December 5, 2016

Salton Preppers Here: an interview with Jennifer Brozek, author of "The Last Days of Salton Academy"

It's referred to as 'The Outbreak,' and it happened just over three months ago, casting the world (or at least this part of it) into a state of powerlessness and chaos. The Salton Academy has become a rare sanctuary for those few students who remained behind over fall break.

As winter approaches, cracks are revealed in the academy's foundations as it's discovered someone is stealing food, another is taking advantage of a captive audience, and yet others have banded together and are thinking about mutiny, even murder. One thing's for certain — a supply run must be made soon, or everyone will starve before winter's end.

Oh yes, and then there’s the matter of the headmaster’s son and his undead dog…

The Last Days of Salton Academy is a classic tale of horror in the spirit of Night of the Living Dead meets Lord of the Flies, featuring an ensemble cast and written by Hugo Award-nominated editor and award-winning author, Jennifer Brozek.


Gef: With The Last Days of Salton Academy, you purposefully kept the setting vague as far as pinning it down geographically. Is that for creative license or for that "it can happen anywhere" vibe?

Jennifer: Yes. It is. It is also based on my extensive travel. I consciously took pieces from four areas to create the Anywhere, America setting for The Last Days of Salton Academy. I took the small town feel from Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. The structured setting and brick buildings from Fort Dix, New Jersey. The rolling, golden hills and “tri-cities” concept from where I lived in California—Livermore, Dublin, Pleasanton tri-valley area. Finally, the isolated feeling from the Pasco, Kennewick, Richland tri-cities area of western Washington.

Gef: Outbreaks come in all shapes in sizes. How specific do you get with yours in this book, or are you more concerned with the aftermath and the human interplay there?

Jennifer: The Last Days of the Salton Academy is focused solely on the aftermath and the interplay between a small subset of people. The location is isolated. The nearest town is at least ten miles away. In the story, only one zombie makes it to the academy campus and its casualty is a black Labrador. I don’t care about zombies. I care about the situations they put people in and the hard choices they are forced to make.

Gef: Apocalyptic fiction has been enjoying a bit of a renaissance as it were. Why do you suppose that is and what drew you to writing this novel?

Jennifer: Every generation goes through a phase where they wonder “what if what I know breaks down?”. Because of that, apocalyptic fiction waxes and wanes. Right now, there are some scary things happening in the real world. In this digital age, you can’t get away from it. It makes people turn to the “what if” stories that wipe the slate clean. 

This novel drew me because I got to play around with some of the worlds I’ve experienced—Small Town, America; the bubble world of a military base; the security and isolationism of living somewhere that has eight foot stone walls; Belgium. 

Gef: What would you say in the biggest misconception about “YA” fiction?

Jennifer: I think there are two. The first is that there must be a romance in the story. Not all teenagers are hormone-addled. Some of them just want an adventure tale. The second is that you don’t need to dumb down your language. Today’s teens are smart and savvy. They know a lot more than their parents want to admit. I focus on plotlines that haunted me as a teen—how do I fit into this world and how can I make a difference?

Gef: Was there anything different in your approach to writing this book that was different from your previous titles?

Jennifer: This book is a little different for me because more than half the characters are idealized, exaggerated, teenaged versions of my friends. Now, I never knew any of them as teens. I’ve taken pieces from what I know of them and blown them up. Then, I based my main teen antagonist on my husband, Jeff. We had so much fun talking over what fictionalized, teenaged him would do in the situations I described—how and why. Some people really love that character. Some really hate him.

Gef: You have some snazzy covert art for your novel as well, complemented by the overall design. Who was behind that, and did you have any input into it?

Jennifer: That was all my publisher, Ragnarok Publications. The cover was designed by M.S. Corley and it perfectly captures the gothic horror of the story. One review called The Last Days of Salton Academy a “gothic zombie story.” It’s old school horror and I love it. My only input was to enthusiastically approve it.

Gef: As you were researching for this one, were there any tidbits of info that took you by surprise? Something that came out of left field that you either had to include in some fashion or was just too distracting from what you already had in mind?

Jennifer: The only thing that really surprised me was the medical condition of the headmaster’s son, Evan. It is based in reality. I didn’t know he had the condition until we once talked about what you would do if the unthinkable occurred and zombies did appear. His wife’s answer was “I’d join the winning team.” Evan agreed and we talked about why. People with a need for lifesaving medicine would be seriously screwed in an apocalypse. It gave me the perfect reason to have Evan do what he did.

Gef: It's closed quarters and potential for a large cast of characters. How wide a net did you cast when exploring these characters? Did you hone in on one to view through his/her experiences or did you want more of a mosaic feel for the story?

Jennifer: In close quarters, every person’s actions touch every other person whether they know it or not. I had several point of view characters. It was needed. There is a mosaic feel to the story, but it really was all about the downfall of one person, Jeff, trying to do what he thought was best for the good of the whole. Even though his actions were a catalyst to condemn the school, it was the actions of the other students that actually brought it to ruin.

Gef: Assuming the Outbreak doesn't occur anytime soon IRL, what else do you have in the works? And how can readers keep up with your shenanigans?

Jennifer: I’ve just finished and turned in a couple of RPG tie-in novels. I plan to go back to writing teen horror in 2017. I am active on Facebook as Jennifer Brozek and have a fan page, Jennifer Brozek Author, as well. Most of my short burst interactions are on twitter (@JenniferBrozek). If you want to know about any of my books or other stuff about me, is the way to go. Just expect a lot of talk about writing, cats, ingress, and gaming.

Jennifer Brozek is a Hugo Award-nominated editor and an award-winning author. Winner of the Australian Shadows Award for best edited publication, Jennifer has edited fifteen anthologies with more on the way, including the acclaimed Chicks Dig Gaming and Shattered Shields anthologies. Author of Apocalypse Girl Dreaming, Industry Talk, the Karen Wilson Chronicles, and the Melissa Allen series, she has more than sixty published short stories, and is the Creative Director of Apocalypse Ink Productions.
Jennifer is a freelance author for numerous RPG companies. Winner of the Scribe, Origins, and ENnie awards, her contributions to RPG sourcebooks include Dragonlance, Colonial Gothic, Shadowrun, Serenity, Savage Worlds, and White Wolf SAS.
Jennifer is the author of the award-winning YA Battletech novel, The Nellus Academy Incident, and Shadowrun novella, Doc Wagon 19. She has also written for the AAA MMO Aion and the award-winning videogame, Shadowrun Returns. She is the author of The Last Days of Salton Academy, published by Ragnarok.

