Impossible James by Danger Slater – Book Review

Impossible James

By Danger Slater

Fungasm Press, 2019

Reviewed by Gordon B. White

Impossible James, Danger Slater’s latest novel, is a book about the tensions of finding meaning in an absurd world, about tensions that rupture into paradoxes. It’s about growing larger, but also becoming smaller. It’s about fighting a system, but surrendering to it. It’s about creating a legacy and destroying history in the process. It’s also funny, gross, bizarre, and even a little touching. It’s a trip.

What is Impossible James about? The plot is simplicity itself: James Watson (soon to be James Watson, “Sr.”) is diagnosed with a malignant “black spot” in his brain that will kill him … in fifty years or so. Driven to despair, he loses his job at the multinational conglomerate Motherlove, burns his belongings, and gets a screwdriver through the brain which both pins the black spot in place and sparks his creativity such that he can clone himself through a very disgusting process and, eventually, cure death.

As James Sr. grows less and less human, his first clone, James Watson Jr., narrates the story from the end of the world, alternating between his father’s history and the imminent collapse of the universe beneath a plague known as the Gray Tide. Got it? Good.

While the above description should make it clear this is a fine and pulpy story, Slater has a way of writing that belies the danger of his underlying ideas. The plot careens forward and the writing is almost always conversational and, sometimes, willing to derail its own narrative and draw attention to the mechanics of the novelistic structure. The cumulative effect is a story told by a friend, holding on to your arm and shaking you at the good parts. To focus on just the presentation, though, hides the real heart of Impossible James.

Impossible James bears the subtitle “A book about death,” and this is no joke. At every moment, the specter of futility and the void hangs over the proceedings. It has thematic overlays of capitalism, climate catastrophe, existential dread and more. None of them fit completely, but they do so in a way that evokes the unease that all of them do. It’s about setting up Impossible Goals and Impossible Defenses, but being unable to escape the Impossible End. It’s about giving oneself to the world, but also the sheer egotism that doing so takes.

It’s a very strange book about self-centered sacrifice and catastrophes, and the human moments in the face of both, which are by turns poignant and useless. It’s a book about frustration and how as one’s goals explode, one becomes smaller and smaller. It’s about the selfishness of creating a life filled with doubt, but also the catastrophe of abandoning that doubt — and how that doubt which may be the only thing keeping us in check, or at least placated.

Because it’s that sense of doubt — that question of “What’s it all for?” — that might be keeping us from turning into unrestrained sociopaths. In fact, by abandoning that doubt, James Sr. becomes both a society and a pathology in himself. What’s that mean? Well, you’ll have to read it to see.

But all of this is the paradox of Impossible James: a way to balance these warring impulses of the insignificant and the psychotically grand; the crippling doubt against the destructive untethering. And in the end … well, James Watson Jr. has to make a decision. It’s a decision we all have to make, although it isn’t easy to make and even harder to tell if the decision is the one that’s “right.”

With Impossible James, Danger Slater continues slipping his readers existential poison pills beneath a shiny, gleefully gruesome candy coating. By turns humorous, horrifying, and even heartbreaking, Impossible James struggles to make sense of a modern world collapsing under its own bloat and the human but absurd drive to create — be it meaning, purpose, art — in the face of that catastrophe. Is it impossible? No, but it’s Impossible James.

War and Whiskey: An Interview with S. L. Edwards

It’s an honor to bring you this latest of our long series of author interviews. In celebration of his release of Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts from Gehenna & Hinnom Books, I talked to weird fiction advocate, relentless memer, and thoroughly talented author, S. L. Edwards. Through the course of our delightful conversation, we touched on a diverse array of topics, including comics, war, and fiction’s responsibilities to history. I hope you enjoy this exchange as much as I did. Before you read on, however, be sure to preorder Edwards’ excellent debut collection. You don’t want to miss out on this momentous release.

-Justin A. Burnett


“Fiction is a great medium for not just S. L. Edwards, […] but for writers across the world to collectively pool our feelings together. It’s a way to share, and maybe increase understanding in the process”

-S. L. Edwards

Justin A. Burnett: You now have a stunning fiction collection out with Gehenna & Hinnom Books. Besides the fact that it’s your debut release and features a diverse selection of work from your years of appearances in various publications, is there anything you’d like readers to know before they venture into the weird and wonderful world of Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts?

S. L. Edwards: I suppose the most important things that I would like them to know is: (1) it was a labor of love. I wanted my introduction to be a collection that samples a little bit of everything I have to offer. The stories were carefully selected, and I hope that pays off for a really fun reading experience. And (2) this was not a labor I undertook alone. I had a great editor in the form of Charles P. Dunphey and an eager partner in Yves Tourigny. But there were also hours of conversations, with friends, family and fellow writers. The collection would not exist without them.

I think you succeed magnificently in keeping things fun with Whiskey, but, as there must be with horror, there’s also a lot of discomfort, and much of it is deeply convincing. Do any of the recurrent themes—such as the broken childhood from which several protagonists desperately try to escape—come from your past?

