Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Laymon Month: Guest Post by Neal Hock

Recently, I had a “routine” surgery and suffered some complications from it. I became discouraged and one of the things that I’m passionate about no longer interested me: reading. I literally stopped reading and no matter what I tried I couldn’t break out of my funk. Then I went to a used bookstore a couple weeks later and found a book edited by Robert R. McCammon: Under the Fang. Intrigued and curious, I pulled it down from the shelf and opened it to the table of contents. At the bottom of the first page of the table of contents, a name jumped out at me like it was a neon sign: Richard Laymon. I closed the book and put it in my basket to buy. I didn’t need to see anyone else’s name or the price. When I arrived home, I immediately pulled out this collection and started to read Laymon’s entry, “Special.” Turns out that for $1 I reignited my passion for reading and I rediscovered my love for Richard Laymon’s work.

Richard Laymon. The name is polarizing. On the one hand, you have rabid fans that eagerly devour everything the man created. On the other hand, you have folks who say he wrote smut and decry his books. I guess there’s probably a middle ground too, but I haven’t come across many people who fall into that category.
I would fall into the first category, for the most part. I say for the most part because I don’t eagerly devour everything the man wrote for one simple reason: sadly, there won’t be any more books from Laymon due to his untimely death. So while I could plow through all of his books and have a Laymon marathon, I’m consciously choosing to space them out to enjoy them over time.

I’ll admit, I wasn’t a rabid fan of Laymon from the get-go. When I first decided to try out Laymon’s writing a couple years ago, I went to Amazon and picked out the highest-rated book of his to start with. That book was The Woods are Dark, and while I thought it was a decent story, I wasn’t crazy about it. However, because I continued to come across rabid Laymon fans, I decided to give another one of his books a try a couple months later. I found The Beast House to be much more appealing to me, but I still wouldn’t classify myself as hooked on Laymon at that point.

And then In the Dark came along. I had picked up a used copy at a library sale a few years ago and it sat on my bookshelf, untouched since. Once I started reading it, I was hooked from the very first page. What happened next was one of those magical moments every book lover looks forward to: I couldn’t put the book down. Literally, every spare moment I had was spent reading In the Dark. It was exciting, thrilling, and most importantly scary. It is one of the few books that has literally creeped me out. Since reading In the Dark, I’ve been a die-hard Laymon fan, scrambling to get my hands on a copy of everything he has written.

I’ve spent some time wondering what it is about Laymon’s writing that appeals to me. Besides the efficient prose and dialogue that are trademarks of Laymon, I think the bottom line is his books are fun. Plain and simple. Are they for everyone? No, most certainly not. There’s sex, violence, and every other form of moral repugnance throughout his books. But if you look just a little deeper, below the repulsive and offensive surface, you’ll find a talented writer who had a knack for telling a compelling story with a lean, spare writing style.

Besides, if you read any amount of Laymon’s work, you’ll never see the word "rump" in the same light. That in and of itself is reason enough to become a Laymon connoisseur.

Neal Hock is one of the good guys.  His enthusiasm toward the genre is utterly infectious.  He runs a fantastic review site over at Bookhound’s Den and is a fantastic proofreader.  Stop by his site and show him sove love.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Laymon Month: Richard Laymon's Heroines Examined by Lisa Mannetti

Opinions about Laymon's work often devolve into gripe sessions about whether or not the books are misogynistic, whether or not the characters and his heroines (especially the latter) are foolish or merely variations on stock types. Conversely, some long time fans posit that in Laymon's work the heroines encounter danger in order to grow and emerge stronger. I suppose a classic example of this plucky, resourceful type would be Slim in The Traveling Vampire Show which garnered Laymon a Bram Stoker Award.

A little research into this area and a rereading of Laymon's Into the Fire sent me into another direction, something a little more offbeat than the usual right and left hand sides of the spectrum.  

The novel itself is a wild tale that opens with its heroine, Pamela, having been abducted by a serial killer who's been fantasizing about her since his less than glorious days back in high school. He's murdered her husband and carried her off into the desert.  About to be killed, Pam is rescued by a very strange man driving a bus full of mannequins.

We're also introduced early on to a college boy named Norman who is shanghaied by an Elvis wannabe named Duke and these two 'characters,' in turn,  pick up a nymphomaniacal hitchhiker known as Boots. As a trio, none of them seem to be drop-outs from the Bonnie and Clyde school of derring-do.

Sound fantastic?

It is; but so was Voltaire's Candide, and it can be argued that Laymon's romp has much in common with both its more famous predecessor's picaresque mode and  its bildingsroman attributes. Viewed in that light, Laymon's treatment of action and motifs in Into the Fire can be seen as a kind of purposeful chaos. In which case, one would not expect to find the typical arc characters follow in more traditional--or even necessarily genre--literature. One would expect (and indeed finds) a series of adventures that increasingly head for over-the-top.

