Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Year in Review and What's to Come in 2010

Everyone else on the Internet is making lists of favorite moments, so I might as well too.

2009 was supposed to be the year that I tackled all of those “Oh my god, you have to read this!” books on my to-be-read list. I was going to read Stephenson, Danielewski, Pynchon, DeLillo, etc.

Remember this list?

Give me a moment to stop laughing and catch my breath before I continue.

There we go. I think the giggles are subsiding. In the end, I managed to read two of those, White Noise and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Obviously, my New Year’s resolution for 2009 fell flat on its face.

I have a new resolution for the upcoming year. I resolve to read what I want to, when I want to, and not plan anything ahead. My tastes have a tendency to come and go in phases, and trying to stick to some sort of grand literary plan is an exercise in setting myself up for failure down the road. The next twelve months will be dedicated to reading whatever my book fever throws at me, be they nonfiction volumes about eating seasonal produce (I still need to finish How to Pick a Peach) or Young Adult titles I first read nearly twenty years ago (I need to tear through all those yellowed Christopher Pike novels I picked up for eighty cents apiece during Half Price Books’ 20% off sale this weekend).

To hell with lists.

Another thing that will be different next year is the rating system I use. I’ve noticed recently that I have a tendency to give out a lot of fives, which should be reserved for books that really blow me away and refuse to leave me for days after finishing them. Either I read a lot of mind blowing stuff (which is a possibility, I suppose) or I’m using a rating system that’s a bit too vague for my needs. I think the latter is more realistic, especially since I’m not a paid reviewer and tend to read what I’m already interested in. Of course these books are going to be rated higher by me than a completely objective, experienced critic. I’m already expecting to enjoy them when I pick them up, which means I’m more inclined to give them high scores when I’m done.

Next year, I’ll be using a scale of ten instead of five, reserving those perfect scores for books that really steamroll me. Most of what I gave fives to this year should really have been nines, I think. Too many fives are starting to make this little blog look lazy and, perhaps, biased. Starting with the next review, I’ll be implementing the new system. We’ll see how that works out. I’m thinking it will be a lot better than what I’ve been doing.

Also starting with the next review, the tags at the bottom of each write-up will be expanded. Author and title will still be included, of course, but genre, year of review and any other important key words (non-spoiler plot or theme words, awards won, etc) will also be included. I’ve noticed recently that the Labels column on the right-hand side of the blog is underutilized, so either I start adding more tags or I get rid of the feature altogether.

That’s about it for new things. I’m fairly fond of the XML theme I used to replace the boring old default I started off with, so that should be staying the same. Any other changes will be put in place if and when they’re needed.

With that out of the way, on to the 2009 year in review. As I said earlier, I didn’t get to the books I’d promised myself I would be reading this year. I also didn’t read the volume of books I had hope for, either. By the time the year is over, I will be at either thirty-two or thirty-three books, assuming I finish the fascinating Nevermore by Harold Schechter in the next day or two. There were a few things I posted this year that have had a lasting effect on me that I’d like to say one or two more things about before the ball drops and the books tally resets to zero.

Spook Country - Back in the late 90s, while attending college, I had a friend named Andy Fisher who loved telling a joke called, if I remember it correctly, “A Thousand White Ping-Pong Balls.” It was a joke with a hilarious punchline that took at least twenty minutes to set up. Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten most of the details of the joke, but William Gibson’s novel works much in the same way. The book spends most of its time setting up a hilarious scene at the very end that had me rolling with laughter. Comedy isn’t something that i would normally associate with a Gibson work, but this was absolutely amazing. I keep a pristine copy on my shelf and another with a battered dust jacket in my car in case I find myself somewhere without reading material. I go back to it again and again in tiny increments because it’s just that good. Nerds with a fascination for technology and a slightly skewed sense of humor cannot go wrong with this novel.

JPod - Video games, dysfunctional families, crazy coworkers and the longest-running in-joke I’ve ever employed. I cannot walk down the candy aisle of a grocery store and spot a Toblerone bar without saying, out loud, “Steve turned Toblerone around in two years!”

Machine Man - Max Barry’s experimental, online novel was great fun to read every weekday morning. Sometimes it was the first thing I laid eyes on after waking up, still nestled under my covers. It was an awesome, wacky novel with a completely original plot that I can’t wait to pick up in revised, paperback format.

