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. 

 

 

 

Can’t Fool Me – By Fiona Glass

We have a cracking short for you on the blog today, revisiting Greystones from Got Ghosts by Fiona Glass. Enjoy.

***

Karen saw the advert on Twitter while looking for something else. Ghoulish type-face, cute ghost graphics, a picture of a wobbly-looking old stone house. And words that might have been meant for her:

Can you handle the ghosts of Greystones Hall? Spend a whole night in the house this Halloween and win £5,000. We bet you can’t!

Smug, she thought. So sure of themselves. Probably got a whole load of special effects set up to scare decent folk out of their own bodies and into someone else. Well, she was above all that. She’d seen it all before, she was Ms Cynicism, she ate special effects for breakfast. And dinner. And probably lunch, too.

It cost £50 to take part, apparently, but that was a mere snowflake in the wider storm. Fifty quid could buy her those box sets she’d been looking at, or a decent meal with a couple of bottles of plonk. But neither of those came with a sure and certain hundred-fold return.

“Ghosts? Pfft.” She clicked her fingers at ghosts, and filled in the form.

Halloween came around and she followed the directions she’d been sent down a maze of country lanes. Tall hedgerows, clumps of woodland, pretty villages where old stone cottages huddled around fords. All very idyllic, all so very roses-around-the-door. And Greystones fitted in perfectly. Mellow stone glinting gold in the last of the October sunshine and yes, there was even a rose. But not much sign of ghosts.

There were three other cars parked up on the gravelled driveway. Karen wedged her BMW into the last remaining space, grabbed her hold-all and headed for the door. Before she could knock or ring the bell it opened, swinging on ancient hinges with a lusty squeal.

“Hello?” But there was no one there. She grinned. Clever, that. Must be set up with sensors or a pressure pad, and pulleys from another part of the house. She’d seen it before, at work. She stepped inside, half expecting a shower of bats or a bucket of water on her head, but there were no more surprises. Just a hallway full of ancient furniture, smelling of polish, gleaming in the sun. The same low sun picked out dust motes dancing in the air. And something more. A blur… some movement… was that a face?

Karen’s skin prickled, just for a moment, until sanity came back. A film projector, no doubt, casting a diffused picture across the dusty air. More cleverness. Whoever ran this place was quite a pro. The money was a bonus. She was going to enjoy tonight.

There was a bell on the table; she tinkled it and after a pause a door swung open. More dodgy electrics? Another movie show? Not this time, just a quiet-looking bloke of about forty or so, whose face was instantly familiar. “Guy Beaumont. It’s good to meet you at last.”

He advanced with a smile. “You too. It’s not often we get fellow professionals staying here.”
“Especially ones with so much insider knowledge?”
The smile became wry. “There is that. Can I take your bag? You’re in the Blue Room.”

She followed up a winding flight of stairs and along a creaking corridor. The room was cosy, with modern radiators (thank God), forget-me-not wallpaper and a solid four-poster bed. And probably a raft of devices set to deliver shocks and weirdness in the middle of the night. She eyed the bed hangings, the pictures, the wooden panelling, weighing up which to start searching first.

“Don’t worry, you won’t find anything out of place in here.”
Damn, Beaumont had caught her at it. “Sorry, was I that obvious? Force of habit, I suppose.”
“The crew used to say you were harder than anyone to convince.”
“I didn’t realise I was that famous.” She had a feeling they used to call her Smartypants Kaz behind her back, but there was no need to mention that.
Beaumont grinned. “I’m told the series took a downward turn after you left.”
“It wasn’t that great to start with.”
“Ah. Not a fan?”
“Let’s just say I’m not keen on things that pretend to be something they’re not.”
“And was it all a pretence?”
“Well of course. There’s no such thing as ghosts.”

Too late, she realised he was a medium and probably did believe in ghosts. Would he be angry? No, he was too much of a professional for that. A blankly pleasant mask slid over his face. “Of course not. Right, I’ll leave you to unpack. I hope you enjoy the show.”

