Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Here's a story I wrote long, long ago. It never saw print. For the first time on the Internet. This is a pared down version that I submitted to a couple of flash-fiction markets after failing to sell the original (longer) version:



James Robert Smith

Perry placed her hands atop the manuscripts. Upon her desk, four pillars of envelopes: 8 1/2 inches by 11 inches on a side, twelve inches high. She edited APPALLING, The Magazine of Horror; and she had finished the latest issue and had to return these 200 stories: rejections. There were some authors she had counted upon to deliver the effect she always aimed for, but who had not made the cut, this time.

This was the effect for which she was searching. Editing was an art form, but she'd never crossed the line that would satisfy. Critics praised her. It was only that she, Perry Hagopian, had never been satisfied.

She'd done it: a wonderful, terrible achievement.

She had the combination of fiction for which she had always searched. She had eliminated her editorial and all advertising. That had meant the budget would be strained, but she had made the printer's bill. She had what she wanted: the perfect issue.

Perry had a story from Cain Warner, the contract in her desk. It had been one of the last things he had signed for he'd died the day after it had been posted--alcoholism, they said. Perry heard the news before the contract arrived. He was one of her favorites, but she had held the contract to her and breathed a sigh. His novella was the core, the anchor.

There were three posthumous stories. One arrived from the author's mother, a letter informing Perry that the writer (a youngster named Cynthia Packard) had committed suicide the year before. Cynthia's mother had found the manuscript in an envelope addressed to APPALLING. I want you to see this story, her mother had written. I couldn't understand my daughter, but she wanted you to publish this. Perhaps you will like it. Indeed. A story of enormous anguish, and she was thrilled with it. This would put Packard's sad name on the genre's map.

She had a story by the late Manuel Manfred. His agent had contacted her saying that he had located an unpublished story from Manfred and that he thought her magazine would be the place for it. It was.

The remaining were by three regulars. She knew them all. William took his pain and squeezed it through his pen: a dyslexic, he couldn't use a keyboard. With effort, he wrote his stories a letter at a time, in block print, checking each word. His manuscripts broke all rules, but his first cover letter had touched her so that she had read the story. All of his stories had been wonderful, and this one was the best.

Conrad lived nearby. He was a sad man, engaged in a painful relationship with an abusive lover. Once, she had seen him with his eye blackened and his lip swollen. A man such as Conrad could have his pick of lovers, and she couldn't understand why he would put up with the one he had. But it must have made his fiction powerful. Her pulse raced every time she read one of his stories. Poor Conrad.

Finally, Terrance. He wrote television; such a waste. But who could refuse that money? Perry had met him two years before. The writer of popular shows, she was surprised when he had approached her. "I have some stories," he said. "They aren't appropriate for many markets, and I was wondering if I could send them to you." How wasted he was on television. "I hardly have time for my own writing", he'd said.

The stories filled the magazine. All expressed operatic pain. She had saved herself the back cover: At last, it read, and her autograph. She had paid the printers, the magazines were on their ways to distributors and shops and subscribers. On her lap was a copy, the cover glistening, reflecting a light she could only think of as evil.

Outside, Perry's husband was banging on the bolted door. It would take him a long time to break in. He had noticed his gun missing. She didn't want to go out that way, but realizing she'd finally done it--well, it was time. To jigsaw such a work of consuming depression: this was her masterpiece. And the final act was to tag her death. How could anyone read those works and refuse what they demanded?

The struggle was over. Still, she was curious how many deaths would be spawned by the readings. The poor miserables, once they realized, would have no choice.

Perry examined the chamber. Time to finish editing.


Monday, January 30, 2012


When there is no more room on your bookshelf,

buy the Kindle version of THE LIVING END!

