Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Introduction to Ray Bradbury’s THE OCTOBER COUNTRY, as Read by Yours Truly

This was more work than I care to admit for a 31-second piece. The audio was easy enough. Making a video with Windows Movie Maker and getting it uploaded to YouTube—alas, I have a lot to learn. Worse, the only way I’m going to learn is through further suffering. 

Oh, well, as a wise Cenobyte once said, tears are a waste of good suffering. I need to set aside a regular media day and just knock out one audio track after another and fight with the video later. 

But not today. I’m done. Let’s take a trip to the country. It should do wonders for the nerves.

Monday, February 23, 2015

An Interview I’d Like to See with the Author of GRACE AMONG THE DEAD

In the spirit of “if you want something done right, do it yourself,” I came up with this. If Norman Mailer (remember him?) could write a book called Self Interviews, I can do a blog post in the same vein:

Do I have to wear pants for this?
I’ve yet to have anyone ask me to do an interview. I’m writing in a very popular genre, for a small, independent press out of Tasmania. My paperbacks are made to order; they don’t come out in “printings” or editions (although there are three decidedly different editions of Bleeding Kansas). 

On top of all that, I’m one writer among many. Even the fact that Bleeding Kansas was picked up for German translation only counts for so much with the kewl kids who write for the establishment blogs and papers. I have very little in common with such creatures, so it’s probably for the best.

Which brings us to today.

So why are we doing this?

Because while Bleeding Kansas has been chugging along for 19 months with steady, if unspectacular, sales, Grace Among the Dead is still sputtering after six months. It’s time the middle child got her due.

Middle child?

It’s the second book in the SAGA OF THE DEAD SILENCER series. I’m still writing the third and last book, The Wrong Kind of Dead.

There are a lot of zombie books out there. What makes Grace Among the Dead different? 

To begin with, my protagonist bruises and gets tired. Derek Grace is not former military, nor does he have an encyclopedic knowledge of firearms. What little he does know he gets from a book he took from his son’s room. Derek Grace was too absorbed in finding and keeping a job to concern himself with such things before civilization fell.

The Big Surprise for a lot of people reading Grace Among the Dead is my trashing of the popular cliché of the Evil Patriarchal Church and its Conniving Horndog Leadership. The post-zompocalypse settlement founded by the Abundant Life megachurch is essentially the Nice Pilgrim Frontier Settlement With Lots of Potential (once the railroad comes through) that’s been invaded by evil elements. Derek Grace, the titular Dead Silencer, is the reluctant outsider brought in to restore order.

So you traded a popular liberal trope for an old Hollywood Western trope?

A zombie apocalypse is essentially the Wild West with the living dead in place of the Comanches. By the time I bring the monster truck with the flame thrower into the picture Grace Among the Dead will already be one of the more twisted romantic comedies you’ve ever read.

Aw, hell, this isn’t another goddamned “Talking Dead” soap opera, is it?

If it is, it’s the first one to feature a flame-throwing monster truck. The characters do have relationships and misunderstandings to be resolved among one another, but at the end of the zombie-fighting day, Grace Among the Dead is a zombie novel. The novel starts with a zombie attack, and—spoiler alert!—ends with the promise of more to come.

It’s said a character should be in a completely different place by the end of a book. Believe me, Derek Grace is going to be in a seriously weird, never-saw-that-coming spot when I’m done. He should enjoy it while it lasts, because things really go to shit in Book 3, The Wrong Kind of Dead.

Available in Kindle and in paperback from Severed Press!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Flannery O’Connor Reads “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”

Flannery O’Connor: Southern writer,
devout Catholic. As with Shirley Jackson
in her unflinching prose, the horror
is in the humanity.
Only here on my blog will you find Flannery O’Connor taking her rightful place as a Woman in Horror during Women in Horror Month. That’s because O’Connor has been ghettoized in that most loathed and avoided of ghettos, Literary Fiction. Only old-school English majors like myself would know anything about her.

As an English major, I can say there’s no defending that ghetto, nor any blame for people properly hating it. But don’t throw out Flannery O’Connor with the dull, tepid bathwater of American Litra-chure. Let O’Connor’s tale of a family’s encounter with a serial killer and his gang settle the argument.
For more details on the recording, and some quotes about O’Connor as an author, the Open Culture post from which I poached this recording is here.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Opening to Shirley Jackson’s Dark Masterpiece, THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, as Read by Yours Truly

Got your Women in Horror right HERE!

No gimmicks, no trendy boosh-wah political agendas.
Just clear, no-bullshit writing about how bad
it can get when...oh, read her books, already! 
Seriously, we’re halfway through Women in Horror Month and this is the first mention anyone I know has made of the writer of “The Lottery,” and the definitive haunted house story, The Haunting of Hill House. That’s not right, people. That’s not right at all.

