August 4, 2017

Rural Fears: a guest post by Ivan Ewert, author of "Famished: The Gentleman Ghouls Omnibus"


It’s the driving force behind survival.
The Velander bloodline carries and ancient secret: power and immortality. But that power requires a key to unlock: human flesh. Gordon Velander finds himself an unwilling participant in a play for survival-but he won’t be powerless for long.

It’s the driving force behind passion.
The Gentleman Ghouls have survived for centuries due to cunning and careful planning but their world in unraveling. Gordon has vowed to take the Ghouls down no mater what, but he’s fighting a war—both within and without. The Ghouls, on the other hand, are not waiting patiently for the end to come.

It’s the driving force behind revenge.
With the Farm and the Commons destroyed, the Ranch is the last outpost of the Ghouls. With this bitter end in sight, Gordon must face his greatest challenge yet—claiming his own fate as other forces make their moves.

Revenge is sweet.
Passion is fulfilling
But survival trumps all.

Rural Fears
a guest post by Ivan Ewert
I grew up in a town called Crystal Lake, and yes, we all know about Friday the 13th. Today it’s a very well-populated suburb of Chicago, but when I was small it still sat on the edge of farmlands. My favorite picture of my young parents the year before I was born shows rolling fields and meadows behind the house in which my father grew up, and a ten-minute bike ride from my junior high school would let you hide among rows of corn taller than the street signs. The house where I grew up was across the street from a wide-ranging woodland preserve – overseen by rangers, but deep enough to lose yourself in as a boy.
We didn’t worry much about things like crime, or kidnappings. It was common to leave the doors open and let us kids ride and ramble until dark. We didn’t have city problems, or if we did, they never impacted my circle. We had more rural fears.
It was well-known that nobody would hear you, deep in the pines, where sound was trapped in beds of rusting needles. As teenagers we went at night to whisper secrets, and to duck our heads when we saw any other sign of life. A flashlight meant adults, and adults probably meant trouble; but shadows meant others like us, and we were hardly to be trusted.
The old concrete feed tower, covered in graffiti, was an age-old deathtrap. At least one boy had died in there, suffocated by corn which set like concrete around his immobilized limbs. He didn’t have a name, nobody actually knew the family, the tower hadn’t been in operation for a generation, but we knew he had died and he had died horribly. As we sprayed our initials and those of local girls, we knew someone was watching; and dared one another to climb to the top, to see if we could get inside. We never did.
The Stickney House in nearby Bull Valley was home to a cult of Satanists. They’d built the house without corners, to confuse the things they summoned, though one had died of fright just after the Civil War; and as our group’s resident reader I whispered the name of Tindalos each time we drove by, half-hoping to see long, lean shapes coursing after our second-hand cars.
Still, we were, as I say, half suburbanized by the time I was in high school. On long road trips to Springfield, on our way to see the southern side of the family, we passed through places that weren’t truly even towns. Places with three streets, often less. Sometimes with a church, sometimes not, but always with a bar, always with the sense of secrets never shared.
On trips north to Wisconsin we passed river towns which have their own eerie sense of disconnection. Not the false isolation of the gated community or high-rise, where one simply pretends they are not surrounded. The river towns are placeless places, filled with water and mold and people passing through both day and night. Small hotels left over from the days before corporate chains, the towns too small to draw anyone but hunters, fishermen, occasional transients.
None of that mentions the endless solitude. I don’t claim Illinois can match the Dakotas or Nebraska for wide open skies, but the prairie holds its own terror. One of my dearest friends grew up in the woods, and we spar sometimes over which is best when one is hunted: Do you want places to hide, or room to run, from the people and things with a hunger for your fear?

Rural fears are different from the suburbs and the cities. They’re no better or worse, no more or less real for all the supernatural layers we burnish them with. They’re what I grew up with and what influence my work, more than nearly anything I’ve studied or cultivated – the first fears that I knew.

Ivan Ewert was born in Chicago, Illinois, and has never wandered far afield. He has deep roots in the American Midwest, finding a sense of both belonging and terror within the endless surburban labyrinths, deep north woods, tangled city streets and boundless prairie skies. The land and the cycles of the year both speak to him and inform his writing; which revolves around the strange, the beautiful, the delicious and the unseen.

His work has previously appeared in the award-winning anthology Grants Pass, as well as in Close Encounters of the Human Kind, Human Tales, Space Tramps: Full-Throttle Space Tales and Beasts Within 3: Oceans Unleashed, while his culinary writing has appeared in Alimentum: The Literature of Food. An early  treatment of Famished, then named Vorare, as well as separate works titled Solstice and Idolwood, appeared in the e-zine The Edge of Propinquity from 2006 to 2011. He was the sole author to span all six years of that publication.

FAMISHED: THE FARM is his first published novel.

Ivan wears a number of creative hats professionally, including graphic design and acting. He is currently working as voice talent on a lyric proposal to the Poetry Foundation, and appeared as himself alongside his family in the award-winning documentary The Suicide Tourist. He designed the book jacket for Industry Talk: An Insider’s Look at Writing RPGs and Editing Anthologies, as well as logos for Timid Pirate Publishing and such performing companies as Sage Studio, Lucy’s CafĂ©, and the Inhabit Theatre.

In previous lives, he has worked as an audio engineer, a purchasing agent, a songwriter, a tarot reader, a project manager and, for a remarkably short stint, an accountant. In his spare time, Ivan occupies himself with reading, gaming, and assisting with the jewelry design firm Triskele Moon Studios. He currently lives near the Illinois-Wisconsin border with his wife of thirteen auspicious years and a rather terrifying collection of condiments and cookbooks.

August 3, 2017

A Q&A with Leah Harper Bowron, author of "Colorblind"

About COLORBLIND: The time was 1968. The place was Montgomery, Alabama. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Sen. Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated. War was raging in Vietnam. And war was raging on the playground of the all-white Wyatt Elementary School.

