Dead Trees: The Making of a Monster by Gail Petersen

banner reading Dead Trees by Mark Sieber

vintage cover of The Making of a MonsterHorror was in a time of transformation in 1994. John Skipp and Craig Spector’s final novel, Animals, had been published the previous year. The original Splatterpunk era was over. Necro Publications and the underground hardcore horror fiction wave was a couple of years ahead. Cemetery Dance had spearheaded the small press revolution, but it was still gaining momentum. The biggest thing in the genre, other than King and Barker of course, was the Dell/Abyss line of postmodern horror paperbacks.

I liked some of the Abyss titles and authors. Poppy Z. Brite and Kathe Koja were and are favorites. I liked Brian Hodge and Dennis Etchison. However, the books began to wear on me after a while. It seemed like some of the writers were trying too hard to be hip. I didn’t care for novels by Tanith Lee, Nancy Holder, and Jessica Amanda Salmonson. I lost faith in the Dell/Abyss brand and stopped buying the books.

One I missed was Gail Petersen’s The Making of a Monster. Cut to a couple decades into the future. I became friends with Petersen on social media, and she always seemed like a cool person. I remembered her more for her time in the band The Catholic Girls than as a horror writer. I still, in fact, have their debut album on vinyl.

I finally rectified the situation and read The Making of a Monster this week.

The Making of a Monster is a vampire story, and vampires were still hot in the early nineties. Anne Rice was at the height of her popularity, and Poppy Z. Brite’s groundbreaking Lost Souls was a perfect goth vampire novel.

Gail Petersen’s novel doesn’t have the exotic decadence of Lost Souls. It isn’t as streetwise as Skipp and Spector’s The Light at the End. The Making of a Monster isn’t as punked-out as Nancy Collins’ Sunglasses After Dark. In fact, this novel is surprisingly low on sex and violence. Especially for the time in which it was published.

The Making of a Monster is a character study of a decent girl who becomes a vampire. Kate is turned against her will and she tries to fight the affliction. She is gradually assimimilated by her beastly new nature, but the novel’s focus is Kate struggling to regain her lost humanity.

modern cover of The Making of a MonsterI admire the restraint Petersen shows in The Making of a Monster. Needless excessive sex and endless scenes of gore have bored me for quite some time. Like the original Splatterpunk writers, Petersen doesn’t shy away from hard subject matter when it suits her story, but she does not rely on shock tactics to tell it.

Gail Petersen’s history in the music business brings authenticity to the novel. Kate becomes a bass player in an up-and-coming band. A rock star vampire had been used by Anne Rice and S.P. Somtow before The Making of a Monster, but I found Petersen’s writing to be more convincing than the others.

It isn’t a perfect novel. There’s an insane human vampire hunter antagonist that is way over the top. He practically twitches his mustache like Snidely Whiplash as he cackles out his lines.

I love the portrait of the time in which The Making of a Monster was published. Before DVD. Before Amazon wiped out everything else. Characters listen to music on tapes. Cell phones are nonexistent. Pulp Fiction had yet to give cinema an adrenaline shot. Alternative music as a genre still had validity. This novel feels modern, yet it also seems like a relic from an age ago.

I really liked The Making of a Monster, and I am sad it is the only book Gail Petersen has published. She says she is working on two others. I sincerely hope she finds a publisher. I’ll be first in line to buy them. Right after I drop off my movie rentals and hit the mall for a new grunge CD.

Photo of Mark Sieber with a cat on his shoulder
Mark Sieber and friend

Mark Sieber learned to love horror with Universal, Hammer, and AIP movies, a Scholastic edition of Poe’s Eight Tales of TerrorSir Graves Ghastly PresentsThe Twilight Zone, Shirley Jackson’s The Daemon LoverThe Night Stalker, and a hundred other dark influences. He came into his own in the great horror boom of the 1980’s, reading Charles L. Grant, F. Paul Wilson, Ray Russell, Skipp and Spector, David J. Schow, Stephen King, and countless others. Meanwhile he spent as many hours as possible at drive-in theaters, watching slasher sequels, horror comedies, monster movies, and every other imaginable type of exploitation movie. When the VHS revolution hit, he discovered the joys of Italian and other international horror gems. Trends come and go, but he still enjoys having the living crap scared out of him. Cemetery Dance recently released his collection He Who Types Between the Rows: A Decade of Horror Drive-In. He can be reached at horrordrivein@yandex.com, and at www.horrordrive-in.com.

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