Sidekicks: Down Where The Dead Roll by Penny Maez
As well as publishing under my own name, I sometimes use pseudonyms. In these occasional posts, I’ll explore the work I’ve done that doesn’t fit into the Robert Maas universe.
My world is a dark one, ruled over by elemental forces and impossible odds. Against these backgrounds, vehemently committed characters struggle to survive and find redemption. I have no limits in terms of subject, tone and length, but all my stories take place in this harsh and angry universe – one very much like our own.
There’s love here, and pratfalls, and exhilaration, but there’s also death at the stroke of a pen.
I consider myself to be a thriller writer who uses scientific or technological speculation to drive his plots. You’ll note I didn’t use the term ‘science fiction,’ which I never use to describe my work. I have an uneasy relationship with what most people consider SF, since in my opinion it is overwhelmingly fantasy.
I use the term ‘thriller’ because I think it would be understood by its audience more than the term ‘science fiction,’ which might encompass zombies, psychic powers, or superheroes.
The Robert Maas universe is a very small region within this broader genre, a private pocket world where I can stamp around muttering about the Rules of Rationalization.
It’s no less expansive than anywhere else in SF. Its imagination is no less unfettered. But it grounds every speculation in something that at least might be considered plausibility, and strives hard to find rationales for everything it proposes.
What about stories that don’t follow these rules, that explore concepts that don’t fit in with the Robert Maas worldview, or that don’t have a basis in science or technology? For those I use a pseudonym.
Penny Maez is one example. But Penny Maez has rules of her own.
Each Penny Maez novel is standalone, as are my own. Each is approximately 50,000 words long, which I consider the optimum length for her kind of work. Long enough to propose a scenario, introduce and develop a set of characters, get to the story’s point — and get out of there. Without asides and subplots, and definitely without padding.
Each is a breathless page turner, a dread-filled rush into nightmare, an inexorable logical clockwork. Each is suitable for an audience of all reading levels, which means they’re not excessively gory or sexually explicit, though they are certainly some of the most disturbing things I’ve ever written.
Each has a juvenile lead character. The oldest Penny Maez protagonist to date is in their late teens. The youngest is ten.
Each could be considered a horror novel, though they have many different themes and are set in various genres. They almost always end with an unexpected twist. For this reason, most of Penny Maez’s novels are literally unclassifiable. To say what genre they are would be to give the game away.
My latest Penny Maez novel, published in November 2015, is called Down Where The Dead Roll.
I can tell you exactly what genre Down Where The Dead Roll fits into. It’s a supernatural horror novel. It’s about a group of kids who discover that they share their neighborhood with invisible ghosts, which they nickname ‘creepers.’ They alone are able to view these ghosts using a special glass coating much like the sunglasses in John Carpenter’s movie They Live!
The more the kids learn about these creepers, the more terrifying their world becomes until they are literally fighting for more than their own lives.
There’s nothing comforting about Down Where The Dead Roll. From the title onwards, it is designed to get its claws in the reader. Every chapter digs those claws a little deeper in your flesh.
The kids who move fearlessly into the clutches of the novel are heartbreaking simply because they’re so young. They’re on the verge of being let into great secrets, though every adult could tell them those secrets are not going to make their lives any easier.
It may be the darkest thing I’ve ever written, which is saying something given my Robert Maas novels such as Residuum and A Thousand Years Of Nanking. It certainly scared me witless when I was writing it at the beginning of 2015. Even though I knew where the clockwork would take me, my heart was in my mouth throughout.
Though it has a technological rationale, the ghosts themselves mean Down Where The Dead Roll is certainly not a Robert Maas novel. Ghosts don’t figure in my universe. But once you read it, you’ll see how closely it fits into the other work I’ve done, and how themes from Robert Maas and Penny Maez novels interlock and reinforce each other.
This is true of all my pseudonyms. In general, readers who like Robert Maas or Penny Maez may stick with just those writers, which is the reason I use pseudonyms in the first place. Each one has its own brand to build.
But I always bounce ideas from book to book, and as you’ll find out in this series of posts, there are sometimes startling ways in which work by my pseudonyms directly interacts with work by Robert Maas.
Is that why, I wonder, the cover to Penny Maez’s Down Where The Dead Roll — the creeper stalking a suburban street one cold dark night — is a photograph of me?