December 2, 2016

Between White Wizards and Evil Girlfriends: an interview with Jon Del Arroz, author of "Star Realms:Rescue Run"

Since being court-martialed by the Star Empire, smuggler and thief Joan Shengtu has done what she needed to do in order to survive—gaining a reputation along the way. When a new client’s mission goes sideways, Joan finds herself caught in the middle of dueling gambits between the Star Empire and the Trade Federation. Recruited to perform the heist of a lifetime, the fate of the Star Empire rests in her hands. 

On the opposite side of the galaxy, Regency BioTech manager Dario Anazao sees an unsustainable situation brewing that promises a full-scale revolution. The megacorporations of the Trade Federation have kept the population in horrible working conditions, violating their human rights. With no one else to help, Dario must take it upon himself to rescue the workers of Mars. 

Can two heroes from warring factions come together to make a difference in the galaxy? 

Star Realms: Rescue Run is the first novelization of the critically acclaimed Star Realms spaceship combat deckbuilding game. You can check out the game here:

Gef: How did your involvement with Star Realms come about?
Jon: I started playing the card game of Star Realms right after the Kickstarter copies came out in 2014. It’s been a staple of a game that I’ve played hundreds of times since then both in person and on the app. Last year I started talking with the White Wizard Games folk about my ideas for a deeper background for their world. They liked it, and we got together with a phenomenal publisher in Evil Girlfriend Media. 
Gef: Was there anything in your writing process of this book that you approached differently from previous titles?
Jon: Absolutely. I had more than a hundred different cards to look at with beautiful images of ships, bases and heroes. This helped me to envision the world more clearly in my mind and the naming conventions of the game dictated a lot for coming up with the world. White Wizard Games had to approve a lot of the ideas and background as well, so they gave input on the world building and writing process, which is usually much more of a solitary endeavor.
Gef: What's the greatest challenge when it comes to adapting an RPG/tabletop game into a novel? Is there much of a balancing act in catering to diehard fans and those unfamiliar with the game?
Jon: The way games flow, at least in a board game capacity, don’t always make sense from a narrative perspective. There’s a balance and speed that don’t quite work for stories, especially in long form version. This particular game focuses a lot on battle and mostly on ship to ship combat at that. I took a route of drilling down and focusing on characters who live in that dangerous world, and how they would act to different situations. The balancing act ended up mostly being how much slice of life do we see versus how much action. 
I think the story itself can be read and enjoyed by anyone who likes military science fiction. If you’re a player of the game, you’ll get a ton of Easter eggs that should make you happy, but the story stands very well regardless of your knowledge of Star Realms. I dropped a lot of references to some of my favorite sci-fi works as well for those coming from that perspective. That said, I highly recommend playing the game. It’s about as fun as it comes!
Gef: What's the biggest misconception of space opera from what you've heard from readers--and writers for that matter?
Jon: Most of the younger generation doesn’t seem to know the term at all and I get blank looks when I mention it. If you are talking to someone of a certain age, they seem to view Space Opera as a derogatory term, which I don’t view that way at all. I still remember being a kid and scanning through a bookshelf and finding an Elizabeth Moon book on the shelves which said: “Space Opera is back! And Elizabeth Moon writes it!” I pretty much dreamed of writing Space Opera from that point. 
I think a lot of the old stigma changed with Star Wars and Babylon 5 for the term Space Opera, but it persisted through some of the literary field. I proudly hail my work as Space Opera, though many of my more established author friends tell me I should refer to my work as Military Science Fiction. I tell them that my characters aren’t in the military so that seems like false advertising.  Naming conventions for sub-genres are tough, is what I’ve learned!
Gef: What is the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? Or what piece of writing advice do you wish would just go away?
Jon: Writing is really tricky. I’m not certain there is such a thing as bad advice – unless that advice makes writing such a chore that it makes you stop writing, and that hasn’t happened to me. I’m very firmly of the belief that writing is a learn by doing and repetition skill, and so repeating and doing writing is what’s most important.

A lot of what works for a person won’t work for another person. Some people just write on the fly, some do a lot of prep before starting writing (I’m in that camp). My processes wouldn’t work for a lot of people and a lot of people’s wont work for me. I’ve paid for online classes which some great authors swear by that I feel like didn’t help me at all. I’ve also had some friendly critiques of my work change my process completely. I’m hesitant to call the stuff that didn’t work for me invalid or worst because it might just work for someone else and I wouldn’t want to take away that exploration of the process for someone coming up.

Writing advice I wish would go away is a different matter. There’s a list of words in a book called Self Editing for Fiction Writers which I like to seek and destroy after a couple of passes. It is excruciating to do so, so I certainly wish I would go away, but it won’t because it’s darn good advice!

Gef: What kind of guilty pleasures do you have when it comes to books or movies or whatnot?
Jon: I love Twilight and Stephenie Meyer! I don’t feel guilty about it though. I think she’s taken a ton of undue flack because she had the nerve to get too popular. Every interview I’ve read of her she seems like such a nice, humble person.  I am certainly looking forward to her new book, The Chemist.
Gef: How intensive does the research process get for you? What little tricks have you picked up with approaching the research phase of writing?
Jon: I go pretty intensive. My current work in process has a character who has a masters degree in botany, and so I’m spending hours watching Youtube videos on plants and flowers, reading academic papers. I want to pick up some of the lingo so it comes across as authentic. Star Realms was a bit easier because I play that game so often I know the cards like the back of my hand. But we can call all of those hours I spent playing a game research now, right? Seems justified.
Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future, and how can folks keep up with your shenanigans?
Jon: I mentioned my work in progress already, which I’m at about 25,000 words for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I’m not sure when that will be ready for publication. I have a few short stories out there in anthologies you can find on Amazon with a quick search for Jon Del Arroz.  I aim to spend December/January editing a novella which I’d like to release in ebook form in February 2017, along with another Space Opera novel which I wrote before Rescue Run which is going to be a lot of fun. 
I’m at:
@tbr_otomo on twitter – I do periscopes periodically talking about games and writing
And I’m a season ticket holder for the Oakland A’s. I’ll be in section 124 in the summertime.

