New Release, These Foolish and Harmful Delights by Cate Gardner

I first came across Cate’s work as a BFS judge reading The Theatre of Curious Acts. It was dark, visceral horror that still creeps into my head from time to time and gives me shudders. When the opportunity came up to work with Cate I was delighted and this collection is a pure joy.

A collection by Cate Gardner
Cover by Daniele Serra

A Punch and Judy escape from a hell of discarded body parts and captive puppets.

A girl escapes her birdcage through a mirror where a Perfume Thief lies waiting.

A boy with a lost heart, a girl with a stopped heart, and Ghoate, the man who collects hearts.

THIS FOOLISH & HARMFUL DELIGHT
A BLEEDING OF INK
WHEN THE MOON MAN KNOCKS
THE DEATH MOTH’S WEIGHTED WINGS 
FOR THOSE WHO DANCE BY ROPE OR DREAM 
IN THE BROKEN BIRDCAGE OF KATHLEEN FAIR
DAISY DEARHEART
BARBED WIRE HEARTS

Opening Paragraphs

Stijn understood how a man could be alone when surrounded
by others. He sat on a swell of limbs, torsos and dentures, his
sausage-like fingers attempting to attach a knee to a thigh. A
long shadow stretched from the entranceway of the cavern,
lengthened by the orange flames that spat from the impossibly
high walls. Stijn buried his head in his work. If only one
of the disembodied heads would talk to him, would wink and
acknowledge he existed. He knew it was in his fingers to resurrect
them. If they were many, perhaps they could bust their
way out of Hell or at least tear apart his tormentors–Judy and
Punch.
At the entrance to the cavern, Judy bent to scratch the
stubble that peppered her shins. The sound echoed, reverberating
around the damp walls and spiralling up to god knew
where. Stijn leaned back. Sometimes he thought he saw a
wink of blue sky or a sliver of moonlight. Sometimes he knew
he was going mad. There was no escape from here. No matter
how high the bodies piled-up, he’d never reach the top and
if he did the top would prove feet of thick rock, impenetrable.
Pneumatic drills never landed in Hell. Plus, there was no
electricity supply. Eventually, he would sink to the bottom of
the pile of limbs, torsos and heads. Be buried amongst the
stink and the rot.
Not content with scratching her shins, Judy set to work
on scratching her head. She shook her long, red curls releasing
fingers and toes and bits of ears that had become trapped
within her hair. The falling weight of digits caused a seismic
wave to ripple through the mass of bodies. It unsteadied
Stijn’s balance. He slipped towards the stream of blood that
drained through grate and sewer pipe to the River Styx.
Although Stijn hadn’t seen the Styx, he’d heard it wash
against the cavern walls and he’d heard the cries of those who
drowned within its current. Stijn clung to the nearest torso,
its breasts ravaged by rot. He should drop into the stream and
allow it to carry him to the Styx; at least he’d find company
amongst the tormented.

The Stars Seem So Far Away Birthday offer

Five years ago today we published The Stars Seem So Far Away. We’ll celebrate this during the weekend with a book sale and a giveaway!

This slender collection of linked short stores is an apocalyptic road tale set in a far-future Arctic world. The last shuttles to the space colonies are long gone. Wars, famine and plagues rage across the dying Earth. Fleeing the deadly sun, humans migrate farther and farther north. Follow the stories of five survivors as they cling to what is left of life in a future North. 

Guerrilla soldier Simik fights for independence for his forefathers’ land, once called the Green Land. On a remote island, Bjørg and her great white beasts guard a resource that could help ensure human survival. Sailor girl Nora plunders ships on the northern sea, while Zaki journeys to the promised land in the west. Amongst the legendary skyscrapers of plague-stricken Svalbard, Aida struggles to survive.

The Stars Seem So Far Away was the debut book of Norwegian Icelandic author Margrét Helgadóttir. It was shortlisted to the British Fantasy Awards 2016 as Best Collection, and received several lovely reviews:

“Stunningly original.” 
(Interzone)

“Finely observed, beautifully written; Margret Helgadottir’s stories have the chill brightness of new myth. She is a writer to watch.” 
(Adam Roberts) 

“I loved every minute of it.” 
(Thea James, The Book Smugglers)

“Imagine J.G. Ballard rewrote The Odyssey.” 
(Interzone)

“This is a great curl-up-in-a-ball read that will transport you into your own imagination.” 
(Mr.Ripley’s Enchanted Books)

““The stripped-down language and huge landscapes link this short novel to the world of epic poetry and saga.” 
(E.P. Beaumont)

And now you can read it too! This weekend we offer a discount of £0.99 for the book in our ebook store, see here: https://www.foxspirit.co.uk/product/the-stars-seem-so-far-away-by-margret-helgadottir/

Margret will also run a giveaway on Twitter this weekend: http://twitter.com/mahelgad                           

 
The book can also be purchased through Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Stars-Seem-So-Far-Away/dp/1909348767/

 

Monster Blogs : Ernest Hogan

American Monsters Part 2 is available now. 

