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
The Wrong Goodbye (The Collector #2) by Chris F. Holm
Publisher: Angry Robot Books/Sept. 25th, 2012
Kind thanks to Angry Robot Books for providing a review copy
Deep in the jungles of Columbia, Sam Thornton is on the hunt for the soul of Pablo Varela, drug czar and brutal killer. When he gets to the camp, his whole posse is dead, and a message is carved on the chest of one of the bodies. There’s only one person who could have left the message: Sam’s old friend and fellow Collector, Danny Young. Danny now has the soul that only Sam was supposed to collect, and if he doesn’t get it back soon, the powers that be will be very, very angry. Sam met Danny in 1953 while in Amsterdam for a Collection. Danny wanted to team up, be each other’s support system, and in spite of the strict rules against consorting with other Collectors, a friendship was born. You see, there are two types of people that come up for Collection: contract kills and freelancers. Contract kills are generally good people who’ve made a deal with a demon, many times in order to help someone else. Freelancers are people that revel in the misery and suffering of others(serial killers, psychos, you get the picture…). Both Sam and Danny were contract kills and both ended up as Collectors, as they sometimes do. The way Danny saw it, with the horrible job they had to do, Collectors should stick together, support each other, even if it was against the rules. It also doesn’t help that Sam is still reeling from an angelic confrontation that may have kicked off a war between heaven and hell.
I really enjoyed Dead Harvest, the first book in the Collector series, but in The Wrong Goodbye, Chris F. Holm really brings the awesome. Told in Sam’s voice, we get quite a lot more insight into why he is the way he is, not to mention some insights into his past collections that will chill you. The author has a gift for lush descriptions and his creatures made my skin crawl more than once.
Poor Sam has quite a few enemies to contend with in this one. He’s certainly been under scrutiny since his last big demon/angel confrontation; however, he does find friends in unusual places, such as a former small time hood, Gio, whose soul he places inside another body in order to use him as a sort of dowsing rod in finding the missing soul of Varela. During their trek across the desert, they also meet up with an oilman trying to escape the clutches of his greedy soon-to-be ex-wife, and a blind, transvestite fortune teller.
The action is pretty much nonstop, yet somehow the author managed to balance that with laugh out loud and terrifying moments in equal measure. Their wild journey across the desert will lead them to an L.A. Day of the Dead celebration and a showdown with powerful magic you won’t soon forget Sam is not your usual protagonist. After all, the man changes bodies like we change socks, and since he doesn’t have his looks to rely on, it’s who he is as a man that makes him a worthy hero. And he is worthy. Magic, betrayel, creatures made of bugs. It’s all in a day’s work for Sam.
I couldn’t make this stuff up, but Chris F. Holm can, and it’s a good thing, because we get to have a blast reading it. This series is urban fantasy at its best with subtle noir undertones and the combo just works. Also, if you’re a fan of the classics in hardboiled noir, the title is especially awesome. I wanted to hug this book when I finished (it happens sometimes, don’t judge.) If the author keeps this up, he’ll be giving some of the big UF names a run for their money, very, very soon. If you haven’t discovered this series yet, you’re in for a wonderful ride!
Weston Ochse is the author of nine novels and was the winner of the 2005 Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel (Scarecrow Gods)! Weston has a brand new book out in November called SEAL Team 666 and was kind enough to answer a few of my questions. There’s also an excerpt of Seal Team 666 at the bottom of the post, so make sure you check that out!
Please welcome Weston to the blog!
Weston, you won the Bram Stoker Award for your first novel, Scarecrow Gods in 2005. How did you celebrate your win?
The adulation was instantaneous. I wasn’t present for the ceremony, so Mike Arnzen accepted for me. He said that when they announced my book the winner, the entire first row stood up and flashed their breasts, including Tom Monteleone, F. Paul Wilson, and J.K Rowling. Since then, it happens to me at least once a day. I also have a golden ticket to Disneyland (not –world) that gets me in free whenever I want; then there’s the free book subscription to the American Soap Opera Diaries; and never forget the lifetime supply of pimento cheese. Truly, the Stoker is the award that keeps on giving.
