SPLATTERPUNK NOMINEE

Been slacking on updates here, and will try to make up for that! In the meantime, here’s one huge staggering shock of an announcement … works of mine made the ballot for the Splatterpunk Awards in not just one, not two, but THREE categories! I’m honored! (and fairly unnerved).

Read all about it:

Christine Morgan leads list of Splatterpunk Awards nominees

https://www.briankeene.com/news/2020-splatterpunk-award-nominees

Awards to be announced at KillerCon in Austin Texas, August 2020! 

Viking shamelessness!

Last night, I attended the Amon Amarth “Berserker” tour show in Portland. Ulterior motive for shelling out extra for the meet-and-greet ticket was in hopes of getting The Raven’s Table into their hands. Didn’t quite go as planned but still have hopes it’ll work!

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Monstrously long concert report:

The few things that could’ve gone better were, for the most part, my own doing. Misunderstood the instructions on the meet-and-greet, so didn’t check in where I was supposed to, and therefore missed the actual meet-and-greet part. Was able to pick up my swag bag though, which included a badge and lanyard, a poster autographed by the Amon Amarth members, and other goodies.

Was also able to foist the stack of signed copies of The Raven’s Table and a box of nutships off on the meet-and-greet worker, who promised to deliver them to the band. Here’s hoping! Bummer though it was to not get my goofy plastic Viking shield signed, or have a pic taken, the mere possibility that they might read and maybe even enjoy them is what matters.

(I mean, okay, sure, a response or boost-post or – dare an old gal to dream – an eventual song based on one of my stories would be beyond fantastic, but, I at least know I’m as close as I’ve ever been to achieving the main goal! Already got Professor Drout, to my astonished delight; that’d just leave Bernard Cornwell from the “inspirations thanked on the acknowledgment page!)

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Anyway, so I waited outside with the main line. The guy ahead of me noticed me wiping my eyes and was all concerned, but I explained how they’re still watery-wonky from the face surgeries, and he fistbumped me. Then, on the way in, the admittance-stamp guy is all “left inner wrists please,” and I upturn my gnarly frankenarm, and his moment of hesitation and looking at me was priceless. “Right on the scar!” I say, so, k-ponk, he does.

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Inside and upstairs, I managed to avoid the siren call of the merch tables, and staked out a spot by a support beam because I’d been here before and knew I wanted to have something to brace against when things got crowded (or hide behind if they got out of control). Turned out to be a good choice for many reasons, though I can also mention, when the music started, the building-rattling bass notes and percussion meant that beam could’ve about performed CPR on a person. I’d also made sure to bring earplugs.

Among the notable beforehand people-watchings were this one creepy roving-around dude who reminded me of a certain nickerdoodle, a young couple who were practicing their ballroom dance moves before the place filled up and who also couldn’t keep their hands off each other most of the show, a gal who looked half metal-goth and half rockabilly, and a maybe-five-years-old kid wearing ginormous headphones up on presumably dad’s shoulders. Raising them right!

The venue, the Roseland Theater, is smallish, with a balcony area of seats for the VIP big spenders and open take-your-chances floorspace below. Both were packed. We’re talking a sea of hair and tattoos, beards, black band-logo t-shirts, and stompy boots. Many big guys. Many, many, big, BIG guys.

With, as the show got underway, ALL the headbanging and the horn-throwing. And the mosh-pitting and the crowd-surfing. Roars and bellows and battle cries. Burly arms beating at the air. A mixture of sweat, adrenaline, beer, and testosterone hanging like a fog.

The first acts were Grand Magus and At The Gates, okay enough but didn’t particularly grab me. Did find it amusing that, during one of the pauses between for the roadies to swap stuff out, the background music included circus music and “Twist and Shout.” Not that anybody in the mosh-pit area rose to the challenge, for some reason …

Then, Arch Enemy came on, and I discovered a new addition to my faves. Wow. Dang. Their frontwoman, I either have a mad girlcrush or want to be in her post-apocalyptic raiding gang. Or both. Fierce, powerful, gorgeous, terrifying, sexy without being slutty, magnificent hair, dynamic energy, voice of a lioness.

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I’ve since checked out more of their music, too, and much of it is along the lines of standing strong, being yourself, owning your part of the world, taking no shit, and anyone who doesn’t like it can fuck right off. These are all sentiments I very strongly agree with. Their videos, too, seem to focus on her ferocity, strength, and power. Epic and impressive. I’m hooked.

During the scene-change break between their set and the headliners, though, the medical stresses of the past couple years caught up with me bigtime. This was the longest I’d been on my feet since the surgeries, not to mention by far the most hectic, loud, crowded environment I’d been in. And, fine, the headbanging (minimal though mine was) probably didn’t help either, but, some impulses cannot be denied.

My ever-so-helpful corporeal form decided I needed a reminder that I’m still not at 100%, and this might’ve been overdoing it for someone my age even if I had been at 100%. I went all shaky and woozy, not sure if I was going to throw up or keel over (or, again, both). This was when I was extra glad for that abovementioned beam, which I clung to. And this was when a security guy named Paul came to my rescue.

He’d spotted my distress, led me to a chair in the wheelchair zone behind the fencing, and let me sit there with my head down until the swiminess and shaking stopped. He then continued keeping an eye on me for the duration of the show, checking in to make sure I was okay. He even brought me over to the edge nearest the stage corner for a song so I could take some unobstructed pictures.

First thing I did when I woke up today? Emailed the venue to fill them in on my situation and tell them how much I appreciated his kindness and diligence. Sure, maybe it was less of a hassle than it would’ve been to have to stop everything and call an ambulance if I’d gone and passed out, but I still regard it as above and beyond. THANK YOU, PAUL!

