Change and Comfort Albums

This morning, I grabbed my copy of That Dog’s Retreat from the Sun on my way out the door.  It’s been more than a few years since I listened to this record, and I’ve just been struck by how important it is to me.

Retreat from the Sun came out in April 1997, ten full years ago.  I remember spotting it in the racks as I was browsing the Western Hills Media Play with my friend George.  I had no idea the record was coming out.  I just happened to spot it.  I snatched it up because I’d loved the band’s previous record, Totally Crushed Out.  As soon  as we returned to George’s place, we popped the CD into the player to see what That Dog had come up with for their third album.

I was floored.

From the lazy country bounce of “I’m Gonna See You” through the driving rock of “Long Island” to the sadness of “Until the Day I Die,” the record just spoke to me in that way records seem to when you’re young.

In April of 1997, I was twenty years old.  I wanted to be a screenwriter or a recording engineer or a rock star depending on which day of the week it was.  I working at a Little Caeser’s that was about to close.  I was still trying to get over a girl who’d dumped me almost a year earlier, and I was realizing I was never going to be happy in small town Indiana.  I was changing from the person I was into the person I would someday be, and it hurt like hell.

Retreat from the Sun helped.

There was so much pain and love and sadness and optimism in that one record, written by a woman who didn’t want to be a part of her own band anymore, forced by her record company to make one more album with them.  I kind of felt the same way.

Five months later, That Dog broke up.  I still have that record, though, and it’s still one of my “comfort records,” music I can listen to whenever I need to get grounded again.  The Afghan Whigs’ What Jail is Like single is one.  Everclear’s Sparkle and Fade is another.  There’s a few more, but I’ll keep those to myself, tucked away safe.

To conclude, here’s some of my favorite lyrics from the record…

“I’m gonna see you when you’re boring.
I’m gonna see you every night.”

“You should be my new best friend.”

“You’d sit in your house.  You’re writing out your will.
He’d be there holding your baby, and I’d be there holding him still.”

“I have this problem with you.
I wanna work it out, but I don’t know how to.”

“I want to set a place for you at my table.
We can sit forever watching reruns on cable.”

“And I saw you, a dream come true.”

“You’re the most valuable player, but I’ve chosen the wrong team.”

“And no matter how hard I try, this will be until the day I die.”

So, what are your comfort records?

Read This!: The Dead Letters

The Dead Letters
By Tom Piccirilli

Five years ago, Eddie Whitt’s daughter became the first victim of a serial killer known as Killjoy. Whitt never stopped searching for him&–not after the police gave up, not after Killjoy began sending him insane, taunting letters, and not even after the killer quit his lunatic rampage and faded from the scene.

But now the madman has returned. In some bizarre form of repentance, Killjoy begins kidnapping infants from abusive homes and delivering them to the parents of his original victims. In a strange turnabout, Killjoy becomes a media hero, a savior of unwanted “changeling children”, and to those he once tormented he is now transformed into a benefactor.

Wow.  It’s tough to say anything beyond that.  This was the best book I’ve read in a loooooong time.  I can’t think of anything else that comes close, really.  More crime thriller than anything else, The Dead Letters is both tight and atmospheric.  The character of Whitt is sympathtic and unsettling at once.  We feel for him, but we see the madnes he’s slipping into as he hunts Killjoy.  I can’t remember the last time I’ve read a more fully realized character.

And the bad guys in this novel are truly bad.  Whether it’s Killjoy with his trail of pompous-yet-nonsensical letters or the old woman and her cult who follows the god Mucus Thorn-In-Brain, the antagonists drip evil from every pore.

Piccirilli keeps the story rolling, building momentum until it’s almost at car crash speed.  The last few pages couldn’t turn fast enough.  This book will leave you spent.

Recommendation: Must Read!

The Big Move

Sorry. I didn’t mean for the gross out entry to sit at the top for so long.  I hope my mother didn’t stop by any during the last week.  That would be awkward.

