Descansos in New MexicoDes­can­sos– in New Mex­ico you see them every­where – along major high­ways and nar­row coun­try roads, at the inter­sec­tion of city streets and in lonely niches along dusty, unpaved lanes. They’re the road­side shrines mark­ing the place where some­one has died sud­denly and vio­lently, often a long way from home, and they serve as both a memo­ri­al­iza­tion of the deceased and a warn­ing to remem­ber the fragility and imper­ma­nence of life.

In span­ish, the word ‘des­canso’ means respite or rest­ing place. Years ago, when the cof­fin was often car­ried from the church to the grave­yard, the bear­ers would have to set it down at some point and rest. The spot was then marked with a cross or ‘descanso’.

Many des­can­sos con­sist of a cross with flow­ers, pho­tographs, per­haps a stuffed ani­mal of a statue of the deceased’s favorite saint. Some shrines are lov­ingly tended; oth­ers are neglected and over­grown with weeds.

To me, the des­can­sos are poignant and haunt­ing, a reminder that death can come at any hour, in the moment we least expect it. They’re the memento mori of the New Mex­i­can road­side. Their pres­ence carves out a sacred space and a pil­grim­age site for fam­i­lies and friends of the departed.

Almost invari­ably, the des­can­sos face the high­way, so those speed­ing past can catch a glimpse of the spot where some­one died. I always notice them,and I won­der about the per­son who died there, what hap­pened, and who vis­its the des­canso to mourn.

For a few miles at least, I drive a lit­tle slowler and appre­ci­ate my life a lit­tle bit more.

salvage-by-carrie-vaughn

I don’t read enough sci­ence fiction.

Not nearly. Espe­cially sci­ence fic­tion writ­ten by women.

Until the other day, though, when I read the June issue of “Light­speed Mag­a­zine”, this wasn’t a topic that con­cerned me.

That’s because I didn’t real­ize what I was miss­ing. Now I do. “Women Destroy Sci­ence Fic­tion!”, the June issue of “Light­speed”, is a project that was funded by more than two thou­sand back­ers on Kick­starter and put together by 109 women, includ­ing authors, essay­ists, illus­tra­tors, copy­ed­i­tors, blog­gers, and many others.

The idea of an issue devoted entirely to women in sci­ence fic­tion was con­ceived in part by “Light­speed” assis­tant edi­tor Christie Yant as a way to address the per­cep­tion that sci­ence fic­tion writ­ten by women is less “real” than that writ­ten by men. Author Pat Mur­phy pointed it out over 20 years ago in a speech in which she famously iden­ti­fied the atti­tude per­me­at­ing sci­ence fic­tion that essen­tially says, “Women don’t write sci­ence fic­tion.” Or, put in less p.c. terms, “Those damn women are ruin­ing sci­ence fiction.”

If ever such anti­quated ideas were finally shelved, it should be now, with this mas­ter­ful edi­tion of “Light­speed”. Sto­ries that stood out for me (and really all of them did!) include, “A Word Shaped Like Bones” by Kris Mil­ler­ing, in which a space trav­el­ing artist shares her tiny auto­mated space­ship with a dead man, a sit­u­a­tion made more ghastly when the arti­fi­cial grav­ity fails.

Cuts Both Ways” by Heather Clitheroe fea­tures an exhausted cyborg mak­ing a Christ­mas trip home whose inabil­ity to for­get the hor­rors he’s wit­nessed leaves him near collapse.

And in “Canth” by K.C. Nor­ton, the cap­tain of a run­away ship fol­lows her ves­sel, with the aid of some pirates, into the lair of the mys­te­ri­ous Sea Monk.

There’s also some won­der­ful flash fic­tion, includ­ing “The Mouths” by Ellen Den­ham, where glob­u­lous crea­tures receive sen­sory input through the crack­ers they con­stantly consume.

Along with the sto­ries, the issue includes arti­cles and inter­views rein­forc­ing the idea that wom­ens’ par­tic­i­pa­tion in sci­ence fic­tion con­tin­ues to expand in ways ben­e­fit­ting us all.

