Lisa Morton is a very busy individual. She is a bookseller and is involved in the organization of genre conventions. She edits books and she writes screenplays. But most importantly for us right now, Lisa Morton crafts some of the finest short horror stories being published today. As you are about to find out.

Oh, stick around after the feature and we'll pick Lisa's brain a little.

Ty Connor stood horrified and wide-eyed in the doorway of the office, staring at the blood. It was everywhere - pooled on the floor, streaked across the desk, garnishing the framed movie posters on the walls. Later, Ty would reflect on the irony of seeing the gore-laden posters for Easter Massacre and Hump Day coated in the real thing, but all he could do now was stare and stifle an urge to retch.

It took him a moment to spot the source of all the blood: The mutilated and obviously very-dead body of Marc Rabinski was splayed half out of the chair behind the desk, his cheap business suit dyed dark brown from the grue.

Ty started to head into the office to get the phone, call the police, but he stopped after a single step, realization hitting as hard as the blood scent: Just yesterday he’d met with Marc about his movie project Black Friday, but despite the fact that he had former box-office draw James “General” Washington attached, the meeting had been one more in a long line of recent rejections.

“Look, Ty,” Rabinski had said after an exaggerated sigh, “I loved what you and Jimmy did with Sinner Man, and I appreciate how much money it made. But this…this Black Friday…well, friend, we’re halfway through 1982 – nobody wants black pictures anymore.”

Ty had tapped his script as he answered: “But check this out, Marc – it’s not just a black picture, it’s a black horror picture, the first one of the ‘80s. It’s like Halloween or Friday the 13th, with a psycho running around knocking off kids, but they’re all black, so you’ll get that audience…”

Marc just shook his head. “Ty, we already get that audience with these horror pictures – that’s why they’re not going to movies like Sinner Man and Superfly nowadays. But see, because it’s white kids getting killed, the kids from the suburbs come to the horror movies, too. Now you’re asking me to cut the audience in half…I’m sorry, Ty, but it just won’t work.”

Rabinski had ended by taking pity on Ty and suggesting a rewrite (or, as Ty secretly called it, a “rewhite”); Ty had gone home and phoned Mama first (she liked to hear about all of his meetings) and then Jimmy to tell him still no deal, but then he’d spent the night considering the rewrite – to recreate his cast for white teen actors – and he’d come back this morning to find out if Rabinski was prepared to cough up any development money.

Evidently not.

And Rabinski wasn’t the first one, either. There’d been others in the news recently, three independent producers, all brutally murdered, stabbed in their homes or offices or cars.

Ty had met with every one of them, and they’d all passed on Black Friday.

He felt panic rising as he pictured the L.A.P.D. turning up at this latest scene, finding Ty – a black man – there and putting him together with the other victims. He backed out of the office, panting, eyes darting. He hadn’t used the phone…he hadn’t stepped in any blood…he hadn’t touched anything, except the doorknob, which he wiped clean with the end of his sleeve…

An appointment book.

Rabinski must have had one. And did he keep other notes, on his meetings?

Ty realized any calendar would be on the desk, and he couldn’t bear the idea of pulling out bloodied papers, leaving thick trails of crimson –

So he ran. He ran from Rabinski’s small office in a building on Wilshire to his car, and from there he drove, not to his own small home (empty since his wife had left a year ago), but out of instinct to the comfort of his first home, where Mama still lived with Ty’s brother Kendall.

“Oh, baby,” Mama said, when she saw him, “I just can’t believe how they keep turning you down.”

Then her arms went around him and everything was all right, at least for a few seconds.

The next day Ty read about Marc in the papers. About how he’d been stabbed 47 times, like the other three before him. Ty had just closed the paper when Jimmy Washington called.

“You hear about Marc Rabinski?”

By the end of the conversation Jimmy had pulled out of Black Friday. He said he still loved Ty, that he thought Sinner Man was one of the best movies of the ‘70s, that he needed work pretty badly…but at this point he’d rather be in real estate than read about any more murdered producers.

Ty had the awful feeling that Jimmy thought he was connected somehow to the murders.

