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!

My Favorite Book Reading Experiences Of 2019

Let’s keep this Best Of 2019 thing going! So far, I’ve covered my favorite classic horror movie viewings of last year and now I’m on to books. I keep this rad super hero wall-mounted shelf in my office and stack up the physical books I’ve read throughout the year. As you can see in this photo, I also have a list next to it that I can put digital and library conquests on as well. It sure makes it simple to do a list like this!

Continue reading My Favorite Book Reading Experiences Of 2019

Four Books I Liked By Joe Hill, Erik Larson, Tina Fey & Roger Moore

Like any hopeful reader, I have boxes of books just waiting to be read in my garage and even a fair number waiting in the digital realm. There’s not much rhyme or reason to which ones I choose or why they take me so long to read, but I figured I’d put a few thoughts down about these four books I’ve finished in the relatively recent past including books by Joe Hill, Erik Larson, Tina Fey and Roger Moore. Continue reading Four Books I Liked By Joe Hill, Erik Larson, Tina Fey & Roger Moore

Halloween Scene Book Review: Horns By Joe Hill (2009)

After reading Joe Hill’s first novel Heart-Shaped Box, I knew he was a writer that I wanted to keep up with. I follow him on twitter and read that he’s finishing up his next novel, but in the meantime, I was lucky enough to come across his only other novel Horns at Barnes & Noble a few weeks back in the discount section for six or seven bucks. Since I’m a fan and love a good deal, it was an easy sale.

The simple concept behind the book is that suspected “sex murderer” Ig Perrish wakes up after a bender with devil horns growing out his head and a strange effect on people. When he’s in their presence, they confess some of their deepest, darkest thoughts. After visiting some folks, Ig starts to discover the truth about what actually happened to his dead girlfriend Merrin. From there we bounce around in time a bit as Hill gives us flashbacks that not only broaden the world, but give us both story and character details that help move things along at a good clip.

And that’s really where the genius of Joe Hill lies, he layered this story so well that you almost smack yourself in the forehead for not realizing that something from earlier on fits in with the ongoing story. For instance, and this is a small one, but Ig drives a Gremlin. You find this out early on and I didn’t think much of it because it’s a shit car and he lives in a smaller town, so that washes. It was about half way through his devil-ish adventures that I made the thematic connection. The key, though, is that it didn’t feel corny or cheesy, it was more like, “Well played, Mr. Hill, well played.” Or, maybe I’m just a bit slow, which is entirely possible.

Another great thing about Hill is that he really doesn’t go where you think he will. Or at least not when you think he will. At a certain point I figured Ig’s newfound abilities would be perfect for finding out what happened to Merrin. And he does, but I didn’t expect him to jump right in so quickly. Heck, I also didn’t expect him to go talk to his parents and hear what they had to really think about him. Woof.

Honestly, there isn’t anything in this book I didn’t like. It had the very special benefit of fitting very easily in with my memories from childhood. Ig first saw Merrin at church, her sitting across from him and him falling for her. I remember seeing a girl in that exact scenario and having a crush when I was a kid. Also, large portions of the story take place in a woodsy area around a burnt-out foundry. Now, I didn’t grow up near a foundry or even as woodsy of an area as this, but I did spend hours running around the small woods in the park across the street from my house unsupervised. We didn’t get up to too much trouble, but I feel that kind of exploratory freedom is not only very much a part of my building blocks, but also something that a younger generation might not be able to relate to which is a bummer.

Anyway, between everything I’ve already  mentioned, a fantastically complex morality tale and a villain that makes Dexter look saintly, I had a fantastic time reading this book and going along for the ride. I highly recommend this for anyone who likes fantastical fiction with a foul-mouthed flair and a non-traditional take on the relationship between the devil, God and people.

Anthology Rotation

At some point while burning through Stephen King’s gigantic Under The Dome, I thought it would be fun to switch gears for my next reading endeavor. It won’t be a tonal shift, necessarily, but more of a format one. Instead of hopping hack into the world of novels, I think I’ll tackle some of the short story and anthology books I’ve had filling up my to-read piles for ages. I don’t know about you guys, but I have a tendency to jump in and out of short story books at my leisure because I don’t feel that compulsion to finish them (unless there’s a theme or recurring characters or something along those lines).

