The Eldritch Index interview

Over at The Eldritch Index, Farah Rose Smith has posed some great questions about writing and speculative fiction, which I’ve answered as thoroughly as I can. Thanks very much to Farah for including me in this excellent interview series. I think readers will find it quite interesting.

“Human communication, even when limited to two individuals sharing a common language, is tricky at best. We can’t control how all of our messages are received.”

 

I Wish I Was Like You (an excerpt)

My parents wasted their youth paying off a third mortgage on a ranch-style house with three bedrooms, two baths, and a dining area lined in fake paneling. We lived on a street where all the neighbors could see through one another’s living room window, and nothing ever happened. People went to work and to school. People celebrated holidays with barbecues and fireworks. People met at motels and bars and pretended to be mysterious. A father of four was arrested for indecent exposure at the park. A woman drove drunk through her neighbor’s roses and somebody killed her cat the next day. This was life in the suburbs.

Nothing terrifying or crazy ever happened. Nobody ever murdered anybody, at least nobody who got caught. Families knew one another, or pretended to, from a safe and civil distance. Nobody discussed anything more controversial than the local football scores. A natural death on our block justified the entire population wandering outdoors in pajamas to drink coffee and watch the paramedics strap down and ferry away one of our own. Afterward, minus information, we speculated.

“Hal was out of shape. I offered to take him to the gym as my guest. Said he didn’t have time. Look at him now…”

“He was under too much pressure at work. All that overtime! Stress is a killer. I told him to slow down and spend more time with the family but he didn’t listen. Look at him now…”

“His marriage was coming apart. I urged him to see a lawyer and get free of the whole mess. Look at him now…”

Regardless of the slant our gossip took, one thing was consistent; we blamed the dead guy. People always do. It’s a way of siding with life, with energy and bouncy tits, a way of stepping back from death, mocking anyone who seems tired, weak, depressed, or just too goddamn eager to lie down. It’s a way of pretending to be on friendly terms with good fortune.

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I Wish I Was Like You is available from JournalStone/Trepidatio. If you purchase the paperback directly from the publisher’s site, you get a bonus ebook edition in the format of your choice (ePub, PDF or mobi for Kindle) to download right away.

This Is Horror 2017 Novel of the Year

2017 Bram Stoker Award Nominee for Superior Achievement in a Novel

Charles Dexter Award for Favorite Novel of 2017 from Strange Aeons Magazine

Horror. Ghost story. Noir. 1990 Seattle. Title from Nirvana’s “All Apologies.” Don’t let Greta see you. She likes to hurt people, for fun.

“This biting, sly gem of a novel shouldn’t be missed.” – Publishers Weekly Starred Review

“Gritty and insightful, funny and despairing by turns. Refreshing to read some balls-deep outsider fiction again.” – Adam Nevill, author of The Ritual

“Miskowski has produced an exemplary novel, one that deals intelligently with themes of creativity and self-absorption, one that leaves the reader with much to think about and is every bit as brilliant as the work [protagonist] Greta Garver dreams of producing but can’t deliver. I loved it.” – Peter Tennant, Black Static

“Her prose is at times delicate and poetic, yet can turn as sharp and deadly as the stroke of a knife through flesh.” – Michelle Garza, This Is Horror

“A poison-pen love letter to 1990s Seattle, Miskowski’s black humour, precise observations, and well-drawn characters make this novel an absolute pleasure to read.” – Yves Tourigny

“A portrait of Seattle in the heyday of grunge, a trawl through the lives of the ordinary and broken, a meditation on ambition, failure, and gender, of community and friendship and their limits. A portrait of failing to come of age in those gloomy, millennial times in the early 90s… Miskowski sketches a vision of afterlife that is linked to the ideas of the classic ghost story but somehow has the revelatory shock of a wholly new conception.” – Jayaprakash Satyamurthy, author of A Volume of Sleep

“Miskowski never succumbs to the temptation to reduce her protagonist to a cartoon, a pure villain; instead, she grounds Greta’s transformation in the shortcomings of her character, in the frustrations of her dreams and daily life. In so doing, she maintains Greta’s humanity all the way to the book’s last, wonderfully dark line.” – John Langan, Locus Magazine

