Some words (and exploding high-fives) with Isaac Marion

If you’ve been following us for a while, you’ve probably noticed our mild obsession with the works of one Isaac Marion, a mysterious and sardonic Northwesterner who has independently published two novels and, on his website, many short stories – all horrifying, hilarious, and heartwarming in various measures. I first stumbled on his signature story – “I Am a Zombie Filled with Love” – by chance in the summer of 2008, fell in love, and shot the link to his website over to Kakaner.  Both of us became avid followers of his work.

This fall, we were thrilled when Marion announced that his novel Warm Bodies, a story about love after the zombie apocalypse, and based on the original “I Am a Zombie Filled with Love,” had been sold to a major American publisher. Even more recently, he announced that it’s also been sold for publication in the UK, and in Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Korean. On top of all that, he’s planning to self-publish a collection of his short fiction – something Kakaner and I have hoped for for a long while.

This week, we had the honor of actually interviewing Isaac Marion. Below, he shares a little (actually, a lot) about his life and influences, and reflects on Mass Amateurism, the zombie trend, and more.

Sir Isaac Marion

TBL: Isaac, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we try to write an author page for each author whose works we review. Could you give us a mini-biography of your life until now and anything else you think should be in an author bio of you?

I grew up in northwestern Washington and have lived in or near Seattle most of my adult life. My family was really poor while I was growing up; we lived in a lot of weird places, like tents and tow-trailers and my uncle’s mossy motorcycle garage in the woods, which was eventually condemned by the city and burned down. (I have a photo of it burning posted above my desk, as a reminder that things could be, and were, worse.) Even when we were living in real houses or at least mobile homes, we moved a lot; 27 times total before I set out on my own.

The year we spent in that motorcycle garage, which I dubbed “The Hovel”, was the year I started writing. I was 16, so of course I wrote a mind-blowingly overwrought thousand-page fantasy epic called “The Birth of Darkness”, which will never be read by anyone as long as I’m alive to prevent it. I always knew I didn’t want to do any kind of job that requires a degree so I skipped college and taught myself how to write by just reading and writing a lot, which I think was time better spent. Several years and a few dozen weird and unconnected jobs later, it paid off, and now I am apparently on course to living the dream. Exploding high-five.

Continue reading Some words (and exploding high-fives) with Isaac Marion

Everything’s Eventual, by Stephen King (2002) E

Date read: 4.27.08
Read from: Public library
Reviewer: Emera

A horror review for belated Halloween wishes, maybe? I have a weird love-hate relationship with King’s fiction, characterized of late by a growing tolerance and respect for his work. About half of the time I find his work screechy, self-important, and overburdened with stylistic tics, but I do think that his particular understanding of life deepens a lot of his writing. (A little more on that below.) Also, I think The Shining is pretty good as a novel, and amazing as a movie. (I just re-watched it with my roommate a few days ago. Excellent.)

Given all that, I decided to cherry-pick only the stories that seemed most interesting to me out of this collection, which ended in me reading about half of it. Blurblets below.

Continue reading Everything’s Eventual, by Stephen King (2002) E

“Spar,” by Kij Johnson (2009) K

Date Read: 10.28.09
Read From: Clarkesworld Magazine
Reviewer: Kakaner

“Spar” is a grim, vulgar, unrelenting torrent of images and words that will leave you mouth agape and reeling. It is the horrifying tale of neverending rape and an examination of the human psyche under a most extreme duress. The storytelling definitely fits the actions and story– short, hard sentences and fragments contrasting wistful remembrances of a life before. Johnson has created somewhat of a short fiction monster here, and I personally still don’t know quite what to make of it.

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Kij Johnson
Clarkesworld Magazine

The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters (2009) K

Date Read: 9.26.09
Book From: Personal Collection
Reviewer: Kakaner

Summary

The story follows Doctor Faraday, a lonely bachelor who calls upon the residents of the once glorious Hundreds Hall and begins to form a friendship with the remaining family and staff that reside there. His friendship to the family becomes a crux on which they rely, and soon he finds himself involved in ever stranger circumstances at Hundreds Hall.  The interactions of the story are characterized by mysterious fires, writings, and sounds with the underlying ever-increasing tension of Faraday’s relationship to the mother and daughter of the house.

Review

It took me a really long time to review this because I couldn’t form a concrete opinion. Basically, there was good and bad, but the good was oh so good and the bad was characterized by raging mediocrity. Every time the scales tipped in favor of one side, I’d remember something to the contrary and the dilemma would reassert itself.

