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.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Review: Psychos: Serial Killers, Depraved Madmen and the Criminally Insane

Back on November 1, I welcomed John Skipp here to talk about his work with Black Dog on gathering stories both old and new for horror anthologies.  Here is what I had to say in the intro to Skipp's guest post:
John Skipp is a legend in the world of horror. Back in the 1980s he helped to found the graphic, frenetic splatterpunk style of the genre. But in the 21st century, he has made his name as a collector of stories old and new.
Specifically, he has been working with Black Dog to edit a line of anthologies. His previous ones were on Demons, Zombies, and Werewolves-- all traditional, otherworldly horror monsters.
This time he keeps the scary coming, but it is the human monster he is concerning himself with. Like the other books in the series, in Psychos, Skipp gathers stories by classic authors all the way up through brand new stories. He also adds essays about the appeal of the monsters in his collection.
Now that I have read the entire book I can say it is as good as advertised.  The stories span the full range of appeal for readers.  So we have lighter, more eerie stories and pure all out blood fests, with a stop at all places in between.  Yes there are some big names alive and dead like Poe, Bradbury, and Gaiman, but there also some other fabulous horror writers you may not be as familiar with.

Overall, these are not the scariest stories you can find.  I would suggest this collection more to a general audience.  Hardcore horror fans should look elsewhere.  But that being said, this is the perfect addition for a library who has a small horror collection. It is a great way to expose your patrons to a large range of quality authors in 1, 600 page book.  If they come back raving about a particular story or author, you can consider adding stand alone titles by those writers.

Here are a few notes I wanted to share on some of the stories and the book in general:
  • Skipp introduces each story. I liked that. I wouldn't say I thought every introduction was enlightening and useful, but some were very good.  I would rather he do all than only some, or none.
  • There is an actual letter from a real killer to his mother included in this anthology.  Can I stress here that this letter is NONFICTION.?!?  I don't want to give it away, but the letter is gruesome and makes some of the fictional psychos in the book look like they only need a slight adjustment in their meds.
  • Jack Ketchum's story made me see him in a new light.  I tend to find Ketchum's work a little too violent and bloody for my own tastes.  In fact, I almost skipped his entry, "The Exit at Toledo Blade Boulevard," but I am glad I gave it a try.  I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It was more moving than gruesome. That was a nice surprise
  • If you have never read Bradbury's classic story "Small Assassin," now is the time.  This is an amazing example of psychological suspense in which a mother thinks her baby is trying to kill her.
  • "Mommy Picks Me Up at Day Care" by John Gorumba is a a must read here. The story is told completely through the point of view of the child as the mother picks him up and, well, she has lost it.  But we know that.  What makes this story so unsettling and interesting, is that the child is processing what is happening (in real time) and relaying it to us.  I was unfamiliar with Gorumba, but I will seek him out now. This is a good readalike for fans of Room by Emma Donoghue.
  • In a similar vein, "All Through the House" by Christopher Coake (another "new to me" author) tells the story of a psycho from the outside perspective.  In fact, reading this anthology taught me that, as a reader, I prefer the psycho stories to be told from this outside perspective.  Seeing the psychos point of view was not as enjoyable for me. But specifically in this story, the narrator is the serial killer's friend and a survivor of his terror. Fans of this story should also try the surprisingly good graphic novel My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf.
Psychos is a great title to hand out to readers during the holidays. Short stories are nice when times get busy because you can read a complete story quickly and then return later to another one.  Also, another reason to check out this book as part of your holiday survival kit, no matter how frightening your own family can be, there is no way they are as crazy as the psychos populating this anthology. (At least I hope that is the case for you. If I am mistaken, good luck to you.)

Like all anthologies based on a topic, no reader will like every story, but that is okay. My job as the RA librarian is to assess if there is enough here for fans of human monsters, and that answer is a resounding yes!  If I were to booktalk this title to a potential reader, I would make sure to remind him or her that not every story will be to his or her taste.  Just skip one you are not in to and go to the next. But I can assire you that there is way more worth your time than not here.

However, an interesting patron note....since we have had the book available for checkout on 11/1, it has never made it to the shelf.  We are the only library in our system who owns, and this book has already been checked out 3 times....in 6 weeks!  We let it out for 3 weeks at a time.  So that means people are getting through it quickly.  That also does not count me since I read it before it was cataloged.  There is also a hold queue forming.  So, when I need to hand sell this book to a reader, I have the plan I mentioned above, but so far, it is selling itself.

A final note to consider, this is a big book, but it is in paperback and the stories themselves are not long.  The heft may bother some readers.  I could see considering adding this title to our eBook collection for just this reason.

This is a great holiday gift idea for the serial killer fan on your list.  And hey, if you are reading this blog, chances are you have at least one of those to buy for.

Three Words That Describe This Book: anthology, frightening, comprehensive

Readalikes: Of course you should also check out the other Black Dog Anthologies edited by Skipp (also mentioned above).  Look too at my notes above on specific stories where a made a couple of readalike suggestions for specific stories.

Another great series of horror-esque anthologies are the ones published by Black Lizard and edited by Otto Penzler.  They have ones for Vampires, Ghosts, Zombies, and more.  Really any anthology edited by Penzler is a good readalike option here.  You can click here for a full list.  We also have many of these at the library and they are quite popular.

Last year I read the anthology, What Fears Become.  Like Psychos, it introduced me to a lot of new and interesting authors. Click here for details.

*Full disclosure, I received a free review copy of this anthology which I added to our library's collection.

Warm Bodies Official Movie Trailer.

Last year I read Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion and LOVED it! Click here for details.

Not only is Marion hard at work on a sequel, but, the movie is ready for a February 1 release. The popularity of this book and/or movie could spark a whole new direction for zombie stories. Instead of being about the survival of the remaining humans, these stories could turn into ones about how to cure and save the zombies.

This is a trend that I will have to keep an eye on. In the meantime, enjoy the trailer for Warm Bodies.



Saturday, December 1, 2012

Stephen King's Free WebComic

I keep meaning to post this just in case you didn't know about it.

Little Green God of Agony was a Stephen King short story which he wrote in light of his own tragic accident. It is currently running as a free webcomic in 24 installments.

Click here for the official press release.

Click here for the Little Green God of Agnoy Webcomic homepage.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Review: Devil of Echo Lake

During this year's 31 Days of horror, Douglass Wynne, the 2012 1st Place winner of Journal Stone's Horror Fiction contest joined me here on the blog.

I did not have time to post my review of his debut novel, The Devil of Echo Lake until now, but I assure you all, it will be worth the wait.

Billy has had 2 successful records and is about to record his third, the one that will make him go from popular, to legendary, but he is not sure how he got there. Using the well known Robert Johnston selling his soul at the crossroads to become a blues legend myth as a starting point, Wynne has Billy question whether or not he has unwittingly sold his soul to the Devil by hooking up with his record producer Trevor Rail. Or is he just too strung out to know the difference between what is really happening and what his brain is being paranoid about?
Trevor is dark and menacing. He could easily be the Devil here on Earth in the 21st Century, but he could also just be very good at his cut throat job.

Right now though, Billy has more pressing problems.  Trevor has booked him to spend the next 2 months recording at Echo Lake in an old church turned studio in a secluded part of upstate, NY (Sleepy Hollow flashbacks anyone?).  The bulk of the novel takes place during these 2 terrifying months as the record is recorded but people are also mysterious dying in violent, tragic, "accidents."

Point of view jumps around frequently.  This is a common tactic in horror these days.  It really enhances the anxiety and dread as the reader is sent around to see everyone's feelings, thoughts, and motives.  It helps to sustain the unsettling atmosphere even in moments of seeming calm.

There are some great lines here too, like this one from the middle of the book:
"What Kevin Brickhouse saw next, he would not understand for the rest of his life, which was now the length of a song." (94-95 of the ARC)
Talk about menacing.  But it is also succinct.  This is some very good horror writing, and in a debut novel.  Good things will come from Wynne in the future. I am excited to see what his dark mind dreams up next.

One of the other strong points of the writing here is how Wynne plays off of the isolated church and the forest it is surrounded by.  There are shadows everywhere.  Some are just natural, but others are definitely not of this world. He draws out the fine line between reality and supernatural perfectly, stringing both the reader and Billy Moon along until neither of us knows which way is up.
This is a story where things go from bad to worse to terrifying. The situation in Echo Lake has a resolved ending, but the fate of Billy Moon himself is left open. Some reviewers have mentioned that the ending is not really horror, more fantasy, but I disagree. I did not feel as if it is as resolved as these people seem to think especially since the entire book has been created to make us question whether what we see is the whole truth.  You can decide for yourself though.

