RA for All...The Road Show!

I can come to your library, book club meeting, or conference to talk about how to help your readers find their next good read. Click here for more information.

Monday, October 31, 2011

31 Days of Horror: Day 31-- Monday Discussion and Lots of Me

Day 31 is not only Halloween, but also, since it is a Monday, I am hosting the Monday Discussion over on RA for All.  Today's question is:  What's Your Favorite Halloween Memory?  You will have to click through to see mine.

Also click here to read what happened when I tried to get Chicago Tribune columnist Barbara Brotman to try reading some horror.

Click here at 10am to listen to me live on the radio talking about horror fiction.

I gave an interview with the Oak Park Patch.  Click here for the full text.  I will also paste it at the end of this post.

All three of this appearances do have some new information about Horror RA. You gotta save the best for last.

Speaking of the end, thank you for joining me on this 31 Day journey.  I am going to take a break for a few days, but I will be back.  Just don't expect any 31 days in a row again until next year.  In the meantime, order a book and use the coupon code at the top of this page for $5 off.

My goal is to post here 2x a week, but of course, that will wax and wane depending on what is going on in the horror world.  You can however, follow this blog via RSS or email feeds to know when something is going on.  Also, I continue to post every weekday on all things RA related over on RA for All.

Have a fun and safe Halloween.

Patch article:

Becky Spratford is a Readers Advisor at theBerwyn Public Library. When she's not running her two popular blogs, RA for All and RA for All: Horror, she is corrupting the minds of students atDominican University’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science.
The La Grange resident is also the author of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror, 2nd edition(ALA, 2012) and is a proud member of the Horror Writers Association
Patch caught up with her for some insight on her favorite literary genre. 
Patch: What was your introduction to horror and what was your reaction to it at the time?Becky Spratford: My dad was (and is) a huge Stephen King fan, so his books were always lying around the house. But my first visceral memory was in the summer at a friend's house watching the first Nightmare on Elm Street movie. I can still remember scenes from the movie. 
The idea that in your dreams you could be stalked and killed by a monster was both scary and intriguing. I spent many a summer night in the 1980s watching more Nightmare on Elm Streets and the Hellraiser films. I could not get enough. I was drawn in, captured, and the genre never let me go. 
Patch: Having spent years watching horror and surrounding yourself in the culture, is there one film or novel that stands out for you as “the best,” or at least a personal favorite?Spratford: The books stay with me more than the films for sure. I have had many favorites over the years, but the book I hand sell to patrons over and over and over again in The Ruins by Scott Smith. Here a group of 20-somethings travel into the jungle to explore some Mayan ruins and end up trapped on a hill by an unlikely monster who always gets its prey. This book changed the way I think about horror novels. 
The entire time I was reading this book, I was trying to figure out how these kids were going to get out of this terrible situation, but when you get to the end (which I will not give away) I was blown away. The answer was so obvious, yet so radical. It changed the entire genre. From The Ruins-on (2006), no character was safe in a horror novel anymore. There no longer has to be a survivor. By the way, do not watch the movie. It is bad and totally different. 
Patch: What is it about horror that turns an everyday librarian and bibliophile into a lover of the spooky and scary?
Spratford: I read so much, both for work and for fun, that dark twists, macabre events and slightly off-kiltered views of reality hold my attention. Dark fiction was always an interest of mine, but when my Library School professor Bill Crowley (still at Dominican) told me that the American Library Association was looking for someone to write the Readers' Advisory Guide to Horror books and he thought I would be perfect, I jumped at the chance. 
I love writing and reading equally, and the chance to combine the two was a dream come true. That was back in 2001 when I co-wrote the first edition. I threw myself into the horror world and spent years studying the genre. I found a calling. By the time I started writing the second edition (back in 2010), I was a member of the Horror Writers Association and an expert in the genre. Horror is looked down upon by many because it preys on our emotions and uses visceral imagery to invoke terror. 
But when you spend the hours I have immersed in it, you really come to appreciate what great writers are out there practicing the horror craft. My goodness, today we all think Edgar Alan Poe was a genius (myself included) but he was simply preying on our emotions and eliciting a fear response in readers. He was writing some of the first American horror stories. 
Patch: Horror comes in many shapes and forms, from the campy (i.e. Friday the 13th) to psychological (i.e. Silence of the Lambs), from the “gore porn” (i.e. Hostel) to the paranormal (i.e. Signs). Do you have a favorite subgenre?
Spratford: I am a sucker for a good zombie story. By far, the post-apocalyptic setting where masses of zombies are shambling toward me is my favorite. Interestingly, I like the full range of zombie stories. From a parody like the film Shaun of the Dead, to the TV show and the graphic novel series,The Walking Dead, to a newer, more thoughtful novel like Isaac Marion's Warm Bodies, I love them all. 
Have you seen the viral video "Zombie in a Penguin Suit" yet? Check it out. When I wrote my book, my editors even noted that the zombies chapter was the best. 
Patch: Is there any sort of element of horror that you try to avoid? For example, I've heard you're not particularly into gratuitous gore.
Spratford: I am OK with blood and guts as long as it serves a purpose. Is it there to ratchet up the fear factor? I really like Brian Keene, who is known in the industry for being an expert at describing the dismemberment of bodies. I do try to avoid horror books with badly drawn characters. No matter what type of book I am reading, I read for character.
I don't have to like the characters, in fact, I love an unreliable narrator, but I need them to be fully fleshed out, nuanced and interesting. Unfortunately, some horror authors rely on stereotypical characters, and add lots of gore so you don't notice that the characters are as thin as the paper they are written on. I try to avoid those.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

31 Days of Horror: Day 30.1-- Why We Love Horror

Here is a great 2 page comic by Lucy Knisley explaining why people love horror so much.  Enjoy.

31 Days of Horror: Day 30-- What I'm Reading: Zone One

 
As promised, I read the most talked about zombie novel of the moment, Zone One by Colson Whitehead.   I liked Zone One much more than I anticipated I would, it is not a horror novel.



