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.

Book Review: ‘The Dark Man’ by Stephen King and Glenn Chadbourne

king08limitedIt’s a bold experiment: take an obscure, surreal poem, allow a talented but outside-of-the-mainstream artist to illustrate in black and white, and released it as an oddly-sized and unusually-shaped hardcover book. In other words, it’s a project that most publishers wouldn’t touch.

But Cemetery Dance isn’t most publishers. And, let’s be honest, when the name you’re going to plaster all over the cover is Stephen King, well, go ahead and change “bold experiment” to “unqualified success.”

And that’s what The Dark Man is, by the way: an unqualified success. The limited and lettered editions sold out within two hours of the book’s announcement. The trade edition hardcover will be hitting mailboxes and bookstores in the next week or so. And creatively, the book is firing on all cylinders.

The poem-that-became-a-book, “The Dark Man,” is nothing less than the birth of Randall Flagg, arguably King’s greatest villainous creation. King wrote it in college as a way of documenting a recurring image he had of a hitchhiker in jeans and a denim jacket. King imagined the man had been places, had seen – and done – terrible things, and his musings on the subject spilled out in a short poem scribbled on the back of a placemat.

The poem itself is told from The Dark Man’s point-of-view, and it’s an effectively chilling piece of work. The world he describes is not unlike most King settings, a place where mundane sights like all-night filling stations and wheat fields exist beneath an ominous “savage sickle moon,” and where sits “a gutted columned house leeched with vines.” It’s strong imagery, and it’s easy to see how aspects of the character bled over into King’s later work.

But where The Dark Man really comes to life is in the marriage of King’s text to Glenn Chadbourne’s stark, brutal imagery. Thumbing through the book you can almost feel a cold October wind coming off the pages, and you can almost smell the desperation and fear permeating the desolate, broken landscape. Chadbourne’s distinctive style has graced a number of King/Cemetery Dance projects, but never has it felt like a more perfect fit than it does here. The drawings are dense, packed with details that seem to shift and flow of their own accord so that each time you study the pages you see something else.

It may not be for everybody, but a book like this is sure to please adventurous readers looking for new insight into one of King’s most well-known creations. The Dark Man is a moody leap of faith by the creators and the publisher that pays off handsomely in the end.

While the lettered and limited editions of The Dark Man are sold out, trade hardcovers are still available from the publisher.

Short Story Review: “A Child’s Problem” by Reggie Oliver

“A Child’s Problem” Reggie Oliver
From A Book of Horrors edited by Stephen Jones
Cemetery Dance/PS Publishing, 2012

HorrorsReggie Oliver’s tale of a precocious young boy’s summer adventure reads like a Hammer movie with the gore reined in. What it lacks in blood and guts (“lacks,” perhaps, being the incorrect word, as the story doesn’t need the grue) it makes up in a rich atmosphere and measured, assured storytelling.

“A Child’s Problem” is one of the longest stories in A Book of Horrors, and to boil down its plot to a sentence or two would do it disservice. So I’ll give you the setup: young George is sent to live with his uncle, Augustus, on a sprawling countryside estate. The boy is more than a little bratty, and unafraid to flaunt his status in front of strangers and servants alike, but he’s also intelligent and insatiably curious. Augustus recognizes this and sends the boy off solving riddles about the estate to keep him busy, never suspecting what the boy might be able to uncover.

Oliver is a playwright, and you can feel those stylistic instincts at work in the story’s deliberate pace. It’s not all atmosphere – there are moments of pure horror punctuating the quieter beats – but it is that sense of place that Oliver is most successful at conjuring. “A Child’s Problem” takes time to warm up, but it’s time well invested.

More reviews from A Book of Horrors

*A little background on Short Story Reviews, and why I’m doing them this way*

Cemetery Dance announces new Stephen King hardcover, ‘The Dark Man’

king08limitedCemetery Dance has been teasing something big the last couple of weeks, saying only that “something dark” was coming.

Well, it’s here.

The publisher announced today a new collaboration between Stephen King and artist Glenn Chadbourne, the black-and-white specialist who has worked on a number of King projects for CD, including their Secretary of Dreams books. This latest venture is the first hardcover publication of King’s poem “The Dark Man,” a piece the author wrote in college about a character who would later come to figure prominently in much of his work. We’re talking, of course, about The Walkin’ Dude, Randall Flagg.

