February 26, 2015

The Kind That Makes You Laugh. And Squirm. And Then Feel All Icky Inside: a guest post by Dave Eisenstark, author of "The Video Killer"

They walk among us. Sociopaths. Devoid of conscience, empathy, no shame, no regret, no moral compass whatsoever. That's Johnny Tone in The Video Killer. The sociopath next door. There was actually a book out about ten years ago with that title. It claimed that 1 in 25 people walking around are sociopaths. I hope that figure is high, but who knows? I work in Hollywood in the film business, which attracts the type like flies on you-know-what. So what happens if the sociopath next door falls for the girl next door, a stone-cold psychopath? When Worlds Collide. And what if you're forced to get inside the heads of both of them? How uncomfortable would that be? That's the idea for The Video Killer.

I was first introduced to the concept decades ago, when I first moved to Los Angeles. A group of young roommates were arrested for throwing a friend of theirs off a high cliff. It turns out the friend had stolen a TV from them. Okay, so in the heat of passion, they killed him—it all made some kind of crazy sense. Except it soon came out that after they caught him, they locked him in the basement while they had a house meeting in the living room and after hours of discussion, came to a consensus: "Let's throw him off a high cliff and kill him!" Always amazing—people—aren't they?

That's why I like horror, especially the kind that makes you laugh, or squirm, or laugh-and-squirm-and-then-feel-all-icky-inside.

The Video Killer: Wannabe music-video director and serial killer Johnny Tone—stuck in backwater Hilltown, Kansas—is sure his next-door neighbor, Laura Causely—beautiful, suicidal, and just released from a mental institution—is his ticket to Hollywood. Once a professional dancer, Laura has the moves Johnny craves, and for her part, she's convinced he will rescue her from her uncaring family and the demons that scream in her head. But Laura is not the first pretty young thing to fall under Johnny's spell. What happened to those old flames is a secret horror Laura never wants to uncover—she has her own bloody past to obliterate. Only one of them can survive—who wins in a fair fight, the psychopath or the sociopath?

About me: I've been writing professionally and working in the film industry since the Stone Age—a long and occasionally successful career. Like film producer George Lucas, I graduated with a degree from USC Cinema; unlike Mr. Lucas, everything else. I live in Los Angeles with my wife, a production sound mixer on major motion pictures. Our daughter resides in Beijing and speaks both English and Chinese, which is good for her. Yes, I have pets, who asked not to be mentioned.

An excerpt of The Video Killer

He shook her but there was no response. Explosions pounded Terri's brain, the guns of Fort Riley maybe, or something blasting right in her mind, electric snaps, crackling current deep in her weary skull, surging toward oblivion.
Is it too much to ask, to die in peace?
Johnny panicked. Dried sweat burned his nostrils. Another odor, even stronger...what is it? He had smelled it before. The smell of death? Johnny wasn't sure. Oh, God no. He shook Terri's shoulders again, harder now.
She wondered: is this it? Rattle till you're dead? Some kind of cruel joke to end it all—a Godshake, then off to Hell. Maybe this is Hell, an eternity of shaking, until the food won't stay in and the thoughts won't stick in your brain.
From somewhere...way in the distance...the voice of Rod Serling called to her. Terri laughed out loud.
No, it's just Johnny.
The fog cleared for a moment, then another chuckle tore Terri's throat. The pain was excruciating. She passed out again.
Johnny slammed the new bra to the concrete.
"Damn! Right in the middle of production!"
Johnny sulked, unrealized possibilities in fabric and flesh spread before him.
Such a waste, so tragic.
Wearily, he picked up the old bra, wrapped it around Terri's neck, then tightened hard. His disappointment switched easily to murderous lust, sparking fires in his brain, burning bright, fueling his fevered sickness from left ear to right. He really didn't want it this way. His torment tightened and so did the bra, latex on skin, slicing down deeply into Johnny like a hot knife through butter, right into his cursed soul. Guilt surged through the muscles of his arms to the fabric wrapped around his fists.
Terri realized there was no more air, thank God. That's the last. What's next, I don't know or care; it's got to be better than this. The light burned ahead and she knew where she was headed, for the first time in her life, so near death. If there is a God, you'll see him; if there isn't, at least your suffering will be over.
Johnny hated this. You're an artist, damnit. He released the bra and felt for a pulse. Nothing.
"Why me?" he lamented out loud, grabbing Terri's wrists and—careful to use his legs and not his back—dragging her across the floor and plunking her onto the concrete next to the Amana.
Terri vaguely understood a freezer was being opened, one of the three she'd had occasion to wonder about during her long ordeal in Johnny's basement. Something nice and cold would be pleasant right now, she decided.
"Do you love me?" Terri suddenly heard her own voice in the back of her mind. "Do you love me, Johnny?"
He opened the Amana. The weight of the world pressed his deltoids and pinched his neck. He leaned against the freezer to catch his breath. The cold air from the open freezer helped. He stretched, five torso twists to the right, five to the left, slowly, until the pain was gone. With a great groan of vast disappointment, Johnny hefted Terri into the freezer.
He does love you, Terri thought ahead of the last beat of her heart. He loves y—
The lid closed on Terri Beales' life.
Eighteen short years of existence, two long weeks with Johnny and it was all over.
He would have to find someone else.
Someone worthy of your talents, who won't bitch or make demands. Someone who loved him…
Time was running out. MTV had changed its format, VH-I was a bust. The record companies were now making videos only after a song was a hit. The number of new videos had dwindled and the broadcast shows on free TV had disappeared. Video stores were gone. Somewhere, somehow—Johnny wasn't sure about this—people were probably watching things on their computers and telephones, by-passing TVs altogether. The thought filled Johnny with both fear and resolve: if you're going to make a move, it's gotta be now.

