Cruising Up Mulholland Drive


If you’re an occasional gamer, like me, then you’ve probably already heard of L.A. Noire. What you may not know is that publisher Mulholland Books has partnered with Rockstar Games to put out an ebook anthology that contains original fiction from some of the best authors in the crime business (Joyce Carol Oates! Joe Lansdale! Dwayne Swierczynski! Lawrence Block!). I currently have a guest post over at the Mulholland Books site that extols the virtues of both the game and the book. It would mean the world if you dropped by and gave it a read.

If you have a gaming console and haven’t picked up L.A. Noire yet: I strongly encourage that you do so as the the price is already dropping. I’m not versed enough in game economics to know if this price drop is a good or a bad thing (I want a follow-up damn it!).

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Pleased to Meet You: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn and It Came from Del Rio by Stephen Graham Jones

Last weekend, whilst visiting my native Long Island, I attended the Horror Writers Association’s Stoker Weekend. Stoker weekend is a semi-self-congratulatory, but fully awesome, writer’s convention and awards ceremony where I got to meet a bunch of people whose work I know and respect. A week later, looking back on the experience, I’ve realized that what I found just as satisfying as meeting those folks that I was familiar with was meeting writers whose work I had never given a chance. What follows are quick reviews of two such books, both of which I burned through in a couple of days (a sign of quality if I ever heard one).

I pride myself on having one finger on the pulse of horror at all times, so how the hell is this the first time I’ve picked up a book by Stephen Graham Jones? While many of the great horror writers seem preoccupied with either distancing themselves from their genre or legitimizing it, Jones jumps into the fray with a one two punch of high-literary sensibility and unapologetic pulp in It Came from Del Rio.

The story concerns a career criminal smuggler, Dodd, who is looking to retire after one last big job. Unfortunately for him the job is a doozey; one that leaves him genetically altered and concerns not only giant mutant rabbits, but radiation-sick chupacabras.

Del Rio is the kind of novel that sounds silly when summarized and puts the reader off guard with its title and lurid cover art (the subtitle is Part 1 of the Bunnyhead Chronicles, just in case the “It Came From” prefix didn’t do it for you), but pays big emotional and artistic dividends. The only corollary for Del Rio that I can think of is the work of Joe Lansdale (and not just because of the Texas connection). In fact, if you place this next to Lansdale’s The Drive-In, you could make a pretty good case that Jones is working in a brave new sub-genre: art-camp.

Both prosaically and structurally interesting (the book is broken down the middle for its two narrators, Dodd and his daughter Laurie) It Came from Del Rio is a quick read that sizzles with originality and genuine affection for the genre it is elevating to the level of high-art. I can’t wait to see what surprises the rest of Jones’ work holds.

Buy it right now from amazon!

I’ve seen both of Gillian Flynn’s books at my local bookstore, so when I was asked by one of the convention organizers if I knew her work I answered: “I’ve heard the name.” Not the best choice of words, because the next thing I know I’m being introduced to Flynn by said organizer as “a fan.” It was a little white lie on his part that was benign enough until Flynn asked me point-blank: “So you’ve read the books?” I can only assume that I turned all kinds of colors before confessing that “He may have overstated that ‘fan’ part a bit.”

It was only once I began reading Flynn’s first novel, Sharp Objects, that I realized my embarrassment had yielded more than a funny story: I was indeed a fan.

A dark, neo-noir crime story that centers on a Chicago reporter’s return to her small hometown to investigate a series of murdered young girls, Sharp Objects is one of the most shocking and intelligent books I’ve read in a long, long time. To summarize is to bastardize, especially in a book where mystery is such an integral element to the work’s effectiveness, so I’ll try to keep it to a minimum.

Our reporter protagonist, Camille Preaker, is a reformed cutter. She compulsively carves words into her skin and throughout the narrative is constantly reminded of her scars and the words they spell. It’s a haunting device that works far better than it would at the hands of a lesser writer. Camille’s scars, unsurprisingly, stem from her childhood. Her past, the death of her beloved little sister and her strained relationship with her mother, are pieces of backstory that don’t strictly serve as characterization, but directly inform the plot in such a way that it takes the text far beyond the typical series of red herrings and reversals usually found in crime fiction.

