Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

4 More Days til Halloween – presenting Kathe Koja

Posted: October 27, 2013 by StayFrosty in Books, Reviews

frostyKathe Koja is the author of The Cipher (1991), one of the books I read on random internet recommendation.  I am very glad I did, because it’s one of the weirdest, most interesting books I’ve devoured in a long time.  Koja won the Bram Stoker Award and the Locus Award for her first novel The Cipher, which was also nominated for the Philip K Dick Award.  It hasn’t been available for a long time, but is now available on e-book with a new forward by the author.

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Trust me when I tell you that The Cipher is difficult to explain.  See, there’s this hole in an apartment building, where would-be poet Nicholas lives, which has fascinated both him and his sometimes lover (and super-strange lady) Nakota.  The hole, which is dubbed “The Funhole”, is not living but alive all the same.  Whoever comes into contact with it is changed, has already lost their control.  It attracts more people, things get weirder.  I really can’t say much more than that.

Koja isn’t a straightforward horror author – many people say she isn’t a horror author at all.  But whatever she is, it’s exciting and interesting.  She’s been compared to a poet, and I can see where those comparisons are coming from.  The language in The Cipher isn’t straightforward, and there is a lyrical sense/nonsense to it.  But it’s such beautiful, terrifying lyrics.

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Kathe Koja

Koja’s works are divisive – I’ve seen glowing and scathing reviews for the same novel right next to each other, which only makes me want to read her work more.  We are lucky that Koja’s older works are coming back in e-book editions.  Her 1993 novel, Skin, was just released last month.  I am downloading it right now.  Books not yet in digital format can be purchased used on Amazon.

It’s not an easy read, but The Cipher – and Koja – are worth your time.

frosty         Mary SanGiovanni’s works are a fast read, and I mean that as a compliment.  They’re like a roller coaster, the one that shoots you out at 60 mph – strong starts, fast, intense ride, sometimes ends too soon, but looking forward to the next one.  As I haven’t read everything by SanGiovanni and am currently reading her novel Thrall (set in Jersey!), I’ll concentrate most of my attention on her Hollower trilogy, which encompasses The Hollower, Found You, and The Triumvirate, respectively.

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The works of Mary SanGiovanni

In the Hollower, something alien is stalking residents of Lakehaven, New Jersey. It can’t see them, hear them, or touch them, but it knows them — their fears, their insecurities, and their secrets. It knows how to destroy them from the inside out. And it won’t stop until each of them is dead. Dave Kohlar has never felt like he was good for anything. But when his sanity, his life, and the safety of his only family and friends is in danger, he has to look inside himself for a strength that his otherwordly enemy can’t touch — strength that can hopefully save them all. (plot synopsis shamelessly borrowed from Amazon).

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One of SanGiovanni’s strengths is that she’s not afraid to put her characters through the wringer – and what a wringer it is.  She doesn’t pull punches on the red stuff, the monsters, or in describing the mental and emotional toll fighting evil can take on normal people.  And that’s one of the things that make these novels so interesting to read.  These people pay a price, they suffer, they die to fight this thing.  Some of the characters return for the sequel(s), and I remember feeling so bad for them – haven’t they been through enough?!?!  But that’s the sign that the writer is doing their job, and she does it very well.  By book three I felt exhausted for some of these poor people, but I still wanted to keep reading.

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Mary SanGiovanni

She’s also not afraid to kill off major characters, which keeps the reader engaged, since they have no idea who may or may not be around by the end of the chapter, let alone the end of the series.  With so many books and movies telegraphing their every move, SanGiovanni keeps us guessing.

Mary SanGiovanni’s official website:  http://www.marysangiovanni.com/ (you can purchase all of her available novels and short stories here)

7 More Days til Halloween – presenting Joe Hill

Posted: October 24, 2013 by StayFrosty in Books, Reviews

frosty         At this point I assume most people in the horror field know about Joe Hill, and I hope everyone appreciates just how good he is at his craft.  The man knows how to write a story.  Short, long, graphic novel, whatever, he can do it all.  Hill currently has one short story collection (entitled 20th Century Ghosts) and three novels: Heart-Shaped Box (the first book of his I read), Horns and the recent release N0S4A2.   And I can say each one is worth reading.  I’d even go so far as to say they are all required reading for horror lovers.  I admit I didn’t think Horns was as incredible as the others, but it’s definitely still worth a read.   Hill can create such well-developed characters and stories, but it wasn’t until N0S4A2 when I saw he could create worlds with such scope and depth.

