Tag Archives: West Pigeon Press

Know-it-all: J.R. Hamantaschen’s You Shall Never Know Security

Among other laudatory remarks, the cover copy for J.R. Hamantaschen’s collection You Shall Never Know Security states, “These are stories that, in the finest tradition of H.P. Lovecraft, Thomas Ligotti, Dennis Etchison, and T.E.D. Klein, articulate what you’ve always suspected: that life is a losing proposition.”  As any reader of this blog should know, the authors cited are some of horror’s most accomplished short-fiction practitioners, making for a quite a lofty comparison to a writer whose biggest publishing credit to date is probably The Harrow online magazine. So, is Hamantaschen equal to the association?  Well, there are undeniable signs of significant talent to be found in these stories, but more often than not they’re hamstrung by some unfortunate failings, which I will elaborate on below.

Issued by new publisher West Pigeon Press, You Shall Never Know Security contains 13 stories, including five originals. The lead story, “A Lower Power,” provides good examples of both the positives and negatives to be found in Hamantaschen’s work. The plot is engaging — focusing on the narrator’s significant other, who has a rather dark secret that he unintentionally reveals during a middle-of-the-night transformation — there is some genuine frisson generated, and there are some memorable phrasings, such as: “First thing you’d notice about him: his hair is like a choreographed fight scene.” On the other hand, there are a few self-indulgent passages that fairly shout “Look Ma, don’t I write pretty?” and this is just the first of many stories to show how the author struggles to craft solid endings.

In “Come in, Distraction,” the mundane tale of a blasé pick-up artists and his latest conquest reveals a far more interesting story through casual comments and background details — namely, an unexplained wave of mass madness and murder that swept through England before the country was essentially vaporized to prevent the contagion from potentially spreading. In addition to the rage and insanity, the infected were also marked by a bizarre lengthening of their arms, as the protagonist reflects:

“He extended his arm, wondered what it would be like if it extended another thirty-feet, coiled up and folding upon itself like fancy drapes, claws dancing over her face.”

“Truth is Stranger Than Fiction” utilizes an interesting narrative technique, relating the story of a murder by way of a district court’s written response to a legal motion, although the approach falters when attempts are made to inject some drama into the drabness of the legalese. Hamantaschen frequently employs a theme of strangeness and horror just beneath the surface, and that features strongly in “There is a Family of Gnomes Behind My Walls, And I Swear I Won’t Disappoint Them Any Longer,” wherein the protagonist’s new roommate reveals that a book of arcane wisdom has led him to determine that behind the wall of their loft apartment lies a trigger of sorts, a means to elicit a reaction from forces beyond our world. The story’s painfully verbose title brings to mind the fact that, in many cases, the titles seem to be odd choices at best.

The closing novella “There Must Be Lights Burning Brighter, Somewhere” truly captures both the highs and lows of Hamantaschen. Related in a sophisticated style with interwoven flashbacks, it features an engaging premise, with main character Alex haunted by memories of an incident three years earlier, when a sudden invasion of a bar by otherworldly creatures forced him and two others to cower in a backroom closet in hopes of surviving the onslaught. Alex and Gabriel indeed survived the incident, but their closet companion Victoria did not, and it’s the details of her demise the plague Alex still. The story is unfortunately too drawn-out in places — like many tales here, it would have benefited from some judicious editing — and there’s some strangely laid-back dialog between the characters trapped in the closet that serves to sever the suspension of disbelief.

All in all, there’s too much of a sense of self-indulgence and seeming pretentiousness running throughout this collection for me to feel comfortable recommending it. Perhaps I’m being too mindful of the cover-copy author comparisons I mentioned earlier, and perhaps I’m being too hard on Hamantaschen, but I can’t shake the feeling that he won’t begin to approach his substantial potential as an author without a strong editor and some badly-needed maturity.

A round-up of new horror small presses

The list that I maintain of active small presses whose output is predominantly horror, dark suspense, or dark fantasy continues to grow, with the count growing to a rather astonishing 138 publishers. Over the last few months, I’ve added no less than 27 presses and imprints to the list, and I’ll summarize each of those 27 below.

The following presses are recently launched, recently discovered by me, or recently re-evaluated and found worthy of inclusion.

