Charlie Huston Comes To Town With Tales Of A Sleepless Post-Apocalyptic Los Angeles

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Charlie Huston, the author of the newly released Sleepless, didn't start out to be a novelist; he had been hoping to become a screenwriter. That was six years and almost a dozen books ago.

"I was not thinking of a career as a writer until it was upon me," he told Hair Balls via phone. "I had written a novel, but just to stay creatively busy and entertain myself more than anything else. Years passed. ... Then out of the blue, someone popped up with an interest in my first book."

That first release was Caught Stealing, with Hank Thompson, a down-on-his-luck bartender turned reluctant good-doer, as the lead character.

"Things moved very, very quickly from there," Huston says, in somewhat of an understatement.

Things also moved in several directions. Huston not only began writing more crime novels featuring Hank Thompson, he also started a series featuring Joe Pitt, a vampire living in Manhattan. And he penned a few comic books. The variety of his work made it a little difficult for booksellers to pigeonhole him into one genre, but his publishers, and more importantly his fans, didn't seem to mind.

"My readership has been really flexible," Huston says. "If they're into horror, science fiction or fantasy, I think it's much easier for that reader to jump to crime. It's been much harder for my crime readers, the people who started out with my Harry Thompson crime novels, to cross over to Joe Pitt. Still, every book has found its own readership. I've got a [few] too many readers to [have what's] called a cult following, but certainly that's the tenor of it all."

So who shows up at his readings and appearances? Crime fans or vampire groupies? "I'll get a little bit of everything," he says. "It's not unusual to get a couple of Goths in there, and then adolescent boys and young men who tend to really be into the crime stuff and the comic books.

"I also have an unusual following of middle-aged women, though I'm still not sure why. At just about every appearance there's someone in the audience that reminds me of my mom. And I get these e-mails that say, 'Hi, I'm probably not your usual reader. I'm 62-years-old and a grandmother.' Actually, even though the bulk of my readership seems to be guys, from 16 to mid-30s, those women are definitely my typical readers, too."

For his latest title, Sleepless, Huston's hero is Park Haas, an LAPD cop. The book is set in post-apocalyptic Los Angeles which is beset by an infectious epidemic. People aren't able to sleep due to a strange, and fatal, disease. So far Haas is all right, but his wife Rose is afflicted and getting worse by the day. And Haas is afraid the couple's infant daughter is showing the initial signs of infection.

"The disease in the book is based on an actual disorder called fatal familial insomnia," he says. "Essentially, I've always been interested in dreams and sleeping disorders, and a few years ago I read about FFI, and it struck me as being a particularly gruesome and unforgiving and brutal illness. Especially in its final stages, the lack of rest for the brain physically tortures the body. The victims lose their sense of self and who they are as a person, they never lose their awareness that something is horribly, horribly wrong."

But while the book is a mix of crime, supernatural and horror, it's also a bit of a love story. "In the book, I invested very heavily in Park and Rose and their relationship, and their fears that their baby daughter might be sick," Huston tells us. "I really put my foot in by, from the get-go, by saying Rose is sleepless and nobody survives this disease. The reader, in the first 50 or so pages, knows that this major character in the story was going to die and there was going to be no reprieve.

"It's wasn't meant to be cynical manipulation," he continues. "It's just the kind of story that I wanted to tell. At some point in every one of my books, I inevitably break the reader's heart. With this book, that was the overarching goal. It couldn't be a completely unrelenting, bitter and grim experience, but at the same time it had to be heartbreaking."

But Huston is confident that his readers, who are aware of his style, will keep coming back for more heartbreak. "It seems like every one of my books comes with some sort of caveat, whether the book is sad, or the book is violent, or profane.

"I've even seen one review that mentioned, in the final paragraph, that readers prone to depression should avoid it," he reports. "I apparently do not steer down the happy medium."

Charlie Huston will appear at a reading and signing session at 6:30 p.m. on Friday. Murder by the Book, 2342 Bissonnet. For information, call 713-524-8597 or visit www.murderbooks.com. Free.

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