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scop (noun):

Old English – bard, minstrel, storyteller

Horror Writers Association – Pittsburgh Chapter

A few days ago, I came across a blog post by novelist Robert Yune, author of Eighty Days of Sunlight. Titled “22 Indisputable Reasons Pittsburgh Is The Perfect City For Writers,” the post does an excellent job of laying out some of the major reasons I still live in western Pennsylvania. And now there’s one more. Namely, the newly formed Pittsburgh Chapter of the Horror Writers Association.

Above, members of HWA Pittsburgh: Left side (front to back) Ben Rubin, Doug Gwilym, Corey Niles, RJ Murray, Stephanie Wytovich, Michelle Lane. Right side (front to back) Michael  A. Arnzen, Lawrence Connolly, Sara Tantlinger, Gwendolyn Kiste (hidden beside husband Bill), Dan Fiore. Photographed by: Nelson Pyles. Members not present: Terri Bertha, John Hardic, Dave Lasota, Frank Oreto.

Founded in the 1980s, HWA currently boasts a membership over 1,400 members from around the world, with a healthy contingent residing in western Pennsylvania.

Earlier this year, writers Sara Tantlinger and Michael A. Arnzen formed the Pittsburgh Chapter, which held its second meeting last Saturday at the Monroeville Library. In addition to giving some local writers a break from their keyboards, the meeting provided a chance for us to hear about the exciting endeavors some of our peers have been up to. Here are a few highlights:

Channeling his lifelong interest in the genre into a career, Ben Rubin is currently working to preserve and promote the history of horror film and literature for the George A. Romero Collection at the University of Pittsburgh, where he “serves as the main point of contact for students, faculty, and researchers seeking to explore scholarly studies in horror.”

The collection includes a number of Romero’s original film scripts (some representing projects that were never filmed) and other materials representing the history of horror in Pittsburgh and around the world.

Poet, novelist, and essayist Stephanie M. Wytovich recently released her sixth poetry collection The Apocalyptic Mannequin (from Raw Dog Screaming Press).  In addition, she has new poetry out in the latest issue of Weird Tales (edited by Jonathan Maberry) and more coming in the soon-to-be-released Miscreations: Gods, Monstrosities, and Other Horrors (edited by Dough Murano and Michael Bailey). She also edited the latest installment of HWA Poetry Showcase, which went live last weekend.

Also carrying on the traditions of Poe, Baudelaire, and other practitioners of poetic horror, Sara Tantlinger recently won a Bram Stoker Award for her 2018 poetry collection The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes (Strange House Books). Her latest book, the novella To Be Devoured (from Unnerving) was released this past summer.

Meanwhile, fellow HWA Pittsburgh organizer Michael A. Arnzen (also a Stoker-Award-winning poet) has been serving as the academic consultant for a series entitled Exploring Dark Fiction (Dark Moon Books), which explores the modern masters of short horror fiction. The most recent book in the series considers the work of Jeffrey Ford.

Other writers in attendance were Doug Gwilym and Frank Oreto (editors of the Parsec anthology Triangulations), Nelson Pyles (creator of the fiction podcast The Wicked Library), and Gwendolyn Kiste (whose new story “The Girls from the Horror Movie” is part of Come Join Us By the Fire, the flagship project from Tor’s new horror imprint, Nightfire!).

I could go on. But you get the idea. There was a lot of talent there.

In sum, if you’re interested in writing horror and you live within driving distance of Pittsburgh, you might want to check out HWA Pittsburgh when it holds its next meeting in late winter or early spring. I’ll be sharing the exact date when it’s announced.

Chapter meetings are open to any level of HWA membership, including new/potential members, though the requirement for continual participation is that you are a dues-paying HWA member. Visit for more details.