Into the Fire can also be seen squarely in that classical mode with its humor; and, its relentless eroticism could be considered derivative of milesian tales, notably the Decameron.

Dickens and Twain both wrote picaresque tales--but let's not forget Victorian sensibilities:  Sex was given a pass in books like Oliver Twist and Huckleberry Finn.

So, the next time that either/or question comes up about Laymon's characters (and heroines) you can come down on one side or another, or think about Lady Cunegonde (and yes, the name is meant to convey what it is nearly spelled like) and who knows, maybe you'll give Candide a whirl, or Moll Flanders, or The Golden Ass; or give Tom Jones a peek...you're sure to find plenty of action, outrageous plotting, and titillating sex.

Lisa Manneti is the 2008 Bram Stoker award winner for her first novel, The Gentling Box.  Her latest offering, Deathwatch, happens to be the best thing I’ve read all year.  She is a true master of the craft with a style that is both beautiful and heart-breaking.  I strongly encourage everyone give her work a try.  You will not be disappointed. You can find out more about Lisa Mannetti at her website.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Laymon Month: Your Secret Admirer Reviewed by Paperback Horror

Leave it to Colum over at Paperbackhorror.com to write a killer review of a novel written under one of Laymon's numerous pseudonyms.  The man is nothing short of amazing!  I suggest you all head over to his site and check out his fantastic reviews.

Your Secret Admirer
Carl Laymon
Scholastic (1980)
When one thinks of YA novels these days, it usually has something to do with sparkly vampires (an overused scapegoat, in my opinion), badly used first-person narrative, and untold amounts of emotional baggage on the part of the characters contained within the story. Granted, none of these things are bad when meted out in small doses, but the general consensus about most modern YA fiction is that it tends to club the reader over the head with an overdose of all of the above.
Richard Laymon’s Your Secret Admirer is a very welcome departure from the modern standard, and will make the reader wonder why (and when) the YA style changed so drastically. Suffice it to say, the YA story telling of yesteryear could be considered far more compelling than it’s modern kin. Couple this with a tale told by a master storyteller like Richard Laymon, and you’re in for a great treat.
Dear Janice,
You don’t know me but I know you. I know lots about you... From the moment I saw you in the park I haven’t been able to get you out of my mind. Thoughts of you fill my days and haunt my nights...
With all my heart,
Your Secret Admirer
Janice’s best friend thinks the guy who’s writing these letters is looney - and may be dangerous! After all, what kind of person goes around sending anonymous letters? But Janice is secretly thrilled about the mystery person who is in love with her. Maybe now, Mike, the guy she really likes, will hear about her secret admirer and begin to take notice!
What Laymon does with this book is magical. I can remember being a child and reading the YA horror fiction of the 80’s and 90’s, wondering how people got the ideas that they did, and why they affected me so much. Well, Laymon really brought me back with this one. The story starts off with the usual fare found in a YA novel, but with something that has become what I would call a ‘signature Laymon move’ - it starts off in the middle of the story. No introduction to characters, no boring preamble or back story, etc. Nothing but story.
Which is how it should be.
As I said, we’re launched into the action right away, with Laymon establishing his main character, introducing the titular ‘Secret Admirer’, and throwing the reader directly into the mystery at hand - all within a matter of maybe 2 or 3 paragraphs. It’s brilliant, really. The hunt goes forth, with Janice and her best friend (thankfully this book was pre-”BFF” lingo...sigh) trying to figure out who sent a letter to her with the signature reading - “Your Secret Admirer”. The lists of possibilities are presented, and the stage is set for ample amounts of fun.
What Laymon also tends to do in his books, is produce great secondary characters . Mike, the main character’s focus of interest, who is not only a solid male lead in terms of being strong and nice, but also provides a great deal of comic relief; his kid sister - Susan - who is funny, moody, and generally the closest Laymon has ever come to a “quasi-emo” character in any of his novels; and some other, more minor characters who all add top notch color to this fun little read.
And, lest you be wondering, Laymon puts one of his best baddies in here. Glen is contemptible, disgusting, brash, rude, and massively annoying. As the novel moves forward, the reader also discovers that he is dangerous, and a lot like Toby Bones - the main (and brutally horrible) bad guy in Laymon’s Come Out Tonight...only less extreme and in kid form. If you get a chance to check this book out, I can guarantee you’ll see the resemblance immediately.
It’s great to read something like this. All of Laymon’s usual scares are there, and the pieces are all put together as per usual...only in a more PG kind of way. Where Laymon would usually take his characters in a violent, often depraved adventure by any given point in his stories, here he brings them close, and then pulls them away expertly, making this a book that anyone can read - not just adults.
Laymon has one other YA novel written as Carl Laymon - Nightmare Lake, and a children’s book - The Halloween Mouse - which are also available online...but they’re somewhat rare. In A Writer’s Tale, Laymon mentions the fact that he wrote Your Secret Admirer for Scholastic and, after The Cellar was printed, never wrote another book for them again. This is a shame, as I can see almost all of his novels being adapted in a more child-centric sort of way.
So if you’re at all interested in introducing your kids or teens to Laymon, but don’t know how to go about doing it, grab a copy of Your Secret Admirer. It’s a blast, and really does contain all of the spirit present in Laymon’s adult pieces. For you die-hard fans out there...don’t miss out. Get out there and add this to your collection now.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Laymon Month: The Midnight Tour

The Midnight Tour is the final chapter of Richard Laymon’s Beast House Trilogy.  It is fitting that the book seems to encompass everything that made the series an utter joy to read.  Please don’t read this review if you haven’t read the previous two books.

