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.

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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.

Let Me Tell You What I Remember, No. 1: Stephen King’s IT

As a child, I was always interested in books. By this, I don’t just mean “I liked to read” (although I did); I mean I was very interested in books as objects — the design of the dust jackets, the typeface, the smell and texture of the pages. I spent a lot of time sitting in front of my parents’ dark wood bookcase, taking out books, leafing through them, putting them back. Again, not necessarily reading them — in some cases literally just looking at them. I remember my dad had a book called “Contemporary Business” or something that I used to scrutinize because it had one of those collages you find on the covers of old textbooks, and I still can vaguely recall the basic shapes and colors. Anyway, this bookcase was dominated by two subjects: my dad’s Beatles books and my mom’s Stephen King books.

It’s a little funny because my mom is not actually what you’d consider a horror fan or anything. But something about Stephen King has just always spoken to her, whether it’s the way he writes as though you and he are old friends, or the way he references places and people across books so that they become as familiar as any place you’ve actually been; King’s books, for all their blood and bad words, are very cozy stories when all is said and done. But whatever the reason, my mom has pretty much every Stephen King novel and short story collection published between 1974 and 1990 (and several from the past twenty years as well), and I had access to all of them at a very early age.

The dustjackets on those first-edition hardbacks were really something. Some modern horror writers, I think, don’t like this sort of thing. “Horror is legitimate literature; we deserve a classy jacket design.” I understand where that’s coming from, and if you believe that I certainly won’t fault you for it, but for me…I mean, obviously they work, because I was fascinated by them. My tastes lie in the lurid anyway, but, you know…horror on the printed page can’t rely on the immediacy that horror in movies or even campfire stories take for granted, so why shouldn’t we let that cover supply at least one visceral image and burn it into your brain?

Anyway. I’ve never read a word of Firestarter, but I remember the jacket. The same goes for The Bachman Books and Thinner, both of which I could just stare at all day as a child. There was a collected edition of The Shining, Salem’s Lot, Night Shift, and Carrie that had a split photo cover of Jack Nicholson smashing through the door and Shelly Duval’s face further elongated in a scream. I have this book in my own bookcase today, but sometime in the past decade, my mom seemed to decide she’d had it with the dustjackets getting all bunched up and falling off the books. She stripped the lot, so I now just have a nude red hardcover with STEPHEN KING in big gold letters on the spine.

The dustjacket that really captivated me was the one for It.

I mean, look at that. Tell me how a boy between the ages of eight and twelve could possibly be expected to resist it. The image of a lonely sailboat drifting toward some unspeakable terror signified only by its scaly cartoon-monster claw. The title is what really seals the deal, though; It isn’t so hot when you put it in an ordinary typeface, and it’s (or indeed, It’s) kind of awkward to refer to in conversation. But those faults are all forgiven when you see the title as it appears on the jacket — two enormous capital letters standing for the whole 1,100 pages of text, branded like an old, ragged rubber stamp dipped in blood.

Well, it made me pay attention, and there were more points of interest to be found within. There’s the sheer length of the book; to a kid used to “children’s novels” like the Cam Jansen books, the idea that any human could possibly write one story that took more than a thousand pages to tell was mind-expanding. There was the look of the text itself, set in a wonderfully cryptic Garamond No. 3. And simply flipping through that book, a child will find all kinds of words that demand attention — naughty words, sometimes in all-caps, which I could hardly believe could be printed in a book I could find in my house.

By the time I got to middle school, I figured I should actually read this book. I hope you’ll forgive me when I tell you there was some skimming going on here. The “interludes” in between sections seemed to totally break up the story I was in the middle of reading for no reason, although now I’m fascinated by the depth of worldbuilding King crams into them. The climactic Ritual of Chud, switching back and forth from 1958 and 1985, is still an effort to keep straight, not least of all because the one downside to Garamond is that its italicized forms can be hard to read, and that sequence has whole pages in italic Garamond. And the bit with Eddie and the leper was lost on me because I wasn’t totally sure what a leper was.

But I did finish it. One of my proudest achievements as a young reader. Shortly after, I had to write a short story for an English class, and you can probably predict that it was the story of a nebulous, unspeakable evil dwelling beneath the surface of a small town and the ordinary man who has to fight it. I was proud enough that I read it in front of the whole class. I didn’t get into the kind of trouble where it’s a call to the principal or anything, but after class the teacher was a little flustered and told me that I should bring more appropriate material to class in the future. Me, I thought I’d toned it down, but then again, I’d just read 1,100 pages of truly objectionable material.

I don’t have a copy of that story anymore. I don’t remember what it was called, or what any of the characters’ names were. Aside from the broad plot arc, the only other thing I remember about it is that at one point the monster says he’s going to consume the hero’s soul or something, and then the hero administers some sort of coup de grace on the monster and says, “Consume this, jerkweed.” It was very likely best line in the story, which it ought to have been, because I plagiarized it from an issue of Spider-Man 2099 (issue #7; check your longboxes and see if it isn’t so).

So yeah. Sorry you can’t read that story. But, um…if you’d like to stick around, maybe pop back over here every once and I while…I can share a few other things I’ve written with you.

More to come.

* * *

(Postscript—I suppose you can’t really talk about It without talking about the ending. I mean, it’s the sort of thing you have to address. I can’t really describe what Bev does to keep the group together long enough to escape the sewers without attracting some undesirable Google traffic. If you’ve read the book, you’ll remember it, and if you’ve only seen the movie, you’ll have no clue what I am talking about, because filming that scene with live actors would be a criminal offense. Anyhoo, the best comment I’ve ever heard about it came from, of all places, a comment thread on The AV Club. To paraphrase it to the best of my memory, the commenter said that the scene actually is totally justified thematically in the context of the rest of the story…and yet, it is totally reprehensible and revolting, and not in the good way that one wants out of a horror story. I do not find anything to disagree with in that statement.)