July 28, 2015

"This Is My Spot, Baby": an excerpt of "Rise of the Iron Eagle" by Roy A. Teel Jr.

Rise of the Iron Eagle, by Roy A. Teel Jr., is a suspenseful crime thriller. It is the first book in The Iron Eagle Series and it is available for sale on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and Smashwords.

The city of Los Angeles is no stranger to violence. It has both a colorful and grotesque history with it. Sheriff's Homicide Detective Jim O'Brian and FBI Profiler Special Agent Steve Hoffman are also no strangers to the violence of the sprawling metropolis, but in the past decade something has changed. There's a serial killer preying on other serial killers - some known by law enforcement, others well off radar. "The Iron Eagle," a vigilante, extracts vengeance for the victims of Los Angeles' serial killers. His methods are meticulous and his killings brutal. With each passing day, "The Iron Eagle" moves with impunity through the streets of Los Angeles in search of his prey. O'Brian and Hoffman create an elite task force with the sole purpose of catching "The Eagle" and bringing him to justice. But the deeper they delve, the more apparent it is that he may very well be one of their own. As the two men stare into the abyss of their search, the eyes of "The Iron Eagle" stare back.

*Content Warning: The Iron Eagle Crime novel series contains mature subject matter, graphic violence, sexual content, language, torture and other scenes that may be disturbing to sensitive readers. This series is not intended for anyone under the age of eighteen, reader discretion is advised.

Rise of the Iron Eagle (Book One) by Roy A. Teel

From the opening of Chapter 8:

John walked into Starbucks at the corner of Topanga and Lassen just before six thirty a.m. He got a coffee and a copy of the Daily News, and the headline said it all, “‘Billy the Kid,’ Crips Gang Member and Serial Rapist, Body Found in Legion Park: Iron Eagle Said to Be Killer.” He shook his head, “I should really start looking for the people who leak this stuff.” He walked to a flower shop a few doors down to purchase a dozen long-stemmed red roses. His truck was parked in front of Country Deli, a local landmark for nearly fifty years. He knew the area very, very well, but he knew it for all the wrong reasons. He pulled out of the lot and headed west through the neighborhoods of oak and eucalyptus trees, following Lassen as it turned from a busy thoroughfare into a quiet neighborhood of post-World War II homes and horse properties, until he reached the entrance to Oakwood Cemetery.

He parked his truck outside the large black wrought iron gates and the ivy covered brick walls of the cemetery and walked through the entrance and up the steep incline of the main road. He walked past a blue and white striped tent; a small backhoe sat quietly where fresh earth had been moved, and a concrete burial vault sat on the ground next to the newly-opened grave. He walked out into the cemetery grass and stopped in front of a grave marker set beneath a huge California Live Oak. He looked at the gray and white granite and its inscription, ‘Amber Lynn Swenson.’ He knelt and brushed away the fresh cut grass, so the whole inscription was revealed. ‘Loving Wife and Beautiful Soul. April 8, 1978 – March 20, 2003.’ Placing the flowers on the stone, he sat down, leaning his back against the tree. “I miss you, honey. I miss my best friend. I’m sorry I’ve been away for so long.” He heaved a sigh as a tear rolled down his face, and he whispered, “I’m still looking for him, Amber Lynn. For the man who took your life and our life together away.” He wiped the tears from his eyes, his lower lip quivering. “I know I’ve told you, and I don’t know if you are somewhere where you can hear me or not, but I’m sorry. If I had just been on time that night, he wouldn’t have gotten you.” He wiped the stone with a handkerchief from his pocket and laughed. “You always made fun of me for being old fashioned … but you were glad I had it the night I asked you to marry me. How could I know that this same piece of linen that dried your tears of joy at our engagement would later dry my tears of sorrow at your funeral.” John paused for a moment, his anger rising up. “He’s still out there, Amber, hurting women and children. I can’t let that continue. I will find him…and I will avenge you and all the others he’s tortured and killed. He’s a sly one; so far below the radar not even law enforcement sees his pattern or knows that he even exists. The randomness of his killings and the large area that he covers is his protection. I thought I had him with Roskowski. He was evil but wasn’t the man who did this to you.”

He stood up and walked toward the unmarked piece of land next to Amber’s headstone. “This is my spot, baby, right next to you. I’m not afraid of death…I’m afraid of dying before I catch him and bring him to justice.” He leaned down on his hands and knees and gently touched his lips to her name. “Rest, my angel. The next time I come back, it’ll be to tell you that I got him.”


About the Author:

On May 11, 1995, at 30, Roy’s life was irrevocably changed. After walking into the hospital, he was admitted and later received the worst possible diagnosis – Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis. His doctors gave him two years to live, and he left the hospital in a wheelchair. After battling Multiple Sclerosis for nearly 16 years, Roy began devoting his energies and passions to the full-time art of storytelling. His disability has brought with it an unforeseen blessing. He can finally take medications to alleviate some of the pain from his MS and focus on the pleasures of character creation and the joys of putting words to paper.

As an author, Roy A. Teel Jr. is very diverse, and his works include both fiction and nonfiction. His previous works include The Way, The Truth, and The Lies: How the Gospels Mislead Christians about Jesus’ True Message (2005), Against The Grain: The American Mega-Church and its Culture of Control (2008), Light of Darkness: Dialogues in Death (2008), and And God Laughed (2013).

