Autumn Book Blowout!

Hey! Need books? I still got books! Books books books! I can sign ’em and stuff! Contact me! Make me an offer! Will bundle! Free US shipping! Bonus grab bag books thrown in! Let’s deal! Great gifts; holidays are coming! Tell your friends! Please oh please I am so very broke and need the shelf space! Books books books!

booksale

Naughty and Dice (rpg supplement) $15
The Horned Ones (cave monsters) $10
His Blood (non-sparkly vampires) $10
Silver Doorway series (fantasy for younger readers) $20 for the set
Trinity Bay horror — Black Roses (incubus), Gifted Children (creepy kids), Changeling Moon (shapeshifters) $8 each
Fossil Lake anthologies (all sorts of wacky weirdness) $8 each or $25 for the set

Edited to add: MURDER GIRLS (college housemates become serial killers), last three copies, out of print, $15, snag one while they last! ONLY ONE COPY LEFT! Sold out!

In fact, I’ll sweeten the deal with a special treat … the first ten orders over 20 bucks, I’ll throw in a FREE Audible.com DOWNLOAD CODE for the awesome AUDIOBOOK version of my pioneer blizzard snow monster horror novel, WHITE DEATH, narrated by Matt Godfrey!

wdcov1

Email me at christinemariemorgan@gmail.com … limited quantities remaining!

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Bonus reviews!

Title: A Biography of a Chance Miracle

Author: Tanja Maljartschuk

Publisher: Cadmus Press

Website: cadmusmedia.org

I’m not sure how to categorize this book. It seems to stretch languidly across many genres, like one of those paintings where a lady in a rowboat reclines and dangles her pale fingers in the pond amid lily pads and flowers.

There are paranormal elements – searching for the truth behind tales of a mysterious flying woman who may or may not be an angel. There are political elements – it’s set in Ukraine, beginning during the turbulent post-war years, with indoctrination and rebellion and clashes with a deeply flawed system. There are psychological elements – the main character, Lena, is a difficult misfit even as a child, and grows into a troubled would-be activist and crusader, seeking to do something meaningful with her life.

The entire experience of reading it was both enthralling and somehow distressing. Lena’s difficulties in school and with her family, the dysfunctional friendship with a girl she calls Dog, relationships with roommates and boyfriends, her efforts to seek change, her inner issues … compelling but uncomfortable … it’s hard to like her, and hard not to. A complex challenge.

Bureaucracy is the main evil, an all-too-familiar one cast here into an unflinching spotlight. Anyone who’s felt like they were getting a runaround from government agencies will be readily able to relate to the sheer frustration of an obstructed, broken system. It’s well-written, a fascinating peek into history and a part of the world many might not be aware of. Weird and surreal, yet subtle.

**

Title: Borderline: a Cloud Lands story

Author: Hannah Steenbock

Publisher: Buhsteppe Verlag / Frauke Mobius

Website: http://www.hannah-steenbock.de

I was unfamiliar with this writer and this world, but after reading this short story / prequel to the longer works, I’d be interested in learning more. It’s fantasy on the face of it, a fantasy world with warring kingdoms and dragon riders, but this particular tale is on the small-scale personal level.

Ylanda and her dragon Rakild are doing a routine solo patrol of the mountains that form a natural barrier between the Western Kingdom and their sworn enemies, the Carmine Empire. It’s a brisk, cold, clear, winter’s day. But some hunch prompts Ylanda to have Rakild go hunting for game, and the hunch soon proves valid – a sudden bad storm sets in, forcing them to seek refuge in a cave before the punishing weather kills them.

Nor are they alone for long … another patrolling dragon rider gets caught in the same plight. Problem is, this other rider turns out to be a Carmine. With each team stricken by various injuries, with no firewood and little in the way of food and water, an unlikely truce has to form if any of them are going to survive. They’ll have to work together, help each other. They might even have to question the propaganda of their respective nations, and figure out where true loyalties should lie.

I had no trouble grasping the concept of the setting, the bonds between dragons and their riders, and the political situation. I liked all the characters and want to find out what happens after. This didn’t feel like one of those fantasy novels bogged down with excessive info dumps; the writing style is clean and smooth and brings the pertinent details in naturally. It’s been a while since I’ve read within this genre, but I found this a refreshing and fun change from my more usual gory fare … and I’d expect more dedicated fantasy readers would have no complaints.

**

An Update on the Update page?

Imagine that! Trying to get back to maintaining this site a bit more regularly. This past year or so has been a slogging hell of hospitals, medical procedures, body horror, stress, and hassle. But, now I need to try and get my act more or less back together.

Part of this whole experience resulted in a GoFundMe, out of which developed two chapbooks written partly for folks who kicked in at a reward level: Greater Than Gold (sagas) and Fuck Cancer (stories). I have copies of both available and would be glad to send them out to whoever helps cover postage; email me at christinemariemorgan@gmail.com .

What else is new? Well, I recently finished a new book, an extreme horror novel titled Lakehouse Infernal. It is, with his kind permission, a sequel to Lucifer’s Lottery by Edward Lee. He even wrote me an intro! The manuscript’s currently in the hands of a certain publisher, so, fingers crossed.

My historical horror pioneer blizzard book, White Death, is now also available on audiobook, read by the fantastic Matt Godfrey. The first anniversary of Spermjackers From Hell is coming up in a couple of weeks. My Viking collection, The Raven’s Table, is going strong, and by now I almost have enough stories for the follow-up, which I’d like to call The Wolf’s Feast.

The “Anthologies” page here has been brought more up to date, including several to be hopefully released soon. I’m still a regular contributor to The Horror Fiction Review, and will be adding some non-horror reviews here in the next week or so; watch this space.

The combination of medical conditions and financial fallout thereof have severely limited my abilities to attend much in the way of events, or do fun stuff like readings and panels. But I will be at KillerCon this month in Austin, TX. And BizarroCon, which moved to January 2019.

I’ll also be putting together another inventory reduction sale here pretty soon. Need shelf space and money. So, stay tuned for that as well.

 

Bonus reviews — Mellick double-feature!

Because “The Horror Fiction Review” can’t get too overloaded with Eraserhead books, sometimes I’m left with reviews to post on my own. So, here are my takes on a couple of recent works by the unstoppable juggernaut that is Carlton Mellick III!

The Big Meat

Not only is this guy the fastest and most prolific writer you’ll ever see (well except maybe for whoever cranks out all those butt-smut books), he is hands-down flat-out THE BEST when it comes to taking even the weirdest scenarios and extrapolating / world-building until it all makes sense. The ultimate “what would happen if …” whether we’re talking what would happen if it suddenly started raining candy instead of water, or what would happen if an entire civilization lived on a dog, and even weirder.

This time, he takes on the kaiju genre, in which giant monsters stomp cities in the best Godzilla tradition, and manages to do something I’ve never seen before, leaving me both surprised that I’ve never seen it before, and impressed. Instead of the focus being on the action and destruction, it’s the aftermath (though fear not, there are some flashbacks to the stompy chaos too!)

Because really, think about it, what happens after the monster is defeated? Presuming that it doesn’t wade back into the ocean or something. When it’s killed, and suddenly there’s this ginormous corpse to deal with. How do you handle cleanup of something that size? What do you DO with it? What if it starts to rot?

Read this book and find out! Get the up close and personal experience with Kevin, a young survivor who’s just signed on with one of the crews, and take the nasty inside tour. You’ll also never look at those Magic Schoolbus or Timer videos about journeying through a body the same way again.

But it’s far more than just a slog-fest through decaying parasite-infested innards … something even weirder is going on, a strange secretion that affects anyone who comes into contact with it. For Kevin and his crew, a bad day at work is about to get a whole lot worse.

*

Stacking Doll

Billy Joel’s song, “The Stranger,” describes how we all have secret inner faces we keep hidden, and how shocking it can be when your own mask slips or you get a glimpse of someone else’s inner self. Okay, fair enough, good start … but “The Stranger” has got nothing on this.

Secret inner faces? Barely scratching the surface compared to complete entire different entities hidden within. Forget multiple personality disorder, too; we’re talking drastic physical differences to say the least. What would it be like to fall in love with someone for whom this is a literal reality?

