Tuesday, October 27, 2009

#26 of 2009: Drop Dead Gorgeous by Wayne Simmons

I’ve been on a real indie book bender lately. There’s something refreshing about small press novels that I really enjoy, be it the DIY spirit of the venture in general or the groundbreaking ideas that the books themselves contain. I think one of the things that grabs me the most about the small press world is the sheer amount of heart and dedication that go into the production, a feeling that’s miles and miles away from the cold, corporate feel that sometimes radiates from Big Publishing.

Don’t get me wrong, corporate entities have their place, I suppose, but small presses give me a warm and fuzzy feeling inside, even when they’re printing things that shouldn’t generate that kind of response.

Drop Dead Gorgeous, published by Permuted Press, is one such book. I loved it, every page and every minute spent with my nose buried in it, but damn is this one of the most heartbreaking books I’ve ever read. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite so bleak before, despite having read literally hundreds of horror novels from my teen years to this day.

DDG is, essentially, the story of a zombie outbreak in and around Belfast, Northern Ireland, but what makes it so unique (and, in my opinion, chillingly effective) is that the focus throughout remains squarely on the characters. Two high school kids, a tattooist, a radio DJ, an aging Loyalist soldier, an IRA supporter, a retired college professor, a twenty-something slacker and several others have found themselves alone, the rest of the citizenry suddenly dead for reasons unknown. People have fallen in their homes, keeled over at the wheel of their cars and dropped dead on the streets, all for little to no reason. Bodies are left to rot where they lay as the city’s infrastructure shuts down, and the survivors hole up in enclaves scattered throughout the country.

Some of the bodies, however, defy the rotting process, and become more and more beautiful with each passing day...

I don’t think I read the word ‘zombie’ once during the whole novel, though I could be wrong about that. My point to this is, though, that the reanimated dead are never treated as the shamblers found so often in Romero-style zombie stories. Nor are they swift-footed zombies, tearing after human survivors while screaming and clawing at the air. They’re dangerous, to be sure, and sometimes form mobs, but the reanimated women are wholly original creatures. Inside their non-living brains reside memories, albeit seemingly hidden ones, and when they return to life their former emotions come very much into play.

DDG is a very slow burn. The horror doesn’t come into play for quite some time, instead focusing on the people who’ve found themselves thrown into chaos and the things they must do to ensure their own survival. These are people who have lost loved ones, sometimes their entire families, and must now make do with a life without camaraderie or the comforts they once took for granted. Simmons handles this heartbreakingly well. Several times I found myself feeling real pity for his characters, wanting them to somehow find their way to happiness. There were times, as well, when I almost didn’t want to turn the page, knowing fully well that in horror novels those that die often outweigh those that survive to see The End.

DDG is a wild, highly emotional ride that I’m very glad to have taken. Its sequel, DOLL PARTS, is forthcoming, and I’ll be picking it up the moment it hits Amazon.

5/5

Once again, this review comes with an interview as well. This is another area where indie publishing tends to trump its corporate brethren - small press people are way more accessible, in general, and several have been kind enough to grant interviews. The following is a conversation I had with Wayne Simmons on the topics of writing techniques, DDG, tattoos and future projects.


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First of all, thank you for giving me the opportunity to pick your brains like this. This is very cool.

Not at all. In fact, the pleasure’s mine! Thanks to you for taking such an interest in DDG!

I'd also like you to know that I couldn't put this amazing book down all day and neglected college coursework to finish it, so when I get lackluster grades it's going to be your fault.

Hahah! I’ll write a letter to your tutor, explaining everything. Weirdly, I’ve done a bit of tutoring, myself. I’m a fully trained teacher, as it happens!

What's your writing process like? Do you work off notecards, outlines, write organically, etc?

It’s chaotic… I use a lot of free-writing to develop the characters. Just scribbling, randomly, to conjure up scenarios and fill out their personalities. I’m very much into writing solid, believable, likable or hateful characters, and allowing them to drive the story. That’s what I like to see in a book, myself.

I’ll have a basic outline of where I want to go, with a project, but I’m always willing to adapt that according to where the characters decide to take me. Writing in this way keeps the story fresh for me, and I hope that transfers across to the experience of the reader, too.



