Monday, May 16, 2011

Review: Bleed

Nick Cato of The Horror Fiction Review has some very nice things to say about my novel Bleed.

If David Cronenberg and Frank Hennenlotter decided to remake LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS and HELLRAISER, BLEED would be the result. It reads like an 80s-styled horror novel with the gruesome feel of a classic splatter film--but where most gore-film inspired novels falter, BLEED finds its strength.

As it happens, I'm an enormous fan of Hennenlotter, so that's just about the best flattery I could possibly receive with regard to my humble little blood-spattered tale.

The review is at Antibacterial Pope at present and will appear in The Horror Fiction Review in June. And of course, you can find Bleed at and

(All other reviews are archived on the right sidebar.)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Dorchester Blues

I have read a very great deal of Dorchester/Leisure titles. Most of the classic Jack Ketchum and Richard Laymon novels I’ve read were Dorchester. Through Dorchester, I discovered a slew of wonderful and, to me, influential writers like Brian Keene, Wrath James White, Gord Rollo, Ray Garton and J. F. Gonzalez. Like many horror readers, I reached the point where I waited with bated breath for the next month’s pair of titles; sometimes I practically drooled over books promised months in advance. And, as far as I knew for a long, long time, Dorchester Publishing was just about the only game in town.

Of course, it wasn’t then and it sure as hell isn’t now. But I was stupidly unaware of the plethora of marvelous small press publishers out there (lookin’ at you, Deadite), and so when the books suddenly stopped coming, my heart sank. It was Richard Laymon’s Funhouse in particular that clued me in that there was trouble in paradise—the damned release date just kept getting pushed back. Then, the news broke: Dorchester was broke, and they were getting out of the mass market paperback business. My heart broke.

Between the end of 2010, when I discovered this sad news, and March of 2011, I finally caught up with the rest of the genre and discovered the multitude of other terrific venues for horror fiction. Always a day late and a dollar short, but hey, I got there. I bought and read a lot of books and a lot of authors who were new to me. I also bought a shitload of used books. Then, in March, Brian Keene dropped a bombshell on my head—he spearheaded the movement to boycott Dorchester Publishing, because they were screwing the hell out of their authors by denying them their due revenue and selling books to which they had no right. Brian built a mountain of evidence to back up his position, and he gained a hell of a lot of supporters that included authors, publishers, agents and readers. I was among them, because I was pissed. I still am. I’m a burgeoning genre author myself, and it chaps my hide to see respected artists treated this way. And I agree with Brian that readers ought to know where their money is going; I don’t want to spend my hard-earned bread on a copy of The Rising if Brian isn’t getting a penny of it. That’s bullshit. Hell, I even blogged about it. I was one hundred percent on board.

Fast forward a couple of months to World Horror 2011, which I discussed in detail here. As I’ve said before, two of my favorite people from that con were Jack Ketchum and Gord Rollo. Spectacular people, writers I admire. I spoke a little with Gord about the Dorchester kerfuffle, though I never mentioned it to Mr. Ketchum. Here’s the thing—Jack Ketchum had a new book coming out right after the con. It’s called The Woman, and he co-wrote it with Lucky McKee in tandem with their film version (review forthcoming). I was foaming at the mouth over this book. Ketchum is my hero, my favorite living genre writer and the guy most responsible for inspiring me to throw my own hat into the ring. There was no way in hell I was going to miss this novel.

Did I mention it was published by Dorchester?


I knew that, but I ordered it post-haste anyway. Didn’t even give it much thought. The Woman is one of DP’s new line of more expensive trade paperbacks, a chimera whose existence many have doubted, though I saw one of these mythical beasts during the WHC mass signing: Spore by John Skipp and Cody Goodfellow. Even Skipp seemed surprised by it, and it was sitting on his table. (To be truthful, I’d sure like to get my hands on that one, too.) And then there’s Gord Rollo’s latest release, Valley of the Scarecrow, which Dorchester was supposed to have released in mass market paperback last year. Now, in May, Amazon says they have it in stock in a trade paperback edition. The last time I talked with Gord, he said he hadn’t yet heard if anyone has actually held a copy in their hands. Valley is chilling in my Amazon cart as I write this, waiting on my next paycheck. Another Dorchester title for the guy who so vociferously joined the chorus of angry voices demanding the Dorchester boycott.

