Monday, October 27, 2014

Horror Nerds Check Out Mick Garris Interviews on Youtube

So one of the best ways I learned about writing Genre fiction in the early days was reading and re-reading interviews with the greats. Mick Garris is compiling years of interviews some old some new with the greats in the horror genre. Check it out. Also if you search my blog you'll find a review of his excellent book Development hell.

Book Review: The Specimen by Pete Kahle

The Specimen by Pete Kahle

489 pages Self-published

This review doesn’t make me feel great, I have only met the author through the internet but Pete and I have talked a few times and I think he is a cool cat. I was really looking forward to reading this because I like Pete’s taste in novels and film and thought the concept was cool.

The Specimen is a science fiction horror novel about a very SLOW alien invasion that has happened against the back drop of human history. For thousands of years these body snatcher like aliens referred to as Riders have been influencing our history and infiltrating our species. Most of the narrative takes place in modern New England after group of urban explorers find a jar with an alien rider intact in a closed insane asylum . The Asylum has a history that ties back to the ancient conflict that goes back to events that are explained in interludes.

There are moments of good writing and the story is very cool one. I loved the concept and think there is a good epic here. I give Kahle credit for being ambitious, but I don’t think this book ultimately does its job of telling the story. I finished reading it, but had I not been given a review copy I doubt I would have lasted past the first 150 pages.

The first warning sign should have been three page list of characters at the front of the book. I referred to it often because the characters blended together for me. I kept thinking of The Stand I don’t remember no matter how characters were introduced needing a list.

Many of the characters get their own narrative thread, infact that was an issue I had. This book never built up narrative steam for two reasons. New characters were added constantly and when it did swing around it was broken up with “articles”, journal entries or Classified files. It told the story sure but each non-narrative device (like articles or files) forced the reader out of the story momentum. The disjointed story in that sense never was able to grab my interest.

This review hurt me to write because Kahle’s dedication to telling this story bleeds off the page. I am sure this style works for some. It could be argued that the master Stephen King used this style in Carrie, but that was a shorter book and tactic was used much more sparingly.

There is sequel in the works, I think Kahle has a cool concept to work with but I personally didn’t like the style of writing. When He tells a straight story I enjoyed it. I could see the talent and ability. A more straight narrative in the sequel and the concept is cool enough I will give it a shot.

New At The Gates Album!

AT THE GATES - From Swedan is easily one of my favorite metal bands of all time. Broken up for almost a decade and they have a new album. While it is not Slaughter of the Soul (how could it match one of the best albums ever), At War with Reality is a solid Gates Record. The video is for the song that liked the best too.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Book Review: Three Chords of Chaos by James Chambers

Three Chords of Chaos by James Chambers
The Bad-Ass Faerie Tale Series

Paperback, 154 pages

Published May 24th 2013 by Dark Quest (first published April 21st 2013)

A few years back I went to the borderlands writer’s boot camp. I met several fantastic and talented young writers but the one who impressed me the most was James Chambers. I made sure I got his short story collection Ressurection House from Dark Regions. I was really excited to read this short book in the Bad-Ass Faerie series which I believe started in an anthology which these characters first appeared.

3COC is the story of Gorge who is a wizard thrown out from another realm called the Kingdom. He gathers magic by playing in rock/punk bands and taking energy from the audience. Other bands want to him to jam with them, record labels want to sign him. Using the tropes of classic Faerie tales Chambers does a fantastic job of spinning them in punk setting. I of course enjoyed his take.

The writing is evocative and does a good job getting the feeling of a live show. Chambers uses the structure of a song to plot this book. It is a neat gimmick that works perfectly. It has a couple cool bonuses like lyrics to the songs, a playlist and cool afterword. One of the reasons I write punk fiction myself is because punk is hardly ever depicted even close to realistic. Thankfully not a problem here.

Big thumbs up. It’s short but powerfully written and a fun read that is weird and like nothing else I have ever read.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Interview: John Shirley on his new historical western!

John Shirley is the author of several of my favorite novels and Collections, including Demons; Crawlers; City Come A-Walkin’; Really, Really, Really, Really, Weird Stories; and the classic cyberpunk trilogy A Song Called Youth: Eclipse, Eclipse Penumbra, and Eclipse Corona. He is the recipient of the Horror Writers Association’s Bram Stoker Award and won the International Horror Guild Award for his collection Black Butterflies. Shirley has fronted punk bands and written lyrics for his own music, as well as for Blue Oyster Cult and other groups. A principal screenwriter for The Crow, Shirley now devotes most of his time to writing for television and film.

