MyDarkside(dot)com, quite possibly one of the most brutal short stories I have ever written, is included in issue 22 (Spring 2023) of Phantasmagoria magazine, lovingly edited, as always, by the irrepressible Trevor Kennedy.
The bumper 290-page issue also includes features on the finale of the much-loved Supernatural series and the movie Audrey Rose, an interview with Paul Tremblay, the usual mix of artwork and reviews, and fiction by Graham Masterton & Karolina Mogielska, David A Riley, Marion Pitman and Josh Strnad, to name but a few, so I am in some pretty esteemed company! I am especially delighted to share an issue with Rev Lionel Fanthorpe of Fortean TV fame.
MyDarkside(dot)com was jointly inspired by our obsession with the internet and the rise of the found footage movie genre. When I first started submitting it for publication, I stylised the title as the name of a website with an actual dot (.), instead of (dot), and the ‘www’ at the front. I thought I was being original, but soon found out why nobody else was doing it when a very nice editor pointed out that naming your story after a fictitious website was a one-way ticket into people’s junk mail folders. Fudge. At least it explained the lack of responses. As a writer you expect a certain percentage of rejections. It comes with the job. But to hear nothing at all, from anyone, for a couple of years, was a bit weird. Never mind. We live and learn, and the story found a suitable home in the end.
After such a productive 2021, the pressure was on to replicate the effort in 2022. Realistically, that was never going to happen, especially after I started a new day job and took on a couple of large and very time-consuming freelance editing projects in the first quarter, but I had to give it a shot.
First on the agenda was to finish the second draft of Cuts, book two in my rapidly evolving series involving a character called Ben Shivers, a paranormal investigator who lives in a camper van with a cat called Mr. Trimble. In my experience, the second draft of a novel is almost as time-consuming as the first. The first draft is all about getting the words down anyway anyhow, while the second is more about choosing the right ones and putting them in the right order. There are always things you wish you’d said but didn’t, and other things you said but wished you hadn’t. All this suddenly becomes clear after you type THE END. On top of that, you have to further develop the characters and sub-plots and sharpen the story to a point. With the difficult second draft out of the way, it’s all about refining and polishing.
As I worked on the second book, I started submitting the first, The Wretched Bones, to some selected publishers. I pitched it as part of a series, and one of the first I sent it to, a publisher I highly respect, liked it enough to give me a contract. I’m resisting giving out too many details yet because anything might still happen, but all being well The Wretched Bones: A Ben Shivers Mystery, will be out later this year.
This bit of encouragement brought the writing bug back, and in double quick time I thrashed out a horror Western novella featuring the same character I introduced last year in a to date unpublished novella called Silent Mine. This time, in a story provisionally entitled Meeting at Blood Lake, our intrepid drunken gunslinging hero, who’s name has now morphed into Dylan Decker, helps a remote village ward off a terrifying thunderbird/mothman-like creature.
I wrote half a dozen or so new short stories, too. I am very happy with them. I think some of them are among the best things I have ever produced. The thing is, they are also possibly among the weirdest things I have ever produced, so we’ll see if anyone is brave enough to publish any of them.
As far as publishing short stories goes, the year started with a reprint of an old story called Night Visitor in Siren’s Call. All Tomorrow’s Parties was included in SFS Stories, The Hiraeth Chair in Shelter of Daylight, Eeva in the anthology Trigger Warning: Speaking Ill, and The Whole of the Moon in Daikaijuzine. I love writing drabbles (stories exactly 100 words long) and contributed Cat’s Eyes to Heartless: Holiday Horrors and The Hungry to Drabbledark II. My fifth collection of short fiction, imaginatively entitled X5 also dropped, and picked up more pre-orders than any of the other X books. I call that progress.
In the realm of non-fiction, a couple of my reviews appeared in Phantasmagoria magazine, which was one to chalk off the bucket list as it has a great reputation in horror circles, I turned a bit introspective and wrote about how haunted my childhood home was in the anthology Out of Time and reflected on how my first book was published in Author’s Publish. I also wrote a piece for them about recurring dark fiction markets, which may be of use to other writers out there, and in Writer’s Weekly, one of my semi-regular outlets, I asked whether a frenemy of yours might be sabotaging your writing career. It’s more common than you think. Jealousy is such an ugly emotion.
The demands of my day job meant that I read fewer books in 2022 than I have in previous years. I know that’s no real excuse, but it’s the only one I have and I’m sticking to it. That and Barkskins, which crawled by at a snail’s pace and took me about three months to finish. I must admit I was slightly disappointed with Richard Osman’s Thursday Murder Club, too, given that I’d heard so many good things about it. There were just too many characters who kept popping up willy-nilly and then disappearing just as fast.
