Forgotten Book: Some of Your Blood by Theodore Sturgeon (1961)

Theodore Sturgeon is known more for his sf short stories than his novels, but Some of Your Blood is exceptionally good.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 167th in my series of Forgotten Books.

I have read and enjoyed the work of Theodore sturgeon for nearly 50 years. I really loved his short stories, particularly “It,” “Killdozer” (which had a fun made-for-TV movie made), “Slow Sculpture” and perhaps my favorite short story, “The Man Who Lost the Sea.” When North Atlantic Books decided to publish the complete Theodore Sturgeon short stories, I went for the hardcover versions of all 13 volumes. They make a wonderful set and look great on the shelf. I dip in there frequently savoring the texture of his work.

I met Sturgeon only once, at an AggieCon in 1979 (which also had Boris Vallejo as a guest). Like a durn fool idiot I did not take all my books to get them signed. I had a copy of each of his books, maybe not all first editions, but I had the words. I don’t know why but a few years later he was gone. Among the things I did get signed were a copy of the Unknown pulp with “It” in it and a paperback edition of his Ellery Queen novel The Player on the Other Side. Of the many folks who did pseudonymous Ellery Queen novels (and that list included Jack Vance, Avram Davidson, and more) Sturgeon was the only one to get to play in the Ellery queen universe, using both Ellery and his father in the book. The others all did regular mysteries attributed to EQ. Apparently he also may have done a Saint novel The Saint Sees It Through though this is absolutely not substantiated. I like to believe it though so there.

As a general rule, I like Sturgeon’s short fiction much more than his novels. His most famous one, More Than Human left me pretty cold. The Dreaming Jewels was OK but not up to his best work.

But Some of Your Blood is different from all of those others. This is a work of pure horror and like much of his shorter work it is subtle and succinct. The novel begins with two psychiatrists exchanging notes about a soldier referred to one of them. The soldier was in a war zone (maybe Korea) where mail home is censored for sensitive data. A censor reads a letter and forwards it to a major who immediately recommends the man be taken into custody and evaluated. The contents of the letter are not shown to the shrink.

The soldier “George Smith” (this may be an alias) seems somewhat slow but not particularly violent or psycho. He begins a long term analysis by two psychiatrists, who are trying to evaluate each other’s opinions off the record. Smith has grown up in a loveless home where his mother died fairly young. The family lives in a shack in the backwoods and the father is the town drunk who can get abusive. George frequently goes into the woods and hunts using his hands, a knife and his backwoods skills. He is not particularly bad, just not really good, an average-or-lower student who does not fit in well.

One night he is arrested for breaking into a store and stealing some food — something he had done for a while. He is sentenced to go away to a juvenile prison where he remained a fairly model student. When his two year sentence was up, he is informed that his father has died. Rather than go home or go live with his mother’s sister, he stays for another year. At the end of that he is taken to a new home with the aunt and her husband. He still doesn’t fit in well but he finds some affection from a local girl eight years his senior whom he meets secretly for sex. When she gets pregnant, he knows her father will kill him so he joins the Army. Here he has an undistinguished record until the letter incident.

The accounts of George either by himself or the interaction with the psychiatrist are fascinating. There is no moral compass and the answers to the Rorschach test are creepy as hell. The big secret is not revealed until the final few pages, including the contents of the letter — and it is wild.

This was a revolutionary book when it came out, as wild as Silence of the Lambs, but since it was a paperback, it went ignored beyond the science fiction and horror circles. Its reputation as a horror classic is well deserved.

For years, copies of this book were hard to find and cherished by those who had them. It appears to be in print at the moment and copies are available on ABE and eBay for varying prices as well as for Kindle.

I think you should check it out if you have not read it. And read it again if you have before. And have a Great Thanksgiving.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

Forgotten Book: Earthbound by Richard Matheson (1982)

Spooky, erotic stuff lies inside the covers of Richard Matheson's Earthbound.

This is the 164th in my series of Forgotten Books.

All of you should know the work of Richard Matheson, particularly at this time of year. His work for The Twilight Zone alone is enough to make him a demi-god. Then there were his wonderful movies, adapting Edgar Allan Poe and others like Fritz Leiber, which he and Charles Beaumont, another demi-god, adapted in Burn, Witch, Burn. I reviewed that film several years ago. If you have not seen it, you should.

