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Straub's classic, modern, supernatural story. His prose is lyrical, lulling his readers into a false sense of security that makes his stabbing reveals of information striking and horrifying. The narrative is complex, with many shifting viewpoints, with a slow reveal of the terror that haunts this book--"Who are you?" it is asked. And its chilling answer: "I am you."
House of Leaves
The most involving novel I've ever read. Challenging, but worth it. Danielewski's masterpiece is an experience of slowly dissolving sanity. Dense and academic at times, it chronicles the exploration of a house that is much larger within than it appears from the outside, dark and empty rooms and corridors that snake below it that may be a reflection of the darkness within its explorers psyche.
Equally as impressive as Kubrick's movie, but for very different reasons, King re-writes the haunted house story brilliantly. The dread grows and grows and you can really feel the isolation and the danger as you read this story of a family snowed in at an empty hotel. Its allegorical handling of Jack's struggle with alcoholism make The Shining a classic work of literature.
Bleak and depressing, but with a strangely poignant message of the strength of the human spirit. McCarthy expertly guides us through a journey for survival of a man and his son in a world that seems to have come to an end.
The Turn of the Screw
This is an example of ambiguity and nuance woven into a story that works. It is a ghost story, but we never know for sure if the ghost exists or does not. An exercise in the uncanny. The Turn of the Screw is the literary precursor to Straub's Ghost Story.
The Haunting of Hill House
An amazingly creepy haunted house story, Shirley Jackson's subjective prose through the eyes of the fragile Eleanor is expertly drawn. Some very creepy moments and a must-read for horror fans.
Sick, just sick. This novel is the truly frightening story of Patrick Bateman, a man of questionable character driven by American consumerism and social status. I know there are people like this out in the world and you should too. A very disturbing idea and read. The movie cannot compare.
I Am Legend
Besides Stoker's Dracula, and perhaps King's 'Salems Lot, Matheson's novel is one of the only vampire tales worth reading. The prose is simple and the story is perfectly executed, unpredictable, and scary. The ending is brilliant (and never emulated in film) and elevates I Am Legend to literary status. Just don't watch any of the movies.
The issue, I believe, with various people's opinions about which works of fiction are scary--and whether fiction is scary at all in some cases--are due mostly, to what each individual finds horrific. For me, what is truly scary, is the idea that you could be walking along on a regular day and everything seems normal, and then something odd happens. At first, you might not notice, but the oddness will grow and the veneer of the mundane world will begin to slip, and you will come face-to-face with dangerous things you can't reason with, that defy rational explanation. My greatest fear is to sink into such things and become lost, that perhaps such things are more "real" than those we perceive on our happy little trips to the grocery store or the bank. Now that's scary. But others find other things scary. What about the man who stands outside your window at night grinning insanely? Or the spiders that hatch in dark corners of the house and crawl into your ears and mouth while you're sleeping to lay their eggs? Or perhaps the asteroid that is surely speeding toward the Earth with its grinning moonface of death and extinction? But most, unfortunately and unhealthily, attempt to deny and hide from their fears. As far as those naysayers who say fiction is not scary are concerned, all I can do is sigh and shake my head. If you have the imagination for it, there is fiction out there that will terrify you. You have only to look...
So these are a few titles to begin with. I'll have more for you soon enough. ;)
(My debut novel, The New Flesh, will be released by DarkFuse in the coming weeks. Needless to say, I'm very excited...)
Okay, I’ll admit it right now, I’m sick and deranged. As of this writing, my parents have yet to read The New Flesh and when they do, when they read some of the more, shall we say, ‘explicit’ scenes, it’s bound to cause a rise at our next family reunion. But we’re all deranged, aren’t we? Our families make us that way—blame mom and dad, right? I used to tell my dad, jokingly, of course, that he was scarring me for life whenever he did something stupid that embarrassed me in public. But maybe it wasn’t really a joke. Everything that happens to us (especially us writer types)—whether it’s a parental guilt trip for feeding your broccoli to the dog, or a half-hazard trip to Magic Mountain, or a drunken fit of violence—ripples through our lives and makes an impact on everything we do and become.
