Archive for Stephen King

Chelsea Cain 3: Women and violent crime fiction

Posted in crime fiction, interview, thriller, Uncategorized, US writers, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 8, 2009 by richardkunzmann

Switching off the light and forcing readers to imagine exactly what that is, scratching under their beds, is the height of our art as crime writers. And if an author can do it so seamlessly that readers are convinced they actually read the scenes they imagined in your book, you can open a bottle of Moet. Michael Connelly achieved this in The Poet. The PoetTo this day, he tells me, he has people commending him on the terrifying paedophile he wrote about, but in actual fact, the character never directly touches a child, nor is he the main bad guy. And yet, that’s how people remember it. Take the movie Event Horizon, when Lawrence Fishburne’s salvage team finally discover the captain’s log of a ship that’s mysteriously reappeared after disappearing seven years ago. The clip is only about ten seconds long, and nothing in it is clear, but every hair on your neck stands up straight.

Chelsea CainSimilarly, Chelsea Cain’s much talked-about torture scene isn’t actually all there, if you look hard. Instead, we get it in snippets and rags as Archie Sheridan remembers those dreadful moments. And yet it’s the one story that readers remember. So the question is, how far is Chelsea Cain responsible for it, and how much of it comes from the darkest recesses of your own mind?

Richard Kunzmann: At Harrogate you were asked to justify women writers writing violence. And in many interviews you’re asked exactly how sick and twisted you are in real life. It’s almost as if you’re a dirty secret in crime fiction that everyone loves talking about, but no one wants to own up to. Why do you think that is?

Chelsea Cain: Honestly, I don’t think my books are that violent. Isn’t that funny? Because I get that EVERYONE ELSE does. But, with the exception of bad guys, we don’t see any murders. The bad guys are shot quickly in the head. The other murders all take place “off stage” to people we don’t know. We hear about them. We see the aftermath. But we don’t see good people get killed. As for the torture – they’re in flashback, people. You know that Archie is going to be okay. (Fucked-up, pill-addled and nuts, but alive.) The books are graphic, which to me is a different thing than violent. Corpses are described. We see scars and blood and gore and sex. But writing is about description, about unpacking an experience, and I think that getting your spleen carved out by a serial killer deserves as much attention as the layout of a character’s living room. Also, I think if you’re going write about murder, it’s important to make it seem horrible. I have dead teenage girls in Heartsick. We don’t see them murdered, but we see their bodies. And that’s not pretty. To make it anything less than horrific feels irresponsible to me. And to understand what the books are about – the sick romance between Archie and Gretchen – you have to understand that she tortured him and it wasn’t very fun. These characters are really damaged. And to get at that, we have to see a little of what made them that way.

CSIRichard Kunzmann: In a world were CSI and ultra realism has become a benchmark for many readers and TV viewers, how do you reconcile the fact that psychologically and forensically speaking, a character like Gretchen Lowell is even unlikelier than Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter.Hannibal Lecter

Chelsea Cain: First of all, I’m not so sure that CSI is ultra realistic. They make stuff up all the time. They just add in a lot of lingo that makes it SEEM realistic. Gretchen Lowell isn’t realistic at all. Not a bit. In any universe. She’s not even a realistic psychopath. In real life she’d probably be a very successful corporate lawyer and living in Connecticut. I don’t care about that at all. I care about making her a compelling, enchanting, scary and charismatic character in a series that is clearly fiction.

Richard Kunzmann: So your writing is about being convincing, not really about being realistic? How do you as a writer and reader deal with these two forces when you write a novel?

Chelsea Cain: The trick is to find enough that’s true so that the reader will go along with the stuff you make up. I will do a lot of research and then pull out a few tiny things and ignore the rest in service to the story. The story is what is important to me. And if I need to overlook some fact in order to get the characters into the situation I want them in, then I’m completely comfortable with that. And my goal then becomes to figure out how to ignore that fact without distracting readers.

Richard Kunzmann: Are you worried about taking liberties with poetic licence and leaping over gaps in logic?

