Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween Y'all

Two e-book shorts of mine are free today:

Soul Fire - the story that grew into my novel Gnelfs.

and

Watched - a YA short set in the world of my Pembrook High novels written under the name Michael August.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Beckoning Review

Got a free review copy of an interesting tale, possibly some good Halloween reading if you're in the mood.

What happens when a psychically gifted young woman is lured into a religious cult? The Beckoning answers that with eerie supernatural imagery and hints of science.

The tale focuses on Matt Brannigan whose daughter, Briony, exhibits powerful psychic abilities. She’s so exceptional that she’s seen many experts, including Brother Desmond, the charismatic leader of the Zarathustrans.

When Briony’s mother, Helen, is killed in a strange incident in the family’s new home, she’s lured into Desmond’s clutches as Matt reels from the misfortune.

While struggling with the question of whether his daughter might be better off among the Zarathustrans, Matt seeks the help of Reuters investigative reporter, Clarissa Pike. Clarissa’s a touch psychic herself and is also Briony’s godmother.

Clarissa’s level head helps guide the effort to free Briony. But as she and Matt storm Brother Desmond’s castle, it becomes clear Desmond is harnessing Briony’s awesome abilities and channeling them toward dark ends.

Only a nightmarish journey through a surreal landscape can set Matt and Clarissa on a course for averting the triumph of evil.

Paul Collins has crafted a thoughtful, intense and exciting tale in The Beckoning, and it covers the landscape of the unknown in chilling and compelling fashion.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Nevermore needs more backers

I've wanted to see the stage play with Re-Animator's Jeffrey Coombs as Poe doing an evening of readings that gradually degrade as the author gets drunker.

Stuart Gordon's Kickstarter hopes to make the play into a film, but more backers are needed as the clock ticks. It's at least as cool as many of the things that have pulled in big bucks.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Favorite Short Stories: The Hospice by Robert Aickman

I've discovered a new favorite thanks to a friend on Twitter.

It's one of those tales that keeps you pondering while causing a subtle touch of eeriness.

It perhaps delivers that kind of imaginary fear Stephen King dubs "the terror" in Danse Macabre. That's the feeling that comes not when a machete is raised but when, as King notes, a tingling wisp of breath tickles the back of your neck. You turn around to find no one there.

I'm speaking of "The Hospice," a tale by the late Robert Aickman, British purveyor of horror without definition.

 It should come as no surprise to me. I read "The Swords" in Cold Hand in Mine years ago, and its final lines have lingered with me ever since, proving the collections epigram: "In the end, it's the mystery that lasts and not its explanation."

It's a thought not unlike Kelly Link's answer to the first question on her FAQ. Why don't your stories have endings? With an ending, you might find satisfaction. With a question, a mystery, you keep pondering.

I've done that with "The Swords" since about 1978. I may not have as many years left in me to ponder, but I'll mull "The Hospice" for a while thanks to Jared Sandman aka @JaredSandman.

I shared a "favorite short stories" post with the Twitterverse, and we got into a "that story reminds me of this story" conversation.

He mentioned a Joseph Payne Brennan story I'd cited from Shadows 7 made him think of "The Hospice" found in the hefty Masterpieces of Terror and the Supernatural.

Happily I owned that volume, so I pulled it out and read the Aickman tale.

It's strange and ambiguous, of course. A British traveling salesman named Maybury is forced by an associate to take one of those short cuts that never work out.

Lost and low on gas, he happens upo the hospice of the title and opts to stay the night. It's no run of the mill road side rest stop, but it's not Hostel either.

Before long, Maybury's sitting for a meal and discovering the staff's not happy when you don't clean your plate even though they're delivering substantial portions. Coffee they're short on, however.

Things only get stranger. There's no phone for Maybury to call his wife when he determines he'll have to stay the night, and when he stays over, rooming with a longtime resident, he hears mysterious cries in the night and experiences other eeriness. Was that his roommate that returned after a wee hours departure or someone else?

The reader can make an obvious choice about the hospice and about Maybury's fate, especially since there's deep symbolic suggestion in the final scene, but Aickman does not connect the dots.

