Sunday, January 21, 2024

Christopher Golden's House of Last Resort Weekend

Saturday Jan 20, 2024 -- Portsmouth NH

I've managed to miss the Merrimack Valley Halloween Book Festival every time it’s happened thus far, so when my friend Dennis asked me if I wanted to go to Christopher Golden’s one-off event in celebration of the upcoming release of his latest book, I said heck yes!


The event started on Thursday and ran through Saturday, the day we were able to go.  It was a blast!  Lowkey, with a single-track speaker schedule, so it was pretty easy to make decisions about what to do. 


On arrival we almost immediately got to meet author Brian Keene, who was running the event – he kindly signed a stack of paperbacks that Dennis had brought with him.


We arrived in time for the signing with Owen King and Joe Hill, at which point I had to kick myself for not bringing my copy of The Curator, Owen’s latest book, which is sitting right on my bedside table.  D’oh!  However, he was nice enough to sign the back of my name badge (hooray for creative problem solving!), so that will go in as my bookmark in his book.

Once upon a time, Joe Hill visited my shop when the International Cryptozoology Museum was in its first public location, in the back room attached to my shop space, but unfortunately that was on one of the days when it was closed and locked up.  (That was the only bad part of having the museum there – having to disappoint people!  Especially Joe Hill!!!  Gahhhhh….)


Next we went to the panel discussion titled “My Favorite Exorcism.”  Present (shown above, L-R) were authors Emily Hughes, Ronald Malfi, Philip Fracassi, Tanya Pell, Rebecca Rowland, Vaughn Beckford, Cat Scully (moderator), and Christopher Golden.


Possession and exorcism are themes that have fascinated and horrified those who know of them.  They are fruitful fodder for horror writers, and this panel examined some of the reasons why.  Part of what feeds this creative fire are the classification systems and rituals that are built up around them in the lore of the Catholic Church.  


[Right] Christopher Golden

Stages of possession were discussed briefly, the names evocative – infestation, oppression, obsession, possession.  The addition of non-Western traditions to the known lore increases its potential.  While Americans have become fairly well-versed in demonic exorcism due to a plethora of pop-culture exposure points, there are other types, and many analogues that can be utilized by writers.  For example, in some Eastern traditions, places themselves have an attached demon or spirit that can possess you and cause you trouble. 


Self-contained possession is another applicable theme, when a part of your existing personality rears up and refuses to be submerged again – sometimes with an effect that is in some ways liberating, as it turns out  (The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman was mentioned, as well as the short piece “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin).  Christopher Golden mentioned John Carpenter’s The Thing as a favorite non-demonic possession flick, and Denzel Washington’s Fallen.


What makes possession so frightening?  The general consensus was loss of control, although other themes pluck our nerves – “it could be anybody” – how do you tell a person is possessed?  It’s not always immediately apparent, especially in The Thing.  This is another aspect of the phenomena that lends itself to building tension in storytelling. 


Pregnancy can be seen as possession, people can be possessed by uncontrollable rage, or unacceptable behavior.


Possession doesn’t always mean complete loss of agency, either.  In Philip Fracassi’s excellent The Boys in the Valley (Tor Nightfire, 2023), the boys who have been infested with the evil were still making their own decisions, but their existing attitudes and flaws were magnified under the evil’s influence.  The gloves were off.


Another facet is complicity, such as experienced by communities who found themselves under Nazi command in WWII.  Will you become a collaborator, or fight and likely die? 


Vaughn Beckford talked about the effect of defamiliarization – when you are a child (or adult) and something happens which causes your world, previously safe and familiar, to suddenly be yanked out from under your feet, leaving you alone in a strange and unfriendly environment, with no way to get back to where you were before.  Many of us have felt that way in our daily lives, so it is easy to for us to identify with a victim of possession feeling that same thing, only magnified a million times more.


Cat Scully mentioned another favorite example in the Evil Dead movies.  For her, Ash’s fight to overcome his possession stood tall as an analogue for overcoming fear and persevering.  Ronald Malfi recommended we look up a 7-part article called “The Haunted Boy” about Blatty’s experiences researching and writing The Exorcist, based on a real world possession case.  Tanya Pell talked a little bit about living with Type 2 narcolepsy, which in her experience includes sleep paralysis and associated nighttime hallucinations, which invoke a physical response as though the sufferer is actually fighting off a danger. 


