Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Free Story: The Harvest

I wrote this in 2003. It appeared first at Horrorfind, back when they had a fiction section, then at Adventure Fiction Online and, later, at The Late Late Show. It's a golden oldie that I'm dusting off for you. I hope you like it.

The Harvest
by Mark Justice

N’Fa’alu stopped the Hummer in the center of the narrow dirt road a few miles out of Charikar. Three men approached him, their bearded faces grim beneath the traditional Lungee turbans. Each carried a Russian Kalashnikov rifle. They could be bandits or militia. Or locals, protecting what small existence they managed to claw from the desert. It did not matter. He would not be stopped.

Even with his strength still depleted, he would not be stopped.

The first to reach the Hummer made a rolling motion with one hand. The other hand held his weapon, pointed at the vehicle. N’Fa’alu nodded and lowered the driver’s window. The heat, like a dragon’s breath, poured into the Hummer.

The man drew closer. “Who are you?” he said, speaking Dari. The language was fairly new to N’Fa’alu. But it wasn’t a problem. He could see the words in the bearded man’s mind.

“I am Red Cross,” he said, using the human voice box and speaking in the old language of his people. The bearded man heard the reply in his own tongue.

“Show me your credentials.”

N’Fa’alu smiled in his human skin. He produced the laminated badge and papers the little man in Karachi had prepared for him.

The bearded man jerked the identification from N’Fa’alu’s hand and turned to his companions. They began to jabber in a dialect that N’Fa’alu was unfamiliar with. He skimmed their thoughts and drew forth an image of his body, riddled with bullet holes, quickly covered by the blowing sand.

So bandits it was.
They probably couldn’t actually kill him. But in his weakened state he could be slowed down, perhaps even hurt. And he didn’t have time for that.

The first man returned to the Hummer, dropping the fake ID and raising his Kalashnikov.

N’Fa’alu whispered a word in his true voice.

The bearded man turned and fired upon his two companions before they could raise their own rifles.

A wave of nausea rolled through N’Fa’alu, causing his vision to blur. He couldn’t afford to expend more energy this soon. There was much work ahead of him today.

He stepped out of the Hummer, staggering a bit. The bearded man wheeled on him, confusion twisting his features.

N’Fa’alu grabbed the man’s neck and squeezed until bones snapped. He let he body fall to the ground and climbed back in the Hummer. He rested against the leather seats and let the air conditioning wash over him for a moment.

What a blessed device, he thought.

He sat that way for five more minutes, then straightened up, put the vehicle in gear and drove past the bodies toward the mountains. Toward his past.

And his future.


He had awakened nearly a year ago, weak as a newborn, unaware of who he was. It had always been that way. The sleep lasted centuries; the awakening happened at its own pace.

He was in a cavern, deep within the earth. The room was filled with a light the type of which he had never seen. It seared his eyes and he lashed out, shattering the source of the illumination. It was dark again. But he had weakened even more, forced to lay immobile for several days. In that time, his memory began to return. And something else.

The beacon, deep within his mind. There had been only one voice when he went to sleep so long ago. Now there were many. The voices were prolific, yet weak. He had to reach them.

After he had been awake for nearly a week, someone finally came to him, a descendant of the family he had charged with the task of his protection during the sleep.

The old man carried a torch in his hand, a torch without flame. He examined the broken lights and then realized that N’Fa’alu was awake.

The man fell to his knees and touched his forehead to the stone floor. His illuminated tube rolled away from him, casting a mosaic of shadows within the chamber.

N’Fa’alu hissed and the man looked up, fear in his eyes. N’Fa’alu hissed again and the man arose. He quickly lit candles and helped N’Fa’alu to sit up.

“How–how long have you been awake?” The man was old, dressed in unfamiliar garments. The tongue was also unknown. However, N’Fa’alu could see the meaning in the man’s mind, though it taxed him greatly. But he needed information.

“It does not matter,” he told the man, using the old language. He sent the words into the old man’s head. “When is it?”

“It has been over two thousand years, Master.”

N’Fa’alu was not surprised. It was near enough to when he had expected to waken.

“I need information,” he said.


At the base of the mountain, he stopped the Hummer and got out.

The desert heat bothered him less than it had before, and he felt stronger.

He knew it was his proximity to her. And to them. The voices were closer now, though diminished in volume. Weak. There wasn’t much time.

He stared at the ancient path that snaked up the mountain. The hillside was full of caves. And humans. He could smell them.

Inside his human skin, N’Fa’alu yearned to make the humans pay.

He began his trek up the mountain.


This was an age of wonders.

In addition to the fascinating indoor lights, his caretaker, who, he learned, was named Abidin, showed him television, indoor running water–hot and cold–, the telephone and, that most blessed innovation, air conditioning.

N’Fa’alu found television to be the most disturbing revelation of this amazing future. He watched while he recovered in a bedroom of Abidin’s apartment. On this television, an organization called CNN told him what had become of what he thought of as his homeland. It had a different name today.

The land he had known as Bactria was now called Afghanistan

According to this CNN, a few men had caused hell itself to be rained down on the country where his future–his destiny–lay hidden. The weapons the humans now had at their disposal could rival his own power, could destroy that which he held most dear.

But not yet.

The voices still spoke to him, distantly, like screams across the desert wastes.

This CNN constantly displayed a image of a human who had claimed responsibility for the near-annihilation of Bactria . N’Fa’alu studied the picture carefully. He wanted to know this human if ever he encountered him.


The humans attacked before he had covered a mile.

He knew they were there long before they revealed themselves. Since he had begun his trek to the caves, each step he took made him stronger. He seemed to be drawing potency from the land itself. He knew, though, that his strength was coming from them.

He sensed the two humans crouching behind the brush. He walked past their place of concealment then stopped in the center of the path. As they stood and approached, he touched their minds. They saw an old man, wearing the face of Abidin, helpless and harmless.

N’Fa’alu was almost amused.

Instead of firearms, these humans carried short blades.

N’Fa’alu turned and faced the two men, both bearded and dressed for the desert. Both smiling.

The man on the right ran at him and lunged with his knife. N’Fa’alu extended his arm and allowed the blade to pass through his hand. He closed his grip around his attackers hand and squeezed. N’Fa’alu ignored the scream and only released his grip when a pulpy fluid leaked from between his fingers.

The second human dropped his own blade and ran away. N’Fa’alu pulled the first man’s blade from his own hand and casually tossed it toward the fleeing attacker. It lodged between the shoulder blades. The man dropped to the ground and did not move again.

N’Fa’alu was disappointed. He had expected more resistance.


“I must go now,” N’Fa’alu told Abidin.

“Master,” the old man said, “you are not strong enough.”

N’Fa’alu shook his head. “I cannot wait. They need me now.”

Abidin lowered his gaze. He had been a faithful servant. N’Fa’alu would miss him.

“I will need a few things,” N’Fa’alu said.

Abidin listened to his master’s orders, then went to carry out his tasks.

Three days later, N’Fa’alu was prepared to leave. The Hummer was parked outside and Abidin had given him the name of the man in Pakistan who would prepare the documents he would need. In the front seat of the Hummer was a small briefcase filled with gold coins.

