. Nothing there. I looked under the dish drainer and all around it. I looked in the silverware drawer and large utensil drawer, on the counter on the floor (this is starting to read like a Dr. Seuss book!).

I asked my wife if she knew where the butcher knife was. She looked in all the places I had already covered. I even looked in ridiculous places, thinking maybe the knife had somehow been placed in the wrong spot after being washed. No dice.

That's when something occurred to the both of us pretty much at the same time. I could see it in her eyes that she was thinking exactly what I was thinking. One of us said, "What if there's someone hiding in the house with the knife?"

One half of my mind said, "Oh hell no. That's the kind of stuff that happens in movies," and the other part of my brain said, "Oh yeah? That's also the stuff that happens on Investigation Discovery. That's the kind of thing that can happen to anyone."

Passing by the sliding glass door I glimpsed my son outside playing in the dirt, laughing, talking to himself, happy. I went into the garage, knowing no one was in there because I had already gone into the garage to put some frozen good in our freezer. I went in there for an old poorly crafted metal shop sword that I have, but I decided on an impromptu garden tool. One side has two long prongs like that of a small pitch fork and the other side a flat edge similar to a miniature hoe, but sharper. I didn't want to think of what this weapon could do to someone, but what could I do? The butcher knife was gone and there was no explanation.

My wife remained in the kitchen and my son in the backyard. I went though the house systematically, opening every door to every closet and every room. It all seemed so crazy, you know (as if there really would be someone hiding with my butcher knife???), but I had to be prepared, because what if?

The house was clear. But the butcher knife was still missing. My wife took the filled garbage bag out of the trashcan and was headed outside to see if maybe we had accidentally thrown it out. That sounded plausible to me. I mean, there had to be a logical explanation, right? I sudden;y remembered that several weeks ago my wife had switched out butcher blocks and the old one was sitting in the garage. Let me explain: We had a butcher block with steak knives, a paring knife, butcher knife, etc. that we used for years before the tips of some of the blades had begin to break off and the butcher knife became dull and chipped. We bought a new block of knives and put the old one in the garage where we stack all kinds of things to either sell at a garage sale or give to Goodwill. recently the butcher knife in the newer set broke. Me, I use the butcher knife for everything in the kitchen (can't cook without it), so my wife brought back the old set of knives that were all chipped and put the newer set, sans butcher knife, back in the garage. Hopefully that wasn't too confusing.

Just as she opens the front door and walks out with the bag of garbage I have a crazy thought. The chances were fewer than slim, but I just had to check, so I went into the garage and looked at the butcher block sitting on the floor next to a pile of old clothes, books, dishes and miscellaneous bric-a-brac and there it was, sitting in what had been an empty slot: the butcher knife.

I reached down and pulled it out. I examined the chipped edge, the handle, even the weight of it as if analyzing a possible impostor knife, but no, it was the exact same butcher knife we had been using in our kitchen for a good three weeks. The one that should have been in the kitchen. The one that had no reason to be in the garage.

I rushed into the house and caught my wife before she began the unpleasant job of rifling through the bowels of a couple days worth of garbage. I told her where I found the knife. We looked at one another in disbelief. We tried to think of some kind of rationale for how it could have ended up in there. Even now when the subject comes up we shake our heads. We're convinced that there is perfectly rational explanation, and yet we're not completely convinced that there wasn't something else at play...something that perhaps we cannot understand.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

"...You're a Sick Bastard..."

"...And I hope you get what's coming to you. Preferably near the black, undulating pool."

Why would someone say something like that about me? Are you kidding? Jeez!

All jesting aside, those are words from Rish Outfield, the dude who did a masterful job reading the audio version of my novel THROUGH THE IN BETWEEN, HELL AWAITS. I was blown away when I heard it. I listen to a lot of audio books (two to three a month at least), and I know how important the reader is. My favorite is Phil Gigante who, to me, is best known for his brilliant reading of Joe R. Lansdale's Hap and Leonard books. Rish is that good. If you dig audio books, you'll dig this one. I'm not just saying this because it's my own book. Well, maybe a little bit, but really, Rish did a damn good job and I couldn't be more proud of the production. If you decide to give it a shot, I hope you dig it and I know you will.

