Category Archives: Recommendations

SYLVAN DREAD by Richard Gavin

The field of horror (or weird, or dark fantasy, or whatever you’d like to call it) has grown tremendously over the last decade or so. When questioned for my opinion on why, I used to put the blame squarely on the rise of the internet, and while I do believe technology and the way is has changed (and continues to change) every aspect of our lives is a contributor that can’t be overlooked, I also think there’s something more going on. We’re experiencing that cyclical return of readers who find some comfort in the dark, and I think that’s driven as much by the talent in the field as it is by readers searching for that talent. They feed off one another.

Everyone has a different writer they point to when they say “This one. This writer showed me what horror could be.” Sometimes they’re old masters, sometimes they’re new (and maybe-one-day masters) but what really sets them apart is their outlook on the work. It’s different. Different from what others have done, different from what their contemporaries are doing. Sometimes these different voices are recognized immediately by the masses, sometimes by no one at all, but they’re there. They are always there, working. Slowly chipping away at building a body of work that it uniquely their own.

In the last few years, I’ve made a concerted effort to read more fiction than I have since the business of writing consumed me. In that time, I’ve tried to read a cross-section of different work, some from fledgling writers, some from writers who have been at it longer than I’ve been alive. A lot of the work, as good as it is, reads the same. The way the writers see the world, the way they relate it to the reader, is similar, even if the sorts of stories they tell are different. Every era, I think, has a distinct voice, one that you can’t necessarily detect as it happens, but on reflection is so clearly of its time. A lot writers, most writers, working today work in that common voice.

And, then, there’s Richard Gavin.

I don’t like talking about Richard’s work. He and I have been friends for a number of years, and sometimes I fear how it might appear when I mention it. We all know writers who cannot stop pimping their friends, over and over, at every opportunity. I never want to appear to be that kind of writer. However, every once in a while, I feel motivated to break my silence and discuss why Richard and I are friends. It has a lot of do with personality, this is true, but it has even more to do with the sheer respect and awe I have for—and of—Richard’s work. Since before I formally knew him, it has both surprised and inspired me. Richard’s work is not like anyone else’s working today, and SYLVAN DREAD (Three Hands Press, 2016), his latest collection (available in paperback from Amazon right now) is a prime example of why. Every way one could describe the work describes its contents as well—ancient, dark, gnostic, awful, mesmerizing, hallucinogenic, mysterious. These are beautiful tales of shadowed borders, culminating in a novella that is one of those tales that alters you irreparably. This book… this book is so far removed from the every day horrors that line our shelves that it almost seems impossible it could exist. I’m not sure how else to describe it. It’s funny: there’s a photo of the hardback version of the book somewhere on the internet without its dust jacket, and the daylight is reflecting off the gold embossed boards, giving the book and ethereal quality. It’s apt, considering its contents.

It’s a strange time to be a horror writer: there is so much stacked against you, from other forms of communication to a wealth of entertainment options that can distract you from the terrors of just living. But even in their multitudes, few of them will actively work to rewire and awaken you. SYLVAN DREAD makes that attempt. I can’t guarantee it will work for you as it does for me, but I sincerely hope it does. I hope you buy it; I hope you read it; and I hope it makes you a different person than you are now. Things, they always look different when you are finally awake. Let’s hope for the better.

Some favourite reads of 2016

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This year, despite being one of the most horrible in recent memory in many ways, saw the release of some great fiction. I read a few memorable novels, including Paul Tremblay ’s terrific DISAPPEARANCE AT DEVIL’S ROCK, Robert Marasco’s unsettling BURNT OFFERINGS, and William Sloane’s chilling TO WALK THE NIGHT; but I also found some great collections in Richard Gavin’s powerful SYLVAN DREAD, Lynda E. Rucker’s haunting YOU’LL KNOW WHEN YOU GET THERE, Livia Llewellyn’s disturbing FURNACE, Jeffrey Ford’s wonderful A NATURAL HISTORY OF HELL, D.P. Watt’s strange ALMOST INSENTIENT, ALMOST DIVINE, Joyce Carol Oates’s discomforting HAUNTED, and Jon Padgett’s nightmarish THE SECRET OF VENTRILOQUISM. Included in one of those two categories above (though I’m not sure which) was Peter Straub’s fantastic fragment PERDIDO, which is so purely Straubian that I’m torn as to whether I wish it were finished or whether it should remain untouched and as perfect as it already is. Additionally, and no less importantly, through accident or design I also managed to read/reread most of Matthew M. Bartlett’s released books this year, from the field-stunning debut GATEWAYS TO ABOMINATION, though the short THE WITCH-CULT IN WESTERN MASSACHUSETTS, VOLUME ONE, to the tour-de-force CREEPING WAVES.

All of the above doesn’t even cover the books I read but am not yet allowed to discuss, or the wonderful short stories I considered at the beginning of the year for inclusion in 2016’s YEAR’S BEST WEIRD FICTION, VOL 3 (available now in trade, hardback, and ebook).

