I made no bones about how much I adored Joe Lansdale’s Edge of Dark Water, so when I got a chance to ask Joe a few questions, I was beyond thrilled! Joe is a busy guy, a wonderful writer, and if you haven’t discovered him yet, he’s got a tremendous backlist, so you’ve got quite a lot of awesome to choose from. He just won a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Horror Writer’s Association (among more than a few Bram Stoker’s), so I thought he’d be a perfect spotlight during my Scare-a-Thon event.
Also, courtesy of the lovely folks at Mulholland Books, we’ve got a copy of Edge Of Dark Water up for grabs, so be sure to check out the details at the bottom of the post.
Please welcome Joe to the blog!
Joe, thanks so much for joining me for my October feature! As the winner of nine Bram Stoker Awards (and many others), you’re no stranger to the rush of your work being recognized on an international scale, but recently, you won the Lifetime Achievement Award, along with Rick Hautala. Did you ever imagine you would be this successful as a writer? Will you tell us a bit about how you started writing?
I never imagine that. I just wanted to write for a living because it’s what I love. It was always my dream job. Still is. I’ve been doing it since I was a child, placing articles, stories, novels, screenplays, etc. for forty years, and its still my dream job. I was a comic book nut in the late fifties and all through the sixties, but they led to my reading all manner of books and stories. I was also a fan of movies, just about any form of written entertainment. I don’t think I really had a choice. I never finished college, but I started teaching myself how to write by reading. I’m still teaching myself how to write by reading. Once I started selling, I just kept at it. I worked all manner of jobs, the last being a janitor, and then I was able to go full time. I’ve been at it ever since.
Your most recent release, All the Earth, Thrown to the Sky (Sept 11th, 2012), is your first young adult novel. What made you decide to write a book especially for young adults? Was it a challenge to make the switch?
Actually, I had written another Young Adult titled THE BOAR. I was fond of it. It was done for a small press, and then reprinted by another small press. I liked doing it so much I planned to do it again. In many ways, a lot of my adult fiction is really young adult fiction, in that young adults are the protagonists. It’s a kind of story I love a lot. I enjoy coming of age stories, stories where young people are experiencing the mysteries of growing up, the good and the bad.
You’re well known for your noir/crime novels, but also have some horror titles under your belt. What things do you find truly scary?
People. That’s what’s truly scary. Even supernatural horrors are symbolic of realistic horrors. People do some pretty awful things.
How do you think horror in fiction has changed from its heyday in the 80s to more recent offerings?
It’s more frequently contemporary, and it’s a lot more about the evils that humans do, and with less disguise about it. It’s also more graphic, though not exclusively. I like graphic and non-graphic. It depends on the story for me. I think it has also embraces the mainstream, or rather the mainstream has embraced it. I think the eighties started those trends and they have continued. There are now a lot of blending of romance, tons of vampires and zombies. Nothing wrong with any of that, but there’s so much of it, it’s not all that engaging anymore. There are exceptions, and they make it worthwhile. They are usually much more character driven pieces, better written material.
What do you consider “pushing the limits” when it comes to your writing?
I try not to think about that when I write. I don’t want to do it consciously. I let the story decide.
When looking for a good scare, who are your go-to authors?
I’m at the point where in the horror field I’m reading backwards. I’ve gone back to Machen and M.R. James, Algernon Blackwood, Poe, E.F. Benson. I love a lot of contemporary stuff, but my head has been there lately, which considering I’m thought to be one of those that kicked a few doors down, with a lot of assistance from other writers, I might add, it would seem I would be all about the modern approach. I am for the most part, but lately I’ve been rereading the old classics and writing a few stories in that vein.
What are a few of your favorite scary films?
I loved THE HAUNTING, from one of my favorite horror novels, THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE. I really loved the recent THE WOMAN IN BLACK. I liked the novel, the play, which I saw in London, as well as the BBC film, and the recent film version. I love NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, a lot of the drive in horrors. My friend Lee Lankford just directed a film, CHRISTMAS WITH THE DEAD, based on a story of mine with a script by my son, Keith Lansdale. It stars Damian Maffei and Brad Maule, and my daughter, son-in-law, and friend and horror writer Chet Williamson have roles in it. I love films.
Is Halloween an event at your house? If so, how do you like to celebrate?
I love Halloween, but we usually keep it simple. A horror movie, or I read a fine horror story. Our kids are grown, so we don’t have trick’r treating anymore. It seems I’m often on some kind of trip, doing an event on Halloween. Couple years back in New York, my daughter was with me. She went to a Halloween extravaganza down town, and I stayed in the hotel anticipating watching a good horror film. There was one on. Not one. Limited cable, I like to think. I did, however, have a horror story with me, so I read that and wrote a piece on a writer I was asked to do. So, it wasn’t perfect Halloween, but it was something. This year I’m giving out an award for a Halloween Writing Contest, which, by the way, my daughter is one of the judges. Then I hope to come home and watch a Halloween movie. I teach class on Wednesday night at the University, but I let my students off to have a work day, and, to have Halloween. Class would have been mostly empty anyway, so I let them loose to have fun, and not waste my night by not showing up. And you know what. I don’t blame them.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
I have the paperback edition of my novel EDGE OF DARK WATER coming out from Mulholland Books. It’s still available in hardback, but comes February there will be the paperback. It has a readers guide in the back, and an interview with me. I’m going to be with Lee Lankford in Torino, Italy for a showing of CHRISTMAS WITH THE DEAD at the Torino film festival. I love Torino. I love Italy. I enjoy seeing the movie. It’s a win, win, win.
Keep up with Joe: Website | Twitter
Portlandtown, the brand new book by Rob DeBorde, comes out tomorrow, and the author was kind enough to answer a few of my questions (and give us his recipe for Beer-Steamed Mussels), so please welcome Rob to the blog!
