Thursday, October 6, 2016

An October reading list

Dozens of lists are out now recommending a variety of horror novels and short stories to be read during October.

I'm going to give you a bit of a variation on the theme and recommend some books with the word "October" in the title.


Edited by Cemetery Dance head honcho Richard Chizmar and all-around awesome guy Robert Morrish, this anthology contains not only a wide variety of short stories celebrating my birthday Halloween, but also a number of favorite halloween memories from many of the writers. 

Featured writers include Ray Bradbury (we'll talk more about him soon), Dean Koontz, Peter Straub, Richard Laymon (like Bradbury, he will pop up again), and Caitlin R. Kiernan.

This tome also includes the first Thomas Ligotti story I ever read, "Conversations in a Dead Language."

I lucked out and have the trade paperback version. There is a sequel and if that ever gets out of the collector's edition phase, I'll get it and likely amend this list.


Can we all just agree that Bradbury was the true king of Halloween? We can? Good.

Here, the master offers 19 short stories, many of which were in his collection THE DARK CARNIVAL in 1947. Published in 1954, THE OCTOBER COUNTRY included four new stories from Bradbury. A re-release in 1999 included an essay called "Homesteading the October Country."

Among the stories included are "The Jar" (notable for being an episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents), "The Next in Line," and "The Small Assassin," which is one of the best short stories ever written (unless you are a parent).


If you read modern horror, chances are you've come across one of Richard Laymon's books. He published a mountain of novels in the 1980s and '90s, and few even after his untimely death in 2001.

This entry, with a title cribbed from an E.A. Poe poem, follows college student Ed as he ventures out one late October night after being unceremoniously dumped by his girlfriend. Ed encounters a number of unusual people throughout the night, including an intriguing young woman and other not so friendly folks.

It's my favorite Laymon novel because the plot lends itself to meandering. There is an anthology feel to it that I find appealing.


It's a great line, so we shouldn't be surprised to see multiple authors using it for titles.

Here, Roger Zelazny uses it for his satirical--and final--novel told via journal entries by Snuff, a dog who happens to be the companion of Jack the Ripper.

Zelazny gets Lovecraftian throughout the book, but Snuff also encounters the gamut of horror archetypes including Dracula, Victor Frankenstein, a wolf man named Larry Talbot, Sherlock Holmes, and of course Jack the Ripper.

Each chapter represents one day the month, so if you could force yourself to be patience, the book would serve as sort of an advent calendar for Halloween.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The family that haunts together...

I'm not the only writer in my family. My wife, Savannah, has a decade of journalism experience and has posted about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and zombie caterpillars for this site.

She's taking on a new venture, writing for Parachute and her most recent piece is about he most haunted places in the Palouse region where we live.

One item on the list, St. Ignatius, is something that may come up again here as we get closer to Halloween.

Have a look at her list and check back here often for more Halloween and haunted fun!

"Most Haunted Places on the Palouse"

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Re-watching the Universal Essential

I've been couch bound this weekend and left to my own devices. I decided to spend some time watching the Universal Monsters Essential Collection on Blu-ray. The eight films are:

The Mummy
The Invisible Man
The Bride of Frankenstein
The Wolfman
The Phantom of the Opera
The Creature from the Black Lagoon

All eight movies have something to offer and were highly influential on the variety of horror films that followed them.

Because I can't sit long enough to write a full post of the awesomeness of the collection (like the superior bonus features included), I'll give just a few thoughts, some of which will surprise no one.

1. Bride is the best of the lot. There used to be a time when sequels were rare (but series such as The Thin Man were not so rare), and having the best of these be a sequel is almost unfathomable. But it's true. From the effects, to James Whale's direction, and the perfect acting of Boris Karloff and Elsa Lanchester, Bride is as spot-on a film as possible. If there is a fault, it's that there isn't enough of the Bride shown. She comes in late, but by God, it is worth it.

2. The Wolfman is the most over rated of the set. Lon Chaney, Jr.'s Larry Talbot is a subpar character and a whining sycophant. His transformation into the wolfman is supposed to be tragic but there is nothing about Talbot that makes me care that he has been cursed. His love interest is a woman he just met, and only met because he accidentally spied on her from his father's (Claude Rains!) giant telescope. The Jack P. Pierce make-up is still awesome, though.