While Zone One is set in a very real feeling post-apocalyptic world, fear of the zombies is not the key motivator here.  This is a novel about trying to reclaim civilization. It is an interior novel; one that takes place mostly in our hero's, Mark Spitz, head. The moments of pure pleasure in reading this novel come from his observations about how the world has changed, and from Whitehead's amazingly realistic and chilling descriptions of the landscape in his created world.

I will be frank, over the year, I have never been as impressed with Whitehead's writing as the critics have been.  However, there are some absolutely beautiful and haunting passages here.  I did step back to re-read a few.  I also loved how detailed his setting is.  Not only do we have detailed descriptions about the Zone One operations and how they are run (a mix of army and civilian), but we have the unseen provisional government in Buffalo becoming its own character. Additions like giving the reconstruction a theme song (one which we cannot hear because of the medium, but which still somehow permeates our reading of the novel) and calling those who remain "pheenies" (short for the American Phoenix, how we will rise again) add authenticity to the setting. 

Our specific "pheenie" and guide through which we get a first person view of this wasteland is Mark Spitz (not his real name).  The story is set up like a suspense novel with a compressed time frame, in this case 3 days. Throughout the course of these three days, we see Mark and his team of "sweepers" cleaning out and buildings in lower Manhattan in Zone One, the only zombie cleared zone on the island.  Mark tells us what is going on now, but there are many flashbacks to how he got from the old world, through the end times.  He also look forward to more cleared out zones and the rebirth of this great city.

I don't want to give any more details about Mark or the setting away, because as the story it unfolded , I was enthralled.  You are going to have to trust Whitehead though.  The beginning is a bit bumpy, like most post-apocalyptic stories.  You have to just keep reading and trust that Whitehead will fill in the details.  But for me this was part of the joy of reading this novel.  I loved the details AND how Whitehead chose to reveal them.  It added satire and suspense.  Mark is also a great vehicle to tell this story because the only thing he excels at is being average.


Whitehead, a New Yorker, obviously knows his setting.  The haunting descriptions of a desolate New York drew me in.  In particular, I loved the scenes in the subway tunnels, and found them especially chilling. Anyone who has spent any time NYC will be moved by this novel.  I especially felt a kinship here because like Mark, I grew up in the suburbs of NYC and visited often, but with the eyes of an outsider still.

I also enjoyed the new type of zombie Whitehead has added to the pantheon.  He has created "straggler" zombies.  These are zombies who rather than reanimating and compulsively searching out fresh human meat, merely roam back to place of meaning from their past and stay there. For example, the psychologist who goes into the office after turning into a zombie, sits in his chair, and waits for the patient who will never arrive.  These zombies are much like the remaining humans with their different forms of PASD (post-apocalyptic stress disorder) who are straggling through what is left of life on earth.

The final thing I liked about Zone One was its ending.  As you read the book, Whitehead clearly foreshadows (really broadcasts) how this reclamation experiment is going to end, yet as you read, you continue to hold out hope.  Ash is raining down, the zombies are literally knocking on the door, Spitz keeps telling us each place he has found refuge post-apocalypse has only been a short respite until it is destroyed and he must run again, and the book is set in only a three day period with things going from so-so, to bad, to worse.  Yet we hope.

The fact that I had any hope while reading this book is a huge testament to Whitehead's writing.  Look, I read a lot of dark books, where bad things happen, and everyone ends up dead, yet I was rooting for the pheenies.  This is not to say that I was disappointed with the ending.  I loved it even more because of what a great job Whitehead did, but many readers who are flocking to this title because it is the "hot" book right now, may be disappointed.  In fact, on Amazon, the book is not getting good customer reviews.  Much of this is due to the fact that it is not scary enough for horror fans and it is too dark for mainstream literary fiction readers. But in the right reader's hand, Zone One is a gem.

I cannot stress enough, this book does not have rosy things to say about the future.  The zombies are merely Whitehead's vehicle for commenting about the path humanity is on.  And it is a path he does not see leading somewhere good, but even worse, he seems to be saying destruction is inevitable.  This is a bleak book.  But it is also a satisfying look into the human condition, what remains of society when there is very little left, and the hope to be found in the "average" citizen.

Three Words That Describe This Book: bleak, post-apocalyptic, thought provoking

Readalikes: If you liked The Passage by Justin Cronin, chances are you will enjoy Zone One.  The Passage is definitely a notch above Zone One, but that is because of the level of detail Cronin has built in to the story.  Click here to read my full review of The Passage which includes more readalike options.  You can also click here to read Cronin's review of Zone One.

Other post-apocalyptic stories I would suggest here are: The Walking Dead series, I Am Legend by Richard Matheson and Swan Song by Robert McCammon (a hidden gem that should be on the shelf at your library).

Monster Island is part of David Wellington's zombie apocalypse trilogy that is set on the island of Manhattan just like Zone One.  Monster Island is much less literary and much more scary than Zone One, but it is a great option for readers who really enjoyed the NYC setting and want to see a similar story line from a different angle.

I also found Wastelands: Stories of he Apocalypse, a well reviewed, 2008 collection with with stories by Stephen King, Orson Scott Card, Octavia Butler, and George RR Martin.  The collection is great because it runs the gamut in terms of tone, from the bleak and hopeless to stories of hope, and presents a broad view of this popular subgenre of science fiction and horror.

The interesting thing about Whitehead's career is that each book he has written is different from the last, so he is a hard author to match with another author who will be the same.  However, that being said, this novel specifically made me think of two other authors who write with a similar tone and mood to Zone One.

First, Doris Lessing writes character driven novels that are bleak and thought provoking, and often have a speculative element.  Try The Memoirs of a Survivor which is set in a post-apocalyptic landscape.

