I watched 135 movies this year. These are the ten I loved the most. Some are old, some new. But all were viewed by me for the first time in 2023.
10. Planet Terror
9. Beau is Afraid
8. Infinity Pool
7. Evil Dead Rise
4. Candy Land
3. When Evil Lurks
2. The Passenger
1. A GHOST STORY
As usual, my list has nothing to do with release date. These are merely the best books I spent time with in 2023, both old and new.
10. THE MASSACRE AT YELLOW HILL - C.S. HUMBLE
9. DRENCROM - Hamelin Bird
8. DON'T KNOW TOUGH - Eli Cranor
7. LEGENDS & LATTES - Travis Baldree
6. GOBLIN - Josh Malerman
5. THINGS GET UGLY - Joe R. Lansdale
4. THE BEDDING OF BOYS - Edward Lorn
3. FREEZER BURN - Joe R. Lansdale
2. HARD MOUNTAIN CLAY - C.W. Blackwell
1. MARY JANE - Jessica Anya Blau
Here they are, in no particular order. My ten favorite books I read in 2022 (not necessarily released in 2022):
Cold in July - Joe R. Lansdale
I’ve got a TON of Lansdale on my shelf, and I could spend the next year reading only him, but I like to savor it. Don’t ever want to run out. We’ve got crime and twists here with a great story. One of my favorites by Joe.
South of Here - Edward Lorn
I loved everything about this book. Gritty slice-of-life with quick-punch prose. This is one I’ll be reading again. Not only is it in this year's top 10, it's probably in my top 20 of all time. It's one of those books, just like some films, that I recognize may not be loved by most but scratches all my itches.
Wasps in the Ice Cream - Tim McGregor
I was asked to blurb this one. It’s always a relief when it turns out to be a book you’re very proud to boast aloud. This is one of those. Absolutely fantastic coming-of-age.
Two Bear Mambo - Joe R. Lansdale
Years ago, I accidentally read the fourth book in the Hap & Leonard series first, not realizing it was part of a series. It didn’t matter. It's a great standalone. This here is the third one, and so far my favorite between the first four. Lots of laugh-out-loud moments and action.
Ecstatic Inferno - Autumn Christian
Autumn writes circles around most but with little recognition for it. Sometimes these stories go into bizarre territory that’s almost alienating, but you can’t deny the power of the ideas, as well as the incredible and intimidating prose (without being purple).
Malignant - Michaelbrent Collings
Neck-break page-turner here that doesn’t hold back. At all. There’s some brutal stuff in here. Michaelbrent does a great job with pacing and reveals.
Bay’s End - Edward Lorn
Great coming-of-age crime-drama. Another one by Lorn that surprised me. Great writer.
Night of the Mannequins - Stephen Graham Jones
Very original premise in a slasher with a psychological slant that put this on my list. It’s not easy taking something that’s been done to death and turn it on its head. This effort goes way beyond that. Great job, SGJ!
Wayward Suns - Hamelin Bird
Another I was asked to blurb and delighted to scream from the hilltops. Like McGregor with Wasps, Hamelin was obviously familiar with my stuff, as he sent me a book I may have written myself. Slice-of-life, drug stories, rebellion, and music.
Dracula - Bram Stoker
Slow burn in parts? Big time. Anti-climatic ending? Yes. But I still enjoyed it, especially considering this is the origin right here. The book that started so much of what we take for granted in the horror world, both film and literature.
Because a certain publisher that should have went under years ago is still alive and kicking, holding on by the skin of OTHER people’s teeth, I’m writing this.
I’ve dealt with said publisher. I expressed my issues quietly and went straight to the source. I gave the benefit of the doubt. More than once. Finally, I quietly asked for rights to be reverted back to me for a book that was under contract. I asked for the rights because of non and/or consistently late payment.
In the middle of me trying to be civil, there were several people on the publisher’s roster who had either never been paid a penny or hadn’t seen their royalties for quiet some time. When I found this out, my voice got a little bit louder, but only to friends. And that’s when I ultimately pulled my book.
However, I still kept quiet publicly. I believe in second chances and forgiveness and acknowledging that behind every keyboard is a human being. One with feelings and with issues going on in their own lives.
The problem with my being quiet was not knowing how many others were suffering too. And worse yet, how many more would sign up for a press that I now consider to be nothing short of a scam.
