Ten Weird Writers to Save Us in 2020

It’s that time again, and we’ve never needed saving like we have in 2020. Thankfully, these authors provided us with some exceptional work. It may not solve all the world’s problems, but we firmly believe that burdens grow a little lighter with the weight of a good weird book in hand.

The writers listed below were nominated by readers and voted on by a group of writers and editors intimately familiar with the landscape of new weird, dark, and bizarre fiction.

As always, this list is intended to celebrate these dedicated writers. In the world of books, celebration is empty if it doesn’t end in support from readers. If it takes one thing to keep small presses and independent authors alive, it’s you. All we ask is that you do what you love: read. Follow the links, pick up a book, and dive into the strange and unsettling worlds of the writers listed below. Each new reader is encouragement to these writers to keep writing. And that’s what we want more than anything. We want these weird and wonderful writers to keep writing.

A heartfelt thanks goes out to those who supported a writer with a nomination, vote, or word of kindness. Above all, we thank the writers listed below for their tireless work.

The order of appearance below is random and does not indicate any preference 

See our previous lists: 2018  2019  

The List

One trend we noted in this year’s nominations was a demand for V. Castro. Violet is a Mexican American writer (formerly a fellow Texan) fighting to increase representation of her culture in genre fiction from her new home base in London. She took the fiction world by storm in 2020, delighting readers with the release of the novels Hairspray and Switchblades, Sed de Sangre, in addition to an impressive batch of eight short stories. These include appearances in Worst Laid Plans, the first anthology out of Grindhouse Press, and Lockdown: Stories of Crime, Terror and Hope During a Pandemic from Polis Books.

As a great granddaughter of Mexican migrant workers, Violet often explores the theme of farm work and the role brown women play in society. All her main characters are Chicana or Latinx. In addition to Hairspray and Sed de Sangre, Violet’s releases include Maria the Wanted, 2018’s wild and unique vampire story. This winter Violet and Burial Day Books will release Latinx Screams, an anthology of horror and weird fiction from the Latinx community. Also forthcoming is Goddess of Filthto be released in March of 2021, and The Queen of the Cicadas  set to drop in June of 2021. Violet is the co-founder with Sonora Taylor of www.frightgirlsummer.com. This is a website dedicated to amplifying female voices in dark fiction. You find out more about her books at www.vvcastro.com

Twitter: @vlatinalondon 

Instagram: @vlatinalondon

Scott R Jones is another writer who managed to thrive in 2020, releasing two stunning books: Stonefish, an apocalyptic-cyber-cryptid-novel (yes, it’s as strange as it sounds) and his celebrated short fiction collection, Shout Kill Revel Repeat. You may know him as the editor of RESONATOR: New Lovecraftian Tales From Beyond, Cthulhusattva: Tales of the Black Gnosis, A Breath from the Sky: Unusual Stories of Possession and Chthonic: Weird Tales of Inner Earth, all from Martian Migraine Press. If you’re still unfamiliar with his fiction, we strongly encourage you to remedy that! Ramsey Campbell himself has called Jones “a genuine master of horror.

Scott is an editor and naturalized sorcerer living in Victoria, BC, Canada with his wife and two frighteningly intelligent spawn. His fiction and poetry have been published in Innsmouth Magazine, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Pseudopod, Lackington’sand others, as well as a few anthologies and podcasts. We also implore you to check out his “self-help book for the weird fiction crowd”, When The Stars Are Right: Towards An Authentic R’lyehian Spiritualitywhich continues to enlighten/upset/derange hardcore Lovecraftians. He has yet to issue a public apology. Jones was once kicked out of England for some very good reasons. You can visit his website at http://scottrjoneswriter.com.

Facebook: ScottRJones.writer

Twitter: @PimpMyShoggoth

Fiona Maeve Geist has been stirring up some serious admiration from readers for quite some time now. Her work has appeared in varied venues including CLASH Media, Vastarien, Ashes and Entropy, Lovecraftian Proceedings, Lamplight, and The New Flesh: A Literary Tribute to David Cronenberg. Geist remains one of those authors we are always excited to see on a TOC. Check out her work; it doesn’t take long to become enamored with her vicious, thoughtful brand of horror.