But, beyond those wonderful cinematic things, there is the literary Richard Matheson. First it was the short stories. The collections Born of Man and Woman, Shock!, Shock II, Shock III, Shock Waves, Shock 4 and The Shores of Space are treasures beyond measure. The signed Collected Stories by Richard Matheson is one of the core books of my library. It was expensive but worth every penny I spent.

Then there are the novels. You must have read some of them – I Am Legend, The Shrinking Man, his war novel The Beardless Warriors, the amazing Hell House, Bid Time Return and What Dreams May Come, among many others. If you have not read these books, put down this column and go find them. Get any copy you can. It won’t matter. You will fall in love with the stories, with the printed word and with the mind of the Master.

I met RM only one time, at a World Fantasy Convention in Arizona. We didn’t talk long. It would have been embarrassing because I would have blithered like an idiot. We talked about a mutual friend Chad Oliver and RM spoke fondly of Chad’s days in California. Then he was gone, and I was still alive after being in his presence.

Not many writers affect me like that. But Matheson was a personal hero and I went all fanboy.

To this book now.

Earthbound is an overlooked Matheson title. It was originally published by Playboy Press under the pseudonym Logan Swanson in an uninspired looking paperback edition. Very few people saw it. In 1989, a small press in the UK, Robinson Publishing, presented the work in a hardcover edition bearing Matheson’s name and a creepy cover that was not given an artist credit.

Earthbound's original, far less exciting cover.

I had this book for a long time and decided that since this was Halloween week, I might as well read the master. What a quick, wild read. David and Ellen are a California couple whose marriage is in serious trouble. David has had an affair and been caught. He loves Ellen, in his way, but they have been married more than 20 years. Their kids are grown and gone. They are about to be grandparents and David is feeling mortality.

They decide to go on a second honeymoon back to the small town where they originally honeymooned. But their original cottage is gone to a fire, so they take another one nearby. They visit some of the same places, order the same meals but something is just not right.

Then David meets Marianna, a free spirit who wants nothing more than wild sex and depravity. When David succumbs to her temptations he feels excitement, guilt, lust, enervation and more. David immediately resents the liaison and vows to be faithful to Ellen. But Marianna is persuasive.

The novel moves between erotic thriller into erotic horror with astounding ease and makes twists and turns you don’t see coming (or at least I didn’t), leading to violent confrontation and resolution.

It’s short, vicious and packs a mean punch. Just like a Richard Matheson novel should.

Again, Halloween is a couple of days away. Enjoy your favorite horrors and candy and films. Scare yourself.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

 

Haunting Question: What’s the Scariest Short Story You’ve Ever Read?

Short stories may be the ultimate way to experience horror fiction.

Think about it. You typically consume a short story in one sitting, no breaks, no relief from the mounting tension and dread. If the tale’s a gripper, you don’t dare come up for air. But with a novel — even one you really like — the experience is spread out, sometimes over a couple of weeks. And each time you put down the book, the tension dissipates.

Not surprisingly, virtually every major horror writer, from Edgar Allan Poe to Laird Barron, has written in short form. Pieces such as Ray Bradbury’s “The Next in Line,” Stephen King’s “I am the Doorway” and H.P. Lovecraft’s “Call of Cthulhu” all come to mind as my own early sources of chills — and writing inspiration.

With Halloween right around the corner, I asked other authors and editors to talk about the short stories that terrified them the most. The resulting selections make a great late-October reading list.

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Lisa Tuttle: Lisa Tuttle is an American-born science fiction, fantasy and horror author who currently resides in the United Kingdom. She has published more than a dozen novels, seven short story collections and several non-fiction titles. She won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, the BSFA Award for Short Fiction and the Nebula Award for Best Short Story (which she refused).

The first thing I thought of when asked for the scariest short story I’d ever read was “The Fog Horn” by Gertrude Atherton. But then I realized no one under the age of 50 would truly appreciate just why it is so terrifying. So, to balance that out, I must add another. This one scared the socks off me when I first read it, aged about twelve, and it holds up very well today. I love ghost stories, but really, when you think about it, ghosts are not that scary, being unable to do very much. But there are exceptions, like “The Gentleman from Down Under” by L.P. Hartley.