Chuck Palahniuk is the master of bleak novels which probe the inner turmoil of the human condition.  He uses anti-heroes (like Spitz) and everything he writes is a satire of something we take for granted.  He uses the same wry humor found in Zone One too.  Fight Club is a good starting point.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

31 Days of Horror: Day 29-- Gearing Up for Halloween

In these last days before Halloween, there is much going on. Everywhere you turn, people are talking about horror this and the most frightening that.

This morning, I had a driveway moment listening to Scott Simon interview William Peter Blatty about his masterpiece, The Exorcist, still one of the scariest books ever written (and the movie is great too).

This novel always makes me think of one of my favorite horror novel related stories ever.  Back in my early days at the BPL, a young woman named Gina worked at circulation.  Gina loved reading horror novels, but only read them while at work so that she was never alone while reading them.  One slow Saturday while Gina, myself, and a young man names Scott were working, Gina was getting freaked out enough by the novel that she put it in a drawer, locked the drawer, and went to take a break to calm down.

While she was gone, Scott and I worked together to take the book out of the drawer and move it to another drawer.  When Gina went to read the book again, see opened the drawer and the book....was gone!  She screamed, but then calmed down when she found the book 1 drawer over.  She simply thought she had misremembered which drawer held the book.

Scott and I continued this game for a few days, with Gina getting more frightened and agitated each time.  By the time she had finished the book and had figured out what we were doing, I asked her if she was mad at us.

"No," she told me, "that made reading the book so much better."  Gina loved to be frightened to her limits by reading horror novels, but adding a real life freaky element made it even better.  She was experiencing the story of a possessed child and was reading it from what appeared to be a possessed book.

This always reminds me of why people read horror tales.  We like to feel that fear.  The more the better.  But we also know it is not real.

Back to gearing up for the 31st.  Personally, I spent the end of this past week being interviewed or preparing for interviews.  So on Monday, look for me trying to convince Chicago Tribune columnist Barbara Brotman to read a horror novel, and listen to me live on Wisconsin Public Radio taking your calls about horror (you can use the link to stream it live).  I will provide links to all of my appearances on Monday.

Tonight, I am attending out annual haunted block party and carving a pumpkin.  And tomorrow, I will be working the RA desk at the BPL and posting my review of Zone One.

We are in the homestretch now.

Friday, October 28, 2011

31 Days of Horror: Day 28--Witches

A person who practices occult arts may go by many names, but the most common is simply, “witch." Across cultures and over the course of recorded human history, there have always been people who claim to be able to harness magic both to help their community and sometimes to hinder it.  There are black-robed, stoop–shouldered hags coexisting with New Age Herbalists, Celtic druids and fairy-tale Disney depictions of both good and bad sorcerers.  Shakespeare’s tempestuous witch sisters mesh with our memories of The Crucible and The Blair Witch Project, and even the British wizard-in-training, Harry Potter.  More often than not, the witch and his or her powers have been associated with negative images.  They use charms, potions, and curses. Some are mischievous and bring ill fortune to others, and they belong to covens that hold services under cover of darkness to discuss their magic and pay homage to their master, the Devil.  Despite this diversity, the one uniform distinction of all witches is the element of magic.  All have some sort of magical or mystical ability to manipulate the forces of nature.

The witch story is still a big part of the horror genre today.  It is one with which I am less familiar however.  For the new book, I did a lot of research into why readers crave these specific stories.  Since I am not a big fan myself, this was one of the more rewarding experiences I had while working on the book.

Recently, I also received a communication from my alma matter about a course being offered this semester entitled, "Witches: Myth and Reality."  The interest in witches is high among the general public.

So as not to ignore this popular subgenre of horror stories during this celebration of 31 Days of Horror, I would like to offer a few of my new found favorite witch tales:

Campbell, Ramsey. The Darkest Part of the Woods.

In this moody story of a haunted English wood, a family is torn apart by its connection to the forest. The history of the wood is linked to an alchemist who lived in the forest and tried to summon an evil spirit. With a nod to The Blair Witch Project, a new generation of the family tries not to go mad discovering the wood’s secrets. This is a modern story of inescapable horror grounded in classical roots.


Everson, John. Sacrifice.
Ariana is a witch who is devoted to conjuring a race of evil spirits known as the Curbine. A group of reluctant heroes is in a race to stop Ariana from destroying the world. This is a sexy, violent, and terrifying novel with frenetic pacing that stands as a solid example of the best of today’s horror. You could also try Covenant (2004) and Siren (2010) for more witch inspired horror.
Kenyon, Nate. Bloodstone.
Ex-con Billy and the prostitute he kidnapped are plagued by evil dreams as they pull into White Falls, Maine. Within the town, a young boy Jed is entranced by a 300 year-old, magical amulet. Thrown together by the influence of the cursed necklace, the characters engage in an epic showdown between good and evil. This is a character driven novel, obviously influenced by Stephen King, with a consciously building pace and a surprising twist. Bloodstone was the debut novel by one of today’s best horror voices.


Laymon, Richard. Dark Mountain.
Two families go on a camping trip to a mountainous forest. What should be a peaceful and restful vacation turns horrifying as they encounter a witch who places a curse on the families. After returning home, the families find the curse is all too real, and a few of them must return to try to overturn it. In pure Laymon form, this is a terrifying and bloody story of a frighteningly realistic witch bent on destruction. Think twice before reading this novel before your next camping trip.
 
Piccirilli, Tom. A Choir of Ill Children.
Thomas is a descendant of his backwoods, swamp town’s founders. He is also the guardian of his conjoined triplet brothers, who share a brain and act as an oracle. When an outsider comes to town, dark secrets are revealed, a coven of witches are upset, and an odd preacher begins speaking in tongues. Thomas must take control and find out the truth. This is a creepy novel, filled with rich and macabre characters, written in a conscious Southern Gothic style.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

31 Days of Horror: Day 27-- What I'm Reading: What Fears Become

I have been a fan of The Horror Zine for some time now.  Editor Jeani Rector and her crew work hard to provide a quality monthly literary journal with fiction, poetry, and artwork from morbidly creative people.  When she contacted me about reviewing their first print collection, What Fears Become, I jumped at the chance.

