Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A Halloween Creepwave Playlist

No words, just music. Mostly of the synth variety. 

1. "Heels" by Disasterpeace (from the It Follows soundtrack)
2. "Call From the Grave" by Dan Terminus (Bathory cover)
3. "The Wraith" by Tokyo Rose
4. "Dry Hump" and "Chemical Induction" by Randroid Music (from the 2013 Evil Dead soundtrack)
5. "Underground" by John Carpenter (from the They Live soundtrack)
6. "Lonely Void" by Mica Levi (from the Under the Skin soundtrack)
7. "Escape Velocity" by Zombi
8. "Stranger Things Main Main Theme" by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein
9. "The Golden Age" by Craig Taborn
10. "Come to Daddy" by Aphex Twin

Friday, October 21, 2016

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Nightmare Surrealism We All Needed: An Interview With "First Day" Creator Person 918

I take internet art seriously. I keep several desktop folders full of memes and glitch art pieces. I group the works by different themes and topics. I try to revisit the ones that I've found most interesting. Really, though, I have too many to count or keep track of. Also, I'm a disorganized mess. Much more a hoarder than a collector, I guess. The sheer volume of quality art out there can be overwhelming.

Every so often, however, some truly 
striking and memorable creative content emerges from the sea of weirdness that is the internet. I saw something like that a few days ago. It blew my world open and actually made me rethink the potential of short-form storytelling.

Maybe you saw it too?

Forty-nine frames of captioned images posted to Facebook. CGI renderings of a woman starting a new job.

The title: "First Day."

A comic? An illustrated short story?

The narrative begins unassumingly enough but quickly unravels into a surreal nightmare that, for many, seems to hit too close to home.

If you haven't experienced "First Day" yet, check it out immediately.

If you're already familiar with it, here's an interview with the author, Person 918. I reached out to Person 918 because I had to know more about this amazing work of short fiction and, ultimately, if we could expect more Earth-shattering genius along the lines of "First Day."

So, what was the inspiration for “First Day”? Any particular experiences or events? 

One main inspiration was browsing CGI porn on DeviantArt. There is something deeply unsettling about CGI porn. As you scroll through it there's always a sense that at any moment you're going to see something that you don't want to see. So I wanted to capture that feeling without anything overtly pornographic.

Nice. Mission accomplished, I'd say. You posted “First Day” on the 918 Facebook page on October 5th. Was that the first time you’d shared this story? Also, what exactly is 918? 

I shared "First Day" simultaneously on the 918 Facebook page, my Tumblr page, Imgur, and r/comics on October 5th. That is the first time the story saw the light of day. 918 is just my artist page, a place for me to share the stuff I create on Facebook. I am the sole admin.

Have you received much feedback on “First Day”? What has the response been like?

I have received a decent amount of feedback.  Most has been very positive.  A number of people have praised the story as "dreamlike," which makes me very happy because that is exactly what I was going for. A few people have complained that they don't "get it", which I feel is kind of missing the point.  But like I said, the vast majority of feedback has been positive. "First Day" has received far more attention than any other artistic project of mine.

So “First Day” invites readers in with these comically-mundane, yet very real and relatable concerns about starting new jobs. From there, you slowly—and pretty seamlessly—send readers down a rabbit hole of bizarre imagery and surreal situations. To me, what's striking is that the story never stops feeling relatable or relevant in regard to work/life, even as things get really weird. Like you’ve tapped into these subliminally traumatizing aspects of work that most people seem to recognize in the story and its images. The responses that I’ve seen are almost all the same: The story hits a nerve. And I was surprised to see such comments coming from certain people who I know aren't normally into surreal and weird art or storytelling.

I think that's accurate. I think that the majority of us have to work for a living and most of us have a very uneasy relationship with that set-up. Sacrificing a large portion of your life to a project that you don't particularly care about is very anxiety inducing. 

Right, right. It's obvious that even though "First Day" is ultimately very surreal, there's really something solid at the core of the whole thing, like a life allegory or a commentary (I’m still processing my own take). It's so short and strange, but it also feels so packed with substance and meaning in this beautiful almost accessible way. 

Our society frames work as a voluntary decision, but for most of us the alternative is homelessness and starvation. It also raises some questions about who's running the system? What are their goals?  Is the whole thing a runaway machine beyond human control? When these issues are addressed in popular media, it's often to defuse them with humor (as in "Dilbert," "Office Space," "The Office," etc.) but I think there is always a truly disturbing existential anxiety just under the surface.

