May 23, 2016

Grounded in the "It Could Happen to You" Camp: an interview with Brett McBean, author of 'The Invasion'

It was supposed to be a quiet end to a long day: five close-knit family and friends settling in for some much-needed sleep after coming together for an early Christmas party.

Instead, it’s the beginning of a shocking night of brutality when six intruders break into the sprawling residence of Debra Hillsboro, a middle-aged romance novelist with a fierce devotion to her loved ones and a strong kinship with her home of almost thirty years.

Armed with smartphones and a modern brand of madness, the intruders – an internet-age cult disconnected from humanity and addicted to causing fear and mayhem – have come to the secluded property for one purpose: to terrorize, and ultimately kill, everyone inside all while filming their heinous crimes.

Outnumbered and cut off from the outside world, the terrified occupants find themselves trapped in a fight for survival as a once place of safety is turned into a deadly maze of darkened rooms and forbidding hallways. On this sweltering summer night, they must somehow find a way to escape before the cult turns the beloved home into a house for the dead.

Gef: As far as finding a new twist on the sub-genre of home invasions, it sounds like you've got a doozy here. What was the impetus behind The Invasion?

Brett: I wanted to explore my fear and fascination of home invasion crimes and decided to write a series of horror/thriller novels based on three real life cases that have affected me and stuck with me ever since first reading about them. The Invasion is the first in my home invasion trilogy and is inspired by the horrific Tate-LaBianca murders committed by followers of Charles Manson. This is a case that I first read about as a teenager, and it has haunted me for over twenty years. However, when it came time to write my novel based on those murders, I didn’t want to simply do a recreation. I didn’t want to set in the 1960s or make it about hippies, as that was a well-tread path. So, I thought: what if Manson was around now, how would he gather his followers in this day and age? The answer, of course, was the internet. So, I updated the story. I moved it into the present and to my hometown of Melbourne, Australia. I used a lot of the details of the case, but made my cult one born from the age of Facebook and Instagram rather than Aquarius. The young people in my story come armed with smartphones as well as weapons.

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

Brett: It’s by far my smallest novel, in terms of setting and time-frame. The whole novel takes place over a period of about five hours, and is almost completely contained within the walls of a single house. That was a challenge in of itself: how to create a novel full of suspense and surprise, one that still felt like a proper journey with well-rounded characters, with a story that takes place in a very short space of time and in an extremely limited location. I had to approach the story as if it was large in scope while still maintaining a claustrophobic atmosphere. I did this, in part, by sectioning off the house; making each chapter a separate room, almost like each room was a completely unique location in which the story takes place.

Gef: How have you found your progression as a writer thus far?

Brett: In a way, I’ve come back to where I started. My first few novels were non-supernatural horror/thriller stories that dealt with horror grounded in the everyday, and were influenced by real life crimes. I veered off that path of gritty, psychological horror for the next few books, trying my hand at stories with a supernatural element. Now, I’m back in the land of realism with The Invasion, which is very much grounded in the it-could-happen-to-you camp, and I plan on staying there for a while to come with future works. Stories dealing with real life horrors have always been my first love. I’m a true crime nut, and find delving into the dark side of the human condition fascinating. I only hope my writing is stronger now than at the beginning, that I’ve learnt some things along the way and that I only get better as I explore the darkness within us all.

Gef: Who do you count among your writing influences?

Brett: Now that’s a long list! So many wonderful authors have influenced me for so many varied reasons. To name but a few: Richard Laymon, Jack Ketchum, Shirley Jackson, Edgar Allan Poe, J.G. Ballard, Charles Bukowski, Joe Lansdale, Brian Keene, John Steinbeck, Jim Thompson, Stephen King...

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

Brett: I place a great deal of emphasis on setting. To me, it’s a vital component of my writing. I’ve always loved stories that have a strong sense of place (including movies), with a penchant for ones taking place in a limited setting. I love it when the setting becomes another character, it helps define the tone and atmosphere. In The Invasion, setting is as important as any of the human characters; the house is a major part of the story, and I definitely saw it as another character (I even gave it a name and some back story).

Gef: Some folks turn their nose up at horror. What do you consider to be the saving grace of the genre?

