Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Recent Horror Reads

Some capsule reviews of three horror novels I read early this year; none exactly essential, alas, but the first title is lightly recommended.

With its flame-swept cover of a mysterious beauty transforming into another mysterious beauty, you might think I would've skipped this book when I found it at Powell's last year. You'd be wrong! Shouldn't surprise you now that I picked it up solely because of its cover art and also because I'd never ever heard of it before. Then, lo and behold, I was rewarded with several hours of creepy, darkly romantic, even refreshing reading. Yes: The Burning Ground (Pocket Books, July 1987, cover by Peter Caras) more than met expectation. Author Madeena Spray Nolan, whoever that is, writes in a smart, modern, lively style that belies Gothic romance origins.

Odd to feel so sad at the death of someone I had never known. Back cover synopsis a fair inkling of what to expect inside, while Nolan elevates material somewhat by her knowing skills and insights into hidden human motivation; dialogue comes from having listened to others, not from imagination. Entertaining read with elements of (mild) horror, occult, mystery, contemporary romance (couple overheated sex scenes work, maybe a laugh), and Gothic fiction. At base is desire to live a creative life, and the stranglehold grip it can have on people whether they want it or not—and worse, whether they have talent or not.

I could find little about Nolan online, other than that she wrote a children's book and another horror novel. But note how thoughtfully Pocket Books moved their logo to accommodate Caras's illustration!

Featuring a sexually reductive cover—from Playboy Paperbacks, natch—Satyr by Linda Crockett Gray (July 1981) is about as subtle. Imad Gurdev is a real-life satyr, escaping from his kind's historic monastic abode in the wilds of Turkey to the sleazy grindhouse streets of Tampa, FL, to get his rocks off and blaspheme. He hides his goat-legs in baggy clothes and plays mind-tricks on his female victims so they have only vague memories of the rape. Anti-rape crusader Martha Boozer speaks to high schools and women's groups—at one point she blithely shows the latter a slide show not just of questionable ancient art but also "kiddie porn" and then a snuff film "confiscated by Tampa police." Talk about triggering.

Operating almost as a feminist manifesto in the Dworkin/MacKinnon/Brownmiller mold but also offering up stalking scenarios like a slasher film, Satyr features some moments of suspense as the two characters hurtle towards confrontation, and the obligatory research visit to an anthro prof who declares "These mixed-breed creatures where the human and beast are combined have existed in every culture I have studied." Well fuckin' duh. Fortunately the other older satyrs aren't such creepos and follow the apostate to America's wang to punish and destroy him. Though not terribly written or paced—I mean, it's published by Playboy, not Zebra—I have no reason to recommend the novel.

The late Brian McNaughton is also a writer of some real ability, but it's wasted mostly on nonsense in Satan's Mistress (Carlyle Books, 1982 reprint of 1978 original), number two in a Satanic/occult series that is fairly infamous for its UK cover art (this American edition looks like adult bookstore fodder). Family of three, father, mother (with a witchy history), and son, moves into an upstate New York mill, we learn mother's own father raped her as he was leader of a religious cult and had declared himself God. Slooowly weird stuff starts to happen, dreams of hot redheaded chicks, mom and son have some sexual tension (ugh) and whatnot. There's a secret room in the basement, somebody left a lot of books down here, oh look it's the Necronomicon! Let's go ask the old lawyer nearby who also happens to be a pulp horror aficionado and Lovecraft expert all about it: "I had it this afternoon from a thoroughly reliable source that, when 'The Call of Cthulhu' was first printed in 1928, Albert Einstein panicked. He had drafted a letter urging Farnsworth Wright, Lovecraft's editor, in the strongest possible terms, not to print any more stories on similar themes..."

I did enjoy the Halloween party sequence—writing good party scenes is hard, all those characters mingling and drinking and flirting all at once, and I enjoy a good one whether in real life or on the page. Still, I don't understand how an ostensible horror writer can spend so much time writing about nothing and so little time on, you know, horror. Isn't it more fun to write of horrific events and encounters than of a neighbor's pack of dogs or a teenage boy's crush or the New York commercial art world? Grady Hendrix told me the book works better if you read it along with the other in the series. Again, I liked McNaughton's bright, adept approach, he knows people and life (not all horror writers do, one of my constant criticisms), and the climax gets Yog-Sothothy, but I'm not rushing to read the others. Although Mistress does contain my favorite line of the year so far: He went and changed to his work clothes, a pair of jeans that the Ramones would have discarded. Gabba gabba hey, that's hilarious.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Paperbacks from Hell Wins the Stoker Award!