Schoolyard bullies teased sixth grader Lisa Parker because of the way her nose looked.  Lisa would often develop a stomachache and check out of school to escape the bullies.  Until sixth grade teacher Miss Annie Loomis came to Wyatt. Miss Loomis just happened to be the first African American at Wyatt, and Lisa loved her English class. Now, when the bullies teased Lisa, she would stay in school so that she could be in Miss Loomis’ class.  Yet something terrible happened that would change Lisa and Miss Loomis forever.  

Racism reared its ugly head at Wyatt, and now Lisa was not the only victim of the bullies’ teasing.  Would Miss Loomis endure the bullies’ racist taunts?

Colorblind is based off your sixth grade experience when your school became integrated. How much of this novel depicts your actual experience?
This novel depicts half of my actual experience and half of fictionalization for dramatic effect. For example, there was an actual spelling bee at my school, but Miss Loomis’ reaction thereto was exaggerated for dramatic effect.

You were inspired by Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. How did this novel influence your writing?
This novel inspired me to write about racism from the point of view of a Caucasian Southern girl.

How much research, if any, did you dedicate to the novel?
I researched the dates of Dr. King and Sen. Kennedy’s assassinations as well as the date of the Apollo moon launch.

How would you describe the characters Ms. Loomis and Lisa Parker apart from their physical appearances?
Miss Loomis and Lisa Parker were both scared individuals who were bullied by two boys at school. Lisa was also browbeat by her mother while Miss Loomis was browbeat by Rev. Reed. Both characters had yet to realize their inner strengths. Lisa would grow to recognize her inner strength while Miss Loomis would fall prey to the bullying and quit teaching at Lisa’s school.

What role do you think skin color and birth defects play in society today?
Skin color and birth defects both define our individuality and discriminate based upon these genetic differences. Are they as relevant as they were back in 1968? Yes. Unfortunately, people still discriminate against others based upon skin color and birth defects. I prefer the phrase “physically challenged” to that of “birth defects.” The latter phrase implies that the person is somehow less than a complete human being.

How did you develop the characterization for the bullies?
I used the physical descriptions of my actual schoolyard bullies for the two bullies in Colorblind.

How did you develop the resolution for the novel?
I took what actually happened after my spelling bee—my African American teacher quit teaching school—and changed it by having her teach HeadStart children to demonstrate her resilience in the face of discrimination. Yet her resilience is short-lived because she dies at the end of the book, an aspect of the book which I fictionalized for dramatic effect.

What was the most rewarding moment you experienced in writing Colorblind?
My most rewarding moment was re-living my bicycle ride with my brother to Katie’s candy store—this happy event actually happened many times during my childhood.

What was the biggest challenge you faced writing Colorblind?
My biggest challenge was being a Caucasian Southern woman writing about an African American Southern woman. I developed a “second skin” which enabled me to write as Miss Loomis, Lisa’s African American sixth grade teacher.

What do you hope readers will gain from Colorblind?
I hope that my readers will gain insight into the evils of discrimination based upon skin color or physical challenge. I hope my readers will also realize that discrimination is an ongoing problem which requires vigilance not only in 1968 but also today.

What did you gain from writing Colorblind?
I gained cathartic healing from writing Colorblind as I relived my childhood bullying.

Do you have anything else in the works?

Yes, I am writing a nonfiction book on a code which permeates the writings of James Joyce.

Leah Harper Bowron is a lawyer and James Joyce scholar from Birmingham, Alabama. Her article “Coming of Age in Alabama: Ex parte Devine Abolishes the Tender Years Presumption” was published in the Alabama Law Review. She recently lectured on Joyce’s novel Ulysses at the University of London and the Universite de Reims. She lives in Texas and has a daughter named Sarah and a cat named Jamie.

August 2, 2017

Writing Terrifying Trilogies: a guest post by Weston Kincade, author of "A Life of Death" trilogy

Writing Terrifying Trilogies

Hey there, Gef! Thanks for having me. It’s good to be here.

Hi everyone!

Weston Kincade here, your happy-go-lucky author and teacher with a few too many voices knocking around his head. Believe it or not, these voices are growing in number. I’m not insane or demented… okay, maybe a little demented, but as an author, our characters really do come to life, both the good guys and the bad. When they get written down they are confined to the books and your imaginations, but for us they rattle around in our heads, testing for ways to get out and mopping up the remains of their latest skull-ringing endeavors. That’s why the motto of my blog is “Wordsmith at your service... delving into my subconscious so you don't have to. Trust me, it's better this way.” It can be dangerous up there.

Consider Stephen King, who said, “People think that I must be a very strange person. This is not correct. I have the heart of a small boy. It is in a glass jar on my desk.” He’s written so many terrifying short stories and novels that his head probably resembles a demented clown car with “It” in the driver’s seat. And I don’t want to think how many glass jars are on his desk by now.

So what’s the point of this tangent?

Gef mentioned that you might be interested in the process of writing a trilogy since I just finished writing one, my A Life of Death trilogy. Believe it or not, this plays a huge role.

The longer we write books, spilling characters from our heads and souls onto the page, the longer they have to run amok at the forefront of our minds, in our dreams and nightmares. I can certainly understand why King tends to write stand-alone novels.

Keeping Voldemort at bay…

It’s difficult to write continuously in a series with all those characters battling behind your eyes, some dying repeatedly, their mourning songs wailing in your ears as you go to sleep at night. (Yes, this happens, especially when a primary character dies in a book you are writing.) A reader can get through a book in days, even hours. It takes authors months, if not years, to write one book, let alone multiple. Imagine spending all that time with antagonists at the gates of your mind, battling to get in… Voldemort, Darth Vader, It, Mordred. For the authors who create them, these characters are real.

