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Weldon Writes ... Almost a Blog

On the Experimental Fringe of Horror Fiction: An Interview With Michael Bailey

Michael Bailey is the author of the nonlinear horror novel, Palindrome Hannah, which contains five interrelated tales as well as a secret sixth story that plays out backward through the other stories. The entire book is structurally a palindrome. The novel’s sequel, Phoenix Rose, is also experimental horror. Michael is also the author of the short story and poetry collection, Scales and Petals, and is working on his third novel, Psychotropic Dragon.

His first foray into editing is an anthology of psychological horror, Pellucid Lunacy, which was just recently released. The anthology is a collection of 20 bizarre stories, from authors with unique styles and imagination. All profits from the anthology are being given to charity—it truly is a labor of love!



I asked Michael to talk with us about his experiences during the creation, editing, and publication of Pellucid Lunacy, among other things. He kindly agreed to the following interview.

Weldon Burge (WB): Before we talk about Pellucid Lunacy, I want to ask you about your other books, specifically why you went the self-publishing route. Editorial and artistic control? Or more than that?

Michael Bailey (MB): Few publishers are interested in new authors. With experimental horror fiction, there are even fewer. Palindrome Hannah is a nonlinear meta-novel. When first sending it to publishers (agents wouldn’t touch it), I received a dozen personalized letters and enough form rejections to bind a book that would probably sell. They all said the same thing: dark, ambitious, risky. Publishers weren’t interested in artsy; they wanted cookie-cutter moneymakers. Experimental rarely sells. After polishing the novel for four years, I decided to put it out there myself to see what would happen. It sold close to 1500 copies by word of mouth and was a finalist for the 2006 Independent Publisher Awards—rave reviews, the works. It was then that I realized I would never submit to cookie-cutter and would forever push my love for nonlinearity, which of course spawned Phoenix Rose, an even stranger novel (listed for the 2010 National Best Book Awards), and my short story collection, Scales and Petals. I now have a new imprint I call Written Backwards. For me, it’s more than editorial control, although that has a lot to do with it. I simply want to publish what no one else will publish, fiction that disregards conventionality.

WB: What then possessed you to pull together, edit, and publish a horror anthology?

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More on Short Story Origins

A common question writers are asked is, "So, where do your story ideas come from?" Stephen King, on his official Web site, answered the question in this way: "I get my ideas from everywhere. But what all of my ideas boil down to is seeing maybe one thing, but in a lot of cases it's seeing two things and having them come together in some new and interesting way, and then adding the question 'What if?' 'What if' is always the key question."

I totally agree. Ideas come winging at me like missiles from anywhere and everywhere--overheard snippets of conversations, newspaper items, TV commercials, even graffiti on a city wall! There are so many ideas that I couldn't possibly write all the stories that occur to me. I have notes everywhere, jotted in moments of hot inspiration. Writer's block? What's that? The trick is just being open to whatever occurs to you, and then asking that magic question, What if?

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Of Characters and Cobbler's Elves

If you know any writers, you’ve probably heard something like the following: “I started to write a scene in my novel, pretty much following my outline. But then one of the characters went into a totally different direction. Before long, the characters ending up writing the scene for me, in a way I never expected. And it’s better because of it!”

Non-writers scratch their heads at this. Is this some form of magic? Is there really a muse that usurps the writer’s brain and writes the story? Is this something like the cobbler’s elves?

I was just working on a chapter in my police procedural novel, tentatively titled Harvester of Sorrow. In the chapter, the body of a child is discovered in a remote area of a county park, and the murder may be related to similar murders in a nearby city. This brings up a case of jurisdiction (county vs. city police departments) that I hadn’t considered earlier, and this required that I create a new character, a detective from the county PD. The character was originally only a walk-on, but I quickly realized he was a more significant character, and he changed the chapter as I wrote it. He will appear in subsequent chapters.

Magic??

The January 2011 issue of Writer’s Digest includes an interview with Harlan Coben, best-selling author of numerous thrillers such as Tell No One, Just One Look, Long Lost, Hold Tight, and Caught. During the interview, WD asked, “So do your characters ever surprise you—do they become real to you in that way?” He answered, “Oh, they surprise me all the time. … I don’t like it when people make it seem more magical. It’s not. It’s work. It can be wonderful, and it can be thrilling, but it’s not really magical.”