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Joe Hill, rocking the wind

So listen – I read a lot.  A lot.  And I’ve read tons of terrific stuff, but I can’t remember the last time I actually exclaimed aloud while reading a book.  Until N0S4A2.  As I neared the end of the novel, I reached a certain part (which I won’t reveal here, it’s too good to spoil) where I was so tense that when this particular event ended I gasped out loud with relief.  I didn’t even realize I was saying anything (or that I was so damned tense in the first place).  This sounds like nothing, but for me that’s huge.  And that’s the kind of novel this is.  One that makes you gasp aloud even when you’ve read so many things.  Hill isn’t afraid to make characters with major flaws, and yet you still want them to succeed, despite some unlikable/questionable choices they make.  But unlike other books and movies, I don’t feel that Hill used the plot hammer to say “EMPATHIZE WITH THIS CHARACTER”!  I just did.  Each character has so many complexities, and the places they’re taken to (both physically and emotionally) are devastating, beautiful, terrifying.

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READ. THIS. BOOK.

It’s no secret anymore that Hill is the son of Stephen King, and I’m calling shenanigans on the level of talent within that family.  That is ridiculous in the best way.  As JennyD wisely stated, this might be the first family where the lineage of literary terror can be passed down by bloodline and is totally legit.

Regardless of lineage, Hill is a kickass author in his own right and should be read as soon as possible.

13 More Days til Halloween – presenting Laird Barron

Posted: October 18, 2013 by StayFrosty in Books, Reviews

frosty        Just a quick note on this countdown before we begin.  To get into the spirit of Halloween, FGSG is counting down the 13 days til Halloween.  Each day we’ll cover a different movie, author, director, composer, whatever.  They may not always be things that are recent (I’m betting some 70s movies are gonna get a mention), but they will be things/people we love or at least think are interesting enough to check out.  Sometimes these write-ups will be on the short side, but we’re doing the best we can to get some content out there.  As for the headline, just imagine the song from Halloween III for the next 13 days…

My knowledge of Laird Barron is due entirely to JennyD, and man, do I owe her major thanks for introducing me to this amazing author.  Even after reading only one of his novels, I knew I had to read everything I could get my hands on.  Barron has written several collections of short stories and two novels (many of which are available on Amazon in both hard copy and for the Kindle).  I started with his excellent novel “The Croning”, but really, I can recommend everything of his I’ve read.  Everything.  I haven’t read all of Barron’s work yet, but I suspect when I do I’ll be able to recommend each one with the same amount of enthusiasm.

Cover of The Croning - a great place to start your Barron adventure.

Cover of The Croning – a great place to start your Barron adventure.

Barron has so many skills it’s hard to know where to start.  Whether a short story or a novel, his work immediately pulls you in.  He’s able to create intense atmospheres just dripping with dread that immerse you in whatever world he decides to create.  Best of all, he does this without having that much disliked “long-pages-of-explanation-as-to-why-the-world-is-the-way-it-is-and-then-back-to-the-story” device.   He takes plots places you wouldn’t expect without it seeming contrived.  And the way he can turn a phrase…gorgeous.  Some of his work definitely brings Lovecraft to mind, but Barron’s stories are his own.  In short, he’s quality goods.

Barron’s most recent collection of short stories is The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All – it was originally supposed to release in April 2013 and then was held all the way to August!  But it’s here now and I am eagerly devouring every incredible page.  And, as I’d already known, this new book doesn’t disappoint.

Barron's most recent work

Barron’s most recent work

Laird Barron official site:  http://lairdbarron.wordpress.com/

31/31 – Day 31 – Happy, Happy Halloween!

Posted: October 31, 2011 by StayFrosty in Books, Film, Reviews

In the spirit of Halloween, we thought we’d share some of our favorite horror books, movies and games with you.  This is by no means a comprehensive list of everything we love (that would take so much time!), but here are a few things we love (and a few that scare us):

Movies:

StayFrosty:

1.  The Thing, dir. by John Carpenter – Anyone who knows me or has read this blog knows how much I love John Carpenter’s The Thing, so it shouldn’t be a shock that it tops my list.  A perfect exercise in paranoia and mistrust, there’s not a false note in this movie.  The effects, the mood, everything still holds up today.  And that ending, oh my friends, they just don’t make them like that anymore.

