An Interview with Kristopher Rufty

Hey, friends. I apologize for the blog silence lately, but I’ve got a special treat for you this weekend. My good friend and fellow writer Kristopher Rufty agreed to answer a few of my questions, and even if my questions were inane, his answers weren’t. He’s an awesome guy and a fantastic writer, so without further preamble, check out what he has to say…

Moreland, James, Everson, Kristopher Rufty, and Me

Moreland, James, Everson, Kristopher Rufty, and Me

Some readers have compared your stuff to the stories of Richard Laymon. How do you feel about that comparison, and is there a specific Laymon story you enjoy the most?

I’m honored whenever somebody compares my writing to his. One person actually apologized when they told me PILLOWFACE reminded them of a Laymon book. I asked why they apologized. Their answer was because his stuff is so outrageous. Smiling, I told them that’s one of many reasons that I like writing. You can be outrageous and there’s no limit to what you can do.

The comparisons are rewarding, but at the same time, I don’t want anyone to think they’re deliberate. I love Laymon’s work the most, but I never wanted to copy him. I like how he’s able to tell so much by writing very little and that’s what I try to do with each story of mine. Because I was worried about the Laymon, Lee, and Ketchum comparisons, I wrote OAK HOLLOW in a completely different voice than my usual. I tried to write in an almost Joe Hill and Bentley Little sort of style. And Don D’Auria sent it back to me. He said it was a great book, but I needed to write it again in my real voice. He told me not to let the comparisons hold me back. I explained how I worried that people thought I was trying to copy those guys, and he said he used to edit them all and he’d be the first to accuse me if he thought it was true. Then he told me I reminded him of Ray Garton, so I figured I was in good hands. J

There are so many Laymon stories that I love. Even the not so popular ones. DARKNESS, TELL US is a lot of fun. I’ve read it multiple times. I also like DARK MOUNTAIN, a lot. Again, not one of his popular stories but, to me, the writing is flawless. QUAKE is as close to perfect as you can get for a truly horrifying story that makes you sweat with tension. That one wound me up so much one night that I never went to sleep. It’s very intense, steals your breath.

I love the Beast House books. THE CELLAR was my first Laymon story and I was hooked from there, but my favorite of the three (four counting FRIDAY NIGHT IN BEAST HOUSE) is probably THE MIDNIGHT TOUR.

IN THE DARK might be a close second choice for my favorite.

Hmmm…if I have to pick one, I choose THE STAKE. Great concept that’s done in such a unique way. It has everything he’s known for on its pages and is written in perfect, punchy prose. Plus, it takes its time building up to the wild climax. Larry Dunbar might also be my favorite Laymon character. For writers like us, Jonathan, this book is required reading. We get to see the life of a successful midlist writer caught in a situation that he would’ve written about in one of his own books. Could you imagine what would happen if you found yourself stuck in something you could have written? Wow!

THE TRAVELING VAMPIRE SHOW and ENDLESS NIGHT might tie for my third favorite. Aargh! So many to choose from. I love them all the best!

I’ve read a good deal of your stuff and loved it all. I haven’t read Proud Parents yet, but its cover is one of the coolest covers I’ve seen in years. How did that cover come about?

Wow, thank you, man. I’m very happy you like the cover. I believe I had the idea for the cover before the book was even finished. There’s a scene in the book where a character is flipping through Gabe’s drawings and finds many grotesque childhood memories captured in crayon. The cover is one of them and there was another one created for the back cover that features Greg (the Dad) burying a body, but it’s hidden underneath the cover copy. If you look very closely, you can somewhat see part of it.

I love the old garish paperback covers from the 70’s, 80’s, and early 90’s. Since PROUD PARENTS is also a tribute to those books, I wanted the cover to reflect that. The artist nailed it. It’s probably my favorite, next to A DARK AUTUMN.

Gorgeous Wickedness

Gorgeous Wickedness

One thing that makes your work so engaging is your characterization. Can you pick one or two of your characters that you like most of all? And why did you choose these characters?

Thank you, again. To know that you enjoy the characters is very relieving. Favorites? That’s tough. Believe it or not, I really like Wendy from THE LURKERS. People hate her, but, to me, she’s just misunderstood and very bad at expressing herself through outlets that aren’t anger. SPOILER ALERT: I received emails from readers outraged that Wendy survived in THE LURKERS and so many of the nice characters were killed. I was happy that she made it. It really showed that her love and devotion to Gary could keep her motivated during such a nightmarish ordeal. She wasn’t unscathed by any means and on the last page we know her story isn’t over. I was happy to revisit her in THE LURKING SEASON. Hopefully she will be forgiven for some of her actions in the first book when she comes back in the second one.

Joel from PILLOWFACE is another favorite. A twelve-year-old horror fan living in a world of fantasy that shields him from the horrors of the real world around him. Myself at that age. But I’d like to think that if I befriended a maniac straight from the horror movies that I adore, I wouldn’t be so quick to follow the same path as Joel. Maybe it’s his lack of guidance, but the boy makes a lot of terrible decisions and too many innocent people pay the price.