What would it be like to fall in love with someone who’s a stacking doll? A nesting doll? With each layer opening to reveal someone else inside?

All Benjamin, a normal human, knows is that he loves Ynaria and wants to marry her. Never mind the objections of his friends and her parents. Never mind the cultural differences (side note – my absolute favorite parts of this book were where things got into the Matryoshkan culture and how things work; I absolutely adore that sort of stuff and it’s one of the many areas where Mellick consistently knocks it out of the park).

Before a wedding can take place, though, Ben and Ynaria must go through the Trial, a tradition in which the prospective pair are to show their inner selves. In their case, it’ll be a bit more one-sided, but they’re determined to go through with it anyway.

And boy, is Ben in for a series of surprises … not all of them pleasant … some of them downright dangerous … it’s the ultimate getting-to-know-you experience, the ultimate lesson in how you can’t really know a person from surface appearances … the ultimate lesson in what love really is.

*

Alan Baxter’s HIDDEN CITY

hc_baxter

 

I’ve encountered my share of urban fantasy over the years, both as a reader and a gamer … but in all that time, I’ve never seen it done like this! Urban fantasy without elves and orcs, without werewolves and vampires, without wizarding schools or secretive mystic cabals … but modern magic wielded by ordinary people.

It’s a different kind of magic, too. Actually, it’s several different kinds of magic. This isn’t your bell-book-candle formulaic kind of deal with wands or rituals. It’s handled almost more like psychic abilities, or superpowers, where each individual is going to have his or her own particular type of gift. I love that approach, and here it works extremely well here.

So, you’ll have your talents who can heal, or make illusions, or enhance technology, most of them fairly minor. Some work together, some mostly operate solo but maintain their connections among the weird community. For the most part, they keep things fairly low-key. This isn’t big epic Dr. Strange-scale cosmic arcana … at least, usually it isn’t.

Steven Hines, our main character, self-describes as a ‘citymage.’ He is linked, on an intense and intimate level, to the city of Cleveport, attuned to its activities and moods as if the city itself is a living being with which he shares a telepathic/empathic bond. They can communicate, help each other. But it comes at a cost. His travel options are severely limited, for one. For another, Cleveport is very much the jealous type when it comes to his other relationships.

He is allowed to have friends, though, including his childhood BFF Abby Jones, now a police detective. Although she doesn’t understand (or much want to) the whole magic thing, she recognizes it can be useful in solving certain cases. Like the one she’s got now, with several inexplicable deaths with connections to the talented community.

You might think this was gearing up to your classic buddy movie, Alien Nation with a magic twist, that new Will Smith one, whatever. And you wouldn’t be far wrong, but you also wouldn’t be fully right. As our main two undertake their investigation, events across the city are already building toward a crisis, and other characters are being pulled in.

A beat cop finds himself dealing with spates of seemingly random violent attacks and bizarre transformations … a young mage is scared and on the run after her boyfriend’s overdose … a mob boss is unhappy with gone-awry shipments of a magic-specific drug … pretty soon all of Cleveport is basically going nuts, and it’s up to a small group of mismatched heroes to try and save the day.

Action-packed from start to finish, layered with levels of subtle but deep backstory, lively, fast-paced, gripping, and fun, Hidden City is a definite winner. I’m thinking Netflix series. Somebody should get on that.

**

Publisher: Gryphonwood Press

Website: http://www.gryphonwoodpress.com

https://www.alanbaxteronline.com/books/hidden-city/

Masque of the Rue Paule

(In honor of Poe’s birthday, and because I haven’t updated in a while, here’s a fun little mash-up that originally appeared in Icarus Magazine 🙂 )

 

MASQUE OF THE RUE PAULE

Christine Morgan

The pestilence had long devastated the country. No intolerance had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Hate was its avatar and its seal — the blindness and the ignorance of hate.

But the Queen had summoned to her presence many hale and light-hearted of her court, and retired to an extensive structure of her own eccentric yet august taste, amply provisioned with wine, security, and all the appliances of pleasure. There was much of the beautiful, much of the wanton, much of the bizarre, something of the terrible, and not a little of that which might have excited disgust.

It was toward the close of the fifth or sixth episode of this season, while the ratings raged most furiously abroad …

Oooh giiirl!” rang out a voice. “You’ve got she-mail!”

There then appeared upon a wall of the dressing chamber the glorious image of the Queen herself, Rue Paule, their generous Prospero, their benefactor, the Queen before whom all lesser queens bowed and to whose throne they hoped some day to aspire.

They, these lesser queens, turned at once with great eagerness. Each was in varying states of disarray, half-clothed and partially cosmeticed, in mid-preparation for that day’s games. They numbered half a dozen now, each having won through while others had been eliminated one by one from the festivities.

Who’s ready for a gay and magnificent revel?” the Queen’s image asked, shaking out tresses of flaxen curls over an off-the-shoulder black gown. “A voluptuous scene of unusual magnificence?”

Some queens squealed, danced in place and patted their hands in quick little claps … some said, “Hell yes!” and “Gay revelry? Bring it on!” … and some watched with silent predatory intensity.

Among them were:

Aloof, tall and lean, angular as a fashion model, with cheekbones that could cut diamond and eyes that never quite made contact with those of another.

Kallie Entay, by contrast, was hot-blooded and curvaceous, a fiery Latina with a spicy accent and a loud, raucous laugh.

Mo’Jo, of the dark chocolate skin and impressive bustline, was a queen-sized queen with a queen-sized attitude to match.

We’ll see whose true colors come shining through,” the Queen continued, “and who’s just a horse – that’s horse — of a different color.”

Here were also:

Viva Vavoom, the oldest remaining in the contest, called herself ‘the camp dowager’ and favored cigarette holders and rhinestone glasses.

Cutie Pebbles, baby-faced and chubby-cheeked enough to live up to her name, had a high and breathy way of talking that often annoyed the others.

And, last but by no means least, Zoenne. Her body was spectacular, and she knew it, making the most of showing it next-to-naked at every opportunity.

So,” said the Queen, “it’s time to find out who can go monochrome … and who can go home.”

The image vanished. Moments later the chamber door opened. In stepped a bald man of elegant aspect and impeccable attire. His complexion was warm caramel, his features aquiline, and his body moved with lissome grace.

Hello, hello, hello,” he said. His voice was identical to that of the Queen, for this was the Queen, this was their Prospero, this was the one and only Rue Paule in person.

Hi, Rue,” chorused the queens, ranging from simpering to sultry.

Are you ready for today’s challenges?”

Nods and murmurs of agreement answered this.

He snapped his fingers. At once, two more men filed in, these scantily clad and of delectable physique – bronzed, muscular, and oiled. The reactions of the queens were, as always, approving and appreciative.

The men carried between them a large cloth-draped easel, which they set on the floor. They then passed out to each of the queens a notepad and marker, and went to stand at parade rest nearby, the pose causing considerable prominence of package.

Our mini-challenge,” said Rue, “is about masks. We all wear them, don’t we? For some of us, drag is our mask. But, today, we’re playing a little game I like to call ‘Who Is That Masked Man?’ Behind this drape are numbered headshots of twenty famous, or infamous, gay celebrities. Their faces have been covered with masks, except for the eyes. You’ll have one minute to study the pictures and write down your guesses. The queen who correctly identifies the most will be our winner. Clear?”

Again, they gave murmurs and nods of agreement.

Do the eyes have it?” asked Rue. “Your time starts … now!”

He whisked away the drape, revealing the masked headshots. It was of course his own guiding taste which had given character to these masqueraders, much glare and glitter and piquancy and phantasm.

The queens stared at the eyes that were all that was visible. Their markers flew, scribbling on the notepads. At the end of the minute, Rue declared they must put down their pens.

One by one were the masks removed, the faces revealed. There were of course Oscar Wilde and Anderson Cooper among them, George Takei and Ricky Martin, and other icons past and present.

And, in the end, with sixteen of the twenty correct …

The winner is Kallie Entay,” Rue said.

The five other queens made congratulations, in varying degrees of sincerity, as Kallie preened. “Puerto Rrrrrrrico!” she cried in victorious celebration.

Following this, the proceedings of the day were to move on to the main challenge. Rue signaled again to the men of delectable physique.

