Dallas Mayr Has Passed Away

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The amazing Jack Ketchum, Lifetime Achievement Winner

One of my writing heroes has passed away.

Dallas Mayr, aka Jack Ketchum was the giant in the industry you might not have heard of.  He wrote suspense/horror classics like The Girl Next Door, Off Season, Peaceable Kingdom, and a huge number of short stories. He wrote what is unquestionably one of my favorite short stories ever, “The Box.”

Want some kismet?  Jack’s story “The Box,” which went on to win a Stoker award in 1994 for best short story, first appeared in Cemetery Dance.  As it turns out–and I didn’t realize this for a while–my short story “Three Silent Things” also appeared in that very same issue of Cemetery Dance.

I first met Jack back at the World Horror/HWA convention in Portland in 2014.  I went alone, didn’t know a whole helluva lot of people yet.  I was pushing The End in All Beginnings, my novella collection.  Tony at Grey Matter had booked a reading for me and had sent me a box of ARCs to hand out as I saw fit.

I walked the little trade show part of the con one afternoon, and there, sitting alone at a table with no one around was Jack Ketchum.  If you’ve met me, you know I am a friendly person by nature, approachable, garrulous, interested.  But I am not generally the type to approach people I don’t know…especially people whom I respect or admire.  But, screwing my discomfort to the sticking place, I walked up to Jack, introduced myself and told him I was a huge admirer of his, especially his story “The Box.”

Now, as old and impaired as I was–and continue to be–I did not realize that this story that I had an abiding admiration for was in the same issue as one of my own stories.  But Jack was friendly, and we spoke for a while.  I told him I was a writer just getting back into the industry, and that I had a book coming out.  I had a copy of said book clamped in my hand, and he inquired about it.

I showed him the book and offered him a copy.  He accepted it, then passed it directly back to me.  “You have to sign it first.”

I wasn’t accustomed to this.  Hadn’t signed too many copies of my own books at that point, and was a little flummoxed.  I took the book back and hastily inscribed it, putting into print that I was disconcerted by signing a book over to him.

He took the book, we shook hands, and that was it.  I’d met one of my writing heroes.  Done.  Great experience.  He was a nice guy. It was definitely something I’d remember.

Cut to about two months later.  I’d written something here on this blog about that meeting, and I got a notice from WordPress that I had to approve a comment left on the blog posting.  I stared at the response in question for several minutes trying to figure out who the hell Dallas Mayr was.

The response was this: “In your inscription to me you wrote, ‘I feel funny signing a book for you.’ Can’t think why. THE END IN ALL BEGINNINGS is accomplished stuff, complex and heartfelt. There’s an attention to character and an access to feeling that’s very refreshing indeed. So thanks for the good read, John, and good luck with that Stoker.”

Then I saw the signature;

Best, Dallas aka Jack Ketchum

I nearly passed out.  Really.  Here this man who was an idol took the time to not only speak with me–and encouragingly, I might add–then had accepted a copy of my book, took it, actually read it, and took the time to hunt me down to leave me that note.

In the ensuing months, he also tweeted about the book at least twice that I saw, incredibly glowing things. In one of them, he called the book “the best novella collection I’ve read in years.”

Did I ask him if we could use these for blurbs for the book?  Of course I did.  And he agreed.

I met him a few more times.  The pic above is me with him after the Stoker Banquet in Atlanta in 2015.  I was a finalist in the fiction collection category for The End in All Beginnings.  I didn’t win, but that was okay.  I got the opportunity to have my picture taken with him. I will cherish it.

We talked a few more times over the years.  He read a few more things of mine and was incredibly complimentary and incredibly gracious.  I have a few things of his signed on my bookshelf…including a copy of that issue of Cemetery Dance with our stories in it.

When I finally remembered, I sent him a note about it, and he was pleasantly surprised.  When I saw him next, which I think was also in Atlanta, I brought it with me, and he signed it. It will never leave my possession.

I may never be as big or successful an author as Dallas Mayr.  But I hope I am as good a person.  I try to be just as accessible, just as approachable, just as supportive to other writers as he was.

I’m sorry I won’t get to see him again.  I’m sorry I won’t get that electric thrill of shouting “Dallas!” across a crowded room, as if speaking a secret code.  I’m sorry I won’t be able to buy him any more promised drinks.  I’m sorry for his family and friends.  And for this industry, that’s lost not only a gigantic author, but a gigantically good man.

