Putrid Things, Letting Weirdness In, and StokerCon!

My debut collection, Every Crawling, Putrid Thing, has been out for a month now! Thanks so much to everyone who’s been buying it, reading it, talking about it, and helping me celebrate these past few weeks.

If you haven’t picked up your copy yet, consider grabbing one directly from JournalStone! If you have, please consider leaving a rating/review on your platform of choice. I’d really appreciate it!

And if Every Crawling, Putrid Thing leaves you craving more, then allow me to direct your attention to the latest release from Heads Dance Press:

Let the Weirdness In: A Tribute to Kate Bush, edited by Evan St. Jones, contains twenty-six weird stories inspired by the magic and music of Kate Bush, including my own latest, “I Keep the Lights On,” about a deeply concealed memory and a film production gone awry. I’m very proud of this one, and excited to read the work of my fellow contributors (fellow fans of small-press horror and fantasy should recognize names like Maria Abrams, Patrick Barb, Joe Koch, Sam Richard, Leo X. Robertson, Madeleine Swann, and Katie Young, just to mention a few).

Hammer Horror! Hammer Horror! Won’t leave it alone!

Finally, I just want to mention that I’ll be attending the virtual version of StokerCon this weekend, so if you’re also attending virtually, please feel free to say hi! I’ve never attended a virtual con before, but with COVID resurging again and again like the world’s most destructive slasher villain, nonessential cross-country travel struck me as too risky this time. I hope to stream some neat panels and chat with some even neater people.

There are more stories/announcements on the horizon. In the meantime, buy one or both of the books mentioned above and remember to support your favorite indie press/local bookstore!

EVERY CRAWLING, PUTRID THING now available for preorder!

PREORDER HERE: https://journalstone.com/bookstore/every-crawling-putrid-thing/.

“It would be accurate to say that Busboom’s fiction is a love letter to schlocky, neon horror, peppered with sticky-sweet nostalgia and loving luridity. It would, however, be a mistake to dismiss this work as merely such. There is something deeper in Busboom’s terror, rooted uncertainty. The uncertainty of being a child, of being in love, and the ever-present uncertainty inherent in the dark.

“Thoughtful horror, under the guise of gorilla monsters, looming owls and the awful things people do to each other. An outstanding collection from a phenomenal writer.” —S. L. Edwards, author of The Death of an Author and Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts

In his debut collection, David Busboom presents fifteen tales of dark fantasy and horror, populated by bizarre reptiles, occult serial killers, carnivorous protoplasms, and parasitic worms. A child faces down the giant ape destroying his parents’ marriage. A cheating husband wakes up to find his hand replaced by a mucous-covered tentacle. A Midwestern office complex becomes the setting for a ghastly, apocalyptic nightmare.

Within these pages you’ll find strange creatures sliding over dark country roads and twilit train tracks, detectives and swordsmen fighting through occult mysteries and marauding fish-men, a shunned filmmaking prodigy’s deadly magnum opus, and the seductive death of innocence. You’ll find regret, self-destruction, and relationships gone bad.

Here, where weird pulp horror meets the darker sides of love and disillusion, you’ll find slime, and stink, and Every Crawling, Putrid Thing.

https://journalstone.com/bookstore/every-crawling-putrid-thing/

COVER REVEAL!

Here it is at last, just in time for the Ides of March!

This is my book! It’s really happening! Just look at that creepy old man! Look at him!

This image comes to you courtesy of the uber-talented Don Noble (yes, that Don Noble). I’ve admired Don’s art for years, and ever since I had the pleasure of meeting him at StokerCon in 2019 I knew I had to work with him one day. So, of course, when asked in early 2021 who I’d like to do the cover, Don was at the top of my list. Thanks so much, man. 🙂

Every Crawling, Putrid Thing comes out April 8th from JournalStone Publishing.

BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: EVERY CRAWLING, PUTRID THING

One October night in 2020, I received the above fortune in my Chinese takeout. A few days later, I received the email. The kind of email that makes you sit up in bed at 6AM babbling happy swears, shaking your partner awake with the good news. Now I can finally share that news with you.

(Cue heraldic trumpets, etc.)

My first full-length story collection is coming out on April 8, 2022 from JournalStone! The title is Every Crawling, Putrid Thing, and it contains fifteen of my best horror and dark fantasy stories from the past ten years, including seven never-before-published stories. It also marks the return of my debut novella, Nightbird, the first edition of which went out of print at the end of last year.

Cover reveal and preorder info coming very soon! WATCH THIS SPACE!

