Monday, 15 February 2016

Back to the Boneyard

Much to the surprise of many of you, I'm sure, last July's launch into the ether of some of my deathless prose (see the earlier post "A Graveyard Ballet in Cyberspace") apparently destroyed neither the reputation nor the finances of the publisher, Cemetery Dance. In fact, tempting Fate though they almost certainly are, they've been kind enough to keep me at the Boneyard Ball a little longer by exhuming several examples of out-of-print Atkinsiana, buffing them up to a fine electronic shine, and letting them trip the dark fantastic one more time.

Three novels and a couple of stand-alone short stories (or as they call them -- thrillingly to an old 45rpm nerd like me -- 'singles') have already been thrust upon Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and iBooks and are available right now.  Let's pause for some eye-candy, shall we:

Those are the novels, all at the so-cheap-you'll-hardly-notice-your-money's-gone price of $2.99. And here -- at Macklemore's favorite Thrift Shop price of 99c -- are the singles:

(I'm delighted by all the covers but I have to say that that last one makes me grin the most. It's the work of the lovely Lynne Hansen, the better half of the equally-lovely Jeff Strand, who's one of my stablemates in that aforementioned CEMETERY DANCE SELECT series that was launched last summer.)

Once the product pages for the five titles are up at Cemetery Dance's own website, I'll come back and edit this sentence till it resembles nothing so much as a shameless link. In the meantime, stop being so lazy and go type a few words into an e-tailer's search button, why dontcha?

[E.T.A. 3/4/16. And here I am back a mere couple of weeks later with the link in question: That will take you to the main announcement page from where you may click away on the direct purchase buttons until your little hearts are full and your little wallets lighter]

Speaking of said search buttons, by the way, [which I was, before I popped back in Time to interrupt myself] reminds me of how useful it is to have a name like Algernon Blackwood if you're going to be an author. No wikipedia-style 'disambiguation' likely to be needed there, is there? Nor, I'm guessing, for more contemporary but still unique-ish names like Kaitlin R Kiernan or Laird Barron. But Peter Atkins? Common as fucking muck, apparently. There are, far as I can tell, at least five (FIVE!) Peter Atkinses out there who've published books. And I think four of them should stop. But as that's unlikely (and very unreasonable of me), let me instead just reconfirm for you that I am neither an Anglican Bishop nor a Chemistry Professor with famously atheistic views and that if you come across books written by Peter Atkins which involve either molecules or the Liturgy the possibility of them having been written by this Peter Atkins is surprisingly low*.

*(Yes. Thank you. Fully aware that that might be a plus. Hilarious. Now piss off.)

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

But Enough About Me #8


My friend the great George Clayton Johnson died on December 25th. The date, being Rod Serling's birthday, suggests a kind of hand-picked and narratively-appropriate closure to George's long and accomplished life. There are heart-felt and eloquent tributes all over the web and, rather than try and compete with them, I thought I'd mark his passing not with any words of my own, but with some justly-celebrated ones of his:


Mother, give me your hand

Looking at him, seeing the quietness in his eyes, her expression softens. Her hand trembles toward his. She tenses herself for a shock as her hand touches his. Nothing happens. She looks questioningly at him.

You see? No shock. No engulfment. No tearing asunder.
What you feared would come like an explosion is like a
whisper. What you thought was the end -- is the beginning.

Beldon smiles warmly ...


In BACKGROUND, we see Wanda turn to Beldon eagerly. The LIGHTS go down in the ugly room as they pass through the door into the white, bright sunlight beyond. The door cuts a blazing hold in the blackness.

There is nothing in the dark that wasn't there when the light
was on. Proven in part by this brief excursion through the
strange geography of The Twilight Zone.

And we:


(From The Twilight Zone episode "Nothing in the Dark" by George Clayton Johnson, 1/5/62)

George, me, Ramsey Campbell, Dennis Etchison

(back row) George, Dennis, me, Ashley Laurence, Mark Carducci, Paul Clemens.
(second row) Roberta Lannes, Christa Faust, Nancy Holder, Steve Jones.
(sitting) S P Somtow, David J Skal, David J Schow, Lisa Morton.

George, me, William F Nolan. (This is outside Mystery & Imagination and is the second-to-last time Bill and George, the co-authors of Logan's Run and friends for fifty years, saw each other.)