Flynn excels in creating supporting characters that at once evoke disgust and pity. There are times, especially when the reader is completely unsure who is the killer, where certain characters are either complete sociopaths, or absolute victims of circumstance. These constant subversions of expectation are a neat trick, and one that never outstays its welcome thanks to Flynn’s clean pacing and insightful prose.

During one of the weekend’s panel discussions, Flynn downplayed the feminist overtones of her work, and even cited instances where she was labeled misogynist (the bulk of the books most reprehensible characters are women). It is my opinion that feminism is not a dirty word, and I would even go further and say that this is a great feminist text, precisely because Flynn allows much of the ugliness to be inflicted by women. Sharp Objects is a story where the only ‘sane’ and ‘normal’ character is the one with the most emotional and physical scars. Camille is a woman who has truly felt the hurt that society ladles on women but has reconfigured societal expectation (her mother and sister are perverted into monstrosities by the extremes of this expectation) into fortitude and altruism.

Sorry if I got too pseudo-intellectual for a second, but the bottom line is that this book is excellent.

I highly recommend that you pick it up.

Giveaway: Invest in Horror and Win Valuable Prizes!


Followers of my twitter know that I’ve been (politely!) spamming John Skipp’s Kickstarter project Rose: The 3D Zombie Puppet Musical. Well, with about 20 days to go, the film needs some more support if it’s going to get made.

Skipp describes the film as “Pee Wee’s Playhouse meets Night of the Living Dead.” For those leery of donating: check out the Kickstarter page, watch the video, read the literature and see that Skipp and the rest of the production have a game-plan and that this film has a great chance of kicking serious booty.

The production is offering some very cool incentives for all the different levels of pledges (from $1 to 5K) but I figured I’d try and do my part to sweeten the deal.

Anyone who pledges on the site (even a dollar) and leaves their name (the one you used to pledge, please) and email in the comments section on this blog will be entered to win the paperback version of John Skipp & Craig Spector’s splatter-punk classic The Bridge. Not only is this a great book, but because of the troubles of publisher Leisure Books this may be one of your last opportunities to own this edition.

As a bonus, if the contest receives more than 30 entries I will add a second prize: The Magazine of Bizarro Fiction #4, which is guest edited by Skipp. This is a weird wild issue that includes stories from frequent Skipp collaborator Cody Goodfellow, D. Harlan Wilson and others.

This is a community-based fundraiser, so I’m giving you one more way to increase your odds of winning. Anyone who copys and pastes the message below into their twitter will receive one additional entry:

Support smart indie horror! #zombiemusical #rose3d http://kck.st/fTth0y

One last thing, Kickstarter will only charge your credit card if the production team raise all the funds by Feb 24th. But, you will be eligible to win my contest regardless of the team reaching their goal or not. You, literally, have nothing to lose.

If you’ve already pledged just comment below and you’ll be entered. Spread the word!

One Last Hooray for Hollywood: "The Day Before"


John Skipp & Cody Goodfellow’s novella The Day Before is notable not only for how many genres it touches on (Sci-fi, horror, showbiz satire, Mad Max-style actioner) but also how many emotions it packs into it’s modest page count.

The story concerns a group of Hollywood insiders that are pushed out of their makeshift sanctuary on Catalina Island. Our writer/director protagonist is convinced by a manipulative super-producer(a thinly veiled Harvey Weinstein caricature) to rove across the post-apocalyptic wasteland to make one final blockbuster. It seems impossible that a book with this outlandish a premise could so articulately represent two author’s complex love/hate relationships with Tinsel-Town, but it does just that.

Skipp and Goodfellow know movies. This may seem like an odd requirement for fiction but it’s not only very apparent upon reading it’s also integral to the book’s success. They pack their cast with archetypes only film fans would catch as archetypes: the ultra-professional Russian Cinematographer, the director-jail auteur, the successful hack, the alcoholic “method” actor. They’re all nicely drawn and surprising in the way that they adapt (or don’t) to the end of the world.

