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Special offer for a fortnight only: TREADING ON DREAMS is only 99p/99c
Click on this link for more details.
I’m delighted to welcome author Alexander Zelenyj, whose short story collection ‘Songs For the Lost’ is published by Eibonvale Press, who published my own collection ‘A Glimpse of the Numinous’. Buy links are at the end. I’ll hand over to Alex who will tell you more about his intriguing tales…
About the Author
Alexander Zelenyj is the author of the books Songs For The Lost, Experiments At 3 Billion A.M. , Ballads To The Burning Twins: The Complete Song Lyrics Of The Deathray Bradburys, and Black Sunshine. His fiction has appeared in magazines and anthologies throughout the world.
He lives in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, and at alexanderzelenyj.com.
Thematically, the stories of Songs For The Lost are woven together by recurring themes of loss of innocence in a difficult and uncompromising world, and the characters’ subsequent need for escape from emotional trauma. These are the collection’s central and unifying themes, and also the tenacity of the human spirit to persevere despite tremendous hardship, a spiritual need for seeking solace and redemption at the end of a difficult life, often through the embracing of a higher power. This kind of desperate spirituality permeates the stories, and lies at the heart of the book, always from the perspective of people who have no organized religious background, who sort of give themselves up to an innate belief in some higher power as a desperate final means of salvation from their tragic lives, although often this salvation comes in a very dark and destructive form.
My poetry collection, Ballads To The Burning Twins, is a companion book to Songs For The Lost, and deals more specifically with the types of sometimes dangerous fringe spirituality that lure in people in great distress. It deals with troubled people seeking escape through the promises offered by cults and other deviant sources; it looks at some people’s spiritual connection to the rural and natural world, as opposed to the decadence of the city; and the perpetual struggle of human beings to find redemption for their past sins, and their seeking of a place where they can reclaim their fractured lives and sullied moral goodness.
Well, being that Songs For The Lost is a fiction collection, it has a wide variety of settings, running the gamut from urban environments and rural locales of modern times (often in my home city, Windsor, Ontario, Canada), to stories set in far, far distant places and periods, including ancient Rome, colonial Africa, the Old West, 1960s war-time Vietnam, and to distant future settings. There’s even a story that takes place during prehistoric times.
The eclectic settings were important to me, because I wanted to emphasize the unchanging human element across all the myriad backdrops. That’s something that remains constant no matter where my stories take the reader.
The vast majority of the characters of Songs For The Lost are deeply troubled and in search of some type of personal redemption and escape to a better place outside of their current lives. The stories examine these damaged people, and why they embark on these redemptive quests after living lives of woe, regret, and fury. They’re about the desperate lengths some people go to in order to escape the trauma of their experiences for a better place, a Paradise of some kind.
The book was written in the years following the publication of my previous book, Experiments At 3 Billion A.M. They were somewhat difficult years for a number of reasons, and a lot of the recurring themes reflect those experiences. I wrote a huge amount of material during that time and from that compiled the stories that worked best together, and that best expressed the themes I wanted to talk about. It happened very naturally, and at some point I realized that the stories all worked together and that the book was finished, and that it said exactly what I wanted it to say.
I find writing short fiction and compiling stories into greater collections somewhat more enjoyable than writing novels, I suppose because it’s an easy way to express a lot of the different ideas I have. Weaving it all together into a thematically concise collection is also really fun. I liken it in my mind to making a record that flows really nicely from the first song to the last.
That said, writing a novel is a very different kind of project altogether, and I really enjoy it once I’m immersed in it. At some point I find that the characters become so familiar to me that they seem to write themselves. In fact, I suppose I feel that way about my stuff generally – when I flip through one of my books I’m amazed that the stories exist, because they feel as if they wrote themselves. I have very little recollection of writing most of my stuff. It’s almost like the stories materialized out of the ether.
Write what you love, and read and write every day.
I recently finished work on two manuscripts – the first is a novel heavily informed by magical realism. It took quite a few years to finish, and went through a lot of changes over that time. The second manuscript is a collection much in the same vein, stories that combine the gritty and realistic with subtly surreal motifs.
Also, I’m putting together another collection that’s much more similar to the type of material of Songs For The Lost, much more slipstream in style that pulls in influences from a lot of different genres. I’m having a lot of fun with this one.
I’m also finishing up edits on a book by the late great Joel Lane – it’s an amazing collection entitled Scar City, due from Eibonvale Press later this year. I’m contributing an introduction to the book as well, along with author Nina Allan, who will be writing another introductory piece. It’s a huge huge honour to be involved with this project.
