Dreadful Tales Book Club – July-August 2013 Edition

NOS4A2Join us this month at Dreadful Tales and The Mortuary as we take the latest novel by Joe Hill for a spin…

Fans of horror literature will be well aware that Joe is the progeny of Stephen King but may not know that he is a prodigy as well and this his third novel is already being lauded by critics as one of the best books of the year.

NOS4A2 is a spine-tingling novel of supernatural suspense from master of horror Joe Hill, the New York Times bestselling author of Heart-Shaped Box and Horns.

Victoria McQueen has a secret gift for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. On her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike, she makes her way to a rickety covered bridge that, within moments, takes her wherever she needs to go, whether it’s across Massachusetts or across the country.

Charles Talent Manx has a way with children. He likes to take them for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the NOS4A2 vanity plate. With his old car, he can slip right out of the everyday world, and onto the hidden roads that transport them to an astonishing – and terrifying – playground of amusements he calls “Christmasland.”

Then, one day, Vic goes looking for trouble—and finds Manx. That was a lifetime ago. Now Vic, the only kid to ever escape Manx’s unmitigated evil, is all grown up and desperate to forget. But Charlie Manx never stopped thinking about Victoria McQueen. He’s on the road again and he’s picked up a new passenger: Vic’s own son.

Exclusive to the print editions of NOS4A2 are more than 15 illustrations by award-winning Locke & Key artist Gabriel Rodríguez.”

NOS4A2 Is available wherever good books are sold and also in the usual eBook formats.

As a one off we have decided to extend the reading period for NOS4A2 to include August as well as it is such a beautiful behemoth of a book!

-Dark Mark

Savage Species Part One: Night Terrors by Jonathan Janz Unleashed TODAY!

night-terrors-savage-species

This is the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Today, part one of Jonathan Janz’ (and Samhain Horror’s) first serialized novel Savage Species, “Night Terrors,” is unleashed on the public FOR FREE! You read that right, fiends. Part one of this five part series is available today for zero dollars. The other 4 enthrallments (as Dark Mark lovingly calls them) will be available thereafter every two weeks. These five enthrallments feature blood thirsty beasts, bodacious babes, and horrific carnage. A new story being released every two weeks means this is gonna be the best summer ever for horror fiction fans. But, Meli, you ask, who wants to spend their summer with their nose in a book? To which I say, I think you’re at the wrong website, brah.

Dark Mark dubbed this series Dreadfully Approved in his review of the first three parts of the Savage Species series which I would encourage you to read here. Janz was kind enough to answer some of Dark Mark’s questions as well, so be sure to check that out.

You can pick up your copy of “Night Terrors” for FREE FREE FREE today at the Samhain Horror website in various digital formats or Amazon.com.

Be sure to follow Jonathan Janz on Twitter, friend him on Facebook, and keep up with everything Janz on his website.

You can also follow Samhain Horror on Twitter, like them on Facebook, and check out their website for all the horror that’s fit to print.

 -Meli

Dreadful Tales Book Club – June 2013 Edition

Pork Knuckles_Apocalypse CowMeat is murder at Dreadful Tales and The Mortuary this month! Or, more accurately, meat is murdering.

We have two kick ass titles to read for June that both involve farm animals striking back at humans. We have the slime-spewing psychic psycho pig Pork Knuckles in MP Johnson’s novella The After-Life Story of Pork Knuckles Malone (Bizarro Pulp Press, February 2013). And we also have cows out for blood not cud in Michael Logan’s novel Apocalypse Cow (St. Martin’s Press, May 2013).

porknucklesYou can pick up Johnson’s novella The After-Life Story of Pork Knuckles Malone here in paperback format or for Kindle. I’ve already read this one, but I plan on reading along with y’all again. Here is the review I posted yesterday on Dreadful Tales. The short version is I love this story. It’s bizarre but sweet, disgusting and hilarious often all at the same time.

You can friend MP Johnson on Facebook, follow him on Twitter, and check out his website (which is also a DIY zine) Freak Tension to keep up with all his fiction and non-fiction shenanigans.

