Saturday, February 28, 2015

Pickaxe is my newest novel from Macabre Ink

           Macabre Ink and Crossroad Press published Pickaxe on February 26, 2015. Pickaxe introduces four new continuing characters in my Instruments of Death series: Sewer Rat, Troy Nolan, Sally Brightson, and Harvey Fredriks.  

Macabre Ink and Crossroad Press published a new digital edition of the revised Claw Hammer in 2014. Claw Hammer was the start of the series, followed by Daddy's Home and then Pickaxe. Icepick should be out shortly from the same publisher. Meat Cleaver will be out mid-year, followed by Sledge Hammer, Box Cutter, and Pinking Shears.           

Claw Hammer was my first published horror novel, and since its original publication in 1989 I have written nine additional novels set in imaginary Riverdale, Illinois, which is a combination of my native Rockford and Aurora and Oak Park, northern Illinois cities where I’ve lived and written novels. Carl Erickson, the homicide detective from Claw Hammer, also appears in Pickaxe, Icepick, Sledgehammer, Box Cutter, and Pinking Shears. After Carl retires, Troy Nolan and Andy Sinnott take over his roles, both appearing in Meat Cleaver.




Sunday, February 22, 2015

Birth of an Assassin

When a well-told tale comes from a first-time author, one imagines the author toiling over each word and becoming so intimate with each of the characters that the author knows the characters better than he knows his own family. Such novels are a pleasure to read, and Rik Stone’s Birth of an Assassin is one of those well-told tales that’s a pleasure to read.

            Stone begins the tale at the end of the Great Patriotic War. His details of life in Russia take us back in time to the starvation days of the Stalin era when the only way out of a life of poverty and misery was to join the Soviet army. Jez Kornfeld is the only son of a peasant Jewish family with two younger and one older sisters. Jez dreams of becoming a Soviet soldier. He leaves home and travels to Moscow to enlist. When he asks some soldiers outside the Kremlin where to enlist in the army, the soldiers play a cruel joke on the na├»ve youngster and send him to Secret Police Headquarters in Dzerzhinsky Square. At the Lubyanka, Jez bumps into a uniformed colonel and tells the colonel he came to enlist. The colonel, both amused by the kid’s obvious gullibility and impressed with the little twerp’s enthusiasm to become a soldier, sends Jez to boot camp where Jez meets and falls in love with Anna. After initial training, the colonel sends Jez to Spetsnaz for additional training and select assignments. Jez excels and is quickly promoted up the ranks to lieutenant.

            Unfortunately, although he has killed men and women and even became a torturer of traitors at Lubyanka, Jez remains gullible. He is framed for murder and accused of operating a human-trafficking ring that sells women into prostitution. Jez learns what it’s like to be tortured himself in the basement of Lubyanka Prison. I won’t spoil the brilliant plot by telling how Jez meets Anna again, but I will say that complications ensue. Every time things seem to be going right for Kornfeld, complications develop.

            What makes the story special isn’t the vivid detail and historical accuracy of the settings. It’s the brilliant characterizations. We care about Jez and his problems, and we want Jez and Anna to live happily ever after. But Jez is a hated Jew in Soviet Russia, a wanted criminal, and we worry about him incessantly. He has a lot going for him, but he had even more going against him. We cheer his occasional triumphs, and we weep at his disappointments and mental and physical anguish. Sometimes we don’t even care if he ever achieves happiness. We just want him to survive.

            Birth of an Assassin may seem overly long and take forever to read, but we keep reading anyway. That’s my definition of a well-told tale. I hope Rik Stone writes new novels. I’ll be looking to buy them when they appear.







Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Remember Barbie?

“I’m taking my childhood back,” says  P.  J., the kill-crazy antagonist of Wyborn Senna’s Bury Me With Barbie. “I get to redo it my way, and nobody can stop me.”

            I spent a fortune reacquiring the EC horror comics of my youth that my parents made me burn when I became a teenager because they thought I was too old to still read comic books, so I can easily identify with the doll collectors depicted in this fact-filled novel about all things Barbie. My girlfriend is also an avid doll collector, and I see the same madness in her eyes when she finds a new American Girl or Kids ’n’ Katz for sale as the compulsive madness in the eyes of many of the characters in Bury Me With Barbie. I imagine I get the same kind of madness in my own eyes when I find a novel by a favorite author that I haven’t yet read, or a new book on the history of comics.

            I bought Bury Me With Barbie because I am a completist. I try to acquire every book published in my favorite genres, just as I have reacquired every issue of the original EC horror titles. I bought Senna’s new novel because it was about a demented serial killer with compulsions, the kind of tale I sometimes write myself. I didn’t expect I’d actually enjoy reading the story.