You can pick up a copy of The Video Killer at:

Don't take it too seriously. And write a review, please. Hate-mail is fine, too.

For all things "Dave," go here:

Or be my friend here:

For a peek at my other novel, Bleeding Kansas (Western, Historical, Civil War, not horror):

Thanks and good reading to you,


February 25, 2015

With Fiends Like These, Who Needs Enemies: a review of John Farris' "Fiends"

by John Farris
narrated by Chet Williamson
Crossroad Press (2012)
originally published in 1990
400 pages (11hrs.and 54 min.)

Available at Amazon.com

Here's a tip for you just in case you find yourself in a horror novel: don't go in the cave. Never. Nope, not ever. Not once have I ever read a horror novel where going into the cave led to anything other than the absolute worst thing. It's rubbish. So no caves. There. I've saved some lives. Too bad I couldn't have told the poor saps in John Farris' Fiends before they trundled off into the deep, dark cave to find their friends.

It's begins with a box. Arne was a boy when the box found its way to his home one fateful day. His father knew it was bad news, but the entity inside lured Arne's mother to open the box, unleashing something called a huldufolk. Look 'em up if you have the time. Nasty little buggers. The mere touch of one eventually kills Arne's father, corrupts his mother, and sends him to an insane asylum.  Fast forward to present day and Arne's an old disturbed man befriended by a young woman working at the mental health facility housing him. She invites him to the outside world to her home, but just in time to discover that the ancient evil his family set loose is set to make a comeback.

This Audible edition that I listened to had a pretty darned good narrator in Chet Williamson. Maybe that's what ultimately turned this novel into the first one the three of Farris' novels I've read that I thoroughly enjoyed. The southern drawl, along with distinct voices for each of the major characters, really helped flesh out the heart of the story.

The pace is steady, always mounting, always upping the stakes, especially when it comes time for Arne and company to go venturing into the caves in search of the missing people and the huldufolk. If you enjoy creature features, or southern gothic horror, or both, then you're likely to find a treat in this one.

February 24, 2015

Terrifying Children In Fiction a guest post by Tim Major, author of ‘Carus & Mitch’

Terrifying Children In Fiction
 a guest post by Tim Major, author of ‘Carus & Mitch’

Last year I became a father. Sometimes, when I check on my son during the night, he’s standing up in his cot in the dark, just staring at me.

Children can be scary.

My novella, ‘Carus & Mitch’, is a psychological horror story about two young girls who live entirely alone in a remote house. Fifteen-year-old Carus must protect her little sister from the dangers outside by barricading them both inside the house. The only problem is that Mitch’s curiosity is beginning to threaten their safety.

Carus and Mitch follow a long line of creepy children in novels and films. Here’s a list of some of my favourites – and by favourites, I mean the ones that made me shudder the most violently.

Christine – ‘Don’t Look Now’ (dir. Nicolas Roeg): Even though Roeg’s adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s story is one of my favourite films, I haven’t been able to rewatch it since I became a father myself. We see little of Christine when she’s alive, so the horror of her death is all via the grief of her father, John. Christine’s eventual ‘reappearance’ is devastating because John, and the viewer, has already lived with her ghost for so long.

Miles – ‘The Innocents’ (dir. Jack Clayton): I think ‘The Innocents’ is a perfect horror film. Almost all of the threat is imagined and Martin Stephens’s performance as Miles is terrifically unsettling. It’s hard to believe a child actor could portray a character so cold and, basically, evil. Even though the few moments of outright horror have been copied many times since, and even though I’m pretty jaded, they still give me a proper fright.

The Children – ‘The Midwich Cuckoos’ (wr. John Wyndham): John Wyndham is usually classed as an SF writer, but many of his ideas tap directly into readers’ fears. (The comet-induced blindness in ‘The Day of the Triffids’ was my introduction to literary horror and still gives me the creeps.) Children who all look the same and act en masse are terrifying – see, for example, any school choir. The fact that the Midwich children are actually the villagers’ own is Wyndham’s masterstroke, because it makes them impossible to escape. In the 1960 film version, the lead child is played by Martin Stephens, who also played Miles in ‘The Innocents’ – thereby cornering the 60s film market in unspeakably creepy little boys.

Johan – ‘The Silence’ (dir. Ingmar Bergman): Several of Bergman’s films can be viewed as horror films, and for me this one’s the scariest. While Johan himself may or may not be a normal enough kid, the situation he’s in (used as a pawn between his mother and his aunt, trapped in a vast hotel in a fictional country where everyone speaks a nonsense language) makes him appear hopelessly alien. The scenes as he explores the hotel prefigure the more direct horror of ‘The Shining’ and the sense of alienation in David Lynch’s films.

