Beyond The Mists of Katarakt: Geeked Presents A Retrospective of H. R. Giger.

Giger with cape

Beyond the Mists of the Katarakt: Geeked Presents A Retrospective of H.R. Giger. 

By Bob Pastorella

 

I first discovered Hans Rudolf ‘Ruedi’ Giger’s work when I was just a teenager, though at the time, I was much too young to put all the connections together. The science-fiction horror film Alien was playing on the Showtime premium channel, and I admit my motivations for watching the film were not in hopes of finally seeing a popular scary movie. Several of my peers made mention of the scenes at the end featuring the main actress wearing only a tank top and tiny underwear, trying to exit her space ship in an escape pod, unaware the film’s alien antagonist was hiding in the escape pod as well. The moment of reveal, when the creature is finally exposed to our heroine, and the audience, burned into my mind’s eye, captivating my imagination even more than the beautiful, scantily clad star of the show, Sigourney Weaver.  

 This was years before the internet, and at this time, it was difficult finding any information about this monster maker, this H.R Giger, pronounced Gee-ger with two hard g’s, whose name was frequently mentioned in the pages of horror movie magazines such as Fangoria and Famous Monsters of Filmland. Those glossy photos were mere seeds of inspiration, forming tenuous connections within my fertile imagination, compelling me to create my own fantastic worlds. Yes, it was Ray Bradbury that made me want to write, but my stories were filled with the monsters Giger created.  

 It’s not difficult to pin down exactly what it is about Giger’s work that makes him so popular. Beautiful, yet grotesque, disturbing and erotic, his art brings our nightmares and fantasies to life. To understand his art, you must know his background. Giger suffers from night-terrors, and turned to painting as a form of therapy. He studied industrial design in Zurich in the mid 60’s, giving him the skill set to create the stunning landscapes he’s painted throughout the years. The majority of the art he is most known for stems from this education. With an airbrush and acrylic paint, he utilized pieces of metal grids as stencils to paint the backgrounds, his imagination filling in the rest. Heavily influenced by Austrian painter Ernst Fuchs and Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali, Giger blazed his own trail by using his inner demons with the techniques of the masters. 

 Alien became such a monumental success that it spawned several sequels and made Giger a household name for people in the horror business. He had several exhibitions through the years, and has published books of his art, some of which are now out of print and fetch rather high prices online. A new copy of his first collection, Necronomicon, is listed online from private collectors from $250 and up. I managed to find a copy of his second collection, Necronomicon II, for a reasonable price online. Used, but in pristine condition, that particular tome is one my most treasured possessions. 

 It’s both odd and comforting to know that Giger does not maintain an online social persona. His website, http://www.hrgiger.com contains links to his museum website, his publisher here in the states, and Amazon links for his books. I say it’s comforting because his reasons for not maintaining an online presence is to not come under the influence of things he might come across on the internet. He doesn’t do email, or surf the web, and will only conduct interviews at his museum. He is a pure artist, harnessing his inner demons for the art he produces, unfettered by outside influences. 

 There is one tidbit of information I found very strange at his website was the mention of Giger signing autographs. He dislikes signing mere pieces of paper, but is more than happy to sign one his books, prints, or posters. 

 “Please note that Giger feels very uncomfortable when the interest appears to be more about his person than in his artwork and he tries to discourage celebrity worship and cult mentality.”

 In this day and age, one can never be too careful. 

 Fortunately, the internet is filled with low resolution copies of his art, which is how most people have actually come to appreciate him. This is how I found the majority of his art, and often spend hours looking at the digital prints. Upon looking at Giger’s art, one can see particular motifs appear in practically every piece. Surely one can observe the ‘biomechanical’ aspect, the insertion of machine into living flesh. But if one was to look closer and reflect on the piece, they would find glimpses of their own nightmares depicted on the canvas. I’ve read Carl Jung’s theory of Collective Unconscious, how personal stimuli is collected, ingrained, and shared in the mind of each member of a particular species. 

 The question is, are these shared imaginations, or shared memories?

 I believe I’ve found evidence of this in several of Giger’s paintings. One piece in particular, Katarakt, is a beautiful waterfall with hints of some rock formation barely visible behind the cascade. Upon closer inspection, it’s apparent that this is no naturally occurring waterfall. The entire rock shelf and overhang appear to be made of the bones and skulls of strange creatures, while the rocks at the base are actually masses of squirming tentacles that flow out from the plunge-pool into the river. The skulls behind the waterfall appear to be staring back, fully aware we can see them. 

 Long before I ever heard of H.R. Giger, before I even started writing, I suffered from terrible nightmares. I dreamed of drowning, being chased by tornados, or running away from an unseen force trying to grab me. But the one nightmare that has stayed with me longer than any other is me wading through a river of tentacles, staring at a waterfall that was staring back at me.

 The exact same waterfall Giger painted in Katarakt.

Katarakt2 

 

 

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 Painting is an artist reaching out to the viewer, attempting to make an emotional connection, presenting a single moment in time that will provoke a reaction. Giger’s work is no exception, though sometimes it takes several viewings and careful study to make all the connections. Art is subjective to the viewer, and infinitely more personal once that first bond is made. Through the years, I have had the time to study Giger’s painting as one who appreciates fine art. One must look past the technique, past the methodology, into the heart of the imagery. Only then can the relationship begin. 

The artwork that influenced Alien was created long before the film’s concept was put on paper. The film’s writer, Dan O’Bannon, was working on Dune, albeit a radically different version of the film that wouldn’t be made until years later. It was O’Bannon’s nightmares of how braconid wasps lay their eggs inside their host that inspired the infamous ‘chest-burster’ scene of the film. When he saw Giger’s artwork for Dune, and subsequent artwork from Necronomicon, O’Bannon knew he had found his man. The connection was made, and the nightmare visions were released to the masses. 

Katarakt was the first connection. That initial revelation, that Giger painted my nightmare, was immediately written off as a coincidence. The rational man knows it’s impossible to share dreams. Perhaps it was just intense deja vu, or a repressed memory of seeing the painting earlier, its waterfall, the eyes looking from behind the water, imprinted in my mind long before I consciously remembered it. 

 The Tourist series of paintings were created for a film that never happened. Script, rewrites, budget, art design, millions of dollars aimed at all the right people, and no film. Giger was brought into the production in an attempt to gain some momentum for the project. Several A-List actresses were approached for the role of the main character, an alien living amongst us, interacting with us on a daily basis yet maintaining a close relationship with her fellow travelers. To this day, the script is regarded as one of Hollywood’s worst kept secrets, with one studio literally sitting on the rights in fear that another studio will make them look foolish if they release it. 

My first encounter with this series by Giger was again in a film magazine, and those images burned into my brain. One painting in particular, The Tourist VI, shows four alien creatures gathered as though sitting for a portrait. The style is classic Giger; monotone yet almost translucent where concerning the alien flesh, impeccable shading and detail. The internet again allowed me to collect some of the low resolution images of the series, which gave me an opportunity to study them much closer. Perhaps it was how the painting was displayed in the magazine when I first saw it, or maybe the memory of my nightmare has distorted, but I think there might be two different versions of this painting. The one I found on the internet depicted the same four aliens, only now they all appear to be smiling. On a deeper level, I find mockery in their cheeky grins, like they know. 

