Please welcome Jeff Strand back to the blog for the second half of his Bad Day for Voodoo tour! Here’s a list of 5 of Jeff’s fave funny reads, and there’s also a giveaway for a copy of A Bad Day for Voodoo, so be sure to check out the details at the end of the post!
Five Weird, Funny Novels You Should Read
Note that this is not a list of the five funniest novels of all time–just five funny, weird novels you should read, assuming that you like funny, weird novels.
1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Yeah, I’m starting off with an obvious choice, but the books in this series (well, okay, the first three) are some of the most hilariously insane novels of all time. This isn’t the place to go for laser-focused storytelling; Adams continually and cheerfully goes off on wild tangents, and that’s a lot of the fun.
2. The Unnatural by David Prill. So here’s the premise: it’s a world just like our own, except that instead of watching baseball, sports fans watch…competitive corpse embalming! Yes, this is the tale of a young farmboy with talent and a dream. If you’re always saying that you’d read more sports-themed novels if they were about trying to set the record for number of corpses embalmed in a single season, this dark and funny book is for you.
3. Bad Chili by Joe Lansdale. Lansdale has written several books featuring Hap & Leonard, and all of them mix beautiful writing with lowbrow, laugh-out-loud humor. This one opens with a rabid squirrel attack that is the funniest thing I have ever read in a novel.
4. Go, Mutants!by Larry Doyle. Nobody packs more jokes into a book than Larry Doyle. This one is a loving tribute to 1950′s sci-fi movies, and though there’s all kinds of over-the-top alien craziness, much of the humor is so understated that if you read too fast, you’ll zip right past it.
5. John Dies At The End by David Wong. Yeah, I’m jealous that I didn’t think of this title. A combination of Big, Deep Ideas and gross, demented humor. You will laugh. You will think. You will gag.
The Icon Thief by Alec Nevala-Lee
Publisher: Penguin/March 2012
Kind thanks to Penguin for providing a review copy
A controversial masterpiece resurfaces in Budapest. A ballerina’s headless corpse is found beneath the boardwalk at Brighton Beach. And New York’s Russian mafia is about to collide with the equally ruthless art world…
Maddy Blume, an ambitious young art buyer for a Manhattan hedge fund, is desperate to find a priceless painting by Marcel Duchamp, one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century. A gruesome cold case thrusts the FBI into a search for the same painting, with its enigmatic image of a headless nude. And an insidious secret society is intent on reclaiming the painting for reasons of its own-and by any means necessary.
A mysterious painting has been sold for 10 million dollars at auction, much more than the projected price, and Maddy Blume, art buyer, is determined to find out why. Meanwhile, a headless body has been found in Brighton Beach, and the Russian mafia is suspected. Maddy, frustrated by lack of funds, a failed gallery, and possible career stagnation, takes matters into her own hands. She decides to track down this elusive buyer in order to please her boss and save her career, but she has no idea that others want the painting, including an assassin with his own motives; motives that don’t include preserving Maddy’s life.
This is the first book by Alec Nevala-Lee, and it’s certainly a promising debut. He navigates the fascinating ins and outs of the high art world, while at the same time interweaving a murder mystery involving the Russian mafia, the financial aspects of art buying, and the heist of a painting that may have ancient ties to the Rosicrucians. Criminal investigator Alan Powell is investigating the murder of a dancer and his path inevitably leads to Maddy and the painting at the center of it all. I really enjoyed this fast paced thriller, and keeping up with the twists and turns made my head spin, but in a good way. Thriller fans will eat this one up.
This Dark Earth by John Hornor Jacobs
Publisher: Gallery Books/July 3rd, 2012
Kind thanks to Gallery Books for providing a review copy
In a bleak, zombie-ridden future, a small settlement fights for survival and looks to a teenager to lead them…The land is contaminated, electronics are defunct, the ravenous undead remain, and life has fallen into a nasty and brutish state of nature. Welcome to Bridge City, in what was once Arkansas: part medieval fortress, part Western outpost, and the precarious last stand for civilization. A ten-year-old prodigy when the world ended, Gus is now a battle-hardened young man. He designed Bridge City to protect the living few from the shamblers eternally at the gates. Now he’s being groomed by his physician mother, Lucy, and the gentle giant Knock-Out to become the next leader of men. But an army of slavers is on its way, and the war they wage for the city’s resources could mean the end of mankind as we know it. Can Gus be humanity’s savior? And if he is, will it mean becoming a dictator, a martyr, or maybe something far worse than even the zombies?
