31 Days of Horror – Day Twelve: Ultimate Horror Recommendation List

Day Twelve of 31 Days of Horror is brought to you by not one, but many voices clamoring to share their favorite horror recommendations. Best-selling author Michaelbrent Collings put together an impressive post, asking some of the most respected minds in the business to share their most recommended works of fiction, from movies to novels.

(And after he got through those respected individuals, he asked me as well).

So today head on over to Michaelbrent’s site and find a whole list of movies and novels to either add to your collection or most likely revisit.

The Ultimate Horror Recommendation List is here.

Also check out Michaelbrent’s newest novel, Predators, which has been picking up nothing but amazing reviews.

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31 Days of Horror – Day Ten: Guest Post by Author Karl Drinkwater

So today’s post in 31 Days of Horror is brought to you by author Karl Drinkwater. Karl is an author from across the pond who’s done a tremendous job of blurring the lines of genre fiction. I’ve had the chance to read a few of his works and with each new book I can honestly say he keeps getting better.

lost solaceIf you’re new to Karl’s work, his horror collection, which includes three separate books, is a great place to start. His latest work, Lost Solace, is a fantastic sci-fi horror piece which I blazed through. With an incredibly strong and memorable female protagonist and a fascinating plot with a mystery at its center, it’s a perfect example of why science fiction and horror go together so well. Check out my original review of the book here. (And from what I’ve heard, a sequel is coming soon).

But enough from me … Here’s Karl, sharing his thoughts on what makes the horror genre so great:

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Brandon asked me to write something for his 31 Days Of Horror posts on his blog. And that got me thinking about why we write this stuff. Hell, how does any author decide what they’ll write? How do authors decide whether to write fluffy sci-fi, or thriller romance, or steampunk mystery?

Some authors write in genres that are popular, because it helps them make a living. Some authors write in genres that they have a great affinity to, because they couldn’t imagine writing anything else. Horror authors often fall into the latter category.

They see horror in the world and don’t want to shy away from it. And yet, by immersing themselves in fictional horror, they do escape, at least for a while – into a more controllable world. Sometimes evil will still win there, but the experience of reading or watching the fictional story unfold can provide catharsis, rather than the depression that comes with real world horror. (The latter can only be overcome by changing the world through understanding, compassion, patience, empathy, and love. See, horror authors aren’t just obsessed with zombies and chainsaws.)

Each horror author had their own journey towards the dark side. I’ve been a fan of horror since I was a child, when I climbed trees with a horror book and got so immersed that I would forget to come down for dinner. It was a form of escape. It was a workout for my imagination (and climbing skills). The swaying branches and whispering leaves were the perfect backdrop for stories where I dreaded to find out what happened on the last page – but I also had to know. There was no ending the story part-way through. I learnt that we have to face things until the bitter end.

As an early teen I spent pocket money on books by King and Koontz, and spent whole days lying on my bed reading thick novels, or staying up too late because I couldn’t put the book down. The stories seized me by the scruff of my neck in ways that other tales couldn’t. Even when I wasn’t reading them I’d be pondering the things that haunted Derry, or Snowfield.

So I raise a toast to horror, and will defend it as a genre whenever I feel the need. Here’s a post where I was asked to argue the case for why more people should read horror books. I succeeded that time. I’ll keep doing it.

May horror’s darkness continue to light the way for quality fiction.

31 Days of Horror – Day Nine

Day Nine of 31 Days of Horror is all about meeting your heroes. Often in the process of admiring someone’s work, it’s easy to set them up on a pedestal that’s impossible to live up to. Other times you realize the pedestal you’ve constructed isn’t nearly grand enough.

MMSMichael Marshall Smith is an author I became familiar with in the early nineties with a novel called The Straw Men. It’s visceral, dark, violent, and ultimately mesmerizing. Since then I’ve devoured pretty much everything Michael writes–and yes, I’ll call him by his first name rather than last, as Michael writes under several pseudonyms, all (as far as I know) with the first name of Michael. The Straw Men was expanded into a trilogy, and is really a through-line that’s woven into much of Michael’s work in some form or another.

I could pretty much go through Michael’s entire back catalogue and recommend every book or short story collection (and yes, Michael’s short fiction is absolutely superb). So yeah, I’m a bit of a fan-boy, and if you haven’t read any of his work, shame on you.

I had the chance to go to StokerCon last year, which is the Horror Writer’s Association’s big annual convention, and while it was cool to see and meet George R.R. Martin, I was far more excited to go to a small panel in a back room where Michael was one of the guests. The panel was fantastic and more like sitting at a brewery or “pub” with some old pals. Afterwards, I ran into Michael and had the chance to chat for a bit. Not only was he gracious but he seemed generally interested. And yes, maybe that was the booze speaking, but for me this was a defining moment as his fiction had such an impact on me in my earlier years. Meeting one of your literary heroes always carries a bit of mysticism with it, and while this interaction was something he certainly won’t remember, it’s amazing to think how each of our small circles of influence can dramatically affect someone’s else’s circle without us even realizing it.

anomalyThis year Michael cloned himself once again, publishing a new novel under the name Michael Rutger titled The Anomaly. Despite the sticker on the book that says fans of Dan Brown will enjoy this, it’s a thrilling head-trip of a novel and one of the more “fun” reads I’ve dived into this year. With some heavy themes behind the story, it’s a great example of writing to market while also staying true to yourself. Definitely one to check out, if you haven’t already.

So whether it’s a horror movie icon, a horror author, or an actual real world monster, make sure at some point in your life you have the experience of meeting one of YOUR heroes, of connecting those dots into a solidified line. And if one day you become the hero to someone else, take a few moments to make them feel special.