That’s a good question. The short answer is “no.” My approach to horror, at least in the beginning, was to write what scared me.

I come from a relatively, if not exceptionally stable childhood. I’m the only child between my parents, and they really did do right by me. Even when they divorced, which I think is a pretty rough experience for any kid. Dad carted me all over North Texas to different comic shops. He made quesadillas on Wednesdays and watched “Ghost Hunters” with me, even though he had no interest in that. Mom was supportive, always supportive. She showed me reading was a leisure activity. And just really got interested in my hobbies.
Those themes don’t come from a place of familiarity, at least not the ones about broken homes. Even though I suppose you could say my home was “broken,” it was merely separated into two perfectly functional homes.

Now…the stories with depression. That’s a bit of a different story. That’s a reoccurring theme in the collection too. And one that I’ve had more encounters with than I would like. I’ve only recently become comfortable talking about the subject, but I’ve found there’s something vaguely empowering about acknowledging its existence.

When people do ask, I’ve always described it kind of like this: “There’s this person in the corner of the room. And they’re always there. And they’re to tell you, no matter what you do, that it’s not enough. That you’re not enough.”

That’s…that’s real enough for me. And that certainly is autobiographical in these stories.

Thank you for sharing that; It’s good practice to avoid mistaking fiction for autobiography, but what inspired that question is the amount of what Gwendolyn Kiste calls “heart” in her introduction to Whiskey, and what I’d be tempted to call “empathy.” Something tells me you are able to deeply identify with your characters. How do you achieve this identification, and how important is this imaginative empathy to your writing process?

whiskey and other

Part of it is lived experience. Talk to people, live with them. Go out, get your heart broken. I’m a bit naïve, I’ll admit that. I try to believe the best in people, even when it gets hard. And it’s gotten me in trouble more than once. Hurt more than once.

I don’t think I’ll stop anytime soon though…

You’re right in that it’s a process. I need characters to anchor me to a story. Many writers can evoke terror, wonder, etc. through the use of powerful imagery. Lovecraft comes to mind, as someone with very flat (almost nonexistent to be frank) characters but who could just inspire such terror through his word choice.

But I’m no Lovecraft. Ultimately, I need people to help me through the process. And usually those people are the characters.

So I always do a few things before I write a story. I write a 2-3 sentence summary. I write a word count goal. And then I write a paragraph each about my main characters. I make myself care about the characters; I try to write something that gets an emotion out of me. And when I do that, the outline of the story begins to change. I try to think about what might evoke an emotional reaction of these people, and then work backwards to re-edit the story around those moments.

And this is a process, but it actually tends to go much faster when I do this kind of work. Because I write faster, and better, when I have an emotional stake in the story. And I believe that if I don’t care about my characters, readers certainly won’t. So, to answer that question, empathy is central to the process. It HAS to be.

To circle back to your earlier question and tie my answers together, the question of broken homes and childhood trauma. I gotta feel that. Because if I can’t, my readers can’t. That’s critical. I want to care about these characters before I let them go.

I like the line you draw around Lovecraft‘s work here—out of all the writer’s you’ve mentioned in other interviews, you remind me more of a Tolstoy than a Lovecraft, and I think that’s an interesting change of pace in the context of contemporary horror. If you were charged with the task of convincing horror readers to give Tolstoy a try, what would you say?

Oh God. Haha.

I suppose I would try to draw a line between horror and Tolstoy, to make the connection a bit more clear.

I’ll admit to mainly being a War and Peace guy. I tried Anna Karenina and am due to give it another chance. So keep that in mind as I go.

What I think makes horror so salient is that it inspires emotion. For all the talking down to horror writers get (I’ll never forgive a prominent reviewer, for instance, for DISMISSING Lovecraft on the grounds that he “merely” induced terror) fear is a palpable, evocative and profound emotion. Even more so when it’s dressed up, gilded with description and characters.

And War and Peace, perhaps more than any work, is a master-class in emotion. Some of that no doubt came from Tolstoy’s own background, as a former soldier and then a radical Christian philosopher (his pacifist treatise “The Kingdom of God is Within You,” still gets a bad rap from some governments). But for the reader what Tolstoy gives us is a clearer representation of the human experience, one more immersive than just a moment. We see poor Pierre Bezhukov turn from a bumbling oaf, to a radical philosopher, to man who plans to kill Napoleon. Poor Natasha Rostov falls in and out of love. And why wouldn’t she? That’s the human experience. That’s what we do.

So, if you, dear reader, are looking for works to resonate with your core, it might be healthy to look beyond fear. And I can’t think of a better work for that than War and Peace.

Maybe they don’t start there though. Maybe try a little magical realism first. I’d recommend 100 Years of Solitude before getting into the deep end of War and Peace
But I came to Tolstoy by way of Vasily Grossman, whose work Life and Fate was inspired by both his service as a Red Army correspondent and by War and Peace. That novel is…well, quite frankly it’s not for the weak. The novel certainly inspires terror, but also deep, deep heartache. Grossman lost his mother to the Holocaust, and this certainly changed him. I am not sure that I would recommend that book. It’s a hard one.

