I started a creative writing club at my school this year. Pleased to report the club was a success! We met throughout the year to critique/discuss stories and poems the students had written.In the fall, John Langan and Laird Barron visited the school and met with the club. Suitably inspired by the visit of large, hairy, horror writers, for our end of the year collaborative project, we wrote LOST PAGES FROM THE BLACK GUIDE. The Black Guide makes an appearance in a number of Barron stories, most notably his “Mysterium Tremendum.” The students were to take one page from the guide and have at it, with the spirit of John’s and Laird’s stories in mind. Below are those pages from the students and one from me. Click on each for the full-size version of the page(s). Enjoy!

The Black Guide’s Cover:


From Edgar Escobar, grade 10


From Jackson McKeigue, grade 8



From Chris Kelly, grade 11


From Dan Fulham, grade 11


From James Elcock, grade 8


From Thomas Hovsepian, grade 8


From Nikhil “aka Randy” Basavappa, grade 12


From John Bartlett, grade 11


From Paul Tremblay, grade 19


From Jack Glynn, grade 9



From Joey Cerra, grade 10


From George Price, grade 12


Shared Worlds SF/Fantasy Teen Writing Camp Launches 2012 Registration and Donation Drive
Neil Gaiman, Lev Grossman, Scott Westerfeld, and thirty-seven more (including Creatures! alum Jeff Vandermeer and Paul Tremblay) of the most imaginative writers from around the world have contributed to Shared Worlds’ “Critter Map,” a webpage of fantastical beasts. Their whimsical descriptions of imaginary creatures created by pop artist Jeremy Zerfoss are in support of the Shared Worlds registration and fund drive for 2012. Every summer up to 50 teen writers come to Shared Worlds SF/F Teen Writing Camp at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, from as far away Japan to participate in this unique camp. This year, registrants include teens from all parts of the United States as well as Germany and Indonesia. Wofford College provides a structured, supervised environment in which the students can excel and demonstrate their creativity.
At Shared Worlds, the students form teams in classrooms to build entire fantasy or science fictional worlds in the first week and then write stories in those worlds the second week. Top professional writers are on hand to provide feedback and to conduct workshops. The guest writers for the 2012 include New York Times bestsellers Julianna Baggott, Naomi Novik, and Tobias Buckell as well as Prix Award Winner Karin Lowachee and Hugo Award winner Ann VanderMeer. The teens also get to attend author readings, take fieldtrips to bookstores, and create videos about their imaginary worlds. Shared Worlds also publishes an annual book of the students’ writing.
“For many of our students, Shared Worlds is a transformational experience,” said the camp’s assistant director, fantasy writer Jeff VanderMeer. ”They not only learn more about writing, they also get to have fun solving problems in in the world-building groups, and they form what will probably turn out to be life-long friendships with like-minded teens.”
The “Critter Map” is the cornerstone of a donation drive intended to ensure that attending the Shared Worlds Teen Writing Camp can be a possibility for all registered students, no matter what their financial need. Monies will join contributions from donors like Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman and major support from Amazon.com.
The contributors to the “Critter Map” range from such icons as Michael Moorcock and Gene Wolfe to exciting new authors like Viivi Hyvönen and Kirsten Imani Kasai. Filmmaker and writer Gregory Norman Bossert has created the Critter Map website, and Therese Goulding served as editor for the contributions.
Additional Links:
Critter Map stories alphabetically by author: https://www.wofford.edu/ sharedworlds/critters/ byauthor.html

Nadia Bulkin is in Fantasy Magazine’s author spotlight. She answers questions about her story “Absolute Zero” and monster fiction in general. From the opening Q and A:

“First and foremost, I think monsters serve as a means of social control, representative of both unsavory behaviors and unsavory punishments. Then there’s also the need we have for an “other” to define ourselves against. But monsters work in that sense because they’re alluring and mysterious and dangerous—get back, temptation, etc. I think monsters are also good for getting us to ask ourselves reflective questions: Why do we find this monstrous? Is the monster really so different from us? How do we treat monsters, and what does that say about us?”


You can read our anthology’s closer, “Absolute Zero” at Fantasy Magazine as well:

When Max Beecham was eight years old, his mother Deena (delirious from antihypertensives) gave him a Polaroid and then lay down on the carpet behind him. Inside the white border of this photograph lurked a thing with the naked body of a gaunt man and the head of a dark, decayed stag. It sat on a tree stump the way neighborhood men sat on bar stools, surrounded by a cavalry of thin, burned trees. Max almost recognized this nightmare place as Digby Forest, a festering infection of wild land on the edge of Cripple Creek. In the dusk the image was shadowless and tense, as if that black-eyed Stag-Man meant to lunge out of its frame. As if it was only waiting for Max to look away.

