Saturday, October 20, 2018

Review: Let There Be Dark - by Tim McWhorter

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Let There Be Dark is the perfect gateway into the world of Tim McWhorter.  Eight stories to spark the imagination.  As a relatively new writer, three novels and one previous short story collection you may not be familiar with Tim's work, but he's certainly worth discovering and this book is a wonderful place to start.

Rope Burns - I love this story of a haunted restroom at a Walgreens in Salem, Massachusettes.  It sounds a bit funny to put it that way, but this tale is anything but.  Sad that there's a chain pharmacy where such a tragic event was purported to occur.

"They're selling multi-pack condoms and lube right here on the very spot where they hung Bridget Bishop and the others.  Isn't that quaint?  I bet the ladies would be thrilled to know."

The Company You Keep - A thoroughly enjoyable mob story with a bit of a twist.  One of those stories which start off in one direction and ends up somewhere totally unexpected.

The Bridge - One of the most effective ghost stories I've read in some time and one which is likely to rip your heart out.  Tread lightly.

"The legend of the Alderson Road Bridge was well known to those in the surrounding counties.  The story of babies crying in the night had long ago established itself in the area's folklore."

No Saints Here - You'll really appreciate the title when you get to the end of this twisted little tale.

Pigs - Pig farming ain't quite as glamorous as it might seem.

The Dark Side - A tale which gave me the creeps.  It's the story of a blackout room and captures the scares of such exposure.

"Brent wasn't about to be deterred.  He is as excited about his first blackout experience as a kid about to attend her first boy\girl birthday party."

Growing Cold Together - A potty break in the middle of a snow-covered forest on the way to a resort lodge leads to terrifying results.  Although I had never heard of the creature in this story, I looked it up on Wikipedia and found it to be a nocturnal fearsome critter from American folklore that preys upon humans that wander the woods.  There is plenty of horror crammed into this short story.

Skull Session - Infernales.  A store which features a number of oddities, including shrunken heads.

Tim McWhorter doesn't miss a beat.  With a knack for the unexpected twist, he manages to deliver a number of surprises in this, his second collection of short work.

My highest recommendation.

Published by Hydra Publications, Let There Be Dark is available in both paperback and e-book formats.

From the author's bio - Tim McWhorter was born under a waning crescent moon, and while he has no idea what the significance is, he thinks it sounds really cool to say.  A graduate of Otterbein College with a BA in Creative Writing, he is the author of the novella Shadows Remain, the suspense-thrillers, Bone White, and its sequel, Blackened, and a collection of short stories titled Swallowing The Worm and Other Stories.  Tim lives the suburban life just outside of Columbus, OH, with his wife, a handful of children and a few obligatory 'family' pets that have somehow become solely his responsibility.  He is currently hard at work on another thriller with just enough horror to keep you up at night.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Guest Post: Tim McWhorter - Who Says the Holiday Season Doesn’t Begin with Halloween?

Who Says the Holiday Season Doesn’t Begin with Halloween?

By Tim McWhorter, author of Let There Be Dark

I come from a long line of traditionalists.  Growing up, my family had those certain things we did every year for birthdays and holidays.  Now that I have a family of my own, I’ve happily passed the importance of tradition down to my own kids.  We have so many Christmas traditions that we have to get out the calendar at the beginning of each December and schedule the month’s activities just to make sure we squeeze them all in.  Only one other holiday comes close to having as many traditions.  That holiday is Halloween.  Cobwebs all over the house (fake, not real).  Multiple trips to multiple pumpkin patches.  Pulling the firepit around to the driveway and staying toasty while we pass out trick or treat goodies.  But my favorite tradition of the Halloween season is one that requires no work on my part.  I get to just sit back and enjoy.  That tradition is the return of the horror movie.

Now, before you get your jack o’ lanterns in a wad, I’m not talking about the usual ‘sitting on the couch with the lights off and a blanket pulled up to your eyes’ horror movies.  That’s a fun-filled family activity you can take part in any time of the year, whether it’s the hottest day in July or the coldest in January.  What I’m referring to, and what I get most excited for every October, is the return of classic horror films to the theaters.  Every year around this time, the theaters in my area bring back at least one or two classic horror films for one or two special engagement showings.  My all-time favorite horror flick is The Exorcist, and in the last few years, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing it in the theater on three separate occasions.  The size of the screen, the spooky scores coming through the Dolby speakers at bombastic levels, all combine to provide a viewing experience you just can’t get at home.  I don’t care how much money you’ve spent at Best Buy.  Each time I saw The Exorcist, my heart pounded like a fat kid in gym class during track and field week.  (and I know because I was a fat kid in gym class during track and field week).