            Bury Me With Barbie isn’t great literature. Many of the characters are the same kind of stereotypical two-dimensional caricatures found in contemporary romances or 1930s pulp fiction. But B. J. is nasty enough and Caresse is nice enough to make readers care what happens to them, and the plot moves along from murder to murder like clockwork. Wyborn Senna ties up loose ends nicely, and dialogue is natural-sounding. I couldn’t stop reading because I wanted to know what would happen next. That’s my definition of a good read.

            The bonus is an abundance of factual Barbie history (everything you ever wanted to know about Barbie but never bothered to ask), plus valid cautions about the dangers of putting so much personal information online or in the media that you become easy prey for predators. P. J. selects victims from members of the Best Barbie Bulletin Board or collectors interviewed for the monthly Barbie International magazine. B. J. is actually the publisher of Barbie International, and Caresse is the freelancer who interviews collectors and photographs collections for B. J.’s magazine. The ending came a little too abruptly and left enough questions in my mind to expect a sequel. What about Darby, P. J.’s half-brother? What will happen to P. J.? And will Caresse ever find her true love? Inquiring minds want to know.



Monday, February 9, 2015

Operation Arcana is a fun read

            Writers learn to write by reading the works of other writers. We learn to write well by reading good stories and analyzing what works and what doesn’t. Here are some things I learned by reading Operation Arcana, an anthology of science-fictional war stories edited by John Joseph Adams, forthcoming from Baen Books in March 2015.

In “Rules of Enchantment,” the first story in Operation Arcana, you view things through the group mind of US Marines battling Orcs and Trolls in a modern version of Tolkien’s mythological universe. The story is ingenius, but the POV takes some getting used to. You see things through multiple eyes simultaneously, and you’re not quite sure who you are at any given moment. The Marines are on the other side of the rift, in a land where magic works as well as conventional weapons, and tactical spells like Tactician’s Weave and glamours to disguise magical beings as humans are commonplace and real. Well-written and full of action, this splendid tale sets the tone for the wonderful stories that follow.

            Jonathan Mayberry’s “The Damned One Hundred” is a retelling of the classic story of 300 Greeks who battled Persians at Thermopylae, except Mayberry adds witches and vampires to the mix to make the story more exciting. “Blood, Ash, Braids” is about witches, too, but modern-day (circa 1943) witches who fly planes instead of brooms. It’s also about giving one’s all for one’s country and one’s friends.

“The Guns of the Wastes” is a superbly-crafted tale of a shavetail lieutenant fresh from the academy encountering an alien enemy for the first time. Django Wexler flawlessly blends steampunk landcruisers, alien mechanical spiders, and military fiction into a more than satisfying story.

            “The Graphology of Hemorrhage” by Yoon Ha Lee could aptly have been re-titled “Shadow Soup.” To make shadow soup you must first catch a shadow, add whatever vegetables you can steal, and boil it long enough to make it palatable or nourishing. Lee provides lots of nourishment in this palatable story about shadow characters, love, war, and the meaning and making of words.

            “American Golem,” surprisingly, is directly related to “The Graphology of Hemorrhage.” Both stories are about war and the power of words, of symbols. The word golem itself means “my unshaped form.” Author Weston Ochse claims the Jews of Prague learned to make golems from the ancient Chinese. A Jew and a Navajo medicine woman create a half-human killing machine—a golem, a kachina--from the ashes of a dead American soldier. The symbols for revenge are etched on the golem’s forehead, and the blood of its maker assures the golem of immortality. The story is not only about fulfilling a mission and extracting revenge, but about self-sacrifice and what it means to be human. That theme—whether intended or unintended--seems to run through all of the stories in this marvelous book.

            “Heavy Sulfur” is a WWI story of trench warfare and magic. Author Ari Marmell weaves a spell of High Magick straight from the annals of the Golden Dawn. Both English and German forces use sorcerers and necromancers to win the Great War, and Corporal Cleary is caught in the middle. Like other characters in Operation Arcana, Cleary is called upon to make the supreme sacrifice.

            Hae Jung is a “Pathfinder.” As a People’s Republic nurse, Hae Jung tends dying soldiers in Korea in 1951. She is also a Pathfinder who guides the dying to their ancestors. T. C. McCarthy tells a heart-breaking tale of death and dying from the viewpoint of America’s Korean War enemy. This story is so well-written that I couldn’t stop reading despite the blood and horrors that assaulted my senses.

