reading materials

Lots of people have favorite books that they re-read every year at about the same time. Perennial October classics include Something Wicked This Way Comes and–with a very special place in my heart–Roger Zelazny’s A Night in the Lonesome October. Last year, I contributed a story to the Lovecraft eZine‘s Night in the Lonesome October tribute issue.

For me, the annual October traditions are more likely to involve movies than books–I try to watch Monster Squad (1987) and Trick ‘r Treat (2007) at least once a year around this time, along with other seasonal fare–but I try to get into the Halloween reading spirit as well. This year, my workload is ensuring that I do less reading than I usually might around this time, but I have been making my way back through Junji Ito’s classic Uzumaki, which just got a fresh hardcover release.

It’s worth noting that a year or two back Neil Gaiman started up an All Hallow’s Read campaign, encouraging you to “give someone a scary book for Halloween.” This is an idea that I can wholeheartedly get behind. So if you’re looking for some good scary books to hand out to folks, I’ll toss out some suggestions of a few recent ones that I’ve enjoyed that seem particularly germane to the season at hand.

Valancourt Books are purveyors of fine Gothic and other out-of-print and hard-to-find titles, ranging from horror to pretty much anything else. They’re fine folks, and they used to be local here in Kansas City, and they’re going to be releasing, just in time for Halloween, The Monster Club by R. Chetwynd-Hayes. I’ve never read the book, but I’ve seen the movie, and I’m mostly familiar with Chetwynd-Hayes as the guy whose stories inspired flicks like it and the Amicus anthology picture From Beyond the Grave.

I’m particularly fond of Valancourt because they also released another book that would make a great Halloween treat: J.B. Priestley’s Benighted, for which I wrote the introduction.

Back on the subject of books that I haven’t read yet, I haven’t yet knocked out Adam Cesare and Matt Serafini’s All-Night Terror, but I have no doubt that it’ll be a perfect read for the season, and at a price that can’t be beat. Also, how could you resist that premise?

Now on to books that I actually have read! I just finished The Halloween Legion, which is a cute, pulpy comic book that’s equal parts 50s sci-fi film, early Fantastic Four comic, Ray Bradbury, and those live-action Disney flicks from the 70s, all with great art by Thomas Boatwright, one of my favorite artists and a guy who hasn’t yet hit as big as he really should. As I said in my Goodreads review, it’s really hard to go far wrong with a book that’s got a mummy, a zombie alligator, and flying shrunken heads all within the first two pages.

Earlier in the year I read and talked about my friend Ian Rogers’ debut collection Every House is Haunted, but it bears repeating. It’s one of the best horror collections I’ve ever read, full stop, and it’s got the perfect atmosphere for the autumn season. If the tastes of the people on your All Hallow’s Read gift list lean a little less toward the spooky and more toward the erotic or the hilarious or both (with still more than a dollop of spooky), you could do worse than to pick up Molly Tanzer’s debut A Pretty Mouth, which came out last year around this time. Molly’s one of the best of us, and she’s got a new collection on its way out from Egaeus Press, so you’ll want to snap this one up so that you can say you were reading her back when.

There are no shortage of other books I could recommend for your October reading edification, but I’ll run out of time and space long before I hit them all. Try Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s This Strange Way of Dying or John Langan’s brilliant second collection The Wide Carnivorous Sky. Looking for something from a variety of authors? Try Tales of Jack the Ripper, if you haven’t already, which features my story “Ripperology.” Red Jack may not be the first thing you think of when Halloween rolls around, but there’s plenty of fog and autumn chill in those pages, I can assure you.

And of course, I fancy that my own humble collection, Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings would make a pretty solid late-October read, or All Hallow’s gift. This is my season, after all, and I like to think that my love for it, and for all things spooky and monstrous, comes through in all my stories.

James Whale’s 1932 film The Old Dark House is one of my favorite movies of all time, full stop. It’s definitely my favorite of the great Universal films of the 30s, where it’s nestled amongst some very stiff competition. I can’t remember under what circumstances I first saw it, but I fell in love immediately. I bought the Kino DVD of the film, which at the time cost more than I was accustomed to paying for DVDs, but it was worth it. The minute someone puts it out on Blu-ray, I’ll be buying it again. I’ve talked about the movie before, in other places, but if you’e never seen it then I seriously urge you to do yourself a favor and check it out. It’s my favorite movie from one of my favorite subgenres, and I seriously doubt there are many people reading this who won’t love it.

Sometime early on, after I’d seen the movie a time or two, I learned that it was adapted from a 1927 novel by J.B. Priestley called Benighted. I was passingly familiar with Priestley’s name, and had run across one or two weird stories by him in anthologies over the years, and of course I wanted to read the book. Unfortunately, it was out of print, and had been since before I was born, which made it a little bit difficult to come by. I wasn’t able to scare up a copy of the book until just last year, when I finally got to read it for the first time. Happily, I loved it every bit as much as I loved the movie. Sadly, snagging a copy to read via interlibrary loan proved to be a lot easier than acquiring a nice copy for my collection.