Geist resides in WXXT country with her cat. She has written fiction and nonfiction which has appeared in varied venues She is primarily known for being a relentless editor and occasional writer of pen and paper roleplaying games. Her role as developer and writer for the ENnie Award winning Mothership: Sci-Fi Horror RPG is particularly notable. In a previous life she was an academic. She is currently predominately working as a purchaser for Exalted Funeral and editing RPGs but will hopefully write fiction again soon.

Readers have been clamoring to induct Brendan Vidito into the “Ten Weird Writers” hall of fame since last year, and it’s telling that the demand hasn’t flagged a bit. Vidito is the author of the Wonderland Award-winning collection, Nightmares in Ecstasy (Clash Books, 2018), featuring thirteen harrowing tales of body horror that delightfully blur the line between eroticism and terror, desire and death. His work has appeared in several anthologies and magazines, including Dark Moon Digest, Splatterpunk Zine, Tragedy Queens: Stories Inspired by Lana Del Rey and Sylvia Plath, and Pluto in Furs.

Vidito is also known for co-editing the Splatterpunk Award-nominated anthology, The New Flesh: A Literary Tribute to David Cronenberg (Weirdpunk Books, 2019) with Sam Richard. He lives in Sudbury, Ontario, and is hard at work on his next project, The Inoculated, a novella coming out in 2021 from Clash Books. You can visit him at brendanvidito.com, or follow him on social media.

Zin E. Rocklyn is another author who amassed a surge of more-than-deserved nominations, and it’s easy to see why. Their story “Summer Skin” in the Bram Stoker-nominated anthology Sycorax’s Daughters received an honorable mention in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year, Volume Ten. We say this with sincere conviction: go read their work if you haven’t yet.

Zin is a contributor to the Bram Stoker-nominated and This is Horror Award-winning Nox Pareidolia from Nightscape Press, in addition to the anthologies Kaiju Rising II: Reign of MonstersBrigands: A Blackguards Anthology, and Forever Vacancy. Their work has also appeared in the Weird Luck Tales No. 7 zine. Zin contributed the nonfiction essay “My Genre Makes a Monster of Me” to Uncanny Magazine’s Hugo Award-winning Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction. Their short story “The Night Sun” and flash fiction “teatime” were published on Tor.com. Their debut novella will be published by Tor.com in Fall 2021. Zin is a 2017 VONA and 2018 Viable Paradise graduate as well as a 2021 Clarion West candidate.

Twitter: @intelligentwat

Gordon B. White’s 2020 collection, As Summer’s Mask Slips and Other Disruptions (from Trepidatio Publishing) has caused quite a stir this year. He’s been called “one of the major new voices of speculative fiction” by Gwendolyn Kiste, and we suspect more than a few of his contemporaries are inclined to agree. His story “Birds of Passage” appeared in Ellen Datlow’s The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Twelve. Recommendations don’t come much stronger than that.

Gordon’s lived in North Carolina, New York, and the Pacific Northwest.  A graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop, Gordon’s stories have appeared in dozens of venues, including the Bram Stoker Award winning anthology Borderlands 6.  He regularly contributes reviews and interviews to outlets including Nightmare, Lightspeed, and The Outer Dark podcast. You can find him online at www.gordonbwhite.com.

Twitter:  @GordonBWhite

Sara Tantlinger is the celebrated author of the Bram Stoker Award-winning The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes, and the Stoker-nominated novella To Be Devoured. The sheer volume of nominations made her inclusion in this list nearly inevitable. Readers unhesitatingly advocated her as a “vital voice in horror and weird fiction” (quoted from a nomination), a claim that we’re proud to second. We implore you to familiarize yourself with an author who is clearly destined to loom ever more prominently in the world of weird writers.

Her other works include Love For Slaughter, The Devil’s City written with Matt Corley, and Cradleland of Parasites. In addition, Tantlinger is known for editing the anthology Not All Monsters. Along with being a mentor for the HWA Mentorship Program, she is also a co-organizer for the HWA Pittsburgh Chapter. She embraces all things macabre and can be found lurking in graveyards or on social media and at www.saratantlinger.com.

