As much as I might love subtle horror, the glimpse of a phantom’s shroud out of the corner of my eye, and as much as I might adore Lovecraft-inspired works in all their cosmic, tentacled glory, sometimes I find myself craving something a little…different. Finding the truly different, the truly bizarre, though, can be a challenge. More and more, it seems mainstream horror publishers are afraid to push the boundaries, to take a chance on work that might be considered too strange, too upsetting. Authors looking to submit manuscripts to these publishers are often met with laundry lists of elements that will get their work rejected outright. There are publishers out there, though, who revel in the disturbing and the depraved, the skin sliding off the skull with a wet, sucking sound, the pleasure of knives and genitals used interchangeably. If this is your sort of horror, then let me introduce you to some of my friends.
Deadite Press is the cult horror imprint of Eraserhead Press, the founder of Bizarro literature and host of the yearly convention BizarroCon. It is, to put it in movie terms, what happens when Dr. Frank. N. Furter puts Jason on his slab. In their own words, Deadite publishes “high concept cult and extreme horror”. . . “the stranger, the sexier, and the more taboo…the better.” Some of the authors on their roster are most likely familiar to Dirgelings already. For example, Brian Keene, celebrated author of The Rising, which according to some critics, reinvigorated the zombie genre and is responsible for triggering the deluge of books, movies, and T.V. shows (The Walking Dead, anyone?) that have soaked our collective consciousness over the past decade.
Must Read: The Complex by Brian Keene
Brian Keene’s most recent work, The Complex, is a nauseatingly intense thriller and an excellent example of the sort of no-fucks-given work that Deadite produces. Just to give you a taste:
“When she was a kid, Terri’s parents would get bushels of Maryland crabs in the summer. Then they’d spread newspaper out over the picnic table, crack the shells with a wooden hammer, and pry them apart to get at the meat. Randy’s skull made the same sound.”
Where do I sign up?
Now, for our aspiring writers out there, the bad news is that Deadite is currently closed for submissions. But don’t despair! They do intend to reopen once they’ve worked through their backlog, and in the meantime, you can check out their work on their site, their very active Facebook page, and follow Jeff Burk, head editor of Deadite, on Twitter.
Raw Dog Screaming Press
It’s impossible to talk about Deadite Press without mentioning Raw Dog Screaming Press in practically the same breath. It is one of the first publishers to use the term “Bizarro” to refer to its transgressive style of literature. Its founder, Jennifer Barnes, describes their works as ones in which “characters feel constrained by society and fight against that. . .the work itself feels constrained and pushes back against the traditional canon in some way.” This is the speculative, the surreal, the “I don’t know what I just read, but it was amazing.”
Must Read: All the Darkness in the World by Andy Deane
This is a brutal coming-of-age story with vampires and not the sparkly kind. Its dirty Southern charm will slide over your skin like molasses and motor oil and make you beg for more.
“His face was red as the devil’s naked ass and the blue in his eyes seemed to have gone black like somebody poured oil in them.”
Where do I sign up?
Raw Dog Screaming Press looks for authors that will care about each other and the press as a whole. Over the years, they have built a “community and want to have creative, open-minded and generous people involved, people who care deeply about books and words.” In order to join this community, it’s best to meet the editors in person. Lucky for you, the press has events all the time, and they are always present at the above-mentioned BizarroCon, so come out to see the best weird has to offer and pitch your book! In the meantime, you can visit their website, Facebook page, and follow them on Twitter.
Grindhouse Press is a small publisher of all that is dark and gritty. According to C.V. Hunt, editor and blindingly-badass author, the goal of the press is to “cross the boundaries of mainstream and is intended for people who want to read something more disturbing than a standard horror book you’d find in an airport store.” And, believe me, these folks deliver. Interested in horror comedy featuring sex with a goat-man, and at one point, an actual goat? Try Anderson Prunty’s A Satanic Summer. Intrigued by the salacious adventures of a Private Investigator by the name of “Boner,” well then Naked Friends by Justin Trimbol is right for you.
This is literature without limits. As Ms. Hunt so eloquently puts it: “There are no limitations on art. Horror is meant to be scary or make you uncomfortable. If a book stirs an emotional reaction from the reader, whether it be good or bad, the author has done their job. I encourage writers to be more creative and push their imagination to a place readers don’t want to go. I think horror has been tamed and commercialized the last twenty years and censored to be marketed toward the mainstream population. To me there are no rules or limits on content. If you were involved in a horrific situation you wouldn’t be able to stop because it offended your sensibilities. You’d be dragged along for the ride regardless. As long as the story is well written and engaging, anything goes.”
Must Read: Ritualistic Human Sacrifice by C.V. Hunt.
There is no equivocation here, no uncertainty. From the title to the cover, featuring a pentagram with a clothes hanger and a border of fetuses, this book is as bold as Ms. Hunt. It is a story of vengeance soaked in gallons of blood and smeared with feces.
“I squinted at one of the symbols and tried to identify the picture. There was a fingerprint at the end of the brush stroke. I moved in closer and caught an awful scent that reminded me of menstrual blood and feces. I gagged, took a couple steps back, and covered my nose with my hand. The front door opened.”
Where do I sign up?
For aspiring writers hoping for a shot at publication, Ms. Hunt had this to say. “I’m looking for stories that read like a novelization of a Grindhouse film from the 70s or a video nasty of the 80s. I want grit or violence or sex… or all three. Original monsters are more attractive than conventional ones. If the writing grabs my attention and I’m still interested in where the story is going after a few chapters I know it’s something the reader will want to continue reading also. A typo is like a speed bump for me so sending a clean manuscript will keep me interested in the story. If someone who views a lot of mainstream horror would find it outrageous or offensive, Grindhouse is interested.”
Crystal Lake Publishing
Crystal Lake Publishing specializes in mystery, thriller, and suspense with a dark edge. They are not fond of genre boxes. Their novels and anthologies run the spectrum from quiet, literary horror to the sort of extremes that fit on this list. The latter is best exemplified by Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories, the product of an ongoing partnership between editing team Doug Murano and D. Alexander Ward and Crystal Lake Publishing.
Must Read: Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories by various authors.
This is an anthology of works best described by Mr. Murano: “Awe meets ache. Terror becomes transcendence. Regret gives way to rebirth. That tension between the seductive power of language and the sensationalist potential inherent in the genre drove every decision we made about the book, from the authors we invited, to the stories we selected to the order of the table of contents and the artwork.”
I’m not ashamed to say that this one haunted my dreams. One of Mr. Murano’s stated goals was to “shake people up”. . .to “keep you up at night with questions, to invite soul searching, to compel you to discuss them with your friends.” And, as a reader, I have to say, mission accomplished. These stories will crawl inside you and make a nest in your viscera. You will carry them with you the rest of your life.
“Her neck cranked foward, knees bent, crammed against the splintered underside of the lid. Pitch dark – he kept her stuffed under his raised bed like a collection of porno mags.”
Where do I Sign Up?
Submitting to Crystal Lake Publishing is a matter of finding the right call for submissions. They are currently soliciting stories for their ongoing anthology Tales from the Lake, now in its fourth volume. Additionally, they are working on a C.H.U.D. Tribute Anthology, edited by Eric S. Brown. Yep, a C.H.U.D. tribute. Did I not say these people are awesome? If you’re looking to work with Mr. Murano and Mr. Ward specifically (and who wouldn’t be?), keep a close eye out on the site as I hear there are wondrous things in the works.
Pseudopod is unique in so many ways, not the least of which is that it is one of the few horror podcasts that has weathered the storm of dubious internet funding for over a decade. It has won the Parsec Awards twice and been a finalist once. In the long stretches between episodes of The Black Tapes, this is what is playing in my car.
At the very top of the site’s homepage and at the beginning of each episode, there is a warning, a warning that, in short, says that these are horror stories. Horror stories are meant to disturb, to churn your stomach, to make you check the locks twice at night before bed. Pseudopod respects its readers enough to give them a choice, but once you push play, there is no holding back.
Must Listen: The Trauma Box by D. Morgan Ballmer
This is the story of a small town and the horrible things we do to one another behind the shield of anonymity.
“Old Dave still crouches by the opening of the trauma box , his clothes a ruin of wrinkles and mud stains, grimy streaks run from the corners of his eyes, signs of a hard night with little rest. I can relate. My dreams were haunted by images of well-known faces leering like hungry canines as an unseen man is screaming.”
It is unsettling exactly because it is utterly believable. There are no supernatural elements to take comfort in here, only the sheer horror of humanity. Make sure to stick around for the commentary at the end of this episode. After the year we’ve had, it’s something we all need to hear.
Where Do I Sign Up?
Pseudopod “[does] not observe any taboos about what kind of content can appear in our stories.” They aren’t fans of genre restrictions either and publish everything from Poe to Splatterpunk. Originality is their main demand along with ” strong pacing, well-defined characters, engaging dialogue, and clear action.” Send them your gore, your sex, your thought-provoking insights into life, and hopefully, it will be your words I hear coming through my car’s speakers.
To listen, use your favorite podcatcher or listen directly from the website. You can also join their merry band of listeners on Facebook.