Tuesday, September 16, 2014


Looking for a five-star HALLOWEEN TREAT?

Check out 
A Verse To Horrors: An Abecedary of Monsters and Things Monstrous

For the price of a greeting card (and a lot less for the Kindle version!), you receive over 150 quick descriptions of Monsters and All Things Monstrous…each one a LIMERICK!

The list includes:
50-Foot Monsters
The Abyss
Atom Bombs
Bates Motel
Black Cat
The Blob
The Bride of Frankenstein
The Colour out of Space
Crab Monsters
The Crawling Eye
The Creature from the Black Lagoon

Why limericks? Well, because…

The Limerick’s a short bit of verse,
Elegant, witty, and terse;
At times it’s risqué
(But that’s a cliché),
At its best, it is slightly perverse.

When Monsters and Limericks meet
The result, I think, is a treat—
A curt little piece,
A verbal caprice,
With a frisson of terror that’s sweet.

That’s why I chose this verse form,
Avoiding ones closer to norm—
It seemed just a tweak
That might cause some pique…,
And monsters refuse to conform!

There’s nothing in here but good fun
(Though lines may appear overdone);
It’s mostly for play,
And a moment to pay
Homáge to the ones we would shun.

So this abecedary beckons
And asks that you take a few seconds
To savor a joke
Or treatment baroque
Of the monsters with whom we must reckon.

Hal Bodner says of A Verse to Horrors:
 “Michael Collings' collection of limerickal (is that even a word?) monsters from A to Z is just a delight to read. I actually had to go through and read it twice as those damned limericks are addictive and you just sort of zip through them to get to the next gem. A VERSE TO HORRORS is both sweet and clever without being contrived or precious. It's the kind of book every horror fan should buy, read, enjoy and then put in the guest room on the nightstand for your over night guests to enjoy -- and then get ready to buy another copy because your guests are gonna love it, steal it and take it home to put in THEIR guest rooms.”

And Dave Butler adds:
This Abecedary is a collection of limericks about monsters.
“Yes, ALL of the poems are limericks. Which turns out to be awesome. They are, quite simply -- and this is a difficult thing to achieve -- hilarious, and the word 'bucket' doesn't appear once.
They are also brainy. They cover the vast horror-facing waterfront of literature (e.g., The Colour Out of Space, Frankenstein's Monster, Faust, The Raven, The Shining), film (e.g., Frogs, Vincent Price, Young Frankenstein), thought (what is the role of Evolution in monstrogenesis?), folklore (e.g., snipes and jackalopes), history (serial killers and other human monsters), and culture (e.g., Quetzalcoatl, what makes the devil the devil?) broadly and well, where exhaustiveness, because of the vastness of the genre, is impossible.
There are so many hits here, any adult reader will laugh repeatedly. Real horror aficionados won't be able to stop.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Personal Poetry Inventory

Occasionally all writers feel the need to step back and assess how well they are achieving their goals. This can be especially important for poets, since it can become all too easy to lose the concentration, the focus essential to that particular verbal art.  

Here is an excerpt from my The Art and Craft of Poetry: Twenty Exercises Toward Mastery (Wildside, 2009, 2014) designed to provide an overview of what we expect from our poetry, who we are as poets, what techniques we use (often excluding other possibilities), how nearly we are satisfied with the 

Personal Poetry Inventory

1.      Three reasons why I write
2.      Three reasons why I write poetry [as opposed to other worthwhile genres]
3.      Three purposes I want my poetry to achieve
4.      Three strategies I use to achieve those purposes
5.      Three devices/structures/techniques I find particularly useful in my poetry
6.      Reasons why those specific devices/structures/techniques are important in my poetry
7.      Three devices/structures/techniques I rarely use in my poetry
8.      Reasons why I choose not to use those devices, structures, or techniques
9.      Three ways I know when a poem is finished
10.  I consider myself a
q  Formalist, i.e., I frequently use traditional forms and structures, including
q  Rhyme as a primary musical device
q  Meter as a primary rhythmic device
q  Stanzas of pre-determined line count
q  Relatively regular line-lengths
q  Sonnets
q  Quatrains and/or Triplets
q  Ballads
q  Other
q  Syllabic poet, i.e., I frequently use forms based primarily on syllable count, including
q  Stanzaic syllabics
q  ‘Nonce’ syllabics
q  Haiku
q  Tanka
q  Cinquain
q  Other
q  Open-Form Poet, i.e., I consider myself primarily a ‘free verse’ poem, creating my own fundamental forms but using such structures and devices as
q  Controlled but varying line length
q  Repeated syntactical structures, such as anaphors (repetition of an initial word or phrase over several lines)
q  Breath units as a primary means of determining line length
q  Non-metrical stresses as a primary means of line length