 

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I Made the Bram Stoker Award Preliminary Ballot!

The Bram Stoker Award is sort of the Oscars of the horror industry.  I was honored in 2014 when my novella collection, The End in All Beginnings, was a finalist in the Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection category.

The award process has four components.  First is the Recommended Reading List, which is the opening mechanism for generating potential nominees in each category.  From this, a slate of perhaps 10 or so works in each category are culled into the Preliminary Ballot, which is where we are now.

This year, my story “A Ware That Will Not Keep,” which was featured in Behold! Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders, made the preliminary ballot in the short fiction category!

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This doesn’t mean I’m a winner or even a nominee yet; that’s the next step.  In the upcoming week, HWA members will vote on this Preliminary Ballot, which will result in a smaller slate of nominees in each category in a Final Ballot.  Then, of course, the winners, which will be announced at the Bram Stoker Awards Banquet at StokerCon, this year in Providence, RI.  I will be attending, and I hope to be on that final ballot.  And…who knows?

At any rate, Behold! also made the preliminary ballot under the Fiction Anthology category.  And Hal Bodner’s superb story, “The Baker of Millepoix,” made it to the preliminary ballot along with mine.  Congrats!  I’m proud to be part of this fantastic book Doug put together.

My friend Mark Matthew’s also got to the prelims with Garden of Fiends, an anthology I also am proud to have a story in!  Congrats, Mark!

And Josh Malerman got on twice, both with Black Mad Wheel (under novels), and the awesome Goblin (under fiction collection).  You go, Josh!

Send some positive thoughts into the ether for me, friends! I’d love to see one of those Stoker houses on my desk this year!


Great Review for Little Deaths: The Definitive Collection!

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So, Little Deaths: The Definitive Collection racked up its first new review, and it’s a swell one.  The folks over at scifi/horror site Signal Horizon posted a great review of the book last week.

“Overall I found this compilation easy to read, hard to put down and impossible to forget. These stories all felt new and ancient at the same time in the most amazing of ways. Long after I finished the last word I thought about the characters. I would strongly recommend this for fans of truly thought provoking horror. Fans should check out Taff’s other books.”

I’d say that’s pretty good. Click here to read the entire review.

Get all my books at Amazon.  Kindle versions are on sale for just $2.99 each.  Click here to go to my Amazon Author page to find them all!


Why Aren’t You Reading–and Reviewing!–This Book?

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Time to start the New Year with a whiny author whine.

Why aren’t you reading more of the books I’m in?

And if you are (thanks!), then why aren’t you reviewing them?

I don’t mean starting your own review site and laboriously writing in-depth analysis of books you’ve read.  There are plenty of good review sites and reviewers out there–I give you Shane Keene at Shotgun Logic and This is Horror, David W. Spell, Rich over at The Horror Bookshelf, Adrian at the Grim Reader, and the voracious reader Gabino Iglesias.

No, I’m not suggesting you hang out a shingle and devote your life to analysis of the written word, I’m just saying taking the time to post a two or three sentence distillation of what you liked/didn’t like about a book along with a commensurate number of stars might be a nice idea…and helpful to the publisher and author who brought the book to you!

Case in point:  Shadows Over Main Street 2, which came out a few months ago.  Edited by a terrific duo–Doug Murano and D. Alexander Ward–the book sports short Lovecraftian small-town fiction from the likes of Joyce Carol Oates, Joe Lansdale…and me!  My story is entitled “Shug,” and is a…well…a continuation, let’s say, of my eponymously titled story in I Can Taste the Blood.

Anyway, it’s a solid book with a bunch of great horror authors.  And a great publisher in Cutting Block Books.  So, lots of great people involved in this project, all of whom deserve your support.

So far, the book has generated two reviews at Amazon.  Two.  Granted, they’re both great reviews, but only two.  That’s not even one review for every month it’s been out there.  I can’t stress enough how important reviews of any kind are for books and their publishers. Amazon’s complex and probably arcane sales algorithms don’t even kick in until a book gets more than two dozen reviews.  As I look over the numbers of reviews most of the books I’m in get, it’s less than this…anemically less.