In general, I love horror story collections, especially when they are like What Fears Become and compile a wide range of scary stories.  I find collection to be a great way to take the current pulse of the genre.  In this case, the collection also features poetry and artwork.  This range of appeal made me also go out and purchase a copy for the Berwyn Library.  We have many readers who will greatly appreciate having access to this collection.

Specifically, this collection is a good read for horror fans for a few other reasons:

  1. Big name, award winning authors have contributed to The Horror Zine and allowed their work to be included here.  There are stories by horror greats Graham Masterton, Ramsey Campbell, Joe Lansdale,  and Elizabeth Massie.  Even science fiction legend Piers Anthony has a story here.  But for me, the most surprising of this bunch was "Dogleg" by Bentley Little.  I have grown tired of Little in the last few years and was worried that his best work was behind him.  However, "Dogleg" was an amazing, psychological story that was both haunting and terrifying.
  2. There are very good stories which take an original twist on what are can easily become a tired theme in the wrong hands.  "Mall Walkers" by Chris Reed (zombies), "3AM" by James Marlow (ghosts out for revenge) and "Losing Judy" by Andy Mee (haunted woods) were some of my favorite stories in the collection
  3. Stories that will stay with you long after you finish them.  "Adelle's Night" by David Grinn is just perfect in this sense.  It is terrifyingly realistic even though it is completely implausible; for me personally this is the best combination in my favorite horror tales.
  4. A new voice that impressed me was Canadian Jagjiwan Sohal whose first "stab" at horror fiction was "Wandering Daniel."  This story is set in a post-apocalyptic world, and our protagonist is a vampire.  But, he did not become a vampire in the apocalypse; he was one before.  This story is a great beginning, but I would not say it is even close to the best story in the bunch.  However, I was so intrigued by the set up and his descriptions of the created world that I am craving more.  I hope Sohal considers trying to put Daniel into a novel.  I would read it.
  5. Some were just plain fun.  "The House at the End of Smith Street" by Stephen M. Dare is similar to The Ruins by Scott Smith (a personal all time favorite), only this time, instead of a killer plant, we have a killer carpet.  Not the most original story in the bunch, it it was a fun, satirical, and plenty scary.
  6. I appreciated that Rector kept her own two stories until the collection's final pages.  They are solid enough to be included, but I am glad she gave everyone else their chance to shine.
  7. Finally as I have already said, the range of the type of horror here is huge.  There are stories for fans of the bloody, supernatural, psychological, creepy, or thriller.  If you have a favorite way to feel the fear, this collection probably has a story for you.
There were a few stories I did not care for, but much of that was a personal taste issue.  For example, I did not like "The Chamber" by David Landrum mostly because of its ancient time period setting.  But others will enjoy it for exactly the reason I disliked it.  The point is that there is enough here for everyone, and since it is a collection, you could skip your least favorite tales and still have plenty to read.

A note on the poetry, of which there is quite a bit.  Not being a big poetry fan, I do not feel qualified to comment on it.  On the other hand, as a RA librarian, I have quite a few patrons (and a staff member) who are active readers of dark poetry.  I will get this collection into their hands very soon.


Three Words That Describe This Book: unsettling, original voices, wide horror appeal

Readalikes:  For readalikes, I would like to offer some of my personal favorite collections which like, What Fears Become, span a wide range of horror appeal factors.  What you will not find suggested here are collections of for example, all zombie stories or all vampire tales.  I do include the best of those more specific collections under their appropriate headings in my new book.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg,  Feel free to  leave a comment with your favorite horror story collection.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

31 Days of Horror: Day 26-- Horror Links Roundup #2

Today I have a list of all of the things I have been saving to post about, but it seems time is running out.  So here they are gathered with comments:

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

31 Days of Horror: Day 25-- Classic Horror TV At Your Library

Today I welcome my colleague, Annabelle Mortensen of the Skokie Public Library.  When I asked Annabelle to contribute to this haunted celebration, she picked the topic of Horror TV.  Today, she shares an annotated list of the best classic horror television series that you can get with just your library card.

To see what else Annabelle is up to click here.  And here she is...

With The Walking Dead scoring record ratings and American Horror Story gracing the cover of Entertainment Weekly, horror TV is edging back into the mainstream. I say “back” because there once was a time when spine-tingling series regularly terrorized the airwaves. These programs aren’t just frightfully good in their own right, but they also were key influences for the top horror writers and filmmakers of today. Fortunately the classics listed below are all available on DVD, ready to be discovered by a whole new generation unafraid of the dark.

The Twilight Zone (1959-1964)
Rod Serling’s brainchild was a heady mix of horror, sf, fantasy, drama and social commentary. Amazingly, this anthology series received only middling ratings when it first aired, but it quickly became a pop-culture touchstone. Some of the scares are psychological (“Stopover in a Quiet Town,” where a young couple can’t escape a deserted neighborhood), while others will haunt you for decades (the talking doll who menaces Telly Savalas in “Living Doll” … eek!).

Thriller (1960-1962)
Steven King once called this anthology “the best horror series put on TV.” Hosted by and occasionally starring horror icon Boris Karloff, it boasted guest roles by a who’s-who of future TV stars, including Mary Tyler Moore, William Shatner, Elizabeth Montgomery, Leslie Nielsen, and more. The effects are cheesy, but the show’s macabre sensibility—with thrills that are suggestive, not graphic—still holds up.


Dark Shadows (1966-1971)
Dark Shadows falls into the realm of Not Quite Horror, but given its forthcoming silver screen adaptation by Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, this gothic soap opera is well worth revisiting. The show, like most soaps, centered around love triangles and family secrets, except that those secrets often involved curses, ghosts, werewolves, witches and more. The star of the show was 150-year-old vampire Barnabas Collins (the peerless Jonathan Frid), a conscience-ridden bloodsucker who moves in with relatives who are unaware of his supernatural nature.

