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Straubathon: In the Night Room

“If you’re going to write a book about Lily Kalendar,” a character tells Timothy Underhill in Peter Straub’s 2004 bravura novel In the Night Room, “you’d better make it the book of your life.”

How can one review this novel without unearthing all the hidden gems better left for the reader to discover? I suppose I can start by saying In the Night Room may be the most creative sequel I’ve read. A direct sequel to lost boy lost girl, we meet up with writer Timothy Underhill again about a year later, and discover that the novel lost boy lost girl is actually his own, written to help him get over the disappearance and likely murder of his nephew Mark. The ending he supplied in that novel is only half-true. Mark’s body was never found, but Lily Kalendar never came to spirit the boy away to somewhere safe. (Of course, many of the events of In the Night Room are likely fabrications along these lines, too. I suspect we will never know the reality of Timothy Underhill’s life.)

You could write a graduate school thesis on the use of stand-ins in this novel. Willy Patrick, the woman whose life intersects with Underhill’s in astonishing ways through the course of the narrative, is a stand-in for Mark (she shares his face), but also for Lucy Cleveland, who is herself a stand-in for Lily Kalendar. Willy’s friend Tom is very much a stand-in for Tim himself, much like that other Tom, Tom Pasmore, was in some ways a stand-in for Tim in Straub’s novel Mystery (or Mysteries, as Tim calls it in his world). Willy’s dastardly fiancee, Mitchell Faber, is a stand-in for Jasper Kohle, the crazed fan who’s stalking Tim, and who is himself a stand-in for Joseph Kalendar, the dead serial killer whose memory haunts both lost boy lost girl and In the Night Room. And, of course, Timothy Underhill himself is kind of an emotional and psychological stand-in, if you will, for Peter Straub, whom Tim calls his “collaborator.” This use of stand-ins won’t make sense to those who haven’t read the novel yet, but I don’t want to dig into it too deeply here for fear of accidentally and prematurely unearthing the gems I mentioned. I will say that there’s a reason Willy wears Mark’s face, and why Tim, a middle-aged gay man, falls immediately in love with her. We all love our heroes, after all; writers even more so.

If this sounds complicated, I haven’t even mentioned the emails Tim is receiving from dead people, nor the angry angel following him around, nor the concept of the “perfect book.” This last one is an idea that resonated enormously with me, as I’m sure it does with any writer who reads In the Night Room. Basically, the idea is that through a sort of cosmic slip-up, every time a book is published, a few copies of the perfect version of that book slip into the print run; the perfect, unsullied version that was in the writer’s mind when he or she first came up with it, before his or her own limited vocabulary, second thoughts, hurried writing sessions, and moments of narrative laziness corrupted it. The concept of this cosmically perfect book is so beautiful I had to close the novel a moment for fear of weeping at the thought.

It took me a week to gather my thoughts after reading In the Night Room, and I still feel like I haven’t done it proper justice. But there’s no way to capture this novel in a snapshot. If lost boy lost girl was about death, then In the Night Room is about creation. It starts off negating the events of lost boy lost girl, then circles around the reaffirm them. Life, death, creation, destruction–it all exists in the borderland between reality and fiction, just as the truth does. Throughout Straub’s greatest novels–Ghost Story, Koko, The Throat–we saw only glimpses of the author in his characters. In the Night Room, perhaps even more so than lost boy lost girl, doesn’t just open the author’s ideas to us, it opens his soul to us. In writing a book about Lily Kalender, Peter Straub has made it the book of his life.

Zombies vs. Robots: This Means Reviews!

The first review of Zombies vs. Robots: This Means War is in! Shock Till You Drop has some nice things to say about the anthology, including this:

There are four factors for this collection that I must really gloat about. The first being the gorgeous art by Fabio Listrani. He has created some great pieces into the world of Zombies vs. Robots and a few interesting parodies of already famous art but under the scope of zombies and robots.

The second factor is the talent that is inside the web of authors. Norman Prentiss, Rachel Swirsky, Nancy A. Collins, Nicholas Kaufmann, Sean Taylor and Brea Grant just to name a few. The third great thing about this anthology is how you need not have read the original series Zombies vs. Robots to understand the stories. But the thing about this collection that gets me excited is located on the spine of the book where it says “#1.”

This I can only hope means we’ve got more war coming to us.

It’s rare I get singled out as one of the talent like that. Usually, I’m referred to by my code name “and others,” so I’m glad to see I’ve moved up in the ranks, mostly because I think my story in the anthology, “The Sorcerer’s Apprenticebot,” is one of the best things I’ve written, and perhaps this is a sign that it will get the attention it deserves.

As the review says, you don’t have to have read the original comic book series to enjoy the stories in This Means War, so be sure to grab your copy today!

