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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Guest Post: Christopher Conlon

Back in May, I posted here about the Booklist Top 10 best reviewed horror of the year.  On their list was one of my favorite horror authors for public library collections-- Christopher Conlon and his most recent novel, Savaging the Dark
At my request, Conlon shared his thoughts on the novel for you-- my public librarian audience. 
But first, a little about Conlon. He is best known as the editor of the Bram Stoker Award-winning Richard Matheson tribute anthology He Is Legend, which was a selection of the Science Fiction Book Club and which has appeared in multiple foreign translations. He is the author of several novels, including the Stoker Award finalists Midnight on Mourn Street and A Matrix of Angels, as well as many books of stories and poems. Among his most recent titles are When They Came Back: A Horror Story, featuring photographs by Roberta Lannes-Sealey, and Wild Tracks: Uncollected Writings 1985-2014. A former Peace Corps volunteer, Conlon holds an M.A. in American Literature from the University of Maryland. Condon lives in the Washington, D.C. area. Visit him online at 
A big thanks to Conlon for sharing his thoughts below. And again, I highly recommend his novels for all public library horror collections.

The Horror of Savaging the Dark
by Christopher Conlon
copyright © 2015 by Christopher Conlon
Being as vain and self-absorbed as most other writers I know—well, all other writers I know—I was naturally delighted to discover that my novel Savaging the Dark had made Booklist’s recent “Top Ten Horror: 2015” list, right up there with the likes of Stephen King and David Cronenberg. Such recognition, in this case totally unexpected, is wonderful to receive—which is why I know I run the risk of churlishness in admitting that I was also just a tad uncomfortable with this particular accolade. 
It has to do with that word “horror.”
Now, let me say at the outset that I am a lifelong lover of horror. The writer who first made me fall in love with fiction as a child was Edgar Allan Poe, whose stories of psychological turmoil and terror spoke deeply to me, growing up as I did in a chaotic atmosphere dominated by two wildly alcoholic parents. For years I was obsessed with late-night reruns of The Twilight Zone; through them I discovered the dark and frightening worlds of Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, and of course Rod Serling, all of whom became favorites whose books I read and collected avidly (and still do). There was also Robert Bloch, discovered through Hitchcock’s Psycho; Arch Oboler, located through audio cassettes I mail-ordered of his seminal radio show Lights Out; and many others—Ray Bradbury, H.P. Lovecraft, Harlan Ellison, the list goes on—first spotted through the many second-hand paperback anthologies I would buy two-for-a-quarter at the local thrift shop. 
Not all of this reading was strictly horror, of course—each of these writers skirted genres, and I was just as happy reading their mysteries and fantasies and science-fiction tales as I was their more straightforwardly bloodcurdling efforts. But all of them spent a great deal of time on, we might say, the darker side of the street, where I was always eager to join them.
As I got older and went to college my tastes widened and deepened considerably, but I still seemed to prefer writers of a shadowy bent. I went through a Conrad phase, enthralled by Heart of Darkness and “The Beast in the Jungle.” For a time the Southern Gothics of McCullers, Welty, Capote, and Tennessee Williams became my literary soul food. Still later, I binge-read such notably un-sunny writers as Toni Morrison and Joyce Carol Oates. 
Perhaps as a result of this, my own writing has never been known for its happy-go-lucky, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm qualities. My characters, invariably psychologically scarred and emotionally haunted, make their ways as best they can through worlds of death, abuse, sorrow, and misery, searching for a kind of home few of them ever really had.
Savaging the Dark is such a story. It focuses on the relationship between Mona Straw, a thirty-something middle school teacher, and her eleven-year-old pupil Connor Blue—a relationship that grows emotionally intense for both of them and, eventually, sexual. 
The depiction of such a transgressive bond is hardly unique, of course—Lolita comes immediately to mind, though Savaging the Dark is a very different kind of narrative from Nabokov’s great satirical classic. Still, my novel does seem to have touched a nerve in some readers, and not necessarily in a good way. 
What’s most interesting to me is that the protests as to the nature of this novel have come entirely from within the horror world—a world with which I have been identified for some time, not always comfortably. While the novel has received some good notices in horror publications, there have been horror reviewers, well-known and respected, who have completely refused to read the book, or, having read the first chapter or two, refused to finish it. One likened the novel to “kiddie porn”; another admitted he “just couldn’t do it.” Some horror markets which have covered previous books of mine very favorably have simply ignored their review copies of Savaging the Dark without comment.
Of course, one sympathizes with readers’ potential sensitivities; all the talk lately about placing “trigger warnings” on books sold on college campuses indicates that these can be real issues for some individuals. Still, the people I’m talking about are horror reviewers, who every day read graphic depictions of the worst kind of sadistic torture and mutilation and murder, and give it rave notices when it comes bylined by an author like, say, Richard Laymon. Indeed, there is often a gleeful quality in such writing, and in horror readers’ responses to it. Whether it’s a Tales of the Crypt comic-book story in which body parts are merrily strewn about or devoured for laughs, or a novel like Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, in which a starving rat is dispatched up a woman’s vagina (among other memorable scenes), horror readers often seem to delight in the outrageous, the disgusting, the transgressive. But something about Savaging the Dark appears to have alienated some in the horror audience. Ironically, the novel has been saved largely by mainstream readers and librarians—exactly those one might imagine would be least attracted to a story like this one.
Let it be said here and now that Savaging the Dark bears the same resemblance to “kiddie porn” as Lolita, or Sally Mann’s famous photographs of her children—that is to say, exactly none. My story is about the techniques and consequences of psychological manipulation and abuse; the entire arc of the narrative is downbeat, grim, and tragic. Nothing in the book is played for laughs, and nothing is designed in any way to be titillating. It is, I hope, a disturbing story, a vivid and memorable one. That’s what I set out to write. 
And that, I have come to suspect, is exactly the problem. Too often the horror genre doesn’t take its own horror seriously. Instead the grotesque is treated in a nudge-wink fashion which may be appropriate to comic books but which surely isn’t for novels written by and for supposedly mature grown-ups. And it’s precisely this attitude, I think—this juvenile perspective, this giggly approach to psychosis, sadism, monstrousness—that causes horror as a genre to be dismissed by many as disreputable trash, which, if we are to be honest, a lot of it is. Savaging the Dark has no connection to such material, a fact which mainstream readers seem to realize—hence the gratifying accolades from non-horror outlets. 
So is Savaging the Dark a horror novel? Perhaps. It’s certainly fine with me if Booklist believes so, especially since they think so highly of it. 
What it is not, however, is a product of the horror genre. 
I find it sad that such a distinction has to be made, but there it is. 