This book’s got all my favorite stuff: weird creatures, strained marriages, occult murders, a swordfight or two, and at least one proper dinosaur. If you dig tales of regret, obsession, and self-destruction but are also (like me) a sucker for giant apes and marauding fish-men, you’ll find it all here. I’ve got disillusionment and dark love, carnivorous blobs and vampiric harpies, tortured families and ominous reptiles. I’ve got slime, and stink, and Every Crawling, Putrid Thing.

I believe…in EVERY CRAWLING, PUTRID THING.

A Decade in Review

Last Tuesday (7/20/2021) marked exactly ten years I’ve been a published writer. My first sold story, “Weird Tales,” appeared in the fourth issue of Shock Totem on July 20th, 2011. It’s a 600-word Lovecraft pastiche that utilizes one of the subgenre’s tiredest tropes, namely the “Old Gent” himself as a central character.

What can I say, I was a teenager.

It’s not much, but it got mild praise when read aloud to my high school English class the previous year, and not only was it my first sale, it was also my first pro sale. Shock Totem no longer exists (at least not in the same form; the last issue came out in 2019 and the website is no longer active), but for a brief time (from about 2010 to 2014 or thereabouts) it was one of the most exciting horror publications around. My story shared issue No. 4 with fiction by Weston Ochse, A. C. Wise, and Rennie Sparks (of Handsome Family fame), as well as an interview with Sparks and another with the godmother of 21st century horror herself, Kathe Koja. And not only was my name on the table of contents alongside these relative giants, it was on the cover!

My name’s actually BIGGER than Kathe’s or Rennie’s!

Getting in that issue validated a dream I’d nurtured since early 2001, when I first read Brian Jacques and subsequently changed my intended adult profession from “paleontologist” to “author.” Now, twenty years after that, and about sixteen years after I started submitting my work, I’ve got one novella and a little over a dozen short stories published in various places, along with a small handful of essays, interviews, and articles.

It doesn’t seem like a whole hell of a lot, when I look at many of my similar-aged colleagues. That’s certainly the thought that runs on repeat in my head when I’m Ludovico-strapped with imposter syndrome. But it’s more than some, and in any case constantly comparing myself to others is not the healthiest way to go about writing or living.

In any case, there are at least a few accomplishments I feel truly and justifiably proud of.

I didn’t write or submit as often as I should have after that first sale, foolishly thinking I’d just opened some sort of floodgate of success I could coast from. My second story wasn’t published until 2015, but I’d like to think that gap was also due to my editorial role on the college lit journal in 2013 and 2014. And, in 2015, my third (semi-) published story, another pastiche called “The Terrible Grimoire,” was a finalist in a Lovecraftian fiction contest held by the Providence Journal. The newspaper of Lovecraft’s hometown published an abridged version (the full version was later printed in my chapbook, Nods to the Master), and I was invited to read my story in front of strangers in a strange town (which I did, and have done numerous times since in other towns). Also in 2015, my fourth story was published in Whispers from the Abyss 2 (01 Publishing, 2015), which reunited me on a ToC with A. C. Wise and put me in the new company of such awesome talents as John C. Foster, Orrin Grey, Cody Goodfellow, and contender for my Favorite Living Writer since roughly 2006, Laird Barron. The following year, I wrote a story inspired by the first season of True Detective (specifically that Handsome Family song used as the show’s theme) for an open call, and it became one of my most successful and rewarding.

Though horror is where I put down roots, I’ve branched out into other genres. In 2017 I sold a sword-and-sorcery story based on one of the very first things I ever wrote. The story was “Three Hundred Pieces” to Heroic Fantasy Short Stories (Flame Tree Publishing, 2017), and felt like a vindication of nine-year-old me. I also started writing and selling more straightforward crime fiction, having previously only written crime stories with overt horror elements.

Later that same year I sold my first novella, Nightbird (Unnerving, 2018). It was the first book with only my name on the byline, and probably my most significant . It led to my first real reviews, my first royalties, my first interviews and mentions on podcasts and various blogs. I even started appearing as a panelist at conventions, including one where I got to sit next to Stephen Graham Jones as though we were equally relevant.

In 2019, I sold what I consider my best story (“The 800-pound Gorilla in the Room”) to the Saturday Evening Post, the literary alma mater of personal gods like Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut. It’s my first published story that I would classify primarily as science fiction (another vindication; most of the rejections I received in my teens were for science fiction stories). My second science fiction story, “Ahead of Dragons,” came out in Planet Scumm in 2020, and put me on a ToC with rising star Hailey Piper.

All in all, I think it’s been a reasonably successful ten years. Any regrets I have in relation to my writing career thus far are minor relative to the validation I’ve felt upon reaching each of these milestones. And, as I’ve mentioned before, there’s yet another on the horizon that I just can’t talk about publicly yet.