  • Acid Grave Press – an ebook-only publisher with one title to their credit so far — the anthology Living After Midnight, which contains six stories inspired by hard-rock/heavy-metal songs, by authors such as Randy Chandler, L.L. Soares, and David T. Wilbanks.
  • Altar 13 – a new imprint from Delirium Books publisher Shane Ryan Staley, which seeks to take classic genre titles that have only been published in paperback and reprint them in hardcover for collectors.
  • Bandersnatch Books – debuted in 2010 and has published a chapbook by T.M. Wright, a novella by K.H. Koehler, and an anthology, Dead West, containing some familiar names. Their website is currently a bit of a mess, however — among other issues, the “Bookstore” page offers no way to actually purchase any of the titles.
  • Belfire Press – a mult-genre publisher with 13 titles to their credit, including horror titles such as Gregory L. Hall’s At the End of Church Street, Aaron Polson’s Loathsome, Dark and Deep, K.V. Taylor’s Scripped, and several anthologies.
  • Black Room Books and the Zombie Feed – two new imprints of Apex Publications. The former will publish both horror and science fiction, with their first title being a reprint of Tim Waggoner’s novel, Like Death, while the latter is yet another zombie-focused publisher, with three novels/novellas and an anthology published.
  • Blasphemous Books – an ebook-only imprint of Black Death Books, with a single title so far, a min-collection by John Everson.
  • Camelot Books – restored to the active publisher list after previously assumed to be moribund (probably my mistake). Recent titles include a collection by Ray Garton and an anthology of four novellas that includes Brian Keene and Nate Southard.
  • Crossroad Press – formerly appearing to be only a distributor of ebooks from other publishers, but now publishing both print and ebooks under their own imprint. CP has quickly become a prolific publisher of ebooks, with recent titles from Elizabeth Massie, Tom Piccirilli, and Chet Williamson, among many others.
  • Dark Prints Press – Australian press founded in 2010, with three anthologies and a collection by Martin Livings to their credit.
  • Dark Silo Press – published a novel by Brian Kaufman, but an anthology originally scheduled for March 2011 still hasn’t appeared, so viability of this press may already be in question.
  • Fungasm Press – a new imprint from bizarro publisher Eraserhead Press, “Fungasm Press grounds its weirdest ideas in contemporary realities, meeting at the freaky juncture where genre and mainstream collide with indescribable strangeness.” Fungasm will publish 2-3 titles per year, starting with Laura Lee Bahr’s debut novel, Haunts.
  • Harrow Press – longtime publisher of The Harrow magazine began publishing POD books in 2007 and has so far produced two anthologies, with a third in the works.
  • Hersham Horror Books – UK-based publishers of the Alt-Dead anthology, with two more anthologies announced.
  • House of Murky Depths – UK publisher of a namesake magazine, several graphics novels, and four novels by Sam Stone.
  • Innsmouth Free Press – Canadian publisher of a novel and three anthologies, most recently Future Lovecraft, which features authors such as Nick Mamatas, Jesse Bullington, and James S. Dorr.
  • LegumeMan Books – an Australian press “devoted to extreme and/or unusual fiction for extreme and/or unusual people,” with twelve titles already to their credit, including novels by Steve Gerlach and Brett McBean.
  • NECON E-Books – Leveraging the connections he’s made from running the eponymous convention for thirty years, publisher Bob Booth has assembled an impressive roster of writers, including Ramsey Campbell, Christopher Golden, Charles L. Grant, Tom Monteleone, and Tim Lebbon. Despite the press’ name, they do offer print editions of some titles.
  • Necro Publications –  moved from moribund back to the Active Publisher list after recently publishing the Jeffrey Thomas novel Blood Society and an ebook-only collection by Edward Lee, Grimoire Diabolique.
  • Panic Press – UK-based multi-genre publisher with 11 books published already, including titles such as Jason Whittle’s The Dead Shall Feed and Nate D. Burleigh’s Sustenance.
  • Rainstorm Press – another multi-genre publisher, with apparent vanity leanings, as all four announced titles are either written or edited by the owner of the press. If Rainstorm turns out to be strictly vanity, they’ll be removed from the list.
  • Rocket Ride Books – SF/horror publisher who made an interesting debut with a new edition of John W. Campbell’s Who Goes There? (basis for three movie versions of The Thing), available in print and audio versions. Their second title is William F. Nolan’s Kincaid: A Paranormal Casebook, “in the tradition of The X-Files and Kolchak.”
  • Sinister Grin Press – launched at KillerCon 2011 with a chapbook containing original stories by Ramsey Campbell, Ray Garton, and Bentley Little, and have announced two upcoming novels from Wrath James White, one solo and one co-written with J.F. Gonzalez.
  • Strange Publications – taking a buffet approach since their 2008 debut by publishing a chapbook, three anthologies, and a collection (by Cate Gardner). As of this writing, their website appears to have been hacked, so it’s unclear how active the press still is.
  • Swan River Press – Ireland-based publisher of 28 chapbooks and mini-hardcovers, some of which are dedicated to writers from decades past (there are multiple Bram Stoker and J. Sheridan La Fanu titles, for example), and some of which feature work from contemporary writers such Gary McMahon, Rosalie Parker and Mark Valentine.
  • Terradan Works – announced as a multi-genre publisher, but their four titles published to date have all been horror or suspense fiction, including books by Jeffrey & Scott Thomas, and Wilum H. Pugmire.
  • Ticonderoga Publications – this Australian multi-genre publisher has been around since 1996, but I only recently concluded that they produce a sufficient amount of horror to be included on the list. Published authors include Terry Dowling and Kaaron Warren, and Ticonderoga recently launched an annual Australian Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror series.
  • West Pigeon Press – Putting forth a prospectus that is, depending on how one looks at it, either extremely ambitious or off-puttingly arrogant, WPP has one title so far, the collection You Shall Never Know Security, by J.R. Hamantaschen, which certainly sounds intriguing.

Conversely, the only publishers removed from the publisher list since my last column are Snuff Books and Twisted Publishing, both of which seem to have sunk without a trace. With 27 presses added to the list vs. just two removed, either the horror small press field is faring better than the overall economy, or the genre has a knack for converting overly-optimistic fans into would-be publishers.

While I’m talking numbers, the other thing I took the time to total up is how many of the 138 presses on the list are publishing at least some of their titles in ebook format. The result?  No fewer than 56 presses (40%) have jumped on the ebook train, strong evidence of the growing adoption of ebook formats.