So, by way of kicking off my You Tube channel, let me introduce you to one of the greatest horror writers you’ve likely never heard of. South Park paid homage to her most famous short story, but how many of you have read Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House? This is the opening paragraph:

In case you need a “cool” factor here and Stephen King talking up Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House as the best haunted house story ever doesn’t do it for you, consider that hotshot fantasy film director Guillermo del Toro chose Hill House as one of the books he would “curate” for Penguin Classics. So find out what the director of Pan’s Labyrinth knows that you don’t. (I’m not linking to the Amazon page because Amazon doesn’t do the affiliate program here in Colorado. Sorry.)

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Post-Apocalyptic Cooking with the Living Dead

WARNING: This is a story of the zombie apocalypse. It is violent. It is ugly. And that’s just among the survivors. You get “triggered” by anything, that’s on you.

For those unfamiliar with Derek and Agnes Grace and their monster truck, well, their names are Derek and Agnes Grace, and they ride in a monster truck with Agnes’ daughter from her first marriage, A.J. Their convoy is on the run out of Colorado Springs and they’re looking to pick up some friends in Black Forest before hightailing it to promised sanctuary on Monument Hill. 

Problem is, Black Forest is under the control of a regime hostile to Derek and Agnes’ tribe of survivors. There is bad blood between them, and a score to settle.

We approach slowly. They’ve got no less than eight people with AR-15s trained on us. Make that ten, with the two on either side of the road pointing weapons at us. Make that eleven, with the smug young thing strutting out behind his goons to hold up his hand for Agnes to stop. 

Brother Christopher has already stopped a good 300 yards behind us. Smug Young Thing makes a motion for Agnes to kill her engine while scowling at the line of trucks down the road. He windmills his arm by way of instructing them to come forward.

I can’t help laughing out loud at his expression when he looks up to see me shaking my head and waving Brother Christopher back. “You want me to shoot you up there?”

I remove my headset and drop it into my seat. “Col. Dietzen might be upset with you if you do.”

“Col. Dietzen is dead, thanks to you.”

“I find that hard to believe, unless he got shot down in that big black Chinook I saw landing as we left.”

“That chopper was picking up the solar panels you stole.”

“Really? Did they get the ones here keeping you warm over the winter? The ones my people got for you?”

Smug Young Thing makes a move like he’s going to unload his AR-15 on me. I can hear A.J. whimper, and Agnes shush her. I remain still, my eye on the boy. He’s 22, tops. Looking to get one over on the old man. 

“You’re gonna bring your people over here right now, or I swear to God I’ll shoot you. Then my boys will have some fun with your woman while your little girl watches and waits her turn.”

“Is this some new thing Pastor What’s-her-fugly-face has going on? Rape and kill all who show up at the gates looking for sanctuary? I wish I could say I was surprised.”

“Get your people over here now. And I’m gonna hurt you for disrespecting Pastor Julie.”

I hold up my hands. “Hey, all right. I’m calling them over.” I turn to face behind the Xenocider. The convoy is too far back for me to tell if Brother Christopher and his crew have already left their vehicles while Smug Young Thing was having fun with me.

The concussive roar of a shotgun from the woods answers my question. The checkpoint guards at the front of the Xenocider lift their weapons towards the sound of the report. Smug Young Thing turns as well.

I take this opportunity to pull my nine and squeeze off a round. My aim is thrown off by the scorching backwash of the flame thrower as Agnes sweeps the area in front. I squeeze off another round in time for my target to turn and face me. He goes over backward, his AR-15 firing away into the sky.

I throw myself to the deck of the truck. The shooting stops. I lift myself up slowly, just enough to see the huge black and red stain I gouged out the top of his shoulder, right over his shooting arm. Hooray for the good guys.

I crawl forward towards the cockpit and pull the cover from the hatch. I drop the ladder. I don’t look at either Agnes or A.J. as I let myself down.

The flesh crackles and crisps on the bodies in front and to the right of the Xenocider. They writhe where they fell, so close to the flame they didn’t have a chance to scream before it burned out their tongues, their throats, their lungs. I note the difference in bouquet, the tang of fresh vomit that burning living flesh offers, versus the stinging, rotten garbage smell that arises when the torch is put to long-dead, unnaturally preserved flesh.

I walk up to Smug Young Thing, groaning in the dirt alongside the road. “Hey,” I say, nudging his ribs with the tip of my boot, “how long have you been working these checkpoints?”

His face is the closest thing I’ve seen to an undead rage face I’ve seen on a living human. “I’ve been in charge of perimeter security since February, you ass.”

“So, you’re aware of what happened that night when a young man came by looking to get the midwife.”

“Aware, shit. I was there to turn him away. I heard his woman and her sprog died. You gonna send the whiny faggot over to finish me? I’ll be impressed if he has the balls to do it; he begged like a bitch.”