Thankfully, you have Harry Potter, King Arthur, Luke Skywalker, and in my case Alex Drummond standing at the gates wielding wands, swords, and guns to fight them off day after day. The longer you write a series, the longer these characters are in the forefront of your mind.
Beyond this though, there are other hurdles to overcome: where to take your next novel in the series, how to keep things straight and consistent, and one of the most important things, how to top your last book in the series.

Where to take your next novel...

The next book will likely come from random inspiration. You may already have the idea, or it could be waiting around the corner. Something as small as a decrepit, zombie-looking butterfly flying in your path as you hike down a trail could inspire a storyline where one psychotic scientist does the unthinkable in your next book. You never necessarily know where the inspiration will come from or when it will strike, but I always make a note of it.

I’m an avid fan of Evernote, a free app that allows you to dictate into your phone and it will convert it to text and save the note in the cloud for later use. I have a host of miscellaneous ideas I’ve come up with over the years. Some will turn into stories. Some won’t.

How to keep things consistent…

This is harder and something that takes time and effort to keep straight. You’ve likely encountered inconsistencies in some series at times. One character’s eyes may have been blue at one point, then are reported as brown the next. Small details are important, and readers will catch them if you aren’t careful.

To keep things consistent, I recommend keeping a character glossary document with all the little details about every character you come up with, no matter how inconsequential. You never know when the character will come back into the story and play a larger role. The last thing you want to have to do as an author is go searching through previous books to try and find one particular scene where you may or may not have mentioned a character’s eye color, build, accent, or scars. Having a glossary to look back on will help keep everything straight and save time in the long run.

Topping your last book…

This is probably the most difficult and the most important things you want to strive for. Unfortunately, you won’t know if you’ve succeeded until the book is finished and being read and reviewed. To make it worse, at least in my case, the book you are currently working on always seems like the worst story you’ve ever written. I am my own worst critic. However, I think this helps. It means I’m always striving to make my current book the best it can be. If you keep that as your goal and maintain the determination to continue writing, you will get there.

Keeping these things in mind will help in your next venture if you are considering writing a trilogy. And for those of you who aren’t but are avid fans of trilogies and series, it may give you a different perspective on the delays that can cause release dates to be pushed back. There is a lot more that goes into writing a series behind the scenes.

Thanks for having me, Gef!

If anyone has questions, I’ll be happy to answer them. Feel free to join me in the writing adventure I call life via email and get a FREE copy of my short story anthology about fate and fantasy, Strange Circumstances.

Author Bio:
Weston Kincade writes fantasy, paranormal, and horror novels that stretch the boundaries of imagination, and often genres. His current series include the A Life of Death trilogy and the Priors. Weston's short stories have been published in Alucard Press' "50 Shades of Slay," Kevin J. Kennedy's bestselling "Christmas Horror" and "Easter Horror," and other anthologies. He is a member of the Horror Writer's Association (HWA) and helps invest in future writers while teaching English. In his spare time Weston enjoys spending time with his wife and Maine Coon cat, Hermes, who talks so much he must speak for the Gods.

Investigate Weston Kincade’s newly released trilogy, A Life of Death. To find out more about him personally, follow Weston on social media:
Twitter: @WestonKincade

July 24, 2017

The Hap(pening): a review of Joe R. Lansdale's "Hap and Leonard"

Hap and Leonard
by Joe R. Lansdale
Tachyon Publications (2016)

I have been meandering through Lansdale's extensive works for several years now, and in that time I have come to consider him one of my all-time favorite storytellers. A big reason for that is his Hap and Leonard series of novels, which feature the hijinks of two east Texas ne'er-do-wells, Hap Collins and Leonard Pine. But there are not just the novels, but also a smattering of short fiction, which has now been collected in this book from 2016 (a followup collection released in 2017). So I have to wonder if an abbreviated adventure is as satisfying as the novels.

For me, the meat of this collection came in the form of two novellas that had been previously published each on their own. The first, "Hyenas," kicks off with Hap showing up at the local bar to keep Leonard from getting hauled off by the cops after a donnybrook. Leonard's in cuffs, but relatively unscathed compared to the fellas littering the ground like so much tenderized steak. Impressed enough by the whooping, one of the guys hires Hap and Leonard to track down his little brother who has fallen in with a small gang of crooks. Witty banter and gritty brawling galore in this tale, and our heroes wind up much more invested in the younger brother's safety than they had ever anticipated.

The second novella is "Dead Aim," and it has our guys on protection duty once again, only this time it's for a woman who says he is being stalked and abused by her ex-husband. Lansdale's deftness with dialogue shines again, but the tone of the tale is a wee bit darker with things not shaping up as they should at first glance, and Hap and Leonard wind up caught in one more showdown with bloodthirsty types. This one was particularly great because it included Hap's lady love, Brett, who really feels like she turns the duo into a less than holy trinity.

The collection isn't all fisticuffs and gun fights, though. "Death by Chili" offers a bit more humor than most tales, as Hap and Leonard try to figure out how a champion chili cook died. Then there's "The Boy Who Became Invisible" and it's glimpse back and Hap's formative years.

Then there are the stories that are interludes of sorts that complement the existing novels, like "Veil's Visit" which takes place around the time Leonard burned down the crack house next door and includes Andrew Vachss with a coauthor credit, since one of his famous characters shows up at Hap's behest to bail out Leonard.

I'm not sure if it's the kind of book that works so well as an introduction to these characters, as there's a fair bit of winks and nods to what has come before that a newcomer just might not catch on to, but it's not like the stories are impenetrable to a new reader. One of the great things about the series has always been that Hap and Leonard are quickly identifiable and instantly likable. But a new reader should honestly go seek out the first novel, Savage Season, if they want to sample the waters. As for the existing fans and completists out there, this is something they will all want to get their hands on, assuming they haven't done so already.

