The worst realization

I am never going to receive Medicare or Social Security. I didn’t work enough legitimate, real “jobs” to earn sufficient work credits. I was truly disabled by depression, anxiety, and social phobias by the time I was 25.

So Instead, I turned my efforts to writing and visual arts for the preponderance of my life. Usually, I worked 10 hour days at this, especially the drawings, which could be intricate and involving. I declared my paltry income on my tax returns. I sometimes received refunds (that, I will never understand) though also paltry. But most of the time, I would not be able to file b/c I have always been below the poverty line.

Because I have chosen unemployable creativity as my life’s work, my future is quite bleak. I am fortunate that my mother and my wife can pool their resources in order to buy me health insurance. Now my mother may be dying (pneumonia, again), but hopefully she will pull through, but I cannot walk downstairs to help her. Poor Sherry is sleeping downstairs to keep an ear open, should my mum call for help. Sherry is a saint, one who has saved my life (literally, not hyperbole) several times.

Today, I am reminded of the very gifted author, A.R. Morlan and her tragic end. All of that talent was insufficient to earn her enough money in order to buy health insurance. She died alone and in pain.

This is intolerable. Even when Democrats are in office and in control of both houses of Congress, this issue is overlooked. I fear that if this does not change, many gifted, hardworking writers and artists will also meet a very bad end. And I (though of mediocre talent) will almost certainly be among them.

Review: “The Shelter” by James Everington

A Coming-of-Age Nightmare

“The Shelter,” James Everington’s first novella-length publication, is proof positive that good writing can be found on Amazon’s self-publishing platform.

Told from the point-of-view of Alan Dean, a boy on the cusp of adolescence, it initially recounts how he and his closest friend, Duncan, have been unaccountably befriended by two older boys who once delighted in bullying them. It’s clear that on some level, Alan and Duncan are flattered by this strange bonding, one between two otherwise lonely pairs. That the two older boys, who still occasionally pick on the younger ones, might grow bored with them altogether, is a worry for Alan. There is, however, another dynamic in play: the smarter of the elder boys seemingly has an affinity for Alan, the second most intelligent of the four.

The day they set out to examine a WWII air-raid shelter, Alan knows something dark awaits them there. As they walk the long distance to this site, there is some discussion about a local boy gone missing. Once the boys reach the eponymous shelter, the pace quickens, but with a steady hand. In the end, the lives of these four are changed irrevocably, and Alan traumatized by what he finds in the dark, both figuratively and literally.

The inevitable comparisons to Stephen King’s “The Body,” another coming-of-age tale, begin and end with four boys setting out on an adventure. “The Shelter,” however, has an altogether darker tone. The children seem far less innocent, the destination painted by a presentiment of coming terrors, and cruelty honed to a significantly sharper edge. Everington manages all this admirably, with perhaps a bit too much foreshadowing, but still an enjoyable descent into nightmare country—certainly moreso than “The Body.”

Clearly, James Everington is a name one can expect to hear for some time to come.

The Art of Mary

This post is all about drawings based upon the fiction of Mary SanGiovanni.

This older author portrait shows us Mary’s first successful entity, The Hollower.

Hollower Author Portrait

This next one was the result of a sudden inspiration.

The Lovecraftian Portrait

This next drawing was inspired by Chills, the very first Kathy Ryan novel.



This was inspired by Savage Woods.

Savage Woods

The following was my artwork for Mary’s chapbook “The Thirty-Seven Parts of Albie Meunsch,” my first successful collaboration with Mary:

The Thirty-Seven Parts of Albie Meunsch

  • Back of Albie Meunsch chapbook.

It’s Finally Here…#139

So here it is at last, Space & Time #139 (Winter 2020), and because of havoc caused by a US Mail bending under the strain of COVID-19, S&T suffered some monetary losses that nearly forced this iconic magazine to close its doors. I urge you, if you can spare $10, click on the cover image and buy a copy.

It’s got a considerable amount of content, including my short story “Sacred Glyphs,” for which I also did the illustration.

I hope to continue doing art, and publishing the occasional story with Space & Time into the indefinite future!

More At Stake Than Just Good Writing

On my very worst writing days, I can still hear John, a member of a long defunct critique group, chastising me. “Where’s the emotion?”

“What, no emotional reaction?”

“Emotion! He has to have an emotional reaction.”

This was during the heady days when I still believed I was a great writer. Our critique group had gathered in the cafe of the late, lamented Borders Books and Music in East Brunswick, New Jersey — the bookstore where, in 1993, I met the woman who would become my wife.

Any writer knows how brutal a critique session can be. One by one, the other group members slowly, methodically, murder your “baby” with an unfeeling brutality akin to the torture scene from Reservoir Dogs, when Michael Madsen cuts off an unfortunate police officer’s ear. I can hear “Stuck in the Middle” as they point out all of those weaknesses in my plot, or the illogical actions and reactions of my beloved protagonist. “Where is the emotion?” John asks, until I wish I could go back in time and murder him in his crib.

The thing is, John was right, as he invariably is (not to mention generous, kind, and exceedingly skilled in the use of the English language.) Without his input, I would likely have sold less than half the amount of  stories that I had published during the 90s (30, but who’s counting?).

I recently looked at some of those old stories, and suddenly, all of those flat emotional non-responses glared back at me, so very obvious. Over the following days, I turned those weaknesses over in my mind. I found it disturbing that my characters — my protagonists!— lacked any significant emotional responses, often to horrific events. Gradually, the truth emerged.

I was mortally afraid of my own emotions.

During the era of those critique sessions, it was still only a handful of years ago that I had attempted, twice during the same year, to end my own life. A sadness and anger that ran deep beneath the waters of my consciousness had led me to those two fateful decisions. Was it any wonder, then, that my characters avoided feeling…well, anything really. For years, I thought of it as equanimity, but there is a vast chasm that lies between evenness of temper, and outright numbness.