In 2014, Roy began publishing his latest and largest project – a 15-book geographically-centered hard-boiled, mystery, suspense, thriller crime series: “The Iron Eagle Series.” The main character, a former Marine Corps Black Operative turned rogue FBI agent, hunts serial killers in Los Angeles. Each novel addresses different subjects, and while fiction, all titles deal with real world subject matter. “The Iron Eagle Series” is not about things that can’t hurt you. What happens in these novels can happen to any one of us if we let our guard down and/or are in the wrong place at the wrong time. To learn more, go to http://ironeagleseries.com/

Roy lives in Lake Arrowhead, CA with his wife and children. Readers can connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

July 27, 2015

Adolescence and Apparitions: a review of Kevin Lucia's "A Night at Old Webb"

A Night at Old Webb
by Kevin Lucia
Apocrypha (2015)
74 pages

Available at Amazon.com

If you grew up in a small town that had some abandoned buildings on the outskirts, chances are you and/or someone in your circle of friends got drunk there. I dunno, man. You're in your teens, it's not like you can drink your peach schnapps that you pilfered from the kitchen at home, so you look for a quiet place away from prying eyes so you and your friends can drink until one or all of you are vomiting a rainbow of concoctions along the side of a car.

... not that I speak from experience.

Anyway, those places are always creepy, and they almost always come with an urban legend attached. A ghost, a serial killer, whatever. In Kevin Lucia's Clifton Heights, there's something else waiting our protagonist, and it's arguably his destiny.

The story starts off simply enough in Clifton Heights with our protag, Kevin Ellison, sifting through boxes in preparation to re-open the old bookshop he inherited from his recently deceased father. Books are everywhere, but it's when he and his assistant, Cassie, find one of his own spiral notebooks containing stories from his youth that he's reminded of a fragment of his past when he met a gal named Michelle. From there, we're treated to one of the formative moments in Kevin's life when he meets and becomes infatuated with Michelle, a girl whose past is as hard to pin down as her motives for wanting to hang out with Kevin.

While there is that air of mystery and something looming just beneath the surface or around the corner, as you might come to expect from a Clifton Heights tale, "Old Webb" is a bit more of a nostalgic romp and spotlight on Kevin's path in life and how he might change it now having revisited memories he'd long since buried about that mysterious girl, Michelle, as well as his relationship with his late father.

What it lacks in tension and suspense it makes up for with a wonderful slice of life vibe and a clear affinity for the characters and the backdrop of Clifton Heights. Is it a good gateway drug to convince you to read more stories set in this universe. I reckon so, though readers should be aware that things, as eerie and weird as they might get in this tale, get exponentially weirder in other stories.

July 24, 2015

The Tangled Webb of Clifton Heights: an interview with Kevin Lucia, author of "A Night at Old Webb"

While Kevin Lucia is at the Scares That Care event this weekend, his latest Clifton Heights novella will be released via Apocrypha. My review for the book will appear on the blog on Monday, but today I had the chance to feature an interview Kevin to discuss the book and his writing. Enjoy!

Gef: What was the impetus behind A Night at Old Webb? Was this something you've been meaning to get to in your Clifton Heights stories, or something that just popped into your head out of the blue?

Kevin: As a lot of my stories lately, this one came from looking at the world around me and asking that little question that's spawned so many a fantastic tale: "What if?" One of our local grammar schools closed down 20 years ago. I drive by it all the time, and I've always wanted to check it out. Last summer, I happened to be free and I thought: what the heck? Why not? Turned out the door was propped open behind some tree cover (just like in the story), and I did some impromptu exploring. Honestly, that story wrote itself later that day when I was flipping through the photos I took. And I'm sure I'll write more stories there. Kids love to explore abandoned places, right? And teens love their secret party places...

Gef: Was there anything about Old Webb that you approached differently from the previous Clifton Heights titles?

Kevin: Right from the start, I just wanted to write it with very little concern for its "genre/horror" content. Which isn't to say by ANY means writing genre/horror fiction is lesser, but I didn't care if the story had any supernatural elements at all. I fact, I knew from the start it shouldn't be horror. It didn't have that feel. Stephen King claims in On Writing that the "story is the boss" and in this case, I completely allowed it to be the boss.

Gef: So you've been at this for a fair while now, and it feels like you're starting to get some recognition from notable folks out there. How have you found your progression as a writer thus far?

Kevin: Honestly, considering I'm going to see my fifth book published with Old Webb and I've yet to manage a novel, I feel enormously blessed. In the beginning, before I turned my attention to novellas and sort stories, I feared laboring my entire career on stuff folks would never read. That I've been able to produce stories people have read and liked makes me very thankful.

Back in the 8th grade, writing fiction people would read and like was a distant fever dream. In college, I harbored romantic ideas of quitting school and writing full time and never having to work....and then I never submitting anything for twenty years. Eight years ago I sold my first short story, thought I'd "arrived" until I realized no one knew who I was, and this sorta bummed me out until I realized in a threshold moment: there is no "arrived" moment in most writers' career. So many writers have built their careers gradually, brick by brick, moving forward, moving upward. I decided that's what I wanted to do: embrace realistic expectations, do the work every day, moving forward and not sideways, and, did I mention DO THE WORK EVERY DAY? I'm experiencing progress, people are reading my work and liking it, and I'm DOING THE WORK EVERY DAY. I couldn't be any more thrilled and, again, I'm so utterly thankful.

That being said, it could all go away tomorrow. Before they closed, I used to visit a local used paperback store once a week to peruse the horror section. Not only was I hunting for lost treasure, but I was also confronting myself with how fleeting success is. My name could sink to the bottom of the ocean and be forgotten. The proof of this were the rows and rows of horror novels published by credible publishers, written by people I'd never heard of. So I'm enjoying it immensely, understanding that it's all very fleeting, and taking every word written as an incredible gift.

Gef: When it comes to creating a mythos like Clifton Heights, have you been able to hold the reigns on its creative direction or have certain aspects--much like a character--imposed themselves on you through its progression?