Once I can, you’ll be the first to know.

A Minor Feast After the Famine

It’s been over a year now since my last blog post. My lack of recent activity here has a number of causes (excuses?), but I think I can sum it up by just saying “2020.” Even before the pandemic hit, I had a sense that my posts here were becoming increasingly elegiac, and I didn’t want to just keep regurgitating bad news, especially from a relative place of privilege as the year wore on. This year has been awful to almost everyone everywhere, but I’m aware of how fortunate I am to still have a job, a home, my decent health, and the relative safety of my loved ones. It feels neither productive nor fair to recap my own hardships when the vast majority of the country is experiencing the same or far, far worse.

So…2020, right?

But I do have this website for a reason, and that is primarily to share stuff about myself and my writing. And to that end, I have a couple of pleasant updates!

First, my sword & sorcery story “Three Hundred Pieces” has been reprinted in the most recent issue of Mythic. Buy it here.

Next, my pulpy science fiction story “Ahead of Dragons” is in the most recent issue of Planet Scumm. You can read the story online here, or buy the entire issue here. This story was a lot of fun to write, and I hope to play more with this setting in the near future.

There is even more exciting news on the horizon, but that’s for another time. For now, here are some photos from my trip to Montreal last year, when international travel was still a reasonable endeavor. The trip was for my day job, but I took the opportunity to pay respects to one of my heroes.

A Farewell to Art

Having not written about any movies here in 2019, I was planning to rectify this with a roundup of some of my favorite horror/monster films of the past three or four years, just in time for Halloween. But something more urgent has come up.

On Friday afternoon, I checked my email and promptly felt my heart break.

The Art Theater, a historic movie theater operating in downtown Champaign since 1913, and a regular haunt of mine since late 2010 or so, is closing its doors.

 

I can’t remember with absolute certainty which movie I saw there first, but I think it might’ve been Metropolis (1927). It wasn’t the first time I’d seen it, but it was the first time in a theater, and a period-appropriate one at that. There was also an astounding feature-length documentary, The Extraordinary Voyage (2011), about the rediscovery and restoration of a hand-colored print of A Trip to the Moon (1902), the first-ever science fiction film, culminating in a screening of the restored film itself.

The first of many horror films I saw there was the classic Universal Frankenstein (1931). It was the first time I’d ever seen it, and of course it immediately became an all-time favorite. It’s the first movie-going experience I remember at the Art that was exactly that: an experience. It’s quite something to witness this scene for the very first time on the big screen, no matter how old you are. It was the first of many such memorable, sometimes life-changing moments within the Art Theater’s walls.

It was where told an ex I loved her for the first time, during a screening of House (1977). Perhaps it was just the first time she said it back, but in any case the memory of love blooming in the back row in the light of that sometimes horrifying, sometimes hilarious fever dream of a film is one I will always treasure. That ex and I would return to the Art many times before the relationship ended, including for a memorable screening of Miranda July’s whimsical drama, The Future (2011), a screening of Crispin Glover’s film It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine. at which we met Glover himself (and got his autograph!), and on a double-date to a screening of the iconic Nosferatu (1922) accompanied by a live orchestra. It was like traveling back in time.

My first kinda-sorta date with my current partner, Shelby, way back in 2014, was to an Art Theater screening of Willow (1988).

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We laughed aloud at Warwrick Davis’s repeated cries of “Madmartigaaaaan!” and I hesitantly put my arm around her. She shrugged it off, but now it’s almost 2020 and we’re still together. She’s accompanied me (sometimes reluctantly) to countless Art outings, including such horror hits as Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979) and Midsommar (2019), which she liked, as well as Re-Animator (1985) and The Lost Boys (1987), which she liked less. We even caught a showing of The Exorcist (1973), which frightened her but left her not wanting to see it again. Perhaps the most surprising Art Theater experience with Shelby was a group venture with my sister and brother-in-law to see the unsurpassed urtext of American slashers, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) in September 2017. None of us had seen it, and while I expected to enjoy it, I did not expect to love it as much as I did, let alone for Shelby (not generally a big fan of horror films) to love it as well. But she did, and does to this day. It’s one of my favorite little discoveries about her, and it might not have happened without the Art Theater. Another we both loved was Border (2018), a dark Swedish fantasy based on a story by John Ajvide Lindqvist, author of Let the Right One In.

 

Though I did drag her to quite a few horror and weird fantasy flicks, we also saw romantic movies. Two Valentine’s Days in a row we made the Art our primary destination, first with Casablanca (1942), which I hadn’t yet seen, and then with Dirty Dancing (1987), one of Shelby’s favorites and one I was happy to rediscover. We also saw Purple Rain (1984) there, shortly after Prince’s death, and held each other as we wept through the titular song at the end.