Okay, so maybe none of that is actually true. The Bram Stoker Award doesn’t convey any special benefit. Not really. But it is nice to know that for one fine literary moment my peers felt that my work stood above the rest. We all work so hard. It’s nice to be singled out once in a while.
When you were young, did you imagine that you would become a writer?
I did. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. For a long time, I dreamed of writing works that other people would read. I never knew it would be as simple as just doing it.
On your website, you mention that your literary influences are constantly changing, since you read quite a bit. What are some of your recent favorites?
Michael Chabon, Cormac McCarthy, Adam Neville, Sarah Pinborough, and P.F. Kluge.
If you could read one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
What are you reading now?
Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue.
You’re considered a master of the scary. What do you find truly frightening?
In movies, what scares me is what I don’t see. In the original black and white 1963 version of The Haunting, based on Shirley Jackson’s novel, The Haunting of Hill House, Julie Harris lies in bed staring at a wall, while all hell seems to break loose in the hallway outside. We never see what it is making the noise, but squarely in Julie’s POV, we begin to imagine terrible things. Never underestimate the ability of the human mind to create something scarier than any SFX creator can invent. I use this lesson when I write scary stories.
In horror fiction, what, if anything, do you consider off limits?
Nothing. The story dictates the limit.
What makes you want to set a book aside in frustration?
I don’t usually set them aside. I usually hurl them across the room. Lack of editing first; especially if it’s a small press or self-published. Writer’s need editors and editors need to have the curriculum vitae or experience. Don’t hire an editor who hasn’t worked on the professional level, and by professional, I mean mass market.
I’m very excited about your upcoming book, Seal Team 666! Will you give us a bit of a teaser?
Me too! (See excerpt at the bottom of the post!)
You speak at schools and libraries quite often and also ran the Guerrilla Fiction Writing Workshop. What’s one piece of advice you’d offer to struggling writers?
Don’t look at the length of a novel or the length of a book and be intimidated. You don’t eat a whole pizza in one bite, do you? You eat it piece by piece. It’s the same with writing. For a short story write one page a day, then at the end of two weeks. You’ll have a finished story. For a novel, write five pages a day, then at the end of three months you’ll have a novel. Basically, keep your eyes off the horizon and watch the road in front of you.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
I have a short story I’m rather proud of in the John Skipp anthology PSYCHOES. The story is called Righteous and takes PTSD to the next level. It’s a pretty daring story. I also have a story coming out in Cemetery Dance #68. This one will leave people stunned.
Keep up with Weston: Website | Twitter
EXCERPT for SEAL Team 666
Subic Bay. 1985. He waited in the pile of trash. The liquid from banana skins, coffee grounds, and rain-soaked rags seeped through his clothes, making him shiver. His teeth chattered. Beneath the soft skin of his bare chest he felt what could have been gravel or hardened chunks of dog poop. A piece of rubber he’d seen thrown away by the hookers on Llo-Llo Street in Barretto Bario rested like a deflated sausage two inches from his nose. A wasp crawled inside, causing the skin of it to wriggle and jump. He felt rats scurrying along the backs of his legs. When they sniffed at his skin, he fought the urge to jerk as their whispers tickled the soft underskin of his knees.
Like a pig.
Or like a dog.
He was wild and eager to gnaw on something that screamed.
Twice old men shuffled by, coming home from a day spent at the dump.
Each time he screamed like a dying cat. “Hoy! Hoy! Tanda! Halika. Sayaw tayo.” Hey! Hey! Old man. Come and dance with me.
Whenever the men would look over, he could barely contain himself with glee. Although they looked right at him, he knew they didn’t see him. He was invisible. He was like the air.
But then came the old cripple, pulling himself along with one withered arm, a hand gnarled like the fingers of a twisted branch, his skin the color of old chocolate. He had a few hairs on his face and even fewer on his head. His eyes were the color of olive pits and were sunk into craters of wrinkles.
Jackie could barely contain his laughter as he leaped free of the trash and high into the air. Pieces of banana and coffee grounds sprayed the cripple. Jackie screamed like a beast. He picked up an old hubcap and swung it as hard as he could. He caught the cripple in the side of the head. The slick metal front slid off without doing much damage, so he brought it around again, this time coming straight down with the hubcap on the crown of the cripple’s head. Blood exploded outward, the sight of it fuel for another swing of the arm. This time it came around in a flat arch, catching the old man beneath the eye.
