Kidnapped Week: Nightscape Press


The Red-Headed Step-Children of Literature

Since the dawn of time, the illustrious high-nosed literary snobs have looked down upon us lowly genre scum from their gleaming mighty towering pedestals:

“Science fiction?



“Double Bah!


“Oh dear me oh my. BAH!

“These are not literature! They hold nothing of substance! Nothing of value! No understanding of the real world! And say… pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?”

Let’s face it. Horror, SF, fantasy… are all considered the red-headed step children of modern literature. And to the literary snob, anyone who reads these ill-fated genres should be shamed, pitied, ridiculed. Intellectually eviscerated.

And yet… genre fiction makes up the largest-profiting market of all fiction sales. Genre fiction arguably converts a far wider number of non-readers into book worms (just look at the Harry Potter series for instance!). Genre fiction leaves all boundaries at the door, and lets the writer and the reader consider the most fantastical, horrific, and/or amazing possibilities of the mind.

Genre fiction digs headlong into the deepest possible definition of unreal and relates to us—in shades and details and angles we could never otherwise have known—the very real.

And, in recent times, genre has gone on to do so much more in the very real. Through the magic of modern small press publishing and charitable organizations, genre fiction has gone on to help fight, treat, and perhaps maybe even some day it will heal, sickness and disease. Poverty. Famine.

In September of 2011, Mark C. Scioneaux and I began taking submissions for a small horror anthology with a very big idea behind it. Charity. More specifically, a charity that was deeply meaningful to one of the anthology’s creators. And in March of 2012, HORROR FOR GOOD: A CHARITABLE ANTHOLOGY was born. HORROR FOR GOOD includes stories by Jack Ketchum, Joe Lansdale, F. Paul Wilson, Laird Barron, Ray Garton, Lisa Morton, Joe McKinney, Nate Southard, and many more and continues to this day to give 100% of its net royalties to amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research.

On the heels of HFG’s success, Mark and I and my wife Jennifer went on to form Nightscape Press. Nightscape was simply a small press publisher, nothing more. We went on to produce award winning novels and novellas and two more charitable anthologies: BLOOD TYPE: AN ANTHOLOGY OF VAMPIRE SF ON THE CUTTING EDGE (includes stories by William F. Nolan, Peter Watts, Mike Resnick, Laird Barron, Stephen Graham Jones, Tim Waggoner, and more. 100% of its net royalties go to The Cystic Fibrosis Trust) and FANTASY FOR GOOD: A CHARITABLE ANTHOLOGY (includes stories by George R. R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Piers Anthony, Roger Zelazny, Kevin J. Anderson, Michael Moorcock, Katherine Kerr, Jay Lake, and more. 100% of its net royalties go to the Colon Cancer Alliance).

But now we want to create something altogether new. We at Nightscape Press feel that the literary snobs are wrong. We know that genre fiction has so very much to offer. And we know it has even more still to offer for the future. So, in 2017 we will officially be relaunching Nightscape (and our young adult imprint Past Curfew Press) under a new business model. One that focuses on giving to as many charities as possible. From 2017 on, all of our novels and novellas and collections will here on split the largest share of royalties to both their authors and the charity of their choice.

And we’d like to offer for you to be a part of the fun! Not only have we started a Patreon for both the launch of this new model and the launch of a new magazine as well…

(Introducing: DreamSpan Magazine, a future pro-paying premiere magazine of science fiction, fantasy, and horror!)

We will also be looking to more fully staff our operation with volunteers like you! That’s right. We need people who care about genre fiction as much as we do. People who know what these red-headed step children are capable of! We need editors, artists, proofreaders, promoters, designers, and really anyone else who would like to help out in any way they can.

Because Nightscape Press believes in genre fiction and genre fiction writers and readers and, together, we want to use the fantastic, the dark, the creepy, and the awe-inspiring and amazing to make this world a better place!



Robert S. Wilson is a Bram Stoker Award-nominated editor, and the author of the Empire of Blood dystopian vampire series comprised of the novels SHINING IN CRIMSON, FADING IN DARKNESS, and RISING FROM ASHES. His short fiction has appeared or will yet appear in DarkFuse Magazine, Nameless Digest, the Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing newsletter, PMMP’s One Night Stands series, as well as a number of anthologies including The Best of the Horror Society 2013 (ed. Carson Buckingham), Fear the Reaper (ed. Joe Mynhardt), Bleed (ed. Lori Michelle), and Gothic Lovecraft (ed. Lynne Jamneck and S.T. Joshi). He is also Editor in Chief of Nightscape Press.

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Kidnapped Week: Nightscape Press


World’s Collider – Building the Apocalypse

From the very beginning, World’s Collider was a tough sell. The idea bounced around at least four small presses before landing a home as one of Nightscape Press’s debut trio of horror offerings. In its initial stages, it was simply an outline on a piece of paper, and was then called Unto The Breach. Here’s the original brief.