Twitter: @SaraTantlinger

Instagram: @inkychaotics

There’s something particularly exciting about a writer who generates a dedicated readership from anthology appearances alone. Such is the case with LC von Hessen. Readers and editors alike implored us to celebrate von Hessen’s work in Nox PareidoliaNightscript 6Pickman’s GalleryOculus Sinister, and Machinations & Mesmerism: Tales Inspired by ETA Hoffmann, along with a few self-published releases including two chapbooks and four issues of sex-and-death zine Mass Culture. We’re more than happy to comply. They also have stories forthcoming in VastarienWould But Time Await: An Anthology of New England Folk Horror, and The Bleeding Rainbow: A Spectrum of Weird Fiction. Their literary influences are as diverse as old-school Gothic and weird fiction, ’80s and ’90s body horror, Decadent and Symbolist purple prose, and absurdist and “transgressive” literature.

Von Hessen grew up quite unhappily in the Midwestern suburbs. They later had the misfortune of graduating into a major recession with minimal prior job experience and a Bachelor of Fine Arts. In addition to writing fiction, von Hessen has also been an interdisciplinary artist, noise musician/performer (as Madame Deficit and a guest member of Smell & Quim), occasional actor (most notably playing a psych ward inmate dancing the Cha Cha Slide on Orange is the New Black), film critic, and Morbid Anatomy Museum docent. They share an apartment in Brooklyn full of books and curios with a talkative orange cat named Monty. All of their fiction currently in print is available here. They can also be found on various social media platforms.

Hailey Piper’s nominations were liberally peppered with descriptions like “amazing,” “fascinating,” and “terrifying”—you know, all the right stuff. She is the author of 2020’s Benny Rose, the Cannibal King from Unnerving Books, and 2018’s The Possession of Natalie Glasgow. We can’t help noting that Gwendolyn Kiste says to “keep an eye on Hailey’s work; she is seriously going places.” We absolutely will, and in that spirit, we urge you to join us in preordering her upcoming cosmic horror novella, The Worm and His Kings, which releases from Off Limits Press on November 15, 2020. We have to admit, we’re happily anticipating this one!

Hailey is a member of the Horror Writers Association, and her short fiction appears in Daily Science FictionFlash Fiction OnlineThe ArcanistYear’s Best Hardcore Horror, Volume 5, and elsewhere. She lives with her wife in Maryland, where they spend weekends raising the dead. Find her at www.haileypiper.com. Her first short story collection, Unfortunate Elements of My Anatomy, releases from The Seventh Terrace in spring 2021.

Twitter: @HaileyPiperSays

2020’s A Season of Loathsome Miracles is Max D. Stanton’s debut collection and it already has readers in a frenzy. You know as well as we do that this is a feat generally reserved for the greats of the genre. Speaking of the greats, Jon Padgett calls it “a marvel from every literary angle.” We can certainly affirm that it’s more than worthy of any horror fan’s attention.

Max is a librarian, academic, and Dungeons & Dragons nerd who lives in West Philadelphia with his wonderful girlfriend and their two savage, unruly hounds. Max embarked on writing after an encounter with the Devil. His work has appeared in publications including VastarienCorporate CthulhuWe Shall Be Monsters, and the The New Flesh: A Literary Tribute to David Cronenberg. He has a forthcoming story in Nightmares in Yellow: A Tribute to Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.

Facebook: /max.stanton.3576

Twitter: @max d stanton

Kindle Kult: Christopher Slatsky, Cody Goodfellow, Brian Hodge and more!

With the highly-anticipated release of The Immeasurable Corpse of Nature looming in the near horizon, now would be a great time to check out the book that put Christopher Slatsky on the map. Even better, Alectryomancer and Other Weird Tales  is only $2.99 on Kindle. What else could you possibly want?

In case you missed it, Cody Goodfellow dropped another collection of stories in 2019. The Man Who Escaped this Story & Other Stories is selling for $3.99 right now, a more than worthy price from one of the most beloved names in weird/bizarro fiction.

Sure, technically, this thing isn’t out yet, but Miscreations certainly looks like it could already be one of 2020’s highpoints in the world of anthologies. What’s more, you can preorder this February release for a neat $3.95 right now. If you consider yourself a devoted fan of weird fiction anthologies, this purchase is pretty much mandatory.

