Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Thoughts on Several Books . . . I Can't Keep Up

So my idea was to post my thoughts on each and every book I read in to 2018, sort of like little reviews. I figured it would be a good exercise since I've grown to despise writing reviews. Turns out I also dislike updating my blog. I know, I know, blogging is dead. People don't read them anymore. Well, I know that's bullshit because I see the numbers. That's why I still post here, albeit infrequently.

That all being said, I have read quite a few books since Stirring the Sheets by Chad Lutzke (awesome little novella--seek it out and read it), and I've decided to put them all into this one post with a quick paragraph of my thoughts on each one.

Savage by Richard Laymon

Great book. Very unlike anything else I have read by Laymon, and I've read a lot of his books. Still doesn't take over my top two favorite Laymon novels (In the Dark and Night in the Lonsesome October), but Savage is most certainly number three. A historical horror that follows Jack the Ripper from England to the American wild west, this story takes the usual twists and turns you expect from a Laymon novel and adds a rich story that I was genuinely moved by, at times feeling extreme sympathy for our hero, and even anger with some of his motivations. Those are the kind of responses I cherish from a novel. If you find Laymon to be to exploitative or maybe just too crazy, give this one a shot. It's well worth it.

The Amulet by Michael McDowell

This is my second McDowell outing. The first was his acclaimed The Elementals, which is one of my favorite novels. The Amulet, however, falls far from the bar I've set for McDowell. A great effort for a first novel, but nothing more than a weird slasher story where the slasher is an amulet that causes people to murder everyone around them when in possession of the piece of jewelry. Pretty much that simple. As I read I kept hoping for some amazing twist that would pay off, but nope. The story goes right where you think it will. I heard that it was originally a screenplay that he turned into a novel, and it reads that way. A slasher film with a twist on the trope, but no pay off. I think it would have made a good movie in the early eighties, considering that the most interesting part of the story aside form our protagonist's growing insecurities concerning her war-damaged husband wrapped from head to tow in bandages and her vile mother-in-law were the various ways people died.

Panacea by F. Paul Wilson

Holy shit this was a good book. Wow. Not my typical fare, the story starts out like a medical thriller and turns into something so much more. Wilson is a master storyteller, this we know, but when I read something like this I'm left in awe, wondering why the hell I even try. The plot is incredibly weaved like a gorgeous tapestry full of hints and clues as to where you're going, but when everything is unfolded, you're still taken by surprise. Books such as this one separate the bestsellers from the midlisters. If I could write something 1/10 this good I would be a happy man.

Life by Kieth Richards

I like the Stones, but I'm no super fan (I'm a Beatles guy). I love rock/metal autobiographies, so I thought I would give this one a shot. Kieth Richards, if nothing, is passionate about music. That was one thing that made the book lag in the beginning. He spends a lot of time talking about the music that influenced him. Too much time. That aside, it's a good rock bio. He doesn't talk much shit and seems like a fairly decent chap, though he most certainly has an anger problem. The legend of Kieth Richards is bigger than the man himself, which is kind of interesting. certainly a great read for Stones fans, though I would have rather read one of those rock bios written from the perspectives of all the members of the band, like the Aerosmith bio Walk This Way or Motley Crue's The Dirt.

Whoopsy Daisy by David Allen Coe

Stumbled upon this on YouTube and listened to it at work one day. Not a fan of Coe aside from the album he did with the Pantera guys Rebel Meets Rebel (awesome record!). Written in '97 just after his wife of 14 years left him, this is kind of a depressing book from a guy who is in a lot of emotional pain. He talks about being famous and what it really means. he breaks down touring and what he actually earns, and discusses some of the mistakes he's made in life. Most of all, he breaks down why he thinks his wife left him. Here's a man haunted by his past. if you are a fan of David Allen Coe or, like me, just like autobiographies, give it a read. I would be interested in one of his previous books that's a more proper autobiography. Apparently he's written quite a few.