As Pat Mur­phy writes, “The sto­ries we read and the sto­ries we tell shape who we are.”

And with fifty per­cent of the world being female, now would be a good time to listen.

See the website »

I want to thank Michelle Augello-​Page for invit­ing me to par­tic­i­pate in “My Writ­ing Process Blog Tour.” To read Michelle’s insight­ful Q&A last week, click on http://​michel​leaugel​lopage​.word​press​.com/​2014​/​06​/​16​/​m​y​-​w​r​i​t​i​n​g​-​p​r​o​c​e​s​s​-​b​l​o​g​-​t​o​u​r​/

Q&A with Lucy Taylor

1) What am I work­ing on? I keep a num­ber of projects on the fire and go back and forth, which keeps me from get­ting bored. At the moment, I’m fin­ish­ing up a short story set in New Mex­ico that cen­ters around the des­can­sos, shrines that mark where peo­ple have been killed on the highway.

Cur­rently, I’m also help­ing edi­tor Dave Hinch­burger of The Over­look Con­nec­tion Press get the word out about my new book, a col­lec­tion of short sto­ries called FATAL JOUR­NEYS with a pub date of July 8, 14. It is a themed col­lec­tion about hor­ror in exotic places, and there’s a won­der­ful intro­duc­tion by acclaimed author Jack Ketchum. Four of these sto­ries have never before been pub­lished, includ­ing the novella “How Real Men Die”.

My long term project is a post-​apocalyptic novel with mul­ti­ple nar­ra­tors set in the west­ern U.S.

2) How does my work dif­fer from oth­ers of the genre? My writ­ing is a com­bi­na­tion of hor­ror, erot­ica and dark fan­tasy. I’ve been told some of my work has a Love­craft­ian bent, for exam­ple, the short story “Extremophiles”, from the heavy metal anthol­ogy AXES OF EVIL and the title story in my col­lec­tion THE SILENCE BETWEEN THE SCREAMS. At least as far as my fic­tion, I def­i­nitely see the cos­mos as a fun­da­men­tally hos­tile, irra­tional, and men­ac­ing place where often unseen forces of destruc­tion lurk just below the sur­face and where we humans, basi­cally, haven’t a clue.

There’s also a strong erotic ele­ment to my work, some of which might be con­sid­ered ‘wish ful­fil­ment’. The story “Sum­mer­land” from FATAL JOUR­NEYS falls into that category.

In gen­eral, though, I don’t like to focus too much on what genre I’m writ­ing in; I don’t really care much for labels, which I find very lim­it­ing. Let’s just say I write what comes nat­u­rally to me.

3) Why do I write what I do? Wow, what else could I write?! I love writ­ing that is dis­turb­ing and macabre. Dark­ness, be it of the cos­mos or the human soul, fas­ci­nates me. I still remem­ber the first time I read a hor­ror story. It was a copy of “Alfred Hitchcock’s Mys­tery Mag­a­zine” and I found it enthralling. Also, on a per­sonal level, my child­hood was pure South­ern Gothic. I was raised by a mother and grand­mother who, to put it kindly, lived in an alter­nate real­ity, a kind of folie a deux. I sur­vived by observ­ing, liv­ing in my head, and pro­tect­ing my inner self as best I could from the mad­house envi­ron­ment. There was a lot of fear, dread, and sur­pressed rage. Writ­ing dark fic­tion allows me to explore those feel­ings from a posi­tion of power. Play­ing God, after all, can be very satisfying.

As a writer of dark fic­tion, I’ve some­times com­pared my mind to a won­der­ful attic full of weird and creepy things to explore at my leisure. I’m never afraid of what I’ll find there and I never get tired of pok­ing and pry­ing around in the inter­est of cre­at­ing new sto­ries. It’s very liberating.

4) How does my writ­ing process work? Some ideas speak to me more lyri­cally and pow­er­fully than oth­ers. I get lots of ideas, but some­times I just know that a par­tic­u­lar one has to be turned into fic­tion. Some­times that hap­pens quickly, other times an idea ger­mi­nates for years. Occa­sion­ally a title comes to me that grabs my atten­tion so much that I have find a story to go with it. That was the case with “A Hairy Chest, A Big Dick, and a Harley”.