Microserfs - Coupland’s early 1990s cubicle drone comedy (a predecessor to JPod, which retains a lot of the same spirit, only in an updated form) gripped me with an iron fist of nostalgia that had me laughing and remembering fondly the years of my life I wasted and will never get back. I kind of miss that ugly Geo Metro.

Liquor - This book taught me that Poppy Z. Brite will always be awesome, even if she’s left horror behind. It also taught me that reading lengthy, indulgent passages about food will cause me to drool all over myself. Brite’s husband, chef Chris DeBarr, opened up a new restaurant this year called Green Goddess that is an absolute must-visit for me once I finally make the trip down to New Orleans.

White Noise - Reading White Noise made me realize that perhaps I’m stupider than I originally thought I was. Being one of those people who “just don’t get it” stings a bit, but I’ll have to deal with it somehow. Maybe someday I’ll be up to the intellectual challenge.

Interviews. I absolutely love being able to pick the brains of the people behind the books, especially those books I’ve read and enjoyed. This year I was fortunate to have the opportunity to interview Wayne Simmons, Derek Goodman, and D.L. Snell, all really awesome guys (I’ve met Derek in person and can especially vouch for his coolness) involved in one way or another (two authors, one editor) with books I highly enjoyed reading this year.

I’m looking forward to an equally awesome 2010, only with a higher count of books read by this time next year. No more slacking. Now, back to reading.

Monday, December 28, 2009

#31 of 2009: Nightlight by The Harvard Lampoon

Sometimes you’ve got to hate something to appreciate the jokes about it.

I was late to the Twilight party. I didn’t get caught up in it until the fourth book was about to be released, picking up a softcover copy of the first book and reading up to Eclipse. I bought Breaking Dawn but there is no way in Hell I’m ever going to read it. By the time I made my way through the first three books, I was so thoroughly irritated by Meyer’s writing style, her horrible handling of both vampire and native lore and her hideous, insulting character development that I doubt I’ll ever read another sentence written by her again.

I have a tendency to get suckered into something out of sheer curiosity, which is the only reason I read beyond the first book in the first place. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. On a related note, anyone who wants my hardback copies better lay claim to them before I render them into booksafes. I’ll get more use out of them that way.

There are a million different reasons to hate the Twilight series, and I’m not going to go into them all. If you want to read some very well thought out, well written responses to Meyer’s work, check out Stoney321’s dissection of the series on Livejournal or Mark Reads Twilight So You Don’t Have To. You’ll save money, save time and retain your sanity while still being able to laugh at Twilight’s unintended hilarity.

For the few people who’ve read and enjoyed the Twilight series and have a sense of humor about it, and for those who’ve read it and hate it, there’s no better rip on the series than The Harvard Lampoon’s new book, Nightlight.

Belle Goose, a girl so clumsy and unable to control her limbs that she can’t walk through a door without self-injury, leaves Phoenix and moves to Switchblade, Oregon to be with her father, the town’s greatest (and possibly only) window-washer. Once there, she realizes that everyone in town adores her, including the mailman, the school secretary and all of her classmates. Only one person, the mysterious computer nerd Edwart Mullen, seems impervious to her blazing charm. There has to be a reason for this. He must be a vampire. Despite having little to no evidence to support her theory, Belle falls head over heels in love with him in record time, even though they’ve had almost no contact with each other outside of a few glances in each other’s direction during classes.

Thus begins the romance of a lifetime.

Nightlight is incredibly stupid, but it’s a calculating, mocking stupid. Every ridiculous line is crafted to mimic Twilight’s unintended hilarity:

He frowned and looked down at the tablecloth. “Actually, you’re the one person I can’t read. I’ve always considered myself good at looking at people’s expressions and making wild guesses as to how they feel, but you - I look at your face and try to guess what you are thinking, and all I hear is ‘BEEEEEEEEEEEEP.’ Just this giant beeping sound - the sound a medical monitor makes when you die and everything goes blank. ‘BEEEEEEEEEEEP.’ Like that.”

“Gosh, Belle. When someone asks you, ‘What’s new?’ the correct answer is, ‘not much.’ Besides, isn’t it a little soon to cut yourself off from the rest of your peers, depending on a boyfriend to satisfy your social needs as opposed to making friends? Imagine what would happen if something forced that boy to leave! I’m imagining pages and pages would happen - with nothing but the names of the month on them.”