“Hoy! Hoy!” he cried. “Dance with me you fool!”
The cripple fell to his side, his mouth twisted into a curl of fear and loathing.
Jackie growled and peed on the man’s withered arm. Then he turned and ran, giggling all the way to wherever he was going, his bare feet slapping at the ground, all the way down La Union Street.
About SEAL Team 666:
Halfway through SEAL training, Cadet Jack Walker, still green but showing incredible promise, is whisked away to join four SEALs—and their dog—for a special ops mission. Walker soon finds himself in a whirlwind of otherworldly creatures and events as he finds out the true nature of this “special ops” team: SEAL Team 666. Battling demons, possessed humans, mass-murdering cults, and evil in its most dark and primeval form, SEAL Team 666 has their work cut out for them. And it’s not long before they realize that the threat isn’t just directed against the U.S.—an ancient and deadly cult has bigger plans, and Walker is at the center of a supernatural conflict with the entire world at stake.
I’m thrilled to have Mark Pryor on the blog today! I just reviewed Mark’s brand new book, The Bookseller, and he was kind enough to answer a few of my questions, so please give him a warm welcome!
Mark, your first novel, The Bookseller, comes out tomorrow! How did you celebrate when you found out the novel sold?
Actually, it was a weird evening because I’d already planned a party at my house. You see, the CBS show 48 Hours was screening a murder case I tried a few months previously and thirty or so people were due to arrive and watch the show. I was on my way back from a famous Austin BBQ place, Salt Lick, with food for everyone when my agent called. She actually said three publishers had made offers, but one offered the largest advance and a three-book deal. Easy choice. Anyway, when I got home with the food I phoned my wife Sarah from the driveway, telling her to come out and meet me. I wanted her to tell her in private, away from everyone so she’d be the first to know but she dashed out of the house thinking something was wrong! Then I gave her a massive hug and told her the news. So my first national TV appearance and three book offers all in one night, it was crazy. In a very, very good way.
Will you tell us a bit about The Bookseller?
Sure. The story revolves around the disappearance of some booksellers, called bouquinistes, who operate their somewhat iconic stalls alongside the River Seine. My main character is Hugo Marston who is a former FBI profiler and now the head of security at the US Embassy in Paris. The first bouquiniste to go missing is a friend of his, Max, and Hugo actually witnesses his kidnapping. The cops don’t seem interested, for some reason, so Hugo starts looking himself.
What he discovers, though, surprises him. His old friend Max has a much more colorful past that he’d ever imagined. Hugo also hunts for two books Max was selling at the time of his kidnap, and checks out several other leads that pop up along the way. He has help from his long-time and extremely irreverent friend, Tom, who has connections to the CIA that he won’t even share with Hugo.
I hope that anyone who reads it and doesn’t know Paris gets a powerful urge to visit!
As a former crime reporter, and now an attorney, you have plenty of experience to draw from in your writing. That said, how much do you think your experience has helped in your writing, and what do you enjoy most about writing mystery?
I’ve had a life-long interest in crime, which maybe led to my two careers in that field: reporter and now prosecutor. So I’ve read about all kinds of crimes from over the centuries but I’ve also seen first-hand a number of crimes and crime scenes. So I’m lucky (if lucky can be the right word in this context!) because I have a deeper well of personal as well as second-hand knowledge to draw from.
But it’s a funny thing, those two jobs have actually hindered my writing in some ways. As a reporter and attorney, one’s writing is very factual, stripped down to the bone with no room for flights of fancy or the use of clever (but relevant!) metaphors. I’ve had to learn to loosen up and give myself permission to write a little from my imagination, have some fun with the language rather than just plonk down a factual, sequential narration of events.
As for what I enjoy about writing mysteries, I just love putting together a puzzle, creating a kind of riddle and making it easy to follow but hard to crack. It’s a real challenge but I love it.
Is there anything in particular that helps you write, gets the creative juices flowing?
