May 29, 2015

Weird Science: a review of Django Wexler's "John Golden: Freelance Debugger"

John Golden: Freelance Debugger
by Django Wexler
narrated by Kevin T. Collins & Jorjeana Marie
running time: 2 hrs. 26 mins.
Audible Studios
(ebook published by Ragnarok Publications)
Available on

There is nothing exciting about working IT. Nothing. Django Wexler found a way to make it exciting though, and all he had to do was throw in a metric ton of sci-fi and fantasy to do it. Sounds about right. It's hard to pin down, but I suppose if you took The IT Crowd, threw in some Johnny Mnemonic, then you might wind up with John Golden: Freelance Debugger.

It's less than a hundred pages, and the Audible version I listened to clocked in under two-and-a-half hours. And the story just whizzes by with action and snark galore.

So imagine a world in which faeries are real and they have a knack for infecting technology. Enter John Golden. He's like a Ghostbuster ... well, a Faebuster. Just a blue-collar guy with a particular set of skills and his sister, Sara, backing him up on the job. While managing to provide a good amount of tension and daring do through the course of the novella, things are kept fairly light as far as tone goes. A lot of witty repartee between John and Sara, especially with her serving as a bit of a narrator or voice of reason through a series of footnotes that complement the story.

Kevin T. Collins and Jorjeana Marie do a great job bringing the characters to life with an instant chemistry that has them, if not battle weary siblings, at least a familial bond in battle.

There's a second John Golden book, which I'll be reviewing soon, and after that who knows. I'd like to think Wexler has more stories in this universe to come, because if not then this is a cruel tease of what might have been.

May 27, 2015

Chasing Tale [May 29, 2015]: My Five Favorite Characters

There was this neat little idea blogged about last week, which basically says that your five favorite fictional characters say a lot about you. So I thought about the five fictional characters (from books, movies, TV, games, whatever) that are my absolute faves. It's tough to pick just five, as with the ungodly amount of fiction that has passed across my eyeballs, I could probably rattle off fifty characters I love to death. But here are the five that sprang to mind in the few minutes following reading that article.

1) Captain Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation - I could've put Captain Kirk on this list easily, though if anyone from Star Trek: TOS was to wind up on this list, it'd be Bones. Picard is my captain, though. He actually evolved through the run of the show, afforded by a longer run than the original series, but seeing his character arc and Patrick Stewart's expert performance is just a delight to watch.

2) Jack Burton from Big Trouble in Little China - Kurt Russell in the 80s is kind of incredible. Heck, he was the 80s. Maybe Snake Plissken would be on your list, but the braggadocious, dimwitted trucker turned demon hunter is just too iconic for me to ignore.

3) Willow Rosenberg from Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Forget Sabrina. Willow was my favorite witch back in the day. I came to the TV series a couple seasons late, but once I hopped on the bandwagon, I was hooked and in no small part because of Alyson Hannigan's performance as the perpetually awkward bookworm who matured into an asskicking sorceress.

4) Al Swearengen from Deadwood - From the very first episode of this western, I was awestruck by the dialogue, and no character was so colorful, so vociferous, and so captivating as the brothel-running baddie. With a mere sidelong glance by Ian McShane, I was hooked on this character and everything he said and did.

5) Hap Collins from Joe R. Lansdale's Hap & Leonard series - After making this list, I noticed Hap is the lone character from a book. Shameful, but there ya go. At least I picked one of the all-time great crime fiction characters to ever come around. An east Texas good ol' boy with a heart of gold and a streak of bad luck a mile wide, Hap has been through it all in this series, with his best buddy Leonard Pine at his side the whole way. Seriously, read these books.

Speaking of books, some more have arrived on my to-be-read pile. Have a peek and let me know what catches your eye, and what books you've added to your own bookshelves lately.

Dying Embers by Betty Adams - An ARC for this scifi novel showed up out of the blue. It's set for release in August to coincide with WorldCon, so you'll likely learn more about it leading up to that convention, I suspect.

The Acolyte by Nick Cutter - It was only a couple months ago, it feels like, when I reviewed Nick Cutter's The Deep. Wasting no time, he has a new novel out, a religiously-themed dystopian thriller no less, which I'm sure is bound to not be the least bit eyebrow-raising. *raises eyebrows*

Nightmares Ahead by Howard Jackson - This is a short story collection out through Red Rattle Books. It's jam-packed by the looks of it, with thirty or so stories stuffed into its pages, too.

Little Girls by Ronald Malfi - With a brand new out this summer, Ron Malfi is gearing up for a publicity tour to promote this latest haunting tale. Look for him to drop on by Wag The Fox at some point.

Escaping Lucidity by Ty Schwamberger - Another short story collection, this one is due for release in early August and will feature all of Ty's published short fiction, brought together in one book. I haven't read a whole lot of Ty's short stories, leaning more towards his novella length stuff, so this should be interesting.

