Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Benjamin Kane Ethridge on Collaborative Writing

As part of DarkEva’s blogtour for Benjamin Kane Ethridge’s new book Dungeon Brain, Mr. Ethridge graciously agreed to write a guest post. It’s about time we had a little class around this joint.

Collaborative Writing Dos and Don’ts
By Benjamin Kane Ethridge

I’m asked often about the writing process, but never the co-writing process. I’ve co-written an epic fantasy novel, two novellas, a handful of short stories and soon I’ll be working with another writer for a shared world anthology meta-story. Now, while I’ve had some experience in splicing a story together it must be said that I am always learning. Every writer is different and every marriage is different. You have to approach it with a measure of caution, common sense and honesty. First off, you need to know thyself. If you’re still trying to figure out how to write something, it might be difficult to work with another—or, it might be just the thing to teach you something about your own process. I’ve prepared three dos and three don’ts for collaboration that should be considered prior to this endeavor.

DON’T fight with your partner. Suggest your feelings about the direction of the story. If they don’t see it your way, it’s time to make a decision. Will the effect be devastating or irrevocable? If no, then carry on. If yes, do you want to pull out of the project? That’s your decision and it must be made sooner rather than later. Out of respect to your collaborator, you should do your best to find common ground.

DO discuss the trajectory of the story beforehand. It’s okay if you both don’t want to outline, but I suggest at very least knowing what you’re aiming at before you fire the gun.

DON’T leave your partner waiting for long periods of time. Everybody has different lives, different schedules and can write at different velocities, but at least attempt to return your work at a similar rate. If he or she writes twice faster than you, then make an effort to increase your own pace a little. That’s the best you can do. I bring this up for the story’s benefit. While advantageous to wait before returning to edit a piece, I don’t believe it’s helpful to halt creation of a story mid-flow. If you dally too long, you might not only throw yourself off, but another person as well.

DO keep your partner entertained. There’s nothing better than receiving a new portion of the story that ends on a cliffhanger. It gets the story-mind working. Move the plot along and your partner will be eager to pick up on where you left off.

DON’T remove large portions of prose or dialog from your partner’s contributions without careful discussion and justification first. Slipping into the nursery in the dead of night and tossing someone’s baby out the window is way not cool.

DO communicate constantly. Try different approaches to see what works. Do you need to finish a chapter? Reach a certain word count? And where? Do you want to end mid-paragraph, sentence, etc? You will find out how easy or how difficult it is to jump back into a moving story. Some writers get stuck and there is nothing wrong with having your collaborator come up to bat early—in fact, that’s what is truly awesome about collaboration, the two heads are better than one deal. As long as you’re honest and keep those lines of communication going, you’ll be surprised at the tales that these unions can produce.

About the Author: Benjamin Kane Ethridge is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of the novel BLACK & ORANGE (Bad Moon Books, 2010). For his master's thesis he wrote, "Causes of Unease: The Rhetoric of Horror Fiction and Film." Available in an ivory tower near you. Benjamin lives in Southern California with his wife and two creatures who possess stunning resemblances to human children. When he isn't writing, reading, videogaming, Benjamin's defending California's waterways and sewers from pollution.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Dungeon Brain

This is part of a blog tour organized by the Mistress of Horror herself, the one and only Dark Eva.

I read a lot of books, but it’s a little bit rare to come across one with a truly original concept. Novels tend to recycle the same old tropes, with only the execution to set them apart. I can’t say that about Benjamin Kane Ethridge’s new novel Dungeon Brain, as it definitely took me to unexpected places.

When the story begins, June Nilman, whose surname seems quite appropriate, wakes in an abandoned hospital somewhere in a dystopian future. It’s a world devastated by war, where programmed content is fed to the inhabitants through ocular implants. June has a few problems. She suffers from some form of amnesia, but even worse, her brain has apparently been stuffed with myriad other personalities and memories, a sort of punitive schizophrenia. Finding herself in the mental mob is a difficult task. In addition to her psychological obstacles, she has a human nemesis in Maggie, a Nurse Ratched-type character who seems to control the institution as well as a type of alien creature that acts as a sort of security patrol.

June needs to escape, and to do so she needs to access the personalities locked in her head, with the danger of being lost inside them. Even if she manages to escape the labyrinthine facility, Maggie, and the creatures, there is no way of knowing things will be better outside her prison.

Dungeon Brain is more science fiction than horror, but it is certainly horrifying science fiction. Losing oneself inside yourself is probably about as scary a possibility as exists, and the novel reinforces Douglas Winter’s thirty-year-old assertion that horror is an emotion rather than a genre in and of itself.