11.  I frequently and consciously use the following in my poetry:
q  Simple sense imagery, usually visual
q  More complex imagery that attempts to elicit several sensory responses simultaneously
q  Similes, primarily to convey sense impressions
q  Similes, primarily to convey more complex responses than simple sense impressions
q  Metaphors, in which the poem spells out the relationship between both the tenor (the abstract thing or idea I wish to talk about) and the vehicle (the concrete thing or idea to which I compare the abstraction)
q  Metaphors, in which the tenor is implicit or assumed, while the poem appears to focus exclusively on the vehicle
q  Symbols  within my poems
q  More complex symbols, in which the principle theme or ideas of the poem—considering individual poem as an integral whole—is communicated indirectly, through the mediation of the poems

12.  I frequently and consciously use the following sound devices in creating the music of my poetry:
q  Alliteration
q  Assonance
q  Consonance
q  Full Rhyme
q  Slant-, Skewed-, Half-Rhyme
q  Others

13.  In general, I am
q  Satisfied with the directions and expertise my poems demonstrate
q  Satisfied, but am eager to expand into new modes and explore new means of creating art
q  Frequently unsatisfied with the level of my poetry, especially in terms of
q  My use of language
q  My understanding of structure
q  The limits I impose—consciously or unconsciously—on my Imagination
q  The limits I impose—consciously or unconsciously—on my Ideas
q  My technical and mechanical Proficiency
q  Other
q  Deeply dissatisfied with the level of my poetry
q  About to give up on writing poetry at all

Monday, September 1, 2014

Brett Talley, THE REBORN

The Reborn
Brett Talley
JournalStone DoubleDown Series, Book IV
April 2014
Tradepaperback, $15.95

For almost as many reasons as there are individuals, abortion is one of the most controversial issues today.
Imagine a world, however, in which abortion was not only legal but government controlled.
Then go one step beyond government controlled to government mandated.
And these abortions are not performed cleanly, surgically (if such a thing were possible) but by brain-frying any fœtus found to be carrying a particular genetic marker in its DNA. The mother would not be hurt or damaged, but the life within would immediately cease to exist.
In this world, it has been discovered that some of the most heinous murderers, torturers, and serial killers are being reborn, their genetics impelling them toward a new life of horror in fifteen years or so. So wouldn’t it be logical to remove those carrying the potentially life-threatening genes (life-threatening to others, that is) before birth.
In this world, there is a special kind of soldier/police dedicated to locating and eliminating the dangerous DNA. They are a secret agency, known only to a few, and by those few referred to as “Shepherds”—after all, their job is to protect the larger flock, to control the dangers it might otherwise face.
And now imagine that in this world, the United States has recently suffered a devastating multiple-warhead nuclear attack that has destroyed the west coast and thrown the rest of the country—and the world in general—into turmoil and disarray.
Imagine all of that and you have the setting and premise behind Brett Talley’s The Reborn, a fascinating novel of possibilities and terrors, horrors and pessimism. Following his Bram Stoker Award® nominated work in That Which Should Not Be and The Void and his sterling efforts as a contributor to the first Limbus anthology and editor of Limbus 2, The Reborn is a master work of cross-generic balance, with elements of horror, science fiction, near-future dystopian, and post-apocalyptic storytelling.
What makes it even more powerful is his ability to tell his story on two distinctly different levels.
At the personal, specific level, it is the story of Marcus Ryder, unsung hero of the War that fragmented the world, now newly recruited into the Shepherds. He has faced blood and death—has caused more than his share of it—and lives with the memories every day. Now he must face the consequences of killing the unborn in order to avoid the future scourge of the Reborn. His new partner, Dominic Miles, is already seasoned, ready to show Marcus precisely what is required.
At the global, general level, it is the story of the War itself, of its beginnings in “an industrial backwater” in the middle of China and the emergence of a revolutionary leader who calls himself simply Khan. It is a tribute to Talley’s consummate storytelling ability that he can intercut chapters dealing with individuals and their challenges and growth with chapters outlining the strategic movements of nations and armies and never allow either to diminish in interest.
While all of this is happening (itself enough to challenge any author) Talley also provides readers incremental insights into the basic premise of the novel—that killing unborn babies and those that almost miraculously survive to be born—will save future generations from bloodshed and crime. With each chapter, each confrontation Marcus must survive, each advance by Khan and his fanatical armies, more information about the genetic strain and the databases used to combat it comes to light…with catastrophic consequences for Marcus, Dominic, Khan, and the entire world.
While The Reborn might lack the Lovecraftian touches readers of Talley’s other works have so enjoyed, it is nevertheless a more-than-solid work of speculative fiction, new in its approach to contemporary issues and captivating in its forays into a near-future world.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Kind Words from David Butler about CHAIN OF EVIL