Don't be afraid. I may be a sick bastard, but that just means you'll enjoy the fruits of my twisted mind. Check out the audio book HERE.

If you listen to it I'd love to hear what you think.


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Feeling Like an Outsider

I had originally titled this "Feeling Like an Outcast", but after careful consideration I realized that outcast implies that I had somehow been cast out of something, which isn't accurate at all. Sometimes I feel like I'm drifting further and further away from the norm, which means my understanding of modern life is suffering. I think much of this is a part of getting older, but I also realize a lot of it is me. I'm tired of walking around looking at life like some kind of alien, but that's the way it is. Might as well embrace it.

One of my big struggles is technology. I'm in my early thirties. Most of my peers have taken up the techno stuff pretty heartily over the years, but I just don't get it. It's amazing I can even run this blog. Thing is, not understanding technology can really hold one back. Kind of bums me out, you know. If I want to come up with a bookmark design for one of my books, I have to ask someone to do it for me. I've found wonderful people who have done this for me, but when will I outwear my welcome. We're all busy. I have to do this shit for myself and sometimes I feel I will never learn. I just don't have the time or patience, but more importantly I have an outdated computer and no money to buy a new one. Even if I wanted to download some program to learn design, all I would do is slow this old beast down. I have to keep my damn itunes thinned out just to preserve some of my gigs.

Another aspect of life that brings me down is the simple entertainment of television. I just don't get any of it anymore. Sitcoms are so fucking boring these days. I don't get the jokes. I don't get shows with shaky camera and silence. Call me old fashioned, but I like a live audience or laugh track or whatever. Not that I need a cue on when to laugh (I've watched the shows with laughter in the background and I'm just sitting there wondering what the hell was so funny), but I just don't get that particular formula, a la The Office or Modern Family. Another popular type of show is the serial drama/horror show. These are intensely popular. People discuss them on facebook like mad and I just don't get it. I've tried watching Bates Motel and The Walking Dead and American Horror Story and I can't do it. This is two-fold. 1. I have found the plots to be far fetched and unbelievable or just plain out boring, and 2. I have this issue with watching a show on the same night every week. I'm not all that spontaneous, but I always manage to miss a program I want to watch. And no, I don't have any of those DVR/Tivo recording things. (Costs extra money that I'm not willing to pay. Money's tight, you know.) And I'm not even getting into so-called reality TV shows.

I'm not one of those people who wants to drop social media or anything, but I've been scarce as of late. Well, more so than usual. Part of this is due to being in the thick of a new novel. I'm at the point where the gears are in full swing and I'm easily knocking out a couple thousand words a day (which is always a feat because I work full time and have a family). That makes me happy. It's been a long time coming with this particular story. I started it at least five years ago and eventually had to rewrite the first thirty thousand words. When I get this involved in a project, social media is the first thing to go. But there's one more aspect to why I've been feeling like an outsider. Publishing. This is one hell of a tough business. I struggle. And struggle. And struggle. There are publishers who don't have the decency to respond to pitches or short story submissions, which infuriates me. This is nothing new, and it happens to all of us, but that doesn't make it any better. I have a boatload of patience. I've waited over two years for a rejection from a pro zine after being shortlisted. Thing is, they responded to the few queries I sent during that duration of time. Is it so fucking difficult to be a human being, to have decency. Did some publishers forget what it's like to be on the waiting end? And don't get me started on not responding to queries. I can understand that emails get lost or sucked into the SPAM filter, but that excuse only works so many times. Everyone has their goddamned cell phones on them at all times, so how hard is it to write a simple message? By the looks of some people's facebook and twitter output, not hard at all.

