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Sunday, March 27, 2016

Kin and Kindred

It’s Easter. Like many people, I have fond memories of family gatherings for dinner on Easter and Thanksgiving, exchanging presents on Christmas Day, family outdoor cookouts on the Fourth of July or Labor Day, celebratory drinks on New Year’s Eve, or devouring chocolate cake on someone’s birthday. Most of those original family members are gone now, victims of old age or disease. Those few remaining are scattered to the four winds.
This Easter I’m connected, not by birth blood but by spilled blood, to an exciting extended family of friends.

I feel blessed to be part of a vibrant community of crime writers and horror writers who are indeed like family to me. I’ve been active in the Science Fiction and Fantasy communities since leaving active military service in the 1970s, and I’ve been a member of HWA since its inception. I’ve recently rejoined the Mystery Writers of America. I look forward to re-connecting in person with my writer friends at annual conventions. We stay connected during the rest of the year via Facebook, e-mails, and by reading stories and novels written by our family of friends. But now it’s time to get up close and personal.

April may be the cruelest month, but April is also the beginning of the busy convention season. I begin with panels and signings at Odyssey Con in Madison, Wisconsin, Midwest Mystery Writers readings in Chicago, Stokercon in Las Vegas, and I get to return to Madison for Wiscon on Memorial Day. Printers Row weekend is in Chicago in June. I go east to New York City for Thrillerfest in July, then west to MidwesternconII, the World Science Fiction Convention, in Kansas City during August. September sees me in New Orleans for Bouchercon, October is World Fantasy Con in Columbus, Ohio, and November is Windycon in Chicago. In between, I’m scheduled to do signings at bookstores and teach a class in the history of science fiction and fantasy at Rock Valley College. Each of these events is an opportunity not only to sell novels, but a time to meet and greet new and old friends. It is such friends that make life worth living.

Venturing out of the safety of my comfortable cocoon can be scary. Each year I’m reborn as an older version of myself. But the child that is within me emerges, and I’m at home with readers and writers who are more like me than most of my own family. My parents and grandparents were readers. So, too, is my daughter. My wife Gretta was a reader, and my ex-wife Teddie is still a reader of thrillers. Elizabeth Flygare is a reader and writer, though she prefers character-driven mainstream literature to thrillers and SF. But I boldly seek out new readers to welcome into my family because I love to share what I read and write, and I love to learn what others are reading and writing. It’s that love of the written word that connects us and unites us. It’s the spilled blood on the page that binds us.

It is written that the spilled blood of the only-begotten son of God redeems us, but it is the spilled blood of man that scares the be-Jesus out of us.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Deviants is now on sale

Many of my readers have waited patiently to read Deviants, a short suspense novel that I expected to appear in print during 2014 or 2015. The publisher who contracted for Deviant’s hardcover, paperback, e-book, and audio rights sold their imprints to another publisher in 2015. During the transition, certain agreements of the original contract became null and void, and I asked the new publisher to return all rights to me. Although that new publishing company offered me a new contract with a tentative publication date in 2016, I declined.
When Crossroad Press, the publisher who has done such an amazing job promoting my Instruments of Death series, asked to let them know if the e-book rights for Deviants ever became available, I agreed to let them know. Although Deviants is a stand-alone novel, it does share certain similarities with the Instruments of Death novels. Crossroad Press’s Gordian Knot imprint is probably the ideal place for Deviants.

I am happy to announce the e-book publication of Deviants. It’s now available for Kindle and Nook. Here’s a sample:

Augie, by default, fit right in. He didn’t belong in normal society. He didn’t want what most people wanted. He had no use for a big house with a monthly mortgage to pay, no job with which to pay a mortgage even if he did want a house, no desire for a wife and children. He didn’t want a fancy new car every couple of years. What Augie wanted, ordinary society refused to provide, rejected as dangerous, and sought to stifle because the very idea was repulsive.