One of Giger’s influences was the American visionary, H. P. Lovecraft. As we all know, Lovecraft’s greatest gift was presenting us with the means to dive into his vast and horrifying world as we see fit, on our own personal terms. Giger’s The Tourist is possibly the closest showing Lovecraft’s influence. It’s well known that the writer from Providence, Rhode Island also suffered from ‘night-terrors’ that fueled his tales of cosmic horror. 

If Lovecraft gave the directions to the road to madness, then surely Giger is the cartographer of those desolate nightmare lands. 

Dear reader, you know these lands as well as anyone. Is it any wonder that the dreams that affect us the most, the visions that seem the most real, are the nightmares that we all share? Once the connection is made, the dreams come more frequently, allowing us more than a fleeting moment to remember them. Once remembered, they are imbedded in the neurons of our mind, blending with our fantasies into our own personal reality. When the dream ends, we feverishly try to slip back into the nightmare, against our better judgement, because no matter how scared we are, not knowing what happens next may be even more terrifying. 

 Or is it that once that bond is made, the contours of the mind blending with reality, that we can’t stand not knowing the truth? 

 The Tourist VI 2

 

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Simply called Facehugger, this piece of art immediately brings Lovecraft to mind. The original design called for an aggressive octopus with hyperactive tentacles, but when Dan O’Bannon saw what Giger was working on, the tentacles turned into fingers. And though tentacles illicit a squirmy, slimy reaction, fingers have more purpose. There’s something about a grasping hand, specifically the fingers, that illicit a sense of urgency, the need to get as far away as possible before the stranglehold begins. The Facehugger image is iconic. Once seen, we know what will happen if we’re trapped by the creature. We also know that some of us may not have been so lucky to escape. Giger’s original concept featured a single eye between the elongated digits, but he quickly removed it and opted for a more ‘instinctual’ approach for the creature. 

This horrific hand, whose one purpose in life is to fill our belly with the beast, is an instant archetype of the night-terrors shared by all who possess the ability to dream. Are these the shared horrors, studied by Lovecraft, depicted by Giger, that haunt us all? The question remains; if these are shared by all who dream, are they from the depths of our imagination, or remnants of repressed memories? Are these memories mere totems that foretell out future? It is very likely that within the confines of our vast universe, maleficent forces plot our very destruction, that our creation was accidental and unintentional, yet because of our desire to unearth the truth, these forces wish to stamp us out completely so as to keep their secret safe. 

Study Giger’s works of art for too long and you’ll hear one of the vile things skittering around behind your shower curtain. That soft tapping coming from the kitchen is not your water faucet dripping. And when you sleep, surely the creature will visit you, forcing you down dark corridors and unlit hallways. You pass through sticky cobwebs and slip on the slime on the floor. Deeper and deeper you go the never-ending path, twisting and turning, growing darker by the second. Reaching out into the pitch, you hope to find some place to hide. An open door, a hole you can pound away through the crumbling sheetrock. Once you find sanctuary, you try to hold your breath to listen for the creature, but your heart pounds in your head, louder and louder until you think it will explode. 

Slowly, you calm down. Breathing back to normal. It’s only a dream, right? The night terrors getting to you once again. In the quiet, you hear a gentle tap…tap…tap…and you know what you’ve known all along, the realization coming so hard it makes you snap your eyes tight. 

It doesn’t need eyes to find you.

And the tapping, you know what it is. The creature with no eyes, creeping closer to you, seeking you out from the vibrations of your pulse. And the others, with their eyes and mocking smiles, gathered to watch you slide into madness. The reaching fingers stretch into tentacles, a river of tentacles squirming to grasp at you, cascading over the skulls and bones of the ones that came before, that will come again. And when the final connection falls into place, your mind burns white, yet all you can do is stare at the abomination before you. You cannot help yourself as your prayers leave your lips. The fingers crawl upon your leg, whipping tail poised for the chokehold, and yet you still stare beyond the mists of the waterfall.

And you see yourself staring back. 

facehuggers

Obscuradrome Reviews The Thicket, by Joe R. Lansdale

The-ThicketThe Thicket by Joe R. Lansdale, is a Western novel that slides past genre into mainstream like butter dripping off a hot biscuit. A young boy becomes a man seeking revenge on the men who kidnapped his sister. The story is very simple, and one we’ve all read before, yet in Lansdale’s hands, this classic plot takes on a life of its own, and when fueled by his vivid characters, the plot disappears altogether, forcing you to turn the pages, compelled to follow them until the end. 

Barely escaping the pox, Jack Parker, his Grandfather, and his sister Lula, head out-of-town with the deeds to their property and little more than the clothes on their backs. When they finally board a ferry to get away from the diseased land, nasty outlaws with quick tempers make matters worse. Mother Nature rears her ugly head, and once the skies clear Jack finds himself alone. Only one thing matters for Jack; Finding the men who took his sister. 

I’m going to admit that when I read the first page of this novel, I groaned. Lately, when I encounter a novel written in the 1st person point-of-view, I tend to groan because there aren’t too many writers that can pull off that POV very well. But then I thought, this is a Lansdale novel, it’s got to be good. And I was correct. If anyone can pull off a well-written 1st person narrative, it’s Lansdale. He does it proper not so much by focusing on the main character, but by widening the lens to capture the lives of his other characters. When filtered through the eyes of a naive, still-wet-behind-the-ears boy like Jack Parker, these characters come alive in ways only Lansdale could achieve. 

The other characters include a gravedigger, a dwarf bounty-hunter, a beautiful lady of the night, and a stinky old hog. Once Jack joins forces with these misfits, the real adventure begins. As unlikely as they sound, these characters test Jack’s trust issues, and while he never loses focus of the task at hand, he still manages to question their motives, which creates a very interesting dynamic for the reader. Who can you trust when everyone seems to let you down at every corner? 

The outlaw thugs are as nasty as they come. Lansdale builds our dread of these characters by keeping them off stage for most of the novel. We learn more about them from our heroes encounters with the other characters inhabiting the story, and it’s this second-hand history that scares us more than jumping into their point of view ever could. 

Lansdale’s vivid style put you in the Thicket. You feel the muggy heat, smell the funk of the characters, hear the outlaws hiding in the brush, and feel the pains and pleasures of a young man desperately needing to grow up and learn to trust people. One thing about Lansdale’s style that interests me is his vivid description of one character in particular. There’s a certain very well-known actor that could play the dwarf bounty-hunter, Shorty, to near perfection. That’s all I’m going to say on the matter. Last thing I need is people complaining about me planting an image in their heads. I don’t know if it was Lansdale’s intention to plant that image himself, and it really doesn’t matter, as it’s neither a good thing or a bad thing, just something I found very interesting. 

The Thicket captures East Texas as only someone from that area could. Caught at that strange time when both horses and motor cars roamed the trails, the story is a snapshot of the point where America begins to grow up, just as Jack takes those first giant steps into manhood. And while Jack is becoming a man, we go through that change with him, feeling every confusing emotion, reliving the conflicting expectations of our world when faced with all that life throws at us, and when we finally break through the other side and the blinders are ripped away, we learn that there is only one thing that really matters, that the love of family and friends is the strongest love of all. 

Buy The Thicket Here.

Visit Joe R. Lansdale’s website here.

Happy Medium Gets All The Girls.

Yeah, yeah yeah…I’ve been busy, so give me a break.

