Meli’s Women in Horror Month Book Haul

The amount of money I spend on books is a regular point of contention between me and my husband. Actually, it’s not cash flow he’s concerned about, it’s valuable real estate. Shelf and cabinet space to be precise. While my honey, my sweetheart fills his side of the room with vinyl records, the shelves on my side runneth over with books and they’re starting to creep into his territory. It’s hard for my patient and understanding life partner to understand why I continue to buy books when I haven’t read all the ones I have. After all, it only takes him a half an hour or more to listen to an album. It could take me a couple days, probably more, to read a novel or anthology. Still, I can’t stop buying books.

Yeah, I have an Amazon.com wish list, but what if I can’t–or don’t want–to get the book in question from Amazon? What if it’s published by a small press? What if I later forget that I even wanted it? What if it sells out? I can’t take that chance! That’s why I have to get it while the gettin’ is good. To the chagrin of my husband, one book leads to another in an endless cycle of seek and destroy.

For example, my favorite author may reveal in an interview that he/she is heavily inspired by so-and-so and I got another book to add to my to-read list. Then, I read that book by so-and-so and in the introduction they mention a fellow peer whose work has motivated them to pursue writing seriously (or something like that). I add that to my to-read list. Now, with social networking I have a non-stop influx of recommendations from my favorite authors, readers, publishers, bloggers and even strangers, so I may not be able to finish one book before I’ve got five other titles on my shelf!

I have many titles collecting dust while I continue to buy new books. This is precisely why I started The Dreadful Attic, a review section here at Dreadful Tales that is for the sole purpose of getting those books read!

Even though I’m making a concerted effort to finally read some of the lost and forgotten, I struggle to resist alluring novels, collections (my biggest weakness), and my favorite writer’s new releases. Sometimes books that just have cool cover art.

Women in Horror Month proved an irresistible temptation to that feat. I had the opportunity to interview several women throughout February and of course I had to pick their brains about their favorite writers and personal influences. This elicited a number of additions to my wish list.

Every once in while you get in a slump where everything in the scene kinda feels stale and nothing seems to grab you and demand you take notice. Other times, the times I live for as a horror fiction fan, you have the exhilarating realization that the well was never dry to begin with; you were just tapping the wrong vein. With my shopping cart full and my bank account empty, I felt that rush of excitement for the state of horror fiction this past month and I want to share it with you all!

Beyond is the list of books I purchased before and throughout February, and I’ve included some titles I will buy soon also.

Before WiHM kicked off, I was soliciting genre fans for their favorite female horror writers and it was Ron McKenzie, artist and man of exquisite taste, that first mentioned the name Gina Ranalli, a name new to me. Many people joined in to second, third, and fourth that recommendation and in particular the title House of Fallen Trees. I picked up that book along with Brainfused Colorwheel, just because the title sounds trippy. You can browse Ranalli’s titles here and visit her website here.

I’m on an Elizabeth Massie kick lately and I love vampires. Pre-WiHM I snagged a used copy of The Mammoth Book of Vampire Stories by Women edited by Stephen Jones and featuring work by Poppy Z. Brite, Nancy Kilpatrick, Gemma Files, Elizabeth Massie, and a dozen other high caliber writers. I picked this up more for my rabid vampire obsession, weakness for anthologies, and Massie fandom than the celebratory month of February, but a fitting title to include here. Used copies are available rather cheap, you just gotta look around. Visit Elizabeth Massie’s website to follow her work and find out more about the multi-talented author.

There were a few titles I added to my collection as a result of my interview with Maria Alexander. Right about the time I was reading (or just finished) Maria Alexander’s short story contributions to Dark Arts Books 2008 anthology Sins of the Sirens, the preliminary Bram Stoker Award nomination ballot was announced. Included among that bevy of talent is, now officially, Maria Alexander’s poetry collection At Louche Ends, published by Monica S. Kuebler’s Burning Effigy Press. Alexander struck a nerve with me, as did all the Sins writers. I had to have At Louche Ends. So I headed over to the Burning Effigy shoppe to pick it up. I figured there was no point just buying one lone title, so I grabbed Ian Roger’s Black Lands novellas Temporary Monsters, The Ash Angels, and Black-Eyed Kids as well. You can get all Burning Effigy Press titles here. Visit Ian Roger’s website here and Maria Alexander here.

After reading Maria Alexander’s At Louche Ends, I was motivated to introduce more poetry to my diet. Not through a direct recommendation, but perhaps subliminal messaging I recalled Wrath James White’s poetry collection Vicious Romantic, which was also nominated for a Stoker last year. I’m anxious to read the most hardcore horror writer’s take on this format which, interestingly, is in traditional Japanese and Korean formal poetic structures. You can pick up Vicious Romantic here and follow White’s projects on his website Words of Wrath.