Philip Fracassi mentioned the ‘80s film The Hidden (yes! I was hoping someone would) as another example of non-demonic possession.  Vaughn threw the Chucky film franchise into the ring (another great example!).  Cat Scully highly recommended the Thai film The Medium, and another called The Wailing, and The Incantation, too.  Christopher Golden added When Evil Lurks and Talk to Me.  He talked about how pure evil is a tremendous concept, evil being “quantifiable in the way a black hole is dark.” 


The “restored” version of John Carpenter’s Halloween was discussed, which seemed as though it hinted that the child (and eventually man) that was Michael Myers was being possessed by something “other.”  Likewise the hints given in the tagline of Night of the Living Dead – “When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth.” – might be read to indicate that the zombies were not being animated by their original selves.  Were they demon-ridden instead, since they were coming from Hell?


During the audience Q&A following, adolescence as a seeming possessed state was discussed.  Tanya Pell recommended the YA book The Good Demon.  Emily Hughes reminded the audience that hormones are a possessing force!  Christopher Golden talked about the massive chemical changes in the brain that occur during adolescence, and then conversation moved onto other options – addiction, in one form or another, is another analogue, as is mental illness (Billy Joel’s The Stranger was brought up).


A great question posed (and certainly one that could be food for a good many stories) is – what “tell” would give you away to a loved one if you were possessed?  What trait (or absence thereof) would give that secret away to someone who knew you really well?

After this we were psyched to run into author Eric LaRocca, who has not been able to make it into the shop in ages (but hopefully soon?).  He's been busy cranking out the horror books!!




Next, after lunch at Cheese Louise -- a freezing cold but short walk away from the hotel -- we went to a reading by Paul Tremblay and Stephen Kozeniewski. 


Tremblay read the first couple chapters from his upcoming novel, Horror Movie (6/11/24, William Morrow), and Kozeniewski spoke in extemporaneous fashion – entertaining and sharply funny.  Tremblay made my day by mentioning that Horror Movie was inspired by Gunnar Hansen’s excellent account of his work in indie film, Chain Saw Confidential, which is apparently available as an audiobook now (yay!) even though the book itself is long out of print.

Our next stop was “TV, Film, and the Adaptation Process” featuring Philip Fracassi (moderator), Clay McLeod Chapman, Victor LaValle, Joe Hill, and Owen King [shown L-R above].  This panel discussion ranged widely and examined the pitfalls and some helpful advice from voices of experience about the subject.  This included – advantages to adapting other’s writing into script as opposed to your own, how comic books and animation can liberate you from some budgetary/creative constraints, and in general the fickle and changing nature of the entertainment behemoth, enslavement of yourself to which often times seems one of the few ways of making a paycheck (albeit sporadically) as a writer.


All in all it was a great time.  I got to meet the nice folks from Copper Dog Books, who were the only vendor at the event, got a few books signed for myself, got to hobnob with old and new favorite authors, and a bunch of friends. 

Author Philip Fracassi explains he would like to come to Maine! Hint hint
Three of us were wearing our Green Hand tshirts, which in a crowd that small really stood out.  I found this hilarious, because it wasn’t planned.  Nothing like a little spontaneous love to float your day along nicely!

Saturday, January 6, 2024

A warning for would-be customers of Irish Booksellers

Due to a number of recent issues that have been increasing in frequency, involving extremely irate customers of the so-called Irish Booksellers (a vendor that appears - based on their irate customer reports - to engage in dropshipping via Abebooks and Biblio bookselling websites online), I am forced to issue this statement for purposes of disambiguation. 

