Halloween Hangover

Yesterday was Day 1 of #HalloweenHangover at the Libbie Place Barnes & Noble in Richmond. It’s a new event, featuring authors from far and wide, including many from the Commonwealth. I didn’t know what to expect, as I’ve never been to anything quite like this at a bookstore before, but it was essentially a horror book festival. I talked to a few people for the first time, hung out with old friends, and bought a few books…

Books on a shelf: Aftermath of an Industrial Accident, by Mike Allen; Pound of Flesh, by D. Alexander Ward; and Chasing the Boogeyman, by Richard Chizmar.

The event’s a two-day affair, so swing by and check it out if you’re in the area. And while you’re there, check out the horror section! It’s been a minute since I visited this location, and they’ve got a very nicely curated set of books. Here’s an endcap featuring Richmond’s own Valancourt Books:

endcap of books at Barnes and Noble, featuring titles from Valancourt Books

Peri-Spooky-Seasonal

Here in the ol’ unhallowed laboratory concealed in the basement of the collapsing castle, it’s always spooky season, so it’s typically a slight shock to look up from my labors and notice the rest of the world taking notice. I do, however, love all things Halloween, so here on the cusp of October Country, I’m getting ready for slightly more horroring than usual…

vintage halloween costumes~
Make with the candy dish!

This week marked the return of Fountain Bookstore‘s JABBIES (“Judge a Book by Its Spine”) series, visits to Richmond by publishing professionals to talk about their work, authors, and forthcoming books. I’ve been to a few before and really enjoyed them, but this one was truly up my alley:

The Big 5 Names in Horror

I got a lot out of the event, learning bits and bobs about the industry that I truly hadn’t heard elsewhere. The discussion of comp titles at various stages was welcome, and I particularly appreciated hearing Kelly Lonesome talk about her vision for Nightfire. I’ve seen similar-ish panels before, particularly given the ongoing work I do with the Cabell First Novelist Award wearing my humanities librarian hat, but something about the combination of editors, sales force, and bookseller really gelled for me. And, of course, I bought a couple books…

John Darnielle's DEVIL HOUSE and Cassandra Khaw's NOTHING BUT BLACKENED TEETH, sitting on a table
Unhallowed Reading

I read Nothing but Blackened Teeth a couple months ago, and it’s really stuck with me for its combination of motifs from different horror traditions. Plus it has by far the best ekphrasis I’ve read anywhere in a long time. I got halfway through Devil House in audio this summer and had to return it to the library, and I thought it was really good, so here we are.

As for my own literary efforts, they proceed apace. I didn’t reckon just how much it would strain my patience to shift gears to novels. Right now I’m forging through yet another draft of what I sometimes jokingly call UNTITLED FUTURE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER AND PULITZER PRIZE WINNER. Which would be a Hell of a trick for a short (~70K?) novel that rides the line between literary fantasy and horror, but stranger things have happened.

What’s next? If all goes as planned, querying on UNTITLED FUTURE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER AND PULITZER PRIZE WINNER by year’s end, and switching (back) to UNTITLED NOVEL OF ARCANE AND ELDRITCH HORROR (~150K? ~300K?). I traveled to do some on-site research for it last week, and I plan to take another research trip this spring, as I’ll have a better shot at getting inside some buildings and soaking up the vibe.

Happy Haunting, all you ghouls!

A Few of My Favorite (Pandemic) Things: Comics Edition

Here are a few comics that really floated my boat over the last 16+ months…

I picked this up on a whim, and I really enjoyed it. Futures past are their own strange form of fantasy, and Blade Runner 2019 is particularly so. It emerges from the soup of the various different Blade Runners out there, along with the whole architecture of cyberpunk, once cutting edge and now increasingly conservative. Even given all that, this volume managed to weave a clever story around ability and disability, which I hadn’t expected going in.
B.P.R.D.‘s long arcs cover all sorts of highways and byways of the Mignolaverse. Though I really like individual stories in this volume or that, this collection is my favorite thus far, and it brings the long arc of the Frogs to a satisfying end.
After years of reading this or that story, I set out a while back to read all of Hellboy. I haven’t gotten there yet, but I’m still trying. I like the big arcs, and I like the small stories even more. The quiet and mysterious ones most of all. I like to see a mystery or two remain unexplained. The Crooked Man and Others is full of all of that.
Cover of graphic novel about the Green River killer
Hard reading, but good. These killings were a significant part of my childhood experience, as I grew up in that place around that time, and they were always in the news. I recognized businesses and vistas in here, and this comic’s creators got the feel right, 100%.