And I’m sorry updates have been realtively infrequenct over the last two weeks.  Thing is, Shawna and I just bought a house.  We spent the last week planning, repairing a fence, and packing.  The move itself took place on Friday, and we are now doing that wonderful “settling in” thing.  Ah!

My main concern at present is what to name this bad boy.  The Hall of Justice is probably trademarked, so that’s out.  Same thing with Thunderdome.  The Compound will probably get me red flagged.    I just don’t know, friends and neighbors.  I just don’t know.

My Lover Smells Like Roses

Presenting, for your amusement, my 2007 World Horror Gross-Out contest entry.  Do not read immediately before, during, or after eating.  In fact, maybe it would be better if you just skipped this entry altogether.

My Lover Smells Like Roses
By Nate Southard

Only a special kind of loneliness can inspire a man to build a woman out of his own shit.  That was me, though.  Five years without so much as a kiss on the cheek or a tongue up the ass.  I asked my mother what she thought I should do, but she just told me not to touch her down there.  Then she threw me out of the house.

So, yeah.  Time to build a shit-woman.

I started in a corner of my basement apartment.  I needed raw material, so I just took to shitting on the concrete floor.  If I close my eyes, I can still hear the slaps and plops of my stool against the floor–sometimes solid, other times wet like an especially warm chocolate malt.

As I collected my building blocks, I had to seperate them into various piles.  Solids would be used for sculpting a flat stomach and creating a finely detailed face.  The wet stuff was for filling my fecal darling’s mouth and vagina.  I even took small amounts of the firmer shit and molded it into cylinders capable of holding my mediocre cock.  These tubes were then inserted into My Funny Valenstool’s mouth, ass, and pussy because–let’s face it–shit splatters if you fuck it too hard.

As I’ve said, these cock-hugging tubes were then filled withe the loosest Hershey squirts I could find.  Now, this wasn’t just for lubrication purposes.  Sometimes, you want to kiss a girl.  Or go down on her.  And really, who doesn’t like a good rim job now and again?  If you use firmer matter in these areas, it’s just going to get stuck around your tongue and the roof of your mouth like peanut butter.  Sure, it can be fun to feel it pull apart as you open and close your jaw a few times, but at that point you’re just being selfish.

Oh, and peanuts!  I made sure to eat a few of those so I could use them for nipples.  Salted are the best, because I love sucking nipples, so they should really have some extra zip to them.  I’ve heard some folks prefer using corn for nipples, but I only use that particular food product for my part-slime lover’s clit.  That precious little kernal is perfect for both nose-bumping and tongue-flicking, and when you accidentally fling that really soft, slimy chocloate love sauce on your chin, it kinda feels like you made your woman come.  Fellas, you should really bring your stinking, fly-spotted goddess to full orgasm at every opportunity.  It’s just polite.

So all you lonely hearts out there, don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.  Don’t be afraid to get your face, tongue, hair, chest, dick, balls, toes, forearms, kneecaps, sphincter, that dangly thing at the back of your throat, the webbing between your thumb and pointy finger, that flap of skin just behind your balls, or your very soul dirty, for that matter.  Because let’s face it–at the end of the day, nobody’s gonna love you like your own shit.

The creepiest moment of my life

I’m supposed to have a high threshold on the creep-o-meter.  It’s in the job description, and any sign of weakness can have my membership to the horror writers’ association revoked.

But damn, this gave me the “I’m so terrified I might puke” jitters.

It happened Saturday night.  I was at the My Chemical Romance/Muse show in Houston.  Between Muse’s opening set and the first My Chem set (they played two, on as The Black Parade and one as My Chemical Romance), I noticed a little girl standing in front of me with her mother.  Through bits of overheard conversation, I learned said girl was eight years old.  I felt kinda bad for her.  She’s a tiny girl on the floor of an arena show, probably brought by her mother because a babysitter couldn’t be found in time.

