13 Dark Issue #1 Dead Voices: A Review

After an unlucky stumble with Kickstarter, followed by a successful Indiegogo crowd sourcing, the first issue of 13 Dark is out.

While this project had to change from its original concept of 13 individual stories, released separately, the final product is no less stunning. And it holds fast to its original promise of story theme: Light and dark. Sacred and profane.

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Comprised of short dark stories by three authors, each with an intro by editor Joseph Sale, 13 Dark also gives each tale searingly gorgeous artwork packaged with an eerie cover.

A bit about each…

Bethesda by Ross Jeffrey

From the Intro: This story is a dialogue, both interior within the narrator, and exterior, presented in the two key voices of the story: the ‘pale man’ (Joe) and ‘Captain Haddock’. One is an atheist who has turned to God in desperation (and subsequently vilifies Him when he seemingly doesn’t get what he wants) and the other is a devout religious evangelist who talks about the Bible stories as though they were things that happened to him on the way to the shop. We walk the middle road with our narrator, and witness something truly spectacular.

Jeffrey uses atmosphere to present differences so well in this story. The beach is our setting, but it doesn’t have the sun-warmed sands we think of for a vacation. It is cold; the wind is damp and clinging. I shivered when reading, feeling the cold slant through me. In a windbreaker with the vibrant colors of Jamaica, the pale man — in his three-piece suit — looks out to sea. As he has done every day…

Our narrator observes the pale man’s ritual and relays the event to the reader, and it’s all done smoothly, this style that is more typical of a bygone age. Perhaps this is why it works here. Save for some modern touches of barista coffee and the like, the story feels as though it could take taken place at almost any time. The narrator’s conversations with rusty-edged Captain Haddock, a local beachcomber, fill us in on the details of how long the pale man has come to this stretch of beach, and watched the tides.

Bethesda is about a man who has given up hope, who is floundering with the hardest thing he’s ever dealt with, while beachgoers walk by him each day. Never stopping, never looking, never really seeing. Until he finally makes a desperate decision. He lifts a frail, wasted young man into his arms and begins walking into the sea.

At once heartbreaking and uplifting, Jeffrey has written about sacrifice, love, and miracles.

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Under Soil by Tice Cin

From the intro: …A tale of love, it would seem, but scrape away that painted veneer (again a Gothic concept) and you will see a buried truth, a dark beating heart. It is this hair-raising moment of revelation, when the illusion of our desiccated world falls away and reveals something buried beneath it all that must be seen, that makes Under Soil so powerful.

Anyone who reads my reviews with any frequency knows I love Gothic tales. Beauty giving way to decay, family secrets, doomed loves and lives. Under Soil gives me all of that and more.

Cin’s writing style flourishes with this dark tale. The language is like bouquet of flowers, each one chosen specially to convey a feeling that is almost beyond words. The hopefulness of love comes with a crack, a sharp sting that our protagonist relishes. Feeds on. Quickly, love and lust weave together, become something unrecognizable, unwanted.

I am surprised to write these next words: Cin was written body horror is such way that leaves me with both a churning in my stomach and a breathless fascination with its delicacy.

Simultaneously sensual and unnerving, Under Soil shows that Gothic has moved from mist-shrouded castles to wear a new, and modern face.

Undertow by Samuel Parr

From the intro: Descending into hell is such a popular theme in literature that there is even a specific word for this trope: katabasis. And Undertow is one, a modern katabasis that takes us into the river of eternity itself. As with all of Sam’s work, however, all is not as it seems. That which seems grandest can be most fragile, most illusionary, and that which is most fragile-seeming can be made of steel.

Mirabel enters the sewer-like Undertow to save her brother. But she is no ordinary girl.

Parr has created a quest in this story, one where a young magic-user encounters creatures of the grotesque as barriers to her goal. They are at once fearful of and hungry for her, but she has armed herself well. With a soul to barter.

Another tale with a narrator watching from afar, Undertow creates a vision of Hell that will stick with me for a long time. Fearsome monsters clamor for the new, the fresh. It’s what they see so little of, and what they desire most.

Parr seamlessly moves through this world and its sinister beasties, allowing the narrator to come ever closer to Mirabel, revealing a unusual nature, and finally becoming part of her story. It’s a fascinating, engrossing read. A tale of redemption, of resistance, of sacrifice.

