Breed by Chase Novak
Publisher:Mulholland/Sept. 4th, 2012
Kind thanks to Mulholland for providing a review copy
Alex and Leslie Twisden lead charmed lives-fabulous jobs, a luxurious town house on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, a passionate marriage. What they don’t have is a child, and as they try one infertility treatment after the next, yearning turns into obsession. As a last-ditch attempt to make their dream of parenthood come true, Alex and Leslie travel deep into Slovenia, where they submit to a painful and terrifying procedure that finally gives them what they so fervently desire . . . but with awful consequences.
Ten years later, cosseted and adored but living in a house of secrets, the twins Adam and Alice find themselves locked into their rooms every night, with sounds coming from their parents’ bedroom getting progressively louder, more violent, and more disturbing.
Driven to a desperate search for answers, Adam and Alice set out on a quest to learn the true nature of the man and woman who raised them. Their discovery will upend everything they thought they knew about their parents and will reveal a threat so horrible that it must be escaped, at any cost.
When Leslie meets Alex Twisden, it’s pretty much love at first site. 17 years her senior, Alex is everything Leslie wants in a man: successful lawyer, wants a family, and absolutely adores Leslie. Leslie is quite capable on her own, working for an up and coming children’s publisher, and quite frankly, she’d have married Alex if he was cab driver (or other such blue collar profession.) But he’s not, and they’re deliriously happy, comfortable in the luxury of Alex’s family brownstone, with portraits of his ancestors looking down on the hopeful lovebirds. Only one thing is missing from Alex and Leslie’s bliss: a baby. After countless fertility treatments, medical tests, and ultimately, numerous forms of quackery, “guaranteed” to increase fertility and give them the child they so desperately want, they turn to Dr. Kis, a supposed miracle worker in Slovenia. He is recommended by a neighbor and lawyer that, in exchange for information about the doctor that resulted in his wife’s pregnancy, demands to be given a job at Alex’s firm. Alex acquiesces, and learns about Dr. Kis, who supposedly performs miracles of fertility on his patients. When Alex pitches the idea to Leslie, she’s less than thrilled, having tired of the endless stress and strain put on their marriage by their efforts to conceive. She realizes how important this is to Alex, though, and agrees to go, after extracting a promise that this will be the last effort. So, the couple makes the journey to Slovenia, to the office of the strange, abrupt Dr. Kis, where a slavering pit bull stands guard, and where, little do they know, they’re about to undergo a very painful procedure. Said procedure surely achieves what Dr. Kris promised, but at what price? Turns out, it’s a big one. Huge. Soon the couple begins undergoing some terrifying changes, and by the time the twins are born (early), their lives have already become very different.
Cut to 10 years later: The Twisden house is in decline, falling to ruins, and twins Adam and Alice are kept to a very strict schedule. Dreaded are the nightly dinners where they watch their parents consume meat so rare that it’s blue and swimming in a puddle of blood (what Alex and Leslie call “gravy”). They are locked in their room on a nightly basis, and the noises that come from their parent’s room (of which Adam hears through a purloined baby monitor) are terrifying. The twins are loved, however, and Alex and Leslie haven’t harmed a hair on their heads…yet.
Adam is convinced that his parents are going to kill them, and is determined to take his sister and escape. He runs to a trusted teacher first, but his parents prove to be talented trackers, and he doesn’t remain hidden for long. Meanwhile, Alice has met a group of feral kids in Central Park that will reveal much more about their condition and what their parents may be becoming.
At first blush, Breed is pure horror, but it’s the author’s wry observations on elitist society and also Alex and Leslie’s slow loss of humanity that elevates this to something much more. Alex and Leslie adore their children, but cannot fight the changes taking place within them, and their struggle against those changes (in particular Leslie), is heartbreaking, and horrifying. The author turns the creep factor up to about 11, and it’s the first time in a while that after putting the book down, I may have been a little afraid of the dark for a few nights. By turns very scary, and heart wrenching, Breed will take you for a ride you’ll never forget, all the way to its shocking conclusion.
This Case is Gonna Kill Me by Phillipa Bornikova
Publisher:Tor/Sept. 4th, 2012
Kind thanks to Tor and NetGalley for providing a review copy
Linnet Ellery is the offspring of an affluent Connecticut family dating back to Colonial times. Fresh out of law school, she’s beginning her career in a powerful New York “white fang” law firm. She has high hopes of eventually making partner.
But strange things keep happening to her. In a workplace where some humans will eventually achieve immense power and centuries of extra lifespan, office politics can be vicious beyond belief. After some initial missteps, she finds herself sidelined and assigned to unpromising cases. Then, for no reason she can see, she becomes the target of repeated, apparently random violent attacks, escaping injury each time through increasingly improbable circumstances. However, there’s apparently more to Linnet Ellery than a little old-money human privilege. More than even she knows. And as she comes to understand this, she’s going to shake up the system like you wouldn’t believe….
When Linnet Ellery begins working at the White-Fang (yep, vampires) law firm of Ishmael, McGillary, and Gold, she realizes rather quickly that her professional life may be a bit boring for a while. Taken under the wing of lawyer Chip Westin, she’s recruited to help out on a case that’s been in litigation for many years. Stagnation seems inevitable, until a werewolf invades the law firm one evening, brutally murdering Chip, and nearly killing Linnet. Who would have wanted to kill the gentle,kindly Chip? And why?
I really enjoyed this fun, unusual urban fantasy! The alternate world the author created is just to the left of ours, and vampires, werewolves, and the fae (the Alfar) have revealed themselves and are collectively thought of as the Powers. It’s a boy’s club, however, at least when it comes to vamps and werewolves. You see, they’re not allowed to turn women, under any circumstance, under the penalty of death. Linnet was, in fact, fostered by a vampire liege from the age of eight, with whom she’s still very close to, so she’s sensitive to the discrimination that they sometimes face. Working at a White-Fang law firm doesn’t intimidate her, but knowing that she, and the rest of the women in the office, will never make partner, can be bothersome. As she follows the clues to find out who killed Chip, with the help of handsome PI (and Alfar) John O’Shea, she finds herself in danger more than a few times over, but she’s determined to get to the bottom of it. A shadowy firm called Securitech and its head werewolf, Deegan, seem to have something to do with his death, but she’s not quite sure what. She does know that Deegan is perfectly capable of tearing her limb from limb.