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Joe McKinney: Joe McKinney, a two-time winner of the Bram Stoker Award, is an author in many genres, including horror, zombie apocalypse tales, ghost stories, virus thrillers, crime and science fiction. He has written 17 novels, developed two collections of short stories, created a tale for a comic book, and been both published in and edited numerous anthologies.

Horror, if we’re being honest with ourselves, lives in the short story. That’s where the genre truly excels, and that’s why EVERY SINGLE MASTER OF HORROR has written in the short story genre. Yes, there are masterpieces in the novel genre. I grant you that. But the truly defining moments of horror’s graduation from fringe hack work to beloved cultural groupspeak come from the short story. So, if I had to pick just one, I’d give the nod to “Sticks” by Karl Edward Wagner. I first encountered that story in an anthology I picked up in a used bookstore. At this point, I don’t have any chance of remembering the name of the anthology, but I absolutely remember the terror that went through me as I read that story for the first time. It was not only a brilliant character study, but a master class in developing the slow, creeping dread that makes horror so effective. It was only later, after I’d begun my own journey through professional publishing, that I realized that the story was also a thorough commentary — indeed, almost a satire — of the horror genre as it came of age in the ’70s and ’80s.

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Nate Southard: Nate Southard is the author of Down, Pale Horses, Just Like Hell and several others. His latest collection, Will the Sun Ever Come Out Again?, is available now from Broken River Books. His work has appeared in such venues as Cemetery Dance, Black Static and Thuglit.  A finalist for the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Short Fiction, Nate lives in Austin, Texas.

The story that sticks with me the most is Paul Tremblay’s “The Teacher.” A new teacher accepts eight kids into a special class, one that involves a horrible video and an even worse lesson. While not what most might consider a “scary” story, “The Teacher” is the kind of tale that worms its way deep and infects you. Once I finished it, I couldn’t read again for a few days. The entire world felt wrong.

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Jeffrey Ford: Jeffrey Ford is an American writer whose works span genres including fantasy, sf and mystery. His stories and novels have been nominated multiple times for the World Fantasy Award, the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, the Theodore Sturgeon Award, the International Horror Guild Award, the Fountain Award, Shirley Jackson Award and the Edgar Allan Poe Award. He’s a graduate of Binghamton University, where he studied with the novelist John Gardner.

I don’t scare easy when it comes to fiction. The most scared I’ve ever been reading a short story was when I was 10 and up late in my bed after everyone had gone to sleep. I read “The Phantom Rickshaw” by Rudyard Kipling. I’m not sure what it was about the piece that scared the shit out of me, maybe the inevitability of the young soldier’s death after he sees the forbidding form of the woman he jilted glide by in a rickshaw. It had to do with the quiet nature of the story — no outlandish haunting — just a silent exchange of glances between the living and the dead. Creepy. Kipling is one of the best short story writers. Borges considered him better than James Joyce and Henry James. His colonial lineage is hard to defend. I side with Salman Rushdie’s take on him — “Kipling, there is much that is hard to forgive, but more that is hard to forget.”

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Jessica Reisman: Jessica Reisman’s stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. Her first novel, The Z Radiant, published by Five-Star Speculative Fiction, is “thinking reader’s sci-fi.” She was a Michener Fellow in Fiction in graduate school.

I wanted to go with a Lisa Tuttle story that I heard her read at a World Fantasy Convention (“Closet Dreams, according to Lisa. — Ed.) , but I can’t for the life of me remember the title. So I’m going with Maureen McHugh’s “The Naturalist.” The reason explaining why is essentially the same, however: I find stories about human monsters — psychopaths and sociopaths — much more terrifying and chilling than stories about supernatural monsters. Beyond being possible, they actually exist and do horrifying, scary, scary things.

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Gene O’Neill: Gene O’Neill is a multi-award nominated writer of science fiction, fantasy and horror fiction. More than 100 of his works have been published in venues including Cemetery Dance Magazine, Twilight Zone Magazine and the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

I think it’s a tie between George R.R. Martin’s “The Pear-Shaped Man” and Michael Shea’s “The Autopsy.” Martin’s story is great because essentially you become what you hate and fear. Shea’s story is great because of a dying man’s revenge against a seemingly overwhelming force.

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Tina Connolly: Tina Connolly is the author of the Ironskin trilogy from Tor Books, and the Seriously Wicked series, from Tor Teen. Ironskin, her first fantasy novel, was a Nebula finalist. Her stories have appeared in Women Destroy SF, Lightspeed, Tor.com, Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies and many more.

