My latest illustration, “Behind the Door,” is up in the December 2022 issue of Penumbric. This drawing was inspired by author Mary SanGiovanni‘s novel of the same name, although the titular door, as described in the novel, bares little resemblance to my illustration.
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.
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:
BOOKS I PARTICULARLY ENJOY
BOOKS WITH FALSE INFORMATION
This one falls into the former category .
(WARNING: THIS BOOK REVIEW CONTAINS SOME PARTIAL SPOILERS)
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.
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
The Story Behind the Most Difficult Story I’ve Ever Had to Write
In late 2003, I started a short story tentatively titled “The Clacker.” I had the bare bones of a religious concept, itself based on my bare bones knowledge about the Cathars, a branch of Christianity wiped out by the Roman Catholic Church. (If this behavior by the RCC comes as a surprise, you probably shouldn’t be reading horror fiction, or science fiction, or fantasy or…look, just pick up some history books from your local library. Concentrate on books aimed at young adults.) Of course, I had internet access, just like the vast majority of Americans. Usually, research plus imagination crystallizes into some kind of story! It isn’t necessarily a good story, but at least it has a middle and an ending, to keep the beginning company. After several hours in which I wrote, and rewrote (moved around some words) the same two or three paragraphs, I surrendered.
But this wasn’t exactly a surprise.
You see, my creativity had been slowly leaching away, like a vital nutrient washed out of the soil by heavy rains. Creativity is, perhaps, the most vital nutrient required in order for writers and illustrators to grow their respective works of art. I was both, so the losses were doubled.
Fast forward to 2013, when a fortuitous change in my medication started growing that essential creativity once more, and without warning. I found myself suddenly deluged, not by rain, but by The Nutrient. Potent stuff that the desire to create is, I was overwhelmed by ideas. Stories I wanted to write and drawings I wanted to do wouldn’t just materialize; I had to grow them. I had a LOT of work ahead of me. I did a bunch of drawings, mostly of women and elder gods, and stuttered through the beginnings of half-a-dozen stories that were essentially going nowhere. I was all over the place, writing horror, science fiction, dark fantasy…but just their opening paragraphs. Drawing came naturally to me. I’d been a visual artist first, having picked up crayons at approximately the age of five. I didn’t write my first story until high school—during senior year, no less. Writing required more focus.
I don’t remember how I got the idea to go looking through my old fiction folders, but it was the trigger, or the key, or even the electron microscope (focus, get it?)—choose your metaphor. I opened many old files, which my latest version of Microsoft Word needed to translate into the new century, second decade. I found myself aghast at such amateur writing, and absurd, old tropes from the 1990s. The only ones that held any promise were the seeds of classical material: ghosts, apocalypses, cosmic horror, Lovecraftiana (no, probably not a real word), etc. You get the picture.
Ultimately, I settled on two stories: the apocalyptic “Sacred Glyphs” and one of those Lovecraftian pieces, entitled “The Clackers.” First thing I did was rename it “The Bible Black,” a title I stole from Ronnie James Dio’s final project, Heaven and Hell. The fact that he died before the album’s release just gave this song a creepy pathos that no musician could, or would, be able to pay for. If you want to hear the song that would ultimately inspire “The God Whom No One Worships,” tap here.
To deflate this bloated blog post, I will hurry along, now. I asked both my wife, Sherry, and my good friend, author/artist Dean Italiano, to give it the metaphorical red-pen treatment. They both gave me a lot of good advice. I think it was around then that I renamed it “The God Whom No One Worships.” But as I read it over, again, I felt something was wrong. I was too close to it, though, had worked on it too recently, to be able to see it clearly.
So I hired Mary SanGiovanni’s MSEditing to help me improve that story, and it was worth every penny. When Michael Kelly was seeking a short work of pulp fiction, I sent, among other things, “The God Whom No One Worships.” He accepted, asking only that I retitle it “The Night Kingdom.”
So, “The Night Kingdom” (It just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? That’s why he wins the awards, folks.) will appear in the inaugural issue of Weird Horror #1, along with twelve other chilling tales, this October. I urge writers to pick it up in order to get an idea of what they’re looking for, and I urge everyone else to pick it up because it will undoubtedly be good spine-tingling fun.
Michael Rowe is the author of the horror novels Enter, Night, Wild Fell, and October. I consider him to be a master of the Canadian Gothic, if there is such a creature. After reading his emotionally devastating Wild Fell, I felt inspired to do a drawing based on it, featuring the dark witch at story’s center, Rosa Blackmore. Michael asked to buy it, and a friendship was born.
Michael is also a journalist as well as the author of three non-fiction books. He is the winner of the Lambda Literary Award and was a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award.
My gifted friend and once-upon-a-time co-author, Mary SanGiovanni, has a brand new novel coming out August 28th. You can preorder Behind the Door for Kindle, or a variety of formats, and early buzz indicates that it is not to be missed. So please, check it out, along with the first Kathy Ryan novel, Chills.