 

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Some of my most poignant memories of the Art are also solitary ones. Alone, I attended a screening of The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) that reduced me to silent, shaking tears. Likewise, to a slightly lesser extent, with a screening of Stalker (1979), part of a month-long celebration of Soviet science fiction films in 2017. And again, with You Were Never Really Here (2017), an earlier, less derivative Taxi Driver-influenced psychological thriller starring Joaquin Phoenix that few seem to talk about anymore. And again, with Hagazussa (2017), a profoundly disturbing German take on The Witch that really deserves its own review here. And yet again, with Climax (2018), a largely improvised horror film that rivals both Black Swan and the recent Suspiria as a dance-centric descent into hell. And so on, and so on. The number of times I was moved before that screen, either alone or with company, are too many to mention, but here are a few other standouts:

  • Battleship Potemkin (1925): one of the greatest films of all time. I had no idea what I’d been missing until I decided to check it out at the Art one day. If you ever get a chance to see this in a theater, do yourself a favor.
  • Eraserhead (1977): sometime between 2012 and 2016, I saw this movie for the first time at the Art. Prior to this, I’d only dipped my toe in the David Lynch oeuvre with Dune and The Elephant Man, falling in love with both for different reasons. They did not prepare me.
  • Possession (1981): part of the October 2016 lineup, I had only heard of this movie a few months before and had become obsessed with the idea of tracking it down. Then, lo and behold, it came to the Art, and I was absolutely blown away. One of my favorite explorations of the surreal horror of a crumbling relationship, and another film that deserves its own discussion here.
  • Terminal Island (1973): a special one-night-only showing in July 2017 with a post-show discussion hosted by a University of Illinois film professor. I’d never heard of this one, but I’m so glad I went. A feminist action/exploitation film featuring a very young Tom Selleck!
  • Monterey Pop (1967): a special one-night-only showing in August 2017, I’d never seen this one before but had long considered purchasing the Criterion release. I adore the music of this era, and concert films like Woodstock are always a pleasure to watch. Seeing this on the big screen was almost transcendent. The Mamas and the Papas had me grinning from ear to ear, Janis Joplin’s performance of “Ball and Chain” made me cry with joy, and Jimi Hendrix’s almost ceremonial burning of his guitar was like a real magic ritual caught on film.
  • An Evening with Linnea Quigley, featuring Return of the Living Dead (1985) and Devotion (2016): part of the October 2017 lineup, this double-feature was the first time I’d seen Return of the Living Dead, which promptly became one of my favorite ’80s horror movies and my favorite zombie movie after the original Night of the Living Dead. The second film, Devotion, was directed by one of the Art Theater’s own staff and programmers, Jessie Steitz, and co-starred Quigley. The best part of the night? Being able to meet Linnea Quigley herself during intermission!
  • Empire of the Ants (1977): part of a “Science on Screen” series in 2018, featuring a post-show Q&A with entomologist May Berenbaum. A fun, cheap throwback to the giant bug movies of the 1950s, with a lot of neat discussion afterwards. I’d previously met Berenbaum at her annual Insect Fear Film Festival at the University of Illinois.
  • The Night of the Hunter (1955): another of the greatest of all time, another I’d been wanting to see for years, and another Criterion release I’ve always come this close to buying. I remember this was a matinee show, which was nice because I desperately needed some sunshine and fresh air after sitting in the dark with Robert Mitchum’s corrupt minister for 90 minutes.
  • Plus a slew of more recent movies that, without the Art, I would never have been able to see in a theater. Movies like Hard to Be a God (2013), Theeb (2014), The Void (2016), Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (2017), The Endless (2017), Filmworker (2017), Have a Nice Day (2017), and many, many others.

The Art is where I first witnessed the work of Alejandro Jodorowsky, first with Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013), and later with Santa Sangre (1989). Just recently, I attended a pair of screenings with my mother, Echo in the Canyon (2018) and Sword of Trust (2019), that blew both our emotional socks off.

Just walking back to my car at night after a late movie became a cherished ritual, a rich little slice of time in my favorite part of town after, usually, a good sit. That little walk was best when I was by myself, to reflect on what I’d just seen or caw at the gigantic murder of crows that almost invariably gathers near the Busey Bank parking lot in certain months of the year.