Last thing I would say is that yes, it’s important to feel more than fear. Fear most effectively functions alongside other emotions. Has more impact. And Tolstoy certainly makes his readers care about his characters.


That was an excellent response! I particularly appreciate your second point, that horror is particularly good at doing what all great stories do: evoking emotion. While we’re here, and because I’ve always advocated an open border policy between horror and (god, here comes the awful phrase) “literary fiction,” are there any other books outside of horror you’ve drawn personal inspiration from or that a reader of horror might find especially worth reading?

I also hate that phrase. And, to demonstrate how much I hate it, I’ll answer by being as “un-literary” as possible:

I like comic books. Superheroes. Love ’em. Now, a lot of comics that I read have horror elements to them. But there’s also the smaller character moments that I treasure in things like Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern and Teen Titans runs. And on the subject of non-supernatural horror, I would say Joshua Dysart’s Unknown Soldier is a must. Dysart researched the Ugandan Civil War pretty thoroughly for that one.

So yeah, superheroes. I draw a lot of personal inspiration from superheroes. Except I wouldn’t call Dysart’s run “superhero.”

I have to admit I’m not up on comics, but not for a lack of respect or desire (the latter only recently acquired). I’m definitely going to have to check out “Unknown Soldier.” Speaking of research, you mention in your authors notes that several works in Whiskey come from historical research. Aside from adding a nice diversity to your palette of topics, what draws you to these historical narratives, and what do you think fiction can do—if anything—to help us understand or confront these events?

A lot of it comes from my day job. I research political violence, and as a fluent Spanish speaker a lot of my attention comes to Latin America.

I want to be careful though, because I can’t in good conscience say much more without it: I am a white man from the United States. I am not in a position to define anyone’s narrative, nor is that what I am trying to do. As I research though, I do have an emotional reaction to what I read. I think most of us would, and what you see in stories like “Cabras” and “Volver Al Monte” is not me making a commentary on any real, existing case, so much as my own emotional working through what I read.

Colombia is not a nation we should be characterizing by violence. Nor is Mexico, Honduras, or even Uganda. As fun as programs like Narcos can be, they’ve done some very sad damage to how we see these countries. We should not be doing that. Full stop. These are incredible places, full of wonderful people, great food, and blue happy skies.
Okay, now that disclaimer aside: I do work in historical inspirations into my stories. The “Tuta Puriq” of “Volver Al Monte” are inspired by the very real Maoist insurgency, Sendero Luminoso in Peru. “Cabras” mentions a bit of a dynastic struggle, based on the Somoza family in Nicaragua.

And to get to the latter part of that question, I think “working through” it is a very important aspect of fiction. Ultimately, I’d like to think that we are a world of empathetic people. I’d like to think it’s difficult to shrug off the suffering of another person, just because they’re not within your line of sight.

Fiction is a great medium for not just S. L. Edwards, the guy held up on his laptop going through issues of La Semana, but for writers across the world to collectively pool our feelings together. It’s a way to share, and maybe increase understanding in the process. Engaging bits of history even as inspiration can direct authors and readers to more carefully understand the dynamics that created this history and, in some cases, what perpetuates it.

Calling back what we said earlier about broken childhoods, I am not a survivor of a Civil War. I hope I never am. But I think these terrors are universal. I’d like to think, and maybe this is naïve, that sharing stories like this can get us to be careful in how we think about things like war. Is it really some heroic struggle? Or is it like Tim O’Brien said, that war stories don’t really HAVE heroes?

Which, in a way, brings us back into Tolstoy’s territory, doesn’t it? War is a universal experience, and it also represents an extremity in human behavior. I think your horror stories of war and shattered childhoods work so well together because they inhabit the outer limits of pain and suffering. They may even suggest that one pain, despite its differences, isn’t unlike another, and this realization seems to be embodied most in Manuel of “Cabras.” You mention, incidentally, that “Cabras” is your favorite piece; it’s mine as well, partially for the reasons I just mentioned. What makes it stand out to you?

It was rough to write. That one was so rough.

I think I liked it because it was the first story I wrote where I really just wanted to write it, regardless of what an editor might think. It’s heavy on exposition. I like exposition. I like writing it and I like reading it.

Also, the fun of having a truly silent main character was an interesting one. Poor Manuel…his character too, was a difficult one to get inside of. Here you have a man desperately trying to do the right thing, and yet he can’t. It’s just not an option available to him.

And then the “monsters” of the story. I won’t spoil this for potential readers, but I think one of the creepiest sequences I wrote involves something coming through the window. Yves drew the scene and just captured it perfectly. I was horrified.

All of it came together for something that, in retrospect, seems inevitable. Of course, war was going to come back to Manuel. It was foolish of him to think he could ever get away. But that desire to do right, to be good…for all the things that Manuel did, for what he was, I think there’s something to be said about someone who relentlessly tries to redeem themselves as Manuel did.

