Category Archives: Books

The Final Day of 33, or Summer Is Almost Over

Tomorrow I turn 34. Not a terrible number, but not as good as 26. Though I have to be honest, my 26th year was pretty bad. My thirties have definitely been better, even though I still often feel a sort of desperate need unfulfilled. But that’s neither here nor there, happy birthday (tomorrow) to me! However, along with my birthday comes The End of the Summer. People who have jobs outside of teaching and who do not have children may have forgotten what The End of the Summer is like. I know I almost did until Courtney started going to school, and then I began working at one. Next week at this time, I will be talking to a group of freshman students who will only be in my class for four-and-a-half days before a new group comes in. Don’t ask. So, for this week, I’ll continue to pretend I get to write full-time. Don’t cry for me, Argentina, because things are happening.

Anyway, I haven’t read much else since I posted my list a few weeks back. I finished Robert McCannon’s The Five, which was excellent. A rock novel with a large amount of suspense and a surprising supernatural element that reveals itself slowly, very slowly. “Is it a horror novel?” I’ve been asked. “Who cares?” is my response. It’s a damn fine novel that I recommend. It brought me through the range of emotions and the final chapter was heartbreaking and hopeful, devastating and inspiring. Read this book.

When finished with The Five, instead of focusing on either The Freelancer’s Survival Guide or The Rising (and please don’t take this as anything more than my own need at the moment) I began reading Sleepless Nights in the Procrustean Bed by Harlan Ellison. Now, if you’ve followed my blog or follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you know I love Harlan Ellison’s work (I’m pretty fond of the man, too, at least from a reader’s perspective and the two phone messages he left for me) and I felt like I needed a dose of Ellison right about now. I’ll probably be done with the slim collection of nonfiction before I have to go back to the Day Job, in which case I will focus my attention on those other two books.

Another discovery I made this summer is the BBC hit Being Human, which inspired the SyFy version that I have never seen. Being Human has some missteps in the writing here and there, but my wife and I have enjoyed it. At it’s best, it’s the relationships between the main characters I enjoy. They have a chemistry that works well. Pamela and I are into the third series and we’ll see what happens from there.

So that’s it for now. I’ll talk to you soon.

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A Vehicle for My Muse: Why I Write Horror

Why horror?

It’s a question that has been asked of me many times since I began writing in 1990, when I was thirteen. I’m not the first person to be asked that, usually with a tone of sadness. “With your talent,” I’m told, “you could write anything, yet you insist on writing horror stories.” I’ll return to that particular statement again, I promise, but for now I’d like to address that the question “Why horror?” is a common one. It can be asked in terms of a person’s viewing preferences: “Why do you like horror movies?” Reading: “Why do you read that horror stuff?” And, of course, the writing, which is what I’m going to focus on. Stephen King wrote a book in 1981 that essentially answers the question for him. It’s called Danse Macabre and I highly recommend it. But I guess each of us has our own roads to travel and I’m not Stephen King, so the question remains: Why write horror?

The question makes some assumptions. One is that I have a choice. It’s like asking me why I was born with brown hair, or why do I have so many moles? I don’t know. There’s something in me that’s just attracted to dark things. I think a part of it is because I have such a dark streak within, that has manifested itself as depression, obsessive thinking, and, at times (especially when I was younger) anger. It’s not that darkness and death and destruction is all I care about, either as a person or as a member of the audience. For most of my childhood, Star Wars and superheroes were my favorite things and I was terrified of stuff as minimal as Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video. Yet, there was also a draw to the video.

When I was nine, I announced to my mother that I was old enough to start watching “thrillers” with her, which is what she called horror movies. I discovered this because of insomnia, which opened up the world of late night cable to me, with horror movies, B action movies, and softcore porn. My parents were sleeping and in the late-1980s, there were no parental controls. Either way, shortly after my announcement, my mother watched and decided to let me watch the first two A Nightmare on Elm Street movies in a double feature on HBO. I was terrified, but I was hooked.

