Friday, September 15, 2017

Novel News: Pre-order I AM THE RIVER, the novella that pined to be something more

Cover by Ives Hovanessian

I never know how long a story is going to be when I begin writing it. I have a rough idea, based on the scope of the plot and complexity of the narrative, but that’s always vague and never completely predictive. I only truly find out when it’s complete. Maybe I don’t have the proper control over the work I’m doing, or perhaps it’s more about trusting the story to tell me what it wants to be, how it wants to present itself to the world.

Stories are organic things, and shapeless when born, only firming up and taking their ultimate form when all is finally said, and all is finally done. Then and only then do we – meaning I – know the size of the thing we are dealing with. You don’t measure the size of paws, or the diameter of bones. There’s no extrapolation equation or scaling up ingredients. Stories grow like an unknown tree, reaching full maturity when its DNA says so.

I started I Am The River with the intention that it would be a novella. My second overall, and my second book with the fine folks at Lethe Press. I was even hoping it would be a novella, as I had intended to save the “first novel!” milestone for my next project Salt Creek, which most certainly will be a novel at the very least (with plans to spin it out into other projects and mediums). How long and large that one will be remains to be seen, but I know that it will easily cross the size threshold into the vale of the proper, 100,000+ word novel.

But as I continued to write I Am The River, exploring its strange twists and turns as they were revealed to me, I watched as the book surpassed the word count of a standard novella, and flowed into short novel territory, where it quickly made itself at home and then sat down, its journey complete.

I trust this story. I like this story. I needed to change the “A Novella” to “A Novel” on the title page, which you can see covering the completed “Zero Draft” manuscript, completed on Sunday night, September 10th, 2017:

Now the careful task of editing begins. While I engage in this joyous exercise, you are free to pre-order I AM THE RIVER: A NOVEL via the Lethe Press website here. Word from the top says that if you pre-order before Halloween, you will be able to purchase the novel for a discounted novella price ($13.00), which is eight quarters less than the going rate ($15.00).

I Am The River: A Novel will be released in February, 2018 as a trade paperback and ebook, with the possibility of a hardcover edition in the works. Should a hardcover edition be made available, anyone who pre-orders a paperback copy before the release date can apply that credit to the hardcover.

From the Lethe Press website:

Coming February of 2018!

Special sale price of $13 lasts until November 1st
by T.E. Grau
During the last desperate days of the Vietnam War, American solider Israel Broussard is assigned to a secretive CIA PSYOP far behind enemy lines meant to drive terror into the heart of the North Vietnamese and end an unwinnable war. When the mission goes sideways, Broussard is plunged into a nightmare that he soon finds he is unable to escape, dragging a remnant of that night in the Laotian wilderness with him no matter how far he runs.
Five years later, too damaged to return home and holed up in the slums of Bangkok, where he battles sleep, guilt, and a creeping sense of madness, Broussard discovers that he must journey back to the jungles of Laos in an attempt to set things right and reclaim what is left of his life.

A fever dream with a Benzedrine chaser, I Am The River provides a daring, often surreal examination of the Vietnam War and the days after it, burrowing down past the bullets and battlefields to discover the lingering horror of warfare, the human consequences of organized violence, and the lasting effects of trauma on the psyche, and the soul.

T.E. Grau is the author of dozens of stories and other written works, including the books They Don’t Come Home Anymore, Triptych: Three Cosmic Tales, The Lost Aklo Stories, The Mission, and The Nameless Dark, which was nominated for a 2015 Shirley Jackson Award for Single-Author Collection. Grau lives in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter.

Monday, March 27, 2017

TC Review & Interview: Author, poet, and anarchist Seb Doubinsky foresees the future in WHITE CITY, and the future is now

Some writers predict the future. Those working in fantastical, dystopian, and science fiction have been doing it for years. Jules Verne foresaw the development of advanced submarine technology. H.G. Wells saw much, including atomic weaponry, tanks, motion-sensor doors, voicemail. Arthur C. Clarke wrote about the rise of electronic media, virtual reality video games, the reliance upon communication satellites, and space tourism. George Orwell, the proliferation of NSA spying on its citizenry. William Gibson, the creation of cyberspace and Internet hackers. Ambrose Bierce concocted a chess-playing robot in 1910, a futurism completed by the prediction of an IBM computer beating the best human chess player by Raymond Kurzweil in 1990 ("Big Blue" defeated Garry Kasparov seven years later in 1997). Numerous writers, including E.M. Forster, Gene Roddenberry, and the Grand Seer Verne posited that video conferencing would be a boring reality many decades before these Skype and Facetime years of the early 21st century.

Either by careful study of technological innovations, or just a keen imagination, possibly informed by something creeping backward in time from the ether, these writers saw our present as their future, and were proven right, often when they had no reason to believe the things they saw unfurling forth from the corners of their minds. But somehow, they did. They listened. They saw.

Sébastien "Seb" Doubinsky doesn't make such grand claims of precognition, as - by this own admission - what he has sketched out in White City (Bizarro Pulp Press, 2015) is not a near-future, but a current-now. Maybe we are living our future, and many of us just don't have the right set of eyes to see it.

In White City, Doubinsky sets his novel in a Europe that has been re-segregation along class, wealth, nationalistic, and racial lines. In short, character-specific chapters (reminiscent of Faulker's As I Lay Dying), we meet a trio of citizens: VCTV 2 journalist Leila Bogossian, her boyfriend Lee Jones Jr., a writer trying to live down his father's considerable literary shadow, and Detective-Inspector Sigrid Wulff, newly arrived to her post at Kong Kristian district after bouts of insubordination at her last job. All are resident of Viborg City, both mockingly and proudly nicknamed "White City," which is a bleached-out, ivory tower Scandinavian hack of Beverly Hills sure to be an Alt Righter's dream zip code. This contrasts with New Babylon, where Leila and Lee first met, a gritty, lively cultural melting pot looked down upon by anyone privileged enough to take up residence in White City.

The plot centers on the strange murder of Niels Kepler (aka "White Power Niels"), younger brother to Marta Kepler, the obscenely wealthy heir to the Phoebus Cosmetics empire, which - we later learn - was founded by her father Hans Kepler, the personal perfumer to Adolph Hitler. Leila fights for the story, and uncovers far more than she expected, while Sigrid deals with bureaucracy and unstable balance of the entitled and the marginalized during her often thwarted investigation. Lee Jr. conducts research into this next novel that unknowingly ties everything together, loosely binding the three protagonists with a threadbare tether while they make their way through the thin societal air that remains tainted by the rot of the past. They each learn that in order to achieve their goals, to get what they want, risks and rationalizations must be made in a world that has no conscience, leaving them forever altered.

To me, the well-crafted, interwoven storylines are secondary in interest to the foundational underbelly of the overall work, and what is happening around the edges of Doubinsky's quasi-fictional Europe that is certainly grounded in a history all too real. Indeed, what I enjoyed most about White City was what the book takes on in the process of telling a solid crime tale, as it tackles topics of terrorist fear mongering, immigrant bans, racialist laws and credit obstruction, caste systems, police corruption, the price of beauty and the invoice of power, maintaining relationships across barriers of ethnicity and geography, black magic, and the sinewy reach of a slow-pumping vein of Nazi secret society that courses just under the skin of the Continent (and it's satellite land across the Atlantic - but that's for another novel). This is the tale of an outsider viewing a new, slightly hostile land from the inside and living to tell about it. In a macro sense, this is a story of what is happening RIGHT NOW in the United States, in Europe, and in other areas of our planet. As an American, I see this as a Post-Trumpian narrative conceived and written during the the Obama Administration, several years before anyone could or would have possibly conceived of a Presidential run by the clownish huckster, failed businessman, reality show hack, and running punchline since the Robin Leach 1980s named Donald J. Trump.