With still as much appreciative approval, the queens watched as they crossed the chamber. There, in a glistening display of taut flesh and manly prowess, they moved aside one of the walls. Thus revealed was a closed corridor into which narrow Gothic windows looked from the right and left, an imperial suite of rooms.

Rue Paule faced the queens. A stack of flat objects in his hands made brittle, crystalline clicking noises as he deftly manipulated them like a magician about to perform a card trick. “Each of those windows is of stained glass, whose color varies in accordance with the prevailing hue of the decorations of the chamber into which it opens.”

You mean,” said Aloof, “that each room’s a different color.”

That at the eastern extremity is hung …” Here, Rue paused, and his as well as many other glances slid along the bodies of the men. “… well hung … for example, in blue, and vividly blue are its windows.”

He held up one of the flat objects, which the queens now saw was a pane of stained glass such as might be found in a window. It was, indeed, vividly blue.

The second chamber is purple in its ornaments and tapestries, and there the panes are purple,” he said. “The third is green throughout, the fourth furnished with orange, and so on. The fifth is white, the sixth violet.”

As he spoke, he fanned out the rest of the panes like a poker hand.

Once again, time is of the essence,” Rue said. “This will test your charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent. You’ll have one hour to come up with an outfit suitable for a masked ball. You can use your own wigs, shoes and undergarments from your wardrobes; everything else must come only from your assigned room.”

We can only dress in one color?” asked Cutie Pebbles, eyes wide. “Only that color?”

That’s right.” He smirked ever-so-slightly at their dismayed expressions. “The one who proves she can best stand out … and blend in … will be the winner.”

Stand out?” echoed Kallie. “How are we supposed to stand out when we have to wear the same color as the room?”

Don’t you give me no orange,” Mo’Jo said.

Purple and violet?” Zoenne frowned. “What’s the difference?”

Green is my faaaavorite color!” trilled Viva, wildly fluttering her lashes.

I hope I don’t get blue.” Cutie bounced up and down, chewing her knuckles.

Kallie Entay,” Rue Paule said, “since you won the last challenge, you’ll decide the order in which everyone picks their colors. You first.”

Well,” said Kallie, her accent thick, “since green is my favorite color too … I’ll take green. Sorry, Viva. But you can go next.”

Viva grinned. “Honey, I hate green. I knew you’d take it just because I said that. I’ll have violet.”

Kallie flashed her a tight, catty scowl, then recovered. “Aloof can pick now.”

White,” said Aloof.

No,” remarked Zoenne with a sarcastic eyeroll. “The ice queen picks white. Who would’ve guessed.”

Zoenne,” said Callie. “Your turn.”

I’ll take blue.”

Two colors left, and two queens,” said Rue. “Kallie?”

Aw, hell, purple or orange?” Mo’Jo snorted. “Fine. Whateva. Cutie can choose. I don’t care.”

No, you should choose,” said Kallie. “Mo’Jo.”

With a disgruntled sigh, the queen-sized queen examined both options. “So I can be a pumpkin or a eggplant. Let’s go eggplant.”

Which leaves orange for Cutie Pebbles.” Rue handed over the final pane of stained glass. He started toward the door, then paused. “Oh, and there’s just one more thing …”

In again came the two men of delectable physique. They rolled between them on its casters a tall clock, ornately carved from ebony.

The queens glanced at it and each other in concern. They knew there were many who would have thought their Queen mad, though they felt that she was not … they knew that to hear and see and touch her was to know that she was not.

Yet, here was this clock, its hands ticking the circuit of its face.

Like none of you ever saw a big black clock before.” Rue laughed. “But this one has … a special twist.”

Just then, the minute-hand reached the hour. The clock began to chime. Its sound was clear and loud and deep and exceedingly musical, but of so peculiar a note and emphasis that it struck a brief disconcert of the whole gay company.

The giddiest queens grew pale. The more sedate passed their hands over their brows as if in confused reverie.

At the final stroke of the clock, its cabinet opened and a queen emerged with a toss of hair and the flourish of long, shapely legs.

Ballyhoo, bitches! I’m baaaack!” this seventh queen announced.

Among the rest fell a sudden shock and consternation. There arose at length from the whole company a buzz, or murmur, expressive of disapprobation and surprise.

Sh’Devila will be rejoining the competition,” Rue said.

Some, with monumental effort, pasted upon themselves fake smiles. Others turned to their friends, whispering in terror, horror and disgust.

Oh, hell no!” Mo’Jo said.

There are matters of which no jest can be made,” whispered Aloof, her gaze focused elsewhere.

Viva gaped in exaggerated outrage. “I swear, she’s like herpes! You can’t get rid of her!”

But Rue had gone to Sh’Devila and gave her a final pane of glass, this one blood red.

Thank you, Rue,” she crooned.

Rue indicated the clock. “It’s now five past the hour. The next time this clock chimes, you’ll know you have five minutes remaining. Gentlemen, start your engines. And may the best … woman … win!”

He stepped aside as the queens rushed for the corridor. At the entrance it became a bottleneck of shouldering and struggling, not shoving and slapping but each still doing her best to gain every possible split-second of advantage. They swarmed to their rooms, finding them by way of the stained glass windows corresponding to the panes they’d been given. Doors banged open. A frenzied clamor commenced.

To and fro in the seven chambers there stalked Rue Paule, taking in the arabesque figures with unsuited limbs and appointments, the delirious fancies and madman fashions, a multitude of dreams.

Half an hour to go,” he warned them when that span of the interlude had passed.

A light laughter pervaded the assembly. They smiled as if at their own nervousness and folly, and made vows that the next chiming of the clock should produce in them no similar emotion.

Yet then, after the lapse of sixty minutes, which embrace three thousand and six hundred seconds of the Time that flies, there came yet another chiming of the clock, and then were the same disconcert and tremulousness and meditation as before.

Five minutes, ladies,” called Rue.

In the apartments beat feverishly the heart of life whirlingly on, until there was an uneasy cessation of all things. Then the moveable embellishments of the seven chambers were slid open, that the queens one and all beheld each other and were revealed.

What little Zoenne wore was, in fact, as blue as the room in which she stood, and drawn from the furnishings and accoutrements therein. In that manner she had abided by the rules of the competition, but far more was the hue of her own skin the centerpiece. A single silken ribbon twined its way about her face and body, covering, if barely, the minimum required by decorum, and fastened at one hip with an ornament made of the pane of stained glass.

By contrast, and despite her earlier misgivings, Mo’Jo looked nothing like an eggplant in her extravaganza of purple. She had gone for divine royalty southern belle, complete with lace-edged parasol and hoop skirt. Her cleavage was a jiggling and canyonesque expanse. Instead of a mask, she’d opted for a hat, a broad-brimmed bonnet laden with lavender blossoms, and a lacy veil.

Kallie Entay, in the green room, twirled so that her flamenco skirt flared in a lavish of flounce and ruffle, exposing leg to the waist and emerald heels that would have made the Wizard of Oz come out from behind that curtain. More flounces and ruffles adorned the lowcut neckline of a green sequined leotard. Her bronze-blonde wig was teased high, held with a spangled comb that had begun the day as part of a decorative lampshade; the materials of this also adorned her elaborate carnivale mask.

As orange had been deemed the most difficult and least desirable color, Cutie Pebbles might have had her work cut out for her. To pursue a theme of fire seemed the obvious choice. It may have been from an awareness of this that Cutie sought to surprise, creating instead an orange poppy fairy princess, with tulle tutu, organza wings, and her trademark orange hair upswept in a fantastical flower-bedecked arrangement. Petals encrusted with glitter and rhinestones formed her mask.

Ice queen, Zoenne had said of Aloof, and perhaps in response to the intended jab had Aloof chosen her costume for this monochromatic masquerade. A frost-white wig in a sharp wedge cut framed her face, half of which was hidden by a mask of elaborate snowflake design. A stiff, sheer fan rose up behind her head as if spun into a web of ice by winter spiders. From her shoulders flowed a satiny sheen, beautiful but exuding the coldest of chills.

