Friday, December 9, 2011

My Three Favorite Reads of 2011

I used to read a lot; roughly seventy books a year. I would finish one novel and immediately start on the next. My library card probably spent more time out of my wallet than in.

Then I started writing seriously and found that making time to write cut deeply into my  reading time. Don't get me wrong, I still love to read and always will, but instead of reading seventy books a year, now I'm probably down to around twenty.

That being the case, I almost never try a book any more that I'm not reasonably sure I'm going to enjoy, which in some ways is a shame. It's kind of fun to take a chance on an author or a book title I've never heard of, with a description I'm a little leery about.

But on the other hand, reading only books I believe I'm going to enjoy makes it really difficult to pick my favorites. Plus, as a writer, I know how much blood sweat and tears it takes to write a book, so I'm not about to trash anyone's work.

And I want to be clear about one thing: This is a list of my favorite books of 2011, not necessarily the best books of 2011. I didn't read anything close to the number of books to be able to venture an educated opinion on the best books. But I sure do know what I like, and I really dug the following three titles.

So, without further ado, here we go. My three favorite books of 2011:

#3 - The Bastard Hand - Heath Lowrance, New Pulp Press

This book was my introduction to Heath Lowrance's work, and it held me spellbound from the first page to its final, shocking conclusion. Lowrance uses exquisite powers of description to evoke a rich southern aura, while weaving a tale of sex, violence and corruption.

I reviewed The Bastard Hand back in April, if you're interested in a fuller description of the book, but if you enjoy noir, or even just outstanding fiction, you're doing yourself a disservice if you haven't yet checked out this debut effort.

Heath Lowrance has followed The Bastard Hand up with a short story collection and several standalone shorts, and you can't go wrong with any of them. Rumor has it he's working on a second novel.

#2 - The Paradise Prophecy - Robert Browne, Penguin

Robert Browne is a former screenwriter who penned his first novel just five years ago. I had read most of his previous work and enjoyed it when I picked up The Paradise Prophecy, but had no idea what I was getting into. Robert Browne has stepped up to the next level with this book, writing a thriller that puts him in a class with the best of the best.

The Paradise Prophecy is based on John Milton's Paradise Lost, but if that premise sounds dry and uninteresting, all you have to do is open the book and you'll lose yourself in a globetrotting thriller filled with intrigue, deception and a final, supernatural apocalyptic confrontation.

I was fortunate enough to interview Robert Browne in October, and found him to be not just a talented author, but a gracious and humble individual as well. Considering the ability he demonstrates with his latest book, that's saying something.

#1 - Every Shallow Cut - Tom Piccirilli - ChiZine Publications

I love genre fiction, and one of the elements of genre fiction I love the most is noir. It's gritty and brutal and honest, and for my money, the leading practitioner of modern noir fiction is Tom Piccirilli. Every Shallow Cut might just be the best thing he's ever written.

It's a novella - a noirella, as he likes to call them - and not a full-length novel, but that didn't matter to me and shouldn't matter to you. Every Shallow Cut cuts like a knife and packs a punch that will stay with you long after you've finished reading. Piccirilli picks at scabs we can all relate to with his work, and he's going to have a hard time topping this beauty.

I reviewed Every Shallow Cut back in March, if you're interested, but if I were you I wouldn't bother checking it out. Just go to Amazon or wherever you prefer to buy your books, and get this one. You'll be blown away.

Actually, I can say that about all three of my favorite reads for 2011. You can't go wrong with any of them.


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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Excerpt from my Delirium Books novella, HEARTLESS

My second Delirium Books horror novella is titled HEARTLESS. Release of the limited edition hardcover is scheduled for January 17, but the ebook edition became available yesterday.

I'm very excited about HEARTLESS, because it's not only one of the darkest things I've ever written, it's also a damned good story. You can check out the novella description here or here if you're interested. You can also purchase an ebook copy at either site.

An excerpt is available at the DarkFuse site, but if you'd like to check out a slightly longer excerpt, you've come to the right place. Here ya go:


The bodies of the sacrificial victims were lined up side by side on the massive stone altar, naked and spread-eagled, wrists and ankles lashed securely. Some had been drugged into unconsciousness but most were awake and aware. And terrified.

The sun slid gradually below treetop level, bringing shade but precious little relief from the brutal heat to either the spectators or the participants in the upcoming sacred ritual.

