QUARANCON 2022

QuaranCon is a FREE VIRTUAL Science Fiction and Fantasy writer’s convention that started back in April 2020, shortly after all of our lives got turned upside down by Covid-19.

It was “at” this conference–which was technically home–that I decided to commit to self-publishing my books. The excitement and energy the organizers, moderators, guest authors had about writing and publishing was incredible.

In those first months of the Pandemic/Lockdown, I didn’t know it at the time, but I desperately needed something to balance out my academic/work life. I was heading down a path of insanity and/or extreme apathy, which would probably have morphed a cyclical spiral, moving back and forth between one and the other, a mobius strip of bad feelings.

But that didn’t happen! Because three months later I hired an editor and a writing coach and kept myself busy with putting my imaginary worlds onto paper.

Last year, I was able to participate (dream come true) and did a live reading of one of the stories in Pulling Teeth, The Slaughter Chronicles’s Regina prequel short story collection.

Which you can watch here.

This year, incredibly, they’re letting me come back to do another reading AND a panel.

On April 8, at 11:00 a.m. CST I will be moderating what I know will be an amazing discussion about writing multi-genre works and navigating the traditional and self-publishing business of getting a story to fit in one or many spots.

On April 10, at 8:00 p.m. CST I will be reading from…yeah, I haven’t quite figured that out yet. But I will be reading from something.

Every QuaranCon panel, workshop, and reading is broadcast live but saved to YouTube, so if you can’t make it this weekend, you can watch this year’s videos, and the entire archive, at your leisure.

LITERARY TITAN GIVES PULLING TEETH FIVE STARS

A row of five golden stars.

Grimdark fiction with a paranormal focus can settle like oil underwater when blended with action and gunplay, but Pulling Teeth and Other Stories by Jessa Forest has a balanced blend. Each corner of stark weird or science fiction here is softened by the wolves. Sterile laboratory prison landscapes are brightened somehow with childlike wonder. Bounding through these forests untethered, we find stories of the bond between father and daughter, master and apprentice, trust and honor.

As a collection of novellas and short stories, Pulling Teeth is the beginning of a series about a young hybrid werewolf, Regina Slaughter. Maintaining a similar tone and following in chronological order, each story hits extremes of tension, horror, and the unknown with ease and alacrity.

Regina’s tragic upbringing to the age of nine and the fate of her family unfolds as we follow her from being an imprisoned test subject to her freedom after being taken in by another faction, more of her kind, mercenary werewolves. Considering this is a world where werewolves, magic, parallel dimensions, and vampires exist, in the relatively small space these stories provide, we also delve into friendships, family, loss, and lunacy which is no small feat for a world with such complexity.

Regina was test subject 33 at the HADES facility. After two years of their attempts to control the powers of werewolves with torture and restraint, her rescue comes in a bloody and unexpected ally. Atlas, a werewolf mercenary from a nearby stronghold, becomes her protector and unlikely substitute for her father, who was taken away too soon. Her new pack leader, Thane, who dresses in the hides of mysterious creatures formed into a plague mask, is cold and strict. But, when he unexpectedly takes the feral Regina under his wing, her animal strength and desire to serve her new pack with honor seem to have finally found a place. There are many factions at war or with tenuous alliances in the world that Jessa Forest has created. The world can seem quite complex.

Luckily, we have an introductory short story, Welcome to HADES, that outlines the differences between the organization’s different departments that hunt werewolves, vampires, mages, and other Void creatures in the form of an employee manual. The stories of these animals’ hunters and the hunted unfold in three novellas and two short stories mainly from the werewolf point-of-view. Regina’s Guide to Monster Hunting, later on in the book, serves as a bookend to the first chapter and creatively adds to the readers’ arsenal. Many of our questions are answered as we read on, exploring the world between these two chapters.

The characters of Regina, Thane, and Atlas are broadened expertly in the titular short story, Pulling Teeth. It is somewhat visceral; it reminds us that Regina is the scrappy orphan we envision as a budding werewolf warrior or typical young teen. However, the unexpected change of pace with Demon Tooth reveals that the humans here are largely oblivious to the dark world at their doorstep. Werewolves, understandably, stay within the shadows hiding in the darker recesses of humanity. Inevitably they will cross with this story of bored suburban human teens taunting forces they barely understand, but that Regina knows all too well.

Although we get to know a lot about her past captivity, abuse, and perhaps stunted personality, Regina sometimes comes across as a lot younger than she is. This could also speak to her animalistic and simplistic nature, which may naturally read as a younger girl than 11 years old. This is the only fault in the dialogue or how others treat her; at times, a child is a trusted member of the team. Her attitude vacillating from studious apprentice and bratty teen reads as unstable at times. Ultimately, it is refreshing to see some of the childlike phrases from Regina and see the world through her eyes guide our reactions to those around her to a certain extent.

As with much science fiction or weird tales, it takes a little getting used to the typology, the taxonomy, and jargon. One tactic Forest uses is likening Regina’s situations into contemporary, classic horror, and science fiction films. Without being a casual name-drop, this helps ground readers into the world through Regina’s eyes because she’s watched many films that fans of this literature are likely to have seen.

If anything, we want to find out more about Regina. Although we’ve had a great insight into her past, her future is a mystery. From the human threat to the Void itself, there is peril in our imaginations. The more we understand how she fits within this world, the more we want to see her adapt. As this is the beginning of a series, fans of this first set of stories will eagerly expect the next installment.

Our world of mythology and science blends here as naturally as fur and fang. Definitely a great fit for fans of a strong character storyline, the politics of warring factions, and following guns for hire. And, of course, those who love a new take on monster stories, specifically werewolves and origin stories for all that is dark, occult, and macabre.

Pulling Teeth and Other Stories is a riveting combination of grimdark, science fiction, fantasy, and horror. This collection of short stories will take readers on an unforgettable journey.

Check out more of Literary Titan’s book reviews here.

PENUMBRIC SPECULATIVE FICTION MAGAZINE

Cover art by Toeken

My short story, The Promise, is featured in the Feb. 2022 issue of Penumbric Speculative Fiction Magazine alongside stellar artwork and gritty, visceral fiction. I am honored and overjoyed to be included.

Read my story here.

So far, my favorite visual art pieces from this issue are “The Summoning” by Cat Scully and “The Outpost” by Denny E. Marshall. And “Woman/Wolf” by Marge Simon reminds me of my best girl Regina, if she were older and way more serious.

The stories I’m loving in this issue are: The Mirror Effect by Rekha Valliappan, an exquisite tale of inheritance and mirror magic; The City by Max Sheridan, a wild ride in a violent future Earth; and Pleasant Valley by Nick Scorza, whose narrative voice is *chef’s kiss*.