Ghoul – Brian Keene

I finally plucked this one off of my TBR list and I’m kicking myself for not doing it much sooner. Our story takes us back to 1984 Central Pennsylvania, as we follow the adventures of a trio of twelve-year-olds, Timmy, Doug, and Barry. The boys spend their summer hanging out in their underground clubhouse located in the unused part of a cemetery and away from their parents, some of which are abusive alcoholics. Barry’s dad is the worst of the bunch, and just so happens to be the cemetery’s caretaker. When headstones start to sink into the ground and Barry’s notoriously poor parents stop complaining about being broke and start wearing unfamiliar jewelry, the boys’ suspicions are raised. When they stumble on the car of a pair of missing teenagers hidden in the woods by the cemetery, events start to spiral out of control and they soon realize there’s more going on than some headstones sinking into the ground.

Keene weaves an effective and engrossing tale with Ghoul. The characters are so well-done and multi-layered, you can’t help but to be engaged in their exploits from cover to cover. No matter what era you grew up in, there’s something so universally familiar with the cast in Ghoul, that you’ll immediately find connections here you can relate to. And that’s where Keene is so good. The storytelling and pacing flows without a hitch, but the relatable characters are where he really gets you. Even without the horrific happenings here, you’d still want to read this story and follow the trio around for the summer.

4.5 Milky, Mucous-Lined Tunnels out of 5

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Venom – John Tigges

John Tigges is one of those prolific horror writers from the 80s that I happened to skipped over for no particular reason. I’ve seen his name and books over the years and I actually have most of his books in my collection. The time had finally come to remedy this omission and Venom was the one that I started with.

Venom drops us smack dab in the middle of a small, midwestern college town where Nita, a competitive tri-athlete, is in a serious relationship with Archer, the up-and-coming research scientist at Middleton University. Archer has recently brought in King Cobras from India to study the effects of their venom. Much to Anita’s dismay, he is more concerned with his experiments than rising up the department ladder and doesn’t apply for the open head of department chair. Soon afterwards, many of his superiors begin dying off from unusual circumstances, including large doses of King Cobra venom.

Tigges is a solid writer. The prose is smooth and engaging. For the most part, Venom is an enjoyable read. However, there are two main plot gaffes that are hard to overlook. One, Nita comes across and shallow, whiny bitch and it’s hard to sympathize with her plight. Two, credibility flies out the window when there isn’t more of an uproar towards Archer when his key colleagues mysteriously die from the very toxin that he is the only one to have access to. There is another big component in the story that I find extremely unbelievable, but I can’t say anymore without giving away a huge spoiler. Tigges had the bones for a decent story, if only he had made some different choices at some key crossroads along the way.

3 Neurotoxin Dripping Fangs out of 5

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Killer Lake – W.D. Gagliani & David Benton

Killdeer Lake, aka Killer Lake, is the setting for W.D. Gagliani and David Benton’s collaboration with the same name. What is Killer Lake, you ask? Imagine every 80s slasher film thrown into a blender and what would come out would be very close to what you have here. Friday the 13th, April Fool’s Day, Dawn of the Dead, Psycho, Motel Hell, Slaughterhouse, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, pieces of each all make an appearance. Now, before you roll your eyes and dismiss the idea, let me interject. 
Killer Lake’s beauty is that it doesn’t attempt at being something it’s not. Much like those slasher films from the golden age, you knew what you were getting when you picked it up to take it home. You could say the same for Killer Lake. Gagliani and Benton take you down a path that’s like putting on your old varsity jacket and finding that it still fits. It still has those familiar smells, and it causes a pleasing wave of nostalgia to hit you. I experienced that sensation multiple times in a little over 200 pages. You’ve got your huge cabin on a lake in the middle of nowhere surrounded by a forest. You’ve got your eccentric rich guy with the spoiled rich kid throwing a party for horny teenagers. Add some crazy cult doing some weird sacrifice shit and have the local law enforcement and townies involved. Don’t forget to give me some conjured zombies and a cannibal moment or two. Now, the thing that keeps it all together is the writing. Gagliani and Benton can write. Period. It’s quick. It’s engaging. The flow is unspoiled. Things move along at a free and easy pace, making Killer Lake a quick read. It’s like picking up the movie box to a slasher film that you haven’t heard of and, after taking it home, find that it’s a damn good one. But it’s still a slasher flick. If you were looking for Hemingway, this isn’t it and… well, you’re an idiot. Move along. If you’re a fan of the genre, Killer Lake will be a popcorn munching treat of a good read. 

