Category Archives: dark fiction

Review of X3 by Bloody Good Horror Books

Review of X3 by Renier Palland at Bloody Good Horror Books:

“X3” by author Christian aka C.M. Saunders is a short collection of short horror stories he had published over the years. He begins his anthology with a piece called “Introduction: The Final Curtain” where he muses over death and mortality, and how it permeates everything, including literature. It’s what Friedrich Nietzsche called the “Death Drive”. Oddly enough, this rather obtuse opening led to some rather interesting short stories. The first story, “‘Til Death Do Us Part” is zombie fiction without the zombies. It’s primal, brutal and asks us what we’d do to survive for one more second on this godforsaken planet. Saunders brought the point home with this valiant line: “They were fighting and fucking everywhere like animals”. This matter-of-fact method of writing immediately piqued my interest. I knew I was onto something good.

Throughout the good short stories – not the bad ones – Saunders weaves a tapestry of horrifically fun humour and below-the-belt madness. There’s even a short story about a troll, with a sequel to the short story about the troll! As with all short story writing, each piece has to end in a solipsistic finale, a final twist to end all twists. I liken it to twisting the knife in a piece of meat. It’s an extremely difficult, well-documented feat. There are essays written about how a short story should be structured, compiled and created. If a writer lingers on a paragraph for too long, the short story is ruined and ends up in the tried-and-failed dustbin. Aside from poetry, short story writing is the most difficult literary art form. When an author gets it right, he or she really gets it right. But a short story can also turn into a bizarre, self-indulgent and experimental freak show. My point being, Saunders’ short story anthology has a touch of Bipolar, with extreme lows (“Gwraig Annwn” and “Slots-a-Pain”) and manic, thrilling highs (“The Delectable Hearts”, “Switchblade Sunday” and “The Elementals and I”).

He is an extremely friendly guy who wrote exactly what was needed to get our attention for an immediate review. He is also an excellent writer, but I don’t agree with putting all of your eggs into one basket, i.e. Putting short stories together from over the years into one volume. He should have been much more careful with his choices. I understand what it feels like to have that specific short story you wrote, the one which didn’t get the recognition it deserved, finally published. I’m also an author and I understand that inherent need. However, as a reviewer I have to follow extremely harsh guidelines in order for my review to have any merit or credibility in the real world.

Saunders failed with some of his short stories. I wanted more. I needed more. But there was nothing except an experimental foray into death literature. The stories which did work were extremely well done, brilliant even. I can easily say that “‘Til Death Do Us Part” will stick with me (no pun intended – look out for the ending) for a very long time. It was interesting, tragically beautiful and filled with a post-apocalyptic essence akin to “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy. “The Delectable Hearts” was a curious and interesting meta-commentary on the entertainment industry. I used to be a writer and reviewer for a worldwide entertainment media group, so I understood the character’s journalistic instincts to get the scoop on a new music band. The ending, as with the former, was both unsettling and optimistic – an awkward, albeit exciting paradox. I enjoyed every second of the better short stories in the anthology, but much like a music album, an anthology has to be structured in a specific way to maximise the audience’s interest. This was not the case with “X3”. It felt haphazard and loose, as I went from a high to a low. Perhaps Saunders intended for the anthology to read like a rollercoaster? It’s possible, not wise in my opinion, but possible.

The anthology was fun to read. I think Saunders’ dark humour played a role here and he managed to save several of the shorts by using the gallows’ humour literary mechanism. Technically, some of the shorts were ravaged by editorial oversights, e.g. “twist in the tail” instead of “twist in the tale”. Malapropisms shouldn’t be left untreated as they can easily infect a literary wound. However, for the sake of this review, I am willing to overlook the technicalities because everything else was written perfectly. Saunders didn’t make many mistakes. His tempo was fluid, his narrative structure was constrained enough to allow the short stories to develop on their own, and his literary mechanisms were used correctly.

Saunders is definitely a great writer with unparalleled potential. His shorts were good enough to make me seek him out when I’m looking for my next read-of-the-day. Imperfection is sometimes more beautiful than perfection. This is true in Saunders’ case.

And the fact that he knows how to truly imbed subtle humour into his work – something most writers are completely unable to do.

RATING: 4 out of 5

X3 is available now. Check out more from Bloody Good Horror Books HERE.

X3

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Terrors Unimagined

I’m thrilled to announce that my latest short story, Lakeside Park, is included in the new anthology Terrors Unimagined, edited by Karen T. Newman and out now on Left Hand Press.

TU-Cover_FRONT-SMALL (1)

Lakeside Park is an old-fashioned creature tale about a down-on-his-luck, ex-alcoholic custodian who agrees to take a job looking after a remote caravan park deep in the Welsh valleys during the winter.