You bet, she wanted to yell, but was too polite. And make sure you have your cheque book ready. You’ll be needing it.

She unpacked her holdall into a creaky wardrobe, noting the sounds it made. No surprising her later with squeaks and groans. Then she checked every corner of the room for wiring, bugs, or hidden microphones. But Beaumont had been right – apart from a stray leaf near one of the windows nothing was out of place. Except… a sudden tang of pipe smoke on the air. But that was probably drifting in from somewhere else. The garden, through that same open window. Someone walking down below. She grinned. If that was the best they could come up with, this would be even easier than she’d thought.

Downstairs the group – two middle aged woman and a man with an impressive beard – had gathered in the Drawing Room. It was a pleasant space with faded floral curtains and a real wood fire. The logs crackled and spat, a cat washed itself on the hearth rug, and it couldn’t be less ghostly if it tried. There was no sign of the owners, but the other guests had bagged the best sofa and were out-bragging one another with wild tales of nights spent in other supposedly haunted properties. She listened with half an ear to the talk, which was all fifty seven floating orbs in one corner of the room and I’m telling you, her head just wasn’t there. Ridiculous the rubbish people could make themselves believe if they wanted it badly enough. She poured herself a G & T and headed for another room.

The first door she tried led into the Great Hall, a magnificent space with a minstrels’ gallery and softly-playing Medieval music, which made her smile. The next was a library, full to bursting with books, plus a desk, a comfortable armchair – and a complete lack of ghosts. What a relief. She picked up a slim volume about the history of the hall and settled in the chair, sipping her gin and flicking through pages about every period of British history from the Normans on. It was only as she was getting to the Georgians that she realised she wasn’t alone. An old man stood by the fire, puffing on a pipe. She jumped. The first time she’d actually been startled since she’d arrived, but only because she hadn’t heard him come in. Had he been here all along?

“Sorry, I hope I’m not intruding. It’s just the others were telling ghost stories and I couldn’t, you know…”
The old man smiled. He had a nice smile, she thought – warm and slightly conspiratorial. “It can get tiresome.”
“You must hear a lot of it if these weekends are a regular thing.”
“One of my grand-daughter’s more… challenging ideas. But I believe it’s proving very popular.”

She’d almost finished her drink; the refills were in the other room. A toss up. Stay thirsty, or venture back? But it had been good – one of the new artisan-type gins. She put the book back and stood up. “Can I get you one?”

The old man’s smile became wistful. “Thank you, my dear, but these days I don’t drink.”

She was about to say something about a pipe being okay when there were voices outside the door. “…this the dining room? I heard someone talking…” It was the rest of the gang, led by the bloke with the beard. He looked faintly startled. “Oh, sorry. I was sure I heard… Who were you talking to?”

 “The owner’s grandfather, I think he said. That’s right, isn’t it, Mr…?” But a quick glance at the fireplace showed there was no one there. How typical. And how clever. The best trick yet. She grinned ruefully. “There’s more to this place than I thought.”

“That’s why it’s the most haunted house in England, you know.”

She laughed it off, but all through dinner it continued to puzzle her. How had the owners made that one work? If it had just been the old man’s figure it could have been a projection, like the face in the dust – and a hidden transmitter could even have provided some sound. But that would have been stock phrases, while she’d had a whole conversation with him, question and answer, back and forth. Surely there was no way of programming that. Unless she was losing her touch.

Dinner was excellent but the atmosphere anything but. The beardy guy challenged her over the tiger prawns. “Do I get the impression you’re not a Believer, then?”

Usually she’d have launched into ‘no such thing as ghosts’ but in deference to the company she paused, shredding breadcrumbs off her roll. “I design special effects for films and television,” she said at last. “It’s hard to believe when you can spot the fakes a mile off.”

“But there must have been some times when it wasn’t faked?”.