I don’t read a lot of horror, but I do remember loving to be scared stiff by the John Bellairs books as a kid. They were so deliciously gothic and atmospheric — and the creepy illustrations by Edward Gorey made them even better. The House with a Clock in the Walls is still my favorite, but the one that scared me the most was the terrifying sorcerer (who controls blizzards from inside his father’s tomb, IIRC) in the Dark Secret of Weatherend.

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Lori Michelle: Lori Michelle is the co-owner/CFO/layout guru of Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing and the editor-in-chief of Dark Moon Digest and Dark Eclipse. She is the author of Dual Harvest and the editor of Bleed, an anthology where the proceeds will go to the National Children’s Cancer Society. Several of her stories have appeared in anthologies including the 2012 Bram Stoker finalist Slices of Flesh.

I am not sure if this is the scariest story I have ever read, but it is certainly the most memorable short story I have ever read. It is by the great Stephen King and appeared in Nightmares & Dreamscapes. I am talking about “The Moving Finger.” The images of a strange anomaly coming into your safe haven via the drains has given me shivers over the years. The bathroom is supposed to be the place where you can relax. But SK has shown that nowhere is safe, not even your own sink.

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R.L. Ugolini: R.L. Ugolini’s short stories have appeared in literary journals and anthologies, including, most recently, Red Rock Review and Demonic Visions Vol. 3, 4 & 5. The Summerset Review nominated her story “Falllow” for the 2011 Million Writers’ Award. Samhain Publishing released her first novel Quakes in 2015.

It was 1843, and the world had yet to suffer the horrors (culturally, if not exactly psychologically) of sparkly vampires, Twitter or stuffed-crust pizza. An agitated narrator lays out his crime for his readers. He has done the unspeakable — he is a madman, a monster. And yet, as his story unfolds, it becomes clear the terror of the tale lies not with who he is or what he has done, but with how his conscience will bear his guilt. It is a reminder that horror need have no demons save those of our own making. For this reason, I recommend “The Tell-Tale Heart,” by Edgar Allan Poe.

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Max Booth III: Max Booth III is the author of three novels: Toxicity, The Mind is a Razorblade and How to Successfully Kidnap Strangers. He is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing. He’s currently a columnist for LitReactor and Slush Pile Heroes. He has studied under Craig Clevenger and award-winning editor Jennifer Brozek.

“I’m On My” by Shane McKenzie published in Splatterpunk Zine #4. A thousand stories popped in my head when Sanford asked me to pick the story that has scared me the most. Many classics, which I’m sure you already know about. However, there’s one short story that has really stuck with me since I first read it back in 2013. And that is Shane McKenzie’s “I’m On My.” It’s a short little tale about a man driving home to his family, only to encounter a slight detour. Look, when you’re driving, all it takes is for your attention to be distracted for a single second, and not only is your whole life ruined, but so are others’. “I’m On My” is a story about an innocent man accidentally running over a small child. There is nobody around that witnesses this crime. It’s just the man and the boy he’s hit. If you were in the same situation, how would you react? I think we all would like to say, “I’d call the police and wait with the boy!” But that’s just what we like to say. The truth is, there’s no way of knowing how we would react to such a situation unless it actually happens. It’s a heat-of-the-moment type of situation, and the implicated consequences of such an accident are absolutely terrifying. Every morning, I drive home from work and see various kids waiting for the school bus, and I swear, every morning I am reminded of “I’m On My.” This little story has fucked with me so much.

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Jamie Lackey: Jamie Lackey write science fiction, fantasy and horror short stories. She read submissions for Clarkesworld Magazine from 2008 through 2013. She also worked as an assistant editor for the Triangulation Annual Anthology Series from 2008-2010, and she was one of the magazine’s two coeditors in 2011. She was an assistant editor at Electric Velocipede from 2012-2013 and is the editor of Triangulation: Lost Voices.

I have to go with “Ponies” by Kij Johnson. It’s just so delightfully dark wrapped in shininess. And the ending is tragic and inevitable.

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Eric J. Guignard: Eric J. Guignard writes dark and speculative fiction from the outskirts of Los Angeles. His stories and articles have appeared in Nightmare Magazine, Shock Totem, Buzzy Mag, Bewildering Stories and Stupefying Stories. He’s also an anthology editor, having published Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations and After Death…, the latter of which won the 2013 Bram Stoker Award.