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Editor Joe Sale ends the collection with one of his stories first published in Storgy magazine.

“Night Drive” is a great fit for this collection of tales. It’s dark, even claustrophobic at times, making the reader feel the impending doom closing in on the driver, the former Reverend John. Perfectly paced, it winds between a frantic pace and moments of relief, where we drag in deep cleansing breaths before plunging back into the pit again.

Reverend John can’t outrun his past—of lust, power, and baneful gods. He can’t outrun what he himself has called forth through poorly advised ritual.

You can get a paperback copy of 13 Dark Issue #1 at Lulu. Use code LULU25 to get 25% off the purchase price.

 

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My Interview on Talking With Authors

I do a lot of interviews, I rarely am interviewed myself.

But Curtis Anderson of Talking With Authors reached out and asked me for an interview. I’m so glad he did. We spoke about my influences, Southern Gothic horror in general, and why some people may shy away from horror as a genre. And of course, we spoke about my writing!

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Curtis is a phenomenal interviewer– enthusiastic and engaging, and his questions are thoughtful and fun. For those who are nervous about being interviewed on live audio, he also makes you feel comfortable, and if I may say it… really good about yourself and your work.

Thanks to Curtis for this amazing interview, and for reaching out in the first place. I appreciate all he does to boost and bring attention to our work. Listen to the entire interview below:

 

Graveyard Shift Sister: Rebecca R. Pierce

I’ve noticed a trend with my recent posts: there haven’t been many.

Usually, I’m pretty consistent with posting to this blog, but lately, I’ve been focusing on writing. Which is a good thing in the long run, but my contact with the outside world is suffering.

Time to catch up. I’ll be making a flurry of posts to bring the blog back up to date, then going forward…

Well, I’d better not make that promise.

I’ll just leave you with the link to my review and interview with the wonderful Rebecca R. Pierce on Graveyard Shift Sisters. While GSS’s tag line is: Purging the Black female horror fan from the margins, we celebrate the work of all women of color who love horror.

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13 Dark: A Fiction & Art Project

Are you ready for a journey into the dark? 

I’ve been asked to be a part of an amazing project.

13Dark (stylized to †3Dark) is a unique project that will showcase both written and visual artwork of some of speculative fiction’s greatest creatives.

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All of the work will explore the sacred and profane, the holy and damned, the beatific and the demonic. Think of the kind of subtle supernaturalism and religiosity of something like True Detective, or Craig Clevenger’s story “Act of Contrition” from The New Black.

 

Who are the writers?  Established names including Richard Thomas, Moira Katson, Veronica Magenta Nero, and Christa Wojciechowski as well as newer voices such as Matthew Blackwell, Andy Cashmore, Samuel Parr, Tomek Dzido, Anthony Self, Ross Jeffery, Jamie Parry-Bruce and Tice Cin. And myself, of course.

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The aim is to release 13 unique short stories monthly, in digital and paperback form, accompanied by custom artwork from Shawn Langley, and with cover artwork by grandfailure. These editions will be beautifully produced, melding the visual and written elements, offering unique insight into our world, and the darkness it holds.

Each story will be edited and have a foreword written by editor Joseph Sale. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be part of something colossal. Joseph has put together a YouTube video for 13 Dark, where he talks about the project and why he quit his job to bring his vision to fruition.

Here’s the Kickstarter link. Check out the amazing rewards, including magazine subscriptions from Gamut and Storgy, custom designed artwork, and professional editing for your novel or novella! Then share, and donate if you can. Talk about the project on your social media channels.

Keep up with new releases, artwork, and how we’re doing on Facebook and Twitter.

Oh, are you wondering what my story is about? (It’s scheduled for release in January 2018.) I have some ideas, but it isn’t written yet, so feel free to leave me a comment if you want to throw out a suggestion.

Cinched – A Release

It’s been a busy year for me, full of amazing experiences. I managed to get my short story collection Spook Lights: Southern Gothic Horror out this year, but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get anything else out.

But I have!

I’m happy to announce that my short horror story “Basque of the Red Death” is in the multi-genre anthology Cinched: Imagination Unbound available now from Falstaff Books. (And it’s the first story in the antho!)

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Contains my short story “Basque of the Red Death”. Yeah, you read that right.

 

This collection runs the gamut from steampunk to horror, from steamy romance to weird western, from victorian thriller to contemporary bondage. But they all feature the corset in some way.