December 1, 2016

The Monsters Inside Us: a guest post + giveaway by Donna Galanti, author of The Element Trilogy

The Monsters Inside Us

by Donna Galanti

In some movies and books the monsters are obvious. But are the monsters inside us?
In my paranormal suspense, A Human Element, X-10 is obviously monstrous. He kills. He seeks blood and revenge. He has no remorse. Yet as we come to discover it’s a combination of his genes and environment, can we blame him?
And sometimes we create the very monsters we fear who are really to be pitied, like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. We can identify with him as we have all felt like an outcast, rejected and unloved at times. Is Frankenstein truly the monster or is it the human who created him?
I believe the true monsters in my book lie beneath the surface of characters that are not so obviously monstrous.
The abusive foster father.
The scientist who tortures his experiment.
The doctor who sells a baby.
The men who kidnap and torture a sailor.
Do they get what they deserve in the end? You’ll have to read to find out…
I created new scenes of the monster, X-10, for the re-release of A Human Element that blur the boundaries of good and evil further for him. We see him now once loved and desired, and in return he shines kindness on the only soul that ever touched him with tenderness. While genes and environment have made X-10 what he is, should he be feared or pitied? Or both? In an interview here with X-10, you may fear him more than pity.
New scene with X-10. A true monster?:
As X-10 ran under the full moon, leaping over rocks and roots, darting around boulders he could see her in his mind.
Laura. You are mine.
Then he saw her with her man. Water coursed all around them. Her hair hung wet about her shoulders. X-10 closed off his mind's eye to the scene. It made him feel strange. And in that strange feeling he couldn't define, X-10 hated her even more.
Rage surged through him and his blood pulsed fast, throbbing under his white skin in blue rivers. Why did she get to have her man when he couldn’t have his woman? Why was she worthy and he wasn’t? But Sabrina’s touches had made him feel worthy. Even if they were paid. And she had smelled and looked so good.
The night flashed through him again and he moaned with agony over the loss of the girl who left a hole in his heart. The girl who called him Charlie and loved him for just one night.
After Sabrina’s fear of him had left her, she’d sat down on his bed then. "Why don't we just lie here for now? We can talk, you know. Like real…people."
He stood over her, considering. What would he talk about with a human girl?
She lay down on her side and he did too, facing her. Her blonde hair curved along her breasts like silky strands of sparkly cotton candy. He'd seen a picture of it once being swirled on a stick at a fair. He wondered what it would taste like. What she would taste like.
She touched his face then pulled her fingers away. "When you look at all your parts, you're not so bad."
"A monster."
"No. I've been with monsters."
"Like me?"
She shook her head. "Monsters on the inside."
Even in the garish light she was the loveliest thing he had ever seen. He wanted to touch her, but was afraid of his urges. To hurt and maim and kill. Good guys don't do those things. And she had called him by his name. As if he was a good guy.
No! No good guy!
He was evil to the core.
And hate spurred him on now. Hate would help him survive. He forced himself to run faster through the night. Why did Laura get to live a normal life? He vowed to make her end not normal. And in that end, she would wish she had never been born.
A lonesome dog bayed in the hills above X-10 as if approving his plan. Streaks of moonlight and shadows fell across his face like whip lashes over and over, creating a living painting from darkness and light. He would show Laura darkness like she never experienced, and pain. There would be so much pain. He howled back at the creature that rode alone through the woods as he did. Perhaps they would meet along their journeys.
He hoped so. He was getting hungry again.
Who are some of your favorite monsters? And did they get what they deserved in the end or were they to be pitied and redeemed?
About A Human Element:
Evil comes in many forms…
One by one, Laura Armstrong’s friends and adoptive family members are being murdered, and despite her unique healing powers, she can do nothing to stop it. The savage killer haunts her dreams, tormenting her with the promise that she is next. Determined to find the killer, she follows her visions to the site of a crashed meteorite in her hometown. There, she meets Ben Fieldstone, who seeks answers about his parents’ death the night the meteorite struck. In a race to stop a madman, they unravel a frightening secret that binds them together. But the killer’s desire to destroy Laura face-to-face leads to a showdown that puts Laura and Ben’s emotional relationship and Laura’s pure spirit to the test. With the killer closing in, Laura discovers her destiny is linked to his, and she has two choices—redeem him or kill him.
Praise for the Element Trilogy:
"Unrelenting, devious but full of heart.  Highly recommended." —Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of Code Zero
"Chilling and dark…a twisty journey into another world." —J.T. Ellison, New York Times bestselling author of When Shadows Fall
"Fascinating…a haunting story…"—Rebecca Cantrell, New York Times bestselling author of The World Beneath
Purchase the Element Trilogy on sale through December 15th
Book 1 A HUMAN ELEMENT for $0.99
Book 2 A HIDDEN ELEMENT for $1.99

Donna Galanti is the author of the paranormal suspense Element Trilogy (Imajin Books) and the fantasy adventure Joshua and The Lightning Road series (Month9Books). Donna is a contributing editor for International Thriller Writers the Big Thrill magazine and blogs with other middle grade authors at Project Middle Grade Mayhem. She’s lived from England as a child, to Hawaii as a U.S. Navy photographer. She lives in Pennsylvania with her family in an old farmhouse that has lots of nooks and crannies, but sadly no ghosts. Visit her at and

ENTER GIVEAWAY! Prize Pack: Win $15 Amazon Gift Card, e-book of The Dark Inside, Element Trilogy story collection, and become a character in the final Element Trilogy book!  

