What better way to celebrate the fall season than with a new Black Lands story! 

Space & Time #134

In “A Glass Darkly,” Felix Renn receives an unpleasant blast from the past when he’s asked to help an old colleague set up a meeting with the Paranormal Intelligence Agency. 

What follows is a nightmarish bloodbath from which Felix might not be able to escape. 

This was a fun story to write, in part because I got to explore a bit of Felix’s backstory, but mostly because I got to cut loose with some visceral action featuring PIA agents going toe-to-claw with some really nasty Black Lands entities… with Felix caught in the middle. 

On a rather cool side note, I believe the magazine features the first artist rendition of Felix Renn. There’ve been many Felix stories published over the years, but I’m sure pretty sure none of the artwork thus far has provided a glimpse as to what Mr. Renn looks like. 

Space & Time is available in print and electronic versions. This issue also features fiction from some other excellent authors, so I hope you’ll check it out. 

In 2018, I read 45 novels, 21 novellas, and 274 short stories.

Instead of limiting my favourites to lists of ten or fifteen titles, I’ve included everything I liked. (As usual, not all of these were published in 2018.)

Favourite Novels

Blood Standard — Laird Barron
A Long Line of Dead Men — Lawrence Block
The Neon Rain — James Lee Burke
The Naming of the Beasts — Mike Carey
Thicker Than Water — Mike Carey
The Little Sister — Raymond Chandler
Indigo Slam — Robert Crais
L.A. Requiem — Robert Crais
The Last Detective — Robert Crais
The Saturday Night Ghost Club — Craig Davidson
Experimental Film — Gemma Files
Dark Places — Gillian Flynn
I Am The River — T.E. Grau
Raising Stony Mayhall — Daryl Gregory
Aloha from Hell — Richard Kadrey
The Outsider — Stephen King
The 37th Mandala — Marc Laidlaw
Jackrabbit Smile — Joe R. Lansdale
Prayers for Rain — Dennis Lehane
Hollywood North — Michael Libling
Ghost Road Blues — Jonathan Maberry
The Blue Hammer — Ross Macdonald
Unbury Carol — Josh Malerman
First Blood — David Morrell
The Rook — Daniel O’Malley
Invisible Monsters — Chuck Palahniuk
They Say A Girl Died Here Once — Sarah Pinborough
The Family Plot — Cherie Priest
The Cabin at the End of the World — Paul Tremblay
Web — John Wyndham
My Name Is Legion — Roger Zelazny

Favourite Novellas and Novelettes

The Other Side of the Mountain — Michel Bernanos
Resume Speed — Lawrence Block
The Warren — Brian Evenson
The Twilight Pariah — Jeffrey Ford
Wylding Hall — Elizabeth Hand
The Ballad of Black Tom — Victor LaValle
Nightflyers — George R.R. Martin
Sandkings — George R.R. Martin
A Song for Lya — George R.R. Martin
Forest Under the Sea — Koji Suzuki
The Tired Sounds, A Wake — Michael Wehunt

Favourite Collections and Anthologies

The Girlfriend Game — Nick Antosca
Year’s Best Weird Fiction, Volume 1 — edited by Laird Barron
The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway — Ernest Hemingway
Bleeding Shadows — Joe R. Lansdale
The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard — Elmore Leonard
Nightflyers — George R.R. Martin
The Lord Came at Twilight — Daniel Mills
Aickman’s Heirs — edited by Simon Stantzas
All We Want Is Everything — Andrew F. Sullivan
Dark Water — Koji Suzuki
Over the Darkening Fields — Scott Thomas

Favourite Short Stories

“Carnal Quartet” — Nick Antosca
“The Thickness of Clown Blood” — Nick Antosca
“Night Dog” — Matthew M. Bartlett
“The Howling Man” — Charles Beaumont
“The Hungry House” — Robert Bloch
“The Boy Who Disappeared Clouds” — Lawrence Block
“Someday I’ll Plant More Walnut Trees” — Lawrence Block
“The Aleph” — Jorge Luis Borges
“Seven Minutes in Heaven” — Nadia Bulkin
“The Colomber” — Dino Buzzati
“White Rabbits” — Leonora Carrington
“Nine Last Days on Planet Earth” — Daryl Gregory
“Black Ass at the Cross Roads” — Ernest Hemingway
“Landscape With Figures” — Ernest Hemingway
“Nearer to Thee” — Stephen Graham Jones
“Author’s Tea” — Louis L’Amour
“The Man Who Stole Shakespeare” — Louis L’Amour
“Underground Economy” — John Langan
“Smoke Ghost” — Fritz Leiber
“The Naked Goddess” — Daniel Mills
“The Lord Came at Twilight” — Daniel Mills
“Mother Jones and the Nasty Eclipse” — Cherie Priest
“Fabulous Beasts” — Priya Sharma
“Pumpkinheads” — Andrew F. Sullivan
“Self-Cleaning Oven” — Andrew F. Sullivan
“Towers” — Andrew F. Sullivan
“Cabin 13” — Scott Thomas
“The Book That Finds You” — Lisa Tuttle
“The Pine Arch Collection” — Michael Wehunt
“Mimic” — Donald A. Wollheim

I think of 2018 as a stealth year for me.

On the surface, it doesn’t look like I had much going on, but there’s been plenty of action taking place behind the scenes.

One big thing that did happen was that I finally finished writing the first Felix Renn novel, Sycamore. This was a big accomplishment for a few reasons. For one, it was the first novel I finished since the layoff from my day job, a life-changing event that had taken the wind out of my sails, creatively speaking. For another, it was my first big plunge back into the world of the Black Lands, which was long, long overdue.

On that score I’ve been working on several new short stories and novellas, enough for a new collection of Felix Renn stories and a collection of standalone Black Lands tales.

Speaking of short fiction, I had only one short story published in 2018, but it was a big one for me, a tale called “Bedbug Radio” that takes place in Jeffrey Thomas’s monstrous metropolis of Punktown. I’ve been a fan of Jeff’s books for many years, and his Punktown tales especially have inspired my own Black Lands series. Having the opportunity to play in Jeff’s sandbox was truly a dream come true.

I’ve got a few other things cooking, in publishing and in film, but I’m not yet able to talk about them. Soon, I hope.

So, like I said, not much happened writing-wise in 2018, but I’m thinking I’ll have lots to talk about in 2019. Thanks to everyone who’s stuck around this long, and for your continued support of my work.

See you on the flip-flop.

I am very happy and very excited to report that I’ve finished the first draft of my new novel, which is the first book in the Felix Renn/Black Lands series. It came out at 97,532 words, and it’s called Sycamore.

I’ve spent several years writing short stories and novellas about the Toronto-based private investigator Felix Renn, a kind of supernatural Spenser, in a world where the paranormal is the norm.Sycamore is the first Felix Renn novel, and it was such a joy to write.

I had forgotten how much I loved writing in Felix’s voice and exploring the world of the Black Lands. I can’t speak to where or when this novel will be published (if it’s published at all), but I can say it was some of the most fun I’ve ever had writing a book.

I actually finished writing it on July 30th, and have spent the past couple of weeks giving it a final pass before sending it off to my agent. Being able to read the story as a whole is usually cause for a series of minor heart attacks and spasms of self-doubt, but in the case of Sycamore I was surprisingly pleased with how well everything held together. Maybe it’s because I’ve had this story in my head for several years, or maybe it’s because I’ve come some way as a writer in that time.

Regardless of the reason, I’m feeling very positive about this book. I love the story, I love the characters, and I love the groundwork that’s been laid down for the rest of the series to come.

Huge monster-sized thanks to my wife, Kathryn, who has supported my work from the very beginning, and has been telling me for years, “You have to write the Felix book!”

In 2017, I read 32 novels, 14 novellas, and 162 short stories.

Instead of limiting my favourites to lists of ten or fifteen titles, I’ve included everything I liked. (As usual, not all of these were published in 2017.)