Ethridge writes with clarity and literary depth, and does an excellent job of creating the feeling of existential terror that permeates the novel. His writing shows a sense of craft above what you typically encounter in the horror field today while still connecting on the visceral level where horror (emotion or genre) lives. This is the first of his books I’ve read, but it won’t be the last.

You can order Dungeon Brain from Amazon, and check back here on the 14th for a guest column from Mr. Ethridge.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Quiet House: A Halloween Story

If you are in the mood for a little seasonal reading at a great price, I would recommend “Quiet House: A Halloween Short Story” by Norman Prentiss, author of one of my favorite novellas, Invisible Fences. This story of psychological horror tells about the first year Jeremy is old enough to trick-or-treat, his anticipation at being able to visit the legendary Myrick house, his disappoint, and the consequences of a thoughtless act of revenge. The story is only 99¢, and can be ordered through Cemetery Dance or Amazon.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Final Destination

The Final Destination movies (of which there have been five to date, with further installments planned) have always been a guilty pleasure. The theme of inescapable fate, with death coming to those who thwarted it with various Rube Goldberg-esque machinations, was fairly repetitious, but there was a certain fun-loving quality amidst the gore, and I enjoyed the first three installments to some degree. Not enough, I suppose, since the fourth movie, titled The Final Destination*, sat on my shelf for over a year until I finally got around to it this week.

A group of vacuous twenty-somethings – who are supposed to be students, I guess – go to a track together to attend an auto race. None of them seems very interested in it but Hunt (Nick Zano), who is only there because he wants to see a wreck, and who is a dear friend to the others despite having a personality that makes you want to run over him with a steamroller. He gets his wish when a car wrecks, spins into the crowd, and kills the entire group along with various other bystanders in grisly fashion. Boy, that was a short movie, can’t say I’ll miss them thou – oh, it was just a premonition by Nick (Bobby Campo). He manages to get his friends, some of the bystanders, and a security guard out before the fatal accident. Well, that’s a more disappointing end, bu – oh, yeah, it’s the same setup for the other films. They have cheated death, but death doesn’t take that lying down, and will get them in the sequence they were supposed to have died. A few gory deaths, a trademark scene of gratuitous nudity, and a fiery climax at a 3D movie (how meta!) and it ends the same way as the others did.

Gallagher has gone too far!

There are a couple of differences. Nick continues to have vague premonitions (unlike the first specific one he had) although that mostly leads to frustration because his friends absolutely refuse to believe him. After all, his vision only saved their lives. There is also a minor twist that someone who has cheated the reaper can’t die until it’s their turn in the sequence again, which would allow you to have a pretty exciting day or two. I can’t see that these additions add or detract from the movie, but one change does: Tony Todd is not in this film. If you have seen the first three, you know he appears as a mysterious character to explain things to the victims-to-be and to thoroughly creep them out. Todd had a scheduling conflict that kept him out of this one, and the film suffers for it, for as I’ve said before, a movie should have as much Tony Todd as possible.

The big failing here is there is no reason to care if the cast survives, with the possible exception of George (Mykelti Williamson), and in the case of Hunt and Racist (that’s the only way he’s referred to in the film or credits) you actively root for them to get it. If you don’t care about characters, you won’t care about the movie, and The Final Destination definitely falls short of the guilty pleasure status of its predecessors.

The Final Destination was the first in the series to be filmed in 3-D, but I watched it in 2-D since I’m not a fan of splitting headaches.

* I’m sure it’s an example of some form of OCD, but I can’t express to you how much it irritates me the other movies are titled Final Destination, Final Destination 2, Final Destination 3, and Final Destination 5, but this one is called The Final Destination. Consistency, people! It makes my shelf look unorganized.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Faculty

Back in the 1990s, Kevin Williamson probably did more than anyone to bring horror movies back to popularity. The writer who was best known as the creator of the angsty teen drama Dawson’s Creek also created the Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer franchises, making slasher movies hip for Generation X. In 1998, he turned his formula to a re-visioning of the alien body-snatching subgenre, with The Faculty, directed by Robert Rodriguez (Sin City, From Dusk Till Dawn).

In a typical high school in Ohio, we find a fairly standard collection of students. There is Delilah the mean girl (Jordana Brewster), Zeke the slacker drug dealer (Josh Hartnett), Stokes the goth girl everyone thinks is gay (Clea Duvall), Stan the jock who wants to be known for more than his physical skills (Shawn Hatosy), and Casey the hopeless geek (Frodo Elijah Woods). We are introduced to each in short illustrative vignettes, most notably a group of students picking up Casey and slamming him crotch-first into a flag pole, over and over. As a confirmed hobbit-hater, I approve of this. The kids have little in common except the usual teenager’s belief that adults are aliens. In this case, they’re right.