I feel like a fucking fraud. But I’m loyal to Jack Ketchum, and I’m loyal to Gord Rollo. I love their books; hell, I love them. I want to support their work. I want to read it as a fan. And I want them to get paid, for crying out loud, though whether or not my purchase(s) will contribute to that I don’t know.

What my puzzlement over these few books has made me realize is that it was easy to join the boycott when I didn’t think Dorchester was going to put anymore books out, anyway. Now, it’s not so easy, at least not for me. I still agree with everything Brian has said on the subject. I certainly wouldn’t buy any of his books that were being sold under shady circumstances detrimental to him, or any other author who has asked the same. But does that mean I should boycott The Woman, which Jack Ketchum does not want me to do (he had fliers for it at WHC), or Valley of the Scarecrow, or Spore? In March, the issue seemed pretty black and white to me. Today, I see varied shades of gray. I don’t have an answer yet.

So I’d like to open up the floor to discussion. There’s a comment section below, and I’d like to see authors, readers or anyone else with a stake in this issue chime in. Call me out, educate me, verbally abuse me if you must. I’m a big boy. I can take it.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Old Gods in Arkansas: Southern Gods by John Hornor Jacobs

Recent World War II veteran Bull Ingram is working as muscle when a Memphis DJ hires him to find Ramblin' John Hastur. The mysterious blues man's dark, driving music - broadcast at ever-shifting frequencies by a phantom radio station - is said to make living men insane and dead men rise. Disturbed and enraged by the bootleg recording the DJ plays for him, Ingram follows Hastur's trail into the strange, uncivilized backwoods of Arkansas, where he hears rumors the musician has sold his soul to the Devil. But as Ingram closes in on Hastur and those who have crossed his path, he'll learn there are forces much more malevolent than the Devil and reckonings more painful than Hell... In a masterful debut of Lovecraftian horror and Southern gothic menace, John Hornor Jacobs reveals the fragility of free will, the dangerous power of sacrifice, and the insidious strength of blood.

I recently had the privilege of meeting John Hornor Jacobs at the World Horror Convention here in Austin, Texas. I’d already connected with him to a small degree online, the result of my varied internet travels that led me to a new genre writer from my hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas. And his forthcoming first novel, Southern Gods, looked amazing.

Jacobs sought me out after a panel at the con, and we chatted a lot over the course of the event. He’s a great guy, very funny and gregarious, and I gather that he received a

lot of much deserved attention there. I was flattered when he told me he’d seen
my book in the dealer’s room and was planning on picking up a copy. Later, I devised a wily proposition for him: I told him I’d happily give him a copy of my book in return for one of those Southern Gods ARCs I knew damn well he had in his hotel room. To my delight, he accepted. And I tore right into that sucker almost as soon as the con was over.

First things first: Southern Gods is a terrific novel. It is Southern Gothic, noir crime thriller and intense Lovecraftian terror rolled into one marvelous story of bad blood, demons both personal and real, and hard-earned redemption. And Jacobs writes with such a sure hand you’d swear he’d sold his soul to the devil just like the folks in 1951 rural Arkansas whisper about Ramblin’ John Hastur in the novel. Of course, Ramblin’ John’s story is a great deal more complex—and more sinister—than that, but I have no intention of ruining the ride you have ahead of you. I’ll just say this: if William Faulkner, Jim Thompson and H.P. Lovecraft had an orgiastic blood sacrifice ritual to honor the Old Ones in the Delta Swampland at the height of the muggy Deep South summer at midnight, Southern Gods would probably be the result. Yeah, it’s that damn good.