Chelsea Cain: I worry about readers looking up from the book and saying, “Wait just a fucking minute.” Because then you lose them. Gaps in logic are fine if you can get the reader on board. It’s another universe. Readers know that. They’re willing to forgive a lot, as long as they don’t feel you’re taking advantage of them.

Richard Kunzmann: The violence is maybe not as explicit as in films like Hostel or Saw, but only just. Are you a big fan of horror?

Jack Nicholson in the ShiningI’m not a fan of torture porn at all. I love cheesy horror movies, and really good horror movies, like The Shining and the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But I’m not a fan of the Saw movies. I know there are probably people reading this thinking that I’m a total hypocrite. Some would put my books firmly in the torture porn category. But here’s my defence. I don’t think that label can even apply to books. The thing about movies is that you can’t get inside anyone’s point of view. You, the viewer, are always, by definition, on the outside looking in. You are a voyeur. That’s what makes it porn. All the torture scenes in Heartsick are from Archie’s point of view. We experience it through him. We are on his side. And I think that transforms the experience into something a tiny bit less seedy and exploitive.

Richard Kunzmann: You’ve admitted in a previous interview that films have played a big roll in your life. Which films stick out as having influenced your work?

Law and orderChelsea Cain: My books are more directly influenced by TV shows. Wire in the blood, Law and order: Criminal Intent, Touching Evil. But my head is full of movies and books and TV shows (I am a pop culture sieve), and my characters are all combinations of hundreds of portrayals I’ve seen elsewhere and liked and recycled. The books are often described as cinematic, and I think I tend to construct and portray narrative in a film style rather than literary style. The transitions and props I use are much more movie-ish than book-ish. If a chapter ends with one line, I like to open the next chapter with something that references it, even if we’re now across town, in someone else’s point of view. And everyone is always smoking or drinking coffee or waving pens around – so that they have some props to illustrate how they’re feeling, which is very much an actor’s trick.

Richard Kunzmann: When I first came across Susan Ward, I immediately thought of Kate Winslett’s character in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. She’s also a character that’s a lot more real to me, someone that I might have hung out with most of my life. How did she enter this series, because she’s so different from all the other characters?

Chelsea Cain:It’s the colorful hair. And you have hung out with her. In that hotel bar in Harrogate. (Blush.) Susan was my way into the story. I’ve never been a cop. Or a serial killer. But I have been a quirky features journalist. I know how that works. She was the last character I invented because I needed some authority. Susan acts as the eyes and ears of the readers, because she’s new to all this, she’s sort of figuring it out with us. In my defence, I am not nearly as fucked up as she is. Nor do I share her, um, complicated past. But we do have a similar worldview. We worry about many of the same things. And we have all of the same clothes.

Oh that night at the bar in Harrogate. I have fond memories of us flooring everyone else with a few rounds of tequila. I just couldn’t believe how fresh-faced Chelsea looked the next day when everyone else looked like they’d been through a war. She was ready for the day’s first round of debates, looking fresher than water, but with a glass of burgundy at hand, of course. Only journalists have that fortitude. But it seems Susan Ward and Chelsea Cain have more than a career in common; as a young Chelsea Cain had a secret crush on the task force detectives hunting the Green River Killer, so Susan Ward has fallen hard for the detective she shadows all over town. Archie Sheridan, it seems, is the kind of screwed man women just can’t leave alone. Read Russell Crowe rather than George Clooney. Russel Crowe

As the conversation draws to a close, I think of Chuck Palahniuk and Stephen King who have both complained about the creepy fans that pester them at signings. So I wondered what kind of people might be following Chelsea Cain around, now that she’s widely known as a sick and twisted writer. Her answer seems to hit the nail write on the head.

Chelsea Cain: I am amazed at how many young women will come up and tell me how “inspiring” they find Gretchen Lowell. Which I think sort of speaks to the lack of powerful female archetypes in pop culture. Gretchen is a black-hearted serial killer with a sado-masochistic streak a mile long, but she’s in control. And young women respond to that. Which is a tiny bit sad for all of us.

Next up:

Evil at heartChelsea gives us a few fast facts about Evil at Heart, due out in four months.