But my favorite of them all has to be Detective John Stiltson. He’s been with me since I was fourteen years old, pecking away on a typewriter in my bedroom. He’s popped up in so many stories I’ve written throughout the years that I feel like I know him best out of anybody I’ve written about. He’s in ANGEL BOARD as a main character and OAK HOLLOW in a small role. I hope to spend more time with him in the future. He was almost in THE SKIN SHOW, but I quickly decided not to have him come in and take over the book. It was about Andy Raab and if Stiltson showed up, heads would roll.

But he’ll be back soon. I want to do a book that focuses on Stiltson and his trusty partner, Giles. Kind of a crime novel, but with horror elements sprinkled throughout. I have the title and the premise in mind, but haven’t sat down to work on my notes for it.

Fast-Paced Terror

Fast-Paced Terror

What is your favorite part about being a writer? Is there a least favorite part?

Great question. Nobody’s asked me what I like least about being a writer. Maybe I should start there. Honestly, what I like the least is not getting to write more than I already do. I had a huge health scare last year that I’m still trying to recover from. It was one of those close-the-door moments at the doctor’s office when he explained my options. I thank God that it didn’t turn out as badly as the doctor prepared me for. But the future was unknown and I didn’t get to write too much for a long time afterward. My wife helped me set up in the bedroom and I wrote the majority of PROUD PARENTS and all of THE SKIN SHOW in bed. But those weeks where writing was scarce, I felt like an addict in need of a fix. I couldn’t sleep. I was moody and irritable, not a pleasant person to be around. But when I was able to get back to work on PROUD PARENTS, I noticed a quick improvement in how I felt. My attitude changed. I felt better, excited, and eager. Hungry. By the time work began on THE SKIN SHOW, I couldn’t be stopped.

So what I like least about writing are the days I don’t get to do it at all.

And what my favorite part is everything about the process. I love those moments when I can sit back and let the story flow from my brain through my fingers, the days my hands struggle to keep up with the flow. I call it a creative dump from my brain, like it’s been holding it in during a long drive and finally found the rest stop toilet. The story just plops out. Haha. Gross, I know.

I love watching the characters grow. Wendy from THE LURKERS is the perfect example of this. So is Sheriff Ben Holly from PRANK NIGHT. Greg and Sheila from PROUD PARENTS. Miles from THE SKIN SHOW. These characters start off as one type of person, then they quickly adapt into something stronger. But there’s also a flipside to that. There’re those characters that start off strong but quickly decay into something you’re not expecting. I’ve been surprised more than once when somebody I think will live to the end are quickly dispatched in a rather gruesome way.

And I love hearing from my readers and getting to meet them. Last March in Horrorhound a reader came to the table with a stack of my stuff for me to sign. Another person came with a framed DVD sleeve of Psycho Holocaust for me to sign. That was a humbling experience. I felt like, maybe for the first time, that I was finally there, you know. It still makes me feel tingly whenever somebody pops up and tells me they enjoyed one of my books. I know I can’t win them all, and I don’t, but when I do I’m very grateful.

Another Great Read

Another Great Read

What’s on the horizon for Kristopher Rufty? Can you talk about the projects you’re working on and what else you have planned?

I love talking about what’s coming next. Sinister Grin Press picked up my novel JAGGER and will be releasing it in December. They’re planning a huge promotion to coincide with the release. I think they’ve already booked podcasts, interviews, and have a lot more plans for it. It’ll be available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book. I’m really excited about this book. It’s my killer dog story, but told in a way that I think has never been done. I put characters from my independent movie, Rags, in the book and had so much fun with them.

Somewhere around that time I’ll put out the e-book and possibly the paperback of BIGFOOT BEACH. The hardcover will come next year sometime with some other surprises inside. This book was a blast to write. The idea started two years ago when I went to eat lunch with my kids at school and somehow we got on the subject about how we all have big feet. I made a comment that if somebody saw our footprints in the sand at the beach they’d think a Bigfoot was running loose. It was one of those moments where the idea exploded in my head and I couldn’t talk for a few moments as the story just assembled itself right there. My kids have been excited to see this one come out, so I can’t wait for people to read it.

Thunderstorm Books wants to put out one more new one from me before the end of the year also, but I don’t know if it’ll make it. This one might be the first of 2015, but if I can get the rewrites done in time, it just might print before Christmas. Either way, it’s going to be a beautiful book. This one is my vampire tale, set in the 50’s in a small farming town in Wisconsin. That’s about all I’m going to say for now.

I have two titles coming from Samhain in 2015. The first will be THE LURKING SEASON, a sequel to THE LURKERS, and the other I won’t name just yet. I turned it in last week, so I can talk more about it soon.

Also, Audio Realms will release the audiobooks for PILLOWFACE and OAK HOLLOW before the end of the year, plus some more next year. I’ve heard samples of these books and I’m very happy with how they turned out.

