Growing Up Poe

Edgar Allan Poe would be celebrating his 200th birthday this year. He cast an epic shadow across American fiction; he inspired every last horror writer who came after him; and his fans founded Weird Tales magazine.

Weird Tales wondered if Poe still has the same impact today — so in their latest issue, they asked a bevy of dark fantasists (including Cherie Priest, whose essay is already published online) how much the Grandpa of the Gothic loomed in their tender years. The answer: a whole freakin’ lot.

Here’s what geek princess Alethea Kontis has to say about it. Click here to read “Teen Angel, Dark.”

Yes, Poe really was my emo high school boyfriend. And yes. I’m still reeling a bit from the fact that I have officially been published in Weird Tales. Weird Tales. THE Weird Tales. Yeah. Me.


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“The Monster & Mrs. Blake” now live at The Story Station!

Drop on by The Story Station and check out one of my very favorite short stories — “The Monster & Mrs. Blake.”

I was one of those kids with monsters under her bed (they looked a lot like the little guys in Critters), so I empathize with Jeremy. I also wrote it while my best friend Casey was pregnant with her first child and craving apples for no apparent reason…

This was meant to be read aloud, so if you have the time — and the children– I encourage you to do so. And please…let me know what they think!

And yes, the rumors are true — this story has been optioned by Bamfer Productions. I get to see a screenplay soon. Saying I’m a little excited about it is like saying there’s a little sand on the beach.


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Genre Chick Interview: Daniel Waters

When I met Daniel Waters at the Southern Festival of Books here in Nashville this year, he had no life. Specifically, his one-line bio was something along the lines of “Daniel lives in Connecticut with his family.” Outraged at the oversight (and a little frightened of meeting a person who really had nothing more to say about them), I concocted a much more colorful history with which to introduce him at our “Young, Fanged, and Undead” panel. In appreciation (and because he’s just that awesome), he answered these interview questions for me in about 12 hours, reciprocating in the same witty spirit.

And no. We’re not telling you whether or not zombies are real. Some things you just have to decide for yourself.

Alethea Kontis: What were you like in high school?

Daniel Waters: My standard answer is that I was a near-perfect mix of the five personalities from The Breakfast Club, meaning that I am equal parts Brain, Criminal, Athlete, Basket Case, and, um, Princess. The reality is that I was probably about 95% Basket Case, even if I tried to look all Criminal on the outside.

You know, teen readers ask this one often, and I think what they are really asking is, “Will I be okay?” And the answer is, “You will.”

AK: I was struck by how poetic the chapters written from the Zombie POV are. Do you write–or have you ever written–poetry? Any favorite poets?
DW: Why, thank you for that–I tried really hard to get somewhat experimental things like the speech pauses in Generation Dead and the “first person, zombie” POV in Kiss of Life down correctly. I’ve never written poetry and don’t really consider myself to have an aptitude for it, but admire and have great respect for those that do. Some of my favorite poets are Langston Hughes, James Scully, Allen Ginsberg, Theodor Geisel, James Merrill, and Morrissey.

AK: Zombie walks are all the rage this year — do you participate in them?

DW: Every morning when I shamble from my bed to my coffee.

I’ve never been in an official zombie walk but they look like a lot of fun. Maybe I’ll get an invite someday from some friendly undead person.

AK: What do you think is the reason so many young folks have been drawn to the zombie “culture”?
DW: There are so many reasons to embrace zombie culture! I think in some ways, entering into a zombie horde allows a person to escape the terrible pressure of having to be an individual all the time. America especially places a very high value on being “unique,” and I think that can cause a lot of stress in hothouse environments like most schools. Zombification could be societies’ great equalizer. On the flip side, releasing one’s inner zombie is a fun way to be an individual in more polite society.

The culture, like many dark or horror based entertainments, allows young people to deal with any number of universal fears–fear of death, fear of disability or disease, social fears, etc. There’s something inherently pathetic and borderline humorous about zombies as well which also contributes to the whole cathartic experience.