Cold Moon by Alexandra Sokoloff - The third Huntress thriller comes out in July. Alexandra is a heckuva writer, though I'm more familiar with her horror fiction than the thrillers, so this series will be a bit of a change of pace.

End Times at Ridgemont High by Ian Welke - How about a little apocalyptic fiction to round it out this week? I love the title for this one and if you're interested in learning more about this one, I have an interview with Ian coming up in June, so keep an eye out for that.

May 25, 2015

Leave Those Kids Alone: an interview with Michael W. Garza, author of "Children of the Mark"

Michael W. Garza is the author of two novels published by Severed Press entitled, The Hand That Feeds and The Last Infection. Voodoo Press has purchased the German translation rights to The Hand That Feeds and the book is set to be released as, Alex, in May 2015. Children of the Mark will be supported by an accompanying Board Game and a Tabletop Role Playing Game supplement.

Children of the Mark: AJ Scott is a typical teenager. The only thing he wants to do is survive high school. Clair Anderson and Dougie Edwards have been his friends since the third grade. The teens stumble across a bizarre ritual and their night of adventure quickly turns to panic as they witness the culmination of the Cult of the Elder’s attempt to pull a monstrous deity from the netherworld into our world. A hasty escape leaves the teens terrified and AJ marred from the event. His knew found malady proves to be much more than a simple mark and the trio are pulled into a world of deceit, monsters, and old fashioned horror. 

Available at

Gef: What was the impetus behind Children of the Mark?

Michael: It's been a long time coming. I had the idea for this awhile before I published my first two books, but it was slow going. Most of my life is focused on my kids so I wanted to write something that was in-line with my other books, but also something I wouldn't have to cringe handing it to one of my kids. Children of the Mark comes close to that. I think it's still a little too graphic for my two youngest, but my teenager enjoyed it a great deal. I've always had a fondness for H.P. Lovecraft and there was a great deal of inspiration from his works that went into this book. I didn't want to simply write a second-rate continuation of something he'd done so it took a great deal of time creating my own mythology to base the series on.

Gef: What, if anything, did you approach differently in writing this one compared to your previous work?

Michael: Children of the Mark took a very different approach. There is much more of a suspense/mystery vibe to the story than anything else I've ever written. It was a good challenge for me as a writer making sure every end of the narrative tied together. 

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

Michael: I'm not sure how any writer could produce a good work without taking research seriously. My process never changes regardless of the book. I write a first draft which I probably wouldn't ever let anyone read. I use that as the basis for discovering holes in the plot and also figuring out what I really don't know enough about. From there I develop an outline of topics I need to educate myself on in order to give the story the depth and accuracy it needs.

Gef: High school is a great petri dish for all kinds of weird rumors. I remember one about a student's father rumored to attend satanic rituals in the middle of the woods. One of the more laughable rumors, yeah, but the occult did pop up once in a while. Anything like that in your experience?

Michael: I had a good one when I was a kid. I come from a military family and we were living in Germany at the time. The rumor was one of our friends older sister was involved in some type of cult ritual and she had to be institutionalized. It really freaked us younger kids out for a few years, and was my first exposure to the word cult. I found out years later she was sent back to the states to live with her grandparents in order to attend a local college. The kicker is, you just know her little brother, who was our friend had to have known the truth entire time, but he never said a word. Kids!

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

Michael: What I love about horror is that it's always evolving. I am a firm believer that if you're going to write something, make it you're own, don't redo something that's been done over and over again. Horror (or fear) has endless possibilities, my goal is to always make it more than just about what's going to happen to the characters, but to make you care enough about the characters to morn or celebrate them. 

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?

Michael: Wow, there's been so much. The one I see time and time again is, "Get your book out there as much as you can, any way you can." This really only helps to a certain point. Twitter and Facebook are littered to death with a constant stream of people pushing their books. It doesn't take most people very long to completely ignore these. There's a limit and once you pass it you simply become spam.

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

Michael: I'm a complete comic book nerd. I haven't collected actual comic books in years but I'm a sucker for anything comic book related. I'm lucky enough now that my middle son loves all of the comic book movies, so he and I geek it up together quite often.

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

Michael: I'm always writing. I'm working on the follow-up to The Last Infection and I'm editing a book that's more sci-fi based, currently entitled Silent Invasion. Unlike most, I'm trying to reduce my online footprint, it's all become a bit too much for me, but I keep my Facebook and web page update with all of the latest.

May 22, 2015

Cover Reveal + Giveaway for Jeff Gunhus' 'Jack Templar and the Lord of the Demons'

Jack Templar 5

 Jack Templar and the Lord of the Demons (The Templar Chronicles #5).

With two of the Jerusalem Stones in hand, Jack and his friends must race the clock to find the remaining Stones as Ren Lucre's Creach forces gather strength. With two of their group now with Creach blood flowing in their veins, the team will be tested as never before. They must unite together if they have any hope of surviving their journey to the Underworld and their battle with the vicious Lord of the Demons. The fate of the entire world hangs in the balance.