Thursday, 15 October 2015

"So How Bad at Math ARE You Guys?"

Okay, nobody's actually been rude enough to ask that question directly. But I see it in their eyes (at least the eyes of the ones who can add up) whenever I carelessly refer to the upcoming Rolling Darkness Revue extravaganzas as our Tenth Anniversary shows.

And their disdain is thoroughly justified. The RDR started in 2004. So, etymologically, we don't have a leg to stand on because 'anniversary' comes from 'annus'* which, as your classically educated friends will tell you, means 'year' and it's been eleven years, not ten, since then.

(*Get your mind out of the gutter, you appalling little degenerate. And learn to spell.)

Perhaps we're trying to skate by on a technicality: The 2004 shows didn't feature new stories and didn't have a tie-in chapbook, so maybe we're celebrating ten years of chapbooks. Well, that'd be fine, but the problem is, this year's chapbook is the ninth, not the tenth. Here, take a scroll down the entire run:

See? Nine, not ten. So if it's eleven years and nine chapbooks where the hell do we get 'tenth' from?* While I'd love to tell you it's all due to an anomaly in the space-time continuum ('cause wouldn't that be exciting?), the truth, sadly, is much more mundane. There was no RDR in 2011 and 2014. So 2015 marks the tenth time (if not year) that we've put the show up.

(*No, we didn't pull it out of our annuses, you sniggering perv.)

Hey, while we're traipsing down Memory Lane, here's a look at the very first show we did. 2004, at Dark Delicacies. Dennis was still with us and Glen and I, not yet smart enough to have roped in Jonas and Rex to provide the music, were doing it ourselves. I'm at the back, almost lost in the dry ice, complete with shaved head and trusty Telecaster and Glen's manning his Korg up front while Dennis reads.

Interestingly, though Jonas wasn't yet part of the Rolling Darkness Orchestra, it was he who snapped that atmospheric little pic. Man of many talents. Go check him out at

Anyway, whether it's the ninth, tenth, or eleventh anniversary, it's next weekend -- Friday October 23rd and Saturday October 24th -- and we'd love to see any or all of you there.

The Missing Piece Theatre
2811 West Magnolia Boulevard,
Burbank, CA 91505

8:00 pm curtain

$12 admission (including free chapbook)
Cash on the night or PayPal at

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Keep That Darkness Rollin'

All aboard!

God knows how it happened, but apparently it's October already. Which means Halloween's just around the corner. Which means it must be time for Atkins & Hirshberg to put on their fancy hats and suspenders*, assume their secret identities as Algy Black and Artie Mack, and venture once more into the dark.

(*Relax, England. Doesn't mean what you think it means.)

It seems Burbank City Council couldn't get the restraining order together in time and that The Rolling Darkness Revue will in fact be back at the Missing Piece Theatre on Magnolia Boulevard the weekend before Halloween. Stories will be read. Schtick will be shamelessly schticked. Songs might even be sung.

Once more aiding and abetting Alge & Art in their latest shenanigans will be the great Kevin Gregg, the magnificent Jonas Yip & Rex Flowers and, making her second appearance with the Revue, that lovely chip off Glen's block, li'l miss Kate Hirshberg.

This is the paragraph where, for the sake of any new customers at the Atkins Bar & Grill, I should attempt to explain just what the hell the RDR is. But here's the thing, beloved and most welcome new customers, our regulars will get so bored if I do that again, that I'm going to ask instead that you cast your eye to the side of this column and, from the exhaustive list of labels you will find there, click on the one that says Rolling Darkness Revue and take a quick butcher's* at the relevant older posts that'll show up. All will become marginally less murky.

(*Sorry, America. Butcher's hook. Look.)

I should confirm though that, once again, our valued off-stage partners Paul Miller and Deena Warner have provided a beautiful chapbook that will be given free to all attendees of this year's show and will, in a couple of weeks time, be available at ridiculously low cost from Paul's yard -- -- for those unfortunates who live out of state. Deena's fantastic cover is framed within the show poster above, but let's give it its own well-deserved moment in the spotlight, shall we:

The Stella Noctis is slipping harbor. All ashore who's going ashore. The rest of you, welcome aboard. We're so glad you could join us on Die Reise der Toten*.

