Beyond the sunlit world exists a land of shadow and myth. Are you ready to enter? On this episode of Opus Questions we’ll have the unfortunate pleasure of hearing from Jeffery X Martin, a twisted brilliant mind of dark and unpleasant words. If you’ve been following this chain of segments, Opus Questions is all about traveling that dark and narrow road to discover what horror writers enjoy reading, what books tickle their fancy, what novelizations have terrified them, haunted them, forced them to turn on the light. Opus Questions is also about finding what books have inspired these up and coming wordsmiths of the strange and unusual. For every writer has their favorites, the ones they hold dear. Because part of being a good writer, you have to be a good reader as well. So, to keep things interesting and to be a bit villainess on my part, I’ve asked my guests to tell us what their favorite books are and why. And they can pick only two. You heard me. Just two!!! (laughs manically) So, without further ado, here is…
Jeffery X Martin:
You’re on the bus after a long day at work. It’s a Friday, and you want nothing more than to take off your pants, fix a stiff neat drink and hope to hell your head clears out. Not on the bus. That would be weird. Note to self: Must keep pants on while riding public transit.
An old woman has decided to sit next to you, of all places. There are easily fifteen empty seats on the bus, but she plants herself right beside you. She smells faintly of denture adhesive and knee sweat. On her purse is a giant white button, which reads in bright red letters, “ASK ME ABOUT MY GRANDCHILDREN!” You catch her maneuvering her bag on her lap, making sure you can’t help but see the button. The sweet message is now a challenge. Her matriarchal pride looms over the two of you like a hot cloud.
You know asking her is a terrible idea. There is never just one grandchild. She is the Mother of Nations. She will have to tell you about each and every dismount, in alphabetical order, stating their latest developmental milestones like new commandments, cooing their names like she can wish them into her presence. Her anticipation and nervousness are getting to you now, and you can feel a fine film of sweat forming on your forearms.
You don’t want to ask.
You need to ask.
THAT is precisely what Thomas S Flowers has done by asking what my two favorite books are. He has put himself in that situation. He has done it to you, also, Reader. I am shifting in my seat, a small smile on my face.
Let me tell you about my two favorite books.
There’s nothing more punk rock than a good short story. Get in, make your point, and get out. Leave an impact. Make someone feel something without having to wrap them up in a blanket of flowery prose. Do that, and you have done something amazing not only for your reader, but for yourself as a human being. You’ve communicated effectively. Not even politicians understand how to do that.
But legendary editor Kirby McCauley understood. He got it. When he put together the anthology, Dark Forces, he created the perfect snapshot of horror at that time. I was eleven years old when I read that book and it changed my life. That’s not hyperbole.
Each story by itself is a prime example of fierce writing, even Stephen King’s novella The Mist, which sets itself up with comic-book like quickness and delivers on every level. It introduced me to the lonely highways of Dennis Etchison and the poetic dread of Lisa Tuttle. Robert Bloch’s tale, “The Night before Christmas,” was a direct influence on one of the stories in my book, Black Friday. It was a crazy collection, a gonzo mixture of old and new. It was also the first time I thought of short stories as something other than homework. They were viable vessels of fear.
The more I became involved in horror, the more I wanted to read. New stuff, old stuff, whatever. The Arbor House Treasury of Horror and the Supernatural read like a full college course in horror fiction. It was even divided up into a “Classics” section and a “Modern Masters” section. Eclectic? You bet. This book has horror stories from Truman Capote, William Faulkner and Winston Churchill. The modern stories are equally as fantastic, featuring Ramsey Campbell, Charles L. Grant, and one of Karl Edward Wagner’s best stories, “Sticks.”
I credit these two books for helping me pass English classes. If the Arbor House book with the crazy long name was my college education, Dark Forces was my extra-curricular reading. I absorbed them. I learned structure by osmosis. I figured out character development through repeated reading. It’s like that anti-drug PSA from the Eighties.
I learned it by watching them.
Thanks to Mr. Flowers for allowing me to bogart his blog. I’m sure you’ve already bought his new book, Reinheit, and are looking forward to his story in The Black Room Manuscripts. I’m going to go back to the beginning of this blog entry and finish that story I started.
Blame Arbor House and Kirby McCauley.
I want to thank Jeffery X Martin for taking the time and telling us a bit about the books and collections that have helped shaped his darkly twisted mind. You can find Jeffery X Martin lurking somewhere in the Great American Southland, where his name is whispered in fear around dying campfires on humid nights at the edge of summer. He enjoys Italian horror movies, professional wrestling and a nice sunset. He can be heard on several podcasts, including Kiss the Goat, a show about Devil movies he co-hosts with his wife, Hannah. His latest book, Short Stories about You, is available on Amazon. You can also follow him on Twitter: @JefferyXMartin.
March 18, 2015 | Categories: Horror, Reviews | Tags: author interview, Dark Forces, Horror, Jeffery X Martin, Kirby McCauley, Kiss the Goat, Reviews, short stories, The Arbor House Treasury, William Faulkner | Leave a comment