Lowland Riders by Chet Williamson

 I made it very close to the end but completely lost interest. A really cool Death Wish premise about a guy whose family is murdered by street thugs who in turn kills one of the murderers and then lives in the subway system fearing persecution for his crime. I wanted to like this novel, but I struggled with it because I stopped caring. It's like two separate stories that aren't getting along together, almost as if the supernatural elements were just thrown in. I hate giving up on a book within fifty pages of the end, but I had to move on to something else. I might go back in a few weeks and finish it...and I might not.

Well, that's it for now. I feel like I'm missing something. I started a few books that I had to put down, so maybe that's it. Anyway, I'm reading Slugs by Shaun Hutson, I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison, The Ice Man: Confession of a Mafia Contract Killer by Philip Carlo, and The Auctioneer by Joan Samson. I like this method of short reviews of each book in one post. I think I'll be doing this from now on.

Happy reading, folks!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Are You Obsessed?

I have a book coming out on June 19th from Grand Mal Press called Death Obsessed. This is my fourth novel, and, in my opinion, the best of the lot. With a title like Death Obsessed, you would have to imagine that death has a lot to do with the story. And you would be correct. But on top of that there's a lot of personal stuff in the book. Not regarding the characters and their struggles necessarily, but the setting. C'mon, I'll give you a tour of the various settings in the book. No spoilers (the book isn't even out yet!), just a tour around San Diego.

A lot of writers use local backdrops for their stories. It's a smart thing to do, because you don't know any geography as well as you know the place you live. We take liberties, though. With Death Obsessed I took many liberties. I used a few places that do not exist anymore. We'll get to those. The story starts out in Calvin's apartment when he has an impromptu argument with his pregnant girlfriend. I have used this very apartment in several stories. The building on Madison Avenue in El Cajon was one a few of my friends lived in just out of high school. The building also appears in In Black and a few short stories. Different people live in that particular apartment, and I've never made a conscious effort at a connected world. I'm not really into that sort of thing. I just think it's a great apartment. I mean, it isn't. It was kind of a crap hole, but it works well in stories. The manager is always Mr. Fingers. He's an unreasonable type. Everyone calls him Butterfingers.

Up next is the Museum of Death. This was a real place in San Diego in the mid-nineties. I believe it now resides somewhere in Los Angeles. The way I describe the Museum of Death is how I remember it, though I only made the trip downtown to see the place once. It was a life-changing experience, seeing all those photographs of dead people, police photos, etc. There's a scene in the book that deals with a series of photos with a couple and a mutilated body. Those pictures are real. I saw 'em. I believe you can find them on the Internet (I wouldn't know; I don't search for photos of dead bodies...not any more). Me and a good friend drove down to the Museum of death in 1997. he had just gotten his driver's license. We were listening to Black Sabbath and taking back roads from El Cajon into downtown San Diego. Talking, singing, full of piss and vinegar. After spending a good hour or so in the Museum of Death we came out changed. Our minds were pretty fucked. It's a lot to take in, seeing all that death. The light outside seemed brighter and I was suddenly very aware of my mortality. I don't think we spoke a word on the drive home. Black Sabbath was even darker than before. Everything was darker. I remember driving home from my friend's house and just laying there on my bed thing about what we had seen. Life is fragile. We're not ten feet tall and bullet proof.

The next trip on our tour across San Diego County is Lakeside. A place called the Hall of Hell. This was a real place, described in accurate detail. Essentially it was a drainage culvert. In Junior High kids would dare one another to walk through the Hall of Hell. I'm claustrophobic, so I had no part in tripping through a jet black culvert. Story was some kid got lost inside and the fire department had to get him out. His name was Eric, but I'll leave his last name out, you know, for the sake of his reputation in prison. I remember being peer pressured to smoke pot at the opening of the culvert, but I was always secure with myself and not one to succumb to peer pressure. I waited until I was damn well ready before I tried weed. That idiot's name was David -----, and I'm sure he had a lucrative career as a car thief or maybe a meth dealer. he wasn't a friend of mine, just sort of hanging around for some reason. I can see the texture of his greasy black hair and weak-ass mustache to this day.