Some of those awaiting sacrifice sobbed and moaned, some begged for mercy to uncaring ears, some few even lay stoically, their faces impassive, their fate understood and accepted. From off in the distance a drumbeat pounded out a slow but steady rhythm, its purpose known only to the holy men at whose command this ritual was to take place.

Despite their nakedness, the victims’ bodies were coated with a sheen of sweat, the result of intense fear and the oppressive jungle heat. Mosquitos and other insects buzzed and swarmed, feasting on the exposed flesh with impunity, adding to the misery of those waiting to be sacrificed.

Almost imperceptibly the pace of the drumbeat began to increase in intensity and a sense of excitement rippled through the crowd of onlookers. Over the rim of the temple a group of holy men appeared, arriving atop the hundreds of stone stairs dressed in colorful ceremonial garb, surrounded by wives, aides and elders. Frightening masks depicting birds of prey and other wildlife covered the holy men’s faces, and the men chanted softly to themselves, their language indecipherable to the majority—but not all—of the sacrificial victims.

The first holy man moved with a deliberate pace to the restrained body occupying the northernmost position on the altar, a young boy perhaps fifteen years of age, a prisoner of war chosen to be the first sacrificial victim. The boy’s features were contorted in terror and his body quivered and shook but he refused to cry. He looked the holy man in the eye, refusing to beg or plead, choosing instead to die with his dignity intact.

In his hands the holy man held a sacred short-bladed knife, its handle inlaid with jewels and precious stones. The holy man lifted the knife to the sky, still chanting softly, his robes fluttering briefly as the barest hint of a hot jungle breeze passed over the temple like the breath of a demon and disappeared. Then the holy man bent over the young warrior and with a smooth stroke, sliced into the boy’s skin, his hand steady and sure, and the boy cried out more from shock than pain.

Blood spilled out of the warrior-child, leaking down both sides of his skinny body and onto the reddish-brown stone of the altar, the discoloration the result of countless similar ceremonies conducted over the course of countless centuries. With shocking swiftness, the holy man plunged his hands into the open chest cavity of the prostrate warrior, and now the boy screamed, his panicked voice loud and horrified, issuing out across the treetops of the jungle, echoing back to the blood-crazed onlookers from some faraway hillside.

The holy man completed the ancient ritual and stepped back, sated, as a second holy man moved to take his place, stopping in front of the next terrified sacrificial victim. In his hands he, too, held a sacred knife, which he brandished to the sky, imploring the gods of darkness to accept this holy sacrifice and remain at bay. Then he bent over the next victim, as sure-handed as the previous holy man had been.

The man lashed to the altar screamed. And the ceremony continued.

1 - Gary

Gary Newton waited impatiently in line, backpack slung over one shoulder, wishing for shelter from the intense heat of the late-summer sun. The ice cream stand—his intended destination—nestled comfortably in the shade, the tiny building ringed by a half-dozen towering fir trees, but the line of anxious customers waiting for service stretched at least a hundred feet across the dirt parking lot. Gary guessed it would be a minimum of ten minutes before the line inched forward to the point where he could take advantage of the shade.

Impatient young children, hands clutched tightly by bored parents, shared the line with teenagers on first dates, young married couples looking for a way to get out of the house without breaking the bank, and entire Little League baseball teams celebrating a win (or a loss) the way Little League wins and losses had been celebrated in small American towns for decades.

And there were girls. Lots of girls.

Some stood in rowdy groups of a half-dozen or more, others in pairs, even a few who seemed to be in line by themselves. They ranged in age from very early teens to very early twenties, but they all seemed to have one thing in common—they were dressed skimpily. Tank tops and jeans shorts seemed to be the uniform of the day, although plenty of girls flaunted their individualism by featuring athletic shorts or bike shorts, and T-shirts.

This incredible array of girls was the reason Gary found himself here today, although the prospect of enjoying an ice cream was just fine with him as well. Gary Newton was somewhat of an expert on girls at small town ice cream stands, having sampled dozens of them—both girls and ice cream stands—over the last few years. It had been his experience that the hotter the day, the better the pickings, and with the thermometer nudging one hundred degrees, today’s outing had the prospect of being damned successful.

The sun beat down on his shoulders and he could feel the back of his neck beginning to burn. A baseball cap protected the top of his head, covering the embarrassing hereditary issue of premature hair loss. Gary had read once that male pattern baldness skips a generation, which he counted as very bad news, since his father still had a thick, full head of hair in his fifties, but his grandfather had been bald as a fucking cue ball.

The line moved slowly, people shuffling forward as those at the ice cream stand’s sliding screen window seemed to be choosing their flavors with agonizing slowness. Aside from the fact he wanted to get out of the sun, though, Gary didn’t care. He had nowhere to go and no particular timetable in which to get there. The heat was uncomfortable, sure, but the slow-moving line provided plenty of opportunity for scoping out the girls. For checking out the merchandise, so to speak.

Members of a girls’ softball team, probably high school age, milled about a few feet in front of Gary and he watched them closely. A couple of the players looked as though they may merit closer observation, but on the whole, the pickings were pretty slim on this team. He had seen plenty of softball teams in plenty of small towns, and Gary was of the opinion that softball uniforms in general did nothing to accentuate the female form. A girl would have to be a real stunner to look like anything other than a bag of potatoes in the typical softball uniform. He knew his attitude was small-minded and sexist. He didn’t care.

So he ruled out the softball players. It didn’t matter; there were plenty of fish in this particular sea. And sitting at one of the ancient picnic tables provided by the owner of the ice cream stand were two of finest-looking guppies Gary had seen in a long, long time. They looked as though they might be college students. Both girls sat facing the ice cream stand, sharing a long wooden bench, leaning with their backs against the edge of the table.

Girl One’s long, bare legs were stretched in front of her and crossed at the ankles, her pink sneakers coated with dust kicked up by cars driving in and out of the dirt parking lot. Her long black hair was tied up in a ponytail and she had threaded it out the back of a baseball cap very similar to Gary’s. Even from this distance, close to a hundred feet, he could see her skin was bronze and flawless.

Her friend—Girl Two—sat next to her, their shoulders almost touching as they worked on their ice cream cones. Girl Two was nearly as pretty as Girl One, with the same olive skin and jet-black hair, the color of a moonless night at three a.m. Her hair was cut short, though, where Girl One’s was long, but aside from that minor difference, they almost looked as though they could be sisters. Girl Two sat atop the bench Indian style, legs crossed beneath her.

Both girls worked their ice cream cones furiously, clearly anxious to finish the treats before they melted away to nothing. Despite their best efforts, thin rivers of melting ice cream—Vanilla fudge? Chocolate chunk? At this distance Gary could not be sure—began trickling down the wafers of the cones. The girls ate faster. The ice cream melted faster, eventually being smeared around the cones by their delicate fingers.

Girl One shook her head and popped her fingers into her mouth one at a time, sucking them clean. Girl Two said something to Girl One and Girl One dissolved in laughter, leaning forward with her elbows on her knees. Girl Two barely cracked a smile. Then, to Gary’s astonishment, they turned at exactly the same time, as if their movements had been choreographed, and stared directly at him. Girl Two lifted her right hand and placed it in front of Girl One’s face and Girl One sucked the fingers clean, one at a time, exactly as she had done with her own hand just moments before.

Both girls continued to gaze directly at Gary, who stood, mouth open, entranced by the semi-erotic display. How the hell had the two girls known he was watching? They were separated by dozens of people, and neither girl had given any indication of being aware of his presence until they turned together. And, in fact, he had only become aware of them seconds before.

The whole thing was almost creepy, but Gary didn’t much care about that. If the girls were trying to embarrass him, to make him avert his eyes, it wasn’t going to come close to working. He locked onto Girl One’s gaze, his lips curling into a sly smile. People walked between them and he didn’t notice. Somewhere in the distance a baby cried and he didn’t notice. The air was filled with the ambient sounds of people talking and he didn’t notice.

Striking up a conversation with two girls rather than one went against every rule Gary had established for himself over years of carefully planning and executing his crimes. There were too many ways things could go sideways with two victims. It was foolish to even consider taking both of these girls. It was also exactly what Gary Newton had decided to do.

If you're interested in reading more, please consider downloading the entire novella. It's 19,000 words in length and is available in all ebook formats, at DarkFuse, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble.

And, oh yeah. You may think you know where the story is going with this excerpt, but you're wrong...


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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Interview with Horror Author Andrew Wolter

About this time last year, I learned of a brand-new charity drive founded by horror author Andrew Wolter. The charity was called Horror Against AIDS, and the goal was to provide toys for Christmas to children in the Phoenix, Arizona area affected by the epidemic of pediatric AIDS.

I had gotten to know Andrew Wolter through social media and our shared love of horror and dark fiction, and when he asked if I would consider supporting his cause, all I needed to do was check out the charity's website and I became an enthusiastic supporter.