Look, I know reviewing books is a hassle.  I know it takes some time and your life is hectic.  I know.  I’m right there with ya.  But if you want to continue to read quality horror and dark speculative fiction, you need to support the small, indie press, because this stuff isn’t coming (for the most part) from the big press.  Sure, there are a scant handful of big press horror authors.  But by and large, most of the stuff is coming from the small press.  And they need your help in beating the bushes and attracting new readers, because they don’t have the marketing budgets of a big publisher.  Most don’t have any marketing budget.

So, get out there and leave a line or two or three for the books you’ve read and enjoyed, particularly books like Shadows Over Main Street 2.  You’ll help those publishers continue to bring you great horror literature in the future.

Now, get out there and read more in 2018!


It’s a Big Day!

So, today marks republishing day for three of my books–Kill-Off, The Bell Witch and a Definitive Edition of Little Deaths!  All under the imprint of Grey Matter Press, simply one of the very best dark fiction publishers out there, operated by Tony Rivera, who is not only a savvy marketer and brainy publisher, but someone I’ve come to call a close friend.

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I met Tony via email, I dunno, about five years ago now, when I submitted two stories to an open call by a new publisher, Grey Matter Press.  I sent two stories, “Show Me” and “Angie.”  After some back and forth, Tony bought them both.  “Show Me” would appear in Grey Matter’s Bram Stoker Nominated collection Dark Visions Vol. 1, and “Angie” would appear in Ominous Realities.

And we were off to the races.  Tony and I seem to share similar views about writing, horror, publishing. (Not music, though.  I am more prog rock; he is more thrash metal.) Tony bought “Some Other Day” for his Death’s Realm antho and “That Song You Can’t Get Out of Your Head” for Savage Beasts.  In Dread, a Best Of Grey Matter anthology where readers voted on the stories, “Angie” and “Show Me” also appeared.  I was one of only two authors who had two stories in this, the other being Horror God Ray Garton.

And, of course, Tony tabled the idea of taking I Can Taste the Blood anywhere else when I brought it up first to him.  Of course it would be published by Grey Matter.

Through it all, as I wrote and sought new readers, Tony and Grey Matter have been there.  So when my other publisher fell on hard times, as so often happens in the indie press world, Tony said “of course” he wanted to bring those titles under the Grey Press mantle.  And he’s done it.  I cannot be more proud, impressed and excited about the new edits and new clothes he’s given to these books.

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And he went ahead and gave The End in All Beginnings–my own Stoker-Nominated title released by Grey Matter–a slight sprucing up, too.  A tweak to the cover, a revised Afterword from me, and a brand new introduction by none other than Shane Douglas Keene, reviewer at his Shotgun Logic blog and for other sites such as This is Horror.  Oh, and Shane has been a big and very appreciated supporter of mine for a while now.  So getting him to say a few words was spectacular.

So that’s it for now.  But you won’t have to wait too long.  Lurking in the shadows is a whole new collection of mine, Little Black Spots, out in 2018.  Oh, and some other stuff here and there.


Little Deaths: The Definitive Collection

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So, this year marks the fifth anniversary of my very first short fiction collection, Little Deaths.  It’s been a helluva five years.

Little Deaths, as it turned out, put me on the map in a way that my 20 years of writing beforehand hadn’t.  And it’s been the little collection that could, outselling just about every other things I’ve done (save for The Bell Witch), an amazing 20,000 copies.

Like my other works recently picked up by Grey Matter, Little Death‘s first publisher had run onto hard times and had to let the titles go.  Tony at Grey Matter wanted ’em all, and tomorrow, December 12, he releases all new versions of Kill-Off, The Bell Witch and Little Deaths (also a slightly revised version of The End in All Beginnings, but more on that tomorrow).

Little Deaths, like the other works, gets a whole new edit, thorough as only Grey Matter can.  Also I wrote a new Afterword and revised the Notes section.  And we added five stories to this edition–thus the Definitive Collection–bringing the total to a generous 24 stories.

But perhaps the most exciting thing for me was to have Josh Malerman, author of Bird Box and Black Mad Wheel and Goblin and soon-to-be-released Unbury Carol, write a brand new Introduction.  And, well, it’s awesome.

Though the original edition of Little Deaths had a great cover, this edition kind of plays on it, with slightly more evolved take.

Little Deaths: The Definitive Collection is out tomorrow at all the major outlets, in trade paperback.  E-editions to follow by the end of the year.


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