Another Chasing the Dragon Audiobook Review

The website Nerfreader has some nice things to say about Iambik’s Chasing the Dragon audiobook:

I would love a prequel following Georgia before the events in Chasing the Dragon. Some of it is provided in flashbacks, and it would be great to learn more about the person Georgia was before she became so numb. I love how the story starts in the middle of the action, and we learn about Georgia and her motives as it moves along….overall I’m glad I met Georgia and would like to see her again.

Although, like most people who’ve read it, the reviewer thinks the book is too short. I take that as a compliment, every time. If readers want to spend more time with my characters in the world I’ve created for them, how could I not take it as a compliment? (The reviewer also got a little confused by the mythology I created. First time I’ve heard that from anyone, but note to self: Next time make mythology clearer.)

The reviewer also thought it was odd to have a man narrating the audiobook when both the major characters are female, but just as it did for me and the fine folks at ChiZine Publications, Alex Foster’s superlative delivery quickly squashed any doubts. (I want Foster to narrate all my audiobooks!)

Remember, you can buy the Chasing the Dragon audiobook from Iambik in a number of formats. And of course the trade paperback and eBook editions are still available as well.

2011 Shirley Jackson Award Nominees

The nominees for the 2011 Shirley Jackson Awards have been announced!

The Devil All the Time, Donald Ray Pollock (Doubleday)
The Dracula Papers, Reggie Oliver (Chômu Press)
The Great Lover, Michael Cisco (Chômu Press)
Knock Knock, S. P. Miskowski (Omnium Gatherum Media)
The Last Werewolf, Glen Duncan (Canongate Books, Ltd.)
Witches on the Road Tonight, Sheri Holman (Grove Press)

“And the Dead Shall Outnumber the Living,” Deborah Biancotti (Ishtar, Gilgamesh Press)
“A Child’s Problem,” Reggie Oliver (A Book of Horrors, Jo Fletcher Books)
“Displacement,” Michael Marano (Stories from the Plague Years, Cemetery Dance Publications)
The Men Upstairs, Tim Waggoner (Delirium Books)
“Near Zennor,” Elizabeth Hand (A Book of Horrors, Jo Fletcher Books)
“Rose Street Attractors,” Lucius Shepard (Ghosts by Gaslight, Harper Voyager)

“The Ballad of Ballard and Sandrine,” Peter Straub (Conjunctions 56)
“Ditch Witch,” Lucius Shepard (Supernatural Noir, Dark Horse)
“The Last Triangle,” Jeffrey Ford (Supernatural Noir, Dark Horse)
“Omphalos,” Livia Llewellyn (Engines of Desire: Tales of Love & Other Horrors, Lethe Press)
“The Summer People,” Kelly Link (Tin House 49/Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories, Candlewick Press)

“Absolute Zero,” Nadia Bulkin (Creatures: Thirty Years of Monsters, Prime Books)
“The Corpse Painter’s Masterpiece,” M. Rickert (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Sept/Oct, 2011)
“Hair,” Joan Aiken (The Monkey’s Wedding and Other Stories, Small Beer Press/ The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, July/Aug, 2011)
“Max,” Jason Ockert (The Iowa Review 41/1)
“Sunbleached,” Nathan Ballingrud (Teeth, HarperCollins)
“Things to Know About Being Dead,” Genevieve Valentine (Teeth, HarperCollins)

After the Apocalypse: Stories, Maureen F. McHugh (Small Beer Press)
The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares, Joyce Carol Oates (Mysterious Press)
Engines of Desire: Tales of Love & Other Horrors, Livia Llewellyn (Lethe Press)
The Janus Tree, Glen Hirshberg (Subterranean Press)
Red Gloves, Christopher Fowler (PS Publishing)
What Wolves Know, Kit Reed (PS Publishing)

Blood and Other Cravings, edited by Ellen Datlow (Tor)
A Book of Horrors, edited by Stephen Jones (Jo Fletcher Books)
Ghosts by Gaslight, edited by Jack Dann and Nick Gevers (Harper Voyager)
Supernatural Noir, edited by Ellen Datlow (Dark Horse)
Teeth, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling (HarperCollins)
The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (Harper Voyager)

Big congrats to all the nominees. and especially to my friends Michael Cisco, Michael Marano, Tim Waggoner, Peter Straub, Jeffrey Ford, Livia Llewellyn (twice!), Kelly Link, Nathan Ballingrud, Genevieve Valentine, and Ellen Datlow! May all your river stones land true–er, I mean, I hope you win! (Damn, I hope I didn’t give away what actually happens to the nominees. My head is still smarting from the stone Neil Gaiman threw at me last year.)