I keep writing. I love this new story, and I'm editing a novel I finished at the beginning of the year that I feel optimistic about. Not sure how I'm going to shop it around, but I think I'll try something different. Thing is, whenever I have doubts about publishing I realize that I cannot stop. I love it. I may only sell a few short stories and novels here and there (a mere fraction of my actual output), but so be it. I'm getting better. I'm learning from mistakes and critiques and those leading the path ahead of me. Writing is a balm for my troubled mind. It's a place I can go when everything seems to fall in on me. Life can be a bastard, but I always persevere. This isn't a pity party, just a place I can get some shit off my mind. Better here than on facebook, right?

Keep on doing what gives you pleasure just so long as you're not harming anyone.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Robert's Random Musing #4

I Dig Real FX in Horror Movies

I'm a dyed in the wool old-school horror movie fan. As I get older I find myself less enthusiastic about new movies of any kind. I can't really say why, other than the fact that I hardly relate to movies anymore. Funny thing about it is that after watching the movie VHS a year or two ago I thought, "That was okay, but could have been much better." A lot of it made no fucking sense and the execution was mediocre, which really bummed me out because there was so much potential. A few months ago I watched an old movie called Garden of the Dead and thought, "Man, this movie is a total piece of shit," but I said it in an enthusiastic sort of way. I enjoy that kind of stuff a lot more than a modern effort with an equally flimsy budget, poor acting,
and Swiss cheese plot (all of which Garden of the Dead is chock-full of).

One of the reasons I'm not into modern horror film is the effects. I pretty much hate CGI with few exceptions. I agree, over the years CGI has improved (I recall a piss poor effect in the movie The Relic where a guy gets decapitated and a huge bubble-like glob of computer generated blood plopped out of his severed neck and I laughed out loud it was such a pathetic effort). My issue is that the CGI-heavy movies of today look like goddamned video games or ultra streamlined animated features. I'm just not into it, and I'm beginning to realize that I never will be. If I can tell that, in a Wintry scene, the snowflakes and the breath exhalations from the characters are fake, I get irritated. Yeah, I understand that the producers save money by inserting fake steamy breath instead of filming in a cold location or doing something crazy like creating an entire refrigerated set a la The Exorcist. But that's no excuse. You lost me with the first CGI snowflake and then I laughed when breath floated out of mouths like tiny ghosts dissolving into the air.

I figure if I cannot tell it's CGI, then the effects team did a good job. Once I can tell, I begin to lose interest. You can understand why I'm not a fan of action movies and all those super hero films that are so popular. I did enjoy Tim Burton's Batman, though. 'Course, it's almost thirty years old now.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, how is it Robert despises CGI so much and yet he likes old horror films with some of the most ridiculous and cringe-worthy ventures into latex and fake blood ever filmed? Oh, the fake blood--sometimes runny, sometimes syrupy and even orange (I'm looking at you, Dawn of the Dead). My simple response is that I grew up on that stuff. I devoured films like Dead Alive and Evil Dead and loved ever nasty effect, every drop of blood, every clay animated monster. I even dig the oatmeal faced zombies in I Eat Your Skin. My assumption is that young kids getting into film today feel the same way about CGI that I do about real-life latex and makeup effects. More power to 'em! Life won't last forever, so I'll just sit here with my DVDs and VHS tapes and watch all the old shit I love.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Is It Horror? Dark Fantasy? Urban Fantasy?

Seems that some stories cannot be labeled with a simple tag as clearly cut as other stories. What I call horror someone else will call dark fantasy, but where is the dividing line? I suppose a horrific story without supernatural elements could be classified as straight horror, whereas the same story with an element of the supernatural could be classified as dark fantasy. Some people use those very classifications (I recall someone referring to Stephen King's non-supernatural stories as his only horror stories--everything else being labeled Dark fantasy--which is ridiculous), but that doesn't sit well with me. Not at all. King's Pet Sematary is a horror story. Bentley Little's The House is horror. To label dark supernatural stories as dark fantasy would be to put all ghost stories under that label,
which would pretty much be a crime by my standards.

