Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Short Film: Lovecraft's Pillow

This is an interesting short film directed by Mark Steensland and written by Rick Hautala. It is credited to an idea from Stephen King. The pair--Steensland and Hautala--have collaborated on several short films including Peekers, and The Ugly File. Peekers is a terrific short, and I am anxiously awaiting the Internet release of The Ugly File. It is currently making the film festival rounds.

The Ugly File
is based on a masterful short story by Ed Gorman and it would make a terrific film. It's too bad Masters of Horror didn't produce it. is Lovecraft's Pillow.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Daniel Keyes - A New Novel?

I made an interesting discovery last night while I was cruising the Internet. Daniel Keyes—the guy who wrote the classic science fiction story “Flowers for Algernon”—has a new novel titled The Asylum Prophecies. It is currently available at the online retailers and is likely in stock, or will be shortly, at most bookstores.

My only experience with the work of Daniel Keyes is “Algernon.” A story I read as a teenager, and a story that resulted in two heavy feelings: 1) awe at its simplicity and success; and 2) angst at the unfairness of everything.

A little about “Flowers for Algernon.” It was originally written as a novella length story in 1959—it won the Hugo Award that same year. It was then expanded to novel length—a short novel to be sure—in 1966 for which it won the Nebula Award. It is a truly wonderful story / novel.

It—“Flowers for Algernon”—is the only Daniel Keyes I have ever seen at a bookstore or library, and when I realized the Daniel Keyes on the cover of a new Leisure Book was the Daniel Keyes I had a moment of: This guy is still alive? He is still writing? On further investigation I discovered that, while he isn’t prolific, he has published other fiction and non-fiction. I just haven’t noticed it before now.

The new Keyes’ novel has an interesting concept, albeit a little strange. The description over at Leisure’s website reads:

Raven began the day in an asylum, a disturbed young woman with multiple personalities recovering from another suicide attempt. But now she holds a secret that could save thousands of innocent lives. Buried deep in her splintered subconscious are details of an impending terrorist attack against the United States—details that her kidnappers cannot let her reveal. As Raven summons all her strength to fight her captors, an American agent races across the globe to rescue her and find the key that will unlock her trapped memories before it’s too late.”

I don’t know if it is any good, but I do think it is worth a try; if for no other reason than “Flowers for Algernon” was so good. It is the Daniel Keyes; the guy who wrote “Flowers for Algernon” and literally blew my fifteen-year-old mind.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Something a Little Different

I just finished one of the busiest weeks of my life. The good news: it was very productive and even better, it is over. The bad news: I neglected Gravetapping more than a little. I have a post that will be going live early this week--Monday or Tuesday at the latest.

This post however is about my wife. She is an artist--an illustrator, graphic designer and fine artist. She has a showing of her water colors at a local gallery. The theme: desert wildflowers. The work has a flair of simplistic beauty that captures the essence of the wildflower. And while I am more than a little biased I think it is damn good.

The above is an image of one of the paintings that is in the show. If you have any interest, or just want to stop by and take a look, it is at the Blue Sage Gallery in Cedar City, Utah. The address is:

94 West Center Street
Cedar City, Utah

It opened a few weeks ago, and it will run through October 9, 2009.

You can get a sampling of the pieces in the show by visiting my wife's blog Here.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

"The Shadows, Kith and Kin" by Joe R. Lansdale

I meant to have a post about Donald Hamilton and Westerns today, but it didn't quite happen. It will appear next week right here, but until then here is a review I wrote for a brilliant short story written by Joe R. Lansdale.

Joe R. Lansdale has near legendary status in the horror world—he has won an astonishing six Bram Stoker Awards and the British Fantasy Award. Three of his stories have been translated to the screen—the wonderful Bubba Ho-Tep, and Incident On and Off a Mountain Road for the Showtime series Masters of Horror, and The Job. He has published an impressive amount of short stories and he is also an acclaimed mystery writer.