“Not that I’ve ever come across.” She could have said more, but even that was too much judging by the frosty stares. At the end of the meal, full but far from satisfied, she headed back to the library to find the secret passage the old man must have used. That would explain how he’d got into the room unheard, and how he’d left again without her noticing. It probably came out somewhere just beneath her bedroom since that’s where she’d first smelled smoke. All she had to do was orientate herself, then bang on all the panelling until something moved.

It was harder than she’d thought. The house was such a maze that working out what went where was almost impossible. Eventually she thought she’d start with the wall next to the fireplace – and that’s when she had her second shock. The old man was there! Staring right at her out of the gloom and looking, dare she say it, mischievous. The room wasn’t well lit, just one small lamp on a side table near the door. It was a good few seconds before she realised what she was looking at. A painting! Of course. She took a deep breath and stilled her pounding heart. How ridiculous, to get herself so wound up. Everything had a logical explanation. She needed to remember that.

A sudden outbreak of screaming made her jump again. No special effect this time, by the sound of it, but the rest of the group elsewhere in the house.

“I think we can safely say they won’t be collecting their cheques.”

She leaped so hard she banged her hip on the desk. “You’re going to have to stop doing that. My heart can’t take much more.” Then she looked at him. Really looked, past the smug expression and the inevitable pipe. He seemed solid enough. How was he getting in and out? “That’s the best one yet. False fireplace? Is it painted on? Then you just open it up and step through the panelling?”

He waved his pipe, a thin coil of smoke dissipating into the air. “Why do you insist on avoiding the obvious?”

“What, ghosts, you mean? Pull the other one.” She rubbed her hip. That had hurt. But the money would make it all worthwhile. Five thousand quid, and the rest of the group had left. Nobody to share it with. The old man was looking at her as though he could hear her thoughts. An odd, quizzical look, but one tinged with sadness too.

“Does money mean so much to you?”

“I, er, no, of course not.” Damn him for seeing through to her soul. “I’m not that shallow if that’s what you mean. I can’t say it won’t be useful – bills to pay, things to sort out. But it’s my professional integrity at stake. You can’t fool a fooler, you know. And I’m the best there is at fooling everyone else.”

The scent of pipe smoke was very strong, suddenly. He seemed to loom over her, larger than the portrait, larger than life, larger than was really possible. “Perhaps not everyone, my dear. Or perhaps you’re simply better, in the end, at fooling yourself.” And he turned, waved the pipe one last time, and walked straight through the solid slate fireplace, leaving her in a completely empty room.

In the hall Guy Beaumont watched the tail lights of the BMW speed away from the house and grinned. Not only had he put one over on Smartypants Kaz, but it was another night when they wouldn’t have to pay the five grand out. This scheme of Em’s was working better than he’d dared to hope.

There was a faint shift in the air beside him; when he looked, Gramps was back from his escapades in the library. “You’re a terrible old rogue, you know that, don’t you?”

The old man smiled. I do my best.

Waiting for more monsters?

We have an update! 

We are running a little behind so won’t make our end of November launch on this one, but these books are always complex and it’s better to give them a little more time than push them out more unfinished. We are expecting it to launch by mid December so you can grab it for Christmas still. 

We have exciting news though! Cover art by the fabulous Dani Serra is in and we can’t wait to share it. See!

Isn’t it fabulous! We love it. We are so excited about this book. 

Here be Monsters!

They lurk and crawl and fly in the shadows of our mind. We know them from ancient legends and tales whispered by the campfire. They hide under the dark bridge, in the deep woods or out on the great plains, in the drizzling rain forest or out on the foggy moor, beneath the surface, under your bed. They don’t sparkle or have any interest in us except to tear us apart. They are the monsters! Forgotten, unknown, misunderstood, overused, watered down. We adore them still. We want to give them a renaissance, to reestablish their dark reputation, to give them a comeback, let the world know of their real terror.

American Monsters pt 2 is the sixth volume in a coffee table book series from Fox Spirit Books with dark fiction and art about monsters from around the world, and the second of the two volumes covering the American continent.