3. Claude Rains is the underappreciated hero/villain of Universal monsters. The Invisible Man is a masterpiece, but we all spend so much of our time talking about Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff that we forget about Rains. Maybe it is because he was able to do other kinds of movies instead of being stuck in horror and ending up in ever-worsening roles and films. For this set, Rains not only got to play two wildly different monsters (Invisible Man and the Phantom) but also had a non-villain role as Sir Talbot in The Wolfman.

4. Karloff is brilliant, but his most frightening screen time, to me, is when he first begins to waken in The Mummy. His eyes slowly open, one arm slumps down, then the other, as if let go from ropes (or the bands surrounding his body), and we don't get to see him walk. The patience of his performance is something we could all learn from.

5. I've mentioned him before but Jack P. Pierce and the make-up team created looks so original and frightening that even today they hold up. Some of the effects in these films would be hard to pull off today but seem like they should have been impossible in the 1930s and '40s. The feature on the effects in The Invisible Man highlights exactly what we mean when we say "the magic of cinema."

OK, that's all I have right now. I have another day to myself and some more viewing decisions to make. Catch you later.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Spending a sick day with ghosts

I took a sick day yesterday. Battling a cold over the weekend caught up to me. Every time I get a cold during the summer, I half-convince myself that it is Captain Trips and the world is about to end.

It wasn't Captain Trips and I'm feeling much better today, thanks.

I did use the time alone to catch up on a couple movies. I watched Sinister 2 and We Are Still Here. 

Let me tell you, even though I was stoked to the gills on DayQuil, I enjoyed both of these movies.

The first Sinister has become one of my favorites. I love movies about writers. Call it a crutch, but I can't help it. Horror movies with imaginative and creative people in lead roles fascinate me. Sinister 2, however, takes away that element and instead gives us a single mom hiding her two boys from an abusive father. The recurring character is Deputy So-and-So (James Ransone), who still doesn't get a real name.

Ransone has a beat-down look that fits this film and his new role as a private detective devoting his time to tracking down Baghuul, the demon who gets kids to murder their families. He encounters Courtney Collins (Shannyn Sossamon, whom I has always enjoyed), and her two boys Dylan and Zack.

The boys have been in contact with Milo, a previous victim/proxy of Baghuul. Milo and other spirits have been grooming the boys with films and other media of previous murders.

The media range from the 8mm film of the previous movie, 16mm movies, and even vinyl. The set up and presentation of each murder is much more in-depth than in the first film and come almost too close to seeming like snuff films. It's disturbing to watch and even more so in context considering that these artifacts are being used to push a young boy into murder.

Sossamon is well-cast as the mom on the run but the roles of Dylan, Zach, and Milo are almost interchangeable. None of the young actors stove out in a way that made me believe they couldn't have played one of the other roles as equally or as blandly. But, hey, they are kids and hardly any one knocks it out of the park their first time at the plate.

The abandoned house Courtney has chosen to sequester Dylan and Zach in (site of a previous Baghuul murder) is excellent and its dark corners and outbuildings are used to further the plot.

I don't think this sequel will be as remembered as the first, but as far as sequels go, it's worth a viewing.

We Are Still Here, on the other hand, is worth more than just a viewing. It's worth a serious examination of multiple horror tropes, period films, and casting. It is, to say the least, brilliant.

Starring Barbara Crampton (currently in a career resurgence), Andrew Sensenig, Larry Fessenden (who I haven't liked this much since Session 9), and Lisa Marie (also a bit of a career resurgence although not on the level Crampton is having), We Are Still Here is a haunted house/creepy small town movie set in the late 1970s.

Sounds just about perfect, doesn't it?

Crampton and Sensenig play the Sacchetti, a middle-aged couple who recently lost their son in a car accident. They buy a New England home that has been empty for years and then weird stuff starts happening.

All this seems like a cliche haunted house story and you'd be right, up to this point. But then we see the ghosts. Normally, I am all for keeping the ghosts as shrouded in darkness for as long as possible. the ghosts in this house, however, are too cool to hide. They appear as totally burnt bodies with streams of red running beneath hardened black skin and boiling white eyes. if volcanoes took human form, they would look like this.

