Saturday, October 31, 2009

Horror Authors Talk

Second Halloween feature is based on the "Gather the 13" principle. I have one question and I ask it to as many horror or dark fiction writers as possible and just see what lurks inside their creative minds. The questions for the horror authors is:

It's undeniable that Halloween has had quite a sway over mainstream culture. Apart from giving a push to many formats from Halloween special TV episodes to Halloween themed books, movies, comic books and even music, I think it has popularized and helped spread the horror genre around the globe as well as the desire for a chill thrill and a hefty scream. Halloween has established a pantheon of monsters used for scaring small children and grown-ups alike. Whether you yourself celebrate this holiday or don't, can you say what monster or paranormal concept scared you in your youth and fascinated you at the same time?

And here are the answers:

1) Marcia Colette - Bio: Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy writer with a known tendency to flirt with horror and the dark, gritty side of things. Her work includes the novels "Half Breed", "Stripped" and "Unstable Environment" - Answer:

Demon possession scares the crap out of me and still do to this day. Vampires, werewolves, the walking dead. Those I can handle. But demons? That's another story. I guess it's because of all the paranormal that's out there, demons are the most real to me. I think they exist, though I've never had a demonic encounter and don't want one. But at the same time, I'm fascinated because like vampires and werewolves, they're part of the unknown. I want to know more with the hopes of being less afraid. The Exorcist scared me when I first saw it. Today, it's fun to sit around and watch it while analyzing the possibilities. Not only that, but they have been known to be the reason for some hauntings, too, which is why I have some reservations when it comes to ghosts. When I was a kid, I could count the number of movies that creeped me out like Poltergeist and the Amityville Horror. Today, not so much. And no, I have no intentions of seeing Paranormal Activity either. Not knowing what I know now about it. I need all of the sleep I can get these days.

2) Kaaron Warren - Bio: Australian horror writer currently living in Fiji with more than 70 short stories under her belt as well as three novels, among which is also the chilling "Slights" - Answer:

The radio commercial for “The Shining” terrified me. The sound of water rushing, but it wasn’t water, was it, it was blood. I knew I had to see that movie. I hadn’t read the book. I can’t remember if I’d even heard of Stephen King then.

But I knew I wanted to be scared like that for a whole movie.

I can’t remember now if my parents let me go, or if I lied. I think I lied; I saw it with a friend who had grown siblings. We met at her sister’s house. It was the one and only time I was there. It was the night we were told that her husband molested their children. I remember clearly hearing this. I had met him; he was maybe ten years older than us, short hair. He was almost handsome and nice to us. I think he gave me a chocolate bar.

His daughter told her mother, “Daddy makes us look at the white stuff in his penis.”

I remember we were standing in the kitchen of my friend’s sister’s house. The tiles on the floor were purple and white squares; I counted them. I didn’t know what you said when someone told you such a thing.

We saw the movie. It was terrifying, surprising, sick-making. Funny. “Red Rum became a catch-phrase for us.

We caught the train home. It was late. The train door wouldn’t shut and it banged, banged, and every time I thought someone had run through the air and thrown themselves onto the train. I didn’t want to know what sort of person could do such a thing.

My friend and I scared each other, talking about the people on the platforms as we pulled in.

“You never know,” she said. “See that woman? She keeps children under her house.”

“You never know,” I said. “See that old guy?”

He climbed onto the train slowly and walked towards us, dragging his leg. Just like Jack Nicholson. Jack Torrance in The Shining, like that crazy axe-murderer.

My friend and I clutched each other. He had one arm tucked in his coat and we knew he had an axe in there.

The old man sat down and it was a bottle he held hidden. He offered it to us. We giggled.

Scary stories were over.

I’ve seen The Shining dozens of times since then. Jack Torrance always scares me, the way he shifts into hate so easily.

My friend’s sister left the husband. I think we talked about it; my friend was angry and I think we talked about what we’d do to him if we ever aw him.

That night remains clear in my mind as one of the scariest of my youth. There was the created fear of the movie, the imagined fear of people flying through the air, and the very real fear of an adult hurting a child.

3) Gary McMahon - Bio: Gary McMahon lives, works and writes in West Yorkshire but possesses a New York state of mind. He shares his life with a wife, a son, and the nagging stories that won’t give him any peace until he writes them. He has published numerous short stories to anthologies and magazines as well as novels. - Answer:

I'd have to say that the concept of hollowing out a pumpkin, carving a creepy face on it, and thenplacing a burning candle inside has to be the creepist Halloween tradition. Just the look of a glowing pumpkin (or turnip, as we used to utilise when I was a boy) is inherently spooky. It's a very evocative image, and one that has always held a strange resonance for me that I can never quite explain...

4) David Barr Kirtley - Bio: Profilic short fiction writer with a rather lengthy bio that can't be summed up in a few sentences to capture the whole awesomeness. - Answer:

When I was a kid I read a picture book of scary stories. I wish I remembered what it was called. The first story was about a boy who gets a stuffed monkey toy, a sort of ragged old hand-me-down, and someone has sewn needles into its paws to make claws, which cut the kid before he notices them. He starts having nightmares about the monkey, and by the end of the story the nightmares have become reality and he’s trapped, and the monkey has become gigantic and is looming over him -- this was one of the illustrations. That story scared the crap out of me. So much so that I returned the book to the library without reading any of the other stories. So much so that I basically didn’t go near the horror genre for years afterward. I was too scared to read Stephen King, too scared to watch Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street, so I missed a lot of the standard stuff that kids of my generation would probably name. I used to have to cover my eyes during the librarian ghost scene in Ghostbusters, and for a long time James Cameron’s Aliens was probably the scariest movie I’d watched. Then one night I was sitting in front of the TV, and somehow started watching this movie called Killer Clowns from Outer Space, about alien clowns who land in a UFO/circus tent, and start abducting people and cocooning them in cotton candy, and then the clowns use curly straws to suck out their victims’ blood. The only way to kill them is to shoot them in their big red noses. It sounds like a comedy, and if I watched it today I’d probably see it as a comedy, but I don’t think any movie has ever unnerved me as much as that one did. There’s just something really freaky about clowns. Clowns, dolls, puppets, anything like that. (There was a great episode of the Tales from the Crypt TV show that featured a puppet who avenges himself on his owner’s scheming wife.) A piece of fiction that really did it for me was George R. R. Martin’s “Sandkings.” I read that in an airport while waiting for a delayed flight to board, and the story transported me completely, and by the time I finished it my adrenaline was racing and I looked around, startled to be back in the airport. You know something is good when it can scare you even in a crowded airport at noon.

5) T. A. Moore - Bio: Irish short story writer with affliction to the haunting and gothic fiction with one novel "The Even" and a sequel under works. - Answer:

There was something about the concept of Frankenstein's Monster that always troubled me. I wasn't scared of the Monster himself, he was always more tragic than anything else, but the concept behind his creation was a different matter. The idea of a patchwork creation of corpse flesh and man's ambition, patched together with bolts and stitches, possessing the concept of humanity but rebuked for reaching for it. Frankenstein did not wish to be a father, but to be a God - and what worth is the godhead if you must admit your creation is your equal? The Monster's gradual moral deterioration, its discovery of cruelty and vengence, is troubling too. Could the events of the novel have been averted if Frankenstein had not been repelled by his creation, if someone had extended the hand of kindness or if the Monster had another of its kind? Or was the Monster's nature defined by the means of its creation?

The questions and concepts raised in Frankenstein are pervasive in both SF and horror: cloning, robots, evil hands.

Of course, as a child I was most terrified of the Toilet Monster: a tentacled monstrosity that dwelt in the toilet and tried to grab you whenever the toilet lifted the grate that kept it out. The Toilet Monster doesn't raise as many philosophical questions as Frankenstein's Monster, but Stephen King did explore the idea in a short story called 'The Moving Finger'. For all the monsters already birthed into the collective consciousness, we can still find our own versions of them in the oddest of places.

6) Nancy Kilpatrick - Bio: I think that we can skip with this bio, because everybody knows just how prolific with both novels and short stories - Answer:

I agree that Halloween is a popular holiday. One reason is that it’s not like the others. Halloween is given over to the dark side and Valentine’s Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve etc just don’t go there.

The history of Halloween is intriguing and your readers can check it out elsewhere, but essentially this was All Saints’ Day, which followed on the heels of Samhain, a Celtic harvest ritual when the change of season straddled the ‘light’ days of summer and the ‘dark’ days of fall. There are times of the year where a big change occurs (and even times of the day—dawn and dusk), but fall is the most shocking. I mean, who gets shocked when we slip from the cold end of fall into the colder winter? Or from the chill of winter into the rebirth of spring?