I also have to have a book turned in to DarkFuse by May. It’s my first of three for them. It’ll come out the year after, with the other two following each year after. So I’ll be busy for a while and I couldn’t be happier.

Thanks for having me on your blog, buddy. It’s always fun. Can’t wait to hang out again and talk about writing and old horror paperbacks. Congratulations on EXORCIST ROAD, such a powerfully horrifying story that I still think about. It’s one of those that’ll stay with me forever.

And that’s a wrap. See what I mean about Kristopher? Not only does he write outstanding, edge-of-your-seat books, he has impeccable taste in other writers.

So check him out now. I promise you’ll have a great time!

 

 

Pod of Horror: “Janz is horror’s next big thing”

Happy weekend, friends! It’s lovely here in Indiana. No, really. And great news about one of my novels only makes the weekend lovelier.

Pod-of-Horror

One of my favorite podcasts is Mark Justice’s wonderful Pod of Horror. After naming my SAVAGE SPECIES one of the top three novels of 2013 (along with Stephen King’s JOYLAND and Bentley Little’s THE INFLUENCE), Mark decided to review my recently released novel CASTLE OF SORROWS in the brand-new installment of PoH (#71, just click “Download”). Here’s one highlight:

“Is it scary? Let me put it this way. Janz has been taking his horror steroids. He’s juicing on Richard Laymon and Jack Ketchum, with a hint of Edward Lee.”

And this…

“CASTLE OF SORROWS ups the ante for all future Janz novels. It’s his scariest and most disturbing, by far.”

And then my favorite part:

“Janz is horror’s next big thing.”

The Beast Returns

The Beast Returns

That’s all for now, folks. Next up, news about my just-released novella EXORCIST ROAD.

A Demon and a Serial Killer

A Demon and a Serial Killer

 

I Survived the Monster Men!

I’ve met a great many people since I started this writing gig, and Hunter Shea and Jack Campisi are two of the coolest ones. Hunter is an outstanding author you should already be reading, and Jack is a writer you’ll be reading in a few years. They host the show MONSTER MEN and were kind enough to invite me as a guest. The results, though terrifying, can be viewed right here.

monster men

In our interview we discuss my works, my struggles, my hopes and dreams. They got things out of me that have never been revealed before. So check it out, friends. You’ll never be same. Chances are, you’ll be emotionally scarred and irrevocably diminished in several fundamental ways. But you will be affected. That I guarantee.

And after you watch the carnage, why not check out my new novella EXORCIST ROAD? I’ve got a feeling you’ll enjoy it.

Or be scarred by it too.

A Demon and a Serial Killer

A Demon and a Serial Killer

Bryan Smith Kills Again: An Interview about STRANGE WAYS and Other Stories

Bryan Smith is one of my favorite writers working today. He sells a lot of books, but more importantly (to me, at least), he writes really, really well. His prose moves, he knows how to surprise without cheating, and he maintains his narrative energy from the beginning of a story to the end. I was fortunate enough to meet him and sign books with him this summer at Scares That Care, and I hope I get the chance to work with him again soon.

So without further ado, here’s a short interview with a man I’m proud to call a friend. His new novel is called STRANGE WAYS

strange ways

1. STRANGE WAYS is an arresting title. Could you talk about why you chose it and how it ties into the story?

STRANGE WAYS was the original title of an earlier novel I eventually retitled SOULTAKER. The bulk of SOULTAKER was actually written before my first novel was published. I came back to it when I was stuck for something to do as my fifth novel for Leisure Books. I think I changed the title because SOULTAKER felt more to-the-point and was similar to the title of an earlier book I’d written for Leisure called DEATHBRINGER. But I always liked STRANGE WAYS as a title and eventually decided to revive it for this latest book. The only way it really ties into the story, though, is that a lot of strange things begin to happen in this idyllic suburban neighborhood after some new people move in. I took care to emphasize that strangeness in the early chapters so that there’d be at least a somewhat legitimate excuse to use it. The actual origin of the title is a little convoluted. Many years ago, when I wrote the first two-thirds of what would eventually be SOULTAKER, I wanted something that would capture the, well, strange and freaky vibe of the novel. At the time I had the Doors song “Strange Days” on my mind and sort of derived it from that. Later I realized “Strange Ways” was the name of a KISS song from their second record. Both are great songs. Like a lot of horror writers of my generation, I’m strongly influenced by rock music in general.

2. You’re a versatile writer. You’ve worked, at the very least, in three distinct genres so far: horror, crime/action, and urban fantasy (at least, some would call the KAYLA books urban fantasy…though I just think of them as horror). To what do you owe these diverse interests? Is it just “in you”? Is it because you watch these types of movies and read these types of books? Or is it something else entirely?

