Cosmic Horror: A Definition (Sort Of).

Back in December, I put together an unofficial galley of The Final Reconciliation as a gift for some friends and family. One of the recipients was my father, a person who is not someone I’d classify as a “reader,” per se. For years now, whenever I work on something, I have him in mind as part of my intended audience. The idea is that if I get can get him to read and enjoy something I’ve written, then that particular story will be successful in reaching other non-readers. You might say he’s my variable reader, as opposed to a constant, in this grand experiment of mine. Anyway, I sent him the story, not really expecting him to read it.

To my surprise, he did read it. And he liked it. A lot. That’s kind of a huge deal for me, because like I said before, he isn’t a reader. He asked me, “What would you call this?”

“Probably cosmic horror,” I said. Which was true. I’ve made no secret about the inspiration behind it–namely, the work of Chambers, Lovecraft, Barron, and Langan. My dad, however, isn’t familiar with those names. He doesn’t have a background in horror. Until I started writing horror, I think the last horror novel he read was King’s Pet Sematary back in the 80s. So, when I said “cosmic horror,” he hit me with a question that made me stumble: “What’s that?”

And, seriously, what is that? Cosmic horror. I don’t recall even hearing that phrase used as a definition until recent years. Before that, it was always weird horror, literary horror, speculative horror, existential horror–all adjectives I’d use to describe cosmic horror, but which don’t move us any closer to truly defining what it is.

I gave my old man a definition I’d heard before: Imagine God is a child with a magnifying glass, focusing the sunlight to burn ants on the sidewalk. Except we’re the ants, and there are many children above us with different magnifying glasses.

I wish I could credit the person who said that, but I can’t remember who did (and if you know, please say so in the comments so I can give them proper attribution).

Thing is, that explanation still doesn’t come close to really defining it–and I suppose that’s the point. Cosmic horror is undefinable. It is, by nature, the Great Unknown. It’s something greater than we are, far beyond our scope of understanding, and we are so minuscule by comparison that what we have, what we do, what we are is insignificant in the greater scheme of things. It’s the chaos of the universe, made manifest and labeled in simpler terms that we can understand, but in our limited capacity (or at least in mine), such terms fall short and can only describe the feeling, the madness, and our inability to make sense of something so far beyond (and removed from) ourselves.

Cosmic horror is facing that unknown factor of the universe with open eyes and attempting to comprehend what you see, but failing horribly–and at great cost. It’s something we can only label with platitudes and labels we relate to, because it is by its nature the unknown factor in our lives–and it’s fucking terrifying because it forces us to confront the fact that we’re insignificant in the greater scheme.

We’re the ants. And to the gods, the Universe, the Great Big Unknown, we are nothing. Cosmic horror is us looking up, confronting the reality of the child and the magnifying glass, and screaming.

On a side note: I’m a real hit at parties.

TK

My Sunday Soundtrack: “Shelf in the Room” by Days of the New

I’ve had this one on repeat a lot lately, especially while working on the early scenes of Devil’s Creek (nearly 12k words now). I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the acoustic sound? The song (and the band) have a “rock meets folk” sort of sound, which compliments the tone I’m going for in the book. I remember when these guys hit the scene back in the late 90s, but I didn’t pay attention to them at the time.

There was this substitute teacher at my high school–her name escapes me at the moment–who claimed to have babysat the lead singer for this band when he was a kid. I have no idea if there was any truth to that, or if she was just trying to relate to disaffected youth.

 

Anyway, I find myself going back to this song over and over, especially this last week while I revisit old memories of my hometown. The town in Devil’s Creek is almost identical to Corbin, Kentucky, in just about every way except for the name (Stauford, KY). I guess if I had to relate it to anything, it would be my version of King’s Derry or ‘Salem’s Lot, or maybe Kevin Lucia’s Clifton Heights. I spent half an hour the other day looking at the old town on Google Maps just to get a look at how much has changed. I haven’t been home since 2012 when TLM was published, and while some things have changed, the old back roads of my teenage years haven’t changed. Then again, I suppose they never do.

Enjoy your Sunday, folks. I have more words to write.

TK

You Should Be Reading This: Jon Padgett’s THE SECRET OF VENTRILOQUISM

I read this book a while ago, and more recently, listened to the audio book edition (which is read by the author). I’ve been meaning to post something about it, but things with my own work have kept me preoccupied lately. Allow me a moment to make up for lost time.

You should be reading Jon Padgett’s The Secret of Ventriloquism. Right now. Stop reading this. Go to Amazon. Click “purchase.” And read. There, you’ll thank me later.

This book is unsettling. It’s pure atmosphere, existential dread, and quiet horror. As I said to a friend in recent weeks, the sort of horror you find in this book is like coming home to discover someone has broken in, except they haven’t stolen anything–instead they’ve left something for you to find. You don’t know what it is, but the feeling, the dread, is there. That something doesn’t belong. Something is out of place. And it can see you.

A few things you should know: It’s a collection. Some reviewers on Amazon seemed to miss that part. That said, the stories are loosely connected, in that they appear to take place in the same world. Multiple stories reference certain events, often in subtle ways.  It’s one of the things I love so much about it.