That soon changed, and the terror began.

By the time The Black Parade set began, we were infront of the girl and her mother.  I didn’t really think anything of this.  I couldn’t hear the kid complain about her lack of visibility or anything.  All’s cool, right?  Wrong.

My Chem started to play Mama, that delightful little pseudo-polka, and I suddenly felt something wet and warm on my wrist.  I looked down at my arm just in time to see that cute, innocent looking eight-year-old lick my arm from wrist to elbow on one slow, torturous motion.  I stared at the kid in utter horror, and she flashed me a smile.

I dried my arm on my pants leg and positioned myself on the other side of Shawna.  I never saw the kid again, but I’m sure in twelve years or so she’ll pop up in headlines as either a porn star or serial killer.

And I’ll be able to say I knew her when.

My Job, Our Job

Interesting email in my inbox this morning.  A friend read a story of mine and left feedback.  Great!  I love feedback!  It makes me a better writer, after all.  I could use more of it, in all honesty.

But then I started reading the letter, and it wasn’t feedback for me.  It was feedback for the horror genre.

You’ve heard it before.  I know I have.  It was probably never presented in such colorful-yet-concise language, but anybody who’s written a story about those things that go bump in the night has heard it a million times over.

Horror writers hear it at least once a week, sometimes with a refreshing bluntness, other times all dressed up to sound intellectual.

“You should be writing serious literature.”

“You’re too good for that horror stuff.”

“That horror stuff is trash.” (I like this one, because it means you’re talking to somebody who doesn’t beat around the bush)

“Why are you wasting your time with that stuff?”

Well, because I want to.

Horror writers write what they enjoy.  We do it because we want to, need to, and are driven to every moment of the day.  We’ve accepted their roles as midlisters, having realized long ago that King was a phenomenon, and nobody’s going to topple him anytime soon.

We don’t want to save the world or even change it.

We don’t want to enlighten.

We don’t want to elevate the genre.

We don’t want to make millions of dollars, either.  We would have started writing pseudo-intellectual bullshit literature, if that were the case (this isn’t a slam on actual literature, mind you, just those writers who want to show off haw smart they are without any thought to telling a good story).

We want to entertain, to tell stories.  Beginning, middle, end.  We hope you get a fun, visceral little thrill out of it.  That would be awesome.  That means you’ve been entertained.

And that’s my job.  That’s our job.

Read This!: Psycho

By Robert Bloch

You know the story of Norman Bates and his darling mother, of the woman who came to the Bates Motel one cold, rainy night to take her last shower.

Have you read the book, though?  Because you should.

Before Hitchcock immortalized it or Van Sant crapped all over it, Psycho was a book by Robert Bloch.  Bloch writes a very different Norman Bates than the one we know from the silver screen.  This Bates is a pudgy glasses-wearer who will actually stand up to his mother now and then and often gives glimpses of the violent madness hidden beneath. Anthony Perkins played a terrific, sinister Norman, but it’s different than the pathetic, psychopathic loser we find here.

Another welcome change from the film is that more than half the book takes place from Norman’s point of view.  Clues are dropped about Mother, but only enough to get you guessing.  Boch handles these chapters with a deft, chilling touch that will stay with you for a long time.

Recommendation: Very Strong.

World Horror 2007, A Comedy in Seven Days


Flight two hours late leaving, although United lists it as on time right up until we board an hour and forty-five minutes late.

Minh and Shrews meet me at Chicago O’Hare after I spend 45 minutes thinking “In front of baggage claim” means “Stand out in the cold so we can drive by and pick you up.”


Eric picks us up, and we begin the eight-plus hour drive to Toronto.

Around Lansing, I take a nap.  I wake up as we pull into Grand Rapids, sixty miles in the wrong direction.  I don’t sleep the rest of the way into Toronto.