Starting with the teachers, people are taken over and controlled by alien entities that love water and conformity. Our gang of misfits are the only ones who tumble to the truth before it’s too late, and it is up to them to stop the alien takeover. They have two advantages. Stokes is a science fiction reader, so she knows they only have to find the alien queen and kill her to end the reign of terror. They have a weapon when they discover Zeke’s homemade speed is lethal to the invaders (Nerdism: Zeke says his power works against the water-based aliens because it is a diuretic. I think he means it is a dessicant, because it doesn’t give the ETs an uncontrollable urge to pee.).

This is not a terribly well-regarded movie. Robert Rodriguez has mostly disavowed it, saying he only did it to learn how to work with CGI and to satisfy a contractual obligation. It is the only one of his movies without his distinctive special features on the home video release, and has little of his individual style. It currently has just a 6.3/10 rating on

Still, I love this movie. It doesn’t take itself very seriously and try to be something it’s not. It is, I think, a lot of fun. Williamson was the first screenwriter to write a slasher movie where the characters realize they are in a slasher movie, and here, thanks to the character of Stokes, they are aware of the science fictional precedents. Stokes quotes Robert A. Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters and Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers, even getting the name right on the later. Curiously, she doesn’t mention John Carpenter’s version of The Thing, but that maybe because The Faculty steals/pays homage to it so directly. For instance, when our heroic band decides to test themselves to see if any of them are aliens, it is virtually the same scene as the test sequence from The Thing, right down to the couch and the revealed alien crashing through a wall to get outside.

If this sort of a thing interests you and you haven’t seen it yet, you might want to give The Faculty a try. If you are a political conservative, you will probably be delighted when Jon Stewart gets stabbed in the eye. (In the interest of political balance, liberals should watch Anaconda, where Jon Voight gets eaten by a snake.
The police say they have some questions for Bill O'Reilly

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Wicker Tree

The 1973 movie The Wicker Man is probably one of the more beloved cult movies of the horror genre. It had a very spotty distribution record outside of the U.K., and in some places only made it to the screen after 10 years or more.) The story of an upright, religious, and sexually repressed policeman who investigates the case of a missing girl in the Hebrides and has his faith challenged and his life taken by the pagan locals was very daring for its time. Home video increased its notoriety, and for years the original writer-director, Robin Hardy, has struggled to make a sequel. A big-budget remake was released in 2006 that has become legendary for how awful it is. Look for youtube clips of Nicholas Cage wearing a bear suit and screaming “Oh no! Not the bees!” if you dare.

In 2010, Hardy finally succeeded in filming a sequel, entitled The Wicker Tree, adapted from a novel he wrote called Cowboys for Christ. Was it worth the wait? Let’s just saying I was really missing those bees before the end.

Steve and Beth (Brittania Nicol and Henry Garret) are two sincere young Christians living in Texas, where all the men wear cowboy hats and everyone speaks with an exaggerated Southern accent. Beth used to be a successful country singer with songs about drinkin’ and whores (like all good country songs) but she saw the light and now sings turgid religious songs. Steve and Beth are engaged and wear silver rings as a promise they won’t have sex until they are married. They are the people you hope you won’t have to sit next to at the company picnic, but end up having to do so anyway.

Scotland, it seems, has a chronic shortage of evangelical Christians, so there is a Lend-Lease type program called Cowboys for Christ that sends Protestant missionaries over to witness to the heathens. It’s a shame Scotland doesn’t have Protestant churches of their own. They could even call their church The Church of Scotland if they wanted to. But, I digress. Beth and Steve arrive in Tressock, Scotland and begin preaching and singing to those sinners. They learn the locals worship Sulis, a version of Minerva, and accept it calmly, rather than freaking the hell out like real evangelicals would. A Scottish hussy flashes her boobs at Steve, his chastity ring flies off at the speed of light, and he begins the forbidden boning. He could have remained pure if he hadn’t traveled to Scotland, the land where women have breasts.

A tender, romantic moment

It turns out the pagan-ness is the result of some manipulation by the local bigwig. He owns the local nuclear power plant, which has been leaking a peculiar kind of radiation which apparently makes men sterile without any other effects. Lest the townsfolk turn against the power plant since they can’t have children, he has convinced them to wear silly masks and practice cannibalism and human sacrifice to restore their fertility. Groundskeeper Willy would be offended by this depiction of the Scots. In due course Beth gets her bare butt buttered (!), Steve is part of a very special meal celebration, a tree gets torched, and Beth has a chance to escape if she’s smart enough to do so. I’ll leave you to guess how that turns out.

