Inside the mind of a HORROR Writer . . .

TO EACH THEIR DARKNESS by Gary A. Braunbeck (2010 Apex Publications / 330 pp / tp)

Since reading the brilliant novel IN SILENT GRAVES back in 2004 (a novel I've now read 3 times), Gary Braunbeck instantly became one of my must-read authors. I quickly sought out as much from his as I could, and just about everything I've read has managed to inspire me both as a writer and (even) as a person. TO EACH THEIR DARKNESS is an extended version of Gary's FEAR IN A HANDFUL OF DUST: HORROR AS A WAY OF LIFE, a book I had missed out on, so everything here was new to me (except for a couple of short sections I had read online over the past few years).

This isn't a "how-to" manual, but rather a series of sections dealing with the films, literature, and real-life events that have inspired and shaped Gary as an author. As a huge film fan, I could've read another 500 pages of Gary's film reviews and recommendations, but as it stands there's plenty here to seek out (I was especially thrilled to see how much of an affect the Burt Lancaster film, THE SWIMMER, had on the author: it has been one of my favorites since I saw it as a kid on late night TV). Seriously...if you read this, keep a pen and pad on hand as you'll surely want to check some (if not) all of these films out.

Like his fiction, Gary's real-life stories are quite dark, depressing, and (some) downright terrifying, yet like a car accident, I just couldn't look away, and now that he has shared these accounts, it has given some of my favorite stories from him even more depth than they already have (it was also nice to see him dissect much of his own writing, especially one of my favorites, his short titled 'NEED' that literally caused my stomach to drop the first time I read it). There's also a story of one of Gary's closest friends that had me laughing my ass off, so despite the grim aura surrounding most of DARKNESS, there's still a few laughs to be had (as well as much to benefit from, which I'm sure is Gary's main goal here).

Gary also gives much space to what he believes keeps horror (as a genre) less respectable than other forms of literature, yet not once does he apologize for being a genre writer. And when he gets into the issue of the lack of subtext used within modern horror fiction, writers would do well to pay close attention.

If you're a fan of Braunbeck, these 330 pages will fly by. While I'm not sure it was necessary to feature several introductions Gary had written for other author's books, there really isn't anything negative I can say about this look into the mind of one of horror fiction's most gifted authors. Check it out.

Strand Throws a Curveball . . .

FANGBOY by Jeff Strand (to be released April, 2010 by Delirium Books / 237 pp / limited edition hardcover)

Jeff Strand is an author responsible for some of the sickest (and funniest) moments in recent horror fiction. From bumbling chainsaw-wielding psychos to testicle-covered loverboys, from rampaging plus-sized insects to internal parasitic chaos, Strand's fans have come to expect a certain something from his Gleefully Macabre Tales.

So what does Jeff go and do? He decides to throw us a real curveball: his latest novel is a ( gasp! ) fairy tale! Yep, you heard that right. FANGBOY (while still undeniably a Jeff Strand novel) is a genuine fairy tale, albeit one I strongly doubt will be read in elementary schools anytime soon.

Nathan Pepper is born to two average parents. He's a normal-looking boy, until he opens his mouth to reveal over-sized, razor-sharp teeth. While his parents love him unconditionally, his grandparents (and nearly everyone else around him as he grows up) doesn't. Nathan is eventually forced to live on his own in the woods for a year, and before long we're off on an adventure that has all the elements of a classic fairy tale, only told from Strand's dark (and often demented) perspective.

With a few memorable antagonists, circus geeks, a super-charged horse, and plenty of surprises, FANGBOY isn't as extreme a story as Strand fans might expect, but it's as entertaining (and well written) as anything in his catalog.

This is limited to only 150 copies, so Strand-addicts and fairy-tale completists better act now...

Terriers & Terror...

THE MAD AND THE MACABRE by Jeff Strand and Michael McBride (2010 Dark Regions Press / 186 pp / tp)

The two novellas contained here are both equally terrifying in their own way, and while the ending of the second tale left me wanting, this is an overall good time.