What’s your process like when creating works like this?

Once I come up with the initial idea, I will create a vague story arc, break out the key scenes in my head, and start staging and rendering the scenes in the order in which they occur. I will periodically come across pacing or clarity issues during the process that will force me to reevaluate the scenes, perhaps adding or changing a panel here or there.  The story faces certain constraints throughout based on what I can manage to do with my limited technology.

What about the art in particular? The specific images? How intentionally were they created or selected?

I usually pick a few specific images that I think will be particularly potent and then craft the story around those images. As for where the ideas originate, I can't really say, other than I know what I have technologically available to me.  For example, I know what models I can find online, I know how they can be retextured, I know that I can make glass versions of objects, etc. I'm trying to get the most I can out of the medium that I'm using.

What are your artisitic and literary influences? Are you normally a fan of short fiction? Do you have any thoughts on how “First Day” fits into formats like short story or flash fiction? 

I am a bit of a fan of short-form literature, but I think I have probably been more influenced by film, television, and comics. David Lynch and Luis Buñuel were definitely influences, as well as comic artists like Charles Burns and Jim Woodring. People have noted a vaporwave influence as well, and I am a fan of that music genre, so that has likely played a factor. I can see a thematic connection between "First Day" and something like "Redefining theWorkplace" by Internet Club, for example. I think that the format of "First Day" is probably close to comics, though it is also sort of a digital picture book. I've also been influenced by a number of contemporary web artists like Pure Honey and online art magazines like Felt Zine.   

Do you have plans for more stories like “First Day”?

I do hope to continue to make these things, time and inspiration permitting.

Awesome. I can’t wait. Are there are any other projects you’d like to discuss? The 918 page? The novel you’d mentioned to me? 

I do have a short novel sitting around entitled Ocean of Milk. It is somewhat similar in tone to "First Day," though of course the absence of images will make a difference in how it's perceived by the reader. The goal with "Ocean of Milk" was also to create a dreamlike state, though I would say it's not quite as narratively disjointed as the visual stories. I would like to release that to the public but I'm not sure what the best way to do that is.  

I also have an experimental electronic pop music project called Timmy Sells His Soul that can be found on Soundcloud and Bandcamp.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016


Finally, October is here. Time to break out the fake cobwebs and candy corn. Time to brace yourself once again for humanity’s greatest calendar holiday—yes, Halloween.

Ineptly carved jack-o-lantern?


Collector’s edition Cannibal Holocaust DVD?


All the pieces are in place. You are ready.

But wait, let me make a radical suggestion—creepy short stories. Yes, like the kind you read.

No, wait, hear me out.

These stories are creepy as fuck. They’re weird and unsettling. Some will even make you think. They’re worth your time, I promise.

And guess what else. They’re totally free, online.

No, this isn’t a trick—it’s a treat, dipshit.

Yes, simply scroll down and click away to descend into hitherto unknown states of fear and psychological terror blah blah blah.

1. “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The oldest story of the list is also one of the scariest. You’ll be shocked to learn this nightmare-prose was first published in 1892. Often labeled as a work of early feminist-horror, “The Yellow Wallpaper” is the first-person account of a woman’s confinement to a small room covered with the eponymous wallpaper. Strap in for some Victorian-era 
mental collapse and hallucinatory mayhem. 

Great for Fans of…
-Paper Tigers by Damien Angelica Walters
-The writings of Brian Evenson

2. “The Night School” by Thomas Ligotti

Thanks to his influence on True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto, Thomas Ligotti is experiencing something of a resurgence in popularity. And for good reason. His writing is utterly unnerving. Derranged messianic figures, macabre cults, degenerative illnesses, and deteriorating realities are among the horrors you’re liable to find in his creepfest writing. Loose plotting and bizarre dialogue make the experience of reading his stories feel like a genuine nightmare. “The Night School” is among the most potent of that variety. Get ready for some cold sweats.

Great for Fans of…
-True Detective
-The works of David Lynch
-Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

3. Nyarlathotep by HP Lovecraft

One of the most overlooked pieces of the Lovecraftian universe, Nyarlathotep” measures in at only 1,149 words. It’s one of Lovecraft's shortest stories but, damn, does it pack a punch.

The narrative, a feverish tale of the charismatic demagogue figure Nyarlathotep leading humanity to its obliteration, seems more relevant than ever—*cough cough donaldtrump*

Seriously, take a look at the start of the story…

The general tension was horrible. To a season of political and social upheaval was added a strange and brooding apprehension of hideous physical danger; a danger widespread and all-embracing, such a danger as may be imagined only in the most terrible phantasms of the night.”