Pre-order Your Copy Now!
add to goodreads

jeffAuthor Jeff Gunhus

Jeff Gunhus is the author of the Amazon bestselling supernatural thriller, Night Chill, and the Middle Grade/YA series, The Templar Chronicles. The first book of the series, Jack Templar Monster Hunter, was written in an effort to get his reluctant reader eleven-year old son excited about reading. It worked and a new series was born. His book Reaching Your Reluctant Reader has helped hundreds of parents create avid readers. Killer Within is his second novel for adults. As a father of five, he and his wife Nicole spend most of their time chasing kids and taking advantage of living in the great state of Maryland. In rare moments of quiet, he can be found in the back of the City Dock Cafe in Annapolis working on his next novel. If you see him there, sit down and have a cup of coffee with him. You just might end up in his next novel.

Jack Templar awards

$25 Cover Reveal Giveaway

Enter to win a $25 Amazon Gift Card or Paypal Cash

Ends 6/15/15

Open only to those who can legally enter, receive and use an Gift Code or Paypal Cash. Winning Entry will be verified prior to prize being awarded. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older to enter or have your parent enter for you. The winner will be chosen by rafflecopter and announced here as well as emailed and will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook, Twitter, Rafflecopter or any other entity unless otherwise specified. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Giveaway was organized by Kathy from I Am A Reader and sponsored by the author. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.

May 20, 2015

Little Devil, Big Scares: a review of Jonathan Janz's "Exorcist Road"

Exorcist Road
by Jonathan Janz
Samhain Publishing (2014)
132 pages

Available on or direct from Samhain.

Brian Keene recently described Jonathan Janz as "one of the best writers of modern horror to come along in the last decade."

He's not wrong, either.

It's a dark and stormy night, and there's a serial killer on the loose. Sound a bit familiar? Well, I haven't gotten to the part about the exorcism. Oh, now I have your attention.

Jason Crowder relates the story of a horrific night when he's summoned by two detectives in the middle of the night to look in on a troubled young boy. One detective, the boy's uncle fears the kid is possessed by a demon, which sounds pretty crazy, but with the other detective convinced the boy is the feared serial killer who has terrorized the city and murdered a number of young girls, it all sounds even crazier.

It's ceaseless tension throughout, as just about every character in the story has some cloud of suspicion hanging over their heads. The boy, his parents, the two detectives, even the two priests. And when you're not trying to piece the clues together as to what's really going on, the horrific escalation in violence inside the house will have you turning pages either out of exhilaration or revulsion.

Exorcist Road taps into the same vein of visceral roller coaster style horror that Janz's serial novel, Savage Species, did last year. But I think this book is a more finely tuned effort with a smaller cast and a better focus on characters to go hand-in-hand with the horror. If you're squeamish, steer clear. But if you're a horror hound, definitely pick it up.

May 19, 2015

Fleshing Out More From Short Fiction: an interview with William Todd Rose, author of "Crossfades" and "Bleedovers"

In a dark horror novella for fans of Stephen King, Joe Hill, and Dean Koontz, one unsuspecting man faces a mass murderer who’s turned the afterlife into his own terrifying playground.

.Some men fear their own deaths. Others dream of peace and heaven. But Albert knows exactly what he wants: to be the lord of his own private hell, where his eternal reward will be torturing the souls of his victims. And he knows how to get it.

While Chuck’s dream of a promotion may be ordinary, his career is anything but. As a Recon and Enforcement Technician, Level II, at a mysterious organization known only as the Institute, Chuck spends his days rescuing souls that get trapped between this life and the next, caught in mini-hells known as crossfades.

Lydia has no dreams—only nightmares. There will be no awakening from the impossible realm of terror and pain where she’s trapped . . . unless Chuck tracks her down. But this rescue will not be easy, not for a mere Level II technician. Because, in this place, Albert is god. And he’s determined that none shall escape his wrath.

Available at Amazon | Books-A-Million | Barnes & Noble

William Todd Rose writes dark, speculative fiction from his home in West Virginia. His short stories have been featured in numerous anthologies and magazines, and his work includes the novels Cry Havoc, The Dead & Dying, and The Seven Habits of Highly Infective People, and the novella Apocalyptic Organ Grinder.

Gef: What was the inspiration behind these dystopian novellas?

William: Crossfades actually began as a short story called “Losing Control” that I’d written specifically for the Bloody Ghost Stories anthology. I knew I didn’t want to do a typical haunting story, so instead of bringing spirits of the dead into our world, I wondered what would happen if we journeyed into theirs.  I’ve also always had interests in alternative spirituality, metaphysics, and science; these blended with my years spent in the corporate world and resulted in The Institute where my protagonist works.

Gef: What was it about these books, if anything, that you approached differently from the previous titles?

William: This was first time I’d taken a shorter work and fleshed it out into something more complex and detailed. I’d considered it with different stories over the years, but this was the only one which intrigued me enough to actually take the next step.  It was an interesting experience because it provided me with the opportunity to delve more deeply into ideas and concepts that the short story only touched upon, as well as bringing new facets of this particular world to light.