It seems innate in human beings that some part of us is deeply effected by these pivotal events, and the shocking and scary one is the demise of summer. The Celts believe this end-of-harvest time was when the dark door opened and spirits from the other side could enter our world, for good or for ill. There are other cultures which have similar traditions, for instance in India, in parts of South America, and Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) on Nov 1 and 2, where it’s thought that the souls of the dearly departed return. If you don’t know about the Mexican holiday you can check out this website, which has my story “Dia de los Muertos”:

The Celts must have been a fun people. They came up with the idea of (dis)guising one’s self so that when these spirits came through the wrinkle in time, they wouldn’t harm the living by trying to cart them back beyond the veil. If you dressed up like a creepy other-worldly being, they would believe that you were one of their own and continue on their search for the living to torment. Pumpkins or jack-o’-lanterns protected your home by showing these ghastly beings from the beyond another demonic face to stop them from entering what, presumably, reminded them of where they normally dwelled.

Of course, the modern world just plays at this, or so they think. There are still plenty of scary images on Halloween roaming the streets, along with a plethora of angels, fairies, corn flake boxes... Personally, I think it’s safer to go the scary route with costuming, because you never know…

But despite laughing at the supernatural and dressing up like Madonna, a majority of 21st century people have a strong belief in ghosts. Yearly media surveys prove this. And ditto for the existence of vampires.

Although I have written a lot of vampire fiction, vampires were not the most frightening supernaturals for me in childhood. I’ve always been creeped out by ghosts and, as they emerged from the Haitian style, zombies. The former are passing through realms. Most of us humanoids are privy to only one realm, aka ‘reality’, with our mini-voyages to other realms in dreams or through artwork, and for some through intoxicants. Because we have fears, ghosts, being rather hazy and incorporeal, are an easy way to envision those fears. Zombies are a more definite fear, it seems to me. They are unstoppable killers, often orally fixated, and mindless. Banded together they form mobs, reminding us of fantasy--where the living stormed castles with torches and pitchforks; or fact--those who painted the streets red with blood during revolutions in France, Russia and other places around the globe. Any rational person fears this irrationality because we know there’s very little if anything that can be done to stop it.

As a writer with what I hope is an artistic bent to my work, I tend to find these beings horrifying and fascinating at the same time. I view them as I would a rather ugly insect pinned to a board: I want to vomit and yet I’m in awe of such a hideous creature and astonished that it exists.

For the record, my most recent ghost story “Sara” appears in Campus Chills. My most recent zombie story “Mozakia” is in the upcoming The Moonstone Book of Zombies. As for vampires, check out By Blood We Live for “The Vechi Barbat”.

7) Robert Dunbar. - Bio: Horror novelist of "Monsters & Martyrs", "The Pines" and "The Shore" - Answer:

As a child I was terrified by the legend of the Jersey Devil. This was of course before Sarah Palin taught us all the true meaning of fear. Nothing scares me anymore. (Well ... FOX News maybe.)

8) Barbie Wilde. - Bio: Performer, actress and writer. A true and dark Renaissance person in the art world. - Answer:

Oh, where do I begin? Both my father and older brother were big Sci-fi fans and my brother always wanted company when he watched the old Creature Feature reruns on Saturday afternoons. ‘The Thing From Outer Space’ and ‘Invasion From Mars’ are two that stand out. I still watch ‘The Thing’ (1952) with great enjoyment today. For its time, the effects were pretty good, but it was the cast and the quirky, smart dialogue that makes it a classic. ‘Invasion From Mars’ (1953) had a very disturbing effect, because the main premise was that aliens land in the back garden of the young hero and take over the minds of his parents. The fact that he couldn’t trust his mother and father (or indeed virtually any adult in the film with the exception of two attractive scientists) was a terrifying concept to an impressionable (and fairly paranoid) 10-year old girl.

However, the granddaddy of them all for me as a child was ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ (1956). I was checking under my bed for alien pods for years after seeing that film! So the upshot is that aliens from outer space are the scariest monsters for me, although the bad daddy ghost in ‘The Haunting’ (1963) is a close second. And for erotic horror, Christopher Lee as Dracula in ‘The Horror of Dracula’ (1958) was also a childhood favorite.

9) Steven Saville. - Bio: Again rather comprehensive to sum up accordingly. You must read it to get an overall idea. - Answer:

While I don't think Halloween itself established many of the monsters I 'enjoyed' as a youngster half-hidden behind the couch (like for instance vampires - I had a deep and abiding dread of vampires from about age 10, which included a lot of nightmares and really kicked off when, in the middle of the night I heard a tap tap tapping at my window. Of course my mother didn't believe me when I said the Prince of Darkness was outside my window and wanted to come in... but come dawn I pulled back the curtains and the glass had shattered with a cobweb of cracks) there's no denying the fact it's popularised ghoulies and ghosties and things that go bump in the night.

For me though, I think ghosts have always been one step beyond (excuse the pun) any of the pantheon of monsters like the mummy, Frankenstein's monster, the wolfman etc. It could simply be the innate Englishness of ghosts, given that we're surrounded by so much history (but no Native American burial grounds, alas) it seems almost inevitable that something should linger - preferable even. I used to have to walk along the edge of a huge cemetery on my way home from school, though walking makes it sound like a casual act, usually it was more like a frantic dash as I was sure I spotted movement in the shadows around the older mausoleums. And then there was the fact that, despite 'not believing' I had several experiences that believers would
claim were proof enough, including waking to see the familiar white clad victorian lady at the bottom of the bed, seeing the ex girlfriend's dead father, and other stuff. But then... I wouldn't have become a writer if I didn't have a very over-active imagination, right?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Gather the 13 or Something Similar

It's Halloween and my Halloween Week went down the drain as unseen circumstances kept me away from the keyboard and sucked my blood dry. The longest I got was to check my mail and any further than that caused my eyes to hurt. Rather nasty, when most of your hobbies tend to include the Internet. One lesson I learned from all this is that I need to start planing these events a year early to not let life mess up my perfect plan. Someone also needs to create a day with a lot more hours. So let's move to the main course, which will be an accumulative of the highlights meant for this week.

I was inspired by John from "Grasping for the Wind" to have a small version of Inside the Blogosphere, but in a smaller scale. My original intent was to ask 13 bloggers and have this ominous air to it, but I am down with three reviewers, who couldn't participate although they exhibited the spirit of participation. I asked a Halloween influenced question ten people. Here is the question:

What scary stories about monsters and ghosts did you grow up with?

And here are your answers:

1) Colin from "Highlander's Book Reviews": Scottish Halloween traditions reach far back into our misty, pagan past but unfortunately many of these have been lost by, initially, the christianification of the country and more recently the commercialisation of the festival. Originally linked to Samhain, the Celtic festival of the dead, this is an in between time, when the boundaries of winter and summer and also life and death are breached allowing the dead into our world.

Until fairly recently the streets would be filled with guisers, literally folks in disguise, carrying lanterns carved from turnips (neeps!), it's too cold to grow pumpkins in Scotland. The idea was that these folk could mingle with the dead as they were out walking.

There are two particular tales in the Highlands that I want to share. The first is the Cailleach Bheur, the Blue-faced Hag of Winter. She appears at Samhain, with the first winter snows, to rule the land until chased off by springtime. She is particularly prominent on the appropriately named Beinn na Caillich on the Isle of Skye where she stirs up the winds before sending storms crashing down on the folks below.

The second tale concerns the bishop of Spynie Palace near Elgin. He occupied St Davids Tower at the palace but it is rumoured he dappled in Black Magic. If you visit the tower on Halloween you can see the witches and spirits he summoned returning, the air is filled with strange music and unearthly light.

Incidentally fires and bonfires were until recently, associated with Halloween in Scotland, rather than Guy Fawkes as they are in England. There are still a few Scots who wish he had managed to blow up the houses of parliament! The Scottish fires are there to celebrate the burning of witches and in some areas an effigy of an old woman is still thrown onto the fire.

So for a Scot like myself, Halloween is not about greed and commercialism but is a much deeper, darker affair. The tales may be old but there is no smoke without fire and who knows what you will find if you wander out on a lonely road through the wild Scottish countryside at Halloween.

2) Graeme from "Graeme's Fantasy Book Review": Wow, that’s a tricky one seeing as I’m currently having trouble remembering what I did last week… (seriously though, can someone tell me?)

The thing is, it was all about sci-fi and fantasy when I was a kid and the closest I got to a horror book, for a long time, was looking at the Stephen King covers, in the supermarket, while Mum was doing the shopping. Some of those covers were scary enough on their own though…

Then, just before I finished up with primary school, I discovered both the ‘Pan Book of Horror’ and ‘Fontana Book of Great Horror’ series on the bookshelves. There was some seriously scary stuff there and I was hooked. The only problem these days is that I can’t remember any of the titles, the stories themselves stay with me still but I can’t for the life of me remember what any of them are called! Quite sad really…

There were stories about possessed dolls that possessed their owners and men who had to face down hordes of flesh eating ants. There was even a story about a man whose own skeleton rebelled against him, not letting him move or eat until he died (I think it may have been called ‘The Flesh is Weak). This wasn’t a case of mere paralysis, there was some serious spooky evil going on!

