American Dirt

I have to admit, I feel relieved that tonight’s American Dirt event at the bookstore was cancelled. By the publisher, so please don’t go pointing fingers at booksellers and crying censorship. We fielded a lot of phone calls from a lot of angry people, some threatening to boycott if we didn’t cancel the event, others threatening… well, something vague… if we did cancel the event. I didn’t personally take any calls credibly threatening violence, though the publisher’s narrative implies some of those sorts of threats were made somewhere, which I feel is a dangerous attitude for any publisher to take, particularly with a book like this.

American Dirt strikes me as a book similar to Hillbilly Elegy and other think-tank titles designed to rope in the NPR crowd while reinforcing right wing stereotypes. But I haven’t read it beyond the flip-through that backed up much of what I’d been hearing, that it was at its heart a pulpy thriller marketed as something upscale, that really could have used better editorial attention. Maybe a few sensitivity readers, or, better yet, someone with a functional understanding of Mexican Spanish. Instead, the acquiring editor (who also acquired the rather problematic novel The Help) solicited many, many blurbs from many, many famous authors. And Oprah! And, well, it’s a train wreck.

Much love to David Bowles, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, and John Picacio, whose sharing of facts and articles and a lot of speaking truth to power have provided a lot of perspective. If you want authentic alternatives to American Dirt, grab anything by David, Silvia, Rios de la Luz, Tiffany Scandal, or Gabino Iglesias, just to name a handful of amazing authors.

Finally, no one is saying you can’t write outside of your culture. No one is saying only _______ can write about the _______ experience. What they are saying is that if you do, endeavor to get it right. Make it respectful. Make it authentic. Last year, I published Jeffrey Thomas’ The Unnamed Country, a mosaic novel of interwoven contes cruel set in what is basically Vietnam. The difference between American Dirt and The Unnamed Country is that Thomas knows the land and her people, and his characters, heroes and villains alike, are created with care and respect, and never regarded as mere faceless masses or grotesque stereotypes. The difference, I would say, is love. And that makes all the difference.

Let’s see Don Winslow stick a blurb on that. Let’s see Stephen King read something outside of his comfort zone. And Oprah, we’re right over here if you need a better choice for your book club.



Letters to a Young Horror Reader, Part One

Sophie writes, “Do you get creeped out when you read horror? I am so easily unsettled by what I read. Which makes me feel like maybe I’m just not cut out to read creepy books. But then I think, maybe being unsettled is the goal and the problem is that I just don’t like the feeling. Which is really just to say, I’m so creeped out right now! Why am I such a marshmallow!!”

Horror is the only genre named for its physical effect on you. The root of horror is horripilation, hairs standing on in response to cold, fear, or excitement. There is viscerality in horror, and we respond to that on a deep, primitive, emotional level.

I tend to talk about horror fiction with theme-park metaphors. Roller coasters, tilt-a-whirls, dark rides. They’re all devices trying to provoke a gut response. Trying to tap into the emotions we suppress in polite society.

William Hope Hodgson, an author of ghost stories who died in WWI, referenced “that delicious shiver” of a good scary story, where you feel like something is crawling up your spine. And I’d say that sensation is what most horror fans are seeking from the genre.

Like a roller coaster, it’s a moment of feeling out of control, even though you’re in a tightly controlled situation.

But there’s more to it than that. I like horror because I like monsters. And monsters help us explore the human condition through the mechanism of the inhuman.

Clive Barker and Poppy Z. Brite are a couple of authors who explored the human condition very effectively in their early work, and are also notable for using the form to examine and explore LGBT themes…

…with monsters.

Horror is also about transgression. Breaking rules. Putting yourself in a monster or killer’s head.

And it can be used to explore political or social themes in a way mundane literature cannot.

Because it’s willing to take on the outsider’s perspective.



Thank You!

