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This is the introduction to Mark Justice's "Deadneck Hootenany," a high-brow bit of possum-flavored zombie munch with a dash of saucy humor. Since the book is now sold out, I'll go ahead and post this so you can hurry and get Mark's future books. His hilarious blog "Department of Justice" is at http://markjustice.blogspot.com/ and he's also one of the masterminds of the Pod of Horror podcast.
Missive Found Nailed to an Outhouse Door Early on a
Supposedly, its a human response to tragedy, a way we acknowledge the ultimate irony of lifes miraclethe fact that life, despite its wonder and beauty, always ends. We expect such false bravery because weve been conditioned by our steady diet of media. Our role models are supposed to be larger than life, and larger than death. The condemned man feels the knot slip around his neck and, in a bit of witty introspection, says, Can you use a different kind of rope? Im allergic to hemp.
Now, I have great sympathy for anyone with a hemp allergy, even a dying man. But I suspect the man is more likely worried about prosaic matters. Will my loved ones be able to get by on my insurance payoff? Will I meet a Maker who doesnt look too kindly on those 16 mutilated corpses I accrued during my killing spree? Will I fill my drawers in an embarrassing manner as I dangle in front of that good-looking turnkey over there?
We dont all get James Bond scriptwriters for those terrible moments in our lives, when we look in the mirror at 3 a.m. wondering about the fool staring back, adding up the pieces of our lives and measuring them against our dreams. Its much easier to be funny at a funeral than in a cancer ward. Its easier to rest in peace than live in peace. Its easier to take a bullet for the home team than it is to question how the home team wandered onto the firing range.
All kinds of literature, entertainment, and art deal with these discrepancies. Whether its the grim treatment by Nietzsche or Camus or a goofy grand guignol with dwarves, silly putty, and steak knives, essentially all artistic pursuits come down to life and death. Most of us go through the day in denial, and just as our memory protects us by blunting the sharpest pricks of guilt, the same evolved brain that allows us to contemplate our own mortality compels us to keep our eyes on the ground and absorb ourselves with the mundane routines of work and play and American Idol, with occasional forays into mood-altering substances (whether the substance is illicitly ingested or conjured through meditations of religion or philosophy). Aside from the most damaged of people, none of us want to die, and we hate to be reminded of our own frailty.
Thank God for the horror genre.
Its one of the few venues where we are not only allowed to laugh at funerals, but where the practice is encouraged. Thats not to say a car-crash decapitation is always cause for a giggle, but somehow levity seems a little more natural when we are most under pressure to be solemn. Those we call The Norms might not appreciate such behavior, but they are also the same people who pretend not to smell a fart in an elevator.
Mark Justice is not a Norm. Mark understands that he who laughs, lasts. He who laughs at himself lasts longer. And he who makes others laugh at themselves approaches immortality. And just as horror is a venue whose boundaries are wider than the parted thighs of a trailer park priestess, the South is a venue that broadens all possibilities and extremes.
Marks a good old Southern boy, and despite a radio career that forces him to suppress the accent, to some degree, he still manages to cling like Virginia creeper to the woods that heal his air and the hills that sing him lullabies when the wind comes in just right. Mark appreciates the amber gleam of Jim Beam, the taut pluck of a banjo string, the profundity that can be discovered in an isolated outhouse. In Marks world, dirty longhandles are good enough for government work.
God, who is not allowed to wear a white robe because of potential associations with the KKK, gave Mark a gift. And to prove that even a blind pig roots up an acorn once in a while, God also tucked Mark into hillbilly country.
In these two tales of backwoods anthropophagy, Mark doesnt merely descend into redneck jokes and gallows humor, he serves up a platter of wisdom and truth along with the entrails.
Mark is allowed to write hillbilly horror because hes a hillbilly. Those who are not hillbillies and attempt to use rednecks as characters usually fall into Deliverance-styled cornhole jokes and references to underage incest. While the backwoods probably suffers the same measure of such shenanigans as your typical city block, theres also an elegance and primitive grace to hillbilly horror that goes beyond the stereotype.
And whats beautiful about stereotype is that it is based initially on truth, though it is often exaggerated into cruelty by those who fear what they cant understand. My own entry into the hillbilly horror ouvre, The Harvest, is a B-grade, alien-infection zombie romp set in the Southern Appalachians. A New York-based reviewer for Fangoria Magazine wrote that the novel broke all records for small-town Southern stereotypes. Its not my place to question the no-doubt far-more-informed opinion of a Yankee (after all, those sumbitches did win the war), but I know for a fact that my characters were not stereotypes. Hell, they were my relatives.
As the good Kentucky Col. Mark Justice knows, there really are a disproportionate number of men named Darrell in the South. There are also places named Possum Hollow. People here often use a compound first name, though General Robert E. Lee would turn over in his grave if those names were separated by a hyphen, as can be found in the cute christenings of those unfortunate enough to spring from the loins of Hollywood couples. We drive pick-ups here, and while displaying the Confederate flag sparks legitimate heritage versus hate debate, we dont feel the need to apologize for our actions and attitudes.
You walk these hills and enter these pages at your own risk. You can laugh with us, or you can laugh against us. You can sit down at the dinner table like a respectful guest, or you can find yourself ass-end-up on the table with an apple in your mouth.
We take our foolin around seriously in these parts.
--copyright 2007 by Scott Nicholson. No use without permissionnters paranormal -----------------
Scott Nicholson is the author of eight "real books" and six "fake books" (er, ebooks). Some of the real ones have the same stories as the fake ones. The difference is the "real books" have often been declared out of print by the publisher and removed from store shelves, so his dedicated readers must take extreme measures to find them, including plundering garage sales and stealing from the library. His ebooks are easily available and cheap. The Skull Ring and The Red Church are two such cheap books at under $2 each. But, as the commercials say, the experience is priceless. Visit Scott at http://hauntedcomputer.blogspot.com
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