The anthology begins with the Large Hadron Collider on the border between Switzerland and France, ten years in our future. Experts have told the doom-mongerers that there is zero risk of experiments causing “dragons to appear and eat us up”. But what if the nature of the experiments progresses from observing the basic components of creation to trying to manipulate them?

Given that science is pushing into the unknown, and nobody knows for certain what will happen in the future if this machine is used for riskier experiments, I envision a short story collection that depicts the worst case scenario. The machine explodes, flattening a large chunk of central Europe, and opens a massive rift – known simply as the Breach – into somewhere unknown. All sorts of unimaginable horrors tumble out. They don’t all come through at once, and they won’t be just demons and creatures from hell, like Buffy’s Hellmouth. How about new diseases? Could the souls of those who have died under mysterious circumstances be drifting through? Maybe alien gasses leak into our atmosphere and cause environmental catastrophe. Perhaps dragons really are waiting on the other side, eager to eat us all up. The imagination of the writers is the limit here.

This will not be a series of isolated “what if?” stories, each taking the experiment as its starting point and then pressing the reset switch at the end. Instead, the stories will build on each other, so the writers will work together with the editor to make their ideas fit into a common narrative. Some stories might have global impact and will strongly influence the rest of the collection. Others might be smaller scale and won’t directly affect anybody else. Perhaps the “leaks” into our world are subtle at first and nobody realises the damage the machine has caused. During a ten year period, events will build to apocalyptic levels of chaos. Earth will be changed forever and humanity is on the brink of extinction. The second half of the anthology will be set in a post-apocalyptic world, culminating in the closing of the Breach by the last human survivors. Perhaps they even pass through…

The plan is to invite 30 to 40 writers to pitch ideas for stories involving creatures or things or concepts that might come through the Breach and then to select about fifteen for inclusion. An internet mailing list will then be set up to discuss ideas and link stories together. Writers will need to be flexible in adjusting their stories to fit in consistently with this new world being constructed, but the result will essentially be a novel written by many voices, complete with a common, evolving setting and recurring characters and themes.

In retrospect, the final anthology ended up a lot like the brief describes. I put out the call and received around eighty story ideas, far more than I was expecting. At this stage, none of these submissions were linked together or had anything in common beyond what was in the original outline. Pitches ranged from a paragraph to a detailed outline of every scene in the proposed story. At this point I realized I had set myself an impossible task and was facing the first of many giant hurdles.

Some stories could be rejected right away due to the quality of the pitch itself, the nature of the storyline being something that didn’t appeal or could not be adapted to the shared-world concept, or the writers didn’t follow the guidelines. But most of them were amazing, really interesting, compelling ideas, which made my job much more difficult. Some were from “name” writers, some from friends and other less-well known writers who were known to me, and many were from total strangers. The temptation was to fill the anthology with friends I could trust and names who might help sell copies, but that would have meant rejecting some terrific ideas that ended up being integral parts of the overall story and great stories in their own right.

The exciting part of all this for me was that, as the brief describes, the ideas weren’t mine. I wasn’t storyboarding some grand master plan and telling people what to write. Just as I had hoped, mashing together the ideas and characters from all these talented folks allowed me to shape an overall storyline.

My final selections fell roughly into four categories. The first were lynchpin stories, ideas that worked so well in and of themselves that I didn’t want to make significant changes to them. These stories tended to generate major characters which then made reappearances, or earlier appearances, in other stories at my request. James Moran’s Innervisions was one, which introduces the anthology’s main character, Scott. Jordan Ellinger’s The Last CEO is another, as story introducing the anthology’s main antagonist: soulless killer Joseph Tern.

Other chosen stories were fairly self contained. I reused elements of them in other stories, but the ideas stayed pretty much intact from outline to final story. The Rise And Fall Of The House Of Ricky by the endlessly talented Kelly Hale was one such example, a story that wasn’t suited to being adapted and changed to fit with others, but which had such a delicious idea at its centre and such a brilliant writer who I knew could pull it off, that I couldn’t say no. Trent Zelazny’s Black Whispers is another, a story with few links to the rest of the anthology but a great story from a writer whose distinctive voice fit perfectly with the feel of the anthology.

The third category of stories did much of the heavy lifting with regards to the plot. I took elements of the original outlines and changed things up, asked the writer to switch out their main character for someone else from another story, but tried to allow these writers enough space to explore their original ideas. Displacement is a piece that follows the same storyline as in the original brief by Aaron Rosenberg, but was tweaked to introduce the same psychopath antagonist who features in several other stories, including The Last CEO. Simon Kurt Unsworth graciously allowed me to reconstruct his storyline for The Coming Scream into something that worked with our main character in a role that showcases his unique relationship to the rift, while incorporating the original idea of a terrible sound that passes into our world through the breach. A brilliant story idea about a scientist who thinks her dead daughter is on the other side of the Collision forms the backbone of Pete Kempshall’s Closure, but much changed with the introduction of another recurring character, Natalie Murphy, a military woman who makes it her mission to close the rift.