Kevin: The only creative control I've tried to exert is to make sure the series can be approached from any angle. The big danger in creating a mythos like this is the risk of alienating new readers with too many "insider" references, or them having to read everything in a certain order. My goal has been that a reader could pick up any of these books and enter Clifton Heights and not feel like they're "missing" anything. Other than that, I imagine it like this: Clifton Heights, like any town or small city (honestly, the size of the town is fuzzy even to me, but hey - it's a pretty weird place, right?), is full of so many different kinds of people, and those people all have stories, which means the story potential is almost limitless, so as long I keep things "new-reader-friendly" I'll go wherever the muse whispers.

That being said, I did have to course-correct in writing Through A Mirror, Darkly and change certain things because I realized halfway through the second draft I'd dropped a major reference in Devourer of Souls that was conflicting with the continuity I was setting down. As it turns out, though, the course-correct made for a much better, "reader friendly" story, so I ended up pretty happy about it.

Gef: With Old Webb, you introduce a little more of the coming-of-age romance to the mythos. What do you consider to be the saving grace of love stories?

Kevin:Well, a love story isn't the same as "romance" in my opinion. For example, I've always considered (I loved this novel, despite others' opinions) King's Lisey's Story to be a love story (albeit posthumously). In many ways, so is Bag of Bones (also posthumously)

A good love story is like any other good genre story: the genre element serves to make some larger comment on the human experience. The "love story" in Old Webb isn't there simply to give readers the warm fuzzies, it's part of the main character's awakening to a much larger world, and also opens a door of greater insight into himself. That's why they say we never forget our "first loves," because they're very often transformative, and very much a part of growing up. 

Gef: What's the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? Or what piece of writing advice do you wish would just go away?

Kevin: To avoid "was" and "is". Yes, the passive voice can cause a narrative to drag, but honestly, sometimes "was" and "is" just sounds more natural, and that's all there is to it. 

Also - submitting to "4theluv" markets is NOT a death sentence, it is NOT a taint that will forever doom a writer. For many writers, it's just a stage. Some writers never submit to 4theluvs and go straight for pro markets, and they end up getting in. Good for them. Some writers (like myself) send stories to 4theluv markets in their inexperience, take their licks, then decide they want more and start aiming higher up the ladder. Good for them. Some writers are happy submitting to token payment, 4theluv markets, view writing as their hobby, and that's fine for them. Good for them. 

Educating young writers about the pitfalls of the 4theluv markets is important, especially when it comes to unethical editors willing to screw naive writers over. AND, if I'd never received said mentoring, I probably wouldn't have aimed my sights higher, and I wouldn't be able to say I've shared TOCs with Ramsey Campbell, Tom Monteleone and Jack Ketchum. But the idea that submitting to 4theluv markets somehow hurts the genre is just dumb, in my honest opinion. It's a case of punching-down to prove a point, which doesn't do anyone any good.

Gef: What kind of guilty pleasures do you have when it comes to books or movies or whatnot?

Kevin: I don't like the term "guilty pleasure" because I figure you like what you like, and who cares what others think? That being said, despite the haters, I'm a loyal Dean Koontz fan. Sometimes I need to be reminded that alongside horror also exists hope and love and goodness, and a Dean Koontz novel never fails in that aspect. That, and Jet-Li movies. I miss the days when you could count on seeing Jet-Li busting heads in the theater at least once every year or so. 

Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future, and how can folks keep up with your shenanigans?

Kevin: Right now, I'm entering a DO THE WORK EVERY DAY mode, so after Old Webb, it will probably be a bit before anything new comes out. I'm currently working on my first (here's hoping and praying) novel, The Mighty Dead. I signed a contract for a novella earlier this year (publisher undisclosed for now) called Mystery Road, which I hope I'll be able to share with folks soon. I think it's the finest thing I've ever written. My short story Therapy will be soon (or maybe already is) reprinted in the first issue of a new fanzine called Dreadful Tales. And, of course, I've got several short stories and novellas out there doing the rounds. 

My website www.kevinlucia.com is sporadically updated, but if you really want a front row seat to the daily madness that is me and my family's life, come over to Facebook and add me: https://www.facebook.com/kblucia. I have a Facebook Author Page if you just want writer updates - https://www.facebook.com/authorkevinlucia but honestly, most the fun is on my regular page.

July 23, 2015

A King-Sized Ass-Kicker: an interview with Steven Shrewsbury, co-author of "King of the Bastards"

STEVEN L. SHREWSBURY lives, works, and writes in rural Illinois. Over 360 of his short stories have appeared in print or electronic media along with over 100 poems. 9 of his novels have been released, with more on the way. His books run from sword & sorcery (OVERKILL, THRALL, BEDLAM UNLEASHED) to historical fantasy (GODFORSAKEN) extreme horror (HAWG, TORMENTOR, STRONGER THAN DEATH) to horror-westerns (HELL BILLY, BAD MAGICK, and the forthcoming LAST MAN SCREAMING). 

He loves books, British TV, guns, movies, politics, sports and hanging out with his sons. He’s frequently outdoors, looking for brightness wherever it may hide.  (source: sshrewsbury.wordpress.com)

About King of the BastardsRogan has been many things in his life as an adventurer — a barbarian, a thief, a buccaneer, a rogue, a lover, a reaver, and most recently, a king. Now, this prehistoric bane of wizards and tyrants finds himself without a kingdom, lost in a terrifying new world, and fighting for his life against pirates, zombies, and the demonic entity known as Meeble. And even if he defeats his foes, Rogan must still find a way to return home, regain his throne, save his loved ones, and remind everyone why he's the KING OF THE BASTARDS.