This is a very good horror novel with a demonic possession theme.  The characters are well developed, but it is the sense of dread and unease that hangs over the novel from the first line ["Billy Moon didn't know exactly when he had sold his soul."] to the last lines.  If you are also a  fan of devil themed horror, ancient evil horror, or the extreme isolated setting, you should read this novel.  It is a solid example of those subgenres.
On a side appeal note, there is a lot of detail about being in a band, writing songs, and making a record here.  People who are in bands or just love rock music will find much to enjoy here.

Three Words That Describe This Book: dread, musicians, selling soul to devil

Readalikes:  The first book I though of when reading The Devil of Echo Lake was Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill, but mostly for the rock musician angle.

In terms of the writing style (shifting narrators), oppressive sense of dread, the east-coast rural wooded setting [with the evils lurking in the woods], and well developed characters Wynne's novel is reminiscent of another amazing debut, Ghost-Road Blues by Jonathan Maberry.  Click here for a full review.

Finally, the entire what is real, what is not tug of war described above reminded me of another book I really enjoyed, Ghost Radio by Leopoldo Gout.  I really enjoyed that book, especially in audio.

**Full disclosure, I received a free ARC of this novel for review

Monday, November 19, 2012

Review: Death Warmed Over--Dan Shamble, Zombie PI

Back in October, I read the first novel in the brand new comic horror series following zombie detective Dan Shamble, Death Warmed Over by Kevin J. Anderson.

Anderson is a best selling author of SF, mostly as part of shared worlds like Star Wars and Dune, and comic horror.  Click here for more.  So a new original series by Anderson piqued my interest, and then I read this plot summary from the publisher:
Ever since the Big Uneasy unleashed vampires, werewolves, and other undead denizens on the world, it’s been hell being a detective — especially for zombie P.I. Dan Chambeaux. Taking on the creepiest of cases in the Unnatural Quarter with a human lawyer for a partner and a ghost for a girlfriend, Chambeaux redefines “dead on arrival.” But just because he was murdered doesn’t mean he’d leave his clients in the lurch. Besides, zombies are so good at lurching. Now he’s back from the dead and back in business — with a caseload that’s downright unnatural. A resurrected mummy is suing the museum that put him on display. Two witches, victims of a curse gone terribly wrong, seek restitution from a publisher for not using “spell check” on its magical tomes. And he’s got to figure out a very personal question — Who killed him? For Dan Chambeaux, it’s all in a day’s work. (Still, does everybody have to call him “Shamble”?) Funny, fresh, and irresistible, this cadaverous caper puts the P.I. in R.I.P…. with a vengeance.
Now tell me how I could not immediately order this book?

The set up of the story tells you quite a bit about whether or not you would like this story.  Let me share a few details about the appeal though.

Death Warmed Over is first and foremost a noir, hardboiled PI novel.  Yes it is filled with the undead, but the tone, style, and frame is most firmly rooted in the work of the classic PI story-- think Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett.  These are stories of loners, slightly outside the bounds of normal society, who are always on the side of justice but don't always follow the rules as they solve the case.  There are also usually femme fatales who jeopardize the PI.  All of this holds true for Chambeaux.

If you love zombies but do not like hardboiled mystery novels, DO NOT READ this novel.  It is more tongue-in-cheek about the mystery genre than the horror genre.

That being said, the world Anderson creates is well fleshed out.  Through Dan, we are introduced to how the world works now that the dead can rise.  One of the details I liked is that if you were murdered you have a much higher probability of coming back as a zombie or ghost.  This keeps Chambeaux quite busy with cases to solve and his own murderer to find.  As good a job as Anderson does here though, don't read this book if you are not willing to buy into the world he has created.

The characters are a mix of well developed and comic relief.  Anderson gives meat to Dan, his human lawyer partner, and his ghost girl friend as well as a few other key characters.  And, it is important to point out that even though the book is full of amusing, stock, undead characters, they are all used in surprising ways.  You think you know what the vampire is going to do or how the zombie is going to react, but in Anderson's crazy satire, you are probably wrong. As a fan of horror, I appreciated the way he honored the tropes but also injected something new and unpredictable.

And yes, the entire book is told with tongue placed firmly in cheek.  It is a satire of both horror and mystery, but it is also a statement on human nature (and how it doesn't change much one you are not human anymore).  It is about greed and corruption, but love and justice too.  There were moments when you are caught up in the seriousness of the story and then all of the sudden you are laughing out loud.

Overall I had fun with this novel.  It had enough detail and twists in the mystery to keep me reading, the world was developed enough for me, and the characters were interesting.  That being said, by the end I was growing tired of the "wink-wink" jokes and just wanted to find out who dunnit.  As always happens with me and comic horror, I had fun to a point and then I was ready to move on.

The next Dan Shamble book comes out at the end of December.

Three Words to Describe This Book: hardboiled, undead, comic

Readalikes: This is the perfect series for people who like the humor and world building in the Sookie Stackhouse series.  With both series I love the set-up, the characters, and the humor, but I have enough before the individual novels end. I like these kind of stories in small bits and pieces spaced out over time.

Don't forget what I said above about Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.  These are also excellent readalike options.

If you like the tone of Death Warmed Over you should also check out the various Blood Lite anthologies that Anderson has edited.

Also, click here to see a few of my other comic horror suggestions.

Finally, I am not sure why but the story reminded me of the Chew graphic novels.  Click here for details.  The Chew world is much more serious, but still has black humor and satire of Shamble's world.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Another Positive Review for My Book

The Idaho Library Association just posted this review of my book. Click through to read it.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Demise of Horror...NOT

While I am still catching up on everything else I ignored in my life in October, I saw this intersting commentary by Rose Fox, the SF/FSY/H editor at PW.  She is commenting on a piece in the Guardian

Click through to join the conversation.

Coming here next week...the return of reviews.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Me on WPR yesterday

Here is the link of my appearance on the Joy Cardin show yesterday.  I am not until the last 10 minutes, but the entire hour was dedicated to Halloween.

31 Days of Horror: Day 32? A Not Quite Horror Post Script

John Skipp is a legend in the world of horror.  Back in the 1980s he helped to found the graphic, frenetic splatterpunk style of the genre.  But in the 21st century, he has made his name as a collector of stories old and new.

Specifically, he has been working with Black Dog to edit a line of anthologies.  His previous ones were on Demons, Zombies, and Werewolves-- all traditional, otherworldly horror monsters.

This time he keeps the scary coming, but it is the human monster he is concerning himself with.  Like the other books in the series, in Psychos, Skipp gathers stories by classic authors all the way up through brand new stories.  He also adds essays about the appeal of the monsters in his collection.

As a group, these collections are a very good choice for public libraries.  The essays explain to librarians and readers why these monsters continue to entrance readers, while the stories present a cannon for the topic.  There are so many great older stories that get lost over time, but in these collections they continue to live and give readers the scares they are looking for.  Having them paired with newer stories is a testament to the enduring power of the scary tale.

After I take some time off after this grueling month, I will be back with a review of Psychos as well as 2 more horror novels I read this month, but left out of the 31 Days marathon in favor of allowing you to hear from more authors.

But until then, here is Skipp writing an open letter to us librarians asking us to keep anthologies on the shelves.

**********************************************************************

ANTHOLOGY LOVE, AND OTHER STORIES

 by John Skipp



Dear Librarians --

THANK YOU SO MUCH! Because you’ve devoted your lives to it, you probably have an inkling as to how important it is.

But seriously? YOU HAVE NO IDEA!

Evidently, I was born to love books, too.

According to my older sister Linda, I memorized them before I could actually read them, telling my mom and sisters what was on the next page before they even turned it, because they’d read it to me the day before, and I’d hung on every word.

The first and greatest books I remember actually reading myself -- deciphering and internalizing those little black hieroglyphs -- were all by Dr. Seuss. Fantastic stories, with fantastic pictures, and wordplay that taught me the invaluable truth that words and ideas are fun to play with. A lesson I have stuck with ever since.

The ones that stuck with me hardest -- and have persisted, to this day -- were Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories and The Sneetches and Other Stories.

Without a doubt, the words and Other Stories were part of what made those books most memorable to me.

Because it wasn’t just how great it was to watch Yertle’s fall from power, lording it over all those turtles he stacked beneath him just to be all high and mighty. And it wasn’t just about whether it was better to be a Star-Bellied Sneetch or a Sneetch with no stars upon thars, and how stupid that whole status conflict was.

It was also the fact that there were all these other great stories, sitting right there, for me to read. IN ONE BOOK! There was the story of the haunted pants, with no one inside ‘em, who turned out to be just as scared as you. There was the story of the north-going Zax and the south-going Zax,
who had a whole world to move around in, but refused to get out of each other’s way. There was ‘‘The Big Brag’’. There was ‘‘Too Many Daves’’. It was crazy, how many stories he had!