How long did it take you from concept to rough draft, and from rough draft to finished manuscript?

It took about a year to actually write, then self-edit DDG. With this being my debut novel, much of this process involved finding my own voice as a writer, and then feeling confident with using it. Once the completed manuscript was passed to Permuted, it took about another year to get everything in place, from their end, including assigning an editor to the book (the very talented Travis Adkins). I have enjoyed working with Permuted – they have treated me very well, making my first splash into the horror market very enjoyable and enlightening.

How many ideas did you go through? Did you nail the story on the first try, or did you switch things around a bit?

The ending was changed, according to the wishes of Permuted. They found the original conclusion a little vague, and unsatisfying. I was going for subtle, but it obviously wasn’t working! It was at that stage, I introduced the character of Herbert Matthews to the story – the agoraphobic professor. He’s become one of the book’s favourite characters for a lot of readers, so it was clearly a good move in bringing his story into the final cut. He also helped to bring a more satisfying sense of closure to the first part of the story, as well as setting up a clear direction and purpose for the sequel…

This is a very, very unconventional zombie tale. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen anything even remotely similar. How did you come to this story idea?

Thank you! To be honest, the story idea came about because I’m an awkward bugger! I wanted to make things difficult for myself, as a writer, to try and create a fearsome creature out of a breed of undead who were not ugly and repulsive looking, but instead outrageously beautiful…

I guess I didn’t want to write a traditional zombie tale, much as I love to read such. I wanted to do something different, something bizarro in its feel. I was watching (and reading) a lot of Asian horror, at the time of writing DDG, and I’m quite sure the likes of Sadako from Ringu inspired the kind of ‘zombie’ I wanted in my book.

Ultimately, though, the undead are more of a backdrop to this part of the story. We see them move more into the forefront in the sequel. DDG, however, is more about the characters – how these every day, flawed anti-heroes react towards each other, within a broken, confusing and brutally silent world.

When I write, I generally write characters with attributes of people I've met or been close to in real life (disgruntled office workers, everyday women, men who love porn and PC games, etc). Did you know people like Roy, Mairead, Sean and Star in Belfast?

Sub-consciously, I’m quite sure I do know people like them. However, none of the characters were based on any one person in particular. When I write, I try to get right into the personality of the character, myself. In fact, I almost take on their personality, much like I would imagine is achieved through method-acting. It’s a draining way to write, but one I find very effective in achieving fully fleshed out, three-dimensional people to drive the story. Of course, the hard part is often in saying goodbye to these people you’ve created, and shared a journey with. Killing off characters you’ve breathed so much life into can be a bitch.

You've got, amongst others, a Republican IRA supporter, a Loyalist soldier, a retired Engineering professor, a disc jockey and a tattooist for main characters. How much research did you need to do to get inside the characters' heads?

I did a little research into the political side of the book, just to remind myself how things were playing out, here in Belfast, during the time the novel was set (Summer 2005). Apart from that, I did some research into the technical side of Herbert’s savvy with radios, and in particular HAM radios. With the tattoo artist character, I was very careful to make sure the scenes involving her profession were written with integrity. Thankfully, I’ve quite a number of friends who are tattoo artists, and so was able to run the technical detail of the tattooing scenes past them before signing the manuscript off. I owe people like Dan Henk, Jan Moat and Chris O a lot for that very specialist input.

Seeing as how horror is (usually) very male-oriented, I was struck by how many strong female characters you had in Drop Dead Gorgeous. How did these badasses come about?

I’ve no idea! It wasn’t intentional, really. I suppose, what I would say, is that I’ve always enjoyed the work of people like Joss Whedon, who is well renowned for writing strong female characters, and writing them well. Also, the Asian Horror industry hosts a lot of strong female leads, and it’s a sub-genre I particularly enjoy.

You write female characters very well. I always worry when writing male characters that I'm somehow screwing up and making them a bit cartoonish, though I'm not sure if that's true or not. How difficult was that for you?

Thank you, Jessica – coming from a female, that means a lot to me! I guess I just try to put myself into the position of the character, and have them act accordingly (male/ female/ otherwise). If it doesn’t feel real to me, I go another direction. Within DDG, of course, some of the strongest characters are neither female nor male. The Rain and The Silence are personified and play pivotal roles within the book.



