Category Archives: Book

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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.

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday (Tor Books, 1987).

This was my second novel, published by Tor Books in hardcover and then in paperback.

It was an attempt at a “passive” horror novel, in which people in a small town (modeled after my own Elizabethtown) wake up one morning to discover that the dead are now visible as naked, semi-transparent blue forms, in the position that they were at the moment of death. They don’t move, they don’t speak; they are merely grim reminders of mortality. The action of the novel stems purely from the townspeople’s reactions to these ghosts. The plot also bears numerous parallels to Conrad’s Lord Jim.

The book was a final nominee for the 1988 Horror Writers of America’s Stoker Award. In The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Orson Scott Card wrote, “Chet Williamson has done something powerful and new. You will be haunted by this book.” Library Journal: “a fine psychological thriller…and a richly textured and satisfying novel.” Fantasy Review: “a rich, carefully constructed novel about the ravages of guilt and about the real horror of life.” Rave Reviews: “a riveting, descriptive account of the effect the dead have on the living…both thought-provoking and entertaining.”

Fritz Leiber, who was one of my literary idols as I grew up, wrote: “By following the science-fiction precept of examining realistically and carefully the results of a single change in the circumstances of existence, Williamson has built a strong if necessarily macabre and uncomfortable tale of moral import.”

The novel has received a separate entry in the three-volume Supernatural Literature of the World, which declared it imbued “with a poignancy most horror novels only hope to achieve.”

An interesting footnote is that the final chapter was removed by editorial suggestion, and printed for the first time in Issue # 9 of Bill Munster’s magazine, Footsteps, in 1990.

One more item of interest is that the first dust jackets printed were embossed, but the name of the author was misspelled “Chet Willimson” everywhere on the jacket. The corrected jacket bore no embossing. I donated a copy of the book with the first state, never released dust jacket to an HWA auction, where it sold for over $300.

The book is now out of print, but is easily found in the used book markets. As for the first state jacket, not so much…


Soulstorm (Tor Books, 1986)

My first novel, a paperback original from Tor. The three pages of maps and floor plans at the front of the book were drawn by my father.

To make the transition from short story writer to novelist, I wanted my first book to have a fairly limited cast of characters, and small number of settings. The traditional haunted house story filled the bill perfectly. The plot concerned a small group of people locked into a haunted house for a month with the goal of ascertaining proof of the supernatural entities there.

It was scarcely an original idea, but I tried to weave enough variations on a well-known theme to make it fresh and interesting, including a mercenary soldier who happens to be gay, a fairly uncommon concept in genre fiction at that time.  A columnist for SF Chronicle called the book  “the best horror novel of the year,” and the reviewer there labeled it “one of the most intense variations on the haunted house story that I have ever read.” West Coast Review of Books said, “a dark gem of a novel,” and under my entry in the three-volume Supernatural Literature of the World, it states, “The emotional and moral dilemmas the characters face…gives uncommon depth to what is essentially a conventional genre story.”

I loved the bizarre, surrealistic cover art, but was later told by someone at Tor that it was thought so grotesque that it had hurt sales.

The novel is out of print, but used copies are easy to find…