Augie wanted to watch people die as he slowly and systematically dismembered them. He wanted to smell the coppery-rich scent of fresh blood, feel the slimy, slippery parts of the human body grow cold beneath his deliberate touch. In a sense, he wanted to play God, for he had been told that only God could give life or take it away.

Deviants is part psychological horror, part crime-suspense. It’s lots of fun.

Order from

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Is horror dead?

I have been here before. The eerie feeling of deja-vu is all encompassing.
I rode the horror bandwagon during the 1980s mass-market boom. Although I also crafted mysteries and westerns and contemporary romances and erotica and science fiction, I became known as a horror writer because my stories appeared in The Horror Show, The Arkham Sampler, Deathrealm, Masques III, and many other horror-themed anthologies and magazines. I also helped found the Horror Writers of America, now known as Horror Writers Association (HWA), which branded me as a horror writer.

I didn’t switch to horror, as some writers did, because it was the “in” thing. I wrote psychological horror and suspense because that was the kind of story I loved to read. Obviously, enough other readers loved horror to support an entire industry devoted to horror fiction. I suspect Stephen King’s success had a lot to do with horror’s popularity. Horror’s popularity began to wane when America launched Operation Desert Storm and real-life horrors were televised 24/7 by CNN and Fox.

When I returned to fiction writing in 2012, horror was undergoing a renaissance. New publishers had sprung up to take advantage of on-demand publishing and e-books. When I attended the 2014 World Horror Convention in Portland, I was introduced to Don D’Auria and Samhain Publishing. I pitched Don and he liked my story ideas (so did other editors who snatched up my novels first). When Don asked me to whittle my manuscripts down from 140,000 words to under 90,000 words, I knew Samhain wasn’t right for me. Don and I met again and talked at the Atlanta WHC in 2015. I was devastated to learn Don lost his job as editor of Samhain’s horror line near the end of 2015. Don, like David G. Hartwell, was one of the good-guys who knew and loved the genre as much as I did.

I am additionally devastated to learn today that Samhain plans to give up the ghost entirely. Samhain announced they will cease publication later this year due to declining sales.

Two of the other horror publishers who had licensed my novels in 2014 also went out of business recently. Eldritch Press published Abandoned in trade paper and e-book last March, and Eldritch shut down at the end of 2015 after publishing multiple Stoker Award nominees. Damnation Books, which contracted for Deviants in 2014, sold out to someone else who promised to publish my title but who has not remained in contact. Their new website is currently “under construction”. I suspect they won’t publish the novel before the contract expires.

Something similar happened to me in the 1990s when I sold several novels and dozens of short stories that never saw publication. Horror publishers bit the dust faster than Billy Clanton and the McLaury brothers at the OK Corral, and it’s happening again.

Why is it happening now? I blame Donald Trump.

If you look at social media, you’ll notice how Trump dominates the posts, including posts by horror authors and readers. Trump has become a real-life horror that holds the attention of horror writers and readers the way the First Gulf War did, the same way Joseph McCarthy did in the 1950s and WWII did in the 1940s, when horror fiction also died from neglect.

Fear activates the fight or flight response in human beings just as it does in all animals. The human mind can only handle so much fear at a time before it seeks to escape from all fears real or imagined.

Not only has the fiction field been saturated by too much horror, so has real life.

What readers need and want now is a hero who will fight our fears for us. Like Generals Norman Swartzkopf and Colin Powell during the First Gulf War or Patton during WWII or Eisenhower and Edward R. Murrow during the McCarthy era. Mark my words, such a hero will emerge.

This is a recurring cycle, folks. It’s happened before, and it will happen again.

Horror never dies. It goes away for a while, and then it comes back.

Fortunately, I don’t depend on horror alone for my livelihood. I also write suspense thrillers with supernatural heroes and crime-suspense novels with detective heroes. I’m perfectly positioned for the superhero boom.

Writers who follow marketplace trends often find themselves a day late and a dollar short. The secret to surviving in this business is to write from the heart. Write what you want when you want, and to hell with current markets.

And, remember. Horror can never die. It returns from the grave with a vengeance.