Archive for October 2011

A Halloween Terrifying Ten Library

[Editor's Note: In honor of the upcoming Halloween holiday, I turned to novelist and horror aficionado Stephen Graham Jones to make some recommendations on ten frightening books. He's a prolific writer whose All the Beautiful Sinners was recently re-released as an e-book by Dzanc Books. So stock up on some Jones and also check out his terrifying recommendations for your weekend pre-Halloween festivities.]

I know I’m supposed to do Ten Books for Halloween here—and, I’ve got six hundred swimming behind my eyes, so the only real chore here’s selection (I think I could do ten from the seventies, ten from best sellers, ten from friends, etc). And, yeah, the idea of ‘ten,’ I know, it’s that you’ll find one or two on there to actually hit, given the time. And that’s provided I don’t stack it with Swan Songs and Stands and House of Leaves. And that you trust my selections.

So, my compromise, it’s to pick books that are short enough, to only pick five of them, and to go for ones that are mass market paperback, so they can fit in the pocket of your costume (because of course about now’s when you start trying everything on, doing all the dry runs through the neighborhoods and halls). And, as for why the mass market trick? Could be nostalgia; I suspect we’re nearing the end of the mass-market-books-littering-the-shelves days. And, I’m not sad, don’t get me wrong—all for e-booking our way into the sunset, here—but, for me, growing up in the eighties, horror meant mass market. I think back then I thought only textbooks came in hardback/cloth. And of course I had no idea what a ‘trade paperback’ might be. A factory second, maybe, I don’t know.

And, the fourth thing I’m doing here that’s not what Scott was asking for it, it’s to provide more of an annotated curriculum—to shuffle some movies in with the reading, so as to build up to that perfect night at the end of the month. Something like:

1. Bentley Little’s The House
This is a truly creepy work, is one of only two three novels to ever thoroughly penetrate my dreams (other two: Breakfast of Champions and Lunar Park). It’s the haunted house, definitely, but’s so different from any other haunted house I’ve seen. This book terrifies me.

2. John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns
From the Masters of Horror series. It’s not really a counterpoint to The House or anything, but like the uppercut that comes right after the jab, stands you up on your toes and makes you see the darkness.

3. Clive Barker’s The Damnation Game
It’s a rock ’n roll horror novel, one of those stories that only ever has one foot on the ground at a time, and just, in that signature Barker fashion, pulls you along by your eyelids. And, for my money, it goes pretty perfectly with:

4. Return of the Living Dead
Far and away my favorite zombie movie ever, but, too, along with Feast, say, it’s one of a select few that move at the same narrative pace as The Damnation Game. And, I mean, it’s got Tarman, right? That’s really all I need to say.

5. Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes
I mean, granted, you have to kind of grit your teeth to get through the occasionally overblown, too-aware-of-its-own-technicolorality prose, and you of course go in knowing it’s YA, so the content’s dialed back, but . . . I don’t know. Something about this one. It’s like Bradbury’s not so much working within some archetypal framework as that he’s taking all his personal archetypes and painting them large and grand on the wall. It’s nice, it’s safe, but it moves, too, and it’s got magic.

6. Midnight Meat Train
Just to get us back up to an acceptable—and necessary—level of gore. And fun. And exuberance for horror. I mean, a guy with a chrome hammer on the subway? And, you know it’s Barker, so there’s definitely going to be something demon-y involved, and, to not acknowledge in some way The Books of Blood . . . you wouldn’t even take me seriously if I didn’t, would you?

7. Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House
Not simply to reset us to black and white or anything, and not to argue for atmospheric horror over what’s cooking on the shelves these days (um, plenty of it, if you look), but . . . okay, somewhat because there’s no time for The Shining on this list. And what’s a Halloween list without King, right? But you can burn through Haunting in an afternoon, and, what’s fun is you can see all over again how foundational that book was to everything that would follow. And that it still actually, legitimately, works. Very effective.

8. Paranormal Activity
And not just as prep for the third one hitting the box office next week. No, it’s just plain old terrifying, at least to me, is like a bad mix of Tale of Two Sisters and Sara Gran’s Come Closer, but with a lot of Shirley Jackson kind of mis-directs. And, I’ve written on it longer here, so won’t this time around, except to say that, no, it’s not just Blair Witch a decade later. It’s scary, it’s wrong—it’s perfect for Halloween.

9. Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door
It kind of makes you all bummed out to be human, and it also makes you realize that all this ‘horror’ you’ve been reading, writing, watching, making? All you’ve been doing’s painting unicorns with flowers in their mouths. Under rainbows. This is the real badness, happening on the page. It doesn’t flinch, and it makes you complicit. Go there, Try to come back.

10. Either Quarantine or [Rec]
Depending on your stance towards subtitles. They’re pretty much the same movie, and, yeah, early on you know exactly how it’s going to go, but still, you get so caught up in the rush of it. It’s hard to keep your feet on the ground, watching this. But you toast those characters, too; they’re doing exactly what they need to do in a horror movie. And what more can you ask?

And, of course, no Halloween, right? Not just because Carpenter’s already on the list, either (Barker’s on there twice), but because, if you’re not already watching some Halloween this month without consulting these kinds of lists, then maybe you need to revisit your priorities. Your allegiances. And, yeah, comic books, man. I’d say American Vampire and Locke & Key, maybe. American Vampire’s just so, so fun—RotLD kind of fun, I’d say—while Locke & Key is some top-notch writing. Slam through all the volumes in a day and you’ll be sitting up that night thinking both that you’re glad you don’t live in Key House and you kind of wish you did, too.

And, just realizing I lied about books that have penetrated my dreams: Douglass Clegg’s Breeder did that as well. It just completely pulled me in, wouldn’t let me go. And I think one of Laird Barron’s stories from Imago Sequence did something to me as well, though that’s all happily repressed for the moment. And, looking back up at my list, now, I see there’s no Ju’on, there’s no Ringu. But maybe that’s just because, if I’m going to take my own medicine, somewhat, and at least mentally peel back through all of these, then those are two I don’t want rattling around in my head when I’m trying to sleep again. Which I’m going to have to do at some point…

Stephen Graham Jones
October 2011

Lehane to Helm Imprint at HarperCollins

Dennis Lehane to Launch Imprint

Late yesterday, numerous sources reported that Dennis Lehane will lead a new imprint at HarperCollins. The bestselling mystery writer said that he hoped to help “worthy writers” get more attention to their work. Very few other details (such as the first book’s release date, the number of books published each year) have been released at this time.

And while we’re on the subject of Lehane, here’s an interesting post about his allegiances to two different geographic locations.

If Only We Made the Money They Think We Make

Jeff Pearlman Walter Payton Controversy

The sports world has been brewing with furor over bestselling author Jeff Pearlman’s new book Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton. Enraged by an excerpt in Sports Illustrated that painted the legendary Chicago Bears running back as beset with addictions, infidelities, and affairs, the sports nation rose up in ire against Pearlman. Most of these critics were reacting to a short excerpt from a book they had never seen.

In response, Pearlman wrote a post for Deadspin.com, “Just Read the Damn Book: Welcome to the Sweetness Bash” that details the amusing/frightening/infuriating shenanigans he’s experienced in the last few days.

Now, since I have not read the book, I’ll reserve comment on the text itself, as requested. I’ve enjoyed Pearlman’s other work and I do look forward to reading Sweetness. But what I’ve found most interesting is how so many of the sports fans and commentators criticizing Pearlman’s work allude to some sort of literary equivalent to backing up the Brinks truck and making off with a bundle.

Which leads me to wonder… How much fucking money do these people think journalists make?

Sure, Pearlman is a bestseller. He’s got a bigtime agent and a bigtime publisher. He’s probably not subsisting on Ramen Noodles and contaminated river water. But my guess is that he’s not driving a Ferrari or jetting off to his vacation home in Bora Bora either.

Pearlman has been quoted as saying that he spent three years interviewing almost 700 people while working on Sweetness. So even if we assume his advance was in the low six figures, that’s still a helluva lot of work for what critics are dismissing as an easy payday.

Unfortunately, many people who are not avid readers or regular followers of publishing think writers are all rich. They see articles about the incredible wealth of the Rowlings-Kings-Browns of the world and believe we all type out a few pages while riding in the back of our chauffeured Rolls Royce. They see the rare publishing news that hits the mainstream media about some mega deal for some reality star who spends an afternoon with a ghostwriter in order to rush out a glorified press release in hardback covers in three months and think all books are easy, fast, and painless. Which simply is not true for the vast majority of books, whether they’re good or bad.

While I wouldn’t want to be going through the gauntlet of criticism that Jeff Pearlman is facing right now, I’d love to have the money his critics assume he’s making. And I’d love to make that cash as easily as his bashers think it can be made in writing.

