Meli’s Women in Horror Month Book Haul

The amount of money I spend on books is a regular point of contention between me and my husband. Actually, it’s not cash flow he’s concerned about, it’s valuable real estate. Shelf and cabinet space to be precise. While my honey, my sweetheart fills his side of the room with vinyl records, the shelves on my side runneth over with books and they’re starting to creep into his territory. It’s hard for my patient and understanding life partner to understand why I continue to buy books when I haven’t read all the ones I have. After all, it only takes him a half an hour or more to listen to an album. It could take me a couple days, probably more, to read a novel or anthology. Still, I can’t stop buying books.

Yeah, I have an Amazon.com wish list, but what if I can’t–or don’t want–to get the book in question from Amazon? What if it’s published by a small press? What if I later forget that I even wanted it? What if it sells out? I can’t take that chance! That’s why I have to get it while the gettin’ is good. To the chagrin of my husband, one book leads to another in an endless cycle of seek and destroy.

For example, my favorite author may reveal in an interview that he/she is heavily inspired by so-and-so and I got another book to add to my to-read list. Then, I read that book by so-and-so and in the introduction they mention a fellow peer whose work has motivated them to pursue writing seriously (or something like that). I add that to my to-read list. Now, with social networking I have a non-stop influx of recommendations from my favorite authors, readers, publishers, bloggers and even strangers, so I may not be able to finish one book before I’ve got five other titles on my shelf!

I have many titles collecting dust while I continue to buy new books. This is precisely why I started The Dreadful Attic, a review section here at Dreadful Tales that is for the sole purpose of getting those books read!

Even though I’m making a concerted effort to finally read some of the lost and forgotten, I struggle to resist alluring novels, collections (my biggest weakness), and my favorite writer’s new releases. Sometimes books that just have cool cover art.

Women in Horror Month proved an irresistible temptation to that feat. I had the opportunity to interview several women throughout February and of course I had to pick their brains about their favorite writers and personal influences. This elicited a number of additions to my wish list.

Every once in while you get in a slump where everything in the scene kinda feels stale and nothing seems to grab you and demand you take notice. Other times, the times I live for as a horror fiction fan, you have the exhilarating realization that the well was never dry to begin with; you were just tapping the wrong vein. With my shopping cart full and my bank account empty, I felt that rush of excitement for the state of horror fiction this past month and I want to share it with you all!

Beyond is the list of books I purchased before and throughout February, and I’ve included some titles I will buy soon also.

Before WiHM kicked off, I was soliciting genre fans for their favorite female horror writers and it was Ron McKenzie, artist and man of exquisite taste, that first mentioned the name Gina Ranalli, a name new to me. Many people joined in to second, third, and fourth that recommendation and in particular the title House of Fallen Trees. I picked up that book along with Brainfused Colorwheel, just because the title sounds trippy. You can browse Ranalli’s titles here and visit her website here.

I’m on an Elizabeth Massie kick lately and I love vampires. Pre-WiHM I snagged a used copy of The Mammoth Book of Vampire Stories by Women edited by Stephen Jones and featuring work by Poppy Z. Brite, Nancy Kilpatrick, Gemma Files, Elizabeth Massie, and a dozen other high caliber writers. I picked this up more for my rabid vampire obsession, weakness for anthologies, and Massie fandom than the celebratory month of February, but a fitting title to include here. Used copies are available rather cheap, you just gotta look around. Visit Elizabeth Massie’s website to follow her work and find out more about the multi-talented author.

There were a few titles I added to my collection as a result of my interview with Maria Alexander. Right about the time I was reading (or just finished) Maria Alexander’s short story contributions to Dark Arts Books 2008 anthology Sins of the Sirens, the preliminary Bram Stoker Award nomination ballot was announced. Included among that bevy of talent is, now officially, Maria Alexander’s poetry collection At Louche Ends, published by Monica S. Kuebler’s Burning Effigy Press. Alexander struck a nerve with me, as did all the Sins writers. I had to have At Louche Ends. So I headed over to the Burning Effigy shoppe to pick it up. I figured there was no point just buying one lone title, so I grabbed Ian Roger’s Black Lands novellas Temporary Monsters, The Ash Angels, and Black-Eyed Kids as well. You can get all Burning Effigy Press titles here. Visit Ian Roger’s website here and Maria Alexander here.

