Scowler by Daniel Kraus

ScowlerI’ve been following Kraus’ work since shortly after the release of his second novel, Rotters – a book that is at both times terrifying and revolutionary, especially with the majority of fictional works fired at the youth of today being so utterly vapid and brainless.

See, amid the landscape of heroes and heroines, vampires and werewolves, and the whiny, whinier, and whiniest of main characters, came a novel so filled with emotional turmoil and intelligent, thought-provoking subject matter, that our beloved genre barely even noticed. Who was looking at YA besides the publishers and the authors? Not the “hardcore” horror readers. It really doesn’t matter anyways. Nobody was ready for it. Hell, I think most readers probably still aren’t.

In fact, I think most authors aren’t even ready for this level of game. Kraus is in a league of his own.

But I digress. Letting Rotters slip by was the first mistake “horror” readers worldwide made. You don’t let something as powerful as this novel walk on by without telling it to “hold on a minute”. You just don’t.

Why? Because now you have to deal with Scowler, a novel Kraus has been quoted as saying was one of the toughest things he’s ever written – something that terrified him, even as he was penning the damned thing himself. Are you prepared? No. You’re probably not.

So maybe I should be thanking the “horror readers” and the “community” at large for not paying enough attention to the work of this author. Suffice it to say, I’m happy this one flew under the radar.

But hopefully now you’ll understand why I’ve championed Rotters as one of the best YA journeys ever set to paper. Maybe now you’ll come to understand why it won the 2012 Odyssey Award, and the 2012 Parent’s Choice Award.

Or maybe readers will just have to find out just how much of a powerhouse Daniel Kraus is the hard way. Regardless… you’re in for some trouble.

Nineteen-year-old Ry Burke, his mother, and his little sister eke out a living on their dying family farm. Ry wishes for anything to distract him from the grim memories of his father’s physical and emotional abuse. Then a meteor falls from the sky, bringing with it not only a fragment from another world but also the arrival of a ruthless man intent on destroying the entire family. Soon Ry is forced to defend himself by resurrecting a trio of imaginary childhood protectors: kind Mr. Furrington, wise Jesus, and the bloodthirsty Scowler.

– From the cover of Scowler

It should be known by now that I’m of a very one-sided opinion. Kraus is wünderkind of a writer. There’s no doubt about that. And whether or not he wants to be lumped in with the happy hooligans inhabiting the horror genre, I don’t really know. What I do know is that he is a storyteller who refuses to tiptoe through the tulips, instead opting the stomp around and shove the saddest memories of your beloved, very dead, cat in your face… just to make sure you remember what it is to feel hurt, oh so deep down inside. And then just when you thought you were strong enough to handle it… BAM!… he hits you again with emotion after emotion until you’re left shivering from the psychological bludgeoning you’ve experienced in such a short amount of time.

What’s worse is that you’ve probably just loved each and every minute of it.

Between the incredible strife that Kraus puts his main character, Ry, through, to the wholesale emotional torture that befalls the Burke family, it’s very apparent that the author meant to make a very lasting impression this time around. I’d say he intended this novel to leave a sizable scar.

With characters that don’t just read themselves off the page, but rather tell themselves to you (if you follow my meaning), the reader’s job is pretty much done for him or her. Take Mr. Furrington for example. I’ll try not to drop too many spoilers on you, but let’s just admit to the fact that Mr. Furrington isn’t real. I mean… read the name. For anyone who can put two and two together, the name very much alludes to the fact that he’s “furry”… soooo one would have to assume we’re talking about a bear or some other sort animal – leaving out such wonderful creatures as the Naked Mole Rat, obviously. But for argument’s sake (and to stay factual), let’s go with bear, okay? To be specific, think something a little stranger and more oddly constructed than the anthropomorphized, nightmarish Paddington Bear. *shudder* Mr. Furrington’s got a thick English accent, tells moral stories, and tries to direct young Ry along the path of goodness, rather than whatever path of retribution he may well want to travel.

And that’s only one character. I’m not even going to get into Jesus and Scowler, though I do have to seriously suggest readers take note of how the titular character is described – actions and all – in the third act of this book. Dear aspiring authors: THIS is how you write a character. Educate yourselves. Simple, to the point, and terrifying. Learn.

Ahem. Continuing…

I do, however, want to talk about the dynamic between Ry and his father, Marvin – a relationship that is at both times terrifying as it is understandable and vaguely familiar, in a way. Y’see… the kinship between these two is strained, to say the least. It’s violent. It’s sad, and it’s harrowing. But it’s also reminiscent of so many father/son ties that I can’t even begin to describe it properly or do it justice. Just the desire to make your father proud is enough to elicit so many emotions… any child is destined to be blinded by the complete focus of that task at one point or another in their life.

