Episode 028

Our 4th Halloween episode, this time we have fiction from Orrin Grey & Ambrose Bierce. In addition we look at the life of clairvoyant Marinus B. Dykshoorn.

Marinus B. Dykshoorn, passed away last month. He was believed to have gift from a very early age that went beyond clairvoyance. At his funeral guests came forth with stories of his miraculous healing powers, powers he’d expressly asked them not to reveal. Dykshoorn also assisted police with various investigations and unearth buried treasure, but through it all he chose to keep a relatively low profile.

Ambrose Bierce was born in Ohio in 1842. No one is quite sure when he died or what became of him. It’s theorized he died in 1914 or 1915 before a firing squad loyal to Poncho Villa’s army, but there are conflicting reports. Between Ohio and a shallow grave in Mexico, Bierce fought for the North in the Civil War, rose through the ranks, suffered a head wound, distinguished himself repeatedly by serving three tours and returning to his brigade after his injury. He was granted the honorary title of brevet major for his service.

After the military, he worked in journalism, and in 1871 at the age of 29, his first short story was published. After a stint in England, and a brief period working as an agent tasked with fighting off thieves attempting to rob mining company shipments, he settled in the San Francisco area. Here he returned to magazine work. It’s during this time Bierce begins the penning the satirical definitions that would later become his most famous work, The Devils Dictionary.

Several books follow, many of which include supernatural tales that have gone on to become classics and continue to exert their influence. In 1913 he crosses into Mexico and that’s about the last thing any one is sure of.

This isn’t near all the interesting bits of Ambrose Bierce’s life, remarkable as it may sound. He was a character of history, beyond his literary contributions to both satire and the weird tale. I’ll end with a quote from the man.

“A writer has ever present consciousness that this is a world of… fools and rogues, blind with superstition, tormented with envy, consumed with vanity, selfish, false, cruel, cursed with illusions, and frothing mad.”

I read a short vignette by Bierce called “John Mortonson’s Funeral,” first Published in 1906.

Orrin Grey, (pictured at the left) is a rising talent in the realm of supernatural horror. His appearances in the anthologies Bound For Evil, Historical Lovecraft, The Mothman Files, Candle In The Attic Window and others earned him his first collection of short stories. Never Bet The Devil and Other Warnings, is due in the first quarter of 2012 from Evil Eye Books. Grey will be co-editing his first anthology next year, not yet titled, the collection will focus on fungal monsters.

Orrin reads his vignette, “The Big, Dark House By The Sea.”

Additionally, Orrin has a great little essay regarding his take on supernatural horror over at Strange Horizons. For more information about Orrin Grey’s work you can find him at orringrey.com

Music this time from…


Episode 028 – Spookatorium

You’ve got pumpkin on your breath,

Prof. Gruntsplatter


Spookatorium 027

Holy Cats! After three years in the ground the Spookatorium has returned.

In this episode we look at Cotard’s Syndrome a psychological affliction where the sufferer believes themselves to be dead, missing organs or simple non-existent. We’ve got some publishing news from Gray Friar Press, Dark Regions Press, Tartarus Press and the new Phantasmagoria Journal. Then it’s into the catacombs beneath Paris, and a secret workshop in the dome of the Pantheon with UX and arguably secret society urban explorers and preservationists.

Author Richard Gavin speaks on the ideas behind his bleak tale In The Shadow Of The Nodding God from his collection Omens published by Mythos Books, and gives a reading of his vignette Notes On The Aztec Death Whistle. In addition to Omens, Richard has two other collections of short stories available Charnel Wine & The Darkly Splendid Realm are available from Dark Regions Press.

Music this time


Professor Gruntsplatter’s Spookatorium 027

Tell your friends, warn your neighbors!

Prof. Gruntsplatter

“A Choir Of Ill Children” by Tom Piccirilli

It was that title that caught my interest. It’s brilliant, evocative, and I wish I had thought of it. What a perfect Gruntsplatter song title. . . and so it fermented my brain, teasing and prodding my curiosity

I stumbled on a used copy of the Night Shade hardcover edition, in great shape, for $10 a few months ago and snatched it up. I’d draw it from the shelf now and then to admire the title and Caniglia cover art, then put it back for another day.

An opportunity to have a story critiqued by Mr. Piccirilli is what got me to excavate it from the “to be read” pile. I had only read a handful of his short stories, and I wanted to get a better idea of where his vision was coming from before I saw his critique.

It’s an impressive vision. A Choir Of Ill Children takes place deep in the superstitious bayou. It’s a degenerate world of swamp witchery, the ghosts and demons of family, and transcendent loyalty.

It’s Piccirilli’s sense of place and characterization that impressed me. He’s sculpted a rich world steeped in the sense of history that’s so important to the numerous story threads.  His character’s, each of them haunted in their own way, are authentic. The story weaves in a lot of things I have a personal affection for  – bog witches, the resonance of landmarks, the inherent creepiness of small towns, shabby carnivals, and so on – Piccirilli paints them with vivid colors.