“This is a terrific, beautiful, mean book. It’s been a long time since I was so hooked by a narrator, and I suspect Greta will haunt my thoughts for a long time. Can’t wait to dig into this author’s other books.” – Shaun Hamill, author of A Cosmology of Monsters

“This novel shows once again why Miskowski is the best around. There’s a range to her work that other writers can only dream of, and this novel with its dark humor, weird noir atmosphere and fully realized characters is wonderful.” – Christopher Slatsky, author of The Immeasurable Corpse of Nature

 

M & I

From the back seat I watch M gripping the steering wheel, not moving, considering the situation. November ice glitters on the road ahead of our sedan, caught in the sheen of headlights.

The man lies crumpled and shivering on asphalt. His breathing is a shallow wheeze.

*

One minute ago M slammed on the brakes, and my wooden horse went flying out of my hands into the windshield. It landed with a crunch at the same time the man hit the ground.

*

Framed by the rearview mirror, M’s eyes have narrowed to pinpoints. On top of her head, and mine, damp hair is coiled around fat rollers with nylon bristles, held in stony compliance by metal pins and green silk scarves.

M is Mother if anyone stops us, if anyone wants to know. Our story is the same every night: We’ve driven to a salon to have our hair shampooed and set. We’re on our way home to eat macaroni and cheese with bacon for supper. These are normal things to do, in this place.

“Doing normal” is our specialty, M’s and mine. We blend. It’s why we’re here. We’ve seldom been noticed. Well, a few times.

Bundled in a corduroy coat, M’s habit is to work the brake and gas pedals with one foot on each. A cigarette dangles from her mouth, stained with orchid lipstick.

“We’re flyin’ now,” she likes to say, over her shoulder. We travel like this everywhere, middle-aged woman at the wheel and diffident seven-year-old in the back seat.

*

“Is this normal?” she asked, on our first night. “Does this configuration seem right?”

“Yes,” I assured her. “Children avoid their mothers, here. Don’t you see how they run away at the shopping malls, screaming, with snot on their lips?”

We have an understanding now, “doing normal” until orders arrive and the real assignment begins.

*

The street we’re on is famously tricky, divined half by instinct and half by repetition memory. Lamps tower overhead, broken, as derelict as the bare sycamores spreading wicked fingers at our passing car in the deep dark.

The man who came ambling across the street, out of nowhere (as they say), wore a gray suit and tie with a smart little trilby perched forward on his head. Maybe inebriated, or maybe not. Didn’t notice the bulky station wagon rounding the corner. Didn’t hear us coming, M and I. His senses were startled and sharpened when a wet tire skimmed the back of his leg.

The car halted with a shriek, rocking forward and back on its axel. The man froze. He turned toward us.

M set the brake and lumbered out of the car. She stood in the middle of the street, cold air buffeting her and the man, no one else in sight. The man’s voice was a shivery squeal.

“What the hell? Look what you’ve done!” His hat was gone and the back of his shoe, the part protecting his little Achilles tendon, was smashed flat.

“You’re all right,” M said.

“You could’ve crippled me!” he shouted.

“It’s only your shoe,” she told him, the bulbous mass of her cranium beginning to writhe beneath the green silk. “I will pay for your shoe.”

“Are you crazy?” he shouted. “You almost hit me! You should be arrested!”

“You’re all right,” she said again, her voice like water gliding over ice. I recognized the glimmer behind her eyes.

“You don’t belong on the road! Where do you come from, you maniac?” He pulled off his broken shoe, aimed like he was going to throw it at her.

M drew up to partial height, until the corduroy coat hung about her shoulders like a floppy bolero. A quiver of movement shifted her scarf to one side.

“There’s nothing wrong with you,” she said. “Go to your home.”

“What the hell?” the man stammered. “You freak—you—you—bitch!”

M strode back to the station wagon and climbed inside, folding to her “doing normal” size again. She checked the mirrors, made sure the man was squarely behind the car, shifted into reverse, and hit the gas pedal.

