Category Archives: Book

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Second Chance

Second ChanceThis is probably my favorite novel of those I’ve written so far, as it’s closest to the concerns of my own life. When I’m asked to describe it, I usually refer to it as a ecoterrorist time-travel fantasy thriller romance, which indicates the dangers of genre labeling.  Let’s just call it a novel about how the turbulent sixties affected those who grew up during that time. As one reviewer said, “It’s a thriller, it’s a time travel novel, it’s a look at how we romanticize the past, and it’s an examination of how hard it is to stay true to your youthful ideals.” Bingo.

Charles De Lint in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction called it “a hard speculative exploration of the impact those incendiary times had upon some of us who lived through them,” while Time Tunnel‘s T. Liam McDonald said, “it is a piercing look at idealism unhinged, of the world-shattering power of love, hate, and zealous belief…one of the most unusual and moving books in a long time.” And The New York Review of Science Fiction called it “a wonderful and dreadful evocation of the way in which history and politics haunt us all…”

My friend Rick Huck painted the dust jacket cover, and I own the original. It’s a depiction of the building in which I lived in college, with a bookstore on the first floor, just as shown here.

Mordenheim

Mordenheim
Mordenheim (TSR, 1994)

Through editor Brian Thomsen, I was commissioned to do two work-for-hire novels set in the TSR gaming worlds. The first of these was Mordenheim, TSR’s avatar of Frankenstein. I got to create my own plot, set in what was actually a mildly disguised universe of 1930s-40s Universal horror movies, and had a blast doing it. While certainly not the most serious thing I’ve ever written, I took it seriously and did the best job I could while playing in someone else’s world and by their rules.

I’ve always loved the classic horror monsters, and getting to write my own version using these archetypes was like getting a paid vacation…

Aliens: Music of the Spears

Aliens: Music of the Spears
Aliens: Music of the Spears (Dark Horse, 1994)

In 1994 I landed an assignment to write a 4-issue arc of Dark Horse’s Aliens series, and decided to somehow link the aliens to the arts. Music of the Spears 1-4 was the result. I came up with a plot in which a contemporary composer uses the screams of the aliens in his classical compositions, but is frustrated by not being able to find just the right tones, so he steals a little alien egg and hatches his own. Then the fun really starts.

I took the job very seriously and did layouts with (very) rough sketches for penciller Tim Hamilton. Tim Bradstreet did the inking and the fantastic covers. Yvonne Navarro wrote a novelization of my graphic novel script, and the comics themselves were reprinted (but with only one of the great covers) in Dark Horse’s Aliens Omnibus Volume 4 in 2008.

Thrillers

Thrillers
Thrillers (CD Publications, 1993)

Thrillers was the first of a series in which an editor would choose four authors to write a certain number of words of suspense fiction. Richard Chizmar edited this volume, which I shared with Rex Miller, Nancy A. Collins, and Ardath Mayhar. My contribution was a short story, “Watching the Burning,” and a novella, “Dusty Death.”

I always love the chance to write at novella length, and had a great and twisty time writing about a murder that comes back to haunt the protagonist. The short story was a real quirky, psychological work, more of a character study than a crime story, the crime being one of omission…

Reign

Reign
Reign (Dark Harvest, 1990)

I loved writing Reign, which was published in hardcover by Dark Harvest in several collectors’ editions. It was a novel set in world of the theatre, where I’ve lived a goodly portion of my life. I got into writing as the result of being a professional actor (a long story that I’ll blog about someday), and have, in the past few years, reinstated my Actors Equity card and am trodding the professional boards once again, to my great pleasure.

Reign is the story of an actor based on Yul Brynner, who plays the same stage role for so many years that he becomes identified with it. In my novel, however, the character takes on a life of its own, becoming a malevolent doppelganger. The scenes with “The Emperor” are written in play form, a harbinger, I suppose, of the actual plays I would later write. Reaction was strongly positive. The novel was nominated for a Stoker Award, and Publishers Weekly called it “believable, elegant (and) thoroughly enjoyable,” while Gauntlet said, “honest, uncompromising and emotionally charged in a way that is too uncommon in works of horror fiction.”

