Quick Updates

Last weekend’s signing went great.  We sold out of all the store’s copies of Scavengers (I think it was 19, but don’t quote me on that), and there were only five copies of Supernatural Noir left.  Lee Thomas and I signed those and gave them to the store for safe selling.  Thank you so much to everybody who came out and purchased a copy.  And to my girlfriend’s parents…I’m sorry about the cocaine and rough sex scene in the middle of Scavengers.  I should have warned you about that.

Mike Oliveri wrote an excellent essay on writers and suicide. As somebody who’s been in therapy for about two years now and still has days when getting out of bed feels like the hardest thing ever, I can vouch for everything he says.  Certainly worth the read.

This week I need to finish up a short story, and then I need to get cracking on a novel that’s due by year’s end.  How did I end up with deadlines, again?

A Zombie Discussion with Robert Swartwood

Robert Swartwood is a talented writer. His work has appeared in such venues as The Los Angeles Review, Postscripts, ChiZine, and The Daily Beast.  His novel The Dishonored Dead is a fun new take on the zombie novel, and it’s one everybody should pick up (it’s available for the Kindle here).  Seeing as we both have zombie books out at the moment, we decided to discuss the rotting little bastards a little.

Once you’ve read my interview with Robert, go pick up The Dishonored Dead, and then go read his interview with me.

NS: What can you tell us about The Dishonored Dead?

RS: The Dishonored Dead is what I like to call a nontraditional zombie novel, in that there is no flesh eating going on. It’s about our world in the not-so-distant future which has begun to decay and most of the population has become the animated dead. They function just like us — adults working nine-to-five, children attending school — but they have no emotions or imagination. Those that do are the living and they’re called zombies. The Government has taught the dead to fear the living and so the living must be hunted down and destroyed. 

The book’s main character is a zombie hunter and what happens when he hesitates one night in killing a living child and begins to question not just his profession but his entire existence. I originally pitched the book as Fahrenheit 451 meets Night of the Living Dead and, despite the flesh eating going on in the latter, I think it’s pretty accurate. 

NS: What is it about zombies that suits this tale so well? Was there any particular inspiration that brought The Dishonored Dead together?

RS: Looking back, this novel definitely had a very strange journey. It all started out with the story idea of a boy who heard this strange music coming from somewhere in his backyard. And then, when I sat down to actually write the story, that changed to this first line: “Like everyone else he knew, Steven’s heart did not beat.” And the story that grew from there — “In the Land of the Blind” — was a world where the majority of people were dead but the world still had some life left in it. That story won one of the ChiZine short story contests. Later, after it was published, a friend told me his wife had read the story and loved it but said she wished it was longer. At the time I said something along the lines that I didn’t think I was ever going to expand the story, but, as is often the case with us writers, the story stayed with me and I wondered what might happen if I tried to tell a longer story from one of the zombie hunters’ point of view. The story that I had in mind would be nothing more than a novella (I never outline but can usually gauge the length of a story in my head). But then as I started writing it, a character appeared out of nowhere, a very minor character that was nothing more than stage decoration. While the protagonist and another character were leaving a building, they passed a janitor. Why there had to be a janitor there, I had no idea, but the janitor appeared in my head and so I placed him there. And it wasn’t until a few chapters later did the real reason for the janitor’s appearance become apparent, and suddenly what had only been a novella-length work turned into a full-blown novel. The first draft ended up at around 120,000 words. Then, after a major revision a few years later, it came down to a respectable 100,000 words.

And to answer your first question, I guess the reason zombies suit this tale so well is that, ultimately, zombies represent the complete opposite of us living humans. And the original short story — and the novel — plays with a subtle social commentary about our world and why we think the way we do and have the prejudices we do and whatever else. Plus, the idea of a world overrun by the decaying dead just seemed like a cool, fresh idea. 

NS: Sounds like a fun journey.  The Dishonored Dead is such an interesting angle on zombies.  Have you considered telling a more traditional zombie story, or do those not interest you as much?

