Saturday, April 14, 2018

A Return to War: Thoughts on Volver Al Monte

The story of "Volver Al Monte," actually begins with another story. "Cabras" was written on the drive to work, a rare moment of epiphany as I was stuck behind a train realizing that maybe the call for subs for a "Goat Worship" anthology wasn't as silly as it seemed. "Cabras" became the story of an elderly and retired guerrilla fighter, fleeing to the countryside in the midst of an ending conflict, afraid that the paramilitary groups which cut out his tongue will kill his daughters if he remained.

Alas, the anthology the story was accepted for was not to be and the story remains unpublished, hopefully an original addition to a short story collection. But writing on war, on family violence and cyclical conflict stayed with me. I confess that I have not shared this experience, I believe that many Westerners are fortunate that they have not. Our uncompromising approach to many global issues, namely the broad brush of "terrorism" is a luxury. In the United States we have only once experienced a Civil War, and the vast majority of violence was sanctioned and orchestrated by state actors. Our post Civil War environment was remarkably stable (particularly for White America), and our ability to understand the victims and perpetrators of violence has been stunted by our cultural and historical experience.

"Volver Al Monte," speaks to this issue. Whereas "Cabras" focused on an old guerrilla, a revolutionary romantic-turned-farmer, General Alfonsin Santos is very much a warrior. He is the product of military academies, ideological inbreeding and a scientific understanding of war. His worldview is a far cry from the guerrilla. His duty is to the stability of his government and the destruction of his enemy. There is little hate for politics, but a disdain for anyone who would disrupt the equilibrium.

He is the sort of officer who would have applauded Pinochet. And the task was to make someone like this at least somewhat sympathetic. Give him a daughter. Friends. A tragedy, one at once separate from and embedded within the war he fed. Add the horror, the realization of enlightenment brought through heartache and torture. Take that man through hell, show him heaven and give a moment to realize the difference is superficial at best.

That was the goal of "Volver Al Monte."

The inspirations drew from a long study of conflict. The "Tuta Puriq" come from a real Quechua phrase translated as "Those who walk at night." The term was used to describe Sendero Luminoso, a violent guerrilla organization notable for actually carrying out more deaths and forced appearances than the government it fought. The group has similarities to various autodefensas and vigilante groups across the world, notably the emphasis on violence as a method to remake the world.

The work in "Volver Al Monte" carried over into a story called "Tierra Sagrada" which is currently out for consideration. Unlike both "Cabras" and "Volver," "Tierra" focuses on paramilitary groups. It will culminate, I believe at the time of writing, in a final story focusing on the aftermath of urban counter-insurgency. From above the cycle appears to be:

"Guerrilla, Government, Paramilitary, Non-Combatant."

I write about these things because I know them, and because they scare me. But I have not experienced them, and I hope that I never do. I can only hope to do justice for survivors, to not contribute anything that further glorifies war as anything other than the failure of politics through any other means. It's not my favorite headspace to be in, so hopefully I can wrap up operations with this theme for at least the near future.

For those interested, please consider purchasing "Cthonic: Weird Tales of Inner Earth" here:

"Volver" is one of several stories from authors far more talented than I. I'll have more to say on the anthology and its contents in the coming days.

-S. L.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Overdue Update

It has been a while since I posted anything akin to an update here, though I do my best to keep active on social media.

The year has been good to me so far, with my acceptance ratio being higher than my rejection ratio for the first time in my career. Matt Cardin mentioned me in a podcast as "a name you might recognize," which must mean that somewhere out in the darkness, folks are reading my work. With that in mind, I wanted to highlight a few anthologies and some kickstarters that I am a part of and tell you a bit about the stories I've contributed to each project.


In 2017, I told myself that if I got into any one of four anthologies I really wanted to be a part of that I would be kinder to myself in assessing my own writing. I got into three of them, and they're quite the anthologies!

I. Chthonic: Weird Tales of Inner Earth

Anyone who has read a Martian Migraine book knows that Scott R. Jones is an excellent curator of stories. The book includes some powerhouse writers, from my friend John Linwood Grant to top tier and well-established names such as Nadia Bulkin (currently reading her excellent collection), Gemma Files, Christopher Slatsky and Ramsey Campbell (!!!).

My story for this one is a tough one, and without spoiling it I can give you a bit of the background as to where it came from. I first came across the phrase "Volver al monte," while reading a piece from Kathleen Thiedon about paramilitaries in Colombia. In the wake of a "successful" round of negotiations between the administration of Alvaro Uribe and the AGC (at the time, the largest far-right paramilitary organization in the country) many paramilitarios decided to merely keep their arms and shirk their commitment to the peace agreement. Others were more reluctant, eager to start families and return to society. The phrase these former combatants used for the dreaded return to war was "volver al monte," to go to the mountains.