Last Tuesday was my fiftieth birthday. I’m still a little taken aback by that fact, because so far, fifty doesn’t feel anything like I expected it to. Regardless, my wife, Jennifer, surprised me with gifts on a quinquagenarian theme, items that also turn fifty in 2018: A box of Ziploc bags, an ornament of HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, a documentary on Mr. Rogers and Barbarella on Blu-Ray, the Beatles’ White Album. But the big gift was something special, thoughtful, and reflective of the community we’ve managed to build over the last few years that we’ve been running Word Horde. Jennifer contacted the authors (and others) we’ve been working with since Tales of Jack the Ripper, asking them to send a few thoughts, reflections, and well-wishes that she could pass along to me. The response was astonishing. Not only did folks send along messages (which Jennifer put together into an amazing scrapbook), but some sent original stories, artwork, and gifts.

This is a busy season, and with Thanksgiving and the busy commotion of working in the bookstore as the Holiday Season ramps up, I haven’t had a chance to pause and properly say thanks yet, so: THANK YOU. To Jennifer in particular, but also to the following:

Joe McDermott, Nicole Cushing, Tony McMillen, Liv Rainey-Smith, David James Keaton, Silvia Moreno Garcia, Nikki Guerlain, Edward Morris, Amber Fallon, Nathan Carson, Jeffrey Thomas, Pete Rawlik, Nadia Bulkin, Autumn Christian, Alan M. Clark, Mercedes M. Yardley, Shannon Page, Paul Tremblay, Walter Greatshell, Patrick Tumblety, Richard Gavin, Amber-Rose Reed, Matthew Bartlett, John Langan, David Peak, Orrin Grey, Wendy N. Wagner, G. D. Falksen, Scott R Jones, Justin Steele, S.P. Miskowski, Laird Barron, Chris Reynaga, and so many others who took a moment out of their busy lives to send birthday wishes. You rock!



A couple months ago, I eagerly clicked on the TOC reveal for a new anthology edited by Stephen King. It was a killer concept, all stories about the fear of flying, and at first glance, one hell of a lineup, but as I read name after name, I realized something was missing. Something major. Like 51% of the population major. There were no women in Stephen King’s anthology.

So I said something on Twitter. I ranted to a few friends. And then I decided to put my money where my mouth is.

This fall, Word Horde will be publishing Fright Into Flight, the debut anthology from Amber Fallon. This is an anthology of horror stories by women themed around the idea of flight, and I think you’re going to enjoy the hell out of it. Amber is an extremely talented author, and I know she’s going to be a powerhouse editor. She’s picked a great lineup of stories so far, but we’re looking for a few more stories to fill in the gaps. As Amber says, “I want stories with wings and teeth, I want fear, I want heartbreak, I want depravity and darkness. I want to read things that will make me afraid to look up into the sky. The interpretation of the theme ‘flight’ is really up to you. You can go more traditional and give me stories of airports, airplanes, and demons on the wing or you could stretch it and offer tales of winged harpies, space crafts, flying beasts, angels, demons, or anything in between. The ideal story would be between 2,000 and 5,000 words in length.” If you’re a woman who has the right stuff, reprint or original, please drop Amber a line at amber[at]amberfallon[dot]net. This open call closes Monday, May 14, 2018, so move with the speed of Nike if you want your story to be considered.

Click here for more details.



That Delicious Shiver

Today marks the centenary of the death of author William Hope Hodgson, killed in action by a German artillery shell at the Fourth Battle of Ypres. What follows is the introduction I wrote to The Dream of X and Other Fantastic Visions, part of a five-volume collection of Hodgson’s fiction. A paperback of said volume is forthcoming later this year.

