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"A Certain Slant of Light..."
Christopher Conlon's Blog
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I'm delighted to announce that my novel Savaging the Dark appears on Paste Magazine's newly-published list of the 21 Best Horror Books of the 21st Century!
Today I'm happy to announce my ongoing collaboration with painter Joe Bucciano! The Bucciano/Conlon Project features my brand-new stories that respond to Joe's wonderful art as well as his brand-new paintings responding to my writing. It's all available absolutely free on Joe's website, right here: http://joebucciano.com/bucciano-conlon-project.htm

If you like what you see at the Project, please check back from time to time--we'll be putting up new stories and new paintings just as soon as they're ready!

"Balconies" by Joe Bucciano. My story based on this painting is available at the Bucciano/Conlon Project!


George Clayton Johnson, who died on Christmas Day, was my friend.

If his name doesn’t register, most likely you’re not particularly a fan of science fiction or vintage television. If you were, you’d know that George was the co-author of the novel Logan’s Run (with William F. Nolan), that he wrote the first broadcast episode of the original Star Trek, and that he created several of the most memorable segments of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone. He also co-wrote the original story for Ocean’s 11, which became a Sinatra Rat Pack classic that has since been remade by Brad Pitt and Co.—with two sequels to boot.

George, who I first met through correspondence in the late ’90s and then in person in Los Angeles in 2002, was unlike any writer I’ve ever encountered. But then, he was unlike any person I’ve ever encountered. Warm, witty, and completely without the kind of ego one might expect of someone so celebrated, he was utterly down-to-earth—even as his high-flown philosophical musings could seem at times to have been beamed in from some other galaxy. Part sage and part crackpot—sometimes both in the same sentence!—he never failed to beguile me, whether in multi-hour telephone conversations or on the single unforgettable afternoon I spent interviewing him in his little house in Pacoima, where he had bright Christmas lights blinking everywhere inside in the middle of August. I was proud to be chosen to introduce him as the keynote speaker at the Twilight Zone Convention in 2002, prouder still to have been given the opportunity to write the introduction to his wonderful collection All of Us Are Dying and Other Stories, and perhaps proudest of all to have gotten this marvelously talented man—who wrote little in his last years—to pen an original short story for my anthology Poe’s Lighthouse.

George was never prolific, which partly accounts for his not being as famous as some of his contemporaries such as Ray Bradbury or Richard Matheson. But make no mistake: at his best he was fully their equal. If you doubt me, look up his classic Twilight Zone episodes “Nothing in the Dark,” starring a very young Robert Redford as Mr. Death, or “Kick the Can,” a beautifully evocative story of old age written when George was in his early thirties.

When Steven Spielberg decided to remake one episode of the series for the ’80s Twilight Zone: The Movie, he had 156 to choose from. The one he chose was George’s “Kick the Can.” That’s how good George Clayton Johnson was.

In later years, regrettably, George and I mostly fell out of touch. The last time I heard from him was a telephone call around 2008 in which he told me he wouldn’t be able to contribute to my Richard Matheson tribute anthology He Is Legend. I didn’t ask him about it; he was nearly eighty by then, and I didn’t want to pry. We chatted for a while, just everyday things, and that was it. Over the next few years I thought of picking up the phone to call him now and then, or dropping him a letter, but I didn’t. I heard through mutual friends that his health was failing, which made me sad—but also that at conventions he attended he had been praising my collection Thundershowers at Dusk: Gothic Stories, which made me feel roughly ten feet tall.

And then came the news, on Christmas Day.

George Clayton Johnson was one of my heroes. He always will be.

Dweller in a Different Darkness:
Reconsidering August Derleth

Originally published at RA for All: Horror
Oct. 14, 2015

Copyright © 2015 by Christopher Conlon

Once upon a time August Derleth wasn’t particularly controversial. Growing up in the 1970s, I remember getting his paperback genre anthologies from the library—Beyond Time and Space, The Other Side of the Moon, Dark Things—and at some point my mind made the connection between the editor of those books and the name that occasionally popped up in the “Based on a Story by” credits of the horror-show reruns I liked. I vaguely realized that Derleth was the author of the “Solar Pons” Sherlock Holmes pastiches that appeared in mystery magazines here and there, and that he was somehow associated with H.P. Lovecraft as well. That was about all—just a lesser light in my mental collection of People Whose Names Appeared on the Covers of Books.