What I mean to say is, The New Flesh, in a lot of ways, is a personal novel. Melting faces, otherworldly misadventures, and insidious snuff films aside, I can easily relate to its characters, especially to our young protagonist. Jake is shy. He draws and designs games. He hangs out by himself (or with the few friends he has) in the sparse clumps of nature found in the city neighborhood. He plays “pretend” a lot. Occasionally he starts a fire…
Okay, to be honest, I only did that once and I’m not really a firebug. Jake may be, but I’m not. When I was in first grade, along with the older neighbor boys up the street, I collected lighters and matches. We hid everything in a secret cove of trees and we used to light newspaper and other trash and watch the flames with fascination. Who isn’t mesmerized by fire? Then one day I lit a fire when I was by myself and I didn’t know how to put it out. I ran back to my house for a bucket of water, but, thankfully, my dad saw me through a window in the house and followed me to the fire and was able to stomp it out with his foot. It could have been bad, but it wasn’t. Fires are a real problem here in the southwestern United States where everything is dry and it hardly ever rains. My senior year in high school, the Cerro Grande fire came through Los Alamos, where I was living at the time, and burned several houses to the ground to the right and to the left of my house, which remained untouched. Fire is serious business. I was grounded after I started that fire and I never started a fire like that again, but the experience left an impression on me, it impacted my future life in a profound way, I believe.
But there are other experiences that have had an impact as well. Alcoholism, I’m told, runs in my family and I’ve seen a lot of drinking and its effects on people, from over-exuberance to pathetic self-pity to violence. I’ve seen alcohol take control of people and change them. I’ve also had a few drinks myself and been a wild partier in my time. I’ve seen some things.
I can still remember vividly a dream I had when I was a young child. A demon was sitting on my dresser across the room from where I slept. It wasn’t doing anything, just sitting there kicking its legs out a little, as if impatiently. It had blue skin and horns and was grinning at me. And there were other demons lined up all around the demon, my demon, as if posing for a photograph. I knew I was dreaming so I struggled to wake up. When I did finally wake up with a start and look over at my dresser, all the demons were gone except for my demon, still just sitting there, grinning and grinning. I was terrified. Then I blinked and the demon faded away. I can’t remember how old I was, but I can remember the dream perfectly. That grin, that demon’s smile, is the same grin I imagine on the Melting Man.
I think part of the reason Greg Gifune, the senior editor at DarkFuse and a very fine writer himself (www.gregfgifune.com), has been so enthusiastic about The New Flesh from the moment he called me up one day to tell me he’d like to publish my novel, is because of its complexity, because of the subtext and layers of story beneath that which shines on the surface. I’m fascinated by what people perceive to be reality. But I’ll let the Melting Man speak for himself and you can come to your own conclusions:
“What is real and what isn’t is a matter of relative perception, is it not? What can be made real, that’s what matters. How do you think things came to be this way? Someone had to imagine them.”
Things are never what we think they are.
Horror is, for me, the most compelling of genres. There's nothing quite like that creeping feeling of the uncanny, that shivering crawl up the spine, that heart-deadening pulse in your chest. It's exciting. Some people don't get it, but I've always found a really good horror novel or movie to be an experience akin to the thrill I can only assume some people get from things like sports, violent video games, and sky diving. The problem is, to begin with film, the majority of what's out there is derivative, splatterfest crap. Movies like Saw and Hostel are entertaining to a certain demographic (I enjoyed them for what they were), but do not have any lasting value. I like horror that makes you think. Literary and literate horror, that is disturbing and weird. I call these kinds of titles SLIC (Surreal, Literate, Impressive, and Creepy). Here are 8 SLIC movies (I'll get to books in my next post) to begin with:
It feels as if I've waited a very long time for this, perhaps my entire life. I seem to be living in three basic states of reality now--waking, dreaming, and writing (which is very much like dreaming awake). I don't seem capable of stopping. I can't imagine life without my wakingdreams. I no longer have a choice; I must continue my toils, struggling onward through the nightmares that fuel my imagination, flailing toward the Complex Darkness. Am I haunted? Yes--I believe so now. Haven't I always been? The metaphor works perfectly: Jake, in THE NEW FLESH, has a dangerous fire within him that he must find a way to express without hurting those he cares about...