I've been wary of labels, however, to a certain degree, I like them. My issue is that micro-labeling the genres becomes confusing. This is something seen heavily in music. You have rap, hip-hop, gangsta rap, crunk, freestyle, yadda yadda. On the other hand you have heavy metal, groove metal, grindcore, nu metal, black metal, death metal, yadda yadda yabba dabba doo. It's just too goddamned much, and I wonder if the world of speculative fiction is on its way to having so many ridiculous labels. In trying to find out exactly what slipstream is, I ran across a website that defines a number of spec-fic labels, one of which was "paranormal". I've heard of paranormal romance (a label I'm perfectly comfortable with considering that I have absolutely no interest in that type of fiction), but I had never considered that a "paranormal" story was worthy of a category all its own. For me, that's cutting the deck to thin.

So that brings me to my own books. I've always called them horror, though in a blurb for my novel THROUGH THE IN BETWEEN, HELL AWAITS, Daniel I. Russel calls the novel "...a fat slice of urban horror." When I read that I thought, "Yeah, that sounds about right. I kinda like that." And the more I thought about it the more I realized that HELL AWAITS could be just as easily classified a dark fantasy as it could a horror story, perhaps even an urban fantasy, though a considerable hunk of the story takes place in an unearthly realm. It certainly starts out as an urban fantasy. Or perhaps a dark urban fantasy.

Take my second novel PEOPLE OF THE ETHEREAL REALM. It's a horror story, maybe even a ghost story, or perhaps it could be classified as a paranormal story. Well now, let's hold on a second. Let's think this through. It's a very urban story, much more so that HELL AWAITS, so maybe it could be labeled a dark paranormal urban horror story.

I have a love-hate relationship with labels. They're necessary, but can be over examined. I certainly
wish my local Barnes & Noble would do a little more categorizing, maybe bring back the damn horror section. Buuuut, that's another rant for another blog.

On a final note, the two novels above can be purchased from all major online retailers. I've noticed quite a jump in visitors to this blog from all around the world, so, in addition to the amazon links embedded above, here is a link to my books on smashwords, where you can find formats for a variety of e-readers including kobo and Sony. Why not give them a read and let me know how you would categorize 'em.

-- Robert

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Flashback to B-Movies and Rotten Corpses - Review of Horror Show by Greg Kihn

A young horror fan has a burning question for aging b-movie filmmaker Landis Woodley, a question that has been rumored for over thirty years: Were actual corpses used in the film CADAVER?

In a nutshell, this is the premise surrounding the meat of Greg Kihn's HORROR SHOW, a book that takes the reader back to 1957 and into the lives of a ragtag group of misfits who were involved with Landis Woodley, b-movie filmmaker and Hollywood pariah, and the events that led to the making of Woodley's greatest achievement, CADAVER, as well as the horrific aftermath.

HORROR SHOW is one hell of a book, particularly for those who have a vested interest in old horror films, though I would argue than anyone who digs a good horror yarn will have a good time with this one. There are obvious and unabashed parallels with Ed Wood and his legacy (my guess is that Kihn gleaned a lot off of Tim Burton's excellent movie ED WOOD), but this isn't some kind of wannabe or ripoff. HORROR SHOW is an homage to those wonderfully awful drive-in movies from the fifties and sixties as well as the behind the scenes madness that went into filming those inglorious gems. I happen to be a huge fan of old horror films, so this book was absolutely enthralling. My only complaint would be that I was scratching my head at the end. Seems to me that Kihn left it open for a sequel. I'm not a fan of that sort of ending. Then again, the book was so damn cool that I found myself forgiving the weak ending and immediately ordering the next book Kihn had published at the time, BIG ROCK BEAT. Arrived in the mail the other day. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Robert's Random Musing #3

