John Shirley

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John Shirley
John Shirley (cropped).jpg
Born (1953-02-10) February 10, 1953 (age 71)
Houston, Texas, U.S.
Notable work The Crow, The Eclipse Trilogy, Wetbones
Michelina Shirley
(m. 1992)

John Shirley (born February 10, 1953) is an American writer, primarily of horror, fantasy, science fiction, dark street fiction, westerns, and songwriting. He has also written one historical novel, a western about Wyatt Earp, Wyatt in Wichita, and one non-fiction book, Gurdjieff: An Introduction to His Life and Ideas. Shirley has written novels, short stories, TV scripts and screenplays—including The Crow —and has published over 84 books including 10 short-story collections. As a musician, Shirley has fronted his own bands and written lyrics for Blue Öyster Cult and others. His newest novels are Stormland and Axle Bust Creek.



John Shirley was born in Houston, Texas and grew up largely in the vicinity of Portland, Oregon. His earliest novels were Transmaniacon and Dracula in Love for Zebra Books, and City Come A-Walkin, a proto-cyberpunk novel, for Delacorte. He also wrote the A Song Called Youth cyberpunk trilogy for Warner Books, re-released as an omnibus in 2012 by Prime Books. 2012 saw his noir-flavored novel of apocalypse, Everything Is Broken released by Prime Books. In 2013 PM Press released Shirley's New Taboos. In October 2013 HarperCollins/Witness released his novel about Conan Doyle in the afterlife, Doyle After Death; Skyhorse Publications brought out his historical novel about Wyatt Earp, Wyatt in Wichita, in August 2014. Shirley's collaboration with rock musician Mark Tremonti, an adaptation of Tremonti's rock opera A DYING MACHINE, was completed in June 2018.

Besides having written numerous books Shirley was lead singer of the punk band Sado-Nation, in 1978-79; he was lead singer of the post-punk funk-rock band Obsession, on Celluloid Records, while living in New York City and Paris, France, in the 1980s, and was later in the band the Panther Moderns. He is currently performing with The Screaming Geezers. Shirley has also written 23 song lyrics recorded by Blue Öyster Cult.

Shirley's one nonfiction book is Gurdjieff: An Introduction to His Life and Ideas (Penguin/Tarcher). He currently lives in the Vancouver Washington area with his wife, Micky Shirley. Shirley has three adult sons, twins Byron and Perry and their younger brother Julian, who also goes by "Juji". Byron is a yacht captain and yacht broker; Perry is a teacher and artist. Julian is a Bay Area-based underground rapper and producer of hip-hop, trap, chiptune and various other electronic music genres, as well as a computer security professional under the alias "DonJuji".


Shirley is known for his cyberpunk science fiction novels, such as the A Song Called Youth trilogy, City Come A-Walkin' and Black Glass, as well as his suspense (as in his novels Spider Moon and The Brigade), horror novels and stories (e.g., Demons and Crawlers and the story collection Black Butterflies) and horror film work. The A Song Called Youth cyberpunk trilogy, Eclipse, Eclipse Penumbra, and Eclipse Corona, has been slated for a new edition by Dover Books in 2017. His tie-in novels include the best-seller BioShock: Rapture . His best known script work is the film The Crow , for which he was the initial writer, before David Schow reworked the script. He also wrote scripts for Deep Space Nine and Poltergeist: The Legacy . He was nominated for an Emmy in the Prime Time Animation category for an episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Authors David Agranoff and Nancy Collins and editor/critic Paula Guran cite his intense, expressionistic early horror novels, such as Dracula in Love and Cellars as an influence on the splatterpunk movement in horror, and the subsequent "bizarro" movement. [1] Appreciation of John Shirley as an author of dark fiction was amplified by a January 2008 The New York Times review, [2] by critic Terrence Rafferty, of Shirley's story-collection Living Shadows which said in part:

It's a greatest-hits album spanning a few decades of astonishingly consistent and rigorously horrifying work. . . Shirley's great subject is the terrible ease with which we modern Americans have learned to look away from pain and suffering. The opening line of his novel "Demons" states the theme succinctly: “It’s amazing what you can get used to.” . . .Maybe the best story in this superb collection is a rapt little piece called “Skeeter Junkie,” in which a young heroin addict first begins to enjoy the feeling of the mosquito feeding on his arm, then starts to identify with it and then, as the drugs ooze through his veins, somehow becomes it and finally uses the “exquisite” flying bloodsucker to transport him to the apartment of his comely but standoffish downstairs neighbor. It’s a horror story, I guess, but it’s also funny, weirdly erotic and, in a way that horror almost never is, tragic. [2]

Shirley's cyberpunk novels are City Come A-Walkin, the A Song Called Youth trilogy and Stormland. Avant-slipstream critic Larry McCaffery called him "a postmodern Edgar Allan Poe." [3] Bruce Sterling has cited Shirley's early story collection Heatseeker as being a seminal cyberpunk work in itself. Several stories in Heatseeker were particularly seminal, including Sleepwalkers, which, in just one example, probably provided the inspiration for William Gibson's "meat puppets" in Neuromancer. Gibson acknowledged Shirley's influence in an introduction to Shirley's City Come A-Walkin. Shirley's story collection, made up of increasingly bizarre stories, the whimsically titled Really, Really, Really, Really Weird Stories has developed a cult status.