It’s because my interests encompass all those things and more. Although I love horror, I’ve always wanted to write in other genres, particularly the crime genre. I probably read more crime novels—in particular, vintage pulp crime novels from the 40’s and 50’s—more than anything else. My recent novels 68 KILL and BLOOD AND WHISKEY stem from that interest, and I’d like to do more of that kind of thing in the future. But the bulk of my audience is comprised of horror readers, so I keep most of my focus in that direction. Eventually, however, there will be another crime novel. The KAYLA books are definitely my version of urban fantasy. Some horror people perceive them as horror books, but that’s only because urban fantasy is steeped in a lot of similar tropes. In terms of gore and explicit content, the KAYLA books are pretty tame compared to my straightforward horror stuff. That series came about because I was stuck for something to write after my wife died a few years ago. At first, I wasn’t even sure I had it in me to write again. My wife wasn’t a horror fan, but she did love the urban fantasy stuff, so I decided to take a shot at writing the kind of thing she might have enjoyed. I enjoyed writing those books and may eventually come back to the series.

kayla-and-the-devilfinal

3. Of all the characters you’ve created, do you have a favorite character or two? Why has this character (or why have these characters) stuck with you?

I have a few favorites. At the top of the list are probably Kayla Monroe from the KAYLA series, Roxie from the KILLING KIND series, and Jessica Sloan from the DEPRAVED books. By this point it’s no secret that I have a fondness for snide, snarky badass female characters. I guess it’s fair to say that I have something of a bad girl fetish. I’m sure there are those out there who tire of me repeating the type, but they’re just going to have to deal with it if they plan to continue reading my books. I may occasionally deviate from the template I’ve used just to subvert the expectations of readers, but I’ll always eventually revisit that kind of character.

KaylaUndead (1)

 

4. Back to STRANGE WAYS…Delphine, Simone, and Zarina are the names of your “Sisters of the Endless Night.” They sound like interesting characters in that they do bad things but might not be without redeeming characteristics. In past novels you’ve demonstrated an ability to present this duality in a believable way. Is this a conscious decision on your part, or do the characters just develop with both positive and negative traits naturally? Are you drawn to characters who can be both cruel and sympathetic?

In general terms, yeah, characters develop that way naturally as I write the books. Most people in the world have both good and bad in them, even those who are largely loathsome for various reasons. Kayla is a lot like that. She’s just not a nice person at all, but she recognizes that and feels bad about it at times. STRANGE WAYS is a different case, though. The members of the coven are pretty much entirely without redeeming characteristics. In part, that’s a result of a desire to veer away from the more reality-rooted recent books I’ve done and write a more straightforward good vs. evil exercise in good old-fashioned horror entertainment. These witches in STRANGE WAYS are quasi-immortals who have prolonged their lives through centuries via mastery of black magic. I do explain that in the early days of their coven they had some moral qualms about what they were doing. However, by the time we meet them in the modern era all of that has long since passed away and they are just purely evil.

5. Lastly, what does the future hold for Bryan Smith? I know you’re kicking around several story ideas. Can you share any insights on future projects? Books your fans might be able to look forward to?

New ideas come to me on an almost daily basis. I’ve had to learn to set aside a lot of them and focus on the ones that have the most obvious potential. A while back I talked about how I wanted to become a modern equivalent to the pulp writers of a bygone era. A lot of the guys who wrote those pulp novels made their living by constantly grinding out new product. It wasn’t unusual for people like Gil Brewer and Carter Brown to write novels in a month or less, and they would often release several novels a year. So that’s been my goal over the last couple years, to relentlessly plow through one book after another with only small breaks between them. So far it’s working for me, and I’ve finally realized my lifelong dream of making a living solely by writing by doing it this way. Some of the upcoming projects I have planned are a zombie novel called SLOWLY WE ROT, a slasher novel called TONIGHT THEY DIE, a third KAYLA book, a haunted house novel, another sequel to DEPRAVED, a crime novel that may or may not be called DIRTY DEEDS, and any number of other things. At some point I’ll be collaborating on a novella with Ryan Harding. I never have any shortage of new projects on the horizon, obviously.

smith

That’s all for now, folks. You can pick up STRANGE WAYS right here.

Thank you to Bryan Smith. And thank you all for reading this interview and for going out and buying a couple Bryan Smith books. Believe me, you’ll enjoy them. The dude truly knows how to tell a story.

Robert McCammon’s THE WOLF’S HOUR

I’ve only read two McCammon books so far (SWAN SONG and THE  WOLF’S HOUR), but I’ve come to a conclusion.

Robert McCammon doesn’t write novels. He writes masterpieces.

I expected that of SWAN SONG, since many folks place it up there with (and, in some minds, above) one of my favorite novels, Stephen King’s THE STAND. After reading SWAN SONG, I felt the praise was warranted. It’s a towering classic of our genre.

What I didn’t expect was for THE WOLF’S HOUR to rival the majesty of SWAN SONG.

A Horror Classic

A Horror Classic

THE WOLF’S HOUR is a completely different type of novel than SWAN SONG (and I would argue that SWAN SONG is very different from THE STAND), but it’s no less impressive. In fact, I found Michael Gallatin (the protagonist of THE WOLF’S HOUR) more interesting than any character in SWAN SONG (which was crammed with awesome characters, especially Josh, the ex-pro wrestler).