You may know that I adored John Hornor Jacobs’ first novel, Southern Gods, so when I got an opportunity to read This Dark Earth, I may have squeeed with happiness. It turns out the squeeing was more than warranted. A plague that turns the earth into a nuclear-scorched wasteland? Zombies? Characters you’ll fall in love with and that will break your heart? Yes, please! The author didn’t mess around with This Dark Earth. It starts hard and fast and really doesn’t ever let up.
We meet Dr. Lucy Ingersol right off the bat, as she watches people file into her hospital with strange and scary symptoms. We’re talking eating their own lips, seizures…yeah, scary, nasty stuff, and it’s about to get much worse. In spite of Lucy’s distinct lack of bedside manner, she’s a brilliant doctor, and she thinks on her feet, which is really about to come in handy. There’s a nasty virus on the loose, and our government decides to take a decidedly, um, scorched earth approach to getting rid of it. Unfortunately, the virus also causes the dead to rise, and they’re hungry…
This Dark Earth is not your typical zombie fare. Don’t worry, you’ll get plenty of zombies, but the highlight of this novel is the characters. The standouts, of course, are Lucy, her whip-smart son Gus, and the absolutely wonderful Knock-Out, the gentle giant that will steal your heart. Seriously, he stole mine. You’ll travel with this threesome as they navigate a land ravaged by radiation and populated by the walking dead, and you’ll stay with them as they build Bridge City, an outpost fortified against the terror and lawlessness that has taken hold of the country. Gus is destined to lead this group of people, and the road to hope isn’t an easy one. Wait, that’s an understatement. It’s downright torturous, and the author really doesn’t pull any punches. By turns brutal and tender, This Dark Earth is dark, and you will flinch, but you’ll keep reading, and you’ll love every second of it. Gus is a young hero to root for, as he constantly tries to hold onto his humanity in a sea of inhumanity and brutality. You think zombies are nasty? There are people in this book that give the zombies more than a run for their money. There are plenty of zombies for the diehard fan, and plenty more for fans of just plain superb writing. Relentlessly paced, This Dark Earth takes you on a trip through hell and back, and you’ll be better for the journey. If you were wondering if John Hornor Jacobs could capture lightning in a bottle twice, no need to wonder anymore. He did.
I’m so pleased to have Wesley King on the blog today, which just happens to be the release day for his new YA book, The Vindico, featuring a group of teen superheroes that you won’t soon forget. Wesley was kind enough to answer a few of my questions, so please welcome him to the blog!
Wesley, your new book The Vindico, is out today!! Have you always wanted to be a writer? Can you tell us a bit about your journey?
Actually, my career aspirations have changed dramatically with time. Initially it was a Ninja Turtle, until I became old enough to realize that being a turtle was impractical for any number of reasons. From there it was a member of the X-Men, until I saw Return of the Jedi, upon which I became convinced that I was the last (and totally forgotten) Skywalker. So I suppose I was always destined to be a writer, though I haven’t entirely abandoned being a Jedi. In a more practical sense, I have always loved writing. I was actually a bit of a jock in school (which is ironic, because
I slept with Star Wars sheets until I was 18), and didn’t publicize that passion until grade 12. That year, at the urging of a teacher, I took up Writer’s Craft and won the award at graduation. From there I started to actually believe I could do this.
How did you celebrate when you found out that The Vindico would be published?
When I first received the call, I was watching the first game of the World Cup in 2010. When my agent told me, I literally sat down in the middle of my kitchen floor, all alone, and listened with a probably dumbfounded expression as she told me they wanted the sequel too. When she hung up, I actually danced. Around the kitchen, in the backyard. Actually, it was rather lucky I was alone. I’m not a good dancer.
The Vindico is described as X-Men meets The Breakfast Club. I’m in! Will you give us a teaser?
That was actually my agent Brianne Johnson’s pitch—I loved it the second I heard it. I think everyone loves the idea of different social stereotypes coming together, probably because we all secretly wonder how they came to push everyone apart in the first place. In terms of a teaser, I will leave it to Emily, the bitingly-sharp computer genius:
“If you teach a bunch of kids to be supervillains, you can’t expect them to follow the rules.”
The sequel, The Feros, will be out next year. Do you already have in mind the number of books you’d like to write in the series?
I do actually. The thing I love most about Harry Potter is how we follow the characters as they grow, and I’d love to do the same thing with mine. I believe that readers will really connect with James, Hayden, Lana, Emily, and Sam, and want to grow up with them. So as a short answer, I’d like to do 6 overall. Suffice to say the books would grow darker and more convoluted as they went, and explore some of the issues about power that I think would (and do) come into play in the real world.