"Come and see," the Melting Man says to Jake. Yes--come and see what feels to me like the beginning. Because there may be no way to stop what has already begun…because this is a new nightmare…a new terror…a new Flesh…
(Here is an excerpt from the novel I just started writing this week. Its current title is "Umberland." This is rough draft writing, and very early in the process, so there are bound to be a few mistakes and many changes to come. Thank you for reading...)
“You’re such an asshole,” Colin Williams said.
His friend Derek smiled, driving the car. “Why? Because she’s your sister?”
“If you insist, but I’d rather fuck Rachel. She has needs, man. Just like everybody. She’d like it.”
Colin groaned. “I should have known better than to show you that picture.”
Derek chuckled. “Yeah, can you send it to me? The one where she’s in the booty shorts? Is she on Facebook?”
“She’s fourteen, you horny fuck!”
Derek floored the car through a yellow light.
“Are Phil and Bennie still having that party this weekend?” Colin asked.
“Fuck yeah, they are.” Derek shifted restlessly in his seat. “One thousand Jello shots.”
“A thousand? That’s a lot, man. They’ll never make that many.”
“They almost did last time.”
Last time, a couple of weeks ago, Colin had watched Derek spew colorful chunks of undigested Jello across the bathroom floor before he could help his friend to the toilet. “Shit,” Derek had said, his shaggy hair matting on the toilet’s rim. “This shit’s never coming out.” Colin had slumped against the wall, woozy and disoriented. He’d watched Derek retch, spew, retch again. Someone had pounded on the door and Colin had yelled, “Occupied!” From the toilet, Derek had mumbled, “Yeah, too much...never coming out...” Colin had laughed, “I think you puked it all up, man.” “No...not that...this dream...every night...like a nightmare...”
Derek had been Colin’s friend since they were boys--sort of. They’d been in the same first grade class. They’d walked to and from school together every day, taking turns kicking rocks or pinecones, tightrope walking the curb, hiding behind bushes to throw snowballs at the girls from their class. The next year, however, Derek had been in a different class and their friendship had drifted apart. Derek hadn’t spoken to him again until they were in high school, Colin being shy and always unsure of himself, spending his time playing video games with his friends, while Derek played soccer and wouldn’t have anything to do with the nerd crowd. But in high school, a girl named Sarah had convinced him to try a cigarette and, even though he was shy, Colin would have done anything for Sarah and her freckled nose and her auburn eyes and her curving hips, and had begun hanging out at the “Cancer Pit” behind the school. At first, he clutched by Sarah’s side, too intimidated to speak, but when he’d come around the corner one day after science class and seen her sloppily kissing Jack Stanton while Jack rammed his hand up her blouse, he’d been devastated. It had been Derek, who’d been watching him closely from within the smoker’s circle, who had taken him aside and said, “Fuck her, man. She’s a dumb slut anyway. Everyone knows it.”
He began hanging out with Derek again, first smoking in the old Toyota Four Runner Derek had gotten for his sixteenth birthday while they drove around town, then drinking beer stolen from Derek’s father’s private stash in the extra refrigerator in the garage.
When Colin had turned eighteen, their senior year, Derek had taken him to a place called “The Ice House” and forced him up on stage. Colin had been petrified with embarrassment at the bulge in his pants and mortified for the girls slapping their breasts in his face. He’d been disgusted and fascinated when one of the girls had made a show of launching Ping-Pong balls from one side of the room to the other. He’d been offended at the spectacle, as he’d been taught to be by his Methodist parents, although the bulge in his pants had continued to throb, almost painfully, with heat.
When Derek had announced he was going to the state college in town, Colin had decided to go there too; it was the only school he applied for. They’d been dorm mates. Colin wanted to be an illustrator and took an introductory drawing class along with several of the usual recommended/required bullshit classes (like Astronomy and Psychology 101). Derek, as far as Colin could tell, had not chosen a major nor shown any interest in one; Derek rarely attended his classes.