This year, the theater gods have not failed me.  In addition to Carpenter’s original Halloween that’s being shown across the country this week prior to the release of the new Halloween film, there are theaters showing George A. Romero’s classic, Night of the Living Dead.  (And yes, I’ve already purchased my tickets.)  This one I am exceptionally excited for. I have teenagers in the house who share my affinity for the scary movie.  (pause for nature versus nurture debate)  The truth is, not all classics that I show them resonate as well as I hope.  Some are too slow by today’s standards. Others have a cheese factor north of Limburger.  I could see NOTLD being one of the more difficult films for them to grasp fully why its one of the all-time greats.  It’s slow.  It’s black and white.  And viewing it in our living room, they may not get the film’s subtext, given the state of our country now compared to the state it was in back in 1968.  But sitting back and watching it all play out on a seventy-foot screen and in Dolby surround sound might help matters.

Questionable child-rearing aside, the fact of the matter is that I was born in 1970.  Many of what are now considered classic horror films had already been relegated to VHS by the time I got around to them.  Getting a chance to see them on the big screen, most for the first time is a real treat for this life-long horror fan.  Other classics I’ve seen in the theater the past few years are Carpenter’s The Thing, Carpenter’s Halloween, Evil Dead, Friday the 13th, The Shining, Jaws, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Alien, and of course, The Exorcist.

So this year, once the pumpkins are carved and on display, and our house looks more like a haunted attraction than my homeowners’ association would care for it to, you’ll find me in a theater somewhere.  I’ll have my feet kicked up, a tub of buttered popcorn on my lap and a cherry Coke in the armrest, waiting for the opening credits to roll and my favorite cardio workout to begin.

See ya at the movies!


Review: Predators - by Michaelbrent Collings

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

If you're anything like me, when you hear the title, Predators, your mind goes immediately to the science fiction action horror film franchise.  Just so you know, Michaelbrent Collings' new book has nothing to do with aliens, but everything to do with terror.

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a predator as an organism that primarily obtains food by the killing and consuming of other organisms.

"Running was what the food did."

The story takes place at and about the Happy Africa Safari Tours, a struggling enterprise on what could well be their final expedition.

Predators is very much a character-driven story.  Just a handful of guests take off on an evening excursion in an attempt to see some wildlife on what was so far has been a less than successful safari.

There are the little blind girl, Gale, her father, Craig, and Grams.  Much of the story revolves around these three, however, they are not alone.  There are Evie Childs and her domineering husband, Bill.  Bernard Eberhardt, one of the most powerful producers in Hollywood, and his ingenue, Selena.  And Gunner Helix, a self-proclaimed survival specialist with in excess of six-million YouTube subscribers.

All of the players in this tale are carefully drawn, some pure, some dark, and others in shades to grey.

"If we have found a spotted hyena, then we have found the most successful predator in Africa."

Amidst all of the violence in Collings' story, there is an incredibly touching moment.  It comes at just the right time to alleviate some of the tension, as hope seems all but lost.

In the end, Predators is a demanding read that is worth the effort and when the book was over, I didn't want to leave.  Definitely recommended

Predators is available now in both paperback and e-book formats.

From the author's bio - Michaelbrent Collings is an internationally bestselling author, multiple Bram Stoker Award Finalist, and one of the top indie horror writers in the US.  He hopes someday to develop superpowers and maybe get a cool robot arm.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Guest Post: Storytelling on Social Media – a Parable of Tanks and Rollerskates by Michaelbrent Collings

Tomorrow I plan to review the new novel Predators by Michaelbrent Collings, but for now, I'd like to turn over my blog to Michaelbrent for this informative guest post...

Storytelling on Social Media – a Parable of Tanks and Rollerskates

What to write about… what to write about…

This is the question I face when writing this article or starting a book, or anything else. What do I write about? What do I DO?

So I thought I'd write about that process – and about something that so few of us think about: the power of our words. As writers, we all kinda-sorta-maybe know that. We know that words matter, but many (most? all?) of us think about them in terms of, "I have a story. The story matters. People will like it. People will buy it and I will have a pool of golden ducats that would be the envy of Scrooge McDuck."

To be sure, I think most people do have that kind of story in them. The trick is finding it, bringing it out, putting it down, and getting the word out (and those are a whole SERIES of blog posts/articles/book so I won't try here).

My dad once said (wisely) that talking about important things on social media is like trying to teach rocket science using bumper stickers. To which I would add: with the only difference that we would all agree that the latter is insane.