Jeff Strand's KUTTER tells the story of Charlie Stanlon, a forty-two year-old, nerdy serial killer who tortures women in his sound-proofed basement by night and works a typical office job by day. He has a lot of self-made rules (including ONLY kidnapping one woman every two months). After he rescues a Boston Terrier one freezing-cold night at a local park, Charlie's life begins to change. He begins--for the first time in his life--to have feelings for someone other than himself. He eventually names the dog Kutter, and finds himself giving it more and more space in his home as well as his life. Things take a bad turn one night when he goes off his schedule and--on impulse--kidnaps a door-to-door salesgirl. Strand does a terrific job of making the reader care for this low-life serial killer, and I found myself actually cheering him on when he finally accepts a co-worker's inviation to come out of his shell and hang out with some people from the job at a local bar. KUTTER is a grim little story that manages to end on a semi-positive note, and even has a slight twist thrown in.

Michael McBride's REMAINS has a great set-up: a couple of years after some religious college students disappear while seeking proof of their faith in an isolated forest in Boulder, Colorado, a few of the missing students' siblings get together to take another look for them after local officials have continued to come up with no answers. One of them, Brent Cavenaugh, a college proffesor, has discovered something that has inspired him to head this search...and while he tells his companions what he has found, he doesn't tell them everything.

McBride does a wicked job here of building (not only) some serious suspense, but an expectation that kept me flipping the pages as quick as I could. When we finally discover what happened to the missing students, I continued on, psyched to see the final answer. But, when we discover the promised mystery of life, it was nothing readers of "Fate" magazine or followers of paranormal programs haven't heard a thousand times before. REMAINS is a very well written, suspenseful novella, I just wish the ending went for something a bit more unusual.

Despite this one minor flaw, I still recommend THE MAD AND THE MACABRE for those seeking some genuinely disturbing stories.

EPIC Fail...

OUT OF THE DARK by David Weber (2010 Tor Books / 382 pp / hc)

When I read this military scifi novel's synopsis, it sounded like a sure fire hit. It turned out to be anything but. To be fair, this is the first of a proposed new series, but as a stand alone novel it's just . . . terrible.

It's alien invasion time once again. They've destroyed every city on earth and half the population is dead. Then we're introduced to two groups of survivors who decide it's time to fight back (one in the mountains of North Carolina and the other in the Balkans).

The majority of OUT OF THE DARK is (almost) non-stop military scifi, a subgenre I've been getting into over the past few years thanks to authors such as Robert Buettner. But here it gets played out very quickly, and all the technobabble stood (not to mention the turtle-like pace) in the way of me caring for even a single character.

But the "twist" ending...all I can say is I hope Weber has a real ace up his sleeve for the second story, because right now it reads like a rushed idea that I still laugh at whenever it pops into my mind. I'd even say I doubt the author could've come up with a more ridiculous idea if he tried.

Let me know how the next chapter is...I'm getting off here. I understand Weber has a huge following and is a best selling author, but this wasn't the book to discover him through.

We Now Pause for a Message to my Fellow Creators...

A new year is supposed to bring hope and inspiration. Yet during the first 8 days of 2011, no less than four of my friends (two writers, one musician, and one artist) have messaged me asking basically the same thing:

Why do we keep doing to do this?

In the wake of poor attendance at shows, low book/CD/ticket sales, little enthusiasm from those around them, etc., just why do we continue to torture ourselves by the writing of stories/novels/songs, the drawing/painting of pictures, and the continual practice of our arts? Two of them even claimed they were giving up.

But I have news for them...and for you, if you're a creative type.

You can't give up. So don't even try. If you're a real writer, a real artist, a real dancer, a real musician, a real film maker . . . you'll continue doing what you do because it's in your genetic make-up. Being discouraged over lack of interest or sales of your product is just part of the business end of the artist's life. It's no secret that even those who stick with it their entire life may never gain fame, or that dreamed-of six-figure contract. But that's okay. Because if you're only in this for the money and the money alone, chances are your heart is only partially into your work (if at all).

From 1982-2000 I played bass and then drums in countless bands...most of them original. The only time I made a little bit of money was with the two cover bands I drummed for. I've also been publishing fanzines and books since the early 80s, and have just over the past few years finally seen some money (and a small following) over my writing and some of the books released by my small press. While financially my press is in jeopardy (even after releasing a book last month by one of the all-time best writers in the horror genre), I will continue to publish one way or another. Likewise, while I've been trying to sell my second novel for close to two years, I will continue to do so as I write my third and work on several short stories, regardless of the money that may or may not come.

Why? Because it's what I have to do. I'm engineered to my case, through writing and publishing.

