Cemetery Dance announces SIX new Stephen King special editions

CarrieNewSubtitle this As My Wallet Gently Weeps.

This past weekend – Saturday, April 5, to be exact – marked the 40th anniversary of the publication of Stephen King’s debut novel Carrie. Without turning this whole post into an essay on that alone, let me just say that it was a huge anniversary for me personally. King’s work is what got me into reading, and then into writing. It’s why nearly all of my “real” jobs have involved writing in some way; it’s why I write short stories and why I’m writing a novel; it’s why October Country exists today. So, yeah, the guy’s work is important to me.

I can’t think of another writer that got a better running start on a career than King. Carrie, then ‘Salem’s Lot, The Shining, Night Shift and The Stand? A solid debut, two bonafide classics, the scariest vampire novel I’ve ever read, and a group of note-perfect horror shorts? Yeah, I’d say that’s a decent beginning. While there are other classics and favorites littered throughout King’s bibliography, it’s hard to top that opening salvo.

Cemetery Dance recognizes this as something to be celebrated. This specialty press has long been associated with King, producing beautiful special editions of a number of his works, including From A Buick 8, IT, Full Dark No Stars and many others. Now they’re turning their attention to his earliest works, beginning with the five books listed above and then skipping ahead a bit to include Pet Sematary.

First up, naturally, is Carrie, which is already available for preorder. You can read all the details at Cemetery Dance’s site, but I’ll helpfully point out the new introduction by King and the afterword by the author’s wife Tabitha King (who famously rescued the book’s first pages from a trashcan). If you’re gonna order one, you might want to hurry – these things tend to sell out quick.

I’d love to get ‘em all, but the one I absolutely plan 100% on ordering is Pet Sematary. That’s the one that started the journey for me, and I was bummed when I missed out on PS Publishing’s 30th Anniversary edition of it last year. I don’t plan to miss out again.

Review: ‘Gorezone’ #30

GZ30When Fangoria editor Chris Alexander announced last year his intention to resurrect Fango’s sister magazine, Gorezone, he made it clear that he would be taking its original mission of covering obscure horror and exploitation seriously. Not that Gorezone didn’t fulfill that promise in its initial 27-issue run; it did, but with concessions. Newsstands, grocery store magazine racks and other such places were where it lived and died, so occasionally there had to be nods to the mainstream, like covers featuring Freddy or Leatherface or Jason – the well-known, accepted, dare-I-say “safe” faces of horror.

This time around, Gorezone is available via subscription or online orders only. If you want it, you have to seek it out, and those who seek it out know what they’re getting into. It’s a situation that has allowed Alexander and his crew to live without fear, and they’ve taken full advantage in the first three revamped issues. With the latest release, issue number 30 (they picked up the numbering where the original run left off), Gorezone has really hit its stride.

With the exception of FX master Tom Savini’s column focusing on two famous gags from the original Dawn of the Dead, and an interview with Cannibal Holocaust actor Robert Kerman, most of the creators and films featured will be unfamiliar to all but the truly hardcore horror fans. That’s a great thing from where I sit. We have plenty of outlets to read about the latest multiplex-bound sequels and remakes, and now we have Gorezone back to help flesh out the more obscure corners of the genre.

Among this issue’s juicier features are a retrospective on the 1988 shocker Slaughterhouse Rock, a look at the ’80s slasher homage The Pick-Axe Murders Part III: The Final Chapter, and two features on underground film master Fred Vogel. There’s also a short story written by Barbie Wilde, who played a Cenobite in Hellbound: Hellraiser II; her story ties into that mythology as created by Clive Barker in the novella The Hellbound Heart. And, it should be said that the pages of the magazine fairly drip with tons of blood-drenched, entrails-ridden photos.

So, if you’re a fan who likes to seek out stuff that your Redbox-loving friends have never heard of, or if you’ve seen everything Redbox has to offer and want something new and dangerous, let Gorezone take you by the hand. They have such sights to show you.

Review: ‘Dark Discoveries’ #26 – ‘The Weird West’

DD26CoverDark Discoveries #26
Winter 2014

Dark Discoveries magazine has put out some great themed issues during its 10-year run, with topics including “Comics and Pulp” (#16), “Extreme Horror” (#19) and “Horror and Rock” (#22). The latest issue continues this trend with one of my personal favorite genre mashups, the “Weird Western.”