This also isn’t for every horror fan. You will not find in-your-face gore. There isn’t blood running down every page. The horror to be found here is mostly in the understated language, the pauses between breaths, often between the lines in what isn’t said. You’ll find that Padgett is a master of his craft, in more ways than you think–he’s also a ventriloquist, perhaps a practitioner of Greater Ventriloquism, and by the end of the book, you’ll realize he’s been controlling you from the beginning. Every story is delightfully weird and dark, but I think my personal favorites are “20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism,” “The Infusorium,” and “Escape to Thin Mountain.”

I truly hope we see more work from Jon soon. In the meantime, stop being a trifle and check out this collection. Listen to the audio version if you can. I can’t recommend it enough.

TK

P.S. You can listen to “20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism” right now over at Pseudopod!

News, Musings, and Other Things…

There’s a lot in the works right now, folks. Some of it’s on the writing front (and in that respect, some of it I can’t talk about publicly just yet), and some of it’s in my personal/working life, in which case I haven’t felt like talking about it since I have to live it five days a week. But when I logged in here to do some housekeeping and updates and realized I hadn’t written a post in a while, I thought I’d bring everyone up to speed on some things…


I think I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was working on a novel called Spiders in the Lattice. That book’s going to be written, but I’ve set it aside for now in favor of the other book, Devil’s Creek, which I’ve been working on each day for the last week or so. Writing is slow going, especially in first draft stage when I’m still figuring out the story, but I’m averaging close to 1k a day. Unlike a certain unfinished trilogy, this story is refreshing to me in that there are no expectations and no restrictions; furthermore, it’s something different, and that’s probably the most important thing to me.

Devil’s Creek is a small-town horror story based on an old urban legend from my hometown. It’s about a buried god, an obsessed minister, those crawling shadows from our past that we spend most of our lives trying to outrun. It’s a pulp horror story in a modern setting, with Lovecraftian undertones set in the Southern US. And, most recently, I discovered it ties in with The Harbinger, which will be appearing in my collection, Ugly Little Things: Collected Horrors, later this fall.

So that’s what I’ve been working on in my spare time. I’m closing in on the first 10k words, which should round out the first part of the book nicely. I mentioned on social media a few nights ago that this story will probably get me excommunicated everywhere, and I wasn’t kidding. The story is extremely sacrilegious in a number of ways, and I suspect it will only get worse from here. So, in other words, I’m having a lot of fun writing it.


I went to a couple of writing-related events in recent months which I completely forgot to mention here. The first was the Beers & Fears tour hosted by Armand & Shelly Rosamilia, Chuck BudaTim Meyer, and Frank Edler. Erica and I drove a couple of hours to visit these clowns in Mt. Holly, NJ back in April, and we had a blast hanging out with them. There were beers, writer talk, and general hilarity. Book reviewer Frank Errington also showed up, just a few days out of the hospital (because he’s a badass). It was nice to catch up with him, since I hadn’t seen him since last year’s NECON.

After appearing on Armand’s podcast to talk about ULT a few months ago (which you can listen to here), we had this inside joke in which he’d tell me to go to hell and then I’d tell him to go eat a bag of dicks. Not to be outdone, I took a bag of gummy dicks to Armand in Mt. Holly. Peter Pecker’s Penis Gummies, in fact. There’s even photographic evidence of Armand’s annoyed expression, which I think is hilarious. I don’t drive two hours to give gummy dicks to just anyone, Armand. Feel special.

I also ventured out to Kenneth W. Cain’s abode last week for one of the first HWA Pennsylvania Chapter meetings. Ken’s a great guy and is trying to get a PA chapter up and running, so I drove out to support his efforts. Also in attendance was Frank Errington and Allan Rozinski. I think our meeting lasted close to four hours, and we had some excellent discussions about publishing, storytelling, and the craft. If you’re a Pennsylvania horror writer who’s interested in joining, be sure to get in touch with Ken at the HWA Pennsylvania chapter page on Facebook.


At the insistence of my publicist, the wonderful Erin Sweet-Al Mehairi, I’m going to try and blog more frequently going forward. That said, they’ll probably be cumulative like this one. If you want to stalk keep up with me by the minute, your best bet is to always follow me on social media, and the links are to your right on the sidebar over there. You’ll notice I added a new one for Instagram. Yeah, I know, I’m not proud of it, but this book business is a tough gig and sometimes putting ourselves out there with the latest trends is necessary. I’m going to go hang my head in shame.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you’ve all been up to lately. What are you reading? What are you watching? Better yet, what are you playing? Tell me these things. I must know! For science!

TK

 

And now for some ULT news.

Hey, folks.

You’re probably wondering why I’ve been quiet these last few weeks, especially with a pair of books coming out next month. Here’s the thing: they aren’t coming out next month. After several conversations with my agent and with Joe, we’ve decided to push back the release of the book to September. Instead of two volumes, there will be one massive volume simply titled “UGLY LITTLE THINGS.” The edited manuscript is approximately 105k words.

The reasons for the change are something I can’t talk about right now, but what I can tell you is that I’m happy with this decision and that it will be good for the book. I’m extremely lucky to have such a dedicated team working on this release.

Aside from this, I thought I’d share another bit of news: I’ve committed to turning in a novel draft to my agent by April 2018. It’s a horror story that I began a few years ago for NaNoWriMo. It’s called SPIDERS IN THE LATTICE, and if I had to compare it to anything, it would be Stephen King’s REVIVAL meets H.P. Lovecraft’s FROM BEYOND.

There you have it, folks. I’ll talk to you all soon.

TK