This is my first time reading Apocalypse Cow, but I apocalypse cowcan tell at only the 50 page mark that this will be a fun ride. I mistakenly read this at lunch today. Right at the point where an abattoir worker is describing how this epidemic started – with a cow gnashing its teeth, chewing its mouth into a pulpy mess, and shooting bloody snot rockets at the slaughterhouse worker – I was biting into a delicious Meatloaf Manhattan. A beautiful, thick piece of meatloaf resting atop a soft slice of white bread with mash potatoes on the side and drowned in gravy. Despite feeling just a little sick after reading that passage I pressed on and finished my meal like a good girl. Hope it doesn’t kill me!

You can pick up a copy of Michael Logan’s Apocalypse Cow here. Doesn’t look like it’s available for cheap on kindle, but the paperback is quite affordable.

Like Mr. Logan on Facebook, follow him on Twitter, and check out his website.

I hope you will join us for this fun filled month of meat and mayhem! Don’t forget to stop by The Mortuary to chat with the gang about this month’s books here.

-Meli

N0S4A2 by Joe Hill

51783ed84aeda.preview-300I’m in awe of Joe Hill.

Few authors today continue to impress me book after book. Perhaps it’s  a cynical view, but I generally start each new book expecting disappointment. i’m going to have to rethink that approach.

If you have yet to introduce yourself to Hill’s writing, you have no viable excuse. His previous outings, including Horns, Heart Shaped Box, and the short story collection 20th Century Ghosts, have rightly secured him in the company of today’s strongest horror writers. Like his contemporary peers, Hill knows horror isn’t just about monsters – it’s about life, it’s about love; and it’s about characters we, as readers, gravitate towards – flaws and all.

It’s an approach he exercises well in his newest presentation, N0S4A2 (work it out, it’ll come to you).

A proper summary of this hefty tome’s plot is difficult, admittedly. Hill introduces one of his most likable characters in the form of Vic McQueen, a spunky kid with an odd ability to travel anywhere via and old, dilapidated covered bridge and her bike. That gift – if that’s what it is – seems more like a curse, lands her in the cross-hairs of Charles Manx, a notorious child killer who collects children to take them off to the mystical Christmasland. Manx is anything but a Jolly Old Elf as he travels the countryside along with his Renfield-like henchman, Bing, dispatching parents and killing kids. And once the kids are killed, they become creepy, soulless remnants of their former selves.

However, at its heart, N0S4A2 is an examination of dysfunction, mainly that of families. We watch Vic grow from that adventure-seeking tot to a recovering drug and alcohol addict who struggles not just with the demon that Manx is, but also with the personal demons present with addiction; an estranged son who joins her in her quest; and a marriage that seemed plagued with failure from its beginning.

It’s here that Hill shines. His depiction of a mother trying to reconnect with her son while also realizing a past she thought was nothing more than a twisted dread is, in fact, reality, is not only believable, but is also fraught with a raw emotion seldom seen in today’s fiction.

Don’t assume that means Hill has skimped on the scares in return for sentimental scenes, though. This man knows how to paint mental images that are burned onto your frontal lobe and will bore through your brain like a slow burn.

Bastard.

I refuse to get into Hill’s lineage and gene pool, but let’s say readers in the know – which should be just about everyone these days – may find themselves forgetting just whose book they’re devouring. That’s meant as a compliment, not a cop out.

Book are made to last, not just in their physical form, but in the mental state of the reader as well. Hill either knows this, or just has the knack for presenting his readers with a universe that fully envelopes them and sticks with them long after that last page is lingered over.

N0S4A2 won’t be leaving your memory any time soon and, let’s hope, Hill certainly won’t be exiting the horror scene in the near future if he continues to travel the path he’s on.

Savage Species by Jonathan Janz

Savage Species, the forthcoming novel by Jonathan Janz (The Sorrows, House of Skin) is a thrilling serialization in five parts. The opening of the Peaceful Valley Nature Preserve unleashes a terrifyingly rapacious evil that has lain dormant for over a century. The story has two branches one of which follows a group of young cub reporters dispatched to cover the grand opening of the park, who find themselves in the thick of the carnage that ensues, and the other which deals with a dysfunctional family whose child has been abducted by one of the titular creatures.