The Midnight Tour
Richard Laymon
Cemetery Dance (1998)
After the events of the second book, the Beast House is now a national tourist attraction thanks to Janice Crogan.  Janice was one of the few survivors from The Beast House and she has cashed in on her story big time!  There have been two books published and an entire series of films that all deal with the rich history of the house.  The once quiet town of Malcasa Point has been inundated with curious tourists who arrive by the busload.  Janice even runs a Beast House Museum in town.
Another new addition to the town of Malcasa Point is the Midnight Tour.  For the paltry sum of $100 visitors are treated to an evening of all things beast.  The evening ends with the Midnight Tour of the Beast House which gets into some of the more “graphic” details that the regular tour may leave out.  Of course there are various characters that share separate stories but are ultimately brought together by the Midnight Tour, only to have all hell break loose.  It is the same tried-and-true formula that Laymon implemented in the previous two novels and the results are no less shocking here.  In fact, the last 50 pages of The Midnight Tour may be the most intense of the entire series.
The Midnight Tour is quite long compared to the previous two entries and much of its bulk is devoted to the retelling of the Beast House’s origins.  Of course this may turn some readers off, but I ate it up.  The Beast mythology was the most intriguing part of the entire series for me and I loved hearing the various interpretations of the tumultuous events that led up the final conflict at the Beast House.  It is truly fascinating to hear so many interpretations of the same events.  There is also a large portion of the book devoted to Sandy Blume.  Readers will remember Sandy as Donna Haye’s young daughter in The Cellar.  Sandy’s story is told through a series of flashbacks that bridge the gap between the end of The Beast House and the beginning of The Midnight Tour. While the Sandy character did get a bit stale and unbelievable at times, it was a welcome addition and it was the thread that really tied all three stories together.
Focusing more on atmosphere and less on splatter, The Midnight Tour really showcases the evolution of Richard Laymon as a writer.  While I certainly love the balls-to-the-wall intensity of The Cellar, it is interesting to see Laymon slowly establishing the tension and dread in the story.  In The Midnight Tour he has a very strong command over his writing and is able to manipulate the mood better than in any of his other works.  There is nothing better than being helplessly left in the hands of a master as he guides us through some horrific terrain. 
Aside from the writing, Laymon has also matured as a storyteller.  He is able to take some pretty gutsy chances with the narrative. I like to equate The Midnight Tour to Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.  The name of Janice Crogan’s novel is The Horror and it does not take any great stretch of the imagination to assume the The Horror bears a striking resemblance to The Cellar and The Beast House.  As characters reference The Horror, I feel like I have read it.  It is a very interesting approach to the story.  The reader almost feels like the first two books in the series were works of non-fiction as opposed to the first part of the fictitious series.
The Midnight Tour was a fitting end to the Beast House Trilogy.  It stayed true to the conventions that were set forth in The Cellar while putting its mark on one of the best genre series I’ve had the pleasure of reading.   This series should be mandatory reading for all genre fans.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Laymon Month: The Beast House

The Beast House is the second entry into the Beast House Chronicles.  If you haven’t read the first book I encourage you to stay clear of this review.

