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: Hollow House by Greg Chapman
Read Daniel in...
Thursday, January 19, 2012ON THE COUCH: AJ BROWN
TC: So come in and take a seat on the couch. Lie back if you find it more comfortable. Can I get you anything? I want each of you to be completely relaxed. We tend to get to the truth that way. It's better than the other way, and less messy. So what can I get you?
AJ: Strawberry Kool-Aid. Seriously. Strawberry Kool-Aid. I love the stuff.
TC: What do you think this is? The Hilton? You can have a glass of water. Ignore the bitter taste, it's the...fluoride.
You've been transferred here because you're at it again. We've been here before AJ Brown, during the Necrotic Tissue days. We published you, even making it an editor's pick, and here you are again with this stuff still in your system. Why are we still writing horror, Mr. Brown? Is there any other publications we can review as part of this assessment?
AJ: We have been here before. No doubt and those Necrotic Tissue days were great days. Heady stuff you guys sold. I write horror because... well, it's an addiction. If I wanted I could write other stuff, but horror feels right. I've always leaned to the darker things--ask anyone who has known me for any length of time--so horror just feels right.
Other publications. Since you're wanting a bigger sample of this addiction you can go a couple of places.
Tales of the Zombie Wars has a series I'm writing called Dredging Up Memories here: http://www.talesofworldwarz.com/stories/tag/dredging-up-memories-series/
Then, if you really want to get into the disturbing aspect of things, one of my short stories is in the anthology, A Hacked Up Holiday Massacre, which can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Hacked-Up-Holiday-Massacre-Bentley-Little/dp/1617060917/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1326071032&sr=1-1
And, of course, Picket Fences can be found in the Best of Necrotic Tissue here: http://www.amazon.com/Necrotic-Tissue-Anthology-John-McCann/dp/0615245285/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1326071106&sr=1-1
There are some others coming out soon, but these are the most recent.
TC: I think we've only just begun to scratch the surface. I have in your case file a copy of a new publication Along the Splintered Path, a collection of disturbing stories that explore the dark side of life in the remote countryside. Have you traded Picket Fences for duelling banjos and squealing piggies?
AJ: Along the Splintered Path isn't really too far off from Picket Fences in subject matter, only the tense of Picket Fences was experimental 'future' tense. I think Picket Fences would have probably fit better with two of the stories than one of them that I chose for the collection. There is a darkness to it that I fell in love with when I wrote it.
Honestly, I think the disturbing factors in Along the Splintered Path are built because of the characters in the stories--all of them in situations that cause them to do what they do. Everything we do is a reaction to something else and how the characters react in the stories is mostly out of desperation. After writing them, I could clearly see what would have happened if Kenneth (from The Woodshed) would have chosen to not deal with his past or his little brother's mental issues. The same with James ('Round These Bones). If he makes one or two decisions differently, then he wouldn't have been in the position he was in. And Phillip's (Phillip's Story) choices not only affect him, but another character as well (and if a couple of other characters don't do something, then Phillip's Story doesn't even happen. All the disturbing factors of the stories are based on their reactions to events in their lives, which is pretty much the way real life is.
And there will be NO dueling banjos in my life. Squealing piggies maybe...
TC: Looking at some of the reviews on Amazon, and after reading through the collection myself, I can see that we clearly have imagination issues. To be able to create characters with so much emotional weight, fleshed out backgrounds and damn it, making the reader actually invest in the fates of these fictional people...that takes some skill, Mr. Brown. Can you divulge your process for creating these lives?
AJ: Creating lives? Hmm... I have a couple of rules when it comes to writing. The first is forget the word count. That one goes with the second and most important one: Don't ever cut a story short. In order for stories to 'live' they must breathe and in order for them to breathe, we the writers, have to get out the way and just let the stories tell themselves. In my opinion, the best characters (and stories) are created when we just let them happen.