Pick of the year is probably Florence De Changy’s The Disappearing Act: The Impossible case of MH370. Things like that just shouldn’t happen in this day and age. Unless they are supposed to happen.
Stranded by Bracken Macleod (2016)
The Legend of the Dogman by David C Posthumus (2022)
Terror Peak by Edward J McFadden III (2022)
HH Holmes: The True History of the White City Devil by Adam Selzer (2019)
Springsteen: The Mojo Collector’s Series by Various Authors (2021)
The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman (2021)
The Purisima Hauntings by Hazel Holmes (2022)
The Disappearing Act: The Impossible case of MH370 by Florence De Changy (2021)
The Very Best of Classic Rock by Various Authors (2022)
Mothman: Return to Point Pleasant by Scott Donnelly (2022)
My Life in Dire Straits by John Illsey (2021)
The Ghosts of Hexley Airport by Amy Cross (2022 version)
The Whole of the Moon started out as a light-hearted study in romantic relationships, and ended up a sci-fi horror. It wasn’t that much of a leap, which probably says a lot about my love life. It’s written in the first person, from the POV of the female protagonist who shares an apartment with her long-term partner, Dan. They lead an unremarkable existence, at least they do until a meteorite crashes through their window one night while they are snuggled up on the sofa watching TV. It’s all downhill from there. Let’s just say it’s less Netflix and chill, and more Netflix and chills.
I didn’t plot or plan it at all. Not even I knew what would happen when I started writing. I love that feeling of freedom, and I believe readers pick up on that sense of excitement and discovery. That story might take you anywhere. Yep, I am aware I stole the title from the Waterboys song. It used to be called Down to Earth, but I wanted something that would resonate a bit more.
By the way, if you’re curious about the zine’s name, as was I, this is from the ‘about’ section:
“Take the word Kaiju, which means ‘strange creature’, add the prefix Dai, which means ‘large’, and you get Daikaiju, which means ‘Large strange creature’. Like Godzilla.”
So there you have it.
The latest issue of Daikaijuzine is free to read, and out now.
Just in time for Halloween, below is an extract from Dead of Night (Revised edition).
At some point, Nick dropped something, Maggie heard it hit the floor with a soft, hollow thud. She didn’t know what it could be, but guessed it must be pretty important because the moment it fell, Nick stopped in his tracks. They didn’t have time for this shit, they had to find cover. Now. It wasn’t safe outdoors, and Nick was fading fast. If he collapsed out here in the open, she would never be able to move him. They would be sitting targets for whatever prowled these fucking woods after dark.
She instinctively reached down to pick up the object Nick had dropped, then immediately put her hand to her mouth to stifle a scream. It was Nick’s severed hand. Pale now, almost translucent in the moonlight. It felt clammy to the touch. He’d carried it with him all the way from the camp.
It was still warm.
It doesn’t matter, she told herself. Pick it up and get going again. It’s just flesh and bone, just flesh and bone…
Grimacing, she tucked the bloodied appendage into the waistband of her sweatpants, took Nick by the remaining arm and resumed the journey.
Bizarrely, cruelly, in her fractured state, Maggie found that she couldn’t stop wondering how the hell they were going to carry the tent and all the rest of their stuff back to the car if Nick only had one hand. It would definitely be a struggle. They might have to make two trips, or even leave some stuff behind. She started mentally listing all the things they had taken with them, and then the things they could afford to leave behind. Anything to keep her mind working, keep it sharp and focused. If she stopped to think about the nightmare they were in, she would go to pieces.
Under normal circumstances it would only have taken a couple of minutes to get to the cabin, but in the dark and with Nick the way he was, it would probably take three times that long. At any moment she expected to see movement in the trees, or feel an arm reach out of the undergrowth and claw at her feet.
Things were going too well.
It was almost too easy.
But if she remembered correctly, Nick had put a tent peg straight into that thing’s eye. And didn’t it only have one eye to begin with? In that case it was probably still walking around in circles a mile or so away.
Maggie could feel exhaustion setting in. The muscles in her back and arms were screaming in protest from shouldering Nick’s extra weight and her second wind had come and gone. Probably her third and fourth winds too, if such things existed.
With grim determination, she pushed on. No time to stop, not here, not even for a second.
When it was first released back in 2010, my splatterpunk novella Dead of Night picked up some pretty awesome reviews. I’ve gone back through my files and dug up some highlights. Loved the bitch slap at the end of the last review.
“In his zombie-infested novella Dead of Night, C. M. Saunders draws a picture of horror and desperation for his readers as he unleashes a band of undead Confederate bushwackers on an unsuspecting and innocent couple. As I read, I found myself pulled into the action, rooting for the young hero and heroine to make it through the night.”