The story begins with General Alfonsin Santos, a man who was renowned as the architect for the counter-insurgency policy of an unnamed country. The general is old, philosophic, and uneasy with how at home he becomes when he too returns to the mountains. There he begins negotiations with a rebel group going by the name "Tuta Puriq," an old Quechau word "boogeyman" or "those who walk at night." Suffice to say, these negotiations do not last long.

The story is peppered with references to civil war in both Peru and Colombia. "Tuta Puriq" was a name many villagers in the highlands of Peru used to describe Sendero Luminoso (the Shining Path) as it engaged in a campaign of terror against the indigenous population of Peru. This said, Santos himself seems to be more of a Colombian military mind than a Peruvian one.

The story has become a milestone for me, and I cannot wait for you to tell me your thoughts on it:

II. Test Patterns

I have to blame KA Opperman for getting me into this one. Through him I met Duane Pesice and Michael Adams, who told me about their vision of an anthology dealing with human themes and irony in the veins of Twilight Zone.

It just so happened that I had a story I thought I would fit. "Golden Girl," is one of the earliest stories I have written, and like many others from that period of my life (I think I was 22 when I wrote it) it has gone through revision, revision and revision. The core of the story, however has remained the same. Themes include the horror of attraction, the way in which people lose can lose themselves as they become enamored with someone else. It does not help the protagonist that the subject of his affection is eerie, a puppeteer with questionable motives and an intangible hold over him.

Test Patterns is full of great stories and I am still in the process of reading it. Expect a full overview later in the month.

III. Occult Detective Quarterly Presents

If you've been bothered with my too-frequent updates about the Bartred family, I apologize. I have big, big plans for occult detective Joe Bartred and his family and friends. Readers of "Magdalena" may get a bit of whiplash reading this story. Joe is older, wiser and he is not alone. He has brought his daughter June to Los Angeles, hoping that she will make a more informed choice regarding her future. That's all I want to say about it for now, but this will be my first ever-novelette.


I. Vastarien: A Literary Journal

My first ever literary essay, my contribution for this journal came about as I was preparing for some exams. Political persuasions aside, a key component of Ligottian horror is the ravages of capitalism, the ghost towns and abandoned industrial parks in its wake. With this comes a complete loss of self, the ridiculous commodification of labor that forces people to make absurd plastic doll-heads and other abhorrently useless products. This idea is very much in dialog with Karl Marx's thoughts on the alienation of labor. Lesser known than Marx, however, is Karl Polanyi, perhaps one of the most intelligent and intricate theorists of political economics of the last century. Writing as WWII drew down to an end, Polanyi marked himself as a "non-Marxist socialist," and hypothesized that both fascism and communism were responses to the desperation that unfettered markets created.

He termed this merciless capitalism "the Satanic Mill."

As if that wasn't just asking to be put in dialog with Ligotti?

Reserve your copy here:

II. Broken Eye Books

This one is my second pro-sale ever! And it's a weird sort of story. I'll be teasing more about it as time goes on, but it draws directly from my experiences in college both in undergrad and graduate school. It concerns a strange student, Laura Nodens, who is investigating the death of her favorite TA. The story, if had to boil it down, is "Veronica Mars vs. Cthulhu." A certain Lovecraftian congressman also cameos.

Contribute here:

Thursday, February 15, 2018

We will smile all the while

 We will smile all the while
 By S. L. Edwards

And though it seems we are leaving,
With dew-eyed tears depart,
And though our friends are still needing
Our tender, open heart
I will grab your hand,
We will leave this land
And we will smile all the while.

And though the hate is at our door,
That blind and hungry thing,
And though we tremble at its roar
And the chaos it may bring,
I will sing you to sleep,
We will take this leap
And we will smile all the while.

And though our fear is in the air
Constant and undying
And though it seems they do not care
Both lying and beguiling
I will hold you near,
Though the danger is here,
And we will smile all the while.

For coach Aaron Fies, teacher Scott Beigel, an unnamed janitor and all the brave people who came forward when it mattered in Parkland. RIP

Monday, November 27, 2017

Thoughts on "Magdalena."

What follows is a spoiler-filled reflection on the story "Magdalena." If you have interest in reading the story first, please ignore this post and consider getting a copy via the amazon link below:


I actually began work on "Magdalena," after finishing work on my forthcoming novelette "Ritual Killings," a story which features a far more self-assured and in-control Joe Bartred. Joe at the time of RK is older, he's survived the Cold War and there are allusions to an internal power struggle within the United States that Joe gained a upper hand in. The man in "Ritual Killings" is at his peak, someone who is calm, collected and powerful.

I wanted to contradict that image in "Magdalena."