After enough weird shit goes down, Anne Sacchetti calls her friend May (Marie) to visit the house. May has some psychic ability (and in the '70s, everyone knew someone who did), and brings along her husband Jacob (Fessenden). More weird shit ensues, the Sacchettis' son appears as one of the ghosts, and Jacob steals the show during a possession scene.

At one point, my cat Binx started clawing at the window screen behind me to be let in. The moment he started scratching coincided with a tense and sound-driven moment in the film. I can admit it: scared the bejesus out of me.

And then there is the small town conspiracy thrown in. All of this leads to the pitch perfect delivery of the film's final line by Paul Sacchetti.

OK, no more plot from me. If you dig ghost/haunted house stories, you need to see We Are Still Here.  This is the feature debut for writer/director Ted Geoghegan and I expect even bigger and better things from him in the future. Unlike the boys from Sinister 2, Geoghegan crushed this one.

Both films are rated R and were released in 2015.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Lights Out: we'll leave the light on for you

Let me start by saying that it feels good to support the theatrical release on a horror film that is neither a remake nor a sequel. I'm basking in the joy of something new.

Now that that is out of the way, let's talk about LIGHTS OUT.

Based on a short film of the same title, LIGHTS OUT visits twenty-something Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) as she tries to help her little brother Martin (Gabriel Bateman) face strange goings-on in the creepy house he lives in with their mentally ill mother Sophie (Maria Bello). Sophie has a history of extreme depression but when Martin hears her talking to someone else in the mostly empty house and hearing and seeing odd things, he begins to lose sleep. Enter Rebecca who bailed out on Sophie as soon as she could after her father disappeared. Sophie began her current regression when Martin's dad  succumbs to a horrible fate (in a brilliant, classic opening scene).

We soon learn that the eerie being who disappears when the lights are on is Diana. Rebecca had always thought Diana was a symptom of Sophie's illness but it turns out Diana is something more and will do everything she can to keep Sophie for herself (including convincing Sophie not to taker her medication).

Director David F. Sandberg, writer Eric Heisserer and Bello are to be commended for their handling of mental illness. Sophie's was never a joke and the tragedies are never blamed on Sophie the person, but rather are linked to the illness. It's a fine line and one these filmmakers didn't shy away from but didn't exploit, either.

There is one moment when Rebecca is confronting Sophie regarding the truth about Diana when Rebecca is trying to tell Sophie that Diana is dead. Sophie's response is that Diana can't be dead because ghosts aren't real.

Think about that for just a moment.


Here we have the "sane" and "reasonable" character telling the "insane" and "crazy" character that someone who died 30 years ago is somehow still in the house but the "crazy" person responds with the perfectly cogent argument that it can't be so because GHOSTS AREN'T REAL.

It is a brilliantly acted and scripted scene that deserves a closer look.

Sandberg and his crew put the brunt of the terror on the cast, particularly Alicia Vela-Bailey who plays Diana. For the most part, Diana is real. Sound design, lighting and editing combined with Vela-Bailey's physicality bring the spectral antagonist to life with only a few hints of CGI enhancement. The effect comes across as much more old-school because of this. Never giving us a full view of Diana also helps maintain the mystery.

I don't think LIGHTS OUT will ever be considered a great film in the pantheon of horror. What is has done, however, is added to the legacy of James Wan as a producer. beyond his directorial body of work, Wan is picking projects to work on and getting them into theaters with the deft touch of successful horror producers before him. Producers don't get the name credit in the genre like they should. It's all about writers and directors. Some of the genres best directors, however, have helped other filmmakers get work done by serving as producers. Wes Craven is a good example, although many of the films he "presented" weren't that great. Guillermo del Toro and Sam Raimi are other modern directors who will produce films for other directors. Wan is not only in that class, but quickly moving to the top of it.

The bad news is that a sequel has already been announced. I don't know how or why, based on the ending of LIGHTS OUT, but a csh cow will be milked until it is dry.

