Never Bet the Devil: An Interview with Orrin Grey

Orrin Grey is one hell of a horror writer, and I’ve had the extreme pleasure of working with him a number of times in my previous role as managing editor for Skull Island eXpeditions. He just gets horror, and creepy, disturbing things fall out of his head and on to the page like a burst pinata full of spiders. To bring his particular brand of darkness to the world, Orrin has recently partnered with another of my favorite people in the publishing biz, Simon Berman of Strix Publishing. Together, they are creating the definitive edition of Orrin’s first short story collection Never Bet the Devil & Other WarningsI spoke with Orrin about this new project and some of the things that influence this master of the macabre.


1) Okay, Orrin, give us the quick and dirty on your literary career. Who are you main influences? And where can we check out some of your work?

Primarily, I write what I like to think of as “fun, smart horror.” At least, I hope it’s fun and smart. But I’m also a freelancer, and as you are no doubt well aware, Aeryn, freelancers will (and do) write everything. So I also do stuff ranging from work for Privateer Press to writing website copy for car dealerships…

When it comes to influences, I have a lot, and I tend to wear them on my sleeve. But Mike Mignola has a story that he likes to tell in interviews, about how when he first read Dracula he knew all he wanted to do in life was draw monsters. My similar moment of clarity came not with Dracula, but when I encountered Mike’s own work on Hellboy. Since I can’t draw, I had to settle for writing monsters instead.

As for where you can check out some of my work: My second collection, Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts, is available right now from Word Horde. I’ve got stories out or forthcoming in a bunch of exciting anthologies, including Children of Lovecraft (speaking of Mike Mignola, who did the cover) and Eternal Frankenstein, which features my story “Baron von Werewolf Presents: Frankenstein Against the Phantom Planet.” I don’t have as many stories online as I would like, but right now you can read my story “Black Hill” on the Strix Publishing website as part of our Kickstarter for Never Bet the Devil, or listen to it at Pseudopod.

2) You’re currently working with Simon Berman and Strix Publishing to breathe new life into your first collection of short stories, Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings. Tell us about it.

Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings originally came out from Evileye Books back in 2012, but they recently decided to stop publishing prose books entirely, so it unceremoniously dropped out of print at the end of last year. When that happened, I knew I wanted to get it back into print, but also that I wanted to do so in a way that would reward those who had already picked up the original edition. Enter Simon and Strix Publishing, who are helping me put together what I think is going to be the definitive edition of Never Bet the Devil: hardcover, cloth-bound, gold-foil-stamped, fully illustrated, and with a new introduction by Nathan Ballingrud, to name just a few of the features.


3) Which is your favorite story in Never Bet the Devil and why?

You know, I just got asked this on a podcast. I told them it was “The Seventh Picture,” and that’s definitely a favorite of mine, though right now if I had to pick a favorite story from Never Bet the Devil, it might be my odd take on a haunted house tale “Nearly Human,” which is one of those stories that seldom gets singled out by reviewers but that just really feels like it did exactly what I wanted it to do.

4) Are we getting any new stories in this premium collection?

There will be at least two new stories in the deluxe edition of Never Bet the Devil. One of them was previously published in The Mothman Files back in 2011, but has never been collected before. I wanted to include it in the original release of Never Bet the Devil, but rights issues prevented it, so now here it is, incorporated into the collection as I had always intended. The other is entirely new, written exclusively for this edition, and is a story about kids exploring an undertaker’s basement on Halloween night called “Goblins.” We’ve got several other stories planned as possible stretch goals, so if the Kickstarter does really well, who knows how many new stories might be in the final book?

5) I hear there are some truly kick-ass illustrations in the book. Tell us about the artist.

