Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Book Reviews A-Go-Go!

It's no secret that, in addition to all the other goofy stuff I'm into, I do book reviews for Dread Central. So I thought I'd throw out a few reviews of books that I did, and let the blog-o-verse know what I thought about them as well. So, without further adeu...
Those are just a few that I've reviewed this year. My intent here is to show what works in fiction, and to inspire folks to write their own masterpieces. More to come!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Useful Sites for Writers

Every aspiring writer I know has questions about the business, and most of them revolve around three subjects. Tops on the list: Will you read my manuscript/collaborate on a manuscript/write my novel for me? Easy answer to this one: I'm sorry (not really) but no. Here's why: I'm busy working on my own stuff and I don't want the possibility of someone saying I ripped them off. I do work with people's manuscripts through Seton Hill University, but that's about it. Unless I'm teaching, mentoring, or leading a writing workshop, chances are the answer will be no.

The next most frequently asked question on the list is "How I find a publisher/agent?" Good question, and one that many professional writers pursue in every waking moment. In fact, many of us pursue the same question in our dreams as well, when we sleep. Otherwise we lay awake and stare at the ceiling, revising and rewriting the "perfect" query letter in our heads. So, keeping that in mind, I thought I'd provide a couple of useful links for finding publishers and agents for aspiring authors out there.
  • Preditors and Editors - Bar none, the most important site for a writer. This site tells you in no uncertain terms who the good publishers and editors are, who are just out to scam you, and who actually pays and /or makes sales. Good things to know.
  • Writer Beware - Warnings about hucksters on the internet. Before you sign any contract, check with these guys first.
  • Duotrope - A cool database in which you can customize your search for someone who wants to publish your work.
  • Ralan's - A constantly-updated listing of who publishes what.
  • Query Tracker - A free database of literary agents all over the world, and a way to keep your queries organized. And to track them.
  • Writers Market - The old standby, and still one of the best.
  • Agent Query - An absolutely HUGE database of agents and how to get hold of them.
If anyone has any more, feel free to post them in the comments section. This is designed to help out where I can.

Until next time, WRITE ON!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Common Grammatical Mistakes

One of the things that really cheeses me off in writing is when a professional (or aspiring) writer doesn't seem to know the rules of grammar, spelling, or punctuation. Aside from annoying me, it is also one of the quickest ways to ensure your manuscript makes a fast leap from slushpile-hell into the recycle bin. So, being the helpful little sod that I am, here are a few of the most common mistakes that I see on a daily basis. And I work for a college, so that's a particularly bad and worrisome statement.
  • "It's" vs. "Its" - This rule has stumped people for a long time, and it's really quite simple. Unlike most of the rest of this silly convoluted language we call English, the apostrophe doesn't show possession. It only shows the contraction of "it is." For any other use, "its" is the appropriate word. Example: It's going to take a lot of work to bring its purpose to light."
  • "There" vs. "Their" vs. "They're" - Sure, they sound alike, but the three words have distinctly different meanings. "There" indicates a place. Example: It's neither here nor there. "Their" indicates ownership. Example: He took them back to their car, where he killed them. "They're" is the contraction of "they are." Example: They're not going to like it when they find out. So to put it all together: They're going over there to find their car.
  • "Here" vs. "Hear" - "Here" is a place. "Hear" is one of your senses. You "hear" someone breathing under the bed. You call your mother and ask her to "come here and see what's breathing under the bed."
  • "Damn" vs. "Damned" - If you see something written that reads "take your damn hands off her," it's wrong. Just plain wrong. "Damn" is a verb, plain and simple. To "damn" something is to condemn it to Hell. "Damned" is an adjective, or modifier if you will. Whatever you put that word in front of, you're telling the world that it can go to Hell for all you care. "Damn" can also be used as an expletive, by the way. So you can say "Damn, nature, you're scary!" or you can say "Get your paws off me, you damned dirty ape!"
  • "I could/couldn't care less" - Too many times, people say "I could care less" about any particular subject. But read that sentence carefully. By saying you could care less, you imply that you do, in fact, care. The proper phrase is "I couldn't care less," because if you don't care, there's no lower level of caring for you to go to. Therefore, you really couldn't care less.
Hope this helps at least someone.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Little on World Building

So you're writing a book and the setting needs to be a place that we (your readers) have never seen before. Your creatures are strange, your races are weird, and you want to make it as realistic and believable as possible. Well, building a world for your characters isn't just a matter of picking a pretty backdrop. There's actually a lot more to it, and there aren't that many writers who take the time to properly build the world.

