Thursday, April 24, 2014

Editing in Process...The Children of Old Leech

Cover design by Matthew Revert
When a publisher self-destructs, all that remains are the books that were published -- and I'll be the first to admit that the original Night Shade Books published some amazing, even awe-inspiring, books.1

Three such books were written by Laird Barron. But, now that I think about it, maybe "amazing, even awe-inspiring" aren't the appropriate words to use to describe a Laird Barron book. I had read a few of his stories in various anthologies, and then in April 2007 I had the opportunity to copy edit his collection: The Imago Sequence and Other Stories. I was excited to work on this, the author's first collection, but that excitement was tempered with trepidation. You'll know what I mean if you've ever read a Laird Barron story. His writing is difficult to describe; his stories are categorized as "horror" and "dark fantasy," but neither of those terms aptly describes what the reader experiences. A Laird Barron story isn't scary, nor is it shocking; the best word that immediately comes to mind is "dread": a feeling of impending doom that permeates throughout the entirety of a Laird Barron story. And even though no doom may befall the protagonist, the feeling persists nonetheless -- even after the story has been read, the book closed and put away.

The Imago Sequence and Other Stories was followed by Occultation and Other Stories, a second collection that I worked on in January 2010. All of which paved the way for Laird's first novel, The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All, one of the last books that I worked on (December 2012) before opting out of Night Shade Books (before they kicked me out).

Laird Barron typically writes novella-length stories: they are long, like 25,000-35,000 words long, but while reading one, I can still see the light at the end of the tunnel; I know that if I hang in there for another 20 or so pages, I'll get to the end, be able to finally take a breath without that feeling of dread directly pressing down upon me. But a novel? A book-length story? Would I be able to hold my breath, as it were, through an entire novel? Obviously, but certainly not unscathed....

Which brings me to Laird Barron (sort of) and Word Horde, a relatively new publisher, headed by Ross E. Lockhart. As some of you may know, Ross wore many hats during his five years with Night Shade Books. He was the "go to" guy for books, hardcopies, files, questions, whatever. Ross did the majority of book layouts and then worked with the authors directly once I completed my edits.2 He even edited quite a few titles himself as well. After departing NSB, Ross formed Word Horde and published his first book in August 2013: Tales of Jack the Ripper, an anthology which Ross himself edited. Ross and I signed an agreement on May 13, 2013, and shortly thereafter I began copy editing Tales of Jack the Ripper, which I wrote about last year in a blog post on June 5.

Now Ross and Word Horde is gearing up to publish his second anthology, this one co-edited with Justin Steele, entitled The Children of Old Leech -- pictured above. But it is the subtitle that's the clincher: "A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron." Imagine, 17 stories (by 19 authors) and more than 100,000 words of fiction, written using characters, situations, and locales created by Laird Barron. It gave me the willies just thinking about it... And that was even before I worked on the book!

Here's the table of contents for The Children of Old Leech, an anthology of original fiction:
Introduction: Of Whisky and Doppelgängers — Justin Steele
The Harrow — Gemma Files
Pale Apostle — J. T. Glover & Jesse Bullington
Walpurgisnacht — Orrin Grey
Learn to Kill — Michael Cisco
Good Lord, Show Me the Way — Molly Tanzer
Snake Wine — Jeffrey Thomas
Love Songs from the Hydrogen Jukebox — T.E. Grau
The Old Pageant — Richard Gavin
Notes for "The Barn in the Wild" — Paul Tremblay
Firedancing — Michael Griffin
The Golden Stars at Night — Allyson Bird
The Last Crossroads on a Calendar of Yesterdays — Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.
The Woman in the Wood — Daniel Mills
Brushdogs — Stephen Graham Jones
Ymir — John Langan
Of a Thousand Cuts — Cody Goodfellow
Tenebrionidae — Scott Nicolay & Jesse James Douthit-Nicolay
Afterword — Ross E. Lockhart

Friday, April 18, 2014

One more from Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

"If I knew that today would be the last time I’d see you, I would hug you tight and pray the Lord be the keeper of your soul. If I knew that this would be the last time you pass through this door, I’d embrace you, kiss you, and call you back for one more. If I knew that this would be the last time I would hear your voice, I’d take hold of each word to be able to hear it over and over again. If I knew this is the last time I see you, I’d tell you I love you, and would not just assume foolishly you know it already.”