This is a terrible movie, and it’s hard to believe the same person who made the first one is responsible for this as well. The stereotypes of Texans and Scots are painful to watch, and it has the depth of a puddle. The original presented the culture clash of an authentically religious Christian against true pagans, but here, no one really seems to be much of a believer. You know all along where this is heading, and the only suspense is how they get there. Hardy is supposedly working on a third film in the series, but my expectations are now low.

Christopher Lee was supposed to be one of the leads in The Wicker Tree just as in the earlier film, but an injury restricted him to a completely unnecessary cameo.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Poster for the new Carrie

The remake of Carrie starring Chloë Grace Moretz has a new poster. I have no idea if the movie is going to be good, but the poster is pretty cool. Amazing how often Ms. Moretz has (movie) blood on her face.

Monday, October 8, 2012


Way back in the late 80s/early 90s, when there was money to be made in the direct-to-video market, Full Moon Features was the biggest name in the B-movie market, at least for horror fans. They had several lengthy series, the best known of which is the still-going Puppet Master films. In 1991, they ventured into vampire movies, with Subspecies, which spawned three direct sequels and one kinda sorta sequel.

In rural Romania, vampires are still thick on the ground (The characters in the movie mention there being many vampires, although we only see three. The recession is hitting every profession.). The local vampire king is one Vladislav (Angus Scrimm from Phantasm in a cameo scene). He has a generally pro-human policy, and has left the local populace alone. He has two sons, Radu (Anders Hove) who is more the typical bad-guy vampire, as evidenced by his amazing finger extensions, and his wimpier son Stefan (Michael Watson). Vladislav is in possession of the Bloodstone, an acorn-shaped jewel from which drips the blood of saints. All the vampires crave the Bloodstone because…well, I didn’t really catch that part. Maybe the blood of saints has a chipotle flavor? I thought the blood of saints kept vampires from needing to drink human blood, but this is contradicted by the movie.

Careful where you scratch.

Anyway, Radu decides to kill his father for the Bloodstone, but is thwarted when his dad hits a switch that releases an overhead cage exactly where Radu is standing. What luck. Vladislav’s victory is temporary, however, as Radu breaks off his own fingers (!) and they turn into tiny demon-looking creatures. I swear I was not on any medication, legal or otherwise, when I was watching this. Seeing this, Vladislav obligingly runs to the other side of the room so the homunculi can get to the switch to re-raise the cage, instead of, you know, stepping on them. Radu is released, Vladislav is skewered.

(Incidentally, the little creatures are apparently the subspecies of the title. I assumed it referred to vampires, but no, it’s a group of four-inch high toadies.)

Coincidentally, there is the arrival in town of four graduate students to study local folklore. They are played by three attractive young ladies, hired more for their willingness to forego a no-nudity clause in their contracts than their acting ability. Well, two-thirds of them, anyway. They could not behave less like graduate students if they tried. It’s sort of Valley Girls in Eastern Europe. Stefan shows up, falls in love with one of the girls, and they fight to end Radu’s (short) reign of terror. Radu is disposed of, although if you remember where I mentioned sequels, you know this doesn’t take.

Subspecies is a victim in many places of the film’s microbudget, but it is a good bit of fun. Director Ted Nicolaou does a good job of setting the mood, and was strongly influenced by Murnau’s Nostferatu, most obviously with Radu’s long fingers, and the creepy way the shadows of those hands look thrown against walls and across of the faces of sleeping victims-to-be.

Subspecies was the first movie to be filmed in Romania following the fall of Communism. The featurette on the blu-ray disc shows a number of Romanians being asked if they believe in vampires. All say they do not, and think it a frivolous question, no doubt partly because they had just gotten out from under the thumb of Nicolae Ceaușescu, a dictator so beloved that when he fell from power he was given a two hour trial and an immediate three minute execution. One of the interviewees stated that Dracula was a myth made up by a “stupid American.” I don’t think Bram Stoker was stupid, and I know he was an Irishman.

Saturday, October 6, 2012


Not the famous brand of Chili in Cincinnati. Not the small northern Alabama town where everyone seems to hate each other. This is Skyline the movie.

By far, the easiest type of movie to review is one that is completely awful. The jokes basically write themselves. It’s also easy enough to rave about a movie you love. The hardest movie to review, in my opinion, is one that you never form a strong opinion about and neither like it well enough to particularly recommend it or hate it enough to mock it. This is also Skyline the movie.

An artist named Jarrod (Eric Balfour from Haven and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake) and his girlfriend Elaine arrive in Los Angeles for a birthday party for Jarrod’s best friend Terry (Donald Faison from Scrubs). Terry has hit it big, and wants Jarrod to move from New York to work for him. We are treated to a dullish party where we learn Elaine is pregnant and doesn’t want to move, Terry is cheating on his wife with his personal assistant, and the building super objects to loud music. It’s a very special episode of Party of Five. If you’ve ever watched one of those TV shows about angst-ridden yuppies and wished aliens would invade and kill them all, this might be your kind of movie, because Jarrod and Elaine have arrived in L.A. just in time for a big alien invasion.