I have friends who continue to play weekend after weekend in "tribute" bands and cover bands at small neighborhood bars, some of them who were at one point signed to major label record deals (my own brother being one of them). Yet instead of leaving when the big time never came calling, or when their CD received negative reviews or no press, some of them continue on because they LOVE to's what they do. Same with some artists I know who may never see their work featured in a prominent gallery or between the pages of a $75.00 hardcover coffee table book. Yet they keep painting...they keep sketching...they keep drawing comics even after Marvel and DC have let them go or avoided them altogether.

While every creator who is serious about his or her craft will see ups and downs (and many will see the artist's life as mostly downs on the financial side), discouragement is going to happen. But we need to brush ourselves off the second a rejection comes, the second the bad reviews come in, the moment your potential boss or buyer says, "No thank you," or "We can't use this at the moment." For those serious about their craft, they need to cherish and take criticism from those who know better...from those who've been there. I'm thankful for the handful of writers/editors who are willing to tear apart my work and point me in the right direction. I'm even thankful for the guy who told me my debut novel was the worst novel he's ever read.

Use the criticism, the poor sales, and the lack of general interest to fuel your fire. Use what you can from the bad (and even good) reviews to make your next project better. If you don't have many, do what you have to to find those who are like-minded and encourage one another, daily if possible. Honestly critique one another's work. Do what you do to please yourself and to fulfill that inner desire that forces you to put everything on hold until you've expressed yourself through your chosen medium as best as you can...then seek to do it even better.

Those who mean business will keep on keeping on, regardless of the levels of success. Those who are playing games or doing it for kicks will eventually fade away.

I hope my four friends (and anyone else reading this) will keep on keeping on.

(Illustration by MC Escher)

My Reads for 2010

SO I ended up reading 78 books this year. How I managed to read this many on top of everything else I do remains a mystery, but suffice it to say, it's amazing what you can do when you keep the TV off. I also read (from cover to cover) several issues of BLACK STATIC and CEMETERY DANCE magazine (each issue a mini-book in its own way), countless comic books, and Phil Nutman's amazing, 80K + history of Amicus Films that was published in an issue of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS magazine (why no one published this as a book is anyone's guess). I also read several chapbooks, most notably T.M. Wright's THE PEOPLE OF THE ISLAND.

But onto my mainreads:

1) FISTFUL OF FEET by Jordan Krall
2) THE ETERNAL PRISON by Jeff Somers
3) SPELLBENT by Lucy A. Snyder
5) THE IRON GOSPELS by Will Hache
6) DWELLER by Jeff Strand
7) ARCHELON RANCH by Garrett Cook
8) DEMON HUNTER by Cynthia Vesper
9) PLEASURE MODEL by Chris Rowley
10) MONSTER by A. Lee Martinez
12) SOLOMON'S GRAVE by Dan Koehane
13) A DARK MATTER by Peter Straub
14) CHASING THE DRAGON by Nick Kaufman
15) HORNS by Joe Hill
17) SLIGHTS by Kaaron Warren
18) THE FEMINISTS by Parley J. Cooper
20) THE FRENZY WAY by Gregory Lamberson
21) THE SANTA THING by Rob Freese
22) DIMITER by William Peter Blatty
23) CITIES OF NIGHT by Phil Nutman
24) GATOR A GO-GO by Tom Dorsey
25) THOUGHT FORMS by Jeffery Thomas
26) FLORIDA ROADKILL by Tom Dorsey
27) EMPIRE OF SALT by Weston Ochse
30) MORNING IS DEAD by Andersen Prunty
31) DONNY'S DAY byBrandon Berntsen
32) ROLE MODELS by John Waters
33) 10 A BOOT STOMPING 20 A HUMAN FACE 30 GOTO 10 by Jess Gulbranson
34) THE KULT by Shuan Jeffrey
35) DARK FAITH (v/a)
36) ANIMAL BEHAVIOR by Keith Gouieva
37) THE NEW DEAD (v/a)
38) THE BLOODSTAINED MAN by Christopher Rowley
39) MY FAKE WAR by Andersen Prunty
40) KING SCRATCH by Jordan Krall
41) LIQUID SKY by Anne Carlisle
42) MIDNIGHT ON MOURN STREET (play) by Christopher Conlon
43) THE LAST DEEP BREATH by Tom Piccirilli
44) THE KILLING KING by Bryan Smith
45) DESPERATE SOULS by Gregory Lamberson
46) FAMILY BUSINESS by Erick Williams
47) THE NURSING HOME by James Murphy III
48) THE FULLER MEMORANDUM by Charles Stross
49) BUTTERFLY by Simon Clark
50) BLOOD ON THE MOON by S.M. DeSilva
51) THE WHISPERERS by John Connolly
53) THE DISAPPEARANCE by Bentley Little
54) THIS PAINTED DARKNESS by Brian Freeman
55) SLAG ATTACK by Andersen Prunty
56) IN SICKNESS by L.L. Soares and Laura Cooney
58) WOLF HUNT by Jeff Strand
59) NEW WORLD MONKEYS by Nancy Mauro
60) THE PLACE IN BETWEEN by Rev. Steven Rage
61) NIGHT LIGHT by Chris Burgoyne
62) KING MAKER by Maurice Broaddus
63) THE HORRIBLES by Nathaniel Lambert
64) PARIAH by Bob Fingerman
65) BREAKING EGGS by L.L. Soares and Kurt Newton
66) SHOTGUN SORCERESS by Lucy A, Snyder
67) DUNCAN'S DIARY by Christopher Dayne
68) BUT FIRST THE DARK by Frank Chigas
69) AS THE WORM TURNS by Brian Rosenberger
70) ELEVEN TWENTY-THREE by Jason R. Hornsby
71) HOW TO EAT FRIED FURRIES by Nicole Cushing
72) THE SAMHANACH by Lisa Morton
73) ETERNAL UNREST by Lorne Dixon
74) KING'S JUSTICE by Maurice Broaddus
75) SNAKE JAW by Andrew Gallacher
76) PERMANENT OBSCURITY by Richard Perez
77) SUCCUMBING TO GRAVITY by Richard Farnsworth