The Beast House
Richard Laymon
Cemetery Dance (1998; original publish date 1986)
The Beast House picks up a year after the events in The Cellar.  Old Maggie Kutch and her merry band of beasts are still running amuck in Malcasa Point while one of the town’s residents, Janice Crogan, decides to try to cash in on the infamy of the Beast House by sending an inquiry to legendary genre author Gorman Hardy.  Hardy is intrigued by Janice’s letter and sets off to Malcasa Point to do some additional research.
Meanwhile two young librarians, Tyler and Nora, are also headed to Malcasa Point to seek out Tyler’s ex-fiance.  In typical Laymon fashion, the two women run afoul of a belligerent traveler who wants to put a serious whoopin’ on the two little ladies.  Just as the man is about inflict some serious damage (with a car antenna, no less!) two Marines come to the rescue.  Once the librarians have been saved, the four decide they will make the journey together to Malcasa Point.  Much like Judge and Donna in The Cellar, love begins to blossom between one of the marines, Abe, and Tyler.  Laymon uses this budding romance to exploit the inner turmoil with Tyler.  She is out to find her ex-fiance yet she is very much attracted to Abe.  Although not the same type of circumstances, this same type of turmoil was shown in Donna’s character in The Cellar.
Once in town the librarians and Marines come across one of the most interesting characters I’ve ever encountered in a Laymon novel.  His name is Captain Frank and he is a long time resident of Malcasa Point.  The locals think that Captain Frank is nothing more than a crazy old drunk who will do anything to be the center of attention.  It turns out that Captain Frank really is a crazy old drunk but he also harbors a very dark secret- his father was the man who brought the beast to Malcasa Point.  Frank’s telling of the beast’s origin story was nothing short of gripping.  It added a new dimension to the beast and I thought it was the definite high point of the novel
As The Beast House speeds along, all of the characters eventually meet up.  They all decide (for different reasons) to explore the Beast House after dark and chaos ensues. The last quarter of the book goes by in a flash as Laymon packs in the action and blood with total mastery.
The Beast House is an absolute blast.  Laymon takes the reader on one wild rollercoaster ride resulting in some pure horror fun.  Gone is the unsettling aggression of The Cellar.  Instead, Laymon keeps the mood light and the horror isolated within the walls of the actual house.  This makes for a much more comfortable (but not necessarily better) read.
I loved the inclusion of the Gorman Hardy character.  Hardy’s elaborate description of the house added a definite cinematic quality to the proceedings.  I could feel the house coming alive as Hardy made note of the soulless windows and Victorian architecture.  Hardy also made my inner fanboy jump for joy when he asked Abe how he knew about his pseudonyms and Abe responded by saying that he simply “checked the copyright page”.  Ah, Laymon you old devil! 
The Beast House is an extremely solid entry into the Beast House Chronicles.  I love how the whole series is tied together in very subtle ways.  It is like returning to a childhood vacation spot and seeing a landmark that triggers a wave of memories. If you were turned off by some of the more intense subject matter found in The Cellar, then give The Beast House a try.  It is a much more accessible entry point into the Beast House Chronicles.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Laymon Month: The Cellar

Where do you start when looking to review The Cellar?  It is the book that made the career of my favorite author so I have to admit that I’m a bit intimidated.  Over the next four days I am going to review the entire Beast House Chronicles and I think that I’m going back to the formula I used with the ‘Mondays With Richard’ feature- keep it casual and keep it personal.
The Cellar
Richard Laymon
Cemetery Dance (1997; oringinal publish date 1980)
Simply put, The Cellar is Richard Laymon at his best.  He keeps the reader completely off-balance with a barrage of brilliant deviance.  Laymon’s prose is fired off like bullets from an Uzi.  The bursts are short and EXTREMELY hard-hitting.  It is Laymon’s unique style that helps propel The Cellar’s frantic speed and gory narrative.

The story opens with Donna and her 12 year-old-daughter, Sandy, fleeing from her deranged ex-husband, Roy.  Donna and Sandy make their way up the California coast until their car has an untimely accident and they are forced to spend a few days in the small coastal town of Malcasa Point.  Malcasa Point has the dubious distinction of being home to a morbid tourist attraction known as the Beast House. The Beast House has long history which is soaked in blood.  Locals will tell you that there is a mysterious beast that enters the house at night to destroy any trespassers. 
While Donna and Sandy are holed up in this tiny town Roy closes in on them.  The thing about Roy is that he is an ex-con who has a penchant for abusing young girls.  He is also a total psychopath who will stop at nothing to destroy the lives of his ex-wife and daughter and has no issue dispatching anyone who gets in his way.
As Roy closes in on Sandy and Donna we are introduced to two additional characters, Judge and Larry.  As a child Larry was attacked by the Beast of Malcasa Bay but lived to tell the tale.  As a result he has spent numerous sleepless nights in the grip of the memory of the Beast.  Finally he has had enough and enlists Judge, an ex-military type, to finally hunt down and destroy the Beast.   
The story comes together as all five main characters end up meeting in Malcasa Point and are forced to confront their worst nightmares.  The finale is pure genre greatness.
The Cellar is the standard to which I hold all other horror fiction to. Laymon uses the horror of reality along with the terror of the fantastic in such a way that I am never able to get comfortable when reading The Cellar.  Laymon approaches the horror of the story from so many angles that he leaves the reader no place to hide.  Whether reading about the taboo exploits of Roy as he indulges his pedophilic urges or bearing witness to the Beast as he violates his prey, The Cellar brings all types of scares.
When I first read the back cover of The Cellar I was giddy with excitement.  I was looking for a gory tale of a monster who stalks a small coastal town.  How can that not be fun?  Well, there are a lot of adjectives that can be used to describe The Cellar but “fun” is not one of them.  The real beast in the story is Roy.  Laymon describes his crimes against children with an unflinching sense of realism.  There is absolutely nothing that is off-limits.  This book was published 31 years ago and the descriptions of Roy’s atrocities are just as jarring today as they were then.  Again, this is a testament to Laymon’s greatness. 
As I mentioned earlier, Laymon also uses some surreal horror to keep the reader on edge.  When the reader is not being exposed to Roy’s heinous acts we get to meet the infamous Beast of Malcasa Bay.  The Beast has been terrorizing Malcasa Bay since at least 1903- claiming at least 10 “official” victims.  The reader is introduced to the origins of the Beast through the found diary of Lillian Thorn.  Lillian was the first inhabitant of the Beast House and the diary outlines how the Beast began entering her house (and the inhabitants of the house). It also explains Lillian's bizarre role in the Beast House murders as it traces the downward spiral which made the Beast what it is today.  The diary was a truly unique way to introduce the audience to a very mysterious creature. 
I understand that this book is not for everyone. It is an all out assault on the reader as Laymon attacks you from every possible angle.  As a father of young children I found the Roy subplot to be especially unsettling but isn’t that what this genre is all about?  It is about authors bringing their readers to a place they normally wouldn’t go.  It is not supposed to be safe.  Everything should not end well.  This is what Laymon understood and this is what made him one of the true masters of the genre.