One nice thing about my dad is, as an old person, his hearing isn’t too great. So when I closed the door to my room, unpacked, cried uncontrollably, slammed the door, and threw my clothes around my room in a fit of dejected rage, he didn’t notice. it was a relief to let some of my steam out, but I wasn’t ready to let all of it out yet. That would come later, when my dad was asleep and I was lying awake thinking about how ordinary kids my age are. If only one of them were extraordinary, then I’d be rid of this insomnia.

I could not put this book down once I'd started reading, and in the two hours it took me (including breaks for dinner and moments to breathe deeply and control my laughter) I must have burst out into at least twenty separate fits of giggling.

It takes genius to mimic stupidity, and I find it hilarious that a bunch of college kids half-assing it managed to so superbly imitate Meyer and her cast of inane, vapid characters. Nightlight is absolutely fantastic in its mockery, doing in a mere one hundred and fifty-four pages what took Meyer five hundred and forty-four to accomplish, and she was taking the endeavor seriously.


Saturday, December 26, 2009

#30 of 2009: Bangkok Tattoo by John Burdett

Sonchai Jitpleecheep is back to narrate another heinous murder in Bangkok to an unnamed Western audience in Bangkok Tattoo, the second in John Burdett’s exotic crime fiction series.

This time, the top earner at The Old Man’s club (a prostitution joint owned by Sonchai’s mother Nong and his boss, Royal Thai Police Colonel Vikorn) has returned to the bar after taking a client back to his hotel room, her once silver dress now covered in blood. The john, an American CIA operative named Mitch Turner, has been castrated and nearly eviscerated atop his hotel bed. Whatever the reason for killing him, his murderer has gone to great lengths to harm him, leaving his severed penis on the bedside table in a position seemingly, considering the circumstances, oddly respectful.

Before retiring to an unoccupied room on the upstairs floor of the Old Man’s Club, Chanya admits she murdered Turner, shouting “I’ve done him in!” before stripping off her underwear and curling up with enough opium to render a woman her size blissfully stoned for hours on end.

Nothing in a Burdett novel is quite as simple as it initially seems. Vikorn concocts a fake statement to hold onto in case the CIA find out Turner has been murdered, a document that claims Chanya was sexually assaulted and killed the man in self defense. The victim’s identification is disposed of and the body scheduled to be cremated. The Old Man’s Club is finally seeing a profit and their star whore cannot be detained in prison. So it is in Sonchai’s world, where he is the only one who refuses bribes and desperately tries to keep in the Buddha's graces while the world around him falls apart.

Sonchai and Vikorn, however, soon find that they missed one crucial piece of physical evidence on the corpse. And so begins the unraveling of Vikorn’s little cover story.

The initial coverup barely scratches the surface of Bangkok Tattoo’s twisting plot, which despite all of its detailed intrigue takes a backseat to the inner lives of its core characters. Like its predecessor Bangkok 8, the second novel revolves around the lives and loves of several people, with healthy doses of Buddhism, Islam and Western culture clash blended into the narrative. Nothing is as it seems, and what should be a simple crime is anything but.

Also included in the novel are several subtle and not so subtle subplots that are either left entirely open for the third novel, Bangkok Haunts, or are tied up in such a tenuous way that readers will assume them to be primed for further exploration at a later time. Sonchai's American GI father is mentioned in passing, and Vikorn's rivalries with other crooked officials rise to the surface here and there, hinting at further exploration in other volumes.

Once again, Burdett has written a novel that is part detective fiction, part East vs. West comparison. There have been several negative reviews for Bangkok Tattoo, mostly by Western readers, claiming that the story is a hard slam against Western culture. This reviewer, though, feels that perhaps they should lighten up a bit. It’s fiction, and obviously exaggerated for the purposes of entertainment and for bolstering an already scandalous (and somewhat controversial, in our post-9/11 culture) plot. In most fiction, though, there is a grain of truth, and perhaps readers have a slight something to gain by taking the story in with an open mind and a desire for a damn good murder story. Behind Sonchai’s “You’re deprived of X because of your culture, farang" lecturing (which is entertaining and enlightening in an “I kind of see what you mean” sort of way) is a bloody, perverse and altogether engrossing story that deserves to be read cover to cover.


Burdett’s fourth novel in the series, The Godfather of Kathmandu, hits stores in hardcover on January 12th.