I’ll leave the synopsis of THE WOLF’S HOUR to other reviewers—it’s not like this is a new release anyway—and instead limit my observations to a few brief reactions:

1. The aforementioned Michael Gallatin is one of those larger-than-life characters that nevertheless feels grounded in reality. More importantly, McCammon manages to make Michael vulnerable without making him weak. The result is a crackling species of suspense whenever Michael is in danger, which then transforms into a plausible relief whenever Michael triumphs. We believe he can be killed, but we also believe he can overcome. The difficulty of achieving this balance cannot be understated, but McCammon makes it all seem effortless.

A Master

A Master

2. The novel contains set pieces that beg for a big screen treatment. One involves the Paris Opera House. Another takes place on a specially-rigged “death train,” which is one of the coolest settings I’ve read in a good while. These set pieces alone vault THE WOLF’S HOUR into high adventure territory, and they begin to speak to my next point…

3. The story is a true epic. It contains horror, action, romance, adventure, humor, heartbreak, eroticism, and historical flavor. Despite the fact that we know how WWII ended, we feel genuine terror when the Nazi plot is revealed and teeth-chattering suspense when Michael attempts to bring down (literally and figuratively) Hitler’s diabolical plan.

From the above comments it might seem I’m bashing SWAN SONG. I’m not. It’s an incredible work of fiction. And if I had to choose between THE WOLF’S HOUR and SWAN SONG, I’d choose the latter as the better of the two books. But THE WOLF’S HOUR certainly deserves to be mentioned alongside SWAN SONG when folks discuss horror’s best novels.

Masterpiece

Masterpiece

I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention McCammon’s writing, which is absolutely superb. The man has a poet’s ear and a carpenter’s exactitude, but he also possesses the sheer brawn to create such a robust tale. McCammon is a masterful writer who has already taught me a great deal. He’s also a riveting storyteller who entertains the heck out of me.

And before you say anything, let me answer you: I know I need to read BOY’S LIFE and plan to do so by year’s end. For now, though, I’m going to savor THE WOLF’S HOUR. It was everything a great book should be.

Lock Your Doors. EXORCIST ROAD Drops at Midnight…

A Demon...and a Serial Killer

A Demon…and a Serial Killer

We’re a few short hours away, folks. I can’t wait for you to check this one out. Like my other three novellas (OLD ORDER, THE CLEARING OF TRAVIS COBLE, and WITCHING HOUR THEATRE), EXORCIST ROAD is told from a single point-of-view. Like those stories, this novella takes place over a very short period of time. But unlike them, this one very quickly crosses over into the realm of the supernatural.

The realm of demonic possession.

exorcist 04

But like all my stories, I think you’re going to find some interesting characters in EXORCIST ROAD. They’ll have to face not just one, but two inexorable forces of evil: a uniquely monstrous demon and an unspeakably sadistic serial killer.

Jason Miller The Exorcist

The story was inspired by my three favorite “possession” stories: William Peter Blatty’s THE EXORCIST and LEGION, as well as John Farris’s SON OF THE ENDLESS NIGHT. You can buy EXORCIST ROAD anywhere ebooks are sold, and at the moment it’s only $3.15 at the Samhain Horror online store.

The-Exorcist-the-demon-approaches

Have a good night, friends. I’ll leave you with the below image…

the_exorcist_2_by_theunforgiven14-d3bolmf

 

On the Eve of EXORCIST ROAD’s Release, Pope Francis Approves Exorcisms

THE EXORCIST. LEGION. SON OF THE ENDLESS NIGHT.

Some of the best horror novels of the past half-century have examined demonic possession and the rites of exorcism. The topic itself is extremely complicated and even more controversial. Clearly, however, the concept of exorcism is a fascinating one that continues to enthrall readers and moviegoers everywhere.

demonic1

As the title of this post mentions, Pope Francis has just reinstituted exorcism, calling it “a form of charity that benefits the sufferer.” Whether demonic possession is real or not, and whether or not exorcism is “a form of charity” are fiercely debated questions.

In my very-soon-to-be-released novella EXORCIST ROAD, two priests attempt to exorcise a fearsome demon inhabiting a fourteen-year-old boy. If you enjoy a spine-tingling tale and have ever enjoyed a story about demonic possession or exorcism, I hope you check out EXORCIST ROAD. And even if you haven’t read or seen an exorcism story, now is a great time to pick one up.

A Demon...and a Serial Killer

A Demon…and a Serial Killer

I have to go now. I’m editing one novel and writing another. I’ll be telling you about both of them soon…

Classic

Classic

Scares That Care, Part Four: Jack Ketchum and Brian Keene

Okay, confession time. I’ve been putting off writing this post because these are the two guys whose work I knew the best going into the Scares That Care Weekend in Williamsburg, Virginia, and it’s really difficult for me to set aside Fan Jonathan from Professional Writer Jonathan.

Then again, maybe I don’t have to.

