Daniel I. Russell is the author of Entertaining Demons, Samhane, Retard, Come Into Darkness, Critique, The Collector Book 1: Mana Leak, Mother's Boys and the huge collection Tricks, Mischief and Mayhem. Daniel is a HWA active member and represented by the Tobias Literary Agency, NYC. Daniel has also been the vice-president of the Australian Horror Writers' Association, special guest editor of Midnight Echo, associate and technical editor for Necrotic Tissue, and Shadow Awards judge.
Review: Children of No One by Nicole Cushing
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Monday, February 14, 2011Ditmar award rolecall
I remember last year's Ditmar Awards well. I hadn't been in Australia long enough for any of my works to be considered, but it was fun to be part of the process and read some of the works that had been nominated.
Last year, my reading list, and indeed voting list included:
Shane Jiraiya Cummings
Andrew J McKiernan
G. N. Braun
Stephen Clark at Tasmaniac Publications
The BEST thing about the Ditmars and reading the above was that a year later, I still class the above as friends and respected members of the Australian horror community.
So let's look at this year and some of the work I'll be looking to consider.
"All the Clowns in Clowntown", Andrew J. McKiernan, in Macabre: A Journey Through Australia's Darkest Fears, Brimstone Press.
"Dark Heart Alley", Shane Jiraiya Cummings, in Macabre: A Journey Through Australia's Darkest Fears, Brimstone Press.
I'll probably have to consider a double vote on this one! Too tough to call.
"Brave Face", Pete Kempshall, in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine 46.
"Bubba Wants YOU!", G.N. Braun, in LegumeMan Books (website).
"Can't Stop Killing You", Russell B. Farr, in Macabre: A Journey Through Australia's Darkest Fears, Brimstone Press.
"crawlin' ", Martin Livings, in Macabre: A Journey Through Australia's Darkest Fears, Brimstone Press.
"Emergency Rebuild", David Conyers, in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine 43.
"Fairy Gothic", Tracie McBride, in, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine 43.
"Ghosts Under Glass", Tracie McBride, in Horror Library Vol 4: An Anthology of Terror, Cutting Block Press.
And I'm also interested in seeing some work by Marty Young, Simon Petrie, Peter M. Ball and Brett McBean in this category. The short story section is crazy long and going to be the hardest fought, I feel.
Best Collected Work:
Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, ASIM Collective, Andromeda Spaceways Publishing Co-Operative.
Aurealis, Stuart Mayne, Chimaera Publications.
Festive Fear 2: Global Edition, Stephen Clark, Tasmaniac Publications.
Macabre: A Journey Through Australia's Darkest Fears, Angela Challis and Marty Young, Brimstone Press.
Midnight Echo #4, Lee Battersby, Australian Horror Writers Association.
I like Aurealis, ASIM and ME...but then MACABRE is phenomonal...but then Festive Fear Global Edition is a standout...and I'm in it!
Cover art and internal illustrations, Andrew J McKiernan, for Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #46, ASIM collective
Internal illustrations, Andrew J. McKiernan, for Festive Fear 2, Tasmaniac Publications.
What can I say? The man has skills.
Matthew Tait, reviews in HorrorScope. (HorrorScope)
Shane Jiraiya Cummings, body of work including reviews and interviews in HorrorScope. (HorrorScope)
Two guys working hard at Horrorscope. I'm sure if one won it they'd split the award!
Check out the details here.
Personally, I AM in the Ditmars this year (yay! Like having a horse in the race...), with Samhane appearing in the novel category, By the Banks of the Nabarra from ASIM #43 in the short story category (although technically it's a novelette and should be in another category. Don't worry intrepid voters! An email has been sent...) and I think my best chance of scoring at least nomination, Best New Talent.
Sadly, It Comes but Once a Year from Festive Fear Global Edition, wherein a man ejaculates creatures nonstop, did not make an appearance. Funny that.
So if you're eligible to vote, please check out the above. I know I will be. And if you're featured on the Ditmar list but have been neglected from this blog post, either your work has not been read or come up on my radar. Feel free to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if I can get hold of anything quickly and cheaply (as in free). I'm always keen to meet new Australian writers!