He leaves it all for the reader to contemplate, just as he does the meaning in "The Swords." That resonates and delivers a little more satisfaction than an ax murder. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Favorite Short Stories: The Calamander Chest by Joseph Payne Brennan

Once upon a time, I was asked to read a scary story for a grade school class. I think I'd written some young adult stories by then, but I didn't think I had anything appropriate for kids in single digits.

I set out to find something suitably spooky that might chill without traumatizing. I took a trip to the library and browsed collections in the children's section until I ran across Thrillers and More Thrillers edited by Robert Arthur. I honed my reading skills on the Arthur-created The Three Investigators, so I was drawn to his name.

Thumbing through the pages that promised to present phantom stagecoaches and more, I ran across Joseph Payne Brennan's "The Calamander Chest."

I'd read Brennan but never that tale, which appeared first in Weird Tales. Perhaps the illustration of a ghostly hand caught my attention first.  I took the book home and curled up with the story, and I soon decided it should work well for what I needed.

It told  of Ernest Maxx who, while browsing a second hand shop, happens upon a chest of "genuine Calamander wood" from the Indies. The proprieter seems happy to part with it for a pittance, but Maxx dismisses that hint, thinking the next time he changes housing, the chest will prove useful.

Never, never, never buy a mysterious chest the shopkeeper wants to get rid of. Before long, Maxx is awaking in the wee hours to notice a ghostly hand slowly rising from the box:

"He sat motionless, overwhelmed with sudden horror, his eyes riveted on this appalling object.
It just hung there unmoving, a long, pale finger with a heavy knucklebone and a black nail."  

It happens again and again until Maxx, angered at first by the intrusion, eventually tries to fight the finger and then to get rid of the chest. He ultimately must learn of the dark secrets it once contained.

What's Maxx's fate? To say more would spoil the fun.

The image of that ghostly hand tweaked my imagination, and it enthralled the kids in the classroom when I read it as well, and I revisit the tale from time to time.

With my imagination engaged and most of the lights turned out in the room, it can still bring a shudder.

It's a great choice for Halloween reading whether you're a kid or not.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

A Halloween Story: Watched - YA Horror Thriller Kindle Exclusive

For a while, I've been meaning to revise a short story I wrote in the universe of the Michael August novels.

Those YA books are all set at Pembrook High, and in the original outlines there was more of a unifying thread. My editor at the time decided against recurring characters, so the tales are loosely connected. Sometimes characters from one book pass through the pages of another, but each novel stands alone.

One Halloween, around the time those were new, I wrote a short story for a newspaper's youth section.

It focused on Brianne Pratt, a creative young woman who had to deal with a stalker while planning a big Halloween bash for Pembrook High.

When Crossroad Press began reissuing the Michael August novels, I knew I wanted to revisit that story. Newspapers don't have a lot of room for word count, so the original version was brief. I wanted to expand it a bit, but other things kept getting in the way.

It bubbled up in my memory last year when a producer expressed interest in possibly adapting the Pembrook High stories into a series of TV movies in the vein of Pretty Little Liars with a little more Goosebumps flavor.

All of the Pembrook storylines came into the discussion even though New Year's Evil, with a holiday theme, would have been the first to be filmed. One thought was to have all of the stories set on holidays, so "Someone's Watching" would have fit in nicely.

Sadly, Hollywood didn't get a chance to twist and mangle the novels the way say Stanley Kubrick did The Shining. Financing was not available from the cable network to which things were pitched. They had too many other spokes spinning at the moment. Those dollars were needed as the foundation for foreign rights sales and other revenue sources that would have made everything possible.

So it goes. Figured it was a long shot.

At least I'd pulled my original story out of the file cabinet. I began expanding a little, focusing on more of Brianne's ups and downs with parents, teachers and school administrators. While forced to look over her shoulder constantly, she also had to deliver a Halloween dance that wouldn't come off as lame to students while not offending sensitive parents. And of course, the stalker just wouldn't go away.

It was fun to visit Pembrook High again and walk those halls anew. It was almost like a nostalgic trip back to a school I really attended.

The new tale is now available in a Kindle exclusive, just in time for Halloween, of course. Get it here for Kindle, and of course, if you don't own one, it can always be read online with Amazon's Cloud Reader.

Purchase here.

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