That and people watching. I love to watch people and it's hard to do it discretely, sometimes. You can learn a lot from just sitting on a bench at the mall or going to a concert and ducking into the shadows and leaning against the wall. Most of the time people are oblivious to being watched (and not in a stalker sort of way) and you can gleam mannerisms and the way people talk and really just about anything you want to know by people watching.
And keep your ears open. I can't tell you how many of my stories started with something someone said as I passed them by.
TC: And because you're such a horrible person (not my words, this is from your psychological report) you like to create these believable characters and watch them squirm in these difficult situations. Very interesting. Are you allowed pets?
In 'Round These Bones, you have a regular guy receive some bad news and drive off angry (we've all done that). This results in him in a life and death situation. Have you ever been in a position were things looked bleak?
AJ: Yes, I'm allowed pets, but unfortunately, not the pets I want.
And bleak situations? A couple of times, but the one that comes to mind is when a gun was pointed at me by a suicidal teenager some years ago. I spent a few hours trying to talk the gun away from him, finally succeeded in doing so. That kid was on anti-depressants that actually made things worse. Shortly after that he got off those meds and he grew up to be a cool guy, father and husband. Still, having a gun pointed at you is something you never forget.
TC: That is a pretty tight spot there, AJ. Glad it turned out for the best for all involved.
So before we make our final diagnosis and prescribe your meds, can we add any upcoming releases to your case file?
AJ: Only one at the moment, Daniel. My short story, In the Shadows They Hide, was just released in the anthology Night Terrors II put out by Blood Bound Books. However, I do have high hopes for 2012. https://www.createspace.com/3729847
TC: We invite horror writers here to try and find out why they are doing such a bizarre thing, and hopefully stop them from producing such...filth.
However, Mr. AJ Brown, due to the characters you create and their redeemable qualities, this doctor is willing to let things slide for now, hoping that some of these noble qualities will rub off on the deviants that read this stuff. They could do with some sunshine in their lives.
But you're not out of the woods yet, and Dr. Sally will escort you Along the Splintered Path back to your room. We must now ensure these stories are written...particularly electronically. That's just how we keep up the motivation around here. Nurse! Fire up the electrodes!
AJ: Dr. Sally? Wait, before I go: is she cute?
Saturday, January 14, 2012Biting the Bullet
Okay, so I'm a little behind the times, as usual. This week I decided to buy a Kindle. Now for someone who is a keen reader of 'real' books, I liked my partner's idea of writing a few blog posts to monitor how things are going and how I'm settling in. Will this be the start of a new generation? Or simply another electronic gizmo for my toddler to erase things from, ie, that zombie game on my iPod Touch, damn it.
First though, why now? They aren't exactly new things in the market place.
With the release of TALES OF DARKNESS AND DISMAY from Dark Continents, I suddenly find myself with a big bunch of great ebooks to read. Normally not a problem, as I can use Kindle for PC or iBooks on my iPod. But combine this with the ongoing submissions for Midnight Echo #7, the promotional campaign for DARKNESS AND DISMAY as well as usual writing...that's a lot of time sat at this desk. It's the summer holidays. I don't want to spend it all at a desk, indoors, surrounded by fans. That's electric fans, not the kind that buy my books.
Except this one. My number one fan... KACHOW!
With readers complaining that some books are only available on the Kindle, I had to go with that. Yes, filthy Amazon trying to destroy the competition with your sneaky tactics in the way of business and contracts, it swayed a purchase. Had to bite my tongue when the guy in JB HIFI was trying to sell me one of the many ereaders they had (but no Kindles). Yes, the guy who welcomes you through the door (who for some reason I think is an ex-con, but I'm too afraid to ask) was telling me all about the publishing business. Anyway...
Then on to Dick Smith's, who had the Kindle and the 3G version in a lovely display. I wanted to grab one, pay for it and run (my toddler was a bit too enthusiastic about the radio controlled Marios they had), but I had to do the dance with the salesperson first.
Me: I'd like one of these Kindles please (and in hindsight, I couldn't have opened with an easier sale, could I?)