The last category were special commissions. These were stories that became the glue between all the others, filling in important gaps and plot points, while being exciting stories in their own right. Dave Hutchinson’s Beyond The Sea is a terrific story, which reads at a breakneck pace. It’s all the more astonishing to know that Dave wrote the story in two weeks, from a detailed brief I provided, to provide a middle-of-the-book encounter between our main protagonist and antagonist, which would then kickstart the second half of the storyline.

Then there was the final story, undoubtedly the most challenging of the bunch to write. Pity poor Steven Savile, a prolific and highly successful writer, who agreed to pen the final chapter. Tying up all the threads and producing a coherent and satisfying ending was a Herculean task, especially when the clearly-bitten-off-more-than-he-can-chew editor kept changing his mind, or adding more elements he’d forgotten to deal with earlier, or switching the structure of how the book had to end as he continued to wrestle the various plot threads across all the stories. Then Steven went and broke his arm, which threw a wrench in the works somewhat. Thankfully Steven’s friend and previous collaborator, Steve Lockley, stepped in to help, and between the two of them they managed to wrangle a thrilling barnstormer of a final story, with just enough resolved and just enough threads still hanging loose so as to satisfy this very picky and rather flaky editor.

Once all the stories were in, the late nights began. With a regular anthology of stories that might be entirely unconnected, or share a common theme, the editor needs to ensure the running order works (do I have two long, downbeat stories back to back? Am I kicking off with a great story that really showcases the theme?), he or she needs to edit the stories for internal consistency, (ensuring the writer hasn’t transposed a character name incorrectly, or jumps location without warning), along with cleaning up any awkward sentences, proofreading for typos, checking verifiable facts – all these types of things (and many more) are the job of an editor when putting together the manuscript. With World’s Collider, there was a much bigger and more complex task ahead of me.

When you edit your own novel, it’s tricky enough to keep all the characters consistent, ensure you are revealing enough to the reader without giving away too much too soon, excising or combining passages that drag, and a thousand other considerations big and small). But in this case, I had a novel-like story written by multiple authors. When it’s your own work you can chop and delete at will. When it’s someone else’s, you have a duty as an editor not to steamroller a writer’s voice with your own. When they came on board the project, all the writers said they were happy to have me rewrite their work as necessary to make the overall plot work. Even so, the strength of this anthology is the combination of styles, voices and ideas into a (hopefully) coherent whole, so if I as editor just rewrote great chunks of each story, that unique element would be lost and I would end up with a novel by Richard Salter.

So it was a balancing act. Yes I edited an awkward sentence here, a small mistake there, but any sizeable changes I made tended to be specifically to serve a character’s ongoing development or to move an element of the overall plot ahead, or to bring two stories into synch where they shared story elements.

For example, Megan N. Moore’s awesome story, Lead Us Not, is almost entirely her own work with just a handful of minor edits on my part. The last section was written entirely by me, and features two of our recurring characters investigating the events of the story sometime after the fact. I wrote that last section and showed it to her to make sure she was happy with this appearing at the end of her story. She suggested a few changes, and we were done.

Making everything work together was tough, very tough. It took me a good number of very late nights reading and re-reading various stories and keeping elements together in my head so I could ensure we weren’t contradicting each other, and that the right balance was held between mystery and reveal, and that the plot was progressing well.

I don’t remember specifically what it was, but I do remember waking in the middle of the night and realizing that at no point in the book did we mention a vital piece of information about our main character. So vital was this detail, that without it a significant portion of the ending would make no sense. It would come out of nowhere and leave readers scratching their heads. In the end, I put that detail into two different stories, to firstly introduce it and then to reinforce it, so that when the reader gets to the end it all makes sense and there are none of the “wrong kind” of surprises in the book.

Eventually, it was all done, a finished manuscript, a novel by twenty writers.

For the cover, we had intended to use a wonderful painting created by artist Carolyn Edwards, of a ruined Eiffel Tower. We still did use it as a cover image and for the first page of each story, and I still love that image very much. However, Steven Savile put us in touch with a cover artist named Lukas Thelin, who did us a cover that really captured what the book had become. I went back and forth between the images but eventually decided on using Lukas’s cover. Carolyn was very gracious about it because she’s a professional, and I highly recommend her work to anyone in need of an artist. You can find her at

When Nightscape Press launched the book as one of the imprint’s three debut releases, it seemed to find a receptive audience. It was exciting to see the Amazon rankings soar on those first couple of days. When the reviews came in, people really seemed to get it. There’s no greater feeling for a writer or editor than to deliver a work to the public and have them understand the intent and appreciate the result.

World’s Collider was a lot of work, but I would love to do it all again. Maybe a sequel, or a completely different scenario, but whatever it is I intend to follow the same process and produce another shared-world anthology. If only I had the time!

You can purchase World’s Collider here

KIDNAPPED WEEK: Nightscape Press


by: Simon Kurt Unsworth 

So I offered to do this blog about me and my writing, because I figured it’d be easy (because I’m optimistic) and because all writing is ultimately about ourselves anyway (so I’m told) and it’s about my favourite subject (according to my detractors). And then the deadline is upon me and the Mac’s screen is showing me a lovely white page and I have no idea what to write.