Laymon Month: RLK! is BACK!

Have you heard the big news?  No.  Well, it is huge! Steve Gerlach is back online with the best Laymon related site going, Richard Laymon Kills!.  Steve started the site way back in 1996 and was instrumental in the development of many Laymonites (myself included).  I urge you to take a few minutes to roam about the site and let Steve know what a fabulous job he is doing!
Then later today we will be starting off our celebration of the Beast House Chronicles by posting the Grade Z Horror review of The Cellar.  I’m really excited for you to share your memories of The Beast as we continue Laymon Month!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Laymon Month: Guest Post by Colum McKnight

My first experience with Laymon was terrible. I was 20, working at a department store on the overnight shift stocking shelves, and painfully bored while on my coffee breaks. Shit...this was before I even started drinking coffee! The sheer thought of having to talk to my co-workers about their home lives or their money woes wasn’t bearable anymore. By that time, I’d made it a habit to rifle through the magazine section in search of something that would keep me entertained for a couple of hours. This particular time around, nothing was speaking to me. Having read every magazine that was there to offer (including the hairstyle and hip-hop mags), I decided to go through the books. 
Side note: If you’ve ever scanned the shelves and impulse racks as Zellers, K-Mart or Walmart, you’re already familiar with the massive amount of Thriller, Romance, and best selling novels that are presented. At this point in time, though, Department stores, here in Canada, used to stock mass market paperbacks of all variations. Even the now stigmatized Leisure/Dorchester was present, but we all know how that’s going. Now there is nary a horror novel to be seen in department stores in Toronto, and the only books there at all are  from the likes of Tor, DoubleDay, Random House, etc.; and authors like Patterson, Picoult, King and Koontz.
To explain my choice that night, you’ll have to know that I was at a point in my life where I’d amassed quite an extensive collection of horror movies on VHS - which is still my favorite way to watch a movie. I was what I considered to be “a collector” (read: hoarder). To say that I was obsessed would be a complete understatement. It was known throughout my friends and family that I was the one to go to for all-things-scary, and I was completely okay with that. But keep in mind, this was also before I started reading avidly. This was even before I could say that I’d read anything even close to 50 books in my life. Thinking back, it’s actually kind of embarrassing.
Getting back to my point, I’d like to repeat: My first experience with Laymon was terrible. Why? Because the first Richard Laymon book I ever picked up was No Sanctuary. If any of you have read this title, you’ll completely understand. This is, in my opinion, one of Laymon’s hardest reads. It begins with an incredibly sympathetic character that I could relate to somewhat, and then throws in the most disturbing, adrenaline packed, relentless scenes of brutality and depravity that I’d ever read in my life. Beyond that, it became something of an emotional trial. It was hard stuff to stomach.
I’d read less than 50 pages of the book, put it down, and intended to never pick up another book by this maniac again. I was shocked and appalled. I couldn’t understand how someone like this could ever have something be published. It’s safe to say that, at that point, I was a completely new to modern horror, and not at all ready for what Laymon had to offer. 
*In retrospect, I should be glad I didn’t pick up something like The Bighead by Ed Lee first, shouldn’t I? 
Fast forward a few years, add a wife and child to my life (we had our first kid when I was 23), and imagine me working in a lab at a hospital. Again, I was bored. I was reading a little more these days, but still nothing heavier than a magazine and/or re-reading my favorite Poppy Z. Brite or Clive Barker novels. I was facing a one and a half hour commute to work, was running out of music to listen to that was exciting me, and had nothing in the way of video games. I was lucky to be working only a few blocks from “The World’s Biggest Bookstore”, and found myself looking for solace in horror fiction once again. 
The horror section at this store used to be very impressive (sadly, it’s now been downsized because of the lack of mmpb titles being released every year). I started my one hour lunch break, took the trip down to the book store, and stood gawking at the choices that lay ahead of me. I went through everything from Lee to Keene, Gonzalez to Ketchum, and my beloved Barker and Brite. While I was checking out with a fist-full of novels, my eye caught a deliciously dark cover. A book called The Woods Are Dark (the unexpurgated version - 2008) stood out amongst the other “new paperbacks” near the cashier, so I grabbed it and checked out. I didn’t ever bother reading the back, nor did I recognize the name of the author. If I had, I wouldn’t be writing this right now. And yes, if you did the math correctly, you’ll now know that I’ve only been reading Laymon steadily for about 3 or 4 years. There are many other folks you’ve read on this blog, or will read this week, that have spent much more time with Laymon, and thus have more authority to talk about the master than I do. But finding that one piece of Laymon that speaks to you is like using a “gateway drug”, and after The Woods Are Dark, I was hooked! 
