Wednesday, 24 August 2016

A Shattered Empire by Mitchell Hogan

Hello Peeps!

Finally... A Shattered Empire is here! IT'S HERE!

I have waited for this moment since finishing Blood of Innocents... and NOW IT'S HERE!!!

Ok... so I'm excited.

In my defence I have every reason to be. Hogan is one of the most exciting fantasy writers on the scene right now, and his Sorcery Ascendent books are like crack cocaine to fantasy fans. They include swords and sorcery, murder and mayhem, quests, and the end of the world. What more could you ask for?!? 

Don't believe me? Read on. The amazing folks at Harper Voyager have graciously invited me to participate in their sneak peek blog tour, and they have sent me an amazing excerpt to share with you all!

So lap it up... wet your whistle... and let the celebrations begin!

This is an extract from A Shattered Empire by Mitchell Hogan which is published by Harper Voyager and available in all good book stores and online now.

Chapter 1

Horns resounded through the air. Regiments of Quivers called to arms, woken from fitful camps surrounded by their dead comrades. Caldan watched as hurried breakfasts of cornmeal bread and cheap red wine were consumed before armor was donned and weapons checked. He hadn’t slept much himself, just a few brief spurts in between worrying over his encounter with the emperor and what would happen to him now that he was in the hands of the warlocks.

Long lines of soldiers snaked in from the front ranks, exhausted from battling the jukari in the darkness and holding them off until dawn broke. There had been dozens of isolated pitched battles, both sides hampered by the lack of light, which was mercifully clear of the lurid taint of destructive sorcery. The vormag, and it seemed the warlocks, were content to wait.

Or perhaps they were also exhausted.

The returning soldiers passed formations of fresh troops, dirt- and blood- splattered armor contrasting with gleaming hauberks, to collapse at the rear of the army in relative safety. Wounded Quivers were dragged or carried to the physikers, who were set up in lines— implements still dirty from being used throughout the night. There would be no rest for the physikers and their assistants for some time.

Now, hundreds of horsemen were saddled and waiting on the edges of the emperor’s main forces. Commanders rode among the cavalry and foot- troops— bowmen and spear carriers— while the warlocks split into small groups and placed themselves in scattered locations among the forces.

From the river, hundreds of soldiers were swarming out of the recently docked ships. They formed up in ranks, bearing great round shields and broadswords, while those behind them wielded twohanded axes or long spears. Who they were still puzzled Caldan, but it seemed safe to assume they were reinforcements the emperor had arranged.

Except, of course, Devenish had been surprised at their arrival. But maybe the emperor hadn’t felt the need to inform the warlocks of his plan.

One of the Quivers guarding the warlocks’ tents came up to Caldan and handed him a wooden plate filled with cornbread and cheese, along with dried fruit and nuts. He also gave Caldan a steaming mug of honeyed and salted coffee. Caldan ate the food absentmindedly, keeping his eyes on what was happening.

To one side were the walls of Riversedge, and to the other they relied on a series of hills to offer some protection. And then there was the river itself, stretching mirror- bright to the east as they looked into the sun, and pale upstream to the west. A massive stretch of water, a barrier to the jukari— one they’d already shown kept them at bay.

Quivers formed up— as large a force as any the Mahruse Empire had gathered in centuries. The Noble Houses amassed their troops and assembled behind the Quivers. Having followed the emperor and his army— expecting to merely attend the fighting in name only, to be recognized in the honor rolls when the Indryallans were pushed back into the sea— the nobles now found themselves in the middle of a fight against a monstrous horde of creatures from the Shattering.

It wasn’t clear to Caldan if they were more afraid of the jukari or of disobeying the emperor.

All around the army, warriors and nobles alike made familial gestures and mumbled prayers to their ancestors to keep them from harm. Some burned offerings, and along with the campfires, smoke hung thick above the host, obscuring the standards flapping in the breeze.

From Caldan’s position close to Devenish’s tent, the army seemed composed of chaos with only a few pockets of order.

There was movement in the front ranks, and shouts broke out. Caldan stood and looked past the human army. Farther away, he saw streams of jukari approaching, far less orderly than the Quivers. They stopped a few hundred yards away, the tips of their lines swelling like water pooling, until their numbers grew past his counting. They bellowed and snarled, a terrible, animal sound.

Commands roared throughout the emperor’s army, along with curses and battle songs.

The Quivers marched out to answer the jukari, armor and weapons flashing in the sun. Drums pounded, horns pealed, booted feet stamped. Commanders dispersed among their troops, though Caldan noted that most led from the rear.

The jukari came on.

Heavy thumps sounded from Riversedge, and at first Caldan couldn’t work out what was happening. Then he saw specks arcing into the sky: missiles thrown from counterweighted trebuchets. He squinted as they reached their zenith and began plummeting to the earth. A low rumbling sounded. Clouds of dust and clods of dirt erupted where the stones landed— but nowhere near the jukari. All the missiles fell short by hundreds of yards, with more following in the air.

Hoots and barking came from the jukari, who stood their ground, attention on the falling rocks.

Overeager? wondered Caldan. They had to know their shots would fall short.

Then he saw that while the jukari’s attention was on the siege engine missiles, groups of Quivers had run to the front of their ranks, using the gaps between cohorts. They dropped baskets of arrows, raised their bows, and began firing. Missiles streaked into the sky, a dark rain ascending to the heavens, only to fall. Their shafts plunged into the jukari— failing, as far as Caldan could see, to do much damage. But some jukari did fall: tiny figures in their front lines stumbled.

The holes opened up by wounded or dead jukari were quickly filled.

Thunder rumbled, and Caldan frowned. He glanced to the sky, fearing sorcery, of which there was no sign— but there was movement on the hills. He squinted . . . 

And let out a gasp.

___________________________________________________________________

If you want to know more about A Shattered Empire head on over to Harper Voyager. Purchase information for a variety of retailers is also available from that link.

To read more cracking excerpts go back to the start here at Harper Voyager. Dark Matter Zine will also continue the party tomorrow, so remember to head on over to that site for more awesome reveals!   

A Shattered Empire Blurb:

In the epic conclusion to the series that began with the award-winning A Crucible of Souls, Mitchell Hogan combines the wonder of classic sword-and-sorcery fantasy with the grit of the modern masters.

In a battle of armies and sorcerers, empires will fall.

After young Caldan's parents were slain, a group of monks raised the boy and initiated him into the arcane mysteries of sorcery. But when the Mahruse Empire was attacked, and the lives of his friends hung in the balance, he was forced to make a dangerous choice.

Now, as two mighty empires face off in a deadly game of supremacy, potent sorcery and creatures from legend have been unleashed. To turn the tide of war and prevent annihilation, Caldan must learn to harness his fearsome and forbidden magic. But as he grows into his powers, the young sorcerer realizes that not all the monsters are on the other side.

And though traps and pitfalls lie ahead, and countless lives are at stake, one thing is certain: to save his life, his friends, and his world, Caldan must risk all to defeat a sorcerer of immense power.

Failure will doom the world. Success will doom Caldan.