Literally no idea.

I’ve incentivised myself – no pizza or beer until after I’ve finished – which should get my creative juices flowing, but while we wait for that to start I’d better tell you the boring stuff. I’ve been a published author for just under 10 years, have three collections of short stories under my belt (Lost Places, Quiet Houses and Strange Gateways) so far with a fourth (Diseases of the Teeth) on the way in the next couple of months from Black Shuck Books. I’ve been nominated for a World Fantasy Award (didn’t win) for my first published short story, ‘The Church on the Island’ and appeared in seven volumes of The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror. I’ve appeared in a book alongside Stephen King, Joe Hill, Peter Straub and Harlan Ellison which is a something that makes me happy (and convinced people are reading said book and thinking, We like these proper stories but who’s this Unsworth bozo?). I’m tall, have a beard (when un-groomed I look, according to my mother, like the wild man of Borneo), I’m married (sorry folks, I’m off the market) and have a son and two step-daughters, and I live in a rambling house in England’s Book Town, Sedbergh. I’m mostly cheerful, partly organised and occasionally dreary and I’ve been known to rage about things and use immoderate language. My son calls me “big dude” but only because I call him “little dude”, and my wife calls me “SKU”. I’m in my forties and I like (probably more than I should) good whiskey, dry white wine and Japanese lager (although not all at the same time). I’ve been writing as long as I can remember, and my favourite authors are Stephen King, Junji Ito and M R James.

I write horror.

My first novel, The Devil’s Detective, came out last year in both the US and UK, and while some bookstores put it in the crime section (and my US publishers Doubleday put it out in paperback under their Anchor classic crime imprint), I consider it a horror novel (albeit one that happens to wear a thriller’s clothes). It’s the story of Thomas Fool, one of three Information Men (kind of like policemen) in Hell. It’s not a usual version of Hell, though: it’s more like the New York of Carpenter’s Escape From New York or Taxi Driver with added demons, a place where the underbelly is bigger than any veneer of organisation or order. There are pointless rules, little or no safety and random acts designed to generate hope in the inhabitants, hope which can then be crushed. Demons use people for food or sex or sport and the Bureaucracies of Hell squabble with their heavenly counterparts over various arcane and torturous trade agreements.

And there are deaths. Thomas Fool is tasked with solving a series of particularly brutal murders, and the novel is the story of his growing understanding of the nature of being a policeman and his uncovering of the conspiracy that lies at the heart of the savagery. My own favourite scenes include a man turning into foliage having an orgasm, a demon masturbating in the street and a battle in an orphanage where the babies make the child from It’s Alive look like a particularly cheerful CabbagePatch Doll.

Am I selling it to you yet? Well, if further persuasion is needed, there’s a riot, a mortuary where the dead can talk (after a fashion), a secret love affair and a group of farmhands that fertilise Hell’s earth in a very odd way. A lot of people die during the course of the story, but in Fool the reader can possibly see a hope of redemption and improvement, of victory and autonomy.

Remember what I said about hope?

Then there’s the sequel. I never intended The Devil’s Detective to be part of a series but the publishers were keen for me to do a second book featuring Fool, so my standalone story grew a second instalment, The Devil’s Evidence, which came out earlier this year. When I came to write it, I knew that another murder-mystery in Hell would risk being too similar to the first book, so I made a logical step and sent Fool to Heaven, where he gets involved in more death and destruction and, ultimately, in trying to prevent the war between Heaven and Hell. Along the way he meets the kindest angels (who are lovely) and the saddest ones (who are not). The wild hunt makes a (sort of) appearance, a major character returns and there’s a new demonic villain in the form of Mr Tap, who runs a new department in Hell called The Evidence. The Evidence is staffed (if that’s the right word) by little tusked demons call Bauta, and they’re essentially complete bastards. There’s a character named after one of my comedy heroes (who died while I was writing it) and scenes set in fairgrounds, swimming pools and a cave full of sleepers. There’s a demon made of maggots and creatures that even the demons are wary of. There’s a lot of death.

Heaven is not how you imagine it being.

The Devil’s Evidence was mostly written in cafes, with my iPod on shuffle blocking out the sounds of the people around me, drinking cup after cup of coffee and muttering to myself as I worked out plot points. I treat Fool very, very badly in the book but that’s okay, because he’s used to it: I treated him very, very badly in the first book too. In Heaven and Hell I made worlds that were exactly how I wanted them to be, were exactly as horrifying or confusing as I needed them to be for the story, and I had a whale of a time doing it. Writing is, with the possible exception of pizza taster, probably the best job in the world.