One of the Art’s greatest contributions to the Champaign-Urbana community was its annual New Art Film Festival, a showcase of locally-made films at all levels of budget and experience. In 2017, one of the featured shorts was an eleven-minute black-and-white called “I Was a Teenage Nosferatu,” co-written and produced by Shelby Koehne and myself, and directed, shot, and edited by Jeff Kacmarynski on a total budget of approximately $1,000. The screening itself was less than perfect: the MC forgot to credit Shelby in his intro and, at the film’s pivotal moment, a local news cameraman BARGED INTO THE DARKENED THEATER WITH A GODDAMN SPOTLIGHT, immediately distracting half the audience (I still have absolutely no idea why that was allowed or even considered, but it did happen). In spite of those hiccups, the singular experience of a film I had a hand in creating premiering at my favorite theater was a joy I won’t soon forget. You can now watch the film in its entirety on YouTube.

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In its final years, the Art hosted an all-night horror movie marathon as part of its annual “Shocktober” Halloween program. I attended two of these: the first in 2017, and the last earlier this month. In 2017 I went in costume, only to find myself the only one there who’d dressed up. I sat in the back, somewhat self-conscious, and sipped iced Irish coffee through the small breathing hole of my latex Brundlefly mask (eventually, of course, I took the mask off, but for a little while it was kind of fun sitting in a crowded theater as a composite of André Delambre and Seth Brundle, sucking alcohol through a tiny straw with the cup clutched carefully in one thick-gloved hand). The movies were Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984), Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), The Last House on Dead End Street (1977), Eaten Alive (1976), and Nightmare Sisters (1988). I ducked out right before Dead End Street to change out of my costume, but returned in time for Eaten Alive and Nightmare Sisters.

I missed the marathon in 2018, but I did manage to see Chuck Russell’s remake of The Blob (1988) for the first time, and loved it every bit as much as the original.

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The last movie I saw at the Art was the original Village of the Damned (1960), the third of five films chosen for Shocktober 2019’s all-night marathon. It was preceded by The Evil Dead (1981) and It Follows (2014), the former of which I’d never seen until that night, the latter of which was already among my personal favorites. By the end it was well after 2 A.M. and my eyelids were getting heavy, so I decided to go home early. If I’d known it would be my last time there, I would’ve powered through for the final two films. But if there had to be a last time, that’s not a bad triple-feature to end on.

I hope the Art is somehow able to return and continue, but it doesn’t seem likely. Champaign-Urbana is far poorer without it, and my life a little emptier.

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Artwork from Champaign-Urbana’s Adventures in Time and Space escape rooms.

 

A Brief Coda to This Elegy:

As of this writing, the Art Theater’s management has, somewhat controversially, not elaborated on the precise reasons for shutting down, beyond a vague reference to “systemic challenges” brought about by a changing film industry. Despite whatever else may or may not have been going on with management behind the scenes, this rings true to me in the face of Disney’s ever-expanding monopoly and draconian handling of that which it has purchased. The Art would not be the first or last victim, and whether or not it bounces back under new management (as I sincerely hope it does), I’ll not be paying to see any more Disney-owned films until they change their policies.

Gene Wolfe: “I Still Remember the Goldfinches”

And now Gene Wolfe.

This is something I’ve feared for a little while now: the knowledge that I’ll never see Gene again at a convention. I first met him at Chicon 7 (the 70th World Science Fiction Convention) in Chicago, my first Worldcon. He was on a panel called “Learning to be Dangerous” with Liz Gorinsky, David G. Hartwell, and Connie Willis. He was the last panelist to arrive. I can’t remember much of the panel itself, although I do recall a woman in the audience coughing loudly throughout.

Afterwards I nervously approached Gene as he made his exit and we exchanged brief hellos, but I wouldn’t have my first real interaction with him until WindyCon 41 in Lombard, two years later. He wasn’t on any panels, or even listed as an official guest, but I spotted him and his daughter Teri in the dealer’s room, perusing some silver-headed canes. I watched them from a distance, hemming and hawing over whether I should approach or just leave them alone, and one of the dealers, noticing my distress, told me to just go ahead and go up to them.

“Gene’s a sweetheart,” the dealer said.

So I went ahead and went up to them, clutching a copy of the October/November 2004 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in my trembling fingers. I had brought it to be signed by another writer, my friend Richard Chwedyk (author of the beloved “saur” stories), and had actually just left a reading of Richard’s to hunt out paperbacks in the dealer’s room.

I introduced myself and asked if Mr. Wolfe would be kind enough to sign the magazine for me. Beaming proudly, Gene said of course he would, and as I offered him my pen Teri asked, “Would you like a picture?” Of course, I said yes, and without hesitation Gene linked arms with me.