The Green Hand Bookshop, a real bricks-and-mortar bookshop in downtown Portland, Maine, is in no way associated with the so-called Irish Booksellers, which claims to be a bookseller in Portland, Maine, where they appear to maintain a P.O. Box at the local UPS Store on Marginal Way.
WE CANNOT RECOMMEND THEM, and warn prospective customers that due to the number of complaints we receive about them, buyer beware.  But don't just take my customers' word for it.
You can see their Yelp reviews here (they have the lowest rating possible, 1 star):
And their Better Business Bureau rating here (it's an F):
If you would like to read more about dropshippers/bookjackers, please see Zubal Books' excellent article here:
If you have had a bad experience with Irish Booksellers, please scroll down for a link to the FTC complaint site, and other helpful information. 
Unfortunately for me, when you type Irish Booksellers into Google, it pulls up our street address (Green Hand Bookshop at 661 Congress St in Portland ME) and contact information -- hence this post to clear up any confusion! -- which gives users the impression that we are associated with these stinkers.  
Google has been extraordinarily unhelpful with my efforts to correct this search error, so I am forced to post this in an effort to divorce myself from this parasitical association.
I have worked hard since 2009 to build a reputable business, and I do not sell online except select new books which are sold through my own website here:  
I have not ever listed any of my shop's used stock online via Abebooks, Biblio, or any other online marketplace, as I run a bricks-and-mortar used bookshop in the real world, where customers can walk into the shop and examine books before purchasing them, as that allows me to provide the best customer service experience for folks.  [NOTE:  We do sell new books online via which we ship directly from our store ourselves, and via our affiliate link at which are shipped by (not us, although we kindly receive proceeds from them), and audiobooks via our affiliate link at (which sends us proceeds from our affiliate sales).]
Please come visit us if you would like to peruse our current collection of used books -- we'd love to see you!
Speaking of which, Portland Maine is an amazing town for books.  Within downtown Portland alone, there are 3 used bookshops (including mine) and 3 new bookshops - and if you have a car, there are even more nearby.  I'll be doing a post about how Portland is a City of Books in the near future!  :)
Helpful information:
If you have had a bad experience with Irish Booksellers or another dropshipper, and want to report them for fraud, please visit the FTC's fraud reporting site here:
The FTC shares their reports with more than 2,800 law enforcers across the U.S., and while they can't resolve your individual report, they use your report, along with those of others who have filed, to investigate and bring cases against fraud, scams, and bad business practices.  So it does have an effect - there is power in numbers!
If reporting them for fraud isn't the route you'd like to take, but you'd like some ideas on how to deal with the issue, the FTC has an excellent to-do list for you to follow:
If you have not complained to Abebooks about the issue, please follow the steps here, which will ensure that the seller's account will be flagged by them for repeated issues:
Once you have attempted to contact the seller, Abebooks requires the seller to respond within 2 business days.  Sending your inquiry through their system (see the instructions/links by reading the page linked above) will ensure that a record of your email is saved within your Abebooks account.  If 2 business days have passed with no response, you can then reach out Abebooks Customer Service with the details.   
If you are having trouble using their website, you can try using this unconfirmed phone number to contact their Customer Service department: (800) 315-5335
As they say, "The seller's failure to respond to your initial question will be noted in their account. A pattern of such policy violations can lead to the seller's account being suspended and/or permanently closed."  We can only hope that enough of these reports will, indeed, shut down such bad actors!
Biblio customers who have had similar problems can work with their Customer Service here:
You can also try calling them if you are having problems using our website, 1-800-813-9432 (U.S.) during regular weekday business hours (10 AM to 4 PM Eastern Standard Time).

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Buying Local and making a difference!

Hi everyone!

As the holiday season rides up on us, I have been thinking a lot about how buying local can have an effect in our world.  Like most of us, I try to walk the walk as well as talking the talk.  It's not always possible 100%, but I do my best, because as a small business owner (micro business, even!) I see the difference it makes, every day.

Flashback! The Green Hand Bookshop in Nov 2009.
I don't have to quote statistics to you to explain that the small but vital percentage of people who try their hardest to buy locally instead of from the mega corporations means that I can pay more of the shop's bills sooner rather than later, and pay my employees above the laughable "minimum" wage -- not to mention buy my basic groceries and pay my low-income housing mortgage.  Your money really does have an effect, every day, when you choose to pick up items at local shops.

This year, when everyone's grocery bills have doubled, we are all feeling the tightness and pinch.  Fun-money has become scant.  I'm not asking anyone to spend money they don't have (yikes! never!!), but instead I am hoping folks pay attention to where they spend, when they can.  It's an investment in your community, instead of disappearing into the bottomless pockets of the corporate vacuum.

There are so many great little businesses in Portland and in Maine that have a long dark winter ahead of them.  It's nice to be able to spread a little light, whether it's with Christmas shopping, daily errands, or later on when the midwinter doldrums hit and you just want to do something different!

To those of you who already do this, I cannot thank you enough - every time I see it happen, I am simultaneously delighted and astonished.  I know you are all pitching in, and that's why those of us who have survived are still here, after an unprecedentedly rough few years.  We are very lucky to have a community that cares so much.

Thank you for truly making a difference!  

