Sunday, February 26, 2017

Book Review: Honky Tonk Samurai by Joe R. Lansdale





I first discovered Lansdale through his horror fiction, and he quickly became one of my favorite writers. In fact, he is without question one of the best living authors of any genre. Though he still writes horror, he does not limit himself by any stretch of the imagination. Some writers might have difficulty transitioning from one genre to the next, and thus the work suffers. This has never been the case for Lansdale. Whether it’s weird western, mystery, suspense, whatever, it’s all top-shelf. He could write a geometry textbook and make it interesting. This brings me to his definitely not horror (yet sometimes strange) Hap and Leonard series, and most specifically the most recent book in this series: Honky Tonk Samurai.

Is Honky Tonk Samurai the best (or least best) of the Hap and Leonard series? I cannot confirm nor deny this, as I have only read a few of them. Eventually I’ll have read them all…I swear! What I can say is that, much like the other Hap and Leonard books I have read, this is an enjoyable ride following the antics of some very entertaining and likable characters. Now, I’m not just talking about the two lead characters and the rapport they have with each other (I love the banter Lansdale writes between these two best friends as well as the banter with other characters). I’m also talking about the scum of the earth characters these guys are often up against (and sometimes in cahoots with, as is the case with the character of Booger in this book). Lansdale manages to make detestable characters funny and, yes, sometimes a little bit likable, though not to the point that you’re not glad if they end up kicking the bucket. I also still believe Leonard is one of the coolest and most unique gay characters in fiction.

I’ve managed to read many of the Hap and Leonard novels out of sequence, and what’s nice about the way Lansdale has written these books is that, for the most part, this doesn’t make a huge difference. Though there are certain minor plot threads and relationships that are referenced over multiple books, you don’t necessarily have to have read the whole series to enjoy how those elements weave themselves into the current book (though, naturally, I imagine they would be even more rewarding if you did read them in proper sequence). That being said, a cliffhanger occurs at the end of Honky Tonk Samurai that almost indicates this book could be the end of the series. However, I think a cliffhanger is all it is, and there will likely (hopefully) be another Hap and Leonard book coming in the next couple of years. I’d be really shocked if that wasn’t the case.

As a side note, if you haven’t watched the Hap and Leonard series on Sundance yet, you’re dropping the ball big time. It nails the vibe of these books perfectly, and the casting is spot on so far (especially for the two leads). Season 2 starts in March.


You can’t go wrong if you pick up any book by Lansdale. You’re guaranteed to be entertained, whether its due to the dark humor, action, violence, and/or sheer skill of storytelling. So why not start with Honky Tonk Samurai? Just make sure you start somewhere.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Book Review: Stranded by Bracken MacLeod





There’s a very special sort of desperation that accompanies being left helpless in an arctic setting. I believe I first encountered this sensation as a young lad while watching Carpenter’s The Thing. In more recent years, it was the central focus of The Terror, the wonderfully oppressive odyssey by Dan Simmons (and the book I initially I thought I’d be comparing Stranded to, but ultimately the setting and the ship trapped in ice are the only real similarities between the two).

Noah Cabot, a deckhand on the Arctic Promise, is the central character of the story. Cabot has few friends on the ship, due to being indirectly responsible for a crewmate’s death. His father-in-law, the ship’s captain, despises him more than anyone else. It’s bad enough to be stuck working on a ship where 90% of the people loathe you, but it’s certainly far worse when that ship becomes trapped in pack ice with no sign of it coming loose. Once the “stranding” occurs, the real story begins. The entire crew, save Cabot, come down with an unknown illness, and all of them (including Cabot) are seeing things in the corners of their eyes, things they can’t quite register. Days pass. They can’t radio for help, but they see something off in the distance. They’re desperate. They have no choice but to head off to this unknown shape. What they find when they arrive is certainly not what they expect.

Overall, this is a really strong novel. Tightly written, with its main strength being the tension and extremely stressful action scenes. There were more than a few moments when I wanted to yell “Holy Shit” out loud, and one scene on the ice that left me breathless.