The screech of brakes accompanied my toy horse flying from my hands. I saw the man fall and turn to a pulpy mass on the road.

*

M sits silently pondering. The driver’s door opens again.

Now the part that never gets old.

A flutter of wind catches M’s scarf, tugging it down around her neck. The green and writhing membrane opens, flaring from her facial bones like enormous wings. Flickering tongues emerge, naked, alive, and hungry. The run-over man greets the sight with screams until the membrane envelops his broken flesh with soft murmurs of digestive fluid: Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

From the trees something normal, deprived of a meal, takes wing and flies away.

 

— S.P. Miskowski

This story originally appeared in Forbidden Futures.

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Medusa, Franz von Stuck

 

NOX PAREIDOLIA

Amid the flurry of end-of-year releases and end-of-decade lists, you may have missed this big, beautiful anthology, NOX PAREIDOLIA. Edited by Robert S. Wilson and magnificently illustrated by Luke Spooner, the book contains thirty-one haunting stories exploring the dark edges of pareidolia, “the tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern…the human ability to see shapes or make pictures out of randomness.” (Merriam-Webster)

This is a stunning anthology, gorgeous in both appearance and content. I’m proud to be included among these talented writers of strange fiction. NOX PAREIDOLIA is an excellent reading choice right now, during the post-holiday doldrums, and it could use some ratings and reviews—blog posts, social media sharing, Goodreads, Amazon… Show the love, to help other weird fiction lovers find this book.

Thanks and happy reading in 2020!

Table of Contents:
“Watch Me Burn With the Light of Ghosts” by Paul Jessup
“Immolation” by Kristi DeMeester
“Her Eyes Are Winter” by Christopher Ropes
“8X10” by Duane Pesice and Don Webb
“Bag and Baggage” by Greg Sisco
“The Dredger” by Matt Thompson
“Hello” by Michael Wehunt
“Gardening Activities for Couples” by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro
“Lies I Told Myself” by Lynne Jamneck
“The Unkindness” by Dino Parenti
“Merge Now” by Kurt Fawver
“when we were trespassers” by doungjai gam
“Rum Punch is Going Down” by Daniel Braum
“Unmoored” by Sean M. Thompson
“Just Beyond the Shore” by Elizabeth Beechwood
“The Schoolmaster” by David Peak
“The Past You Have, The Future You Deserve” by K.H. Vaughan
“Herr Scheintod” by LC von Hessen
“The Room Above” by Brian Evenson
“Sincerely Eden” by Amelia Gorman
“Wild Dogs” by Carrie Laben
“The Moody Rooms of Agatha Tate” by Wendy Nikel
“Salmon Run” by Andrew Kozma
“The Little Drawer of Chaos” by Annie Neugebauer
“When the Nightingale Devours the Stars” by Gwendolyn Kiste
“Far From Home” by Dan Coxon
“Birds” by Zin E. Rocklyn
“Strident Caller” by Laird Barron
“The Taste of Rot” by Steve Toase
“Venom” by S.P. Miskowski
“In the Vastness of the Sovereign Sky” by S. L Edwards

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Cover illustration by Don Noble.

Legends of Claudia

“If you don’t mind, I find it advisable to schedule activities early in the day. Even a simple task, or a conversation, requires all of my concentration.

“By dusk my thoughts will skitter and slide away from me. Maybe that’s a blessing. Lately I find I can only remember well what I’d rather forget. I’m told this is common in people with similar conditions. Without warning or invitation, the errant past will sneak up on me and flood the more confusing nights. Crimson light bleeds into the edges of multiple images, and memories stutter in their frames until they begin to burn and curl at the corners.

“I’ve known many stories. This one doesn’t matter anymore, and I don’t know what it means.