2.  Suspiria, dir. by Dario Argento – Argento’s masterpiece isn’t exactly a horror movie, it isn’t exactly a giallo, it’s truly its own thing.  And that thing is incredible.  Perfectly the art of the beautiful death, Argento combines the best of the giallo and the best of Lovecraftian horror in this story about a witch and her worshippers hiding within a ballet academy.  Argento uses gorgeously lush colors in both the lighting and the sets, and a score by frequent collaborators Goblin, giving the whole film a surreal, dream-like quality both in look and sound.  While Argento’s other body of work is uneven, this one is beautiful, haunting and yes, scary.

3.  The Spiral Staircase, dir. by Robert Siodmak – In our write up of the top ten final girls for cinedelphia, JennyD and I give Helen Capel, the heroine of this movie, the ninth slot for being a proto final girl in a time period where that word hadn’t even been invented yet (1942).  What I didn’t mention at that time is that out of every film I’ve ever watched (and friends, that is a list), this is the one that kept me up almost seven full nights until I fell asleep from exhaustion.  Seriously, this one scared me so much I couldn’t sleep.  I was young, but I was also a young kid who had seen plenty of genre stuff (from all times periods, some perhaps younger than I should have) and had never really had that major of a problem with anything (with one notable exception for another post).  But this movie about a serial killer murdering young women with disabilities and Helen, his mute would be victim, got under my skin and into my soul somehow.  To this day I can’t entirely explain it, and I don’t know if I want to.  Some films just hit you, and I appreciate that power in a movie.  The movie’s definitely well done, with solid acting and beautiful lighting design – especially the lighting.  The use of those long shadows, long parts of the film played in near darkness and lighted close-ups of the killer’s eyes all combine to make images that will stay in your mind, especially when you’re young.  I don’t remember how young I was when I first saw it, but I didn’t have the guts to see it again until after college.  This film got me.  It’s not a ghost movie, but it sure as hell haunted me.

4.  The Haunting, dir. Robert Wise – I already wrote about The Haunting in another post for 31/31, but I needed to mention it here because it’s that good.  Read my other article, then go watch this movie.

Books:

StayFrosty:

1.  The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson: I already discussed my feelings on the 1963 film adaptation, but the novel deserves its own mention because it’s just as good as the movie.  Stephen King dedicated a book to Shirley Jackson once, with the inscription that she never needed to raise her voice.  I find that one of the most apt descriptions of Jackson’s work – the lady knows how to scare, but it’s not cheap, loud or overwrought.  It’s matter of fact, and that makes it all the more frightening.  And did I mention it has the best opening paragraph ever written in a genre novel?

2.  The Shining by Stephen King – I love Stephen King novels.  I know people might judge or whatever but I don’t care.  Shut up.  I understand their flaws, but I love his work anyway.  But The Shining is the only one that scared the shit out of me when I read it.  Don’t get me wrong, It did its fair share of damage (mostly because my third grade teacher read us all the murder parts in class and I was too scarred to read the book until college), but The Shining is the only King book I remember both having me in such a grip I almost couldn’t stop reading even if I wanted to (this award goes to It also), but then kept me up at night after I was done.  And the funny part is, I only realized just how much it had affected me until after I was finished.  Maybe because I was reading too fast to notice it earlier.  Either way, The Shining is a frightening portrait of a man gone mad in a place gone mad.  It’s evocative, character intense and a great read.  In short, it’s a Stephen King work, and one of the best.

3.  House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski – This isn’t just a book, it’s an experience.  Reading it is sort of like what going mad must feel like, and the deterioration of the book itself represents the deterioration of that worlds’ reality.  And you’ll be scared by math.  And not like in school, this is totally different.  It’s hard to explain, and it’s not perfect (it has trouble in the third act), but it’s a unique and scary reading experience that is well worth getting into despite the flaws.

