Picnic in the Graveyard

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Paperback and Ebook now available here.

Picnic in the Graveyard is an anthology of cemetery horrors. This book contains 1 poem and 21 stories of the supernatural, all-too-human, wacky, scary, and somber.

A family reunion in the cemetery goes according to plan, until it doesn’t…

Mafiosos dig up a very special lady for their boss, but soon regret disturbing her resting place…

A young man is dared by his friends to venture into Cemetery Joe’s ramshackle cabin. Turns out, there’s much more to Joe’s story than your typical garden variety necrophiliac…

Table of Contents:

“Storybook Hill” Shane Douglas Keene

“Angels With Broken Wings” Nicole Willson

“The Potion” Mark Allan Gunnells

“The Words Beneath” Michael Harris Cohen

“A Warm Fall Day” L. Marie Wood

“Date Night” Bev Vincent

“Moving Mackenzie” Tim Meyer

“La Cesse’s Secret” Catherine McCarthy

“Make Me Shine” Mark Towse

“St. Mark’s Eve” Stephanie Ellis

“Why the Wind Blows” Nuzo Onoh

“We All Fall” Alex Ebenstein

“The Young Thaumaturge” Samantha Kolesnik

“Remembrance” Tom Deady

“The Crazy with Daisy” R.J. Joseph

“Why Bob Lee Came Back” Nick Kolakowski

“Death and Life in a Small Town” JG Faherty

“In the Jaws of a Beautiful Beast” J.A.W. McCarthy

“The Merry” Alex Woodroe

“Goombahs in the Graveyard” Kenneth W. Cain

“The Night Will Let It In” Michael Kelly

“Cemetery Joe” LP Hernandez

Sticks and Stones

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Paperback and eBook available here.

Childhood. A time of endless discoveries and extraordinary dreams. Not all discoveries are pleasant, however, and some dreams prowl as wild-eyed nightmares. We who survived our youth did so by journeying through carrion wilderness, with life preying upon our innocence and wonder. Monsters ever hunted us, for monsters prefer the taste of children.

Sticks and Stones is a collection of dark, fantastical stories about those most vulnerable years. First heartaches. First goodbyes. First encounters with death and depravity.

Revisit childhood and learn why we’re never supposed to tell lies.

Why we don’t talk to strangers.

And why we never, ever wander into the woods alone.

“I closed the final page on this collection and stared into my fireplace in complete contemplation. C.W. Briar’s collection drug me screaming back to my childhood. Every selection seems purposeful and geared towards full-tilt emotional impact. Poignant and chill-inducing. Read if you dare.”

Justin Holley, Author of BRUISED, TETHERED TO DARKNESS and BLOOD FROM THE STARS

“If stories are the currency people share, C.W. Briar has created a cursed treasure chest out of his collection Sticks and Stones. There is something intimate and dark here that will leave you feeling smaller than before.”

Jessica Ann York, Author

“Sticks and Stones may break your bones, but this collection of childhood-themed horror stories will haunt you. This book contains a variety of tales that will satisfy a range of horror fans, from chilling, classic ghost stories to out-of-this-world cosmic horror delights. This is an excellent sampling of the talent and range of CW Briar’s horror, and will leave you hungry for more—just one story is simply not enough.”

Erin Kelly, Author of the TAINTED MOONLIGHT SERIES

A Woman Built By Man Anthology

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Now available here!

A Woman Built By Man is a collage of 21 horror tales that seek to crawl under the skin and deconstruct the many ways women are built up and broken down by a patriarchal society. And the many ways they’re finally saying, “Enough.”

TOC:

“Every Woman Knows This” by Laurel Hightower

“She Sings of Pain and Sorrow” by Holley Cornetto

“The Thing With Feathers” by Tonya Walter

“She Asked For It” by Lilyn George

“Genesis 2:22” by Denarose Fukushima

“Better“ by Alexis DuBon

“The Truth Tiger” by Gemma Amor

“The Shock of Death” by Michelle Tang

“Youngblood” by Lindz McLeod

“What Doesn’t Kill You” by Elle Turpitt

“Underground” by Regi Caldart

“The Only Thing Different Will Be The Body” by J.A.W. McCarthy

“Blame, Pain, and Selfishness” by Hailey Piper

“New Lines from Which to Shape Her Body” by Nikki R. Leigh

“Last Night I Was Having a Drink at the Slippery Nipple” by Amanda Michele

“Maddy Long Legs” by Olivia White

“M.E. and Her” by Lea Storry

“The Eyes of Vaz’lul” by Jill Palmer

“The Canary” by Joanne Askew

“Bambolina, Bambolina” by G.G. Silverman

“The Cooper Girl” by S.H. Cooper

CGM 2022 “News”

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We usually do a thread on Twitter once or twice a year announcing upcoming projects, future open calls and publications but there’s too much Cemetery Gates news right now for those little text boxes. If you want to keep up-to-date with what we’re up to, including how you can participate as a horror writer looking to place stories, definitely follow us on Twitter @cemeterygatesm.

February Update: Paul Michael Anderson has signed on to our 2022 short story collections lineup with his latest EVERYTHING WILL BE ALL RIGHT IN THE END: APOCALYPSE STORIES. The collection will feature 17 pieces, including a novella, 3 of the stories are original to the book. Scheduled to be released in Aug/Sept.

Paul Michael Anderson is the writer of the collection BONES ARE MADE TO BE BROKEN, which FANGORIA magazine called “endlessly stunning, supremely disquieting” and author Jack Ketchum called “a dark carnival of rigorous intelligence and compassion”, as well as the novella HOW WE BROKE with Bracken MacLeod.

January brought award possibilities for three of our writers. Ross Jeffery and J.A.W. McCarthy made the preliminary ballot for the 2021 Bram Stoker Awards, while R.J. Joseph placed two stories in the short fiction category, including “I Just Want to Be Free” from our quiet horror anthology Paranormal Contact.

On Jan 25th we released Christi Nogle’s debut novel Beulah. It’s really a fantastic ghost/possession story, for fans of haunted houses and coming-of-age clairvoyants. We’re reopening debut novel submissions on May 1st. Just check out our submissions page for details.

On Feb 1st we’ll begin accepting novellas (25k-40k words) for our My Dark Library Novella Series in partnership with Sadie Hartmann.

Late in Feb we’ll be releasing Tyler Jones’ debut collection Burn the Plans. Last fall he released this incredible old west novel Almost Ruth and he’s working on a novella for us right now that’s a little bit secret. All of his novellas and short stories are top notch.

Right now we’re reading stories for an anthology entitled Picnic in the Graveyard. 2000-4000 word horror stories that take place in a cemetery/burial place. No reprints unless your first name is Clive. $0.07/word. Send stories to Cemeterygatesmedia@gmail.com w/ attached doc file. Deadline April 1st.

In Feb or March we’ll release a big anthology A Woman Built by Man ed. S.H. Cooper & Elle Turpitt. Ton of great writers in this one. Hailey Piper, Olivia White, Gemma Amor, Laurel Hightower, J.A.W. McCarthy, etc. We’ll post the cover w/ full TOC eventually.

March/April we’ll put out C.W. Briar’s collection Sticks & Stones.

This summer we are scheduling Mark Allan Gunnells’ collection Twilight at the Gates and Ross Jeffery’s collection Beautiful Atrocities.

We anticipate releasing some of the My Dark Library novellas this year. Later in the year we have Wesley Southard’s collection They Mostly Come at Night scheduled, along with an anthology/collection hybrid featuring Sara Tantlinger, Corey Farrenkopf, Red Lagoe, and Jessica Ann York.

If you’ve made it this far you’ll be among the first to know of our sequel to Corpse Cold: New American Folklore. Corpse Cold is our best selling book to date. In 2017 we raised $29,000 on Kickstarter with over 700 backers. After release the book spent weeks at #1 on Amazon’s horror anthology bestseller list. This new book Corpse Cold: Creepypasta will be illustrated by Chad Wehrle in the same style as the original. We grabbed a dozen stories from our Cemetery Gates Society open call and plan to get a few more tales from invitees, though we will likely hold another open call to get a few final stories this spring/summer.

In other top secret news, we’re working with Gemma Amor to produce a beautiful hardcover of Six Rooms with bonus material, illustrations, signed bookplate, etc.

Odds and Ends:

Some of you have been following along and you’re probably wondering what’s going on with the sequels to Places We Fear To Tread and Campfire Macabre. Places We Fear To Tread: New York will have a New York nature/outdoors theme and the open call for that will likely be in late-2022. Campfire Macabre Vol. 2 will be a flash fiction anthology and the call for that will go out in early 2023. Both books have sold well enough to warrant sequels but sequels aren’t as exciting as some of our newer projects.

We get questions all the time about doing this or that book project. We tend to work with writers who enter our sphere through our open calls. In general, the best way to make a name for yourself is to either write a ton of short fic and get paid for it all over the place, or write a killer novella/novel and place it with a publisher who puts out books that you already read and enjoy.

My Dark Library Novella Series

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Stargazers by LP Hernandez

Stargazers is a story of a father’s love for his daughter, of their fight to survive as the world they understand unravels. It began with a curious forum post: “My Neighbor Has Been Staring at the Moon for Hours.” Each night there are more of them. They stand on sidewalks, in darkened backyards and watch the sky with open mouths. When the sun rises, the Stargazers have a new purpose. Some to destroy, some to kill, some simply to die. Revealed through alternating perspectives of subsequent forum posts, and the experiences of war veteran Henry, his wife Judith, and their daughter Penny, Stargazers is a speculative exploration not of the stars, but what may lurk in the darkness between them.

Stargazers is a transfixing read from start to finish. The mystery is both emotional and frightening as the tension deepens. I can’t wait to read more L.P. Hernandez based on this short tale I could have read more of.” –V. Castro, author of Queen of the Cicadas and Goddess of Filth

Stargazers is as tense and eerie as it is entertaining and emotionally gritty. Hernandez masterfully weaves together elements of post-apocalyptic fiction, mystery, and horror into a fast-paced novella that delivers a hell of a punch. This is a literary Creepypasta with lots of heart, and Hernandez is a writer to watch.” –Gabino Iglesias, author of The Devil Takes You Home and Coyote Songs

#thighgap by Chandler Morrison

Los Angeles fashion model Helen Troy wasn’t always skinny. Drastic weight loss has given her everything–money, confidence, attention, respect. Being thin has legitimized her, and starvation has become an addiction.

Following an encounter with a seemingly “perfect” rival model who destabilizes Helen’s shaky self-confidence and shatters her fragile illusion of control, she’s sent into a tragic tailspin that will take her to the lowest depths of hell. Nightmarish versions of herself begin materializing in mirrors, and her tried-and-true coping mechanisms stop working. Reality comes apart at the seams as Helen’s disease manifests in increasingly self-destructive fashions, forcing her to ask herself…

What does perfection look like, and how much would you sacrifice to obtain it?

Bound Feet by Kelsea Yu

On the night of the Hungry Ghost Moon, when spirits can briefly return to the living world, Jodi Wu and her best friend sneak into Portland’s Chinese Garden and Ghost Museum. Kneeling before the pond where Jodi’s toddler drowned one year before, they leave food offerings and burn joss paper—and Jodi prays that Ella’s ghost will return for the night.

To distract Jodi from her grief, the two friends tell each other ghost stories as they explore the museum. They stop at the main display, a centuries-old pair of lotus slippers belonging to a woman whose toes were broken and bound during childhood. While reading the woman’s story, Jodi hears her daughter’s voice.

As Jodi desperately searches the garden, it becomes apparent that Ella isn’t the only ghost they’ve awakened. Something ancient with a slow, shuffling step lurks in the shadows…

Taboo in Four Colors by Tim McGregor

New York City, 1972 – Comic book artist, Wally Carson, has been illustrating the stories of a reclusive writer named Salazar without ever having met the man in person. When Salazar suddenly misses his deadlines, Carson is sent to find out what’s happened to the company’s best-selling writer.

Carson meets resistance from the writer’s wife, but when he insists, he is shocked to find Salazar in a catatonic state. When other artists at the company want to collaborate with the elusive Salazar, Carson realizes he will have to make Salazar disappear—piece by piece, if necessary.

The Bonny Swans by P.L. Watts

When Anne O’Donnell arrives on a dock in France in 1789 with no memory of her past, she allows herself to be renamed Marguerite and taken in as governess for Mellian, the petulant daughter of the rich merchant, Donatien Marais. But the chateau holds many secrets, some of them deadly.

Corporate Body by R.A. Busby

When impoverished college dropout Nick signs up to be a DrugCorp test subject, he’s glad for the easy money. A few inpatient stays, and after too many blood draws to count, Nick can actually pay the rent on the backyard shed he lives in. Best of all, he doesn’t have to be a burden to his father. He’s disappointed the man enough already.

That’s when his friend Charlie lets him in on some classified information: a highly experimental forty-week study at the isolated DrugCorp compound. Nick knows this study involves improving the human genome to extend life, and he knows it involves some minor abdominal surgery, but he isn’t prepared at all for the strange…aftereffects. The nausea. The itching. The unusual abdominal swelling. The internal squirming. 

Social Media for Writers by Sadie Hartmann

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by Sadie “Mother Horror” Hartmann

If it’s true what they say, word of mouth advertising is gold, then social media is your best friend.

Your annoying, obnoxious, embarrassing best friend. I get it. So many people weigh the pros and cons of maintaining a relationship with social media and find the consequences outweigh the benefits. I understand. I’m not writing this piece from a posture of downplaying the negativity in order to convince anyone that they can have a stress-free social media experience. I honestly don’t believe that’s possible. What I will do is unpack some of the ways writers can utilize various platforms by taking advantage of the strengths by locking down the weaknesses. As someone who has decent-sized platforms on Instagram and Twitter with access to analytics, I can provide valuable information supported by those numbers; what works and what doesn’t work broken down into ideas that are easy to assimilate and replicate.

Website/Blog:

A while ago, I tweeted that I was writing this article and I assigned homework. I told writers to check out Stephen Graham Jones’ blog DemonTheory.net

SGJ collects most of his social media mentions, articles, live events, speeches, awards, reviews, almost everything online pertaining to him and his work in separate, categorized blog posts. This is an extremely comprehensive resource for fans, journalists, and himself! This website can be used to source anything regarding SGJ’s writing career over the years.

This is the blueprint.

Writers starting out should one hundred percent replicate a version of these archives now while there isn’t too much to manage. Seasoned authors could do this work a little at a time to get caught up. Why? Because it’s worth it. Because you will have these links at your fingertips in a moment’s notice. Because when someone is doing an interview for you or writing a review or an article about you, this website/blog is information about you and your work controlled by the most important person, you! Google searches (HOMEWORK: Do a Google Search on yourself and see what happens) will yield results outside of your control, so take some of that ownership back and gather the links you think represents the body of your work. It helps if the website is functional and up-to-date. Bonus points if it is sleek and professional looking too.

Side Note: I cannot stress how important it is for all your links to work everywhere. Check your Goodreads profile, your social media bios, Your links to buy your books, all links you share should be checked and double checked. There is nothing more unprofessional than clicking on a link that is broken or redirects to something else entirely.

Professional Headshots/Author photos/Pictures:

I can’t stress how important it is to have some quality photos of yourself out there on the web. As someone who conducts a lot of interviews, makes graphics for YouTube events, blog posts, etc. I Google search authors all the time in order to grab something copyright free to use for various projects, write-ups and graphics so that I don’t have to reach out to the author and wait for a response. When I was making YouTube thumbnails for Celebrate Horror 2020 and 2021, I had to look up photos for fifty plus people and some of the results were extremely limiting. If you don’t have good photos of yourself out there, people will stalk your profiles and be forced to screengrab bathroom selfies, wedding photos, or your Twitter account picture. They are likely not going to ask you for a photo when the internet is at their fingertips so take back the control and make a file of headshots/photos and populate a blog post or your website with them. If you do an interview, attach a photo you like in the email correspondence so that they don’t hunt for one and the more unique SEOs out there publishing your photo, the better your Google Image results will be.

(HOMEWORK: Google Search “images” for ‘Author Mike Thorn’ or ‘Gwendolyn Kiste’)

Instagram:

If you Google the question, “What is Instagram” the answer will drastically change depending on the year. Instagram used to be a photo sharing app. A photo with a caption. It was a refreshing change of pace from Facebook users who were weary of a feed full of ‘hot takes’ and updates.

I’ve had a dedicated bookish account on Insta for five years; the golden years were between 2017-2019. My account grew by the thousands. I could post a photo and watch the notifications roll in as a result of an organic algorithm centered on order and not ‘importance’.

Influencers caught the attention of companies. Community hashtags like #bookstagram changed the way publishers launched promotional campaigns. Then Facebook bought the app and it all went to shit really quickly. In the last couple of years, in order to compete with TikTok, videos or “stories” began trending and now Instagram is a clusterfuck of photos and videos with half your audience split between the two. Is it worth a writer’s time to promote there? Three years ago? Yes. Now? I don’t know. It would be tough to build an audience on Instagram without doing videos, which is time consuming. My suggestion is if you are already there, stay. Do a mix of photo and video content and make use of a free promotional tool. If you’re not there, skip it. You don’t need it. The biggest benefit is just being there so that influencers can tag you in their photos (this is a good reason to have your author name as your username) and users can follow you or check out your link in your bio which should direct them to your website–having good photos of your books on your feed with a caption that details the plot or showcases blurbs/reviews is good. Don’t share actual links in comments or captions–nobody can or will take the time to copy & paste that into a browser and they are not hotlinked. You can only share links to your stories if you have 10K+ followers. You CAN host a giveaway through a willing influencer and those do pretty well–or an influencer that likes your work can host a cover reveal and share links in their stories. So if you have a relationship with someone who has a larger platform and they’re willing to boost your work, these are all good reasons to be there–some traditional publishers might require it.

Twitter:

Oh Twitter. So Twitter can feel like the trenches of Facebook but since a tweet has limited characters in which to work with, the heat is restrained to simmers and boils instead of full-on grease fires that will burn your house down. People try to do long tweet rants metered out into threads but honestly, I have yet to see those do big numbers unless you’re a verified pundit or celebrity.

Twitter provides some great tools in order to curate your feed and manage the chaos as best as you can but nothing can take the place of good ol’ self control. So if Twitter steals your joy, you can really just dip in and dip out for announcements or a quick tweet and then just retreat back to real life. I will caution that engagement, socializing, is an important aspect of social media so if you announce your book was optioned for a movie deal and nobody seems to care, it could be because you haven’t cared about anyone’s achievements either; works both ways. You get what you give in this case. Which brings me back to that curation. You can mute words that bring up triggering conversations/discussions. You can set notifications to show you relevant tweets from people you are interested in and you can mute mutuals that you are following that you are not interested in and nobody will be the wiser.

The best tweets are usually accompanied with a visual. For example, if you tweet an instagram or youtube link and the preview is a tiny box without an image, I promise you nobody will engage with it.

But if you link to a YouTube panel of authors you were a part of and you include the thumbnail graphic or a screenshot, people love that!

This Tweet earned more that 40K impressions because it had a hashtag, the tagged creator retweeted, it had a graphic and a lot of people could relate to it. It had 62 QTs where people shared their own, personal religious background and engagement with Midnight Mass. I also tweeted this close to the show’s debut when it was trending and a hot topic of conversation. This exact tweet wouldn’t do these numbers now.

The same sort of thing happened when I tweeted about going to see A Quiet Place 2 on opening night and tagged John Krasinski. He retweeted and commented on my photo of a big tub of popcorn in my lap at the theater. Ride the waves! It’s worth the engagement. I’m a firm believer in having a professional looking Twitter banner and changing it up often to reflect different things you’re promoting. If you’re promoting your 4th book release but your banner is about your debut novel from ten years ago, this is wasted retail space. Use it like a billboard! Advertise yourself.

I think authors need to know that people really do follow you on social media so they can keep track of everything you’re doing. I know that folks get uncomfortable about the ratio of self promotion versus everything else, but trust me, your audience doesn’t get bored of the promo–it is what we are there for, mostly.

Cynthia Pelayo has a great article about sharing yourself on social media so I won’t reinvent the wheel, I’ll just direct your attention to it so you can wrestle with your own, personal sense of boundaries and such, Managing a Professional Author Online Presence.

TikTok:

I have no clue what I’m doing on TikTok. I’m pretty much of no use to anyone when it comes to TikTok advice. All I know is that the algorithm is organic and anything has the potential to go viral. I’ve talked about this before but Stephanie of “Books In the Freezer” shared a video of some books that were difficult for her to get through and it went so incredibly viral, people were buying the books she mentioned left and right to the tune of thousands and thousands. Barnes & Noble has a display table at most locations that is dedicated to what books  are trending according to influencer recommendations. This works in the negative direction too. I’ve seen authors suddenly get all this unwanted engagement over an issue pertaining to the book and it’s very upsetting to watch. There is this sense of entitlement that users demonstrate when commenting on a creator’s video; a demand for the creator to respond or perform. It’s extremely unsettling and I would hope that anyone signing up for a TikTok account knows that it can be a very vulnerable situation and to use the platform with eyes wide open to the potential hazards and privacy concerns. It does seem more volatile than Twitter or Instagram and more like Facebook but with a younger, more hostile crowd. That’s just my take away and subject to opinion.

The bottom line here is that an internet presence is there to support the craft. If it ever feels imbalanced or not worth the extra work/effort, it’s easy to walk away from it and switch to a different way to reach out to your fanbase, like newsletters, interviews or live guest appearances such as AMAs (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit, IGTV, YouTube, or Facebook. There really is a plethora of ways authors can interact with readers and build that fanbase–it is my strong opinion that anything free and easy to use should be utilized in some capacity. Self promotion is a huge part in making that leap from hobbyist to full-time career. A really good way to sort through the priorities is to filter everything through the lens of two different goals in every situation:

Am I trying to network/build relationships?

Am I trying to market/sell something?

The answer to these questions will serve the goal more effectively.

Let me know if this was at all helpful and feel free to engage with me on social media. I tweet about this subject all the time.

On Horror Book Series’ With Michael Clark

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Joe Sullivan: I think most writers have heard that doing a series is an excellent way to develop a readership, especially as a newer author. Did you intend for The Patience of a Dead Man to be a series/trilogy from the start?

Michael Clark: Yes, and I think SERIES is the keyword. I took that advice from the Facebook group “20Booksto$50k” except I knew I didn’t have an idea that could keep going to a full-blown series, so I decided to try to keep it to a trilogy. After that, I heard Ken McKinley of Silver Shamrock on a podcast wondering why authors write trilogies because “the third one never sells as many copies as the first”–and he’s right. That’s why I released all three in one volume “TPOADM: COMPLETE.”

I believe each volume has 100-400 ratings on Goodreads, 50-200 ratings on Amazon, both places you’re 4+ stars, which are all excellent numbers in indie publishing. What would you say worked best for you in generating reviews for your books?

Thank you. This first part might not be helpful, but I believed (and still believe) in my story, the setting, etc.100%. I lived on that piece of property and the only thing that isn’t factual is that the house didn’t have a turret. I know that property like the back of my hand and have a strong connection to it. I’ve got a novella in the works with the same setting and I’m even tempted to turn what has already been published into a graphic novel. I guess you’d call it stubbornness; I was really disappointed when I found out a new book has about ninety days of honeymoon before it gets rolled under by the everlasting sea of new books from other authors. I’m trying to think my way around that. If I make money in writing it will have to be a home run rather than becoming a human word factory. 

Now I’ll tell you something that might be useful: I paid for four Goodreads Giveaways for TPOADM (at $119 apiece) and that’s a good way to generate reviews. I also did three (or was it five? I can’t remember) “blog tours” at approximately $80 apiece and I liked those too. Twelve people read your book and you probably get ten reviews out of each one. I was fortunate to be invited to a NightWorms Book Party too, so there’s another dozen or so. Oh, and I gave away a lot of books. I used Laurie Bark’s list of bloggers too–THIS WAS HUGE. I also noticed that Laurel Hightower came out just before I did and was killing it so I reached out to her for advice and as I’m sure you know, she’s as awesome a person as her writing is. In short, she told me to keep good records on when and how many times you ask each blogger to read your book, and I danced around all those guidelines as best as possible. I don’t think I burned any bridges.

I did a lot of giveaways too. I have a plug-in on my website called “KingSumo Giveaways” and it basically runs the whole giveaway for you, all you have to do is advertise it, which I did primarily on Facebook. I’m not sure how pleased I am with the results, however; I think it got me a lot of attention in the Twitter horror community but I also think there is a large internet community that LIVES for giveaways, whether it be books or toilet brushes. I’ll never know how many people joined my mailing list because they were only in it for something free.

I also like “swag.” I’ve always liked logos, and when I was a teenager I’d spend a month at a time re-drawing album covers on 4’X4′ posterboard. Now that I’ve created something of my own, I’m in heaven. I have bookmarks and t-shirts and coasters and bookbags and magnets and pins…etc. I paid $400 for 72 20oz mugs and people LOVED THEM (unexpectedly). For my next release, I’m going to have moisture-wicking t-shirts printed up because I hate traditional cotton ones. I wait for a sale and buy a bunch. When the time comes I’ll have them printed. So “swag” has gotten me some attention. And I also have to give a shout-out to Karlee at “A Stranger Dream.” I have “Mildred” bookmarks and since the horror community already knows her work, I bought a slice of legitimacy.  

I should mention that I’m not rich, but I did go over the top with my spending. I live in a condo, I drive a 2015 Honda CRV…and I probably delayed my retirement…or perhaps invested in an eventual career transition, depending on how things go and how you look at it. I used to play guitar and was always buying, selling, trading them; for sure an expensive hobby and I traded that for writing. Now that my first few years are over, I’m sure I’ll be more discerning from here on out.  

You released each volume about 6-8 months apart. Would you say that was a good release schedule? If you did another series would you release your books within the same time frame?

I would if I could; that schedule was not by design. I write when I can, and since I’ve learned that writing is not the money maker I thought it would be (let’s face it, books sold way more before smartphones) I treat it like a hobby and don’t see the need to rush. Maybe someday if this becomes a more traditional writing career I’ll have an editor, etc. and it won’t be as hard to put out a book.

You released all three books in one volume after the trilogy was completed. I assume it was to attract readers looking for a deal. Has it performed to your expectations? Have you noticed any additional benefits from offering a compilation book?

My ultimate goal is to see my book(s) in a high-quality movie, and I know that’s a long shot. As I said, I’m probably not going to be a writer like Brian Keene who has several streams of income through dozens of books built up over a forty-year career (I’m older than Brian :)). If I make any money it will probably have to be like Andy Weir (“The Martian”) where somebody famous notices and I sign an agent, a book deal, and a movie deal in the same day (a big “IF,” I realize and it will most likely never happen). Releasing all three books in one volume was just me trying to get people to read the whole thing. I didn’t have any expectations, I’m making this up as I go! As far as “additional benefits,” I like that big fatty on my bookshelf and I got to do another cover photoshoot in my basement with my wife in the Mildred dress. I’m having fun creating things. 

Your books are on Kindle Unlimited. What has been your experience using the program? Do you believe it has helped you attract new readers?

Well, in all honesty, HALF of my money comes from those page reads, but on the other hand, I bear all the costs of putting out the book so it probably balances out. I haven’t been traditionally published as yet so I have nothing to compare it to. And pretty much all of my readers are new!

As you released the trilogy did you notice any trends in where your revenue came from i.e. shifting percentages between paperback/eBook/KU/audio/hardback?

I have definitely been more “artist” than “businessman” in this writing venture. The businessman should fire the artist but he won’t go away! There are so many hats to wear I haven’t had the time nor do I have a system where I can take the time to notice trends. TPOADM came out in April 2019, two and a half years give or take, and balancing this with a wife, dog, and a full-time job has been a TRIP.

Series authors tend to discount/or make free the first book in a series. Have you ever utilized a discount price strategy for The Patience of a Dead Man?

I did a bunch of free giveaways (various websites by design) so that I could see my book make a mark on the free charts. I think I made it to #3 in “Paranormal Suspense” but I had to give away three thousand books. Again, this is DAY ONE of my writing career, NOBODY other than “mom” knew I was writing, and three thousand freebie-folks snapped it up. I won’t do that again. As for giving away book one of a trilogy: I think it works better for a longer series. If people BUY Book One and don’t buy the other two (see the Ken McKinley answer above) then I doubt giving away the first will help my sales. As for discount price strategies, my books ARE slightly cheaper than some of the small press books right now, but I may be changing that soon. I doubt that the choice between my book and someone else’s book ever comes down to the matter of a dollar or two.

Would you recommend releasing a series to a new author in the horror genre?

If you’re blessed with an idea you think is that good, then yes. I think we’re most successful doing what we love, and everyone starts out slow. If you want to write a series, do it, but only because you know you can make it good. If you want to open a restaurant, you have to invest in a whole host of things before you sell the first meal. Look at Josh Malerman. I love his inspirational tweets talking about when he was broke. Have you seen the movie ‘Social Network?” They held off making money (running ads) on Facebook until people were hooked. I guess what I’m trying to say is the path to being successful is nearly always different and there is no proven path. I’m still searching! LOL.

Click here to find out more about Michael Clark’s books and socials.

A Convention Primer with Author Wesley Southard

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Joe Sullivan: I think some newer authors might be overwhelmed by the idea of going to a convention to sell books, when the sign-up process is often fairly straightforward, and can be a great avenue for increasing your yearly sales. In a non-pandemic year, how many books would you say you’re able to sell in person at events, and typically how many events do you attend?

Wesley Southard: I’ll start off by saying everyone’s mileage will vary. I’ve been doing conventions for several years now, usually three to five a year, and most of them are local to where I live. But with 2021 being as wide open as it was for my schedule, I decided to roll the dice and see what I could do and how far I could reach. Though a few were cancelled last minute and one was eventually turned into a virtual show, I attended fifteen conventions/book signing events this year. With this, I started asking for Southwest Airlines gift cards for Christmas and my birthday (both only a month apart), which was a massive help in curbing the outrageous cost of plane tickets.

2021 was also a huge year for learning how to talk to strangers at these shows. Believe me, it’s not easy and it’s not always all that comfortable, especially if you’re an introvert, as most authors tend to be. I tabled nearly half my shows this year with author John Wayne Comunale. If you know anything about John Wayne, he’s a character. But despite the rowdiness and silly demeanor he can have at the table, the man knows how to sell books. My shows with him started back in February in Atlanta, Georgia and he spent the weekend showing me the right way to engage with passersby, how to have a short but sweet pitch for every book on the table, the proper pricing for each unit, deals that can be cut depending on the number of books purchased, and the small talk that can be made while signing books. It’s very hard work, despite the smiling face you put on behind the table. Conventions can be fun, but they are indeed work, especially when you’re busy.

As for the number of books sold, it all depends on the show and how hard you’re willing to hustle. Look, the sad reality is most people aren’t going to horror conventions to buy books. They’re there to get celebrity autographs and to buy t-shirts and toys. Like it or not, that’s the reality of it. We as authors, for better or worse, have to sing for our supper (as John Wayne puts it). You have to be open to saying “Hi. How’s it going?” to every single person who walks past your table. More often than not, people will say hi back (or throw you a weary side-eye) as they continue on their way, but if you catch the right person at the right moment, they’ll stop and talk. Once they start to ask about what’s on the table, then you turn on your salesman mode and get to work. Before this year I was lucky to sell maybe twenty books the whole weekend. After picking up the ticks of the trade, my normal weekends have more than doubled to between forty and sixty books a show. It all just depends on the event and how willing you are to bust your ass for the sales.

Do you normally table conventions with other authors? Obviously, it lowers the price of the table if you’re splitting it. What are some of the other benefits of tabling with another author?

I table with other authors all the time, my main three being my friends Somer Canon, Wile E. Young, and John Wayne Comunale. The biggest benefits are absolutely cutting the costs of the table and, if they don’t mind, sharing a hotel room and splitting that bill as well. Traveling out of town for conventions is extremely expensive. If you’re friends with someone who is willing to go fifty-fifty with tables and accommodations, that’s a huge win.

Being able to create price deals with your tablemate is also a big plus. I normally have each book at my table at $12 apiece, but the deal I offer is three for $30. It’s been my experience people will either buy one book or three books. Rarely will they buy just two. When they do that, I causally let them know for $6 more they can get one more book. That usually gets them. When you’re sharing a table, both can offer the same deal. I’ve found more often than not when the three for $30 deal is in place, the potential buyer will get books from each author, which is obviously a win for both parties.

How do you price your books? Above/below what they sell for online? Do you do bundle deals? How many of your titles do you typically put out?

Like I said in the previous answer, my con prices are $12 or three for $30. For most of my books that’s around the price that’s set by the publisher on Amazon.

Most shows I’ll bring copies of everything I have. With my current catalog I have a wide variety in styles and story types, so when I ask someone who their favorite authors are or what type of stories they enjoy, I might have something in that very wheelhouse.

What are some of the additional items you sell, giveaway, or find useful for decorating your selling space? Do you bother with email/newsletter sign-ups?

I’ve known other authors that sell various items like t-shirts and art prints at their tables, but I don’t have anything for sale other than my books. There’s nothing wrong with having extra items; I don’t have any myself. Just be careful not to overwhelm potential buyers with too much on your table. Make the focus your books, that’s what’s most important. I imagine once you start to gain a name for yourself and you find you’re getting repeat buyers when you’re doing the same shows year after year, then maybe having some swag for sale wouldn’t be a bad idea.

As far as giveaways, it’s extremely crucial to have some sort of custom bookmark to hand out to anyone and everyone that approaches your table. It needs to have your name, website, social media, etc. You have to make yourself as easy to find online as possible, that way, even if they don’t buy from you right then and there and end up shoving your bookmark in their pocket, they can hopefully find you and your work at some point in the future. Bookmarks are very easy to make yourself. Most websites that make them offer a template that’s very easy to clip art into and customize however you want. I personally make mine on www.uprinting.com. I’ve been using them for years and have always had good results.

It’s also beneficial to have some sort of signage on or around your space. I have a couple of vinyl banners of varying sizes that I put on the front of my table with my name and some pictures of my book covers. Again, they’re easy to make and fairly inexpensive on a site like www.signs.com.

I occasionally make stickers with my books covers that I add with the sale of that particular book.

Though I’ve never done a newsletter signup, I don’t see how it can hurt having it there if you have one.

Are there any atypical places you table at that you’ve found rewarding?

I normally try to vend at conventions and book-related events, but I’ve found myself a few times in the past selling books at some pretty odd places. I’ve vended at a drive-in event in the Harrisburg, PA area the last few years and have not done too bad. I’ve sold on a street corner in the downtown area of my city during a First Friday celebration but didn’t have much success. The weirdest place I’ve ever sold my wares was at a local pet store. My wife was friends with the owner and they were looking for some Halloween-related vendors for their Spooky Pet Photo Op day. I was not into the idea whatsoever. In fact, my wife had to drag me there to do it. I thought it was going to be a massive waste of time, but strangely it turned out to be a great event. I sold a ton of books. You just never know until you try.

What are your personal top-5 conventions/selling venues around the country?

Much like I said before, everyone’s mileage will vary on what works for you and what doesn’t. I’ve had great success at some shows and left happy as a pig in a shit pit, and others I found myself standing around for hours with absolutely no one giving me the time of day. My personal opinion is try to find shows in markets that aren’t completely over-saturated with horror-themed conventions. Keep in mind that shows like Monster Mania and Days of the Dead have been known to host shows in the same venue in the same city two, sometimes three times a year. The more shows they have, the less likely people will spend money in the vendor room. And keep this in mind as well: the higher profile the guests the show gets, the less time and money patrons will be spending on merchandise. I was at a show back in September where Robert Englund and Christopher Lloyd were the guests of honor. Suffice to say, the vendor rooms were a ghost town, despite there being lines around the hotel to get in. In my experience, finding shows that only happen once a year in that city, that aren’t getting celebrities who are still considered A-list by Hollywood standards is the way to go.

I’ve been a regular at Scares That Care Weekend in Williamsburg, Virginia for years now because I love to support the charity and the show is extremely author friendly, with tons of programming for writers to be involved in such as panels and readings. I found probably my best show of the year was at the Full Moon Tattoo and Horror Festival in Nashville, Tennessee. I don’t know what it was about that show, but John Wayne and I barely had time to breathe or use the restrooms with the constant flow of people coming to our table. I tried both the Kansas City, Missouri and Minneapolis, Minnesota Crypticons this year and was pleasantly surprised with the sales at both. One of my favorite shows I’ve vended at the last two years has been Living Dead Weekend in Monroeville, Pennsylvania. It’s held in the Monroeville Mall, where the 1978 Dawn of the Dead film was shot. The show is always well attended and run, and afterwards you can take a tour of the George A. Romero museum they have set up inside the mall. Again, conventions are nothing if not a test in trial and error. Try whatever show you can. See what works for you. I have shows I did this year that I won’t do again because it wasn’t a great experience, and that’s okay. Everywhere you go your goal is to create new readers. Treat every sale and every book going into that reader’s hands as an opportunity to grow your name and your brand. Try to take every positive you can from every show you do and use that to keep climbing up the ladder.

Wesley Southard is a 2× Splatterpunk Award-Winning author of ONE FOR THE ROAD, RESISTING MADNESS, CRUEL SUMMER & WHERE THE DEVIL WAITS. THE FINAL GATE (with Lucas Mangum) out now!

Check out his links here.

New Voices in Horror with Vaughn A. Jackson

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Joe Sullivan: My favorite part of these interviews is learning about what horror or dark SF/F media inspired writers in childhood and stuck with them through the beginning of their writing career. What scary books, movies, TV shows spoke to you as a kid?

Vaughn A. Jackson: This is a funny question for me, because I wasn’t really into horror movies as a kid. I was easily terrified and honestly, a horror movie would leave me incapable of sleeping properly for a while. I distinctly remember refusing to sleep in my bed after watching the wasp’s nest come back to life in The Shining mini-series. And that may or may not have influenced a lifelong fear of anything that flies and stings. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining also left me deeply unsettled after my first viewing, and it took a while for me to rewatch it.

Most of the scary movies I did watch growing up were my dad’s idea (usually when mom wasn’t home to get on him for traumatizing me), so there are fond memories around watching them. John Carpenter’s The Thing and the Alien series (by which I mean the first two, and sometimes the third one) are perhaps the two that stick with me the most and are, to this day, some of my favorite movies, not just horror movies. I think I can also put the original Gojira up here as well. It fits that science fiction horror vibe and is also one of my favorite movies, though it didn’t end up that way until later because as a kid black and white movies were not my thing.

While I wasn’t big on watching horror, I did read a fair bit of it. Somehow books scared me less. Again, my dad would hand me books and go “This is good, you might like it”, and next thing I know, I’m however many pages deep in Stephen King’s Skeleton Crew developing a fear of toy monkeys with cymbals, and strange creatures lurking in the mist, and space elevators to the moon, because it’s longer than you think!

Looking back, there was a lot of Stephen King in my childhood. My dad was a fan, and now, so am I.

Speaking of strange creatures, I did read a fair amount of Lovecraft growing up as well. I’m not sure how I discovered him, but I remember that Cthulhu was a popular meme at the time, so that may have been a guiding factor. I loved how he blended horror and science fiction (like the three of my favorite movies I mentioned), plus giant monsters, so I burned through a lot of his stuff, as well as people like Brian Lumley who continued on the cosmic horror tradition.

There are probably other things I can point to here: Dracula, of course, a fair amount of Edgar Allen Poe, the classic Universal monster movies, Neverwhere, any and every kaiju movie, Akira, Vampire Hunter D, and so on. But I could go on for a while, and think I’ve probably written enough!

What inspired you to submit your first stories to professional markets?

I always wanted to be a published author, starting way back when I would take printer paper and staple it together and write stories about me and my friends with superpowers, or the adventures of my favorite Pokemon. I wanted to write, and I enjoyed it, so I’ve always had the passion, I guess. The big hurdle was the confidence portion.

With Touched by Shadows, I finished the initial draft and basically sat on it, while moving on to other projects. I had so many ideas I wanted to write so I could finally be a published author! It wasn’t until I had finished my second manuscript Up from the Deep, that my girlfriend looked me dead in the face while having one of my conversations about being a published author and said, basically, “You know you have to submit something for that to happen, right?”

Right. I did know that, but I was stalling because I was terrified to share what I had written with the wider world, despite my beta readers saying that it was good. I just assumed all three of them were lying to me. But I finally sat down, and edited the manuscript (I believe I was told I wasn’t allowed to write anything new until I finished the edits, so that was a big impetus as well) and looked for places to submit it. There were a couple looking for marginalized voices and some that were just open for submission. I think I sent it four or five places in total, all while steeling myself for the inevitable “No.” I mean, how could the kid who was scared of not-quite-dead bees write a decent horror story?

I got mostly “No” responses, which hurt, at least one place didn’t respond at all, and then I got a  “Yes” from JournalStone.

I think that is what gave me the confidence to write and submit my short story to Off Limits Press’ anthology, honestly. The booster shot of “oh okay, maybe we can do this”.

Now I don’t really have a problem submitting things. I just had to do it once.

Though, rejections still sting a bit, and I much prefer the acceptances.

Severed Press released your novel Up From the Deep this year and I’ve read your story “The Thing At the Top of the Mountain” in the Far From Home anthology from Off Limits Press. Your next novel Touched by Shadows is set to release this month from JournalStone, and I’ve read the synopsis that speaks of an eyeless shadow being. What is it about monster stories that interests you as a storyteller?

Ishiro Honda, director of Gojira, once said, “Monsters are tragic beings; they are born too tall, too strong, too heavy, they are not evil by choice. That is their tragedy.”

That quote has always stuck with me. It’s a big theme that I run with in Up from the Deep. I actually had the quote as the first page of the manuscript throughout the entire writing process. I mean, people used to be so afraid of bears they wouldn’t say the word for fear that it would bring a bear down on their heads like some kind of demon. I think we can all agree that a bear isn’t evil, but still, when one is cutting a swath through you and your group of hunters, it sure as hell probably feels like it is.

I guess you could say that I like monsters because they are a dark mirror into our own world. They represent horrors and concepts that might be too abstract or overwhelming to understand otherwise. Godzilla as a metaphor for the effects of the atomic bomb. Vampires as, perhaps, a way to understand the rampant tuberculosis in the Victorian era. Jason and Mrs. Vorhees as a cautionary tale to watch the swimming kids and not run off to have sex while you’re supposed to be a responsible camp counciler. Even demons point at the idea of human sin.

And the “eyeless shadow being” in Touched by Shadows does the same. I’ll leave it to readers to figure out what it represents.

Their tragedy is that they are always there to reflect our evils. That’s what makes them monsters. Us.

On a lighter note, it’s also a plus that monsters are one of those places in fiction like magic, or new worlds where you can just let the imagination run wild. As someone who finds endless excitement in seeing the designs (or lack thereof) for monsters in the movies and books I consume, being able to do that myself is always a joy. From the simple to the “yes, I can definitely fit more crab-claws on this thing”, it’s always a whole lot of fun!

Do you have any other novels or novellas in the works? If so, can you tell us anything about those stories?

Well, I just finished a short sword and sorcery novel in the vein of Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melnibone or Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian. A bit of romance, a bit of grimdark, some magic, some horror, good versus evil, the works. No cursed swords though.

I hope to have that edited and out for submission some time next year.

I am also about a third of the way done with a sequel for Up from the Deep, which will continue the “monster of the week” format found in shows like Ultraman. I leaned a bit more into the horror aspect with this one, so that was fun. This one should be in the appropriate hands early next year as I intend to finish it up throughout December and January.

Last, but not least, I participated in #PitDark recently, and sent out a Civil War-era vampire western to a few interested agents. Think Vampire Hunter D meets Django: Unchained. Fingers crossed I hear back from them!

Aside from these, I’ll just see where the ideas lead!

Vaughn A. Jackson is a writer of speculative fiction, predominantly horror and giant monster fiction, and is a member of the Horror Writers Association. He is the author of both Touched by Shadows and Up from the Deep. His short story “The Thing at the Top of the Mountain” can be found in Far From Home: An Anthology of Adventure Horror. 

Vaughn lives near Baltimore with his girlfriend and two grumpy gremlins who disguise themselves as the cutest kittens in the world. His dog, Constantine, has demanded that she be included here as well. He often wonders why whatever he writes always turns out at least somewhat scary, but doesn’t believe in questioning things that work. 

You can find Vaughn on Twitter via @blaximillion and on Instagram via @blaximillion_author.

The Tattoo

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by Katie Young

It’s worse at night. The itching. It’s all I can focus on when the distractions of the day are over. Sleep is elusive and fitful. In the brief periods when I’m exhausted enough to drop off, I have nightmares about being covered with insects. I once read somewhere that tickling is used as a form of torture because it can destroy a person psychologically but leaves no marks on the skin. I never really believed those stories until now.

I have a mark too, of course. A tattoo.

After the funeral, once the public spectacle was over and hugs and cucumber sandwiches dried up, as the deliveries of cards and flowers dwindled and the thoughts and prayers dissipated, I began to feel you slipping away. The elastic days and shallow nights between your death and the ceremony had been a kind of limbo. There was a sense of dread, a strange, distant panic that eased the minute the curtains closed around your coffin. But with your body gone, I felt estranged from you.

I must have booked and cancelled the appointment four or five times. I had looked into having your ashes pressed into a diamond and set in a ring, but when I heard about memorial tattoos, I became obsessed with the idea of having you under my skin. It seemed more intimate. The ultimate gesture of everlasting love. Of course, my nerves got the better of me several times and I bottled it. The artist was kind and patient. She was a former circus acrobat with a reputation for pressing down hard with the needle to give crisp, clear lines that wouldn’t blur or fade over time. She offered me a tissue to dry my eyes as I handed over a tiny pouch of your ashes for her to mix with her inks. It hurt more than I imagined it would, but that seemed fitting.

I look down at the simple black design on the inside of my left arm; a sideways figure of eight. The infinity symbol. It’s been almost a year since it healed, but not a second goes by when I can’t feel the itch. The tattooist warned that this might happen, but no amount of creams or ointments or cold compresses seem to help. This isn’t normal.

My fingernails scratch and scratch over the slightly raised outline where the black ink is deepest. The pale skin turns beet red, tiny beads welling here and there. The old scabs have only just come off. This is the pattern: I scratch until I draw blood, let the wounds heal, and repeat.

I try to divert my attention away from the maddening sensation by remembering happier times. The weekend you surprised me with a trip to Brighton and we went skinny dipping and ate chips on the beach. The day I got a new job and you cooked fisherman’s pie to celebrate because it’s my favourite, even though you couldn’t stand the smell of seafood. It lingered in our small flat for days and I felt so guilty. The Friday nights we’d lie in bed and listen to music and drink wine and talk until it was light again. I never got bored of talking to you. Listening to you. You knew something about pretty much everything – or so it seemed to me. You were my entire world.

I look down at my arm to see the tattoo is now smeared rust red with blood. I’ve gouged longs furrows in my flesh. I’m dimly aware of the stinging, the exposed, raw meat, but still the itching overrides the other types of pain, and the fingers of my right hand keep reflexively scritch-scritch-scritching.

I remember the day I came home early to find you with her. It was nothing as dramatic as discovering you in bed together. Maybe that would have been better somehow. If I could have put it down to pure animal attraction. An impulsive fuck. But you were lounging on the sofa, her feet up on your lap in a way that suggested an easy familiarity, a deep affection that must have been fostered over a long, long time.

I tried to get the tattoo lasered off last month. The artist sounded a little concerned but reiterated it was normal for new ink to take a while to settle. Finally, after days of incessant pleading, she agreed to the treatment. It made no difference. After every session, the infinity symbol would fade for a few hours, then restore itself, darker and itchier than ever.

I tried a more drastic measure next. I bought a disposable scalpel from the local pharmacy and carefully excised the entire area. I cut as deep as I could bear. It took ages because I kept gagging and almost passing out, but once the flap of skin and ragged flesh was free, I wrapped it in newspaper and buried it in the outside bin.

I took several strong painkillers, weeping with relief and fell into a deep sleep. But sometime in the early hours, I thought I heard your voice in the bed next to me whispering,

“Wake up, babe. I’m back.” And when I opened my eyes, my arm was unscathed, and the tattoo remained, as if I’d dreamt the entire ordeal.

My jeans are soaked in blood now. My forearm is a pulpy mess. I’ve really done a number on it this time. I think I can see a glint of white in the slick ruin of red muscle and yellow fat, and I swallow down bile as I recognise it as bone. I stagger to my feet, my head spinning, and stumble into the kitchen. I pull open the drawers and find the meat cleaver. It’s Japanese Damascus steel. Heavy and sharp. You always loved to cook.

“What are you doing, you silly cow?”

Your voice is warm – that fond exasperation you used to save for when I had PMT and burst into tears at the slightest thing. I can almost feel your breath on the nape of my neck. It’s nothing like the desperate, shocked scream that ripped its way out of your throat as I shoved as hard as I could and watched you topple into the ravine. You’d always wanted to explore the Highlands. You were so surprised when I agreed to come hiking. You didn’t think I’d make it up to the summit. You poked my ribs and called me your pudgy little couch potato.

Your head hit a rock on the way down and burst like a ripe fruit.

I know some ink gets absorbed into the bloodstream, but maybe there’s still time. I didn’t think this through. Why did I have to choose an eternity symbol? I just wanted to keep you close. I didn’t think about the ritual. The magic of it. The implications of injecting you into me like a drug. I guess on some level I always knew you’d never let me give you up. You would never let me out unscathed. I place my left arm on the chopping board, brace myself, and bring the blade down hard and fast just below the elbow. I throw the severed limb into the sink, but I just have time to register it before I drown in TV static and silence. There in the empty space where the tattooed arm used to be. The itch. It’s back.