About the Author:

When he was eleven, Mitchell Hogan was given The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings to read, and a love of fantasy novels was born.

When he couldn’t stand putting off his dream anymore, Mitchell quit his job and finished the first draft of A Crucible of Souls. It won the 2013 Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novel and was listed as one of the Best New Series by Audible for 2014. Mitchell lives in Sydney, Australia, with his wife and daughter.

You can find out more about Mitch at his website: http://mitchellhogan.com





Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Review - The Stars Askew by Rjurik Davidson

Sequels are a funny beast. 

Sometimes they soar and exceed all of our wildest expectations.

And sometimes they fall so flat that you start to wonder why you even bothered picking them up in the first place. 

So when I heard about The Stars Askew I was cautious.

I wondered if Davidson replicate what worked so well in Unwrapped Sky? Could he build upon all of the fascinating themes he touched on in the first book? Would he be able to recapture and further explore that wonderful and strange tone that he excelled at? Or would The Stars Askew fall by the wayside, like so many other sequels that have come before it? 

Well, after finishing it I'm happy to say that The Star Askew not only lives up to its predecessor, it surpasses it. 

The Stars Askew brings to the table what Davidson does so well. You have a riveting and vibrant world that pulses with imagination, a successful and increasingly violent revolution standing on tenuous legs, and a raft of enthralling and fascinating characters who each bring something different to the story. 

What separates The Stars Askew from Unwrapped Sky however is that it is tighter and more controlled. At times in Unwrapped Sky it felt like Davidson had too much going on. There was philosophical discussion, a magic system to explain, political economy to unpack, and a steampunk and fantasy story to explore. The Stars Askew is cleaner and more streamlined, with a clear direction and enthralling plot that culminates in what is arguably one of the best conclusions to a book that I've read in many years. 

Told mainly from the perspective of three points of view (Kata, Maximillian, and Armand), The Stars Askew begins a few weeks after the successful (and bloody) revolt of the people of Caeli-Amur. From this starting point Davidson takes you on a fascinating journey of what occurs in the aftermath of a revolution. What happens when services that you take for granted break down in the power vacuum? What do you do when the new rulers begin hoarding and resorting to violence and purges to maintain their tenuous grip on power? Both of these questions are explored deeply, and I was stunned by just how riveting I found it. Davidson obviously draws from a deep understanding of revolutionary theory and political economy, but he never resorts to bland extrapolations or dry political discourse. The story is vibrant, fast-paced, and often bloody and violent. Murder investigations take place, assassinations and counter revolutions are planned, and gods and other beings interfere and use us as play things. Amidst all of this the people and creatures of Caeli-Amur struggle to survive, and are constantly torn between sides and factions that change their spots and evolve with every day that passes (for example the growing violent extremism of a faction of the seditionists). The Stars Askew asks hard questions, and it is confronting reading at times (Camp X for example). But it is also thoughtful and delightfully weird, blending elements of fantasy, steampunk, noir and horror into a mash that challenged and entertained me at the same time. Davidson reminds me a lot of China MiĆ©ville in that regard. He also has that uncanny ability, like MiĆ©ville, to weave serious philosophical and political discussion into a book that has, to be frank, has freakin' minotaurs in it! 

The action is yet again impressively choreographed, and the world building rich and wonderfully played out. I delighted in placing where Davidson had drawn his ideas from (the Reign of Terror in revolutionary France for example, or the system of concentration and labour camps in Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia), and I felt as though I was caught up amidst the chaos as I read. And as a magic systems geek Davidson's use of Thaumaturgy, with all of its risks, still blows my mind.

If I had one small criticism it would be that the three main characters never really cross paths, with each taking their own directions (despite all of their goals concerning the fate of Caeli-Amur) in the story. Although I understand why Davidson did this, I would have liked to have seen a little more interaction between them. 

In combining revolutionary theory with bursts of thaumaturgical power and political intrigue Davidson has, once again, written a story that both delights and challenges your thinking. Powerful, gripping, and utterly addictive. The Stars Askew is the type of story I'd happily take with me to a deserted island. 

5 out of 5 stars. 

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Review - Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones

I know what you're thinking. 

Werewolves. Again? Surely that's a joke?

They've been done to death. Howls in the night. Silver bullets. Full moons. All that jazz. Thousands of interpretations drowning us all in the same thing. 

Over and over again. 

But please, bear with me and read on... because Mongrels may well be one of the finest werewolf stories I've ever read. 

Stephen Graham Jones is no stranger to me as a reader. I've read many of his short stories in the past, and adored their scintillating and often brutal tones and realism. In fact I'd probably argue that he is one of the most exciting genre writers in the game right now. So when I heard about this novel I was excited. 

Then I realised it was a novel about werewolves, and my excitement dissipated rapidly. 

Like a lot of people, I'm over them. You see one too many Underworld movies, or hear someone in your family declare themselves for Team Jacob (please kill me now), and the gloss on our lupine friends loses some of its shine. 

So when Mongrels was released I passed on picking up a copy. 

I moved onto the next book in my TBR pile, and didn't give it a second thought until I noticed a copy of it sitting at the library a week or so later. I had time to kill before I picked up my daughter from school, so on a whim I decided to read a couple of chapters. Fifty pages later, I borrowed the book and raced to collect my daughter before I was late. I never looked back from that moment on. 

Mongrels is a coming-of-age story told by an unnamed narrator living with his Aunt Libby and Uncle Darren as they shift from place to place across the southern states of America. They only have each other, and a secret. Theirs is a family of werewolves. Following this revelation Jones takes you on a masterful, and at times brutally realistic journey that touches on a raft of themes such as self esteem, adolescence, poverty, family dysfunction, and a world that is incredibly hostile and dangerous to their kind. Compounding this is the fact that the narrator is also 'late bloomer', and as such he finds himself alienated within his own dysfunctional little family even as he wrestles with adolescent problems such as starting a new school every few weeks as his family runs from the law (and other threats). 

Jones' take on werewolves, told with his distinct and wonderful voice, is enthralling. They are drifters who essentially scrape through by living on the edges of society. Jones brings them down to a more realistic level, and removes all of the supernatural mystique that usually surrounds them. They aren't legendary creatures springing out of our folklore and chasing overweight and tasty campers in the woods... they just are werewolves. Many familiar elements are explored, such as where all the fur goes when they revert back to human form, and some are even dismissed outright (no more fucking full moons needed people!). There is even an explanation provided about why werewolves hunger so much (and a discussion had about calorie intakes that had me snorting with laughter), and a running theme about werewolves needing to be careful about what was around them when they transformed (they get hungry... and some things just aren't... edible). In fact one of the most impressive things about this book was how Jones takes what is a legendary creature, and recasts it wonderfully via his characters. I loved Darren, whose idiotic and humorous behaviour had me either choking with laughter or shaking my fist, and Libby, who reminded me of my grandma (a beautiful soul focused on looking after the family no matter what... and with the ability to kick the living shit out of you if you stepped out of line and crossed her). However the unnamed narrator is what takes this book to a whole new level. Poignant, thoughtful, and at times incredibly sad, the narrator is the glue that holds this story together and propels it to places I never imagined could be explored. 

