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.




Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Guest Post: CHILDREN OF THE WITCHING SEASON - By Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason

Today I'd like to welcome the Sisters of Slaughter to the blog.  Real-life sisters who certainly have the horror genre sitting up and taking notice.  Come  back tomorrow as I review their newest release.

CHILDREN OF THE WITCHING SEASON

By Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason

We have always been horror children, we don’t know how to explain it other than it was what drew us in, the same as some kids love astronauts and others dinosaurs or princesses, we, on the other hand, have always loved creepy scary things.  We were interested in stories of witches and ghouls, we dressed our cats in doll clothes and pretended they were werewolves attacking our Barbies, and we begged our mom to buy us Goosebumps books for our brother to read out loud to us.  We loved to watch things like Hocus Pocus and Ernest Scared Stupid, every Scooby-Doo episode we could find and even Alvin and the Chipmunks meet the Wolfman and Frankenstein.  As teens, we loved going to the school library and when that was closed we walked to the city library to get lost in the shelves of horror fiction and books of mythology and stories of true crime.  We were drawn to the macabre, the darkness of the human mind as well as the make-believe monsters creeping in the shadows.

Those days spent reading and absorbing the oddities and tragedies of the world helped shape our retreating into our minds was a much better place.  We dreamed of becoming storytellers and sharing our tales with other people but as we got older we buried that dream and thought it would remain just that. It was something we’d think about especially around Halloween, our love of horror and the dusty notebooks filled with pages of handwritten terrors…
imaginations and the stories we would tell.  We started writing together just for fun around the age of eight or nine, it was just an extension of playing pretend.  We wrote stories and drew little pictures to go along with the tales and then read them to our mother out in our little playhouse our dad made for us.  Those were magical times, some of our greatest childhood memories were of the occasional rainy Arizona day and reading to our mom while sipping cups of tea she would make and carry out to us. When we became teenagers, a time when most kids give up their make-believe worlds for entering the “real world”, we continued writing because we got a taste of what was beyond our imaginations and decided

The years slipped by and we got old enough to stop feeling the fear of rejection.  We were thirty when we finally decided to start submitting our work for publication.  The road was rough and the rejections came creeping in, but we didn’t give up.  Time makes you bolder, as the song goes, and we refused to give up until we achieved our goals.  We worked on our craft and kept on submitting until we started getting accepted. We were in a number of anthologies and then released, Mayan Blue, our first novel and it was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award.  Now, five years after making the plunge into the publishing world, we’re still at it, still fighting every day to keep our dreams alive, but they are, like a monster resurrected from sewn together corpses of daydreams we imagined decades ago, it breathes and it lives.

October is here and in the desert it signifies the death of summer’s brutal grip on the land and its people.  We are free to roam without the burning gaze of the sun, like creatures emerging from hibernation or spirits rising from the grave, we seek our old haunts in search of merriment and revelry.  We just released our latest book through Sinister Grin Press, Twin Lakes: Autumn Fires and following on its heels we launched a serialized fiction project, Silverwood The Door through Serial Box, alongside our idols and friends Brian Keene, Richard Chizmar, and Stephen Kozeniewski.  We can’t stop the stories from flowing from our fingertips like automatic writing.  They form in our minds like the whispers of ghosts and they take us back to listening to the rain outside and softly reading to our mother, they reconfirm that we are children of the witching season, now and forever.

-Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason


Thursday, October 4, 2018

Review: Rabid Heart - by Jeremy Wagner

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

It's hard to believe it has been more than six years since the release of Jeremy Wagner's last novel, The Armageddon Chord, now out of print and only available on the secondary market.  Work with his death-metal band, Broken Hope, has kept him busy, but now he's back with an entertaining new book, Rabid Heart.  There's other good news, too.  A revised edition of The Armageddon Chord, with a new cover and more, is planned for December 2018.

It's also been a while since I've read a zombie novel and just when I thought I was done with the sub-genre, along comes a story with something different.  Sure, there are plenty of undead in this new story, only instead of zombies, they're referred to as Cujos, you know, like that rabid dog in the book by that writer, Koontz, or somebody.

Rhonda Driscoll lives on a military base with her father and base Commander, Colonel Kenneth Driscoll.

“Dead Cujos are the only good Cujos.” Dad waved a fist. “I want every single dead-walking, maggot-breeding, flesh-eating, inhuman, un-American, rot-smelling biped within the range of a bullet, flame-thrower, grenade or any other form of ordnance, DEAD FOR GOOD!”

That's all well and good until Rhonda brings her undead fiance back from a reconnaissance mission.

Here's the thing.  I'm not really a love story kinda guy and, as I mentioned, I was getting a bit burned out on zombie stories, but mash-em-up and voila, "winner, winner, chicken dinner."  This is not a one-note horror story.  There are a number of tangents followed in Rabid Heart which add depth to the overall tale and I can definitely recommend this one for a fun read.  Welcome back, Jeremy.

Published by Riverdale Avenue Books, Rabid Heart is available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book formats.

From the author's bio - Jeremy Wagner has written lyrics to hundreds of songs spanning several albums with his international death-metal band, Broken Hope.  Aside from his music career, Wagner writes dark fiction and short works full time.  His published works include the best-selling debut novel, The Armageddon Chord and a number of short stories.

Guest announcement from Jeremy Wagner

My friend, Frank has given me a platform on his page here to share my horror-ific news:

Today my new novel, RABID HEART, is officially released everywhere!