And I still have a stack of books I haven’t touched yet that I’m hoping to in the coming months (including John Langan’s THE FISHERMAN, Michael Griffin’s THE LURE OF DEVOURING LIGHT, and Peter Straub’s A DARK MATTER). The fields of dark speculative fiction are stronger now than ever before, and the wealth of great material feels nearly endless. It may be a horrible time to be living on the planet, but I have to tell you it’s a great time to be a horror reader.

Thinking Horror, Volume One

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Today, the first volume of THINKING HORROR: A JOURNAL OF HORROR PHILOSOPHY is available. As co-founder and Associate Editor of the journal, I wanted to take a moment to explain its genesis. At least, my side of the story. (I’m sure my co-founder remembers things differently.)

I’ve long been interested in written horror. By which I don’t necessarily mean the Horror genre, or the mode of writing horror, but the underpinnings of what the category itself is and how opinions differ from person to person. I find discussions and analysis of horror interesting, and the history of its undercurrents and/or subgenres (folk, regional, strange, weird, bizarro, and so on) infinitely study-worthy. I enjoy the intellectualization of horror—both as reader and writer.

Because of my interest in how horror works, and how its interpreted and the messages encoded within it, I’ve bemoaned the fact that there aren’t many venues for discussing the philosophy of horror. It’s the sort of thing writers get together to discuss at conferences and conventions, it’s the sort of thing readers discuss on social media, or in the basement of bookstores, or in bars… A lot people like to hash it out, but these discussions are fleeting. They’re certainly rarely recorded, other than as a reference point to something else. At best, we get a monthly column in magazines like BLACK STATIC or NIGHTMARE, but nothing that really tackles the questions head-on and with dedicated focus.

It was a void that weighed on me for some time. I’d often post messages about it to social media, suggesting that were I not spending all my time writing, I would want to edit a journal to answer the question “Why Horror?”. And when I’d post those messages, I would receive comments from a hungry audience, wishing for the same.

I met s.j. bagley online at some point. Quite probably, via the Shocklines message board in the early 2000’s (where the horror community gathered before Facebook). Over the years, it became more and more apparent that sjb and I agreed on a good number of topics when it came to horror fiction, including its themes and modes and construction. Critically speaking, we saw eye-to-eye. Many of my social media discussions on the topics of horror were carried out in public or private with him, and I always came away from them impressed with his knowledge of the field, and the amount of thought he put into it.

I also knew that he hoped, one day, to put together a journal of interviews about horror, where he would discuss these topics with various luminaries. It was something I wanted to read, but suspected, just like my journal of essays from various luminaries about horror, it was likely to remain a pipe dream.

It was while on I was on vacation in Chicago, laying in bed in the middle of the night, that the idea occurred to me. What if he and I were to combine our ideas into a single journal? We saw eye-to-eye on so many aspects that it seemed inevitable our ideas would cover similar ground, so putting everything into one place made a lot of sense. Plus, between the two of us, we could afford to electronically publish something without much risk, and see what might happen. The idea rattled in my head all night. And continued to do so during the following day, so I dropped sjb and note and proposed the idea. I believe he was instantly sold.

The rest speaks for itself: we hashed out details, invited writers, conducted interviews, until the material was collected and published as THINKING HORROR Volume One. You can buy it now from Amazon in the USA and UK. (Other vendors soon to follow.)

One thing I should make clear, since it doesn’t seem I’ve done a very good job of clarifying it so far: the initial spark of combining ideas may have been mine, but from the outset, primarily by design, the product you can buy today is wholly an s.j. bagley production. I played very little part in the actual shaping of this journal, and editing. I was more an adviser than anything else. A springboard and second set of eyes. As much as I’d like to take all the credit for myself, it’s really him who has done it. He is the Editor of the journal, through and through, and I think it’s an amazing achievement.

There’s a tendency with these sorts of things to inflate one’s egos and importance, so I’ll avoid that here. I certainly hope the journal becomes considered an important brick in the too-thin wall of horror criticism, but it’s okay if it doesn’t. Time will tell. But I think the end result of this journey has been a fantastic first volume, and its my sincere hope you enjoy it, and any subsequent volumes the future may bring. There are some exciting plans in place!

Podcast tour, September 2015

Some podcast news to direct your attention to. Over the past few weeks I’ve appeared on two podcasts.

The first is THE OUTER DARK, Scott Nicolay’s weekly examination of what he calls “the weird renaissance”. This episode covers THINKING HORROR, the non-fiction journal edited by s.j. bagley that I co-founded with him. The two of us discuss the journals origins and where it’s going.

The second is a brief reappearance on MISKATONIC MUSINGS, which cover the 2015 NecronomiCon convention. I was in attendance there along with a host of other writers and artists, and Sean and Charles were kind enough to check in with me there.

Lastly, though I’m not on this episode (I will be in the near future) the new podcast series, SOMETHING RED, talks about my collection BURNT BLACK SUNS in the premiere episode. Soon these will be available for Patreon contributors only, but for now you can listen for free.

As always, it’s a thrill to be invited to participate in these things, and to have my work discussed. I hope those of you who listen enjoy it!