THREAT LEVEL: ORANGE. I should make it red, just to get you out to the theaters before it's gone, but orange will do. LIGHTS OUT is worth seeing for fans of the genre but might not have much mainstream crossover appeal. The film is rated PG-13, so while is intense, it is not as brutally intense as Wan's own THE CONJURING films.

Monday, July 18, 2016

GHOSTBUSTERS: conflict of interests

I've followed all the hate and all the "ruining my childhood" BS about the new GHOSTBUSTERS movie since the female-led movie was announced and steadily decried those people (mostly white men in my age range) as ignorant neanderthals.

I still think they wrong and their hate was misplaced, but I was quite sad to see a film that went beyond acknowledging that hate to nearly validating it.

Let me be clear: I had a good time at GHOSTBUSTERS and enjoyed many aspects of it. But there are problems.

My heart WANTS it to be a great film, but my head just won't allow it.

Here's why:

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Watch's End: King's Bill Hodges trilogy concludes

I'm not alone in the assertion that Stephen King's Bill Hodges trilogy is among his best work. The series has been more akin to traditional mysteries than King's horror work and that had given King another notch in his belt as one of America's best storytellers of all time.

END OF WATCH brings the series to a close with our hero facing the villain of MR. MERCEDES again.

When last we left Brady Hartsfield, he was deep in coma after having his head bashed in by Holly Gibney at the end of MR. MERCEDES. Hodges visits Brady during the course of FINDERS KEEPERS and catalogues rumors that Brady has develop minor telekinetic powers. Those powers get amped up in END OF WATCH and brings the series into more familiar territory for long-time constant readers.

It might seem like a cop-out to some. Why not keep things real and let the mystery develop on its own, one might say. But that's not how King operates. In many ways, his choices place END OF WATCH neatly in the world he first explored in CARRIE and even more in FIRESTARTER. Oh, yes, it would be easy to assume that Brady's lead neurologist Dr. Babineau took his cues from experiments by The Shop, the covert, semi-governmental organization that fostered and then sought to control Charlie McGee's pyrotechnic powers.

It's a reminder than even something that doesn't seem connected to the greater universe King created can be linked. At this point, it is almost easier to point out the books and stories that aren't connected than playing the game of "how does this fit?" that is so much fun to explore.

Like many King novels, END OF WATCH is all about the build-up, the journey, to the end. When the end comes, it comes quick and dirty. Unlike some of his conclusions (UNDER THE DOME, I'm thinking of you), END OF WATCH and the series as a whole, ends satisfactorily. Bad things happen to people we like (no spoilers) and a tight wrap-up is done. Things make sense at the finale and that is one of the best things I can say about the book.

This is the only King book we'll get in 2016 after recent years of multiple offerings. As King approaches his own watch's end, we should appreciate every moment we get with new work from him.

I fear that when the end comes, it will come just as fast as it does in his books. Lots of build-up and suspense and then ...


Thursday, July 7, 2016

Joe Hill takes a Stand

It is no secret that Joe Hill is Stephen King's son. It used to be a secret and Hill evens mentions the secret in his author's note that concludes his 752-page epic novel THE FIREMAN.

Hill has referenced his father's work before. In NOS4ATU, he mentions King's book DR. SLEEP and King does the same in that novel. In THE FIREMAN, Hill not only pulls some clear references, but some allusions that are hard to miss for constant readers.

Some of the allusions are spoilers and I will do my best not to go there. Some, however, come toward the beginning of the book and aren't plot spoilers but interesting devices that propel the story and help develop characters.

First, the heroine of the book, Harper Willowes Grayson, gets pregnant early. Her husband goes nuts and Harper spends the rest of the novel dealing with her pregnancy as well as the global epidemic Dragonscale spore. The spore causes people to combust, which leads to fires wiping out most of the population.

So you see: a pregnant woman left on her own and a world-destroying disease... Shades of King's THE STAND are planted early.

You could say these things are a coincidence and I'd maybe agree except for one more thing. One of the main characters is a young deaf boy named Nick.

So... what to make of that? We just have to accept it. While THE FIREMAN is an original book and well worth your time, we have to accept the homage qualities of it. Even if Hill was not the prince of horror, a book such as this was inevitable. Hill isn't the first to destroy the world via plague and use THE STAND as a guide. If anything, it's a love letter to his father's most popular book.