As an adult, is it a challenge to write for a teen audience?
It would be, if I ever grew up myself. I’m pretty much a twenty-five-year-old teenager. I still think there is another Skywalker.
What are some of your favorite authors or books?
It varies big time. I love Harry Potter and The Hunger Games and The Inheritance Cycle, but I also love Tolstoy and Dickens. The end of A Tale of Two Cities stuck with me for a very long time, and I still think it’s one of the great literary examples of truly unselfish love. But if I had to name one author, it would probably be James Clavell. I’m a sucker for historical fiction, and Shogun is one of my all-time favorites.
What was your favorite book as a child?
That probably depended on the year – I loved Roald Dahl, and My Side of the Mountain was a favorite for a while. It spoke to that inherent yearning for independence and adventure in all kids, and I used to joke with my agent that I was going to move into a hollow tree if we didn’t sell the book soon. And of course, as a Star Wars buff, there were any number of those. The Courtship of Princess Leia was a main one, probably because the word courtship was scandalous for a very shy eight-year-old.
Favorite line from a book?
I’d have to go back to A Tale of Two Cities for the very last line from Sydney Carton as he awaits his execution: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.”
If you could be any superhero, who would you be?
It’s ironic, but I’d probably choose the superhero I was always least interested in: Superman. I always preferred my superheroes to be deeply-flawed and haunted and vulnerable, which is why I gravitated toward X-Men growing up. But Superman can fly around the Earth so fast that he reverses time. That’s badass.
When you’re not writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
I still play a lot of sports—soccer, football, hockey—and I’m a bit of a movie buff. I also read as much as I can, of course, and I am currently reading Game of Thrones. But really, when I have a good chunk of free time, I like to be writing. It’s like reading a book where the characters magically keep saying and doing everything I‘d like them to.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
In terms of upcoming projects, I’m still finishing up editing for The Feros and I’m also currently working on outlines for the remainder of the series. But I’m a fairly prolific writer—I wrote my last novel in 11 days. I have written the first novels in two separate series—one a YA dystopian fantasy and the other adult sci-fi—and another about a sarcastic and brilliant overweight girl who challenges the status quo. I also have a very dark horror/comedy screenplay being considered in Hollywood, and I have even been delving into the world of television. Suffice to say I like writing. And I am currently booking readings and signings, so check out www.thevindico.com or The Vindico’s Facebook page to see if I’m doing one in your area! You can check out my promo video there as well, which should give you a fairly good idea of why most authors don’t do promo videos.
About The Vindico
X-Men meets The Breakfast Club in this darkly humorous adventure
The Vindico are a group of supervillains who have been fighting the League of Heroes for as long as anyone can remember. Realizing they’re not as young as they used to be, they devise a plan to kidnap a group of teenagers to take over for them when they retire—after all, how hard can it be to teach a bunch of angsty teens to be evil?
Held captive in a remote mansion, five teens train with their mentors and receive superpowers beyond their wildest dreams. Struggling to uncover the motives of the Vindico, the teens have to trust each other to plot their escape. But they quickly learn that the differences between good and evil are not as black and white as they seem, and they are left wondering whose side they should be fighting on after all . . .
With fast-paced action, punchy dialogue, and sarcastic humor, this high-stakes adventure from a talented new YA voice pulls you in from the first page.
Chasing Magic (Downside #5) by Stacia Kane
Publisher: DelRey/June 26th, 2012
Kind thanks to DelRey and NetGalley for providing a review copy
Magic-wielding Churchwitch and secret addict Chess Putnam knows better than anyone just how high a price people are willing to pay for a chemical rush. But when someone with money to burn and a penchant for black magic starts tampering with Downside’s drug supply, Chess realizes that the unlucky customers are paying with their souls—and taking the innocent with them, as the magic-infused speed compels them to kill in the most gruesome ways possible.
As if the streets weren’t scary enough, the looming war between the two men in her life explodes, taking even more casualties and putting Chess squarely in the middle. Downside could become a literal ghost town if Chess doesn’t find a way to stop both the war and the dark wave of death-magic, and the only way to do that is to use both her addiction and her power to enter the spell and chase the magic all the way back to its malevolent source. Too bad that doing so will probably kill Chess—if the war doesn’t first destroy the man who’s become her reason for living.