Ironically enough, Ty had had the same thought about Jimmy. The forgotten ex-movie idol, up for the lead in a horror movie, taking out the producers who turned the project down…But after Jimmy hung up, Ty realized that theory was probably out.

He still had one other meeting scheduled this week, with Jerry George, who’d produced the recent masked maniac hit Happy New Fears. Ty knew he should cancel, that it would almost make him some kind of accomplice to meet with another potential victim, especially when he could no longer bring Jimmy Washington to the table…

But, on the other hand, maybe meeting with Jerry George would be his best shot at solving the crimes before the police got around to pointing a finger in Ty Connor’s direction. Ty thought that could well be a finger-pointing that would leave him well and truly fingered for good, headed to the pen on multiple life sentences. No, if he had a chance at clearing his name by meeting with Jerry George (who he felt quite certain would also reject him), he’d take it.

But first he’d promised to help Mama with Kendall.

Kendall had been born with severe autism; now, at 26, he was ten years Ty’s junior and twice his size. Kendall had been going to a new center for handicapped adults, but he’d thrown some kind of fit yesterday and said he wasn’t going back.

Sometimes Ty would just look at Kendall, with his 6’ 6” frame and 300-lb. bulk and perpetually furrowed brow, and wonder how their mama had handled him all these years. Daddy’d been shot not long after Kendall was born, and Mama Connor had raised her two sons alone while working fulltime in a factory to support them. Ty had always dreamed of paying Mama back in style, but he’d been rooked by a sleazy distributor on most of the profits from Sinner Man, and had never had another film experience that level of success. He hadn’t made a movie in three years, and if he didn’t sell Black Friday there was every chance he’d be begging a job as a production assistant on some other director’s movie.

Mama knew about today’s meeting with Jerry George and told him she could handle Kendall, that she had for years; but in the end it took both Mama and Ty working with Kendall and his caregivers at the center to get him settled in again. He’d been agitated and had cried and shouted; when Kendall was like this, Ty was even a little scared of him, and had based the killer in Black Friday on his brother.

“Mama,” Ty asked, as they left the care center, “Kendall hasn’t left the house alone any nights lately, has he?”

“Lord, no. Ty, you know better than to ask that. I would never let your brother leave the house alone at night! He can’t even cross a street by his lonesome.”

But Ty had to wonder.

The meeting with Jerry George led to – as Ty had suspected – another turndown.

“It’s a cute idea, kid,” George had said, and Ty had inwardly winced at being referred to as a child in middle age, “but too hard to sell. The grindhouses are gone; everything’s the multiplexes these days, and a picture like this just won’t play in a suburban mall.”

Ty had nodded politely, left the dingy Hollywood office, used a pay phone to call Mama, then waited outside in his car.

Jerry George, like most producers, was a workaholic. He had one secretary who left at 7 p.m., but at 8 Ty was still in his car, watching George’s shadow parade back and forth across his second-floor office window on Cahuenga Boulevard.

Then there was another shadow with him, followed by a spray of blood across the glass.

Ty leapt from his car and ran, clutching a heavy iron crowbar for protection. He ran through the deserted lobby and pounded on the elevator call button, then decided to try the stairs. He jogged up to the second floor and burst from the stairwell – just in time to see a figure in a hooded sweatshirt step into the elevator. Ty ran down the hall, but he was too late – the elevator doors closed just as he arrived.

There was blood all over the floor, a thick trail leading to George’s office.

Ty didn’t need to check the office to know that Jerry George was dead; rather, he turned and ran back down the stairs, hoping to catch the killer in the lobby.

Except that the elevator went down to a parking garage.

By the time Ty found the stairs leading to the dim, low-ceilinged garage, there was no sign of the murderer. In the distance, though, he heard approaching sirens, and so he ran through the parking structure for the exit, catching a glimpse of police arriving at the building’s front door before he climbed into his own car and managed to steady his shaking hands enough to get the key in the ignition.

He drove straight to Mama’s house.

He found her in the laundry room off the kitchen, shoveling a load into her cranky old washer. “Mama, I have to know: Where’s Kendall?”

“He’s in his room – why?”