Having been privileged to read the first three parts, I can happily report that Janz has prepared a brutally ferocious banquet which opens with such a welter of savage violence that those with an appetite for bloody, shrieking terror will find it hard to wait for the next course. As the story progresses the tension and terror mounts and we are treated to a nail biting struggle for survival against a legion of seemingly implacable foes. There are a number of nasty surprises awaiting the hapless protagonists who have to increasingly draw upon their own untapped reservoirs of courage and ferocity in order to survive the relentless terror.

As with House of Skin one of the great strengths of the novel is the attention Janz lavishes upon his characters, it is something which grounds the story as the reader is thrust into a maelstrom of fantastic and dreadful, slavering terror.

This is hard, biting horror which grips from the get go and will leave you trembling in anticipation for the next enthrallment.

With publication imminent I thought I would ask Jonathan a few questions about his novel and what we can expect from him in the future.

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DARK MARK: I think the eBook format lends itself well to serialization, what prompted Samhain to publish this as their first serialization?

JONATHAN JANZ: I couldn’t agree more, Mark. I think the eBook format is ideally suited to the serial for several reasons, not the least of which is the speed with which new installments can be acquired.

As far as Samhain and its decision to publish SAVAGE SPECIES as its first serialization, I think that has to do the collaborative relationship between the higher-ups at Samhain (including Don D’Auria, my wonderful editor) and my agent Louise Fury. Of course Louise works with several different publishers and editors, but she has a great relationship with the folks at Samhain.

Louise posed the idea of a serialized horror novel, and Don (and the rest of the decision-makers) loved it. They then approached me and asked if I had anything in progress that would lend itself well to the serial format. It happened that I was working on a novel then titled NATIVE that was quite different than the other novels I’d written. Previously, I’d worked with ghosts, demons, and other otherworldly villains, but in NATIVE I was working with something a bit different. There were supernatural aspects to the villains, but they were certainly more tangible than ghosts or demons.

Anyway, I felt the story was perfectly suited to the serial format. It was fast-moving, wild, and full of twists and turns. I’d written about sixty percent of it already, but even the stuff I’d written without thinking about serialization was ideal for the serial format. I told Louise and Don that the book I was writing would be perfect for serialization, and when they heard about it, they agreed. Then I completed the novel with serialization in mind. The five-act structure ended up working, in large part due to the gut punches and hooks that occurred near the beginnings and ends of those five acts.

Eventually, the title changed to SAVAGE SPECIES (thankfully, and with the help of honest opinions from Don and Louise), and I couldn’t be happier with the way everything turned out.

DM: The creatures in the novel appear to have stalked from native American mythology, how much of them is based upon the legends of the Algonquian peoples?

JJ: Mythology is fascinating. In preparing for SAVAGE SPECIES, I read voraciously of Native American mythology (especially Algonquian and Iroquois legends), as well as a great many other stories (most notably Algernon Blackwood’s “The Wendigo”). And while I owe a huge debt to those sources, what I tried to do—what I always try to do—is to take the existing myths in new and unexpected directions. The Wendigo is one of the scariest and most mysterious legends, which made it great fun to explore. The taboo of cannibalism plays a large role in many of the Wendigo myths, so I wanted to explore that concept too. Not everyone would agree with this, but there are aspects of the Wendigo myth that relate to some of the best-known subgenres of horror, particularly the zombie tale. So while I definitely and consciously utilized the Native American myths to which you’re referring, I also tried to add some new or different ideas to the existing mythology.

At the heart of the Wendigo myth, I think, is the fear of the known becoming the unknown, the fear that there’s something malevolent out there, and even worse, the possibility that it could carry away and change someone you know. The Algonquians and others explored those ideas long before I did, and I learned a great deal from them during my research.

DM: I find your characters to be very well fleshed out and believable, how important do you think this is to a work of fantastic horror fiction?