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Review & Giveaway: Looking Good Dead, Peter James

Posted in book, crime fiction, police procedural, review, thriller, UK writers, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 24, 2009 by richardkunzmann

I don’t easily get creeped out by books these days. Not any more. Not since Stephen King’s It permanently damaged me as a child, when I was reading it under the bedcovers late at night, torch in one jittery hand, twice frightened that my mother would catch me in the forbidden act of reading “that author with evil in his head.”

Did you know, momma, what was in mine?

Looking Good DeadSo it’s been a while that I got the willies from a book, which makes me very glad that I picked up a copy of Peter James’s Looking Good Dead. It’s a brilliant thriller. Here’s why.

Tom Bryce, a regular Joe salesman, is sitting on the train from London to Brighton thinking about his wife and kids. And like anyone who’s ever had a standard class fair, he’s stranded next to a right prick yelling into his mobile phone. So when the guy gets off the train and leaves a CD behind, Tom’s not exactly in the mood to play Good Samaritan.

This is where we all collectively yell, “Why oh why, Tom, did ya have to take the CD home?”

That night our dear friend Tom watches a snuff movie. Then his computer is hacked and before long he’s running scared and fighting for the life of his wife and kids. Never mind his own.

At the same time, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace is called out to a gruesome discovery in a field on the same day that he’s got a hot date lined up. But what he finds out there opens up old wounds; his own wife disappeared many years ago, and since then he’s forever been wondering what happened to her and blaming himself.

This is a superb thriller in every sense of the word. Peter James drops us right into the households of every day people. He shows us that they also read the Gruffalo to their kids, watch the Simpsons, and then he tears them to shreds, and we’re left wondering exactly who this bastard is. Peter James 2James also has a great sense of place, constantly feeding us information about Brighton without overpowering us with needless description. In fact, everything about his writing is precise and to the point. He is as efficient a writer as he is a killer of characters, is Mr James.

I wish I could stop with the laurels there, but his research and deep understanding of the Brighton Metropolitan Police shines through, especially in his treatment of cyber crime and modern technologies. Here’s another great detail: I love looking out for how authors tie their novels back to the titles. In Peter James’s case, when the words “Looking Good Dead” are spoken, you don’t know if you want to laugh or slam the book shut and run.

A well-rounded novel this: great characters, great plotting, and a story that could become all too real. I’m going to commit sacrilege in the crime-reading world and say I enjoyed this book more than Michael Connelly’s The Poet.

Just do me a favour: don’t read this under the bedcovers with a torch.

Give Away
I have one signed copy of the new hardback Dead Tomorrow up for grabs. It’ll be released 11 June 2009, so you’ve got until then to share your thoughts on Peter’s writing. The winner will be drawn from a raffle. Dead Tomorrow

Some fast facts about Peter James:
He’s incredibly rich and loves showing off the cars he’s owned while still remaining a genuinely nice guy. He didn’t just get that way through hard work on his many bestselling books, he’s also a successful filmmaker, producing amongst others The Merchant of Venice with Al Pacino.

Read other reviews at Amazon and Goodreads.

Best read to the music of Joe Cocker

Houellebecq’s Lanzarote: talk about a waste of time

Posted in book, Ken Barris, review, richard kunzmann, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 23, 2009 by richardkunzmann

I judge a book by its cover; I also judge it by its author and what he or she has written before, which is why I picked up Lanzarote, along with the rest of Houellebecq’s work, after reading that mind-blowing novel Atomised. Atomised

Except, in retrospect I should perhaps read some Amazon reviews first.

What an utterly shit book this is! I cannot express myself strong enough, more so because I feel betrayed by the standard I’ve come to expect from Houellebecq. I feel more betrayed than I did by the last two volumes of Stephen King’s Gunslinger series. We’re talking about simple trading standards here. When I buy a Mercedes I certainly don’t expect to have a Skoda dumped at my door.