David Butler, himself the author of multiple horror, sf, and steampunk novels as well as scholarly books on a number of subjects, has written the following about his experience reading Chain of Evil: JournalStone's Guide to Writing Darkness. He has given me permission to repost the comments here.

The book is scheduled for release through JournalStone on August 29...so please keep an eye out for it.

Bookshelf: Chain of Evil

ChainI sat down with a .pdf copy of this book, annotation functions turned on, intending to highlight the tidbits I imagined I’d glean from Dr. Collings. Collings is, after all, a master of the horror genre as novelist, as commentator, as poet, and of course as teacher. This is an unusual combination of excellences; I’m working on two short stories in the horror space right now, and I thought I’d winnow out an applicable tip or two.
So now–and I’d show you this, but it would be too much like giving away spoilers–my whole copy is highlighted in yellow. Okay, that’s hyperbole. Really, I’ve only highlighted about a quarter of the text. There were, in fact, one or two things I already knew.
Chain of Evil’s subtitle, Journalstone’s Guide to Writing Darkness, should be understood expansively and taken seriously. This book contains: essays focused on the mechanics of writing, including laser-focused advice on such specific subjects as semicolons, adverbs, and ellipses; meditations on staple motifs of speculative fiction (vampires, werewolves, apocalypses); reflections on reasons to write horror in the first place; analyses connecting horror to pre-modern metaphysics and tracing the changing role of, e.g., ghosts, as things have fallen apart and the center has not held; discussions of horror and Mormons (!); and actual poetry (!!).  And more.
It even, to my surprise and delight, quotes me.
From the perspective of the first step on the journey of reading Chain of Evil, not all of the essay’s titles seem equally promising as tools or lore about “writing darkness”; from the perspective of the end of the road, each essay strikes me as indispensable.  Dr. Collings wants to teach us to write literature that matters, because it grapples with the blackness behind the backs of our eyeballs and in the depths of our hearts, and to do that he sets forth a guide that is purposeful and oriented from the highest perspective, is detailed and tactical in its nuts and bolts specifics, and is replete with concrete examples.
Essential, topical, meaningful, and urgent. If you’re a writer or reader of horror fiction, get this book as soon as you can.

Poster from: http://davidjohnbutler.com/2014/08/07/bookshelf-chain-of-evil/

Sunday, July 27, 2014

When a SNAFU is Not Such a Bad Thing

SNAFU: An Anthology of Military Horror
Edited by Geoff Brown and Amanda J. Spedding
Cohesion Press, 2014

“Military horror.”
The phrase seems almost as tiredly redundant as the time-worn joke about “military intelligence” is oxymoronic. After all, by its nature, the military is expected to deal with horrific things. That is a given.
But when the already difficult and dangerous job of soldiering meets…well, other things, the term “military horror” takes on entirely new meanings.
SNAFU collects seventeen thrillers, tales in which otherwise deadly military operations ramp up even further with the addition of the outré, the mabacre, the unexpected, and whole ranges of things bloody and gruesome. To increase the interest, settings range from 48,000 BC to 50,000 AD; from nineteenth-century India to the twenty-first-century Pacific Northwest; from the coast of Japan during World War II to the scene of battle in the Civil War; from San Francisco in the 1960s to Berlin in the…well, you get the idea.
Let’s look briefly at a few of my favorite offerings (although by rights I should list every story in the book):