There was only one more detail to take care of.

“Abidin, you have served me well,” N’Fa’alu told the frail man.

“Thank you, Master.”

“You know what I must do?”

“Yes,” Abidin said, without a trace of fear in his voice. At that moment, N’Fa’alu felt something akin to affection for the elderly human.

“I will make it as painless as possible.”

“Thank you, Master.”

N’Fa’alu leaned close to Abidin and whispered in his true voice.

It was over quickly.


He reached the cave at dark. He stopped a short distance from the entrance and he listened.

The voices were here, weaker than ever. But close. Very close.

There were more humans, as well. At least three. He could feel their small, angry thoughts scuttling through his head like cockroaches.

N’Fa’alu walked into the cave. The interior was unlit. It smelled of dampness, which he found oddly refreshing in the desert.

About fifty yards in, the cavern made a sharp turn to the left. Here, he knew, two humans waited for him.

N’Fa’alu spoke a few words in his true voice, words from the earliest days of his people. Almost instantly, he heard two gunshots.

He rounded the turn and saw the humans, now dead, their brains splattered on the cavern’s walls.

The cave floor slanted downward. N’Fa’alu followed the path for almost two hundred yards before he saw the glow of the lamp. He soon entered a large chamber, one he recalled from nearly two thousand years before. Three cots had been set up. One of them was occupied.

The human was tall and very thin. N’Fa’alu read fear in his thoughts, and confusion at the site of this elderly form. He pointed a handgun at N’Fa’alu.

The man was ill. He had lost quite a bit of weight. But N’Fa’alu recognized him at once from the television reports.

The man who had started a war that caused this country to almost be obliterated.

The man who had almost destroyed everything N’Fa’alu held dear.

“Who are you?” the man said in Arabic.

“Your destroyer,” N’Fa’alu said.

The man fired. The projectile struck N’Fa’alu in the chest. He stumbled back half a step, then regained his footing and grabbed the man by the throat. With his other hand he removed the handgun from the man’s grasp and tossed it into the passageway.

He pulled the tall man off the cot and slammed him against the chamber’s wall, still holding him by the throat. He wanted to kill the human now, but that would have to wait. He slammed the man’s head against the wall a second time. The man went limp in N’Fa’alu’s grasp.

As the unconscious human slumped to the floor, N’Fa’alu stepped to the back wall of the chamber.

And he stepped through it. The illusion had held for these many years.

She was stretched out on the floor, so beautiful to him even in her desiccated condition.
Her eyes were luminous in the dimness, and filled with love. She recognized him even in his human casing.

“I knew you’d come,” she said.

The joy of hearing another voice speak the language of their people made him gasp.

“N’Fa’alu”, she said, her voice growing smaller, “I’ve done all I could. Take care of them.”

Her life slipped away, leaving only an empty husk on the cave floor.

He silently wished her speed on her final journey. He would grieve for her another time.

N’Fa’alu stepped over the body of his mate, crossing to a pit in the floor of the cavern.

For the first time, he viewed his children, awake now after two millennia of gestation.

A dozen grey-veined egg pods had flowered open, and N’Fa’alu could see his children looking back at him.

He could feel their weakness. Several of them were close to expiring. He stepped down into the pit and walked among the egg pods, softly touching each child on the head or the wings, transferring a bit of his strength to each one.

With each touch he also sent a message:

**I am your father. I am here to give you this world.**

He felt their young minds reach for his, eager and fearful. He did what he could to soothe them.

One by one, the infants lapsed into sleep.

N’Fa’alu watched for a moment longer before he leapt from the pit.

It was time to finish this.

“Wake up,” he said to the human.

The tall man shook his head, his eyes fluttering open.

“Look at me,” N’Fa’alu said.

The architect of this cavern’s near destruction stared up at N’Fa’alu. There was no hint of the smug expression N’Fa’alu had seen in the images on television.

N’Fa’alu let his human form fall away.

The tall man screamed and covered his eyes, but it was too late.

The angles and shapes of N’Fa’alu’s true body were incomprehensible to the human mind. The tall man’s eyes had been vaporized. The liquid remains of the orbs flowed down his cheeks.

The human uttered a word. It was the name N’Fa’alu had been known by centuries earlier, a bastardization of his true name.

He squatted next to the blind human.

“You know who I am,” he said in Arabic. “ I came here to guide your kind. Yet you twisted my words and my teachings to justify the blackness and the pettiness in your soul.”

The human whimpered. His shaking hands covered his dead eyes.

“Even worse, you jeopardized my children and their mother, who lay here tending to them for two thousand years. I do this for them.”

N’Fa’alu sang in his true voice, in his true language. The tall man trembled, then burst apart. His viscera coated the walls and splattered upon N’Fa’alu.

The blood was hot. N’Fa’alu liked the way it felt.

He stood and walked back to the pit. He checked on the children, sleeping safely in their egg pods.

He stopped for a moment at the body of his mate. Her work was over now. He would make sure it had not been in vain.

N’Fa’alu walked to the cave’s entrance. He wanted to feel the desert’s night air on his face. His true face.

The stars and the quiet of the desert were soothing, But he also knew it was deceptive. Though their leader was gone, there were many men left who twisted his tenets to their own ends.

That would change.

Soon the world would know of his presence and of his children. They would know him by the name the humans had given him.

Allah was back.

And he was angry.

© 2008 Mark Justice

Monday, December 22, 2008

Pod of Horror #49

Pod of Ho-Ho-Horror is back. On episode #49 we bring the holiday cheer like a bunch of elves drunk on tainted egg nog. We talk to VAMPIRE ZERO author David Wellington and to Michael Knost, the editor of the LEGENDS OF THE MOUNTAIN STATE anthology series. We also feature several audio excepts from HORROR LIBRARY VOL. 3. Plus Grim Rictus, The Call of Kalanta and The Tomb of Trivia. Find all this yuletide warmth on i-Tunes or download it at Horror World. Pod of Horror #49 is produced and hosted by Mark Justice.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Return of the Deadnecks

My story "Deadneck Woman" will appear in Novello Publisher's upcoming humorous horror anthology, Dark Jesters, to be published in mid-to-late 2009.

It's great to work with Nick Cato again. I also really enjoyed visiting my redneck zombies one more time.

Here's the full lineup:

- FOSSILIZED BRAAAINS by William A. Veselik


- TONGS AND THE ROACH by David T. Wilbanks


- WOLF PLUGS by Jerrod Balzer

- HACKS by Sam Battrick

- PAPA'S GOT A BRAND NEW BAG by Robert Guffey

- CURSE OF THE BLIND EEL by James Roy Daley

- RETIREMENT by Rob Brooks

- DEADNECK WOMAN by Mark Justice

Saturday, December 13, 2008


It’s been a while between updates.

My day job involves a lot of writing. A. Lot. Of. Writing. Some days I get home and discover there’s no gas left in the ol’ creative tank.

I know, I know. A “real” writer will crank out the words no matter the obstacle in his/her path. It’s nothing I haven’t told myself when I count my regrets in the middle of the night. Still, there it is.

Having said that, I’m starting to make a little progress on the word count front.

