Harry Shannon

Everybody’s experience is different, I’m sure, but for me, breaking into professional publishing was like transferring to a new school in the middle of the semester.  I knew absolutely no one.  I didn’t know the rules, I didn’t know the cool kids, and I certainly didn’t know who to look out for.  It was a little intimidating to say the least.  Lee Thomas was an early mentor.  So too was Lisa Morton.  But the person who really did the most to teach me the ropes, who really spelled it all out for me, was Harry Shannon.  I’ve never forgotten the debt I owe him.

That was almost ten years ago.  Since then, Harry and I have become fast friends.  We’ve cheered to each other’s successes, and even gone in together on a few projects.  Most notable to today’s interview was a story he sent me for my freshman effort as editor, the zombie anthology Dead Set.  Harry, and his co-author, Steven Booth, sent me a wonderful story called “Jailbreak.”  It told the story of a young female sheriff and her deliciously dangerous prisoner on the first night of the zombie apocalypse.  I found it fast paced and highly charged with sexual tension, always a great combination for storytelling.  What’s more, it bore the stamp of a seasoned pro working his craft in top form.  I was delighted to include it in Dead Set.

And then, a few years later, I got an email from Harry letting me know that he and Steven were expanding the story into a novel…and they wanted me to write the introduction for it!

I was overjoyed.  And upon reading it, I was stunned.  In turning the short story “Jailbreak” into the novel, The Hungry, Harry and Steven turned Sheriff Penny Miller into one of the most original, and certainly one of the hottest, female leads in zombie fiction.  The Hungry has since turned into a series of outstanding adventures for Penny Miller, and has earned my friend Harry Shannon a place as zombie master.

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Joe McKinney:  Thanks for joining me here on Old Major’s Dream.  I’m glad you could swing by.  You’re no stranger to zombie fiction.  Would you mind telling the folks out there a little about your zombie-related writing?  How do you approach the genre?

Harry Shannon:  My first zombie made a cameo in the first draft of Night of the Beast, way back in the 1970′s. He had been a small-town Grocer, and a mentor to the lead character. He died and got his ass changed. The horror of his sudden transformation from a beloved friend to something to be feared gave me chills. I’d read about zombies of course, and seen some films, but that was the first time I’d ever written about one. Created one of my own. By the way, I’m a big fan of the traditional American variety–slow, rotting, voracious and unrelenting.

JM:  The zombie apocalypse is happening right now.  Are you prepared?  Would humanity win?

HS: One hopes. I think so. We are certainly rehearsing for it often enough. We are all survivalists now, or at least joking about becoming one. People have taken every unknown terror and bogey man and stapled it to the zombie trope. Plagues, economic ruin, the collapse of civilization, terrorism, Fascism, communism, it is all there in The Walking Dead and the best of the zombie fiction out there is always still deeply human. The zombies are just standing in for our fears–good stories are always about interesting human beings.

JM:  What’s your favorite zombie book, movie, short story, whatever?  (Please feel free to ramble as much or as little as you like here.  I’d love to know why that story or movie or whatever grabs you.)

HS:  My favorite zombie film is still the original, black and white Night of the Living Dead. I play it most every Halloween while passing out candy. It seems so ridiculous at the beginning, the wooden acting, the awful score…yet once I hear “They’re coming to get you, Barbara,” I shiver. The Monkey’s Paw is still probably my favorite zombie short story, in part because the creature only has to knock to give us nightmares. I’d also have to give Honorable Mentions to the homage of Pet Semetary, 28 Days Later, Dawn of the Dead (original), and The Walking Dead series, which keeps hooking me every season, even though I think I’m burned out on it. And of course your own Dead City series, Jonathan Maberry’s recent YA stuff, the list goes on. It’s an embarrassment of riches these days.

JM:  What’s your favorite zombie kill scene of all time?

HS:  That is a very tough question. If I had to choose one…Damn, maybe I can’t do that. So here are a couple off the top of my head. The poor man having to put down his buddy in the department store office, back in the original Dawn of the Dead. Having to sit there waiting for a good friend to turn. It’s just heart breaking. And then there’s that little girl eating her parents up in the pitch black basement in the original NOTLD. That one for the same reason. The black and white print makes that image unforgettable. If we saw a bunch of fake gore in color it probably wouldn’t disturb me half as much.