#29 of 2009: The Devil You Know by Poppy Z. Brite

Sometimes, as a reader, there will be times when I want to drop myself into an immersive world full of well-written characters with a long story that will keep me occupied for days. Other times, feeling less interested in universes and plot intricacies, I find myself looking for a good short story collection to keep me entertained in smaller, much more manageable bites.

Poppy Z. Brite has been, for me, a literary mainstay for fifteen years or more. I read her novels Lost Souls and Drawing Blood for the first time back in middle school, falling completely head-over-heels in love with both her writing style and subject matter during a period in my life where I was beginning to take my own attempts at storytelling somewhat seriously. She became for me, over the next few years, a source of both inspiration and heavy-handed imitation, before I found my own style and voice and moved on to penning things that were a bit less of a rip-off of better writers’ plots.

I never did forget her stories or stop admiring her as an author. As I grew older, I branched out into other genres and styles, and I didn’t go back to her fiction as often as I used to. Some of her smaller books, the ones not released by mainstream publishers, were a bit out of my price range as well. However, she popped back into my mind every now and then, and over the last year or so I have been both revisiting the works I read as an impressionable teen and finally getting to read the books I missed between that time and now. I reviewed Drawing Blood in late 2008 and Liquor this past summer, and I have to say the magic is still there, with both the older works and the newer ones.

There’s something about a well-rounded, well-written set of short stories that suckers me in and refuses to let me go, and the collection The Devil You Know is an amazing mix of old Brite creepiness and new Brite food fetishism, with the usual strong characters and mundane-yet-bewildering settings longtime fans have come to love. Published by Subterranean Press in 2003, The Devil You Know is more “average New Orleanians in odd situations” type of stuff than it is the old horror works of Lost Souls, Drawing Blood and Wormwood (her first short story collection, which is also worth reading and is still in print), but it is still the smirkingly unsettling stuff I craved as a youth and still have the urge to read to this day. To say I was not disappointed would be a serious understatement.

A good single-author collection should have an interesting foreword to rocket the reader in the proper direction, and, like Wormwood before it, this one contains a classic. Unlike the foreword to Wormwood, which was written by Dan Simmons, The Devil You Know’s introductory section was penned by Brite herself. In these brief few pages, titled “Dispatches from Tanganyika,” Brite gives readers some background information about her writing process, her departure from the horror genre and explanations of each story and how they came to be. Before I’d even read any of the fiction between the covers, I was in a comfortable place, feeling as if I’d just returned to a home I’d never meant to stray from.

The stories in this collection run the gamut from creepy to humorous, terrifying to bittersweet. Some are meant to elicit chuckles and disbelieving shakes of the head (especially those that feature alter ego New Orleans coroner Dr. Brite and her ruminations on death and food), while others are small illuminations on the subjects of human nature and love. At times I found myself laughing, while other times I felt only bitterness or soft optimism by a story’s end. Brite is a magnificent writer who has not in any way lost her touch.

The Devil You Know also contains two short stories written using copyrighted characters for projects Brite has been involved in. “Burn, Baby, Burn,” a story that takes place during Liz Sherman’s teenage years, was written for a Hellboy anthology. “System Freeze,” taking place in the world of The Matrix, was written as a promotional piece for the now-downsized whatisthematrix site.

I’ve heard complaints from readers on various Internet forums about Brite’s common use of homosexual characters in her fiction recently, and though it honestly shouldn’t matter I feel it deserves a least a moment’s attention in this review. Yes, she prefers writing about gay men, often explicitly, and it’s certainly not going to please everyone. No, this collection isn’t any different than anything else she’s written in that regard and there’s quite a bit of none too subtle male-on-male eroticism going on. If that’s not your cup of tea, or if it bothers you to the point of distraction, look elsewhere. Mostly these comments are found in conjunction with criticisms about her so-called “Goth phase,” which is long over and really only spanned one novel (and a handful of short stories), which was also her first work of long fiction and was published while she was in her early twenties. One of the comments that still stands out in my mind went something like “She writes about underaged gay Goth kids having sex all over the place (and in great detail), and writing ‘fuck’ on their shoes as if she wants everyone to know just how cool and weird she is.” This irritated me to no end because the individual who wrote it obviously only read Lost Souls and then stopped, because that is the only book where Goth kids have a huge presence. Only one kid writes “fuck” on his shoes (Lane), and it is mentioned only briefly.

Still, the Brite-hater had a point. There’s a lot of gay sex going on in her fiction, and there always will be. Nothing wrong with that.