Rob, your shiny new book, Portlandtown: A Tale of the Oregon Wyldes, is out tomorrow!!! The premise is pretty awesome and includes outlaws, zombies, and booksellers in the 1800s. Will you tell us a little bit more about it? Teasers always welcome!
I’d be happy to share! Portlandtown tells the story of the Wyldes, a curiously talented family living in Portland in 1887 who face off against an undead outlaw and his horde of living-challenged brethren. That’s studio pitch. For the reader I’d also offer this: it’s not just about zombies. Yes, more than a few slack-jaws stumble their way through the pages of Portlandtown, but the book is as much about the adventure as it is the horror. Plus there are voodoo cowboys, steam-driven totem poles, and a tent-full of Old West circus freaks. Yes, I just promised you oddities versus zombies. Step right up!
Your first book, Fish On A First Name Basis, was a nonfiction guide to catchin’ the swimmy critters, skinnin’ em, and cookin’ em up. What made you decide to embark on writing a supernatural novel?
Actually, the supernatural side of things was always more my style. I found my way to the Food Network, and later the fish book, by way of an animated cooking show I developed online (I’ll explain later). Prior to that I was writing stories about talking skeletons and time-traveling monsters. Thus, a book about outlaws and zombies is simply a return to form. Also I got tired writing about fish. Seriously, there’s only so many ways to cook a flounder.
Why do you think zombies are so popular all of a sudden (other than for their good looks)?
I think the real question is why are zombies still popular after almost a decade of high-profile pop culture exposure. Most “monsters-of-the-week” fade after a few seasons, but not zombies. You can’t kill ’em! I suppose the answer—to both questions—probably has something to do with zombies being the perfect analog for our own mortality. You can run, you can hide, you can take vitamins every day of your life, but eventually death is going to catch up with you…and eat your brains. That’s the Psyche 101 answer, anyway. Could be we just dig zombies because they’re dangerous and funny at the same time. Die laughing—what a way to go, eh?
Any personal zombie favorites (books or film)?
World War Z, Shaun of the Dead, Plants Vs. Zombies, the original Resident Evil videogame, and ParaNorman. Oh, and Portlandtown.
How about books in general? What are some of your favorite authors or novels?
Stephen King, Warren Ellis, Jim Butcher, Sarah Vowell, Garth Ennis—to name just a few. As for novels, I don’t even know where to being. Actually, I do: It. That’s the first time a book gave me chills. Twice! I’ve read a lot of great books since, but I’ll mention just a few for readers to seek out: King’s 11/22/63, Christopher Moore’s Lamb, The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston, Ellis’s Transmetropolitan, and Ennis’s Preacher. (Yes, the last two are comic books. It’s my list. Leave me alone.) And if you haven’t read Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, you should—especially if you grew up anywhere near the 1980s. It’s a blast.
If you could read one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
Besides It? Harry Potter. I’d like to erase all knowledge of the stories, hype, movies—especially the movies—and start on page 1 not knowing a thing. That would be a joy.
I hear you have an online cooking show? Care to, um, dish?
That would be Deep Fried, Live! With Tako the Octopus, an animated cooking show starring an accident prone eight-legged chef. It’s a real cooking show, with recipes and food science and explosions. I think there’s even a few zombie clams on the menu in one episode. Fun stuff. Also the reason why I ended up in the food business. Apparently, Alton Brown got tired of people asking if he was behind the show so he asked me to write for him, which I did for five years. Tako is still kicking around, although I’m not producing new shows at the moment. If you’re curious the whole series is still available at www.8legged.com. There are also a few shows on YouTube (for those who aren’t on a Flash-enabled device).
Speaking of dishes…what’s one of your favorites?
I only get one? Hmmm…okay, mussels and beer. That’s not a cheat, by the way. I’m cooking the mussels in the beer, so any unused brew gets put the table. Be sure to get a bomber (more beer), probably a pale or an amber—nothing too hoppy. Penn Cove mussels are the best, if you can find them. No cracked shells, no dead mussels—cook them alive!
What do you love most about living in your neck of the woods (the wilds of Oregon)? I’ve heard it’s beautiful…
It is beautiful, and thanks to the weather it stays that way year round. (Yes, it rains a bit, but not as much as you’ve heard.) As to why I love it, I’ll mention three Bs: books, bistros, and beer. There are a lot of bookstores in Portland, including the city block-sized Powell’s, which is just amazing. Want to get lost among the stacks? Go to Powell’s. Even better, the food scene in Portland is awesome. Restaurants, farmer’s markets, food carts, Voodoo Donuts—yes, I’ve put on 20 pounds since moving to Oregon, but it’s happy fat. And then there’s the beer. There are 50 different breweries in Portland, about 150 in the state, and more styles of microbrew on tap than you can imagine.
Need I say more?
What next? Anything else you’d like to share about upcoming projects or events (guilty pleasure, the best way to skin a fish, anything at all!)?
Next will either be the sequel to Portlandtown or an unrelated novel call Pumpkin Eater. The later is about ghosts, skeletons, and Halloween. Yeah, more dead things.
And just for kicks, here’s a recipe for Beer-Steamed Mussels. Enjoy!
Dark Currents: Agent of Hel by Jacqueline Carey
Publisher: Roc/Oct. 2nd, 2012
Agent of Hel series
Kind thanks to Roc for providing a review copy
Daisy Johanssen is the goddess Hel’s enforcer, in the tiny resort town of Pemkowet and consults with the Pemkowet Police Department on all things involving the eldritch community. The product of a human mother and a lesser demon/incubus father, Daisy has a knack for seeing through supernatural glamours and sensing when magic is near. She also has a tail (and a demonic birthright), but it’s a little one, and an occasional cat named Mogwai.