            Glen Cook is an old friend. He’s a quiet, unassuming kind of guy who loves books as much as I do. “Bone Eaters” is a Black Company tale, and Cook is a master craftsman. He is also a guest of honor at this year’s World Fantasy Con in Saratoga Springs, NY. One can learn a lot by reading Glen Cook. Cook’s style is a bit like Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore at their best. Hungry ghosts, hunger incarnate, populate this story along with Croaker’s band of misfits. Chasing Midnight, a new addition to the company of wizards, is intriguing. Croker, the Annalist who worries about secret meanings hidden in words, records the events in his own words. He uses images like “Darling had us drafted and rolling as quick as it took the buzzard family to complete a couple of circles around the sky.” Glen Cook is always a fun read.

            “Bomber’s Moon” is about flying with the angels. It has been said that if God had meant man to fly, He would have given man wings. But with Hitler forming a pact with the devil, God has chosen sides and has granted man wings. The Archangel Uriel flies with the bomber’s crew, the bomber’s cannon have been replaced with water cannons spraying Holy water, the bombs have been blessed, the bullets have crosses etched into the lead. What could possibly go wrong? Himmler and Goebbels are in Dresden conjuring demons, and the crew heads to Dresden to destroy the city. What happens when the plane is hit by flak, their guardian angel deserts them, and the men are left without a prayer? A pacifist priest steps in and adds yet another complication to the story. Author Simon R. Green tells a gripping story that keeps the reader turning pages until the end.

            I got to sit next to Seanan McGuire during an autographing session at Windycon. “In Skeleton Leaves” is the first Seanan McGuire story I’ve read. Set in a nightmare version of Peter Pan’s Neverland where The Pan is female and Wendys are a dime a dozen, this gender-bending tale of Lost Girls and Boys gives new meaning to the fun and games of childhood play. When Pans grow up or die, they are replaced by another Pan and the never-ending war in Neverland between the Pirates and the Lost Children continues forever. Pans are liars and fliers. And McGuire adds a few unexpected twists and turns to the tale before one final twist of the knife. If this is an example of McGuire’s imagination, I want to read all of her writing.

            The entire anthology is lots of fun. There are a few important lessons to be learned about war and writing and the sacrifices that both require.


Operation Arcana, edited by John Joseph Adams. To be published in trade paperback March 3, 2015 by Baen Books. $15.00. Available now for pre-order discount at and Full Disclosure: Paul Dale Anderson was provided a free Advance Reading Copy in exchange for an honest review.






































Saturday, February 7, 2015

Thanks, Tom

I used to write book reviews for Fantasy Review and for 2AM Magazine. When I worked on my masters in Library and Information studies, I had to read and review fiction as graded course assignments. As Chair of the 2014 HWA Bram Stoker Awards Long fiction Jury, I voluntarily wrote brief reviews of each story that I read. One of the best things any writer can do is to read other writers and critique their work. It’s helpful to write down what you think worked well in a story and try to use the same techniques on your own writing. It’s even more helpful to discover what didn’t work in a story and avoid using the same techniques yourself.

            I have always read voraciously. I devour novels and short stories because I love the written word as much as a chocohaulic loves Hershey Bars. Reading and writing are addictions, and one of the ways I afford my addiction is to be a professional reviewer who receives Advance Reading Copies (ARCs) from publishers. It isn’t enough that I get free copies as a voter for Nebulas, Hugos, and Stokers. I want to read what is coming out before everyone else has a chance.

            When I was a librarian at Rockford Public Library, Elizabeth Flygare and Marie Phillips, my co-workers in Adult Services, got first dibs on the new ARCs. Elizabeth and Marie picked mainstream authors and non-fiction, and they left genre works like suspense and horror and epic fantasy for me. I had to arm-wrestle Patricia Keister for sf ARCs. But there were usually enough to keep both of us happy.

            I missed receiving ARCs after I retired as a librarian. Recently, however, several authors and publishers have offered me free digital ARCs of forthcoming works in exchange for honest reviews on Amazon. I also received offers of digital ARCs if I would mention the forthcoming titles in my blogs. I don’t even have to write a review. All I need do is mention the titles.

            Not all of the books I’ll mention or review in my blogs are ARCs. I buy books regularly from both Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I order direct from publishers’ websites (Dark Regions, Cemetery Dance, Subterranean Press, Eldritch Press, etc.). I spend an average of $700 a month on books. I try to look at everything published in SF, horror, suspense, thriller, mystery, and related genres. I read Locus and Mystery Scene and Romantic Times and The Big Thrill. I read PW and Kirkus. Hell, I even read ingredients on cereal boxes.