There are some truly kick-ass illustrations in the book! The original publication of Never Bet the Devil had a cover and some great interior spot illustrations by Bernie Gonzalez, which I loved, but they stayed with the previous publisher when the rights to the rest of the collection reverted back to me. When it came time to choose a cover artist and illustrator for the deluxe edition, M.S. Corley was my first and only choice. I’ve been a fan of Mike’s illustrations and cover design work for years, and we had previously worked together on a little chapbook called Gardinel’s Real Estate. For my money, Mike might be the best cover guy in the business, and when it comes to his interior illustrations, let’s just say that you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!


6) Who are the people that absolutely need to back this Kickstarter? What would you say to them?

Anyone who enjoyed my work in Painted Monsters or any of the recent anthologies that have featured my stories but never got a chance to pick up the previous edition of Never Bet the Devil. Anyone who has the previous edition and likes it well enough to upgrade to a fancy hardcover with more illustrations and new stories. Anyone who loves old-fashioned ghost stories, creaky old horror movies, fun weird horror, or Mike Mignola comics, I think you’ll find that I’m speaking your language in Never Bet the Devil. And even if not, I can guarantee that Mike Corley’s illustrations will be worth the price of admission all by themselves.

Orrin Grey is a writer, editor, amateur film scholar, and monster expert who was born on the night before Halloween. His stories of monsters, ghosts, and sometimes the ghosts of monsters have appeared in dozens of anthologies, including Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year. He’s the author of Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings, Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts, and Monsters from the Vault. You can visit him online at

Red Sun Magazine Calls Me Out

The dastardly editors over at Red Sun Magazine, who recently published my story “Paper Cut,” have posted a villainous attack on my character. Why? Because I skipped one lousy question when they interviewed me for the magazine.

I mean, come on, Red Sun. There was like thirty questions in that interview. I kept expecting you to ask me about my favorite color or flavor of ice cream. Is it a literary interview or a survey for an internet dating site? I mean, I should get a commendation for ONLY skipping one question.

Anyway, the question I declined to answer was a request that I write a 50-word short story based on three disparate elements. And, folks, when I say disparate, I mean it. It was like, “Hey, Mr. Rudel, take a toothbrush, the Mona Lisa, and seven matchsticks and write a story. Oh, and make it scary.” So, already fatigued by the barrage of interview questions, I elected to skip this one measly request.

Anyway, head over to Red Sun Magazine and have a look at their vicious, callous, and lowdown attack on my professional reputation. Oh, and pick up the first issue, so you can read my story.😉

The Red Sun burns fierce indeed. I think it cooked their brains.

Red Sun cover

Fightin’ Fiction: 5 Melee Myths

One of my many hobbies is HEMA, or historical European martial arts, wherein folks study various fighting manuals from the medieval and renaissance periods and attempt to recreate these martial disciplines as accurately as possible. Once you swing a sword the way it’s meant to be swung and then do a little historical research, you quickly find popular media presents combat with swords, axes, maces, and other crushy, stabby, pointy things . . . well, uh, incorrectly would the nicest way to put it.

So, from the author’s perspective, if you wanted to portray your melee combat more realistically, how would you go about doing it? Well, research is always the best answer, and it couldn’t hurt to at least watch some HEMA sparring to get an idea of what certain types of sword fighting probably looked like (or even take a few classes yourself). That said, I think the five “myths” I’m going to debunk below are a good place to start. At least, they’re things that jump out at me when I’m watching movies or TV that feature sword-fighting and such.

Let me preface this list by saying I am by no means an expert in this subject, but I’m not entirely clueless either. I’ve done some form of full-contact fighting (SCA, HEMA, etc) for the better part of 20 years, so I’m reasonably well acquainted with the mechanics of hitting people and trying not to get hit in return. Also, please note, I have probably violated every one of these “rules” in my writing for various reasons (“cuz its cool” being at the top of the list), so, please, don’t take this as me laying down the gospel. The idea here is not to remove the fun from fight scenes but to identify a few easy fixes if you wanted to present melee in a slightly more realistic fashion. If that’s not your thing, you’re not wrong by any means. There’re a lot of ways to write good action scenes in fiction, and ultra-realistic is not everyone’s cup of tea.

Okay, here we go.