The story is dense, some threads that seem crucial at the beginning end up not being as significant as the book evolves. They are introduced as catalysts for something else, and then fade into the background. If I had a gripe, it would be that. There is more that could have been done with some of the threads, or they could have been removed if they weren’t as important as suggested. They do add to the texture of the world and the personality of the large cast though, and that texture and personality is how A Choir Of Ill Children worms into your guts.

Piccirilli’s vision and captivating prose, earns A Choir Of Ill Children a home among other notable Southern Gothics. There are various editions that have been released since it was first published, and I’m not sure what’s in print and what’s not, but you should go find out.

Cross-p0sted from The Aberrant Laboratory

Steve Rasnic Tem

Steve Rasnic Tem writes like a free man. That is the simplest way I can say it. Previously, I had read a handful of short stories and knew I wanted more of Tem’s perspective.

In the last few months I have read two novels and a collaborative novel written with his wife Melanie Tem. You can find their joint website here.

I started with the collaborative novel. The Man On The Ceiling was originally released as a novella that went on to win a World Fantasy Award,  Bram Stoker Award and an International Horror Guild Award in 2000. The version I picked up was the  expanded novel released by Wizards Of The Coast Discoveries. It is part biography, part fiction and as the authors remind us frequently all of it is true. I believe them. The surreal emotional dread is authentic.

The fluidity of imagination and jagged reality is handled so well, it’s perhaps the thing that best represents what kind of writer Tem is. The visceral fear he strips naked is rooted in parental anxiety.  Our inability to protect that which is most important turns to poison with the glide of a shadow on the wall. Imagination, fear, disaster fantasies and unconditional love wrestle on the cliffs of psychosis when one is open to feel all that there is to feel.

Next I went to The Book Of Days, published by Subterranean Press. The tale again deals with the theme of parental anxiety and personal insecurities. The protagonists flees his family to his familial cabin in the woods.  What follows is a tale told in the framework of a short story every day as the main character struggles to fend off madness. This set up allows Tem to rip wide his vivid perspective on the nature of pain. All the horror in the world is just behind your eyes.

Finally, I just wrapped up Excavation released in eBook format by Crossroad Press & Macabre Ink Digital, 0riginally released in 1997. Parental anxiety again plays a role in his tale of a man who returns to the isolated coal mining town where he grew up. The town suffered a flood that killed his family and numerous others after he left, but the sickness and rage that led him to flee that life is right where he left it.

That Tem can write about such personal, crippling fear with such freedom of ideas is perhaps my favorite quality in his inspired work. I don’t get a sense of self consciousness in the writing despite the self consciousness and, arguably, even narcissism of his protagonists. He goes where the trapped and paranoid mind goes.

Tem has countless short stories out there as well. With any luck a big, fat collection is forthcoming from somewhere (I haven’t seen any indication of that though). Centipede Press recently released a collection of all of Steve and Melanie’s collaborative fiction titled In Concert that I hope to get my hands on before too much longer.

He’s a writer with enviable skills. If you enjoy emotional, psychological prose that slithers between boundaries into the overlooked crevasses of our internal reality Steve Rasnic Tem is probably for you.It’s been a true pleasure and inspiration to explore his work.

Cross-Posted from The Aberrant Laboratory

“The World More Full Of Weeping” by R.J. Wiersema

I picked this up based on the title, a reference to a Yeats poem, “The Stolen Child.” The World More Full Of Weeping falls somewhere between a long short story and a novella.

The story follows a young boy from a fractured, loving family as he seeks solace and freedom in the expansive woods behind his house. In the woods, he’s befriended by a young presence who reveals the mysticism of the forest to him. The relationship between the boy and the presence develops like two children slowly becoming best friends. It’s natural and well done.

The mystic parts of the woods are handled simply, focusing on beauty and appreciation rather than throwing back the veil and revealing a wild phantasmagoria. I liked that, that discretion runs through the whole tale.
When the boy fails to return home a search is undertaken and his father  realizes he’d also been befriended by the presence in his youth.

I’m not going to get into the ending, but to say it was multi-layered and satisfying. This is a simple tale of guilt and loss and wonder, made rich by Wiersema’s character development, setting and eloquent prose.

I spent a lot of time in the woods as a kid in a town not terribly unlike the one in this story. It held a certain nostalgia for me that could only be conjured by someone who had the same intimate knowledge of those places and the people that populate them. To that end, this volume also includes an essay exploring how fictional environments become doppelgangers of their real counterparts.

I snagged this for an afternoon read on the Kindle and discovered a writer I will keep an eye on going forward.

Cross-Posted From The Aberrant Laboratory