After a long hiatus, sabbatical, whatever you want to call it, I’m back for 2013. I want to try to use my personal slice of the interweb to chronicle, journal, whatever, but I’m not going to promise that I’ll be posting regularly or anything. There are three things that could happen here:

1. You won’t see another post from me for a while.

2. You’ll get tired of my frequent updates here.

3. I’ll be able to reach some kind of Happy Medium.

Old Happy Medium, middle brother to Grand Large and Little Bit. Happy gets all the girls.

So, what does ObscuraDrome have in store for me and you?

Glad you asked.

I’m working on a badass series character. This is a big leap for me. Series characters take a lot of work, and there’s a lot of writing involved because it’s really just one long ass project. Gonna pound out the first book, outline the second, and take a break and writing something totally different while trying to secure an agent. Surely, there will be roadblocks in the way, but I’m a Rhino, always charging, so I can handle anything.

Especially after the last eight months…bring it. I can handle it, trust me.

I’ll be using my blog as a soundboard to spout off theories, ideas, rants and raves during the writing process of this series. There might posts similar to the WriterDrome/HorrorDrome posts in the mix, but the official WriterDrome and HorrorDrome columns are taking an extended vacation. Media reviews will be handled through my ManArchy Magazine column, Geeked. Pimping will be filtered through Facebook/Twitter/Google+.

ObscuraDrome is just me and my writing.

Streamlined, for your protection.

My Top Ten Lists will continue, got one coming soonish, because those are fun, and generate a lot of attention to my blog. I also hope to do another FaceOff with Richard Thomas, or anyone else who wants to jump in the ring.

So there you have it. 2013 looks to be challenging already, with roadblocks and hurdles all along the road. But this is my road, and my watch, and I’ve just begun my journey. Take my hand, listen to my voice, and follow me into the ObscuraDrome.

The Master of Horror vs. The Sultan of Suspense: The King/Koontz Face/Off.

Last month, good friend and fellow Horror writer Richard Thomas commented on my Cut Your Teeth On These: 10 Horror Books You Must Read article, which has been quite a hit here at Obscuradrome. His comment was simple: Shame on me for not including any Stephen King novels in my list? King was briefly mentioned the article, but I purposely omitted him from the list because if you’re writing Horror, King is a must read author. Same with Peter Straub, and Dean Koontz. Richard also mentioned that I didn’t mention Jack Ketchum, but I’m saving him and a whole slew of other writers for another article. I’m a big fan of King, and Koontz, so I don’t want anyone to think I don’t care for them, or that I’m ignoring their importance in the field of Horror.

Both King and Koontz are often listed as Horror writers, and for the most part, I agree. Honestly, I feel the scale is a little tipped in King’s favor when it comes to all out Horror, while Koontz is the Sultan of Suspense, with Horror fiction rounding out his box of tools. But hey, they’re both in the General Fiction section of the bookstore, both of their last names start with the letter K, and they’ve got an amazing amount of books out. Obviously, they are doing something right.

Richard suggested we do a Face/Off, King vs. Koontz. Our favorite five from each author. This article is the result of that face off.

Truth be known, both writers have their pros and cons. With King’s penchant for writing about writers, and Koontz obsession with tidy, and Happy, endings, both writers can get tiresome. But when it comes to Horror and Suspense, neither of these Kaisers of Killer Thriller Koolness can be beat.

In the Red Corner, weighing in at…

Here’s Richard to talk about his choice, Stephen King.

Stephen King: His Five Best Books Ever

Bob Pastorella and I are having a discussion about King vs. Koontz, so I’m posting up my five favorite books by Stephen King, and he’s posting up his five favorite books by Dean Koontz (if he can FIND five). I kid, I kid. I grew up on King, Koontz and Straub so I definitely am a fan of all of them. With Koontz it’s his older titles that really resonate with me, books like Phantoms, Watchers, and Whispers. Basically, you’re safe with any book of his that has a one-word title and is at least five years ago. Although, I do kind of have a soft spot for the Odd Thomas series. But this is about King, who in my opinion is one of the best storytellers ever.

I have a definite three titles that I always mention when talking about King. They never change. I’m talking about The Stand, It, and The Shining. I’ll talk about those in a minute. But my other two, well, maybe they aren’t the most obvious choices. The other two titles are The Dead Zone and The Long Walk. Let’s talk about these fantastic books.

Note: Bob made me promise to leave out the Dark Tower series, which if I could include that as a whole, would definitely be on this list.

The Stand. This is an epic good vs. evil story and one of his longest books ever written. The original version clocked in at 823 pages, but the uncut paperback is over 1,400. This is a title that really requires a commitment, the number of pages, the characters, the scope of the book—it’s an epic journey. But from the opening scene, a man fleeing from an outbreak of a super-flu, up until the climactic ending, this is one of his best. Mother Abigail represents the light, and Randall Flagg represents the dark. We get to root for everyday good guys like Stu Redman, as well. He’s just a down-home boy trying to do the right thing. And he’s easy to cheer on, you get connected to him, want to see him succeed. The book is divided into three sections: “Captain Trips,” which is about the outbreak and spread of the virus; “On the Border,” which brings the bands of misfits together; and “The Stand,” which is the final confrontation. If you had to read one and only one King title, this would be the one for me.

The Shining. I know that a lot of people think of the movie when you bring up this book, and that’s okay. I happen to love the movie, but I’m not sure if that’s because I’m a fan of Jack Nicholson or the work of Stanley Kubrick. King is famous for hating the film because the ending was changed, but I still loved it. This book is the story of the Torrance family. The father, Jack, is an alcoholic writer with a wicked temper who takes a job as the caretaker at the Overlook Hotel, in Colorado, one winter. He has in fact lost his job as a teacher after assaulting a student, and he even hurt his son, Danny, which sobers him up. I can’t think of a couple of catch phrases that are more commonplace than “Here’s, Johnny!” which Jack utters while chopping down a bathroom door after he’s lost his mind, trying to kill his wife, Wendy, or the words he types on the typewriter “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” over and over again filling up page and pages, revealing his insanity, or the utterances of Danny as he looks in the mirror and says “Redrum, redrum,” which is murder backwards. That’s a part of pop culture history. Danny has some supernatural abilities, which come into play throughout the story, and there is actually going to be a sequel coming out soon. This book scared me so much that I had to put it down and pick up a bible when I was in high school. This is one of King’s best. It’s not as long as The Stand, only 447 pages, so many people are drawn to that, as well.

It. Maybe it’s the clown, Pennywise, or maybe it’s the vulnerability of the kids, but It is my third favorite book by Stephen King. It’s a very unsettling book, partly because you constantly worry about the kids. They form a group called The Loser’s Club. Each of them has something unique that makes them different, outcasts.  Ben is fat, Bill has a stutter (made worse by the death of his brother), Richie is a smart-ass, Stan is Jewish, Bev is the only girl and beaten by her father, and Mike is black. They are a rag-tag gang, but when they make a clubhouse, they discover “It” and a possible cure, in The Ritual of the Chud. The story jumps back and forth between the initial stand they take in 1957 and the “current day” as adults in 1984. I won’t reveal what the beast is, what “It” looks like, but it’s pretty terrifying. There is a very controversial scene towards the end of the book, which I won’t mention here, because it would spoil it for you but it’s somewhere between disturbing and hauntingly touching, so you’ll have to decide for yourself. A must read King book, in my opinion. It’s a long one as well, about 1,100 pages, but worth it, trust me.