A quick glance at the cover, which boasts names like Gary Braunbeck, Norman Partridge and Quentin Tarantino, told me there was going to plenty for me to like inside. Braunbeck’s story, “Ungrateful Places,” turned out to be the highlight for me. It’s the story of a boy named Edward, a social outcast who leaves his
village and becomes a war hero. When he returns, savaged by injuries that cost him his face, he almost immediately settles back into his role as the village nobody. It isn’t long before he begins seeing ghosts of gravely wounded soldiers, and soon he has a choice to make – let others feel the pain he’s felt, or sacrifice himself once again to spare those around him. Braunbeck proves again he is one of the best at wringing pure, real emotion from words on a page, and this story reminds me all over again that we just don’t get enough new work from him.

Partridge is another one of my favorite writers, and he brings his uniquely gritty vision to Dark Discoveries with “Fever Springs,” a rousing werewolf tale that involves a greedy, amoral banker, a band of bank robbers, and a bloodthirsty shapeshifter.

Tarantino’s involvement comes in the form of an interview about his recent film Django Unchained, and while it’s not exactly timely it’s an interesting chat with the always engaging filmmaker.

The issue is rounded out by stories from Hank Schwaeble and David Liss, several nonfiction pieces, and a lengthy article by Stephen King expert Rocky Wood examining King’s use of Old West imagery that not only hits the obvious notes (The Dark Tower, The Regulators) but touches on some little-known nuggets like George D X McArdle, a humorous western novel King began and abandoned in the 1980s.

It’s a solid issue overall, and worth noting that it marks the end of Dark Discoveries founder James Beach’s role as editor-in-chief. Beach has poured a lot of love and sweat (and, no doubt, a lot of money) into the magazine over the years, shaping it into a respected title of consistent quality. He’s managed to feature some of the genre’s heaviest hitters over the years, but always made room for new voices. When I was first dipping my toes into the genre journalism waters years ago he gave me the opportunity to interview a couple of writers, Jon Merz (#4) and Joe Hill (#11), and even published a contest-winning short story of mine, “Pun’kin,” back in issue number 17. So perhaps I’m a little bit biased when I say “Job well done, James.” But I said it anyway. And while Beach is leaving the day-to-day duties behind he’s promised to remain involved, and is leaving the magazine in good hands with JournalStone Publishing and new editor-in-chief Aaron J. French.

So, here’s to another fine issue of Dark Discoveries, and to whatever they bring us next.

Short Story Review: “Wolverton Station” by Joe Hill

WolvertonI’ve never traveled abroad, but I think I’d be able to relate somewhat to Saunders, the main character of Joe Hill‘s short story “Wolverton Station.” He’s in a strange place, unsure of some of the things he’s seeing, and getting more overwhelmed by the minute. Of course, I imagine my feelings would stem from things like the strange food or the language barrier rather than, you know, wolves who walk upright, wear business suits and casually slaughter my fellow passengers.

Hill’s story, previously published in the 2011 Subterranean Press anthology Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy and recently released as an ebook single, mixes a little Twilight Zone with a little Tales From the Darkside and a substantial dash of
sociopolitical commentary to produce a solid if unspectacular horror tale. Saunders is an executive for a restaurant chain that specializes in coffee, and he’s come to England to oversee the chain’s first steps in expansion. This means finding locations that are near mom ‘n pop type operations and crowding his way into the market. Saunders makes no bones about his methods, and Hill does little to try and paint the man in a sympathetic light. So really, it’s no big deal when a wolf in a nice suit sits next to him on the train – we’re pretty sure Saunders is going to die, and we really don’t care.

Hey, not all horror stories have to be about the hero that gets away – sometimes they can be about the scumbag who gets what he deserves. Saunders is the kind of guy who went to a monastary and came away with the revelation that a burger joint across the street would have made a killing. While he’s adept at making great business decisions he’s made some poor life choices in his time, and he makes a couple here that seal his fate.

“Wolverton Station” is a minor note in Hill’s overall (brilliant) catalog, a fun, quick piece that would be right at home in a pulp magazine. It doesn’t hold a candle to the stories in his collection 20th Century Ghosts, his novels, or his work on the series Locke and Key, but for a buck it’s definitely worth a download and a half hour of your time.