RS: I certainly wouldn’t be against telling a more traditional zombie story, but there would have to be something really different about it to make me want to do it. And it’s not just in regards to zombies but anything, really. My next book is a serial killer novel but told from the point of view of a serial killer’s wife. I think the challenge in storytelling is coming up with new ways of telling an old story (though telling new stories is even better, of course). A lot of people rag on the zombie mashups out there, but truthfully Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was a brilliant concept because it was just so new and fresh. Unfortunately, because of its success, everyone and his mother has jumped on the bandwagon that the original’s brilliance has dimmed.

NS: I remember watching the original Night of the Living Dead when it came on after cartoons one Saturday and really getting a sense of what dread could be for the first time in my life.  Was there any particular moment, whether from a movie, book, or story, that you realized there was zombies presented a different kind of horror?

RS: You know, this may be an unpopular opinion, but I don’t think there’s really anything horrifying or fascinating about zombies in general. Sure, you have some authors like Brian Keene who create zombies with some kind intelligence and they become antagonists, but most zombies are mindless flesh-eating creatures that are really only there as a plot device. The real conflict almost always comes in between the living characters and shows their true nature (like you had mentioned, the final big reveal is almost always “We are the monsters,” but there is also that whole survival aspect, too, and it shows that while some of the living are in fact monsters, not all of them are; some actual find a way to step up and become heroes). It’s almost like zombies are part of that whole man vs. nature narrative conflict; in theory you could easily switch them with, say, hungry man-eating lions and it would pretty much be the same book. Because the majority of zombie stories and novels and movies deal mainly with the living characters and how they come to terms with the zombies and manage to survive. One of the most horrifying scenes that comes to mind is in 28 Weeks Later, when at the beginning of the movie the zombies attack and Robert Carlyle’s character flees with his kids through the house. His wife gets left behind, and there’s a moment when he has a chance to either try to save her and possibly get himself killed in the process or save himself and keep going. He chooses to save his own ass and he leaves his wife behind for the zombies. He even lies about it later to his kids. Of course, there’s more to the story, but still, man, that moment puts you right in that situation and you can’t help but picture yourself in the same position. That, I think, is true horror.

NS: Thanks, Rob!

World Horror Thoughts

So here it is, almost two weeks after the fact, and I’m just now writing about World Horror.  I apologize for taking so long.  The folks who made opening ceremonies know how life smacked me upside the head a few hours into the convention.

All in all, the World Horror Convention was great.  Lee Thomas and I wanted to make a con that would be helpful to writers of every level, and I think we accomplished that.  Even the busload of fratboys who swarmed the hotel Friday and Saturday night couldn’t bring us down.

I want to thank our guests.  Each and every one of them was amazing, and the help they gave us throughout the convention was invaluable.  I’ll always remember Joe Hill and Steve Niles approaching me after opening ceremonies to ask if I could handle staying at the convention.  Amazing people, every last one of them.

I also need to thank our committee and volunteers.  We threw a very good convention, with every event running as smoothly as possible, and we owe that to the committee and their years of planning and preparation and to our volunteers for helping with everything from set-up to registration to getting the margarita machine up and running.

Now, I need to go back to writing. For the first time in months, I have the time to put some words down. See you all soon.

Boycott Dorchester

For years, Dorchester Publishing and their Leisure Books line felt like the Holy Grail to up and coming horror authors.  Their open door submissions policy almost made up for the fact that their covers looked like warmed-over ass.

Then they got nasty.

So some of their former writers have decided to play their game.

As an author, I hate publishers who try to screw their former authors even more than I hate most people (I’ve mentioned I’m not much of a people person, right?).  So I’m throwing my support 100% behind this boycott.  Why?  Because it’s the right thing to do.

So there.

The Secret Life of Laird Barron

Today we’re celebrating The Secret Life of Laird Barron.  All across the internet, folks will be checking in with their tales of Laird’s exploits.  You can find a central hub of sorts at John Langan’s Livejournal.  

Chapter Six: Modern Medicine

At the tender age of eight, a fully-bearded Laird Barron challenged small pox to a fist fight.

And you thought vaccinations eradicated it?  Fool.