“What is it?” Max asked.

“That’s your father,” said Deena. She had her back to him. Her thin cotton dress stretched to translucency across her long torso. He could see the shape of her vertebrae. “You’re always asking, so there he is.”

–What was the first monster that scared/moved you?

First monster I can actually recall scaring me was probably Michael Myers from Halloween. Either him, or Linda Blair from The Exorcist. If not her, then it was probably the vampire kid scratching at the window in ‘Salem’s Lot. As you can tell, I have a bit of a shit memory.

–Does a great monster have to evoke pity as well as fear?

I don’t think it has to, but it helps if you want the viewer/reader to feel for it, or for it to have a deeper impact on someone. I think pity in a monster matters less as a kid than it does as an adult. As a kid, fear is easier to develop; as we grow up, we become jaded and we know there aren’t any monsters in our closets or under our beds, so there needs to be something more to the monsters for them to have a lasting effect on us.

–If you could be a monster, which one would you choose and why?

I like the idea of being massive and stomping on cities and shit. So I’d wanna be Godzilla or something along those lines. I’d actually love to be one of the towns in Clive Barker’s “In the Hills, the Cities.” I know they’re made up of a pile of people, but I want to be that pile of people.

–King Kong, or Godzilla?

No contest: Godzilla, hands down.

–What are the challenges of writing about a monster, as opposed to showing it on film?

Writing about a monster is maybe more difficult ’cause you need to evoke fear in the reader—at least to a certain extent. And it can’t all be summed up in one glance, like it can be in film. You need to describe it on the page. You also need to decide (as you do in film) how much you’re going to show. I think monsters work best when we don’t see fully see them. Leaves it more to the imagination, which usually is worse than anything a writer/director could show you.

–Who are the new monsters of the 21st century? Recommend a monster story/book/movie from the past ten years.

I don’t know about new monsters, per se, but the kind of human monster in Tony Burgess’s People Live Still in Cashtown Corners (blatant CZP plug, that’s right!) is one of the scariest to me: a serial killer whose mind just doesn’t work properly, so there’s no way to reason with it. You can’t convince a killer like that not to do what he does. There’s no empathy there. No compassion to appeal to. If he decides, for whatever bizarre reason, that he needs to kill you, then you’re dead. Unless you can kill him first. But there’s no middle ground in those situations. It’s you or him. And the trouble with people like that is that they appear to be human, so you afford them general human qualities and characteristics.

What was the first monster that scared/moved you?

I think I had the same horrifying yet nebulous Dust Monster Under Your Bed fears as most kids with overactive imaginations do, so if we’re being sticklers, that’s probably first. But the first monster that really captured my imagination was the Red Bull from The Last Unicorn, specifically because it was both frightening and sympathetic. It was my first experience with a monster that was aware, that had troubles, that had an inner life and was monstrous half through nature and half through obligation, and it left a big impression.

Does a great monster have to evoke pity as well as fear?

I guess it depends what “great” means. From a character standpoint, many of the great monsters do have an aspect of pathos that stirs us. The Dracula-style vampire is faster and more powerful and more suave than you are (much, much more suave), but those vampires watch those around them grow old and die, and they pine over unattainable paramours just like the rest of us. Werewolves lose their humanity in animalistic rages and in the morning have to face the consequences of their violence; zombies are doomed to wither and fall even if they succeed in eating every last brain there is.

However, often the most terrifying monsters have absolutely no relatable traits, and their power lies in that unknown. The vengeful poltergeist, the black oil, the Fog – you can’t sympathize, you can’t bargain, you can’t reason with them, and there’s greatness in that, too.

If you could be a monster, which one would you choose and why?

As much as I’d like to be one of the fearsome murderers that stalks the night etc., it sounds like a lot of work and tends not to end well for anyone. I’ll settle for being one of the scaly yet benign monsters that groups of jilted suitors rarely try to track down; knowledgeable, protagonist-assisting sea serpent, maybe.

King Kong, or Godzilla?

Their recent remakes are equally horrifying. I guess Gozilla gets the edge. Barely.

What are the challenges of writing about a monster, as opposed to showing it on film?

Besides the conveniences of being able to skip monster description? I think the right actor will be able to convey chilling, gripping terror with facial expression and body language; it’s a shorthand that “Then I was so scared you can’t even imagine” just can’t compete with.

Who are the new monsters of the 21st century? Recommend a monster story/book/movie from the past ten years.