It was a natural leap to Edgar Allan Poe, who in one book -- Tales of Mystery and Imagination -- managed to tell me dozens of astonishing stories, each one wilder and more haunting than the last.

So now I’d found two authors I dearly loved.

And that was where anthologies came in.

Living in Buenos Aires, Argentina, at nine years old in 1966, I had a choice of the books in my school’s well-stocked library, the U.S. Embassy’s commissary, and the more-than-occasional English-language books hanging from clips on sidewalk stands. This is how I stumbled across the British publishers Pan and Fontana, who were both putting out their own takes on what they regarded as the Greatest Horror Stories.

And then there was Alfred Hitchcock, whose films I’d never seen. But boy, did that guy know how to pick ‘em! He’d walk in with a droll, funny intro, and then unleash a dozen crazed tales or more. My favorite was Stories They Wouldn’t Let Me Do On TV, which first introduced me to the provocative notion that there were stories other people didn’t want you to hear.

Between Pan, Fontana, and Sir Alfred himself, I was introduced to the early cream of the dark literary crop. What we refer to as the classics. It was my formal introduction to the genre. And it utterly changed my life.

And this was the thing: suddenly, I was meeting waves of writers through their stories. The slow nightmare unearthliness of M.R. James, Arthur Machen, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. The wry creepiness of Saki, John Collier, Joan Aiken, and Roald Dahl. The more muscular dread of early Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, and Anthony Boucher.

So many great writers. So many incredible stories. Such a universe, opening wide.

All seemingly aimed directly at me.

Now let’s fast-forward more than 40-some years. And suddenly, I’m the guy who gets to share stories.

Have you ever made a mix CD for someone you love, where you sat down with all of your favorite songs and assembled a playlist that rocked and flowed, taking your intended on a guided trip down a path paved with nothing but astonishing gems from all up and down the spectrum, in the hope that they’ll be as blown away as you are, and be rendered aglow because they know that you made it just for them?

That’s pretty much how I look at editing anthologies.

In so many ways, short stories are like songs. They step up, immediately lay down a mood and a rhythm and a voice. Take you succinctly where they’re going. And drop you off, neat and complete, at the end.

A great short story crystallizes life’s enormity into a handful of pages, bringing everything that matters (for the purpose of the tale) into sharp experiential focus. It can be fast, slow, funny, sad, shocking, haunting, blunt, or piercing. It can be unspeakably beautiful, or uglier than sin.

It can do anything it wants, so long as it does it right.

When I edit an anthology like PSYCHOS -- or the previous Black Dog volumes, ZOMBIES, DEMONS, and WEREWOLVES AND SHAPESHIFTERS -- my mandate is clear.

1) To find definitive classics that helped lay down the foundation of the genre. (Largely dating from the late 1800s to, let’s say, the 1960s.)

2) To bring in the equally-pivotal works of the 1970s and 80s -- when all the walls came down -- up till now.

3) To present original stories from this booming-as-we-speak Golden Age, in which some of the best short fiction I’ve ever read is currently being produced.

4) To put it all in context, for a modern audience. Draw the lines from here to there, pointing arrows into the future.

So yes, the little kid inside of me can’t believe that he’s been able to assemble vintage Poe, Lovecraft, Saki, de
Maupassant, Bradbury, Bloch, Sturgeon, ‘‘The Monkey’s Paw’’, ‘‘The Most Dangerous Game’’, and ‘‘The Devil and Daniel Webster’’ into his mix. All the stories I grew up on. It’s a staggering thrill.

Add to that a pop culture A-list of titans -- Thomas Harris, William Peter Blatty, Neil Gaiman, George R.R. Martin, Max Brooks, Lawrence Block, Chuck Palahniuk, Charlaine Harris, and Stephen King -- and my hit list goes through the roof.

On the literary end, there’s Angela Carter, Leonid Andreyev, George Saunders, William Gay, Jim Shepard, and Christopher Coake. All spectacular. All blowing past the narrow parameters of genre.

Stir in the amazing authors who came of age with me, in the 80s and 90s: Joe R. Lansdale, Jack Ketchum, Robert McCammon, David J. Schow, Kathe Koja, Poppy Z. Brite, Robert Devereaux, Elizabeth Massie, Adam-Troy Castro, Steve Rasnic Tem, Francesca Lia Block, Bentley Little, Brian Hodge, Karl Edward Wagner, Douglas E. Winter, and Richard Christian Matheson, just for starters. Smashing through the barriers of what genre could be.

Only then do I get to the astounding new voices, as yet unsung, that are helping define this fresh century’s promise of further ground-breaking excellence: Cody Goodfellow, Laura Lee Bahr, Amelia Beamer, Carlton Mellick III, Mehitobel Wilson, Mercedes M. Yardley, Eric Shapiro, Scott Bradley and Peter Giglio, Nick Mamatas, John Gorumba, Ed Kurtz, Tessa Gratton, Weston Ochse, J. David Osborne, Violet LeVoit, Jeremy Robert Johnson, and so many, many more that I only wish I could list them all.

My goal as an editor is to cherry-pick the great stuff, give you only the best of the best. Or, at the very least, present to you my personal favorites, in a way that both satisfies and flows.

Taking you on a series of epic trips. And thereby letting you know I love you.

Because that’s what those early anthologies did for me.

In closing: PLEASE KEEP OUR BOOKS ON YOUR SHELVES FOREVER, OKAY? Because that’s how we keep the torch alight.

And thank you thank you thank you.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

31 Days of Horror: Day 31-- Guest Post by Lisa Morton


Happy Halloween! We have hit the final day of 31 Days of Horror and today I have a treat.  Lisa Morton, author of the brand new Trick or Treat?: A History of Halloween is our guest poster today.  As I wrote about this book in Library Journal:
"Finally, for nonfiction fans, Lisa Morton’s Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween (Reaktion, dist. by Univ. of Chicago. 2012. ISBN 9781780230474. $29) covers the history of Halloween from its ancient Celtic roots to its stunning growth in global popularity in the 21st century. Morton is an accomplished horror short story writer, and her ability to draw readers in quickly and keep them turning the pages shines through in her nonfiction as well. Lavishly illustrated, this solidly researched and concise work is fun to read and a great choice for readers who want to know why we seek out the scary each October. Lisa is joining us today to talk about her love of Halloween."
Lisa also posted this list of "Ten Classics of Halloween Fiction" over on Monster Librarian's blog this week. 

Before I go though, just a quick note to tell you I will be back tomorrow with a very special bonus 32nd day of 31 Days of Horror.  Until then, enjoy the holiday.  I will be out with my little Indian Jones and zombie rocker scamming for candy.

********************************************************************
Why I Keep Writing Books About Halloween
By Lisa Morton


Back in 2011, when an editor at the fabulous Reaktion Books approached me about doing a Halloween book for them, I was ecstatic. Not only was I fan of Reaktion Books’ beautifully-designed and slightly irreverent pop culture histories – I’d gobbled up everything from Spiders to Ice Cream – but I’d also just finished work on the 2nd edition of my Halloween Encyclopedia. I’d spent hundreds of hours poring over everything from eighteenth-century folklore collections to modern websites, and had crafted the most comprehensive collection of Halloween facts ever published. I thought I surely knew everything it was possible to know about the holiday. It’d be a breeze to write a narrative history, right?

I wasn’t just wrong – I was wrong in a way that meant I was in for a long string of surprises.

Here’s one of the (many) things I love about Halloween: It’s what folklorist Jack Santino calls “polysemic”, meaning it was many meanings. Look, for example, at the decorations that line store aisles every October, and you’ll see Halloween connected with harvest, with candy, with death, with comedy and whimsy, with children, with teenagers, with adults, with animals, and of course with fear. What started thousands of years ago as a Celtic New Years’ celebration called Samhain has transformed from that three-day festival (complete with feasting and spooky stories) to a somber religious observance of the dead to a raucous night for young people to party and tell fortunes to polite Victorian gatherings to an evening of destructive prank-playing to a “masked solicitation ritual” for young children called trick or treat to a night when adults challenge their fears in the relative safety of large-scale haunted attractions.

I knew all of this when I started work on Trick or Treat?: A History of Halloween, and given how Halloween seems to constantly shift and change, I expected to find a few new facts that had appeared in just the brief time since I’d finished work on The Halloween Encyclopedia.

What I didn’t anticipate was a veritable explosion in Halloween’s global popularity.

When my editor at Reaktion suggested broadening the book’s examination of the global celebration, I thought, Well, that’ll be easy, because it’s really an American holiday. Outside of its past in the British Isles and All Saints’ Day observances, I didn’t expect to find much else.

What I did find was that Halloween had become a gigantic U.S. export just since 2006. Here a few of the amazing facts I came across:

* One major British supermarket chain (Waitrose) reported a whopping 676% increase in sales of large pumpkins from 2009 to 2010.

* Another British supermarket chain (Tesco) didn’t even start stocking adult Halloween costumes until 2009.

* In 2007, the popular Belgian amusement park Walibi added Halloween “Fright Nights” (converting amusement parks to Halloween attractions has proven hugely successful throughout Europe over the last few years)

* A sociologist has stated that, as of 2009, Halloween has “become part of the cultural capital (and hence of the identity) of a generation of young Germans.”

* In Ukraine, where a pumpkin traditionally symbolized a woman’s rejection of a suitor (to “hand you a pumpkin” still means turning down a deal), Halloween is celebrated by large dance performances to Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

* Despite being condemned by both the Moscow Department of Education and priests from the Russian Orthodox Church, a 2010 Russian newspaper article described Halloween as “growing exponentially” there.

* Halloween is not celebrated in the Middle East, but a 2009 WikiLeaks document detailed a decadent Halloween celebration among wealthy young Saudis, complete with costumes and drinking.

* A 2006 article in China Daily suggested that young Chinese people were starting to prefer Halloween to their own Yue Laan – the “Hungry Ghost Festival” – because Halloween was more “fun” and lacked the genuinely frightening elements of the native festival.

By the way, Halloween hasn’t been universally embraced – major French newspapers declared the holiday there “pretty much dead” in 2006, thanks to anti-American sentiments and a preference for the quieter, traditional observance of All Saints’ Day (which is celebrated with visits to cemeteries). But that rejection of the holiday is definitely the exception, not the rule.

So…why is the world suddenly embracing Halloween? The answer seems to be mainly split between two factors: 1) American retailing, as worldwide chains like McDonald’s and Disney employ Halloween merchandising; and 2) American culture, as movies like The Nightmare Before Christmas and Halloween episodes of American television series (especially sitcoms – the world seems to love American sitcoms) are viewed around the globe.

I would argue that Halloween speaks to something deeper in us as well, and that those exports just served as the gateway drugs. Halloween inaugurates that time of year when we’ve brought in the harvest but secretly dread the arrival of long winter nights; it tells us that we can survive the darkest months by treating our fears in a playful manner (the fact that Halloween has found very
little support in the southern hemisphere, where the seasons are reversed, I think lends credence to this notion).

At this point I’d like to think I’m done with writing about Halloween (in the non-fiction sense, at least), but something tells me that it’ll change again in a few years, and some publisher will make me an offer I can’t refuse, and I’ll be pulled back in. I’ll probably think, Hey, piece of cake – I know everything about this holiday, right?

And I will forget again how often I’ve been wrong about that very thing.

copyright © 2012 Lisa Morton
lisa@lisamorton.com
http://www.lisamorton.com

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

31 Days of Horror: Day 30-- JournalStone Part 4


This is part 4 of 4.

I am letting the managing editor, Norman Rubenstein have the final word for the day.


After graduating from Northwestern University with a dual B.A. degree in Philosophy & Political Science and then from Loyola University of Chicago School Of Law with a J.D. degree, Norm spent over twenty years as a litigation attorney, then was appointed as an Administrative Law Judge for the city of Chicago, where he presided in thousands of trials and hearings.
Norm also organized and presented a number of rather large science fiction conventions in conjunction with the BBC for their Doctor Who television series and was featured on a nationally televised segment of the Entertainment Tonight TV show back in the 1980's. He went on to co-produce ten stage plays including one, Murder By Misadventure, that ran upon London's famed West End for six months, and a world premiere of an A. R. Gurney play, The Fourth Wall, starring George Segal and Betty Buckley in Chicago.
Norm is an Active Member of both the Horror Writer's Association (HWA), and of the International Thriller Writer's, Inc (ITW). Norm has been a member of and then served two years as Chair of the HWA’s Stoker Additions Jury, completed a stint as the Chair of the 2011 HWA’s Stoker Anthology Jury, and is currently in his second year as Co-Chair of the HWA’s Bram Stoker Awards® Committee.

Norm has seen well over one hundred of his Horror & Thriller Genre book and film reviews purchased and published over the past seven years. Norm has written a regular column for Fear Zone "Macabre Musings," is and/or has been a regular reviewer for Horror World, a regular columnist for Shroud Magazine, and also, is a reviewer for Cemetery Dance Magazine, Dark Scribe Magazine, Hellnotes, and Dark Discoveries Magazine, as well as serving a stint as the Reviewer for the Pod Of Horror podcast hosted by author and professional radio host, Mark Justice, and is a frequent convention speaker, panelist, and moderator. He is currently the Reviews Editor for both Hellnotes and Dark Discoveries Magazine.

Norm has had extensive experience working freelance as an Editor for a number of Specialty Presses, including Bloodletting Press, Cargo Cult Press, Centipede Press, Dark Regions Press, Thunderstorm Books, Genius Publishing, and is currently the Senior Managing Editor at JournalStone Publishing (http://journalstone.com). Norm’s personal website is http://www.macabremusings.com.

As an author, Norm is proud to be a contributor to the recently released and multi-award nominated, David Morrell and Hank Wagner edited hardcover Anthology, Thrillers: 100 Must Reads from Oceanview Publishing. Norm’s very first fiction short story -- “The Closet” -- co-authored with noted Canadian author Carol Weekes, appears in the recently released anthology Fear Of The Dark, by Horror Bound Magazine Publications. Norm’s second short story, “The Widows Laveau,” co-written with author and publisher, Steven Booth, appeared in the recently released, prestigious charity Anthology, Horror for Good



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Why I/We Love To Publish Dark Fiction

Norman L. Rubenstein


I’ve been asked to try and describe, from a publisher’s point of view, what makes us love to publish dark fiction. In a direct sense that is easy. Having worked for a number of relatively small, independent presses—all publishing in the horror and dark fiction genres—the short answer is: because we all love the genre. It is a universal trait keenly felt by every publisher I’ve ever worked for and with. To dig any deeper, not being a psychic, I can and shall only expound upon my own, individual experiences and motivations.


As the eldest of three children, I was raised in a household that strongly encouraged reading. We were read to virtually every afternoon and most evenings before we were old enough to read on our own and the “magic” seemingly contained in the shapes and squiggles contained in those books was a secret I was determined to uncover, with, again, the assistance and support of both my parents. I thus mastered the basics and was reading at age 4 and my parents also took us to the local library every other week so we could stock up on books. The library was where I discovered Jules Verne, Edgar Allan Poe, H. G. Wells, Ray Bradbury, and Isaac Asimov, and, from there, the many other authors that lead from them. While my parents made certain that I was exposed to a wide range of literature, I soon realized that I found the vistas and imagination of science fiction and fantasy as especially entertaining, second only to the thrill I felt in reading horror fiction.


Though my parents strongly encouraged us to read, they never prohibited us from watching television or going to the movies. As a youngster I can remember being extremely influenced by and an avid watcher of three shows that were presented on Chicago TV at the time, Science Fiction Theater, Boris Karoff’s Thriller, and The Twilight Zone. All three were anthology series where many of the same authors I was reading wrote (for the most part) very entertaining and frightening original stories and adaptations of their short fiction to the delight of an entire generation of avid viewers, myself certainly included.


I never outgrew that initial fascination with the unknown and the terrifying and have always retained the same wonderful frisson of fright, of delicious chills, that such fiction uniquely provides. I do not consider this fascination with dark fiction to be an addiction, in that an addiction is normally deemed detrimental, it can be fought—it can be cured. Yet my, and others, fascination with horror fiction isn’t detrimental (at least assuming the person isn’t insane and not a sociopath) nor would any of us wish to wane our exposure to such material.


As I’m sure many other have and will point out, horror is deemed the basis of one of mankind’s earliest stories—the tales of the unknown, inexplicable monsters waiting to devour those who dare step away from the protective light of the fires or lurking in the night just outside the communal cave or huts. Some would say, with some justification, that horror—that fear of the unknown or of monsters, whether real or imagined—is hardwired into the human consciousness and is a means for self-preservation. Whether or not this is true, it is unmistakable that horror evokes one of our most basic and strongest set of emotions and is a very powerful influence. What may have caused us to experience such emotions may have evolved as we have in certain respects, and what may have originally been required as a serious warning now may be employed primarily for mundane purposes of entertainment, but the experiences remain desirous for a great many of us.


That being the case, there is a large, ready and anticipatory audience always hungry for new, quality fiction that will provide them with all the rush of emotions and endorphins that a good scare initiates, while granting just the right amount of willing suspension of disbelief so that they can be sufficiently affected by the fright/terror inducing story they are reading, while at the same time they remain comfy and safe in their homes, secure at some basic level that the bogeyman cannot really get them.


