Though relatively new to the dark side of the literary barbwire, Mer Whinery has steadily been building a body of work that effectively trades in the haunted balladry of existence in the rural South and the bloodily thunderous passages of pulp cinema and fiction. The author’s debut collection was the source of our review earlier this week. Whinery took the time to hunker down with the folks at the Omnibus to discuss late-nite monster shows, the challenges of pigeonholing, and the realities of hard living.
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Horror being, among other things, the genre of subversion, it stands to reason that the authors working in this mode should frequently take the landscapes that make up their homes and their travels and introduce elements of the fantastic to both accentuate and complement the darker qualities inherent in those landscapes. Mer Whinery has managed to do this with his first collection, staging his sordid dramas in the lonely country heart of the eponymous Little Dixie, the greasy twilight zone of Oklahoma.
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From the moment that Warren Oates swings open the bank teller’s window and greets the audience on the other side with a grin equal parts sleaze and charm, DILLINGER (1973) appears to be another production mining the gangster-as-folk-hero vein ala BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967). A wealthy pigeon of a woman has just turned her nose up at the unseen teller, and the impression seems to be that she, standing right in front of the infamous criminal who will shortly make off with her precious cash, is going to get what’s coming to her. Clearly, the pompous woman is in the social minority–the opening credits wryly play a jaunty version of “We’re in the Money” over a photo montage mainly composed of poverty-stricken families of the Depression–and Dillinger’s theft aligns him with the conception of the criminal as a modern-day Robin Hood, but one who though adamantly opposed to killing any bystanders takes no visible issue with riddling cops and bank guards with hot lead, leaving them to bloodily convulse in the dust.
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Like the malcontent MARTIN (1977) who sought answers and an alternative nightside to the dull, crushing poverty of his daylit hours, Joan Mitchell (Jan White) plunges into the world of all-the-rage witchcraft to distract from the role of compliant housewife that has been both pressed upon her and eased into without much personal pushback. (Not only is Joan’s input constantly interrupted in conversation, but the film’s alternate title in Britain, JACK’S WIFE, further classifies her as a non-entity in the possession of another.) Seeing perpetually smashed, older friend Shirley (Ann Muffly) shatter at the thought of her advanced age–an aching scene–kindles similar fears in Joan, and it’s tempting to view her black magic experimentations as the pagan inverse to the materialistic mid-life crisis of the rougher sex.
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Perhaps the only thing more surprising than the fact that the “King in Yellow” cycle of author Robert W. Chambers consists of only four core texts—two of them only tangential in reference, and all short stories at that—is the notion that someone might endeavor to create an anthology written in tribute to and existing in the same fictional world of that cycle. But seasoned writer and editor Joseph Pulver, Sr., himself the author of his own homages to Chambers, has endeavored to do just that, and he has taken on the additional tact of sourcing stories from some of the genre’s fiercest female writers, lending a stage to the women of Carcosa so that their song may be heard by readers and followers of the Yellow Sign alike.
Continue reading “REVIEW: Cassilda’s Song ed. Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.”
T. E. Grau is one of the many young Turks of the latest renaissance in Weird fiction who staked his claim in the woolly territory last year with the publication of his first collection The Nameless Dark (reviewed here) from Lethe Press. His stories of eldritch terror and gritty nihilism have appeared in a variety of anthologies and journals, and the collection itself was nominated for a number of “Best Of-” awards. He also maintains The Cosmicomicon, a site that acts as both author page and a hotspot for reviews and interviews with other luminaries of the genre. Currently hard at work on his next two novellas for This Is Horror, Grau hopped aboard the Omnibus the other day to discuss the challenges of loving Lovecraft, the place for hope in horror, and lessons learned from writing for the screen.
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We live in a time of plenty.
In the last decade and change, the rise of small publishing houses and e-reader devices has opened up a doorway through which a veritable smorgasbord of dark fiction has poured forth into the hands of fans who might not have otherwise encountered them. But not even the accessibility or mass proliferation of grim literature can be held entirely accountable for the embarrassment of riches we have today. A similar wave passed during the Great Horror Boom of the 70s and 80s, but the current renaissance we live in now has granted us the gift of quality in addition to quantity.
This commitment to higher literary standards, along with a special devotion to the short story, has led to the releases of dozens of books in the last few years that all bear the craftsman’s seal of approval, a time when even debut collections hum with a vitality and talent that wouldn’t have been dreamt of in those bygone days of spinner rack terrors. With the unleashing of The Nameless Dark, T. E. Grau has cemented himself as an author whose byline should spark in readers a joyful expectancy for what surprises there are to follow.
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