And I’m sure Kraus left a little bit of himself in there somewhere, but I’m also positive he meant for any reader, myself included, to pick the scab on a well hidden memory and leave a small trace of its life-blood somewhere along the way – maybe to mark a page or a passage of note. Regardless, the relationship between Ry and Marvin, while resting confidently in ink, is all too much ours to mold. Whether we read it and just know that it’s so fucked up and wrong, or we read it with a secret shame, sweating because we’ve been to that place, or somewhere close to it, is completely up to the reader.

We all know a Ry and a Marvin. Maybe not to the same extent of those characterized in Scowler, but we still do. Hell, we may even be one of them, or could likely become one of them somewhere down the line.

The point is… even in its oppressive, disturbing, and often violent nature, Kraus manages to describe the innate relationship between a father and son so perfectly that it borders on awe-inspiring in its perfection and sadness.

Now, I don’t want to go on and on about how sad this story is, or how it left me feeling raw and vulnerable, but damn… Kraus did a number on me here. I’m still reeling just thinking about it. And the craziest part of this is that all of my memories of this story are exactly that… they’re memories. They’ve become mine now – not just the words on a page. Hell, I don’t think I’ll even have to go back to the book to pick out my favorite lines or scenes at all. No. All I have to do is close my eyes and re-live it.

Yeah. That sounds right. I think I just nailed everything I was trying to say. That’s what I wanted you to know about this novel, and about Kraus’ writing as a whole.

Daniel Kraus doesn’t just tell you a story. He makes you live it.

That, right there, is reason enough to keep an eye on this author. Because Kraus is one of the last great storytellers of our time – even if the story he’s telling isn’t going to leave you happy.

In Memoriam: Richard Burton Matheson (Feb 20, 1926 – June 23, 2013)

richard_mathersonIt goes without saying that 2013 has been a year of great loss for the world of horror and speculative fiction in general. After all, it was just this past March where we found ourselves saying goodbye to horror greats Silva, Herbert, and Hautala – a moment in our rich history I know most of us will look back on with great sorrow and a shock no one was even remotely ready for.

Today, though, we remember the great horror, sci-fi, and fantasy author and screenwriter – Richard Matheson.

I don’t usually find myself having to remind folks just what Matheson’s career and achievements mean to fans throughout the horror and speculative fiction communities, as they surely already know. What surprised me, when I was researching his work after reading I Am Legend years ago, was that Matheson had his hand in more pots than anyone could possibly account for. Films like What Dreams May Come and Stir of Echoes were amazing discoveries for me in terms of realizing just how far this man’s reach was in the film and television industry.

Granted, I was well aware of Matheson’s hand in classics like The Legend of Hell House; The Last Man On Earth, The Omega Man, Omega Man, and I Am Legend – all born of the same novella, I Am Legend; The Incredible Shrinking Man; and countless others – as well as penning 14 stories for the immensely popular, and frightfully inspirational television series, The Twilight Zone.

Suffice it to say, the man’s mind was rife with original and insanely imaginative ideas, most of which can be found to be the basis for some of our favorite pieces of fiction, film, or television. I joked once that I wouldn’t be surprised to find that Richard Matheson wrote everything in our genre before any of us even thought about it, and I still mean it. The man was prolific and appeared to never run out of winning ideas.

Noted creators such as Stephen King, George A. Romero, Anne Rice, and Brian Keene have publicly stated their influence at the hands of Matheson’s ingenuity, alongside the likes of others such as Richard Laymon, Ellen Datlow, John Carpenter, and countless more. The man left his mark on the world – not just in horror – but everywhere.

I really don’t know what else can be said of the man, or how to describe the great amount of sorrow the team here at Dreadful Tales feels in finding that yet another hero and a mentor has passed away.

We would like to extend our deepest condolences to the Matheson family in their time of need. Richard Matheson will always be in our hearts and minds as one of the greatest visionaries to ever grace us with his presence. Whether it be fiction, film, television, or radio, Matheson’s influence has been felt by all at one time or another – leaving us with a legacy and a legend to remember forever.

Rest in Peace.

See below for video of Richard Matheson’s acceptance speech for the Vampire Novel of the Century, awarded by the Horror Writer’s Association during the 2011 Bram Stoker Awards in Salt Lake City, Utah, for his classic I AM LEGEND.

Letters From New York by Monica S. Kuebler

Lookie lookie! First we get all sorts of awesome weather up here in Canadadada, then we get to watch kids get all weird on chocolate and freaky bunnies, and now I’m finding out that Monica S. Kuebler, the mistress of macbre and author of the online serial novel, Bleeder, is launching a new online tale in the very near future!