“When I was twelve years old my parents took me on a road trip to kidnap my cousin. ‘Kidnap’ may be the wrong word. Maybe ‘abduct’ or ‘collect’ or even ‘contain’ would be more accurate. Whatever the term, Claudia was running wild, my parents were sent on a mission to stop her, and they decided I should join them…”

SamDawson

—from “Legends of Claudia,” S.P. Miskowski, Supernatural Tales 40 (Summer 2019)

Cover art by Sam Dawson

 

Nowhereville

Coming soon and available for pre-order: NOWHEREVILLE: WEIRD IS OTHER PEOPLE edited by Scott Gable & C. Dombrowski (Broken Eye Books), which includes my story, “Patio Wing Monsters,” in a very exciting lineup of talented authors:

WALK SOFTLY, SOFTLY
Nuzo Onoh

Y
Maura McHugh

NIGHT DOCTORS
P. Djèlí Clark

THE CHEMICAL BRIDE
Evan J. Peterson

PATIO WING MONSTERS
S.P. Miskowski

UNDERGLAZE
Craig Laurance Gidney

THE VESTIGE
Lynda E. Rucker

THE CURE
Tariro Ndoro

KLEINSCHE FLÄCHE OF FOUR-DIMENSIONAL
REDOLENCE
D.A. Xiaolin Spires

NOLENS VOLENS
Mike Allen

VERTICES
Jeffrey Thomas

LIKE FLEAS ON A TIRED DOG’S BACK
Erica L. Satifka

URB CIV
Kathe Koja

OVER/UNDER
Leah Bobet

A NAME FOR EVERY HOME
Ramsey Campbell

TENDS TO ZERO
Wole Talabi

MY LYING-DOWN SMILEY FACE
Stephen Graham Jones

LURIBERG-THAT-WAS
R.B. Lemberg

THE SISTER CITY
Cody Goodfellow

 

 

Knock Knock sale & giveaway

This week only (August 18th at 8 am to August 25 at 12 am) the Kindle edition of my Shirley Jackson Award nominated debut novel, Knock Knock, will be available for 99 cents. And the publisher, Omnium Gatherum Media, is giving away three paperback copies of the book. All you have to do is go to the link and sign up, for a chance to win one of three paperback copies.

At the center of this novel-length fairy tale are three restless girls, best friends stuck in the backwater of Skillute, Washington in the late 1960s. Their neighbors and families are petty or poor, or both. They warn the girls not to go into the forest. Something evil lurks there, they say. During a playful oath, the girls wander too far and their mistake unleashes a malignant spirit that terrorizes Skillute for the next fifty years.

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“Along with Brendan Connell’s The Architect, I rate Delphine Dodd as the best novella I read in 2012, and Knock Knock as the best book I read in any category… Eventually the story achieves a momentum all its own, rushing headlong to a shattering finale, and the prose…attains a fever dream intensity, so that we can’t trace any clear divide between reality and the skewed perspectives of the characters, the two blurring into each other, everything viewed through a blood red filter and in the light cast by flickering flames.” – Peter Tennant, Black Static

“One of my favorite horror writers…” – Laird Barron, for Locus Magazine

“…more than a great read; it is a fascinating meditation on the nature of horror. There are supernatural elements to the book, yes, but the setting (an impoverished, ruined logging town) and the main characters (three school girls with hopes and dreams made improbable if not impossible by their realities) are a beautifully rendered commentary on the cyclical nature of real-world human tragedy.” – Molly Tanzer, author of Creatures of Want and Ruin

“Beautifully written and relentlessly suspenseful, it’s a great book to curl up with on a cold winter’s night. Just be sure to keep the doors locked and all the lights on!” – Lucy Taylor, author of The Silence Between the Screams

“…excellent character-driven, creeping horror, featuring mostly women in the main roles, with some very good writing. What’s not to love?” – Chelsea Pinson, Silk Spun

 

cover art and design by Russell Dickerson

Available for Pre-Order: The Worst Is Yet to Come

My new, short novel is now ready for pre-order at the publisher’s site. Trepidatio is offering the book in paperback and in three ebook versions. You can purchase the ebook (ePub, mobi for Kindle, or PDF) or buy the paperback to be released February 22, 2019, and receive the ebook of your choice to download immediately.

This little book went through a lot of changes. It began as a straightforward thriller about a family experiencing strange occurrences after meeting a teenage girl from a broken home. As I continued to write, the more magical and disturbing elements of Skillute, Washington began creeping in on all sides.