When I first read this, I honed in on Coben’s claim, “It’s work.” I know what he means. Characters may seem to take on lives of their own, but only after the writer has given great thought to those characters, has worked with them in the story, has fully developed them. Maybe, as a writer, you’ve learned something more about the character as a scene progresses, and the character moves into that new area as your broaden that character’s role in the story. Magic? I don’t think so. It comes from hard work, from the writer being intimate with the characters he/she has created.

Maybe, as the characters have matured in your mind, they no longer fit the outline you originally devised, simply because it forces them to act out of character. This may be a surprise, that a character may go through door B instead of door A as you originally envisioned. But, it’s really no surprise at all—you’re subliminal thoughts were headed in that direction as the character was being developed. No magic. Just hard work.

When characters take over a story, it’s almost always a good and desired turn of events. As a writer, go with the flow. Think of it as a reward for the work you’ve already put into your work-in-progress!
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Book Review: Handling the Undead by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Across Stockholm, the power grid goes crazy and everyone in the city develops a blinding headache. When it all abruptly ends, the recently deceased—in hospitals, morgues and graveyards—suddenly awaken. So begins John Lindqvist’s superb, horror novel, Handling the Undead.



The story follows three different families that must learn to “handle” their now “reliving” loved ones.

    • David Zetterberg’s adoring wife, Eva, is killed in a horrendous accident and her mangled body comes back to life in the hospital. But is she still his wife and loving mother of his young son, or something else?

 

    • Gustav Mahler, upon hearing the dead live again, digs up his grandson from his grave. He steals the child away and then goes on the run from the authorities with the boy’s mother (his daughter). Despite using autism training, the reliving child is slow to respond and clearly not quite human.

 

  • Elvy’s dead husband, Tore, appears at her front door and immediately walks to their bedroom. He starts shuffling through papers on a desk, “pretending to be alive”. After the authorities take Tore away, Elvy has an epiphany and finds her religious calling. But it is not what she expects.



Like Lindqvist’s debut novel, Let the Right One In, Handling the Undead breaks many molds. If you’re expecting brain-munching zombies and fast-moving, bloody carnage, this book may not be for you. While there are plenty of gruesome, creepy scenes (and a particularly disturbing sequence involving a pet rabbit), the horror here is deeply emotional, often heart wrenching. In fact, the core theme of the novel is the love for family and what extreme measures we would take to preserve that love. This is sophisticated horror that takes the genre to new and exciting levels.

(This review was also published in the January 2011 issue of Suspense Magazine. The magazine also includes my interview with Jeremy Schipp, which appeared earlier on my blog--check it out!)

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Something Dark in the Doorway: A Haunted Anthology

There's nothing like a collection of ghost stories for late-night reading, and Static Movement's Something Dark in the Doorway: A Haunted Anthology certainly fits the bill. But, as editor Greg Miller noted in his introduction, stories about hauntings can take many forms: "While reviewing the submissions ... I simply didn't anticipate the extraordinary variety of ways in which the word [haunt] can be interpreted." Here you will find stories of people haunted not only by ghosts, but by other supernatural creatures as well as human emotions, regret, and worry.



My story, "DWF," is the first of the 22 stories in this volume, and it was written in the classic ghost story style (e.g., M.R. James, Arthur Machen), with a decidedly modern slant. It was first published in the Delaware magazine Out & About (October 1996), and won First Place in its "Fright Fiction" contest.