Out of all of these stories though, the one that has always stayed with me is one called ‘The Eater of Souls’ (I think. Like I said, I’m having trouble remembering the titles). Two brothers share a bedroom, one has tucked himself into bed nice and tight and the other brother is worried about him. You see, the Eater of Souls likes to capture people who are already in a tight spot so that they cannot escape, once the Eater of Souls has you then you are doomed… What our little friend doesn’t realise is that while he’s reading his book (and keeping an eye on his brother) he’s tucking himself in tight as well. He turns to the next page of his book and guess what is waiting for him…? You guessed it; his soul was eaten right up…

I woke up the next morning after having read this story and the light was shining through the window in such a way that it looked like two little red eyes were glaring at me from the shadows on top of a shelf. I didn’t dare move for what felt like hours… It didn’t stop me going after that next big scare though, something that you’ll still find me doing today.

Whatever you read, or watch, this Halloween… I hope it does the job and gives you a big scare too…

3) Carl from "Stainless Steel Droppings": The earliest 'scary story' I remember is the tale of Icabod Crane in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I am guessing it may have been from the cartoon version, but somehow that story sticks in my mind and is one that I have always found particularly creepy, merely because of my childhood recollection.

I read a number of ghost story collections, checked out from the library, when I was young. While I cannot remember many specific stories, I do remember that these were often by 'classic' authors. What I do remember quite vividly is the illustrations by Edward Gorey. They burned themselves into my brain as the visual representation of a good scary story and I have been a fan of his work ever since. Even now when I watch Mystery on PBS or see and Edward Gorey illustration on a book I am thrown back to my childhood.

It was in childhood, just prior to adolescence, that I first read Bram Stoker's Dracula.
I was terrified, in that kind of deliciously creepy way that a young boy can be scared. It is one of my watershed moments in my reading development. It made such an impression on me that three decades later I still consider Dracula to be my absolute favorite book. I am so devoted to it that I have not once enjoyed a movie adaptation of the book, as none come close to being faithful to the story, and I reread it every few years.

Those are the things that really stand out in my mind when I think of scary memories from my childhood. I also recall watching a number of Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing movies on television. Those were so perfect for a rainy afternoon or a late night with all the lights off. Even today I enjoy filling my October nights with these classic films.

4) Fabio from "Post-Weird Thoughts": The earliest nursery rhyme I can remember is one my grandfather used to sing to me. It´s called (in Brazilian Portuguese) BOI DA CARA PRETA - in a literal translation, the Black-Faced Ox. It is usually sang in a basso voice, so as to emulate the call of the ox. The lyrics says that the Black-Faced Ox comes and gets away bad-mannered children in the middle of the night (not exactly that, but that´s pretty much the spirit of the thing). It´s really scary to little children.

Then, as I grew up a little, I was told of the VELHO DO SACO (The Old Bag Man, lit trans also). A very tall, thin, bearded, crazy-looking man. He may be black or white depending of the region of Brazil you´re living in (in Rio de Janeiro, he seemed to be white as far as I know), and he usually roams the streets at night, capturing children and pre-teens and throwing them into his bag, whose interior was as dark
as a coal sack. The children he caught were never heard of again.

And my personal favorite (I even wrote a story about her recently), the BATHROOM BLONDE. I don´t know if she´s an imported urban legend (I was once told so, but I couldn´t find any reliable references). When I was approximately 1o years old (1976), the legend spread all over Brazil like wildfire. It was hard to find a school where children weren´t at least a little bit wary of going to the bathroom by themselves. The account was that she was a gorgeous blonde woman, all dressed in red (not at all unlike Number Six in the recent Battlestar: Galactica remake), but with the pallor of a corpse (here the things gets creepy, and Gothic, of all things) and sometimes she could be seen even with little cottonballs in her nostrils (it´s still quite common in funerals here, since we use to bury our deceased the day after they die). Rumor had it that she was killed by a jealous lover (other rumor also said that she killed herself because of unrequited love), and sometimes she could be seen with her wrists slit -- still carrying a straight razor, which she was more than happy to use in anybody who dared to disturb her sleep in the bathroom. This in itself has a whole erotic charge that shook as we were growing up. You know, it may even be one of the things that moved me into fantastic literature.

5) Peter from "Ubiquitous Absence": I hate to sound boring, but largely the garden variety stuff. I remember being into a series of monster books (Crestwood House Monsters series – man, the internet is awe inspiring for a tired and beaten-down memory) at my elementary school’s library. I checked out and read through each of them numerous times. I then remember watching all of the black and white movies, upon which, the books were based. There was King Kong, Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, the Mummy, Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man and probably more than that. I have few memories of my grandfather, who died when I was very young, but I do recall a Saturday afternoon in his living room where we, I on the floor and he in his recliner, watched King Kong vs. Godzilla. At the time, it was the best movie in the whole wide world.

It wasn’t too much later, that I watched, for God knows what reason, Salem’s Lot. At that age, it made me paranoid. I don’t truly recall any scenes from the movie, except one. I recall a vampire floating off the ground outside a second story bedroom window. Growing up in totally rural town (pop. ~3500), there are plenty of noises to pick up on at night. Each one of them was the tell-tale sign of a vampire preying upon me and mere moments from ending my life. Yikes!!!

I went straight to sci-fi and fantasy fiction after that, and haven’t ever looked back because, we all know what’s back there…gaining on me.

6) Velvet from "vvb32 reads": Below is a campfire ghost story my Uncle told me in the 70's that I thought at the time was unique and one that he created. I'd get the shivers after listening to this story every time he told it. For he repeated this tale many times during my childhood as I have younger siblings and cousins who were introduced this tale.

Little did I know until recently that this story is an urban legend or urban hoax (thanks to that has been passed on throughout history since maybe the 50's. Ah, no matter. The story is a good one that still creeps me out.

Give it a read. I'm curious to know if you've heard of it.

"The most famous cautionary urban legend is the "hook-hand killer" tale. In this story, a young couple on a date drive off to a remote spot to "park." Over the radio, they hear that a psychopath with a hooked hand has escaped from a local mental institution. The girl wants to leave, but her boyfriend insists there's nothing to worry about. After a while, the girl thinks she hears a scratching or tapping sound outside the car. The boyfriend assures her it's nothing, but at her insistence, they eventually drive off. When they get to the girl's house, the boyfriend goes around to the passenger side to open her door. To his horror, there is a bloody hook hanging from the door handle."

Excerpt from How Urban Legends Work

7 & 8) Ana & Thea from "The Book Smugglers": Actually Ana has decided that she doesn't have anything as story material from her childhood that could answer this questions, but she has offered a real experience LINK

Thea: I'm a bit of a weird case - I was born in Hawaii and lived there until I was 7, then I moved to Japan and Indonesia. My mom is Filipino and my father is Caucasian, and I am an American citizen. But I've only actually lived in the US (of my adult life) for a few years. you can imagine, I grew up with a lot of different ghosts and monsters! In addition to the usual US monsters (vampires, talking killer dolls, freddy krueger, etc), I had some wonderfully terrifying asian monsters too. There's this Filipino horror movie from my childhood that still stands the test of time (you can rent it on Netflix if you are in the USA! Just be prepared for really crappy sound and subtitles) -Tiyanak. A tiyanak (pronounced "chya-nak") is a changeling demon baby; it pretends to be a normal baby child and cries to get the attention of any passers-by. When someone picks up the poor baby and takes it home, the tiyanak unleashes hell and tears these poor people apart. In the film, this tiyanak mutates into this horrible puppet thing that looks like the fiji mermaid and goes on a killing spree. At the time, I was terrified of it (I was only 5), but even upon a rewatch, I have to admit the puppet is pretty damn good looking!

Another favorite ghost story is that of the Aswang - the Filipino version of a vampire. There are a lot of different versions of the aswang, but in the version that my mother and lola told me, the aswang feeds on blood, flesh, and amniotic fluid. That is, it uses its long, tube-like fangs, inserts them up a sleeping pregnant woman's hoo-ha, and feasts on the fluid and unborn child in the mother's womb. This version of the aswang is also called a "tik-tik" because of the sound it makes while feeding. It has large wings and can fly, and it lurks outside windows to prey on its victims. To protect yourself against aswang, the usual vampire deterrents work - lots of garlic, holy water, rosaries, etc. These are usually placed in windows, along with other protective paraphernalia (such as stingray tails) to stop the aswang from entering the room.

9) Michael from "Only the Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy": Halloween in Germany - Lore, Myths and Monsters

There is no real Halloween tradition in Germany. But we adapted a lot of things from USA in the past years.It is more and more common to see pumpkin and Jack-O'Lantern decorations in late October. Even in the small town where I live, kids started to go trick.or.treating.