“American Monsters 2 ranges far and wide to bring together a stunning collection of stories, from the haunted, frozen woods of Northern Quebec, to the islands of the Caribbean. Drawing on a wide variety of traditions, these stories explore monstrosity in its many guises, including its human face. These stories hold up a mirror, delving into realms of fear, loss, grief, hope, love, and compassion, and showing that it is what we do when faced with the monstrous that counts.”

A.C.Wise, reviewer for Apex Magazine and The Book Smugglers, author of numerous speculative short stories and the recently-published Catfish Lullaby. Winner of Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic.

 

Girls and Ghosts, Release Day!

It’s that time of year, Halloween just past and in the UK Bonfire Night is upon us. It’s a time when ghosts may wander abroad and fires offer more than a place to burn the unfortunate Mr Fawkes, they give us safety against the drawing dark and the things that move within it.

So it’s the perfect time to release the Ghosts volume of Anne Michaud’s trilogy of short story collections.

Five Girls, Five Ghosts. Five Tales of hauntings and secrets. In this collection Anne Michaud brings us empathy and horror. Never underestimate the anger of the dead or the resilience of the living.

‘Anne Michaud’s writing is haunting, powerful and often beautiful’ – Amanda Rutter

Get it now
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Fox Spirit E store

Happy Halloween

I love Halloween. I love masks and mayhem and all the whispered promises of the coming winter. So this year we have a Halloween tale by the utterly marvellous Tracy Fahey.

Grandma’s Tale: The Girl Who Loved A Ghost

It was dark outside, dark as only autumn can be; a velvety midnight blue sky, no stars. Vivian shivers and draws the curtains. Inside, the sweet peat-smoke from the open fire warms the air. Grandma stands, stirring the pot of stew on the stove. From time to time she hums; an abstract, repetitive little melody.

‘I’m going out now,’ says Vivian.

Grandma turns.

‘Just over to Tommy’s.’ Vivian can read the unspoken question. ‘We’re picking out our trick-or-treat outfits.’

‘You’re going out tomorrow night?’ Her grandma looks troubled.

‘Yeah.’ Vivian is surprised. ‘We always do it in Dublin.’

Grandma looks at her steadily. ‘It’s a dangerous night at the best of times, but more so in the country than in the city. There you have precious little of the old ways left; it’s all bright lights and new inventions. The Good Folk are nearly gone from that place.’

‘But here…?’

‘But here they’re still strong. And never more so than on Samhain.’

‘Samhain?’

‘You call it Halloween. But it’s just a shadow of the ancient festival of Samhain.’ Her voice has taken on that familiar cadence, low and strong. ‘It’s the time of great power for na Sidhe, the Good Folk, the fae. They’re at their most devious then, during that time when the veil between the living and the dead grows thin.’

Vivian is fascinated. ‘So people stay indoors then?’

Grandma looks at her seriously. ‘They do, child.  Sure your own grandfather’s family know well what can happen if you don’t.’

‘The MacArthurs?’ Vivian is intrigued. Her grandma seldom mentions the infamous MacArthurs.

‘Yes. I could tell a story about them…’

She doesn’t need to say any more. Vivian grabs her grandma’s hand. ‘Tell me.’

#

The Girl Who Loved A Ghost

A long time ago, way back further than you or I could even imagine, hundreds of years ago, your grandad’s family lived in the Big House in the village here. They were a proud, haughty family that didn’t mix with the villagers. They charged a hard rent, they cared not one bit about the ordinary people. All bar one of the family, that is. There was a girl, Nora, a few years older than you. Nora was her name. Her mother was dead, and her father was often absent. Her older sisters were fine ladies who went to balls in Dublin and wore dresses made of the finest silks.

But Nora was different. She liked to roam around the countryside by herself. She spent her days watching birds, picking flowers, eating berries from the hedges. ‘You look like a beggar,’ said her sisters with scorn. But Nora didn’t care.

One autumn day when she was on her travels, she met an old woman carrying a bag who was trying to cross a river. The water was low, but the old woman moved stiffly, afraid of overbalancing.