Here is another cautiously hopeful photo from Christmas 2009.  Remember when there was barely anything in the shop?  😂  We started from scratch, opening in early November 2009, and since then it's been a slow, difficult process, but somehow we are still here, and chock-a-block full of good books now, even having sent thousands of books into good new homes along the way.  We couldn't have done this without you all.  Next year will see our 15th anniversary!

Green Hand Bookshop, Christmas 2009 - Just a baby of a bookshop then!
Help keep the real Portland (and the real Maine!) alive underneath the glib veneer of gentrification.  Everyone in Maine's vital and hardworking small business community will thank you!  And you'll get to see cool and unique things happen in our economy, and see the very change you created yourself.  It's a win-win situation to buy local, every time.

I hope you all have the happiest holidays you can, however you can, with good people around you, and that you find all the light in our hearts visible when you need it the most.

If you do want to buy books from us, or in a way that benefits us instead of Amazon etc, here are a few helpful links in case you can't get into the shop to browse our large selection of used books:

New books coming directly from us:

New books through, which benefits us generously:

Or if audiobooks are your thing, and you'd love to avoid Amazon-owned Audible while supporting the Green Hand:

Thursday, August 24, 2023

New John Connolly & a booksigning event!!!

Hi everyone!  Here is life going on in spite of nonsense -- on Sept 19, John Connolly's new book, The Land of Lost Things, is being released in the US.  Having already gobbled up my advance copy, I can tell you it is wonderful, dark and magical, whether or not you've read its predecessor in that universe, The Book of Lost Things.

While that date is exciting enough, please sit down, because next comes a book signing!  We are lucky enough that John reached out to us for this, and we are still a little speechless that we can make it happen.  We will be partnering with the soon-to-be-open Novel Book Bar down at the end of our block for this event.  It is going to be a tremendously convivial and magical evening.  

Novel will not yet be full-service, but you will get a sneak peek at their beautiful interior, and you can take advantage of this event to get a taste of things to come on our block.

WHAT: The Land of Lost Things by John Connolly - author talk and book signing

WHERE: Novel Book Bar, 643 Congress St, Portland ME 04101

WHEN: Friday Oct 6, 2023 at 6:00pm

EVENT PAGE:   Registration for the event via showing interest on Facebook is not required, but will help us get a headcount, and you will see any event updates.  :)

John will give a short talk (20-25 minutes), and if you haven't seen him speak in person you are in for a treat!  Afterwards he will take any audience questions, then sign your books.  It is going to be a delightful evening!

More on the new book:

The Land of Lost Things by John Connolly
ON SALE: SEPTEMBER 19, 2023 - you can preorder your copy here: 

After 17 years, #1 internationally bestselling author John Connolly finally returns to the upside-down fairy tale world of his critically acclaimed novel The Book of Lost Things for a wonderfully dark yet moving book about loss, parenthood, and the place of books and stories in our lives.

“Twice upon a time—for that is how some stories should continue…”

Thus John Connolly begins his astonishingly original adventure set in a strange and magical universe. In The Land of Lost Things, the prolific, award-winning author again brilliantly blurs the boundaries of fantasy and reality while celebrating the redemptive power of the written word.

Phoebe, an eight-year-old girl, lies in a coma following a car accident. She is a body without a spirit, a stolen child. Ceres, her mother, can only sit by her bedside and read aloud to her the fairy stories she adores in the hope they might summon her back to this world. But it is so very hard to be patient, to
keep faith, to believe.

Now an old house on the hospital grounds, a property connected to a book written by a vanished author, is calling to Ceres, inviting her to open its door and enter a land colored by the memories of her childhood and the folklore she has shared with her precious daughter. In this familiar yet frightening place, Ceres will encounter friends and foes, witches and dryads, giants and mandrakes. But as she struggles to make sense of this landscape and decipher its hidden messages, old enemies are watching, and waiting.

Is this just a terrifying dream, or a way for Ceres to recover her daughter? And what sacrifices will a mother make in order to be reunited with her child? The only way to find out is by getting lost in another triumphantly fantastical novel from John Connolly.


“A moving fable, brilliantly imagined, about the agony of loss and the pain of young adulthood.”
–The Times (London)

“Enchanting, engrossing, and enlightening.” –The Sun-Sentinel, Florida

“Peculiar and perverse and humane.” –The Irish Times 

About the Author: 

If you haven't already had me yammer on about how awesome he is, read on.  

John Connolly is the internationally bestselling author of 30+ books, including The Book of Lost Things, the Charlie Parker series of mystery novels, the supernatural collections Nocturnes and Night Music, and the Samuel Johnson trilogy for young readers. His books have won literary honors such as the Edgar, Shamus, and Anthony awards, and a CWA Dagger. 