July 21, 2017

Underwater, Under Pressure: a review of Brian Keene's "Pressure"

by Brian Keene
Thomas Dunne Books (2016)
276 pages

I haven't read all of Brian Keene's books, but of the ones I have I am invariably transported to some grizzled patch of Americana and I always walk away satisfied. So when I heard Pressure, Keene's latest novel from last year, featured a sea-faring thrill ride in the picturesque Indian Ocean, my curiosity got the better of me and I just had to see what he might try to pull off with this one.

Carrie Anderson, an ambitious young diver/oceanographer, is among the many who are investigating a strange natural phenomenon occurring off the coast of Mauritius. The ocean floor is collapsing beneath the wondrous "underwater waterfall." The tourist trap is now just that, sinking into the sea, and a full-scale evacuation is imminent if they can't figure out what's going on and how to stop it.

Kind of like a Lincoln & Child novel, Pressure embraces the cryptozoological discoveries without bogging itself down in the scientific minutia. A crisp pace keeps everything moving along, and Keene still manages to squeeze in some wonderful fleshing out of his characters, such as Carrie's obsessiveness to be the best. And the first. Plus there is the salty sea dog assisting her, Abhi, whose brokenhearted isolation drives him further out to sea every year. As for the creature they discover beneath the unusually icy depths, it is the scene stealer every time and one of Keene's more memorable monstrosities. And he's had a few.

Where things take a turn though is when the initial encounter with the monster is over and a new threat emerges, that in the form of a biotech company with an intense desire to gain exclusive knowledge and advancements from the newly discovered creature. The pressure, as it were, comes when Carrie finds herself caught in the middle of a creature seemingly bent on the destruction of all life and a corporation that seems bent on domination of all life.

Outside of a personal annoyance with how the third act transpired, which I found out of tune with nearly everything preceding it, Pressure was an exciting bit of monster mayhem. If there is ever a followup to be written to this novel, I'll certainly check it out, along with just about anything else Keene writes in the meantime.

July 17, 2017

Bonding Over Death: a review of Donald E. Westlake's "Forever and a Death"

Forever and a Death
by Donald E. Westlake
Hard Case Crime (2017)

Donald E. Westlake is responsible for penning a couple of my absolute favorite novels, so when I saw Hard Case Crime was set to publish one of his as-yet-unseen novels, which happened to be inspired by a treatment he once did for the James Bond franchise, I just had to check it out.

Now, if you're expecting this novel to be a James Bond type of story, with hi-tech gadgets and femme fatales and a lead character who kicks all kinds of ass without mussing his hair, then you can put those expectations to bed right now. This isn't that kind of novel. This is pure Westlake. That said, you can pretty easily pick up the echoes of a Bond story that Westlake refashioned into his own brand of story.

Right from the get-go, Forever and a Death presents itself as a villain's tale. Oh sure, we have our plucky hero in the form of a conscientious engineer who happens to throw a pretty good punch, but the lion's share of the story, and where it shines, is with the inner machinations of the lead villain and his henchmen. Industrialist Richard Curtis has a score to settle with Hong Kong where he was kicked out after it was handed back China in the 90s, and his engineer's prized invention of a soliton wave, which transforms seaside landfill and everything built on top of it into a giant mud puddle, is just how Curtis intends to do it.

Curtis' best laid plans are undermined at every turn, most of all it seems by his own hubris. He considers himself superior to everyone around him both in stature and in intellect, which quickly bites him in the ass when an environmentalist watchdog attempts to stop his soliton wave experiment off the coast of Australia. A young activist named ??? dives into the water and is swept up by the powerful artificial current that levels a small island. And when her body is recovered and found to have survived, albeit barely, Curtis realizes his plans could go up in smoke if she lives. Enter George Manville.

Manville, his engineer, feels responsible for the woman's condition, and when propositioned by Curtis to aide him in disposing of her, managing a daring escape back to Australia. From there, it is a cat-and-mouse chase of sorts between Curtis and Manville. Manville needs to alert the authorities to Curtis' ill deeds while evading capture and/or extermination, while Curtis needs to silence Manville by any means necessary long enough for him to see his ultimate plan come to fruition.

On the one hand, Westlake's attention to detail is something to behold. Nearly every supporting character is fleshed out to the fullest. We see why Curtis has earned a sworn enemy by a famed environmentalist. We see the desperation to regain lost status by one of Curtis' former employers turned freelance goon. But with all of these characters given the spotlight, the pacing of the novel takes a hit. A couple sections of the book even become downright plodding as "will he or won't he" questions of conscience are hung over one character's or another's head. The third act is breakneck, however, and offers an ending that one may find ill fitting for something Bond inspired, but it is perfectly suited to Westlake's style.

All things considered, it's a good read that stopped short of being great, which may be why Westlake never saw it published before his death. A thoughtfully imagined plot with some forgettable heroes and one damned good villain. It may not be the makings of a franchise like James Bond, but it's a satisfying summer read for those looking for a taut thriller.

July 15, 2017

Little Heaven, Lotta Horror: a review of Nick Cutter's "Little Heaven"

Little Heaven
by Nick Cutter
Simon & Schuster Canada (2017)
496 pages

A story about a cult based in the middle of the woods is a frightening enough premise, if you ask me, but Nick Cutter decided that wasn’t near enough and threw in a trio of assassins and a supernatural juggernaut for good measure in Little Heaven, his third outing through Simon & Schuster.

The novel starts with the emergence (actually, re-emergence we come to learn) of an evil spirit that takes the shape of a hideous amalgamation of wildlife, which then seeks out and abducts a little girl from her home. The imagery in this opening scene is the kind of stomach-queezing fare that Cutter made himself known for in his two previous novels, The Troop and The Deep. The girl is to be used as bait to lure three killers, one of whom the girl's father, with whom the entity has unfinished business. But before we see our three killers, Micah (the father), Ebenezer, and Minerva, head out on their return trek, we witness their pivotal meeting and their first foray into the wilds of the southwest where they encounter the doomed cult and the malevolent spirits that surround them.