Suffice to say he doesn’t get the anticipated peace and quiet.

About the book:

Far beyond what you can imagine lies a dreamscape full of the unexpected and the unexplainable. The supernatural, the paranormal, monsters, demons, magic, witches, and inconceivable horrors reside in a world of Terrors Unimagined.

An international cadre of authors, both new and experienced, lead you down a path to the other side of the unbelievable with stories unique and thought-provoking. This anthology of supernatural and horror-inspiring short stories drags us screaming into a world of creatures and nightmares undreamed of. Prepare to ponder your nights away.

Sleep is no longer an option.

Check out the trailer HERE

See HERE for full details and Table of Contents.

Incidentally, you can check out the rest of my fiction HERE.

 


For the Love?

There’s a worrying trend developing whereby publishers (often individuals who just call themselves publishers, with about as much market knowledge as a used condom) snap up stories, compile them into ezines or anthologies, and put them on the market hoping to make a fast buck. They don’t pay contributors, instead calling themselves ‘For The Love (FTL),’ or ‘exposure’ markets. It’s nothing new, but that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. There’s been a debate going on over the viability of these markets since forever, the main argument in the ‘for’ column being that they provide platforms for emerging writers to break through. That may be true, but only because more established writers don’t work for free.

Generally speaking, there are two distinct forms of FTL market. The first is where the publisher invites submissions, edits and compiles the stories, sorts out a cover, then distributes a finished product in the form of a website, ezine, or anthology, free to the public. This is a true ‘FTL’ market. Everyone works for free; the writers, the editor, the artists, using the publication as a platform to showcase their work. This is perfectly acceptable.

Then there is the dark side.

Other publishers invite submissions, edits and compiles the stories, sorts out a cover, then distributes a finished product in the form of a website, ezine, or anthology, CHARGES the public money for it and keeps the profits. They don’t pay the writers, or the artists, and what’s more, where possible they charge for ad space, thereby creating two revenue streams (sales and ads) whilst incorporating virtually non-existent overheads and operating costs.

The publisher, who is also usually the editor, maintains he or she invests a lot of time in the project and should be compensated. That is true. But what about compensating the contributors who also invest a lot of time in their work? And make it possible for them to make their cut? Not only do writers invest their time, but also money in the form of materials, hardware, software, electricity, etc. It actually costs money to write and submit. The ‘exposure’ guff doesn’t cover it. Would you ask a workman to your house, ask him to build you a wall, which you then charged people to look at, and when the workman asks for payment (or at least a cut of the profits) you say, “Well, didn’t you enjoy building it?”

I don’t think so. Not unless you want a punch in the face. The same principal should be applied here. Otherwise, you are effectively profiteering. The publisher will probably maintain that they can’t afford to pay contributors. But in that case, the project isn’t economically viable and shouldn’t even have left the ground. Would you start building that wall if you couldn’t afford to buy the bricks?

Of course, there is a wicked little sting in the tail here. These non-paying markets rarely attract writers of the calibre required to shift large amounts of product, because a lot of these writers have been around a while, quietly building their reputations, and know their worth. They put their hearts and souls into their work, and aren’t about to give it away for free (apart for the odd charity contribution), and stand by while someone else makes money off them. Therefore, the only people who contribute to these publications are writers ‘on the way up.’

This isn’t a judgement of their quality. They might be, and probably are, very capable writers. The problem is they are yet to build an audience, so very few prospective readers know who they are. This doesn’t sell books. Obviously, submitting to FTL markets is part of the process of building that audience, but it does nothing for sales in the short term. Publications need a few big hitters in order to sell copies. But if you don’t pay, you won’t get those big hitters and you won’t sell many copies.

Catch 22.

Of course, you can flip that equation on its head and say that if a publication offered contributors even token payment, the quality of submissions would increase and so would sales. From there, the more money you offer, the better standard of writers would contribute and consequently, the more copies you sell. The more copies you sell, the more you can pay contributors, and so on. This might be a very simplistic way of looking at it, but why can’t it work? If only more people recognized that you get what you pay for, we would all be better off.

This post was first published on the Deviant Dolls website.

And don’t forget, you don’t always have to start at the beginning!


Digital Horror Fiction, Volume I

I’m pleased to announce that my short story Roadkill is included in the new anthology Digital Horror Fiction, Volume I alongside a host of stellar names including Aaron Gudmunson, James Dorr, Gregory L. Norris and my fellow Deviant Doll, Renee ‘Twisted Bitch’ Miller.

Digital Horror Fiction

Roadkill was inspired by a feature I did for Nuts magazine back in the day about rogue ambulance crews in south America. They patrol the roads, listening in to police scanners, looking for accidents. Then they ferry the dead and injured to hospitals and pick up their payment. Of course, the system is wide open to manipulation, and makes a great backdrop for a horror story. I started thinking, what if, one day, a rogue ambulance crew picked up a casualty who really should be dead, but wasn’t? In fact, what if he flat-out refused to die?

