Strange New Directions: The Importance of Research

anasazi1In my blog this week at The Confabulator Cafe, I wrote about research for writers and share my experience with researching the ancient pueblo people known as the Anasazi for a short story that will be appearing in Bete Noire Magazine this October.

You can check it out here:

“Bloodline” is now available in Hungur Magazine

HungurCoverMy short story “Bloodline” is now available in Hungur Magazine, a horror magazine devoted to variations on vampires put out by White Cat Publications. Be sure to pick up the latest issue (number 16) and check it out.

I don’t write many stories with the traditional monster tropes. I am pretty proud of this one, and I think it has a great twist on the vampire mythology.

Book Review: House of Leaves

House of LeavesHouse of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

House of Leaves isn’t so much a book as a literary amusement park. Most books, I could explain the plot, and while you may not experience the writing style, you will get the idea. House of Leaves is barely explainable in text. What is the plot anyway? The Navidson’s house? Zampano’s criticism of the Navidson film? Navidson himself? Zampano himself? Johnny Truant’s tumble down the rabbit hole? Or is the plot the book, just reading and finishing the book, just like Johnny Truant before you.

I’ve spoken to people who read the book in a couple of different ways. Some read it linearly, some (like me) followed all the notes to various other sections as they were mentioned, essentially reading out of order. Some said they didn’t really read the footnotes. Definitely read them. There is so much there. In fact, that is part of the brilliance of the book. The footnotes are incomplete. There are things still to be translated and decoded, and they are things that really do add to the story. I found myself writing footnotes in the margins, finishing the work.

House of Leaves takes a lot of chances. Writers are always told to strip anything that slows the story down. Danielewski plays with speed like a four year-old at record turntable. They are told to never remind the reader that they are reading a book. Danielewski constantly reminds us, and in fact makes it a challenge.

This is a book about a book about a movie (and a book?), and before long, the real story, at least for me, becomes the book itself. The two major plotlines are serviceable and would have been great on their own in stand-alone novels, but by making this book the way he did, Danielewski created something special that will last the test of time. It’s fun and disturbing. References and allusions abound and you will find the familiar ones to be spot on. Students of literary criticism will see a lot of satire long with the horror, as the book takes a lot of satirical shots at academic criticism and theory, but you really don’t have to know anything about criticism in order to love this book.

Overall, I cannot recommend it enough, read slowly, with a pencil for notes, just like Truant.
View all my reviews

“Last Dance” – Free Confabulator Cafe Fiction

I have a new story available at The Confabulator Cafe. I wrote the original version of “Last Dance” for the Story-In-A-Bag contest at ConQuest 44. The idea of Story-In-A-Bag is that you have one hour to write a story based on five cards you pull out of bags for your plot, a character, a prop, a setting, and an opening line. Con attendees vote for their favorite stories. I won the Professional Horror division. Of course, I was the only entrant in that division, as far as I am aware, but hey, a win is a win. Regardless, I had fun with it. You can find the story here:

I hope you enjoy my story of a Ouja board and a high school dance gone wrong.

Book Review: Southern Gods

Southern Gods

I met John Hornor Jacobs at ConQuest 44 in Kansas City. He was on a panel I attended and had some things to say about writing that I strongly supported. He spoke a little bit about his debut novel, Southern Gods. I bought it from a bookstore in the dealer room, and made it my next book to read.

Sometimes, you run in to a book that falls directly into your wheelhouse. Researching John Hornor Jacobs, I quickly found that we had similar backgrounds and similar literary interests. His influences were listed on Goodreads as Stephen King, William Faulkner, and Donald E. Westlake.  Prior to writing, he was a musician and graphic artist. While none of this specifically explains the appeal of Southern Gods, it definitely sets up a sort of compatibility with a certain writer (me) who would share his influences.

The book description makes Southern Gods sound like a regional Gothic novel mixed with H. P. Lovecraft. I don’t think that is particularly accurate. There is a lot more Stephen King in the flavor than Lovecraft, and while the South is a strong component of the story, the narrative more closely mirrors a pulp crime novel. Bull Ingram, one of the novel’s two protagonists, is a hardboiled character sent in search of a strange, dark musician with the ability to raise the dead and drive men mad. The Lovecraftian elements come in to play with strange books and old gods, who can’t help but involve themselves with humanity. As Vonnegut would say, so it goes.

The story doesn’t feel like a first novel. There are a lot of good things happening. Jacobs has a talent for storytelling. I found the characters and situations to be very interesting. Reviewing the book on Goodreads, one of my friends said after reading the novel, he wondered why he had never thought of it. I believe that is a great compliment to the story. It feels like it could have only been told in one way, as if the story was always there, just waiting to be written. It feels natural and simple, but without roaming into obvious.

I found myself staying up late into the night to finish the novel, which is something I don’t say very often as I get older. I didn’t read anything else from the moment I started the book to the moment I turned the last page, which is also uncommon. It kept my attention and it kept me reading. There isn’t much more you can ask from a book.

There is room for improvement, don’t get me wrong. Technically, the writing is above average, but will no doubt get better. It improved quite a bit between the beginning and end of the novel. However, it’s hard to imagine a better debut novel by a relatively new writer, which is obvious by the Stoker® nomination and the successful sales.

If you are a fan of regional horror and the style of a fifties crime novel, Southern Gods is definitely worth a read. I enjoyed it immensely.