The alliance between the three killers grows through what starts off as a bullet-ridden threeway dance of sorts, as each has initially been set against the other, but in their lack of success in offing each other, they settle on a truce of sorts and are eventually enlisted by a concerned woman desperate to find and save her young nephew who has been whisked away to the woods by a cult. Beyond that, they come to rely on one another as more and more odds are set against them.

Along the way, some supporting characters manage to add some much-needed flavor to what might otherwise be a one-note horror story. The ramshackle compound is populated by a cult driven by fear and frayed nerves. Amos Flesher, the leader, quickly reveals himself to the outsiders as a conniving and unstable figurehead buffeted and precariously aligned with two other hired killers who increasingly see the compound as a place to go into business for themselves. Then there's the young boy the gang has been tasked with finding, one of the only people in the camp seemingly unaffected by the influence of the cult leader inside the compounds walls or the entity lurking outside its walls. It didn't take long actually for him to become the most engaging and sympathetic character of the bunch and an easy one to root for getting out of there alive, though the book offers zero assurances such a feat is possible. And after all that brouhaha is settled, the horrors are begun anew many years later with the reckoning they all knew would come sooner or later in those woods.

At the end of the day, Little Heaven feels like a bit of a mish-mash, kind of like the creatures lurking within its pages. Cutter plays with quite a few hallmarks of the horror genre, particularly the earlier works of Stephen King, but nothing really stands out as its own and feels more like an echo of what's come before. Still, it's done with enough flair and fierceness to make it an enjoyable read and downright hair-raising at moments. I'm not sure what Cutter has up his sleave for the next horror novel, but I look forward to it and hope he can carve out more of his own style amid what this decade has shown to be a great one for horror fiction.

June 2, 2017

a guest post by Ty Arthur, author of "Light Dawning"

Following his debut sci-fi novella “Empty” from 2016, Ty Arthur returns with new full-length horror novel “Light Dawning.” Pivoting away from the emptiness of space, the book dives headlong into the waters of fantasy, but with a seriously grimdark twist. This next foray into the bleaker corners of human existence is officially slated for release on Friday, May 26th, 2017. Kindle pre-orders are now online at 

a guest post by Ty Arthur

After short stories set on modern day Earth and a far future space novella, for Light Dawning I wanted to shift focus yet again to a different style. Even though its absolutely a horror story, this time around I wanted to explore a fantasy world.

The fantasy genre doesn't need another epic tale where a rag tag group of unexpected heroes rises to the occasion and defeats the dark lord after discovering the magical MacGuffin. There's already enough of those. Likewise, there's already enough epics with dwarves mining for gold in their mountain homes and graceful, pointy eared elves living in tree cities. It was clear when I started writing Light Dawning that high fantasy wouldn't be a viable option for the kind of story being told.

Fantasy as a genre is a form of wish fulfillment – its right there in the name. The genre offers a glimpse of the sort of world people wish existed rather than the one that actually does. It provides the escapism of noble men and women standing fast against the tide of evil no matter the odds, of the powerful using their resources in the name of good, and of people being celebrated for breaking the rules if it they do it for the right reasons.

Who knows, maybe one day grimdark will become the equivalent of the zombie novel, with review sites having to list a disclaimer that “no, yours isn't different from all the others, please don't submit,” but for now, its a genre full of possibilities still to be explored. Light Dawning and the tale of Cestia's final hours is just the beginning of my exploration of this style, as there's no shortage of grim material to mine from the real world to transplant into a fantasy setting.

“Grimdark” then is the injection of unpleasant reality into that fantasy. Going even further than low fantasy, where the focus is primarily on humans and the things they do, grimdark reminds the audience that all is not well in the world, and that the addition of elements like magic and gods wouldn't actually make the world any better.

Fantasy is a genre ripe with possibilities for horror that aren't utilized nearly often enough. When I think of what people in the real world would do if supernatural abilities suddenly became available, the first scenarios that come to mind most definitely aren't “feed the hungry” or “provide housing for the poor” or “set the wrongfully convicted free.” There's no question that magic – were it to exist on Earth – would be used for war and enforcing religious dominance and keeping the elite wealthy few at the top of the proverbial totem pole.

With Light Dawning I've gone a step further even, with the supernatural abilities wielded by a handful of characters in this book all rooted in a cosmic horror source. Not only are they not being used for altruistic reasons, they come with the danger of insanity and extremely unexpected consequences. Magic is more a curse than a gift here, and those who choose to wield it will frequently wish that they hadn't.

Reversing all the standard fantasy tropes was a strong impetus while writing this book, and that included the priests and pantheons so typical of the style. The clergy in this book's universe are quite incorrect in assuming the gods they worship actually care about them, or that these infinite beings who entirely embody some cosmic principle would even have comprehensible desires.

After all, what does the sun really want? Who can say that they truly understand the goals of the darkness in the night sky, even if it even has goals at all? Any human desires attributed to these beings are more a reflection of the character bestowing them than on the actual “god” itself. Does a star have an opinion on how the planets orbiting closest to it are burned to a crisp while those farther away might be in just the right spot for life to flourish?

With no altruistic priests or heroes to rescue them from an invading army, the focus on Light Dawning shifts from whether the characters will save the world, but to whether its even worth saving and how people will deal with harsh reality. How do the people of Cestia respond when their gods utterly fail to save them from invasion and do nothing to ease their suffering in the intervening years? At what point does survival in a brutal occupation become less trouble than its worth? When death is all around, what will these characters make of their final days and how important are their decisions?

Ty Arthur gets to meld his passions with his work while freelancing for the likes of and GameSkinny. His debut sci-fi / horror novella “Empty” was released in early 2016, with many more dark tales still to come. Arthur writes to exorcise his demons and lives in the cold, dark north with his amazing wife Megan and infant son Gannicus Picard.