After reading Maria Alexander’s At Louche Ends, I was motivated to introduce more poetry to my diet. Not through a direct recommendation, but perhaps subliminal messaging I recalled Wrath James White’s poetry collection Vicious Romantic, which was also nominated for a Stoker last year. I’m anxious to read the most hardcore horror writer’s take on this format which, interestingly, is in traditional Japanese and Korean formal poetic structures. You can pick up Vicious Romantic here and follow White’s projects on his website Words of Wrath.

Another title I snatched up in an effort to get better acquainted with the poetic form is Rain Graves’ Barfodder: Poetry Written in Dark Bars and Questionable Cafes out from Cemetery Dance Publications. As the title suggests, Graves’ poems were written in the shadowed corners of establishments through her travels and is praised by genre icon Neil Gaiman; Rain Graves writes really nasty poetry. She is a mistress of creating images that stick, the kind that you cannot get out of your mind—not even using steel wool and a small, extremely sharp knife.” Even though this collection was published in early 2009, it’s still available from Cemetery Dance Publications here. You can also check out Rain Graves’ website here.

Another author’s name that came up quite a bit during WiHM was, unsurprisingly, Daphne du Maurier, most famously known for her works adapted by Alfred Hitchcock, like the short story “The Birds.” While browsing the Cemetery Dance website, I came across The Doll: The Lost Short Stories by Daphne du Maurier. This collection includes eight stories originally published in the now out of print Early Stories, and five stories from periodicals published during the 1930s. With du Maurier on the brain, I had to have it. The anthology is currently available from Cemetery Dance Publications here, but this is a one-time only run so get it while you can.

While Sins of the Sirens writer and Bram Stoker Award nominee Maria Alexander has inspired me to expand on my knowledge of poetry, the other Ladies of Sins have sparked my interest in a number of books as well. Loren Rhoads created the magazine of weird true stories Morbid Curiosity and collected her favorite published entries from 10 years as editor in Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues. This anthology of unusual tales includes an entry from fellow Sins writer Mehitobel Wilson, “Thanksgiving at Bel’s.” Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues is morbidly cheap and you can pick that up here. Also, stop by The Daphne du Maurier website for everything du Maurier.

Speaking of Mehitobel Wilson, I am now on the hunt for her short horror fiction collection Dangerous Red. From what I can tell this early in my search is the book, originally published by Necro Publications in the early 2000s, is only available used. Prices don’t look unreasonable ($20 or so on ebay), but I’ll keep searching. If you have a good lead, please give me a heads up! (edit: Dangerous Red is available at Amazon.com here There are typically only 5 copies in stock, so if they’re out check back again later) Get to know more about Mehitobel “Bel” Wilson on her website.

There are a few other authors I’m seeking out and books I want to pick up – suggestions from authors and fans – but those are the titles I have on deck or books that are in transit to my mailbox as we speak!

So, what did you get last month (WiHM-related or otherwise)?

-Meli

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Ladies of Sins of the Sirens: Featuring Mehitobel “Bel” Wilson, the Woman with Hair of Fire & Snow Leopard Skin

We’re halfway through the Dark Arts Books Sins of the Sirens roundup, but there will be no intermission and no reprieve for the weak. Moving right along into Mehitobel “Bel” Wilson’s world, we are challenged with the most emotional and heartwrenching stories of the lot thus far. Among her four tales, one is more disturbing than sad, and another is an exciting, sexually tense cat-and-mouse game, but there is a common thread of loneliness and isolation in her characters.

Before we get into Mehitobel’s stories, I’d like to share a few tidbits about her career. I feel like a record on repeat, but Mehitobel, like all the other women we’ve featured this month, has an eclectic resume. If she only mentioned her non-writing work, she still has a laundry list of unique experience. She’s had every job from dog groomer to model, cigarette girl to factory worker. I’m not sharing exclusive information here, though. That info is immediately mentioned on the welcome page of her website, but nonetheless it’s still fascinating and worth mention.

In the literary world too, Mehitobel carries impressive credit to her name. Of course, she’s one of four exceptional talents handpicked by John Everson for the hauntingly beautiful collection of short stories, Sins of the Sirens. Just like her cohorts Loren Rhoads, Maria Alexander, and Christa Faust (who will be featured tomorrow), Mehitobel can’t be classified simply as a horror author. Well, I guess you could classify her anyway you want, but it wouldn’t be right because she exhibits skill beyond just the ability to elicit fear. She cuts to the bone, digs in deep for that which we want no one to find; our dirty secrets and haunted desires.

Mehitobel also worked alongside Sirens Loren Rhoads and Maria Wilson at Gothic.net where she acted as editor and book reviewer. Her editing at the webzine garnered a Bram Stoker Award nomination in Superior Achievement in 2000. She also has a non-fiction story in Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues called “Thanksgiving at Bels,” which collected some of Loren Rhoads’ favorite true tales from the Morbid Curiosity magazine’s 10-year run.