Anyway, I dug through some of my boxes and assembled a pretty good line-up, if I do say so myself. I’ve got Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things (I read his Smoke & Mirrors over YEARS, but American Gods in a relatively short period of time), Elmore Leonard’s western collection Moment of Vengeance & Other Stories (big Leonard fan, but I’ve never read any of his westerns or any westerns for that matter), Stephen King’s Skeleton Crew (which I’ve delved into a bit), F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button & Other Stories (also dipped into a little) and Joe Hill’s 20th Century Ghosts (which I just got from Amazon).

The basic idea is to read a short story from each book and then move on to the next (to the right, in reference to the picture). I arranged them so the genres wouldn’t be back to back and will offer up a good deal of variety, though I’m sure the Gaiman book will be varied in and of itself. I’m excited because this not only will help me get through some books that have been sitting in piles for years, but also hopefully help me explore the short story genre better, something I haven’t really done since college and that was all stuff I was told to read. Anyone else forced to buy an anthology with their professor’s published story in it? Yeah, I’ve got a couple of those back home.

Anyway, it should be fun. I know with Christmas and New Year’s coming up, I won’t have a ton of time to read, so this will probably work out pretty well for me. It’ll be nice to feel some reading accomplishment while also attending to all my other duties. I think I’ll do a post on Fridays about what stories I read that week. That’s the plan at least. Anyone want to join me?

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!

Will TV’s Loss Be Bootleggers’ Gain?

In the last few days word has gotten out that Fox did not pick up the Locke & Key pilot and NBC passed on Wonder Woman. Being a big fan of the first Locke & Key volume written by Joe Hill and produced by IDW and various incarnations of Wonder Woman, I’m bummed, but as someone who used to jones for bootlegs of unavailable comic book movies and shows, I’m kind of excited. When I was younger I got pretty jazzed whenever I heard about a show or movie that was never released. Whether we’re talking about the Roger Corman Fantastic Four movie, the Justice League TV pilot, the animated Gen 13 movie or anything else, I was interested and on the hunt at conventions. As such, I have shitty VHS dupes of all the above as well as the original Buffy pilot and a few other things.

It’s been a while since something like this has happened though. The last one I can remember is the Aquaman/Mercy Reef WB pilot that I got to see when I was at Wizard and even that was released on iTunes, I think. I know these things are more likely to be downloaded now instead of picked up at comic cons for exorbitant prices, but it does give me a tiny thrill knowing that two more shows might be added to the list of “shows you’re not supposed to see.” Of course, it’s possible that these shows will get picked up by another network or legitimately put out on DVD/Blu-ray/Netflix/iTunes. I’m all in favor of that too, I just want to see them, even more so because I’m not supposed to.

News Of The Day: Kurtzman & Orci Doing Locke & Key TV Show!

This actually feels like a Crossovers I Want To See that I never even thought of. /Film‘s reporting that writers/producers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (who, I’ve mentioned, are awesome) have optioned Joe Hill’s horror/fantasy comic Locke and Key from IDW (which I just read and really enjoyed) for a TV series. Some of you might be thinking, “Hey aren’t they the guys who wrote Transformers 2? And didn’t that movie suck ass?” To which I would say, yes on all counts, but I’m guessing their original script was much better than whatever Michael Bay turned it into. The duo also had a hand in creating Fringe, which I really liked and only stopped watching because it was opposite something else I liked even more. I’m fickle like that. I’m sure the Locke and Key show will take a while to get it’s feet off the ground, but I’m excited to see what happens with the project and what new doors are explored in both the comics and potential series.