Amazon author page:
Official website:

April 21, 2017

a review of Thomas Mullen's "Darktown"

There’s no such thing as the good ol’ days and reading Thomas Mullen’s Darktown is a fair reminder of that.  In this historical crime novel, America is still patting itself on the back for a job well done in World War 2, but late-40s Atlanta offers a glimpse of home-grown intolerance and corruption that must be confronted.

Following the war, Atlanta has hired its first black police officers to serve the community known as Darktown. The eight new officers aren’t exactly held in high regard by their bosses either, as not only are they relegated to one neighborhood, but are given no firearms, can make no arrests, and cannot even enter the police department itself, instead conducting their business from a gym basement.

The novel alternates between the viewpoints of two officers, Lucius Boggs and Denny Rakestraw. Boggs, as they and their partners traverse the streets of Darktown. Boggs on the one hand is a bit disillusioned to how well he’s serving his community, while Rakestraw’s naivety is challenged at the side of a grizzled, racist cop who lords over the town as if he owned it. When a black woman is murdered and the last man she was seen with is a retired white cop, things come to a head.

Through the course of the novel, Mullen really paints a picture of how precarious a tightrope it was for the black officers in enforcing the law as best they could with what little they had in resources and support. Hell, there’s a point where just a simple drive out of the city comes with the prospect of an untimely end. Not to mention the open hostility and interference on the part of especially resentful and racist white officers in the department. Plus, the characters feel very genuine and flawed, where a lesser writer might leave them gimmicky and flat.

I enjoy crime fiction, though I don’t normally gravitate towards the police procedural, but this was such an engrossing book aided by a rich historical backdrop and some tight character development, that it felt in no way like a by-the-numbers murder mystery. Atlanta leaps off the page and may be the most interesting character of them all in this novel. And if Mullen has more stories in him revolving around the Atlanta region, I’ll be sure to check them out.

March 24, 2017

A guest post by James Walley, author of "The Fathom Flies Again"

THE FATHOM FLIES AGAIN by James Walley - It's time to wake up and smell the carnage. Just as every night gives way to dawn, all dreams yield to the break of day. For Marty, that's kind of a problem. When you've fought killer clowns, sailed the seven skies, and generally laid waste to your own dreamspace, real life can be kind of a drag. At least, until your nightmares crawl through the cracks and shadows, and take a liking to your town. When the jesters come a knocking, it's time to man up. When the unmentionables under your bed come a biting, it's time to grab your trusty, pint-sized pirate compadre and lead a charge against the night terrors. What does this mean for Marty? It means the crew of The Flying Fathom are back, surfing on rainbows, swashing their buckles, and saving the world, one sleepy little town at a time. Book one of this series, The Forty First Wink, brought you a glimpse of utter, rum-swilling madness. Now The Fathom Flies Again, pushing you over the edge and chuckling at your plummeting screams, before scuttling off to find something shiny to steal. Remember, if you hear something under your bed, don't move. Don't make a sound. Draw your cutlass and think of something devilishly witty to shout, because things, my friend, are about to get all too real.

a guest post by James Walley

When I sat down to write The Forty First Wink, there were no plans for it to be part one of a trilogy. There were no plans for anything really, I just wanted to see if I could stay the course and write a novel. That lasted about four chapters, at which point I realised that there was a lot of mileage in the unfolding story I was tentatively tapping out on my newbie-author keyboard.
Fast forward a year or so. Wink is out, and happily receiving some lovely words of praise. And so it was time to stop walking, get the jetpack out and take it for a test drive.
There were so many things that drove Wink as I was writing it. My love of absurd comedy, the unlikely, rag tag group of heroes, old school horror movies and an overriding sense of fun which I wanted to be the driving force. The story does take place in a dreamscape after all, where everything is amplified, distorted and exaggerated. That was all well and good for the whimsy side, but I felt I was selling my antagonists short a little. Only a little, because come on – Demonic clowns. Put one in a tutu and make it dance a jig and it’d still be terrifying, and a little adorable.
Being a big fan of trilogies, and particularly the dark, harrowing second acts, I saw The Fathom Flies Again as an opportunity to give my Empire its time to Strike Back. I wanted to make it bigger, bleaker, and somehow more grounded in reality, and the latter is precisely where I started with this sequel. It’s all fun and games when you’re gallivanting around your own dream, even if you do have Hell’s harlequins chasing you most of the time. With Fathom, the waking world in all its grey, mundane nine-to-fivery that plays host to hordes of everyone’s worst nightmares.
I’ve always been a fan of sleepy little towns, they always seem to be the places that are set upon in horror fiction. Something about an unreal terror descending to wreak slicey mayhem on a hamlet of unsuspecting victims makes people shudder and grin in equal measure, it seems. I’ve seen and read about that very scenario so many times, and it is so ripe with possibility, that I couldn’t help but unleash my red nosed baddies on the general public, along with a few new nasties thrown in for good measure – Hey, it’s a horror homage, and who says demons can’t bring their friends on a night out?
That’s the creepy element sorted, what now? Oh yes. BIGGER.
Whilst Wink wasn’t at any stage reluctant to throw a stick of dynamite into a store selling more sticks of dynamite, I wanted Fathom to blow the roof off what had come before it. Imagine trading in your car for a monster truck, and then fixing a P.A system to the roof that perpetually thundered out The William Tell Overture, then took it for a spin through a shopping mall. Messy? Loud? Well yes, a bit, but damn that sounds like a lot of fun. I wanted the sort of triumphant fanfare for my heroes that I’d heard from the likes of Captain Chaos in The Cannonball Run, or even Sloth as he slid down the mainsail in The Goonies. Stuff that makes you want to throw a fist and everything it’s attached to into the air in appreciation of the sheer reckless bedlam you wish you could perpetrate too.
While The Forty First Wink was undoubtedly a labour of love, The Fathom Flies Again wasn’t a labour at all. It was the world and its contents that I had written about in book one, but let off the leash, and allowed to be as big, bad and bombastic as they could possibly be. Ultimately I think that’s why I had so much fun writing The Fathom Flies Again. It was as though I had laid the foundation, and now I could go ahead and build a whopping great funhouse on top of it, clowns and all.