JJ: Thank you! I can’t tell you how much that means. If you ask me what matters in a story, I’d give you the generic answer: “Everything.” But if you put a gun to my head and tell me to pick one facet of a story that absolutely must work, I’ll say characterization. And as you sort of alluded to in your question, it’s as important and perhaps even more important for the characterization to be strong in a horror story.

We’ve all heard the phrase “suspension of disbelief.” For readers to suspend disbelief for a horror novel, the characters have to not only be interesting and unique—they also have to ring true. When faced with the inexplicable, how would a person react? If the writer has done his job prior to that point, his protagonist’s reaction will not only ring true to the audience, it will essentially write itself.

Joe R. Lansdale talked about this recently, and I couldn’t agree with it more: a writer doesn’t have to carry around a handy-dandy bag of mix-and-match character traits in order to make a character interesting. You know, throw in a physical abnormality here, toss in a childhood trauma there. Maybe give the guy an exotic pet and a bizarre hobby—collecting discarded bottle caps and fashioning them into a pornographic mosaic perhaps. These aren’t Joe R’s words, but I think they speak to his point. Characters must grow naturally. For me, it’s a matter of feel, experience, and most of all, my subconscious.

Mark, you and Meli and I have spoken about Frank Red Elk, one of the main supporting characters in SAVAGE SPECIES. He’s a great example of what I’m talking about. Most of Frank’s personality sprang forth from my subconscious in several powerful bursts of creativity. He existed as a shade in my mind already; I just had to coax him onto the page.

Frank was also forged by experience—and no, not my own experience! I had an acquaintance in college who was a lot like Frank. Essentially likeable, but wildly inappropriate and incapable of wearing a social mask. This acquaintance found the female form mesmerizing, and he spoke freely about it (often embarrassing everyone around him).

Another element that contributed to Frank Red Elk was my own experience with films and books that feature Native American characters. In many stories it’s like writers are too busy venerating their Native American characters to remember that these characters are still men and women with flaws and feelings and everything else that real humans have. To me, treating any character with kid gloves is an unintentional disservice. I detest caricatures—here I’m talking more about old television and film—and I hope my characters never fall into that trap.

So with Frank Red Elk, I wanted to stay true to what was in my head. He was big, he was blunt, and he was incredibly profane. He had some atypical character traits, but they grew naturally instead of being plucked from a grab bag. I’m proud of him and hope readers enjoy him too.

DM: The novel features monsters with terrifying and rapacious appetites. Do you worry that they may prove too much for some of your readers?

JJ: Ha! The Frank Red Elk stuff was a good bridge to this question, huh? Anyway, you make a good point about the extreme nature of the beasts in SAVAGE SPECIES. They’re powerful, sadistic, and vile. Like my other characters, they developed naturally from my subconscious, though I’ve no doubt that my reading and viewing influenced them too (specifically Richard Laymon’s BEAST HOUSE books, Tolkein’s THE LORD OF THE RINGS mythos, and the creatures from the film THE DESCENT).

But your question is a good one, and one that readers should consider before taking on SAVAGE SPECIES. If a reader is squeamish and doesn’t want a book with graphic violence and depravity in it, this is a book that reader should avoid. In some ways it’s my most extreme book. However, there isn’t a single word in the book intended for shock value or meant to elicit gratuitously cheap thrills. This is the story exhumed from my imagination, and I think it’s a heck of a yarn. I love the positive characters and loathe the malevolent ones.

I think the real world contains people who, like Charly (my female lead) and Sam (one of my male leads), act from the heart and do their best to live with integrity and love. There are others who, like Eric (Charly’s husband), behave like monsters, whose minds are cesspools of cruelty, perversion, and selfishness. I write the truth of these characters and all the characters in between. If folks are turned off by events that occur in SAVAGE SPECIES, I just thank them for reading my work. If folks are entertained by it, well, that’s even better.

But if a reader is searching for a good, cozy Amish romance, he or she might be best served by giving this one a miss.

DM: What can readers expect in the future from Jonathan Janz?

