2014: The Year in Reading

Cover design2014 was another in a long line of good reading years for yours truly. It wasn’t exactly full of surprises; if you compare this year’s list of favorites to that of previous years, you’ll see a lot of duplication: Ace Atkins, Stephen King, Joe Lansdale, and Robert McCammon are among the most common denominators. Atkins, King and Lansdale together dominate this year’s list, contributing two books each. That’s not something that will necessarily change in the coming year: Atkins will be bringing new entries in his Quinn Colson series and his continuation of Robert Parker’s Spenser series; King has a new novel (a follow-up to this year’s Mr. Mercedes) on deck, as well as a new short story collection; and Lansdale has a new Hap and Leonard book on the horizon. Factor in Clive Barker’s Pinhead/Harry D’Amour novel The Scarlet Gospels and I can damn near give you my top ten for 2015 right here and now.

All of these familiar faces may make it seem like I’m in a rut, but that’s far from the truth. I found several new authors in 2014 that I’m going to be watching closely in the future, Nick Cutter chief among them. His debut novel The Troop was narrowly edged out of this year’s top ten; I was lucky enough to get an early copy of his second novel, The Deep (which comes out on January 13) and that one made the cut – I’ll be posting a review early next week that explains why. I was also deeply impressed by Jedidiah Ayres and Mark Morris and several others that I’ll be reading from here on out.

ForsakenCoverOne thing I’ve always struggled with is ranking these year-end lists in any kind of order. Traditionally I’ve gone numbers one through ten, but this year I abandoned that concept. It’s just too hard to pick one favorite out of this group. So, this year’s list is ordered alphabetically by author, and as I look back on it now I see ten books that I’ll happily revisit in the future.

Here are the books that sunk their hooks deep in my brain in 2014. I hope you’ll take a moment to share your own favorites in the comments – I’m always looking for suggestions for something good to read!

Cheap Shot by Ace Atkins
The Forsaken by Ace Atkins
The Deep by Nick Cutter
The Halloween Children by Brian James Freeman and Norman Prentiss
Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
Revival by Stephen King
Black Hat Jack by Joe R. Lansdale
Prisoner 489 by Joe R. Lansdale
The River of Souls by Robert McCammon
Obsidian Heart Book I: The Wolves of London by Mark Morris

And here, if you’re interested, is the complete list of what I read this year:

pwoodUndisputed by Chris Jericho
And the Night Growled Back by Aaron Dries
Pulp Fiction: The Complete Story of Quentin Tarantino’s Masterpiece by Jason Bailey
Sixty-Five Stirrup Iron Road by Brian Keene, Jack Ketchum, Edward Lee, J.F. Gonzalez, Wrath James White, Nate Southard, Shane McKenzie, Ryan Harding and Bryan Smith
The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
The Way of All Flesh by Tim Waggoner
Horror Library Volume 5 edited by R.J. Cavender and Boyd E. Harris
Peckerwood by Jedidiah Ayres
Dust Devils by Jonathan Janz
Alien: Out of the Shadows by Tim Lebbon
The Troop by Nick Cutter
Wonderland by Ace Atkins
City of Devils by Justin Robinson
The End is Nigh edited by John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey
Joe Ledger: Special Ops by Jonathan Maberry
Rose of Sharon and Other Stories by Gary A. Braunbeck
The First One You Expect by Adam Cesare
Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates
BorderlineThe King of the Weeds by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
The Quick
by Lauren Owen
A Place for Sinners by Aaron Dries
Cheap Shot by Ace Atkins
Borderline by Lawrence Block
Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
The River of Souls by Robert McCammon
The Ninth Configuration by William Peter Blatty
Deep Like the River by Tim Waggoner
Piercing the Darkness edited by Craig Cook
Sunset and Sawdust by Joe R. Lansdale
Carrie by Stephen King
Down by Nate Southard
Brainquake by Samuel Fuller
Scream Along With Me edited by Alfred Hitchcock
The Forsaken by Ace Atkins
Black Hat Jack by Joe R. Lansdale
TheHalloweenChildren-HC-mediumDisease by M.F. Wahl
The Halloween Children by Brian James Freeman and Norman Prentiss
Fangoria: Cover to Cover edited by Anthony Timpone
‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
Jackpot by David Bernstein, Kristopher Rufty, Shane McKenzie and Adam Cesare
Obsidian Heart Book I: The Wolves of London by Mark Morris
Prisoner 489 by Joe R. Lansdale
Revival by Stephen King
Dark Screams Volume One edited by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar
Exponential by Adam Cesare
The Deep by Nick Cutter

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Interview: Cemetery Dance’s Brian Freeman talks anniversary edition of Stephen King’s ‘It’

Viking's hardcover edition of 'It.'

Twenty-five years ago this December, my grandmother – the person I hold most responsible for my love of reading – gave me Stephen King’s latest book, It, for Christmas. I was 15 years old at the time, already a voracious reader and a bonafide King fanatic. I can’t remember a single thing I got for Christmas that year except for that book.

It’s sitting on my desk right now as I type this. It was the biggest book I’d tackled at that point, even bigger than The Stand, which I had in paperback (the original version, not the restored version that would hit in hardcover years later). It’s what they called a doorstop, a big brick of pages that promised hours and hours of entertainment. The word “IT” is printed on that cover in grungy red letters, and below it there’s a sewer grate with a reptilian claw reaching through the slats. Next to it is a little sailboat made of folded paper. It had my imagination cooking before I read the first page.

I lugged that book around for two weeks, reading it every time I had five minutes to sit down and crack it open. It got to the point where my dad, normally a solid supporter of my reading habit, asked if he was ever going to see me again without that book in my hands. He did, eventually, but not until I finished it.