Prolific and protean, Derleth—who died in 1971—was quite a significant figure in the American literary scene of his time. Author of something like 150 titles, Derleth wrote everything from mainstream fiction set in his native Wisconsin to nature journals to well-regarded poetry to biographies of Emerson and Thoreau to horror stories set in Lovecraft’s “Cthulhu Mythos” (a term he coined, by the way).

Today, however, Derleth’s name is mud, at least in terms of the horror fiction by which he is best remembered. All aspects of his association with Lovecraft (commonly called “HPL”), for whom he served as a de facto literary executor after the latter’s death in 1937, have been thrown into question—his handling of Lovecraft’s manuscripts, his copyrights, his very literary legacy. Though Derleth founded Arkham House with Donald Wandrei in 1939 for the specific purpose of keeping Lovecraft’s work in print, Derleth’s editions of Lovecraft’s stories were discovered to have been riddled with all kinds of errors. A fervent band of Lovecraft aficionados has spent the last couple of decades setting things right and publishing new, corrected editions of the Master’s works. That’s certainly a good thing.

What has not been so good, however, is the trashing August Derleth’s reputation has undergone as a result. Although it’s indisputable that he had more to do with Lovecraft’s remaining in print and available to the reading public than anyone else in the first several decades after the author’s death, many of today’s Lovecraftians actively despise Derleth, referring to him in their books and monographs (to say nothing of Internet postings) in the most savagely splenetic terms.

To be sure, some of Derleth’s behavior surrounding HPL’s estate was ethically dubious. Perhaps the main bone of contention has been Derleth’s “posthumous collaborations” with Lovecraft, stories ostensibly based on HPL’s notes and outlines and published with a collaborative byline but discovered long afterward to have been mostly—often solely—the work of August Derleth. This is unfortunate, and impossible to defend.

But the truth is that Lovecraft was never more than a minor part of August Derleth’s extraordinary publishing career. Despite his regard for Lovecraft the man, whom he knew through correspondence, he never took the Cthulhu Mythos very seriously, claiming that HPL wrote the stories only “as pure entertainment, no more” and seemingly taking the same attitude when writing his own tales set within the Lovecraft universe (some published as collaborations, others under Derleth’s solo byline). He was far busier writing huge numbers of important novels in his Sac Prairie Saga along with deep meditations on nature and community in his small corner of Wisconsin—books he considered his major work. Despite the importance of Arkham House to him (he sometimes kept it afloat with his own money), writing Lovecraftian fiction was never more than a lucrative sideline for August Derleth.

Yet today, more than four decades after his death, the attacks on Derleth from within the Lovecraft community are constant and unending. He resides in a kind of Index Expurgatorius at least as fearsome and forbidden as the Necronomicon—one reads that Derleth was “a hack,” “talentless,” “a very bad writer,” “incompetent,” and many much less temperately expressed things.

In truth, a number of his Lovecraftian tales are excellent—the novella “The Dweller in Darkness” comes immediately to mind. But the unsuspecting reader would never know it when one of the best-known and most respected of Lovecraft scholars dismisses all of these widely-read, much-reprinted stories with magisterial disdain as “a mass of sub-literary rubbish.”

It’s time for the unique and important writer who was August Derleth to be rediscovered. Much of his work is now commercially out of print, but a lot of it is available exclusively through the August Derleth Society, which publishes its own handsome editions obtainable directly through their website (derleth.org).

Here then are three titles that an enterprising librarian might choose to begin building an August Derleth collection.

The Watchers Out of Time and Other Stories (Del Rey), credited to H.P. Lovecraft and August Derleth, is the main compilation of the so-called posthumous collaborations, and it is surely the place to start. All of these tales are worthwhile, and some are excellent. “The Fisherman at Falcon Point” is surprisingly lyrical, “The Dark Brotherhood” great fun (multiple Edgar Allan Poes invade a small town!), and “The Shuttered Room”—often reprinted, twice filmed—surely qualifies as one of the most famous pieces ever to appear with Lovecraft’s byline attached. Whatever their provenance, these tales are guaranteed to be of interest to the Lovecraft fan who has already read everything published under the Master’s solo byline and is ready to branch out into other aspects of the Cthulhu Mythos.