Hill even snuck a can of Nozz-A-La into the book.

OK, all that aside, Hill has written a startling book that is full of complex characters, intrigue, mystery, fear and delight. THE FIREMAN is a work of horror that fulfills its promise as the spawn of THE STAND and FAHRENHEIT 451.

It is also a ghastly look into how our modern society would handle such an epidemic. Some would trust the government to their detriment, but the bands of survivors aren't always better. Paranoia mixes with the All-American desire to do things oneself. Sometimes that means harboring the sick and sometimes it means taking responsibility for eradicating them.

It is a frightening thought (and what drives this novel) that individuals can come together for the greater good or for something worse than the disease. People can be amazingly good and downright horrible. Hill captures both sides and recognizes that in hard times, even good people do bad things and bad people tend to do worse things.

THE FIREMAN is Hill's fourth novel and fifth book overall. If you think that is too few, also remember that he is a prodigious comic book writer, as well. Hill will be with us for a long time and he keeps getting better.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Creepy By Association: FANS

Fandom is an odd thing. Western culture is filled with hero worship. We say weird things like "we" when we speak about a sports team that WE clearly do not play for or work for. In pop culture, "we" pay anywhere from $10 to $100 to have someone famous write their name on something.

At the recently concluded Crypticon, I discussed this phenomenon with Tony Todd. We talked about how fans have a sense of ownership and entitlement when it comes to the creative people they admire.

Listen: If you start following someone you think is famous in a grocery store, you need to reevaluate your life.

Stephen King talked about how odd fans are during his event in Salt Lake City. Yes, I went. I sat in the third row and listened intently. I did not ask a question (especially one that was kind of stupid and an attempt to make his work my own or have greater significance than it already does. Deschain does not equal Duchesne, sorry.)

King, of course, wrote the book on extreme fandom. It's called MISERY and when one not-so-funny guy at the event said, "I'm your number one fan," King shrugged it off.

I've never heard that one before, his off-the-cuff "Yeah, right" seemed to say. There's one in every town. Sometimes two.

In this case, there were two. The guy who shouted about his place on King's fan list was not the same guy who went onto the stage after King left and took the half-empty bottle of Diet Pepsi King had been drinking from the podium.

Seriously, dude? What the hell is wrong with you? What are you going to do? Clone Stephen King? Sell the bottle on eBay? Eventually the soda will evaporate and you will have an empty bottle and the kind memory not really worth sharing. I almost feel like talking about it only legitimizes your crazy and maybe I shouldn't have said anything at all.

You're sick, dude, and I hope you get help. There's a line between admiration and obsession and you just crossed it.

So this shouldn't even be a Creepy By Association, if you think about it. This is just plain creepy because people are messed up and think they are entitled to things they are not.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Five years of fear

last week, while I was on vacation, Warning Signs hit its five-year mark. Hard to believe that something I started one summer to keep myself busy while I searched for a job has lasted this long.

Sure, I sometimes go for stretches without posting anything and sometimes I post multiple things in one day. The important thing is that this blog lives and continues to offer me a place to share things I love with you: family, friends and complete strangers.

last week was a milestone week in many ways. It started with a late-night screening of THE CONJURING 2 (good, not as intense as the first, but just about the best mainstream horror we're going to get) and moved into my own reading/signing event in my hometown.

Friday night was the tops as my aunt Pam and I went to a Stephen King event in Salt Lake City, Utah.  We sat in the third row and enjoyed him bullshitting for an hour.

Sadly, neither of us ended up with one of the random signed copies of END OF WATCH.

My aunt Pam snapped this photo. 

I am not ashamed to admit that I gave a copy of my book CRY DOWN DARK to the event host as she made her way backstage after King concluded his talk. I hope he got it and I hope he reads it.

I resisted the urge to try and sell more books while standing in the line to get into the venue. I'm classy like that.

When I got home, I had an envelope from Alban Lake Publishing. Inside was a copy of DISTURBED DIGEST #13 which has my story "Bury All Your Secrets in My Skin" featured. You should buy a copy.