First off, for all intents and purposes (and I hope I'm not offending anyone here), you, the author, are God. On this world, you are the creator, the Alpha, the Omega, the end-all-be-all. The head honcho. The big cheese. The...You get the point. So lets say in all of your Godly wisdom, you want your world to have a sky color that's something other than blue. Green maybe. Fine and dandy. You're God. You can do that. But hold on just a moment. Now, as a writer, you have to go and find out exactly what it would take for a world to have a green sky. Our sky here on Earth-Prime is blue because of our atmosphere and the mixture of gasses in said atmosphere. So what gasses would combine to make a green sky? Do some research and Methane will pop up. So now you have a planet that has a methane-rich atmosphere. Problem solved, right? Not so fast.

Now, along with your green sky, you've just jumped right into what types of creatures would inhabit the planet. They don't breathe oxygen, now do they? Nope. They're methane breathers. So what kind of creature would evolve into such a thing? And for that matter, what would an oxygen-rich environment do to them? And what would they exhale? And where would that methane come from? On earth, the plants breathe in the carbon dioxide that we exhale exhale oxygen. So what do these creatures breathe out, and what filters it back to methane? Lots of questions there, and the answers are part of what you (God) has to come up with.

If your characters are interacting with humans, you've just stepped into a whole lot more of detail. What size is the planet? What difference does that make, you ask? Glad you did. Smaller planets spin faster and therefore have shorter day/night periods, which the inhabitants of that world would take as normal. Your human characters could be driven buggy by thirty minute days and nights. Also, smaller planets have higher gravity because they spin faster and are more compact. So big strong jock from earth might just get out-muscled by a toddler on planet quick-spin, if he can even lift his own bulk.

A few things that you, as God, need to consider for your world:
  • What stage of development is it? Genesis? Pre industrial? Highly industrial?
  • Planet composition - Is it iron core? Is it carbon based? What's the atmosphere like?
  • Dominant species - Creationist or Evolutionist, you still have to figure out how the dominant species on the planet became so.
  • What rules of chemistry, physics, or other odd bits of science do you need to know in order for your species to survive, and for your planet to function?
This is just a very (VERY) brief overview. There is much more to be covered, and much more that you, little Godling, must uncover before your world will breathe and live on its own. And there's so much more to this: Societies in your world, energy, laws, rules, religions...All of them things that make your world function, and all things that you must consider when you're creating the setting of your fantasy, sci-fi, horror, or other novel. If you'd like to know more, one of the best books on the market on world-building is, in fact, titled World Building. Who knew, right?

Okay...That's enough for now. Back to your characters! Write on!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Elmore Leonard's Ten Rules of Writing

Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle

from the New York Times' Writers on Writing Series.


These are rules I've picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I'm writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what's taking place in the story. If you have a facility for language and imagery and the sound of your voice pleases you, invisibility is not what you are after, and you can skip the rules. Still, you might look them over.

  1. Never open a book with weather. - If it's only to create atmosphere, and not a character's reaction to the weather, you don't want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways to describe ice and snow than an Eskimo, you can do all the weather reporting you want.
  2. Avoid prologues. - They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in nonfiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want. There is a prologue in John Steinbeck'sSweet Thursday, but it's O.K. because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: "I like a lot of talk in a book and I don't like to have nobody tell me what the guy that's talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks. . . . figure out what the guy's thinking from what he says. I like some description but not too much of that. . . . Sometimes I want a book to break loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle. . . . Spin up some pretty words maybe or sing a little song with language. That's nice. But I wish it was set aside so I don't have to read it. I don't want hooptedoodle to get mixed up with the story."
  3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue. - The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with "she asseverated", and had to stop reading to get the dictionary.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said" . . . - . . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances "full of rape and adverbs".
  5. Keep your exclamation points under control. - You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.
  6. Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose". - This rule doesn't require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use "suddenly" tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. - Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won't be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavor of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories Close Range.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters. - Which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway's Hills Like White Elephantswhat do the "American and the girl with him" look like? "She had taken off her hat and put it on the table." That's the only reference to a physical description in the story, and yet we see the couple and know them by their tones of voice, with not one adverb in sight.
  9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things. - Unless you're Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language or write landscapes in the style of Jim Harrison. But even if you're good at it, you don't want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.
  10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. - A rule that came to mind in 1983. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he's writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character's head, and the reader either knows what the guy's thinking or doesn't care. I'll bet you don't skip dialogue.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can't allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. It's my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing. (Joseph Conrad said something about words getting in the way of what you want to say.)