Book Review: It’s So Easy by Duff McKagan

Duff McKagan's It So Easy Book Review

When the house lights go down and the crowd jumps to its feet and the spotlight operators squint through the dry ice, seeking musicians on the stage, the bass player is often the last rocker they highlight. Singers and guitarists generally get most of the attention. So perhaps it’s fitting that Duff McKagan released It’s So Easy (and Other Lies) after a veritable library had been published about his bands. In doing so, he allowed other people to cover the gossip, conflict, and controversy, turning It’s So Easy into a surprisingly sincere and heartfelt memoir.

McKagan is, of course, most well-known for being the bassist for Guns N’ Roses during their reign of the rock world in the eighties and early nineties. More recently, he has manned the bottom end for Velvet Revolver and even did a fill-in stint in Jane’s Addiction while also fronting his own band Loaded. He has also developed an impressive writing resume, penning articles for Playboy, ESPN.com, SeattleWeekly.com, and others.

The first indicator that It’s So Easy is different than so many by-the-numbers hard rock memoirs is the prologue. The default in situations like this is to begin on a grimy bathroom floor with a bloody needle dangling from a skinny forearm and a .12 gauge propped nearby. The narrator usually croacks, “It wasn’t supposed to be like this. But after achieving my dreams, there wasn’t anything left to do. I had everything in the world, but no reason to live.” With that dramatic scene set, the book cuts away, and goes back to the beginning with a bushy haired child strumming a tennis racket in a seventies suburban ranch home to the chronological start of the story.

In contrast, McKagan begins his tale with worries about teenage shenanigans at his daughter’s party. The birthday girl is thirteen and she, like most kids, is embarrassed of her parents, in spite of their rockstar and fashion model backgrounds. The girl begs the old folks to get in the house before her friends arrive. It’s a touching scene of domesticity. Scattered throughout the parental reflections, McKagan manages to weave in enough references to his own edgy past of drugs and larceny to indicate that his is not a “normal” life. But after many decades of addiction, wealth, and wealth lost, It’s So Easy illustrates that McKagan has achieved as close to a normal life as possible for someone in his situation.

Another unique aspect of the book is how McKagan simply avoids huge chunks of Guns N’ Roses history. Generally, a celebrity would be criticized for omitting certain time periods. But in this instance, it’s a blessing to the most hardcore GN’R fans. Sitting on my shelf right now are seven books about the Sunset Strip rockers and we still have the on-again, off-again book from a GN’R mother to look forward to. This band has been exhaustively researched and written about so when McKagan devotes slightly more than a single page to the recording of the seminal Appetite for Destruction record, I for one, cheered. By leaving well-worn topics to the other books, McKagan can focus on more personal recollections and experiences, such as documenting his brother Bruce’s excitement as the record climbed the Billboard charts.

To be sure, It’s So Easy is not the tale of a choir boy. There are plenty of narcotics and liquor scattered throughout these pages. Those vices just aren’t the focus of the book. They’re a bit of spice, not the main dish. And when the musician does turn to those foggy, staggering times, he does so in a poignant manner, as opposed to a chest-pounding, “Look at me! I did sooo many drugs” manner. For example, during a new, shaky attempt at sobriety, McKagan struggles to complete a simple everyday transaction.

One of the first things I did was go to the grocery store to buy food. It was a novel idea at the time — it had been years since I really shopped for food. Now here I was, thirty years old, an adult with a credit card, a checkbook, and an ATM card. I could buy whatever I wanted in the store, but I had no idea where to start. I thought everyone was staring at me — I was sure my shaking was freakishly visible…

I looked at the girl at the cash register.

“I give you this money, right”

My shirt was drenched in sweat and I was having a full-blown panic attack.

She nodded nervously, barely able to disguise her disgust. She gingerly took the money from my hand, trying to avoid actually touching me.

While examining the influence of drugs and decadence, McKagan makes a statement about some fellow Los Angeles rockers that can be equally applied to the hard rock memoir genre as a whole.

Back in the halcyon days of GN’R, when everyone in L.A. thought we were the most badass hard-drinking and hard-drugging motherfuckers around (and maybe we thought so, too), we quickly found out we were in the minor league compared to Motley Crue. After their shows, we often ended up partying together, learning their code names for different drugs, even flying on their private jet a few times. Our peek into their world was a look into an abyss. They’d found a way of skating around the edge of that abyss while perfecting the dark art of drinking and drugging for a while back there in the 1980s.