AZTLÁN: A NEXUS OF MONSTERS

by Ernest Hogan

Okay, I admit it, I cheated. Instead of picking a North America monster to write about, I wrote about a nexus of monsters. The subject is more of a densely populated Hieronymus Bosch triptych than a portrait of a lone specimen.

The region where I was born and lived all my life is full of all the bizarre creatures, beings, etc. I couldn’t pick just one. The Southwest of the United States of (North) America, also known as the Wild West, the Great American Desert, Aztlán, the Aztec homeland, is a land of monsters from Native beliefs, folklore of Anglo, Hispanic, and other immigrant folklore, tall tales, fiction, and various popular cultures, not to mention the bubbling cauldron of new cultures constantly being created that I call recomboculture. Just thinking about them sends my imagination soaring.

The problem with my imagination is that once it starts soaring, you never know where it will end up . . .

I was a monster kid in my childhood, but not at first. There was a time when they invaded my nightmares, and I did my best to avoid them, even though they were everywhere – TV, movies, comic books. It was a monster culture back then, in the Atomic Age. Then one night I dreamed that one had me cornered; I had no choice but to turn around and face it, throwing punches, and the beast-thing crumbled into black dust that blew away.

After that I couldn’t get enough of monsters. I identified more with them than the heroes who slayed them.

Growing up in California, the farthest edge of the Southwest, brought a lot of monsters into my life. Don’t let the popular image of fun in the sun fool you; just as the air is a cocktail of pollutants, monsters lurk everywhere. The beaches are the border to the icy Pacific Ocean, home to sea monsters, real and imagined. The fossil record tells us that much of the Southwest was once under an ocean populated by sea monsters that rival the tales of mariners.

Later, I met and married, Emily Devenport, author of Medusa Uploaded. Living with her helped me learn about Arizona, and its monster lore. Besides sharing our love of monsters, delivered by books and media, we had many hair-raising conversations that caused us to feel inhuman eyes staring at us from the dark, and we take road trips whenever we can, taking a lot of photos and notes.

You want to know where writers get their crazy ideas?

 Unlike California, which is new in the geological sense, Arizona is dinosaur country. There was even once an inland sea with swimming monsters. This is the land of the thunderbird, and even though the pterodactyl-looking photos from the Tombstone Epitath look fake, and are undocumented, they have a funky appeal, and link to the Native myth. Fossilized bones probably inspired many a monster. Recently, Emily and I found a Mexican restaurant where, among the vaquero scenes, was a painting of a dragon.

Some monsters were born here, others are immigrants.

All along the Rio Grande Valley, and beyond, La Llorona, the crying woman, whose origins can be traced to Aztec beliefs about the afterlife of women who died in childbirth – night-walking disease spirits. She is also related to the fancy-dressed, decorated sugar skull-faced Catrinas, a caricature of the middle class that has become a symbol of Latin womanhood and the Day of the Dead.

Also in the night is el Cucuy, the Mexican boogie man, eager to carry away children who wander after dark.

El Cucuy and La Llorona, because of decades of not being on the radar of mass media, have undergone interesting manifestations. In Phoenix, La Llorona is called Mano Loco, and dwells in canals and swimming pools instead of her usual rivers. My mother tells me that in riverless East Los Angeles, she was said to live in a row of trees in a nearby park.

This pre-internet folklore in isolation made the monsters personal, inspiring one of my cousins’ description of El Cucuy:

“He’s eyes – lots of eyes, all over his face. And legs – lots and lots of legs. He grabs you with these legs and takes you away . . .”

Hoodoos are eerie rock formations that seem to be alive, like the saguaro cactus that often has two arms, like a person. Some say that both were originally people, who were transformed by curses

cast by practitioners of witchcraft, both Native and brought over from Spain. I used to doubt Carlos Casteneda because the witchcraft he describes in his books can be found illustrated in Goya’s Los Caprichos etchings, but now I know that witches, as well as conquistadors, colonized Aztlán.

All the supernatural beings probably have not been as thoroughly catalogued as the Mogollon monster and other Sasquash/Yeti manifestations.

Native witches and sorcerers can become the local version of the werewolf – the skinwalker. Not long ago they were a taboo subject, but recently I bought a DVD of a documentary about them in a motel lobby, and had a Navajo taco at a restaurant where the waitress wore a t-shirt with a glyph known as The Wolfman. The monsters are going pro.

Fireballs streaking across the sky have been said to be sorcerers, flying long before the modern world created its own myths of flying saucers from outer space.

It all collides with the science fiction folklore of the modern world.

A lot the old monster movies were filmed here. The backdrop that Hollywood used for westerns also works as a home for monsters.

Like in my story “Cuca” the global, electronic world of corporate entertainment is colliding with the folklore. The issue of who owns these creatures – if indeed they can be owned – will arise.