Moving onto her fiction you’ll find almost all her work is included in several editions of Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. I will have to seek these stories out because now I have an itch that can’t be scratched and it’s name be Mehitobel!

From what I can tell, Mehitobel’s first story, “Heavy Hands,” is a Sins exclusive, so you better pick up a copy here (or here) if you want to read it. The story follows a quirky, isolated young fellow, Jason, who works a tedious day job, enjoys periodic smoke breaks with his only friend Gemma, and contemplates maybe one day having a barbeque. Gemma, an outspoken, cursing sailor of a woman, is the yin to David’s yang (or is she the yang?). Gemma does her best to rip Jason from his shell like a newborn baby from its mother’s womb (Gemma was never one for subtlety), but he’s struggling with more than social awkwardness and a lonely disposition. Jason is accompanied, every so often, by phantom hands. At first, it’s a light caress that wakes him from his slumber, another time a more intrusive squeeze of the shoulder. Until the climax of the story, it doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. But this isn’t a fairy tale and there is no happy ending (actually, there is one, but you’ll have to read “Heavy Hands” to find out what it is). You remember how those Tales from the Crypt shows where our protagonist would discover or acquire something that seemed positive, but it would end up being a terrible curse? That’s “Heavy Hands.” A Tales from the Crypt story, a right gone wrong. Happiness almost within reach only to be thwarted by a darker fate in the end.

Mehitobel’s second entry is a spine-chilling, disturbing lil’ piece called “Close.” We’re introduced to a creepy bastard Thad who has a strange sexual obsession. He’s a voyeur that likes to feel and hear, not necessarily see. He’s addicted to eavesdropping on couples in the hotel room above him, listening to “heavy breaths laced with groans, as if her voice would never breathe silently again.” As the title suggests, Thad can’t get close enough. His obsession overpowers any logical thought as he progresses toward the ultimate satisfaction, the climax. When listening from the room below isn’t enough, he fashions a hiding place to get as close as possible to the couple.

“Then new ideas occurred to him. He brought foam, pillows, and sleeping bags, and he built a little berth beneath the bed, to raise him closer to the box spring. He wrapped it in a black cotton flat sheet, one he’d washed well to remove any sheen, and tucked the matching fitted sheet alongside it, to bag himself, to darken himself, to join with the blackness under the bed.”

This story is like a home invasion movie set to paper. For a reader who travels often, it will have added significance. “Close” is deeply unsettling and will send shivers down your spine.

The third story is the exciting cat-and-mouse game I mentioned earlier, “The Wild.” We meet my hero, “Cath Catheter, the girl with the iron roar, the monster queen of the death metal scene.” But by the time we find Cath she has regressed into a nervous hermit, relegated mostly to her apartment, office, and fast-food joints, wondering “how long it had been since she’d broken a pool cue over an opponent’s head.” Cath makes a concerted effort to break free from this anti-social slump. She ventures out to a gallery, gets dolled up for Kink Night at a bar, even hangs at a hip coffee shop. Still, something keeps her from connecting with the people around her. Almost everyone, that is except for a mysterious and handsome rockabilly dude. Will this rockabilly hottie finally liberate Cath? You’ll have to read to find out! I can tell you this isn’t a love story and there’s an unexpected twist at the end I’m dying to tell you about. It’s requiring a great amount of restraint on my part not to spoil it for you! So please, for my sake, just read it!

“The Wild” is juxtaposed dramatically by Mehitobel’s closing story, the terribly heartbreaking “Parting Jane,” about a young girl who is prisoner of a hospital. The drastically different tone of the preceding story makes Mehitobel’s finale especially jarring to the system. This story is all dark. There is no humorous undertone or flirtatious prose, just institutionalized childhood innocence, pain, anguish, and abandonment. Written in first person narration, “Parting Jane” is told though the diary entries of Jane, who is nine years old when the story opens. Her only outlet, her only freedom is her diary. As the story progresses we find out why Jane is hospitalized and it’s more frightening than any cancer, more horrific than any disease, and just plain sad.

To say much more than that does the story a great injustice. That’s really the case with all the stories in this collection. In fact, I think I’ve said too much already. Like Gemma from “Heavy Hands,” I was never really one for subtly.

Visit Mehitobel “Bel” Wilson’s website and pick up a copy of Sins of the Sirens: Fourteen Tales of Dark Desire here or here. Worth every damned penny!