“We live in Hell.” – Two Books by Jonathan Raab for Halloween

“What’s hidden just beyond the veil? A bloody good time, of course.”

I’ve talked, often and at length, about how what I want to write, when I sit down to write, is “fun horror.” And because of that, I’m often asked in interviews or casual conversation just what I mean by that. The ethos behind it, sure, but also for examples, so I’m always pleased when I find some.

Jonathan Raab is not only one of the best living practitioners we have of the form, he’s also a testament to the fact that “fun horror” can also be smart horror, political horror, character-driven horror, psychological horror, cosmic horror, thinking person’s horror, you name it.

Raab refers to himself as a “hack horror writer,” and that affection for B-grade horror shines through in his work, but he’s never just making lazy pastiches of the slasher flicks that decorated our screens when we grew up. He’s taking the subtext that was often there – or that we saw there, even when it wasn’t – and making it text. Repurposing camp into paranoid, conspiracy-laden, doom-synth chronicles of the secret world behind the world, the scratching at the back of your brain, on the other side of the tube, on the outside of your window as you fall asleep.

As with so many writers I first got to know via social media, I can’t remember how Jonathan and I first met. We were already on friendly terms by the time he solicited a story from me for Terror in 16-Bits, drawn together because we shared a similar set of references, a similar cache of filmic, video game, and tabletop inspirations, a similar set of aesthetic and thematic fixations – yet also different enough to keep things from overlapping too much.

Aside from conventions, I’ve only ever met Jonathan in person once. I was spending some time in Boulder, Colorado – my significant other attending a flute workshop, myself tagging along to explore the environs and write in the hotel room – and I drove down to his house, past a prison, into a setting from a Jonathan Raab story, even though, at that time, I’m not positive I had yet ever read one.

We walked down the street and had a big breakfast at a crowded greasy spoon, then back to his place where we talked all manner of subjects high and low. By then we were already friends – I can’t remember yet if I was a fan.

I wrote a blurb for one of his books, The Lesser Swamp Gods of Little Dixie, but it was his novel Camp Ghoul Mountain Part VI that fully sold me. That converted me. As I read those pages – part fictionalized novelization of a late-era slasher movie that never was (or was it?), part conspiracy-laden meta-fictional journal, part cosmic horror – that I realized that Raab had risen to the ranks of one of my favorite working authors, the kind where I would eagerly seek out each new thing he did.

And given that short story collections are about my favorite type of book, well, I was damned excited about the release of The Secret Goatman Spookshow, Raab’s first such collection. I preordered the book, but I forced myself to wait to read it until we were nearing the Halloween season – which wasn’t as hard as it might otherwise have been, because I was buried in freelance work when it arrived.

Along with it, I had secreted away another little treasure. A zine-length special he had put out for the season called The Crypt of Blood. I’m bad at guessing word counts, but it was maybe a novella. An ideal length, spooky and short, but not too short. Enough so that there was some meat on the bones…

As summer gave way to fall, as September dwindled down to October, the month of rubber bats and autumn moons, of grinning pumpkins and cotton candy cobwebs, I read them both, one after the other. The Secret Goatman Spookshow would have made a convert of me, had I not been one already. The stories inside travel around, from those told prosaically to those presented in a more experimental fashion – there is a story in the form of the rules for a tabletop roleplaying game, episodes of a cable access show, an oral history of a video game – interspersed with fragments that often directly address the reader.

Yet all of them bear the unmistakable stamp of authorial voice. Whether he’s channeling the buckets of so-fake-it’s-real gore of a SOV slasher or the high strange horror of The X-Files, whether he’s simulating the techniques of found footage so effortlessly that it becomes unnoticeable, or peppering in references to Ghostbusters 2, every story is fun until the exact moment that it isn’t – pulling the rug from under your feet to show you the maggots that have always been squirming beneath.

The same is true of The Crypt of Blood just… focused. For an idea of what you’ll get with Crypt of Blood, imagine if the WNUF Halloween Special were a Hammer vampire film. Then imagine that they were entirely committed to the bit – so much so that the actual narrative was the stuff that took place off screen. Instead of faux commercials full of local color, you have bizarro interstitials that devolve into Ligottian weirdness – interstitials where the real story is being told, because in a Jonathan Raab story, the real story is always the one behind the curtain.

In other words, the perfect read for a dark and stormy Halloween night. (If a dark and stormy Halloween night is not available, please contact your local cable affiliate.)

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