Top Ten Books of 2010

This was a great year for reading.  I don’t know how many books I blazed through this year, but I know it was a lot.  Of those I found the time to read, these are my favorites… 

1. The Caretaker of Lorne Field by Dave Zeltserman. Once in a great while, you find a book that makes you read it, that just forces you to keep turning pages until you’re finished. This is one of them.  Jack Durkin is the caretaker of Lorne Field. The town thinks he’s a crazy man who spends every day weeding the same field, but he insists the things he pulls out of the ground and burns are monsters that will destroy the world within weeks if he doesn’t take care of them first. Zeltserman keeps you guessing right up to the last page, wondering if Durkin is telling the truth or is stark raving mad. This is the one, folks. An amazing novel that will leave you breathless.

2. In the Mean Time by Paul Tremblay. Not many stories give me nightmares.  The last time it happened was almost ten years ago.  “The Teacher,” the first story in Tremblay’s latest collection, kept me awake two night straight, however.  That story is without a doubt the single most horrifying thing I’ve read.  The rest of the collection is full of Tremblay’s amazing prose and characterization.  Pick it up.  There’s no reason the name Tremblay shouldn’t be on everybody’s lips.

3. Occultation by Laird Barron. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again… Laird Barron is the best writer working in horror today.  This book, his second collection, continues his string of amazing, at times Lovecraftian, stories.  This time, however, Laird relishes the chance to get in there and get nasty, churning your guts as he darkens your mind.  Stories like “The Broadsword” and “Catch Hell” are among the most harrowing you’ll ever find, rewarding your patience with a mounting sense of dread and a final dive headlong into horror.

4. Lesser Demons by Norman Partridge.  Norm is one of my favorites, and he never fails to deliver the goods.  The stories in his latest collection run the gamut from action-packed pulp to mind-scrambling Lovecraftian tales.  The main thing, though?  They’re fun.  Partridge writes fun stories like nobody’s business.  In this collection you’ll find giants, doppelgangers, demons, a man with a metal hand, and a house right out of a nightmare… and you’ll love every last bit of it.

5. A Dark Matter by Peter Straub.  As much about the power of stories as it is about the terrible events that transpired when a group of college kids followed a new age cult leader into a field for a mysterious ritual, Straub’s latest novel is a testament to his power with words.  Told a piece at a time by the people who survived who horrible event, A Dark Matter unfolds slowly, but the rewards are great for those who put in the hours.  More evidence that Straub is a master of his craft and the genre.

6. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn.  Libby Day is cynical, hard, a kleptomaniac, and the only survivor of her brother’s rampage 24 years prior, a rampage that left her mother and sisters dead.  When she tries to sell family memoribilia in an attempt to make a fast buck, she gets drawn into a pseudo-investigation that points toward her brother being innocent.  Flynn writes another tighty-wrapped thriller that keeps you guessing right up until the end.  Much like her previous novel Sharp Objects, this book is simply wonderful.

7. Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand. This one’s a few years old, but I didn’t get around to it until recently.  When has-been photographer Cass Neary gets sent to a small, New England island to interview one of her idols, she stumbles into a mystery full of death, violence, and the kind of atmosphere that can only be called horror.  I love books that aren’t advertised as horror but end up being terifying, and this is one of the best.  Hand has an amazing grasp of character, and she can build tension like nobody’s business.

8. Shadow Season by Tom Piccirilli.  Piccirilli writes suspense with a skill few can even dream of having.  In this one, he tells the story of a blind teacher (and former cop) at an all-girls boarding school.  As mysterious violence erupts around him, endangering his students, the protagonist needs to figure out how the surrounding events tie into his past.  This one’s a thrill a minute, another book that just builds and builds until it feels like it’s going to explode.  And then it does.

9. The Deputy by Victor Gischler. Call it slacker noir.  A part time deputy is tasked with looking after a dead body, but soon the body disappears.  By the time the sun rises, a small town is soaked in blood, and our part time hero is in so far over his head he may never see the light of day.  Gischler blends crime and comedy to great effect, and he paints a portrait of a small town that’s twisted yet all too real.