Favourite Novels

Little Heaven — Nick Cutter
Last Days — Brian Evenson
Lily — Michael Thomas Ford
Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier — Mark Frost
Harrison Squared — Daryl Gregory
Sleeping Beauties — Stephen King & Owen King
I Am Providence — Nick Mamatas
The Death House
— Sarah Pinborough
A Perfect Machine — Brett Savory
Blue War — Jeffrey Thomas
Deadstock — Jeffrey Thomas
Miami Blues — Charles Willeford
What the Hell Did I Just Read? — David Wong
Nine Princes in Amber — Roger Zelazny

Favourite Novellas and Novelettes

Tomahawk Park Survivors Raffle — Laird Barron
Rangel — Matthew M. Bartlett
Loaded — Joe Hill
Agents of Dreamland — Caitlin R. Kiernan
A House at the Bottom of a Lake — Josh Malerman
Red Cells — Jeffrey Thomas

Favourite Collections and Anthologies

Swift to Chase — Laird Barron
Cathedral — Raymond Carver
Probably Monsters — Ray Cluley
Sylvan Dread — Richard Gavin
The Nameless Dark
— T.E. Grau
The Collected Stories — Amy Hempel
The Earth Wire and Other Stories — Joel Lane
Hap and Leonard: Blood and Lemonade — Joe R. Lansdale
Greener Pastures — Michael Wehunt

Favourite Short Stories

“A Small, Good Thing” — Raymond Carver
“All Change” — Ray Cluley
“Bloodcloth” — Ray Cluley
“I Have Heard the Mermaids Singing” — Ray Cluley
“The Cyclorama” — Laird Barron
“Termination Dust” — Laird Barron
“Word Doll” — Jeffrey Ford
“Beach Town” — Amy Hempel
“Jesus Is Waiting” — Amy Hempel
“The Clearing” — Joel Lane
“Other Than the Fair” — Joel Lane
“The Mainz Psalter” — Jean Ray
“The Shadowy Street” — Jean Ray
“The Gladiator Lie” — Kelly Robson
“The Dying Season” — Lynda E. Rucker
“The Town of Cats” — Hagiwara Sakutaro
“It Flows From the Mouth” — Robert Shearman
“Genius Loci” — Clark Ashton Smith
“Beside Me Singing in the Wilderness” — Michael Wehunt
“Dancers” — Michael Wehunt
“An Ending (Ascent)” — Michael Wehunt
“October Film Haunt: Under the House” — Michael Wehunt
“Onanon” — Michael Wehunt
“The Gales of the World” — Robert J. Wiersema

What a difference a year makes.

2017 was a rough year for a lot of people. When I think of the Orange Shadow that fell across our neighbours to the south (and the rest of the world, to a certain degree), I know I don’t have as much to complain about as others. But then, life isn’t a competition; we don’t tally up the good and bad things on some sort of celestial score sheet (thank god). The things that happened to me last year may pale in significance to those that took place — and continue to unfold — in the world at large, but that made them no less difficult.

It was around this time one year ago that I found out I was being laid off from my job. The news hit me particularly hard since I’d had a full-time job since I graduated high school, and I’d never been fired or laid off before in my life. Since I had a few months’ notice, I had a chance to prepare — insomuch as someone can for such a thing — but it still knocked me for one helluva loop.

On top of that, I found our later in the year that NBC had ended up passing on the pilot script for the TV show based on my short story, “The House on Ashley Avenue.” This was upsetting if not surprising. I knew from the beginning that it was extremely unlikely that the project would actually go much farther beyond that step. To have “Ashley” go into development was a pretty big coup, and although it’s a shame the show didn’t end up happening, I know that I still got a helluva lot farther along in the process than most writers get.

Not too long after that, my literary agent and I parted ways. There’s no need to go into the particulars, except to say that he’s a fine agent, just not the right one for me. This happens all the time and I didn’t take it too much to heart. But… on top of the news about the job and the TV show, it was a lot to take. Not to mention the year was only about half over at this point. I was a little worried about what 2017 had in store for me next.

I’m glad to say that the Fates more or less left me alone for the rest of the year. I’ve spent the last six months licking my wounds and getting back into fighting shape (both mentally and physically). Instead of rushing right out and getting another soul-sucking office job, my wife Kathryn suggested I take some time for myself. We’re fortunate enough to be in a position to allow that for a time, and as Kathryn pointed out, I would never simply quit my job to write full time. That decision has been taken out of my hands, she reasoned, so I might as well give it a shot.