In that spirit, Doubinsky, a self-professed anarchist, is writing prophetic Protest Lit in the classic tradition of Orwell or Huxley. White City is a Contempo-Future Noir tale meted out through spare deconstruction down to the formatting, with elements of free-form expressionism, poetry, cultural longing and a quest for unique place in a world that will not abide it, all riding on a sea of social and political commentary. It's Burroughs without the bile. Well, without some of the bile. This isn't sci-fi (or socio-fi?), this is the present-day, with a veneer of manners peeled back by the scalpels of surgical social justice, exposing a raw wound that is growing while left untreated. Most of all, this novel is prescient and ultimately interesting, providing a darkly knowing take on current issues, which is important in these weird times. We need to see what's coming, those of us who don't have the Sight.

After enjoying Seb Doubinsky's poetry for years, given away in true Leftie fashion on social media, it is a real treat to see him sink his mind into a larger work like White City. And now that I have that taste, that glimpse of the grim future that is now, I want to see more. Fans of the dark stuff, the real stuff, always do.

When did you first realize you were destined to write, and what triggered this realization? What sort of books and other media fueled these early, formative years?

I come from a very literary and political background. My grandfather on my father’s side was a Russian anarchist and on my mother’s side, an art historian. I was raised with books and ideas. I also lived as a kid in the USA in the early 60s, so a part of my native culture is American also. The desire to be a writer came relatively late, I would say when I was about 17 or 18, after reading a book by French surrealist poet and resistant René Char called Feuillets d’Hypnos (Pages from Hypnos), which are based in his active fight against the Nazis. I remember thinking that I wanted to write a book as important as that later. Then, a few years later, a family tragedy coupled with a love for punk rock turned this desire into a reality, and I wrote my two first “serious” novellas, VIX and DAYS OF LIGHT. This was in the early 80s. And both were in English. I began writing in French in parallel, but later. Some of the most influential writers for me definitely are William Burroughs, for the setting and the tight deconstruction of language, Kerouac for the sad craziness and the profound twisted humanity of his prose, and Richard Brautigan for the short chapters and novels that nonetheless carried a lot of weight and emotions. Later, I discovered Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius opuses and, of course, Philip K. Dick.

White City presents a grim outlook on humanity, and our near-future as a species, particularly in Europe, which has been divided more than ever along class, wealth, and racial lines. Does this reflect your worldview?

Yes, absolutely. I consider myself a political writer in a Pynchonian sense, that is to say as a slanted commentator of what is going on around us. Literature and culture in all its forms are the invisible architectures of our societies, and vibrate as history unfolds. Our responsibility is to both to feel and interpret these vibrations, and share them with the public. The grim outlook you are mentioning is precisely based on the vibes I have been picking for a while m actually since the first Iraq war, which inspired THE BABYLONIAN TRILOGY. When the Berlin wall fell in 1989, we all hoped for peace and a better world. But we had forgotten one thing: capitalism is a bastard. Communism out of the way, it could now be sole ruler – or, at least, try to. Culture became thus completely unimportant if it wasn’t a vector for its ideology. What struck me was we, the intellectuals, had mistaken pure, calculated propaganda for creative freedom. And since the 1990s we have experienced the backlash: bestsellers and top 40 music are basically the only culture allowed in the Big Media. The rest – which must represent 99% - is scornfully categorized as “genres” or “subcultures”, which is the ultra-capitalist form of censorship. You don’t forbid the works, you just cut their access to a larger audience. Very efficient too.

I can't help be see White City as a foreshadowing of our current political and social climate in the Western world. In a post-Trump, post-Brexit reality, with the rise of the Right in so many nations across our globe, is White City a bit of clairvoyant fiction? Did you see what was waiting for us a few years down the line back in 2014?

I think my studies in History and my own political choices as an anarchist have made me very wary of official narrations, whether in national myths or in Big Media news. I think WHITE CITY is more of a statement than a premonition, unfortunately. What I am showing in this novel is not what is awaiting us – it is where we have been for a long time.

What are you trying to express with White City, if anything other than to write an entertaining book?

WHITE CITY is a book aimed at making people feel uncomfortable politically. Its main purpose is to make the reader question his own social and historical narration, with all of its implications.

You start the novel with legitimately cheery quotes from none other than Heinrich Himmler and Leni Riefenstahl, and the book contains ghosts of Nazism. Why is this such a pronounced undercurrent in White City?

Nazism is actually the main not-so-hidden central topic of WHITE CITY. In my eyes, its fundamentals have never disappeared and still haunt our daily routines. Did you know, for example, that Nazi Germany was the first nation to try to ban tobacco? The obsession we have today for health and beauty are highly influenced by the eugenics of the 1920s and 1930s. When a political party, a newspaper or a TV show focus on the costs of some categories of citizens to our health system (overweight, smokers, etc.), they are actually following the lines of thinking that lead to the first extermination of mentally challenged patients in 1940. All the Nazi system was based on economical premises, themselves based on race and eugenics. And as for beauty, aesthetics were also central to National-Socialism. The Aryan people were not only the chosen people; they should also be a beautiful people. When Leni Riefenstahl goes to to Africa to take pictures of the Nuba tribe, she is taking pictures of a racially pure people in her eyes, of course). Aesthetics and eugenics go hand in hand. They both segregate and oppress.

White City has a deconstructionist, unorthodox style, with intermittent chapters consisting of "Dog Poems," diary entries, and recurring segments titled "What Beauty Is" and "Theory of Power." What are some influences on this book, in terms of structure, style, and content?

The biggest influence in my writing is actually not from other writers, but from art and music. I always think of some artists or film directors when I write, because I want my books to resemble their atmosphere. Robert Rauschenberg  and Godard’s ALPHAVILLE were definitely there when I wrote WHITE CITY. And the soundtrack did contain Bauhaus, Sonic Youth, Ultravox and a few others.

The monstrous wars raging in the Middle East and North Africa, and the refugee crisis which has resulted, have impacted Europe in various ways. What have you seen on the ground living and moving through various countries? 

Well, I live in Denmark and the Danish government and the Danish media’s radically xenophobic reactions did play a big part in the writing of the novel. What struck me was that Denmark is a filthy rich country, that could welcome thousands of refugees without it impacting its economy negatively. But most of the political parties and a shameful large number of journalists and commentators have poured out a purely xenophobic logorrhea, while insulting and threatening all opposing voices. Denmark is supposed to be a democracy, but definitely isn’t acting as one; at least in the political and Big Media spheres; Unfortunately, similar traits can be seen all around, from Hungary to Great Britain. What is interesting in this, is that this is an absolutely cynical decision with a very precise goal: to make people forget that the real problems come from the 2009 economical crisis. By waving the immigration red cloth under the noses of under-informed masses, they can lead the opinion away from the real problem of our democracies today, which is the incredibly high (and accepted) level of corruption of our politicians.

 How far away are we from White City? Are we there already?

We are definitely living in WHITE CITY, and have been for a long while.

 As someone who has penned poems and novels, do you consider yourself a poet, or are you an author? Is there a difference?

The great American female anarchist Voltairine de Cleyre, at the end of her life, called herself “simply an anarchist”, refusing thus to categorize her commitment. Like her, I will say that I am “simply a writer”.

 Does writing in different languages, including your second (third?) language, influence the writing itself? Are there some things you'd rather write in, say, French, than in English, or vise versa?