This interview done 9/29/14 over e-mail.

David Agranoff: John, can you give us the idea behind this novel?

John Shirley: Besides being a novel intending to capture something of what the frontier, the Wild West, might really have been like, it's also about providing a balanced view of Wyatt Earp.

People tend to vilify or deify him. He's either a villain or a hero. Recently Larry McMurtry published a novel that vilified him, based on very 1960s style prejudices. I am setting the record as straight as fiction can set it. I did a lot of research. He was a man with a dark side but he was always trying to work for the community--in his way. Except when he lost his way. We all lose our way. He was brave as any man in the old west, and as Bat Masterson said, "If you want to know the true story of the West, ask Wyatt Earp. But he's not telling."

DA: Have you always wanted to write a western? What was it about this real life historical figure that inspired you to tell his story? JS: I grew up with westerns. They are romances for males, in a sense. They tend to depict idealized maleness. I wanted to be more ideal than I was! But also Earp's steely eyed determination has its own strange poetry to it. And that drew me...And the people around him! Bat Masterson, Doc Holliday, the Earp Brothers. And others I reveal in this novel--colorful characters few know had connections with Earp...

DA: How did your ideas of the man change from doing the research?

JS: Earp lost whatever sainthood I might have cherished for him, but I also saw him as courageous, resourceful, always willing to start anew, never giving up, a true frontiersman who, as he matured, learned that *community* was worth fighting for. But he was a man who was, to cold fury and the desire for a reckoning, as a lightning rod is for lightning. And that is something that drew me. For there is little justice in the world.

DA: Did getting into the head of the man in writing further influence your thinking on the man?

JS: Of course. I thought of him as a human being, with a need for love, and acceptance, and with a desire for success, and a love of family--and above all, a man who knew regret. He regretted his early association with the prostitution industry. He also had issues with addiction--to drink and gambling. So he gave up drink. But never quite gambling.

DA: “The Land didn’t need Laws but the people did.” A line from the novel I liked can you tell me what this statement says about the period?

JS: It would have seemed obvious to people in the East but in the west, where laws were weakly enforced, it mattered more. It came galloping up in relevance! People are unaware of their true selves, barely in control of themselves--they need laws until they have an inner compass. Few do.

DA: The western style action is well done and adds to the tone can you tell us about how you approached it?

JS: I researched it --read a good many books about the wild west, joined the Wild West history association, researched guns at the time, read accounts by Bat Masterson--who was there!--and then used my imagination to try to sense how it would be in real life. DA: I remember You saying when you wrote your Batman novel it was like dressing up and playing batman as kids do. Did this feel similar despite the serious tone of a lot of the novel?

JS: No this is more serious than the Batman novel. I was more serious with the Batman novel than you imply really, but Wyatt in Wichita is trying to capture something real. The sweat, blood, determination, heat, cold, the fall of the cards, the staggering of the drunks--the wild west. Serious stuff to me.

DA: There is a lot of elements of weather and environment – something I think is important to Westerns what did you achieve the feeling of the old west?

JS: I live in the new west, have traveled through the midwest, have been to Tombstone, but most of all--research. Reading accounts of pioneers, newspaper descriptions, biographies of Earp and many others. Masterson and Wild Bill Hickok and many others. You get a feel for it. Also remember--they did not have air conditioning, or electric fans, or central heating or cars, or trucks. They had a few planks and a potbellied stove at best, on a winter's night; they had little shade and intemperate weather. But they felt the exhilaration of freedom...

DA: This is a less famous moment in the man’s life, what was it that inspired you to work on this period of his life?

JS: Because it hadn't been done before! And because it was the making of Earp the man, as opposed to Earp the reluctant gunfighter of Tombstone...Wyatt in Wichita is in a period that's closer to the origins of his character.

DA: Any chance you’ll write a purely fictional Western?

JS: This one is partly fictional--the murder mystery is fiction. I would love to write a western straight out of my imagination. If this one sells--that'll make it possible.

DA: What is up next for you?

JS: I'm planning a near future science fiction novel called STORMLAND. I've written part of it--an early version of which appeared in Interzone magazine late last year. But I'd love to write another historical fiction. I'm at least as interested in historical drama as I am in the future.

