December 31, 2010

Review: Johannes Cabal the Necromancer

Johannes Cabal the Necromancer - Jonathan L. Howard - I started 2010 with a trip to Lisbon, Portugal and since it rains cats and dogs in Portugal in March, we ended up in Fnac. Needlessly to say, we left 100 euros lighter and several bags of books richer. One of those books was Johannes Cabal the Necromancer.

I'd picked it out solely on the strength of the title and the cover. The next morning my girlfriend went for a haircut at her local barbershop and since it was raining again, I crawled up in a chair in the corner and read the book almost from start to finish. 

If you like strange fiction, this is your book. For lovers of dark fantasy with enough humour to keep you snickering like a little schoolgirl, this is your book. It deals with Johannes Cabal, by all accounts a very gifted necromancer with all the implications thereof.

What is it about?

The book opens with Cabal going down the pits of Hell to claim his soul back from Satan. This scene alone sends you into fits of laughter, but it gets better. The Lord of Darkness doesn't hand Cabal's soul over without a fight, of course, and coaxes the necromancer into starting a carnival of souls, so to speak. Cabal has to earn Satan 100 souls within a year in order to win back his soul. Cabal, naturally peeved, returns to Earth and immediately employs two hoodlums (whom he kills and turns to zombies) to help him on his quest. Along comes also Cabal's brother whom he turned into a vampire many years ago and subsequently banished to life in a mausoleum.

Funny enough, it's this vampire brother Horst who later becomes a sounding board for morality as the story spins down a darker path. For the ride of the carnival train throughout the year starts out fun and happy, snatching souls from each and every place in various comical interludes, but turns dark and horrific in the later chapters as the end of the year approaches and Cabal threatens to lose his bet. It's final outcome I will leave for the readers.

So, is it any good?

Howard combines the horrific with the comical in a satirical tapestry which we recognize from, for example, Terry Pratchett. The hapless helpers, the running gags (the two zombies fall apart more and more as the journey goes on) and the dialogue are all tuned to start you snickering from within until you roar out with laughter. The writing never gets dull. The pace is excellent, switching between the funny carnival scenes and the horrific bits. The ways in which the various demons and devils win the souls of the unsuspecting carnival-goers is both clever and well-written.

The only part where the book wavers just a little is when Cabal is almost loosing his bet and the support of his circus freaks as well as that of his brother. His final showdown with Lucifer feels somehow strained and far-fetched. But this is followed and exceeded by an excellent twist in the plot in the final chapter when we find out exactly why Cabal is so hell-bent on gaining his soul back and even why he became a necromancer in the first place.

We are led to believe we'll be seeing more of Cabal and, as I have noticed around the internet, we have! So I'm guessing I'll be heading back to Fnac again next year!

Johannes Cabal Website

Other Reviews - Floating Robes' Read and Reading!

December 28, 2010

Ten Most Inspirational Horror Songs

While running this morning (in the snow and cold), I took great comfort in the music from my MP3-player while the snow cracked under my sneakers and I avoided another icy patch. Around the 7 km mark I got inspired to build this list. Some songs just cry out 'horror' and I use them frequently to draw from while writing. But even without writing the lyrics, the use of musical instruments, the chords or the changing of the 'tembre', just sets off a stream of horrific images in your mind. The feeling we're going for here is weird and, as the Germans say, 'Unheimlich'; a sense of dread.

1) Murder in the Red Barn - Tom Waits - Or pretty much the entire album of Bone Machine (1993). Songs like 'In the Colloseum' and 'November' with its lyrics and singing saw are simply haunting. But the lyrics in 'Murder in the Red Barn' conjure up an abandoned farmhouse, a shed with a bloody axe and inadvertently a whole village of weird strangers. Especially the line 'There is always some killing you got to do around the farm' is wonderful and does it every time. My short story collection 'Beneath Dark Waters' was basically written with this song in mind.