Trade Post: Locke & Key Vol. 1 & Wolverine Weapon X

Written by Joe Hill, drawn by Gabriel Rodriguez
Collects Locke & Key #1-6
I was still working for Wizard when Lock & Key was first announced. As the IDW contact, I was usually first in the office to know about the upcoming projects. Something by Stephen King’s kid didn’t interest me all that much, so I missed out on the book and after our initial round of coverage, I kind of forgot about it. Then, in an unexpected move, the Totally Rad Show guys reviewed the book towards the end of last year very favorably and it got me interested in checking it out again (you can see the episode, #144, here). A few months ago, Barnes and Noble had a big trade sale and Locke & Key was one of the potential books so I picked it up along with Wolverine Weapon X, making this a bit of a themed Trade Post.

It really is a great book, the TRS guys were right. It’s about a family that moves to Lovecraft, MA after the father is murdered by one of his guidance councilees. But, as it would turn out, this is no ordinary house. It’s filled with secrets, from the door that allows the youngest son to fly around as a ghost to the wraith trapped in a well, many of which are opened by keys found throughout the house.

Things stay bad for the family as it turns out their dad’s killer is still around and is being helped out by a mysterious entity, which brings terror back into their lives. Hill really weaves a hell of a story that deals with all kinds of elements, from basic family dynamics both before and after the violent act, to how each member deals with those changes and on to the more mystical aspects like the keys and doors and monsters and killers. It’s really, really well put together, with some world building that makes me want to read more and more stories set in said world, which is good because there’s already two other trades out called Head Games and Crown Of Shadows which I want to get my hands on.

I kind of touched on it above, but I want to once again commend Hill for building a story so well from the ground up. Often times with a story like this, the action is really well thought out or the mystical aspects are, but it doesn’t always fit well together. In this case, all the elements are there and it makes for a great ride that’s enhanced by Rodriguez’s animated-but-still-dark-when-it-needs-to-be art. This one’s definitely recommended to everyone and will be getting a spot on my shelf. Give it a whirl and see how it plays.

Written and drawn by Barry Windsor-Smith
Collects Marvel Comics Presents #72-84
I’ve been disappointed with just about every classic X-Men story I’ve ever read, mostly because a good chunk of them are written by Chris Claremont and I find his writing overly wordy and generally boring (plus, it’s hard to get excited about stories you’ve seen retold a million times in other comics, flashbacks, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern-like yarns, movies, cartoons, video games, trading cards and what have you). Weapon X wasn’t even one of the stories I had on my “must read” list, but when it turned up for only a few bucks on the B&N site, I figured I’d give it a shot.

It was alright, but not great. Part of the problem was that I read the intro by Larry Hama before reading the book. Usually, these are interesting bits with some information or examples of how the work inspired the writer, but in this case, Hama hyped the book so much (sometimes incorrectly) that I found myself comparing his intro to the actual product and mentally pointing out the incongruities like a smarmy teenager with a teacher who mispronounces a president or something.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad story. It’s actually pretty interesting and the art is fantastic. I also didn’t find myself bored, which I was worried about considering my earlier problems with classic X-books. The plot’s a pot boiler because you know Wolverine will be breaking out in the end and killing some dudes (just look at the cover), so you’re just waiting to see how and when. It’s like in the beginning of Jason X where the military guys have Jason all chained up and they’re making fun of him and throwing an old blanket over him or whatever and you’re just waiting for him to bust out and do his slice and dice routine. It’s not a matter of if, but when. In this case, however, you’re not waiting for a known monster (all we know is that he’s a dangerous soldier, going by just this story), but a man who’s been experimented on and turned into a weapon by government jackasses.

I like how the story is collected too. They turn the whole thing into one continuous story which is followed up by all the MCP Weapon X-centric covers (the anthology comic was a flip book with a cover on each side), covers from previous collections, the aforementioned Hama intro, a W-S Wolvy pin-up, a story W-S did in Wolverine #166 set during this story and the cover he did for the next issue. I like that kind of extra effort put into a collection.

So, in the end, I’m glad I read this important piece of Wolverine’s history. I like the character enough (how can you not, unless you’re violently opposed to overexposure or, well, violence?) and I like that the story passes the test of time (again, the art is RAD), but I don’t think I’ll be keeping this one on my shelf. If you’re interested in checking it out, it’s up on my Swap page!