The authors could have easily turned the book into a damning but playful indictment of the film industry. Instead they opt to approach the subject matter with enough wit and a wider scope that moves it out of the realm of straight-up satire and into soulful, but critical, fiction.

At 150 pages The Day Before is readable in one joyous, extended sitting. Smart in ways that so few genre novels allow themselves to be: highly recommended. Available in paperback from Bad Moon Books.

Flash Fiction: "Un Ultimo Hombre Lobo"


Yesterday my story “Un Ultimo Hombre Lobo” went live on 52 Stitches.

For those unfamiliar 52 Stitches is run by the awesome Aaron Polson and offers a year full of free stories (one a week) and ends with all 52 collected and published as a physical collection.

This year, should you pick up year 2 when it goes to print, the profits will go to help the late Jamie Eyberg’s children.

Great project, great writers, great editor, great cause.

Blanket of White By Amy Grech


Judging from how few truly great ones there are, single author collections may be the hardest books to get right. There are far more middling ones than there are consistently good ones, and there are very few classics (Bradbury, Lansdale and early King being some of the best). So Amy Grech‘s Blanket of White has the odds stacked against it merely by virtue of its format.

There’s a weird juxtaposition taking place in a lot of Grech’s stories featured here. Many take on the appearence of more antiquated(or at least more “traditional scary story”) material such as old castles partially constructed with headstones, mysterious noises in the night, the ghosts of old lovers while others use this same narrative style to take on far sicker subjects (genital mutilation, euthanasia, senseless killings perpetrated not by ghosts or ghouls, but by humans). It is when these two styles are mixed together (and there’s an additional dash of restraint) and an emphasis is placed on emotion over carnage that Grech’s best work emerges.

Grech’s prose is serviceable even if her dialogue is a bit over-explanatory at times (her style actually works quite well in the more traditional stories, lending them the pleasant ring of nostalgia) but the real problem here, as it is with so many collections, is inconsistency. There were stories I found myself really enjoying and ones…well, not so much.

The tales I liked and that gave me a welcome chill were, more often than not, the more restrained ones (“Damp Wind and Leaves” which goes back to that nostalgia quality mentioned above, “Ashes to Ashes” a short, sweet and scary downplayed example of Grech’s sex/romance/horror tropes, and ). Although, there are exceptions to every rule and my favorite story ended up being “EV 2000” a futuristic story about a machine that’s Hal 9000 meets a Dracula, a little bloated around the edges and owing a lot to Koontz’s Demon Seed, the story is still fun and carries an unexpected punch. But then there were the stories I was not crazy about, that take to long to get where they’re going (“Crosshairs” a sometimes chilling and effective story about a pint-sized psycho that starts too early and ends too late which wouldn’t be a problem if characterization weren’t so slim) and others that are just either over-the-top gross (“Come and Gone”) or too in-your-face with their symbolism and philosophizing (“Blanket of White” which seems to be a favorite of many, but rubs me the wrong way with its bombastic dourness and never really earns the emotion it so clearly wants because we know from the third paragraph what the little girl’s “gift” will be).

Grech should be applauded for her efforts to marry traditional straight-forward fright storytelling with emotional, sexual heft and weight… even if it doesn’t work every time. Regardless, there are a handful of stories to recommend and the price is right if you get it in digital.

Nate Kenyon: An Interview

What’s that? No strange post title? A new post that’s not a write up of some movie you’ve never heard of or comic book you don’t care about? An interview you say?

Yes, today on Brain Tremors we’ve got a very special guest: author Nate Kenyon.

Kenyon is a relative newcomer to the horror publishing world, but you wouldn’t know it from his accolades. Multiple-time Bram Stoker award finalist, glowing reviews and books in both paperback and hardback limited editions, Kenyon’s kicking ass.

I reviewed his most recent novel, Sparrow Rock, here on the blog and later got in touch with him and secured an interview. If you haven’t picked up any of his books you really should. They’re an absolute blast and I can’t recommend them enough (I just finished Prime, totally excellent sci fi). You can find out more on his website, and his books are available everywhere.

