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Vastarien #4 (Vol 2, Issue 1) – Book Review, Professor Nobody, and Other Notes

The tri-annual literary journal VASTARIEN describes itself as source of critical study and creative response to the corpus of Thomas Ligotti as well as associated authors and ideas. Its issues are an eclectic mix of literary fiction, nonfiction, poetry, artwork, and other hybrid pieces. VASTARIEN differentiates itself from the other horror/sci-fi/weird publications in the market with a focus on philosophy and experimental forms. See Christopher Ropes’ “Singing the Song of My Unmaking” in Vol 1, Issue 1 as example, a combination poem, fictional narrative, and confessional biography exploring the depths of clinical depression.

VASTARIEN issue #4 continues this tradition. In “All the Stage is a World” by Forrest Aguirre, a university student makes an unfamiliar cross-town trip to attend a off-campus play required for class. The play is absurd, the performance and its motivations unclear. Without giving away too much of the ending, in reading this, I was reminded of Thomas Ligotti’s story “Professor Nobody’s Little Lectures on Supernatural Horror” where (speaking through the character of a like horror author Professor Nobody) Ligotti differentiates two types of horror writing. He argues that there are “stories that are just stories”—that is spun tales with a coherent plot, characters, and theme. Typically, in horror a monster is used as a device to represent some human fear (death, aging, insanity, isolation) in a fashion to make us “squirm and quake”. In contradiction, the good Prof. Nobody continues, there is also the story that doesn’t seek to confront our fears at a metaphorical arm’s length as a way to delude ourselves into thinking we have any measure of control over a horrible world; but rather a story that pulls back the lens to reveal the indifference of a universe in chaos. The universe in its many dimensions doesn’t consciously conspire to threaten us with mundane horrors, but instead is simply deranged. The highest law is disorder: existence as nightmare. So does “All the Stage is a World” linger, the horror not in the performance changing the world in some sinister way, but in the implication that the performance changes nothing, only dispels the illusions of  coherence.

Another stand out story is “In the Way of Eslan Mendeghast” by Farah Rose Smith. The imagery featured is rich and darkly beautiful. The writing is top-notch, language flowing and poetic. Again, the focus is not so much of a structured narrative, rather a frightening peek into an absurdist void.

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Vastarien Art by Dave Felton

“Vanpool” by C.M. Muller is an anxious and claustrophobic tale. The characters are unnamed, as is the suburb where it is set, but these ‘story’ details aren’t important. Told from the perspective of a child, there is the looming sense of the unknown existing beyond the confines of the home. Of course, as children, what did we know of where our parents go every day? Certainly, this mystery is traumatic, a daily ritual of abandonment. And who are ‘parents’? How does a child validate their creator’s backstory and origin? Not armed with the proper perspective or life experience to understand, there is little that can be done to alleviate these anxieties. And what of us? What assurances do we have of any ‘intelligent design’ of the universe in which we, ourselves, inhabit?

The two non-fiction essays are focused on horror authors Mark Samuels (essay by David Peak) and Charlotte Perkins Gilman (by Gwendolyn Kiste). While I wasn’t familiar with either author, both essays proved to be illuminating. Like any story, allowing the writer to guide me forward, I ended up finding found both pieces interesting and relevant.

VASTARIEN’s other non-fiction entry is “Effigies of Former Managers” by Matthew M. Bartlett, a character study of his former bosses. Okay, *wink*, it’s fiction—one of those stories that for whatever reason I only wish were true. A group of character vignettes done in his ineffable style, it’s not a Leeds story (the fictional town that is the basis of Creeping Waves, Gateways to Abomination, etc), but is written in a similar vein. Like his collection of Leeds’ finest, Bartlett defines his middle manager wretches through a series of compulsive quirks which are so consuming to drive the humanity from them. If we can be defined as animals gifted with a ‘divine spark’, these characters are cursed by a doomed lodestone. They are haunted meat puppets, unconsciously possessed by their ghastly obsessions (and then nailed to the ceiling).