His helpful intervention allowed me to recuperate enough to make it through the rest of the evening with only occasional steadying reliance on my trusty support beam. I would’ve hated to miss the main event! Which was, once again, as Viking-tastic as anybody could’ve wanted. With smoke, and lightning, and Mjolnir, and enormous drinking horns.

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All right, I could be a pedantic historical accuracy pain in the butt and quibble about the giant horned helmet set, but the warriors who came onstage to fight had proper helmets. As for Loki … can blame part of that on Marvel, I suppose, and who’s going to tell Loki what to do anyway?

When it was done, I retreated to a wall to wait for the horde to disperse, and watched the teardown as well as the last-minute surge to the merch table. Also saw something that reminded me of one of Carlton Mellick III’s readings … this guy was huge, shirtless, drenched in sweat, and tending to his for-some-reason very red and abraded-looking nipples. I dunno what he was doing out there, and I wasn’t about to ask.

Eventually, I made my way out, walked back to the MAX station with only a couple of wrong turns (seriously, never underestimate my ability to get lost in a city). On the train, I listened in on a conversation among some very well-dressed people that started with best self-help books, went from there to how Alexa was bringing us into the Matrix world, and then somehow to bow-hunting. I still cannot figure out how they managed those segues, but, that’s Portland for you.

Oh, I was footsore, I was achy all over, I was more exhausted than I’d been in a long time. It was well after midnight when I got home. Took half a pill since I didn’t think regular tylenol would cut it this time, had some food, cuddled with kitties, and then as soon as the food coma combined with the pain pill kicked in, went to bed.

For, what, eleven hours? Maybe twelve? Then got up and did some chores, then had a nap because I couldn’t resist burritoing myself in my fresh-from-the-dryer comforter, then got up again to shower and go to work.

I’m still tired. I still ache. But it was worth every bit. Every single bit. And next time, I won’t mess up the meet-and-greet!

Bonus Book Reviews!

Since not *everything* I read is horror, not everything qualifies for The Horror Fiction Review, but that’s no reason not to share my opinions! Here are a couple of my recent more fantasy-ish reads … the Gunsmoke and Dragonfire anthology from Aradia Press, and Spencer Ellsworth’s The Great Fae Strike from Broken Eye Books!

Title: Gunsmoke and Dragonfire

Editor: Diane Morrison

Publisher: Aradia Press

Website: http://www.dianemorrisonfiction.com

I’m mostly familiar with westerns of the horror or weird variety, but wasn’t about to turn up my nose at some fantasy westerns too, because there’s something about the themes and setting of what make a ‘western’ that blend well across many genres. This anthology, including some novella-length pieces among the shorter works, explores several different realms of possibility, while maintaining that overall spirit of grit, ruggedness, and possibility.

It opens and sets the stage with Ethan Hedman’s fun story, “Inheritance,” takes on the classic fantasy themes of enchanted items and magical shopkeepers, when a gunslinger with a family legacy strolls in to request repairs on an heirloom.

From there, we’re off to the wild country, with outlaws, marshals, mysterious riders, showdowns in the dusty streets, native legends come to life, appearances by dwarves and dragons, high-stakes card games, tenacious homesteaders, and striking scenery.

Although the introduction makes a point about distinguishing between fantasy and sci-fi or spec-fic westerns, many of the entries here did strike me more sci-fi than fantasy, not a necessarily bad thing but it was surprising to see so many involving space-tech, time travel, and eras with their own flavors and feels not quite what seemed western. And steampunk, of course; steampunk and westerns go too well together not to indulge!

Some of my faves:

The Case of the Vanishing Unicorns” by James Blakely; even if it reads a little more like a gumshoe noir, it’s a whimsical look at the hassles of unicorn ranching, and … I mean, come on, unicorn ranching!

Liam Hogan’s “Pinkerton,” giving an enjoyable steampunky twist to the idea of the famed (or notorious, depending on your view) lawmen.

Sean Jones’ “By Way of Answer,” which reads like a cross between a Viking saga and a loner’s journey of grief and revenge, with some lovely use of language and rhythm.

**

Title: The Great Faerie Strike 

Author: Spencer Ellsworth

Publisher: Broken Eye Books

Website: http://www.brokeneyebooks.com

Grimy Victorian-era London. A young woman named Jane has just been released from the asylum, after having been committed there by her mother. Half-vampire, pupil of a goblin-run school, having visited the City Beyond connected to London by magical doors … not even Jane herself is sure if she’s truly mad or not.

As soon as she’s home, she sets out to find the truth. A lifelong seeker of answers, she’s also hoping to go to work for a newspaper, becoming the gutsy and intrepid girl reporter. And she does get back to the City Beyond, only to learn it has changed a lot in her absence.

Industrialization has reached the Otherworld, combining magic and alchemy and technology. There are factories. There’s pollution. There’s corruption and commercialism. Cheap labor. Poverty. The fae rulers – Oberon and Titania, of course! – are gone, and a cutthroat family of corporate werewolves has seized control. Trolls, gnomes, pixies, fauns, vampires, and various other fae races eke out what livings they can.

Meanwhile, Charles, a somewhat disreputable gnome trying to redeem himself in the eyes of his very proper and respectable family, gets his hands on a pamphlet by Marx and is inspired to introduce Communism to the fae. Rally the workers, seize the means of production, bring down the bourgeois, all that good stuff.

Through a series of blunders and buddy-comedy goofs, he and Jane keep running into each other, with chaotic results … not least of which include making powerful enemies and developing an inappropriate attraction.

Far from the usual ideas of urban/paranormal, not your typical steampunk or dark fantasy, not a political screed or cutting social commentary … but with well-blended elements of them all, plus sly humor, almost-slapstick romance, and some refreshingly fun takes on worldbuilding. A witty, delightful, insightful, clever read!