Another title I snatched up in an effort to get better acquainted with the poetic form is Rain Graves’ Barfodder: Poetry Written in Dark Bars and Questionable Cafes out from Cemetery Dance Publications. As the title suggests, Graves’ poems were written in the shadowed corners of establishments through her travels and is praised by genre icon Neil Gaiman; Rain Graves writes really nasty poetry. She is a mistress of creating images that stick, the kind that you cannot get out of your mind—not even using steel wool and a small, extremely sharp knife.” Even though this collection was published in early 2009, it’s still available from Cemetery Dance Publications here. You can also check out Rain Graves’ website here.

Another author’s name that came up quite a bit during WiHM was, unsurprisingly, Daphne du Maurier, most famously known for her works adapted by Alfred Hitchcock, like the short story “The Birds.” While browsing the Cemetery Dance website, I came across The Doll: The Lost Short Stories by Daphne du Maurier. This collection includes eight stories originally published in the now out of print Early Stories, and five stories from periodicals published during the 1930s. With du Maurier on the brain, I had to have it. The anthology is currently available from Cemetery Dance Publications here, but this is a one-time only run so get it while you can.

While Sins of the Sirens writer and Bram Stoker Award nominee Maria Alexander has inspired me to expand on my knowledge of poetry, the other Ladies of Sins have sparked my interest in a number of books as well. Loren Rhoads created the magazine of weird true stories Morbid Curiosity and collected her favorite published entries from 10 years as editor in Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues. This anthology of unusual tales includes an entry from fellow Sins writer Mehitobel Wilson, “Thanksgiving at Bel’s.” Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues is morbidly cheap and you can pick that up here. Also, stop by The Daphne du Maurier website for everything du Maurier.

Speaking of Mehitobel Wilson, I am now on the hunt for her short horror fiction collection Dangerous Red. From what I can tell this early in my search is the book, originally published by Necro Publications in the early 2000s, is only available used. Prices don’t look unreasonable ($20 or so on ebay), but I’ll keep searching. If you have a good lead, please give me a heads up! (edit: Dangerous Red is available at Amazon.com here There are typically only 5 copies in stock, so if they’re out check back again later) Get to know more about Mehitobel “Bel” Wilson on her website.

There are a few other authors I’m seeking out and books I want to pick up – suggestions from authors and fans – but those are the titles I have on deck or books that are in transit to my mailbox as we speak!

So, what did you get last month (WiHM-related or otherwise)?

-Meli

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All Hallow’s Read (Day 20) A scary book for…

…someone who can’t get enough gore

Wrath James White has our vote for all of you gore hounds out there. Not only does he have the knack for writing some of the most gag worthy scenes of visceral gore, but he’s also a phenomenal writer, to boot. Check out Succulent Prey, The Resurrectionist, and Population Zero to quench your thirst for blood-soaked fiction.

All Hallow’s Read is a book-giving tradition thought up by author Neil Gaiman. We’ll be making book suggestions all month long in case you need ideas!

Hero by Wrath James White and JF Gonzalez

There is something special that happens when an author defies expectations and creates something that seems to be totally out of their comfort zone. There is a certain thrill that a reader gets when we realize that we are witnessing the evolution of a writer as he explores his craft.  This is exactly what happened when Wrath James White and JF Gonzalez pooled their talents and unleashed Hero on the genre.

From Amazon.com:

Adelle Smith has lived her entire life for the betterment of mankind. A Civil Rights Activist in the Sixties and Seventies, she has spent most of her adult life attending marches, giving speeches, and lending a hand to anyone in need. But on the very evening she is to be acknowledged with a Lifetime Achievement Award for her humanitarian efforts, a stroke leaves her partially paralyzed and unable to speak. Now Adelle’s in the care of a ruthless hospice nurse, who sees not a hero before her, but the cause of her many hardships growing up as a child of interracial parents, someone who decides to give Adelle her very own brand of Physical Therapy; consisting of pain and suffering, mental cruelty and torture. And now, after a lifetime of helping others, Adelle needs help, quickly, before another round of brutal treatment snuffs out her life. 

White and Gonzalez are two authors who really know how to bring the blood.  In fact, these are two authors that I routinely hear people say that their books are “too much.”  I guess that is why I was so surprised to see these two masters of gore rein it in a bit and deliver a story that explores the subtle nuances of racism and survival.  