Another backdrop for a scene is Balboa Park. That exists. It's a cool place. If you visit San Diego it's worth checking out. Only one scene takes place there, and being that it wasn't a huge element of that scene, it's not accentuated and described in lush detail. I wouldn't even mention it here except that I like Balboa Park a lot. I don't get down there as much as I would like, but I always enjoy myself. It's a great place to sit in a patch of shade and people-watch.

 The building in which the finale takes place is completely fabricated, but was inspired by photographs of abandoned buildings: mental institutions, hospitals, houses, etc. I used material from an unpublished short story in those last chapters. It all came together rather well.

Well, that was the tour. I hope you got something out of it. But more than that, I hope you will consider buying a copy of Death Obsessed. The book comes out on June 19th, 2018. The ebook is currently on sale for .99 cents as a pre-order. The price will go up to $3.99 on release day. The paperback is on sale RIGHT NOW for $10.99 until release day when the price goes up to $14.99.

Remember those old VHS tapes with labels that said “banned in 40 countries” and “not for the faint of heart,” with titles like Faces of Death and Mondo Violence? Well, they’re back, only this time it’s a book.

This book.

Death Obsessed is Faces of Death with an identity crisis. Get ready for something mondo macabre! Back when he was a teenager, Calvin was into the morbid stuff. He thought he outgrew it, but he’s only a video clip away from becoming obsessed, and what’s Ronnie going to think about that? She’s not the kind of girl who digs cemeteries and dead things. But Hazel, she’s something else altogether, and oh how persuasive is a woman who knows what she wants. Drawn back to a place Calvin had forgotten about, and lured by the baritone drawl of Mr. Ghastly, who promises the much sought after death scenes classic known as Death’s Door, Calvin trips down one hell of a rabbit hole, and everything is at stake. Can he leave his nine-to-five life in the dust for some real action, or will he be left sick, all alone, and Death Obsessed?

"For anyone who dared picked up Faces of Death at the video store as a teenager or perused the atrocities of early internet shock sites like, Death Obsessed is a nightmarish trip down a rabbit hole slick with corpse slime and grave dirt. It's a supernatural glimpse at the deranged world behind the execution videos and crime scene photos and the people who enjoy them." -- Mike Lombardo, writer/director of I'm Dreaming of a White Doomsday

Thoughts on Stirring the Sheets by Chad Lutzke

Chad Lutzke's latest novella, Stirring the Sheets, out now from Bloodshot Books, is one of those stories that packs an emotional punch that leaves the reader with mental bruises that linger and throb when probed with thought. It's a story about loss, about moving on, about heartache. It's about the crazy that invades when we are forced to deal with those terrible events in life such as the death of a loved one

Emmett is a mortician, an older gentleman, and is suffering from the pain of losing his wife. He lives mechanically, trying to convince himself that he is all right, but is he? A body comes into the morgue one night and she bears a striking resemblance to his wife when she was younger. Emmett gets to thinking and...

Well, you'll have to read the book. I'm not giving away anything you can't read on the back cover copy, although the Amazon listing is rather vague. It's a quick read, a one-sitter, and that's not necessarily due to the brevity in length, but the insistence on gaining the readers apt attention. Everyone will find something in Emmett that they can relate to. And, unless you're a heartless asshole, despite certain extenuating circumstances and decisions, you will find yourself feeling for Emmett. I know I did. Chad does a fine job reaching emotional depths both touching and terrifying in their reality. This story could have happened right down the street, and you or I never would have known.

Now, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. The physical version is quite affordable, but never fear, it's also available for kindle download. Get a print cope HERE, or a digital copy HERE.