Great for fans of…
-HP Lovecraft
-The coming apocalypse

4. “When I Make Love to the Bug Man” by Laura Benedict

Okay, now things are gonna get weird—like, really fuckin’ weird. This story's title offers a vague sense of what’s coming down the pike, but the devil is truly in the details with this one, the how and why of it all. Not to mention the specifics of just how the Bug Man earned his name. This is one of those rare stories that will leave a thick, long-lasting residue of dread on you. You’ll need a hot shower after reading it.

Oh, and I should also mention that my first exposure to this story was through Richard Thomas’s stellar anthology, The Lineup. Check it out here.

Great for fans of…
Andrzej Żuławski's Possession 
-David Cronenberg’s films
-"Metamorphosis" by Franz Kafka

5. “Monstro” by Junot Díaz

Truth be told, I’m not a huge fan of Junot Díaz. Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s a phenomenal writer, I’m just not super into his particular brand of character-driven literature. But “Monstro”—yep, I’m into viruses that turn people into shrieking humanoid fungus-trees. I’m into sci-fi monster mayhem with righteous social commentaries, yeah.

Great for fans of…
-Fresh takes on zombie shit
-Saturn Devouring His Son by Francisco Goya
-Righteous social commentaries

6. “Windeye” by Brian Evenson

There are at least two things you can expect with Brian Evanson’s writing. First, his stories are packed with subtle, creeping surrealism. Second, he will scar you, emotionally. “Windeye” is no joke on these fronts. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Great for fans of…
-Subtle, atmospheric horror
-Emotional trauma
-Not feeling well

7. “Salvador” by Lucius Shepard

Nobody seems to talk about Lucius Shepard anymore, and I have no idea why. My friend, author Rachel Cassidy, turned me on to Shepard’s work a few years ago—specifically, his short story collection The Jaguar Hunter. I was blown away. Shepard’s short fiction is as creepy and weird as it is prophetic. Even today, almost thirty years after the book’s release, none of the stories feel dated.

Anyway, “Salvador” is Shepard’s dystopian-futuristic rumination on the horrors of US “intervention” in El Salvador. (In case you don’t know already, the US government dumped a lot of money and resources into essentially devastating the country and its people back in the 1980s.) “Salvador” speaks not only to the history of US military rampages in Central America, but also to current ones underway in the Middle East and Asia.

Great for fans of…
Oliver Stone's Salvador 
-Dark magic realism
-Full Metal Jacket

8. “Bloodchild” by Octavia E. Butler

Yeah, okay, this one is more sci-fi than horror—but it’s still pretty damn creepy.

Come on, alien insectoids consensually using human bodies for the incubation of their young? To me, that that’s body horror, straight up. Sure, I consider “Bloodchild” to be foremost a story about love and the limits of consent, but it does also disturb me in a deeply visceral way. I think it’ll do the same for you.

Great for fans of…
-Alien, Aliens, etc.
-Body horror
-Hard-hitting social commentary

9. “Graveyard Shift” by Stephen King

One of my all time favorites. We’ve got an amazing protagonist working a filthy graveyard shift job; an asshole-boss character; a dingy sub-basement full of mutant, flesh-hungry rats.

Come on, what more could you possibly want?

I still maintain that, with the exceptions of maybe “N.” and The Running Man, this story is Stephen King’s peak accomplishment. Do yourself a favor and revisit this short gem by literature's Master of Horror.

Great for fans of…
-Stephen King
-Brutal poetic justice

10. “No Breather in the World But Thee” by Jeff VanderMeer

It’s something like Naked Lunch meets Phantasm meets Hieronymus Bosch triptychs.


Really, it’s beyond accurate comparison to anything. It’s frenetic, weird, hallucinatory, beautiful, ugly, gore-filled, epic, and profound.

I haven’t a clue what VanderMeer’s intent was with this one, but I take this story as an metaphor for the contemporary world, how it’s overrun with human-made chaos and violence—how most of us are subject, daily, to the machinations of individuals and forces well beyond our control or comprehension. It’s truly nightmarish and completely disorienting. It’s also emotive and deeply moving.

"No Breather" is, in my opinion, a literary masterpiece. And it’s also creepy as hell.