31 Days of Horror – Days Five & Six

Days five and six of 31 Days of Horror are all about binge-watching (before that was even a thing). In my youth, we always looked forward to Thanksgiving for the food and the family, but also because of the TV marathon sessions of the Twilight Zone that would play, one episode after the next.

twilight zoneThe Twilight Zone was a show that took things a step beyond what otherwise might be on the surface. Whether it was a twist ending like in “Time Enough at Last” or just a skewed perspective like “Eye of the Beholder,” it inspired me at an early age to examine things from more than one angle. This approach affected my early writing assignments in school to the way I approach a theme or idea today, attempting to find a new way into a story that I haven’t seen done before.

These days, the UK (now Netflix) show “Black Mirror” has truly captured the idea of The Twilight Zone, will making it modern and fresh. Using technology, social media, or political themes, it spins these ideas into entertaining yet highly relevant self-contained stories. Even the title of the show — Black Mirror — is metaphorical, representing our TVs or phones when turned off or powered down while also showing the distorted reflection technology is creating in our lives.

In what seems like another life, I was a child actor, and worked quite a bit on shows like Dynasty, Highway to Heaven, as well as many commercials. I had the chance to be on an episode of the Twilight Zone, titled “The Elevator,” which was actually written by one of my heroes, Ray Bradbury. It’s certainly not one of the better Twilight Zone episodes, but it’s another small part in the equation that’s made me who I am today.

With the announcement that Jordan Peele will be bringing the Twilight Zone back, I have high hopes that we’ll see something akin to Black Mirror, but with a taste of that original flair that made The Twilight Zone so unique.

31 Days of Horror – Day Four

Day Four of 31 Days of Horror is a tribute to the classics. In grade school, when all my friends were checking out books about baseball and football from our school library, my bag was filled with the macabre. The Wolf-Man, Dracula, the Invisible Man, Frankenstein, the Lochness Monster… Curiosities and the endless questions begat from that magic “What if?”

monstersThere’s something magical about these original monsters that have spawned countless adaptations and reimaginings, whether for good or bad. And while not all of the source material holds up to today’s standards, there are a few that do so exceptionally well.

Dorian GrayI happened upon one of these stories last year which had escaped my reading repertoire up till then, and I was blown away by how relevant a piece of fiction it was after almost 130 years. (And yes, you read that right). The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde, is a beautifully crafted story that delves beneath the surface, forcing the reader to examine their own lives. While I was, of course, familiar with the myth and story, I found the read quite enlightening. This is one you can pick up on Amazon for free, or purchase the audio version for less than a buck.

While these days I tend to avoid books about zombies or werewolves or vampires as I find most fall too deeply into cliches, there is something to be said about the monstrosities that have inspired millions. I was excited about Universal’s idea to reboot their Monsters in a “Dark Universe”, though it seems they haven’t quite figured out what they want their movies to be. A shame, because if done properly, this could have really reinvigorated an exciting sub-genre.

31 Days of Horror – Day Three

I’ve always been a fan of taking a familiar genre trope and turning it on its head. Of shattering an audience’s expectations and delivering something that’s instead wholly unique.

There are thousands of books about werewolves, for instance, and it’s probably not all that difficult to add another one to the pile, full of blood and gore and everything you’d expect to see in a werewolf book. But then there are the Stephen Graham Jones’s of the world, who take a concept we’re familiar with and turn it into a coming of age tale that may be about werewolves, but really is about life and unrealized hopes and how to be okay with the fact that things are simply not okay. (And if you haven’t yet read Mongrels, do yourself a favor and pick it up.)

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So Day Three of 31 Days of Horror leads us to a concept turned not only on its head, but completely inside out. Imagine you die and are greeted by a friendly demon in a suit who explains the one true religion is something you’ve never even heard of. But it’s okay, because this god is lenient and will give you a way to escape purgatory and return to his presence. All you have to do is find the book of your life in a library that contains every book that could have possibly been written.

A Short Stay in Hell, by Steven Peck, isn’t a widely known novella, but it’s one that will stick with you long after its final page is turned. Really playing with the concept of eternity, it’s a mind-twist of a story, and may make you reconsider whether the idea of heaven and hell or living forever is something to even be desired. Check out my review for the book here, or pick up the audiobook version for just $1.99. Two bucks you won’t regret spending.

31 Days of Horror – Day Two

Day Two of 31 Days of Horror brings us to a frozen wasteland in the arctic, with conditions so harsh one mistake could kill you. Add to the environment an alien entity that can mimic any living creature to such perfection that you can no longer trust anyone around you.

the thing.jpgJohn Carpenter’s The Thing was one of the first horror movies I saw as a young boy. And while the special effects and claymation was–at the time–quite horrifying, I was more fascinated by this idea of not knowing who you can trust. Of having to keep your guard up at all times, even with those with whom you are most familiar.

Based on the short novella, Who Goes There?, by John Campbell, I had the chance to read this a few years back and was so pleased to see that the source material held up so well after 80 years. It’s been lauded as “one of the finest science fiction novellas ever written” by the SF Writers of America, and is a short read I would highly recommend to anyone who hasn’t yet had the chance to read it. You can find my original review to the novella here, or better yet, pick it up on Amazon for a cool two bucks.

Of all things, this story and movie cemented in me the importance of setting, and how the surroundings wherein a story is told can be just as important as the story and conflict itself. It’s something I’ve tried to incorporate in my own writing, in utilizing the Amazon Rainforest as a setting within my series The Creation, and allowing that setting to dictate and inform so much of the story that occurs within those pages. And it doesn’t have to be a huge dramatic set piece to be utilized in this format. A single room within a house, if properly used, can have the same dramatic effect. The important thing is to treat your setting as if it’s a character unto itself, complete with a character arc–a living, breathing entity that can and will impact the characters that live within it.