I had the chance to ask  Steven Shrewsbury a few questions about his collaboration with Brian Keene to make King of the Bastards happen, and epic fantasy in general. Enjoy!

Gef: So who approached who with the idea for King of the Bastards? And how high of a quirked eyebrow did that person get at the prospect of collaborating on such a no-holds-barred fantasy novel?

SS: Frankly, I think it was Brian who wondered that of me over ten years ago. We are both huge fans of Howard & Wagner and he’d took one of my stories on HORRORFIND ages ago. I’m never at a loss for ideas and we both thought fantasy needed a kick in the balls as well as the ass. He threw the idea of a collab out there and we started exchanging ideas. Next thing ya know…Rogan walked out of the past.

Gef: Have you had much experience with collaborations in your previous work? How much leeway did you guys give each other in finding your rhythm in writing it?

SS: I’d collabed with Peter Welmerink on the BEDLAM UNLEASHED tales & novel, but not much really. There were no limits in violence or debauchery. When Brian later added Meeble, a member of his Thirteen mythos to the package, I did ask of that characters abilities and whatnot, but there wasn’t a limit. We refused to write with condoms on our heads.

Gef: The cover alone has me envisioning a tale that would make the writers of Heavy Metal blush? What was your initial allure to epic fantasy?

SS: The covers of the hardback and paperback are really something. I know we both grew up enjoying the same comics and books. Burroughs, Howard and Wagner to name a few author wise, and always felt there were good tales left to tell.

Gef: How have you found the genre has progressed over the years? It seems the trend at the moment has been towards darker tinged fantasy stories, possibly due to the success of the Game of Thrones TV series, or perhaps simply a product of the times, since even Superman has been presented in a much more grim fashion than in days gone by. Is it as robust as always, or has you noticed publishers succumbing to following what's popular?

SS: Personally, when all this started over a decade ago, I felt fantasy was going the way of the TSR gaming industry and losing a bit here & there. GOT has certainly re-stoked the fires. Time will tell. The works of Joe Abecrombie are a testament that gritty tales can still be put out there in a simple fashion, ala the late Gemmel and others.

Gef: Rogan at the start of this novel seems to have seen it all and done it all. Is he a bit war weary when readers meet him or is he lusting for adventure atop his newly acquired throne? It sounds like he's been put through the wringer before the book even begins. Did you and Brian have a bit of one-upmanship going on in figuring out what obstacles and horrors to throw in this character's way?

SS: Perhaps, but we had fun doing it. I don’t think we intentionally tripped each other up. Mind you, Brian was so busy with other things as the sub date neared, and we needed one more epic fight and about 15k…and he gave me a brief window to do it. I’d like to think I rose to the occasion. Tales that that spew out of my mind and I enjoy doing them. It wasn’t there the day before and now it is.

Gef: How much emphasis do you place on setting as character? With a tale like this, it's almost like you have carte blanche to work with as far as world building goes. Was this the meat of the brainstorming sessions?

SS: I hear I write character driven fiction. We understood the era of the work, a pre-flood time where the world was much different, but that was the basic guts of it. The folks within, they are the magic, good or evil. The world was ours, just really long ago in a forgotten slice of time. We didn’t set it on a planet LIKE the Earth in an era LIKE one of ours…as I think that is sort of silly, really. Tell yer damn story and roll on. We both did set it at a particular place in mind, however, roughly the Carolina coast of am antediluvian world.

Gef: What do you consider to be the saving grace of the epic fantasy genre?

SS: That anything can happen and the only walls are the writer’s imagination. If you have any sacred cows, I suggest they better be served as steaks and burgers.

Gef: What's the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? Or what piece of writing advice do you wish would just go away?

SS: “Forget writing that kind of fantasy you like so much, honey…the GIRLS are in charge of fantasy publishing now, so just forget it.” One that would go away? Some Dumbass writer in NYC telling me I was out of line for wanting to be paid for writing. What the heck was I thinking?

Gef: Do you have any guilty pleasures when it comes to books or movies or whatnot?

SS: Oh, back in the day the GOR works were fun, but they were what they were. On movies, ugh, they make bad ones, don’t they? I like KRULL and even the first Arnie CONAN flick, as long as I don’t focus on how much it has nada to do with the character Robert. E. Howard created. I’ve caught myself watching SYFY channel flicks when I’ve drank too much, or that silly AMERICA UNEARTHED program that adds little to interesting topics…and the guy doesn’t know the diff between Celtic and Greek gods. Sheesh.

Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future?

SS: Brian always has many things in the works. My latest Gorias La Gaul novel BORN OF SWORDS just came out from Seventh Star Press as well as my horror novel WITHIN from Black Bedsheet Books. Rumor is my Lovecraftian horror western LAST MAN SCREAMING might see the light of day and possibly the re-release of BEDLAM UNLEASHED the fantasy collab by Peter Welmerink and myself. But if Rogan will swagger out again, that is a tale for another day…

July 22, 2015

Anomaly Detected: an excerpt of S.H. Jucha's "The Silver Ships"

S.H. Jucha has had an extensive career as a senior manager in the technical education and software development industries, with degrees in Biology and Broadcast Communications. He has been driven by an innate interest in computers since his initial adoption of an IBM PC in 1981. Jucha’s new novel,The Silver Ships,—the product of extensive planning, researching and development—is now part of a planned five-book series with a potential spin-off in the works.

Libre and The Silver Ships are both now available for purchase on Amazon.

Learn more about Jucha (ū•hă) at www.scottjucha.com and connect with him through Goodreads or follow his blog.

About The Silver Ships: An explorer-tug captain, Alex Racine detects a damaged alien craft drifting into the system. Recognizing a once in a lifetime opportunity to make first contact, Alex pulls off a daring maneuver to latch on to the derelict.