Formerly a journalist with The Irish Times, he studied English at Trinity College, Dublin, journalism at Dublin City University, and is currently pursuing his PhD at University College Cork. 

He divides his time between his birthplace of Dublin, Ireland, and his home in Portland, Maine, the setting for many of his books. He is also the host of the long-running radio show ABC to XTC on RTE Gold, in which he returns to the music of his youth. For more information, visit

Thursday, August 10, 2023

IMPORTANT notice re: special orders, website & bookbuying

Okay, 2nd try after the post draft dumped.  :P

First of all, thank you all for your help in getting the cooling system installed here in the shop.  It took months, and much hoop-jumping, and back-and-forth between myself, the contractor, the landlord, and the City of Portland, but it finally happened!  Thank you all for helping that become a reality.  What a relief!  Please stop in when you can, and enjoy the cool comfort of a non-humid, refreshing shop.

But of course nothing stands still, and unexpected things happen.  I have to go in for some major surgery before the end of August, so that is going to mean a few things will temporarily change.  After my initial recovery period, there will be another month or so when I cannot lift anything substantial.  Irony of ironies, for someone who spends all day, every day, lifting boxes and stacks of books.  :(  So that will be going on until mid-October.  With that in mind:

1)  Bookbuying/trading (which is currently limited and only done by appointment) will be put on hold until at least late October.

2)  The website will remain open so you can see what we carry for new items before coming in, but there will be a hiatus in processing orders, so we recommend you simply call or come into the shop if you would normally do a pickup order.  We will not be pulling/shipping orders on a normal timeframe until after Sept 15.  This means any mail orders placed on the website after Aug 19th will be shipped after that date.

3)  Special orders are on hold effective immediately.  We will resume taking special orders after mid-September.  We recommend buying through our link at if you'd like to help out while avoiding giving money to Amazon!

Please do continue to come into the shop to support us - there is no shortage of amazing and wonderful books to peruse.  Our hours remain the same (closed Mon, open Tues-Sat 11:00-5:00, and Sun 12:00-4:00).  

All your support will be hugely helpful.  It's been an expensive and painful summer.  I haven't had a vacation since 2019, and I'm certainly not getting one this year.

Thank you in advance for your understanding as we hit the pause button on a few things!

Saturday, May 13, 2023

(207)TERROR #2: We're back! ...with WOLFEN

Here's another foray into horror fiction by me and Dennis.  Last time we tried a conversational approach, interspersing each other's observations about Rick Hautala's Night Stone, and that went pretty well.  

[you can read post #1 here if you missed it:]

This time Dennis wanted to try a different approach, wherein we got together and discussed our book face-to-face instead of typing back and forth.  Obviously this is always a more enjoyable experience for us.  Dennis promised he would take notes and type them up later.

He got this far:


Apparently after tasting the Murder Hornet I ordered (my fave cocktail at LFK, which is right across Longfellow Square from the shop) it obliterated all of Dennis's original plans for the evening, and he gave up on taking notes at that point.  Ah well!  Of course we don't let such things stop us, and we have put together a post for you regardless.

NOTE:  You won't know this from reading the text below, but Dennis's document formatting defaults to Dutch spelling, so my experience in editing this document was tremendously surreal, because most words showed up with the little red underlining that denotes typos... and every time I tried to type something like "to the" it automatically changed it to "tot he" which at first I thought was making everything dead, but no, that would be in German -- instead it was trying to make me say "See you!" in Dutch (which I guess also works if you're dead? 😂).  Word nerds unite!!!


The Wolfen by Whitley Strieber

discussed by Dennis Seine with sidenotes and afternotes by Michelle Souliere

First things first. Nine times out of ten, folks misspell this author’s last name: instead of Strieber, they go for Streiber. Then, it becomes impossible to find his books at your local library. Chaos ensues. The horror community comes crashing down. So let’s keep it Strieber.

I was reading a bit about this fascinating guy this morning. His newest book came out in 2017, and is called The Afterlife Revolution. Why bring this up? Because he co-wrote with his wife Anne. Who died in 2015. 

So in case you were wondering if Strieber (not Streiber) has backed down from his claims in his 1987 nonfiction bestseller Communion, think again. In these fruitful times for conspiracy theorists, Strieber is letting his freak flag fly and is up to his ears in Roswell, crop circles, JFK assassination plots, telepathic communication (see above), and more of these gloriously weird ideas.