“Venio” by Gemma Files is the most ‘story’ story in the issue. It names its characters, flushes them out, and has a well-defined plot. It’s an invasion story with a Ligottian bent: a fantastical intrusion not into the world, but rather the sanity of its characters. By contrast, “The Lord as an Active Shooter” by Fiona Maeve Geist is a largely philosophical piece. Told in the second person, it explores the collision of gun culture with our evolutionary reflex of superstition in a parabolic way. I think Professor Nobody would approve of both tales.

Other stories include the fableist “The Curse of the Biblical Magi” by Sepehr Goshayeshi, the cosmic horror “Aharesia” by Natalia Theodoridou, the weird ritualistic short, “Burger Shop” by Jayaprakash Satyamurthy, the body horror “Rat King” by Lia Swope Mitchell, and the satirical “Ageless Agelasts” by Rhys Hughes. Poetry includes “Orchid Architecture” by the prolific K.A. Opperman and the creepy “The Sisters” by F.J. Bergman.

For full disclosure, my own cosmic horror flash story, “Silhouette Golems”, is a part of this issue. I’m the worst judge of my work, so I’ll leave it that I am honored and thrilled to be published alongside such talented authors. Thanks to Jon Padgett for publishing and for creating a publication dedicated to Thomas Ligotti in the first place.

VASTARIEN is available at Amazon, however, it also can be ordered direct from the Grimscribe Press website. If anyone is interested in checking this or any other issue, please consider buying direct as more of the proceeds will go to the publisher. At the time of this review, the price of the ebook is actually lower at Grimscribe Press, so this is one virtue that will save you money. Of course, if you are absolutist in the belief that virtue must be accompanied with pain, you can certainly take the savings and buy another issue.

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Ten Weird Writers to Save Us All! – Silent Motorist Media’s annual list

The 2nd annual “Ten Weird Writers to Save Us All”, a speculative fiction writer spotlight, has been posted by the good folks at Silent Motorist Media. I am honored to be included this year. The List is compiled through nominations and aims to cast a light to those writers who work a bit under the radar as the below mission statement suggests:

Nominate a weird, bizarro, horror, or otherwise experimental writer you feel could use some recognition this year for their tireless work. Try to avoid nominating folks who already have a strong online presence and fanbase; the point of this list is to express gratitude to authors who might not receive it otherwise.

I’m not sure who nominated me for this (but I have a few ideas), but it means a lot that someone(s) thinks enough of my work and took the time/effort to do so. Thanks, too, to Justin Burnett, the mind behind Silent Motorist Media for hosting this. One of the aims of Silent Motorist Media is to help and promote independent writers. I have always had positive interactions with Justin and have two flash pieces previously featured on the site (“Biological Determinism” and “The Beauty in the Breaking“). Also check out SMM’s first release, the anthology “Mannequin” featuring puppet related weird stories by Ramsey Campbell, Michael Wehunt, Richard Gavin, and Jon Padgett to name a few.

So I hope everyone will follow/support Silent Motorist Media. Congratulations to the other winners. The full list appears here.

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MANNEQUIN: Wood Made Flesh- Anthology Release

From publisher Silent Motorist Media, the themed anthology MANNEQUIN has been released this week. My story “The Night Shift” is one of sixteen stories about dummies, puppets, mannequins, scarecrows, and other various human-disguised automatons. From the back cover:

Mannequin: Tales of Wood Made Flesh, an anthology celebrating the uncanny realm of the living inanimate. Featuring tales of dolls, mannequins, statues, and other varieties of humanoid horror, Mannequin explores the intersection between artificiality and life through a stunning variety of writers both established and new. This highly-anticipated debut anthology from Silent Motorist Media is certain leave readers of horror and weird fiction more than satisfied.

I’ve always avoided writing a puppet story. It’s well trammeled ground in the horror/weird fiction world and, as a Ligotti-phile, I subconsciously accept anything I attempt would grossly pale in comparison to such masterpieces as “Dream of a Manikin”, “Dr. Voke and Mr. Veech”, or “The Clown Puppet”.

However, because I wanted to be a part of Silent Motorist Media’s inaugural anthology, I got to work to come up with a puppet story that wasn’t too derivative. I ended up being inspired by a title that I didn’t end up using: “Hypergamy of Puppets”. It’s a ridiculous concept, of course, but interesting too—how to fit a story that makes sense around such an absurd abstraction? Sleeping on this conundrum a few nights, an idea formed although in the end I dropped the title. I’m not sure how many people know what hypergamy is without looking it up; plus, I needed to use the title to keep the reader focused on the corporate elements lurking behind the narrative.