It is for these people, which specifically includes those of us who work at/for a dark fiction/horror publisher, that we strive to publish. In common with virtually all publishers, we try and publish works that we believe will appeal to the audience(s) we are striving to connect with. We, again, as with most publishers, rely upon members of our staff along with the president of our company, to sift through many submissions to find the works that we believe are among the best and will provide the most entertaining experience in concert with the previously mentioned raison d’ĂȘtre of horror literature: to cause feelings of fright/terror/unease/horror in the reader. It isn’t an easy thing to do well and effectively, and all kudos and thanks to those authors who show skill and flair in doing so.


As a short postscript: In light of the passing of a unique and masterful talent of multiple genres, but one deservedly best known for his dark fiction, I suggest that you all join me in selecting a favorite book or story of the late Ray Bradbury and reading it this Halloween. There are certainly a surfeit of titles from which to choose from the prolific and brilliant author. Perhaps due to the proximity of the holiday and/or for those of you with children, you might wish to read/share The Halloween Tree or perhaps From The Dust Returned, or The Homecoming. It just now seems fitting to, at least unofficially, make the late Mr. Bradbury’s self-proclaimed favorite holiday, Halloween, the date upon which to remember and do homage to his genius.

31 Days of Horror: Day 30-- JournalStone Part 3

This is part 3 of 4 for today's installment of 31 Days of Horror.

Now it is David B. Silva's turn.

Silva has written seven novels.  His first short story was published in 1981. His short fiction has since appeared in The Year’s Best Horror, The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror, and The Best American Mystery Stories. In 1991, he won a Bram Stoker Award for his short story, “The Calling.” His first collection, Through Shattered Glass, was published by Gauntlet Press in 2001. In 2009, Dark Regions published his collection of eleven new stories and one reprint, In The Shadows of Kingston Mills. He is probably best known as the editor of The Horror Show, which was published quarterly from 1982 to 1991. This small-press horror magazine won a World Fantasy Award in 1988 and went on to publish the first early works of some of today’s most talented and influential horror authors, such as Bentley Little, Brian Hodge, and Poppy Z. Brite. Silva co-edited (with Paul F. Olson) two anthologies published by St. Martins Press: Post Mortem and Dead End: City Limits. In addition, he edited The Definitive Best of The Horror Show, published by CD Publications in 1992. In addition, from February 1997 until September 2002, and from late 2004 until the present, Silva served as co-editor (along with Paul F. Olson) of Hellnotes. Originally a weekly subscription newsletter dedicated to the horror professional and horror fan alike, Hellnotes is currently a free blog under the wing of JournalStone and updated several times a day with latest news in the horror genre.

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WHY I WRITE HORROR
By David Silva


These are some of the snapshots I carry with me:


My father coming up to visit me after first being diagnosed with leukemia. The visit was a surprise, and he brought a new computer with him. As he carried it into the house, he said, “This isn’t yours, but I’m going to let you use it.” Later that afternoon, he told me he was dying. We spent the entire weekend playing with the computer, trying to write crude DOS programs and get it to do what we wanted. It was as close to him as I ever felt.


Carrying my dog Seth into the veterinarian’s office and placing her on the cold stainless steel table. Her so well behaved, as always. Me fighting back the tears in front of the doctor. She had been diagnosed with bone cancer and her limp was so dramatic that every step had to be excruciating. I couldn’t stay to watch him put to her to sleep. It just hurt too much.


Answering the knock on the door at three-thirty in the morning and stepping outside, where ashes were floating down out of the sky like giant snow flakes. The Fountain Fire, which had started nearby and had burned some 65,000 acres while moving away from the house, had turned back during the night. I remember the acrid smell of smoke in the air. The sense of urgency and danger, mixed with utter silence and an odd, surreal beauty I don’t think I’ll ever be able to describe. The house, fortunately, was spared.


Standing in my father’s hospital room, watching him as each breath gradually grew a little shallower. Some so faint I wasn’t sure if he had taken a breath at all. Finding myself counting the seconds after his last breath, time stretching out further and further, and then the realization … the moment’s passed. It’s over. He’s dead. He’s never going to take another breath. He’s never going to smile again, to laugh. A piece of the foundation of my life has just disappeared.


My mother giving me a copy of Ray Bradbury’s The Toynbee Convector for Christmas. It was her last Christmas, and we both knew it would be her last. The smile on her face, because she knew I was a Bradbury fan. I asked her to sign it for me. After she died, I bought another copy for reading. I keep the copy she gave me safely tucked away, where I can pull it out whenever I need and remind myself how lucky I am.


Believing in Santa Claus until I was ten years old. Every Christmas we would go for a long drive through the surrounding neighborhoods on Christmas Eve to see the decorations. When we returned home, there would be a fire in the fireplace and presents under the tree. I like believing in Santa Claus. And the Grinch, too. Oh, and it was my grandparents who put the presents out each year.


My father dropping my sister and I and a friend off at the State movie theater to see a cartoon festival one Saturday morning when I was eight. It ended up being the wrong theater. Instead of cartoons, we watched a movie called Terror From The Year 2000. It was the first movie that ever scared me. For years, I was haunted by visions of a purple woman mysteriously materializing behind me.


Reading Edgar Allen Poe stories at my grandmother’s house at night in bed when I was a young boy, and how wonderful they were.


The Book Mobile that came by the house once a week when I was a boy. Looking back on it now, it was a tiny little thing. But it seemed cavernous at the time. I remember the excitement of climbing up the steps, the smell that was somehow ancient and new all at once, the plastic covers, the tall shelves.


My sister sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night as a teenager to go hang out with her biker boyfriend. She got caught. Her bedroom window got nailed shut. She was the bad seed. I was the good son. Of course, as adults, she’s far more responsible and level-headed than myself.


My best friend when I was eleven, sneaking into our house while we were away and stealing all my marbles. He left a perfect path of footprints leading directly back to his house. I asked him to return the marbles and he did. We remained friends, but it was never quite the same after that. I had something over him and neither of us like that.


Spending the night alone in the Community Center in preparation for a huge arts and crafts sale the next day. I was there to make sure nothing was stolen during the night. It was cold and dark and eerie. There were Christmas ornaments everywhere. Little gingerbread houses with gum drop roofs. Miniature rocking chairs with Mrs. Santa in place. Ceramic statues of little elves. Reindeer made of wood and felt and pine needles. Nightmarish. Absolutely nightmarish.


Walking down a path in the mountains late at night, following what little moonlight there was, and having someone jump out behind a tree, completely unexpected, and scream. On the outside, I barely flinched. Inside, I thought my legs were going to give out and I couldn’t stop my heart from pounding.


Me and three friends being pulled over by cops because they were looking for someone and we apparently fit the bill. The ordered us out of the car, had us put our arms on the vehicle and spread ‘em, then frisked us and asked for I.D. It was as guilty as I ever felt for having done nothing.


Becky, who was an excellent diver, trying a dive off the diving board at summer camp and coming down on her face. For weeks after, she walked around looking something like the Elephant Man, her nose swollen and twisted to one side, huge black-and-blue stripes beneath each eye. I wish I had a camera.


A boy in sixth grade running out into the street to get a baseball and getting clobbered by a car. We all gathered around to watch as he walked in circles, his eyes glassy, repeating over and over, “I just wanted to get the ball. I just wanted to get the ball.”


Old Airport Road, where one night two young teenage lovers went barreling down the dead end until they slammed into the embankment and totaled their car. I was ten. My sister was nine. My father heard the sirens. He scooped us up, put us in the car and followed the ambulance to the accident. I remember there were shards of broken glass everywhere. The air was sharp with the smell of oil and gasoline. We watched as the two teenagers were strapped into gurneys and each stuffed into an ambulance. Their faces were a bloody mess. The girl was groaning nonstop. I don’t know if they made it or not.


The night I left the front yard when I wasn’t supposed to, so I could show a visiting neighbor where my school was. Most particularly, I remember the whipping I got when my father finally tracked us down several hours later.


The first time I ever shoplifted something. I was eight or nine, and I had gone to the store to pick up some bread for my mother. While I was there, I slipped a candy bar into my pocket. Not being terribly proficient at it, I think a bit of the candy bar was sticking out. When I went to the check out counter, the cashier suggested we get some “fresher” bread. I followed him back to the bread shelves, where he casually asked what was in my pocket, and before I knew it, I was in his office and he was calling the police. I don’t think he actually called them. I think he was just trying to scare me, which believe me, he did. He ended up giving me a lecture and telling me to have my mother come see him next time we came to the store. I never told my mother. And I hated it every time I had to go anywhere near that store again.


The dogs barking one night, and me blindly following them out into the woods to see what the fuss was all about. We stopped in front of a stand of manzanita, maybe two or three feet away, and suddenly a coyote let out a howl from the other side. The dogs started barking again, and there was some rustling around in the dark. I didn’t stay to see what it was all about.


