Publisher Rogue Blades Foundation recently announced the upcoming release of the book Robert E. Howard Changed My Life. Below is an excerpt from author Joe R. Lansdale’s essay for the book.
You can feel so lonely, out there in the wilds.
Oh, I had my parents’ support. They were great. But it isn’t quite the same. I wanted to know other writers, meet an editor or publisher. As for an agent, I thought they worked for the CIA.
I knew this, though.
I loved books, and I wanted to write them, and I had figured out when I saw names on comic books, Bob Kane and Gardner Fox, that real people came up with this stuff, but I was told, by someone who didn’t know his butt from a hole in the ground, that everyone who wrote comics, or novels, or stories, lived in New York or Los Angeles.
The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek is not a novel I expected to be reviewing for Black Gate. It is a compelling thriller with a preternatural undercurrent that I heartily recommend, but that’s not what one would have expected from its authors. Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal have carved their own successful niche with Good Mythical Morning, a YouTube talk show/comedy show which seems to have successfully updated Ernie Kovacs’ format for the hipster generation. While that may be an accurate description on the surface, it belies the expansiveness of their burgeoning Mythical Entertainment media empire and its audience demographic composed of 20 million subscribers across their platform.
These two childhood friends from a small town in North Carolina have written two bestsellers; made their own critically-acclaimed, incredibly bizarre, but consistently funny streaming sitcom, Buddy System; hosted a trainwreck fascinating, but frequently funny IFC reality show, Commercial Kings; made an award-winning feature-length documentary about the search for their First Grade teacher, Looking for Ms. Locklear; released comedy albums; performed sold-out comedy concert tours on several continents; put together their own stage show to tie-in with their first book; and are currently undertaking a book tour in theaters around the country to promote their first novel. Regulars on Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show where they provide a reminder of what late night comedy meant for those old enough to remember Carson or at least Letterman in his prime, they may be the two most ambitious and successful cult figures in the U.S. at present.
Dr. Phibes is far more than the evocation of the great thriller characters of its creator’s childhood; he is a character that stands proudly alongside Dracula, Moriarty, Nikola, Fu Manchu, Fantomas, and Mabuse as an equal in inventiveness and execution. William Goldstein, as screenwriter and novelist, created an immortal as only the best storytellers do. Phibes is a character who transcends his era, defines his own archetype, and is firmly established in his own mythology to pass from one generation, century, and millenium to the next. The best news for fans is The Master’s work continues with the fifth and latest book in the ongoing series, The Androbots – Book I of The Dr. Phibes Manifest.
Those who have read the first four books in the series or, at the very least, my other Black Gate articles covering these titles, are aware there is a significant tonal difference between the two Vincent Price Dr. Phibesfilms of the early 1970s and William Goldstein’s novels. The books retain the films’ eccentricities, but are far more tragic than comedic. I do revere the two AIP releases. Director Robert Fuest and his production crew imbued both pictures with a sardonic touch that allowed Vincent Price and several of his co-stars to turn in subdued performance that carefully balance extreme bursts of horror, tragedy, and comedy. One never knows quite what to expect as one scene ends and the next begins when watching the films.
The Arabic world has seen an upsurge in speculative fiction in recent years. Some attribute it to the disappointments of the Arab Spring and the disaster of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Others point to ready access to the Internet, allowing Arab writers to communicate more easily with genre fans in other parts of the world.
Of course this ignores the fact that Arabic literature has a long tradition of the fantastic. Arab writers are working from very deep roots. So it’s interesting that one of the most successful Arab speculative novels of the past decade takes its inspiration from a Western source.
Frankenstein in Baghdad retells Mary Shelley’s classic tale in American-occupied Baghdad in the early years of this decade. The book originally came out in Arabic in 2013. Baghdad is a nightmare of opposing factions shooting it out while a corrupt Iraqi government propped up by the clueless Americans tries to keep it all together.
***Spoilers follow. If you don’t like spoilers, just go out and buy the novel. You’ll be glad you did.***
Hadi is a junk dealer who drinks too much and works too little, living in an abandoned house and telling wild tales at the local cafe to anyone who listens. On his rounds he comes across the wreckage of countless car bombings. While the emergency crews try to clean up as much as possible, they often miss small body parts. Hadi decides to take these home and sew them together, making a complete body that would be suitable for burial.