I also just submitted a longish story to a new market. The previous editor hadn’t responded to numerous inquiries over the past several months, and I’m quite proud of this piece.

Work and life have also gotten in the way of Pod of Horror, but there should be a new episode coming your way in a week or so. I’m looking forward to The Call of Kalanta. It’s been a long time since I heard foul language. Heh.

By the way, if you go to the reviews page at Nanci’s Horror World site, you can scroll down to my brief review of Steve Shrewsbury’s Hawg. Shrews’ writing can sometimes make you feel like you’re sliding down a banister made of razor blades. And that’s a good thing.

I’ve watched a handful of new movies lately, including:

The X-Files: I Want to Believe. Not as much suckage as I’d been told. I actually thought the Mulder/Scully character arcs were very good. Alas, there were no aliens, and I think that pissed off a lot of movie-goers.

Wanted. Pretty movie, but monstrously stupid. I will suspend disbelief to a remarkable degree, but “The Loom of Fate”? Really? Someone needs their ass kicked for that one.

Mama Mia. My wife’s new favorite movie. We saw it on the flight to Mexico, where I had the surreal experience of removing my headphones and witnessing half the passengers singing and dancing in their seats. At the risk of losing all of my testosterone street cred, I had fun watching it.

In the last few weeks, I’ve read Stephen King’s Just After Sunset (uneven, with flashes of brilliance. “N” is a masterpiece), Your Heart belongs to Me by Dean Koontz (it hooked me, despite some annoying Koontisms), and my favorite book of the year, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. If you love stories well-told, then this will be a volume you will read many times.

Finally, here’s a picture of my niece Scarlett at three months old. She’s a beautiful baby, despite being related to me.

Monday, December 01, 2008

How's Your Team Doing?

The Bengals suck more than Madonna in the back of A-Rod's limo.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Metal Crypt

Dave Wilbanks and I were guests on Metal Crypt a couple of weeks ago. You can hear all the rambling, nonsense and bad jokes here.

Happy Thanksgiving

From the offices of Department of Justice, we extend to you best wishes for the holiday, and hope you spend it with family and friends. Save some pie for us.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Horror Library Volume 3

Volume 3 of Horror Library is out -- or about to be any second -- with my story "Being Supreme".

The lineup this time includes Bentley Little, Kealan Patrick Burke and Gary Braunbeck.

Clicking here will preview the first two pages of my story, while this link lets you see the table of contents, sample other stories and order the book.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

By the Way

Here's a link to that Pod of Horror episode that featured Robert McCammon and Pulpmaster General Ron Fortier.


What's the true meaning of Thanksgiving? The two freshly-baked Red Velvet cakes and two pumpkin pies cooling on my kitchen counter, that's what!

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Past Year

We just got a first edition hardcover of Boy's Life for a Christmas present to a friend, and I realized that it was almost a year ago that I had the chance to tell Robert R. McCammon how much his novel meant to me.

In the last 12 months I interviewed McCammon, I interviewed Bill Clinton and I got to write a story about The Avenger.

I also produced some good radio, a few podcasts and sold a few other stories. All in all, not a bad year.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


More on Mexico:

The trip was great. We stayed at an all-inclusive resort at Rivera Maya. I got a little tired of the wristband we had to wear, but it was a small complaint. The weather was perfect everyday. Norma and I took walks on the beach each morning, at least until I cut my feet. That’s right, the Justice vacation curse struck again.

See, for years, each time I was on vacation, we had an appliance fail. Air conditioning, washer, dryer, and so on. Then karma took a cruel turn and the new rule became I fell off our deck and screwed up my shoulder. Burned the top of my foot. Fell off one of the pirate ships used in the Johnny Depp movies, etc. In Mexico, it was lacerations on both of my feet from the rough surface of the resort’s pool.

I had an amusing time visiting the resort’s doctor, who insisted on being paid in cash and sending me to a Mexican hospital. I declined the latter offer. I spent the last couple of days on the deck of our pool side suite, socializing with our neighbors. Despite my injury, it was an excellent trip, and I would do it again. Maybe I’d be a little more careful next time (and I did have water shoes, which were full of sand from the beach; now I wish I’d worn them anyway).

By the way, I’m on vacation again next week, and on Thursday our dishwasher died. Hopefully, the appliance took the bullet this time.

The photo above was taken by Norma from the resort’s lobby two weeks ago just before we left for the airport.


I spent this morning with my wife, shopping for Thanksgiving. Norma’s a super-shopper, who spent two weeks plotting out the shopping, clipping paper coupons and loading e-coupons on her Kroger card. She saved $60 today, so I guess it worked out.

We’ll have a house full of family and friends. My part in the preparation revolves around eliminating the piles of books that have accumulated since last Thanksgiving.

On top of that, we’re getting new carpet and furniture the week after Thanksgiving, so I have to create a whole new filing system for all the books, since our shelves are long past full. I am genetically incapable of getting rid of books, so I have my work cut out for me.


I’ve barely had a chance to crack the covers on The Avenger Chronicles. The two stories I’ve read have been excellent. Ron Goulart was the writer chosen to carry on the Avenger paperback series for Warner Books in the 70s after the original pulp novels had all been reprinted. His story in TAC is a sequel of one of those novels. I’ve always enjoyed Goulart’s style, and this story reads like he wrote it 30 years ago.

I’ve also read James Reasoner’s entry. Reasoner is one of the top western writers working today (he dabbles in the mystery and historical fields too). He’s also a pulp fan, and that shows in his Avenger story.

So far the book is off to a great start.

And before anybody points this out, I am fully aware that I am incapable of reading an anthology in order. You’ll just have to live with it.


I have writing to do this week. Wish me luck on carving out the time. I have a feeling it will done after my whip-cracking better half goes to bed.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Guess What I'm Doing Next Week?

Besides doing all the jobs on Norma's honey-do list to get the house ready for Thanksgiving.

My plot for a short story has just been approved by the license-holder. So I'll be writing about one of the world's first super-heroes (and I don't mean Popeye! Arf!), for an anthology to be published next year. I'm as jazzed about this as I was for the Avenger book.

More on this when the story is accepted.


Pod of Horror has been postponed again. This is entirely my fault, and due mostly to my day job and other bill-paying obligations. If you feel the need to hate me, the line starts right behind Nanci Kalanta.


I'm Twittering again. For the life of me, I don't know why. Follow me here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Our Secret Masters

Legendary country singer Loretta Lynn was in town to perform the other day. Her bus was parked in front of my office (she was staying at the hotel next door).

As I was leaving, one of the local homeless guys rushed by me. I asked him was what going on.

"Loretta Lynn is handing out autographs," he said. "Come get one."

I told him I was running late for an appointment.

"By the way," he said, "did you know Loretta Lynn is a robot built by the two-fingered people who really control the world?"

I didn't. But that explains why she can still perform at 115 years old.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Back From Mexico

It was a great trip. I’ve decided I’m tired of airports. And it’s good to be with our cats again. More when I catch up on rest.

I came home to find my contributor’s copies of The Avenger Chronicles. It’s a nice looking book that includes two contributions from me: a solo story and a collaboration. You can find it here. (I was a late addition to the lineup so I didn't make the cut for the Amazon listing. *sigh*)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Reading, Writing and Packing

It’s been too long since I’ve talked about books here.