Pemkowet is a hotbed for paranormal denizens and actively encourages outsiders to come experience their supernatural oddities, but the darker side isn’t discussed quite so much, and that’s where Daisy comes in. When a college boy “accidentally” drowns in the river, Daisy is called to the scene to help. Most people would take it for drunken fun gone wrong, but the Chief knows better. The victim’s friends have mismatched stories, and it’s increasingly obvious to Daisy that something else is going on, and she’s determined to get to the bottom of things. It doesn’t help that she has to work alongside Cody Fairfax: cop, werewolf, player, and hottie that she’s nursed a crush on since they were kids and he defended her against bullies. With the reputation of the town at stake, Cody and Daisy must find out if the drowning was an accident or something more sinister, and fast.
Jacqueline Carey is known for her extremely popular Kushiel series and is already a seasoned author, so I was excited to see the first book of a new series promising supernatural hijinks in a small town. Dark Currents is told in Daisy’s voice and at first I thought it was going to be a relatively light urban fantasy filled with fairies, vamps, all things furry, quirky characters, and of course, plenty of magic. Well, it is, for a little while, then it gets rather dark, but this isn’t a bad thing. Mystery wise, the “accidental” drowning of an obnoxious college kid wasn’t enough to rev me up at first. Now, I have a feeling the author did this on purpose, because when the truth about the drowning actually comes out, it smacks you in the head and you most certainly take notice, and it’s not pretty. In fact, it’s very tragic, dark, and even pretty relevant to current world events. On the lighter side, Dark Currents has very much of an early Sookie Stackhouse feel to it and a highlight was when a Frost Giant picked Daisy up in his dune buggy to visit Hel under a huge tree called Yggdrasil II. Mustn’t forget to feed the guard dog (more like guard beast) while you’re at it!
Daisy is a tough girl, but she also struggles with the normal things that a single girl in her 20s does. Guys, friendships, not succumbing to the Seven Deadlies or accidently invoking her birthright which could cause Armageddon, her demonic father… Oh, well, I guess those aren’t normal girl things, but you get the picture. Plus our gal gets to carry a seriously ass kicking dagger and flirt with hot cop Cody and sexy biker ghoul Stefan. Speaking of ghouls: Jacqueline Carey’s ghouls come in the form of a motorcycle gang called the Outkasts and are not the rotting, shambling things you’re probably picturing. They feed off of human emotion, and her mythos for these creatures is complex and fascinating. It was one of my favorite elements of the story (especially Stefan, but I digress…) Mythology, all forms of supernatural creatures, small town life, mysticism, and magic all intertwine wonderfully in this rich, charming, and yes, at times very dark, urban fantasy. You’ll fall in love with Daisy, and her supporting cast, and you’ll most definitely want to come back for more. Can’t wait for the next one!
If you love zombies, and you haven’t read the post by Joe McKinney that went up earlier this week about his world of zombies, you’re in for a treat, and I thought a giveaway of the first book in his Dead World series, Dead City, would be especially appropriate considering the season (and The Walking Dead premier tonight!). I can personally vouch for the awesomeness of this book, and it’s a guaranteed fun read!
So, check out the book and the details (it’s international), and get your zombie on!
Dead City by Joe McKinney:
Texas? Toast. Battered by five cataclysmic hurricanes in three weeks, the Texas Gulf Coast and half of the Lone Star State is reeling from the worst devastation in history. Thousands are dead or dying-but the worst is only beginning. Amid the wreckage, something unimaginable is happening: a deadly virus has broken out, returning the dead to life-with an insatiable hunger for human flesh.The nightmare begins… Within hours, the plague has spread all over Texas. San Antonio police officer Eddie Hudson finds his city overrun by a voracious army of the living dead. Along with a small group of survivors, Eddie must fight off the savage horde in a race to save his family.Hell on Earth.There’s no place to run. No place to hide. The zombie horde is growing as the virus runs more rampant. Eddie knows he has to find a way to destroy these walking horrors…but he doesn’t know the price he will have to pay.
Please welcome one of my favorite authors to the blog. John Hornor Jacobs has written Southern Gods and This Dark Earth, and his first young adult novel, The Twelve-Fingered Boy, will be out in 2013! I got him to dish on that, and more, so please welcome him back to the blog!
John, you’ve written two of my fave books of all time, Southern Gods and This Dark Earth, and Twelve-Fingered Boy is coming in 2013! Will you tell us a bit about it? Help a girl out, I’m squeeeing here:)
The Twelve-Fingered Boy is a young adult novel about a fast-talking juvenile delinquent named Shreve who discovers that his quiet new cellmate in the Casimir Pulaski Juvenile Detention Center has twelve fingers – supernumerary post-axial polydactylism – and also might have superpowers. Soon both Shreve and Jack (the kid with all the extra fingers) are being visited by the mysterious Mr. Quincrux from the Department of Health and Human Services who wants to know more about the boy than any state employee should.
The Twelve-Fingered Boy is an adventure story and, at its root, a dialogue about the nature of brotherhood and the commonality of all mankind. It worries at the problem of the physical versus the spiritual. It’s dark, for a YA novel, but one of the most hopeful novels I’ve written. I’ve recently completed Incarcerado, the second novel in the series.
But other than all that fancy talk, it’s a fast, fun, adventure novel. It’s like Escape from Witch Mountain meets Jumper meets X-Files and they had a baby that then mated with a gibbon monkey, for kicks.
What made you decide to write a young adult novel?
I love young adult novels. From Harry Potter to Delaney’s The Last Apprentice to John Bellairs to Stephen Gould’s Jumper, I’ve always been drawn to the YA novels – probably because I’m not a very mature adult and I’m still dealing with a lot of the issues I’ve had since adolescence. Sad, but true. But also, there’s a honesty to young adult novels that quite often you don’t find in books for adults. Adolescence is a boiling cauldron of confusion, ostracism, rage, sexual frustration, explosive urges, internal conflicts about who you are and who you will become and who you want to be. It’s really one of the most fertile grounds for literature which is why the bildungsroman – the coming of age novel/movie/story – is and has always been so popular.