There is a difference between the motivations of the entertainment industry and the cultures that create folklore. They may be able to coexist, but the monsters can never really be tamed. New fictions, and new realities – and new monsters – will be created. And it won’t be boring.

Makes me glad to live here.

Monsters and Minnesota Nice – A Monster Blog by Catherine Lundoff

“Monsters and Minnesota Nice”

            When I started working on ideas for my story for this anthology, I went looking for local monsters. By “local,” I mean monsters unique to Minnesota, which is where I live now. I’m a transplant from the East Coast, even though I actually moved here from the next state south. What matters from the perspective of living here now is that I didn’t grow up here.

            Growing up here is very important from a social standpoint, at least for white Minnesotans of mostly Scandinavian descent. It means you went to school here, share a common slang (“hot dish” = casserole), have an enthusiasm for the local sports teams and an affinity for cold weather activities. And it means you have a solid grasp on “Minnesota Nice.” The latter means that you are polite, friendly on the surface, adverse to conflict and not infrequently passive aggressive (people who grew up here will take polite umbrage at this). You also talk about the weather a lot because it can, in fact, kill you.

            Minnesota Nice does not lend itself to monsters. Sure, there are ghosts, the occasional serial killer and a fair number of historical atrocities to be found in Minnesota’s history, but monsters? Nope. There’s Paul Bunyan, the legendary lumberjack, and his beloved blue ox, Babe, performing legendary deeds in the northern woods. There are hoaxes, like the Minnesota Iceman, and possible hoaxes, like the Kensington Runestone. But nothing that speaks to the dark, primeval terrors that keep readers awake at night, ready to jump at any noise.

            For those, I had to go back further. The Native people of the Great Lakes region, the Anishinaabe, the Ottawa and other tribes, had a legend that grew out of the brutal winters (yes, they are often as bad as you’ve heard): a huge gaunt ice-coated monster, reeking of carrion, born of greed and selfishness. The windigo or wendigo is a cannibal: once human, it preys on other humans when turned. In some stories, they hunt and eat people, in others, they can also possess them, like a ghost or a spirit. It is nearly impossible to escape them, harder still to kill them.

            They are a lesson as much as they are a threat and a warning. Being selfish and not caring for others during a winter in this region can be a death sentence. In contemporary context, neighbors who won’t give you the time of day ordinarily will appear out of the frozen wasteland and help dig your car out.  You’ll wake up in the morning and someone has cleared the two feet of snow on the sidewalk in front of your house because it’s about survival and they were running the snow blower around the block anyway. We do not survive alone.

            Not too surprisingly, white colonists quickly absorbed the legend, adding elements of their own. From Algernon Blackwood to contemporary movies, comics and video games, the wendigo eternally stalks the north woods. This later version of the wendigo is often more like an animal than an altered person, but is no less deadly for all that.

            What would call to a being like this one? Greed, selfishness and cannibalism, certainly. And, perhaps, the kind of person who despises those who they considers weaker, who manipulates and bullies others into doing what they want, even against their own best interests. Someone who is controlling and petty, the center of their own universe. This is what I imagine in my story, “Hunger,” where the title refers to both monster and prey. Or are they both monsters, each in their own way? Food for thought as well as nightmare.

A Christmas Ghost Story from K.A. Laity ‘Haunted’

Haunted

K.A. Laity

She didn’t really mind there being a ghost. At least when the concierge told her there was ‘rumoured to be a ghost’ it sounded sort of exciting, very Northanger Abbey. In the excitement of having her first place on her own, everything was shiny and new.

‘Top of the house, so you’ll get all the light,’ Ms. Holland said as she led her up the steps. For an attic flat it was surprisingly cosy, though the light was rather less than impressive. Perhaps because it was afternoon and it was late in the year; Ruby didn’t mind.

She told the girls so that night. ‘It’s very cute. Lots more space than you’d think in a single. I can’t wait for you to see it!’

‘Movie night at your place,’ Anjali crowed. The others quickly agreed. They were so kind to understand her moving out.

‘You’re just one stop further really,’ Charity said, checking the tube map on her phone. ‘Easy peasy lemon squeezey.’

They were great gals, Ruby thought. It was just more difficult than she had anticipated sharing space after being an only child with a room of her own. Movie night was going to be fun. In the mean time, she had quiet.

And a ghost!

It first appeared on the third night. Ruby had just begun to nod off when she saw something out of the corner of her eye. She might have dismissed it as a dream except she woke up just as the dawn light crept in and there she was sitting at the foot of the bed.

‘Hello.’ The ghost seemed startled. ‘Sorry.’

‘I’m so alone,’ said a voice so faint Ruby barely caught it.

‘Not anymore,’ Ruby said, then fell back asleep until her alarm went off. She shook herself awake and looked to the foot of the bed. Nothing. Perhaps it had been a dream.

That night as she watched television, flipping around to find a film, the ghost appeared behind the screen. ‘Hello again.’

The ghost passed through the screen, which Ruby thought pretty cool. ‘I’m so alone.’