Horror stories are full of bloodshed and death. Did you have any difficulties killing any of your characters?

Absolutely! To the point where some of the characters, originally billed for the scrap yard, actually ended up crawling across the finishing line in DDG

Of course, as a writer you can often see potential in someone that goes beyond what their initial role within the story had been, especially when the story gives birth to a potential sequel. Take Spike from Buffy, for example. Joss Whedon had originally intended him to be a one season bad guy, to be killed off in the middle of season 2, as I recall. And look how much of a pivotal role he ended up having…

Where did the jewelry line idea come from?

I interviewed Gracie from TORTURE COUTURE for Pretty Scary a few years ago. She was introduced to me by the editor of Pretty Scary, who wanted me to chase up a feature with her. Gracie was such a delight to interview. She was very kind to send my girlfriend some free gifts from her range, so we just ended up keeping in touch after the interview. When DDG was accepted by Permuted, I thought that it would be cool to introduce a range of clothing and accessories, inspired by the book. I basically asked Gracie if she would be keen to work with me on it, and she loved the idea. And, so, we went from there!

I'm less of a tattoo person and more of a piercing fanatic, though I plan on getting inked at some point in this life. How much of your own experience with tattoos bled into the story? How many tattoos do you actually have?

I guess, as an author, I will write about the things I enjoy – and I love getting tattooed! It’s difficult to count my tattoos. They all join into each other! At present, I have almost covered my upper torso, with the exception of my back. My most recent tattoo – ongoing work on my chest piece – has lapped onto my neck. I’ve also got a tattoo on my calf. And I’ve no plans of stopping any time soon! Most of my tattoos are inspired by my love of horror. So, I not only live, breathe, read and write horror – I also (literally) cover myself with it! Ain’t that dedication!?!

Where did you get the idea to go to tattoo magazines for reviews? Have they all been receptive?

I knew that the tattoo and alternative scene would be interested in the book because of its lead character, Star, being both punk and tattoo artist. So, I approached all of the major tattoo magazines that you see on the newsstands and drummed up a bit of interest. Magazines like Total Tattoo, Skin Deep, Skin & Ink and Pinstriping and Kustom Graphics have featured reviews and previews on the book – all of which have been very positive. I was also very fortunate to host a book signing at the recent Liverpool Tattoo Convention and hope to return there next year. I’m really pleased at how welcoming the scene has been to DDG and am delighted tattoo artists and enthusiasts, alike, are enjoying the book.

Please tell me there's more where this came from. You can't leave me hanging like this, damn it.

Yep! I’m almost finished the final draft of DOLL PARTS (DDG 2). It should be released by Permuted Press sometime in 2010. For further details, keep an eye on my interactive website.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

#25 of 2009: The Apocalypse Shift by Derek J. Goodman

I have an appreciation for all things indie. Since my middle school days, I’ve had a fondness for DIY publishing ventures, from photocopied zines to chapbooks to local music tapes. For a while, once the Internet really took of, it seemed to me like sources of homebrew goodness were drying up.

This year, ironically due to the Internet, I found several small press publishing ventures that are not only alive but thriving. Permuted Press and Library of the Living Dead put out some very awesome books, and I’ve recently had the awesome opportunity of meeting in person or talking online with several of these very cool authors.

I picked up a copy of Derek J. Goodman’s horror-comedy novel The Apocalypse Shift at Horror Realm, a local zombie-themed convention here in Pittsburgh. It’s out under Library of the Living Dead’s Library of Horror imprint, a section of the catalog dedicated to all things non-zombie in horror literature.

Caleb works the night shift at the local OneStop convenience store in the middle of a section of the city called the Hill. On the Hill, some (hell, most) of the residents are a bit unusual. Most of them aren’t even human. Vampires, werewolves, zombies, tentacled demons and others roam the streets at night, sometimes as regular residents and OneStop customers and sometimes as something a bit more sinister. The night shift is always full of supernatural mayhem, but when Caleb’s penchant for keeping “trophies” from their battles backfires, the crap hits the fan in such a way that life on the Hill may never be the same again. Now it’s up to Caleb, his zombie-loving coworker Phil and their former-coworker-turned-stripper Gloria to track the trophies down before they’re used to nefarious ends. All this, and Caleb has to keep from annoying Gloria enough to get a second date.

