Carly Holmes and I speak about our short stories “A Shadow Flits” and “How to Stay Afloat When Drowning” from the anthology Pareidolia from UK Publisher Black Shuck Books

Posted in Uncategorized on September 23, 2019 by bloodandstardust

Earlier this summer author Carly Holmes and I spoke with each other about our short stories that appear in the anthology Pareidolia edited by James Everington and Dan Howarth from Black Shuck Books.

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DB:  Could you tell readers about your writing? Particularly your short story collection Figurehead?

CH: Figurehead is a collection of horror/strange stories, published by Tartarus Press last year. Though I’ve never defined myself as any particular ‘type’ of writer I’ve always been drawn, as a reader and as a writer, to stories that have a darkness, a hint of something unsettling and unknown, in them. I’ve never written fiction from my own lived experience, preferring always to write what I don’t know. Horror, I think, allows us to explore the places that lurk beneath the skin of everyday life: the fears, longings and anxieties that we experience transfigured and externalised in an attempt to make sense of them. In Figurehead there’s a lot of tension between the domestic and the wild, a yearning for both the freedom of the wild and the safety of the home. My novel, The Scrapbook, had elements of this and of the supernatural, but was more concerned with a fascination with prizing absent loved ones over present, holding secrets close, and reconstructing the past to suit a version of the here and now.

DB:  How does your short story “A Shadow Flits” fit in or differ from the stories in Figurehead?

CH: Figurehead ranges across supernatural horror, rural gothic, folk horror and the uncanny to the just plain weird, so I’d say “A Shadow Flits” would slide easily into that pack. On the surface of it it’s about pareidolia, but it’s really about guilt and loss and the fear of contamination separating us from our loved ones.

DB: What did you think when the editors presented the concept of Pareidolia? Have you ever experienced the phenomenon?

CH: I had to look it up and do some research to get a handle on what it meant! It’s a fascinating condition. Though I’ve never experienced pareidolia I do experience anxiety and when it’s running loose anything moving at the edges of my vision, a leaf floating past or a strand of my own hair lifting in the breeze, triggers a ‘Danger!’ response, bypassing rational thought and casting me into an immediate state of panic. So, in a way I’m seeing things that aren’t there, turning the everyday into horror… I also have a mild form of prosopagnosia, face blindness, so I have to concentrate hard to bring people into a realm of familiarity, focussing on areas of their face and the shapes they form that might conjure recognition. Even when I know I know someone, I often don’t know from where. (I didn’t recognise my own father once, walked straight past him at a train station where we supposed to meet, and didn’t understand why this strange man was speaking my name and looking so confused!)

DB: “A Shadow Flits” effectively creates and plays with the tension between what in the story might be psychological and what in the story might be supernatural. What was your process in working in the concept of Pareidolia to that balance?

CH:  Whenever I write horror I leave the edges of the story blurred, for myself and the reader to construct their own version of what might be happening. In “Sleep” for example (which was originally published in Figurehead and is being reprinted in Best Horror of the Year Volume 11) the child, Boo, feels a compulsion to take the life from anyone or anything that sleeps. I never explain what he does or why, and the story focusses on his mother’s efforts to cope with him and contain his actions, so the reader can interpret the story as supernatural horror or psychological. With “A Shadow Flits” I started with the idea of a child desperately ill from something unnamed and unknown, and the parents’ responses to that sudden awful situation. I let the concept of pareidolia work its way in as a symbol of the father’s guilt and the recovery of his own childhood memories. As a theme it was a real gift, there was so much scope to go in so many different ways. I just went with it, really, and worked out how my story would end when I got there. That tends to be how I write: I start with an image, or an urge to explore a certain experience, and take it from there.

DB: What about the genres and categories of Horror, Literary Horror, and Strange Tales interests you most as a writer? How does genre, if at all, come into play in your creative process?

CH: Literary Horror and Strange Tales are my true loves, though I didn’t know that was what I was writing; I thought I was just writing stories. I’m wary of highlighting what I see as the differences between straight-up horror and literary horror as there’s a lot of snobbishness in the mainstream literary world about horror writing and I wouldn’t want to denigrate anyone who favours the slasher/splatter approach, but for me more ‘literary’ horror writing has so much depth to it, so much subtext. It really is, for me anyway, about fear, shame, yearning, repressed anger, unacknowledged grief… It’s weird, I never saw myself as a writer of any specific genre, I’ve only ever written what I’ve felt compelled to by my own curiosity or confusion, but I’m liking being in the horror fold. You’re all a great bunch.

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Questions for Daniel:

Could you tell readers about your writing? You’ve got a wide range of fiction published to date, spanning a plethora of outlets and genres, from horror to fantasy to sci-fi.