Readers who don’t mind (or enjoy) homoeroticism, and are looking for an eclectic collection that spans a whole array of moods and themes, should check out The Devil You Know, if they haven’t already.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

#28 of 2009: John Dies at the End by David Wong

Sometimes you hear about a book through word of mouth, not through reviews or advertisements, and it seems so interesting that you immediately go out and pick up a copy to find out for yourself just what this work is all about.

For many people, that’s exactly how they were exposed to David Wong’s John Dies at the End, a novel that began as a free online serial. I missed the boat the first two times around, both when it was online and when the print edition was first published by Permuted Press, but I recently had the opportunity to pick up the new St. Martin’s Press edition and was pleasantly surprised by what I read.

I remember, years ago while JDatE was still an online novel, people ranting and raving about how terrifying and absolutely mind blowing the story was. I have a tendency to take online opinions, especially those of people on generalized message boards, with a grain of salt, so it’s no surprise that I missed the novel in its first few iterations. However, earlier this year I found out that it was being rereleased in a gorgeous new hardcover format and, and usual, the cover caught my eye and refused to be ignored.

I bought my copy with a Barnes and Noble gift card I’d received for my birthday, slipped the cover off and tossed it into my bag, taking it everywhere with me for several weeks while I spent most of my time on campus focusing on my coursework. I’d read a chapter here and there, before classes, after classes, sitting in my car between classes when classes were cancelled. It was sporadic reading, forced to fit into the slots that my academic life allowed, and because of that I was much slower in finishing the novel than I normally would be.

So, did it stand up to the hype I’d seen lavished on it years ago? Yes and no. I didn’t find the novel to be so much terrifying as I found it to be crude, immature and utterly hilarious, with healthy doses of creepy and unsettling thrown into the mix. It didn’t feel to me like the kind of book that would keep a reader up all night fearing the movement of shadows, which for me is the very definition of terrifying. It certainly would, however, keep a reader up all night snickering at the very bizarre mental images running through their head the whole time they left the book open, which is exactly what happened with me. On more than one occasion I found myself, long after retiring the book for the night, remembering the outrageous things I'd read just a few hours before and giggling like a kid that's stayed up past their bedtime to catch something inappropriate on Cinemax.

One of the strongest points to the novel is just how convincing the two main characters, Dave and John, are. They’re far from unique individuals, and there’s a strong chance that people who read the novel will either be just like one of them or know someone who is. These are the guys who work at video stores and look down on the people renting stupid movies, the guys who when not at work drink beer, play video games and make jokes amongst each other about the impossibly massive size of their genitals. Don't lie and pretend you don't know the guys I'm talking about here, because we all know you do.

John Dies at the End is, essentially, the story of impending cataclysm with only two slackers standing in the way of utter destruction. Dave, the narrator, buys a mysterious drug (referred to as “Soy Sauce”) off of a fake Jamaican, which turns out to have both mystical properties and a malignant origin, bestowing users with extrasensory abilities before causing their very visceral deaths. At the same party, Dave finds a dog that he realizes belongs to a guy he knows named Jim Sullivan, and when he returns Molly (after reading her tag and learning her name) to her proper home, Jim’s sister Amy tells Dave that she’s worried her brother may be dead.

Things get weirder from here on in. Evil entities make appearances, and time and space shifts somewhat. The story becomes slightly hard to follow in places, but the humor keeps it afloat as more and more characters are brought in and the stakes are raised. There are excerpts of other works within the narrative, including a book by paranormal lecturer Dr. Albert Marconi and Jim Sullivan’s amateurish short story writing, which caused the loudest and longest bout of laughter to erupt from me throughout the whole book.

There's a lot more to this book, but it has to be read to be understood and appreciated. Suffice it to say, though, that it's nearly four hundred pages of penis jokes, pop culture humor and hilarious one-liners (usually uttered by John, who manages to be both moronic and strangely endearing as he charges through the story, Dave in tow) interspersed with an intricate parallel world plot that almost needs a chart to track its complexity. It's an unusual combination of cheap laughs and plot twists that manages to work where the effort of a lesser writer would have easily fallen flat.

While it may not have lived up to the “Oh my god, you guys, this is the scariest thing I’ve ever read in my life” hype for me, as a lover of crude humor and off-the-wall storytelling it hit the bullseye perfectly.

John Dies at the End still has quite the web presence despite its numerous printings, and its page is still active and updated.