It is easy to identify with a zombie, whereas it can be difficult to do the same with vampires, the superheroes and villains of the supernatural world. Zombies are us, but dead.

Plus, let’s face it, zombies are just cool.

AK: What’s your costume going to be this Halloween? Best costume you ever had?
DW: No costume this year, sadly. My best costume ever was probably Wez, who was the scary guy from The Road Warrior. My mohawk was about a foot tall. I was never a zombie (or a zombie cheerleader) but I was a Ghostbuster (a la Bill Murray) one year. I used an old metal canister that had most recently held a deadly insecticide for my proton pack, which probably wasn’t the brightest idea in the world.

AK: What were your favorite books as a kid?
DW: Favorite book as a kid is D’aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths. I read that one approximately one thousand seven hundred and fifty three times. I loved series books of all sorts, and science fiction, fantasy and horror especially.

AK: When you visit schools, what’s the question all the kids inevitably ask?
DW: “Are zombies real?”

AK: If you could travel back in time to visit yourself in high school, what bit of wisdom do you wish you could impart?

DW: “Keep in touch.” It is the same advice that I would hope my teenaged self would give if he traveled forward in time to drop some knowledge on me.

AK: Tell us a little about your New Year’s Eve goals. Do you have any idea of what will be on 2010’s list?
DW: I started doing New Year’s Eve goals the year after my daughter was born. Although I’ve always been blessed with a happy family life, there were a number of things I wanted to change about myself, both professionally and personally, and writing down what I wanted to change seemed to be the logical place to start.

I wrote “This Year Will Be Different” in black ink across the top of a sheet of paper. Item #1 was “I will henceforth write with blue ink”. I wrote this in blue ink, thus guaranteeing that at least one of my potentially life-changing goals would come to fruition. Then I wrote about a dozen or so other goals–some personal, some family, and some occupational–and folded the list in my appointment calendar, so I’d see it every so often. At the end of the year I spend some time reflecting on the list and what happened over the past 12 months, then I think about what I want the year ahead to look like, and then I add to the list.

I’ve got a number of writing goals on the list, although they tend to be mainly goals around the career and business side of writing life. Creativity, I find, resists legislation. I only write down things that I consider to be realistic and achievable; other than that I don’t have any rules. “Be invited into a short story anthology” was one I accomplished this year, and I’ll also get to check off “Be the author of a book I cannot read” soon, because my agent sold Spanish rights for the first three Generation Dead books last month.

One of the goals that have been on the list for a few years is the rather pedestrian “Have one of my works adapted for film or television”. I think I’ll also add: “Have two new books be published in a calendar year”. Time will tell.

AK: Any fun library stories?

DW: I have found good writing mojo at a small local library where I recently gave a talk. The librarians there won’t go as far as to say the library is haunted, but they have told me a few stories that are pretty interesting, like when they were having a discussion about wildflowers one night after closing. They heard a thud from one of the aisles, and when they went to investigate, a single book had fallen to the floor. The book, of course, was a guidebook on wildflowers. And inside, between pages 113 and 114, was a freshly severed human head.

I’m kidding about the human head part. I hear it was a really old human head.

I haven’t experienced anything supernatural at the library, except I think I’ve done some really good work there, and when the writing is going well it almost feels as though something supernatural is happening.

AK: What’s next for you?

DW: Passing Strange, the third book in the Generation Dead series, will be out next June. Then I will do a non-GD book, but I’m not sure which yet because I have a few finished projects stacked up in my office like airplanes on the runway in Atlanta. I’d like to launch a new series next year.

AK: If you could be any superhero, who would you be & why?

DW: Well, the obvious answer would be Matter-Eater Lad from the old Legion of Superheroes, because he can eat anything he wants to and never gains any weight. But the one I’d most like to be is the Silver Surfer. Being able to surf through space at faster than light speeds would be the bomb. He’s shiny and smooth. And hey, you just can’t go wrong with the Power Cosmic.