Anything by Brian Hodge for $2.99 is a no-brainer.  Falling Idols is certain to be no exception. “I’ve little doubt that Nietzsche, Sartre, the Marquis de Sade, and Albert Camus would all be fans of his work.” -Epinions 

As one Amazon reviewer said, “just look at that cover, why don’tcha?” Also, check out the list of authors! Featuring Gwendolyn Kiste, Matthew Bartlett, William Tea, and many more, this seems to be one of last year’s releases we all should’ve been paying way more attention to. You can snag Behold the Undead of Dracula  right now for $3.99. No excuses!

*All Kindle deals have nothing whatsoever to do with Silent Motorist Media. We are merely pointing them out to you, and we encourage you to verify the price before purchasing. None of these prices are guaranteed to last!

Kindle Kult is supported exclusively by your purchases via the links provided above. If you enjoy this series, please do yourself, the featured authors, and Kindle Kult a favor by snagging these awesome kindle deals!



Red Lights on a Lonely Road: An Interview with Stephen Graham Jones

I’ve recently heard Stephen Graham Jones’s writing voice described as an acquired taste. I hadn’t heard that term, “an acquired taste” since I was a kid—this is how black coffee was explained to me after my first ever bitter sip. Beer was the same (what parent doesn’t give their kid a swallow from the beer can just to get them to stop asking for some?). Acquired tastes. Later in life, I recalled the saying when I started a long stint of smoking cigarettes. I suppose wine is also an acquired taste, as is seltzer water. So when I heard SGJ described as an acquired taste it really hit home…all these memories of various tastes I became addicted to for long chunks of my life (still way into coffee and seltzer water, to be honest), and the fact that Stephen’s one of my very favorite authors—it all adds up. Hell yes SGJ’s an acquired taste, and one you should probably start sampling if you haven’t already.


Austin James: Ice breaker—congratulations, you’re a superhero! Your superpower is the ability to shapeshift into three different animals (as well as human). Which animals would you choose, and why?

Stephen Graham Jones: Some deep-sea thing, first. Something that can do way deep but also surface. So probably a whale of some sort. I want to see what’s down there, but I also want the rush of rising. Next . . . maybe an Irish Elk, because they were around a long time ago, and, looking through those eyes, I could see a Neanderthal or a Denisovan, maybe. That would be so exciting. Third, um, let’s see . . . well, an eagle or hawk or falcon, right? Who doesn’t want to fly, and eat the occasional rodent? Or, I want to be whatever bird can fly the highest. And I don’t want any birdwatchers looking at me either.

You’re widely recognized as the foremost zombie expert in academia and beyond. In fact, you even teach creative writing classes just about zombies. Based on your extensive knowledge, if you could take just two weapons into the zombie apocalypse, which two would you choose? Why those specific two?

I know Max Brooks warns against swords and katanas, so I’ll nix those. I guess, first, would just be a good camp knife. I mean, it’s a weapon when you’re in close and that’s all you can grab, but there’s going to be a lot of doors to pry open a lot of canned food to be cracking into. A good camp knife can really help you live. If you have some big Rambo job with serration and a compass in the butt, all that, you feel cool, yeah, but you’re also going to slice your finger half open trying to get the syrup those peaches are swimming in. So, a good camp knife is one. The other weapon . . . Daryl’s already got the crossbow called, and those seem to blow up in your face enough anyway, and a recurve, while elegant, will still probably require more maintenance than I could really keep up with in the post-apocalypse. So, I’ll go with Rick, just keep a revolver strapped to my hip. They only hold so many rounds, sure, but they also don’t jam. When you’re hip-deep in gore and sinking fast, you need something reliable like that. You’ve still got to scrounge cartridges all the time, but scrounging is the name of the game once the zombies rise.

Zombie stories are generally categorized as “scary zombies” and “humorous zombies”. Having read both The Gospel of Z and Zombie Bake Off, you’ve clearly written about zombies from both angles. Do you think there are any freedoms for a writer unique to each type of zombie story? What core elements do you think remain the same regardless, and why?