But not the former. We talk about "important" things all the time, never minding that they a) usually AREN'T that important in the grand scheme of things (and if you think they are, I'd invite you to tell me what you Tweeted last Tuesday), and b) the most important things merit our greatest care and attention.

I'm not telling people here to stop social media. I'm not encouraging silence. I'm saying that we live in a time where communication is possible on a greater scale than would have been imaginable even twenty years ago. I'm saying that this means words are flying around constantly.

And words, I am fond of saying, are the single greatest inhibitor of communication ever invented.

Before words, it was easy. You either hated or feared a person – in which case you ran away and/or beat them with your club made of T-rex femur – or you loved them, in which case you ran TOWARD them and shared your T-rex meat and/or went to the nearest cave to make sweet caveperson love.

Now, though… so many words. So much complicatednessosity. Even that last word is needlessly complicateder than it has to be. But I'm leaving it. BECAUSE IT'S IMPORTANT.

Ultimately, we created words that allowed us to exercise the single greatest power in human history: the power to tell stories. That's the thing that differentiates us from every other creature because there's no other creature capable of telling Beowulf, or creating a sonnet, or writing out blueprints or mathematical equations (which are how science tells ITS most important stories).

We are creatures of stories, you and I. We meet, we converse, we share… and, fundamentally, we spend much of our time misunderstanding.

That's one of the pitfalls of being a writer: you become convinced that not only are you telling a good story but that the people for whom you write are hearing the same story you intended to write. This is rarely the case, though, because we all bring ourselves to the stories we hear. The audience is as much a part of the finished product as is the "original" storyteller.

This is even more pronounced on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, you name it. A smiley-face or heart means something vastly different to me than it does to you. Sure, they

mean "happy" or "love," but those words themselves are two upon which oceans of writers have expended infinite words, so obviously there's a lot of wiggle room there.

"Don't just write a short story. Start out with an epic, because you gotta build to a short story." I said that once in jest/not-jest, and there's truth in it. Writing something short that matters, that's punchy and interesting… it's hard. Not least of all because, again, the chances of the audience reading the interesting, cool, deep thing you tried to write is infinitesimally small. They're going to read the words, but their lives loom larger when the picture is smaller. They'll bring more of themselves to a short story than they would to a novel because the author of a short story necessarily leaves more blanks for the audience to fill in. An eight-book epic spanning twenty years of a family's lives, well, that's something where the author gets to put a pretty sturdy cage around what he intends and keep prying audience members from messing with it too much. But a twenty-page short story? A five-hundred-word flash fiction piece? Those are really written by the author, interpreted by the audience, and the interpretation disseminated to the masses.

So what, then, a Tweet? A line under an Instagram picture.

Again, this isn't to condemn those forums. This isn't to tell people to stay away. But as a writer, I've seen far too many times where I thought I was telling one story and ended up telling one completely different. I take great care now not just to tell the story, but to make it as close to impossible for the reader to misinterpret it as I can… and I still only succeed a fraction of the time.

Our words are magical. Our words are lovely. They are the brightest of suns. But they also burn, they cut, they corrode. So powerful, and it behooves us to use them wisely and well. Our society has little place or use for hermits; we interact with each other and expect others to contribute to our lives just as we contribute to theirs. But we must remember: we are creatures not of concepts, but of stories. Every word we say, or write, or type, is part of a story that goes into the world and changes it a bit. We bear every bit as much of a responsibility to do our best to change the world in a good way with every word as we do the responsibility of leaving a world behind that has food and air and

water for our kids. But though most of us wouldn't blow up a dirty bomb in a mall amongst thousands of strangers, we think far too little of lobbing potentially dangerous words into the atmosphere of social media. Then we shrug and say, "Hey, I'm being honest," or, "Hey, that needed to be said," or "Hey, I've always stood up for what I believed," without ever asking the more important questions: how does that honesty benefit the world? Did it "need" to be said, or did I just really really wanna say it? And in standing up for what I believed, did I help others, did I harm them, or did I care less about that than I did about just getting something off my chest?

The world is magical. It's so full of stories, so full of words. We talk, we smile, we laugh, we play. I love all those things – they make me smile myself, and (selfishly) I enjoy stealing others' stories so I can reshape them in my own image.

But we also stand up and tell people things "for their own good" without getting to know them. We condemn groups as a whole without regard for whether that will actually change their minds or lead to any kind of change. We spit into the wind, because we are ANGRY, DAMMIT, and then are shocked when the wind changes and the person who gets the most spittle on their cheek is not the intended victim, but we ourselves.

Words are important – and there are definitely those that must be said. But we have to be careful. We have to think.