There are a number of editions on the way (and quickly, as CD’s website has at least the trade version listed for a July release), ranging from a $25 bookstore edition all the way to a deluxe signed edition that will run you a cool $1,750. All the details and ordering instructions can be found at the links above.

Between this and yesterday’s Joyland news, it’s been a big – and expensive – couple of days for King collectors. The good news for the average fan (such as your humble host) is that these new works will also be available in affordable additions that may not have all the bells and whistles, but will have the most important part – the story. As these books hit the shelves, please feel free to let us know which editions you grab and what you think of them.

Short Story Review: “The Man in the Ditch” by Lisa Tuttle

“The Man in the Ditch” by Lisa Tuttle
From A Book of Horrors edited by Stephen Jones
Cemetery Dance/PS Publishing, 2012

Horrors“The Man in the Ditch” is a tense and unsettling contribution from veteran genre author Lisa Tuttle. It starts with a simple yet disturbing image: a dead body by the side of the road. Or, at least, that’s what Linzi thinks she saw. She can’t convince her husband J.D. to turn around, but the idea of it – and the fact that she saw it so close to the land where the couple is about to build a new home – shakes Linzi to her core and throws a pall over the whole day.

Linzi’s refusal to let the idea go is just another wedge in what appears to be a somewhat shaky marriage. There’s a dark secret between Linzi and J.D., a single misguided act that resulted in a large gap in their marriage. It leaves Linzi on an island, and Tuttle takes a nearly sadistic glee in ratcheting up that sense of isolation throughout the story. In her marriage, in her new home out in the country, in her inability to conceive, and in her absolute belief that something dreadful is haunting her, Linzi is alone at every turn.

This is the kind of horror story that finds true fear in the details, the subtle moments, that quiet pause before the big explosion. It’s the kind of story that stays with you. It’s the kind of story that makes collections like this so damn good.

More reviews from A Book of Horrors

*A little background on Short Story Reviews, and why I’m doing them this way*

Vincent’s new Dark Tower book is a worthy ‘Companion’

DTtradeCoverBev Vincent had a double-tough job in front of him when tackling the writing of The Dark Tower Companion. He had to find compelling new material that would be of value to readers who’ve been reading and studying the series for years, and who’ve had already had access to a comprehensive guidebook in Robin Furth’s The Dark Tower: The Complete Concordance. He also had to find ways to separate this new project from his own book The Road to the Dark Tower.

Fortunately, a lot has happened in the world of the Dark Tower since Stephen King published what was then thought to be the final volume in the series in 2004. Marvel Comics produced several series adapting and expanding material found in King’s Dark Tower books. Hollywood powerhouses Ron Howard and Akiva Goldsman hatched an ambitious plan to adapt the material in a series of movies and television programs. And King himself revisited the series with an eighth novel, The Wind Through the Keyhole, a story set between the fourth (Wizard and Glass) and fifth (Wolves of the Calla) books in the series.

This flurry of creative activity provides plenty of fodder for Vincent’s new book, due out on April 2nd from New American Library (and in special editions later this year from Cemetery Dance). Vincent conducted a number of new interviews with the creators behind these new Dark Tower side projects, from artists and writers involved in the comics;  to Howard and Goldsman giving separate interviews on their movie-making plans; to King himself, who discusses these new projects, sheds additional light on several key Dark Tower characters, and touches on his own relationship and approach to the series.

In addition to these interviews, Vincent provides a synopsis of each Dark Tower book, discussing events and characters while saving the major spoilers for a clearly-marked section at the end of each chapter. There’s also a wealth of information on the important “people, places and things” in the series, handily divided into “Mid-World” and “Our World.” Maps, timelines, Mid-World history…you’ll be hard-pressed to find any corner of the Dark Tower mythology that Vincent hasn’t shined a light on.

Books like this are made to be perused, dipped into here and there when a question or confusion about something Dark Tower-related arises. However, Vincent’s open, thoughtful approach to the writing makes it a book that you could easily read cover-to-cover. The material flows in a way that most guidebooks don’t. Vincent’s knowledge of the material is encyclopedic, but his writing style reads nothing like an encyclopedia. It’s incredibly readable, packed with detail and information and insight, and completely approachable. Vincent set out to write something that would appeal to Dark Tower junkies and newbies alike, and in that he has succeeded handily.