1) Swords don’t go SCHWING! when drawn.

Go get a butter a knife, wrap it in the sleeve of your leather jacket, and then pull it free. What noise did it make? None, right? Yep, unless the sword is pulled from a metal scabbard, that cool SCHWING! sound you hear in every single movie doesn’t happen. Most scabbards are made of wood and leather, and even with a metal throat they don’t produce much noise at all. Swords also don’t sound like angry tuning forks, buzzing and hissing every time the hero flicks his wrist.

The fix: Easy; let your swords be silent, and let your hero’s deeds do the talking.

2) Back scabbards are impractical for big swords.

It’s a simple matter of physics, really. If you stick a big sword in a scabbard across your back, say a longsword with a 36-inch blade, your arm simply isn’t long enough to pull the sword up and out of the scabbard. You’ll get about halfway and then have to do some weird bodily contortions to get the sword all the way out. Even with a shorter blade, it’s going to take you a lot longer to draw the sword from your back than it would if it was on your hip. Not to mention, returning the sword to the scabbard is going to be a real bitch if you can’t, you know, see the scabbard. I see many unfortunate heroes dying from self-inflicted stab wounds to the top of their heads.

The fix: Honestly, including back scabbards in fantasy fiction is a pretty minor sin, all things considered. They do look pretty damn cool. But if you want to be more realistic, there’s some evidence that big two-handed swords were carried on the back to transport them from place to place, but they were probably discarded before battle began. So, if you use back scabbards like that, you’re within the bounds of reasonable historical use.

3) Armor works.

Oh, man, this is a big one for me. Yes, armor works, and it works really, really well. So well, in fact, that most swords are useless against good armor unless used in very specific ways (half-swording, for example). Blades just don’t cut through metal (generally), and that means a guy or gal in chain mail or plate armor was pretty well protected from sword blows. Armor became so good that a bunch of specialized weapons developed to defeat it, mostly polearms that put a lot of pressure on a very small area, puncturing or crushing rather than cutting.

There are tons of videos on YouTube demonstrating the resilience of metal armor (and even padded armor) against sword blows, but here’s a couple of great videos on the subject from Falchion Archaeology to get you started:

Cluny Falchion vs Maille – This an excellent cutting test with a falchion, a sword known for its fearsome cutting power, against padded armor and chain mail. He doesn’t test the falchion on plate because it’s kind of a foregone conclusion. 

Polearm Test 1 – Want to see what types of weapons could actually defeat plate armor? Here are some great examples.

The fix: This is a tough one because sometimes you need the hero to cut through a bunch of mooks without describing every little detail. I’d say it would be enough to show armor working from time to time for both heroes and bad guys. You might also show the hero using half-swording and other techniques designed to defeat armor (and maybe stating that’s what they’re doing). Or, hell, dispense with the every-hero-must-have-a-sword trope and give you’re protagonist a poleaxe because they know they’re going to be fighting dudes in armor.

4) Shields are also really, really good.

You rarely see a hero with a shield. Why is that? Trust me, the ability to places a small, mobile wall between you and a guy trying to hit you is awfully handy. There’s a reason the shield is so ubiquitous throughout history—it works. That said, the personal shield was largely abandoned once plate armor became the norm because it was kind of redundant at that point, and you had a better chance of defeating the other guy’s armor with a two-handed weapon, like a poleaxe (see point three).

The fix: Use them where appropriate, and like armor, show them being effective once in a while. Shields were used offensively too, so there’s a lot of cool opportunities to let the hero use her shield to knock bad guys off their feet or smash their faces in.

5) Fewer instant kills.

In movies, you often see the bad guy take a single cut from the hero’s sword (slicing through armor like it was made of tissue paper) and then fall down stone dead. The truth is that most deaths on a medieval battlefields were probably from blood loss and infection rather than instantly fatal wounds. Humans are actually kind of hard to kill, and unless you inflict a really catastrophic wound, like behead someone or crush their skull, instant death is unlikely. That means even a mortal blow leaves the bad guy quite a bit of time to do some damage. It’s why historical European martial arts teach continued defensive measures AFTER a telling blow is struck. Basically, you want to stick your opponent and then get out of the way while he bleeds to death.