JJ: My first five novels are all original, unrelated (or barely related) stories: THE SORROWS, HOUSE OF SKIN, THE DARKEST LULLABY, SAVAGE SPECIES, and DUST DEVILS. After DUST DEVILS is released in February of 2014, readers will see me begin to sprinkle in some sequels along with additional original works.

DUST DEVILS is a vampire western, and it’s a story dear to my heart. It’s the first story I’ve told from a single point-of-view, which alone makes it different. It’s also set in 1885 New Mexico and very much a western. And while I’m excited about those aspects of the tale, folks should know it’s also a horror story featuring vampires that are both intelligent and endlessly vicious, a combination that makes for an exceedingly scary tale.

After that one, the summer of 2014 will see the release of my first-ever sequel, CASTLE OF SORROWS. In it I’ll return to the mythos of my debut novel THE SORROWS and pick up that story where it left off. I’ve begun work on it and should have it done by the end of September.

Some other projects I’m planning include a horror/revenge tale set in the 1930s, a young adult novel about aliens that’s about a third of the way done, an unannounced trilogy of novels I’ve been talking to my agent about, sequels to HOUSE OF SKIN and SAVAGE SPECIES, and an incredibly violent crime thriller (titled GARDEN OF SNAKES) that I finished and trunked but am strongly considering resurrecting and re-working.

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The first part of Savage Species will be unleashed in eBook format by Samhain Publishing on June 4 with further installments released fortnightly.

– Dark Mark

Dreadful Tales Book Club – May 2013 Edition

Firestarter

This beautiful banner is courtesy of Mark Brown, a.k.a. Dark Mark

Dreadful Tales has a number of enthusiastic members who consistently read the book of the month as well as chime in on The Mortuary message boards to discuss their thoughts, so this month I handed the baton to a gentleman that goes by the moniker Nut of the Living Dead (“When there’s no more room in shell…” Pretty clever, huh?), and as you can see from the lovely banner above, he chose one of Stephen King’s earlier titles, Firestarter.

Like Nut, the only recollection I have of Firestarter is the film adaptation starring Drew Barrymore as Charlie which I watched probably some 20 years ago. The only memory I have of that movie is Miss Barrymore sweating and setting shit on fire which I’m pretty sure I thought was cool as hell when I was younger. I think this time around I will be able to appreciate the psychological trauma, confusion, and moral struggle that comes with that kind of power.

I hope all you diehard King fans, King fans-in-training, and those who have yet to read a King novel will join us to celebrate one of King’s earlier works. As always, we’ll all be hanging out here and chatting about the book.

“See” you there!

-Meli

Little Star by John Ajvide Lindqvist

LittleStarWhen I finished John Ajvide Lindqvist’s debut novel Let the Right One In several years ago, I immediately flipped back to the beginning and started reading it all over again. That is the first, and last, time I can remember reading the same novel twice in a row. The offbeat vampire tale blew the door off Dracula’s coffin and Lindqvist’s bleak yet romantic storytelling solidified Let the Right One In as one of my top 5 horror novels of all time.

I was intent on reading anything and everything the Swedish author put out after that, but it wouldn’t be until Little Star was released in late 2012 from Thomas Dunne Books, two novels later, that I would delve into his horrific and brilliant world once again.

Little Star is the story of Theres, discovered as an abandoned baby in the woods by the aged and forgotten musician Lennart. He miraculously saves the child from near death and when she comes to she screams in “a single, clear, pure note” of E. Mesmerized by her fascinating tune, Lennart takes the child home and convinces his wife Lalia to let him keep her, though not without a fight. Drawn to her enigmatic voice and mysterious origins, the couple struggles to keep Theres a secret for fear of losing the child. Still, they can’t avoid the fact that there is an unsettling other-worldliness to Theres and the older she gets the more difficult it is to keep her, and her secret, hidden. Their situation is further complicated by their meddling, deadbeat son Jerry.

I just recently cracked open Andrew Solomon’s sociological examination of “Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity,” Far From the Tree, and was struck by an excerpt in the opening paragraph that offers equal insight into the psychology of Lindqvist’s would-be parents, Lennart and Lalia, and their foundling Theres.

