Ginger Nuts of Horror
Hanging About The Waiting Room
For those that know me, when I’m ever asked who or what inspired me most to become a horror writer, then no doubt the answer would be Clive Barker – and that is definitely true.
However, for those that really know me, when I’m asked what book (or author) had the biggest influence upon me, that made me want to pick up that pen and write, then the answer, hands down, would be The Magus by John Fowles.
Before I get shot down that this is not a horror book, granted it may not officially be classified as horror but boy as you read it, you’re sure bound to agree with me that it is very much a terrifying, unsettling and horrifying novel and would not be out of place on a shelf next to Campbell, Barker, King, Wheatley et al.
WARNING: The following post contains gigantic, mountain-sized spoilers for the Stephen King novel IT. If you haven’t already read that story, I can’t diagnose what your problem is, but do yourself and humanity a favour and rectify that hideous oversights at your earliest convenience and BEFORE you read any further, okay? I’ll be right here, but we really need to talk as equals.
It was a simpler time, a decade when greed ran rampant, collars were worn in their appropriate upright positions, music was formally introduced to video, and a certain yellowed hued brat could still shock the moral majority by quipping, “Eat my shorts!”.
Let’s go back to the late 80’s, my formative high school years, and the time when I discovered one of my favorite pieces of literature. With my mullet firmly coiffed (don’t hate the player), I still remember scanning the then much smaller science fiction / fantasy section of our local bookstore at the mall. No visit was complete without one and I could spend hours browsing the shelves, reading back pages and searching for that spark to my literary curiosity......
I was looking for something to read while waiting for the next installment in Robert Asprin’s Myth series to come out, I can’t remember in between which books that was now, when I found this particular book. I wasn’t familiar with the title but the yellow cover caught my eye. It was the first time I’d ever seen the grim reaper pictured behind the wheel of a sports car with the landscape of a city sprawled out behind him. To say the least, it spiked my interest and then the title turned it around again, On a Pale Horse. Wait a minute there’s no horse on this cover, what was I getting into here. I’d never read a Piers Anthony novel before but based on that cover and the promised premise, I was sold.
The story was like nothing I’d read to date and it dealt with universal themes that I hadn’t seen explored in novels yet. Anthony stripped down the some pretty big world players and made them seem relatable. I mean, who could kill death, and why would anyone want to take over that gig. He made death seem like a nine to five job as the main character, Zane, learned the tools of the trade along the way and it fascinated me. The mechanics of it all; Mortis – his faithful sidekick whether he was in horse, limo, boat, or car form, the chronometer, the cloak, and the gloves, created a truly original concept of Death for me. Satan, Fate, and Chronos (Time), rounded out the characters’ card and backdrop to a story centered on one ordinary guy thrown into extra-ordinary circumstances. I was immersed in a world that made the big seem small and changed my perspective of how we looked at it all.
The book was published several years before I actually discovered it on the shelf and this was the first in the Incarnations of Immortality series, several of the other books were out by that time, but that novel remains my favorite in the series.
Anthony blended elements of horror, science fiction, and fantasy together in a story that dealt with relationships and self-growth and mirrored perspectives that drew me in as a reader and inspired me as a writer. Dealing with such high-brow players but bringing them down into such palatable concepts of greed and envy and revenge are concepts that have stuck with me as an author and have inspired concepts in my own work over the years, looking at the big picture but focusing on the small dramas that make them come to life.
My new novel, Welcome to GreenGrass, mixes magic and technology in a city trapped under a dome, and the characters are forced into investigating a murder that could destroy their way of life but it’s the personal conflicts that I hope truly drives the story. In my next book, I explore death and moving on, and how it affects those around you, with a cyber-paranormal twist, of course. Expansive themes but small boundaries to keep a personal perspective for readers.
That same bookstore has changed names several times since then and over time I’ve watched that basic premise in Anthony’s work duplicated in multiple other genres, in novels, TV, and movies but it was always the introduction to that world stage, tackling concepts in such an original way, that puts On A Pale Horse in a special section of my personal bookshelf.
S.A. Check is a Science Fiction and Fantasy author. As a kid, he was influenced by comic books, heroes and villains, conflict and cliffhangers. He read which-way fantasy books, science fiction and fantasy series, and classic horror fiction. While earning his degree in English / Writing from Penn State University, he was exposed to poetry and prose, Shakespeare and Albee, anthologies and world lit.
Today he lives with his E.R. nurse wife and tween daughter in Southwestern Pennsylvania and enjoys all the small dramas that come down the path. He’s an active participant over at Science Fiction Fantasy Saturdays, a member of the Pennwriters author group, and has contributed multiple articles to local newspapers. His short story, Tangled Lines, appeared in the charity anthology, Hazard Yet Forward, and he achieved his first published novel, Welcome to GreenGrass with Bedlam Press, an imprint for Necro Publications, the first of what he hopes are many tall tales of his to be told.