Horror movies became one of my favorite things and, eventually, led me to reading The Shining by Stephen King when I was 13. Some dark times began when I was twelve. Puberty had hit and I’d begun to feel sad a lot. I’d never been the popular kid in school and now it was even more blatant. A few “friends” I had made fun of me when they came over one day and saw that I had my action figures set up in mid-story. By the time I was thirteen, I was struggling with the part of me that wanted to still play but didn’t want to be a baby. For me, the action figures and role playing I would do wasn’t just playing, it was a creative outlet, a way to let out the steam that was always building within me. While the action figures remained in shoeboxes under the bed, and playtime would be behind closed doors for several years to come, on the day of my 13th birthday, upon reading the first few chapters of The Shining, I decided to become a writer.

It wasn’t far-fetched. I’d already thought about becoming a comic book writer and artist, so the idea of writing without the drawing became appealing. Now, whether I began writing horror at that age because I was reading Stephen King or because I just liked scary movies already is beyond me. Had I begun reading Isaac Asimov at that time, would I have begun writing science fiction? Or had I read Elmore Leonard, would I have written crime novels? I don’t know. What I do know is that I began writing, thereby helping myself get the stories out that I wanted to tell.

Because for me, it’s the stories. They strike me, they compel me. I’ve been the vehicle for my muse for my entire life, from the time I was small and playing with toys or role playing, to right now, where I have a novella, a novel, and several short stories in various drafts, and ideas for no fewer than eight other projects in my head, all of them compelling me to write them. I must tell stories, and I must tell these stories.

So, why horror?

Well, from a completely mercenary standpoint, that’s mostly what I’ve published so far and I’m in the position, after about a dozen years, of still building a career. One of the ways to do that is to build a brand. One of the ways to that, is to build an audience. Horror is the genre in which I began my career and it’s where, right now, many of my readers are. What money I make comes from horror or dark fantasy stories.

From a personal standpoint, well…why do I have all these moles? The stories that have compelled me to write them are darker stories. Sometimes they come from current work and inform new projects. Here’s a for-instance for ya: So I’m working on the novel Shadowed and I’m getting nowhere with it. I know that maybe half of what I’ve written for it is pretty good, the other half is garbage. I’m about to move from the Greater New Bedford area in Massachusetts to Jamaica Plain, a neighborhood in Boston, and I’ve fallen in love with J.P. I want to write something that’s set there. Maybe…a ghost story? I don’t know why, but it feels right. But what would it be? And The Voice says, Take the characters from “Snow Day” and the characters from “Mommy’s Baby Don’t Need to Grow Up” and put them together. WHAMMO! I felt compelled to see what would happen. I drop Shadowed and begin working on the novel that I’m currently in the process of revising. During a draft of the novel, I had a dream featuring two teenage girls, one beautiful and ugly on the inside, the other ugly but somewhat beautiful on the inside. The beautiful one is a bully to the ugly one. However, the ugly one has two brothers who are ne’er-do-wells who I suspect are going to do something very bad for their sister, even though she doesn’t want them to. The two girls work at a candy store. WHAMMO! Another idea. While still working on the novel, I realize I should just take the abandoned Shadowed novel and keep the good parts by making it a novella. Strangely enough, Greg Gifune contacts me around that time to see if I have a novella that Shane Staley at Delirium might look at. Shadowed is rewritten and spurs me to write the idea about the two girls, which I know is going to be dark, dark, DARK. One story begot the other. Each one compelled me to write the next.

I am powerless. Yes, I could ignore the impulse. I could say that I don’t want to write that horror stuff, but I don’t see it as stuff. I see the horror genre, when done right, when done well, as a genre with endless possibilities. I also see it as a way to look in the blackness of the human soul and ask the important: Why? I also see it as a means to look into the light of the human soul, the thing that makes us persevere, the thing that makes us try to move on from terrible, terrible things. I think it’s important to sometimes look into the darkness to appreciate the light.

“But in a world where so many terrible things happen, why focus on them?” Why not? To ignore them is to give them power. We are afraid of that which we do not know. Let’s go back to my moles. Could they be cancerous? Well, I don’t think so. But what if one of them were? What then? What if I did, indeed, have skin cancer? I’d have to fight it. No question. Just as every single person reading this would. If I don’t talk about it, what good does it do?