November 23, 2016

One More Than There Should Be: an interview with Scott Burn, author of "The Enemy Within"

Seventeen-year-old Max has always felt like an outsider. When the agonizing apocalyptic visions begin, he decides suicide is his only escape. He soon finds himself in an institution under the guidance of a therapist who sees something exceptional in him. Just as he begins to leave the hallucinations behind, Max discovers the visions weren't just in his head.

There are three others who have shared those same thoughts and they've been searching for Max. Like him, they are something more than human. Each of them possesses certain abilities, which they're going to need when a covert military group begins hunting them down.

As the danger escalates, Max doesn’t know which side to trust. But in the end, his choice will decide the fate of both species.

Gef: What was the impetus behind this The Enemy Within?

Scott: I work in Hollywood as a screenwriter. While there is a certain amount of freedom about what you create, if you’re looking to sell it or would like to be kept on board for rewrites, you have to be cognizant of the market and what studios are after. For years I had wanted to write something that was completely mine and could be, for good or bad, precisely what I wanted it to be. I had been looking to build a story around the idea of teenage alienation, but didn’t quite know what it was. Then one day I heard a fascinating tidbit about how NASA knows precisely how many satellites are orbiting earth at every moment. I thought, what if one day they found one more than there should be - that led to the first page of The Enemy Within.

Gef: How much emphasis do you place on setting as character?

Scott: Setting really is a character unto itself. My goal is to make the reader feel like they’re there based on the setting descriptions, but not have it be so overdone that it takes over the action and emotion of the moment. Deciding what that perfect balance is took only about 15 drafts.

Gef: Who do you count among your writing influences?

Scott: There are the standards that I’m sure most of your followers have read, like Heinlein, Zelazny and Bradbury… but I also grew up loving black comedies by authors like Thomas Berger and Jerzy Kosinski. Their gift for language and story craft was extraordinary. Great writing is all about creating that human connection in unexpected ways, and that transcends genres.

Gef: What is your favorite aspect of the scifi genre? Were scifi novels your gateway drug into reading?

Scott: They were indeed the gateway. There were way too many hours in libraries at closing and late at night delving into the next story and getting carried away to fantasy and sci-fi realms. But I think the best of them had one thing in common - sci fi was a backdrop and it was much more about the main characters emotional journey that made the story compelling. Great twists and action sequences are always fun, but unless there’s a real bond to the heroes, as well as the antagonists, the story won’t reach beneath the surface level (for me).

Gef: What is the biggest misconception about "new adult" fiction that you've heard from readers--and writers for that matter?

Scott: I’ve been working on and off for years on a slightly older coming of age story set in college. To me it’s New Adult. But when I talked to my agent or other people in publishing, NA always tends to have erotic over (under?)tones. That’s a bit silly - just call it erotic if that’s the case. I see NA as being for a more mature than YA audience, but not quite into their late 20’s adults.

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

Scott: That you need to stay in your genre and build your brand in that genre. There may be sense to it, but I think it’s awful advice. Writers are story tellers and that story may be a coming of age story today and an action adventure story next year. Write what you’re psyched every day to get up and write. Although your agent may advise differently...

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

Scott: I don’t know if it’s guilty, but House of Cards is one of my great pleasure. I binge on that and watch a full season in 2 days. The same with Bloodline. Love it!

Gef: What kinds of stories resonate with you as a reader?

Scott: When something catches me off guard and takes the story in a great but unexpected direction, that’s such an awesome experience. David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas had that effect on me. 

Gef: How intensive does the research process get for you? What little tricks have you picked up with approaching the research phase of writing?

Scott: Research is such a huge part of the process - whether in screenwriting or novels. I always take time and dig into articles and reach out to people who are experts in their field. I don’t always understand what it is they tell me, which is all the more reason to dig deeper - because it’s the writers job to find way to make complex ideas relatable. And that only happens once I understand what I’m talking about. I wish there were tricks. But really it’s rolling up your sleeves and diving in until you are an expert in it - or can fake being one.

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

Scott: I have different film projects at various studios. Hopefully one of them winds its way into production soon enough. And I’ve been working on a new supernatural thriller that will be ready for human eyes in a few months (a few being anywhere between 3 and 20).

They can look at my website to get a sense of the type of things I do outside of The Enemy Within:

November 21, 2016

Planes, Veins, and Apocalypse Meals: an interview with Amber Fallon, author of "The Terminal"

Air travel during the holiday season. Yuck. Stupid people, flight delays, and long lines at security are pretty much the worst things ever - or so Dirk Bradley thought until a horde of bloodthirsty psychopaths from beyond the stars invaded the airport, cutting a swath of death and destruction through everything he knew and loved. Can he survive the attack and live to tell the tale? What hope does an average Joe have against a race of brutal killers bent on world domination?

Amber Fallon's The Terminal is available on

Gef: So where did the inspiration for The Terminal come from? A particularly maddening holiday flight, perhaps?

Amber: Close! I wrote the first half of the Terminal on a spring vacation to Alaska. On the way there, we had a connecting flight in Chicago and there was an incredibly annoying woman in front of us in the boarding line (I bet you can guess what she was wearing!) . As a horror author, I immediately started envisioning her death in fun and creative ways and the rest, as they say, is history. 

Gef: Was this a story you had intended as a novella from the get-go, or did the story length only come into play through the editing of it?

Amber: I can't honestly say that I ever have intentions (lengthwise, anyway) when I start writing. I just put the words down and see where they take me. I will say this, though: The story isn't over.

Gef: Compared to writing short stories, how did your writing process for The Terminal differ?

Amber: Most of my short stories are written in a single sitting. The Terminal took several months, which meant that I had to live in that headspace, with those characters, for a lot longer than I was used to. That had the unexpected side effect of making me grow more emotionally attached to them than characters I could rid my brain of after a day or two. 

Gef: Along with the novella, you have a chapbook of Joey's Story. Was his point-of-view originally included in The Terminal? What made you want to explore the events through his eyes as well?