I was also awestruck by the direction that Jones took the story in. Darren's antics, cast alongside the terrifying situations that the family often finds themselves in, makes for fascinating reading. The melancholic mood that also lingers around adds a real tension to the story that both the reader and the characters can't escape from. They can't form relationships (for obvious reasons... spanner in the works if you violently kill and eat your neighbour), and they know that every day may well be their last. There are curious hunters, the law, and even other threats to worry about. All they have is each other, and even then that bond is under constant pressure from forces both external and internal. Whilst Mongrels is not a horror story, there are moments of violence and horror that keep you on the edge of your seat as you read. Jones manages to pace things wonderfully, and the final pages left me both moved and deeply satisfied. 

This is the type of story I live for, and I am incredibly grateful that I had some time on my hands that stormy afternoon at the library (I've since purchased my own copy for my shelves). 

Masterful and enthralling, Mongrels dusts off a legendary creature, recasts it brilliantly, and shoves it howling down your throat. 

Stunning, absolutely stunning. 

5 out of 5 stars. 

You can buy Mongrels at all good book retailers. For more information (and purchase details from Amazon) go here. You can also keep track of Stephen (preferably in a non-stalker kinda way) by checking out his site.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Interview - Laird Barron

I'm delighted to bring you yet another instalment in our ongoing interview series here at Smash Dragons. This week I had the amazing opportunity to sit down with Laird Barron, an author who I both admire and respect. We spoke about a lot of different things, from his upbringing in Alaska right through to the impact of novellas on genre fiction. 

I hope you enjoy it!

Laird Barron, welcome to Smash Dragons. 

First up, tell me a little about yourself and your writing career so far. 

Hi! Thank you for the interview. I was born and raised in Alaska. My family lived in a wild region of the state. Throughout my teens and early twenties, I trained sled dogs and participated in long distance races. I departed from that life during the mid-1990s and moved to the Pacific Northwest. I’d always written, but around the new millennium I made a concentrated effort to become a professional. Gordon Van Gelder and Ellen Datlow bought early stories and matters gradually accelerated until one day I looked around and realized I’d built a career. These days, I live in the Hudson Valley near the foothills of the Catskills and am working on numerous projects.

You've lived an incredibly fascinating life so far. I’m curious, how has your upbringing helped shape the fiction you write today? What influences from your life permeate throughout your stories? 

The wilderness made a lasting impression when I lived in and traveled through remote areas of Alaska. Consequently, I developed a soft spot for the blue collar aesthetic. My mother’s Christian fundamentalism and explanations for the arcane contents of the Old Testament continue to haunt the benighted districts of my subconscious. 

I was a heavy reader from preadolescence onward, and that continues to guide me. Literature was succor from an unhappy childhood. Many of the books available to me were classic pulps, westerns, Golden Age science fiction, and the like—a few of those narratives concerned man versus nature. Robert E Howard, Jack London, Louis L’Amour, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and so on. Those authors forged the core of my creative personality. Writers are in dialogue with ghosts; I hope I’ve picked good company.

I read somewhere that you started writing as a young child? Is that true? Can you remember the first story you wrote and what it was about? 

The first coherent piece I recall was a science fiction story in second grade. An homage hybrid of Star Trek and Lost in Space. The teacher took it home and typed it up. She was the only teacher who ever encouraged me, but that encouragement stuck in my mind. 

When my father relocated us into the woods, supplies became dear. I wrote on both sides of college-ruled paper, margins be damned. I hid my pencils from my younger brothers like I was stashing contraband in a prison cell. For many years I had one of those grooves in my index and middle fingers. Been a while; it’s easy to forget, but the lizard part of my brain never has.

What was the first story you ever sold? 

Gordon Van Gelder at The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction gave me my first pro sale. An homage to Lovecraft’s cosmic horror called “Shiva, Open Your Eye.” It’s a strange non-story that I could reasonably expect to see published today, but in 2001 it was a longshot to breach the big five slush piles. Getting into F&SF several times in the early Aughts opened doors. Then Ellen Datlow reprinted “Old Virginia” in her year’s best and bought “Bulldozer” and “Parallax” for SCI FICTION, and even more doors opened.

I am grateful to Gordon and Ellen for the initial break and ongoing support. They’ve published some of my weirdest, craziest material and that gave me confidence follow my muse down a few dark and winding alleys.

People often pigeonhole you as a writer of cosmic horror, whereas I think your work has a much wider scope than that. You seem to revel in things like noir fiction and gothic horror as well as cosmic horror and weird fiction. I’m curious, are you someone who is creatively restless? Do you feel to the need to constantly strive against being labeled and bound?

Cosmic horror and eternal recurrence aren’t my only bag, but it’s big enough to crawl into.

It’s probably more accurate to say my work focuses on gritty characters undergoing trauma. Those are the most prevalent elements. Lately, I’ve written a lot of stories in the occult thriller and psychological horror veins. 

Resisting labels is a thankless exercise. I embrace my influences, and yes, I revel in certain genres because the work, the mucking and gutting and battling, brings me enough visceral joy that I am able to continue. HPL has his roost on my shoulder, along with other dubious angels. Peter Straub, Cormac McCarthy, Robert E Howard, and Jack Vance are ones I’ve mentioned time and again. Guys like TED Klein, Norm Partridge, and Jeff Ford are important to me. I also admire many newer writers, such as Livia Llewellyn, Paul Tremblay, John Langan, Phil Fracassi, V.H. Leslie, Brian Evenson, Adam Nevill, Victor LaValle, Stephen Graham Jones, Gemma Files, Darren Speegle, S.P. Miskowski, and Selena Chambers. 

Regardless, in recent years my stories are more often categorized as “Laird Barron” stories rather than Lovecraftian. As for restlessness, yes, that’s fair. Artists should always be swimming forward. 

Your work obviously draws a lot of comparisons to H. P. Lovecraft. Do you welcome that comparison, or do you try and transcend it? Do you think Lovecraft deserves the recognition that he currently has, or should others also have equal notoriety in the field? 

It would be disingenuous to deny the Lovecraft influence, particularly in regard to my cosmic horror stories. It’s safe to say I’ve synthesized that inspiration and made it my own or else the praise and criticism of my corpus would manifest along entirely different lines.

HPL is getting what he has coming, for better or worse. Among the Old Ones, Clark Ashton Smith deserves more credit, so too Dunsany. For raw influence, Edgar Allan Poe still wears the heavyweight belt. 

I’ve also seen a lot of chatter regarding your take on Thomas Ligotti and his philosophical nihilism. What did you mean when you referred to him as an anti-influence on you and your work? What is it about Ligotti and his particular ethos and style of horror that doesn't appeal to you? 

The anti-influence comment is tongue in cheek. We tend to attack similar themes from opposing angles. Ligotti has drifted far from character-driven narratives while my genre influences are front and center. His worlds end with a whimper; mine rage against the dying of the light. All to the same effect for hapless characters, alas. 