Another exam­ple: a cou­ple of years ago, I found out that a friend of mine sells fire­works every sum­mer lead­ing up to the Fourth of July. He’s in the fire­works tent 24/​7, sleep­ing on a cot, sell­ing fire­works at any hour of the day or night. For some rea­son, this struck me as an amaz­ing and slightly creepy thing to do, since I could only imag­ine who might be buy­ing fire­works at 3 a.m. I knew I had to use that idea some­how and it became “The High and Mighty and Me” from FATAL JOURNEYS.

As far as the prac­ti­cal side of the process, I’m a morn­ing per­son and like to write new mate­r­ial early in the day, then work on revis­ing, research, play­ing around with new plot ideas etc. later. I find that if the writ­ing side of my life is going well, then pretty much every­thing else is okay. If I’m not writ­ing, to say that I feel rest­less, irri­ta­ble, and dis­con­tent is putting it mildly.

Next week, June 30, 2014, “My Writ­ing Process Blog Tour” will con­tinue with Alex John­son, Sab­rina Kaleta, and Jim Goforth. For their view­points into the writ­ing life, visit the sites below.

Alex S. John­son is a col­lege Eng­lish instruc­tor cur­rently liv­ing in Sacra­mento, Cal­i­for­nia. His books include THE DEATH JAZZ, WICKED CANDY, and BAD SUN­SET. He is also the edi­tor of the AXES OF EVIL heavy metal hor­ror series. Read more about Alex S. John­son at http://​bizar​alex​.word​press​.com

Sab­rina Kaleta writes: “I am a poet, music jour­nal­ist, mother, per­for­mance artist, Doo-​Dah Queen, reluc­tant debu­tante, punk, host­ess, for­tune teller…all these labels might tell a bit of my story. As a poet, I have graced the stages of The Expresso Bar, The Old Towne Pub, Sam’s Book City, the Coconut Teazer, and High­land Grounds and have been pub­lished in Flip­side, Sat­ur­day After­noon Jour­nal, and Kether. Other pub­li­ca­tions include Gui­tar World, Metal Ham­mer, New Times, Dia­bo­lik, and BAM. In my Pasadena CA home, I con­tinue to try to ignore the out­side voices, have a good time, and cre­ate what I can. Visit Sab­rina Kaleta’s blog, House­hold Mantras, at www​.sabri​nakaleta​.tum​blr​.com

Jim Goforth has been writ­ing tales of hor­ror since the early 90’s. After years of detour­ing into work­ing with the extreme metal com­mu­nity and writ­ing reviews for hun­dreds of bands with Black Belle Music, he has returned to his writ­ing love with his first book PLEBS, pub­lished by J. Elling­ton Ash­ton Press. He has sto­ries in a cou­ple of antholo­gies with a col­lab­o­ra­tive novel and a col­lec­tion of his own short sto­ries to emerge in the com­ing months. To learn more about Jim Goforth, visit http://​jim​go​forth​hor​ro​rauthor​.word​press​.com/

how to raise a kid to be a horror writerI can see my grand­mother now, hawk-​eyed and hyper-​vigilant as she looks up from her evening paper in alarm and whis­pers to my mother, “Did you hear some­thing upstairs?”

As if on cue, my mother gets up, arms her­self with an umbrella (hers being a gen­er­a­tion of women that had not yet embraced the virtues of the semi-​automatic) and pro­ceeds up the stairs, to con­front what sort of ghastly fate one can only imag­ine. The first place she would check for an intruder would be under the bed (since we all know that’s where psy­cho killers, rapists, and bogey­men lie in wait for us all). As a young child, it never made sense to me – it seemed we should be run­ning out the front door rather than pok­ing umbrel­las into dan­ger­ous places.

As far as I know, my mother never found any­thing scarier than dust bun­nies under the bed, but this and far more out­ra­geous South­ern Gothic looni­ness laid for me a firm belief sys­tem that, beneath a super­fi­cial veneer of grim banal­ity, the world is actu­ally a mad­house of dan­ger and weird­shit deprav­ity, much of it lurk­ing just below the sur­face of one’s own fam­ily – even within one’s own mind!