This book is described as Anita Blake meets The Firm, but I’d describe it more like Stephanie Plum meets The Firm. Linnet has the charm of Plum, but is plenty capable in her job, and I loved how the author actually gives her a life in between the werewolf attacks and law office politics (of which there are plenty). Linnet is an accomplished horsewoman, and I loved the passages that involved the ins and outs of competitive riding. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the action, but woven in with traditional urban fantasy themes are explorations of gender equality, and a rather sweet romance. It also wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the author is very fond of New York City, since it’s almost a character unto itself. I highly enjoyed This Case is Gonna Kill Me and I’ll be crossing my fingers for more adventures with Linnet!
The Twenty-Year Death by Ariel S. Winter: Malniveau Prison (Book 1)
Publisher:Hard Case Crime/August 7th, 2012
Kind thanks to Hard Case Crime for providing a review copy
The body found in the gutter in France led the police inspector to the dead man’s beautiful daughter—and to her hot-tempered American husband.
A hardboiled private eye hired to keep a movie studio’s leading lady happy uncovers the truth behind the brutal slaying of a Hollywood starlet.
A desperate man pursuing his last chance at redemption finds himself with blood on his hands and the police on his trail…
Three complete novels that, taken together, tell a single epic story, about an author whose life is shattered when violence and tragedy consume the people closest to him. It is an ingenious and emotionally powerful debut performance from literary detective and former bookseller Ariel S. Winter, one that establishes this talented newcomer as a storyteller of the highest caliber.
1931: When a dead man washes up in a gutter of the provincial town of Verargent, the local police think it’s just a drunk, drowned in the downpour. The dead man has actually been stabbed to death, and it’s discovered he’s recently escaped from prison. Chief Inspecter Pelleter and Verargent chief of police Letreau team up to find a killer, which leads to something much bigger than one dead convict. The body count soon starts to rise, children go missing, and seemingly at the center of it all, is a child killer, imprisoned at Malvineau. When the dead man’s daughter (and wife of American novelist Shem Rosencrantz) goes missing, Pelleter knows that time may be running out, and is determined to find the truth.
The Twenty-Year Death is made up of three complete novels, spanning three decades, in the style of three great mystery writers. Connecting these three novels is the “great American novelist” Shem Rosencrantz. I thought it might be fun to do the review in three parts, so of course this review focuses on the first novel, Malniveau Prison, written in the style of the legendary Georges Simenon (Commissaire Maigret series 1931-1972). Centering on Pelleter, the story follows his investigation into the questionable deaths of several prisoners at Malniveau. Dogged to the end, Pelleter follows the clues by the book, seeing things through even as he misses his wife, and quite a bit of sleep, respectively. I enjoyed this seemingly straightforward procedural. I say seemingly because while it rarely veers from the investigation, when it does, the insights into its characters are illuminating and striking, perhaps because of the straightforward nature of the writing. This was a strong start to what promises to be a fascinating crime novel. More to come!
I’m thrilled to have Paul Tremblay on the blog today! Paul is a two time Bram Stoker Award nominee, and his brand new book, Swallowing a Donkey’s Eye, just hit the shelves. He was kind enough to answer a few of my questions, so please give him a warm welcome! Also, be sure to check out the book trailer below the post!
Paul, you have an amazing list of publishing and editing accomplishments behind you, including two Bram Stoker Award noms AND you have a master’s degree in Mathematics! Whew! Did you always want to be a writer? Will you tell us a bit about your journey?
Thank you! And no, I didn’t always want to be a writer. While I had an inkling I might like teaching, I spent most of my youth not knowing what I wanted to do or be. I was good at math, so I just kept taking math classes in college and then in graduate school.
But Second semester of my senior year in college I took Lit 101 to fulfill part of my humanities double major alongside the math. I ended up loving the class. I remember writing a paper about the threat of violence in “Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?,“ by Joyce Carol Oates and TC Boyle’s “Greasy Lake,” that I was inordinately proud of, especially considering I was a know-nothing math major. In grad school I read all the Oates, Stephen King, Peter Straub, and Clive Barker I could get my hands on. So while spending two years earning my masters in mathematics, I also fell in love with reading.
I didn’t think about trying to write my own stories until after I got my first high school math-teaching gig. My first story attempt was terrible (and is safely hidden in the trunk): Death confronting a serial killer who had messed up the grand plan. But I enjoyed the process and kept at it off and on for a few years until I made my first story sale in 2000. With the small sale I was hooked and threw myself into writing whole-hog. Or whole-donkey.
Your brand new novel, Swallowing a Donkey’s Eye, just came out. Can you give us your elevator pitch for it?
Oh, man, I hope it’s a long elevator ride.
*Tremblay slaps the emergency stop button so we’re all stuck between floors on the elevator. It’s good place to be for our collective frame of mind going forward*
Okay, okay, picture this (Tremblay makes a movie screen with his hands): Animal Farm meets Giliam’s Brazil meets Chuck Palahniuk!
What? Not enough pizzazz?
How about Meet the Feebles meets Citizen Kane! (nah, too obscure, and while there’s a kernel of truth to that pitch, it’s not one-hundred percent accurate. I love that pairing though. I’d be willing to bet no one has elevator-pitched with those two films)
Or: (Tremblay now speaking very fast) SaDE’s narrator is a nameless drone stuck at the mega-conglomerate Farm for the next six years of his life when he finds out that his mother, whom he left back in technocratic and corrupt City, might be homeless and soon to be deported below City to eke out her remaining existence in the Pier. (Pause for breath) The narrator decides to do something about it and hilarious, poignant, and emotionally devastating dystopian political satire ensues with people in chicken and duck suits, a mayor who write letters about outlaw campaigns and magic refrigerators, and a priest with ESP who swears like the proverbial sailor (although there are no sailors in this book).