Subterranean Press to release limited ‘Books of Blood’ set in 2014

The_Books_of_Blood_by_Clive_Barker_Volume_SixStart saving your pennies, kids.

Subterranean Press has announced plans to publish a six volume signed limited edition set of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood in 2014. This will mark the first U.S. publication of the set in six separate hardcover volumes. Previously we’ve only gotten them separately here as paperbacks, with the first three volumes going under the Books of Blood banner and the last three titled after individual short stories (volume four was The Inhuman Condition, volume five was In the Flesh, and volume six was Cabal, which lumped the short stories together with the title novella).

The set will also feature Barker’s original dust jacket art from the UK first edition hardcovers.

Books of Blood is one of the most important and influential collections in modern horror fiction, and it launched the career of one of our most treasured creators. Subterranean (which has released a 25th anniversary edition of Barker’s Weaveworld and has Chilead: A Meditation in the works) does beautiful work, and I have no doubt they’ll craft a worthy vessel for Barker’s stories.

Book Review: ‘The Last Night of October’ by Greg Chapman

LastNightOctoberHorror stories set on Halloween night are a dime a dozen these days, particularly among American horror authors. It makes sense; many of today’s active authors grew up in the time when Halloween was still a rite of passage. It was a night when you set out on your own, just you and your pals, seeking out candy and mischief. Sure, you were only out for a little while, and you were in the relatively safe confines of your own neighborhood, but for many it was the first taste of real freedom.

But that freedom often came tinged with the first taste of real fear as well. It was the first time out in the night, alone, without the comforting (if slightly annoying) backup provided by Mom and Dad. Everyone was clad in costumes that might look like cheap rubber and plastic in the light of day, but were much more effective in the shadows of night. That mix of exhiliration and uneasiness is wonderful to look back on, and countless authors try to capture it year after year with decidedly mixed results.

Greg Chapman is from Australia – a country for which Halloween has had very little significance in the past – but with The Last Night of October he’s quite successful in his efforts to invoke that mix of fear and wonder associated with the holiday.

Gerald Forsyth is a man who feels genuine terror each time Halloween approaches, and for good reason: what started out as a typical night of trick-or-treating for him many years ago took a sudden, tragic turn, and the old man has been dodging the consequences ever since. As the book opens he’s going through his typical Halloween night routine, which is to lock the house down tight and sweat out the hours ’till dawn.

One of the reasons this novella works so well is the way Chapman slowly doles out the backstory. We’re in the dark for much of the first half of the story as to why Forsyth is so scared. The same can be said for Kelli Pritchard, the young home health care attendant who shows up just as night is falling to check on the sickly old man. Kelli is subbing for Forsyth’s regular nurse, and her stubborn commitment to her job is a broken cog in the man’s carefully orchestrated routine. It’s Kelli that answers a knock on Forsyth’s door, inadvertantly letting in the one thing Forsyth is desperate to keep out and setting off a chain of events that has been a long time coming.

Chapman weaves his story with cold, economical precision. There’s very little fat here, especially once Forsyth, Kelli and their strange visitor are locked in together. Even as he takes us back in time to relive Forsyth’s worst Halloween he keeps the story moving forward. The result is a quick read that will linger much longer than a bag of cheap Halloween candy. Don’t wait until next Halloween to give this one a shot – The Last Night of October will deliver chills all year ’round.

Book Review: ‘Doctor Sleep’ by Stephen King

doctor-sleep-01In the afterword to his new novel, Doctor Sleep, Stephen King notes that he approached writing the book with some trepidation. Trepidation is exactly what I felt when I first heard it was coming out – and if you know me, you know that’s an unusual reaction to news of a new King book.

But this isn’t “just another book,” and it isn’t even “just another sequel.” It’s a follow-up to one of his most successful and enduring works. The Shining was part of that initial, volcanic output that announced King’s arrival, and it holds a very dear place in the heart of his massive fanbase. King knew this, and he was worried about letting people down. I was worried about a letdown, too.

Fortunately, King is too smart and too talented to succumb to the traps that kill so many sequels. This is not The Shining 2: Shinier, where a group of ghosthunters camp out at the ruins of The Overlook Hotel to be picked off one-by-one by the vengeful spirit of Jack Torrance. Doctor Sleep shares a character with The Shining, and its events are influenced in many ways by its predecessor, but it’s not trying to be The Shining. And that, Constant Readers, is why it works.

