Sunday, December 22, 2013

Killer Reads in 2013

I haven't kept track of what books I read this year. Sometimes I write them down in a journal. Maybe I should use Goodreads for keeping track of what I read. Anyway, like many of my fellow authors I would like to post about what books stood out that I read in 2013. There's no rhyme and little reason as to why I like a book other than it had that mental umami effect. If I can't put the book down, that's what I call a killer book. That's it. I don't look for some deeper meaning. I don't try to figure out what the book was a metaphor of. I just want to be taken away. I read to escape. I want to visit someone else's world and wade in it for a while, feel what they feel. And I tend to dig the dark side of the spectrum. So here it goes:

I'll start out with my favorite read of the year, Bad Chili by Joe R. Lansdale. I have been told by too many people that I need to read Lansdale. I'd read a few short stories and enjoyed each of them. I spotted a nice hardcover of Bad Chili at a thrift store maybe a year ago. My question now is: Why the hell did I wait so long to read this book?

I bought the Subterranean Press re-issue of his debut novel Act of Love a while back. I'm now reading that and enjoying every bit of it. It reads like a debut novel, particularly after reading Bad Chili, which is such a tight, seamless tale that really showcases how tuned Lansdale's talent as an author has become over the years. Looks like I have an extensive back catalogue to get through.

Muerte con Carne by Shane McKenzie was another standout story for me this year. I've been a fan of Shane since reading Infinity House and Muerte cemented that for me. I really need to catch up. This guy is about as prolific as they come and 2014 looks even more jam-packed with new releases than '13.

There's always a lot of interest in the Lovecraft mythos. Maybe too much, but, as with zombies and vampires, I will dip my toes into that type of horror tale from time to time, particularly when I know how good the author is. The Return by David A. Riley is a dark, depressing tale of Lovecraftian mystery and plenty of horror. If you haven't read David A. Riley then you need to pick up one of his 2013 releases and rectify that. He's been publishing short stories professionally for decades and I'm glad he has finally given us such a fantastic novel.

I know Joe Hill's NOS4A2 was all the rage this year, but I'm hoping maybe to get that one for Christmas. I did read his novel Heart-Shaped Box and thoroughly enjoyed it. A shame he is often compared with his father, for his writing is a force to be reckoned with that stands alone quite well. I'm a fan of rock 'n' roll and heavy metal, so the idea of a protagonist who is an aging rock star appealed to me. Good stuff!

And finally I would also like to acknowledge a collection of horror stories that was right up my alley. The Crossroads by K. Trap Jones is a collection of narrative horror that relies heavily on atmosphere and dread, though Trap doesn't hesitate from the macabre and disturbing. This was an exceptional collection considering how many of the stories I liked. Really none of them were bad, I just didn't like a few of them as much as so many others. That's a feat considering how many single author collections are littered with sub par stories.

So there you have it. Just a sampling of what I read this year. I always hope to read more books each year. In 2014 I think I'll better track my reading. And I think I'll read more mysteries and thrillers, maybe some sci-fi. Maybe not. Certainly more Lansdale.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Trippin' Through The Crossroads: An Interview with Horror Author K. Trap Jones

I recently read a killer collection of short stories by K. Trap Jones entitled The Crossroads, released by Hazardous Press earlier this year. I go into a single author collection, or even an anthology, hoping I'll like at least fifty per cent of the stories. Does that seem like a low number? Maybe. But let's face it, how many collections have you read that were better? They're out there, but sometimes hard to find. I love the collections of Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson, Stephen King, Clive Barker and Ray Bradbury, among others. Those guys are so good they can write about a bowel movement and turn it to gold. The Crossroads hit me pretty hard, beginning with a story that set the tone for the entire collection not only because of the theme, but due to its wickedness and the sheer dread it filled me with. From there on each story grabs you, even the few that I didn't like as much as the others, and by the time you've finished you kind of want to revisit a few of them. Yeah, it's that good.

So, I contacted Mr. Jones and he agreed to meet with me somewhere in the ethereal crossroads  between our respective homelands on the opposite sides of the United States.  This is how it went:

Robert Essig: The Crossroads is a collection of narrative horror stories. What draws you to writing in a narrative style?
K. Trap Jones: Narrative horror is what I'm the most comfortable with. There is a certain sense of raw emotion that comes with narrative horror that really captured me ever since reading Poe's THE TELL-TALE HEART at a very young age. I truly enjoy becoming the character and expressing a slew of emotions as the character is challenged mentally to make it through a terrible situation. I'm not big on over describing elements within my stories. Within all of my narratives, I hardly ever use adjectives to describe the narrator. I allow the reader to picture him/her as they see fit. My vision of them will be different from others. Instead, I focus on the tone of the character and what is plaguing their mind as they stand at their own personal crossroads.
RE: It's hard to pick favorites, so let me be the one to put you on the spot here: which one of the stories in The Crossroads is your favorite and why?
KTJ: I actually have two favorites that have lingered with me since I wrote them. THAT ONE DIRT ROAD is the first one. The first half of the story is true. I grew up in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida and there was this creepy dirt road at the base of woods on the outskirts of an Air Force Base that my friends and I always went to.
The second story is DANCE WITH THE DEAD. I really had a difficult time getting this one out of my head. Someone once told me that writing narrative horror chips away at your sanity. There are a few scenes in this particular story that made it difficult to move on from it.
RE: What are your five desert island books? That's to say, if you were stranded on a desert isle, which five books would you like to be stranded with?
KTJ: I'm old school when it comes to my favorite books, so they would definitely be the following:
1. Inferno - Dante Alighieri
2. Dracula - Bram Stoker
3. Complete Collection of Edgar Allan Poe
4. Grimm's Fairy Tales
5. Jaws - Peter Benchley
RE: "The Roadie" has overt heavy metal influence, and I venture that the final story in the collection, "Dance with the Dead", may have found a bit of inspiration from a certain Slayer song on the Season in the Abyss record (though I could be barking up the wrong tree here). Does heavy metal music bear an influence on your writing?
KTJ: You hit the nail on the head with DANCE OF THE DEAD. Slayer's song Dead Skin Mask is one of my favorite songs so I wanted to pay homage to it. Music is a big part of my storytelling. Not only will songs spark the creation of a character or plot, but it also helps the entire construction of the story. I write with music blaring through headsets. My genre of choice is Heavy Metal music, but I do venture all around. As a product of the 80's, I would always read the lyrics within those CD jackets and found that some of the best stories were in the form of music. THE ROADIE is an in-your-face dedication to the bands that helped shape my youth and writing style. I fought hard about how to write that story, because I didn't want it to come off as a cheesy advertisement, but at the same time I wanted to have the band names there, so I based the personalities of the different fans depending on which band shirt they were wearing. At the same time, I wanted to make sure that even if a reader wasn't a fan of metal music, that they would also be able to enjoy the read.
RE: Many of these stories are somewhat downbeat and even depressing--the kind of stuff I love to read. Do you prefer to write this type of story? Does this in some way reflect your perception of society?
KTJ: Tough question. Writing for me, is a kind of therapy. I use ink on paper to express myself and narrative horror allows me to achieve just that. I pour so much of myself within these stories that the line between fiction and reality can sometimes blur. There are a lot of real life details within each one, obviously not the violent aspects, lol. When I'm describing a location, like that particular dirt road, it's based on my real life experience. If I have been somewhere or experienced something, then I feel more comfortable writing about it.
Depression and sadness is something that we all share together, regardless of what pulls us there. My stories are very depressive in tone. The basic structure is to put a regular person in a terrible situation and have them describe what they are feeling. Anyone can write about an axe going into the back of someone's head and describe the bloody aftermath, but what I'm fascinated with is what the person holding the axe is thinking as the blade is being swung or any type of sorrow that follows. To me, that is where the true horror lies; within the mind of the killer.
RE: If you dropped dead tomorrow, what would you like on your tombstone?
KTJ: K. Trap Jones
Currently out to lunch, be back soon!
RE: How did you become a fan of horror?
KTJ: I became a fan of horror before I even knew what horror was. I was intrigued by the works of Edgar Allan Poe and Dante's Inferno at a very young age. I didn't know I was reading horror, I simply thought of them as great stories. I think the turning point was when I became a fan of the TV series Tales from the Crypt. With all the twists and turns that the show offered, I began to really enjoy the creative aspect of horror.
RE: Tell us a little about your latest splatterpunk novella The Drunken Exorcist.
KTJ: Crazy, crazy, crazy. THE DRUNKEN EXORCIST, published by Necro Publications, is probably the most insane plot I have ever written. Most of my stories come from some sort of question that gets conjured up within the back of my mind. With this one, I always wondered what happens during the most extreme case of exorcisms, when the peaceful procedures no longer work. The character of Father Schnitt has quickly become my favorite character. He's a foul mouthed, no nonsense preacher who has to deal with the scum of exorcisms. His attitude reflects his disgust for human society and being an outcast from the church for his ability to see demons and his unconventional ways of handling the extreme cases of exorcisms. Placed on probation for these methods, Father Schnitt is forced to transcribe his dealings with demons and his means for extraction. He quickly learns that whiskey is a demon deterrent and the bottles serve as a perfect cage for the demons, but the liquid poison is also deteriorating his mind. I had a blast writing this character with his crude tone and lineup of weaponry.
RE: What can we look forward to from K. Trap Jones in 2014?
KTJ: There's a lot brewing right now. In the beginning of 2014, my novel THE HARVESTER will be coming out from Blood Bound Books, which is the sequel to THE SINNER. Sirens Call Publications will be publishing my novel ONE BAD FUR DAY, which is a twisted story set in the animal society of Louisiana during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. There are a few other projects that I have completed that are currently in the hands of publishers.  I will also continue to write short stories, so another collection could be in the works. Maybe in the second half of 2014, we can hopefully see the return of Father Schnitt in a sequel to THE DRUNKEN EXORCIST.
I just want to add that I am a huge fan of your work and it's been an honor to visit your blog! Keep it heavy! \m/
RE: Thanks for dropping by! It was my pleasure!
Here are some useful links:
The Drunken Exorcist (on sale for .99 cents kindle download!)
K. Trap Jones is a writer of horror novels and short stories. With a sadistic inspiration from Dante Alighieri and Edgar Allan Poe, his temptation towards folklore, classic literary works and obscure segments within society lead to his demented writing style of "filling in the gaps" and walking the jagged line between reality and fiction. His debut novel THE SINNER (Blood Bound Books, 2012) won the Royal Palm Literary Award. He is also a member of the Horror Writer's Association and can be found lurking around Tampa, Florida.