For all the silliness The Walking Dead has pulled off some amazing kills the last two seasons. Michone severing the head of a zombie but garrote comes to mind…anyway, I’ll stop. It seems I can’t choose one, but I’m seeing a pattern when I ponder scenes that have impact on me other than inspiring wild laughter. One thing always gets me. It is the deep angst of killing your own friend or loved one that never seems to grow old. Perhaps that is the true horror of zombies–not that we come back, but that we must help each other die.

JM:  I’ve always felt the best and most effective horror is trying to investigate what we think of ourselves and what it means to be us.  Washington Irving’s tales, for instance, generally grapple with the question of what it means to be an American in the post-Revolutionary War period.  Nathaniel Hawthorne battled with the intellectual promise of a nation rising to international credibility while simultaneously choking under the yolk of a Puritan past.  Stephen King made a name for himself chronicling the slow collapse of the American small town way of life.  What do you think the zombie and its current popularity is telling us about ourselves?

HS:  I agree, Joe, and I would even go a step further. I see the zombie genre as primarily an existential exploration. After all, as Clive Barker once wrote, horror is just another way of writing about the divine. Zombies go back to Jewish legend of the Golum, down through Frankenstein to George Romero and King. The fear of dead coming alive again peppers our distant past and pops up in cave paintings. So the tales persist, they are in our DNA. Sure, as you note, as time goes on the background eventually changes. That part evolves, and as you so succinctly point out, consistently reflects our present circumstances–cultural and otherwise.

We may set out to weave fiction about death, but we inevitably turn the camera back on ourselves. On the very meaning of life. Because in the end, horror is mostly about what it means to be alive…and then to ultimately and quite unavoidably have to die.

In that way horror is oddly Buddhist. It embraces the reality of suffering, seeks a way to rise above pain through the release of attachment, explores the attainment of compassion and wisdom for at least one of the characters. And generally the ultimate ascension is just to release all that nonsense and try to live in the moment. And so it is with a good zombie story. Maybe it is awfully pretentious of me to read all that into one manner of telling a tale, but both horror and crime noir drag me back again and again because they both entertain me and mean something. They are about something. They touch on cruelty, temptation, courage, endurance, and facing down existential dread to finally know peace.

As for the zombie craze going on today, I’m sure glad it’s here, because all four of the The Hungry books, which I’ve coauthored with Steven W. Booth, have been a lot of fun to write. Dead and Gone had some zombies in both the novel and movie versions. PAIN was a full on zombie book, sardonic and violent and all about obsession and compulsion. Believe me, I have a lot more zombies living my head.

I think zombies, as I said earlier, somehow allow us to explore timeless human stories in a very visceral (pardon the pun) way. Our characters face the worst stuff reality can throw at them. They struggle to remain human in the face of a relentless evil. The zombie herds are not the point; they are just the situation these complex people find themselves in. T

Today, times are still tough. We face economic and cultural threats to the continued supremacy of US empire, serious economic inequality here at home, terrorism in our cities and abroad, a crumbling medical system, major social changes, legal decisions that contradict basic convictions for some people…Hell, a whole host of new fears.

So is it any wonder we’re overrun with zombies? Those seemingly inexhaustible bogeymen that never fail to teach us both who we are, and what we may yet become if we just stand firm? I love zombies. We can learn a lot from our breathing-challenged brethren. All we have to do is listen.  This was fun, thanks for asking me to join in the discussion. Hey, and best of luck with the new novel!

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was my friend and mentor, Harry Shannon.  Check out his books here, and visit him online here.

JournalStone Publishing Announces the “Double Down” Book Series

Do you remember the old Ace Doubles?  I had a ton of them growing up.  Their distinctive white and blue spines and tete-beche formatting were instantly recognizable, and the works themselves the very model of everything that was cool about classic space opera science fiction.

Well, JournalStone Publishing is bringing the concept back…and I get to be a part of it!

Today, JournalStone Publishing founder and Editor-in-Chief Christopher C. Payne made public the launch of JournalStone’s Double Down series.  These books will feature a short novel from an already established author paired with another short novel from a talented up and coming writer.  I’m going to be working with my good friend, Sanford Allen.  (You can learn more about Sanford here.)  Sanford and I belong to a writing group called Drafthouse, and over the years I have watched Sanford’s style develop and his voice become stronger and clearer.  Part rocker, part reporter, part poet of the weird, Sanford tells one hell of a good yarn, and he has a passion for music that rings through every word he writes.  When JournalStone approached me with the concept, and asked me if I had a talented undiscovered writer I’d be willing to work with, I immediately thought of Sanford.  I’m a huge fan of his stuff, and I think the rest of the world will be too after they see the novel he’s going to be publishing.

