The Nine: Writers

1. William S. Burroughs

Naked Lunch is reason enough to put Burroughs on my list. The [disjointed, rejoined, sliced, diced, surgically removed, nonsensically replaced] cut-up method that Burroughs used in Naked Lunch and its follow-on works (The Soft Machine, The Ticket that Exploded and The Nova Express) is pure dopamine honey. And that stuff is hard to come by (but apparently heroin wasn’t). Other writers have tried (for some reason Mark Danielewski comes to mind with House of Leaves; not cut-up, but experimental in style. I actually found the novel OK, but there is a mass of critics out there that hate it), but it’s incredibly difficult to do experimental fiction and not fall flat or flat-out fail.

I always wanted a Clark Nova typewriter that looked like a bug (or anus for those that have seen the Naked Lunch movie [Peter Weller is a freak in the film, for freak lovers]) and talked to me. Plus, anyone that ran with Jack Kerouac wore a pair of socks I’d like to sniff.

2. Stephen King

There once was a modern king of horror and he sat on a throne that Stephen King built (wait, that doesn’t make sense). King’s early work (It, The Shining, Carrie, Salem’s Lot) exuded a raw, visceral power that most of his writing in the last few decades just isn’t able to tap. I miss the King of the 70s and 80s.

King’s writing crosses genre boundaries. He’s touched on elements of all major speculative fiction with titles like The Running Man, The Lawnmower Man, and The Dark Tower Series (plus more and more and more). It just seems downright crazy to me that he is able to find any measure of success outside the horror genre that he so loves.

3. H.P. Lovecraft

This guy had an incredible chin that would make Jay Leno cry like a baby with a blowout diaper. And Lovecraft had such a way with weaving a tale that can pull a reader in. Many of the overused twist endings amateur writers exploit (or try to exploit) are a direct result of Lovecraft’s imagination.

He built an empire with Cthulhu. Of course there are many great (and some not so great) examples of writers that have built universes for their stories that transcend the stories themselves. Cthulhu is special, it is powerful, and it is… Well, if you know, you know.

4. Yevgeny Zamyatin

I’m not able to locate much translated work of this wonderful Russian writer. His dystopian novel We is the easiest to find in English and it is a top three sample of that genre. My opinion? We defined the dystopian genre.

I respect writers that can develop their craft under adverse conditions. Whether weighed down by hardship (financial, mental, physical) or oppression (from the government, society, family), it’s a gift to be able to obey the drive to write and write with such completeness. Zamyatin was able to slip his message under a scary eyeball and, in the process, he created an engaging story and style. We is an almost perfect example of first-person POV and Zamyatin is able to let readers taste the mental breakdown of his main character with an ease that makes me envious.

If you read a story or watch a movie that uses numbers for its character names, pour a shot of scotch on your tweed carpet in honor of Yevgeny Zamyatin.

5. Franz Kafka

I wouldn’t be the weird, bizarre, off-centered writer I am if it wasn’t for the influences that Kafka slicked down my ear hole like a rabid mealworm. His matter-of-fact way of passing off the oddest of plots as just a part of a normal day can be dizzying. And woefully jollyful (that’s right).

A lot of Kafka fans might point to Metamorphosis as one of his defining works, but I like A Hunger-Artist better. Of course, Metamorphosis will have been read by anyone that has taken to Kafka and his style. So, I’ll give in… a little.

6. David Foster Wallace

Infinite Jest is probably one of my favorite novels. If readers can immerse themselves in the incredible world Wallace envisions for North America in the near future and the outrageously creative acronyms he uses throughout Infinite Jest, he or she will find a piece of burnt-orange heaven buried in the novel’s pages (The Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment or Y.D.A.U is an alchemist’s gold).

I tend to like dystopian, alternative history/futures, utopian, and the sort. Infinite Jest doesn’t stop delivering that element for almost 1,100 pages. It could only be better if Wallace were still here with us.

7. Orson Scott Card

Forget the politics and the religious undertones. Forget almost everything he’s written since Ender’s Game. That one novel stands alone as an example of when Card was a great writer. And maybe he still is. There aren’t a lot of writers that can polarize fans and critics as quickly as Card can. I try to remember that Ender’s Game is fiction and think less about what Card may or may not have been trying to proselytize through his choice of language, phrasing and plot.

8. Robert Bloch

Bloch has scared more readers than practically any other writer. And it’s not a stretch to think that he helped usher in an era of horror fiction that might not exist had he not written Psycho. Of course Norman Bates is a seminal character for horror fans, but The Shambles of Ed Gein is probably my favorite Bloch story.

I really like Bloch’s take on Jack the Ripper. He continually revisited the gruesome real-life character in several fictional works each with a different speculation on the origins of the serial killer.

9. Neil Gaiman

Gaiman is a modern-day genius (hell, he could even be a post-future-modern-neo-classical-contemporary-steampunk-puppy-genius). And he’s a fan of Doctor Who. He even wrote an episode of Doctor Who (The Doctor’s Wife, one of the top ten, I’d say). He’s into comics and Babylon 5. That man and his ten hands have a finger in every bellybutton imaginable.

OK. I let his sexiness get in the way. If you’ve read any of The Sandman graphic novels, you already know why.

Honorable Mentions (because I can’t count to ten):

Jeremy C. Shipp: A young writer with the wise heart of an old sage. Keep a close third eye on this guy. His style is fresh, unique and he has an uncanny knack for showing readers a millisecond glimpse into his world using colors and descriptions that shouldn’t be possible. Or allowed.

I also read nearly a dozen or so writers that I firmly believe will be heroes and loved ones to at least one village of snail people. A half a decade ago (that’s five years for the math-challenged), a term was coined to corral a genre of fiction that has exploded into a surreal sea-faring herd of Magic Mountain water goats. Bizarro might be a new title for an old (-ish) form that was once brought on by crazy, mentally challenged, or drug-induced spurts of genius (William S. Burroughs, Philip K. Dick speak up now), but it has been brewing since the late 1990s. One day, one, some, or none of these writers will bless The Nine with their absurdism. I may have an upcoming issue of The Nine that focuses on the bizarro genre (bribes are a guaranteed motivator).

There’s a whole world out there that magically includes E.M. Forster (which should’ve made The Nine, dammit), Anton Chekov (crap, maybe I’ll rename it The Eleven), J.R.R Tolkien, George R. R. Martin, Robert Jordan, J.K. Rowling and more (if you say Stephanie Meyer, my heart will shrink). My choices for The Nine will be different than yours. Tomorrow The Nine might include more of your favorites. For now, these are mine.

What is The Nine? Read my short explanation called The Nine.

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