New Flash Fiction at MicroHorror – “The View From the Top”

Well, I say a “new” flash fiction, but it’s been up for more than a month. I bring it up now, however, because I recently got the good news…

Every year, holds a themed Halloween flash fiction contest; the stories were all to do with water this year, and I submitted one called “The View From the Top”. Nice and bleak, I think. It seems bit more topical now than I had intended when writing it. A cannier fellow than me might claim to have unconsciously tapped into the zeitgeist, but to be honest, this is the sort of thing I think about all the time anyway.

Zeitgeist or no, when the judges got together to pick the winners, I was quite pleased to see my story among them. If you are inclined to follow the link, be sure to check the others out as well (they’re all less than 666 words; you could probably find the time, man). I liked Michelle King‘s “Nor Any Drop to Drink” in particular for saying what we’re all thinking: children are pretty horrifying, actually (which I am allowed to say as the proud father of one myself).

Thanks to Nathan and the rest of the MicroHorror crew for the honor.


“My Subject” by Justin Pollock now available in Darker Than Noir detective horror anthology from Grand Mal Press

So you should know, my latest short story, “My Subject,” appears in Darker Than Noir, an anthology of detective-themed horror stories published by Grand Mal Press (now available in print and digital on I’ve been following Grand Mal on Twitter, and they’ve got a lot of deals going recently, so I’m quite pleased to be in good company.

I love reading themed horror anthologies, and I love when I find one to submit to. They’re assignments, essentially, and while not everyone likes having restrictions placed on their writing, I’ve always enjoyed what comes out of working under such conditions. For one semester’s worth of creative writing courses back in college, I’d cut up a bunch of random names/settings/plot elements, draw them out of a hat, and stitch them together to come up with the outline for a story. I usually came up with something at least interesting.

Sometimes when we write, we begin with a central idea and build outwards. It sounds like the right way to go about it, but sometimes we can build too tidily, too formally. Have you ever read a book or seen a movie, and you really didn’t like it, but you really couldn’t say it was bad? I think this way of writing might be the cause of that in some cases. The plot is tight and moves logically from A to B, which facilitates some reasonably well-rounded characters making an emotional journey from C to D, and the whole thing is tonally and thematically consistent. So again, nothing is wrong, but it’s not exciting. It’s well done, but that’s all you can say for it.

But when you place restrictions on yourself, you’re preventing yourself from getting too cozy. The parameters might not allow you to use the first idea that comes to mind and so you have to work harder. Furthermore, with the cut-up technique, your brain is forced to make connections that it would not have had to otherwise. I get excited just thinking about it, but maybe that’s just my Russian heritage acting up—two incongruous ideas butt up against each other to form a synthesis. It generates conflict, and that’s what we’re trying to do when we write, isn’t it?

So. “Write a detective story with horror elements” (or “Write a horror story with detective elements”). It’s a pretty broad theme, but detective fiction is something I don’t dig on ordinarily, so forcing myself to work with it throws some strange ingredient into the stew, opens it up for some new flavors.

But the twist is that part of what I like about having those parameters is the opportunity to test them. It’s a bit contrarian of me, but I like what it does for the writing. It’s not about breaking the rules (because then why even bother with the pretense?) but about bending them—to see how far you can mess with the shape of the theme while still playing fair.

In this case, I went with a detective who was less noir than blanc (or, perhaps, whatever “beige” is in French). Horror stories sometimes give away too much, and you would assume someone whose job it is to seek out the truth would only exacerbate the problem, so I came up with a detective who’s on the very outside of something terrible. Which I think makes it scarier in some ways; certainly what powers something like Lovecraft’s cosmic horror stories is that you always feel as though you’re on the edge of understanding—enough to know that you live in a terrifying reality, but not enough to ever be able to understand it. You only ever see the shadows and so the monster’s in your imagination.

So I hope you’ll check “My Subject” out, and I hope it does for you what I wanted it to. If you should pick up a copy of Darker Than Noir (or if you already are the proud owner of such a volume), I hope you’ll let me know.

New Story and Other Nice Things To Tell You About

I made a decision not to include any sort of “horror writer’s mission statement” on starting up this blog. You know – “Why do I write horror? Why do you read horror? Why do we pursue these macabre topics?” Didn’t want to spend the time on it that I could put towards writing something else – even if it is just a piece about how great dustjackets used to be, or (watch for it to be posted soon) VHS boxes to Friday the 13th movies.

I do enjoy reading those high-level “Why horror?” pieces, though. Stephen King wrote one of my favorites in the intro to Skeleton Crew, one of his short story collections. And Madeley, on his new blog, has written a fine one as well. It serves just as well as a mission statement as anything I’d care to write, and I highly suggest you check it out.

It’s been a little dark here lately, but you should know that things are still happening.

Chief among them: I’ve got another story coming out. “My Subject” appears in Darker Than Noir from Grand Mal Press, an anthology of themed detective horror stories. The Kindle version is available now, with print to follow. More on this story and this collection later.

While you’re waiting, though, why not pick up Arcane #1 (in which my story “Hazards” appears) or Dark Highlands Anthology Volume 2 (featuring “The Hairdresser in the Mirror”)? Support small-press horror. Support authors with sideburns.

I’m also posting on a new blog started by a guy I know and a bunch of guys (and a lady) he knows. Armagetto Fabulous is a group artjam blog based around comics and pop culture. Each week, one of us comes up with a theme, and the rest of us draw based on the prompt. We’ve done Jack Kirby’s The Demon, Spider-Man villains, and each other so far, with Batman villains being this week’s theme. Check it out if you dig that sort of thing.

Dark Highlands Anthology vol. 2 (featuring “The Hairdresser in the Mirror” by Justin Pollock) on sale now!

If you are anything like me, you:

1.) like horror fiction, and
2.) have a paralyzing fear and hatred of spiders.

If this describes you, then the publication at left presents a dilemma: you would like to support some good, honest, small-press horror by boogieing over to Amazon and purchasing your copy of Dark Highlands Anthology Volume 2, but even illustrations of the loathsome arachnid (however handsomely drawn and delightfully creepy the image in which they appear may be) give you pause.

If you are on the fence about this, perhaps I can persuade you to go ahead and throw down some cash for this anyway because my short story “The Hairdresser in the Mirror” appears in this very volume. It’s the story of a down-on-her-luck hairdresser who’s just gotten her hours at the salon cut back again. Fortunately, she’s landed a swell side gig: once a week, she pays a visit to an antiquities dealer at his mansion and gives him the same simple trim every time. Her client has only one condition: the haircut must be conducted in complete silence. It’s an unusual job, and that’s before the arrival of a mysterious, golden-framed mirror…

If you missed Dark Highlands’ debut at the Handmade City Spring Show in Rock Island, Ill. (and I wasn’t able to make it either–sorry, guys!) then you should click the link near the top of this post and catch up. Poetry, art, and stories–it’s enough to make you overcome your arachnophobia.

Arcane #1 (featuring “Hazards” by Justin Pollock) on sale now!

Wow, it snuck up on me, but Arcane #1–featuring my first paid ‘n’ published short story, “Hazards”–is on sale even as we speak.

“Hazards” is an atmospheric little piece about a simple good deed on a dark country highway that leads to unexpected horrors (and leads off this issue as well). You can buy this puppy in print for $7.99 off Amazon or direct from the publisher, or, hey, skip one of this month’s Green Lantern tie-in comics and put the $2.99 you save toward a digital version for the e-reader of your choice.

For the complete table of contents and ordering info, click ye here. And by all means, feel free to drop back here and tell me what you thought of it; I really would love to hear it.

Also: Dark Highlands vol. 2 available April 30, 2011, featuring “The Hairdresser in the Mirror,” which you can probably tell using context clues was also written by me.

Two New Stories Slated for Publication in April 2011

Here’s the word on a pair of stories I have coming out next month:

“Hazards” will appear in the debut issue of Arcane, a new venture between publisher Sandy Petersen (creator of the original Call of Cthulu role-playing game and lots more besides) and editor Nathan Shumate.

This story is a paranoid little piece inspired by the time my wife and I were driving on the highway late at night and the car got a flat tire. I put the hazards on, and somebody pulled over behind me. Not a cop or a tow truck. So it’s late and it’s dark and you’re stuck between towns, and here comes this silhouette against the headlights walking up to meet you…well, that’s a bit of spooky situation, right? Of course, he turned out to be just a nice fellow checking to make sure nobody was hurt, just as you’d expect, and not at all some sort of horrible ghoul prowling for defenseless victims on the roadside, but we couldn’t really be certain of that until we rolled down the window to talk to him, could we? Only later did I stop to wonder if he’d felt the same way about us. Who knows what he could have found in that car?

Nathan Shumate read this when he was the editor at a different magazine, and he told me he dug it. Then the magazine folded, and I thought, “Well, that’s the end of that.” A bit glum, you might well suspect. So I was pretty surprised that when he was collecting stories for the debut of Arcane, he thought of “Hazards” and of me and dropped me a line to ask if I’d be interested in being involved. That Nathan — one swell dude, and I don’t mind telling you. Look for Arcane at its website; the magazine should be out soon in print and electronic formats.

“The Hairdresser in the Mirror” will appear in Volume 2 of the Dark Highlands Anthology, a semi-annual publication featuring stories, art, and poems in the supernatural horror/dark fantasy vein. (The cover at left is actually Volume 1.) I don’t have a harrowing tale of publication like I do for the last one — I submitted it, the good people at Dark Highlands liked it, and there you have it.

This story was born out of how uncomfortable I often find it to make small talk when I’m getting my hair cut. I’m an awkward dude, it has to be said, so even so simple a line of questioning as “So, how’s your day going?” can be pretty harrowing. Oh jeez, well, what level of detail is required in an answer here? I’ve got a bit of a toothache, but when people ask “How’s it going?” they’re not actually looking for that sort of answer. Man, it really does hurt. I wonder if I should make a dentist appointment. I’ve never had a cavity before, though; why would I have one now? Oh crap, I haven’t actually answered the question yet. I don’t want her to think I’m a jerk or anything. Maybe I should just tell her what I’ve got planned for later today. Hm…actually, I was just gonna go home and eat chips and read some Doom Patrol comics I got from the library after this. That’s not very interesting. Should I make something up? Yesterday I went to visit my parents with my wife and son — should I say I’m doing that today? I don’t want to get caught up in a lie; that would be pretty embarrassing for both of us.

The result is usually a feeble, “Oh…I’m doing good. Not much going on today,” and then a horrible, lingering silence. If you have ever cut my hair, I am so sorry about this, but I did get an idea for a story out of it.

Dark Highlands Anthology should be out in late April.

These are my first two paying publications, so I’m pretty excited about both of them. I’ll pass along an update when each one is released, if you could be persuaded to return here at a later date.