A lot of horror tropes are a dialogue with the surrounding social climate. Given a lot of the monsters in the horror stories of the 21st century so far (Teeth, Deadgirl, Jennifer’s Body, Splice, and if we’re stretching the definition to psychological horror, I Spit on Your Grave and The Last House on the Left), I’d say that a rapidly-emerging trope is the avenging woman whose supernatural capabilities allow her to take revenge on those who have belittled, objectified, or violated her. If this is in response to media saturation of the sexy-quirky-supportive archetype and a backslide in women’s rights in American politics in the last decade, I can’t say (except that it probably is).

And if that’s too political for you, you can always watch Priest, a horror movie that contains motorcycles with NITRO settings and a 200-mph train full of vampires on which it’s possible to casually stand and have a conversation at normal speaking volume, and which was one of the greatest horror comedies of the year. (By accident, but still, a laugh’s a laugh.)

Wildcard: Day 8

–From io9:

Giant Prehistoric Krakens may have sculpted self-portraits using Ichthyosaur bones


Godzilla redesign?

–THE THING, the musical (in the style of Frank Sinatra)

Nathan Ballingrud lives in Asheville, NC, with his daughter. His short stories have appeared in SCIFICTION, Inferno: New Tales of Terror, Lovecraft Unbound, Teeth, and other places. Several stories have been reprinted in various Year’s Best anthologies, and he won the Shirley Jackson Award for “The Monsters of Heaven.” He can be found online at nathanballingrud.wordpress.com. His “The Monsters of Heaven” appears in Creatures.

What was the first monster movie that scared you?

It was the Tobe Hooper-directed ‘Salem’s Lot, the tv miniseries starring David Soul. My brother and I watched it together, and I can’t remember ever having been more scared in my life. I remember, to this day, the chill of seeing that body underneath the sheet in the hospital slowly begin to rise as Soul’s character makes a cross out of two tongue depressors and recites the Lord’s prayer in a mounting panic; or that scene where the vampire is in the creaking rocking chair, his eyes glowing red in the twilight, saying, “Look at me, teacher!” Holy Christ, it still gives me goosebumps. My mother worked the night shift in the hospital in those days. She gave my brother and I each a cross so we could protect ourselves while she was gone. I think she felt fairly horrible for letting us watch that show when she knew she had to go to work, but my brother and I adored it. The fear was very, very sweet. I’ve been an addict ever since.

Does a great monster have to evoke pity as well as fear?

Not at all. It certainly can — Frankenstein’s monster and Lon Chaney’s werewolf are classic examples of this — but to me the most effective monsters evoke no pity at all. Their logic is too alien; it is impossible to feel pity for them because they are incapable of feeling pity for us. Once again, I think of Stephen King’s vampires in ‘Salem’s Lot: there’s nothing in there that will love us, or show us mercy. There is just this black hunger. This is why a real, well-conceived vampire can still terrify, despite the best efforts of contemporary culture to neuter them. Zombies can have the same effect. And this is in part due to the fact that they inhabit bodies we used to love: our parents, our children, our dearest friends. We want to feel pity, and even more importantly, we still expect them to feel pity for us. It’s inconceivable that they do not recognize us on some fundamental level. That some lingering love will not stay their hand. It’s that sudden absence of pity that makes them truly horrifying. It’s the horror of realizing that you mean nothing, after all. You’re just meat.

If you could be a monster, which one would you choose, and why?

I would be a werewolf. That may not be very original, but I don’t care. Werewolves have always been my favorite monster. I think they’re terrifying, for one. I don’t see them as the furry-faced muppets of the old Universal horror movies; I see them as great, bristle-haired beasts, their fur matted and filthy, their breath rank, their muscles trembling with rage. I love the idea of surrendering to rage, of giving in to the violent dream. So much of life is repression. So many words bitten off before we can speak them, so many deserving necks left unthrottled. The idea of letting that rage run rampant, of feeling bones break between my teeth, is a little intoxicating.

King Kong or Godzilla?

Godzilla, no question. King Kong is innocent. He’s kidnapped and ill-treated and he fights back and he gets killed for it. Godzilla, though. Godzilla is retribution. Godzilla is alien, and strange. Godzilla is our own evil come back upon us. King Kong wants to be free, he wants to go home. Godzilla wants to burn us all.

What are the challenges of writing about a monster, as opposed to showing it on film?

Well, we don’t have the benefit of a good soundtrack! But actually I think the challenges are very similar; we just have to meet them with different tools. The one I spend the most time thinking about is not how to depict them, or make them scary, because that’s just done with language, and I trust myself enough with language that I usually just walk into a paragraph blind, and improvise; I spend the most time thinking about how to present them in a way that’s new, or new enough to maintain interest. And sometimes that means rejecting the modern interpretations of a monster and going back to its rougher origins. Sometimes that means telling a different kind of story about the monster, shifting the narrative angle just enough so that the sort of conclusion readers have become conditioned to expect, and which can bleed the life right out of a story, is not at all what they get. I like to leave them in a different place than they thought they were going. In the case of the monster in this story, “The Monsters of Heaven,” I decided not to spend any time trying to figure out the monster at all. It’s only role was to be something the people in the story react to; they impose their own ideas onto it, according to the fear and the guilt they already carry. The role it plays in the end is quite different than the role a monster traditionally plays.

Who are the new monsters of the 21st century? Recommend a monster book/story from the past ten years.

I think it’s way too early to tell. So far we seem to be obsessed with taming the monsters of the last century: turning them into romantic heroes, or making them private detectives or whatever. It’s all very cynical and grossly unimaginative. And cowardly, to be frank. There’s still so much fuel in these monsters to do the jobs they were meant to do for us. I think zombies became popular as culturally we began to think of ourselves in terms of demographics, as units of a consumer- and advertising-driven economy, and as progressive movements of the latter half of the twentieth century forced cultures to engage with each other in new and disorienting ways. We began to think of mass populations in a new way. I think the monsters that will come to dominate the public consciousness in the future will also derive from geopolitical influences: water shortages, famine, pandemic, and the rabid nationalism that these things will catalyze.

As far as recommendations, the best monster story I’ve read recently is a new one from Livia Llewellyn, called “And Love Shall Have No Dominion.” It’s collected in John Skipp’s anthology, Demons. To give it a cruelly reductive summary, it’s essentially about a demon who falls in love with a human woman. The story is horrifyingly brutal, gorgeously written, and a genuinely nuanced look at what love might look like, and might feel like, to something that literally comes from Hell. I’ve read nothing else like it. Seek it out. It’s one of the best horror stories I’ve read in some time.

Nadia Bulkin is a writer and political science student. Her short fiction has appeared in ChiZine, Strange Horizons, Fantasy Magazine, the anthology Bewere The Night, and elsewhere; more information is available at nadiabulkin.wordpress.com. She spent her impressionable teen years in the suburban wilds of Nebraska. Her world view (and “Absolute Zero”) was greatly influ- enced by her environmental science minor and the 1982 movie about life out of balance, Koyaanisqatsi. Her original story “Absolute Zero” appears in Creatures.

What was the first monster that scared/moved you?

A talking, walking chair on Sesame Street.  It had a face in the cushions.  It horrified me so much that I actually don’t remember it at all — as in, I blocked it out of my mind – but my mother says I was deeply disturbed by it.  I do remember a similar talking, walking gloved hand – apparently I had a very rigid sense of “proper” and “improper” shapes.  Body horror’s been my weakness ever since.

Does a great monster have to evoke pity as well as fear?

Not pity, but for me, the best evoke empathy.

If you could be a monster, which one would you choose and why?

I’d probably be a will-o’-the-wisp.  A lost wanderer spirit stuck between two worlds who’s not all that malicious, but might still lead you down a dangerous path.  Also, seen all over the world!

King Kong, or Godzilla?

Godzilla.  Okay, I actually don’t know much about either, but having lived in Indonesia as a kid, I grew up with Godzilla.

What are the challenges of writing about a monster, as opposed to showing it on film?

Keeping the monster and all of its menace in the reader’s “frame.”  In great monster movies you can feel the monster’s presence even when it’s not on screen, and I think it’s much harder to create a sense of foreboding and suspense when you don’t have visuals and sound.

Who are the new monsters of the 21st century? Recommend a monster story/book/movie from the past ten years.

I think Larry Fessenden is doing really interesting work with wendigos, harsh conditions, and human violence (the movies The Last Winter and Wendigo, and the Fear Itself episode “Skin and Bones”).  I think we’ll have monsters of globalization: contagion, overpopulation, environmental hazards, communication breakdown (see Pontypool).  But that’s the poli sci student in me talking.

Wildcard: day 7

First up, some Creatures promo!

–Over at the Prime Books website, they’re celebrating the 31 days of Halloween in support of their two new anthologies (Halloween, and yeah, Creatures). Learn more  here.

Today, Prime posted the introductions your humble co-editors cobbled together to each of the four sections. READ ‘EM!


–New book from Frank Lesser (a writer on the Colbert Report), is SAD MONSTERS.

Other monstery books of note just out (or about to be out)

Dear Creature by Jonathan Case

Abarat: Absolute Midnight by Clive Barker

Busy Monsters by William Giraldi

Your Friday monster rec is musical: The prog-metal act Mastodon. Earlier albums featured lyrical obsessions with Moby Dick and Rasputin. While their newest isn’t a concept album, it does feature some creature-y fun.  Enjoy the riffing!