There are also Halloween parties and other events. There is a big event in the Rhein-Main-Area: Halloween at Castle Frankenstein. Unfortunately the site is available in German only. But I think the pictures speak for themselves.

Instead of Halloween we celebrate Walpurgis Night (Walpurgisnacht) from 30th April to 1st of May on the Brocken also known as Blocksberg.
The Brocken is the highest peak of the Harz mountain. There witches hold a large celebration and await the arrival of Spring.
"Now to the Brocken the witches ride;
The stubble is gold and the corn is green;
There is the carnival crew to be seen,
And Squire Urianus will come to preside.
So over the valleys our company floats,
With witches a-farting on stinking old goats."

In my childhood we have been scared by several fairy tales recorded by the brothers Grimm.
One example for this is the tale of Hansel and Gretel.

We have a famous legend about a mountain spirit named Rübezahl.

"...Rübezahl, you should know, has the nature of a powerful genius:
capricious, impetuous, peculiar, rascally, crude, immodest, haughty,
vain, fickle, today your warmest friend, tomorrow alien and cold;
...roguish and respectable, stubborn and flexible..."
—Musäus, 1783

As you can imagine people feared him because they never knew in which
mood he was.

In my youth there was only black and white TV available (don't think about my age).
And there have been several movies and TV series which from which I got
really nightmares.

The first one is a movie from 1920 about the Golem in Praha:
"In 16th-century Prague, a Jewish rabbi creates a giant creature from clay,
called the Golem, and using sorcery, brings the creature to life in order to
protect the Jews of Prague from persecution. Unfortunately, his evil assistant
manages to take control of the Golem, and uses it to commit crimes to enrich him,
and finally has it kidnap the rabbi's beautiful daughter.
However, the Golem--which had been given human emotions
by the rabbi--finally rebels against the assistant's misuse of him."

The second one is a movie from 1922 titled Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror.
This is a German vampire horror film.
Count Orlok with his long fingers and nose looked really scary.

And then there was a TV mini series Belphegor: Phantom of the Louvre.
It is about a ghost which haunts the Louvre Museum.
Watch the video in order to get an impression why I found it scary.
It is German dubbed.

10) Adele from "Un:Bound": The UK has many myths, legends and ghost stories as any fan of Most Haunted will know. I live in Leicestershire and the city of Leicester has a fascinating history with Anglo Saxon and Roman ruins still visible in the City itself. Richard III was buried here and the City has a Cathedral alongside many churches and buildings from different periods of history. Ghost walks are carried out through the City so here is one of my favourite stories from the area.

Bradgate Park in Leicestershire was the childhood home of Lady Jane Grey. Lady Jane was a made Queen in 1553. She remained Monarch for only 9 days and the following year was executed at age 16.

The tragic young queen is rumoured to haunt the park, sometimes, in a horse drawn carraige that moves down the path between the church and the ruins of her childhood home particularly on Christmas eve. If you wander up to Bradgate in the mist, with the hill rising above you it is easy to imagine you see her figure slipping among the ruins.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hellbound Hearts: Part II

“Hellbound Hollywood” by Mick Garris, Pages 14: In a dark and twisted way this I found this story quite captivating and entertaining. The reader is introduced to the unsavory former film genius James, who is trying scrape together the remaining pieces of his reputation from his glorious days, when he enjoyed pleasures unsavory even for the sin infested movie industry. As he is scouting an abandoned and supposedly haunted house for a horror movie he meets with a Cenobite and perishes in a particularly cruel manner. I can say that this is not for those, who are grossed out easily, because the Cenobite is grotesque and is described in the smallest details. I have to give it to Garris though, because he managed to mix the uncomfortable with the sensual and erotic.

“Mechanisms” by Christopher Golden & Mike Mignola, Pages 25: One of the longer pieces in the anthology has to offer a lot in atmosphere. Gore-free and Cenobite-absent “Mechanisms” evokes authentic gothic ghost stories. Colin Radford is the protagonist as he returns from his studies at Oxford to search for his missing father in his desolate and haunted looking family house. Search parties have born no results and the only clue to his father’s disappearance is the strange machine left in the basement. Dread, paranoia and hollow still panic billow as the mystery progresses and the puzzle of the machine and the strange nocturne noises it produces unravels. Definitely a chiller, especially if you take into account the black and white illustrations by Mike Mignola, which are very fitting for the tone of the narrative.

“Every Wrong Turn” by Tim Lebbon, Pages 14: This one certainly counts as my favorite for a wide array of reasons. For starters it explores the ancient struggles that come with the human moral system as it counterbalances primal and dark urges and desires. Conscience and guilt face the temptation of the forbidden fruit and indulgence in and explicit sensations from the most obscene acts. The protagonist knows he is a monster, but knowledge is not acceptance and in his attempts to punish himself by finding the center of a haunted with the spirits of his past labyrinth, the Gardener has a different punishment in mind. Humans are known for their sadism as well as their charity and kindness and this story explores our dark nature that seems to be spinning out of control in this day and age.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Booksmugglers on Halloween and Horror

To conclude this first Halloween Week Day I have something funny for you guys. Me and the girls from over The Book Smugglers have became a sort of unholy trinity. Members include Zombie Thea, Ninja Ana and Harrymonster, though I prefer to be the maniac with the chainsaw. In the spirit of goofing off every once in awhile I have asked the girls questions with no intellectual value whatsoever. The result:

Harry: Girls, I have this major sweet tooth and can virtually devour tons of sugar containing edible products, while watching a movie. Different movies deserve different sweets. Do you have a candy policy concerning horror movies? What's your saccharine poison during a horror flick?

Ana: I don’t watch many horror movies but as a rule my favourite movie treat are chocolate covered raisins. NOM NOM NOM.

Thea: I actually am missing a sweet tooth! I don't like sugary stuff much at all. BUT throw a bag of chips in front of me, and I will eat them all. I suppose my horror snack of choice has to be classic popcorn. With a large diet coke.

Harry: It's the end of the world, kay? *pause for the grave gravity of the situation* And everyone is in for the grabs. All of a sudden Satan catches Cthulhu making a pass on US land. A death match follows. Who will win?

Ana: What in the world is a Cthullu??? Yes, I am an ignoramus when it comes to horror okay? Don’t judge me. Is it not enough that the world is about to end?

Thea: Neither. Satan summons his demonic minions to hold down Cthulhu's tentacled squid face while he attempts to fry the unspeakable monster, but to no avail! His demonic brimstone fire is put out by the rising seas, and it appears that Cthulhu has the advantage. As the monster grabs Satan in its deathly vice, the devil's able to ram his pitchfork into Cthulhu, decapitating the monster. Both Satan and Cthulhu sink into the abyss, and the world is saved!

At least...temporarily.

Harry: Let's imagine that you are plagued/gravely wounded/dying/dead and since it's Halloween and weird shit happens all around, you get a second chance as supernaturally life impaired. What critter would you like to be? Zombie, vamp, ghoul, strict librarian... etc. etc. etc

Ana: My first thought was for Vamp but I don’t think I would dig the whole drinking blood/not seeing the sun thing. I don’t want to be a zombie either because they are gross and ghosts are too…untouchable for my tastes. Since it’s Halloween and anything can happen can I become a shape shifting creature that causes havoc all over the world by impersonating famous people? WHAT? Don’t judge me. Isn’t it enough that I just died?

Thea: Hmm, zombies would be an obvious choice, but they are too dim and easy to kill - err, re-kill. I think I'd go for a werewolf/shapeshifter of some sort. Like Ana, I like the sun too much to abstain completely and I like meat too much to subsist entirely on blood. So, man-eating werewolf it is! I get the perks of zombiism (BRAAAAINS), PLUS supernatural strength and the ability to reason, PLUS I can still suntan if I so desire.

Harry: Again let's pretend you are dangerous, sexy, aluring, smart [not much deviation from real life here, huh?] and also gifted in witchcraft. What spells would you be most addicted to casting and please avoid 'to order my books' and 'schedule my blog posts faster'? I want Belatrix Lestrange femme fatale!

Ana: hummm I love Belatrix! If I were a witch, I am 100% sure I would be addicted to teleporting. I would never take the stairs again or drive anywhere or take the tube or walk down the road to get milk. Oh, my life would be bliss! Plus with the time saved with commuting/going up and down the stairs I would be able to read more. What? You knew I would mention reading and “books” somehow didn’t you?

Thea: LOL! Well, ordering books and scheduling posts or writing reviews in the blink of an eye would be fabulous spells, but I think I want something more flashy for my magic. Hmm, I think a good ol' "Never Worry About Money/Time/Working EVER AGAIN" spell would come in handy. You know, so I could spend all my time reading, watching movies, blogging, etc.

On a more sassy note, I think I'd get a kick outta transmorgifying things. You know, turning people into newts and such. That could be addictive.

Harry: In which horror movie would you like to be a protagonist and what kind of protagonist would you like to be. Give me details and there is no limit to answers. You can be a chimp with a laser sword in Night of the Walking Dead for all I care.