The writing is absolutely seamless, which is becoming rarer and rarer with collaborations.  Many times, the difference in style is so discernable that it completely takes the reader away from the story- this isn’t the case with Hero.  White and Gonzalez approach this story with an air of confidence as they deftly craft one of the most tightly wound tales of medical terror that one is likely to come across.  They assault us with their command of the craft and leave us cowering with the protagonist as we await the next onslaught.  Make no mistake, Hero puts the reader through some serious abuse.  Sure, there are nasty bits of physical torture (it is a Wrath and JF collaboration, after all) but what really threw me for a loop was the emotional rollercoaster I found myself caught up in.  The authors really engage the reader on an emotional level and this is where the story really shines. 

The protagonist, Adelle, has been through quite a bit in her life and the authors take the time to explore her heart-breaking past.  The reader is left to bear witness to the racial inequities that shaped Adelle into the strong civil leader that she is today.  The authors do a sensational job of shaping her past which is why the present seems to be so much more unsettling. See, one gets the impression that Adelle has overcome all possible adversity and now she can ride off into the sunset and leave the younger generation to carry the torch.  She deserves the time to herself and now she finally has it.  Unfortunately, her new hospice nurse won’t let Adelle off the hook so easily. This particular nurse presents us with a very unique view of racism, as she combines elements of self-loathing with a balls-to-the-wall case of psychosis.  Adelle is put in a hopeless situation as she finds herself at the mercy of the deranged nurse and the audience winces along for the ride which yields some very interesting and unexpected results.

The story plays out in reality.  There are no sugarcoated characters with strong morals.  Everyone in Hero has flaws and they act accordingly.  This allows the writers to lend a sense of credibility as they explore the various issues that are present with inner-city life.  No one is glorified but there are aspects of their personality that should be celebrated.  There is the local drug pusher who, despite the violent life he leads, is willing to keep a watchful eye over Adelle after she is released from the hospital. Then we have Adelle’s daughter, who has left the city for the suburbs and is constantly trying to suppress her urban upbringing while putting on a white collar façade.  These are the types of characters that make Hero an absolute delight to read.  Anyone can write a gripping story about a crazed nurse tormenting her patient, but it takes special talent to add layers of social commentary and authenticity to the proceedings. This is the magic of Hero.

If you have no prior experience with White or Gonzalez, you may see Hero as a well told exploration of tension but Hero is much more than that. Aside from being a great collaboration, Hero is the manifestation of two writers challenging themselves and their craft.  It is something that will be enjoyed by all genre fans but will mean so much more to fans of both authors.

Population Zero by Wrath James White

Wrath James White’s Population Zero is one of the most disturbing, gore-soaked books I have ever read. Self-induced abortions, DIY vasectomies, and unbelievable scenes of blood letting that will shake you to the core. White seriously challenged my threshold for the sick and depraved in his quick novella. Despite being a mere 112 pages long, there is quite a bit to chew on. Population Zero examines the dark reality of going too far for what you believe is right and good.  There are no supernatural monsters, ghosts, or otherworldly creatures at work in this story, just one man hellbent on saving the planet at whatever cost. White isn’t shy about making some biting commentary about social issues in Population Zero, but it wasn’t his socio-political bent that drew me to his book. It was his reputation as a master of sex and splatter literature and the beautifully grotesque Deadite Press cover that initially sold me. What I found was a frightening depiction of extremism that sated my hunger for the darker side of things, but also made me think.

Population Zero focuses on Todd Hammerstein, an employee of the Welfare Department and staunch environmentalist who is dedicated to controlling the ever-growing human population using some violently macabre methods to meet his goal. Out of context Todd’s insane efforts would seem like a cheap set-up to outdo one gore gag after the next, but White is coercing his readers to consider real societal problems not just turn their stomachs, although he is masterful in doing so. Before White subjects us to Todd’s demented acts, we are treated to an unsettling snippet from his past that gives intimate perspective on the origin of his extremist views regarding overpopulation. Todd learned a hard lesson about population control from his father after his best friend, a Golden Retriever named Honey, had a litter of puppies. His father explains that euthanasia is “the right thing. We just can’t afford to feed them all.” Todd takes that logic a step further and applies it to humans. If we are responsible for controlling the overpopulation of animals, shouldn’t we do so with humans? Inspired by the book Zero Population by Heimlich Anattoli, head of Todd’s environmental activist group, he makes it his personal mission to do the right thing by the human race, so he thinks. His mission starts out innocent enough. Using his position at the Welfare Department, he first offers a pregnant woman government assistance if she promises to have an abortion. Another man if he gets sterilized, but his plan rather quickly derails into complete insanity. He starts where most individuals do when they tackle an issue so much greater than themselves, questioning his impact on the cause at hand. Take recycling for example. You recycle, but ask yourself if that’s enough when you drive by miles upon miles of garbage lining the highway of your daily commute. How do you combat a problem so large? Dedicate your free time to cleaning up trash? If you were Todd, you may brutally punish litterbugs. I can’t say I related to Todd necessarily, but I understood that overwhelming sense of helplessness. Whether you are taking on the issue of human rights or environmental activism, I think people can connect with that inner struggle and turmoil that comes with fighting for something you believe in.