Our book will be coming out in the Summer of 2013, but there will be others in this ongoing series.  Right now, JournalStone has signed six teams, and more will follow in the next few months.  For now, here’s the lineup:

Gene O’Neill and Chris Mars

Gord Rollo and Rena Mason

Lisa Morton and Eric Guignard

Joe McKinney and Sanford Allen

Harry Shannon and Brett Talley

Jonathan Maberry and a writer yet to be determined

JournalStone Publishing is a small press company focusing on Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror, but they are large on quality and have a high level of commitment to putting out the best fiction available.  President and Editor-in-Chief Christopher C. Payne has led JS on a rapid climb to public recognition and respect within the professional writing community.  In fact, they were recently featured on the April issue of Publishers Weekly.  I’m excited to be working with them, and even more excited to be working with Sanford on what I think is going to be one of the best series in last two decades.  You can learn more about JournalStone here.

A Conversation with Horror Author Harry Shannon

JOE MCKINNEY: When I released my first novel, Dead City, I knew nothing about the publishing industry. But I was lucky enough to meet you early, Harry. You were a valuable mentor to me in those early days and I’ve never forgotten that. It’s great to finally sit down with you.

HARRY SHANNON: My pleasure, Joe. When I heard about a Homicide cop who wrote zombie stories, it tickled the hell out of me. And Dead City was a terrific read.

JM: We’re both drawn to action horror, which seems to be doing quite well these days – especially when it comes to zombies. How did you find this niche?

HS: Don’t we all tend to write what we love to read? I grew up on spooky stories by Ambrose Bierce, John Collier, Saki, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Poe and Lovecraft. Later I discovered those cool old Gold Medal paperbacks and novels by John D. MacDonald, Mickey Spillane, Richard S. Prather, Donald Hamilton. Action and adventure and violence and scares, heroes who were the perfect mythic mix of observant, wise, tough and yet appealing to the ladies. Pure testosterone, I suppose. When Stephen King brought horror back in a big way, I was along for the ride from Carrie onward. As for zombies like the ones in PAIN, my interest goes all the way back to I Am Legend by Matheson. Those vampires were so brilliantly drawn, and the solitude of the protagonist was so extreme. Great stuff. And of course the original black-and-white Night of the Living Dead remains my all-time favorite horror film. That was a story that borrowed quite liberally from I Am Legend. Although I’ve published the Mick Callahan mysteries (Memorial Day, Eye of the Burning Man, One of the Wicked) and a thriller (The Pressure of Darkness) I remain best known for the horror material. It just worked out that way.

JM: You have a new novella out, a project called PAIN, with an introduction by zombie author Jonathan Maberry. Tell us about it.

HS: PAIN is my take on the siege story, the Rio Bravo thing. A handful of flawed human beings hold off a mob of bad guys and find their own nobility in the process. I just decided to do it with a bunch of infected townspeople attacking an isolated mountain ER. Why an ER? Hospitals scare the crap out of me, I suppose. I just gathered a bunch if disparate impulses and images, came up with the structure and then let my comedic sensibility run wild after that. So I hope it’s a funny read as well as a horrifying one.

JM: Iraq and Vietnam…these are two of America’s most unpopular wars, and yet they have given you some of your best characters, Mick Callahan and Jack Burke among others.Why do you suppose that is?

HS: That’s an interesting point. As many men of my generation, I grew up wondering how I would do in combat, and now feel fortunate that I never had to find out. I was very torn during Viet Nam, opposed to the war yet respectful of those who chose to fight it. Their suffering can still move me to tears. In the end, I did what I had to do to avoid going, but I’ve been debating those few years in my soul ever since. I’m never comfortable that others went in my place, but would have hated myself for going, so it’s an issue that has never been resolved. In that way I’m like the country itself. Unfortunately, Iraq and Afghanistan are turning out to be protracted, as endlessly controversial and almost as bloody. I suppose the conflict inside me, and inside of a lot of folks, can create some very rich characterizations, in my writing and in the work of many other authors.

JM: I loved the LZ scene at the beginning of your story “Blood and Burning Straw” from the collection A Host of Shadows. Having been on some harrowing helicopter rides myself, I can tell you didn’t come by the details in that scene just from watching Apocalypse Now. What do you draw on when you write your action sequences?