The babysitter, an older woman who cared for us during the day while our parents worked, washing my mouth out with soap. I don’t remember what I said, but I do remember that it was the only time I had ever had my mouth washed out with soap.


Taking a walk down the long driveway out to my mailbox one afternoon, and finding a cow’s heart and intestines dumped in a pool of blood in the middle of the road. Apparently, someone had stolen a local cow during the night and slaughtered it in my driveway, which was hidden just off the main road. Or aliens had visited the area. I guess I’ll never know for sure.


Working on the roof of a house with my father and grandfather. This was a new house, the family’s “dream house,” that would eventually take two full years to build. We were cutting and laying wood shakes. Off to the side, I caught a glimpse of my father climbing down the ladder. I peered over the edge and asked him what was up. “I’m going to the hospital,” he said. “I cut my finger off.” He hadn’t said anything when it had happened. He hadn’t yelled or screamed or cried. He had picked up his finger, and climbed down the ladder, fully prepared to drive himself to the hospital. My grandfather ended up doing the driving. I stayed behind and continued working on the roof, absolutely amazed at my father’s calm reaction to such a horrifying event. I was fifteen. I still got excited about slivers.


Cutting wood for winter one August afternoon. Pacific Gas & Electric had come through last summer and leveled a number of pines while installing an electrical line into the back of the property. I had taken the chain saw to one of the piles, unaware that nearby a nest of yellow jackets had built a hive in the ground. Apparently, they didn’t care much for all the racket. Before I realized what was happening, I found myself under attack. It was a long, long run before the last of the persistent fellows finally gave up the chase. I was fortunate to come away with only five or six stings.


Going up for a rebound while playing basketball when I was in my early twenties and coming down wrong on my foot. I ended up on my back, and when I raised my head to see what had happened, I discovered my right foot pointing the wrong direction. I had dislocated it. On the way to the hospital, I couldn’t remember where I lived. Once I got to the emergency room, they had to put me under because they couldn’t get my foot back into place and every time they tried, I screamed. Even in my twenties, I couldn’t find the composure under adversity of my father.


I carry these snapshots with me wherever I go. Some were taken at the most significant moments of my life. Others were taken for reason I cannot fathom. All I know is they are always with me. Yet each, in its own way, has contributed to my fascination with horror.


I write horror not because I’ve lived it, but because it charms me, because I see its place in my live and the lives of others around me, and I want to understand it.

31 Days of Horror: Day 30-- JournalStone Part 2

This is part 2 of 4 for today's installment of 31 Days of Horror.

Now it is Michael R. Collings' turn.

Collings is a Professor Emeritus at Seaver College, Pepperdine University, where he directed the Creative Writing Program for over two decades.He has published over 100 volumes of poetry, novels, short fiction, and scholarly studies of such contemporary writers as Stephen King, Orson Scott Card, Dean R. Koontz, and Piers Anthony. He has served as Guest of Honor, Scholar Guest of Honor, Poet Guest of Honor, and Special Guest at a number of science fiction, fantasy, and horror conferences, including HorrorFest ’89, Brigham Young University’s ‘Life, the Universe, and Everything,” World Horror Con 2008, and World Horror Con 2012. He has been an invited panelist on over 60 convention panels dealing with topics as disparate as Stephen King, the role of religion in science fiction, and the nature of horror poetry. With his wife Judith, he has also published a unique cookbook, Whole Wheat for Food Storage: Recipes for Unground Wheat, a revision and expansions of their first joint project, Whole Wheat Harvest (1980). He is now retired and lives in his native state of Idaho.

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WHY HORROR?

By Michael R. Collings


Why do I read horror, write horror, write about horror?

Probably most horror writers have been asked these questions or something close to them. There is, after all, something peculiar about spending inordinate amounts of time imagining, re-creating, or analyzing darkness, particularly when there is already much darkness in the ‘real’ world.

Perhaps therein lies the answer, at least in my case. There is much darkness ‘out there’, so many things that seem uncontrolled and uncontrollable. Through horror, writers—and readers—may assert a kind of vicarious control over them, and by doing so fit more comfortably into the ‘real’ world.

Let me explain:

In his 1981 study of horror fiction, Danse Macabre, Stephen King discusses three levels of horror:
I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out. I’m not proud. (Ch. 2)
Revulsion—the Gross-out—is, as King suggests, relatively easy to achieve. It requires primarily quantities of blood and guts, graphic descriptions, and graphic language. The most vocal arguments against horror as literary genre concentrate on this level. At the other extreme, true Terror, the moment that generates a frisson down the spine just before the monster is revealed, requires extraordinary facility with language, characterization, and setting to accomplish, and only a few masters—among them Poe and Lovecraft, as well as King himself—create it consistently. When it occurs, and when Terror, Horror, and Revulsion are used critically and carefully, such literature may demonstrate a number of useful traits.

At the thematic level, horror can speak metaphorically or symbolically. Literary monsters may represent literal monsters that threaten everyday life. A vampire suddenly appearing in a small town and systematically preying on its inhabitations may simultaneously condemn the contemporary sense of isolation that afflicts most communities. People live separated lives; they do not notice the alterations in or absence of their neighbors until it is too late, when the bonds of civility have already broken and the sense of community disappears.

The vampire may exemplify the allure and the tragedy of uninhibited lust. By virtue of its existence—neither dead nor alive; its mode of feeding—penetration and bloodletting; and the inescapably body-oriented nature of its attacks—usually male upon female, the vampire can slip from a figure of horror into quasi-pornography, especially when the transmission of blood is described in loving, overly sensual detail; and at the same time it can indict the contemporary obsession with sexualizing people, usually women, into little more than objects of physical release.

The werewolf may represent the abrupt, inexplicable intrusion of death into a family or community. Unseen and unsuspected until it lashes out in rage and inflicts carnage on its victims, the werewolf parallels disease—cancer, for example—and its insidious rampage within a healthy body. It may stand for accident or fate; there is no cause, no rational or purpose behind its sudden eruption—it simply is, and by its presence it disrupts order and security.

Zombies epitomize the loss of agency and rationality. Probably their unusual popularity at the moment reflects a cultural fear of helplessness and hopelessness in the face of global threats: wavering economies, potential if not probable warfare, pandemics facilitated by technology. Everything considered normal may dissolve at any moment, leaving survivors surrounded by mindless, unfocused, ravening monsters whose sole function is to destroy any remnants of civility.

Most other literary monsters may serve parallel functions. Amazons demonstrate the threat of sexual disparity; Creatures from Other Dimensions, including Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones, embody the threat of the unknown, of the breakdown of reason and intellect into madness. Ghosts, Demons, the Haunted Place/Bad Place, and other denizens of darkness—each may in its turn speak volumes about the human condition.

At the literal level, horror may work in a manner similar to classical tragedy. When written effectively, with an eye toward creating genuine terror rather than mere physiological revulsion, horror may combine pity and fear to achieve a kind of Aristotelian catharsis focused on the purging of one specific strong emotion, namely, fear itself. Horror allows readers to confront an object or objects of pity, usually victims, frequently innocent or inoffensive victims; and an object of terror, horror, or revulsion, the monster or monsters; and by juxtaposing the two, feel legitimate fear while in a safe, controlled environment. This fear may in fact be physically expressed, through a rise in heartbeat, increased rate of respiration, even a literal chill up the spine. In any case, the physical response allows the reader to experience and thereby purge the effects of extraordinary fear without physical danger.

Finally, on an ethical level, readers of horror more often than not confront the most literal sort of morality. Unlike in the experiential world, in the world of horror, actions that are evil, wrong, or even misguided have immediate consequences. Cause and effect are clearly linked. If a mad scientists creates a monster, eventually the monster turns on its creator. At least as far back as Shelley’s Frankenstein, this has been a leitmotif of horror fiction. The responsibility of creator to creature—and for the acts of the creature—in part defines the plot itself. If a teenage couple have illicit sex and thereby participate in an adult action without being prepared to accept the concomitant responsibilities, they die, frequently during the act itself. There is no reprieve, no opportunity for a second chance. Transgression leads to death.

It is possible for horror itself to be essentially immoral. Novels exist in which characters are introduced and almost immediately destroyed, merely for the sake of blood and gore. The monster itself becomes little more than a killing machine and the plot impelled not by causal relationships among episodes but by the simple need for more blood. The horror of unrelieved revulsion, in other words, runs the risk of existing solely for the sake of that revulsion, with little thought of creating the more transcendent horror or terror. Such fiction verges on the immoral, if not the obscene, not through the representation of unacceptable language or events but because of its cavalier attitude toward characters and their lives.

On the whole, however, those writers most frequently cited as masters in the field—Poe, Lovecraft, King, Koontz, McCammon, and a handful of others—consistently provide tales that, however close they come to mere revulsion, ultimately lead the reader to a heightened sense of morality, of catharsis of fear, and of the relationship between story and life, between characters and the reader.