LanzaroteLanzarote begins with an interesting take on the tourism industry: it’s not only about escapism; its existence is evidence of how sad we’ve become that we must flock to some destination to derive meaning from life. The protagonist’s life is utterly void of something to do, so he flies to Lanzarote without knowing exactly what he wants to do there either. On the island he meets Rudi, a police officer from Luxembourg, who also doesn’t quite know what to do with himself. Thus, two pessimists become a pair, though they aren’t particularly fond of each, and you guessed it … they don’t really know what to do around each other.

The landscape of Lanzarote, and the cheap tourist dives along its coast, come to embody that empty inner world. When the two men meet two German lesbians who are up for a straight shag with the protagonist, one gets a sense of how far reduced all their lives have become. Like hamsters in a cage, fucking in the boring expanse of sawdust, just to while away the time. Michel Houellebecq

Fine, fine, fine. I can see all that. But if you’re going to write a novel and charge me £6 for it, please just make it’s about something. A ninety page diatribe on boredom and the emptiness of our human pursuits is, well, boring. The best part of this ridiculous novella is the colour photos.

A book that is more meaningful and in a similar vein is Ken Barris’s What Kind of Child. Not the greatest, but similar themes, a similar mood of perpetual melancholy, and oh so much more readable.

And if you don’t trust me on this one, check out the ratings on Amazon and Goodreads.

Short Stories 3: Lovecraft and looking death in the eye

Posted in book, fantasy, review, richard kunzmann, short stories, speculative fiction, Uncategorized, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 21, 2009 by richardkunzmann

Lovecraft Bloodcurdling Tales “I’m writing this under an appreciable mental strain, since by tonight I shall be no more.” Dagon, H.P. Lovecraft

LovecraftAside from the fact that H.P. Lovecraft has a name that perfectly suits the horror genre, and a peculiar look about him which suggests he’d jumped straight out of the story A Shadow over Innsmouth, the man’s short fiction is, if not profound or incredibly skilled, then certainly imaginative and unusual.

Continuing with my list of favourite short story writers, Lovecraft is one of the few authors I go back to over and again. He has been hugely influential in horror and science fiction, even though many of his stories read like Sherlock Holmes tales. What makes his work so enduring is the nature of the horror to which his protagonists are ultimately exposed. Invariably, his characters epitomise the enlightened man – rational, intellectual, calmly inquisitive – who comes into contact with some mystery which unleashes an awesome truth that reveals to our hero the fragility of his own existence and ultimately leads to insanity or death.

Lovecraft Dreams of TerrorLovecraft’s single obsession is a universe that is fundamentally unknowable and destructive, no matter how far our sciences and religions purportedly develop us as a species. It’s a paranoid and pessimistic vision, much in tune with Nietzsche and Schopenhauer’s philosophies, but it’s one we must admit is as accessible as it is frightening. The fear and horror Lovecraft writes about goes well beyond the pain of death or torture, so heavily portrayed these days in crime fiction and dreary splatterporn films like Saw,Hostel and Frontier(s). His work challenges us to think more deeply about the moment of death when we have to face up to the fact that there is no afterlife, that we’ve been lying to ourselves all our lives, and when we die we cease to exist and return to entropy.

If Freud is right, and we as a species derive as much creative force from death as we do from life, Lovecraft must surely be a high priest of the death drive, or Thanatos – the ancient Greek personification of death, but also a word just as easily plucked from the Cthulhu mythos for which this strange author is most famous.

Lovecraft Tales of the Cthulhu MythosSo many people to whom I’ve lent his books quickly return them with a look of wretched disgust on their faces. It’s a universal law that you either love or hate Lovecraft. His dialogue can be sickly, his style often clunky and littered with such overused and abused terms as “cyclopean”, “antediluvian” and “eldritch”, to name but a few. His misogynist views and racism are also well documented (and glorified by other misogynists like Michele Houellebeque), while the plot lines remained fairly standard throughout his writing career.

But all of these criticisms miss the point.

Lovecraft Road to MadnessI personally feel his outdated prose lends itself to the stories he writes, and like J.G. Ballard and Mitch Cullin (Tidelands), or photographers Diane Arbus and Roger Ballen, Lovecraft is an artist who as turned away from what is traditionally accepted as aesthetic pure, and beaten his own strange path to create something hauntingly enduring.

