Robert Dunbar's Blog

November 29, 2018

LITERARY DARKNESS is a book discussion group on Goodreads with over 3,500 members, many of them teachers, librarians, writers – passionate readers all. As the group progresses through its eighth year, our knowledgeable and enthusiastic membership continues to analyze and appreciate dark literature. This annual list of notable books is in no way intended as an award; nor is it meant to imply exclusivity. It is a reading list, pure and simple. Many wonderful books are out there, and we hope to experience them all. Our goal is to help others discover them as well.

Come. Explore with us.

Some books become lights in the eternal darkness. What follows is a list of recommendations and commendations … combined with expressions of heartfelt gratitude to the many fine writers who keep readers awake at night.

Fresh Blood:
These are new titles recognized by the group as having made a considerable impact during the past year.

Nona's Room by Cristina Fernández Cubas
Switchblade by Sandy DeLuca
Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enríquez
A Winter Sleep by Greg F. Gifune
Everything Under by Daisy Johnson
Things You Need by Kevin Lucia
Bone White by Ronald Malfi
The Anomaly by Michael Rutger
Darkest Hours by Mike Thorn
Little Eve by Catriona Ward

These may be collections of short fiction or literary essays, anthologies or novels. All are from the recent past and all are extraordinary.

Sacrificial Nights by Bruce Boston and Alessandro Manzetti
Speaking to Skull Kings and Other Stories by Emily B. Cataneo
The Bone Mother by David Demchuk
The Lost Daughter Collective by Lindsey Drager
Paupers’ Graves by James Everington
The Witch Elm by Tana French
And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe by Gwendolyn Kiste
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin
Things to Do When You're Goth in the Country: and Other Stories by Chavisa Woods

Calling a book a Classic can be like entombing it. Many readers would sooner pry open the lid of a coffin than peer between those musty pages. Often this represents a sort of tragedy: some books seethe with life and emotion… and cry out to be read. These are among our favorites.

The October Country by Ray Bradbury
The Werewolf of Paris by Guy Endore
The Shadow Year: A Novel by Jeffrey Ford
The Cormorant by Stephen Gregory
The Snowman's Children by Glen Hirshberg
The Red Tree by Caitlin R. Kiernan
Feesters in the Lake & Other Stories by Bob Leman
The Night Country by Stewart O’Nan
Holiday by M. Ricker
Night Has a Thousand Eyes by Cornell Woolrich

Buried Treasures:
This is a list of titles, some celebrated, some obscure, that in so many ways evoke the finest qualities of literary darkness.

The Burning Court by John Dickson Carr
The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares
The Chimes by Charles Dickens
The Invisible Eye: Tales of Terror by Emile Erckmann and Louis Alexandre Chatrian
The Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene
Checkmate by J. Sheridan Le Fanu
Thus Were Their Faces: Selected Short Stories by Silvina Ocampo
Denis Bracknel by Forrest Reid
The Hole of the Pit by Adrian Ross
Randalls Round by Eleanor Scott

LITERARY DARKNESS is dedicated to an appreciation of important works of literature, both classic and contemporary, that happen to fall into the category of dark fiction. We tend to avoid the big, banal blockbusters (and more lurid fare) in favor of beautifully written explorations of the unknown, many obscure, all extraordinary. In addition to maintaining hundreds of ongoing conversations – on topics ranging from favorite classics to cutting-edge subgenres – LITERARY DARKNESS features a popular group reading series.

Come. Savor the darkness with us.
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Published on November 29, 2018 11:13 • 103 views • Tags: best-books-reading-list

April 11, 2018

THE PINES (The Pines Trilogy Book 1) by Robert Dunbar

The Shore by Robert Dunbar

The Streets (The Pines Trilogy, #3) by Robert Dunbar

My trilogy -- THE PINES, THE SHORE and THE STREETS -- is finally completed. The novels have been extensively revised, and all now have beautiful matching covers. (The flock of birds on each cover is, indeed, the same photograph, digitally altered. In case you were wondering.) Chas Hendricksen did the artwork, and I think you can see why I'm so pleased with them.

The books are featured on the new website (also extensively revised) for Uninvited Books, complete with reviews, interviews, and synopses.

Drop by. (At least to see the covers in close up!) Let me know what you think.
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Published on April 11, 2018 14:01 • 206 views • Tags: horror, new-jersey, the-jersey-devil, the-pines, the-shore, the-streets

August 24, 2017

The Pines Trilogy keeps getting closer to actually happening.



It’s like a fantasy. (For me anyway.) I find myself picturing new versions of all the three books with gorgeous matching covers. I imagine them revised (in bits, here and there) and most importantly re-edited. Especially THE PINES. Don’t get me started.

What’s happened to make this possible?

THE STREETS, final part of the trilogy, continues to attract excellent reviews, and – quite recently – the rights for THE PINES and THE SHORE were returned to me by 47North. (I asked for them, begged for them. They were nice about it … eventually.) As you can imagine, I’m very pleased about this. The new covers for the editions are beautiful, deep, atmospheric. I’m very pleased about my recent rewrite for THE PINES, and the new version of THE SHORE is cooking along nicely.

Currently, only the first and third entries in the trilogy are available at Amazon, but the new version for the middle part will be along soon ... in a couple of weeks probably. There’ve been a million challenges in this process. Again, don’t get me started. It’s all been daunting to say the least. But the number of errors (and the ham-fisted editing) couldn’t be permitted to stand. After all these years, the text has finally been corrected. Another month and all three of the books will be available at Amazon as paperbacks and ebooks.