That Delicious Shiver

“It is pointless, though irresistible, to speculate upon what heights of Fantasy Hodgson might have scaled had the war not intervened.” —James Cawthorn & Michael Moorcock, Fantasy: The 100 Best Books

“A ghost story that is worth anything must be really thrilling. It must give us that delicious shiver down the spine, and it must possess mystery. Added to these qualities, it must cling to reality by some sort of explanation, however fantastic the story be, to be truly effective.” —William Hope Hodgson,
“The Writers of Ghost Stories” (an unfinished or lost essay)

This fifth and final volume of the collected fiction of William Hope Hodgson is best if not, perhaps, considered as a mere 9¼ by 6¼ by 1½ blue and silver brick to fill in space on a shelf; nor should it be considered the ragged leftovers of the first four courses. Instead, I’d argue that we’ve saved the best for last; this is dessert, a sweet sampling of Hodgson’s best—and strangest—work, a literary crème brûlée to savor and enjoy.

We begin this volume of Hodgson’s fantastic visions with the evocative and heart-wrenching parable “The Valley of Lost Children,” which originally appeared in Cornhill in February 1906. Sentimental, certainly, but “The Valley of Lost Children” does not shirk from the harsh realities of its day in its depiction of a fantastic realm beyond death. This is followed by the Swiftian conceits of “Date 1965: Modern Warfare,” which imagines the battles of the future to be fought by knife-wielding butchers, with the flesh of the fallen quite literally going to feed the victors. Originally appearing in the December 24, 1908 issue of New Age, it presents a wry and winking examination of the soldier’s lot in life.

“My House Shall Be Called the House of Prayer” (Cornhill, May 1911) and “Judge Barclay’s Wife,” (London Magazine, July 1912) might be excused as Hodgson’s most devout explorations of Christian mercy. But to do so would be to ignore his gift for dialogue, and the intricate way in which he strives to capture the patterns of his protagonists’ speech.

The gender-bending “The Getting Even of Tommy Dodd,” which was later published as “The Apprentices’ Mutiny” in Sea Stories, originally appeared in The Red Magazine, August 15, 1912. While this is a story that can be read for its entertainment value alone, the success that young Tommy Dodd finds in posing as his pretty “cousin,” Jenny (“By George, youngster, you make a pretty girl!”), begs any number of questions about the shipboard world that Hodgson, a sailor and bodybuilder, spent much of his life in and out of.

“Sea Horses” from London Magazine, March 1913, is another tale of a doomed child in an uncaring world, but imbued with the same sort of hope and fancy (even while moored to the harsh ties of reality) exhibited in “The Valley of Lost Children.”

The next batch of adventure yarns all appeared in The Red Magazine, a common venue for Hodgson’s stories, including the D.C.O. Cargunka and Captain Jat tales. “How the Honourable Billy Darrell Raised the Wind” appeared in The Red Magazine, March 15, 1913. “The Getting Even of ‘Parson’ Guyles” appeared in the November 1914 issue. “The Friendship of Monsieur Jeynois” originally appeared in The Red Magazine, August 1, 1915. “The Inn of the Black Crow” originally appeared in The Red Magazine, October 1, 1915. “What Happened in the Thunderbolt” originally appeared in The Red Magazine, January 15, 1916. “How Sir Jerrold Treyn Dealt with the Dutch in Caunston Cove” originally appeared in The Red Magazine, May 1, 1916. “Jem Binney and the Safe at Lockwood Hall” originally appeared in The Red Magazine, October 16, 1916. “Diamond Cut Diamond with a Vengeance” originally appeared in The Red Magazine, January 1, 1918.

The explosive “Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani” originally appeared in Nash’s Illustrated Weekly, September 20, 1919.

“The Room of Fear,” much like “The Valley of Lost Children” and “Sea Horses,” deals with a child’s fate, as a young mother and her plucky son confront the dull thunder of childhood fears which may, of course, be more substantial than either one imagine. Suspected to be an early story, “The Room of Fear” was unpublished during Hodgson’s lifetime. Another early and unpublished story is “The Promise,” a supernatural tale of a sibling’s love and the miraculous promise of resurrection.

