OK horror hounds, it’s time for some basic training. I understand there are a lot of new recruits out there, and even some lifers, that need the foundation to become a true horror aficionado. Now, put your chainsaws and machetes down and listen up. I’m going to give you a list of books and authors you must know inside and out. Are you hearing me Private Pyle?
Decades later and I still obssess over Full Metal Jacket. I’m not going to say you look like 50 pounds of chewed bubble gum. I won’t raise my voice. I’m simply here to open your horror eyes a little wider. Shall we begin?
This is what you should read to see how a master works their trade. I’m only leaving out Stephen King because he’s soooo obvious.
Algernon Blackwood. Get your hands on everything he’s ever done. Read it at night and enjoy your nightmares.
M.R. James. I can’t count how many horror writers cite him as an inspiration.
Richard Matheson. He’s the author of I Am Legend, Hell House, the best Twilight Zone episodes and Kolchak, The Night Stalker. “Nuff said.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. Maybe the scareist haunted house novel ever written.
The Store by Bentley Little. So close to the truth that it’s terrifying.
The Magic Cottage by James Herbert. I’m always astounded by how many folks in America have never heard of Herbert. He’s only like the Stephen King of the UK. You can’t lose with any of his books, but I highly suggest you start with this one. He just passed away last month, so cherish each book as you tread down the path of discovery.
Curfew by Phil Rickman. Another UK import, Rickman’s books can be hard to find, but when you do, treasure them.
Richar Laymon. He was taken from us way too soon, but thankfully he was prolific. Almost every up and coming horror super star waxes poetic about his books. My favorites are Bite and One Rainy Night.
Ghoul by Brian Keene. Yes, Keene may be responsible for resurrecting the zombie genre, but Ghoul is still my favorite.
Oh no, I’m not stopping at 10. My list goes to 11.
Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon. Words can’t express how great this book is.
You have your list, now hit the bookshelves. Hard. Stay tuned for part 2 where I highlight movies.
And if there are any books/authors you feel should be on the list, speak now or forever hold your peace.
Before I talk about the topic du jour, I wanted to let you all know that there’s some exciting news on the near horizon that I hope to share in the coming weeks. I’ll give you a hint. I’ve been writing quite a few stories for various anthologies and things are lining up quite nicely. Over the holidays, I also finished the first draft of a follow up to Forest of Shadows and I’m putting the finishing touches on an adventure series for kids. Yet, I still found time to watch the entire first 2 seasons of Justified, which I now declare the best show on TV. (American Horror Story and The Walking Dead come in a close second) Raylen Givens is a complete, all American badass.
As I look up at my Vampirella calendar, I can’t believe the Super Bowl is already here. I was out and about today picking up food, beer and selecting some damn good cigars for the big day’s festivities. As a Seahawks fan, I have no skin in the game, but you can’t beat a day of drinking and eating with family and friends. And no, I don’t live in Seattle or the west coast, for that matter. I grew up a Steve Largent fan, plus the helmets were bitchin’.
OK, on with the show….
I’m going to attack this particular subject from the angle of a horror writer, but this applies to anyone who creates something, whether it be a book, painting, video game, whatever, and gives it up to the world to see and, inevitably, critique. As human beings, we all just want to be loved. That’s why the Beatles are the greatest group of all time. They understood. When we create something from our soul or gray matter if you want to be pragmatic, putting it out for general consumption is a lot like streaking through the quad at lunch time. (Feel free to chant Frank the Tank at this point.) You’re utterly exposed, your stomach cramping, waiting for the worst, and odds are, there’s some shrinkage.
Every writer needs a very thick skin. (Gift idea for those of you looking to get the person who has everything!)You have to absorb rejection like a Shamwow. You have to work with agents and editors as they pick apart your words, fine tuning it until it’s something not only readable, but saleable. And when you’re done putting a spit shine to your book or story or poem, presto!, it goes out into the great beyond, available for all to read.
From that point on, all that’s left is the feedback, reviews, tweets, posts, and on and on. You pray that it will all be good, but you know deep down you can’t please everyone. There will always be people who don’t like your book. Hell, some will even hate it and ask Jesus in their prayers why He ever let you think you could become a writer in the first place.
And this is exactly what stops a lot of aspiring writers dead in their tracks. Sure, some of them will say they just need to give their manuscript a little tweak (possibly the 132nd revision in what seems as many years), but deep down, they’re terrified of what people will say. So they never get to THE END, constantly worrying that it’s just not good enough for everyone. Some folks will even change their theme or message, worried that it may offend some or cause even the slightest controversy. Any writer will tell you, you can literally tweak a work for the rest of your life. It’s up to you to end it.
For those of you who are struggling to face this fear, the only thing I can advise is to just stare it down with your best Raylen Givens squinty eyes and tell it to get lost. Even the very best writers have their critics. I think we can all agree that Stephen King is at the top of the horror game, and he gets a healthy dose of crappy, some downright nasty, reviews. Whether it’s love or hate, it’s an emotion, and isn’t that really what art is about; evoking an emotional response? So let it rip, scatter it to the winds of public opinion, and get to work on your next book. The End is just six key strokes away.
If you’re not reading Scott Nicholson’s books, go to Amazon, B&N, wherever, and rectify that. You can’t be a fan of modern horror if you don’t have a few Nicholson books under your belt. A good place to start is They Hunger. Set in the Appalachian Mountains, several groups of strangers come face to face along the rapids with unadulterated evil. It’s a very sleek twist on the vampire mythology and must be pretty damn good for me to recommend, because like most grown ups, I’m pretty sick of vampires.
The vampires in They Hunger, thankfully, are mindless, merciless beasts driven solely by a need to feed. And feed they must! The great turn here is that the “helpless” human prey in their sights may have darker souls than the creatures gobbling them up like popcorn. You have an abortion clinic bomber who thinks he’s a prophet, a failed FBI agent, a drug addicted Native American, a complete A-hole jock and a whole host of fully formed, damaged individuals. It’s up to you, the reader, to decide who is truly evil : the flawed prey who have the ability to choose between right and wrong, or the hell bent hunters who have only one mission in life.
They Hunger is a great read, as are all of Scott Nicholson’s books. Also highly recommended are The Harvest and The Home. You can’t go wrong. Check out his website for a full listing of his work. If you have a Nook or Kindle, you can start reading in minutes!
When it comes to writer’s organizations, there are those who are natural born joiners and others who prefer to be the lone wolf. In my experience, there is no right or wrong here. (I made my first professional sale without being a member of an organization and without an agent, but I do know the tremendous value in each.)
For those interested in joining the HWA (Horror Writer’s Association), there is good news. It seems that they have made joining much, much easier. In years past, you needed solid professional sales in order to be a member. This is all well and good, but it did block out those who really needed the invaluable tools and contacts that membership provides. I’ve been a member in the past and plan on signing up again this year.
The key is to make the most of your experience. Volunteer, join in discussions, carefully read the information posted. Most of all, give as much as you get. The HWA represents a pretty impressive fraternity of horror professionals.
If this is your kind of thing, click here to read more about membership requirements.