Writers You Should Be Reading: Tom Piccirilli by Blu Gilliand

Writers You Should Be Reading: Tom Piccirilli

by Blu Gilliand, Tue., Sep. 20, 2011 1:02 PM PDT

Books  Tom Piccirilli

Writers You Should Be Reading: Tom Piccirilli

Last week I started a semi-regular feature called “Small Press Spotlight” in which I’ll introduce readers to the small publishers who are currently putting out some of the horror genre’s most exciting and inventive work. This week I’m starting another semi-regular feature in which I’ll narrow the focus even further, introducing you to writers that you may not have heard of but (in my opinion) should be buying the day they have a new book out. In the first installment of “Writers You Should Be Reading” I’m excited to introduce you to Tom Piccirilli.

Books  Tom Piccirilli

Tom Piccirilli is a Horror writer. The spines of his books don’t say that anymore (these days they are more apt to say “Suspense,” which is publisher-speak for Crime Fiction), but make no mistake – he knows what scares you. In fact, it’s the same things that scare him. Isolation. Loneliness. Loss of control. Loss of self. Loss of those you love. These are the things he writes about now, and in fact has always written about.

In the beginning he kept those themes in the shadows, blanketing them with the familiar tropes and trappings of horror. Books like Hexes and Dark Father were steeped in the supernatural and the occult, but it was always the secrets locked away in human minds and human hearts that Piccirilli was most concerned with. Around the time of Headstone City, Piccirilli’s love of noir began to really find its way into his voice, and every book since then has been part of a slow transition into a new – but no less shadow-drenched – forum for his work.

This is usually the point where I’d begin to give you examples of writers that Piccirilli’s work resembles as a way of helping you gauge if his work is really for you. But Piccirilli’s voice is so singular, so unique, that I really can’t find an adequate example to peg him to. Reading a Tom Piccirilli book is not about familiarity, and it’s not about having yourself a heaping helping of comfort food to get you through a summer afternoon at the beach. It’s about an author who has something to say and a way he wants to say it, and he’s going to follow those impulses wherever they carry him. That’s why he’s able to write about conjoined triplets living deep in the swamps in one book (A Choir of Ill Children), a grieving father tracking his daughter’s murderer in another (Dead Letters), a thief and getaway driver trying desperately to change his life in an ongoing series (The Cold Spot and The Coldest Mile), a failed writer discovering his capacity for violence in a recent novella (Every Shallow Cut), and even an honest-to-God cloven-hoofed demon straight out of the comics (Hellboy: Emerald Dawn). Piccirilli’s imagination and talent know no bounds, and every book he releases is an event on par with a new Stephen King book for his regular readers.

Books  Tom Piccirilli

I’m going to recommend three books that will help new readers get an idea of the depth and range Piccirilli is capable of, but the truth is you can pick up anything with his name on it and be well rewarded for your time. You definitely won’t go wrong with these:

A Choir of Ill Children (Bantam, 2004): Not Piccirilli’s first book, but the first which really saw him finding his voice and direction. Choir is a Southern Gothic masterpiece about a young man named Thomas who is struggling through life in a backwater swamp town called Kingdom Come. His father has disappeared, his mother took her own life, and he’s left in charge of the town’s decaying mill. On top of it all, he’s got sole responsibility for his three brothers, conjoined triplets who share a brain. The rest you should discover for yourself. Read this one first, like I did, and you’ll be hooked.

The Nobody (Tasmaniac Publications, 2009): A man named Cryer wakes up in a mental hospital to find that everything important in his life has been taken from him. His wife and daughter are dead, and his memory is gone thanks to a stab wound to the head. There are echoes of the film Memento here as Cryer tries to track down his family’s killer without the benefit of a full and stable mind, but he’s got even bigger problems than memory loss to deal with. There’s a little man in his head, you see, and every once in a while he crawls out of Cryer’s skull…

Cast in Dark Waters (Cemetery Dance, 2002): Co-written with Ed Gorman, Cast mixes vampires, pirates and voodoo in a tale that’s equal parts adventure and horror. It’s as good a place to sample Piccirilli’s horror roots as any of his solo efforts, but may be a little harder to track down.

In addition to contributing some truly great novels and stories to the writing community, Piccirilli is a real champion for beginning authors and veteran writers alike. Both his blog (thecoldspot.blogspot.com) and his Facebook page are filled with reviews, writing advice, peeks at his own methods, and encouragement to others to read and publicize the works of others. Piccirilli has recently begun releasing a large part of his back catalog, as well as a growing selection of all-new material, in various digital formats, and you can get information on all of these at either site.

If you’re looking for something fresh and new, do yourself a favor and track down something by Tom Piccirilli. I guarantee you won’t be bored…or disappointed.

(Tom Piccirilli’s new book, The Last Kind Words, is due out in hardcover from Bantam on May 29, 2012.)

Blu Gilliand is a freelance writer of fiction and nonfiction. He covers horror fiction at his blog, October Country (http://theoctobercountry.wordpress.com/), and contributes interviews to the Horror World website (http://www.horrorworld.org/). Follow him on Twitter at @BluGilliand.

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