The Artist is a Lonely Hunter

You sit in a room devoid of human company, your eyes glued to a screen. You don’t so much as twitch. What’s on the screen fills you with loathing. Self-loathing. You are, simultaneously, emotionally barren, angry beyond all reasonable limits, and yearning for the approval of your peers; hell, yearning for the presence of your peers, somebody, anybody!…who is crazy enough to put themselves through this grinder for so little reward.

You are not “sucking the glass teat,” though it may seem so to an outsider, to anyone reading this limited collection of facts. In fact, you hate television! What you’re doing is the loneliest work on planet Earth, because you have to. You are possessed by a demon with no name, who compels you to come back and come back and come back again! You are punishing yourself for very little reward.

Death isn’t the only lonely business: with apologies to Ray Bradbury. Writing can be lonely, too. Very lonely.

I’ve been fortunate. I have had William O’Donnell as a friend. In 1992, Will talked me into going to a monthly meeting of the Garden State Horror Writers (GSHW), an organization geared towards supporting writers of genre fiction, even people who didn’t write horror. Will also cajoled me into joining the Horror Book Discussion Group at the late, lamented Borders Books & Music in East Brunswick, where I met the girl who would one day become my wife.

The GSHW was the brainchild of horror author Pat Graversen, who published a string of novels for Kensington Publisher’s Corp. during the 80s and early-90s. Without the friends and support I found at GSHW, the critiques and lessons, and necessary instruction on how one should structure a manuscript meant for publication and how to formulate a good cover letter, and before the internet age, the importance of accompanying with your manuscripts, a SASE (Say-Z), or Self-Addressed Stamped
Envelope. Every month, we had a guest speaker, often an established author or editor, and occasionally, an agent.

In such an atmosphere, even if only once a month, I felt ensconced in a community or writers, and yes, also artists. Writing was not lonely in those days. But in the early aughts, I began to have health problems, so I stopped attending meetings, though I remained a member in good standing for several years to follow (I was also a professional member of the Horror Writer’s Association (HWA)).

Gradually, with my only contact with the writing world the editors to whom I submitted my fiction, who increasingly rejected my work, the joy leeched away into the infertile soil of a fearsome depression. Writer’s block followed, and it lasted for ten years. The consequences to an artist, in any medium, of failing to practice their art range from dissatisfaction, pessimism and anger to major depression, failure to self-care (and care for your dependents) and suicidal ideation. High creativity is not a choice. Failure to practice it can ruin your life.

Author and psychological counselor Beth Pickens states in her 2021 book Make Your Art No Matter What: Moving Beyond Creative Hurdles, that “Artists need a community of other active artists who want good things for themselves and one another.” However, living in a suburban sprawl like Central Jersey makes for a virtual graveyard of “Creative Hurdles.” Yes, there are online groups and social media groups. But the hunt for groups that are as advanced as you, and not in the stratosphere, is in itself a disheartening endeavor.

And yet…and yet, there is something about meeting face-to-face with your peers and mentors that fosters inspiration in ways not found on Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Skype, and other cloud-based meeting spaces: mainly the private tête-à-têtes that allow one to speak freely and build friendships and alliances with like-minded people. With a single exception, all of my artistic friendships began with people that I spent real time with, in the physical world—people whose hands I shook (or in the age of COVID, an elbow bump would make for just as meaningful a contact.)

Weird Horror Issue 4

Weird Horror made it to Issue 4, always on time, always fun!

Weird Horror Issue 4/Spring 2022

Weird Horror #4 continues to evoke the deepest feelings of the most delicious dread two years since its launch. Some of the non-fiction and fiction contained herein:

Author/Editor/Horror Philosopher Simon Strantzas returns with another fascinating installment of On Horror. Next Wave Horror is the topic, and Mr. Strantzas clarifies immediately that if you are hoping for a treatise beginning with works of dread from Beowulf (666 A.C.E., for those who care) onwards, you should look elsewhere. The topic concerns the New Wave of the Genre of Horror, AKA Category Horror. Born circa 1970, the horror genre as we know it began with the publications of William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist, Thomas Tryon’s The Other, and Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby (do I detect a preoccupation with evil children?), all books by mainstream writers active in the early 70s. This concentration of horror novels resulted in the birth of First Wave Horror. The First Wave was defined by writers like Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, and Stephen King, as well as certain recurring concepts like twist endings and unpleasant children. The First Wave, Mr. Strantzas states, “remains the most popular form of horror story in the mainstream.” The nearing end of the Twentieth Century gave rise to Second Wave Horror, with young writers never knew a time prior to the horror boom of the First Wave (which I personally feel damaged the genre, due to the publishing industry’s preference of quantity over quality), and thus moved to a less literal, more metaphorical, more pessimistic (realistic) view of the vast cosmos and our miniscule part in it. I think Mr. Strantzas alluded to the fact the Second Wave horror writers add a more literary sensibility to their dark works. Here, Mr. Strantzas gave a nod the my favorite of the Second Wave authors, the largely mysterious Thomas Ligotti (I used to carry around my copy of The Nightmare Factory, or as I called it, the Gospel of Thomas, everywhere I went.) Twenty years after the birth of Second Wave horror, Mr. Strantzas states his belief that “we’re about to experience another shift led by a new wave … already percolating up through the small presses.” He does acknowledge the possibility that our much faster-moving society and culture could leave us “instead just a steady and constant onslaught of new writers and new kinds of work, a state of constant flux and noise, one that will be impossible to parse. Because it’s so overwhelming. A world where everything that can exist will exist and all at once.”