If you’d like to read a very thorough and engaging article on this subject, “The Dubious Quick Kill” by Frank Lurz is about as good as it gets.

The fix: Another tough one because you don’t want every bad guy lingering around after the hero has effectively defeated him. Your hero is special, and she should be able to kill the bad guys in a single blow now and then. That said, it’s pretty simple to get the idea across by dropping it in occasionally. Have your hero strike a mortal blow and then continue to defend himself as the bad guy slowly bleeds out. Show the aftermath of a battle where some men have died from blood loss and infection rather than skulls cloven to the teeth and such (not that that didn’t happen every once in a while). Also, it never hurts to do a little research on wound trauma for this kind of thing; the more you know how the body works (and what stops it from working), the more realistic you can make your fight scenes and any resulting wounds.

Of course, there are lots more melee myths out there, and I may explore some in future posts, but these five are a good place to start. If you have any experience in this area and want to share some of your own melee myths (or point out something I’ve missed), please do so in the comments.

My Latest Publication: “The Father of Terror.”

My story “The Father of Terror” took second place in the The Molotov Cocktail’s Flash Icon contest. You can read it (for free) right now and all the other excellent stories by the top ten finalists in the Flash Icon mega-issue. And, if you’re of the writerly persuasion, don’t miss The Molotov Cocktail’s next flash fiction contest, Flash Fear, for your own shot at cash and glory. Details and deadlines to be announced on the Molotov website soon.


One Year of Rejectomancy & Strange Search Terms

Rejectomancy has been up and running for over a year, and I’d like to offer a big thank you to those who have followed the blog here and on Facebook and Twitter. Your tolerance for my blathering borders on the supernatural, and I hope you’ve taken something useful away from all my rejections and dubious writing advice.

Looking back over the last year, one thing I find interesting is what exactly brings people to the blog. Luckily, WordPress saves all the terms put into various search engines that bring people to Rejectomancy. Most of these are what you’d expect: folks searching for info about rejections letters or even searching on my name or rejectomancy itself. But there are a few head-scratchers among all those search terms, so I thought I’d share four of the more interesting ones with you. As with most things on the Internet, these are 75% pornographic.

1) “rejected penthouse letters”

I don’t know about you, but I would kill to get my hands on some of those rejection letters. I can only hope they would be long personal rejections that are overly clinical about the magazine’s particular subject matter. The person who ended up on my very unsexy blog must have been really disappointed.

2) “summon succubus without letter”

Well, you can summon a succubus without a letter, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Demons require at least one formal reference from each summoner and generally eat those without one.

3) “where can i get free wet dream stories”

Uh, not here. Again, I can only imagine the WTF moment this person had when they arrived at my blog.

4) “lunar monkey madness:the legend of korra xxx”

I had to Google The Legend of Korra. It’s an animated fantasy show on Nickelodeon. It does not feature lunar monkeys or deal with the subject of literary rejection as far as I know. I’m pretty sure it’s not rated XXX either.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the blog thus far, and if you have, click the ol’ follow button (if you haven’t already). And if you have any suggestions for future posts, please tell me about it in the comments.

Acceptance Letter Archive: The Acceptance + Edits Letter

So, uh, I haven’t received any rejection letters lately. Note, this is not because I’m such a better writer now; I’ve just failed to send any submissions. Since I’m short on rejections to talk about, I thought I’d add another entry into my much smaller (minuscule, really) acceptance letter section on the ol’ blog.

The letter I’m going to talk about today is the acceptance + edits letter, which, in my experience, is not too uncommon. Basically, it’s a very polite (and welcome, I might add), “Hey, we dig your story, and we’re going to publish it, but fix this stuff first.”

Here’s one from my collection.