John and Laura Lakey did the beautiful wraparound dust jacket and interior illustrations. But that dust jacket proved a bit embarassing when my ole pard Joe R. Lansdale’s blurb was credited to Joe B. Lansdale. 20 years down the road, and I’m still apologizing…

The book has never been published in paperback, and I think it’s damn well about time…

Night Visions 7

Night Visions 7
Night Visions 7 (Dark Harvest, 1989)

Every volume of the Night Visions series from Dark Harvest allowed a different editor to ask three writers to come up with 30,000 words each. Stan Wiater recruited Dick Laymon, Gary Brandner, and me for the seventh volume. I wrote a novella ( The Confessions of St. James), a short story, “Blue Notes,” and a tiny short-short with a really long title (“Assurances of the Self-Extinction of Man”), so I really spanned word lengths.

The Confessions of St. James, which was nominated for a Stoker Award, was great fun to write, the tale of a cannibalistic clergyman who takes the concept of Holy Communion a bit too seriously. His fictional church was based on Donegal Presbyterian Church near my home. It has a marvelous old cemetery with graves & tombs dating back to the Revolutionary War.

I think the novella is my favorite length of story when I wrote horror. It really allows you to expand ideas and characterization without necessitating subplots and extra characters that can often make novel-length works lose that intense focus which is so imperative to a mood of terror. It’s too bad there are so few markets for that length of tale…

The House of Fear: A Study in Comparative Religions

The House of Fear
The House of Fear (Footsteps Press, 1989)

“A Study in Comparative Religions” was the original title of this chapbook, but when publisher Bill Munster suggested that the title might lead readers to think it a piece of non-fiction, I retitled it.  It was limited to 500 copies, and contains beautiful interiors by Douglas C. Klauba. My old friend Steve Bissette was going to do the illos, but ran into some scheduling problems, and Doug’s work fitted the story perfectly.

It’s a fairly bizarre allegorical tale about superstitious behavior, and was reprinted in 2002 in my short story collection, Figures in Rain, complete with notes from me explaining the story’s sources, and talking more about it.

Dreamthorp

Dreamthorp (Dark Harvest/Avon, 1889)

Published simultaneously in hardcover (from Dark Harvest) and paperback (from Avon) I’ve chosen to show Bob Eggleton’s terrific dust jacket rather than the well-painted but “horror-novelly” clutching tree-man cover from Avon. Bob did some fine interior illustrations as well.

Dreamthorp‘s working title was The Little Houses, and it wasn’t until I finished the first draft that I found the 19th century book of essays, Dreamthorp, that gave the novel its theme and chapter headings. I tended to go a bit overboard on the violence with this one. One reviewer accused me of “excessive pornoviolence,” to which I can only reply, Don’t tell my mom… But most reviews were good, calling the book “a wonderful piece of dark American fantasy” and “a near-perfect novel.”
The village of Dreamthorp is based on Mt. Gretna, an old Chautauqua community just a few miles from my home, and a lovely place to spend a summer day or evening. Really.

Lowland Rider

Lowland Rider
Lowland Rider (Tor Books, 1988))

Lowland Rider was published as a paperback original, and was my “New York Subway System” novel. The cover painting has nothing whatsoever to do with the plot, which concerns a man who buries himself beneath New York City after his wife and child are brutally murdered. He becomes aware of a dark supernatural plot brewing that threatens to undo the delicate balance between good and evil in the world. Naturally, hilarity and a lot of bloodshed ensue.

I wrote a faux Scottish ballad that I used in between sections of the novel to comment on the action, and several reviewers believed that it was an actual old ballad…always fun to fool people.

Reviews were good. My favorite was from Fear, which said: “He injects Lowland Rider with a humanity rarely seen in comparable horror novels. Commendably mature, unlike so many authors who sacrifice plot for excessive visceral sensationalism…A highly innovative and original novel (and) the bleakest and most downbeat horror novel of 1988…”

The cover of the British edition was much better than the U.S. edition, since it actually had something to do with subways…

McKain’s Dilemma

McKain's Dilemma
McKain’s Dilemma (Tor Books, 1988)

My first suspense novel, McKain’s Dilemma, was published in hardcover as part of Tor’s new but quickly aborted mystery line. After the editor left the house, the book was orphaned, and the line quickly vanished. I doubt if 500 copies of the book were sold.

It was a shame, as the book was my attempt at a more realistic mystery novel, with the private eye protagonist being a family man who stumbles into a murder somewhat by accident, and writing the first person narrative for a definite reason. I alternated the first person sections with third person segments dealing with various characters to deal with various points of view. Another plot element of interest was that the private detective was suffering from a terminal illness (which somewhat diminished the possibility of a series). The novel, though it received positive reviews, was never published in paperback, has long been out of print, and is available in the used book market.