Visit his author profile over at Necropublications.com, his blog at sacheck.blogspot.com, Facebook, Google +, Goodreads, or shoot him a tweet @S_A_Check.
FILE UNDER HORROR NOVEL REVIEW
I blame Spielberg’s “Jaws” for getting me into monster films, for this was the first what you could call horror film I saw, followed quickly by Alien, where I jumped off the sofa directly skyward when Dallas gets got in the tunnel and I very nearly broke my dad’s jaw in two.
But we’re talking books here, aren’t we, so it’ll have to be Killer Crabs by Guy N Smith. Some horror writers say Stephen King got them into horror, or maybe one of the classics Like Ray Bradbury or Richard Matheson, but for me it was the pulpy masterpiece about giant fucking crabs invading the Great Barrier Reef.
I'm not sure how I managed to get my hands on the first one. I was young, twelve years old maybe, and I'll probably end up blaming my dad because he brought along paperback books to read during our seaside holidays in Scarborough. It's certainly how I was first introduced to Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter adventures, a more gentle stimulus for my imagination perhaps, whereas this -
My first year at Junior High was when those girl books started showing up. I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to them. The cover was some flowery business with a picture of a girl on it, the title was a girl’s name, and the only people I saw carrying it around were girls. Even the tag line on the cover talked about “a girl with a frightening power”. The author was a guy, I noted, but everything about the book screamed Not For Me.
Comic books were really my sort of thing. They were my primary outlet for horror stories at the time. Marvel was doing some great stuff with Tomb of Dracula and Werewolf by Night, and over at DC I had the House of Mystery to keep me up at night. TV offered a few nuggets of quality terror here and there, but they were either short-lived series like the Night Stalker or NBC’s Ghost Story, or one-shot movies of the week like Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark or Trilogy of Terror. This was some top-drawer stuff, but it wasn’t nearly ubiquitous enough. If I wanted goosebumps in bulk, I had to turn to the classics: the Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, or the marathons of Universal monster movies our local independent station showed on Halloween.
This is a tricky one because the writer in me was technically “made” by both a short story and a novel. Thanks to my mom’s offbeat taste in bedtime stories, the story was “The Tell-Tale Heart”. I’d always loved dark things and ghost stories and I was lucky enough to grow up with parents who had no qualms about taking their 8-year-old daughter to see Alien and Friday the 13th in the cinema (you can do that in the States). I loved being scared and movies were a safe way to get that fix. And while Friday the 13th certainly scared me, it didn’t traumatise me the way that Alien did. I’d never been so terrified in my life! But of course, as soon as the ensuing sleepless night was over, in the bright light of morning, I wanted to see it again. So went my strange love affair with horror.
I always count this as the first ‘proper horror’ book I read. Everything beforehand had been a run up. Every Dr Who book, every Armada Ghost book, every book like Bernhardt J Hurwood’s Vampires, Werewolves and Other Demons from Target which had a great picture of a werewolf on the front and a really scary story about a Mara (look it up) inside.
I was nine years old, and figured it was time for me to make what I thought would be the relatively minor step up to reading grown up horror. So I implored my mum to get me the subject of this piece when we were in Woolworths in Brecon one Saturday. It cost 50p. My mum had no idea what she was getting me, and I had no idea what I was getting into.....
I remember it distinctly. Odd how of all the things I’ve forgotten over the years, this one memory has stayed with me and is as clear as ever. It was in March of 1992, and I was on a mission. My sister had just bought much hyped Guns N roses albums Use your Illusions I &II, and also had a shiny new CD system to play it. Separates no less. She was out, and it was my mission to go and Steal those CD’s from her and give them a listen.
I crept into her room, intending to head straight for the CD’s when something caught my eye. It was a book. A THICK book. Most of my reading up until then had been spotty at best. A couple of James Bond novels. A movie adaptation of Tim Burton’s batman. Nothing on this scale though, nothing so chunky. I walked over to the bottom the bed where this giant of a hardback sat and looked at the cover. There was a scythe holding full body skeleton on the front standing atop three tarot cards. The upper half of the cover was dominated by the author’s name.......
Before I came across a dog-eared copy of this book, furtively passed round hand to hand during my first years at Accrington Grammar School, I had been an avid visitor to my local children’s library, where I devoured every copy of Captain W. E. Johns’ Biggles books – and his far less well-known science fiction stories too, before reading proper science fiction when I moved on to the adult library. At the time science fiction was the only genre I read till I came across van Thal’s book........