·         Neal F. Litherland, “Blackwater”: A highly trained unit is sent into the small coastal   village of Fisher’s Cove to rescue a kidnapped woman; when they see an ancient tome with the title The Esoteric Order of Dagon, it is a sign that their task is about to become infinitely more complicated;
·         Christine Morgan, “Little Johnny Jump-Up”: A gentle (if that is the right word) Civil War ghost tale about the eerie relationship between a small boy, accidentally killed in the field, and a 6-pound cannon, and how that relationship impacts each member of the patrol;
·         Brian W. Taylor, “Covert Genesis”: When a C-14 transport is shot down by something, the survivors don’t expect fellow survivors to suddenly undergo changes in eye color and have their skin begin to ripple as if there were something underneath—and even worse, there is;
·         Jonathan Maberry, “Bug Hunt: A Joe Ledger Adventure”: What happens when one extraction team runs afoul of another such team…from somewhere else; an action-adventure tale featuring an already familiar hero and told with Maberry’s customary precision and verve;
·         Weston Ochse, “Cold War Gothic”: On the eve of one of the 20th century’s greatest technological triumphs—the moon landing in 1969—Special Unit 77 combats aliens and supernatural forces in San Franisco…watch out especially for the Box Man (an extended experiment in ick) and the geisha vampires;
·         Curtis C. Chen, “Making Waves”: When a magician teleports aboard an allied submarine off the coast of Japan during World War II, her objective is simple and direct—to awaken the Kraken hidden in the depths and thereby keep the Japanese too busy with defense to mount an offensive; the task becomes more intricate, however, when she discovers that instead of one Kraken, the area harbors two Elder Things;
·         Greig Beck, “The Fossil”: A 100,000 year-long exploration of who—and what—are truly the aliens;
·         Eric S. Brown, “Holding the Line”: In a phrase, prepare for the Sasquatch Apocalypse;
·         Steve Ruthenbeck, “Ptearing All Before Us”: A small troop of infantry, assigned to being critical news to a commanding general during the 19th-century Indian Wars, abruptly encounter a nightmare from the native mythology, and one only is left alive to tell the tale;
·         Kirsten Cross, “A Time of Blood”: Two British soldiers discover what lies beneath the foundations of Stonehenge, and they don’t much like what they find;
·         James A. Moore, “Blank White Page”: Two strangers—one abnormally tall and gaunt, the other lean, continually smiling—ride into Silver Springs, Arizona, at the height of the silver rush; when their individual strangenesses mix with the boomtown atmosphere, the presence of a military detachment, and the arrival of revenge-seeking Apaches, things go south…a long way south, in a real hurry. This one is particularly intriguing for the tone, the dialogue between the two men that is constantly and purposively at odds with what happens around them.

Solid, every one of them.
If I have any objections to the stories, it would be that several just aren’t long enough. They read like chapters; they engage me with fascinating characters—both villains and heroes—follow exciting adventures, then concluded by intimating deeper problems, more dangerous situations…and I want to read more! Seems like a healthy objection to well-imagined tales.
Not one of the stories failed to attract and hold my interest. Not one of them failed to suggest new ways of looking at old monsters, and old ways of looking at new ones. It’s been a while since I’ve encountered a collection whose authors  responded to the theme with such wholesale enthusiasm or one that so neatly defined and redefined its title: SNAFU.
Strongly recommended.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Brief Review of THIS DARKNESS LIGHT (August 11, 2014)

This Darkness Light
Michaelbrent Collings
eBook, 11 August 2014

This is the BEST thing he has written yet!

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Past into the Present: Joe McKinney’s Zombie Horror