Orrin Grey, in this issue’s Grey’s Grotesqueries, makes the argument that in fiction, funny, silly or goofy incidents, or characters, do not necessarily dispel terror. In this highly persuasive argument, Grey posits that horror fiction where the artist diligently avoids even a dash of humor ends up with “somber meditations on grief, or bloody and brutal depictions of ostensibly realistic violence.” We’ve all seen those types of films. They are exhausting, perhaps disturbing, but have you ever wanted to give them a second viewing? I know that I haven’t. “Humor and horror, then, are…practically two sides of the same coin.” That one I intent to print out in huge letters and hang over. My writing desk! He mentions two masters at flipping that particular coin, the manga writer and artist, Junji Ito and author Matthew M. Bartlett. He ends by quoting an artist I’d never heard of, Trevor Henderson. The quote is illuminating and seals the cap of Grey’s cogent, highly convincing contention. But in order to read it, and to see the frankly horrifying reproduction from one of Junji Ito’s panels, originally published in one of his collections from Viz—you need to pick up a copy of Weird Horror Issue 4, available at:

I do not review short stories, as they generally speak for themselves, but of the 10 entries in Issue 4, all of which were satisfactory, special kudos are extended to Armel Dagorn for his story “Figments of the Night,” to the always fascinating Steve Rasnic Tem for “Whenever it Comes,” to Andrew Humphrey for the thoroughly chilling “Hurled Against Rocks.” And to the single most effective story in Issue 4, “Camera’s Eye,” by Daniel David Froid. This ghastly descent into darkness, both literal and figurative, would not leave my mind for three sleepless nights! Froid maintained absolute control over every element in his story, and thus over the reader. I will be seeking Daniel David Friod’s first collection, as soon as it is published.

The story illustrations were competently rendered, by artist David Bowman, in a consistent hatching style. Also eye-catching is Drazen Kozjan’s perfectly pulpish cover illustration.

These fine stories were followed by the book review section, “The Macabre Reader,” more then ably handled by Lysette Stevenson. I love the fact that this section suggests new reading material in the horror/weird fiction fields that would not necessarily be evaluated in other journals. She does not waste time covering the latest Stephen King or Dean Koontz novel, as many other sources have already jumped on those books prior to their publication.

Similarly, Tom Goldstein fills his “Aberrant Visions” column with out-of-the-way films of the macabre, including quite a few foreign films. I don’t usually read the review sections of genre magazines, but Weird Horror’s inciteful and sometimes shudder-inducing book and film reviews are worth checking out. There are always a couple of offerings in each column that turn out to be worth their weight in blood, dissolved musculature, ligaments, and crushed bone!

At this point, none of the issues of Weird Horror have arrived late, unlike some other horror magazines I might mention. Editor Michael Kelly has proven that Weird Horror is also reliable in delivering the highest quality literary pulp horror and weird fiction, in a consistently attractive package. I think this magazine is here to stay.

Review: Elizabeth Hand

Here is my latest book review. As many of you know, I rarely write book reviews, but when I do, they fall into one of two categories:



This one falls into the former category .

An inside look into the process of a gifted author: Elizabeth Hand


Published in 2017 by PM Press, Outspoken Authors: Elizabeth Hand is a revelation of a first-class literary stylist who is, like many geniuses, very humble about her accomplishments.

The book opens with Hand’s classic story, “The Saffron Gatherers,” which pulls you along quietly by the hand. It is ostensibly a love story, a meditation on the beauty of ancient art, and a commentary about San Francisco’s expensive housing. It is Hands poetic use of language that ratchets up the pleasure. Just as the reader thinks that this romantic fable will work out fine for both lovers, you abruptly find yourself reading an apocalyptic tale that leaves you in a state of shock.

The next story, “Fire,” has never before seen print. Without giving too much of it away, it is a tale about hope in the face of certain annihilation. “Fire,” like “The Saffron Gatherers,” seems to address apocalypse, which makes perfect sense, as in the next article, “Beyond Belief: On Becoming A Writer” and in her interview with Terry Bisson, Elizabeth Hand reveals her serious anxieties about climate change (NOTE: Hand’s groundbreaking novel, Glimmering, is the first work of fiction to directly acknowledge the reality of climate change.)

“Beyond Belief” reveals the evolution of a literary iconoclast. Her experiences, adventures, tragedies, and yes, traumas, all play integral parts in the formation of a literary artist, who places the importance of Character and Setting over Plot, contrary to the popular wisdom regarding storytelling. She is a poetic storyteller.

