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Saturday, October 20, 2018

Clint Smith: Poet of the Weird Underbelly of America

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Clint Smith, in my opinion, is one of the most exciting horror writers working in the field today. He writes in the best pulp horror tradition, and what I mean by that is that his stories are simultaneously great fun to read and also deeply disturbing to think about after you have put the book down. He has an infectious love of monsters and a fascination with the nonhuman. Some of his stories are understated and reflective, and some are all out with the weird and the monstrous. If I had to try to compare his work in the horror field, I would say that Clint Smith follows in the tradition of Karl Edward Wagner and Fritz Leiber in terms of the technique of artistic pulp horror, while intertwining that with the mind-twisting surreal nightmares of Adam Golaski and Brian Evenson. He has numerous stories published, you can find his work in Nightscript 3, Weird Fiction Review, my own anthology Phantasm/Chimera, among other publications. He has one collection currently available, Ghouljaw and Other Stories, published by Hippocampus Press. I highly recommend anyone with an interest in the next generation of horror writers to definitely give that one a purchase. In 2019, also from Hippocampus Press, he has a new collection coming out called The Skeleton Melodies, and I can't even express how excited I am for that one to be released. It may be the book I am most looking forward to in 2019. Clint Smith is a name to watch, and his work is only getting better. His themes and narratives are only getting richer and more complex, and for me, every new story from his is a must read. If there really is a 'weird renaissance' going on in the world of weird horror fiction, Clint Smith is a name that must be at the top of the list.

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Like Hemingway writing of soldiers in World War 1 era Spain and Italy, Clint Smith writes with this deep awareness and understanding of the lower echelons of American society. Whether writing about single-parent families in The Undertow, and They That Dwell Therein, young adults with no bright future ahead of them in Fiending Apophenia, or a young man trying to find a night of escapist sex and drugs in Benthos, he brings this relatability and familiarity that makes you feel that you actually know people just like the ones he is writing about. These are people you have drank with, these are people you have seen arguing in retail stores, these are people you have crossed the street to avoid. He puts you straight into their everyday lives. Going along on drug-fueled drives with nihilistic partiers, sitting in hotel rooms with your children wondering anxiously what your next move should be, these are real people. People who have history, people who have been damaged in their lives, people who keep going in spite of the bleakness of their day to day existence. He writes about them with a surgical precision. Clint Smith is the poet of the weird underbelly of lower-class America.

Sure he makes you sympathize with these people and their lives, but the author is not done yet. He has other plans for his readers. Darker plans. Towards the end of one of his horror tales, a slow rot starts to creep into the carefully constructed reality. Some sort of unexpected aberration has leaked into the narrative. The life we thought we knew becomes corrupted. A seething madness is revealed. Clint Smith shows us our everyday disappointing and banal lives, and then shows the cancer lurking underneath, the cancer that has been seeping into you all along. Our existences, our passions, our bodies, all are unreal diseases of the mind. Human existence is just another form of the rotting flesh creeping across the cold Earth. In the end, we realize our lives were just some sort of feverish delirium. These diseased deliriums are the poetry Clint Smith weaves in his tales.

There are so many unsettling moments in Clint Smith’s fiction. In his masterful story The Undertow, and They That Dwell Therein, there is a disturbing image that will linger in your mind, a strange melding of parts that should never go together, out in the deep currents of the ocean. In Fiending Apophenia, some... thing, comes along to deliver a dark revelation to the wasted and doomed youth of the story. And in Benthos, your own desires and even your own flesh come into question as you undergo a strange metamorphosis. But this is just a small sampling of Clint Smith’s wide range of stories. I strongly urge the adventurous horror reader to pick up one of his books. I just worry about what kind of end he may have in store for you.

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