I don’t really remember what the other books I picked up that day were (Keene’s Ghoul was one of ‘em, that much I know), but I can tell you that I devoured The Woods Are Dark. I ate it right the hell up. The impassioned forward by Kelly Laymon touched my heart, and the novel itself seemed to burn up in my hands. It was disgusting, depraved, twisted, gory, and absolutely inappropriate in every-which-way. There were parts of it that made no sense to me at all, and still don’t. When I was done with that novel, I ripped through my book collection (which is probably 1/16th of the collection we have at home now), in search of something like it. What did I come up with? No Sanctuary. I couldn’t believe that Laymon had written both, and couldn’t understand why I’d not enjoyed it. With that in mind, I revisited the No Sanctuary and ended up loving it. 
Since then, I’ve made it a mission to collect all of the Laymon books I can possibly get my hands on. I’ve mistakenly given a few away to Value Village, found a few in used book stores, and even met a guy in a gas station parking lot in order to buy a box-full of his Headline releases for just under $200 (the best purchase I have ever made in my entire life). My collection is sitting at 30-something of his novels right now (including The Halloween Mouse - his children’s book), and with the help of friends, I’m getting closer to having everything he’s ever written. I hope to one day have a collection that can stand beside Brian Keene’s personal Laymon library. One can hope, right? (In a strange twist, my Laymon collection and my Keene collection ended up sharing a shelf by accident. It was only later that I found out they were friends. Weird.)
My ultimate goal is to own a copy of A Writer’s Tale, which is limited to 500 signed and numbered copies, and 26 lettered copies. All of them are signed. I’ve had my eye on the eBay auctions for years now, and will one day own one. Mark my words, I will own a copy of that book.
*Note: Since writing this post, I have managed to get my hands on the holy grail that is A Writer’s Tale, and it is in-transit as we speak. I couldn’t be more excited!
I honestly couldn’t imagine a life in literature without Laymon. There is nobody that comes close to reaching that particular brand of daring, yet comfortably formulaic writing. There are a few authors that I’ve been following for a while (like Brian Keene, Bryan Smith, Gord Rollo, Greg Lamberson, and John Everson, to name a few) who grab the literary world by the balls and show the genre who’s boss, but none that could ever replace the smooth style that Laymon left behind. 
Without Laymon’s fiction, I doubt I would have started Paperback Horror. My love of horror wouldn’t have gone any further than the screen, and my collection of books wouldn’t be nearly as large as it is right now. I doubt I would have found any of the authors that I’ve come to love, and I definitely wouldn’t be thinking about horror fiction all of the time. I’m indebted to the man, wherever he is. 
I’m glad that Grade Z Horror decided to throw this party in honor of a true master. It gave me a chance to really think about how I felt about his work, how I still feel about it. Horror fiction wouldn’t be where it is now, without him. I hope we can do this again next year, as I’m sure there is no shortage to love we can spread for Richard Laymon. Share his books with your friends, and introduce his work to everyone looking for something more. Keep the legacy alive. 

Colum runs the best damn genre review site out there over ar PaperbackHorror.com.  Aside from being the author of some of my favorite reviews, Colum is one of the nicest dudes in the world.  Please, please, please head over to his site and prepare to be enlightened!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Laymon Month: The Woods Are Dark

The Woods Are Dark
Richard Laymon
Cemetery Dance (2008; original publish date 1981)

The story behind The Woods Are Dark is a very interesting one.  In 1981 Richard Laymon was new to the scene.  He had written The Woods Are Dark for Warner Books and was eager to be published.  Warner took Laymon’s chilling tale and gave it the ol’ strip job- cutting one very important subplot as well as a fair bit of the gore and sexuality.  In short, Warner treated the pages of The Woods Are Dark much like the savages on those pages dealt with the unsuspecting travelers who found themselves in the woods. They completely destroyed them.  In 2008, through the tireless work of the Laymon family, The Woods Are Dark was released in a new restored edition as the author originally intended.  This is a review of that book.

Neala and her friend Sherri only wanted to do a little backpacking through the woods. Little did they know they would soon be shackled to a dead tree, waiting for Them to arrive. The Dills family thought the small motor lodge in the quiet town of Barlow seemed quaint and harmless enough. Until they, too, found themselves shackled to trees in the middle of the night, while They approached, hungry for human flesh...