If I write in scenes and always from the point of view of a particular character - the one whose view best brings the scene to life - I'm able to concentrate on the voices of the characters telling you who they are and how they feel about what they see and what's going on, and I'm nowhere in sight.

What Steinbeck did in Sweet Thursday was title his chapters as an indication, though obscure, of what they cover. "Whom the Gods Love They Drive Nuts" is one, "Lousy Wednesday" another. The third chapter is titled "Hooptedoodle 1" and the 38th chapter "Hooptedoodle 2" as warnings to the reader, as if Steinbeck is saying: "Here's where you'll see me taking flights of fancy with my writing, and it won't get in the way of the story. Skip them if you want."

Sweet Thursday came out in 1954, when I was just beginning to be published, and I've never forgotten that prologue.

Did I read the hooptedoodle chapters? Every word.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Literary Snobbery

A long time ago, when I got my first book published, I hurried to tell a few people whom I thought would be excited over a friend and colleague's first book. When I told them, they seemed happy for me, but then they asked what I wrote.

"Horror!" I exclaimed.
"Oh," they said. "You write genre fiction." Then they turned up their noses and walked away.

A few months later, one of these same people said to me "Y'know, I should just write some stupid horror novel so I can be published. It's not like it real art or hard or anything."

It took every ounce of control I had to not strangle him on the spot. Not art? Not hard? Horror is not literature? Horror is not good enough? Bollocks, I say! And here's why.

For those of you who write, you know how hard it is to get ANYTHING published. You know how hard it is to keep your audience enthralled. You know how hard it is to pull those emotions out of your reader. Lovecraft said, to paraphrase, that the oldest and most powerful emotion is fear. To wit, we have become such a desensitized society that finding things that truly pull a sense of dread out of an audience is damned near impossible, doubly so for a person trying to accomplish the goal with words on paper. If I, as a writer, can give a person a serious case of the heebie-jeebies, then what does that make me? A hack? Is it easy to do? No. And I dare say, there is something of an art to scaring the crap out of people. Anyone with a loud noisemaker can hide behind a door and shout "BOO," but it takes real effort to unsettle, to unhinge, to make them see things that may not be there. Horror is damned hard, and it is an art form unto itself.

Not literature? Again, I cry Bollocks! What is Frankenstien, which is taught in every college? Dracula, if it is not horror and a love story to boot? There are so many cases of horror in literature that listing them would be an exhaustive and futile effort. It also wouldn't change a thing. Walk into most MFA programs proclaiming to write any of the genres and you'll likely be treated with the same response. In fact, I was told by at least one MFA program that genre fiction wasn't welcome. Why?

What it boils down to is this: Good writing is good writing. What is our goal as writers? To make our readers feel one way or another, to love, to hate, to cringe, to cry, and to do it with nothing more than our words on the printed page. That's pretty damned hard, don't you think?

While this post isn't by any means a commercial for Seton Hill's Masters in Writing Popular Fiction program, I can't let this rant continue without mentioning them as the one bastion of literary acceptance in the world. That's right, popular fiction. Which means fiction that people read. Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Romance, and blessed Horror, all nurtured. Why aren't more schools like them? I don't know.

But I do know this: Nine books later, and I'm damned proud to say that I write horror. It's my website (, it's my passion, and it is my life. And for anyone else out there reading this who has been laughed at, picked on, put down, or generally been the target of literary snobbery, I say to hold your head high. Literary fiction, genre fiction, they're really the same thing. It's a false distinction. Be proud of what you write, and keep writing it. And know that you are not alone, know that greatness comes in many forms, and know that if you can make your readers feel, you've done your job.