Ana: I thought about this question for a long, long time. And I always came back to the same answer: hell, noes. I don’t want to be in a horror movie ever. OMG the horror! The fear! I don’t think I can master the strength or the courage to be in one, even if I manage to write myself as a kick-ass Ripley kind of protagonist. UNLESS Gerard Butler is in it, and I am the heroine he needs to rescue with his manly arms and kiss me till I swoon. I know, not very feminist but is Gerard Butler so yeah…don’t judge me?

Thea: Oh man, no question - I would want to star in my own zombie-film mashup. Cast me with the badassness factor of Alice from the Resident Evil films, in a Romero-cum-Zach Snyder/Danny Boyle zombie apocalypse film, where I get to stave off the undead with my handy rifle, machetes, and....what the heck, gimme a lightsaber too.

And to cap it all off, once the earth has been overrun by zombies, I and a few lucky survivors create a superluminal warp drive and get on a spaceship and boldly set out for a new planet to call home. With The Force to guide us (you know, to a galaxy far, far away)...

Werewolf in Art

I have been trying to garner up the most interesting representations, high quality as well, of the most iconic Halloween monster of all times and on a coincidence I started with the werewolf, who has been fighting with the vampire for top position on the literary scene as well as the movie one for quite some time. Now here are my top picks for this monster:

"Werewolf" by Paul Mudie

This is the classic werewolf as I have imagined and seen for quite some time. It's the most popular image we have seen so far and is I have already said classic.

"Werewolf" by Jesse Cutler

Let's get dark and sinister in the spirit of Halloween and cower before this grizzly representation, which I expect to be featured on a metal band

"Werewolf" by JL Flores

What I love about this piece is the super hero comic book feel like you expect this to pop up in a Marvel crossover or better yet in a Zenescope title.

"Werewolf Glance" by Erica Panell

What I love about this one is the benevolent essence I get from this one. It is more human and seems to be intelligent, peaceful and in tune with nature rather than being completely feral.

''Now a Werewolf" by Adam Hebert

I am fascinated by the process of the transformation and this is a snap shot, when the human and the beast is balanced in this shape. The lines and the general feel here are truly captivating as it comes near to my obsession with comic books.

Werewolf Woman [artist unknown, but if anybody does know, please give me the info to credit his/hers talent]

I never knew that finding a female rendition of the werewolf would be so hard to find. Try googling for images and behold the horror. deviant Art is not that much safer in this regard. This is the very best female werewolf I found without having to cross over to the furry/anime side.

Hellbound Hearts: Part I

Edited by Paul Kane and Marie O’Regan

Twenty-one Tales Inspired by Clive Barker’s Hellraising Universe

Clive Barker’s iconic masterpiece The Hellbound Heart, the novella adapted into the film Hellraiser, unleashed a new mythology of horror, brilliantly conceived and born of the darkest imagination. Now, enter this visionary world—the merciless realm of the demonic Cenobites—in HELLBOUND HEARTS (Pocket Books; September 29, 2009; $16.00), a terrifying collection of stories inspired by The Hellbound Heart.

Featured here is the graphic work Wordsworth, from bestselling author Neil Gaiman and artist Dave McKean, who unlock an explicit way to violate innocence—one torturous puzzle at a time. New York Times bestselling author Kelley Armstrong logs on to a disturbing website for gamers, where the challenge is agonizing, and the solution beyond painful. When his father disappears, an Oxford student returns to his family’s mansion, where a strange mechanism in the cellar holds a curious power, in a haunting illustrated work by Christopher Golden and Mike Mignola.

With a special foreword by Clive Barker, introduction by Stephen Jones, and afterword by Doug 'Pinhead' Bradley, HELLBOUND HEARTS is a must have for any horror and dark fantasy fan.

Also features hellraising tales by Peter Atkins • Conrad Williams • Sarah Pinborough • Mick Garris • Tim Lebbon • Richard Christian Matheson • Nancy Holder • Simon Clark • Steve Niles • Sarah Langan • Nicholas Vince • Yvonne Navarro • Mark Morris • Barbie Wilde • Jeffrey J. Mariotte • Nancy Kilpatrick • Gary A. Braunbeck & Lucy A. Snyder • Chaz Brenchley


“Prisoners of the Inferno” by Peter Atkins, Pages 14: The same way you can judge a book by its first chapter, you can judge an anthology by its opening story. In this regard I can instantly testify that it doesn’t get better than this. Highly atmospheric and relying on anticipation and suspense Atkins leaves the reader hang on and wait for the main attraction as vintage horror film enthusiast Jack inches forward to watching one of the most elusive horror movies from the 1930’s “The Cabinet of Doctor Coppelius”. In the beginning a skeptic, Jack quickly is swept with the fever of watching this almost extinct movie after buying a movie still featuring the main female lead Alice Lavender, an actress with one role only. Nothing gory happens at all in the story, which is odd considering the content of the Hellraiser movies and the nature of the mythology created by Clive Barker, but the short story’s ending is an open invitation for all readers as well as a hint towards what might lurk inside these pages.

“The Cold” by Conrad Williams, Pages 16: It’s winter, it’s cold and there seems to be a brand new whacked up serial killer lurking the streets of Manchester targeting beautiful women and cutting them up with surgical precision. The protagonist is the cynical and bitter law enforcer Gravier, who naturally is determined to get to the bottom of this. The story unravels in two intertwining plot lines, which infuse into a ghastly ending. Although I am not a fan of the cop with sly tongue and loud mouth, Williams has managed to breathe a new life in this overused trope, which left me wanting more. The voice and narration create a certain jagged dynamic to the story as if a glass painting has been thrashed to pieces and then assembled on the ground, the pieces fitting together loosely and with imperfections. Resembling collages. I found it quite refreshing. Also noteworthy is the Cenobite featured here and referred to as Lady Ice, who is more or less a very seducing dominatrix.

“The Confessor’s Tale” by Sarah Pinborough, Pages 14: Words can’t express the captivation I experienced with this one. For starters Pinborough managed to do three vital things. First, she managed to convince me that Russia is not such a bad place to read about, despite my dislike left from my school years. Then she managed to captivate me with pure story telling quality to a degree I overlooked the fact that the prose is not lyrical or anything memorable. With her the story and its essence stay with the reader. Third she sparked curiosity and interest into her protagonist Arkady Melanov, who is as unsympathetic and cold hearted as they come and also mute. The subject matter of course was a treat: the grim murderous instinct in the human mind as well as the sadistic streak that we try to deny and cover up in virtue, but nevertheless tempts us. Pinborough hints towards the unspeakable things people have committed in this story, sketches the vague outlines and leaves the readers to fill in the rest. As a side note I want to add that this is the only short story to shed some light on how Cenobites are being created.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Halloween Week: 26.10 - 01.11

My Halloween Week event will be quite smaller in comparison to what is brewing over at The Book Smugglers, but when have they not pulled something at a grand scale. Thea, it seems, has taken over the blog and poor Ana is dragged on for the ride. I highly recommend stopping by there and marvel their handiwork.

Although I have different things planned for different days daily posts in the same vein will pop up throughout the week. The main background will be the seven part review “Hellbound Hearts” will receive as special treatment for being an awesome anthology. I have planned to feature singular posts dedicated for the most famous monsters and their art representations.

Monday: Ana & Thea from “The Booksmugglers” are here to answer some of my funny questions connected with the horror genre in general. I hope you laugh as much as I have while reading their answers.

Tuesday: I will provide chart lists and interesting threads on Halloween costumes as well as my Top 10 of underappreciated and exotic monsters that need to be present in the genre more and not be overlooked.

Wednesday: I reserve this day for my special movie stash dedicated for a Halloween movie marathon. Horror will be a prevailing genre, but expected a few parodies, comedies and the weirdo choices.

Thursday: I have this special little feature called “Gather the 13”, which will pose a question about horror, myths and lore and thirteen bloggers from different cultural background and genre preferences will answer this question from their cultural background.

Friday: I shall review the horror classic “Frankenstein” by Marry Shelley, which will be the only review I will provide on a book as much as I regret it, but Halloween is too fun to focus only on literature.

Saturday: It’s Halloween people, thus the MAIN attraction. I have called [more like e-mailed] several horror authors and posed a question to their attention, which they have answered and if you have wondered what has scared these masters of horror and dark fiction, then stay tuned.

Sunday: The Halloween aftermath with chart lists about superheroes, saviors and horror magazines and videos for your delight.

Sounds like fun, eh? Hope you enjoy.

Reviewer Time: James Long from "Speculative Horizons"

I am giddy and I am nervous. It’s October’s very last Sunday, which translates to several very important things. One, starting next week I won’t be able to slack as much as I used to. Two, I am starting my Halloween Week event, which will be both a blast and a horror to stage solo. Third, it’s SUNDAY AFTERNOON SEMI-LIVE with your host Harry Markov and his ever so popular feature “Reviewer Time”. This week’s guest is James Long, respected blogger, reviewer and founder of the British hit blog “Speculative Horizons”.