Up next is either Panacea by F. Paul Wilson, The Amulet by Michael McDowell, or Savage by Richard Laymon. I'm taking way too much time to post my thoughts on the books I've been reading. I need to get on it.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Thoughts on The Haunting of Hill House

Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House is a classic. It has been adapted into at least two films, one in the 60s that is pretty good and the other in the 90s that is a steaming pile of crap. I always site Jackson's story "The Lottery" as the piece of fiction that opened my mind to the written word (this is after reading King, Lumley, and whatever schools taught at the time, but getting no inspiration), and though that story had such a profound affect on me, I have never gone back to read any of Shirley Jackson's novels...until now.

My favorite haunted house stories are Richard Matheson's Hell House, Douglas Clegg's Harrow House series, and The Elementals by Michael McDowell. Reading The Haunting of Hill House doesn't change my adoration of those books, but falls somewhere in the top ten. I loved the book, but there was something about the ambiguity that eventually lost me. More than a haunted house story, this was the story of a woman losing her mind. Now, perhaps it was the haunts that edged her mind into the realms of insanity, but she appeared to be going down that road right from the beginning. In the end, I wasn't even sure there was a haunting at all. I do understand that this was intentional, and it sure did have my mind running overtime after finishing the book. For a book to leave a lasting impression is something any author strives to achieve (well, most authors--some just pump out the pulp and cash in the checks). For the lingering affects, Jackson succeeded, and I am always pleased and interested in downbeat endings. At the time when this book was originally published it must have been quite a shock, much like the end of "The Lottery". All these years later the shock is dulled by so many books that have come since, and especially by the film industry. Consider the end to Night of the Living Dead. To this day, after watching that movie time and time again, it still gets to me. It's not so much a twist ending as it is a nihilistic mindbend, just a straight out glass of half-full fuck you. I can appreciate that.

A great book, no doubt. Up next is Stirring the Sheets by Chad Luzke, The Hell-Bound Heart by Clive Barker and several others. I'm falling behind on these, having been so focused on my forthcoming novel Death Obsessed, which is up for pre-order. Only .99 cents until June 19th when the price goes up to $3.99. The print book will be available around June 9th for $11.99 until release day when the price goes up. Pre-order HERE.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Thoughts on Death Mask by Graham Masterton

Graham Masterson's Death Mask is a bullet train of a supernatural murder mystery. I listened to the audiobook, but I can tell that this is one of those stories that could easily be read in a single sitting with red eyes when you know you ought to be sleeping so you won't be a complete zombie at work the following day.

Confession time: I have never read a Graham Masterton book. I tried Famine once, but couldn't get into it. It felt kind of bloated, like so many of the 80s tomes, as if his editor said, "flesh it out, old boy! More pages! The readers want MORE PAGES!" In Death Mask there's not one wasted word. This story is tight and you are not going to be able to figure out the twists. The story starts like this: There's an artists who discovers that she has this bizarre ability to paint a rose that suddenly appears in her garden like a miracle.Meanwhile a group of people in an elevator are slaughtered by a knife-wielding madman. One person survives. As more elevator massacres occur in town, the artist (who works as a freelance sketch artist for the police) and her gifted mother-in-law (she can read tea leaves and cards and communicate with the dead, etc.) go down a strange path to discover who is behind the murders and why no one can find them.

Easily one of the best books I've read in a while. Had me guessing the entire time, and I was wrong. If you can predict where this story is going, you're a closer reader than I. The prose is effortless the way a Joe Lansdale novel feels, seemingly simple, but deceptively lethal. If you're going to start this one, be prepared to have the time to finish it, otherwise it will eat at you between readings. Novels like this are the type I love to read, and I hope to be able to write someday.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Death Obsessed book cover reveal!

I've been waiting for weeks to share the cover of my next book Death Obsessed, and here it is! Artwork by the talented Matthew Revert. Isn't it a thing of beauty?