These three are what I consider the holy trinity of King’s work. If you’ve never read his writing, I’d consider these to be perfect examples of what he does well—create lifelike characters that we care about, stories that are hypnotic and layered, and epic yarns that leave you satisfied and full. Some people say he is wordy, that his novels could be cut in half, but I couldn’t disagree more. You either like what he does or you don’t, but I wouldn’t edit his books down. Some people mention Salem’s Lot as being one of his best, and I’d say it’s probably my number six pick. The Dark Tower series is also fantastic. He’s also a great short story writer. Really, I can’t think of a book he’s written that is flat out terrible. I loved Needful Things, Misery, Carrie—there are really so many great titles. Here are my final two selections, probably not the most obvious choices.

The Dead Zone. I’m not sure why this book stands out in my memory. Maybe it has to do with the movie, which starred Christopher Walken. Maybe I just really loved rooting for Johnny Smith, a character that acquires the ability to see into the future when he touches your skin. His noble quest to stop a politician from being elected, in order to stop World War Three from happening—it’s such a wild story. I can’t imagine what it would feel like if you were Johnny. Maybe it’s what Lee Harvey Oswald felt, when he assassinated Kennedy—that he was saving the world? The idea of a crooked politician, well that’s nothing new, but the idea of revealing to the world what this man, Greg Stillson, is really like? I find that deeply satisfying. When we see Stillson kick a dog to death as a young man, we are let in on this secret, shown what a bad man he is, but it’s not until the final scenes, when Johnny tries to assassinate Stillson that his true character is revealed. Loved this book.

The Long Walk.This novel may come as a surprise to many. Written at Richard Bachman (a pseudonym that King adopted in the 1970s so he could publish more titles without flooding the market) it’s a slim volume, only 384 pages, but a fascinating mix of Shirley Jackson’s story, “The Lottery” and a modern day Hunger Games. It’s also been revealed that it is actually the first book that King wrote, before Carrie. It’s set in the near future in a dystopian and somewhat despotic and totalitarian version of the United States. There is an annual contest called “The Long Walk” which is a national sport, part lottery, part military draft, with the entire group of teens walking to their deaths, with only the last person standing winning glory and riches. Ray Garraty is our protagonist, and it is through his eyes that we meet the other teens that are in this competition, hear their stories, and one by one watch them die. It’s a powerful book, dark for sure, but one of his best.

King is portrayed as a horror writer, and some of his novels and short stories, are certainly horrific. But he’s so much more than that. His work crosses genres into fantasy, science fiction, suspense, and even into that dry and snobby land known as literary fiction, at times. He has written over 50 novels and 200 short stories. I can’t even begin to list the number of awards he’s gotten. To me, King is one of the best storytellers to ever write. I am unashamed to say that I love his work, and have read every book he has published. He is an inspiration to me, and if you can’t find a title in his massive collection of work that blows you away, well, then you aren’t really trying.

_____________________________________________________________________

Thanks Richard.

The really cool thing about this is that I agree with Richard on most his choices, though I do think Pet Semetary is King’s scariest book.

When I was just a young buck, I would go to the library and browse through the stacks and stacks of mass-market paperbacks, looking at the pictures on the front covers and reading the descriptions on the back, trying to decide what books I wanted to read. Time and time again I landed on a novel by Dean Koontz. At first, it was because someone else had already checked out all the Stephen King books. Eventually, I discovered Koontz was a true force to be reckoned with, the yang to King’s yen. Similar, yet different in so many ways. It’s easy to lump both King and Koontz into one category by themselves, but you’d be doing yourself a major disservice by doing so. Here are my favorite novels by Dean Koontz.

In the Blue Corner, weighing in at…

Watchers. You can’t go wrong with a golden retriever. Koontz tugs at our heartstrings with his blast of a novel, while tickling that spot in your brain where conspiracy theories breed. If you always thought that the government made an evil alliance with science, this novel will only make you a true believer.  You write about what you know, and Koontz found inspiration in his own dog. The story is quite simple, which is exactly why it worked so well. Exploring canyons in California, Travis Cornell is wondering if there’s any reason to go on at all. That’s when he meets a dog fleeing a horrifying creature. He helps the  golden retriever escape and soon learns this is no ordinary dog. This dog is part of a scientific experiment, super intelligent, and able to communicate with humans with various means, like using the letters of scrabble game to spell out words. The creature, also an experiment, is hellbent on killing the dog. Top that off with a very human hitman hired to eliminate the creatures and everyone else they come in contact with, and you have makings of an instant classic. Koontz goes way over the top here, but you never notice it. Impeccable pacing, with a little soggy bottom because, it’s Koontz, and everything has to work out in the end, right? Right?

Midnight. Koontz first hardback New York Times number one bestseller, is a massive showoff of what he does best. Take a handful of people and put them into strange situations, force them to figure it all out, all the while running for their lives. Starting off with a vicious attack on a woman jogging at night, three people with no connection at all converge to find out what is happening to the people of Moonlight Cove. The reasons why the people of this normally quiet town are turning into beasts are legion, but the main reason, the real reason, is so over-the-top that if I mention it here, you won’t read the book. It’s that crazy. To take such a crazy idea, the stuff of fantasy, and make it happen in a story with such seriousness, is the work of a genius, or a madman. Maybe both. Koontz, of course, is a professional/genius/madman, and simply grabs you by the neck and makes you believe what is going on. He uses short, tight chapters, with impeccable pacing, steering us exactly where we need to go with the story. Combining Horror and Science-Fiction, this one is a must read for any fan of suspense.

Strangers. This will be brief, for to tell too much about this story will give it all away. A group of seemingly unconnected people are compelled to go to the middle of the desert, unaware that others are suffering from similar circumstances. Strange dreams, brainwashing, suicide, murder. What is happening to these people? Global conspiracy is a cool concept, but if you don’t get down into the level of the people affected by it, the story soon becomes mired down with no sense of direction. The real trick is getting personal with the characters, reading on to discover exactly what they have at stake, which builds suspense and excitement. Koontz shows his mastery of situation, stringing you along, and once you realize your treading over familiar territory, it’s too late, you’re in too deep, you having a blast and just don’t care, and you just can’t stop reading.

Phantoms. I’ve always been fascinated with strange mass vanishings. Ghost-towns, the lost Roanoke Colony. The Mayans. Throughout history, large groups of people have just disappeared off the face of the planet. What happened to these people? Koontz gives us a chilling look at what could have happened to these people. If you haven’t read this book, but have perhaps seen the film, please, please for the love of God, force those memories of the film from your mind and give this book a whirl. Trust me, if you like your Science-Fiction on the gory side, this is a book for you. This was my first Koontz book to ever read, and it blew me away. At the time, I was convinced Stephen King was the Master of Horror. But after reading this book, I saw that there was another who could wear the crown, and his name was Dean Kootnz.

Whispers. The second Koontz book I read happens to be my favorite. Like Phantoms, if you’ve seen this film, please strike it from your memory and find this book. Published one year before Red Dragon by Thomas Harris, Koontz takes us into the mind of a twisted killer. Bruno Frye believes certain woman are possessed by the spirit of his mother. Horribly abused as a young child, he still fears his mother long after she died. Frye must kill these women to keep his mother away from him. After he attacks a young woman he recently met, who pulls a gun on him, Frye escapes. The police don’t believe her because Frye has an alibi. When the police call his house hundreds of miles away, Frye answers the phone, proving he couldn’t have been anywhere near the woman. He attacks her again, this time receiving some severe stab wounds from the woman. Police find Frye’s body, but the case is far from over. Frye returns from the grave to attack and kill again. If you’re thinking there’s a twist to this story, you’re right, and it’s awesome. Definitely not something you’d find from the mind of Stephen King, though it seems as though he should have thought of this one for sure. Once you find out what the whispers really are, your skin will crawl.