Her: Would you like the 3G? (Obviously more expensive. The electronic retail equivalent of 'would you like fries with that?')
Me: No, just this one. You can download via the USB cable direct from your desktop, so that's all I need.
Her: Yes, because with the regular Kindle, the pack comes with an included USB cable. You hook that up to your desktop and you can download books directly onto the Kindle. (Long look from me. Didn't I just say that?). You're probably wondering why the regular Kindle doesn't have a keyboard.
Me: The keyboard is built in. You push that button there with the picture of a keyboard on it.
Her: Most people want to know why there's no keyboard, but if you push this button here (push!) look, the keyboard is built in.
(This woman was like a verbal anti-editor. She takes what you've said and simply adds more words)
Me with a big smile: That's great! (My son's now trying to take out the $100 Mario Kart toy from out the box) I'll take it.
Her: You will of course need a case. I've had so many customers this week bring them back with broken screens. We have these (expensive and horrible) leather cases.
Me: Do you have any others?
Me: Then I'll leave it thank you. (Son is now driving Mario around the printer and cartridges section, trying to fire red shells at a couple considering an Epsom).
Her: And there's the extended warranty. The manufacturer warranty is one year, but we offer-
Dan falls to knees and weeps: I said I wanted to buy one! I tried to make it simple! Why won't you just take my money? Why?
Customer: Miss? My Kindle screen's broken and someone dropped a banana skin in the middle of the store...
So I eventually got out of the shop with just a Kindle, no case, and no extended warranty and all it cost was just over $100 and some dignity.
One thing this has over my old system of reading from iBooks is that the screen has a matt screen (mmmmm....matt screen) so it won't hurt your eyes with a backlight after a while. Bad side, you can't use it to light your way to the candles when the power goes out. Ah, trusty iPod, you've saved me from many a bumped knee.
I tinkered on the way home, and actually, the device is pretty simple to use and surprisingly basic. There's no bells and whistles, just books. Means no distractions, which is a good thing.
At home, the problems started.
What do you mean, thou art not authorised? And what happened to my pdfs? Thou art a piece of shit.
My books wouldn't go from Kindle for PC to the device, nor did it let me do anything, really. It took some technical jiggery pokery at first to get everything happy with each other, and now it's relatively simple to buy from Amazon and get it were I want it. Also big thanks again to Jim Mcleod for recommending the program Calibre to sort out the pdf issue.
So what have I read? Nothing. Har haaar! I wanted to finish my latest read, which was a 500 page solid hardback. A proper book.
I can't give up the hardstuff, but in a week I'll check back in on how I'm doing. Never thought I'd see the day when I bought one of these things. Time will tell. At least I can read TALES OF DARKNESS AND DISMAY in the garden now. Might go give that a go actually...
Thursday, January 12, 2012ON THE COUCH - SUZANNE ROBB. OH MY!
This, the first in a series of interviews, sees horror writers, publishers, reviewers, basically anyone crazy enough to agree to this rubbish, take a seat on our psych couch so we can get down to the cause of their problems and...you know...help them and stuff.
First up is the delightfully macabre author of Z-Boat and Were-wolves, Apocalypses and Genetic Mutations, Oh My! It's Suzanne Robb.
The Couch: So welcome, Suzanne. Come lie on The Couch. We have a choice of restraints for your delectation, being the traditional straight jacket (but now with pockets for sweets and Lego and things), a heap of chains and locks that usually keeps my bicycle safe, or these super sensuous silk scarves. What can I do you for?
Suzanne: Well, I have no idea where to start with the fact I am not a horror writer, but continue to write horror stories. I have no idea what the hell is wrong with me. Can you help?
Couch: In which case, I think it best to use all three, just to be on the safe side. My colleague, Dr. Sally, can strap you in. There we go, all comfortable and just a little blue in places.
You've been described as darkly humorous, but with a penchant for good horror. Would you say this is true? Do you aim to hit that dark comedy button with your writing?