Merricat – ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ (wr. Shirley Jackson): Anyone who reads ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ and ‘Carus & Mitch’ will see that my story owes a debt to Jackson’s novel. Having a child as the protagonist means that the reader is required to unravel a collection of half-memories and invented stories. I love the idea of only occasionally glimpsing the horrific truth. It’s this idea which really became the starting-point for writing ‘Carus & Mitch’.

Carus & Mitch’ is published by Omnium Gatherum on 23rd February 2015. Find out more at the book’s GoodReads page.

Tim’s short stories have featured in Interzone and the Infinite Science Fiction anthology, among others. Follow Tim via Twitter (@onsteamer), his Goodreads author profile, or the Cosy Catastrophes blog.

February 23, 2015

#TheSparksBlogTour: an interview with Kyle Prue, author of "The Sparks"

Could you forgive your sworn enemy if it meant saving your family, legacy and beloved city from the hands of an evil power? The Vapros, the Taurlum, and the Celerius: three dynasties bound by an ancient promise, and given superhuman abilities to protect the city of Altryon from the dangerous world beyond its walls. Centuries of fighting, however, have turned the families against each other. A powerful emperor now rules and each family has suffered heavy casualties in the feud. Sixteen-year-old Neil Vapros desperately wants to become an assassin in order to impress his overly critical father. Despite a failed mission, Neil learns that a new sinister threat has awakened. This mysterious new power will shatter the established order and threaten not only the very lives of these powerful families, but also the once great city of Altryon. (source: Amazon.com)

Where did you get the idea for the Feud series?

This is a coming of age story for young adults and I am a teen in that demographic. Everyone struggles to find their path in life and my characters are all struggling with not wanting to let people down and to find their way; forgiveness and hope is a part of that journey as well. One night, at the age of 15, I had terrible insomnia and I couldn’t sleep. I was thinking about the different personalities of my siblings and myself and how we will all follow different paths. That gave me the idea to create three different families loosely based around our differing personalities. I decided it would be fun to take these families and place them in a fantasy world where the obstacles we all face could be magnified to a whole new level. I wrote out the plot for the three books that night.

What drew you to write YA Fantasy?

I wanted to write for me. Recently, I’ve hit an “in-between” zone where it’s harder for me to find books I want to read. I wanted to write something that I would want to read and that would appeal to other kids my age. I wanted to appeal to boys who have lost interest in reading and I also created strong female characters that girls will love.

When did you first start writing?

Like a lot of kids, I was bullied in middle school. I doubt you will ever find a kid that says, “I rocked 7th grade! That was the best time in my life.” I was short and fat and had a bowl haircut with braces. This was not a great time in my life. But I discovered I could come home and pick up a pen and create a whole fantasy world that I could control, when the rest of my life felt out of control. I learned that I loved to create characters because their potential is limitless.

I was lucky because I learned to use writing as an escape at an early age. I was in a multi-age program from 1st-3rd grade where I had the same teacher for three years. She had an experimental writing program where she gave us an hour a day to write in our journals. She told us to just write freely and not worry about punctuation or grammar, just let the creativity flow. So by the end of that program, I had a stack of notebooks filled with an adventure series. I also did a series called Three Rings that I wrote from the age of 12 to 14 when middle school was really rough. It was a 200-page manuscript. It wasn’t good, but it was good practice.

What are your other interests besides writing?

I love stand up comedy because like writing, it requires an ability to look at the world in a unique way and find the humor in that. I’m a varsity swimmer for my school. I’m involved with mock trial, I’m in a number of plays every year, I started an improv club at my school and I’m really involved with our film club—we spend our weekends writing scripts and filming. We are currently working on a web series called “Amockalypse” that I’m really excited about. I pretty much gave up on sleeping after middle school.

When do you find the time to write?

If you love something, you find the time. I write during any hour that I can get free. With extracurriculars, I don’t usually get home until around 7:00 p.m. or later, and then I have homework, so I may only write an hour or two during the week. I try to make time to write during the weekends and breaks—I get the most writing done in the summer. I started the second book in the trilogy, The Flames, this past summer and am working on editing it over this school year.

Where is your favorite place to write?

I’ve usually got a notebook or computer on hand so any time I feel even the slightest bit inspired I can write. I am a big fan of writing in bookstores—it’s an interesting feeling to be surrounded by the works of people who have achieved what you are trying to accomplish.

What is your family like?

My family is nothing like the families in the book, I better clarify that up front. My parents are incredibly supportive and have allowed me to follow my dreams. I have two siblings: a brother and a sister. They are great; we are very close. I am the youngest.

My brother and I used to fight a lot and that dynamic inspired my idea for the three feuding families in the books. We don’t fight anymore, as we’ve outgrown that phase, but it gave me plenty to write about.

What were you like as a child?