My name is Scott A. Johnson, and I'm a horror writer. And I'm damned proud of it.

New convention, and that's where I'm going to be!

I'm going to be in San Antonio signing copies of my books and mingling with the stars on August 27-30, at the Alamo Draft House! Come by and see me, buy some books, and have a blast! Guests include Bill Johnson (Leatherface from TCM2), Tony Moran (the first Michael Meyers), Ari Lehman (the ORIGINAL Jason Voorhees) and more! Oh...And I'll be there too. In case you were wondering. There will also be a whole bunch of movies screened (Like I said, it's a film festival) and much more! If you can make it out, you really should!

Frickin' Hillarious

One of those things I've always wanted to do. "Weird Al" Yankovic, you are my hero!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Using Magic in Writing

writingAs a teacher at Seton Hill's Masters in Writing Popular Fiction program, I work with students every semester to try to help them perfect their writing abilities. Not that I'm perfect mind you, but since I've gotten books traditionally published (that's all I'll ever do, mind you), someone seems to think I know what I'm talking about. So occasionally, I'll post something for the writers out there who might stumble across my blog to try to help them out as well. Tonight's topic: Using Magic.

Magic is a curious thing. No, I'm not talking about slight-of-hand trickery here, but what Alester Crowley referred to as "Changing your environment by will alone." Magic is an invisible (in most cases) force that projects the user's will to make things happen. Quite simply, "I will it, therefore it is so." But when you're writing your magnum opus, there are many pitfalls to using magic, some of which I'll outline here.
  • If everyone can use it, it isn't magic. It's science. - Okay, that may come across as inflammatory to some people, but lets look at it for a moment. "Magic" is unknown. "Magic" is a mysterious power. Most important, "Magic" is special to only the few who can use it. That's why it's called "Magic." Fire was once called "Magic," but we've gotten past that because a majority of the world walks around with little portable fire-starters (lighters) in their pockets. What a computer does is, to many people, still quite magical because those people still can't understand how a hunk of plastic and silicon can create so much interesting stuff. But, chances are, if you're reading this, you own a computer. Just like most other people in the world. It's not magic to you. It's technology. If you build a world in which everyone, down to the last little person, uses magic, doesn't it stand to reason that it would lose a great deal of its mystery, and would be commonplace, and would therefore be taken for granted? If you have a world where everyone can do some extraordinary thing, would they think it was extraordinary? No. They'd find it normal. Magic isn't normal, now is it?
  • Magic isn't a catch-all - Too many times, I've seen young writers come in and explain away an incredible amount of unbelievable events with the byline of "Magic." He's being attacked. Magic. His friends are falling. Magic. His room is messy. Magic. In fact, many times, the characters use so much "Magic" that the reader is left wondering why there's any conflict at all. If the character can just magic his way out of everything, why isn't he living high up on a mountain somewhere living the good life and using magic to suit his every need? A character that can do absolutely anything through magic is boring. It's trite. And it's also wholly impossible for a reader to relate to them. If he's so all powerful, he would be a god. Instead of having your character use magic to get out of every little thing, make them use their brains. Make them make choices. Make them living, breathing creatures that have to struggle to overcome odds because that's what makes a story interesting.
  • Magic has a cost. - Magic is energy, or the manipulation thereof. Ask yourself this: Where is that energy coming from and how is it directed? If it comes from inside the person or elsewhere, it's still being directed by the character. That's all fine and dandy, but guess what? Your character is now a conduit. Let's put it in terms of electricity. Your character is a wire, electricity is the magic. The source of the magic is, let's say, a 9-volt battery. Hook up the battery to the wire and let it go. Eventually, the energy will run out, just like magic. But then let's say you hook up a car battery to the same wire. What happens? First it gets red-hot, then it melts the casing off, then the wire melts, then you're left with a dead wire. The same thing applies to the theory of magic. Your character's body is the wire. The energy coursing through him is using him to travel, much like the wire. Too much energy going through him will burn him out. If the energy is coming from inside him, what happens when fatigue sets in? Or if he uses all of his energy? The energy runs out. Your character dies. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, really. But what I am saying is that, no matter what, you have to show that there is some cost to using that energy. Does it make him tired? Does it hurt? Does it strip away a piece of his soul whenever he uses it? What is it that limits the magic? What makes a superhero so interesting? Is it is powers, or his weaknesses? I'm putting my money on the latter.
  • Learn the Rules - Magic, like everything else, has limitations, laws, and rules. Especially if you're working with an established system of Magic (like Wicca, for example). If you're writing a story about a group of witches, learn about the philosophy of Witchcraft, Druidism, Vodun, and every other religion that uses magic (Catholics, though they won't admit it) so you can write about it like you know what you're talking about and don't come off as a tool. If you're creating your own system, fine and dandy, but figure out where the limitations of your system are before you go writing and making it up as you go along. The readers may never see your "rule-book," but they'll get the idea when you start showing those laws.
  • Learn your Terminology - If I say "Witch," what do you think of? How about "Satanist?" How about "Druid?" The fact of the matter is, most of us have been spoon-fed media-slanted half-truths our entire lives, and only the truly intelligent question it. For example, I know quite a few "witches," and absolutely none of them are green, have warts on their noses, or wear black peaked hats (except on Halloween, and then as an inside joke). They're not evil, don't put hexes on people, and generally believe in being as good to each other as possible. Satanists? Guess what...They don't sacrifice babies. In fact, true "Satanism" doesn't particularly believe in the concepts of good and evil, nor do they get up every day saying they're going to dedicate their lives to Satan. They're more hedonists, and pretty much leave everyone else alone. However, screw with them, and their doctrine says they have every right to destroy you. The name "Satanism" came from a loveable little kook named Anton LeVey, who chose the name just to be controversial. Ever hear about pentagrams and candles being referred to as part of a "Satanic Cult?" No...That's not really true. The Pentagram isn't an evil symbol, and candles are used everywhere. Nine times out of ten, the "Satanic Cult" that people are looking for are bored teenagers lashing out at their parents or another hopelessly deluded individual who believes what he sees in movies. You, as a writer, should be smart, educated, and should strive to not fall into such bullshit. You must be more intelligent than that, lest you offend the wrong groups or, worse, the people who actually do know what's what will cry bullshit and tell everyone that your work is sophomoric, idiotic, and pandering. And we wouldn't want that, now, would we?