I’m excited.

Now… about those new reviews…

Here’s a couple of them.

“A densely populated and intricately plotted work of fiction, whose complexity is magnified by the Hemingway-like concision of Dunbar’s prose… evokes the pleasurable difficulty of reading such heavyweights as Southern Gothic scribe William Faulkner… As an individual novel, it’s excellent; but taken as a whole, Dunbar’s Pines Trilogy stands among the genre’s most finely crafted contemporary series.”
~ Unnerving Magazine

“What Dunbar does best in The Streets is redefine the word "Monster." Monsters are not only humanized, they are celebrated. They love and are loved. The reader can gaze on the Monsters and see their beauty.”
~ Mrs. Hoskins Summer Reading

"Fascinating ... richly written ... prose capturing the beauty and horror weaves within the narrative to spin a yarn that is unforgettable."
~ MBLiterary

“A remarkable example of a thoughtful and talented writer engaged in pushing the boundaries of the genre.”
~ Horror Novel Reviews

“Dread-inducing, yet remarkably life-affirming ... with amazing depth and emotion.”
~ Nameless Digest

“Dunbar shows considerable skill … mixing both genre and literary influences into a style all his own.”
~ This Is Horror

Did I mention that I’m very pleased?
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Published on August 24, 2017 08:58 • 308 views • Tags: the-pines, the-shore, the-streets

March 30, 2017

Writers don’t get to talk about their work much. (Go ahead. Try to interject an anecdote about “character development” or “plot logic” into a conversation. Watch how bored civilians get. And how quickly.) But what else can a writer even talk about? I mean, this is me. This is my life. It’s what I do. If I remove myself from the conversation, I’m left just smiling and nodding.

Fascinating, yes. Uh huh.

Connections are… difficult. You can see people staring at you, but you can’t really see them. You’re really trying to work out that awkward bit of dialogue in chapter fourteen.

Interesting lifestyle choice.

I figured, maybe if I gave all my readers a heads up all at once…

Okay then. At this point, I’m desperately and completely consumed by “Tremble.” No, it’s not a drug. Not exactly. It’s the working title for my new novel. And it is of course killing me. After the last one, I thought I’d write something, you know, easy. Lots of action. An actual monster. Basic situation: a gang of characters barricaded in an old dark house, just trying to survive the night. Hell, just trying to survive. Then I got this really clever idea. Really really clever. I know, I thought to myself, I’ll make them all trash characters. You know? The sort that get disposed of early in a horror movie? Yes, that’s the way to go.

I must be out of my mind. Was I concentrating on unlikable characters to keep myself from becoming too close with these persons? Why did it never occur to me that – hey – these are my people? Suddenly, I am totally involved in their struggle.

Like I said, it’s killing me. It’s also taking me a lot longer to write than it should. There are a few reasons. I started a major editing assignment. Then I let myself get talked into writing a short story that floated off on a tangent… and then another tangent… and then…

And then there’s THE PINES and THE SHORE, two-thirds of my trilogy. For years, they’ve been comfortably ensconced at 47North (with the final part of the series at long last appearing at Uninvited Books). This didn’t seem to bother any of the editors at 47North, but it was sort of driving me a little crazy. There’s a reason I’m bringing this up now. After just a few months of my nagging them, they’ve agreed to release the books. So here I am, finally (finally!) consumed with rewriting and editing and working on the layout and cover (to match THE STREETS). Will they eventually be sold as a boxed trilogy set? It could happen. Will there be signed hardback collector copies? There’s an awful lot of work involved in this.

(Oh, and by the way, my novel THE STREETS is currently available for reviewing at Netgalley. It’s free, but if you’re not a member you’ll need to create a profile. The link for my book is here:

A whole new website for Uninvited Books is also being developed. I’m excited.

That’s pretty much it with me, though it feels a lot busier. Oh, wait, the first foreign language version of one of my books is approaching as well. My novel WILLY is being released by Good Kill Edizioni (Rome), the editor of which called it “awesome.”

All right then. I’m pleased.

Back to work.
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Published on March 30, 2017 11:40 • 540 views • Tags: the-pines, the-shore, the-streets, willy

September 1, 2016

It was a dark and stormy morning…

Traditional ghosts fade with the dawn. The fears that haunt our dreams evaporate by first light, but there are worse things, worse specters. Far more fearsome are those spirits that do not flee the daybreak.

They stay with us. And torment us. They blight our lives, plague our minds. They linger.

They become part of us.

Each of the authors presented here understands this fact … only too well.

“HAUNTED DAWN: A Literary Horror Anthology” features work by Paul G. Bens, Jr., Lisa von Biela, Justin Bogdanovitch, Chesya Burke, Kealan P. Burke, Nickolas Cook, P.D. Cacek, Jameson Currier, Keith Deininger, Sandy DeLuca, Robert Dunbar, James Everington, Greg F. Gifune, John Grover, Gerard Houarner, Lauren James, Kevin Lucia, Ronald Malfi, Lisa Mannetti, Elizabeth Massie, and B.E. Sculy.

Does horror have to be the same old thing? Over and over?

So many books seem like variants on a theme. Seriously? How many “totally new twists” on zombies or werewolves could there be? Maybe a vampire romance? Or -- I know -- how about some more stories “inspired” by Lovecraft?

