wrath

Come Back to Me

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UPDATE: This film went up on Netflix a month or two ago. Of course, I made time for it as soon as I found out! Not a bad film–the book was better, of course, as it often is–and certainly worth at least one viewing.
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Fun fact about your humble scribe: I don’t watch much in the way of horror movies. I’m a huge fan of television shows like The Walking Dead and Dexter, and of course I read the crap out of the genre, but my taste in movies tends toward science fiction and crime, with some action thrown in. Not sure why I’m wired that way, but I am. Makes date night a little easier, at least, since my missus hates the scary stuff.

I say all this to help emphasize how much I’m looking forward to this move right here: Come Back to Me. It’s based on a novel by Wrath James White, The Resurrectionist. Long-time readers might remember me writing about another book of Wrath’s Succulent Prey, and how hard-core it screwed with my head. You can read that here, if you’re interested in a very short list of books that do to me what (hopefully) I do to you at least some of the time. I also reviewed The Resurrectionist shortly after it came out, and while you’re there, you might as well buy a copy too, because it’s a great book. Finally, Wrath’s psycho killer books were at least a small influence on Skinjumper, my upcoming debut novel which features a crazed murderer as well. Here’s a little bit about the book, just to pique your interest further:

Dale has the miraculous ability to heal and raise the recent dead. But he’s also insane. When he uses his power to brutally kill the woman next door, night after night, no one will believe her impossible story, so it’s up to her to find a way to end the living nightmare.

Come Back to Me will be released in select theaters and on-demand services near the end of the month. I only hope I’ll be able to see it for myself sooner, rather than later. After you’re done hitting all the links I’ve just thrown at you, check out the short trailer for the film. It looks like it could be a fairly faithful representation of the novel…something else that makes me very happy.

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The Only Three Books to Seriously Mess Me Up

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Author’s Note: I came across this guest blog while answering a friend’s question about Stephen King books on Facebook, and realized I’d never brought it over here for safekeeping. So, you get it now. It originally appeared on the Undead Rat’s website, preceded the previous day by a review of WILD, the book I was touring (virtually) for in March 2011.

Let’s face it; when you write the scary stuff like I do and review horror books on a regular basis, it’s easy to… take the chills for granted, so to speak, or to become jaded. Kinda like how you can eat your dinner while watching the evening news because you see the same murders and genocide night after night.

Now, there have been quite a few novels that made me cringe; I made the mistake of reading Brian Keene’s Urban Gothic and J.F. Gonzalez’ Survivor while eating meals, for instance. Grossing me out isn’t the same as really sticking with me, though, and while I don’t want to take anything away from the authors I enjoy reading every week, I read horror for entertainment and only three books come to mind as having actually horrified me.

I first encountered Pet Sematary by Stephen King while in high school, though the novel was released the year after I was born. I’d been reading horror for a couple of years by this point, was a freshman at a local Catholic high school and routinely broke the religion teacher (a priest)’s balls by ignoring his lessons in favor of Stephen King but still maintaining an ‘A’ average. Even at that age I didn’t lay awake for hours after reading a horror novel or get creeped out by reading about the various bad guys.

However, I almost didn’t finish Pet Sematary, the story of a family’s dealings with an ancient Native American burial ground. I put it down about 2/3 of the way in and couldn’t pick it back up for two months, as I recall. Imagine how gratified I was when I discovered that King almost didn’t publish the book and considers it the most horrifying of his works.

Last year I had the pleasure of personally telling Jack Ketchum how affected I was by his novel The Girl Next Door. In return, he shared with me how affected he was by the real-life story that inspired the book, of a girl in 1965 Indianapolis tortured to death by a family friend and her children. My autographed mass-market paperback of the book is probably my favorite signed book of all because of the impact the story had on me, but I have to admit it’s the book I’m least likely to ever read in public again.

The first time I read the book I didn’t know what to expect; I’d heard good (bad?) things about it, but I read horror daily, you know? There were certain points in the story that I reached while sitting in a large group of people, praying that no one would look over my shoulder and see what a sick freak I was, while at the same time unable to put the damn thing down.