The novel fragment “Captain Dang” imports its title character from “The Sharks of the St. Elmo,” which appears in volume three of this series, but seems otherwise unconnected to it. Still, with lines like “There’s poetry in canvas, laddie, when the wind gets into it,” “Captain Dang” shows that even Hodgson’s cast-offs hold an evocative power that ranks among fiction’s best.

“Captain Dan Danblasten,” Hodgson’s tale of a lusty pirate’s retirement and the strange will he leaves to a childhood sweetheart and her seven daughters, appeared in the May 1918 issue of The Red Magazine, published the same week as The Times ran Hodgson’s obituary (April 19, 1918 is believed to be the date Hodgson was killed by a German shell).

From there, we move on to Hodgson’s copyright versions, stripped-down abridgements of his best-known works, written to secure American copyright protections. Many of these have a “Cliffs Notes” feeling to them, particularly “The Ghost Pirates” and “Carnacki, the Ghost Finder.” The title story, “The Dream of X,” however, distills Hodgson’s epic novel, The Night Land, down to its barest essentials, losing none of its power or poetry in the process. It is likely that these copyright versions were never intended by Hodgson to be seen by a reading audience, but “The Dream of X,” perhaps best known due to the 1977 Donald M. Grant publication, with its breathtaking Stephen A. Fabian illustrations, stands as a testament to the shame that would have been. Also in this section are the stories “Senator Sandy Mac Ghee,” “The Last Word in Mysteries,” and “The Dumpley Acrostics.”

Next, we present a spattering of alternate versions, including “An Adventure of the Deep Waters,” “Captain Gunbolt Charity and the Painted Lady,” “The Storm,” and “The Crew of the Lancing.” We’ll leave it to the reader to determine what might have been. We close this volume with a pair of counterfeits, “The Raft,” and “R.M.S. ‘Empress of Australia.’”

In his introduction to the first volume of this series, Night Shade Books’ Editor-in-Chief Jeremy Lassen makes the assertion “it goes without saying that William Hope Hodgson was one of the great fantasists of the 20th century.” Regardless, Night Shade spent the next four volumes proving that point. Now, as we arrive at the final volume of the series, we believe we have fulfilled our goal, that in presenting our definitive edition of the collected fiction of William Hope Hodgson, we have ensured that Hodgson will be considered by the next generation of scholars, editors, publishers, authors, and readers. Considered, not just against the works of literary peers, from H. G. Wells to Bram Stoker to Wilfred Owen, but against those writers whose own works benefit from and build upon Hodgson’s masterful imagination, from Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith to Jack Vance, Gene Wolfe, Greg Bear, and China Miéville.

Ross E. Lockhart
Petaluma, California




I’ve had bitter author rivalries on my mind of late. They’re funny things, and demonstrate how petty and vindictive creative people can be. But they’re nothing new. And they’re not exclusive to any one genre. Take these as examples:

Mark Twain on Jane Austen (1898): “I haven’t any right to criticize books, and I don’t do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticize Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”

William Faulkner on Mark Twain (1922): “A hack writer who would not have been considered fourth rate in Europe, who tricked out a few of the old proven sure fire literary skeletons with sufficient local color to intrigue the superficial and the lazy.”

Henry James on Edgar Allan Poe (1876): “An enthusiasm for Poe is the mark of a decidedly primitive stage of reflection.”

D.H. Lawrence on Herman Melville (1923): “Nobody can be more clownish, more clumsy and sententiously in bad taste, than Herman Melville, even in a great book like ‘Moby Dick’….One wearies of the grand serieux. There’s something false about it. And that’s Melville. Oh dear, when the solemn ass brays! brays! brays!”

Joseph Conrad on D.H. Lawrence: “Filth. Nothing but obscenities.”

W. H. Auden on Robert Browning: “I don’t think Robert Browning was very good in bed. His wife probably didn’t care for him very much. He snored and had fantasies about twelve-year-old girls.”

William Faulkner on Ernest Hemingway: “He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.”

Ernest Hemingway on William Faulkner: “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?”

Vladimir Nabokov on Ernest Hemingway (1972): “As to Hemingway, I read him for the first time in the early ‘forties, something about bells, balls and bulls, and loathed it.”

Elizabeth Bishop on J.D. Salinger: “I HATED [Catcher in the Rye]. It took me days to go through it, gingerly, a page at a time, and blushing with embarrassment for him every ridiculous sentence of the way. How can they let him do it?”

H.G. Wells on Henry James (1915): “It is a magnificent but painful hippopotamus resolved at any cost, even at the cost of its dignity, upon picking up a pea which has got into a corner of its den.”

Mary McCarthy on Lillian Hellman: “Every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the’.”



Nocturnal Reader’s Box – December 2017 – Unboxing Videos (featuring Word Horde titles!)

Recently, I was invited to supply a couple Word Horde books to the December Nocturnal Reader’s Box, a “blind box” subscription service focusing on horror fiction. And now, unboxing videos have begun to appear on YouTube. Here’s a round-up of the first eleven (!) videos. SPOILER WARNING: If you don’t want to know what’s in the box, don’t watch the video! But if you do, press play below…



From the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival to the Sonoma and Napa County Fires

I spent this weekend at the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland, OR, selling Word Horde books, launching Tales from a Talking Board, teaching a writing workshop, listening to pitches, participating in a pair of panels (Women of Weird Fiction [w/Anya Martin, Rose O’Keefe, Mike Griffin, and Liv Rainey-Smith] & Small Press Publishing [w/Rose O’Keefe, Sean Hoade, Andrew S. Fuller & Cody Goodfellow]), and reading the introduction to TTB as part of a reading block with Orrin Grey, Nathan Carson, and Edward Morris. I brought David Templeton along to help out at the table (and to introduce him to some wonderful people), managed to catch Philip Gelatt’s latest film, They Remain (based on Laird Barron’s story “–30–“), and got to hang out with folks like festival organizers Brian and Gwen Callahan, Hippocampus Press’s Derrick Hussey, Dominique Lamssies, Kim Bo Yung, Bawb Hale, Obadiah Baird, Christine Morgan, and Kelly Young. Normally, I’d tell you all about it, but…

Driving home Monday morning, David and I began to hear news stories coming from Sonoma County. An unprecedented number of wildfires combined with high winds and dry conditions created a series of disasters ranging from Santa Rosa to Napa to Petaluma. At current count, more than 1500 homes have been destroyed and at least eleven people have died because of these fires, and thousands are displaced, waiting for word on whether or not they have lost everything.

We were lucky. Our homes, our neighborhoods were spared. But at points it seemed touch-and-go over our ten-hour journey, and we worried over friends and loved ones. Others weren’t lucky. Because I was traveling with David, I was witness to just how devastating these fires were to his colleagues in the Sonoma County theater and newspaper communities. Venues have been destroyed, homes have been gutted, people have been injured. So many people have lost so much. So many lives have been disrupted by this disaster.

But at the same time, so many people are rising to the occasion. Taking in the displaced, collecting food and blankets for local shelters, helping out. In the worst of times, we can see the best in people, and that is what defines community.

If you’ve read this far, I urge you to keep that spirit of community alive in your own lives. I urge you to rise to the occasion. Please make a donation to one of the organizations I’m linking to below. Or make a donation to your local food bank. Or your local blood bank. Help others wherever you can. Make the world a better place. And thanks!