In the earlier story we have a young man, 26, who is characterized foremost by uncertainty. The story opens with him being fed information by "The Man," the Satan-figure of the Bartred Universe. Joe then proceeds to violate one of his own rules and uses the information to work for the CIA, who in turn put him in contact with an elite counter-insurgency unit. Colonel Maduro is a dark reflection of Joe. Whereas Joe is a prodigy in magic, Maduro is a prodigy in brutality, inspired by the graduates of the notorious School of the Americas. For all of his knowledge of the occult, his moral compass has already forced him to make compromising decisions by the time the story opens.

This wasn't an accident.

These compromises are characteristic of the Cold War world which surrounds the characters of these early stories. Reading many, many histories of the era, one gets the image of foreign-funded brutality. From United States funding of military regimes across Latin America, Soviet sponsorship of dictatorships in Africa, and paramilitary and guerrilla units launching coordinated campaigns of terror against peasants, it is clear there was no one "good" side. As much as revisionists of all ideological persuasions have tried to paint the conflict differently, the portrait has been made in blood.

And this leads in to the antagonist of the story.

"Magdalena" was inspired by Che Guevara and Mao Zedong, Che's personalism and charisma coupled with Mao's unapologetic ruthlessness. She, like many revolutionaries, believes that the only thing separating mankind from paradise is its rulers. Only in this the rulers are not the bourgeoisie, nor are they secret cabals of businessmen and politicians. The rulers in the Bartred Universe are deities, demons and other paranormal entities. Magdalena wants to unbind mankind, and to do this she is willing to sacrifice millions of lives.

For her, the ends certainly justify the means. She has been infiltrating covenants and killing demons for centuries, she's slaughtered more than her share of lesser gods too.

For her, the approach was inspired by "Mr. Kurtz" of the Heart of Darkness. I wanted to conjure up dread before the reader ever met the character. And yes, she is a beautiful woman but she is also the scariest thing Joe has ever seen, by far.

And if there is anyone who enjoyed the character, I have good news: She's not done.

So there story introduces Joe, and offers to first insight into his world. Paranormal forces are more active than ever, perhaps due to the detonation of the atomic bomb. Joe, good and idealistic, will make many compromising decisions in his life. And while these decisions may be the "good" thing or even the "better" thing they may not be the "right" thing.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

So You Sold Your First Story

Wow, y'all. The times sure change. A little over a year ago I went from having no publications to four. From four to twelve. And now we are honing in on the big three-o. Soon I'll start tepidly searching for publishers for a collection, along with a few other projects.

On my social media I'm fond of making jokes at my own expense, but I thought that a retrospective of the year may actually offer some useful insights for new writers. To be specific: the following is not for more seasoned writers than myself, and it certainly isn't for everyone. There is no one path to writing, just as there is no one metric for success. But, framing this as a message to a slightly younger self, some may find it useful or entertaining.

So with that, please enjoy:

Dear Sam,

So you sold your first story? Congratulations! This wasn't easy, and I know the temptation to give up was pretty big. Take a moment to be proud, open that bottle of rum you bought five years ago. Have some each time you sell another story (editor's note: the rum is gone!). Feel that rush? Yeah? You want to keep it going?

Well, maybe slow down a little. Here's a few pieces of advice old Sam has for you as you continue on:

(1) Not everything you write is good. For a moment your metrics are going to be all over the place. Having sold one (or more) stories, you may go through a brief period where you aren't sure how to assess your own work anymore. My advice is to take a step back and be as critical as you were before you were published. Let stories sit for a week before sending them off. And furthermore...

(2) Catch up. You're going to feel like you are in the deep end now. And you are. Don't panic. Everyone is rooting for you, and people don't just hand out compliments for fun out here. That said, another important component of being aware of the quality of your work is to read your peers. Yes, I know, it's weird that these very good writers are your peers. But you've got to read them, you need to assess it against what you do and have some sort of bearing as to what is going to be expected of publishable work. Besides, a lot of this stuff is just astounding.

(3)Be friendly. This is the most important piece of advice no one is going to tell you, but it should also be a given. Unless you are just the greatest writer of all time (see point 4), you need to be friendly. It's easier than the alternative, and people are more inclined to talk with you if you're kind.

(4) Be humble (sit down). It's a fine-line between being self-deprecating, but don't buy into hype you don't have. Always be genuine and thankful when someone says something about your work, even if it is critical. Don't expect to be accepted to every publication you send to and certainly don't make a stink about being rejected. You are going to be rejected SO MUCH! STILL! A rejection is not a closed door, and the way you behave in the aftermath can make a world of difference to editors who are rejecting your work on a close call. That said, be proud of your work and let your readers know that you have confidence in your work. Don't give the impression that you're work is lacking, but don't sit on any laurels either. Treat every story you write like it's going to be the last one.