It’s a very difficult question. I think it really depends on the speed of the wind and the direction of the clouds. What I mean by that is that the paradigms leading to my choice of language both are as simple and complex as the speed of the wind and the direction of the clouds. I also translate myself (From English to French and vice-versa), but not all of my writings. There is a subconscious choice there that I have not really thought about. And then there is also a bit of laziness.

 Channel Carlo from The Forgotten Shelf for a moment, and recommend five books and five authors (don't have to be related) that none of us have probably ever read, or even heard of before.

The order is of no importance:
1) Almost transparent blue, Murakami Ryu
2) Let it come down, Paul Bowles
3) Doctor Sax, Jack Kerouac
4) Tripticks, Ann Quin
5) Do Not Enter My Soul With Your Shoes, Natasha Kanapé Fontaine

Where are you living these days, and what occupies your time away from writing?

Right now, I am in Paris with a group of students from Aarhus University, so I am taking walks with them and visiting museums. At night, I am meeting my old friends in bars and cafés…

What are you currently working on, and what can we expect next from you in print?

I am currently working on a new novel featuring Georg Ratner, the disgruntled cop from THE BABYLONIAN TRILOGY, and I have a novel, MISSING SIGNAL, that will come out in 2018 through Meerkat Press.

Thank you so much for your time, Seb, and for writing this book. It couldn't be more relevant as we push forward into a future that is both chillingly uncertain and predictably primal.

Thank you for having me on board, and about the future, I remember that Jewish joke that my late father used to tell me: What is the difference between a pessimist and an optimist?
A pessimist says: “This is terrible. Things can’t get worse than this!”
An optimist says: “Yes, they can! Yes, they can!”

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Publishing News - New novella I AM THE RIVER coming in late 2017 from Lethe Press

I am happy to announce that my newest novella, I Am The River, will be published in October/November of 2017 by Lethe Press, the same outfit that released my debut collection in 2015.

Moreover, I am proud to release the cover of I Am The River, created by Ives Hovanessian, which - as with all of Ives' covers - certainly adds an extra element of beauty and fascination to the book. I am and have been so luck to have her creative talents associated with my work.

More details as we near the release date...

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Trick or treating last night with Ivy and Fish was as lovely and fun as it is every year, but came with a tiny flavor of bittersweet.

South Pasadena – the only place we celebrate Halloween night – once again outdid itself, decking out historic-zoned Craftsman homes and tree-lined streets with lights and music and fog and Hollywood-grade horror props. Front doors were open, porches filled with smiling faces handing out candy and coffee, and the sidewalks were crowded with people who – like us – spend each October 31st in the most beautiful small town in the Los Angeles metroplex. No one does Halloween like South Pasadena does Halloween. Hell, the police cruisers were even broadcasting Carpenter’s theme to Halloween through their speakers. It’s just that sort of town, and was that sort of night. Wonderful from start to finish.

But it was also tinged with a bit of uncertainty, as Fish is now 12, and therefore in that odd middleground where one doesn’t know how long she’ll hold on to those childhood beliefs and activities that have marked her entire life so far. She says she’ll never stop trick or treating, and is already planning her costume for next year, but I know that’s probably as much idealism speaking as it is promise. She’s a nostalgic girl, and a bit old timey, just like her parents. She’s also going to be a teenager in eight months.

Either way, and if this was the last, we’ll always have memories of wonder and magic seen through a child’s eyes, and a little bit of Americana saved up and stored in that part of the cabinet that needs those sorts of things. And I’ll always have this photo, and each one taken in the same way in the same spot the past six years, marking the passage of time on a night that is timeless. May it always remain so.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Publishing News: Spanish edition of THE NAMELESS DARK: A COLLECTION coming in 2017 from Dilatando Mentes Editorial

Language is a bonding agent, a powerful force that groups us together and also keeps us apart from our fellow human beings.
I write in English, and only English, as I have a hard enough time mastering one language sufficiently to commit it to the page in any sort of interesting fashion. As such, I do so admire anyone who can speak, think, and write in more than one language. That seems almost magical to me, like being possessed of a compartmentalized brain that is far beyond my abilities or comprehension.
Being an English-language writer, I often forget just how many people - literally billions, and a majority of this planet - cannot or will never read my work due to the language in which I write. And by "me," I mean all English-language writers. Conversely, I am missing out on so many extraordinary literary talents because of my limited grasp of language diversity. This is unfortunate, and frustrating.
So, it's on days like this that one realizes the smallness of one's immediate world, and the vastness of the real one. And by "days like this one," I mean on a day when I am incredibly humbled and excited to share the news that a Spanish language edition of The Nameless Dark: A Collection will be published in Spain at the end of 2017 by Ondara-based dark media imprint Dilatando Mentes Editorial, run by the wonderful husband and wife team of Jose Angel De Dios Garcia and Maite Aranda.

I think it's safe to say that every author dreams of having their work published in a language other than their own. It makes the work seem more permanent, and perhaps more meaningful, in some small way, to be deemed worthy of laborious translation and republication in a totally new market where the author most likely has very little sway or visibility. Or, maybe I'm just getting carried away with myself. Regardless, this is wonderful news, and something that makes me very proud.
Immense thanks to Jose and Maite for putting their hard work and company brand behind this new Spanish language edition of my collection. I very much look forward to finding new readers and kindred spirits amongst my Spanish-speaking brothers and sisters across the world, on several continents, and even in my own state and hometown. Los Angeles is very much a Latino city, so having my book available to Angelinos who primarily or only read in Spanish is a pretty wonderful thing.
Follow Dilatando Mentes Editorial on all available media platforms, and watch this space for updates. Muchos gracias, amable lector.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Cover Reveal: Upcoming release THEY DON'T COME HOME ANYMORE: A NOVELLA features cover art by Candice Tripp

I'm exceedingly proud to finally be able to reveal the cover for my upcoming release, They Don't Come Home Anymore: A Novella, a 32,000+ word story published by This Is Horror.

The cover art is by the exceptionally talented Candice Tripp, a UK painter and sculptor that my wife Ives Hovanessian turned me on to a few years back. Since then, I'd been waiting for the right project to coalesce that would be an ideal pairing of her artwork with a corresponding story that suited it, and thankfully my first short novel arrived from the cranial factory as the perfect vehicle. I approached Candice for the cover, and thankfully she agreed. With the art secured, that Ives designed the cover — working with Candice's phenomenal oil painting Everything Is Lovely As Long As You Never Want To Leave (which itself sounds similar to the novella in terms of title, if not theme) and solidifying the tone through font, color, and clean space — seemed incredibly fitting, considering that she's been a fan of Candice's work longer than I have, and pointed me in that direction in the first place. Everything fell perfectly into place, with wonderful results, as you can see above.

This is the first step in working toward This Is Horror's planned mid-November 2016 release of They Don't Come Home Anymore: A Novella, a story that might, at first blush, seem like a slight departure from my previous work, as it centers on a teenage girl, and is very much a tale of obsession, loneliness, and a search for meaning, acceptance, and love in a world (and sub world) that waits, cruel and threatening, just behind the facade. It's also about vampires, but not the garden variety sort you'd expect in a mass market/network television teenage vamp story, but something that cleaves closer to the natural world, and how our planet once was, and might still be in certain darkened corners. I can't really say more, other than to invite you to pick up the book when it's available, and tell me what you think it's about, underneath, beyond that first impression.

But, that's for another day, in another season, approaching faster than you might think. Watch this space for pre-order information in the coming weeks. In the meantime, check out that cover again. The devils truly are in the details.