In a recent afterword to his 1987 novel Shadowfires, Dean R. Koontz considers the question of what constitutes horror and why it is so often shunned as a genre. One of his conclusions is that horror concentrates its images and effects on death—death as theme, as plot device, as indicator of character. And in large part, what he suggests holds true. The major “monsters” of horror fiction are, by and large, the Revenant Dead, the Undead, and the Walking Dead—ghosts, vampires, zombies, Lovecraftian Great Old Ones long since vanished from this plane and seeking to re-enter it. Even the werewolf is in some ways a figure intimately associated with death—although the lycanthrope is still alive, he is an outcast, an ‘other’ essentially dead to the larger community.

Death is the beginning and end of much horror. It triggers the appearance of the monster, either literally, as the monster is called from death; or figuratively, as its victims announce the presence of the monster. It is the punishment meted to the unwary, the unethical, the unrighteous. As noted above, teenagers who engage in sex before understanding the adult responsibilities implicit in the act are punished by death. Mad scientists—and often even inadvertent meddlers in the true order of the universe—suffer death at the hands—or claws, or teeth—of their creations. Even the innocent die, often in gruesome ways, in order to underscore the leveling power of horror…and of death. It is not accidental, of course, that so many horror novels sport black covers; the archetypical cover may be the first paperback edition of Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot, almost pure glossy black, with no title, the embossed face of a girl…and a single crop of crimson blood. The essence of the novel was communicated forcefully and directly.

These are the things I consider when I read horror, when I write horror, when I write about horror. The experiences become passages through darkness into something else…the light, perhaps, or understanding, or consolation, or at the least relief—that the world ‘out there’ is not yet as terrifying, as terrible as the worlds of the imagination.


[Portions of this essay appeared as “The Peculiar Case of Horror” in Toward Other Worlds: Perspectives on john Milton, C.S. Lewis, Stephen King, Orson Scott Card, and Others (Borgo/Wildside, 2010). The original material has been rewritten and expanded.]

31 Days of Horror: Day 30-- Horror Publisher JournalStone Takes Over the Blog With Giveaways

Today, on Halloween Eve, I have a mega guest post and three book giveaway planned to take us to the finish line.

As I have mentioned on the blog recently, the publisher JournalStone is working very hard to keep horror in paperback, distributing through traditional bookstores, and getting it into libraries.

For the last few years, the genre appeared to be retreating to specialty stores and online marketplaces, with many of the titles that you used to be able to get in paperback being moved to ebooks.

Thankfully, JournalStone has gone in the opposite direction.  You can click here to see my post about this from back in July.

But to show my personal gratitude for their commitment to horror in print, I invited the editorial staff of JournalStone to prepare guest posts about why they love horror.  So today, as we close out on the end of the month, I will have 4 guest posts coming throughout the day.

In the meantime, JournalStone is also offering a prize pack giveaway.  Email me at zombiegrl75[at]gmail[dot]com for a chance to win three horror novels including The Devil of Echo Lake by RA for All: Horror guest poster Douglas Wynne. The deadline for entries is Friday at 5pm central.

So with 4 posts to do today, let's get going on the first.

I will begin with Elizabeth Reuter.  Stuck somewhere between childhood and adolescence, Elizabeth Reuter never got tired of playing with the imaginary friends that crowd her skull. She has written published articles, edited novels, and had her first short story published in JournalStone’s 2010 Warped Words anthology, a horror tale about evil children and denial. Ryu Murakami, Natsuo Kirino, J.K. Rowling, Holly Black and Clive Barker are the major modern writers who inspire her. She lives and works in Okinawa, Japan, translating Japanese/English nonfiction papers for her office and getting plenty of material to write about in return. Demon of Renaissance Drive is her first novel, but if Annabelle has any say in the matter, it won’t be her last.

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Formula and Freedom By Elizabeth Reuter


There are two kinds of mainstream horror.

The first is the type most people think of when “horror” is mentioned: monsters and torture porn. Jason, Freddie, Jigsaw. In this best-known segment of horror, monsters will chase/trap a group of people who die one by one in the most gruesome ways filmmakers can dream up. The formula is set, down to the character archetypes and victim profiles: a young, white, virginal woman will survive, while minorities and the sexually active can count the minutes until their demise.

I don’t see the appeal of this type of horror. It’s so dull, so silly; worst of all, it isn’t scary. The heroes blur together and the monsters are known only for the deaths they inflict, rather than because they are themselves disturbing. What’s interesting in a story where you know what’s going to happen? What draws a reader or viewer to characters with no character?

Then there’s the other side of horror. In this, there are no boundaries on characterization, no checklists on who must or must not die. The only rule is: find what disturbs people and shove it in their faces. Discover what’s frightening and build a world around it. Search for parts of the human heart that no one wants to look at, and force that truth into the open air. It’s this freedom and creativity that draws me to horror, as a writer and fan.

Without the human—especially male—terror of rape, we would not have Alien. Uncontrolled sexual depravity powers Clive Barker’s Hellbound Heart, better known by its movie incarnation, Hellraiser. Alcoholism and child abuse fuel the antagonists of Stephen King’s The Shining. Perfectionism haunts Nina in Black Swan. A desire for love destroys the unlovable monsters of Frankenstein and Phantom of the Opera.

Watching and reading these staples of the genre, people are forced to wonder how much of themselves they can see in the story. Some are chilled by similarities; others see so much similarity that they angrily reject the comparison. Women who want ballet to be all beauty didn’t just dislike Black Swan, they raged against it for destroying their fantasies. The violence of their reaction told me that the movie had hit right on target. Only something people are deeply afraid of can offend them in such a visceral way. And only when viewers and readers react to a story as though they’ve been personally wounded, is horror doing its job.

Run away if you like, gentle reader.

We’ll get you in the end.


Monday, October 29, 2012

31 Days of Horror: Day 29-- Review of Coronation by Lee Jordan


 Coronation
Yesterday, I had this guest post by Lee F. Jordan.  So today, I am reviewing his latest novel, Coronation.

Coronation has had the least attention of the books I have reviewed this month, and now that I have read it, that makes me angry because it is very good and deserves more readers.

The story was inspired by three actual nautical mysteries and these historical events are referred to throughout the story.  We begin with a creepy prologue in modern day with a submarine full of dead, hanging, smiling soldiers.

The story then quickly goes back to the 1800s and one of the the nautical mysteries, in this case the gruesome murders of lighthouse workers.

Then the story goes back to present day and we start to meet the main players in the present.

Let me say this shifting of time line and point of view continues throughout the story, but it is not confusing at all.  In fact, quite the opposite.  This shifting enhances the unease of the story.  We see a great evil from different perspectives and over a long period of time.

But this bouncing around also shows a restraint in storytelling. Jordan allows the tension to build, giving us little details, enough to keep us turning the pages compulsively, but not enough to blow the cover off the main evil.  As a result, I wanted to put the book down, but I literally could not.  I kept wanting to read just a little more. It was like an addiction.

Reading Coronation is like peeling an onion-- an evil, bloody, ancient evil driven onion.

This is an action oriented story.  Jon David is the most developed of the characters here, but don't expect more character development than is necessary to move the story along.  This is not a knock on the novel at all.  The point of the story is to move the action along.

Let's get to that action.  Our main character is a supernatural Navy investigator, Jon David.  He is called in to investigate that submarine full of dead people I mentioned at the beginning.  I will not give more details away except to say that the past and the present are connected, and there is a lot of blood, evil, and terror.

Since Jon David is a Naval detective this is horror with a strong investigative element. He is able to stop the evil human mastermind, but as Jon David is recuperating, the ancient evil is regrouping and staging a comeback.  I think Jon David will need to be called back into action to use his dark gift to stop the monsters once again.

Three Words That Describe This Book: supernatural thriller, action oriented, terrifying

Readalikes: This was easy because I immediately thought of a few works.  First, the classic gruesome and violent The Night Boat by Robert McCammon.  It is out of print, but available at many libraries and features a long ago sunken Nazi submarine that resurfaces with a zombie crew. I love this book.

For those who want more true nautical mysteries which feature a horror answer, try Terror by Dan Simmons.  Vice versa, if you like Terror, try the lesser known Coronation.  As I said about Terror  in my book:

"Simmons adds a supernatural twist in this historical novel of Sir John Franklin’s mysterious and failed 1840’s arctic search for the Northwest Passage.  No one knows what really happened after the ships became trapped in the ice, but Simmons’ description of disease, cannibalism, and a monstrous creature stalking the crew is compelling and terrifying.  This is an intricately plotted story with an oppressively menacing atmosphere."


