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: ‘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.

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: ‘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*

Review: ‘Joyland’ by Stephen King

Joyland“Who Dares Enter THE FUNHOUSE OF FEAR?”

That’s the phrase you’ll see plastered across the cover of the latest novel from Stephen King: Joyland, also known as “Hard Case Crime #112.” The phrase floats just beneath a brightly-lit carnival midway, and just to the right of buxom redhead, her hand clutching an old-timey camera, her mouth open in an “O” of surprise….or shock…or fear. It might give you the idea that between these covers lies a typical King horror tale, but that’s just carney talk. There is horror in there, but it’s mostly window dressing. To see what’s really going on, you’ll have to pony up a few bucks and step inside.

Devin Jones is 21 years old. He’s finished his second year of college, he’s head-over-heels in love, and in the summer of 1973 he’s taken a job working at a North Carolina amusement park called Joyland. He’s taken the job because his girl, Wendy, took an off-campus job and he doesn’t want to spend the summer mooning around campus without her. Devin doesn’t it know it at the time, but his relationship with Wendy is already over. It’s the job at Joyland that will get him through the first real heartbreak of his life; the job, the friends he makes, and the mystery of a girl named Linda Gray, who was murdered in the Joyland funhouse years ago – murdered and dumped beside its twisty tracks, after which her killer rode out into the bright Carolina sunshine and walked away, never to be found.

While it’s said that Linda Gray’s ghost haunts the funhouse, the only thing haunting Devin – Dev, to his friends, and thanks to King’s uncanny ability to mold characters that feel alive out of thin air and imagination, you’ll feel like he’s a friend by the time you reach Joyland‘s end – is his broken heart. While he loves his job and enjoys the company of new pals Tom Kennedy and Erin Cook, he spends most of his free time drowning his sorrows in moody music (“The End,” by The Doors, is a particular favorite) and books by Tolkien. There’s also the matter of the young boy in the wheelchair and his mother, but (aside from a quick glimpse in the novel’s opening pages) they arrive later in the story.

Joyland sees King working some of his classic elements, and working them to perfection. There’s the aforementioned character work – always the biggest draw in a King book, as far as I’m concerned. In addition to bringing characters to life he’s a master at bringing places to life, and Joyland, the park, fairly hums with it. Sure, it’s one of those places where if you look too close (especially in the daylight) you’ll see the cracked and peeling paint, the rust, the toll taken by years of rube sweat and salt air. But in King’s hands, and under the eye of its proprietor, Bradley Easterbrook, Joyland feels like the best place on earth, a place where fun is sold in cheap, generous handfuls. One of the most refreshing things about the book is the way that Dev, Tom and Erin fall under its spell. These are young people working a summer job, and it would have been easy to have at least one of them take a cynical view of the park and its patrons, but none of the trio do. Dev falls the hardest, but they all love the place and what they do. Even the life-long carnies that are the lifeblood of Joyland seem to be boosted by the work instead of worn down by it.

Joyland is one of those books that will invite re-reads down the line. Yeah, you’ll know “whodunit,” but it won’t matter – it’s the time, the place, and the people you’ll want to revisit, not the mystery. Just like the park in which it’s set, Joyland the novel is a wonderful place to while away a handful of summer hours.

Joyland opens for the season on June 4.

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: “Invisible” by Nancy Kilpatrick

“Invisible” by Nancy Kilpatrick
From The Devil’s Coattails edited by Jason Brock and William F. Nolan
Cycatrix Press, 2011

CoattailsHorror stories are more often than not filled with things unseen. Ghosts, the past, regrets, the threat just around the corner – these are things with no tangible presence, yet they can have a very tangible effect on people.

In “Invisible,” Nancy Kilpatrick examines the ways we find to make the people around us disappear, reducing them to an intangible presence in the hopes of minimizing their impact on us. Sometimes it’s someone considered “beneath us,” a person performing some menial task for us like bringing our food to the table and refilling our coffee cup. Other times it’s someone who needs – or needed – our help.

“Invisible” is also a story about the staggering weight of grief and loss, two other things we might wish we could make disappear. Perhaps we can deny it attention, just as we look away from some people, but these  are things that won’t be denied. Grief and loss have a way of weighing you down whether you acknowledge it or not.

“Invisible” is a quiet, contemplative piece. Kilpatrick teases us through the story with a mounting sense of dread that builds to a subdued but effective payoff. It’s easily one of the most memorable and effective stories in this collection.

More reviews from The Devil’s Coattails.

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

Hill and Rodriguez to bring the Keyhouse down with two-part ‘Locke & Key’ finale

locke-key-head-games2-gabriel-rodriguezOver the past six years or so, writer Joe Hill and artist Gabriel Rodriguez have been crafting one of the finest comic series on the shelves - Locke & Key. I’ve not been shy about professing my appreciation for their work in the past, and I’m anxious to see how they wrap up this intricate, intimate story of a family haunted by demons of both the internal and hellishly external natures.

The series is currently in the middle of its concluding arc, Locke & Key: Omega, and it’s killing me because I wait for the nice hardback collections to come out so I have no idea at this point what’s going on. And now comes along this news, which is great because it means we get just a little bit more Locke & Key than was originally planned, but awful because now we have to wait just a bit longer to see how everything plays out.

While adding an extra issue may scream “cash grab” to some, it’s clearly not the case here. Hill gives me the impression of being a guy who is all about the integrity of the story, first, last and always, so if this is the space they need to tell the ending, then I’m glad they are getting it.

Hill has also promised that, while this is the definitive end to the story of the Locke family, there are still more stories to tell involving the rambling Victorian mansion known as Keyhouse.

Can. Not. Wait.