Friday, July 15, 2016

TC Review & Interview: Brian Evenson quietly leads literary horror into the 21st century with new fiction collection A COLLAPSE OF HORSES

I recently attended a Brian Evenson reading held at Skylight Books in the appropriately understated, enduringly cool east Hollywood enclave of Los Feliz. During the Q & A session after he read his latest collection's titular piece, Evenson shared a personal story that had occurred in a parking garage just days before. As he was walking to his car one afternoon, he noticed a fluttering object up ahead of him, trapped in the corner of the structure, that appeared to be a distressed bird most likely injured and unable to fly. As he drew nearer, he realized that what he was certain was a bird was actually a dead leaf, rocking back and forth in the wind. This gave him pause, and in pondering what he had just seen, or thought he had seen, he surmised that it could be possible that the bird he first saw may have physically transformed itself into the leaf that he found.

This was a quick anecdote, and seemingly innocuous, but as the discussion moved on, this visual vignette and its explanation sent my mind reeling with possibility: When we don't trust our eyes, perhaps we should. When we do trust our eyes, and what information it is relaying to our rational brain, perhaps we shouldn't. Maybe what we think we see but would never dare believe is actually what's absolutely real. Perception can be reality when reality is what we not just perceive, but truly see. Or don't. If a tree falls in the forest and you weren't there to see it, did it not fall?

Some may look upon a rocky outcropping, or a hole in the ground, or a cave, and see it for what it is in a physical sense. Some see these things as something else. Yet others can hear a sound in the woods and interpret it as the swaying of trees in the wind, or the movement of harmless animals. A different set of ears, attached to a different brain, infuse those noises with dread, and potential violence. Terror. Strips of meat hang in a cellar. What sort of meat is it? Why are they there? Is this innocuous, or is this horrific? Can it be both?

If we do not perceive something to be horrifying, it is not horrifying to us. Similarly, if we find something horrifying, ASSIGN it horror, it will be just that. We should question everything. It would be safer to question nothing.

This is heavy philosophical cargo, dealing with the heart and ephemeral soul of physical existence. But more so, these concepts examine the truth or lies of perception, shaded by interpretation, learned bias and ritualized certitude. Perception. Interpretation. Challenging rationalism through a realization of the "supernatural." A loss of control, willingly or not. Dissolution and disintegration.

Brian Evenson deals directly with these sorts of issues in his novels and especially in his short fiction, collected most recently in A Collapse of Horses, published by Coffee House Press as the fourth piece of a "cover puzzle" that also includes re-issues of  Father of Lies (1999), The Open Curtain (2006), and Last Days (2009). In these seventeen tales, Evenson shows us his wide range of literary darkness, probing at all those spots that hurt and unsettle us most.

Since the mid 90's and the release of his brilliant debut collection Altmann's Tongue, Evenson's work has been widely acclaimed, celebrated within genre fiction and without, and keeping him from falling into any easily classifiable genre pigeonhole. Yet he has and continues to write some of the most vital, brutal, and unsettling fiction today. For my money, he writes horror, in the truest sense of the word.

In doing so, in writing these horrors, he rarely falls back on the easy crutch of "going supernatural," but instead sets the table with very real forks, knives, spoons, and plates, although arranging them in such a way that you'd swear some outside force was messing with the scene, re-positioning everything in such a way as to hint of a malevolent presence engaged in disorienting us just long enough to take us down.

This strain of dark fiction - let's call it the Evenson Strain - gives volume and heat to one of the central chambers in the beating heart of contemporary literary horror, sprouting a strongly pumping artery that is leading us into this new century, depositing us - we platelets - on strange, unsafe shores. Great beasts (rarely) scuttle from crypts or rise from the ocean in Evenson's stories. His horrors somehow seem extraordinarily real, and waiting for us all, fate willing. We are monsters and are surrounded by monsters that are sometimes less monsters than we.

Which brings us to A Collapse of Horses, an enviable title that perfectly sets the tone for the stories to come, which include the following standouts:

"Black Bark" ushers us into the collection, introducing us to Sugg and Rawley, two men on the run in the old horse American west. Sugg took a bullet in the leg, and is holding out hope for a cabin waiting just around the next bend in the trail. Instead, they settle for a cave, where a "good luck charm" has good missing from a bloody boot, and a story is told in the flickering light of a campfire. The story of black bark, found in the coat pocket of a man who had no idea how it got there. Then, later, another story is told. "'Doesn't matter much one way or the other,' said Sugg. Then he opened his mouth wide and smiled. It was a terrible thing to watch. Rawley began to be very afraid."

"A Report" reminds me of Kafka (which makes sense, considering Kafka's influence on a young Evenson, something I found out well after making this comparison), only better, soaked with the terror of imprisonment without reason, without end, and - possibly the worst part - without explanation. The tricks the mind plays, and the victims becoming the instigators.

"The Punish" explores the enduring power of childhood trespasses, performed in secret, away from adult eyes and rules, and how these actions can shape the rest of a person's life, for good and for ill. This is a tragic tale of never being allowed to forget the past, and the power of karma.

In "Cult," one cannot help but think of religious compounds, which include those founded on LDS teaching, that litter the western hinterlands of the United States. The weakness and indecision of our protagonist in dealing with an ex had me seconds from screaming at the page. Reads like a price of slightly spooky contemporary fiction, wrapped tight in personal lamentation and religious critique. Excellent.

"A Seaside Town" is - simply and crudely put - one of the best pieces of uncanny and weird fiction I've ever encountered. It reads like Ligotti on a Victorian holiday, and makes the mundane into something unsettling, threatening, dangerous. I have no idea why this story scared me so much, why the activities in the courtyard filled me with such disquiet, but they did. All of them. Stories don't frighten me much, but this one did. A masterstroke of the uncanny that left me scratching my head in grateful awe.

"The Dust" is realistic science fiction Noir, with the situation being very relatable to any locality on any planet. An insidious dust is wreaking havoc on a mining operation, quickly becoming the last of the small crews' problems as they deal with depleting oxygen and the death of one of their own. This is a longer work, a murder mystery novelette buried within a survival tale set on some nameless rock floating in the cold, airless reaches of space, and I couldn't stop turning the pages.

"BearHeart (tm)" is as harrowing tale of parenthood cut short, and the copping mechanisms employed by the grieving couple left spinning in the wake. You can see what's coming, but you don't turn away, because you can't.

"Scour" explores the delicate nature of life, the  and the long, unending concept of death.
The drudgery of the afterlife. If death came for you, would you recognize it? Would you know that you're dead? Once again, dust and grit play a central role

"Past Reno" might be the second-best story in A Collapse of Horses, as it gins up dread in ways that you never thought possible, including through the unlikely vehicle of a diner bathroom mirror. This is Evenson at his very best, mining his past and those dry, western landscapes he knows so well, and the darker spaces just under the surface, where things hang from the ceiling that he doesn't want to know at all.

With "Any Corpse," Evenson veers into dark fantasy and body horror more associated with Neil Gaiman at his most ghastly, or Clive Barker on any given Sunday. This story shows impressive world-building in a strange, grisly afterlife, weaving a level of strangeness that I found comforting, even inspiring. A surprising tale, and by Evenson's own admission, one of the last two stories he added to the collection at the 11th hour before it went to print. I'm very glad it made it in.