Andrew is now in the middle of the second annual Horror Against AIDS toy drive, and as December 1 marks the twenty-fourth annual World AIDS day, it seems the perfect time to post my latest author interview.

Andrew Wolter is the author of the novels The Rules of Temptation, Nightfall, Much of Madness, More of Sin and the upcoming Seasons in his Abyss: A New World Mythos, as well as numerous short stories. He very graciously agreed to undergo a lengthy interrogation without the benefit of his lawyer...

You’re in the middle of your second annual charity drive, Horror Against AIDS. For those who may not be familiar with this cause, can you tell us a little bit about it?

I formed the Horror Against AIDS fundraising group in 2010 to help bring awareness and raise funds for children who are affected by HIV/AIDS. As both a dark fiction author and non-fiction columnist for a nationwide LGBT publication, I felt it would be a great idea to pull my resources from leaders and fans in the horror and LGBT communities to help in the battle against this horrible epidemic.

The funds raised through my Horror Against AIDS fundraiser go toward the purchase of toys for the children of Logan’s Playground (A Sanctuary for Children Affected by HIV). Logan’s Playground is located in Phoenix, Arizona and houses approximately 150 children whose lives have been affected by HIV. Without the help of such fundraising, these kids wouldn’t have the means to enjoy Christmas.

A toy drive seems like an unusual choice of charities for a dark fiction author. Why this particular cause?

I have always been a major supporter in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Throughout the years, I have seen a number of friends and loved ones affected by this epidemic. I have looked this untamed beast in the eyes and have suffered the horror which it has brought to the lives of those around me. It made me realize that some of the most terrifying plots in the world of horror fiction couldn't compare to the pain and hell of those affected by AIDS experience. Four years ago, I witnessed the last days of my best friend pass away from his longtime battle with HIV/AIDS. It caused my rage to come out, stronger than ever, in advocating AIDS awareness to all.

Since then, I have used what free time I've had to get involve with a number of projects revolving the LGBT community. From being an active member of the Human Rights Campaign to Thanksgiving drives benefitting the homeless, to being a strong voice in the “It Gets Better” campaign, I have done my best to use my voice to bring both tolerance and awareness to the issues affecting the LGBT community (my community).

Last year, I decided I wanted to do something more for the LGBT community. Not that everything I had done and was currently doing wasn't enough; rather, I felt the need to take the next step in making my voice heard on the issues that were closest to my heart. I thought to myself, Imagine the possibilities if you could take your strong followings from both the horror industry and LGBT community! Hence, I decided to create the group Horror Against AIDS.

During the Christmas season, many charities compete for a seemingly shrinking pool of resources. What would you say to readers who may be trying to decide what charity to donate to?

While there are many fantastic charities from which people can choose to donate, my biggest concern in this is how much of the money is truly going to the cause. Many charities claim to be “non-profit”; however, a number of them don’t consider certain overhead as an actual expense. Thus, I’m aware of several “large” charities in which 100% of the donations do not go to their cause. When donating monies to any charity, I always take it upon myself to ensure that 100% of all funds are going to the cause. This might mean having to talk with charity organizers or directors, but to know that every dime donated goes to the actual cause (this is the case with the Horror Against AIDS fundraiser) is the only factor in my decision to donate to certain charities. While I am by no means putting down charities that are household names, I prefer to stick with organizations where I know that every dime donated is accounted for.

You say you want to be known as an author without genre limitations. In an age where the so-called experts claim book sales rely on “branding” and marketability, how do you feel this affects your work?

This question comes up often.

I think my ability to go against and blend genres has definitely affected my sales (not necessarily the work itself).

I don’t feel a writer should be limited to a scene or characterization because it may be considered “over the top.” If a tale contains the fundamentals of a plausible story (beginning, middle, end, etc), it deserves to be both published and read. I don’t limit myself at all. My characters can be crude and my scenes tend to be graphic (layered with sex and gore). Ultimately, there is a moral to each of my tales and novels. That is what my readers have grown to love. I’m not afraid to mirror the pure reality of our daily lives (as much as we may want to keep certain exploits secret) into the actions and mannerisms of my characters.

Being that I don’t believe in limitations, I think the only boundaries that haven’t been pursued are those silenced by the voice of the author in the name of current trends and which books are selling thousands of units. I may not be a bestselling novelist, but my voice is strong. I’m not afraid to use it, and that is what readers enjoy about my works.

What’s most important to me is that I am content with the work I produce.

You recently released an updated and unabridged version of your 2008 novel, NIGHTFALL. What’s been added to the new version and why re-release it?