While the ending sort of threw me that first time around, the heart of the book – those long summer days spent down in the Barrens with The Losers Club – remains to my mind some of the finest character work King has ever pulled off. I identified with all of those kids. I felt for them, hurt for them, and found myself scared witless right along with them.

I don’t think I’m the only one that feels that way, and I think that’s why It is often mentioned when people talk about their favorite King novel. That ongoing goodwill is one reason Cemetery Dance has endeavored to put together a 25th anniversary edition of the book, something that will pay true honor to this classic novel of the wonder and terror of childhood. Recently I talked with Cemetery Dance’s Brian James Freeman about this, their latest King project, and you’ll see that they are pulling out all the stops to make this something truly special.

OC: To start off, give us a description of the different versions of the anniversary edition of Stephen King’s It.

Glen Orbik's art for the Gift version of Cemetery Dance's 25th Anniversary Edition of 'It.'

BF: Sure thing! There is a Slipcased Oversized Hardcover Gift Edition of only 2,750 illustrated copies printed in two colors with two color hot foil stamping, a fine binding, and embossed endpapers.  This edition is still available as of right now for preorder.

There is also a Traycased Oversized Hardcover Signed Limited Edition of only 750 illustrated copies printed in two colors and bound in leather with two color hot foil stamping, a satin ribbon page marker and different embossed endpapers, signed by Stephen King and all of the artists.  This one sold out in about 24 hours after it was announced.

And finally, there is an Oversized Signed Hardcover Lettered Edition of only 52 illustrated copies printed in two colors and bound in two different fine materials with gilded page edges, imported endpapers, a satin ribbon page marker, and protected in a custom deluxe box, signed by Stephen King and all of the artists.  This one will easily be the nicest edition of any book we’ve ever published and it sold out within minutes of being announced.

If you’re curious what makes a Stephen King Gift Edition and Limited Edition different from the normal, mass produced “bookstore” edition you’re used to seeing, I recommend collectors visit these two galleries on our website:

Photos of Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King

Photos of The Secretary of Dreams (Volume Two) by Stephen King

If you’ve ever wondered what a Deluxe Lettered Edition of a Stephen King book looks like, you can visit these galleries:

Photos of our Deluxe Lettered Edition of The Secretary of Dreams (Volume One)

Photos of From A Buick 8 by Stephen King

How close is the Gift Edition to selling out?

It’s about 75% sold out.

How did the 25th anniversary edition come about?

The same way some of our favorite editions have come about over the years: a casual conversation that resulted in a terrific idea that everyone was happy with.  A lot of projects are proposed to King every year, so we’re always thrilled when he responds to one of our ideas.

How did you settle on Glen Orbik for the cover art and Alan M. Clark and Erin Wells for the interior illustrations?

Glen felt like a natural fit after he painted the Blockade Billy cover for us last year.  He has an amazing gift for depth and details.  We love working with Alan, so when we decided to add six color plates to the book, he was our first pick.  Erin is relatively new to the Cemetery Dance family, but she really impressed me with the way she handled a difficult project for me at Lonely Road Books.  I was thrilled to give her the chance to work on this book and she turned in some amazing artwork.

How involved in the process has Stephen King been? Did he have a hand in selecting the artists or approving artwork?

Black-and-white interior artwork from the 25th Anniversary Edition of 'It.'

King generally lets you run with your ideas for these special editions, but he does approve the artists and we send a lot of the artwork his way for feedback.

How does the size of this edition compare to other big books you’ve published? I’m thinking specifically of the Secretary of Dreams books.

The trim-size will be 7 X 10 like our editions of From a Buick 8 and Full Dark, No Stars (or The Passage by Justin Cronin or The Exorcist/Legion by William Peter Blatty for some non-King examples), but it will have a higher page count than anything else we’ve ever published.  In fact, it will easily be the largest book we’ve ever published.  We had never crossed the 1,000 page mark before this.

So, did your printer have a nervous breakdown when you proposed this book? What have been some of the production challenges you’ve faced?

The biggest production challenge was keeping the spine width to three inches, which is the maximum our printer can bind.

It is often listed as a favorite among long-time King readers. In your opinion, what is it about the book that’s helped it endure?

The way King deftly paints the very real lives and fears of children seems to resonate with readers of all ages.  Plus, of course, most people are rightfully afraid of clowns.

King has been a big supporter of Cemetery Dance over the years. How instrumental has he been in the company’s success, particularly early on?

Publishing an original short story by him in Cemetery Dance #14 (“Chattery Teeth”) was obviously a big moment for the company, along with publishing a special edition of From A Buick 8 in 2002.  We’ve published close to 250 books by many of our favorite authors, but working on the King titles is always exciting.

Any future plans for anniversary or special editions of King  books?

Nothing concrete, but we’re always open to the possibilities. 

Tell us about the art portfolion that’s in the works in conjunction with the book. Was that something planned all along, or was it a response to fan requests?

Color interior artwork from the 25th Anniversary Edition of 'It.'

We received a lot of requests from collectors to purchase prints of the artwork, so the portfolio idea grew from those requests.  The It Artwork Portfolio is now more than 80% sold out and I expect the rest to be sold by the time they start shipping.

By the way, I produced a small artwork portfolio for my Lonely Road Books Deluxe Lettered Edition of Blockade Billy by Stephen King, so I put that experience to work when we sat down and started planning the It Artwork Portfolio.  It’s going to be very cool looking. 

Do you have a concrete release date for any of the editions in mind?

December of this year.  We don’t have a “firmer” date than that because the slipcases and traycases are never quite done at the same time as the books, and then it’ll take a few weeks to assemble and ship all of the editions.