All posts by Chet

I sold my first story in 1981. Since then I've published twenty-five books and over a hundred short stories. My work has been adapted for film and TV, and has been published worldwide. I've won the International Horror Guild Award, and been shortlisted for the World Fantasy Award (twice), the MWA's Edgar, and the HWA's Bram Stoker Award (six times). Not that any of this has made me a better person...

Welcome to my book page…

…Here you’ll find the various books I’ve written over the years, with my comments and anecdotes about them.

Some are actually still in print.

If you’d like to leave any notes or comments yourself, please feel free to do so. Those that convey the message, “I hate your work. Die, die,” will probably be deleted, unless you hate my work and/or wish me to die die in a particularly colorful or amusing way.

The Story of Noichi the Blind

The Story of Noichi the Blind
The Story of Noichi the Blind (Cemetery Dance Publications, 2007)

The novella is my favorite length in which to write horror, so when Richard Chizmar requested a novella for Cemetery Dance’s hardcover novella series, I immediately started thinking about what to write.

My son Colin moved to Japan when he was still in college, transferring to Temple’s Tokyo campus and then staying there after graduation, working first for Anchor and then for Square Enix as a videogame designer. My fondness for all things Japanese has increased during his tenure there and our many visits. And one of the things I have long liked about Japan has been the writer Lafcadio Hearn. So I decided to create a “rediscovered” Hearn story which I would then “edit” with the help of the fictitious Alan Drew, Ph.D., a Hearn scholar.

The result was The Story of Noichi the Blind, complete with an introduction telling how my son found the story and sent it to me, and how the manuscript’s  typeface was identified by the very real Richard Polt, who is an expert in antique typewriters and also runs the Harry Stephen Keeler website. The story follows, and the volume ends with an Afterword by Dr. Drew in which, through textual analysis, he concludes that the tale is not by Hearn, but by an unknown admirer living in Japan sometime before 1940.

The whole creation was a delight to concoct, and the story itself is one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever set to paper, though told in a classic, fairytale manner that somehow makes it palatable. The reviewers seemed to have as much fun with it as I did, and my favorite comment was one from the Booklist reviewer who said, “This extraordinary performance makes such comparably transgressive writing as the Marquis de Sade’s seem totally crude.” Now that made my year.

The delightful cover painting is by the wonderful Jill Bauman (I own the framed initial monochromatic study she did for it). I have also turned the story into a play for puppet theatre, blending traditional Japanese puppetry with contemporary puppetry, in the hopes that somewhere, someday, someone will be twisted enough to undertake the project…

Pennsylvania Dutch Alphabet

Pennsylvania Dutch Alphabet
Pennsylvania Dutch Alphabet

Another picture book, this follow-up to my Pennsylvania Dutch Night Before Christmas has a four-line poem about the Pennsylvania Dutch for each letter of the alphabet, along with some explanatory text. Among the more predictable ones are “Quilt,” “Corn,” “Shoo-fly Pie,” and “Pretzels,” but I was stumped for “X” until my now deceased Pennsylvania Dutch friend, Lloyd Arthur Eshbach (founder of Fantasy Press and a science fiction pulp writer since 1929) suggested “X” as in: “The chicken lays the X.”

So I came up with “X is for eggs –/That’s how you pronounce them:/’Bring in the ecks!/Be sure not to bounce them!'”

The illustrations, much more faithful to the Pennsylvania Dutch culture, are by Alan Stacy, and the book is available from Pelican Publishing.

Figures in Rain

Figures in Rain
Figures in Rain (Ash-tree Press, 2002)

If I had to take along one book of mine with which to be stuck on a desert island, it would be this collection of many of my short stories. I had been a collector of Ash-tree Press volumes, since they specialize in classic ghost stories, and I’ve long been a fan of such tales in the vein of M. R. James, E. G. Swain, and others. So when they approached me to do a collection of my own supernatural tales, I leapt at the chance.

