Monday, August 22, 2016

Book Review: Madhouse by Various Authors, edited by Brad C. Hodson and Benjamin Kane Ethridge

Okay, so before I get started with anything else about this book, can we please talk about this cover art? You won’t get the full effect just viewing it on this blog, since it’s a mega-cool wraparound, but holy mutha this is one of the nicest covers I’ve seen for a horror book in such a long time. It’s so weird to think how many awful covers there are out there, uh…“gracing” the covers of various horror novels and anthologies, when the genre is more perfect than any other for the grotesquely gorgeous. Yet, somehow, so few get the visuals right. Makes no sense to me. But Brad C. Hodson and Benjamin Kane Ethridge got it right when they chose Aeron Alfrey as their artist. Luckily, that’s not the only thing the editors got right.

With Madhouse, Hodson and Ethridge have chosen to take an approach that is becoming more popular these days (an approach I’m all for and one I’m shocked was not more common in the past): the shared world anthology. However, Madhouse is more than just a collection of stories that happen to take place in the same universe. The shorts written by the various authors also share space with chapters written by the editors. The result: a fairly cohesive novel masquerading as an anthology. I know it sounds like I’m tickling the editors’ pink parts, but they really did a bang up job of creating this world and guiding the authors they chose to adhere to it and keep a certain amount of continuity. A few characters even appear throughout different stories (Drake is an especially memorable and detestable character). I imagine this was a serious pain in the tuckus to orchestrate, but the hard work paid off.

The premise? A major sandstorm hits a behavioral center in Arizona and things go batshit crazy from there. A lot of mysterious plot threads, most of which remain unexplained (which I’m fine with). Though there is no filler throughout Madhouse and it was difficult to choose standouts, there were a few stories I’d pick if a gun were pressed to my head: “Birdman” by R.B Payne, “The Writing on the Wall” by Robin Spriggs (less a story, more a brilliantly mad recital), “The Fraud” by Jeff Strand, and “Foodfight” by John Skipp. Skipp’s is the most peculiar to me. I recently read this same story in his collection The Art of Horrible People and couldn’t make any sense of it, I suppose because it was removed from its true context. It probably shouldn’t have been included in that collection, but reading it here, as it was meant to be, well let’s just say I really loved it. It’s just plain bonkers (not that the rest of Madhouse isn’t pretty bonkers, but you kind of have to expect a bit of next-level craziness from Skipp). In addition to the awesome stories, there is also a ton of additional killer art throughout by Alfrey.

I can’t recommend this book enough. In many ways, this level of creativity and quality is what I expect of modern horror, so I offer a hearty thank you to everyone involved in the project for delivering on the promise quite a few other writers/editors/publishers do not.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Horror Writers Association Poetry Showcase Volume 3 Now Available

I'm pleased to announce the third volume of the Horror Writers Association Poetry Showcase is now available for purchase. Not only have I been fortunate enough to appear in all three volumes, but this time around I am one of the five featured poets. I'm very proud of my poem "Nuclear Winter Kiss," and it makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside to see it getting this level of appreciation. You can purchase the Kindle version on Amazon right now, and the print version is coming very soon:

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Book Review: The Ruin Season by Kristopher Triana

Venturing outside of my comfort zone, but still sticking within the realms of dark fiction for the purposes of this blog (think Southern Gothic in this particular case). With The Ruin Season, Triana offers a no-punches-pulled approach, and it works on many levels. This is Triana’s first novel, and it’s a sign of great things to come. Jake Leonard, the protagonist, is near 40 and somehow managing to maintain his composure despite living with bipolar disorder. He’s been divorced from his wife for a few years and has been hooking up with a girl half his age who has a bit of a drug problem and listens to too much death metal (personally I find the latter attribute to be less then problematic, but Jake doesn’t seem to be too pleased about it…different strokes, eh?). After the death of a close friend, Jake and his ex-wife meet again and things become a bit…knotty (there’s a homonym here that would also apply). Plenty of sex and violence throughout these 305 pages, which I certainly appreciate, but Triana digs deeper than that, which takes this book to the next level.

One of the greatest strengths of this novel is that Triana doesn’t just settle for one simple linear plot line. There are a multitude of things going on in this story, sub-plots building into main plots, almost intersecting with non-plots (is that even a thing or did I just make that up?), occasional chapters told (years?) later by Jake’s barber/friend, etc. Though some readers might disagree with me, I prefer this approach because it feels closer to real life, which is even more crucial in a book without fantastical elements such as this one. However, this device is not as easy to pull off as it sounds. In the wrong hands this book could have become trite and boring without that oh-so-important overarching plot taking control, but Triana has crafted characters that feel like real people and there’s plenty of story going on without the need to qualify it as something more than it is.

It’s also interesting to read about a character (we’re still talking about Jake here) who has a serious mental illness, but it’s not the most important thing about him. He’s majorly flawed, but ultimately is trying to do the right thing. His illness definitely plays into the story, but it’s almost incidental. Aside from a few key scenes, this book could have been almost the same (albeit slightly less dark) without the mental illness angle, but it’s a character trait that gives more depth to Jake. Honestly, I do wish the illness played a slightly larger role in the story, but ultimately it’s a pretty minor complaint. I know this story was very personal to Triana and likely cathartic to write, and he succeeds in addressing the stigma of mental illness without furthering it. I highly recommend reading this article Triana wrote called Broken Mirrors: Mental Illness in Fiction and Film. In the article, Triana opens up a bit about his own personal struggles and discusses examples of movies and books that depict mental illness with realism and/or care. You can find the article here:

Overall The Ruin Season is a great debut and I’m looking forward to reading what Triana does with horror in his upcoming novel Body Art.