Not everyone will agree with me on this. Several people I love and cherish disagree with me. As a writer, though, my job is to tell a story in an honest way. Unfortunately, sometimes the stories that compel me to write them aren’t pretty. And neither is life. My job is to do what others may not be willing to: look into the darkness, traverse its caverns, and to report back what I find. The goal? Well, hopefully to make you feel better about your life. In the best of situations, you can say, “Well, if those characters were able to make it out of that, maybe I can make it out of this.” In other situations, it may be as simple as, “Damn, I’m lucky I’ve never had to deal with that.”

In the end, could I write things other than horror? Yes. I have trunk novels that include a really bad space opera and a crime novel. I have ideas for at least three science fiction tales I’d like to write, two of them based on Shakespeare plays, as well as a crime novel I’d like to write. I’d love to write an adventure story and if I were ever asked to write a media tie-in novel for Batman or Superman or Star Wars, I absolutely would. I’d still love to write for comic books, especially one-shots or stand alone miniseries featuring those superheroes. And maybe someday, if I’m ever able to write full-time, I will. Or if the opportunity presents itself, I will.

For now, though, with the limited time that I have after teaching all day (and in between classes I must take to maintain my teaching career), I have to write what compels me, and if it’s horror, well, that’s how it is. I love it, I appreciate it, and I’m not afraid of it. Well, I am afraid of it, but that’s the point.

An Appearance & Order Here!…Kinda

A quick update to say that I’ll be appearing at the Southworth Library in Dartmouth on August 11th. I’ll be joining two other writers, Lynn Kiele Bonasia and Raffi Yessayan for a “Meet the Author” fundraiser. Tickets are $20 and available at the door or by contacting Dolly Sharek at (508) 991-7222 or dsharek@comcast.net.

Also, I’ve updated my website with links to where to buy my books, both in print and ebook formats. Just go above and click on Bibliography and then Books. Or just click on the link I just gave you.

At some point, I may do a “store” page, but it’ll either be when I can afford a webmaster or change my WordPress layout. Whichever comes first.

Wait! Come Back!!

It’s July 29th already. How did that happen? Part of it is probably the old saying, “Time flies when you’re having fun.” Part of it is that I had a class so I can keep my Day Job. The class lasted until the last Monday of June, and then the following week my wife was on vacation. Anyway, this summer has been great for getting out to see movies (so far–it ain’t done yet!) and I’ve been trying to get some reading done.

Now, I’m a slow reader. It has nothing to do with comprehension, but I just get into the story and the words can melt on my tongue. So here’s what I’ve read so far this summer, or what I’ve begun this summer.

Yonder by Charles Beaumont. I don’t know when I first stumbled over Beaumont’s name, but my guess is sometime around the age of thirteen or fourteen, right after I got into reading because of Stephen King. Somewhere along the way, the name Charles Beaumont came up and took a place in my brain that was earmarked for Writers of Importance. Other names that got that treatment around that time were Richard Matheson (I Am Legend, The Legend of Hell House, The Shrinking Man), Harlan Ellison (whom I’ve written and spoken a great deal about, because he’s one of my favorites), Bradbury (whose name I’d already known because of his TV show), Robert Bloch (Psycho), and others. Anyway, I stumbled upon two Charles Beaumont collections, Night Ride and Yonder at a book fair, 25 cents apiece, back around 2002/2003. I read Night Ride around Christmastime 2008 and loved it. Well, I finally got to Yonder this summer. I didn’t love it as much as I did Night Ride, but I did love it. What amazes me is how Beaumont seemed to be ahead of his time in many ways. His work is still relevant. “The Monster Show” could still happen. And there are others that I could go into but won’t. See if you can find Beaumont’s work. I still have some of his books to collect myself.

Game of Secrets by Dawn Tripp. This book is one of two on this short list that I have a small personal connection to. I say that not to sound more important than I am (I know where I stand) but so get that out, and to let you know that my recommendation is not colored by knowing them. Dawn I first met back in 2003. I did my first reading at a local independent bookstore along with three other writers, one of them being Dawn. At the time, she had only one novel published, Moon Tide. In 2005 her second novel, The Season of Open Water, was published. At that time, she had come into the bookstore (I worked there) several times and we’d become friendly. I don’t remember how it happened, but I asked her to read a draft of Alice on the Shelf, and she gave some great feedback. Game of Secrets is a beautifully written novel, which is a consistent thing with Dawn. All of her novels are beautiful, she cares about the language and it shows. Her lyrical prose is a delight to read. Game is about secrets and there are plenty of them. Some have called it a mystery, and I suppose it is, but it’s certainly not the kind of mystery one thinks of when they hear the term. For my money, you don’t buy this novel for the mystery, but for the beauty in the writing. The characters are interesting and it sweeps you in. I happily recommend it.