City of Demons

City of Demons is my newest novel, released in July from Library of the Living Dead press. It also is kind of an experiment, in that it's the bloodiest thing I've written, and I wanted to try to write something in the "noir" genre made famous by Dashell Hammett and Mickey Spillane. It's about a cop who tracked down a serial killer that almost killed him, but left him with a curious and terrible ability: If he touches a person, living or dead, he experiences the last few moments of that person's life. Sights, smells, tastes, everything. Imagine reliving the last few moments of a victim of a brutal killing, and you'll see why this is such a problem.

While working on this, I passed a copy off to my friend, fellow author Gary Braunbeck (if you haven't read his work, you're really missing out), and he wrote an introduction for the book for me. This is what he had to say:

The Divine Madness of Absolute Clarity:

An Introduction by Gary A. Braunbeck

I’m not going to tell you a damned thing about this novel you’re holding in your hands right now; I’m not going to tell you how Scott Johnson creates an atmosphere of almost unbearable tension that starts with the very first paragraph and never lets up; I’m not going to tell you about the emotional layers he uses in creating the all-too-real human beings who populate these pages, nor am I going to go on at length about how the shifting dynamics of the characters’ relationships ring so true that often-times you’re going to feel like you’re voyeuristically eavesdropping on the most private and intimate moments of someone else’s life; I will avoid discussing how Scott Johnson understands the difference between genuine tragedy and the merely tragic – something that all too few horror writers seem to grasp (or care about) in this age of the Rampant Zombie Boogie – which, with the exceptions of a small handful of writers’ work, cannot end quickly enough for me; I’m not even going to get into the beautifully-orchestrated set-pieces that, combined with the excellent characterizations and the authenticity of fear that lies at the core of the story, propel City of Demons to a level of near-operatic grandeur in the final third; I won’t discuss his menacingly poetic narrative voice, nor how his dialogue is as crackling and literate as anything penned by Rod Serling, Richard Matheson, or Charles Beaumont; and rest assured that I will not waste your time or mine by describing the jaw-dropping, epic, and beautifully grotesque imagery that reads like Johnson has taken Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights and transposed it to modern-day Houston, Texas; I’m not going to discuss any of that. Instead, I want to tell you a little bit about Scott Johnson himself.