I lived in a fantasy world all the time—I was always inventing stories and reenacting them. I lived in costumes. I had a cat suit that I particularly loved. My mom would always get me a new costume for Halloween and inevitably I would end up back in my cat suit when it was time to go trick-or-treating. I wore that cat suit until the legs only came to my knees. It’s weird…for some reason when you dress like a cat all the time you don’t make a ton of friends. But anyway, that’s why my parents signed me up for acting classes. I started taking acting classes at the age of six. I loved it from the start.

I understand you still have the acting bug. What are you doing now?

Currently, my whole focus is on college auditions. I’m crazy enough to be applying for programs where thousands of kids audition and they literally accept only six boys. So it’s kind of like trying to win the lottery, but I’m giving it my best shot. As I mentioned, I’m writing, directing and acting in my web series and we are launching a Kickstarter campaign to fund that this week. I spent last fall in LA and I was so lucky to take acting classes and perform improv at LA Connection. It was like what I imagine grad school is like. I spent 40 hours a week in acting classes and seminars—and still had to keep up with schoolwork online. It was intense but amazing.

What's your favorite part of acting? Favorite thing about improv?

My favorite part of acting is initially stepping into the shoes of a character and just beginning to break them in: finding out what they want, how they talk, how they move, etc.

My favorite part of improv is when you are easing into a scene and the really good lines just start flowing, especially when you’re working with a talented partner.

Were you a big reader as a kid?

In 5th grade, I started at a new elementary school when I moved to Naples. They had a reading contest for whoever read the most books. I ended up reading like 200 books, which was a bit of overkill as the next highest kid read about 75 books, but apparently I’m more competitive than I realized. I just really wanted to beat this girl in my class who told me she was a better reader.

Were you drawn to a certain genre as a kid?

When I was younger, I really disliked reading. My mom would read me the books that my brother liked and I just never got into them. One day she was at the bookstore picking out books for us, and she mentioned to the owner that I didn’t seem interested in reading and he asked her about my personality and interests. He recommended that she try some fantasy books for me. She brought home a few of those books and from then on, all I did was read and write. I love young adult fantasy.

Were there certain authors that you really liked?

I’ve always loved Rick Riordan, and every kid in my generation loves JK Rowling. My mom started guarding the Harry Potter books and reading them aloud to us, because otherwise I would read one whole book in a night and then tell my siblings what happened. We would barely leave the house until we had finished each book. Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series has been phenomenal.

How have those writers influenced your writing?

I think Rick Riordan introduces and writes characters very well, which is something I kept in mind, because I have a group dynamic with my book. But I really like the way JK Rowling set up the overall plot and carried it through, intertwining a lot of different elements. She knew how to set up a big, epic adventure and finished it beautifully. That is what I hope to do with this trilogy.

Do you work with an outline or do you just write? Do you ever get stuck?

Normally, I have a basic idea of where the story is going when I start writing a chapter. But there have been times when I am writing the chapter that I suddenly decide to take it in a new direction. Sometimes I struggle with writing a chapter or a character in the book, so to overcome that I’ll take a break and work on another project.

Do you have a favorite character in The Sparks?

It alternates a lot. In general, I’ve always been a fan of characters that are only around for one book and that are very big and eccentric. I really like Michael Taurlum because he’s kind of the epitome of what’s wrong with the Taurlum family and he’s just such a child. So it was really interesting to write about him and make him such an aggressive, haughty character.

If your book was made into a movie, which actors would be cast as the main characters?

I’ll try my best at this one. (Disclaimer: this would be one expensive movie . . . )

Neil: Brenton Thwaites (or Kyle Prue, if Brenton Thwaites is not available)
Saewulf: Michael Fassbender
Darius: Luke Bracey
Lilly: Alexandra Daddario or Emma Watson
Rhys: Dane DeHann
Jennifer and Victoria: Teresa Palmer
Bianca: Leven Rambin
Michael: Chris Hemsworth
Carlin: Mark Strong
The Emperor: Benedict Cumberbatch
Jonathan: Rico Rodriguez
Sir Vapros: Mads Mikkelsen
Quintus: Jonah Hill (Cameo Role)

Can you tell us a bit about the second book, The Flames?

One of the big themes of the second book is that no one should get to a point in their life when they should experience a complete absence of hope. Things will always get better. My best friend from childhood committed suicide this year and I really want other teens to understand that whatever seems so overwhelming in your life today, won’t be what’s important to you down the road. When my characters experience this loss of hope, that is when they gain their advanced powers. Something good can come out of something that in the moment seems so terrible.

The second book in the series focuses on the remaining family members (spoiler alert!) and their friends, as they begin to kindle the revolution. It’s a lot about personal growth for the characters, like Neil and Darius. Even Robert Tanner, who is a minor character in the first book, comes back and has a very big story arc. It is the book where we start to reach that giant conflict that the characters have been stepping toward in the storyline.

What was your favorite part or chapter to write in The Sparks?

I really, really enjoyed writing the fight between Darius and Jennifer. It’s interesting when you write characters separately, then give them a chance to interact together. Jennifer is one of my favorite characters. Neil describes her as the model assassin so it was really fun to write her in that type of setting.

How did you come up with the title?