The Good: Superb writing and storytelling. Of course, it is apparent from Waters‘ four previous novels that she knows how to write, and once again she demonstrates her ability to spin a tale out of not an incredible amount of material. I was reading along the first 100 pages, and I was still, somewhat inexplicably, waiting eagerly to find out what would transpire during Faraday’s fourth visit to the same dreary hall. There’s no rampant drama or lgbt overtones that characterize her previous novels, which I found quite refreshing, as if I were here for the sole purpose of enjoying raw word manipulation.

Continue reading The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters (2009) K

Isaac Marion Stash and a Story

isaac_marion_anna_warm_bodies_inside_postcard

By now, I’m sure you’ve seen Emera’s and my numerous reviews of Isaac Marion‘s works, namely The Inside, Warm Bodies, and Anna. These works are pretty much all highly recommended, and are self-published by Marion (links provided at the bottom of this post). Marion is noted for his strange genre niche that is, for the most part, a mix of horror, weird fiction, and romanticism.

Continue reading Isaac Marion Stash and a Story

The Music of Razors, by Cameron Rogers (2007) E

Date read: 10.29.08
Read from: Personal collection
Reviewer: Emera

In 19th-century Boston, a brilliant medical student falls in with a group of young spiritualists, only to see his hopes and plans go terribly awry as a result of their experimentations. A century and a half later, he walks the earth weary and immortal, wielding instruments made from the bones of a murdered angel, and seeking to discharge the task that he took upon himself at the height of his despair. Finally seeing a candidate worthy of becoming his successor, he enters the dreams of a boy named Walter. The young and frightened Walter learns that all he needs to do to banish his bad dreams is tell the monster in his closet to go away – only to learn too late that it was the monster who stood between him and a force banished from the universe at the beginning of time.

If the above summary sounds complicated, it doesn’t even begin to represent the full breadth of the mythology of The Music of Razors. This is a universe big enough for fallen angels, closet monsters, and a clockwork ballerina to coexist over several centuries and in the same 300 pages. The novel’s pace and complexity are undeniably demanding, especially in the beginning chapters, but the reward is that every time the page is turned, you uncover a new secret of this strange mythology, and your mind constantly stretches to keep up with the narrative’s wicked twists and hinted truths. All of these elements are convincingly and for the most part satisfyingly intertwined, and the ending of the novel delivers a volley of heavy emotional punches before leaving the reader with that perfect combination of feeling fulfilled, yet still wanting more.

I do think that the pacing could have used some stretching and breathing space to improve coherence, allow the reader more time with the characters’ emotions, and reduce the ending’s frenzied, overexplosive feel. However, from what I understand of the novel’s publishing history, there were constraints placed on its length. The first, Australian publication, released in 2001, was even shorter. Significantly more material was added to the American release, but from the sounds of it, Rogers would have liked even more.

Rogers’ writing is briskly dark, his brief sentences filled with a subtle, glancing menace, capable of both brutality and a wistful, fairy-tale loveliness. He seems to write with a grim kind of exhilaration, as aware of the emotional and spiritual weight of the story and its characters as he is of the breathtaking leaps of imagination employed in fully animating it.

This is a novel that offers immediate, visceral pleasure and sorrow, as well as food for later thought – in particular, Rogers has fascinating things to say about the role of our fears in shaping our selves. The panoply of fantastical elements also means that there is something here for all tastes, from historical fantasy to horror. All in all, I highly recommend The Music of Razors. Even if flawed, this is one of the most memorable fantasy novels I have read in recent years, and I know that many of its denizens will be staying with me for the rest of my life. Fans of Neil Gaiman and Caitlín R. Kiernan will likely enjoy this book.

Go to:
Cameron Rogers
Cameron Rogers interview with Tabula Rasa

The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 16, ed. Stephen Jones (2005) E

Date read: 8.3.09
Read from: Personal collection
Reviewer: Emera

I picked this and #15 up at a used book sale, partly out of a fit of pique that I couldn’t find anything else to my taste – even though I didn’t know anything about the actual quality of the anthology series. Luckily, every story in this was well written and solidly above average, which is more than can be said for most of the anthologies I’ve read in my life.

To begin with the best, my absolute favorites, in no particular order:

  • Kelly Link’s feverish, extremely unnerving “Stone Animals” (come on, even the title is creepy). Young couple with poor communication and two small children, including a sleepwalking daughter, moves into a new house where all is not quite well – classic set-up for horror, and Link plays it gleefully. I imagined her whooping maniacally while writing the story, truth be told.
  • Lisa Tuttle’s “My Death,” the story of a recently widowed writer who travels in search of new inspiration, and becomes strangely entangled in the legacy of an early 20th-century painter and his muse. This builds slowly, but goes places that are increasingly strange and tap into very primitive, raw forces. The ending was completely unpredictable and bewildering in the best way possible. Masterfully executed, all in all.
  • Michael Marshall Smith’s supremely atmospheric and ever-so-delicately frightening “This Is Now.” Describing it would ruin it, so I won’t. This gave me the most chills-down-the-spine read, yet the fear is so deliciously subtle and evanescent.

