Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Next Big Thing


I've been graciously tapped by the masterful crime novelist Wallace Stroby to participate in this week's segment of The Next Big Thing blog hop, a string of short interviews with various authors about their current book or work-in-progress.

I'm hardly alone.  Taking part also this week are three superb authors. There's suspense writer Alison Gaylin, Australian novelist Andrew Nette and Philadelphia's Dennis Tafoya.

Their interviews are now on their respective blogs (and I certainly intend to read each one myself).
 
Here's mine:
 
1) What’s the title or working title of your new/next book?

SPIDERS AND FLIES, published just a few weeks ago by Harvard Square Editions.  It's a story about a kidnapping that takes place in Martinique.
 
2) Where did the idea for the book come from?

Awhile back I lived in Martinique for a couple of years. It's a lovely place of course, and I just saw that Caribbean beauty as a great setting for a crime story mingling beauty and terror.

3) What genre is your book?

Crime, noir, with a dash of psychological horror.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?  Or TV series?

For Paul Raven, who hatches the novel's kidnapping plot, I could see Anthony Mackie.  He's a little older than the character in the book, but he would work.  I liked his quiet menace in Half Nelson and the way he played a cerebral, deliberate demolition expert in The Hurt Locker.  As Raven, he should have both menace and an introspective side.


For Caroline Bishop, the mother of the kidnap target, I definitely can picture Tilda Swinton. She can embody just about anything on screen and brings an almost uncanny intensity and precision to every role she plays, whether maternal in The Deep End, passionate in I Am Love, or ferocious in Julia.  Caroline Bishop has a number of conflicting traits in this story (though the maternal trait, actually, is not one of them) and Swinton could carry them all off.
 


5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
 
A fugitive's plan to kidnap  and ransom an expat  American woman on  Martinique goes horribly wrong.

6) Is/will your book be self-published or traditionally published?

It's traditionally published, though Harvard Square Editions is a small press publisher.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I write slowly, backtracking and revising as I go along.  I have to get things a certain way in the story before I can continue on from whatever point.  Besides that, I had a steady job when I wrote the book.  From start to finish, about 2  years to write.

8) What other books within the genre would you compare this story to?
 
I guess I'd compare it to two books that aren't genre books per se but that are two of the most unnerving and compelling reads I've come across - THE COMFORT OF STRANGERS by Ian McEwan and UP ABOVE THE WORLD by Paul Bowles.
Both are macabre and Gothic and both are about couples abroad in exotic landscapes who encounter serious trouble from people who live in the place they're visiting.  Big trouble occurring in so-called paradise.
 
9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

All the crime fiction I've read over the years. There's so much, but especially the stories centered around amoral sort of souls -- Jim Thompson, Patricia Highsmith, Ruth Rendell. And the Caribbean lit I was reading while in Martinique, people like Jean Rhys, an amazing writer.  Not a crime writer, but as dark as they come.  Like a lot of the best Caribbean writers, she gets past the tropical beauty to something sinister and even violent lurking beneath. 

10) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?

It lays out clearly how to make a ti punch, a simple but delicious rum drink that's a favorite in Martinique. I drank them often enough there.  Still do. But they're best with Martinican rum, which blows away the rum from pretty much all the other islands, and it's very hard to find Martinican rum in the US.
 
 
 *********************************************************************************

And now, I feint right and run left and tag Jason StarrHis world of enjoyably twisted and darkly funny crime fiction needs no introduction. He'll join the blog fest next week and present his contribution on his blog.

 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Magnificent Seven of Horror


An acquaintance of mine looking to start a horror novel reprint line recently asked me to make some book recommendations for the line.  The only books that could be considered, though, had to fulfill a difficult set of requirements.  They had to not only be out of print but also not in the public domain and not yet an e-book. I managed to find seven personal favorites that fit the criteria. Each deserves to be reprinted.

Here they are:

FINISHING TOUCHES by Thomas Tessier (1986)

A young American doctor in London in the 80’s meets a strange plastic surgeon and his beautiful assistant and the American gets drawn into an increasingly bizarre and sensual world where sex and medical horror mingle and all morals and inhibitions fall away. This is a superb non-supernatural horror novel.  It charts very well how quickly the barriers between the tolerable and the once intolerable can fall away.  Tessier has a smooth, very readable style and he never overwrites or overstates things as events become more and more horrifying.  I found it to be a brisk read that once started is extremely difficult to put down.

THE CORMORANT by Stephen Gregory (1986)

This one is beautifully written and very creepy. It’s set in Wales and is about a man, a teacher, who moves with his wife and young son to a rural cottage he has inherited from his uncle.  To take the cottage though he has also has to accept with his inheritance his dead uncle’s pet cormorant.  He does, thinking the inheritance request strange but not much more than that, and after that, slowly and insidiously, the cormorant casts a malignant influence over the entire family.  It’s a very atmospheric psychological horror story that has a feeling of looming disaster throughout.  Also, very tight. Not a wasted word in the book. This book has really stuck with me since I read it years ago.