Thursday, April 17, 2014

In Memory of Gabriel García Márquez, 6 March 1927 – 17 April 2014

"When I finished one book, I wouldn't write for a while," he said in 1966. "Then I had to learn how to do it all over again. The arm goes cold; there's a learning process you have to go through again before you rediscover the warmth that comes over you when you are writing."
- Gabriel García Márquez

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Journey Through the Past: MS Dos 6.22, Windows 3.11, 1GB HDD

I'm getting ready to retire my Windows XP box (more on this in a future blog post), now that Microsoft is no longer supporting XP. While preparing for this event -- and process: more than 50 software applications to install on the new system when it arrives! -- I was sorting through some boxes of old files and software....

In 1995 I was finally ready to purchase my first Microsoft Windows computer (up to this point I was all Apple). But I didn't want an off-the-shelf box -- in fact, in 1995, I'm not even sure you could buy an OTS PC. So I arranged a lunch meeting in Sunnyvale (California) with my best friend Randy Davis, who worked for Lockheed at the time, and one of his best friends, Kelly Floyd, who, I believe, worked for Hewlett-Packard. And, during lunch, the three of us built -- on paper -- a top-of-the-line Windows PC. Don't forget, this was 1995.

So while I was sorting through those boxes I mentioned above, I came across the original invoice for the purchase of that first PC -- almost 19 years to the day -- on April 15, 1995.

Since this JPG of the invoice is a bit difficult to read, here's a link to the PDF version -- much brighter and easier to read, though I can only post the link to the document.

But for those who aren't into JPGs or links to PDFs, here is the parts list direct from the invoice:

INTEL PENTIUM-9O CPU L502376050179
8M SIMM (72 PINS) Bl09
CPU HEAT SINK & FAN FOR P5-75/90/100

Mind-boggling, isn't it: DOS! Windows 3.11. Western Digital, one of the best hard drives at the time, with a whopping 1GB of storage (I now have a 32GB thumbdrive that I use with my Nexus 7 tablet!), along with a tape backup! Thank gawd I never had to actually use that tape backup to recover files or data.... The Spider Tarantula video card and Sound Blaster sound card were state-of-the-art. And 8 Megs of RAM!

The total price, including sales tax (7.75% in 1995 -- which is quite surprising considering that the current sales tax is only one percent more): $3,325.74. That was not a cheap PC.

Of course, HKG Computers in Sunnyvale is no longer with us; probably hasn't been located in that store front for more than a decade. A lot has changed since then.

Special thanks to Neil Young for the loan of the title Journey Through the Past.

Friday, April 11, 2014

"What You Are About To See" by Jack Skillingstead (Part 3 of 3)

What You Are About To See
by Jack Skillingstead

[Continued from Part 2]

Probabilities shuffled...

* * * *

I woke up next to my wife. In the ticking darkness of our bedroom I breathed a name: "Andy."

Connie shifted position, cuddling into me. Her familiar body. I put my arm around her and stared into the dark, hunting elusive memories. Without them I wasn't who I thought I was. After a while Connie asked:

"What's wrong?"

"I don't know. I think I was having a dream about Andy McCaslin. It woke me up."


"Guy I knew from the Rangers, long time ago. I told you about him. We were friends."

Connie suppressed a yawn. "He died, didn't he? You never said how."

"Covert op in Central America. He found himself in the custody some rebels."


"They kept him alive for weeks while they interrogated him."

"God. Are you—"

"That was decades ago, Con. Dreams are strange, sometimes."

I slipped out of the bed.

"Where are you going?"

"Have some tea and think for a while. My night's shot anyway."

"Want company?"

"Maybe I'll sit by myself. Go back to sleep. You've got an early one."

"Sure? I could make some eggs or something."

"No, I'm good."