            I love to talk about books and writing, and I’ll begin to say something about what I’m currently reading in each blog post. I prefer to talk about what works, and I know that not everyone will agree with me. But I owe it to my fellow and sister authors to acknowledge their good works when I see them. So don’t be surprised to see your name mentioned when I come across something you’ve written that I like. And don’t be disappointed if I don’t mention you. I may not have gotten around to reading your masterpiece yet.

            This week I discovered Speaking of Horror II by Darrell Schweitzer. These are interviews with 18 masters of horror, including Robert Weinberg, Brian Lumley, Joe R. Lansdale, and Elizabeth Massie. I also read The Walls of the Castle by Tom Piccirilli. Tom’s style in his novella reminds me of Franz Kafta at his best. Dark Regions published this in a handsome trade paperback, and it’s a really great story.

            I also read Cemetery Dance #72 with a great story by Richard Thomas. Stephen King’s “Summer Thunder” isn’t bad either. But Tom Monteleone’s “The Mothers and Fathers Italian Association” column is, for me, worth the price of admission in itself. Tom laments the recent passing of so many friends: Dave Silva, Rick Hautala, Phil Nutman, and Richard Matheson. Those four icons touched many of us in the horror industry through their writing or personally over the years. Dave Silva published my first horror short story in The Horror Show, and I only met Dave once in person. We talked on the phone numerous times, and exchanged letters weekly in the snail-mail days of the 1980s and 1990s. He was a shy, quiet guy who thought and felt deeper than most of us. Within a week, Rick Hautala also died. I was crushed. So, it seems, was Tom Monteleone. Tom put into words what I felt about the deaths of Dave Silva and Rick Hautala. Thanks, Tom. You said what I wish I could have said.




Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Some thoughts on the new edition of Claw Hammer

I lived in Chicago and worked at the American Society of Clinical Pathologists’ Chicago headquarters, directly across West Harrison Street from the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office, when I wrote Claw Hammer. My ASCP job was to sell continuing education classes to pathologists, and I got to sit in on many of those classes because I was the person who registered pathologists for various courses, set up microscopes in classrooms at conference centers, ran the overheads and slide projectors, hawked new books published by the Society or the College of American Pathologists, and hosted cocktail parties for the Docs at national medical conferences. One of those ASCP classes featured the latest techniques of tool mark analysis available to forensic pathologists interested in identifying the instrument of death, and I was fascinated to learn about the variety of ways people quite often used common household implements to kill beloved family members and friends.

That class reminded me of several terrible tragedies that had happened to grade-school classmates of mine in my own hometown of Rockford, Illinois. I recalled awakening one dawn to the sound of sirens when I was only about eight or nine. I learned that a neighbor had allegedly gone crazy during the night and killed his entire family—all but one daughter who survived--with a claw hammer. The milkman, the same milkman who had just delivered milk to my house, discovered the bodies when he entered the neighbor’s house to put milk in the refrigerator as he normally did twice a week. In those Father Knows Best and Leave It to Beaver days of the early 1950s, people were very trusting and nobody ever locked their back doors. All that changed, of course, after an entire family was killed in our close-knit suburban neighborhood. It never dawned on us that locking the doors would do no good if the killer lived inside the house and had keys.

Not long after that first tragedy, the mother of another female grade-school friend was electrocuted in her bathtub. Supposedly, a radio fell off a shelf and added 110 volts to an afternoon bubble bath and fried the lady like a lobster. Police arrested the lady’s husband and charged him with her murder. My young friend had to leave school to go live with her grandparents. I never saw her again.

One of my favorite uncles, Eric Ekebom, was a Rockford police detective sergeant and I remember asking to see his gun when I was too young to know any better. He told me he hadn’t had to use his gun even once in more than twenty years on the police force. He did carry a gun, he explained, but he said he really didn’t need one because “Good detective use their brains and not guns to catch criminals.” I’ll always remember that.

When Pinnacle Books bought two of my novels and wanted them delivered right away, I wrote a rough draft of Claw Hammer and sent it off with the expectation I would have time to revise and polish the manuscript. I had one day between the time I received the page proofs and the deadline for getting the completed novel back to New York in time to make the publishing window. I overnighted the proofs back. I have never missed a deadline. In the old days when I was learning the newspaper business, we published what we had in order to make a deadline. “Go with what ya got,” the editor called out as the deadline approached. Some stories were incomplete or inaccurate. We knew we always had the next day’s edition to round out the details or publish a correction. I’m glad Claw Hammer endured to see a next edition.