Other stories I enjoyed in this anthology include:

  • "Haunted by the Self" by A.J. French—a study in ego and paranoia that is provocative and tests the imagination
  • "The Door of Gingercove Hotel" by Joshua Brown—a haunted hotel tale with a Lovecraftian flavor
  • "An Apple for Teacher" by Anthony Cowin—about a teacher and one of her problematic students, and fruit trees
  • "The Patience Factor" by Rick McQuiston—sometimes patience isn't golden
  • "My Ghost" by Gregory Miller—a poignant story about how childhood memories can be haunting
  • "The Doll Keeper" by Mason Kuldinow—a story involving a sea monster and a bizarre "collection" beneath the sea
  • "Mirror, Mirror" by Bruce Harris—sometimes even reflections can prove to be "haunting"



If you enjoy horror stories, especially those involving hauntings in various forms, you're sure to find stories in this anthology that you'll enjoy!
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Book Review: The Dead Path by Stephen M. Irwin

If you're into suspense in all its forms, Suspense Magazine is a must! I love the publication's fine balance of new fiction, author interviews, book reviews, advice for writers of suspense, and amazing graphics. You can find the magazine at most major book stores, but I'd advise subscribing (either to the electronic or the paper version.)

I mentioned in an earlier blog that I've signed on with Suspense Magazine as a book reviewer. The first of I hope many reviews was just published in the December 2010 issue.

Here is my review of The Dead Path by Stephen M. Irwin:




Nicholas Close is a haunted man. After his wife’s sudden death, Nicholas begins to see dead people—ghosts who must suffer their hideous deaths in endlessly replaying, silent loops before his eyes. He returns to his childhood home in Australia, where he sees the ghosts of terrified children (including his best friend, Tristam, who was murdered when he was ten-years-old) yanked by invisible hands into a dense, dark forest outside of town. More victim than hero, Nicholas is forced to face his childhood fears and confront an ancient evil when a local child goes missing, and he knows other innocent children will die if he doesn’t act. The story builds intensity from there, stacking bodies and scares, and never lets up until the astonishing conclusion. The last chapter is absolutely chilling.

This stunning debut horror novel is part The Sixth Sense, part Blair Witch, part Stephen King’s It, with a liberal helping of the darkest of Grimm’s tales. Such comparisons, however, do little justice to Irwin’s work, which stands strong on its own. His writing is elegant, highly descriptive and well-paced. Any novel revolving around the gruesome murders of children requires a skilled hand and deft control; Irwin handles these elements of his story well. I found the novel deliciously creepy and disturbing. We can expect more from this fine Australian author in the future!

(By the way, if you suffer from any degree of arachnophobia, this book is definitely not for you!) Read More 

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An Interview With Jeremy C. Shipp

Jeremy C. Shipp is the Bram Stoker-nominated author of four books: Vacation, Sheep and Wolves, Cursed, and the just-released Fungus of the Heart, a fine collection of short stories. His fiction has been published in approximately 50 publications, including Cemetery Dance, ChiZine, Apex Magazine, and Withersin.

Jeremy's work is often poetic and poignant, often goofy and gonzo, but always entertaining. Considered a bizarro/horror writer, in truth his writing defies categorization. I think he's just fun to read. I think of him as a literary Frank Zappa.



Jeremy has been on a blog tour for his new book, so I asked him to drop by and share some thoughts with us. Being the great guy that he is, Jeremy played along.

Here we go!

Fungus of the Heart was recently released. Are you giddy?

I’m as giddy as an energetic schoolgirl in an anime who was just asked out by the cool kid.

You seem to be on top of this social media thing. How important is social media in your marketing scheme?

Social media is king, queen, and court jester. I connect with my fans primarily through sites like Twitter, Facebook and Clownspace.

Harlan Ellison or Philip K. Dick?

It’s my strong belief that the two would tie in a thumb wrestling match.

Do the attic clowns ever sleep?

The attic clowns will only rest once the world population is laughing and trembling with fear simultaneously.

No basement clowns?

The ninja coconut monkeys keep the clowns out of my basement, thank goodness.

You’ve been nominated for the Bram Stoker award. How cool is that?

It’s as cool as a scientist studying zombie animals in the Arctic, which is pretty darn cool.
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Book Review: Torn Apart by Shane Gericke

I just signed on with Suspense Magazine to write book reviews. (My first review is scheduled for the December issue--yay!) It just makes sense that I also post reviews here on my blog. Why not? To keep within the loose theme here, I'd like to discuss certain aspects of each book from a writer's viewpoint--what works, what doesn't, teaching points, etc. If you find the reviews helpful, please let me know.