(*Apologies, sad mono-linguists. That's The Voyage of the Dead to you.)

Thursday, 16 July 2015

A Graveyard Ballet in Cyberspace

I've never been what the tech media refer to as an early adopter. Didn't have a VCR until well into the eighties (and even then it was a second-hand Betamax), never had an iPod, still don't have a smart-phone, and only signed up for Netflix streaming about a year ago. Sad, I know. So you'll hardly be surprised to learn, my lovelies, that the Atkins oeuvre has heretofore been available only in the form of those relics of the last century, books-on-paper.

Well, strap me onto my HoverBoard and beam me up, Scotty, because we're about to make the jump into hyperspace. Fuck opening the pod bay doors, Hal, check this guy out:

That's right, droogies. It's an e-book. No shit. Thanks to the folks at Cemetery Dance Publications, and specifically the great Norman Prentiss (who, when he's not busy being an award-winning author in his own right, spends his time as editor of CD's e-book line), your Uncle Pete was invited to be one of the initial batch of scribblers in their brand-new series, Cemetery Dance Select.

These mini-collections, retailing (oh, I'm sorry, e-tailing) at $2.99 per, contain four or five stories hand-picked by the author, along with a never-before-published afterword explaining just where they get off inflicting their crap on you how and why these particular masterpieces were written.

The initial series is so new that there's not even a splash-page up on CD's own site yet. You should instead get thee to an online bookstore of your choice (Amazon, B&N, Kobo, iTunes) and type 'Cemetery Dance Select' into their search window. This will open up a panorama of all 11 of the Select titles available and allow you to hesitate before springing for my book. "Oh, wait a minute," you'll be able to say. "They've got Michael Marshall Smith? And Lisa Tuttle*? Fuck you, Atkins. Maybe next month." 

*And Jeff Strand. And Lisa Morton. And Bev Vincent. And Lee Thomas. And Terry Dowling. And Kealan Patrick Burke. And John R Little. And Kaaron Warren.

Should, however, you have the remarkably good taste to already possess every word ever written by my ten team-mates then you can settle for mine, wherein you will find a quartet of my Liverpool-set stories: "Between the Cold Moon and the Earth", "The Mystery", "Intricate Green Figurines", and "Postcards from Abroad". Here's the link, kids --  -- and remember to channel your inner Ringo or Sir Paul for the narrative accent for each of the tales. They should also, needless to say, be played at maximum volume.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

But Enough About Me #7


I remember, couple of posts back, blithely promising that I'd use the next But Enough About Me installment to reprint two tiny pieces I'd published about Arthur Machen some years ago. "Tomorrow," I said airily, "or some time soon." That was last October. Would have been nice, wouldn't it, if I'd got my finger out and actually managed to put the post up in 2013, the 150th anniversary of the great man's birth? Ah, well. Road to Hell, etc. Late to the party or not, why don't we take a gander at these paltry additions to the field of Machen scholarship?

The first appeared in My Favorite Horror Story, a book edited by Mike Baker and Martin H Greenberg in which a bunch of us got to select and introduce a story from horror's past. I picked a somewhat obscure Machen tale called "Opening the Door", which had first appeared in 1931 in When Churchyards Yawn, one of Lady Cynthia Asquith's ghost story anthologies, ...

... was reprinted three years later in Hutchinson's A Century of Creepy Stories (edited by an uncredited John Gawsworth, a poet and good friend of Machen's later years), ...

... and then formed part of the last collection Machen saw through the presses in his lifetime, 1946's Holy Terrors, an early Penguin paperback.

I lay out these useful and scholarly facts for you ahead of the reprinted essay, by the way, because they are useful and scholarly facts which -- with an impressively patrician disdain for bibliographic detail -- I had neglected to mention in the essay itself.


Opening The Door

Though his reputation remains solid among the more serious practitioners and enthusiasts in the horror field, the visionary Welsh writer Arthur Machen (1863-1947) undoubtedly suffers that peculiar kind of fame in which his name is dropped more often than his books are read. This is perhaps not altogether surprising because Machen -- like the fine wines and good ales of which he was so fond -- has always been something of an acquired taste. He lived long enough to enjoy more than one brief period of voguish adulation, but for the most part he lived and worked in obscure poverty. Near the end of his eighty-four years he once did some foolish arithmetic and calculated that six decades worth of devotion to his muse had earned him approximately six hundred pounds. This is roughly equivalent to twenty dollars a year. The fact that he greeted this revelation with a mix of stoicism and amusement is a tribute to his character and seems, from all published accounts by friends and colleagues, to have been typical of a man profoundly blessed with warmth, wit, wisdom, and a healthy cynicism as regards the world and its rewards.