REVIEW (This review assumes you’ve read books 1-4)
Someone is supplying bad drugs to the denizens of Downside. We’re talking, turns-you-into-homicidal-maniac kind of stuff. As you can imagine, this is really bad for business for Bump and Lex, Downside’s drug czars, and Terrible and Chess are caught smack in the middle. Chess and Terrible are trying to keep their relationship on the down low, which is hard to do when Lex’s crew is gunning for him, much to Chess’ dismay. Then there’s that pesky sigil that Chess was forced to carve into Terrible’s chest to save his life. Contact with strong magic isn’t good for Terrible, and Chess has no idea how to fix it.
So, you see, things are just piling up for our favorite self-destructive heroine. Speaking of self-destruction… Chess’ self-loathing is at an all-time high in Chasing Magic. Her relationship with Terrible has brought everything to the surface, and she constantly questions her value and worth, which we all know is a bunch of crap, right? Cause we love Chess, and Terrible loves Chess! He really, really does. Seriously, there are some scenes and dialog in this one that completely suck the air out of the room. Ms. Kane has done an amazing job of painting a portrait of a woman that questions nearly everything that she does, and has absolutely no faith in herself. It’s heartbreaking to read, and yet, her love for her job, and Terrible, are constantly at odds with these feelings. Chess is a fighter, and she continues to fight in Chasing Magic. The problem of the tainted drugs is one of Chess’ hardest (and most terrifying) cases yet, but it’s really Chess, and her relationship with Terrible, that carry the story. This is one of the darkest books in the series, and yet, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, I promise. I loved this one, and can’t wait to see where the series goes from here.
Tarnished (St. Croix Chronicles #1) by Karina Cooper
Publisher: HarperCollins/June 26th, 2012
Kind thanks to HarperCollins for providing a review copy
My name is Cherry St. Croix. Society would claim that I am a well-heeled miss with an unfortunate familial reputation. They’ve no idea of the truth of it. In my secret world, I hunt down vagrants, thieves . . . and now, a murderer. For a monster stalks London’s streets, leaving a trail of mystery and murder below the fog.
Eager for coin to fuel my infatuations, I must decide where my attentions will turn: to my daylight world, where my scientific mind sets me apart from respectable Society, or to the compelling domain of London below. Each has a man who has claimed my time as his—for good or for ill. Though as the corpses pile, and the treacherous waters of Society gossip churn, I am learning that each also has its dangers. One choice will see me cast from polite company . . . the other might just see me dead.
I’m a huge fan of Karina Cooper’s, so when news came that she would be starting a brand new Victorian London/steampunk/paranormal series, I was so there! Cherry St. Croix is the daughter of a genius, considered by many to be a madman, and stands to soon inherit the estate and holdings left to her by her late father. Not quite part of the peerage, yet still considered within polite society, Cherry is no lady, and I mean that in the best possible way. By day, Cherry does what polite society ladies do (sorta), entertaining visitors, spending time with her friend and caretaker Franny (while exasperating her at every possible turn), and reluctantly attending society balls. By night, Cherry ventures beneath the drift, where the Midnight Menagerie dwells and the toxic fog gathers, to work as a collector, capturing bounties for the enigmatic Micajeh Hawke. When news that a brutal killer is targeting the “sweets” that work the streets, women that Cherry considers friends, reaches her, she knows that she must find this man and put him out of commission, even if the cost proves higher than she ever imagined.
Just like with her Dark Mission novels, Ms. Cooper has created an imaginative, rich environment for her characters to play in, but this time it’s in an alternate Victorian London. Fully realized are the teeming streets, bustling humanity, and grit of London below, and I was happy to follow Cherry along on her escapades. Cherry is easy to like, and her weaknesses only enhance her character, making her someone to identify with and root for. Tarnished definitely spent some time setting the stage for books to come, and steampunk fans will love it. With nods to Jack the Ripper and Frankenstein, Tarnished takes you on a rollicking ride with characters you’ll want to see more of. Add in a dash of romance, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for steampunk adventure. Can’t wait for more books in this series!
The Drop (Harry Bosch #17) by Michael Connolly
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing/Nov. 2011
Harry Bosch has been given three years before he must retire from the LAPD, and he wants cases more fiercely than ever. In one morning, he gets two.
DNA from a 1989 rape and murder matches a 29-year-old convicted rapist. Was he an eight-year-old killer or has something gone terribly wrong in the new Regional Crime Lab? The latter possibility could compromise all of the lab’s DNA cases currently in court.
Then Bosch and his partner are called to a death scene fraught with internal politics. Councilman Irvin Irving’s son jumped or was pushed from a window at the Chateau Marmont. Irving, Bosch’s longtime nemesis, has demanded that Harry handle the investigation.