Ed Lee’s new novel, Brides of the Impaler, is both a departure from what most fans expect from Lee, and a bloodsucking success. Lee’s setting is uber-urban: a midtown New York populated by excess-addicted yuppies, calloused cops and crackhead whores. Add to the mix an artifact that may contain the spirit of Dracula, and this book’s off to the races. Lee proves he can deliver the scares in the back woods and the big city. And there’s plenty of sex and gore to satisfy longtime fans of Lee.

The Given Day is another departure, this time from Dennis LeHane, author of Gone Baby Gone and Mystic River. Set in Boston, at the end of the first World War, this epic encompasses racism, baseball, the influenza epidemic, police corruption, labor unions, immigration and the devastating Boston police strike. It’s a potboiler and a page turner, with writing that is, in turns, literary and pulpish. My only question is: will Scorcese be directing the movie?

A racially-charged incident from 1972 propels The Turnaround by George Pelecanos. Three white teens drive into a black neighborhood. Epithets are shouted, violence ensues, and one of the teens is killed. In the present, Pelecanos catches up with the survivors of the incident. Some have prospered. Others haven’t done so well. When Pelecanos finally brings the survivors together, each is looking for something different: forgiveness, redemption, even payback. The story concludes in a way that is surprising and moving. Possibly Pelecanos’ best novel to date.


I had a story accepted for an anthology this week. One more commitment out of the way. I’m trying to finish another promised piece this week, before we head out of town.


We’re going to a resort in Mexico next week. I’ll be out of the country on election day, and will miss voting for the first time since I was 18.

Norma and I went to our courthouse Friday to cast our absentee ballots. The election officials told us that absentee turnout was huge, and they hoped the number of ballots cast on election day would be record-setting. So do I. In the past, a 30% voter turn out in Kentucky has been considered good. Oh, really? 70% percent of the citizenry stays home and that’s good thing? If this election causes more people to participate in the process, regardless of who they vote for, that’s a victory.

Now I have to face my greatest challenge of the year: what books to pack.

Hardcovers are out. Since I have to pay if my bag is over fifty pounds, I’m not taking any chances. I can stuff more paperbacks into my carry-on.

At the moment, I’m leaning toward a few Hard Case Crime novels, a couple of Leisure paperbacks and the last few issues of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. That’s subject to change, of course. In fact, I’ll probably be adjusting the book lineup on the way to the airport. I’m sure my fellow book lovers will understand.

The beach, books, no election commercials and unlimited alcohol? Just what the doctor ordered.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Come on Come On/Stones in the Road

Hey, kids! It's one of Mark's favorite Mary Chapin Carpenter songs.

And here's the other one.

Whassup, McCain?

Friday, October 24, 2008

My Friends, Let Me Be Honest With You...

I have a confession: I'll vote for whoever Andy Griffith tells me to vote for. Come on, he's Andy Griffith.

See more Ron Howard videos at Funny or Die

Monday, October 13, 2008

Reading in the Mountain State

Friday Night I joined Brian J. Hatcher and Michael Knost at a release party for Legends of the Mountain State 2: More Ghostly Tales from the State of West Virginia. Here's an action shot:

A good time was had by all, even if Border's had us set up a few feet from the gizmo they use to grind the coffee beans. Thanks to everyone who stopped by. We left a bunch of signed books behind for you.


So I'm not a blog hog, I ripped this off from Knost's site:

Sunday, October 12, 2008

This Is Funny, I Don't Care Who You Are

Happy Birthday, Lester Dent

Thanks to L. L. Soares who reminded me that today was the birthday of Lester Dent, the man who wrote most of the Doc Savage novels under the Kenneth Robeson house name.

Dent was born in 1904 and passed away from a heart attack March 11, 1959 --a few months before I was born.

In between he wrote a lot of fiction, some of it very good. Had he lived, I have no doubt he'd be fondly remembered as a mystery/suspense author ala John D. MacDonald (who had a number of stories published in Doc Savage Magazine).

Early in his career Dent published an article in Writer's Digest in which he revealed his master plot formula for pulp fiction. Check it out, then compare how closely a lot of today's fiction sticks to it.

This is a formula, a master plot, for any 6000 word pulp story. It has worked on adventure, detective, western and war-air. It tells exactly where to put everything. It shows definitely just what must happen in each successive thousand words.

No yarn of mine written to the formula has yet failed to sell.

The business of building stories seems not much different from the business of building anything else.

Here's how it starts:


One of these DIFFERENT things would be nice, two better, three swell. It may help if they are fully in mind before tackling the rest.

A different murder method could be--different. Thinking of shooting, knifing, hydrocyanic, garroting, poison needles, scorpions, a few others, and writing them on paper gets them where they may suggest something. Scorpions and their poison bite? Maybe mosquitos or flies treated with deadly germs?

If the victims are killed by ordinary methods, but found under strange and identical circumstances each time, it might serve, the reader of course not knowing until the end, that the method of murder is ordinary. Scribes who have their villain's victims found with butterflies, spiders or bats stamped on them could conceivably be flirting with this gag.

Probably it won't do a lot of good to be too odd, fanciful or grotesque with murder methods.

The different thing for the villain to be after might be something other than jewels, the stolen bank loot, the pearls, or some other old ones.

Here, again one might get too bizarre.

Unique locale? Easy. Selecting one that fits in with the murder method and the treasure--thing that villain wants--makes it simpler, and it's also nice to use a familiar one, a place where you've lived or worked. So many pulpateers don't. It sometimes saves embarrassment to know nearly as much about the locale as the editor, or enough to fool him.

Here's a nifty much used in faking local color. For a story laid in Egypt, say, author finds a book titled "Conversational Egyptian Easily Learned," or something like that. He wants a character to ask in Egyptian, "What's the matter?" He looks in the book and finds, "El khabar, eyh?" To keep the reader from getting dizzy, it's perhaps wise to make it clear in some fashion, just what that means. Occasionally the text will tell this, or someone can repeat it in English. But it's a doubtful move to stop and tell the reader in so many words the English translation.

The writer learns they have palm trees in Egypt. He looks in the book, finds the Egyptian for palm trees, and uses that. This kids editors and readers into thinking he knows something about Egypt.

Here's the second installment of the master plot.

Divide the 6000 word yarn into four 1500 word parts. In each 1500 word part, put the following:


  1. First line, or as near thereto as possible, introduce the hero and swat him with a fistful of trouble. Hint at a mystery, a menace or a problem to be solved--something the hero has to cope with.
  2. The hero pitches in to cope with his fistful of trouble. (He tries to fathom the mystery, defeat the menace, or solve the problem.)
  3. Introduce ALL the other characters as soon as possible. Bring them on in action.
  4. Hero's endevours land him in an actual physical conflict near the end of the first 1500 words.
  5. Near the end of first 1500 words, there is a complete surprise twist in the plot development.

SO FAR: Does it have SUSPENSE? Is there a MENACE to the hero? Does everything happen logically?

At this point, it might help to recall that action should do something besides advance the hero over the scenery. Suppose the hero has learned the dastards of villains have seized somebody named Eloise, who can explain the secret of what is behind all these sinister events. The hero corners villains, they fight, and villains get away. Not so hot.