"Finally! A zombie novel with brains, as well as guts!"--T. Watkins.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Friday, January 27, 2012

My Favorite Waterfall

This waterfall (it has no name) was pretty much my favorite one of the day. It was below Yucca Falls and was part of an extensive series of slides and cascades that led down to this pretty darned spectacular view. I think that if you climbed the slope on the right you might be able to find a spot where you could see more of these slides and cascades as a single piece.

In this video are Boone the Dog, Jack Thyen on the right, Andy Kunkle on the left, and Johnny Corn at the highest point.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


The actual eye of one of the world's largest birds. Much as I imagine the eyes of Titanis walleri to have looked in my novel, THE FLOCK.

My agent tells me that I'll probably get edit notes on the sequel THE CLAN very soon. It'll be good to see the book make its way toward publication.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Brenda Wiley made this GPS graph of our hike on Sunday. You can see why we were all so tired by the time the hike was done. We gained, lost, regained, and lost again quite a lot of elevation. Some of the slopes were extremely steep, and there were some off-trail stretches that were really sketchy. I wouldn't suggest this kind of hiking for everyone.

This waterfall actually has a name, apparently. We've been told that it's called Yucca Falls. I don't know why that name was applied.

Yucca Falls.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Between my day-job and my writing job I have hardly any time to myself. That is, I don't have much time to pursue my hobbies and other interests. Even my reading time has suffered in the past few months because I stay so busy with my two jobs.

One of my hobbies that has suffered quite a lot because of this is my love of the outdoors. There are not many things that I enjoy more than hiking and backpacking. But in the past year I have not had a lot of time to engage in those pursuits. The past two weeks I have pretty much forced myself to go hiking despite having a couple of writing deadlines hanging over my head. Fuck it. I had to get out of the house and out from behind the keyboard for at least a couple of days.

That's the difference, I reckon, between the kind of writing I did in my youth and the kind of writing I do now as an older man. Back when I was young I wrote on 100% enthusiasm and inspiration. Now I write on a pure work ethic and a solid knowledge of how to create a story. The difference between the two is that one was a pursuit of fun and the latter is the work of a learned craft.

But as much as I love writing, I have to get away from it from time to time. I think that I'll be hiking more this year than I did last. It's either that or drive myself completely stir crazy sitting here in the office every day after I get home from my day-job, and spending my Sundays typing away at this keyboard while my pals all climb mountains or wander around in the wilderness hunting for waterfalls. Too many hikes missed with friends, and too many camp-outs and canoe trips missed with my wife.

The forests and rivers are calling. I'll listen to them more.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Secrets of Table Rock State Park

I went hiking yesterday with some friends. Andy, Jack, Johnny, and Brenda. Johnny Corn had suggested that we head over to Table Rock State Park in South Carolina. He'd recently been given detailed information that there were several recently discovered waterfalls in the park that were off trail and largely unknown to virtually all park visitors. We would have to do some bushwhacking to see each of these waterfalls, so the hike would be a strenuous one.

We used the Palmetto Trail to access the park. The terminus we used was in the campground section of the park which was surprisingly completely vacant. There's a large parking lot at the trail head that we used and soon we were heading up into the high country.

South Carolina's northwestern edge is very mountainous and the Blue Ridge Escarpment rises abruptly here. The elevation roars up from a few hundred feet above sea level to over 3,400 feet in a brief distance. This sudden increase in elevation produces conditions that have been conducive to a vast and varied ecosystem. It also is one of the most conducive for the creation of waterfalls. The area is packed cheek by jowl with, quite literally, many, many hundreds of top-notch waterfalls.

We were there to seek out seven of them. Seven that not many visitors to the park are likely to see, and six of which not many visitors to the park have ever seen.

I'll be posting images and video of our quest to find these waterfalls over the next few days.

This is the first waterfall we visited. We used an obviously well-known if unofficial trail to access it. The trail has had no engineering at all other than people using the most logical route to the base of this very high waterfall that plunges down the escarpment in a series of big plunges. The total height of the falls has to be close to 200 feet.