I don’t see writing this tight too often, and the mounting tension is so expertly paced that I found myself breathlessly turning the pages. The denouement smashed me in the face with breakneck madness and terror that included a rare element lacking in a lot of horror fiction—heart. Jacobs’ characters are extremely rich, and their journey to the incredible close of Southern Gods all but left me gasping for air. This is the sort of book you just silently hold in your hands for a while after finishing it, thinking it over and basking in its masterfulness. That’s what I did, anyway.

Now that Jacobs has sold his second novel, This Dark Earth, to Simon & Shuster, I’m going to have to figure out a new scheme to get my hands on that, too. If anyone has any sordid details with which I can blackmail him, please pass them along. I don’t want to have to wait until the next John Hornor Jacobs hits the shelves.

I hereby pronounce myself a fan. And I reckon come August 9, we will be legion.

Southern Gods is available for pre-order now at Amazon and just about everywhere else. It comes out on August 9, 2011 from Night Shade Books. Do not pass it up. Because it’s fucking good.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

World Horror Convention 2011

I’m not much of a people person. It’s not that I don’t like people, though I do tend to assume the worst of them until proven otherwise. Mostly I just dread the idea of walking into a room in which most or all of the people there are complete strangers to me. It makes my stomach knot and my sphincter clinch. If such a loathsome situation is at all avoidable, I avoid it.

I’ve been writing horror fiction for a few years, but alone in my office—after all, writing is (usually) a solitary craft. My thing used to be cinema, years ago in my twenties, but that’s a group effort. I don’t dig groups. So I turned to fiction.

Which brings me to the 2011 World Horror Convention.

I discovered the Shocklines forum in April, joined, and began lurking posts to see what the hell other people in this game were like. They seemed like pretty cool folks for the most part. I was startled and pleased to find several authors whose books I’ve read thoroughly engaged there. But the thing that surprised me the most was something that never really occurred to me—there existed such a thing as a horror fiction community, and they were preparing to congregate ten miles from my front door.

Naturally my first inclination was to check out all the available details about the convention—who was going, what it entailed, how much it cost. My second inclination followed forthwith—no way am I going to thrust myself in the middle of a few hundred strangers in the horror community. I’ve read their stuff. Surely they must be really, really odd people. Maybe a bit touched. And none too friendly, either.

Thusly ambivalent, I posted on Shocklines with the fairly basic question: should I even go to this damn thing? R.J. Cavender led the chorus of voices that followed: quit being a pansy and register, already. Lincoln Crisler and Martel Sardina chimed in, telling me to come and say hello to them. I then received an email from Harry Shannon informing me that Drew Williams was fully registered, but unable to go. He wanted to transfer his registration to me. Complete stranger. So that was that; I had to go, now.


Immediately I set to scraping the money together to get my wife, Megan, on board as well. She’s the extrovert, the bubbly, smiling one. I figured it couldn’t hurt. It sure as hell didn’t. Ask Gene O’Neill.

We arrived Thursday night in time for the opening ceremonies, after which we lingered in the hallway and gawped at the writhing throng. From amongst them, two guys came barreling out, directly at us. I gawped some more, because I recognized Gord Rollo and Gene O’Neill. They wanted to know if I was Ed Kurtz, the guy from Shocklines. Holy shit—real, honest-to-hell writers were asking me if I was who they thought I was. The ice was broken. The rest, my friends, was cake.

We spent a lot of time with those fellas, chatting and gathering invaluable advice. Almost every time a professional question occurred to me, I tracked down Gene to ask him. Every time we saw either him or Gord anywhere in the hotel, it felt curiously like running into old friends. Later, at the Bad Moon Books release party, Gene took a moment to introduce me to the entire room and Joe McKinney read aloud from the blurb he gave me for my book, Bleed. The next thing I knew, people were shaking my hand and introducing themselves. Among them was John Everson—whose name I’ve been mispronouncing for years, alas—a wonderful writer and, again, a very nice guy. I was on cloud nine.