Hand discusses her process in “Beyond Belief” and her interview with Terry Bison, “Flying Squirrels in the Rafters.” Revision. Endless revision. She states, likely tongue-in-cheek, that she would like to be able to keep revising her books even after they have landed on bookstore shelves. To learn more about her literary ethos, writers in particular will want to read the sections mentioned above.

Between ” Beyond Belief” and ” Flying Squirrels…” is “Kronia,” a an eerily wonderful love story that jaunts through space and time. Hand’s lyrical prose style is present throughout.

Perhaps the most affecting (and tragic) pieces are her two essays, “The Woman Men Didn’t See,” and another titled simply, and affectionately, “Tom Disch.”

“The Woman Men Didn’t See” pulls back the curtain on one of science fiction’s most visionary writers, James Tiptree, Jr, who in his private life is, in fact, a woman named Alice Sheldon. Her experiences as a child are terrifying. His birth as part of the new wave in science fiction is to our good fortune, as readers of a genre which was going stale in the 1960s and early 70s would attest. Her stories were less a breath of fresh air, and more a savage multiple stabbing of the reader and the science fiction establishment, in general. Alas, James Tiptree, Jr’s story is a tragic one. For more on Tiptree Jr, I recommend purchasing Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree, Jr, a collection of 18 of the most terrifying science fiction stories you are likely to read (available from Tachyon Publications.) To learn more about the life and tragic end of Alice Sheldon, read James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon, by Julia Phillips (National Book Award.)

At last, we come to, perhaps, the saddest, most personal, and loving essay about another iconoclastic writer, “Tom Disch.” One is given the strong impression that Elizabeth Hand knew Thomas M. Disch as more than merely an essay topic. His fiction largely involved contemplations of death and suicide.(Recommended works by Thomas M. Disch include On Wings of Song and Camp Concentration.)

The last pages have an extensive (and impressive) Bibliography oof Ms. Hand’s work current up till 2017.

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!


My Review For…

Michael Rowe’s October

OCTOBER is, in many ways, the quintessential revenge novel. There is the sympathetic hero, Mikey Childress. There’s the girl, Wroxy. And there is the villain, Dewey Verbinski. And in this case, an idyllic setting, lovely Auburn, the town that tourists visit in autumn, when the changing leaves burn brightly with color. Where, legend has it, a coven of 12 witches practice dark magic on certain nights of the year.

But some key differences set OCTOBER apart. For example, Mikey is flamboyant, without quite admitting even to himself that he is gay. His entire school, it seems, as well as his own parents, and by extension the town of Auburn, don’t like him. During summer are his halcyon days. He spends that season alone, blissfully unabused, since he gets his joy from a vivid imagination, horror novels, horror films, and late night bike rides through the streets of Auburn. 

Then September begins: enter the girl, a fiercely independent outcast, who also happens to be a witch. She’s there at school when Verbinski trips Mikey, embarrassing him in front of a cafeteria full of laughing students. Jim Fields, whose body he fantasizes about in the privacy of his room, watches as things go flying, and when Mikey’s CD Walkman comes sliding right to his feet, crushes it. After the incident, Wroxy approaches him. She’s just moved here from Vancouver, and finds Auburn to be a provincial hellhole. Once the two become acquainted, for the next three years they are inseparable best friends.

However, Dewey and Jim hatch a plan to get Mikey beaten up—an act that sets into motion a series of events where Mikey’s rage, unleashed, brings him into league with dark supernatural forces.

Rowe’s portrayal of a boy, on the cusp of manhood, and abused daily by his peers, is at once nerve-wracking and deeply saddening.

The supernatural horror aspect pales when contrasted with Mikey’s abuse, symbolic of what millions of young LGBTQIA children across the nations of Canada and the US have silently endured for decades. I highly recommend this novel to any and all members of the human race.

The Wrong Kind of Leap

I was watching a bit of CNN, eating a strawberry Greek yogurt, and generally feeling contentment, when legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin came on. Mr. Toobin is a man I hold in the highest regard. His legal and political critiques of various “goings on” in Washington DC, or regarding high profile felony cases, are keenly observed and intelligently articulated. You could say I’m a fan. But Jeffrey made a faux pas that has become increasingly prevalent in our technical and technological world.

He was likening the FBI’s recent “raid” of the President’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, to the historic moment when the Whitewater controversy turned into the Monica Lewinsky scandal, a transition he called a quantum leap upwards in severity. A lot of people make this mistake, and hey, he’s a lawyer, not a physicist, but it still gets on my nerves every time I hear it. My consternation stems from the fact that a quantum leap forward or upward, or in any direction or medium, is the smallest unit of movement physically possible in our universe. A quantum leap in physical position in the universe, for example, would likely be a Planck Length. Just so we all understand the scale involved here, it is [1.6 x 10 to the 35th meters.] That’s about 10 protons holding hands. Very. Very. Very. Very tiny.

I can’t really blame Mr. Toobin for his mistake. The term has likely gone through a cultural shift thanks to a science fiction show of the same name. It’s real meaning has gotten lost. I can only suggest that all of us look up a word, particularly jargon words, before using them before such a large audience.

“a discrete quantity of energy proportional in magnitude to the frequency of the radiation it represents.”
—Google Dictionary