Like you, literary horror and strange tales are my loves and where I seem to fit in. I did not realize what genre I was writing or that fit my stories best until relatively recently. I think this came from not being well read in nor knowing much about the rich history and wide world of genre stories out there.  Some of my earlier stories were published in slipstream and interstitial zines like Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Full Unit Hook Up, and Electric Velocipede which gave me the idea that there was something interstitial about my short stories.

Having a few stories published in Cemetery Dance Magazine opened my eyes to the possibility that my work might fit somewhere in the broad category of horror. I learned much about horror from reading Cemetery Dance and reading the range of stories they published. Around the time when I was asked to put together my first collection The Night Marchers and Other Strange Tales I also learned about Robert Aickman and his stories, and the notion of strange tales. Looking back, it was a dividing line to me in terms of my self-perception of where my work fits in. Robert Aickman and the controlled ambiguity in his fiction is something that inspires me and something I love to see in fiction such as your story and editor James Everington’s work.

I also feel most at home with horror as I feel it is the genre that “took me in” and that is broad enough to welcome and fit my often interstital stories. Cemetery Dance has been incredibly supportive, including me in the recent anthology Shivers 8 alongside an original story by Stephen King. My first novel The Serpent’s Shadow is coming very soon from Cemetery Dance.

How do you respond to themed submission calls? Do you prefer having that structure, knowing what you’re writing about, or would you rather an ‘open’ call for fiction?

If I had to choose one answer to this question I would prefer ‘open’ calls. Although I do not write to themed calls much. I’d like to. There are so many I find interesting and so many creative things being done. I simply do not write fast enough to submit to those I would like to. I could not turn down the opportunity to submit to Pareidolia because the element of ambiguity fits so closely with the kind of stories I like to write.

Your story, “How to Stay Afloat While Drowning” has a strong sense of place. Is creating a real and full location important to your writing/how does that impact on the story you’re telling?

Often the place is my inspiration and what I intend to write about. Once I have the setting I often dream up the characters I think could best manifest the stories and unique qualities of a given place. Part of my default process is that characters and then their struggles grow out of a location. In that way location impacts the story. I’m happy when it winds up when I get a story that could only be told in that specific place. Even when my ideas do not begin with a location creating a real and full setting is very important to my writing. I like to read stories that make me feel like I am visiting or inhabiting a place. Since my teens the authors Lucius Shepard and Tanith Lee were my favourites. Both have a very strong sense of place in their work. I that it at first having strong settings in my writing came without thinking and now it is a conscious thing I trace to their influence.

I’m really interested to read how all the authors in this anthology will interpret the theme, and where they’ll take it. For your story I’m curious: why sharks? Did you have the idea for a great shark story that fit the theme, or did you have other ideas as well? Are sharks something that particularly scare you?

I’m very excited to read all the stories too. I have a sense of excitement from not knowing where these stories might lead. James and Dan have assembled a roster with the talent and imagination to take us anywhere.

I always have a bunch of stories in “the idea” stage. When choosing what to write for this project I had a couple of images I wanted see if I could tie together into a story that fit the call. The first image was of when I had once seen a shark beaten much like the first shark death that happens in the story. The other image was of someone thinking they see a “shark-face” on someone and was born out of my thinking a lot about the short story “Because Their Skins Are Finer” by Tanith Lee. The Tanith Lee story is one of my favourites and in the back of my mind I wondered if it was possibly to create a short story in homage. The homage story has not yet happened though I am glad contemplating birthed the inspirational image for this one. Why sharks? Sharks do scare me but there is also something wonderous and inextricably linked to the vast, unknowable sea about them. “Because Their Skin is Finer” is about a hunter / fisherman who has given up the vocation. That and the few times I’ve encountered sharks in my life got me thinking about them. The ambiguity of what is or is not real and the notion that what the narrator is seeing may be supernatural or may be psychological brought the idea into its own territory that I wanted to submit to James and Dan for the book.

What did you think when the editors presented the concept of pareidolia? Have you ever experienced the phenomenon?

I also had to look it up. Reading the definition, I realized I had heard about the phenomenon even though I did not recognize the name. I recalled hearing about theories that there is something innate about us, about our minds that want to make sense of things, that we want to see patterns and faces, even when the might not be one out there in the world we are observing. I think I may have encountered this coming across those “faces” in the photographs of the planet Mars.

I remember making out faces in patterned wallpaper as a child and wonder if this is the same thing. When I was contemplating considering how to use the concept of Pareidolia in a dramatic structure I knew that I wanted to present a character that was seeing things and offer the reader a story where it was equally plausible that the cause of what they were seeing was supernatural or psychological. You did such a wonderful job of just that in your story in the book: “A Shadow Flits”.