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

William: When I’m writing my first draft, I usually don’t worry too much about getting all the facts straight. My goal is to just get the story out. I have this habit of typing multiple X’s as a means of skipping over particular details so I can keep the flow going. Once the manuscript’s completed, I go back and replace those X’s with information gleaned from research. I also tend to learn more about a particular topic than I actually end up using in the storyline because I want my characters to come across as knowledgeable in their fields, but not to the point that it feels as though the reader is attending a lecture.  Even then, however, some things slip by.  Luckily, I’ve been graced with an amazing editor who not only takes the time to verify what color a moth’s blood is, but also considers that bit of information to be a “fun fact”.

Gef: When did apocalyptic fiction first grab your interest? Something since childhood or did you come into it later on?

William: Though neither Crossfades nor Bleedovers is an apocalyptic tale, a handful of my earlier works are. My initial introduction to these type of stories were the Mad Max films and the 1983, made-for-TV movie, The Day After.  As far as literature goes, that came a little later. In my late teens to early twenties I read Stephen King’s The StandSwan Song by Robert R, McCammon, and the Richard Matheson classic, I Am Legend; even later in life, I discovered David Moody when Autumn was still available as a free e-book. That was right around the time I began considering destroying the world in my own work.

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

William: Personally, what’s always appealed to me most about writing apocalyptic fiction is that if you take a look at the world around you and imagine it all gone—and I mean really gone—it makes you more appreciative of what you actually have.

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?

William: The worst advice I’ve ever received was about what to write: “Vampires are predicted to be the next big thing so you should write a vampire novel”, “Paranormal Romance is in, have you considered writing one of those?”, and so on.  If my sole purpose in writing was to turn a buck, then the advice may have been sound; but that’s just not what I’m about.  Luckily, the folks at Hydra are really good about allowing me to write whatever I want.  Once Crossfades was finished, I was a little concerned parts of it might be deemed too dark and I would be asked to tone it down a bit. That fear, however, was completely unfounded.

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

William: With books, I’ve always had a weak spot for The Destroyer series featuring Remo Williams. The plots are far-fetched, the writing will probably never win any awards, and you catch on to the formula pretty quickly…but they’re just fun, quick reads. It also doesn’t hurt that you can usually pick up a bunch of them for just a couple bucks at yard sales and thrift stores.

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

William: There may be a third novella in the Crossfades series, Juju Horse, but I’m still just playing around with that idea. If it pans out, the focus will mainly be on Marilee “Bloody” Williams, a character introduced in Bleedovers who’s captured my imagination. Right now, though, I’m working on a full-length novel calledPennyweight, which is set in a universe similar to our own in some ways, but vastly different in others.  I’m having a lot of demented fun with this one.  After destroying the world countless times in novels and stories, it’s personally rewarding to create one from the ground up. Information on future, current, and past books can be found at, which also contains links to my various social media outlets as well as my blog.

May 18, 2015

Dead Money Run: a guest post by J. Frank James, author of the "Lou Malley" crime series

The Run Begins is the prequel to the Lou Malloy Crime Series:

Lou Malloy is 18 years old and ready for the world... but is the world ready for him? His brother Sam has left and his sister wants to move to Florida with the family. Malloy is having none of it and on a wild moment decides to hop on a rail car, unsure of where he is going. The important thing is that he will no longer be in Kansas, but the problem is that he doesn't have any money. Henry Lowe, who is in the same rail car, offers Malloy the deal of a lifetime... All he has to do is help Lowe rob a casino in Georgia. With the promise of a big payday, Malloy throws in with the scheme and seals his fate forever.

What starts off as a quick way for Malloy to get a share of $15 million turns into a run for his life. Malloy learns the hard way that nothing comes easy when you’re alone and your life is about change forever…

Dead Money Run is the first book in the Lou Malloy Crime Series:

Lou Malloy learns of his sister's death right before he is released from prison, having served 15 years for the theft of $15 million from an Indian casino. He wants two things: to keep the $15 million, which no one has been able to find, and to track down and punish whoever killed his sister.   
Lou Malloy teams up with Hilary Kelly, a private investigator. In no time, Lou has found the hidden $15 million, recovered guns and ammunition hidden with the money, and murdered two low-level mobsters and fed them to the crocodiles.

As the body count rises, the story grows more complex and his sister's death becomes more mysterious.   

"Dead Money Run is a hard-boiled thriller. It is a book of short chapters and almost unrelenting excitement as Lou and Hillary Kelly avoid cops, kill mobsters, and try to unravel the mystery of who killed Lou's sister and why.” - Reviewed by Wally Wood at

Fans of James Ellroy and Elmore Leonard are going to love James’ ingenious capers, devious characters and wry humor. The entire book goes down like a strong yet smooth shot of bourbon.” - Reviewed by

Chapter 1

“What are you thinking about, Louie?” asked Sam.