Another of the falls. This one was about 18 feet tall. Very pretty. It was the first of the five that we visited that required a full-on bushwhack to visit. There is no trail at all to these final five waterfalls. You have to go completely off trail and pick your way through the very rugged and lush terrain of this high southern land. The going is rugged and, at times, frankly dangerous.

This enormous waterfall lay just below the one in the previous photo. It is amazing to think that the park hides waterfalls such as this one. Places that most park visitors will never see and never even suspect.

I really liked this waterfall. It was farther below the one in the photo above. The river rushes down a kind of staircase. A total rush of sensation.

I think this one, the most easily accessible, is known locally as Rainbow Falls. There's a well trod but unofficial trail leading from the Palmetto Trail to the falls.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Interview with James Robert Smith

I'm heading off to go hiking today. Mainly to check out some very hard-to-find waterfalls in upstate South Carolina.

Until then, enjoy this interview with me on the website blog of author Jeffrey Thomas!

Interview with James Robert Smith.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Taking a Break

I'm going hiking tomorrow. I need a break from writing. The stress is really getting to me.

Photo of me by Andy Kunkle from last week's hike.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Taking Stock

I spent the past day recuperating from work. Walking so many miles a day is getting hard on me as I get older. It takes most of my time off just to rest up for the return to the physical labor. My writing time is suffering because of this.

I am planning on a day hike to see a new waterfall I've never visited. I'll be joining friends for that on Sunday, giving me Monday off before I head back to the grind on Tuesday.

Until then, a little promotion for my new novel, HISSMELINA.

James Robert Smith.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

One Last Look

One more series of photos of Tanawha and the Boone Bowl.

More than with other southern peaks, this particular spot did look to me as if there was some Pleistocene glaciation going on here. The sub-peak from which I took this shot even reminded me of the Lion's Head on Mount Washington in New Hampshire where I once took similar photographs. If any can find definite signs of glacial striations in the bedrock in the headwaters of Boone Fork, that should close the book.

Photo with text.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Random Photos

It's sad to consider, but this past hike might very well be my only chance to have seen an actual snowfall this winter. The problem with global warming is that bad, now.

My hiking companions clamber up a steep section. Boone the dog (came up with me), followed by Andy and (other) Bob.

Fallen tree covered in dry snow.

Winter visits us (briefly).

A brief glimpse of the way things once were. Poof!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Some videos I took on Tanawha:

Following are some video clips that I took on the hike on Tanawha. I was impressed with the mountain. More so than I have in past visits. This was actually my first real exploration of the peak. I've been a number of times but either spent my hours there muddling around the base of the mountain in the drainages hunting for waterfalls, or around the tourist crap near the summit (which I hated).

I plan to go back again. I may try to camp on the mountain overnight the next time I visit it. There's a shelter near Calloway Peak that I might use. Now that the area is a state park, hiking and camping there is at no charge. When it was still owned by the Morton family, you had to pay to hike the trails and to use the campsites scattered throughout the wild forest. These days there's only a permit system in place, but no charge. For now, at least.

On the trail, alone, at about 5600 or maybe even 5700 feet elevation.

The famous Boone Bowl, showing what might be the possible location of a localized glacier from the last Ice Age.

The Boone Bowl as seen from Storyteller Rock. You can also see Calloway Peak just poking above the ridge line.

Monday, January 16, 2012


I hiked up Tanawha today. It's popularly known as Grandfather Mountain. Once a kind of amusement park, it's now one of the state's newest state parks. Part of it is still operated as a quasi-amusement park, but most of it is kept in a wild state. I need to head back and explore some more of the trails again.

One of the main reasons I went was to settle my own curiosity over whether or not the peak ever birthed a local glacier. After viewing the formation on the mountain known as "the Boone Bowl", my impression is that this feature was indeed created by a glacier. It has most of the hallmarks of a glacial cirque. I can't prove it, of course. But that is my impression.

I'll post more information tomorrow...