What did you enjoy the most about writing Swallowing a Donkey’s Eye?
Generally, I enjoy the challenge of creating characters first and foremost. But with this book, more than any other I’ve written, I think I had the most fun with world building and the setting of the various insane scenarios.
That said, it wasn’t an easy book for me to write. It started as me taking the snippet of a Neutral Milk Hotel song title and trying to come up with a short story. This was sometime in 2005, I think. The short story became the opening of a novel. I worked on the book off-and-on for a little over a year and completed an early draft that I tinkered with and re-wrote, again, off-and-on, for a few more years.
On one hand, it was nice to have so much time to work on the novel. It’s a luxury that most writers don’t have as most 21st Century novelists are expected by the publishing world to pump out a new book every year or so. On the other hand, I worked on this so much it got to a point by the end of the process where I think I lost almost all objectivity concerning the book’s merits or demerits. Heh.
But don’t worry! I promise the book is aces. Plus donkeys.
What are some of your biggest literary influences?
I hope it’s not too obnoxious to say that I have ginormous (little known fact: that’s a secret number we mathematicians keep to ourselves) amount of influences. I try to steal from everyone. As a frustrated musician myself, music has been a very important in my development as a writer. Most of my books have titles that refer to songs, and more than a handful of my short stories have been directly influenced by music.
As far as other writers go, I already mentioned Joyce Carol Oates, and without her work, I’m not sure I would’ve tried my hand at writing. Other favorites (ie. writers who I will/do re-read and who never fail to make me want to steal from them want to write better) include in no particular order early-Stephen King, Kurt Vonnegut, Clive Barker, Aimee Bender, George Orwell, Shirley Jackson, Mark Danielewski, Will Christopher Baer, Stewart O’Nan, Peter Straub, Poppy Z. Brite, Jennifer Egan, Jonathan Lethem, Raymond Chandler, Chuck Palahniuk and Joe Lansdale.
I could go on if you’d like. There are so many writers doing interesting, daring, important, work right now, which is somewhat ironic given how messed up publishing is.
In your own reading, do you prefer books that have a “message”, something fantastical that you can get lost in, or both?
I think as long as a book plays fair by the set of rules it sets itself, I can enjoy the novel, and the novel almost by default will have a message or something to say whether it be personal or social.
However, I tend to be a style monkey, and love me an innovative or interesting style/narrative. Novels that do not show empathy (not sympathy, empathy; there’s a huge difference) toward all of its characters I tend to toss into the will-not-finish pile. It’s a big pile.
What makes you want to toss a book aside in frustration?
I sort of gave a preview in the previous answer, but to build on sympathy vs. empathy. I really don’t care if I sympathize with the characters. (another parenthetical aside: I want to eat the spleen of readers who complain of a book, “I didn’t think the main character was sympathetic.” Grrr. What they really mean to say is that the character wasn’t enough like them so they couldn’t feign interest in someone else for 300 pages…anyway, I angrily digress) I don’t care if they’re like me. In fact, I’d prefer if they weren’t like me. I just want to understand why they say they say, why they make the decisions they do. The characters who do unseemly things but for whom we feel empathy are always the most realistic and interesting.
All of which is to say, yeah, lame-ass characters make me throw books at walls.
If you could read one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
Let’s call it a three-way tie. Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughter House Five, Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, and Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I’d be a happy donkey reading and re-reading those three books in a constant rotation.
When you manage to carve out some free time, how do you like to spend it?
No, seriously, I hate beets. Icky. Not as icky or hate-worthy as pickles. Though pickled beets are probably the second most hate-worthy food imaginable.
Besides reading, teaching, hanging with the family, I enjoy sports. Something simple like playing catch with a baseball is something I’d love to do everyday. My son is at the age now, though, where I have to beg him to play catch with me now. Sniff, sniff…
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events?
As far as upcoming projects go, I’m excited that a YA novel co-written with Stephen Graham Jones was recently accepted by CZP. Also, I have a short story in the upcoming FUNGI anthology (edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Orrin Grey).
As far as events go, I’ll be doing donkey readings/signings in September:
-12th, Providence, RI, the Brown Bookstore, 5:30 pm
-19th, New York City, NY, KGB Fantastic fiction series, 7:00pm (will be reading alongside Alma Katsu)
-29th, Worcester, MA, Annie’s Book Stop, 2-5pm
*Thanks for the interview, and I hope everyone reads the donkey and reviews online even if they don’t find the main character sympathetic!
About Swallowing a Donkey’s Eye:
Join Farm today! It’s only six years of your life! Farm is the mega-conglomerate food supplier for City, populated with rabidly bureaucratic superiors, antagonistic and sexually deviant tour guides dressed in chicken and duck suits, and farm animals illegally engineered for silence. City is sprawling, technocratic, and rests hundreds of feet above the coastline on the creaking shoulders of a giant wooden pier. When the narrator’s single mother, whom he left behind in City, falls out of contact, he fears the worst: his mother is homeless and subsequently to be deported under City to the Pier. On his desperate search to find his mother, he encounters ecoterrorists wearing plush animal suits, an election that hangs in the balance as the City’s all-powerful Mayor is infatuated with magic refrigerators and outlaw campaigns, and a wise-cracking, over-sexed priest who may or may not have ESP, but who is most certainly his deadbeat dad. Whether rebelling against the regimented and ridiculous nature of Farm life, exploring the all-too-familiar and consumer-obsessed world of City, experiencing the all-too-real suffering of the homeless in Pier, or confronting the secrets of his own childhood, Swallowing a Donkey’s Eye’s narrator is a hilarious, neurotic, and rage-filled Quixote searching for his mother, his own dignity, and the meaning of humanity.
