I’ve been reading a lot lately; paperback and hardcover reads have been all over the place with respect to genre: biography, mystery, science fiction and thrillers. (Currently I’m working my way slowly through those old Timothy Zahn Star Wars novels from back in the old days.) But on my Kindle, I’ve been reading mostly horror.
Why? Well, mostly because horror is what I write. And I’m stalled out on a handful of projects, so I’m reading a lot. I often find inspiration in something I read. Not direct inspiration, like, I read a story and want to write something exactly like it. More like I’ll see something in there that I feel I would have gone a different direction, and that applies to something I’m working on. Or the opposite: I like what happens at a certain point and think that I could use something like that in my own story to make it go. Or I like a character and feel like introducing a similar character can move my story forward.
But also I’m reading horror because I have always enjoyed reading horror. And because I found some good reads, and have been working my way through some of their works.
Here’s the list:
- Ghostland, Duncan Ralston
- Sex and Violence in Hollywood, Ray Garton
- Darklings, Ray Garton
- Splattered Punk, Matt Shaw
- The New Neighbor, Ray Garton
- Dark Channel, Ray Garton
- The Dark Game, Jonathan Janz
- The Girl In The Basement, Ray Garton
- Violet Lagoon, John Everson (novella)
- Snow, Howard Odentz (short story)
- Bones, Howard Odentz (short story)
- The Family Tree, John Everson
- The Pale White, Chad Lutzke
- The Final Cut, Jasper Bark
- Abra-Cadaver, Matt Drabble
Some good reads in there. Some great reads in there. Three of them stood out for me above the rest: Ghostland, Sex and Violence in Hollywood, and The Family Tree.
So I was trying to figure out what I liked about them. Why did they stand out above the others? Primarily it is the characters. All of them feature memorable characters who commanded my attention, set in interesting and scary situations. In Ghostland, it’s a theme park built around real ghosts. Yes, you read that right. Science has discovered a way to detect the energy that these ghosts put off and amplify it and coalesce it so that the ghosts become visible to everyone. They’ve also been able to figure out how to trap and contain them to certain environments. Right away in Ghostland, we are introduced to the spectacle of a house being moved to the grounds of the theme park. The house belonged to a famous deceased horror author, and the main character immediately sees the writer’s ghost staring out at him as the house passes. The experience causes him to have a heart attack and he is clinically dead for a few minutes before being revived. Over the next four years, the girl who was with him, his gaming partner and secret crush, drifts away from him, but circumstances conspire to get them together for a visit to Ghostland.
I loved the two main characters and cared about them from that prologue throughout the entire book. The story is one unlikely event after another, but they work. I believed them completely. It’s a different kind of horror story. It’s a ghost story, yes, but I’ve read plenty of ghost stories before and this felt different. It’s a “serial killer” horror story in a way also, in that there are lots of crazed ghosts in this park who had no qualms about killing in their lives and won’t in the afterlife if they are allowed to, but it felt different than most of that type of story that I’ve read.
The book also has a very cool interactive guide at the end that links to information about the ghosts who are used in the book. Duncan Ralston did a ton of research to write this story, and it shows in the final product. Great story combined with interesting characters and near-perfect pacing made this book one of the best I read in 2019.
The second book is Ray Garton’s Sex and Violence in Hollywood. I didn’t know if I could call this horror, but in the end, I felt like the main thrust of the story was the horrific elements. It follows another great character, Adam Julian, who lives with his screenwriter father. He has everything he wants, but he still hates his father and thinks about killing him. He’s also having an affair with his father’s wife, and when her daughter shows up, things really go south.
There’s a lot of anger directed at parents in this story. Adam’s girlfriend also dislikes her parents. His friend Carter seems to have a better relationship with his own folks, but there’s plenty of dynamics going on with some of the bad guys as well. The violence pushes this story into horror, but it has elements of a lot of genres in it, which is probably why I enjoyed it so much. It transcends a single genre and in doing so makes the story so much richer.
The author himself says this about the novel:
SEX AND VIOLENCE IN HOLLYWOOD is much harder to categorize. My agent went crazy for that book. He shopped it around to New York publishers and each and every one turned in a glowing response, praising the book up and down. They loved it—but they had no idea how to market it. It’s not horror, although it has some horror sensibilities and its characters are devoted horror fans. There’s plenty of crime, but it’s not exactly a crime novel or mystery. It has elements of a thriller, but it’s hard to call it a thriller. It’s funny throughout, but it’s not a comedy. They had no idea how to market it, so they all turned it down with regret. It ended up being published by a small press, but he became so frustrated with the low sales that he sold all the books to me, and over the years I sold them off. Because it’s not horror, it’s never received much attention, because people expect horror from me. And yet, it’s the best thing I’ve ever written, I think. I hate labels.
I agree. As you noticed on the list, I’ve read a fair bit of Ray Garton’s work of late. I have Live Girls in paperback from several years ago and loved that one as well. It shocks me that he isn’t better known. But this is my favorite of the works I’ve read recently. It shows that horror can and does mix with most anything. The best stories work on multiple levels. This is another of those types of stories.
The last of the three is John Everson’s The Family Tree. Everything I’ve read by Everson of late has been great. He can absolutely write creepy original horror. In this one, Scott Belvedere goes to Appalachia to deal with the inn he has inherited, a unique property that is built around a huge old tree. While he’s there, he meets an assortment of characters associated with the inn and even falls in love with one of them. But the tree has some unique properties, and Scott finds out that things are not what they first appear to be. The roots of this tree run deep through his family and through the inn. And the tree needs something that only Scott can give.
This one’s straight horror that leans toward the erotic horror label. Hard to categorize it beyond that. It’s very original, I think — at least I’ve never read anything much like it. Once again, I pick a book with a great cast of characters and a compelling setting for a story that never fails to shock, sometimes even when you’re already expecting the shock. I’m not sure it’s his best (that’s probably either Violet Eyes or The House By The Cemetery) but it’s right up there.
I’d love to continue writing about these books all night but this post is already getting quite long, so I think I’ll stop here. If I get inspired, I may expatiate some more on some of the others that I really loved.
If you’re so inclined, take a look over there to your right on the screen, or click the MY BOOKS menu tab above and read a bit about my own offerings. I’m no Garton or Ralston or Everson, but I’m proud of my stories. The biggest criticisms I’ve heard about them from other writers is that they wish the tales were longer. I’m working on writing longer stories. I have a couple of PA novels in progress that are around 100,000 words, and I have two novels completed, both in the 50-60K range. Hopefully this year will see the publication of those two novels and their followups, which are also in progress. Thanks for reading!