Alex discovers the ship was attacked by an unknown craft, the first of its kind ever encountered. The mysterious silver ship's attack was both instant and deadly.

What enfolds is a story of the descendants of two Earth colony ships, with very different histories, meeting 700 years after their founding and uniting to defend humanity from the silver ships.

By S.H. Jucha

“Anomaly detected,” Tara’s dulcet voice announced.

Alex sat upright in his pilot’s seat. “Show me.” On the navigation screen, a thin red line encircled a tiny dot. “Any telemetry available?”
“The object is headed in system at thirteen degrees below the ecliptic. Distance is 388 million kilometers.”

“It’s constant at 0.02c.”
His heart skipped a beat. “That’s too fast for an asteroid. So what are you?”
New Terrans had ventured no further than the ice fields, a dense ring of asteroids circling beyond Seda, a gas giant and their system’s ninth and last planet. Since their colony’s founding 732 years ago, there hadn’t been any outside contact…human or otherwise.
“How soon before it reaches the ice fields?”
“At its present velocity, it will enter the rings in five days.”
“When will it intersect our system horizon?”
“Two days later, it will cross the ecliptic near Seda.”

At present, he was headed for Sharius, one of Seda’s moons, for refueling. The Outward Bound, under its 1g acceleration, had achieved a velocity of 0.01c. In seven days, his path would intersect with the anomaly.

Thirteen days earlier, Alex had piloted his explorer-tug next to a dark, craggy, 580m long asteroid, whose thick layer of water ice covered a small, solid core. Using tractor beams, he’d pinned it to his ship then fired a two-meter long metal shaft into the ice. An electronic beacon housed in the shaft switched on and began broadcasting. Encoded with Tara’s telemetry, it did double duty as information for bidders and as a tracking signal, broadcasting the asteroid’s tag and his ship’s ID.

July 21, 2015

Going Bozo for Bizarro: an interview (and giveaway) with Carlton Mellick III, author of "ClownFellas"

Carlton Mellick III is an oafish gentleman with the stylishest of sideburns. He is one of the leading authors in the bizarro fiction genre—a booming underground movement that strives to bring weird, crazy, entertaining literature to the masses. Imagine a mixture of David Lynch, Dr. Seuss, South Park, and Troma movies. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

About ClownFellasIn a topsy-turvy world where clowns are killers and crooks, Little Bigtop is a three-ring circus of crime, and no syndicate is more dangerous than the Bozo family. From the wildly original mind of Carlton Mellick III comes the short-story collection ClownFellas—an epic mob saga where life is cheap and the gags will slay you.

For years, the hard-boiled capos of the Bozo family have run all of the funny business in Little Bigtop, from the clown brothels to the illegal comedy trade. But hard times have befallen the Bozos now that Le Mystère, the French clown Mafia, has started moving in and trying to take over the city. If that weren’t enough, they’ve got to deal with the cops, the Feds, the snitches, the carnies, the mysterious hit man Mr. Pogo, and the mutant clowns over in the Sideshow district. With the odds stacked against them, the Bozos must fight to survive . . . or die laughing.

Gef: How do you see Clownfellas working as a salve on the somewhat sullied public perception of clowns? I ask this as someone with a long-abiding aversion to clowns.

Carlton: I am there with you. I’ve always had an aversion to clowns myself. I tend to find them creepy at best and obnoxious at worst. So when writing a book where 90% of the characters are clowns, I had to challenge myself to make the clown characters as likable, as interesting, and as relatable as possible to even the most clown-averse reader without removing any element that made them clowny. They are 100% clown—literally, they are a race of clown people, not humans in clown makeup—yet they are real people with real problems and the red smiles permanently embedded in their motley-colored faces rarely express how they actually feel inside.

Another trick was making the clowns funny. The book is very much a comedy, but because I don’t have the sense of humor of a four-year-old I don’t find typical clown-antics to be all that humorous. So it was an interesting experience trying to make clown-humor work for adult readers. I found myself laughing out loud as I wrote several scenes in the book, so I’m hoping I succeeded.

But to answer your question, I do believe Clownfellas will make the clownphobic public warm up to clowns. I know the experience of writing the book completely changed my own opinion of clown characters. Before this book, I never would have read, let alone write, books featuring clowns and now I feel like writing a hundred more Clownfellas stories. But that might have a lot more to do with my love of weird mafia stories.

Gef: Rather than a novel, you opted for a short story collection with this book. Was it a matter of having a world here with enough moving parts that you wanted to explore than one straight plotline?

Carlton: While the book is essentially a short story collection (or a novella collection, due to the stories averaging at 20,000 words each), I like to think of it as a novel in six parts. It’s structured a lot like Frank Miller’s Sin City series, where the main setting is the element that ties all the stories together.

In Clownfellas, each part is told from the perspective of a different character in the Bozo crime family. Main characters reappear as supporting characters in each installment. What happens in one tale will often have an impact on the world in the next. While each story stands on its own with its own story arc, there’s also an overarching storyline that comes to a climax at the end. I guess you can say it’s a bit like a season of a television series in book form, with the last episode acting like a season finale.

I took this approach for a lot of reasons. For starters, it just seemed like a lot of fun to write. I’m a big fan of series in any medium, from books to television to comics to anime, so this gave me an excuse to try my hand at an episodic style plot. It also allowed me to explore multiple characters, multiples storylines, and get into all the different aspects of life in Little Bigtop. I would have had a hard time deciding which storyline to go with if I was forced to choose only one, because there’s a lot going on in this world.