‘Let me help you.’ Nora was a kind girl. She took the old woman’s arm, and steered her across the ford.

‘Thank you,’ said the old woman, once they reached the other side. She put her hand in her bag and pulled out an apple.

‘Thank you,’ said Nora, always pretty-mannered, and raised it to her lips. It was a lovely apple, shiny red like blood, and its warm scent smelled like summer. The old woman raised a hand.

‘Don’t eat it now,’ she said. ‘Leave it in your pocket, and only bite into it if you’re in danger.’

It was an odd thing to say. Nora watched the old lady until she reached the bend of the road. A wind swirled up and carried the leaves from the ground into a twirling stream that blotted her from view. When Nora looked again, she was gone. She shrugged, and went on her way, the apple in her pocket.

#

The next day was  Samhain. Now all the local people knew that this was a dangerous time. On Samhain the dead go walking. The new dead can come home, but only for one night. So to this day, on that night we light candles in the window to see them home, we set the table to entice them in with food, we sweep the floors and make the house neat for their return.

It’s also the night the fae are abroad. They walk with the dead, they walk with the living. And that’s why people dress up, even today. It’s to confuse the fae, so they don’t know who belongs to this world and who belongs to the next.

But Nora knew none of this. It was a beautiful late afternoon and she wanted to go walking. So as the servants were cleaning the house, and getting out the candles, she slipped away into the fields.

When she got to the river, she half-expected to see the old woman again, but there was no-one there. Only the setting sun reflected in the shimmering water. She stopped for a moment to admire the sky streaked with orange.

‘It is beautiful isn’t it?’

She jumped. Beside her was a young man, his face pale and sad.

‘Yes, yes,’ she stuttered. ‘Where did you come from? Who are you?’

‘I am James Blackwood. I live near here,’ he said. ‘Would you like to walk with me?’

And so they walked together as the sky above them darkened and the breeze grew still. Even the birds stopped their chirruping. A blank silence settled over the landscape.

And as they walked they began to talk. Nora, who had never thought about boys before, decided she liked this young man. He talked of nature, of the foxes he’d seen late at night, cavorting like dogs at play, of the beauty of cherry blossom trees shaken by the wind, scattering their confetti over the ground.

And when he put out his hand, she took it. His hand was cold, but she didn’t mind; her own hand warmed his as they walked.

‘Would you like to visit my family?’ he asked.

‘Yes,’ she said, and smiled at him. They walked up a twisting path into the hills, a path she hadn’t walked before. It grew darker and the stars peeped out, pale at first, then dazzling against the blackness of the sky.

‘Is it much further?’ she asked. Her legs were tiring now.

‘Not much further,’ he said, and held her hand tighter. It was too dark now to see, but he walked along, surefooted, and she followed. Eventually he stopped.

‘Here we are,’ he said and let go of her hand.

With that, the moon rose, and in the silvery light she saw that she stood, not in front of a house, but a cemetery. Within the ancient gates she saw a large tomb with the word ‘BLACKWOOD’ engraved on it.

And then she grew cold and afraid because she knew that the young man beside her was not one of the living. She stepped back, and as she did so, the apple bumped against her leg. |She remembered the old woman’s words: ‘Leave it in your pocket, and only bite into it if you’re in danger.’ Trembling, she took it out and bit into it. It tasted sweet as honey.

As she bit into it, there was a thunderclap and a fizz of lightning and she saw she was alone. Nora turned and ran down the hill, all the way home to where the candles glimmered in the windows of the Big House.

And so, because of the kindness she showed that old fairy woman, she was saved. But for many nights after she wandered down to the river, hoping to see the pale young man again. For beside him, every man seemed ordinary and humdrum. She never married, and to the end of her days she remembered that night, the night she fell in love with a ghost.

#

‘And that, my dear Vivian,’ says Grandma. ‘That is why we don’t go out in the darkness on Samhain.’

10 Things to do before Committing to a Tattoo

Continuing our ’10 things women really want advice on’ series with another article from Molly Bruton, 10 things to do before Committing to a Tattoo.