Shelter in Place: An Interview with J.R. Blackwell

Posted: October 3, 2011 by Jenny Dreadful in Books, Games, Interviews

Cover design by Daniel Solis

We have more than a few gamers out there, right? We may have spent a little time with dice and character sheets ourselves. (We may have.) So who’s up for Romero-style fun with props, improv and lots and lots of running? Let’s take a look at a new live action zombie game, Shelter in Place. First, the description from the official Kickstarter:

Shelter in Place is about survival, teamwork and fun. Designed for ten to twenty five players, the game captures the frenetic pace of a zombie movie in an action packed game. Players can take on the roles of Humans or Zombies in a desperate conflict to survive. Humans must use their wits to survive, making sacrifices in order to live through the night. The Zombies must use their brute, unrelenting strength and teamwork to overpower the humans and eat some delicious brains.

Sounds good, right? I’m certain you want to know more and Final Girl Support Group is proud to bring you an interview with a good friend of ours, the game designer and zombie mistress, J.R. Blackwell.

J.R. Blackwell on Shelter in Place

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us about your exciting new game, J.R! I’ve already shared the general premise of Shelter in Place with our readers, but I want to dig a little deeper. Not everyone is fortunate enough to know you as well as we do.

Would you mind starting with telling our readers a little about yourself? You excel at an impressive number of artforms. Photography, writing, game design, even performance… Where can we learn more about you and your projects? And are you available to hire?

Photo by Rae Winters

I am a writer, photographer, and bon-vivant. Shelter in Place is my first game, but my love of fiction, photography and gaming tie together with my love of telling stories.  I enjoy creating characters and putting them in interesting situations. Even in my days of doing burlesque, one of my characters was an old fat man who would go on stage and dance to a country version of Justin Timberlake’s “SexyBack.” The whole routine revolved around taking off the fat suit and revealing my lacy burlesque outfit underneath. It was about making the audience believe in one character, only to reveal another underneath. You can learn more about my lacy stuff, book covers, beard and other sundries at  www.jrblackwell.com. I am available for hire for writing and photography projects and I especially enjoy collaborating with writers and other creative types.

I do love a beautiful lady with a beard. Moving on, I’ve always been particularly fascinated with your thoughts on horror. Would you mind telling us about your relationship with the genre? And how does the exploration of fear influence your art?

I have a love/terror relationship with horror. My writing and photography often have horror elements and I think that’s because those themes get into my brain so deeply.  I’m terrified down to my toes by horror films. They scare me not just while I’m in the theater but for days and nights afterward. Films like High Tension have this way of staying with me, of playing again and again behind my eyes, and The Ring made such a strong impact on me that for years I was convinced that girl was just on the other side of the shower curtain. I use writing and photography to cope with that fear, to control it. When I create monsters and victims, I’m now the master of them, and they frighten me less. But lets not pretend here, I’m still terrified. I can have my eyes wide open in the dark in my bed at night because of a trailer I’ve seen. A trailer. Not even a full movie. That’s the kind of penetration horror gets into my brain.

"Day Twenty Eight: Hearts Blood" by J.R. Blackwell

So what is the origin of Shelter in Place? You’re not a horror fan, but did any films, books, or other media inspire you to set your game within a zombie apocalypse?

I came up with Shelter in Place when I was participating in a shelter in place drill at work. This kind of drill is when all the people in the building are gathered into an interior room and the doors and windows are sealed. It’s meant for environmental disasters, such as a large storm, or a chemical spill that would affect the air quality.  However, standing in that room with my work colleagues, all I could think of was Zombies. Then I started to dream up a game that would take place in and around a Shelter.

Interesting! This is somewhat related; do you feel you are offering a product that is lacking within the current game industry?

When I was designing Shelter in Place, one of my goals was to create a game that would be easy for new players to jump into.  I founded a role-playing club in high school, and in college, I founded a geek club where we did quite a bit of gaming. I’ve always been interested in bringing in new people. I’ve found that actors and fans of genre media often love role-playing if they have a good introduction. However, there are a lot of games that are difficult for new gamers to learn, so I created Shelter in Place as an answer to that issue. With Shelter in Place you can pick up your character sheet you have in your hands all the rules you need to know, everything about your character and you can get started with playing.  

Turning to the experience of playing Shelter in Place, why choose live-action over the table-top and board game formats?

I am a huge fan of live action gaming. One of my goals with Shelter in Place was to give people the feeling that they were actually inside a horror movie. 

How is playing the game like being inside a horror movie?

I wanted to create an immersive experience for my players, and getting people to actually run away from zombies was the way to do that. Like a movie, you have to actually act out what happens.  Zombies shamble towards humans in mass, doors get broken and replaced with barricades, and your human friends get eaten and join the zombie horde. Surviving is not simple, or assured.