Viva Vavoom went flapper in violet, with a fringed and beaded sheath dress that did its job perhaps too well; when the very intention of the style was to make even a grown woman more resemble a curveless boy. She had the rolled stockings and unlaced ankleboots, the wristlet gloves, the lacquered flapper bob, and a beaded headband from which sprouted feathered plumes. And, perhaps in violet violation to the rules, she sported her familiar vamp’s cigarette holder.

The pane of glass which Sh’Devila had been given was red, but the room to which it went was appointed entirely in black; only the window itself was of this deep blood red. She chose for effect a blood red wig, coupled with the simplicity of a black domino mask and the ubiquitous classic little black dress, which molded to her hips and booty like a coat of paint. Had the skirt been any shorter, those observing might have mistaken it for a belt.

In truth the masquerade license of the night was nearly unlimited.

You all have a fine eye for color and effects,” said Rue Paule, upon finishing his inspection. “But it’s time to disregard the decora of mere fashion for something bold … something fiery … conceptions that glow with barbaric lustre.”

The queens quivered with anticipation.

For tonight’s runway event,” Rue continued, “you’ll once again draw upon your charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent to bring us your best Poe couture. You’ll be presenting your creations to myself and my panel of judges, including our special guests: Usher, Detective C. Auguste Dupin, and the one and only Lenore.”

At this, many great excitements and agitations fell upon the queens, these names known to them but none more so than that of Lenore, the rare and radiant maiden second only to the likes of Cher and Beyonce in the firmament.

Several more times anon would strike the ebony clock, which stood in the hall of the dressing chamber. And then, for a moment, all went still, and all was silent save the voice of the clock. The queens were stiff-frozen as they stood. But the echoes of the chime would die away — they had endured but an instant — and a light, half-subdued laughter floated after them as they departed.

There was in another part of the structure another chamber, this one boasting a cascade of lights and a stage, a promenade. A high table sat overlooking this, where the judges waited in comfort and luxury for the evening’s thrilling revelry.

Then did the musicians strike up a stirring melody upon their instruments, as the divine figure of the Queen appeared, a goddess, perfection in womanly form. Flaxen hair curled in a mane of flawless coiffure, glinting with a rainbow of gems. A rainbow as well was her gown, rainbow and metallic, in all the colors of the seven rooms from before, and all other colors as well, colors never before seen or imagined.

Prospero!” sang an unseen chorus.

Pestilence past the lock,

Stop the show at the chime of the clock.”

As they sang, Rue Paule owned the runway in confidence, in sexy and powerful strides. Each stride sent shimmering ripples through the fabulous gown, which winked and sparkled.

She stopped center-stage and bestowed a luxuriant smile upon the judges.

“Santinato,” she purred. “How’s the nitre treating your cough?”

Santinato, in the motley of a harlequin from parti-striped tights to the conical cap, raised his glass of Medoc in salute. “Rue, you can wall me up in your vaults any time, darling.”

And, joining us from gay Paris,” Rue went on, “Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin.”

The dapper French detective blew her a kiss. “Enchanté.”

You stay,” said Rue, regarding him with considerable flattery and favor. “Usher, so glad you could make it.”

The successful and multi-talented black entertainer arose from a sofa on which he had been lying at full length, and greeted her with a vivacious warmth which had much in it, might at first be thought, of an overdone cordiality. The nature of his malady displayed itself in a host of unnatural sensations, a morbid acuteness of the senses.

Hello, Rue,” he said.

New album coming out soon, I hear?”

That’s right. Collaborating with Snoop Dogg and Hopp Frogg. It’s called Tamerlane, and it’ll debut in January.”

Looking forward to it.” The Queen then directed her sumptuous gaze upon Lenore. “My angel. Rare and radiant as ever.”

Likewise,” Lenore breathed, in her ethereal voice.

How is Guy DeVere?”

He sheds no tear, but my heart is light. No dirge will I upraise.” A faint, flickering hint of emotion crossed her face, and she added, “Until my next single, of course.”

Adele and Taylor Swift better watch their backs.” Santinato said, and the judges shared a knowing laugh.

Now,” said Rue, once again commanding their attention. “Earlier, my girls were challenged to come up with masquerade attire that they’d design within one hour, using only the materials found in their individual color-themed rooms. Here are the results.”

One by one, portraits of the seven queens were put up for the judges’ inspection.

They were next challenged to bring their best Poe couture to tonight’s runway.” Rue took her seat at the high table. “Let’s see what they’ve come up with, and may the best … woman … win! First up: Cutie Pebbles.”

There was a jingling and a tinkling, a rhyming and a chiming, as Cutie undulated onto the stage. A belly dancer clad in bells, she wore them silver, golden, brazen and iron. They clamored on her wrists and bangled her merry bosom. They girded her waist, slung very low at her hips. A tiny jeweled bell bounced in her pierced navel as her rounded little belly rippled … keeping time, time, time, in a sort of runic rhyme. Other bells ringed her ankles as she, barefoot, swayed and shimmied the length of the runway.

Tintinnabulacious!” Rue declared.

Certainement rings my bell,” said Dupin.

Mo’Jo strutted out, head high and sassy for all it apparently had an axe embedded in it. On one side, her hair was meticulous; on the other, it matted tangled and clotted around the tinfoil axe blade. Half her face was beautifully made up, with dramatic eyeshadow and thick lashes … the other half coursed with crimson sequins and fake blood. The theme continued in a scarlet silk sash, sequin-studded, spreading down her ample figure. In her arms, she carried a stuffed black cat with a white blaze of fur upon its breast. One of its eyes gouged from the mangled socket so that cotton batting protruded.

That is one nasty piece of pussy,” Santinato said.

Such a spirit of perverseness,” remarked Lenore.

Next we have … is that Zoenne?” said Rue, arching an eyebrow.

With slow and measured steps, someone in a hooded executioner’s robe moved down the runway toward the judges. Gloved hands emerged from voluminous sleeves, grasped the sides of the robe, and suddenly flung it aside to land in a coarse heap of fabric.

Beneath was Zoenne, a fetishist’s vision in stiletto-heeled boots and strategically-placed vinyl, zippers and chains.

But this alone was not what made the judges whoop and hoot with astonishment and mirth – from her groin there hung a long pole tipped with a curved silvery crescent; this device swung back and forth, arcs sweeping wider with each arrogant side-thrust of Zoenne’s hips.

Never did I think that the tortures of the Spanish Inquisition could look so good,” C. Auguste Dupin said.

There’s the pendulum,” said Santinato. “Are we also going to see the pit?”

Zoenne turned a thonged backside toward them and winked over her shoulder.

Good thing she didn’t do ‘The Conqueror Worm,’” Rue said. “Now, welcome back to the runway: Sh’Devila.”

White-apparelled, the mould-spotted cerements of the grave a tattered winding shroud that trailed in wisps and tendrils about her, came Sh’Devila. Her hair fell wildly in distressed ringlets. Her face was grey-pallored, the eyes shadowed and lustreless. Her lips drew back in a ghastly smile, the teeth of such prominence so as to stir the madman’s urge and lead his hand to the tools of dental surgery. Elongated nails, chipped and splintered, clawed from the fingered ends of hands dark with mortuary earth. “Ballyhooooooo,” she cried in a banshee’s shriek.

Ah-ah-ah-ah buried alive, buried alive,” said Santinato.

Reminds me of my sister,” added Usher, not without a wince.

Next up is Aloof … and my, my, once upon a midnight dreamy!”

The strapless full-length gown of obsidian velvet caressed Aloof’s sleek and stately lines. The plunging decolletage was trimmed not in marabou but in a brocade of black, silver and indigo silk threads, worked into a pattern of birds in flight. As she neared the end of the stage, suddenly there came a tapping, her shoes gently tapping on the runway floor. She spun, raising up her arms in a graceful allongé to extend wings of gauzy black feathers attached along their undersides in the manner of the goddess Isis; also like Isis were her dramatic eyes heavily outlined in deepest kohl.

Usher whistled low. “I’d quoth that!”

Kallie Entay wore a golden wig frizzed out into an immense afro, large beetle-shaped gold earrings, and sunglasses with oversized yellow lenses that were both bulged and faceted so that they resembled the eyes of an insect. Her gold lamé skirt clung to her hips, jet-black spots near the small of her back and the hem suggesting a skull or death’s-head. It was as if the carapace of some fabulous golden scarabaeus had gone into the making of the dress, its iridescent wings layered to form a translucent short cape that tied at the base of Kallie’s throat.

