As you know, Bob, I’ve recently started reviewing horror fiction for Locus magazine. Occasionally, the reviews I write for the magazine get reposted to the Locus website. Here’s one I wrote for Joe Hill’s big new novel, The Fireman.
(That’s the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival, in case you didn’t know. It’s being held the weekend of August 19-21 in Providence, RI. You can check out the festival website here.)
So on Sunday, August 21, the Honey Badger and I will be reading along with the very tall Paul Tremblay at the Lovecraft Arts & Sciences Store in Providence, RI. The three of us are part of the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival, which will be going on all weekend. I have a tentative schedule for Sunday:
10:00 AM vendor setup in the Arcade
11am-4pm vendors in the Arcade (Hippocampus, Necronomicon Press, HPLHS, Arkham Bazaar, and a few local artists, etc).
11:00 AM Child of Cthulhu – Lovecraftian “Children’s” tales read by Christina Rodriguez
12:00 PM Andrew Leman reading
1:00 PM author readings featuring Laird Barron, Paul Tremblay, and John Langan.
2:00 PM Adapting Weird fiction to the screen panel – Phil Gelatt, Andrew Leman, Sean Branney, and hopefully Izzy Lee.
3:30 PM (at Athenaeum) Call of Cthulhu, with live directors’ commentary and wine and cheese reception
If you can make it, that would be great; please say hello.
My second novel, The Fisherman, has been out for a little over a month, now, and it’s received a number of very kind and insightful reviews. I hope you’ll forgive me if I post links to a few of them here.
Here’s Shane Douglas Keene, at This is Horror.
Here’s Barry Lee Dejasu at The New York Journal of Books.
Here’s Benoit Lelievre at Dead End Follies.
I’ve also received some lovely reviews over at the book’s Amazon page and on Goodreads. To everyone who’s taken the time to put down your thoughts on the novel, thanks very much; it’s much appreciated.
In addition to being the birthday of my talented friend, Paul Tremblay, today is also the official release day for my second novel, The Fisherman.
I’m extremely grateful for all the support I’ve already received, in the form of several very kind reviews. I’ll put up links to them in another day or two. In the meantime, I wanted to present an excerpt from the book: the acknowledgments page. While writing a novel is ultimately a solitary activity, it doesn’t take place in a vacuum, and without a lot of help from a lot of people, this book would not have seen the light of day. So:
When I started writing the story that would become this book, my wife was pregnant with our son. He’s now twelve-going-on-thirteen. Needless to say, that’s a long time from start to finish. A lot has happened during that time, a lot has changed, but the love and support of my wife, Fiona, has remained a constant. More than that: as the years slid by, she was the one who said, every now and again, “You have to get back to The Fisherman.” This book wouldn’t be here without her. Thanks, love, for everything.
That twelve-going-on-thirteen-year-old has blossomed into quite the fisherman, himself these last few years, pretty much on his own. (I basically sit nearby with a book and try to make comments that don’t sound too ignorant.) David Langan’s technical advice helped a great deal in making the fishing-related portions of this narrative more accurate, while his love and all-around awesomeness made the rest of my life better.
My older son, Nick, and my daughter in law, Mary, and their trio of astounding kids, my brilliant grandchildren, Inara, Asher, and Penelope the Bean, have brought and continue to bring more joy into my life than I probably deserve.
It’s becoming a critical commonplace to say that we’re currently experiencing a resurgence in the field of dark/horror/weird/whatever fiction. I happen to think this is true, but what matters more to me is the friendship so many of my fellow writers have offered me. Laird Barron and Paul Tremblay have been the other brothers I never knew I had, even as their work has made me grit my teeth and tell myself to do better. Sarah Langan, Brett Cox, and Michael Cisco are pretty good, too.
These last few years, I’ve continued to benefit from the kindness of writers whose work inspired my own. Both Peter Straub and Jeffrey Ford have been unfailingly generous in their support and example. While I am at it, let me raise a glass to the memory of the late, great Lucius Shepard, whose encouragement, praise, and fiction I continue to treasure.
My indefatigable agent, Ginger Clark, has been a champion of this book since I sent her its first three chapters a long, long time ago. Every now and again, Ginger would send an e-mail encouraging me to finish the novel, and when at last I did, there was nobody happier. I’m grateful for her continuing faith in me and my work.
As was the case with my previous novel, House of Windows, The Fisherman took a while to find a home. The genre publishers said it was too literary, the literary publishers, too genre. Thanks to Ross Lockhart and Word Horde Press for responding so immediately and enthusiastically to the book.
And a final, heartfelt thank you to you, the reader, for the gifts of your time and attention. You make this writing life I have possible, and I’m grateful for it.
If I were going to add any names to this list, it would those of the writers who provided some very flattering blurbs for it: Laird Barron, Adam Cesare, Michael Griffin, Stephen Graham Jones, Richard Kadrey, Victor Lavalle, Cameron Pierce, Pete Rawlik, and Paul Tremblay. For about a day, their kind words made me more insufferable to my family than usual. (“Do the dishes? Do you know what Victor Lavalle had to say about my book?”)