Unlike fiction that’s ‘Realist’, and preoccupied with external, current events, horror writing tends towards a much stronger reliance on the imagination. Do you have any writerly rituals or routines? How easily do the ideas come to you?

For me the ideas are the easy part. I’m always dreaming and daydreaming and thinking about ideas. I tend to see the world through the lens of “story”. Everyone around us is a story. We are constantly intersecting with people in different places in our own and each other’s stories. What is important to me as a writer is to give myself the gift of time, to honour and protect that time. In many ways the shape of my adult life is one big ritual to support that choice.

I do have routines like having favourite places and favourite times of day to write when given a choice. I know it is cliché, but it is such a luxury and a gift to be writing and creating in pleasant circumstances like a coffee shop or a faraway place. I try to give myself that gift when circumstances allow. I always return to the importance of “showing up”. Showing up on the page. When situations are not ideal, or in hard times, or busy times, or in when I’m not immediately feeling the spark and sparkle of inspiration I feel it is necessary to show up on the page for the story and project and do the work to complete it and bring it to life. I am not always successful in this. On the days that I manage to, I feel most like a writer. Writing to the theme and the deadline of this book was a fantastic challenge. I very much wanted to deliver a story good enough for the book. As an American writer it is a great thrill be in a British publication alongside of such outstanding writers.

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Pareidolia edited by James Everington and Dan Howarth can be ordered from the publisher or Amazon UK and Amazon USA

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https://www.amazon.com/Pareidolia-Sarah-Read/dp/1913038335/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=pareidolia+black+shuck&qid=1569215481&s=books&sr=1-1

A comprehensive review of “Spirits Unwrapped” by Joshua Dinges

Posted in Uncategorized on September 23, 2019 by bloodandstardust

Joshua Dinges is the first guest to arrive at the unwrapping party.

Here is his review:

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I don’t normally post my book reviews directly on Facebook. The ARC I just finished reading, however, doesn’t have a page up on Amazon or Goodreads yet and I really wanted to get the word out about this amazing collection, so I’m posting it here for now and will add it to those pages in a few weeks when the book streets.

Spirits Unwrapped (2019)
Edited by Daniel Braum and (soon to be) published by Lethe Press.

I received this review copy from the editor of the book.

To be honest, I really can’t recall if it was Swan Lake playing over the credits of the Universal film or my father’s battered 1972 edition of Howard Carter’s book that first piqued my interest in mummies. But I was hooked from a tender age. School projects, independent research, films, stories, artwork, trips to museums all over the world…Egyptology had its crooks and flails sunk firmly into my spirit. And at the heart of it all was the iconic mummy.

Hardly a surprise, then, that I positively jumped at the chance when Daniel Braum handed me the ARC for his upcoming ‘mummy-themed’ anthology, Spirits Unwrapped, and asked if I’d be interested in reading it for a review. He smiled and offered me something of a warning as I stood studying the whimsical cover with upraised brows. Something about the book not necessarily being what I’d expect.

And indeed, trust the editor to know his business. Whether you discovered your own interest in mummies through Karloff, Carter, or Brendan Fraser, you’re going to have to take most of your preconceived notions about mummy lore and cast them out into the desert winds. But don’t despair too deeply as they disappear into the dunes, because this collection of unconventional mummy tales is as strong and solid as the pyramids of old.

The strange and unique stories in this anthology are quick to abandon the tired, dusty tropes that surround these ageless beings. In fact, they do so with fierce conviction and deft hands. You may close the final pages of the book before it ever fully even occurs to you that only one story in the collection even occurs in Egypt. And while some of the variations on the theme certainly push the envelope, the breadth of interpretation is refreshing and exciting in equal measure. These stories run the gamut from playful whimsy to stomach-churning unpleasantness…and manage to capture both pathos and terror in between.

In most of the reviews I have written for anthologies, I’ve tended to write in broad strokes about the theme as a whole and pick out one or two works to highlight for attention. This collection is a bit special, however, and I enjoyed it enough that I’m going to address the entire TOC, one story at a time. Spoiler free. I’ll include a link where you can pre-order the book at the end, in the event that my review here encourages you to do so.

The Unwrapping Party
Joanna Parypinksi gets us started off with this 19th century tale of society ladies doing a spot of meddling in dark places that are likely best left alone. I initially felt that this opening story was set up to be a bit playful and was surprised at the direction in which it veered by the end. Its inclusion as the opener spoke well of things to come.

