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.