A morning of writing; an afternoon spent walking in the woods with my other half, Elizabeth, followed by browsing in our favourite bookshop; dinner at home and a movie; good dreams until the following morning; and repeat.
Film-wise, River’s Edge, Wild At Heart, and The Isle have always meant a lot to me, because their characters find themselves in situations so much out of their control that they’re forced to look for escape in deviant places. And for some reason that speaks to me, ha ha.
Book-wise, I’d say the dark fantasy stories of Robert E. Howard, because there’s no better and richer world into which I can escape whenever I need to. I’ve been doing it since I was a little kid, and the trips there only get better.
There is more than we know.
What reviewers are saying about Songs For The Lost:
“Every once in a while – if you’re lucky – you’ll come across a short story collection that is so unique and stunning that it’ll make you marvel at its contents. Alexander Zelenyj’s Songs For The Lost is such a collection. It’s an exceptionally good and original collection of speculative fiction stories that are marked by intelligent storytelling, supernatural elements and beautiful literary prose.”
“Songs For The Lost is that perfect, excellent blend of literary and dark that I am always looking for and in my opinion, it is an absolute must-read for anyone who loves dark fiction. Highly recommended but not just for anyone. Prepare to be gut punched, and do not read this book while you’re depressed. Once again, it’s a small press that proves that literary and dark can indeed go hand in hand.”
“Complex and visionary writing…the book touched me with its beauty, its insanity, its soul, its melancholy…Songs For The Lost was one of the best books I have read recently.”
– Porta VIII
“Zelenyj is an absolute master of emotional horror, melancholy, passion, and the delicate art of drawing on classic pop-culture and genre forms to create something highly complex, challenging, and quite visionary.”
– Windsor Life Magazine
“Dipping into the bizarro universe woven by Zelenyj’s inebriating narratives is like peering beneath the cracked and peeling veneer of reality. Zelenyj is a mad yet marvellous seeker, an eccentric impresario, a conductor of dreams as charming and hypnotic as Rod Serling himself. Follow him and you will find yourself among lost souls touring abandoned hopes and forbidden dreams at the edge of an impossible paradise. Each story concludes with a wink signalling that he knows what you have always felt, deep down – that there is more to this life than meets the eye.
And therein lies the power of Alexander Zelenyj. We fill up our lives with the familiar, with mundane routines and ridiculous consumer products, laments and trifles and limitations. Through it all there is an ache deep inside of us. It is the ache of an unspoken truth, the key to surviving the destruction wrought by reality. Stories such as these share that truth, the promise that keeps us going. Life in this universe is more strange and dangerous and wonderful than you have ever been led to believe.”
– from the Foreword, by Brian A. Dixon, Editor, Fourth Horseman Press
“As you read these stories you will find them unexpectedly profound, challenging, harsh, painful, and thought-provoking. Indeed, more than once you might find yourself shaken to the core – summoned to think and feel, or deal with events on levels that are rare for this or any kind of writing. ”
– from “Three Billion And Six: An Introduction” by David Rix, Editor, Eibonvale Press, Author of Feather and What The Giants Were Saying
“This isn’t a ghost we’re dealing with. If only it were that simple…”
Eighteen years ago, when psychic Ruby Davis was a child, her mother – also a psychic – suffered a nervous breakdown. Ruby was never told why. “It won’t help you to know,” the only answer ever given. Fast forward to the present and Ruby is earning a living from her gift, running a high street consultancy – Psychic Surveys – specialising in domestic spiritual clearance.
Boasting a strong track record, business is booming. Dealing with spirits has become routine but there is more to the paranormal than even Ruby can imagine. Someone – something – stalks her, terrifying but also strangely familiar. Hiding in the shadows, it is fast becoming bolder and the only way to fight it is for the past to be revealed – no matter what the danger.
When you can see the light, you can see the darkness too.
And sometimes the darkness can see you.
I’m thrilled to be able to host fellow Crooked Cat author, Shani Struthers, on my blog today. She’s a best-selling author with a number of books to her name, including ‘Jessamine‘ and two books in the Psychic Surveys Series – paranormal mysteries that are capturing the imaginations of readers. These intriguing and exciting novels are set in our everyday world, populated characters we can all identify with, such as Ruby and Sarah; but Ruby has a gift which she wants to use to help others and this leads her into places she might regret exploring. I’ll hand over to Shani now, who has also kindly allowed me to publish below a free excerpt from ‘Rise To Me’.