Hero should accomplish something with his tearing around, if only to rescue Eloise, and surprise! Eloise is a ring-tailed monkey. The hero counts the rings on Eloise's tail, if nothing better comes to mind. They're not real. The rings are painted there. Why?


  1. Shovel more grief onto the hero.
  2. Hero, being heroic, struggles, and his struggles lead up to:
  3. Another physical conflict.
  4. A surprising plot twist to end the 1500 words.

NOW: Does second part have SUSPENSE? Does the MENACE grow like a black cloud? Is the hero getting it in the neck? Is the second part logical?

DON'T TELL ABOUT IT! Show how the thing looked. This is one of the secrets of writing; never tell the reader--show him. (He trembles, roving eyes, slackened jaw, and such.) MAKE THE READER SEE HIM.

When writing, it helps to get at least one minor surprise to the printed page. It is reasonable to to expect these minor surprises to sort of inveigle the reader into keeping on. They need not be such profound efforts. One method of accomplishing one now and then is to be gently misleading. Hero is examining the murder room. The door behind him begins slowly to open. He does not see it. He conducts his examination blissfully. Door eases open, wider and wider, until--surprise! The glass pane falls out of the big window across the room. It must have fallen slowly, and air blowing into the room caused the door to open. Then what the heck made the pane fall so slowly? More mystery.

Characterizing a story actor consists of giving him some things which make him stick in the reader's mind. TAG HIM.



  1. Shovel the grief onto the hero.
  2. Hero makes some headway, and corners the villain or somebody in:
  3. A physical conflict.
  4. A surprising plot twist, in which the hero preferably gets it in the neck bad, to end the 1500 words.

DOES: It still have SUSPENSE? The MENACE getting blacker? The hero finds himself in a hell of a fix? It all happen logically?

These outlines or master formulas are only something to make you certain of inserting some physical conflict, and some genuine plot twists, with a little suspense and menace thrown in. Without them, there is no pulp story.

These physical conflicts in each part might be DIFFERENT, too. If one fight is with fists, that can take care of the pugilism until next the next yarn. Same for poison gas and swords. There may, naturally, be exceptions. A hero with a peculiar punch, or a quick draw, might use it more than once.

The idea is to avoid monotony.

ACTION: Vivid, swift, no words wasted. Create suspense, make the reader see and feel the action.

ATMOSPHERE: Hear, smell, see, feel and taste.

DESCRIPTION: Trees, wind, scenery and water.



  1. Shovel the difficulties more thickly upon the hero.
  2. Get the hero almost buried in his troubles. (Figuratively, the villain has him prisoner and has him framed for a murder rap; the girl is presumably dead, everything is lost, and the DIFFERENT murder method is about to dispose of the suffering protagonist.)
  3. The hero extricates himself using HIS OWN SKILL, training or brawn.
  4. The mysteries remaining--one big one held over to this point will help grip interest--are cleared up in course of final conflict as hero takes the situation in hand.
  5. Final twist, a big surprise, (This can be the villain turning out to be the unexpected person, having the "Treasure" be a dud, etc.)
  6. The snapper, the punch line to end it.

HAS: The SUSPENSE held out to the last line? The MENACE held out to the last? Everything been explained? It all happen logically? Is the Punch Line enough to leave the reader with that WARM FEELING? Did God kill the villain? Or the hero?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Signing/ Reading

If you're anywhere in the vicinity of Huntington, West Virginia, consider coming to Border's in the Huntington Mall tonight. I'll be there with Michael Knost, the editor of Legends of the Mountain State 2, signing books and reading my contribution.

The party is 7-9. I'll be there for the final hour.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Make Believe Maverick

Rolling Stone explodes many of the myths about John McCain in a new profile. If it's true, this makes Johnny Mac look even more like the second coming of W. If it's not true, I'm sure one of the fact checking sites will let us know.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Sarah Palin Debate Flow Chart

(stolen from the Shocklines forum)

Pod of Horror #48

Let Pod of Horror #48 be your pumpkin carving soundtrack. Robert Dunbar talks about Leisure publishing THE PINES twice. Scott Bradley is back with the scoop on THE BOOK OF LISTS: HORROR. Actor and Writer Michael Boatman takes THE REVENANT ROAD. Glenn Kay, author of ZOMBIE MOVIES: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE, discusses the cinema of the dead. And everybody’s favorite sassy demon, Grim Rictus, returns to PoH. We’ve also got Norm Rubenstein’s book reviews, The Call of Kalanta and The Tomb of Trivia. Pod of Horror is produced and hosted by Mark Justice. Download it at I-Tunes or direct to your desktop

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Coming Up For Air

I’m still around, just covered up with work related to my day job. All the writing I’ve done over the last few weeks has been for radio. So if I owe you a story, please know I’m sorry. If it doesn’t have a punch line, then I haven’t had a chance to work on it.


I did get my contributor copy of The Book of Lists: Horror today, edited by Amy Wallace, Del Howison and my pal Scott Bradley. It’s gorgeous book, and I vastly underestimated how cool it would be to share a book with Stephen King and Ray Bradbury.

By the way, Scott will return to Pod of Horror this weekend with an interview about the book.


I’m only a couple of chapters into The Given Day by Dennis LeHane, a sprawling novel revolving around the 1919 Boston police strike.

I know that LeHane has pissed off a lot of mystery writers and readers with his recent comments dismissive of his earlier work. But, damn, can he write. The opening of The Given Day stars Babe Ruth, and it’s friggin’ magic.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


The West Wing was one of my favorites shows, especially the first four seasons, as produced and mostly written by Aaron Sorkin. (in fact, we watched the series finale again last night). It was an inspiring fantasy -- the characters chose public service to actually make thing better, not for personal power or glory. Can you imagine that?

In this morning's New York Times, Maureen Dowd presents a meeting between Barack Obama and the fictional ex-President Josiah Bartlett, actually written by Sorkin (who once dated Dowd).

As usual, Bartlett hands out a few sharp words of wisdom.

Check it out.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Monday, September 15, 2008


It's been a whirlwind of a weekend--literally, as I spent yesterday watching the suckage that is The Cincinnati Bengals first hand in 60 MPH winds.

I have a ton a email to sort through. If you are waiting on a response from me, expect it later today or tomorrow.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Legends of the Mountain State 2 is Here

I got my contributor's copies today, so I guess this one is ready to go.

Here's part of the publisher's press release:

This book portrays more of the mysterious, bizarre and
spine-tingling Mountain State tales and legends that
have been passed down over the centuries. The title is
Legends Of The Mountain State 2: More Ghostly Tales
From The State Of West Virginia, with a foreword
written by Gov. Joe Manchin, III.

But don’t be misled by the title of this anthology . .
. although all stories are based on known ghosts and
legends of West Virginia, every fan of horror, ghost
stories, and dark fiction will love this project.

In fact, legendary horror writer Joe R. Lansdale had
this to say:

“Hardboiled, Southern Gothic. I loved it. It’s lean
and mean and it doesn’t care if you like it, which is
what makes me like it all the better. Written with a
razor on the back of a dead bloated redneck cracker
down by the river side, the mountains in view, this is
one excellent read.”

Like its predecessor—Legends of the Mountain State
[which was released on Halloween 2007]—this unique
anthology offers thirteen additional accounts of
ghostly manifestations, mythology and mayhem, based on
legends from West Virginia. Rural ghost sightings and
stories of the macabre take center stage with this
release by Woodland Press, LLC, an independent
book-publishing firm located in Chapmanville, WV.

Noted horror writer/editor Michael Knost, a native of
Logan, WV, returns as the anthology’s editor, and
writers for this volume are an amalgamation of
nationally respected authors in the horror, science
fiction and fantasy fields, including Gary A.
Braunbeck, Mark Justice, Bob Freeman, Lucy A. Snyder,
Nate Kenyon, Steven L. Shrewsbury, Michael Laimo,
Maurice Broaddus, Brian J. Hatcher, Mary SanGiovanni,
Jonathan Maberry, Rob Darnell and Nate Southard.

“This is a book that uniquely promotes the rich
folklore and storytelling tradition of our Mountain
State,” says Keith Davis, CEO of Woodland Press.
“Readers went crazy over the first installment.
Actually, Legends of the Mountain State remains the
number one ghost tale book in the Mountain State. This
fresh, new release builds upon its predecessor’s
monumental success. We believe Legends of the Mountain
State 2 will also appeal to readers outside the
state’s borders. West Virginia has more than its share
of ghost stories, legends and peculiar oddities.”

You can order it here.

There's also going to be a launch party at Borders in the Huntington Mall (Barboursville, WV) on October 10th from 7-9 p.m. I should be there for the last hour.

Double Outhouse

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Sucktacular Sunday Sports

The NFL season begun in its usual tradition: The Bengals lost.

Thankfully, though, they only suck on offense, defense and special teams.


Fortunately, my wonderful wife didn’t want me to watch the game alone (my brother was working), so she invited some friends over and made her world-famous tacos and Better Than Sex Cake.

Believe me, tacos, beer and cake make everything better.


Let’s talk reading’ and writin’.

I’m in full pulp mode. I read a Doc Savage this weekend (The Thousand-Headed Man). It’s been over 35 years since I read it and it was, in essence, a new novel. It’s one of the best of the Docs, with all the ingredients: a far-flung locale, a weird mystery and much fighting.

Now I’m reading one of the new Shadow reprints. When I was a kid, I found the Shadow novels too slow, especially compared to the Doc Savages, but I’ve been enjoying a lot of the new reprints.

Anyway, this is all to pump me up for the long pulp story I’m writing for Ron Fortier. I’ve owed it too him for a while, so I’ve put the novel aside for a few days to work on this pulptacular yarn.

I also received another invitation to an anthology. I’ve got a pretty good idea for this one, so I’m going to go for it as soon as the pulp thing is done.


Callie update:

We adopted a new cat a week or so ago. We already have two cats. Here’s how it’s going:


Welcome to the new soundtrack of my life.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Stephen King Sums It Up

When people ask why I'm leaning toward one particular candidate in the upcoming presidential election, I try to explain.

But leave it to Stephen King to say it more simply and clearly in an interview he conducted with himself on his new website:

Steve: So you do want to talk about politics?

SK: Really, I don’t. I’ve got an Obama sticker on my car, and I guess that says what needs saying. Call me a tiresome liberal if you want, but I just think it would be nice to have a smart guy running things for a change. We tried dumb and it hasn’t worked out too well.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Twitter Litter

No, I don't Twitter. I tried it back in the spring and quickly realized that it was in direct opposition to my goal of spending less time on line, not more. Even my ego is not large enough to want people to know if there was corn in my latest poo. Deleted account. Thanks for asking.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Dastardly Dave's New Blog

David T. Wilbanks, the man who has started more message boards than anyone else on the World Wide Interwebs, has a new blog. Let him point you to something of interest to fans of horror fiction.

Dave also reports we're getting good feedback to our Dead Earth sequel from his hand-picked squadron of ninja readers.

Adopting Callie

Adopting another cat was the last thing we had planned. We got Lois and Clark when they were 16 weeks old in November of 1995. We have a pretty good thing going. and they don't care for other four-legged critters.

A lot of stray cats have staked out our house in the last 13 years, and while we've tried to care for them, we had never been inclined to bring one into the house.

Then this little cat came along. We'd spotted her in the neighborhood a few months ago, a quick moving orange-brown-black shadow, darting in and out of the bushes. A couple of weeks ago she showed up on our back deck, demanding affection. She loved to be petted. She loved to be held. She had obviously been someone's pet at one time. So we fed her and gave her some attention. Then every night we'd watch her curl up on the car or on a piece of deck furniture. Alone.

Norma and I both arrived at what now seems an inevitable decision. Last week we took her to the vet, had all the necessary stuff done, and now Callie lives here (yeah, not the most original name, but when she was living on the deck, "Calie" seemed better than "that cat out back").

She's spent most of her time in the den. The picture above was taken this morning on her excursion to the living room.

The one below was in the den this morning when Clark came in to find out why the door had been closed.
The meeting went like this:

Clark: Hiss.
Callie: Hiss.
Clark: (turns around and quickly exits the room).

I have a feeling that we have a lot of hissing in our future.

But I know we did the right thing.

Lois and Clark may not agree.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Pod of Horror #47: Leblanc, Everson and Youers

On Pod of Horror #47, we dish with Deborah LeBlanc about writing, cajun healing, literacy and the HWA. John Everson talks about his Stoker award-winning novel COVENANT. And newcomer Rio Youers introduces himself and his novel EVERDEAD. Plus Nanci noshes about the news, Norm Rubenstein brings on the reviews, and we give stuff away. Pod of Horror is produced and hosted by Mark Justice. Download it at I-Tunes or direct to your desktop.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008


So when the hospital gift shop closed at an unreasonable hour, I trucked over to Empire Books and picked up some magazines. Got Doorways #6 with fiction from Clive Barker and the Little boys, Bentley and John R., the latest Rue Morgue and the Oct/Nov F&SF with a new Stephen King story.

New book arrivals this week:

The Minotauress by Edward Lee
Skull Cathedral by Tim Waggoner
Shattered by Jay Bonansinga

Meet Scarlet Justice

There hasn't been much writing the last few days. But I have spent a lot of time at the hospital waiting on my niece to arrive.

Ain't she a cutie?

Kudos to Cabell-Huntington Hospital in Huntington, WV, simply one of the best care facilities I've every been in (except the gift shop closes too damn early, just as I was in dire need of reading material).

Say Uncle

My niece was born in the wee hours of this morning. My brother and his wife and doing fine, if exhausted, and Baby Scarlet is perfect.

I think I'm going to enjoy this uncle gig.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

When Civilization Ends...

...I'll be screwed. The water was off for about seven hours yesterday (due to a water line break about a half-mile from the house where, I swear, the water department has "fixed" four times in the last six weeks) and you'd think we were both in "the box" right out of some prison camp movie. I've never been so thirsty, even though we had plenty of refrigerated soft drinks and juices. I wanted water, dammit. Thankfully, just as I was crawling across the living room floor, a mirage of an oasis swimming before my eyes, the water came back on. Sweet, sweet water. Of course it looked like Lipton's Tea, but it was wet.