One of the Solid Gold-Bug Dancers,” Santinato said.

Looks like everything’s been heaped promiscuously into that treasure chest.” Usher grinned.

Last up, Viva Vavoom,” Rue said.

She emerged in a simple brown faux-fur coat, knee-length and in the style of the 1940’s. Her platinum blonde wig was tucked into a bright red snood, secured at the crown of her head with a bow and ornate paste-ruby heart-shaped pin. Her pumps were also bright red, her stockings seamed up the back. When she shrugged out of the coat to sling it over her shoulder, it was to reveal a vintage lace sheath dress worn with a wide red belt and another faux-ruby in the form of a brooch. Glamorous though it was, the theme was rather less than immediately apparent.

Dissemble no more,” Dupin said.

Oh, I see it now,” said Usher. “The disease has sharpened my senses, not destroyed and not dulled them.”

Thank you, ladies.” Rue gazed benignly upon them all. “While you untuck and enjoy an Amontillado cocktail in our Interior Masquerades lounge, the judges and I will deliberate.”

She then gathered her advisors and courtiers, and for a time they gave discourse and opinion, until the Queen signaled for silence.

I’ve heard enough,” Rue said. “Bring back my girls.”

The queens returned, lining up along the stage’s lower edge. Rue, their Queen, their Prospero, addressed each in turn.

Aloof, your raven was quaint and curious, not to be forgotten. As last week’s winner, you also have immunity. You’re safe.”

She ever-so-slightly inclined her head and moved to stand at the back of the stage.

Viva Vavoom,” Rue said, and sighed. “You brought us more of the same, again. I know you love your vamp look, and it does work for you, but any queen who hopes to follow in my footsteps needs to shake it up with some variety now and then. I’m sorry, my dear, but you are up for elimination.”

Pressing her red-lipsticked mouth into a tight line, which unfortunately showcased the creases around it, Viva swallowed thickly and nodded.

Kallie Entay from Puerto Rrrrrrico … still enjoying yourself?” asked the Queen.

Oh, absolutely, Rue! Why? Am I bugging you?”

Rue chuckled. “You’re safe. Zoenne, it’s been mentioned before that you’re coasting by on having that spectacular body, but tonight you showed us something we’d like to see more of … your creativity and humor. Condragulations. You’re safe. As for you, Mo’Jo, the axe was a garish and ghoulish touch. You’re also safe.”

Zoenne, Mo’Jo and Kallie joined Aloof, while Rue’s attention fixed on Cutie. Nervousness must have made her tremble, the susurration of the bells made a soft, musical sound.

Cutie Pebbles … In today’s challenges, you surprised and delighted. You brought us your cute and playful side, but you also brought the sexy. You’re this week’s winner.”

Cutie squealed, jittering her hands, and the bells rang for her joy. “Eeee, thank you, I love you Rue; I love you too Lenore, you’ve been my idol forever!”

Sh’Devila,” said Rue, once Cutie had pranced, jingling, to stand with the others.

Rue,” said Sh’Devila, already with a petulant scowl.

Your little black dress was nothing to write a purloined letter home about, and your premature burial left us cold. I’m sorry, my dear, but you are up for elimination.”

The two of them took their places, preparing themselves.

Two queens stand before me. Ladies, this is your last chance to impress me. The time has come for you to lip-sync for your life.” Rue savored the words with decadent ferocity. “Good luck … and don’t fuck it up.”

The music began, a driving R&B beat, Usher’s Fallin’ The House.

Sh’Devila spared Viva a moment’s pitying sneer – poor ol’ white bitch got no hope was what the look seemed to say. Her own lip-sync routine turned out, however, to have less to do with lip-synching, and more with aiming a lot of booty-shaking and droppin’ it like it was hot at Usher.

Viva, meanwhile, somehow dug deep and found her inner bodacious babe. She moved as if excited to fury, with violent gesticulations. She whipped off her snood and tossed her platinum curls in a wild frenzy. Anything was more tolerable than Sh’Devila’s derision; she could bear that mockery no longer. She brought it louder and louder! Hark! Louder! Louder!

When the song ended, her heart must have been pounding so vehemently the judges could hardly fail to hear it. Her breath heaved. Gasping, she turned to the judges, knowing that come what may she had given it her utmost, and lip-synched for her life.

Viva,” said Rue. “You may call yourself a dowager, but you just proved there’s plenty of life in that old queen yet. Shante, you stay.”

Her lashes fluttered, not as an affectation but in a rapid effort at blinking back tears. She pressed shaky fingertips together and dipped a grateful nod at the judges, silently mouthing, “Thank you.”

Sh’Devila made a disgruntled noise somewhere between a huff and a snort.

Rue took a slow breath and released it with a shake of her head. “Sh’Devila. Your second chance didn’t make it to a last-minute reprieve. This was your final hour. Now your time’s up. Good luck, my dear. Now … sashay … away.”

It was not so much sashay as stomp, with a dismissive flip of her hand. Then she was gone.

Once again,” said Rue, “six queens stand before me. Ask yourselves, who has what it takes to go the distance, and who’s run her course? And remember … if you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else? Can I get an A-men up in here?”

A-men!” chorused the queens and judges alike.

Then let the music play!” the Queen commanded.

And it did, and they danced, and when the ebony clock next struck the hour it held no dominion over them … not then, and nevermore.

BizarroCon 2017

For many, the official Most Wonderful Time Of The Year is from late-November through January 1st. For me, it’s October through mid-November. My daughter’s birthday, the Halloween season, and autumn … which then builds up to and culminates in BIZARROCON!!!

THE main event around which I schedule my personal calendar. A major reason why moving to Portland was a no-brainer when the opportunity for a big life re-org rolled around. The community of creative weirdos to which I love to belong is centered here, with gatherings and activities year-round, but BizarroCon is the biggie. It brings together participants from across the country and around the globe, in a weekend of lots of things starting with F — friends, family, fun, fermentation, and food, to say the least.

BizarroCon is held at McMenamin’s Edgefield in Troutdale Oregon, perhaps the only hotel in the world to be a perfect match — quirky architecture and art, on-site breweries and distilleries, totally haunted, generally and genuinely bizarre in its own right.

Part convention with panels and readings and workshops … part reunion with parties and long chats and soaks in the hot pool … art happens, ideas are shared, connections are made … lives are forever changed, hopefully in all the best ways … and this has been happening for a full decade now!

Yes, that’s right, this year was BizarroCon 10. TEN! And still going strong, better than ever, no matter how much wishful thinking bitter whinypants rubbish there is about the genre dying or selling out or being cucked to libtardery by SJWs or whatever-the-hell. The genre, the scene, the community, and the con are all doing just fine.

Many previous attendees couldn’t make it this time but sent their well-wishes in the form of notes added to the program booklet, which also contained puzzles and comics and other quirky amusements, even a secret appearance by Squishy the cat!

I could, and probably will, go on and on about the organizers, the core group of OG bizarros, the fantabulous Rose O’Keefe and her crew, Eraserhead Press and its imprints that made this genre the growing and enduring powerhouse that it is. If you don’t know by now how awesome these folks are, you really should. Not only do they make amazing books and run amazing events, they’re the best group of people you’ll ever meet.

Even for a first-timer, this con can feel just like coming home. Coming home to the home you may not even have known you were looking for, or the home you’ve been missing. It’s acceptance and belonging and celebration, a place where you can proudly let your freak flag fly without worrying about being embarrassed or ashamed.

Personally, just in the past few years I’ve been running with this crowd, I’ve felt it like an emergence and a blossoming … where those around me are no longer just putting up with my wackiness (in writing, cooking, crafts, and more) … but welcome, embrace, and encourage it. I feel so much less self-conscious about the oddball stuff that I do, inspired to cut loose and go further.

This year, more than any previous thus far, I NEEDED BizarroCon. I had not anticipated having 2017 derailed midway through by a cancer diagnosis, surgery, radiation treatments, and basically turning my whole world inside-out. The knowledge this con was coming up helped keep me motivated and positive. I wasn’t going to miss it. No matter what shape I was in, if they had to roll me in on a gurney with tubes in my face, goddamn it I was going to BE there.