What follows is a conversation between myself and D.L. Snell, editor of the Permuted edition of John Dies at the End, on the editing process and finding balance between writing and editing the work of others. Enjoy.


D.L. Snell is a writer and freelance editor at Permuted Press. He edited Dr. Kim Paffenroth twice, John Dies at the End once, and provided a constructive critique to Joe McKinney on his next major novel after Dead City. He has also edited Permuted’s Undead series. Snell’s second novel DEMON DAYS, co-authored with screenwriter/producer Richard Finney, deals with demonic possession, near-death experiences, and Armageddon. Snell’s websites are exit66.net and finneyandsnell.com.

First of all, thank you for agreeing to this interview. I haven't been given the opportunity to pick an editor's brain yet. This is very exciting for me.

No problem, Jessica! My pleasure.

How did you get into editing? What's your background like? How did you come to work with Permuted?

I started off as a writing tutor at my community college. I learned a lot about grammar, mechanics, proofreading and clarity, and more than I ever wanted to know about MLA citation. Also, I learned how to convey, both in person and online, the concepts of revision and clarity.

As an editor, I started at Permuted Press working on its first anthology The Undead. Jacob Kier liked my submission to the antho and thought I’d make a good editor--even though in my own story, the protagonist’s name changes on the second page! Anyway, my background in tutoring gives me a special edge as an editor, because I approach the job more as a teacher. I make the writer fix things. And if I fix stuff, I explain why.

I recommend tutoring to any writer or editor: you can never really know something until you’ve taught it.

How does your editing process work?

Usually to start, I read the editing project and make overall comments using Microsoft Word’s Review tools. This first round I reserve for big-picture suggestions, such as critiques on plot and characterization. (No sense in tackling grammar and mechanics on material that we’ll change, you know?) If the writer doesn’t agree with my big-picture advice, we discuss compromises until we’re both satisfied. Then the author revises. It’s important to let writers control these types of edits, so they can maintain their style and sense of ownership.

The next few stages involve line edits and proofreading. I document all of my revisions using a Review tool in Word, called Track Changes. Using this technology, the writer can quickly sort through and reject or accept my changes. If I think some revisions might be difficult for the writer to understand, I use Comments to explain my reasoning; I’ve found a higher rate of acceptance using this method.

(Here is a little demo I created on how to use Track Changes.)

Throughout the various stages of revision, I keep a copy of every round of edits, as well as the original manuscript. I even use a numbering system in the filenames to track lineage. These types of records are crucial if an author ever accuses me of a mistake or any wrongdoing. For example, if someone accuses me of adding too many urine scenes to her book, I can present the original manuscript and prove the contrary.

Am I crazy for noticing them mostly in books you've edited, or are you actually fond of semicolons? I don't often see them elsewhere these days.

Ah, you have the keen colonoscope of a proctologist! I admit I abuse semicolons. And em dashes. And urine. The writers I edit have the right to argue any semicolons I insert in their work.

Personally, I use whatever punctuation sounds best when I read something aloud. In my opinion, periods create an entirely different rhythm than semicolons.

How do you balance editing with the original work an author gives you?

My plan differs for each project, depending on my estimated volume of revisions. I always task the writer with the big-picture edits, as described earlier, but as for line edits… I have worked on books so rife with errors that by the end I could be considered a co-author. Thanks to Track Changes, all of my work is fully transparent. If the author doesn’t like a change I made, we work it out. Ninety-eight percent of the time, negotiations remain peaceful and resolve satisfactorily, whether or not I prevail.

The other two percent saddens me, because I work extremely hard to help authors improve their writing in what I believe to be a reasonable, empathetic manner--sometimes only to have it thrown back in my face. In the end, it’s my responsibility to honor an author’s wishes, and if those wishes go against Permuted’s standards, it’s better to cut ties with the author and let her do what she wants with her work. Or his. It’s the right thing to do. Unfortunately, I learned that the hard way.

Do you edit anything other than horror?

Haven’t yet. I do write in other genres, such as fantasy and sci-fi. Or I at least blend those two (and more) into my horror.

How do your personal tastes as a reader run, and does editing alter how or what you read for pleasure?

My reading tastes are eclectic: fantasy, horror, sci-fi, thrillers, mysteries, poetry.... Sometimes I only have time to read whatever I’m editing; thankfully, I’ve enjoyed almost every project.