Relentlessly pursuing both cases, Bosch makes two chilling discoveries: a killer operating unknown in the city for as many as three decades, and a political conspiracy that goes back into the dark history of the police department.
A seedy Las Vegas motel room. A councilman’s son has jumped to his death from a balcony at L.A.’s Chateau Marmont. Or has he? That’s what Harry Bosch and his partner are tasked with finding out. Normally Harry is closing cases in the Open and Unsolved unit, so when Harry is requested by the councilman (and bitter rival) himself, Irvin Irving, he’s shocked and immediately suspicious of Irving’s motives. Sniffing out “high jingo” (political hoops and motivations) almost immediately, Harry is determined to get to the truth of the matter. Added to his worries are DNA results on a 20 year old case that put an eight year old at the scene of the crime. An eight year old who grew up to be a convicted rapist…
The Drop is the 17th (the 15th just featuring Harry) novel in the Harry Bosch series, and it’s no less fascinating than its predecessors. Harry is as determined and stalwart as usual, although an attraction to a therapist provides a bit of distraction from his worries, and some hope for Harry in the romance department. I always root for Harry to find someone, and he’s been more unlucky than not. Since the mother of his 15 year old daughter, Maddie, was killed, he hasn’t really given much thought to romance, so it’s time that he got back in the game. Maddie is even orchestrating ways for her dad to spend time with the new woman, much to Harry’s amusement. Speaking of Maddie, she’s a delight, and has expressed her interest in becoming a cop, just like her dad. Maybe there will be a Maddie spin-off in the works? Here’s hoping, but I digress… Harry’s got plenty on his plate, and his simpering partner, Detective Chu, had me wishing Harry would give him a good slap. Seriously, the man got on my nerves. The challenges of the two cases at hand have Harry seriously considering retirement, but a twist puts him back on track. The political ins and outs of the George Irving case are fascinating, the cold case is heartbreaking, and as usual with this series, I was riveted. After 17 books, I’m still wild about Harry, and would recommend this series to any mystery/crime lover.
The Taken (Celestial Blues #1) by Vicki Pettersson
Publisher: Harper Voyager/June 12th, 2012
Kind thanks to Harper Voyager for providing a review copy
Griffin Shaw used to be a PI, but that was back when gumshoes hoofed the streets . . . and he was still alive. Fifty years later, he’s an angel, but that doesn’t make him a saint. One small mistake has altered fate, and now he’s been dumped back onto the mortal mudflat to collect another soul—Katherine “Kit” Craig, a journalist whose latest investigation is about to get her clipped.
Bucking heavenly orders, Grif refuses to let the sable-haired siren come to harm. Besides, protecting her offers a chance to solve the mystery of his own unsolved murder—and dole out some overdue payback for the death of his beloved wife, Evie.
Joining forces, Kit and Grif’s search for answers leads beyond the blinding lights of the Strip into the dark heart of an evil conspiracy.
But a ruthless killer determined to destroy them isn’t Grif’s biggest threat. His growing attraction to Kit could cost them both their lives, along with the answer to the haunting question of his long afterlife . . .
A seedy Las Vegas motel room. A dead hooker (or is she?) A lesser angel (and former PI) named Grif here for another Take. A nosy girl reporter out for vengeance. Sounds good so far, right? Oh, it totally is. When Griffin Shaw comes to collect this Take, he has no idea that it will set him on a course that will force him to examine his former life, and unlife. After a small act of kindness angers his bosses, he’s forced back into a flesh suit to investigate the beautiful Kit Craig. There’s a bit of a hitch, though. Kit is scheduled to die in only a few hours, and he’s not supposed to interfere with that. What’s a PI angel to do?
I’m a huge fan of Vicki Pettersson’s and was sorry to see her Signs of the Zodiac series end, so when I found out she was starting a new series, I couldn’t wait to dive in. In The Taken, the author has taken the angel mythos and spun it around a bit, to create her own cool-as-hell style. Kit is a delightful heroine: she’s a glass-half-full kind of gal, and compliments Grif’s gruffness perfectly. She’s a go getter, and when her longtime friend is taken from her, instead of succumbing to grief, she gets down to the business of finding her killer, at the risk of her own life. Grif finds himself simultaneously annoyed and charmed by this talkative, inquisitive woman with rockabilly style,and Kit is undeniably attracted to the enigmatic (and stylish) Grif. Grif is still hung up on his wife’s murder, fifty years ago, and hopes to find out the truth behind her death, and his, but this case is darker and more vast then even he could have imagined. Ms. Pettersson has never shied away from the darkness, and it’s in full force here. Ms. Pettersson’s ability to capture the seedy side of Vegas while never leaving her love of the city behind is always a pleasure, and she uses the city she loves to full advantage.
