Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Guest Blogger: Matthew Warner, author of Blood Born (horror novel)

Today I have the honor of welcoming author Matthew Warner to the pages of Somebody Dies. Warner is the author of a short story collection (Death Sentences), two previous novels (The Organ Donor and Eyes Everywhere), and a collection of essays (Horror Is Not a 4-Letter Word).

I am currently halfway through his latest, Blood Born, and it is easily his best work yet, gripping, intelligent, and horrific.

"Where Ideas are Born"
by Matthew Warner

My story ideas are born any damn place possible. I’m not picky about those I raise to adulthood as long as I remain fertile. But you deserve a better explanation than that.

I conceived my most recent story while playing with my toddler son at the local tot lot. As I tried to keep him from picking up trash on his way to the playground’s slides, I noticed this hulking dude with tattoos beside a van. He was smoking a cigarette and watching my boy from behind mirrored sunglasses. Little warning prickles kept walking up my neck until Tattooed Dude turned to his child-snatcher van and hauled out . . .

Yep, you guessed it. A child. Probably his. They entered the playground and proceeded to have a grand old time on the swings.

When my shock wore off, I came home and wrote a short story that contains that scene.

So yeah, I’m a father. My life is Elmo, poopy diapers, and ultra-tight baby hugs around my windpipe. I therefore spend a lot of time thinking about children and parenting and all the stuff that can go horribly wrong. If Owen’s hand ever slips out of mine in a parking lot, I immediately flash to that scene in Pet Sematary where little Gage Creed runs into traffic to be creamed by a tractor trailer.

Is it any wonder, then, that my latest novel, Blood Born, deals with babies? Bad babies, of course. Babies conceived of brutal rapes and who come to term in just one week. Then eat their mothers. And grow to adulthood in just a few days to continue the cycle of rapes themselves.

Blood Born falls into a body of stories I’ve written about parenting. “Cat’s Cradle,” published last year at Horror Drive-In, deals with the consequences of letting your cat sleep next to your pregnant wife’s belly. (If your baby is born without a soul, don’t say I didn’t warn ya, okay?) “Maybe Monitored,” published in January at The Dark Fiction Spotlight, started when I thought I heard strange voices in Owen’s room through the baby monitor.

So that’s Matthew Warner’s Idea-Trolling Suggestion #1. It’s a variation on the old “write about what you know” chestnut: write about what’s occupying your thoughts.

There’s more to it than that, of course. I mixed some marketing considerations into Blood Born’s genesis. Such as, I wanted to reward readers of my previous novels by recycling a couple characters, namely Detective Christina Randall from The Organ Donor and the CalPark corporation from Eyes Everywhere.

I also wanted to write a horror story that appeals to women. That meant strong, female protagonists dealing with a situation that targets women. (And what could be more terrifying to a woman than rape?)

Sprinkled into that was my fascination with the Gaia theory -- the idea of the Earth as an organism -- and the paradigm of how a virus spreads. I learned in high school biology that when a virus invades a cell, it hijacks the cellular machinery to replicate itself, eventually causing the cell to explode and spread copies of the virus far and wide. I wondered how to represent such a thing if we took it up a frame of scale so that humans were the host “cells.” I concluded that a contagion spread by serial rapes and pregnancies was the logical choice.

Blood Born is also a monster story, and like most Americans, I grapple with the existence of our bona fide monsters: the Osama bin Ladens of the world. I learned while living in the Washington, DC, area during and immediately after 9/11 that when the shit hits the fan in the nation’s capital, the federal government doesn’t just respond by cleaning the shit off the fan blades. It stuffs a cork up the ass of every life form within 500 miles, declares a moratorium on farts and other airborne pollutants, and borrows $14 trillion from China to invade places suspected of harboring chemical toilets.

So, when a wave of strange animals starts impregnating every fertile woman in the DC area with creatures whom -- for lack of a better moniker -- the media label the Beltway Bigfoots, you can bet your bowel movements the government’s cure will indeed be worse than the disease, and, oh yeah, the baby will get thrown out with the bath water.

Man, I’m glad to be living in the Shenandoah Valley now. Here, a subway is just a sandwich shop. But I still get stressed out being a father to babies and stories alike.

