Thursday, March 26, 2015


Do you live in the Chicago area? Do you like bizarro fiction? Are you looking for something to do on Saturday, March 28th at 8:00 pm? Then I have a brilliant suggestion for you. Come on down to G-Mart Comics and listen to a bunch of weird fuckers, myself included, reading crazy shit for what is likely to be more than the stated hour! I'll have copies of my new book, POOR BASTARDS AND RICH FUCKS, if you're interested in buying a copy. I'll also have a few copies of TALES OF QUESTIONABLE TASTE. More importantly, I'm giving away a bunch of free shit! No strings attached! Plus, I'll be reading a hard-to-find story of mine that is sure to turn stomachs! It will at least give you that weird feeling you get behind your knees when someone runs their fingernails across a blackboard. I hope to see you all there!

Friday, March 20, 2015


As many of you are aware, I'm a big fan of classic pulp magazines. I'm sure I don't rank with most collectors, but I have a sizable personal collection, more than anyone else I know. I've got some very good books, too. I have the first appearance of "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper," the seminal short story by Robert Bloch. I have the first appearance of HP Lovecraft's "The Terrible Old Man." (Both of these are in issues of WEIRD TALES, by the way.) A couple of years ago, I decided to actually read every issue I had.

Whoa, I hear you say. Did you actually open these issues up and read the stories inside? Are you mad?! Those magazines are falling apart. Just reading them lowers the value!

Maybe that's true. I remember showing one of my favorite issues of WEIRD TALES to a friend. And then I opened the mylar sleeve it was in to show him the contents. He was horrified by this. Here's the thing, though: as beautiful as these magazines are, they're essentially worthless without the stories inside. If I didn't read them, they would hardly be worth owning.

This is the issue I showed him.

(As a side note, many years ago I ordered a few hard-to-find books by Joe R. Lansdale from the man, hisownself. I wanted TEXAS NIGHT RIDERS, which was a special edition Cemetery Dance did of an old book Lansdale had published under the name Ray Slater. However, by the time I inquired about it, he didn't have it anymore. He gave me a call to let me know that he didn't have it, but he did have the earlier edition. I told him that I would be happy with that because I'm not interested in how the book appears. It's the story inside that matters.)

(I just read back that paragraph, and I realized I made it sound like Lansdale and I are close friends, and we hang out all the time. That is not the case, even though it would be supercool if it was. I didn't want to give you the impression that he and I know each other and are on first name basis, or anything like that.)

Now that I've read my way through the entire collection, I've got a few interesting observations I'd like to share with you all.

1. There were a lot of regular writers in these magazines, and they were all very popular in their day. However, they're all but forgotten now. There were some writers who appeared in almost every issue of several titles, but I've never heard of them before. And I'm very good with classic horror, SF and mystery authors.

There's an unfortunate reason for this: these writers weren't all that great. They filled a few cheap pages with the requisite amount of words, and that was it. I don't want to call them hacks, because that's unfair. I don't know them or the rest of their work, but I'll just say these stories did not interest me.

2. Aside from these authors, there are a lot of others who wrote one or two stories and just vanished off the face of the earth. Again, these writers were not that great in the first place, but every once in a while, I found one  whose disappearance confused me. It's a rarity to find such a diamond in the rough, as they say, but I cannot describe the high I felt whenever this happened. Remember the first time you read your favorite author? That's the high I'm talking about.

3. Points 1 and 2 lead me to this: we remember the greats for a reason. The Blochs and the Heinleins and the Kuttners and the Sturgeons and the Lovecrafts and all of their ilk are remembered today because they were fucking awesome back then. Every time I found a piece by them in my pulps collection, I knew I wouldn't be disappointed. I rarely ever was. (Because no one is perfect. Bradbury let me down with one story, for example, but he was just a kid back then.)

These three points make reading the pulps kind of aggravating. I'd say a quarter of my collection was good. However, there is one thing I can say with utter confidence about every issue: no matter how bad the stories might have been, the art was always incredible. Virgil Finlay was in just about every one of these magazines, and he is probably the greatest artist of his generation. I'd put him up against anyone in the museums. Even some of his lesser known colleagues were fantastic. When you got to the late 'Fifties and early 'Sixties, the overall quality of the artwork went down a bit, which might have been a contributing factor to the extinction of the pulps.