**

KillerCon 2019

KillerCon 2019 — Christine’s Report

Several of us ran into travel problems. The hotel was a modest disaster. Texas in August is a freakin’ oven. There were some social and interpersonal issues. Trash beer. Bruises.

And yet, and yet, WHAT A GREAT GODDAMN TIME! With the fam, the tribe, the peeps. New friends and old. The love. The energy. The creativity. The recharge. The connections and bonding. That’s what it’s all about.

Plus, yeah, okay, potentially career-altering deals and selling books and whatnot … but mostly, though, it’s the being there, shared experience, togetherness. Freedom to have those conversations you can’t really have in nice normal polite society.

I was one who encountered travel problems, courtesy of “line disruptions” on Portland’s public transit system that got me late to the airport and resulted in missing my flight. They got me on a later one connecting through Seattle (seemed silly but oh well), which was a short hop on a clear day with pretty views coming in, then to Austin quite a bit later than originally anticipated.

Since I had packed some odd items – an inflatable coffin, a plastic skull, some fake body parts, two egg cartons full of nut zombies, three tupperwares of baked goods – I did leave a nice explanatory not-a-maniac-honest note for the TSA in my suitcase. Good thing, too, because when I opened it up, sure enough, there was one of those inspection slips! I hope someone got a grin on the job that night.

The midnight shuttle driver spent most of the trip from airport to Round Rock chatting with the other passenger, a nice lady who’d just come home from a fiddle camp in Maine. Only after he dropped her off and was alone in the bus in the dark with me did he ask what brought me to Austin … so I told him … poor guy didn’t freak out, and we ended up talking about zombies the rest of the way.

The venue was the same from last year, though right from the start it seemed apparent things were different. Despite the lateness of the hour, it was quiet. Too quiet. The bar area was dark and deserted. I would soon find out this was because THE BAR WAS CLOSED. The bar. Closed. At a hotel hosting a writer’s convention. They said they couldn’t find a bartender. The previous one probably made enough over that 2018 weekend from Brian Keene and Edward Lee alone to pay off his student loans, but, there we were.

I checked in after some confusion on the part of the night manager, confusion that led to a key card glitch that deactivated those of my roomies (shared with Rose O’Keefe, Carlton Mellick III, and Jeff Burk), so we had to get them all recalibrated. This was far from the only key kerfuffle, too … the hotel had ‘upgraded’ to a new kind where you just sort of wave it at your door, which made them finicky. See, kids? Newfangled tech isn’t always an improvement!

Other notable changes: all the vending machines were gone, there was maybe one ice machine left in the whole building, a few pipes sticking out of half-plastered walls, and the elevator inspection certificates were four months past due. Can’t comment on the complimentary breakfast because I woke too late for it every single day, except for raiding the mini-fridge for milk once before they locked it.

So, anyway, Thursday night. It’s late, it’s dark, it’s quiet. The manager’s finally figured out that yes, I am supposed to be here. I take my stupid wave-it key card and tiptoe up to the room all careful-like so as not to wake everybody up, only to discover the room empty. I went wandering and finally found them in a group (mostly west-coasters, the time zones in our favor) outside by the pool. Smoking, drinking, disregarding the posted rules. Middle of the night, full moon riding high above, temps finally cooled enough to be pleasant. Off with the shoes and dunk with the feet – ahh! bliss! – as we loitered another couple of hours.

(observation: Chandler Morrison could be just some hair-dye and a pair of sunglasses away from a mighty convincing Good Omens cosplay. I told him so. I hope it wasn’t too creepy. It’s probably creepier that he and Jeff both fall under my protective-instincts umbrella; while I may not be anything so effective and lethal as a mama bear, auntie raccoon will nastily fuck you up.)

Anyway, around three-thirty in the morning, we figured we should get at least a little sleep before the con officially began. Which brings us to …

Friday! Registration opened at ten (and there were donuts; take that, missed breakfast!). I got my badge and program, and a nice big hug from Wrath James White – who’d be punching people later – and many more greetings and hugs and DAMN IT WAS GOOD TO BE THERE.

Hugs hugs hugs! Ryan Harding, Kelli Owen, Bob Ford, Brian Keene, John Skipp! Shout-out to the aloha boys, Stephen Kozeniewski, Wes Southard, Max Booth, and Wile E. Young, who brightened up the usual glut of black tee shirts with some outrageous tropical prints and lively colors! Wes’ wife Katie! Ashley Davis, Sam Richard, Lori Michelle, Matt Shaw! Bad boy extraordinaire John Wayne Communale! John Urbancik, Kenzie Jennings, Jay Wilburn, Cody Goodfellow, David Barnett, Lisa Lee Tone! The ever-charming Michael Allen Rose! The ever-hilarious Jeff Strand! Laura J. Hickman! Mike and Ana Rankin! Joe Lansdale! Bev Vincent! So many people! So many hugs! So many I don’t even know if I can list them all!

Finally met in person the awesome ladies of Death’s Head Press, Petal K. Presley and Kara Barbee, as they were setting up in the dealer’s room. They are delightful and lovely and fussed and fretted and spoiled the hell out of me, did a fantastic job hosting my book release party – Dawn of the Living-Impaired and Other Messed-Up Zombie Stories, buy it now if you haven’t already! – and made lots of room on the table for the adopt-a-zombs.

Also finally met in person, after probably a decade of online acquaintance, Elizabeth Massie, who appeared perhaps the nicest and most professional of us all but still fit right in with the hardcore weirdos. She also does very cool-cute undead critter drawings!