Mockingbird (Miriam Black #2) by Chuck Wendig
Publisher:Angry Robot Books/August 28th, 2012
Kind thanks to Angry Robot for providing a review copy
Miriam is trying. Really, she is.
But this whole “settling down thing” that Louis has going for her just isn’t working out. She lives on Long Beach Island all year around.
Her home is a run-down double-wide trailer. She works at a grocery store as a check-out girl. And her relationship with Louis–who’s on the road half the time in his truck–is subject to the piss and vinegar Miriam brings to everything she does.
It just isn’t going well. Still, she’s keeping her psychic ability–to see when and how someone is going to die just by touching them–in check. But even that feels wrong somehow. Like she’s keeping a tornado stoppered up in a tiny bottle.
Then comes one bad day that turns it all on her ear.
REVIEW (No spoilers, but assumes you’ve read Blackbirds)
Working the checkout line at the grocery store is no place for Miriam Black. Little acts of rebellion like staring into the laser light of the scanner just aren’t doin’ it for her. Of course she finally runs her mouth and gets herself fired, but gets an itch that she just needs to scratch. That would be touching the woman that fired her and finding out how she dies. The only problem is, when she does that, she finds out death isn’t far off at all, quite possibly for all of them. This incident prompts Miriam into packing up and attempting to leave the trailer that she shares with Louis. Feeling smothered and panicky, she sets off on foot, but Louis tracks her down. He always does. Louis talks Miriam into using her “talent” to help an English teacher at a school for troubled girls, which leads to visions of a serial killer. Let the descent into crazy begin…
If you’ve read Blackbirds, you’re already somewhat familiar with Miriam’s personality. She’s rude, mouthy, insensitive, blunt, extremely foul mouthed, and really, really hard to like. Ok, now set that stuff aside for just a minute. Bear with me. Yes, Miriam isn’t the most charming girl, and if anything, she’s even more abrasive in Mockingbird. Seriously, the girl would begin trying my patience in about 2 minutes. However, all of that crappy stuff is mostly a defense mechanism. Mostly. Her ability allows her to see horrible stuff, and the events at the girl’s school are just about as bad as it gets. Our Miriam, foulmouthed, childish, and surly, will put herself in the path of a Mack truck if it means saving an innocent life. She reminds me a bit of a zombie, without the whole rot and braaaaaiiiiiins thing. She will keep coming, until the job is done, and she’s dead. And poor Louis feels like he must protect her. Needless to say, I don’t envy Louis the job he’s assigned to himself. A killer is indeed cutting a swath through these girls, one that dons a plague mask and uses barbed wire for restraints. The situation is much, much worse than Miriam initially thinks, though, as hard as it is to believe, and she’ll need every bit of grit she has to get through this one. Dark forces are rallying against Miriam, because she’s been messing with fate, and fate is a fickle, vengeful mistress. Chuck Wendig’s mind is a terrifying, twisted, fascinating thing, and thank goodness he puts this stuff down on paper for the rest of us. Darker than dark, Mockingbird will take you on a journey you won’t soon forget, so fortify your stomach and settle in, because you’re going to want to read this one in one sitting. Can’t wait for the next one!
Hidden Things by Doyce Testerman
Publisher:Harper Voyager/August 21st, 2012
Kind thanks to Harper Voyager for providing a review copy
Watch out for the hidden things . . . That’s the last thing Calliope Jenkins’s best friend says to her before ending a two a.m. phone call from Iowa, where he’s working a case she knows little about. Seven hours later, she gets a visit from the police. Josh has been found dead, and foul play is suspected. Calliope is stunned. Especially since Josh left a message on her phone an hour after his body was found. Spurred by grief and suspicion, Calli heads to Iowa herself, accompanied by a stranger who claims to know something about what happened to Josh and who can— maybe—help her get him back. But the road home is not quite the straight shot she imagined . . .
When Calliope Jenkins gets a call very early in the morning from her ex and work partner, Josh, she’s not sure what to think. He’s obviously following a lead, but what? And why did he tell her to watch out for the hidden things right before hanging up the phone? These are certainly the questions that are on Calliope’s mind when she gets the news the next day that Josh has been found dead, and she’s the last known person to have talked to him. Dealing with the aftermath of Josh’s death is enough to handle, not to mention his wife’s grief and bitterness, but there’s also the mysterious figure (with rather big feet) that keeps showing up at the most inopportune times. As Calli sets out to find the truth about what really happened to Josh, she quickly realizes that reality seems to be slipping, and things are never quite what they seem.
What a gem of a debut! At the start of the novel, Calli’s pain where Josh is concerned isn’t entirely evident, but as the story unfolds, it becomes clearer and clearer just how much she cares for him, and her grief is a tangible thing, interspersed in interludes that complement, but never interrupt, the action. Twists and turns don’t even begin to describe this one. Calli’s journey back to Iowa is fraught with danger, so good thing she has a guide in the form of Vikous. He would be the one with the big feet, that looks suspiciously like a clown. He’s grumpy as hell, but there’s a certain charm to him. A certain odd, creepy charm. Calli is snarky and confrontational, and I adored her. Strangely enough, she and Vikous made a pretty great team. Lest you think that this book is about finding Josh’s killer, it sort of is, but really, it’s about Calli’s journey back to the hometown, and family, that she thought didn’t want her anymore. And what a journey! It turns out that you can go home again, but to tell you more would be to reveal much of the awesome that this book is made of. The cover will give you a hint, and I dare you to get through this lovely, soaring book without at least tearing up a little (I may have teared up a lot.) You also may find yourself with a huge, silly grin on your face at the end. Testerman writes with a fluid, sure hand, and your brain will rebel at the thought that this book is a first novel. Can you tell I loved it? I did, and I can’t wait for more from this author!