We are storytellers. That is what it is to be human: to experience things, then to take those experiences and boil them down into stories we can tell to (hopefully) make our future experiences and the future experiences of others into something more meaningful and pleasing. But as storytellers, as the most powerful of creatures, we also bear the tremendous responsibility of using that power wisely. If Superman went out and murdered someone – even just once – we would toss him out as our superhero. I'm not talking "I got into some kryptonite and did something over which I had no control," I'm talking about a day where Supes just gets tired of it all, throws up his hands, and heat visions his frickin' neighbor who constantly plays house mixes with full bass to

death. At that point, we are done with him. He is no longer not a hero, he is forever unredeemable.

But we can lose control. We can post in the moment because IT MUST BE SAID IT MUST BE SAID NOW IT MUST BE SAID THIS WAY BECAUSE I FEEL IT MUST BE SO.

I am a storyteller. I am a human. So are you, those of you who read this. So let us tell good stories. Let us tell kind ones. Sometimes kindness is painful (ask any child who just had a tetanus shot or got a cavity filled what he or she thought of it). But kindness is never unthinking, or motivated by my feelings of the moment – it is motivated by plans that will benefit someone's future.

The best stories are these. Frank Errington asked me to write something for a guest post, and I always try to think of something useful to write on those occasions. There are story tips, there are craft how-tos. I can talk about making a relatable villain, or dealing with the suspension of disbelief for a zombie story. All that's important, but all it boils down to at its base is the fact that the story that matters deserves a well-crafted vehicle.

So craft your own vehicles well. And remember that Twitter is just as much a storytelling venue as is Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Remember perhaps as well that when we use social media as a vehicle for our stories, it's not a rollerskate; as often as not it's a tank with a single devastating shot. Let us take care to shoot only things we've really thought about, and really aimed for; collateral damage is horrid in war, but for some reason it deserves no notice when I'm posting on "my" wall – a wall of "mine" that is bought and paid for and designed and maintained by other people without any input on my part, which is the strangest definition of "mine" I have ever heard.

And maybe we should sometimes not shoot at all. Perhaps we should get out of the tank, and take a walk. That's how we actually meet people with whom we'd like to share our T-rex meat and make sweet caveperson love.

Michaelbrent Collings is an internationally bestselling author, multiple Bram Stoker Award finalist, produced screenwriter, and makes awesome waffles. His newest novel is PREDATORS, available on all major ebook retailers, and you can find out more about him and read more of his wordingosityness at his website, WrittenInsomnia.com

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Review: Nothing You Can Do - by Ed Kurtz

4 of 5 Stars 

Nothing You Can Do is the first collection from genre writer Ed Kurtz.  Seventeen stories of hard-boiled crime.  Most of them have been previously published, with the exception of the final story, which appears here for the first time.

Unless you are a hard-core Ed Kurtz fan, chances are pretty good you haven't read more than a handful of these tales.

In the Neighborhood - This is an outstanding start to the stories Kurtz has assembled for our entertainment.  Van Duong owns a pizza shop, but a group of bad boys remember him from Vietnam.  Needless to say, things don't go well for the VC.

Bea's Wager - They don't want money, they don't want sex, what they do want will likely surprise you.

Buffalo Squeeze - I learned something new here.  A "Buffalo Squeeze" is a pose struck by an ecdysiast (stripper to you and I) in which the arms are crossed before the breasts emphasizing their cleavage.  Violent fun.

Marla's Eyes - There's a thin line between nightmare and insanity.  In his story notes, the author suggests thinking of this period piece as the Downton Abbey Halloween special.

Roadbeds - This was the author's first ever flash fiction crime story, about what happens after dark at a construction site.

Dogs Will Hunt - Features one of the best lines in the book.  In describing an abandoned church turned meth lab...

"There sure as hell wasn't any grace left in this place, amazing or otherwise."

Dog Will Hunt is certainly not a happy tale, but then few of the stories found in this collection are.

Pegleg - All you need to know about this crime caper can be summed up in a single sentence.  "Porky's leg is the safe, you get the leg, you get the money."

Amore Violenta - A man, his wife, and his lover.  A violent affair.

A Good Marriage - This short appeared in The Best American Mystery Stories2014. "Killing one's wife is a tense business, as it happens."

Bad Luck Billy - More flash fiction.

Falldown Church - A twisted little tale of southern noir.

The Trick - One of my favorite reads in an exceptional collection.  Kurtz brought his A-game to this story set predominantly in a NYC bathhouse.  So many great lines, but my personal favorite was...

"My ship had come in all right, but it kept on sailing into the night and I'm not a very good swimmer."

Third Wheel - Good story about, you guessed it,  a third wheel.

Nothing You Can Do - The title story about a very expensive night in a European brothel.