HS: That story was first published in Cemetery Dance by Rich Chizmar and Robert Morrish. I don’t know…I’ve spoken to vets in my counseling practice, and read extensively about WW2, Viet Nam and our current conflicts over the years. In my wayward youth I did a lot of dumb, wild-assed things, generally while intoxicated. Maybe those two facts come together in my imagination whenever I sit down to work. I’m flattered that a few vets have written me about some of the scenes you’re referencing, although one of them caught me on a minor error with respect to the Glock 9. I was suitably chagrined and changed the line in reprints of the story. Look, I think any man in touch with his darker side, and God knows I am, can feel the war within himself without much effort. That stuff truly frightens me. It pops up in road rage, jealousy, bickering with a spouse or even a child. It takes you by surprise, and for a few seconds to a few minutes, you can understand why murder happens. Anyone who doesn’t know what I’m talking about there probably doesn’t read horror or crime fiction very often.

JM: No one writes a haunted ex-soldier like Harry Shannon. And that makes me wonder about the role confronting and reclaiming the past plays in the best stories in the horror genre. Why do you suppose that is?

HS: Psychology is about confronting and reclaiming and re-framing the past, yes? So catharsis and transmogrification are part of the life process, at least if we’re evolving. Coming of age, in one way or another. Facing death and impermanence, the life cycle itself, the loss of those we love, the loss of our own fantasies and hopes and illusions. Clive Barker once said that horror is just another way of writing about the divine, and I agree with that. So I suppose if I do haunted guys well, those with violence in their histories who struggle to do the right thing, it’s just a melodramatic projection of the stuff I wrestle with all day long. My idols, authors like James Lee Burke and John D. MacDonald and Cormac McCarthy, they all seem to give voice to that archetype, too. I’m flattered a warrior like yourself sees my work that way. I suspect I wouldn’t last long as a Homicide Detective, at least not sober.

JM: Your novel and film Dead and Gone has become something of a cult classic. How did that one come about, and do you ever consider writing a sequel?

HS: I’ve outlined a project called Dead and Gone 2: Deader and Goner, and hope to get to it someday both as a novel and a film script. The indie film market collapsed along with the home DVD business and the US economy, so it may take a while to make good on that dream. Director Yossi Sasson and I were talking out our love of B movies from the 80′s, and something he said sparked an idea. Yossi and his wife raised the money to do that film micro-budget on HiDef, which wasn’t as cheap as it is now, and everyone on the project did it pretty much as a labor of love. My old friend Harry Manfredini did a brilliant musical score. Anyway, Grindstone bought it for Lionsgate DVD, just before the Big Crash. Downloading killed that business too, the movie was ripped off thousands of times before it ever hit the street. No one can make enough money that way to finance a sequel. Unfortunately, I worry that something very similar to what happened to music and film may be about to happen to books. We’ll have to wait and see.

JM: Brian Keene once described you as a “writer who is not afraid to walk into the shadows and drag the things living there kicking and screaming into the light.” That seems to me, in light of your skill with ex-special forces soldiers and a mastery of action horror in general, as more than just hyperbole. Confronting our horrors with a power of our own, especially in the physical sense that is unique to cops and soldiers, seems to be a fairly new thing for horror. Seeing as horror is generally a pretty good barometer of our nation’s emotional state, what are your novels and stories telling us about ourselves?

HS: I’d like to think I’m a reasonably deep thinker, but I’d never considered that angle before. Off the top of my head, the ongoing conflicts since 9/11, Afghanistan and Iraq, the way a small segment of society has to do all the fighting, the bleeding dry of our financial reserves by private contractors and keeping the wars off the books, all of those things combined have done something to our national psyche, at least in my opinion. We’re in a perpetual state of denial, clinging to a fantasy of national superiority even as we totter on the edge of bankruptcy. So the men and woman who do the fighting and risk-taking for us, what is it like when they come home? How do they fit in again with a population unaware of the extent of their sacrifice? How do they manage their own aggression when the rest of us have enough trouble with out PTSD and seriously bad memories? I guess that fascinates me, so several of my main characters are men like that, guys who have seen real ugliness, men to whom evil is not an abstract concept, who struggle to be decent and moral regardless. That fascinates me, perhaps as a metaphor for what it means to be human.

JM: You probably figured I couldn’t wait to talk about zombies. So…let’s build one. Slow or fast? Smart or dumb? Viral, voodoo, or other? Harlequin or horror? Why?

HS: I prefer the good, old-fashioned shambling, drooling Romero types. Speaking of metaphors, the zombies in PAIN are a stand-in for our bottomless human appetites. Sexuality, arrogance, greed, money, power, hunger, delusion, religiosity, the list goes on. So these breathing-impaired creatures who represent the end of things, the finish line, decay and rot and dust to dust, when they persistently and mindlessly come after us to inflict that unavoidable suffering, that’s truly terrifying. Both for what they symbolize and what they actually are, you know? They are death and dying incarnate.

JM: Okay, so we’ve got a zombie. That’s a terrifying thing. But when we look at your new novella PAIN, we see that they are not nearly as terrifying as the people around us. What is it about the zombie that makes us behave so badly?

HS: I don’t think it’s the zombies, Joe. Hell, we just do behave pretty badly. Not all at once, at least not most of us, but on and off all our lives. Who doesn’t have a list of “Dear God I can’t believe I did that” moments? I know I do. So studied under a microscope, the zombies are less complex and far less disappointing than most human characters in horror, who are so flawed and out of touch with their own weaknesses that we end up looking deeply into ourselves. Stephen King has always been brilliant at that, giving us an uncomfortable look at our own foibles even as he scares our pants off. Zombies are a delightfully reliable way to achieve a similar result.

JM: Okay, Harry, last question…then I let you off the hook. The zombie genre is well known for its metaphorical potential. Let’s say you get to write the last zombie story ever written. What social ill would your zombies represent?

HS: Whatever society was not quite conscious of yet, Joe. In the 80′s, Romero did a great job of mirroring the social conflicts of the 1960′s and 70’s, and then in the sequel the living dead stalk the malls and ride the escalators clutching their 80′s credit cards. For me, zombies are a mix of our fear of death and the impulses of our collective unconscious. Our appetites, selfishness, mindlessness, herd mentality. If I had to write the last zombie story now I’d probably give serious thought to our politics, which have become so inane and bigoted and ignorant it boggles the mind. Maybe the zombies should get elected to high office. They would fit right in with the candidates we’re getting. Hey, why don’t we give that a shot together one of these days?

JM: Thanks again, Harry, for the great conversation. Best of luck with PAIN! But also a special thanks for all the guidance and support you’ve given me over the years. You da man!

My Favorite Reads of 2010

This was one of the best years for books in a long time. There were no huge standouts, like Cormac McCarthy’s 2006 novel The Road, or Dan Simmons’ 2008 novel The Terror, but even still, of the 108 books I read this year, a surprisingly large number were of outstanding quality…so much so that winnowing this list down to just ten required a lot of purely subjective hair-splitting.

My list is made up entirely of books released during 2010. That meant that some of the 108 books I read this year weren’t eligible, even if they would have otherwise earned a spot here. Jeffrey Eugenides’ serio-comic epic novel Middlesex and John M. Barry’s haunting history of the 1927 Mississippi flood, Rising Tide, are just two examples of books not included for that reason. But beyond date of release, I was fairly open-ended on format, length and genre. Novellas released as a single work, such as Norman Prentiss’ Invisible Fences and Brian James Freeman’s The Painted Darkness got equal consideration with huge epic-sized novels, multi-author anthologies, short story collections, histories and biographies. Some of the books on this list I read in PDF as advance reader’s copies, or listened to on CD, or enjoyed as just plain old dead tree editions, and in most cases I explain that in each entry.

So, here they are, in no certain order…my favorite reads for 2010. Enjoy the list!

Horns by Joe Hill

Both a very funny book and at the same time a well-crafted one, Horns is far better than Hill’s first novel, Heart-Shaped Box. Heart-Shaped Box was a good book, mind you, and his debut collection, Twentieth Century Ghosts, was a great book, but Horns is a cut above either of those. Part Kafka, part Kurt Cobain, part Gallagher, Joe Hill is rapidly becoming one of America’s best novelists, and Horns will show you why. I listened to this one on CD, which helped the humor a lot, I think.

The Caretaker of Lorne Field by Dave Zeltserman

Like Horns, an extremely funny book. Zeltserman has made a name for himself as a writer of intense psychologically-driven crime fiction, making this rural horror story a bit of a departure…but I’m so glad he made it. I hadn’t gone twenty pages into this book before I knew it was going to make this list. Good old fashioned hardcover for this one, and worth every penny.