World Fantasy 2019 & Writing Fantasy for Television

Following close on the heels of Sustefest X, this year’s World Fantasy Convention provided a marked change of scenery – from Valle de Santiago’s old-world streets and dormant volcanoes to LA’s multi-lane highways and active wildfires. Fortunately, skies around the Marriott Airport Hotel (the site of this year’s convention) were clear despite the proximity of the Saddleridge fire fewer than 20 miles north. Nevertheless, some attendees commented on fire-related road closures and long detours.

One of the major gatherings centering on fantastic literature (the others being science fiction’s WorldCon and horror’s StokerCon) World Fantasy offers the solitary writer a chance to check-in on the state of the genre, do a panel or two, and (most of all) kick back at the bar with friends and colleagues.

This time around, programming kicked off at noon on Thursday with a panel on Writing Fantasy for Television, where I got to join fellow panelists Eldon Thompson and Gillian Horvath in a discussion moderated by Craig Miller. After an initial discussion of the current boom in original fantasy programming (thanks to Netflix, Amazon, Disney Plus, Apple TV, Shudder, et al), the discussion turned to the craft of scriptwriting and the best ways for new writers to enter the field. Specifically, one member of the audience asked what books new writers might read to learn the craft. Among the panel’s recommendations were Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting by William Goldman and On Directing Film by David Mamet (which, despite its title, offers some excellent insight into the screenwriting process). Beyond such titles, the panelists agreed that the best way to learn to write scripts is to read them. That’s easy to do these days, since many screenplays are currently available through sites such as The Internet Movie Script DatabaseThe Black List, and Indeed, the website Script Reader Pro recently advised apprentice screenwriters to carefully study their favorite films through a process of re-reading and re-viewing. It remains some of the best advice out there.

As always, the convention culminated with the awards banquet and the naming of this year’s best works of fantasy. A complete list of awards appears below.

Next year’s WFC 2020 will be held over Halloween weekend in Salt Lake City. I’ll hope to see you there.

  • Lifetime Achievement: Hayao Miyazaki and Jack Zipes
  • Novel: Witchmark by C. L. Polk (
  • Novella: “The Privilege of the Happy Ending” by Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld, Aug. 2018)
  • Short Fiction (tie): “Ten Deals with the Indigo Snake” by Mel Kassel (Lightspeed, October 2018) and “Like a River Loves the Sky” by Emma Törzs (Uncanny Magazine, March-April 2018)
  • Anthology: Worlds Seen in Passing: Ten Years of Short Fiction, edited by Irene Gallo (
  • Collection: The Tangled Lands, by Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias S. Buckell (Saga Press/Head of Zeus UK)
  • Artist: Rovina Cai
  • Special Award – Professional: Huw Lewis-Jones for The Writer’s Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands (University of Chicago Press)
  • Special Award – Non-Professional: Scott H. Andrews, for Beneath Ceaseless Skies: Literary Adventure Fantasy


Nightmares at Sustefest X!

The southern portion of Guanajuato, Mexico, is a magical place – lush, mountainous, and dotted with volcanic craters arranged like the stars in the Big Dipper. It’s also home to the Sustefest Film Festival, which this year hosted the release of Nightmares, the new Spanish-language anthology featuring stories by members of the Nightmare Cinema writing team.

The festival’s opening ceremonies began the night of October 25 at Cinema Valle, a former movie palace in the heart of Valle de Santiago. With its marquee proclaiming SUSTEFEST and its façade fitted with an eight-foot poster of Nightmares, the theatre was our introduction to the festival that is now in its tenth year of bringing fantastic films to the Mexican heartland. Following a Q&A session with the press, the Nightmares authors moved inside for a screening of two classic segments of Showtime’s Masters of Horror, featuring Richard Christian Matheson’s “Dance of the Dead” and Mick Garris’s “Chocolate.”

The next day took us across town to Valle de Santiago’s Municipal Auditorium and a Nightmares release event hosted by festival organizer Carlos López Cardona.

Edited and translated by Mexican best-selling author Sandra Becerril, Nightmares features four stories — three of which are appearing for the first time in Spanish.