Yes, I have to have just the right amount of distraction! I do almost all of my writing at the local library where there is enough background noise for me. There’s something about being in a library, too, a lot of inspiration or motivation being around all those books and readers. If it’s too quiet, I don’t know, little things distract me. Likewise, I don’t write at home because I have too many potential distractions (three, very cute little ones as well as TV, the internet etc).
In terms of story ideas, though, they tend to come to me as I’m walking or hanging out in the hot tub. I know, maybe that’s weird, but what can I say?! I write them down in a little notebook as soon as I can but some of my best ideas have come while walking the dog. And every time I take a vacation the ideas flow freely. I have two non-Hugo books I want to write when I can find the time, one of which came to me while at the beach this past summer.
Paris is a rich, historic setting, and where The Bookseller takes place. For you, how important is setting to a story? Are there other locations you’d like to write about in the future?
For me it is important. Or, for my stories it’s important. I’m sure the importance of location varies according to the writer and the particular story but I like to give people a real feel for the city, if I can. The River Seine, for example, really reflects Hugo’s moods and emotions – one minute it’s giving life to the city, through the traffic and tourists and the water itself. Then it becomes colder and more menacing as bodies start to pop up.
Absolutely, I’ve talked with my editor about having Hugo move around Europe. I think it’d be fun to have him (and therefore the reader) get to visit and experience different cities. I’m happy to take suggestions, too, if your blog readers have a favorite. I’m thinking London, of course, but maybe Barcelona, Prague, Berlin… so many choices. Of course, I’d have to do in-person research, right?
Do you outline before a project, or just start writing?
A bit of both. I start a book knowing who dies, why, and how they’re caught. Roughly. I do need a goal in mind and maybe an idea for a twist or two but I’m not good at detailed planning so once I have the basics in my head I’ll just sit down and start writing. The story inevitably changes, too, as new ideas pop up. I have to be a little bit organized though because I do like to keep the reader guessing. It’s almost a game for me because when I read I try and solve the mystery so I know people will do the same with mine. I hope to foil as many of them as possible and flying by the seat of my pants is a tough way to do that!
Who are your biggest literary influences (classic or contemporary?)
I suppose it would have to be the mystery writers I loved growing up. Agatha Christie for her incredibly clever plots. Likewise, Conan Doyle for his. And who doesn’t love Sherlock Holmes? About ten years ago I started reading Eric Ambler and I think I’ve gone through every one of his — now there’s a writer who can create tension and atmosphere without car chases and explosions. More recently, I have become addicted to Alan Furst’s pre-war spy novels. He’s very much in the Ambler tradition of dropping a regular guy into a tough spot, then making it tougher. He, too, is a master with words, with place and atmosphere. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, we’re so lucky in the genre right now with people like William Landay, Tana French, and Gillian Flynn putting out great books.
If you could read one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
Great question! Catch-22. My favorite book of all time and I remember the first time I read it, my eyes just got wider and wider. I’d be fine with that happening again.
What do you enjoy in a good mystery?
I like more than action, and I suppose that makes me more of a mystery reader than a thriller reader, though the distinction can be blurry. I like someone who can create characters I care about, and story lines I can wonder about. Some authors are great at putting you alongside their hero, as if you’re in the book helping them figure stuff out. I just reread this answer and it’s horribly general… I suppose in my view there are several necessary elements: memorable characters (be they good or evil), a fun puzzle for me to help solve (aka “plot”), and something extra… maybe a fun location? Can’t beat an English country house for a mystery setting. Oh wait, my books are set in Paris, I shouldn’t say that!
What makes you want to put a book aside in frustration?
One-dimensional characters who are served up as foils for non-stop action. I threw one aside recently for that exact reason. Car chases and fights are hard to recreate on paper and the excitement, for me personally, is the tension before the fight or the fall-out after the car chase. But I’m pretty selective about which books I pick up so it’s rare for me to start something and find I don’t enjoy it. Thank heavens for friends and the Internet, right?!
I imagine balancing a writing schedule with being an Assistant DA and wrangling twin toddlers is demanding! How do you do it?
I snatch moments where I can. My schedule at the moment gives me Fridays off so I try to spend two hours on Fridays and two on Saturdays at the library. When I’m writing a book I spend almost every waking minute thinking about it so that when it comes time to write, I can get straight to it. I write quickly and because I plan each step out in my head, I don’t tend to do too much rewriting. Mostly, though, it’s thanks to my wife who not only takes care of the kids and house while I’m writing, but actively encourages me to go and write.
