I’m not going write about what a depressing year it’s been. If you’ve been paying attention, you already know, and if you haven’t, I don’t want to be the one to break it to you. You can’t turn around these days without getting hit with some bad news. Instead, I’m going to focus on the things and people that got me to the end of this year intact.
2015 was the year I read some of the work of Clark Asthon Smith thanks to my friend Scott Connors, who has written articles and reviews for a variety of publications, from Weird Tales to Publisher's Weekly. He co-edited some Smith collections with Ron Hilger, including Star Changes: The Science Fiction of Clark Ashton Smith and The End of the Story, and on his own, like The Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith, and he is currently writing a biography of Smith. Scott is the perfect person to introduce one to Smith because he’s so knowledgeable about his work.
As a boy, I could not get into the work of H.P. Lovecraft because he kept telling me that things were too horrible to describe and I kept thinking, Then hire somebody because I want to read about it! I was 10 and I wanted bloodshed and monsters, preferably in plainer English than Lovecraft, who’s writing, back then, reminded me of the writing of Ellen G. White. That’s not a good thing. That changed as I grew older, of course, and learned to appreciate what Lovecraft had created in all those stories. Clark Ashton Smith was a member of the Lovecraft circle, of course, and their work has a lot in common. I think I prefer Smith’s prose to Lovecraft’s. He had a one-of-a-kind imagination and a sense of humor and irony that I enjoy. I look forward to reading more of his work.
Among the new things I've read this year, Mister White by John C. Foster stands out. I was a tremendous fan of Robert Ludlum’s spy novels growing up. I had already cut my teeth on Ian Fleming, but Ludlum did not write about James Bonds, he wrote about mostly regular people who happened to be in the intelligence business or were drawn or stumbled into espionage. Foster does the same thing, but he combines an espionage thriller with a mystery — half the time, I had no idea what was going on, but in the most entertaining and compelling way possible — and a horror novel. It’s a tense, unnerving labyrinth and you should pick up a copy when it’s released in April 2016 by Grey Matter Press.
I discovered a lot of streaming services in 2016, like The Grindhouse Channel and TubiTV and Reel Flix. Browsing through their selections lit up all of my nostalgia neurons. Unable to go to movie theaters for religious reasons as a boy, I used to cut movie advertisements out of the newspaper, tack them to a corkboard on my bedroom wall over my desk, and gaze at them as I did my homework, wondering what all of those movies were like on the big screen, uncut and without commercial interruptions. Most of them were horror movies, of course, and a whole lot of them are now available on these streaming services.
One of the great movie ad campaigns of the 1970s was for a double feature, I EAT YOUR SKIN and I DRINK YOUR BLOOD. The advertisement in my local newspaper, which quickly ended up on my bedroom wall, looked like this:
Along with the short TV spots that seemed to run in every commercial break around the time of release, that newspaper ad had my imagination spinning as I wondered what those movies would be like. The double feature I concocted in my head as I stared at that newspaper cutout tacked to my corkboard was an epic, bloody nightmare, and I knew it would have to do because there was no chance I would ever see those movies. Now, thanks to The Grindhouse Channel, I have.
Some things are better imagined than seen.
If you like obscure horror, science fiction, and exploitation movies, I suggest giving these streaming services a look. If you’re like me, you’ll enjoy scanning the rows and rows of lost cheese treasures and forgotten schlock gems. As I write this, I have Blood Beach running on TV, a 1980 movie with another memorable ad campaign. I loved the poster so much, I had it on my wall for years, but I had never seen the movie until now.
At the end of March in 2016, a young man named Philip Ault (you might remember reading about him here) chased our neighbor Megan onto our porch, punched her in the face, and threatened to kill her. I managed to get her through the door and into the house without letting him in, too. Spouting a stream of meth-induced gibberish, he began threatening to kill all of us and threw a brick through our kitchen window before trying to climb into the house. I stabbed him in the arm twice with a decorative fantasy knife, the most available weapon at the time, to keep him from getting inside the house until the police arrived. They had to tase him twice to get him on the ground. We received a call from the District Attorney’s office about six weeks ago informing us that Mr. Ault, who was not competent to stand trial, is currently a guest of Napa State Hospital, where efforts are being made to rehabilitate him to a state where he can stand trial. They have three years to achieve that, and if it cannot be done within that time, Mr. Ault will become a permanent resident of the hospital. I got a story out of the whole thing called “A Flat and Dreary Monday Night,” which you can read in Cut Corners: Volume 2.
While my health problems have continued with dogged persistence, I work when I’m able and have written a lot of short stories in 2016, including one I’m particularly proud of, “Paranormal Quest,” in the anthology The X-Files: Trust No One, a collection of original X-Files stories by horror and science fiction writers edited by the great Jonathan Maberry.
I'm fortunate to have a lot of friends who have been so good to me over the past year that I want to give them a nod of thanks in no particular order: Steven and Nancy Spruill, Latrice and Ken Innes, Jason and Sunni Brock, Rhonda Blackmon Walton, Heather Fish, Sharon Turner, William F. Nolan, Cheryl Burcham, Jane Naccarato, Scott Connors, Damian Wild, Richard Chizmar and Brian Freeman and everyone at Cemetery Dance Publications, Emma Pulitzer and everyone at Open Road Integrated Media, Sharon Lawson and Anthony Rivera at Grey Matter Press, Fred and Lois Rose, and I’m probably forgetting someone because that just seems to be how I role in middle age. My life is a better place with you in it. I owe everything to my readers, the people who've been reading me for decades, the newcomers who just found me, and everyone in between. I know from my experience with them online and at conventions that my readership includes some of the kindest, most generous people imaginable. Thank you for everything. As always, I'm grateful to Dawn for putting up with me for another year, for sharing her life with me for the last 27 wonderful years.
I hope 2016 brings you everything you need, as well as a bunch of stuff you don’t need but really want. Stay healthy, take good care of the people in your life, and read more horror fiction. Happy New Year!