It’s a shame that horror and comedy aren’t blended together more often. When done right, it’s absolutely amazing, and that’s exactly what The Apocalypse Shift is. Imagine what Clerks would be like with an extended cast of supernatural freaks and weirdos, minus the donkey sex and sodomy jokes, and this is what you would end up with. It’s a wild, hilarious ride that grabbed me from the first page and kept me from putting it down until I was finished. There were places in the book where I could not stop giggling, and anyone around me while I was reading it probably assumed I’d gone a bit off my rocker.

Like most indie/DIY publishing efforts, The Apocalypse Shift has a grittier appearance than your run-of-the-mill corporate publishing venture. Library of Horror uses a font that’s slightly larger than I’m used to, and there are the occasional issues with spacing between words and subtle word choices that caught my eye. However, this did little if anything to detract from the overall experience, and anyone with a love of indie publishing knows their appeal is in the innovative storytelling and not the overall polishing of the package. Hell, some of my own best short stories have been published in magazines employing little more than a Xerox machine and a brightly-colored sheaf of heavy stock paper for a cover, and I still cherish them to this day. Typesetting aside, Library of Horror goes all out with the size of their books. Apocalypse Shift (and all of the other Library titles that I’ve seen) are published in a nice trade size, with high quality paper and attractive, glossy covers.

Copies of all Library titles can be found on Amazon, as well as some on shelves locally at Joseph Beth Booksellers.

For anyone with a love of horror and humor, I can’t recommend The Apocalypse Shift enough.

5/5

On top of the awesomeness that is The Apocalypse Shift, the author is a damn nice guy. One of the great things about indie and small-press writers is that they’re usually cool enough to grant interviews, and what follows is a conversation he and I recently had about his book, his love of horror and comedy and the weirdness that is the service industry.

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First of all, thank you for the interview. This is really cool.

No problem whatsoever. I'm excited for this, too.

I met you this year at Horror Realm. How did you like the convention?

I loved it. I've been to a few conventions before, but this was the first time I was ever at one in any sort of "guest" capacity. I got to meet a lot of other authors face to face for the first time. All the other Library of the Living Dead authors especially were amazing. As this was my first non-self-published novel, I was very nervous and kind of felt like the new kid. But the Library authors and editors and such all feel like one big family, and I'm so glad I got to be a part of it. I also got to meet and talk with some of the people from Permuted Press, as well as S. G. Browne and Jonathan Maberry. Of course, one of the biggest highlights for me was how many copies of the book sold.

Apocalypse Shift sold completely out! How many copies were there at the con? Did you expect that kind of response?

No, I really didn't. I'm not sure of the exact amount of copies Dr. Pus had there, although he said it was somewhere around fifteen. I probably had fewer books than others because it was so new and untested yet, but I figured I might be able to move most of them by the end of the con. Instead I sold the last one somewhere around 4 p.m. on the second day. I was shocked and very happy. I'm not really sure how that happened, but I think it might be because the premise of the book was so different.

Why the mix of horror and comedy? You don't often see the two together, though when they're done right they're almost like peanut butter and jelly. It's a shame it's so difficult to pull off.

Well, for me, it feels more difficult to write straight-up horror. I can sometimes be kind of a quiet person, especially when I don't know the people around me very well, and even though I usually break out of my shell eventually I still bottle up a lot of my inner sarcasm and humor. So it has to go somewhere, and it comes out in my writing. Also, too, when I spend a lot of time working on a few more serious stories I eventually need to just bust loose. All my Apocalypse Shift stories were sort of designed specifically to be a place where I could do that. The novel has a few places where it takes serious turns, but mostly I'm using it to joke about horror clich├ęs. It's me writing a love letter to horror and urban fantasy while at the same time giving it a firm jab in the ribs.

How did you meet Dr. Pus and come to have your book put out by Library of Horror?