Ruby patted the sofa beside her. ‘Come watch a film with me.’ It seemed the most sensible way to deal with a ghost. After a moment, the spectre slid onto the cushion. ‘This looks good, doesn’t it?’

They soon fell into the habit of watching programmes together, often far too late into the night. Ruby felt a little guilty at indulging in her movie habit. It wasn’t like she had one of the great streaming services even. But somehow it was soothing.

Anjali called. ‘Are you ready for movie night this week?’

Ruby felt a pang of dismay. ‘I’ve not finished unpacking yet.’

‘We could help. We’d have it done in no time!’

‘Oh, maybe next week. I’m just so disorganised.’ Ruby didn’t want to admit how much time she’d spent watching movies with the ghost.

‘Next week the holiday parties begin,’ Anjali reminded her. ‘It’s going to be crazy right through until we’re done.’

‘We’ll sort something,’ Ruby said, her voice sounding pathetic in her own ears. She didn’t want to let the gals down but somehow she couldn’t get started on the unpacking. The boxes still lay in a neat pile, ready to be emptied. It was always so dark here, even without curtains. She hadn’t bothered to put them up because there was no one to see through the windows up here.

‘Let’s watch a film,’ the ghost said, hovering above the sofa. Ruby lay down and started flipping through the channels.

She woke in the morning still on the sofa. The ghost was nowhere to be seen. Ruby reached for her phone and turned off the alarm, slightly disoriented not to be in bed. And still dressed.

In the office that day, Ruby’s feet seemed to be shod in lead. ‘Are you feeling all right?’ Charity asked her as she was refilling her coffee for the third time.

‘I think I’m coming down with something,’ Ruby said, rubbing her eyes.

‘You need Anjali’s cooking. She’ll sort you right out. Come tonight!’

But Ruby put her off with excuses. No good spreading her cold around, or whatever it was. Yet the days went by, no lurgy appeared, just this heavy feeling of uselessness that made everything seem like such an effort.

When Ms. Barrett called her into the office that Friday, Ruby worried that her performance had been slipping enough to jeopardise her position. Her trepidations were unfounded, however.

‘I want you to think about taking a new position in marketing,’ Ms. Barrett said with her usual brisk cheery. ‘There’s an opening in the new year as we’re expanding. I think that inventive mind of yours will be perfect.’

Ruby thanked her, twisting her hands in her lap. ‘Are you sure I’m ready?’

Ms. Barrett gave her a look that was both sharp and kind. ‘You ought to have more confidence in your work, Ruby. You know you’re good. Don’t be afraid to admit it.’

Ruby promised to think it over and let her know after the holidays. She skipped the holiday party that night.

‘Are you feeling all right?’ Charity and Anjali had her on the speaker phone. ‘You didn’t come to the party.’

‘I’m just feeling a bit run down.’

‘Have you seen a doctor?’ Anjali sounded worried.

‘No, I’m fine. Just…tired.’ It took ages to convince them that she was fine and Ruby felt exhausted. The ghost sat at the little breakfast table she had not managed to use just yet.

‘You don’t want to make them feel bad,’ the ghost said. ‘Let’s watch a movie.’

That was pretty much how the weekend went, Ruby realised when Sunday night rolled around. Thank goodness she was off work because she could not face Monday. When her phone rang, Ruby planned to hit ignore but it was her mum. A stab of guilt struck her. It had been days.

‘Hello, mum.’

‘How’s the new place?’

‘Fine, fine.’ Ruby tried not to look at the half-emptied boxes.

‘Are you staying in the big city all during the holidays? Can we tempt you home?’ Her mother wasn’t manipulative, but she was still her mum.

‘I’ve still so much to do here,’ Ruby said truthfully. ‘I can’t seem to get it all organised how I want it.’

‘Are you taking your medication?’

‘Yes.’ More or less.

‘Well, I think you might want to check your levels, darling. Things change. Stress levels and all.’

‘I know, mum.’

‘Just remember, sometimes you just need a foothold to start climbing that mountain.’

Ruby wanted to crawl through the line and into her mother’s arms. ‘I know, mum. Just don’t look up. Keep climbing.’

An old favourite film was on that night. ‘This seems so appropriate,’ Ruby told the ghost. ‘I’ve seen this a hundred times, I bet.’ Gene Tierney was so beautiful and if the ghost of the sea captain was a little too old to be sexy in her eyes, it was still a beautiful romance.

Or so she had thought the other ninety-nine times she saw it. Not Ruby felt irritated with the woman growing old just to become a ghost. She looked at the spectral shape next to her. ‘What’s your name anyway?’

The ghost’s black eyes met her and what there was of a face smiled. ‘My name is Ruby.’

‘No, it’s not. That’s my name. You have another name,’ she insisted.

The ghost sighed. ‘I don’t remember.’

Ruby looked at her phone. It was past three. ‘I’m going to bed.’ Maybe she would feel less tired and stiff if she actually got a good night’s rest.