The long and short of it: I'm glad I read them all. I would feel like a phony if I hadn't. More often than not, I was disappointed with the stories, but I was rarely disappointed by the artwork. I'm glad I've packed it all in my head, and if you ever get the chance to read an old pulp, especially from the 'Thirties and 'Forties, I highly recommend it.

Sunday, March 15, 2015


I've taken it upon myself to reread DANSE MACABRE by Stephen King. The last time I read it was in high school, and while I knew a lot about horror back then (to give you an idea, I graduated in 1996), I still had a lot yet to learn. I wanted to gauge my current knowledge, and as an adult at the age of thirty-six, I've discovered a lot since then, enough so I'm on the exact same page as King. There are still a couple of references I don't know about, but I'm sure by the time I reread this book at the age of fifty, I'll have that covered.

Most interestingly, however, I note the dedication page. King says, "It's easy enough--perhaps too easy--to memorialize the dead. This book is for six great writers of the macabre who are still alive." And then he lists them. Much to my sadness, I realized that all six of them are now dead.

If you'd asked me back then who my second favorite writer was (first favorite was King), I would have to say it was Robert Bloch. He adapted with the times. He built himself with Lovecraft and then moved on to his own style. No one did psychological horror like he did, and very few imbued it with his special brand of humor. He died in 1994, very shortly after I'd found his work. If you've never read ONCE AROUND THE BLOCH, his autobiography, I highly recommend it.

It is my shame to admit that I've never read anything by Jorge Luis Borges, but I've heard a lot of good things about his work. This is something I intend to fix at some point. He died in 1986, a mere five years after King wrote DANSE MACABRE.

There is nothing I can say about Ray Bradbury that hasn't been said a thousand times by writers better than I. His work is a sheer delight, and I'd be surprised if anyone reading this right now hasn't delved at least a little into his stories. I would be hard-pressed to name a favorite of his work, but if you put a gun to my head, I would probably say SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES. He died a mere three years ago in 2012, the longest-living writer on King's list.

Frank Belknap Long contributed a great deal to Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. His writing has gone in many different directions, but he is most remembered for my favorite story of his, "The Hounds of Tindalos." I highly doubt you're reading this and you haven't read that short story, but if you haven't, make it your business to read it immediately. Like Bloch, he died shortly after I found his work in 1994.

Donald Wandrei is one of those writers you will find if you hang out in old pulps and anthology books. Usually, his name is uttered in the same breath as Lovecraft's and for very good reason. Of these writers, he is probably the least known, but he's a very good author. My favorite of his work is, hands down, "The Red Brain," which I reviewed here. Right now, I think this story is only available in the first volume of John Pelan's THE CENTURY'S BEST HORROR FICTION, which can be found for a hefty sum here. Wandrei died in 1987, shortly after DANSE MACABRE was published.

And finally, we have Manly Wade Wellman. He's another writer you'll find if you like to read old anthologies (and every once in a while, a new-ish anthology). He is probably best known for his John the Balladeer stories about a wandering guitar player who helps out people with supernatural problems. I love it whenever I find one of these stories. I feel like I'm wandering myself, and when I find John, it's like hanging out with an old friend for a while. I could probably get a complete collection of his appearances, but that just wouldn't feel right. However, as much as I like him, I like John Thunstone even more. He's a hardcore supernatural investigator/warrior who had a particular beef with humanoid creatures known as the Shonokins. My favorite of Wellman's work, however, is a novel about John (sometimes called Silver John after his silver guitar strings, though Wellman wasn't fond of that appellation): AFTER DARK. He died in 1986.

King adds this final warning to readers: "Enter, Stranger, at your Riske: Here there be Tygers." A fitting warning for the dedication page. Tygers lurk in all six writers' works. If you're going to tackle them on my (and King's) say-so, beware. They're not for the faint of heart.