“Don’t call me Louie. That’s a name for a duck,” I said. “You know I don’t like it.”

“How do you think I feel when you call me Sammy?”

“Never thought about it,” I said.

“So, what are you thinking about, L-o-o-o?”

“I’m thinking about flattening your nose.”

“When are you going to quit fighting with everyone?” Sam asked.

“Can’t help it if I like to fight. Besides, makes me feel good when I win,” I said.

“Fighting doesn’t solve anything. You need to find something else to occupy your time,” said Sam.

Sam was older than me by four years, but I was bigger, faster, and tougher, and because I was, I caught all the action. Sam’s idea of a fight was something you did with gloves, a ring, and rules.

“Lou, you need to be thinking of your future.”

“Been thinking about it,” I said.

“You going to tell me?”

“I might like to be a boxer,” I said.

“I give up,” said Sam. “Are you ever going to take things seriously?”

“What about you, Sam?” I said. “What do you want to be?”

“I’m going to Hollywood and make pictures,” said Sam.

I gave out a horse’s laugh when I heard that.

“Dad wouldn’t even let us go to a movie, unless it was Brown’s, much less make them,” I said. 

“You’re crazy. Dad would never allow it.”

“In about four months I’ll be twenty-one. Besides, there’s nothing he can do about it after I leave.”

“Not me,” I said. “I’m staying right here until something really good comes along.”

“Like what, wise guy?” Sam said. “We’re in the Middle of Nowhere, Kansas and nothing good ever stays here long enough to matter.”

“Maybe I’ll surprise you,” I said.

J. Frank James is the author of crime thriller novels. His crime fiction books are gripping and suspenseful with readers being unable to put them down once they get into them. Jim has a passion for writing, and he certainly has the knowledge and experience to write realistic crime thriller novels, thanks to his extensive background in law. Jim attended law school, where he was a member of the law review. He even went on to pass the state bar and started his own law practice that specialized in complex litigation.
Jim’s experience in law helps lend credibility to his crime fiction books. Not only that, Jim has traveled extensively and gains inspiration for his crime thriller novels from his travels. Some of the countries that Jim has visited include Peru, Brazil, Italy, Greece and countless others. From observing other cultures and gaining new experiences, Jim is able to infuse new life into his books and develop believable characters that readers can identify with.
Jim's novels have the elements necessary of good crime novels that keep readers glued to the pages from start to finish. Although Jim’s crime novels are fiction works, they are exciting to read because of their authentic nature. They are written with the backing of Jim’s experience in law, so they are believable situations that have the readers wanting to find out what happens next just like they would in any crime situation.
They offer the readers just enough information to keep them guessing and trying to solve the crimes until the end of the books when they are actually revealed. Jim’s books are also fresh and unique takes on crime as well, though. They are not the same whodunit type books that have been done over and over again. By infusing his personal travels into his books, Jim creates characters and atmospheres based on just enough truth to be relatable.
Plus, Jim’s books have everything in them from robbery to prison to family. They have hard and soft elements simultaneously to really capture the life of a hardened criminal who is still very human and struggles with the same human emotions as the rest of society. At the same time, Jim gives the reader perspectives from private investigators to balance out the story.
Jim’s books even have a hit of romance when his characters come to care for each other as more than just friends. Then, crime and love mixes to create a dynamic atmosphere that is even more complicated than ever before since characters care not only for each other but for their other family members as well. Jim has an amazing way of incorporating various elements into his latest crime novels to create thrillers that readers cannot get enough of, which is perhaps why all four of his books so far carry on one from the other to continue the same story concerning the hardened criminal who did 15 years in prison, Lou Malloy and who comes to be his partner, private investigator, Hilary Kelly. The two of them go it together to create gripping stories that keep readers coming back for more.
Jim is an artist and creates all of his own book covers.
To learn more, go to
Connect with J. Frank James on Twitter, Goodreads, and Facebook.

May 15, 2015

Third Time's a Charm: a review of "Dark Screams: Volume Three" edited by Brian James Freeman & Richard Chizmar

Dark Screams: Volume Three
edited by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar
Hydra (2015)
96 pages
Available at

Third time's a charm for the Dark Screams anthology series.

After an exceedingly strong opener, followed by a tepid secondary showing, I wasn't at all sure where this third volume would land. I should have known the likes of Ketchum and Straub would not steer me wrong.

It begins with Peter Straub's "The Collected Short Stories of Freddie Prothero," which was a breakaway from the usual fare in so much that the style in which the story was told had as much to do with the subject matter as the story itself. Compiled as a collection of short fiction penned by an acclaimed young prodigy in the literary world, the stories are disquieting both in their rough hewn presentation and the gradual escalation of grimness in what they are trying to convey. 

"Group of Thirty" by Jack Ketchum had a neat Hitchcockian vibe to it, and offered a little more in the way of humor than what I'm used to from Ketchum. A bit pat of an ending, but really good at setting the hackles up, as a despondent genre writer is invited to a speaking engagement for rabid fans that winds up a little more precarious than he would have preferred.