I received a very helpful and extremely much-needed boost in that direction in the form of a new literary agent. She picked me and dusted me off and helped me get back on my feet. My first novel, The Underwood, is currently out on submission with a number of publishers, and I’m looking forward to hearing back from them soon in 2018. No guarantees that it’ll sell anywhere, but then if you want guarantees or sure things, then the creative arts are not for you. I took more than a few hits this past year, and I didn’t stick with it because I thought I’d get rich. I did it because I love it. Because I can’t imagine doing anything else. That might make me a fool, but I’m a happy fool, and I’m happiest when I’m writing.

This was a hard review to write. I’d much rather tell you the story of Felix Renn and his nightmarish encounter with a town called Sycamore. That story is coming soon, I promise, but I had to write this one first. It was hard to write it, not because it means reliving those things that happened, but because I tend to be a private person, especially online, and the things that happened to me in 2017 were, for the most part, intensely private. But they had to be said. I try to keep full transparency in these year-end reviews, and I do believe there’s something therapeutic in talking about our thoughts and feelings. Don’t worry, though. I’ll be back to cat videos and dinner experiments in no time. Also, Felix is waiting for me. I’ve been promising him a novel for a long time now. That’s a promise I made to a lot of other people, too, and while 2017 knocked me down and kicked me a few times, I remain still a man who keeps his promises.

See you on the flip-flop.

In 2016, I read 26 novels, 16 novellas, and 200 short stories.

Instead of limiting my favourites to lists of ten or fifteen titles, I’ve included everything I liked. (As usual, not all of these were published in 2016.)

Favourite Novels

Stalking the Angel — Robert Crais
Let the Right One In — John Ajvide Lindqvist
Bird Box — Josh Malerman
I’m Thinking of Ending Things — Iain Reid
Butcher’s Moon — Richard Stark
Plunder Squad
— Richard Stark
Vermilion — Molly Tanzer
Disappearance at Devil’s Rock — Paul Tremblay
The Martian — Andy Weir

Favourite Novellas and Novelettes

Man with No Name — Laird Barron
Story of Your Life
— Ted Chiang
— Richard Gavin
We Are All Completely Fine
— Daryl Gregory
— John Langan
At the Edge of Ellensburg
— Livia Llewellyn
— Livia Llewellyn
The Account of David Stonehouse, Exile
— Daniel Mills

Favourite Collections and Anthologies

Cold Hand in Mine — Robert Aickman
Can Such Things Be?
— Ambrose Bierce
Autumn Cthulhu
— edited by Mike Davis
Safe Inside the Violence
— Christopher L. Irvin
Hap and Leonard
— Joe R. Lansdale
Get in Trouble
— Kelly Link
Engines of Desire: Tales of Love and Other Monsters
— Livia Llewellyn
Hair Side, Flesh Side
— Helen Marshall
Things Don’t Break
— Richard Rosenbaum
Tiny Deaths
— Robert Shearman

Favourite Short Stories

“The Night Wire” — H.F. Arnold
“Andy Kaufmann Creeping Through the Trees” — Laird Barron
“Nemesis” — Laird Barron
“At Night, When the Demons Come” — Ray Cluley
“Click” — Brian Evenson
“Grave Goods” — Gemma Files
“A Natural History of Autumn” — Jeffrey Ford
“The Stiles of Palemarsh” — Richard Gavin
“Prisoners” — Ed Gorman
“Turn Away” — Ed Gorman
“The Truffle Pig” — T.E. Grau
“Shomer” — Glen Hirshberg
“Digging Deep” — Christopher L. Irvin
“Non Gratum Anus Rodentum” — Brian Keene
“The Oak and The Pond” — Joe R. Lansdale
“What Kept You So Long?” — John Ajvide Lindqvist
“I Can See Right Through You” — Kelly Link
“The Lesson” — Kelly Link
“Secret Identity” — Kelly Link
“The Engine of Desire” — Livia Llewellyn
“Blessed” — Helen Marshall
“Sanditon” — Helen Marshall
“Something Lost, Something Gained” — Seanan McGuire
“Family” — Maura McHugh
“Water Main” — S.P. Miskowski
“The Caretakers” — David Nickle
“Body Horror” — Richard Rosenbaum
“The Middle of Things or, 1922 and All That” — Richard Rosenbaum
“The Oughts” — Richard Rosenbaum
“Things Don’t Break” — Richard Rosenbaum
“After the Fall” — Jeffrey Thomas
“The Night is a Sea” — Scott Thomas
“Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” — Alyssa Wong

So, here we are again.