In the morning the light woke her. That’s what I get for not putting the curtains up. Ruby rubbed her eyes and tried to figure out what seemed wrong about the light. She got up and looked out. The city was blanketed in white. Down in the square kids were throwing snowballs and building snowmen. She half expected to see an urchin hurrying by with a Christmas goose.

After a hot shower it seemed possible to get dressed. Ruby calculated the least possible stops she would have to make to take care of errands, then called Dr. Jansson’s office. She wasn’t in of course, but Ruby had an appointment after New Year’s.

As she came up the steps with her bag of groceries, Ms. Holland beckoned. ‘I’ll give you bagsy on this. That insufferable banker boy has come a cropper and gone back to Sussex or wherever it was he came from. I thought you might want to make a change. Come see.’

Ruby walked in and the light dazzled her eyes. ‘I know, it’s a bit bright this time of day, but it’s worth it these dark months,’ Ms. Holland said, staring out across the rooftops with satisfaction. ‘And the rent isn’t that much higher though you have a lot more space.’

Ruby felt like a cartoon character with a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. The ghost seemed to tell her not to risk it. But her mum’s voice said be brave. ‘Yes, I’ll take it.’

It would be easy to move the boxes she hadn’t unpacked. After a little repacking, Ruby started to lose steam. Despair started whispering in her ear, or maybe it was just the ghost. She grabbed her phone and called Anjali.

Sorted: the girls would come that night and bring movies. ‘But you’re making the popcorn!’ Anjali said with mock severity. ‘I’m so happy for you.’

Maybe she would even tell them about Ms. Holland’s offer.

‘You’re moving?’ The ghost’s cold mist brushed against her arm.

‘Yes. Sorry. I am.’

‘But I’ll be so alone.’

‘There are worse things than being alone,’ Ruby said, her voice gentle but firm. She took a box of kitchen things and went down to the new flat. The sunset bathed the sky with an orange glow. It wasn’t very Christmassy, but she liked it.

American Monsters Part 2 – The Final Countdown

This was supposed to be the exciting launch post for American Monsters Part 2. We are having some bugs with KDP. It’s kafkaesque frankly but we will get there. In the mean time, be excited about the book, it is imminent, it will be amazing, it will turn up shortly. 

Thank you all for your patience. I promise, this book rocks, worth waiting for.

 

A Carribean Bloodsucker – a monster blog

A Caribbean Bloodsucker

Pedro Cabiya

It all started in the seventies. At least, it all started being reported then. A special decade that one. It’s a miracle the news got any notice at all. At the time, only one kind of news lorded it over all the others: UFO sightings.

Puerto Ricans were seeing strange lights moving in the sky with non-ballistic behavior everywhere, but most especially near the town of Lares and all along the number 2 highway in the south coast. Also in El Yunque, the famous, numinous forest reserve in the northeast. It became something to do during the weekends: entire families would drive to places of past sightings, get out of their cars and gawk at the skies. Some of them got lucky. Most didn’t.

At first, the idea seemed too simple to be disturbing or even credible. Too banal. Some cows had been found dead, not a drop of blood in them, and no wounds or marks of any kind. Then chickens. Then sheep, goats… It was high time it got a name, and someone obliged: El vampiro de Moca, Moca’s Vampire, because it was in the western town of Moca that the mysterious bloodsucker hunted its prey.

The seventies died, the eighties’ joie de vivre came and went, and then the nineties arrived with their grungy nihilism. And with them the old bloodsucker, after a 20 year hiatus.

It made its reappearance in the northeastern town of Canóvanas, a town near the skirts of El Yunque. It got rechristened by political satirist and TV personality Silverio Pérez as El Chupacabras (Goatsucker), effectively robbed of the sinister persona its original name had granted it.

Farce followed tragedy diligently when this second time around the mayor of Canóvanas, José “Chemo” Soto took matters in his own hands and scoured the countryside of his municipality dressed in camouflage with a posse of heavily armed vigilantes. They carried around a classic zookeeper’s cage where they planned to trap the creature. It returned to base empty.

This second time around the creature hit other countries too, namely Mexico. While our plight had remained invisible to the rest of the world, Mexico’s injuries, backed by a multimillion dollar media machine, spread widely and quickly. And all of a sudden, the Chupacabras, a quintessential Puerto Rican monster, became Mexican.

Puerto Ricans didn’t take this lying down. Having the Chupacabras stolen from under our very noses hurt more than whatever the Chupacabras could have done to our livestock. News articles in the press and TV defended the Puerto Rican roots of the monster. Panels discussed the issue. Mexican and Puerto Rican specialists debated heatedly in conferences and roundtables. The colonial status of our island (occupied by the United States since 1898) makes Puerto Ricans very sensitive to cultural slights and feisty when it comes to protecting the symbols of Puerto Rican identity. As a result, the Chupacabras entered pop culture and was transformed into a mainstream staple as recognizable and profitable as the zombie, also a Caribbean invention. Curiously, both creatures are featured prominently in Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare, a horror version of the popular western themed video game.