Of course, not everything I wrote was used. There were scenes written that didn’t make it into the final manuscript, and ideas that I’d jotted down that never got written. Books twist and renew themselves as you write them, I’ve found, creating new shapes and taking unexpected turns that force you to react on your literary feet. That sounds like arty, pretentious authorness, doesn’t it? Well, I can’t help that because for me at least it’s true – when I’m writing well, the thoughts and ideas seem to bypass my conscious thought process and jump straight from my brain’s creative centres to my fingertips and into my Mac in rapid, unconscious streams. What emerges often needs neatening (all writing does, to some degree), and the more exuberant bits might have to be massaged into a manageable shape to make it fit the larger narrative, but it’s also when writing is at its most fun. While the real world unspooled outside the café’s windows, I was inside my own head writing about things that I hoped would be creepy, would disgust and appal and thrill, that would make people smile. I was killing people and demons, starting wars, giving a good man a hard time, and I loved every last minute of. I can only hope that some of the fun I had in writing The Devil’s Evidence is felt by the readers too…

In the spirit of sharing, I thought that, rather than simply give you a bit of the book to read, I’d give you the equivalent of a DVD extra. Below is one of the scenes that I started to write that didn’t fit where the book needed to go and much as I liked it, I eventually had to cut it out and start it again. It’s a first draft, very rough and ready, and unfinished but I hope you’ll enjoy it. No context, just roll with the mystery of it all:

The fall into the flames had only lasted a moment. Fool experienced a moment of terrible, searing heat and then it was gone and he was crashing into a hard surface. A bolt of pain, like the memory of his last few days, jolted across him and his head cracked painfully into something’s edge. He lay still for a second or two before risking opening his eyes.

Above him, a huge creature with thousands of eyes and long, insectile legs was hanging in the sky, mouth full of fangs gnashing.

He didn’t have the energy to scream or move. He was too tired, his entire body ached, his head ached, his violated skin prickled against his clothes and he could still taste Rhakshasas in his mouth. If this was it, if this was where he died, then so be it. Let it kill him.

The thing, whatever it was, scuttled sideways, and the multi-jointed claws at the end of its legs scrabbled against a barrier between it and him, invisible yet apparently unbreakable. The more he watched it, the more the creature looked wrong somehow. Not simply ugly or dangerous, Fool was used to that; he saw grotesqueries every day in Hell, demonic flesh twisted into shapes and functions that were terrifying and lethal. No, the creature looked insubstantial somehow, as though it was a projection on the inside of some vast curved surface above him. It was solid, he thought, had a form because he could hear the sound of its feet as they skittered, but it was made of angles and shapes that his eye couldn’t quite hold. He’d almost have it, could see the shape of it in his mind and then it would flip away, be impossible to visualise, as though it was shifting between a shape and the imprint of the same shape, or between A picture seen from one angle and then seen in reverse in a mirror.

Fool closed his eyes, opened them again. How far away was the thing? It looked close to him but he realised it wasn’t, it was distant, was huge. Around it, the space was filled with smaller versions of it and other things, creatures made of tentacles and beaks and claws, all of them shifting and moving, testing the same invisible barrier. The was no space between the creatures, they fitted to each others’ edges, moving in tight formations. They were the colour of oil spilled on water, green and grey and blue, constantly mutating and flowing, and still his perspective on the would not hold, could not grip them. Fool looked away, not liking the way that staring at the things was making him feel.

He was lying on the deck of a boat.

Sitting up, he saw that it was long and narrow. The three demons were sitting on a bench ahead of him, still and silent, and beyond them was a tall, thin figure standing in the prow. It was dressed in a long robe that swirled as it used a pole the move the boat serenely along, digging it into the water on one side of the boat and then on the other. The water the boat sailed through was entirely black, its surface unmarked by ripple or swell. When the boatman took the pole from the water, it did not splash.

“We are sailing on the shadow of all the oceans in all the worlds,” said a voice from behind Fool. Turning, he saw a wooden head, humanlike, carved and rising from the stern. It was handsome, a pointed goatee curving from its chin, its nose long and aquiline.

“This is the river between all worlds,” said the head, its voice a rasp that reminded Fool of the sound of the Man of Plants and Flowers, manipulating stalk and stem to create his speech.

“What are they?”

“They are the things from the Place Outside of Everywhere.”

“The Place Outside of Everywhere?”

“Where there is nothing and no worlds exist.”

“But the things?”

“Do not exist, yet they are there nonetheless.”

I’m talking to a wooden head, he thought, sitting on a boat that’s sailing across a river.

Well, that’s me pretty much done. I never did get any clues as to what to write in this guest blog but hopefully this ramble has diverted you for a few minutes. If it’s whetted your appetite for reading more of my stuff, you can get The Devil’s Evidence from Amazon UK here:

Or from Amazon US here:

And you can pre-order my new collection from here:

But you know what? If you don’t fancy reading my books that’s fine and cool, there are other books to read and love. Go find them, go read them, go love them.

Now, where’s my pizza?

KIDNAPPED WEEK: Nightscape Press


Sometimes fortune does smile on us; I’ve been lucky enough that the excellent publishers (Jennifer and Robert Wilson) at Nightscape Press decided to reprint two of my books: The Gentling Box and Deathwatch, and have now further asked me to provide a behind-the-scenes look at both of them for this blog.