Blow and counterblow. Punch and jab. These two bestselling writers have been hitting away at each other for years, occupying that same prestigious letter K spot in the stacks at the bookstore, and neither have been able to bring the other down. Why? Even though at first glance it’s easy to lump both authors into the same category, you really can’t do that and be fair about it. King is the master of creating characters we can all relate too, while Koontz places his story people in strange and interesting situations; two very different aspects of building suspense, both very effective.

After fifteen rounds, the judges score this bout…

Can you really tally up the points here?

The winner, and the remaining Heavyweight Champion of The World is…

The Readers.

You didn’t really think we’d be crazy enough to pit these two masters together and have a victor other than the readers. More than likely, these two guys have been unconsciously trying to out do one another for so long it’s not even a contest anymore. So who really wins? Us, of course. Now quit trying to figure who’s better and get to reading.

Click Here To Go To Stephen King’s Amazon Page.

Click Here To Go To Dean Koontz’ Amazon Page.

Freddy Krueger Just Wanted To Be Loved: Creating Villains We Love To Hate.

HorrorDrome is an ongoing discussion of the mechanics of writing scary Horror fiction. Here the Horror Story is split open top to bottom, bloody gears and tropes exposed for all to see. The goal: By picking apart the stories we love, we learn what makes them tick. I’m certainly no expert, but after writing for nearly twenty years, I feel I’ve got a few things to pass along to my fellow writers. The views expressed here are merely opinions, not facts. Lively discussion is encouraged. 

Freddy Krueger Just Wanted To Be Loved: Creating Villains We Love To Hate.

Physics. It controls every part of our physical life. For every action, there is an opposite reaction. The hero in your story creates action, but only because it’s a reaction. He certainly doesn’t go looking for a villain. If Dr. Cutthroat didn’t kidnap Joe Hero’s girl because she has beautiful blonde hair, then Joe Hero would most likely wander through life with his girl, living happily ever after, and that’s not a story at all, or at least it’s not a Horror story. Once she’s kidnapped, Joe Hero has a goal, which is to get his girl back from Dr. Cutthroat at all costs. 

Dr. Cutthroat has a goal as well. He wants to kidnap and hold captive all the women with beautiful blonde hair. He knows blonde hair has magic powers that, when properly channelled and controlled, will grant him power over all the people of the world. And Lord knows they need control. Crime at an all time high, people killing each other just because they can, the world is a cesspool of filth and despair, and only Dr. Cutthroat can help the people of world get back on track. They need him more than ever, and he’s coming, right after he kidnaps all the girls with beautiful blonde hair. 

An elementary  example, but nonetheless it shows us that your bad guy must have a goal. Now, before you start moaning about all the mindless, nonhuman, just want to kill and eat brains, monsters out there, I’m not talking about them. Yes, they have goals, but their goals are instinctual. You’re a monster and you need brains to survive, then you’re eating brains, end of discussion. Mindless monsters with instinctual goals are fun to write, but that’s a whole other blog. 

What about villains like Dr. Cutthroat? As far as story physics goes, he is action, mass in motion, opposed only by his obstacle, Joe Hero, who is reaction, mass in motion, opposed to Dr. Cutthroat. And really, Cutthroat doesn’t care about Joe at all, he is nothing more than insignificant collateral damage. It’s only when Joe decides to get his girl back that Cutthroat even realizes he has an enemy. That’s right. Joe Hero is Dr. Cutthroat’s enemy.

But wait, isn’t Cutthroat Joe’s enemy? 

When you experience a story, certain connections are made in your mind. One of these connections correlates directly to your mind’s need for symmetry. We seek balance. When the bad guy gets the upper-hand in a story, that balance is shifted, which creates suspense. Will Joe Hero defeat Dr. Cutthroat and get his beautiful blonde back? When the hero gets the upper-hand, the balance shifts again, releasing tension, yet apprehension is there, because you wonder if what he did was enough to stop the villain for good. 

Action and reaction. Opposite yet asymmetrical, building tension and suspense. Just as Joe Hero has a goal, getting his girl back, Dr. Cutthroat has a goal, making the world a better place. Both are passionate about their goals. You may not agree with Dr. Cutthroat’s goal. You might think he is crazy as Hell and his grand scheme will never work, but that doesn’t matter. What will make Dr. Cutthroat a compelling character is the fact that HE believes in his goal. For him, kidnapping all the beautiful blondes in the world makes perfect sense. It’s the only way he can get the magic he needs to make the world a better place. He is just as passionate about his crazy-ass goal as Joe Hero is about getting his girl back. Dr. Cutthroat believes in this because he’s seen the evil that people do. He may have had a hard life with a poor family, barely getting by, happiness nothing more than the occasional birthday party and the warmth of a cuddly puppy, or he may have grown up with an affluent family, attending the best schools and making frat-buddies for life. These things shaped his outlook on the world, for better or worse, just like those same things shaped Joe Hero’s world. So Dr. Cutthroat believes his goal is right, and true, and just. There is no other way, he must gain that magic. The more he believes in his goal, the more believable he becomes to your readers. It is his passion, whether you believe he is right or wrong, that makes him a believable, compelling character. And yes, you’d better make him passionate about his goal or your reader is not going to care about him as a character. Don’t confuse caring about a character with liking a character.

There is a deeper action/reaction dynamic that writers must tap into so readers fall in love with our characters, heroes and villains alike. This is what I call The Empathy-Relate Factor. An example of this is Freddy Krueger. Freddy scares us with our nightmares so we already like him because, face it, we like being scared. Going a little deeper we find that Freddy’s goal is to kill the children of the families that burned him alive. Already the empathy factor is building. We start to care about him. We care about him because he wants revenge to right what he feels is a wrong. Trust me, you care about him. The feeling is instinctual, and purely psychological. You don’t like his goal, but you do care about him and how he plans to achieve his goal. If you didn’t care, there would be no story. You would never side with a child killer in real life, yet if you didn’t care about what Freddy was doing, and why he was doing it, he would be a boring character in a movie that never would have ever spawned a single sequel, or become a household name. Freddy’s goal becomes important for us because it continuously shifts the balance. Yet Freddy’s goal fulfills the Empathy-Relate Factor we seek in every story we experience. Every time one of the kid’s get closer to the truth about what happened to Freddy, he busts out his glove and slashes away at them. Freddy shifts the balance, creating suspense and tension. Since this is why we watched the film to begin with, we are rewarded. That reward is short-lived as the hero’s character physics takes over, tipping the scales again. Freddy is an action, the kids the reaction. This tug-o-war of conflicts makes the story. Without compelling characters, each with goals they care about, the story would never come off the ground. 

Remember, every action has an opposite reaction. Your villain must have a goal, and he must be passionate about it. Attaining the goal means everything to your villain, and he believes that what he is doing is right above all else. Make your villain relatable to your reader, and build empathy, and then you’ve got a villain they love to hate, which is the stuff of legends. Write a villain with this in mind, and your readers will care about your villain, and your story. Who knows, they might even like your bad guy too. 