Fortunately, the gurney and tubes thing didn’t happen. I’d pushed through for enough of a recovery that I made it under my own power. Couldn’t talk worth a damn, couldn’t do readings or be on panels or participate in the Showdown like I’d planned from last year … on mostly liquid diet and not even liquid in the fun beery boozy way (then again, I wasn’t much of a one for that in the first place) … hitting my pain meds and staving off fatigue (going without daily naps for the first time since July!) … but I was THERE.

There, and continued my tradition of bringing platters of goodies; my BizarroCon baking is quickly approaching my Holiday Baking Extravaganza in terms of scope and scale. There, and with some kooky crafts to deliver. There, 50 lbs lighter with head freshly shaved thanks to scraggly hair loss, tired as hell and looking like microwaved shit. But I was there.

I did miss the pre-con party hosted by Garrett Cook and Ivan Zoric; though they never fail to put on a good time with an awesome spread of food, I reluctantly knew I’d better rest up if I was going to make it through the entire weekend. Several locals and in-town-earlies got together over there, and if facebook is any indication, fine times were had by all.

On Thursday, Doug Blakeslee arrived to crash at our place and commute back and forth with me (and also, as it turns out, to keep an eye on me, make sure I stayed fed/hydrated and didn’t overdo it, etc.). I took my final prep-nap and then we drove over in time for the official convention kickoff.

Our own genial mad scientist Lee Widener presided again over badges and programs, also giving out nifty little canisters containing nifty little treasures (I got a d6 bead and a tiny bronze-tone skull bead!) plus clue papers to identify bizarro books. Those were tough; here we were, including many of the people who’d written, edited, published, or reviewed the books in question, standing around baffled going “uhhh …”

There were swag-bags of donated comics from a local store, as well as the freebie table loaded with buttons (some Buddy System ones, as well as the final run of highly coveted Word Whore limited edition!) and stickers and bookmarks and other such trinkets. I commenced with the collecting of big hugs, stocking up on teh luvs like a squirrel gathering nuts for winter as more and more people rolled on in.

This group gives good hugs, too, for the record. Serious full-on warm firm hugs. I whined to John Skipp about how cold my head was and asked him how he did it; he said hats, fair enough. Everyone seemed so glad to see me, sympathetic and supportive of the hell I’d been through, proud of me for making it, and that helped make the ordeal worth it.

Speaking of people who’ve been through ordeals, not only had my gal Amber Fallon seen her own share of medical miseries, but she’d been up since insane o’clock at airports and on planes and jetlagged half to death, but she hung in there like a champ for most of the evening. I presented her with one of my latest craft projects, warblers inspired by her book of the same name, a whole box of the nasty little critters; she loved ’em.

And speaking of craft projects, I also gave Lisa LeStrange a pickle princess crown, because she’s the one responsible for what is now a new BizarroCon tradition — the Pickle Party! This year was the second annual, and it took place Thursday night after opening ceremonies.

There were so many pickled things! So many things that I wouldn’t eat even if they weren’t pickled … and some things that maybe should never be pickled … chicken’s feet being a good example of both. There were even whiskey pickle jello shots, which I later described as looking like gelatinous cubes made of snot; imagine tossing one of those wobblies down your gob, eew! The winner was Carlton Mellick III for his pickled cauliflower; I missed seeing what the prize was.

Also on the table, but literally, were cheeses and crackers, and Ross Lockhart did a beer sampler tasting (I did not partake, but sniffed each; the blood orange stuff smelled too grapefruity for me but the others I might not have minded trying), and later on I understand Michael Allen Rose led people further into debauchery with samplers of harder liquors.

But first, Jeff Burk tried to kill himself, Kevin L. Donihe, and several volunteers who really should have known better, with ten different kinds of death peppers from his garden. Apparently, they started off “mild.” I guess when you get pepper sprayed by the police during protests as often as Jeff does, your perspective becomes somewhat skewed. From “mild” they progressed to “volcanic” and “nuclear firestorm” and “yea verily the superheated plasma of Satan,” judging by the reactions I witnessed … though Jeff described them more as “having some kick” as the ends of his dreads began to smolder.

Oh, there were red faces, there was sweating, there was coughing and wheezing and stamping and swearing, there were eyes watering like broken sprinklerheads. There were people cramming down fistfuls of cheese in hopes of the dairy quenching the burn (I believe Donihe was doing shots of creamer straight from the carafe).

Psychologically, though, all this made for a success and a great start to the con. Studies show that shared experiences, particularly shared sufferings, can forge and strengthen bonds. Between the pickles and the peppers, there was plenty of shared suffering to go around!

And that, to the best of my recollection, was Thursday. Doug and I drove home through rain and obnoxious roadwork delays (shout out to the driver of the white truck who straddled the line to cockblock those assholes who liked to zoom up the closing lane past everyone else to merge at the very last minute instead of zippering in nicely like decent human beings).

Friday, neither of us were in early workshops so we dawdled over in time for the Ad House reading blocks to begin. Another friend, Wade, had signed up for the con but health issues left him able to attend only a few hours on Friday … though of course years of hearing us talk about it and seeing the kinds of books we bring home can never fully prepare someone for BizarroCon in all its glory.

I once again brought a bounty of baked goods to set out in the Ad House. Six kinds — mint chip cookies, Reese’s Threeses, caramel apple mini-muffins, classic krispie treats, coffee-chocolate brownies, cyclops eye sugar cookie cups — and some leftover Halloween candy. Between those sweets, and the salties brought by Jason Spicoli Martens (enough Chex mix to fill a bathtub, good god!), we had the snackage department covered.

I also had a cookie fund donation jar, totes optional and all, because I love everybody and love doing this but damn this year my finances took a wallop and every little bit helps … thinking to maybe scrounge a few bucks to recoup some of the cost of ingredients. And you know what? This community is either generous or easily guilt-tripped or both; they came through for me in a big way and I love ’em all the more for it!

My other main role on Friday was to monitor the reading blocks, make sure we didn’t get too far off track. It’s a gig I love, not only because it means I get to kick back and sit around all day, but I get to hear several hours of amazing readings. Next year though, we should see about getting a lamp or something to go on that mantle; it gets a little dim in there.

Starting us off were the inimitable Dr. Q and Shane McKenzie, both of whom been absent from the con for far, far too long. Other highlights would have to include a sermon by Jeff Burk and Kevin L. Donihe on the hazards of masturbation, a sexy visit to the North Pole courtesy of the dulcet tones of Robert Devereaux, the poetic living performance art that is Jennifer Robin, a wrenching and poignant sharing from Sam Richard (apologies to Jason Rizos, who should’ve had the second half of the block; I couldn’t bring myself to interrupt and think the audience felt the same), and many more fine readers presenting a wide range of stories. It’s a great way to get an introduction and overview to what the genre’s all about.

After that came dinner break. I went over to the Power Station restaurant with Doug, had coffee for the first time in a while, and mushmouth jabbered his ears off (the coffee may have had something to do with that). Also had clam chowder, and he told me about the dialogue workshop he’d attended; sounded like a fun one.

Then it was back to the Ad House for the Eraserhead Press party, where books and beer really meet! Each year, a selection of titles have specialty brews brewed to go with them by expert brewmasters Jason Rizos and Cameron Pierce, with book cover labeled bottles ceremonially presented to the authors. Each year also features a commemorative pint glass (art by Jim Agpalza!), so I added another to my collection.

Rose gave a speech on this the tenth anniversary, announced next year’s Eraserhead titles (a good-looking lineup!), and had the head editors of the imprints give updates (to my delight, Jeff mentioned my recent Deadite release, Spermjackers From Hell! available now, get it, read it, review it, it’s gooshy!). A toast was held in honor of Cameron Pierce and the closing Lazy Fascist Press. Garrett Cook shared some info on the New Bizarro Author Series, where a lot of fresh talent bursts onto the scene.