But I wasn't. In my basement office, consoling tea near at hand, I contemplated my dead friend and concluded he wasn't supposed to be that way. My old dreams of pain surged up out of the place at the bottom of my mind, the place that enclosed Andy and what I knew had happened to him, the place of batteries and alligator clips, hemp ropes, sharpened bamboo slivers, the vault of horrors far worse than any I'd endured as a child and from which I fled to the serenity of an office cubicle and regular hours.

But that wasn't supposed to have happened, not to Andy. I rubbed my temple, eyes closed in the dim basement office, and suddenly a word spoke itself on my lips:


* * * *

My name is Brian Kinney, and today I am not an alcoholic. My father was an alcoholic who could not restrain his demons. During my childhood those demons frequently emerged to torment me and my mother. Dad's goodness, which was true and present, was not enough to balance the equation between pain and love. I had been skewing toward my own demon-haunted landscape when Andy McCaslin took my gun from my hand and balanced out the equation for me.

My new world order.

* * * *

I'm driving through the moonless Arizona desert at two o'clock in the morning, looking for a turn-off that doesn't exist. After an hour or so a peculiar, hovering pink light appears in the distance, far off the road. I slow, angle onto the berm, ease the Outback down to the desert floor, and go bucketing overland toward the light.

* * * *

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

"What You Are About To See" by Jack Skillingstead (Part 2 of 3)

"What You Are About To See"
by Jack Skillingstead

[Continued from Part 1]

The moon was a white poker chip. The desert slipped past us, cold blue with black ink shadows. We rode in Andy's private vehicle, a late model Jeep Cherokee. He had already been driving all day, having departed from the L.A. office that morning, dropping everything to pursue "something like a dream" that had beckoned to him.

"Care to reveal our destination?" I asked.

"I don't want to tell you anything beforehand. It might influence you, give you some preconception. Your mind has to be clear or this won't work."

"Okay, I'll think only happy thoughts."

"Good. Hang on, by the way."

He slowed then suddenly pulled off the two-lane road. We jolted over desert hardpan. Scrub brush clawed at the Cherokee's undercarriage.

"Ah, the road's back thataway," I said.

He nodded and kept going. A bumpy twenty minutes or so passed. Then we stopped, for no obvious reason, and he killed the engine. I looked around. We were exactly in the middle of nowhere. It looked a lot like my personal mental landscape.

"I know this isn't a joke," I said, "because you are not a funny guy."

"Come on."

We got out. Andy was tall, Scotch-Irish, big through the shoulders and gut. He was wearing a sheepskin jacket, jeans and cowboy boots. A real shit-kickin' son of a bitch. Yee haw. He had a few other sheepskins somewhere, but his walls were wearing those. I followed him away from the Jeep.

"Tell me what you see," he said.

I looked around.

"Not much."

"Be specific."

I cleared my throat. "Okay. Empty desert, scrub brush, cactus. Lots of sand. There is no doubt a large population of venomous snakes slithering underfoot looking for something to bite, though I don't exactly see them. There's also a pretty moon in the sky. So?"

I rubbed my hands together, shifted my feet. I'd worn a Sun Devils sweatshirt, which was insufficient. Besides that I could have used a drink. But of course these days I could always use a drink. After a lifetime of grimly determined sobriety I'd discovered that booze was an effective demon-suppressor and required exactly the opposite of willpower, which is what I'd been relying on up till Connie's death. I have no idea what my father's demons might have been. He checked out by a self-inflicted route before we got around to discussing that. I almost did the same a couple of years later, while in the thick of Ranger training, where I'd fled in desperate quest of discipline and structure and a sense of belonging to something. Andy talked me out of shooting myself and afterwards kept the incident private. I sometimes wondered whether he regretted that. Offing myself may have been part of a balancing equation designed to subtract a measure of suffering from the world.

Now, in the desert, he withdrew a pack of Camels from his coat pocket and lit up. I remembered my dad buying his packs at the 7-Eleven, when I was a little kid.

"Hey, you don't smoke," I said to Andy.

"I don't? What do you call this?" He waved the cigarette at me. "Look, Brian, what would you say if I told you we were standing outside a large military instillation?"

"I'd say okay, but it must be invisible."

"It is."

I laughed. Andy didn't.

"Come on," I said.

