- Apex Publications Acquires Shock Totem Book Line
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 8
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 7
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 6
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 5
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 4
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 3
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 2
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 1
- Splatterpunk #7
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Tag Archives: Joe R. Lansdale
Growing up, I remember darkness. All right, that’s a lie; I actually had a pretty awesome childhood, with a few truly bad parts before high school. But having read two novels back-to-back recently in which their respective narrators recall coming of age through eerie and mysterious times, I sure feel like I’ve just emerged from a dark past. These novels were Joe R. Lansdale’s The Bottoms and John Mantooth’s The Year of the Storm.
In The Bottoms, Harry Crane is recalling his childhood in Depression-era Texas. Now a retired old man, he views the twilight of his life with bitter acceptance and has come to value his youth with a humble nostalgia—even as he describes the twisted events of his adolescence in the 1930’s Texas countryside. Women were being gruesomely murdered, and he and his younger sister Tom (Thomasina) caught glimpses of an eerie entity known as the Goat Man in the woods nearby.
In The Year of the Storm, Danny recalls being fourteen when a major storm hit rural Alabama, during which his mother and autistic sister vanished. Almost a year later, a strange man named Walter Pike shows up, who claims to know where they’ve gone. The narrative is split with Walter as he recalls his teen encounters and a strange, bullied boy named Seth Sykes and the mysterious secrets that Seth harbored.
Both novels nicely explore the idea of discovering magic in the mundane, as well as the presence of magic as opposed to the mundane—and how sometimes, it really doesn’t matter one way or another of just what was “really” going on. What matters is that these character did go through their respective adventures and what they took from it all—a sense of finding themselves in the midst of the wild (and at times terrifying) events.
There was so much more than creeping menace and bewildering mystery that got to me in these novels. Lansdale and Mantooth nicely captured the heartbreaking sense of the relative if fragile innocence of childhood and how abruptly and unfairly it can be wrested away by forces and events beyond one’s control. And I’m not just talking about the narrator’s own journeys—I’m talking about nine-year-old Tom having to witness everything from racism and abuse to grisly murder, and teenaged Seth Sykes getting vilified by the ugliness of homophobia and bullying. There is a lot of darkness to be found in these tales, and not nearly all of it stems from the supernatural.
Comparisons of these books are often made to other novels and stories, from Stephen King’s novella The Body (and its 1986 film adaptation, Stand By Me) and Robert R. McCammon’s Boy’s Life, and on up through recent titles such as Tom Franklin’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter—but to me, that’s part of the charm of tales such as these. Everybody starts out somewhere; everybody has an innocent adolescence that hardens and thickens into maturity. Many an author (and director, and musician, and other artist) has to capture that sense of coming into her or his own. It’s a time-honored tradition for a person to recall darkness in her or his youth, and in tales such as these, it can be argued that that darkness can be the catalyst to one’s maturity.
A thriller is supposed to thrill. It’s supposed to keep you flipping those pages. Make you ask, “What’s going to happen next?” Joe R. Landsdale’s Hot in December does all that. In spades. At 100 pages, the novella moves like a speeding bullet through the warm East Texas night.
Tom Chan has a dilemma. He’s witnessed a fatal hit-and-run and he wants to testify against the scum who turned his next-door neighbor into roadkill. Problem is, the driver’s a vindictive gangster who doesn’t believe in due process. Nonetheless, Tom doesn’t back down. But he’s not going to trust the cops to save his bacon. So he enlists two old war buddies, Cason and Booger—the type of ass-kicking, whacked-out characters readers have come to expect in a Lansdale story—to help him deal with the lowlife and his goons. What ensues is a tension-filled battle of wits and brawn leading to a bloody showdown between the good guys and the bad guys.
Hot in December has all the ingredients of a great Joe Lansdale story: break-neck plotting; honest, raw dialogue; colorful characters; and those amazing metaphors that only Joe can whip up. The story dovetails nicely with his Hap and Leonard stories (in fact the duo even gets a mention) and is sure to please any fans of that series as well as any fans of honest-to-goodness thrillers.