2) Mama - My Chemical Romance - Once called punk-rock, nowadays better known as 'emo', the entire 'Black Parade' album (2007) has some wonderfully horrific songs, the likes of which we're used to from Alice Cooper or Ozzy. But 'Mama' is the best. It has a rich tapestry of musical changes, ranging from a musical box, an accordeon and heavy guitar licks. The demented lyrics of an ex-soldier remind us of Metallica's 'One'.

3) Nothing's Free - Alice Cooper - Once again taken from an excellent album 'The Last Temptation' (1994) which tells the story of a young boy Steven tempted by an illustrious showman who tries to bend moral truth and dogmas in the hope of gaining the boys young soul. The album was originally published together with a graphic novel by Neil Gaiman. Watch out for the excellent line 'The saints all raise from the graves in the ground'. Only because of that this deserves a spot here.

4) Fear of the Dark - Iron Maiden - From the first time hearing this, it became an instant horror classic. Although the music might a bit dated (1980's!), the lyrics to fear for of the dark or the one that really keeps this one alive. I have yet to hear a better description of fear than written by Bruce Dickinson. The delicacy is in the simplicity and the mundane, very recognizable situations like 'You find it odd and look again, because you're sure that's someone's there'.

5) In the Broad Daylight - Gabriel Rios - From the scary singing kids (also, check out the kids dressed in skeleton suits in the clip), to the weird 'Jupp-jupp'-sample in the beginning and the piercing piano playing, this is probably one of the most beautifully unsettling song of recent years. The lyrics are confusing and the clip is filmed so close that it brings with it a sense of claustrophobia. The fact that the song is called 'In the broad daylight' somehow doesn't do anything to lift the sense of dread in this one. Look it up and enjoy.

6) Clint Eastwood - Gorillaz - The clips of this animated band are always a bit horrific (the dancing zombie gorilla, hands thrusting out of graves, long shadows), but with the manic voice of Damon Albarn and the rap of Del the Funky Homosapien complement each other perfectly in this description of a sort of Hyde-like alter ego that comes out when 'you're too crazy'. The wonderfully whispered 'no squealing, remember that it's all in your head' is the dot on the i. From the 2001 album Gorillaz.

7) Put your Lights On - Everlast ft. Carlos Santana - Besides being a beautifully executed song in Everlast's usual beaten but hopeful style, conjures up some darker images as well. Not in the last place, because of the 'there's monster hiding under my bed' and 'there's angel whispering in my ear, saying I got nothing to fear', but also because of Santana's wonderful smoldering guitar. Great tune to run to, as well.

8) Misery - Green Day - A whole village of weirdos and criminals (called Misery) that all end up dead or arrested in various states and cities around the USA. Green Day proves with this one that they can be more creative than just kick-ass punk-rock songs. It reads like the synopsis of a crime or horror novel. Especially the Amsterdam drug dealer that ends up 'bludgeoned with a baseball bat' is a show-stopper. The accordeon is a nice addition to the rest of the musical ensemble (horns, a banjo) and the scream in the background is something you only hear after listening to it more than once. From the 1998 album 'Warning'.

9) Aqualung - Jethro Tull - 'Sitting on the park bench, eye-ing little girls with bad intent'. Jethro Tull has really created a classic horror figure with the tramp Aqualung (named after his horrible cough) that hasn't diminished with age (the Aqualung album was released in 1973). Although the rest of the album has more to do with the eternal question of the nature of God, the song that bears the albums name is the one that sparks into life a whole host of horrific moments like when 'Do you still remember December's foggy freeze, when the ice that clings onto your beard was screaming agony?' and 'the flowers bloom like madness in the spring.' Listen to it while reading some H.P. Lovecraft. You'll understand.

10) Freaks - Live - One band that has a surprising number of horror-related songs for a alternative rock band, is Live. Before Secret Samadhi (1997) came out that seemed to be build around warm darkness, there was 'The Dam at Otter's Creek'. But 'Freaks' combines the darkest moments from Henry Miller's books with a good dose of Hollywood horror ('you little f*cker'). And the clip that heralds back the milk from 'A Clockwork Orange' was the cream on the cake. And we find out how evil Ed Kowalcyk could really look.