"All right, it's not invisible. But it's not exactly here, either."

"That I can see. Can't see?"

"Close your eyes."

"Then I won't be able to see anything, including the invisible military instillation."

"Do it anyway," he said. "Trust me. I've done this before. So have you, probably."

I hesitated. Andy was a good guy—my friend, or the closest thing to one that I'd ever allowed. But it now crossed my mind that my informal status vis-à-vis the Agency was about to become terminally informal. Certainly there was precedent. We who work on the fringes where the rules don't constrain our actions are also subject to the anything-goes approach on the part of our handlers. Was I on the verge of being...severed? By Andy McCaslin? He stood before me with his damn cigarette, smoke drifting from his lips, his eyes black as oil in the moonlight.

"Trust me, Brian."

Maybe it was the lingering wine buzz. But I decided I did trust him, or needed to, because he was the only one I ever had trusted. I closed my eyes. The breeze carried his smoke into my face. My dad had been redolent of that stink. Not a good sense-memory. But when I was little I loved the look of the cigarette cartons and packages, the way my dad would say, Pack a Camels non-filter, and the clerk would turn to the rack behind him and pick out the right one, like a game show.

"Now relax your mind," Andy said.

"Consider it relaxed, Swami."

"Try to be serious."

"I'll try."

"Remember the empty mind trick they taught us, in case we ever got ourselves captured by unfriendlies?"


"Do that. Empty your mind."

It was easy, and I didn't learn it from the Army. I learned it at my father's knee, you might say. Survival technique number one: Empty your mind. Don't be there. Don't hear the screaming, even your own.

Andy said, "I'm going to say a word. When I do, let your mind fill with whatever the word evokes."

I nodded, waited, smelling the Camel smoke, my head not empty in the way Andy wanted it to be. I was too preoccupied by a memory of smoke.

"Arrowhead," Andy said.

I felt...something.

Andy said, "Shit. And then, "What you are about to see is real. Okay, open your eyes."

We were now standing outside a 7-Eleven store. The desert ran right up to the walls. A tumbleweed bumped against the double glass doors. The interior was brightly lit. In the back I could make out a pair of Slurpee machines slow-swirling icy drinks in primary colors. After a while I closed my mouth and turned to Andy.

"Where the hell did this come from?"

"Instant Unconsciously Directed Association. You like that? I made it up. Only I don't know why this should be your Eyeooda for Arrowhead. I was hoping you'd bring up the real place. Anyway, let's go inside while it lasts."

He started forward but I grabbed his arm.

"Wait a minute. Are we still operating under the disengagement of preconceived notions policy, or whatever?"

He thought about it for a moment then said, "I guess not, now that we're sharing a consensus reality. Brian, this 7-Eleven is actually the Arrowhead Installation."

The coal of an extinguished memory glowed dimly. I knew Arrowhead, or thought I did. A top secret base located more or less in that part of the Arizona desert in which we now found ourselves. Or was/did it? The memory was so enfeebled that if I didn't hold it just so it would blow away like dandelion fluff. Still, this wasn't a military base; it was a convenience store.

"Bullshit?" I said.

Do you remember Arrowhead?" Andy asked.

"Sort of. What is this, what's going on?"

"Listen to me, Brian. We finally got one. We finally got an honest to God extraterrestrial—and it's in there."

"In the 7-Eleven."

"No. In the Arrowhead facility that looks like a 7-Eleven in our present consensus reality. The alien is hiding itself and the installation in some kind of stealth transdimensional mirror trick, or something. I've been here before. So have you. Our dreams can still remember. I've come out to the desert—I don't know, dozens of times? I've talked to it, the alien. It shuffles reality. I keep waking up, then going back to sleep. Here's the thing. It can cloak its prison, reinterpret its appearance, but it can't escape."

I regarded him skeptically, did some mental shuffling of my own, discarded various justifiable but unproductive responses, and said: "What's it want?"

"It wants you to let it go."

"Why me?"

"Ask it yourself. But watch out. That little fucker is messing with our heads."