Add this experience to the (I'm not making this up) 8 times our electricity has gone off this year.

Bring on Mad Max/I Am Legend/The Stand. I'm ready. As long as there's air conditioning.

Dave likes the Dead Earth sequel. Now we're waiting on comments from our first readers.

Then we'll see what happens. Regardless, I feel good about it. We're ready to map out the next entry in the series.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

So How Was Your Weekend?

Other than a small automobile woe early Saturday and a touch of upset stomach tonight, it’s been pretty good.

It was a rare weekend off for me, and I only had two goals (always set the bar low, says I): to send out the synopsis for the anthology (it’s a licensed character and it has to be approved in advance) and finish the edits on the Dead Earth sequel.

I managed to do both.

I also took a long walk this morning with my wife, chopped about 8000 tomatoes for her lasagna sauce, and watched some movies. Here’s a quick recap:

Shutter: Okay, a bit predictable. C
The Bucket List: Much better than I expected. B+
Definitely, Maybe: Exactly what I expected. B-
Dead and Gone: I think I’ll save this for a later post, along with my review of the novel.


I really missed Horrorfind this year, though the negative reviews make me glad I didn’t waste the money.

I’m thinking of checking out Context at the end of September. It’s pretty close (less than three hours) and has a lineup of guests that sounds interesting.


So far, Brides of the Impaler by Edward Lee is very good.

Steve King and Me--The Book of Lists: Horror

The Book of List: Horror goes on sale September 16th. It has lists from an eclectic lineup that includes Stephen King, Johnny Ramone, Ray Bradbury, Edward Lee, Eli Roth...and Mark Justice???

How the hell did he get in there?

Anyway, it's a huge collection of horror-related lists from writers, film makers, musicians and such.

My list involves my favorite horror stories from the bloody pulps.

You can pre-order this bad boy here.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Lee Rocks

I've been waiting to read Edward Lee's Brides of the Impaler since I first heard about it. I mean, the only thing that would make me want to read a vampire novel these days is if you told me Lee or Gary Braunbeck had written it.

Imagine my surprise when my copy of Brides came in the mail today, I flipped to the Acknowledgments page and found my name listed there.

A cool moment for a die hard Lee fan.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Old Brain, New Books

I think I’m reading slower than I used to.

I don’t mean move-my-lips, put-my-finger-on-each-word slow. It’s just that my reading speed seems to have decreased over the last few years. Twenty years ago I could read a book a day. Now, not so much.

Of course, twenty years ago I didn’t have a cell phone, email, DVR, a DVD player and The World Wide Computer Interweb. I wasn’t working as hard as I do now and I wasn’t trying to write for a couple of hours a day (though I wish I had).

Twenty years ago I could drop everything to devour the new King or Straub novel. Now, if I’m lucky, I get to read for 10 minutes in bed before I zonk out.

I have to do something about that. I’ve added a lot to my TBR pile this week alone.

At least the writing has been going well lately. In fact this may be the most productive week I’ve had in a while.

I still have to get some pages done tonight before bed. Tomorrow is a work day from hell, so little, if any, writing will get done.

This weekend I have to finish the edits on the Dead Earth sequel and produce a synopsis for an anthology invite.

New Book Arrivals at Casa de Justice:

The Academy by Bentley Little
Secret Histories (Young Repairman Jack) by F. Paul Wilson
Just Like Hell by Nate Southard.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Making It Count

Suicide wasn’t painless.

Scott Queen realized this when he surfaced from the foul-smelling river approximately eight hours after he jumped in. The sunlight hurt his eyes, but that was the only thing he felt. The hunger would come later.

When some tree-hugger protested that Scott’s chemical plant was harming the river with runoff, Scott scoffed, then quietly paid off the state and local officials to make sure nobody looked too closely at what was being dumped in the water. Things had gone well for a long time, until a stupid state senator was caught with a hooker, and confessed every bad thing he’d ever done, including taking money from Scott Queen.

Scott could have survived an EPA probe. The weak-ass agency would have handed out a fine, and that would have been the end of it.

But the IRS got involved. Their investigation uncovered most of Scott’s secrets, including large amounts of unclaimed income scattered across the globe. His lawyer told him that he had to surrender in the morning. The shyster also informed Scott to prepare himself for prison, perhaps a very long stretch.

He couldn’t survive incarceration. His life was over. So he drove to the bridge and made it official.

Or so he thought.

It turned out the tree-huggers were right. All those chemicals his plant poured into the river did have a bad effect.

Scott dog-paddled to the bank and trudged up to the road. Just before he reached the top of the hill he saw a homeless man, sleeping beneath a tattered army jacket.

When he was alive Scott would have crossed the street to avoid anyone who looked and smelled like this guy. But things had changed.

The need instantly turned Scott into a ravenous beast. He pounced on the homeless man, ripping open his throat. The man struggled weakly for just a moment. Scott grabbed a rock and bashed open the skull. He scooped out the spongy brain and gobbled it down. After that, his mind went away for a while.

When he awoke, Scott was still in the tall grass next to the highway. The corpse of the homeless man lay a few feet away like a discarded beer can.

It hurt to think. The hunger was coming back. Scott sensed that it would soon consume his thoughts. Whatever he had been would certainly be replaced by a shambling, starving monster.

That’s when he knew what he had to do, with whatever time he had left.

When the car stopped for him, he ate the driver. Later, he drove to the state capitol with the dead man in the back seat.

Over those last few miles it was hard to remember where he was going. Then he saw the sign: INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE. The workday had just started, so Scott parked in the lot. He could wait. Soon it would be noon, and the busy workers would take a break from ruining lives.

Scott would be ready for lunch.

© 2008 Mark Justice


I love Weeds, my current favorite show. The writing is crisp and funny, and they pack a lot into 30 minutes.

Mary-Louise Parker is nominated for an Emmy again this year, and holy crap, does she deserve it. Especially after the scene this week where she talks to Shane about masturbating to her pictures and to Silas about banging the older neighbor woman (played by the talented Julie Bowen).

And all this raving is not because last week’s show gave us the most Mary-Louise nudity we’ve ever had.*

So, come Emmy time, I’ll cast my vote for M-LP.

You know, if, uh, I could vote.

*Disclaimer added in case my wife reads this.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Steve Earle and Early Autumn

When I interview writers for Pod of Horror, I usually ask about their writing routines. Many writers have to write to music. Some need total silence. I don’t prefer either way. It just depends on my mood. However, the last few days I’ve written up a storm to Outlaw Country on Sirius Satellite Radio. It must be something about the combination of rockabilly and the Loon in the Afternoon, Mojo Nixon, that gets these fingers dancing on the keys. But, hey, as long as it works...


We’re having Fall weather in August. This morning it was 52 degrees as I drove to work. I know it will all too soon become hotter than the hinges of Hell. Until then, I’ll be loving this Autumn preview. And thinking of pumpkin pie and candy corn and Jamie Lee Curtis running from Michael Myers and Linus in the pumpkin patch and Ray Bradbury.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Why Mondays Suck

1) Very little sleep, which leaves me feeling like my head is full of angry bees.