The Beard - A gay detective outs an attorney.  More great writing.

Hell Broke Loose - Based on true events.  The story of the "servant-girl annihilator."

Tanglefoot - The only piece in the collection not previously released.

The language is just what's called for in stories like these...

"...had a man bent over next to the cash register, looking for all the world like he was about to indulge in some maximum security romance."

"The house smelled like wet dog and warm hot dogs."

While not quite perfect, Nothing You Can Do comes pretty damn close.  There are many similarities between horror and crime fiction and while this collection falls mostly in the latter category, I really enjoyed Kurtz's first collection and look forward to many more.

Recommended.

Nothing You Can Do is available now in both paperback and e-book formats from Down & Out Books.

From the author's bio - Ed Kurtz is also the author of Nausea, Angel of the Abyss, The Forty-Two, and The Rib From Which I Remake the World (do yourself a favor and read that one ASAP).  Ed is a bit of a wanderer and currently makes his home in Connecticut.  Now that I've told you that, he'll probably up and move again.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Review: Bad Man - by Dathan Auerbach

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Eric, aged three, disappears at the grocery store while under the care of his older brother, Ben.  Every parent's worst nightmare.  The rising panic woven through this scene was incredibly well written.

I can't say I liked everything about Bad Man.  Early on, I was enjoying the read but found myself searching for the story.  There was one red herring, in particular, which I was less than fond of.  But, I will say Dathan Auerbach is a very capable writer, deserving of his success.

There were numerous gems sprinkled throughout the prose...

The mosquitoes had all died or gone back to hell, or whatever they do when the air starts to bite and sting.

Bad Man features a number of fully fleshed out characters.  Ben, for example, was wonderfully developed as the reader sees through his eyes and feels his every emotion.  I will say, Bad Man protects its secrets the way a mama bear protects her cubs.  But, ultimately the payoff is worth the wait.

Set a reminder on your calendar and get ready to enjoy this August release from Doubleday.

Recommended, for sure.

From the author's bio - Dathan Auerbach was born in the southern U.S. and has lived there for most of his life.  In 2011, he began posting a series of stories to a forum dedicated to horror.  After a KickStarter that raised over 1000% of its goal, he was able to release the revised and expanded version of his story as the novel "Penpal."

Review: Twin Lakes: Autumn Fires - by Michelle Garza & Melissa Lason

4 of 5 Stars     Review Copy

If you enjoy reading horror as much as I do and if you haven't read anything by the Sisters of Slaughter you're doing yourself a disservice.  Real-life sisters, Michelle Garza & Melissa Lason, have always loved the dark side of life.  I loved this line from their guest post on yesterday's blog...

"We dressed our cats in doll clothes and pretended they were werewolves attacking our Barbies."

Their first published novel, Mayan Blue, was nominated for the coveted Bram Stoker award. and they show no signs of slowing down.  Their latest release, Twin Lakes: Autumn Fires, solidifies their place in the modern day registry of horror writers deserving of your attention.

The opening sequence of this book could not be more timely...

"The breeze carried his cheap aftershave from her bare chest up into her face and vomit rose into her throat. He hadn't succeeded in accomplishing what he planned since he picked her up, but the trauma of his attack wouldn't leave her for the rest of her days."

A serial killer is plaguing the community of Twin Lakes, Washington, a locality with more than a few secrets.  It's those very secrets which are keeping the town leaders from bringing in outsiders to aid the investigation. 

The occult. monsters, witches, and werewolves.   They're all here in this otherwise quiet little town.  Seems to me, Twin Lakes could be home to a few more stories, should the Sisters of Slaughter chose to revisit in the future.

While not perfect, Twin Lakes: Autumn Fires makes for some damn fine reading.  Recommended.

Published by Sinister Grin Press, Twin Lakes: Autumn Fires is available in both Paperback and for the Kindle.  If you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited you can read it at no additional charge.  Also, if you are an Amazon Prime member you can read it for FREE using the Kindle Owners Lending Library.

About the authors - Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason are a twin sister writing team from Arizona.  They have been writing together since they were little girls and have been dubbed the Sisters of Slaughter for writing a mixture of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy.  They’ve been published by Sinister Grin Press, JEA/Wetworks, Thunderstorm Books, Bloodshot Books, Eraserhead Press, and Fireside Press.  Their debut novel Mayan Blue was released by Sinister Grin Press, earning a nomination for a Bram Stoker Award.  Silverwood: The Door was recently released with Brian Keene, Richard Chizmar, and Stephen Kozeniewski.  Silverwood: The Door is a serial horror story put out through Serialbox, the HBO of literature.