There’s a bit of an existential slant to this book (at least that’s how I took it), but to say anything more would be spoiling the major horrific reveals in the book. There’s some weight given to “what-ifs,” which I’m sure anyone who has ever been in the center of tragedy and bad decisions can relate to. It’s not what I was expecting, which is obviously a good thing. I’m glad it ended up being a completely different approach to attempted survival in an arctic hell than The Terror. Many of the blurbs claim it has a Twilight Zone feel, and I honestly can’t disagree. I can’t predict this for certain, but I’m pretty sure MacLeod’s book is at least going to make the final ballot for the Stoker Awards this year. And I wouldn’t raise an eyebrow at that occurrence.



Friday, December 9, 2016

San Diego Horror Professionals Vol. 2 (Holiday Edition) Now Available on Kindle Version




The second volume of the San Diego Horror Professionals anthology series is now available on Kindle! This book, released by Grand Mal Press, features my story "Coyote Christmas" alongside 5 other dark and horrific tales with holiday themes and/or settings. The print version will be available soon.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Book Review: I Can Taste the Blood by Various Authors, Edited by John F.D. Taff & Anthony Rivera






I’m a man who appreciates innovation. It doesn’t take avant-garde insanity to grab my attention, just the gumption to approach things a little differently. As a writer and avid reader, I especially love books with an innovative approach. For this particular project, John F.D. Taff can proudly claim the title of visionary. Inspired by a crude scribble in a public restroom, Taff eventually decided to assemble a crew of miscreants and madmen with one goal in mind: each write a novella with the title “I Can Taste the Blood.” The result? A themed anthology that essentially has no theme at all. The five stories contained within could not be more disparate from one another, but they still fit so perfectly well together. Allow me to elaborate a bit.

The first story, by Josh Malerman, succeeds for two main reasons: 1. It exists outside of the restraints of an era, and 2. It is pretty goddamned creepy. A slow burn about a man pursued in the desert by a mysterious fiend that will eventually get under your skin and burrow so deep that you can’t remove it, not even with tweezers.

J. Daniel Stone is the mastermind behind the next story. If someone had shown me this story with no author’s name attached to it and told me it was an unpublished story written by Clive Barker circa The Books of Blood, I might have believed them (and, just to be clear, that should be considered a compliment of the highest order). This is not to say the story relies on sheer pastiche, but it does swim in the same stream as Barker’s early work. Perverse grotesqueries abound, waxing poetic about the boundaries of film and art.

Up third is Joe Schwartz. Less horror, more transgressive crime fiction about bad men doing even worse things. It jumps around in time a bit, which I can definitely dig. I really loved his style overall and without a doubt want to read more from him in the future. However, his ending did commit what I consider to be a cardinal sin in fiction. He almost got away with it, though, and he probably would have had he pushed it just a little further. A minor gripe in an otherwise killer story, though. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Christ? Where do I even start with Erik T. Johnson? A mad genius? Perhaps. I can’t make a single lick of sense of his story, but that doesn’t stop me from loving it. I like a good challenge. Imagine Gummo by way of Beckett and Burroughs and you’ll be somewhere in the ballpark, but also so far off you might as well be in a different galaxy. Who needs a clear, traditional plot when the language is this mind-melting, when the entire vibe of the tale is like a ganon of leeches sucking your soul away? Exhausting in the best way possible.

The final story is written by the man John F.D. Taff himself. I’ve been raving about Taff for a while…I really do think he’s one of the most underrated writers in horror today. He’s been called the “King of Pain” for good reason. His stories have this way of tapping into the deepest, darkest canyons of your soul. Terrifying, but with a strong emotional core. No joke…one of Taff’s stories in his Little Deaths collection actually had me bawling on my lunch break at work. Though every story in this collection is a standout in its own way, Taff takes the crown here. This story is a bit more gruesome than his usual fare. It takes body horror to a new extreme, but never loses the sensitivity that is ultimately Taff’s brand. I promise, you’ll never think of teeth and mouths the same again.