And please, if you're going to vote for me (and I would be truly humbled. Just ask my partner. I humble easily) please try for the Best New Talent. You only get one chance! ;-)
Carnies by Martin Livings was one of my 'pay it forward' sales, in that I always ALWAYS buy a book by a small press writer I know if I see it in a brick and mortar store. That store was Borders...so I guess the sale wasn't enough to keep the boat afloat.
So Carnies. A bit of history.
The book is a Ditmar and Aurealis award nominee and the winner of a Tin Duck award (a quite prestigious award for writers in Western Australia). The book has also been optioned to be made into a feature film.
So, going into the this novel, I was expecting big things. But werewolves? WEREWOLVES? After vamps and zombies, werewolves get the cliched bronze medal. But does Livings take the subgenre into completely new territory? No...but read on.
In the town of Tillbrook, there is a carnival that has stood on the sight for a century. The locals can't remember why they still go and spend their hard earned cash...it's just become a tradition. But some people in the town know all about the secret the carnival holds and will stoop to any lengths to see it gone.
Step in David, a reporter past his prime who is now relegated to write the fluff articles for the newspapers weekend supplement. Tipped off that there might be a meatier story (and there certainly is!) behind the carnival facade, he sets off for Tillbrook with dreams of exposing it and reigniting his journalism career. Along for the ride is Paul, his younger brother. Paul's life is dovetailing. Permanently unemployed and with a busted ankle he suffered in a FLT accident, Paul goes with his brother for a few days away from his crappy life and to make a few dollars. He's a dab hand with a camera.
And that's all I'm going to give you for now really. Oh, and there's werewolves. LOTS of werewolves.
I mentioned that nothing remarkable is done with the werewolves. They aren't in space. They aren't fighting bigfoot. They aren't telekinetic werewolves that have formed a cult to stop a government conspiracy to raise Cthulu.
The traditional werewolf story here is actually quite refreshing. Livings dispenses with far-fetched notions to make the novel stand out, and instead, concentrates on writing a damn good story that doesn't need to try too hard to win over the reader. This, my friends, is what makes it stand out.
Livings comfortably spins his yarn. This is one of the most welcoming books I have read in a long, long time. The book comes across as clever without being smug about it and funny without resorting to jokes or bizarreness for the sake of it. The voice here is just so...effortless! You sink right in and the pace belts along, but with enough depth and thought to give the pages a bit more personality compared to other horror thrillers.
Gore hounds will be satisfied, yet the blood and guts are done tastefully, so I don't think that green horror readers will go...greener. The writer doesn't go for graphic deaths or torture, spilling every cringe-worthy detail (unlike some other horror writers. Dan whistles nonchalantly...). It's simply a great all round book.
One last thing: Livings is from Perth, so while the book could kinda be set in America to an untrained eye, this book is about as Australian as a Chiko Roll, only it has both taste and texture. We don't have gangsters...we have bikies. The petrol stations I'm sure are here in town. As a writer living in Australia, I love to see these things. Makes a change from an almost US saturated market of good, quick horror.
Put down your crappy teen romance "horror" book, or the constant turds that are vampires vs werewolves caught in an eternal battle (boooooring!). For a great read of all things tooth and claw, and without the bullshit, I can't recommend Carnies enough. One of those books were you intend to read a chapter or two and find a hundred or so pages have whipped by.
You're going to need a silver-plated bookmark for this one! Cannot wait for the movie. The Howling? Eat your heart out. (Sorry, werewolf pun)
Friday, February 04, 2011Blood Orchard by S.D. Hintz
Okay, here we go. While I'm always honest in my reviews, the more astute of you may know that S.D. Hintz is one of my publishers...but that won't spare him the toasting I give every book I read. Blood Orchard is his first full-length debut novel.
Onward is a town with a history, a history of missing triplets. Fifteen years ago, the Sheriff's teenage triplets, a trio called the Blondies, disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Not surprisingly, most of the residents were glad, as the Blondies' reign of violence, harassment and vandalism was finally over. Bad point, that makes everyone a suspect. Skip ahead, and triplets are missing again, this time three baby girls. Psychotic Sheriff Pritchard, a Chicago detective and a mild-mild mannered reporter are all trying to crack the case, but the town's bloody history and mounting paranoia may mean the wrong man is found guilty, and the babies will never be found.