Skillute is the fictional setting for my first novel Knock Knock, novellas Delphine Dodd, Astoria and In the Light (Omnium Gatherum) as well as an origin story for one of the characters, soon to be published in the anthology Sisterhood edited by Nate Pedersen (Chaosium). Each may be read as a stand-alone but there are overlapping and intersecting characters and events that take on new meaning if you read all of the stories. Over the course of these tales the setting has altered, its history becoming entwined with the fate of its residents, and the land itself has taken on a central role.

I decided to let Skillute guide me this time. The result is a psychological and supernatural story of longing, of illusions clouding reality, of escape and the desire to belong. All I can promise you is that, no matter what occurs in this weird town where every creature and every object seems to have a life of its own–the worst is yet to come.

Synopsis

For most of her fourteen years, Tasha Davis has languished in the rural-suburban town of Skillute, Washington. Her parents offer plenty of comfortable—if stifling—emotional support, but what she needs is a best friend.

In her final year at Clark Middle School, Tasha meets a strange, new classmate. Briar Kenny is the self-styled rebel Tasha wants to be, and the Davises are the kind of close-knit family Briar covets. A moment of unexpected violence spawns a secret between the two girls and awakens a mystery from the past.

Unknown to Tasha and Briar, their secret also attracts something monstrous from a forgotten corner of Skillute. The town is haunted by its history, scarred with the lingering spirit of broken and scattered families, abandoned real estate ventures, and old scores never settled between neighbors. But there’s more to the place than memory and legend. Beneath the landscape something malignant rages, and it will stop at nothing to find a route into the physical world.

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Cover art by Mikio Murakami.

The Worst Is Yet to Come

For most of her fourteen years, Tasha Davis has languished in the rural-suburban town of Skillute, Washington. Her parents offer plenty of comfortable—if stifling—emotional support, but what she needs is a best friend.

In her final year at Clark Middle School, Tasha meets a strange, new classmate. Briar Kenny is the self-styled rebel Tasha wants to be, and the Davises are the kind of close-knit family Briar covets. A moment of unexpected violence spawns a secret between the two girls and awakens a mystery from the past.

Unknown to Tasha and Briar, their secret also attracts something monstrous from a forgotten corner of Skillute. The town is haunted by its history, scarred with the lingering spirit of broken and scattered families, abandoned real estate ventures, and old scores never settled between neighbors. But there’s more to the place than memory and legend. Beneath the landscape something malignant rages, and it will stop at nothing to find a route into the physical world.

Coming February 22, 2019 from Trepidatio Publishing.

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Cover art by Mikio Murakami.

Knock Knock – an excerpt

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Art by Yves Tourigny

It was terrible, but it had to be done. Now Beverly could breathe easier. Now her daughter would be safe. Her neighbors and friends were safe, all because of what she and Marietta had done. That was something. That was the thing to remember.

She finished wiping down the living room lamps. For a minute she stood still, breathing hard. Beads of perspiration trickled between her breasts. The white cotton blouse and black knit pants clung to her skin. She itched all over.

Outside the living room window the first drops of a downpour plopped onto a row of premature tulips, forcing their stems flat in the cool air. It had rained hard that afternoon then let up completely. Now a second storm was rolling in.

Beverly arched her back and listened to the plunk-plunk on the roof. She thought she heard raindrops hitting the back door, too. But there wasn’t enough of a breeze yet, for that. She fanned herself by flapping the front of her blouse.

At the end of the short hallway, past the turquoise bedroom on her left and a shapeless laundry nook full of odds and ends on her right, she studied the back door. No need to clean that. The wood paneling was in decent shape. A spyglass at eye-level afforded a narrow view of the back yard, with its Japanese maple and its catalpa, and on into the woods.

Beverly was gazing through the spyglass when she heard tapping at the front door. She smoothed her blouse and went to the living room, expecting to find the rain-soaked Pastor Colquitt on her doorstep with a morbid replay of the day’s memorial and a plea to attend his regular Sunday service. Such impromptu visits made Marietta’s son Henry unpopular around town, especially among his neighbors on Connie Sara Way.