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View of a city park from the 21st floor

Many of the details in “The Night Shift” are experienced. I work a desk job in Boston on the 21st floor across from a small city park. The park is nicknamed “Pick-up Park” as in the story, and underneath its lush tree-lined lawn is concealed a parking garage. Also, I’ve worked long enough to notice the trends in corporate life explored in the story such as the taking down the walls of cubicles, no longer assigning seats, and the investments in flexible work-at-home, work-when-you-can technology. I can also see where further technological advances will influence work culture in the future. I’ve always avoided using my mundane office as a environment in a story. Again, maybe subconsciously I know I can’t compete with Ligotti’s “My Work Has Not Been Done”. However, given corporate life’s invisible coercive strings of scheduling, time sheets, dress codes, and office etiquette; what better place to set a story about puppets?

Another trend of working in the city I have lately noticed is the use of greenery. In the lobby of my building, for example, vertical gardens have recently been installed around the elevator wells (see pic below- yes, the plants are real). The tops of most buildings are ugly slabs of concrete with a physical plant inartfully perched on top. However, more and more, gardens are being built on rooftops as perk for its occupants. It’s quite a juxtaposition to see these oasis suspended high above the streets. It’s rather calming and makes me feel less stress about the hustle of the city.

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Vertical garden structure in the building lobby.

MANNEQUIN is available in print and ebook (click here for link). The full list of authors is as follows:

Ramsey Campbell
Michael Wehunt
Christine Morgan
Richard Gavin
Kristine Ong Muslim
Nicholas Day
William Tea
S.L. Edwards
Matthew M. Bartlett
S.E. Casey
Austin James
Jon Padgett
Duane Pesice
Daulton Dickey
Justin A. Burnett
C.P. Dunphey

(Introduction by Christopher Slatsky)

Thanks to Justin Burnett from Silent Motorist Media for publishing and compiling such a great TOC (Ramsey Campbell!!). There are many of the best weird/horror authors working in the industry today here and am honored to share a few pages with them.

Here’s a few more Boston pics from outside my office windows. Until next time. -S.E. Casey

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Rooftop lawn and reflecting pool
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Another vertical-indoor garden shot

 

Limbo in Limbo: New Story Up At Bizarro Central

Mayhem on the high seas! Cosmic cruise ship horror! My latest flash fiction story, Six Days and Endless Nights (click for link), is now available to read at Bizarro Central.

Like most of my flash stories, this tale was sparked by its first line—a cruise ship limbo contest that doesn’t seem quite right—and letting my anxieties decide the logical course (at least to me) of everything that would follow. Purple pools, snake roads, doppelgangers, and secret fights in the engine room, all set to the piano melody of John Carpenter’s Halloween. The world is a scary place folks. This is why I don’t travel. This is why I rarely leave the house.

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Click for story link

Thanks Eric and all the good people at Bizarro Central for publishing! If any other authors have a weird/bizarre flash fiction story, they have an open Flash Fiction Friday submission call (see BizarroCentral.com for details). I found in shopping this piece that there are very few online sites specifically looking for bizarro shorts, so I’m glad I found this. Hope other authors will considering submitting here and make Flash Fiction Friday a thing.

Bon Voyage, S.E. Casey

 

Silhouette Golems – New story in the upcoming issue of VASTARIEN

I am happy to announce my short story Silhouette Golems will be in the next issue of the  literary journal VASTARIEN.

If there is one current publication that I would wish to have a story placed, it is VASTARIEN, a publication inspired by the writings of Thomas Ligotti. Many years ago I stumbled upon a copy of The Nightmare Factory, a compendium of many of Ligotti’s stories, which I felt an immediate and strong connection. More philosophical and atmospheric than gory or scary, this was my gateway into cosmic horror, although Ligotti’s stories stand out in their own unique category. Reading the first three issues of VASTARIEN, to have one of my works appearing here is definitely a high-point in my writing career so far.