Oh please.

Wouldn’t you like to read something… different? For a change? Something original? Here’s a radical idea – how about cutting-edge authors who have already invested their considerable talents in pushing the boundaries of the genre? How about literary artistry, creative intelligence … and transcendent chills?

How about paying the writers?

(Now there’s a concept.)

Here’s your chance to help Haunted Dawn see the light of day.

* * *

I just wanted to take a moment to let you know that the Kickstarter project for Haunted Dawn is up and running. Please do what you can to help promote it. Thanks!
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Published on September 01, 2016 07:20 • 276 views • Tags: anthology, horror

August 10, 2016

LITERARY DARKNESS is a book discussion group on Goodreads with over 3,000 members, many of them teachers, librarians, writers – passionate readers all. As the group enters its seventh year, our knowledgeable and enthusiastic membership continues to analyze and appreciate dark literature. This annual list of notable books is in no way intended as an award, nor is it meant to imply exclusivity. It is a reading list, pure and simple. Many wonderful books are out there, and we hope to experience them all. Our goal is to help others discover them as well.

Come. Explore with us.

Some books become lights in the eternal darkness. What follows is a list of recommendations and commendations … combined with expressions of heartfelt gratitude to the many fine writers who keep readers awake at night.

Fresh Blood:
These are new titles recognized by the group as having made a considerable impact during the past year.

Sacrificial Nights by Bruce Boston and Alessandro Manzetti
The Black Room Manuscripts edited by Daniel Marc Chant
The Haunting of Blackwood House by Darcy Coates
The Quarantined City by James Everington
Devil's Breath by Greg F. Gifune
Circus Philosophicus by Graham Harman
I Wonder What Human Flesh Tastes Like by Justin Isis
Little Girls by Ronald Malfi
Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories edited by Doug Murano and D. Alexander Ward
Aickman's Heirs edited by Simon Strantzas

These may be collections of short fiction or literary essays, anthologies or novels. All are from the recent past and all are extraordinary.

Scorch Atlas by Blake Butler
The St. Perpetuus Club of Buenos Aires by Eric Stener Carlson
Duplex by Kathryn Davis
Descent by Sandy DeLuca
Fugue State by Brian Evenson
After the People Lights Have Gone Off by Stephen Graham Jones
Dreams of Shadow and Smoke: Stories for J.S. Le Fanu, edited by Jim Rockhill and Brian J. Showers
The Absolution of Roberto Acestes Laing by Nicholas Rombes
My Pet Serial Killer by Michael Seidlinger
Jagannath by Karin Tidbeck

Calling a book a Classic can be like entombing it. Many readers would sooner pry open the lid of a coffin than peer between those musty pages. Often this represents a sort of tragedy: some books seethe with life and emotion… and cry out to be read. These are among our favorites.

Vertigo by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac
Ten Days in a Mad-House by Nellie Bly
Nazareth Hill by Ramsey Campbell
Fengriffen & Other Gothic Tales by David Case
Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things by Lafcadio Hearn
Dark Gods by T.E.D. Klein
Day Dark, Night Bright by Fritz Leiber
The Bad Seed by William March
The Decapitated Chicken and Other Stories by Horacio Quiroga
Passion by I. U. Tarchetti

Buried Treasures:
This is a list of titles, some celebrated, some obscure, that in so many ways evoke the finest qualities of literary darkness.

Nightmares of an Ether Drinker by Jean Lorrain
Day of the Arrow by Philip Loraine
Kaputt by Curzio Malaparte
The Beetle: A Mystery by Richard Marsh
Gifts for the One Who Comes After by Helen Marshall
Looking for Jake and Other Stories by China Miéville
The Quincux by Charles Palliser
Pop. 1280 by Jim Thompson
Don't Dream: The Collected Horror and Fantasy Fiction of Donald Wandrei
Descent into Hell by Charles Williams

LITERARY DARKNESS is dedicated to an appreciation of important works of literature, both classic and contemporary, that happen to fall into the category of dark fiction. We tend to avoid the big, banal blockbusters (and more lurid fare) in favor of beautifully written explorations of the unknown, many obscure, all extraordinary. In addition to maintaining hundreds of ongoing conversations – on topics ranging from favorite classics to cutting-edge subgenres – LITERARY DARKNESS features a popular group reading series. (We are currently reading THE HANDMAID'S TALE by Margaret Atwood.) We also run a successful series of short story readings as well as a poetry series. Join us.

Over the years, we have discussed hundreds of titles and authors. In the past year, the following books were selected by the membership to be read within the group, and the links provided should help clarify some of the criteria involved.

Despair by Vladimir Nabokov
DESPAIR by Vladimir Nabokov

Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany
DHALGREN by Samuel R. Delany

Nocturnes by John Connolly
NOCTURNESby John Connolly

A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O'Connor
A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND by Flannery O’Connor

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
IN COLD BLOODby Truman Capote

Narrow Rooms by James Purdy
NARROW ROOMSby James Purdy

Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
STRANGERS ON A TRAIN by Patricia Highsmith

No Night is Too Long by Barbara Vine
NO NIGHT IS TOO LONG by Barbara Vine

For more information, visit the LITERARY DARKNESS group:

Come. Savor the darkness with us.
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Published on August 10, 2016 11:15 • 839 views • Tags: best, books, reading-list

May 27, 2016

Can HORROR ever be literature?

Didn’t it used to be?