That kind of happened in a round-about way. The first Apocalypse Shift story I ever wrote, a novelette called "The All-Night, One-Stop Apocalypse Shop," was accepted for Permuted Press's reprint anthology Best New Tales of the Apocalypse. That was my first real introduction to Permuted, and I started hanging out on their forums. From there I saw a call for stories for one of Dr. Pus's anthologies for Library of the Living Dead- this would have been for Zombology II- and I figured I'd send something in, a story I'd had sitting around forever that I just couldn't sell. It was called "Ashes to Ashes, Pixie Dust to Pixie Dust," and it was about zombie fairies. It was the sort of bizarro thing I didn't think anyone but myself would actually like, but Dr. Pus loved it. He started do a lot more anthologies after that, and I submitted something to almost every one. Then he decided to start up the Library of Horror imprint for horror that wasn't specifically about zombies, and I thought that since he liked everything else I'd sent him so far it wouldn't hurt to see if he was interested in The Apocalypse Shift. He apparently loved that, too.

How long did it take you to write The Apocalypse Shift?

Depends on how you think of it. I originally came up with the idea in 2003, but at that point I wasn't thinking of it as a novel. It was just the novelette. When I wrote it I had a blast, and I thought there was a lot more I could do with it. So I started tinkering with the idea of making it a series of short stories. I wrote another one, "The Power Pastry," and that one ended up selling before "The All-Night, One-Stop Apocalypse Shop" did. After those two I set it aside for a while, but the idea of making a novel had crept into my head. I jotted down a good portion of the first chapter in… I'm not sure, maybe 2005? But it got pushed aside again in favor of other things. Still, I absolutely loved the idea and always intended to go back to it. Finally, in 2008, I decided that if I wanted to eventually make a living at writing then I was going to need a new novel. I'd written some more experimental novels at that time, but I wanted one that people could jump right into. I remembered how much I loved The Apocalypse Shift and go back into it. I did maybe two or three chapters and then got sidetracked again. When I picked it back up and finally got serious about it, the rest of the book came together in less than two months. A very herky-jerky way to write, I guess, but that's just how it works with me. I get distracted easily.

How do you write? Do you use outlines, notecards, wing it, employ some other technique? How many drafts did you go through?

Most of the time I'm completely a "wing it" sort of author. I start out with a basic idea, maybe some simple thoughts on the characters, and then I just start going. I never know how it's going to turn out before I start. For me that's part of the fun with writing, that I get to find out what's happening at only a slightly faster pace than the reader. The deeper I get into my Apocalypse Shift universe, however, the more I find that approach not working so well anymore. I've started to keep a detailed "bible" of the universe so I can get all the details right, and it included everything from timelines to the characters' eye colors to maps of the Hill. And I've got a very rough outline of where I intend to go with the stories, as the geek in me wants it all to add up in the end with lots of clues along the way. So I think my writing style is evolving.

When I was in college I worked at a convenience store called the Cozy Corner. We had some interesting characters come in, but they mostly were obsessed with lottery tickets. Have you ever worked in a place like OneStop?

Absolutely. The entire series is based around a year I spent working the graveyard shift at a 7-11 in a rough section of a major city. It's the worst job I've ever had, but as time went on I looked back at it with a certain fondness simply because it was so damned interesting. This was a part of the city that was so bad that the store never ever got robbed, simply because the cops were already there busting somebody nearby for something or other. On the south side of the store was a crack house. On the east and west sides there were a pair of bars called the Snake Pit and the Netherworld. A few blocks to the north was the major street you went to if you were looking for drugs or prostitutes. The city was trying to clean the neighborhood up when I left, but while I was there it was crazy. I could tell a lot of stories about that place. I eventually thought to myself that it was so nuts that things like vampires or werewolves or zombies could have walked in and they would have been no more strange than anything else that happened there. And that's where the whole idea for the Apocalypse Shift came into being.

How did you come up with some of your more outrageous minor characters? Flying armadillo demons, rats with tentacled faces, biker mad scientists and violent gangs of were-rabbits aren't very common.