During what was probably one of the best evenings of my entire life, The Gentling Box garnered The Bram Stoker Award for first novel the same year Stephen King won for Duma Key in 2009. It’s always a heady experience to be nominated or win an award, but in this case it was validation—the culmination, really—of a very protracted span of years when my work was essentially consigned to the realm of oblivion. The Gentling Box had two major NY agents who forwarded a slew of lovely compliments to me from various editors at the big houses, but couldn’t sell it. My mother (to whom I dedicated the book) loved it—along with several enthusiastic friends, but that book (and in my mind, my career as a novelist) seemed dead in the water. Winning the award felt like a wonderful tribute to my mother and to the very small part of me that continued to believe in the book despite numerous rejections and which wanted to keep working.

To this day, people ask me if the hideous surgical procedure of “gentling” is real and if it was practiced by the Hungarian Roms. No comment. Grin.

A brief synopsis:

Imre, a half-gypsy horse trader, is on his deathbed suffering from a hideously disfiguring disease called glanders; though the infection can be passed from horses to people, his antagonist, Anyeta has afflicted him. He knows he can save himself, his wife, his daughter from the sorceress–but only at great personal cost. Narrating the story, he recalls the events that have led up to the terrible choice before him.

Tricked into believing she can save their daughter, his wife, Mimi has cut off her own arm to claim the power of a savage gypsy charm called the hand of the dead. Those who claim it have the power to bring healing; but Anyeta, who is Mimi’s mother, knows that those who own its power are doomed to eternal unrest: They lie awake, aware, paralyzed within their graves, their minds churning endlessly. Anyeta finds a way to escape the torment by possessing the minds and bodies of those she dupes into claiming the hand.

One by one Imre finds his circle of loved ones falling under the sway of the sorceress as Anyeta sets out to destroy them. He learns from Joseph, an aged Lovari gypsy horse trader, and Constantin, a mute cursed by the sorceress, the only way to make an end of Anyeta, to grant her victims peace, is gentling–a crude surgery performed on wild horses in order to tame them. Imre’s most hellish childhood memory is witnessing his father opening the crate-like gentling box and placing wood and leather devices around the heads of the horses. Jutting inward from the circular wooden bands are metal spikes which penetrate the horses’ brains, and Imre cannot forget the sight of the blood or the dimming of the horses’ huge glossy eyes. Though he is a horse trader, he has never gentled a horse–nor can he bring himself to face the fact that ironic as it seems, he can free Anyeta’s victims if he gentles them.

In failing to do so, he sets up the final conflict. His wife is possessed by the sorceress– her mind and personality shattered; his daughter, Lenore, will certainly claim the hand of the dead and suffer similar tortures–unless he can bring himself to intervene. His decision, then, is whether he can summon the courage to heal himself of his disease by claiming the hand of the dead, knowing that once he does so, he must ultimately face the terror and the freedom of the gentling box.


My wife sits in the corner of our caravan, because this morning it is her personality which has come to the fore. Her hands are folded quietly in the lap of her skirt. Just above her left hand is a thick purplish scar that circles her wrist like a hideous bracelet. I don’t want to think about the scar, about how it is the source of the evil afflicting our lives.

If I raise my head from the sweat-soaked pillow I can see her bare feet splayed against the worn floorboards, but it is her face I find myself staring at: small, kitten-shaped, dominated by her huge dark eyes. She has gypsy eyes. They were very bright when we were both younger; now they are ringed by deep gray shadows like bruises and filled with pain. Meeting mine, they beg: Save Lenore.

My wife is right of course, and she is living evidence of what will happen to Lenore, our daughter, if I don’t intervene. But Christ, I think, how can I save her when the foul disease I’ve taken is ravaging through me like a brushfire? I close my eyes and instantly hear the swish of skirts, so I know she has gotten to her feet, she is moving toward the bed. And now I feel her hand tapping my shoulder urgently.

I open my eyes; her face is full of defiance. Her black brows contract angrily and she points at her wrist. Again.

Yes,” I say, my voice a ragged whisper, “I know.” I know we will die shut up in this stinking grave of a caravan and Lenore will be possessed by the same hungry spirit that has taken my wife’s life, that has killed Joseph and punished me.

No. She shakes her head, and suddenly her thin hands go to her face; her shoulders hitch and great wracking sobs shake her small frame. She is crying, and the wailing voice I hear is the first sound she has made as Mimi, as my wife, in more months than I can count. She speaks when she is Anyeta, I think bitterly, but never as Mimi. Anyeta has taken that from her, too.

She sinks onto the edge of the bed, her long hair falling forward, and I want to comfort her. I sit up but my chest burns. I cough, my throat a column of fire, but it’s so hard to breathe. I make myself cough harder and up comes a wad of greasy yellow phlegm streaked with blood. I manage to hide the clotty mess in a handkerchief before Mimi turns her head and sees it.