There's a lot to be said about Blood Orchard, both good and bad, and what this results in is a very unique book. Very unique indeed. It's very hard to compare Hintz to another writer, what with the style and voice he has here in Blood Orchard.
*I refuse to abbreviate like usual, as I would then be calling the book BO.
Let's start off at the beginning.
Major problem, and this might just be a personal thing, and in no way a reflection of the writer, but more the publisher. I have no idea what the thought was behind the choice of font. There's something about it which, for me, didn't make the text instantly enjoyable. It took a few pages for my eyes to adjust (for want of a better explanation) to the font, especially in flashback scenes, which are italised. Hopefully, when a second edition of the book emerges, a more standard font will be used.
The book opens and we hit the ground running, which works for it as much as against it. It's a jarring start, and the reader is immediately dropped into this crazy situation. The characters are lacking in development at this point (I mean, it is chapter 1!) and the reader just has to ride it out. For those readers who love show over tell, this is how Hintz develops his characters. Like a fly on the wall, the readers can only develop an opinion about each character from their actions and speech, not drawn out ramblings about what they like to eat for their dinner and the name of their first pet, etc. Even the flashbacks, which gradually fill in the holes of the mystery, are written this way. It's refreshing, allows a wider reader opinion of characters and also gives a full-tilt pace.
The book definitely becomes more engrossing the more you read, and the last half will keep the pages turning. You'll be confused in the first half, and at some points have no clue what's going on, but rest assured, Hintz has got this covered. You're dancing to his tune, and he knows where the beat is going.
It may be considered that the book does too much headjumping and flashbacking. This is tit for tat, as while you can't get super in depth with a character, as you aren't with them long enough, things never get dull and the pace never lets up.
The gore is done tactfully, but that doesn't mean there's not much in there. Again, the last half of the book is chock full of nasty, and personally, I think it was done just right, but then again I am a gore hound. One image in particular is vivid, unsettling and will stay with you.
I can recommend this book for horror fans who are looking for a quick, snappy read. I can see this not being everyone's cup of tea, but this writing style is worth a look just to see if it suits. It's a great starting point for a novel career, and I am very interested to see what S.D. comes up with in light of this release.
Tuesday, February 01, 2011I want to talk about...gore
I would like to just take a minute and talk about gore.
Gore and splatterpunk, as it was popularly know a few years back, encompasses writers such as Laymon, Ketchum, Keene and Lee. Yes, there are arguments for and against each one for inclusion, and the whole thing about labeling authors in a subgenre...but I think anyone who has read one of the above authors can agree that there is no shortage of blood spilled, limbs munched on and brains used to decorate walls.
Which brings me onto Samhane, as there's been a bit talked about my book since its release.
The book was written back in 2004. At the time, I firmly believe that this would be the first and only book I would ever write, and because of this, I wanted to have lots of fun with it. This might have been my one chance, you know? I wanted to write something extreme, something to emulate the authors I adored, mainly Laymon and Barker, to write something with Laymon's to the point style of writing and pace, with some deformed machinations akin to Barker. Did I succeed? Personally, I think so. I'm not saying this is better or as good as these legends of horror, but I hope that readers will feel the love in the streets of Samhane.
Now the book is hitting readers. Here are a handful of reviews:
So far, the reception that I'm getting is the book is a good one, but very, very extreme. Perhaps too much. Surely...it's not THAT extreme, is it?
Compared to later books of mine, I feel that Samhane is relatively tame in hindsight. Mother's Boys, The Forgotten and the almost completed Entertaining Demons all have far, far nastier death scenes. In fact, some of the scenes described in the latter made my partner nearly retch.
On the shorter side, my novellas also have their squeamish moments...even though in my novella Critique, there is barely any violence at all. Would this book be considered extreme? Dealing by the subject matter...I dare say so.
And this is the problem...or is it a problem?