Poor bastard.

As something of a change in pace, as a Texan I’ve been wanting to ask you this: does it feel strange to be a horror writer from Texas? Do you ever feel a little “out of place?” I know I do, but I’m in the DFW area, and my day job keeps me in contact with a demographic of people who are far removed from stereotypical readers of horror. How has being from Texas defined you as a writer?

Haha. The bigger question is “how has being a Texan defined you?” We’re a gregarious, stubborn people. We’re loud, we announce ourselves. Essentially every Texan abroad is Robert Baratheon, but hopefully without the womanizing. We love Whataburger. We love our queso.

I am not sure it’s defined my writing, certainly my online presence though.

Speaking of online presence, rumor has it that you will make a meme about everyone eventually. How are you going to manage this?

These are slanderous lies. There are other better memers than me entering the field. Kevin Holderny chief among them. Matthew M. Bartlett’s cat, Larry, no longer needs me. And one day Robert S. Wilson will snap, probably fire me out of a canon.

Then it’ll be just me and Obadiah Baird. Our same dance. Him, rejecting my stories. Me, making memes about it.

And this will continue.


It would be a pity to see you step aside to make room for fresh memes, but I begrudgingly respect your decision. As a sort of redemption, however, I’d like to point out that you also use social media to relentlessly promote other writers. Who are some authors we should be reading right now?

[Editor’s Note: I actually attempted to link the names of *every* author Edwards mentions below to a website, social media account, or Amazon page. My fingers went numb about two hours in, and I had to reconsider my plan of attack. Only books mentioned specifically by title or authors previously mentioned on this site are linked, but this indicates no personal preference of one writer over another by the editor. At this point, it’s sheer survival. I strongly recommend the reader peruse as much of this list as she can manage, however, since Edwards provides us with a veritable gold mine of weird fiction authors here.]

So, I just read Christopher Slatsky’s novella “Palladium At Night,” which was one of the coolest ‘cosmic horror’ stories I’ve ever read. You’ve got something of a NASA conspiracy mixed with this Blackwood-infused nature/terror story. A bit of Gavin-meets-Ligotti. His collection is amazing too. I think one of the most creative things I’ve read since joining on as a weird fiction writer.

I also just read Max Booth III’s Carnivorous Lunar Activities. That’s one funny story, and one with a lot of heart too.

And I’m flipping through some work by Kurt Fawver, who is one of the single most creative minds we have working in weird horror right now.

Then there’s those that need no promotion, but you never know. Matthew M. Bartlett is going to be as remembered and cherished as Lovecraft or Barron. His Leeds mythos stories are innovative, and his more traditional short fiction is just astounding.

S.P. Miskowski broke the wheel with her Skillute cycle. I hesitate to say “it’s Straub but better.” But that’s how I feel, sue me.

Gwendolyn Kiste is a treasure. We need to give her all deference not only for her astounding creativity, but just being personable and friendly as well. A genuinely good person.

Gemma Files has such an enormous body of work, but everything I’ve read I’ve just adored.

Michaeul Wehunt, of course, keeps threatening us with a new collection. He doesn’t have the guts. I’m kidding Michael, please don’t @ me. But really y’all, check out Greener Pastures if you haven’t yet.

John Langan’s Sefira and Other Betrayals came out this year and I gotta say, it may be some of his best. It’s less alien horror than say, Carnivorous Sky, but damn good nonetheless.

Nadia Bulkin changed the game. Speaking of politics and horror, she’s really rewritten the rules. She came out with a great “sports horror” story in Nightscape’s Ashes and Entropy

Betty Rocksteady’s debut collection is coming out soon. I’ve been waiting for this one for a very long time. Scott R. Jones too, who is quite a writer himself. Debut collections need all the help they can, so I’m gonna ask anyone reading this to look at those author’s amazon pages and see if they might be interested in giving their collections some pre-order love.

Jeffrey Thomas is a bit more established, but he has a collection coming out too. One that, if I remember right, is pretty high-concept. Look for that one.

Speaking of established, there’s the elite shrimp-rater himself. Peter Rawlik is known for some quality work in the Lovecraft mythos, but what you don’t know is that he has been the special guest judge in Arkham County’s annual shrimp pageant for the past two decades. The man knows his shrimp, and his way around a damn fine story.

Then there’s Brooke Warra, Fionna Maeve Geist, Farah Rose Smith, Amber Fallon, Premee Mohammad, Lena Ng, Jonathan Raab (you gotta pick up the latest books from Sheriff Cecill Kotto), Mer Whinery, Tom Breen. That whole circle. I like to see Erica Ruppert’s name in a ToC, and Alana I. Capria-Linares. Cody Goodfellow. Duane Pesice. Robert S. Wilson (who is also the editor of Nightscape).

When William Tea and John Paul Fitch bless us with their short story collections, I demand they let me write the introductions. Unless they get someone more popular. Or prettier (not possible). Then they better let me blurb it. And Christopher Ropes KNOWS that I will demand to blurb his collection. Sarah Walker too.