* * * *

Monday, April 7, 2014

"What You Are About To See" by Jack Skillingstead (Part 1 of 3)

Alien ContactIn 2011, prior to the release of my Alien Contact anthology (from Night Shade Books), I decided to take a different approach to introducing the anthology to readers: Instead of simply listing the table of contents -- a boring list of story titles and authors' names -- I blogged about each story, one story per week for 26 weeks. Of course, about four or five weeks into the project I realized the magnitude of the task I had set for myself: 26 weeks, one-half of a year! I won't go into the details here, you can check out my "Alien Contact" page where you'll find a listing of all the related blog posts.

As part of this project I obtained permission from a number of authors to post the complete text of their stories. Most of the stories were posted here, on More Red Ink. One story, however, Jack Skillingstead's "What You Are About To See," was posted on the Night Shade Books website and also on the NSB Facebook page. So it was to my surprise -- and dismay -- to discover a few weeks ago that the story had been wiped from both the NSB website and Facebook page.

After conferring with Jack Skillingstead, we agreed that the story should remain available online (and free) for future readers -- and so I am posting the story here (below) in three parts. I encourage you to first read my original blog post on the story, which provides the genesis and history of the story as well as how I selected it for the anthology.

And now, enjoy....

"What You Are About To See"
by Jack Skillingstead
(©2008 by Jack Skillingstead.
Reprinted with permission of the author.)

It sat in a cold room.

Outside that room a Marine handed me an insulated suit. I slipped it on over my street clothes. The Marine punched a code into a numeric keypad attached to the wall. The lock snapped open on the heavy door, the Marine nodded, I entered.

Andy McCaslin, who looked like an overdressed turnip in his insulated suit, greeted me and shook my hand. I'd known Andy for twenty-five years, since our days in Special Forces. Now we both worked for the NSA, though you could say my acronym was lowercase. I operated on the margins of the Agency, a contract player, an accomplished extractor of information from reluctant sources. My line of work required a special temperament, which I possessed and which Andy most assuredly did not. He was a true believer in the rightness of the cause, procedure, good guys and bad. I was like Andy's shadow twin. He stood in the light, casting something dark and faceless, which was me.

It remained seated—if you could call that sitting. Its legs, all six of them, coiled and braided like a nest of lavender snakes on top of which the alien's frail torso rested. That torso resembled the upper body of a starving child, laddered ribs under parchment skin and a big stretched belly full of nothing. It watched us with eyes like two thumbnail chips of anthracite.

"Welcome to the new world order," Andy said, his breath condensing in little gray puffs.

"Thanks. Anything out of Squidward yet?"

"Told us it was in our own best interests to let him go, then when we wouldn't it shut up. Only 'shut up' isn't quite accurate, since it doesn't vocalize. You hear the words in your head, or sometimes there's just a picture. It was the picture it put in the Secretary's head that's got everybody's panties in a knot."

"What picture?"

"Genocidal carnage on a planet-wide scale."

"Sounds friendly enough."

"There's a backroom theory that Squidward was just showing the Secretary his own secret wet dream. Anyway, accepting its assertions of friendliness at face value is not up to me. Off the record, though, my intuition tells me its intentions are benign."

"You look tired, Andy."

"I feel a little off," he said.

"Does Squidward always stare like that."


"You're certain it still has the ability to communicate? Maybe the environment's making it sick."

"Not according to the medical people. Of course, nothing's certain, except that Squidward is a non-terrestrial creature possessed of an advanced technology. Those facts are deductible. By the way, the advanced technology in question is currently bundled in a hanger not far from here. What's left looks like a weather balloon fed through a shredder. Ironic?"

"Very." I hunched my shoulders. "Cold in here."

"You noticed."

"Squidward likes it that way, I bet."

"Loves it."

"Have you considered warming things up?"

Andy gave me a sideways look. "You thinking of changing the interrogation protocols?"

"If I am it wouldn't be in that direction."

"No CIA gulag in Romania, eh."

"Never heard of such a thing."

"I'd like to think you hadn't."

Actually I was well familiar with the place, only it was in Guatemala, not Romania. At its mention a variety of horrors arose in my mind. Some of them had faces attached. I regarded them dispassionately, as I had when I saw them in actuality all those years ago, and then I replaced them in the vault from which their muffled screams trouble me from time to time.