Early Laymon novels always seem to get right to the action.  These first works could never be considered a “slow burn”.  The Woods Are Dark is no different.  You open the book and BAM! - Laymon goes right for the jugular.  It is blazing hot from the first page when a hairy, legless shape tosses a severed hand at a passing car.  That is one hell of way to open a story. The amazing part is that Laymon never waivers from this excruciating intensity.
Even with the non-stop action, Laymon peppers in some truly interesting characters. After the encounter with the legless monster the story devotes the first few pages to greetings as we are pleasantly introduced to the fun-loving Neala and Sherri as well as the good-natured Dills clan.  After the formalities are dispensed with, chaos ensues.  Laymon assaults the readers with a barrage of grisly scenes involving unthinkable violence and graphic cannibalism. There is no reprieve from the horror.  Everything is fair game.  
As the novel unfolds, we learn that there is a seemingly ageless race of feral cannibals lurking in the woods of a small town.  The townsfolk have agreed to supply the cannibals, known as Krulls, with an endless supply of victims in exchange for their own safety.  Once these victims are handed over to The Krulls it is absolute carnage as The Krulls do what cannibals do best- run amuck and bust up the joint.  Picture Cannibal Ferox mixed with The Burning.  Pure woodland flesh chomping insanity.
Aside from the very complex Krulls there are plenty of well developed personalities with the most interesting being the patriarch of the Dills family, Lander. Dills is a self proclaimed pacifist who is forced to survive alone in the treacherous woods.  Lander is separated from the rest of his family as he is stalked by The Krulls. Laymon allows Dills to slowly drift into insanity and he eventually begins to resemble one of the savages who are hunting him.  The transformation of Lander Dills is masterfully executed with a frightening level of believability.  After reading the Lander Dills story (easily the strongest subplot in the book) I was amazed that Warner chose to cut it.  It really grounds the novel in reality and makes the goings-on all the more frightening.

No matter which version you read-The Woods Are Dark is a tough book.   It is extremely mean spirited and completely unapologetic.  It is also a classic that every genre fan needs to read.  A word of warning though- please clear a few hours to reading The Woods Are Dar because you WILL NOT be able to put this one down.

I would like to recommend reading both the Warner version and the restored version.  The Warner version is much less sexual and the Lander Dills plot is severely stripped down, but it does include some really interesting chapters dealing with the townsfolk.  The other major discrepancy is the ending.  The difference is night and day, my friends. Night and day.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Laymon Month: Savage reviewed by Lincoln Crisler

I'm not the most well-versed Laymon fan (arguably a detriment to one pursuing a professional career in horror), but I have read enough to have a healthy respect for the man and his body of work. Absolutely, without question, I've read enough Laymon to buy more of his books, sight unseen, without so much as a friendly recommendation, until hopefully I've read them all at least once. More than any Laymon I've read, this attitude is shaped by Savage.

Savage, as described as simply as possible, is about a fifteen year-old boy who follows Jack the Ripper from the streets of Whitechapel, England to the dusty American southwest, first as a captive and later to bring the murderer to justice. To be more accurate, however, it's a long, involved story that's epic in the way King and Straub's Talisman is epic; for some of the vageme reasons, even. Trevor Bentley begins his story as a boy and finishes as a man, or close to it, and his journey takes him roughly halfway across the world. He is both hindered and assisted in his efforts by a diverse group of people, including a couple of lovers. And there is killing, of the exciting, shocking, brutal and heart-wrenching varieties.

Any writer would be lucky to write one book this good in his or her lifetime. Laymon managed to not only write something completely different from his typical book, but do it while including the splatter and sex a Laymon fan expects. I must say that no other Laymon book I've read, no matter how excellent, comes close to knocking Savage off its perch, or even sitting beside it. But, like I said before, I have a lot more Laymon to read, so I'm open to suggestions.

And if you've yet to read Savage yourself, you can fix that right now.

Lincoln Crisler's debut novella, WILD, was released in March from Damnation Books. He has also authored a pair of short story collections, Magick & Misery (2009, Black Bed Sheet) and Despairs & Delights (2008, Arctic Wolf). A United States Army combat veteran and non-commissioned officer, Lincoln lives in Augusta, Georgia with his wife and two of his three children. You can visit his website at www.lincolncrisler.info.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Laymon Month: In The Dark reviewed by Meli

If you haunt any sort of literary sites on the internet then you probably know Meli.  Her unbridled enthusiasm regarding genre fiction is unmatched! She inspires me to read more and more and more!  I am ecstatic to have her share her first real "Laymon experience" with us here at Grade Z Horror.  After you read her wonderful review, head on over to Destroy The Brain and bask in her awesomeness!