I was pretty excited that Nick Mamatas agreed to answer a few of my questions, because he’s a pretty busy guy. He’s also got a brand new book out, Bullettime, and he was kind enough to talk about that, and other rather cool stuff, so please welcome him to the blog!
Nick, as the author of five novels, including your newest, Bullettime, and numerous short stories and non-fiction novels, you’ve managed to cultivate a very wide range of work. What makes Bullettime different from your previous fiction?
All of my novels so far have been first-person stories of outsiders dealing with some sort of supernatural or superhuman perception. Jack Kerouac and his enlightenment in Move Under Ground, Herbie’s telepathy in Under My Roof, the near-omniscient collective intelligence and Julia’s bizarre understanding of world systems in Sensation, and Uncle Lono’s insights thanks to his drug use in The Damned Highway. And now, in Bullettime, we have Dave Holbrook, in a place beyond space and time called the Ylem, from which he can observe all his possible existences based on decisions he’s made (or that others have made).
But, at the same time, the range is pretty wide. Move Under Ground is Lovecraftian, Roof a parody of a YA novel, Sensation an avant-garde satire I tried to make read as though the reader is looking at a desktop with a web browser and IM chat windows and such, and Highway is a crazed jeremiad. It’s also a collaboration with Brian Keene, which is itself a significant difference from my solo work. So the books feel different when people are reading them, and they feel different when I’m writing them for that matter, but when I look at them as a whole I guess I’m pursuing a single project. Which each book, or story for that matter, I think formally. What structure should the story take—the POV, average sentence and paragraph length, that sort of thing. Then I fill it in with characters and plot. Luckily, not all my short fiction is in the first-person. Indeed, a few recent stories have ended up being fabulist, avuncular, third-person omniscient stories.
Bullettime is different because it’s about a teen and an adult, skirts the edges around fantasy and horror and confessional fiction, and takes place in Jersey City. I lived in Jersey City for years, from 1997 to 2003, but never really placed any fiction there. I’ve written plenty about Manhattan and Long Island and Cambridge and Somerville and Salem, MA and Vermont, but never about Jersey.
In Bullettime, you explore alternate universes and fate (among other things). Do you believe in fate?
I believe that all actions are caused actions, but ultimately I’m a compatibilist. World forces structure, condition, and limit our actions, but they don’t determine them. So we can act as agents within those constraints, and often those constraints are at least partially imaginary. They’re ego-forces we think of as world forces or, worse, natural facts. A lot of my work is about suggesting a desire for more freedom than we currently have from our objective conditions.
What, or who, was your inspiration for David Holbrook?
For about a year I lived across the street from a high school in Jersey City. I worked from home, so got to observe the kids pretty closely, at the beginning of the day, at lunch, then in the afternoon. Of course, bits of my own childhood are in David, but I’m in Erin and Oleg and the other characters too. So are friends of mine from junior high and high school, stories I’ve heard from other people about their own teen years, you name it.
Is there any particular thing you’d like to see readers take away from Bullettime, or do you like to leave things open for interpretation?
When I was editing Clarkesworld Magazine, we’d often get submissions of all-but-identical stories. One sort of story was something I like to call “the child molester story.” In it a creepy, ugly, bum, corners a pretty young blonde girl with curls and threatens her with rape. Then the girl turns into some sort of supernatural horror and consumes the child molester. The moral of the story is—DON’T MOLEST CHILDREN.
Now, who needs to read such a story? Most of us would never dream of molesting children, and no child molester would be persuaded by the story to stop. So, really, who needs a lesson that would listen to one? What message could Bullettime have? Don’t drink sizzurp? Don’t shoot up schools? Surely, most of us already know!
What are some of your biggest literary influences?
Hmm, Kurt Vonnegut, Ira Levin, William S. Burroughs, Harlan Ellison, Kathy Acker, Joseph Heller, Paul Heyman, (yes, the pro wrestling booker), Victor Serge, William Browning Spenser, Kathe Koja’s early horror novels (horror novels could be smart??), whatever was being published in Omni in the early 1980s—Howard Waldrop especially, Shirley Jackson, the non-narrative avant-garde short films of the 1940s-1960s I watched in college in the 1990s…and dog’s breakfast, I guess.
If you could read one novel again for the first time, which one would it be?
That’s a good question. A really good one, since I decided years ago to never re-read. I know that a lot can get gotten from re-reading books, and really it’s not worth writing if the end product isn’t worth re-reading, but there’s just too much to read. I can’t spare the time. I guess I’d say Picture This by Joseph Heller. I would like to read that again for the first time, or for a second time, really.
I get the impression that you’re a pretty busy guy. When you do manage to carve out some downtime, how do you like to spend it?
I don’t have a lot of downtime. I have a full-time job, teach part-time at two MFA programs, a writing organization in Berkeley, and UCLA’s Extension School, and write books and stories and essays and such. I practice Chen taijiquan for between one and four hours a day. (Four hours on Sunday.) I do most of my reading on my commute to work, which is about ninety minutes each way.
What’s next for you?
I have a novel, The Last Weekend, which is basically a confessional fiction about an alcoholic in San Francisco, with some zombies milling around the background. That should be out in 2013. My first crime novel, Love is the Law, may also be out in 2013. And I have a number of stories coming out—”Willow Tests Well” will be in Psychos, a phonebook-sized omnibus anthology edited by John Skipp, and a story called “The Shaft Through the Middle of it All” will be in Fungi, edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Orrin Grey. Those will be out by the end of this year.
Keep up with Nick: Website | Twitter
David Holbrook is a scrawny kid, the victim of bullies, and the neglected son of insane parents.
David Holbrook is the Kallis Episkipos, a vicious murderer turned imprisoned leader of a death cult dedicated to Eris, the Hellenic goddess of discord.