The entire book is based on a family feud so that was the reason for the series name, Feud. But the individual titles are The Sparks, The Flames and The Ashes; these are symbolic of the Vapros family motto which is “Victory Lies Within the Ashes.” The Vapros turn a person to ash when they kill them. For them that is a macabre way of saying, “You have to bust a couple of heads to get what you want.” So the titles reveal that there is going to be a lot of bloodshed and a climax to this storyline, which we are building up to in the series.

How did you pick the names of the families?

I based the family names on Latin root words: Taurlum is based on the Latin word for bull, Celerius is the Latin word for swift and Vapros is smoke.

How did you get the idea for the three families?

In the first book, there are three main families and since I have a brother and a sister, I loosely based these families around the three of us—their mannerisms, their traits, resulting in a black-and-white version of us blended with a more honorable, respectable side and a more aggressive, audacious side. So the Taurlum are based off my brother, the Celerius off my sister and the Vapros off me, a little bit.

What can you tell us about the challenges of getting a book published?

I went to the New York Pitch Conference and Writer’s Workshop and got the opportunity to pitch my book to Random House, Penguin and McMillan Press. Each requested the manuscript (it was the most requested manuscript at the conference!), so I felt like I had a sound idea. The conference director advised me to use the publisher interest to try to get an agent. So, I began the process of sending query letters. I got some good advice from the agents I talked to. One advised me to hire a well-respected editor, as publishers expect manuscripts to be perfect, so I did that. Then another agent took the time to really ask me about my goals. I wanted the book to be read by as many people as possible and I wanted to get it published in a timely manner. She explained that—if I was lucky—the publishing process would take 3-5 years. She recommended that I meet with a small, independent publisher with a good reputation. They could meet my timing needs and I would have more input in the process, ensuring that I could retain some creative control of the final product. I met with the publisher she recommended (Barringer Publishing) and we hit it off immediately. So far, I’ve been thrilled with the process.

I’m hoping to publish Book 2, The Flames, in late summer 2015.

Do you have advice for other high school students wanting to write a book?

Yes, never stop writing. Write, and write and write, until you’ve got something that you like. Don’t be afraid to have a very rough copy of something. The editing process is terrible and long and arduous, but it’s something you have to do. What matters is getting something on paper and then really shaping it into what you are looking for.

Is there anything you would like to say to your readers and fans?

Thank you for sharing this journey with me. The series only gets better and more intense from here and I can’t wait to see what you guys think of it all.

Tell us where we can find your book and more information about you.

You can find more info on my website, www.kyleprue.com, Facebook www.facebook.com/kyleprue, Twitter @KylePrue and Instagram @KyleStevenPrue.

February 20, 2015

Chasing Tale [Feb 20, 2015]: Dig Up, Stupid

Chasing Tale is where I highlight the books added to my bookshelf, as well as a place where I rant about whatever is on my mind at any given moment.

There are some writers that just don't know when to keep their big mouths shut. Listverse recently offered up their "10 Writers Who Took Themselves Way Too Seriously," highlighting some famous and not-so-famous writers who let their a-hole flags fly.

Some had public meltdowns after their books received negative reviews. Some pompously compared themselves to and even hoisted themselves above true literary legends. And some are just stunningly ignorant to a degree that defies all reason.

This week saw one writer post a little rant on Facebook deriding his chosen genre for being full of untalented amateurs, even going the extra step to describe the way the female writers dress as "mostly hags." This, if you are not already aware is Women In Horror Month, and that brief tirade by a relatively obscure debut author struck a nerve with more than a few of those "hags."

Look, I don't know the guy, hadn't even heard of the guy before this week, but now I've heard of him and it's not because of the novel he wrote. My time is precious, my TBR pile is massive, and I am always looking for excuses to cull the herd so to speak, and finding out about all the authors behaving like a-holes helps me out a lot. Just like those authors mentioned in the Listverse article, I might have been bothered to check out that guy's novel ... if he'd just kept his big mouth shut.

The writers highlighted below haven't acted like a-holes ... yet (still time, boys and girls), so take a look at what wound up on my to-be-read pile recently and leave a comment with what catches your eye, or just let me know what you've added to your own TBR pile recently.

Invasion at Bald Eagle by Kris Ashton - Kris' new scifi novel came out in January and he sent me a copy for review. I've only sampled Kris' short stories thus far, which are pretty darned good, so I'm figuring I should get a kick out of an homage of pulpy alien invaders tales.

Revenge Is a Redhead by Phil Beloin Jr. - A neat-sounding novella I scoped out on the cheap that features a loser on the rocks teamed up with a stripper in a desperate bid to survive the night.

The Last Porno Theater by Nick Cato - A bit of a horror thriller blend about the last porno theater in Times Square. Sounds like a healthy blend of sleaze and suspense.

Vortex by Lawrence C. Connolly - I picked up the third book in Connelly's Veins trilogy, since I had grabbed the first two books when they first went on sale in January. I hear they all work as strand-alones, but work best when read concurrently. So there ya go.

Mercenary by David Gaughran - Last I checked, this was still a freebie on the Kindle Store. It's a historical novel set in Honduras. I've not read Gaughran's work outside his blogging about writing and self-publishing, so this might be good as a test drive.