Brett: There have been so many great stories written within the horror genre, from the quiet to the brutal, gothic to modern realism. I think the problem lies mostly with the perception of what constitutes a horror story. Sure there’s generic horror, badly written horror, and unfortunately it’s this kind of puerile, formulaic work of blood, gore and cardboard characters, that a lot people think is all that horror is about. But horror can be –and often is – as brilliant as anything outside the genre. Horror is Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. It’s Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. It’s John Fowles’s The Collector. It’s Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door. It’s Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. It’s Peter Straub’s Ghost Story. It’s Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw. The horror genre is as rich and varied as the fears they draw from. People who turn their nose up at horror need to open up their minds to the broader world of the genre.

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?

Brett: I honestly can’t recall any truly awful advice I’ve received. As far as writing advice I wish would go away? I’m going to be general here and say any that favour formula over experimentation and originality. That reduces writing to a literary version of paint-by-numbers. Of course novice writers need to hone their craft or, as Stephen King puts it, fill their writer’s toolbox. But inventiveness should always be encouraged. Daringness and a willingness to go against popular opinion should be rewarded. There’s too much generic material clogging up the bestseller lists and not enough books that shock or provoke or offer something utterly unique to the reader. So, any advice that helps to foster formulaic writing should be jettisoned.

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

Brett: I have a number of reprints of older work set to come out this year. Both my second novel, The Mother, as well as my Jungle novella trilogy, will be released soon as eBooks. Then, a little later in the year, my coming-of-age novel, The Awakening, will have its first US paperback and eBook release. As far as new work, I’ve completed the first draft of the second home invasion novel, and am currently hard at work on the first book in a crime-thriller series. Readers can find out more about me and my work at: or hit me up on Facebook:

Brett McBean is an award-winning horror and thriller author. His books, which include The Mother, The Last Motel and Wolf Creek: Desolation Game, have been published in Australia, the U.S., and Germany.

He’s been nominated for the Aurealis, Ditmar, and Ned Kelly awards, and he won the 2011 Australian Shadows Award for his collection, Tales of Sin and Madness.

He lives in Melbourne with his wife, daughter and German shepherd.

Find out more at:

Purchase Links

May 11, 2016

Sweet Suspense: an interview with Martha Conway, author of "Sugarland"

A New Mystery by Edgar-Nominated Author Martha Conway

In 1921, young jazz pianist Eve Riser witnesses the accidental killing of a bootlegger. To cover up the crime, she agrees to deliver money and a letter to a man named Rudy Hardy in Chicago. But when Eve gets to Chicago she discovers that her stepsister Chickie, a popular nightclub singer, is pregnant by a man she won’t name. That night Rudy Hardy is killed before Eve’s eyes in a brutal drive-by shooting, and Chickie disappears. 

Eve needs to find Chickie, but she can’t do it alone. Lena Hardy, Rudy’s sister, wants to learn the truth behind her brother’s murder, but she needs Eve’s connections. Together they navigate the back alleys and speakeasies of 1920s Chicago, encountering petty thugs, charismatic bandleaders, and a mysterious nightclub owner called the Walnut who seems to be the key to it all. As they fight racial barriers trying to discover the truth, Eve and Lena unravel a twisted tale of secret shipments and gangster rivalry.

SUGARLAND mixes the excitement of a new kind of music—jazz—with the darker side of Prohibition in a gripping story with “real suspense for anyone who likes a good mystery.” (Kirkus Reviews) 

Find SUGARLAND on Amazon and Goodreads!

Gef: What was the spark that made you sit down to write this book?

Martha: I was listening to an early piece of jazz—“Si Tu Vois Ma Mere” played by the great Sidney Bechet, and I realized I was imagining a story in the back of my mind. A woman was going down a cold, winter road looking for something or someone. That’s all I knew.

Gef: How long have you been toiling away at your craft, and how have you found your progression as a writer thus far?

Martha: I’ve been writing since I was about five years old, only back then it was with crayon on wallpaper. Since then I’ve graduated to paper and computer. My first novel, unpublished thank goodness, was what you might call a “starter novel” — this is where I began learning the nuts and bolts of creating characters and building plots. Every novel is a learning experience.

My first published book, 12 Bliss Street, was a mystery, which I think is absolutely the best genre for a new writer to cut her teeth on, since writing a mystery really teaches you how to build up a plot, and prepare (and exploit) reader expectations. In mysteries, every plot point is a development of something that has happened previously. There’s no wandering (even if it seems, at times, like there’s no clear direction). That’s good practice for any kind of writer.