Yeah, I probably embarrassed Bryan Smith and Tom Monteleone with my last blog post, but I meant every word I said, and I’m not very good at pretending to be something I’m not. I tried to be cool when I sat there signing books with Bryan Smith, but I kept thinking to myself, “This guy is one of the best writers working today. You’re sharing a table with him. This is happening.” When I talked to Tom Monteleone, I felt a similar rush of excitement and disbelief.

Basically, I have a hard time pretending I’m unexcited by interacting with people who helped mold me as a writer and who’ve given me untold hours of reading pleasure. Which means I wasn’t sure how to act around Jack Ketchum and Brian Keene. I think I did okay. I mean, neither of them took out a restraining order against me, so there’s that. And neither threw a drink in my face or ran screaming from my presence. So…how did they act?

Ketchum and Keene from the Stalker-Cam

Ketchum and Keene from the Stalker-Cam

Let’s take Jack and Brian in turn.

(*I’ve decided to call Jack Ketchum/Dallas Mayr by his real name at certain points in this post because, well, that’s how I think of him. I mean, I think of him as both Jack Ketchum and Dallas Mayr, so I’ll be using both names. Just to confuse you.)

Jack Ketchum is one of my primary influences as a writer. Stephen King calls him “the scariest man in America,” and I can’t disagree. In my humble opinion, he has written four classic novels (The Girl Next Door, Off Season, Red, and The Woman) and a whole lot of other outstanding novels and short stories. I wrote this post about Ketchum’s fiction a couple years ago and mean to write another one about his work soon. The title of that long ago post was “The Ketchum Blade,” so named because of how deeply his fiction cuts. I dare you to read The Girl Next Door and not be emotionally moved. Whether that emotion is outrage or sorrow or despair or something else, you will feel something when you read that book. More likely, you’ll feel a number of emotions, which shows how astute and versatile Ketchum is.

But what of the man?

Dallas Mayr, I’m happy to report, is extremely kind, intelligent, and…well, classy. You ever hear someone say “(Insert name) has It“? Well, that applies to Dallas Mayr. Most people couldn’t live up to the legend of Jack Ketchum. Cary Grant, for instance, never could live up to people’s expectations of him off-screen. But Dallas Mayr/Jack Ketchum does. Yet there’s absolutely no affectation to worry about with him, no elitism. He treats everyone with warmth and wit, and though I was deeply afraid of meeting him (you know, a guy doesn’t want to make a fool of himself in front of one of his heroes), his personality soon put me at ease, and I got to spend several wonderful moments just talking to him.

Standing with a Legend (the one on the left)

Standing with a Legend (the one on the left)

Did you know, by the way, that he was once Henry Miller’s literary agent? Half of you are gasping in shock, while the other half are frowning at your monitors. To the former group I say, “Yes, he actually knew and learned from one of the literary giants of the twentieth century.” To the other half I say, stop reading this blog post and pick up Tropic of Cancer. Now.

Anyway, hanging out with Jack Ketchum/Dallas Mayr was one of the biggest thrills I’ve experienced since becoming a writer, and I can’t wait for the next opportunity to talk to him again.

So what about Brian Keene?

I’ll just be honest. Brian’s public persona—at least as I’ve always viewed him—is that of a rebel, a fiery and outspoken debunker of lies, and a fiercely talented author.

After meeting him, I can say it’s all true. He doesn’t suffer idiots, he doesn’t do things the way the system dictates one should do them, and he is indeed fiercely talented.

But one of the highlights of my summer was seeing another side of him. And by the way, if you want to cling to the above persona as his only persona, I suggest you stop reading now.

Photobombed by a Grand Master

Me and Kelli Owen Photobombed by a Grand Master

Here’s the thing you might not know about Brian Keene: He has a huge heart.

He might not like my saying that, and like Jack/Dallas, he’ll probably be embarrassed by this blog post, but I think it’s important for people to know the human beings behind the words. And the human being behind The Rising, behind Levi Stoltzfus, behind too many incredible books to mention in this meager space, is one for whom I have an incredible amount of respect.

Samuel Johnson once said, “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.”

Let’s be honest here. My writing career (hopefully) is in its early stages. I’m proud of what I’ve done so far, but I am far from a household name, and there are a great many more readers who haven’t heard of me than those who have. I do what I can for my favorite authors—I recommend their work to anyone who will listen, and I blog about their stuff here—but really, it’s highly unlikely that I’ll be able to bring more wealth or fame to a guy like Brian Keene. He has written books that have sold more than half a million copies (!), and along with 28 Days Later and The Walking Dead comics, he was the guy who started the zombie phenomenon that continues to dominate popular culture. More importantly, his work continues to get better because he is devoted to his craft, he continues to read actively, and he has the discipline and the drive to always strive to improve himself.

So why would someone like this take the time to a) add me as a celebrity guest at an incredible charity convention, b) treat me like I’m someone special from the moment I walked into the Doubletree Hotel in Williamsburg to the moment we parted on Sunday afternoon, and c) invite me to every meal and allow me to spend time with him, his girlfriend, her son, and several other of his friends?