Ty ran down the house’s only hallway to the last room on the right. The door was closed, and Ty didn’t knock before he flung the door open.

Kendall looked up from his bed and his comic books, startled. He uttered a choked half-sob and cringed.

“I’m sorry, Kendall,” Ty said, trying to sound soothing, “I…I just wanted to be sure you were okay…I’m leaving now…”

Ty backed out of the room, leaving his brother confused and fearful.

He closed the door and strode down the hallway, thoughtful. Maybe this wasn’t tied to him after all, just a weird series of coincidences…

He lowered himself into one of the kitchen chairs – the same chairs he’d sat on as a child, when Mama had served him and daddy grilled cheese sandwiches and milk – and stared off into space, his mind running through names, dates, old grudges, new bitternesses…

“I swear, I don’t know how I’m ever gonna get all of that out…”

Ty glanced up – and his heart nearly stopped:

Mama was holding a blood-drenched hooded sweatshirt.

Ty’s throat was so dry that he had to swallow before he could speak. “Mama…I thought you said Kendall didn’t go out…”

Mama threw the sweatshirt into a big old utility sink and ran water over it. “He didn’t.”

“But his sweatshirt…”

Mama glanced up at Ty, then down at the shirt – and she laughed. “Lord, honey, this ain’t Kendall’s shirt – he couldn’t even pull that down past his head! That’s my shirt.”

Ty’s knees went weak, and he clutched at the kitchen baseboard for support – except his fingers brushed something, and he turned and saw it was the handle of a butcher knife, a big sturdy 12-inch blade his mama had used on hundreds of steaks…

…and five producers.

“Mama…no, you didn’t…”

She nodded as she scrubbed at the shirt. “Oh, yes I did. I get so tired of watchin’ you struggle against those rich men, Ty. It’s just not right. Not right at all. So I did what any mother would do for her son.”

Ty slid to the floor, helpless. His Mama…the woman who’d raised him, loved him, made him…

“Um-hmm, I did to them just what I did to that no-good rotten father of yours. Nobody raises a hand to my baby.”

Oh, God. Ty remembered how his daddy had once gotten mad at him when he’d taken the 8mm movie camera to play with and had broken it. It’d been a pretty brutal spanking.

And daddy’d been found dead a week later, his killer never caught.

Ty would have to turn her in.

She was still talking above the sound of the water in the sink. “Those men, the way they treated you after how much money you made for ‘ wasn’t right, Ty. Black Friday’s a fine story. My baby deserves better.”

Or would he? What if he just kept the secret and never told anyone? Of course he’d have to be more careful around her – he wouldn’t tell her in the future about the rejections – but couldn’t he offer her the same loving protection she’d given him?

“You’re right, Mama: Black Friday IS a good story.”

He slowly rose to his feet and walked into the laundry room. Mama looked up as he entered, uncertain – she wasn’t used to seeing the men out here.

“Let me help you with that, Mama,” Ty said, smiling as he scrubbed at the bloodstains.

Horror Drive-In: Lisa, you sell books for a living. How does the market seem to you right now?

Lisa Morton: That's almost an unfair question, because my bookstore (the Iliad Bookshop in North Hollywood) just doubled in size, while most of the other independents in our area have expired. Part of it is that - as mercenary as it might sound - economic downturns can be good for used bookstores, since more people need to sell books and a used book is a great cheap form of entertainment.

Beyond that, I think publishing in general is in a great state of flux right now, and it's very interesting to watch. I read a lot of trade journals for booksellers, and of course there's been a lot of talk lately about e-books, but - contrary to popular belief - so far they don't seem to be presenting a threat at all to used bookstores. It's
still cheaper to buy a used paperback than an e-book, and you can't pass an e-book to a friend or trade it back in when you're done with it. As a writer, I'm interested in exploring the wild and woolly frontier of e-books, but as a used bookseller it's not really having much of an impact on my business.

Online bookselling has also changed the book trade in the last few years; in our case, it's for the better. Of course a lot of people buy books online, but that also means we can sell books online. Amazon, for example, has become nearly 10% of our business, with other online services (like accounting for another 5%. And our walk-in customers know that, by the time they add in shipping, it's still cheaper to buy a book from us.