The disease had been cutting a swath through humanity, striking down the firm, the infirm, and the kinda squishy with equal viciousness.  Medical science had turned up Jack and Squat.  Then Jack caught small pox and died.  There was much mourning.

Enter Laird Barron.

Something should be known about young Barron: he simply did not give a fuck.  As a bare-knuckle boxer, he had an impressive record of eighteen wins, zero losses, and one fight that was declared a no contest after his opponent spontaneously combusted out of sheer terror.  Bullies begged him to take their lunch money.  Usually, he took one of their fingers as well.

Because young Barron simply did not give a fuck.

Anyway, back to our tale.  After small pox had taken the latest attempt at a vaccine and bent it over its knee, the head muckity-whosits at the CDC were sitting around, drowning their sorrows in old lab specimens, when a knocking like one thousand explosions sounded on the door.

It was young Barron.  Even at the tender age of eight, he was a scary example of humanity.  His beard reached his knees, which was pretty far, considering he stood an impressive seven feet, fifteen inches.  His one eye glowed with either disease-killing rage or a hunger for Cap’n Crunch, the kind with the berries.

“Hello?” asked a doctor with a fresh mess in his undies.

“I’m here to fight small pox.”

“Excuse me?”

“Whoop it.  It’s been a problem too long, and I’m gonna end it.”

“Um, you do realize that, should if enter your internal organs–”

“I had my organs replaced with rabid wolverines when I was six.”

“You don’t say?”

“I just did.”

“Fair enough.  Come in?”

Over the next hour, young Barron convinced the muckity-whosits that he was mankind’s last, best chance.  Barron regaled the research staff with tales of closed fists and bloody knuckles.  He showed them scars and did things with his beard that few would believe, if written here.  What began as an audience of dubious scientists ended as a riotous throng of bloodthirsty savages.  The really pissed kind.

Within moments, the research staff erected a boxing ring.  The scent of old canvas  and stale sweat drifted through cigar smoke and broken hopes.  Young Barron paced his corner like a caged tiger.  Across the ring, small pox played it lazy, lounging against against the used ropes and smirking.  He liked to think himself a smart fighter.  A surgeon.  He didn’t think young Barron–all wishes and brawling attitude–stood a chance.  He would operate on the whelp.

He was fucking wrong.

The bell rang and young Barron waded out for Round One.  Small pox hung on the outskirts, testing his range with slow jabs…

(Editor’s Note: Yeah.  It’s ridiculous, right?  No man living or dead could ever have a fist fight with small pox.  Because small pox is a germ, and not a person.  Bet you feel superior for figuring out that little puzzle, huh?  Bet you think this is just bullshit.  Tall tales.  Well, fuck you.  You haven’t lived Laird Barron’s Secret Life!)

…crushing overhand right!

Small pox fell apart like a starter-junkie come payday.

Laird Barron took his reward from the United States Government in the form of whiskey and flapjacks.  The CDC initiated a cover-up to explain the sudden departure of a modern day plague, giving the growing inoculation market a nice little boost.

Laird Barron was not seen for another seven years.  It was suggested in some circles that he may have been hibernating, waiting for the next threat to mankind.

What happened next is really amazing….

Bram Stoker Award Nomination

Well, the Stoker Award final ballot was released today, and I wasn’t quite prepared for the shock of one category.

Superior Achievement in SHORT FICTION
RETURN TO MARIABRONN by Gary Braunbeck (Haunted Legends)
THE FOLDING MAN by Joe R. Lansdale (Haunted Legends)
1925: A FALL RIVER HALLOWEEN by Lisa Mannetti (Shroud Magazine #10)
IN THE MIDDLE OF POPLAR STREET by Nate Southard (Dead Set: A Zombie Anthology)
FINAL DRAFT by Mark W. Worthen (Horror Library IV)

Just… wow.  Can I say, ‘Wow?’  It’s an honor.  I’ve hoped for an official Stoker nomination for years, but never did I dream it would come in the short fiction category.  That’s where the real competition usually sets up camp.  I think about the folks who’ve won that award or have been nominated, and I can’t help but feel a little overwhelmed.