Looking back at another year past, summing up the highlights and the accomplishments, I feel a mixture of gratitude and disappointment, as I often do. I don’t feel like I accomplished a lot, but the things that I did were fairly notable.

I only had one short story published in 2016, but it was a Felix Renn story, and I haven’t had one of those out in a while. The story was called “Eyes Like Poisoned Wells” and it appeared in the first double-sized issue of Cemetery Dance magazine, which gave Felix and the Black Lands a nice little boost of publicity, and reminded me how much I like writing about that dark, creepy world. (I really do have to finish that Felix novel one of these days…)

Two things happened in 2016 that were pretty exciting. First, I finished a novel called The Underwood. Without spoiling the story, I’ll say it’s a book that builds on the themes and ideas explored in my collection Every House Is Haunted. The two books are separate entities with no connection to each other, but I feel The Underwood is the next logical step in my career as a writer.

The second thing was the news that my story, “The House on Ashley Avenue,” which has been optioned these past couple of years by Universal Cable Productions, is now in development as a TV series for NBC. A couple of writers are currently working on the pilot, and if the show is picked up, I’ll be working on it as a co-producer (and writing an episode, too!).

It’s all very exciting, but still far from a done deal. I’m doing my best to enjoy the ride as long as it lasts, reminding myself that even if the show fails to materialize, that I still got a hell of a lot further than most writers ever do in the Hollywood game.

I think I’m okay with that because I never dreamed of making it big with a career in movies and television. Mostly I look at it as a means to an end. I think of the money as a way to subsidize a career writing books, which is a hard thing to do from publishing alone. And if the TV people want me involved in the show, then great. If not, that’s okay, too.

Speaking of books, I spent the first few months of 2016 writing The Underwood. I started in November of 2015, and I wrote every day, finishing the 120k-word beast in March. I didn’t miss a day, and I was proud of that, but the end result was that I burned myself out for a while, and I wasn’t able to get back to the next draft for several months. It took a long time, but eventually, armed with some helpful notes from my agent, I was able to get back to it, and the next draft should be done in the next few weeks.

There have been dark days with the book. Times when I’ve looked at the thing and felt I wrote it too fast, or that the idea simply wasn’t as good as I thought it was. Doubt is a normal part of writing, but that doesn’t make it any less easier to deal with. Sometimes the doubts seem to pile up so high I can’t see anything else. All I can do is keep my chin up and do my best, and hope that it’s good enough in the end.

This is the process, and although I may be biased I feel that writing requires the most discipline and the most courage of the creative arts. Because it doesn’t matter if you’re Stephen King or a relative nobody like myself, a writer works alone. There may be encouragement from friends, family, and other writers, but in the end they can’t help you with the work. Sometimes writing feels like Fitzgerald’s dark night of the soul, where it’s three o’clock in the morning day after day. That sounds melodramatic as hell, but any writer who has made a serious run for the brass ring knows it’s true. Writing is often hard, lonely work. You have to really love it — and really believe in yourself — to keep going, and it’s perfectly normal to constantly ask yourself, Am I a fool? Am I deluding myself?

Maybe I am, but the fact is, I enjoy writing, I enjoy telling stories, and I figure as long as the enjoyment outweighs the doubt, then it’s still worth doing. The support of my wife, my friends, and the many writers I know help me on the days when I can’t help myself. Like most things in life, it’s about balance, and I couldn’t do it without them. The people that keep me from falling over. The people that help pick me up when I do.

Thank you all.

See you on the flip-flop.

Random Writing Quote

"A writer who doesn't write first and foremost for himself is unlikely to satisfy anyone else."
Poppy Z. Brite

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