David Holbrook never killed anyone, and lives a lonely and luckless existence with his aging mother in a tumbledown New Jersey town.
Caught between finger and trigger, David is given three chances to decide his fate as he is compelled to live and relive all his potential existences, guided only by the dark wisdom found in a bottle of cough syrup.
From the author of the instant cult classic Move Under Ground comes a fantasy of blood, lust, destiny, school shootings, and the chance to change your future.
Purchase Bullettime: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound
More about Nick:
Nick Mamatas is the author of the Lovecraftian Beat road novel Move Under Ground, which was nominated for both the Bram Stoker and International Horror Guild awards, the Civil War ghost story Northern Gothic, also a Stoker nominee, the suburban nighmare novel Under My Roof, and over thirty short stories and hundreds of articles (some of which were collected in 3000 Miles Per Hour in Every Direction at Once). His work has appeared in Razor, Village Voice, Spex, Clamor, In These Times, Polyphony, several Disinformation and Ben Bella Books anthologies, and the books Corpse Blossoms, Poe’s Lighthouse, Before & After: Stories from New York, and Short and Sweet.
Nick’s forthcoming works include the collection You Might Sleep… (November 2008) and Haunted Legends, an anthology with Ellen Datlow (Tor Books 2009).
A native New Yorker, Nick now lives in the California Bay Area.
If you haven’t discovered Dave Zeltserman yet, you’re in for a treat! Dave’s wonderful new novel, Monster, based on the story of Frankenstein’s monster, just came out, and it’s a perfect place to start. Dave was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer a few of my questions, so please welcome him to the blog!
You’re the author of more than 13 novels, most of them of the crime/noir genre, with a dash of horror thrown in here and there. You’re a math and science guy, so what made you sit down and write for the first time? What inspired you?
I’ve always read a lot. As a kid I started with the pulps ; Robert E. Howard and HP Lovecraft, then moved on to science fiction, and eventually to crime and mystery fiction, while at times reading the classics. At different times in my life I’d be drawn to writing. My early stuff wasn’t very good—a lot of my writing when I got out of college was trying to ape Ross Macdonald, and doing a pretty bad job of it. Then sometime in the early 90s I discovered Jim Thompson and it was like a religious experience. The first book of his I read was Hell of a Woman and I’d never read anything like it before. He broke every rule in that book that I thought I needed to follow, and it gave me a completely different outlook as to how crime fiction could be written. At the time I was struggling with a book that would become my first novel, Fast Lane, and reading Thompson showed me a completely different way to go with it, and helped me find my own voice.
Your newest novel, Monster, is based on the story of Dr. Frankenstein and his creation. Has the story always been one of your favorites?
I grew up thinking Frankenstein the novel was like the Boris Karloff movie, and when I was in high school I heard how the novel ends up in the Artic and that the monster is not the lumbering Karloff creature, but instead an intelligent and eloquent being, and I had to read it. The first half of Shelley’s novel has some sections that can be tough to get through, but once the creature and Frankenstein are in the French Alps and the creature is telling Frankenstein his tale, the book becomes absolutely riveting. In a lot of ways it’s a very noirish book with the creature having every right to make the demands that he does on Frankenstein and Frankenstein realizing this but also understanding the potential catastrophe if he does as the creature is asking, with both of them then being doomed. It’s a great book, one that I’ve read several times.
For those that haven’t read Monster yet, can you give us a bit of a teaser?
With Monster I play the following what-if games. What if Victor Frankenstein didn’t create the monster out of a misguided obsession, but was in league with the Marquis de Sade and had a far more sinister purpose. What if everything a dying Frankenstein told Captain Walton aboard his ice-bound ship were lies to protect his reputation. What if the monster gets to finally tell the true story.
There’s a lot going on in Monster, everything from the Marquis de Sade and one of his more infamous works, to Satanists, vampyres, London sex clubs and much more. The feedback I’ve gotten is that the book can be enjoyed whether or nor you’ve read Shelley’s Frankenstein beforehand.
You mention a love of crime writers like Hammett, Chandler, and Ross McDonald. Do you have any favorite horror writers?
When I was a kid I loved the creepiness and eeriness of HP Lovecraft. Later when I went to college my school’s library had a complete set of Edgar Allan Poe, which I devoured. Just very imaginative works. The best horror novel I’ve read recently was Richard Matheson’s I AM LEGEND, which is the best zombie/vampire book I’ve read. There’s such a tragic futility and sadness to that book. A more recently written collection of short horror/speculative fiction I’ve read that I thought was absolutely great is The Mean Time by Paul Tremblay.
If you could read one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
What makes you want to toss a book aside in frustration?
Bad writing will stop me, but also if a book feels fake. For example, if characters act in an unnatural way to move a scene forward or to do something that the author thinks is cool. Fake dialog is just as bad for me.
What’s one of your favorite lines from a book or a movie?
Well, my absolute favorite line from a movie is the last line in I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang, but I’d ruin the movie giving it away that line. So instead I’ll give the line from Casablanca when Captain Renault is ordered to close Rick’s immediately: “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here.” (right after that he’s handed his gambling winnings).
When you manage to carve out some free time, how do you like to spend it (when you’re not practicing Kung Fu, of course)?
I spent 25 years as a software developer. Now I’m leading a more relaxed life where I spend 4-5 hours a day writing, some time practicing Kung Fu, reading, occasionally going to Maine or into the North End in Boston.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects and events?
Monster is the big thing. I do have film deals for Outsourced and A Killer’s Essence, and with some luck they’ll go into film production soon.
Keep up with Dave: Website | Twitter | Goodreads
The supernatural, unmissable new novel by the ALA Best Horror award nominee. In nineteenth-century Germany, one young man counts down the days until he can marry his beloved . . . until she is found brutally murdered, and the young man is accused of the crime. Broken on the wheel and left for dead, he awakens on a lab table, transformed into an abomination. Friedrich must go far to take his revenge —only to find his tormentor, Victor Frankenstein, in league with the Marquis de Sade, creating something much more sinister deep in the mountains. Paranormal and gripping in the tradition of the best work of Stephen King and Justin Cronin, Monster is a gruesome parable of control and vengeance, and an ingenious tribute to one of literature’s greatest.