Pardon for the talk show babble, I am on a Saturday Night Live rush and it reflects a tad too obviously. Let’s get started with the introductory commentary. “Speculative Horizons” has been around for almost two years and although it stems from around the same time I decided to create “Temple Library Reviews” he has a sweet gig with a steady stream of followers and has managed to garner 100, 000 already. James apparently has been doing something right to get such Internet attention in this dynamic environment as well as getting invitations to book parties hosted by respected publishers such as Gollancz. So let’s look at what can be the cause for “Speculative Horizons” to be as hot spot for speculative fiction readers.

First and foremost there is the green on black look, which I find slick, quite easy on the eye and atmospheric for the purposes of hosting a blog dedicated for speculative fiction, but I am more or less biased on the matter, since green is my favorite color. Then there are the reviews. I have to say the reviews pop up sporadically, judging by the content per month ratio, but as they do pop up they are pleasant to read. His reviews are conversational, unstructured and of medium length, but they reveal a lack of constraint, which is their strong point. Readers catch on that James knows what he is talking about and it’s that ease that draws the reader in or at least what drew me in. It’s clear that James is passionate about the genre and the books and it shows in his work, which makes it irrelevant how many reviews he posts weekly. Though I do want to read more of his opinions on certain titles.

“Speculative Horizons” is not defined by its reviews, but for the subtle British humor [I hope I am not the sole human to think so] and the diversity in news and information output. There have been several instances, where I’ve learned or was introduced to certain events and occurrences solely through my reading on “Speculative Horizons”, which in the dangerous and highly competitive discipline ‘review blogging’ is an appreciated advantage to be taken seriously by both readers and the publishers, who supply the books.

My personal recommendation is to add this one in your Google Reader, even if it is already packed inside. For more on James, check this interview at Ubiquitous Absence hosted by Peter William.

Harry Markov: I bet you have kept up with this feature so you know that the first few questions are always personal, so let’s get straight to work. Who is James Long, when he is not in charge of the awesome “Speculative Horizons”?

James Long: He’s an international spy/playboy that divides his leisure time between his private yacht moored in Monaco, his Beverley Hills mansion and his Knightsbridge penthouse suite. When he’s not saving the world from cat-stroking evil geniuses, or receiving massages from a host of scantily-clad Scarlett Johansson lookalikes, he secretly blogs about fantasy books. When no one’s looking, of course.

Alternatively, he is a regular guy that works the 9 to 5 grind like everyone else, and spends his lunchtimes blogging about the fantasy books he reads on his daily commute.

You decide!

HM: I am a big fan of lists, so I want you to list me three fun facts that your readers probably would never ever guess about you.

JL: 1) I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings.

2) I burned down the town of Trebon.

3) I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my – hang on, sorry…got confused there. Can’t get that blurb for The Name of the Wind out of my head…

Let’s see.

1. I was once hauled out of English class and berated by my teacher for reading my Space Wolves army book (a Games Workshop publication) in class instead of a ‘proper’ book. Our usual teacher was away, and a chap called Mr Henderson was taking the class. Unfortunately, Mr Henderson’s born-again Christian beliefs didn’t quite correlate with a book about muscular, bearded men that enjoyed killing things with chainsaws and guns. I was told in no uncertain terms (in other words, he screamed at the top of his voice) that my book was “perverted rubbish.” It remains, to this day, one of my finest genre-related moments.

2. I’m vegetarian and love animals, though admittedly the vegetarian gig is a pretty recent development – I’ve only been veggie for three and a half months. It’s going pretty well so far, only one minor wobble in the first week when I threw a strop because I wanted a chicken curry. I sulked for approximately fourteen minutes and thirty-two seconds, then ordered a vegetable curry instead. I would say that I own two Devon Rex cats, though I rather suspect they own me.

3. I cannot drink significant amounts of any kind of spirit. This is the legacy of getting horrifically drunk on the contents of a liquor cabinet whilst around a friend’s house at the age of 14. I think I puked in pretty much every single room of the house. When my mother came to pick me up, my friend offered the heroic explanation that I’d “eaten a cheese sandwich” and that “maybe it didn’t agree with me.”

To this day, I steer well clear of spirits – beer and wine all the way!

HM: When and how was your passion for reading sparked and what was your path to discovering the pretty rad world that is speculative fiction?

JL: My parents used to take me regularly to our local library and really instilled in me a love of reading. I’d read two or three books a week as a child, and was diagnosed as having the reading ability of a 15 year-old when I was just 11, so I was able to move on to more advanced material pretty fast.

My first taste of speculative fiction was a series of books called Tim and the Hidden People, about a young boy that finds a magic key and gets involved with a race of ghost-like people. They just took me to another place completely; it was total escapism. The stories were very imaginative, but even better were the wonderfully moody illustrations that just oozed atmosphere. I guess this sparked a love of the mysterious and mystical in me, a taste for the fantastical. This spark lay dormant for a few years, until one day when by chance I bought a book called Return to Firetop Mountain (book 50 in the Fighting Fantasy series of gamebooks). No idea why I bought the book, I just saw it in a catalogue and for some reason I wanted it. A good thing too, since it utterly blew my mind. Before I knew it, I was hooked on this tale of adventure, treasure and monsters in which I got to decide what happened. I devoured many of the other Fighting Fantasy books, before eventually moving on to Brian Jacques’s Redwall series of YA novels. Then, on a friend’s recommendation, I bought Terry Brooks’ The Sword of Shannara and read it in three days, loving every moment. It was too late to turn back now, not that I wanted to. I read the rest of Brooks’ novels, and then moved on to the likes of Feist, Jordan, etc, becoming more and more immersed in the genre.

HM: What was the inspiration behind the conception of “Speculative Horizons” and how did you decide on this form of blogging in the first place?

JL: For several years I enjoyed discussing fantasy books online in various forums, and when the blogs took off I enjoyed following them and the debates they often started. The more I saw the bloggers enjoying themselves and gaining increasing exposure and support from publishers, the more I started thinking that it was something I’d love to have a go at.

I knew the fantasy blogosphere was already quite crowded, but I was always confident I could produce a blog that could offer something a bit different from those already out there. I also saw it as a chance to give something back to the genre, which had given me so much enjoyment over the years. Plus I needed a creative outlet and a challenge, and this just fitted the bill completely.

I didn’t really have any sort of plan, I didn’t do that much research – my only real desire from an aesthetic point of view was to create a blog that looked quite striking and memorable. Otherwise, I’ve been flying by the seat of my pants for the most part, learning as I’ve gone. It’s certainly been a fun education.

HM: What’s the part of review blogging that liberates you from the mundane troubles and makes it worth the time and effort and what part frustrates you the most?

JL: The knowledge that people all over the world are enjoying the blog and enjoying books that I’ve recommended – honestly, this is the why I blog in the first place, and it feels great when someone emails me and says “I picked up book X on your recommendation, and really enjoyed it.” I actually received an email from a US soldier, serving in the Middle East, who told me that my blog was a daily read for him. I got a massive kick from that – it really brought it home to me how much some people enjoyed the blog. As long as folk are enjoying the blog and picking up some useful recommendations, I’ll keep blogging!

As for the other side of the coin…there’s not really anything that frustrates me about the blogging. It can be a drag at times (some reviews take quite a while to write) but generally it’s a lot of fun. There’s plenty of things in the genre itself that I do get frustrated by, such as the small minority of fans who whine and bitch about delays to books, and think it’s acceptable behaviour to email Pat Rothfuss and George R. R. Martin and call them ‘fat fucks’ or whatever childish prattle they bandy about. All those people need two things – a finer understanding of how writing/publishing works, and a damned good slap.

HM: Not so long ago Kristen from “Fantasy Cafe” posted an interesting article on the seven deadly sins a bibliophile can commit. What are your personal book sins? *mhm*

JL: Well, I’m glad to say I definitely don’t commit sins 3, 5 and 6 (marking of pages, skim-reading and revealing spoilers). I am obsessive about keeping my books in good condition – my girlfriend once spilled water over one of my David Gemmell books, and I’m still annoyed about it five years on. More recently, I was distinctly unimpressed when I pulled my copy of The Painted Man out of my bag to find that the overripe pear I’d also been carrying had imploded all over it.

I never skim-read – too afraid I’ll miss something important. And some books are so detailed and have so much depth, that it’s almost a crime to skim-read and miss the bulk of the detail.

Spoilers are a pet hate of mine – one sign of a bad review is a reviewer who reveals spoilers. It’s just not necessary – tell me about how good the book is, not what happens!

I don’t think I’ve ever destroyed a book deliberately (1), though I did accidentally ruin my friend’s illustrated copy of The Sword of Shannara – the binding is screwed, so it always opens on the same page (a picture of Paranor). He wasn’t happy.