One of my first big writer friends, Jordan Kurella. She’s since moved on from horror into fantasy, but she’s still a good egg.

And Sean M. Thompson. That guy. Just gonzo.

Russell Smeaton, of course. When you see him a ToC, give him a chance.

And I suppose you should be reading poetry. There’s good poetry out there. KA Opperman, Ashley Dioses, D. L. Myers, Adam Bolivar constitute some secret society called “The Crimson Circle.” Scott Couterier had a poem I really liked.

And I’m sure there are some I have forgotten. I would advise then, that readers not be afraid of picking up journals. Occult Detective Quarterly, edited by John Linwood Grant. Vastarien, edited by Jon Padgett. Hinnom, edited by Charles P. Dunphy. All three of these editors are also some quality writers, and these magazines should ideally give readers and writers a pretty good sampling of what is out there. And of course, Doug Draa’s omnibus magazine Weirdbook.

Anya Martin! She combined some of my favorite things, dogs and the King in Yellow! See, there’s so many talented writers out there right now…

And Jayaprakash Satyamurty. Lynda E. Rucker. I better stop before someone gets mad at me.

Do you feel stylistically or thematically affiliated with any writers in particular? If your writing had blood relatives, who would they be?

That’s tough…and it may be a bit presumptuous of me to try and affiliate myself with more established writers.

I will say, a lot of my readers have affiliated me with Nadia Bulkin. Which is a HUGE compliment in my eyes. I can’t recommend She Said Destroy enough. And if somehow through some freakish accident one reads Whiskey, enjoys it, but has not read She Said Destroy, I urge you to drop everything and download it to your kindle.


I think a lot of this comparison comes from the subjects that we deal with. Both of us deal with politics and political violence, but Nadia’s is more “socio-political.” She, more than any other writer, has demonstrated the power of politics in affecting everyday people. The State is not some alien entity in her fiction. It’s the air we breathe. It’s our streets. Our world. Everything inputted to us is part of this nebulous body politic.

My stories are considered “political,” in contrast, merely because my characters are given to long speeches. They themselves are often politicians, soldiers, police captains. That’s not the same as what Nadia does, in demonstrating politics.

Beyond this…I don’t know. So much of trying to come up with a place in this community is finding a niche. I certainly identify with someone like Robert Bloch, whose writing changed drastically and had an extraordinarily large breadth of writing abilities.

Yeah…maybe this one is better left to readers. Maybe they should define my place, if I deserve to have one at all.

Thank you for your thoughtful responses. It’s been a genuine pleasure interviewing you. I’ve got one more: what’s next in the world of S. L. Edwards? Is there anything else you’d like your readers to know?

It’s been a great opportunity! I’d say you’re pretty damn good at this.

So, I actually have two more collections in the works. The Death of An Author collects my pulpier stuff. Vampires. Lovecraft. The ilk. And Monsters of the Sea and Sky is an advancement of the themes developed in Whiskey. Half of Monsters will share a mythology, so I’m pretty excited about that one.

I’m also working to cleanse my palette a little. I’m currently working on a series of Weird Western stories, all focusing on a warlock sheriff, John Armitage. John lives in a world of vampire cave-civilizations, necromancer slave-owners, civil wars and great power politics. I’m working on a longer story in that Universe and I’ll just tease it as:

Warlock Sheriff vs. Samurais vs. Kaiju.


Ten Weird Writers to Save Us All in 2019

Once again, we asked readers to nominate up to four writers whose hard work and talent calls for special recognition this year. The response was much like last year’s: enthusiastic, thoughtful, and overwhelming. We selected authors from the weird fiction community to vote on the final list. After much debate, the winners are in, and we’re honored to give you another edition of our favorite annual feature. In the list below, you’ll find ten weird writers who are destined to save us all in 2019!

As always, this list is intended to celebrate these dedicated writers, but mere celebration isn’t enough. If it takes one thing to keep small presses and independent authors alive, it’s readers. To show your support, all we ask is that you read. Follow the links, pick up a book, and dive into the strange and unsettling worlds of the writers listed below. Each new reader is more important than this list could ever be. Each reader, after all, is encouragement for these writers to keep writing. That’s what we want more than anything—we want these wonderful writers to keep writing.

A heartfelt thanks goes out to those who supported a writer with a nomination, vote, or word of kindness. Above all, we thank the writers listed below for their tireless work.

The order of appearance of the list below is entirely random and bestows no special status.


Farah Rose Smith

What better way to begin than with writer, musician, and photographer Farah Rose Smith. Smith caught our attention with the January release of her gorgeously haunting novel ANONYMA, and she has since raised the stakes with her new collection of decadent horror from Egaeus Press, Of One Pure Will. We feel it’s safe to predict great things from Smith, so here’s to a rising dark star of the weird writing world!