For the reader who enjoys The Watchers Out of Time and is curious to find more horror works by August Derleth, the obvious choice is Who Shall I Say Is Calling? and Other Stories edited by Robert Weinberg and Stefan Dziemianowicz (Batteted Silicon Dispatch Box, available through the Derleth Society). This wonderful collection was put together specifically by the editors in order to provide an easy one-volume “best of” for Derleth’s weird fiction, and many of these stories deserve the name “classic”; they represent great old-fashioned spooky storytelling at its finest. As a bonus, fans of the vintage TV shows Night Gallery and Thriller will enjoy finding the originals of several episodes here, including Gallery’s “The Dark Boy” and “Logoda’s Heads” and Thriller’s “The Return of Andrew Bentley,” “A Wig for Miss Devore,” and the wonderfully pulpy “Colonel Markesan.”

Yet to give a proper representation of Derleth, something in addition to the weird tale is needed. To that end, the creative librarian should consider adding one more title, Village Year (Derleth Society), to the collection. Village Year consists of several years’ worth of journal entries (along with the occasional poem) by Derleth, mostly on the subjects of nature and small-town life in his beloved Sac Prairie, Wisconsin. Here is the opening paragraph:

“Walking through a gentle fall of snow tonight to grandfather Derleth’s, and knowing grandmother to be dying, I could not help thinking of change, and all the aspects of change eternally taking place, some clearly obvious, and so many secret, but no less eventually plain to the eye and heart: the eternal flux—and I thought: It is more than just birth and death, more than a tree gone, a house risen: the slow, inexorable changing of a way of life, the difference between youth and age, in final analysis always the gulf between generations. Snow came down with a faint whispering, and in the melancholy of my occupation with grandmother’s slow dying, I thought of these flakes as voices all around me in the still, windless air, the voices of those people and things long gone, the remote pulse of life gone by.”

Village Year is a beautiful book, one ripe for re-discovery—a journal that deserves to be ranked alongside Walden for its use of evocative detail to conjure a now vanished world, in this case a pre-World War II rural America.

Such writing proves that those who dismiss August Derleth as “talentless” and “a hack” have never read much August Derleth. But because of the decades of hostility and abuse aimed at him by overzealous fans of H.P. Lovecraft, Derleth has become, to appropriate the title of one of his best stories, a kind of “dweller in darkness” himself—a different kind of darkness. Too many readers don’t bother to try his work because of what they’ve heard, and since so many people claim it so loudly, it must be true—mustn’t it?

It isn’t. The literary worlds of the brilliant August Derleth are well worth exploring, and returning his books to the nation’s library shelves would be a great place to start.

4th-Sep-2015 02:25 pm - The Tell-Tale Soul - My New Book
Now available from Richard A. Lupoff's Surinam Turtle Press, an imprint of Ramble House...


In this pair of brand-new, beautifully written novellas, Christopher Conlon--author of the critically acclaimed 'Savaging the Dark' and editor of the Stoker Award-winning 'He Is Legend: An Anthology Celebrating Richard Matheson'--tells two stories of two very different imagined American pasts. First up is the title piece, a vividly inventive play on Edgar Allan Poe in which we learn that 'The Tell-Tale Heart' told only part of the story--perhaps not even the most important part. Then comes 'Beyond the Silver Horizon,' in which Eugene O'Neill's 'Beyond the Horizon' is reimagined as the heart-wrenching story of a rural boy's realization that his beloved brother is something other than what he'd believed--something other than completely human....

This edition features a special introduction by John Pelan, author of 'The Colour Out of Space' and editor of 'The Century's Best Horror Fiction' and 'The Darker Side: Generations of Horror.'



Savaging the Dark is included in the new issue of Booklist as one of their Top Ten Horror Novels published in the past year. Check it out!


The list, in brief:

David Cronenberg: Consumed (Scribner)
Jonathan Maberry: Fall of Night (St. Martin’s/Griffin)
Adam Nevill: The House of Small Shadows (St. Martin’s)
John Scalzi: Lock In (Tor)
Marcus Sedgwick: A Love Like Blood (Pegasus)
Glen Hirshberg: Motherless Child (Tor)
David Wellington: Positive (Harper/Voyager)
Stephen King: Revival (Scribner)
Stephen Lloyd Jones: The String Diaries (Little, Brown/Mulholland)

And, of course…

Christopher Conlon: Savaging the Dark (Evil Jester)


26th-Jan-2015 04:19 pm - My New Old Book - Now Available
Available now, for the first time....


