Author Spotlight: Don Webb

Nothing had gone right in the week before the Con.

Edgar Wagner’s son Mike had come out as gay, and Edgar could handle that, he really could. Mike also decided to leave Stanford mid-semester and live with his lover. Edgar’s wife of twenty years asked that “they take a break.” Edgar’s doctor was not happy about his blood pressure or his bad cholesterol. Edgar’s latest novel Those Outside had a mixture of a couple of bad reviews—and worse still NO reviews from some of the big newspapers that had lauded him for the last decade. There were big stacks of the book at various dealers tables at World Horror, and the adoring lines of fans asking for an inscription had died down to the few asking for an autograph as a possible E-bay investment. Edgar was wondering what it would be like to go back to teaching at his age.

It was fall and it was Providence, Rhode Island so it meant that every other panel Edgar was on had to do with Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937). Every writerly virtue (‘My god his imagination!’) and every writerly vice (‘Do you really need to use the word eldritch twenty three times in one story?’) of Mr. Lovecraft was being discussed again and again. But Edgar Scott Wagner was not getting the panel he needed. He needed the panel called ‘What do you do if you have an idea for four horror novels and you are writing your ninth?’ It was late afternoon and Edgar walked out of the hotel and took off his badge and headed downtown. He always loved to walk. There was lots of walking in his books. He wrote a novella about walking, called “Walking” which (as almost every reviewer pointed out) owed a great deal to Stephen King’s The Long Walk. There were four things that Edgar Wagner loved: walking, pawn and thrift shops, history, and horror stories.

Sam Gafford’s NAMELESS WORDS: Upon Further Examination

UNCHARTERED WORDS “What’s it all about, Alfie?” Literary criticism of weird tales is, in itself, somewhat weird.  It actually welcomes contributions from many who, like myself, have little to no formal training or education in the subject.  Still, there are others, such as S.T. Joshi, who are not only trained in the field but offer… Continue reading Sam Gafford’s NAMELESS WORDS: Upon Further Examination

Sam Gafford’s NAMELESS WORDS: “For the Small are Large”

“Small Press”   There are few genres that owe as much to small press as weird literature. It could be argued quite strongly that there would not even be a genre of weird literature were it not for small press.  It has been these companies that have kept the genre alive and flourishing for decades… Continue reading Sam Gafford’s NAMELESS WORDS: “For the Small are Large”

Paging Henry James. . .

 

The Wide Carnivorous Sky

& Other Monstrous Geographies

By John Langan

322 pgs, Trade Paper ($20), April 2013

ISBN: 978-1-61498-054-4

Hippocampus Press

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I was prepared to hate this book. It seemed pretentious—story notes, foreword and afterword by two better-known writers (Laird Barron and Jeffery Ford), an untranslated line from Voltaire as a story tag . . . . Then I read the first story, a seemingly pointless vignette called “Kids.” I put the book down by the toilet in the master bath.

Nevertheless, having no other reading material available a few days hence, I read the novella that followed “How the Day Runes Down.” It was then that I realized I was dealing with a major stylist: Langan wrote a zombie story in the pitch-perfect voice of the stage manager of Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town. Unlike some silly zombie pastiches that mock literary classics, this was the perfect voice. It also contained a reasonable critique of what’s wrong with other zombie tales. I will re-read this piece if I ever try to write another zombie story.

The third tale “Technicolor” is a riff on Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death.” Langan has cast the story in a lecture about Poe’s—a narrative distancing device worthy of James or Ligotti. As the professor lectures, spooky things are happening in the lecture hall, and we, the audience are slowly trapped in a horrible situation both metaphysically and physically.

Then the fourth story “The Wide Carnivorous Sky” was an excellent monster tale told with the panache of A. E. van Vogt and with the skill of characterization that reminded me of Stephen King at his best. Again I made a note to myself to re-read the tale in order to learn craft. The following novella “City of the Dog” had a series of narrative distancing devices that were worthy of Henry James. This story was inspired by Lovecraft’s “Pickman’s Model” and “The Hound.” But the blend of exquisite telling and true blood-cuddling horror far surpasses its roots. This will be a story read for many, many years.

I’d seen and read “The Shallows” before. It was in Darrell Schweitzer’s Cthulhu’s Reign—a collection of stories about what happens after R’lyeh rises. . . After my own story in that collection this was the best. OK this was the best. Again, Langan accomplishes what Stephen King does so well—mixes truly human, well-rounded characters with disturbing Otherness. King does this in middlebrow prose, making him our Dickens. Langan does it in gorgeous prose making him our Machen.

I was beginning to understand. Langan was taking on clichés and proving that in the hands of a master any story can be made to sing. We’ve got the vampire story (“The Wide Carnivorous Sky”), the zombie story, the Poe story, and the Cthulhu Mythos piece—and then to complete the pattern “The Revel.” This is perhaps the only werewolf story I’ve ever read and totally enjoyed. This piece is both highbrow metafiction—discussing werewolf stories and their psychology and a truly suspenseful tale about a werewolf. Like “The Wide Carnivorous Sky”, this piece demands film.

I was not as taken by the last novella “Mother of Stone.” It relies heavily on the disproved theories of Marija Gimbutas, which are used to explain a hidden sculptural tradition of making cursed headless statues that make waitresses drop plates, and pregnant women lose their heads. Langan handles his female protagonist well and has spot-on narrative strategy, but I feel this story falls short of some of the excellence in the rest of the book.

It is clear that Langan is raising the bar of writerly craft in horror writing. He is taking a popular form and giving the benefit of prose techniques in recent English literature. The book left my bathroom and is now in the bookcase with the glass doors. For those of you that have been to my home—the cases in the loft library. No you can’t borrow it.

 

—Don Webb

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Sam Gafford’s NAMELESS WORDS: ‘Deep Scares’

      Weird literature has a long history.   Since the caveman first crowded around the fire, man has told horror stories. The times change and people change but the effect remains the same. We want to be scared.   Psychologists will give many different reasons why this is so. Some will say it’s… Continue reading Sam Gafford’s NAMELESS WORDS: ‘Deep Scares’

Sam Gafford’s NAMELESS WORDS: ‘Examining Weird Fiction’

“Episode 1 in which Doris Gets Her Oats”   So just what the hell is “Weird Fiction” anyway? It’s a question that really only seems to bother writers and critics.  Well, maybe booksellers as well because they need to know where to put all the books.  But it’s not something that really occurs to those… Continue reading Sam Gafford’s NAMELESS WORDS: ‘Examining Weird Fiction’

Review: Mammoth Book of Body Horror

  The Mammoth Book of Body Horror Edited by Paul Kane and Marie O’Regan Featuring: Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman, James Herbert, Stephen King, H. P. Lovecraft, Mary Shelley and others Robinson, 2012 ISBN: 978-1-78033-039-6 510 pgs. Trade SC. $13.95 US Amazon Link “Body Horror,” conceptually, has been around for some time; the ancient Egyptians (not… Continue reading Review: Mammoth Book of Body Horror