Picture, if you will, a demented leprechaun. Add about sixteen inches of height, a sharply-trimmed goatee, and give it a voice that falls somewhere between Richard Burton and Tommy Lee Jones, and … you might have some idea of what to expect if you ever meet him in person. Yes, he’s a bit on the small side, but so is a vial of nitro.

You can feel his energy for his work, and when he discusses his love of the craft, you cannot help but listen.

And then there are his eyes. Go on-line and look at his author’s photo on his website, or photos taken of his readings at any convention, and you’ll note immediately that there is a barely-contained creative insanity lurking In There. This is a man who does not see the same world the rest of us do. I do not mean he sees the world differently than us – he sees a completely different world, and that mad sparkle in his eyes tells you that Scott Johnson is warped in the best of all possible ways – the embodiment of what Oscar Wilde called, “… the divine madness of absolute clarity.”

Scott Johnson’s clarity of vision is absolute. I have had the pleasure of seeing him evolve from a damned good writer into one who displays the range and control of the truly gifted. There are several sequences in City of Demons (especially its bravura finale) that very easily could have tipped over into the absurdly over-done, piling grotesquerie on top grotesquerie for the sake of shocking or grossing out the reader, but like a good actor who knows that the quality of a performance is best measured by the control which he or she orchestrates in peeling back the onion layers of a character’s psyche, a good horror writer knows that terror, heartbreak, and revulsion are their most effective and affecting when the reader is given just enough of a glimpse of the horror to know they don’t need or want to see anymore; a telling detail, a small line of blood trickling across the floor from behind a closed door, a terrible sound from somewhere behind … it can more than enough when the writer knows when and how to exercise control, and – just as importantly – when the writer trusts in the intelligence and imagination of his or her readers.

Scott Johnson trusts his readers, he respects their intelligence, and knows they are sharp enough to fill in the blanks for themselves, thus making their reading of his work all that more a personal and intimate experience – because, let’s face it, take away any and all blurbs, words of praise, the bells and whistles of word of mouth, Internet publicity, great cover art, all of it, and it boils down to this: terror is arguably the most intimate of individual human emotions, and to provoke that reaction with mere words on a page requires that the writer and reader both agree to step into that dark alley together. The writer knows what’s back there, but you don’t, and as a reader you accept that, trusting that the writer does indeed know what lies back in those shadows between the dank brick walls. And he does – just look at his eyes. He sees what you can’t, but also knows that half the joy in this process is making the reader believe that he’s in the dark as just as they are.

That’s where the control factor really kicks in. There are many writers who are so impatient to get to the punchline of a sequence, so determined to get to “Z” that they forget to go from “A” to “B” and so on. Not Scott Johnson. This is a writer who, here, is in complete command of the English language and in total control over his story. Scott loves horror, and that comes through. He knows that story is king, and he its humble messenger.

A good writer also knows when he’s worn out his welcome, so allow me to make a quick and (hopefully) graceful exit with this last thought:

What you hold in your hands is, in my opinion, an almost perfect horror novel; and the only reason I qualify it with the “almost” is because Johnson hasn’t written his next one yet.

So climb into the cruiser with the nightcrawlers and hold your breath as the real nightlife of Houston, Texas comes out to play.

Gary A. Braunbeck

Lost in Ohio

June 4, 2009

A-Blogging I Will Go...

This is something of an experiment for me. I've been on the internet for years now, and for some strange reason, I've never actually had a "blog." Sure, I'm on MySpace, Facebook, and you can always find me at Dread Central and, but I've never really had a real, honest-to-goodness "blog" before. So here I am, typing this pretty much as it comes out of my head like cranial vomit, and looking to see what it'll look like when I'm done. If I get into using it enough, maybe I'll link it to my website...Maybe not. We'll see.