Amber: No, Joey exists as both a foil and a McGuffin. Without revealing too much about the book... I needed something to happen which meant that I needed someone to do it. Joey was that someone. The idea for the chapbook came from a friend joking about how Joey was the only character I'd written that was less likable than Dirk, my protagonist. So I wanted to explore him more as a character.

Gef: When it comes to horror, what would you say is the biggest misconception about it, and what is its saving grace?

Amber: I find that a lot of people assume that all horror is of the blood-and-guts variety. While The Terminal definitely falls into that category, I write and read much that does not. I'm not quite sure why the stigma exists... but I do know that a book marketed as a thriller or as dark fantasy has better chances than one marketed as horror, even if they are otherwise identical. As to a saving grace... Stephen King. His books (and by extension, other media) are so popular that they somehow manage to escape the stigma. Also more mainstream, popular horror properties like The Walking Dead have that effect. If those things draw more people to my favorite genre, I'm all for it.

Gef: What was your initial draw to horror?

Amber: Oh, that's a good question! My mother loved Poe and would often read his stories to me when I was very young. When I got to be a bit older, I raided both of my parents' libraries and discovered more Poe, Lovecraft, Shelley, Stoker, Wells, and Jackson among my mother's books and lots of King, Ketchum, Koontz, Barker, and Straub among my father's. I loved the stories I read (even if I didn't always understand them) and from there sought out more.

Gef: Who do you count among your writing influences?

Amber: JF Gonzalez was a huge influence on me. From the moment I read Clickers, I fell in love with his fun, energetic storytelling. Brian Keene is another inspiration. Guy N. Smith, Ruby Jean Jensen, David Robbins, Thomas F. Monteleone, Poppy Z. Brite, Mort Castle, Rick Hautala, Shirley Jackson. Even if they didn't have a direct impact on my narrative style, they impacted something about the way I write.

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

Amber: I'll give you both! Worst: That you have to stick to just one project at a time and finish it before starting something else. For me, I work far better having at least two things I can bounce back and forth between. That way, if I get stuck on something in a particular story, I can take a break from it and go work on something else until I figure it out. That's also how I combat the dreaded Writers' Block. Thing I wish would go away: That you have to work with an outline. That just isn't true. Some people work better seat-of-the-pants style. And even those that do outline sometimes do it very differently: everything from short, couple sentence plot points to very complex detailed high school English paper style outlines. Just like anything else in life, figure out what works best for you and do that.

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

Amber: There is a sequel to The Terminal in the works! I also have a story appearing in Fossil Lake IV: Sharkasaurus. And my next book will be coming out from Eraserhead Press next year. My website ( is a good place. It has links to my various social media accounts as well as news, episodes of my podcast, book links and more!

November 11, 2016

The Dark Times Are Nigh: an interview with Gene Lazuta, author of "Vyrmin"

The Vyrmin Will Rise…

Hidden among us are the wicked. Their vile deeds have been retold from generation to generation down through the ages.
They are hidden among us—evil men and women, always dangerous, always Wild.
They are hidden among us—and they become beasts…during the Dark Times.

The Blood Prince Awakens…

One man is the key. He will renew the Hunt. But who is the Blood Prince? What horrific things happen when he enters the woods? Can anyone stop him? Will anyone even try?

The Dark Times are Nigh…

When the beasts that are men return to the Wild.
When the beasts that are men return to the Hunt.
When the Blood Prince takes the hand of his demon lover in the sky.
When the screaming starts under the cold silver gaze of a pitiless, hungry moon. 

The Vyrmin Will Feed!

Gef: Pete Kahle and Bloodshot Books have republished your 1992 novel, Vyrmin, this fall. How did that relationship come about?

Gene: From my perspective, the relationship with Pete Kahle came right out of the blue, or maybe the more appropriate reference would be straight out of the black. Pete tracked me down through the magic of the Internet and sent an email asking if I had retained the rights to Vyrmin. If I did, he wanted to know if I would be interested in having his specialty press re-release it. Not being a particularly trusting soul by nature, my first reaction was, “Yeah, sure. I’m sure you would be happy to print up copies of my book for a fee.” But after speaking to him on the phone that night I quickly realized that he was the real deal—a guy with a passion for the horror genre, and a really excellent writer in his own right. I was, and remain, very flattered that he included Vyrmin among the first of the books he wanted to re-introduce to a new generation of horror readers, and I really appreciate and admire his enthusiasm for the work.

Gef: Finding a new approach to old monsters can always be tricky. What was your mindset when you decided to create a story involving the werewolf myth in some fashion?

Gene: For me, the werewolf concept is probably the purest “monster,” psychologically, that you imagine. The idea that there is this rage, this wildness that just expresses itself as fury and fangs, triggered by something, like a full moon, or whatever, is just straight up bad-ass…not to mention a direct reflection of the reality of the human condition, to one extent or another, for us all. But somehow, the werewolves I encountered in most horror fiction and movies missed the mark for me a bit. They usually got the savagery, the fur and fire, down pretty well, but there were two things that always left me wanting…something…more.

The first was the why of it all. Why did it happen? I know that the affliction was usually the result of a curse, or an inherited family trait, or an infection inflicted by a bite...but those were sort of mechanical, and didn’t really get to the heart of the matter. I believe we all have the angels of our better nature, and the demons prepared to lash out if given half-a-chance, roiling around in our hearts pretty much all our lives. So why did it happen that one person became consumed by that whirlwind of blind aggression, and the rest of us didn’t? I wanted to introduce a catalyst to the mix that would basically separate out the members of society that had that killer instinct, that destructive force that is every bit as much a part of nature as is the sunshine and flowers of a peaceful day on the farm, from those of us who don’t…those of us who are just not inherently predators. The predators always outnumber the prey species in any ecosystem. And that’s how I imagined it would work for the Wild and the Flock. So that was the first thing: I wanted to create an underlying logic to it all, a reason that served to demonstrate, quite physically, that there are just some very bad people in the world, and all it takes is the right trigger to bring that evil out into the open.