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He then suggested we take one with Teri as well, for the sake of fairness, and so I did my best to take a decent group selfie:

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I didn’t remember until later that Gene had lost his wife, Rosemary, less than a year prior. And yet he laughed and quipped, welcoming fans like me with a big, gracious smile. He was indeed a sweetheart.

I saw him next only a couple of weeks later, at ChamBanaCon 44 in Champaign. He spoke on a panel with S. M. Stirling and Jean Rabe about novel-writing. I sat near the front and scribbled down notes. I found out that Gene was a regular guest at ChamBanaCon, and since the convention was both very close and very inexpensive, I decided to become a regular attendee.

Of course, then, I missed ChamBanaCon 45.

I made it to #46, though, and by this time I’d finished reading The Book of the New Sun in its entirety. Prior to that, I’d only read a smattering of his short stories, but by 2016 I’d been deeply bitten by the Wolfe. I brought the books for Gene to sign, and was able to catch him almost alone in the consuite. He seemed to remember me from our previous encounters, and we chatted for over an hour about The Island of Dr. Moreau and its various film adaptations, famous science fiction fans of years gone by, the origin of my last name, and writing in general. I was almost finished with an early draft of Nightbird then, and I briefly summarized the plot.

“That’s a good story!” Gene said. I contained my euphoric grin and back-patting until later in the hall, but only just.

Writer and musician Nathan Carson (yes, that Nathan Carson) flew over from Portland, Oregon to interview Gene at ChamBanaCon 47. It was wonderful to witness, and I’ll let the interview speak for itself (I was sitting just behind the camera). It was my first time meeting Nathan in person, though we’d been friends on Facebook for a couple of years, and we had a wonderful time hanging out, talking shop, and/or shooting the breeze over Chinese food. He signed some stuff for me and even joined me on my first-ever convention panel, on short stories. I was able to sneak in another consuite chat with Gene, this one shorter and a bit more crowded (more on that conversation can be found in my interview with Arm Cast Podcast, starting just after the 11-minute mark).

ChamBanaCon 48 was the last time I saw Gene. I hadn’t been planning to attend that year due to some recent changes in my home life, but on very short notice I was asked to co-host an interview with Gene similar to the one Nathan had conducted. I agreed, and began hastily coordinating questions with my co-interviewer, Andrew Busam. Andrew was a longtime die-hard fan like Nathan, while I was still a fairly recent convert and not as well-read in Gene’s bibliography. The interview went well, though I think I floundered a bit here and there. See for yourself.

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After the interview, I gave Gene an inscribed copy of Nightbird in exchange for one last autograph, this time in my recently-acquired copy of Peace. I chatted a bit longer with him and Andrew in the consuite, and then quietly excused myself to go home.

And then, some five months later, on what will surely go down in history as one of the worst Mondays on record, I read the news online:

Gene Wolfe was dead, and Notre-Dame was burning.

Given Gene’s Catholic faith, it struck me as a peculiar pairing of tragedies. Of course, I knew he’d been ill for some time without knowing the details. And, as was the case when Harlan Ellison passed last year, many others will have more intimate remembrances of both the man and the body of work he left behind. I’m just thankful that I not only got to meet Gene, but become a repeat acquaintance of his. I’m thankful for his brilliant work, and even more so for his personal grace and humor. I’m more thankful than ever that I decided to go through with that last interview.

I’ll let Gene have the final word. During Nathan’s interview, he shared an anecdote (beginning at the 17:35 mark in the video) about driving to a formative writers’ conference and seeing a multitude of yellow dots on the road:

“As I got nearer, all the yellow dots flew up into the sky. They were goldfinches. And I don’t know what they had been doing with a flock of twenty, thirty goldfinches on the road, but that’s where they had been, and as I came toward ’em in the car they flew up. And I had the feeling, ‘I’m starting on a new life, this is a whole new thing that’s opening up in front of me.’ And I was right! It was! Y’know, I was gonna slowly give up engineering and move into being a pure writer, and that’s what happened. And I knew a whole different set of people, I was subject to a different set of rules and so on and so forth. I still remember the goldfinches. My favorite bird, by the way. They weren’t until they flew up in front of me, but once they had done that I clasped them to my heart.”

Sighs from the Depths of My Local Arthouse

I’ve known the name Dario Argento since I was in high school, but I hadn’t seen any of his films (unless you count Once Upon a Time in the West, my favorite Spaghetti Western, on which he has a story credit) until May 1st, 2018. On that day, I saw the original 1977 Suspiria at the local Art Theater in downtown Champaign.

Without spoiling anything for fellow latecomers, Suspiria stars Jessica Harper as an American ballet student who transfers to a prestigious German dance academy only to get caught up in a brutal supernatural conspiracy. It’s considered one of the most influential horror films of the late 1970s, and is actually the first of a trilogy (I haven’t gotten around to seeing the rest, but I hope to eventually).