One reason why Machen will probably always count his core audience in the hundreds rather than the hundreds of thousands is that quite frankly he's not an easy read. His prose, of course, is always beautiful, fluent, and masterly -- whether it be the Stevensonian pastiche of The Three Impostors, the hallucinogenic child-speak of "The White People", or the measured and elegant simplicity of his later tales -- but he has little patience with the undereducated. He assumes of his readership the same classical learning which he himself possessed and thus his writings abound with Latin and Greek quotations which he rarely bothers to translate or explain, and references to philosophical theorems with which the modern reader, unschooled in classical logic and renaissance theology, might be far from familiar.

The other problem is that in order to experience the full Machenian magic you really need to read a lot of his stuff -- essays, autobiographies, and articles as well as the novels and stories. The effect he has on you is cumulative, and consciously so; Machen, like the medieval alchemists whom he admired and to whom he made constant metaphorical reference throughout his writings, knew that each individual experiment (or, in his case, story) was but one aspect of the Great Work, one facet only of the inexpressible mystery at the heart of the universe.

Mystery -- and a reverence for it rather than a desire to solve it -- is the essential key to any understanding of Machen. His favorite Latin quotation was "Omnia Exeunt in Mysterium" (all things end in mystery) and his method in most of his storytelling is to maneuver his reader into a place where he or she feels thay have glanced tangentially at some aspect of the unknowable. The first chapter of The Great Return, his 1915 novella about the Grail, is called "A Rumour of the Marvellous" and I can think of no better nor more poetically eloquent a description of his work than that.

This sense of a proximity to the transcendent is one of the things H. P. Lovecraft admired so much about Machen and one of the things he appropriated from him for his own fiction (appropriated as narrative technique at least; philosophically they couldn't have been more different -- Machen a catholic mystic and Lovecraft an agnostic rationalist). Whether the transcendence that is glimpsed is horrifying or spiritually uplifting can vary from story to story and in his best work is usually both. Like his contemporary, Algernon Blackwood, Machen's concern was to inculcate awe in his readers and it seemed to matter little to him whether that awe was achieved by terror or by wonder. He was wonderfully dismissive of occultist mumbo-jumbo -- though a member of the Order of the Golden Dawn at the same time as the notorious Aleister Crowley, he considered Crowley a buffoon at best and a dangerous charlatan at worst. The way to the Great Secret, for Machen, was not via obscurantist rituals but via a Wordsworthian communion with nature in which one can glimpse the miraculous in the everyday. In an essay entitled "With the Gods in Spring" Machen describes how on a walk with friends he saw beneath a black thornbush a single daffodil. "Forgotten then," he writes, "but remembered always; the shining apparition of the god."

"Opening the Door", the story I have selected for this volume, dates from 1931. It is not, I tell you honestly, Machen's masterpiece, but it is a fine example of his art of suggestiveness, of his ability to demonstrate the interconnection of the mundane and the marvellous, and the reason I chose it is that when so little of Machen's work is currently in print it seems pointless to republish yet again "The White People" or "The Great God Pan", which are (deservedly) the most anthologized of his stories. My choice was also determined, I have to admit, by the desire to offer a small rejoinder to S. T. Joshi. In his otherwise excellent volume, The Weird Tale (a critical study of Machen and five other classic horror writers), Mr. Joshi declares that all the Machen fiction worth reading dates from his first decade of work. This, in my opinion, is far too dismissive of Machen's later period -- a period that not only produced such tales as "N" or "Out of the Earth" or "The Exalted Omega" or, indeed, "Opening the Door", but one in which Machen's prose, always breathtakingly good, actually got better.

So here is "Opening the Door". I commend it to you with the suggestion that you read it slowly. Don't look for sudden shocks or punchline endings. It offers no quick thrills, no instant frissons of horror. It will, however, leave the careful reader with a lingering sense of something beyond this world, a feeling that, however briefly, the veil that separates the natural from the supernatural (or, in Machen's phrase, the Actual from the Real) has been lifted, that a door has indeed been opened. 