Then there are a couple stories I've read others describe as YA horror, which is accurate enough I suppose if you consider Donnie Darko and The Grudge to be YA horror. "Nancy" by Darynda Jones has the new girl in school trying to befriend the outcast in school, but in doing so finds out that the girl who believes she's haunted may not be so crazy after all. Then Jaquelyn Frank's "I Love You Charlie Pearson" goes a little more psycho thriller with its tone, with a crush gone wrong ... oh so very wrong. The two stories are pretty good, solid pacing and plenty of tension, and manage to hold their own among the two previous stories by the vets.

Then along came "The Lone One and Level Sands Stretch Far Away" by Brian Hodge. The more atmospheric, brooding story of the bunch, and maybe the most crisply written. It's a slower pace than just about any story in the anthology series so far, but it's easy to get swept up in it. I suppose when it's the preamble to the apocalypse, rather than the apocalypse itself, things won't feel so hectic.

All in all, a strong outing. The blending of the familiar and the new seems to serve itself well, with people coming to the series for the big names getting treated to some new names in horror along the way. I'm keen to see what the fourth installment has in store.

May 13, 2015

The Strife Aquatic: an interview with Anonymous-9, author of "Dreaming Deep"

Dreaming Deep by Anonymous-9: The hardworking men and women at the Port of Long Beach, California have no idea what’s waiting for them in the deep water. Tugboat Captain Ed Angelus discovers the horror first in a death match aboard the Lady Bulldog, a high-tech z-drive vessel. But when the Coast Guard and Homeland Security arrive on the scene, there’s no trace, and Ed is declared delusional and unfit for duty. A few months later Ed’s former crewmen dredge up something chilling from the depths of Alamitos Bay—something horrific and possibly paranormal. Soon, the truth turns into ugly lies by authorities unwittingly manipulated by a dirty bureaucrat masterminding the investigation. Overnight, Ed finds himself a public enemy at the center of extraterrestrial black ops—outrunning the law until he can warn the world. 

Dreaming Deep is available on

Gef: Dreaming Deep involves some deep sea style horror. What was the impetus behind this story?

Anonymous-9: MONEY!!! I woke up one morning and I said, "The writing's gotta pay. It's just got to pay me today." I scrabbled around for paying markets, I looked at what I had to sell, I came up with a pitch that couldn't be refused and I sold the idea. THEN I had to write it and that's where my mercenary side ran full-tilt into my perfectionistic streak. Everything's got to have meaning. I can't just slam down shoot-em-ups whose only purpose is to entertain (and thank gawd lots of people do, you wouldn't want every writer to be like me). So after the money came meaning. I wanted to celebrate the working men and women of Long Beach in some manner. People that don't usually make it into stories these days. So there's my impetus.

Gef: In our interview at the start of the year, you mentioned reading the first half of this story to some tugboat operators--which they loved--and even sent along a photo of you on board one. Just how deep did you dive into the research of this one?

Anonymous-9: Tug boaters have their own culture. The Port of Long Beach has its own culture. I can say that hundreds of hours of research only skimmed the surface. I can also say how much easier it was to deal with tugboat captains and the Port than to trying to research the LAPD which is my usual beat. Via my research into Port security, I came to realize not just how surveillance has taken over, with billions in high-tech equipment watching 24/7 from every angle, but how surveillance has spilled over into our daily lives and how data collection is a simmering time bomb in terms of how it can potentially be used against individuals. When I got my teeth into that, DREAMING DEEP took off with a bullet. I had my direction, the story had voodoo drums thrumming underneath it. It needs to be a novel. It's good for a TV series too.

 Gef: You first happened upon Lovecraftian horror about fifteen years ago, is that right, when you signed on to run a horror-noir site? Was that the initial allure to that brand of horror or was there something else to hold your interest over the years?

Anonymous-9: At the time I was a stringing for a bunch of film industry magazines--Venice, MovieMaker, BackStage West, etc. This was all print, not web. I did in-depth profiles of major film directors like Terry Gilliam, Mike Figgis, Roland Joffe, Lars von Trier and I guested the Script Comments column for Creative Screenwriting Journal. CSJ's publisher, Erik Bauer, drafted me into the writers' room for a Lovecraft-inspired web series he was producing called THE NAMELESS. My co-writers were Christian Divine (18-Wheel Butterfly) and Jim Mercurio (Hard Scrambled). Christian came down from San Francisco and slept on my living room floor for the first two weeks.

I knew absolutely ZIP about horror at the time but Erik was adamant that he wanted me and had faith that I could absorb the tropes. For a month I drew my drapes and watched every horror movie ever made non-stop. When I wasn't watching movies I played horror SFX in a loop while I read every story Lovecraft ever wrote (that was available to me). Then we went into the writers' room for three months which was in a 1920s building on the rundown end of Sunset Boulevard. By the time I came out of that, and I had three of the ten scripts credited to me, I knew how to write horror. I knew Lovecraft. It stayed with me.