Alien spacecraft descend and produce bright lights. If you look at them, you become all veiny and are drawn into the light and sucked up into the spacecraft, no doubt for a nefarious purpose. The military is no match for the alien menace, and soon Jarrod, Elaine, Terry, and company are attempting to survive the attack and get the hell out of town.

The obvious connection to be made here is Cloverfield, a similar and better movie about a group of affluent young things trying to survive horror. In both movies, the main characters (and the viewers) never get the full story about what is going on, and seem to be a side story to the main action. In this one, the characters seem a little less sympathetic, and the ending tends toward the confusing side.

More interesting than the movie itself is the back story of how it came to be made. The co-directors are successful in the field of computer-generated special effects and self-financed the production, spending $500,000 to shoot the live action before adding $10,000,000 of special effects in post. (The movie was shot in one of the co-directors condominium building). It does look great.

I suppose this is one of those films that should be seen by viewers who love alien invasion films, a group of which I am a member. A sequel has been rumored to be in the works since this came out, but has not yet materialized.
It will clear up. Just give it time.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Vampire Ad

Original source unknown.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

This Dark Earth

I’ve been a horror fan for a very long time, since I was old enough to read, but it has been only in the last few years that I’ve really interacted with the people who write the books and make the movies I’ve enjoyed. Some of those interactions haven’t gone so well, like the actress who was offended when I mentioned she’d been in a horror movie or the writer who blew a gasket when I complimented, but for the most part those who make it their business to give you nightmares are surprisingly nice. In some cases, this has led to true friendship, as is the case with the writer of the book I’m reviewing here, the multi-talented John Hornor Jacobs. I’ve known John since well before he published his excellent debut, Southern Gods, and I cherish his friendship.

I don’t remember exactly how long it’s been since I read his recently published novel This Dark Earth. I know it was before Southern Gods was sold, and I remember telling John he probably didn’t want me to read it, since I’m several years past enjoyment of zombie novels. (I realize this makes me an outlier amongst horror readers, many of whom don’t read anything much except zombie novels, but I felt for a while they have exhausted their appeal.) He wanted me to read it anyhow, and I’m glad it will. It may be the last zombie novel I will ever like, but like it I did.

Lucy Ingersoll is an ER doctor in Arkansas when a mysterious disease begins transforming people into maniacal creatures. The military tries to contain the problem by killing the infected and uninfected in the hospital, and Lucy narrowly escapes. She is helped in her escape by a trucker nick-named “Knock-Out”, and manages to reunite with her son Gus, just before the powers-that-be make things worse by nuking the area. Lucy, Knock-Out, and Gus survive, although at a cost. They join forces with a small military force led by Lieutenant Wallace, who can use Lucy’s medical skills.

The story fast forwards by about four years. Gus has proved to be quite a prodigy, and has helped the survivors establish a settlement (imaginatively placed on a bridge, ideal for defensive purposes). The zombie threat is still there, although the greater danger in this post-apocalyptic world is other human survivors.
So, why should you read this novel instead of other zombie stories? Because Jacobs does a masterful job creating believable characters. Lucy, Knock-Out, Gus and the rest come to life. Whether you like them or not, you understand them, and you care what happens to them. If you are a zombie fan, you definitely don’t want to miss this, and if you aren’t, you will probably be surprised how compelling it is.

I’m not really a fan of the cover, although it does look better up close than in a photograph, but if it sells the book, then that’s all it’s meant to do. Also, there is plenty of evidence that taste in book covers doesn’t reflect the zeitgeist.

I also keep calling the book This Dead Earth, but I blame that on David Wilbanks.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

R.I.P. Herbert Lom

Czech-born character actor Herbert Lom passed away last week at 95. He was probably best known for playing the long-suffering Dreyfuss in the Pink Panther films, but he made a number of horror movies, including the Hammer Films version of The Phantom of the Opera, Asylum and Now the Screaming Starts for Amicus, Mark of the Devil, and many others. He was also in a sci-fi movie that creeped me out as a kid called Journey to the Far Side of the Sun, although I doubt many people remember that one.