My criticism of Ligotti has concerned his nonfiction. Despite my own struggle with depression, I don’t find antinatalism or pessimistic philosophy to be tenable. I’ve also said plenty about it elsewhere and probably with too much acid. These days, I chalk it up to a fundamental difference of perspective. We’re all on the same road, plodding forward into the great dark.

One of the things I adore about your storytelling is how it often explores the notion of toughness, and how that toughness is undercut by forces beyond anything we've ever had to deal with. Does this fascination for hardened characters stem from your love of the noir tradition? 

I value toughness. You can’t always be the strongest, the fastest, or the most cunning. To some extent, you can make the decision to persevere, to endure. Everybody loses, in the end. Meanwhile, perseverance and endurance will win the day more often than one might expect.

The poor, rural Alaska of my youth was home to a tough crowd. In that respect, I’m sure it shares commonality with other economically depressed regions. Certain elements set Alaska apart—darkness, isolation, institutional paranoia, and an alarming incidence rate of depression and mania. Certain characters of mine are action-archetypes—the spies, the enforcers, the Pinkerton thugs. These certainly adhere to the noir and crime traditions; and the pulp, thriller, and western traditions as well. 

On the other hand, I admit to bemusement at labeling some of my generic characters as “tough” in that evidently it doesn’t take much by Alaska standards to impress the average critic. Abusing alcohol & other substances, toting weapons, and getting into punch-ups was a well-earned stereotype of Alaskans circa 1980s and 90s.

I was weaned on John D. MacDonald, Donald Westlake, and Robert Parker, and you get the drift. My affinity for noir cuts deep. True grit isn’t a matter of victory or defeat, but resolve and perseverance. Contemporary noir authors I admire include Richard Thomas, Donald Ray Pollack, Tom Piccirilli, and Kaaron Warren.

Setting is an important factor in any story. The Pacific Northwest features prominently in your work. What is it about that region that draws you in and motivates you to write stories set in it? Do you visit these regions to get a feel for them before you use them in your tales? 

So many ways to tell a tale. Setting and atmosphere interest me the most. I’ve visited (or invented) the vast majority of Pacific Northwest locations mentioned in my stories. Washington State, especially the hills east of Seattle and the Olympic Peninsula, are rugged and lush. Drive a few minutes out of Olympia and you’re in the woods. Western Washington wears a friendlier mask than most of Alaska, but it possesses secrets, some of them dark. As a writer, I’m obsessed with secrets. As a horror writer, I’m drawn to the underlying darkness.

Do you remember the moment when the idea for Old Leech first appeared? 

John Langan’s novelette “On Skua Island” contains a scene where researchers attempt to decipher a runic message. One of the symbols is an odd kind of Ouroboros. It was a neat minor detail that John didn’t plan to develop any further. This was back in the early Aughts and we’d decided to occasionally overlap our works in sneaky ways. I snagged the symbol for “The Broadsword” and decided it wasn’t a worm or wyrm, but a leech. The damned thing took on a life of its own from there.

There’s a rumour floating around that you have dabbled in fantasy fiction as well? Is there any truth to that? Will it ever see the light of day? 

True. I wrote and then trunked and epic fantasy novel back in the late ‘90s. It will never see the light of the day. High fantasy, dark fantasy, and classic sword & sorcery were popular when I was a kid. The Conan collections with the Frazetta art had gotten hot; same deal with Jack Vance’s Dying Earth, Fritz Leiber’s Newhon/Lankhmar tales, and a whole slew of books and stories by Zelazny. Those writers crossed genres with impunity. They set an example for those of us interested in baroque weirdness that bleeds across a spectrum from Golden Age science fiction to high weird. I loved that stuff. Still do. 

Recently I’ve written a couple of novelettes for anthologies helmed by Ellen Datlow and Paula Guran. Those stories are set in a weird, black fantasy universe; a number of characters from my other tales possess analogues here. If all goes well, I’ll write many more in the setting.

I have to admit I was very shaken by your story regarding the experience you had on the approach to Shageluk. Have you been back there since? Do you still participate in the Iditarod?

I’ve been away from Alaska and the Iditarod for twenty-one years. Fate makes liars of us sometimes, but I doubt I’ll ever return.

I was delighted to read that G. P. Putnam’s Sons had acquired your Coleridge noir novels. What can you tell me about these books? Does the first one have a release date yet? How satisfying is it to return to your crime and noir roots? Will these novels incorporate elements of horror and the supernatural?

I’m grateful to Sara Minnich and Putnam for picking up the first Coleridge novel and its follow-up. My agent, Janet Reid, has worked hard on my behalf since The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All. Building a career in publishing is a sure way to get tenderized every day; it’s good to have people like Janet helping me hold the line.

The first novel is scheduled for early 2018. Straight noir (although that encompasses a wide range), no supernatural elements. Nor is it horror, but the horrific undercurrent is strong. A couple of scenes were difficult to write. I’m sure they’ll be difficult to read. 

The overall experience of writing the novel was extremely satisfying. Isaiah Coleridge arrived like an old friend who randomly comes and goes. When he’s around, he’s a dark star pulling everything into its gravity well.  He tells you a lot about what he’s seen and done, and a lot of it is terrifying, but it’s never the half of what he knows. Drinks your scotch and bandages his skinned knuckles, then is in the wind again. 

You're a big fan of the novella and novelette, and have gone on the record stating that they are the ultimate form of horror and weird fiction. Why do you feel that they are the ultimate form of horror writing? 

There’s room for doorstop horror novels if the story will bear the weight. Peter Straub’s Ghost Story and Stephen King’s The Stand are prime examples. That said, I consider novelettes the supreme forms of horror. Novelettes provide enough narrative lift to escape the gravity of “trap” stories—there’s room for characterization and plot in a novelette. Novellas are the heavyweight division of short fiction. Done well, condense the expansiveness that serves other genres well. Horror narratives suffer from too much explication and too much familiarity. Novellas provide a fast, hard rush. A literary popper.

As an Australian I am quite proud of the speculative fiction scene we have here in this country. I’m curious, do you know of any Australian writers? Has any of their work caught your eye?  

Alan Baxter is coming on; he has a strong, blue collar style. Kaaron Warren mixes noir and horror with tremendous skill; she’s a national treasure. Margo Lanagan is another favorite. Lanagan has a hell of a range and her work punches hard. Angela Slatter has made a name for herself. Consistently excellent. I’m also a massive fan of artist Matthew Revert. Artists often collaborate to breathe life into literature and he’s one of the best and most versatile I’ve encountered.

If you had to pick 3 other authors to be in your zombie apocalypse team who they be and why? 

Brian Keene, because nobody knows zombies like Brian Keene knows zombies; Weston Ochse because Weston is one of those guys who knows his way around firearms and sharp implements; and Stephen Graham Jones—Jones is known as the Zombie-Whisperer.

I often think to myself that your stories and mythos are perfectly suited to being adapted by mediums such as television or film. Any plans on the horizon in that regard? 

Filmmakers have optioned a few of my stories over the years. My film agent, Pouya Shahbazian, is one of the best around. He’s put me in touch with many industry pros. At the moment, Philip Gelatt is working on an adaptation of “—30— “as a feature film. It’s in postproduction.