Mythbusters:

Contrary to popular belief the Necronomicon did NOT first appear in Evil Dead films, starring Bruce Campbell, and it isn’t a real ‘lost’ tomb. It was invented by H.P. Lovecraft who credited the fictional “Mad Arab Abdul Alhazred” with its writing. It’s a theme he kept coming back to, just like the Miskatonic University in Providence.

My essential reads (roughly in order of favourites):

At the Mountains of Madness
The Dunwich horror
The Rats in the Walls
The Music of Erich Zann
The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath
The Colour out of Space

A number of authors have paid tribute to Lovecraft, of which my favourite story must be Stephen King’s Jerusalem’s Lot, August Derleth’s Dweller in the Darkness, and Robert Bloch’s various stories appearing in Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos.

Reputed famous fans:

Guillermo Del Toro
Neil Gaiman
Clive Barker
Joe R. Landsdale
H. R. Geiger
Alan Moore

Gaiman also who wrote a pretty good Lovecraftian story called Shogoth’s Old Peculiar – probably a cheap shot at an unusual but tasty beer called Theakston’s Old Peculiar, which is now associated with the Harrogate Crime Festival.

Read here what others have said about his books on Goodreads and Amazon.

Music to read by:
Judas Priest’s Blood Red Skies
Diary of Dreams
Check out this blog talking about Lovecraft’s influence on metal.

Watch this rather comical movie trailer for a period short film of Call of Cthulhu

Short Stories 2: The perfect mood of Edgar Allan Poe

Posted in book, crime fiction, fantasy, mystery, review, science fiction, short stories, speculative fiction, thriller, US writers, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 20, 2009 by richardkunzmann

Hit PLAY on the YouTube cast and read on.

Previously I made a case for rebranding short stories and giving them the luxury publication they deserve. If you hang on through this series of comments on my favourite short story writers and the editors who’ve compiled them, I have some ideas on how that might be achieved. But for today, let’s share short story favourites.

First off, I have to admit, my tastes lean heavily towards the weird and grotesque, probably because I followed my dad around emergency wards when I was young and saw things kids don’t ordinarily see, and because of a hundred year old tomb I inherited from my grandmother when she died, called A Century of Creepy Stories.

It’s inside the covers of this monster that I first discovered Edgar Allan Poe.

edgar alan poe “And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revelers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall. And the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay. And the flames of the tripods expired. And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.” – Masque of the Red Death

Depending who you speak to, Poe has been credited with inventing just about any of the modern sub-genres of fiction – the mystery, detective fiction, science fiction, horror to name but a few – but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. What these attributions do attest to is how influential he has been in reshaping how we approach the modern novel and short story. Personally, I’m more infatuated with his macabre prose and the way he deftly crafts suspense than the themes of his finest works.

His writing is always ominous, the ebb and flow of the poetical narration often building into a crescendo that perfectly reflects the ideal form of the modern thriller, hardly ever dropping off into lengthy dénouement. The themes of his best known works often revolve around death and being buried alive, guilt and fear, murder and its consequences, and of course the supernatural. His choice of words is almost always in perfect harmony with the atmosphere he is attempting to create – surely a result of his being a poet first and foremost. His densely packed narratives are imbued with such rich textures that they lure the imagination into a realm where you forget it’s just a … short story.

An excellent example of this skill is his surreal description of the masked ball in The Masque of the Red Death , where the revelers are doing their utmost to pretend that they are not mortal and a mysterious plague cannot touch them. It’s the desperate act of embracing life and hope that ultimately makes them as ugly as any demon painted by Hieronymus Bosch. Hieronymus Bosch

My essential reads (roughly in order of favourites):

1.The Masque of the Red Death (for an excellent reading, download at Librivox here)
2. The Pit and the Pendulum
3. The Cask of Amontillado (for an excellent reading, download at Librivox here)
4. The Fall of the House of Usher

Fans reputedly include:

Bob Dylan, Stephen King, H.G Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jules Verne, H.P. Lovecraft

Check out what others thought of Poe’s writing at Goodreads and at Amazon.

Best read to the music of:
Lycia
Preisner