And Kristopher Triana; so far, every single thing of his I’ve read has been just outstanding, and then he goes and turns out also to be a sweetheart (and a hunk) … was so glad for him that Full Brutal won the Splatterpunk for Best Novel! I’ve said it before and will keep saying it – most evil thing I’ve ever read! Yet, his heartfelt tear-choked acceptance speech had the whole room insisting there was dust in the air. What was it Edward Lee said when looking at Body Art? “Jesus! And I thought I was sick!”

Panels for the day kicked off with one called “Don’t Be That Asshole,” addressing subjects such as how to respond to rejections and reviews, submissions etiquette, minding your social media manners, working with editors and publishers, and excessive fanboy/girling. Next up was one on “What’s Your Talent Worth,” debating when it’s okay to give it away, setting goals and limits, talking about the elusive big advances, and generally cashing some cold hard reality checks.

I was late to the Creative Fiction Contest, in which participants were given twenty minutes to write a story of 200 words, including five judge-provided key words, but I got there in time to listen to most of the stories and was able to deduce the mystery words: grotesque, verdigris, humidity, obnoxious, and … and one other I can’t remember right now, which is driving me batty.

(for the record, though, verdigris, pronounced vurr-dih-gree, the way copper turns greenish like the Statue of Liberty)

Following a quick Opening Ceremonies came one of the highlights of the con for Wrath James White … he got to punch people, and ooh did he enjoy it probably a little too much! A few brave, stalwart contestants – Wes Southard, Erin Shaw, Jeff Strand – signed up for this. Of their own free will, I’m told. Their fiendishly-grinning host asked them trivia questions about the guests of honor and the Splatterpunk nominees, and if they got an answer wrong, HE PUNCHED THEM.

“Only in the arm!” people say. Yeah but still. This is WRATH we’re talking about. I can barely survive the abovementioned hugs from this man. Even starting off with his idea of ‘gentle’ punches, the solid meaty thwack sound was like something you’d hear in a slaughterhouse. And me? I sat my silly self right up in the front row with Skipp, where we could SEE the shockwaves traveling through flesh.

I mean, dayam. The next-day bruises were as epic as you might expect. I bruise bumping into stray air molecules. How the ‘volunteers’ stayed standing … how nobody ended up curled on the floor sobbing for their mommies … kudos, you maniacs. Major kudos. And that GRIN. Wrath’s GRIN. He was loving it. Like every birthday present ever, wrapped up in a nice punchable package.

A quick dinner break – oh, during which, I found out the Eraserhead/Deadite table had already sold out of both Spermjackers and Lakehouse, not even halfway through the first day! — was followed by readings: Elizabeth Massie’s unsettling take on obedience and tattling gone to extremes, then one of Carlton Mellick III’s always stellar performances (now that Marvel’s winding down, we can look forward to the Man-Tank cinematic universe!).

The panel “Why So Serious? The Place of Humor in Horror” was up next, and lots of fun, even if it did demonstrate how twisted we all are, and how easy it is for what’s intended to be awful or scary to come across as absurd, sometimes hard to find the lines between graphic gore and over-the-top ridiculous.

Which, speaking of over-the-top, brings us to the infamous and deadly WINGS OF PAIN CHALLENGE, in which Shane McKenzie evidently decided the suffering amped up too gradually last year, so it was six-digit Scoville right out of the gate. With several loaves of bread and full gallons of milk standing by. Really, there should have been paramedics and frost-blast fire extinguishers standing by. Really, between this and the punching, I’m amazed nobody had to sign a waiver.

The wings were coated in progressively hotter hot sauce, and then there were actual peppers, and some kind of sadistic chocolate with pepper bits in … there are colors that are dangerous, we all know this … not for nothing does yellow indicate caution and red indicate hazard … but I’m pretty sure the most dangerous color in all of heaven, hell, earth, and nature is the nuclear lava orange of these insane concoctions.

Now, the stated rules were that contestants would be interviewed and questioned while also consuming these spicy nightmares, but that plan went very quickly out the window, because within minutes, hardly anybody could even think, let alone talk or function. Lucas Mangum and (who was that young lady? I didn’t get her name!) were out first, with Wrath – who’d been talking mucho smack beforehand – swift on their heels.

The others, though, out of sheer tenacity or madness, held on. Jeff Burk had his title to defend, Michael Allen Rose and Luciana Williams were not going to make it easy on him, and all of them knew that host Shane had to keep pace with them so they’d all suffer together.

Oh, and suffer they did. You could tell. I may lack most of my sense of smell, but I stood way at the back of the room and my eyes were still watering. The sweats. The shakes. The stammers. Hideous volcanic gastric noises. Hallucinations. Religious epiphanies. At one point, Jeff – JEFF BURK OF ALL PEOPLE – slid out of his chair like a human Slinky and had to lay on the floor.

Ultimately, it was deemed a tie. How does one say who wins in something like that, anyway? Yet they’re already planning to do it again next year! I’m not sure how they can make it even worse, short of dropping live coals or acidic scorpions into their mouths. At this point, I wouldn’t rule it out …

Then it was time for an event with non-lethal snacks, the Death’s Head Press shindig for the release of my zombie collection. The ladies had outdone themselves, with meat-cheese-cracker-veggie trays, a pot of bbq li’l smokies, chips, soda, booze, and the star of the show: the meat-head, a skull covered with thin-sliced prosciutto, flayed and eerily realistic-looking, with bulging hardboiled egg halves for eyes and olives for pupils. Ghastly! Awesome! Perfect!

Plus the various baked goodies I’d brought, though the sugar-cookie cups with juicy maraschino fillings hadn’t survived the plane flight very well. The carnage crunch cookies and my roomie’s mom’s contribution of nummy cherry-chip bread made it in better shape. We ended up not having space to use the inflatable coffin as a cooler, so the poor thing never even got out of its box … and its eventual fate will be revealed later.