Obviously, Henry James thought so … as did Edith Wharton and Willa Cather. So did William Faulkner and Elizabeth Bowen and Robert Aickman. The list goes on and on. Extraordinary writers have flourished in the darkness, artists of the caliber of Ray Bradbury and Shirley Jackson, Algernon Blackwood and ...

Let’s see, who else? D. H. Lawrence, anyone? How about E.M. Forster? This was once the genre of geniuses, of Meyrink and Kafka and Gogol.

My point? Horror doesn't have to be defined (or limited) by “Bigfoot Massacre” or by yet another totally new spin on zombies. No, it’s only in recent years that the genre has hit rock bottom. But a few brave souls still labor in the horror mines, and sometimes they unearth … treasures. You might not think this so shocking an assertion, yet it can be counted on to provoke outrage among reactionary factions, the sort of people who feel empowered to dictate what the genre MUST be. And, yes, I know the same thing has been going on in the SF world, where champions of “good old-fashioned swashbuckling yarns” just happen to be racist, sexist homophobes who loathe “all that artsy stuff.” Can you imagine what kind of fiction such people prefer? I’ll give you a hint: subtle and sophisticated it ain’t.

And they get abusive about works that don’t fit their template.

A mob mentality comes into play. With Horror, this mandated mediocrity – what I think of as “the rule of dumb” – has largely driven serious literary practitioners into the arms of Noir and Suspense and Mystery and has had much the same effect on intelligent readers.

Cue the accusations of “pretension.”

Pretentious? Moi?

I promise I’m not pretending anything.

But I do realize that pronouncements like these are exactly why I’m such a troll magnet. Recently, a (financially) successful author gave me some (unsolicited) advice about what I’m doing wrong in my career. Doubtless he knows what he’s talking about, so I just want to go on record now as being in favor of apple pie and the flag. Oh, and I revere the institution of motherhood. Plus our troops totally rock. Also Jesus is my friend, and Lovecraft is my favorite author.

There. That should do it. I can’t wait to see the spike in my book sales.

Anyway, back to what I was saying (before I so rudely interrupted myself), I’m not advocating snobbishness here. The pulp novels of one generation can become the underground classics of the next. It’s a perpetual rebellion. Raw talent and creative energy are often quite rude, and so they should be. Art should startle as well as illuminate. It should outrage and inflame, always. But a penny dreadful remains a penny dreadful. A lot of the titles choking the genre these days are barely literate, let alone literary, and no one believes otherwise, not even the “writers” who grind them out like sausages. There’s a place for this sort of thing of course. Everyone is entitled to read what they enjoy (even if it’s essentially the same book over and over). But shouldn’t there be room for quality as well?

Okay, so some of you MAY have heard me rant about this before. I think it bears repeating. Plus I’ve had provocation. Of sorts. Horror Novel Reviews, an excellent site, recently ran a feature where a number of authors were asked about books that scared them. (The link is here: Much as I enjoyed the responses from luminaries like Ramsey Campbell, it still reminded me of the old Shocklines message board. Does anybody even remember Shocklines? They were forever running those “what are the three best books ever?” polls, and a solid 90% of the responses would list “The Bible, The Stand, and _____.” For that last entry, most people just filled in whatever Great Book they could remember being forced to read in high school. “All Quiet on the Western Front.” “A Tale of Two Cities.” “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” Whatever. Ancillary discussion uniformly dismissed numerous brilliant works for being “difficult" or "too literary."

Personally, I’ve never been able to work out what a book should be if not literary. Musical? Athletic? It’s like criticizing a statue for being too sculptural. Don’t get me started.

Sorry. Sore subject. Where was I?

Oh. Right.

A glut of indistinguishable titles has smothered the genre before. Why is this so recurrent a menace? Other genres have advanced in style and sophistication (despite having to fight anti-progressive blocs within their own ranks). That’s what sustains a genre’s growth. Why hasn’t Horror experienced similar development? (Yes, yes, I know there are exceptions. There are amazing writers, incredible books. That’s just it: all novels should be exceptional.) Could it be that the genre’s essential conservatism – all those plot arcs about preserving some nice white family by destroying the dreaded "other" – dictates mediocrity? Perhaps reactionary art is just too much of an oxymoron to sustain.

I want to believe the genre can recover. I know, I know, everyone else thinks the genre is just great, never better. Stokers all around. It’s one of the areas in which I seem to be out of step with my colleagues. There may be others, one or two. For instance, I don’t do many cons anymore. There are… reasons. To begin with, whenever I arrive at a conference I always seem to be wearing a t-shirt that says “tell me about your psychic powers.”

How do you stand it? Are SF conferences full of authors just dying to share their alien abduction experiences? Do Mystery writers keep checking their phones to see if Scotland Yard has called to enlist their assistance with a difficult case? No, I think it’s mostly just Horror: the lunatics really are running this particular asylum. But even that’s not the real problem. It’s this fan-driven glorification of the ordinary, the average. People stand in front of audiences and brag that “us Horror writers aren’t all literary and artistic.”

Like it’s a point of pride.

