April 29, 2013

Rocket-Fueled Revenge: a review of Duane Swierczynski's "Point and Shoot"

Point and Shoot (Charlie Hardie #3)
IBSN 9780316133302
Available via Amazon.com and Book Depository 

Point and Shoot, the conclusion to Duane Swierczynski's Charlie Hardie trilogy is BONKERS. By the time I reached the last page, that was the only word I was left with, as I tried to wrap my brain around the proverbial rocket-ride that was the first book, Fun and Games, to the literal rocket-ride in Point and Shoot.

Oh yes, if you're not already aware, this novel starts with Charlie Hardie in, of all places, outer space. Now, if you haven't read the first two books in this trilogy, stop reading this review and go find them, because I doubt you can fully appreciate this book without seeing how things got to this point. Heck, here are a couple links to help you out: Fun and Games and Hell and Gone.

So here it goes. Charlie, a disgraced ex-cop turned housesitter, winds up in L.A. to take care of a bigwigs house only to wind up trying to protect a starlet who's been targeted by a squad of assassins known as the Accident People. Despite causing a major headache for the assassins and their bosses, he winds up in their clutches and abducted to a secret underground prison straight out of one of Donald Rumsfeld's wet dreams. But Charlie has an uncanny ability to survive harrowing situations, and takes the fight to the Accident People and their bosses, the Cabal, once again. But it's more of a stalemate than anything and Charlie bargains for the lives of his estranged wife and son in exchange for protecting some extremely valuable merchandise for the same people that tried again and again to kill him.

If you thought Bruce Willis took a beating in the Die Hard movies, he's got nothing on Charlie Hardie.

As Point and Shoot begins, Charlie is house-sitting a satellite--that is until someone rockets up there with word that whatever is hidden inside the thing is key to bringing down the Cabal and saving Charlie's family. Charlie, however, doesn't know who to trust, doesn't know up from down, but it's not like he has a lot of choices when the satellite gets knocked out of orbit.

I say again: this book is bonkers. Fun and Games was my favorite novel of 2011 and a superb action-packed thrillride. Then, Hell and Gone went into left field with the hole trapped-like-a-rat theme that had a tinge of sci-fi with how the prison and its workings were revealed. And now, Point and Shoot goes even further into left field by taking every single surviving character from the first two books and hurling them at each other with the ferocity and take-no-prisoners style of dueling Gatling guns. Just when you think you have a handle on what's going on, Duane Swierczynski finds some way to send the plot careening into an even more insane collision course.

I recall this book being delayed for nearly a year or so, because Swierczynski wanted to end this trilogy just right. Given all the moving parts and the miraculous way he prevented things from falling apart at the seams in the third act, I'd say he made good use of the pushed deadline. To say things do not end how you expect, let alone how you might want, is an understatement. I can merely sit back and marvel at this series in all its splendid, blood-spattered glory--and wish there was some way to have one more Charlie Hardie novel.

April 26, 2013

Rabid Reads: "Blood Crimes: Book One" by Dave Zeltserman

Blood Crimes: Book One
by Dave Zeltserman
published in 2010
189 pages

This ain't your mamma's vampire fantasy, I can tell you that right now. Put some bloodsuckers in an urban fantasy these days and images of angsty girls and sparkly creeps brooding their hearts out spring to mind, I'll bet. Dave Zeltserman has a cure for that.

Jim's a vampire. Carol's the woman who loves him. And that's about as close to paranormal romance as you're gonna get. The two cut a path of death across America, picking off one low-life at a time to spare innocents from Jim's thirst for blood. But the two aren't just evading law enforcement, but also the real threat that is a cabal of vampires from Jim's past. His sadistic sire, Serena, let him out of her clutches once before and she wants him back, and another of her sires with plans of his own wouldn't mind getting Jim in his secret lab for some gruesome experiments.

My first time reading Zeltserman's work was with his novel, The Caretaker of Lorne Field, which was a literary marvel in horror. Blood Crimes is the much different facet of Dave's writing style. If Caretaker was a Cadillac, Blood Crimes is the muscle car with a no-nonsense, relentless journey of love, anger, betrayal, revenge--oh, and a metric ton of bullets, blades, and blood.

I'd gripe about the fact that the book leaves off with a little bit of a cliffhanger, but the title clearly reads Book One, so I was ready for plenty of unanswered questions with this book. At least the buildup leads to an exhilarating showdown. That said, when it comes to series books like this, the chapters that diverged from the main plot to set up pieces for future books tended to feel like gear shifts. It does great to set up characters, but when those characters aren't really in play at that time, it becomes aggravating to know Book Two has yet to be published.

