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.

What does a horror writer look like?It hap­pened again the other day. A woman I’d recently met asked me what kind of writ­ing I do. When I said I write hor­ror, she seemed taken aback and said that was the last thing she’d have expected. This is not uncom­mon in my expe­ri­ence, yet I’m fairly cer­tain that romance writ­ers, for exam­ple (unless they hap­pen to be male), don’t get this sort of reaction.

On the Writing Life and Raising Guinea PigsThe chief rea­son why I’m poorer today than when I was born is that I’m a writer who hasn’t con­vinced the world of it. Nor a sin­gle edi­tor. And the boss told me once I would do bet­ter rais­ing guinea pigs as a side line.”

Nightmare on Griffin StreetThe hap­pi­est end­ings are some­times too ran­dom, too unbe­liev­able, too ‘con­trived’ to ever work in the world of fic­tion. A writer can’t just wrap up a sus­pense story with “…and then, when all seemed lost, some­thing unex­pected hap­pened and every­thing turned out okay!”

A few days ago, I got a fran­tic phone call from Angie, a woman who feeds a small colony of feral cats along a depress­ing indus­trial strip in Grover Beach. One of the reg­u­lars had failed to turn up, and now Angie was hear­ing cries com­ing from a stor­age locker in a unit adja­cent to the lot where the fer­als nor­mally gather.

A Feast to Die For

Sugar Skulls, Candy Coffins, and Pan de Muertos

Ever wish you could trade hol­i­days with another cul­ture? In my Cen­tral Coast neigh­bor­hood, Hal­loween dec­o­ra­tions are start­ing to appear: pump­kins on porches, skele­tons dan­gling on doors, witches’ caul­drons dusted out to be filled with bite-​sized Milky Ways and Her­sheys and the like.

But while folks here are gear­ing up for Hal­loween, in Mex­ico and in Mex­i­can com­mu­ni­ties around the US, this is the time of prepa­ra­tion for Dia de Los Muer­tos. Tra­di­tion has it that on mid­night on Octo­ber 31, the gates of heaven open and the souls of chil­dren return; souls of departed adults fol­low the day after, on Nov. 2. All are greeted with boun­ti­ful offer­ings of food, drink, and flow­ers. And heart­felt, often jovial, reminiscences.