Of course, there are worse things than clowns out there…

Hailing from the mystical isle of Great Britain, James Walley is an author who prefers his reality banana shaped.

His debut novel, The Forty First Wink, released through Ragnarok Publications in 2014 scuttles gleefully into this bracket, with a blend of humour, fantasy and the unusual.

A clutch of follow up work, both short and long (including books two and three in the Wink trilogy) are in the offing, and have a similar demented flavour.

When not writing, James is partial to a spot of singing, the odd horror movie or ten, and is a circus trained juggler.

February 1, 2017


Things are going to be pretty quiet on the blog for awhile, but hopefully there will be more reviews, interviews, and such later in the year. Fingers crossed. In the meantime, enjoy 2017 by reading a good book Or try writing something yourself if you feel compelled. Oh, maybe even, if opportunity should present itself ... punch a nazi in the face.

2017, y'all.

January 30, 2017

Good Angels, Better Beasts: an interview with Jerome Stueart, author of "The Angels of Our Better Beasts"

JEROME STUEART'S THE ANGELS OF OUR BETTER BEASTS - The Lemmings are really researching the Arctic biologists, the werewolves sing sweet Christian praise songs, and the signing gorilla just wants someone back in the cage for a minute or two. The Gryphon can fight your war for you, and there isn’t really a problem when the man you’ve been online dating turns out to be a bear, is there? No worries. Those old lions in the canyon aren’t up to something, are they? The doctors in the red coats just want to cure you of a terrible blood disease. Trust them. In the forest, the sasquatch has fallen in love with the cryptozoologist who follows him, while the god of the Brazos River courts the young, pretty Texas college students.

These fifteen illustrated stories of beasts—and the beasts we sometimes become—ask us how much influence we have over each other, to bring out our beast sides or our best sides . . . and how much control the beasts already have over us.  

So how did the ball get rolling for this collection?

I approached Brett and Sandra of ChiZine with a book proposal for the collection--all my short stories which had been published in magazines, and a brief outline of what stories I wanted to write for the collection, as well as a theme and possible audiences.  I may have gone overkill to sell it, but they liked it!  They also bought, at the same time, the rights to the novelization of my short story, "One Nation Under Gods."

When putting together a collection like this, how much of a balancing act is there in choosing which stories to include?

Well, I actually had just enough stories that could form a collection.  So they made up the bulk of it.  I wrote two others for the collection--longer stories.  I tried to sneak in a novella--but I just ran out of time, and my editor, Andrew Wilmot, told me it was probably better this way.  He thought a novella at the end of a collection might throw off the balance of stories. I agree. We did try to space out the flash fiction, the poetry on the edges, the comedic stories, give a feel to reading the collection through from start to finish.  It was a lot of fun for me to arrange the stories in patterns.      

How would you gauge your progression as a writer thus far?

I'm doing okay.  I'm proud of this collection.  I took a long time to publish, I think, because I didn't know if I was ready.  So I took writing workshops in college and learned a lot, and then took Clarion and learned a lot.   I feel late to publishing, but honestly, I'm not sure I had anything to say before now.  I took a lot of time to both find myself and explore different jobs and places--a summer on Long Island as a park ranger, ten years in the Yukon as a vaudevillian, living in a remote subarctic research station, or being a trolley conductor.  In some ways, I was doing the prep work for much of what I'm working on now.  

Your debut novel is also due to be published this year by Chizine. Is there much of a gear shift for you when it comes to story length?

My first novel is a travel novel--a journey across the US modeled on Huckleberry Finn.  It's going to feel episodic within a greater story arc, so that makes chapters into story lengths which is easier for me to think about, I think.  I tend to write long anyway---often coming in at just under 20,000 unless I have a preset wordcount cutoff.  And because it's a novel, I'm kinda letting my narrator just talk right now.... he's a talker.  So, I'm looser with the narrative and where the story could go than I would be in a short story.  I'm discovering where the novel wants to go---though I have a pretty good outline too.  I allow myself to write outside of the plotlines frequently if the narrative feels more important to go there.  

Compared to a novel, say, what do you consider to be the saving grace of the short story?

Tightness of focus and action--always keeping your attention on getting through the story--and leaving you with a clear understanding of that character at that time.  Also, a moment that lingers with you.  

You've also co-edited an anthology with Sandra Kasturi, so I'm guessing the relationship with her and ChiZine has been good so far?

Yeah, they are good people.  Brett first read my "One Nation Under Gods" story back in 2009 for Tesseracts 14.  He wrote the nicest emails, wanting it.  That kind of encouragement has just kept coming from them.  Sandra also teaches me about the business of being a writer, which is very helpful.  They've become great friends.  

Who do you count among your writing influences?  

I'm a hodgepodge of influences, I think.   I feel like the kid of Ray Bradbury + Madeleine L'Engle.  They both found a way to balance adventure, wonder, ideas and message together and they were both some of my earliest reading.  In my very religious household, I was raised on CS Lewis, Fairy Tales, the Bible and Star Trek.   As a kid, I also read  lots of mid-80s Comics, especially X-Men, Spider-man, Green Lantern, Flash, and Fantastic Four.  I read everything Agatha Christie, Stephen King and Piers Anthony wrote when I was a teen, too

And then I read some very different works:  in high school i was deeply affected by Tennyson's tragic, beautiful Idylls of the King--a whole different way of thinking about heroes, about King Arthur and Merlin and Lancelot than I'd grown up with.  In college, I read Catcher in the Rye.  Peter Straub's Shadowland.  Shakespeare. James Baldwin. Ernest Hemingway.  I liked the kinds of feeling these novels gave me when I read.  I think I've always been trying to make a reader feel something in my stories and novels.  