The text-heavy original paperback
Now, this wasn’t always the case. In 1978 his debut novel The Wolfen was published. And it was a hit. The book got made into a movie with the same name in 1981, starring Albert Finney.

These Wolfen are not werewolves. They are descendants from canine species and have lived secretly alongside the human race for centuries, including in New York City, where the book takes place:

No pack knew how these cities came about, but man inhabited them, keeping for himself the warmth they produced in winter, and the dryness that was not affected even by the most violent rain. While the sky poured water or snow, man sat comfortably in the cities. How these things grew and why man possessed them, nobody could say.”

They feed on people, but pick out the ones nobody misses: Outcasts and drug addicts, living in ghettos and alongside the train tracks. It is as classic a picture of New York City in the seventies and eighties as you can imagine. The city is dirty, crime abounds, homeless people are walking the dark, rainy streets of Manhattan, full of trash. The place is heaven for Wolfen.

Another early paperback edition!
Until things go wrong. Strieber does not mess around here. In the opening chapters a gruesome murder takes place. Two cops are attacked and don’t even have time to fire their guns. They are partially eaten. The tracks surrounding the bodies are odd and appear dog-like, plus there is unexplainable fur on the wounds.

Obviously, the Chief of Police wants to avoid a mass panic and issues with the upcoming election. So the published story involves carbon monoxide poisoning and stray dogs. 

But the two police officers assigned to the case, the older George Nelson and his much younger female partner Becky Neff (a female cop in the New York City of the seventies? She must work twice as hard as her male colleagues to prove she belongs there. SPOILER ALERT: she does.), aren’t buying it and follow the leads. They approach several experts and slowly discover there are other sentient beings walking the streets of the city than just prostitutes, dirty cops and other undesirables. In the process, they almost develop some feelings for each other, but that storyline more or less bleeds out.

Suntup ed w/Francois Vaillancourt art!

Does this sound like your basic American Werewolf story? Sure, to a certain extent. But Strieber makes a few decisions that lift up this book to great heights.

First of all, he switches off the storytelling perspective between the officers investigating the case and the actual Wolfen. And it’s not even corny. It makes for a much more interesting background to the ‘villains’ in the novel.

Secondly, Strieber goes for functional gore. Gore for gore’s sake can be a bit lazy. Here, it works, for instance when the Wolfen are digging out the brains of one of their victims to get rid of all memories of their discovery:

[p180 in 1988 Avon edition]

So, the little old man was contaminated by the other two, the two who knew. […] The man’s hands fluttered up before his face and his bowels let loose.  That was all that happened.  Then they were on him, pulling and tearing, ripping full of rage, spitting the bloody bits out, angry that the two important ones had been missed, angry that this one also dared to confront them with his evil knowledge.  They had cracked open the head and plunged their claws into the brains, plunged and torn to utterly and completely destroy the filthy knowledge.

Thirdly, the book does not waste any time and goes into fifth gear straight away. This is a full-blown pageturner, a cop thriller that uses genre conventions that work, adds a few dimensions, subverts some of the reader’s expectations, and turns it into a rather short book that packs a punch. It works its way into a terrifying and a bit of a sudden apotheosis, which leaves open all sorts of possibilities for sequels that unfortunately never came.


When Wolfen dumps the reader right into the action without any warm-up it’s a real jumpstart, and a heavy application of police procedural as the focus for the storytelling really threw me (Michelle) when I read it – at least at first. 

Michelle's copy, a 1988 reprint.

The way the story expands through history almost effortlessly as the reader continues on is deftly done.  As more and more of the voice of the Wolfen is introduced, the perception of their culture and a fascination (almost sympathy) with their survival is fed, word by word, as you learn more about these very “other” characters.  Like a vulpine Hansel and Gretel, the Wolfen strew breadcrumbs for you to follow them into the maw of their story.


I also noticed (once I got over its presence in a horror novel) that using a police procedural focus in the storytelling allowed a very solid framework on which to hang some truly outrageous story elements.  Because of how Strieber tells this story via both its police officers and academic characters with their rigid worldview, by the end of the book you find yourself nodding along, accepting a deluge of fantastic concepts because you know, somewhere in the morass of NYPD and institutional paperwork, it is all on record somewhere. 