One thing stood out for me in Tom Savini’s 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead, though in a different context than that intended in the film. Barbara (played by actress Patricia Tallman) stands over a funereal pyre, her face gilded by reflected flames, and watches the zombies burn. She utters the cryptic line, “They’re us. We’re them and they’re us.”

That is the crux of the matter: we are our characters, and they, in turn, are us. If you’re a writer whose characters remain obstinately two-dimensional, take some time to examine your own feelings. If the view of your own past makes you flinch, talk to somebody about it. There may well be more at stake than the verisimilitude of your characters.

Weird Horror #1

The much anticipated Weird Horror #1 is now available. Subscribe here!

Undertow Publications’ Weird Horror #1

My short story, “The Night Kingdom” (some of you may recognize that title, there is no connection between the two projects) is included, right before that of the exceptionally gifted John Langan. Does talent transfer through proximity? We can certainly hope!

The entire cast has provided stellar performances. Editor Michael Kelly is certainly to be congratulated. You can also purchase a copy on Amazon(available October 6th). Try it on. If it fits, if it makes you feel comely, then subscribe!

Our Exquisitely Gifted Cast  includes fiction, commentary, reviews, and art:

David Bowman, Shikhar Dixit, Steve Duffy, Inna Effress, Tom Goldstein, Orrin Grey, John Langan, Suzan Palumbo, Ian Rogers, Naben Ruthnum, Lysette Stevenson, Simon Strantzas, Steve Toase. Please do check it out!


Amazon Has Listed Weird Horror #1 For Preorder

Amazon has listed Undertow Publications’ Weird Horror #1. Why not guarantee that you receive a copy and preorder it? And if you’re asking yourself— “Why does Shikhar care about this weird whatever he’s going on about?”—it is because the amazingly talented list of contributors includes none other than John Langan, and I’m a fan, as I am a fan of Undertow Publications, the preeminent publisher of weird horror fiction in America. Continue reading

Review for Final Cuts

Review for Final Cuts on Amazon

Full review below.

Ellen Datlow’s recent anthology, Final Cuts: New Tales of Hollywood Horror and Other Spectacles, is a solid, wall-to-wall extravaganza surrounding film and tangentially related media such as television, documentaries, police video, and yes, shadow puppets. I’m only going to highlight my favorite stories, but it’s a matter of personal taste: every story in the anthology was engaging and well-executed. I highly recommend picking up Final Cuts. Not all anthologies are this reliably entertaining from cover-to-cover.

I’ll begin with this very strong first story. “Das Gesicht” by Dale Bailey is an atmospheric tale filled with dread, about a long lost film so blasphemous that the viewers screamed, fainted and in some cases, lost their sanity. The title’s literal translation is “The Face.”

A.C. Wise’s “Exhalation #10” centers around a videotape that captures a woman’s final dying moments, particularly her final breaths. Believed to be the work of a serial killer, Henry is tasked with listening to the sound track because of his unique talent: he can hear what the authorities can not. Wise expertly leads the unwitting reader from dark revelation to even darker ones.

In “Scream Queen” by Nathan Ballingrud, Alan interviews former B-movie actress Jennifer Drummond, who only made one movie but captured the hearts (and groins) of countless boys and young men. Jennifer starts out almost angelically polite, then changes to something darker. The revelations in this tale place it among the scariest stories in the anthology. Ballingrud’s southern voice, a hallmark of his work, takes us to a place beyond damned in this eerie and disturbing tale.

“Night of the Living” by Paul Cornell is an interesting variation on classic zombie films.

Laird Barron’s “The One We Tell Bad Children” is a historical horror in which parents leave their children alone in a cabin, deep in the untamed woodland of 18th century America, to face forces beyond comprehension. The eldest, nominally in charge, plays a silent film called “Ardor of the Damned.” As the children watch, numbed with horror, so the film also watches them, setting in motion all the terror that follows. It’s also interesting that the story takes place in an alternate version of America.

“Snuff in Six Scenes” by Richard Kadrey is very short. Read it; it packs one hell of a punch!

Definitely my favorite story in the anthology, Brian Hodge’s “Insanity Among Penguins,” is ostensibly about a rumored documentary by Werner Herzog (look him up, he’s interesting) called Todestriebe; most or all copies of the film have been destroyed, but there are rumors. Our protagonist happens to be obsessed with Todestriebe; it’s his ‘white whale.’ Having given up the search, assuming the rumors are BS, he is granted an opportunity to see the film by his video store owner. Read it! It’s a truly remarkable piece of fiction.

“Lords of the Matinee” by Stephen Graham Jones is a wonderfully funny romp…that segues into darker territories when you least expect it.

“Folie À Deux, or The Ticking Hourglass” is a truly international story by Pakistani writer Usman T. Malik. Two TV documentarians are dispatched to record a serial child murderer’s gruesome execution. Then things get weird. Thoroughly enjoyable but difficult to sum up in a few sentences.

“Cut Frame” by Gemma Files is constructed entirely from emails, book quotes, and a transcript of an interview, to explain the mysterious 50s B-movie actress Tamar Dusk and what happened I her. A dentist, of all people (one of a particular film’s financiers) tells everything he knows to a Toronto-based parapsychologist about Tamar and the filming of a movie called The Torc. Files is adept with this modern version of an epistolary tale.

The last fifth of Final Cuts is my second favorite of the tales contained therein, John Langan’s “Altered Beast, Altered Me.” A mid-list horror novelist acquires Dracula’s ring, worn by several actors when they inhabited the role — but it seems to be of far older lineage. A long story that ended far too soon.

So kudos to Ellen Datlow on another successful and nearly perfect anthology.