Farah Rose Smith is a writer, musician, and photographer whose work often focuses on the Gothic, Decadent, and Surreal. She authored THE ALMANAC OF DUST, EVISCERATOR, ANONYMA, and numerous short stories in horror and speculative anthologies. She is also the founder and editor of MANTID, an anthology series promoting women and diverse writers in weird fiction. Her experimental film work has festival received accolades, including Best Short Screenplay (Rapture, 2016) at the Massachusetts Independent Film Festival and Best Experimental Film (The Atrocity Shoppe, 2015) at the Shawna Shea Film Festival. She lives in Queens, NY with her partner.

sarah walker
Sarah Walker

Some time ago, we noticed that Sarah Walker’s “The Snake Beneath My Skin,” a short fiction work featured in the 2017 Test Patterns anthology, managed to stand out even among the more seasoned names that tend to find their way into Planet X Publications’ releases. Now, her debut short story collection is on its way from Oxygen Man Books, along with a slew of appearances in upcoming anthologies from Planet X. There’s no doubt that we’ll have our eye out for Sarah’s future work. You should too.

Sarah Walker is a writer and artist residing in the Pacific Northwest with her partner and many rescue animals. She has been published in The Audient Void, Lovecraft Ezine Press, Test Patterns Publications, Antimony and Old Lace Publications, and more. Her first short story collection from Oxygen Man Books will be coming out soon. She has new stories coming out in The Phatasmagorical Promenade, Test Patterns: Weird Western, and Sea Stories from Planet X Publications. Follow her art and writing on Facebook.

Ashley Dioses

Ashley Dioses’ work seems to show up everywhere, and for good reason. Both her verse and prose is imaginative, haunting, and darkly evocative. There aren’t many poets one could consider “established” in weird fiction, but Dioses is certainly one of them. With the release of The Withering from Gehenna and Hinnom in September, there’s no time better than now to celebrate Dioses’ vigilant dedication to weird fiction.

Ashley Dioses is a writer of dark poetry and fiction from southern California. Her debut collection of dark traditional poetry, Diary of a Sorceress, was released in 2017 from Hippocampus Press. Her second poetry collection of early works, The Withering, is forthcoming from Gehenna and Hinnom Books this autumn. Her poetry has appeared in Weird Fiction Review, Skelos, Weirdbook, Black Wings VI: New Tales of Lovecraftian Horror, and others. She is an active member in the HWA and a member of the SFPA. She blogs at

Austin Muir
Charles Austin Muir

Readers clamored to the polls this year and demanded we recognize Charles Austin Muir, and our voting team was happy to oblige. CLASH Books’ January release of This Is a Horror Book inspired accolades from many respected writers in the field, and we’re excited for you to see what the hype is all about. We’re confident that Muir one writer we can count on to save us all from the accumulative weight of this year’s boredom!

Charles Austin Muir is the author of This Is a Horror Book and Bodybuilding Spider Rangers and Other Stories. His short fiction has appeared in many publications, including Peel Back the Skin, Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Vol. 1, and This Book Ain’t Nuttin to Fuck With. He was an obituary writer and freelance journalist before entering the health and fitness industry. He lives in Portland, Oregon, with his amazing wife and a pack of wild dogs.

leo x
Leo X. Robertson

Leo X. Robertson is another writer who was graced with an onslaught of nominations this year. Robertson, host of the Losing the Plot podcast, has certainly left an impression on his readers. Word on the street is that his novellas are truly something to behold, and fans of bizarro and weird fiction alike are bound to benefit from giving Robertson’s work a well-deserved read.

Leo X. Robertson a Scottish process engineer and writer, currently living in Stavanger, Norway. He has work published by FlameTree Press, Pulp Literature, Helios Quarterly, and others. He blogs at Aphotic Realm, which also hosts his podcast, Losing the Plot, where he talks to writers and artists of all varieties about anything and everything.

Brooke Warra
Brooke Warra

Brooke Warra’s sharp and evocative work first came to our attention via weird fiction’s favorite literary journal, Vastarien. We can say with confidence that any time spent pouring over the links to her work (some of it free) on her website is well-spent. What better way to celebrate a deserving weird writer than reading her work? We’re sure to be keeping an eye out for further updates from Warra. Whatever comes next from her corner of the literary world is bound to be exciting.

Brooke Warra grew up in a little house in the deep, dark wood of a small fishing hamlet in the Pacific Northwest. Her fiction has appeared in various magazines, podcasts, and anthologies including Looming Low from Dim Shores, and Vasterian: A Literary Journal. Her story “I Feel Better Now” was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She lives with her family and pet rats in Washington State.

Gwendolyn Kiste Headshot
Gwendolyn Kiste

You’ve been wondering, of course, when we’d mention Gwendolyn Kiste. Having won a Stoker Award this year for her enthralling novel The Rust Maidens, it would be difficult to talk about weird writers in 2019 without Kiste. Don’t just passively listen to the acclaim, however; we encourage you to read her books. Not many weird writers, after all, are more certain to save us all than Kiste.