Andy's face went slack and pale.

"What's wrong?"

"I don't know. All of a sudden I feel like I'm not really standing here."

He smiled thinly, and I thought he was going to faint. But as I reached out to him I suddenly felt dizzy myself, afloat, contingent. I swayed, like balancing on the edge of a tall building. Squidward sat in its coil of snakes, staring...

* * * *

Friday, April 4, 2014

Book Received: Lovecraft's Monsters

Lovecraft's MonstersBack in July 2013 I published a blog post entitled "Do You Fear Lovecraft's Monsters?" -- referring to the anthology Lovecraft's Monsters, edited by Ellen Datlow, which I had just finished copy editing at the time of the blog post.

The anthology has now been officially released by Tachyon Publications, and should be available from booksellers, real and virtual, everywhere.

And this post is just to acknowledge receipt of my comp copy, courtesy of Tachyon Pubs.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Editing in Process...Nancy Kress

Yesterday's Kin
Cover art by Thomas Canty
About two years ago, I worked on a Nancy Kress novella for Tachyon Publications. That novella, After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall -- which I blogged about here -- won the Nebula Award last year, as well as the Locus Award, and was also a finalist for both the Hugo Award and the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award.

So when I was called upon to copy edit the new, forthcoming novella, Yesterday's Kin, I knew that I would be working on another potential award-winning story. The author is, after all, Nancy Kress!

The difficulty I'm having in sharing details of this story is due to the fact that nearly anything I say about Yesterday's Kin will be a spoiler. It's that kind of story: right up in your face from the very first section. And trust me, that's a good thing.

So what I'm going to do is share with you first the advertising copy that Tachyon Publications is using for this novella. That's not to say there aren't spoilers here, but at least it's what the publisher and author are willing to release about the story line:

Aliens have landed in New York.

A deadly cloud of spores has already infected and killed the inhabitants of two worlds. Now that plague is heading for Earth, and threatens humans and aliens alike. Can either species be trusted to find the cure?

Geneticist Marianne Jenner is immersed in the desperate race to save humanity, yet her family is tearing itself apart. Siblings Elizabeth and Ryan are strident isolationists who agree only that an alien conspiracy is in play. Marianne's youngest, Noah, is a loner addicted to a drug that constantly changes his identity. But between the four Jenners, the course of human history will be forever altered.

Earth's most elite scientists have ten months to prevent human extinction—and not everyone is willing to wait.

The story is told from two alternating points-of-view, that of geneticist Marianne Jenner, and her youngest son Noah. Marianne is living in the lab, night and day, working with a team of scientists to try to find a cure for, or at least a vaccine against, the deadly spores. Noah, on the other hand, is less -- and more -- than what he initially appears to be. While Marianne seeks a cure, Noah seeks out the aliens. And what of these aliens? Many believe the "Denebs" have arrived on Earth merely to use humans as guinea pigs; Marianne and her fellow scientists trust the aliens, but there is a limit to that trust because the Denebs are not very forthcoming with their own research on the spores.

Here's a very brief excerpt from the story:

A spore cloud doesn't look like anything at all.

A darker patch in dark space, or the slightest of veils barely dimming starlight shining behind it. Earth's astronomers could not accurately say how large it was, or how deep. They relied on Deneb measurements, except for the one fact that mattered most, which human satellites in deep space and human ingenuity at a hundred observatories was able to verify: The cloud was coming. The path of its closest edge would intersect Earth's path through space at the time the Denebs had said: early September.

Marianne knew that almost immediately following the UN announcement, madness and stupidity raged across the planet. Shelters were dug or sold or built, none of which would be effective. If air could get in, so could spores. In Kentucky, some company began equipping deep caves with air circulation, food for a year, and high-priced sleeping berths: reverting to Paleolithic caveman. She paid no more attention to this entrepreneurial survivalism than to the televised protests, destructive mobs, peaceful marches, or lurid artist depictions of the cloud and its presumed effects. She had a job to do.

Yesterday's Kin will be published by Tachyon Publications in September; the book is available now for preorder.