I started this John Carpenter career overview less than two years ago with Dark Star. Now I’ve come to what may end up as John Carpenter’s final film as director, appropriately a low-budget indie horror film. Carpenter had gone into semi-retirement after Ghosts of Mars flopped at the box office, only directing two episodes of Showtime’s anthology series Masters of Horror over the next nine years. The Ward wasn’t sold as a glorious comeback for the director, but a surreptitious little film that arrived without fanfare in a handful of theaters, a same-day VOD release, and home video a month later.
This isn’t where the Carpenter story ends, thankfully. I doubt he’ll direct another film (never say never), but he’s in a good creative place now. He’s released two superb original albums (Lost Themes, Lost Themes II), tours the country playing shows with his son Cody and godson Daniel Davies, and composed the score for the recent smash-hit installment in the Halloween franchise, which he also executive produced.
This makes me feel a bit better about discussing The Ward, because it’s not the last stop on Carpenter’s career. It won’t be the last article in the series either, since next week I’ll wrap-up two years of the Complete Carpenter with a summary of my five favorite of his movies. I’m not going to list my five worst because I’d prefer to send off this long project — more than 40,000 words — on a feeling of celebration.
But, if you really must know what I movie I’d put at the bottom of the list … it’s The Ward. Easy.
In 1966, young runaway Kristen (Amber Heard) is sent to a psychiatric hospital in Oregon after she burns down an empty farmhouse. Kristen is placed under the care of Dr. Stringer (Jared Harris), who is looking after five other troubled young women in the hospital’s special psychiatric ward: aggressive Emily (Mamie Gummer), flirtatious Sarah (Danielle Panabaker), artistic Iris (Lyndsy Fonseca), and infantile Zoey (Laura-Leigh). Dr. Stringer believes he can cure Kristen, but Kristen starts to suspect something sinister in the ward is responsible for the disappearance of patients before her. When more vanishings occur, Kristen believes the wrathful ghost of a previous patient, Alice Hudson, is murdering the ward’s occupants. Kristen attempts an escape with the surviving girls before the killer ghosts turns the electroshock therapy machine on her.
Some writers agonize over every line. Some are prolific like Andre Norton. Others are hyperprolific like Isaac Asimov.
But Lionel Fanthorpe stands alone. He isn’t the most prolific author out there, having written “only” about 200 books, but he had the distinction of having written 168 books in less than a decade. Many he wrote in a week. Some he wrote over a three-day weekend.
This fervid output was the result of his association with Badger Books, a cheap-as-they-come UK publisher that emphasized quantity over quality. The publisher would commission the cover art first (or steal it from some old American paperback), send it to the author, and have them write a 45,000 word novel, usually with a deadline of one week.
Fanthorpe wrote 168 books for Badger between 1961 and 1967, dictating his tales into a reel-to-reel recorder and sending the tapes into the publisher’s typist. Often he’d stay up late into the night, covering his head with a blanket so he could concentrate. The results were overwritten, padded, and compellingly bad.
The only biography of Lionel Fanthorpe, Down the Badger Hole by Debbie Cross, has long been out of print but has now been revised, expanded, and released as a free ebook on the TAFF website.
And what a book it is! Cross gives us generous helpings of Fanthorpe’s prose, including masterful examples of padding through repetition.
Last December I wrote aboutSherlock Holmes & the Shadwell Shadows, volume one of James Lovegrove’s Cthulhu Casebooks trilogy. And this December, it’s on to book two, Sherlock Holmes and the Miskatonic Monstrosities. I wasn’t quite as fond of the second installment, though not because it’s a bad book.
As I wrote in that first review:
The basic premise of the… trilogy is that Watson made up the sixty stories in the Canon. He did so to cover up the real truth behind Holmes’ work. And that’s because the truth is too horrible to reveal. In a nutshell, Watson has written three journals, each covering events fifteen years apart, to try and get some of the darkness out of his soul.