It's a great jump-off into a series of books, but without the followup, the story as a whole is unfulfilled. Much like George R.R. Martin, Dave Zeltserman is not your bitch, so far be it for me to demand he get cracking on Book Two. But if he's taking requests ... Book Two, please!

April 25, 2013

Heart and Horror: a guest post by Mark Matthews

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear.”

China Mieville is perhaps the coolest cat to ever write a sentence, and his goal is to write a novel in every genre.  Not sure if this means horror is on the way, or if he has counted one of his many novels which already include plenty of horror.

Horror appears in so many great pieces of literature, yet it still seems that calling a novel a piece of horror cheapens it in some reader’s eyes.  The more I swim in writer’s circles, I’m discovering some writers embrace the term Horror writer, some prefer ‘dark fiction’, others coin their own terms. All of this with the hope that their work is properly understood.  Well, whatever the term, it is my belief that horror provides perhaps the most powerful, visceral, and deeply moving ways to experience art.  Not only that, but the darkest of horror writers have the finest hearts around

Yes, in Horror, people are threatened. People get hurt. People are killed. There’s evil. There’s blood. You feel threatened by dark forces.  Well, I would argue that something gets cut open in any novel, each story has something that bleeds, (even if it’s just Holden Caulfield’s innocence, for example) and the hinge upon which all fiction swings is escalating conflict and the fear that the protagonist won’t  get what they want.

Fiction is the drama of life with the heat turned up, and when done right, it boils out the insides of characters and reveals who they are, and better yet, transforms them into something stronger, like metal into fire. Or perhaps when the novel ends in tragedy, they aren’t strong enough to handle the flames.  Horror does this wonderfully.

In this way, I think of horror as much as a literary device as a genre.   The term horror is just a marketing tool.   Put a different cover on the novel American Psycho, and it would no longer be read as an illustration of our society of privilege, financial cannibalism and materialism gone mad. Instead, it’d be slasher and torture porn.

Let me set the premise for an epic horror story. One which will be the tome upon which civilizations are built, wars are fought, children are baptized, and bodies are buried:
Imagine a story where the dead are raised, where babies are slaughtered, where plaques destroy cities, and where the main character has spiritual powers but is shunned, eventually betrayed, until the day comes he has to carry the device of his own torture.  A crown of thorns bloodies his head, his flesh is punctured by nails, and his body hangs until he dies. But wait, it’s not over, because then his very soul will have to harrow hell for 3 days, gathering the ravaged souls of those before him, until he finally ascends to a higher plane.

To commemorate this event, we all kneel in front of the same ancient torture device. Then we perform a cannibalistic ritual to honor his sacrifice in Holy Communion as solemn music plays in the background.

Yep, you got it (don’t throw stones, please) put a different cover on it, and you can market the Bible as horror.

The iconic horror writer Stephen King rewrote this story, only it was much more tame, and it stared Jon Coffee, instead of Jesus Christ, both spiritual superior beings put to death, just texts written at different times. Scour great horror and dark fiction, you’ll find great literature.

What makes Stephen King shine is his characters, not just the horror, and when his work is at its best, the macabre highlights the internal strife of the character. Horror works best when it is a metaphor for the dark places the character is already traveling through. It isn’t easy to draw a picture of our dark psychological recesses, so you pull the insides out, put different faces on them, and give them a name. Like It, or Cujo.

The story of Cujo serves as a model for me.  The huge, killer rabid St. Bernard who has trapped a woman and her young child in the tiny pinto of a car.  But it’s not about a dog; it’s about alienation, isolation. I am alone, everybody has abandoned me, and here I am suffocating in this car, alone, trapped, with the jaws of the world trying to kill my most precious child.

This is why I think horror writers have the finest hearts around.  The only way a writer can scare you is to first prove they understand you.  A writer must first be ultra-sensitive to the human predicament, and show they can get into the hearts and heads of humans.  Otherwise, it all falls flat. I would love my daughter to marry a man with the heart of a Stephen King.

To take a step further, it is by destroying your protagonists, after giving him hopes and dreams and struggles, that can make you fully empathize with him. None of our physical lives come to happy endings. No one here gets out alive.

Of course, there are works that exist simply for sake of a bombardment of the senses.  This still takes art, I would argue, even if it is horror just for horror sake. I love the Evil Dead, but I’m not going to say it has the same psychological layers, but it is incredible campfire storytelling.

Horror is seeing resurgence in TV, and not just because it scares us, but because it helps us relate. In Season one of American Horror Story, the real horror was dealing with infidelity, trust, anger, (perpetual anger) and all the shattered lives caused by the ripples of hurt. The horror of all this inner-psyche drama sticks around like ghosts in your basement in a house you can never leave. You can't just kill the past, you have to deal with it, otherwise, the ghosts in your basement remain. They haunt your psychological dark spots, always ready to fragment your spirit, destroy your dreams, and yes hurt your children.