The second -- even shorter -- piece was written for the 300-words-max "Curiosities" column in Fantasy & Science Fiction and appeared in the December 2000 issue. It's about one of Machen's non-fiction books, The London Adventure.


The London Adventure

Ostensibly the third volume of his autobiography, Arthur Machen's The London Adventure is actually a book about the failure to write a book called The London Adventure.

Machen, the great visionary author of such classics of the fantastic as The Great God Pan, The Three Impostors, and The Hill of Dreams had told the story of his life in two earlier volumes -- Far Off Things and Things Near and Far -- and now intended to give his readers a history of his impressions of London when he first moved there at the end of the nineteenth century.

He does nothing of the kind.

Instead, referring throughout to the book he has in mind as The Great Work on London, he proceeds, with consummate good humor, to demonstrate his absolute inability to get down to it. It's a book in which form matches content perfectly; constantly sounding warning notes to fellow writers and interested readers about the perils of digression and the pitfalls of procrastination, Machen meanders entertainingly through nearly two hundred pages of interesting digressions and entertaining procrastinations.

And what digressions! In addition to being one of the best books ever written about not writing, The London Adventure is also a proto-Fortean catalogue of curiosities and coincidence, an inventory of the inexplicable that forms a fine non-fiction companion to his fiction's obsessive love of metaphysical mystery.

By the time Machen takes his leave of us, full of apologies for his failure to deliver the book he had promised and full of shame for the book he has actually written ("I had thought of calling the book The Curate's Egg but I have a distaste for boastful titles"), we feel far from cheated -- feel instead that we've read a fine book on writing, on London, and on the world and its secret life.


If you're new to Machen and are at all intrigued, I highly recommend visits to both  and

Omnia Exeunt in Mysterium

Monday, 23 June 2014

Postcards from the Apocalypse

An author's Brag Shelf, for the uninitiated, is the particular bookcase where said author keeps copies of his or her own work, as opposed to the other bookcases -- sadly more numerous -- where he or she keeps the inferior rubbish produced by lesser talents.

Now, unless an author is an insufferable douchebag -- and you'd be surprised, my poppets, you'd be surprised -- the brag shelf, despite its name, should be stationed somewhere other than the living room or, indeed, anywhere else where the phrase this guy is so fucking into himself is likely to be triggered in the mind of a casual visitor.

My own brag shelf, for example, is at the far end of a narrow corridor in Castle Atkins and -- this is the important bit -- is past the door to the bathroom. Thus people who for the most part, let's face it, couldn't give a rat's arse about the Russian edition of Dark Delicacies II or the Italian Best New Horror 4 are spared any involuntary sightings of the fragments I shore against my ruin. Only upon request do I humbly point visitors at the bookcase in question while my foot accidentally presses the recessed floor-switch that triggers the spotlights and the audio-loops of Purcell's Trumpet Voluntary.

All of which is apropos of nothing other than to serve as an announcement that, later this year, two more items will be securing berths in the Atkins brag shelf:

The first actually arrives quite soon, and is the latest volume in the youngest-and-cutest of the three Year's Best anthologies. The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2014 is edited, as ever, by the exquisite Ms. Paula Guran, who's been kind enough to stick an extra stamp or two on my "Postcards from Abroad" and send it back out into the world.

"Postcards" first appeared in The Impostor's Monocle, last year's RDR chapbook from Earthling Publications, and I'm delighted to say that Paula's had the impeccable taste to also take Glen Hirshberg's "Pride" from the same source, thus giving our little chapbook a batting average of .500 which I'm assured by my sports-savvy friends is pretty damn good. The full splendor of YBDF&H's table of contents can be seen at 

Later in the year (October in the UK, December in the US), the third volume in the 'mosaic novel' created by the great Steve Jones will be offending people of middle-class taste everywhere. Rejoicing in the title Zombie Apocalypse! Endgame, its cover should confirm that it doesn't give a shit what you think:

I'm thrilled to have been a contributor to all three brain-munching installments, and a quick click-through to will reveal my illustrious co-conspirators (including two -- two! -- fellow Scousers. Take that, Manchester).