Let’s begin at the beginning. Your first novel, Bloodstone, was not only nominated for the Bram Stoker award but was also drew favorable comparisons to the early work of Stephen King, something that your publisher took advantage of in blurbing and advertising the book. Since some of your novels have been so radically tonally different from each other does the use of those quotes on your work make you feel pigeonholed at all?

That’s a great question. First of all, of course I’m tremendously flattered to be compared to Mr. King, who is probably the greatest horror writer in history. Certainly he’s done more to raise the profile of the genre than anyone. He’s always been one of my favorite writers, so he’s certainly influenced me. But I never sat down to try to write just like him. “Voice” is a tough thing to define, but it’s something that just comes out when you write. It’s how you’re feeling at the time, and what’s inside you. I do think comparisons like this can pigeonhole a writer, both in the minds of the readers and with editors who are considering publishing your work.

That said, I can’t worry too much about it. I just need to keep writing what comes out, and let everyone else decide what type of work it is.


Could you talk a bit about your writing process, you’ve stated in other interviews the importance/challenge of balancing a family, a day job and a writer’s life. How do you go about making it all fit together?

It’s a constant push and pull. I’ve gone through different stages where I wrote whenever I felt inspired (younger, no family, no day job) to writing more consistently late at night (family, day job and my only real free time) to writing pretty madly through nights and weekends as deadlines approach and then easing off and focusing on other parts of my life. I think the key is to focus on one step at a time–a goal for each day, or each time you sit down to write. If I look at the big picture (oh my god, I have 70,000 words to write by WHEN???) I can freeze up and then the words get much harder.

Prime, what I find to be one of your most satisfying, cerebral and interesting works, was released in the small press (by Apex) and is your shortest work of stand-alone fiction, a “novella.” What was the reason for that? Was it developed with the small press specifically in mind? And, if I may ask, which arena of publishing do you prefer?

PRIME was originally a long short story–about 11,000 words. I tried to sell it to genre magazines but it was little too long for them. Jason Sizemore at Apex read it and couldn’t use it in his magazine, but suggested I expand the story and we publish it as a novella. I thought that was a fine idea. Since I’d never written much sci fi, I was concerned going in that it would fall flat, but once I got into it the story just exploded. It was one of my most satisfying experiences, and I think all of us (me, my agent, and Jason) all read the final version and thought we had something special.

So I suppose you could say PRIME was developed specifically for Apex. They bought it based on the short story and the hope that I could make it work as a novella. I never submitted it to a larger house (most don’t publish novellas anyway), but since it’s been successful, I have had some inquiries about expanding it yet again to novel length. I’m considering that because I think there’s more story to tell.

I’m not sure which arena I prefer–there are advantages to both. Big houses get you read and have larger press runs and sales, but small presses allow for a lot more personal input in the process, and an ability to do some things you might not be able to do with a commercial house.


The face of publishing is changing, it’s going digital. Because you are new enough to the literary scene you are one of a very few number of writers whose entire oeuvre is available in ebook format. What are your feelings about Kindle, nook etc?

Well, I think it’s the future, no question about it. I think within five years the overwhelming majority of books will be sold in e-book format. Apple’s iPad is the real game-changer in my opinion, and it’s exciting what some publishers are already doing with interactive books. That said, I love print! I’m a techie in many ways–read all my newspapers online, love my iPhone and MacBook, work in digital design as part of my day job–but with books, and books alone, I personally prefer the old model. It’s not rational at all, because I can see and accept the future that’s coming, and I think it’s the right thing too–fewer dead trees, more efficient distribution and business model, better for the consumer. But I can’t help it. I’m sure I’ll adjust eventually.

I’m a movie guy, so the question has to be asked: Do you enjoy genre cinema? What are your favorite films?

Oh, yeah. Love the movies. I love Silence of the Lambs, The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby (and these are some of my favorite books, too). I’m a big comedy, action and thriller movie buff as well. I’m hoping I’ll be able to see some of my own work on the big screen someday. The Reach has been optioned, and Sparrow Rock is looking good too.

A lot of current day author’s seem to have trouble straddling the line between “literary” and “genre” fiction, something that I think many of your readers would agree you do quite well. Are you one to proscribe to labels? What I mean is, do you think of yourself as a “horror writer” or simply a “writer”?