Horror works best when you are watching it and realize that, “hey, that’s me; I’m living a life of fear. A live of quiet desperation - screaming in terror on the inside yet quiet on the outside”. Horror reminds us that We are all infected. Yes, the secret of season 1 and 2 of The Walking Dead, that we are all infected  is what makes horror as a genre thrive. We are all infected with this human experience. It's a virus that lasts approximately 70 years, give or take a few decades, and during that time we look for meaning. And when done right, horror offers us a great peek into this unique affliction, but if not, it at least gives us some riveting drama to enjoy and makes our predicament a little more tolerable.  At least for a few hundred pages or more.

Mark Matthews is the author of STRAY and The Jade Rabbit, and his third novel, ‘On the Lips of Children’, a piece of dark fiction, horror,  nihilistic inspirational absurdity, and any other label that fits, is coming soon from Books of the Dead Press. He blogs at Running, Writing, and Chasing the Dragon.

April 24, 2013

Do Spoilers Ruin the Story? Sometimes.

I hate spoilers, especially when someone flaps their gums about a book or movie I'm gearing up to enjoy. In the last few months, it's happened to me twice.

I finally broke down and started reading Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy last year. It had been a while since I'd read some YA and I figured I'd go with something popular. I made it through The Hunger Games a little underwhelmed, but still interested in the progression of the series. Catching Fire was a stronger story that the first book I thought, spurring me on to read the third and final book, Mockingjay. Everything was going great for the first two hundred pages, and then I did something that in retrospect I see was my downfall: I read the book in a public space.

I was reading in the car, parked outside Frenchy's (a used-clothing chain around these parts), when two middle-grade girls walked up to the SUV next to me. They must have noticed the book cover when they walked by, because they proceeded to gab about the series, spoiling some key plot points of the book. I am not the kind of guy to berate strangers, least of all bubble-headed tweens, so all I could do was roll up the window. No luck. And by the time I could turn on the radio to drown out their squeaky banter, it was too late. I tried to read the rest of the book, partly because I didn't want to believe one particular part of the story they'd mentioned that if true would basically render the whole trilogy a disappointment. As soon as it was clear that the spoiler was true, Mockingjay was ruined.

The second incident happened when I borrowed The Avengers on DVD for the weekend a few weeks ago. Before sitting down to watch it, I listened to a podcast while getting supper ready. What twist of fate it was that I played a panel discussion that turned into a Joss Whedon lovefest. So, the laptop was playing at one end of the kitchen while I chopped vegetables on the other end, and out of the blue a key plot point was spoiled. What the what? I eventually stopped the podcast, but not before another two key moments of the movie were blurted out. F--k.

Now, it's been argued that a story can't be spoiled if it's well-written and engaging enough. Perhaps. I know I ultimately enjoyed The Sixth Sense when I rented it one weekend, months after a talk show host spoiled the ending. Sure, I still thought it was a great movie, but there was no pop at the end because I already knew the famous twist. I missed out on the discovery and organic realization that comes from the experience. It doesn't matter how well the writing, the acting, or whatever is with a book or movie. Spoilers rob a big piece of the story when you're experiencing it for the very first time. Maybe if I was the type of person to revisit books again and again, it wouldn't annoy me, but 99% of the books I read I only read the once--and I've never watched The Sixth Sense a second time.

So, you tell me. Am I wrong in being so set against spoilers? Do you enjoy a book or movie as much as you think you would without knowing the ending or key revelatory scenes? I try to imagine how fondly I'd remember a movie like The Usual Suspects or a book like Ender's Game if they'd been spoiled ahead of time. I think there's something lost through spoilers, and a pox on those who do the spoiling.

April 23, 2013

Things that Go Creak in the Night: a review of Paul Kane's "Creakers"

by Paul Kane

The house I grew up in used to creak and moan in the night. I was used to it, but it kind of got under the skin of a couple kids that spent the night back then. We moved out of that old house ages ago, and I wonder if, despite the renovations by the new owners, if it still has that haunted air about it. For the protagonist in Creakers, Ray Johnson, returning to his old home in the wake of his mother's death, he soon learns the house still creaks--and with good reason.

Sifting through the relics of a deceased family member is unsettling in a way, as memories and buried moments are drudged up like silt in a pond. Ray doesn't want to go back to his childhood home, but he has to if he wants to get it ready for sale, and since he's in construction he wants to do it himself rather than pass the job off to one of his competitors. The house, however, seems to have something in store for him beyond boxed mementos and photo albums. Something happened in that house and Ray can't remember what, but the house does and it's all to ready to remind him, one tortuous night at a time.