“Even though Christopher Conlon’s The Unspoken is the author’s coming-of-age novel, it is written with a mastery of style that a writer twice his age might envy. He has painted his characters, especially Robin Withers and Heather Seabright, with such luminous strokes that we are drawn to them as they move through the riveting twists and turns of this fascinating story. Conlon, a writer in full command of his craft, has a lyrical style that illuminates these characters and makes them come alive. Christopher Conlon is an extraordinary talent and a storyteller of enviable perception and sensitivity. There is little doubt we’ll have many more fine novels from this exceptionally gifted writer.”

                                                           —Aldo P. Magi, Editor Emeritus,
                                                               The Thomas Wolfe Review (1995)
6th-Sep-2014 11:02 am - New Collection Now Available
 From the back cover...

Wild Tracks: Uncollected Writings 1985-2014 reprints the best of Christopher Conlon’s fiction, nonfiction, and verse not available in the author’s earlier books. Published over the past three decades in a wide variety of markets—from obscure, long-defunct poetry journals to national magazines such as Poets & Writers and America—many of these writings have been out of print and unavailable for years. This volume presents Christopher Conlon’s work at its finest, offering further evidence that, as Mort Castle (New Moon on the Water) asserts, “Conlon is one of the best of our time and of the times to come. He is one hell of a writer.”

Wild Tracks: Uncollected Writings 1985-2014
Mango Biscuit Press
September 2014
ISBN 9780692251799

Available from Amazon.com in trade paperback and Kindle formats.


I’m happy to announce that my new novel from Evil Jester Press, Savaging the Dark, is now available from Amazon.com.


Mona Straw has it all—beautiful daughter, caring husband, lovely home, fulfilling job as a middle-school teacher. But one day a new man enters Mona’s life and turns it upside down, their passionate affair tilting her mind to the edge of madness—and murder.
Her lover’s name is Connor. He’s got blonde hair, green eyes…and he’s eleven years old.

“If there’s a single author working in the horror genre who deserves wider notice, it might be Conlon, whose astonishing A MATRIX OF ANGELS (2011) is the most wrenching serial-killer novel of the past decade. This follow-up button-pusher would pair perfectly with Alissa Nutting’s controversial TAMPA (2013), if not for the opening scene: a terrified 11-year-old boy gagged and handcuffed to a bed while our narrator, sixth-grade English teacher Mona Straw, licks the dirt from his feet. From there, we backtrack to learn of Mona’s evolving infatuation with student Connor Blue, a kid as average and unremarkable as his teacher. Connor soon graduates from extra study lessons to yard work to an overwhelming sexual relationship, with every step utterly believable as Mona cycles through giddy elation, mordant depression, and, most of all, tortured self-justifications of her actions: ‘The top buttons are undone on the blouse but that’s because I’m just casually hanging around the house, no other reason.’ Conlon’s prose is so sturdy that Mona’s impaired viewpoint (for example, her concern that the power of their relationship is shifting to Connor) almost makes sense before it plunges them both into unavoidable disaster. Conlon writes with literary depth and commercial aplomb; his days of too-little recognition seem numbered.” — Daniel Kraus, BOOKLIST (starred review)


When They Came Back-360x360

It’s winter 1899 in Hardgrove, Nebraska—a lonely little village in the middle of nowhere. Nothing ever happens in Hardgrove; farmers farm, shopkeepers tend to their shops, men gather at Mr. Henry’s Tavern to drink and discuss crop prices.

But things are about to change. It begins with a mysterious rain—an oily black rain that falls from peculiar green clouds and burns the skin. Then, one after another…the people return.

People who are supposed to be dead.

When They Came Back marks the first collaboration between writer Christopher Conlon, “one of the preeminent names in contemporary literary horror” (Booklist), and visionary art photographer Roberta Lannes-Sealey. It’s a story of the living dead told in words and photographs that’s unlike any you’ve ever encountered.

When They Came Back is available in trade paperback for $14.95 from BearManor Media (they also offer a .pdf, if you'd prefer): http://www.bearmanormedia.com/index.php?route=product/product&filter_name=Conlon&product_id=702

It's also available (paperback only) from Amazon:

And from Barnes & Noble:

Happy new year!

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