Hit the hotel and run into Kelly Laymon,Paul Puglisi, and Mike Meyers.  Paul slaps a check and contract for a short story into my hand.  I pocket the check but leave the contract in the room.

Down in the bar, Chris Golden asks me what I’m working on.  “Getting drunk,” I reply, then I do my Shrews impersonation for Cullen Bunn.  “So Rogan walks into a (insert building) and kills 100 (insert profession) but chains one up to (torture/question/fuck) later…”  Also, I congratulate Cullen on signing up for two more series of The Damned, his Oni Press comic.

In bed by 2AM or so.  Might not be such a bad weekend.


Run into Nate and Nicole Kenyon while looking for a place to grab breakfast.  Nate and Nicole are a wonderful couple who are almost sickening in their cuteness.  Nate’s superior mastery of sarcasm is also a sore spot with me.  They direct me to Eggspectations, where I eat a bacon cheeseburger for breakfast. 

Of my roommates, I’m the only one daring to use Canadian money thus far. 

A group run is made to the State liquor store.  I pay $30 for two six-packs of Corona, then curl into a ball and cry.

In my typical way, I accidentally walk past a line of people waiting to register for the con and grab my goodie bag.  The glares aren’t as bad as I’d expect.

Everybody but Minh received a Tim Lebbon book in their freebies.  Being mature, I tell Minh to eat me.  I shouldn’t fuck with him too much.  He was in a Vachss book, after all.

Sometime in the afternoon, Keene appears with his wife Cassi and my good friend and meticulous proof-reader Kelli Dunlap.  I do a good job of not drawing attention to Keene, but Kelli comes screaming across the lobby to hug me.  Instantly, I smell like Virginia Slims.

A throng of us find a Thai place for dinner.  Due to Keene’s skillful maneuvering, I end up at a table next to Jeremy Lassen, publisher of Night Shade Books.  Over beers and fried rice, I convince him to sit down and listen to a pitch later.  I, of course, don’t see Jeremy for the rest of the con.

Talk with Tim Lebbon about the 30 Days of Night novelization he’s written for the upcoming film.  I ask if he’s fixed the ending, and he answers by saying he added a scene with a polar bear.  This excites me in strange ways.

Steve, the other bald Brit at the table, was the screenwriter of Ghost Watch.  Without thinking, I blurt out “My friend Mat has a bootleg of that!”

Hit the late night “What is Horror?” panel.  Kelli and I laugh at the skinny guy we dub “The Commentator.”  He sits at the edge of the table, slapping the table top with one hand while raising his hand like Horshack.  I expect him to break into a pee-pee dance, but he doesn’t.  In the end, it is decided that horror is a drunk Drew Williams.

Somebody yells at me in the hotel bar for an hour.  I finally respond with, “I’m sorry, but I just don’t care.”

Hit the sack at 3:30 this night.  As I drift off, I realize I haven’t heard a single Canadian say “Eh?” yet.


I get my “Eh?” pretty early when an Asian man tells me to “Have a good day, eh?”

Kelli and I hit the “What Editors Want to See” panel.  From the back of the room, Shrews says something about Titanic-meets-The Outlaw Josey Wales.  Under my breath I say “So Rogan walks onto an oceanliner and kills 100 gunslingers, but he leaves one chained up to massage later.”

Lunch with Kelli, Cassi, John Urbancik, Queenie, Marcy Italiano, and Monica from Rue Morgue magazine.  Urbancik and I eat terrible pizza, then split an order of fries.  We try not to puke when Monica shows up with poutine.

Talking to Cassi is like talking to the anti-Brian.  She’s laid back and smiles all the time, while Brian looks like he’s about to implode at almost all times.  She’s awesome, and I’m overjoyed I finally got a chance to talk to her without Dave Barnett constantly poking her in the butt with his cane.  Later, I’ll find out she thinks I look like a puppy, so at Necon I’m just gonna call her Keene-Wife all weekend.

