Most of my favorite horror short story writers have connections to the state of California. Fritz Leiber, Richard Matheson, Richard Laymon, Michael Shea, Dennis Etchison, Clive Barker, David J. Schow, John Shirley . . . I don't know what it is exactly, but there's an energy, a friction that really throws off sparks. And for all the variety in their voices, each of these writers transmits a vibe that cuts to the bone and scares me. I read a ton of horror stories, and I forget most of them. One of the truest tests of quality is how long a story burns in your memory. In my case, the record for memory-burns in one collection is a tie between Dennis Etchison's Dark Country and John Shirley's Black Butterflies. Shirley's voice is his and his alone. He possesses a rawness, an edge, and the ability to shock a reader into and out of reality with a sentence or two. He's crude, gross, funny, and erotic. He mines the kinky druggy outcast fringes. His work is both surreal and hyper-real. The best thing about him? I believe everything he writes. I'm there in the bedroom or on the street, side-by-side with his characters, and when the pain, horror, weirdness, and violence hits -- I feel it in my gut. Don't mistake pure power for a lack of skills. Shirley is a stark craftsman who packs more punch into less space than most poets, and because his characters often use the language of the streets it's easy to forget who's feeding them their lines. Black Butterflies contains between its covers my favorite crime story, a tale of two dirty cops, called "War and Peace." You'll also find the most visceral, claustrophobic tale of a natural disaster, "Cram," and trippy shapeshifting gems like "Pearldoll" and "Aftertaste." John Shirley gets inside your head and messes you up. Try him and see if you don't get hooked.