What frightens Laird Barron? Do you believe in the paranormal? 

Physical and mental degeneration weigh on me. The inevitable loss of loved ones and our dear short-lived animal companions. The ever dwindling popularity of literature.

As for what I believe… let’s say that I’m skeptical of unverified reportage. I’m skeptical of attributing divine or demonic causes to inexplicable phenomena. I believe in the paranormal in the sense that we simply haven’t indexed the contents of the universe.

You've spoken in the past about being particularly interested in the trends that are occurring within the publishing industry. I’m curious, what’s your take on the horror scene right now? What trends are starting to emerge within the genre in your opinion? 

Horror and weird fiction are in a good place. Thanks to the small press, thanks to the internet, and thanks to a powerful surge of related programming on network and cable television. 

The core of polished, accomplished writers seems to grow every year, especially in short fiction. Good work is being done on the novel front, but short stories are where the action is right now. Horror has long suffered from a lack of diversity and, in certain cases, full-on misogyny. More industry professionals are cognizant of the problem and acting to change the climate. It can’t happen fast enough.

The scene is diversifying in terms of who’s making waves -- Priya Sharma, Victor LaValle, Wilum Pugmire, Usman Malik, and Alyssa Wong, to name a handful. The field is also diversifying in terms of method and subject. From a sort of postmodern approach exemplified by Paul Tremblay, Brian Evenson, and Stephen Graham Jones, to the willful deconstruction of the tradition by John Langan and Livia Llewellyn, the remit of horror is broad spectrum.

Lovecraftian fiction is hot. It remains to be seen how long that pot will boil. I’m encouraged that plenty of writers are vectoring off the main trajectory. The best of them seek to mutate genre, not perpetuate its conventions. 

Most cherished book on your shelves? Why?

Depends on the day. Today it’s Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. Blood Meridian is an indictment of Manifest Destiny, the Westward Expansion, of Hollywood and its portrayal of the west; it’s confrontational and bellicose. The sheer brutality of it affected me like I’d swallowed poison or taken a shot to the liver that I didn’t remember. Blood Meridian is a reminder that literature isn’t always tame. It can bite you.

Take me through a day of writing with Laird Barron. Do you have a particular routine that you adhere to, or do you take every day as it comes? 

Man, the mechanical process is not exciting. No schedule, no ritual. I spend a lot of hours getting my stories wrestled to the ground. I write every day except for travel or illness or some act of the gods. If you asked me what I’ve done the past five years, writing would be the answer.

What are you working on right now? Any more news on your next collection ‘Swift to Chase’? 

JournalStone commissioned several novellas that follow-up X’s for Eyes and Man with No Name. I’m working on several short stories and assorted nonfiction pieces. Quite a few stories written over the past year or so are swooping onto the radar. I recently finished deliberation on the World Fantasy Award with a panel of excellent jurors. It’s a draining experience, although I’m proud to have participated.

Swift to Chase will arrive in early October, 2016. This one dives deep into psychological horror and thriller genres. Giallo and exploitation films interest me. I’m a 70s and 80s kid, so slashers interest me too. Stephen Graham Jones explores these genres and renews them with his singular vision. Brian Evenson does as well. Both of them build upon what has come before and it’s inspiring. I want to bring my own lens of weirdness to bear and see what happens. Swift to Chase is the first phase of a larger progression.

My early collections (The Imago Sequence; Occultation; and The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All) primarily focused on the Pac NW with occasional excursions abroad. I designed them as a loose trilogy. The next wave deals with Alaska in much the same manner. Readers have asked about the cosmic horror content—cosmic horror laces a story here and there; it’s a consistent universe (or two). 

Finally, you once described writing tips as mostly bullshit. So, bearing that in mind, what’s the best advice you can offer to budding writers and editors looking to knuckle down and break into the industry? 

For writers: Always be writing, even when you aren’t writing. Apply elsewhere as required.

Laird Barron, thanks for stopping by!

Laird's work is available online and at all good book retailers. I don't say this lightly... if you haven't read any of Laird's work you need to immediately. He is, in my opinion, one of the best genre writers internationally right now. You can check out his Amazon page here, or Barnes and Noble here. You can also stay up to date by stopping by Laird's website. Pre-ordering for Laird's upcoming collection Swift to Chase is also available here. I'd highly recommend that you pre-order it soon (pre-order details will be available on websites such as Amazon, Book Depository and Booktopia in the coming weeks). It's going to be an absolute mind bend! 

Until next time people, be nice to each other and keep on reading!

PS - I'd like to acknowledge the artists who have designed and worked on Laird's covers. They are Eleni Tsami (Imago Sequence), Matthew Jaffee (Occultation), Dan Ho (The Light is the Darkness), Cody Tilson (The Croning), Claudia Noble (The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All), Matthew Revert (X's For Eyes), Robert Grom (Man With No Name), Chuck Killorn (Swift to Chase). Laird's author picture is by Jessica M. 

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Review - Vigil by Angela Slatter.

I know what you're thinking.

I know, because I had the same thoughts prior to reading this book.

You're thinking about the fact that this is another urban fantasy title in a market already flooded with urban fantasy. You're also thinking about whether or not this book will offer anything different to the thousands of other titles released over the past few years. Something that will make it worth checking out.

So let me make this clear from the outset.

Vigil is a stunning and refreshing book, and it is a must read for any fan of the genre.

I loved so many things about Vigil that I'm struggling to keep this review concise and to the point. So let me start with the blindingly obvious. Verity Fassbinder, the main character of this book, is one of best protagonists I've read in years. She is snarky, sardonic in a very Australian manner, smart, and also incredibly normal. I loved her from the moment she was introduced, and adored her growth throughout the book. What made her fresh and unique was her normality. She doesn't have a huge wellspring of hidden power, or a tortured past that plagues and hampers her ability to monitor the boundaries between the normal world and the Weyrd. She just is Verity, a normal (well, as normal as you can be with one human and one Weyrd parent) Australian woman doing her job. The other characters in this book are also incredibly strong, with each playing their part wonderfully as Verity lets her investigations run their course, and all hell breaks loose as horrors are unleashed on the streets. 

The backdrop and setting for Vigil is also evocative and wonderful. I was enthralled by Slatter's descriptive and edgy world building, and I loved how a mundane, yet stark and gritty Brisbane, was brought to life and made the norm. This environment added a real noir moodiness and flavour to the story, and made the instances of supernatural activity, where the Weyrd would break through the veil, jarring and incredibly riveting. This is not a book where the supernatural is openly spotted or glamourised. Instead, Slatter roots the supernatural directly within our world, and casts it in a fashion that is more matter of fact and grounded. Your baker literally could be Weyrd, and you wouldn't know unless they wanted you to know.

The plot of Vigil is also incredible, with Slatter weaving a wonderful tapestry of thrilling mystery, jarring twists and turns, and mind bending action sequences. Vigil literally oozes menace and enjoyment, and its fast paced storyline had me hooked from the opening pages. Slatter knows how to structure a story, and I adored trawling through all of the little subplots and threads as they unfolded throughout the book. There are some awesome cultural references that make this story VERY Australian (references to the Brisbane floods for example), and I adored the little nods towards other authors who have set their speculative fiction in Brisbane as well. 