Where The Shining is a classic ghost story, Doctor Sleep is a high-concept thrill ride. In The Shining we see King using the traditional elements of haunted house stories – isolation, unseen presences, noises in the night, spectral figures, etc. – to great effect. In Doctor Sleep, we have confrontations between two groups, we have missions that must be carried out in tight timelines, and we have an eclectic group of villains, about whom nothing – from their colorful names to their unique powers – is traditional.

As usual, it’s King’s strong character work that elevates the material for me. In Dan Torrance, King transitions effortlessly from the little boy we’ve all been wondering about for the last 36 years to the adult known as “Doctor Sleep.” Dan is older now, and he’s damaged, but there’s no doubt that it’s the same character. I have a hard time referring to him as a character, to be honest; to me he’s a person, and that is perhaps the greatest compliment I can possibly pay to King as a writer. He makes these people come alive, and that’s why his work endures.

Just as we’ve wondered what happened to Danny, I’m betting we’ll all be wondering about Abra Stone in the years to come. King writes her with the perfect mix of rebelliousness, confidence and vulnerability. Too much of any of those would have rendered her flat and lifeless, but here she lives and breathes.

Rose the Hat, leader of the True Knot clan of psychic vampires, is a shallow creature, and that’s exactly what makes her so complex. Here’s someone who’s survived on a mix of gut instinct and wisdom gathered over centuries, but who hasn’t quite mastered her ego. Her power, and the powers of those in the Knot, have paved a clear path for them over the years, and once the road gets bumpy she learns what she’s truly made of. Watching her unravel from cold calculation to white-hot rage is as immensely entertaining as it is genuinely frightening.

The best moments of Doctor Sleep, though, are the quiet ones. There’s a place early in the novel when Dan is demonstrating just how he’s picked up his odd nickname. He’s sitting at the bedside of a man named Charlie Hayes, a man who’s just entered the book and is close to exiting. It’s a touching and beautiful moment as King compresses an entire lifetime into a few sentences, and we find ourselves mourning a man whose good and decent journey is coming to an end.

King’s made his living scaring the hell out of us, but it’s writing like this that will make his legacy. It’s writing like this that keeps me coming back. And it’s writing like this that makes writing a sequel to The Shining seem like a damn good idea.

Book Review: ‘Oddities & Entities’ by Roland Allnach

Oddities & EntitiesI was drawn to Roland Allnach‘s short story collection Oddities & Entities primarily because of the name. The author was an unknown quantity to me, and the cover – a generic night photo of the ocean in the moonlight – didn’t exactly reel me in. But that title made me think of those old carnival sideshows, always good for a cheap, colorful thrill even if they didn’t exactly deliver on the promises the barker made in an effort to lure people in. After reading that Allnach spent 20 years working a hospital night shift, and that his work there had influenced the fiction in his book, I figured it was worth giving the collection a shot. I worked the night shift at a hospital too, once upon a time, and I know the kinds of things you see there.

I’m glad I gave it a shot, because Allnach has serious writing chops, and he’s pulled together a strong collection in Oddities & Entities. Better yet, it’s not a group of cheap sideshow thrills (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but a dark, often surreal journey into the underbelly of the world – a place we like to pretend isn’t there, even though we know deep down it’s dancing just out of arm’s reach.

As I said before, I went into this book cold, completely unfamiliar with Allnach and his work, and I think that enhanced my reading experience. For that reason, I’m not going to throw together a plot synopsis for each story. I’d rather you jump in cold like I did (and I’m sure Allnach would feel the same way). I will, however, get a little bit into the first story, because “Boneview” sets a strong tone for the rest of the book and is a good representative of what follows.

“Boneview” is about a girl with a guardian angel of sorts, a strange creature she calls The Curmudgeon who begins visiting her when she’s just an infant. Because she’s known him all her life, it never seems odd to her, even as she grows older, that this skeletal creature with the clicking, clacking fingers phases through walls to visit her at night. He is with her during a lonely, isolated childhood, and at one point he even saves her life. But when she finds peace and balance in her life with a man she grows to love, The Curmudgeon’s visits come to a halt. It seems he’s gone for good – until he reappears just as she gets some good news, seeking a reward for saving her life.