I arranged the volume in chronological order, with my very first story from a 1981 issue of Twilight Zone Magazine leading the way. I wrote detailed notes on every story, which were placed in the rear of the hefty volume (27 stories & over 300 pages of quite small print), and Joe Lansdale penned an introduction which still makes me blush whenever I read it. Three times a day. “He’s earned the right to be recognized as one of the finest writers of our generation. And generations beyond, I’m sure.” I love that Joe…

Others seemed to agree, since the reviews were fairly incandescent. The book was shortlisted for the World Fantasy Award, and won the International Horror Guild Award, while one of the two new stories I wrote for the book was nominated for the IHG Award as well. The book is still available from Ash-tree…

Uniting Work and Spirit: A Centennial History of Elizabethtown College

Uniting Work & Spirit: A Centennial History of Elizabethtown College
Uniting Work & Spirit (Elizabethtown College Press, 2001)

This is the first and only college history I have ever written or will ever write. I was commissioned to write the centennial history of Elizabethtown College, a small liberal arts college founded by the Church of the Brethren in my town. I’d never written a non-fiction book before, but someone at the college thought that a writer like me would produce a much more readable and engaging book than most dry-as-dust historians would turn out. I like to think they were right.

I wrote the history about the people who built and nurtured the college, and not the college itself, and it was a much more fascinating journey than I had thought. Though I was offered research assistants, I chose to do all the research myself, and went through every issue of the college newspaper, every yearbook, endless piles of college catalogues and more. I dug into the archives, uncovering some scandalous stories about the college founders, and showing that J. G. Francis, considered the George Washington of the school, was in fact a petty, vindictive man who ultimately tried to destroy the school because he felt as though he had been under-appreciated by those who took control.

Unfortunately, I spent an entire year researching and writing the history, a year that, as it turned out, could have been more wisely spent, at least in financial terms. If you’re interested in having me write a history of your college, my price will start in the mid-six figures.

Only real completists would want this book, available in hardcover and paperback. But if you do, the E-town College Bookstore has it…

Pennsylvania Dutch Night Before Christmas

Pennsylvania Dutch Night Before Christmas
Pennsylvania Dutch Night Before Christmas (Pelican Press, 2000)

Those readers who know me from my work in suspense and dark fantasy may well wonder what this strange creature is. What it is, friends, is my best selling book to date.

For many years I’ve written my wife Laurie a short story every Christmas. (My friend Charles de Lint does the same for his wife, and I suspect we’re not the only ones.) Lancaster County, where we live, contains a lot of Pennsylvania Dutch folks, and my grandparents all spoke with that curious dialect (my grandfather Hershey actually wrote poetry in that regional language), and my rendition is pretty good.

When my son Colin was small, we of course read The Night Before Christmas to him, and found The Cajun Night Before Christmas, which became a tradition as well. One Christmas Laurie told me that I should write a Pennsylvania Dutch version, so I did that instead of a story. It proved such a hit that she insisted I send it to Pelican Press, which printed a number of these Night Before Christmas parodies in hardcover. So I did, along with a cover letter praising the area as a tourist trap in which such a book would sell mightily, and they bought both the argument and the book. The late James Rice did the illustrations, but being a Texan he didn’t quite grasp such regional niceties as hex signs and Amish quilts, and even though I provided a lot of reference photos, there are still a few errors in the art (check out those horns on my Holsteins!). Nevertheless, the book was and continues to be a huge regional success. At one Borders pre-Christmas signing alone we sold 800 books, and the line stretched out of the store. The book is in its sixth printing, and sells year after year, along with the coloring book and the recording that I made (complete with sound effects). Check out Pelican Publishing for the whole “product line” and an old photo and bio. I’ll be putting up an excerpt from the book on the website soon…

The Searchers: City of Iron

The Searchers: City of Iron
The Searchers: City of Iron (Avon Books, 1998)

This is the first volume of a three-book series of paperback originals I wrote for Avon Books. An editor at Avon approached my then-agent with an idea of a trilogy about paranormal investigators, since both The X-Files and Men In Black were huge at the time, and my agent suggested me to write it. After passing the audition, so to speak, I got the job.

