RIP — Jack Koblas

Jack KoblasIt was with profound sadness that I learned of the death of Jack Koblas this past Friday. Mr. Koblas was 70 years young and was the author of numerous books, primarily in the historical and weird fiction vein. He was a member of The Magpies (a group of musicians recently inducted into the Music Hall of Fame), a co-editor of the seminal small press magazine Etchings & Odysseys, a close personal friend of Donald Wandrei (and various other members of the Lovecraft Circle), and an all-around fascinating individual. Last year he was the recipient of the Minnesota Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement, and saw the release of two new books: Ghost Stories and Other Dark Tales (see my review here) and The Lovecraft Circle and Others. Both of these volumes had been in the works for over a decade and were greatly anticipated by many in the Lovecraft community. While the former collected nearly all of Mr. Koblas’ fantasy/horror/weird fiction, the latter contained interviews and reminiscences of numerous authors connected in some way to the Lovecraft Circle. Both are fascinating reads, and each hold a prominent place in my Weird Library.

I first met Mr. Koblas over twenty years ago, when I was invited to join a writing group devoted to Lovecraft and various other matters. And while the time I spent with Mr. Koblas might be considered limited in the scheme of things, I have and continue to draw inestimable inspiration from him. In a roundabout way, I consider him my mentor. Many years ago, when I learned of his intent to use the opening line of one of my early (and quite forgettable) horror tales in a writing course he was teaching, I was dumbfounded and elated both. But this was the type of writerly generosity Mr. Koblas was known for, as I am sure numerous of his other friends can attest — particularly those who found themselves cast as the protagonist in one of his tales.

Of late, I too found myself fictionalized into a story which Mr. Koblas was planning to include in a new collection of horror fiction. It is entitled “Mere Image” and still resides in a first draft stage, but it is more than a fitting keepsake. Rereading it this past weekend brought tears to my eyes, not for the selfish reason that it will most likely never see print, but because of the cold, hard fact that the Old Scrivener, my friend and my mentor, has been silenced, and far too soon.

But, oh, what a stunning oeuvre this Literary Lion did roar!

Thank you, Jackal, for everything….

Southard Skies

Red SkyRed Sky is rewarding on so many levels. The story itself is simple yet ingenious, the characters likable, the monsters equally likable, and the writing spot-on. If you can get past the somewhat garish cover (which is tame compared to other Deadite Press offerings), you will be thrust into a highly enjoyable tale.

The story begins with a botched bank robbery, from which the main protagonist and his crew narrowly escape. They need a place to hole up for a few days, and they make the mistake of doing so in an abandoned factory in the deserts of New Mexico, once operated by a mysterious company called Red Sky. But the place is far from abandoned, as our battle-scarred crew soon discover.

While this is a fairly short novel (just barely tipping the 200-page mark), it is as rich and developed as works twice its size; which just goes to show how talented Mr. Southard is. Concise plotting, pitch-perfect dialogue and descriptive prowess make this novel rise above the common fare.

Endings are almost always problematic (for both writer and reader), but I must say that Mr. Southard pulls off an amazing (and quite emotionally powerful) denouement. Those looking for an intensely horrific story filled with brilliant patches of humanity need go no further than Red Sky.