I might have thought a story with as many uses of the word "creak" would have irritated me, but it didn't. I was too wrapped up in the horror of it all, especially one scene involving a sleeping bag that made my skin crawl off my bones as I read it. There are a few ways you can go with a haunted house story, from slapstick to psychological and everything in between. Creakers kind of reminded me of a movie I saw last year called Silent House, as the story relied much on creating the question of whether something really was inside the house or if it was all inside Ray's mind. The revelations towards the end followed through really well, in my opinion, and brought the story together the way it needed.

Ghost story fans are in for a treat, and Spectral Press loyalists should be left satisfied yet again.

April 22, 2013

Facing True Evil: a review of Stephen Volk's "Whitstable"

by Stephen Volk

I discovered the Hammer Horror films during my college days in the late-90s, but didn't really gain an appreciation for them until years later, particularly the work of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. And by that time, Peter Cushing had already passed away. Over the last couple of years, I've had the chance to revisit a few of those films, most notably for me are The Mummy and Brides of Dracula, and Cushing's screen presence really is something to behold. Seeing him portray Van Helsing, he seemed like a natural fit for those kinds of horror stories, but I never would have figured his real life persona would be a fit--until I read Whitstable.

Published by Spectral Press (a tried-and-true place to find quality, literary horror, I have found), Whitstable offers a what-if glimpse of Peter Cushing late in life and faced with a truly horrific ordeal. This book also marked my first opportunity to read Stephen Volk's work.

Grieving the death of his beloved wife, Peter barely muddles through his existence with a dark cloud overhead in her absence. One day, he manages to step out into the light of day and while sitting on a bench near a fish-and-chip spot in the little village of Whistable, he's approached by a young boy who addresses him as Van Helsing, his most famous role. Assuming the boy's merely starstruck, Peter is taken aback when the boy tries to enlist him to kill a vampire--his mother's new lover. Peter tries to console the boy and cure him of his delusions, but there's something to the kid's story that puts the old man on edge and it's only when he meets the boy's mother and the man in question that he begins to suspect there is truth to the boy's words.

Interspersing a public figure into your fiction can be a tricky prospect at times, so I can only imagine the perilous attempt to create an entire story around someone as famous as Peter Cushing. I recently watched The Raven, a horror/mystery film starring John Cusack as Edgar Allen Poe investigating murders that use his own stories as a theme. A quirky and risky project that proved entertaining, but ultimately flawed. I can find no such flaws, however, in Stephen Volk's Whitstable. The care and reverence he bestows upon Peter Cushing is visible on every page, where even his frailties endear him to the reader. Far from a biographical work, I still felt I had gained a better appreciation for Peter Cushing the man by reading this story. Nothing feels exploitative, and it very well could have given the subject matter, but there's a remarkable balance struck in honoring Cushing's memory and still thrusting him in a harrowing tale like this one.

I was really impressed by what Volk accomplished here, and I'm really going to need to find some more of his work to read down the line. What's more, I'm now in the mood to seek out some of Peter Cushing's performances, whether they be in the horror milieu of otherwise. If you were ever a fan of Peter Cushing and/or the Hammer Horror films, this is a story that is really going to resonate with you.

April 19, 2013

Crazy Apes: a review of Chuck Wendig's "Dinocalypse Now"

Dinocalypse Now
by Chuck Wendig
Evil Hat Productions (2012)
231 pages

I didn't have a clue about Dinocalypse Now's connection to a role playing game until after reading it. It wouldn't have impacted my reaction to the story, though looking back, I kind of see how the constant action and outlandish characters would lend themselves to that kind of game. Spirit of the Century is the name of the game, with a very strong pulp adventure element from the early- to mid-twentieth century.

To describe the plot, I can go one of two ways: either bullet point the convoluted roller coaster ride that ensues or boil it down to a single sentence. Let's try the latter. A ragtag group of adventurers battle a talking ape and his dinosaur army. If you need more than that to hop on board, this ain't the book the for you.

The Century Club, a band of astonishing hero-types of every stripe, are tasked with providing security for President Franklin D. Roosevelt during a monumental speech, when a sudden appearance of dinosaurs and lizard people creates havoc. FDR isn't the target, however, but the Century Club. Their headquarters around the globe are targeted, destroyed, and nearly all its members are captured or killed. The few who remain are left to find out who is responsible and how to stop an army of dinosaurs and lizard people with mind control powers.