So it’s the season again, and I’m going to try to get back to regular posting. Remember, for us Halloween lasts a month long. We deserve it, particularly since Christmas goes on for about two and a half months. If any of those weirdoes who think Christmas is a superior holiday give you any flack about extending the best holiday, point out to them how strange it is to celebrate a creepy guy in a red suit breaking into your house after you fall asleep. Word.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Cemetery Dance #67

The 67th issue of Cemetery Dance is now available for purchase. This is the second published issue that has featured yours truly on the masthead as one of the Associate Editors. Or, as I like to put it, the least important member of a great team. The current issue features Neil Gaiman telling the story of his trip to see Stephen King, fiction by the great Douglas Clegg and others, and the usual outstanding columns, interviews and features. I am a big fan of the cover art for this one, which is by Tomislav Tikulin. You can get a copy at cool newstands or order one online here.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Empty Places

I go away for a while and Blogger has a new layout. I’ll probably get used to it about the time they change it again. Due to some bizarre goings-on, I’ve been away from this for over half a year. Dagon willing, I will be posting more regularly as we go on.

Gary Raisor, author of the excellent novel Less Than Human and editor of the equally impressive anthology Obsessions, has a new release out in ebook form called Empty Places. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but I look forward to it, as it certainly sounds like a winner. Joe Lansdale likes it, so why shouldn’t you?

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Ten Best Horror Short Stories (Pre-1960)

I haven’t done a list in a long while, but they are always a way to fill space, er, present informed opinion. This one isn’t exactly new, to be truthful. I was taking some time to go through some old post on previous blogs (this is my fourth blog, and it was depressing to see that I seem to write worse and worse as time goes on) and came across an old post which contained a list of my favorite horror short stories published before 1960. The usual problem with making lists is that, since they are personal preference, the order/content of them changes almost immediately. (I found a list I had made of my favorite horror novels of the 21st century, and was so repelled by the books on it I can only conclude I had a secret drug habit in 2007, secret even from myself.) This list, however, seems to have held up pretty well, and doesn’t really change on casual observance.

Largely to limit the Lovecraft content, I limited the list to one story per author. There were several stories by Arthur Machen and William Hope Hodgson which almost made the list, so those are the most notable snubs/omissions. Most people would go with "Pigeons From Hell" for the Howard story, but an explanation for my choice can be found here.

1. “The Colour Out Of Space”, H. P. Lovecraft
2. “Who Goes There?”, John W. Campbell, Jr.
3. “Dig Me No Grave”, Robert E. Howard
4. “The Graveyard Rats”, Henry Kuttner
5. “The Lottery”, Shirley Jackson
6. “The Damned Thing”, Ambrose Bierce
7. “Second Night Out”, Frank Belknap Long
8. “The Ash-Tree”, M.R. James
9. “Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper”, Robert Bloch
10. “Born of Man and Woman”, Richard Matheson

Sunday, February 26, 2012

WITA #4: Tim Lebbon

Trying to return to a steady post count here, I am once again reprinting an interview I originally did for Cemetery Dance. This gives me new content with minimal effort and ensures that none of the brilliant work I've done shall ever disappear from the internet. This piece originally appeared in Cemetery Dance's newsletter and on their website in August, 2010, and appears here courtesy of Cemetery Dance. As usual, bear in mind the interview is a year and a half old, and when the author talks about what is coming soon, he means something that is an old release to him now. This interview is with Tim Lebbon, one of the better contemporary writers. It appears just as it did originally, bad jokes and all. All mistakes in the text are mine and mine alone.

Interviewing authors is a tough job. Matching them drink for drink in sleazy bars, violent confrontations when the questions probe too deep, making permanent enemies. Well, I mean, it isn’t that way for me, I just sit here in my comfortable chair and ask questions of gracious and accommodating authors, but for those poor souls who are assigned Nicholas Sparks or Stephanie Meyer, they’re gonna lose some teeth. (Just kidding, Twilight fans. Please don’t burn down my house.)

Welsh author Tim Lebbon has been making waves in the horror field since the publication of his first book Mesmer in 1997. His awards for his fiction include the Bram Stoker Award (for his short story “Reconstructing Amy”), the August Derleth Award (for his novel Dusk) and the Scribe Award (for the novelization of the film 30 Days of Night). His current release from Cemetery Dance is the short story collection Last Exit for the Lost. Tim lives in Monmouthshire with his family, and took time from his busy schedule to answer a few questions.

WITA - Your recent collection from Cemetery Dance is Last Exit for the Lost, 19 of your shorter works in a 560 page volume. Tell us a little about this book.

Tim Lebbon - It's my first collection since 2003's WHITE AND OTHER TALES OF RUIN (which was a novella collection from Night Shade Books), and collects my best short fiction from 2000 to 2006, as well as the novella In Perpetuity from NIGHT VISIONS 11. It also contains Pay the Ghost, which Dennis Iliadis is soon to direct for Sidney Kimmel Entertainment. I don't write nearly as many short stories as I used to, which is a shame because I love doing them, so this collection is a bit of a milestone, and I'm very excited to see it out at last. Even though timewise it stops around 2007 (when the two original stories were written), it gives a pretty good cross-section of the sort of stuff I write. If a new reader asks 'what should I read of yours' I usually point them to one of my collections, and now that there's this new one to share. There's a new collection coming soon from PS Publishing, too, collecting my work from 2006 to 2010 (with some original work on there). I suspect that might be the last for a few years...