I can remember moderating a panel where a bunch of twenty-somethings in the audience started denouncing authors whose work they didn’t care for. The list included Hemingway, Faulkner, Steinbeck… in short everyone they’d ever heard of who wasn’t a popular hack. "Hemingway can’t write at all" struck me as a memorable line. (The conversation then veered into “when a work is pirated, we should all feel flattered” territory. How often is one actually aghast? I felt like a character in a Gaston Leroux novel.) Yet those kids all thought of themselves as writers, as did many of the people nodding in agreement. Of course, the dumbing-down of pop culture is nothing new, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t resist. Isn’t fighting the good fight what artists do? I mean, there’s nothing wrong with liking a kazoo; just don’t decry the symphony for being "too musical." Anyway – mostly just to maintain some tenuous grip – I started putting together a list of books I consider essential works for anyone with a serious interest in literature, especially in creating literature. I’d love to get some feedback. How does mine compare with yours? Is it longer? Thicker?

Let me rephrase that.

How does my list compare to your list? (Oh come on, we all have them. It’s just that most sane people don’t write them down.) What gems have I omitted? Make recommendations. Please. I know I’ve missed things. But if you come at me with Dan Brown or James Patterson, be prepared for violence.

I’ve tried to restrict myself to one title per author, just because the list got too unwieldy otherwise. Some are great thundering epics. Others are elegant little volumes that slip in like a knife blade. Criteria? A lot of people might say that a great book is one that changed the world. If that’s the case, all such lists would need to include works by Harriet Beecher Stowe and Sinclair Lewis (and possibly Radclyffe Hall), but in good conscience I can’t do that here. No, a book needs more than good intentions, more even than an important theme. I added and deleted INVISIBLE MAN three separate times. (No, not the Wells book.) A truly great novel – so far as my list is concerned – would be one I am personally enraptured by. Awestruck by. Challenged by. Inspired by. Forget changing society. For the moment, I’m more interested in books that changed me. All great art is a passionate force for evolution, personal and otherwise.

Anyway, here’s mine ... in a curious order all its own.

Watch it grow.

DHALGREN by Samuel R. Delaney
(Purely by coincidence, we happen to be discussing this in the Literary Darkness group.)
CALL IT SLEEP by Henry Roth
AS I LAY DYING by William Faulkner
THE GOLEM by Gustav Meyrink
BY NIGHTFALL by Michael Cunningham
MOBY DICK by Herman Melville
TO THE LIGHTHOUSE by Virginia Woolf
NADJA by Andre Breton
AGAINST NATURE by J. K. Huysmans
NAKED LUNCH by William Burroughs
NOSTROMO by Joseph Conrad
TROPIC OF CANCER by Henry Miller
ON THE ROAD by Jack Keroac

(Capote's famous disdain notwithstanding.)
TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT by Ernest Hemingway
ULYSSES by James Joyce
THE GOOD SOLDIER by Ford Maddox Ford
THE GOLDEN BOWL by Henry James
THE MARBLE FAWN by Nathaniel Hawthorn
AT SWIM – TWO-BIRDS by Flan O’Brien
AT SWIM, TWO BOYS by Jamie O’Neill
PALE FIRE by Vladimir Nabokov
THE GOLDFINCH by Donna Tartt
A HANDFUL OF DUST by Evelyn Waugh
THW RAZOR’S EDGE by W. Somerset Maugham
NIGHTWOOD by Djuna Barnes
SONS AND LOVERS by D.H. Lawrence
DELTA WEDDING by Eudora Welty
THE DOLLMAKER by Harriet Arnow

[Okay, I know people will scratch their heads over that one, but if one test of a great book is that it had a profound effect on the reader at an impressionable age, then this absolutely qualifies. So do THE CATCHER IN THE RYE and THE GRAPES OF WRATH.]
COUSIN BETTE by Honore de Balzac
EXTINCTION by Thomas Bernhard
DEATH SENTENCE by Maurice Blanchot
THE BOOK OF DISQUIET by Fernando Pessoa
THE CASTLE by Franz Kafka

(If only for the exhausting passion.)
DELIVERANCE by James Dickey
THE MAGUS by John Fowles
CLOSER by Dennis Cooper
GOING NATIVE by Stephen Wright
BLOOD MERIDIAN by Cormac Mccarthy
THE DWARF by Par Lagerkvist
THE OGRE by Michel Tournier

These titles frequently come up in discussion. The whole point of the Literary Darkness group I moderate here on Goodreads is – at least to my mind – that literary standards of excellence should also apply to genre writing. Some of the smartest people in the world will swear that the most goddawful writers are geniuses, simply because they enjoyed them as children. My advice is this: don’t be swayed by remembered pleasure. All too often enjoyment = entertainment = narcotic reading. Great literature, like great sex, requires some effort. If you’re going to just lie there…

I think perhaps I’d better abandon this metaphor as well. Here’s some other titles (more genre specific).

1984 by George Orwell
BLOODCHILD by Octavia E. Butler
NARROW ROOMS by James Purdy
THE DEMON by Hubert Selby, Jr.
ON WINGS OF SONG by Thomas M. Disch
DEEP NIGHT by Greg F. Gifune
THE MALTESE FALCON by Dashiell Hammett
THE WOOD WIFE by Terri Windling
MYTHAGO WOOD by Robert Holdstock
HOUSE OF LEAVES by Mark Z. Danielewski

Oh, did I mention it was all different genres? Sorry.

Jeez, I’m all out of breath here. The problem with a list like this is… knowing where to stop. Do I not mention Lawrence Durrell? And it seems weird not to include F. Scott Fitzgerald. Or at least Zelda. Or possibly Penelope. (Not related, but still.) How about Iris Murdock or Muriel Spark? Paul Bowles and Don DeLillo? Paul Theroux or Robert Creeley? Malcolm Lowry, Saul Bellow, John O’Hara, John Dos Passos, John Cheever? What about Pynchon? Irving and Updike? Heller? McMurtry? Flannery O’Connor or Toni Morrison? What about Marge Piercy? Langston Hughes? Doesn’t it all nourish the inner writer?

Okay, let me just keep going until smoke starts coming out of my ears. One last push. Top of my head. Bottom of my soul.

HOPSCOTCH by Julio Cortazar
THE AGE OF WONDERS by Aharon Appelfeld
DARKNESS AT NOON by Arthur Keostler
THE WAY OF ALL FLESH by Samuel Butler
THE MOVIEGOER by Walker Percy
ANGLE OF REPOSE by Wallace Stegner
MILK by Darcey Steinke
A BEND IN THE RIVER by V. A. Naipaul
THE RECOGNITIONS by William Gaddis
ASK THE DUST by John Fante

Okay, that’s it for now.

No, wait.

[Because I figure if you’ve read something more than twenty times, it belongs somewhere on your list.]
LUCKY JIM by Kingsley Amis
[See above.]
[Again, and in spades.]

Okay. At least that’s a start.

Additions, anyone?
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Published on May 27, 2016 10:07 • 651 views • Tags: excellence, horror, novels, standards

April 1, 2016

On February 22, a gentleman named Sebastian Mueller-Soppart posted this on his Facebook page:

“The rise of this blusterous man bewilders the educated among us, conjoins opposing politicians, agonizes our international allies, threatens minorities, spits on the disabled, and touches the hearts of those who just don't know any better.”
~ Liselotte Hubner, Berlin, 1929

Topical, eh?

The quote was (and is) fairly devastating. Superimposed on a photo of Donald Trump, it went viral faster than a cat video. This prompted many people to denounce it as fake on the grounds that Liselotte Hubner does not appear to have been a historical personage. Of course, Mr. Mueller-Soppart never claimed she was anything of the sort, explaining instead that the lady in question was his grandmother … who survived two years in a concentration camp.

The post struck a lot of folks as pertinent. But, perhaps predictably, many people have also demanded to know what any of this has to do with Donald Trump. Apparently, they just don’t see a connection. (The rest of us should probably resist the impulse to roll our eyes.) Can we take courage in the fact that some people see it perfectly well?

“Like any number of us raised in the late 20th Century, I’ve spent my life perplexed about exactly how Hitler could have come to power in Germany. Watching Donald Trump’s rise, I now understand.”
~ Professor Danielle Allen, Harvard University, 2016

Dr. Allen is a political theorist at Harvard. Read the rest of her comments here:
“Trump is rising by taking advantage of a divided country. The truth is that the vast majority of voting Americans think that Trump is unacceptable as a presidential candidate, but we are split by strong partisan ideologies and cannot coordinate a solution to stop him.”

God help us all.
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Published on April 01, 2016 13:38 • 3,612 views • Tags: fascism

January 23, 2016

I am a book of snow,
a spacious hand, an open meadow,
a circle that waits,
I belong to the earth and its winter.

~ Pablo Neruda, Winter Garden

Plenty of firewood, but we’re almost out of kindling. I’m so not going out to gather any: the temperature is single digit. (We’re talking Fahrenheit here.) And that wind could take your flesh off. (I wonder if the husband will notice if a chair suddenly goes missing.) It’s the kind of day that makes you conscious of the sheer luxury of being indoors.

A couple of deer are huddled just outside. They see me in the window… and don’t care. (Did you know deer like ginger snaps?) I may need another cup of tea. Perhaps a blanket. And a stack of books.

Above all things a stack of books.

“His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and dead.”
~ James Joyce, The Dead

“It snowed all week. Wheels and footsteps moved soundlessly on the street, as if the business of living continued secretly behind a pale but impenetrable curtain. In the falling quiet there was no sky or earth, only snow lifting in the wind, frosting the window glass, chilling the rooms, deadening and hushing the city. At all hours it was necessary to keep a lamp lighted…”
~ Truman Capote, Miriam

Is it ever going to stop? The yard already resembles some alien landscape…

“And the mist of snow, as he had foreseen, was still on it – a ghost of snow falling in the bright sunlight, softly and steadily floating and turning and pausing, soundlessly meeting the snow that covered, as with a transparent mirage, the bare bright cobbles. He loved it – he stood still and loved it. Its beauty was paralyzing – beyond all words, all experience, all dream. No fairy-story he had ever read could be compared with it – none had ever given him this extraordinary combination of ethereal loveliness with a something else, unnameable, which was just faintly and deliciously terrifying.”
~ Conrad Aiken, Silent Snow, Secret Snow
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Published on January 23, 2016 11:27 • 465 views • Tags: snow, winter-reading

October 13, 2015

“There is a harmony in autumn, and a luster in its sky…”
~ Percy Bysshe Shelley

I’m a little overworked this season (poisoning candy and putting razorblades in apples, it never ends), so I thought a medley of excerpts from previous Halloween blogs might be fun. Enjoy.

First up, it’s …

MONSTER LOVE, which appeared for the first time at the wonderful Layers of Thought site.

“Never forget that personal demons may have as much to do with secret desires as with secret fears. All those things we’re not supposed to want…”

What monster suggested your secret self? Choices like this can prove so revealing. As kids, we all invested countless hours in watching old horror movies. It’s only natural we felt more affinity with some creatures than others, only natural that they flapped and crawled and howled through our dreams. Half the little boys I knew wanted to be Dracula when they grew up, mostly so they could bite girls, but quite a few seemed instead to go through a Frankenstein stage in their teens, lumbering about and appalling everyone. A Wolfman phase could be even more problematical. (“I don’t remember a thing about last night.” Oh please.) I can’t imagine what little girls fixated on. Surely no one truly yearned to be The Astounding She-Creature or Bride of the Gorilla. And it wasn’t just movies. I could never warm to any of those irksomely wholesome novels grownups were forever trying to foist on me. Remember those books? The ones they approved of? They always seemed to involve a courageous pony or some plucky drummer boy who saves the platoon. Even back then, I could barely conceal my contempt.

I knew what I wanted. Where were my monsters? Where was the gloomth? I missed the considerations of mortality and suffering, loneliness and decay. So I might not have been the most cheerful of children – I doubt I was the only one around who preferred moonlight to sunshine. Maybe we’re a different breed of people, the monster lovers. Perhaps we’re somehow innately perverse. Maybe we’re just braver.

Read the rest of the blog here:

“Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it…”
~ George Eliot

Then let’s head over to The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror:

“True art seldom celebrates conformity. Literature should transgress, not reassure…”

For me, the monster is always the lonely one, unloved and unwanted, the outcast. And even as a child I knew where my sympathies lay.


Dracula wasn’t a monster so much as a villain out of Victorian melodrama – foreign and sinister – a stale template even then. Of course, the hero would rescue the damsel. Was there ever any doubt? Ah, but with the Frankenstein monster … nothing could be certain. Adam was soulful. He was abject. He remains the classic outsider, the suffering archetype at the heart of so many truly great novels. What could be more terrifying than all that pain? Even now the monster is among the most supremely tragic – and most intensely human – of literary characters. All he wants is to belong. And he never can. No one will ever acknowledge his humanity. He suffers because he’s different.

Find the full blog here:

“Fantasy, abandoned by reason, produces impossible monsters; united with it, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of marvels.”
~ Francisco de Goya

Next up: ESSENTIAL OCTOBER READS at The October Country site:

“Halloween is the climax of an eldritch season…”

More than any other book I can think of “Something Wicked This Way Comes” captures that atmosphere, the sheer essence of autumn. Recently, I had the opportunity to revisit Ray Bradbury’s masterwork with the Literary Darkness group I moderate on Goodreads … and found the experience strangely moving. So many years had passed since I’d read it. I was so young. Imagine finding an old photo of the first boy you fell in love with. There he is – forever wild and beautiful, despite the passage of years. You might not remember the passion or the tenderness. You may have long since forgotten all the negative aspects – the jealousy, the fights, his mother – but this sudden glimpse becomes a knife in your heart.

Pain can be a good thing. It means you haven’t turned to stone.

Over the years, so many writers I admire have told me that Bradbury’s classic was the book that taught them to love the darkness. Yes. Exactly. It meant a lot to me to encounter his intoxicating language again and to remember how it set my imagination on fire as a kid. Still, there was a not-so-wonderful facet this time around. Admittedly, the Literary Darkness group has close to 3000 members. Nevertheless, I was shocked by the number of people who complained about Bradbury’s prose style being “difficult.” (This? Difficult? I have to wonder what such folks would make of Joyce’s Ulysses or Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, you know, something actually challenging.) But I mustn’t dwell on that. So many members of the group reveled in the text. Many of these readers were quite young, discovering Bradbury for the first time, and I felt privileged to be the one guiding them through it.

There are only so many first times in life.

Every so often, things get to you. The "talents" who glut the genre (and the naked politicking that has so come to define it) can leave you wondering why you ever got involved in the first place. Then something like this reminds you.

Way back, there was love.

See the complete blog:

“Autumn wins you best by this its mute appeal to sympathy for its decay.”
~ Robert Browning

Check out SEASON OF THE WITCH at Where the Dead Fear to Tread:

Wise up. It’s not about the candy corn. Halloween is as political as a brick through the windshield of a cop car.

We have always been at war. First the Romans marched, then authoritarian religious armies – pious and intolerant – slaughtered and burned in their footsteps. What else could you call it but war? Adherents may have been tortured and maimed. Priestesses may have been put to the sword and temples sacked, but the old beliefs won’t stay buried. Even now, they lurk just beneath the sanitized surface, ready to claw their way up. Once a year, the prevailing culture acknowledges this fact … without ever admitting what it is that’s being acknowledged.

Neat trick. Never mind. The wild grace does not fade. Jack-o-lanterns still burn as brightly as any heretic. Hags cackle, and skeletons cavort. But don’t be afraid. It’s all in fun.

Isn’t it? Listen for the cries of “Satanism!” According to so many sectors of the culture, this day represents a challenge, even an outrage. In many circles, Halloween is still referred to as “the gay holiday,” and this alone offers effrontery to the status quo. Dissidents have perished on the rack for less. Much less.

This is not just war. It’s history. And which side writes the history books?

