|Cover design by Matthew Revert|
When a publisher self-destructs, all that remains are the books that were published -- and I'll be the first to admit that the original Night Shade Books published some amazing, even awe-inspiring, books.1
Three such books were written by Laird Barron. But, now that I think about it, maybe "amazing, even awe-inspiring" aren't the appropriate words to use to describe a Laird Barron book. I had read a few of his stories in various anthologies, and then in April 2007 I had the opportunity to copy edit his collection: The Imago Sequence and Other Stories. I was excited to work on this, the author's first collection, but that excitement was tempered with trepidation. You'll know what I mean if you've ever read a Laird Barron story. His writing is difficult to describe; his stories are categorized as "horror" and "dark fantasy," but neither of those terms aptly describes what the reader experiences. A Laird Barron story isn't scary, nor is it shocking; the best word that immediately comes to mind is "dread": a feeling of impending doom that permeates throughout the entirety of a Laird Barron story. And even though no doom may befall the protagonist, the feeling persists nonetheless -- even after the story has been read, the book closed and put away.
The Imago Sequence and Other Stories was followed by Occultation and Other Stories, a second collection that I worked on in January 2010. All of which paved the way for Laird's first novel, The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All, one of the last books that I worked on (December 2012) before opting out of Night Shade Books (before they kicked me out).
Laird Barron typically writes novella-length stories: they are long, like 25,000-35,000 words long, but while reading one, I can still see the light at the end of the tunnel; I know that if I hang in there for another 20 or so pages, I'll get to the end, be able to finally take a breath without that feeling of dread directly pressing down upon me. But a novel? A book-length story? Would I be able to hold my breath, as it were, through an entire novel? Obviously, but certainly not unscathed....
Which brings me to Laird Barron (sort of) and Word Horde, a relatively new publisher, headed by Ross E. Lockhart. As some of you may know, Ross wore many hats during his five years with Night Shade Books. He was the "go to" guy for books, hardcopies, files, questions, whatever. Ross did the majority of book layouts and then worked with the authors directly once I completed my edits.2 He even edited quite a few titles himself as well. After departing NSB, Ross formed Word Horde and published his first book in August 2013: Tales of Jack the Ripper, an anthology which Ross himself edited. Ross and I signed an agreement on May 13, 2013, and shortly thereafter I began copy editing Tales of Jack the Ripper, which I wrote about last year in a blog post on June 5.
Now Ross and Word Horde is gearing up to publish his second anthology, this one co-edited with Justin Steele, entitled The Children of Old Leech -- pictured above. But it is the subtitle that's the clincher: "A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron." Imagine, 17 stories (by 19 authors) and more than 100,000 words of fiction, written using characters, situations, and locales created by Laird Barron. It gave me the willies just thinking about it... And that was even before I worked on the book!
Here's the table of contents for The Children of Old Leech, an anthology of original fiction:
Introduction: Of Whisky and Doppelgängers — Justin Steele
The Harrow — Gemma Files
Pale Apostle — J. T. Glover & Jesse Bullington
Walpurgisnacht — Orrin Grey
Learn to Kill — Michael Cisco
Good Lord, Show Me the Way — Molly Tanzer
Snake Wine — Jeffrey Thomas
Love Songs from the Hydrogen Jukebox — T.E. Grau
The Old Pageant — Richard Gavin
Notes for "The Barn in the Wild" — Paul Tremblay
Firedancing — Michael Griffin
The Golden Stars at Night — Allyson Bird
The Last Crossroads on a Calendar of Yesterdays — Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.
The Woman in the Wood — Daniel Mills
Brushdogs — Stephen Graham Jones
Ymir — John Langan
Of a Thousand Cuts — Cody Goodfellow
Tenebrionidae — Scott Nicolay & Jesse James Douthit-Nicolay
Afterword — Ross E. Lockhart
I am confident that some of these stories will make their way onto the list of finalists for next year's Bram Stoker Awards and/or World Fantasy Awards. This is some of the finest "dark" fiction I've read in a very long time. One story of particular note is "Ymir" by John Langan. Langan's story, at least for me, evoked that same feeling of dread, of impending doom that I sense with every Laird Barron story. It's as if John Langan, intending to or not, channeled Laird Barron throughout that entire story.
Now here's the deal that Word Horde and Ross Lockhart are offering readers: Preorder The Children of Old Leech Deluxe Pack, and in addition to the anthology itself, you'll receive a copy of the ebook (choose your format) and an exclusive, limited edition chapbook. Word Horde went all out on the deluxe package for Tales of Jack the Ripper last year; here's my unboxing blog post. The TCoOL deluxe pack won't be as elaborate -- remember, Ripper was the press's first book -- but if you're going to purchase The Children of Old Leech anyhow, you may as well opt for the other goodies, too. As to that exclusive, limited edition chapbook, here's what contributing author Paul Tremblay had to say about it:
"So, if you preorder The Children of Old Leech, you'll also get an exclusive chapbook of my story 'Notes for "The Barn in the Wild."' The story is a found-notebook story. The chapbook will be comprised of scans of the actual notebook pages I wrote longhand, so there are fun sketches and chicken-scratched notes in the margins all of which help tell the story of a journalist investigating a disappearance and the odd history of a barn in the middle of nowhere (Labrador). A digital version of the story will be in the antho, but only in the limited/exclusive chapbook will you get the re-creation of the actual notebook. You want the chapbook, you know you do...."
The Children of Old Leech Deluxe Pack is available on the Word Horde website. Preorders will ship in July after the books arrive from the printer. I don't know how long this deluxe pack will be available, probably only until the publisher runs out of the exclusive chapbooks. So, as "they" say, order now and order often.
I'll leave you with this final excerpt from co-editor Justin Steele's introduction to The Children of Old Leech:
If you're still reading this you must now know that it's too late for you too. You've started to twist the handle, and the opening of the door is soon to follow. You're going to meet the dwellers on the other side. The Children of Old Leech will soon be whispering in your ear, and they will whisper the same thing they whispered to me, "There are frightful things. We who crawl in the dark love you."
1. About a year ago, on May 6, 2013, I wrote a blog post entitled "Doin' Hard Time at Night Shade Books," in which I spewed a bit of vitriol, but I also listed all 125 books I worked on during my nearly nine years of freelancing for this publisher. If you wish to read this post, and in particular the list of books, you can click here.
2. That is, until Night Shade added three more individuals into the mix. I'm sure Ross was pleased to have had some of his workload reduced, but from my perspective I then never knew who to ask what of whom. But that's a story for another time or, more likely, not at all, ever.