WITA -In a recent discussion I had with a friend about your work, we agreed that you are one if not the best contemporary writers when it comes to novella-length work. Not to slight any of your other stories, but would you agree that the novella seems to bring out your best, and if so, why?

Tim Lebbon - Thanks, that's very kind of you. I'm very proud of my novellas, and I'll be writing more in the near future. I'm not sure why it is that they seem to have more of an impact than my novels, and to be honest trying to analyse this troubles me. I guess sometimes in my novels, a weakness of mine is detailed plotting and seeing the big picture. I hate planning a book, so I usually head in with an idea and see where it takes me. With novellas, it's easier to do this and come out the other end unscathed, because although the ideas can sometimes be as complex as those for a novel, getting there is quicker.
I'm also quite an impulsive writer - and very fast, once I'm in the flow of a story - and I think an intensive writing period suits a novella more than a novel. If it's flowing well, I'll write a novella in a week then be exhausted. Not so easy to remain as focused and energised for the duration of a novel.

WITA -You are the most prominent Welsh writer of horror and fantastic fiction working today, in a lineage that goes back to the great Arthur Machen. In past times, the English viewed Wales as a land of dark magic and sorcery (see Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I). Is there something in Wales and being Welsh that lends itself to dark and fantastic fiction?

Tim Lebbon - Machen is one of my favourite writers, so thank you. Wales is certainly steeped in history, myth and legend, and perhaps that bleeds from the rocks into the writers who live here. As for me, I'm deeply affected by landscape, and the place where I'm lucky enough to live has some of the most beautiful countryside in the British Isles. I take daily walks in the local woodland, and that certainly recharges batteries and sometimes helps me see my way past, or through, a problem I might have come up against in my writing. From my front window I can see the Sugarloaf mountain, a beautiful scene. I'm very lucky. I've always been interested in humankind's interaction with the natural world, and I guess living where I am, I'm well-placed to see many of the effects.

WITA - You are a prolific writer. At what point in your career did you look at what you had written and say “I am a professional writer, and this is my future”?

Tim Lebbon - Making the transition into doing this for a living was a very gradual process. I guess I've known since a very early age that I've wanted to be a writer, and I worked hard at it all through my twenties, seeing short stories, novellas and my first novel or two published. I've been earning a living doing it for almost eight years now - four of them still doing some part-time work, and the past four years writing full-time. It has its pressures - my first month without a paycheck was a bit of a shock - but the positives outweigh the negatives by about, ooohhhh, seventeen million to one.

WITA - You are from the UK, but a sizeable proportion of your audience seems to be in America. Do you find that some themes don’t translate as well across the Atlantic, and do you find yourself tailoring your work for those of us who spell “colour” without the “u”?

Tim Lebbon - I certainly don't tailor my work any particular way, I just write the story I most want to tell. My first few horror novels were set in the UK and published in the USA by Leisure Books, and ironically my new SF/horror novel COLDBROOK was first sold in the UK, and is set almost exclusively in the USA. Locations suit the story, or the idea. There's that interesting language barrier that pops up in editing sometimes, and my good friend and collaborator Chris Golden often screams at me 'turn on US spelling, for f***'s sake!' I keep it off just to annoy him. I like him having to cut out all those 'u's

WITA - What should we look forward to seeing from Tim Lebbon in the future?

Tim Lebbon - Right then ...
Out on 27th July (the day before my birthday!), the new Hidden Cities novel with Chris Golden, THE CHAMBER OF TEN, and next year sees the fourth book, THE SHADOW MEN. Later this year Bantam will publish my new stand-alone fantasy novel ECHO CITY, and Orbit will publish that in the UK next year. Also next year comes COLDBROOK in the UK, a huge SF horror novel. And then HarperCollins in the US will publish the first book of mine and Chris Golden's series THE SECRET JOURNEYS OF JACK LONDON, called THE WILD. This has also sold to Fox 2000, and Chris and I are writing the screenplay right now. There's another movie going into production this fall, PAY THE GHOST (mentioned above). There's a collection and a novella from PS Publishing, and a few other things still under wraps. Busy times ahead, but exciting times too.

WITA - Thanks, Tim.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Thing (2011)

It's not human. Yet.