Being an indecisive writer, I considered equally two of the scariest stories I’ve ever read, though each for a different reason. “Other People” by Neil Gaiman (published first in Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders, 2006) is one of the bleakest visions of Hell I’ve ever encountered. This scared me remarkably, because there’s a belief that Hell is different for all, and it is designed individually based upon your worst fears… I wouldn’t have feared this prior, but after reading the story, suddenly Gaiman’s tale embodied what I imagined the worst type of Hell to be, in which you relive out all the pain you’ve caused other people, whether directly or indirectly, over and over again… and now I can’t “unknow it.” My second is “Crouch End” by Stephen King (published first in New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, 1980; collected in Nightmares & Dreamscapes, 1993) I was probably about 18 or 19 years old when I read this story, and it freaked me out so much I swore I’d never read it again. And I haven’t… I don’t know if this story would still affect me so terribly now, but there were some passages that just haunted me at the time. I wasn’t familiar with the Cthulhu universe back then — which this story is homage to — so the descriptions of subtly-changing things around us and slithering shapes seen only from the corner of your eye were really quite seminal to me.

Speculative San Antonio: Author R.L. Ugolini

R.L. Ugolini's horror stories grace several of the Demonic Visions anthologies.

Today marks the second installment in my Speculative San Antonio series, in which I highlight a South Texas creator of science fiction, fantasy or horror literature, film or art.

R.L. Ugolini jumps literary genres the way Evel Knievel used to jump obstacles: with frequency and in a way that inspires deep gasps.

Over the past few years, she’s published a string of short stories that span horror (check out her contributions to the Demonic Visions anthology series), magical realism, sf and literary fiction. And did I mention that her first published novel, Quakes, which came out earlier this year through Samhain Publishing, is a romance?

What’s even more remarkable is that Ugolini manages to keep a consistently strong and recognizable voice as she shifts literary gears. She’s a master at getting us into the heads of her often quirky characters, and her vivid, lyrical prose drops us into rural settings that can be at once beautiful and ominous.

If you haven’t yet checked out her work, do yourself the favor.

Samhain recently published your first novel Quakes, which is a romance, and you’ve also had a string of short story publications that tread in darker territory — some in horror and others a downbeat sort of magical realism. Talk a bit about the path that led you to pursue what might appear to be dichotomous styles.

When I think of love in terms of romance and horror genres, the only real difference is the end result. When you’re in love, things are great. Life is all roses and puppies and interminable phone calls (Hang up! No — you hang up!). Oh, the romance! But when you’re not in love — when you yearn for it, when you’ve lost it, when you’ve been denied it — then love can be a nightmare. Then, life becomes a series of diagnoses — paranoia, obsession, delusion. Horror.

A lot of your work seems to take place in rural settings, specifically farms. Why is that?

I like to write what I know. If I have to look something up, more than likely I’ll end up lying through my teeth — I mean, changing the specifics to something that resonates with me. And what that is often times is the outdoors. There is something about being outside that strips away all the artificiality — Instagram! Twitter! Pinterest! Oh my! — we wrap ourselves in every day. Take a moment to watch the clouds or watch the stars and none of that crap will matter anymore.

Author R.L. Ugolini often uses rural settings for her work.

Rural landscapes, and specifically farms, crop up (see what I did there) in my stories quite often, again because I like to write what I know. I grew up across a dusty country road from a cornfield (managed by something called a “prison farm” but that’s another story…). I was fascinated by that field.

In the spring, I watched melt water pool in the furrows and geese come to glean. In summer, crop dusters performed aerial acrobatics as they sprayed God knows what. In the fall, my friends and I stole ears of dried corn and hid in trees, waiting for the unsuspecting to walk below and fall prey to the sharp sting of corn kernels shot out of straws, something akin to redneck blow guns. And in winter, I watched the wind play with the snow, drifting it across fallow fields.

Rural life, farms and fields, have stayed with me, as have the places I’ve traveled. The wilds of Baja Mexico burn up the pages in Quakes. The dark woods and myriad lakes of Northern Wisconsin appear as common refrains in my short stories. I write what I know. But I also write what I love. It’s good when the two are one.