2) The Internet was down at work. A twice-a-week occurrence.

3) Car troubles.

4) An hour on the phone with our evil insurance company (all traced back to the fact that our insurance company is staffed by inbred monkeys with substance abuse problems).

In the plus column, I got a free book in the mail, my beautiful wife made a fantastic dinner, I got to spend time with my cool cats and I made progress on the novel.

Okay. I win.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

New Review

Legends of the Mountain State 2: More Ghostly Tales from the State of West Virginia is reviewed at Dark Scribes. This new volume includes my story -- well, let reviewer Vince Liaguno give you the title:

"Its lengthy, schmaltzy title aside, Mark Justice’s “Dancing in Time to the Beating Heart of the World” is a surprisingly poignant story in which a heartbroken pharmacist’s faith is restored with the help of a haunted hospital’s ghost nurse and a curmudgeonly janitor. Justice imbues a genuine sense of emotion into this simple, classic-style ghost story that ably sets the tone of the anthology."

The rest of the review can be read here. I'm happy to be in the volume with a bunch of great writers (who use shorter, non-schmaltzy titles). I can't wait to read it in when it arrives in a few weeks.

The State of the Mark

Sorry I haven’t been around much. First, there was vacation, followed by a foot injury that kept me away from the computer. Now that I’m on the mend, regular postings should resume.


Norma usually packs a healthy lunch for me. But occasionally I have the urge to eat junk. That happened Friday. I’d been craving a Burger King Whopper for a couple of days. At lunch, I walked to the local BK and placed my order.

“We can’t make no Whopper,” the woman told me. “Our broiler is down.”

“So what can I get?” I asked.

“Fish or chicken.”

I ordered a chicken sandwich, then noticed that a very fat man was waving excitedly at the other end of the counter where orders are picked up.

“Well, can’t I get a double Angus burger?” he said. “I’ll take a double anything!!!!”

I don’t know when or how, but one day I’m going to write a story titled “I’ll Take a Double Anything”.


Since last we talked, Bridges Magazine, a local publication, has purchased another humor column from me. It’s in their Summer/Fall ‘08 issue. This is my fourth appearance in Bridges. You can subscribe or buy single issues here.


On the writing front, I finished and submitted a short story today. This one should make readers of one of my earlier books happy. I’ll let you know if it sells. If not, I have a feeling the story will make its debut on Pod of Horror.

Now I just have to write two other stories and a novelette I’ve promised, finish the edits on the sequel to Dead Earth: The Green Dawn before Dave Wilbanks drives from Minnesota to Kentucky to do me bodily harm, then complete novel #1 and start novel #2.

I need another pot of coffee.


I’m going to miss Horrorfind for the first time in years.

A number of factors played a part in this, including work and the impending birth of my niece, which could happen at any second.

I’ll miss hanging out with the friends I’ve made at Horrorfind, the best part of the convention, in my opinion.

If you’re going, please chide Nanci Kalanta about her potty mouth. Her profanity is a menace to all right-thinking people everywhere.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Tragic Tale of Too Much Testosterone

(originally published in Bridges magazine, Summer 2007)

When the editor of this fine publication asked me to contribute something to this issue I asked, “Is there a theme?”

“This is sort of our ‘manly-man’ issue,” she said.

Ah! It was obvious why she had approached me, the guy known in some circles as Manly Mark, Fearless Lighter of Charcoal Grills and Killer of Spiders in the Bathroom. The Master of Masculinity and the Titan of Testosterone are two more monikers I have given myself – er, others have given me over the years.

Well, this was an interesting challenge. At first I thought I should use the opportunity to recount my many manly exploits, like the time I rescued the Swedish Bikini Team after their plane went down in the Himalayas (and my lips were chapped for a week after all that mouth-to mouth) or when the CIA sent Sandra Bullock and me to Iraq, playing newlyweds, to assassinate Saddam Hussein, only to fail when Sandy – as she liked me to call her – wouldn’t let me leave our honeymoon suite at the Baghdad Hilton.

But then I realized all manly men had similar exploits (which, by the way we share with each other over monthly dinners of boar and white buffalo at the He-Man Adventurer’s Club).

So I decided to use this space to perform a public service for the new members of the manly-man community. I am going to reveal, for the very first time anywhere, how to keep your manliness hidden.

I know what you’re thinking: Mark, if you’re gifted with an overabundance of testosterone, why would you wish to hide it?

Simple. Pure unadulterated manliness drives women crazy and causes less manly men to be jealous, making it difficult to lead a normal life. Hey, why do you think Superman dresses up in a business suit and glasses?

Because – as only the manliest of us know – merely walking down the street can cause even the most proper of ladies to disrobe and the unmanly men to slink away in fear.

Therefore I will now describe, for the very first time outside of the circle of manliness, the secret of camouflaging your turbo-powered testosterone. These are time-tested, rock-solid methods employed by me, so you know they work.

1) Sit on the same side of the restaurant booth as your date. This is guaranteed manliness camouflage. Note: it doesn’t count if someone else is on the other side of the table. You and your date must be the only people at the table. Manly-men never sit on the same side of the table as their dates, as it interferes with manly-man seductive eye contact.

2) Watch musicals. A lively musical is toxic to testosterone. No one will ever suspect you’re a manly man if you’re tapping your foot while singing along with the happy songs.

“I like to be in America!
Okay by me in America!
Everything free in America
For a small fee in America…”

3) Mention to friends or co-workers that you enjoy any of the following television shows: Gilmore Girls, Oprah, Dancing with the Stars, Dr. Phil, Grey’s Anatomy or any program on Bravo or Oxygen. Get bonus points if you’ve seen a Hugh Grant movie.

4) Go shopping. If you manly-men think you already do this, please be aware that buying tools or car parts doesn’t count. You must shop for clothing and groceries. Nothing says “I’m not manly” like a friend seeing you carrying a carton of yogurt and a package of tampons. Be sure to roll your eyes and say, “My wife is making me do her shopping.” Your buddy will offer an understanding comment, but as he walks away he will think, “Nope. Not a manly strand of DNA in that guy.”

And finally, the crème de le crème, the ultimate subterfuge, the perfect disguise for manly-men:

5) Collect comic books. If you’re worried your neighbor suspects that you possess an overabundance of virile genes, try this: the next time the neighbor says hi to you as you stand on your deck grilling fresh salmon and sipping a Zima, wave and proclaim, “So who do you think would win in a fight – Wonder Woman or The Hulk?”

There you have it. Never worry again that others will see through your disguise.

Please keep this confidential, brother manly-men. I have to go now. My wife says if I don’t pick up my comic books I can’t watch Pretty Woman tonight.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Pod of Horror # 46: The 3 Steves

Pod of Horror #46 is the Three Steves Special Edition. Authors Steve Vernon, Steven Shrewsbury and Steve Alten speak with us. Nanci talks news and booze on The Call of Kalanta. Norm Rubenstein is back with more book reviews. And we finally have a winner in The Tomb of Trivia. Pod of Horror is produced and hosted by Mark Justice. Download it at I-Tunes or direct to your desktop

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