Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Editing News: T.E. Grau Named Managing Editor of Science Fiction Horror for Dark Regions Press, Which Launches First Dedicated Sci-Fi Horror Line in Independent Publishing

I am extremely proud to announce (via a headline written in the third person, something that makes T.E. Grau very uncomfortable) that I have been named Managing Editor of the new Science Fiction Horror line at Dark Regions Press, which - to my knowledge - is the very first dedicated Science Fiction Horror line to emerge in independent publishing.

I am a Horror fan, as a reader, writer, editor, and essayist.  As a thinker, and as a dreamer.  I like looking into the nighted places, and seeing what might be peering back.  And I've always been like this, as I think I'm just wired this way.  I don't believe that you can artificially engineer a Horror fan (although certain experiences or trauma can turn one's interest toward the shadows). Like handedness or an ear for music, you're either born with The Dark Curiosity, or you're not.

Being a Horror fan is simple enough to explain when discussing the topic with civilians, as they all picture a slasher film sequence throughout the whole conversation, or cheap Halloween props.  But when you hash out the subject with a fellow Horror acolyte, it gets a little more complicated, and a few initial parameters must be determined before the conversation can continue:  "Yes, you're a Horror fan, but WHAT KIND of Horror do you like?"

You see, Horror can be (and often is, for both better and worse) divided into numerous subgenres.  Starting with supernatural or non-supernatural, you break it down further into ghost stories, urban fantasy, Weird, zombie, cosmic, vampire, werewolf, psychological, subtle, folklore, splatterpunk, witchcraft, possession, etc... And then there are the slipstreamed mash-ups, that take us out toward infinity.  Each slot has its tropes and its fans, which means it has its loyalists.  And that's great, as loyalty to genre is what keeps alive the greater beast of Horror, propped up by a thousand pairs of tiny, disparate legs, all moving in a different direction, but all still keeping Horror upright and moving.

Horror isn't horror these days with its genres, and the genre I will be overseeing for Dark Regions Press is Science Fiction Horror.

You see, the more I learn about the Horror genre, the more I am understanding my place under this wide, wondrous tent.  I don't think I am a traditional (or conventional) Horror fan, as much as I am a fan of Weird fiction and Cosmic Horror, the latter of which is based in Science Fiction, of the kind practiced so well in the Pulp fictionists of the early 20th century.

As a devoted Cosmicist, I think about the sorts of short stories and novels I like to read, and the types of films I enjoy watching.  The Thing is my favorite horror film (followed by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which is more a traditional horror/slasher/chainsawy film).  H.P. Lovecraft is my favorite Horror/supernatural fiction author.  Of my modern writer peers, I prefer those who include at least a smattering of cosmicism in their stories, no matter how subtle.  It's not essential, but it does immediately catch my eye, and my interest.

So, to not put too fine a point on it, and without taking into account acumen or shortcomings, I feel that I was tailor made for this job, as Science Fiction Horror is my favorite type of genre horror Horror, more so than, say, Urban Fantasy or Splatterpunk or ghost stories.

To explain why, I'll let pictures do the typing...

This is Science Fiction Horror:

As is this:
And this:

And these guys:

And that handsome fellow over there to the right:

And those things:

Even this:
And especially this:

In fact, that last one is where Sci-Fi Horror all started, inside the mind of a teenage girl.  Now it's time for us to continue this proud heritage, of producing Horror stories infused with technology, alien influence, interstellar (and inner earth) exploration, experimentation gone wrong, runaway science, genetic tampering, doomsday following Doomsday...  This is Science Fiction.  This is Horror.  This is the new Science Fiction Horror line at Dark Regions Press.

Please find below an excerpt from a recently conducted interview with noted reviewer Justin Steele of The Arkham Digest, who was kind enough to let me share it here on the old TC mothership:

AD: Dark Regions Press is one of the most successful small press publishers, putting out quality work for over two decades. What are you bringing to the team? 
TEG:  I hope that I’m bringing a keen eye for quality writing, first and foremost.  I approach my position as not only an editor, but also as a writer of genre fiction, and a huge fan, as well.  I will seek out authors and help develop projects that I view as the best available from the ever-expanding pool of talent working in speculative fiction, both new and established.

I want to discover and secure the best in contemporary Science Fiction Horror Fiction, and cover art, adding to an already proud roster of DRP authors and impressive catalog of books.

AD: What kind of science fiction horror works for you? What are some examples of novels/short story collections and authors that hit what you feel to be the mark when it comes to the science fiction horror genre? 
TEG:  Something imaginative and bold, and not derivative at its core.  I’m not a big fan of bandwagon horror, where every new story sounds like the last, to take advantage of some marketing flashpoint or cultural trend.  I’m not looking for sparkling vampire stories or florid romance between supernatural creatures… in space.  I want something ORIGINAL and compelling.  I want something terrifying, and profoundly unsettling.  I want a great story, constructed of great prose, be it baroque or Spartan.  I’m a style hound, but those styles can vary, as long as the story is interesting, and appeals to our readership.