Great for fans of…
-Naked Lunch
-Hieronymus Bosch

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

"And He Will Not Wait Much Longer" and "La Jolla" in Robbed of Sleep, Volume 5

Hey hey, my flash fiction stories "And He Will Not Wait Much Longer" and "La Jolla" are now available in Robbed of Sleep, Volume 5, which can be purchased in Kindle format here. A mutant sea lion, a deranged electrical worker, a withering paranoiac—you're gonna love these stories.

And just look at that cover art.

This anthology series has featured the work of the amazing Mercedes M. Yardley, by the way, in case you're still skeptical.

Oh, and the paperback version should be out sometime next week. Many hanks to Troy Blackford and the other authors of this issue—I'm stoked to be a part of it!

Now go buy it and get deeply unsettled.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Crime Fiction Unhinged: A Review of The Soul Standard

If you're like me—and you're more than happy to take your crime fiction weird, unapologetically genre-bending, and gritty as hell—you're going to love The Soul Standard.

There’s a lot to say about this one, but let’s start with the unique structure of the book.

We’ve got four authors—Nik Korpon, Caleb J. Ross, Axel Taiari, and Richard Thomas—and each has contributed a novella-length installment to The Soul Standard. Each installment is set in a different section of a fictional city (known simply as "the City") and takes place during a different season.

Brilliant concept.

I keep hearing that novellas are the wave of the future for literature. This book helps make that case in a big way. The stories are lean, but totally engrossing. You can sink your teeth into each segment deeper than you could with a short story, but the book—even considering there are four sections—feels much less cumbersome than a novel.   

The Soul Standard’s world—er, city—is one where raw brutality is matched only by tremendous heart. The stories are as emotionally complex as they are totally violent and unhinged. The writing, in general, is simultaneously over-the-top and artful. It's a tough line to walk, but Korpon, Ross, Taiari, and Thomas pull it off deftly.

Okay, the stories…

Caleb J. Ross's “Four Corners” is the book’s opener. It’s the story of a banker buckling under the weight of his rich boss's sleazy orders amid an economy split firmly between haves and have-nots. He’s ultimately plunged into the heart of the City’s macabre black-market economy (a recurring topic throughout the book's stories), something he thought he'd escaped in his younger years. Shock and mayhem ensue.

Then we've got “Punhos Sagrados” by Nik Korpon. Set in the City's Red Light District, “Punhos” follows the life of a skilled underground boxer as he struggles, financially and emotionally, to care for his mentally-ill wife. Shit meets fan for him when he begins to fall for a beautiful singer who performs at a bar where he bounces. This story is by far the most traditional crime story of the lot, but its razor-edged twists and turns will have you fighting to stay on your feet. And the feels—this one's got a fuckload of 'em. Keep your guard up. Also, while the story is not actually set in Baltimore, Korpon does a bit of fun winking and nodding to readers who know the city and its famous red light area, The Block. (Having lived in Baltimore, I ate that shit right up.)

Next is “Golden Geese” by Richard Thomas, which revolves, in part, around the Outskirts of the City (the ailing protagonist’s farm, to be exact). Strap in for this one—things are gonna get weird. Trevor, the story’s narrator owns a cornfield riddled with fallen meteorites that possess some, uh, unique qaulities. Trevor uses the cosmic debris to his advantage as he fights to reconnect with his estranged daughter. He’s ultimately forced to go head-to-head with some of the seedier elements of the City’s depraved criminal underbelly. Why yes, I'll take my crime fiction with a heaping dose of sci-fi weirdness, thank you very much, Richard Thomas. Seriously, this story is amazing. But be warned: it’s also very heartrending.   

The last novella is Axel Taiari’s “Jamais Vu,” set in the City’s Ghost Town. A man searches for his daughter, years after she’s been abducted from her school. Problem is: he suffers from a medical condition leaves him unable to recognize people by their faces. Yeah. Without giving too much away here, I will say that the story feels like a perfect closer to this collection.

The Soul Standard is simply a great book.

You like hardnosed crime fiction? Go pick it up. You a fan of the weird? Go pick it up. You like emotive storytelling that leaves a lasting impact? Yeah, definitely go pick it up.

What’s more, Korpon, Ross, Taiari, and Thomas have given us a fascinating experiment here. They took some major risks with the book’s unconventional structure and blurring of genre lines. I think their gambles paid off in a big way. In fact, I hope this book sets some precedent—I hope we see more of this kind of thing, especially from the authors of The Soul Standard.

What do you say, guys? Maybe a sequel? A graphic novel adaptation? Huh? Huh?