I can’t recommend this anthology enough. Grey Matter Press continues to prove why they are such a strong force in the modern world of horror literature.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Book Review: Punk Rock Ghost Story by David Agranoff






Almost since the inception of punk rock, various forms of fictional media have misrepresented the genre. Sure, there have been a few films, books, etc. over the last four decades that have gotten it right, but there are many, many more that miss the mark completely. Almost without fail, the fiction that gets it right succeeds because the creator is someone who actually has a stake in the game. Enter David Agranoff, a writer who is not shy about the fact that he’s been deep in the trenches of punk rock and hardcore for a very long time. Aside from a couple of rookie mistakes that I promise to give Agranoff a slap on the wrist for next time I see him, such as claiming Toxic Reasons were from Indiana when they were actually from Dayton, Ohio, and the strange phonetic misspelling of Die Kreuzen (I realize most people mistakenly pronounce this band’s name “Die Krusen,” but that’s no excuse!), the details and the vibe are authentic. Anyway…allow me to move away from the nitpicking and onto the story.

Punk Rock Ghost Story blends two eras together, the first in 1982, when hardcore punk was still raw and fresh and bands were attempting their best Lewis and Clark impressions across America, and the second in 2006, long after punk had gone through many different forms and become commercialized to a sickening degree (despite the best efforts of those committed to the hardcore underground). A young band from Bloomington, Indiana, named People’s Uprising, set to go on their first cross-country tour, purchases a van that once belonged to a semi-legendary local band from the early 80s called The Fuckers, whose vocalist vanished in the middle of their only tour and was never heard from again. Oh yeah—did I mention the tour van is now haunted? Because that definitely throws a major wrench in the gears of the People’s Uprising tour. Things eventually go very wrong, but you’ll have to read the book to find out the details.


Arguably the greatest strength of Punk Rock Ghost Story is Agranoff’s ability to zero in on the ups and downs of being in a small, virtually unknown band on tour (something I can speak about from experience). Sometimes being on the road is wonderful and humbling, while other times it’s possible to come close to the brink of despair. Every new town promises wonders, but many do not deliver. If I am to offer criticism on the book (aside from the many typos throughout that I promised myself I wouldn’t mention…oops), I will say that I wish there had been deeper insight into the lives of the members of People’s Uprising. I can relate to the fact that, at that age and at that level of involvement in the punk rock scene, it can consume most of your life. However, I would have liked a little more information about their individual lives outside of punk. We get a glimpse of this with some of the members of The Fuckers, which I appreciated, but I wanted more.


Agranoff’s pacing is brisk, the story is a fun ride, and I think every modern touring band should probably carry a copy of this book in their van and read it at their darkest moments, if only to remind themselves that things could always be a hell of a lot worse.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Print Version of HWA Poetry Showcase Volume 1 Now Available




A couple of years ago, my poem "Synthetic Santa Slays Seven" appeared in Volume 1 of the HWA Poetry Showcase, which was only available in digital format at the time. I'm happy to say there is now a print version! You can order that here:

https://www.createspace.com/6593454

Friday, October 7, 2016

San Diego Horror Professionals Volume 1 Now Available





Grand Mal Press just released an awesome book today: Volume 1 of the San Diego Horror Professionals anthology. This features my short story "The New Music," as well as other dark tales by David Agranoff, Anthony Trevino, Ryan C. Thomas, Bryan Killian, and Robert Essig. It's up for grabs on Amazon right now for the low price of $7.99. Grab it for your significant other/sibling/child/aquatic pet/blow-up doll and give it as a Halloween gift this year. What, you say there's no such thing as Halloween gifts? Let's start this year. It is, after all, the only holiday that matters.

Here's the link:

https://www.amazon.com/San-Diego-Horror-Professionals-1/dp/1539354040/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1475888725&sr=8-1&keywords=san+diego+horror+professionals

UPDATE: There is now also an e-book version, which you can purchase here for 99 cents:

https://www.amazon.com/San-Diego-Horror-Professionals-Vol-ebook/dp/B01MCS4QGM/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1476248126&sr=8-2&keywords=san+diego+horror+professionals