Continue reading The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 16, ed. Stephen Jones (2005) E

Lullaby, by Chuck Palahniuk (2002) K

Date Read: 7.05.06
Book From: Borrowed from Kathy
Reviewer: Kakaner

Summary

A culling song is a song Africans used to sing to people about to die to ease the suffering of passing. However, one particular culling song is able to kill instantly upon being heard. A reporter investigating infant deaths discovers that by each infant’s death crib is a poem book opened to a culling song on page 27. He takes it upon himself to rid the evil and is determined to destroy all copies of the book.

Review

Lullaby has terribly interesting origins. Apparently,  Palahniuk’s father, Fred Palahniuk, and his girlfriend had been murdered by a man named Dale Shackleford in 1999. Palahniuk was asked to be part of the capital punishment decision, and this prompted him to start working on Lullaby, a novel very much centered on death. Shackleford was ultimately sentenced to death, and Palahniuk was said to have struggled very much with the decision.

Initially, I was incredibly excited to read this based on the summary. I mean, doesn’t it just sound so hauntingly dark and magical? And with an amazing horror premise to boot? The exposition was gripping, intense, and extremely interesting, but of course, weird. Lullaby is written in the signature Palahniuk prose– hard, gritty, a stop-and-go that is slightly nauseating. But as the book progressed, I grew more and more disappointed as the story of the book simply did not call for this type of prose. The story was still there, but it seemed so scattered halfway in.

Instead of experiencing horrible sucking immersion, I ended up plodding along noncommittally.  I think Lullaby definitely needed dark and lyrical prose to intensify the entire premise of the culling song. I feel like since Palahniuk’s writing is so abstract, it is much more appropriate for schizoid general ideas like in Fight Club rather than a concentrated linear storyline. Ultimately, the story fell apart for me and the ending was a huge letdown.

Go To:

Read More (Wiki article)
Chuck Palahniuk

Alabaster, by Caitlín R. Kiernan (2006) E

Date read: 8.31.09
Read from: Personal collection, via Subterranean Press
Reviewer: Emera

Alabaster collects five works of Kiernan’s short fiction, all centered on her character Dancy Flammarion, first introduced in her novel Threshold. (Note that I’d never read any of Kiernan’s work before this, so this collection clearly stands well on its own, both as introduction to Dancy as a character and to Kiernan’s work in general.) Dancy is an orphaned, albino girl who seeks out and kills monsters on the command of a terrifying angel. Each of the stories records her encounter with one of the monsters that the angel sends her to find, and peels back a layer of Dancy’s past and psyche, to reveal how deeply damaged and used she is.

To say that Dancy is a tragic character doesn’t even come close. Each of the monsters she meets, though technically monstrous so far as it comes to killing people in horrible ways and so on, is far more self-aware than is Dancy – and thus, in a certain sense, more fully human. Likewise, they can see her situation far more clearly than she ever does. Ultimately, what the stories show the reader is that Dancy is a monster of another kind: a crippled soul who will never truly understand who she is, what she does, or why she does it, and will never be loved by another being, human or otherwise. I would like to think that she’s not irredeemable, but at least within these stories, she’s hopelessly lost and severed from humanity, and sustained only by her faith in an angel that the reader soon realizes has no interest in her as an individual and is, of course, yet another kind of monster in an endless and highly relative bestiary.

Continue reading Alabaster, by Caitlín R. Kiernan (2006) E

Valente on The Red Tree and horror

Author Catherynne M. Valente made a beautiful blog post yesterday on her reaction to reading Caitlin R. Kiernan’s newest release, The Red Tree. She discusses how she read the book, her early relationship (read: obsession) with horror novels, New England’s unique signficance in the horror genre, and what really lies at the center (or bottom) of horror – that is, not gore, but death, and secrets, and the horrible tension of not knowing them:

I just want to know. I always want to know. I want to know the secret at the bottom, and maybe horror as a genre still eats at me because it will not give me that answer, and so I can stay at the swollen, drawn out moment before revelation, the pre-orgasmic stretching before the inevitable tumble into disappointment and continuity errors. Good horror almost never shows all its cards, and yet I know the Queen of Spades and Clubs, oh, my terrible black Queens are there, and they would tell me all their worst deeds, if I could only keep my eyes open when the scary parts come, if I could only go down into my own basement, where the earth is frozen and lumpy and moldy, where I cannot bear to look.

I, for one, would be way excited to see Valente do a horror novel, which is what she certainly hints at wanting to do at the end of the post. Also, of course, this makes me want to get on top of reading Kiernan’s work – Alabaster came in the mail for me just this week!

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Catherynne M. Valente