Rod Serling’s Night Gallery (1970-1973)
Serling returned to television with this horror anthology that ran for three seasons on NBC. Conflicts between NBC and Serling lead to a falling out (the network went as far as rejecting some of his scripts), but the series nonetheless has some memorable frights, such as “The Caterpillar,” about a bug that crawls into … Well, I’d actually rather not think about it. Just watch the episode on Hulu … if you dare.

Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-1975)
This comic horror series starred Darren McGavin as a Chicago reporter who crossed paths with all manner of zombies, vampires and werewolves, except his boss would never believe his weird tales. McGavin played things straight, but the show’s overall tone was hip and ironic (if irony had actually existed in the 1970s). A big cult hit, the show’s monster-of-the-week premise would become the primary inspiration for The X-Files

Monday, October 24, 2011

31 Days of Horror: Day 24.1-- AMC Fear Fest

I forgot to mention AMC's Fear Fest which is running on the cable channel right now.  They also have some exclusive web content you can check out here.

This wasn't worth an entire day's post, but I did want to let people know.  Many are aware of the specials running, but you might not have thought to go to the website for some great interviews, articles, and essays.

31 Days of Horror: Day 24-- What's Your Favorite Horror TV Series?

It's Monday and that means we are heading over to RA for All  where I am moderating the Monday Discussion.  To keep with our celebration of 31 Days of Horror, I am asking about your favorite scary TV series.

Here's the post.  Comment on either site.

Monday Discussion: What's Your Favorite Scary TV Series?

Running a bit late with the Monday Discussion today, but in keeping with the 31 Days of Horror over on RA for All: Horror, I wanted to ask people what their favorite horror TV Series are.

For me personally, I think The Twilight Zone is still sets a high bar for absolute creepiness.  I can still remember watching the old black and white episodes as a child.

Currently, I love The Walking Dead.  I love it for the post-apocalyptic storyline, the awesomely gruesome zombies, the action, the characters....just everything!

Finally, I enjoy True Blood, and although it is not horror, it does feature horror tropes, so I am including it here.  This is my campy horror outlet.  It is fun and outrageous.  It is suspenseful, but not terror inducing. But with all of those standard horror characters (vampires, werewolves, shape-shifters), I just have watching it.

Be as broad as I am and share your favorite small screen scares from the past or present.  I will follow up tomorrow with an annotated guest post listing some classic horror television series.

For past Monday Discussions, click here.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

31 Days of Horror: Day 23-- Halloween Fun

A week from tomorrow is Halloween, so I figured now is last chance for me to pass on some fun ideas for celebrating, or just for getting in the spirit:

Always a favorite, you can zombify yourself.  Just upload a picture and see how you would look as a zombie.

Zombies a little too gruesome for you?  Go to Jib Jab to create and send a Halloween greeting featuring you and your family.

But the best place to begin your search for Halloween ideas is Halloween.com.  The site has been around for 17 years and is still THE best place to go for all your Halloween planning for ALL ages.  From their site:
The updated Halloween.com is here and now more than ever our mission is to help you enjoy Halloween as much as we do! Since 1994 Halloween.com's objective has been to help people find useful information about the holiday, while at the same time help those with the information find the people. Halloween.com and the Halloween.com list of Halloween sites will now help you find everything from the History of Halloween, Halloween food, Halloween Costumes, pumpkin carving, trick or treating,  to Halloween Around the World Plus Halloween greeting cards, Halloween screensavers, Halloween jokes, costumes for kids, costumes for adults, costumes ideas for the physically challenged, Halloween Movies, last minute costume ideas. From Halloween games, to Halloween safety to trick or treating information to Halloween events, and everything in between. Our Halloween discussion in the Halloween.com forums lets you exchange ideas, comments and fun about our favorite holiday. Halloween.com is ghouly your one source of all things Halloween! Our complete sitemap shows all the Halloween sections.
Personally, I love their section on the history of Halloween.  My kids are at the age where they are very interested in the "why" behind traditions.  So this page had been visited frequently at our house.

Haunted attractions are also big this week leading up to Halloween.  Personally, I have always want to go to the old Stateville prison in Joliet, Illinois to visit the haunted house which they create there every year.  But every community has their haunted places, whether created for the holiday (like Stateville) or just plain haunted all of the time.  Halloween.com can help you find one near you with this directory.  Next weekend will be crazy, but festive for a visit.

So get started with your holiday planning.

And next week, the last of 31 Days of Horror here at RA for All Horror, along with reviews and horror fiction previews, I will begin the week with a discussion of horror on the small screen and a guest post on the topic  by super librarian Annabelle Mortensen from the Skokie Public Library.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

31 Days of Horror: Day 22-- The Zombie Research Society

That headline is not a joke.  There really is a zombie research society.  Here is their official website where you can also find their founding principles:
Founded in 2007, the Zombie Research Society (ZRS) is dedicated to raising the level of zombie scholarship in the Arts and Sciences.  ZRS Members represent diverse backgrounds, interests, and theories, but are unified in their support of the Society's three foundational principles:
1) A zombie is a biologically definable, animated being occupying a human corpse.
2) The zombie pandemic is coming.  It's not a matter of if, but a matter of when.
3) Enthusiastic debate about zombies is essential to the survival of the human race.
As I am currently entrenched in the post-apocalyptic zombie world of Zone One, this society is really looking like a good idea.

I may be partially joking with this post, but only partially.  Go to their advisory board page.  There are neuroscientists along side George Romero.  These people are serious.  They also claim to be the only society documenting fact-based possible zombie outbreaks throughout history.  And they have books!

Look, if the zombie apocalypse is inevitable (and if you read any horror fiction these days, you are thinking it is), why not be prepared.  I have an rss feed to their official blog to stay abreast of the latest in zombie happenings.  It can't hurt.