Unspoiled Tropes That Make You Say Wow: Obscuradrome Reviews The Cabin In The Woods.

This is a review of the Blu-Ray Edition of The Cabin In The Woods . This review does not contain any spoilers. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, and you’re on the fence about seeing it, consider this: If you like Horror movies, you will probably like the movie. If you do NOT like Horror movies, and instead like watching documentaries or Masterpiece Theater, then you should just quit reading this right now and find something on the Discovery or History Channel, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The Cabin In The Woods is a film starring Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Connolly, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Richard Jenkins, and Bradley Whitford. Directed by Drew Goddard (writer for Buffy, Angel, Lost) and produced by Joss Whedon (Buffy, Angel, Dollhouse), if you read between the lines of the director’s and producer’s pedigree, you’ll see a clue into what the film is about, especially the Lost, and the Dollhouse clues. Not literally between the lines–figuratively between the lines.

This part of the review is called the synopsis. The reviewer briefly writes what the film is about. Five stereotypical kids go to a cabin in the woods. One by one they are killed. If you’re thinking that maybe you’ve seen this movie before, that’s because you have. But if you made it this far, you will keep watching. Usually the reviewer wants to throw in a spoiler at this point to prove his point, but since this is a spoiler free review, the reviewer just casually steers you away from the spoiler. The best reviewers are really nothing more than highly skilled puppeteers, the master of their realm of the written word, pulling the strings to lead you, the movie watcher, to understand that this movie is in fact not like the other movies you have seen. So you have to trust the reviewer. Just let the strings guide you. 

This is the part of the review where the reviewer breaks down what kind of film this is, using specific examples of other films the reviewer may feel are similar examples of the genre. This is a Horror film, so think Horror when reading this part. This is also the reviewer’s way of secretly spoiling the film. Just by mentioning other films, he’s implanting images and triggering memories like some kind of Videodrome in your head. You become aware that yes, there is someone controlling this review, it is not entirely unbiased. Readers often feel threatened at this point. Readers don’t like feeling they are The Player in a controlled eXistenZ, caught in some kind of Arrested Development forcing their own thought Adaptation. What is this, some kind of Fight Club? Reviewers don’t like alienating their readers, so they back off a little, driving home the strong points of the film without making you feel you’re about to watch Family Guy or 30 Rock. If the reviewer didn’t like the movie, they point out the weaknesses here. Fortunately, this film doesn’t have any weaknesses other than the fact you haven’t seen it yet.

The last part of the review is where the reviewer gives it everything they’ve got. With this film, only the truth will work. So, if you go into this film expecting to see werewolves, and zombies, and zombie redneck torture families, and Pinhead, and the dollface killers from The Strangers, and vampire bats, and Pennywise the Clown, then you need to be careful what you wish for. If you’re wanting to watch a smart, deliciously different kind of Horror movie that is just plain ass-kicking fun with an ending that will make you say Wow, you cannot go wrong with The Cabin In The Woods. 

Buy The Cabin In The Woods here.

“Hey, didja eat yet?” “Naw, didju?” WriterDrome: Dialogue Part III

WriterDrome is a monthly ongoing discussion concerning the mechanics and logistics of writing Horror, Speculative, Dark Fantastic, and Noir Fiction. The aim here is to discuss the many dynamics necessary to write, edit and publish these genres in a continuously changing landscape. Remember, opinions mentioned here are just that, opinions. I’m no expert, but I’ve been writing for a long time, and I feel there is a lot I can pass on to my fellow writers. Lively discussion is highly encouraged. 

“Hey, didja eat yet?” “Naw, didju?”: Dialogue Part III 

“Hell, I was born here, an’ I was raished here, an’ dad gum it, I am gonna die here, an no sidewindin bushwackin, hornswaglin, cracker croaker is gonna rouin me bishen cutter.”

 Gabby Johnson–Blazing Saddles.

 What?

Exactly. Fans of the film no doubt have this memorable quote in their arsenal, as it is one of those dialect phrases that is best spoken instead of read. I copied and pasted it right from the internet like that to prove a point. If Blazing Saddles was a novel instead of a movie, that line of dialogue would have been cut out, or at least severely edited before the book made it into print. Why? Because writing that line of dialogue in fiction is considered amateurish and unprofessional. 

Now, before a riot starts, I know exactly what you’re going to say. “But I read so-and-so’s book and he uses dialect written like that…why can’t I use it as well?” There are millions of examples of millions of writers breaking all the rules, all the time. The reasons for the rule breaking and the exception of those rules are legion, but that doesn’t mean you should break them as well. Remember that before your contract is inked up and signed, you are in a long list of writers hoping for a lucky break, and you need to follow the rules as much as you can. Let the amateurs fail to get the contract because their dialogue technique is terrible. 

Writing dialect is difficult because we are trying to incorporate how words sound into a form that can be read by anyone. We want these words to sound different because we want our characters speaking the words to be different. By deliberately placing these sounds into our readers heads, we are shaping how they experience the character. This is counterproductive to the way readers form their mental imagery of our characters. Dialect is characterization through dialogue, therefore you must follow the rule: Less is more. 

 “Hell, I was born here, and I was raised here. Damn, I’m going to die here too, and no sidewinding, bushwacking, hornswagling, cracker croaker is going to ruin my damn gutter.”

No misspelled words, no letters omitted, yet it still reads as authentic frontier gibberish because of the words I used. I cleaned up the bishen cutter part at the end because the consensus is the words mean gutter, and Gabby Johnson was just a poor frontier settler, living in the gutter, yet proud of Rock Ridge and ready to fight for it. The humor remains because I used words like hornswagling and cracker croaker, which give the lines some rhythm and tone. One cannot read those lines aloud without hearing the Old West, whether they’ve seen the film or not.  Remove the funny sounding words like hornswagling and cracker croaker and the entire tone of the line turns dark, almost menacing. 

Handling characters from non-English speaking countries is a little more difficult. Where before you were attempting to characterize a region or socioeconomic aspect of a character, now you’re attempting to characterize a foreign aspect through dialogue. It’s easy to fall into the trap of accenting the accent. 

 “I vould like to go to zee hotel.”

Unless you want all of your foreign characters to sound like a French Bela Lugosi, avoid this at all costs. Russian characters sound different from French characters, who sound different from Austrian characters, and so on. British characters speak English but don’t sound American. Same for Australian characters. 

 So how do we make them distinct? 

British characters seem easy because they speak English. The distinction is the British own the English language, something to keep in mind when using them as characters. The United Kingdom is huge, encompassing several countries. People from Great Britain speak differently from those of Ireland and Scotland. Even within those separate countries distinct dialects emerge, causing more confusion for the uninitiated. You could give your British, Irish or Scottish character a catch-phrase to use that sounds un-American–sounds simple enough–but be careful. Don’t just invent a catch phrase off the cuff, do some research. Read books written by British, Irish, and Scottish authors to get an idea how they get the dialect across. Find something that is short yet distinctive. As long as you don’t over use the phrase, it is an easy way to make sure your reader knows who is talking and that they are not American. Your British character may be a little older, been around the block a few times, and refers to good-looking women as ‘birds’. Incorporate that into his speech occasionally for a little distinction and diversity. When writing a British character, please make sure to not use words one would only hear in America. Again, research can help with authenticity. The character may be speaking English, but if they’re not American, that makes a major difference in the words they say. 