Remember those old VHS tapes with labels that said “banned in 40 countries” and “not for the faint of heart,” with titles like Faces of Death and Mondo Violence? Well, they’re back, only this time it’s a book. This book. Death Obsessed is Faces of Death with an identity crisis. Get ready for something mondo macabre!

Back when he was a teenager, Calvin was into the morbid stuff. He thought he outgrew it, but he’s only a video clip away from becoming obsessed, and what’s Ronnie going to think about that? She’s not the kind of girl who digs cemeteries and dead things. But Hazel, she’s something else altogether, and oh how persuasive is a woman who knows what she wants.

Drawn back to a place Calvin had forgotten about, and lured by the baritone drawl of Mr. Ghastly, who promises the much sought after death scenes classic known as Death’s Door, Calvin trips down one hell of a rabbit hole, and everything is at stake. Can he leave his nine-to-five life in the dust for some real action, or will he be left sick, all alone, and Death Obsessed?
 Out in June/July from Grand Mal Press!

Thoughts on Stinger by Robert R. McCammon

My latest venture into the fiction of Robert R. McCammon was the novel Stinger. I listened to the recently released audiobook. Here are my thoughts on both the story and the audiobook.

Stinger is sort of like West Side Story meets The Thing. There are two rival gangs of high schoolers in a desperate Texas town who, along with the rest of the town, become the pawns in a battle between alien lifeforms. I won't say much more about the plot, but in true McCammon fashion,we are introduced to a garden variety of people who have dreams and fears, people who could easily walk out of the pages and into you life. The people of Inferno are nothing if not flawed, most of them. And that's what makes them breathe. I have no idea if there really is a Texas town called Inferno, but McCammon convinced me that there is, right down to little bits of slang that I assume he made up. The teens call a pretty girl a "smash fox" and there's a term for going crazy that something like "looking into the great big empty". That one seems to be a general perception of Inferno harbored by so many of its inhabitants. In a way, having something as traumatic and extreme as an alien visitation is just what Inferno needs, minus the death and destruction, of course.

There were several elements of the plot that I predicted, but that's only because there is so much going on in this story. Twice as many plot elements took me by surprise, leading to a satisfying ending. Had the supernatural elements been removed and the conflict changed (I'm not suggesting this, by the way), this story would have been recognized as an American classic, or what some people refer to as the Great American Novel (well, Boy's Life takes that honor, I suppose). I only mention this because genre fiction gets a bad rap, and authors like Robert McCammon, though a New York Times bestseller, do not get the praise and name recognition they deserve. This might sound crazy in the horror world (yep, McCammon is well renowned to us), but he really should be a household name, and very few horror authors cross that barrier. I, for one, am glad we have authors like McCammon who are bringing the literary bend to a genre that sometimes seems steeped in pulp (again, don't get me wrong here, I like pulp horror too, I write it, but it's great to have authors with such incredible talent--a more recent example, just to throw another name out there, would be Ronald Malfi).

On to the audiobook narrator, Nick Sullivan. I listen to maybe ten audiobooks a year. Some narrators have strengths and weaknesses, and others read the book with such precision that they transport the listener into another world. Nick Sullivan is that kind of narrator. He does unique voices for each and every character (and there are a lot of them in this book), including accents, for which there are several considering some of the characters have a Texas drawl and others are hispanic. His reading is natural and pleasant to the ear. If you are a fan of audiobooks than I would absolutely suggest you check this one out. You can get it HERE on Amazon.

Well, I'm not sure what McCammon book I will read next. I have a collection of them on my bookshelf, some read, others in the TBR pile. Stinger reaffirmed by growing love for McCammon's work. Though Gone South still stands tall as my favorite, Stinger did not disappoint.

Up next will be my thoughts on Graham Masterton's Death Mask. I'm currently reading The Amulet by Michael McDowell, and The Silence by Tim Lebbon.