Friday, October 21, 2011

31 Days of Horror: Day 21--Best Horror of 2011...So Far

Today I want to highlight the best horror books that have come out this year.  Some time this weekend, I will offer up the best horror on the horizon in the next few months.

For the record, as I mentioned previously, I still plan to review Zone One and What Fears Become before the end of the month, so they will not be included here.  Also, I want to remind you all that I keep a Horror Review Index sorted by author here.

Here are the links to the horror novels with 2011 copyrights which I really enjoyed and reviewed this year. I will tackle horror collections at a later time.  Click on each title for details:

Here are some more horror titles that I feel are among the best to have come out so far in 2011:
  • Flesh Eaters by Joe McKinney.  This is the third installment in McKinney's excellent series which speculates that five hurricanes in a three week time span destroy Houston.  As a result of the disaster, a zombie plague infects the citizens.  McKinney, who is a police officer by day, is a rising star in the genre.
  • Bed Bugs by Ben Winters.  Winters is also an up and coming horror author.  He began his horror novel career with Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, but now he is back with an original tale of terror.  I am still on the hold list for this one, but it is getting great reviews and word of mouth. Here is the set-up: the perfect NYC apartment, but it is too good to be true.  The residents are being attacked by bed bugs, or so they think, until they find out the threat is much, much more sinister than they thought.
  • Dust and Decay by Jonathan Maberry. This is the sequel to Maberry's YA zombie series Rot and Ruin, which I read and loved here.  I am saving Dust and Decay for after Halloween when I have more time to enjoy it, but I have given it out to many patrons already and they have all loved it.
  • Willy by Robert Dunbar.  I really like Dunbar, and if you read this psychologically terrifying novel, you will see why.  Dunbar puts the reader completely into the head of a troubled boy and follows his terrifying interaction with his friend, Willy.  This is a dark and complex story. Don't be fooled by its short page count (under 300).  This is a book will stay with you.
  • Houdini Heart by Ki Longfellow.  This book has been a surprise to horror fans.  It is a haunting novel which harkens back to Poe, Lovecraft, and Shirley Jackson, but with a 21st Century feel.  I don't want to give too much away here, but this story looks at one writer's descent into madness. Or is she really the victim of supernatural forces?  I love these novels in which the reader is never sure if what the narrator is telling us is truly happening or if it is all in their head.  Here's another book like this which I loved. Terrifying.
  • Finally, here are a few debut novels that are getting a lot of buzz in the horror community. Click through to read more:
Let me know if I missed one of your favorites from the first 3/4 of 2011.  Still to come, the best story collections of 2011 and the best horror on the horizon.  Patience, I still have over a week of days to fill people.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

31 Days of Horror: Day 20-- Horror Links Roundup

Over on RA for All, I run an irregular series rounding up all of the interesting links I have found but didn't want to create an entire post around.  Since it is the haunting season right now, there is quite a bit of horror related info floating around.  Yes, some of it is crap, but some is definitely worth your time.  So, let me sift through it for you.  Here a bot of what I have been collecting over the past 20 days.
  • From What Culture-- 10 Reasons Why Horror Might Be the Best Film Genre.  In fact, What Culture is running their own 31 Days of Horror.  It has a different focus than mine.  They look at horror across all popular media.  Very fun. Check it out.
  • From the Guardian UK-- Bram Stoker's great grandson found one of his journals in the basement.  It will be published in 2012 to help celebrate the 100th anniversary of Stoker's death.  Also in honor of this anniversary, the Horror Writer's Association is also giving out an award for the Best Vampire Novel of the Century.
  • In NYC this weekend there is the Doomsday Film Festival and Symposium which explores, "our collective obsession with the apocalypse in film, art, and culture." Thanks to io9 for the link.
  • Or, next weekend you could go to the Kansas City Creep Fest:From horror films, to spooks, to treats for your inner ghost or goblin, KC CreepFest will provide you with a hauntingly good time! Gather your friends and summon up your courage, this event is not for the faint of heart.  
  • EW writer, Dalton Ross spent the day as an extra on the set of The Walking Dead.  Here are the photos of how he became a zombie.
  • Did you know that Kim Newman's classic, Anno Dracula is back in print?  Check your catalogs for replacement potential.
  • Peter Straub wrote this article about horror last year in The Millions.
  • The Shelf Talk blog of the Seattle Public Library just ran this list of gruesome horror reads.  I was happy to see the gruesome ones not being ignored in favor of titles that would appeal to a wider audience.  Some of us don't mind gruesome.
  • Amazon.com interview with the editor of a new collection of Lovecraft inspired stories entitled, The Book of Cthulhu.
  • 6 spooky cemeteries from Mental Floss.
  • And finally, from Monster Librarian a list of horror book set during Halloween:
    • Orangefield by Al Sarrantonio
    • Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge 
    • The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury and Joseph Mugnaini 
    • Halloween edited by Paula Guran
    • October Dreams: A Celebration of Halloween edited by Richard Chizmar
    • All Hallow's Eve by Richard Laymon
    • October by Al Sarrantonio 
    • Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
    • Yellow Moon by David J. Searls
    • The Manse by Lisa Cantrell
    • Torments by Lisa Cantrell
    • By Wizard Oak by Peter Crowther
    • Halloween Horrors edited by Alan Ryan
    • Johnny Halloween : tales from the Dark Season by Norman Partridge
    • Black And Orange by Benjamin Kane Etheridge
    • A Soul to Steal by Rob Blackwell
    • Ghost Road Blues by Jonathon Maberry
    • Dead Man's Song by Jonathon Maberry
    • Bad Moon Rising by Jonathon Maberry
    • Demon Theory by Stephen Graham Jones
    • The Night Country by Stewart O'Nan
    • Halloween: New Poems Edited by Al Sarrantonio
    • The Nightrunners by Joe R. Lansdale
    • Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King 
    • The Samhanach by Lisa Morton.
    • The Watching by Paul Melniczek
    • Frightful October by Paul Melniczek
    • A Halloween Harvest by Paul Melniczek
    • Dark Harvest by Paul Melniczek
    • A Haunted Halloween by Paul Melniczek 
    • When the Leaves Hall by Paul Melniczek