How to help evacuees of Northern California fires:

How you can help people affected by the North Bay fires (or get help if you are an evacuee):

RESOURCES: Getting in touch, marking yourself safe during Napa, Sonoma County fires:…/2513223/

ichael Bailey Fire Recovery:



BizarroCon 2016: The Wonderland Awards: Stories Matter

I’ve been home from BizarroCon for just over a week, trying to get back into the swing of things while fighting a cold. As has been the case for the last several years, BizarroCon was a wonderful experience, a chance to reconnect with friends and industry peers, to talk shop, workshop, give and listen to readings, and, most importantly, laugh. Shortly before this year’s BizarroCon, Rose O’Keefe invited me to present the Wonderland Book Award for Best Collection. “Of course,” I said. “Three- to five-minute speech? No problem.” So I set to writing down a few thoughts on short fiction, Bizarro Fiction, and why it’s important. Here’s that speech…


We are all storytellers.
It’s what we do as a species. It’s what sets us apart.
Bedtime stories, faerie tales, cautionary stories (what’s in the woods?), erotica, religious parables, jokes!
Stories are as much a part of culture as food. They sustain us, they keep us alive.
Stories are communion.
Stores are communication.
Stories matter.
We are all stories. Some have only been read so far. Others are much further along.
Stories matter.
…and resolution.
Sometimes, even, happy endings.
We are a community: The Bizarro Fiction Community.
An incredible diverse community of stories.
Bound together in this book called Bizarro Fiction.
Stories bound together form a collection. And that’s what we are recognizing here tonight, with this award.
Stories of love and strangeness, terror and titillation, rage and respite.
Bizarro stories by authors who make us laugh and cry and more.

The nominees for the 2015 Wonderland Book Award for Best Collection are:

Midnight Earwig Buffet, by Andrew Goldfarb
Our Love Will Go the Way of the Salmon, by Cameron Pierce
Strategies Against Nature, by Cody Goodfellow
The Art of Horrible People, by John Skipp
The Pulse Between Dimensions and the Desert, by Rios De La Luz

I had a tough time voting. I loved all these collections.

The winner?

The Pulse Between Dimensions and the Desert, by Rios De La Luz


Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. Or five, and get them all.



The Red Badge of Courage with Werewolves

Like many of you, I’ve been watching the legal proceedings between Hachette and author Seth Grahame-Smith with a weird combination of curiosity, dread, and schadenfreude. I don’t think anybody is surprised (not even Hachette) that SGS’s post-Pride and Prejudice and Zombies novels have failed to sell as well as that flash in the pan, that one-hit wonder. After all, PPJ was a Borders-era phenomenon, and by the time the film came out earlier this year (really, that was THIS YEAR? It seems so long ago), most folks were pretty much over it. But let’s take a quick look at SGS’s approximate Bookscan numbers (supplied by an anonymous friend):

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: ~758,000
Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter: ~628,000
Unholy Night: ~30,000
The Last American Vampire: ~22,000

Actual numbers tend to be higher, but since Bookscan is the rubric by which publishers and bookstores tend to measure things, we’ll stick with these approximations. What do you see? On the surface, I see what’s commonly known as the Retail Death Spiral. Bookstores are conservative. They don’t like taking risks. So they look at what the previous title sold and and order a smaller percentage of the next. So sales numbers get smaller and smaller and smaller. But I also see a failure on Hachette’s part to market The Last American Vampire as a sequel (which it is) to Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. A shame, since they otherwise packaged the book well. Though I’ll admit, I skipped it, and I think that’s also part of the problem: SGS’s literary work is viewed as a gimmick, his mashups sell, more original work, less so.

Which brings us to the manuscript SGS turned in to Hachette, which they rejected, and are now suing him over. Reportedly, SGS turned in something “not original to Smith, but instead […] in large part an appropriation of a 120-year-old public-domain work.” Honestly, they should have expected that. After all, he’s trying for a hit, and that’s what has been hit product so far.

I’m guessing SGS turned in a trunk novel, something he put together a few years ago with Quirk in mind. Looking at books published in the 1890s, I can only speculate: The Red Badge of Courage with Werewolves? The Island of Doctor Moreau with Yetis? The Turn of the Screw with Swamp Monsters?

Actually, if it’s the last one, Seth, call me. I’d love to have it at Word Horde.