My wife and I are fiddling around with a redesign of the site and my plan is to use this more and more as a platform for my burgeoning career as an author. Change is good, people. What that will look like, I don't know yet. As King wrote in THE STAND:

“No one can tell what goes on in between the person you were and the person you become. No one can chart that blue and lonely section of hell. There are no maps of the change. You just come out the other side.

Or you don't.”

Friday, June 10, 2016

Stephen King Countdown: one week

King is famous for his casts of characters and stretched-out time spans. Books like IT that jump eras or 11.22.63 that goes back in time and spend years before reaching the climax are good examples.

And so, I sit here, counting down the days until I get to see the man himself. One week. A week is all.

I haven't done many lists, but I guess I'll do one now. Seven favorite Stephen King books, maybe? Or top seven King film/TV adaptations?

How about a mix? Top seven Stephen King... everything. This is going to be harder than I thought.

These shall be in no particular order other than as they come to me.

1. Joe Hill.
    Does that seem odd? One of my favorite things about Stephen King is that he gave us Joe Hill. The best thing is that Hill made his own way and is very much his own person/writer. I firmly believe there will be a day when Hill is considered by most readers to be a better writer than his father. Maybe not a better storyteller, but a better pure writer, a better student of the craft.

The two have collaborated on a few stories--"Throttle," which was paired on an audiobook with Richard Matheson's "Duel" is my favorite--and perhaps will do so again. But it is time to recognize that while their subject matter is similar and they do occasionally reference each other in their works, they are not the same person. And we can be grateful for that.

There will never be another Stephen King. But there IS Joe Hill.

2. Blurbs
    A Stephen King blurb will put a book or movie in front of more eyes that the work would have ever dreamed of having on its own. This has been true since THE EVIL DEAD and the time he called Clive Barker the new face of horror. And it continues today. Be honest: Would Justin Cronin's THE PASSAGE have reached you if not for King's blurb on the cover? Or Benjamin Percy's RED MOON or THE DEAD LANDS?

What's important, however, is that these works actually be good. Obviously King doesn't blurb everything he reads. That's part of the value of a King blurb. Sure he's been wrong, but individual taste does play a role. He even wrote a column about blurb writing back during his "The Pop of King" days with Entertainment Weekly. 


    King has a history of mirror stories. Not sequels, per se (THE DARK TOWER series, THE TALISMAN/BLACK HOUSE, THE SHINING/DOCTOR SLEEP, and the Bill Hodges Trilogy are in the sequel category), but rather books that are designed to play off of each other or just happened to be close enough in theme and character to demand they be taken together. DESPERATION and THE REGULATORS are a designed pair, as are DOLORES CLAIBORNE and GERALD'S GAME. BAG OF BONES and LISEY'S STORY, on the other hand, seem more like something that just happened, as opposed to having a plan behind.

Both are about how the creative world can intrude on real life. In BAG BONES, writer Mike Noonan must come to grips with the sudden death of his wife. In LISEY'S STORY, Lisey Landon must come to grips with the sudden death of her husband Scott, a bestselling author. Grief runs rampant through both novels. In each, we see the effects of a creative life that has in many ways ceased. The books also mirror each other in that one has a male lead and the other has a female lead. Both are brilliant and heartbreaking. BAG OF BONES has been my favorite book of King's since I read it and I am constantly learning to appreciate LISEY'S STORY more and more.


    He knows it and I know and you all should know it: MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE is not a good movie. It's horrible. But it is damn fun to watch. Emilio Estevez, pre-SIMPSONS Yeardely Smith, an all-AC/DC soundtrack (screw you, IRON MAN II for thinking you did that first), and best of all a King cameo.

And now the Green Goblin head has been restored and tours horror conventions. How cool is that?

5. Audiobooks

    King has been a supporter of audiobooks for a long time. In ON WRITING, he says many of the books he reads in year are on audio and listened to during long drives between Maine and Florida. Unabridged, of course (is there anything worse than an abridged version of a book?)

The best ones, to me, are the ones King reads himself. I happen to be the proud owner of the first three DARK TOWER books on cassette, read by King. Not that I listen to them anymore. I don't want them to break. But they are out of print, as it were, and one of those collector's items I haven't been broke enough to part with.

