Is it still a fave of mine? I wouldn’t know; I haven’t read it in decades. But it was chock full of elements I love to this day: fantasy, horror, mystery, science fiction, and it did them all at once. As I write this on the precipice of my first book release, a cross-genre crime/fantasy novel with horror elements, I’m forced to wonder how big an influence that first dose of King proved to be.
Today, I’m happy to welcome to Preternatura a fellow “Class of 2012” debut author. Chris F. Holm’s hardboiled urban fantasy Dead Harvest was released Feb. 28 by Angry Robot, and it’s getting a lot of great buzz (including several of you guys who picked it as your Reader’s Choice last week!) I can’t wait to read it, especially after reading Chris’s description of his “cotton candy scene” in the Q&A to follow…
ABOUT DEAD HARVEST: Meet Sam Thornton. He collects souls. Sam’s job is to collect the souls of the damned, and ensure they are dispatched to the appropriate destination. But when he’s sent to collect the soul of a young woman he believes to be innocent of the horrific crime that’s doomed her to Hell, he says something no Collector has ever said before: “No.”
Now, let’s hear from Chris!
Give us the “elevator pitch” for Dead Harvest.
DEAD HARVEST is the first in a series of supernatural thrillers that recast the battle between heaven and hell as Golden Era crime pulp. Picture angels in Crown Vics and demons running speakeasies, and you’ve got the gist.
Describe your favorite scene from the book–and why is it your favorite?
I suppose I have two. One is technique-based, and the other’s pure pulp derring-do.
The technique-based fave is the climax of the book. My A-story takes place in the present, and is by and large a thrill-ride from beginning to end. My B-story takes place in the past, and is sort of the emotional core of the book. In the climax of the book, I intercut the two, bringing both stories to a simultaneous conclusion. I think (or, at least, I hope) the effect is both thrilling and heart-rending, and it’s the closest I got at any point to the Platonic ideal of the book that exists only in my head.
The pulpy scene involves my main character hijacking a Medevac chopper in the course of a daring escape, only to wind up in a fight for his life with the pilot as he plummets toward the rooftops of Manhattan. That one, I’ll admit, is just pure cotton candy, but damn if it wasn’t fun to write.
What’s on your nightstand or top of your TBR pile?
Right now, I’m reading TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY by John Le Carré. It’s a gorgeous novel, and rendered all the more impressive by the fact that vast swathes of it are simply about a man in a room, reading files.
Favorite book when you were a child.
I’d say it’s a four-way tie between A WRINKLE IN TIME, FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER, and my condensed collections of Poe and Doyle — two tiny, funny-looking little tomes put out by Penguin, I think, and featuring abbreviated versions of their best known stories. So apparently I’m a genre fan from way back.
Your five favorite authors:
Oh, man. I can only pick five? Okay, here goes: Raymond Chandler. Tim Powers. Dashiell Hammett. Susanna Clarke. Donald Westlake. (You ask for five more later, right?)
Book you’ve faked reading:
MOBY DICK. Yeah, I know — me and everybody else. But this fakery was particularly egregious because I was reading it for a college course taught by Hubert Dreyfus, the rare philosophy professor famous enough to warrant his own Wikipedia page. Idiot kid that I was, I thought nothing of putting down the book out of boredom, and then writing a paper on it anyways; I probably wrote more pages than I read. I’m sure Dreyfus thought I was a moron. There’s a chance he wasn’t wrong.
Book you’re an evangelist for:
To keep things interesting, I’m going to try to come up with one not written by any of the authors mentioned above. (Though it’s safe to assume I think anybody reading this should check out each and every one of them. Except maybe Melville. Then again, how would I know?) And I’d like to maybe pick something on the obscure side; I’m quite fond of Donna Tartt’s THE SECRET HISTORY, for example, but it was a massive hit, so it’s not exactly starved for eyeballs. Which leads me to…
Michael McDowell’s THE ELEMENTALS. It is, quite simply, the finest Southern Gothic novel I’ve ever read. As suffused with dread as sweet tea is with sugar, THE ELEMENTALS is a masterclass on pacing, mood, and subtext. At root, it’s the tale of two families, linked by marriage, spending a summer vacationing on an isolated jetty on the coast of Alabama known as Beldame. Beldame is really nothing more than three old Victorian homes on a strip of sand that, at high tide, is cut off entirely from the mainland. The McCrays occupy one house, and the Savages another. The third house, long vacant, is overrun by sand dunes, and it soon becomes clear that sand is not all that waits inside.
Sadly, THE ELEMENTALS is out of print, but thanks to the internet, used copies are readily available. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Book you’ve bought for the cover:
I’d have to say the Hard Case Crime reissue of GRIFTER’S GAME by Lawrence Block. It was one of Hard Case’s first releases, and I was seduced by their riff on the old-fashioned, lurid pulp cover. Then I read the book, and I was hooked: I’ve been a huge fan of both Block and Hard Case ever since.
Book that changed your life:
Stephen King’s THE TOMMYKNOCKERS. Yeah, I know; it’s not even considered one of his major works. But it was the first grown-up book I ever read. I couldn’t have been more than eleven. I was at my my dad’s parents’ house, and my grandmother, tired from hours of play, I think, suggested I go pick a book from their guest room to read. The room had been my aunt’s, and was chock full of Judy Blume, which I quickly discovered was Not My Thing. But someone had left a dogeared copy of THE TOMMYKNOCKERS on the nightstand, and it called to me. It was the thickest book I’d ever seen, and it was clear from its condition whoever read it did so furiously, as if they couldn’t get through it fast enough. And once I started, neither could I.
Favorite line from a book:
I’m going to cheat and pick two, but only because they’re meant to be read together. Those two are the first and last lines of Charles Ardai’s SONGS OF INNOCENCE (written under the pen name Richard Aleas.) Together, they’re pure poetry, and bookend what I consider to be one of the finest works of noir ever written. (Massive spoilers, so please stop reading, and buy the book instead.) They are as follows:
I was a private investigator once. But then we’ve all been things we aren’t anymore.
I thought: I was a human being once. But then we’ve all been things we aren’t anymore.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Probably JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR. NORRELL. For me, it was such a surprise to find so beautiful and richly textured a novel getting such a major release — I picked it up expecting to be disappointed, and wound up utterly transported. In that way, it was the perfect intersection of expectation and experience. I’ve never been so delighted to be proven wrong.
Most horrifying moment while reading a book:
For that, I’ll once more call upon THE TOMMYKNOCKERS. (Icky, icky spoiler alert.) If I’m remembering correctly, there’s a scene in which a woman whose morphology has been altered by her proximity to the buried alien craft around which the story revolves kills a man with tentacles emanating from her nether-regions. Laughable now, I’ll admit, but there are some things an eleven-year-old boy should never read.
Favorite book about books or writing:
I’m not much for reading writing advice, but Lawrence Block’s TELLING LIES FOR FUN AND PROFIT is a good nuts-and-bolts read. And I enjoyed Bill Walsh’s modern style guide LAPSING INTO A COMMA, as much for where I disagreed with him as for where I agreed.
Ah….Stephen King warped so many of us! Thanks, Chris! Want to win a copy of Dead Harvest? (Yes, you really, really do.) Leave a comment and tell what book you’ve faked reading, if any. I also faked reading Moby Dick, as well as Last of the Mohicans! You know the rest of the drill. One entry for comment, another for blog follow, a third for a Twitter follow @Suzanne_Johnson, and a fourth for a Tweet or Retweet. Be sure to include your email. Now…Go forth and comment!