"Click," confusion, injury, loss of memory, power of suggestion, at the mercy of larger forces that probably don't have your best interests, or your freedom, at heart - a theme that runs through this collection like a cold needle through flesh. Our protagonists could be having a bad dream or an hallucination, brought on by what appears to be a mass murder and near-suicide. But one can never know, if one cannot trust one's own brain, or the reality that it builds from the information at hand. Officials hover around a hospital bedside, bent on interrogation, obfuscation. They threaten, but don't actually harm or kill you, which might be worse. The waiting. The not knowing. The unreliability of perception, and what horror that surely lays just beneath this thin layer of what our eyes, our brain, tells us is real.

I could go on, but I feel like that would be doing you a disservice, and more importantly, time's a'wasting. It's now your turn to get down into the dust next to A Collapse of Horses, close your eyes, and see where it is that you wake up, and what your brain now tells you. You might be surprised. No, strike that. You will be surprised.

Does this man scare you? This man scares me.

Thank you for joining us at The Cosmicomicon, Brian. I can tell by the number of staff members gathering in the hallway outside the door that we're all excited to have you here. Let's begin...

Creatives are often influenced by and, to some degree, a reflection of what they have seen, heard, read, endured, and consumed. What are some of the primary elements that have shaped you as a writer?

When I was pretty young, maybe 14, my father gave me a book of Kafka’s stories.  It was unlike anything I’d read before and kind of blew my mind.  But I was also reading SF writers like Gene Wolfe and Michael Moorcock, and I was watching a lot of horror and thrillers as well—saw Halloween when I was thirteen and it opened up all sorts of doors for me.  Later, when I was in high school, I stumbled into a lot of theater of the absurd stuff that Grove Press had published—Beckett, Ionesco.  Then later, when I was a Mormon missionary, I managed to talk my companion into going to see David Lynch’s Blue Velvet without either of us having any idea what we were getting into, and again that was so different than anything I’d read.  That movie became a kind of touchstone for me—for many years I had much of it memorized.

It took a while, but eventually I somehow just kind of figured that if I could find all of that satisfying, my readers would too, and that those influences should be allowed to talk to one another on the page.  Early in my career people would tell me that was a bad idea—one of my first reviews suggested I’d be a good writer once the macabre in me had melted down—but I’ve always been stubborn.  Now, it seems to appeal to people.

So, you've seen a change in reader reaction to your fiction from earlier in your career to now?

Probably more a change in critic reaction than in reader reaction.  I think when I was first writing there were a lot of critics who saw the line between genre and literature as very firm, as more of a wall than a line.  They thought you should stay on one side or the other.  I watched some early critics go through acrobatics to avoid mentioning the connections of my work to genre, and other critics criticize it for that connection.  Now, it’s much more widely accepted that what many of that generation thought of as a wall is more like a line drawn in the sand, and that in certain places the wind has made it so you can’t even be sure where the line is at all.

It’s funny:  in the early 20th century it was really common to publish collections that would have a mix of stories in them, some of them literary, some ghost stories, some detective stories, etc.—the idea being, I guess, that you trusted the skill of the author and her ability to entertain you no matter what sort of story she was telling.  But in the second half of the twentieth century there was more of a tendency to divide things out, to publish a book of literary stories or a book of science fiction stories or of a book of horror stories, but not all three.  Now it’s swung back the other way somewhat, partly because of how much good publishing is being done by small and intermediate presses that don’t let their aesthetic taste be guided by their publicity and marketing departments, and partly because the people reading now grew up comfortable with the idea that they could watch an art film on Netflix on Monday, then a horror film on Tuesday, then a drama on Thursday.  We’re much more comfortable crossing those genre lines as readers.

Novels are considered a much easier sell to publishers and to readers, yet you still consistently work in the short form. What is it about the short story that continues to draw you back?

I think stories are such a rich form, that there’s so much you can do with them.  They’re compressed and quick, and as a result every word matters, every word is either helping build something or it’s not doing its job.  With novels, there are slack moments, slack passages, places where you have to let the reader rest a little or they’ll be exhausted.  In a story, you can keep the tension ratcheted tightly throughout.

Thematically, you run the gamut in A Collapse of Horses, from quiet pieces of literary fiction to science fiction to dark fantasy and grisly horror. Did you aim for genre diversity in this collection, or did it just turn out that way? 

It kind of just turned out that way.  Originally I wasn’t aiming for it, but after I had maybe 2/3rds of the stories and was trying to decide what to include I found I had stories that touched on a fairly tight set of ideas and themes but that also felt really different on the surface, were playing with different genre elements.  So I made a choice to embrace that.

Actually, originally the collection had two other quite different pieces in it which would have made it even more diverse but my editor Chris Fischbach and I decided at the last moment to take them out and save them for a later collection.  And then I added in their place “Any Corpse” and “Seaside Town”, both of which were written pretty late.  I added them in just before we printed the galleys.  “The Blood Drip” was a fairly late addition too, but not as late.  It would have been a really different collection without that.

Those last-minute additions are standout stories in your collection. Staying with specifics, with stories like "The Punish," "Cult," "Past Reno," and even to a certain degree "A Collapse of Horses," one gets the impression that many of your stories are intensely personal, reflecting either occurrences in your life or issues for which you hold strong feelings. Is this accurate? If so, do you find writing these stories to be a means of exploration, reader entertainment, or catharsis? 

It’s funny, I think the moments in my story that are personal are probably not the ones that seem personal.  Those personal details are there, but they’re usually hiding quietly in the story, trying to energize it in some way.  So, for “The Punish” the situation is completely constructed, but the architecture of the house is a combination of my best friend’s house growing up (who was very different from that character) and a particular open staircase that was in my grandmother’s house.  And the vertigo he feels going up the staircase, yes, that’s something I experienced when I was young.

“Cult” is loosely based on a story a friend of mine told me about going to pick up his ex-girlfriend at a cult.  There, it was really just a question of imagining a character not unlike myself into the situation and thinking about how wrong it could go.  The journey in “Past Reno” is creepily closely based on a trip we took through Nevada—all the little details of that trip are things I scribbled as notes while driving, just tweaked to be slightly (but only slightly) weirder.  But the father in that story is really different from my own father—though not unlike people I grew up around.

With “A Collapse of Horses” it’s a little different:  that whole story started with a moment when I was walking through Golden Gate Park with Kristen when we were dating and we came across a paddock that had four or five horses in it, all of them lying down.  I’d never seen a horse lying down before, despite growing up in the West, and I wondered if they were sick or, for a fleeting instant, dead. I watched them maybe five seconds before they finally moved.  I went away haunted by that, and began to wonder how a more compromised character might take it in.

It seems like the concepts of perception and interpretation pervade A Collapse of Horses, and your earlier work, where things might not appear to be as they truly are, and vice versa. That there can be more to this reality, if we are foolhardy enough to scratch a bit too deeply. If this supposition is true, are you posing these questions consciously, in an effort to express a worldview, or perhaps an observation on existence? Or is it more metaphysical than that?

I think of it first of all pretty literally:  perception is pretty problematic, and we seem to have always been insulated from reality in some way or other.  I’m interested in thinking about that in two ways, I guess.  First, what happens when what we thought of as real or solid suddenly collapses and leaves us in free fall?  Second, what happens when we break through one reality into a darker one hiding beneath?  So, vertigo on the one hand, terror on the other...

But yes, I think there’s a worldview behind that, that has something to do with the impossibility of ever knowing anything for certain, of ever being in a position in which you can trust reality.  I don’t think you ever can.  That shouldn’t prevent you from living most of the time like you can, but if you’re attentive and have a certain amount of morbid and dangerous curiosity, I think you notice moments when your perception warps or shifts things, where you have to back up and figure out the world in a new way.

