The Half That Matters

A little diversion of mine appears in the latest issue of the Australian anthology series Thuggish Itch.

Titled “The Half That Matters,” it’s a story of two fellows on an unsavory errand to dispose of something into the sea.

This one’s a favorite. Not only is it the first time my fiction has been published south of the equator (some of my nonfiction was reprinted in Oz years ago), but it’s also the first time I’ve published a piece of flash fiction.

I wrote “Half” almost back-to-back with “A Tour of the Ramses,” which appears in Professor Charlatan Bardot’s Travel Anthology to the Most (Fictional) Haunted Buildings in the Weird, Wild World. Both stories use a similar first-person perspective in which the action is verbally narrated to an audience, but in the case of “Half,” the narrator is even less trustworthy.

Some of the setting’s description is based upon a real place. There’s a hike I enjoy along a sea wall to a lonely peninsula which terminates in an automated lighthouse. I almost never meet anyone out there except for the peninsula’s inhabitants: a handful of feral cats who live among the rocks and dunes. Occasionally schools of bunker (menhaden) are stranded by the ebb tide on the beach’s mud flats, creating a feast for the cats; meanwhile pools of rainwater collect in the natural bowls of the landscape.

The cats and I observe each other from a safe distance, neither sure about the other. I suspect they live better lives than some humans.

You can pick up Thuggish Itch: By the Seaside over on Amazon.

A Tour of the Ramses

I have a story in the latest anthology from Dark Moon Books, Professor Charlatan Bardot’s Travel Anthology to the Most (Fictional) Haunted Buildings in the Weird, Wild World, which will be on shelves in November.

The anthology is an ostensible guidebook edited by world traveler and occult expert Charlatan Bardot. Each story involves a haunted place that’s not a house. There are haunted diners and restaurants, haunted markets and department stores, haunted bars and taverns, haunted theaters, haunted lighthouses, haunted churches, and much more — but not a single haunted house among them.

The locales span all of the continents except Antarctica (in hindsight, I wish I’d pitched a haunted whaling camp). Originally I pitched co-editor Eric Guignard a story set in New York City, only to learn the chapter for North America was full. I then suggested a story set in a haunted hotel in Cairo, based on my impressions of the city from a trip I took there in 2000.

I felt a little experimental while writing “A Tour of the Ramses.” The story involves a naive guide leading a walk through a former luxury hotel, who inadvertently reveals its tragic past. I had a lot of fun researching 1920s Cairo during the process.

The anthology has already received very nice reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal, which gave it a starred review. You can check out the full table of contents, which includes big names like Ramsey Campbell, Joe R. Lansdale, Lisa Morton, Kaaron Warren, and other people more famous than me, as well as numerous purchase options, at Dark Moon’s website.

Love Letters to Poe, Volume 1

Later this month, the first collection from Love Letters to Poe will hit digital stands.

Love Letters to Poe, Volume 1: A Toast to Edgar Allan Poe collects 12 months of Gothic fiction that first appeared on the website.

Included among the book’s 55 stories of the macabre is my December 2020 appearance, “An Incident on Mulberry Street,” in which a doctor pays a visit to his former mentor only to discover the old surgeon has developed some strange theories about the phenomenon of phantom limbs.

The print copy is available September 12. The e-book goes on sale September 20 and have a special discounted price for the first six days, so make sure to buy it early and often.

An Incident on Mulberry Street

I ended 2020 with a thump like a human heart under the floorboards with a piece of Poe-inspired flash at Love Letters to Poe.

In low tones he explained his process did not involve nerves at all. Years ago, while working with saw and tourniquet in a blood-soaked Union tent, Coffman formed a notion that amputation only removed the physical extremity. What remained, he believed, was an ethereal limb that couldn’t be sliced away with steel.

“An Incident on Mulberry Street” is set in New Haven but you won’t find the address on any modern map. When North Frontage Street was built (the westbound side of Route 34) over what was Fayette Street, Mulberry Street was truncated into a dead end and, somewhat inexplicably, renamed Scranton Street. Meanwhile the streets around it kept their original names. You can see Mulberry Street on this 1893 map of the city, located just above the words “2nd Ward.”

After the story, editor Sara Crocoll Smith posted a short interview with me, which IIRC is my first published interview as a fiction author. There’s also an audio version of the story.

You can read the whole thing here.

The Fishers of Men, Redux

Earlier this summer, 18th Wall released Sockhops & Seances, an anthology of spoopy stories set in the 1950s. Included is a reprint of my story “The Fishers of Men.”

There is no stopping progress. You may buy a plot of land, build a home, raise a family, join a church, and volunteer for the local PTA—but if the authorities determine someone somewhere else is thirstier than you, they will drown your American Dream with no more effort than turning the spigot counterclockwise.

Due to the relatively high population density in Connecticut, over the years the state created a number of reservoirs to supply water to nearby cities; and because this involved damming rivers, sometimes towns in the valleys were lost beneath the waves. This included the churchyards. They’re still there, under the waters, where the past doesn’t always sleep easily.

“Fishers” originally saw light in 2015 in the UK magazine Black Static. BS doesn’t see wide circulation over here (I’ve never seen it outside Barnes & Noble), so I’m glad American audiences have another crack at catching it.

You can read the first third of the story at the 18th Wall website, and you can also pick up a copy while you’re there or at Amazon.

On the Western Front

My story “Llano Estacado” appears in a new anthology, Wild Frontiers, out from UK-publisher Abstruse Press. The story is an alternate-history Western, in which the main characters are American settlers caught behind the new border after the US loses the Mexican-American War.

The new landowner was Capitan Baltasar Batalla Farias.

“I own all this, everything you see,” he told Tucker and his wife as they stood on their porch. Batalla and his men didn’t even bother to dismount. “You think you owned this land but you never did. You can stay in the house. Only now you must pay rent to me.”

“You son of a bitch — we built this house,” said Tucker’s wife. Her name was Clover.

Batalla and his men laughed. “Do not worry, señora. I would be a fool to come from Mexico City and ignore someone like your husband. Doubtless he knows this land better than anyone. Every playa lake, every blade of grass.” He addressed Tucker: “You can work for me. I will make you chief of my vaqueros.”

Tucker considered the arithmetic. If not, they would have to sell their cattle piecemeal to pay rent. And Tucker and his wife, out there alone, barely made enough as it was to buy the things they couldn’t grow or make.

“I’ll take the job,” he told Batalla.

I wrote “Llano Estacado” six or seven years ago but struggled to sell it. Multiple editors praised it but nonetheless hit send on the rejection e-mail because the story lay in a gray limbo, neither speculative enough for sci-fi anthologies and yet too genre for literary mags. It was, as one editor put it, “just a Western,” and Westerns are nearly impossible sales.

Unlike my other trunk stories, I persevered to find a home for “Llano” because every time I read it, I remained convinced it represented my talent at its best. I once read an interview with Clint Eastwood, who said Unforgiven communicated everything he felt about the Western. Well, for me, “Llano Estacado” does the same.

You can find Wild Frontiers for e-readers at Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, and B&N, and in paperback at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

In related news, this morning alternate-history publisher Sea Lion Press posted a glowing review of the 2014 anthology Altered America which included a very nice write-up of my contribution, “Rio Grande:”

Kuhl gives a fascinating and thought-provoking look at what this little city-state might have looked like in the 19th Century, and a rather plausible timeline for its creation. Add in some sharp dialogue, good characterisation and fast-paced action scenes, and it all adds up to a cracker of a counterfactual story.

That’s a nice way to start my Friday! My thanks to reviewer Adam Selby-Martin. You can read more of my thoughts on “Rio Grande” here.