Starr Creek: An Out of This World Ride

starrcreekfinal Recently I had the distinct pleasure of receiving an advance copy of Nathan Carson’s new novel Starr Creek. It took me a bit to get to sit down and read it because I was waiting to give it my full attention. So, not long ago I got comfy on my front porch and dipped in – and it took me for an amazing ride!

The story follows two sets of kids: an older group who are busily experimenting with a smorgasbord of mind altering substances, and a couple of younger boys who are more concerned with riding 3-wheelers and getting hold of some choice adult magazines. Both groups cross paths with a rather terrifying back woods family, and end up having to deal with something else … something not human.

Carson draws the reader in quickly by moving from an opening scene involving a discussion of an ancient deal between two dark creatures to a dog food eating contest in the local dive bar. During this contest we meet Puppy, the eldest male member of a family, the type of which you will probably recognize simply from his name (or that of his sister, Kitty). Puppy brings a very real atmosphere of physical violence, and it is soon made clear that he is not a person to be trifled with. Teens Bron, Allen, and Kira are mainly concerned with role playing games and tripping, and on an early morning trip in the woods have the unfortunate luck to stumble across Puppy in the middle of something that he would prefer no one else to have noticed. Meanwhile, pre-teens Charles and Ethan are on a mission to purchase illicit magazines, and run across something very unexpected in the woods.

What ensues is action packed. There are chases through woods and underground tunnels, mysterious communes with ageless leaders, unspeakable ceremonies with alien beings, and at the end of it all our protagonists are faced with crushing, life altering decisions.

This book is great fun, not only because of the original story and interesting characters, but also because of Carson’s writing style. I found hints of the styles of Philip K. Dick, Hunter S. Thompson, and Stephen King, with the influence of the Weird woven throughout. The combination of ideas and techniques creates a work which is something completely it’s own and which makes for a compelling read, all the way up to the fiery finish. Starr Creek will be available for purchase November 15th. I highly recommend picking up a copy!

Mongrels: No Bark, All Bite

Cover of Mongrels by Stephen Graham JonesIf you’ve been following Stephen Graham Jones for awhile and read some of his interviews, then you will know that he’s long had a fascination with writing a werewolf novel. He’s done his research into the genre, and even taught a class on the werewolf in books and movies, and now it’s finally here. And it’s everything I’d hoped for and more.

In Mongrels the werewolves are very real, and you can find them, but you’ll have to look on the outskirts of society. If you grew up in a small town, like I did, you will recognize these individuals. They often lived in the rent houses on the other side of the tracks, although not for very long. Or, you might have heard about them living in a house a few miles outside of town, one you didn’t even know had electricity. They might have come through town and then been gone in the dead of night, almost before you could blink. They would have had worn down clothing and been scraping change together to eat and pay their bills. You would have recognized their car if you saw it at the Mini-Mart.

Mongrels is put together as a scattering of memories from a young boy, one who isn’t quite sure where exactly he came from, who he is, or even who – or what – he will become.  He is nameless, but not truly faceless, because Jones makes sure that we recognize him. Whether it’s through the recounting of the feelings and anxieties of those first feelings of love in junior high school, or through a few short, simple lines that sum up the awkward experience of growing up – “I didn’t know how to hold my face” – you know this person because he is you.

The bittersweet memories of adolescence are intermingled with the additional pain of poverty, loss, and the complications of family history, which are even more muddled and complex when that history involves being a werewolf. Many of these memories are further distanced by being told in third person as the narrator takes on the persona of whatever role he is currently playing: the nephew, the reporter (for a class project), the criminal (when he’s in trouble at school), or the vampire (for Halloween),

The vampire’s aunt says it’s selfish, it’s stupid, it’s not heaven being a wolf all the time, and some nights she cries from it, from all the ones dead on the interstate. From all of them running away with bullets in them like pearls made from lava. From all of them stopping at a fence line, a calico cat in their mouths, something about that yellow window in the house keeping them there (Chapter 2).

Throughout it all, Jones reshapes and redefines werewolf mythology. He reinforces some beliefs that we’ve learned from the books and movies, but dispels others with a common sense approach. He provides in-depth information on the variety of ways that werewolves can “cash out.” He explains, for example, that there are definitely situations you don’t want to change during, and how anger management issues can become a problem, say, if you’re a long haul trucker who “goes wolf up in the cab, behind the wheel.” Bad things can happen during that kind of situation, like wrecking

for the simple reason that steering wheels aren’t designed for monsters that aren’t supposed to exist (Chapter 3).

Much of the narrator’s struggle has to do with learning more about his birth, and as the novel progresses he slowly gives us more insight into how werewolves come into existence to begin with … and why there are so few female werewolves. Through this book, like a backbone, runs the strong theme of family, and the desperate and continuing struggle to hang on to those who are ours – who are all that we have – even if we sometimes can hardly bear it,

I hated Darren, and I would have chewed my hand off just to see him one more time (Chapter 17).

The chapters fly by. The stories and situations feel real, and are often funny or terrifying or both. This book shows off one of my favorite things about Jones’s writing, which is that he can put so much story into just a few words. The way he tells things always sounds like home, which is weird because that place and life that he talks about and that I remember really isn’t even home to me anymore, but it’s still in there – that feeling. And he nails it.

Mongrels is coming out on Tuesday, May 10th. You can pre-order your copy today – and you should, because this book is amazing. It’s going to grab you with its teeth, get a good, strong grip, and just not let go …