On one of the lower peaks of Tanawha. The highest point far behind me is Calloway Peak, the tallest bit of the mountain (5,946 feet above sea level).

This was from another clifftop view lower on the mountain. Looking up at what I think was, at one time, a glacial headwall.

You can see the aptly named "Boone Bowl" formed from the left to the right of the photo. I can easily envision a southern glacier having formed here at the height of the last Ice Age.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

More Details Emerge...

Still trying to put things together for a long backpacking trip in the Weminuche Wilderness in Colorado. I have to change out some annual leave. If I can finish doing that, I'll be spending two weeks hiking, backpacking, and scrambling in the biggest wilderness area in Colorado. I don't want to find myself at the end of my life having missed out on seeing what remains of this nation's natural beauty.

Following are some shots of places I hope to see in September of this year.

San Juan Mountains.

One of the peaks we may try to bag on the backpack.

Some of America's real high country.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Day We Found Cairo

As I've told before, we found our cat Cairo when we were camping in a state park in West Virginia. We were near a fading old town called Cairo. There's not much left of Cairo, only a few old buildings that used to be some stores and a bank and which are no longer either. We stopped at a county park where there was a combination visitor's center and shop. It had been raining.

Inside the shop, Andy saw a box of kittens that had been left out in the rain and which the proprietor had brought in so that the kittens would not die of exposure. One of the kittens pretty much leaped into Andy's hands, and we were stuck.

We took her home with us and named her after the small town: Cairo. I have never seen a kitten take so immediately to humans and to mesh so instantly within a family. She's now our biggest and heaviest cat. And quite happy, thanks.

The rainbow over our campsite before we headed out for the day. A premonition?

The old bank building in downtown Cairo. No longer a bank, of course. The oil fields played out a hundred years ago.

The county park building on that rainy day someone left a boxful of kittens there.

Andy discovers Cairo in the box. We were suckered then and there.

Cairo settles in for a ride.

Fast asleep in Andy's arms.

At peace with her new family.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Proofing the Manuscript

I got the proof edition of HISSMELINA today. The book came out better than I'd hoped! Just gorgeous. Stephen Price at Book Looks Designs did an outstanding job of typesetting!

The book should go live in trade paperback format in a few days. Hopefully sooner.

Until then, you can still order the Kindle Books version, of course.

Meself just home from work, perusing the newly arrived proof copy.

As I post this the book has gone live!

You can buy the trade version of HISSMELINA here!

Monday, January 09, 2012

Book Trailer for HISSMELINA.

And here's my second book trailer. It was a little more difficult to produce than the first one. But I'm happy with the way it turned out.

HISSMELINA, a novel of modern Lovecraftian horror by James Robert Smith.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

My First Book Trailer

I did a book trailer for THE LIVING END. My first attempt at creating one. I'll follow up with trailers for my other books:

Friday, January 06, 2012


My newest novel, HISSMELINA has just gone live on Kindle. It's also available on Smashwords, etc.

The trade paperback will be available very soon. Basically as soon as the proof is approved as print-ready!

I think I've talked about the book's history here before. HISSMELINA was my first good novel. That is, I'd written novels before, but this was the first one where I had reached a point where I knew what I was doing. More than that, I'd created really good characters. My heroes were flawed--not completely good, of course, and filled with doubts. My villains here are not completely evil. Almost no one thinks of themselves as "evil", and I went out of my way to make sure that my antagonists were human.

The book attracted the attention of a major league agent when I was a young man and he came very close to selling it on two occasions. Alas, the deals could never be finalized and I was cut loose from the agency. But I'm not the type to give up. I'm the fellow who once sold a story that had been rejected for almost twenty years before it finally saw print in a major anthology. If I see merit in a work I keep at it.

So it was with HISSMELINA. I rewrote it a number of times, ending up with the manuscript that you will read if you purchase the book from Amazon in either of its formats. After almost three decades of journeys through various agents' doors, editor's hoops, and many revisions, at last it sees print.