RABID HEART is NOW AVAILABLE in Hardcover, Paperback, & e-Book/Digital!

How far would you go for love when all you love is DEAD?

There’s an AMAZON link below (but you can order this book form any bookseller!

Thanks for reading and thank you, FRANK!!!

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1626014655/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_OoqSBbCQCRGPW

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Review: Darksome Thirst (Alicia Anderson Novel Book 1) - by Morvan Westfield

3 of 5 Stars

Alicia Anderson is a hard-working IT professional without a degree, who knows more about the work than those with degrees who get promoted to positions where they lack any practical experience.  What a great character.  Having spent twenty years in that field, I saw this all the time.  Doesn't just happen there, it happens everywhere and can be so very frustrating.

Alicia's story intertwines with two other tales.  One involving an ancient vampire, Wesley and his much younger and inexperienced protégé, Frederick.  The other tale being that of a relatively new coven of witches.

There were some entertaining moments in Darksome Thirst...

"A mosquito bit Frederick (a vampire) on the neck, the irony was not lost on him."

Unfortunately, those moments were few, many of the conversations felt forced, and I had a difficult time becoming invested in any of the secondary characters.  Overall not very satisfying read, but if you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited you may what to check it out.  Your experience may vary.

There is a sequel where Alicia's story continues The Old Power Returns.  I may check that out one day, but not anytime soon.

Darksome Thirst (Alicia Anderson Novel Book 1) is published by Harvest Shadows Publications and is available in both paperback and Kindle formats.  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.

From the author's bio - Morvan Westfield  Morven Westfield writes supernatural, fantasy, and horror fiction.  She also regularly writes non-fiction articles on the supernatural and folklore and is a freelance technical writer.  Morven also hosted and produced a podcast called Vampires, Witches, & Geeks, which is still available for listening online.  Currently a member of and volunteer newsletter proofreader for the Horror Writers Association, she is also an active member of the New England Horror Writers, at one time serving as their webmaster.





Review: Gruesome: A Gathering of Nightmares - by Terry M. West

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

I was a bit reluctant to take on this massive collection.  I mean it's twice the size of the average book I read, but when I saw the introduction was written by Hunter Shea, I just had to add this to my reading list and I couldn't be happier that I did.  Gruesome: A Gathering of Nightmares is everything I look for in a horror collection.

Don't the Monsters All get Scarier at Closing Time - "Could you love something so hideous and offensive that it made you ill to look at it?"  We are off to a terrific start with this "ugly" story of Russell who just received his divorce papers and is drowning his sorrows a few towns over.  That way he doesn't have to listen to his friend's lame attempts at commiseration.  He should have stuck with his friends.

Honger - A dark and twisted tale of a curse where a few times a year, when the hunger comes upon you, you must feed.  If you allow your victim to live, they will likely feed on you and that's the only way you can die.  The story covers generations.  "Back in the days of prohibition, I frequented many blind pigs (or speakeasies, if you don't want to be too colorful).  The booze did nothing for me, but they were good places to spot an easy meal."  A truly gruesome story filled with surprises, including a reference to one of my favorite adult animated films from the seventies, "Fritz the Cat."

Morsel - There is an extreme content warning at the beginning of this story and it certainly lives up to that word of caution.  I loved this tale of a man looking for a little love on the road.

Turning Face - A wrestling tale with an excellent opening line.  "Marcus Aurelius Tojo Smith was an earthbound demon in service to Hell, but that didn't make him a bad guy."  His wrestling persona was, "Hailing from parts unknown!  He is the terror of Texas! The scourge of the South!  Beware the Crimson Demon!"  If you were ever a fan of professional wrestling, you won't be able to resist this story.

Picaro - When he came home and found Sweet Daddy dead, Binh Pham had to leave and he had to get far away.  He couldn't drive, his narcolepsy could prove deadly were he to fall asleep at the wheel.  A bus ride could have the unwanted consequence of ending up who-knows-where if he were to succumb to his condition on the road.  So sticking his thumb out seemed to be the logical choice.  I love a good hitch-hiking story.  You just never know where the tale will take you.  This one took Binh to a diner where he meets Paul.  Maybe he would have been better off with Sweet Daddy.

It Makes You Sad - Another extreme content warning.  This is a story of  Kevin, a thirty-year-old virgin.  That alone is enough to make you sad, but it gets worse.

The Rose Man - A wildly imaginative tale of a vagrant who sells roses by a busy Houston highway.  But, much like a thorn, this description merely pricks the surface of this story.

Southern-Fried Hex - The adventures of Cecil and Bubba.  Get ready for the weird.  Cecil Edward McGee has been charged with keeping his cousin Garrard company for the day.  When the two accidentally run over a gypsy's beloved dog, the result is a curse, "You will be plagued by the strange and evil until the end of your days."  Crazy fun.

Hair and Blood Machine - If you're old enough to remember the carnivals of old, the ones with the oddities trailers or freak shows, then you're really going to get a kick out of this story.

Honger 2 - See my comments on Honger.  More of the same.  And this story has a fun little kicker at the end.