You originally trained to be a scientist. What inspired you to begin writing, and what’s been the biggest challenge as you’ve begun to grow your career?

R.L. Ugolini's first novel, Quakes, takes romance to a geological research camp in Baja Mexico.

As a teenager looking ahead to college, I may have been poorly advised. All my life I had wanted to write, but could see no means to make a living from my, albeit, fledgling craft, which at that time included one sci-fi novel written longhand in a spiral notebook and several scathing parodies of the 1988 presidential election. So, instead, I went where the big money was — science. Clearly. Yeah. Right.

But I loved all thing science, so that was okay. I enrolled at Caltech, where I studied physics, astronomy, math, chemistry and geology. I learned to integrate over n-space, navigate the steam tunnels, ride in dumbwaiters, plot world domination, lick rocks and scare off mountain lions. Basically, your standard undergraduate education.

But after all that, I still wanted to write. The only thing I lacked were English classes in general and creative writing courses in specific.

Thankfully, that didn’t stop me, though it did slow me down. Writing, I’ve discovered, is hard. But staring at a blank page is even worse.

So, I write.

You seem to move fairly freely between literary and genre fiction. Do you think the line between the two has grown increasingly fluid?

The line between genre and literary fiction exists only on bookstore shelves and in online search engines. Good writing is good writing. And when a writer shares her love of language, chooses words with exquisite affection, and relishes in the mouth-feel of the prose, good writing becomes great writing and the line — wherever it may wander — becomes meaningless.

Who are some of the writers’ whose work inspired you and what have you learned from them?

I don’t think anyone can do character better than Elizabeth Strout. Read Olive Ketteridge. Read Amy and Isabelle. Read the The Burgess Boys. These are works of living art, the characters so finely drawn you feel as if you are a voyeur looking in on your neighbors, your family, your hometown.

The way Margaret Atwood blends reality with the fantastic is, literally, amazing. The reader never doubts the handmaid’s tale, never questions the edible woman’s descent into madness. Her writing is fresh and stark and invigorating. There is much to be learned here.

Barbara Kingsolver knows what I mean when I talk about being outside. I would love to go hiking with her, or better yet, be her. Her work is lusty and loamy, full of foxes and hedgerows, chestnut trees, moss and honeysuckle. Read Prodigal Summer and experience Appalachia.

And then, there is yearning. Everyone knows — should know, should have read and fallen in love with — Colleen McCullough’s The Thornbirds. If not, what’s wrong with you? And yet, even better, even more heartbreaking and real, is the heartache found in Morgan’s Run. I long to write with such desperate and aching need.

What’s next for R.L. Ugolini?

Is there such a thing as “farm noir”? Give me a couple more months and there will be. In the project I’m working on now, I’m exploring the darker side of (cue campy mood lighting) field corn in a new full-length novel and I’m so excited about how it’s unfolding.

 

 

Cocktail Hour: The Night Manager… Inspired by Bentley Little’s The Store

The Night Manager combines tequila, Kahlua and China China liqueur.

Some of the most effective horror stories ask us to look at what happens when we become willing participants in evil.

Bentley Little’s The Store is one of those. The 1998 novel unfolds the tale of a mysterious big box store that arrives in a small Arizona town and seems to corrupt everything it touches, starting with the pristine natural landscape where it’s built.

It doesn’t take long for The Store to drive a wedge between protagonist Bill and others in town, including his own daughter, who lands a job there. Bill and a handful of contrarians worry about the new outlet’s effect on the area’s environment, its way of life and its mom-and-pop business owners.

But most folks, reeled in by the promise of jobs, upward mobility and a greater variety of consumer products, just go along.

Soon The Store stitches up a virtual monopoly and drives the town’s small businesses into insolvency. Anyone who dares speak up is whisked away by the mysterious Night Managers, the corporation’s shadowy, and possibly supernatural, secret police.

And that’s when things really get creepy.

It’s easy to read Little’s satirical horror novel as simply a condemnation of Wal-Mart and other big box stores, but I suspect he wants us to think deeper. Little shows how willing most of us are to make excuses for the excesses of no-holds-barred capitalism, so long as we’re promised short-term benefit — whether it’s the illusion of choice or the prospect of a better job.

Bentley Little's The Store mixes satire and horror.