“This story is not just hacking and slashing and eating brains; there is a fair share of suspense in Dead of Night that I found to be quite effective. Mr. Saunders gives his readers a chance to get to know the hero and heroine before plunging them into mortal danger, and this makes us care about their fate. Dead of Night contains a sense of urgency that will definitely get the blood pumping. Mr. Saunders brings us into the minds of his two protagonists; we share their terror, their pain, their despair, and their hope for survival.”
“Dead of Night is an obvious product of a great many horror films. The departure from realism, the horrendous injuries inflicted on the hero, the coincidences and lucky breaks â“ all lead directly from the late night horror screen. Evil Dead in particular seems to be a strong influence, especially with the besieged-in-a-cabin sequence.”
Dark Fire (UK)
“Although it has lots of gore, it isn’t all about the blood and guts. Instead it is suspenseful and atmospheric. The scene where Nick wakes up in the middle of the night and first spots a zombie is tense. And being in the middle of nowhere, disconnected from the rest of the world with no one to turn to for help, added to the creepiness.”
“At the beginning, C.M. Saunders takes time to establish the characters, and although some may find that part slow, I found their relationship and discussion of Michael Jackson interesting. Since Nick and Maggie were well-developed I cared about them and found the story more interesting.”
Little Miss Zombie
“If you are craving a zombie novel that deviates away from the typical “movie-style” theme – this will satiate your hunger. There are the normal horror elements: new love, remote setting, fight for survival, mass burial. However, C.M. Saunders’ Civil War zombies are intelligent; able to work as a team; possess fine motor skills; and cannot easily be killed. In fact, these “bushwhackers” peaked my curiosity. Would the psychological, mental, and physical aspects of fighting in a war end upon death? It is possible that these zombies are unaware that it is no longer 1861 – 1865. If this is the case, it would mean that they are denied the peace and solace they so richly deserve. The plot was very creatively written and flowed efficiently. I did not experience a single dull moment as I read the novel. Many of you will agree, a vast majority of horror novels have at least one character lacking a bit of common-sense. As others so eloquently state, “too stupid to live”. I feel that C.M. Saunders tried to weed the “stupidity factor” out, and he did a great job of it. The zombies were even spared this humility.”
“I have this horrible OCD quirk. It’s doesn’t matter how boring a story is, I have to finish it. Fortunately, that didn’t kick in with Saunder’s Dead of Night. This is a fun, short read that carries on with the latest trend of zombie soldiers. While Saunders doesn’t really bring any new to the table, it’s a cool chapter in the great big scheme of zombie stories. This is a great story. It’s a quick read with great cover art, and I do have to say, it’s MUCH better than Saunders’ first novella from Damnation Books.”
As each of the X books contains 10 stories, that meant over the 10-day period I posted a total of 10 lines. I know that taken out of context they might not make much sense. The idea is just to give readers a deeper insight into each story than a standard synopsis would allow, and perhaps spark some morbid curiosity. Later, I decided to collect all the extracts together here. Because blogging.
“It looked like a giant moth/human hybrid, complete with a huge set of leathery wings folded behind it, and was covered in grey or black fur which had thinned in places to reveal skin so dry it resembled scales.”
“Its yellowing eyes were way out of proportion and had realigned themselves so they were on opposite sides of the head. The nose had elongated and extended into a snout, and the mouth was ringed by a pair of bulging, dark grey lips.”
“Her head was full of abstract images offering a tantalizing glimpse of some other existence, a distant life full of meaning, colour and joy. But each day the images faded a little more and now she wasn’t even sure if what she saw were snatches of memory or some manufactured product of her fractured mind.”
“When Sam was a child, he remembered thinking someone had been drawing on his grandad with a pen and spent hours trying to rub off the ‘ink’. Only later did he find out that the network of deep blue scars carved into his granite flesh were the result of a life spent on the coalfaces.”
“The guy in a white coat asked if I was getting sexually aroused. Just came out and said it. I mean, what the fuck? Who in this world could or would get turned on by pictures of mutilated bodies and severed limbs?”
My short story The Hiraeth Chair, is included in the spring 2022 edition of Shelter of Daylight, edited by Tyree Campbell.
Hiraeth is a Welsh word. There is no direct English translation, but it is basically used to describe a deep longing or sadness, often tinged with nostalgia and homesickness. I think the most accurate description would be along the lines of missing something, or some place, to which you can no longer return. You can find a more in-depth explanation here.
I played with the concept for a long time. I find it fascinating. I think it’s partly symptomatic of the human condition; whatever we have, wherever we are, most of the time we wish we were somewhere else. Running parallel to this is the notion of time travel. What if we found a way to return to those places we yearn for so much? And what would we leave behind?
This isn’t actually a horror story, which makes a change for me. Nobody dies, and there are no decapitations or slayings. It would probably more accurately be described as soft sci-fi. One reader told me it was one of the saddest stories they’ve ever read. To my mind, it’s not sad. It’s optimistic. It’s whatever you want it to be, I guess. If what that reader says is true, though, then I’ve done my job.