All of the Flesh Served - An apocalyptic tale. Frightening in its parallels to the times in which we live.  "The 45th wasn't a prophet. He was a narcissistic fascist who plundered first our country and then our world for all he could. He let industrialists pollute the air, land, and water. He let people grow sick and die while he and his affluent cabal grew wealthier. He used hate. And he used it well. He encouraged people to despise and fear each other solely on creed and color. He set brother against brother, state against state, nation against nation. Until it was all undone. He was a monster."

Terry M. West may not be a household name, but he should be.  His writing is as good as any I've read this year.  He is an author that deserves your attention.  His characters all ring true.  Every one of them in every story.  I would have given Gruesome: A Gathering of Nightmares a solid five stars, but this collection could stand a thorough proofreading.

Proofreading issues aside, I completely recommend adding this to your TBR pile. 

Gruesome: A Gathering of Nightmares 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.

From the author's bio - Terry M. West is an American horror author.  His best-known works: What Price Gory, Car Nex, Dreg, and his Night Things series.  He was a finalist for 2 International Horror Guild Awards.  Terry was born in Texas, lived in New York for two decades and he currently hangs his hat in California.  He has a wife, Regina, son, Terrence, three dogs, and an enormous horror comic, book, and movie collection.





Sunday, September 30, 2018

Guest Post: Terry M. West - Writing Above Your Grade

I'd like to welcome Terry M. West to the blog.  And a big thanks for his guest post here today.  I just finished reading his latest, Gruesome: A Gathering of Nightmares, which I'll be reviewing tomorrow, but for now here's Terry...


Writing Above Your Grade

Whenever I’m asked to write a guest blog, it’s tough to sort out what I should discuss.  Should I just go the self-serving route and talk about my work, my process, my current WIP?  Or should I risk a lashing and offer advice to my fellow ink-slingers?  And though the case can be made that I’ve been doing this for so long that I’ve forgotten more of my work than I remember from the fuzzy around the edges days of my writer-for-hire years, that doesn’t mean that the less seasoned won’t still scoff at any wisdom I have to impart. Or that I won’t still be just talking out of my ass.  Writers are lying con people with a wagon full of snake oil bottles in tow.

So I’ve decided to risk contempt and offer my thoughts on something that I’ve noticed in my own evolution as an author.  When I was a younger writer, I wrote smaller tales.  Nothing epic.  Nothing with an extremely challenging scope.  Back then, if you needed to research a story, you had to hit the library.  Not Wikipedia.  And like many in their baby steps as an author, I was lazy and undisciplined. I had that Ed Wood It’s Not The Small Details mentality.

There were ideas that I didn’t think I had the skills for.  I wasn’t a good enough writer to pull them off.  I carried that evaluation until five, six years ago when I decided it was time to build some worlds.  Night Things was an ambitious project for me when you look at the work that came before it.  A story where classic monsters lived among the masses, out of the closet and in the streets, found an audience.  And some love.  And though the world I had to build was intimidating for me and I felt that if even one brick was tugged the wrong way everything would collapse, I used what had worked for my fiction all along: characterization and dialogue.

Sure, there were a few who mourned that my world should have been in the hands of a better author (The Avengers want Iron Man, but not Tony Stark).  But it was a success for me and continues to find new readers.

But the tightrope I walked in 2016 was an even skimpier one.  All of the Flesh Served was my first ever full-fledged dystopian sci-fi attempt.  And I decided to use Trump’s election as the basis for the dark landscape it presented.  Because, you know, something I’d never dared before wasn’t hard enough without a political statement in the center of it.  Or maybe those works naturally come with societal attachments in hand.  The trick I think most would say is not to overwhelm the story with your message.  And while I agree that some messages should be whispered softly, others need to be tied to a rock and tossed through a window.

I’m proud of what I did with Flesh, and if it is heavy-handed, forgive me.  These are heavy-handed times it seems.

While it didn’t find an audience as big as some of my earlier efforts, it did earn some love, and is included in my Gruesome collection.

Both these projects were ideas that I would have immediately shit-canned twenty years ago.  But as you age, criticism doesn’t really bother you as much as it used to.  You become less self-conscious.  Like the old man dragging the trash can to the curb in his boxers.  You have to realize, getting in this game, that if a reader pays for the ticket, that reader has a right to give an opinion.  Fair, unfair, or indifferent.  I’ve found that bad reviews are usually more helpful than unabashed praise.  People who dislike a work are generally more honest with an appraisal than people who might be so in love with something that they fail to see its flaws.  Or fear that pointing them out will bruise the effort.
So don’t be intimidated by that huge idea that’s brewing in your head.  The one you keep pushing back because of the commitment it would take.  I’d rather fail spectacularly than play it safe.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to put some boxers on and drag these cans to the curb.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Review: The Toroa - by Erik Hoffstatter

3 of 5 Stars     Review copy

"The word Toroa refers to the Northern royal albatross, a bird that is sometimes used metaphorically to represent a psychological burden that may or may not weigh heavy on the soul as if it were a curse."

After reading this new work from Erik Hofstatter, I must say he has certainly succeeded in conveying the ideas in that definition into the novel's theme.

Abandoned by her father and abused by her mother, Mahi has grown up fast and when Aryan shows her affection she quickly falls in love, resulting in an unplanned pregnancy.  Her seduction is somewhat violent and may ruffle some feathers.

Each person who comes into Mahi's life is a disaster and little of what happens to her is pleasant.  When she flees to Aukland in search of her long-lost father, she finds answers, but not the ones she hoped for.