The truth at the The Store’s center is powerful and subversive: It’s not Big Brother that poses the biggest threat — for government is bumbling and bureaucratic — but Big Business. Few of us, it seems, are able to resist the temptation of its creature comforts.

“It’s the corporations we have to worry about,” one of the characters conveniently explains. “They’re the ones with the money. They’re the ones who can afford to hire the best and the brightest, to competently carry out their plans.”

Prescient sentiment from a book worthy of its own cocktail, the Night Manager.

Since the novel is set in the Southwest, tequila seemed like the natural star for the Night Manager. I added Kahlua coffee liqueur to impart an appropriately dark hue. (The book’s Night Managers, after all, are garbed in Gestapo black.)

Bigallet “China-China” Amer, a French orange-based liqueur, brings sweet and aromatic notes to the cocktail, along with spices including anise and gentian. Those flavors add a sense of mystery and provide a good foil for the earthiness of the tequila and coffee.

THE NIGHT MANAGER

2 oz. tequila blanco
1 oz. Kahlua
½ oz Bigallet “China-China” Amer liqueur

Fill a small cocktail glass with ice. Pour in the ingredients and stir until condensation begins to appear on the outside of the glass and serve.

Talking research this week with the San Antonio Writers Guild

It's a horror novel, but it's also historical fiction.

Alamo City friends, I’ll be speaking at the San Antonio Writers Guild’s next meeting, Thursday, Sept. 3.

My talk is titled “Lessons from an accidental historical writer: Getting the details right when you’re a scribe, not a scholar.” I’ll describe the research that went into my horror novel Deadly Passage, which is set on a slave ship shortly after the Revolutionary War.

During the talk, I’ll share tips for other writers on how to use research to bring authenticity to historical works — even when historical writing isn’t your primary focus. Additionally, we’ll discuss ways to ensure dialogue and language fit the period, how to know when particular inventions and technology came into existence and when to know you’ve done enough research to actually start writing your book.

The meeting gets underway at 7 p.m. at Bethany Congregational Church at 500 Pilgrim Drive in San Antonio. The talk will last about half an hour with time afterward for a Q&A session.

And you can bet I’ll have books to sell and sign. Hope to see you there.

Cocktail Hour: The Scarlet Gospel

Today, I’m debuting a regular feature in which I’ll highlight a science fiction-, fantasy- or horror-themed cocktail and discuss its inspiration. Today’s drink is an appropriately hued gin concoction themed around the recent release of Clive Barker’s The Scarlet Gospels.

Barker’s first adult horror novel since 2001, The Scarlet Gospels is essentially a hard-boiled version of Paradise Lost. It matches Harry D’Amour, the private-eye demon hunter who first appeared in “The Last Illusion,” against Pinhead, the lead Cenobite from “The Hellbound Heart,” the novella that launched the “Hellraiser” franchise.

Those expecting the kind of skin-crawling horror Barker executed so well in “The Hellbound Heart” and his groundbreaking Books of Blood will likely be disappointed. Sure, there’s plenty of trademark viscera and lush language. One expects that as the characters trek through through Hell in search of Lucifer, who’s pulled a Howard Hughes-style disappearing act. But missing is the sense of creeping dread that made “The Hellbound Heart” such a compelling read in the first place.

That said, The Scarlet Gospels still succeeds as dark fantasy. Barker’s prose is vivid, even if stripped down compared to his earlier work. The opening scene, in which Pinhead dispatches the last of the world’s great magicians, is alone worth the price of admission. During the course of the novel, Barker does a superb job at making us care about both the dedicated and loyal Harry and the immortal and world-weary Pinhead, even as the demon exacts cruelty after cruelty.

The book’s namesake cocktail combines gin with Cynar, a bitter Italian aperitif made from artichokes. Beyond its color, I chose Cynar because we learn during the course of The Scarlet Gospels that Pinhead isn’t only a ruthless sadist but a rather bitter fellow. Among his many grievances: the hardware store-inspired nickname with which he’s been saddled. The cocktail’s use of blood orange, aside from deepening its red color, provides sweet and sour citrus notes as a foil for the Cynar’s bitterness.

Enjoy.

The Scarlet Gospel

1 oz. gin
1 oz. Cynar
3/4 oz. fresh-squeezed blood orange juice
1/2 oz. simple syrup

Shake the ingredients over ice in a cocktail shaker and drain into a coupe glass. Serve ice cold.