    Wednesday, October 19, 2011

    31 Days of Horror: Day 19-- Comic Humor

    Let's take a break from the intense terror for a day.  I want to spend some time talking about comic horror. What is so funny about zombies, vampires, and vicious monsters? Plenty.  Horror has many conventions and motifs which are used throughout the genre.  These are tried and true “tricks of the trade” that are sure to create unsettling atmospheres, frightening situations, and terrified readers.  Among the most common of these are the isolated settings, the troubled, down on his luck protagonist, and the angry spirit out for revenge. The comic horror novel takes these go-to situations and parodies them to create both chills and laughs.

    But why are these novels such a hit with readers?  Their main draw lies in satire.  The comic horror novel is most enjoyed by the true horror fan.  Someone who regularly reads the horror authors and titles found in the previous chapters and appreciates the genre’s tropes will crave these books which, with a knowing wink and nod, poke fun at horror, while still respecting it.  The humor is born out of horror’s past and is built off of the foundation laid out in the previous lists.  Comic horror fans love this insider’s feel to the stories.  They are part of an exclusive club who “get” the jokes, references, and puns.  Good comic horror, like the books on this “sure bets” list, will seamlessly blend chills and satire, allowing readers to be scared and have a good laugh, both at the same time. 

    There are plenty of comic horror movies, such as The Scream franchise and my personal favorite, Shaun of the Dead, but today I want to focus on comic horror prose. 


    The benchmark author in this subgenre is without a doubt, Christopher Moore. (That's his picture on the right.)  He writes funny, thought provoking, and chilling novels that satirize both the horror genre and the human condition.  Start with You Suck.  Another prolific author of comic horror is Mario Acevedo; however, his books tend to range toward the sillier side of the subgenre. Start with The Nymphos of Rocky Flats.


    Nothing is more indicative of the wide appeal of comic horror than the success of the Blood Lite series.  Edited by Kevin J. Anderson and published by the Horror Writers Association, the series compiles the best of humorous horror from blockbuster authors and up and comers.  It is the perfect place to start sampling the best comic horror has to offer.


    And of course, I cannot forget to mention the popularity of the horror "mash-up"," an emerging subgenre that exploded on the scene in 2009 when Quirk Books took comic horror to a whole new level by releasing Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith. Grahame-Smith took about 80% of the public domain text of Austen’s classic and inserted zombies and zombie hunters.  The ensuing novel was a huge bestseller and Quirk and other publishers have since put out numerous horror mash-ups of literary classics.  

    For those interested in trying the best of the mash-ups, I would also suggest three more options:



    Anderson, Kevin David.  Night of the LivingTrekkies.
    At a science fiction fan convention, a virus begins to spread.  Soon a small band of strangers are forced to work together to find a way to escape an all out attack by zombies hungry for live flesh.  A combination of dead-on parody, Star Trek trivia, and hilarious dialog make this original comic novel a fan and critic favorite.


    Cooper, Seamus.  TheMall of Cthulhu.
    Ted thought he was done battling evil after he destroyed a nest of vampires back in college, but when he finds a group of Lovecraft enthusiasts intent on raising the author’s greatest monsters, Ted and his friend Laura must save the suburbs from the evil of the Necronomicon.  Whether you are a diehard Lovecraft fan or not, this is silly horror at its best; the monsters are evil and social commentary is relentless.

    In this parody of Garrison Keillor’s portrayal of Minnesotans as steadfast people who don’t want to draw attention to themselves, the dead (both human and animal) begin to rise as zombies.  The good people of Lake Wobegotten must band together to save themselves.  However, one resident, Mr. Leavitt, is a secret serial killer, who tries to re-animate his victims and creates his own zombie army.  Geillor’s inventive novel is both an obvious satire and a chilling story of the monsters that lurk among us.

    Chapter 12 of my new book, entitled "Comic Horror: Laughing in the Face of Fear," goes into this realm of horror in much more detail.  But for now, why not try one of the authors, titles, or collections I mentioned here today and see why readers love to blend some terror with a fit of the giggles.

    Finally, it is hard to believe that I am cruising into the stretch run of these 31 Days of horror.  I realized now is a good time to let you know what is still to come.  Reviews of the short story collection What Fears Become and the novel Zone One by Colson Whitehead and a list of the best horror of 2011 and one on best Horror on the horizon, as well as a few guest posts.  There is still time to let me know if there is a horror issue you want me to address.

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011

    31 Days of Horror: Day 18-- Twisted 13 Movie Suggestions

    After yesterday's Monday Discussion where people shared their favorite scary movies, Verna from the BPL Reference Desk, was inspired to compile this annotated list of her personal top 13 horror movies.  This also marks the first of what I hope to be a few guests contributor posts during this month because even I cannot stand 31 Days of just me.

    So without further ado....here's Verna:

    Twisted 13

    If you are a fan of horror films, here are 13 that you don’t want to miss. Some are new, some are vintage, and all can be ordered through Netflix or through interlibrary loan at your public library. All of these movies will give you chills along with a great story. There is no gore for gore’s sake. The real terror is in the telling of the tale. So pop some corn, double check that the windows and doors are locked and turn off the lights. But don’t let your foot dangle over the edge of the sofa…

    The Twisted 13 (in no particular order)

    1.      The Others (2001)  
    Nicole Kidman plays Grace Stewart who lives on the British Isle of Jersey with her two small children just after the end of World War II. The children are photosensitive or allergic to light, she tells the three new servants who arrive unexpectedly at her house. Soon strange things happen; footsteps are heard when no one is there, the piano plays inside an empty locked room and the children claim to see and talk to ghosts whom they call “the intruders.”  A must see for all horror fans!

