Heralded by Blood and Other Tales

RAGE MACHINE BOOKS has published  my collection of short Dark Fantasy stories!

If you ever feel that you are doing well as a writer, I would recommend re-reading all of your old short stories. That will put a pin in any inflated sense of accomplishment right quick.

As I have gone through the process of selecting stories for this volume I have run headlong into countless cringeworthy examples of my many bad writing habits. I have shuddered with embarrassment at the numerous examples of passive voice, imprecise word choices, repetition, bad grammar, not to mention atrocious spelling.

When I began I was keen to become reacquainted with my older works, but as I slogged through I became more and more mortified at my own inadequacies as a writer. And what made it worse was that most of this work has seen print!

If ever there was an argument as to why a writer needs a good editor, I am the embodiment of it.

Nevertheless, it has been somewhat illuminating to look back at where my head was at when I wrote these stories. It is interesting, particularly at my age, to read the words of a much younger version of myself, to smile indulgently at my youth’s misconceptions, and to be reminded of the things that I once considered to be very important. As I head North through my middle age, the concerns and cares of my bygone days seem quaint, if not downright mystifying to my older (and hopefully wiser) self.

As well I have been able to track the voice of the writer Jack Mackenzie as it developed, slowly and painfully throughout my early career, such as it was. I can clearly see the influences, the bad imitations, the clumsy striving for poetic turns of phrase as well as the many places where I was just plain bullshitting my way through a story.

I fear that my naked prose is not as elegant as I had hoped it was. My dialogue seems to work, though, far better than the simple task of describing clearly and concisely what the hell is going on. Perhaps I should have been writing screenplays instead of short stories.

Well, what’s done is done. As the venerable Omar Khayyam puts it in his classic Rubaiyat;

The Moving Finger writes and having writ,
Moves on; nor all your piety nor wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all your tears blot out a word of it.

However, as true as that is, another aphorism about vanity may apply here, for I have not let all of my mistakes stand. I know many writers who present their earlier works “warts and all” but I simply cannot let these little darlings into the house without first insisting that they wipe their feet. I find that I am compelled to wipe away the dirt from their faces and try to smooth down the cow licks as best I can before I let company in.

I always felt that when someone comes to visit you should at least try to put your best face forward. Perhaps that seems old fashioned, put it’s how I was brought up and it is how I continue to live today even when I do not feel like it, thanks to my beloved wife.

Besides that, it is a sign of respect to one’s company to try to present an inviting and clean atmosphere – to not let the dogs run wild, to pull out the best china that you have (the sets that match best and have the least amount of chips and cracks) to serve the better quality biscuits, the nice tea and to provide some clean seats and dusted surfaces when company comes to call.

And you, dear reader, are the best company.

As for the kinds of tales these are, well, these are tales of the darkest fantasy. These are the literary spawn – bastards though some may be – of the stories that one would have read in the pages of Weird Tales, that venerated pulp magazine of the early part of the twentieth century. That pulp rag that birthed the stories of Robert E. Howard, August Derleth, Seabury Quinn, C. L. Moore, and many others. These stories have percolated in those pages as well as through the fiction of Robert Bloch, Harlan Ellison, Fritz Leiber and Michael Moorcock. They have been steeped in heroic fantasy fiction, sword and sorcery, and outright horror.

One is even a sequel, of sorts, to a story by the great horror icon and popular Weird Tales author, H. P. Lovecraft.

Does this literary inspiration guarantee that my tales will inherit the quality of the stories which have provided their impetus? No. Of course not. My poor efforts cannot be faulted for their enthusiasm, however. My love for these authors and the types of tales for which they are famous knows no bounds and I have tried to infuse much of that love and admiration into these stories.

If you have a similar love for these kinds of tales, then I am certain that these efforts will prove to be acceptable to you. It is my hope, dear reader, that they provide you with a modicum of pleasure. It is my sincerest wish that they will thrill you in the same way that those Weird Tales once did.

I have tried my best, dear reader. I have cleaned the furniture and importuned the children to behave. I hope you enjoy the biscuits and that you find the tea satisfactory.

Lets spend some time visiting, shall we?

You can purchase the e-book at Amazon.com. The print version will follow shortly.