Control by Ed Kurtz - While is doing a bang-up job writing crime fiction these days, he also knows his way around the horror genre. This one has a loner with a bug hobby wind up contracting something after scoring a rare spider that gives him the ability to control the minds of others. Creepy stuff, right?

Scaremongers by Gregory Lamberson - For less than a buck, I got this urban fantasy novella penned by a guy know for some of the more viscerally-charged action horror out there. So ... cool!

The Trader: Man With No Face by R.K. Mann - I received a review copy of this scifi novel that has an astronaut stranded on an alien planet with his five senses replaced by telepathy.

Alpha Male by Joshua Mays - Sharon, one of my cohorts over at I Smell Sheep, gave me the heads up on this superhero novel. Bit by bit, the superhero genre is creeping into novels thanks to the insane popularity of films--oh and comic books. I hear there are still these things called comic books. Anyway, caped crusaders are this decade's zombies.

Monster Behind the Wheel by Michael McCarty & Mark McLaughlin - I read a book Michael McCarty collaborated on with Amy Grech a few years ago that I quite liked, so when I stumbled across this psycho thriller with a bad-ass cover, and recalling McLaughlin's name from a couple hilarious episodes of The Funky Werepig podcast, I figured I had to give this one a chance.

Hit Girls by Dreda Say Mitchell - A while back I was wondering what names to look for when it came to women writing British noir, and someone recommended Dreda's work. Lo and behold, I found one of her books on the Kindle Store. It is supposed to work as a stand-alone, though it is the second or third in a series. Hey, I'll take it.

Knuckleball by Tom Pitts - A new novella coming in March from One Eye Press, and this one sounds like a doozy. If nothing else, the cover for this book is a home run.

Protectors: Stories to Benefit PROTECT edited by Thomas Pluck - Even if this anthology wasn't donating all of its proceeds to a worthy cause, the table of contents is impressive enough. Joe Lansdale, Andrew Vachss, George Pelecanos, James Reasoner, and on and on.

Dreadful Skin by Cherie Priest - Before Priest was killing it with steampunk and zombies, she wrote a couple horror novels, and this werewolf novel slipped under my radar until now.

Sing Me Your Scars by Damien Angelica Walters - The Apex Voices series looks to the deviously talented Damien Walters for its third installment. This collection offers some of her best short stories as well as some new ones. I have an interview with her coming up very soon on the blog too, so watch out for that.

The Fall Guy by Simon Wood - Snagged this one cheap on the Kindle Store. A lovable loser runs afoul of a criminal kingpin after a botched drug deal. I hear Simon's quite good with thrillers, so we'll see.

Pretty Little Dead Girls by Mercedes M. Yardley - Woohoo! Who has two thumbs and a signed copy of Mercedes' latest novel? This guy, that's who. Thanks again, M!

February 18, 2015

The 80s and the Apocalypse: an interview with Thom Erb, author of "Heaven, Hell, or Houston"

Thom Erb is a genre fiction writer exploring all shades of darkness and light and the varying definitions of heroism. Refusing to pigeonhole his writing, Thom strives to craft tales that blur the lines of horror, fantasy, thriller, weird western, science fiction, etc, for both adult and young adult audiences.

About Heaven, Hell, or HoustonAfter a less than successful “easy” stint as the Governor's security detail, the volatile, alcoholic Texas Ranger Jay McCutcheon wants nothing more than to get home to his wife and baby and save his marriage. He thinks the only thing standing between him and his family is five hundred rain-soaked miles of dark pavement. But he’s dead wrong. 

Isandro Dianira has just broken out of prison. He’s been possessed by an evil voice that has spoken to him since childhood. With his gang-banger thugs, he leaves a bloody trail on his way to Mexico. But before leaving the country, he needs to kill McCutcheon, the pig that put him in the pen. 

As the two men unknowingly race toward each other, a powerful rainstorm is heading westward, and along with it, a zombie virus that’s causing the dead to rise. 

Stacy-Jo, a street-tough teenage girl from New York is about to get in some serious trouble, when she meets McCutcheon, who winds up saving her hide from a nasty situation. 

Together, they hit the road and wind up at a roadside diner, where brutal violence will unfold and the undead will feed. 

Gef: What was the impetus behind Heaven, Hell or Houston?

Thom: Well, it's a mix of things- as usual. First, I'm a huge fan of Joe Lansdale, Elmore Leonard, Joe McKinney and Jonathan Maberry. I was working on a retro-zombie novel and had finished watching Justified season finale and reading one of the Joe Ledger books, and I sat down at my writing desk and cranked up Spotify and from the speakers came the dulcet sound of Dean Martin singing “Going Back to Houston.” That's when the idea hit me.

I was going to write a noir-ish, retro zombie tale in the spirit of all my favorite writers. It would feature a heavily flawed, tough as nails, hard drinking s.o.b and be filled with dirty, nasty bad guys and zombies. It took on its' own life from there. I tend to build a soundtrack for all of my stories and ZZ Top seemed like a natural choice and their incredible library is now infused in the book.

It's the damnedest things where story ideas come from.