(Started in 2010:)
1) THE DEAD EARTH by Mark Justice and David T. Wilbanks

Blog Updates

Posing the Dead

THE PEOPLE OF THE ISLAND by T.M. Wright (2010 Bandersnatch Books / 29 pp. / cb)

This first release from Bandersnatch Books may be a short chapbook, but the story itself creeped me out and that alone makes it worth the $10 cover price (although I do believe "glorified short stories" shouldn't cost more than 5 bucks).

The legendary T.M. Wright delivers a nifty story dealing with a couple living on an isolated island who, each day, find dead bodies positioned in natural poses (one woman is found on an exercise bike, a man staring out at the sea from a hilltop), and in Wright's classic style we're left to wonder if what's happening is real, imagined, or a combo of both.

Being a 26-page story, there's not much more to reveal without ruining it, but suffice it to say this one got under my skin. Wright's dead-on (full pun intended) atmosphere makes this a must for his fans as well as any horror fan who wants a quick chill.

Jessie's Back . . . and Better than Before

SHOTGUN SORCERESS by Lucy A. Snyder (2010 Del Rey / 326 pp. / mmp)

In this second installment of Snyder's Jessie Shimmer saga, my favorite occult fantasy girl is coping with life after rescuing her boyfriend Cooper from hell (she now has a hand that continually burns and is capable of firing super-hero-level power blasts if she removes her protective glove) and now discovers that she has become possessed. Not being able to control her hand one night while having sex with Cooper, Jessie nearly burns down her group's safehouse in Columbus, and when a group of powerful creatures come seeking revenge for Jessie's killing of one of them, our group flees and become trapped in a small Texas town that's been isolated by a powerful demon.

Everything in SHOTGUN SORCERESS is upped from SPELLBENT: there's twice the level of violence, action, and sex, and Jessie's familar, Pal (no longer a small ferret, but a huge spider-monster that can change sizes at will) continues to be the coolest creature currently creeping around the fantasy genre.

With a suspenseful trip through a dark faery region, several uber-dark visits to Jessie's internal "hellement," and all kinds of monsters and demons causing all kinds of chaos, Snyder is quickly building a series that--if it keeps up this pace--will surely become a favorite of cross-genre fans (did I mention I want to marry Jessie Shimmer yet?).

One warning: this one ends on a total cliffhanger/springboard for the 3rd novel; if you come here looking for a one-time read, you WILL be sucked into Jessie Shimmer's ocularis*, shotgun-magic, horn-ball monsterworld . . . and there will be no escape.

The third adventure can't come fast enough.

(*ocularis: Jessie Shimmer's artificial, occult-emerald eye).