Which makes me even more embarrassed that I haven’t read much of Lansdale’s work. I actually own a few of his novels including his most recent release Lost Echoes, but they haven’t arrived at the top of my to-be-read pile. So when I came across his short story “The Shadows, Kith and Kin” in the 2006 Edition of Horror: The Best of the Year I decided I better read it. And I’m glad I did.

“The Shadows, Kith and Kin” is the story of a lonely man. He is unemployed, married to a woman who no longer loves him, and even worse, lives with his in-laws. He sleeps during the day while his wife is at work, and at night he sits out on the porch and watches the shadows—shadows that he begins to associate himself with. To tell any more of the plot will spoil the story.

“The Shadows, Kith and Kin” is told in first person. The narrative is seamless. The pace is near perfect, and the prose is, at times, beautiful. One passage was particularly haunting:

Lying in bed later that night I held up my hand and found that what intrigued me most were not the fingers, but the darkness between them. It was a thin darkness, made weak by light, but it was darkness and it seemed more a part of me than the flesh.

The story builds slowly. The first half is dark, haunting, and surreal. Then Lansdale changes gears and swiftly takes the story to a place I wasn’t expecting. The narrative moves from introspective to explosive—the main character, while not changed intrinsically is forced into an action that changes his world.

“The Shadows, Kith and Kin” is a story that packs a wallop. It is what horror should be: meaningful, haunting, scary, and damn fun. It’s impact lasts well beyond the final page, and if this is an example of Joe R. Lansdale’s short stories, I need to read more of them.

“The Shadows, Kith and Kin” was originally published in the anthology Outsiders edited by Nancy Holder and Nancy Kilpatrick; it also appeared in Horror: The Best of the Year 2006 Edition edited by John Betancourt and Sean Wallace; it is also in Joe R. Lansdale’s most recent collection Shadows, Kith and Kin published by Subterranean Press in 2007.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

PWA Shamus Banquet News

I received an email from Bob Randisi over the weekend with news about the upcoming Shamus Award Banquet...

We're getting the same two questions from people about the PWA Shamus Banquet at the Slippery Noodle blues bar in Indianapolis, Fri. Oct. 16, 6:30 to 9:00: Are tickets still available? and Can I come if I'm not a writer?

We have managed to INCREASE our seating at the banquet, so tickets will be on sale until OCT. 1. And ANYONE can come--writers, agents, editors and FANS. Tickets are $50. Email Bob Randisi at for details on how to get your tickets. It is STILL a ticketed event, with no entry without one.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

DRAGONFLY by John Farris

John Farris is best known for his work in the horror genre—The Fury, All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By, Son of the Endless Night, etc.—but his body of work is much more varied and broad. His career began at the height of the pulp era and he wrote several very good examples, including Baby Moll, and Harrison High.

It was, however, the horror genre where he truly differentiated his work—he wrote with a keen eye towards culture and mythology. He was an observer and chronicler as much as anything. And he still is.

His work has changed and expanded over the years; from his early pulp-style crime novels, to his horror, to his more recent suspense, and finally to his current batch of hybrid suspense / supernatural novels. No matter where Mr Farris’ work is categorized you can always count on three things: wit, suspense, and more than a touch of humanity.

I recently read a John Farris’ novel titled Dragonfly. It was published in 1995. It is a large-scale suspense novel with a booming plot, flashy and developed characters, and enough twists to make its 500 pages pass far too quickly. It is a version of the Dean Koontz thriller, except where Koontz tends to populate his novels with working class characters Dragonfly is a hothouse of Southern aristocracy in all its contemptible glory.

Dr Joe Bryce is a conman. He makes his living swindling wealthy women of their treasure. His last job had a few loose ends and it didn’t turn out exactly how Joe had hoped. He has a mind to retire, but the dust jacket photograph of a beautiful and bestselling author haunts him until he decides for one more con. The only problem: Nothing is as he expects it.

The plot is so well rendered and designed that the less a reader knows about it, the more enjoyable it will be. The writing is pure in subtle and unobtrusive tones—it is deceivingly simple with a Southern, almost gothic, lilt:

“Joe awoke at the crack of dawn in the beach house, disoriented after a night of heavy sleep, wondering for a few moments just where he was and what he was up to.”