In a little more than two hundred pages, this novel moves like a bullet from one action scene to the next. If played out like a role playing game, the dice would be rolling near constantly. And somehow, Chuck Wendig manages to sneak in a little character development, which was much appreciated because the archetype characters could have been quite tedious without it.

The names of the characters are fantastic. Jet Black, Mack Silver, and Sally Slick have a Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia vibe respectively, and King Khan the sentient ape was a great villain of the classic moustache-twirling variety. Who the hell cares why he is trying to take over the world in the way he is. It's pure spectacle, so just sit back and enjoy the ride.. There are preposterous events aplenty, and one-liners fly as furiously as the fists and the bullets.

I'm not sure if I'm in a hurry to play a Spirit of the Century RPG, but I'm definitely up for reading another novel--especially if it's penned by Chuck Wendig.

April 18, 2013

Confessions of a Podcast Junkie #1: Oh, the Horror

TV and radio are pretty much useless if I'm looking for a show dedicated to books. These days, if I want to listen to a book review or an author interview, podcasts are what I'm looking for. Oh sure, I could catch an interview with Danielle Steele on The Today Show, or some pseudo-celeb hocking their barely legible memoir on Good Morning America--assuming I could be bothered to watch such dreck. But if you're a genre mutt like me, TV is useless, and the likes of NPR and CBC Radio aren't going to be much help, either. Nope, you're going to have to do some digging on Google or iTunes and find some podcasts.

I hopped on the podcast bandwagon around '08-'09, when I stumbled across a link to a podcast interview with Jack Ketchum. Dread Media, hosted by Desmond Reddick, is still going strong with interviews and reviews of all things horror in books and film. Since discovering the podcast years ago, Desmond and his growing squad of minions have offered up interviews with both iconic names in horror, as well as up-and-comers, plus pointed me towards some really good movies and novels I might not have discovered otherwise. One of my favorite recurring segments from the show is the Roadkill Reviews, in which Desmond and Darryl review a movie on the ride home, dissecting the good, the bad, and everything in between, with the hum of car engine as ambient noise in the background. Dread Media is nearing the 300 episode mark and it only seems to get better over time. Here's hoping for 300 more.

Another podcast that I found was one hosted by Blogtalk Radio. It's since moved on to the TMV Cafe, but years ago Blogtalk Radio was a place that was a bit of a go-to in finding author interviews. The Funky Werepig popped up with an interview with Brian Keene. I believe that was the first one I found, anyway. Greg Hall, host and author, is easily the most irreverent and disarming host I've heard on a podcast, inciting bouts of laughter from his guests and listeners. I subscribed to Greg's podcast for the interviews with stalwarts like F. Paul Wilson and Ellen Datlow, to name but a couple, but he also helped me discover other talented storytellers like Kelli Owen, Alethea Kontis, and Rio Youers. I even went out and bought Greg's own novel, At the End of Church Street, when I heard him discussing it on the podcast with his editor Jodi Lee of Belfire Press. He and his loyal piggy-petters provide a gem of a podcast, and there's no better evidence of this than the YouTube interview he did with Joe R. Lansdale that includes a martial arts demonstration. Fan. F**king. Tastic.

Then there is the Pod of Horror. The most sporadic show of the three I'm mentioning here, but when an episode does get posted, it is an automatic download for me, and a welcome treat to my ears every single time. Mark Justice has that slick radio-styled voice that ought to be the envy of any podcaster, and his back-and-forth with Horrorworld's Nancy Kalanta is always entertaining, not to mention informative with Nancy's rundowns of what's new in horror publishing. The interviews are always great, whether Mark's talking to NYT Bestselling authors or debut authors trying to break out on the horror scene. Plus, there's the reviews of books and movies from assorted folks, and a fun trivia contest at the end of the podcast to cap things off. Like I mentioned before, it's sporadic and there hasn't been an episode since #69 in November, but as soon #70 goes live I'll be one of the first to download it.

These are three of the earliest podcasts I started listening to regularly, but over the last few years I've subscribed to several dedicated to genre fiction in its many splendid forms. But I'll blog about those some other time. For now, I'll just recommend these three to my fellow horror hounds.

April 16, 2013

Chasing Tale [4/16/13]: Am I Keeping My New Year's Reading Resolution?

Chasing Tale is a regular look at the books that I recently added to my to-be-read pile. Some are advance review copies, some I bought from one store or another, and others are freebies from promotional offers that caught my eye.

At the start of the year, I told myself I would read a dozen books by international authors, specifically translated books. So, how am I doing so far? Not good.

I have read one book. Just one, and it was co-authored by an English writer. I do have a couple books staring down at me from my bookshelf, but I'm not even sure if Aravand Adiga's The White Tiger is a translated work or not. I have Ryu Murakami's Piercing, and it's a short novel too, so I should be able to burn right through that one.