I think one of the most important aspects of the zombie, whatever kind it is, is that we can’t negotiate with them. We can’t lie to them, we can’t make deals with them. They’re just shuffling locusts, come to cut us down to size. And, the freedom you have, writing about zombies, is that surprise deaths of main characters is the name of the game. So if, at any point, a character gets troublesome, you just whack them. It’s kind of fun.

You’ve said (in much more eloquent terms) that zombie culture is popular because the undead, zombie apocalypse, etc., creates this massive void that can be filled with pretty much any metaphor and meaning—from political, to social, to personal, to dealing with our ultimate mortal fate, and everything in between. What did the zombies represent to you in The Gospel of Z? What about Zombie Bake Off?

Hm, never really thought about that. Or, with my own stuff, I just write it, feel it, don’t really subject it to analysis or any of that. I don’t know. I guess, with ZBO, the zombies were supposed to be the obvious opposite of these soccer moms. But it turns out the soccer moms are the real killers, of course. With The Gospel of Z . . . can I just say ‘locusts’ again? Or, I mean, yeah, I guess they could kind of be a warning against heedless progress or something, but, I don’t know. Wasn’t really thinking that. Was just thinking the usual thing, that zombies are cool, let’s write about cool stuff. Really? I wrote that novel during Bush’s second term, when I was getting quite nervous about church and state stuff. So I cooked up a novel expressing my fear of that. And it had zombies in it.

You grew up a Generation-X kid in small desert towns. Back then, kids adventured outside more often than they seem to now…maybe up to more mischief, ending up in places they didn’t belong. Not saying you were one of these troublemaking kids, but it wouldn’t surprise me—I can relate having grown up outdoors in small towns myself (seems like there was always some kid or another starting fields on fire, for some reason). What was the single weirdest thing that happened to you, or that you witnessed, while growing up in West Texas?

Friend and me in my truck, coming home on a lonely road round about two in the morning. The cab kind of glows blue and red, and we both clock the mirrors, sure it’s a cop pulling us over. But we’re still alone. But there are lights in all the mirrors. Our best and last guess is that there’s a plane coming in behind us to land, that’s it some emergency situation. We can clearly see the line of lights approaching. But then that memory just ends, with us turning around in our seats to see what’s happening.

You’re a professor in the MFA programs at University of Colorado at Boulder, University of California Riverside – Palm Desert, and occasionally at the Institute of American Indian Arts. What do you find to be the most rewarding part of teaching others?

That they teach me as well.

What’s the craziest thing one of your students has done in class?

Not in class exactly, but after class. Like, months after. I’m up for a big award, and, surprise, there’s one of my students on the ballot with me. And? She wins. As she very much should have—amazing writer, Helen Marshall. So cool when someone in your class is suddenly beside you on the shelf, and then past you. Kind of the dream.

You’ve got a long publishing history. Which writer(s) would you love to be published alongside, whether in an anthology or a co-written piece, that you have not yet had the pleasure of doing so?

Be neat to have a piece in an anthology that’s also running a reprint of some Philip K. Dick story. I’d copy that TOC out, put it on my wall.

I know you like to think of monsters in ways that feel more realistic and relatable, rather than living in castles with bottomless bankrolls. In this light, “The Night Cyclist” is a great piece of innovative vampire fiction with an interesting take on how being a vampire could be problematic in certain aspects of modern life. What inspired you take this specific angle?

I guess two things. The first is biking home at night, and always looking behind me, sure a Night Cyclist is pacing me, is waiting for a quieter, more lonely place on the trail for us to maybe share a moment. Second is . . . it’s midnight, I’ve been writing for hours, need a break, so I take my dog out for a walk. Everything’s going fine, fine-ish, anyway—I’m always terrified, alone in the dark—but then, walking super on the dark sidewalk by an elementary school, no life or lights anywhere, like I’m the onliest person there is, I get a kind of prickly sensation and turn around to see did someone just step onto the street a block or two back. Wrong. What’s happening is this guy is doing that . . . I don’t know, that thing where you walk so close behind someone that you’re practically touching them, like you’re their shadow, your feet in their footsteps, all that. I flinch ahead, no clue how he got there, did that, and—

I don’t know. That memory ends there.