My story was inspired by Poe’s classic short story “Masque of the Red Death”, but I’ve set the tale in the South and given it a few additional horrors. If you haven’t read Poe’s original tale, read it for free here.

Then check out Cinched: Imagination Unbound on Amazon for some twisted tales.

Featuring stories by:
John G. Hartness
Gail Z. Martin & Larry N. Martin
Misty Massey
Emily Lavin Leverett
Kimberly Richardson
Sarah Joy Adams
MB Weston
Herika Raymer
Dave Harlequin
RD Stevens
Andrea Judy
Nico Serene
Eden Royce <–That’s me!

 

Writing the Other: Interview with Jay Requard

Writing the other–authors writing characters with backgrounds not of their own, whether that “other” is race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion–is a minefield to some authors.

I’ve spoken with authors who stay away from writing the other and choose to “write what they know” instead. Many times, it’s just that they write within a comfort zone–their own field of experience–and they don’t deviate from it. Which is fine, if that’s their preference. But other authors want to write characters of the other but are hesitant to because they think they’ll be berated for it. So they never make the attempt.

As author Jim Chines says in his blog post, people don’t complain when you write a character who happens to be female (or Asian, or gay, or Jewish). But they might complain if you do it badly: make them one-dimensional and/or steeped in stereotypes.

So how do you do it well?

There are several places to read up on how to do it well. (Although I think, like anything, practice is needed.) Nisi Shawl’s article is a good place to start reading. And listening.  But I wanted to reach out to people doing it. Since I don’t know James Patterson, Patricia McKillip, or Tabitha King, I decided to interview a few authors I do know who are writing the other.

First up is Jay Requard, author of The Gem of Acitus, a short sword and sorcery story published by Mocha Memoirs Press.

Synopsis: Master thief Manwe, known to the frontier city of Tolivius as “The Panther”, stalks the streets in search of riches to fuel his people’s rebellion out on the savannah. Lifting a fabled stone from the possession of a posh noble, he is soon trapped in a web of lies and deceit. Caught between the cruelty of a merchant and a lie meant to incriminate him, Manwe must ply the darkness if he is to prove his innocence and save the man he loves.

Cover art for The Gem of Acitus
Cover for The Gem of Acitus

ER: Where did the idea for The Gem of Acitus come from? What influenced you?

JR: I’m a big believer in serendipity, as I think writers should be reacting to the world around them. I had the idea for a long time about writing a “rogue story” that would be part Indiana Jones, part Thief (a classic video game), with notes I had learned from Robert E. Howard early-Conan works and Ari Marmell’s Widdershins Adventures. I love the idea of characters using their wits and intellect over bruising their way across a battlefield, though that is my bread-and-butter as well.

Serendipity was cruel for Manwe the Panther, however, as the idea for the main conflict came from an NPR story where an African-American man was released after spending 40 years in jail for a rape conviction that was never properly adjudicated according to the actual evidence because of his race, speaking to how people of color do not often get a fair shake within our society. I believe firmly in social justice and an egalitarian sense of equality, which I believe expands to fair legal treatment. Anyone with a sense of reality or critical thinking ability knows that more often than not, people of color are not afforded that. I had something to say with Manwe, so I said it.

ER: Tell us the storyline in two sentences.

JR: Set against by the dark city where he wins his coin through his wits alone, Manwe the Panther must steal the truth from the mouths of liars if he is save his lover. Facing greedy lords, weird shamans, and time itself, this master thief leaps into action, hoping that he won’t be too late.

ER: When you come up with the concept of a story, do you consider where it’s going to be published before or during writing?

JR: Great question! Yes and no. When it comes to novels (I’ve written three and am working on a fourth), I know what level of publishing I want to throw a manuscript at first. Short stories, however, are like art pieces—I finish them, and then worry about selling them. Since I write in a very specified set of genre (Epic /Heroic Fantasy and Sword & Sorcery), I know the markets available to me. Thankfully, I’ve been able to at least prove myself on the short fiction scene, so it’s easier to get work placed now than it used to be.

ER: Has the story changed from its original concept? How many revisions did you go through?

JR: Another good question! The Gem of Acitus went through two revisions, though the original concept never changed. The biggest challenge was framing the ending. Originally I had it sequenced one way, but I ended up switching it. Both versions worked, but with the help of readers, my fellow writers, my fiancé, and just my intuition, I chose to leave it the way it ended up being published by Mocha Memoirs Press.