In the end, Savaging the Dark is simply, I think, a novel, as Heart of Darkness is a novel, or indeed Lolita. Readers sensitive to the issues it presents should probably not pick it up. But self-described horror fans who find themselves resistant to the book, or too afraid to read it, may want to reflect on just what they believe the word “horror” really means.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Horror Films Based on True Events

So this past weekend was the 40th Anniversary of the greatest summer movie EVER (IMO)-- Jaws!

And although Jaws was not technically based on true events (rather it was based on an AWESOME novel), one of the reasons it was so scary was because it felt so real.

Last week, Flavorwire had this list of horror films that you probably didn’t realize were based on true events.

It was an update to this popular post they had on the same topic back in 2012.

These lists are a great opportunity to start talking horror with your patrons.  Use the interest in the Jaws anniversary to start the conversations.  Believe it or not, Halloween, the most popular time for horror at the library, is creeping up on us.  (My annual column for Library Journal’s October 1st issue is due in 4 weeks!)

Use the archives links here on RA for All: Horror to help people, or why not order a copy of my book now so you are ready when you will really need it?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Booklist’s Top 10 Horror

Click here for the list of the Top 10 Horror titles as reviewed in Booklist from May 1, 2014 to May 15, 2015.

What is great about this list particular list from my vantage point is that since it is from Booklist, these are ALL books you should have in a general, public library horror collection. These are the best horror books from a journal that specifically reviewed them for a public library audience.

So, go check you shelves and order these up for your patrons. And I second Bill’s Christopher Conlon love [see below].

I have also reposted the list for the lazy among you below:

Top 10 Horror: 2015.

Ott, Bill (author).