So, when the folks at Valancourt Books, purveyors of fine reissues of Gothic and other hard-to-find volumes, said that they were looking for suggestions for 20th Century writers to add to their growing catalogue, I was quick to recommend that they take a look at Benighted. To make a long story slightly less long, they not only managed to pick it up, but also a collection of Priestley’s macabre short stories The Other Place (forthcoming). What’s more, they asked me to write the introduction to Benighted.

The point of all this is to say that the Valancourt Books edition of Benighted is now available, both in paperback and on Kindle. I just received my contributor’s copies in the mail yesterday, and the book looks fantastic. I have been really lucky so far in how great the books that I’ve been in have looked, and I can say without hyperbole that this one is one of the best. Take a look for yourself:

BenightedsThe folks at Valancourt were able to get the original jacket art of the first edition, which remains one of my favorite covers of all time. The book itself is a quick, charming read that also manages to pack in a surprising thematic density. I talk a lot more about that in my introduction, which I believe you can still read in full on Amazon’s “click to look inside” feature. It was the first time I’d ever been asked to write an introduction, and I can’t think of a more perfect book for it. Hopefully I acquitted myself well, and if not you’ll still have a fantastic novel to read once you get through my blathering.

While this book has very little of me in it by comparison, I’m every bit as proud of my involvement in it as I am in Never Bet the Devil or Fungi, so if it sounds intriguing, I’d urge you to pick it up, and browse the rest of Valancourt’s catalogue while you’re there, because they do great stuff.

So, it’s now been 2013 for a little over twelve hours here. I slept most of those, and spent the others watching Castle, though we did ring in the new year last night with a handful of friends from college, all of whom are now paired up, even though at least one pair didn’t get together until years after we’d all graduated. That was very pleasant, and seems thematically appropriate for auld lang syne in a way that didn’t occur to me until I sat down to type this. So thanks everyone for coming over, and making a very nice new year for us. I’m glad that we’re all still friends, after all these years and, in at least one case, all these miles of separation.

Now is the time of year when a young man’s fancies turn to year-end recaps and best-of lists, so that’s what this post is going to be all about. 2012 was a big year for me, as anyone reading this probably already knows. My first two books both came out this year, one as author and one as editor.  Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings is my first collection of weird, spooky, and supernatural tales, and Fungi is the anthology of fungal stories that I co-edited with Silvia Moreno-Garcia. I’m extremely proud of both of them, and I couldn’t be happier with how they turned out. You’ve already heard a lot about them, and you’ll hear more in the coming year.

In addition, I had a few short story sales this year, the biggest one of which was my reprint appearance of “Black Hill” (originally from Historical Lovecraft) in Ross Lockhart’s The Book of Cthulhu 2. I also got asked to write an introduction to a forthcoming Valancourt Books reissue of J.B. Priestley’s Benighted, which I’m extremely excited about both because it’ll be my first time writing an introduction and because I’m very excited about the release itself.

This year saw some major changes in my daily life, as I changed positions at my day job (a couple of times, actually) and we did some work on the downstairs floor of our house, which resulted in me having a fairly nice office, from which I’m typing this right now. There’s still a little work left to go on the office, but expect pictures when everything is done.

But that’s enough news about me, now it’s time for the obligatory year-end lists. I’m not going to do top tens or fives or whatever, in no small part because there’s too much stuff that I wanted to get to that didn’t happen, but I’ll mention a few high points, and apologies in advance for anything and everything that I leave out. Starting with movies, 2012 was a good year for me and the cinema. I saw a pile of good stuff in theatres, with a few of my favorites (in no particular order) being AvengersCabin in the WoodsLooper, and Skyfall. I was also surprised to really enjoy Men in Black 3, which I saw on DVD, and which was actually better than either of its predecessors. (Also, that makes two movies featuring time travel in the main plot that I saw this year and really liked. Mark it down, because it is unlikely to happen again.) I also saw The Innkeepers in theatres back at the beginning of the year. Though it technically came out in 2011, it might just be my favorite of the whole bunch, so I’m making it a point to mention it here.

As good as 2012 was for movies, it was even better for books. I read a pile of great books in 2012, an unprecedented number of which actually came out during the year. My top reads (from books released in 2012) were Molly Tanzer’s bizarre debut A Pretty Mouth and Ian Rogers’ superlative collection Every House is Haunted, along with the aforementioned Book of Cthulhu 2 and the latest book in Holly Black’s Curse Worker series. 2012 was also the year that I was introduced to the crime writings of Dashiell Hammett for the first time, and I’ve devoured pretty much all of them in the course of the year, and loved them all.