It's difficult to say more about Toroa without giving away too many of its secrets.  When those secrets are all revealed, I found myself nodding my head and thinking.  "Yeah, now it all makes sense."

Toroa is one of those novels where every character is flawed.  In the end, even Mahi is irredeemable.  This is not a book which I can easily recommend.  However, if you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited, go ahead and read it.  You may have a totally different reading experience.

Published by Sinister Grin Press, Toroa is available now in 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 author - Erik Hofstatter is a dark fiction writer and a member of the Horror Writers Association.  Born in the wild lands of the Czech Republic, he roamed Europe before subsequently settling on English shores, studying creative writing at the London School of Journalism.  He now dwells in Kent, where he can be encountered consuming copious amounts of mead and tyrannizing local peasantry.  His work appeared in various magazines and podcasts around the world such as Morpheus Tales, Crystal Lake Publishing, The Literary Hatchet, Sanitarium Magazine, Wicked Library, Tales to Terrify and Manor House Show.   Rare Breeds is out now via Dark Silo Press.










Sunday, September 23, 2018

Review: Slices - by James A. Moore

5 of 5 Stars

Slices is a collection of shorts which originally came out as a limited edition hardcover and has now found a new home for wide release, meaning everyone can now enjoy James A. Moore at his best.

Fourteen tales from a true master of horror.

Grease Painted Smile - After seeing a picture in the local paper of up-and-coming comic Cecil Phelps the protagonist in this story believes he's looking at a dead man, more importantly, a dead man known as Rufo the Clown.  A dead man who once told him...

"I'm going to make you bleed, boy, I'm going to make you bleed and die., but first, I think I'll rape your sister and eat your brother's eyes."

If you weren't afraid of clowns before...

Shades of  Grey - Loaded with mystery, murder, and plenty of twists.  And terrific writing, too...

"Danny drank coffee with enough sugar to kill a diabetic and enough cream to guarantee clogged arteries."

War Stories - Grandpa, a veteran of WWII and Korea, and Eddie a Vietnam vet, trading war stories on the porch.  An early appearance from one of my favorite Moore characters, John Crowley...

"...no man before or since has ever scared the hell out of me the way he did."

Skinwalker - "Have you ever heard of a skinwalker?  According to the myths of my people, the skinwalkers are evil medicine men, or even the enchanted corpses of medicine men.  Either way, they are supposed to be possessed by a demon.  They have pale white skin and, according to some, a preference for human flesh.  They also have great magical powers and can make others do their bidding." 

Simon's Muse - Jerry gets stuck in an elevator at Screamicon with his idol, Simon Crawford.  An unexpected friendship ensures and years later he learns all about Simon's dark muse.

A Place Where There is Peace - An interesting tale which is never quite about what you think.  Moore's tribute to H P. Lovecraft.

In the Oubliette - A wonderfully inventive and layered story about love from afar.  One of my favorites in a collection of great tales.

Hathburn Avenue - "Now, I bet most people could tell you that at one time or another in their lives that they thought like they were being followed...but this didn't feel like eyes were following me so much as it felt like eyes intent on killing me."- I loved this ghoulish little story.

The Dark Place - IMHO, this could just be the perfect story.  This was so creepy, it actually made me shiver and that just doesn't happen anymore.

Harvest Gods - I got a kick out of the way Moore spends the first part of this story extolling the virtues of the quiet little town of Summitville and then tags it with the line...

"I wish I'd never seen the damned place."

They Fell from Space - *Note to authors everywhere.  Once a meteor falls to Earth, it is a meteorite.  That being said, this was a fun little telling of the familiar trope of something arriving with said meteorite and terrifying the natives.

Burden of Guilt I: Burden of Guilt - Howard R. Dowd, of Hinkle & Dowd, Attorneys at Law, has picked up a new skillset.  He suddenly has the ability to see a person's darkest secrets.  As a result, he begins to wonder if he's doing the right thing by getting his clients declared "Not Guilty."

Burden of Guilt II: My Brother's Keeper - Jake and John are twins who suffer from the Corsican Brothers Syndrome...

"I had to share the most intimate moments of my life with a man I hated and he had to do the same."

Burden of Guilt III: - Jack Covington and four other members of his HS football team did something their senior year they would all rather put behind them, but as so often is the case...

"The past has teeth.  The past is unforgiving."

Wow.  I'm so glad that John McIlveen at Twisted Publishing decided to resurrect this collection.  There is not a bad story in the bunch.  I am so happy to give Slices my highest recommendation.

Published by Twisted Publishing, an imprint of Haverhill House Publishing, Slices is now available in wide release 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.

From the author's bio - James A. Moore is the author of over forty novels, including the critically acclaimed Fireworks, Under The Overtree, Blood Red, Blood Harvest, the Serenity Falls trilogy (featuring his recurring anti-hero, Jonathan Crowley).  He has twice been nominated for the Bram Stoker Award and spent three years as an officer in the Horror Writers Association, first as Secretary and later as Vice President.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Review: The Siren and the Specter - by Jonathan Janz

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

It was almost two years ago Jonathan Janz first came to my attention.  I kept hearing about his novel, Children of the Dark.  This what I said in my review of that work...

"This is one time where all of the hype was dead on."

I've been fortunate enough to read and review the initial six books from Flame Tree Press and I''m not surprised they've recruited  Jonathan for their inaugural offering.  Twist after twist makes The Siren and the Specter one terrific ride.