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Feliz Dia de los Muertos!

La Reine Rouge

by Alethea Kontis

His bones hit the stones with a crack as the guard shoved him to his knees. They weren’t normal playing cards; they all had strange metric road signs on them. And they spoke French.

Brian Keene,” said a terrible voice. A familiar voice.

The burlap sack was ripped from his head. On the throne before him sat the most beautiful woman in the world. Her blood-chestnut hair fell in a shimmering cascade below her generous breasts. Her short red skirt revealed several miles of leg encased in several miles of black-and-white striped tights. The ruby platform slippers matched her dress, the four-inch heels of which he knew masked the blood of men’s hearts exceptionally well. Her glistening diamond tiara reflected the bright sunlight and scattered rainbows around her, complimenting the fire in her eyes and the glittery flames that decorated her face, surrounding them. Her crimson lips parted in a gorgeous smile he couldn’t help but reciprocate, and he damned himself for his lack of willpower at her feet. Those perfect teeth had fed on many a meager soul before his own, and they would feed on many more when his time on Earth was finished. Which he imagined would be about five minutes from now, give or take.

She was the Good Fairy who had given him life. She was the Muse who’d ruined it when he’d asked her to. And now she was the Reaper, here to claim what was rightfully hers.

Five minutes or no, Keene decided to spend the rest of his life being true to himself. “You remind me of a princess I know,” he said without being spoken to.

“I get that a lot,” she said, sotto voce, and then, “My little Bunny Foo Foo. Whatever am I going to do with you?”

Keene winced. He hated when she called him that. He also hated rhetorical questions.

“Off I sent you, skipping along through the forest, with one warning. Do you remember what that was?”

“Something about field mice?” he asked.

The right shoe shot out and kicked him square in the jaw, the rubies on the toes scraping deep into the skin of his cheek. With his hands bound behind him he couldn’t assess the damage, but he could already feel the wetness, taste the blood. As suspected, her shoe still looked perfect, unmarred, and hotter than hell. “I said, ‘NO MORE ZOMBIES.'”

“Is that what it was? I’m so bad with French.” Expecting the shoe this time, he managed to peek up her skirt before his face hit the stones. Skull panties. The guards propped him back up on his knees.

“I should turn you into a goon,” she said.

Keene spat out a mouthful of blood; it shaped itself into a heart on the stones at her feet. “I believe that is the established method.”

“And yet, my dearest bunnykins, something about you compels me to go old school.” She rapped her emerald scepter three times and bellowed, “OFF WITH HIS HEAD!”

It all happened with a quickness that commanded respect. A playing card obliged and bent himself in half like a table so that Keene’s head could be pushed down upon him. He saw the giant shadow of the executioner behind him and had not even the time to wince as the sharp blade bit into his neck, snicker snack. Ninety seconds, he knew. Ninety seconds before he lost consciousness forever. Forever. She smelled like forever.

His head rolled in the pool of blood at her feet and he looked up at her, his new vantage point affording him quite the view, and with his last breath he did the one thing he knew she’d hate, the one thing that grated her nerves more than anything ever had. He’d miss that damn cat.

“Why are you smiling?” she asked Keene’s head. “WHY ARE YOU SMILING?!?”

He loved that it was a question she’d never have the answer to. As it happened, he did know a princess, one who had placed his name in a bag with salt and herbs and planted it at the base of her ivory tower by the light of the full moon. She knew a thing or two about magic. And he knew a thing or two about zombies.

He thought about that princess in his last 140 characters before the world went black. Now if onlyall her father’s horses and all her father’s men hurried up and got to him before he bled out completely he’d be home in time f–


Today is Brian Keene Must Die day. Brian will be killed in dozens of horrifying ways in blogs across the blogosphere for a very good cause. If you enjoyed this humorous little vignette, please consider making a donation to the Shirley Jackson Awards.

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