As for what authors of Science Fiction Horror might fit my ideal, my answer will be a bit hazy, as Dark Regions is one of the few - and possibly only - publishers that now has a stand-alone, dedicated department devoted solely to Science Fiction Horror, and only Science Fiction Horror.  Chris Morey wants to break new ground in this area, and I want to help him do just that, building the brand and helping add additional accolades to a strong, fair-dealing publisher devoted to bringing the best of speculative fiction to readers and the wider Horror, Fantasy, and Science Fiction marketplace.

So, back to the question:  I don’t want to name any particular authors, collections, or novels as my favorites, as I’m bound to leave someone out of my specific praise, so I’ll wuss out and default to the sorts of Science Fiction Horror films and television series that appeal to me, starting with John Carpenter’s The Thing, which is my favorite horror film of all time.  Other examples of great - or at the very least, interesting – Science Fiction Horror on the big and small screen include Alien, Frankenstein, The Mist, Planet of the Apes, Blade Runner, The Fly, War of the Worlds, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Alien Nation, The Terminator, The Blob, old Japanese monster movies, 1950’s and 60’s American science fiction creature films, Dr. Who, Lost in Space, the original Land of the Lost and original V, The X-Files, and more recently, Cloverfield and Prometheus, although I had issues with both.  Zombie and post-apocalyptic films count, as well, as long as they have a definite futuristic/science fiction backbone.  Stories that echo some of these themes are all fair game, and will have my immediately interest.

And, as a proud reader, writer, and supporter of Lovecraftian fiction, I’m a sucker for Cosmic Horror, as long as its not Mythos-heavy pastiche.

AD: So as the managing editor of science fiction horror, what kind of work are you looking for?   
TEG:  I’m looking for anything that pushes the boundaries and has a unique voice.  Familiar tropes are okay, as it becomes increasingly difficult to create something 100% original as more and more stories are penned each day, but if the setting is prosaic, make what happens and by whom original and unique in some way.

It can be epic and galactic, or it can be small and intimate.  It can experimental, it can be slipstream, it can even be conventional, as far as setting and other tertiary elements.  It just has to sing.  Overall, I’m tough, but not a snob.  I enjoy a good breezy read as much as a deep, thought provoking piece, as long as it’s well written.  Now, describing what good fiction looks, sounds, and tastes like compared to bad is nearly impossible, but you certainly know both the former and the latter when you come across it.  I want to read – and DRP wants to publish - the good stuff, and won’t settle for anything less.

So, if you have a novel or novella that you think fits the bill, have someone put a bird in my ear.  We aren’t accepting general submissions, and will be operating by invite and referral only, so if I don’t know about an amazing work of Science Fiction Horror that needs to see the light of a dying sun, find a way to bring it to my attention, and I’ll take it from there.

AD: Do you have a "manifesto" or any goals that you've formulated going into this new position? 
TEG:  My main goal is to continue the tradition of excellence and success that Dark Regions Press has established and maintained for just shy of three decades.  That’s incredibly impressive.  As other indie presses have risen and fallen (sometimes in quite surprising and/or painful fashion), DRP has remained, and I take that decorated longevity very seriously in my mission to keep the brand vibrant and strong.

Following that, the ambitious editor in me would like to elevate – if possible – the quality of book that DRP puts out, from the inside out.  Even the best can always improve, and I think with the recent staff additions to the company (including R.J. Cavender of Cutting Block Press fame joining as Managing Editor of Horror), Dark Regions is looking to grow and advance, becoming a bedrock for the very best in Horror, Fantasy, and Science Fiction – and all the delicious amalgamations of the same – in the field today.  My manifesto is to make that happen, and I’ll be dogged in this pursuit.

Thanks again to Justin for inviting me to interview at The Arkham Digest, and allowing me to share a portion of our Q&A here.

NOTE TO AUTHORS:  I will be reaching out to various authors, to gauge their interest in producing something for the line, and/or to see if they have anything already written, currently in progress, or on the docket that would be appropriate.  And while I know many fantastic writers, I don't know them all, and there are so many talented scribes doing work that I have never read.

As such, I am accepting a limited number of queries for completed SFH novellas/novelettes/novels (no collections or anthologies at this time, please), sent to thecosmicomicon@yahoo.com.  If the brief synopsis looks like something we are looking for and/or sparks my interest, I will ask for an extended synopsis and a sample of the first three chapters.  At that point, I should know what I'm dealing with, and with whom.  As these query numbers are limited, I reserve the right to close them at any time, once I have enough/too many potential projects to work through.  They may or may not open back up again, depending on the quality and volume of queries I have received during this initial query period.  Dark Regions Press operates on an invite-only basis, but to get the SFH line started, I feel that I need to cast a wide net, at least initially, to see what's squirming around out there.