As I move into historical fiction I find that, whether my novels include crime-solving or not, I want the plot to move fast and have a lot of twists. But every twist has to have its own logic within the story. You have to make a case for it. Sometimes I think that writing is a lot like being a lawyer.

Gef: Who do you count among your writing influences?

Martha: Dickens, definitely, for his sense of fun and his amazing characters. Also Laurie King, Caleb Carr, and Walter Mosely.

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?

Martha: I studied with a teacher who used to say, “Never go into a character’s head or heart.” This lends distance to the story, in my opinion, and makes it much harder for readers to care about or engage with the character.

I also dislike this advice to new writers: “If you can do anything else, do it.” Sure, writing is hard and can be frustrating and you may not succeed with your project. But I think if you want to write (even if you can do something else—William Carlos Williams sold insurance) you should try! Why not? We’re not all of us going to be Toni Morrison, that’s true, but being creative is an activity that is rewarding in and of itself. At least, I think so.

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

Martha: I love Patrick O’Brian, all his sea-faring tales. Reading read him and Jane Austen is like eating comfort food.

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

Martha: My next book will be coming out in 2017; it’s called THE FLOATING THEATRE, and takes place on the Ohio River in Antebellum America. A socially awkward costume designer gets caught up in the Underground Railroad— that’s all I’ll say.

In terms of my many shenanigans, you can always check my web site:


Martha Conway is the author of Sugarland: A Jazz Age Mystery [Noontime Books], available via Amazon as of May 12, 2016. Conway’s first novel was nominated for an Edgar Award, and her second novel, Thieving Forest, won the 2014 North American Book Award for Best Historical Fiction. Her short fiction has been published in The Iowa Review, The Carolina Quarterly Review, The Quarterly, The Massachusetts Review, Folio, and other journals. She teaches creative writing for Stanford University’s Continuing Studies Program and UC Berkeley Extension, and is a recipient of a California Arts Council Fellowship for Creative Writing. Born in Cleveland, Ohio, she is one of seven sisters. She currently lives in San Francisco.

Connect with Martha on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and her website:

May 3, 2016

Vicki Waiting: an interview with Somer Canon, author of "Vicki Beautiful"

One last taste of perfection…

Sasha and Brynn descend upon the showplace home of their girlhood friend, Vicki, planning to celebrate her surviving cancer to reach her fortieth birthday. As they gather around Vicki’s perfectly set dinner table, though, her husband shares devastating news. The cancer is back, and she doesn’t have long to live.

Her life is cut even shorter than Sasha and Brynn expect—the next morning, their friend is found dead, her flawless skin slit at the wrists. But a tub full of blood is only the beginning. Before the weekend is through, they are forced to question how far they’re willing to go to fulfill Vicki’s last wish.

A very specific, very detailed recipe that only the truest of friends could stomach…

Gef: What was the impetus behind Vicki Beautiful?

Somer: I actually had this really bonkers, disturbing dream about a fancy dinner party that I attended at my friend’s house. In my dream, my friend was a glamorous woman with a very distinct beauty mark on her cheek, but she was nowhere to be seen. I sat down to dinner and the server placed a plate in front of me that had this pale, jiggly piece of meat and on the meat was that distinctive beauty mark. That dream stayed with me for days, and as I thought about it and chewed over what might have caused such a thing to come about, I got ideas as to why. On about the fourth day of this dream bothering me, I sat down and I wrote Vicki’s final letter to her friends. The rest of the story sort of grew around that.

Gef: The cover reminds me a bit like the original cover for Stephen King's collection, Everything's Eventual, with an idyllic dining setting spattered with blood. And it wound up matching the tone of the titled story. Did you have much input on the cover for Vicki Beautiful, and do you find it matches the tone you offer up in the novella?

Somer: I now no longer need to celebrate Christmas or my birthday because having any piece of my work compared to Stephen King, even if it is the cover art, makes me beyond happy!

I actually had a lot of input into the cover art. Samhain was really great about getting the author’s opinions on how the cover art should look. I attached probably six pictures of these fancy catered dinner settings to the cover art sheet that Samhain provided as well as the specification that it simply must have peonies (Vicki’s favorite flower). When they sent the finished cover, I knew that they had nailed it. I really think that the cover beautifully conveys the feel of the story and I couldn’t be happier with it.