I've received a couple of recommendations from online acquaintances, but I think I'll hit up Goodreads for some more. If I can score a few reads that are available at my library, that'll spare the purse strings, too.

Anyway, I have more books on my to-be-read pile. Not a lot from the ladies this time around, though. Go figure.


The Nameless by Ramsey Campbell - Judging by the very late 70s/early 80s cover, the little girl is either demonic or has the worst case of shingles ever. Anyway, for a buck, who was I to turn down a Ramsey Campbell novel?

The Point Man by Stephen Englehart - I found this old, dusty paperback on a back shelf. It jumped out at me because a new book featuring the main character from this one just came out, like a month or so ago. Heck, I had to get it just to get it.

The Deep Blue Good-By by John D.MacDonald - I saw a few copies of this old pulp novel at a used-book shop and thought I'd get one of 'em. It's the first in MacDonald's Travis McGee crime series, so where better to hop on the bandwagon.

Kitty and the Midnight Hour by Carrie Vaughn - I saw a rather well-worn copy of this novel, the first in the Kitty Norville series, in a pile of fantasy novels at a shop. Despite not really having the series on my watch list, I bought it because I do have a couple of Vaughn's stand-alone novels on my wish list and I thought I could check this book out and see if it hooks me into the series.


The Neighbors by Ania Ahlborn - I haven't even had the chance to read Ania's debut novel, Seed, yet, but I couldn't resist plunking a couple bucks down to snag her followup effort. She's earned enough positive reviews from folks, who am I to argue.

The League of Delphi by Chris Everheart - I managed to win myself a copy of this conspiracy thriller through a recent giveaway. It's been a while since I've read an outright thriller like this, and it looks promising, too.

The Wildman and Glimpses and Four Octobers by Rick Hautala - I saw one of Hautala's novels offered as a free download last month on Amazon, and since I've only read a couple of his short stories, I got it. A couple days later, I caught word that he had died. There was something about learning of his death so soon after getting one of his books for free, I felt compelled to plunk some coin down for a couple more books. Karma, I suppose.

I'm Not Sam by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee - It was a couple years ago when I read and reviewed the previous collaboration between Ketchum and McKee, The Woman, which wound up being one of my favorite reads that year. Well, they have a new book out, and when I saw Cemetery Dance published the e-book edition, I pounced on it.

All You Despise by Tom Piccirilli - It is truly good news to hear Tom Piccirilli is on the mend after going through a grueling battle with brain cancer. After reading the latest update on his recovery on Facebook, I had to go buy another of his novellas. It had been a little over a month since I bought a bunch of his books, so chalk it up as withdrawal symptoms.

The Jigsaw Man by Gord Rollo - Another Dorchester ex-pat has found a new publisher to get his work out to the masses. And, hey, Gord lives in Canada. Yeah, we Canucks can bring the horror too, didn't you know?

The Shadows of Kingston Mills by David B. Silva - I relate David more with his work with Hellnotes.com than his fiction. Sadly, David Silva also died in March. I have a couple of his books already on my Kindle, but word of his passing spurred me into getting one more.

Gossamer: A Story of Love and Tragedy by Lee Thompson - Lee just published his latest novel a few weeks ago. He was generous enough to send a copy my way. I have no clue what it's about beyond an exploration of the mother/daughter dynamic, but all I really need to know is that Lee wrote it. Good enough for me.

Advance Review Copies:

The Mammoth Book of Unexplained Phenomena by Roy Bainton - Published by the folks at Constable + Robinson, this book looks like an Encyclopedia Britannica for the weird. I'm really curious to check this one out to see the myriad of mysterious it explores.

Creakers by Paul Kane - This is the latest chapbook due to be published by Spectral Press. Such a great title, and there's even an introduction from none other than Sarah Pinborough.

The Bleiberg Project by David Khara - I've mentioned how I want to read a dozen translated books by international authors this year, and I'm falling behind. Then I received a review request that listed this French crime novel. This could be good.

The Haunted Halls by Glenn Rolfe - Since I'm a sucker for a haunted house story, and I'm also a fan of novella-length fiction, and I've read a couple reviews for this book that give it the thumbs up, so I'm hopeful about this one.

April 15, 2013

Rabid Reads: "To Each Their Darkness" by Gary A. Braunbeck

To Each Their Darkness
by Gary A. Braunbeck
ApexBooks (2010)

As much as I enjoy reading horror literature from authors, I'm occasionally drawn to their opining on the genre and writing as a whole through their nonfiction titles. Stephen King's On Writing sits at the tippy-top of that list. Gary A. Braunbeck wrote a book in a similar vein, which was published by Apex Books, and much ballyhooed by his peers. It is not strictly a memoir though, but more a collection of essays and criticisms, and it had me riveted much of the time.