I am so excited to tell you that Grady Hendrix's Paperbacks from Hell (Quirk Books, Sept 2017), the book inspired by Too Much Horror Fiction and for which I did much research, organizing, identifying, brainstorming, and also wrote an Afterword, won the 2018 Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Non-Fiction. What an incredible thrill! After the nomination was announced, there was no way my wife and I were going to miss a first-time trip to the StokerCon at the Biltmore Hotel in Providence, RI. It was literally a whirlwind weekend—never had time to get to HPL's grave, sadly—and Friday the whole region was beset by a ravaging Nor'easter, and practically trapped us all in the hotel, just like in a King novel! Enjoy some of the pix from that weekend.

Grady took our selfie right after we won. What an indescribable rush. "Jesus fucking Christ," I whispered aloud to myself when the book was called out as the recipient of the award. Talk about satisfaction and a weird kind of relief. All our work culminated in that moment!

At the after-party. You can see how good it feels.

Can't get enough pictures with this thing!

The list of nominees at the dinner banquet. We had some real competition and I certainly wasn't convinced we were going to win no matter what some very kind fans were telling us. However I feel no one has ever celebrated horror fiction the way that Paperbacks from Hell (and Too Much Horror Fiction) has!

Another hoped-for event actually occurred: at the awards after-party—emphasis on party, it was loud, energetic, and fun!—Grady and I got to chat with Thomas F. Monteleone and Douglas E. Winter, whose critical, editorial, and fictional contributions to the horror genre in the 1980s and '90s were vastly influential on me. We got into some fun anecdotes about people like Michael McDowell, Whitley Strieber, Dennis Etchison, and others, while I got to gush at Tom about how much his Borderlands series meant to me as a horror reader back in the day. Check out Grady's deathgrip on both the Stoker and his beer.

 (I did not take this pic)

Alas, there was only one award given, with Grady's name inscribed, so it was his to take home. I don't want to think about the night of passion that followed.

As I do in every new city I visit, I try to find the used bookstores right away. These pics are from Cellar Stories, only a block from the Biltmore. I know several attendees shopped there, so I can only imagine their paperback horror section is now a barren wasteland!

In the dealers' room we signed some copies of the book. I will never get tired of this.

Setting up Saturday afternoon for Grady's performance of Paperbacks from Hell. This was the first time I'd seen it myself, and everything I heard about the song about skeletons was true.

Saturday night, Ramsey Campbell and Caitlin Kiernan announcing the Stoker for Best Novel (which went to Christopher Golden for Ararat).

View from the stage, pic taken by Rose O'Keefe of Eraserhead Press, who won a Stoker for Specialty Press. I'm over on the left throwing the devil horns. What a happy, loud, enthusiastic crowd! Drinks were flowing freely I can tell you that.

This was one of the best nights, late Friday with booze and snacks, hanging and drinking with (L-R) author Adam Cesare, director of the StokerCon Final Frame Film Competition Jonathan Lees, and Nate Murray of IDW Publishing. There were plenty of other warm, friendly, funny, brilliant folks I met, and many who were fans of both Too Much Horror Fiction and Paperbacks from Hell. I love hearing about others' experiences with old paperbacks and their intro to various writers and books. It was all incredibly gratifying and humbling. Got to see some great panel discussions on Bram Stoker and Dracula, on Shirley Jackson, on horror film of the '70s and '80s, and on the Universal and Hammer horror classics (although no one, not even Ramsey Campbell, mentioned one of my faves, The Black Cat). So much to do and see and talk (and drink and drink) about!

Early Sunday morning I myself was on a panel of vintage paperback horror fiction moderated by Grady. It was maybe a bit subdued; a weekend of conventioning and drinking and talking late into the night and freezing weather had taken its toll! There's Jonathan Lees again, and also Elizabeth Massie, whose '80s short stories I found and still find to be disturbing, brilliant, and filled with real human emotion. I talked about my beloved Dell/Abyss series as well as Queen of Hell (not so beloved) and Book of the Dead 2: Still Dead (still beloved).

And look who attended the panel: yes, that is indeed horror legend Ramsey Campbell! What an encouraging, approachable presence he was at the convention.

The Horrors Writers' Association seems to be just filled with extremely talented people dedicated to horror (and it made me realize I need to devote some time to contemporary horror writers). To finally mix and mingle among them as an equal is something I'm proud of. Being recognized by them, me, who began as an amateur fan with a free blogspot domain, a scanner, and an obsession for cataloguing the wonderful past of the genre I love, is an immeasurable honor. It's spurred me on to continue looking for the lost and forgotten horrors of the paperback past!

A dream come true.

Thanks to the awesome Jonathan Lees for this lovely pic.