Only a month into the semester, Derek had shown up in their dorm room with a huge duffle bag clinking with bottles--Permafrost, and Goldschlager, and Hot Damn 100, amongst others. “Go ahead,” Derek had said, grinning that shit-eater’s grin of his, “open it.” Colin had tugged the zipper back, the flaps on the duffle bag peeling outward like trembling lips, and stared inside. “What?” Derek nodded his head: “Shrooms.”
The large ziplock freezer bag had been filled with dried and shrivelled brown things. Together, they’d passed a bottle back and forth, until they were slurring their words, and had the courage to eat the mushrooms. Derek had gobbled a few and grinned: “Here we go.” Colin had chewed them tentatively, like cardboard, but had still taken too many.
The lights had brightened, the colors deepened. The blankets on the beds had begun to crawl down over the floor like creeping slugs. Colin couldn’t speak, although he’d been aware of Derek mumbling constantly. It had felt like many hours, sitting in one place, staring around the room. In the early hours of the morning, Colin had looked up and Derek was passed out on his bed. He’d stood, his legs like rubber strands, and tentatively taken a step. He’d realized then that the floor was covered with piles of luminous eggs and that with each step he took he crushed more of those eggs. When all the eggs were crushed, his life would be over, like in a video game, like he had played when he was a kid. He’d slumped to the floor and cried, as the pastel sun began to fill the room with light.
Not long after that, Derek had been kicked out of school. They’d been at a house party of a friend of theirs, but it hadn’t been as big as their friend had thought, and in the morning, still drunk and reeling, Derek had said how funny it would be to fill balloons with flat, leftover beer from the keg. Colin had been too hungover to go with him and heard later that Derek had been caught on the roof of their dormitory tossing his beer balloons at girls as they walked by (just as Colin and him had tossed snowballs when they were kids), aiming for their chests, screaming, “Wet t-shirt contest!” at the top of his lungs over and over.
Derek got a job making sandwiches and Colin stayed in school, eventually taking more art classes and becoming a respectably-skilled painter; he was on track for a graduate program at a nice art school out of state. Colin still hung out with Derek on the weekends and they still partied together.
“Hey, slow down,” Colin said. “You’re going to get a ticket.”
Derek scoffed. “Who gives a fuck?”
It was Saturday afternoon and they were hanging out, driving around, shooting the shit, but Derek seemed, to Colin, more reckless than usual. Derek had dark bags under his eyes, as if he hadn’t been sleeping well.
“What do you want to do tonight?”
“I don’t give a fuck,” Derek said; his eyes looked glassy, stoned.
“We could... Hey! Watch it!”
The SUV didn’t see them speeding through the red light and clipped them in the rear-left fender, jolting the car ninety degrees in the wrong direction. Derek’s hands flew off the wheel; grunting sounds escaped him, like a deep chuckle.
The red truck, that had been accelerating through the intersection, smashed into them head-on. Derek grinned, tried to say something before he died, but his abdomen had been crushed against the steering wheel, and thick, bubbling blood covered his final words.
The first things Colin looked at were his hands, lying palms up in his lap, shaking uncontrollably. He took one look at his friend--jutting bones shiny with blood, steaming, neck wrenched, face turned towards him, grinning hollowly--and threw up. It’s my turn, old buddy, he thought crazily. It’s my turn to puke. He gripped the door handle and pushed the car door open. He fell to the pavement, scraping his knees. He stood. He seemed to be unharmed. He blinked. Other drivers were getting out of their cars and rushing towards him.
I believe in things greater than myself, greater than what our feeble human faculties can possibly perceive. I don't believe the world--the universe--is a "kind" or "compassionate" place. It's brutal. Things live and die by whim and circumstance.
Just the other day, while walking about in the afternoon, I was looking up at a flock of birds when I saw one of those bird's wings suddenly cease flapping, and the poor creature plummeted to the earth. I was sure it was dead before it struck the ground. One moment: alive. The next: dead.
Personally, I'm a bit of a non-theist. And what I mean by that is, I acknowledge the possibilities presented by various religions, but don't think of religion as all that important to life on this earth. In my experience, religion is interesting but is used mostly as a method of oppression and control, both historically and today. I believe we all need to think for ourselves, keep our minds as open as possible, and to question the authorities that surround us, including religious ones.