Characters from non-English speaking countries usually prove to be the most difficult. Nothing infuriates me more than reading a book full of foreign phrases and the author fails to provide me any clue to what the character was saying. Some people like this, say it lends a little more credibility to the character, makes it read more realistic. To each their own. I say, if you must use a foreign word or phrase, please clue me in on what it means, especially if you want me to keep on reading. My currently in-development-hell novel Blood Junkies uses such a phrase in German, and I manage to keep it’s meaning a secret until the end of Act I. Don’t think that I didn’t want to let the reader in on the secret sooner. It was difficult, but I knew it would be revealed later, so I made it’s meaning part of the story, so at least the reader knew I would eventually let them in on the secret, which made it a little more mysterious. If the word or phrase is not central to the plot, then by all means tell the reader what it means as soon as possible. 

Foreign characters speaking English as a second language can be tricky. If the character is well-educated and has mastered the English language, you may be able to solve this problem by simply giving them a foreign name and keeping their language as well spoken and educated as possible. It may be crude and simple, but actually works quite well. When faced with a character who may not be so educated, incorporating that into their dialogue can prove to be a challenge. Remember, less is more. Listen to people when they speak, especially if English is their second language. You will hear patterns in the way they arrange their words. Often foreign people mix up the order of their words, or use elementary words in place of more sophisticated words, when speaking English.

 “I see you hold your purse close to the body, like a little shivering doggie. Maybe it is you who is shivering?”

Written in plain English, this example quickly shows the reader that the speaker has learned English as a second language. The word doggie is the give away. When is the last time you heard an English-speaking adult use that word? How did this speaker learn English? He may have taken an actual class, which teaches foreigners how to read and write and speak much like how we teach our children in English-speaking countries to read and write and speak, starting at an elementary level and working up. 

 “Holding your purse close, like a shivering pup. Maybe you’re the one who’s shivering, little bird.”

That could have been spoken by a British character. In this case, the distinction should be clarified sooner, without dialogue, that way when this character does speak, the reader knows the person speaking is speaking English, yet not American. You cannot rely on dialect and dialogue alone to characterize the people in your story. British writers surely have the same problems writing American characters. The language is the same, so they have to listen to the way American’s put their sentences together, the words they use and the order they use them. 

Quite a few writing instructors and editors preach about not using profanity and swearing in your story, especially your dialogue. They say people don’t really talk that way. I say phooey on that. More people from all walks of life use more profanity and swear words today than ever before. They say if you overuse profanity and swear words, those words lose their impact when you do use them, and I tend to agree with that to some extent. Make the words fit the character. You may want to have a character in your story never cuss or swear at all. Imagine the impact of the use of a single swear word when it’s the only one in the whole fucking story. 

If you take the time to think about the character, what they are saying, and how they are saying it, there’s no reason for them to be all Americans, all speaking the same way, or all French, or British, or whatever. Use the words they say and how they say them as a tool to characterize your story people, and only use those words to advance the plot of the story. Remember, if your dialogue is not advancing the plot of the story, then you’re slowing the story down to a halt, and when that happens, your reader halts as well. 

Splatterpunk Lives! Obscuradrome Reviews Bleed by Ed Kurtz

Coined by David J. Schow many many moons ago, Splatterpunk is by definition a genre of Horror fiction with no boundaries. Characterized by graphic violence and gore, the genre throws suggestion out the window, preferring to grab the reader by the neck and shove their face into the bloody mess as the story unfolds, in minute by minute detail. Personally, I like the stuff, grew up on it, cut my writing teeth on it. Schow remains in my list of all time favorites, which also includes Joe R. Lansdale, Clive Barker, Robert McCammon, and Jack Ketchum–all writers of the Splatterpunk genre at one time or another. The term is an 80′s and 90′s term, and you don’t hear it thrown around too much today unless you run in the circles I keep.

The circles I keep somehow put author Ed Kurtz’s name in my path. His novel Bleed came out earlier this year, and after reading the snyopsis, I knew it was going up to the top of my reading list. Here’s the info from the back cover:

When Walt Blackmore moves into an old gable front house on the outskirts of a small town, things are really looking up for him; he has an adoring girlfriend to whom he plans to propose, a new job teaching English at the local high school, and an altogether bright future. His outlook and destiny are irreparably changed, however, when an unusual dark red spot appears on the ceiling in the hallway. Bit by bit, the spot grows, first into a dripping blood stain and eventually into a grotesque, muttering creature. 
As the creature grows, Walt finds himself more and more interested in fostering its well-being. At first he only feeds it stray animals so that the blood-hungry monster can survive, but this soon fails to satisfy the creature’s ghastly needs. It is gradually becoming human again, and for that to happen it requires human blood and human flesh. And once Walt has crossed the line from curiosity to murder, there is no going back.

Who wouldn’t want to read that? This is Splatterpunk, like Frank Cotton from Hellraiser amped up on steroids, turned up to eleven, one more louder than ten. Ah, but of course, there was a little trepidation. The 80′s and 90′s were in the way back when days, and my reading tastes have changed. This often happens to writers.  As we hone and develop our craft, what used to inspire us years ago changes as we come into our own writing style. We start to write what we want to read as what we want to read changes into what we write. A weird little vicious cycle. So yeah, I was a little nervous reading a book possibly filled with so much blood and gore that it might distract me from the story.

I’m so glad I trusted my guts on this one, pun intended. Splatterpunk works not because of its gratuitous depiction of all the bloody, nasty bits, but in the way it ties an emotional impact to the characters that experience the violence. It’s that ‘ Oh my God, the killer is peeling off Bonnie’s face, with his bare hands, and gulping it down. No, not Bonnie…please not Bonnie‘ feeling when you’re reading the story–you’re grossed out about the events, but cannot put the book down because of what’s happening to a character you care about. It takes real talent to pull that off, that tense moment when you’re on the edge of your seat needing to know what happens next AND ready to hurl your dinner in the wastebasket.

On all counts, Kurtz delivers the goods.

Without spoiling anything, one of the things I really liked about this novel was no character was safe. Through careful pacing and deliberate POV changes, the story unfolds logically, yet gleefully unpredictable. Readers can’t help but to size up characters when they start a story, attempting to gauge who’s a fighter and who’s going to die. I must say I was pleasantly surprised by Kurtz’s ability to make me throw out my character gauge and just enjoy the story.

The story isn’t perfect. One character’s mental deconstruction left me scratching my head a little, but it certainly didn’t force me out of the story, and it’s something I can easily forgive as long as the story keeps me entertained. 

If you’re looking for something reminiscent of the good ole days, the heyday of Horror of the 80′s and 90′s,  it’s still here, lurking on the shelves of a bookstore near you, ready to drop body parts on your head and drip blood down your neck. Splatterpunk isn’t dead, it was just taking a little nap, and Ed Kurtz woke it up, just for you.

Pick up Bleed in paperback here.

Pick up Bleed for your Kindle here.

Obscuradrome Reviews Growing Up Dead In Texas, by Stephen Graham Jones.