    2.      The Changeling (1980)
    George C. Scott is a musician composer who has just moved to a huge scary looking Victorian house after losing his wife and daughter in a car accident. He soon finds that he shares the house with the ghost of a murdered child; a decades long hidden crime connected to a wealthy and powerful political family.   Extra screamy: the child’s ball rolling down a set of stairs.

    3.      Devil (2010) What can be more terrifying than being stuck in a high-rise building elevator? What if you are stuck with four other people and one of them might be the devil? From the creepy and unsettling opening credits that feature an upside down New York City to the claustrophobia of being trapped, this movie is sure to send shivers down your spine. Just when you think you’ve used the process of elimination to figure out who the killer is, think again.

    4.      The Exorcist (1973) Some say this is the greatest horror film ever made and even after 30 years it still sets a very high bar. No matter how many times I watch it, I discover new things to be frightened by.  Based on a true story, Chris MacNeil is a world famous actress shooting a film in Washington DC when her teenaged daughter starts behaving strangely to say the least.  From its Oscar nominated performances and design to never seen before special effects,  this movie will have you sleeping with the light on for days. Extra screamy: the spider walk down the stairs. EEK! This scene was not in the original film but can be seen in the 1998 digitally remastered DVD version, The Exorcist: 25th Anniversary Special Edition.


    5.      Halloween (1978) The first of many roles that would earn Jamie Lee Curtis the name of Scream Queen during the 1980’s.  Laurie Strode is babysitting on Halloween night while a crazed killer has just escaped from a mental institution and is on the loose. We are drawn into the story at our most vulnerable, as children sitting at home on Halloween night telling scary stories about the boogie man with the lights turned off. Only for Laurie, the story hits close to home. We can’t look away as the terror and suspense builds while we watch the children and teens battle and ultimately outwit the boogie man in the end. Well, outwit him just enough to last seven sequels. Extra screamy: the image of the boogie man sitting up after Laurie believes he is dead.

    6.      Alien (1979) In the not too distant future, a crew of commercial astronauts is awakened early from their cryogenically induced sleep after their ship’s computer has detected a distress signal coming from a distant alien planet. They are required to investigate and find a field of strange alien egg-like pods. Unwittingly, they transport one of them onto their ship. Extra screamy: calling the ship’s computer mother.

    7.      Paranormal Activity (2007) Shown in the style of “found footage,” Katie and Micah move into a house they believe may be haunted until Katie shares that she has been tormented by some kind of presence since childhood. They set up a video camera to record the supernatural activity and eventually consult with a psychic who leaves in a panic. Not a good sign.  Very scary with an equally frightening sequel and a 3rd to be released October 21, 2011. Extra screamy: the non-human footprints found in talcum powder that Micah sprinkles outside their bedroom.

    8.      The Ring (2002) Rachel, a reporter with a small young son, investigates the sudden death of her teen niece and finds it somehow linked to a cursed videotape that causes the death of the viewer within 7 days. After her young son views the tape she is determined to uncover its origin and bring an end to the curse. Helping Rachel is her sometime boyfriend Noah who also views the tape and dies in a way that gives new meaning to the term reality TV. Extra screamy: the creepiness of the tape itself and the shaky shadowy images.

    9.      Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) A remake of a 1956 release that was remade again in 2007 under the title Invasion, this version is the best of the three. Donald Sutherland is a San Francisco health inspector who along with his friend Elizabeth stumbles upon an extra-terrestrial plot to rid the earth of humans and replace them with duplicate pod versions. There is no way to know who can be trusted. The great ending makes this movie extra screamy!

    10.  The Shining (1980) Based on Stephen King’s awesome novel by the same name, Jack Torrance is a frustrated writer who takes a seasonal job as the winter caretaker of an isolated hotel deep in the Colorado mountains. Along for the ride are his wife Wendy and their young son Danny, who is psychic. Before the hotel closes for the season, the head chef, Dick Hallorann, gives the family a tour. He telepathically communicates with Danny, calling their gift “shining.”  Things go smoothly for a while but not for long. What fun would that be? Extra screamy: room 237.

    11.  Salem’s Lot (1979) Also based on a novel by the great Stephen King, this film stars David Soul as Ben Mears, a writer who returns to his small hometown of Salem’s Lot (short for Jerusalem’s Lot) to write about the Marsten house; the spooky old house that has haunted him since his childhood. He is unable to rent the house after it is purchased by a mysterious stranger who has also purchased an antiques store in town. Soon the townspeople begin to disappear and return as vampires. Along with teenaged Mark Petrie, who survives because of his knowledge of horror movies and books, Ben tries to save his town. Extra screamy: Ralphie Glick knocking on the outside second floor bedroom window of his brother.

    12.  Rosemary’s Baby (1968) Some people joke about selling their soul to the devil, others actually try.  Mia Farrow is Rosemary Woodhouse, the young wife of a New York City actor who comes to believe that her husband may have made a deal with the devil to further his acting career. She fights against this belief but her due date may be a clue; June 28, 1966 (6/66). Extra screamy: the secret door in Rosemary’s closet that leads to the meeting place of the coven.

    13.  The Omen (1976) The soundtrack for this movie is so spooky, it alone can give nightmares! After the sudden death of their first infant child, Robert Thorn with the help of a priest and unbeknownst to his wife, switches his dead child with another whose mother has not survived childbirth. Soon after, Thorn is appointed ambassador to Great Britain and strange deaths befall those close to the family. Thorn searches for answers and investigates the background of his adopted son which leads to the discovery of a birthmark made up of certain numbers beneath the hair on his scalp and a confrontation with pure evil. Extra screamy: A scene in the remake released on 6/6/06 where Mia Farrow portrays Damien’s nanny and communicates with him in silence while they eat strawberries. She is such a great actress we can surmise exactly what they are “talking” about.