For me, the original Suspiria didn’t quite live up to the years of hype surrounding it, but it came damn close and I enjoyed it a lot. It struck me as perhaps a little more style than substance, but MAN, what style! Those colors! That music! It all combined to form a beautifully creepy atmosphere unlike anything I’d seen before. The University of Illinois Press had a table in the theater lobby, selling copies of L. Andrew Cooper‘s critical text on Argento’s films (titled simply Dario Argento). I bought one enthusiastically on my way out, and sighed Goblin’s iconic Suspiria theme under my breath all the way back to my car.

Then, in September, I saw my second Argento film: 1975’s Deep Red (a.k.a. Profundo Rosso, a.k.a. The Hatchet Murders), also at the Art.

If you don’t count Suspiria as part of the genre (and many of my better-versed acquaintances don’t, though some do), Deep Red was my first-ever giallo film. Like Argento’s name, I’d known the term for years, but had never seen (at least not knowingly) an example of the form (I was attracted enough to the concept to ask my dad for a copy of Ross E. Lockhart’s Giallo Fantastique anthology for my birthday in 2016, but that had as much to do with the authors featured as it did with the theme).

Anyway, I really dug Deep Red, even more than I expected to. It’s the complex story of a British jazz pianist investigating the murder of a psychic medium in Rome, while the mysterious black-gloved killer tries to thwart him. Another fantastic score by Italian prog-rockers Goblin, a camera that never seems to stop moving (but in a good way, not like the lame shaky-cam bullshit found in some recent films), and some genuinely creepy moments beyond the merely gruesome (that scene with the doll!). It almost feels like a gorier, more over-the-top version of something Hitchcock might’ve made, and I mean that in the best way possible.

Finally, in early November, I saw what many consider the high-water mark of giallo cinema: Argento’s first feature, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970).

This one is also the first in an Argento trilogy, and takes its plot (loosely and without credit) from the Fredric Brown mystery novel The Screaming Mimi (1949). Like Deep Red, this one drops a foreign artist (this time an American writer) in the middle of Rome for a stylishly horrific thrill ride. This one features a score by Ennio Morricone, most famous for composing the music for practically every Sergio Leone film (including Once Upon a Time in the West) but also deservedly admired for his work on films like The Thing (1982) and The Mission (1986). Seeing the movie in an old art-house theater, rum and Coke in hand, and sporting at the time a period-appropriate mustache, sideburns, and leather jacket, I felt like a character straight out of the first season of The Deuce. It was an excellent finale in my backwards journey through three of Argento’s most celebrated films.

But there is a coda to this minor art-house odyssey.

Last weekend I turned 27, a prime age for death by misadventure. To celebrate, my dad took me out for sushi and then to see a film at our beloved Art Theater.

The film, of course, was Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria.

Since its production was widely announced in 2015 or 2016, I already knew about the new Suspiria before I saw the original. Some of my friends were outraged over the idea of a remake, and I rolled my eyes at the addition of yet another title to the recent glut of remade films, but I wasn’t actually upset by the notion. First, I hadn’t even seen the original, and therefore had no strong feelings about it that a new version might potentially mar. Second, I’d much rather see a remake of a 40-year-old semi-obscure foreign film done by a talented director than a watered-down, focus-grouped rehash of a still-popular ’80s or ’90s nostalgia item made by a committee of hacks (I could list some examples here, but they don’t need more publicity and I’m sure you can think of at least three on your own).

Anyway, I was mostly ambivalent about it until I saw the first teaser, about a month after seeing the original film. That teaser pretty much hooked me, and every trailer following only got me more pumped to see it. When I saw it was coming to the Art on my birthday, my plans were made.

I was a little anxious about bringing my dad. He has a tendency to doze off in dark theaters during long movies, and when I discovered Videodrome (1983) in college and made him watch it with me, he told me afterward, “Don’t show this to [your girlfriend]. She doesn’t need to see this.” On the other hand, he’d previously hosted a screening of Antichrist (2009) for me and some friends a few years earlier, and hadn’t seemed too fazed by it. So, after a delicious sushi dinner, both a little tipsy on sake and beer, we subjected ourselves to a headily ornate audiovisual assault.