Let's be honest - publishers want to sell books, and books written by recognizable names will move better than unknowns.  BUT, what we want first and foremost are EXCEPTIONAL STORIES around which to wrap our label.  Properly prepared dung only burns hot for a brief second, like a cheap candle that lights up the room and gutters out, leaving a disagreeable odor behind.  Dark Regions Press has been and will remain in this industry for the long haul, and in this spirit, we want to put out the best books on the market, in all of our genres, which includes Science Fiction Horror.  Books that will endure, and help define (and possible re-define) contemporary Horror fiction.

A publisher is only as good as their authors (and artists).  DRP has published books from some amazing talents already, and now its time to continue this trend of quality going forward, which is where you just might come in.  Impress me.  Dazzle me.  Leave me terrified, or wonderstruck, or both.  Most of all, leave me wanting more.

I'm so very humbled and excited to be working for Dark Regions Press (joining the esteemed R.J. Cavender, DRP's new Managing Editor of Horror, in the dugout), and eager to get started.  Write hard, spread the word, and hit me up with the best that you've got.  The possibilities in Science Fiction and in Horror are endless, and endlessly fascinating.  Break me off something special, and let's tear down the sky.

Monday, April 29, 2013

TC Anthology Review: Horror Anthology 'Shadows Edge', Edited by Simon Strantzas for Gray Friar Press, Cuts Deep and Fields Strong

With Shadows Edge (Gray Friar Press), dark fiction writer Simon Strantzas has put together an evocative and beautiful anthology of subtle Horror that follows a texture championed and furthered by Strantzas throughout his acclaimed career as an author.  Indeed, the tales reflect the man at the selector switch, as each of the 16 assembled pieces (including a “short story as prologue” by Strantzas himself) represent works of patient, often quiet weirdness and terror that get under ones skin rather than braining you with a cudgel.  These stories fit into the category of what Strantzas himself personally creates as a writer, so it stands to reason he’d release an anthology of similarly styled works that resonate with him as editor.  He states in his Afterward that the theme of the aptly titled anthology is exploring those “thin places,” “soft spots,” and “cracks in reality” that separate our world from those vistas and realities that lie beyond what we know to exist.  The edge separating light from shadow.  In their own way, each of these stories successfully lives up to (and thoroughly explores) this nuanced theme, and do so in spades.

Thin places.
Where worlds crash against each other,
rippling soft spots through reality.
Ancient portals through which the darkest nightmares seep,
spreading uncertainty and doubt.
These places haunt us, and from them
shadows edge.

A figure from the past, lying in a field...
The unlikely three, bound by their quest...
A high-rise apartment, where creatures crawl...
The drive in the storm, through blurring edges...
The brother, hiding from his sins...

Most anthologies these days have their hits and their misses, with the best books of the bunch having more of the former than the latter.  But with Shadows Edge, no matter how hard I squinted, I had – and have – a very difficult time finding a broken crayon in the box.  These are 16 solid-to-great tales, and reflect well on the talents of their individual creators, as well as Strantzas ability to wrangle excellent stories from some of the top names in speculative fiction today.

The standout tales (in ToC order) among the uniformly strong field are many, and include Joel Lane’s “Echoland,” Richard Gavin’s “Tinder Row,” “The Falling Dark” by Daniel Mills, Gary McMahon’s “The Old Church,” “Morning Passages” by Lisa Hannett, “Stabilimentum” by Livia Llewellyn, Peter Bell’s “The True Edge of the World,” and “Bor Urus” by John Langan.

Among these, I found “Echoland” (a story about questing after a doorway to that glimpsed land just behind the veil), “Morning Passages” (a truly original natal piece that reads like something out of a more brutal version of the Twilight Zone),  “Stabilimentum” (a woman must deal with an infestation of spiders in her new dream apartment that becomes the very least of her startling discoveries about where she now lives), “The True Edge of the World” (for my cash, the highlight of the book, due as much to Bell’s writing style and description of the Scottish setting as the folklorish supernaturalism), and “Bor Urus” (a dissection of a man obsessed by violent storms, and what can happen during them, to the detriment of everything he holds dear) to be the crema fresca of a rather creamy crop, and some of the best contemporary short stories I’ve ever read.  Lane, Hannett, Llewellyn, Bell, and Langan are now on my “must ALWAYS read” list, joining several other contributors to Shadows Edge who made the list many moons ago.

Stranzas has acquitted himself impressively in this his first anthology.  As noted above, there isn’t a bad story in this folio.  I just singled out those that appealed to me the most, for a variety of stylistic and story reasons.  But all are worthy of praise, and especially worthy of a read.  More collections need to taste like this one.

An unquestionable and enthusiastic HIGH RECOMMEND, receiving four and a half (out of five) stars on The Cosmicomicon's glimmer scale.  Pick up this  if you want to peruse some of the top talent in the Weird fiction/Horror game doing what they do best by exploring the thin spots in the veil, the hidden pocket of quiet dread, that make life so interesting, and worth living, as the more we know about what lies beyond, the less we want to end up there.  Visiting via prose, however, is entirely another matter...