Confessions of my Past, Present and Future
From the age of twelve, I would slip away and disappear with a book in my hand into the various cubbyholes around our home. Our home was small, crowded and loud. I would hide under a bed, in the bathroom, anywhere where I could find some privacy to read. I remember one instance when my father found me reading underneath the house with a flashlight in my hand. I was nestled in the dirt between the foundation walls reading whatever horror book I had managed to borrow or steal at the time. Books were my refuge, an escape from poverty and the bullying at school. That twelve year old boy, who had shared space with spiders, copper piping, and even a dead cat once, is now entering his seventh decade of life, and while his accommodations have greatly improved, his love of reading has remained constant.
My point in all of this is that I’ve gone to great lengths to read an awful lot of books so you might think that it would be difficult to choose one book from my past that would have a life-long effect on me. However, when Nev asked the question the answer came to me immediately: Ash Wednesday by Chet Williamson.
Over the years, the Mount Rushmore of horror authors has made, and continues to make a huge impression on me. The thing was, none of them prepared me for the type of horror fiction Chet Williamson released to the world in 1987.
Ash Wednesday was not the in-your- face horror I was used to. It was not overtly visceral; it didn’t make me nauseous or have me jumping at phantoms in the dark. Instead, Ash Wednesday confronted one of my life’s biggest conundrums subtly, and with dread. Ash Wednesday broached the question: what do you feel at the moment of death?
Williamson never answers the question. Instead, he simply presented us with a snapshot of the moment, which turned out to be so terrifying I decided I didn’t really want the answer any more.
In Ash Wednesday the dead reappear all at once in the town of Merridale. The dead are not reanimated, drooling, mindless, shuffling vessels looking for brains. No, the dead come back in Merridale frozen in place, enveloped in a blue haze, and in the exact location and position they took their last breath.
Imagine being in the hospital and suddenly there are blueish, three dimensional ghosts sharing your bed. How about if you’re walking down the street and out of nowhere you see multiple blue visages of those who had perished in car accidents, their bodies mangled and agony etched on their faces? What if you walked into your home and discovered the blue shade of your dead child, frozen in place? Think about how you’d feel viewing your spouse in the act of doing something you thought unthinkable in the moment of her death. And finally, what if you were hiding something…and now your secret is laid bare for all to see.
Ash Wednesday stayed with me for decades (one scene in particular would pop into my head at the oddest times, filling me with anxiety and concupiscence). I had lost the book after several moves and tried like hell to find a replacement copy with no luck. With the advent of the internet, I was finally able to purchase another copy and reread it. Twenty years had passed since my first reading of Ash Wednesday, and I can honestly say its impact on me had not diminished. If anything, I appreciated its melancholy tone and ethereal plot even more.
Having spent a good portion of my life reading horror novels, you might think that I’ve read it all and that there would be little new that would make an impression on me. For the most part that’s true; tropes and story lines are so recycled that experienced readers tend to find more enjoyment in the quality of the writing than the plotting. Imagine my surprise when a novel called Factory Town by Jon Bassoff came up for me to review, and it was nothing like I had ever read before.
I’d read an earlier novel by Bassoff called Corrosion, and I found it enjoyably odd enough with its mixture of horror elements and noir styling to look forward to Factory Town. I was not prepared for what lay ahead of me.
Factory Town, like its predecessor, does not use quotation marks in the text. While this can be confusing, even off-putting at first, the reader eventually gets used to it and realizes that it is an effective way to keep the reader anxious. The plotting is confusing as all get out, scenes change rapidly (often making little sense), the timeline is not stable, and characters come and go at random. If I had to use one word to describe the novel, hallucinatory would be an apt choice.
In Factory Town, we find Russell Carver desperately searching for a mysterious young girl in a decaying city called, Factory Town. All Carver has is a computer print out with the girls likeness, and he’s not sure why he is even searching for her. Carver runs into a cast of characters that are as peculiar as in any story you have ever read, and while most of them are no help at all, the ones that do help appear to have their own motives for doing so. Carver soon discovers that all roads lead to a man called, The Cowboy, who runs Factory Town, and The Cowboy’s mission in life is to kill every child.
Factory Town reads so fresh that it simply blew me away. The story, with its time changing elements and surreal plotting isn’t an easy read, but it is an engaging one. With patience, the reader will be able to piece all of the plot puzzles together, and while we may have figured out the ending to the tale before it is revealed, the journey was certainly worth the trip. I realize that Factory Town won’t be to everyone’s liking, but if you are a horror reader who enjoys thought provoking and adventurous plotting, I think you, too, are going to love it.
Nev asked that we comment on what we might be writing in 2045. That’s 30 years from now, and at my age, I’d be quite happy to still be breathing, never mind writing when I’m in my 90’s. Being an optimist, I’m going to assume that I will still be alive, and hopefully kicking in 2045.
I’m positive this won’t be all that original an answer, but I’m betting I’ll be writing erotica. The heavy-duty stuff, with hardcore sex scenes. It will all be autobiographical because by then we should have robot assistants to help us old guys out of our wheelchairs and point us in the right direction (nothing worse than seeing an old man humping the couch). I’m really counting on science to come to the aid of its senior citizens by 2045, let’s hope they have their priorities straight by then.
If for some strange reason this doesn’t come to pass, I think I can safely say I’ll continue to write horror and noir influenced stories. Though we do grow as writers and fate does throw unexpected curves our way, I imagine it would be tough to discard a lifetimes worth of pleasure and knowledge. I can remember Tom Piccrilli stating with certainty that he was done writing horror, it’s a young man’s game he said. Yet, five years later he was back at it, and his stories were even better than before he quit.
I still get a kick out of reading horror tales from my hero’s like Pic, the great James A. Moore, Ray Garton, Gary Braunbeck, Chet Williamson and so many more. I now look forward to releases by the new generation of horror writers like Gary McMahon, Bracken MacLeod, Jon Bassoff, Sandy DeLuca and too many more to mention. It’s in my blood, and I don’t see a transfusion in my future.
Tony Tremblay writes horror and noir tales under the pen name T.T. Zuma. Tony is also one of the co-editors of Eulogies, a series of horror anthologies. He is also a reviewer of dark fiction for Horror World, and is co-host of a television show that promotes horror writers called, The Taco Society Presents. You can find T.T. Zuma’s latest work in the anthologies Wicked Tales, and Anthology: Year Three, and you can check out his editorial work in the latest HWP release, Eulogies III. Tremblay lives with his wife in New Hampshire, in the U.S.