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Sunday, October 14, 2018

31 Days of Horror Day 14: Why I Love Horror by Jerry Gordon

Today I have yet another debut author to introduce to you-- Jerry Gordon. Before I get into why you should buy this book for your collections, first here is the cover copy for Gordon's novel, Breaking the World:
In 1993, David Koresh predicted the end of the world. 
What if he was right?
Cyrus doesn't believe in David's predictions, and he's not interested in being part of a cult. But after the sudden death of his brother, his parents split up and his mom drags him to Waco, Texas against his will. At least he's not alone. His friends, Marshal and Rachel, have equally sad stories that end with them being dumped at the Branch Davidian Church. 
Together, they're the trinity of nonbelievers, atheist teens caught between a soon to be infamous cult leader, an erratic FBI, and an epidemic that may confirm the worst of the church's apocalyptic prophecies. With tanks surrounding the Branch Davidians and tear gas in the air, Cyrus and his friends know one thing for certain: They can't count on the adults to save them. 
In his debut novel, Jerry Gordon takes readers deep inside the longest standoff in law enforcement history for an apocalyptic thriller that challenges the news media's reporting of the event, the wisdom of militarizing domestic law enforcement, and the blurry line between religion and cult.
Now let's talk about why you need to know about this author and this book. First, the topic-- cults, based on true events, the anxiety and terror built into the subject matter; this is a plot ripe for some wide readership.

But, it would all be for naught if he didn't pull it off. Don't worry, Gordon does. He is a rising talent you should keep your eye on.

Second, this book is published by Apex. Not only do they put together a good physical product that stands up to multiple checkouts, they also know how to spot talent. Don't believe me on that? Well, they were the first to publish Rebecca Roanhorse and look at her now.

Here are two quotes from authors I know and respect singing Gordon's praises for this particular book too:

"The things we do to each other are more awful than any haunted house, ghoul, or demon could ever be, and in BREAKING THE WORLD, Jerry Gordon delivers an unflinching look at real-life horror. This novel will gnaw its way through your skull, burrow into your brain, and mess with you in the best way possible. It’s a pitch-black tale of moral ambiguity, with sympathetic characters facing a home-grown apocalypse of twisted faith, fire, and madness. It’s one of the strongest horror debuts in recent memory, which not only entertains but provides penetrating insight into a dark chapter of American history. This is horror done right."– Tim Waggoner, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of LIKE DEATH
An absorbing blend of history and narrative fiction which elevates the Waco tragedy into an unforgettable exploration of society, faith, and truth. BREAKING THE WORLD by Jerry Gordon is a compelling novel that thunders, and challenges, from page one. The characters are genuine, the struggles throughout are powerful, balanced, and thoughtful. The novel’s conclusion and Gordon’s ideas within do what great fiction often hopes to – defies and then transcends what we thought we knew.– Geoffrey Girard, Bram Stoker-nominated author of PROJECT CAIN and TRUTHERS

Now here is Gordon on the dining moment when he fell in love with the apocalypse.

☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠

A Love Letter to the End of the World
by Jerry Gordon

I was twelve years old the day I fell in love with the apocalypse. My grandparents were vacationing off the coast of North Carolina and had rented a beach house on the Outer Banks. The house had two distinct levels connected by an exterior set of stairs. They took the main level with the ocean view and gave me the ground floor, nestled behind a sand dune with a pair of small windows facing away from the beach.

In retrospect, it's clear the downstairs was a converted two-car garage, but I was used to living with four people in a one-thousand-square-foot house with a single bathroom. The idea that I would have an entire floor to myself, complete with its own private bath, made it a palace. Sometime after takeout pizza, I wandered downstairs to my new kingdom to watch TV.

I don't remember when the storm came in. As a kid from the Midwest, I’d seen my fair share of abrupt changes in weather. So the sheets of rain didn't alarm me, and I didn't panic when we lost power. I just grabbed a flashlight out of my backpack and started looking for something to pass the time. I found a yellowed copy of Stephen King's Skeleton Crew on a dusty bookshelf. My grandpa had a creepy wind-up monkey, like the one on the cover, and that was enough to pique my interest. I grabbed the book, plopped down on my bed, and started reading The Mist by flashlight.