King did return to THE DARK TOWER to read THE WIND THROUGH THE KEYHOLE and it is great to have him in my ears. I tend to listen to audiobooks as a sleep aid. Not because they are boring or monotonous, but because a good reader lulls me into the story and gives me pleasant dreams. King is an excellent reader of his own work.

6. THE SIMPSONS 25th anniversary figure.


I bought one the day they became available. How could I not? There should be more action figures of writers. I heard there is a Neil Gaiman SIMPSONS figure out there and I'd like one of those, too.

7. A book a year... and sometimes two

    King is reliable. Writing is his job and his passion. Because of this, we usually get one book a year (for 40 years!) Sometimes we even get two. One ing the spring/early summer and one in the fall, often right around my birthday. The first King book I ever bought, NIGHTMARES & DREAMSCAPES was released just before Halloween. I talked my mom into letting me buy it for my birthday. Lately, I do pre-orders so the books come to me. I even pre-ordered END OF WATCH but I canceled the order once I knew I had a ticket to his reading in Salt Lake City. The admission comes with a copy of the new book and there is a chance I'll get one of the 400 random signed copies. 

If I do, I'll have to replace something on this list.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Stephen King Countdown: Visitation Rights

I couldn't tell you how many people write about Stephen King these days. Scholarly works, devoted blogs, rants and raves aplenty all attached to one humble Maine kid.

Some of these writers stand out more than others. Do I? Nah, probably not. But writers such as Tony Magistrale, who delves deep into King from the scholarly angle do. And other fiction writers have shown how much King matters to them.

One, in particular, is taking a deep dive into King's work. Richard Chizmar, whom you may know as the gentleman behind Cemetery Dance, started StephenKingRevisted in November 2014 with the goal of re-reading each book in chronological order (a worthwhile task unfulfilled by many). Each of Chizmar's essays are broken into two sections: "That was Then" and "This is Now." Chizmar begins by talking about his first encounter with each book and then his latest reading of each. These essays are at times poignant and revealing (his recent essay on PET SEMATARY is astounding in its discussion of fatherhood), and we can learn as much about Chizmar the man and writer as we do about how King's work continues to be relevant.

In addition to Chizmar's thoughts, each book is put in context by King expert Bev Vincent and touched upon by another writer. Stewart O'Nan, for example, provided the companion piece to Chizmar's PET SEMATARY essay; Kealan Patrick Burke discussed CUJO; director Josh Boone talked about THE STAND (how about getting that movie going, eh?); and Ray Garton wrote about CARRIE. There are--and will continue to be-- so many more.

Chizmar is taking his time with this project. He's not rushing the reading or the writing and it shows in both good ways and bad. I love getting the notices that a new essay is available but sometimes it is months in between each. And yet each time a new piece is available, I devour it. I recognize so much of myself in Chizmar's writing and yet can also say, "But I didn't feel that way at all" in some instances.

That's the great part about it. Chizmar is feeding us discussion points and saying, "This is yours now." Which is exactly how I feel about King's work. It's not that the author is detached in an unemotional way. It's that they are both able to step away and let readers have their own say about a work.

It's not too late of you to catch up and keep up with Chizmar's Stephen King Revisited project. He lays everything out there for you to ride along.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Stephen King Countdown: end of watch?

King's new book, END OF WATCH, is out tomorrow. I'll get my copy at the reading. When it was announced that Bill Hodges would have a trilogy, the title of the third book was The SUICIDE PRINCE.

Even though END OF WATCH sounds somewhat bland, I like the change. I like that King (and maybe the folks at Scribner, his publisher) decided they didn't want to promote a product with "suicide" in the title. That can get sticky these days and I don't see it as a PR move as much as a reality check.

We know well enough that what happens between the book cover is going to be horrible. There's more than a good chance that someone we've come to love over the previous two books will die. That's how King works.

We don't need to be told in the title that someone we love will be driven to suicide. We just know things will be bad.

That King has sustained Bill Hodges and his rag-tag crew into a third book is simultaneously surprising and not a surprise at all. He writes long and sometimes those long stories seem like they could be broken up. In this case, we have three distinct stories. Stretching them out over a few years has only whetted the appetites of his readers, myself included.