Gef: What was it about this book, if anything, that you approached differently from your previous titles?

Thom: The first and most obvious thing is that I took a chance and wrote in mostly first person. I'd never done that before, but it felt right. I'd started writing in 3rd but changed after the first draft. The rest of the book is still in 3rd person pov, but the voice of Jay was so strong, that old bastard wouldn't be denied.

Gef: Zombies have been running hot for over a decade now, with no end in sight. At this point, how taxing is it to find a new little twist or vantage point in the zombie genre?

Thom: I completely agree that the whole zombie explosion may be reaching it's tipping point, but I also believe that there is such a strong core group of undead fans that will always love and demand stories about the living dead. Sure, the numbers may dwindle, those flesh-starved, hardcore fans will always keep us writing, drawing and making films.

As far as my zombie stories, I've created an entire universe set in the 1980's and the origin of the zombie apocalypse is a wee bit different than most other zombie books. I think readers will dig it. You'll have to pick up HHH to learn more.

Gef: What is it about Texas that seems to make it the perfect backdrop for so many different stories? Is it just the amount of real estate down there or what?

Thom: Now I can't speak to why other writers chose Texas, I can only say that I chose Texas because I've always been infatuated with the Lone Star state. Maybe I was a Texan in a past life, who knows. But I've always been drawn to the old west, cowboys, Texas Rangers and hell, I've even been a life-long Dallas Cowboys fan.

Maybe it has something to do with the wide-open spaces and dangerous terrain and those mysterious banditos just over the border in Mexico. Texas is steeped in a dusty cloak of rich history, bloodshed, highwaymen and wild deserts.

It just inspires me. Guess I'll have to keep writing to find out.

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

Thom: Such a great question. While horror tends to focus on things all dark, scary and bloody, the thing that that I believe the expansive genre has to offer is hope. Hope that even in the darkest, most desperate moments of our lives, that we can dig deep within and scrap up the will to live. The intrinsic drive to survive and overcome even the most diabolical obstacle. It's such an inclusive field to write in because you can have every element in your scary tale. Romance, teen angst, hard-boiled noir, weird west, sci-fi, on and on.

I love horror and all that it offers. By its very nature, it is strength.

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

Thom: This is a tough one. I've stewed on it for a bit now. I guess I don't believe in any bad writing advice, because the art of writing is such a personal preference kind of thing. What works for me and my process/career, may or may not work for you. There's no “right” way of creation. It's all trial and error. It's a matter finding what works for you.

The only piece of advice that I can think of, was more of a statement that I've heard a few authors state that I feel is a very bad, if not suicidal way to go about developing your writing skill. That is NOT to read other authors because you're afraid their works will infiltrate yours and you want to stay pure and unsaturated. That's just utter hokum and hogwash. You must read often to write well. 'Nuff said.

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

Thom: I don't believe in the idea of a “guilty” pleasure. The way I see it, if I dig something, I just dig it. No shame or embarrassment on my part. I've not too proud to say that I bust out in tears when a touching scene in a book or movie hits me just the right way. After all, that was the creator's goal, right? I'm a huge fan or romantic comedies such as Love Actually, as well as brutal films as Kill Bill, I, II. It's all a mood thing for me.

I read all kinds of genres. I was a fantasy fan way long before I was bitten by the horror bug. (get it? Bitten? Ha!) But I'm also a huge comic book fan and as I mentioned above, I love all kinds of film. I am a frustrated direct/screenwriter so I watch widely and enjoy many flicks. I hope I answered the question. LOL.

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

Thom: I've always been a whirling dervish and so I have all kinds of things going on. I am currently working on my first young adult novel that a mash up of Scooby-Do, Buffy, Eerie, Indiana and Kolchak the Night Stalker. Once finished, I'll be on the hunt for the ever-elusive literary agent.

I just signed on to write a sequel to Heaven, Hell, or Houston with Severed Press. I'm hoping that might be out sometime in 2016.

I'm also delving into self-publishing through my own press, Drunken Skald Press. I still haven't decided which story I'll be publishing yet.

Being the huge fan of dry-erase boards that I am, there are at least two of them filled with story ideas that I hope I am blessed to have the time to write. Guess I better get back to making with the words, huh?  

February 17, 2015

The Last True Escape: an interview with Kelly Riad, author of "The Queen of Arethane"

It all ends here. 

War has come to Arèthane. The land is divided. Jabari's armies are on the move. The Royal Family is tortured by long-hidden secrets. And with Jarrad gone, Emily must learn how to cope on her own. 

Can Queen Karawyn keep her country and her people from falling into the clutches of the evil wizard? Will Dafne solve the mystery of her birth? As Emily faces new struggles and old foes, once again the fate of Arèthane rests in her small hands. 
And just like it began… 

It all ends with a Door.

Gef: What was the inspiration behind The Queen of Arethane?

Kelly: Inspiration comes from the oddest places, sometimes. The series was originally intended to end at 3 books, but then you get to the middle of the third instalment and you find you have more story to tell or maybe you’re not yet ready to let go and so I split the third book into 3 and 4. It was the inevitable conclusion to the series, but what had inspired me while I wrote it, what had set the tone was actually a documentary about Bruce Lee (see what I mean about odd inspiration?)