We depend on the guarantee in our children’s faces that we will not die. Children whose defining quality annihilates that fantasy of immortality are a particular insult; we must love them for themselves, and not for the best of ourselves in them, and that is a great deal harder to do.

Like Solomon’s real-life parents, Lindqvist’s fictional parents, too, have selfish reasons for latching on to Theres. While Lennart and Lalia are not her biological parents, what starts as an act of kindness shifts to their need to use the child as an extension of themselves, pinning their musical hopes and dreams on Theres’ success. Lennart “didn’t want to believe that it was only by chance she had ended up with him. There had to be a purpose.” To Lennart, this is a second chance at recognition for his music through Theres, but also to accomplish with her what he couldn’t with Jerry. As such, it is poor Theres, and Jerry to some extent, that suffer from their vain desires, establishing Little Star in part as cautionary tale against parents treating children as an extension of themselves, like an accessory, albeit from an extreme perspective. 

As he did in Let the Right One In, Lindqvist re-envisions the monster as a misunderstood innocent in a world of real life baddies. The adults in Linqvist’s world are the true threat, exacting horrific crimes against the children that exist in it. The reader can’t deny that what we have come to know as “monster” is the least threatening force in a Lindqvist story. Even Jerry, who slowly warms up to Theres, recognizes that “there’s something wrong inside your head. No question…;”  however, I’m sure most readers would agree she poses no real danger to those who don’t deserve it.

Later in the story, we are introduced to admirer and friend to Theres, Theresa. Theresa becomes as integral to the novel as Theres, adding another dimension to the psychology of this tale. The story changes focus from the parent-child relationship to the search for one’s identity, mimicking adolescent development in its tonal shift.

Through Theresa we examine the confusion of adolescence, bullying, the phenomenon of instant celebrity, and the role of technology in all the above via social networking, YouTube, etc. None of her experiences are without cruelty and humiliation, that at times she doles out in equal measure, which all slowly build to the devastating and horrific climax.

The reader is not a passive observer to what happens in Little Star, neither are they disconnected from the characters’ plight. Lindqvist is masterful in gaining empathy from his readers in subtle yet effective ways. When Lennart first finds baby Theres in the forest, for example, Lindqvist uses a rustling plastic bag to illustrate the isolation he feels upon this discovery; “The forest surrounded him, silent and indifferent, and he was all alone in the world with whatever was in the plastic bag.” Later, during a particularly unsettling scene involving an inebriated Theresa and a blow job, Lindqvist, again, presents the scene in a way that demands empathy rather than detached disgust.

Little Star is a complicated, subtle horror novel that mixes dark fantasy with grim reality, it’s Lindqvist’s unique perspective on the world through a skewed lens. At only 532 pages, Little Star is still an epic story though not without a couple lulls along the way and those hoping for a definitive conclusion may be disappointed. But pacing and ending be damned, this book is a must for genre fans looking for an intense horror experience unlike anything they’ve read before. Lindqvist is a brilliant writer who gives his readers something to chew on and his haunting words linger long after the last page.

Lindqvist has been dubbed Sweden’s Stephen King. The description inside the dust jacket of Little Star even refers to the book as a “modern-day Carrie.” I would have to vehemently disagree with the comparison. Only time will tell if he will be as prolific, and while I agree he is equally talented, Lindqvist has a distinctive style that is indefinable. He isn’t the Stephen King of Sweden; he is the John Ajvide Lindqvist of Sweden. I’m sure any author would be thrilled with the comparison and why shouldn’t they be? After all, King is a household name. Yet I can’t help but wince at the number of times I see “Stephen King” in the blurbs scrawled across his books because to me, as a John Ajvide Linqvist fan, I say John Ajvide Lindqvist is the new voice of horror and it booms so loud you can hear it all the way from Sweden!

You can read his books to find out for yourself and you can find his work anywhere cool books are sold.

To chat about Little Star and other horror books, visit The Psychopedia Necronomicon on The Mortuary message boards.

-Meli