Take a chance on my novel, will you? If you’re still hesitant, the first chapter and some awesome book trailers can be viewed at BloodBorn.info. And if that still doesn’t convince you, just lay your eyes on that sweet little boy pictured here with his daddy. You want him to eat, don’t you? I thought so.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Re-Kindling Interest: Street Raised by Pearce Hansen

He pulled the straight shooter from his lips, torturing himself with anticipation as he watched a tiny tendril of crack smoke waver from the mouth end of the pipe. The scent of it excited him more than the sight of a naked woman as he watched the crack smoke dissipate into the air, a little piece of Heaven wasted. — from Street Raised

I believe the current e-book wave's greatest benefit is in how it allows books and authors that were neglected the first time around, another chance to get noticed. And I can't think of a single novel that deserves this second chance more than Pearce Hansen's Street Raised.

Originally released by PointBlank Press in 2006, it got terrific blurbs and subsequently great reviews. But it never seemed to find its audience. Now Hansen has released an expanded and improved version in electronic format. According to the author himself, the new edition of Street Raised is "a third longer than the original, with material based on several years of research to make the feral Bay Area of 1984 come fully alive as a character in and of itself."

What follows is my original review:

Few crime fiction writers have actually lived through the same events they put their characters through. For most, writing noir is an opportunity to experience illegal behaviors from a safe distance, things they would never dare to replicate because they don't have to. Pearce Hansen is the rare breed: he has run the same streets and struggled through the same precarious existence his characters do.  For Hansen, writing is a kind of catharsis: it helps keep the nightmares away.

From the bio included with Street Raised, we learn that Hansen was "functionally homeless at a young age," and that he did a lot of self-educating through reading a variety of books: "he counts Thucydides & Spillane, Dostoevski & H.P. Lovecraft, Dickens & Nietzsche among his dear dead friends."

Street Raised is his debut novel, but it is not the work of a beginner. Hansen has been honing craft in short-fiction circles (including the now-defunct Plots With Guns) for ten years, and it shows. The story of Speedy and the aftermath of his release from Pelican Bay State Prison (far too much happens for me to even attempt a summary) displays a sure hand that knows what a good story requires: relatable characters, detailed settings, a clearly defined arc, and a satisfying ending.

It is in the spaces between, though, where Hansen's experiences and innate knack for storytelling shine through: There is no distancing from these people; we get up close and personal with their ways of life. Street Raised is filled with situations that could only be described by one who has seen them happen up close.  That immediacy translates onto the page, resulting in at least one character who is thoroughly disturbing.

But make no mistake, Street Raised is not a memoir; that doesn't suit Hansen's needs here at all.  He simply brings the rawness, the grit, and the upfront humanity to a genre that has, over time, gotten far too glossy.  Hansen's unflinching (and completely engrossing) take will change how you feel about other crime writers.  Kudos to Hansen for writing what is without a doubt the most affecting crime novel of the year.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Kiss Her Goodbye by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins (Mike Hammer series)

Only a telephone call from his best friend, police captain Pat Chambers, could bring Mike Hammer back to New York. There was simply nothing for him there anymore. And his health's not so great, either, after that firefight that ended in the death of Sal Bonetti and left Hammer with numerous pains, in particular a "hot spot" behind his ribs. So, he's been relaxing and recuperating in Florida and not missing the city a bit.

When Pat tells Mike that their pal Inspector Bill Doolan killed himself, Mike is on his way. After the funeral, though, something nags at Hammer, and he begins to have doubts. Sure, Doolan had cancer, and maybe he would want to do away with himself before the disease made his every living moment hell, but it's just not Doolan's style. And yet maybe it could have been his wish, given how he was living his final years as a playboy, to go out in a flash.

But when the corpse of Ginnie Mathes turns up and Dulcie Thorpe is hit-and-run'd right beside Mike, Hammer knows that, as unofficial as he wanted this visit to be, he'll have to break out the .45 and the porkpie and do what he does best. Only this time without his girl Friday, Velda.

Kiss Her Goodbye is the third Mike Hammer novel finished by author Max Allan Collins from documents in the late Mickey Spillane's files. The first two were The Goliath Bone and The Big Bang (with the non-Hammer Dead Street before that).

Collins has really hit his stride with this one. He captures the disco era skillfully, yet assures that it doesn't feel old or out-of-date to modern readers — though that didn't keep a Bowery Boys reference from eliciting a grin. Kiss Her Goodbye also serves up a superlative mystery that kept me guessing, sometimes even more after a question was answered than before, delivering a couple of really great twists.

There are several more unfinished novels and other works remaining in the Spillane archives, but Kiss Her Goodbye is at this writing the last Hammer contracted for. I for one am glad to see Hammer in brand new adventures, and I know many of you are, too. So let's keep him there. What this means is that, if you want to see more, you need to speak up with your almighty dollars. Accolades and passionate discussion are all well and good, but the only way the publisher knows that these books are in demand is if they sell.
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