From the editing end of the business, what do you make of the popularity of zombie fiction right now? Is this a trend, or am I just suddenly noticing what's always been there?

As with every staple of the horror genre, some new book or movie on the subject will spark interest in both readers and writers. And now more than ever, writers have more avenues to reach an audience, whether it’s through self-publishing, the small press, or podcasts; therefore, the saturation is more widespread--and the more widespread something is, the more interest it’s likely to accumulate. Up to a point, of course.

Is there anybody you haven't worked with that you'd particularly enjoy editing?

Uh, Stephen King? Kidding… sort of. Since I edit for Permuted, I’ll answer with Permuted names: I wouldn’t mind working with someone like David Dunwoody or Wayne Simmons, and the late Z.A. Recht would have been great to edit; I met Dunwoody and Recht at Horror Realm, and they both seemed like stand-up guys--and they’re great writers to boot.

I know you're also a writer. What have you written, and how long have you been involved in both writing and editing?

I’ve been writing longer than I’ve been editing. But I’ve edited more than I’ve written--it’s so much faster! However, I’ve been slowly shifting that ratio. My work appears in just about half of Permuted’s anthology line-up, and I also sold a story to Pocket Books’ Blood Lite (alongside bestsellers such as Jim Butcher and Charlaine Harris). I have two novels out as well. The first one I mock, yet cherish. The second one we’ll discuss in a minute...

Does your experience on both sides of publishing makes it easier for you as a writer?

In many ways writing is problem solving, whether it’s at the plot level or at the scope of an individual sentence. When a writer hasn’t communicated clearly and provocatively, the work needs repair. Editing has taught me to recognize problems and to observe them objectively from different angles; this makes solving the issues easier because I’ve learned to think up multiple fixes, and to predict how those fixes will affect the interlocking pieces of the story. This ability has vastly improved my own writing; my work wouldn’t be at the same level had I never edited.

Also, editing allows me to network with a variety of authors. For some of the anthologies I’ve worked on, my co-editors and I received submissions from the likes of Kevin Anderson and Simon Clark. It builds great rapport--especially when you reject them.

Tell me about this Demon Days project I keep seeing the trailer for. What was that like, collaborating with another author on a full-length project?

DEMON DAYS is my second novel, a supernatural thriller co-authored with screenwriter/producer Richard Finney. The story mixes the classic theme of demonic possession with the phenomenon of near-death experiences--and then twists them into a plot about preventing Armageddon. An extended synopsis and a sample chapter are available at finneyandsnell.com.

Collaborating with Richard Finney on DEMON DAYS was awesome. Richard’s got a great sense of business and story, and he couldn’t be a nicer, more flexible guy. We got along well throughout the process of writing the book, and we hope to do it again soon.

Do you have anything else in the works that you're able to discuss?

Yeah, a sequel to DEMON DAYS subtitled ANGEL OF LIGHT. We expect to finish it in 2010.

Thanks for the interview. This was a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to picking up more works both authored and edited by you.

Thank you--I appreciate your time!

#27 of 2009: The Rage Plague by Anthony Giangregorio

I picked up my copy of The Rage Plague at Permuted Press’ table a few months ago during the Horror Realm convention here in Pittsburgh. I had some extra money to burn and was about to take off for the day, and I was a bit indiscriminate in my choices. I wanted new books to read and didn’t take much time choosing them, picking titles willy-nilly and hoping my usual luck with finding good reads would hold out.

To be perfectly honest, one of the reasons why I picked The Rage Plague was its cover. I’m a sucker for well-done, minimalist covers, especially when the fonts catch my eye. I’ve been deceived by attractive covers before (by a whole series, once, whose red and white stylings in no way held up to my expectations of its actual contents), but The Rage Plague’s simplistic bloody hammer against a white background called out to me in a way I couldn’t ignore.

What I found, after cracking the book open, didn’t exactly delight me but it certainly wasn’t a bad choice on my part.

The Rage Plague is a story most horror aficionados have witnessed before. A group of survivors find themselves stranded in a city that’s been reduced to rubble and uninhabitable structures, overrun with creatures that attack and devour the living. There are many places a fanatic can go on the Internet to argue whether or not fast-moving, psychotic people who’ve mindlessly abandoned their former lives truly are zombies, but this is not one of them. For the sake of simplicity, I’m just going to refer to them as Infected.