Where Argento’s Suspiria might be accused of garishness for its use of color, Guadagnino’s might be accused of the same for its apparent complexity. Again telling the story of an American woman (this time played by Dakota Johnson, transcending the Fifty Shades films with impressive conviction much like post-Twilight Robert Pattinson) who enrolls in a prestigious German dance academy that is more than it seems, this remake swaps Argento’s outrageous palette for more muted tones, and stretches the runtime from the original’s brisk 98 minutes to a slightly bloated 152. It’s a much bleaker film than its originator, but like the best remakes (Cronenberg’s The Fly, for example) it remains spiritually faithful to the source while exploring new themes and aesthetics. The score, this time by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, is far less memorable than Goblin’s, but still appropriate and effective.

Guadagnino’s Suspiria seems to share much of its themes, structure, and tone with Von Trier’s Antichrist, so if you’ve seen that you might have a better idea of what to expect than if you’ve only seen the original Argento version. Both Suspiria ’18 and Antichrist left me wondering, “What the fuck did I just watch?” and both are divided into clearly-marked chapters. But, while Antichrist‘s epilogue provides an effectively chilling and ambiguous final note, Suspiria‘s seems to wrap things up almost a little too neatly to be completely satisfying. Considering that, along with the slightly unjustified length of the film as a whole and the impact of the gloriously disturbing “Mutterhaus” sequence preceding it, I felt most of the epilogue could have been cut to little or no ill effect.

Upon leaving the theater I wasn’t sure what to think of it, though I’m fairly certain I enjoyed it more than my dad. With each passing day, though, my appreciation grows a little. In my heart of hearts I think I still prefer the relative simplicity of the original, but Guadagnino’s version is well worth seeing.

Especially on a big screen in an old arthouse theater.

Mandy

Last week I attended a late-night screening of Panos Cosmatos’s new film Mandy.

mandy

 

Mandy sort of came out of nowhere for me. I’d heard almost nothing about it and wasn’t very interested, and then all of a sudden my Facebook feed was flooded with hype and raves and Cheddar Goblins, and I decided I had to check it out. Set in a surreal 1980s California, it details the fantastically violent revenge quest of a logger whose girlfriend (the eponymous Mandy, played beautifully by Andrea Riseborough) is murdered by a deviant hippie cult. The movie is like a live-action segment of Heavy Metal made under the influence of Clive Barker, Terry Gilliam, and Tobe Hooper, punctuated with brief animated interludes that feel straight out of a Conan music video. It’s easy to imagine Alice Cooper in the role of the Manson-esque Jeremiah Sand, had this been made in 1983 (Linus Roache, previously best known to me as Thomas Wayne in Batman Begins, is appropriately menacing and sleazy). But Nicolas Cage is the star of the show, delivering not only the wild-eyed, Crazy Cage explosions we’ve come to expect, but also some chillingly grounded emotional moments. Mandy embraces the ’80s nostalgia craze without leaning too heavily on it, and it’s a must-see for anyone who likes weird action/horror/dark comedies and doesn’t mind some gore. It makes me even more eager to watch Cosmatos’s previous film, Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010), which has been highly recommended by several friends and sounds even more up my personal alley.

While I’ve got your attention, I’d be an idiot if I didn’t take the opportunity to talk up some recent/pending publications.  My story “From the Dusty Mesa,” originally published in Walk Hand in Hand into Extinction from CLASH Books in 2016, has found a second home in Unnerving‘s new anthology Haunted are These Houses, edited by Eddie Generous and Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi.

haunted

The theme is Gothic with a capital G, and I share a table of contents with not only some of today’s neatest horror voices like Gemma Files, S. L. Edwards, and Stephanie Wytovich, but also old legends like Edgar Allan Poe and Herman Melville, the latter of whom immediately follows my story in the book (insert giddy shriek of joy)! I consider “From the Dusty Mesa” one of my best stories, but even if you’ve already read it you’ll want to check this one out.

Also, now that contracts and money have been exchanged, I can announce that my Christmas crime story “Don’t You Play Your Games with Me” has been accepted by Crimson Streets for publication sometime in November/December, smack in the middle of the holiday season. This is a loose sequel to my previous Crimson Streets story, “Massacre,” but it’s also another story of the Midnight Witch (her third so far, for those keeping track). I’ll be sharing links to that as soon as it’s published.

Finally, my buddy Jeff Kacmarynski is working on his first feature-length film, and could use your help. If you like weird, surreal horror (and if you’re reading this there’s a good chance you do), please consider donating a few bucks: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/essence-a-psychedelic-gothic-thriller#/backers. Full disclosure, I lend my voice to a talking cockroach in this thing, so if you wanna see that you really oughtta give us some support.

 

I’ll be reading/signing at Bob’s Bookstore in Charleston, IL on October 28th! If you’ll be anywhere near the Central Illinois area that afternoon, I encourage you to stop by and say hello! More info can be found on Facebook.