David Caine has made his living as a professional skeptic.  When his friend Chris and his wife Kathryn hire him to spend a month in the oldest haunted house in America and write a book about his findings.  David expects this experience to me much like his others, but that wouldn't make for much of a story now, would it?

There is just so much to love in this book, but at the top of my list is the way the author draws his characters with such care. Even the supporting players have great depth.  Take David's neighbor, Ralph Hooper,.a crotchety old man who takes David under his wing when things start to go South.  Ralph has a wonderful sign in his house...

"Education is important but fishing is importanter."

And Ralph himself has a way with words...

"I'd no sooner set foot in that house than I'd use my testicles as catfish bait."

If The Siren and the Specter doesn't set your heart racing, there's a pretty good chance you're dead.

Don't miss this one.  100% recommended.







Friday, September 21, 2018

Review: Thirteen Days by Sunset Beach - by Ramsey Campbell

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

No one writes horror like Ramsey Campbell as evidenced by numerous accolades over the years, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Horror Writers Association and the Living Legend Award of the International Horror Guild.

Thirteen Days by Sunset Beach is the third book I've read from new publisher  Flame Tree Press and based on what I've seen so far they will be a welcome addition to the small press marketplace.

In this book, Ray & Sandra, their children, and grandchildren are on a shared vacation to the Greek island of Vasilema and the mysterious Sunset Beach.  While much of the story deals with typical family squabbles (three generations on a family trip, what could go wrong?), there is a faint undercurrent of horror.

Campbell is a master at keeping a story's secrets close to the vest, allowing readers to uncover the truth at their own pace.  Much of the horror I read is deliberate in its approach, the equivalent of being beaten repeatedly with a giant crowbar.  In Thirteen Days by Sunset Beach, the approach is so subtle you barely realize the horror is right there in the room with you.

If there is anything which bothered me about this book it was the author's frequent use of the phrase "Sandra and the teenagers."  Campbell said this so many times I began to think of them as a girl band from the sixties.  Just once maybe they could have been "The teenagers and Sandra."

Despite my nitpicking, I found Thirteen Days by Sunset Beach to be immensely enjoyable and is definitely a story I can recommend.

Available in various formats from Flame Tree Press.

From the author's bio - Ramsey Campbell is an English horror fiction writer, editor and critic who has been writing for well over fifty years.  Since he first came to prominence in the mid-1960s, critics have cited Campbell as one of the leading writers in his field.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Review: Creature - by Hunter Shea

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Yes, I consider myself a Hellion.  That's how Hunter Shea refers to his most ardent followers.  I can't say I've read every one of his books (he's remarkably prolific), but I've yet to read one I didn't care for.

Creature is the second book I've read from new publisher  Flame Tree Press, who looks to publish both established authors and new voices in horror and the supernatural, crime and mystery thrillers, as well as science fiction and fantasy.  It's also a bit of a diversion for Hunter.  It's easily his most personal work to date.  Sure, there's a monster, that's evident from the title, but this book is so much more.

From the opening line, the reader realizes there is something different about this story...

"Kate Woodson was dying and her executioner was her own body."

For a while, it seemed the horror in the book would be found in the medical treatments Kate would have to undergo.

In an effort to get away from the doctors and treatments for a while Kate, her husband Andrew, and her beloved dog, Buttons, retreated to an isolated cabin in the woods of Maine.  It's not long before they discover they are not alone.  I love this kind of story and Hunter Shea delivers a good one.  Pure, unadulterated horror.

Despite the serious nature of Creature, the author still knows how hot entertain with his story-telling...

"She knew lobster was big up here.  Too bad she refused to eat something that looked like a cockroach from hell."

I'm used to Hunter Shea's monster fare but despite the title, Creature is a more complete book with greater substance throughout.  At times the pace was furious and I just couldn't turn the pages fast enough.  This is one of his most entertaining books so far.  Be sure to have a box of tissues handy, just in case.  A heartwrenching story with massive amounts of carnage.  Dare I say there is something for everyone.

Available in various formats from Flame Tree Press.

From the author's bio -  Hunter Shea is the product of a misspent childhood watching scary movies, reading forbidden books and wishing Bigfoot would walk past his house. He doesn’t just write about the paranormal – he actively seeks out the things that scare the hell out of people and experiences them for himself. Hunter’s novels can even be found on display at the International Cryptozoology Museum. His video podcast, Monster Men, is one of the most watched horror podcasts in the world. He’s a bestselling author of over 13 (lucky number!) books, all of them written with the express desire to quicken heartbeats and make spines tingle. Living with his wonderful family and two cats, he’s happy to be close enough to New York City to gobble down Gray’s Papaya hotdogs when the craving hits.

Review: The Bad Neighbor - by David Tallerman

5 of 5 Stars     Review Copy

There's a new publisher I think we're going to hear a lot about in the coming months.  They call themselves Flame Tree Press and they plan to publish both established authors and new voices in horror and the supernatural, crime and mystery thrillers, as well as science fiction and fantasy.

Their first set of novels include Creature by Hunter Shea, The Mouth of the Dark by Tim Waggoner, The Siren and the Specter by Jonathan Janz, The Sky Woman by J.D. Moyer, Thirteen Days by Sunset Beach by Ramsey Cambell and the book I'll be reviewing today, The Bad Neighbor by David Tallerman.