As many great books as I read in 2012, though, there were more that I didn’t get the chance to crack open yet. Chief amongst them Richard Gavin’s latest collection At Fear’s Altar, Jesse Bullington’s The Folly of the World, Ross Lockhart’s Chick Bassist, and Stephen Graham Jones’ Last Final Girl. 2013 is looking just as impressive (and damaging to my bank account), with a plethora of exciting releases on the horizon, including a new collection by Laird Barron, a long-overdue debut collection from Nathan Ballingrud, a YA novel from John Hornor Jacobs, and a brand new book by Holly Black. There’s also a new collection by John Langan on the way, entitled The Wide Carnivorous Sky & Other Monstrous Geographies, which I don’t have a way to link to yet, but am very eagerly awaiting. And that’s all just off the top of my head.

I have high hopes for 2013, and while I’m not really a resolutions kind of person, I think that as close as I have to one this year is to remember that what I’m getting to do is pretty awesome, and to behave accordingly. Thanks to everyone reading this, to everyone who picked up a copy of either of my books, to everyone who left a review somewhere or sent me some kind words, to all my friends and everyone who helped make 2012 a pretty great year. Here’s to hoping that 2013 is even better, for all of us. Soupy twist!

You know I’ve been busy when it takes me over a week to post about this:

Hellboy in Hell, as anyone reading this probably already knows, marks Mike Mignola’s first time drawing Hellboy in way too long. It also marks an entirely new chapter in Hellboy’s existence as a character, and one that I’ve been very excited about since it was first announced. There’ll be some mild spoilers, so read at your own risk.

I like Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. and Baltimore and everything else, but so far my favorite of anything I’ve seen Mignola ever do is the Amazing Screw-On Head & Other Curious Objects book. The big star of that book for most people is the reprint of Amazing Screw-On Head, but the best stuff for me is the more recent stuff that Mignola drew to fill out the rest of the book. There’s a couple of reasons for that. One, it’s Mignola completely unfettered. It’s pure imagination, distilled onto the page, and nobody does that better than Mignola. Two, though he claims to be rusty, Mignola’s art has really jumped up a notch in recent years, and he’s at his best in stories like “The Witch and her Soul” and “The Prisoner of Mars.” The exciting thing about Hellboy in Hell is that, not only is Mignola back on art duties, but both of those things that made the Amazing Screw-On Head book so magical are largely true here, too. Though still telling the larger, interconnected story of Hellboy and his mythos, the move to send Hellboy to Mignola’s version of hell has freed Mignola from the constraints of a story set in the (increasingly complex) real world of the ongoing B.P.R.D. comics, and gives him free rein to pour his imagination directly onto the page again, both in storytelling and in art.

As a result, Hellboy in Hell #1 is probably the most abstract Hellboy comic to date. There’s a fantastic transition in which Hellboy’s heart becomes Hellboy himself. There’s the panel referenced on the regular cover, which may be among the most striking Hellboy panels I’ve seen. Hellboy in Hell #1 is also about as close to what I think of as “pure Mignola” as anything you’ll find. There’s what appears to be a visual nod to Goya, and there’s a fight sequence that’s more Kirby than anything Mignola’s done in a while. There’s weird leaning Victorian houses and portraits of random people, and of course there’s a puppet version of A Christmas Carol, which actually provides some tantalizing hints of the structure of this first Hellboy in Hell story arc. 

Really, the only problem with Hellboy in Hell #1 is that it feels too short. Not that it’s any shorter than normal, it isn’t, but it’s something I feel like I’ve been waiting so long for that I want it all right now. I think this first story arc is one that will benefit from multiple readings over time, and I’m really looking forward to reading the whole thing again when it’s collected into a trade.

Yesterday, on my bus ride home, I finished Ian Rogers‘ debut collection Every House is Haunted. I’d read it over the last three days, and I couldn’t have asked for better material to close out the Halloween season.

Full disclosure, before I get into the meat of this review: Ian and I are friends, though we’ve only met in person a couple of times. I’ve known him since we were both published together in Bound for Evil back in 2008, and we both did our first ever book signing at that year’s Readercon. You can rest assured, though, that while our friendship affects how excited I am to see him have such a handsome book in print, it wouldn’t be enough to make me be as effusive in my praise as I am about to be.

Every House is Haunted, in addition to having a great title, is about as assured a debut collection as you’re ever likely to find. Ian writes in the grand tradition of folks like Stephen King, Richard Matheson (albeit with fewer Twilight Zone endings), or Shirley Jackson, but he also manages to make the stories entirely his own. Many of the stories involve haunted houses, as you might gather from the title, but rarely are they haunted in the usual sense. Many other stories, including some of my favorites, feature a sort of blue collar approach to the supernatural. The agencies that deal with the occult in Ian’s world are believably bureaucratic, peopled with the kinds of folks you’d find working in cubicles in any office building.