As you’ll recall from our exclusive sneak peek of Bleeder back in December ’11, we were stoked about following Mildred’s journey through her own personal hell. Now, as we’ve learned that Monica is an unstoppable force in the dark YA lit scene what with her firsthand knowledge of the genre and all the trappings therein, I’m sure we’ll have something much more insane on our hands.

lettersfromny-cover-600

 

 Until Mills and Keel, the sorcerer-vampire bond was solely the stuff of folklore and legend – a whispered myth with one hell of a body count.

Now Mills has returned to New York City, to human life, but the bond is reawakening.

And someone knows her secret. 

All her secrets…

While it may have eclipsed its original start date, I can assure you that this will not be something to be missed.

Keep an eye on www.bleederbook.com for more information, and stay tuned to DT for more news on Bleeder and Letters from New York: A Blood Magic Novella.

Trailer Review – Wake The Wicked: Thirteen Twisted Tales by Christian Baloga

“On December 21, 2012, Baloga fulfilled his lifelong dream of writing, designing, and publishing his first book, “Wake the Wicked: Thirteen Twisted Tales,” edited by Michael Garrett, editor for the most successful writers of our time: Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, Richard Matheson…” from http://www.cbaloga.com/

While hunting for great book trailers, this one really caught my eye. The title alone sparked instant adoration. Thirteen is my favorite number. I love twisted things, and tales even more so. Perhaps it is a no-brainier title for a single author collection, but the hammer ‘Wake the Wicked’ I liked even more. So, of course I checked out the trailer and was impressed.

I made it through of course, then watched it again. That is a litmus test to me right there. Too many trailers I turn off at fifteen seconds. If I liked the title I might scan through a terrible trailer to the last frames for the newsy information.

Wanting to share a bit of the process with horror fans, I contacted author Christian Baloga who was happy to discuss why he made it, and how it came about. Shot by Baloga himself at nearby locations, the trailer speaks to his passions and diverse résumé .

“I filmed, edited the video, did the special effects makeup, and wrote the script/storyboard,” he said when asked about the nuts and bolts of the project.

A man walks alone in the forest, and encounters a strange looking vagrant. Confusion ensues: is he being threatened? Is this imagination? Are they one in the same? The music swells with a swirling cut to a darkened room where the vagrant now leers toward the camera. Filthy, menacing… yet curiously familiar. See why I like it? Simple. Odd. Lovely.

“From concept to publication it took about two months to complete… I began writing a script for the trailer while my editor corrected my manuscript. Wake the Wicked includes thirteen stories, but I decided against trying to capture each of them. Instead, I took one of my favorite characters from one story and went crazy with ideas.”

Filming took place in rural Harveys Lake, Pennsylvania—in the backyard of the house he grew up in—and on-set in an ordinary bedroom.”

He used tools available to many, filming on a Nikon D3100 and edited using Adobe products. It seems this is a popular combination for feature filmmakers and bloggers alike.

Talent and skill are needed but then there is talent… “There was one actor, Harley Kupstas, who played both roles in the film: the creepy bald guy we call the vagrant, and the running man,” he said, though I had no clue the actors were one in the same.

Why a trailer? He wanted to reach a broader audience. “I think most people who are interested in books are also interested in film and music, and Wake the Wicked was influenced by a compilation of these very things. It was also the perfect opportunity to give the viewer a taste of the freakish nature portrayed within the thirteen stories without use of the written word, which, in this case, would only rob the intended mood—not enhance it.”

Though, like many horror readers and writers, he has watched many book trailers he was mainly influenced “by the dark and decadent imagery of Marilyn Manson’s music videos.”

“As for the current state of fiction trailers,” Baloga said, “if the trailer is true to the book, it’s golden! Just like not every book is for every reader, neither is every book trailer. Stay true to your book. Gut it, play around with its insides, and create something that speaks to your intended audience.”

One bit of advice he imparts to others planning to make a trailer of their own (or for someone else) may be that he, “experimented with various concepts and shot much more than I needed to, on purpose. It gave me a lot to work with and during the editing phase things fell into place much better than I’d expected.”

I asked if the trailer was available anywhere else, and at this time it remains exclusive to YouTube. Authors, filmmakers and publishers note that well done book trailers are spreading and popping up as horror trailers and at film festivals.

Will I buy the book? Yes. I had not heard of this title before viewing the trailer and it piqued my interest enough to research the author. Wake the Wicked: Thirteen Twisted Tales is available on Kindle. Baloga said we can expect a paperback of Wake the Wicked: Thirteen Twisted Tales sometime near Halloween 2013.

This trailer works for me because it is short, has fine sound quality and production. It gives nothing away yet is eye catching without being absurdly abstract. While not scary, it has unsettling moments so I look forward to being unsettled when I read the book ~