Later, McKagan reiterates, “But for the second time in my life I realized that nobody — not even me at the time — could hang with the dudes in Motley Crue: within two months of buying the house at Lake Arrowhead, I was throwing up blood at Tommy Lee’s cabin.”

The point here is that the amplifier hum of the Crue’s The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band looms so large over the hard rock memoir genre that most musicians feel they have to live up to those almost unimaginably sleaze-dripped pages. Other rockers strive to surpass the decadence. Ratt vocalist Stephen Pearcy said in a recent television interview that his book-in-progress will make “The Dirt look like a sandbox.” This attitude towards the Motley text is one of the main reasons why so many hard rock memoirs have been so similar and so disappointing. None of these guys would say, “My goal is to ‘out Zeppelin’ Led Zeppelin” in reference to their music. They would discuss creating their own sound, doing something different, something unique. But when it comes to books, they all seem incapable of escaping that singularly Dirt-y influence.

McKagan goes the opposite route, telling the story he wants to tell as opposed to setting his sights on a previously published book. He also doesn’t go out of his way to “set the record straight” by pointing out errors in other GN’R books, a common trend amongst bands with several literary efforts. This attitude allows him to explore his attempts at sobriety, the shakes, the shady drug dealers, and all that. But it also allows him to discuss investing in Starbucks and Microsoft. It allows him to write emotionally about his beloved pets. It makes it possible to devote as much passion and determination to his attempts at higher education as his attempts to master music. It enables him to begin — and finish — It’s So Easy with scenes of domestic bliss.

Early in the book, Duff McKagan explains how he was an outsider to the Los Angeles glam metal scene. He came from a punk background and rocked short spiky hair and a Sid Vicious-wannabe padlock necklace while most people were teasing their hair and wearing spandex.* All these decades later, McKagan is still taking a slightly different tact. It’s So Easy belongs on any hard rock fan’s bookshelf, amongst all the other required books. But it also stands apart in many very positive ways.

[*Not to perpetuate the flawed concept that punk was somehow more organic, more real, more honest than hard rock and glam metal. Here, I'm simply making the point that McKagan had a different -- not necessarily better -- perspective at that point in his life.]

Amanda Knox Released, Can Book Deals Be Far Behind?

Will Amanda Knox Write a Book

With the news that Amanda Knox has been released from Italian prison, you just have to wonder how long it’s going to take before the book deals start flooding in.

There are already Candace Dempsey’s Murder in Italy: The Shocking Slaying of a British Student, the Accused American Girl, and anInternational Scandal which was released in April 2010 and Nina Burleigh’s The Fatal Gift of Beauty: The Trials of Amanda Knox which just came out in early August of this year.

Can a book from Knox herself be far behind? Which publisher would be the one to snag a first-person account from the newly free young woman?

Anonymous Goes to Amazon Publishing

Recently, we noted the news that Anonymous was shopping a book. The loop on that particular thread has now been closed with a completed sale.

According to Publishers Marketplace, the book was sold to Julia Cheiffetz at Amazon Publishing. The deal entry explains that the book is “the story of the ordinary people who became hacker-activists and successfully brought down government agencies and multinational corporations around the world.”

Fake Boobs, Insurance, and Girl Next Door Books

Reality television star and former Hugh Hefner consort Holly Madison is getting a tremendous amount of attention for the fact that she insured her breasts for $1 million. Which, to my mind, is kind of like Rebecca Black insuring her Auto-Tuned voice. Both are synthetic, manufactured, and more the product of other people’s skill than anything for which the “star” can take credit.

Surprisingly, Madison hasn’t ventured very far into literary endeavors. As near as I can tell, her one book is The Showgirl Next Door: Holly Madison’s Las Vegas, a sort of guidebook to Sin City. It’s a bit surprising that Madison hasn’t released a biography or memoir, given the bestselling success of her fellow Hef girlfriend, Kendra Wilkinson.

Wilkinson’s first book, Sliding into Home was released in 2010 and reached the upper echelons of the New York Times bestseller list. Her new book, Being Kendra: Cribs, Cocktails, and Getting My Sexy Back was recently released. In the latest book, Wilkinson reportedly discusses her time on the television show Dancing with the Stars, which evidently was not a fun experience for the model and mom.

According to published reports, Wilkinson writes in summation of her time on the highly rated dancing show that, “Part of me thought this is what selling out looks like.”

Apparently, pretending to be an eighty-odd-year-old man’s girlfriend, even though you only see him once a day is not challenging at all, but doing the foxtrot is “selling out”?