I also think horror is in better shape than a lot of people think. Del Howison, who owns Dark Delicacies (the nation's premiere all-horror bookstore) is a good friend, and we were recently discussing how we think horror's in a bit of a golden age right now, with more new titles than ever from publishers and a healthy small press. And although there is a dearth of print magazines, I think web outlets - like Horror Drive-In, for example! - have become a viable alternative. It's really fun to be a part of this genre right now.

HD-I: I like your enthusiasm and I think it shows in your fiction.

Can you tell us a little bit about your screenwriting. What is your favorite produced script and are you working on anything right now?

LM: I've had half-a-dozen low-budget features produced now, a bunch of episodes of children's cartoon shows, and I've worked as an Associate Producer on two of my features. My favorite produced feature is the first one - MEET THE HOLLOWHEADS, which I still think of under its original title of LIFE ON THE EDGE. It was co-written with Tom Burman, who also directed it and oversaw the makeup effects (the movie is a hybrid of horror, science fiction and comedy, and includes both creature and gore effects), and it remains truest to the original script of any of my movies (and, not coincidentally I think, is the best of any of them). The rest have ranged from pretty decent (TORNADO WARNING) to "why in God's name is MY name on this crapfest when it bears no resemblance to anything I wrote".

Frankly, I'm kind of disenchanted with the movie biz and so I haven't been writing spec scripts for a while now. When work is offered to me, obviously I take it (the money is too good), but I'm not dying to have my name plastered all over one more thing I'd rather see forever forgotten. Last year I did my first script doctoring job, which was both lucrative and surprisingly fun; the movie (which I'm sadly sworn not to reveal) will probably be fairly silly, but at least my name won't be on it!

HD-I: I've seen MEET THE HOLLOWHEADS back around 1990 on VHS. It's a cool little movie. I need to look it up again.

As an editor you've done a nonfiction book on Halloween and a short story anthology called MIDNIGHT WALK. We reviewed MIDNIGHT WALK here at Horror Drive-In, but it was done by my partner, Andy Monge. He liked it a lot. Do you enjoy editing and will do you more of it?

LM: The Halloween book (A HALLOWE'EN ANTHOLOGY) was strictly the kind of editing where my job was to choose the right material, assemble and annotate it properly - very different, in other words, from the kind of fiction editing I did on MIDNIGHT WALK. I enjoyed both, but MIDNIGHT WALK was ultimately more gratifying (and much harder). I worked closely with most of the authors on polishing the stories, and I'm proud of the finished product. Some of the authors were first-timers, and a few of them have since received excellent reviews. I worked on that book for over a year, but the end results were worth it.

And yes, I'd like to edit more anthologies, although I can't see myself ever being the kind of editor who slogs through hundreds of submissions - I'm actually a slow reader and life's too short!

HD-I: Amen. That's one reason why we're 'invitation only' here at Horror Drive-In.

Let's talk about your fiction. Am I incorrect to assume that you primarily work in the short form?

LM: Well...yes...but...I love working in short fiction, but I always planned to mix short fiction and novels. Now, 15 years after I started in short fiction, you may be wondering what happened to that intention...and here's the honest answer: For many years I was simply dumbfounded by the idea of tackling a novel. 90,000 words just seemed impossibly huge to me, and the fact that my writing style tends to be somewhat terse certainly didn't help. Then, a few years ago, I finally took the plunge - and was surprised by how much easier it was than what I'd expected. Now I've got three novels under my belt, and I'm equally addicted to both short and long form. My first novel (which is actually the second one I wrote) will be out in a few months from Gray Friar Press - it's called THE CASTLE OF LOS ANGELES, and probably represents a fairly natural leap forward from my shorter work, because it's a small novel (55,000 words), urban and contemporary (like most of my short stories), and even somewhat autobiographical (the lead character is a small theatre director, which is something I did for a few years).

HD-I: Can you describe the plot of THE CASTLE OF LOS ANGELES for our readers?

