Thursday, November 17, 2011

Fear Me by Tim Curran (horror novella)

Danny Palmquist is the new fish at Shaddock Valley maximum security prison. He tells his cellmate, Romero, that he's innocent, that Danny's brother committed the murder Danny was convicted of, and that if anyone bothers Danny while he's in stir, his brother will take care of it.

Romero is incredulous at first. But soon, Danny is targeted, and then the attackers die gruesomely, at night, after lockdown. And it can't be Danny because Romero, sleeping on the bottom bunk, knows Danny never left their cell.

But something else did. Something that frightens Romero like nothing ever has before. So much that he couldn't even bear to look at it.

Fear Me is the first Tim Curran book I've read after last year's The Corpse King, and I really must not leave such a gap in the future. Curran really has the chops.

He manages to seamlessly combine a darkly realistic prison setting with Lovecraftian horror, people it with believable and interesting characters, and tell it in short chapters with speedy prose. Even when I knew what was happening, Curran's skill at suspense made sure I wanted to know what would happen next. Fear Me pulled me along with its narrative force and left me satisfied but wanting to read more of this amazing author's work.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Return to Perdition by Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty (graphic novel, Road to Perdition sequel)

With Return to Perdition, author Max Allan Collins and artist Terry Beatty conclude the saga begun by Collins and Richard Piers Rayner with Road to Perdition. It not only brings the story back to the graphic novel (sequels Road to Purgatory and Road to Paradise were prose-only novels) but also reunites Collins with Beatty in their first comic collaboration in 15 years. (Though Beatty did the cover to the Ms. Tree novel Deadly Beloved and illustrated the Jack and Maggie Starr novels, including Strip for Murder.)

While previous Perdition graphic-novel "sequels" (collected in Road to Perdition 2: On the Road) essentially expanded on the original storyline involving Michael O'Sullivan and his son, Return to Perdition picks up where Road to Paradise left off, including the illustration of a climactic scene from that book. (If you feel a little lost by not having read those books, do so; they're some of Collins's best and most personal work.)

Return to Perdition follows Michael Satariano, Jr. — spoken of but, if memory serves, never "seen" in Road to Paradise — as he is rescued from a POW camp in Laos and recruited by the Justice Department as an assassin targeted on organized crime. He trains at the FBI academy at Quantico but even more rigorously than the special agents, with a fringe benefit of his assignment being his chance to avenge his family's murder.

It's great to see Collins and Beatty together again in this form. Their classic Ms. Tree comic is terrific and influential, and their skills at their respective arts have only deepened over time. Return to Perdition is a fantastic way to end a series that I've been reading and rereading for years.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Top MFA Programs for Genre Writers (from guest blogger Emily Matthews)

Today I have the pleasure of welcoming writer Emily Matthews to the pages of Somebody Dies. An MFA applicant herself, she has offered to share some of her knowledge with other genre-fiction writers.

For all the arguments for and against obtaining a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, one of the greatest concerns among authors is choosing the right program. This concern goes beyond simply choosing between a program that is geared toward fiction or poetry.

In the past, creative writers who wanted to explore the depths of certain genres such as mystery and thriller novels had every right to be skeptical about the value of MFA programs. There was a prevalent notion that MFA fiction programs shunned genre writing in favor of highbrow literary drama and writing for the performing arts. What’s a genre fiction writer to do when you’re searching for a master's degree program to practice your craft? Don’t give up hope.

While it’s true that masters of literature such as Kazuo Ishiguro and Ian McEwan, as well as acclaimed screenwriters such as Darren Starr and David Benioff, graduated from MFA programs, authors of thrillers and mysteries can definitely find a program geared towards their chosen genre. Authors of mysteries and thrillers who are looking to create suspense will find that there is an MFA program waiting for them.

The MFA program at the University of Southern Maine has an option for popular fiction writing. The school not only welcomes burgeoning writers of mystery and thriller novels, it actually encourages them to market their work.

Science fiction and techno-thriller authors are gladly accepted at the University of Kansas and its esteemed James Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction. Genre fiction is actually a graduate course for writers attending the North Carolina State University MFA program.

Taking a critical look at the professors teaching at specific MFA schools can shed light on their inclination towards genre writers. At Florida International University, Les Standiford has been at the helm of the creative writing program for decades. He is well known for his crime and suspense novels based in Miami, and he even gave Raymond Carver his first writing gig. Adam Baron, who teaches at the prestigious Kingston University London, is a thriller and crime writer whose work has been serialized for BBC Radio.

Writers of mystery and thriller novels do not have to jump from one workshop to sharpen their skills and become masters of their craft. In terms of cultural standing, the MFA programs above recognize that mysteries and thrillers have an important place in the world's literature. Entering the right MFA program is a great opportunity for authors to become the next Michael Crichton or John Grisham.

Emily Matthews is currently applying to master's degree programs across the U.S., and loves to read about new research into health care, gender issues, and literature. She lives and writes in Seattle, Washington.
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