Thanks for your submission, “XXX.”  I’m happy to say that I’ve acquired it for XXX issue! I’ve attached your story with my edits. Once you’ve read through and addressed every suggestion to the best of your ability, send your polished version to my associate editor, [name], and she’ll work with you to get your story ready for publication. I’ve also included [name], XXX’s production manager, so she can send you your contract when it gets closer to our publication date.

If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to let me know.

In this particular case, the edits comprised of a dropped word and the editor’s request that I remove the profanity from the story. These guys are a family friendly market, and I missed that in the submission guidelines (negative Rejectomancy XP for me), so I had absolutely no problem making the changes.

In my experience, most of the changes a publisher will ask for after an acceptance are minor and amount to proofing rather than actual editing. That’s not surprising, really. Smaller markets don’t usually have the resources to overhaul a story, no matter how much they like the concept. In other words, they’re looking for stories that don’t require a lot of editing. Keep that in mind when you’re polishing up your work for submission.

So what happens if you don’t agree with a publisher’s edits? I’ve run into this a couple of times, and the answer is really simple: let the editor know, politely, that you disagree with a suggested change and then explain why. In my experience, you’ll then have a dialog with the editor that will result in a) you keeping the story the way you want it or b) coming to a compromise that works for both of you. Remember, editors are often writers too, and most are quite willing to work with an author so he or she is happy with the published story.

Have you received an acceptance + edits letter? Tell me about it in the comments.

Ranks of the Rejected: Miles Holmes

Hey, folks, meet Miles Holmes, the next courageous author to share his deep, dark secrets in Ranks of the Rejected. I’ve known Miles for some time, and I worked with him quite a bit in my role as managing editor for Privateer Press’ fiction line. Miles’ work is highly imaginative, and the author himself has a kind of frenetic energy that definitely translates to his work, an element on full display in his most recent novel, Tales of the Invisible HandI spoke with Miles about the usual rejection stuff, his new book, and what it’s like to be a media tie-in author. Check it out.

1) What genres do you typically write? Do you have a favorite? If so, what about that genre draws you to it?

Over the last five years, I’ve alternated between science fiction and fantasy pretty steadily. If we’re counting back from grade school, it gets a bit more eclectic.  I absolutely consumed Stephen King as a kid, so I was inspired to try horror myself on a few occasions, even recently. My middle school friends and I played a variety of RPG’s and were comic book fiends, so writing adventure modules or comic books was standard operating procedure for our Friday night sleepovers. Probably the most unusual genre I’ve ever written was the result of a high school assignment in English Lit with a teacher who also happened to be a published author. I desperately wanted to impress him, so rather than turn in an analysis of Greek tragedies as he requested, I attempted to write one instead. His response to that effort is a huge reason I kept writing. If pressed to choose a favorite genre to write, I have to go with science fiction. More than any other genre, sci-fi demands you bring the rules of your world along with the story. Nothing may be presumed; you’re on the hook for all of it. But there’s freedom in that too. Anytime, anywhere, any technology or species, any socio-political condition you can imagine, your choices and how they might provoke self-reflection in a reader are a powerful lure for me.

2) What does your typical writing work day look like? Do you have daily goals? Word count targets?

I’m relatively new to writing as a full-time endeavor, so I’ve been hyper-vigilant of both my peers and my idols to establish methods that don’t burn me out or fall short of the mark. It’s nerve wracking! Besides making sure I put the hours in, there are quotas like daily word counts to consider. Moreover, I’ve arrived at distinct phases in writing a book, each with its own challenges. Having begun my career in games development, I found parallels in this. Like a game, I consider each book I write either to be in pre-production, production, or post-production. During production, I do try to maintain a word count of 1500 words a day, but I found this measurement doesn’t translate well in the other two phases. In pre-production, I’m writing my outline and gathering research or reference material. It’s no less work, but it’s hard to set a quota beyond just working efficiently when you can. Where other stakeholders are present, you might well take a month of correspondence to produce an outline of only a few pages, for example. Once I’ve completed a draft, I’m into the post-production phase, and it becomes a question of efficiency in responding to the revision notes before me. These can vary from repairing a bad turn of phrase to chopping out a chapter and replacing it wholesale. My quota then turns from word count to a page or a comment count. How many comments are left to address? How many do I think I can I hit today? That sort of thing.