What to do with an inheritance of  54,300 pounds.  Well, if you're young and desperate to own your own home and want to pay cash you can buy a bit of a fixer-upper in a bad neighborhood, but then you might wind up with a bad neighbor the way Oliver Clay did.

When one bad decision leads to your life falling apart, a person is likely to make even worse decisions in a desperate attempt to pull it back together.

Even though David's story is set in his native England, Americans can certainly relate to what's going on here, as his neighbor Chas and his mates are members of the hate group Britains For The British.

While not exactly horror, The Bad Neighbor is more of a Crime Thriller, it did have many horrific elements.   It made me angry and caused me to embrace the protagonist's effort to do something, even if it that something might be considered wrong by some.

This is my first read of David Tallerman, and I must admit I really enjoyed the experience.  It was so easy to become immersed in the brutal world in which Ollie finds himself residing.

Strongly recommended.

Available in various formats from Flame Tree Press.

From the author's bio - David Tallerman is the author of the YA fantasy series.  His comics work includes the absurdist steampunk graphic novel Endangered Weapon B: Mechanimal Science (with Bob Molesworth) and the ongoing miniseries C21st Gods (with Anthony Summey).

David's short fiction has appeared in around eighty markets, including Clarkesworld, Nightmare, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. A number of his best dark fantasy and horror stories were gathered together in his debut collection The Sign in the Moonlight and Other Stories.


Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Review: Halcyon - by Rio Youers

5 of 5 Stars

About seven or eight years ago, I attended my first Horror Convention,  Horrorfind, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  It was in the reading room where I first encountered Rio Youers.  He read from one of his stories in Dark Dreams, Pale Horses from PS Publishing. I loved the story and Rio was an excellent reader, too.  Later I picked up his novella, Mama Fish, and I've been hooked ever since (pun intended).

What do I enjoy about Rio's work?  It could be the character-driven stories, it could be the believability factor (even when dealing with the unbelievable).  Then there's the way he weaves the ordinary into his stories.  Like the scene where his character, Martin Lovegrove, is watching Lost on Netflix...

"...where Hurley was currently bouncing through the jungle.  Oh Hurley...four and a half seasons without Kentucky Fried Chicken and still a goddam lard-ass."

That's the reason I gave up on Lost in season one.  I couldn't buy into Jorge Garcia not losing any weight on that island.

Sorry, back to the review.

I already mentioned Martin, father to fifteen-year-old Shirley and ten-year-old Edith.  Mom, Laura was out of the picture for the most part, but the parents did combine forces in an attempt to find help for Edith who suffered from Night Terrors.   It is while on this journey of discovery we meet one of the most intriguing characters in the book, Calm Dumas.

Calm actually helps Edith a bit by teaching her to create a dream world inviting the girl into her own private place.  It's where...I can't say more; this surprise is best discovered by the reader.

Then there is Valerie, an amazing character herself with a rich and dark backstory and the driving force behind Halcyon named for a seabird in Greek mythology that could calm the waves...

"As an adjective, it means a time of great tranquility and harmony."

I've said enough, but believe me when I say I have barely scratched the surface.  Halcyon is broad in scope with multiple storylines which come together in a beautifully constructed climax.

Halcyon is one of those special books which reads like your watching a really good suspense thriller.  Emotionally charged.  Rio's writing is fearless and he really knows no bounds.  He is actually one of the most gifted storytellers of our time and Halcyon is his most amazing work to date.

This is a book I can recommend with the greatest of confidence.

Halcyon is published by St. Martin's Press and is available now in all formats.

From the author's bio - Rio Youers is the British Fantasy Award-nominated author of Point Hollow and The Forgotten Girl.  His short fiction has been published in many notable anthologies, and his novel, Westlake Soul, was nominated for Canada's prestigious Sunburst Award.

Review: Things You Need - by Kevin Lucia

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Kevin Lucia has a place he calls home in much of his work.  Like Stephen King has Castle Rock and Gary A. Braunbeck has Cedar Hill, Lucia has Clifton Heights, a small town in the Adirondacks where strange is more or less the norm.

That's not where the similarities to King end.  If you're at all familiar with Stephen's work you can't help but notice a similarity of titles between Needful Things and Things You Need.

Things You Need, at its core, is a collection of stories set in and around Clifton Heights.  Those tales are all wrapped in a larger story of a traveling salesman who comes to Clifton Heights.  Stuck in a job he's good at, but is anything but satisfying, Lucia's protagonist is considering the ultimate retirement...

"...the day I stepped into Handy's Pawn & Thrift, I'd say I was two steps away from giving my .38 that long, last kiss goodbye."

Now on to the stories within the story.

The Way of Ah-Tzenul - A perverted tale of a farmer who after a weak harvest the previous year discovers a most unusual way to tend to his fields.  I loved this story, but then I'm pretty much a sick bastard.

The Office - A cleverly constructed tale I won't dare give away.  Let's just say it made effective use of the magic eight ball which now finds itself residing at Handy's Pawn & Thrift.  It's also one of the finest shorts I've read this year and had a genuine Bradbury feel to it.

Out of Field Theory - Another gem of a story about a photography student working on a project for his final and gets caught up in shadows and what is happening "out of frame."

Scavenging - An engaging story of a man who has destroyed his future and is now trying to recapture his past.  One of the best reveals, ever.