The good part was that it wasn’t work-for-hire. I would be the owner of the rights. Since I’d decided to stop doing work-for-hire, this seemed an intriguing way to get back into writing my own novels. Both the editor and I felt that the books should stay as far away from X-Files territory as possible, which would be easy for me. Though I often watched the show, I wasn’t obsessive about it. I decided to spice up the mix with a good dose of skepticism about the paranormal, and gave my secret team of government investigators the job of debunking supposed supernatural occurrences. In the notes at the back of every volume, I suggested that readers crack the covers of such skeptical classics as Gordon Stein’s The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal, The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan, and other books by James Randi, Martin Gardner, and Michael Shermer. I also gave them CSICOP’s web address.

The story concerned an ageless being, possibly an alien, who was being guarded by the Catholic Church. The Knights Templar played a large part in the series (this was before The DaVinci Code), and the three investigators, Laika Harris, Tony Luciano, and Joseph Stein start in New York City to investigate “a conspiracy that could shatter every belief about the origin of man…and God,” as the cover copy put it.

Though I’d thought Shadow Ops an evocative title for the series, the marketing department at Avon came up with The Searchers. Though I protested that there was no sign of John Wayne nor Native Americans in the book, The Searchers it became.

The editor and I agreed that the covers should be very contemporary and edgy, but again, the marketing department had different ideas. Since they wanted the books to appeal to the X-Files and Men In Black fans, what more brilliant method than making the covers look like an actual morph of those two franchises, with the three agents striking poses in front of a star field? And did it work? Well, Locus said, “The cover art and design package seem intended to attract fans of Men in Black and The X-Files. City of Iron is not a novelization of an existing film or TV show; but it does seem clearly aimed at suggesting a literary equivalent.”  Science Fiction Chronicle opined, “…pretty obviously packaged to look similar to X-Files, but which contains a much better story.”   Many readers (and Amazon reviewers) said that they almost didn’t pick up the book because it looked like an X-Files ripoff. And it did. It most certainly did. And so it goes.

Nevertheless, what reviews there were, were good and readers liked it. You might too. Contact me if you’d like copies — always happy to sign them for readers…

The Searchers: Empire of Dust

The Searchers: Empire of Dust
The Searchers: Empire of Dust (Avon Books, 1998)

Empire of Dust was the second book in The Searchers series. I decided to set it in an location with which I’ve always been fascinated, the High Desert of the Southwest: Arizona, New Mexico, that whole Four Corners area. Apparently the marketing department saw the chance to tie in The Crow and crop circles as well on the cover. Sigh…

I dedicated this one to my ole pard, Joe R. Lansdale.. It wasn’t set in his home town of Nacogdoches, Texas, but it was close. Sorta.

The Searchers: Siege of Stone

The Searchers: Siege of Stone
The Searchers: Siege of Stone (Avon Books, 1999)

The third volume in The Searchers series took place in Scotland, where I’d vacationed several years earlier. I tried to leave the final volume slightly open-ended in case the publisher wanted me to continue the series. No such luck. Each subsequent volume sold less than the one before, partly due to the fact that the publisher made the print run smaller with each volume, thus creating the self-fulfilling prophecy they’d begun with the marketing department’s decision to make the covers appear as derivative as possible.

An interesting footnote: a year or so after this final volume came out I sold a book on eBay to Timothy Binga for the CSICOP (The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry) library. When I sent the book, I also sent a set of the trilogy, with a letter explaining what my purpose had been with the books, to actually further CSICOP’s cause by urging readers to become more skeptical about the paranormal. Binga actually reviewed the books on CSICOP’s website, and was very complimentary about them and my effort to bring a bit of enlightenment to readers.