Am I getting Old or Does Music Really Suck this Bad?
I'm 33...I think. Yeah, that sounds about right. I've been a fan of music since I can remember. Started with lame-ass rap and moved onto rock 'n' roll and heavy metal and eventually I opened my mind enough to realize that there's no shame in liking any kind of music in the spectrum. If it sounds good, listen to it. Damn the haters straight to Hell. As I've grown older and am now married and the father of a five-year-old I've realized just how awful modern music has become. I'm mostly talking about popular music. You know, the shit you hear on the radio, the junk playing in the background of so many television commercials, and namely the god-awful noise I heard on the Dick Clark Waiting for the Ball to Drop Extravaganza Whatsitcalled playing on my TV in the background during my mellow New Year's Eve.
I'm not going to name names, but my wife and I would give each other a look every time some photocopy "artist" lip synced a song. There was a boy band that kept coming back like herpes and it made me itch just listening to their put-on. Made me reminisce of a truly talented group called the Beatles, a group that could possibly be considered the first boy band phenomenon, who consequently became tired of the screaming crowds and the fact that they couldn't hear their instruments and eventually stopped playing live. Early Beatles music is golden, but they didn't stop there. It just got better and better. These modern day synthesized and over produced boy bands play what they're told, wear what they're told, and make me want to jam a screwdriver in my ear. They're not going to get any better. When you suck that bad, you have no chance. Maybe one of the guys'll have a brother who will become a decent movie star.
And then there's the pop "singer"s. Or is it hip hop? I'm not sure. They have a bunch of goons dancing on the stage to draw attention away from the fact that they're quite obviously lip syncing a song that has been done over and over and over again. The beats are all the same, only the lyrics have changed, and in some cases they've only been rearranged. Pathetic, no talent hacks.
Elton John played. They only showed one song, but I think he played more. What a shame. That would have been something worth watching. He actually sings. And there were a few others who actually stretched their vocal chords. I applaud those musicians. To dance around like a marionette and pretend you're singing your wretched song has got to be an act one is subjected to in a specialized ring of Hell even Dante hadn't written about.
How they call it Dick Clark's New Year Rockin' Eve, I cannot understand.
It really doesn't matter though. My son likes to listen to a lot of music that I feel is complete garbage, but I don't give him a hard time. He's five. I don't even remember liking music at that age. Besides, when I was young I listened to MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice, LL Cool J and Digital Underground. I can't account for dumbed down tastes. Been there, done that. I just hope my boy begins to understand what good music is, and if, to him, good music is the tripe that is popular when he's a teenager ('cause you know it's going to be far worse than what's out there now), well, I'll do my best not to complain. But I know I will. And I know I will instill in him all of the music that I have been listening to for the past twenty years, and maybe he will be able to appreciate that there used to be good music...once upon a time ago.
Keep on rockin' in the greed world!
Elvis has left the building.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Books I Read in 2014

I like seeing what people have been reading throughout the year, so here's a list of the books I read in 2014. These stories were consumed in a variety of formats including ebooks, paperbacks and audiobooks.

1. Lost Echoes - Joe R. Lansdale
2. Savage Season - Joe R. Lansdale
3. Mucho Mojo - Joe R. Lansdale
4. Two-Bear Mambo - Joe R. Lansdale
5. The Summer I Died - Ryan C. Thomas
6. By the Light of the Moon - Dean Koontz
7. I am Legend - Richard Matheson
8. The Shrinking Man - Richard Matheson
9. The Reverend's Powder - Erik Williams
10. Blood, Bones and Bullets - Tim Curran
11. Animosity - James Newman
12. SNAFU: An Anthology of Military Horror
13. The Stork - Shane McKenzie
14. Pus Junkies - Shane McKenzie
15. Dead Streets - Tim Waggoner
16. Neverwhere - Neil Gaiman
17. The Summer of Winters - Mark Allan Gunnels
18. Act of Love - Joe R. Lansdale
19. Induction - Shana Festa
20. Toxicity - Max Booth III
21. Sunfall Manor - Peter Giglio
22. Rot and Ruin - Jonathan Maberry
23. Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card
24. Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury
25. The Island of Dr. Moreau - HG Wells
26. Relentless - Dean Koontz
27. Death and Decay - Jonathan Maberry
28. Magic Street - Orson Scott Card
29. Kayla Undead - Bryan Smith
30. Alfred Hitchcock Presents: More Stories for Late at Night

Too many books, too little time!

As always, I hope to read more this year.

Have a great New Year, everyone!