Seeing as how the month of October is upon us, I thought delving into the world of horror would be a reasonably fun and entertaining way to spend my writing time with you. First topic out then: the horror novel.
Do you have any idea how hard it is to find great horror these days? Of course, great is relative. One person’s idea of great could be another person’s American Psycho 2 – horrible in both theory and practice. When it comes to horror novels, I find that I’m always on the lookout for that elusive great book (or books as it were, since so much genre fiction is part of a series these days). I want my characters believable and sympathetic. I want the stories to feel bigger than life, with vision and direction. I don’t want soap opera melodrama, I don’t want hack dialogue, and I don’t want cliché.
Finding that in horror just seems so difficult. I tried Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, but I found the first novel virtually unreadable (to this day, I can’t believe those books have such a following – what am I missing?). I liked the first book in Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, but not enough to go out and buy the second one. Charlie Huston’s Joe Pitt books are definitely a step up, but I’d argue that those are more noir stories with supernatural overtones. Plus, to be honest, I’m having a hard time getting through the third book too.
Sometimes, though, you luck out. Sometimes one finds horror in strange places. In my case, it was at a Shopper’s Drug Mart on a double points day back in 2006. As my wife was combing the aisles looking for makeup, medicines, and whatever else one may be inspired to randomly purchase for double the points, I tucked myself away in the paperback section of the store, perusing the assortment of literature, not expecting to find anything worth my time. But one book did in fact catch my eye – a yellow cover with a shadowy outline of a figure carrying with him a guitar. I picked up Ghost Road Blues, gave it a once over, and put it alongside the rest of our purchases that day. Why not, I thought. It was a double points day.
Little did I know Jonathan Maberry’s debut novel about a small town called Pine Deep would turn out to be the horror experience I’d been craving for so long.
A brief synopsis (and as usual, I’m going spoiler free); Ghost Road Blues is the story of the people of Pine Deep, considered to be the most haunted town in America. It’s the destination point for Halloween revelers each year looking to soak up the scare. The town’s Haunted Hayride is renowned throughout America. But there’s more to Pine Deep and its residents than just the illusion of spookiness. Horrible things have happened in the past and what should have stayed buried is coming back.
My synopsis doesn’t do Ghost Road Blues justice. And I’m really not trying to. Really, it’s worth your time to just go and pick it up, if well written horror appeals to you. The key there is well-written; I’ve put down more than my fair share of horror books because of how poorly the dialogue is written (again, Ms. Hamilton springs to mind) or an author’s inability to create mood. Maberry, a writing instructor from Doylestown, PA doesn’t suffer any of these issues. The guy’s got the goods.
There are definite chills throughout Ghost Road Blues; the bad guys are bad and the good guys, well, you’re not sure how good some of them are. The story is grand; I’m talking Stephen King’s The Stand grand, and I don’t throw that comparison out to just any book. Ghost Road Blues is big and it’s clear from the start that Maberry had vision. I vividly recall closing in on the ending of the book and wondering how he was going to wrap up the whole tale, until I discovered the book was the first in a trilogy. The subsequent entries into the series, Dead Man’s Song (2007) and Bad Moon Rising (2008) didn’t disappoint, and by the trilogies conclusion I was left undeniably satisfied. And I wasn’t the only one impressed; Ghost Road Blues netted Maberry the 2006 Stoker Award for Best First Novel, a well deserved accolade. All three come heartily recommended.
Having completed the Pine Deep trilogy, I’m now on to the next quest to find the elusive great horror novel. I’m not optimistic. I know it’s out there, though. Waiting for me to find it. Perhaps on a bookshelf tucked away amongst thousands upon thousands of other books, silently begging pick me, pick me. Or maybe it’s sitting on the rack at another drug store, a pulpy thriller hoping someone will take a chance on it.
Waiting for another double points day to draw me in.