Purchase Monster: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound
Monster by Dave Zeltserman
Publisher:Overlook Press/August 2nd, 2012
Kind thanks to Overlook Press for providing a review copy
In nineteenth-century Germany, one young man counts down the days until he can marry his beloved . . . until she is found brutally murdered, and the young man is accused of the crime. Broken on the wheel and left for dead, he awakens on a lab table, transformed into an abomination. Friedrich must go far to take his revenge —only to find his tormentor, Victor Frankenstein, in league with the Marquis de Sade, creating something much more sinister deep in the mountains.
“As I write this, I can only pray that Frankenstein’s twisted soul is rotting away in whatever crevice within Hell it has surely sunk into.”
So begins Dave Zeltserman’s electrifying novel presenting the classic story of Frankenstein’s monster, from the viewpoint of the “monster.” The monster in this instance is a man by the name of Friedrich Hoffmann, who, on the eve of his wedding to his beloved Johanna is drugged and when he comes to, in an alleyway, he is covered in blood and has Johanna’s locket in his coat. He soon understands that she is dead, murdered in a most heinous way, and he has been blamed for the crime. Broken, tortured, and set to die on the executioner’s wheel, Friedrich can only hope that he will be joining his true love soon. Little does he know that a fate worse than death awaits him.
Monster is told from Friedrich’s point of view, and as he takes you from the wheel, into death, and back to a sort of unlife as the creation of the wicked, diabolical Dr. Frankenstein, you won’t be able to look away, although you may want to. I found myself pausing to cover my eyes for a moment every now and then, not only as I processed the horror that Friedrich is experiencing, but also at the moments of beauty that he manages to find in the midst of this nearly inconceivable ordeal. And there is beauty, in the most unexpected of places. When Friedrich first “awakens” and finds that he cannot move, cannot speak, and can barely keep his eyes open, he is soon introduced to Charlotte, who is only a head, in a bowl of milky liquid. At first, Charlotte repels him, but soon he realizes that she too, is a victim of Dr. Frankenstein’s depraved experiments and it is her stories (he lip reads, because she cannot speak), and assurances that he is still a gentle and kind soul, in spite of what is surely a hideous appearance, that make his days bearable. When Charlotte is taken from him, at the behest of the Marquis de Sade, and he is inexplicably abandoned, he realizes that he must be free, and find the man that made him into this monster.
Eloquently written (like a certain classic that comes to mind), Monster will take you on a journey of death, rebirth, and vengeance, and is about a man trying desperately not to sink to the depths of his tormenter. I fell in love with Hoffman, and his grief, not only at losing Johanna, but at his own condition, is palpable on every page. However, rays of light do shine through the darkness, and kindness comes from some of the most unexpected places. During his journey, he will encounter vampyres, satanic cults, and more, and it will take him to a crumbling castle, where all will be revealed. Or will it? Brace yourself when Friedrich reaches that castle. Frankenstein is a villain that will make your skin crawl, and is the ultimate embodiment of evil. He even outdoes the Marquis, and that says quite a lot. Monster weighs in at just over 200 pages, but manages to pack a huge punch. If you’re a fan of Frankenstein and the mythos that surrounds it, and love literary horror, this one’s for you. Highly recommended!
I’m thrilled to have Will Hill on the blog today! Will is the author of the Department 19 series, and the newest book, The Rising, is out today. He was kind enough to answer a few questions for me, so please welcome Will to the blog!
Will, the 2nd book, Department 19: The Rising, in your blockbuster YA series will be out here in the states tomorrow! I also may have read something about being signed for 3 more books recently.
When you started this series, did you ever think it would be this big?
I really don’t know how big it is, to be honest! I stay away from sales figures and all that kind of stuff – if my publishers are happy, then so am I.
To be honest, I’m just thrilled whenever anybody tells me they’ve spent their time reading something I wrote, and doubly so if they tell me they liked it – you write a novel, particularly a first novel, without knowing whether anyone apart from your friends and your mum will ever see it. You can’t write something expecting it to be successful, otherwise you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment. So my ambitions now are the same as they always have been – I hope that the people who do read it, enjoy it, and want to know what happens next. It must be nice to be Suzanne Collins or JK Rowling, but I would bet that the idea of so many people reading their stories excites them more than their royalty cheques – although theirs probably are pretty exciting!
Did you always want to be a writer?
If I did, I didn’t realize it until much later! I’ve met writers who can’t remember ever wanting to do anything else, but when I was a kid I wanted to be a pilot, a footballer, a drummer, a fireman, a comic book artist, and, for a long time, a film director.
But when I look back now, I was always writing – little bits and pieces to start with, lines of dialogue, descriptions of bits of action and characters. When my friends and I made short films in the school holidays, I always ended up deciding what would happen, rather than acting or manning the camera. I wrote more through school and college, and realized that it was what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing after I graduated, when I tried to write a novel for the first time. It was hard, and I made every mistake that first-time writers always make, but I fell in love with the process, including the painful bits. Since then, I’ve tried to do nothing else but write.
For those that haven’t started the series, will you tell us a bit about it, and your main character Jamie Carpenter?
Jamie is a very normal teenage boy, living a very normal life, until the night his dad is shot dead outside their house by shadowy figures who appear to be armed police. Two years later, he and his mum are still struggling to put their lives back together when things get even worse; Jamie is attacked by a girl with red eyes and sharp teeth, and his mother is kidnapped. Jamie is rescued by a monster who is absolutely not supposed to be real, and brought into the world of Department 19, a secret branch of the British government that polices the supernatural, and who have more to do with his family than he could have ever realised. They are also the only people who might, just might, be able to help him rescue his mum, who is in the hands of one of the oldest, and most evil, creatures in the world…
Was there any particular inspiration for Jamie?
I wanted him to start out as a real everyman – at the beginning of the story there is nothing special about him at all – who is forced to find out how strong and resilient he really is by the situation he finds himself thrown into. I tend to think that we find out who we really are when we face adversity, and I wanted that to be the case with Jamie. He is pretty similar to the teenager I was – he likes football, and music, and computer games, and all the other things that normal teenage boys are into. In my head, he looks quite a lot like my oldest friend, but he’s not really based on anyone in particular. Although he does sound a bit like me when I was his age!
Do you have any unusual writing quirks? Anything you need to get the creativity flowing?
I’m very much a creature of habit, and of routine. When I’m planning and plotting, and then again when my editor and I are editing, I work at home, with music on and a constant supply of coffee. When I’m writing actual prose, I go and work in the British Library, which is not too far from where I live in London, and I do get a bit obsessive. I go at the same time, work in the same room, try to work in the same desk (although that doesn’t always come off – in which case I get as near as I can and glare at whoever is in ‘my’ seat) and lay my stuff out the same way. I always get my best work done during the same part of the day (between about 3pm and 7.30pm) and I normally listen to one film on my laptop, over and over again – it becomes a bit like white noise, and plugs me immediately back into my work. For the third book in the D19 series, it’s been David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross – I could literally perform it as a one-man show at this point!
What was one of your favorite books as a child?
There were so many, but the one I think back to most often is Danny The Champion Of The World by Roald Dahl. I love all of Dahl’s novels, and he is a huge influence on me – I love the way he portrays children, and how they see the world, and how dark he is prepared to let his stories get. His more fantastical novels, the ones he is most famous for (Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, The BFG, The Witches) are wonderful, but I think I love Danny the most – it is perhaps a bit far-fetched (the pheasant plot is really quite crazy!) but it’s ultimately a very real story about a boy and his dad, and it rings true, even now. Anyone who hasn’t read it should go and grab themselves a copy at once.
What are a few of your favorite authors or novels?
This is probably going to need to be a list:
Stephen King – It, The Stand, ‘Salem’s Lot, the Dark Tower series
Roald Dahl – Danny The Champion Of The World, Fantastic Mr Fox, Matilda, Boy, Going Solo
Philip Pullman – the His Dark Materials trilogy
JK Rowling – the Harry Potter series
Bret Easton Ellis – Less Than Zero, American Psycho, Lunar Park
Patrick Ness – A Monster Calls
Jonathan Lethem – Fortress Of Solitude, Motherless Brooklyn, Gun With Occasional Music
Philip Reeve – the Mortal Engines quartet
George P. Pelecanos – The Big Blowdown, and the rest of the Washington quartet
Ted Hughes – The Iron Man (The Iron Giant in the US)
Clive Barker – Weaveworld, Imajica, The Books Of Blood
If you could read one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
The Secret History by Donna Tartt. It blew me away so completely when I read it for the first time that I didn’t read it again for years – I was genuinely scared that it couldn’t possibly be as good as I thought it was. But when the time eventually came, it was just as good again – so clever, so unbelievably assured for a debut novel, and just beautifully, heartbreakingly well written.
What do you consider essential for a basic vampire hunting kit?
The men and women of Department 19 use all kinds of hi-tech, sophisticated equipment, but even they have never been able to come up with a better method of destroying vampires than a good, sharp stake. To be fair, theirs are metal and are fired out of a pneumatic launcher, but nonetheless – stakes are still the cornerstone of vampire hunting!
When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
The concept of free time is a weird one, to be honest with you! When I get a period of time where I’m not working on the Department 19 series – when my editor is reading it, or when it’s being copyedited or proofread, I normally grab the chance to work on one of the other projects I’ve got rattling around in my head. So to be honest, when I’m not writing, I’m writing
I’ve written short stories for a couple of anthologies that are coming out later in the year, and I’ve got three novels (that are nothing to do with vampires!) in various stages of development – I’m always grateful when I get a day or two to spend on any of them.
Quick! Name something that makes you laugh out loud.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
Department 19 is out now in paperback from Razorbill, and book two, The Rising, is out in a week or so. The third book in the series, Battle Lines, will be out next summer, and the first short story I’ve written since I was at University comes out in an anthology called Magic (published by Solaris) towards the end of the year. Apart from that, everything else is pretty much wait and see…
Thanks very much for having me!
About Department 19:
Jamie Carpenter’s father is dead, his mother is missing, and he was just rescued by an enormous creature named Frankenstein. Now Jamie is pulled into a secret organization responsible for policing the supernatural, founded more than a century ago by Abraham Van Helsing. . . . Department Nineteen takes us through history, across Europe, and beyond – from the cobbled streets of Victorian London to prohibition-era New York, from the icy wastes of Arctic Russia to the treacherous mountains of Transylvania. Part modern thriller, part classic horror, it’s packed with mystery, mayhem, and a level of suspense that makes a Darren Shan novel look like a romantic comedy.
Purchase Department 19: Amazon | B&N
About Department 19: The Rising-
Sixteen-year-old Jamie Carpenter’s life was violently upended when he was brought into Department 19, a classified government agency of vampire hunters that was formed to deal with a little problem . . . known as Dracula.
But being the new recruit at the Department isn’t all weapons training and covert missions. Jamie’s own mother has been turned into a vampire – and now Jamie will stop at nothing to wreak revenge on her captors. Even if that means facing down Dracula himself.
The Rising is a fast, furious, can’t-turn-away thrill ride that will suck readers in just like a video game. This riveting second book in the Department Nineteen series is packed with cutting-edge gadgets, international locales, and daredevil action that tumbles ferociously across the page – perfect for fans of Darren Shan and Anthony Horowitz.
Purchase The Rising: Amazon | B&N