I’ll be waiting.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Long Road to Writing Crime: An Interview With Charlie Stella

Back in June, we posted a review of the book Tommy Red by Charlie Stella. The review's author, Stanton McCaffery, later caught up with Stella at his home in New Jersey for a conversation about Stella's work and the crime genre. Below is a transcript of their meeting, courtesy of Stanton McCaffery.

The Long Road to Writing Crime: An Interview With Charlie Stella
by Stanton McCaffery

Stanton McCaffery: What made you want to write?

Charlie Stella: 
I was a kid, I was a big day dreamer. I was a fuck up, pretty much. I would just sit and look at the clock and dream about anything but what I was supposed to be doing. At one point, I guess, I was in catholic school, and we had to write an essay on something for a contest about Jesus. I was one of three of the finalists for the thing and no one could believe I wrote the freakin’ thing because I was one of the fuck-ups in school. But I knew I wrote it and I thought "Okay, even though this is a bullshit story..." I knew I had a little bit of an inclination.

Then, in high school, one of my English teachers did a review of Camus’s The Stranger and the opening line to that—which was “Mother died today”—just stung me, and I thought "Holy shit, what a great opening line." And I didn’t know anything about books. The only books I read up until that time were Mickey Mantle books, Babe Ruth books, Willie Mays—bios on sports people. But that particular book kind of writing rung something in me that made me want to at least read.

Then I went to college to play football in North Dakota and ran in to the guy who really changed my life. I was still a fuck-up. I was playing football. My delusions of grandeur were gone. I knew I wasn’t going to the NFL. It was a small college. I wasn’t taking school seriously at all. I had almost failed out of school and I was sitting in this English class–you know one of those required English classes—and this guy Dave Gresham (one of his son’s just got published, an amazing family) reads the opening line to The Friends of EddieCoyle: “Jackie Brown at twenty-six, with no expression on his face, said that he could get some guns.”

I was like holy shit. I knew people that talked like that. I could not believe that this was being taught in English class—that this was even available, because I was a moron—and that did it. He was the best teacher I ever had because we had to write a point-counterpoint for whatever editorial was in the Newsweek. I had absolutely no grammatical skill and I think he would always give me a B. I saw the next semester he was teaching creative writing, so now I’m making stories up. And he said to me, "You have raw talent." I think he was one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. He’s got the most incredible resume I’ve ever seen. And he told me, you got this thing, but you gotta learn how to spell and you gotta learn grammar, and he got me a little grammar book. But the key was to keep reading, and all of a sudden I was a reader. He taught Kurt Vonnegut. He was actually taught by Vonnegut. He went to the University of Iowa, the writers’ workshop. The two people that signed his thesis—this floors me now— were Kurt Vonnegut and Richard Yates. Richard Yates is my favorite novelist, but I didn’t know that until a few years ago. Back then I didn’t know who the fuck Richard Yates was. Richard Yates wrote Revolutionary Road.

That got me started. And he took a short story of mine and he entered it into some writing award thing that I got nominated for. That was probably bullshit. He probably just had to press a button or something. But when I left North Dakota and got married we stayed in touch. I would send him things that I was writing. And he encouraged me to try the Scott Merrideth Literary Agency, which was the biggest scam in the world, but he said, "You’ve got nothing to lose. They’re making money." It was one of those readers’ fees things. "Give it a shot," he said. So I sent them something, and they told me it sucked. They told me what was wrong with it. A few years later I sent them something again and they take it and shop it for me. I actually read a newspaper article that said they took one out of every ten-thousand books and actually represented them. And I thought, "Who the fuck was I?" I thought I’d be a millionaire writer. And the name of the book was Running With Cover. My wife loves that book. Anyway, it got rejected ten times, but two of the rejections asked for more work and that, at the time, I couldn’t handle because here I am thinking "I’m gonna be the next John Grisham," and instead I’m Charlie the jerkoff. At that time I was a half-assed gangster. So that was the end of that. I didn’t write for like seven years.

Then I met my wife—and I’ve married four times—when we first met I tried to impress her and I wrote Eddie's World. I went to one of the two guys who asked for more work. This is, however, many years later. I’m lucky they were still alive. And one of them bought it, Carol and Graff. And that was it. Everything took off from there—took off in the sense that I keep getting published, not that I’m making money.     

Stanton McCaffery:
 You said the professor had read the line and you said you knew people that talked like that. Is that why you chose crime?