As a marketing guy in my day job, I understand the value of labeling books or writers–brand is important. But I just write what I feel like writing, and I think that if you took my work and stripped away my name, cover art and all the blurbs and marketing and mixed them all up with a bunch of other stuff, people might label one horror, one, thriller, one mystery, one science fiction…my point is, how people perceive things going in makes a big difference in how they feel. And that can be good or bad, depending on the situation. I’d rather have people evaluate each book as they read them, in a perfect world.

I’d like to ask you a question about your next novel, which is set in the immensely popular StarCraft universe. How did that project come about? Are you a gamer yourself? How do you approach a book based on an established property verses one of your own unique creation? Will we get a spoonful of horror with our sci-fi when the book hits shelves? Hypothetically are there any other properties that attract you as a fan/writer?

An editor at Pocket Books read PRIME, my sci fi novella, and asked my agent if I would be interested in writing for Blizzard. I’d never done any work like that, and I’m not a gamer, but it looked like fun, and it would give me great exposure to a large fan base. So I decided to go for it, and I’m glad I did. I’m in the middle of writing the book now, and it’s a real challenge, and different that writing my own stuff. It’s tough because you have to get the details right! But I’m learning a lot about myself in the process. Yes, this will be a pretty dark StarCraft novel, and I think that’s one reason why Pocket was interested in me–the story calls for a little bit of horror, and that’s fine with me.

I’d probably write for Blizzard again, and I might consider other properties too, although it’s very important to me to write more original novels, and there’s only so much time in the day!


Finally, a running theme through some of your books seems to be conspiracy theories (especially Sparrow Rock). Are you a conspiracy theorist? Why or why not? Or can you not answer those questions because big brother may be monitoring this interview?

Nah. Quite the opposite in fact. But I love the idea of them–there something mysterious, something creepy about a group of faceless people pulling the strings around you without you knowing it. It makes for great fiction.


Thank you so much for your time.

Lookie What I’ve Got


That, my friends, is Necrotic Tissue #11. I’m often very lowkey when I try to push my publications on you but….. MY NAME’S ON THE COVER!!!!!

Ahem… sorry.

If you don’t have a subscription to this fabulous magazine, I suggest you grab one now (your sub will start with the issue above I believe). It’s published in a very attractive digest-sized booklet (the quality of the content and the binding makes it more of a journal, but if they want to use the term magazine, more power to them) and is jam packed with great fiction. I’ve been a subscriber since they’ve gone print, but this is my very first appearance in the mag (so take my word, a subscription is totally worth it).

I’m very proud of my story in this issue. It’s called “The Still” and if you’ve read my story in Shroud #7, this has a very similar ‘southern grotesque’ tone to it.

Subscribe because you’ll not only be supporting writers like me, but you’ll be helping to keep a quality genre publication in print at a time when more and more are either folding up shop or going exclusively digital.

Don’t worry, if you’re a cheap bastard (or my grandmother) I’ll be posting a link where you can buy the individual issue when it goes on sale in a couple of weeks.

Thank you for your time.