In The Dark 
Richard Laymon
Headline Book Publishing (1994)

I am probably the newest fan of Richard Laymon among the contributors celebrating Grade Z Horror’s Laymon Month. I am also, most likely, the least familiar with his work. In fact, it is thanks to a few of these fine writers that I decided to give Laymon a read. I logon almost daily to talk horror fiction with a group of Grim Readers by way of the Rue Morgue Mortuary (the Rue Morgue Magazine message board) and it was there that I first heard the name Laymon. Before I joined the ranks of horror fiction obsessives, my horror reading was mostly dedicated to the classics, like H.P. Lovecraft, Poe, and E.T.A. Hoffman. I was a late bloomer, but luckily Colum of Paperback Horror, Capt Murdock, Dark Mark and other board members helped me familiarize myself with contemporary horror writers and revealed an entire library of sick and twisted fiction. These members would go weeks it seemed reading nothing but Laymon and I later discovered he inspired and influenced many of my newfound favorite authors.

Unlike Jeff Strand (see April 4th guest post), I had the convenience of the internet when I finally decided to give Laymon a turn. A couple clicks and my copy of The Cellar (1980) was on its way to my front door. A simple google search and brief skim of Wikipedia informed me that this was his first novel, so of course this would be a good place to start, right? It was sick and twisted, mixing real life horrors with the unimaginable. To quote In The Dark of which I am about to review, I felt “fear, revulsion, and an unexpected surge of desire” reading The Cellar. Unfortunately, there was one scene in the book that completely pulled me out of the story and I was left underwhelmed by my first Laymon outing.

I returned to my online cohorts with strong criticisms of Laymon’s The Cellar, particularly regarding the paper thin woman he cast as his lead. Looking back, I can’t say for sure why I was so quick to write off the novel. Maybe the scene was really ridiculous enough to ruin the entire story; perhaps my head wasn’t in it; or it’s possible I had specific expectations that inhibited my enjoyment. Whatever the case may be, to the credit of Grade Z Horror’s celebratory Laymon Month and the kindness of Colum at Paperback Horror for sending me a copy of In The Dark I gave Laymon another chance. If I continue to devour Laymon’s novels with the same amount of fervor as I did In The Dark, I will always remember this as the book that sparked my obsession.

When In the dark opens, we find Jane Kerry behind the circulation desk of the library where she works just as she discovers an envelope simply marked “JANE.” Inside she finds a letter with a cryptic message to “look homeward, angel,” signed only “Master of Games” accompanied by a crisp $50 bill. Upon solving the clue, she finds another letter promising further rewards for playing the game and a $100 bill. This simple hook drives the rest of the story in an unrelenting, and often brutal, treasure hunt of horrors. Once I started I couldn’t stop. I took the book everywhere I went. Any free moment was spent reading In The Dark.

In The Dark has all the best elements of a great horror film put to print gripping plotline, shocking twists, sweat-inducing tension, brazen nudity and sex – but has a sophisticated edge as well. The reader is equal parts participant and voyeur which allows Laymon to compel the reader to consider philosophical and moral issues. As Jane pushes her own moral boundaries the reader will wonder, how far he or she would be willing to go and for how much? As our Master of Games, or Mog as he / she is also known, continues to up the ante and Jane progresses further into these exploits you will ponder that age-old philosophical riddle. If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Or in Jane’s case, if no one’s watching, is it really happening? Would it be more exciting if they were? Laymon cleverly coerces the reader into these theoretical quandaries without upsetting the flow of his fast-paced plot. I shifted naturally between being an active player – pondering what I would do in Jane’s situation – to being the spectator of this sadomasochistic game of puzzles. If no one’s watching me watching, am I really watching? Ah-ha! Clever, Laymon, very clever.

The less you know about how this sinister game unfolds, and to what extent, the better. Laymon’s novel is a successful representation of H.P. Lovecraft’s famous quote, “…the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” But Laymon doesn’t just play on his audiences’ worst fears; he also manipulates our dark sexual desires making this a phantasmagoric cocktail of fear and perversion. The reader may be shocked by their own reaction to developments in the story and, like Jane, find your terror mixed with an “unexpected surge of desire,” but, I’m sure that was Laymon’s intention.

You probably wouldn’t be reading this right now if you weren’t already a fan or at least curious, but just in case here is a fair warning: Laymon is not for the faint of heart or easily offended. His writing is often gory, graphic, and limitless in its brutality. If you are a fan of authors like Edward Lee, Jack Ketchum, Bryan Smith, and Jeff Strand, to name a few, Laymon is a must.

Perhaps it is premature to claim membership in the club of diehard Laymon fans with just two books under my belt, especially since I was lukewarm on the first, but I can admit with absolute certainty that In The Dark is just the beginning of my journey into the subversive world of this author. As this appreciation month proves, there is definitely no shortage of Laymon lit to keep me busy. With more than thirty novels and sixty short stories to his credit, I have plenty to whet my appetite for the strange and perverse and maybe even chew over some deep philosophical questions too!
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