You grew up in England and are now living in Austin, TX! As a Texan, I’d say that makes you an honorary Texan.;) What did you love most about growing up in England, and what do you enjoy most about living in Austin?
Hey, I have the boots to prove it! I was very lucky, I grew up on a farm and had a best friend living nearby, so we had a giant playground to roam, woods to poke through, even a ramshackle, crumbling cottage on a dark country lane to explore. I’d tell you what we found in it, but I swore a blood oath…
And now, Austin is fantastic. So much to do here, and now that the kids are a bit older we’re starting to get out and about more. Obviously, the music scene here is huge but so is the film industry and the other arts, some great restaurants…. The weather’s great, too, apart from about ten weeks in the middle of the year – but after 25 years of rain and drizzle, I swore I wouldn’t complain about overly hot days. We’re very happy here, I can’t really imagine a better place to be a writer (maybe Paris?!) or raise a family.
When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
Find what, now? Free time?? Actually, I do have a few moments here and there. I play soccer in a league every Sunday, and I also play squash and hit the gym several times a week. I also try to read a lot, which isn’t exactly a hardship. Otherwise, it’s about spending time with my wife and kids. We take trips when we can and at home we like to play card games in the evening, and have ‘movie night’ every Friday.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
Sure, thanks. I suppose I’d like to let people know I have a true-crime book coming out in January, about the ‘cold’ murder case I tried last year. It’s called As She Lay Sleeping. I think it’s as much a memoir as a traditional true crime story, as I aim to let people into how detectives and prosecutors go about trying and proving such a hard case. An inside look at the process, which I hope people will find interesting.
After that, for those who enjoy The Bookseller, the second in the Hugo Marston series will be out in the Spring, May I think. It’s called The Crypt Thief, and focuses on several mysterious break-ins at two of Paris’s famous cemeteries. Hugo has to figure out who’s stealing the bones of long-dead Cancan dancers, and why.
Also, I want to say: thank you for having me!
Keep up with Mark: Blog | Twitter | Website
About The Bookseller:
Hugo Marston buys an ancient book from his friend Max, at the old bookseller’s stall beside the River Seine. Moments later, Max is kidnapped.
Hugo must now connect the old man’s bizarre history with the ancient book, and solve the mysterious disappearance of other booksellers.
Then, as he himself becomes a target, Hugo uncovers a conspiracy from Paris’s recent past that leads him deep into the enemy’s lair.
Just as the killer intended.
About Mark Pryor:
Mark grew up in Hertfordshire, England, and now lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife and three young children.
Over the years, he has been many things: ski instructor, journalist, personal trainer, and bra folder (he lasted one day: fired for giggling at the ridiculousness of the job. If it’s any excuse, he was just nineteen years old.)
His first real career was as a newspaper reporter in Colchester, Essex. There, he covered the police and crime beat for almost two years. He also wrote stories on foreign assignments, including accounts from Northern Ireland while with the British Army, and from Romania where he covered the first-anniversary celebrations of that country’s revolution.
Mark moved to America in 1994, mostly for the weather.
He attended journalism school at the University of North Carolina, in Chapel Hill, and then law school at Duke University, graduating with honors and a lot of debt.
He is currently an Assistant District Attorney with the Travis County DA’s office. Or, as he tells his kids, “I help catch bad guys.” Simplistic, yes, but you try explaining the judicial system to six-year-old twins!
He has prosecuted a Mexican Mafia enforcer, murderers, rapists, robbers, and a transvestite prostitute. (He felt bad about the last one.) A cold case he prosecuted in 2011 was featured by the CBS news program 48 Hours. Here’s a link to the show. He is currently writing a non-fiction book, AS SHE LAY SLEEPING, about that case.
“I write fiction because I can’t help myself, and I set my stories in Paris because I love the city and its people. And, of course, its food — snails are a direct (if slow) route to my heart.
“And if you’ve ever sat in a Paris cafe, watching the world pass by with a carafe of red wine in front of you, then I’m sure you can understand why Hugo lives in Paris. And if you haven’t done those things, well, I encourage you to do so. Just be sure to invite me along.”