And what if he had a score to settle?

It’s probably fair to assume that heads will roll.

I had a lot of fun writing this story. It probably represents one of my first shambling steps into splatterpunk. It’s a bit over the top but hey, it’s fiction! If it makes you crack a smile, as well as turn your stomach, then my work is done.

Roadkill has been previously published in the anthology Fading Light and was also included in my collection X2.


X3 is out now!

X3, my third collection of short fiction, is available now, featuring stories plucked from the pages of The Literary Hatchet, Siren’s Call, Morpheus Tales, Gore Magazine and several anthologies. It also includes two previously unpublished stories, extensive notes, and artwork by the award-winning Greg Chapman.

X3

Meet the airline passenger who makes an alarming discovery, the boy who takes on an evil troll, an ageing couple facing the apocalypse, a jaded music hack on the trail of the Next Big Thing, the gambler taking one last spin, and many more.

Full Contents: 

Introduction: The Final Curtain

Til Death do us Part

Gwraig Annwn

The Delectable Hearts

The Answer in Darkness

What Happened to Huw Silverthorne

What Happened Next

Altitude Sickness

Switchblade Sunday

Slots-a-Pain

The Elementals & I

Afterword

X3 is available exclusively in electronic formats NOW


Those Left Behind

My latest short story has just been published on a very cool multimedia platform called twentytwotwentyeight. Those Left Behind is  an urban horror story with a twist, and a surprise ending I hope you don’t see coming. It addresses mental illness, in particular suicide, which is something close to my heart. Depression and mental illness is a big issue for young men, and Wales has the second-highest suicide rate in the UK. There aren’t many people here who remain unaffected. The sorry state of affairs was brought to the public’s attention a few years ago with the mysterious Bridgend Triangle business.

There are many reasons for it, not least the current economic climate. Not so long ago, the towns and villages of south Wales were thriving as the steel and coal money rolled in. Black gold, we called it. it was dangerous work, but there was money to be made. Then the steelworks and coal mines closed, and an entire generation was put out of work almost overnight. I found this great article about it on the Washington Post, of all places. Not that I need to read about it, I lived through it.

The end result of the closures was that young people living in Wales today have little education and few prospects. Poverty is steadily increasing, and in relation to that drug abuse and crime rates are still soaring. This, combined with other factors like isolation and deprivation, has a debilitating effect on a person’s mental state. That’s my theory, anyway.

How can we solve the problem? Who knows. But maybe acknowledging it would be a good start. I hope you like the story.

You can read Those Left Behind now, free.


Dead Man Walking the Crimson Streets

My latest short story ‘Dead Man Walking’ is now live on the website (and future anthology) Crimson Streets, “An over-the-top homage to the pulp and adventure magazines of the 1930s through 1950s. Where the detectives are more hard boiled, the dames are leggier, the scientists are madder, and the horrors are more horrible.”

SoekkhaTim-Dead_Man_Walking-Revised

I started writing Dead Man Walking a few years ago, the title stolen from a Bruce Springsteen song. At one point, it had the alternative title Dead Men Don’t Bleed. But having thought about it a while, and watching a lot of CSI episodes, I decided that in certain situations, dead men WOULD bleed, and that made the title redundant. Anyway, my aim was to involve a classic noir detective-type character, maybe in the vein of Mike Hammer, in some kind of straight-up horror tale. I only had the opening; a guy walks into his office and proclaims to be dead. But is he? If so, the obvious question is, how the heck is he still walking around?

I didn’t know either, so the story ground to a halt after a couple of thousand words. Then I tucked it away in my bulging ‘unfinished’ folder and left it to rot. Late last year I came across it again, had a read through, and decided to have a bash at finishing it. It flowed really well. A little too well, because when I finished, it stood at just over 9,000 words. Too long for a short story, and not quite long enough for a novella. Technically, it would be a novelette, and still too awkward a length to do much with. I liked it, though. I was planning to put it out myself, and thought I might as well send it off to a couple of publishers before I did so primarily to gauge interest.

Janet Carden, editor at Crimson Streets, got in touch and said she liked it. But as anticipated, it was just too long and far exceeded their submission guidelines. However, she kindly invited me to edit it and re-submit, which I did. It was no easy task, because the first draft of Dead Man Walking had very little in the way of padding. After a few frustrating days and long nights, I eventually managed to cut around 2,500 words off without compromising the actual story too much. It’s still one of my favourite things I’ve ever written. You can read it for free HERE.

Artwork by Tim Soekkha.


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