MASTER OF THE DAY OF JUDGMENT by Leo Perutz (1921)

Perutz was an Austrian novelist, born in Prague, who was a master of the fantastic.  MASTER OF THE DAY OF JUDGMENT is a great weird tale about a rash of mysterious suicides in Vienna.  None of the people who committed suicide had any apparent reason to do so, but they all die with horror etched on their faces. Why?  It’s a scary, weird masterpiece and the answer to the riddle is as good as the riddle itself.

THROAT SPROCKETS by Tim Lucas (1994)

Tim Lucas is a prolific and insightful film writer and the creator of the magazine Video Watchdog.  He does a lot of DVD commentary tracks as well and is basically a walking encyclopedia of film.  In line with that, this is a book about obsession with cinema and images.  A guy comes across a disturbing X-rated film called THROAT SPROCKETS and his obsession with the film and finding the “complete” version of the film, which seems to exist in many variants, takes over his life.  A sort of ultimate book about the power of film and images to hook and obsess a person.  It’s told from the point of view of the guy obsessed and unwinds in a very unpredictable and suspenseful way.

SONGS OF A DEAD DREAMER by Thomas Ligotti (1989)

The first collection by Ligotti who has a baroque style unlike any other. All his stories are highly original, often somewhat oblique, and truly weird and grotesque, and he is as good at suggesting something horrible as he is at showing it full force.  As many have said, he is one of the very very few contemporary horror short story writers who in quality and richness belongs on the same shelf with Poe and HP Lovecraft.

THE DOLL WHO ATE HIS MOTHER by Ramsey Campbell (1976)

Ramsey Campbell's first novel follows two people searching for a disturbed young man with a taste for human flesh. It is primarily a psychological horror story, and as well as its unnerving plot, its evokes with icy vivid prose the ugliness of bleak, starkly-lit, mid-seventies Liverpool (where Campbell is from). The hallucinatory climax, which takes place in the basement of a dilapidated building and involves the digging of a hole, is a tour de force.

GHOST STORY by Peter Straub (1979)
Hard to believe this is out of print and not an e-book, but that seems to be the case.  This is a definite classic, an early Peter Straub novel, that has a very layered complex plot that shifts between past and present.  It's modern but also consciously evokes masters of classic American horror like Poe, Hawthorne, Shirley Jackson, and so on.  There are stories within stories within stories in the book and part of the fun is just enjoying how the thing is so beautifully put together but also very scary.




 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Back to a Master



I've read a lot of books by Ruth Rendell.  And by Rendell writing as Barbara Vine.  But it had been a few years since I last read one of her books. No particular reason - I just hadn't. One good thing, though, about a true master, especially one as prolific as she is - you know that writer is always there, ever great, and when you feel so inclined again, you'll return to them.  That happened very recently when I picked up a copy of THE VAULT after browsing in a store.  What first caught my eye is that the book is a sequel to A SIGHT FOR SORE EYES, one of her creepiest and strongest works.  Interesting, because A SORE FOR SORE EYES is a non-Inspector Wexford Rendell novel, but THE VAULT features Wexford as the central character.  While SORE EYES, like most most non-Wexfords, focuses on the abnormal psychology of its criminal protagonist, Teddy Brex, THE VAULT unfolds through the balanced perception of its detective.  It's Rendell in full procedural mode, and typically nuanced, lovely Rendell it is.  What a pleasure to come back to her elegant prose and quiet humor and of course her  mastery with plotting, pacing, and characters.  How old is she now? Eighty two?  She still puts out a book or two every year.  I can only be glad that after reading twenty or so of her books, there are another fifty or so to read. 

Brock Brower's Late Great Novel



Who as a reader doesn't like coming across a great neglected novel if for no other reason than that you can tell your friends about it?
 LATE GREAT CREATURE, by Brock Brower, is one of those great neglected novels, a brilliant piece of work published in 1971.   Part Hollywood novel, part horror story, part intriguing character study, it's a book not much like anything else I've ever read. It's the fictional biography of an aging horror movie star named Simon Moro. Simon, who was born in 1900, apparently in Vienna, was a huge star in the 30's and 40's, playng such things as a mad pedophile in Fritz Lang's Zeppelin and, in his American debut, The Moth, also starring Fay Wray. By WWII he was already in decline, playing Nazis in war movies and the monster in the ultra low budget Gila Man series. But the central point of the novel is his last film, a very Roger Corman like production of The Raven, being made in the late 60s. Moro's story is told from three perspectives--a cynical journalist's, that of the very shallow director of the Raven, and in the last section, by Moro himself. In this last part, it becomes clear what Moro, for his grand finale as an actor, has up his sleeve. Suffice it to say it as an act that is quite bizarre, performed in the theater at the Manhattan premiere of The Raven; it is his last determined attempt to deliver a memorable shock to an increasingly unshockable world. What he does is both grotesque and hilarious, a grand final gesture by an over the top personality.
This book is a great satire on celebrity culture and a very affectionate send-up and tribute to the horror genre. Simon Moro is a person who is both comic and appalling, an unforgettable character. He reflects the novel itself, a book both very dark and very funny.  Long out of print, Overlook Press brought out a new paperback edition of THE LATE GREAT CREATURE last fall, and we can only be happy about that.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