Edited by the co-administrators of the longtime message board Thomas Ligotti Online (Ligotti.net), Jon Padgett and Matt Cardin, VASTRIAN is a tri-annual publication of weird fiction, non-fiction articles, poetry, and other literary hybrids. I am honored to be included in Volume 2, Issue 1 with many indie authors that I read and follow such as Matthew Bartlett, Gemma Files, C.M. Muller, Farah Rose Smith, Kyle Opperman, and Jayaprakash Satyamurthy to name a few (see full Table of Contents below).

The current issue can be pre-ordered now (click for link). It will be available to ship and available on Amazon in the next few weeks. However, buying direct or through a Patreon plan can help support VASTARIEN, as a greater percentage of the proceeds will go to the publication.

Thanks to Jon Padgett and Matt Cardin for bringing my Silhouette Golems to life! Looking forward to reading the issue!

PATREON LINK HERE.

SUBSCRIPTION LINK HERE.

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And if Vastarien was a nightmare, it was a nightmare transformed in spirit by the utter absence of refuge: nightmare made normal.

2018 in Resentments – A year in writing

‘Tis the time for authors to make #amwriting year end summaries and/or lists of accomplishments. Some post submission/rejection statistics, others make best-of’s, and there are those who write look-back or look-forward type posts. I’ve decided to join the fray and make a ‘2018 in resentments’ blog.

“The man who lies to himself can be more easily offended than anyone else. You know it is sometimes very pleasant to take offense, isn’t it? A man may know that nobody has insulted him, but that he has invented the insult for himself, has lied and exaggerated to make it picturesque, has caught at a word and made a mountain out of a molehill–he knows that himself, yet he will be the first to take offense, and will revel in his resentment till he feels great pleasure in it.” – Dostoevsky, “The Brothers Karamazov”

I wrote a similar ‘resentments’ post last year, so might as well make it an annual occurrence. Of course holding onto resentment isn’t a good thing, but the harm isn’t the things we actually resent, but in the resentment itself—the deleterious effect of cortisol and the self-destructive behavior it can trigger. However, if we can avoid reacting with anger or denial, resentment can be helpful, much like pain. No one wants to feel pain, it’s terrible by definition, but it’s our greatest tool in positively modifying behaviors. Your hand hurts? Don’t try to be noble stoically dening that it hurts, see what may be causing the pain and, hey, take it off the stove. And maybe never put your hand on the stove again, okay?

Time was the resentment of 2018 that I couldn’t escape. It got particularly difficult to balance my writing goals with everything else this year. I constantly felt that I had no time and whenever I did anything it was at the expense of the five other things that I could have done. I felt like I was rationing aspirations and holding my dreams hostage. But time is a universal constraint. Everyone has the same amount—24 hours in every day—so it’s a mirage resentment. Resentments generally stem from unfairness, that someone next door is getting a free ride or being arbitrarily favored (re: Cain and Abel). So my frustration isn’t really with time, but in my choices of how I am using it. I admit that there is a lack of organization and planning on my part. I am a master of procrastination and allow myself too much leisure time as well.

One of the casualties of my time resentment was that I ended up only reading just two books all year (not counting short stories, but still). I feel especially guilty for all the writing friends whose books I promised to read, but ended piling up in my TBR pile one on top of the other. What’s worse, in last year’s post I vowed to read more. This misfire is especially damaging as reading is one of the best ways to improve writing. It’s a definite help for me to read professional authors to learn by osmosis. But it didn’t happen. It got to the point where I began to resent those book bloggers or Goodreads reviewers who read fifty books a year. I’m obviously projecting. I need to find the time to read, to make it a necessity, and not feel like I am sacrificing my writing time by doing it.

My reluctance to read also stems from my own inability to finish a book I wanted to self-publish. I stumbled on a writing blog a few months ago which introduced me to a new writing term of ‘Anthology Author’. Supposedly, this is a pejorative dig describing a writer who appears in many short story anthologies and magazines, but doesn’t have any novels or collections published under their own name, the negative implication that this is being something less than a ‘real writer’. This got to me a little bit I’ll admit. While I really wanted to get something out on Amazon/Smashwords that I am proud of, I found myself deferring all year to work on submission calls. However, the more I thought about it, falling into the category of ‘Anthology Author’ isn’t a bad thing. I love the challenge of writing for open calls and being a part of a group project. Writing for me needs to be fun and meaningful. Getting a regular dose of success and being active in the writing community helps keeps me engaged and motivated.