Antiquities
Using the somewhat familiar setting of two English gentlemen trading old tales at The Club, John Crowley spins us a short and whimsical tale of antiquarian caution. Cleverly told and delicately raunchy (it IS an English Gentleman’s Club, after all), the pace is brisk and the mood light, with a fun approach to the theme.

Private Grave Nine
According to the introduction, this sharp little piece of work by Karen Joy Fowler was the editor’s primary inspiration to put the entire anthology together. Knowing this going in, Private Grave Nine was the only story in the collection about which I had any preconceived notions of quality. Suffice to say, I was not disappointed. Bristling with compelling characterizations, clever dialogue, and a sense of deep foreboding not made fully manifest until the closing page, this story is an absolute highlight. I read it twice in succession and marveled both times at how often I worked to suppress either a giggle or a chill.

Mummy Fever
A light and playful piece by David Wellington. His tale of the witty dilettante and her ancient companion was a rather predictable read for me, but the characters were fun and I would later come to look back and afford it a special place for the levity it brought to the collection.

The Mummy of Rue De La Croix
Leanna Renee Hieber’s take on the theme finds us in a low-rent theater in early 20th century Paris. I appreciated the shady POV and the setting itself was well-realized, but the story didn’t particularly resonate with me. Well-written, but I enjoyed the protagonist and the theater more than the actual goings-on.

The Hand of Annie Jones
From the tenebrous streets of Paris all the way to colonial Australia in 1820. The levity of some of the earlier tales has been left behind now as Casilda Ferrante shares her sinister and dire interpretation of the mummy theme. Dead and wrapped indeed is the titular hand in this dark story of two wayward girls and their forays into black magick. I quite enjoyed this story and earnestly appreciated Ms. Ferrante’s creative approach to the topic.

Fog Marsh
Depending on your anthropological pedigree with ancient pagan cultures, Rudi Dornemann’s foray into pre-Roman Germania may benefit from a quick bit of research for proper context. A somewhat disturbing approach to the theme by way of the Suebi cult of Nerthus, this tale of future hopes and crumbling pasts in brutal collision is a very worthy addition to the collection. Unique, well-written, and abundant with flavor and antiquity, this sinister tale is one of my favorites in the entire anthology.

In the Ancestor’s New House
Marissa Lingen takes us to South America next for a rather touching and effective tale of cross-cultural understanding in the face of shared adversity. Incan mummies are the order of the day here. One in particular. Clever dialogue and a lot of heart round out the engaging setting and make this story another of my favorites.

Leather Man’s Holler
Down to west Texas next, with Rhodi Hawk’s tale of scrub plain horror. Opting for a rather feral, ghoulish approach to the theme, she weaves us a story of multi-generational revenge and rural legendry all wrapped around a plucky 9 year old girl and her indulgent father. Great setting and a well-crafted story with a truly unsettling and terrifying interpretation of the mummy concept.

Their Silent Faces
You may or may not have read enough of my reviews to know that Michael Cisco is one of my favorite authors in the world. I was giddy with excitement when I saw his name in the TOC and anticipated this story from the outset. I was anything but disappointed. Cisco’s mind works in so many utterly unique and brilliant ways that it is often virtually impossible to sum up his themes in a way that makes sense to mortals. His contribution here is no different, but I’ll give it a shot. An alcohol-soaked, existential fever-dream, replete with mummies interred within plastic dummies, cadavarine injections, body-collecting, and the ultimate dissolution of self in the face of the insurmountable, confining hideousness of being. I hung on every word.

Birthright
Inna Effress introduces us to an altogether different sort of wrapping in this visceral, deeply-unpleasant tale of the life cycle. Probably the most unique take on the theme in the book, I found this story to be unsettling and profoundly disturbing. It is short, so I can’t include much detail without spoiling, but it troubled me on more than one level. High marks indeed, if vaguely inscrutable.

Into Something Rich and Strange
A jaunt into the far-flung future in this syfy take on mummies and their wrappings. A broad approach to the theme, no doubt, but an effective one. A scientific recovery team make land(water)fall in search of a missing colony ship and memories of LV-426 begin to stir. Thana Niveau constructs a very effective and ultimately terrifying tale of beauty and deadly discovery.

Oscar Returns From the Dead, Prophesizing
John Langan brings us back to the present for this very special take on reptilian mummies in the Albany suburbs. What simply MUST be an innocuous tale from the start gradually winds its way down a path of true horror. I was halfway through this story before I finally fully realized that it wasn’t just a tongue-in-cheek approach to the theme, but a masterful example of taking something utterly non-threatening and using it to inspire fear and loathing. And all while hewing to the theme itself. The penultimate tale in this collection also winds up being one of the best and most chilling.