When I was still teaching at Pepperdine University, one of my favorite courses was “Myth, Fantasy, and Science Fiction.” The class read contemporary novels and short fiction, many of them based on time-honored themes and motifs, and discussed ways in which modern writers re-worked and re-shaped the old to make it speak to the new.
One of the more intriguing assignments, I discovered, incorporated film with the written word. During two class periods one semester, we watched the classic 1956 science-fiction film, Forbidden Planet, then spent the next two periods talking about it: its genre-bending influence on films and stories of the 1960s and 1970s and beyond; its power as sheer storytelling; and its relevance to students of the 21st century…for whom Robby the Robot was arguably more familiar than any of the star-level actors involved. We finished on Friday with thoughts about differences we saw between two modes of narrative: writing and film. What could be established in a few seconds on a camera, for example, that might take sentences or even paragraphs to re-create on the page; and what had to be told through objective images in a film that might entail internalized thoughts in a story. On the whole, the students’ responses were intelligent and enjoyable.
Over the weekend, I assigned an additional reading, one that I had not included on the list of required books: William Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
During the first period the next week, the students were confused and upset and even a bit angry. All right, they conceded, the Shakespeare thing was a fantasy; it had magical creatures and, in fact, a magician. But why did they have to read something that old—and that difficult—for what was supposed to be a general-studies course. Only a handful of the students were English majors, and none of them had encountered The Tempest before, so even they were more or less up in arms.
Instead of trying to mitigate their confusion directly, I asked if they had noted any similarities between Forbidden Planet and The Tempest.
Being a patient teacher and a strong believer in letting thoughts arise on their own timetable, I waited.
More silence.
Then: “Well, isn’t Dr. Morbius sort of like Prospero, you know, alone, with only his daughter and a servant?”
“Yeah, and then people come, and the daughter falls in love, and….”
“And the Monster from the Id, that’s kind of like….”
That was all it took.
By the end of the period, they were deeply into the parallels, some pointing out how having read The Tempest had altered their perceptions of characters and events in Forbidden Planet, other commenting on how smoothly the film translated the play into a form at once recognizable (with a bit of a prod, perhaps) and entertaining.

I thought of that experience again when I read a short story by Joe McKinney, “Resurrecting Mindy,” first published in Undead Tales (2011), edited by Armand Rosamilla, and now being incorporated into a forthcoming volume, Dead World Resurrection: The Collected Zombie Short Stories of Joe McKinney.
As I read the McKinney tale, something kept knocking at the back of my mind. It wasn’t that the tale was familiar, exactly, but there was something about it….
A quick summary: A young man, believing himself the sole survivor of the zombie apocalypse, builds a life alone…until he sees a girl he had once dated, standing amid a horde of zombies. He realizes that she, too, is still alive, that she is a Faker. They meet in his apartment—third floor, safe from zombies—and gradually the story shifts from simply “boy meets girl” to something far deeper, far more insightful, and ultimately far more terrifying than mere zombie-horror. Stimulated by the appearance of another living person, they each begin to re-think and re-define their modes of survival, leading them to opposing but equally distressing crises of faith—in themselves, in the other, in their choice of surviving over accepting. And these lead to more complex and difficult thoughts about relationships, love, life, and death itself.
I won’t give away any more of the story; suffice it to say that McKinney provides twists and turns aplenty, and an ending as horrific in its own way as that of Stephen King’s 1983 Pet Sematary. I will, however, note that about three-quarters of the way through, I finally recognized the fluttering memory that kept trying to insist itself into my consciousness. It had nothing to do with the details of the story, except perhaps that the tale focused on a boy and a girl in an unforgiving world and their struggle to rise above it. No, what I felt more than thought was that the story seemed to be following a deeper, underlying pattern. Most likely, it was McKinney’s use of Christmas-time as a motif that finally did triggered it.
Remember the classic O. Henry short story, “The Gift of the Magi” (1905)?
While often considered sentimental and superficial, it has demonstrating a lasting endurance, through frequent adaptations, particularly around Christmas, and equally frequent reprints.
Just as Forbidden Planet took the narrative, thematic, mythic, even certain symbolic patterns of The Tempest and transformed them into one of the first truly science-fiction films, and thus provided form and texture for additional films; so McKenney’s “Resurrecting Mindy” builds on the foundation of “The Gift of the Magi.” And does so without losing its own claim to originality or individuality. What it echoes are the themes, the isolation of characters, the need for each to accommodate a way of living to the other…and the desperate irony of all of this happening in a world in which there is no life, no hope, no love.
If nothing else, reading “Resurrecting Mindy,” with its perhaps not-so-subtle evocation and reversal of Christic themes, of questions of life and death, of skillful manipulation of landscape and season, reinforces one’s sense of McKinney’s artistry in a sub-genre that names itself after the walking dead but, in its best and most effective manifestations, concerns itself almost exclusively about the living. Even knowing—sort of—what must come, the story captivates. It builds upon its predecessor and in doing so elevates both.