FEATURE.  First published May 15, 2015 (Booklist).

This list of the best horror fiction reviewed between May 15, 2014, and May 1, 2015, covers the gamut, from an old-fashioned horror novel, tasting of blood and dust, to a zombie plague (what would a top 10 list be without one?) to a grisly, darkly comedic road trip.

  ConsumedConsumedBy David Cronenberg. 2014. Scribner, $26 (9781416596134).
For cineasts raised on Cronenberg’s twisted videos, his first novel will seem like a homecoming: a character who snips off pieces of her flesh and eats them, for example. His dense, aristocratic prose is saturated with details of technology, sex, and disease—all forms of cannibalism, he suggests—and every salacious bit is elevated to a thing of perverse beauty.

Fall of NightBy Jonathan Maberry. 2014. St. Martin’s/Griffin, $15.99 (9781250034946).
Picking up at the very moment Dead of Night ended, this sequel throws the reader headlong into a zombie plague. Maberry, no slouch at action and suspense, does some of his most visceral and terrifying writing ever here.

The House of Small ShadowsBy Adam Nevill. 2014. St. Martin’s, $25.99 (9781250041272).
From the opening line’s echo of Manderley (“As if by a dream Catherine came to the Red House”), readers will find themselves in the sickly sweet, rotted-silk grip of a decaying gothic nightmare. A haunted-house tale like no other, this is one of those rare horror novels that’s upsetting enough to make the reader want to take the damn thing out back and bury it.

  Lock InLock In. By John Scalzi. 2014. Tor, $24.99 (9780765375865).
This tightly plotted, highly imaginative tale takes place about 25 years after a virus called Haden’s syndrome left a small percentage of the world’s population locked inside their own bodies, conscious but unable to interact in any way. A genre-blending triumph that combines horror, mystery, and science fiction.

A Love like BloodBy Marcus Sedgwick. 2015. Pegasus, $24.95 (9781605986838).
In the aftermath of D-Day, an American soldier tours a Paris museum and comes upon a sight that will forever change (and damn) him: a man seemingly drinking a woman’s blood. Here’s a novel that tastes of blood and dust, just as a fine old-fashioned horror novel should.

Motherless ChildBy Glen Hirshberg. 2014. Tor, $24.99 (9780765337450).
Hirshberg takes readers on a grisly yet darkly comedic road trip in this outstanding southern horror tale about two single moms and their unfortunate encounter with a shadowy and irresistible singer known as the Whistler. This one is a spine-tingler with smart dialogue, a thickly atmospheric setting, and plenty of visceral violence.

PositiveBy David Wellington. 2015. Harper/Voyager, $26.99 (9780062315373).
Wellington uses the zombie apocalypse as a backdrop for a gripping story about the shattering of human society—the real villains here aren’t the zombies but, rather, the road pirates, looters, religious cultists, and other groups that have sprung up in the 20 years since the “crisis.” A masterful, epic-scale fantasy.

RevivalBy Stephen King. 2014. Scribner, $30 (9781476770383).
In the kind of loose, garrulous voice that has marked his last decade, King spins the yarn of Jamie Morton and Reverend Charles Jacobs, whose lives wretchedly intertwine for 50 years. This is one of King’s most harrowing, most fatalistic works, and it’s right in his horror wheelhouse.

  Savaging the Dark
Savaging the Dark

By Christopher Conlon. 2014. Evil Jester, $11.99 (9780615936772).
How’s this for a horror-novel opening: a terrified 11-year-old boy is gagged and handcuffed to a bed while our narrator, sixth-grade English teacher Mona Straw, licks the dirt from his feet. Conlon writes with literary depth and commercial aplomb; his days of too-little recognition seem numbered.

The String Diaries. By Stephen Lloyd Jones. 2014. Little, Brown/Mulholland, $26 (9780316254465),
In this ambitious, memorable debut novel, Hannah is on the run, her young daughter and her grievously wounded husband depending on her for their own survival. Her destination: a remote farmhouse in Wales; but, rather than a safe haven, the farmhouse could be her last stand against an evil that has pursued her family for nearly 200 years.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Bram Stoker Award Winners

This past weekend the Oscars of the Horror world were given out in Atlanta-- The Bram Stoker Awards.