I’ll tell you why. It’s because Brian has a sincerely kind heart, and he remembers what it was like to know no one.

But I think what I appreciate most about Brian is how sincere and real he is. There isn’t one ounce of artifice with him. He did give me advice about writing, but mainly what he talked about was the importance of family. Speaking of family, one of my favorite memories of the convention was the moment when he dashed into the celebrity room mock-screaming because he was being chased by two newly-painted little girls who turned out to be my daughters.

The Girls Who Terrified Brian Keene

The Girls Who Terrified Brian Keene

And lest you think we spent the weekend in hushed conversation as he earnestly divulged the secrets of writing success, I should also mention he has a fantastic sense of humor and shared stories that made me laugh and gape, sometimes simultaneously.

So after writing nearly fourteen hundred words about two of my favorite writers, I’ll leave you with this thought: If ever I achieve a tenth of what these fine writers and men have achieved, I’ll remember my first Scares That Care convention. I’ll remember that everyone has to start somewhere, and that those who have the ability to make a newbie feel accepted and valued should do so in every way they can.

So thank you, Dallas and Brian. You made me feel like more than a fellow writer. You made me feel like I belonged.

I Wore This Grin for Most of the Weekend

I Wore This Grin for Most of the Weekend

 

Scares That Care, Part Three: Bryan Smith and Tom Monteleone

Yo. Comin’ atcha from da crib straight up gangsta—

I can’t do it.

What I can do is talk about two individuals I met at the recent Scares That Care convention in Williamsburg, Virginia: Bryan Smith and Tom Monteleone.

When I saw I’d be sharing a table with Bryan, I had two simultaneous reactions. My selfish one was, Yes! This means a bunch of people who know and love his stuff will be gravitating toward my table, and after they buy his stuff, maybe they’ll buy mine! My second reaction was something along the lines of the famous WAYNE’S WORLD mantra, “I’m not worthy! I’m not worthy!”

Bryan Slash Smith

Bryan Slash Smith

See, Bryan is a well-known guy and for good reason. Plainly put, he’s a brilliant writer. And I don’t use that adjective lightly. I get the feeling folks think of him as a pulp writer, a guy whose pen squirts as much blood as it does ink, and yeah, it’s true that the stuff I’ve read so far from him does contain a good deal of violence. But man, what I don’t hear people talk enough about is how smart his writing is, how rhythmic. Bryan combines a razor-sharp intellect with an uncanny authorial ear. He’s like Guns ‘n’ Roses’s Slash with a keyboard rather than a guitar. I’m getting ready to finish KAYLA UNDEAD tonight, and I can tell you, it’s every bit as wild and wonderful as KAYLA AND THE DEVIL, a book I devoured recently and went gaga over last month.

KaylaUndead (1)

Bryan also happens to be a great guy. Thoughtful, soft-spoken, he really listens to what you say, and he treated me excellently all weekend, despite the fact that I probably annoyed the hell out of him with my constant chatter.

So buy his books. You’ll be supporting a great guy, but more importantly, you’ll be getting some of the best writing you’ve ever seen. Seriously, the guy is a virtuoso.

Which brings me to Tom Monteleone. I’d heard of Tom for years and had been aware of his importance to the field since, well…since my early-twenties. I’d read his short work and loved it, and I’d read books he’d edited and loved them too.

What I’d never done until fairly recently was read one of his novels.

Monteleone

Monteleone

See, I’ll be talking more about this in a bigger blog post soon, but I think the single biggest issue facing horror today is a disconnect between modern writers/readers and their heritage. Sure, there are writers my age and younger who know their stuff, who understand how important a guy like Tom Monteleone is and who regard him with the proper respect. But I also get the sense that many more writers and readers don’t know why Tom Monteleone matters, who don’t know how great a writer and editor he is, and who don’t understand that he’s a freaking legend that everyone needs to read and study.

Before I go too far down this path, let me just say, I’m not trying to eulogize the guy here. He’s only in his sixties, and I reckon he’s going to be kicking butt for decades to come. And if you don’t believe me, just sit at a dinner table with him the way I got to twice, or hang out with him at a convention. Then you’ll see that you’re the one—not Tom—who needs to get your butt in gear, who needs to up the ante on your zest for life, who needs to become more energized and excited about books and people. Tom is a walking, talking live wire.

My revelation about his writing came last year. My fourth novel SAVAGE SPECIES had just been released, and a very astute reader named Andrew Monge (who’s a regular at the best horror forum in the world, the Horror Drive-In) likened my novel to a book called NIGHT THINGS, which Tom had written several years ago. That comment served as a wake-up call for me, for despite the fact that I think I’m fairly well read in (and out) of the genre, I realized I’d never read a Monteleone novel.

Experience the Terror

Experience the Terror

Honestly, that fact was unforgivable.