I grab him by the front of his shirt and yank him up. “Justin Driscoll is a fine, upstanding Christian man and one of our best warriors. That he doesn't dedicate his life to seeking revenge on the people who caused his woman and child to suffer and die for sheer spite shows a strength of spirit I hope to understand some day.” I shove him hard to the earth. “I should live so long.”

Smug Young Thing has done a fine job of suppressing his pain. That is, until he lands on his wrecked shoulder, the gritty earth digging into his open wound. As I liberate his AR-15, strip him of his sidearm and his phone, I notice another odor in the air. 

I step away from Smug Young Thing and look towards the woods on the opposite side of the road, then towards Elyssa’s and Brother Christopher’s convoy. “Heads up, everyone.”

The shotgun blast that distracted the checkpoint crew rang like a homing beacon to the local population. The smoke from the burning live bodies draws them in like burgers on the grill. And now Agnes, who can see them coming from her perch high up in the Xenocider, has already started the engine.

“Wait!” screams the former chief of perimeter security for the Abundant Life settlement. “Aren’t you going to shoot me?” He struggles to get up, but it’s hard to do with one arm. 

“I just did.” I put my heel out again and push him back down, this time on his bad side. Although I missed the artery, the little psychopath sustained serious trauma on his right shoulder. The round scooped the entirety of his upper deltoid muscle almost clean from the bone. Gotta love those hollowpoints.

I turn away and walk towards the ladder hanging from the truck. I don’t want to spoil the moment by walking too fast. I have to trust that the woman in the filthy, blood-rotted shift will settle for the easy meat right behind me. The high shriek I hear over the sound of the Xenocider’s engine as I grasp the first rung of the ladder confirms that she did just that.

I don’t waste time trying to look smooth scrambling up the ladder, though. A man wearing the black ribbons of a white T-shirt and the ruins of boxer shorts is swaying up behind the dead woman, and the long, hungry, masculine growl I hear beneath the second scream  tells me he caught up. As the others in the area will soon do.

Agnes puts out her hands to help me up. “You think those things coming up will be interested in our friends down there?” she says. 

“Two are still twitching, The others haven’t been dead for too long, and these things are crazy hungry.” I look down through the hatch and yank the rope ladder upwards before the sharp-reflexed corpse of a young man can snatch a rung. His companion steps into view, and, God help me, tries bouncing on the balls of his feet to jump and take the ladder from me. I slam the cover over the hatch and scramble out of the cockpit to my harness seat on the flatbed.

Before I can get my headset on a loud beeping stabs my eardrums as Agnes backs up the Xenocider to get around the burning bodies in the road. There’s a grunt as we bump over a ghoul behind us on the left. Agnes puts the truck back into drive and angles around the billowing, flesh-flavored smoke. As the scene falls behind us I see a couple of former citizens tearing pieces from the smoking bodies, mostly about the groin and legs, well away from the crisped areas. Cooked flesh holds no appeal for our monster friends. Their meat has to have that spark of life to it, however faint.

Smug Young Thing is getting around quite a bit, so to speak, as four hungry diners take an arm here, a loop of intestine there, and stagger away as quickly as their dead legs can carry them lest they find themselves forced to share their bounty with latecomers. A.J. calls out to me from the cockpit. “Brother Christopher wants to know if we should put down these things.”

“No. Save our ammo for the escape.” Less than a year ago you would never have seen a walker on this road. Now I wonder how much time we’ll have at Loretta’s. She’d better have her luggage ready to load and go.

I’m in a hurry, too, trying to finish this. Meanwhile, you can take your time processing the ultraviolent events that led us to these sticky circumstances:

Book 1 has ONE exploding head
on its cover.
Book 2 has TWO exploding heads.
See the pattern here?

They’re also available in Canada and the UK.

BLEEDING KANSAS, GRACE AMONG THE DEAD, THE WRONG KIND OF DEAD Copyright © 2013-2015 by L. Roy Aiken. All rights reserved.


Saturday, February 07, 2015

On the Road to Vengeance in the Zombie Apocalypse

As our clip opens our intrepid heroes in the monster truck Xenocider, followed by a convoy of pickups and SUVs full of fellow refugees, approach a heavily armed checkpoint. They have just narrowly escaped a herd of undead. Now they have to contend with an encampment of decidedly hostile living, with whom they have a serious grudge.

Who has time for a grudge in the zombie apocalypse? Derek Grace explains on the way, in this clip from the forthcoming THE WRONG KIND OF DEAD:

There’s no place for us to stop. No place that won’t be swarmed in minutes. Somehow the long straightaway into the checkpoint has managed to stay clear, but the guards could see us stopping. 

“Brother Christopher wants to know how we’re handling the checkpoint,” A.J. says, looking up from her phone.