10. Sparrow Rock by Nate Kenyon. The early eighties were a fun time, as horror writers with some literary training were churning out crowd-pleasers that were fun but not dumb. If there’s any writer working today who hits that sweet spot, it’s Nate Kenyon.  His latest, Sparrow Rock, tells the story of a group of high school friends who lock themselves in a bomb shelter when the world goes nuclear. Soon, things come looking for them, and the mixture of monsters and raging paranoia will set your nerves tingling.  The affordable paperback version was, sadly, a victim of Leisure’s collapse, but there are still copies of the signed limited available. 

Just not enough time…

Here we are, just over two weeks until the end of the year.  Right now, I’m getting ready to talk about my top ten books of the year.  If you don’t see the list by the end of the week, you’ll see it on Monday.

Sadly, there are only so many hours in a given year.  Between writing four drafts of two novels, half a dozen short stories, a novella, and working on the World Horror Convention, I didn’t get nearly as much reading done as I wanted.  For the first time, I think I might have even read ten books that came out this year, but there were some books in my to be read pile that I just didn’t get around to cracking their spines.

With that in mind, here are some of the books I’ll be reading as soon as I possibly can…

Sarah Court by Craig Davidson
People Still Live in Cashtown Corners by Tony Burgess
The Passage by Justin Cronin
Drood and Black Hills by Dan Simmons
Slammer by Allan Guthrie
Midnight Picnic by Nick Antosca
Yellow Medicine by Anthony Neil Smith

Yeah, that should keep me busy through march or so.

Guidelines and Challenges

There’s something to be said for guidelines.  They’re your blueprint for finding work, really.  For beginning writers, following guidelines is as important as researching your markets, which is in no way to say they’re the same thing.  You can read guidelines until the cows come home, but at some point you’ll want to grab a copy of the magazine in question to get a better idea of what they’re publishing,

Today, however, I want to take a minute to talk about anthology guidelines.  Specifically, I want to talk about theme anthologies.  In the past year, I’ve been invited to send in stories to five different theme anthologies: Dead Set (a zombie antho), Supernatural Noir (you can probably figure that one out), and three more I’m not allowed to discuss yet.  Being approached for these sorts of things is pretty new to me, and it’s exciting.  On one hand, it feels like a great expression of faith in my abilities as a writer.  Ooh, these folks really want a story by me!

But then there’s the other hand, and that’s the one that I really enjoy.  On the other hand, these theme anthologies really make you flex your brain matter.  Supernatural Noir?  I don’t know if I ever would have tried to write a story like that if I hadn’t been invited.  A story I’m working on this week is the same sort of thing.  I was invited to submit to something pretty far outside my comfort zone.  Without that invite, it never would have occured to me to write something like this story.

And at the end of the day, that’s an important part of writing.  So much of a writer’s life–especially at these opening stages when things are just starting to get going and words like “writing career” first start popping into your brain–is about writing what you want and just hoping you’ll be able to find a home for it later.  It’s important to take these chances and step outside your comfort zone.  They’ll help you grow.  More importantly, if you want to make a living at this (man, I hope and pray I’ll be able to make a living at this), you want to be able to show editors that you’re flexible, that you’re somebody they can go to when they need something.  That makes you valuable.  And at the end of the day, valuable is something you want to be.

So take a look, and see what’s outside your comfort zone.  Experiment.  See if you can make something work.  Maybe you’ll be surprised.  At the very least, you’ll grow.

Black Static 20

The 20th issue of Black Static, which contains my short story “Going Home, Ugly Stick in Hand,” has gone to press and will be out December 12th.  A look at the cover shows quite a few other great writers, including my buddy Norman Prentiss.  It’s great to be in such excellent company!

So get yourself a copy of this one for Christmas.  I promise good times.