As you know, Bob, I’ve recently started to review a few books for Locus magazine. Not everything I review, though, makes it into the magazine. Case in point: Nick Mamatas’s zombie novel, The Last Weekend, which I greatly enjoyed but which was originally published a couple of years ago–and reviewed in Locus at the time by the estimable Tim Pratt. That doesn’t change the fact, though, that it’s a fine novel that deserves a look. Here’s what I had to say about it:
The Last Weekend, Nick Mamatas (Night Shade Books 9781597808422, $15.99, 244 pp, tpb)
Billy Kostopolis, the narrator-protagonist of Nick Mamatas’s innovative, gripping The Last Weekend, deals with monsters, specifically, zombies. When a resident of San Francisco sights one of the undead flesh-eaters, they place a call to an emergency number, from which a second call goes out to Billy. He arrives to deal with the zombie. His instrument of choice for doing so is a battery-powered drill, the tip of whose bit he positions at the base of the zombie’s skull before squeezing the tool’s trigger. Billy is able to employ this method because the zombies he’s summoned to deal with are newly reanimated, unsteady creatures, often barely aware of their circumstances. Occasionally, too, he’s called upon to deliver a pre-emptive drilling to the recently deceased, to prevent their return. A functioning alcoholic, Billy is happy to take tips in the form of alcohol.
The narrative he relates consists of two alternating strands, one set in post-zombie-apocalypse San Francisco, the other set in pre-zombie-apocalypse Youngstown and Boston. Each half of the novel is a variation on the quest story. In the pre-apocalyptic chapters, Billy (née Vasilis), then a college student, chases Yvette, a young woman who embodies the white, upper-middle-class Amercian ideal, which he, the son of Greek immigrants, both aspires to and despises. His pursuit of Yvette is paralleled by his desire to succeed as a writer, which leads, when he follows her from Ohio to Massachusetts, to him enrolling in a certificate program at Emerson College. In contrast, in the book’s post-apocalyptic chapters, Billy resists any quest beyond that for the next drink—and the larger pursuit of self-annihilation it represents. But he cannot help continuing to write, even now, and despite his best efforts, he is drawn into a search for the origins of the zombie outbreak. His pursuit of knowledge, however, is as fraught and filled with frustration as his search for love.
Indeed, frustration of various stripes is one of the Billy’s fundamental experiences of the world pre- and post-apocalypse. Self-lacerating, compulsively honest, his voice is perhaps the novel’s most significant achievement. A blend of mid-to-late twentieth century naturalists John Fante and Charles Bukowski, Billy brings to the familiar material of both the novel’s narrative strands an unforgiving clarity that is bracing. Mamatas has always been an experimental writer, and the technique of bringing together a prose style drawn from the literary mainstream with material drawn from the horror field is one he has employed successfully in the past, in novels such as Move Under Ground and The Damned Highway (co-written with Brian Keene). It’s a strategy that works here to particular effect.
The novel’s title is, of course, a play on William Wilder’s 1945 film noir, The Lost Weekend, which focused on an alcoholic writer. Where Wilder’s film is ultimately optimistic, however, Mamatas’s novel is not. Indeed, in an afterword, Mamatas notes that The Last Weekend had its origin as part of a proposed series of books set in the world of George Romero’s zombie movies. Although the larger project did not come to fruition, the novel Mamatas produced evokes the bleak spirit of Romero’s best work. The Last Weekend might be thought of as a companion piece to Colson Whitehead’s excellent Zone One, a ground-level vision of the zombie apocalypse that sacrifices neither literary ambition nor quality.
If I can trust my memory, which I think I can, I stumbled onto Bob Dylan’s music through MTV, back in the early years when pretty much all it played were music videos. There was a video of Dylan playing “Tangled Up in Blue” live, and right from the get-go, I was blown away. I loved the brilliance of his lyrics, the story whose contours they traced. A little later, I saw the video for “Tight Connection to My Heart,” from the just-released Empire Burlesque, which became the first Dylan album I owned. There was something about being a fan of Bob Dylan in the mid-eighties: compared to even the more outré artists and bands some of my friends were listening to, Dylan was out there, his own thing. Eventually–a surprising number of years after I first heard “Tangled Up in Blue,” actually–I bought Blood On the Tracks in cassette form and wore it out on a succession of tape decks. Somewhere in there were the Traveling Wilburys albums, on which Dylan sounded as if he was having a blast, and then, later still, Time Out of Mind, with the astonishing “Highlands.” After my wife and I got together and we consolidated our CD collections, I spent one fall listening to a lot of Dylan’s early albums, amazed at how timeless they sounded–they still sound. As with so much of his music, those albums could have been released last week.
I suppose the biggest complaint my family and friends who don’t like Dylan have had over the years has been his voice, which, while tuneful more often than I think he’s given credit for, does go in its own direction. For me, though, that remains part of Dylan’s fundamental appeal, his stubborn insistence on being himself, on performing his way. He’s seventy-five today, and he continues to put out innovative and exciting work. It’s hard for me to think of anyone like him in America music. I sometimes envision the late Johnny Cash as a mountain, this great, craggy rise. If that’s the case, then Dylan would have to be the Mississippi, father of waters. May his music continue to flow on.
Here’s that original video from all those years ago.
A lesser-known Dylan track, but well worth a listen.
Dylan having fun with some other greats.