In the very first Apocalypse Shift story, a lot of the minor characters, and even one or two of the major ones, were based on actual people I remembered from the real store. Some of them still are, and I also base some on other customers from other places I've worked, as I've worked in the service industry for a long time. With my more recent stuff like the novel, though, the minor characters come more from a combination of customer archetypes- I mean, anyone who has worked in the service industry long enough has run into that one person who always comes in and pays with fricking pennies- with a lot of the horror, sci-fi, and fantasy I read. I guess I just run into a point where I say, "Okay, I need something here. What archetypes can I mash together in a combination I haven't seen before?" If the idea makes me laugh out loud as soon as I think of it, then it might just work.

How did you manage to keep track of all the weirdness while you were writing?

It did get tough. That's part of the reason I had to create that aforementioned "bible." The twelve artifacts that everyone chases after through the whole book were a pain in the butt all by themselves, and there's a whole section in the bible about where exactly each artifact is at every single moment of the final battle in the novel. I had to revise certain sections over and over when I realized that, for example, a naked mad scientist running barefoot through the city streets would need a little more time to get from the bar to the OneStop. The details became very important, because I'm a nerd like that. I know that if I were reading this I would latch on to all the bizarre little details that make up the world, so I would have to assume that others would do that, too.

Some of your other characters seem very familiar, two in particular. I take it you were influenced as a kid by Sesame Street and the miniseries of Stephen King's It?

My mom has a funny story about me and Sesame Street. She says that one night when I was very small she was walking past my room and heard a strange noise from inside. She peeked her head in and found me doing an impression of the Count in my sleep. So yeah, Sesame Street was a big one for me. I don't really want to give that part away to anyone who hasn't read the book yet, as it seems to be the part so far that most people get the biggest laugh from, but I do love the Count. It occurred to me that, being a vampire, someone like him could definitely have a home on the Hill but would be looked at very differently thanks to his, um, "idiosyncrasies."

As for It, I'm a gigantic fan of Stephen King. If not for him I wouldn't be a writer. I started reading him when I was twelve and more than any other writer he has been the one that drove my imagination. The character you are talking about in The Apocalypse Shift wasn't originally intended to be a parody of anything from It. That character was first introduced as a completely separate joke in "The Power Pastry." When I got to this scene you are talking about, however, I needed for the young character watching to see something just incredibly bizarre, something that would warp him for the rest of his life. A clown demon and an elven hooker seemed like they would work just fine. And I since I had a clown here, I simply couldn't help throwing in an It joke. I guess it was sort of a way of saying "I love you, Stephen, and thank you!"

You have to be a fan of Clerks. Dante or Randal?

I think there's a part of every service industry employee that wishes they could be Randal, that guy who says what he really thinks about the people around him no matter how inappropriate it might be. But I've always identified much closer with Dante. I suppose that's not really a good thing, since he lets everyone walk all over him, but it's like he's trying to suffer all the crap around him with dignity. He fails miserably, but at least he tries.

Is the Hill based on any real section of city you've been in?

Yep, but you're not going to get me to tell you which city or section. I've put a lot of clues in, though. The names of most major locations and places have been changed, mostly so I don't have anyone eventually trying to sue me or something, but the layout of my fictional Hill is almost exactly like the real one. If someone were to discover which city and neighborhood it's based on, they could go there and find Leechman and Senator Parks exactly where I described them. They might even find the OneStop, although I hear that the 7-11 I based it on is closed down now. All the street names are even the same. I only took a few liberties with geography when the story called for it.

Have you ever managed to solve a Rubik's Cube?

I don't think so, but the big Rubik's Cube craze was when I was pretty small. I was more fascinated with how the things worked than I was with solving them. I've recently seen them in stores again, and I've been tempted to pick one up just because of the importance of the one in the novel, but those things are going for like ten dollars now. I just can't make myself pay that much for a multi-colored cube that doesn't even change reality. If it did change reality when you solved it, then I might put up the cash.

Whore yourself out like an elven hooker. What are you working on now?