To get the ball rolling, let me start with Shane Gericke's fine suspense novel, Torn Apart. This is his third thriller in the Emily Thompson/Martin Benedetti series. If you're looking for cops against ruthless killers, you can't beat this for action and suspense!





The novel starts with four vicious murderers, named after zodiac signs, who gang rape and kill a hitchhiker in the back of their van, and then search for a place to dump the body. They work for Cash Maxximus, a drug-dealing rap star who sells a highly addictive designer drug called Katrina. Adding elements of child porn and slave-running, Gericke has developed a truly nasty plot--but that's just the beginning!

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Ghosts and Demons

Who doesn't like ghost stories? (Heck, the Ghost Hunters show on Syfy is one of my guilty pleasures!) Not only do I love reading ghost stories, but I love writing them.

Static Movement just released the anthology Ghosts and Demons, with 33 stories filled with apparitions, demons, and paranormal mayhem of every stripe. My short story, "Blue Eye Burn," is included. This is one of my favorite stories, originally published in Out & About, a Delaware magazine, back in 2004. The tale is about a Vietnam vet who is visited by a child from his past, a child long dead.




Some of the many other stories I enjoyed include:

  • "Death Comes for Gil Bates" by William Wood—what the future holds for the Grim Reaper
  • "Walking the Dog" by Rick McQuiston—will make you take a second look at man's best friend
  • "The Green Washing Machine" by Gayle Arrowood—a different take on appliance hell
  • "The Winter Experiment" by William Todd Rose—a chilling encounter with Yuki-onna, the mythical snow woman
  • "Happy Slapping" by Jason D. Brawn—a violent street punk gets his just reward
  • "The Rendezvous" by Gregory Miller—sometimes it's better to avoid old loves
  • "Slouching Towards Bethlehem" by Ken Goldman—a story involving a langsuyar, a malevolent ghost of a woman who has died in childbirth ... but much more


This anthology also contains five works by Yolanda Sfetsos, a writer hailing from Australia. The book ends with three of her stories, which are preludes to her novel HELLBLAZE.

If you enjoy horror stories—and ghost stories in particular—you'll find plenty to enjoy in this anthology! Halloween is just around the corner (hint, hint).
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Don't Tread on Me: Tales of Revenge & Retribution

I've always been a fan of themed anthologies, particularly collections of horror, suspense, and mystery stories. It's not surprising, then, that I enjoy writing short fiction in the same genres.

One of my stories, "Welcome to the Food Chain," was recently published by Static Movement in the anthology Don't Tread On Me: Tales of Revenge & Retribution. The story is about a hit man, a particularly nasty couple, and crabs caught fresh from the Chesapeake Bay. The story has never been published anywhere else, so I was happy it finally found a home!



But mine is only one of 30 stories in this fine anthology. You'll also find:

  • "A Small Sand Storm" by Kenneth Goldman—offers a different take on the bully-on-the-beach, kick-sand-in-your-face confrontation
  • "Angela's Rising" by Kevin Brown—a rape victim who takes revenge a little too far
  • "Inheritance" by Matt Carter—has a Saturday afternoon "Creature Feature" feel to it
  • "The Impact" by Jim Bronyaur—a disturbing attempt at double revenge, involving adultery and speeding cars
  • "The Shock Value of Bad Magic" by Mark Anthony Crittenden—a party magician's act goes horribly awry, leading to a bloodbath
  • "Good Morning" by Jessy Marie Roberts—an especially sadistic breakfast


One of my favorite stories in the anthology is "Wood Smoke" by the editor, Greg Miller. Short and supremely subtle, the story is about an old man who is semi-swindled out of his farmland by a conniving grandson, and Grandpa's sweet revenge in the end. I saw it coming, but it brought a smile to my face nonetheless.

There are some formatting issues and grammatical errors in the book, but the overall content is superb. As one of the writers included in this anthology, I'm very proud to share the pages with such a wide range of talent. Some stories are subtle, some slam you in the face. There's something here for everyone looking for vicarious thrills!

If you enjoy "tales of revenge and retribution," you can't go wrong with this selection of wonderful stories!  Read More 

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