Allnach paints a riveting portrait of a girl’s life here, and the amazing thing is that he grounds it in reality despite elements like The Curmudgeon and Allison’s ability to “see” how and when a person is going to die. It’s a captivating story, made all the more so by the original twists Allnach puts on some classic horror tropes.

In Oddities & Entities, Allnach combines his natural curiosity and powers of observation with a strong voice to produce a solid, compelling story collection. The book is available now from All Things That Matter Press.

Kickstarter Alert: Joe R. Lansdale and Dark Regions Press Need Our Help!

LabryinthSkullI don’t talk about Kickstarter campaigns on this blog often because there are so many worthy ones out there it could easily be all I talk about. However, I’ve found one that could help us get a new Joe R. Lansdale book, so I can’t help myself. Before I get to that, though, a word about a new October Country sponsor, Grammarly. I use Grammarly for proofreading because I want my writing to be good, not gud. Check them out and see if they’re a good fit for your own proofreading needs.

At this point in his career, Joe R. Lansdale may be best known for his crime novels and coming-of-age stories, but the man has a solid foundation in horror. So it’s always good news when he returns to the dark side, and that’s just what he’s hoping to do with a new psychological horror novella from Dark Regions Press.

Dark Regions is looking to release the novella next year as part of its Black Labyrinth line, a planned set of ten horror novels and novellas that will be released in formats ranging from inexpensive digital copies to deluxe collector editions. They’ve already released the first in the series, a gripping Tom Piccirilli novel called The Walls of the Castle, which proved to be an impressive start for the line. Now they’re turning to the popular crowdfunding source Kickstarter to get Lansdale’s edition off the ground.

If you look at the different editions Dark Regions is aiming to produce, you can understand why they’re asking for help. It’s an ambitious set of books that will appeal to everyone from the casual reader (digital and trade paperback editions) to the hardcore collector (oversized, cowhide-bound hardbacks with a maximum of 23 copies made, signed and loaded with bells and whistles). You can see them all at the Kickstarter page, along with the various contributor incentives they are offering.

Personally, I’m more of a reader than a collector, but I do have a few nice collector items in the ol’ library, and I treasure them. They treat the book itself as the work of art, not just the story it contains, and if you can afford them they’re wonderful to own. Me – I just want to read a new horror novella by Joe Lansdale. If you’re of like mind, head on over to the Kickstarter (which is, as of this writing, sitting strong at over 40% funded with a little over three weeks to go) and back this worthwhile effort.

‘Terminator Vault’ to take us back 30 (!) years to the making of a sci-fi/horror masterpiece…and its sequel

“It absolutely will not stop. Ever.” – Kyle Reese, The Terminator

terminator-vault-bookSo, next year, The Terminator turns 30. Just let that wash over you. It’s been three decades since Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron cemented their geek cred with this mind-bending, time-bending little movie. So naturally, when a big anniversary of a genre touchstone like this approaches, you can expect to see all kinds of goodies appear to capitalize on it. The first piece in what I expect will be a major wave of merchandising next year arrives a little early – October 15, to be exact – in the form of a new behind-the-scenes book, Terminator Vault.

As Kyle Reese predicted way back in the first movie, the Terminator franchise seems unstoppable. Cameron and Ah-nuld reunited in 1991 with Terminator 2: Judgement Day, and although I think most of us would have been fine if things stopped there, others have attempted to take up the reins with a couple of so-so sequels and a television series. To this day, rumors persist that a new film is happening and that Schwarzenegger will be involved in some way. While fans debate whether or not that’s a good thing, most agree that the first two movies are sci-fi/horror masterpieces.

(And yes, they lean heavily toward sci-fi, but try telling my 12-year-old self, who levitated out of his seat when the Terminator’s exoskeleton shoved his way out of the burning wreckage of a truck cab in the first movie, that they’re not horror, too. He refuses to believe you.)

Terminator Vault appears to be focused solely on the making of the first two movies, promising the kind of in-depth look and reproduction of materials (concept sketches, script pages, and the like) and interviews with insiders that have become staples of these kinds of releases. Author Ian Nathan, who also wrote Alien Vault and is an executive editor at Empire film magazine, should have plenty to work with when it comes to these movies, as the majority of the principal players are still around and involved with the industry.

Good things just keep stacking up in October, don’t they?