I learned a lot from this experience, and I’d like to offer some advice when considering a publisher for your book. I’ve said all this before, but I’ll keep it posted here on my website for future reference.
I watched a lot of great films this year, but these are the top 10. Just like my top reads of 2021, they are in no particular order and weren't necessarily released this year.
Celebrating my favorite discoveries each year is always a good time, and like most of you, I like to share them. In no particular order, here's my top 10 reads of the year (not necessarily published in 2021).
It was 1984. I was a freshman in high school. My favorite bands were AC/DC, KISS, BLACK SABBATH, ROLLING STONES, and IRON MAIDEN. And like most kids my age, I listened to local radio stations, believing they were trustworthy gatekeepers of music, weeding out the bad with some all-knowing filter and presenting only the best music the planet has to offer, saving us from having to hear anything less than stellar.
But then one day, while roaming the halls of Harper Creek High School, I discovered punk rock. A friend of mine was playing it on his little boombox. What came out of the speakers was the most aurally offense music I’d ever heard.
I was in love.
That same friend made me a mix tape filled with bands I’d never heard of: THE PLASMATICS, MDC, THE MEATMEN, DOA, and SCREAM to name a few.
After listening to that tape, I realized the gatekeepers I’d been trusting with their magic filters didn’t know their asses from a hole in the ground, which I’d already had my suspicions about. I mean, why weren’t they playing KISS? And why when they finally did play SABBATH it was always Paranoid? Why not Planet Caravan or Lord of this World or Electric Funeral?
As I dug deeper into the punk scene, I found out these bands had a DIY ethic that completely opened my eyes to a whole new way of doing things. They were making stuff happen on their own terms. They were writing the music they wanted to write. Not for the money, not for the fame, not for the chicks. They were angry and energetic, and it was a healthy way of pissing vinegar on The Man.
I clung to that ideology over the years with everything I had and carried it through my love of indie films, those gems that obliterate blockbusters in storytelling and originality. The indie books that offer wild plots that haven’t been done before. I even found that for every genre of music, there’s an indie scene giving birth to amazing talent you’ll never hear on the radio. Not just punk. There’s underground funk, jazz, new age, pop, you name it.
Once I'd found my individuality through the discovery of punk and its ethics, I ran from trends. I’m still that way. If a trend starts, I bolt the other way. I pierced my nose 30+ years ago, when the only other person I knew who’d done it was a punk in my band. Talk about drawing attention. But several years later, when my daughter wanted hers done and it looked like that would become the norm, I took mine out and never wore it again. I chopped my dreads off after catching a whiff of a trend there too. But Chad, you’ve got a beard! Yes, I know. I haven’t let the hipsters chase me away from that yet. Instead, I refuse to worship my beard with product and its own special comb.
This might sound like a bullheaded way of thinking (my wife and kids certainly poke fun), but really I’m just an advocate for individuality and paving your own way without checking to see what the masses are doing first.
Fast forward a few decades.
I decide I want to do what I can to make a career out of writing. Right away, I want nothing to do with anything considered mainstream horror. This pretty much rules out monsters and ghosts, but particularly zombies and vampires. And absolutely no dystopian settings. Call it artistic integrity, punk-rock ethics. Whatever. But writing to market is not for me. I’ll leave that to those who enjoy doing it, because God knows the world is full of readers who love those tropes. And good for them. We like what we like, right?
So, I write OF FOSTER HOMES AND FLIES. Very unexpectedly, Jack Ketchum and Richard Chizmar praise it. I couldn’t be happier. So I write a few more “dark fiction” books in the same vein (STIRRING THE SHEETS, WALLFLOWER, THE PALE WHITE), using real-life scenarios and enough ambiguity and bleak drama to hastily slap a “horror” label on it.
During this entire journey, unbeknownst to him, I’m using Joe Lansdale as a distant mentor. Here’s an author who is embraced by the horror community, yet when he changes genres they move from the popcorn line at the blood-spattered drive-in to the back of an old pickup to solve crime, then it’s on horseback to head out west.