Once business was out of the way, it was time for the entertainment portion of the party, during which the celebrated authors cut loose. We had Amber Fallon offering deals with the devil, Michael Allen Rose preaching the eggy gospel (I Kanye’d him after, couldn’t resist a bad pun), Danger Slater subjecting unlucky volunteers to a wheel of wormy misfortune, Cameron Pierce sharing some intimate details of his life with Dennis the duck, Kirsten Alene relating a budding young critic’s book insights, and Carlton Mellick III bringing the metal.

These were followed by music courtesy of Slow Poisoner Andrew Goldfarb, accompanied by John Skipp on bongos, Kevin L. Donihe on the theramin, guest guitarist Christoph Paul, and possibly more but I don’t know because I was tired and had wussed out and gone home before the show started. Taking with me, though, my first books of the weekend — Under the Shanghai Tunnels by Lee Widener (in return gave him a copy of The Raven’s Table, yay Vikings!), and Amber Fallon’s TV Dinners From Hell.

I should have been smart and bought more books that night, snazzy new releases and some that won’t even come out until next year, but I foolishly figured there’d be time enough to snag those later. I really should know better. Happens every time. They sell out fast! I did manage to pick up Drag Queen Dino Fighters by M.P. Johnson, Big Meat by Carlton Mellick III, and Paper Mache Jesus by Kevin L. Donihe; my post-BizarroCon reading is always a treat.

Saturday morning began with the traditional Edgefield breakfast buffet — the bacon alone is worth the price of admission! not that I could eat it this year, but I could look and smell and watch others enjoying it! (I do this a lot, this vicarious thing, not only with drinking but with spicy food and other life adventures; it’s probably getting creepy by now).

Next, I went over to the Ad House to replenish the cookie platters, then hung out and doodled/poemed strange sea critters in the slam book while the artists’ challenge went on. They drew slips of paper with prompts (wacky and often NSFW prompts), then went to work. Jim Agpalza ran the show, and participants included Liv Rainey-Smith, Erik Wilson, Andrew Goldfarb, and Nick “The Hat” Gucker. The results were excellent, and interesting to say the least. Some sort of impromptu art class or draw-in also seemed to be going on at the back table.

At 11:00, the official Book Nook opened, where I was thrilled to see MY book there on the table right next to works by the likes of Laura Lee Bahr, Jeremy Robert Johnson, and other big names! I snapped a pic and good thing too because they sold out soon after. People actually bought them … I got sought out to sign some (wavies to Russell Holbrook and Michael Sean LeSeur in particular, you made my days!) … it still doesn’t feel real!

I went to a panel on character development … dropped in on the Word Horde block to listen to Ross Lockhart, Mike Griffin, Nathan Carson, and a heartwrenching reading by Tiffany Scandal … did not in the talking board, aww … caught another panel on bizarro world-building … and then a lively one on extreme horror. All of them were great fun; wish I could have participated! Next time for sure.

Now, as full-on awesome and amazing as the entire convention is, I think all would agree that Saturday evening is THE big deal. That’s when the magic really happens. That’s the night of the Wonderland Awards dinner, when the best of the best of bizarro fiction from the previous year are recognized.

First, though, we all crammed into the back of the ballroom for the group photo, and then people lined up for the traditional fajita feast (though not for me; Doug brought me a big cup of stew from one of the restaurants, continuing his goal of making sure I had sustenance). The hotel staff was terrific throughout, by the way, and I understand ours continues to be a gladly-worked event. We’ve got to be a lot more entertaining than your average wedding party.

Major kudos to Jes Ku’uleilani for stepping up and taking over centerpiece duties! The stones marked with runes and sigils were a big hit (I sneaked one home in my purse), the mad libs seemed to go over well, and the fact she incorporated a black rabbit theme without even knowing the history of Edgefield with its art is … way cool but also kind of eerie!

Unlike so many other awards ceremonies across movies, music, and other media, I like the Wonderlands best because I’m familiar with most if not all of the nominees. I’ve read and reviewed the books, I know the authors and publishers, and let me tell you, every year the competition becomes stronger and the voting more difficult. Narrowing it down to the final slate alone is tough. They all deserve it, and everybody wins, because this genre just keeps getting better and better.

Ross Lockhart emceed the proceedings, with assistance by award presenters Cody Goodfellow and Kevin L. Donihe. The winners this year were Emma (M.P.) Johnson for Berzerkoids in the collection category, and Danger Slater’s I Will Rot Without You (which presented me my most challenging doll project to date!) for novels. Immensely pleased for and proud of both Emma and Danger, and everyone who made the ballot.

One might expect that would be it, awards awarded, commence with the afterparty. But not so fast! Not here! Not where everything that’s come before — the crazy upon crazier to a degree most conventions can barely aspire to glimpse — is really still only the warm-up. Not when it’s time for the ULTIMATE BIZARRO SHOWDOWN!!!

Hosted, of course, by our own ultimate bizarro showman, Michael Allen Rose, with the capable assistance of the stunning-in-every-sense Sauda Namir … these two, I know I’ve waxed rhapsodic about them in reports past, but there really is no way for mere words to convey their sheer sextacular wow factor. Last year’s steampunk regalia had given way this time to silken purple silvery-feathered splendor, befitting the bizarro royalty that they are, and the violet wand returned to help encourage contestants to follow the rules (well, in theory; some of these folks sure like getting zapped, rules or no rules).

What followed was several hours of such madness as can barely be described. We had rap and human theramin music. We had accordion exercise class. We had a giant patriotic golem, the real truth about the war on Christmas, and a blistering rebuttal to literary ‘criticism.’ We had a bikini babe speed-solving rubix cubes during an argument on human trafficking. We had a surprise film screening and a cautionary tale about telling someone to SMILE. We had dusty cowboys and helpful fishing tips. We had a golden dong that would’ve made Priapus blink. We had a take on The Aristocrats so gross I don’t think the world will ever recover. We had scandalous language, a fair amount of nudity, a fantastic array of prizes, and more I’m probably forgetting.

The esteemed panel of judges — Robert Devereaux, Laura Lee Bahr, John Skipp, and Gina Ranalli — once again had their work cut out for them. Shane McKenzie took first place, donning a hospital gown chosen to replace the fabulous muumuu destroyed last year by a single flex from Gabino Iglesias, who was not here to defend his title.

(For the record, Amber and I are not wild about this new ceremonial wardrobe development; we’ve both spent far too much time in hospital gowns lately and agreed if either of us wins next time, that’s the last kind of garment we’d want to wear! Boo! Protest!)

The second place pinata of mystery went to Peter Dale and his accordion, and the fact he got like six guys to take their pants off in front of everyone. Third place, or first loser, complete with disguise kit for hiding one’s shame, was bestowed upon Andrew Goldfarb and AmeriMonster (the hero we need!). Special judge’s choice awards also went to Joshua Spicoli Martens for his, uh, rear view … and the filmmaker whose name I didn’t catch, who also treated us to a rear view complete with bootyshake googly eyes.

I gather the actual afterparty did then go on until the wee small hours and beyond, but once again Doug and I headed out for our drive (foggy, less roadwork), followed by some kitty time and then sleep.

For obvious reasons, programming is lighter and later on Sundays. We breakfasted — I braved something slightly more solid, having a whole coffee cup of sausage gravy (don’t judge me!) — and then Doug hung out chatting with Nicholas Day and Sam Richard and Emma Johnson and some other folks while I went to check on the state of the cookies.

The final two panels — one on creating weirdness in a post-weird world, and another on the tricks of the publication trade — were followed by the bizarro film screening, opening with Cody Goodfellow’s uproarious piscene-perversity music video, “Baby Got Bass” (which features some familiar faces as backup dancers!).

The film shorts, compiled by John Skipp and efficiently run by Lori Bowen, never fail to be hilarious, provocative, mind-blowing, and wild. Uptight newlyweds accidentally booking their honeymoon at the house of a thousand dildos, mood-altering apps, the perils of satanic death metal, barking schoolgirls, a science experiment decades in the making, a young would-be vampire, a couple of dudes who discover a really weird hole in reality … just all kinds of incredible visual weirdness to enjoy.

Woefully, though, all good things must come to an end, even BizarroCon. But the fun still went on after closing ceremonies. There was Kevin L. Donihe’s ghost hunting tour — as I understand it, no one survived — and more drinking to be done and more trips to the soaking pool. Well, not for me; for me it was home and collapse for like fourteen hours of sleep.