Gef: When it comes to stories that are a bit of a genre mashup or genre blend, do you find yourself wanting to pay homage to those genres or rather bust down as many barriers between them as possible?

Anonymous-9: It's not about that. It's about telling a story the way it wants to be told, and if it salutes the genre, great. If it busts it in the chops, I don't lose sleep. I'm about telling the story in the best way that serves it. All else is ignored. I irritate genre purists and rightly so. We need purists to hold onto the art form. We also need experimentalists to break new ground and smash rules, just because rules need a good smashing from time to time. It cleans out complacency and stagnation. I think there's room for all of us.

Gef: Is the horror genre to expect more visits from you? If so, do you find there is a different mindset needed when writing it as opposed to crime fiction?

Anonymous-9: YUP. I have a short story called M-N-S (n) murder-necrophilia-suicide that was nominated as Spinetingler Magazine's Best Short Story on the Web 2010 and it was just bought and translated into German by Pulpcore. Plots with Guns first published it and Anthony Neil Smith was the developmental editor. I've always meant to turn it into a novel and it will basically be a warped kind of Dante's Inferno as seen through the lens of Buddhist cosmology. I'm serious. Really.

Gef: Nowadays, it's pretty much impossible to write any kind of zombie story in which no character is familiar with the concept of zombies. Do you think the same applies to sea monsters? Because they don't seem to get anywhere near the devotion that zombies and vampires do and I consider it a bit of a shame.

Anonymous-9: My quick answer to that is because it's easier to write about zombies and vampires. You don't need to adhere to any real-world rules, or at least you just look up "vampires" on Wikipedia and see the usual thing about garlic and silver bullets and you're in business. But when you're dealing with sea monsters, there are rules of the sea, and boats and rescue equipment. It's harder to find the technicals out. But in terms of writing competition, the field isn't crowded. One day DREAMING DEEP will hit critical mass and tugboat enthusiasts and boaters will find out there's an accurate story written just for them. It'll pay off eventually.

Gef: Are there any more tentacular tales in the works? What's next on the horizon for Anonymous-9?

Anonymous-9: Readers are waiting for the next HARD BITE installment. CRASHING THROUGH MIRRORS just keeps selling and selling with zero promotion but it's about such a verboten subject, people don't review it. They whisper about it to friends and they come back and buy it too. But no reviews! CTM needs to be written into a novel. I have a tale about a 1940s crime scene photographer in Los Angeles that's going begging. Meanwhile I'm always working on ghostwriting and editing gigs. It's my 24/7 non-stop words and story world.

Thanks Gef!

May 11, 2015

Chasing Tale [May 11, 2015]: Stoked for Horror

The Bram Stoker Awards were handed out over the weekend, and I managed to catch most of the ceremony via Ustream as it happened. It was very cool to see some truly deserving writers garner those fancy paperweights, too. With

Lucy A. Snyder was a two-time winner, picking up Superior Achievement in Non-Fiction with Shooting Yourself in the Head For Fun and Profit: A Writer’s Survival Guide, and Superior Achievement in a Collection with  Soft Apocalypses. Not too shabby.

Steve Rasnic Tem picks up the big prize, Superior Achievement in a Novel, thanks to his novel, Blood Kin. Other stalwarts in the genre like Ellen Datlow and Joe R. Lansdale won, for Superior Achievement in an Anthology and Superior Achievement in Long Fiction respectively.

There was new names winning too (new to me, anyway) as John Dixon won Superior Achievement in a Young Adult Novel, with Phoenix Island. Plus Maria Alexander won Superior Achievement in a First Novel for Mr. Wicker.

A pretty cool night for honoring horror I thought. Tom Piccirilli won for his poetry collection, Jack Ketchum and Tanith Lee were given Lifetime Achievement Awards, and Jeff Strand did a mighty fine job yet again as the emcee.

Locus Mag posted all the winners, which you can read here. Certainly a nice, amiable change of pace from the slings and arrows going on with the Hugo Awards.

Anyway, the ballot for the Stokers this year, like most years, has me updating my watch list, and I will likely be on the hunt this summer to pick more than a couple of the books that got nominated. In the meantime, here are a bunch of books that recently wound up on my to-be-read pile. Take a look and let me know what catches your eye.

Dark Avenging Angel by Catherine Cavendish - A new novel due out this August through Samhain's horror line. Sweet cover, I should say. And Catherine will be stopping by for its release with a guest post, so watch out for that, too.

Sunburn by Darren Dash - Darren stopped by the blog last week with a guest post to talk about his new novel. You can check that out by clicking here to learn a little more about it.

The Circle by Mario Escobar - Mario sent along a review copy of his new psycho-thriller, and if you want to pick it up, there are a limited number of free copies available on the Kindle Store by using this promotional code: PBZ22LYW.

Dark Screams Vol. 4 edited by Brian James Freeman & Richard Chizmar - I've barely finished the third volume and Freeman & Chizmar already have the fourth ready to go. And a fifth set for the summer. Holy moly!