Gef: One aspect to the book is a little something called the Comedy Prohibition Act. Kinda timely given the way social media has given voice to some rather ... unfunny people coming out against comedians like Amy Schumer, Trevor Noah, and others for unvarnished and/or risque jokes. Is all that just squeaky wheel syndrome do you think or something more insidious with today's pop culture?

Carlton: It’s probably both, but either way it’s definitely become a problem. I love dystopian stories and the worst dystopia I could imagine would be one where comedy was outlawed, as it is in Clownfellas. I don’t believe it is realistic that the government would ever go as far as outlawing or even putting major limits on comedy, but right now we’re going through a kind of self-censorship where a lot of people are too scared of offending anyone. And I think that’s just as bad. Comedians need to brave it out and not be afraid of social media backlash or it’s only going to get worse.

It reminds me of what happened to comedy in late 2001, during the 4-6 months after 9-11. A lot of people don’t remember this, but comedy (or lack of it) was really scary during that time. Comedians were too frightened to make fun of the government or most political issues; they were scared of public backlash because the country was all about unification and healing at that time. Everyone remembers how brave The Daily Show with John Stewart was for criticizing George W. Bush and the war in Iraq in 2002. But nobody remembers The Daily Show of late 2001, when they were the complete opposite of brave. When the US first invaded Iraq, John Stewart was hesitant to make fun of the government. Instead, The Daily Show ridiculed safer targets, such as the “hippies” protesting the war. If you can find old episodes of The Daily Show, you’d think they were right-wing and pro-war. It really wasn’t funny at all.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the Daily Show. I love John Stewart. But for a few months there I was really scared about what had happened to comedy. People were scared of offending the masses and it seemed as though comedy was dead for a while. It took a group of brave comedians, which included John Stewart, to move forward. And while there was backlash, including a few politicians who believed it should be made illegal to mock the government, they stuck to their guns and eventually everything got better. That’s the only way comedians will get through what they’re currently struggling with at the moment. But I fear it will get worse before it gets better.

In any case, the Comedy Prohibition Act (which is what inspired the formation of the clown mafia in Clownfellas) was definitely inspired by the current state of comedy.

Gef: I don't know if 2015 has shaped up as a bizarro renaissance, but it seems with larger publishers upping the visibility of the genre there seems to be a resurgence. What's your take on the progression on the genre?

Carlton: This year marks the ten year anniversary of bizarro fiction becoming a genre. It’s still pretty underground, which is how a lot of people like it, but I believe there’s a lot of growth ahead of us. I believe bizarro fiction can and should be embraced by the mainstream. It shouldn’t just be a small genre for a select group of underground punks and weirdoes, I think bizarro can appeal to anyone. I believe it could grow into a large mainstream genre someday. Most people think that’s an absurd idea, but when you think about it it’s not any more absurd than horror or science-fiction becoming genres in the last century.

People like weirdness. People seek out weirdness. Have you ever heard somebody say “The weirdest thing happened to me today” and found yourself actually interested in hearing what happened to them? Or have you been curious or attracted to people you come across who have abnormal/eccentric personalities? Or have you ever wanted to visit a foreign country just to experience a culture that was strange and different from yours? Even if many won’t admit it, most people are attracted to the weird. I think that’s the strength of bizarro fiction.

I believe the main thing holding the genre back at the moment is a lack of understanding of the genre. The most well-known bizarro books right now are the ones with crazy over-the-top titles like Ass Goblins of Auschwitz, The Haunted Vagina, Baby Jesus Butt Plug, and Rampaging Fuckers of Everything on the Crazy Shitting Planet of the Vomit Atmosphere. These aren’t necessarily the best written bizarro works, nor the bestselling, nor the most definitive, and actually make up only a small percentage of the books published in bizarro fiction. However, they get the most attention. People like talking about them. They go viral. So for those who don’t read bizarro fiction, who are introduced to the genre through these works, they get the impression that the only point of bizarro is to create trashy shock-for-the-sake-of-shock anti-literature. But that’s not what bizarro is about at all. Bizarro is about telling stories that are completely different from anything else that’s currently out there, stories that focus on imagination without limits. I think the image of bizarro will improve in the near future, mostly because the quality of the work being published in the genre is consistently rising and getting as much attention as the crazy-titled books.

Gef: How about as a craft? There's this blend of horror and humor, the surreal and the satirical, leaning one way or the other, but have you seen shifts in how you and fellow authors have approached the genre?

Carlton: Bizarro has been maturing quite a bit lately. I believe the appeal of weird ideas just isn’t good enough for the readers and creators anymore. Early bizarro was an explosion of odd ideas that were fun and imaginative but they rarely went beyond that. These days, bizarro writers have been making it a priority to emotionally engage readers in complex ways. A clever idea needs to be accompanied by characters that the reader cares about, no matter how odd the character is or how surreal of a world he lives in. Stories need to keep readers on the edge of their seat, make them think, make them feel. The genre is still full of fun and ridiculous concepts as it always was, but now you’re more likely to forget just how ridiculous the concepts are and go along for the ride.

The bizarro fiction approach I’m most interested in is when writers attempt to emotionally affect you in unexpected ways. Like when you find yourself laughing in a story that should not be funny. Or when you find yourself terrified or disgusted while reading about something that originally seemed as sweet as a children’s story. Or when you find yourself crying over the death of a ridiculous character, such as a talking toilet or a man with a bulldog for a head that you originally found pointless and irritating until you got to know them through the course of the story. I believe that’s the direction bizarro fiction is evolving toward: weird stories that evoke even weirder emotional responses. I’m excited to see what comes out over the next ten years.

Gef: You've been writing for a fair while, and prolifically so at that, so you must have been subjected to a myriad of bad writing advice. What's the worst bit you can think of?

Carlton: Probably the worst bit of advice would have been from the dozens of older science-fiction writers I associated with when I was just starting out in the late 1990s who regularly advised me to stop writing weird/surreal/bizarro stories and stick to more conventional storylines if I wanted to get anywhere as a writer. They continuously told me that nobody would be interested in my kind of writing, that I could never go pro. So I tried doing what they advised and toned down my work for a while, but that pretty much just resulted in a lot of rejected work that I wasn’t even proud of. The first story I wrote once I went back to writing the weird/gonzo stories I enjoyed writing, wasn’t only published but made it into The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. That pretty much pointed my career in the right direction. A year later, I was able to quit my day job and write for a living.
I learned two things from that experience:

1) Take all writing advice with a grain of salt, especially if the advice-giver isn’t the kind of writer you want to be in ten years (although I don’t recommend completely ignoring any advice no matter who’s giving it).

2) Strive to be unique and different. Uniqueness sells. The only reason I was able to make a living as a writer despite being in my early twenties was because I was the only person writing the kind of books I was writing. I didn’t have any competition. Trying to fit in because that’s what you think is going to get published is like shooting yourself in the foot.

Gef: Being prolific as you are, you must have more irons in the fire. What's next on the menu? And how can readers keep up with your shenanigans?

Carlton: My release schedule is usually pretty consistent. My books come out on a quarterly basis, so there’s something new from me every January, April, July, and October. The book I’m currently working on is called Bio Melt. It’s kind of a cyberpunk horror novel about a group of people trapped in a flooded futuristic city under attack from giant creatures made of fused-together human body parts. Think Videodrome meets Attack on Titan. It’s been a really fun book to write so far.

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July 20, 2015

B-Horror or Be Square: an interview with David Bernstein, author of "Skinner" and "Goblins"

David Bernstein writes horror. All kinds of it. From atmospheric to balls-to-the-wall stuff.  He has two new novels out this summer, one from DarkFuse and another from Samhain Publishing, so I got the chance to ask him a few questions about his writing and his views on horror. Enjoy!

Gef: Looking back at 2014, you had more than a couple titles released. A bit of a banner year for you, and things don't seem to be slowing down for you in 2015 with two more books set for release this summer. How have you been taking in your progression as a writer thus far?

David: Little by little. I just keep writing because I love doing it and I keep getting story ideas. I try to remember that the writing "thing" is a marathon. It takes time to gain readers, but as long as you keep writing and putting out stuff people seem to like more than not, the readership grows.

Gef: Skinner, coming out via DarkFuse, sounds like it has a survival horror vibe to it. What was the impetus behind this one?

David: I love B-Horror movies. I wrote Witch Island because my wife loves them too. It was for her. A total slasher about kids getting slaughtered in bloody ways in the woods. I also love books and movies that take place in the snow. I used to have a summer house in the Adirondack area of upstate New York. I remember traveling over the mountains and how treacherous the roads could be. I decided to write another B-movie slasher that takes place there. It's total survival horror.

Gef: Then there's Goblins, which Samhain's horror line will be putting out in August. At first glance I'm not sure if this fits in with the cryptozoological type of horror or something more paranormal. Or maybe a blending of the two. Where did the inspiration for this one come from?

David: I wanted to write a horror novel using something a little different. Not that goblins are unheard of, of course. Everyone knows what they are, but I'm not sure they've been in too many horror novels. Goblins are usually associated with Fantasy and Sword and Sorcery stuff. I wanted them to be pure horror, splatterpunk style. I was going to do a troll horror story and a goblin one. The goblin one is done! It's supernatural and gory.

Gef: Lately, I've seen some pushback against the notion of epic fantasy working best exclusively in novel of great length. When it comes to horror, do you think it lends itself better to shorter works or full-length novels? Or do you consider it malleable and broad enough to work equally well no matter what the story length?

David: I've read many GREAT novellas. I've read many GREAT novels. I think horror works in all forms, long and short. Sometimes it depends on the reader and what they want or expect. Some people prefer longer works, saying they needed to get to know the characters better. Wanted more. Sometimes books can drag on and have lots of filler and get bogged down. Myself, I like to get to the point and love writing novels as well as novellas. I consider myself more of a pulp horror writer than someone who writes beautiful prose and spends a lot of time having an underlying meaning. I like to tell stories, entertain. Allow someone to lose themselves for a few hours and forget the world and its goings on.

Gef: Over the years, have you found you approach writing horror differently than you did even a few years ago?

David: Yes. I never used to outline. I find it extremely helpful now. Helps get the story flushed out and shows me a general direction on where to go. I don't need it, but it allows me to write faster and give the publisher an idea of what I'm working on next. I like to get their "okay" before starting a project so I know it has a home.

Gef: Was horror your first love with regards to reading or something you became drawn to later?

David: I've loved horror since I was a little kid. My mom always liked scary movies and shows and decorated the house for Halloween and had Halloween parties. We still watch horror movies together. My love for horror has remained and stayed the same, except now I can appreciate subtle horror more than I used to.

Gef: What do you consider to be the saving grace of the horror genre?

David: Small press. Without it, I'm not sure what horror would look like. Small press allows writers to write stuff the BIG HOUSES would NEVER publish, and gives readers more choices on what to read. My novel The Unhinged would probably never get published in one of the BIG 5 or whatever number they are now. It's simply too extreme.

Gef: You've written stories with and without supernatural elements. Do you have a preference in your horror? Is there one that comes more easily to you than the other?

David: I think my favorite is supernatural horror. There's something great about creatures with powers, undead and the fantastic. Real-life horror is right there too. But I write more supernatural because it's so damn fun. Either can be scary, but real-life, non-supernatural, can be scarier because there's the possibility it could happen.