Oh, and one more thing – after reading a few pages of material, I was fired up and ready to dive headfirst back into the Dark Tower series again. So, if you pick this book up, make sure your reading schedule is clear – not only are you going to want to absorb every word of Vincent’s book, you’ll likely be stacking up those eight Dark Tower novels right behind it.

Short Story Review: “Alice Through the Plastic Sheet” by Robert Shearman

“Alice Through the Plastic Sheet” by Robert Shearman
From A Book of Horrors edited by Stephen Jones
Cemetery Dance/PS Publishing, 2012

HorrorsAlan and Alice are a tightly wound couple living in a nice neighborhood. Their next-door neighbors are the kind of neighbors that, once you have them, you hate to lose them. They are quiet and respectful, they keep their yard properly groomed and their conversation to the most polite levels of shallowness and brevity. It’s not hard to live next door to people like that.

Unfortunately for Alan and Alice, the neighbors are moving, and the family that takes their place is the antithesis of everything that was good about the people they’ve replaced. They are mysterious and noisy, and they quickly begin to drive Alice to distraction. She insists one night that Alan go over to intervene, and what he finds is that the people who live next door are nothing like anything they’ve ever encountered.

From that point on, these new neighbors seem hell-bent on torturing Alan and Alice. The play Christmas carols all hours of the day, sometimes the same song on an endless, maddening loop, and always at ear-busting volume. As they unpack their belongings they toss cardboard boxes and styrofoam pieces out into their yard, where it drifts into Alan and Alice’s place like snow.

The stress of the situation quickly crumbles the careful routine that Alan and Alice (and their son and dog) have always lived by. The stress causes fractures in their marriage and at Alan’s job; and the fact that the police seem to take pure joy in ignoring their complaints only worsens the situation.

Robert Shearman’s story is at times an achingly real examination of the strains and breaks that can occur in the wake of the slightest shift in a relationship, whether it’s between neighbors or between spouses. At other times it’s a surreal, nightmarish narrative with its own twisted, borderline insane logic. Are the neighbors real, or are they some sort of manifestation of the pressure that Alan and Alice feel to keep up what is clearly a facade of a partnership? Are their actions justified, or the acts of people who’d crossed the line of sanity long ago and are just now realizing it? I know what I think, but the beauty of a story like this is that you might thing something completely different, and yet we both could be absolutely right.

More reviews from A Book of Horrors

*A little background on Short Story Reviews, and why I’m doing them this way*

Review: ‘Femme’ by Bill Pronzini

FemmeBill Pronzini’s Femme is the latest pitch-black entry in his Nameless Detective series, a series that encompasses more than 30 books and spans over 40 years. This is only my second encounter with Nameless (the first being Kinsmen, which Cemetery Dance released simultaneously with Femme earlier this year), but the one-two punch of these releases is enough to send me scrounging for the rest of the books.

The “Nameless Detective” moniker comes from the fact that Pronzini never refers to the character by name. I don’t know how or why Pronzini made this decision, but it works because the author hasn’t allowed it to become a gimmick that overshadows the story. He doesn’t get cute in hiding the name, doesn’t cover over it with a black line or anything like that. It just doesn’t get mentioned to us, even when given to other characters in the story. Regardless, I’ve already got a strong sense of who Nameless is after reading only a couple of his adventures.

In Femme, Nameless becomes embroiled with a woman named Cory Beckett through what seems on its surface to be a simple bail jumping case. Nameless is retained to track down Cory’s brother, Kenneth, who’s taken to the hills to avoid robbery charges. In their initial meeting, Cory is sugar and spice and everything nice, but her demeanor proves to be a thin veneer covering an evil that stuns Nameless with its completeness and ferocity.

Working alongside Nameless is Jake Runyon, an associate often tasked with the tedious legwork of the agency’s cases. In between the interrogations, car chases and shootouts, there’s usually copious amounts of doorbell ringing and phone calls – work that Runyon enjoys and even thrives on. It’s Runyon who first realizes Kenneth’s predicament isn’t entirely what it seems, and it’s his tentative relationship with the hapless young man that pulls him (and Nameless) deeper into Cory Beckett’s madness.

Cory is a young woman of insatiable appetites – for money, yes, but also for power. She thrives on manipulation and deception, and she’s absolutely fearless in the way she’ll throw her body at anyone she thinks she can use to advance her own objectives.