How did the recent release of the four "Cover Puzzle" books by Coffee House Press come about?

The covers were designed by my daughter Sarah, who is a visual artist living in Minneapolis, and who has done a few other book covers for other people.  My editor had mentioned wanting to have her do a broadside with the release of the four books and she went in to talk with them about that, and then suddenly she was doing the covers.  I was a little taken aback, though also very happy with what she did.  I like the cover puzzle—though I know it can be frustrating if you already know the books.  Coffee House is doing some more re-releases of mine, and I’m hoping we can continue the puzzle, keep expanding the monster.

You've probably been hounded to death about this, but for any readers who are unfamiliar with your background, how has your upbringing in the Mormon Church affected your worldview, and therefore the stories you write? 

I think it had a big effect.  I grew up in a culture that had a strange relationship to art.  With movies for instance, as a Mormon you weren’t supposed to watch R-rated movies.  But a lot of my friends growing up decided that that it was okay to watch R-rated movies if they were rated R for the violence rather than for sex, that it was okay if they were “only violent.”  I think with my first book especially I was responding to that, to the way in which violence had been normalized in Mormon culture (and indeed in the culture at large).  I was trying to make violence unsettling again.

But there are a lot of other things too.  I think there’s a sort of tone to my work that draws on a formal, slightly archaic way of speaking that Mormons can fall back on in worship situations.  Because I appropriate that language, I think my work is more unsettling to Mormons than it is to people who are not Mormon.  But of course there are other ways of coming at a similar tone—that’s something I respond to in some of your work, for instance, or in some of Matt Bell’s work.

In terms of worldview, I think something about being raised Mormon and having left it has allowed me to examine some pretty dark territory, but I’m not sure why—and obviously if I was watching Blue Velvet when I was a Mormon missionary I’ve long had an odd relation to the culture.  I’ve got a weird combination of ideas I’ve inherited from Mormonism and ways in which I’ve broken from Mormonism. I’m not religious at this point—I’ve formally left the Mormon Church (excommunication) and am happy to be outside of it.  But it’s never easy to completely shake your upbringing, and I don’t know that I’d want to.

If we could explore your missions work a bit more... While you were working as a Mormon missionary - which, although it might be compulsory, would make you more than just a casual follower of the faith - did you find it difficult to reconcile your perhaps non-Mormon view of reality into your religious life? Meaning, was it hard to be someone who thought as a horror writer while still living as a practicing, and evangelizing, Mormon?

It isn’t actually compulsory and yes, I was a pretty active Mormon for a long time, though I always had a complicated relationship to the religion as you might guess from the Blue Velvet story I mentioned above.  I think that my relationship to Mormonism gave the horror I was seeing and watching a certain intensity and resonance that it might not have had otherwise.  It felt much more seriously transgressive to me than it might have in another context, and once I started writing it, it felt like I was playing for keeps.

I was actually sent home from my mission in France and Switzerland for having broken too many mission rules, and then was allowed to go out and continue my mission in Wisconsin.  Eventually, I chose to leave and not complete it.  But then, later, after I was married, I came back to it and served in a Mormon bishopric and so was one of three people overseeing a congregation of several hundred.  And yet, even while I was doing that, I was taking classes for my PhD that challenged notions of truth and meaning, a lot of contemporary philosophy.  I also took a class on the work of the Marquis de Sade.  So I was reading de Sade in French during the week and then running religious meetings on Sunday.  It was a very schizophrenic life, and I think I was pretty good at compartmentalizing it, and at moments there was something exhilarating about how far it stretched me.  I simply didn’t reconcile it and eventually it stretched too far and broke.  Having said that, I’m very content no longer being Mormon and am certain I’ll never go back.

You've recently relocated to California from Providence, Rhode Island. Do you think the change in geography will seep into, or perhaps alter your work written after your move?

I think it will.  I hope it does.  It’s great in any case to be back in the West. I think about writers like Dennis Etchison and what they’ve managed to do with horror and the very particular landscape of the West and I think it can’t help but seep in.  But then again, I’ve never really set a story in Rhode Island, so maybe now that I’m out of New England I can write my New England stories...

You've been writing in horror and dark fiction for a long time, starting professionally with the release of Altmann's Tongue in 1994. Have you seen any recurring themes, movements, or trends in speculative fiction during that time? Is the genre different now than it was then? Weaker? Stronger?

It strikes me as much stronger overall, even though there were giants in the field already established at that time—people like Peter Straub, for instance, or Stephen King or Clive Barker.  What I guess strikes me as stronger is the range and variety, and the way in which Weird Fiction has become a strong and varied genre which people give real credence to.  There’s just so much going on at the moment, and such great writers—Caitlin Kiernan, Laird Baron, Paul Tremblay, Gemma Files, John Langan, Michael Cisco, Simon Strantzas, Richard Gavin, etc., etc.  Even in just that list, there’s such a variety of approaches to horror and dark fiction...  So I feel we’re in a period of possibility and expansion, where people are really exploring the limits and possibilities of what the genre can do.  That’s healthy, and really great for us as readers, and it shows the genre is still healthy and alive.

Tells us a bit about The Warren, your recent novella published by Tor.

The Warren doesn’t come out until September, but a few galleys are floating around.  It’s an SF novel, though different from “The Dust”, the SF novella in the collection.  In terms of my work, it’s closest to Immobility and has a similar kind of meditation on identity and memory.  It’s about a person who may not be who he thinks he is, may not, in fact, even be a person at all.

Should Trump win the upcoming presidential election, will the dark fiction and horror genres suffer, in that everyone will be facing a horrific reality each and every day, and therefore will need stories written about puppies and bunnies to soothe their tattered souls?

Yes.  Even now, as we approach the political conventions, we need stories about puppies and bunnies...

What is left unwritten for you? What is a major goal, in terms of either story or medium, that you'd still like to accomplish?

I have an idea for a long novel and about 75 pages of notes.  I’d like to get around to writing that.  I’m always interested in new projects as well—I find it very hard to resist something I haven’t done before.  For instance, a few years back I got asked if I would write fake subtitles for a Turkish sit-com.  “Of course!” I said.  I feel like I learn something from doing something outside of my comfort zone, that it’s good as a writer to be shaken out of your complacencies.

What's on tap? What should readers expect next from you? 

Besides The Warren, I’m working toward a new and selected stories volume and a collected novellas volume with Coffee House Press, but those will be three or four years down the road...

Thanks so much, Brian. Many thanks for stopping by The Cosmicomion cafe, and we appreciate you leaving our bathroom mirror intact.  

You’re welcome!  (And are you sure you double-checked the mirror?)

Yep, still terrifying
Order A Collapse of Horses here.
Order The Warren here.
Find Brian Evenson online here.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Nomination News: The Nameless Dark - A Collection nominated for 2015 Shirley Jackson Award for Best Single-Author Collection

It gives me great pleasure to announce that The Nameless Dark - A Collection was officially nominated today for the 2015 Shirley Jackson Award for Best Single-Author Collection.