I remember little detail of the documentary itself, but something one of the people interviewed said struck a note with me. He had essentially compared Bruce Lee to a falling star that burns too bright and too quickly. It was so accurate and created such a stunning imagery of a great person that I often thought of it throughout writing TQOA. At one point in the story, Karawyn, Queen of the Arèthane elves, even makes a vague mention to Master Lee, as a nod to his inspiration and that comparison.

Gef: When it came to the mythology and lore surrounding elves and the Fae, how intensive did the research get for you, and how much of a magic system did you need to build up before tearing into the story?

Kelly: Surprisingly, there’s very little in the lore about elves--at least, there is if you want anything outside of what Tolkien created. While building the creatures of my story, I snatched up every book on elves and magical creatures I could find, including even a Dungeons and Dragons reference guide. And where elf-specific mythology failed to provide reference, I turned to Greek Mythology and even science. When I first started writing the very first book, I wasn’t sure what I wanted my elves to be.

I had read and established the Light Elf vs. Dark Elf system, but it wasn’t until I was further into writing that Karawyn and Jarrad developed these additional powers due to their sorcery ancestry. Suddenly you had two elf races that had traits and subsequent powers the other did not, and then two elves that could do what other elves could not. In my mind, the system ended up looking like one of those walls in a whodunit movie with the red strings connecting different faces and places.

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

Kelly: It seems to be the last place a person can turn to escape, to truly escape reality. Even in sci-fi you have hints of this world we live in now, though it may be thousands of years from now or on some other planet. There’s that real world gripping you with its hard, cold claws and yet in fantasy you shake the hand of reality free and visit places that are only possible because of imagination. You get to wander around in someone’s mind in the beautiful, magical and dark corners and get lost and forget yourself for awhile. I think there will always be something appealing in that.

Gef: Since this is the fourth book in your series, what's been the biggest eye-opener for you in terms of the experience of the lead up to the release of the first book versus this one?

Kelly: In terms of publishing, the fourth book was so much easier than the first. I sort of published Return to Arèthane under a cloud of confusion and ignorance, just throwing darts against the wall and hoping to hit the target. By the fourth book, I had a cover artist I had developed a relationship and trust with, I knew the systems for formatting better, knew who I could rely on for editing and polishing. I think the confidence is quite evident in the first book compared to the last. And it’s sort of like raising children - you’re so careful with the first that you’re almost overprotective; by the fourth you’re saying, “Go out and live!”

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

Kelly: I don’t know if there’s any bad piece of writing advice as it’s up to the writer to do what he will with it (I sound so diplomatic there!) but the most frustrating advice I encountered was hearing agents and established writers push the voice. The story must have a strong voice! Find your unique voice! I remember thinking with profound frustration, “What does that mean?!” I found that you can’t force your voice; you write how you write and either that connects with people or it doesn’t. When I stopped writing for other people and wrote for myself, I found I enjoyed it so much more and the readers seemed to, too.

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

Kelly: What I consider a guilty pleasure, I imagine most other women don’t, but I’ve never been a big fan of romance or rom-com movies. And YET! I absolutely love BBC-made romantic comedies and regency romance novels. I’ve watched The Decoy Bride more times than I care to count, but who can resist David Tennant and his quick, witty way of wooing?

Gef: 2014 is said and done and everyone and their mama has come out with year-end lists. So what book, movie, game, show, song, or dirty limerick has found its way to the tippy-top of your favorites the year?

Kelly: Oh dear. This last year was full of amazing movies and shows, wasn’t it? I’m trying to think back on all the things that caused me to exclaim, “You absolutely must watch/read this!” and I think it was said too often. I fell really hard for Penny Dreadful--it was such a surprise how well it was done and how intriguing it spun the Victorian monsters and horror stories. I discovered the band, Royal Blood, and loved their song “Figure It Out.” The video is masterful and smart.

I read a lot because it helps me stoke the desire to write myself so it’s hard to nail that down, but I became oddly re-interested in American history and the history of the American dialect and so a friend recommended Bill Bryson. He’s been around for forever and probably not new to anyone else like he was to me, but I really enjoyed his book, “Made In America: A Formal History of the English Language in America.” Neil Gaiman’s Sandman made a return to comics and I’ve been loyal to the Fables comics for so long and a couple of really good series of those came out last year.

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

Kelly: I have too many books waiting to be completed, I feel like I’m trying to keep a bunch of plates spinning on poles. Right now I’m working on a Young Adult novel about an odd and troubled teen girl who runs away to live with her grandmother. After she discovers her troubles were because she’s a witch, she has to return home to face the consequences of her leaving and the people she left behind.

I also have a prequel to my YA novel, Always Me, another YA novel that’s sort of a demonic take on the Twelve Dancing Princesses and finally a follow-up series to the Arèthane Elves that follows the adventures of the next generation. While I’m absolutely horrible at social media and sometimes forget it’s there, I can be found on my facebook page and website, as well as on Goodreads. Links below!

Thank you so much for having me on your site!