Beverly looked out the glass and aluminum door. No one was there.

Now she heard tapping at the back of the house. Tapping, louder than the plunk-plunk of raindrops. Knocking. Someone was clearly knocking on the back door. That damn girl, she thought, and then remembered that the damn girl was dead and gone.

Beverly returned to the spyglass. With her fingers splayed, flat against the door, she leaned carefully forward. No sooner had her eye focused on the yard than she heard knocking at the front door again! It was ridiculous!

The rain was starting to come down like mad. In this torrent, anyone dashing from one end of the house to the other, outside, would fall down; but there was no sign of anyone, no matter how fast Beverly charged from door to door.

It had to be kids playing pranks, probably more of the Dempsey boys, some of the pathetic cousins from those little trailers up in the woods. They drank whiskey, all of them, and they played cards late into the night sometimes.

She would look up into the woods and see the amber lights of kerosene lamps, because most of them didn’t have electricity. There were five or six trailers and vans parked on one piece of land. The grownups kept pretty quiet except during hunting season, but the kids were bored. The kids got into trouble. Not like Connie Sara, just the usual kind of trouble, stealing cigarettes at Misty Mart. Dumb stuff.

Beverly took a detour into the kitchen. She knelt on the checkerboard floor and opened a cabinet under the sink. She grabbed the first thing handy, a can of foaming cleanser. That would give them a surprise!

She shook the can hard and strode toward the front door, ready for action. Then she looked up, and froze. The stimulated contents of the can crept out the nozzle like drool and ran down onto the carpet. She dropped the can.

On the opposite side of the glass and aluminum door someone was watching her intently, facing the door, so close to the glass that Beverly couldn’t make out any features, only the outline of a head, shoulders, and arms.

“Hello?” She said.

The person didn’t answer or move.

Beverly thought: Halloween pranks in the spring! Stupid kids!

But she didn’t laugh.

“Is that Darrell Joe Dempsey?” She asked.

“Rodney Junior?” She said. “You better answer me.”

Not a sound. She tried to move, but she couldn’t force herself to go forward. She wanted to slam the wooden door shut against the security door and lock it, but she couldn’t.

Whoever it was grabbed the handle and shook it hard. The door made a tin, shuddering noise. Beverly thought it was coming off the hinges.

She stayed frozen. As suddenly as the shaking had begun, it stopped. The figure outside let go of the handle, drew back, and spat a wad of phlegm at the glass. The mess stuck and dripped down leaving a slug trail.

Startled by the smacking, fluid sound, Beverly lurched forward and slammed the front door over the glass and aluminum one. She slid the deadbolt into place. Immediately she heard knocking at the back of the house again.

She crept to the back door. The breath felt sharp in her chest. She flicked through a mental inventory of latches, bolts, and locks. She knew that all the window shutters were open but there was no way to secure them without going outside, and she was not going outside, not for anything. All her nerve had buckled when she heard that metallic rattle. She finally noticed the telephone on the kitchen wall, and dialed a number before she realized there was no tone. The line was dead.

The knocking was gone. The rain was gone, too. Not like the storm had subsided, but like the sound of the world outside had been muffled or quilted over. As if the clouds overhead had hunkered down until they covered only the house. Nothing spoke or moved.

Beverly’s heart beat hard, and she swallowed dryly. She was listening with her whole body, stiff, aching. Faintly, she heard another sound: Scratching or scraping across the side of the house.

She opened the bedroom door and looked in. Outside the narrow window near the ceiling, the only thing visible was a cluster of dark clouds. Rivulets of water coursed down the glass.

Maybe it was over. Hope flickered inside her ribs and it hurt, like something broken trying to fly.

She heard the scraping again. This time it seemed softer, more muffled. She crept to the living room and looked at the door, the ceiling, and the window.

She turned toward the fireplace. And while she stared at the dry, cold center of brickwork, a thin stream of soot fell gently down, followed by another. With a scratching and grunting noise, something heaved its way down through the chimney, forcing out another quick stream of soot…

Knock Knock by S.P. Miskowski

Happy October!