Was that the night we got several noise complaints from the hotel and aggravated neighbors? I think so. As for me, still not being used to actual … what? popularity? … I mingled, I probably acted like a doof when asked to sign books or be in pics, I listened more than I talked because I got very much in the habit over these past couple of mushmouthed years.

At some point, Rose found me to report that, after his own travel hassles, Edward Lee had finally arrived. We zipped downstairs to see him and say hi, not expecting him to be much of a one for room parties (he tends to go to bed sensibly early, and had had a long damn day). But we found him in the lobby and his hug and greeting of “There’s my girl!” was the finishing d’aww for the feeling-special-and-spoiled evening.

Not long after that, I toddled off to sleep myself, hoping for some rest before the big main-events day … it would turn out I’d still sneak upstairs for a nap later in the afternoon, however … and here I was surrounded by thirty- and forty-somethings grousing about getting old … oh, just, you all, hush.

Saturday! Saturday started off with the mass author signing, and a bonus hello from Wrath’s hunky friend Wolfe, doing security again. He remembered me from last year when I gave him a Viking nutship. Oh, and the two of them have started a YouTube channel discussing what we’ll refer to as ‘contemporary social issues;’ look them up to watch two beefcake besties arguing about snowflakes and toxic masculinity and stuff.

I snagged a table spot next to Edward Lee, and was again startled by how many people brought over copies of books for me to sign. Including two who had my pioneer blizzard novel, White Death, which they had to bring from home! Plus, I’d made chapbooks of my Mephistopolis-noir story, “Matt Brimstone, P.I.” to give away (and still do have some, message me, just need to kick in to help with postage!).

The “The Heyday of Horror” panel – as these panels often do, and I like it! – involved a fair bit of the seasoned pros telling their war stories, and sharing their wisdom hard-won from experience with the rising stars and struggling newcomers. It’s fascinating, and enlightening, and almost shocking to realize how much the biz has changed even just in the years I’ve been doing this.

I decided to pass on the panel about how significant others are able to put up with and support creative wacko types, having opted way the hell out of the whole relationship thing even before all the frankenfacing. But, more power to them! Anyone who can make it work, normal or wacko, good deal and well deserved! It does take a special kind of patience to put up with the likes of us, I imagine.

Instead, that was when I sneaked upstairs for my nap, returning to catch the screening of ‘Come Back To Me,’ the film version of Wrath’s book The Resurrectionist. With live commentary by Wrath himself, as well as Keene, and Shane McKenzie (who’s been off writing screenplays and doing the movie thing (check out El Gigante on Shudder, based on his extreme luchadore horror novel Muerte Con Carne!).

‘Come Back To Me’ was … well … wow … we love you, Wrath, we really do, but … yeah … ouch … for a story so chilling to be turned into such a lackluster drab … yeah. The script, the acting, the plausibility (I hope I didn’t snort-scoff TOO loud at the scene at the mental hospital) … oh, it could’ve/should’ve been so much better!

The 6:00 panel was called “How Not To Kill Yourself: What Do You Do To Stay Sane And Creative” and it very quickly got very real, the panelists sharing details about their personal struggles, talking openly with unflinching honesty. It’s so easy for us to feel isolated and alone, as if no one else could be going through what we’re going through, or understand … but then to see the heads nodding all around the room, to feel the empathy … my admiration for the panelists clicked several notches even higher (when already it had been way up there).

And kudos to moderator Kelli Owen, whose particular brand of tough love – she’s the sassy but caring fairy godmother who WILL cut a bitch, I mean, like, “bibbity-bobbety-bite-me” – helped make it a safe, trusting place for discussing those difficult truths.

To shift gears after that seriousness, there were more readings, with the masterful Joe Lansdale and then some gonzo goofiness courtesy of Keene And Friends. Then it was time to get a little freaky, with the panel on perversion and depravity.

I, um, I was on that panel. Introducing myself as probably the universe’s most vanilla person in real life, even with my twenty-plus years of sordid fanfic and pushing the Literotica limits history. There I was, sitting there with Edward Lee, Wrath, Kristopher Triana, and David Barnett. Talking about really really dirty stuff. Sex, gore, atrocities. Our moderator was Uncle Skipp, who basically floored all five of us when he, after posing some questions about how far is too far and is anything off limits, asked what’s love got to do (got to do) with it, and we stared at him like flummoxed oxen.

Okay, we’re demented, we knew this, movin’ on! To the Splatterpunk Awards! Once again, I was nominated (in the short story category for “Diabolicus Interruptus,” fittingly enough on the heels of the previous topic, the filthiest thing I’ve ever written) but once again I harbored no illusions of my chances. That Bernie went to Ryan Harding for “The Seacretor,” and as far as I know, this year, he again got it through airport security without too many awkward conversations.

Next year, though … maybe next year … Lakehouse Infernal could have a real shot … though it’ll probably be up against White Trash Gothic 2 and Chandler’s Dead Inside and Kozeniewski’s Skinwrappers and … yeah, I won’t clear a space on the brag shelf just yet!

Already mentioned Full Brutal, and the other winners were DJ Stories by David Schow for Best Collection, Kill For Satan by Bryan Smith for Best Novella, and Best Anthology Splatterpunk Forever edited by Jack Bantry and Kit Power. The second J.F. Gonzalez Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Necro Publications’ David G. Barnett, complete with cascading shower of rose petals by a trio of nubile, uh, maidens (*koff*)

With those formalities wrapped up, we arrived at the event that does to the mind what the previous night’s challenge had done to the senses, and this time no one in the room would be safe from the effects.