It’s a nice little coincidence, or pure irony, that Shelter of Daylight is published by Hiraeth Books.
My short story Eeva is included in the new anthology Trigger Warning – Speaking Ill, edited by John Baltisberger and published by Madness Heart press.
From the blurb: “Through strange, terrifying, and disgusting horror, these 9 authors ensure that death is no safe space. No corpse will escape their due through death, but will instead be allotted the full measure of what our authors have in store.”
This is your trigger warning.
Eeva is ostensibly a story about getting a Facebook friend request from some murky figure in your past and all the memories that it might dredge up. That’s probably something we’ve all experienced. On a more personal level, its about a Finnish exchange student I met (who wasn’t called Eeva) at university who may or may not have been a vampire. Vampire or not, the bit about her inviting three blokes on a weird group date simultaneously really did happen. By the end it turned into a ‘last man standing’ scenario. Maybe they do things differently in Finland.
Writing for Horror Tree, Rebecca Rowland said, “For those readers trapped in the monotony of working “stuffed in a corporate box,” C.M. Saunders’ “Eeva” revisits the youthful excitement and nostalgic novelty of strange desires. The narrator receives a friend request from a woman he knew briefly in college. Most of his social media inquiries are from “obviously-fake catfish accounts made in the image of busty Russian beauties called Layla, or Filipino women who tell me they love me then ask me to buy them a new phone,” but this notification piques his interest, and that’s because Eeva isn’t a textbook case of lost love. Hidden beneath her bohemic façade was a primal nature that went deeper than the narrator ever could have imagined. To reveal any more would be to spoil the climax, but be warned: readers should go forth with a strong stomach.”
Verbosity (noun): “The fact or quality of using more words than needed; wordiness.”
I know. For years you’ve been hearing about wars against drugs, obesity, terrorism, racism andmale pattern baldness. The last thing you want is another one. But trust me, when considering the future of the written word, verbosity is just as much of a problem as any of those Real World issues, especially among young, inexperienced writers.
We all know those people who talk incessantly, dancing around whatever it is they want to say but lacking the confidence or courage to do so directly. Instead, they hope you connect the dots and do the dirty work for them.
It’s annoying, right?
Likewise, there are the people who hit the point right on the head with deadly accuracy. But then they just keep on hitting, saying the same thing over and over again, maybe using different words in an effort to give the impression that they’ve moved when in reality they are rooted to the spot.
Both these kinds of people waste our time, agreed?
In the literary world, verbosity has a similar effect. Consider this sentence:
“The skies opened, unleashing a slick torrent of rain which lashed against the dirty, lightly condensed window glass sounding like untold numbers of heathens banging their fists against the cold, unrelenting gates of heaven.”
Now consider this alternative:
“It was raining heavily.”
“The rain lashed down.”
Granted, neither option is as evocative or spectacular as the first passage. But in effect they say the same thing, and move the story along to the same point in a fraction of the time. By comparison, the first sentence is dense and unfocused. You have to wade through a lot of padding to get the point.
You are probably wondering why verbosity bothers me so much.
Let me explain.
A lot of people send me samples of their work to read or critique, something I am usually more than happy to do. If you do this enough, certain patterns or traits begin to emerge. I can spot a novice writer because most of them take forty or fifty words to say something a more experienced writer would say in six or eight. It was raining. Got it. What more do you need to know? Anything else is just superfluous. Set the tone by all means, but know when you are entering ‘overkill’ territory. In the early stages of your writing career it is simply a matter of cutting out the bullshit. It might sound pretty, but does it actually serve the story?
Of course, there are times when a touch of verbosity is justified. Or even required. Especially at points in the story you want the reader to remember for maximum impact. Maybe a touching love scene, or the death of a leading character. By all means, dawdle a bit. But trust me, nobody wants to wade through three or four paragraphs of flowery prose describing in technicolour detail how much it’s raining outside and how wet the water is. What’s the point? You might think it’s the best thing ever written in the history of mankind, but the reality is, it probably isn’t. Unless you keep things moving apace, the reader will get very bored very quickly. With so much choice out there, once you lose a reader, it’s very difficult to win them back.
Any good editor will tell you that you shouldn’t use more words than absolutely necessary. Reading words takes time, and time is precious. Don’t waste it. There was a time when you could have gotten away with it, but this isn’t the 19th Century anymore. Treat words as precious commodities, not something you have a surplus of. Give your readers some respect, and acknowledge they are busy people. Get to the point with the minimum of fuss, and pretty soon you’ll begin to see marked improvements in your writing.
This post first appeared on the now-defunct Deviant Dolls website.