(5) Don't be afraid to ask. There is a good way to query and there is a bad way to query. Be cognizant that editors have day jobs just like you do, and editing often takes more work and pays less than writing. These are people at the other end of your emails, treat them as such. But if you do this, be ready to get a "no." That's fine. Don't take it personally.

(6) Do something with dogs. Everyone loves dogs. Go figure.

Keep it up, young Sam. From old Sam to you, you're doing well.

-Old Sam

Saturday, October 7, 2017

What's next?

This week I've had some major, unexpected acceptances and publications. After being blown away by Martian Migraine's A Breath From the Sky I was elated to learn that my story "Volver Al Monte" was going to be part of Chthonic: Weird Tales of the Inner Earth. Editor Scott Jones has developed a reputation for his small press, and I am quite excited to get my contributor copy so I can read the stories in them. You'll see tales from John Linwood Grant, Gemma Files, Nadia Bulkin, Aaron Beeson and...Ramsey Campbell. Still not quite sure what to make of sharing a table of contents with Ramsey Campbell.

That's weird.

As of now I'm leafing my way through Ride The Star Winds: Cthulhu, Space Opera, and the Cosmic Weird from the ever-expanding and enterprising Broken Eye Press. Again, some top quality writers: I am currently enjoying Lucy A. Snyder's story, but also enjoyed those from Nadia Bulkin and Premee Mohamad. Each story comes with an illustration, and the hardcover is a rather beautiful experience.

Speaking of reading, I'll announce for the first time here that I've taken on a reviewer position, but I can't say where yet. I finished all of my reviews before the academic year started, but during that time I read some very quality works that I am looking forward to sharing with you. Look forward to these reviews rolling out towards the end of the month or the beginning of the next. I'll say more when I can.

My writing is slowing down, though I'm trying to write every Sunday. The current story I am finishing is the beginning of a series of weird western tales told in a fantasy setting inspired by the post-civil war United States. Several nations are active on the continent, the United Federation in the east, Yijin and the Coastal Colonies to the west. In the south is Anahuac, a mysterious and quickly rising power. In the center of all of it are the wildlands, ruled by tribal federations of skin walkers, ogres and oni, demons and spirits. I want to flex some new muscles, and the first story will introduce John Armitage and Freedomtown, both of which will be foundational characters for the plan I have in my head.

The other big project concerns my occult detective, Joe Bartred. Joe will debut soon, but I like to plan ahead. Regrettably, talking about Joe in this sense cues readers in to the spoiler that Joe will not die...any time soon. Sorry. In this sense, he is not what John Linwood Grant refers to as a "doomed meddler," but there are fates worse than death. And Joe, for all his power and all his knowledge, is only a man. I would like to not only tell more Joe stories, but take a look at his supporting cast too. Characters I hope you will learn more about early next year.

And of course, the ever-expanding world of Borkchito. Borkie has surprised me in how popular he is, and I will say this of the next story: Yves has surprised and outpaced me at every turn. My favorite characters are being introduced. Boss Puggeaux has been alluded to, a certain mustached priest (my favorite character) made his debut. And this is only the beginning.

That's all for now, check out links below for Ride the Star Winds and Breath From the Sky.


Ah. And I would be remiss to not discuss Test Patterns forthcoming from Planet X Publications. The work is one of love, and has quite the spectacular line up. Editors Duane Pesice and Michael Adams have a murderer's row of contributors ranging from Joe S. Pulver (!!!), Matthew Bartlett, Peter Rawlik and Cody Goodfellow to a few newer writers such as Rob F. Martin and Russell Smeaton. My friend Jill Hand is in it as well, so this is going to be quite the outstanding collection. You can reserve your copy in the link below.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Bartred Memo no. 0021

The following is a brief teaser detailing an occult detective and the world he lives in.

Mr. Director,
            It has come to my attention that certain agents have suggested that Joe Bartred is a danger due to perceived “leftist tendencies.”
            This is a mistaken belief, and any attempt to act on it would be even more so.
            Mr. Bartred’s reluctance to aid the United States government stems more from family loyalty than political leanings. The Bartreds have taught their children, rightfully so if I may be bold, that the expenditure of human life should always come with great cost or come in most usual circumstances. Even so, Mr. Bartred has a blinder loyalty to noble ideas of “keeping the peace” than his father did or his mother does.
            All of this said, Mr. Director, Joe Bartred is your best chance.
            Recruiting his mother or older brother would be a nonstarter, if not counterproductive.
            I can only do so much of what you are asking me to do, and every day [REDACTED] is funded by the Soviets is a more dangerous one. You cannot afford to alienate him.
            This is my input, take it for what you will.
            Sincere well-wishes,

            J. K.