The characters are full-bodied, living, breathing people. Joe is a scoundrel that is not only likable, but, as the novel gains ground, begins a trembling, sorrowful journey of redemption. He is a flawed man in a flawed and harsh world. The setting is beautifully captured by Mr Farris in a muted eloquence—simple and direct with language that is permeated with intelligence and wit.

Dragonfly is one of the best novels I have read in 2009. It is a sound piece of literature with a muscular plot and a humanity that is startling. It is a true masterpiece of suspense. It may remind me of the Dean Koontz thriller, but Dragonfly is all John Farris.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

A Quintet of Donald E. Westlake Trailers

1967. Point Blank. A film based on The Hunter--a Parker novel--published as by Richard Stark.

1968. The Split. This is another Parker film, this one is based on the novel The Seventh.

1972. The Hot Rock. This is a Dortmunder adaptation.

1974. Bank Shot.

1999. Payback. This is another adaptation of The Hunter.

Question: Why does Hollywood think it is necessary to change Parker's name every time out?

Friday, September 04, 2009

GHOST WALK by Brian Keene

I have a love-hate relationship with the work of Brian Keene. A few of his novels have absolutely captured me—Terminal—and a few others have been abysmal disappointments—Ghoul. So I always approach a Keene novel with a certain excited wariness because I know I will either really enjoy it or want to throw it at the wall before the final page.
I read one of Brian Keene’s recent releases—Ghost Walk, published in 2008—and I really had a good experience with it. It was a typical supernatural horror story with interesting and likable characters. In a word: fun.

Ken Ripple is a widower. His wife died of cancer two years before the novel opens and he is in the final process of designing and building a haunted woods tour for Halloween. The proceeds to be donated to a cancer research charity. The only problem, other than the usual problems of getting any enterprise in motion, is that a hunter unwittingly releases a demon in the woods next to the Ken’s attraction.

Ghost Walk is an easy and unassuming horror novel. It is easy to read and it has an understated and effective atmosphere of both excitement and dread. The demon is portrayed well as a background piece that isn’t developed much beyond the dark shadow in the closet, which makes it effective as a bogeyman-style villain.

The characters are tightly controlled and adeptly fashioned to the plot. They range from Ken, to a local freelance writer, to possessed teenagers and even an Amish outcast with the ability of astral projection. The plot is the usual—there are no real surprises—but Mr Keene is able to amplify the story with his toned down prose style and interesting vision of horror, which is a terrific mixture of the supernatural, comedy, and a vibrant small-scale low budget horror film.

There are also several unique elements in the novel. The Amish outcast mentioned above is a wonderful character that adds both originality and wonder to the tale. There is also the description of the joys and misery—and just plain poverty—of a freelance writer’s life. Something Keene probably knows all to well.

Ghost Walk is perfect for a quick and spirited foray into the supernatural for both the horror enthusiast and the occasional visitor. It is a simple diversion and pure fun. It passes too quickly and leaves the reader the reader pondering if the next Brian Keene novel will be just as entertaining.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

A Slow Down and a Retool

A quick post to let everyone know that Gravetapping is going to slow down a little over the next few weeks. It's not going to stop, but there will be fewer posts. If everything remains constant it will drop from its current rate of three posts per week to two posts.

The reason? I'm busy. A good sort of busy, but busy none the less.

I also plan to retool a little. While there will be fewer posts, my hope is that the quality of the posts will rise. My plans (very tentative at the moment) are to focus on reviews, coming book releases, and films and television; particularly cinema that was written-by or based on the work of novel and short story writers from any and all eras and genres.

I'm also thinking about starting a regular interview section. The plan, again very tentative, one quality and in depth interview every other month or so. I haven't contacted any writers yet, but if I can get the time and interest I would love to do some interviews.

If you are interested in an interview please send an email to: Also, it may be several weeks from the time of request to the actual interview because I will want to familiarize myself with the work of the interviewee.

Until next time, keep reading.