In the spirit (pun intended) of October, with Halloween just around the corner, what are a few of your favorite scary reads?
1. Salem’s Lot – Stephen King
I read this when I was 17 and my folks were out of town. Alone at home, I kept checking the windows and the locks on the front door.
2. Dracula – Bram Stoker
This one, I read when I was really young at my father’s urging. We’d watched the Bela Lugosi film – which I enjoyed but didn’t find particularly frightening, so my pops gave me the book. It succeeded frightening me where Bela Lugosi failed.
3. Ghost Story – Peter Straub
I love stories where the past comes back to haunt you.
4. House of Leaves – Mark Z. Danielewski
This is the only book in a long while that seriously gave me the creeps. Like skin crawling creepy. I’d thought I’d become inured to scares – there’s just nothing new out there – but this book and the central enigma in it, seriously affected me. While reading it, I kept having dreams of being lost in a massive house. This book is fantastic.
5. The Rising – Brian Keene
When I read this, I had a zombie nightmare. On the run, with the family, fearing my kids would be eaten. Maybe I ate something bad that night, but this book seriously messed up my sleep.
6. A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
When I was a kid, this book (and the many film adaptations) always gave me delicious chills, especially Jacob Marley. “Mankind should have been my business!”
What’s something that you find particularly terrifying?
You know when you’re walking down stairs that have no back? Like the open steps of a deck? Man I hate those things. Because anyone standing below the stairs – anything – could just reach out and grab your ankle.
I am also not a fan of walking over grates on sidewalks. What if they broke and I fell into the sewer and then an evil spider clown tortured/ate me?
How about movies? Any scary faves?
The scariest movie EVER is The Exorcist. That book is horrific as well. But, shit, The Exorcist terrifies on all levels – visual scares just scratch the surface. In the course of that movie, you begin to believe in malevolent forces.
Do you and your family do anything special for Halloween?
I have young daughters, so we go trick or treating. I don’t usually dress up for a few reasons. At my size, the only costumes I can pull off are sasquatch, Hagrid, or Walter from The Big Liebowski. When I was younger (and slimmer) I had a Darth Vader costume, which was cool, but it was homemade and would look pathetic compared to all the cosplayer’s duds nowadays. So, no. Halloween rolls around, we go to my parents, cook homemade pizza, while the kids run around the rich neighborhood and get the good candy. Rich fuckers have the best candy.
What’s next for you? Anything else you’d like to share about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
Nothing that I’ve not already touched on. The Twelve-Fingered Boy will be out next February, and Incarcerado and The End of All Things will follow in consecutive years. I have to write The End of All Things so that will be on my plate soon, once I get back my editorial notes on Incarcerado.
I have one other book, The Incorruptibles, which is the start of a new series. It’s a weird mashup of all the stuff I like. It’s an alternate Roman history/fantasy/western/demonpunk thingy. After a few near misses at publishers, it’s out on a wide submission right now and – fingers crossed – we’ll sell it this year, or the next. Maybe. But it’s my baby and I want to see it well taken care of.
Keep up with John: Website | Twitter
Pre-Order The Twelve-Fingered Boy: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound
About The-Twelve Fingered Boy:
Fifteen-year-old fast-talking Shreve doesn’t mind juvie. He’s good at dealing contraband candy, and three meals a day is more than his drunk mother provided. In juvie, the rules never change and everyone is the same. In juvie, Shreve has life figured out.
So when he’s assigned a strangely silent and vulnerable new cellmate, Jack, Shreve takes the younger boy under his wing. But all Shreve’s plans and schemes unravel when he discovers Jack is different. For one thing, Jack has six fingers per hand. For another thing, he just might have superpowers.
Soon Jack has drawn the attention of the cellblock bullies as well as the mysterious and chilling Mr. Quincrux—who claims to be from the Department of Health and Human Services. But when Shreve feels Quincrux invade his mind and shuffle through his darkest memories, he knows Quincrux’s interest in Jack is far more sinister. Mr. Quincrux means to take Jack away. For what purposes, no one knows.
But Shreve has another plan: escape.
About John (via his website):
John Hornor Jacobs has worked in advertising for the last fifteen years, played in bands, and pursued art in various forms. He is also, in his copious spare time, a novelist, represented by Stacia Decker of the Donald Maass Literary Agency. His first novel, Southern Gods, was published by Night Shade Books and shortlisted for the Bram Stoker Award. His second novel, This Dark Earth, will be published in July, 2012, by Gallery/Pocket Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. His young adult series, The Incarcerado Trilogy comprised of The Twelve Fingered Boy, Incarcerado, and The End of All Things, will be published by Carolrhoda Labs, an imprint of Lerner Publishing.
Please welcome Christopher L. Bennett to the blog! Christopher is the author of the upcoming sci-fi novel Only Superhuman (Oct. 16th), and was kind enough to answer a few of my questions. Also, I’ve got a copy of the book up for grabs, courtesy of Tor, so be sure to check out the giveaway details at the bottom of the post!
You’ve written over 10 novels, many of them set in the Star Trek universe, and your newest novel, Only Superhuman, will be out on the 16th! Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us a bit about your journey?