The rest of the nominees are below.  I just want to take a second to say congratulations to everybody.  You all deserve it!

Superior Achievement in a NOVEL
HORNS by Joe Hill (William Morrow)
ROT AND RUIN by Jonathan Maberry (Simon & Schuster)
DEAD LOVE by Linda Watanabe McFerrin (Stone Bridge Press)
APOCALYPSE OF THE DEAD by Joe McKinney (Pinnacle)
DWELLER by Jeff Strand (Leisure/Dark Regions Press)
A DARK MATTER by Peter Straub (DoubleDay)

Superior Achievement in a FIRST NOVEL
BLACK AND ORANGE by Benjamin Kane Ethridge (Bad Moon Books)
A BOOK OF TONGUES by Gemma Files (Chizine Publications)
CASTLE OF LOS ANGELES by Lisa Morton (Gray Friar Press)
SPELLBENT by Lucy Snyder (Del Rey)

Superior Achievement in LONG FICTION
THE PAINTED DARKNESS by Brian James Freeman (Cemetery Dance)
DISSOLUTION by Lisa Mannetti (Deathwatch)
MONSTERS AMONG US by Kirstyn McDermott (Macabre: A Journey through Australia’s Darkest Fears)
THE SAMHANACH by Lisa Morton (Bad Moon Books)
INVISIBLE FENCES by Norman Prentiss (Cemetery Dance)

Superior Achievement in an ANTHOLOGY
DARK FAITH edited by Maurice Broaddus and Jerry Gordon (Apex Publications)
HORROR LIBRARY IV edited by R.J. Cavender and, Boyd E. Harris (Cutting Block Press)
MACABRE: A JOURNEY THROUGH AUSTRALIA’S DARKEST FEARS edited by Angela Challis and Marty Young (Brimstone Press)
HAUNTED LEGENDS edited by Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas (Tor)
THE NEW DEAD edited by Christopher Golden (St. Martin’s Griffin)

Superior Achievement in a COLLECTION
OCCULTATION by Laird Barron (Night Shade Books)
BLOOD AND GRISTLE by Michael Louis Calvillo (Bad Moon Books)
FULL DARK, NO STARS by Stephen King (Simon and Schuster)
THE ONES THAT GOT AWAY by Stephen Graham Jones (Prime Books)
A HOST OF SHADOWS by Harry Shannon (Dark Regions Press)

Superior Achievement in NONFICTION
TO EACH THEIR DARKNESS by Gary A. Braunbeck (Apex Publications)
THE CONSPIRACY AGAINST THE HUMAN RACE by Thomas Ligotti (Hippocampus Press)
WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE by Jonathan Maberry and Janice Gable Bashman (Citadel)
LISTEN TO THE ECHOES: THE RAY BRADBURY INTERVIEWS by Sam Weller (Melville House Publications)

Superior Achievement in a POETRY collection
DARK MATTERS by Bruce Boston (Bad Moon Books)
WILD HUNT OF THE STARS by Ann K. Schwader (Sam’s Dot)
DIARY OF A GENTLEMAN DIABOLIST by Robin Spriggs (Anomalous Books)
VICIOUS ROMANTIC by Wrath James White (Bandersnatch Books)

Norm Partridge lays down the wisdom

Over on his excellent blog, American Frankenstein, Norm Partridge has spent the last week or so talking about first time novelists and what they can do in the current genre environment.  Norm covers a lot of problems I’ve been churning over in my own head, including that horrific head scratcher “What do you do when your first novel has a print run of barely 100 copies?”

So go check it out.  You’re sure to learn something as Norm lays down the wisdom…

First Novels and Micro-Runs, Part I

First Novels and Micro-Runs, Part II

Putting You First Novel to Work

The Magic Bullet

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. 

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.

Austin Comic Con

This weekend, I’ll be appearing at the first Austin Comic Con.  I’ll be helping man the STAPLE! booth with Christ “Uncle Staple” Nicholas and a few others. I’ll have copies of just about everything, so stop by and help me pay for lunch.

Also, Friday night I’ll be popping into Club Deville to check out the live art show.  You could do a lot worse for entertainment.