White further connects the reader to Todd by using a third-person omniscient viewpoint. The reader can follow the thought process of Todd and are even treated to some of his schizophrenic inner dialogue. Right at the moment you think “this guy is bat-shit crazy” he is also wondering “Oh my God. Maybe I am Crazy?” But Todd is so strongly convinced he is doing what’s right he justifies his actions through every psychotic step. Again, you probably won’t understand the absurd choices Todd makes, but at times that scarred little boy shows through and it’s hard not to feel sorry for him, except when I was grieving for his poor victims. White does a stupendous job of making Todd more human than psycho. He’s completely off the rails, no doubt, but still human.

Todd’s concern about the rapidly growing population isn’t particularly radical, it’s the way he acts on his concern that makes him radical. Todd is the horrifically skewed, nightmare version of Population Connection. This grassroots organization “works to ensure that every woman around the world who wants to limit her childbearing has access to the health services and contraceptive supplies she needs in order to do so.” For Todd there is no want, population control is a hard truth and he will use whatever means necessary to rid the world of more mouths to feed one victim at a time. White uses painfully detailed, horribly unsettling scenes to really drive that point home.

When Population Zero was originally published by Cargo Cult Press in 2008, the popularity of multi-birth families was really taking off. I can’t help wonder if White was inspired by reality shows like Jon & Kate Plus 8 and the strange celebrity of Octomom. Reading this novella, my mind naturally wandered to this multi-birth phenomenon and our culture’s recent obsession with it. I suppose there could be many inspirations for this novella, but that’s the beauty of it. Its extreme violence and imagery makes the reader consider more than just overpopulation.

This novella, and White’s work in general comes with a warning. The man himself said it best in a recent blog post, so I’ll let him take it from here:

If you don’t want to hear criticisms about race and religion and society, don’t read my shit. If you want an optimistic portrayal of the human condition, seriously, DO NOT PICK UP MY BOOK. So, here is a list of upcoming titles that those with more delicate sensibilities should selectively avoid.

If you lack the delicate sensibilities White refers to, find out what upcoming titles you can expect from him via his website Words of Wrath. As for the novella Population Zero, you can pick it up from Deadite Press for under 8 bones or the Kindle edition for just $2.99!

The Resurrectionist by Wrath James White

The Resurrectionist is a truly original novel by Wrath James White. The story unfolds around Dale- a scrawny serial killer who has the uncanny ability to bring people back from the dead. In the process of resurrecting the dead he wipes out the moments leading up to their death. The plot plays out like a tightly woven super hero story- there is a well crafted origin story, some amazing super powers and a lowly schlub that no one would ever think of as extraordinary. The difference here is that the super hero also happens to be the villain who uses his God-given super powers to commit unspeakable acts of violence. This is where the whole moral dilemma lies. Who would give a despicable human being this miraculous power? White does a remarkable job exploring the implications of that question without ever coming across as preachy or condescending. He addresses religion with enough reverence that the reader is able explore the question within the confines of their own faith without feeling pressured into coming up with a concrete answer. It takes a truly unique writer to create these feelings within a reader.

Wrath James White is a talent unlike any other. I’ve read plenty of hardcore horror but rarely has it challenged me in the way that The Resurrectionist has. The story dissects the impulses and reasons for our own personal impulses and addictions. I think we can all see a bit of ourselves in Dale’s unsettling preoccupation with his “beloved”. We all have cast aside the concepts of responsibility and consequence when we become truly obsessed with something. Sure, it may pale in comparison to Dale’s obsessions but it is a mysterious human emotion we can all relate to and Wrath brings that to light in a very delicate and interesting way.

The Resurrectionist is not for everyone. It is graphic, bloody and ultra-violent but it is also challenging and graceful in its brutality. Wrath has successfully crafted an extreme tale of horror that should be accessible to most fans of the genre. He has done such a wonderful job with this title that there is little doubt in my mind that Wrath James White is the new king of hardcore horror!