The Last Safe Place by Rob Hart - I forget who recommended this novella, but I do recall it was someone with good taste. Sure, it's zombies, so how original could it be. Well, apparently enough to impress some folks who know a thing or two about 'em.

Sleepers by Paul Kane - Some British horror? Don't mind if I do. This one involved a sleepy little town literally going to sleep. The devil you say.

Paradise Sky by Joe R. Lansdale - It's always good news to hear there is a new Joe Lansdale novel due to be released. Looks like he's headed back into the western genre again after a top-notch outing a couple years back with The Thicket. Really looking forward to this one.

Black Bubbles by Kelli Owen - While I have just about all of Kelli's novels and novellas, this is her first short story collection. If she's as good with short fiction as she is with the longer stuff, this should be great.

The Last Survivors by T.W. Piperbrook & Bobby Adair - Some free apocalyptic action. At least it was free when I snagged it a couple days ago.

Off and Running by Philip Reed - Another summer release showed up in my inbox, this time from Brash Books, featuring a writer working a big biography on a famed comedian only to wind up part of a manhunt. Ooh, sounds cool.

The Phantom Cabinet by Jeremy Thompson - This one showed up out of nowhere, and sounds like a blend of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror with a young man haunted by the ghost of an astronaut and pursued by a malevolent entity.

Blight Digest (Fall 2014) - A little horror fiction, especially of the short variety, is always welcome on my Kindle. I thought I already had this one, but when it showed up as a freebie last week, I was surprised to learn it was not. Well, it is now.

May 8, 2015

My Solar Nemesis: a guest post by Darren Dash, author of "Sunburn"

About Darren Dash's SunburnWhen three friends go on holiday to Bulgaria, protecting themselves from sunburn is their only concern. But when they run into a beast unlike any they've ever imagined, it becomes a savage fight for survival. They will burn in the day... but the night holds even darker terrors in store. 

A fast-paced, grisly, tongue-in-cheek retelling of a legend as old as time, by the author of The Evil And The Pure.

My Solar Nemesis
by Darren Dash

I could almost get sunburnt underground, my skin is that susceptible to the rays of the sun. I love getting out and about, and have travelled all over the world, to duel with my solar nemesis in dozens of different countries. Alas, I rarely come out on top in our battles, and usually spend a few days red from head to toe, slapping on aftersun (but gingerly) and vowing to never get caught out again.

But I always do.

After one of my regular scorchings, I tried to find some measure of positivity in my experiences by wondering if I might be able to milk a story from my misery. Maybe I could fashion a tale where the protagonist winds up in a similarly vulnerable state, only even worse, burnt a deep and dangerous red all over, naked and alone, lost in a foreign land, a land that holds a secret, a land that contains a monster.

The more I thought about it, the more drawn I was to the idea. It would have a David versus Goliath vibe, only the Goliath would be something savage and primordial, and my burnt and pitiful David wouldn’t even have a slingshot to his name.

For a few years I toyed absentmindedly with the story, piecing together various bits and pieces, but never actually starting. Perhaps I was afraid to confront my fears, since sunburn is such a constant, annoying factor in my life. Finally I forced myself to sit down and work it out, and the story began to flow.

I knew from the beginning that the main storyline was going to be the most basic I had ever worked on, so simple that it could be summed up thus — a naked, sunburnt guy runs into a nightmarish beast in a forest, and the pair fight to the death. The rawness was what appealed to me. After years of putting together intricate, complex plots, I wanted to run wild with a one-trick pony and just have some grisly, not-for-the-squeamish fun.

At the same time, I wanted it to be an interesting, involving read. I didn’t want anyone to leave feeling cheated or undersold. I was determined to make the characters breathe, to inject heart into the bloodshed, to encourage readers to really care about what was happening. The plot was intentionally throwaway, but I wanted the book to be one that lingered in the thoughts of those who went with it.

For that reason, Sunburn is a book of two halves. The first introduces us to three young, carefree tourists, on a road holiday in Bulgaria. They’re just starting out in life and are struggling with the transition to adulthood, trying to find the balance between friendships and relationships, between the easy life and the need to carve out a future. We get to see them argue and make love, bicker and have fun. We follow them as they let their hair down, and suffer with them as they recover from their hangovers.

Then, midway through, an innocent spot of moonlit skinny-dipping lands them in the middle of something far more deadly. The beast hits the scene, and not a single reader will pause for breath between that moment and the end. (I hope!) It becomes a fast-paced, blood-red fight to the death, where we get to find out what the trio are truly made of.

I had a lot of fun writing Sunburn, while also creating three of my all-time favourite characters. I loved spending time in their company, which made it all the more heart-wrenching when everything spiralled out of control. I hope you get as much of a kick out of the book as I did. If nothing else, hopefully it will inspire you to reapply the next time you head for the beach, to avoid ending up like the poor, dumb sap (a mirror image of my good self) at the heart of Sunburn!