Ursa Major by John R.Little. I’ve written before about John’s work. John is one of my earliest supporters and I can’t say how honored I am by this. I love John’s writing. I still say his novella Placeholders is one of the best things I’ve read in the past few years. John was instrumental in helping me get Alice on the Shelf published, which is something I’m very thankful for. Still, if I didn’t love the book, I wouldn’t recommend it. But I can recommend Ursa Major. It’s a very different novella than John’s last few novellas. There’s not an element of the supernatural in this short, harsh book. As is often the case, John makes you care about his characters in record time and unleashes a monster on them immediately. The cover shows you the monster. I loved it and highly recommend it.

The following are books I’ve begun but haven’t finished yet:

The Rising by Brian Keene. I shouldn’t be writing about this book because I’ve hardly gotten into it. This has been my beach book. First I was reading Yonder and I didn’t want to ruin it on the beach. Then I was reading Game of Secrets, which Dawn signed to me and Pamela, so I didn’t want the beach to ruin that. And I didn’t really feel like bringing my Nook, which I’m reading another book that I’ll mention next on. So The Rising was chosen. In the years since the novel exploded on the scene and made Brian Keene the wunderkind of small press horror, I sadly admit I’ve never read his work. I’ll qualify that by saying I must have read a short story of his here or there, but so far I hadn’t read any of his books. I own not only The Rising, but an advance readers copy of Terminal, and also Darkness on the Edge of Town, but hadn’t read any. (The fact that two of his novels share titles to Springsteen albums/songs makes me think we have something in common in terms of a favorite musician). So I grabbed The Rising and began reading it on the beach. Wow. As I said, I’m not very far into the book but it has grabbed me by the throat already.

The Freelancer’s Survival Guide by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. This is the book I’m reading on my Nook ereader. I think I was first hipped to Rusch’s blog by the same title by someone on my Facebook wall last summer. I didn’t read it every week but decided to wait until it was in book form. I’m about halfway through and I’m finding it interesting and helpful. I can recommend it.

The Five by Robert McCammon. I only began reading this novel this week. Like Brian Keene, I’ve never read McCammon before, though I’ve been very aware of him (I own a couple of his books). And like Keene’s novel, I’m not very far into this book but–damn!–it’s got me hooked. I don’t know much about what it’s about but it has had some great reviews and I’m loving that it’s about rock ‘n roll. On a sad note, this is that last book I bought from Borders.

So that’s what I’ve read (or what I’m reading) so far this summer. I would check them out.

EBooks & Radio Nowhere

EBooks

Spring is here and here in Southeastern Massachusetts, this past week has been a picture of the new season. Temperatures have been in the high 30s and low 40s, and we even had a small snowstorm. Glorious, really. But true sunshine and warmth came this week with the announcement that my novella Shadowed has been released in ebook. It’s available in formats for your Kindle, Nook, iPad, Sony Reader, and many other devices, including your computer. So if you haven’t ordered the signed, limited edition mini-hardcover, or if you’ve ordered the handsome collectible hardcover and don’t want to sully it by actually reading it (which is silly, because it’s, you know, a book and all), you have a nice digitized version to read.

Alice on the Shelf is still available in its trade paperback format as well as an ebook format. I strongly urge you to get the paperback because, truthfully, I think it’s a beautifully laid-out paperback, but if you’re into the book being easy to store and easy to carry, the ebook is fine, too.

Radio Nowhere

So, last Saturday night I was sitting on the couch half-comatose. Read the rest of this entry

Shadowed Shipping, More Alice… Reviews & Ebooks

Things are so busy…

Word is out that Shadowed is shipping and has arrived in some places. I believe the official release of the book is next week, pre-orders have been available since January, so order yours now before it sells out. The ebook will be available around the same time.

