I should explain that I don’t have a bookcase at home. I have a shelf where I put my most recent reads, but I incarcerated all my rare first editions and collectibles in yellow straight jackets in the attic. Visitation rights are limited, but I sometimes go up there and allow them some air from time to time.
This batch was purchased back when Will Christopher Baer made up one of the Holy Trinity of writers in a forum I frequented named The Velvet. The Poe Trilogy begins with Kiss Me Judas, then Penny Dreadful, and finally Hell’s Half Acre. I have the last book in the series, but presumably it’s in a different box skulking in the attic shadows with other works from Craig Clevenger and Stephen Graham Jones, the final two in the aforesaid Trinity.
Living in the U.K. meant getting hold of signed U.S. first editions was hard back in the early 2000s. Unprotected proofs were even harder. But it proves when you love a writer’s work, you’ll sell your soul to the Devil to peel back the pages and hear the gentle cracking of spine. Will’s writing is wrenched from a place few dare to venture. He fleshes out his characters with hearts as dark as the words printed on the page they occupy, and long after you put the book down, you’ll hear it calling out to you again and again. Even some 20 years later. The Poe trilogy stands as one of the most influential Noir series of its time, and Will carved such a deep impression into many of us fledging writers that to this day the scar tissue still reminds us we can always be better.
If you can, go find a copy of Kill Me Judas. It’ll stay with you. And I recommend reading it in the bath, one filled with ice-cold water.
A few rarities by Stephen. For those who loved MY HEART IS A CHAINSAW, seek out DEMON THEORY, a kind of precursor to that horror homage he writes so well. This annotated signed copy is one of my favourite books by Stephen. I landed it after hand delivering a limited edition of Conan the Barbarian to Stephen’s then agent in Soho, New York. If you want to curry favour with Stephen, Conan is the way to go.
ALL MY BEAUTIFUL SINNERS was probably my first foray into his work. I recall reading it whilst wearing surgical gloves because my hands were sweating and ink was bleeding into my skin from the backboards. Someone really needs to reissue that book. It sits more in the thriller genre, but still has that unique Jones voice.
This may have escaped most of you, but Chemical Pink blew up for a while due to the rumour that Chuck Palahniuk was going to write the screenplay and David Fincher was going to direct. I know! So, what’s so good about this book that two masters of their associated disciplines gravitate to it?
Blurb: “Aurora Jeanine Johnson is an unwed mother from Savannah, Georgia, desperate to sculpt a new life–and a new body–in California, where the quest for the perfect butt or bicep reaches religious intensity. Spending every spare moment training at the gym, Aurora is barely getting by–until she meets the man who will offer her everything she most desires. Charles Worthington is a wealthy eccentric, rich enough to indulge his every decadent whim and fantasy. Aurora is his sexual ideal, the raw material from which he will shape his masterpiece. He will transform Aurora into the woman of his dreams–and fantasies–no matter the cost. To achieve their common goal, Aurora hands over complete control of her life to Charles. He dictates her diet, her lifestyle, her training–and when and how much she’ll take of the body-altering drugs he “prescribes” for her. He decides whom she sees and where she goes. And what kinky games of his own devising they will play. For Aurora, everything that Charles asks is a small price to pay to become the woman she’s always dreamed of being. Or is it? Chemical Pink is a gothic duet that explores the boundary between obsession and pathology.”
This book is bonkers in all the best ways. The detail and research is unmatched, and Arnoldi’s voice strong throughout. I got to see Palahniuk at a reading of GUTS in the U.K. back in the early 2000s. I asked him what was happening with the adaptation. He said Fincher was struggling to get it off the ground because his last movie didn’t do well (Panic Room). I often wonder what Fincher’s vision of Chemical Pink would have been like. I guess I’ll never know.
Every now and then a writer comes along that leaves you in complete reverence. Craig Clevenger is one of those writers. Contortionist’s Handbook, Craig’s debut novel, landed around 2002 (cripes, has it been 20 years?!). At the time, it was spoken about in the same way music lovers speak of The Clash’s London Calling, or The Stooges’s Raw Power – something that will resonate and influence for many years. I discovered it when Chuck Palahniuk proclaimed it as one of the best books of the past decade. That comment, and further endorsements by Irvine Welsh, and Donnie Darko Director Richard Kelly, helped propel Craig to the upper echelon of contemporary writers. The Handbook was everything and more. Craig’s technical knowledge surrounding a forger running from his past left me breathless. As a writer starting out, reading his prose was like taking a masterclass in show, not tell, and how to avoid the dreaded “I” often tethered to first person narrative. Believe me, no matter how well you research for a book, Craig will have you beat.
The release of Dermaphoria saw him return to the streets of LA and its seedy underbelly of drug rings, broken characters, and mysterious women. It was also adapted into a movie staring Ron Perlman in 2014. The photo is a first edition of said book. Many moons ago I approached Craig to see if he would sign the books. His correspondence back was as beautifully penned as his prose. He even offered to pay for the shipping back. I never took him up on it. Not because I didn’t want the books signed, but because I was afraid they’d get lost in Shanghai, or some long forgotten port in the back end of postal Hell. I had hoped that one day a book tour would be in the offing for Craig, and I could hand my copies to him personally. I’m still hopeful that day will happen.
If you get the chance, seek out everything Craig has produced. He also runs online workshops (Goleta Valley Library) where he helps new writers navigate the literary speed bumps many fail to scale. And at time of writing this, they’re free.