Charlie Stella: 
Yeah, absolutely. I could write a crime novel in my sleep right now. That’s not saying that it’ll be good, but it just comes naturally for me. The thing that I left out in there was that I took a few play-writing courses and wrote a few plays. I found that I had a natural ability for dialogue. I had three plays produced off off broadway. That was my first love, theatre. What I found was—the last thing I did was at the 45th Street Theater—I had to depend on six or seven actors, and some of them couldn’t remember their lines. And there’s no money in play-writing either. I thought, "This is fucking crazy." Then I went back and discovered that with a novel I could be in total control, and that’s what really got me back into writing novels.

Stanton McCaffery:
 The most recent book, Tommy Red, what was your process for writing that novel?

Charlie Stella: Tommy Red is character that was born out of a short story that I wrote for Baltimore Noir. It was thing I did in 2006. Laura Lippman contacted me and asked if there was something I could put together, and I put it together pretty quick. And I just loved the pattern of his speaking—"She say’s to me, she says." I knew I was going to write a novel with Tommy "Red" Dalton as the central character, as the protagonist. I worked on it from 2006 to 2016—took me ten years because I would start and stop. I probably have twenty other novels completed, maybe garbage. I got serious before the MFA program and wrote it, overwrote it and then I did the Dogfella book and had to do my thesis. So I went back to it in the last six months before I sold it. My friend told me it was too long. So I cleaned it up and got it published.

Stanton McCaffery: What were the influences behind the book?

Charlie Stella:
 The first influence was, like I said, that he was a character in a short story and I liked the way he spoke.

The second influence, he wasn’t a wise guy. I generally write about the lower echelons of the mob or the guys who are fighting the mob, people that wind up under the gun for some reason, like Charlie Opera.

And I wanted to keep it current. The Eric Garner thing really pissed me off. I was getting in fights with people on Facebook. I thought, "No, this is bullshit." And I thought it was the time for me to get political in my life because I’ve got something I want to express. There’s gonna be some shit from now on that I want to express. I also used Mo’ne Davis—the black girl that was pitching in the little league world series—that kind of stuff. I wanted to bring it to a current day situation and express some things and that just made it easier. The whole idea of all that crap going on and dealing with dirty cops.

Stanton McCaffery:
 Something that I got from the book was that it really depends on who has the authority–that there really are no good guys or bad guys. Was that intentional?

Charlie Stella:
 Everything that I write has that kind of thing going in it. There’s good guys that do bad things, bad guys that do good things. And bad guys that do bad things and good guys that do good things. That sort of thing is always intentional. When people are up against it they do what they’ve got to do.

Stanton McCaffery: With the Eric Garner case, it kind of forms a backdrop. The characters have to deal with the traffic because of the protests. Was there a message that you were trying to get across with that or did you want to just tie it into the world?

Charlie Stella:
I think he spews about it a couple of times with his daughter, Tommy, about what the police can get away with when they say resisting arrest. When they grabbed him and put him down—if you watch the whole video—the kid that did it grabs his crotch, and he’s looking at the camera, and they know he’s dead. Maybe the people don’t, but the cops do because they already had the EMS there, and he’s laughing. And the thought that this is the kind of shit that they’re getting away with when the DA is working with them and you know there isn’t going to be an indictment. So when he spews about that, those were the messages that I was trying to get across. That’s how some people can come to thinking in terms of revolution or that crime can be justified because here is a government that has absolutely no problem being criminals—and not just enforcing it, they reinforce it.

Stanton McCaffery: 
Readers are likely to be reminded of certain movies, and you even mention them—Casino, Goodfellas. Are movies an influence on your writing?

Charlie Stella: Movies do influence me—they influence me more than a book would. I think I mentioned the movie The Drop in another interviewIt’s terrific. It’s just a well done movie. It’s Gandolfini’s last with Tom Hardy. What I like the most is just the give-and-take in the dialogue, the breaking balls. And there’s a real life person that I based Doc on in Tommy Red who happens to be Irish, and I’m Italian, and when we sit here we just trade insults. And that line where Tommy Dalton says, “Fucking geniuses, they were aiming for India and wound up here,” that was from our conversation that he said to me. And I said back to him, “Potato famine? They lived on a fucking island. Nobody could put a line in the water and catch a fish?” So when I saw that in The Drop, at the bar, not the crime scenes, that’s how I start any book—just two guys talking. That’s how I started Tommy Red, just the two guys sitting on the Staten Island Ferry. It’s that conversation and it builds from there. I don’t outline. I just start a conversation and it builds from there. The book I’m working on now, somebody asked me how it ends, and I don’t know. I’ll get there and it may suck and I may have to rewrite it, but that’s what’s fun.

Stanton McCaffery: Working on your dialogue, do you listen to people’s conversations, to the way they speak?

Charlie Stella: Sometimes. It’s what they’re talking about that will catch my ear. I’m the most oblivious writer on earth. You could ask me what the house across the street looks like, and I won’t know—and I’ve been living here six years. Certain things just go right by me. I’ll listen to someone’s conversation, and it’s what they’re talking about that I’m interested in. What are the current topics of the day? Like now I’m sure it’ll be the shooting in Orlando, the Brexit, the Democrats doing there sit-in. The average guy on the street don’t give a fuck about any of that. He’s worried about his boss that fired him.

The other thing about Tommy Red, about character development, in the short story in Baltimore Noir, he’s in training and he witnesses a hit. He’s with a wise guy from Philly who happens to live in Baltimore, and he’s part of a hit team, and the other guy does the hit and that’s kind of Tommy’s birth into the business. Afterward, something not in the short story but talked about in Tommy Red is that, after the hit, he went away for six years.

Stanton McCaffery: Do you want to talk at all about what you have planned next?

Charlie Stella: This next novel is a personal novel so I’m kind of keeping a lid on it. But I am working on another piece—a nonfiction piece, which is the most fascinating thing in the world. A friend of mine that I met through writing, Richard Marinick, was with the state police in Massachusetts for two years and left—didn’t like it—and got involved in organized crime, the Irish mob. He wasn’t under Whitey Bulger, but he knew who Whitey Bulger was. Rick then started doing bank jobs and he became a coke addict, you know the whole bit. He ended up doing ten years for an armored car robbery in what was then, I think, Walpole. I’m not positive. A fucking nightmare though. While he was in there, Boston University did a prison program and he got a BA and a MFA. He gets out and he’s working on the Big Dig, the tunnel thing, and he writes one of the best books I’ve ever read, BoyosIt’s about the Irish Mob. He also wrote another book called In For a Pound, that kind of got splashed because the publisher was a piece-of-shit degenerate gambler that left in the middle of the project and kind of left him hanging. But Boyos was on the Boston Globe best seller list for a number of months and they had to do three prints. Now Rick is one of the toughest guys you’ll ever meet in your life. I wouldn’t fight Rick with a gun to my head. He studied martial arts when he was younger. He does a like a thousand sit-ups a day. If you go to YouTube and watch Paddy Whacked, he’s in there.

He wrote a memoir about his life and he asked me to look at it and read it. He sent it off, and it got rejected, so I said "Let me work with this. I think we can do something with this." So I’m not exactly rewriting it—just doing some minor edits and restructuring it because he did it in chronological order. He starts when he’s a kid and you have to bite the reader. That’s all interesting, but he was involved in an armored car robbery where somebody got killed. They want to hear that. Then when they find out you were a cop, well, holy shit. And then they say, "What was his childhood like?" And it’s a great story, and he deserves it.

Charlie Stella was born in Manhattan and brought up in Canarsie in Brooklyn. He attended public and catholic schools in Canarsie until going to Minot, North Dakota on a football scholarship. He was hooked as a reader/writer of modern crime fiction after Dave Gresham (his mentor and English teacher) read the opening lines from the George V. Higgins classic, The Friends of Eddie Coyle. He has worked as a paperboy, watermelon loader, soda-jerk, dishwasher, McDonalds cook, hallway buffer, porter, security guard, UPS laborer, sheetrock carrier, hallway buffer, porter and bouncer, as well as a union window cleaner on 50-story scaffolds. He was also a word processing operator/supervisor/manager, and a knockaround guy.

Stanton McCaffery was born and raised in central New Jersey, where he resides with his wife and son. He has degrees in history and political science and manages communications for a United Nations agency. He is currently working on his first novel. Find him on Twitter here.

Friday, July 1, 2016

"Out of Body Vacation" by Stanton McCaffery at Between Worlds Zine

Well well well, looks like Between Worlds has published a story by Neon Grisly contributor Stanton McCaffery.

Well played, Between Worlds.

Obviously, I'm a big fan of McCaffery. I'm also a fan of Between Worlds now.

Read McCaffery's "Out of body Vacation" here.

Übercreepy stuff.

You won't be sorry.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Great Feels and Sexual Astral Projections: A Review of Witch Hunt

I’m always reluctant to pay for poetry. When I do, I usually go for authors I already know from narrative fiction.

I had never read anything from Juliet Escoria though.

I bought her new poetry collection Witch Hunt because I’m a fan of the book’s publisher Lazy Fascist. I bought it because I liked the title.

Admittedly, I don’t know much about poetry, but I really enjoyed Witch Hunt. Juliet Escoria’s writing is many things in this book: dark, humorous, bleak, sarcastic, lewd, satirical.

The poems—divided into chapters—are a mix of free-verse and narrative style. Some are more like stories (yes, complete with paragraphs and punctuation!), others defy all conventions of structure and form. Escoria even fucks around with font-sizes and poetic images (e.g. a scan of a gas station receipt), which is all really unusual and fun.

And the titles of the poems are generally a good time in their own right. They include: “CASUAL MISANDRY,” “TOP 10 GREATEST FEELS,” “HAIKUS FOR HORSE HATERS,” and “ASTRAL PROJECT MY PUSSY” among many other notables.

I found myself moving between moments of depressive introspection and laughter while reading Witch Hunt. Escoria’s poems come off as deeply personal for the most part, but she touches on many universal topics and themes: life regrets (or lack thereof); awkward sex; strained relationships; meth; etc.

Real People should have no problem connecting with Escoria’s writing on some level.

So yeah, I definitely recommend Witch Hunt
The book is a fantastic balance of dreadful angst and irreverent, biting humor. 

I especially recommend it to fans of Melissa Broder and Sam Pink. I recommend it to people who don't normally buy poetry.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Lucid Nightmare Horror: A Review of Creeping Waves

Horror fans are going absolutely apeshit over this book—and for good reason.

Imagine a literary collaboration between H.P. Lovecraft and William S. Burroughs. Imagine a meeting of folk horror and unbridled hallucinatory surrealism. Imagine an ancient witch-cult using a New England radio station to infect and commandeer the minds of its listeners. Imagine raving insanity and repellent gore. Imagine a writing style so offbeat that you find yourself questioning the author’s sanity.

This is Matthew M. Bartlett’s Creeping Waves.

Creeping Waves 
is the sequel to Bartlett’s 2014 masterwork Gateways to Abomination (acclaimed weird-horror author Scott Nicolay rightly hailed Gateways as “the most important collection of 2014”). Both books are comprised of vignettes—short stories, flash pieces, epistolary slices, and “historical” fragments—that detail a supernatural onslaught of epic proportions in the town of Leeds, Massachusetts. Much of Creeping Waves’ content, like that of its predecessor, revolves around the radio station 87.9 WXXT, the present-day project of a centuries-old witch cult seeking to, uhhh, takeover Leeds? The world? Institute Hell on Earth? It’s actually unclear what  WXXT & Co.’s endgame is, but it’s part of what makes the book(s) great. There’s a puzzle-like quality to understanding the “big picture” in both Creeping Waves and Gateways. To engage these collections is to descend into a deep, dark rabbit hole brimming with nerve-shredding phantasmagoria beyond your wildest imaginings. I’ve read both books; I still haven’t pieced it all together. The WXXT universe is a labyrinthine abyss filled with goatmen, sinister artifacts, mountains of insect larvae, wilderness orgies, “Thursday Night Death Jazz,” and old-fashioned murder. Much like in the stories of H.P. Lovecraft, the forces of malevolence exist and operate, largely, just outside the scope of human comprehension. Let me warn you: Bartlett’s writing will get under your skin. It will make you feel deeply unwell. 

And, to reiterate, Bartlett really pushes the envelope on style, structure, and form. Do not expect any prototypical horror prose from the man. Some of the characters are recurrent, yes, but many are only fleeting. This book isn’t really about characters. It isn’t about plot either. It’s a 
lucid 266-page nightmare on paper. All bets are off when it comes to literary conventions. Bartlett's got guts. He's that rare once-in-a-generation author with a mold-breaking creative vision and the chops to put it to paper. I can’t commend Creeping Waves enough for its unapologetic literary rule-smashing.

So, if you’ve so much as Googled this book, you already know people are shrieking its praises.

Believe the hype—it’s all very justified. 

My recommendation: Pick up a copy of Creeping Waves.


And for those new to Bartlett's work, pick up Gateways to Abomination and Creeping Waves. Take a long trip to Leeds. Tune in to WXXT. Get lost in the woods. Join an ancient witch-cult. Read the books in order. Dive headlong into Bartlett’s diabolical nightmare universe. Embrace the future of horror.