The other very effective tactic used by Strieber as he invades our brain is a look-back realization.  Ferguson is driven to research the potential of folkloric links left behind by the Wolfen.  Mid-research, he finds himself leaping out of a chair as a special collections librarian turns the page of an ancient book for his inspection.  The image on the page triggers a flashback to what he thought had been a childhood nightmare.

[p149] His mind was racing now as he remembered an incident that had occurred when he was no more than six or seven.  […]  He was asleep in his ground-floor bedroom.  Something awakened him.  Moonlight was streaming in the open window.  And a monstrous animal was leaning in, poking its muzzle toward him, the face clear in the moonlight.  He had screamed and the thing had disappeared in a flash.  Nightmare, they said.  And here it was staring at him again, the face of the werewolf.

This is an incredible moment, and the reader feels as startled as Ferguson himself.  It adds a surreal gravitas, a reality to the situation that ties the current tension to a childhood nightmare, and links it all to a centuries-old lineage of lupine horror, following humans from the dark forests to the shadow of their graves.

In closing:  Is this a perfect novel?  Heck no.  But it is a fun read, with a lot of interesting ideas worked into it.  And when you consider it's Strieber's debut, it's a heckin' strong start.  Definitely worth sitting down with - entertaining and a fast read!

Saturday, March 25, 2023

(207)TERROR #1: Michelle & Dennis talk horror!

Those of you who know me, also know I read omnivorously.  However, the horror genre is my favorite go-to.  I cannot quit it!

My friend Dennis is the same way about horror, and he suggested we start doing blog posts about some of our reading.  So here we are!  I initially called this feature "Horror DM" because it's Dennis and Michelle, and because we are DM-ing you on horror's behalf to let you know what's going on in some of these crazy books.  But Dennis was skeptical 😂 so we brainstormed and now it's (207)TERROR because alliteration always wins.

Our inaugural post is about a Maine horror favorite, Rick Hautala.  Enjoy!


Night Stone by Rick Hautala

As discussed by Dennis Seine and Michelle Souliere

Dennis:  Rick Hautala is from Maine. Or he was from Maine; sadly, he passed away in 2013.  And because it was exactly a decade ago he died, fellow author and friend Christopher Golden organized an online read-along of Hautala’s most famous work: Night Stone, of which more than a million copies were sold (that blew my mind). And that impressive number is not just because it is one of the first paperbacks with a hologram on its cover. This atmospheric novel leaves a lasting impression. It’s hard to shake.


Michelle:  Having read a bunch of Rick’s books in the past, I was long overdue to dive back into his bibliography, and what better place to jump back in than Night Stone!  Big thanks to author Christopher Golden for instigating what will hopefully be an annual revisitation with Rick during February, the month of his birthday.  Rumor has it that next year’s selection is likely to be another iconic Maine horror classic, Little Brothers, long rated a favorite of fans who read it back in the 1980s, if you want to get a head start.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, dazzled as I was by the fabulously spooky laser hologram cover (earlier printings have a confusing note inside the cover, referring to Zebra’s line of romance novels, which in the context of this book is hilarious). 

However, once I settled in, the story alternated between comfort and unease.  Comfort, because Rick captured the weirdly in-between summer world of southern Maine, quasi-rural and butting up against the seasonal tourist trade, old, with its century-old history already being forgotten, but still nowhere near as ancient as the history lurking unknown beneath its surface.  Unease, because from the start there are personal tensions at play, even before you push past them to the true dread at the heart of the story.

Night Stone’s kickoff point is the overriding tension generated by moving several states away from where the family was living (Rhode Island to Maine), and the weirdness of living in an old family homestead that everyone else in the family refuses to live in (renting it out to a steady procession of unknown renters instead).

Dennis:  In the book we follow Don, his wife Jan and their daughter Beth as they move into their new, rural home in southern Maine. Don is a handy fellow who is going to teach at the local high school once the summer break is over.  During his vacation, he works on the endless list of chores that need to happen. The dilapidated family home is old and spooky, and needs some TLC.

Meanwhile daughter Beth, I’m not sure how old she is but I am guessing about twelve, finds a creepy doll that she gets completely obsessed with and/or possessed by. Always a great sign! And Jan is looking for work. She used to make her money as a realtor back in Rhode Island, where they lived before relocating to the sticks. Turns out the need for realtors in this part of the state is lacking, so she decides to try her luck at a local restaurant as a waitress.