I put my arm around her shoulder. Her eyes flick toward my fingers. She whirls around and points at the livid scar on her wrist. I nod. Mimi is reminding me again. She has tried to save Lenore herself, but her powers have fled. I admire her courage. It wasn’t failure.

Not your fault,” I rasp before the rumbling cough cleaves me again. We both wait until the fit passes. I let my hand rest on her knee.

All at once, Mimi seizes my wrist hard. Her grip is like iron, like steel pincers, and I’m suddenly terrified the change is on her and in a second her eyes will blink and I’ll see Anyeta’s demonic eyes, hear her mocking screams and taunts.

But Mimi throws my hand back at me and runs to the oval mirror. She jerks it from the plastered wall so fiercely the nail pops out with a shriek and she nearly loses her balance. The silvery mirror sways between her hands, she holds it to her chest like a shield, she moves toward the bed. She is making a grunting noise, trying to tell me something. I concentrate on her lips. She is moving them carefully, slowly. Then I have it:

Look, Imre.”

In the mirror I see my features are blurred with thick scabs and crusts. My face is overrun with the red weeping sores and I would weep for the sight except I think she has seen it spreading and nursed me and never shown revulsion or fear.

Mimi thrusts the mirror toward me again and makes a furious sound, shapes the word, “Look!”

She wants me to know that time is short, that I’m dying, that the pustulent blisters will eat through my lungs, completely consume my flesh—

Mimi hurls the mirror to the floor. The sound is deafening inside the caravan. I see her feet moving among the splinters from the shattered mahogany frame, the chunks of broken glass. She squats. Heedless, she clutches a long sharp shard and I see drops of blood welling from her palm and fingers then running down and staining the white filmy sleeve of her blouse. She points at her wrist with the glass knife, then at mine, and pantomimes sawing.

And then, Christ, then I know what she wants. A sick feeling eddies through me, and I feel the vomit rising in my throat. I push it down because Mimi is asking me to be strong, to save Lenore. I look into her dark eyes and I know what she wants. She wants me to claim the hand of the dead.




I get a kick out of people’s responses to both novellas in this collection—with some preferring the Bram Stoker-nominated “Dissolution,” and others just as adamantly standing up for “The Sheila Na Gig.”I rather like them both and am thrilled that “Dissolution” will soon be a feature-length film directed by Paul Leyden.

Dissolution,” set in upstate New York in the 1890s, is about a young medical student thrown out of his university who travels north thinking he’ll be a tutor to twin girls only to discover that they are conjoined and their father—also a doctor—has hired him because he means to separate them surgically.

Two excellent books that influenced the novella’s winter-bound isolation heavily are ETHAN FROMME by Edith Wharton and GHOST STORY by Peter Straub.

The Sheila Na Gig,” which bookends the previous novella,and is also set in the past, is about a young man whose grandmother uses witchcraft in Ireland to ensnare him and his whole family. His struggle to escape the horror of dysfunction in the extreme is both harrowing and poignant. A few of my Beta readers noted that parts of the story made them weep.

As Elizabeth Massie wrote in her introduction to the collection, “…pushes us headfirst into nightmarish, claustrophobic worlds where families cling together even as they try to destroy one another.”



I was twenty when I first came to Hyde Park, New York and fell in love with the child who was both woman and ghost. And God help me, it was my infatuation–or obsession–if you prefer, that spawned both her strange shadow life as my bride and–later, much later–her death.

It was December, and the Hudson River was frozen. I hailed from the Carolinas, and after a bleak train ride north, my first, my strongest memory of the region was that solid white mass like a road, of wind blowing and the sight of tight-lipped red faced men hauling blocks of ice on sledges, the horses straining for purchase on the slippery surface.

Their shouts were muffled by the heavy quietfall of snow, even the sound of the train whistling as it left the depot was deadened, and standing on the wooden platform, the chill of the boards penetrating my thin-soled shoes, I thought, I have come to a lonely place. White and cold and deathly still.



“They made Brigantia a saint.”

Tom looked up from the bench where he was polishing his brother Bob’s boots. His grandmother had a wild, faraway look in her brown eyes. She was huddled near the fireplace with a bowl of milk and bread in her lap.

“The stupid Irish, they made Brigantia a saint!” Rose Smith said again.

Tom knew she might go on with this–or another equally meaningless phrase–for hours. He skinned the bristle brush against the leather instep and gave out a sigh.

“Tom,” Cedric said. “Show some respect for the aged.” He rustled in the drift of manuscript pages–most of them halved scraps–that covered his desk. “What does it matter if she prattles a bit? She can’t help it.”

“Right.” He left off shoe blacking and got up. But it did matter, Tom thought, because his father was spouting a lie. Cedric urging tolerance of his grandmother had nothing to do with respect and everything to do with his own motives. Rose was said–not by the family, but by the local farmers and their wives–to be a hag, a witch. Cedric liked to hear her talk because in some way, Tom knew, his father secretly believed she would come out of her mania and empower his failed writing, set right the wreck of his life.