The second thing I wanted to address was the human aspect of the werewolf. The classic werewolf has long hair and fangs, claws and red, angry eyes, but he or she still retains an essentially human frame. Two arms, two legs, bipedal, walking upright. That, to me, always pointed directly to the fact that the beast was not all beast. That there was still a human being deep in there somewhere. And, if we are nothing else, human beings are clever. We are, in fact, more clever than any other species on the planet, and we have therefore come to dominate this globe, for good or ill. The werewolf, having that spark of humanity retained as part of his essential nature, to me, needs to be far more than just a savage explosion of flashing teeth and claws…the werewolf should be directing that savagery to a purpose! That’s what scares me: the idea that a hurricane could have an intent, that it isn’t a random act, that it’s part of some kind of plan…and in that plan I, and everyone else like me, my family, the people I love, the good people, are targets—we’re prey. It’s kind of like terrorism, or genocide, or any of a range of uniquely human atrocities that are fundamentally appalling specifically because, to someone, not to us all, but to someone, they make perfect sense.

Gef: How much emphasis do you place on setting as character?

Gene: Place is the palette, the tableau, the air that breathes life into a story. It is as much a character as anything alive or dead in the narrative. Think of the Overlook Hotel, the Titanic, Hamburger Hill, Jack the Ripper’s East End…think of the snow, or the black-water sea, the jungle leaves dripping with oily humidity, and chilled fingers of fog slowly describing eddies in the invisible currents beneath a gaslight’s flickering glow…and you are already anticipating the events, believing that yes, no matter how unusual or unique, no matter how horrific or amazing, those thing could happen here…those things must happen here, exactly here. In Vyrmin, the Killibrook Valley is the stage. It’s the place where the moon physically reaches down and touches the Earth—and where the Earth and moon touch, anything can happen.

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

Gene: This is where I might run into a little trouble, since I’m a bit old school in my thinking around horror and its value as a way of expressing various perspectives on life and living. I’m not a nihilist. I don’t advocate the virtues of Grand-Guignol, violence for the sake of violence, horrors that happen and leave nothing but emptiness and despair. I’m not criticizing that kind of work, I’m just saying that I don’t consume it, I don’t seek it out, and really, to be brutally honest, I don’t understand it. Maybe it’s because I’m a little older now. At 57, I know enough about life to understand that bad things are going to happen. And they are going to happen to good people. It’s how you deal with them, and create support systems between people that makes life bearable, and the challenges meaningful. The saving grace of horror, I think, is its ability to engage the audience intellectually, spiritually, and physically…you can get that rush of adrenaline, that jolt, that sense of peril experienced in what is in fact a place of safety, that is so transportative.

For me, it all goes back to my grandmother. She was Slovak, from the old country, and she used to tell me stories when I was very young, four, five years old, that came from the folk tales her grandmother told her, who got them from her grandmother, going all the way back to God-knows where. She literally would scare me out of my wits…I mean it. There was no mercy. And then, at the end, when my eyes were as big as saucers and my heart was pounding, she would finish and say, “Wasn’t that a good one? Wasn’t that fun?” She taught me that a great story is a scary story, and that experiencing a tale told can be intense. And I do mean intense. But it needed to resolve. There needed to be a point, a lesson, a purpose and meaning. That was all part of it…it needed to build to something that you could hang onto. That you could take away and cherish as one of the things that could get you through even something as scary as the story it took to teach it to you.

So to me, horror’s saving grace, is that, when done really well, it can actually make you feel as if you, yourself, were saved.

Gef: When it comes to the world building involved in Vyrmin, was it made up from whole cloth or were there some bits of local folklore that you found to include?

Gene: The world of Vymin came about very organically, almost of its own volition, to be honest. I had a pretty thorough background in old Eastern European folk tales that started in my childhood, I was a classic horror obsessive, and I am fascinated by the psychology of crime, which includes the purported “wild men” of the forests that stretch back for hundreds of years in popular legend. But I never consciously lined up bits and pieces of different stories with the thought of “weaving” something new. Each attribute just felt right, and it never felt so much like I was creating something new as I was revealing something that had always been there. If that makes any sense.

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

Gene: The worst piece of writing advice I ever personally received, and I’m sure many, many other writers have gotten it, and I am equally sure that it is always given with the very best of intentions is, “Write what you know.” I understand what that is supposed to mean: don’t try to write a first person account of flying an airplane if you have never even flown somewhere on vacation. The inauthenticity will kill you. But it can be stifling too. If you only write what you “know,” then how can you ever write fiction? Fiction, by definition isn’t known…it doesn’t exist before you imagine it. If you write a novel, the word “novel” means unique and new. It’s not that writing what you “know” is bad advice in itself, it’s also about when you usually first get it, which is traditionally at an impressionable time, when you’re first taking a creative writing class and first stretching your imaginative legs. It can thunder down at you so hard, and it seems to make a kind of intuitive sense. But the declarative aspect of it, like “stop on red,” feels like a command that you must obey…when I think it really isn’t saying what it sounds like it says anyway.

I think this particular piece of advice would be much better stated as “Weave what you know into something that only you could write.” Build your writing on a solid foundation of references, perspectives and descriptions that feel real because you have first-hand experience with them, then embellish that skeleton, that framework, with the imaginative expanse of your vision.

So weave what you know into something that only you could write…that’s my advice to anyone who wants advice about writing, every time I am asked.

Gef: How intensive does the research process get for you? What little tricks have you picked up with approaching the research phase of writing?

Gene: This will sound crazy, I’m sure, but I have gotten to the point in my fiction now that I don’t really do any traditional research. It started when I was doing the “Bill Hawley Undertakings,” which was a series of murder mysteries about a funeral director who winds up solving murders. I was an undertaker in a family business for 13 years…and no, I am not making that up. To save time, and help me concentrate on the story and not the setting, and simply to help keep all the characters straight, I started basically writing about myself. Bill Hawley looked and acted like me, his wife was a mirror of my wife, the place he worked looked like the place I worked, and everything took place in Cleveland, where I was born and raised. I thought of those books as my diary of things that never actually happened to me. It started as a kind of thought experiment, but it turned into something kind of cool in that when I’m writing, it feels a little other-wordly…like what I’m documenting is just a hair’s breadth away from being a fact. It’s fun…and it is very much a technique I’ve incorporated into my writing, all my writing, ever since. So, sure, I do some research, everyone does. But I don’t let the research become the fabric of the story. The story needs to feel like it is reality captured on the page, and transmitted into the mind’s eye of the reader. And nothing feels like real life, than real life…even if it is twisted up a little and presented in a way that never actually happened—which is about the best definition of “fiction” I have ever encountered.