Pariah by Bob Fingerman

Zombies are big business, so it takes a lot of talent to rise above the crowd. Between James Roy Daley’s Best New Zombie Tales #1 and 2, Peter Clines’ Ex-Heroes, John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Handling the Undead, Ben Tripp’s Rise Again, Greg Lamberson’s Desperate Souls, Patrick D’Orazio’s Comes the Dark, Craig DiLouie’s Tooth and Nail, Stephen Jones’ The Mammoth Book of Zombie Apocalypse, Chris Golden’s The New Dead and John Joseph Adams’ The Living Dead 2, 2010 brought out some of the best zombie stuff I’ve ever read. So the competition was extra tough. But my favorite zombie release of the year was Bob Fingerman’s novel Pariah. In addition to being a great zombie book, it was also a beautiful meditation on isolation and the stark, horrifying beauty of post-apocalyptic landscapes. Another good old fashioned dead tree read here, which helped a lot. I generally listen to audio books while driving to and from work, which makes it impossible to give a narrative your full and undivided attention. Inevitably, the idiot cutting you off is going to usurp some of your mental energy, regardless of how good the book is. Bob Fingerman’s description of his characters’ complex emotional states is so finely developed though it really merits the extra attention you have to give a printed book. Listening on CD would have frustrated me here.

Mr. Shivers by Robert Jackson Bennett

Mr. Shivers is one of three debut novels on this year’s list. I was on a panel with the author at ArmadilloCon in Austin earlier this year, and I was so impressed with his comments on researching that I stopped off at the Barnes & Noble on the way home and bought his book. His story of hobos looking for revenge during the Great Depression was a delicious mix of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and Stephen King’s first Gunslinger novel. I flew through the mass market paperback in a single afternoon, and I can’t wait for his next novel, The Company Man.

Invisible Fences by Norman Prentiss

Besides being a genuinely classy guy, Norman Prentiss can write horror stories of such subtlety that you will find yourself going over the work three and four times just to see how he managed to do so much with so few words. He’s made a name for himself as a short story writer whose work more closely resembles the fiction found in the New Yorker than in the bulk of horror’s blood-soaked anthologies, but with his debut novel, Invisible Fences, Prentiss has written a short, but moving story that, to be honest, transcends any sort of attempt to pigeonhole it in a genre. I read this one in a limited edition trade paperback, and getting your own copy may prove difficult. Just don’t come looking for mine. You’ll have to pry it from my cold, dead hands.

In the Mean Time by Paul Tremblay

This was a great year for single author short story collections. I loved Michael Louis Calvillo’s Blood and Gristle, Jeremy Shipp’s Fungus of the Heart, John Little’s Little Things, Laird Barron’s Occultation, Scott Edelman’s What Will Come After, Harry Shannon’s A Host of Shadows and Lisa Mannetti’s Deathwatch, but Tremblay’s In the Mean Time just left me breathless. Calvillo’s work had more energy than Tremblay’s. Shannon’s collection had far better action and variety. Edelman’s had zombies. Mannetti’s had beautifully handled historical fiction. Each of those collections did something better than Tremblay did in his book, but the overall feel of In the Mean Time sold me on this work. It reminded me of a Pink Floyd album, the way it just fit together. I read this one as an ebook and found his apocalyptic visions to be so gut-wrenching that at times I had to go hug my kids just to remind myself that things were going to be okay. A tough read, but ultimately, one you’ll be glad you made.

Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes

This is one of three non-horror books to make this year’s list. Marlantes’ debut was thirty years in the making, but it was worth the wait. I listened to this book on CD, and was simply blown away. I have a feeling Matterhorn will go up on the shelf next to O’Brien’s The Things They Carried as one of the best war novels ever written. Just be prepared for a very gritty, true to life description of war and all its horrors.

The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

Like Bob Fingerman, I found out about Brenna Yovanoff through the table of contents of John Joseph Adams’ The Living Dead 2. Jonathan Maberry’s Rot and Ruin would have made this a good year for YA all by itself, but Yovanoff’s modern day tale of changelings told the age old teenage drama of fitting in with such originality and beauty that The Replacement transcended its YA field. Perhaps even more impressive is that this is a debut novel. There were some great debuts this year, such as Benjamin Kane Ethridge’s Black and Orange, Lisa Morton’s Castle of Los Angeles, Gregory Hall’s At the End of Church Street, and Lucy Snyder’s Spellbent, but Yovanoff’s book connected with me personally because I have two daughters about to enter that age where they will be trying to define their place in this world. Your mileage may differ, but this one is still highly recommended for anybody in the middle teens and older.

Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields by Charles Bowdon

I’ve been reading an awful lot about the Texas-Mexico border recently as research for an upcoming novel, and Bowdon’s book is one of the best on the subject. He doesn’t go into a great deal of depth about the political reasons behind Mexico’s drug war, but focuses instead on the personal stories of those caught up in the violence and tragedy that defines life in today’s Northern Mexico. After reading this book, I suspect that you, like me, will be furious with the U.S. government and the American media for directing so much attention on the other side of the globe, while one of the most immediate and verifiable threats to U.S. security is at a full boil right next door.

Selected Stories by William Trevor

William Trevor’s stories have been growing discernibly darker in tone over the years, and this volume, which brings together the Irish author’s last four short story collections, goes a long ways toward demonstrating that trend. But Trevor is also capable of writing intensely funny stuff, and you can still find that trademark humor here. William Trevor may very well be the best writer in English working today. His stories, which are always so full of sharp insights into love and ambition and power of major events, such as weddings or the end of an affair, to change many lives, never disappoint. This list isn’t in any sort of order, but if it was, this book would own the top rung. Well worth investing in the hardcover.

And finally, because I’m such a fan of Spinal Tap, I’m turning this list up to eleven and giving you one that almost made it.

Room: A Novel by Emma Donoghue

Remember Plato’s Parable of the Cave? In the story, Socrates (pronounced So-Crates, according to Bill and Ted) relates the tale of a group of people who spend their entire lives chained to posts, facing a blank wall. There is a fire behind them that projects shadows on the wall. Because these people lack any other frame of reference, the shadows become their entire world, and their only idea of reality. If you’re familiar with the story, you must have wondered what would happen if those people suddenly got loose and joined the rest of us. Imagine the horror of that much reality crashing in on their minds at once. Well, Emma Donoghue did just that. She tells her story from the point of view of five year old Jack, who lives with his Ma in a single room, with the routine broken only by nighttime visits from a man named Old Nick. The prose is tricky, as it is meant to be that of a five year old, but nonetheless effective, and very frightening.

This Year’s Bram Stoker Award Roll Call

The inimitable Lisa Morton, writer and HWA powerhouse, has put together a great webpage for this year’s Bram Stoker Award nominees, including a short biography for each. Check it out here.

And if you happen to be the only person on the planet who has yet to see the list of nominated works, check out the full list here.

Dead Set: A Zombie Anthology

Dead Set: A Zombie Anthology is now available for pre-order through the 23 House Publishing website. My co-editor, Michelle McCrary, and I went through hundreds of stories to get the twenty final selections, and I couldn’t be happier with the final results.

Here’s a sneak peek at the table of contents.

“Resurgam” by Lisa Mannetti
“Jailbreak” by Steven W. Booth and Harry Shannon
“Recess” by Rob Fox
“Biting the Hand that Feeds You” by Calie Voorhis
“Judgment” by Stephanie Kincaid
“Hatfield the Usurper” by Matt Louis
“Ruminations from Tri-Omega House” by David Dunwoody
“Zombies on a Plane” by Bev Vincent
“Category Five” by Richard Jeter
“Survivors” by Joe McKinney
“Pierre and Remy Hatch a Plan” by Michelle McCrary
“Recovery” by Boyd E. Harris
“In the Middle of Poplar Street” by Nate Southard
“Seminar Z” by J.L. Comeau
“Only Nibble” by Bob Nailor
“Inside Where It’s Warm” by Lee Thomas
“Survivor Talk” by Mitchel Whitington
“The Zombie Whisperer” by Steven Wedel
“Good Neighbor Sam” by Mark Onspaugh
“That Which Survives” by Morgan Ashe

Michelle and I looked for stories that did something new with the zombie genre, and I think readers are going to be pleasantly surprised.

For now, you can pre-order the book from 23 House Publishing at a reduced price. When the book drops in April, 2010, it’ll be available through Amazon and most chain book stores.