Despite having four full days, it’s never enough time to visit with everyone, to hang out and chat. Nearly four thousand words into this write-up, I’m still sure I’m leaving all kinds of stuff out.

Some standout moments include: wondering if I’d misheard Vince Kramer saying he was going to the kitchen for a glass of chicken (I had not misheard; the Ad House has limited dishware available) … lending a blanket from my car to Jeff Burk because evidently he and his roomies could each have only two out of three sleepytime amenities … coming home with a coloring book of farting animals courtesy of Q (the penguin is my favorite) … demanding Shane McKenzie show me pics of his kids … Sophia Lechner’s bikini may have been the eensiest I’ve ever seen in person … Emma and Sauda continue to have legs like whoa …

Tremendous praise to Chris Lesko for capturing so many glorious moments on camera, and Leza Cantoral who also got memorable video … to Lisa LeStrange for managing the Book Nook and pint glass sales like a boss … to Rick Henley, who made an heroic effort to keep up with all the peppers … big thanks to Skipp for keeping the Ad House fires going all nice and cozy … to everyone for all the hugs I so sorely needed … of course, to Rose O’Keefe and her crew for once again putting on THE event of the year!

I really cannot say enough good things about this convention, this community, this genre, and these people. Obviously. This is my true home, where I belong. If it’s yours, too, thank you and I love you! If you’re reading this and curious, wondering if you belong too, hey, come check it out; there’s plenty of hugs, beer, books, cookies, and weirdness to go around!

Interviews all over the place!

I’m featured on The Reading Lists:

http://www.thereadinglists.com/christine-morgan-reading-list/

Also made a twofer over at The Gal in the Blue Mask:

https://the-gal-in-the-blue-mask.blogspot.com/2017/10/the-gals-2017-halloween-frivolities-day_24.html (me)

https://the-gal-in-the-blue-mask.blogspot.com/2017/10/the-gals-2017-halloween-frivolities-day_51.html (my character Nathaniel Caron from an upcoming series!)

Is this what being popular is like? I can get used to this! Big thanks to the hosts for hosting, and the fun questions!

**

 

 

 

Bonus Bizarro Reviews!

In which I look at Supercenter by Jason Rizos, and the newly-released Parasite Milk by Carlton Mellick III!

Title: Supercenter
Author: Jason Rizos
Publisher: Montag Press
Website: http://www.montagpress.com

I don’t know how I’d missed this one for so long; this is just the kind of thing out of which I get a huge kick! A core element of the whole American aftermath dystopia, be it zombies or virus or nukes, revolves around the notion of the big box store. That’s half of everyone’s survival plan — solid building, few entrances, no windows, secure, well-stocked.

I’ve seen so many stories over the years playing with this idea … I remember one where the various stores became like little kingdoms, negotiating … I remember the miraculously untouched store in Swan Song … but, in Supercenter, Jason Rizos takes the whole concept to an entirely new level.

A long-term new level, in which an entire generation grows up never knowing anything of the world outside. They’re raised to be diligent Buy-All associates and shoppers, in a fluorescent-lit climate-controlled environment, doing their shifts, enjoying what entertainment the electronics department has to offer.

For a talented young fellow like G.E., his best prospects lie in his success in the gaming arenas of the Virtual Training Corps. If he wins there, he can secure a better future for himself and his sister, both left in the care of the Buy-All by their parents many years ago.

But G.E. may be too clever and curious for his own good. Here, questions, of course, are discouraged. The weirdos and malcontents who live off the company clock over in the ominous Aisle 39 are not to be trusted. Even when he finds what appear to be blueprints, there’s certainly no point speculating what might be outside the store, let alone trying to get there …

Suffice to say, he tries, and is in for a few shocks to his system as he begins to realize nothing is as he’s been taught to believe. Particularly the differences between video game combat and reality

Wonderfully imagined, well-thought-out, rich with wry humor and a surprising amount of pathos, Supercenter is an enjoyable read from start to finish, hitting a good balance between leaving plenty of room for speculation and reaching satisfying conclusions.

**

Title: Parasite Milk
Author: Carlton Mellick III
Publisher: Eraserhead Press
Website: http://www.eraserheadpress.com

The author’s note opens with “I didn’t feel like writing a real introduction to this book, so here is a recipe for spaghetti tacos” (followed by a recipe I don’t know if I dare try at home). The bonus section at the end, where an afterword would go, is the most adorable and hilarious yet of CMIII’s personal comic strips.

Those alone are worth the price of admission, but the story in the middle is loads of sick fun too. Like it’s a cookie sammich, the intro and afterword the cookies, the rest an octuple-stuff layer of …

Okay, the middle layer of octuple-stuff is made of kinky alien sex, culinary atrocities, and all kinds of messed-up fungoid grossness. But fun! Fun in the way that will make you cringe, utter helpless mewling eew sounds, and maybe throw up in your mouth a little.

It also suggests that maybe since McDonalds hasn’t come after him yet for previous works, he’s set his sights somewhat higher. One can only imagine what Andrew Zimmern and the network execs will make of this season of Bizarre Foods!

Once you’ve tried all the most exotic dishes Earth has to offer, though, what else is there to do but take things to the next level? This is the future. Contact has been made, travel is possible, Earth is only one part of a galactic community. Time to scout out some new worlds for their ‘delicacies’!

The world in question is called Kynaria, a mushroom planet inhabited by civilized fungal lifeforms, telepathic slugs, and behemoths with colonies of clam-things infesting their rear ends. Cameraman Irving Rice has just arrived to prep for filming, but his production partner Mick wants to make sure he gets the full experience.

Which means, Kynarian hotels, Kynarian restaurants, Kynarian public transportation, Kynarian lavatory facilities, and, of course, Kynarian brothels! Irving, not very keen on the idea of getting busy with slugs or mushroom women, finds himself enticed by a plantlike pretty sylph-creature.

She’s alluring, she’s intoxicating, she’s sexy and insatiable and downright addictive. But, to his consternation, everyone else reacts as if he’s committed the most obscene and perverse act possible.

To his further consternation, Irving then begins developing some alarming symptoms, and realizes he may have caught something worse than your run-of-the-mill STD. His only hope is to get back to Earth for treatment, if he can.

**

Post-Surgery Book Sale

Signed copies, personalized on request! Act fast, quantities limited!
Free shipping! (US only)
Free CURSE OF THE SHADOW BEASTS (MageLore Book 1) and other random bonus books with all orders!

$10.00 each:
MURDER GIRLS — college housemates become serial killers!
THE RAVEN’S TABLE — Viking-themed tales of horror and dark fantasy!
SPERMJACKERS FROM HELL — let’s summon a succubus!

$8.00 each:
BLACK ROSES — demon dream lover incubus smut!
GIFTED CHILDREN — science experiment spooky kids!
CHANGELING MOON — warring secret shapeshifters!
TELL NO TALES — reality show on haunted pirate island!
HIS BLOOD — bringing back vampire Jesus!
HORNED ONES — show cave, cave-in, cave monsters!

$6.00 each:
FOSSIL LAKE — an anthology of the aberrant!
FOSSIL LAKE II: THE REFOSSILING — another anthology of the aberrant!
FOSSIL LAKE III: UNICORNADO — storms and horns, rainbows, carnage!
FOSSIL LAKE IV: SHARKASAURUS — toothy chompy horrors of land and sea!
DARK OF THE ELVENWOOD (MageLore Book 2) — it’s got elves!
ARCHMAGE OF THE UNIVERSE (MageLore Book 3) — it’s got an evil minotaur wizard!

$12.00:
NAUGHTY AND DICE: AN ADULT GAMER’S GUIDE TO SEXUAL SITUATIONS — sex up your RPGs!

$20.00:
The ElfLore hardcover omnibus, SILVERSILK, KNIGHT OF THE BASILISK, and TRUEGOLD! Follow-up trilogy to MageLore!

Yes I take Paypal!

Message me on Facebook or email at christinemariemorgan@gmail.com to order, question, haggle, or whatever! Bundles, counteroffers, trades, let’s deal, let’s do this!

And please share; mad medical bills, need money, could also use some shelf space! Thanks!