Let’s close this out with another random question…what are the two most ridiculous things someone tricked you into doing or believing? How long did it take you to realize how ridiculous they were?

Got into a nightlong argument with my wife once about whether Pennsylvania was in Pittsburg or Pittsburg was in Pennsylvania. I was arguing for the first way. And I think she eventually gave up, let me believe that. For two or so years, until, looking at map, I had a certain kind of dawning awareness. But I still can’t keep all those states in the northeast straight. The West makes sense to me. The East, eastern American, not so much. I mean, when I’m up there in the northeast, the highway exits don’t even work the same. Like, stores and gas stations aren’t clustered like I’m used to them being. There’s just, I don’t know, Dunkin Donuts every third step, and too many trees for me to figure anything useful out.

Also, though this probably doesn’t really count, I always default-think that Scarlett O’Hara played Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. And this somehow involves me having no clear grasp on who exactly Audrey Hepburn is, or what she maybe looks like. It’s like a tiny lemur got into my head and started unplugging wires, stabbing them in at complete random into stupid places, so that now I can no longer think my way out of this bad, kind of hopeless situation I’m forever in.

Stephen Graham Jones is the author of sixteen and a half novels, six story collections, a couple of novellas, and a couple of one-shot comic books. Most recent are Mapping the Interior and My Hero. Next are The Only Good Indians (Saga) and Night of the Mannequins (Tor.com). Stephen lives and teaches in Boulder, Colorado.

Austin James writes obscure and uncomfortable fiction.

Zebra Summer—Item #3: Chain Letter by Ruby Jean Jensen

In Zebra Summer, Zakary McGaha (author of Locker Arms and Soothing the Savage Swamp Beast), chronicles a very specific portion of his summer reading-schedule: horror novels published by Zebra Books.

I’m a fan of Ruby Jean Jensen; several of her books are among my favorite horror novels in general (which is no easy feat). Sometimes, though…she just misses the mark.

You know an RJJ novel is going to be bad when you recognize her formula right away. In this case, I knew within the first couple of pages in the first chapter (not the prologue) that it was gonna be a clunker.

Fair enough: most, if not all, of Ruby’s books are about kids in dire situations, but this, sadly, allowed her…or forced her, if my suppositions of Zebra editor overlords is correct…into a rut that got super-tiresome. Although none of these books follow the exact same plot, they’re all too similar in my opinion: Wait and See, Jump Rope, Lost and Found, Victoria, and the novel in question: Chain Letter.

All of Ruby’s good novels… Home Sweet Home, Celia, and Annabelle…involve children, as well, but they feel like their own books…they feel like they were written with actual passion, instead of simply churned out, one after the other, in factory-line fashion.

Chain Letter is an okay read, but it pales in comparison to the novels mentioned above. I’ve already forgotten most of it, because, sadly, there wasn’t anything worth remembering…except for what might be the funniest ending in pulp-horror history.

The ending actually made me laugh out loud. I can’t say whether I think it was intentional or not, but damn: it made the book worth reading.

The novel is about a couple of kids who find a chain letter in an abandoned retirement-home/asylum…which sounds like a fun place to wind up in…and then proceed to bumble around while bad things happen to them and their families because they don’t follow the instructions to a tee. Their lives are further complicated because half the letter is missing!

As in all of Jensen’s formulaic works (as opposed to her good ones), some of the kids make it and some don’t. Nothing particularly surprising or inventive happens in this regard; Chain Letter is no exception.

The novel’s principle flaw involves the stale plot that meanders about at Christmas’s pace. Everything you expect to happen does, and it takes forever at that…this excludes the amazing ending, of course…and absolutely nothing cool happens concerning the supernatural aspect of the story. There were multiple ways the book could’ve been made at least cool, but I suppose it wasn’t meant to be.

Perhaps I would’ve enjoyed the novel had I not been familiar with Jensen’s other works. You may be wondering why I continue to read this author if I dislike her “formula” so dearly, but trust me: when she doesn’t follow it, she’s AMAZING.

There’s been talk of Ruby’s books coming back into print in ebook form…there’s a new website and everything; the domain name is simply her name plus a dot and a com…and I seriously hope this happens. All of her books are worth reading, in my opinion, even if some are better than others.