Clearly the only rea­son­able voca­tion for a per­son raised in such a hot­house of creep­ing dread is that of hor­ror writer (or pos­si­bly stand-​up comic).

In a way, though, I know I received an inter­est­ing, if per­haps dubi­ous, bless­ing – the com­pul­sion to write hor­ror fic­tion. It’s all in my head any­way, why not put it on paper? I love hav­ing access to the bizarre and creepy fan­tasies within my own imag­i­na­tion. It’s like hav­ing a pri­vate attic full of won­drous mon­strosi­ties and dark gri­moires to explore and peruse at my leisure.

Which I’ve been doing for quite a few years now. When I wrote the novel THE SAFETY OF UNKNOWN CITIES, I got to explore extremes of erot­ica well beyond what I’ve known in real life. In the novella “Spree” I cre­ated a vengeance-​obsessed pro­tag­o­nist who acts on his fury in ways few sane peo­ple would ever resort to. And in the short story “Extremophiles” for the anthol­ogy AXES OF EVIL, my char­ac­ters find out the hard way what I already sus­pected a long time ago, that the world, in fact, the very cos­mos, is def­i­nitely out to get us.

Writ­ing about the lurid, the per­verse, the unspeak­able has a sur­pris­ing reward – it makes the real world with all its hor­rors seem safer, more man­age­able, and def­i­nitely, in a weird way, more fun!

Autumn in the Abyss by John Claude SmithWith AUTUMN IN THE ABYSS, John Claude Smith man­ages the rare feat of match­ing a lit­er­ary and, at times, lyri­cal voice with pull-​no-​punches sto­ry­telling and images graphic enough to make the more squea­mish reader shud­der. Make no mis­take, there’s gore here, but there’s also so much more.

The book is a themed col­lec­tion of five sto­ries, loosely linked by the theme of art and its poten­tial as a vehi­cle for both redemp­tion and self-​annihilation. In “La Mia Immor­talita” an ego-​driven sculp­tor for­feits his human­ity for the chance to cre­ate one superb and last­ing work – with hor­ri­fy­ing results. In “Bro­ken Teacup” a pair of depraved young film­mak­ers out to get rich mak­ing snuff flics learn the con­se­quences of their cho­sen path. “Autumn in the Abyss” chron­i­cles the narrator’s obses­sive quest to dis­cover the truth behind a lost beat poet’s mys­te­ri­ous disappearance.

Also link­ing the collection’s cen­tral theme is the engi­matic char­ac­ter of Mr. Liu, who inter­venes to bring bal­ance to a Uni­verse always lurch­ing toward chaos, and who acts as an inter­me­di­ary between the pathetic hubris and deprav­ity of humans and the admit­tedly slim, but still pos­si­ble, chance for redemption.

I enjoyed this book not just for the excel­lent writ­ing and finely crafted sto­ries, but above all for the ques­tions Smith seems to be explor­ing from many dif­fer­ent angles and the feel­ing that, how­ever hor­rific the images he paints, there is an under­ly­ing sense of a Uni­verse both sen­tient and, seem­ingly against all odds, not entirely unbenign.

cover forAxesofEvilanthologyTogether, heavy metal and hor­ror fic­tion offered maps to the King­dom of Fear, where leg­ends and won­ders spoke and moved (and gib­bered and squealed and spread chaos).” — Alex S. John­son, from the Intro­duc­tion to Axes of Evil

This is an anthol­ogy that fans of heavy metal and hor­ror have been wait­ing for – an enor­mous vol­ume of car­nage, blast beats, riffs, gore, wreck­age, and mon­sters that author Dale Her­rings describes as “an epic tome of brutality.”

Con­trib­u­tors to Axes of Evil include authors Sephera Giron, Terry M. West, Sean Leonard, Del James, Jim Goforth, John Claude Smith, Anna Haney, Mimi Williams, Charie D. La Marr, and many more, with a ter­rific intro­duc­tion by author, edi­tor, and music jour­nal­ist Alex S. Johnson.