Gwendolyn Kiste is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Rust Maidens, from Trepidatio Publishing; And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, from JournalStone; and the dark fantasy novella, Pretty Marys All in a Row, from Broken Eye Books. Her short fiction has appeared in Nightmare Magazine, Shimmer, Black Static, Daily Science Fiction, Interzone, LampLight, and Three-Lobed Burning Eye, among others. Originally from Ohio, she now resides on an abandoned horse farm outside of Pittsburgh with her husband, two cats, and not nearly enough ghosts. Find her online at

The Invention of Ghosts, part of Nightscape Press’s Charitable Chapbook series, is out on November 26th in limited edition paperback and ebook. Click here to pre-order.

kristine ong muslim
Kristine Ong Muslim

Kristine Ong Muslim was destined to appear here at some point. Not only have we thoroughly enjoyed everything we’ve read by her, but we’ve had the honor of publishing one of her stories in our debut anthology, Mannequin: Tales of Wood Made Flesh. Judging by the tidal wave of nominations she received this year, we’re not alone in calling Muslim one of the most strikingly unique and strange writers working in weird fiction today.

Kristine Ong Muslim is the author of nine books, including the fiction collections Age of Blight (Unnamed Press, 2016), Butterfly Dream (Snuggly Books, 2016), and The Drone Outside (Eibonvale Press, 2017), and editor of two anthologies—the British Fantasy Award-winning People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction (with Nalo Hopkinson) and Sigwa: Climate Fiction Anthology from the Philippines (with Paolo Enrico Melendez). Widely anthologized, her short stories have appeared in Tin House, World Literature Today, and Mannequin: Tales of Wood Made Flesh (Silent Motorist Media, 2019). She grew up and continues to live in a rural town in southern Philippines.

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S. E. Casey

If you’re familiar with weird fiction, it’s likely that you’ve read S.E. Casey at some point. Casey’s work has made it into a hefty pile of weird fiction anthologies, including, much to our honor, Mannequin. Casey’s prevalence isn’t without justification—his work is high-quality, unsettling, and bound to leave you with a lasting impression. We strongly encourage you to familiarize yourself with his work, if you somehow haven’t already.

S.E. Casey grew up on the coast of Massachusetts near a lighthouse. As a child, he dreamed of smashing the lighthouse and building something grotesque with the rubble. This is the writing method for his weird horror stories published in Hinnom Magazine, Weirdbook, and Vastarien among others. He also has special interest in reading and writing flash fiction. Many of his flash stories have appeared across the web, a listing of which can be found at

Rebecca Gransden

Rebecca Gransden’s novel anemogram. is an exceedingly intriguing piece of work, and we were more than delighted that she attracted a hefty dose of nominations this year. Make sure that you don’t miss her soon-to-be-released collection, Cardboard Wall Empire: Volume One, since it will be an excellent opportunity to dip into Gransden’s strange and lavishly imaginative fiction. We know you won’t be disappointed.

Rebecca Gransden lives on an island somewhere off the coast of the United Kingdom. She loves to be beside the seaside. A fervent advocate of the DIY ethic, she tries to read and support as many indie and self-published authors as she can. A lot of her writing is influenced by the meeting place of the wild with the urban. Someone once referred to her style as ‘fringe fiction’, and she’s alright with that.

She has been published or is forthcoming at Nightmare Press, Planet Scumm, X-R-A-Y, Burning House Press, Soft Cartel, and FIVE:2:ONE, among others. Two of her works feature in The Anti-Austerity Anthology, from which all proceeds go to food bank charities. Several stories will be included in the soon-to-be-released collection, Cardboard Wall Empire: Volume One. Her books are anemogram., Rusticles, and Sea of Glass.

You can find her blog and Twitter here.


Carga – Film Review

by Ben Arzate

Carga” (Breaking Glass Pictures; directed by Bruno Gascon)

In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, Viktoriya, a young Russian woman, hitches a ride with a Portuguese truck driver named Antonio to find a better life in another country. However, she finds that she’s been tricked by him and falls victim to a human trafficking network run by the brutal Russian mafioso Viktor. As Viktoriya struggles to survive and escape, Antonio bears the heavy guilt of his work and seeks to get out while Viktor finds that many cracks are forming in his operation.

Carga is the debut feature-length film by Portuguese director Bruno Gascon. He chose a heavy subject matter for his debut and, for the most part, handles it well. The story is told as a thriller, albeit an incredibly dark and often unpleasant one. I went in a little hesitant as the packaging around it, such as the incredibly heavy-handed tagline “It Could Be You,” suggested it was going to be a preachy morality tale. However, while it doesn’t shirk from showing the horrors of human trafficking, it avoids preaching, focusing on the characters and the story.

Antonio, the truck driver, is racked with guilt at delivering people into the hands of Viktor’s operation, but finds himself unable to leave under the threat of his family being murdered. This, likewise, is how Viktor forces the women enslaved in his ring to cooperate, doing his best to present his organization as an omnipresent threat. We soon find out he’s no super villain, however, when the police begin moving in on him and one his employees, who he believed to be his most loyal, decides to take Viktoriya and run after witnessing her suffer a particularly brutal assault.