I always liked to daydream and make up stories, and my parents instilled a love of reading in me at an early age. When I was thirteen, I had a set of building blocks for making futuristic cities and populated them with homemade toy aliens, and one day I told myself a whole story about them entirely in my head, and that was when I realized I was a writer. The first time I tried to write something for other people was for the junior-class play in high school, but that went badly awry because some of my collaborators took writing a lot less seriously than I already did. I didn’t start writing with intent to publish until I was in college, and like most writers I spent years getting rejection letters from magazines, learning from the rejections, and trying harder to raise my game. I owe a lot to former Analog editor Stanley Schmidt, who saw enough potential in me to give me guidance and advice in his rejection letters, and who eventually bought my first published story, “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide,” in 1998, as well as an indirect sequel, “Among the Wild Cybers of Cybele,” in 2000. After that I didn’t have much more success until I became acquainted online with the editors of Pocket’s Star Trek novels, which eventually led to an offer to pitch to the Starfleet Corps of Engineers e-book series, and that led in turn to more Trek work including novels. My main Trek editor for those first five years, Marco Palmieri, helped me improve a lot as a writer, and I’m glad that he ended up at Tor and served as an assistant editor on Only Superhuman. My years in the Trek writing community also let me get to know Greg Cox, a fellow Trek novelist who’s also a freelance editor for Tor, and so he was willing to take a look at Only Superhuman and liked it enough to acquire it.
Will you tell us a bit about Only Superhuman?
Only Superhuman is a hard science fiction take on the idea of superheroes—or, if you like, a work of transhumanist SF with a superheroic flavor. It’s set in a 22nd-century Asteroid Belt civilization where humans have embraced genetic and bionic modifications to thrive in the harsh conditions of space, and many have taken it far beyond basic survival and acquired superhuman abilities. With few historical role models, many of theses “mods” look to the superheroes—and sometimes supervillains—of classic fiction for inspiration. My protagonist Emerald Blair, the Green Blaze, embodies multiple facets of mod society. She’s a child of the Vanguardians, who were the first generation of superhuman champions, but then had a falling out with the rest of humanity; some say they grew too ambitious for power, others that they were persecuted and grew bitter. Emerald had her own falling out with her Vanguardian father due to a childhood tragedy, leading to an adolescent career as a superpowered delinquent and some bad choices she came to regret deeply. Now she seeks to atone by joining the Troubleshooters, a corps of mods who use their powers to keep the peace in the chaotic Belt, embracing the trappings of superheroes to win the people’s trust. But the Vanguardians are back and making a new play for power, and Emerald is sent in to use her family ties to discover their real agenda. But she learns that it may be the Troubleshooters who have been corrupted. Emerald is torn between loyalties and identities and must try to distinguish the true heroes from those who crave power for their own ends.
What do you love most about writing science fiction?
I love the ability to create whole new worlds and universes, to explore them and figure out how they work. I like to create futures that are better than the world today, closer to how I wish the world would work, but with enough complications and challenges to keep things interesting. I believe we can make the world better, but that it would take a lot of hard work and diligence to keep it from going wrong, and I like to explore that process in my work. I think science fiction can be a powerful tool for inspiring people, offering them a road map for possible futures, and so we need more science fiction that offers positive visions of the future to work toward, rather than just dystopias to avoid.
What are some of your favorite novels?
Some of the novels I enjoy the most or have been most influenced by include Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, Rendezvous with Rama, and The Fountains of Paradise, Isaac Asimov’s The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun, Carl Sagan’s Contact, Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep, Diane Duane’s Young Wizard and Feline Wizard novels and her first Star Trek novel The Wounded Sky, and two classic Superman novels by Elliot S! Maggin (yes, that’s supposed to be an exclamation point), Last Son of Krypton and Miracle Monday.
If you could read one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
I can’t think of just one. It would have to be something with a really striking and delightful twist whose impact is lessened onc e you know it—perhaps a great mystery novel or something of the sort.
What’s one of your favorite popular super heroes, and why?
I’m a big fan of Spider-Man, whom I was glad to get the opportunity to write in the novel Drowned in Thunder for Pocket Star Books. There’s so much to like about him. He’s a wish-fulfillment figure for nerds and social outsiders like me, he’s a hero who relies as much on his intellect and determination as his physical prowess, he’s a great comic hero with a rich sense of humor, and his story is a powerful statement about responsibility and the importance of wielding power wisely and selflessly. He actually has a lot in common with Only Superhuman’s Emerald Blair; when I wrote Drowned in Thunder, I realized I was using a lot of the same creative muscles to write Spider-Man that I’d used to write Emry.
When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
These days I spend far too much of my time on the Internet, often to the detriment of my other preferred activities, which include going for walks, reading, or listening to my collection of TV and movie soundtrack albums.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
Aside from being at New York Comic-Con this weekend, I’ll be at the Books by the Banks festival in Cincinnati on October 20. As far as projects go, I do have a new Star Trek novel in the works, but I’m not yet able to specify what it’s about. I’m also shopping a new original novel to agents.
Keep up with Christopher: Website
Pre-Order Only Superhuman: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound
Here’s my roundup of book news (and other fun stuff) around the web for the week! Sometimes I add stuff throughout the day on Friday, so be sure you check back over the weekend too!
Interviews and more:
Excerpts and such:
Fun stuff (some book-related, some not):
Also, the October Scare-a-Thon is in full swing, so be sure to check out what we’ve got going so far,and keep an eye out for spotlights on more horror authors and Bram Stoker Award winners in the coming days!
This is one of my favorite times of year, and it’s one of Chris Holm’s (Dead Harvest, The Wrong Goodbye) faves too, so I asked him to do a Halloween friendly Top 5, and he kindly obliged!
My Top Five Halloween Traditions
by Chris F. Holm
1. Over-the-Top Decorations
You know that one house on the block that takes Halloween way too seriously? Yeah, that’s mine. Our poor trick-or-treaters have to navigate the unquiet graveyard on our front lawn and a walkway lined with flickering jack o’lanterns past the giant spider in his web and our starch-and-cheesecloth ghosts to reach our bloody-handprinted door if they want their share of loot. Most of ‘em love it. And the ones that don’t always seem to wind up daring one another to scale our steps and knock the door once more…
(Sidebar on those ghosts: Blow up a balloon, and place it on something tallish, like a lamp or vase. Drape with cheesecloth. Spray with spray starch. Let dry. Pop balloon. Hang with fishing line. Optional: spray with glow-in-the-dark paint from the craft store. They look awesome.)