I also don't believe in good and evil per se, which can be a real problem when it comes to writing horror fiction. I don't believe in black and white. Everything is a muddled gray. Certain acts that can be perceived as "evil" in one scenario can be justified in another. I do believe in human cruelty. And I do believe in human compassion. I believe in ghosts, and I believe in psychic abilities. I believe there are forces larger than us that perceive us like we perceive a colony of termites, with little interest, occasionally bringing a foot down to smash one of us flat for no reason other than a passing whim.
I believe in fear. And that is, after all, what the horror genre is all about.
(I shared these thoughts with the DarkFuse Book Club already, but thought I'd share them here as well.)
DarkFuse seems, to me, to be an excellent publisher; they're doing everything right in the current permutation of the publishing industry. They are willing to change strategies and adapt to market trends. I couldn't be happier to have them releasing THE NEW FLESH in June.
One of the very cool things DarkFuse does, among others, is their exclusive book club. For $59.88 you get a one year subscription that includes 1 novel and 1 novella each month. That's 12 novels and 12 novellas. Think about it: 60 bucks is like 3 to 6 books on the general market. That's a very good deal. You'll also gain access to the forum where you can discuss books and other things with the authors (like me!).
The staff over at DarkFuse are friendly and accessible to their writers and customers alike. I am very pleased to be a part of the DarkFuse community. Come and check it out!
All the information is right here: DarkFuse Book Club
There have been some very kind and flattering words posted on Amazon and Goodreads in praise of "Fevered Hills." I have to admit, I wasn't expecting much from this first one, only the vague hope that it might help me to begin to establish my presence in the writing world. I believe I have taken the first few steps into such a world...
"What impressed me most...was the writing style. It resembles Margaret Atwood and Joyce Carol Oats. It brings to mind The Road and Slaughterhouse-Five. There's serious stuff happening in Fevered Hills that we need to pay attention to, because it speaks of what we're made of as humans. How none of us are innocent, that everyone has grey areas."
--The Black Abyss (by Jason White)
"If I had to compare Deininger’s style with another authors, Greg Gifune comes to mind. They share a sense of atmospheric dread in their work that seats itself in the back of your mind, and then that dread grows, until eventually, it becomes a visceral fear that you feel in your gut. I recommend Fevered Hills to all readers of horror who enjoy very well written and thought provoking fiction."
--Horror World (by TT Zuma)
"This has everything you could want in a work of dark fiction: cannibalism, torture, emotional trauma... And while you're given a lot of information from the main character's perspective, you are still able to analyze and come to your own conclusions about some situations in this war-ravaged setting. Mr. Deininger has created a completely engrossing, surreal world to loose yourself in"
--Kimberly Y. (Amazon)
"Great story and very well written! A truly captivating story, with just enough of the fantastic to really draw you in without being over the top. I enjoyed it greatly"
"The Cormac McCarthy quote which precedes this fine novella is perfectly apt. Not only is the tale a McCarthyesque fevre-dream, it matches the poetic and brutal intensity of anything that author has written. An absolutely stunning read."
--C. M. Muller (Goodreads)
Before sitting down at my wife's design desk to sign these sheets to be bound in the exclusive hardcover edition of THE NEW FLESH, as a way to celebrate, I made it rain, tossing them in the air while I howled gleefully. Then, almost immediately, I panicked. I scrambled about the room picking these valuable sheets up before they were stepped on, or attacked by the cat, or the dogs rolled in them.
Once collected, I sat down to sign each page--carefully, of course.
Yeah, that's my signature. So what?
I used the same green pen to sign each sheet that I used to edit the original manuscript.
Actually, all kidding aside, this was a special moment for me. For all those who are lucky enough to get this limited, signed version of THE NEW FLESH, know that it comes with my deepest appreciation.
For those of you who've read "Fevered Hills" already, I have a couple of questions, some things to ponder...
How many bullets are left in Martin's gun at the very end? Why is this important? Do you know how and why each bullet was fired?
If there are any left, what do you think they will be used for?
Also, how accurate do you think are Martin's flashback scenes? Does he remember everything correctly?
Just some things I was thinking about as I wrote "Fevered Hills."
Post in the comments section. I promise to respond, even if it's with an evil grin. >:)