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

Gene: The project I’m working on now goes back directly to Pete Kahle. When he resurrected Vyrmin, I revisited it after having been away from it for almost 25 years, which made me remember that Vyrmin was really supposed to be the first in a series of books about the Wild. It is a violent, bloody birth that was supposed to then play out in a much larger story with some pretty dark observations on mankind and the direction of our history. At the time that it first came out, I my first murder mystery-type book, “Forget Me Not,” which led to the Bill Hawley mysteries, which I wrote as Leo Axler, and the next thing I knew, years had gone by, I started down a new path that took me into healthcare, and I just never returned to the Wild.

When Pete brought Vyrmin back it reminded me that there is a lot more to this story than what happens in the first book. Actually, the first book is a tiny slice of where the story will eventually go…and, as frightening as it is, especially after all these years, I’m going back and picking the story up where I left it over two decades ago. What’s really amazing is that the story I had in my head, in many respects, has actually been happening in the world since the year 2000. I think readers will see it too, as the logic of the story unfolds. I’m very grateful to Pete for bringing this part of my life back for me, and I actually think that the final events that will move the Vyrmin through the years will be much more powerful because I’ve been away so long.

I love this story. I know that, as a book, it may not be for everyone. It’s strange, and harsh and, in places, deranged. But it comes from a very deep place in my memory, and it feels right to be walking through those shadowed trees once again.

As far as keeping up with me, Pete Kahle has also introduced me to Facebook. Which is new for me. I’m just getting acclimated to it, but I have a Gene.Lazuta page. I’m going to start putting stuff on it, too. I promise. You’ll see. So anyone with any interest in Vyrmin, the next book in the series which is tentatively titled, “Dark Times,” or the outstanding group of writer and other horror-obsessed friends I’ve made through Pete’s gentle remonstrations, should check it out. Apparently, the Book of Face is all the rage now a days.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Gene Lazuta was introduced to dark stories of fear and the supernatural by his grandmother, who cultivated his taste for fright and fascination with a never-ending stream of folk tales from her native Slovakia. Following college, where he studied literature and psychology, he worked as an undertaker for nearly thirteen years before finding a professional home as a communication specialist at one of the nation’s most recognized and respected healthcare organizations. He is the author of ten novels (six horror-based and four murder mysteries), numerous journal and trade publication articles, and a new non-fiction collaboration. Following the release of the Bloodshot Books edition of Vyrmin, he is returning to the supernatural genre by starting work on a story that carries the mythology that Vyrmin introduces in a wider, more ominous direction. Gene lives in Berea, Ohio, with his wife of over thirty years, Sue, his inspiration, his motivation, and the woman to whom every book he has ever written and will ever write is dedicated.

November 10, 2016

Jake, Judd, and the Day Job: an interview with Nikki Nelson-Hicks, author of "Jake Istenhegyi: The Accidental Detective"

Nikki Nelson- Hicks' Jake Istenhegyi, the Accidental Detective, returns for a new adventure in the Pro Se Single Shot Signature Series- ROAD TRIPS, ACID BATHS, AND ONE-EYED BASTARDS!

Amateur detective and professional trouble magnet Jake Istenhegyi has once again traded the pan for the fire. He's on the run, on a cross-country trip with a beautiful, immortal alchemist, both of them chased by an ancient order of killers. At the end of the road? Maybe the conclusion to Jake's search for the salt of life, or maybe betrayal and sudden death at the end of a one-eyed man's gun.

ROAD TRIPS, ACID BATHS, AND ONE-EYED BASTARDS is the fifth standalone digital single short story in the JAKE ISTENHEGYI, THE ACCIDENTAL DETECTIVE ongoing series, part of Pro Se Productions' Pro Se Single Shot Signature line.

Gef: What was the spark that got your engine running for the fifth Jake Istenhegyi story: road trips, acid baths, or one-eyed bastards?

Nikki: All of the Jake stories run sequentially so, in Jake Time, only 6 months has really passed in his world. I picked up from where #4 (Fish Eyed Men, Fedoras and Steel Toed Pumps) ended where (SPOILERS) three mystery men attempted to kidnap Jake and Giovanna ‘resurrected’ so I had to run with that for the next installment. It helps plotting a story if I have questions to use as stepping stones: Why did she resurrect? Who were the mystery men that attacked Jake? Who were they working for? It’s the way of serial adventures. Always leave your audience hanging off a cliff so they’ll come back for the next story.

Gef: What has been the craziest or most surprising bit of research you've encountered while writing Jake's adventures?

Nikki: Even though my stories all have some kind spooky or supernatural element to them, I do try to keep them anchored in reality (As long as that reality doesn’t get in the way of a good story, that is; I am a liar by trade.) so they do require a bit of research.

I’ve built a library on myth, lore and superstitions of the South that I peruse quite a bit as I look for new story fodder.

One of the most interesting nuggets that I found is the Boo-Daddy. It’s a piece of South Carolina hoodoo. Basically, what you do is create a creature using swamp mud, oyster shells and magic. You send this creature out as a curse to someone who has wronged you. I decided to use it in Jake #3, Boodaddies, Bogs and a Dead Man’s Booty but instead of making it a boogey man, I used creative licensing and turned it into a guardian spirit that saves Jake’s butt over the course of the story. It’s still out there, in the Jake Universe, living in the swamps. Who knows? It might turn up again if Jake needs saving.

Gef: Are you the kind of writer who will slip in people from your life and inject them into your stories surreptitiously? Any IRL nemeses who've met untimely ends in this series?