Here is the link to all of the winners.

This is a good time to remind you all to take stock of your horror collections. When these big genre awards come out, it serves as a reminder to look more closely at your holdings, assessing your strengths and weaknesses.

Specifically, from this year's honorees, the winner for First Novel, Mr. Wicker by Maria Alexander, is a great add for all public libraries.  It was the only book I felt could challenge Bird Box for the win in this category.

See my more general post on how to use awards lists as an RA Tool.

Congrats to all of the winners.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Halfway to Halloween: Reader's Shelf Guest Column

Here is the link to my annual celebration of Halfway to Halloween in Library Journal.

Please consider celebrating at your library. It is a wonderful time to remind people that they loved reading horror in October, so why not try one now?  It is also a great time to start looking at your collections ,replacing classics, ordering award winners, and checking on upcoming titles.

I have copied the full column below too.

Halfway to Horror: Halloween Previews | The Reader’s Shelf, April 15, 2015

Ahh, April, the beginning of spring. Flowers budding, birds returning from their winter sojourn, and…time for monsters, hauntings, and havoc! Why not? Halloween is a mere six months away. Bring the holiday fun by promoting “Halfway to Halloween” with this collection of titles currently lurking in the stacks.
Readers looking for plenty of ambiance to set a horrific tone but without the gore can try Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Egan’s The Keep (Anchor. 2007. ISBN 9781400079742. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307386618). This gothic novel follows two estranged cousins who reunite to renovate an Eastern European castle. The combination of their strained relationship and the eerie edifice is atmospheric enough, but then Egan ups the ante with the addition of Ray, a convict in a prison writing program, who is the actual author of the cousins’ journey. The story-within-a-story frame presents an oppressive and anxiety-driven narrative that carries an intensifying sense of dread.
Although quiet and anxious terror can make an impact, there is something to be said for an all-out pulp fiction bloodfest, as long as it is accompanied by solid story­telling. In Castaways(Eraserhead. 2011. ISBN 9781936383931. pap. $11.95; ebk. ISBN 2940014008419), by Brian Keene, the contestants and crew of a Survivor-esque reality television show are caught in a fight for their lives as an indigenous tribe of murderous human monsters populates the island on which their games take place. Isolated even further by a violent storm, the characters are forced to switch from competing for prize money to battling for survival in Keene’s grisly and satirical page-turner.
While Keene is parodying current times, Sarah Pinborough has found inspiration for her disturbing stories hiding out in history. The first book of her “Dr. Thomas Bond” series,Mayhem (Jo Fletcher: Quercus. 2014. ISBN 9781623650865. $24.95; pap. ISBN 9781623658762. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781623650872), takes place during the same period as the activities of Jack the Ripper. Pinborough uses the dread of her setting to great advantage in telling an equally ghastly tale of another killer who stalked London, also leaving body parts of women strewn all over the city. This macabre, well-plotted, and gripping mystery offers an unsettling peek into the face of true evil.
Those who would rather look to the future than wallow in the past might turn to Jonathan Maberry’s critically acclaimed and compelling near-future, post–zombie apocalypse YA series beginning with Rot & Ruin (S. & S. Books for Young Readers. 2001. ISBN 9781442402324. $17.99; pap. ISBN 9781442402331. $11.99; ebk. ISBN 9781442402348). Benny lives in a safe zone where the law dictates that every person age 15 and a half must select an occupation in order to contribute to society. Nearing his deadline, Benny accompanies his brother, a bounty hunter, outside the safe zone to see what that job is like. The decision turns Benny’s entire life upside down—not just because he has to combat hordes of ­zombies, but because he is forced to confront his own preconceived notions about the only world he has ever known.
The best horror stories of the last ten years are those in Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s graphic novel series “Locke and Key,” which starts with Welcome to Lovecraft (IDW. 2008. ISBN 9781600102370. $24.99; pap. ISBN 9781600103841. $19.99; ebk. ISBN 9781600102370). The Locke children are typical 21st-century kids. Well, except that their father was murdered, their mother is finding solace in alcohol, and a wicked, supernatural being has been trying to destroy their family for generations. The Lockes live in a creepy, secluded historic home filled with hidden keys that do magical and dangerous things. The children collect the keys and learn how to harness their powers, leading to an epic showdown. The series combines a realistic and chilling plot with fantastic characters and art that is both beautiful and scary.
In Scott Smith’s The Ruins (Vintage. 2008. ISBN 9780307390271. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307266040), four American friends vacationing in Cancun, Mexico, meet a German tourist who enlists them in the search for his brother, who went missing on a trip to the Mayan ruins. Despite warnings from the locals, the five climb an ominous hill covered in flowering plants—a hill that ends up holding them captive. Forced into a mortal struggle with a monster, they soon regret their decision to enter the jungle. Smith’s petrifying, original, and gruesome story never lets up and is sure to make readers regard even the most common of houseplants with a touch of fear.
This column was contributed by Becky Spratford, a Readers’ Advisory and Teen Librarian at the Berwyn Public Library, IL. She is the author of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror, 2d ed. (ALA Editions, 2012), and a proud member of the Horror Writers Association. For more horror suggestions from Spratford, visit
Neal Wyatt compiles LJ’s online feature Wyatt’s World and is the author of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (ALA Editions, 2007). She is a collection development and readers’ advisory librarian from Virginia. Those interested in contributing to The Reader’s Shelf should contact her directly at