Though no one has ever laid eyes on the Chupacabras (the monster is known solely by the grisly victims it leaves behind), visual representations of it are more or less in accord: a small, thin, hairless dog-like wraith with a mouth full of teeth. The incoherence was never addressed: why does the monster have fangs, if it never uses them? The Chupacabras is a bloodsucker, yes, but a strange one in that it doesn’t bite its victims, whose bodies are sucked dry and yet remain unmarked. The story I’ve contributed to American Monsters Part 2, “Lay of the Land, Law of the Land,” finally resolves the mystery.

American Monsters 2 – Editors Post

American Monsters Part Two is here!

by Margret Helgadottir, editor

Another year has passed, and I am so happy to say that another monster book is born. In American Monsters Part Two we present you tales of beasties and monstrous terror from the North American countries of Canada, United States, Mexico, and a few of the Caribbean Islands, told by seventeen authors who are either from, have lived in, or have another strong connection to this region.

This is the sixth volume of the annually published Fox Spirit Books of Monsters. The book series is like a grand world tour exploring old myths, folklore and monster tales continent by continent. The journey started in Europe in 2014 before it continued to Africa, Asia, the Pacific region, and last year Central- and South America. I am currently working on the seventh and last volume in the series, Eurasian Monsters.

Six years ago, we demanded that something had to be done. We strongly felt that the monsters of this world are watered down and overused in the popular media and that only a few of them dominate the scene—vampires, werewolves, ghouls, demons, zombies—all from Western popular culture. We wanted to give the monsters a renaissance as real and scary monsters, a comeback so to speak, and we wanted to bring all the world’s glorious and terrifying creatures out in the open.

I feel very honoured – I have edited monster tales for several years now. It’s been an adventure. Not only have I had the opportunity to become acquainted with monsters and dark culture from all around the world, but I have met so many lovely people! It is a true blessing to be able to work with authors, artists, and translators from all kinds of cultures and backgrounds. I feel I have learned so enormously much when working on these books. Thanks so much to all for being part of this crazy but fun project. And thanks so much to Adele Wearing at Fox Spirit Books and her crew, for believing in this project and doing the magical work so the books look like the wonderful coffee table books they are to be.

You would think it should be easy to cover the North American part of the world and its culture—after all it consists only of a few countries. You’re wrong. I will mention three things that’s made this book a challenging editor task:

First, this region is not rich with cultures, it’s a cultural multimillionaire. Here you’ll find First Nation heritages stretching far back. There are the vast multitude of beliefs and ways of living brought from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean over several centuries by settlers seeking a new life in the New World, or refugees from wars or injustice, not to mention the languages and cuisine from immigrants from Central and South America, or the great history the slaves from Africa brought with them.

Secondly, what makes it even more complex, is not this enormous multitude of cultures but the way most of them have mixed and blended with each other throughout generations, creating new hybrids of cultures. There is also a huge span between the everyday life experienced in the far north near the Arctic, in Alaska or northern Canada, and the way of life south in Florida, California or Mexico, not to mention if you cross the sea to the Caribbean Islands.

One could of course argument that this is the case with many parts of the world, but I felt it was particularly challenging when putting together this book—there was no way I could include it all. Hopefully you’ll still find that the voices and stories I have selected, gives a cultural insight of this part of the world. You’ll see that several of the stories in this book portrait not only one monster but several, something I interpret as a result of the overwhelmingly cultural mix and diversity.

Thirdly, I am very proud to have so many different author voices in the monster books. Not only do I wish to scare people with monsters they probably have never heard about. I also want the books to give the readers a realistic insight into the continents and cultures we cover—it is a journey after all. I support strongly “own voices” in this kind of projects. So, one of the things I do, as anthology editor, is to actively seek out authors with an indigenous and First Nations background to contribute to the books. I think it’s important because I feel their folklore and history is a major part of a continent’s cultural history, but their voices are often neglected.

When I started working with American Monsters Part Two, it was obvious that I should spend time seeking out authors with such background. But several I contacted were sceptical. I could be wrong of course but I think that some felt that their culture has been misused, stolen and wrongly presented too much in popular culture, and that they perhaps felt that this was another attempt of this. I also think that the concept “monster” did not resonate with all. I have pondered much about this while editing this book and I am wondering if there are things I could have done differently. Hopefully I will figure it out for future projects. I did manage to include stories by authors with indigenous background, something I am very grateful for and something I think enriches this book.

Even though it feels like I have barely scratched the surface, I’m increasingly struck by how important monsters are. Humans of all times, regardless of geography, culture or demography, have created stories and myths about beasts, dark creatures, and monsters. The tales serve not only as entertainment, but often teach a lesson as well. Some monsters are universal. You will always find the shapeshifters, the flesh-eating walking dead and the great monsters of the lakes and sea. But what is important to one culture might not be so vital to another.