5 Other songs that didn't quite make it, but made a good effort.
1) Enter Sandman - Metallica
2) The Black Rider - Tom Waits
3) Elected - Alice Cooper
4) Voodoo Lady - Live
5) Fugazi - Marillion

Hope it got you in the mood. Some of these songs are so well-known they are almost public property already, other are more obscure (or just old), but I'm sure you can find them when you go looking for them.


December 20, 2010

Five random writing contests!

Searching around the web, I found these five random writing contests.

1) Oblongata Contest #8

Styles: Poetry, flash fiction, fiction.
Award: Publication in the Medulla Review and a link from the homepage for one year.
Entry fee: 10 GPB.
Deadline: 23 December 2010
Impression: Artsy, submit your most depressing tale!

2) Lucid Hills Spring 2011 Story Contest

Styles: Flash fiction, fiction, essays, memoirs, photo essays, graphic stories, non-fiction, novel excerpts.
Award: 500 USD, 200 USD, 100 USD, 25 USD.
Entry fee: 15 USD.
Deadline: 31 December 2010
Impression: Fresh and Funny.

3) A Very Short Story Competition

Styles: Fiction (max. 1000 words)
Award: 50 GBP.
Entry fee: 4 GBP.
Deadline: 31 December 2010 (and every month after)
Impression: Light-footed (check out the Bunny Blog).

4) Meridian Writing Winter Short Story Competition

Styles: Open Theme and Every Genre.
Award: 100 GBP, 50 GBP, 25 GBP plus vouchers.
Entry fee: 5 GBP.
Deadline: 31 December 2010
Impression: Serious and business-like (?)

5) Third Coast Fiction and Poetry Contest

Styles: Multiple genres (winner for each genre)
Award: 1000 USD and publication.
Entry fee: 15 USD.
Deadline: 15 January 2011
Impression: For literary and serious work

Good Luck!

December 17, 2010

I'm back! And with a new free story!

Original Artwork by Bhim Boyer -
This is actually work for an
upcoming story, but it works
well with this one.
After spending a week in writing limbo, caught between the first draft and the second one, I'm back to blogging! And, as promised, I present to you a whole new story!

I'm particularly proud of this one! I thought it up on a sleepless night in Fort William, Scotland. I scribbled it down in maybe 20 minutes flat before falling asleep, but it was my second publication in Holland SF. Maybe one day it'll end up in an anthology somewhere, but for now it's pretty good on its own.

Short story - On a cold and dark night I watched from the shadows as the monster descended upon yet another innocent victim...

Open publication - Free publishing - More beneath

Below you'll find some more links to my free stories:

Simple Things - A man finds out his neighborhood children are not as innocent as he thinks.
Small Evils - A group of youngsters is heavily tested when their true natures come out.

December 8, 2010

No Blogging This Week - Writing the Big Book!

Sadly enough, there will be no blogging this week. I am working on my new dark fantasy book and there's a deadline to catch. I have to have three chapters finished and revised by the end of this month.

Therefore, no time to blog, need to write! Let's pray to the Gods of Words that it will all go well and I'll be able to return after this week. Hopefully with three chapters finished and just maybe... I'll have a short story finished as well to give out for free!

In the meantime, if you need a quick fix, try my short stories! Or try someone else's. Below you will find some links to other starting writers/artists and their work:

Harris Tobias
B.B. Baker
Gibson Gray


December 3, 2010

Simple Things

A short story I wrote when first starting Beneath Dark Waters. It didn't make the cut-list unfortunately. But it's your gain, for now I can present it for free - On a nice Sunday morning, quietly reading his book, the man was disturbed by the sound of playing children outside. Soon, though, there play turns into something more serious, more bloody...

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