Dead Trees: Peter Straub’s The Hellfire Club

Author Peter Straub
Peter Straub

No one — no one — has ever done it better than Peter Straub. I admit that some of his work leaves me a little bit cold, but when Straub is on, he is on.

Not everyone agrees. I’ve heard a lot of people say they can’t read Peter Straub, or that he simply isn’t for them. The thing about his writing is, it takes effort. Most worthwhile things do require determination and patience, but the effort pays off. He isn’t an easy writer, but the rewards are well worth the investment.Continue Reading

Dead Trees: Dead Lines by John Skipp and Craig Spector

I first heard of and begin reading fiction from John Skipp and Craig Spector in the mid-1980s. That era is still my favorite period of the horror genre. Thanks to Stephen King, horror had been doing pretty big business, but by 1986 things were really getting wild. For most people it all started with Skipp and Spector’s The Light at the End, a new kind of horror novel, and a vampire story for a hip young readership.

The Light at the End was a radical departure from the horror fiction that came before it. Skipp and Spector’s characters were people I knew. People I partied with. There was influence from classic horror, to be sure, but these were people who listened to punk and metal. They were weaned on midnight movies, Frank Zappa, William Burroughs, Hunter S. Thompson.Continue Reading

Dead Trees: Joe Bob Goes to the Bookstore

Joe Bob Briggs
Joe Bob Briggs

I first saw Joe Bob Briggs when he was on The Movie Channel. This was in 1986, before he even had his own weekly show on the network. My initial impression was something like, “Who is this chicken-fried cornball?” I was not much of a fan of redneck humor.

I didn’t give JBB a chance until I stayed up late one Friday to watch David Cronenberg’s The Brood. It was on The Movie Channel, and at first I was disappointed to see that hillbilly hayseed doing an introduction. I watched, not wishing to miss the opening credits of The Brood. I was taken aback when Joe Bob said some fairly astute things about David Cronenberg. He obviously wasn’t another braindead movie host going through the paces.Continue Reading

Dead Trees: Nightmare Seasons by Charles L. Grant

Charles L. Grant

2020. As I write this, the new year and new decade are seven hours away. I think back to the years and years I have spent as a horror reader, and I am reflecting on the one moment when it all crystallized and became embedded into my soul.

I’d have to say the year was 1984. Thirty-six long years ago. Years that brought joy beyond belief, heartbreak, laughs, fun, agony, laughs, tears. All of this and lots more.Continue Reading

Dead Trees: Lizard Wine by Elizabeth Engstrom

Author Elizabeth Engstrom
Author Elizabeth Engstrom

I’ve read a lot of books. Some have been modest little stories; entertaining, but slight. And that’s fine. Others are written by craftspeople. Meticulous prose with riveting plots. Then there are writers who elevate fiction into works of art. Elizabeth Engstrom falls into the latter category.

I first encountered the work of Elizabeth Engstrom in a book called When Darkness Loves Us. I heard that Engstom had been mentored by the great Theodore Sturgeon, and that alone was enough to convince me to give it a try. When Darkness Loves Us is a collection of two novellas. That’s common today, but back in 1985 it was nearly unthinkable. Especially for a virtually unknown author.

Both stories in When Darkness Loves Us are excellent, but the title piece is more than that. It is a masterpiece.

As much as I love When Darkness Loves Us, it isn’t my favorite Engstrom. One of her novels hit me harder, in the places that really count. That novel is called Lizard Wine.Continue Reading

Dead Trees: Richard Christian Matheson’s Created By

Book cover for Created By, written by Richard Christian MathesonAt one time, in the much-heralded horror boom of the 1980s, Richard Christian Matheson was one of the biggest names in the field. Of course most knew well that his father, Richard Matheson, was one of the most important writers in all of literature. It was curious that, even though they collaborated now and then, Richard Christian’s writing bore little resemblance to his father’s style. In fact, R.C. Matheson’s writing was completely unique.Continue Reading

Dead Trees: The Armageddon Rag by George R.R. Martin

Many look back to the Splatterpunk days of Skipp, Spector, and Schow for the birth of heavy metal horror. And, certainly, The Scream and The Kill Riff were extraordinary examples of groundbreaking, rock and roll horror of the time. But they were not the first.

My social media feeds are filled with talk about Game of Thrones. The beloved show has finally ended, and the last episode was hotly controversial. George R.R. Martin is the most popular fantasy writer since J.R.R. Tolkien, but once upon a time Martin was poised to be a horror writer.Continue Reading

Dead Trees: Horror Show by Greg Kihn

Yes, MTV used to show music videos.

Nearly everyone I knew professed to hate the network, but I don’t know many who didn’t watch MTV. It was perfect background fodder for the burnout generation. You could laugh at what you hated, but sooner or later something you wanted to see would air.

One of the mainstays of early MTV was Greg Kihn. Kihn had a few hits, rocking out with cheerfully depressing songs like “The Breakup Song” and “Jeopardy.” I neither loved nor hated Kihn. His stuff was harmless and rather pleasant, but I didn’t buy his records.

I don’t think anyone could have predicted that, out of the blue, Greg Kihn would publish one of the best horror novels of the ’90s. The perfectly titled Horror Show was an immediate favorite of fans everywhere.Continue Reading

Dead Trees: Dead White by Alan Ryan

Do you ever think back to times you spent with books? Reliving pieces of your life and the books that defined your existence? Yeah, so do I.

Lately I was thinking of a night back in the winter of 1986/1987. It was a cold year,  and I was living in less than ideal accommodations. I was still pretty poor at the time. I had enough for the monthly bills, and I ate reasonably well. Books were a luxury. Well, new books anyway. I mostly did my reading purchases through the local used bookstores. Remember when they were everywhere?Continue Reading

Dead Trees: The Drive-In by Joe R. Lansdale

The year was 1988. I had been a serious horror reader for years and things were really starting to get interesting. We had it all then. Big names, legends, were still publishing: Robert Bloch, Ray Russell, Manly Wade Wellman, Hugh B. Cave, and others. Newer writers like Dennis Etchison, Richard Christian Matheson, Ramsey Campbell, and Michael McDowell were getting into high gear. Writers were migrating from the SF field. And there was a new, streetwise style of horror breaking barriers, from writers like John Skipp, Craig Spector, David J. Schow, Ray Garton. It was a heyday, and it seemed like every new author on the scene I heard about was well worth my time and money.

So when I read a triple review by the great Stanley Wiater in Fangoria magazine about a writer named Joe R. Lansdale, I took notice. The reviewed works in question were Act of Love, The Nightrunners, and Dead in the West.Continue Reading

Dead Trees: Shockwaves by Thomas Tessier

It was the early years of my decades-long love affair with horror fiction. I blazed through the Stephen King books that had been published at the time, with Pet Semetery being the most current. It was 1983 — a very good year for the genre, with even better things were on the immediate horizon. I eagerly devoured the Peter Straub books that were available, and they were among the finest pieces of fiction I had ever read. I enjoyed books by James Herbert, Whitley Strieber, Ramsey Campbell, John Farris. I read landmark novels by brilliant talents such as F. Paul Wilson and T.E.D. Klein. There were numerous markets for short fiction, and I was blown away by pieces from Karl Edward Wagner, Richard Christian Matheson, and Dennis Etchison. And of course I marveled at the works of Charles L. Grant. The field was on fire, and it was an incredible time to be a fan.Continue Reading

Dead Trees: The Touch by F. Paul Wilson

I first read F. Paul Wilson’s The Touch way back in 1986. I was a twenty-five year old boy, rabidly in love with horror. And after The Keep, The Tomb, and some short pieces I had read, F. Paul Wilson was one of my favorite writers.

There’s a section near the beginning of The Touch. It’s describing a seafaring historical area of a small town…

The Illusion almost worked. He could almost imagine Ishmael, harpoon on shoulder, walking down the harbor toward the Pequod…passing the new Video Shack.

Well, nothing was perfect.

I loved that. I was a modern young man and I was head over heels for the home video explosion. It was a perfect time for me. A perfect time to be a horror fan.Continue Reading

Dead Trees: Others by James Herbert

When you bring up the pioneers of hardcore, extreme horror fiction, you’re most likely to hear names like Jack Ketchum and Richard Laymon. As well you should, because these guys were important—important to the fans who were raised on George Romero, Tobe Hooper, etc., and wished to read more than traditional supernatural horror. We wanted, or perhaps we needed, to see the genre tackle more explicit subject matter.

But as great as Ketchum and Laymon are, James Herbert was there first. It’s almost hard to believe now, but Herbert’s first book, a gruesome novel called The Rats, came out in the same year as Stephen King’s Carrie.Continue Reading

Dead Trees: The Eighth Square by Herbert Lieberman

I’m going to ask you to bear with me here. Indulge your willing suspension of disbelief for a bit, please.

There was once a time when I thought that a novel about flesh-eating zombies was a great idea.Continue Reading

‘The Land of Laughs’ by Jonathan Carroll

I’m only just getting started, but I am already enjoying this column. Reading books from a time before cell phones. When people stopped their cars and jumped into a phone booth to make a call. When they went to libraries to do research. When damned near everything and everyone wasn’t available right at your fingertips. A time when people got up and out of the house to buy books at stores. Before we all (yes, I am guilty as charged) had our faces perpetually locked into electronic pacifiers.

A better time? I like to think so. Some will disagree, claiming that we are armed with information at our fingertips at all times. There may be some truth to that, but I think that all too often real information is drowned in misinformation, distortion, misdirection, propaganda, and outright lies.Continue Reading