“Transfiguration” by Richard Christian Matheson first appeared in Visitants: Stories of Fallen Angels & Heavenly Hosts (Ulysses Press 2010) and has since gone on to be featured in The Best Horror of the Year: Volume Three (Night Shade 2011) and Shivers VIII (Cemetary Dance 2019). It is a haunting tale about a long-haul truck driver on a hallucinatory drive through the Alaskan wilderness.

Mick Garris’s “Chocolate,” the previously unpublished story that serves as the basis for the Masters of Horror film of the same name, centers on a man whose dreams are linked to another person’s reality. The story is a fine example of emo-horror (a genre that also describes Garris’s Nightmare Cinema segment “Dead”).

Sandra Becerril’s story “Meintras Duermes” (“While You Sleep”) is a frightening tale that supports one reviewer’s assessment that “Sandra Becerril is one of Mexico’s most important horror writers.”

My story “Ajuste de Cuentas,” originally published as “Reckoning” (This Way to Egress 2010), takes place in a cloistered church hidden in the Pennsylvania woods. It involves kidnapping, murder, and a ritual that is at once terrible and redemptive.

Nightmares can be ordered in print (limited and trade editions) from Sustefest Ediciones and as an audiobook from Beek — the Spanish-language equivalent of Though currently available only in Spanish, English-language editions may be in the works, details TBA.

Other Sustefest highlights included director Emilio Portes presenting a screening of his film Belzebuth in a sprawling cemetery on the eastern edge of Valle de Santiago. Hailed by critics for breathing new life into the demonic-child genre, the film is currently available in the US on AMC’s Shudder.

The festival closed with Hugo Félix Mercado‘s Cygnus, a horror/sf hybrid that Anton Bitel of Sight and Sound describes as “a paranoid tale of a man looking back at cosmic data from many aeons ago and […] finding reflected in it a dark mirror of himself and his own crumbling psyche.” Sounds like my cup of meat, and I had hoped to catch it while at Sustefest. Unfortunately, I was across town attending an author’s dinner during the screening. Rest assured, I’ll be looking out for a US release of Cygnus in the months ahead.

Sustefest X concluded October 27, and the tireless Carlos López Cardona tells me he already looking ahead to next year’s installment. Given the success of this year’s festival, it’s sure to be a winner.

Next up, a report from World Fantasy in LA. Until then, you can click the player below to check out some video highlights of Sustefest X. If it looks like it fun, that’s because it was.



Nightmare Cinema: Now on AMC’s Shudder!


Just in time for the Halloween season, Mick Garris’s Nightmare Cinema comes to Shudder — AMC’s streaming platform devoted to the best in horror, thriller, and supernatural films. Now, for a monthly subscription of $4.99, you can watch hundreds of titles in addition to the anthology film that Nightmarish Conjurings has called “an absolute must-see.”

Nightmare Cinema was released to theaters across the US in June and to Region-A DVD and Blu-Ray in September. And, for viewers nostalgic for the 80’s home-video experience, the film has also been released on a special VHS edition (NTSC format) from Witter Entertainment. Now, with its release to Shudder, Nightmare Cinema can be screened by fans in the UK and Canada. In short, there’s never been a better time to join the mayhem.

Need more convincing? Here are samplings from a few recent reviews:

High production value and diverse tales of terror make this a standout horror anthology. —  Jay Krieger, Cultured Vultures

“This Way to Egress” impresses. Feeling like a genuine nightmare with that same kind of illogical logic and terrifying vaguery that frustrates the dreamer, the short follows Helen (Elizabeth Reaser) through a moment of madness set in a doctor’s office that’s increasingly marred with filth and populated by disfigured janitors grunting through their endless cleanup. — Hope Madden, Columbus Underground

The all-encompassing title implies a genre of its own, so it is fitting that so much of Nightmare Cinema draws from then reinterprets the horror visions of filmmakers that have gone before, delivered by Garris and his peers with a true understanding of a horror fan’s fixation. —Simon Foster, Screen-Space