The Bookseller (Hugo Marston #1) by Mark Pryor
Publisher: Seventh Street Books/Oct. 9th, 2012
Kind thanks to Seventh Street Books/Prometheus for providing a review copy
Who is killing the celebrated bouquinistes of Paris?
Max—an elderly Paris bookstall owner—is abducted at gunpoint. His friend, Hugo Marston, head of security at the US embassy, looks on helplessly, powerless to do anything to stop the kidnapper.
Marston launches a search, enlisting the help of semiretired CIA agent Tom Green. Their investigation reveals that Max was a Holocaust survivor and later became a Nazi hunter. Is his disappearance somehow tied to his grim history, or even to the mysterious old books he sold?
On the streets of Paris, tensions are rising as rival drug gangs engage in violent turf wars. Before long, other booksellers start to disappear, their bodies found floating in the Seine. Though the police are not interested in his opinion, Marston is convinced the hostilities have something to do with the murders of these bouquinistes.
Then he himself becomes a target of the unknown assassins.
With Tom by his side, Marston finally puts the pieces of the puzzle together, connecting the past with the present and leading the two men, quite literally, to the enemy’s lair.
Just as the killer intended.
The Bouquinistes of Paris ply their second hand book trade along the banks of the Seine from the Pont Marie to the Quai de Louvre, continuing a tradition that started in the 16th century. In the late 1800s, the bouquinistes were allowed by the government to establish themselves at fixed points, from sunrise to sunset, to 10 metres of railing at a fixed annual fee and licensing charge. Now there are over 200 stalls set up along the river, and they are considered an important part of Paris’s cultural and commercial heritage.
When Max Koche, an elderly bookseller and friend, is kidnapped right before Hugo Marston’s eyes, Hugo feels helpless and outraged. What could someone want with the elderly bookseller that would lead them to kidnapping? Hugo is sure that the police will follow up on this. After all, he’s got some clout, as a former FBI agent and now head of security for the US Embassy, so his word should offer at least some urgency to the investigation. He finds out, however, that on the word of a few other stall owners, that claim that Max went willingly with his captors, the investigation is put to rest. Hugo knows Max didn’t go willingly, though, and is determined to find out what happened to his friend. His investigation could put him at odds with his job, but being on vacation offers him a measure of freedom, and the help of a beautiful journalist and his friend Tom Green, an (ex?) CIA agent, will certainly come in handy. Turns out Max has a history as a Nazi hunter, but he’s not sure if that’s the reason for his kidnapping. He hopes that Max is still alive, but the disappearance of other booksellers makes that increasingly unlikely and sets Hugo on a trail that will lead him through a maze of drug czars, rare books, and of course, murder.
The Bookseller is the first of a series that will feature Texas native (who proudly wears his cowboy boots) Hugo Marston and offers up a protagonist that is sharp, understated, tenacious, and decent to the core. Twice divorced (one fairly recent), Hugo isn’t necessarily looking for a serious relationship, but Claudia Roux proves to be not only an intriguing love interest for Hugo, but is also a valuable asset in solving an increasingly labyrinthine case. Hugo never takes Claudia’s smarts (and connections) for granted, even though his instinct to protect her is put to the test more than once. I also appreciate that the author made Claudia a fully fleshed out part of the story, with secrets of her own, and she’s never presented one dimensionally. Hugo’s boss, Ambassador Taylor is a boss that anyone would love to have and offers Hugo his unwavering trust and also his help whenever possible (within reason of course, being the US Ambassador is a delicate job.) Probably one of my favorite characters, however, is Hugo’s foul mouthed, razor sharp, (semi) retired CIA agent friend, Tom Green. Tom is a bit on the soft side, physically, but his skills are immediately evident and without it being said, you always get the distinct feeling that Hugo, without question, trusts Tom with his life, and vice versa. Mark Pryor successfully combines a fascinating mystery, a setting (Paris) that’s a character in and of itself, and wonderful characterizations with a bit of old fashioned style to create a first novel that will appeal to mystery and thriller readers alike. The Bookseller has made an instant fan out of this reader, and I’ll be eagerly awaiting the next Hugo Marsten mystery.