Like a lot of horror fans, I have a special place in my evil heart for the 1982 version of The Thing directed by John Carpenter. It’s probably my favorite horror film, and there are a lot of people who agree with me, it seems. That’s quite an achievement for a movie that was critically reviled and a commercial dud upon its theatrical release, but home video has been very good to it.

I had mixed feelings when it was announced that a prequel was being made. The 1982 version was a masterpiece of paranoid, claustrophobic horror, and it was difficult to see how it could be matched. Still, there was always the sense we had seen the middle of the story, and didn’t know exactly what had happened before the infected dog reached Outpost 31, or anything about what happened after the ‘82 movie ended. I was pretty eager to see it but it met with a similar fate as the first one, with a poor box office and terrible reviews, and it disappeared from local theaters quickly. I had to wait until the blu ray was released to see it.

As you probably know, the movie shows us what happened in the Norwegian camp before Carpenter’s version. A group of Norwegian scientists working in the Antarctic discover an alien spacecraft frozen in the ice, and, more ominously, a life form frozen nearby. The head of the expedition, Dr. Sandor Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) calls in a paleontologist, Kate Loyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to help study it, keeping the discovery secret from the larger world from the time being. As you can guess, the thing in the ice isn’t nearly as dead as the scientists think, and it wakes up, breaks free of the ice, and, to quote the ’82 movie, is “weird and pissed off.” Soon the human numbers begin to shrink, and they discover what the scientists of Outpost 31 did/will: the creature can devour and replicate any living thing. Once this realization is reached, the survivors become locked in a struggle not simply to live, but to keep the thing from reaching the rest of Earth.

The filmmakers were in a damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don’t situation with this movie. If their version was too close to the Carpenter film, they would get savaged for copying the “beloved” classic. If they made it too different, they wouldn’t be true to the source material. I really don’t think there is anything that could have been done to satisfy the true fanboys. They did try to protect the earlier film as much as possible. The studio originally wanted to do a full-fledged remake, but the producers and director (Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.) argued the ’82 version was too good, and swayed them to a prequel instead. The prior film was praised for its use of practical effects, so the effects were practical wherever possible, with some CGI enhancement. Instead of the somber mood of the Carpenter version, this is a more action-oriented film, and Winstead’s character owes more to Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley than Kurt Russell’s MacReady.

So, is it any good? I think so, yes. It isn’t as good as the 1982 movie, but almost no horror films are, in my opinion. It does manage to pay careful homage to the first film while presenting something new. The alien in this one is more given to overt attacks on humans rather than the stealth we have previously seen, but that is logically explained as it learning to be a little more cautious after being set on fire a few times. A new test is devised to determine that some people aren’t the thing, which is low-tech and fairly clever. The cast acquit themselves well, and the ending, although pre-ordained, is clever. If you measure the movie in your mind against the version you love, it will probably come up short, but if you approach it with an open mind, I think it will be enjoyable. I’m looking forward to watching the two movies together to see how it works as a double feature.

I do think many of the characters could have been developed further. Other than Loyd, Halvorson and the helicopter pilot Carter (Joel Edgerton), most the characters are just meat for the grinder. Halvorson also comes across as a bit of a stock scientist villain. Winstead was criticized by a lot of reviewers, but I think she does a good job of portraying the outsider in the camp who has to take over in a crisis because no one else can.

I’ll address a couple of the message board concerns from before the movie’s release. A lot of fans of the first were upset that two women are in the cast of the new version, whereas the first movie is generally believed to have an all-male cast (it doesn’t, but most people don’t get it). I can’t help with that, since fear of a vagina is a matter for psychiatrists. If you are one of these, you may be comforted by the fact that Halvorson treats Loyd and the other female scientist like dirt. There was also quite a bit of noise from the “remakes are bad and ruin the first movie” crowd. I’ll just point out that Carpenter’s film was a remake of the 1951 film The Thing from Another World, and leave it at that.

New Ronald Kelly Story

Ron Kelly's daughter Reilly is going on a People-to-People Student Ambassador trip to Europe this summer, and Ron is using his skill in an unique fundraising capacity. He has written a new short story "Beneath the Bed" which will only be available for donors. The story will be signed, dated, and numbered, and will include original artwork, and is limited to only 250 copies. The story will be "retired" after this, so this is the only way to read it.

Ron is requesting a donation of just $10, plus $3 for shipping and handling. Payment made be made through Paypal to Ron's email address, dixiedarkun@yahoo. You may also mail a check or money order to: Ronald Kelly, 25 Cherry Circle, Brush Creek, TN 38547. Sounds like a winner!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

R.I.P. Ardath Mayhar

As per an article posted on Locus' website yesterday, Ardath Mayhar has died. Ms. Mayhar was a prolific writer across many genre, from science fiction to horror to western. She was a great writer, if not as well known as she deserved.