The name Halloween is a corruption of All Hallows Eve, one of many calendar events grafted onto pagan celebrations, in this case Samhain. (Doesn’t it always come down to power? Appropriating the old gods and turning them into saints and angels, even erecting shrines to them, has proved to be an excellent means of exerting control.) Wiccans still consider Samhain – the day when the spirit world and the mortal world make contact – the highest of holy days. As celebrated in queer society, Halloween becomes a transgressive festival: flagrantly unorthodox, a night of revels for the most marginally accepted (and often brutally oppressed) citizens. All Hallows Eve leads into All Saints Day – a cattle call of mythological personae, traditionally including figures like Saint Demetra and Saint Mercurius, supposed martyrs adapted from the Roman gods Demeter and Mercury, themselves based on the Greek gods Ceres and Hermes. This list includes Saint George (and his dragon), Saint Christopher (a giant), and Saint Valentine (Cupid/Eros) as well as celestial hosts of fabled others, so many in fact that early Protestant reformers could attack All Hallows Eve for being both Pagan and Papist. Another neat trick.

Then as now, propaganda and superstition remain potent weapons. Witches rarely burned alone, and never because they possessed magical powers. (The very word “faggot” refers to kindling.) However meager their possessions, every heretic rendered to ash owned something to be commandeered by church and state. If one sought true cause for outrage, one need look no further.

And the war never ends. Bats flap. Phantoms moan. No, it’s not about the candy corn. Everything is politics. It’s all about power. This Halloween take a stand; do something revolutionary. Here, have a brick. Just be sure to wear a mask.

Visit the site here:

“Heroes need monsters to establish their heroic credentials. You need something scary to overcome.”
~ Margaret Atwood

Lastly, it’s an excerpt from an interview at Dark Media:

“To this day, readers are passionate about THE PINES … and more than a few are still incredibly provoked by it.”

You have been very critical of the current trends in the horror genre. Can you elaborate on your perspective of the market right now?

Critical? Oh dear. Have I? People are always advising me to be more positive in interviews, but that’s not always easy. Or possible. Do you know the Edgar Allan Poe story where the lunatics turn out to be running the asylum? No, I’m not critical of the genre. I love the genre. What I decry is the veneration of mediocrity that’s been like a stake through its heart.

It was a huge struggle to get MARTYRS & MONSTERS out, yet it was critically acclaimed. Why is there this barrier between the industry and the readers that keeps great books from reaching the shelves?

It really was a struggle. How do you even know about this? The original publisher scheduled and canceled its release five separate times that I’m aware of, finally preferring to forfeit the advance rather than to bring the book out. (Personally, I believe they bought the manuscript based on the impact my other books had made, without realizing the extent of the queer content. When they finally read it, they freaked.) Not good. And talk about bad press. Continuing concerns about who owned what rights very nearly suppressed MARTYRS & MONSTERS entirely, and few of the other genre houses would even look at it, despite my track record. What a nightmare! I ended up working with the tiniest of micro-presses. The book should have sunk out of sight without a ripple: I was prepared for it. But then the strangest thing happened. The reviews, all those incredible raves, they saved it. Critic after critic called it “a masterpiece” or a work of “genius.” What writer doesn’t want to hear this?

WILLY is a haunting evolution from childhood to adulthood and both the child-voice and the adult-voice are equally powerful. Elaborate on this process. How did you capture the authenticity from child to man?

This book is all about the voices, and I’m not sure how to describe the process of channeling them except to say that it was hard work. Real writing always demands so much. You have to be willing to confront things deep within yourself, things any normal person would have sense enough to avoid. I mean, we all put up barriers. We need to. But a writer has to strip away anything manipulative or evasive, anything false. Have you ever encountered a person who doesn’t understand what a novel is … or who can’t grasp the concept of fiction? You’ll get comments along the lines of “so you just make stuff up?” (If you slap these people, you’ll get into trouble. Trust me on this.) They’ll never comprehend that, no, making stuff up would be lying, not writing, whereas literature must be true on a higher level. Always. Each detail. Regardless of the plot. Every word. Every emotion. Absolutely honest. I swear this book almost killed me.

You do not shy away from erotic elements and gay themes in your work. How do you use these elements to shape your stories?

We’re back to honesty here. Any artist needs passion as well as discipline. This is too hard a life otherwise. What else would carry you through? I’m speaking of the characters’ passions now, not just my own, because I tend to write about people in extreme situations. They have desperate needs, desperate longings. The erotic, the emotional – that’s all part of it. A vital part. In my work anyway.

How has your work evolved over the years? How have the changes in the horror genre shaped your writing? Do you even classify yourself a horror writer?

Good question. No, I don’t consider myself a horror writer any more than I consider myself a gay writer. I’m a writer. Period. You’d be amazed by the kind of outrage this remark has been known to incite. (At my lectures, audiences have been known to turn into lynch mobs, though that might just be a natural response to my personality.) Do you understand what I mean? My beliefs, my desires, my artistic and personal goals, these all shape the kind of writer I am, naturally, just as they shape the kind of man I am, the kind of human being. If my work has evolved over the years – and I like to think it has – it’s because I’ve become more fiercely myself, less invested in pleasing others. I’ve worked hard at this. Curiously enough, as my writing has become more personal, my readership has grown. Go figure.

The interview can be found in its entirety here:

“Where there is a monster, there is a miracle.”
~ Ogden Nash

Thanks for checking these out. Trick or treat, everyone. Have a great holiday.

“What would an ocean be without a monster lurking in the dark? It would be like sleep without dreams.”
~ Werner Herzog
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Published on October 13, 2015 06:19 • 719 views • Tags: autumn, halloween, horror, monsters, writing