The High Five Podcast Episode 12 – Great Current Horror Writers…Who Aren’t Stephen King

On today’s episode, I’m running down five rad horror authors working right now who are not the master Stephen King. Over the course I talk about a dozen different books that have really hit me over the past decade or so. Hopefully you’ll find someone new to read as you listen!

I’ve written about a lot of these books here on the site: Final Girls, The Last Time I Lied, A Head Full Of Ghosts, HorrorStor, Paperbacks From Hell, Locke & Key, Heart-Shaped Box, Horns, NOS4A2, 20th Century Ghosts, The Shining Girls and Broken Monsters.

In the episode I also mentioned Valancourt Books, Thriftbooks, Bookbub and the Kindle Daily Deals email list. Check them out!

Halloween Scene Book Review: Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

I used to read scary books all the time. When I was a kid I was all over R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike books. I’m not sure what made me stop reading them on a regular basis, maybe it was because I could actually watch horror movies after a certain point. I’ve read a few here and there in recent memory, though I think The Exorcist was the last one I tacked and that was soon after college. I also accidentally read The Omen movie adaptation which I thought was the book the movie was based on (not the case). So why did I want to read Joe Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box? Two reasons: I was interested in Hill’s books after really enjoying the first volume of his IDW comic Locke & Key and also because I stumbled upon a copy of it for $2 at a used book store in New Hampshire.

Whatever the reason, I am SO glad that picked this book up. I started reading it in October and slowly made my way through (picking up Skate 3 for the 360 has been a lot more alluring than I thought), just finishing the other night. It was amazing.

It’s been a long time since a book so completely creeped me out and not just on a supernatural level. Don’t get me wrong, I did have one night of reading where I put the book down and turned off the lights and couldn’t help but imagine the main ghost standing in my hallway. But, as the book progresses there are more human acts of depravity and desperation that made me feel gross. In fact, I was at the dentist office while reading a few chapters just last week and felt awkward, like the people around me could sense what I was reading. One of Hill’s many skills is his ability to take things further than you expect. I’ve read and watched enough stories to get a pretty good idea of where things are going, but Hill always bobbed and weaved away from the expected, which I really appreciated.

I guess I should explain the story of the book a little. I will say that I went in completely blind, knowing absolutely nothing about the book. I’d suggest doing the same, but you’re more than welcome to read ahead, I will keep all kinds of spoilers to a minimum. Our hero is an aging rocker named Judas Coyne who’s kind of in the vein of Ozzy, but with less going on in his older age. He’s a big fan of the occult and winds up purchasing a ghost on the internet. He thinks it will make a good addition to his collection of oddities, but it turns out there’s a lot more to this ghost and its sale than he expected. The ghost has a mad-on for Jude and anyone who helps him which includes his girlfriend. The pair go on a bit of a road trip to both avoid and get rid of the menace which culminates in the home of Jude’s abusive father.

The imagery and mythology that Hill created in the book is what really absorbed me initially. Many times, when it comes to ghost stories, I get annoyed that there’s always an old person around who knows all the details and bestows that information onto our protagonists. That’s not the case in this book. Sure, there are a few things said here and there, but not in the way that, say, Insidious rolled out an oldie with all the info. Jude and Marybeth really have to discover everything on their own or through dreams inspired or influenced by the dead. But really, the most effective element of the supernatural in this case is the fact that the ghosts have squiggly black lines where their eyes should be. I can not get that imagery out of my head. It’s so simple, yet so damn creepy when you really think about it.

I had a great time reading this book, but I also had a brand new experience while making my through: some semblance of contact with the author. I joined Twitter a few months back as @PoppaDietsch as a way to get my posts out there more and link to my professional writing. But I’ve also discovered the pleasure of following writers and artists who I like and seeing them talk about their process. It’s also cool being able to tell someone you’re reading their book, which I did at one point. Hill even responded which was very cool. While reading the book, I saw him do a Q&A which wound up spoiling one aspect of the story that wasn’t such a big deal. That was my fault for reading past the spoiler tag. Anyway, I highly recommend reading Heart-Shaped Box and following Hill on Twitter because he really talks about what he’s doing (he just finished the first draft of his most recent novel). I now want to read the rest of his Locke & Key series as well as his other books!

Halloween Scene: Losing Power & A Bit Of My Mind

Sometimes, I think I’ve seen too many horror movies. In case you don’t read my dad blog called Pop Poppa (or haven’t read my latest post over there yet), we lost power for about 28 hours this weekend thanks to an unseasonably early snow storm. The amount of snow fall was one thing, but the real problem came from all the trees still packed with leaves that got frozen and cracked from the trees causing all kinds of electrical problems. It went out around 5:00PM on Saturday and kicked back on around 8:20PM on Sunday, so it wasn’t the longest we’ve ever been without power (that would be 72 hours), but it was taxing, especially with the baby (though she seemed to handle it well).

Saturday night, I got a little paranoid. See, it wasn’t just that we lost power, something we were ready for thanks to a hefty supply of candles, flashlights, headlamps and touchlights, but the fact that our cell phones weren’t really working. I figured it had something to do with everyone trying to use their phones to make calls or go online, but it still gave me the heebie jeebies. I mentioned something along those lines to my wife who laughed at me and said we were not in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. No duh, zombies wouldn’t me much good in the snow, I said, but I was thinking more of an attack. I know it’s paranoid, but wouldn’t a storm be the perfect time to attack? Power lines down, communications interrupted-at-best and natural cover. Yeah, it’s crazy, but the idea ran through my head.

It didn’t last though and I slept fine that night. I didn’t have another scare until the power kicked back on at 8:20PM. I’ve been reading Joe Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box which I will hopefully finish and write about soon and was doing so when the power kicked back in. We had turned most of the lights off and unplugged the TV and a few other things for fear of a power surge, so the way I realized the power was back–while reading the scariest book I’ve read in a long time–was by the shredder and printer kicking on at the exact same time. Earlier in the day, I had put a letter in the shredder, forgetting the power was out, so when it came on, it started shredding. Meanwhile, the printer does this thing where it makes noise at random times anyway, so the combination of the two really gave me a jump. I was excited that we had power again, but in kind of a terrified way. I guess that’s how Halloween should be!