How could I, a guy who’s ravenously hungry to become the best writer I can be, claim to know my roots when I’d never read a novel by Tom Monteleone, a man whose writing is legendary, a man whose editorial eye has helped shape the careers of too many writers to recount, a man who can, incidentally, tell a story better than just about anyone I’ve ever met (if you do meet him someday, be sure to ask him about Theodore Sturgeon—I promise your life will never be the same again).

So I read NIGHT THINGS. And realized that everything I’d heard about Tom was true. He’s a writer’s writer, a guy who understands and maximizes every square inch of a tale. The characterization. The plotting. The building of suspense. The carefully crafted backstory. The balletically choreographed pay-off. All of it was there in NIGHT THINGS. Once I’d finished, I realized what an incredible compliment Andrew Monge had paid me by uttering SAVAGE SPECIES in the same sentence with Tom’s novel, and I continue to be honored by those words.

Ferocious Thriller

Ferocious Thriller

I’ll be reading more Monteleone fiction soon. Both SUBMERGED and THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB are burning holes in my TBR pile, and I can’t wait to dive into them.

You should too. Monteleone is a guy every writer can learn from. And a writer who can thrill any reader brave enough to check out his work.

 

CASTLE OF SORROWS: Using a Zombie Trope in a Non-Zombie Novel

Howdy, all! The title of this post is a little misleading because the trope (you could also call it a theme in this circumstance) I’m about to talk about occurs in many non-zombie horror novels. However, I associate it with zombies because, well, they’re everywhere, and some of the best examples of what I’m talking about occur in zombie stories. And I’m also going to winnow down what should be a ten thousand-word essay to a fraction of that number because, as always, my time is short, and I’ve got things to do (mainly, being with my family and working on my current novel).

The Darkness Is Spreading

The Darkness Is Spreading

Consider these characters:

The Governor from THE WALKING DEAD. Colonel Schow from Brian Keene’s THE RISING. The soldiers in 28 DAYS LATER.

Colonel Schow Unleashed

Colonel Schow Unleashed

Aside from the military/governmental trappings that tie these individuals together, they’re also united in their ferocity, their cruelty, and their single-mindedness. But most of all, they’re connected by the dubious distinction of being just as bad—and likely worse—than the zombies.

Almost as bad as the soldiers

Almost as bad as the soldiers

Like I said, this concept is not unique to zombie stories. Other fantastic examples can be found in Dan Simmons’s THE TERROR (Hickey vs. The Terror), Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD (cannibals vs. the apocalyptic landscape), and J.K. Rowling’s HARRY POTTER series (in which Dolores Umbridge becomes even more despicable than Voldemort himself).

In other words, the danger is us. (I changed the predicate nominative form because it sounded weak. You know, kind of like an unnecessary parenthetical explanation.)

I'll never forgive him for using that sword...

I’ll never forgive him for using that sword…

So I warned you a few days ago about the darkness in my new novel CASTLE OF SORROWS. I didn’t specify what made the book so dark, but my very first reader review mentioned it (actually, an email from the reader mentioned it), so the effect I suspected the book would have seems to be occurring (that’s a good thing, by the way).

The main villain of both THE SORROWS and CASTLE OF SORROWS is a god named Gabriel. You can call him Pan if you’d like, but he’s older than literature and one of my favorite villains in fiction. I’m fascinated by him, and he certainly dominates my new book. His shadow loomed over THE SORROWS as well.

However, you could argue that the most despicable character in THE SORROWS is a handsome pilot named Ryan. He’s rich, ripped, and charismatic. He’s also one of my vilest creations.

Where it all began...

Where it all began…

In CASTLE OF SORROWS, you find Gabriel behaving even more maliciously than he did in the first novel. He’s twice as formidable, his “reach” has grown exponentially, and he’s frankly too powerful for any one mortal to handle.

Yet the characters I hate most in CASTLE OF SORROWS are two men. One I won’t reveal here since his true backstory remains concealed until very late in the proceedings. Another, however, reveals his sadism in his very first appearance:

Ray Rubio.

This character actually appeared in THE SORROWS as well. In that novel’s third or fourth scene, the heir of Castle Blackwood (Chris Blackwood) awakens to find someone in his room. Someone with a scalpel. After some ruthless persuasion, Chris Blackwood agrees to Rubio’s demands.

Now Ray Rubio is back in CASTLE OF SORROWS. And this time he doesn’t just have a cameo.

He’s center stage.

When you read this book, it would be wise to put up mental and emotional blinders whenever Rubio appears onstage. He’s sick, he’s depraved, and he’s cagier than he looks. As I wrote him, incidentally, I imagined the following character actor, a former boxer named Tami Mauriello (seen below and to the right) who appeared prominently in ON THE WATERFRONT (and who once lost to Joe Louis in a heavyweight championship bout):

Tami/Rubio is on the right

Tami/Rubio

So even though there are no zombies in CASTLE OF SORROWS (okay, so there are arguably zombie-like creatures at one point, though that one’s debatable), the notion of man’s shadowy nature equalling (or even surpassing) the sadism of an ancient god is a major idea. But sinking to those depths requires some unpleasant subject matter.

Be warned.