If I had one small criticism it would be that some of the little nuances and cultural references may be lost on international readers. For me though, it's wonderful to see another Australian based urban fantasy standing tall and proud of its heritage. 

Vigil is an absolute powerhouse of a book. Slatter has taken urban fantasy by the horns, and given it the kick up the arse that it needed. Original, addictive, and a shitload of awesome, Vigil is a must read for all fans of speculative fiction. I for one cannot wait for the next instalment to appear. Let the adventures in 'Brisneyland' continue!  

5 out of 5 stars. 

Friday, 8 July 2016

Interview - Mike Griffin

Hello Peeps! 

I am delighted to bring you the latest interview in our ongoing series on the rising stars of speculative fiction. This week I had the opportunity to chat to the amazing Mike Griffin. Mike has been making waves over the past few years with his work, to the point where luminaries such as Laird Barron have compared him to the mighty Peter Straub!

Mike graciously took time out of his hectic schedule to chat, and we spoke about a variety of topics ranging from music through to his zombie apocalypse team. I hope you enjoy it! 

Mike Griffin, welcome to Smash Dragons!

Hi Matthew. Thanks for the invitation to chat!

First up, tell me about yourself and your book The Lure of Devouring Light.

As for myself, I'm married, and my wife and I live in Portland, Oregon (which, since you're Australian, I'll add is in the NW corner of the USA). The Lure of Devouring Light is my first collection, 11 stories of dark weirdness and disquiet. It was published by Word Horde, a wonderful independent press located down the Pacific Coast in Northern California, and operated by Ross E. Lockhart.

Was writing always something you envisaged yourself doing when you were younger?

I did go through several stages of very serious interest in writing, though with long gaps where I pursued other things. Even during those times of involvement in other creative activities, I was always very much in love with books and stories and words. Though sometimes many years passed when I didn't write at all, I always expected I would start again, eventually take it more seriously and stick with it enough to start getting published.

You’re a musician and record label owner. What motivated you to create your own label? How has music helped you as a writer?

The ambient music activities, both recording my own work and starting and running Hypnos Recordings in 1996, actually explained my last hiatus from writing. Electronic music was another thing I always loved, and in the mid 90s I bought some synthesizers and recording gear, and started recordings sounds and mixing them together. The first impetus for starting Hypnos was simply to release a CD of my own music, though by the time I actually got the label going it had already grown from there, and became mostly about releasing other people's work.

I'm not sure recording my own ambient music has helped me as a writer, but I do think there's a lot of overlap between different creative processes. Building a deep soundscape that draws in the listener and alters their mental state is a bit like writing a dark, moody scene that takes the reader out of their own world and puts them someplace completely different, in an altered mood and with different emotions. Also, I've been surprised to see there's a lot of overlap between ambient music listeners and horror/weird fiction readers. Many people enjoy both.

The Lure of Devouring Light is your first collection. How did it come about? What was the reasoning behind collecting a lot of your stories into one book?

I don't suppose the idea of gathering stories together to form a book is a very original one! It's sort of assumed that a developing writer who has published enough good stories will eventually put out a collection at some point, and for me, other writers and editors and readers increasingly began to suggest that I should. I think it's an important step for a writer, to present a lot of their work together so readers can wade in deep, and really get a sense of what the writer is trying to convey. It's very different to read hundreds of pages by one person all at once, than to look at individual stories one at a time, spread out over months or years.

As for how this specifically came about, I had selected what I considered my very best work, with advice from friends who were writers and editors, especially Joe Pulver. Joe encouraged me to envision a finished book in all its aspects, said I should think about what stories to include, how to sequence them, what should be the title of the book, and which artist might do the cover art. Then, of course, the plan was to make a wish list of the most appealing publishers and start approaching them until I found someone suitable who wanted to do the book. I was very fortunate to quickly connect with one of the very best in our community, Ross at Word Horde. I couldn't be happier with how that turned out.

Do you have a favourite story in the collection?

I might give different answers to this question at different times. The first that comes to mind is Far From Streets, a novella which was originally published as a standalone book by Dunhams Manor Press. That story was important and very personal to me, and felt like a daring sort of a creative stretch when I wrote it, and it was well received by those who read it. This story was probably the main thing that made Ross at Word Horde consider doing my book. I'll always feel like that story marks an important stage in my development.

Really, though, I might say my favorite thing in the book, the one story I most hope for people to see, is the final novella in the book, The Black Vein Runs Deep. It functions as a sort of counterbalance to Far From Streets. Both stories involve a man and a woman exploring nature in Mt. Hood National Forest, and finding themselves altered and shifted by the landscape. The stories have different trajectories and despite obvious similarities, somewhat opposite worldviews. Both are very personal for me, and I wonder how people will receive them as a matched but somewhat unbalanced pair.

Just how hard is it to master writing a short story? Every writer I’ve spoken to has commented on just difficult it can be to write a really good tale within the confines of a short story. Have you found this to be true?

Writing any kind of a story is difficult, short or long. The more I do this, the more I believe it's more difficult to write shorter, rather than longer. I don't mean that writing shorter is a higher accomplishment, necessarily, just that it's trickier and maybe more frustrating to convey something worthwhile in a really compact form. There's extra work involved in condensation, trimming down and stripping away.

Lately I'm enjoying the different challenges involved in building a more complicated narrative with the time and the length to really gradually shift the world and introduce change in a character or a situation. Another way of saying this is that even though it's harder to write a really strong short story just because of the length constraint, doesn't mean I feel that's the best form for a story, or that I want to write primarily short stories myself. In fact, even as a reader, I'm more interested to see what my favorite writers do with longer forms. The novella seems like a perfect in-between. The writer doesn't have to pare everything down so ruthlessly, and can afford to spend more time and effort building a world with atmosphere and resonance, letting the reader learn non-essential character aspects that make the story seem more real and natural.

Speaking of novellas, Stephen Graham Jones and Laird Barron are both on the record suggesting that we have entered the 'Age of Novellas' in publishing at the moment. Would you agree with that statement? What other trends have you noticed emerging as of late, especially within the horror genre?

I think with novellas, it's partly that it's an excellent format for stories of horror, suspense and the weird, and also partly that this era of easy on-demand print publishing and the popularity of ebook publishing make more feasible the release of standalone shorter books. Twenty years ago, it would have been hard to make an economic case for a short book by a less-known author, that might sell only a few hundred copies. Now, it's easy for small publishers to make this work, and this allows both writers and readers to explore this in-between length.

One thing I've found is that many of my earliest story attempts, which didn't quite work somehow, actually just needed to be longer. When I was just starting out, a short story of under 5,000 words seemed like the format most likely to allow me to get published. Sometimes I tried to squeeze an idea for what should have been a novella into that shorter form, and it just didn't work. At least for me, the possibility of writing 20-40,000 words allows me to revisit some of these ideas and do them justice.