The book offers everything from Gary's thoughts on his favorite films and what makes a great story (and a not-so-great story), all the way to some of the most heartrending glimpses at his personal and professional life. It ain't pretty at times, but it's honest. It's kind of funny in a way, because I'll piss and moan about something or other with a put-upon attitude, but by comparison to some of the stuff Gary A. Braunbeck has endured my first world problems really look weak.

I've only read one of his novels so far, Coffin County, but it was enough to know this guy is a heckuva storyteller and a writer to be heeded when he's waxing poetic on the craft of storytelling. A couple of the chapters feel meandering, as he digressing from one crystallized thought to the next, but he brings it all together by the end to get his point across. And at the end, I really came to appreciate the process he goes through in approaching his work--and agonizing over it.

If there are any authors out there that didn't already have a sobering realization as to what the life of a writer provides, both financially and emotionally, Braunbeck heaves a healthy bucket of cold water on your most fanciful dreams. That said, it's not a discouraging portrait--quite the opposite. Just about every chapter provides some kind of micro-revelation, whether it's figuring out why he loved Rob Zombie's House of a Thousand Corpses while everyone around him hated it, or coming to the conclusion that what is really holding your story back from what it should be is you and finally getting out of your own way, or how in Gary's poetic phrasing: "... horror fiction is still the deformed drooling bastard child who picks at its scabs and who Literature keeps locked up in the cellar when company drops by ..."

If you are a writer, a reader, a horror hound, a literary snob, a pessimist, or an optimist, I doubt I can recommend this book enough. And I dare say that like House of a Thousand Corpses, you'll probably walk away loving or hating his book--no room for fence-sitters. It's either a medley of disjointed ramblings or a mosaic of one author's love-hate relationship with the horror genre. Take your pick.

April 11, 2013

What the Horrour Is: a guest post by Jack Wolf, author of "The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones"

You can follow along Jack Wolf's blog tour via TLC Book Tours by clicking the following link: http://tlcbooktours.com/2013/02/jack-wolf-author-of-the-tale-of-raw-head-and-bloody-bones-on-tour-april-2013/

In the meantime though, check out this great guest post from the author of the new novel, The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones.
What the Horrour Is
by Jack Wolf

When I was asked to write this guest blog piece, I was a little bit surprised, as I don't consider The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones a horror novel in the same way that say, Stephen King's Carrie is a horror novel, or James Herbert's The Fog.  But after thinking about it, it occurred to me that in one very important way, The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones is very much a horror story - because it deals intimately and unsparingly with something that most modern people find extremely frightening - madness.

When I was a kid, I was asked to learn a poem for a memorised recitation in a drama class. It was called "The Fear" and in it the speaker was pursued by a beast, which he would often turn, suddenly, to face. The beast was fear itself. I remember my drama teacher very clearly, trying to get me to stress the words "bound by bound" rather than "face the beast" - which I think was my inclination. You see, then as now - my instinct was to face the beast, and try to call out the horror.

I've been asked by readers of The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones whether I was disturbed by the experience of writing a novel that deals so intimately with psychological and supernatural horror (or Horrour, as Tristan writes it). My answer has always been that it was not really my place, as the writer, to be disturbed by the story I was writing. To write a character like Tristan Hart, I had not only to accept the very real blackness in his psyche, but learn to see in it, and through it, so that I did not lose my footing in the dark and fall down a metaphorical cliff. Tristan, while I was writing him, became - to me at least - almost normal. He had to be. If I had been afraid of him, if I had not turned to face the beast, I could not have written his story with the sympathy and empathy that it needed. Likewise, when other readers have asked me whether Tristan's experiences are real or imaginary, I have replied that I do not know - or that the question itself is meaningless. Perhaps both realities - both the world of the faeries and goblins and the mundane world of the eighteenth century in which Tristan lives - are as real as each other, in different ways. Or perhaps, because the novel is a tale of the mind and perception, there is no difference whatseover in levels of reality. Certainly if there is a difference, Tristan cannot easily tell it.

But is insanity a frightening thought? Is madness, or the threat of it - the possibility that one might cease to tell the difference between those things which -  one assumes - exist entirely within one's own imagination and those things which exist in the physical, objectively verifiable world, the most terrifying thought of all?