A Few of My Favorite (Pandemic) Things: Literary Edition

Here are a few books that really floated my boat over the last 16+ months…

Cover of Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book
Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. Finally read this in April 2020, and it was as delightful as you might expect, given its author and its awards.
Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age. An outstanding 2020 first novel that I still find myself thinking about, for its politics, humor, and most of all its characters.
Stephen Graham Jones’ The Only Good Indians has been nominated for and won a bunch of awards. And well it should! This book did new things. Scary things.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic is an award-winning novel that I couldn’t put down. It draws from all sorts of topics she’s researched at length. This book felt to me like the definition of a book that springs from an author’s interests & perspective in such a way that no other author could have done the same book justice.
A couple years ago, I picked up a psychological thriller called The Kind Worth Killing, by a guy I’d never heard of: Peter Swanson. It was compelling! I’ve since gone on to read most of his books and enjoyed every one. Eight Perfect Murders was no different: a mystery about mysteries, and thoroughly Hitchcock.
Though I’ve probably read more by Stephen King than any other living author, I never got around to Doctor Sleep until recently. I’m glad I did! While it’s billed as a sequel of sorts to The Shining, it’s simply a different book, and very good.
I tore through Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood. Ware specializes in modern turns on Golden-Age tropes and techniques, revitalizing them for the 21st century. If you liked Knives Out, but you just can’t plug in to Christie, Sayers, March, and kin, try this. I’m making my way through the rest of her books, and The Death of Mrs. Westaway is also prime reading.

Reading the Pandemic

Cover of Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay

The most prescient novel I read over the last year was Paul Tremblay’s Survivor Song. Written a few years back, as writing and publishing schedules go, it was released last summer when #PandemicLife was 100% a thing, even for many people who don’t believe in EUAs or booster shots. I’d heard about the book, of course, as I always keep an ear out for Paul’s books, but it didn’t really click that it was a pandemic book.

Reader, I read one review and promptly slid that title (apologies, Paul) to the bottom of my virtual TBR pile. That happens sometimes when subject matter doesn’t work for me, and I hope that it will work down the road. In any case, I couldn’t bring myself to read a current-day book about a pandemic.

This May I finally picked up Survivor Song, and I give it two dangerously infected thumbs up. It brings together in one book many lasting or new themes in horror: rationalized monsters, pregnancy fears, high-style influence, and more. The interest in language tied to disturbed behavior that showed up in The Cabin at the End of the World and elsewhere in his work appears here, too. If you haven’t seen it, watch Pontypool shortly after reading Survivor Song for a different take on the role of language tied to mob behavior & are-they-or-aren’t-they zombies.

The most challenging part of reading the book was, in fact, reality. Like so much speculative fiction, the plot springs from trends that were clearly visible or discernible to anyone with the will to research. And yet, it was frankly disturbing to read about quarantine, mobs, street violence, troops, and crazed militiamen in the wake (?) of COVID-19 and the January 6th insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. There will always be plagues and political violence, but reading this account of a fictional plague, nutters going on about the U.N., and street battles between would-be saviors and the forces of law and order felt like re-experiencing our recent struggles in an only slightly alternate timeline.

If you haven’t read Survivor Song [Amazon | B&N | Bookshop.org | Waterstones | Goodreads], check it out. Then check out the rest of Paul’s work.

P.S. I didn’t read much else pandemic-related in the last year that I’d recommend… except for one book. It wasn’t precisely about zombies, nor did it rise to the level of this book, but enjoyable and not unrelated is Thomas E. Sniegoski’s Lobster Johnson: The Satan Factory. It’s throwback pulp and overall probably of greatest interest to readers of Mike Mignola’s comics series for which it’s a tie-in, or those of us who like the occasional throwback pulp. It does offer a picture of the use of infectious, lowered-mental-capacity goons for criminal ends. If that doesn’t evoke the politics of our seditious, social-media-infected times…