Prolific writer Stephen Graham Jones‘  latest novel, Growing Up Dead in Texas arrived in my mailbox about two months ago. I made a promise to review the book, a promise I am fulfilling a little late it seems. I promised to read the book before I read anything else, even if that meant putting down my current book for a while. When the package came in the mail, I ripped it open and started it immediately. A slow reader by nature, I really tried to pay close attention to the details so I would be able to write my review. I wanted to find the heart of the book and open it up, see what made it tick. That’s really all I ever do when I write a review. I find the details and hold on to them, turn them around in my head to see how it all fits into the story. 

I failed with this novel. The details? Hahaha. Yeah, right. The details took my ass for a ride, a glorious ride through West Texas. I wasn’t even halfway through the book when I started to wonder how I was going to write a review without writing GREAT, BRILLIANT, AWESOME, JAW-DROPPING, GREAT, BRILLIANT, AWESOME, etc. over and over again, sounding like some spastic geek stuck in compliment repeater mode.

Set in Texas, I figured as a Texan I would feel right at home reading it. Funny thing is, I’ve never been west of Waco, and Texas is big, huge. Massive. From where I live in Texas, I could drive east for ten hours and cross four states. Drive west for ten hours–yep, you guessed it–still in Texas. My Texas is about as different from Stephen’s Texas as you can get, yet everything felt familiar. This book captures a feeling, and man, that’s hard to do with a whole novel. The feeling should be familiar to anyone who picks up the book, whether they live in Texas, or the South, or where ever. 

It’s the feeling of life. A life that we’ve all lived, a life that all of our children will live. If you ever played basketball in school, thought Evel Knievel was the real deal, pushed Hot Wheels around the floor in your house, listened to old Country & Western tunes in your truck, had a truck, or even if none of this even remotely reminds you of you, Growing Up Dead in Texas will still resonate with that indescribable tickle in the back of your brain that maybe, yes maybe, you’ve been here before. 

There’s a good reason why I haven’t written this review until now. I was afraid to write it. I figured that no matter what I said wouldn’t be able give this book justice. Touted as a mystery and a memoir, this is about as close to Stephen Graham Jones as you’re going to get. Writer’s basically write themselves into their stories; it’s unavoidable and comes with the territory. Stephen leads the reader down the path of memory into the heart of this story, the fire of this story, and it’s a story only he could tell.  

The thing about this book is that I don’t know what really happened and what is made up, and personally, I don’t care. I believe it all, but it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Stephen was compelled to write this story and share it. You can feel the passion welling up in the words, in Stephen’s voice, as he weaves this tale as only he can. 

I knew there was no way I could do the book justice. After all these words I still don’t think I’ve written a review. All I can hope for is that you pick up this book and experience it like I did. Maybe then and only then you will understand. 

Growing Up Dead in Texas-Paperback.

Growing Up Dead in Texas-Kindle edition.

WriterDrome: “I repeat,” repeated Alex.

WriterDrome is a monthly ongoing discussion concerning the mechanics and logistics of writing Horror, Speculative, Dark Fantastic, and Noir Fiction. The aim here is to discuss the many dynamics necessary to write, edit and publish these genres in a continuously changing landscape. Remember, opinions mentioned here are just that, opinions. I’m no expert, but I’ve been writing for a long time, and I feel there is a lot I can pass on to my fellow writers. Lively discussion is highly encouraged. 

Photo property of Bob Pastorella. Blood provided by Bob Pastorella’s finger.

 WriterDrome: “I repeat,” repeated Alex. Dialogue Part II

 

Care to take a guess where I’m going with this article? 

That’s right, I’m covering Dialogue Tags. This is one of my favorite subjects, one of the few where I get to rant. I’ll try to be brief with the ranting. Many years ago when I started writing, I didn’t know squat about writing dialogue. I knew my characters needed to be talking, so talk they did, usually very poorly and more often than not they didn’t have anything to say about the story. This was before I learned that dialogue is used to advance the plot. All I knew was talking was needed. When I decided to get serious about my craft, I read a few books about how to write fiction. I couldn’t wait to get to the chapter(s) about dialogue, hoping to learn more tags like chortled, gasped, exclaimed. I needed more words like that to help make sure my readers understood what my characters were feeling when they talked in my stories. Imagine my dismay when the first book forcefully instructed me to only use the word ‘said’. 

Said?

How boring. The next book I read about writing also told me I needed to use ‘said’, but this time, the author explained why ‘said’ is so important, and it sunk in. Sunk in deep. Now when I see any tag other than ‘said’, the red pen strikes it out like it’s a cancer. Said is the best tag. If you think of a better tag than said, use said anyway, it’s still better. 

Crude Example:

“Where’s the money?” Dave asked. 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” John whined.

“Tell me now, dammit!” Dave screamed.

First, using ‘asked’ as a tag is permissible when a character is asking a question. Second, we have to look for ways to make this crude example better. Will simply changing ‘whined’ and ‘screamed’ to ‘said’ fix it? No, we need more than that. We must understand why the writer chose those tags to begin with.

John whined is an effort to make the reader understand how John is feeling. We have a bit of dialogue–I don’t know what you’re talking about–the showing part of the exchange, and John whined, the telling part. The writer is using the telling part of the exchange to give us an idea of how John is feeling, when it would have been much easier, and stronger, to do that in the showing part. 

“Where’s the money?” Dave asked. 

“I’ve already told you, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” John said.

“Tell me now, dammit!” Dave screamed.

See how those few words give us a little insight into John. This exchange is almost done. The last thing is the last sentence, especially the exclamation point. It’s rare when a writer uses an exclamation point properly, so unless you know what you are doing, do not use that form of punctuation in your fiction. So how do we tell the reader that Dave is angry?

We don’t.

We show the reader.

Now, I do not advocate using swear words or slang simply because they can become repetitive and annoying, but if your character’s language has been fairly clean for the most part, a well placed ‘motherfucker’ can work wonders. Use it sparingly.

Another way would be to carefully choose the words Dave is screaming, so that the reader knows he angry without telling him that Dave is angry. 

“Where’s the money?” Dave asked. 

“I’ve already told you, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” John said.

“You had better tell me right now, dammit,” Dave said. 

This is better, proper, but it’s still not strong. Okay, okay, I can hear you all groaning …Well, Bob, since we can only used ‘asked’ or ‘said’ what do we do now?

Physical tags. Not only will they indicate who is speaking, but the action allows you to show the reader your character’s feelings. 

“Where’s the money?” Dave asked. 

“I’ve already told you, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” John said.

Dave grabbed at John’s arm, missed it, then clinched his fist. “You had better tell me right now, dammit.”  

Not too bad for a crude example. We can use physical tags for the entire exchange, but it’s best to mix things up. 

“Where’s the money?” Dave asked. 

 John squirmed in his chair. “I’ve already told you, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Dave grabbed at John’s arm, missed it, then clinched his fist. “You had better tell me right now, dammit.”  

Now we have a nice dialogue exchange without a single said. So why is ‘said’ better than saying something like ‘groaned’, or ‘gasped’. The reason is because ‘said’ is invisible. It works because it identifies who is speaking without bringing attention to itself, therefore allowing the words you chose for your characters to do the job they need to do, which is advancing the plot. 

Damn, I love it when my lessons start making connections. 

So when in doubt, always use ‘said’, it is truly the best choice for a tag. Chose your dialogue words wisely, and if you must relay more emotion into the exchange, use a physical tag to get your idea across. 

Next month is the final part of my Dialogue lesson, in which I’ll cover slang and cursing, foreign words and dialects, and how not to sound like a redneck when writing redneck.