I am a bit of a book sloth (2); there are books I’ve had sitting around in my spare room for quite some time. Due to the amount of books I receive, I must admit it’s hard to maintain order on my collection (4). I’m also guilty of judging books by their covers (7) but then I think almost everyone is.

HM: This is a fairly new question I plan on keeping in the general template for awhile so here goes. As a reviewer do you go through all lengths to finish a novel or do you drop it after it feels too much to read?

JL: I’ll always give a book a fair chance to grab me, but if it’s not happening then I’ll put it down. My reading time is precious to me, and I don’t see any point in persevering with a book that is boring/annoying/not working for me. Sometimes it can be tough – I had to put down Vellum by Hal Duncan even though I didn’t want to (I just couldn’t hack it). If I don’t finish a book though I’m careful not to write a ‘review’ since I believe to properly review a book you need to finish it. Instead, I’ll just explain why it didn’t work for me.

HM: I am hooked on these cover art battles and am totally a believer that the cover is essential for the novel as the story, since it can spark the initial chemistry between a reader and a novel. And I basically enjoy novels harder, when their cover art is not to my liking. It’s prejudiced and I am trying to overcome it, but what about you?

JL: Cover art is vital. We live in a disposable age, where we want and expect things immediately. We spare each book perhaps an initial glance of – what, a second? It’s massively important therefore that the artwork is striking. I’m no different – I’ll pick up books that catch my eye and ignore those that don’t. Of course, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but I think most of us do.

HM: Have you ever wished to be one of the authors reviewed on blogs and have a long career with novel after novel?

JL: Absolutely, it’s my ultimate goal. I’ve wanted to write a fantasy novel since I was fifteen and have been working on various projects ever since (all of which were abandoned, mostly for being shit). I’ve learned a huge amount over the last ten years, and have had a few short stories published here and there. I’ve been lucky enough to have some established authors in the genre give their feedback on my more recent work, and they were very encouraging, which was extremely promising. Watch this space, I guess… ;-)

HM: We discussed how you started your blog, but what about your goals and plans? I mean in the course of its development it surely must have overcome several changes and now what do you want to achieve with this pet project?

JL: Well, the blog recently passed 100,000 visits, which is certainly a milestone. I do feel that I’ve managed to build a reputation as a creditable blogger and that Speculative Horizons now sits nicely alongside some of the other excellent blogs out there. So I guess the plan is to just keep plugging away and see where it takes me – it’s worked pretty well so far! One thing I’m keen to achieve is the same level of quality content – I’m anxious to avoid the blog becoming an endless succession of giveaways and other repetitive material.

HM: I think you are one of the more read review bloggers [just a personal assumption] and as such have you ever had weird fan mail?

JL: I do get them now and again. The one that sticks in my memory was an email from one gentleman who enthused about how he liked to collect vintage/nostalgic DVDs. He rambled on at great length about the Moomins and Bagpuss. He then offered me a Sinbad the Sailor DVD.

Needless to say, I didn’t take up his bizarre offer…

HM: Oh and a bit connected with the last. Have you had certain perks manifest now that you have run your blog for almost two years? Perhaps an author has recognized your name or your blog’s? Something like that.

JL: Well, I receive more free books than I know what to do with – that’s the main perk for a bookaholic like me! It’s always exciting to come home to find a package on the doormat when you have no idea what is inside.

Other than that, being invited to events like the Gollancz Autumn Party is extremely cool – a sign that I’m being taken seriously as a critic, which is gratifying. And it’s also an indication that publishers like Gollancz value the contribution of us bloggers, which is nice to see!

But as I said above, the best thing is just being reminded how many people enjoy the blog and value my recommendations. Makes it all worthwhile.

HM: What’s the story archetype or trope that will always keep you entertained no matter how many times it is done and on the polar end what is the one trope or story that will bug you out no matter how many twists are presented?

JL: I must admit I’m partial to the odd quest or two – I think that’s a throwback to my younger years playing Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. It’s quite romantic really, a group of companions venturing forth on a dangerous journey…

On the other side of the coin, I hate it when you have a ‘dark lord’ who is basically evil for evil’s sake – that’s just bullshit. I want to see the antagonist given a motive, a reason for their personality and actions. I struggle with pure black and white representations, simply because the real world is far more confused than that, and for me fantasy is at its most potent and relevant when it reflects this.

All things considered, I think any familiar trope is useable, so long as the author attempts to do something a bit different with it. The Sword of Shannara is often derided as a rip-off of The Lord of the Rings, but one saving grace is the final confrontation between Shea and the Warlock Lord, in which the sword doesn’t play the role you expect it to. Little things like that can make a big difference.

HM: You are British and in Britain I am not so sure whether you do the whole Halloween deal, but I am curious whether you have something similar or do a British Halloween of sorts.

JL: Sure, we love Halloween in the UK. Probably not to the extent that our American friends do, but we have parties and do the whole fancy dress thing. Which is fitting really, given that our Celtic ancestors used to celebrate Samhain (the precursor to Halloween) in the British Isles thousands of years ago.

I normally carve a Jack ‘O Lantern and spend the evening safely behind closed doors, sipping pumpkin beer and eating chocolate! J

HM: I bet you have heard about the FTC regulations the US government has issued targeting review bloggers. What is your take on all of this and the potential effect on blogging in general?

JL: Since it doesn’t affect me, I haven’t really read much about this new policy. From what I understand, the general consensus seems to be that it’s not so much of a big deal – a minor irritation more than anything. I can’t see it damaging blogging in any drastic way.

HM: There has been some talk of sexism in the industry with female authors being ignored in anthologies. I didn’t think it was much of an issue really, because I enjoy female authors, the ladies have been bringing home impressive quantities of awards and history will most certainly remember names like Ursula Le Guin and Mercedes Lackey. But still what do you think?

JL: Well, there was a bit of a storm a few weeks back over that horror anthology from the British Fantasy Society that failed to include any female authors in the volume; a lot of people were unhappy about that and rightly so. But it’s hardly evidence of some sort of institutional sexism – it was just a mistake, and one that ample apologies have been made for.

For the record, my favourite female fantasy author is probably J. V. Jones – the first two books of her Sword of Shadows series are excellent, though I’ve not read the third yet.

HM: And also as Damien G. Walter has asked not a long while ago: Are we Post Sci-Fi?

JL: I’m not convinced. No doubt that fantasy, horror and SF films dominate the top-grossing films lists – genre is mainstream these days in the film industry. Books are a different matter; I still think that defined boundaries remain very much in place, and that the prevailing attitude of much of the mainstream towards genre is one of disdain. Sure, some authors like China Miéville and Lev Grossman have made progress in blurring these boundaries and perhaps changing the odd attitude here and there, but such progress is slow (and not helped by the numerous pulpy, derivative crap published every year in the genre). In literary terms the genre is still largely regarded as the black sheep of the family, and part of me quite likes that. But at the same time, I’d like to see the genre’s more superior novels get the credit they deserve from other quarters. We’re certainly not living in a post Sci-Fi age as far as the Booker judges are concerned…

HM: Please finish with your own words.

JL: I think I’ve rambled on quite enough already! I’ll just finish by saying thanks very much to you, Harry, for inviting me to take part in ‘Reviewer Time’ – it’s been a lot of fun. And for those of you reading this who haven’t checked out Speculative Horizons, please feel very welcome to do so! J

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Calling it Quits: Read-a-thon Failure

One can never determine with certainty whether something is to one’s liking without trying it first. This is why I decided to participate in Dewey’s 24 hour Read-a-thon even though I run with a personal apocryphal version without stating it officially and keeping with the update posts and such. I started at 9.00 am and seven hours later I called it quits and watched “9”.

My focus is non-existent. I see something shiny, hear something catchy and I forget what I am supposed to be doing and dedicating full attention to the shiny thing. Then there is the fact that I bore easily and when those two amazingly unhelpful qualities mix together you get a much unmotivated reader. From practice I know that two hours is as much I am physically able to provide for reading, but it never hurts trying.

However there is that matter of external forces at work that kept me from chugging in more pages for the seven hours I was struggling. Despite me generously giving computer access to my small sister on a weekend, she preferred to use me as a climbing facility and ask how far I am and how stupid this was etc. etc. etc. Apart from that my grandfather decided to use me as a custom searcher for spare parts in the local area and the cherry on top of the cake were the household chores. Around the 7th hour I got a major headache and no reading is possible. So here is the breakdown:

Dunraven Road: 248 pages – I managed to finished that the very least. It was dark and I kinda liked it. Certainly of the more realistic and modern gothic vampire fiction.

Flesh and Fire: 50 pages – I decided that this book is simply too amazing and totally undeserving to be devoured in one sitting, but enjoyed in small sips like wine.

Frankenstein: 50 pages – I was just getting into the story, when the headache struck. Damn it and it was just getting good. I love the language and phrasing. Pure music.