Pronzini’s prose, honed over a career that’s closing in on 50 years, is as streamlined as any you’re likely to find. Femme is an effortless read, pure storytelling that’s as clean and uncluttered as a mountain stream. Clocking in at a lean 175 pages (a page count boosted by the smaller design and format of the book), Femme delivers a compelling story punctuated with subtle character work that brings its characters to vivid life. I hope Cemetery Dance continues to bring us more of the Nameless Detective, and I look forward to tracking down the rest of the series in the meantime.

A double-shot of Whelan

There seemed to be a lot of activity in and around the book world last week, but nothing made me happier than seeing updates from a couple of my favorite publishers that included new work by one of my favorite artists: Michael Whelan.

WhelanDTAlthough Whelan only provided art for two books in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, it’s his look and characterizations that I see when I read those books. Maybe it’s because he did the art for the two most important (arguably) books in the series, the first and the last, but for whatever reason his interpretation of the characters hit just the right note for me. In my mind, that makes him a natural fit to provide the cover and (I hope) some interior artwork for Cemetery Dance’s upcoming special edition of the revised and expanded version of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower: The Complete Concordance by Robin Furth. Furth has updated her exhaustive reference work to include information from King’s recent addition to the series, The Wind Through the Keyhole. Whelan’s cover artwork really captures the essence and epic feel of the series, and it’s good to see him back at work in King’s twisted universe.

WhelanTravelThe second bit of Whelan goodness comes from Subterranean Press, which unveiled his cover for Robert McCammon’s upcoming horror novel I Travel by Night. You can read an excerpt from the book (described as a melding of McCammon’s Southern gothic and paranormal history work) and see a larger version of the cover right here. McCammon has been doing some amazing work since his return to publishing several years ago, and this is being billed as his return to full-out horror. That’s welcome news for anyone who has read his early classics.

It’s early yet, but 2013 is already stacked with some exciting releases. My bank account is going to be lighter than usual as the year goes on.

Review: ‘More Than Midnight’ by Brian James Freeman

MidnightBrian James Freeman is one of those writers that someone, some day, is going to call an “overnight success,” completely ignorant of the fact that the guy has been pounding a keyboard for years, honing his craft and developing his voice the way all good writers do.

I say this because Freeman’s 2010 novella The Painted Darkness brought him all kinds of attention, and he seems poised to be one of those “next big things.” That’s what happens when guys like Richard Matheson and David Morrell rave about your stuff – people start looking to see what you’re going to do next. What Freeman has done is offer us a peek at the earlier stages of his career with More Than Midnight, a collection of five previously-published short stories now available from Cemetery Dance. While the stories themselves may not be as transcendent as The Painted Darkness, they’re full of the kind of pulpy goodness that we just don’t get enough of these days.

Take, for example, “Pulled Into Darkness,” my personal favorite of the collection. Freeman gives us the classic setup of a stalk-n-slash movie: A man and his young daughter in an isolated house on a stormy night. On the television, news of a riot at a nearby mental health facility, the very same facility where the man’s wife (the daughter’s mother) has been locked up for allegedly trying to kill her family. Now she’s on the loose, leaving a trail of bodies behind her…and the power just went out…

Think you know where it’s going? Think again. Freeman takes the obvious conclusion and deftly twists it on its head. Granted, seasoned readers of horror fiction will likely spot the twist coming, but by giving us two possible scenarios Freeman keeps us guessing right up to the last page.

You get the sense that Freeman was having a ball writing these, telling his own little campfire tales and hoping they’d find an audience. His enjoyment is infectious – just try reading the scene in “Among Us” when the mysterious bosses of a giant law firm begin undressing and intoning “Join Us!” in front of a batch of newly-minted partners without relishing the realization that things are about to go bad for someone. These stories are full of little moments like that, and if you’re like me you’ll enjoy every one.

I have one suggestion for those able to snag a copy – don’t read these stories in the order they are presented in the book. Take a look instead at the copyright page and read them in the order they were originally published. What you’ll get is a glimpse of a young writer gleefully playing with everything the genre has to offer while laying the foundation for what’s likely to be a highly successful career.

I can’t let the review end without giving a tip of the hat to the illustrations of Glenn Chadbourne, whose insanely detailed black-and-white drawings serve as the perfect punctuation marks at the end of these stories. Top it all off with a mesmerizing cover by Vincent Chong and you’ve got a total package that’s well worth hunting up.