Flowers For Bitsy
Given what Daniel Braum had put together for us thus far, I certainly expected the last entry in this collection to be something truly special. I was not, however, expecting Lee Thomas’s poignant tale of a man’s final days on the cusp of an epidemic. A hazy recollection of a lifetime of companionship, filtered through the morphine haze of jump cuts and shifting time, this application of the theme is both heartbreaking and heartwarming at alternating moments. A well-chosen piece to end a fantastically constructed collection.

This was, for me, one of those very rare anthologies that contained no ‘bad’ stories. Even the ‘just okay’ ones were well-written enough to be elevated beyond mediocrity. As aforementioned, the theme was close to my heart, so you should probably allow for some reviewer bias. But I stand by my convictions in stating that this was a truly solid collection with some amazing talent and a wide range of creative approaches to a venerable concept.

The book is due to be released next month and can currently be pre-ordered from the publisher’s page:

https://www.lethepressbooks.com/store/p572/Spirits_Unwrapped.html?fbclid=IwAR2IlOXZ43BvQUxvgtbgVeACft7lg8dzqJNo7mBiEjjL1UCZfCc6xNht1Y0#/

 

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The “Spirits Unwrapped” Anthology launches October 1st, 2019

Posted in Uncategorized on September 23, 2019 by bloodandstardust

Spirits Unwrapped is an anthology of mummy stories I edited for Lethe Press. It features stories by New York Times Best Selling authors as well as exciting new comers.

You can see the full table of contents, pre-order, and order the book at the Lethe Press website here:

https://www.lethepressbooks.com/store/p572/Spirits_Unwrapped.html?fbclid=IwAR3ovlulB15XuCG266VaDElHX8318dpit2a19f5l0d4Xmhp9wyoLEknju_A#/

Books can also be ordered via your favorite bookseller just ask them. (It is available through the Ingram and Follets distributors.)

It will go live on amazon on Friday September 27, 2019

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“The Monkey Coat” receives an honorable mention in The Year’s Best Horror Volume 11

Posted in Uncategorized on September 23, 2019 by bloodandstardust

Thank you to Ellen Datlow for mentioning me in the summation and including my short story “The Monkey Coat” in the honorable mentions of the Year’s Best Horror Volume 11.

Cheers to my fellow Nightscript Volume 4 (edited by CM Mueller) contributors Joanna Parypinski, JT Lover, Christi Nogle, Kirsty Logan, and Ross Smeltzer for their honorable mentions.n4.jpg

“Rum Punch is Going Down” will be appearing in Nox Pareidolia

Posted in Uncategorized on September 17, 2019 by bloodandstardust

My short story “Rum Punch is Going Down” will be appearing in the anthology Nox Pareidolia edited by Robert Wilson from Nightscape Press.

From the editor, Robert Wilson:

“Rum Punch is Going Down” by Daniel Braum is a vivid awe-inspiring tale with just enough macabre and melancholy to hit all the right notes. This one’s about a nameless protagonist on a quest to find seahorses off the shores of one of the Caye islands. He’s quickly christened “Rum Punch” after, in a moment of tipsy generosity, buying a couple rounds of drinks for the entire bar. His quest will lead to violence, wonder, and an unnerving encounter of exquisite ambiguity.”

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Interview posted at the Ginger Nuts of Horror

Posted in Uncategorized on September 13, 2019 by bloodandstardust

The The Ginger Nuts of Horror has posted an interview with me about the Serpent’s Shadow. They’ve also posted an excerpt from the novel.

We also talk about Spirits Unwrapped along with mentions of my long time favorite authors Tanith Lee, Robert Aickman, Lucius Shepard, Kelly Link and newer favorites Casilda FerranteJoanna Parypinski, and Inna Effress

We also mention Black Shuck Books and A-24 films.

https://gingernutsofhorror.com/interviews/daniel-braum-steps-out-of-the-serpents-shadow?fbclid=IwAR3ysVCgoX4Gx87DsugeClkxyDn0kTZDYBkp-uCDAmX2eCQBYeoNpK6hE9Q

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Talking about the Serpent’s Shadow on the Darkness Dwells podcast

Posted in Uncategorized on September 3, 2019 by bloodandstardust

The guys at Darkness Dwells podcast interview me about The Serpent’s Shadow and we talk about weird fiction and horror.

nddhttps://www.spreaker.com/user/darknessdwellspodcast/ep117-final?fbclid=IwAR005TNYWLN_jsxdHceBxKVZoKmcpP2jAQtlDD6xQPJ3ExbqdHEkvfpssU8