A Place for Broken and Discarded Things - Many of the tales in this collection have that Twilight Zone vibe.  None more so than this story of a second-hand mega-store luring its victims like a venus fly-trap.

The Black Pyramid - A six-by-six-by-six black ceramic pyramid covered with odd etchings. Six-by-six-by-six.  Uh, oh.

When We All Meet at the Ofenda - It seems every Autumn I encounter numerous stories about the Mexican tradition, Día de Los Muertos.  This is my favorite so far this year.

Almost Home - A mother leaves a bad situation, taking her son and a .38. A story witch deftly ties the last tale into the larger story.

Kevin Lucia has a very comfortable style to his writing.  I won't soon forget my most recent visit to Clifton Heights and look forward to returning again soon.

Recommended.

Things You Need is available for pre-order from Crystal Lake Publishing.  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.

Here is the rest of the schedule for Kevin's Blog Tour in support of Things You Need.

Anton Cancre - September 19th - Hiram Grange's Vaguely Inappropriate Interview With Gavin Patchett
Dan Keohane - September 21st
Amber Fallon - September 22nd - My Lament
Rebecca Snow - September 24th - Interview
Joe Falank - September 26th - Interview/The Man Who Sits in His Chair
Kevin Lucia at Cemetery Dance Online - September 28th - Special Edition of "Revelations" on Cemetery Dance Online, about how the Greystone Bay Series, edited by Charles L. Grant, influenced Clifton Heights
John Questore – September 29th – The Crayfish God
Erin Al-Mehairi – September 30th – Rest in Peace, Blackfoot Valley
Wesley Southard - October 1st – The Sidewalk Scavenger
Ryan G. Clark - October 3rd - Review
Yvone Davies/The Terror Tree – October 5th – The White Cat of Samara Hill
Mark Allen Gunnells – October 7th – The Cairn


Follow Kevin Lucia on Facebook for daily links.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Guest Post: Kevin Lucia writing as Gavin Patchett

I'm genuinely excited to hand over my blog today to Kevin Lucia, as he starts his blog tour for his newest collection,  Things You Need. 

Pre-Order link: http://getbook.at/ThingsYouNeed

Gavin Patchett's the Name...

My name is Gavin Patchett.  I'm the author of half a dozen very forgettable science fiction media tie-in novels, and, more recently, the author of Things Slip Through, Devourer of Souls, Through A Mirror, Darkly, and my most recent release, Things You Need.  I recently sold another novella entitled The Night Road.  While I'm not ashamed of my science fiction stories, I'm certainly not especially proud of them, either.  They aren't horrible, fans liked them, and they paid enough for me to write full-time.

My most recent work?  I'm not sure if “proud” is the right word.  Thankful is better.  Thankful that, after ruining my mid-list career being a pompous, drunken ass, I've been given a second chance to write something worthwhile.  Something meaningful.  Especially the way things ended in my previous life, and the way I returned home, with my dignity and career in shreds.

My inglorious and perhaps inevitable return to Clifton Heights certainly wasn't the homecoming I'd always dreamed of.  Like every kid who leaves his small country hometown to “make it big,” I'd often entertained visions of coming home as the “local boy who had conquered the world.”

I'd move into an expensive cabin on Clifton Lake, of course, where I'd spend the days in my office writing bestselling novels.  Framed posters of my novel's covers would adorn the walls, between shelves filled with hardcover and limited editions of my ever-expanding body of work.  I'd be a modest sort of celebrity, (not exactly a Stephen King walking around Bangor, Maine, but maybe a close cousin), never too proud to rub elbows with the folks I'd grown up with.

I'd frequently give lectures on Creative Writing at both Clifton Heights and All Saints High, and would be a regular at Arcane Delights, the used and rare bookstore run by Brian Ellison.  I'd, of course, hold a signing there for each new book.  They'd probably dedicate a whole row of shelves to my work.  I'd do my grocery shopping at Great American Grocery, where I worked as a checkout clerk in my teens, but late at night, Sunday evening, so as not to be stopped too often by fans.

If I moved back to Clifton Heights single, I'd probably just focus on my work for a while, and wouldn't date much.  But maybe one of the English teachers from either high school would be female and single, and there'd be some chemistry which we'd coyly dance around at first.  However, we'd eventually bond over our love of books and writing. I wasn't egotistical enough to think she'd be my most adoring fan, of course.  Instead, I envisioned her as being my toughest critic, the first one I wanted to impress with my writing, but also someone whose red pen scared the bejesus out of me.

Maybe someday I'd break from science fiction and write a coming of age story about Clifton Heights, one that somehow reflected all the interesting, odd (and downright strange) aspects of my hometown, while still being a respectful homage to where I grew up.  And maybe, when the movie of that book became the next Stand By Me, they'd name the winding road leading up to my cabin Patchett Drive.

None of that ever happened, of course.

I did make one return to Clifton Heights early on in my writing career, after the book tour for my first book, a small-town thriller called Shades of Darkness.  I was invited to speak at the Clifton Heights High graduation.  I delivered a mostly forgettable speech about following your dreams and never giving up, and while the audience clapped dutifully at the end, I'm pretty sure most of the graduating seniors had fallen asleep sitting up.  Nevertheless, at the time I was sure when I came home next, things would be very different.

Things were different.

Just not the way I had expected.