Another sort of trend I've seen happening lately is related to the above, which is that the small presses, very often not just "indie" but truly small, like 1-2 person operations are putting out many of the best books. The small press has always had a role, but this segment of the publishing scene seems to me to be at an all-time peak.

What was the first story you ever sold? What was it about?

My first published story was called "Remodel With Swan Parts," a Science Fiction story about a near-future Seattle in which people are obsessed with body alteration, genetic modification and exotic drugs which make them much more variable, so that people can make the way they look, the very shape of themselves, and the way their bodies function, a sort of work of art or at least a creative exercise, the way people might use tattoos and piercings now. At the time I was working on SF almost exclusively but I found myself shifting into Horror and the Weird, and never looking back. This story can be read online for free. The link is at my griffinwords.com blog, on the "stories" page, or you can google "Electric Spec Remodel With Swan Parts"

Tell me a random fact about yourself that no one else knows about… until now.

It's impossible to come up with a good story that no one knows, because if it's an interesting story, I've already told someone.... but I can tell something that probably nobody reading this interview will have heard before. Once, when I was reading Lawrence Sutin's biography of Philip K. Dick, I became something like half-convinced that I was receiving communications from the alien or godlike intelligence that himself Dick had believed was speaking to him around the whole VALIS thing. This was a brief experience, nothing like what Dick himself went through, and probably had more to do with sleep deprivation, too much caffeine and the power of suggestion. Who knows?

Wait, hold up... Phillip K. Dick believed he was being spoken to by a god like or alien intelligence? Can you elaborate on that? (I had no idea)

Yes, it's a real thing. Dick's late VALIS trilogy (VALIS, The Divine Invasion and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer) tell a thinly-disguised version of something Dick believed happened to himself in real life, which is a series of visions and communications. He called this the "2-3-74" experiences, and he himself struggled to understand what they might mean, or where they might have come from. It's important to remember that Dick suffered from mental illness, and abused drugs pretty significantly for long stretches of his life, so these things may have been a factor, yet this aspect of his personal story strikes me as possibly more interesting than his purely fictional work. If you want the short introduction, mixed into a very worthwhile and readable biography of an interesting guy and a great creative artist, read Sutin's biography, Divine Invasions.

One of the things I admire about your storytelling is that you are hard to pin down and label. You draw from many different genres, and seem to delight in the slippery nature of your writing. How would you define yourself?

"Hard to label" sound good to me, in the sense that this means I'm not doing something too simple or straightforward or common. On the other hand, there's probably some benefit to being categorize-able by potential readers or publishers. People do like to know if this reader or this book they heard about is likely to be something they'd enjoy. It's much simpler to convince someone to try something if it's straightforward, like "This guy is a horror writer and his work is really scary," or something along those lines, than to say "Well, it's good, it's really different, it's interesting, I'm not sure how to tell you what it's like." Comparisons and categorizations help us to feel comfortable trying something.

I would categorize myself as a writer of quiet horror, or maybe strange dark fantasy. There's a popular term lately, "Weird Fiction," which I believe applies as well. My stories tend to read like realistic, character-based or relationship-focused stories, except that one or two elements are off somehow, and these aspects disqualify them from being straightforward genre-free stories.

Have you found that your breadth of style has impacted on your marketability?

Maybe, though it's hard to know. Most editors aren't in the habit of saying, "You know, if you would just narrow your focus a bit, I might buy stories from you." They just don't buy stories from you and don't say why. Having said that, I've reached the point where enough really good editors get what I'm doing that I can keep myself busy just writing things to order for them. Joe Pulver, Mike Davis, Ross Lockhart and Justin Steele are the first that get to mind. Years ago, before I was ever published, I remember seeing a writer in an interview say something like, "To break through, you don't need to make all the editors love your work. You just need to catch a few," and this is really true.

So really, while I don't doubt there may be editors or readers who wish I would do something differently, I can't say it's getting in my way, or making me want to change what I do.

Who are your literary influences? Why?

As I mentioned earlier, I've gone through a few discrete stages as a writer. In my teens, I was interested in Lovecraft, Harlan Ellison, Twilight Zone and Stephen King. In my twenties, starting in college, I focused on straight stuff like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner and later Raymond Carver. Then I took a long break, and when I started again, I merged my earlier genre focus with my later interest in so-called literary fiction. Some of my earlier influences have faded, and other newer ones have replaced them.

A few writers I think about a lot lately include Cormac McCarthy, E. Annie Proulx and Haruki Murakami from the mainstream arena, and from the more local genre, Laird Barron, Livia Llewellyn and John Langan. Also, Shirley Jackson. That's the thing, there are so many influences and writers I love... I could keep naming many more, lots of people influencing one tangent or another, or suggesting ways of approaching certain aspects of details. I could name fifty more, and the moment I stopped, another name would come to mind. I think all the writers I enjoy share one thing in common, above all else. They're capable of evoking vivid experience and intense emotion or feeling.

If you could meet one of them and pick their brain who would it be? Why?

I would really love to meet Cormac McCarthy, and have a chance to talk to him, though it often seems that people capable of that kind of artistic self-expression are often not so great at articulating anything useful about how or why they do it, or where it all comes from. Another of my favorite creative souls is David Lynch, but he's famously terrible at talking about his work. I can imagine McCarthy being the same way, reluctant to address what he does, and kind of irritated at being asked.

Worst story idea you ever came up with?

I've come up with an awful lot of terrible ideas. Usually, I recognize that I'm wasting my time and abandon the idea before I spend too much time on it. One that comes to mind is about an old woman who doesn't get enough attention from her last living relative, a selfish granddaughter who just wants the grandmother's money. The young woman gives her grandmother an artificially intelligent cat, and the grandmother expresses so much of her interior life to the cat, they become friends, and the cat begins to dislike the granddaughter intensely. Finally the granddaughter views the artificial cat as a threat, and secretly wipes the cat's memory so it can no longer speak and stops behaving like an friend to the old woman, which leads her to believe she's losing her mind. I don't know, maybe I could write a story with this idea and do it justice now, but the way I wrote it six or seven years ago, it was an embarrassing mess of sentimentality.

Take me through a day of writing with Mike Griffin. Are you a plotter or pantser? What’s your beverage of choice when writing? Snacks?

First of all, I don't write every day, though I try to write at least something on most days. I almost always skip Friday. My primary effort happens Sunday, when I shut myself in a room and block the internet and try to accomplish a lengthy block of work, say 10-12 hours. If I add this to five or six random spurts averaging something less than an hour each throughout the week, I can get a fair amount done.

I'm most definitely a plotter. I carefully plan, outline, organize, make character sketches, even seek out photo reference for characters, clothing, and indoor and outdoor settings. When I'm working up to a story, I create lots of scribbled notes or I record voice notes on my phone, then when I have enough of these organized that I feel like there's a skeleton of a story, I assemble and prepare. As for the actual mechanics of writing, I switch things up. Sometimes I do handwritten rough drafts, sometimes I speak a scene aloud and record myself, but probably most often I just load my many notes and outlines into Scrivener and start sorting and arranging. I don't try to create a perfect draft all at once, but start with something very ragged and start trimming, chipping away, and polishing very gradually. Usually I drink something with sugar, because I've found sugar is more important than caffeine to revving up my creative energy. Sometimes I add a little bit of candy, but not much. Maybe the most unusual thing about the way I write is that I often write on the treadmill. I clamp a work surface across the arm rests and set my laptop up there and walk slowly. It's one of my favorite tricks, and if I ever reach a time in my life when I'm writing full time, I'm sure I'll write on the treadmill almost every day.