The performances here are great all around. Michalina Olszanska as Viktoriya does an excellent job of portraying the trauma of what she goes through and yet maintaining determination to survive in a very believable way. There are many quiet and low-key scenes carried excellently by the actors and the cinematography. The most violent and disturbing scenes are rarely explicit yet hit with a hard punch. It’s clear Gascon has a lot of talent as a director.

I did find some problems with the story. While the villain Viktor and Antonio have time dedicated to their backgrounds, we learn almost nothing about Vikoriya. The only mention of where she came from and why she left is in a piece of text at the beginning. We do find out she has a family, but we learn nothing about them. I’m avoiding spoiling it here, but the conclusion of her story also relies on a contrived coincidence that was difficult to buy.

The American DVD release also leaves something to be desired. The film is subtitled in English in the parts where the dialogue is in Portuguese or Russian, and there are parts where the subtitles are difficult to read because they blend in with the picture (though that may be due to my TV) and there are misspellings and bad grammar littered throughout.

The extras include a making of featurette and one of Gascon’s short films Vazio. Vazio, translated to Emptiness in English, is about a man coping with losing his job and the respect of his family. He snaps and murders his family, his ex-boss, and commits suicide by jumping off a roof. The cinematography and acting are well done, but the film is a bit too on the nose. It was clearly written by someone with a lot of anger but no real direction to aim it in.

Despite some of its flaws, Carga is an intense and well-crafted film. It handles its heavy subject matter very well and shows Gascon as a director with a lot of potential. Because of the problems with the DVD’s subtitles, it may be better to stream this one, but it’s worth watching.

Zebra Summer—Item #3: Chain Letter by Ruby Jean Jensen

In Zebra Summer, Zakary McGaha (author of Locker Arms and Soothing the Savage Swamp Beast), chronicles a very specific portion of his summer reading-schedule: horror novels published by Zebra Books.

I’m a fan of Ruby Jean Jensen; several of her books are among my favorite horror novels in general (which is no easy feat). Sometimes, though…she just misses the mark.

You know an RJJ novel is going to be bad when you recognize her formula right away. In this case, I knew within the first couple of pages in the first chapter (not the prologue) that it was gonna be a clunker.

Fair enough: most, if not all, of Ruby’s books are about kids in dire situations, but this, sadly, allowed her…or forced her, if my suppositions of Zebra editor overlords is correct…into a rut that got super-tiresome. Although none of these books follow the exact same plot, they’re all too similar in my opinion: Wait and See, Jump Rope, Lost and Found, Victoria, and the novel in question: Chain Letter.

All of Ruby’s good novels… Home Sweet Home, Celia, and Annabelle…involve children, as well, but they feel like their own books…they feel like they were written with actual passion, instead of simply churned out, one after the other, in factory-line fashion.

Chain Letter is an okay read, but it pales in comparison to the novels mentioned above. I’ve already forgotten most of it, because, sadly, there wasn’t anything worth remembering…except for what might be the funniest ending in pulp-horror history.

The ending actually made me laugh out loud. I can’t say whether I think it was intentional or not, but damn: it made the book worth reading.

The novel is about a couple of kids who find a chain letter in an abandoned retirement-home/asylum…which sounds like a fun place to wind up in…and then proceed to bumble around while bad things happen to them and their families because they don’t follow the instructions to a tee. Their lives are further complicated because half the letter is missing!

As in all of Jensen’s formulaic works (as opposed to her good ones), some of the kids make it and some don’t. Nothing particularly surprising or inventive happens in this regard; Chain Letter is no exception.

The novel’s principle flaw involves the stale plot that meanders about at Christmas’s pace. Everything you expect to happen does, and it takes forever at that…this excludes the amazing ending, of course…and absolutely nothing cool happens concerning the supernatural aspect of the story. There were multiple ways the book could’ve been made at least cool, but I suppose it wasn’t meant to be.

Perhaps I would’ve enjoyed the novel had I not been familiar with Jensen’s other works. You may be wondering why I continue to read this author if I dislike her “formula” so dearly, but trust me: when she doesn’t follow it, she’s AMAZING.

There’s been talk of Ruby’s books coming back into print in ebook form…there’s a new website and everything; the domain name is simply her name plus a dot and a com…and I seriously hope this happens. All of her books are worth reading, in my opinion, even if some are better than others.

It’s about time her work became easily accessible. Horror fans shouldn’t be deprived.

As far as my “rating” for Chain Letter goes…I’m thinking 3/5. It was at least readable, and some parts kept me glued to the pages. Originally, I gave the book 5/5 on Goodreads, but that’s only because I was still laughing at the ending.

If you’re like me…a mega fan of ole RJJ…then you’re going to read this book anyway. If you’re a horror fan who’s just now getting to RJJ, I’d say go for one of the novels I mentioned above as being her best.

After that, read this one to put an end to your suspense concerning the hilarious ending.