10 Things to do before committing to a Tattoo

By Molly Bruton 

Design

Before deciding to even go and look at the tattoo parlour you need to have an idea of what kind of tattoo you want whether this is style or exact design. It is always best to have a couple of images of some other people’s tattoos that may be of a similar style so you can see how it might turn out.

The Tattoo Parlour

You’ve done the research, you’ve looked at their facebook page, you’ve found the parlour for you. Now it’s going and seeing it. Check reviews online to see what the atmosphere is like – you don’t want to go somewhere that you’ll feel uncomfortable as this will make you more tense and therefore will be a less enjoyable experience.

The Artist

You may have found a shop with multiple artists, or you may be going to a shop for a certain artist. If it’s the former, go in and ask who would be best to do your tattoo as some artists are more skilled in some areas such as portraits than others. Always chose the artist best for you.

Talk to them

Discussing your design with the artist is the best way to get what you want and what will look best. These artists have experience in that field and will want to give you the best tattoo they can, therefore if you go in with some pictures of other tattoos similar to what you (stylistically or design wise) you’ll be making it much easier for the artist to get the design right.

Don’t be afraid to speak up

If the artist is changing your design while you’re planning it, don’t be afraid to speak up and tell them that isn’t what you were hoping for. They will listen, take it into account and change it to suit you. This is your tattoo, it will be there for life, you need to love every aspect of it.

Artist Opinion

If you’re unsure of where you want your tattoo, whether you want it in black/grey or colour or anything relating to the design of the tattoo – ask the artist what they think. Although this is your tattoo, these artists know what will look good and what will fit better where and are more than happy to take the time with you to figure these things out.

Time

How long will the tattoo take? The bigger the tattoo the more time it will take – I feel like this is quite obvious, but it’s always better to ask the artist this as you can then plan around it knowing you’ll be busy for that chunk of time. It’s always better to over estimate than under estimate when it comes to tattoo timings.

Cost

Some tattoo parlours charge by the hour, some charge based on design – this is the same with artists. If it is length of time that will be much easier to work out than design. However, if you ask your artist how much it’ll be and get them to give you the largest estimate, you are able to budget for that and take that amount with you.

Aftercare

One of the most important things about a tattoo is the aftercare.  If it’s not cared for properly, or allowed to heal there’s no way the tattoo will stay in good shape or good quality. Ask what aftercare there should be and what products are best for healing a tattoo. Most places have a leaflet or handout that they can give you with everything you need to know.

Stay Calm

One of the main things about getting tattooed is knowing that it will hurt – it’s needles of course there will be pain. However, if you go in relaxed and calm and try not to get yourself worked up before hand about the pain the experience will be much more enjoyable and will end up being much less painful than your mind set it out to be. However, if you are really concerned – talk to your tattoo artist, they might be able to ease your mind a bit.

The main thing when deciding to commit to a tattoo is communication with your tattoo artist, they’re doing the tattoo and will be the best port of call for any of your concerns or queries.

 

Hire Idiots is live!

If you have been following the issues in academia in the US and to some extent the UK, or just like a good murder, Prof Nemo is here to help with ‘Hire Idiots’, which seems to be the rallying cry of academic institutions at the moment. 

Hire Idiots by Professor I.M. Nemo
Cover by Jenny Haines
Edited by Daz Pulsford

‘This is a work of fiction.Any resemblance to the living or the dead is purely coincidental and ought to make you ashamed at the comparison.’

PROMINENT PROFESSOR STABBED TO DEATH AT KINGSLEY COLLEGE!

Unfortunately, the murder may get lost in the confusion of new vice presidents, marketers, focus groups, assessors and protestors as the administration tries to make education profitable. There’s no time for mystery!Professor Clarence Van Dyke finds himself bewildered by the changes, but determined to get to the bottom of the killing. He wants his friend to rest in peace – or perhaps he just wants to spend more time with the attractive Detective Riordan. But isn’t he the primary suspect?

Curious about the Italian writing retreat?