The parties were amazing. I got tight and talked e-books with F. Paul Wilson in the hallway at midnight. I drunkenly introduced myself to Mary SanGiovanni, told her I was a fan, and then misspoke the title of one of her books. She wasn’t fazed; she’s much too nice for that. (Nonetheless, my apologies to Mary—to be clear, I loved The Hollower and don’t know why I called it The Hollow Man. Jesus, that’s embarrassing.) Crisler invited me to a guerilla reading with the gang from Shroud Magazine, where we heard some great readings from Crisler, Sheldon Higdon and Richard Wright. I even read a bit from my book, something I’d never done before. No one threw rotten fruit. I was amazed.

Much of the event was spent in the outdoor smoking area, where alliances are struck between fellow tobacco aficionados. There we met some marvelous people like Rena Mason, Selena Bargsley and Joe Wight. I had a couple of nice chats out there with Deadite/Eraserhead people like Rose O’Keefe, Jeff Burk and Andersen Prunty. I talked with John Skipp for half an hour before I realized I was talking to John friggin’ Skipp. I apologized and explained that I never knew what he looked like; he grinned, pointed to his face and said, “Like this.”

And then there was the most luminous smoker of them all—the legendary Jack Ketchum.

What can I say about this cat? I was legitimately afraid I’d vomit on him the first time I shook his hand. The only reason I didn’t was because he was so damn open and friendly and happy to talk with people. He’s genuinely interesting, the epitome of cool, and the author most responsible for this ill-conceived decision I have made with regard to writing. I kept calling him Mr. Ketchum; he told me to call him Dallas. I’m still shocked how comfortable I became talking with him over the course of the con. There is, I think, an inherent risk in meeting one’s heroes—what happens when your idol is an asshole? I don’t know, because mine is a consummate gentleman. So there.

I went into WHC a Jack Ketchum fan. I came out of it a big admirer of Dallas Mayr, too.

On Saturday I did three pitches—surely the most nerve-wracking aspect of WHC about which I worried endlessly. I needn’t have, though. Not only did two of them go quite well, but Rhodi Hawk did such an exceptional job of organizing the thing that it went off without a hitch. I expected it to turn my hair stark white and permanently ruin my psyche, but due to her efforts it was actually a pleasure to be involved with it. Kudos to her.

I enjoyed several great conversations with Wrath James White (a superstar in his own right and a marvelous person), connected with a fellow genre-writer and fellow Arkansan both in John Hornor Jacobs, and even got to chat briefly with Del Howison on a couple of occasions (my wife was particularly taken with Del). I was very pleased to meet Lee Thomas (I’m reading The German presently and hot damn is it good), and I am exceedingly impressed with the hard work and bravery of Nate Southard, who is not only an excellent writer but a stand-up guy who has clearly earned the respect he is given. From everything I’ve heard, the folks on the committee managed to put together a convention for the history books, and I’m so gratified that such a great one turned out to be my introduction to this incredible community of incredible people.

It was also very cool to meet Steve Niles, Chris Roberson, John Picacio, Vinny Chong, Gabino Iglesias, R.J. Sevin, Roy Robbins, Jim Gavin, Meghan MacInnis, Jared Sandman, Elias Siqueiros and probably a dozen other people I’m egregiously neglecting here.

And do you know who snubbed me? Brushed me off? Made me feel like I didn’t belong there? Nobody. Not one person. I won’t say that it has restored my faith in humanity, but it sure was great to be there. I made some friends, acquired too many damn books, learned a lot, and I’m already excited about the next one.

To all of you mentioned above, thanks. I’ll see some of you in Vegas in the fall, and more still in Salt Lake City in 2012. Good luck to those of you who are up for Stokers in June. And quit writing so many fabulous books, goddamnit. I’m not made of money, you know.

Addendum: I would be remiss not to mention Brandon Zuern and Brad Bankston at Austin Books & Comics, who kindly hosted my book and signing. They're the greatest comic shop in the world, and great friends, too.

—Ed Kurtz

Austin, TX