Gef: What kind of guilty pleasures do you have when it comes to books or movies or whatnot?

David: When it comes to reading, I stick mainly to horror and thriller. But when it comes to movies and television I watch the gamut, from comedies, to dramas, to horror, to action and sci fi. I watched Gossip Girl and Desperate House Wives and loved them. I also love so many of the shows the SyFy channel puts on. The CW, Supernatural and Arrow and The 100. The Black List. Sons of Anarchy. The Big Bang Theory. Castle. Etc. There's so many.

Gef: What other projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future, and how can folks keep up with your shenanigans?

David: I've got a lot of obligations coming up. More Samhain novels. A novel called The Sludge from Great Old Ones Publishing. Episodes of Violence from Sinister Grin Press. Machines of the Dead 3 from Severed Press. A grindhouse novella from Bizarro Pulp Press, tentatively titled Tossing Cookies (figure what that's about). And I'd like to write something for an agent or one of the bigger houses, say Kensington or Random House.

My work and other goings on can be found on my website/blog:

July 17, 2015

Chasing Tale [July 17, 2015]: Literary First Round Picks

Because I blog about books, I am constantly on the receiving end of the things and don't get to dive deep into the catalogs of any one particular author. And believe me when I say there are quite a few I would happily dedicate my reading time to exclusively. Once such author died last weekend. His name: Tom Piccirilli.

I bought a used paperback in 2009 called The Night Class.  A fella named Tom Piccirilli penned it several years prior and even managed to win a Bram Stoker Award with it. It was really good, so good in fact that I started looking around for more of his stuff. Over the last six years I've read a few more of his books, immensely impressed by his deftness in capturing a character and a movement with the rawest and truest words, and I bought a whole bunch more that are calling out to be read.

I could prattle on about how good a writer Tom was, but I wouldn't do him justice. I think Nick Mamatas offers up a nice write-up on how good Tom was and what he meant to so many: https://nihilistic-kid.livejournal.com/1927635.html

I will say that Every Shallow Cut should be required reading for every author, both professional and aspirational, as it is just a whipcrack of a masterpiece. Also, if you're interested in buying one of Tom's books to give it a try, Jason Sizemore and Apex Books have a great deal for you: http://jason-sizemore.com/2015/07/16/raising-money-for-pic-and-michelle/

Whichever Piccirilli novel you buy, chances are strong that you'll be moved to buy more. Rest in peace, Tom.

Along with buying another of his books, a whole bunch more books by other authors arrived.

Selena by Greg Barth - This is a new one from All Due Respect Books. I've known them as a publisher of noir in the short form, but they're publishing novel-length stuff now, and this one sounds vicious.

New Amsterdam by Elizabeth Bear - This is a collection of steampunky stories featuring a female sleuth with necromancer skills and a vampire sidekick. What's not to love?

The Fury of Black Jaguar by Angel Luis Colon - Here's a new one from One Eye Press that has a ex-IRA on the hunt for his stolen Plymouth Fury. I was keen on checking this one out because Angel wrote it, but with it featuring a brand of car near and dear to my heart, I'm super-psyched to see how it is.

A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark by Harry Connolly - An odd title, but Harry Connolly is a guy whose books I've been meaning to check out, and this one was only a few bucks on Kindle. Sounds very urban fantasy-ish with vampires and other fun supernatural elements.

The Best Horror of the Year: Volume Seven edited by Ellen Datlow - If you have to pick just one anthology in the run of a year, your best bet is with one that has Ellen Datlow's name on the cover. And when she is curating the best horror of any given year, that's about as safe a bet as you can make.

The Killing Kind by Chris F. Holm - Chris wrote a fantastic trilogy of hard-boiled urban fantasy novels called The Collector series, and I've been waiting to see what he'd come up with next. Well, it looks like he's going straight with a crime thriller. Hey, maybe not paranormals stuff, but that's no bother.

The Silence by Tim Lebbon - How about a post-apocalyptic world festering with predators that hunt by sound? You better shut your mouth, even if you're talking about Shaft.

Cruelty and Fog Warning by Edward Lorn - I managed to get the Audible version of Fog Warning, which I'll have a chance to listen to this summer, and the complete version of the Cruelty serial novel. I wonder which will traumatize me more, as Ed's horror has a knack for that.

The Severest Inks Shorts edited by Khalid Patel - Every couple of months or so, the Awkward Conversations with Geeky Writers takes place on YouTube. And during their latest get-together this week, I won a copy of this little anthology. Groovy.

Futile Efforts by Tom Piccirilli - I'm not much for poetry, but if it's penned by Tom Piccirilli, I suppose I'd best make an exception. This collection includes dozens of his poems and several of his short stories, and has for years been praised by his peers and a stand-out collection of his work.

Forest of Fortune by Jim Ruland - Tyrus Books was generous enough to offer a free ebook of choice at the start of the month in celebration of their sixth anniversary. I have a few books already on my shelf from them, but this one set in a rundown Indian casino caught my eye and I thought I'd give it a go.

Slowly We Rot by Bryan Smith - Brian Keene said this is the best zombie novel he has ever read, so add that with the fact Keene hasn't been shy about praising Smith's work in the past., and that Keene doesn't bullshit with his blurbs, I'm quick to take him at his word.

Wolf Hunt 2 by Jeff Strand - I haven't even gotten around to read the first Wolf Hunt novel, but why should that stop me from adding the sequel to my bookshelf?

Of Blondes and Bullets by Michael Young - A scored another freebie this month, this one from Number Thirteen Press, and given the choice of one book from their catalog last week, I opted to go for the first release they put out, about a guy whose luck from bad to worse after pulling a drowning young woman from a river.


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