Finally, Jon David reminded me of Jonathan Maberry's bestselling, supernatural thriller hero Joe Ledger.  In fact, Jordan's choice of quick changes in point of view, as well as a story line with human and supernatural evil will appeal to Joe Ledger fans.  Here is my review of Patient Zero, the first book in this series.  Scroll down to see comments by Maberry too.

Full disclosure: I received a copy of Coronation from the author for free so that I could add it to my library's collection.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

31 Days of Horror: Day 28-- Guest Post by Author Lee Jordan

A bit late on the post today, but the family and I were at the Bears game most of the day, and boy was it exciting.  Back home, and the pooped kids are in bed, so now it is time to return to the scares.

We are getting down to the home stretch.  I have 1 more review, 1 more multiple book giveaway, and still a few surprises coming.

Today, I turn things over to another up-and-coming author Lee F. Jordan who offered this personal account of why he has devoted his writing career to horror.  I really like how he gets at one of the main appeals of the genre...that although it is outrageous, a part inside all of us fans knows it might turn out to be true.

Tomorrow, at some point, I will have a review of Jordan's newest novel, Coronation up on the blog.

In the meantime, you can visit Lee F. Jordan's homepage at http://leefjordan.com/

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Why write horror?
Why write anything else?
Lee F. Jordan


Every now and then, I am asked to submit a piece for a magazine or online blog, and although I wish it was because my name was instantly recognizable among the horror denizens, the simple fact is that perhaps it is the oddity that horror writers must possess that gets me these invitations. Contrary to most of the emails I tend to get, I do not live beneath a decrepit mausoleum with constant irrational thoughts bombarding my wakeful state.

It isn’t a case of what to write so much as what not to write. If the script is already laid out, then the ending is also predictable. For example, if I tried to pen a romance story, the formula would be relatively simple: boy meets girl; both dislike each other intensely until they discover a common thread; boy then pursues girl like a lap dog; girl spurns the attempts until a romantic moment ensues; etcetera; etcetera; ad nauseam. But all the readers know well in advance that the two will get together in the end. Happy endings are what the world thrives on.

But then there is the horror author (or the freshman horror author as I tend to refer to myself). The ending is unknown, the path undecided and the predictability out the window.
Happy endings are never assured.

I have always heard that an author, to be successful, should write about a subject that is familiar. Perhaps something that happened in a previous life, or was intense enough to spur a long-standing memory. In that one simple axiom, lies the problem for those of us devoted to writing horror. If this kind of stuff actually happened, then we probably wouldn’t want to write about it for fear of being declared legally insane and locked up.

The dilemma of what to write begins before the keyboard is even opened for some of us. However in reality, I wouldn’t want the kinds of things I write about to happen to my worst enemy, let alone myself. Others, perhaps the ones who do live under mausoleums or have several ex-wives, would probably disagree with me.

Interesting conundrum, actually.

Would my horror be more terrifying, the blood darker, the gore gorier, the eviscerations more insatiable, if I had experienced them myself? If Lizzie Borden still carried an axe, would she be a good horror writer?

This subject, the darkness that lies inside men and women, is like an untapped ore vein to me; one that lies richly below the surface and is just waiting to be harvested like a winter crop. It has always been clear to me; to write anything else would be frivolous. Not that I dislike other subjects, as I am a voracious reader of everything I can get my hands on from mysteries to non-fiction, but I love the dark.

Love it!

There is a richness there, in the dark, that does not exist anywhere else. Where else, for example, can the headless walk among us, the dead rise with purpose, and the vampires harvest so succinctly? When I get to bend the rules of physics, break the Ten Commandments, bleed the poor and feed the greedy, and then come out the other side unscathed, all in the space of a few thousand words; that is when my juices get to flow.

Horror has no rules, as I see it. And for that reason alone, I cannot fathom writing anything else. (Boy may end up with girl at the end of the story, but there is no guarantee that the girl will have all of her parts attached in the correct places.)

Not to mention, it could be true.

If there was zero chance of horror being true, if this were the only universe, if there wasn’t the question of whether evil really exists and to what extent, then the act of writing horror would lose its luster to me. The very fact that the lights turned down low, the tree scraping on the window pane, the sound of damp footsteps outside the door, and the possibility of monsters in the closet only enhances the obvious: we just aren’t sure about a lot of things in this world… or in other worlds.

So when my laptop opens, and my fingers start to draw something that I hope will cause the reader to question the elements surrounding our very existence, then I know I have written something that perhaps will be remembered.

There is a song by the rock group Delain I listen to entitled “We Are The Others” that is a catchy tune about non-conformity. Every time I hear the song, I think of the boundaries that exist in daily life and the manacles that we impose on ourselves. And then I smile because I realize that writing horror gives me the rare privilege of breaking those chains.

Not to mention, it could be true.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Joe McKinney Giveaway Winner

The winner of the 6 book Joe McKinney giveaway was Tatianna F.

Thanks to all for participating.  This was a popular one.

I have one last giveaway coming next week.

31 Days of Horror: Day 27-- Guest Post by Author Douglas Wynne

Today's guest post is by Douglas Wynne, who is experiencing a dream come true this month as he just saw the publication of his first novel, The Devil of Echo Lake.  Wynne is a writer and a reader of dark fiction.  Read on to see his perspective.

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Why Horror?

By Douglas Wynne

Why dark fiction?  Why write that stuff? Why read it? Isn’t there enough horror in the real world without creating more of it for entertainment?

I think those are valid questions, and I’ll try to answer them first as a reader and then as a writer.  The simplest and truest answer is probably that’s just the way I’m wired.  I like dark books for the same reasons I’m drawn to the dark music of Pink Floyd and Tool. Fascination with the shadow side of things is simply woven into the fabric of who I am as a person.  But it’s also just part of being human, I think, if you’re not in denial.  Still, there are some rational reasons for the attraction.

Reading is an exercise in empathy, and if the character through whose eyes I’m experiencing the world is in horrible trouble, then my emotional investment in the story is greater.  As a reader, I’m drawn to dark fiction because right there on the cover of a horror story is the promise of trouble.  Someone is going to have to deal with some bad shit.  And in life, well, as Jim Morrison said, “No one here gets out alive.” 

In reading a horror novel you get to vicariously experience the things you fear. You get to drag them out from under the bed where they’ve been chattering away on the periphery of consciousness, raising your stress and anxiety, and you get to examine how you might react to the unknown, the disturbing and the terrifying, all within the safe confines of a fiction in which the danger can be dismissed as implausible if it gets to be too much for you.  It’s kind of therapeutic. 

But the threats in a good horror story are sometimes quite plausible, and the characters should always be plausible. There is something exhilarating about watching an author take an ordinary flawed character who inhabits the same mundane world you and I spend most of our time in, and then slowly open up windows from that world into a nightmare.  If the ordinary world and characters are drawn with the same authenticity, detail, and emotional depth found in good literary fiction, then the fantastical or macabre elements become that much more credible, and far more disturbing.  It can be a thrilling plunge to take after feeling the rollercoaster car you’re strapped into click clacking up the incline against the gravity of your disbelief.

I enjoy writing dark fiction for many of the same reasons that I enjoy reading it, but I don’t sit down with genre labels in mind when I start writing a book.  Every novel has its own needs, and in the course of discovering the voice and shape of a story and the necessary consequences of a plot premise, I would never make a deliberate effort to add horror that isn’t natural to the tale I’m telling.  That said, when I survey the playground of publishing, horror does seem to be the biggest sandbox because once you pin that disreputable badge on… anything goes.  There are no taboos. 

Why horror? Because in literary fiction magic is taboo, and in fantasy fiction sex is taboo.  

In horror you can have all the sex, violence and magic you want, but all three are often metaphorical.  You can also get into those sticky questions of religion and the afterlife.  In politics the hot button question may be where does life begin? but in horror it’s where does life end? And then what? And is there more at stake sometimes than your mere life? 

I write to explore those kinds of questions, if not to answer them.

Sex and death are the bookends of our existence, the polar forces of the human condition, the desire and fear that drive our lives.  Any big story that tries to sweep them into the margins is impoverished by the omission.  As for magic?  I write fiction because it’s imaginative by definition.  So why not dream big? It’s not like you don’t have a big enough canvas or an adequate effects budget when you pick up a pen to write.  

On the dedication page of his horror magnum opus, IT, Stephen King wrote, “Fiction is the truth inside the lie.” I’ve always wanted to read and write books that tell some truth about the bad hand we’re all dealt when we come into this world, the fact that sooner or later, everyone is promised a death.  Horror doesn’t deny that fact; it casts our ordinary lives in stark relief by reminding us of it. On the same page, King also wrote, “The magic exists.”  And I believe that the healing, revelatory power of a good story, the illuminating power of a dark story, discovered ages ago by shamans crouching beside the first campfires, is the most tangible magic in the world.