Nothing thrills me more than discovering new authors. New to me, to be precise.
Brady Allen intrigues me with his unapologetic attitude and willingness to stand tall and stalwart while brandishing his opinions with honest intellect. This is a trait one sees very little these days, when it is all too fashionable to lay with the herd and suckle at the teat of popular opinion. This made me wonder about his literary output, so I reached out and got a copy of his collection.
Back Roads & Frontal Lobes is as amazing a collection as it is puzzling. Not a single tale here is what it appears to be. Most flirt with horror but are more about the human condition and attitudes of characters. There are shades of noir and bizarro, but the stories are most often darkly surreal and more terrifyingly realistic than should be allowed. This collection is a unique stampede of unease, stamping and snorting discomfort. I mean that complimentary, of course.
Opening with “Slow Mary,” Allen gives us a strange tale of road kill and revenge. But it was actually the second tale, “Not Over Easy,” that won my dark heart. That story follows its bizarre protagonist through a series of troubling and odd scenarios to a conclusion that is just as puzzling as the opening. “Devil and Dairy Cow” is a hallucinatory tale of a girl, a teacher, and a rainy recess where the shit hit the diabolical fan.
In the title story, a man on the lam makes a stop in Death City and finds he likes it. “The Last Mystical Vendor” has exactly what you need even if everything you know tells you otherwise. And in “The Taste of a Heart,” a motel room is the stage for an exceedingly sinister game between a man and a woman.
“Six Miles to Earth” is a highway roadshow; Tarantino by way of Russ Meyer. “Burger” is a nasty side-road monster mash. “Ballad of Mac Johnstone” concerns the courtship between an aging bluesman and death. “Road Kill (A Love Story)” brings us to a man who feels compelled to remove dead animals from the roadside and the chain of unfortunate events that come about because of it. And “Praying” exposes the insectile ways we have.
Of all of the stories, however, “Rounding Third” was the one that smacked me in the face and then continued to do so. A tragic and all-too-real slice of reality. If it doesn’t make you cry—God help you.
If early Joe R. Lansdale left you gobsmacked, then you MUST read this cat! Allen is versatile and fearless. He doesn’t give much of a damn if you get what he’s doing or not. He’s writing to get it out and if it happens to bring enjoyment to someone, cool. If not, oh well, he’s doing it anyway. And I’m glad for that!
Some staff news, ya’ll! Cue banjo!
This coming October, if not sooner, Apex Publications is set to release Appalachian Undead, a new anthology dedicated to the walking dead. I contributed a quirky tale called “Long Days to Come.”
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The brilliant artwork was created by Cortney Skinner. Quite a lineup, too: Elizabeth Massie, Jonathan Maberry, Tim Waggoner, S. Clayton Rhodes*, Maurice Broaddus, Bev Vincent, Tim Lebbon, Steve Rasnic Tem, John Skipp* & Dori Miller, and Gary A. Braunbeck, to name a few more than a few.
If you’d like to check out the full table of contents, click here.
You can also pre-order via the above link (and get 5% off if you tweet the link), but before you do, check out this groovy contest they’re running for those who do pre-order.
As always from Apex Publications, you can expect quality.
Not to be outdone, Mercedes and John each have stories—“Murder for Beginners” and “Intruder,” respectively—in Psychos: Serial Killers, Depraved Madmen, and the Criminally Insane, the latest slab—and I do mean slab; these things are massive—in an ongoing series edited by the inimitable John Skipp which has thus far included Zombies: Encounters with the Hungry Dead, Werewolves and Shapeshifters: Encounters with the Beasts Within, and Demons: Encounters with the Devil and His Minions, Fallen Angels, and the Possessed.
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Psychos is due out in September via Black Dog & Leventhal, and features new and classic fiction from the likes of Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, Jack Ketchum, Joe R. Lansdale, Lawerence Block, Neil Gaiman, Leslianne Wilder*, Violet LeVoit, Weston Ochse*, Kathe Koja, and many more.
If you order now, Amazon has it for $10.07. That’s 608 pages for $10! No-brainer.
We hope you’ll buy both!
* Shock Totem alumni.