*

A humbling truth about life as a moderately successful mid-list writer.  You can have a decent career and make enough money to write full time, have several books in print and on shelves across the country and even in a few airports, maybe even have several foreign editions of your books, but ask an average person on the street, “Ever read anything by Gavin Patchett?” and most likely you'll get nothing but a blank stare and a disinterested, “Never heard of him.”  Ask someone who calls themselves a fan of the genre that author writes in, and odds are 50-50 (most likely less) that they'll say they've heard of a Gavin Patchett, but they'll also admit to never having “gotten around” to reading his work.

Surely that author is a big hit in his hometown, right?  His novels on display in the high school library, where he spent his study hall hours all through school reading, as well as writing his first short stories?  A whole shelf at the local bookstore dedicated to his work?

In all truth, if the average person in Clifton Heights had been asked ten years ago, “Do you remember Gavin Patchett?  He's a writer now.  Have you read any of his books?” the answer would most likely have been, “Gavin Patchett writes books?  That's neat. I was to talking to so-and-so the other day, and I thought they mentioned he'd gone into advertising or something.  What's he write?  Hopefully, it's something like James Patterson or Nicholas Sparks.  Really popular stuff like that.  That's what I read.”

Suffice to say, when I returned to Clifton Heights ten years ago, my writing career in ruins, very few people in my own hometown were even aware I'd still been writing, even given my high school graduation address several years prior.  And if they had heard of it, it had been a third-hand story as an aside quickly forgotten.

Believe it or not, I'd preferred it that way, because I was certainly not returning as the “local boy who'd conquered the world.”  I was not moving into an expansive cabin on Clifton Lake, where I planned on writing a whole slew of bestselling novels.  I was moving into a modest, bland, and inconsequential duplex in Hyland Court, on the East Side.  I had no plans of writing anytime soon, and was about to willfully walk down that road to hell all failed authors fear is the ultimate end of their careers: a Monday morning interview at Clifton Heights High to teach high school English.

I would love to say that the next five years saw me slowly sober up, as I grew to love teaching.  I would love to say I became a Mr. Chipps, a Mr. Keating from Dead Poets Society, or a Mr. Holland from Mr. Holland's Opus.  The truth of the matter is sadly very different, and not very inspiring.  My first five years home I numbly followed lesson plans by rote, teaching paint-by-number units which filled the time and made the year pass relatively painlessly.

Most of my students were uninspired, and so was I. I received “adequate” and “meets expectations” on my annual teacher evaluations, and didn't feel anything either way.  At the end of every year, the district offered me a new contract, and I dutifully signed my name, relieved to know I'd at least be employed for another year.  During July and August, I taught an even more lackluster summer school course over at Booneville High, one which was designed by the county to pass students if they possessed a heartbeat.

I wasn't drinking as much as I had been at the end of my writing career, but I was certainly drinking enough that I woke up every Saturday and Sunday morning with a mild headache and fuzzy memories of sitting in front of the television the night before.  A glass of whiskey before bed every night helped me fall asleep.  I hadn't yet progressed to having a “water bottle” in the third drawer of my desk at school, or a tin hip flask I hid in my briefcase...but I have to wonder how much longer it would've been before I reached that point...

If it hadn't been for Emma Pital.

One of my brightest and best students.  A talented high school senior, full of promise, who somehow saw more in me than what I was showing to the world.  A student who believed in me enough to share in her writing the racial persecution her family was suffering as Arabic people in a small Adirondack town, post 9/11.

I failed her.

There's simply no other way to put it.  I failed her.  Because I was hiding behind my desk and the papers stacked on it, desperate to avoid complications, desperate to remain safely numbed by teaching and booze, I failed to stop what happened.  Of course, the ultimate irony?  My failure led to the rebirth of my writing career, such as it is today.

One of Alcoholics Anonymous' central tenants is that to find lasting victory over your addiction, you need to give up control to a “higher power.”  Writing has become that higher power for me; writing, in particular, about this town, and the strange things which often happen in it.  You could say I've “given up control” to this “higher power” of writing about my hometown.

However, if you've read my first short story collection, Things Slip Through, please don't think of Clifton Heights as the embodiment of a Creepshow episode.  Do strange things happen here?  Absolutely.  But I believe that's true of every town or city.  Clifton Heights may be a strange town, but our world is a strange world, in which strange things happen.  I happen to live here, and I draw inspiration from these strange things for my fiction.  This, of course, begs the question...

Are the stories I write true?

In Things Slip Through and my work in progress, The Mighty Dead, I speak about the uncanny similarities I've found between news stories and rumors around town, and the stories I've written.  The stories in Devourer of Souls, Through A Mirror, Darkly, and Things You Need came from conversations with other people about their experiences (which may or may not have been true), but as I wrote the stories for Things Slip Through, I was never quite sure if I'd seen or read the news stories, or heard the rumors first, then wrote the stories...or if I came across those accounts after I'd written stories hauntingly similar to them.

Did they really happen?

Telling you if they did or didn't would be akin to a magician revealing his secrets.  Where would the fun be in that?  What I can share is several of my encounters with the odder elements of our town, and simply state that these encounters seem to inspire in me stories which, for one reason or another, hum with an unsettling resonance.

First, however, I'll share with you my story of what happened to Emma Pital, and how I failed her.  It's a fictionalized account of what actually happened, as is much of my work, but it's how I deal with my anger and grief these days, instead of drinking.  As I said, it has become my “higher power.”

Until tomorrow,

Gavin Patchett

Clifton Heights