The Taken is a slow build, but as soon as it hits its stride, you won’t be able to put it down, and you’ll be rewarded in spades. Angels, ghosts, mobsters, romance, rockabilly,and a cabal of corruption come together explosively in a Vegas noir confection you won’t want to put down. Seriously, watch out, or you’ll get a paper cut turning those pages so fast.
Blue-Blooded Vamp (Sabina Kane #5) by Jaye Wells
Publisher: Orbit/June 1st, 2012
Kind thanks to Orbit for providing a review copy
Sabina Kane is on the hunt. Her prey: Cain, the father of the vampire race and the one who murdered her family and her friends. Unfortunately, Cain is hunting Sabina, too.
The one man who holds the key to defeating Cain is, of course, Abel. A mage with secrets to spare and, hopefully, the power to match it. Unfortunately, for Sabina, he’s in Rome and may not want to be found.
Sabina sets out for Italy with her friends, Giguhl and Adam Lazarus, to track down the only man who can get her the revenge she hungers for. But will he help her or oppose her? And just who is Abel, really? Worst of all, when Sabina figures out the goddess Lilith has a plan for her-she realizes this trip is getting deadlier by the minute. As they say: when in Rome-SURVIVE
REVIEW (This is the 5th and final book in the series, so if you’re not caught up, there may be spoilers. It assumes you’ve read the first 4)
With every book in the Sabina Kane series I’ve thought “wow, Jaye Wells brought the awesome with this one”. I’d think the next one couldn’t possibly be better. Every time, I was wrong. Blue-Blooded Vamp is the last installment in the series, and while I was sad to see it end, boy, what an ending! I’ll get to that, but first… BBV picks up pretty much right after the events of Silver Tongued Devil, and our girl and her mage hottie Adam are in New Orleans to meet with Erron Zorn. They’re going to need his help to find the mysterious Abel, because he’s the only one that can help them kill Cain. To refresh your memory (you may want to cover your eyes here if you haven’t read Silver Tongued Devil), Cain is the big bad nasty (and co-creator of the vamp race along with the lovely Lilith) who made Sabina’s twin sister Maisie his killing puppet before causing her death (among many, many others.) He desperately wants to reunite with Lilith, but doing so would cause the destruction of the dark races. Sabina and the gang can’t let that happen, of course, but getting to Cain will be tough, and Sabina is going to need every bit of help she can get.
Sabina has come a long way since Red-Headed Stepchild. She’s gone from cold blooded vamp assassin for her (not so warm and fuzzy) grandmother who didn’t really know her place in the world, and carried more than a little bit of self-loathing, to a (even more) kickass magevamp who has found a reason to live, surrounded in the love of her friends and family (especially Adam.) It’s been a wild and crazy ride for Sabina, but this was in the wildest yet. Not only does she have to deal with Cane, but she’ll find out the real identity of Abel, and it’s a doozy. Then there’s that deal she made with Asclepius… He’s calling in the favor, and it causes a conflict of interest, to say the least. Oh, and did I mention that drama with Persephone (supposed new head of the vamps), is blowing back on our gang, as well? Sabina and the crew take a trip to Italy to see this one through, and unfortunately, there’s not much time for sight seeing. Your favorite dirty demon Giguhl is along for the ride, and prepare for more than a few gems like this:
“Bael’s balls, it suddenly feels like Cupid farted up in here.”
As usual, the action is nonstop and Ms. Wells does a wonderful job of juggling lots of details without ever getting confusing. She’s an ace at it, and you won’t want to put this one down. I promise. Also, be prepared for a trip to the Underworld that you won’t soon forget, and the Best. Ending. Ever. It was totally awesome, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll close the book with a big goofy grin on your face. There may even be a couple of tears in the mix. Don’t say I didn’t warn you! Snap this one up, pronto.
I’m so thrilled to have author JR Angelella on the blog today! Ross is the author of the brand new Zombie, just out from Soho Press, and was kind enough to answer a few of my questions. Please welcome him to the blog!
JR, you have a BA in English, an MFA in Creative Writing, have numerous short stories to your credit, and Zombie, your first novel, just came out! How did you celebrate when you found out Zombie would be published?