I count this as especially meaningful, as The Shirley Jackson Awards have always focused on those writers that I personally think are among the best working today, consistently nominating and awarding such writers, editors, and other creatives as Brian Evenson, Michael Marshall Smith, Laird Barron, Nathan Ballingrud, Elizabeth Hand, Joel Lane, Mike Mignola, S.P. Miskowski, Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, Gemma Files, Ellen Datlow, Melanie and Steve Rasnic Tem, Stephen King, Stephen Graham Jones, Livia Llewellyn, Christopher Golden, Tim Lebbon, Peter Straub, Neil Gaiman, S. T. Joshi, Steve Berman, Reggie Oliver, Michael Cisco, Kelly Link, Tim Waggoner, Lucius Sheppard, Kelly Link, Glen Hirshberg, Stephen Jones, Jack Ketchum, Ian Rogers, Jeffrey Ford, Joyce Carol Oates, Nicole Cushing, Ramsey Campbell, Nina Allen, Josh Malerman, Robert Levy, Kate Jonez, Ross E. Lockhart, Michael Kelly, Mark Morris, and others. Those I left out I haven't yet had the opportunity to read, but always use the Shirley Jackson Award nominee list as a browsers guideline.

These are the names I regularly seek out. That these individuals have also been honored by the Shirley Jackson Awards in eight short years, while not necessarily other awards organizations, makes my appreciation all the greater that I am joining these names with my own. To say I'm humbled to be in this august company would be a disgusting understatement, but I'll say it anyway - I am incredibly humbled to be in this august company.

Also important to note, Shirley Jackson is an icon of dark fiction, and a master of the short tale. Ask me on the right day, and I'll tell you that "The Lottery" is the best short story ever written (on the wrong day, I'll tell you that it's Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find"). So, receiving a nomination for a prize named after Ms. Jackson is all the more special because of her impact, and what she did to push forward the genres of horror, supernatural, and fantastical fiction.

I don't write for awards, just like I don't write for reviews. But when I receive a positive review, it makes me feel good, knowing that the work connected with a reader. That's the whole point of all of this, at least in my mind. To write fiction that resonates, entertains, possibly transports and builds something new inside the brain of the reader.

So, too, is it with awards. I never expected to receive any accolades for my debut collection, or for any of the stories it contains. But receiving an honor from an organization that I truly, truly respect, based on the people involved and the past nominees and winners, is a wonderful feeling, and provides further evidence that what I am doing - writing dark fiction - is worthwhile, and has meaning to readers and colleagues.

I'd like to take this time to again thank Nathan Ballingrud for the brilliant foreword and the recommendation, and Laird Barron for the double rec to Lethe Press. Both of these guys helped get my work on the right desk. And I'd like to thank Lethe head honcho Steve Berman for taking a chance on a collection of dark stories written by a relative unknown.

Most of all, and it cannot be understated, I want to express my profound appreciation and head over heels, cartoon-eyed love for my extraordinary wife, Ives Hovanessian, for the priceless editorial work she did on these tales, helping to hone down and lean up my writing, as well as providing important plot elements, including the ending of "The Screamer." She quite literally found The Screamer for me after I was searching for it in vain for several years. She also found the collection cover artist (Arnaud de Vallois!) and designed what became the final look of the cover. But even more importantly, she has my eternal gratitude for being the first person in my life who gave me the confidence to be myself, cut my losses (in the form of 50 billion shitty scripts), and truly write what and how I wanted to write, following a calling I first heard in childhood but never answered until decades later. I've said this before in interviews and conversations, but it truly bears repeating that I wouldn't be working in fiction right now if it wasn't for her, and so I wouldn't be here writing this to you, dear reader. So, Ivy jan, this nomination is for you, and a fitting tribute after you first read to me aloud "The Lottery" a half decade ago and blew my mind yet again.

To my fellow nominees for all of the 2015 Shirley Jackson Awards, I wish you a hearty congrats and much luck, as it seems we're all going to need it.

Monday, April 18, 2016

TC Artist Interview: The Shadowed Childhood Eternal - Artist, Author, and Filmmaker Gris Grimly Melds Innocence with Horror, Fantasy, and Fairy Tale into a Signature Dark Homage

Last October, I was invited to participate in something that I count as very special, as I was asked by Steve Fjeldsted, Director of Library Arts and Culture at the South Pasadena Library, to co-present the animated film adaptation of Ray Bradbury's The Halloween Tree at the library on October 29th, just a few days before All Hallow's Eve. As a huge Bradbury fan, I was incredibly honored to be involved in a public celebration of this icon's work, especially around Halloween, as no other American writer owns this special date on the calendar more than Mr. Bradbury.

One of the co-presenters was Gris Grimly, a Los Angeles-based artist, filmmaker, and writer who illustrated the most recent edition of The Halloween Tree book, published by Knopf. There was an exhibit of Grimly's work showcased in conjunction with the film screening, and I walked with the other eager eyes and I took in Grimly's work, digging the love of the macabre in combination with the playfulness of youth. The settings and tone made me feel as if I'd known this work, these images, my whole life. This was how I've always felt about Bradbury's fiction. I came to a serious reading of his stories quite late, comparatively, but it settled into me like it has always been there, coloring my imagination and showing me things both familiar and excitingly original. Grimly produces this sort of work, art with a Bradburian warmth and magic, with an undercurrent of something looming that threatens to shatter bucolic pleasantries. A joy amidst the dread, mixed together like a perfect cocktail. He makes everyone feel young and curious and open to wonder again, unafraid of the shadows, invincible against the night. It's a special power, discovering that balanced waltz, but Grimly - like Bradbury - has found the rare rhythm.

Before the end of the event, as we sat behind our respective books and grinned at the crowded room filled with fellow Bradbury acolytes ranging in age from single digits to eight or nine decades, I asked Grimly if he'd like to participate in an interview for The Cosmicomicon, and he generously agreed. This is the result of that interview, echoing back to a perfect pre-Halloween night in South Pasadena. I hope you enjoy the questions, the answers, and Gris Grimly's superlative work.

TC - Thank you for sitting down with us across this sturdy virtual table, Gris. 

GG - Thank you for having me…cyberly.

For those who might not be familiar, give us a little background and context on what you do, and where interested eyeballs might be able to find your work, in print and on screen.

I spent the most part of my career trudging along a delusional road that weaved vexingly throughout frustration, confusion, and misguidance. I have come out the other side of this tenebrous backwoods, and for the first time, I can answer that question with more confidence and pride than ever before. I am a children’s book illustrator and author. These books can be found wherever fine books are sold.

We won't give away any secrets as to your true identity, and assuming that your father and mother are not Mr. and Mrs. Grimly, where did the name "Gris Grimly" come from?

My first book was about to be released, and I was feeling uncertain about beginning my career under my Christian name. This was for many reasons. Firstly, being of Scandinavian decent, my surname is not phonetic, and therefore it is impossible to pronounce, spell, or remember. Secondly, I had a vision of what kind of illustrator I wanted to be. Edward Gorey was a huge influence on me and I found his name delivered a distinct impression that was fitting to his work. I wanted a name that could represent the tone and content of my work as well as serve as my identity. I started playing with words and once it came to me, there was an immediate resonation.

What is it about the dark, the shadowed, the spooky that attracts you? Why, in the words of Joseph Conrad, do you possess a "fascination with the abomination"?

I’ve been asked this question quite a bit. I was born days away from Halloween. The zodiac predicts that I would be fascinated by the abominable. I grew up on a farm in the Midwest, isolated from cultured society, witnessing the harsh realities of life and death that surrounded me. At a young age, I was horribly burned in a bucket of boiling water, which put me in the hospital for a month. I grew up in a strict-religious environment where I was forbidden to watch horror movies, monsters were discouraged and Halloween was the devil’s day. Regardless, I consumed all of it. But with all these coincidences, I would still have to say, “it just is what it is”. For the same reason why some people are drawn to football.

In a similar vein, I have it on good authority that you grew up in Nebraska, which was also my home from late childhood through my 20's. Does coming from this particular state, or from the Midwest in general, influence your worldview and work in any way? I have my theories on this, but I'd love to hear yours.