ER: Sword and sorcery is not typically a genre full of diversity. What made you create Manwe the Panther as he is: a homosexual man of color?

JR: The only way we bring people into genre is by having positive characters that they themselves can relate to. That is not to say that people of different ethnicities and origins do not love white characters or white authors (they obviously do). That being said, I have to defend my beloved genre: there have always been diverse voices in Sword & Sorcery, be it Charles R. Saunders’ Imaro, CL Moore (a FANTASTIC female voice for the genre), and many more who came from very diverse backgrounds, both socially and in terms of who they are. The problem has always been that for the longest time the arbiters of genre have paid more attention to something else, so many of these great voices were left out or paid little attention to. Thanks to the ability Amazon gives authors to publish their backlists, I hope this changes in time.

ER: Were you concerned about the reception The Gem of Acitus would receive? Why or why not?

JR: A little bit. I don’t want this story to come off as disrespectful. I think Manwe is the story of a positive character that represents a lot of different people, including friends of mine in the LGBT community. He’s a character who tries very hard to do the right thing, even though the right thing often goes in the opposite direction of society at large. I think those kind of characters are really important to talk about, and using a world that is a mix of Ancient Greek and African cultures, I wanted to create a multicultural setting where the world is meeting itself for an inevitable clash, kind of like what we are going through right now with race, gender, and orientation here in America. There are a lot of things to talk about, but what I hope is that I am adding to the discussion on a positive note.

ER: How did you do your research for this work? What sources, if any, did you consult?

JR: I started outlining this storyline near the end of 2013. At the time, I was reading Octavia Butler’s Kindred and listening to a lot of hip-hop, metal, and blues music centered on the ideas of revolution, spirituality, and liberation. I was also writing more and more stories that were firmly outside of the traditional “western European fantasy” box, taking them to different eras like the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, or settings that there were nuanced versions of India and China. In terms of the setting for The Gem of Acitus, I grew up reading David Gemmell, who wrote a wonderful series about Troy. I started reading more books on ancient Afro-Greek art and architecture of the Mediterranean. Franklin Snowden’s Blacks in Antiquity helped me visualize Tolivius, an Archaic city where Manwe’ story takes place. I also read a large body of African folklore for stories examining the passage between worlds, life and afterlife, and the topic of gender as it relates to spirituality. In doing so I found a really interesting West African myth about this hole in the ground where shamans would sneak into the earth for months on end, only to emerge with greater power than what they had had before. I really enjoyed incorporating these elements into the traditional structures of Sword & Sorcery in the dark vein of Karl Edward Wagner, and Manwe was the result.

ER: Many writers are hesitant to write characters unlike themselves. If authors want to write characters from outside of their own experience, whether it be a different race, gender, or sexual orientation, what advice would you give to them?

JR: That is a question that could honestly go on forever. Here’s the Cliff Notes version:

Go in there with honest intentions. The story comes first. You can have the glitteriest writing, the sharpest dialogue, or the wittiest subtext, but none of that matters if you don’t have a good story to begin with. Though I admit this is purely subjective, I wrote a great story first and finished the world-building second when it came to Manwe, including the external and internal issues he deals with.

More importantly, remember that your characters ARE NOT you. Treat them like they are their own individuals. Find the real core of the characters, what lies beneath. My Manwe wants to save his lover. Tolkien’s Bilbo wants to prove himself worthy of being in Thorin’s company. Nix’s Sabriel wants to know who she is in relation to who she came from. Find out what the characters truly want and write around that.

Finally, put in the work to understand perspectives other than your own. Some of us live with far less and some of us live with far more, but we all live with the reality that the world around us is precious and finite, though some of us live like it isn’t, which often leads to bad things. Stories are constructed by where you and your characters are, by who you and your characters are, but it is interpreted through them as first. Reflect what is going on outside within them and what they do in response.

Photo of Jay Requard, provided by the author
Photograph of Jay Requard, author of sword and sorcery story,  The Gem of Acitus

Jay Requard is a Heroic Fantasy and Sword & Sorcery author from Charlotte, North Carolina. When he is not fighting the good fight, he spends his time lifting kettlebells and maces, sipping scotch, painting, and reading voraciously. He has a fluffy cat named Mona.