Monday, March 2, 2015

New Book Worth a Look: Red Equinox by Douglas Wynne

 Douglas Wynne broke on to the horror scene when he won JournalStone's 2012 Horror Fiction Contest with his debut novel, The Devil of Echo Lake (click here for my review).

His newest book Red Equinox came out in January. I am happy to say, Wynne is only getting better. Here is the publisher summary:
"The Red Equinox has dawned, and the old gods who have slept for aeons are stirring.  
Urban explorer and photographer Becca Philips was raised in the shadow of Miskatonic University, steeped in the mysteries of her late grandmother’s work in occult studies. But what she thought was myth becomes all too real when cultists unleash terror on the city of Boston. Now she’s caught between a shadowy government agency called SPECTRA and the followers of an apocalyptic faith bent on awakening an ancient evil. 
As urban warfare breaks out between eldritch monsters and an emerging police state, she must uncover the secrets of a family heirloom known as the Fire of Cairo to banish the rising tide of darkness before the balance tips irrevocably at the Red Equinox."
 Wynne's newest novel also got a write up in the March Issue of the International Thriller Writers Big Thrill online magazine.  Click through for a review and interview with Wynne.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

WiHM: Shirley Jackson's Legacy and Award

Women writing horror today have much to owe to Shirley Jackson.  When "The Lottery" was written in 1948, she jolted America into the reality of the sinister actions lurking just under the surface of bucolic, small town America.  She was not the first person to set a scary tale in a small town, but she was doing it as a woman, which in and of itself was shocking.

In order to honor Jackson's legacy and importance, her estate has set up an award:
In recognition of the legacy of Shirley Jackson’s writing, and with permission of the author’s estate, the Shirley Jackson Awards have been established for outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic. 
Shirley Jackson (1916-1965) wrote such classic novels as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, as well as one of the most famous short stories in the English language, “The Lottery.” Her work continues to be a major influence on writers of every kind of fiction, from the most traditional genre offerings to the most innovative literary work. National Book Critics Circle Award-winning novelist Jonathan Lethem has called Jackson “one of this century’s most luminous and strange American writers,” and multiple generations of authors would agree.
One of the nice side effects of this award is that while it is not officially only bestowed upon female writers, it is conscious of the contribution of women in a way no other major dark fiction award is.

As a result, the lists of past nominees and winners includes a ton of female writers of dark fiction!  This is an excellent resource to use to identify Women in Horror, specially those on the edges of pure horror, which tends to be very male dominated both in readers and critically acclaimed writers.

But as we all know, there are plenty of women who love horror.

So, while WiHM may be winding down this week, you can identify excellent women who are writing terrifying tomes all year long with a quick click here.

And as a special help to us librarians, these are going to be among the most mainstream options.  These are titles you probably already have in your collections.  Now you have no excuse not to suggest some great scary titles.

What are you waiting for?