So I didn’t carry on with this properly, but if you would look at the sum of all pages you will see that I pushed my reading with a whole week’s worth, if we take into account that Halloween Week will be the Busy Week of Hell academically as well as creatively. This Saturday has been productive after all, but count me out for next time.

Kraken are the new Vampies?

Oh, this is simply too much. Totally worth your time.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Interview with John Brown

Prelude: First of all, I would like to thank Alex Koritz for the opportunity to interview John Brown as well as sending me his novel, which I hope the post office will drop in soon. Then I would like to thank John Brown himself for the willingness and the speed, with which he answered my questions. I have never interviewed an author before reading at least a single work they have completed and I think that it will reflect in the questions I have asked. Before we jump straight to the core of the post, here is some background info.

John Brown is a prize-winning short story writer and novelist. His epic fantasy series begins with Servant of a Dark God which will be released in October 2009. Other forthcoming novels in the series include Curse of a Dark God, and Dark God’s Glory. They are slated for release in 2010 and 2011. He currently lives with his wife and four daughters in the hinterlands of Utah where one encounters much fresh air, many good-hearted ranchers, and an occasional wolf.

"Servant of a Dark God": Young Talen lives in a world where the days of a person’s life can be harvested, bought, and stolen. Only the great Divines who rule every land and the human soul-eaters, dark ones who steal from man and beast, know the secrets of this power. In Talen’s land the Divine has gone missing, and soul-eaters are loose among the people.

The Clans muster a massive hunt, and Talen finds himself a target. Although his struggle is against both soul-eaters and their hunters, Talen actually has larger problems. A being of awesome power has arisen, one whose diet consists of the days of men. Her Mothers once ranched human subjects like cattle. She has emerged to take back what is rightfully hers.

Trapped in a web of lies and ancient secrets, Talen must struggle to identify his true enemy before the Mother finds the one whom she will transform . . . into the lord of the human harvest.

Harry Markov: Hello John and thank you for the opportunity to talk with you. Now let’s get started shall we. First I would like to explore your origin story. What sparked your interest in literature in general?

John Brown: I was never really interested too much in books until the 6th grade. At that time I had four sisters, and we all had to compete for one TV, had to reserve the time for your programs. We were in the car one day, me in the way back of the station wagon, and my oldest sister says, “I have to watch The Hobbit for school.” I didn't know anything about any hobbit. I protested. "No, way–we’re not going to watch some dumb kissing thing." I was convinced it was a romance.

“No,” she said. “It’s got dragons.”

She was lying. I knew it.

But it didn’t matter. It was for school. My parents sided with her. I was convinced I was doomed, but, lo and behold, we watched it, and it did indeed have dragons. And I loved the experience so much I wanted another hit.

Shortly thereafter my mother and father went on a business trip. I went over to my buddy’s house. So the first day we come up out of the basement to go to school and I said in a most pathetic way, “Oh, I’m feeling sick.” So my buddy went off to school and I went back down into the basement and played hookie for two days and read The Hobbit.

It was amazing. More amazing than the movie. I had to have that experience again. And so began to seek out fantasy books. I'd read before that time, but that's when I truly began to hunger.

HM: And when did you discover you had that writer spark in you?

JB: I was never one of these people destined to write. No kindergarten novels. No bookish dreams. In college I decided to study English. I had interest in creative writing so I signed up for classes. I was just following my nose. But it wasn't until I was almost done with college that I thought I'd actually try to write stories that people might want to publish. Stories I'd actually want to read. I attended at workshop put on by Dave Wolverton who was the coordinating judge for the Writers of the Future contest. He's the one who put the idea in my brain.

HM: Now that you have your first novel published how do you estimate the industry especially for debut authors? Was it hard to break through and what does it take to earn positions on today’s market?

JB: I don't have data on the size of the pool of new authors trying to break in versus the size of those that actually do. Nor how this has changed over the years. I do know that my agent and others I've talked to receive thousands of queries each year in the SF/Fantasy genre. I think there are around a dozen or so major publishers doing SF/Fantasy in the US. So if you've got 7,000 – 10,000 people competing for 12 to 24 slots, well, that's stiff.

Of course, that doesn't count the smaller presses. Nor does it count the YA lines where fantasy is huge. So there are actually a lot MORE slots open than we think. Nor does it take into account the fact that a good portion of those queries will be poorly written or the novels not quite up to snuff. So there's opportunity out there. But it's going to take work, like anything else, some connections, and being ready when opportunity strikes.

My break-in story is fairly straight forward. I finished novels, submitted, accepted rejection as life, made contacts in the field, finished, submitted, etc. I sold a few short stories along the way. I think a good novel has very good chances of getting picked up. But you'll have to recognize that there will be rejection. I submitted Servant of a Dark God to fifty agents. Eight never responded. A little over thirty passed on it. But a number wanted to see more.

HM: I haven’t had the pleasure of reading your novel yet and for me as well as all the other people still not introduced to your novel, can you share what “Servant of a Dark God” is about? Hook me.

JB: The story is set in a world where humans are ranched by beings of immense power. But not for their flesh. I thought if souls exist, they’re physical. And so what would happen if there was a food chain based on that? Furthermore, if you were ranching intelligent beings, you wouldn’t want them to know it. You’d want them to think they were governing themselves. So the truth is buried deep, and the human overseers mercilessly hunt anyone who show any sign of discovering what’s going on. The book focuses on a teenage boy and girl. The problems in this book start when one of these hunts targets the teenage girl’s family.

HM: From the small summary of the novel I see that you write about one of the ageless tropes in fantasy about a young protagonist caught in an epic conflict. What are the qualities in your novel that will separate it from other novels in the same vein?

JB: There's no quest. The hero doesn't leave his family to battle the monster. It's all tied up with family. You're going to end up rooting for one of the villains. And then there are all the details of the characters and world. There's new magic, new monsters, new situations, new people. And where, please tell me, does any character in any modern fantasy call someone a "whoreson's greasy bladder rag" or a "stinking tanner's pot"? Huh?

HM: Now that you have a novel published what are the future plans in your career? How many novels are to follow in the world of “Servant of a Dark God” and what other projects do you have on the backburner?

JB: There will be three novels in this series. The publisher wanted to avoid using "trilogy" so we could continue with more, but I'm plotting the third book, and I'm telling you: it ends there. I love the world, but I also love it when stories end. Other projects I'm interested in are another epic fantasy series, a thriller based on a guy I knew who was a reformed bank robber, and some YA stuff. But that's all out in the future. I'm focused right now on book two and three, making them as good as I can.

HM: These days having a novel out and leaving everything to the publisher is not enough. An author has to have a media platform and establish contact with his readers. What online media outlets are you using?

JB: I've got a Wordpress blog, Facebook page, and Twitter account. I enjoy the interactions I have there. But I still think the best thing an author can do is write consistently good product.

HM: Have you had the chance to meet all your favorite writers yet?

JB: Oh, good grief, no. I'm a troglodyte, and so much of this business is done remotely. I didn't even see my editor for six months. Still haven't met my agent in person. But it has been a wonderful part of this to be able to chat with authors at events and meet people whose work I love.

HM: Have you gotten any fan mail after the release of your novel, especially after being covered by so many book reviewers?

JB: I actually have received a number of emails and comments. It's been wonderful seeing the response. One interesting email was from a boy in fifth grade. My target was teens and above. But he's slightly autistic with a high verbal ability. It's been interesting seeing who he loves best and which scenes.

HM: Do you have any advice to budding writers that want to establish a career in writing?

JB: I do have advice. I've written it up on my site: Beyond that I'd say, don't let writing become a Molech. You can be happy and not write. Don't sacrifice the things that matter most up to this thing. Keep it in its place. And then just have a blast.

HM: What is the hardest part in having writing as a profession and what makes it worthwhile?

JB: Right now the hardest part is managing time. I have a day job and a writing job and a family. I want to do well at all three, but sometimes those are very hard balls to juggle. What makes it worthwhile is the joy of story and the joy of sharing that with others. I think if I didn't enjoy following these characters around in their predicaments, developing complications for them, finding cool things--if I didn't have that, I couldn't do it. It's just too much work otherwise.

HM: Okay, this is my last question. Writers are known to be filled with ideas from everywhere, so it would be pointless to ask where you draw your ideas from, but what is your method for deciding what ideas get to be developed and what gets tossed away.

JB: My gut. There can't be any other gauge for me. I have to write from passion. I've found I cannot write any other way. If an idea jazzes me, if it sparks the "ooh" effect in me, then I'll consider it. It also has to fit with the story. So I'll generate ideas until I find one that does both. And the story has to fit with my career and genre, what my career goals are. But it all starts with a little zap, a zing. It starts with emotion. I talk a lot about this on my site. It's one of the things that eluded me in the beginning. Creative process was my bugbear. Figuring it out has made all the difference in the world to my writing.
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