Finally, Succulent Prey by Wrath James White really did me in, to such an extent that I still found myself thinking about it weeks later. It starts out intriguingly enough, with an unorthodox theory about the propagation of serial killers, but quickly degenerates into a horrifying string of brutal cannibal episodes interwoven with the protagonist’s quest to discover whether serial killers create other serial killers.

Wrath’s a good writer, but so are a lot of the other authors I read for fun, too. There’s something about cannibals that really screws with me, though; I guess everyone has their thing, right? For some people, it’s clowns. Succulent Prey not only has the gore-factor going for it, but the emotional impact of the story, especially the end, was the icing on the cake.

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May Reviews

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Zombie Bitches From Hell by Zoot Campbell takes an atypical, if not completely new, take on the zombie apocalypse—only women become zombies, and they’re vulnerable via the ovaries instead of the brains—and stirs in the usual survival-fight plotlines, resulting in a decent afternoon-killer of a novel. It’s confusing at times—at one point in the story, a little girl becomes part of the survival party without any mention of the rest of her family or why she was brought along, and Campbell doesn’t make full use of his characters; at least once, the aformentioned little girl isn’t even mentioned in a major scene, and later, she’s used in a manner that would have had far more impact had she been better developed. I’d never unleash a novel on the world in this state, but it does get points for not being so bad I had to put it down unfinished.

Hero by Wrath James White and J.F. Gonzalez throws an elderly black civil rights activist into the direct path of a mixed-race hospice nurse with a psychopathic hatred of African Americans. Those familiar with White and Gonzalez will probably expect a bit more graphic nastiness than Hero provides. It’s still plenty disturbing, however—reminiscent of Stephen King’s Misery, though antagonist Natsinet is anything but activist Adelle’s Number One Fan. While not as over-the-top as other works by these authors, this seamless collaboration packs in enough torture, dismemberment and murder to satisfy any discerning appetite.

While I find the novella to be Brian Keene‘s least fulfilling storytelling medium (I eagerly anticipate his every novel and have enjoyed every short story and comic he’s written, though), The Cage feels most like a complete story of the ones I’ve read. A lunatic gunman walks into an electronics store at closing time, wastes two of its eight employees, and locks the other six up in the back room. He retrieves them one at a time, leaving the rest to wonder what’s going on at the front of the store—until it’s their turn, of course. Cage is part of Keene’s Labyrinth mythos, though I’m not going to spoil it by mentioning which of the Thirteen the story involves. As with every Keene novella I’ve read, it left me wanting more (which I guess is more of a compliment than a complaint), but at least it read like a complete story, while a couple others I’ve read seem more like part one of a novel that would be seriously badass if finished.

Genital Grinder by Ryan Harding is a collection of eight stories most would consider “torture-porn.” Prefaced with an introduction by veteran splatter author Edward Lee, Grinder is by no means in the same category as the thought-provoking but sadistic works horror fans have read by Wrath James White, Jesus Gonzalez, Richard Laymon and the like. For the most part, this collection is gross for the sake of being gross—and if you expect anything different from a book called Genital Grinder, I say the blame lies with you rather than the author. A notable deviation from this theme is the final story, First Indications, which I honestly didn’t quite grasp. The rest of the book did exactly what I was hoping it would when I cracked into it, though—it entertained me for a few hours and made me damn queasy in the process. I particularly enjoyed the references the stories made to events taking place in preceding stories, and the recurring characters Von and Greg who appeared in several pieces. If I had to pick out one standout piece, it’d be Development, which actually did have a storyline and possibly the least gratutious gore of the whole book.

Quarantined by Joe McKinney follows Detective Lily Harris and her partner, Chunk, as they investigate a mysterious death inside the walls of superflu-contaminated, quarantined, San Antonio. When the detectives uncover the secrets behind the murder, the novel turns into not only a police procedural but also a survival-escape story. In many ways, Quarantined reads like a protoype for McKinney’s Dead World zombie novels (walled-off southern Texas city, disaster outbreak, police protagonists), but this standalone novel takes place in a different world and doesn’t feature any supernatural elements at all—it’s conspiracy-driven, rather than a fight for survival against a physical threat. As usual, McKinney offers a compelling story drawn heavily from his experiences as a San Antonio homicide detective and disaster response specialist.