LM: It combines several of my personal obsessions - the traditional Gothic novel, the history of Los Angeles, the responsibility of the artist, a strong female protagonist - into a story about a huge, century-old building in downtown L.A., "the Castle", which has been converted into artists' lofts. Beth Ortiz is a young director who takes over running a small theater in the Castle, and soon discovers that manic actors are the least of her problems...because, of course, the Castle is haunted. She also develops a strange rivalry with Jessamine Constanzo, a celebrity artist who occupies the entire top floor of the Castle, and who is obsessed with cabalistic magic and images. By the time the book reaches its climax, Beth realizes that she has a more in common with the apparitions haunting the Castle than she's ever admitted to before.

The book includes an introduction by Gary A. Braunbeck, and a (2-page!) blurb from Dennis Etchison. I can't tell you how thrilled I am to have those two attached, because I really do think they're the two finest practitioners of horror writing in the world today.

HD-I: That sounds fascinating. Now, is THE CASTLE OF LOS ANGELES going to be a limited edition or a more affordable book?

LM: I think the plan is for two states - a hardback and a paperback - and both should be quite affordable. I'd love to have one of those leatherbound editions with inset bits of human flesh or whatever, but it's much nicer to actually get your book read.

HD-I: Thanks Lisa, for being a part of Horror Drive-In. Good luck with all of your present and future endeavors.

LM: Thanks, Mark! It's been fun!




THE FREE WAY, Fool's Press

MIDNIGHT WALK, Darkhouse Publishing


Short Stories in Anthologies:
"Joe and Abel in the Field of Rest", THE DEAD THAT WALK, Ulysses Press
"Silk City", THE BLEEDING EDGE, Dark Discoveries
"Chillers", WINTER FRIGHTS, Magus Press
"Diana and the Goong-si", MIDNIGHT WALK, Darkhouse Books
"Golden Eyes", HORROR LIBRARY VOLUME 3, Cutting Block Press
"The Last Resort", DARK PASSIONS: HOT BLOOD XIII, Kensington
"Forces of Evil, Starring Robert Fields" (with Richard Grove), MIDNIGHT PREMIERE, Cemetery Dance
"The Maenads", THE VAULT OF PUNK HORROR, Vault of Punk Horror
"Cold Duty", ROLLING DARKNESS REVUE 2006, Earthling Publications
"Sparks Fly Upward", MONDO ZOMBIE, Cemetery Dance (reprinted in THE LIVING DEAD, Night Shade)
"Home Intrusion", HELL HATH NO FURY, CyberPulp
"Growing Man", FRAMED: A GALLERY OF DARK DELICACIES, Dark Delicacies
"The Death of Splatter", DARK TERRORS 6, Gollancz
"The Call of Cthulhu: The Motion Picture", DEAD BUT DREAMING, Dark Tales Publications (reprinted by Miskatonic River Press)
"Pound Rots in Fragrant Harbour", THE MUSEUM OF HORRORS, Leisure/Dorchester
"El Cazador", AFTER SHOCKS, fREAk pRESs
"A New Force of Nature", WHITE OF THE MOON, Pumpkin Books
"Nikola, Moonstruck", HORRORS! 365 SCARY STORIES, Barnes & Noble
"The Fear of Eight Legs", HORRORS! 365 SCARY STORIES
"The Proof in the Picture", HORRORS! 365 SCARY STORIES
"Ghost Writer", HORRORS! 365 SCARY STORIES
"Children of the Long Night", THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF DRACULA, Carroll & Graf
"Love Eats", DARK TERRORS, Gollancz
"Poppi's Monster", THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF FRANKENSTEIN, Carroll & Graf
"Sane Reaction", DARK VOICES 6, Pan Books; reprinted in Borderline magazine #6 (French translation)

Short Stories in Magazines:
"The Devil Came to Mamie's on Hallowe'en", Cemetery Dance
"Giallo", Horror World
"Unlucky", Crimewave
"Tested", Cemetery Dance #55
"Horrors!", L.A. Times special Halloween supplement 1998
"Sensitive", After Hours Winter '95
"Virus Verses", Dreamforge May '95

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