I’m delighted that my story “Extremophiles” is also part of this remark­able anthol­ogy, a tale about the hell­bound jour­ney of death metal gui­tarist Mag­nus Ochoa to the night­mar­ish Dry Val­leys of Antarctica.

Axes of Evil is avail­able from Ama­zon in paper­back and on Kindle.

review of Black Moon by Kenneth CalhounThe old adage that ‘no one ever died from lack of sleep’ is cer­tainly put to rest in Ken­neth Calhoun’s riv­et­ing debut novel Black Moon. The book’s premise: a vir­u­lent and appar­ently incur­able insom­nia has taken hold of human­ity. Only a tiny per­cent­age of the pop­u­la­tion is still able to sleep while every­one else prowls the sleep­less days and nights like deranged and vio­lent zom­bies. The sight of those with the abil­ity to sleep dri­ves the chron­i­cally wake­ful into vicious rages; in one brief, har­row­ing scene, a mob fells a tree in order to get at a girl who has been spot­ted asleep in its branches.

Oth­ers take pre­cau­tions to pro­tect them­selves from loved ones who are becom­ing increas­ingly unhinged.

Biggs, who is one of the few able to sleep, ends up tying his delu­sional, sleep-​deprived wife to a chair lest she harm him or her­self. A one point, des­per­ate for a safe place to sleep, Biggs takes refuge on the ledge of a high­way bill­board whose ad cam­paign he designed himself.

Another of the ‘sleep-​abled’ is Lila, who wan­ders the grim land­scape of non-​sleepers wear­ing a school mascot’s giant owl mask, peer­ing out at the car­nage after her own par­ents have gone insane. Oth­ers, like Chase and Jor­dan, try to turn a profit out of the plague by steal­ing a huge quan­tity of sleep­ing pills.

Calhoun’s writ­ing is pow­er­ful and poetic and, at times, darkly com­i­cal, as when Chase’s overindul­gence in erectile-​dysfunction pills leads to an insa­tiable hard-​on.

Beyond being a tale about the break­down of humanity’s col­lec­tive san­ity, Black Moon is also an ode to dreams, both the magic and splen­dor of the dream world and the hor­ror that man­i­fests when dream­ing begins to intrude upon real­ity to the point where the two become indistinguishable.

A haunt­ing and com­pelling read and, yes, one worth los­ing some sleep over.

As many of you know, I am about as techno­pho­bic as they come – each new step down the tech­no­log­i­cal high­way is taken with trep­i­da­tion. It’s a fear reen­forced by inex­plic­a­ble dis­as­ters such as the time I acci­den­tally hit a ran­dom com­bi­na­tion of keys and – I kid you not – deleted an entire novel. So devel­op­ing a new web­site has been a time-​consuming and occa­sion­ally hand-​wringing endeavor.

How­ever, in a true stroke of serendip­ity, one of my neigh­bors in Eldo­rado hap­pens to be Hope Kiah, of http://​www​.santafe​-web​de​sign​.com, a top­notch web­site devel­oper here in Santa Fe since 1998. She’s been guid­ing me through the rig­ors of web­site devel­op­ment – no small task, to be sure.

I’m very enthu­si­as­tic about this new web­site and plan to keep it updated more fre­quently. Your thoughts and feed­back are wel­come. Also feel free to use the nifty social net­work but­tons at the top of the pages to share this site with your community.

freaky gun story in Santa FeAs a hor­ror writer, I still have to shake my head at the way real­ity con­sis­tently trumps fic­ton when it comes to lunacy, audac­ity, and sheer whacked-​out nuttiness.

David Morrell's tautly woven historical thrillerMetic­u­lously researched and beau­ti­fully writ­ten, David Morrell’s Mur­der As A Fine Art takes its name from an essay by Thomas De Quincey, whose mem­oir Con­fes­sions of an Eng­lish Opium-​Eater cre­ated a scan­dal in Vic­to­rian Lon­don when it was pub­lished in 1821.