"Smith writes with a brisk intensity that goes for the throat." Scott Nicholson, Liquid Fear


Well, I'm in the home stretch of seeing my novel HISSMELINA in print. Ebook and trade paperback format. I'm hoping that today will see it available at Amazon.com and then at Barnes & Noble and other online booksellers.

In Elijah, high in the Carolina mountains, police officer Frances Jennings is drawn into a mystery involving several missing persons and the return of local matriarch Hester Keener. While Frances battles city fathers over her position as Elijah’s first female officer, her boyfriend is seduced by the power that emanates from The Crag, the peak that dominates Elijah, by his attraction for that place and for Hester’s young heir. What dark forces are at play? Who, or what, is the twisted form called "Hissmelina"? Frances peels away the layers of darkness to find an answer she may not wish to know.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Continuing My Impressions of Martin Goodman and His Nephew

Martin Goodman's company was just a few short months away from changing itself and the entire industry when these books came out. By this time, FANTASTIC FOUR had already been out for a few months. Sales figures for that book were already in and it was obvious that by aping the superhero craze going on over at DC that Stan Lee had made a good choice by allowing Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko to create superheroes for the company.

Still, the horror and science-fiction titles were still going on as before and the company was maintaining their publication with the huge inventory of stories that had been accumulated. But within the year each of the horror and sf titles would be given over to superhero features to take advantage of the ballooning sales figures enjoyed by FANTASTIC FOUR and THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. Lee and Goodman knew they had a real winner on their hands with the resurrection of the costumed heroes.

In a matter of only nine more issues, TALES OF SUSPENSE would be given over as the flagship for Kirby's new creation, Iron Man. But even so, with the heavy backlog of horror and sci-fi stories, the newly christened Marvel Comics would still be publishing weird stories as backups to the new superhero stories leading the way.

But never again would Marvel make their monthly sales quotas on the backs of aliens and monsters. From the moment Jack Kirby created the Fantastic Four, and The Mighty Thor, and The Avengers, and The X-Men, and The Incredible Hulk, and Iron Man; and after Steve Ditko created The Amazing Spider-Man and Dr. Strange...from that time onwards it was superheroes that would make Marvel the most successful comic book company in modern times. It would be the intellectual property of Ditko and Kirby that would fuel Marvel--property that was essentially stolen, the true profits never going to their creators.

Less than a year after these books appeared, if it wasn't a superhero, it probably wasn't going to sell well anymore. (Or well enough to be given a chance.)

With Kirby and Ditko and company doing the art and mainly even the writing of most of the output, it was left to Stan Lee to tweak the dialog and write the titles and name the characters his artist/writers were creating. But I get the distinct impression that often Lee was tossing plots to the real creators of the books, and that as often as not he was lifting them from the pulps he must have had access to, and from the waning radio drama shows, such as Arch Oboler's LIGHTS OUT series. LIGHTS OUT, especially, seems to have featured the same silly kinds of plots and base emotions on display in Goodman's comics. Lee must certainly have been the culprit in lifting those themes from other sources.

One HELL of a great Kirby cover. And his interior art is just as good. However, the name given to this critter is one of the more unfortunate Stan Lee ever concocted: OOG. Oh, well. Stan Lee loved his vowels.

This cover was a departure for both Kirby and Marvel's general output during this period. This one has no garishly colored alien, nor some gigantic creature from the bowels of the Earth. Instead, it's a ghost menacing a cowering man.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Charles Grant Back in Print

The new ebook/trade paperback process of disseminating fiction has brought us the reappearance of a writer who has been missing from the shelves for a while.

Charles L. Grant was an accomplished author and editor . As a young man I enjoyed his work as both. His anthologies to this day fill an entire bookshelf in my office, and he was one of the most effective short story writers I have encountered.