The Times They are a Changin’

Joshua Reynolds over at his Hunting Monsters Blog, weighs in on the current kerfuffle over Weird Tales. It’s too long and complicated for me to detail here and others have done a much better job than I could. Nevertheless, the incident has put a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths, including Josh who, as a result, has given up on his lifelong dream of getting published in the pages of Weird Tales.

Weird Tales debuted in 1923 and in its run as a pulp purveyor of tales of the strange and fantastic the magazine introduced readers to many wonderful authors, among them the two giants: H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. Having a story published in that sainted publication is a dream held dear by many including myself.

But, let’s be honest, the Weird Tales that we can read today is not the Weird Tales of yesteryear. The original Weird Tales folded in 1954 after 279 issues. In that time it was no stranger to controversy. From outrage over the lurid covers to the furor caused by C. M. Eddy’s The Loved Dead, the original Weird Tales managed to remain somewhat less than respectable.

In its various iterations Weird Tales has acquired a certain degree of respectability, though, particularly most recently under Ann VanderMeer as editor. Therein, however, lies the problem.

It is highly doubtful that many of the authors who published stories in the original Weird Tales would have been accepted for today’s publication. If he had been writing today would H. P. Lovecraft have a forum for his work in that magazine? What about Robert E. Howard? Seabury Quinn? Frank Belknap Long? Somehow I very much doubt it.

Same goes for Analog (formerly Astounding Stories). How many of the authors who eked out a living selling pulp tales to John W. Campbell would make the cut with Stanley Schmidt today? Not many I’ll wager. Things are different from the wild and wooly days of the old pulps. The editors and publishers were individualists from various backgrounds. They were defining the genre and were not concerned about maintaining an editorial “tone” or giving the reader a “specific reading experience” beyond plenty of action, hair raising thrills and terrifying stories.

Today’s editors all seem to have graduated from the same school. They are steeped in post-modern literary theory. They have specific ideas of how a story should go and what the reader’s experience of it should be, This makes for a uniformity that sometimes goes right across the board — fantasy, science fiction, horror — as disparate as those genres are, the elements of the story become more and more the same. Many of the newer magazines specify in their submission guidelines that “…the fantastic element may be slight”. And it is.

It’s also a self fulfilling prophecy. Editors frequently advise writers to read the magazine that they are trying to sell to and see the kinds of stories that they publish. On the face of it that makes sense. You don’t want to sell a police procedural to a romance magazine. However, it also means that the magazines are looking for stories that are more of the same.

I think of it as the American Idol syndrome. The young hopefuls who audition in front of Simon Cowell and the rest of the judges are all hoping that they “have what it takes” but what the judges are really looking for is a very specific kind of performer and they have a very specific criteria for judging who gets through to the final. There is a specific “American Idol” shaped hole that needs to be filled. Deviations from that ideal are winnowed out over however many weeks.

Ask yourself this: How would Bob Dylan have fared on American Idol? Janis Joplin? Tom Waits? Michelle Shocked?

The fact that magazines have to face is that the old paradigm of anthology magazines is changing. The whole concept is being smashed to pieces on the shoals of the electronic ocean: the internet. Fiction available online is like one gigantic anthology and readers can pick and choose what they read, how much they want to pay for it (if anything) and how they want it delivered. That kind of freedom of choice can’t be matched by the table of contents of one magazine, even if they did put out twelve issues a year (an rarity these days).

I believe that the future of fiction is similar to the future of music. Experts and pundits have been predicting the death of the CD for decades. Traditional music venues are being replaced by itunes. One’s ipod becomes a unique expression of one’s individuality. This seems evident.

Experts have been predicting the death of the paper book for even longer and that has raised a great hue and cry from many (myself included at one time) that it would never happen. Well, with the proliferation of Kindles and similar devices and the closing of many bookstores and chains, that reality seems to be at hand.

Traditional magazines like Weird Tales, Analog, Fantasy and Science Fiction and others are finding their print sales dwindling but their electronic sales increasing. Eventually the mindset of the issue of a magazine and it’s table of contents as a package in and of itself will fade away.

In the internet age the web is a back catalog, a gigantic table of contents, from which the reader can pick and choose. The “packaging” of a monthly or bi-monthly or quarterly magazine will eventually fall away. That is the reason I have made my stories and novels available in this way. They will succeed or not on their own merits without the delivery system of a magazine.

Times have changed and magazines like Weird Tales will have to find their way in the new paradigm. They just have to try not to stumble along the way.