In Psychic Surveys Book Two: Rise to Me, we return to the past. Ruby’s mother, Jessica, also a psychic, had a breakdown when Ruby was seven – ‘I’ve seen the face of evil,’ she said, ‘and it’s real.’ Brought up by her grandmother, Sarah, Ruby has been taught to walk in the light, to believe in the light, that the light will keep her safe. And that’s exactly what she’s done ever since she can remember. But a recent encounter changes all that. A memory from childhood, of what Ruby has seen also, starts to surface, that memory rekindled by a Psychic Surveys client and what it is he’s experiencing. Strange things start to happen, things she can’t explain. Her trust in everything and everyone around her is eroding. Even a day out at the beach turns into something deadly…
Swimming. Ruby was not a fan – never had been, never would be. She was a terra firma kind of girl but Cash had taken her by the hand and was pulling her forwards towards the less than blue sea. It was more of a green colour, murky, like a swamp she thought, not welcoming at all. On the contrary. It was distinctly unwelcoming.
She started to hesitate.
“Come on,” he cajoled, clearly determined. “I’ll look after you.”
Again she had that sense she’d spoil everyone’s fun if she didn’t comply. She should just lighten up. Go with the flow.
The day might have been hot but the Atlantic Ocean was cold, bitterly so, causing her to catch her breath. Not that it deterred those around her. People were swimming, splashing and shouting at each other, so much so, the noise was deafening, immediately making her head ache. Someone splashed her, cold droplets like sharp needles against her skin and she felt a flash of rage, felt like shouting too, like cursing, screaming and lashing out.
Ruby! This is supposed to be fun!
But she couldn’t deny it; she’d had more fun at the dentist.
Cash had briefly left her at the shore’s edge and swum several strokes but now he’d returned.
“Come on,” he called. “The water’s lovely.”
“It’s not, it’s horrid. I’m going back.”
Rising out of the water, he grabbed hold of her wrists.
“Come on,” he repeated. “Come a bit further out.”
“Cash, don’t,” she said being pulled forwards.
The water, it wasn’t just cold, it had a slimy quality to it, as though it were filthy. It was filthy. Why hadn’t he noticed? Why hadn’t anyone noticed? Mothers, fathers, children, teenagers, how could they possibly want to splash about in this… this cesspit?
“Let me go,” she pleaded but he wasn’t listening to her – he was too caught up in the moment. Worse than that – he was laughing.
“Cash, I’m not joking.”
“Come on, babe, remember what I said earlier.”
Babe? His use of the word infuriated her more. She wasn’t anyone’s babe.
She yelled his name at him but as she did so, the ground beneath her shifted suddenly, gave way. She plunged downwards, into the sea, her whole body immersed, her head too. Salt water rushed into her mouth and the taste was acrid. She started coughing, gagging, a reflex action but it only made things worse. She took in even more water. It was filling her lungs, drowning her. Where was Cash? Where the bloody hell was he? And how could she be falling so deep? She’d only walked out a few feet, but she was definitely sinking – as though she were an anchor, able to penetrate the sands below.
Despite her eyes stinging so badly, she forced them open, saw what she thought was a patch of sunlight. Relief cutting through the horror, she started swimming towards it. She’d break the surface soon. She’d get away from here, far, far away. Just as she was making headway, hands grabbed at her ankles and started pulling her down again. Cash, what the fuck…? Surely he hadn’t meant this when he said what they could get up to underwater. He wanted to kill her? Hands reached up further. Large hands. Cold hands. Much colder than the water. And their grip. It was like being caught in a vice – impossible to shake off. It had to be Cash. Who else could it be? He was trying to drown her! But why? Why, why, why? With all the strength she could muster, she continued thrashing, with her arms at least; screaming, unable to stop; swallowing more and more water, choking on it. Her mind became dark around the edges… hazy. It seemed ludicrous you could die surrounded by so many people, that not one person amongst so many would notice, wouldn’t respond. But no one did. Above her, where the light seemed to hover, so near and yet so far, everyone continued having fun – oblivious to her plight, her confusion, her sheer desperation. She was going to be killed. Her boyfriend was going to kill her. And still laughter rang out. Incessant laughter. Mocking laughter, as though the crowd were glad she was suffering so much. As though Cash was playing to the gallery, delighting them with his vile antics. He had duped her: lured her in; whispered words of love he didn’t mean. Hatred… she was burning with it.
Rise To Me
The Haunting of Highdown Hall