At my pitch meeting with Peter Crowther of PS Publishing, I get a healthy dose or reality when I tell Peter about A FAMILY MATTER and he says, “Well, I’m not interested.”  We chat for a few minutes, then I go drink three shots of whiskey.

Dinner at Red Lobster baybay!  Blackened Catfish rules everything around me.

I’m drunk by the time the gross out contest rolls around.  I see Cullen talking smack, and I almost retort, but realize he’s right.  Three Up, Three Down indeed.  As long as I don’t have to follow him, I’ve got a shot.

Guess who I follow?  Fuck me.

Gross out judges are Kelly Laymon, Tim Lebbon, Christopher Golden, and Joe R. Lansdale.  Golden gives me a hotwing before I read, which I eat like an idiot who doesn’t have to read a five page story a second later.

I read the first two sentences of my story before losing my place.  I cover by reciting as much of my story by memory as possible while randomly turning pages in my notebook. It turns out pretty well, though I’m on my third blank page by the time I finish.  I shake Lansdale’s hand and get off the stage.

The rest of the contestants spend the evening spanking me with their entries.  I just hope I didn’t come in last.  When Lebbon later tells me, “I’m not sure I want to know you anymore,” I take it as a seal of approval.

We end the evening with a round table reading of a short story so terrible I won’t name the “author.” It involves spiders and reality TV and a haunted train and some mystery guy named Kyle.  Lebbon gives the material some much-needed oomph, and Wrath James White keeps staring at the page in horror, which is saying something for the guy who just read a story about sucking a dead dog’s ass at the gross out.

In bed at 4:15AM.  Ouch.


I slink off to breakfast alone.  I’m starting to get homesick in a bad way, missing Shawna in the worst way.

This day is largely spent looking through the dealer’s room and dropping by panels.

I make a “Special Guest Appearance” At Shrews’s reading.  I try to stroll through the room while I read, but get trapped by chairs that are too close together.  Seriously, fuck those chairs.

Pitch meeting with Dan D’Auria from Leisure.  It goes well, but I drop so many names my pitch sounds like a library auction.  Don tells me to send him stuff, though, so I don’t do any shots afterward.

I talk to Shawna for the second time today (bad idea when International Roaming applies) because I miss her so frippin’ much.  I’m so homesick that when Keene asks what’s wrong, I say “I want to pet my dogs.”

Kelli’s Horror Web intern shows up and is soon stranded by Kelli with orders to “meet people.”  I hope we don’t find her stuffed in a closet during the last reel.

I fill the biggest coffee I can find with booze and head down to watch the Stoker awards.  If I ever hear tarot-centric poetry again, I’ll hurt myself.  Norm Partridge wins for long fiction, and I manage not to go apeshit.  Later, I congratulate him on the phone and receive a reply of “Thanks, Nate!  You sell a book yet?  You got the chops, man!”  Norm makes me feel so good I want to cuddle with him.

More drinking at the “quiet” bar.  I get caught up in a conversation about gun control and soon realize I’m surrounded by Republicans.  And here I am without garlic or holy water.  If Shawna were here, she’d start swinging.  God, I love that woman.

Weston tells me he plans to find a silver Elvis mime and receive a holy sign from him.  Strangely, I think Weston is sober when he says this.

In bed at 3AM.  Just because I want a bed instead of the floor.


Goodbye’s are given.  The room is paid for.  Hugs are handed out like business cards.  I hate that I won’t see these people again until July.

No wrong turns on the way home!

I crash in my hotel room and watch good cable, which I can’t afford at home.

I fall asleep at 10PM.  Hurray!


I catch a $30 cab ride to the airport.

I take off on time and arrive in Austin ten minutes early.  Danny picks me up, and my allergies have given me a sore throat by the time he drops me off.

Four hours later, Shawna arrives home, and I break three of her ribs with the first hug.

So, yeah.  That’s that.  I love World Horror.