“Blast-text everyone, ‘What checkpoint? Bethany Jamison.’”

The look on A.J.’s face as she thumbs in the message is…well, let’s just say she knows exactly what I mean. 

As Bethany Jamison’s stillborn daughter was pulled out that bitterly cold night not too long ago, we shuddered at the thought that she should wake up, as we knew she must. As we knew Bethany would. Any minute. Her husband, Justin, was still out, but these were things we could not, would not, bear witness to. 

Elyssa handed me the .22. The look on her face nearly broke my heart for how sorry I knew she felt for me. Permitting mother and infant daughter to rise with the hunger of the unholy would be the foulest desecration of their pain-wracked remains. But who would want the job of putting a slug into their skulls?

The decision was my responsibility. So I accepted responsibility for its execution as well—as well as explaining it to Justin when he got back. Hooray for patriarchy. Right there in the room. Two bangs of the pistol, and a chorus of stricken, mournful screams shook the walls.

Nine-year-old A.J. was there the whole time. No one noticed her until it was all over. What with so many other people in the room, among so much screaming, so much blood, and so many tears, A.J. didn’t miss a thing.

Of course, it’s not as if she hadn’t seen death before. And unless she’s about to close her eyes for the next five minutes, she’ll see some more. A.J. knows it’s because of these people ahead that we couldn’t get Martha over to midwife Bethany’s labor.

Her eyes are fixed straight ahead on the armed men as we approach.

NEXT: Post-Apocalyptic Cooking with the Living Dead

Here’s a little something to read while you’re waiting on me to finish this. 
Book 1 has ONE exploding head
on its cover.
Book 2 has TWO exploding heads.
See the pattern here?

They’re also available in Canada and the UK.

BLEEDING KANSAS, GRACE AMONG THE DEAD, THE WRONG KIND OF DEAD Copyright © 2013-2015 by L. Roy Aiken. All rights reserved.


Monday, February 02, 2015

Another Reason to Love Zombies: “There Is No Meritocracy Like the Living Death”

More revealed mayhem from the THE WRONG KIND OF DEAD

For those who are new to the world of the Dead Silencer, the Xenocider is the monster truck Derek Grace’s wife Dark Agnes drives, hence the need for a ladder to crawl up. The “bikes” are modified motorcycles belonging to the Moonshiners, a gang of smarter-than-average bikers who have thrived in the post apocalypse. As our clip opens, our intrepid z-fighters, monster truck and all, are getting ready to roll out into the thick of a zombie herd.

Agnes and I turn to go before the last of the bikes go by. We have to hurry, as the dead are still coming. I pull the ladder up behind me in time for a nimble-footed woman to pad up and snatch at it. There are enough of them now that our shooters can’t take them all out before they reach the road. Agnes starts the Xenocider, and I close the hatch. I put my headset on and buckle into my seat as we begin rolling up to the crest of the hill.

The sound of so many engines is punctuated with multiple single rifle reports. There’s the occasional splutter of one set to automatic, which makes me cringe for the expenditure of our finite supply of shells—as well as the necessity for using them. Brother Christopher’s men only fire on automatic when they absolutely, positively, have to clear some space to fight. When they’re seconds from being swarmed.

The roar of shotguns on either side of us makes me look to see if we’ve blown a tire. Not many ghouls reach the road, but Agnes is rolling over the ones that do, and we’re rocking hard enough to make me grateful for this harness.

After a slow start we crest the hill, looking down on the main commercial area of what used to be Black Forest. The herd of ghouls is reminiscent of the masses Deacon Sparks corralled into this area for his demonstration of weapons and tactics last year. Except where Sparks’ undead only got so far up this side of the ridge leading down to the Interstate, this massive clot of swaying, grasping, raging ex-humans is surging towards the turn for the road returning to the old golf clubhouse where Abundant Life has its headquarters.

Although the great bulk of the wanderers arriving from the north via the Interstate and the frontage road are homing in on the sound of our engines, I see groups of five and six peeling away from the herd to walk that long road. The ones leading the crews seem to know exactly where they’re going. A man in the rags of a suit leads one group. A woman in a gore-blackened gray sweatsuit leads another. There’s a big, burly thing taking his once-people down the road, and what looks like the leftovers of a 12-year-old girl drawing seven used-to-be adults behind her.

Even the ones among the leaders who limp from some pre- or post-mortem injury limp forward with undeniable purpose. There is no meritocracy like the living death.

The living dead either learn to find and subdue some struggling and violent living flesh, or they go hungry. That’s all. What’s not to love? Aside from us being on the menu, that is.

There’s loads more where this came from in my first two books. Just sayin’.

Book 1 has ONE exploding head
on its cover.
Book 2 has TWO exploding heads.
See the pattern here?

They’re also available in Canada and the UK.