2009 Bram Stoker Award Final Ballot

I just received the following announcement from the Horror Writers Association’s webmaster. The final ballot for the HWA’s 2009 Bram Stoker Award is out, and I’m happy to say that my novel Quarantined made the list. Congrats to all the nominees!

Horror Writers Association announces
2009 Bram Stoker Award Nominees

Each year, the Horror Writers Association presents the Bram Stoker Awards for Superior Achievement in the field of horror writing, named in honor of Bram Stoker, author of the seminal horror work Dracula. Since 1987, the approximately 500 members of the HWA have recommended, nominated and voted on the greatest works of horror and dark fantasy of the previous calendar year, making the Stokers the most prestigious award in the field of horror literature.

Currently the awards are presented in eight categories: Novel, First Novel, Long Fiction, Short Fiction, Fiction Collection, Anthology, Non-fiction, and Poetry Collection. The organization’s Active members will select the winners from this ballot; voting will close on March 3rd, and the awards will be presented this year at a gala banquet on Saturday evening, March 27, at the World Horror Convention in Brighton, UK.

This year’s nominees in each category are:

SUPERIOR ACHIEVEMENT IN A NOVEL

Audrey’s Door by Sarah Langan (Harper)
Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry (St. Martin’s Griffin)
Quarantined by Joe McKinney (Lachesis Publishing)
Cursed by Jeremy Shipp (Raw Dog Screaming Press)

SUPERIOR ACHIEVEMENT IN A FIRST NOVEL

Breathers by S. G. Browne (Broadway Books)
Solomon’s Grave by Daniel G. Keohane (Dragon Moon Press)
Damnable by Hank Schwaeble (Jove)
The Little Sleep by Paul Tremblay (Henry Holt)

SUPERIOR ACHIEVEMENT IN LONG FICTION

Dreaming Robot Monster by Mort Castle (Mighty Unclean)
The Hunger of Empty Vessels by Scott Edelman (Bad Moon Books)
The Lucid Dreaming by Lisa Morton (Bad Moon Books)
Doc Good’s Traveling Show by Gene O’Neill (Bad Moon Books)

SUPERIOR ACHIEVEMENT IN SHORT FICTION

“Keeping Watch” by Nate Kenyon (Monstrous: 20 Tales of Giant Creature Terror)
“The Crossing of Aldo Ray” by Weston Ochse (The Dead That Walk)
“In the Porches of My Ears” by Norman Prentiss (Postscripts #18)
“The Night Nurse” by Harry Shannon (Horror Drive-in)

SUPERIOR ACHIEVEMENT IN FICTION COLLECTION

Martyrs and Monsters by Robert Dunbar (Dark Hart Press)
Got to Kill Them All and Other Stories by Dennis Etchison (Cemetery Dance)
A Taste of Tenderloin by Gene O’Neill (Apex Book Company)
In the Closet, Under the Bed by Lee Thomas (Dark Scribe Press)

SUPERIOR ACHIEVEMENT IN ANTHOLOGY (EDITING)

He is Legend: An Anthology Celebrating Richard Matheson edited by Christopher Conlon (Gauntlet Press)
Lovecraft Unbound edited by Ellen Datlow (Dark Horse Books)
Poe edited by Ellen Datlow (Solaris)
Midnight Walk edited by Lisa Morton (Darkhouse Publishing)

SUPERIOR ACHIEVEMENT IN NONFICTION

Writers Workshop of Horror by Michael Knost (Woodland Press)
Cinema Knife Fight by L. L. Soares and Michael Arruda (Fearzone)
The Stephen King Illustrated Companion by Bev Vincent (Fall River Press)
Stephen King: The Non-fiction by Rocky Wood and Justin Brook (Cemetery Dance)

SUPERIOR ACHIEVEMENT IN POETRY COLLECTION

Double Visions by Bruce Boston (Dark Regions)
North Left of Earth by Bruce Boston (Sam’s Dot)
Barfodder by Rain Graves (Cemetery Dance)
Chimeric Machines by Lucy A. Snyder (Creative Guy Publishing)

“The Night Nurse” by Harry Shannon

Harry ShannonA new Harry Shannon short story is always a treat, and his latest, “The Night Nurse,” which you can read here, is no exception. There’s a brief interview included with the story that gives some pretty good insight on how and why “The Night Nurse” was written.

“The Night Nurse” has got a great twist at the end that really lands the story. I was so impressed with it that I recommended it for a Bram Stoker Award. I hope you like it, too.

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