The treadmill idea is a good one! What other things do you do in your spare time when you step away from writing and music?

I really love to get outside, especially if I can go somewhere that feels like nature. Often this doesn't mean deep wilderness, in the sense that my wife and I drive somewhere and park, then get out and hike around for a few hours and we're never more than, say, five miles from the nearest road. We might go to the beach and walk or run along the ocean, without ever being out of view of people or houses for more than a moment. But the main thing we're after is a kind of change in mental wavelength - peace, or relaxation, or maybe communication with trees, or becoming hypnotized by the sound of waves crashing or a river churning. If there's one thing I wish I could do more often, it's this.

What’s your take on the horror scene at the moment? What do we need to do better to become a more vibrant community?

I think the scene is plenty vibrant. There's more good writing coming out than any one person could keep up with, unless they were a full-time reader or reviewer. Plenty of my friends are writers or anthology editors, and I can't keep up with most of their output. In fact, there's so much horror fiction coming out that the party has begun to fragment into subgenres. I don't think the problem is one of lack of vibrancy. Maybe things are a bit scattered at the moment, because of that fragmentation I mentioned. Also, there are differences of opinion over things like Lovecraft's racism, or the male-female ratio in certain anthologies, but differences will always exist. It's possible I'm just a Pollyanna here, but I think the scene is in pretty good shape.

If you had to name 5 writers who are tearing things up within the genre right now who would they be, and why?

There are several obvious names, who are named one everybody's "year's best" lists lately, names like Barron, Langan, Llewellyn, Tremblay, Kiernan. Everybody already knows these names, so I'd rather name five more who are really tearing things up, who might be just coming out with their first books, or might have developed a bit of a readership with the release of a handful of books, but all of whom deserve much greater recognition.

The first that comes to mind is Michael Wehunt, whose debut collection Greener Pastures came out the same month as mine, and which immediately leapfrogs Wehunt over just about everybody else who's been trying to write horror. Next, Damien Angelica Walters, whose novel Paper Tigers is out pretty recently, and who has been up for several awards in recent years for her emotionally intense and beautifully poetic stories. Scott Nicolay is another, on the strength of Ana Kai Tangata, one of the best collections of the past decade... though since Nicolay won a World Fantasy Award last year, he might be in the process of stepping out of the "underrated" category. S.P. Miskowski is a very impressive writer, capable of wonderfully crafted, powerfully affecting stories, from her Skillute Cycle to the recent "Stag in Flight" from Dim Shores. Lastly, Richard Gavin is someone I can't believe hasn't received more attention, more love, and more awards. I find his work tremendously deep and chillingly dark, evocative of masters of the Weird tale like Blackwood and Machen and rich with esoteric themes.

What’s it like to be associated with a press like Word Horde? Are the stories about Ross's legendary awesomeness true?

As small presses go, having your book come out from Word Horde is like hitting the big leagues. It's one of the few small indie presses that operates like a much bigger, professional operation. Contracts and payments and release dates all happen exactly the way Ross says they will. Maybe most important, the roster of other writers involved with the press is top notch, and getting better all the time. I don't know about other people, but as a reader, I judge a press by the quality of its roster, and the presentation of the books. In both these areas, Word Horde is absolutely top notch. Now for a writer, there are other considerations, like promotions and connectedness, and Word Horde does very well in these areas too.

Aside from the quality of the press as a business, and a purveyor of appealing reading materials, the great thing about being associated with Word Horde is that Ross is such a great guy. Very knowledgeable, professionally experience and grounded, and also quite fun and funny. Just generally one of the best people in the field. Also, don't forget Elinor Phantom.

Favourite book in your library? Why?

I could answer by choosing my favorite novel (or collection), but that seems like a boring answer unless the book itself is a beautiful edition. I have some amazing art and photography books, and a few interesting or rare editions, but I might say that one of the books I prize most highly is the Centipede Press box set of Michael Cisco's works. He's one of my favorite writers, and the way Centipede designed and printed each book and presented them together makes the whole package really special. 

Now, if I had to select a single book to take with me to a desert island, it would be the nice hardcover of the complete Lord of the Rings. I think if I had to re-read one book over and over, and nothing else, that would be the one. 

Everyone has a funny convention story. What’s yours?

Conventions are wonderful fun, certainly one of the best things about this whole writing endeavor. Maybe my funniest convention story is from last summer's NecronomiCon in Providence. My wife and I were walking from the Omni Hotel back to the main hotel, the Providence Biltmore, with Joe Pulver and his wife Kat. As we approached the front of the Biltmore, we saw Ramsay Campbell standing out front with his wife. Joe knows Ramsay from the process of arranging and editing the Ramsay Campbell tribute book that's coming out from PS later this year, so he wanted to introduce me and Lena to Ramsay and his wife. Just as we walked up and Joe made noises like, "I'd like to introduce you to..." the heavy construction across the street began such a heavy onslaught of jackhammers and asphalt grinders and compressor motors, we literally could not hear each other speak even though we were face to face and practically shouting. So we had a very funny, animated conversation along the lines of "pleased to meet you, isn't this funny?" without being able to hear even the slightest thing the others were saying. We waited a minute for the racket to subside, but it didn't so we finally just left. That will always be my first meeting with Ramsay Campbell, one of the giants of horror.

What are you working on right now? What projects have you got coming out over the coming months?

I just finished a novella, An Ideal Retreat, which will come out as a Dim Shores chapbook in October. Since then, I'm working on a short story for a cool-sounding anthology by one of my favorite editors. After that, I have to write one more story for an anthology invitation, then I plan to put my head down and write a full-length novel. The rest of the year will be spent completing that, and trying to find a home for the shorter novel I finished recently, as well as beginning to assemble my second collection.

And finally, if you had to assemble a zombie apocalypse team filled with authors who would you pick, and why?

I would keep my elite zombie apocalypse survival team small and nimble. First, I would choose Laird Barron, because anyone who has made it through the Iditarod more than once knows a thing or two about enduring harsh conditions, and finding a way to survive by whatever means necessary. Second, Joe Pulver, who is a tough enough beast to survive anything, and always has an amusing story to tell. It's important to keep morale up! Of course the last member of my squad would have to be Kung Fu Johnny Langan. I mean, the man destroys boards with his bare hands and feet! These men would make a hell of a team, pretty much unstoppable, I think

Mike Griffin, thanks for stopping by Smash Dragons!

You can find Mike's work online at all good book retailers. For more information about Mike, check out his site here. Be sure to also check out the other titles available at Word Horde. They are an amazing small press doing stellar work!

Until next time good people... be nice to each other and keep on reading!