In fact, a big part of what makes Ian’s stories so good is their very human heart. While often ominous or creepy (and occasionally very funny), the stories in Every House is Haunted never feel the least bit mean-spirited. There’s always a warmth and sympathy at the center of each story, no matter how grim the subject matter becomes.

I have favorites from the book, of course. “Cabin D,” “The Cat,” and “Inheritor” all jump to mind. But really, it’s not any one story or stories that makes Every House such a success, but the way they combine to form a whole that is more than the sum of even its (already quite exceptional) parts.

Tomorrow is my birthday. In spite of the subject line up there, I’m actually turning 31. But it seemed appropriate anyway, not only because tomorrow is the 30th, but because tomorrow is the end of my being 30. In some ways, it was a pretty big year for me. Probably bigger than I’ve yet realized, since I still feel kind of in the midst of it. It hasn’t really sunk in that it’s my birthday tomorrow, and that Halloween is only two days away. It still feels like the beginning of October, or maybe even earlier than that.

I don’t know how much time I’ll have for introspection or anything else in the next couple of days. With any luck, I’ll watch a movie or two, and maybe you’ll hear about that. Then in November I’m going to start my aforementioned experiment to try to rectify my ignorance of Hitchcock’s canon, and I’ll definitely be updating about that as it goes along.

I’ve been asked about presents, but I’m really doing pretty well and there’s not a lot that I need in that department right now. If you really want to get me something for my birthday, the best thing would probably be to go ahead and pre-order a copy of Fungi for yourself, if you haven’t already. As before, I recommend the hardcover. My collection isn’t up for order just yet, but I’ve turned in the final proofs, and so it should be heading to the printer. If you’d like to save up your birthday cheer for that, it should be available for order any day now.

If you already ordered Fungi, then thank you. And if you have an overabundance of goodwill toward me and more money to spend, then I’d recommend picking yourself up a book by one of my very good friends. It’ll make me happy, and you’ll have a fantastic book to read. You’ve probably already heard me talk about Molly Tanzer’s A Pretty Mouth, but it bears repeating that it’s one of the best new books I’ve read in a while, and I just got my copy of Every House is Haunted, the debut collection from Ian Rogers, and so far it is excellent (and is the first time, to my knowledge, that I’m mentioned in the acknowledgements of a book). I haven’t yet gotten my copy of Richard Gavin’s latest, At Fear’s Altar, but his previous collections are among the best contemporary weird fiction I’ve had the pleasure of reading, and this one promises to be his best yet.

You’ll hear from me again before then, but I hope that everyone has a happy Halloween, and those of you on the East Coast (and everywhere else, frankly), stay safe.

The latest issue of the Lovecraft eZine is a tribute to Roger Zelazny’s A Night in the Lonesome October, and it features my story “The Blackbird Whistling, or Just After.”

Roger Zelazny isn’t quite the fabled “writer who made me want to become a writer,” but discovering his work marked maybe the biggest turning point in my journey from being a kid who wanted to grow up to be a writer to growing up to kind of be a writer after all. And while I discovered Zelazny through his Amber novels, A Night in the Lonesome October is, of course, the novel of his that speaks most to me. It’s a perennial favorite, and I try to re-read it about every year. So when the call for submissions to the Lovecraft eZine tribute issue came out, I knew I’d have to do something for it.

It was actually harder than I’d have expected. It came with a deadline, of course, and I was pretty busy, so the story was going to have to be short, and I found myself having trouble thinking of what I could contribute to Zelazny’s vision that was also still in keeping with my own stuff. I finally settled on a brief story, sort of a soliloquy, about what happens after the “bad guys” win the game.

Since my game was taking place after Zelazny’s (obviously), I decided to try to update the tropes a few years. Zelazny mined the great figures of gothic and Victorian literature for his characters, so for mine I went to the pulps and movies from the 40s and 50s. Hopefully I wasn’t too coy in my descriptions, and, if I was, there’s a handy illustration with the story that does them a bit more justice.

The title comes from the Wallace Stevens poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” and there you have an author’s note that’s almost as long as the story itself!

The issue has a bunch of other stories in it too, from folks like William Meikle and Josh Reynolds, among others, and every story is illustrated and has an audio version (including mine!) and there’s an essay about the book itself, and even an introduction from Zelazny’s son Trent, now an author in his own right. So seriously, check out the issue, and not just for my little story. And if you’ve never read the book, I heartily recommend you track it down, at least from the library or something, because it is well worth getting to know, and especially appropriate for this eeriest of seasons.