Book Review: Wyatt in Wichita by John Shirley

Wyatt in Wichita: A Historical Novel

by John Shirley

Paperback, 320 pages

Published August 5th 2014 by Skyhorse Publishing

Wyatt in Wichita is a novel I have been reading buzz about for a long time. Being that one of my all time favorite authors was spending years working on passion project western, I had of course been intrigued. I really hate to think of authors ever as totally genre exclusive, I mean in this case John Shirley while know as both a Horror and Science Fiction writer transcends the genres everytime he writes a novel marketed in either genre.

Authors known for genre fiction have a history of writing historical novels that they consider some of their best work, and often they end up pleading with their readers to pay attention to these books. David Morrell a thriller writer known as the father of Rambo had this experience with the Last Reveille and F.Paul Wilson with Black Wind (However The Wilson novel fits into his mythos and doesn't feel like a departure to me). Each are excellent novels, and WIW clear deserves equal praise.

While it is a historical western on the surface it doesn;t seems like a departure for the writer who stories were once called Lollipops of Pain, Shirley was up to his old tricks. He delivered an intense view of the world just set in this period.

Focused on a less famous part of the legendary life of Wyatt Earp's life this novel follows a fictionalized murder case. This is a tool to explore the life of the famous sometimes Lawman sometimes gambler. While sometimes the legend paints a hero, or villain the strength of this novel is shades of grey Shirley paints with. This novel has plenty of action but it is above all a character study.

I recently read/reviewed a horror western that I thought lacked many elements needed for a successful Western I was pleased that they were all here. Period accurate action, engulfing natural landscapes that jumped off the page and characters that made me a little uncomfortable. That is a western in a nut shell.

I found myself dog earing some pages and marking some quotes that I really liked. Many of things quotes will show off the tiny details that set the western tone such as…

“It was largely a land without Borders - something that attracted him and disturbed him both. The land didn't need laws. But the people did."

“The room was quiet, for a moment, but for their breathing. Santilli waited for the order to commence shooting.”

“It was a hot day, though scarely past midmorning. When the weather turned in the Dakotas, Swinnington reflected, it turned like a marching solider doing a left face.”

Read it! Up next an interview with John Shirley about this novel...

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Interview: Award winning artist and author Alan M. Clark

One of the people I miss after moving away fro Oregon is Alan Clark. I always enjoyed talking to him at Lovecraft film fest and Bizarro con. Last spring in one of my last Eugene hang outs Alan hosting myself and few friends at his house. We spent hours looking at paintings and talking horror with someone I consider a master of the dark arts. I was a super magical experience.

So after reading Alan's most recent novel Say Anything But Your Prayers I wanted to explore the book further and Alan agreed to this interview.

David Agranoff: How did you get into dark fiction and how far back does this love go?

Alan M. Clark: My father, a neurologist, liked dark, creepy things, and we had that in common as well as a love for art of all sorts, so he was a big influence on me. The house I grew up in had a lot of medical books, remnants of my grandfather’s medical research (he was head of the anatomy department at Vanderbilt University), a lot of human bones, Indian relics, two attics and a large, damp basement full of stuff from earlier generations. Skeletons (perhaps dead from the siege known as the Battle of Nashville) were exposed in their shallow graves across the street from my home when the creek eroded away the soil that covered them. Of course I liked horror films. We had The Big Show in the afternoon on the black and white Zenith when I got home from school. With literature, I had a slower start. I didn’t read well as a child. I found it difficult. I’m still a slow reader. My father, a life-long voracious reader, was disappointed that I didn’t read much for fun. Finally, in my early teens I got better at reading and discovered Lovecraft’s work, which about that time, 1970, were being published and distributed in paperbacks. Well, that spilled out into reading all kinds of horror, science fiction, fantasy. I tended to always seek darker stuff, whatever the genre.

DA: So I just finished reading Say anything but Your Prayers. It is the second in a series. On the surface it seems like they are books about Jack the Ripper, but they are not about Jack. They are about the Ripper's victims can you give us the idea behind the entire series?

AMC: The Jack the Ripper Victims Series is about the lives of the canonical victims of the murderer—those Scotland Yard have canonized as definite victims of the same killer. There are five of them. I’ve written novels about three of them so far. Two have been released by Lazy Fascist Press, OF THIMBLE AND THREAT and SAY ANYTHING BUT YOUR PRAYERS. Hopefully, A BRUTAL CHILL IN AUGUST will come out next year. Back in the early ‘90s, I was studying up on the Whitechapel Murderer while trying to write a short story for a Ripper anthology when I discovered transcripts of the inquests of the victims and the police reports that spoke of the crime scenes, the mutilations, and the possessions found on the dead. The more I looked at what we knew about the women, the lives they led within the extreme environment of Victorian London of the time, the more interested I became in what existence was like for them emotionally and the less interested I became in who the killer was. The more I find out about London of the period, the more fantastical the place becomes in my imagination. As a real world environment in which to stage drama, especially dark fiction, it is almost beyond belief. The rapid growth of British society during the industrial revolution, the disease, the poverty, the crime, the the hazards of unfettered industry, the abusive employment practices, the amount of labor required by most just to live a meager existence, and the endurance of countless simple human beings—these are great elements for story-telling. Researching the lives of the victims is like exploration to me. I’m endlessly fascinated and frequently surprised by what I find.