By writing novels that are generally considered on the verge of being unfit for sane human consumption, am I restricting my market appeal?
Carsten Kuhr hit the nail on the head in his Samhane review for Phantastiknews (translated) :
"This is certainly not a mainstream horror, but is aimed explicitly at a fairly small group of corresponding fans."
Aaaaargh! So by writing splatter, I'm only going to be selling to other like minded deviants? I would say so, but then...coming from England, Richard Laymon books are in almost every book shop in the country. The SAW movies get some flack, but they still pull in the crowds. I think maybe more people are agreeable to a bit of splatter...but perhaps they don't know it yet?
The one thing that irks me a major way, and I'm going to use a bit from the Scaryminds review for this. This is not a slur on scaryminds.com, nor am I arguing with the reviewer's rating (as with Carsten above), I'm using this to highlight a point that I actually agree with. But just because I agree with it, doesn't mean I like it!
"7/10 Gore limits rating, well recommended otherwise"
Hmm. So the amount of gore kinda keeps the book from doing better. Okay, I can see that. But here are the things that really piss me off!
Horror. I've been in many arguments over what horror is. I like the definition:
Horror - an overwhelming and painful feeling caused by something frightfully shocking, terrifying, or revolting, anything that causes such a feeling, a strong aversion; abhorrence.
Yup. To me that is horror. I expect horror to sicken and disgust, to create a sense of tension and suspense, to explore the realms of the extreme. One of the things we band about the Necrotic Tissue office is 'this story has a mounting sense of dread'. I like that. A mounting sense of dread. Yes, I like horror novels that feature a normal everyday character slipping into a macabre, bloody tangent, and as they fall further down the rabbithole, a mounting sense of dread develops. Ooooh. That kinda makes me want to go and read some Ketchum right about now.
I detest books that simply are not horror, that have no feel of terror or revulsion about them, but are sold as horror instead of dark fiction or paranormal or crime. Hang on, it has a what? A friendly werewolf? Ah, a werewolf means it's a horror novel. And this one has somebody that not only dies but is...(dramatic pause for tension) murdered. Has to be a horror. Miss Marple can scare the bejesus outta you! And finally, the third book has a mopey female protagonist that is full of gloomy and depressed thoughts. We gotta stick a cover of a chick with a full moon behind her and stick it on the horror shelf.
I know there are grey areas, but I think some are more clear cut books then people would want to hear. I'm not prepared to get into the whole Twilight is not horror just because it has vampires argument again.
Personal rant: There are big publishers who won't even consider horror. They release a dark fiction novel...and all of a sudden it's in the horror section in bookstores. What the hell?
Sigh. Back to the point.
Okay, so I'm kinda limiting my options by writing a book, sorry books, this extreme. How can I get around this? I have two possible solutions:
1. Lie about the content. Well, I say lie, more like deceive. A few mutilated corpses swept under the pubic hair rug.
2. Write a more mainstream novel.
Ah, Dan! You all cry. You get it! You finally get it!
Nah. Not happening. I tried. I really tried! The more I try to keep things light, the worse they inevitably get. With the latest novel, which is about 80% complete, things really do get quite low and nasty. Yet, I feel it's the most ambitious and possibly grown up (harhaar!) novel I've written. Maybe on day I can write a more commercial novel, but the closest idea I have on the horizon is a bizarro epic post apoc kinda gig.
Anyway, thanks to Anita S for letting me know my leave a message facility is busted, so if you have any thoughts about the predicament, such as shut the fuck up Dan and write a paranormal romance instead of splatter, feel free to email me at email@example.com.
Other big thank yous go out to the reviewers linked above, to German site horror-forum.com for having Samhane for their reading circle this month, the 947 people who entered the competition to win a copy of Samhane and the person already selling Samhane on eBay (gotta love it).
Anyway, after six weeks summer holiday, I'm back at the coal face as the students arrive back at the high school tomorrow for a brand new academic year. I'm actually looking forward to it. Think the break from the writing world will do me good for a few weeks until I get in the rhythm of things.
See you next week! (I do have something planned to discuss...but I've forgotten it. I'm sure it will re-emerge before next week!)