We asked Damien Seaman how he ended up inviting writers to the Italian countryside for some serious writing time in the first place…

How my dark week of the soul could help you fix your crappy novel (no offence)

By writing blogger and hotelier Damien Seaman

If you’re of a literary bent and you’ve ever had the feeling of bashing your head against a brick wall, congratulations. You must have written a novel.

Or attempted to write one, at any rate.

Why do we fools do this to ourselves?

Take my head-bashing story…

Three months, it took me. To struggle through writing the first half of the first draft of what remains my only full-length novel.

And then came my dark night of the soul.

More like a dark week, actually.

A week of crapping my pants

I reached the half-way point of the manuscript and got stuck.

Like, really stuck. Pants-crappingly I’m-a-shit-writer-why-can’t-I-ever-get-one-of-my-stupid-ideas-to-work-out? stuck.

You know.

Stuck.

The ending I’d had in mind just would not work. It refused. Downed tools and went on strike.

Whatever I did to change the perspective, I could not make the events of the book hold together in a way that concluded satisfactorily.

So I took a week off work and wandered around the house. Outside the house, too. Up and down the side of the local canal. Morning, noon and late at night.

This was some serious shit.

I would never make it as a writer. I was kidding myself. I didn’t have the talent. Or the skill. Or whatever.

Whatever a writer needs. I did not have that.

Panic? Yes, you could call it that.

But at the end of my week of furious pacing, I had my ending right in my mind. Somehow. Don’t ask me how, cause I couldn’t tell you.

The threads lead where they ought, though. And at that point, it took only three weeks to write the second half.

That’s the thing with plotting a novel. Devilish difficult, no?

And time-consuming.

I mean, I wasted a whole week of my free time just to wear a hole in my shoes because I was stuck writing a book no one would read.

Not writing, mind you. Just pacing. And thinking.

Talk about mad.

You don’t have to suffer like I did

Well, now that I’m co-running a small hotel in northern Italy, I haven’t forgotten those dark, dark days.

Nor the fact that it had taken me three years of stopping and starting and researching and abandoning book ideas before I’d got far enough into writing one to even have my dark week of the soul.

Three years!

The real madness is that I did not have to go through all of this. There is always a simpler way.

If you have the humility for it.

I’m talking about asking someone else for help.

Another writer or a writing tutor, that is.

I mean, your significant other might be lovely and cuddly and supportive. But what do they know about writing?

Your parents? They’re still mad at you for not becoming a doctor.

And your kids? Please. Those guys are just idiots.

No, let’s be real for a moment…

All work and no play making your novel a dull read?

“I have written two novels to date, one of which I think may have some mileage but with necessary revisions to the plot and central character but not sure how to effect these changes…” one woman from Scotland told me in a recent email.

“…am on my second novel but stuck on it!” wrote another.

Aside from both feeling stuck with their novels, these women have something else in common. 

They’re coming along to our trouble-shooting retreat this October to solve their writing woes. 

Do you feel this way about your current work in progress?

You’re likely too close to it to see the problems. Much less how to solve them.

The good news is that you don’t have to go round in circles. Or start chasing your family with an axe, like Jack Nicholson in that Shining movie…

Instead, creative writing tutor, author and publisher Amanda Saint has crafted this exclusive writing retreat in Italy. To help you…

  • See and solve your story issues
  • Grip your reader and never let go
  • Create characters that leap off the page
  • Develop the right pace for your story
  • Write the very best version of the book that’s inside you

The two women I quoted above will be there to work through the problems with their novels.

They’ll be joined by a half dozen other authors. All of them looking to get that breakthrough in their work. And to get to know other aspiring novelists – just like you. 

If you’re interested, check out the details here: https://albergoleso.com/escape

And, if you’re a Skulk member, you can also get 10% off the price.

(The details for the discount are on the skulk members page)

Damien Seaman is a restaurateur and hotelier in training in the mountains above Verona, where he day dreams of working in a shitty office. He also interviews authors and publishers and puts the results on his blog