He’s just waiting for a chair to fly across the room so he can put it in his bloody book. Tom didn’t know if Cedric felt his mother leant atmosphere or just spurred a flagging imagination, and he didn’t care. What he did care about was the way the snarly-haired old woman gave him the flits.

Tom glanced at her. Her head was canted sideways, her wrinkled mouth, dripping milk. She was staring at him; then her tongue flicked out and she licked the warm milk from the corner of her mouth. She began to chuckle lightly.



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KIDNAPPED WEEK: Nightscape Press


H. P. Lovecraft. A name that conjures images of frozen landscapes, long dead cities, and tentacled, alien gods. If I recall correctly, he was the second horror writer I ever read—the first being Stephen King, of course. He was certainly the first “cosmic” horror writer I ever read. As a teenager, the bulk of the books in my growing collection consisted of sci-fi and fantasy novels by authors such as J. R. R. Tolkien, Isaac Asimov, Stephen R. Donaldson, Frank Herbert and the like. Reading Lovecraft, with his limited dialogue, dense, overwritten prose, and themes of futility and madness undoubtedly made an impression on the much younger version of myself. An experience shared by many others, judging by Lovecraft’s enduring legacy and influence over a large number of today’s practitioners of dark fiction. Though his style may seem a bit dense and overwrought to the modern reader, there is no arguing that his ideas—in particular those dealing with his “mythos,” the pantheon of unknowable, uncaring “gods” he created, incarnations of a mindless, uncaring universe—still hold a particular resonance in today’s world, maybe even more so than they did at the time of their creation due to humankind’s ever expanding knowledge of the universe, our ever dwindling place within it.

Which brings me to my cosmic horror novella, DAYS OF RAIN, published by Nightscape Press. While it bears little resemblance to Lovecraft’s style, it owes much to the man’s ideas. When a storm settles in over the fictional, coastal town of Hidden Bay, the people living there find themselves drawn into an ever deepening nightmare unleashed by a monstrous, unknowable force. Regarding the book’s aforementioned style… DAYS OF RAIN is what I consider a “flash novella” as I placed a maximum count of a thousand words on each of its chapters, the generally accepted limit for what is considered a “flash fiction” story. (A similar approach, by the way, to what I’ve undertaken for my ongoing zombie apocalypse “flash novel” series, YEAR OF THE DEAD.) After writing a trilogy of Choose Your Own Adventure style novels (my One Way Out books), I found that I enjoyed working in what would be considered non-traditional story formats. So I came up with the idea for a narrative unfolding day after day, each day a chapter, with limitations in place as to how much detail I could go into regarding each chapter. Limitations that forced me to get to the point, to not dawdle, to move the story along. In the end, I was happy with the results. I was also happy when Nightscape agreed to publish my cosmic horror novella, one that I have agreed to expand upon with a pair of sequels, tentatively titled DREAMS OF RAIN and DARK GOD OF RAIN.

I look forward to returning to the world of Hidden Bay, to revealing the extent of the plan waiting to be enacted by the monstrous, unknowable force residing nearby—too close, by far—biding its time beneath the ocean waves…



In the cold, lightless depths of the ocean, something stirred. Something that, had there been human eyes to witness its stirring, would have been initially mistaken for a section of the ocean floor come to life. Shaking off the silt that had settled onto the broad expanse of its head during the years it had lain there, silent and unmoving—but not unthinking, no, never unthinking—it rose upward through the frigid darkness, causing the strange and varied creatures that had made of this place a home to flee in primal, animalistic terror. For here was something alien and unknowable, something that caused alarms to scream within the most primitive of brains. Here was something before which even the mightiest and most ferocious of predators residing within this vast, liquid realm would cower. Here was a nightmare made flesh, the embodiment of everything the planet’s dominant lifeform, humankind, had learned to fear throughout its brief history. And as it ascended, it pondered the names it had plucked from the psychic babble infecting the world above, the very noise that drove it down into the ocean depths for years at a time so that it might find peace. Names like:




After making its way toward one of the planet’s larger land masses, it slowed then stopped where the water remained deep enough to hide it from detection. It knew this place, had visited it some two decades earlier, had returned in order to set an experiment in motion, to see if its presence had a more noticeable effect on the nearby human settlement than it had before. To see how much of its strength had returned, how its powers had grown.

As it hovered there, less than a mile from the shoreline, it reached out with its mind, felt the waters surrounding it grow warmer, become more active, sensed a gathering of the clouds in the night skies high above. And it heard the dream voices of those who lay sleeping throughout the town of Hidden Bay raised in fear as something ancient and inexplicable revealed itself to them. Come morning, it knew, the fear would be explained away, rationalized and ridiculed when the logic of the waking world had once again reasserted itself. But it would not be fully exorcised. No. It would lie in wait and, given the right conditions, bloom like a flower bearing poisonous fruit. It only needed to be fed, to be nurtured as its roots took hold within the fertile soil of the human imagination.

Just before sunrise, the front line of thunderclouds reached the shoreline.

And, shortly thereafter, the rain began to fall.

Amazon link:

Days of Rain