2. John Carpenter’s Halloween
Look, it may be a little on-the-nose, but the fact is, there’s never been a better Halloween flick than Carpenter’s classic, which singlehandedly invented the slasher genre. Think you know it — that it’s just cheesy, bloody fun? Think again. Halloween is taut and tense and scary as all get-out. It’s also one of my favorite movies of all time. And you’d best believe it’s playing on my TV when the kids come ’round.
3. Something Wicked This Way Comes
There is no greater time of year, says I, than autumn. And there’s no novel more wonderfully evocative of the season than Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. The story sits at that perfect intersection of magic, wonder, and terror, and captures perfectly what it felt like to be a kid set loose on the thrillingest of holidays. It’s a story you wouldn’t mind your twelve-year-old reading, and yet it still has the power to scare the hell out of us grown-ups, too. I dip into it every fall, if I can find the time.
4. October Beers
There’s something of a war in my house as to which local October brew is superior: the pumpkin-and-spice concoction that is Shipyard’s Pumpkinhead, or the rich, dark brew that is Gritty’s Halloween. (My wife’s in the former camp; I’m in the latter.) Truth be told, we both win. As they’ve grown in popularity, they’re hitting the shelves earlier and earlier in the year, but they never taste so good as when the leaves have turned.
5. Trawling Netflix Streaming
They can’t all be Carpenter flicks, you know? So sometimes, it’s fun to watch the ones that don’t hardly try. Maybe it’s my lifelong love of Mystery Science Theater 3000, or maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment, but when October rolls around, Netflix is flooded with shitty horror movies, and I consider it my mission to watch as many of them as I can manage before they slink back to from whence they came. Seriously, it’s embarrassing, but I cannot get enough. Slumber parties? Ouija boards? Camping trips? Ancient evils? Hazings gone awry? Yes yes yes yes yes.
About Chris F. Holm (via his website):
Hmmm. The dreaded bio. What to say? Well, first off, I think we can dispense with the whole third-person thing. Much as I’d like to pull a Chris F. Holm was born in a cabin he fashioned with his own two hands sort of deal, I’m pretty sure no one’s buying. So with that in mind, here goes:
I was born in Syracuse, New York, the grandson of a cop with a penchant for crime fiction. It was the year of punk rock and Star Wars, two influences that to this day hold more sway over me than perhaps my wife would like. But it was books that defined my childhood, from my grandfather’s Wambaugh and Sanders to the timeworn pulps picked up secondhand from the library.
I wrote my first story at the age of six. It got me sent to the principal’s office. I’d like to think that right then is when I decided to become a writer.
Since then, I’ve fared a little better. My stories have appeared in a slew of publications, including Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Beat to a Pulp, and Thuglit. My novella “The Hitter” was selected to appear in THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES 2011, edited by Harlan Coben and Otto Penzler. I’ve been an Anthony Award nominee, a Derringer Award finalist, and a Spinetingler Award winner. My Collector novels, DEAD HARVEST and THE WRONG GOODBYE, recast the battle between heaven and hell as Golden Era crime pulp.
I live on the coast of Maine with my lovely wife and a noisy, noisy cat. When I’m not writing, you can find me on my porch, annoying the crap out of the neighbors with my guitar.
Follow Chris on Twitter
I’m so excited to have Jacqueline Carey on the blog today! Jacqueline is the author of the wildly popular Kushiel’s Legacy series, Santa Olivia (one of my faves), Saints Astray, and her brand new book, Dark Currents: Agent of Hel just came out! She was kind enough to answer a few of my questions, and there’s also a giveaway, so please check out the details at the bottom of the post!
Jacqueline, you’re the author of 14 novels (including the wildly successful Kushiel’s Legacy series), and your newest one, Dark Currents: Agent of Hel, just came out on Oct. 2nd! Will you tell us a bit about Dark Currents, and its heroine, Daisy Johanssen?
“Dark Currents” is an urban fantasy set in the Michigan resort town of Pemkowet, where Hel, the Norse goddess of the dead, presides over Little Niflheim in the old lumber town buried beneath the shifting sand dunes. Daisy Johanssen, my reluctant hell-spawn heroine, is the daughter of minor demon Belphegor, unwittingly summoned by her teenaged mother. Although Daisy struggles with temptation and the Seven Deadly Sins, her mom raised her to value traditional human morality, firmly believing that love could redeem even Rosemary’s baby.
Daisy serves as Hel’s liaison between the underworld and mundane authorities. When a local college boy is drowned and signs point to involvement by a member the eldritch community, it’s up to Daisy to solve the mystery before it ignites a catastrophic backlash.
What kind of research did you do for the book?
It feels almost like I cheated on this one! The setting is based on my actual home town, and much of the research is based on years of observation. I live in a quirky, charming place, the sort of oddball small town that you don’t often find outside a TV series. I always planned to write something set here and I’ve been making mental notes for ages. I just thought it would be a Serious Literary Novel. Instead, my Muse sent me visions like a frost giant driving a dune buggy.
I noticed you already have two more books planned in the series. When you started, did you already have idea of how many you wanted to write, or did you just decide to see where the series took you?
I tend to think in terms of three, so a trilogy was a natural fit for me. Perhaps it’s an echo of the classic three-act structure of drama. However, as I close in on the finish of the second volume, I’ll admit, I’m toying with the various possibilities that might be played out before the final endgame. We’ll see!
What do you love most about writing fantasy/urban fantasy?
This may sound facile, but… it’s fun. I love the fact that as an author, I’m held to a standard of plausibility rather than strict accountability. I relish the challenge of convincing readers to suspend their disbelief. And while the genre allows me to address serious themes, at the same time there’s a lot of freedom in it. Writing historical fantasy in the Kushiel’s Legacy series, I got to reinvent an entire tapestry of history, picking and choosing the strands I wanted to weave into it. Venturing into urban fantasy with “Dark Currents” allowed me to view the world in which I live through the lens of the fantastic, imbuing it with wonder and whimsy. Oh, and creepiness.
What are some of your biggest literary influences?
My love of historical fiction began with Mary Renault’s novels of ancient Greece. Patricia McKillip’s “Riddlemaster of Hed” trilogy showed me that fantasy could be lyrical, and Richard Adams’ “Shardik” taught me that it could be intense and gritty, dealing with mature, complex themes.
What are you reading now?
As I write this, I’m preparing to head out on tour with a backlog of National Geographic magazines, which is probably not what readers are interested in hearing about, but always a potential source of inspiration. However, my most recent favorite read was “Code Name Verity” by Elizabeth Wein. It’s intense, heartbreaking, and a considerable narrative feat in the bargain. I recommend it highly.
I noticed that you love to travel! Where have you not been yet that you’d love to visit?
Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are a couple of places that are on the top of my wish list.
Also, I read that you’re a member of the oldest Mardi Gras krewe in the state of Michigan. How did that come about?
Funny you should ask! It started with a handful of women who traipsed from bar to bar on Mardi Gras and decided a more large-scale celebration was in order. The next year, they invited a few more women, myself included, to form a krewe, build a float, and hold a parade. Despite the icy clime, we did. The first year, spectators were a little bewildered at being pelted by cheap, shiny necklaces, but they caught on quickly and learned to beg for beads by the following year. The tradition continues to this day.
When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
Eating and drinking and talking with friends. For me, those are the building blocks that establish quality of life: Good food, good wine, good conversation. There’s nothing better.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about upcoming projects or events?
As I noted, I’m close to finishing the second Agent of Hel novel, with a working title of “Autumn Bones.” This one’s going to be a wild ride!
Keep up with Jacqueline: Website | Twitter
I’m so thrilled that Joe McKinney took some time out of his very busy schedule to write about zombies for me, considering he spends quite a bit of time writing about them for his Dead World series (Dead City, Apocalypse of the Dead, Flesh Eaters, Mutated, and more), plus, he’s a sergeant for the San Antonio Police Department. Oh, and did I mention that Flesh Eaters won the Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel in 2011?
Please give Joe a warm welcome!
Walking With Zombies: A Natural History of Dead World
By Joe McKinney
It may sound strange coming from a writer who has made a name for himself with his zombie fiction, but I’ve always found the idea of the dead rising up to eat the living a little ridiculous.
I mean, I love zombies. Don’t get me wrong. I love their rotten little hearts. I have read nearly every zombie book and graphic novel out there. I’ve watched most of the movies too. But for as much as I have enjoyed those forays into the land of the dead, I still have a hard time getting behind most of the explanations that are given for why a dead body would suddenly rise up and want to eat me. I understand that the cannibal dead has been a nearly universal concern for speculative writers, ranging from The Epic of Gilgamesh to the Bible to Freud to Max Brooks, but I’m still not convinced the dead would find me all that appetizing.
But putting aside that major closure on the road to credulity, if you want to convince me a zombie apocalypse is possible you still have some of the more mundane questions to answer. Like how come they don’t continue to rot and just fall apart? During my time as a homicide detective for the San Antonio Police Department I saw a ton of dead bodies. Leave them out long enough and they start to get really gross. If the dead really did rise up and start coming after the living all you’d have to do is survive the first month of the apocalypse, because by that point most of the zombies would have rotted to the point they simply fell apart.
And what about carrion birds? I don’t know if you’ve ever seen turkey buzzards going after road kill, but believe me, the ones down here in Texas would have every zombie stupid enough to go outdoors picked clean down to the bone in about forty-five minutes.
And you always see zombies eating the people they kill, but where does all that consumed meat go? Let’s say a pack of zombies gets me. They open me up like a canoe and turn my guts into a buffet. I stand an even six feet tall and weigh in at a slightly paunchy two hundred pounds. I’m a big guy. Let’s say as many half a dozen zombies are eating me. That’s what, about 33 pounds of manmeat a zombie? Now I can do a lot of damage at a Chinese buffet, but there’s no way I’m eating 33 pounds of anything in a single sitting. Zombies don’t get up and tell their buddies they’re full, right? They’ll eat until there’s no more food to eat. That’s consistent with everything we’ve been told about them, right?
So where does it all go?
Do zombies have, uh, bowel movements?
We could go on with this for a long time, but I think the point is made. If you want to have a zombie apocalypse where your zombies are reanimated dead bodies, you have a lot of continuity questions to ask yourself. And if you want to expand your story across a multi-book series, as I did with my Dead World books, then you’re going to face the challenge of explaining how things work to your readers.
So that’s what I did.
I realized that if I was going to answer my own plausibility concerns I would have to do something different with zombies. Not too different, because I still wanted to write the creatures that I love so much, but different enough that I would be happy with, and challenged by, the world in which I was working.
The zombie as we know it in The Walking Dead and in George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and Max Brooks’ World War Z and a thousand other works is basically a dead body carrying around some kind of infection that enables it to kill and eat the living, in the process infecting them so that the victim in turn becomes a zombie. As I’ve said, I have a number of problems with that particular type of zombie. So what alternatives did I have? How could I write a zombie story that satisfied my continuity concerns and yet still satisfied my love of the shambling hordes that fill post-apocalyptic city streets like rivers of hands and teeth?
Well, the answer was pretty obvious…at least to me. I had to make my zombies living people infected with a disease. It sounds easy enough, but a quick survey of zombie fiction, TV shows and movies will show you that very few do it that way. Only 28 Days Later comes to mind, in fact. There may be others, but by my count only my series and the 28 Days Later franchise seem to take this tack.
In my Dead World books, the culprit behind the zombie apocalypse is the necrosis filovirus, which is closely related to the family of hemorrhagic fevers that includes Ebola, Marburg, Lassa and Crimean-Congo. Here’s how it works: the necrosis filovirus spreads through exposure to the bodily fluids of an infected zombie, and the usual vector is a bite, though any exchange of bodily fluids will do the trick. The virus causes the complete depersonalization of the infected person, essentially turning them into a zombie.
It does not kill them, however. That’s key to this discussion. The living, infected person exists as a mindless husk, intent solely on aggression. They can’t care for themselves in any meaningful way, and they have no sense of danger or the ability to avoid it. And in most cases, they are so badly injured by the contact that caused their initial infection that secondary infections are rampant. What this means in practical terms is that most of the infected die off very soon after getting infected, either from their initial injuries, injuries incurred while hunting for food, or from the food itself that they eat. Imagine a living person feeding on something that’s been dead in the middle of the road for a few days and you can see what I mean.
(By the way, for those of you looking for a little biographical information to inform my decision to write about the infected living rather than the infected dead, I’ll tell you that my grandfather died of Alzheimer’s disease. I watched the man go from a towering individual my father worshipped to a frail old man who used to scare me with his wild flights of mood and his inexplicable gaps in memory. When I thought of characters infected by the necrosis filovirus, those poor souls slowly losing their grip on their sense of self, I thought of my grandfather. If you detect a note of sympathy for the infected in my stories, that’s why.)
All of this was in my head while I wrote Dead City, the first book in my Dead World series, but Dead City takes place during the first few hours of the zombie apocalypse, and so I didn’t have an opportunity to show the progression of the necrosis filovirus until I got into books set years after the initial outbreak.
That chance came in Apocalypse of the Dead, which takes place about two years after the events in Dead City. In Apocalypse of the Dead, two characters get trapped on a rooftop. While looking over the side of the roof, they realize that the zombies below are using strategy to flush out prey.
But what those characters don’t realize, at least right away, is that the zombies are changing the longer they live. To be sure, the change is a gradual one. But it is happening.
The zombies Eddie Hudson (the main character in Dead City) and Eleanor Norton (the main character of Flesh Eaters) face are all Stage 1 zombies. These zombies are freshly infected and almost completely depersonalized. They are incapable of reason, and have no capacity to anticipate the actions of others. In some cases, they are so far gone that they can’t even recognize other zombies. Most of the time, these zombies are the traditional slow movers of the Romero movies. There are a few, however, who are capable of moving with great speed. Eddie Hudson calls these fast movers. The fast movers are infected persons who were in excellent physical condition at the time they were turned and were infected by injuries so minor that their ability to move around was not impaired. Luckily, they are few and far between.
But how does the disease progress? All diseases, after all, have an observable progression. In other words, they move from one stage to the next. This progression is rarely kind, and a full recovery is, unfortunately, far from an assured ending…especially when we’re dealing with infections as bad as the Ebola family of viruses.
Mortality rates are high, in other words.
But what I needed for my books was a victim that wandered around after infection. In other words, I needed a mobile vector, a victim that resembled all the traditional zombie tropes, while still holding on to the realm of possibility.
That’s where the necrosis filovirus comes in.
Get bit, or scratched, or otherwise contaminated by the bodily fluids of an infected victim on the necrosis filovirus, and you yourself become a victim.
In other words, you’re toast.
You get up and start infecting others, even if you don’t want to.
What that means in plain language is that you’ve just become a zombie. Even though you are still breathing, you have lost all sense of self. You don’t think, you don’t react, you don’t love. You are utterly stripped of everything that once made you human.
This complete de-personalization, by the way, is consistent with victims of all viral hemorrhagic fevers. Seriously, some pretty scary bugs cause these hemorrhagic fevers. In fact, researchers who study them have to wear spacesuits to handle them.
But let’s get back to disease progression for a minute.
Assuming a zombie survives his or her first eight months or so of undead life, they begin to change into Stage 2 zombies. These are the zombies that Ben Richardson and Michael Barnes (two of the main characters from my Dead World novel, Apocalypse of the Dead) face in the flooded ruins of Houston. They are capable of using simple strategies, such as cooperative hunting, to corner prey. In most cases, Stage 2 zombies are still slow moving.
It is extremely rare for a zombie to advance beyond Stage 2, but a few live long enough to manage it. Stage 3 zombies have regained a great deal of their fine motor skills and are even capable of approximating language through grunts and primitive gestures. Dr. Mark Kellogg (again, a major character from Apocalypse of the Dead) experiments with a few Stage 3 zombies. They are rather like trying to keep chimpanzees as pets, he realizes. Left alone for too long, they can, and will, break locks, feign injuries or sleep, and in some cases respond to their names and other verbal cues. They are, however, still aggressive to a fault, and unable to contain their impulses.
Which brings us to Ben Richardson, one of the major characters from Mutated, the fourth book in the Dead World series.
Ben survives the carnage at the end of Apocalypse of the Dead, and even survives the slow death that awaits the other survivors of that novel. Mutated picks up with Ben years later, as he wanders alone through a world largely emptied of people. There are few zombies left, and even fewer people.
But there are a few, and in one zombie in particular the necrosis filovirus has gone its full cycle. He is the Red Man, the villain of Mutated.
Before the Red Man (so named because of the rosacea that has turned him a burgundy red from head to foot) no one envisioned a stage 4 zombie. The idea of someone completely, or even mostly, regaining their sense of self after being infected seemed too implausible to be considered a threat. But that is exactly what the Red Man is, a stage 4 zombie. The Red Man has regained nearly all of his memories and his sense of self, but the necrosis filovirus has left him hopelessly insane. It has also given him the ability to communicate through normal speech with his human army, and through grunts, smells and moaning, with the zombie hordes he commands. He is the next step in evolution in this world made up of two different species of humanity.
It’ll be interesting to see what terrors lie out beyond the Red Man.
San Antonio, Texas
October 10, 2012