Nikki: Many people have asked me to kill them in a story. I’ve killed people as birthday presents and one gentleman asked me to kill him as payment for a monitor. Finding people who will line up as victims is not a problem.

However, there have been those lucky, lucky few who I’ve killed as a personal catharsis for some wrong they have done me. The one who comes immediately to mind is Judd.

I wouldn’t be able to pick Judd out of a lineup if I were to meet him on the street. I’ve never seen him. But I remember his voice. There was a nasally whine to the baritone pitch. My stomach churns and my blood pressure goes up a notch just thinking about it.

I was at my day job, answering phones as the floating lunch relief for the receptionist on the 7th floor when Judd called. He was stuck in traffic on Monteagle Road and wanted to know what I was going to do about it, you motherfucking, cock sucking, whore bitch. As I tried to find out what the problem was on that stretch of highway, he would hang up, call back, curse me out, hang up, call back, curse me out, etc, etc. In the space of an hour, he called me a dozen times. It got so that I jumped whenever the phone rang. I don’t know why it bothered me so much. Maybe it was the phase of the moon. Maybe I was feeling extra sensitive that day. Maybe it was just the repeated abuse, over and over again, and the feeling of powerlessness. Whatever it was, it shook me up so badly that I went home early and the ordeal completely wrecked my entire weekend.

It was on a Sunday afternoon as I was taking a walk, trying to calm my nerves about having to go to work the next day and PERHAPS MAYBE have to face Judd on the phone again, that a little voice whispered in my ear, “Hey, why don’t you kill him? The body count in this latest Jake story is pretty high, so why not add Judd to the pile?”

So, I did. I had the magically reanimated corpse pop off Judd’s head like a Pez dispenser. Blood and gore rained down on poor Jake like something out of a Tarantino flick. And it was glorious.

Gef: What's been the biggest learning experience in writing an ongoing series?

Nikki: The Jake Istenhegyi stories started out as a challenge: write a straight pulp story involving chickens, 10k limit. Seriously. That’s how this mess got started.

It did not start with any plan to be anything more than a one shot deal. I had no story arch or developing plotlines.

It was after writing Jake #4 that it hit me, “Holy shit, this is real. I need to start making up a bible or someway to keep track of all the characters, places, plotlines, etc.”

So, the biggest learning experience for me has to been learning out to plot out storylines not just for the story at hand but for future ones. I’m a pantser, not a plotter. To write a story, all I need to know is the Beginning and the End. All that mushy, squishy part in the middle just sort of comes magically. However, if you are going to do something long term, you need to plot. And it’s hard especially when it’s not in your nature. It’s like trying to map out a tree that hasn’t even started sprouting limbs yet. It can be really frustrating but absolutely necessary.

Gef: Do you ever see yourself hunkering down for a full-length novel featuring Jake or is he best suited for the more serial approach?

Nikki: When I wrote Jake #3, Boodaddies, Bogs and a Dead Man’s Booty, I challenged myself to write something 30k or longer. I just wanted to see if I could. Jake #3 turned out to be over 37k.

So, yes, I could do a Jake novel but it would be a standalone adventure, something outside the stories I have going now. Perhaps something happening present day. That would be fun. It would just take time, planning and plotting. And a contract.

Gef: What's the biggest misconception about pulp fiction?

Nikki: That it ended in 1930.

I was at a writers convention last summer and went to a panel about Pulp Fiction. All they talked about was early stuff. From Savage to Spade, that was as far as their expertise went. When I asked about the New Pulp Movement, they looked dumbstruck. I had to go full Hermione on them and educate them about the new pulp that is out there.

Gef: Do you see an end game for Jake or do you hope to keep writing him in perpetuity?

Nikki: I’ll write his stories as long as Pro Se keeps me on contract or as long as people want to read them. The stories are good fun to write and I do enjoy torturing Jake.

Gef: I hear you got something in the works for early next year as well. Tell us about that and anything else you have in the making.

Nikki: I am currently working on a novella called RUMBLE that should come out early 2017. Okay, here’s the scenario: a shady corporation has a mining camp in the Gobi Desert. Shenanigans ensue when they find out they set up camp in the middle of a Mongolian Death Worm and Cannibalistic Mole Men SMACKDOWN. It’s gonna be a blast. Someone get SYFY on the phone. I have the next Sharknado right here, baby.

Also on my plate:

  • A new Sherlock Holmes story called Not Quite a Murder. It’s going to be a bit darker than my first Holmes story, Shrieking Pits, as I delve into body snatching, the rise of photography and anatomists.
  • Jake #6, yet untitled. It’ll be a longer story, around 30K. A private investigator from LA is on Jake’s trail and a lot of chickens come home to roost in this story. #zombiechickensrule
  • Writing a very script for Forcone Films, Interesting premise: a mockumentary about Superheroes in Therapy.
  • Every Wednesday (or so), I do a funny little thing on FB called Dinosaur Cubicle Fun Time. Imagine a Dilbert/Jurassic Park smashup. That’s an ongoing thing.
  • PLUS a bunch of projects I really want to tackle in 2017:
    • The Bogie Bar stories. It’s a place where legends, old gods, and monsters drop in for a quick drink. Humanity’s lack of belief in magic is causing trouble in their world and a civil war is at hand.
    • The Travis Dare Ghost Files. He’s the real deal. He comes from a long line of Ghost Layers (don’t laugh). He hooks up with a paranormal investigative team and shenanigans happen. I’ve got three stories under my belt that need to be edited.
    • Delilah Ditch: The Galvanized Girl. It’s a Steampunk/Superhero story. I wrote a 10k version for an anthology but they took 2 years to publish so when my contract ran out, I took my rights back. It’s a good story. I want to lengthen it into a novella.
    • Mother’s Home – it’s a Steampunk Horror story I wrote for an anthology that never went to print. I’d like to lengthen it to a novella. It’s a very cool, nasty little piece of work. Think Stepford Wives, Steampunk Edition.

Anyway, that’s what I plan on tackling in 2017. We’ll see what I come up with by 2018…if the world hasn’t exploded by then.