I am afraid of becoming mad. I am also aware that, statistically, I have a high chance at some stage in my life of succumbing to some form or other of mental illness. Depression, that scourge of the western world, affects 17% of people at some stage during their life; psychoses, such as Tristan's, will afflict another 3%. Both forms of mental illness run in my family, I am susceptible to stress, and I work in an economically insecure profession - writing - all of which increase my risk factors way above the baseline. The chances are that if I do become ill, I, like the vast majority of people, will not go one to commit any sort of crime or pose any danger to wider society, but will instead find myself at increased risk of assault or other violent attack. If I become mentally ill, and I am lucky, then I will receive some form of treatment - and if I am very lucky, that treatment will work well enough for me to be able to live a useful and reasonably happy life within society. But if I am not, then I could, like many other mad people, fall prey to the modern Horrours of homelessness, worklessness, and an ever present, often overwhelming, fear. I am fortunate enough to live in a country (the UK) where medical care is supposed to be free at point of need. Psychological care, however, is not always accessible on the NHS for long enough to make any sort of difference, and private care is often prohibitively expensive. Consequently, in the case of depressive illnesses, anti-depressive medications may be prescribed long term in the place of any counselling, with the result that the illness does not improve, or degenerates. Worse still, someone who suffers from a severe psychosis may find it impossible to access proper psychiatric care unless he reaches such a low that, like Tristan in London, he becomes dangerously violent, and is consequently arrested. Having been hospitalised, he may then be released before he is fully ready and return to the community still showing symptoms of psychosis. And it is because of that, rather than some vague fear of what it could feel like to lose my reason, is why I am afraid, yes, horribly afraid, of madness.

In the eighteenth century, medicine, and its associated profession, psychiatry, was in its infancy. Historically, the mad - which was a broad category including those with learning disabilities and those whose depression, like Katherine Montague's, had a rational cause, as well as those who exhibited a more obvious psychosis - had been locked away indefinitely, out of mind and out of everybody else's sight, inside their own, or their family's house. The enlightenment, however, saw an upsurge of interest in the notion that the insane could be cured, and family physicians would attempt such dubious remedies as bleedings and cold baths in an attempt to shock the person's reason back into operation. The period saw an increase in the number of public asylums within which the 'untreatably mad', who did not respond to such simple cures, could be contained, treated and - almost co-incidentally - displayed to public view. Society's understanding of madness began gradually to transform from one in which the mad could - as Tristan Hart suggests towards the end of The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones - provide a window into a world of mystical and magical truths from which the rational individual was perforce debarred, into one in which insanity was an indicator of illness and corruption on both a psychological and a moral scale. Effectively, 'the mad' were demonised; their sufferings and the treatments they were made to undergo, which were often both barbaric and ineffective in nature, equally valuable as both spectacle and warning. The message of the Bedlam to its lay visitors was stark: this is hell. This is what we, and our society, shall become, if we, who are not mad, do not uphold reason and moral virtue as our core guiding principles. It is one of the ironies of enlightenment psychiatry, which justified its procedures on the humane basis that insane could be brought back to reason, that this should have been so.

I have to wonder if this eighteenth century 'Horrour', this fearful moral judgement of madness as being an implicitly wicked thing, and of the madman as a sort of modern demon, still lies behind the grotesquely unempathetic attitude that our society, on the whole, continues to show towards those of its members who display signs of mental illness. It is easier to refuse to help, to ignore a person's mental, emotional and medical needs if that person has been stigmatised as a monster. If I become mad, then, it will be easier to write me off, if I can be interpreted as something less than human, a monster, like Tristan fears himself to be, feared and despised as a threat to humanity. Easier to abuse me, rob me, violently assault me. Easier to leave me on my own to harm myself, or refuse to listen to my cries for help until I cause harm to others, when the finger of blame, of course, must be pointed. At me.

The greatest fear I have around madness is not that of losing my mind, but of thereby appearing to lose, in the eyes of those around me, my humanity.

Madness is 'an horrour' of a sort, but it is one that we must turn to face, and of which we must cease to be afraid. It is the fear that must not be allowed to leap on us, unseen and unchallenged, in any of its forms. The stigma that surrounds mental illness must cease. It must do so because we are a civilised society, not in spite of it. We must cease, as a society, to demonise the madman, and instead, call out the ugly beast of mental illness by its real name: Sickness. Treatments for depressive and psychotic illnesses that are effective, genuinely humane and dignified must be made available to those who need them. We are no longer in the eighteenth century, watching the birth of modern medicine, and we need no longer pay any heed to the enlightenment's attendant, in this case misguided, notions and worries about good and evil. It is a question of humanity. Ours.

Losing humanity: that is what the Horrour is. We must turn and face the beast.

Jack Wolf
About the author: Jack Wolf is currently studying for a Ph.D. and is at work on his second novel. He lives in the United Kingdom. The author was a woman when he wrote the book and is now transgender.