The darkness exists because Holmes, with Watsons’s assistance, waged a career-long war with the otherworld beings of the Cthulhu mythos.
Somewhere in another Black Gatepost, I calculated the percentage that Holmes is absent in each of the four novellas which Doyle wrote featuring the great detective. Lovegrove chose to use that novella model and it’s my biggest complaint about the book. Holmes and Watson find a journal and read it. It reminds me of the Mormon interlude in A Study in Scarlet and it takes up thirty-five percent of the book.
Fully one-third of this novel has nothing to do with Holmes or Watson. It provides background to the mystery, but it could be a standalone story and it would have no more tie-in to Holmes than an account of my going out to lunch yesterday.
The flashback takes place in Arkham and it is essentially a Cthulhu short novella. Lovegrove got to write a Lovecraft pastiche within a Holmes pastiche. Of course, these three books are aimed at fans of the Cthulhu stories, so it’s not totally out there. I’ve read stories by Lovecraft, Derleth and others. I don’t mind them, but I’m not a particularly big fan. So, I’m not the target audience for the trilogy.
Those who are avid Holmes and Cthulhu fans are likely to enjoy this second book more than I did. But the fact is that this was a third of the book with no Holmes and/or Watson.
We’re living in the age of fake news. The Internet abounds with sites reporting child abuse rings hidden under pizzerias, skeletons of giants excavated in Israel, and cures for AIDS being suppressed by Big Pharma.
Just recently I got taken in for a minute by the reported death of Desmond Tutu shared by a Facebook friend. That story was on a plausible-looking African newspaper site. Only after I looked around the site did I realize it was the only story on it and the newspaper didn’t exist. Roll eyes. Run virus scanner.
But fake news isn’t new. In previous generations even the mainstream press regularly used it to boost sales, running outlandish stories to sell papers. Perhaps the most famous is the story in an 1890 issue of the Tombstone Epitaph about cowboys shooting down a pterodactyl, which led to the theory that it was the legendary Thunderbird and the creation of several faked photos. Other writers have created various fake stories to boost sales for their own newspapers.
One of these writers was no less a literary figure than Edgar Allan Poe.
Beyond the 1978 original, I have close to zero interest in the Halloween franchise filled with numerous sequels, a partial reboot, a remake, a sequel to the re-make, and now another partial reboot sequel (I think; details on the new film remain unclear at this point). The only other film in the Halloween series that interests me is Halloween III: Season of the Witch, which has no connection to any other series installment. However, Halloween III is ultra-bizarre and it has the benefit of making the best use of the holiday.
The only “slasher” franchise that I’m actually a fan of is Psycho. The original Alfred Hitchcock Psycho is a masterpiece, obviously, but it wasn’t a slasher horror film in the way we define these movies now (i.e. define them post-Halloween). It was one of the critical building blocks of what slasher films would become. Its sequels, however, were released when the slasher film was a firmly established genre. And bizarrely, I’m way into them.
Since I recently did a write up on the original Halloween, it became imperative… imperative … that I chronicle the killing spree of the grandfather of the screen slashers, Norman Bates. Because lists are fun.
For our next “victim” of the new Black Gate column, The Poison Apple, I’d like to introduce Steven Van Patten. Steven is a member of the Horror Writer’s Association and when vampires are supposed to be sleeping, he works as a TV show stage manager. In the past he’s worked on shows such as MTV’s Total Request Live, The Dr. Oz Show, Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell and The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore. He straddles two extremes of a busy lifestyle but still manages to write about topics that are underexplored in the speculative fiction realm. He’s written the Brookwater’s Curse series, Rudy’s Night Out, a children’s vampire story, and Killer Genius: She Kills Because She Cares, which was nominated for the African-American Literary Show Award.
Crowens: What got you into vampires?
SVP: As a little kid and an only child, often I had to entertain myself. Back in the day, that included Chiller Theater and being inspired by movies with Christopher Lee. When Blacula was released, that stuck with me as a strong, dominant character but in a sea of stereotypical nonsense in a Blaxploitation flick. As I got older, I started getting annoyed as to what happened to the brothers in a horror movie — they were dead before the credits rolled and characters were underdeveloped.