I loved Fitzgerald, John Irving and Alice Munro too.  Today, I'm in love with Kij Johnson and Ted Chiang and Kazuo Ishiguro.  

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

I think, for me as a science fiction and fantasy writer, "write what you know" has always felt limiting.  I agree that one should always try to capture every experience, every "scar" as Stephen King says, to put in our fiction.  But I think if beginning writers meet up with "write what you know" they will feel boxed in to memoir, or fiction that resembles memoir (and hey, I like that stuff too! but...).  We have to use a lot more imagination--have to think about people living in space beyond what anyone knows, imagine things that have never happened.  I just think we should read that statement as "You can use everything you've experienced" and "write what you can imagine" maybe.   Those sound more encouraging. 

What kinds of stories resonate with you as a reader?

An everyperson that struggles forced into a situation where they don't know the rules.  I also like stories that make me feel something--a little sacrifice, a little difficult choice. People striving to improve their situation, even if they fail.  I like flawed human characters.  I have to feel that the author cared about the characters so that I can care too.  I'm also a sucker for stories with siblings, or families, with a dog, for mentors who do not die in the middle of novels and who guide our hero, and for puzzle stories.  I reread The Great Gatsby, Mariette in Ecstasy, Frankenstein, Watership Down.  Their characters really push to be something more in their worlds, and often they fail.  I don't know why, but that appeals to me--seeing how they push for more, or how they deal with failure.  That's inspiring.     

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

Well, I'm finishing up two longer stories.  One is about two sisters and their rival gods and the father the sisters fight over.  The other one I'm "cooking up" is about a chef on a starship promoted to diplomat to help negotiate reparations to a society Earth badly abused.  And the bigger project is, of course, the novel One Nation Under Gods due out in June of 2018.  Till then, I have a story coming out in the Spring in a collection from Lethe Press about a retired faun forced to teach jazz clarinet lessons to the boy who now unknowingly owns the faun's ancient powerful clarinet that can work wonders in the world. It's called "Postlude to the Afternoon of the Faun" and it will appear in Friends of Hyakinthos.  You can follow me on or on twitter @bearnabas.  If shenanigans happen--they will happen there.

January 18, 2017

The Phantom Bride of Marcellus: a guest post by Catherine Cavendish, author of "Linden Manor"

The Phantom Bride of Marcellus

My novella – Linden Manor – features the ghost of Lady Celia Fitzmichael, about whom a scary nursery rhyme was written. This has haunted my main character – Lesley Carpenter – since childhood. In it, Lady Celia is never mentioned by name. Instead, she is referred to as ‘The Scottish bride.’ And woe betide you if you laid eyes on her ‘blackened face’.
Writing this story inspired me to go in search of allegedly true reported sightings and tales of tragic brides who seem unable – or unwilling – to leave the place of their mortal death.
My quest has led me to all sorts of interesting stories. A number occur at the site of fatal road crashes. Here’s one from a very twisty road, aptly named 13 Curves (or Cedarvale Road to give it its proper name) in Marcellus, southwest of Syracuse in New York.

The road certainly twists and turns, and sixty years ago - so the story goes - a young ‘just married’ couple, without a care in the world, were driving along there on their wedding night, probably concentrating a little too much on the honeymoon to follow rather than the perils of the dark road ahead.
Rounding one of the bends, the car spun out of control, off the road and plunged into a nearby creek. The couple were killed instantly. What followed has been reported in many ways by many people, most of whom were previously unaware of any such sightings.
Some people report seeing a ghostly bride, covered in blood and carrying a glowing orange lantern. Others say her eyes glow as she wanders along the road, apparently searching for something or someone. Others have reported seeing the apparition standing on one of the hills along the road. At times she is reported as behaving in a reckless fashion, leaping out at unsuspecting cars and causing their drivers to swerve out of control and crash their vehicles.

She has also been reported causing accidents by suddenly manifesting herself in the driver’s rear view mirror, apparently sitting in the back seat of their cars, dressed in white, spattered with blood. When they turn around, she has gone. A variation on the story says that, in fact, she wasn’t killed that day – only her groom was. She died much later and returns to this spot, searching for her long dead husband. A common theory is that she died on Friday 13th and only returns on this date.
Whatever the truth of this story, the road is undeniably spooky at night. Its many curves require due diligence when negotiating them. This is not a road to lose concentration on, so maybe the Phantom Bride of Marcellus comes back to warn the unwary to take care, or risk suffering her fate.

Now, here’s a flavour of Linden Manor:
Have you ever been so scared your soul left your body? 

All her life, Lesley Carpenter has been haunted by a gruesome nursery rhyme—“The Scottish Bride”—sung to her by her great grandmother. To find out more about its origins, Lesley visits the mysterious Isobel Warrender, the current hereditary owner of Linden Manor, a grand house with centuries of murky history surrounding it. 

But her visit transforms into a nightmare when Lesley sees the ghost of the Scottish Bride herself. A sight that, according to the rhyme, means certain death. The secrets of the house slowly reveal themselves to Lesley - terrible secrets of murder, evil and a curse that soaks the very earth on which Linden Manor now stands. But Linden Manor has saved its most chilling secret for last. 

Linden Manor has just been reissued by Crossroad Press and is available from:
Other books by Catherine Cavendish include:

And are currently available – or soon will be – from:

Catherine Cavendish lives with a long-suffering husband and ‘trainee’ black cat in North Wales. Her home is in a building dating back to the mid-18th century, which is haunted by a friendly ghost, who announces her presence by footsteps, switching lights on and strange phenomena involving the washing machine and the TV. Cat has written a number of published horror novellas, short stories, and novels, frequently reflecting her twin loves of history and horror and often containing more than a dash of the dark and Gothic. When not slaving over a hot computer, she enjoys wandering around Neolithic stone circles and visiting old haunted houses.
You can connect with her here: