It’s become a habit to tell the occasional spooky story on Twitter. I’ve also made a habit of copying them here to my blog as Twitter is so ephemeral. Here’s one I tweeted out last week.
I’ve been thinking lately about a holiday we took years ago.
— Alan Baxter (@AlanBaxter) October 4, 2021
You can click through and read the tweets, or here’s the whole thing all together:
I’ve been thinking lately about a holiday we took years ago.
I was about 12 or 13 when we stayed in this old Scottish hotel not far from Ullapool. It was a creepy place, but super cool. I loved all the old stone and weird corridors and leadlight windows.
It was also the first time I stayed anywhere and had a room of my own. This tiny single room right at the end of the hall on the top floor, with a bed, a bedside table, a wardrobe and just enough space between them to get dressed.
There was a window at the end, leadlight and narrow, with a deep stone sill. It looked out over the neat gardens four stories down.
The room was always cold. The place was really old and it was Scotland, but Scottish summers can be nice, the hotel was warm inside, but not this room.
I was equal parts enthralled and creeped out every night.
One night I was mostly asleep, when I heard a tree branch scratching at the window. Tapping and kinda scraping at the glass.
It must have been late, because it was full dark, and it didn’t get properly dark until after 11pm that far north.
Then I remembered, there was no tree outside the window.
The gardens were neat lawns and rose beds, a pond with a circular stone edge on the far side. No trees at all.
I sat up and looked over at the window. It took a while for my eyes to adjust, but I finally made out a small boy there, tapping with one index finger.
His eyes were bright in the darkness, wide and beseeching. His face a pale moon in the night. I couldn’t see much more except that one finger, tap-scraping at the glass.
His mouth moved, he was speaking, but I couldn’t hear his voice. And all I could think was, “I’m on the fourth floor.”
Above my room was a sloping slate roof with these cool as hell stone gargoyles and things, a deep, green metal gutter. And below a drop of more than thirty feet. What was he standing on?
I buried my face in the pillow and did my best to ignore it. Eventually it stopped and I finally fell asleep again.
I didn’t tell anyone. I thought I’d sound mad.
The next night it happened again. Those wide eyes, that pale face, that one finger tap-scraping away. His expression was pleading.
The next morning at breakfast in the hotel dining room, my parents asked if I was okay. “You look pale,” my mum said. “You look tired,” my dad said.
“Yeah, I didn’t sleep too well.”
“Ah, you’re in the wee room at the end of the top floor?” said the hotel manager. He would wander the dining room, asking how the guests were, stuff like that. He always wore tweed, and had this crazy shock of grey hair like an explosion all around his head.
I nodded and he smiled, kindly, but his teeth were yellow and I didn’t like them. “You saw Wee Taggart, did ye?” he said.
“Aye, the Taggart boy. Not everyone who stays in that room sees him, but some do.”
My parents were confused, frowning, but I had to know. “He’s real?”
The hotel manager smiled again. “Depends on your definition of real, wouldn’t you say? Toby was his name. He fell from the window of that room more than two hundred years ago. Didn’t survive, of course.”
“His parents were in the room next door,” the hotel manager said. “The one right opposite where your parents are staying. That nice Mrs. Armitage is in there at the moment. She’s a regular.”
“Anyway, every once in a while he shows up when someone is staying there, asking to be let back in.”
“He wants to be let in?” I asked.
“Did you open the window for him?” the hotel manager asked in return, eyes narrowing.
“No!” I said, aghast. “I didn’t realise that’s what he wanted.” Those pleading eyes… “Should I?” I asked. “Let him in?”
The hotel manager shook his head. “Oh, I wouldn’t advise it. No one ever has before. I don’t know what might happen.”
That night I complained to my parents I was scared and they cursed the hotel manager for telling stupid stories. But I knew he wasn’t lying. I asked if I could sleep on the floor in their room and they agreed. It was our last night there anyway.
But before I went to bed, I left the window open in the tiny room at the end of the hall.
We were woken in the night by screaming. Doors opened all up and down the hall as people looked out. The hotel manager and other staff came running, asking everyone to please return to bed, so sorry, nothing to see.
Gossip was alive in the dining room the next morning. Apparently Mrs. Armitage, in the room opposite my parents, had died.
I overheard one couple saying they talked to the night porter and HE said the woman had been middle-aged and healthy, but suffered a massive heart attack. They found her pale and wide-mouthed. “She looked to me like she’d been scared to death,” the porter told them.
We were moving on that day, heading out to the Skye. Before we left, I had to go and pack up my stuff in the little room. The window had been closed again, and someone had fitted a padlock to it.
I’ve always harboured guilt about poor Mrs. Armitage. I mean, did I kill her? Inadvertently, of course, but did I?
One day I’d like to go back to that hotel and see if the lock is still there on the window. I hope it is.
I’ve long been trying to find ways to simplify my online content and also offer more to people. I’ve tried a few different things, but it’s all a bit disparate. I tried building up Ko-fi as I liked that platform, but while it’s good, they’re still not offering an app, which is weird in this day and age. But it was kinda okay and I had Curious Fictions where I could post stories for a small fee and things were ticking on. Then we got the notification last week that Curious Fictions is shutting down. A damn shame, it was a cool idea and a slick site. But it’s pushed me to act. I’ve finally bitten the bullet and centralised everything with a Patreon page. This will replace my Curious Fictions and my Ko-fi pages. (I’ll still keep the Ko-fi, as it’s useful as a kind of tip jar, but I imagine it’ll go a little dormant now.)
My Patreon has four tiers of membership, from a simple $2/month set and forget tip to a $20/month Elder God tier where you get pre-publication copies of all new work, Q&A opportunities and even a 30 minute zoom with me once a month if you want it. Have a look here to see all the options.
Currently there’s a bunch of stories up there for everyone at the Devourer Tier and above. I’ll be updating it a lot more as time goes on. Lots more stories to come, plus all kinds of other content including behind the scenes stuff, excerpts of works in progress, early release news of books, subscriber exclusive articles, writing advice articles, and more. Maybe even some kung fu/martial arts related stuff if people are interested in that. I’ll also, as I get more settled with it, post some stories exclusively for Patrons, that won’t be published anywhere else. They may find their way into future collections, but they’ll be Patreon-exclusive until then. I may also serialise some stuff there too… I have a few ideas. Please let me know what you think would be cool. If you were a Patron, what would you like to see.
Something like Patreon really does make a huge difference in this current climate, I hope you’ll have a look. https://www.patreon.com/AlanBaxter If you do, I can’t thank you enough. I really appreciate and I promise you’ll get a lot out of it. I have such sights to show you…
Here’s my page:
I have to say, Second Life is not some weird aberration from 20 years ago. It’s a vibrant and active online community, showcasing some truly wonderful creative talents. I got invited to be a guest on the Second Life Book Club and had an absolute ball. The interview was great fun, the avatar they created for me is badass, and the set they built based on THE GULP is just stunning. So Cool! There was even a bit where a sea monster came out of the ocean near the lighthouse and read an excerpt. Brilliant. I fully intend to spend a lot more time there, discovering the community and cool places. Meanwhile, if you missed the live stream, the recording filmed during the chat in Second Life is on YouTube now. I’ll embed the video below, and I’ll post a bunch of screenshots from the event below that. Check it out.
Here’s some photos I grabbed while we chatting.
It’s tough being an author, whether you’re indie or trad published, or a hybrid of both like me. But whatever kind of publishing path you follow, self-promotion is a huge part of success. We have to let people know our stuff is out there if we want them to read it, and that’s a tough gig. Hopefully publishers will market your work as much as possible, but we have to do our own too. And a lot of it is free – just being online, active in the general reading community, is a huge part of it. It’s a privilege to pay for marketing, but that’s something worthwhile too. The trouble is, a lot of what you pay for doesn’t help. Paying to attend conventions is a good investment, as it gives all kinds of benefits and opportunities. (That’s a blog post in itself, really, so maybe I’ll address my thoughts on that at a later point.) But one of the ways paying for marketing does help is when you get on board with one of the big promotional newsletters. Bookbub is always the gold standard of these and holy shit, it is not cheap. But I decided to take a punt on it recently, desperately hoping I would at least make my money back, and hopefully get my book out to a whole slew of new readers in the process. I applied for a Bookbub promotion for THE GULP, which is one of my indie titles. I honestly didn’t expect to get it – far more miss out than are approved – but I did get it. Holy crap!
So the deal is that you reduce the price for a limited time and hope a whole bunch of people give it a shot when the newsletter goes out. A few days before the promo was due, I reduced the price of the ebook on all platforms to 99c and over the few days leading up to the Bookbub I mentioned it in different places, hoping that would kickstart a bit of a climb up the charts, especially Amazon. Then the promo ran and I’m incredibly grateful it went really well. My overall goal was to reach new readers, and I’m fairly confident I’ll manage that. Beyond that, I had three main secondary goals. I’ll definitely break even on the cost of the promotion, which was my first secondary goal. I’ll hopefully make a few bucks too, which was my second goal, especially as my kung fu school is closed again at the moment due to another Covid outbreak. And my third goal was to hopefully score a few decent ranks at the main Amazon stores – those being Australia, the US, and the UK for me. Maybe I’d even get a #1 ribbon. I’m pleased to say I did really quite well! I’ve never had a US store #1 and just missed out again this time too, but I did score a bunch of great ranks and a three #1 bestseller ranks in Australia, which is awesome.
Overall, I got the following positions:
#101 Overall rank
#1 in Occult
#1 in Occult Horror
#1 in Occult Stories
#255 Overall rank
#2 in Occult Fiction
#2 in Occult Horror
#691 Overall rank
#3 in Horror
#2 in Occult Fiction
#2 in Occult Horror
You can see all these things in the image below. Honestly, I’ve never had ranks anything close to any of those before. Amazing. I was never going to get the #1 spot in the US or the UK, as the Christopher Moore and Jim Butcher books holding those spots were hundreds of places high than me in the overall paid store rank. Honestly, those guys must be selling SO many books. Regardless, I’m over the moon with this result. I sold a lot of books and along with these immediate results, I really hope it does gain me a whole bunch of new readers. Massive thanks to everyone who got involved, either buying a copy or sharing the promo. I couldn’t have done this without you, so it really does mean the world to me.
Now I’m going to get back to writing the second volume of Tales From The Gulp. The writing always matters most.
Remember Second Life, the virtual world? Turns out it’s is still a thing – a really big thing! – and it also turns out it’s the domain of some incredible artists among many other things. People are creating wonderful stuff over there and there’s a thriving society going on. And one of the things that’s really popular is the Second Life Book Club.
Draxtor (the other character in the video below, reading The Gulp – find on Twitter) is the creator and host of the Second Life Book Club. He’s created something fantastic. I’m super excited to be a guest there in July. To be there, I needed a SL presence and they created this amazing avatar for me, which I just love. I’ll post more photos of my SL form below the video. Meanwhile, this is a trailer Draxtor put together for my appearance on the Book Club. It’s so moody, I love it! I’ll be a guest next Wednesday 21st July at 5pm SLT (which is 5pm CT, or for the Aussies, 11am AEST on Thursday July 22nd). You can find all the links here to join us in-world, or watch as it’s streamed everywhere. Meanwhile, watch the trailer below.
Here’s some shots from Book Club Island. I’m told a specific environment will be made for our interview, so can’t wait to see that. Click on these for a bigger res image:
If you missed the event, you can find it along with all the other guests right here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLC31ohsOopvcMWUU_B4_7o2SvbZVDRCb8
Here’s something for everyone! I’ve been meaning to get around to this for a while, and I finally found the time. On the one hand, I just wanted to give away something for free. It’s nice to be generous, right? But also, it’s often a big ask these days to expect people to take a chance on a new-to-them author. One of the hardest parts of being an author is getting noticed out there in the sea of great books available every day. Someone once likened it to a sports stadium, where all the readers are in the stands and all the authors are crammed shoulder to shoulder down on the pitch, waving their arms, trying to be seen. It feels a bit like that sometimes. So in an effort to make getting noticed a bit easier, I’ve put together Shadow Bites.
This is an ebook that will be permanently free on all ebook retailer sites. You can find it here: https://books2read.com/u/bojGVZ It contains a complete novella, three complete short stories, and the opening chapters of six longer books. That should be more than enough to give people a taste of my fiction. Here’s the full contents.
“Out On A Rim” from The Gulp
“Crow Shine” from Crow Shine
“Simulacrum of Hope” from Served Cold
“The Normandy Curse”
Plus the opening chapters of:
Feel free to grab a copy yourself, and please share this post or the link anywhere you think people might be interested. Thanks! https://books2read.com/u/bojGVZ
The Australian fan-voted Ditmar Awards are open for nominations for all eligible work published in 2020. Last year was a bit of a mess as hardly anyone knew about the awards opening and not many nominations or votes went through. This year, there’s not a huge amount of time again, so please do get your nominations in. The more people who get involved, the more accurately the awards reflect the will of the reading public, which is what they’re all about, after all. According to the rules, anyone active in fandom, or a full or supporting member of Conflux 16, the 2021 Australian National SF Convention (https://conflux.org.au/) can nominate a work. So basically, if you’re an Australian reader of genre fiction, you can vote. There’s also this: Where a nominator may not be known to the Ditmar subcommittee, the nominator should provide the name of someone known to the subcommittee who can vouch for the nominator’s eligibility. It’s a bit convoluted, but award rules are often like that. If you’re not sure, nominate anyway and explain who you are in the Eligibility section. If you know me, I’ll vouch for you.
So please do get involved. We need to spread the word far and wide and have as many nominations as possible.
For my part, I have a few pieces eligible this year:
Best Novella or Novellette
- “Recall Night”, Alan Baxter in Recall Night, (Grey Matter Press)
- “The Roo”, Alan Baxter in The Roo (self-published)
Honestly, I would love to see The Roo nominated!
Best Short Story
- “A Star has Died”, Alan Baxter in Curious Fictions.
- “The Demon Locke”, Alan Baxter in SNAFU: Medivac, Cohesion Press.
- “The Normandy Curse”, Alan Baxter in Does the Dog Die in This? 11.
- “The Bone Fire” – Alan Baxter in Halldark Holidays anthology, ed. Gabino Iglesias (Cemetery Gates Media, Dec 2020)
- “Liminal” – Alan Baxter in One of Us: A Tribute to Frank Michaels Errington (ed. Kenneth W Cain) Bloodshot Books (November 2020)
Due to a few postponements and cancellations from recent Covid outbreaks (uugughhhcovid), I find myself with a bunch of stock on hand. That’s no problem, but it would be nice to get some space in my study back, and I can certainly use some cash to feed my family, so I’ve come up with some special deals for anyone in Australia. Sorry international folks, but postage outside the country is brutal. And when I sell direct, I don’t have to allow a bookstore or venue percentage, so I can offer good prices. With that in mind, for the next few weeks, I’m offering bundles of 1 to 5 books, choosing any of the following: THE GULP, THE ROO, DEVOURING DARK, HIDDEN CITY, and SERVED COLD. If you want multiple copies of a single title, or a variety of titles, no problem. Whatever you want, while stocks last. I’ll sign them to anyone and post them anywhere in Australia. When you click through to the checkout page, be sure to let me know in the Order notes (optional) section on the right which books you want and who I should sign them to. And be sure to select the Australia Shipping option you only pay the flat rate shown. Feel free to share this far and wide – all the time the post is up, the offer is on.
1 signed book including postage: $25 – click HERE for this deal
2 signed books including postage: $40 – click HERE for this deal
3 signed books including postage: $55 – click HERE for this deal
4 signed books including postage: $70 – click HERE for this deal
5 signed books including postage: $85 – click HERE for this deal
What’s that? Another twitterstorm of outrage and controversy. Well, it is *checks watch* a day of the week, after all. In this case, there’s been another big blow up about including content warnings (sometimes called trigger warnings, now simply CW hereafter) in horror books. There was a day when I was against the idea. Now I’m not. Horror, or any other fiction for that matter, has no rules. Story is how we mirror and interrogate our world. Write your soul, your pain, your truth. Anyone who tries to tell you what you can write can go suck it. Equally, if you write something deeply offensive or harmful to others, be ready for consequences. Don’t be a dick is always the benchmark, for fiction of any kind or life in general. But write what you want. You should always consider whether a story is yours to tell, but we want diversity in our fiction, we want to see our world reflected. Doing that without harm is the trick.
Horror, of course, is meant to be confronting. But that doesn’t mean it should be traumatic, or that people avoiding trauma are somehow wrong, weak, or censors. If a reader asks for CW, that’s okay. People carry all kinds of trauma they don’t want reinforced. CW are not censorship. You don’t have to include them, of course, but don’t deny others discussing them. That’s a dick move. A lot of people don’t want CW, they want no spoilers. Fair enough, I’m like that too. CW should definitely be somewhere out of sight. A good idea is the back of the book maybe, where people who want them can look. Another option is to have them available via the publisher or author website. That’s an inclusive move, not censorship. I’ve added a page to my site here that people can check or be directed to, then anyone who might need a warning about the content of any of my books can find what they need. It’s not exhaustive, but it’s something. I definitely deal with some seriously fucked up shit in my stories. Horror is the genre of honesty, after all, and honestly, the world can be pretty fucked up.
But the idea that people asking for CW are somehow “snowflakes” is bloody toxic. If I love cake but I’m allergic to peanuts, it’s not censorship of the cake’s integrity or commentary on the cake’s validity to include a list of ingredients. It’s not weak of someone with a peanut allergy to want to avoid a cake that can harm them. People without allergies can ignore the ingredient list. People with peanut allergies can stay safe. It’s really that simple. If you don’t include a list of ingredients and someone has a peanut allergy, they’ll avoid your cake entirely just in case. But if they have one allergy and your ingredients point out their problem isn’t in the cake, you might even gain a new reader. Do people read cakes? This analogy has taken me down a dark alley and mugged me. Let’s move on.
I don’t think books should have CW included. If you want to put them in the back, or somewhere people can easily ignore them or find them, that’s great. But they shouldn’t be required by any means. There are inherent issues that can arise from that kind of prescriptivism. As is often the case, the best way lies somewhere along the middle path. Supplying a resource like I’ve done on my site here is easy and it’s kind. The vast majority of people don’t need CW, don’t care about them, and probably won’t ever even know about that particular page on my site. For the people who do need it though, there it is.
Just to reiterate: Horror is meant to be confronting. That doesn’t mean it should be traumatic, or that people avoiding trauma are somehow wrong, weak, or censors. If we can create whatever we want and protect people with trauma as well, why the fuck wouldn’t we? No one is telling you what you can or can’t write.
I bloody love a good novella. There was a time when the novella was super popular. Those good old days of magazine rack pulp fiction, with pocket-sized novellas in every pharmacy, newsagent, supermarket, you name it. Then production costs and distribution systems changed, and bookstore shelf real estate became an issue, so wide spines were more popular, and the novella fell out of favour. Now we come full circle, and with print on demand and ebooks especially, length of story and width of spine are not so relevant any more. So we’ve seen a great resurgence in the novella. I love the length, especially for horror and dark fiction. There’s something perfect about having the space for a storyline like a novel, but the immediacy and pace of a short story. Some of my most successful books have been novellas. Given the popularity of my recent post on great short story collections, I thought I’d do another post with great novellas. This isn’t by any means exhaustive, of course, but it’s a hell of a list to get you started.
By definition, a novella is a short novel. The Science Fiction Writers of America (and most other genre bodies) recognise that as any book or story that is between 17,501 and 40,000 words. Anything less is a short story or novelette. Anything more is a novel. Of course, it’s a flexible thing and often based on opinion. A bit over 40,000 words would still be considered a novella by some. Some people won’t consider anything a novel until it’s over 60,000 words. Regardless, generally speaking, we’re talking about short novels. So the list below might not always be books that are less than 40,000 words, but they are all short novels. I know I’ve missed some classics, so I apologise. And I’ll add to this as new ones pass my brain.
Like the short story list, I’ll start with my own. That’s the beauty of this being my blog. Thanks for reading! Then I’ll list a wide variety of others, alphabetical by author surname, to get your teeth into. Every title link goes to Goodreads so you can add anything to your TBR, or simply look them up wherever you prefer to shop. Of course, the big ol’ Zon is easy, but try to support local indie booksellers too.
My novellas include THE ROO, which is absolute gonzo creature feature mayhem, THE BOOK CLUB, which is a missing person crime mystery with cosmic horror, and the ELI CARVER books, best described as John Wick meets The Frighteners – loads of guns and ghosts. The third Eli Carver book after MANIFEST RECALL and RECALL NIGHT is due out later this year. And of course, there’s THE GULP, a collection of five interconnected novellas of weird Australian isolated harbour town cosmic horror. I also wrote a dark horror novella with David Wood called Dark Rite.
Peter M Ball
Exile (Flotsam Series, #1) is the start of a great urban fantasy novella series.
Ballingrud writer great novella length fiction, but one of the best is The Visible Filth, which can be found in Wounds: Six Stories from the Border of Hell.
The Hellbound Heart is an absolute classic.
Barron is another who writes amazing novellas. Try X’s For Eyes.
Kealan Patrick Burke
Try Jack & Jill.
And the Night Growled Back is worth your time.
The Warren is unlike anything you’ll have read before.
A few good ones, try Shiloh.
Lisa L Hannet
There’s a great novella called “By Touch and By Glance” in her collection Songs for Dark Seasons.
There’s a reason The Old Man and the Sea is a classic.
Mark Allan Gunnells
2B is a great book with cool twists.
Crossroads will tear your heart out.
Try Zero Saints.
Flyaway is amazing Australian gothic.
Stephen Graham Jones
SGJ writes amazingly at any length but just won the Stoker for Night of the Mannequins. Try that!
One of the best novellas you’ll ever read is “Wives” which you can find in Paul’s collection, The Last Days of Kali Yuga.
Try his new one, With Teeth.
Rock and roll and cosmic horror in The Final Reconciliation.
True Crime is harsh and amazing.
Try A Wind of Knives.
The epistolary Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke is like nothing you’ll have read before.
His novella White is one of the best I’ve read.
The Ballad of Black Tom reinvents Lovecraft in the best way.
Rope is short and brutal.
The first thing by Malerman I ever read was A House at the Bottom of a Lake and it still blows my mind.
I Am Legend is still one of my all-time favourite books.
Long by novella standards, but it qualifies as a short novel for me, The Night Silver River Run Red is a great horror western.
Salvage reinvents the vampire yarn.
Binti (Binti, #1) is great sci-fi.
The Language of Dying is lyrical and beautiful and heartbreaking.
Daniel I Russell
Ormeshadow is wonderful.
Of Sorrow and Such is classic Slatter at her best.
Keith Stevenson (editor)
I’m including X6: A Novellanthology as it contains 6 great novellas and of particular note is Margo Lanagan’s “Sea Hearts” which became an amazing novel. This was also the original publication of Paul Haines’ “Wives” mentioned above.
Magic Terror is a collection of four novellas, all amazing.
The Window In the Ground is a cool concept cleverly realised.
John F D Taff
Fire & Rain (The Fearing #1) is the start of an amazing novella series, or you can also now buy it as an omnibus edition.
Try To Be Devoured. It’s incredible.
Whitstable is a wonderful piece of work.
Marlee Jane Ward
Welcome to Orphancorp is the start of a stellar novella trilogy.
Without doubt, one of the best writers working today. Try Into Bones like Oil.
Corey J White
Killing Gravity (The Voidwitch Saga, #1) is the first of a brilliant SF novella trilogy.
The Year of Ancient Ghosts is a collection of superb novellas.
Michael David Wilson
Try The Girl in the Video to be really weirded out.