Speaking of ebooks, Alice on the Shelf was released as an ebook from Bad Moon Books and Crossroad Press. It’s available at Crossroad Press, in several versions. You can also order it through Barnes & Noble for the Nook and Amazon.com for the Kindle and, and, and…

And speaking of Alice on the Shelf, two new reviews hit the internet this week. A review by Peter Schwotzer has appeared in several different places. Also, Colleen Wanglund wrote a review for The Horror Fiction Review, which is a little more than halfway down the page.

Aside from all that, I finished the novella I was working on and it’s been put aside to rest awhile before reading, editing, rewriting. Right now it weighs in at 28,800 words. Now I’m editing my novel Echoes on the Pond. I’m hoping to be able to begin rewriting within a month. Unfortunately, I’m taking a class right now for the day job, and there’ll only be more of that in the future. Still, work is getting done.

My wife and I had the pleasure of seeing Anthony Bourdain and Chef Eric Ripert in Boston last week. I am a big fan of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations on the Travel Channel as well as Bpurdain’s book Kitchen Confidential. I haven’t read his book Medium Raw yet, but mean to soon. We truly enjoyed the night.

So, folks, that’s about it right now. I’ll talk to you later.

 

Alice and Shadowed Updates

I received word the other day that Alice on the Shelf should be back from the printer this coming week. I assume the books will begin shipping from there.

Also, there were only thirty-something copies of Shadowed to be spoken for on Thursday of this past week, so it’s heading on its way to selling out. Get your copy while you still can. Remember, Shadowed will be part of Delirium’s novella line, which you can get either by itself or as part of a book club subscription. Delirium’s books usually become sought-after collectibles and, at $25 dollars, this signed & numbered limited edition mini-hardcover is a steal. Speaking of it being signed, the signature sheets are on their way.

So that’s it for now. I’ll be posting soon about things other than these two books. Later.

Shadowed Up for Pre-Order

Well, it’s official: My novella Shadowed is now up for pre-order from Delirium Books. It is available as a limited edition  mini-hardcover for $25. It will also be available as an ebook for $4.95.

If you click on the link above and go to Delirium’s Shadowed page, there will be a link for the Delirium Forums topic.

Shadowed will be shipping on March 15th.

Here is the link to Horror Mall’s order page.

And don’t forget about my novella Alice on the Shelf, available from Bad Moon Books.

The book is a trade paperback that costs $17.95. You can pre-order it at Horror Mall here, or you can pre-order the book directly from the publisher here for $16. Alice on the Shelf is due out this month.

Also, Sheri White reviewed the novella at The Bag & the Crow.

So that’s the news. If you’ve ordered (or pre-ordered) the book, drop me a line.

One Week Until Pre-Orders for Shadowed

Just a quick reminder than it’s just about a week until Delirium Books will begin taking pre-orders for Shadowed. So if you have some Christmas money that you’re not sure what to do with, that’s one idea. Also, check out Delirium’s Book Club page, which is making an offer that’s too good to be true.

No News Is Good News…Unless You Want News

I know…I’m pretty bad at this whole blogging thing (with social networking/media in general), but I always begin with good intentions. This is pretty much just a musing entry because I feel like writing to an actual audience however big or (most likely) small I have here.

My last post was a short memoir about The Shining. I wrote it on my birthday and began the book shortly afterward. Reading The Shining at 33 is different than reading it at 23 and definitely different than reading it at 13. I’m actually older than King was when he wrote it (a fact not lost on me when I look at the 760+ manuscript pages of Echoes on the Pond laying at my feet, and the amount of short story drafts I have waiting for my critical eye and editing pen, both of which I will get to here). I saw some flaws in the writing this time around. Minor ones, but ones that would plague a young writer. I also saw (as I did when I reread Carrie and ‘Salem’s Lot in recent years) the raw talent and storytelling chomps that would later be refined. The Shining still enthralled me and entertained me. I’d forgotten some key plot points over the years. It’ll be interesting to see what I think about the book in ten another ten years.