Michelle:  I was immediately struck by the first weird about-face in the story – when previously successful Jan can’t immediately break the ice of the local realty market to get hired by a firm, she instead on a whim applies at a greasy spoon with rude tourist customers and an equally greasy I’m-gonna-get-in-your-pants owner.  That seems …reasonable?  Maybe she’s just a masochist at heart.

Meanwhile, Don throws himself into hard labor, rolling around in an attic full of itchy pink fiberglass insulation on the hottest days of the year.  And when that’s done, he enjoys digging trenches for a change of pace.

Clearly demonstrating her masochistic nature yet again, Jan sees that Don is having far too much fun giving himself heat exhaustion, and decides to break ground on a garden for herself, even though it’s far too late in the season to grow anything in Maine.  Wait, maybe it’s not masochism.  Maybe she’s just not that smart?  Also she makes Don do some of the work for her.  Wait, so maybe she is smart?


Swanky hologram cover in action!

Dennis:  While digging around in the garden, Don finds a severed hand, possibly Native American. He becomes absolutely obsessed with not just the hand, but the enormous stone slab he discovers in the yard. This displeases Jan. Actually, everything the somewhat eccentric Don does seems to displease Jan. This does not discourage Don, who calls in a few academic experts to help him. But his main sidekick is a neighbor with a Native American heritage, Billy, who helps him dig up the colossal stone. Great idea, Don! Go dig up an ancient burial ground! 

Michelle:  Meanwhile, young preteen daughter Beth is exhibiting weird behavior (even beyond her obsession with the tiny decrepit homunculus she’s carting around) which her parents are either a) completely oblivious to, or b) choose to pretend hasn’t happened.  In an unrelated plot twist, Beth really, really, really wants a horse, so Don finally wears down Jan into letting her keep a horse in the small barn beside the house.  They find a lovely dark young mare named Dobbin and buy her, and Beth promptly renames her Goblin.  NOTHING CREEPILY PORTENTIOUS ABOUT THAT AT ALL.  Nope.

And did I mention…?  Ever since they’ve moved into the house, Don has been having vivid, unsettling dreams which involve him repeating over and over to himself in shock, “No!  Not blood!”  But why would you tell anyone about that?  Don shrugs and goes on with his hard labor days.

And all these things just make up the start.  There are plenty of incidents, omens, and warnings to ignore (yes, ignore – why would you pay attention to a direct warning?) peppering the story as it gears up to its bloody, explosive ending.  And yes, don’t worry – there are plenty of moments in which to scream at the page, “WHY are you DOING that?!!  Are you a FOOL???”

Dennis:  Is the book a homerun? It wasn’t to me. But I had a great time reading it, even though Hautala or the editors at Zebra books could’ve easily shaved off 200 pages of this 600 page clunker. The characters are as vivid as they are flat: Don is not the sharpest knife in the drawer and Jan is, well, kind of an asshole, to be honest. Plus there are a few scenes with a voyeur that seem completely pointless.

The mood is key here, though. While reading this bona fide page turner, it was hard to stop or to think about anything else. From page one there is an impending sense of doom that runs throughout the book. This meticulous and steady buildup of the events was phenomenally spooky. And the claustrophobic ending? Absolutely terrifying.

Michelle:  As part of the celebration of Rick via a group read of Night Stone, Christopher Golden also arranged to host a Zoom gathering at the end of the February, in which we all got a chance to sift through the detritus of this book from back to front.

During the discussion, some repeated themes were brought up, such as severed hands, and a particularly shocking dream image (Don had a lot of dreams!) which reappears later in the real world.  After listening to us muse over these patterns for a bit, Christopher spoke up and illuminated something for us.  Rick had told him that these barbed, stick-to-your-brain elements of the story came from one of his own dreams.  In the dream, he had encountered a horrifying corpse, strung up and with its hand severed, decayed and unavoidable.  The corpse, swinging from its noose, turned to reveal its face to him, something pouring out of its mouth as it did so.  Write what you know!  Yikes.

So yes, as Dennis says – while the story is a bit of a hot mess, and overall not subtle, there are elements in it that have a cumulative, increasingly creepy effect on the reader, and linger long after one puts the book down.  I also really enjoyed the way Rick wove his Finnish heritage and bits of the Finnish language throughout the book, creating some of the spookiest bits.

All in all, it’s a perfect example of the best of the “Paperbacks from Hell” phenomena.  Weird, entrancing cover art, lots of bizarre story elements, lots of chances to yell in outrage at the characters, and lots of fun. 


If you'd like to read more about Rick, here is a post I did shortly after his death in 2013.