I’ve recently noticed how much it has influenced me and I’ve become aware and sensitive to these skeletons that are buried so deep in my subconscious. A painting I did some years ago is called “The thing on the side of the road to nowhere”. This was from a dream I had where I was riding along down a country road, passing a long repetition of corn and fencepost, until the monotony was broken by a disturbing-hulking figure who I pass by. He doesn’t move or look back, and before you know it he is gone. Dreams like this one and other creative sparks have their roots in the vast countryside of Nebraska. I can’t escape them.

Much like Bradbury, you grew up in the Midwest, and feature children in a lot of your work, or more rightly, a childlike perspective on what is most commonly described as horror and dark fantasy/fable. Is this a conscious decision, this more innocent POV on often very dark things, or does it just work out that way when you sit down to create?

This is something I’m trying to figure out. Digging deep inside myself to uncover where this expression comes from naturally, and what is the cause that changes this perspective. In the past few years, my work has become more mature and structured. This isn’t necessarily bad, just different. I’m trying to find why this change occurred and looking for the innocence that came so naturally in my earlier work. Soul searching.

Music seems to play an important part in your life, and most likely your creative process. What sort of music to you enjoy most, and what are some of the bands and artists that provide the best personal soundtrack?

My taste in music is extremely vast and eclectic. If I were to put together a soundtrack for my life, the tracks would play as follow: Early sounds would consist of Christian hymns sung by a somber choir and 70s country like Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Loretta Lynn. Country would continue throughout my youth until middle school where popular 80s would permeate, including The Police, Stray Cats, Bruce Springsteen, and Steve Miller Band. Late 80s would introduce a rebellion with songs from The Cure, Bauhaus, The Smiths and the Clash. Soundtracks from Danny Elfman would fill a dimly lit bedroom where I drew endlessly. Nirvana’s Nevermind and Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine were essentials. Marilyn Manson, Nick Cave, Sonic Youth, The Cramps, Rob Zombie, and The Misfits are just some of the bands that would fill the space. In the early 2000s I found interest in bebop jazz, big band and delta blues. This would bring me full circle to now, when I’m listening to a lot of Country, Gospel, folk, bluegrass, blues and roots music.

If you could do one project, in any medium, with an unlimited budge and applicable rights, what would that be?

My current interests are in focusing on children’s and young adult books. I would like to get some of my own stories written and published by top publishers and create illustrated books that will remain classics throughout the test of time. It might not sound exciting for some, but my heart is set on a simpler life, focused on family, road trips and soaking up literature. I want to move out to the country and build a sanctuary where all my dark thoughts can be unleashed as published masterpieces for children and youthful adults to enjoy.

That sounds like a little bit of heaven, right there... Before you head to the country, what advice would you give to fellow visual artists, both new and veteran (and possibly long struggling)? How can they best balance enjoyment of what they do, with a hopeful paycheck for doing what they love?

Know who you are and stay on this path. Your career is not a time for exploration. Experimentation is fine and pushing the boundaries is applauded. But do so only with a clear and confident sense of self.

Tell us a little about your recent deal with Scholastic involving your interpretation of the classic children's song Old MacDonald. 

Old MacDonald is the most sincere and pure book I’ve ever worked on. In the past, I would turn down a job like this if it were proposed to me. Almost two years ago, my wife gave birth to our son. This single event has changed my life completely. As soon as he was able to communicate, it was obvious he had an obsession with Old MacDonald and farm life. I am passionately doing this book for him.

What can you tell us about the untitled picture book you also recently sold?

Scholastic purchased Old MacDonald as a two picture book deal. The second book is yet to be decided, but it will also be based on an old folk song.

What else is on the dark horizon, in terms of projects and plans?

I have a few books that are just goodhearted children’s books that I want to see published. I’ve spent the past fifteen years of my career rebelling against the industry and childishly producing material to conflict with their structure. That is not the reason to produce dark works. I want to find grace within the industry, favor among the libraries and publishing houses, and then work with them to bring my own macabre stories to the pubic with their support.

Thanks again, Gris, for stopping by The Cosmicomicon. We wish you enormous success with your many exciting projects.

Thank you for having me.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Review News: The Nameless Dark receives stellar treatment in The Haunted Omnibus

After writing everything other than fiction for so many years, I still have a hard time processing the fact that people will sit down and devote hours and hours to reading stories I write, then feel moved enough to compose extensive, detailed, thoughtful reviews on these stories, with the primary purpose of helping draw more readership to certain books and authors. It's a wonderful thing.

Writer Jose Cruz did just this, and posted up one of my favorite reviews The Nameless Dark has ever received at his excellent electronic journal devoted to short dark fiction, The Haunted Omnibus, which is what The Cosmicomicon would be if I was a better reviewer, had better focus, and better taste in blog template design.

Its Mission Statement:
The Haunted Omnibus was established to recognize the long tradition and continued perseverance of the short form within the literature of horror, the dark fantastic, and the Weird. 
Although websites, journals, and awards dedicated to the field and yearly anthologies of the best in short fiction continue to proliferate, the founders of the Haunted Omnibus felt that there was still a need for a space dedicated solely to the discussion of dark short stories, novelettes, and novellas. 
Reviews of anthologies and single-author collections, by their nature, tend to relegate even the exemplary stories to one or two sentences of critical analysis at best, if any mention is warranted at all. The Haunted Omnibus seeks to in part turn this trend around by providing the attention and appreciation that these short works deserve. 
Taking its name from the landmark 1937 anthology edited by Alexander Laing, The Haunted Omnibus provides reviews, essays, and just-plain-fun testimonials of the short horror story’s power, history, and relevance. In this spirit, our single-story spotlights strive to include tributes made by multiple contributors and, when possible, short interviews conducted with the authors to detail their creation of the stories. 
It is our hope that through our efforts at the Haunted Omnibus, fans and readers will engage more deeply with darkly speculative short fiction and afford it the study that it merits.

Edward Gorey
I'll provide an excerpt of the review here, but please do head over to The Haunted Omnibus and poke around a bit:
"We live in a time of plenty. 
In the last decade and change, the rise of small publishing houses and e-reader devices has opened up a doorway through which a veritable smorgasbord of dark fiction has poured forth into the hands of fans who might not have otherwise encountered them. But not even the accessibility or mass proliferation of grim literature can be held entirely accountable for the embarrassment of riches we have today. A similar wave passed during the Great Horror Boom of the 70s and 80s, but the current renaissance we live in now has granted us the gift of quality in addition to quantity. 
This commitment to higher literary standards, along with a special devotion to the short story, has led to the releases of dozens of books in the last few years that all bear the craftsman’s seal of approval, a time when even debut collections hum with a vitality and talent that wouldn’t have been dreamt of in those bygone days of spinner rack terrors. With the unleashing of The Nameless Dark, T. E. Grau has cemented himself as an author whose byline should spark in readers a joyful expectancy for what surprises there are to follow.

Having spent his early days grinding away in the Hollywood dream machine, Grau has instilled the stories collected here with a cinematic beat and tenor. Many of them have the feel of miniature epics, stories of great change that course the classical arc and find his cast of rebels and hard-hearts attempting to desperately pick their way through life’s minefield before butting up against the high-powered electric fence of the unforgiving cosmos. Even at their bleakest—and many of the tales end badly for at least one person—Grau’s works satisfy with the rightness of their narratives, the feeling that the scales of the universe have attained their balance once more regardless of the insignificant lives that were overthrown to do so..."
John Picacio
(4/22/16 edit: Please also check out an author interview published today at The Haunted Omnibus here)