William Gibson, the author of Neuromancer , collaborated with Shirley on short stories—as did fellow cyberpunks Bruce Sterling and Rudy Rucker. Shirley's lyricism, wealth of ideas and imagination, crossover pioneering, and street-level honesty have been praised by other writers including Clive Barker, Peter Straub, Roger Zelazny, Marc Laidlaw, and A. A. Attanasio. His more surreal work, as in A Splendid Chaos, showed how it was possible to describe the indescribable with a paradoxical believability and impeccable internal logic no matter how bizarre the subject matter. Shirley's personal experiences as a recovering drug addict and punk rocker brought verisimilitude to his darker, urban-tinctured writing.

In recent years Shirley has written a number of "tie-in novels" and novelizations, including Constantine, based on the Keanu Reaves movie, the best-seller BioShock: Rapture (Tor, 2011), a novel providing a prequel to the BioShock video game story, and Halo: Broken Circle. He also wrote the apocalyptic, politically charged novel, The Other End which, according to the author's website, takes the apocalypse away from the Christian Right and gives Judgment Day to Liberals to do with as they please. This reflects Shirley's tendency to create fantasy entertainment which is also political satire, or spiritual allegory. E.g., Demons, in which it is discovered that industry has deliberately caused deaths by cancer as part of a vast secret program of human sacrifice.

2007 saw the release of a new story collection, Living Shadows, from Prime Books. His novel of dark urban fantasy set in a slightly futuristic New York, Bleak History, was published by Simon & Schuster/Pocket Books in 2009. In August 2011 Underland Press published In Extremis: The Most Extreme Stories of John Shirley and in January 2012 Prime Books published his near future apocalyptic political allegory, the novel Everything Is Broken. His novel about Arthur Conan Doyle in the afterlife, Doyle After Death, was released by HarperCollins/Witness in October 2013. Shirley's apocalyptic and surreal novel High, based on his early novel Three-Ring Psychus, has been re-released by Start Books as an e-book; His newest story collection is Feverish Stars (March 2020). In June 2020 his fantasy novel Sorcerer of Atlantis will be released by Hippocampus.[ needs update ]

Shirley's work ranges in tone from the surreal to the grittily naturalistic to the nightmarish. He is also a songwriter and singer, having fronted numerous punk bands, including the New York City band Obsession, who were recorded by Celluloid Records. He has written lyrics for Blue Öyster Cult, such as several songs on the album Heaven Forbid .

In 2013 Black October Records released a two-CD compilation of John Shirley's own recordings, Broken Mirror Glass: The John Shirley Anthology – 1978–2012 ...In 2020 Reprehensible Records released the rock albumThe Screaming Geezers; vocals and lyrics by John Shirley. Shirley performs regularly in the Portland, Oregon rock scene.

2014 saw the release of Shirley's first historical novel, Wyatt in Wichita, a novel of the young Wyatt Earp.

Other recent novels are Halo: Broken Circle, Doyle After Death and a novelization of Mark Tremonti's science-fiction rock opera, A Dying Machine.

Shirley is a member of the satirical "religion" Church of the SubGenius.


John Shirley received several nominations and won the following awards.



Short fiction




Bibliography notes
  1. Pat Hawk, Hawk's Authors' Pseudonyms III, Hawk Enterprise's, 1999, ISBN   0-9643185-2-0
  2. Halo Waypoint – Halo: Broken Circle Coming in November. Retrieved 6/23/14

Screenwriting credits




John Shirley wrote most of the lyrics for Blue Öyster Cult albums Heaven Forbid and Curse of the Hidden Mirror as well as the songs "Demon's Kiss" and "The Horsemen Arrive" from their soundtrack Bad Channels , and five songs from their 2020 album The Symbol Remains . Their 1972 song "Transmaniacon MC" was the inspiration for Shirley's first novel, Transmaniacon.

John Shirley's current band, which performs in and around Portland, Oregon, is called The Screaming Geezers.

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  1. Tom Winstead, "Shirley, John" in David Pringle (ed), St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost and Gothic Writers. London : St. James Press, 1998, ISBN   1558622063 (p. 531-2).
  2. 1 2 Rafferty, Terrence (January 27, 2008). "Doesn't Scare Easily". The New York Times . Retrieved January 27, 2014. In the title of Shirley's collection, there's a faint, happy echo of the passage from "Biographia Literaria" in which Coleridge coined his famous phrase. Speaking of his contributions to the seminal 1798 volume "Lyrical Ballads," which included "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," the poet wrote: "My endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic; yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith." That's exactly what good horror writers like Joe Hill and John Shirley do with the shadows of their imagination. And there's an explanation here, too, of the hope that can keep even the most skeptical, fed-up reader coming back to horror fiction. Watching vampires having sex may not strike you as an adequate reward for suspending disbelief. But the poetry of fear and mortality is worth all the belief you can muster.
  3. Avant-Pop: Fiction for a Daydream Nation . Boulder: Black Ice Books (1993) p253. ( ISBN   978-0932511720)
  4. Archived October 31, 2014, at the Wayback Machine
  5. 1 2 Archived October 31, 2014, at the Wayback Machine
  6. Archived October 31, 2014, at the Wayback Machine
  7. Archived October 31, 2014, at the Wayback Machine
  8. Archived October 31, 2014, at the Wayback Machine

Further reading