Surprisingly, I didn’t. I celebrated when I signed with my agent, but not when I sold the book. It was a very strange time in my life when I received word that Soho Press was buying my novel. I had a lot of heavy stuff going on, even just on the day that it actually sold, and you don’t ever fantasize about selling your book in the midst of family dying, loved ones losing their jobs, having to fire people from your day job, living above a psycho downstairs neighbor who constantly tries to get you to fight him, or suffering from an intense sleepwalking affliction where you wake up in Coney Island in the middle of the night, standing outside of the Cyclone, and not being able to remember how you got there. So when I got the call from my agent, I was just happy there was good news on the other end of the line because there had been bad news for so long. I was thrilled that ZOMBIE had found a good home and couldn’t wait to dive back in to a revision. I, sadly, think I do my best work when the world around me feels like it’s coming unhinged, so it was great timing in that sense.
Can you tell us a bit about Zombie and Jeremy Barker?
Zombie is just your average zombie, non-zombie, coming-of-age, horror, Catholic school, torture porn, family drama, love story narrative. That about sums it up, I think. It’s definitely about zombies, but also not really. Jeremy Barker is a 14 year old kid forced to grow up way too fast, but somehow also remains the world’s biggest spaz. He obsesses about his obsessions that include: women’s magazines, sex, zombie movies, sex, seeing his next door neighbor Tricia, zombie survival codes, where his father disappears to at night, sex, his philandering pill addicted mother and her lover Zeke, a girl named Aimee, sex, sex and sex. The book is really just about sex. And zombies. But not really.
It’s also about how people who wear plaid look like optical illusions. It’s my treatise on anti-plaidism. (My best friend, Chad, is a chronic offender of the plaid persuasion, so I feel validated in speaking out against it.)Oh, and there’s a healthy dose of horror at the end where all of these . . . well . . . I can’t tell you what happens at the end. Let’s just say that you might need a hand getting through it.
Why did you decide to write from a 14 year old point of view?
Originally, I had planned on writing this sprawling narrative from three points-of-view that spanned close to a decade and encapsulated an entire family’s slow disintegration into madness. The problem was that I had no idea how to write a novel at all. I had written a novel prior to beginning this project (which was an utter mess and can’t even really be considered a novel) so while I had the experience of writing a novel and had a few unpublished short stories under my belt; I had no real writing confidence. I had no publications, a God-awful collection of pages that I referred to as a novel, and then this epic story of depression and despair about the Barker family. My wife was beginning her journey as a writer as well and we would trade pages at the end of each night to read what the other had written. Her pages were gorgeous and damn near flawless every night, it was agrivating, while mine were a series of baggy and formless words that amounted to nothing. I was getting frustrated with the structure of the novel, as I couldn’t figure out how to arrange the scenes or set the pacing. My wife came to my rescue (the first of many times!) and asked me to print out everything I had written, which I did, and after she finished reading the first 50 pages or so she encouraged me to write the book from Jeremy’s perspective. She said that his voice was the most engaging and real and funny and aesthetically different than the other two. That was enough or me really. I trust her implicitly when it comes to feedback. And I’m glad I did.
Even though “zombies” are used more as a metaphor in Zombie, why do you think they’re are so popular lately?
There are a lot of theories and ideas about this, and certainly more fully-developed and focused than my own baggy-ideas, but I think that whenever we (either we as a country or individuals) suffer through a difficult time (be it war, economic hardships, divorce, depression, politic unrest) we turn toward varying modes of escapism. Zombies have this intrinsic quality where they represent a dead or dying self, something that reanimated and yet is void of mind and spirit—a demon version of ourselves. They are dead shells of us. I looked at all of the different ways in which zombies have been used in films, and even still in Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead comic series that I am reading now. (It’s addictive!) Their popularity stems, I think, from being able to maintain the same level of horror and fear with the zombie familiarity that we love as a society to counterbalance our suffering, and yet still be able to project a real commentary into the narrative—be it representative of famine, war, disease, financial, consumerism, or ecological. Then again, I think it was George Romero who said—and I am paraphrasing here—sometimes a zombie is just a zombie.
What are some of your favorite zombie novels and/or movies?
I watched so many zombie movies before I began work on weaving in the zombie genetics. I was never a fan boy of the genre, but really became one through all of my research. There is no way I watched them all, but I saw a fair amount. My wife has been a good sport about it and even still will buy me zombie related items. (For Christmas she gave me a zombie ornament, and a few months ago she bought me a zombie cell phone case.) I really liked Dead Snow. It’s a total gore fest, but funny and bizarre as it has to do with zombie nazi’s attacking a group of medical students on holiday.