Some of the anthologies/magazines/websites I did get published in 2018 include Hinnom Magazine, The Sirens Call, Molotov Cocktail, Silent Motorist Media, Aphotic Realm (issues #4 and #5), Weird Christmas, Grinning Skull Press, and Trembling With Fear (Horrortree.com!). Of course, there are countless more which I got rejected from. But there is no resentment there; I am genuinely grateful to have the opportunity to submit. Also, here and there I get some feedback which is invaluable.

So I am grateful that there are markets dedicated to publishing stories and promoting relatively unknown authors like me. My only resentment is the lack of reader feedback that they get as I am always proud of my work and awed by the effort that goes into it. Whether I’m in a anthology/magazine or not, I wish more people would buy, read, review, and otherwise support these publications. But I am just as much to blame. While I have donated to some Patreon/Indiegogo projects during the year and bought a bunch of indie books, my reading and review writing is lacking. I need to step up my game in those areas.

What is the cost of not supporting indie authors/publications? During the year there were a few publishing houses that closed down (Hindered Souls Press for example) which means less opportunity for everyone. It’s a tough business and is important to support these places as they are important resources for authors, especially those of us who are starting out. Most of these markets aren’t run by entrepreneurs or business people, but genre fanatics doing it because books are a passion. Two magazines that I have stories in are from Aphotic Realm (‘Dystopia’ and ‘Eldritch’). Aphotic Realm don’t offer ebook versions deciding to publish in full-color glossy paperback. Yes, the magazines are relatively expensive to purchase, but part of the charm is the artwork and comics that wouldn’t translate well to digital, hence the physical only policy. Part of the price are the visual aesthetics and feel which are a throwback to enjoyment I got out of the graphic novels of my youth. I can be as penny wise and pound foolish as anyone, however, buying decisions shouldn’t only consider the actual product, but the support you are giving to the publisher for the viability of their future. Most people lose money in publishing, or at the very least put in a lot of effort (and time!) with zero compensation.

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Animal Control” illustration courtesy of Molotov Cocktail.

And then there’s this guy. My story Animal Control, published by Molotov Cocktail Lit Zine (3rd place finish in the 2018 #KillerFlash contest) is my favorite piece that I wrote in 2018. I got a great response from this story, easily my most commented on work. So what is there to be resentful about? Nothing, except perhaps the story itself is about resentfulness. Resentment is destructive, annoying, and toxic, much like my fictional animal control officer. You wish it away, out of your life forever, but when it’s forced out everything goes to hell, the counterbalance of the world thrown off. For example, most people end up worse off after winning the lottery. Yep, not an exaggeration. Maybe it’s best to learn to live with my irksome metaphoric animal control officer, endure his boorish behavior and obnoxious idiosyncrasies because the alternative may be worse. And when his negativity impinges on your conscious, use it to benefit by using it as a sign to check your life choices and your gratitude of everything you have accomplished.

I’ll wrap up on that positive note. Hopefully, I learn from 2018 and read more, write more, and post more reviews in 2019. Thanks to everyone who has read, commented, interacted with, published, and/or tolerated me over the last year.

S.E. Casey

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O Unholy Night in Deathlehem – a holiday horrors charity anthology available now

My doom laden Christmas story, TRADITIONS AND ROTTEN DELICACIES, is included in the latest edition of the Grinning Skull Press annual Deathlehem charity anthology series available here. Its for a good cause as proceeds go to The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.

This was a story I wrote a long time ago which was to be included in a Christmas/winter weird horror anthology by me. Due due to some heroic procrastination techniques I diligently employed throughout 2018, it hasn’t yet gotten off the ground, so it gave me an excuse to work on polishing one of the stories. Plus, it’s going to a good cause.

Thanks to Harrison Graves (editor) and Grinning Skull Press for publishing. Other authors include fellow flash fiction writers I often get published with Wiebo Grobler and Christopher Stanley (#teamdarkness).

Happy holidays and good reading!

S.E. Casey

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