That’s right … the Gross-Out! Hosted by Jeff Burk, brought to you by the combined efforts of Eraserhead/Deadite Press and Section 31 Productions! In which, several stalwart performers take turns serving up the sickest of the sick and ickest of the ick, in the best crass, in-your-face, over-the-top, no-holds-barred, outrageous and disgusting, hilarious, disturbing fashion.

And oh, let me tell you, it gets every bit as vile, obscene, profane, vulgar, biological, scatological, gynecological, and many other -ogicals as you might expect. I will gloss over the details, though. Some things must be experienced to be believed. Some things must not be photographed, videoed, or shared beyond the moment. There are often visual aids. There are props. Substances. Mess.

What I will say is that Jay Wilburn smoked the rest of us like hams with his too-real personal medical horror; legs were crossing all around the room in waves like a chorus line of millipedes, even for those of us who don’t have the particular body parts in question.

Speaking of body parts, Kristopher Triana flung severed fingers into the crowd during his show; one landed near me but I gave it back because it was … sticky. Eew. Several participants got sticky with various types of congealed goo, suffering in the name of their art.

Brian Keene even came out of retirement (I’m sure, at that moment, half a continent away, Mary SanGiovanni got an eye-twitch headache, and I’m equally sure it was far from the only one that weekend), Jeff Strand and Matt Shaw fought a fierce battle for second and third place, Lucas Mangum got almost as much attention for his reactions to everyone else as he earned for his performance, the audience alternated between howls of revulsion and howls of mirth pretty much throughout.

As an additional cool touch, we didn’t have to fake drum rolls by pattering our hands; Jason Cavallero provided it live with a real drum and cymbal! The sticks and the … what do you call it, drum cover thing, I dunno, I’m not musical, but it was white and stiff-papery and round and signed by the judges … anyway, that thing … went to Jay Wilburn as part of his prize.

Yours truly even participated, bambi-eyed into it by Jeff Burk. Went up to the front of the room and – after detouring to give a mom-hug to Shane McKenzie, whom others had been picking on for some reason – plunked down a bottle of Purell. You wouldn’t think the sight of a simple bottle of Purell would make people so nervous.

Then I did a little show-and-tell about my own medical fun of the past couple years, with post-op pics of my mangled parts, and described some of the sensations I’d undergone with stitches and staples and having a chunk of my scalp relocated while still nerve-connected. For my finale, I invited the morbidly curious to come up and – after using that Purell, because I know where some of those hands have been! – touch my weird numb scalp-transplanted frankenface.

To my surprise, Rose O’Keefe was out of her chair at the judge’s table like a shot. Got to wonder how long she’d been wanting to try that but was too polite to ask. She was followed by Shane’s lovely wife Melinda, and then Brian Asman. Maybe it was the honesty, maybe the novelty, maybe the audience participation, but, in the end I went home with my second-ever Judge’s Choice award.

Although there usually are Judge’s Choice or other special/impromptu awards given for both Gross-Out and Ultimate Bizarro Showdown, longstanding custom has it that there aren’t actual designated prizes for such, so it usually winds up being whatever can be scrounged up on short notice. This time, the judges went through their pockets and presented me with packet of Emergen-C (which I gave to Chandler because he had a sore throat and offered to buy it off me), a box of Tic-Tacs (frosty mint blue), and a pair of novelty plastic diamond engagement rings.

My previous win (for utterly despoiling PG Wodehouse in 2013; which people still talk about!) had earned me a half-empty hotel tissue box, signed by the judges. The Tic-Tacs and the rings have now joined it on my brag shelf in a place of honor. Two out of three for my Gross-Out appearances – the first time, I bombed and rightly so – not too shabby!

To jump right from one extreme to another, after the Gross-Out came a display of love and sweetness as the Rankins renewed their wedding vows, officiated by Wrath, with Keene walking the bride down the aisle and Edward Lee standing best man to the groom. All the best to them! The party having their boring normal reception upstairs will not have such a cool story to tell!

(side note: do people reserving those rooms get warned about us? we’ve seen corporate meetings, a quinceanera, and most jarring of all a memorial service going on up there too, while downstairs is the KillerCon table with bloodied weapons and severed ears and strung-up organs … nicely-dressed guests, little old ladies, kids going by … of course, a mom and her kid also went by as Jeff Burk was regaling us with details of a graphic novel plot element involving masturbating on bullets … and our language tends to be atrocious … and especially when many of us are together, nobody has an inside voice … though if the hotel had the damn BAR OPEN, less of that would happen in the LOBBY …)

Ahem. Anyway. Moving on again, for another late-night party! I swear I really did only intend to show up for a little while, make an appearance, join in on the birthday silliness with hats and noisemakers for Chandler Morrison, chat some, then go sensibly to bed. Well, I did go sensibly to bed. Just, not until almost two in the morning. But there was juicy gossip going on, and a shall-we-say SPIRITED comic book debate, and some drunken ranting, and it’s hard to walk away from that kind of a good time!

Also got a hallway hug and another sincere “I’m proud of you” from Keene … how is it possible to have a big brother who’s technically younger than you? But I digress. I finally did go sensibly to bed. Still several hours earlier than my roomies; I think they rolled in around seven-thirty, when the dealer’s room opened at eleven and the first panel was at noon. Sunday programming starts late and runs light for these very reasons.

A breakfast bar of cereal and classic cartoons greeted us, and the sorrowing rounds of goodbyes had already begun as some headed back to the waiting regular world. I picked up some swag buttons and wristbands, three issues of Forbidden Futures, Sam Richard gave me a review copy of Zombie Punks Fuck Off, Lori Michelle gifted me with a cool Halloween cloth box thing she’d made (and I bought my daughter something at her table too but haven’t mailed it yet).

And I got a pillow! A nice big comfysoft pillow! From the Death’s Head Press ladies. See, some time ago, Jarod Barbee had asked what was my favorite literary quote, and I told him, thinking it’d be for a company blog post or something, but instead, it was stitched onto this pillow, surrounded by the DHP logo! (the quote, for the record, which I used to use as my sig in emails and on message boards: “Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love, then for a few close friends, and then for money.” – Moliere.)

The Sunday panel was titled “This Was Really Scary! Non-Fiction Horror.” More real-life stories, in other words; I talked about the three different ways I confronted the idea of mortality during my medical ordeals … Jeff Burk described how he almost choked on his own blood after a tonsillectomy (there’s a pic of him telling this, and the expression it garnered from Edward Lee is nothing short of priceless!)… John Wayne Communale told us how even the risk of death could not deter him from celebrating legal weed … Lee himself shared some on-the-job training tales from his early days as a cop … all just goes to show, no matter how clever we are, there’s some shit you just cannot make up.

Next was the lively Clash Books reading block, hosted by Luciana Williams, and how they all had so much energy left this late in the con I cannot fathom! But then came the saddest part, the Closing Ceremonies … after which an even sadder-than-saddest development would be revealed, and thus would the phrase “trash beer” enter the lexicon.

After the Closing Ceremonies, the remaining stragglers and dragglers usually gather in the con suite for the Dead Dog Party. In anticipation of this, many snacks and much booze and various other items had been left in the con suite from the previous night’s bacchanal.

BUT … remember way back at the beginning when I mentioned the hotel being a modest disaster? Well, it was more than the keycard kerfuffles, the bar being closed, the absent vending machines and sparse ice machines, the outdated elevators, and the less-than-helpful staff.

WELL … they were apparently QUITE eager to get rid of us. Due to a misunderstanding regarding check-out time, we didn’t have the con suite as late as we thought. While we were all over attending panels and readings and closing out the dealer’s room and all, they wasted NO time hustling in there to clear and turn over the room.

You might think they’d have paused for a moment of “hey wait, there’s a lot of stuff still here, and these people are still on the premises” and maybe just maybe gone and found someone and said “hey we need to turn over the room, can you get your stuff out please thanks.”

Nope. They threw everything out. With nary a word to anybody. Or, at least, we presume everything was thrown out; it’s entirely likely some of our stuff got stashed away elsewhere by opportunistic staff (I’m told one of them also tried to stroll off with the convention’s coffee one of the mornings). Upshot? Many unopened cans and bottles of beer and booze ended up in the dumpster.

They’d also thrown out the rest of the snacks and other left behind items – I lost a couple of my bakery tupperwares, a plastic skull, AND that damn inflatable coffin that never made it out of its box; I hope someone at least took that home for funsies) – but it was the booze that was the real issue. A substantial dollar amount of it.

Needless to say, we were upset. Needless to say, we raised some hell. We’re WRITERS! We’re POOR! Talk about the final straw for taking our business elsewhere next year! I doubt I was the only one to give the manager a bitchy earful. Finally, a couple of chambermaids got sent dumpster-diving to retrieve what they could. In the Texas August heat. They returned sweaty and VERY unhappy with a trash can about half-full of cans and bottles.

Did we take them upstairs and rinse them off in the shower? (the cans and bottles, that is, not the chambermaids; sympathy for any of the employees was fairly nil at that point). I repeat: we’re WRITERS! We’re POOR! Damn right we did, even if there was other trash mixed in there. Even if there was broken glass to pick through. Even though it stank like, well, like trash beer dug out of a Texas August dumpster by unhappy sweaty chambermaids. (once again, my lack of a sense of smell came in surprisingly handy. I guess I finally got superpowers of a sort after all.)

So. Trash beer. Because, goddamn it, they were NOT going to win. Not entirely. Boot us out of the con suite? Fine. We simply took over the lobby and the pool area again and the hotel could just freakin’ lump it. One group went out for Korean barbecue. Another hung around while Edward Lee repeated his habit from last year of ordering-in way too much Chinese food.

Meanwhile, Brian Keene, who’d been away most of the day attending a film premiere with the Lansdales, returned to stock up on interviews for upcoming episodes of The Horror Show. Although I was like right there, I was not among the interviewees (le sigh, hint hint, le guilt) … but eventually I will get out to his neck of the literal woods, not leastwise because I want to hang out with his kid and meet his cat and maybe even finally meet Dave Thomas! One of these days!

A final, fading group of stragglers and dragglers made their way up to our room for a bit. I only fell asleep on them a few times, I think. It was three or four in the morning by then. Five of us had an airport shuttle scheduled to pick us up at ten.

All five of us – me, Jeff Burk, Edward Lee, Ryan Harding, Brian Asman – made it to the shuttle, and then the airport, in varying states of exhaustion and bleariness. Once there, we ran into Matt Shaw again, whose longest-flights-and-layovers-ever would put any other grumping in perspective.

(another side note: the hell, Alaska Airlines? desk didn’t open until twelve-thirty, so I couldn’t check my bag until then)

Luckily, there were food and drink places on this side of security too … got an iced coffee and THE best apple fritter, sat chatting in the bar with Jeff and Brian until I could ditch my bag, then we found Lee and sat in a different bar (which had these deep-fried sausage balls almost as good as the apple fritter!) chatting with him too, until it was time to split off for our various gates.

I had hoped/planned to sleep on my flight, so in retrospect the big iced coffee might’ve been a mistake. But then, I also got stuck in the middle seat, which wasn’t very conducive. Oh, and just as the plane was taxiing down the runway, just as it revved up for takeoff, someone on board let out a loud YEEE-HAW, which I guess is as good a farewell to Texas as any.

The rest of the trip was tedious but uneventful. I did doze some, I read some, I had decent views of three other passengers’ phones with movies on – Neverending Story (jeez, was that always that trippy and I just hadn’t remembered?), a Star Trek, and Logan – and the MAX lines and buses were working fine. As great a weekend as it’d been, it was good to be home with my kitties.

Well, there you have it, some near-six-damn-thousand words of my KillerCon writeup, and I probably still missed, forgot, or left stuff out. Deepest apologies to anyone skipped or snubbed! I’m writing this nearly a full week later, after trying to readjust to my night shift work schedule, and don’t mean for anything to slip through the cracks! If you’re aware of any glaring oversights or omissions, please let me know!

Tired and achy though I am, I’m already looking forward to next year (with, hopefully, a new and better venue where trash beer won’t be a thing) to see and hug and spend time with my favorite people again! And maybe, just maybe, win that award!

Now go buy a bunch of books so we can afford to keep this up!

— CM, Aug 2019

 

BIZZONG!

podcasttweetcm

I got to spend an hour talking writing, surgery, crafts, and such with the delightful Mr. Frank on his podcast. Had a great time! So glad to finally be able to do this! And got dubbed “the Martha Stewart of Extreme Horror,” which … y’know, I cannot totally deny 🙂

DAWN OF THE LIVING-IMPAIRED

Cover reveal for my zombie collection! Coming this summer from Death’s Head Press!

dotli_coverreveal

As for the stories, check out this TOC:

“Dawn of the Living-Impaired”

“Seven Brains, Ten Minutes”

“The Barrow-Maid”

“Cured Meat”

“Be Brave”

“Family Life”

“A Tower to the Sky”

“Good Boy”

“Thought He Was A Goner”

June 2019 Bonus Reviews!

Time for some more dark fantasy and paranormal romance! In which I look at Sword Chronicles 3: Child of Ash by Michaelbrent Collings, and Wyrd Love 4: Alchemy’s Hunger by Cynthia Diamond. Really though, anything by either of these two is well worth a look; they are among those authors who haven’t let me down yet!

Title: The Sword Chronicles 3: Child of Ash

Author: Michaelbrent Collings

Website: http://www.michaelbrentcollings.com

With the thrilling conclusion of this powerful series, we follow in breathless suspense as what seemed to start out as traditional fantasy, then becoming epic fantasy, then expanding into almost a fantasy-meets-superheroes utopia-turning-dystopia, to its final phase … in which the true origins of troubled Ansborn and its people, and their mysterious gods, are revealed.

The central figures in these books are the Gifts, those who have various special abilities. The majority fall into categories: for instance, the Strongs who tend to be slightly built but possess incredible physical strength … or the Patches, who can heal others. But there are also the Greater Gifts, rarer, more unique.

Sword, the main character of the trilogy, is a Greater Gift, able to use any melee weapon with uncanny accuracy and skill. Her struggling beginnings in the Kennels where she fought for survival to the amusement of the crowds, and her rise and training to join the most elite Blessed Ones, have seen her through good times and bad, brought her hardship and victory and love and loss.

Now, with her entire world seeming about to literally come to an end – disasters, plagues, deaths, destructions – she and a few others decide that the only thing to be done is break the ultimate rule, descend from Ansborn, and confront the gods or whatever forces dwell below.

What follows is a desperate race from several viewpoints, including that of a couple of exceptionally dangerous Greater Gifts with other ideas. Everything any of them have ever stood for gets challenged along the way. Priests lose their faith, families are torn apart. And when they DO discover what’s behind it all, harsh truths are poised to shatter their very reality.

All of it, of course, done with the author’s undeniable skill with both story and plot. Even when you think you know what’s going to happen, what almost HAS to happen in terms of heroic journey and all the tropes, Collings throws in curveballs and surprises, ultimately delivering an ending that hits all the right unexpected yet satisfying notes.

**

Title: Alchemy’s Hunger

Author: Cynthia Diamond

Website: https://www.amazon.com/gp/bookseries/B014VBESM4/

Book Four of my favorite smut-mongering minx’s Wyrd Love series widens the scope of her sexy world … instead of the paranormal romantic adventures of the Constance sisters this time, we get to see the other side of bad-boy darkmage Tony Harris’ story.

He was once as close as a brother to anything the three sisters knew, closer than a brother to one of them, loved matriarch Cybil Constance more than his own parents, and was essentially one of the family. Then, swayed by a sinister cabal, he ended up causing Cybil’s death, earning the sisters’ vengeful hatred.

Taking place concurrently with the third book (Dryad’s Vine), we can now find out what Tony was up to when he got summoned against his will to pay off an old debt, and who the quirky mystery woman with him was.

Turns out, Tony bitterly regrets his earlier actions and is determined to repair the damage, even if it means risking his life and altering time. To do that, he needs power. A lot of power. The kind of power only a rare talent known as a Conduit can provide. Which is where the quirky mystery woman comes in.

Faith Conway comes across as a chaotic scatterbrained goofball: a clutterer, an eccentric dresser with a thing for blanket forts, and a total Potterhead. Below the surface, though, she’s smart and clever, runs a successful business, and is recovering from an abusive relationship. She never knew anything about the real magical world, let alone her place in it as a Conduit. Needless to say, instead of freaking out, she’s utterly thrilled.

Except, well, the real magical world also has its very real dangers. Tony has made a lot of enemies, who are equally determined to make him pay for breaking the cabal with a fate worse than death. He also never counted on falling for Faith, leading him to face a terrible choice between goals.

Packed with magic, action, conflict, and lots of sexy sexy sex, it’s another winner! Now I need Book Five.

**