3) Much of what you’ve published recently is media tie-in fiction for Privateer Press. Can you tell us a bit about writing media tie-in and how it differs from writing your own, original fiction?

It’s been a fun challenge writing tie-in fiction for Privateer Press. Each piece has required me to adapt to a prescribed format, which does present challenges apart from writing my own fiction. Meanwhile, the collective goal of these pieces is that they fit a coherent narrative, which is something dear to my heart and totally in keeping with my original work. I started with the novella, “Way of Caine.” This of course was the origin story for the fan favorite warcaster Allister Caine and began his adventures in the Iron Kingdoms setting. Next I wrote the serialized novella “Cold Steel,” for which Caine would cameo to establish a connection with the mercenaries featured. Then I wrote the short story “Devil in the Details” and a No Quarter Gavin Kyle piece, both featuring the gun mages of the Black 13th. All of these pieces, even Doug Seacat’s Blood of Kings have been planned to set the stage for Caine’s upcoming trilogy of novels, starting with Mark of Caine in October. As I say, the process has been a fun challenge, and I can’t wait for readers to see where we’re going with it.

4) You’ve just had a novel released, a cool, high-flying pulp adventure called Tales of the Invisible Hand. Give us the quick and dirty synopsis, and tell us a bit about how you came up with premise.

As genres go, Tales of the Invisible Hand is probably best described as pre-historic diesel-punk sci-fantasy. In my head it plays a little like a John Carter or Conan the Barbarian style serialized adventure, while pairing the origins of the Tower of Babel story with an actual near-extinction event from our pre-history. The premise was the result of reading years of pulp, classic sci-fi and fantasy, along with an abiding love of UFO conspiracy theories and WWII aviation. More than this, the book pokes at real and fascinating questions I think we tend to overlook in modern times. I also wrote a free short prelude piece to introduce this world called “First Wave.” It’s a glimpse of what happens a few years ahead of our protagonists Zekh and Gaur’s first meeting, but hints at the grief they must overcome. It’s free, so by all means check it out!

 5) This blog is called Rejectomancy, so let us indulge in some schadenfreude at your expense. Tell us about a memorable rejection you’ve received as a writer.

The first piece I ever tried to sell was a hard sci-fi novella called Chimera: Prelude. It marks the beginning of the end of the stories I want to tell, set in roughly 4,000 AD. After I wrote it, I submitted it to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. I expected it would be swiftly rejected, and so it was! However, my rejection letter was personalized, rather than a form rejection. I took this to mean I might have come close. Thus encouraged, I kept the letter and the story both, while plotting my next steps. As the Chimera series is the climax I’m working towards, I decided to move to the beginning, while vowing to return to the Chimera in a few years’ time as the best author I can be!

 6) What’s next for you? More novels? Iron Kingdoms?

A bit of column A, a bit of column B, as a matter of fact! I’m hoping to keep a pace of two books a year give or take for the next few years. Tales of the Invisible Hand is intended as the first book in a series of course, and as I’ve mentioned, the Mark of Caine begins a trilogy. I also intend to continue writing expansion books for my tabletop miniatures based car combat game, Road/Kill for as long as I can!

SIX Tales of the Invisible Hands (1)  First Wave Cover

Miles Holmes is a game designer with experience in the industry going back more than fifteen years. He’s worked on a lot of games, including well-known franchises like Mass Effect, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Full Auto. He has also played tabletop games since he was a kid, and has spent far too much money on games like WARMACHINE. He writes fiction on his website,, where he offers free content for interested parties. He’s currently putting the finishing touches on the manuscript for his next Iron Kingdoms novel, The Mark of Caine.