This is often something I don’t see until I have finished a book. I am not going to explain why, just observe that in American Monsters Part Two we have several vampiric creatures. There are many beasts and some spirits too. What is special in this book, however, is the amount of humanmade monsters, some hoaxes and cryptids, several with human-like attributes. As one of the authors says: “monsters can look like any man.”

Many of the stories question who really is the monster. In this volume you’ll find tales about loneliness, everyday struggle, and living in a harsh climate. You’ll find morality tales and/or stories with underlying critic of aspects of society, be it colonization and stolen cultures, gender roles, illicit activity, border conflict, indigenous issues, or the relationship between humans and the wilderness. All in all, I hope these tales will give you some new thoughts and insights about life in Northern America.

I hope you will like this volume as much as I have while working on it. Enjoy!

 

Girls and Monsters by Anne Michaud

We are delighted to launch the third and final collection in Anne Michaud’s ‘Girls’ series, closing the loop with this revisited second edition of Girls and Monsters.

Five Girls, Five Monsters. Five Tales of Creatures strange and savage.In this collection Anne Michaud tells of Dire Beasts and horrors lurking below the surface where the monstrous and dangerous confound expectation.Revised Second Edition

Cover art for all three titles is by Daniele Serra

Available now in Paperback and Kindle editions from Amazon and as an ebook in epub and mobi formats from our own ebook store

‘a great collection of loss, love, horror revenge and most of all empowerment’ –  From a review of Girls and Aliens by RunAlongTheShelves

 

I actually read some books this year!

One of the side effects of moving from reviewing to publishing, was that outside of Fox Spirit titles my reading plummeted. Like really dropped through a hole into the deepest oubliette. This year has been better. It’s not been multiple books a week, but it has been multiple books, so here is a round up of my reading this year. Yes it’s very positive, that’s because my reading has become extremely selective and I move on from things that don’t grab me quickly. 

Raising Fire by James Bennett
James has written a number of short stories for Fox Spirit, is a dear friend from our shared days in Leicester and will always hold a special place in my reading heart because dragons. The Ben Garston series is fantastic. The pace builds over the three books, which travel all over the world, drawing myth, fairy tales and folklore together in a modern setting.  Raising Fire is the third book and the series ended in an amazing climax. For fans of Dragons, fae, myths, old gods, history, King Arthur, gold, heroes getting beaten up a lot.

Blood Bind the Pack by Alex Wells
This is book 2 of I think just a pair. It picks up pretty much where the first leaves off. These are great novels, set on a planet that is colonised and blending the high tech of the planet owners with the day to day wild west on motorbikes vibe of our sort of heroes. I loved the world building, I loved the characters and these books have put Wells firmly on list for future purchases. Look out for these if a) you loved Firefly, b) you really wanted to love Firefly but needed it to be better, c) you like good book. Or any combo of those really.

The Hunter by Andrew Reid
Andrew has also done the odd short story for Fox Spirit and we have a shared affection for whimsical death and amazing female MMA fighters. The latter is what put this book on my TBR. Also the fact that Andrew is a great writer. It’s a thriller romp of the highest order. Tremendous fun, the lead character is everything I want from my MMA fighters and this book beats its way to the truth goddammit and into my heart.
For fans of Haywire, MMA, thrillers, drama and fun, the tense and violent kind of fun. 

Cross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough
If you haven’t heard of Pinborough yet you have to choose, go back under your rock or come blinking into the light? She started in horror and has written fantastic YA and some brilliant twists on fairy tales. Cross Her Heart is, so far, the only book I have read that doesn’t expose her genre core. It’s none the less excellent for that. Hidden pasts, people with secrets, spoilers, spoilers, spoilers. This is deep, gripping thriller on the intimate level of individual lives, rather than a grand Bondesque international platform. 
For fans of thrillers, Killing Eve, personal drama, missing their stop because they were reading. 

Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows, Tyranny of Queens by Foz Meadows
I got halfway through the first and ordered the second so I didn’t have to stop reading. Which worked well as they pick up book 2 pretty much where book 1 leaves off. There is a lot to unpack in these books. They are portal world fantasy, but rich and involving and Foz created a phenomenal cast of character who I was genuinely sorry to leave behind. I could have lived here for many more books, but this story was told at least and it was satisfying. 
Lots of representation here too, because if you are creating a fantasy society it doesn’t have to follow in the worst traditions of old white guys writing what they deem to be ‘historically accurate’ medieval style worlds. #justsaying
Pick these up if you like action, adventure, portal worlds, Sarah Connor (no fate but what we make).

The Poison Song by Jen Williams
I feel emotional just talking about this series of books. I want to be Vintage when I grow up. Pleeeease? Last in the series, was a year for them it seems. The Winnowing Flame trilogy is a phenomenal set of characters, the world building is fantastic (pun not intended but I stand by it) and the story telling will leave you cheer sobbing by the end. A lot of what is in these books has a comfort factor for regular fantasy readers, we have all seen elves and forests and evil Queens before, but Jen brings something new to each of them. Please read these so we can talk about all our favourite bits forever. Jen has done one story for Fox Spirit. 
For people with a soul, animal lovers, warriors, poets, readers and pretty much anyone really.