But for me, the pull of sticking to what’s expected of me--or even jumping on a bandwagon as it strolls by, waving its zombie-scented money in the air on its way to apocalyptic lands we’ve already been to a thousand times over--is strong. I think about caving often. And I suppose I did when I wrote BLOODLETTER (the first book in a vampire series) as C.E. Lutzke. And it may not be the last time I cave. Matter of fact, to play the devil’s hypocrite here and be completely transparent, I’m not above writing to market under a pseudonym just to make money, because, unfortunately, a mortgage trumps integrity.
But what makes me truly happy is the unapologetic exploration of other genres and mixing them. With THE SAME DEEP WATER AS YOU I wrote a tragic “romance”. It’s bleak, it’s beautiful, it’s angsty, and hearts are broken. It was a total experiment I wrote 100% for me.
It wasn’t the first time I did this. SKULLFACE BOY was an experiment too. A bizarre road trip where I ask the reader to suspend all disbelief right on the first page, when I tell them our protagonist has a skull for a face.
Other than THE NEON OWL--another off-the-road exploration into territory new to me (crime noir-ish)--those two books were the most fun to write. They're loaded with more me than anything else.
While I'm honored to have a readership with reader expectations and hear whispers of anticipated broken hearts with what many have deemed "heartfelt horror," it's also a little scary. If STIRRING THE SHEETS and OF FOSTER HOMES AND FLIES made them cry, how are they going to react when when I've got a one-legged handyman searching for clues on who's shitting in the bushes at THE NEON OWL?
I imagine Lansdale had this same problem at first. The difference is, Joe is more punk than me, and I don’t think he gave a good shit. After Lansdale wrote THE DRIVE-IN, readers screamed, "We've got a splatterpunk guy on our hands!"
Joe said, "No you don't," and wrote a crime novel, while pointing toward THE MAGIC WAGON, stating, "And don't forget about the western."
Joe gave the finger to the pigeons and their holes.
I want to give that same finger.
Joe did for my view on writing what punk rock ethics started at the age of 14. His “fuck-the-reader” and “write-like-everyone-you-know-is-dead” principles are as punk as it gets. It’s why he’s in my list of top 3 writers of all time, right alongside Mr. Ketchum and Mr. King (for me, they're all tied for first).
I’ll never be done writing “heartfelt horror”. It’s in my DNA. But I’m not done writing dark drama or humorous crime stories either. Just know that whatever I write is honest and 100% me, on my terms. And I sure do appreciate you riding along.
But if you’re one who tends to like the same comfortable shoes--as Lansdale puts it--and don’t care much for when I wander too far, blame Joe Lansdale. It’s his fault.
Unlike the number of books I managed to read this year, I got quite a few movies in (around 180), most of which weren't released in 2020. Here's my top 10 best and worst films I watched this year (in no particular order...except for Paddleton).
2. It Comes at Night
3. The Greasy Strangler
4. Anything for Jackson
5. Blue Jay
6. Come to Daddy
7. Doctor Sleep
8. The Boy
9. The Beach House
10. The Rental
1. Found Footage
2. Thankskilling 3
3. Demon Wind
4. The Love Witch
5. Drive-In Massacre
6. Death Bed: The Bed that Eats
7. Invasion of the Blood Farmers
8. The Amityville Curse
9. Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things
10. The Giant Spider Invasion
Sadly, I found myself not reading as much this year. Chalk it up to the stress we've collectively shared, as well as a surprise writing project, a handful of blurb requests, hiding behind too many bad movies, and rewatching Curb Your Enthusiasm for the 3rd time.
Here are the top 5 books I read this year (in no particular order).
The Best of... - Joe R. Lansdale
Gorilla in my Room - Jack Ketchum
Magic - William Goldman
Slash - Hunter Shea
It - Stephen King
Last month I did the 31 Days of Terror Challenge where I comprised a list of horror films to watch for every day in October. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to follow the list either because the movie was no longer streaming or because I needed to watch a film for PaleoCheeze Podcast or because of those godawful Amityville movies with author/podcaster Jason Brant.
That being said, I did watch at least one horror film per day, totaling 33 films in all. Here's my top best and worst of the month (featuring only films I hadn't seen before).
1. It Comes at Night
2. The Greasy Strangler
5. Jennifer's Body
1. Death Bed: The Bed that Eats
2. Found Footage
3. Invasion of the Blood Farmers
4. The Giant Spider Invasion
5. Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things