When his health began to fail his output seemed to dwindle (logically), and after he died his presence pretty much faded completely from the publishing scene. This was a shame because his work was influential to so many of us who were learning how to create fiction. At this best, there were few who could match him for sheer imagination and for an uncanny ability to create atmosphere.

I have missed seeing Grant's name on the shelves at bookstores. So now his widow and some of his former editorial associates have managed to get his work back out in front of a new generation of readers. I thoroughly recommend everything they're laboring to bring to light once again.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012


The more I look at these pre-hero Marvel comics, the more I'm impressed with the way the basic pieces of what was to come had been put into place. You can see the master of the Silver Age comic book industry honing his craft to a degree no one has ever been able to match; Jack Kirby was truly THE KING as he came to be known. Most of the cover art was his during this time, and probably half of the comic pages being produced for Stan Lee was being created by Kirby. If he wasn't actually penciling much of it, he was laying out what he couldn't get around to penciling, and so guys like Don Heck, Steve Ditko, and Paul Reinman, and the rest just had to fill in the blanks.

These days this is considered a forerunner of Ant Man. But actually that's one hell of a stretch. In this story it's not the man who is shrunken to the size of a bug, but rather a man who finds himself in a world populated by enormous insect people. But the collector's market will make all kinds of claims when it comes to pricing a book. I'm just glad I have a decent copy of the issue now.

Don Heck doesn't get nearly the credit that he deserves. He excelled at delineating stories with atmosphere. I'm not being glib here just because this is one of his common uses of fog effect, but because he really did a good job of creating a sense of wonder, of mystery, of impending doom, or of fantasy: whatever the story required. I think it's because he was working alongside artists like Kirby and Ditko and Sinnott and (later) John Buscema and Colan that his efforts fell in the shadows of those vast popular figures.

Once again I have to be impressed with the power of Ditko's talent. He often opened up the telling of a yarn with an image that wrapped up the tenor of an entire story within a single panel.

Monday, January 02, 2012


Returning to the cover gallery of my collection of TALES OF SUSPENSE, I present here the covers for numbers 21, 23, and 24. At this point Marvel Comics was hurtling toward a change that would render the science-fiction and horror titles moot. As soon as Stan Lee unleashed Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko to create a superhero line, all bets were off. Both of these men had been waiting all of their professional lives for a chance at such a gig.

In the case of Jack Kirby, he'd never stopped creating new versions of the old costumed hero. He was so imaginative that some of his costumed heroes didn't even wear costumes! But no one outside of Kirby himself had the slightest idea of what the man was capable if only he could be given the chance. Around the time of the year after these issues appeared, Goodman's company was walking a fine line between existence and dissolution. Goodman probably didn't mind all that much, but his nephew's career was in jeopardy. Lee needed to take a great big chance, and in the talents of Kirby and Ditko he had everything he'd need to recreate his uncle's company, thereby assuring his own professional standing and his regular paycheck.

In fact, though, the guy had no idea at all what was about to happen.

A typical Stan Lee name for one of Kirby's monsters. Lee had probably been watching Disney's THE SCARECROW or the Hammer film adaptation of the same character and decided to take Clegg's name and transform it into something catchy.

This is a really effective cover. You don't see many covers like this one. Looks to be Kirby layouts with Ditko finishes and inks.

This book has become something of a monster on the collector's market. Some consider it a kind of prototype for what became one of Marvel's principle superhero characters, ANT MAN. But Ant Man proper appeared in issue # 27 of TALES TO ASTONISH, a companion magazine of TALES OF SUSPENSE. In that issue, the hero of the story was specifically Henry Pym who went on to become first Ant Man and then Giant Man (and then Ant Man again) in the pages of TALES TO ASTONISH, and THE AVENGERS, and many other Marvel superhero titles. The character of Ant Man/Pym was wholly a creation of Jack Kirby (of course) based on any number of diminutive heroic costumed characters from other publishers (DC's THE ATOM, and Quality's DOLL MAN, etc.).