The Hyena and the Hawk by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Another finale, and Adrian brings his YA(?) at least YA appropriate trilogy to a close. I put off reading this briefly because I was terrified of how it would all end. It was amazing. The series is brilliant, and I fell in love with Many Tracks early, partly because she is a bit snippy and not sure what she is doing and overwhelmed a lot of the time, so very relatable. 
Adrian has done a number of short stories for Fox Spirit and is a super and prolific writer. If shapeshifting (sort of) adventures and battles for the soul of every sentient thing in the world doesn’t appeal to you, then check out the award winning Children of Time, or his Empire of Black and Gold books or anything of the other SF or Fantasy he has done. 
For fans of shapeshifters, fantasy, YA, epic world ending stuff.

The Girl in Red by Christina Henry
Christina Henry has been working her way through old favourites and doing other stuff with them. In Alice we are moved to a world of horrific crime bosses and a girl in a mental facility with PTSD. Still a fantasy world, but Henry’s White Rabbit is very different. I have pretty much been on a grab everything I see by Henry since then and The Girl in Red Delivers. Fundamentally a story about a girl, trying to get to her grandmothers house, during a zombie apocalypse. 
Buy this one if you enjoyed the others by this author, love a Zombie story, or just need something a bit different.

Three Mages and Margarita by Annette Marie (and three more in the series)
I actually chomped through the first four in this series in short order. Tremendous fun, light easy reading, playful, urban fantasy at their heart but no sexy times so if you prefer your books flirty but chaste these are good. It’s mundane stumbles into magic, in over her head, but wants to help her friends kind of stuff. Nothing groundbreakingly new but done well and perfect for an over taxed brain to escape for a bit. 
For fans of Buffy, Lost Girl, urban fantasy that’s easy on the angst.

Chase the Dark by Annette Marie
As with the others, light fun adventurous fantasy. This didn’t click with me as well as the first series so I have left it at one for now. Still fun though. I really do think Marie gives a great fun read and you should check her out for when you need something with plenty of action and adventure but light on the angst.

Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri
This one blew me away quite honestly. It’s heartbreaking and beautiful and brilliant and I love it. It kicks off with a young noblewoman who is locked in a battle of wills with her step mother and doesn’t understand the stakes at play. By the time she realises, it is too late to stop her life moving totally out of her own control. I don’t know what else to say, it has angry gods, fierce women, magic, I just *babbles incoherently*. Buy it. 
For fans of fantasy, romance, magic, political intrigue and awesomeness. 

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
This is a book about stories. It’s a book about many things. If you read the Night Circus you have some idea what is coming, but this one is more so. You can drive yourself mad puzzling as you go or you can throw yourself in and let it draw you through it’s wondrous twists and turns. I recommend that path. It all comes together in the end and the journey is a joy.  
For fans of letting go, setting fire to bridges, boats and other dreary worlds….to borrow from The Cure. 

The Family by Louise Jensen
A family thriller exploring relationships, particularly between mother and daughter. I picked this up after an event  saw Louise speak at and it’s good fun, tense, has a few unexpected moments and is a solid read. It’s not something I would normally have picked up off the table, but it was a quick read and delivered on the promise of developing tension that I look for in a thriller and the unravelling of lies. 
For fans of thrillers, family drama, psychological thriller.

The Green Man’s Heir by Juliet McKenna
Juliet has a few shorts with FS and is well established as a brilliant mind in SF & F both on the page and off it, as well as something of a sword wielding badass. The Green Man’s Heir is right up my street and possibly living in my shed. It’s rural contemp fantasy, bit of murder and mystery, some fantasy creatures, a bit of an understated hero getting into scrapes. Just lush and fresh and wonderful. The pacing, writing, worldbuilding, characters etc are all on point and the story engaged me pretty much instantly. This was an easy read and picking up the sequel was a no brainer.
For fans of dryads, druids, long walks in the woods, men who work with their hands and mysteries. 

Gumiho, Wicked Fox by Kat Cho
I think this is YA again, certainly the key characters are that age group. It’s based around the mythology of women who are foxes and eat men’s livers to survive. I fundamentally approve of all these things. The story takes place largely in Seoul and as well as men’s livers Korean comfort food features memorably in this story. It’s sad and sweet and magical and a brilliantly written fantasy adventure. It peppers bits of mythology through the book between chapters building the feel of history to the events unfolding. It also had me wondering how many times my youthful drama’s would have been avoided if I had just been frank with my parents and them with me in return. I might owe my mum a bottle of something. Or several. I lost myself in this one happily.
For fans of foxes, mythology, YA adventure, fantasy, eating men’s livers. 

I am currently reading Redeemer by C.E. Murphy who I love as a writer and read a lot in my reviewing days. It’s fab, I will try and pop back with a few words when I am done.