Suzanne: Thanks, I like this jacket much better. The pockets on the back so I can reach the LEGO's are really great. Sorry your bike will be unsecured for the duration of this intervention.
To be honest I have no idea if I can do good horror. I know I can do comedy because people laugh at me all the time. When I imagine my revenge on them, and those who I knew as a kid I get in touch with my horror side.
I do aim to hit the dark comedy button, I think that is one of the best forms of entertainment. Most likely why people sent me to you.
There really is nothing like making someone thing they are reading something fun and light-hearted and then throwing them for a loop with something absolutely horrific. I like that dichotomy, though it makes me feel a tad crazy myself at times.
The Couch: Those you knew as a kid. A ha! I knew all this horror stuff came from a childhood event...
Looking through this copy of Were-wolves, Apocalypses and Genetic Mutations. Oh My! and I have in your case file. Looking at the story Welcome to the Future, which sees an underachiever cajoled into a life, and indeed future, changing decision.
Was this stemmed from an event in your childhood? Were you the drop out, the nerd...or the class clown?
Suzanne: I think most childhood bullies end up creating horror writers. It is the only way we can legally get revenge, except for that one time...anyways.
As for Welcome to the Future, a movie I watched in childhood created it (The man with two Brains) and also not being in any particular category. I was mostly made fun of as a kid, I made nerds look good. I am pretty certain should I ever truly let loose all my anger, I would end up in front of a judge.
Can I have a blue LEGO to match the pills?
The Couch: You can have a blue LEGO, but only one of the flat one dots, as they are fiddly and hurt your nails to remove.
Moving on. Compulsions and neurosis. From a medical point of view, I noticed in your piece The Moonlight Killer that your main character has a thing about words, how things should be pronounced and what he deems is a 'cooler' variant. Certainly writers tend to be into words more than your average Joe, but do you find yourelf obsessing about word usage? Is there anything else you obsess about?
And stop looking at me like I have a round, yellow, detachable head. This is all going in your notes.
Suzanne: I love words, and word play. I have a weird obsession with crosswords and would love to have a story be told in one.
I like to play around with them, and find alternate meanings, or variations on what we think. Like in The Moonlight Killer, wolf-man can be either or a man who turns into a wolf, or a wolf that turns into a man, yet no one has done that reversal.
I also really enjoy the world pulp, it is very descriptive on so many levels.
Does it hurt when your head detaches or you stick on a different LEGO helmet?
The Couch: (Long, thoughtful stare)
...I see. I think I have a new diagnosis and treatment plan for you, but the first step is admitting that you need help. Firstly, for my records, can you inform my colleagues where more of your work is available?
Suzanne: (fidgets with blue LEGO)
I have been able to infiltrate many places with my work. You can find my current e-book/novella with Dark Continents here
I also have a book out, a thriller suspense that takes place on a sub with zombies at the end here
As for my other stories, they are in several publications, some that make me the happiest (I need a happy place) Dead Souls with Post Mortem Press, Live and Let Undead with Twisted Library Press, and Citipati in Monk Punk.
Is it hard to see through those plastic visors?
The Couch: (longer, more thoughtful stare)
...hmm. Well I humbly request that my colleagues and readers click on those links and have a look see. I especially recommend the well written Were-wolves, Apocalypses and Genetic Mutations. Oh My! from the Tales of Darkness and Dismay from Dark Continents press.
Any departing comments to plead your case before Dr. Sally takes you back to your room, Robb?
Suzanne: Just the usual - The voice in my head told me to do it, my imaginary friend has a really bad temper, and Viva LEGO's
On a side note, as soon as they let me out of here I am going to see just how detachable that yellow head of yours is.
The Couch: Nonsense! I hope this little intervention leads to many sales of these horrific books you write. I think that writing horror might actually be therapeutic. The real issue is this LEGO fixation! Dr. Sally, book her in and show her to her new accommodation (whispers: the MEGA-BLOCKS room. That'll really fuck her up when the LEGO doesn't fit.)
She gone? Finally. I can hardly breathe in this thing.