Two factors went into the re-release of NIGHTFALL. One being the availability to my readers at an affordable price; the other being the book being available with it’s original content.

One of the battles I faced with selling the initial manuscript was that the word count exceeded 150,000 words. In addition, another reason the novel was "passed up" by a couple publishers was that they felt two scenes in particular were potentially too graphic for readers (one of them incorporating bestiality). While I took such rejection in stride, I continued to shop the manuscript to other publishers. Ultimately, my persistence paid off when a small press contracted the novel. However, part of the publisher's decision to put the novel in print included cutting back the length of the book and toning down the two scenes in question previously pointed out by other potential publishers.

In August of 2008, NIGHTFALL became available to purchase. Although the original manuscript was altered and scenes omitted, the novel still made for a long book (almost 100,000 words). In a publishing world that was beginning to feel the excessive cost of printing, manufacturing and shipping such a lengthy novel, NIGHTFALL would see this reflected in its retail price. As a result, the book became available as a “collector's hardcover edition” with a hefty price tag. While it sold well, I longed to have my readers experience the book the way it was intended and at a cheaper cost.

Fast forward to 2011. With a brimming technology providing various electronic book platforms, I discovered that I could allow NIGHTFALL to be released the way it was initially intended. With the advent of Amazon Kindle, along with the growing interest in e-books, not only did I discover a way to forego the worries of a publisher's manufacturing and shipping costs, but I also found that I could present the original content of NIGHTFALL to the reader.

While the story remains the same, the unabridged version of NIGHTFALL contains additional references and those two “questionable” scenes to help further the readers experience with the characters.

Can you name some of the authors and/or works which have influenced you the most as a writer?

While there are so many great authors and works that have been a major inspiration, the following authors (and their works played a pivotal role in helping shape my writing):

Poppy Z. Brite’s DRAWING BLOOD and EXQUISITE CORPSE made me unafraid to create gay characters as major players in a story without having their sexuality become the crux of the plot.

John Rechy’s CITY OF NIGHT and THE COMING OF THE NIGHT taught me how to use sex between my characters as an instrument to move a plot forward.

Armistead Maupin’s TALES OF THE CITY series of books gave me insight on creating memorable characters with which readers could easily identify.

Of course, the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Clive Barker taught me how to incorporate the most fantastic creations in a tale in which I could induce fear without compromising the belief of the story as a whole.

Hypothetical situation #1: You are marooned on a desert island, but before your ship sinks, you are given the opportunity to grab any one book of your choosing. What book do you choose, and why?

My choice would be Oscar Wilde’s THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY. I never tire of reading Wilde’s prose. The ideology expressed in that particular book (the purpose of life being to experience everything without any limits or boundaries) would make for a great mantra on an island that would offer a new, unexplored territory for me.

Hypothetical situation #2: You are given a choice by the Gods of Publishing. Your books can either bring you tremendous monetary wealth or they can be universally acclaimed as outstanding by the critics. Which do you choose, and why?

I would definitely choose the outstanding acclaim by critics. I’ve never seen myself making millions of dollars as a writer. In fact, I’m content with my writing allowing me to pay my bills and have a few nice things. Thus, the monetary wealth wouldn’t tempt me at all. However, to know that world of my tales are being praised and shared with others is enough to keep the stories coming for a long time.

What are you reading right now? What’s next on your “To Be Read” list?

I just finished reading Robert Dunbar’s MARTYRS AND MONSTERS . I must say that the book was a breath of fresh air in a world in which the horror genre is becoming less literary. Next up is Clive Barker’s ABARAT: ABSOLUTE MIDNIGHT and a return to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s THE HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES (the latter being research for an upcoming project).

Thanks very much for taking the time to visit A Thrill a Minute. Any last words of wisdom you’d like to share with my thousands hundreds dozens handful of readers?

I’ve always been a firm believer in going after your passions and “owning the dream.” Quite often, I tell people that they are the only ones standing in the way of all they can achieve. Thus, I’ll end the interview on that note.

Thank you for having me as a guest. I truly appreciate it!

As the Christmas season gets into full swing, there's no question we're all bombarded by people and causes, all seemingly itching to get their hands on your wallet. In a shaky economy, it's not always easy to determine what charities will be receiving your hard-earned cash.

If you have the means and opportunity to donate and are looking for a worthy cause to support, please consider checking out Andrew Wolter's Horror Against AIDS. I did and am proud to be able to help provide a Christmas for children facing a future most of us cannot even imagine...