DA: What is it about the victims that inspired you to think about them?

AMC: They are ordinary women of their time who in their middle-age years became single and found themselves fending for themselves within an environment in which they were considered to have little worth. Their lives didn’t start out that way, but they seemed to have outlived their welcome in their world. The novels are the stories of how they started out in life and how they struggled to remain standing as their fortunes shifted suddenly beneath their feet. The drama involved is the stuff of life. It reveals human beings for what they are, creatures simultaneously indefatigable of spirit, generosity and worthy aspirations, and dishonorable, petty and small-minded.

DA: What about the victim of Thimble and Threat and Say anything that made them different for you?

AMC: They certainly led different lives. Stride was from Sweden and spent half of her life there. She grew up on a farm and then became a prostitute in Gothenburg. We know she was given to lying. When she got to England, she had some success in life with her husband in running a coffee shop, but they lost everything and both spent time in the workhouse. After he died, she was a sometime prostitute and beggar.

Eddowes liked to sing and was a friendly woman, but had a temper. She and her husband wrote gallows ballads that they printed up and sold at public executions. She had children and tried to make a good home, but eventually broke up with her husband. Poverty and alcoholism won out and she ended on the streets.

They’re just ordinary people of their time, but they have the same emotions that we do, so we can relate to them if their characters are developed. The trick is to get at that emotion in the story and show how that drove their choices—often choices born of desperation that had something to do with what happened to them.

DA: Do you see the first completed novels as compliments to each other or totally separate?

AMC: The novels are connected—I won’t say how—but they’re also able to stand on their own. To read more than one of them is to understand the environment better, but the lives of the victims were largely different except for the ends.

DA: The title Say Anything but Your Prayers is a line of dialogue in the book but what is the story of this phrase and/or title?

AMC: As you say, it is a line of dialogue from the novel. The police had from a witness an account of seeing Stride with a man shortly before her death. The witness heard the man say to her “You would say anything but your prayers. “ Her response was to laugh. It fit nicely with the theme of her difficulty with the truth.

DA: Tells us about the research process?

AMC: There are a lot of books about Jack the Ripper. There are online resources, like the Casebook: Jack the Ripper Forum. Much of what you find there is speculation, but often well-informed speculation. There are countless Google books of the time period available. Also, because the British people were so upset about the poverty and the fast pace of change during the period, the Government had to look like they were doing something about it. They commissioned countess reports on everything: such as the cost of living, the average cost of goods, wages for all types of work, employment, treatment of laborers, nutrition, how people ate, how they cooked, clothing, housing, rents, building practices, manufacturing practices, the impoverished, types of the poor, how they scavenged, types of beggars, health issues, etc. Lots of busy work, and much of it is available for research.

DA: What do you think of the revelation of The Ripper's identity? Do you buy it? And will that information affect future books in the series?

AMC: The idea that Aaron Kosminski was the Ripper isn’t new. It’s reasonable. If you look at his history, you’ll find ample cause for alarm in what must have been his emotional development. Until a peer reviewed journal of the science used in these recent “discoveries” is published, we won’t know the truth. If we gain this information only from a book someone is trying to sell us and articles about the book, then why should we believe? For the stories I’m telling, I don’t think it matters who the killer was.

DA: I know most horror folks think of you as painter and cover artist, but as a fan of your writing what is next?

AMC: Cameron Pierce, Kirsten Alene Pierce, and I are talking about writing a group of novellas set within the Pain Doctors Facility. It’s an environment that I’ve helped develop with several other writers, and has been the focus of numerous creepy medical paintings I’ve done over the years. Previous projects involving that environment are the books, THE PAIN DOCTORS OF SUTURE SELF GENERAL and PAIN AND OTHER PETTY PLOTS TO KEEP YOU IN STITCHES. They’re sort of The Adams Family meet ER. Thanks for the interview.