Contributor Copies

Horror for the Literati

Like erotica, horror is another genre I don’t read as often as I do science fiction, crime/thrillers or fantasy.  It’s not that I don’t like it, but I often relegate purchases because a shiny new discovery in a different genre beckons.

That doesn’t mean I’m not interested in it.  Quite the contrary.  I like reading the stories and watching the movies, and I should probably do it more often, especially since my fantasy fiction has a tendency to run, terrified and screaming, right over the boundary between fantasy and horror.

One good reason to read more horror is that I wouldn’t be surprised when an antho breaks the tropes.

Let me explain.  When I have read horror, at least modern horror, I have found it to fall in a certain box: thrilling, terrifying and unafraid to use a certain amount of shock value to drive the point home.  This goes for Stephen King, and it also goes for the books I receive in which my own stories appear.

Enter Re-Terrify.

Re-Terrify Anthology

Edited by Kelly A. Harmon and Vonnie Winslow Crist, this one surprised me.  Yes, it’s undoubtedly a horror antho, but it aims for a very literate approach to the genre.  If you like gore or extreme terror, this isn’t the right place for it; it has its frights, but builds up to them like MR James more than Friday the 13th.

The final effect is powerful.  There was only one story I didn’t like (not awful, but a little weaker than the others), and it was buried almost in the exact center of the book, which seems to indicate the editors had some misgivings about it, too.  The rest, reprints all, from the 1950s to the 2010s (mostly from the 2010s), showed why they’ve been selected by editors at least twice.  They are uniformly good, and written to a truly high standard, generating horror without being blunt about it. (disclaimer – this is a contributor’s copy, meaning that there’s one of my stories in there… so I might not be completely objective, but I truly did like them all!).

Another thing this one has going for it is that it’s just a horror antho.  Not a horror fairy antho or a werewolf book or a slasher volume.  There’s a little of everything in here, even horror-sf, so you won’t get bored of ploughing the same furrow.

One story, though maybe not the best, was definitely memorable, above and beyond the norm, and that one was “Uncle Sharlevoix’s Epidermis”, by Gregory L. Norris, which was creepy and imaginative, even though the ending is in the classic style.

The rest are all good, and I’m pretty sure you’ll have a different favorite, so go out there and buy yourself a copy.  You will enjoy this one.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer whose latest collection Pale Reflection, pretty much defines dark fantasy.  You can buy it here.

Discovering Noblebright

A couple of years ago, I saw a call for submissions for an anthology to be entitled Still Waters.  I read through the guidelines and realized I had a story that fit with everything except one term I wasn’t sure of: Noblebright.

So I clicked on the link and learned a lot about the concept of Noblebright, including that it was meant to be a contraposition to grimdark.  Now I like a happy ending as much as everyone but, as I admitted in the introduction to Off the Beaten Path, I often set out to write a nice little story and somehow end up with bodies all over the place.

Still Waters edited by CJ Brightley

But though my story did kill of a perfectly nice and attractive character, it also embodied a lot of the concepts they wanted, so I sent it off.

As happens in these cases, I got the acceptance a couple of months later, and received my contributor copy when it was published.  The book went into my pile (those who come here often know I always read and review my contributors’ copies, even if it takes me a few months–or more–to get to each one).

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this one, but one thing that caught me off guard was the spectacular level of the writing here.  I know a couple of the authors involved, so they weren’t a surprise, but the level of craft across the entire book was.  Clearly, the field is getting better at being literary.

The second thing I realized is that most of this isn’t the kind of work I’d normally read were it not for the fact that I had a story in there.  The book is mostly composed of the more modern take on fantasy, meaning that there is less emphasis on adventure and a bit more on character motivation and emotional states.  There are also a couple of science fiction pieces (mine was one), but mainly, this one is more for those who enjoy the current trend of making the genre more literary and mystical (and yes, before you ask, my story is very much in line with this trend… my preferred reading is not always a reflexion on the way I write).

Finally, a word about Noblebright.  While the concept definitely makes for a much less painful reader experience because twisted, reader-unfriendly plots and characters are mostly absent, it also makes things a little predictable.  You know the main character (or the primary secondary character, or all of them) will be motivated by a desire to do good, so you find yourself consciously searching for the signs.  It doesn’t make the book any less enjoyable, but it was an interesting feature I thought worth mentioning.

Favorite story?  Probably “The Ice of Heaven” by Corrie Garrett.  I would have loved for that one to continue, aways the sign of a good story.

 

Gustavo Bondoni’s short fiction has been collected in several books, most recently in Off the Beaten Path, which you can check out here.

 

Contributor Copies – Largish Monkeys at the End of the World

Today, we continue with our review of different contributor copies.  Se here and here for earlier posts in this series.  As I’ve mentioned before, I enjoy the huge variety of themes and, particularly takes on what, at first glance might appear to be a very tightly-focused collection.

Zombie Kong edited by James Roy Daley

For example, when I saw the guidelines of the book that became Zombie Kong, I truly wondered just how many takes on the fifty-foot zombie gorilla could be possible.  In order to avoid getting caught up among dozens of what I thought would be identical stories, I put the beginning of my story in Congo and the end in Brazil.

What I remember most vividly about writing this tale (“Shadow of the Gorilla) is that I was sitting in a coffee shop researching Congolese ports when I realized that there was one particular town on the Congo River which was located exactly where I needed it.  Unfortunately, the port was called… Banana.

I groaned out loud in the middle of the restaurant, and my wife, who was working beside me (we were supposedly on vacation at the beach, but we were both toiling) looked at me sharply, wondering what was wrong.  I responded that no one was going to believe that the port in a giant monkey story was called Banana.  It would seem like a cheap authorly cop-out in order to avoid doing any research.

Nevertheless, the story got written and sold to the antho, and I received a contributor’s copy which I read (like every book that ever falls into my hands) years later.

I needn’t have worried. The subject matter which I felt would be so constricting, was treated every which way by the talented authors in the book.  Some, like me, played it straight.  Others went the “news story” route, or made it a funny story (not sure how funny a fifty-foot undead ape looking to tear you to pieces might seem to the people involved, but the authors captured the tone perfectly).  From the gory to the laugh-out-loud funny, this is a book with something for everyone.

Enter the Apocalypse, Edited by Thomas Gondolfi

The second book I’m looking at today is entitled Enter the Apocalypse.  It’s a collection of short stories about how the apocalypse happened.  This one contains my story “Passing the Torch” which was accepted after I agreed to change the complete structure of the tale (who says a writer’s life is easy?).

But the rest of the stories followed a similar pattern to Zombie Kong: they were clearly written by people with an incredible capacity to think outside the box while, technically, remaining within the box.

We were privileged to be able to host author Nick Barton here with his particular take on what makes an apocalypse appealing.  Reading between the lines of his post, you will get a clear picture of the kind of writer who can use the constraints of a prompt to write something truly special.

But I think the hats must truly go off to the editors of these two books.  Selecting the right stories to give variety without being too gimmicky must be a difficult balancing act, and both Gondolfi (Apocalypse) and Daley (Kong) have managed that tightrope walk beautifully.

 

Gustavo Bondoni has published more than two hundred short stories.  Two collections of his previously published work are available: Tenth Orbit and Other Faraway Places and Virtuoso and Other Stories.