The Infected are incredibly violent, swift-footed and ravenous, suffering from a tunnel vision that prevents them from doing much besides assaulting, murdering and devouring the living. At the start of the novel, hero and main focal point Bill is stuck on the roof of a local school with a handful of other uninfected survivors. They’re trapped there, with the sun beating down and the mad Infected surrounding the building. Among the other survivors are a kindly woman a few years Bill’s senior, some random women, a man who’s barely able to hold it together after the death of his wife and a young hothead ready to take Bill on for control of the group.

Elsewhere, one Infected, who has managed to retain most of his sanity despite the virus’ effects, rises to control the horde, while the military fortifies Chicago’s now-abandoned airport as their new de facto base.

It’s an interesting premise, though as has been stated before it is by no means fresh or unique. The characters feel like cliches that have been fleshed out a bit more in an attempt to appear original, but they still resemble their former selves. You have Middle Aged Man Who Rises to the Challenge, Young Tough Who Challenges Our Hero, Cigar-Chomping Army Man Who Yells At Everyone, Kindly Older Woman Who Teaches Patience, Moron Who Does the Wrong Thing For Love and, of course, Evil Villain Who Was Invisible in His Former Life and Now Wants the World to Pay.

Just because the characters are familiar doesn’t mean they don’t work. They do, for the most part. The story’s enjoyable, and the plot moves at a decent pace. It’s just that the novel doesn’t do anything anyone hasn’t seen before. Sometimes we pick up books to be exposed to new ideas or ways of thinking, and sometimes we pick up books to be entertained. The Rage Plague has loads of entertainment value. It’s packed with action, snappy dialogue and tense situations. However, most readers will have an idea of where the story is headed, and how it will end, after reading the first chapter or two.

The Rage Plague is, at its core, the zombie equivalent of the Summer Beach Read, a piece of exciting, entertaining fluff that feels as familiar as it does thrilling, and there’s nothing wrong with that.


Monday, December 7, 2009

Jason Brannon's "Order of the Bull" Available for Preorder

I'm a huge fan of small press horror publishers. When I was much younger, during my "raid the used bookstores and buy everything with creepy covers" phase, the Internet was just beginning its journey to become what it is today. Webzines and small, nearly nonprofit print outfits were the first places to show my work, and I still seek them out to this day. There's something beautiful and inspiring about people involved in horror (and indie fiction of all kinds) for the sheer love of it.

I just found out about another small press venture, Corpulent Insanity Press, today, and I'm passing along the info not only because there's a publicity contest going on (the way to my heart truly is through free books), but because these kinds of businesses never can get enough exposure. After having worked with so many extremely cool, dedicated people over the years, I like to pay it forward as much as I possibly can.

Jason Brannon's new chapbook, The Order of the Bull, will be out on December 10th. It's a very limited run, so make sure you snag a copy before they're gone. Copies are ten dollars and signed by the author.


This holiday season, check out The Order of the Bull by Jason Brannon. It’s a tale of courage, redemption and trailer park terror. But don’t wait. There are only 26 copies available. Go to www.corpulentinsanitypress.com now to order your copy.

“In Order of the Bull, Jason Brannon paints a picture of nightmarish terror and cruel sacrifice. Jason shades and textures his work with the skill of a Renaissance master using a pallet of very real human frailties, sins, fears, and anxieties.”
–Bowie Ibarra, author of Down the Road and Pit Fighters

“An engrossing, terrifying read that forces you to ask how far you are willing to go in chasing the promise of a better life, who you are willing to sacrifice, and whether or not you are willing to face the consequences of the choices you’ve made. A five star read.”
–Trish Ramirez, the Horror and Fantasy Book Review

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

All Good Things Must Come to an End

The last chapter of Max Barry’s Machine Man came out this morning.

For anyone not already acquainted with the novel, it’s an internet serial that ran for the better part of a year, updating in short microchapters Monday through Friday, that dealt with the themes of love, transhumanism, corporate greed and self-mutilation in the name of science. Typical Barry craziness, really.

It was excellent.

Access to the entire novel cost me approximately seven bucks, with new chapters delivered to my inbox every morning before I was even awake. What an awesome thing to read during breakfast.

The beginning chapters are still available for free (and the feed is still active for any new readers who want to buy the whole thing), and it’s coming to print, but for anyone who hasn’t experienced it yet, seeing it in raw form is amazing. I can’t wait to be able to compare it with the hardcopy edition.

Thanks for the daily goodness, Max. I loved every page.

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