Gef: How much of a balancing act is required when highlighting a very real and prevalent horror like cancer in a story that offers its own sensational forms of horror?

Somer: Those real-life horrors like cancer and pain caused to our loved ones, I think, are something that grounds a story to keep it from being a little too fantastical and “out there.” Things do tend to go off the rails in this story and I wanted to have this anchor to it so that the actual pain of what these characters are feeling could make their actions believable. The most difficult parts of this story for me to write were the realistic horrors, and I think that it’s important to stay in touch with that side of yourself so that you can convince your readers that the pain and hopelessness is real and relatable. It’s very much a balancing act to inject a relatable horror to a kind of horror that surprises and thrills, otherwise it’s just a bizarre yarn and not a story with characters feeling real emotions that cause them to do things that a more cool, rational mind might reject.

Gef: Is novella-length fiction something that you're normally drawn to?

Somer: As a writer, I love the novella-length work. I worry about too much fluff and I do like delivering a story in a direct manner. Novels have their merit, certainly. That’s why they tend to be more standard! There’s a lot of building and backstory and a richness to them that maybe sometimes you can’t convey in a novella, but a novella can be like a great slice of a story that gets the thrill across in an efficient and casual manner. As a reader, I consume novellas by the handful, sort of like how I eat potato chips. I love them.

Gef: Who do you count among your writing influences?

Somer: I have to put Stephen King on here first because to me, he is one of those writers who is great at making his readers feel the big emotions like love, hate, anger, fear and even joy. Those big emotions make you so very attached to the characters so that the horror is even deeper, more prevalent, when things start to go wrong. I also love Ruby Jean Jensen. I stole my grandmother’s copy of The Haunting when I was maybe ten-years-old and that book rattled my teeth. Charlaine Harris and Kim Harrison are also phenomenal writers who really inspire me with their incredible characters.

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

Somer: I love setting as a character in my capacity as a reader. Nothing sucks you into a story more than really feeling like you’re there, in a place that has an attitude and a feeling to it. As a writer, I feel like I’m still in my infancy as a fiction writer and although it is something that I would like to include in future works, I’m not quite there yet.

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?

Somer: There is so much writing advice out there that it really was intimidating to me. It felt like I had to get past these gatekeepers who were glaring down at me, asking me who I thought I was, thinking I could actually get published. A lot of the advice is overly complicated, a lot is overly simplistic. I think that new writers need to see a lot of this advice but they need to understand that it needs to be tailored to their own needs and working style. Saying that All Writers Read might be a piece of advice that touches one person and makes another completely livid. Bad writing advice is this: do exactly what I did. Don’t take that kind of advice, please. I’d actually like to see that go away. Don’t buy books by someone telling you exactly how to do it. This is not a one-size fits all thing. There is no one way to do it, but that’s also one of the things that makes this lifestyle so incredible. I’m still learning and I’m still getting advice, I just hope that I’ve got a good filter.

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

Somer: I love biographies of old Hollywood legends. The scandals and horrible treatment by the studios is incredible because so much of it was glossed over. We remember glamour and real movie stars, but that’s a heavily crafted image. It was so screwed up in reality. As for television…oh man I have to admit this to someone so okay, here we go. I have the entire series of Roseanne on DVD and I sit down and marathon watch the entire thing at least twice a 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?

Somer: Well as many know, my publisher Samhain is closing down. I had two other works contracted with them and as of now, their futures are uncertain. Hopefully they will see publication because they are terrific stories. I also just finished and have started submitting a new book about an online journalist who covers gruesome murders for a sensationalistic website and while investigating a pair of truly bizarre murders she crosses the path of an old powerful creature who is not interested in making friends. I’m still working and still trying to get around, so stay tuned!

You can find me on Twitter @SomerM

I also have a website . Please look me up!

Purchase Links: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Samhain

Somer Canon is a minivan revving suburban mother who avoids her neighbors for fear of being found out as a weirdo.  When she’s not peering out of her windows, she’s consuming books, movies, and video games that sate her need for blood, gore, and things that disturb her mother.
Vicki Beautiful is her debut novella.
Find out more about Somer and her upcoming works at her website You can also connect with Somer on Twitter: