RUE MORGUE Gives a Grim Wink at the Duality of TWICE-TOLD

Dejan Ognjanović, in Rue Morgue, Issue #188, provides a tidy synopsis of several stories in C.M. Muller’s doppelgänger-based anthology, Twice-Told: A Collection of Doubles (Chthonic Matter, 2019).  My contribution, “Details That Would Otherwise Be Lost to Shadow,” receives a generous mention, along with several astute scribblers including Gordon B. White, Tim Jeffreys, Shannon Lawrence, Jason Wyckoff, and Jack Lothian.

RueMorgue 188

This story (running a touch over 8,000 words) was a challenge to compose, in great part due to its structure, but more so in my attempt to bring some nuance to the tropes of duality.  The key was employing the presence of what I’ve termed as the Motley House, a sort aesthetic tessellation, the construction of which, perhaps, warps the perspective of my central character, Tara Keltz.  On the other hand, the house’s personality may be the only thing providing clarity, even if it elicits a realization which is not only difficult to perceive, but also to accept.

 

 

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Darkly Didactic: The Lingering Lessons from C.M. Muller’s HIDDEN FOLK


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The ostensible simplicity of a line like, “Look, Dad, a door!” belies a complicated subtext in the story “Absconsa Laterna,” and acts as an unassuming invocation of irretrievable consequence.

Far from his first publication project, but his first fiction collection, many of the “strange stories” in C.M. Muller’s Hidden Folk possess such unpretentious portents, and those who follow Muller through these thresholds will certainly remain haunted and, likely in some way, fundamentally altered.

Muller’s aesthetic is one of calm, sharply-defined surfaces; and though the illustration of a quiet, dawn-dim pond—the scene of an early-morning fishing episode, say—may be a mundane metaphor, it’s serviceable for this assessment.  We read Muller, in part, because of his subdued execution:  beneath the superficiality of that peaceful, reflective epidermis is a dark district inhabited by shadowy entities.  Focusing on the surface yet coaxed by curiosity, we narrow our focus, shift the lenses of our eyeline toward a furtive movement below:  the languid sway of infected kelp…the peek-a-boo retreat of something sinuous…the serpentine flash of scales.

A sense of Muller’s aesthetic is gained after reading the collection’s opener, “Vranger,” but it’s with the conclusion of “The Dust Child” that readers begin to better understand not only Muller’s tonal wheelhouse but his artistic intentions.

d79aa5f091228bf7d492b0dfb04fd936--night-gallery-tv-landMuller comes from a line of writers (I count myself among their motley ranks) influenced and affected by a particular era of the late-1980s and early-90s horror and science fiction; and though not directly affected by it, the 80s produced a variety of fiction which reflected predecessors directly “shaped” by the time-bound structures of, sure, radio shows, but more specifically televised serials—especially Serling’s instructive segments on the Twilight Zone and, later, his morose portraits on The Night Gallery.

prayersSome fantastic commercial short fiction was borne out of that 80s-90s span.  It’s a subjective submission, but I’d point to the work of my personal North Star writers of Charles Grant, Norman Partridge, Ed Gorman; and to tighten my scope and intent here, I’d direct one to, notably, Robert McCammon’s wonderful Blue World and Dan Simmons’s indelible Prayers to Broken Stones.  It’s evident there’s quite a bit of DNA from imparted from these periods (I can’t help but think Muller is sharing a sly wink to Simmons’s “Metastasis”—which was, suitably, converted into a teleplay titled “The Offering” for the early-90s anthology series Monsters—in his presentation of the aforementioned “The Dust Child”).  The result, in Hidden Folk, is a collection showcasing a pleasing circularity.

In “Absconsa Laterna,” Muller constructs a scenario which is a suitable creative-process metaphor for, perhaps, the often aimless and meandering routes we take in order to gain genuine momentum, and as Muller submits, “[W]e were able to witness the slow and often painstaking process by which many artists constructed their fantasies.”  Here, Muller relies on a central topic that I, as a writer, often have trouble navigating:  the “loss” of a child.  And I mean it when I say that I’m still haunted by the nonchalant words of a child, “Look, Dad, a door!”

twice-told-3d-cover (1)“Resurfacing” and “Diary of an Illness” are essentially fraternal twins with dissimilar voices; but something realized in the scenarios is a glimpse at the author behind the barrier of glass; although “Resurfacing” is more potent and reflects some of that signature circularity.  Something else that occurs to me with this story is the reprisal of the doppelgänger device.  Muller is adept at portraying the dimensions of “the shadowed self” (“Krogh’s Remains”)—a motif which certainly telegraphs his forthcoming anthology, Twice-Told:  A Collection of Doubles (set to be released, quite appropriately, on February 2, 2019— 02/02, in case I was too subtle).

“The Church in the Field” captures many of the writer’s eruditic strengths and fiction-rhythmic tendencies, and is perhaps his most artistically didactic.  The story contains a line which might very well sum up this unsettling collection, as Muller’s effectively created “brooding sketches of darkness and hunger.”

My central, critical observations come in the form of my need for more interactive dialogue.  There are too few instances of Folks engaging in spoken interplay; and I find that the exhalation of conversation might dispel the murky mist of ambiguity.  But there is a knowing liberality in Muller’s vagueness, as if gifting his audience with a participatory reciprocity.  You have to want to see what he see; and I think he wants some questions to linger.  “There was nothing more pleasurable,” says one of his narrators, “than patience.”

As a writer, yes, but more so as an editor and scrivner, C.M. Muller is a commendable custodian of the horror medium and its continually forking branches.  Of course, writers are aware (in some cases to a debilitating degree) the nuances of dramaturgical interactions in which we all engage; but it’s a writer’s obligation to infuse their products with abundant gravity so as to, ideally, sufficiently drag the readers beneath the exhibited surface.  In Hidden Folk, Muller has succeeded at both.

And so, my encouragement to curious parities is this:  while I’m loath to surrender my own copy, I’d like you to imagine the rectangle of a dark bookcase, its shelves packed shoulder-to-shoulder with varying, somber volumes of traded tales…I would then gesture toward the slatey spine of Hidden Folk.  “Look,” I’d say to you, removing the object wrapped in overcast, “a door…”

An Eloquent Undulation: C.M. Muller’s NIGHTSCRIPT, Vol. 4

N.4

Now in its fourth permutation, C.M. Muller’s Nightscript anthology continues to house — within its slate-scrubbed clapboard, concealed behind murky panes — a series of stories which, due to their strangeness and peculiarity, may have never otherwise discovered a proper home.
A shrewd student of a number of creative mediums, Muller is neither clumsy nor casual in his execution of these annual projects; and it really is a demonstrative exercise in voice and vision — his conjuring, capturing, and making incarnate (from font, to paper, in artwork, in tonality) a singular aesthetic.

Nightscript, IV expectedly contains a number of top-notch stories penned by (as Muller is wont to do) many “unknown” scribblers — this is one of the fantastic aspects of the series, as Muller places emerging names in close proximity with established writers, as is the case in N.IV with appearances by V.H. Leslie (“Sugar Daddy”) and Steve Rasnic Tem (“By the Sea”). I was personally taken with L.S. Johnson’s “A Harvest Fit For Monsters” (a grim and ambiguous tale of war-torn grief); Farah Rose Smith’s “Of Marble and Mud” (a crisply written narrative focusing on the frightening and fragile bond between two sisters); and Mike Weitz’s “Rainheads” (bearing bleak shades of apocalyptic horror).  Joanna Parypinski’s “The Thing In the Trees” is a personal highlight for me—one of the most haunting and deftly-handled tales I’ve encountered for quite some time.

Nightscript alumnus Charles Wilkison (“The Dandelion Disorder”) makes a welcome appearance, as well as Christi Nogle (“Cinnamon to Taste”) and Daniel Braum (“The Monkey Coat”). Resonating, still, for me are the stories “There Has Never Been Anyone Here” by J.T. Glover; “By The Sea” by the aforementioned Mr. Rasnic Tem; and Kirsty Logan’s “My House Is Out Where the Lights End,” which serves as the publication’s breathtaking, closing punctuation.

Another part of Muller’s magic is his sapient strategy in weaving an ambiguous melody in the sequencing of the tales, yielding a unique resonance and eloquent undulation to each installment.
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Nightscript is, of course, an annual celebration of the pleasant melancholies of autumn; but its contents are suitable for any timeframe in which a reader can carve out some solitudinal space, as the well-crafted tales call for your attention and close-reading consideration. More than this, Nightscript is — in Muller’s mental landscape — a vital venue for voices often lost beneath the wind-swept blanket of brittle, burnt-orange leaves — an otherwise unnoticed sibilance existing in the shadowed, foreboding fringes of a rickety-limbed forest.

Recently, Muller announced the forthcoming release of his first collection of tales, Hidden Folk. And if you’d like to get to know a bit more about this writer, editor, and self-described scrivener, check out an interview with Muller conducted by Scott Dwyer over the The Plutonian.

An Errant Conduit: Exchanges with Adam Golaski

WTMIn upcoming months, a conversation will be available between Adam Golaski and I—an exercise (which has been structured as an interview) that began in the autumn of 2017, one in which I was reluctant to conclude late last winter (the publication venue will be announced in due time).

About a year ago, Scott Dwyer (steadfast champion of the horror genre and editorial superintendent of the “nightmarish and…nebulous” site The Plutonian) had achieved breathing perverse life into his publicational labor of love, Phantasm/Chimera:  An Anthology of Strange and Troubling Dreams, for which he had a specific vision, fulfilling a specific vision for creating a project with a singular roster of writers.

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In addition to writers, Dwyer’s “cast” included writers who I’d previously established contact via reader-writer interactions on social media, namely Jon Padgett, John Claude Smith, Matt Bartlett, and Chris Slatsky.  Still, there were others whose paths I’d not crossed but who’d inked impressive reputations in the weird-fiction, dark fantasy, and horror communities—among them, Thana Niveau (From Hell to Eternity); Brian Evenson (A Collapse of Horses); Mike Allen (Unseaming); Jason Wyckoff (Black Horse and Other Strange Stories); Livia Llewellyn (Furnace); and Adam Golaski (Worse Than Myself).

In the following weeks, I’d read some commentary Golaski had made about Dwyer’s P/C project on his Little Stories blog, and I initiated what would be a rather humorous and insightful correspondence.

One of the things I admire most about Golaski’s work is his practice of utilizing what might be judged as discarded (or neglected) “ingredients” or premises which lend themselves to story-arc fecundity.  Golaski has the knack of taking a segment of all of our ostensibly mundane situations, and augmenting them into something brilliantly discordant.  I am reminded, in that way, of some of the Dadaist aesthetics, and in others in the specimens of surrealists, with how he executes his craft.

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One compelling parallel when describing Golaski’s inventive, non-conformist verve is from his story “The Animal Aspect of Her Movement” (Worse Than Myself, 2008).  In its opening sequence, the behind-the-wheel narrator—mentally magnetized to vehicle whose occupant is the source of a tepid obsession—alters his course to pursue a little red car; but Golaski deftly weaves his reader into a different lane all together.  With a seamless, anachronistic shift into the past, the narrator watches the girl (the object of perceptive fixation), after briefly exiting the vehicle and surveying a roadside overlook:

[she] returned to her car, shut the door, turned on the ignition, drove through the guard rail, and over the edge of the cliff. / I followed.  With deliberation, I backed up and drove my car through the gap she’d made in the guardrail, across a few yards of crumbling dirt, over, down.  I caught a glimpse of the picnickers, a delightfully absurd sight, as my stomach laughed its way up my throat to my brain.  My car hit the dirt, nose-first.  The river loud, a short distance from my shattered windshield.

And then, following the jarring crash, an understatement of normality:  “I was later coming home than expected.”

We, his audience, are repeatedly—sometimes subtly coaxed, sometimes viciously hauled—drawn across boundaries and reeled over cliffs of convention.  Often unorthodox, Golaski perpetuates his avant-garde undertakings while maintaining a resonate accessibility and an admirably dark weirdness (I defy you to read the final, uneasy paragraphs of “A String of Lights” without some sort of vertiginous, dread-induced shudder.)

In the wake of those occasional, conversational salvos, I’ve been, in this past year, reminded about the importance of this discipline—something which, in my mind, resembles a rickety, Temple-of-Doom rope-bridge conduit between writer and reader, and how an errant, conversational salvo can lead to genuine discovery.  It just reinforces one of the more rewarding aspects of this exercise:  that—though at times daunting and fraught with what might appear to be self-defeating futility—this thing works.

There’s recognition, resonance (think of Werner Herzog’s “ecstatic truth”—the trinity of fabrication, imagination, and stylization); and though it’s never necessary to reach out to other writers to converse about their work, our age (sometimes) makes it more feasible.  Conversely, the same platforms present myriad mirrors which can threaten to poison our private progress.  (Years ago, it seems, Golaksi was smart enough to preserve some distance between himself and social media, and he’s been fidelis about sustaining that phantomic fingerprint—yet another aspect about his ethos I’ll praise here.)

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If you haven’t familiarized yourself with Adam Golaski’s brilliant stories, essays, and poetry, remedy the misstep quickly.  If you’re fortunate enough to find them, snag a copy or two of the Golaski-edited nɘw gɘnrɘ, which feature haunting, oppressively well-crafted short stories (stories by Stephen Graham Jones, Jennifer Claus, Eric Schaller, and John Robins are found in previous installments of nɘw gɘnrɘ—in particular, a clever tale by Jaime Corbacho, “Honeymoon,” makes me want to be a better writer); and keep an eye peeled for some difficult-to-find stories in the back issues of David Longhorn’s Supernatural Tales.

Finally, it was welcome news last year (not once, but twice) to have discovered that my stories would share the table-of-contents for a pair of publications with Golaski; you can read his unsettling story, “The Wind, The Dust,” in the (aforementioned) Phantasm/Chimera:  An Anthology of Strange and Troubling Dreams.  2017 also afforded a Golaski story in the pages of C.M. Muller’s superb, annual undertaking Nightscript, the third volume containing the pleasantly distressing story, “The Beasts Are Sleep.”  Most recently, Golaski has an essay featured in the Bennington Review (update:  read his essay, “On David Lynch’s Revenge of the Jedi,” here).  Beyond that, here are some other projects to add to your homework:

Worse Than Myself (2008)

Color Plates (2010)

Oh One Arrow (2007)

A Sing Economy (2008)

Personally, one of the compartments of innate validation comes in the form of candidly sharing tales of toil:  against the clock, against failure, in finding time to suture-together “things” in the face of daily obligations—the Artful-Dodger methods we, as writers, exploit in order to “make” time.  The cynosure of being published is, of course, a criterion of progress and a benchmark for industry acclimation, but our courses require channels of calibration, criticism, and conversation.  Accolades roll in ebbs and neaps, but the integrity of our intrinsic endeavors endure.  “Some kind of supernatural thing,” Golaski writes in one of his stories, “that thing that occasionally [makes] lonely moments profound.”

Dwellings—disparate, digressive—of 2015

2015 teeth

Naturally, situated here in this winter window between the consumer chaos of Christmas and the transitive threshold of New Year’s, many annual lists emerge over the transom, making it difficult to avoid accumulating some ruminative (albeit self-serving) notes of my own.

The challenge, of course, is compartmentalization, along with the exercise of striving to fit all the influential pieces into vivid unity.  (And while I still maintain an old-fashioned, long-hand journal, I will, inevitably, neglect to mention several events, though hope to polish these memories in the wake of this blog-based entry.)  More than anything, though—and in a feeble attempt to mellow the associated myopia—this sort of subjective exercise should be intrinsically instructive for the sake of appreciation.  A complicated, “Thank You,” in other words.

So, submitted for your (and simultaneously no one’s) approval, a modest exercise in reflection—this year, 2015:

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Personally…

…I’m loath to voluntarily (read:  carelessly) share too much of my private, family life (often failing due to the errant posting of photos) within the dodgy landscape of social media; but a doubtless highlight for my family was (after unpredictable upheaval) finally settling into our home, which seems tailored specifically for the unique rhythm of my humble clan.

The Movies…

…I’ve watched this past year are so minimal that it’s barely worth devoting space.  Still, I enjoyed several that linger:  It Follows, The Babadook, Silent House (late to that one, along with Room 237, Oculus, and Chef).  John Wick was a formulaically-fulfilling revenge flick.  One of those Star Wars movies was released in December (you might be able to find the trailer on the internet).  Saw it.  Pretty fun.

Music…

…was, as usual, a fluid entity.  Gorged myself on Ghost B.C.’s album, Meliora.  Uncle Acid was a fun find this fall, and have been consuming as much Baroness as I can of late.  And this year ends on a sad note with the passing of Lemmy on December 28.

Writing…

…is really what I come here to examine.  This year, I was fortunate to have crossed paths with Jordan Krall, publisher of Dynatox Ministries.  My novella, When It’s Time For Dead Things To Die, was released in early 2015 by Dunhams Manor Press (and imprint of Dynatox).  (Note:  thanks to David Bridges for placing the novella on his own year-end list.)  A few months later, DMP released Xnoybis, #1, a quarterly journal of weird fiction, which included my story, “The Rive.”  Over the summer, I was contacted by Stephen Jones who passed along word that “Dirt On Vicky” would be included in his annual Best New Horror anthology.  BNH #26 was published by PS Publishing this past autumn.  Also, fall saw the release of C.M. Muller’s eagerly anticipated anthology, Nightscript, Vol. I (which exceeded expectations—Muller continues to garner much-deserved accolades, including winning the Dark Muse Award for Best Multi-Author Collection via Anthony Watson’s Dark Musings).  “Animalhouse” found a home in Nightscript’s impressive TOC.

Now, nearing the annual end, the Mythic Indy anthology (after suffering a minor setback in its winter, 2015 publication) is scheduled for an early 2016 release.  You can find my short story, “The Fall of Tomlinson Hall; or The Ballad of the Butcher’s Cart,” in this inaugural project.  And just a few days after Thanksgiving, I received word that my tale, “By Goats Be Groomed,” found inclusion in the GNU Journal, which should gain readable life in the first months of 2016.

And the intimate orbit of my writing community…

…in which I’ve made some genuinely meaningful connections with in 2015.  The following folks have sustained with me, in a variety of ways, an ongoing, communicative comradery for which I’m galactically grateful.  A sober and sincere thanks to these guys in particular, along with so many more that this bonehead will forget:  C.M. Muller (for guidance, for the occasional epistolary exercise and, let’s not forget, razor-sharp and shadowed fiction); Jordan Krall (for giving my long story a shot); Scott Nicolay (for the kind words and for providing the far-reaching platform of The Outer Dark for a lesser-known “voice” like mine); Joe Zanetti (for the reviews, virtual head-butts and slaps on the shoulder); Matt Bartlett (maintaining a sort of inspirative edge in his fiction); Lou Perry (for providing unexpected—though infinitely appreciated—praise for Ghouljaw); Frank Montesonti (for his collaborative efforts with last spring’s F.C. Literati reading at Bookmama’s in Irvington); and, finally, to Jon Padgett, Daniel Mills, Christopher Slatsky (coolest initials in the biz), and John Claude Smith (coolest surname in the biz) for their endorsive support.  Thank you all for being both advocates and, in one way or another–on some level or another–friends.

 

“A Care For Dark Cookery” Interview with The Outer Dark (Episode 21)

I was recently afforded the opportunity to appear on Scott Nicolay’s podcast, The Outer Dark (Project iRadio).

The Outer Dark

L’esprit de l’escalier has been particularly pronounced in the wake of the interview and subsequent social-media (ephemeral as it may be) conversations.  Still, we managed to discuss the eerier writings of Henry James and Hawthorne, as well as the relationship with my writing and the structure (houses included) of societal rituals.

For over a decade, Thanksgiving Day (owning to the typical, day-off-work traditions) has been, for me, a day to absorb more of what I’m reading (sneak in an extra story or two), and reflect on the writing exercise I’ve accumulated during autumn.  (Standing out in my mind with Kodachrome clarity is Thanksgiving, 2000, when I completed Dan Simmons’s Summer of Night.  Ignorant of the craft (as I still, in great part, am), that novel was a revelation to me, and I had that quiet period during the holiday, and extended winter holiday, to wonder what it would be like to write something — anything.

Scott Nicolay has been enormously supportive of the Ghouljaw endeavor.  So, on this Thanksgiving Day, 2015, I’d like to record my gratitude for his writerly camaraderie, and for his high-octane celebration of little-known scribblers dog-paddling in weird waters.

Heads Up. Sun’s Down. NIGHTSCRIPT, Vol. I, Table of Contents Announced

Nightscript

In his introduction to Daniel Mills’ haunting debut collection, The Lord Came at Twilight, Simon Stranzas noted, “In some way, the last great revolution in horror was its rediscovery of its past.”

Make no mistake, just because certain camps of weird- and horror-related writers keep those strange homefires burning doesn’t mean the medium grows stale.  In fact, think of this past-present relationship as a Mobius strip, ribbons of prescient visions braided with thematic cords from our predecessors.  Echoes, if harnessed properly, have the capability of providing new momentum—new dimension.

As the editorial helmer of the annually-planned Nightscript, C.M. Muller is guiding us into steady—though nightshaded—waters.  And owing to his well-read awareness, we should accompany with confidence.

There are no tricks here, folks.  Muller is a mensch who knows his stuff.  If he hasn’t read it, he’s heard of it.  If he doesn’t own an obscure copy of a critical text, it’s probably because he’s kindly sent it along (gratis) to an acquaintance with kindred tastes.

Sure, I’m beyond honored to hold court with my fellow Nightscripters; but I’m also eager to see where—over the next few burnt-orange, smoke-scented Octobers—Muller has in mind to take us.  You’d do well to follow…

Nightscript, Vol. I—TOC:

“Everything That’s Underneath” — Kristi DeMeester
“Strays” — Gregory L. Norris
“In His Grandmother’s Coat” — Charles Wilkinson
“The Cuckoo Girls” — Patricia Lillie
“The Sound That the World Makes” — David Surface
“Below the Falls” — Daniel Mills
“The Keep” — Kirsty Logan
“She Rose From the Water” — Kyle Yadlosky
“Animalhouse” — Clint Smith
“Tooth, Tongue, and Claw” — Damien Angelica Walters
“Momma” — Eric J. Guignard
“The Trees Are Tall Here” — Marc E. Fitch
“A Quiet Axe” — Michael Kelly
“The Death of Yatagarasu” — Bethany W. Pope
“The Cooing” — John Claude Smith
“A Knife in My Drawer” — Zdravka Evtimova
“On Balance” — Jason A. Wyckoff
“Learning Not to Smile” — Ralph Robert Moore
“Fisher and Lure” — Christopher Burke
“The Death of Socrates” — Michael Wehunt