I also was a fan of Deadgirl, although I always give fair warning about this movie. I wanted to try and work it into the novel, but it never really felt organic. It’s a very interesting take on the whole high school, troubled teen, coming-of-age trope, but definitely handles some disturbing and dark behavior that isn’t for everyone. It was an unsettling film to muscle through, but absolutely made an impression and has stuck with me. I come across it sometimes on cable and can only watch a few minutes before changing the channel. Finally, I guess my favorite zombie, non-zombie movie of all time is Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. I borrowed heavily from this film for my novel and if anyone is as big a movie nerd as me, they’ll be able to see the resemblance.
What are some of your biggest literary influences?
The writers I keep going back to are: Chuck Palahniuk, Will Christopher Baer, A. M. Homes, Bret Easton Ellis, Leonard Michaels, Lydia Davis, Tony Hoagland, Edgar Allen Poe, Cormac McCarthy, A. R. Ammons, and more recently John Waters, who people mistaken as solely a filmmaker when his journalism and non-fiction are equal parts hilarious and hideous—good stuff.
If you could read one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
Oh, good question. Sorry, but I can’t pick just one. Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, for sure. Then there’s Pete Dexter’s Paris Trout—such a good, goddamn book. Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road—which is only the second book to ever make me cry. This begs the question: well, Ross, what was the first book to make you cry? That would be A. M. Homes’ Music for Torching. When I finished reading that book, I put it in the freezer for a week—I couldn’t take seeing it in the house, it hurt so bad in the best possible way.
What’s one of your favorite lines from a book?
“There is always something for which there is no accounting. Take, for example, the whole world.” – Leonard Michaels, “Of Mystery There Is No End”
What are you reading now?
Right now I am reading Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead series and I’m on book 9, I think. It’s so addictive, I can’t put it down. I’m also reading L. J. Smith’s The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening (book 1). I am also re-reading Matthew Zapruder’s poetry collection Come On All You Ghosts, that I read for the first time while writing Zombie and felt compelled to re-read now that the book is finished.
When you’re not teaching or writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
It doesn’t feel like I have any free time, really. When I’m not working my day job, or writing, or reading, or teaching, I am most certainly kicking it with my wife. I am a TV show junkie—good and bad; high-brow and low, I don’t discriminate. I am rooting for my Baltimore Orioles, who are killing it this year! (In Bawlmer, we say, “Dem O’s are back, hon!”) I am also pretty obsessive with music, so Spotify certainly helps feed that demon. If you ever see me, I will most certainly be wearing headphones, so if I don’t reciprocate a hello chances are I didn’t hear you, and more than that I had no idea you were even there.
Is there any advice you would give to struggling writers?
There was a struggling writer who contacted me via twitter a few weeks back who had growing frustration with his stories being roundly rejected. I sympathized with him. I have been there. I am still there in a lot of ways. So I told him what I tell my students in the first day of class: Fearlessness first, then patience. Be fearless with your content, with your routine, take risks in your work. Put another way, develop your literary swagger. Then send out your stories. Send them out in droves and sit back and wait—be patient.
Publishing is a slow process. If you have been fearless in your work, someone somewhere will see that and accept you for it, so patience is key. Once you have completed this cycle—whether your story was rejected or accepted—be aggressive about it and do it again. I told this struggling writer all of this, and a month later he hit me back with news that he had a story accepted. He thanked me, but I had to remind him that I had nothing to do with it. He was the one who did all of the heavy lifting, all I did was come in at the end and tell him to lift once I counted to three.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
As far as projects, my wife and I working on a supernatural, Southern Gothic YA series together that has been a lot of fun—both splashing around in the content as well as working with Kate, who thinks and writes and creates very differently than me, which is what makes our collaboration on this project so special and exciting.
Keep up with JR: Website | Twitter
Snag a copy of Zombie: Amazon | B&N
Fourteen-year-old Jeremy Barker attends an all-boys Catholic high school where roving gangs of bullies make his days a living hell. His mother in an absentee pillhead, his older brother a self-diagnosed sex-addict, and his father disappears night after night withour explanation. jeremy navigates it all with a code cobbled together from the zombie movies he’s obsessed with: NIght of the Living Dead, 28 Days Later, Planet Terror, Zombieland, and Dawn of the Dead among others.
The code is put tp the test when he discovers in his father’s closet a bizarre homemade video of a man strapped to a bed, being prepped for some sort of surgical procedure. As Jeremy attempts to trace the origin of the video, this remarkable debut moves from its sharp, precocious beginnnings to a climax of almost unthinkable violence, testin hi, and the reader, to the core.