Hard-Gore: Wrath James White’s The Resurrectionist

Before picking up Wrath James White’s new book The Resurrectionist I had heard some very good things about his Mass Market PB debut, Succulent Prey. Well, the demands of life got in the way and I never wound up picking up Succulent Prey.
The Resurrectionist firmly belongs in the category of “hardcore” horror fiction, a sub-genre that includes Edward Lee, some of the work of Jack Ketchum and even the late-great Richard Laymon. The “hardcore” movement is often unjustly maligned as being “torture porn,” but when executed by responsible writers who know what they’re doing: this is never the case. White’s novel is a perfect example of this type of writing done well. There is an abundance of gore and sexualized violence but it is all placed in a bigger socio/political/spiritual context that provides food for thought between grisly murders.
The premise is a quite ingenious one. It concerns Dale, a young man who finds that he has the miraculous power to heal the dead when he witnesses the murder of his mother at the hands of his father. Instead of being the second coming, Dale gets addicted to the thrill of violence and uses his power to resurrect the people he brutally murders. His victims have no recollection of the attacks, until Sarah. Sarah is Dale’s beautiful new neighbor and she must piece together the puzzle of her and her husband’s multiple deadly (and sexual) assaults before Dale can do it again.
White moves the story along briskly and is careful to not linger too long on the murder set pieces involving Sarah and her husband (which happen with such frequency they would become redundant if White chose to expand on them all) . The pace does slow down a little in the second half of the novel with the introduction of the police-procedural elements, but these are necessary to move the “pieces into place” for the surprising, satisfying and well-earned ending.
A section of the book that warrants specific mention is its timeliness. One of the main complaints people usually have about many different kinds of horror stories (haunted house, stalker, etc) is “why don’t the protagonists just run away?” White uses the real-life economic crisis as a means to keep Sarah and Josh afraid to leave their home, to keep Josh afraid to lose his job. In fact, if it were not for the housing crisis and its foreclosures, Dale would never have been able to move in next door. This is an example of many of the thematic threads woven into the main plot.
Readers who are tired of stories set in small New England towns and their surrounding woods will be glad to know that The Resurrectionist is set in Las Vegas. The setting of the novel is also used to comment on several of theses themes (overt sexuality, sensory over-stimulation, moral and economic erosion) in a very sly way. Not only are the big Vegas landmarks used but it is the smaller details that make the city pop and the setting feel very much lived-in.
White makes the reader think about the media they are consuming and the effects it has (Sarah is writing her dissertation on the effects of pornography on the psyche, but starts to shy away from that topic after her multiple victimizations). He has his characters raise questions about spirituality and the possibility of God. Most importantly, though, Wrath James White possesses that rare talent that only the best of the hardcore authors has: he is able to emotionally kick you in the face.
If you are a reader with a strong constitution I encourage you to pick up a copy. I look forward to reading more of his work in the future and have already ordered Succulent Prey.*
*Which is only $2.99 from Dorchester’s website (along with several other good buys that include Jack Ketchum’s collection Peacable Kingdom which I also whole-heartedly endorse).

Terror Circus: The Trashiest Show on Earth


Just got through with Media Blasters and Code Red’s new DVD of Terror Circus (1974). Also known as Barn of the Naked Dead, Nightmare Circus and Caged Women, Terror Circus is an interesting mishmash of drive-in trash and surprisingly competent filmmaking.

The plot concerns three female entertainers who breakdown on their way to Las Vegas. They are abducted by Andre, a Norman Bates-esque psycho with aspirations to run the “greatest trained animal show of all time”….with his animals being the girls.The girls are chained up with the rest of his menagre and must withstand Andre’s insane training regimen if they want to escape. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, aside from the women, cougars and boa constrictors Andre also keeps his nuclear-accident-deformed-monster father locked in a toolshed(?!?!?!?!).

The whole thing is a lot more downbeat than it sounds. Heavy on misogyny (there is a laughable attempt at the beginning to add a dash of feminism to the mix by having one of the girls say “He wants to own us. Like all men.”) Terror Circus is best when not taken too seriously. Paradoxically the film has rather low levels of sex and gore (on the special features it is revealed that there was originally more gore, but it’s sadly been lost).

On the plus side is Andrew Prine(Simon, King of the Witches), a veteran T.V. and character actor who gives a really solid performance as Andre. Director Alan Rudolph elevates the whole affair by supplying some certifiably striking images and creepy sequences.

The transfer for the DVD is spectacular. The producers of this disc should really be commended for their efforts. They give a B-movie A-list treatment here: detail is high, grain is minimal and colors are vibrant. There is also a commentary by the FX guys and a half hour featurette put together with both on-camera and audio interviews. Sadly neither Prine nor Rudolph show up on the featurette(can you believe they don’t want to be associated with this classy production?), but those that do have nothing but good things to say about them.

The whole film seems a bit padded and disjointed, but I would say it’s worth a look if you are a serious trash-cinephile.


EXTRA BONUS ENTRY:

You can now read my story “Have a Little Faith” on Flashes in the Dark. Head over there to take a look and be sure to leave something in the comments section (love it or hate it: I want to know).

In related horror fiction news you should also check out Necrography. They just came out with their first issue and it’s well worth your money. Click the banner:


Necrography