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Accurately Portraying Violence in Fiction

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Author’s Note: Here’s another bit from the archives for you. I screwed up earlier this year and lost several months of blog entries, and this is another of them. As I’ve been doing periodically already, I’ll continue to post such material as I rediscover it, in my Facebook Notes, on my hard drive, etc.

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L-R: Wrath James White, Me, Hank Schwaeble, Joe Lansdale, Adam Coats, Sandra Wickham, Brian Keene, Weston Ochse

A few weeks ago, I had the honor of sitting on a panel on Killing and Violence in Fiction with Wrath James White, Hank Schwaeble, Joe Lansdale, Adam Coats, Sandra Wickham, Brian Keene and Weston Ochse at the World Horror Convention. I’d known for a couple weeks that I’d be on the panel, and I did what anyone in my position would do when graced with such knowledge: I freaked the hell out. And then I gave some serious thought to what exactly I would say when the time came.

The panel, as I’ve since learned they often do, went in an entirely different direction than I’d imagined, and I didn’t say as much as I was worried I’d have to. This is for a couple of different reasons; one, the conversation drifted heavily towards the martial arts and while I have some training, I’m not a master or a trainer and don’t know enough to warrant running my mouth. Two, the guys on that panel… when some of them get to talking, I’m going to STFU and listen. But, since I didn’t want all that nervous thinking to go to waste, and this blog doesn’t write itself, here are my thoughts on the subject:

Writers have a responsibility to readers. The degree of responsibility is a matter of debate among some in the industry (see George R.R. Martin is Not Your Bitch, for example), but there are certain commitments that I feel an author makes when one chooses to publish. One is to Not Be a Dick, unless someone just comes out and asks for it. Another is to Be Gracious to Readers and Other Authors Who Are Where You Used to Be (Lord knows I’ve frequently been the beneficiary of this one). A third is to Suspend Disbelief. As a fiction writer, you enable the reader to get lost in your world, or else You’re Doing it Wrong.

As genre authors, we’re already stacking the deck against ourselves. We have to make readers believe in a world where cowboys fight zombies, werewolves exist, serial killers can resurrect their victims, etc. Why complicate matters by doing slipshod research or taking bad shortcuts that some readers are inevitably going to call us on? On the panel, I mentioned an author who sent me a story in which a husband attempted to treat his wife’s head injury with a tourniquet around the neck. We also touched upon the effect of individual rifle calibration on said weapon’s use by a third party. Whether your violence is inflicted by knives, guns, teeth or Kung Fu, the bottom line is Figure Out How it Works For Real. We have to create good fiction from scratch in most cases and hope it resonates, but the facts? We have complete control over the facts. The facts are what they are.

In terms of writing a fight… I look at it as choreography. The fights in movies and in books are staged; staged because we know the characters are going to throw down and in most cases, as creators, we know who’s going to win ahead of time.  Creating such an illusion, in film or in prose, requires thought and planning. Think about how the surroundings can affect the fight. Consider such things as momentum and how body parts bend. Think about how long (or short, to be more accurate) a real fight is likely to be.

Also, don’t think of any of this as a limitation. Think of it as freedom, and as a way to make your stories more organic and spontaneous. Take my calibrated assault rifle, for instance. Every soldier goes to the range and calibrates his or her assigned weapon to interact with his or her own visual perception. If a random civilian picks it up, say after it’s dropped in the midst of a fight with zombies, the likelihood of them scoring a headshot on a zombie that’s attacking their friend 100 meters away is unlikely, even if they’re trained in the use of that weapon. If, upon consideration, you decide to have your character use the gun anyway, a far more likely result is that your character will kill or injure their friend instead. This might not be a bad thing. It can result in a plotline or character development that will take you by surprise… and if you’re surprised by your own story, imagine how it will affect the reader! This is the sort of thing writers mean when they talk about stories writing themselves.

Just a little food for thought.

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