It’s about time her work became easily accessible. Horror fans shouldn’t be deprived.

As far as my “rating” for Chain Letter goes…I’m thinking 3/5. It was at least readable, and some parts kept me glued to the pages. Originally, I gave the book 5/5 on Goodreads, but that’s only because I was still laughing at the ending.

If you’re like me…a mega fan of ole RJJ…then you’re going to read this book anyway. If you’re a horror fan who’s just now getting to RJJ, I’d say go for one of the novels I mentioned above as being her best.

After that, read this one to put an end to your suspense concerning the hilarious ending.

Zebra Summer—Item #1: Runaway by Stephen Gresham

In Zebra Summer, Zakary McGaha (author of Locker Arms and Soothing the Savage Swamp Beast) chronicles a very specific portion of his summer reading schedule: horror novels published by Zebra Books.

Most people don’t need to be introduced to Zebra Books as they’ve already been familiarized with them through Paperbacks From Hell, Will Erickson’s blog, etc. Zebra is the publisher with all the skeletons on their covers; Zebra is the 80s horror boom all rolled up into one publisher: a ton of so-so books with GREAT covers, mixed in with a few literary treasures. If you’re looking to be dazzled by importance, don’t read Zebra novels. Only read them if you want: a) a trashy horror fix, b) an authentic 80s or early 90s fix, and/or c) both.

I’ve been collecting Zebra novels since high school, so it was slightly before everyone jumped on the nostalgia bandwagon. Therefore, I bought most of them before they became expensive collector’s items.

Without a doubt, I have more Zebra-specific books in my library than books from any other publisher, however I haven’t read most of them. The fact of the matter is, I can’t read too many at one time. They just aren’t good: they’re uniformly written at a level that can only be described as in between adult and YA. My theory is that most Zebra authors were either pressured to write for kids just as much as adults, or Zebra’s editors had multiple field days.

Despite what I just said, Zebra novels are very charming when they’re read in the right light…preferably a soft orange or yellow (none of that harsh, white fluorescent shit). They’re also charming if you read them while in a sentimental frame of mind. Cozy small towns? Check. Old cars? Check. Antiques? On more than one occasion. Think of the Thorn trilogy in the Halloween franchise. That’s what Zebra books mean to me.

This summer, I happen to be in a very sentimental frame of mind, so I’m gonna read a ton of these forgotten, oftentimes bastardized (written for moolah) books.

First up is Runaway by Stephen Gresham.

Gresham is an author I’ve always enjoyed; I also think he’s been unfairly shat on, although, like every writer, some of his books are better than others. Runaway, to my delight, was one of his better ones.

This one centers on a young, rich lad who runs away from his upscale, beach town life because his parents are career-obsessed, money-grubbing scoundrels…which is how most people in the 80s were, if I’m to believe everything I’ve read.

In ‘Texas Chainsaw’ fashion, he winds up with a family…of sorts…that is comprised entirely of whackos, save for all the other runaways like him.

Said family is actually a shelter for homeless kids, and it’s run by religious nutjobs who are somewhat, and this isn’t a spoiler, manipulated by dark, supernatural forces as well as the usual human vice of power-lust.

Pretty much every character in this book was compelling; I wanted to keep reading about all of them…especially the runaways who are put in some pretty dire situations.

Runaway takes your typical “child in peril” Zebra plot and amps it up quite a bit. Usually, Ruby Jean Jensen is the one putting kids through the wringer, but damn! Gresham gives her a run for her money with this ‘un.

In most cases, I finish Zebra novels at a sluggish pace, because that’s how they’re written. But I finished this one in good time, despite its above average length for a Zebra book.

Do yourself a favor and pick this novel up. Sadly, there’s never a knife-wielding skeleton emerging for a gingerbread house between the covers of Runaway, but that hardly matters because what is between the covers is pretty awesome.

I would also like to take a second to recommend my favorite book by Stephen Gresham, Rockabye Baby. It, along with several of Gresham’s novels, has been re-released in ebook form.

For my next installment of Zebra Summer, I will review Deadly Nature by V.M. Thompson.