NYC's Midcity News Talks about SPIDERS AND FLIES

Bryant Park Reading Room: November

Reel Talks' Scott Adlerberg Publishes Novel
by Terry Benoit, MidCity News 

Regulars at Bryant Park’s Reel Talks, the series of Word for Word chats about movies screened at the HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival, know that program host Scott Adlerberg is passionate and knowledgeable about movies. He is also a writer whose most recent novel Spiders and Flies, a harrowing psychological thriller set in Martinique, was recently published by Harvard Square Editions. Atmospheric, suspenseful, and darkly comic, Spiders and Flies will keep you awake at night, and not only because you won’t be able to put it down. It’s now available at Amazon.com in trade paperback, or, if you have a Kindle, in e-book form for only 99 cents. We recommend that you check it out. Oh, and by the way, movie fans: Scott and Reel Talks will be back in Bryant Park next year. Image Credit: Angelito Jusay.

Pynchon's CRYING OF LOT 49



 


Fresh off reading INHERENT VICE (which I'll write about in detail soon), I decided to go back and re-read the first of Thomas Pynchon's California-set novels. At first it felt a little odd to read a book I first read when I was in my last year of high school. That's 33 years ago, when I also read V and, soon after, GRAVITY'S RAINBOW.  Pynchon, an author who has influenced my entire view of the world, but of course many of the exact details of the books of his I read so long ago I don't recall. So it's as if I came to a second reading with Pynchon in my bones, but then had to rediscover the specifics of the surface. Verdict? Great again, unsurprisingly. And reading it on the heels of his "private eye novel" - INHERENT VICE - I saw LOT 49 more even than before as a definite (though not only of course) mystery novel. There's amateur sleuth Oedipa Maas moving through a hallucinatory Sixties landscape as she tries to uncover anything she can about a shadowy sinister organization called the Trystero. The entire novel follows the course of her improvised investigation. But whereas a typical detective novel at some point answers the different questions it raises, tying threads together, THE CRYING OF LOT 49 opens outward with more and more questions as it unfolds. By the end, Oedipa Maas doesn’t solve the mystery of the Trystero. She and the reader actually have more questions at the novel’s close than when it started. A great anti-detective novel, then, no question, LOT 49 is. Along with Paul Auster’s CITY OF GLASS trilogy, it has to stand as one of the models of that particular form. And I still don't think I've ever read a book that better exemplifies the Jorge Luis Borges dictum of how to effectively and beautifully end a story: "with the imminence of a revelation." (Needless to say, a revelation not produced. But that's the beauty of it.)    

SPIDERS AND FLIES RELEASED






Seduction.  A Kidnapping. Betrayal.

It's SPIDERS AND FLIES, my Caribbean crime novel, from Harvard Square Editions.  Available now at Amazon in trade paperback and ebook.

MY FAVORITE MEMOIR




Far Away and Long Ago was written in 1918 by the English writer W.H. Hudson.  It is a memoir that seems almost odd today because it describes a happy childhood.  Hudson had a rich and interesting childhood spent with loving parents but few restrictions on the wild stretches of the Argentinian pampas in the 1840s and 50s. His Anglo-American parents had settled as immigrants in Argentina and that's where he was born. Though his father's attempt to make a living were struggles (he had to give up sheep farming and a grocery store he opened later also failed), Hudson loved where he grew up. The house was full of books, and the only formal education he got was from traveling schoolteachers and tutors who would turn up sometimes at the house and stay for awhile. After catching rheumatic fever from being out in a hailstorm while herding cattle, the pre-teen Hudson was given the freedom of an invalid, though in fact he was hardly that. This meant little was expected of him and he didn't have much parental supervision. To his heart's content he could wander alone out on the plains, ride horses, and study the animals, birds and plant life of the region. He was also a close observer of the people in the area -- this a time when real gauchos were out and about, and Argentina was chock full of eccentric immigrants and untamed characters.
Hudson himself says he could hardly have asked for a freer childhood, and there's no doubt that those impressionable years studying nature helped turn him into one of the world's great nature writers, something he became as an adult when he moved to England and settled there. Far Away and Long Ago was written in England when he was an old man and the world he was describing had already pretty much vanished, certainly to him who had not been back to Argentina for over 40 years. It has a poignant tone that is really moving yet not without humor, and the descriptions of the landscape, the wind, the sun, the flora, the animals are vivid and precise and lyrical.  As a number of people have commented, from Jorge Borges to Joseph Conrad to Virginia Woolf, Hudson ranks among the very greatest stylists of English prose.  His sentences flow with an effortless ease and clarity. I was taken away to a totally different time and place when I read this book, and when I'd leave my room after some reading, I felt as if there was nothing I wanted to do more than go back to the mid eighteen hundreds and take a walk through the Argentinian pampas. A great memoir for any period.