The novella started with a storm much like the one howling outside my windows. The locals and their squabbles could easily be swapped out for my neighbors’ disagreements back home. And that town grocery store, the one with the floor-to-ceiling glass entrance, my grandma shopped at a place like it twice a week. About the time air-raid sirens from the fictional military base heralded the arrival of the mist, the storm outside my bedroom took a dark turn.

The wind ripped a metal sign off some beach post and slammed it into the side of one of the downstairs windows. The glass didn't shatter, but the clang was loud enough that I almost peed myself. I pointed the flashlight outside but could only see the waterfall of rain coming off the roof. I couldn't even see the stairs.

With no sign of flooding, I hunkered down with my book and flashlight and kept reading. The monsters in the mist scared me, but not as much as the people huddled in the grocery store. I had caring family members that protected me, but like most kids in my neighborhood, I had scary ones too. Drunks. Relatives with explosive tempers. The self-righteous.

For some reason, it's that last group that scared me the most. The self-righteous, in my twelve-year-old experience, were cold, controlling, and deliberate in their judgment and cruelty. As I watched Mrs. Carmody's power over the grocery store's customers grow, I felt the horror of her convictions in my bones. Unlike the monsters in the mist, she was one of us. And that somehow made her scarier. I can still hear her voice calling out for a blood sacrifice, for expiation.

My flashlight started to dim in the middle of the book's terrifying trip to the pharmacy. Scrambling for batteries in the dying light, I'm pretty sure my imagination could've supplied monsters ten times scarier than anything in the book. I scavenged some AA's from a toy in my suitcase and swapped them out for the dying ones. Before returning to the book, I took a few minutes to look around. I told myself I was checking on the storm, which showed no signs of letting up, but I was really looking for monsters. I hadn't heard anyone upstairs in a while. My grandparents must have found a way to sleep, but part of me imagined them lost in the mist.

Returning to the book, I raced back to the grocery store with our heroes for the final showdown with Mrs. Carmody. I didn't feel any remorse when they shot her. I knew that was the only way, just as I knew the people in the grocery store that stayed would die. I held my breath and ran frantically from the grocery store to the car, letting out a huge sigh of relief when we all pulled away safely.

When I got to the last page of the story, I didn't read the open ending as hopeless. I believed Hartford was still out there, untouched by the monsters. We just needed to get to it. I spent the rest of the night with a dimming flashlight, imagining how I would escape with them. 

Years later, I learned that Stephen King wrote The Mist after a huge storm tore up his town. So there's plenty of symmetry to my reading his novella by flashlight in the middle of a tropical storm. I've often joked that God made me a horror fan that night... and Stephen King paid him to do it.

I would fall in love with other apocalypses, Richard Matheson's I Am Legend and Cormac McCarthy's The Road, but you never forget your first love. When it came time to write my first novel, I found the perfect vehicle for both my love of the apocalypse and my fear of people like Mrs. Carmody. I wrote an alternate-history horror novel about the Branch Davidian Church's standoff with the FBI, a story that imagined what would have happened if David Koresh had been right about the end of the world.

I told Breaking the World from the perspective of three atheist teenagers, a trinity of nonbelievers not unlike me when I read The Mist. Dragged to the church by their born-again parents, the teens were trapped between a cult leader, an erratic FBI, and the literal apocalypse. Together, they would struggle to survive the real horrors of the historic standoff and the imagined monsters of the End of Days.

It's hard not to see my childhood love of The Mist shining through the book. The trapped, claustrophobic setting. The sense of being surrounded by forces beyond your control. The dark corners of religion taking a dangerous turn. The real world giving way to the apocalypse. I even wrote that beach house vacation into a small corner of the story.

Many years later, I find myself coming back to the ending of King's novella. I still believe, against all odds and "adult" common sense, that it's a hopeful one. The decision to leave the story open ended gifted me with the freedom to imagine the ending I needed, and it contributed to my desire to be a writer. For me, the end of the world was just the beginning.

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

Jerry Gordon is the author of the apocalyptic horror thriller, Breaking the World. He is also the Bram Stoker Award-nominated co-editor of the Dark Faith, Invocations, and Streets of Shadows anthologies. When he’s not writing and editing, he runs a software company, teaches, and longs for a good night’s sleep. You can find him blurring genre lines at www.jerrygordon.net.

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