Back to Madison for a moment… The amazing aspect of her publicity stunt insurance policy is her statement that if she if she was out of work for a few months, “I’d probably be out a million dollars.” Wow, that’s a huge amount of money. Better start talking to the AFLAC Duck.

Jim Harrison and Admitting Ignorance

In the October issue of Outside, Tom Bissell recounts his conversation with Jim Harrison in “The Last Lion.” Bissell is the author of Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter, Chasing the Sea: Lost Among the Ghosts of Empire in Central Asia, and The Father of All Things: A Marine, His Son, and the Legacy of Vietnam. But what gives him a unique perspective for this article is that his father is a longtime friend of Jim Harrison and the iconic author visited Bissell’s home during his childhood. “Harrison came by our house for dinner, seeming less like a man to me than a force of nature with a Pancho Villa mustache,” Bissell writes.

Peppered throughout the engaging article are useful allusions and asides that aspiring authors will certainly enjoy. But a reference to authorial authority is what most caught my eye. As writers, we feel a pressure to create a world and be the ultimate overlord of that domain. We obsesses over minutiae and research the smallest details. Our voice must be the one with all the answers.

But, according to Bissell in this passage, one of the hallmarks of Jim Harrison’s work is his refusal to pretend he knows something he doesn’t.

The assumption of false authority is a useful writing trick, one I have used again and again, but maybe it’s also insidious. After all, it actually means something to know what things are called. You cannot share anything worth knowing unless you make it clear what you do not know. Harrison refuses to hide his research. If he reads a book to learn about something, the characters in his novels will invariably read the same book. It makes the stuff Harrison does know that much more striking.

It’s an interesting concept. Next time you’re headed to the computer to research the mating habits of Marabou storks or the melting point of aluminum, try being honest on the page and explain where you got that data. See how it works for you.

And definitely check out “The Last Lion.” Bissell writes movingly and admirably of Harrison’s work, providing strong sentences and passages that are perfectly at home in a discussion of the great writer.

(Photo Credit: Wyatt McSpadden)

Errors with Categories

As we work out the kinks in our new theme here at Slushpile.net, we’ve noticed that there is an error in that the category links are not pulling all the entries. For example, if you click on the Interviews link on the right, it only displays five results when, in fact, we’ve posted dozens and dozens of discussions with authors, editors, and a few agents over the years.

So if you don’t find what you’re looking for at first glance, don’t hesitate to drop us a note while we rectify the situation.

Thanks for reading!

[Editor's Note: As of Thursday, September 29, 2011, we believe this issue to be corrected. If you see anything happening again, please do not hesitate to let us know.]

Household Cleaning Tips from Chuck Palahniuk

It’s not every day that you turn to a novel for household cleaning tips. Maybe you look at a periodical like Good Housekeeping or you flip through a nonfiction reference book.

But then again, it’s not every day that your home turns into a crime scene.

Luckily, crime is a rarity in the exclusive confines of Slushpile’s neighborhood. But recently, on a gray and rainy afternoon, there was a pounding on door of my back porch. Standing there, dazed but upright, was a man bleeding from his head and begging to come inside. He was, evidently, a landscaper working next door who had been assaulted.

I called 911 and the local constabulary arrived and whisked him away in an ambulance. But after all the hubbub died down, I was left wondering, “How in the hell am I supposed to clean up all this blood?” The poor soul had dripped and leaked all over the place.

So I picked up my copy of Survivor: A Novel by Chuck Palahniuk. This 1999 novel was the second offering from Palahniuk, following up on the heels of Fight Club. In the book, the narrator is the lone remaining member of a death cult, valued for their skills at domestic servitude. Early in the novel, the narrator explains that the most effective technique for removing bloodstains from a fur coat is “cornmeal and brushing the fur the wrong way.” To get blood off piano keys, you should “polish them with talcum powder or powdered milk.”

Unfortunately, Survivor didn’t have any advice for removing blood from a wooden floor that already needed repainting. But the narrator does explain that you should “just concentrate on the stain until your memory is completely erased.”

So I got out my rubber gloves, my scrubber, and a heavy dose of bleach, and set to work, concentrating mightily, thankful for the household tips. Forget Heloise, we bookish folks have Chuck Palahniuk.

(PS: The photo is where the victim passed by very, very briefly. The real gore was in another location. Just imagine a Rob Zombie film and you’ll get the image.)