Photo by Rae Winters

What happens in a typical session?

Shelter in Place is modeled after movies, with a director, characters, and three acts. One of the things I wanted was for the game to demonstrate how, over time, the humans lose strength as the zombies gain power. So, in the first act, humans are more powerful than the zombies. In the second act, they are about equal, and in the third act, zombies have the upper hand. However, humans can gather props, such as a shotgun or baseball bat to help them fight the zombies.  

What kind of tone should a new player expect? Is it a deadly serious horror game? A silly adventure?

Shelter in Place can go either way, and a lot of it depends on what the players do with it. I’ve seen people play it seriously, zombies moaning, players screaming as they’ve gotten eaten but I’ve also seen people go the Shaun of the Dead route, as a madcap adventure with zombies writing misspelled notes to humans asking them to come outside and go to their “brains party”. I think the game tends to trend towards dark humor and panicked fun.

Photo by Rae Winters

You can end up playing either a survivor or a zombie. What makes each role fun? Even more relevant to those considering buying the book, what is fun about running the game for your friends?

If you’ve ever wondered what it would take to survive the zombie apocalypse, playing a survivor is your way to find out. Playing a human in Shelter in Place means that you have this delicious conflict; to act entirely out of self-interest or to act in the interest of the group. Sometimes those two things might be in line with each other, but sometimes those motivations come into conflict. For example, if zombies are eating your friend, do you go out and help them, and risk getting eaten yourself? These are the questions human characters have to answer for themselves.

Playing a zombie is fun because you are playing for a team! You all have one goal, to eat some delicious brains. Players often seem to have more fun playing zombies because they are united in a common purpose, and they actually use a great deal of strategy in their zombie shuffling to take down the humans.

The fun of running the game is putting your friends through the zombie apocalypse, and having control over their fates like an angry, whimsical god! It’s crazy fun. You get to watch the action and turn up the heat, add in extra characters and help determine who lives and who dies.

I’d say that many games advertising simple rules are still daunting to new players. You mentioned earlier that your game is easy to learn. How do players resolve challenges or combat?

Players resolve conflicts by comparing “Resolution Numbers” that are listed on their character sheets. Whoever has the higher number wins. That’s it.  Now, multiple humans can gang up on a zombie and add all their resolution numbers together, or pick up a baseball bat to help add to those numbers, but it’s always the same – just add up the numbers and you’ve got your outcome. It really is that simple.

One more question about gameplay! I see there are optional “twists” in Shelter in Place that can make the session a little unpredictable. Can you tell us about that?

The twists are my favorite part. The twists are optional characters that you can add into the game to shake things up a little bit. For example, we have an optional character in the Kickstarter campaign who is a Time Traveler. This character can “rewind” the film and take things back one act – bringing all the people who are dead back to life, but putting all the props you might have gathered right back where they were. The twist characters can throw a unique element into a traditional game of zombies against humans.

Some of the available Kickstarter rewards

I think we’ve learned a great deal about how the game works now and we really appreciate your time. Before we wrap up, what is the current status of your Kickstarter campaign? How long do readers have a chance to contribute? And what are the rewards?

As I write this, we have raised $4431, exceeding our original goal of $2,500. Readers can contribute up to noon on October 13th. The rewards include a PDF of the game, a book, posters, t-shirts, zombie plushies, photoshoots with me and a chance to get me to come to your town and run the game.

It’s great to hear that you’ve exceeded your goal. What is the next step? And when can we get our hands on this book?

We’ve decided that if we reach $5,000, we will put out a zombie anthology called “Gimmie Shelter” which writers such as Mur Lafferty, David A. Hill Jr., Filamena Young, Jared Axelrod and Chuck Wendig. A PDF will go out to everyone who contributed, and at higher levels of contributions, people will get copies of the book. The best way to get a copy of the book is by contributing to the Kickstarter. We are planning to ship the books after the Kickstarter ends with the goal of getting it in our supporters’ hands by Halloween. After the Kickstarter ends we hope to have copies of the book available for purchase – but the best way to get it, and get it fast, is though the Kickstarter. 

Thanks, lady. It’s been a pleasure.

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That’s the story, readers. 10 more days to contribute to the Shelter in Place Kickstarter. Either way, you should have a chance to safely cannibalize your friends soon.