This year has been really productive for me, so I've got a lot of things coming out. I've got a lot of stories coming out in various anthologies for Library of the Living Dead/Library of Horror, including Horrorology, Zombology III, and Scroll of Anubis to name just a few. I've also got a story coming up in the anthology Things We Are Not, which should be available any day now. This is an antho of GLBT themed sci-fi stories, and from what I've seen of it so far I think it is going to be phenomenal. I really suggest that people check it out. As far as novels, I've got several I'm working on at the same time in my short-attention-span fashion. One I hope to have out early next year is The Reanimation of Edward Schuett, which is my attempt at a more serious novel. It takes place fifty years after the zombie apocalypse and chronicles the story of a man who came back from being a zombie, and what philosophical implications that would have on the world. Also, in January 2011 the Crucible, an industrial arts group based in Oakland, will be doing an opera based on my short story "Dea Ex Machina." It will be part of their Fire Opera series, which from what I've seen of clips on YouTube, are truly fantastic spectacles. I'm really excited about this one, and with any luck I'll have the original story available in a new edition before the opera is performed.

Any plans on another Apocalypse Shift book?

Definitely. As I wrote this one I saw very clearly several events that would happen in the future of these characters. And for every funny detail I put in, I came up with a whole backstory in my head to explain why it was there. So there will not only be more books but also more stories. The books will bring these characters forward, and over time expose a larger story arc that I hinted at a few times in this book. I intend for the series to be maybe five or six books, because I have a very definite plan for the last two books. The stories will then fill in background, and possibly give us more information on many of the side characters. I've already written two of them, and they will be appearing soon in a pair of Library anthologies. The anthology Zombie Feary Tales will feature my story "Abomination in Bootz," which focuses on the second shift clerk Kelly and shows where Caleb got one of the artifacts. The other story "And the Streets Will Run Red With the Blood of Bunnies," will appear in War Wolves, and it will show both how Gloria originally met the Senator Park Lunatics and just why everyone is so damned scared of were-bunnies. After that, who knows. I've created a giant playground with the Apocalypse Shift, and I have every intention on continuing to play in it.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

#24 of 2009: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

One of the hardest things about reviewing Murakami’s work after reading it is finding a way to quantify and categorize the story into something coherent.

Let me just say this - I read it, all six hundred plus pages, and I liked it quite a bit. Still, I came off with the impression that I missed some things, which isn’t all that unusual seeing as that’s how every one of my post-read reactions has gone down with him.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is about, amongst other things, a missing cat, a missing wife, a story-within-a-story about Japan’s creation of and involvement in Manchukuo, psychics, psychic prostitutes, morbid high school girls, a vaguely creepy scholar-cum-politician and a bird (species unknown) that has a call that sounds much like the winding of a spring.

There are also multiple references to Cutty Sark Scotch whisky, for really no reason I could fathom.

A fan of Murakami’s other works will find a lot to love in this giant whopper of a novel. Those put off by the sheer vagueness of his plots, though, will be driven up the wall. There’s a lot going on in this novel, but much of it feels separate from its other parts. There’s a slight feeling of interconnectedness between the characters and settings, even over large spans of chronological time, but there isn’t much in the narrative to back this up. The end result is a feeling of pieces of story floating alongside each other, nearly touching but never quite able. Which isn’t to say this is a bad book, or a book not worth reading. Really, quite the contrary. It’s a great book, a lot of fun to read, and the pages go by quickly without bogging readers down.

The trick to enjoying Murakami lies in the old adage “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” That really is the key to picking up and getting the most out of his books. There’s nothing ever concrete about them. Most of his plots can be boiled down to this short summary - A man, a completely average, somewhat slackerish man, meets some other people, goes some places, a ton of weird things happen and he comes back home. The end. Oh, and there will be references to jazz music, women’s ears (don’t ask) and brands of alcohol.

Don’t expect a plot that defines and explains everything and you should be all right. The Wind-Up Bird isn’t any different in structure than any of his other books (with the exception of South of the Border, West of the sun, which I loathed and blogged about elsewhere when I first read it last year or the year before), and isn’t about to go off giving readers concrete explanations about why things happen the way they do. They just happen. It’s all very organic and arty, I suppose, but for those who enjoy tangible stories with dramatic conclusions it’s going to be annoying.

It worked well enough for me.

3/5

And now on to a complete change of pace. I’ve managed to amass quite a pile of horror novels (focusing on zombies in particular), and I’ll be taking a run at those now that I’ve got two Must Reads out of the way. It’s been too long since I read a brand new horror novel and I’m really looking forward to immersing myself in them.

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