As I wrote here previously, I’ve been somewhat disturbed by my lack of publishing credits, even my writing schedule. I’ve been reading the first draft of Echoes on the Pond (which goes by the horrendous working title Night Daughters) and don’t have much more of the book to read, then I’ll be editing/rewriting the book. I have a novella in the works, too. And then there are two more novellas I wish to write, one is a rewrite/overhaul of an abandoned novel that grew from a short story that James Beach wanted to include in Catalysts (mysterious, no?). These two novellas are sort of thematic sequels (actually, a thematic prequel and thematic sequel) to Echoes on the Pond. The first novella of which I spoke is secret and may never see the light of day.

I recently went looking at my writing files and realized I have almost a book-worth of  unpublished, in-need-of-editing short stories. This discovery was horrific. I knew I was picky about my own short work, but this is silly. And since most of them were written between 2003 and this year, there might just be some salvageable tales in them. So I’m planning to begin going through them one at a time. Reading them, have my wife read them, and then edit them and submit them to fiction markets. It’s high time I got out of this funk I’ve been in. And with Alice on the Shelf due out anytime, I guess striking while the iron is hot is the best thing to do.

I’ll try to post more here in the future with thoughts, anecdotes, etc. And, of course, I’ll always let you know when there’s news.

Later.

The Shining: A Love Story

On August 23, 1990, I was flipping through the channels when I came across this:

The strange thing about finding this on that night, some twenty years ago, was that the next day was my 13th birthday and my father was going to bring me to our local mall for me to spend my cash gift. I had already planned on going to Waldenbooks because I’d seen an omnibus of the Star Wars Trilogy novelizations.

See, I wasn’t much of a reader but I was curious and thought that I would whet my appetite with something I was quite familiar with. But after I watched the PrimeTime Live segment on Stephen King, I thought that maybe I’d attempt one of his books.

So we went to the mall and I stood in the horror section looking at all the different books. By this time, I was already a fan of horror movies, which is how I knew King’s name, and had seen pieces of The Shining on Cinemax during one of my many bouts with insomnia back then. I had even attempted to borrow a copy of Pet Sematary from the library a few months prior but the old lady librarian had stopped me.

Because of the movie, and because I thought it might be cool, I bought The Shining.

Twenty years ago today, I got home, opened my paperback copy of The Shining, and began reading. I was with Jack Torrence in the basement of the Overlook Hotel as he was being shown around by the summer caretaker, and I had a sort of out-of-body experience. Here I was, newly 13, reading a book that had so far a lot of talking about a goddamn hotel and I was riveted. The me standing there watching thought: I want to be a writer so some 13-year-old kid who doesn’t read will want to read more.

I credit several things for thinking I could even try. You see, filmmaking seemed so far off for someone like me then. Digital filmmaking, if it existed, was so young that it wasn’t talked about often. Living in the armpit of Massachusetts, the idea of doing that seemed ridiculous. But writing…well…

1) The PrimeTime Live video shows King at a typewriter, typing away. Now I can see clearly that it was a shot meant for affect, but the shot burned itself in my brain. Here was a guy sitting a typewriter, working. I dug that.

2) Both the segment and the brief author bio at the back of the book said King lived in Maine. Maine, I knew, was north of Massachusetts and even worse in terms of opportunities in entertainment. At least Massachusetts had Boston!

3) King wrote in a way I understood. He used words I used (and when I didn’t know a word, I could usually figure it out). I dug his story but I also dug the way his characters spoke and the way he spoke in the telling of his story.

I don’t know that it was that day, but soon I had set up two or three milk crates, put a Royal Quiet de Luxe on them, and began writing. I was 13 years old.

I reread The Shining ten years ago. I was still recovering from emergency surgery. This time, I was a father of a two-year-old and newly married.

So now, ten years after my second reading, twenty years after the day my life took a new turn, I begin, again, The Shining by Stephen King.

***

Weird Facts:

  • The Shining was published in 1977, the year I was born. One web resource said the book was published in January, I was born in August.
  • 13 years later, in 1990, I read the book for the first time.
  • 13 years after I first read The Shining and began writing, my story “The Growth of Alan Ashley” was published alongside King’s novella “Stationary Bike” in the award-winning anthology Borderlands 5.
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