3.5 Dismembered Torsos out of 5

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Interview – Wesley Southard

Let’s get the vitals out of the way:

Name: Wesley Southard
DOB: 1-29-87
Birthplace: Evansville, IN
Residence: South Central Pennsylvania
Marital Status: Married
Children: None
Pets: Three cats, two dogs, one turtle

INTO THE MACABRE: When did you first start writing?

WESLEY SOUTHARD: I first started writing seriously back in 2007. I’ve been a musician most of my life, and I went to college for the guitar program at the Atlanta Institute of Music in Gwinnett County, Georgia. I graduated then moved back home, but I wasn’t terribly happy playing anymore, and I really didn’t feel like trying to track down people to be in a band. I desperately needed a creative output, and being a huge reader, I decided to throw my hand at writing horror fiction and found I really enjoyed it.

ITM: Do you still play? What bands are you into? What type of gear do you use?

WS: I still play some but nearly as much as I used to. There’s part of me that still wishes I was a serious musician, but I just don’t have it in me. But I still have all my only equipment. I still own my beloved Gibson Les Paul Studio, my Peavey Triple X half stack, and pedal board full of fun effects.
As far as bands, I’m a diehard Mastodon fan, but I also love Ozzy, Black Label Society, Lamb of God, Slipknot, Lacuna Coil, ect. I’m a huge metal head, but I was raised on classic rock. Kiss, Heart, Zeppelin, Chicago, ELO, and so on. I just love good music.

ITM: What drew you to horror? What/Who were your inspirations?

WS: I think I’ve been into horror for most of my life. My father got me hooked on it very young, introducing me to The Evil Dead and Phantasm, and the older I got I discovered Tales from the Crypt and Joe Bob Briggs’ Monster Vision. I was already reading Goosebumps, but by the time I hit fourth grade and discovered the I AM LEGEND paperback in the Scholastic Book Club pamphlet (a paperback which I still own), I was ready for everything horror had to offer.

ITM: I think every horror fan knows what book and movie hooked them. Mine was Pet Semetary and Friday the 13th. Did you grow up with in a household that was into horror?

WS: Sort of. My dad, even though he introduced me to those movies, never really went out of his way to watch horror. My mother was definitely the horror fan. She loves to read and watch scary movies, and she usually comes to me to ask who to read.

ITM: Describe the process it took for you to become published.

WS: Publishing is all about patience. Patience is something I have had to learn how to live with. Even as a kid, I was incredibly impatient, and I was that asshole child who was able to ever-so-carefully open the corners of Christmas presents to see what I was getting and was able to replace the tape without anyone knowing. In the writing world, much like any form of entertainment, there’s a lot of waiting: waiting for pre-readers to get back to you, waiting to hear back from publishers, waiting for edits and notes, waiting for release day, waiting for your author copies to hit your doorstep. Mind you, these aren’t complaints. It’s a scary, nerve-wracking experience, but it’s also one of the greatest thrills in a writer’s life.

My first few books were self-published. The process for those was honestly not very fun. It’s a lot of stress and wrangling up people who know how to do book layouts for both print and e-book, not to mention gathering cover art and learning the proper methods of uploading files onto the internet for publication. To be frank, I didn’t enjoy putting the books out myself. I just want to write. It’s why I’m trying to move away from doing it myself, and it’s why my recent release ONE FOR THE ROAD from Deadite Press is such a big deal for me. It’s been a turning point in my career and has opened up numerous other opportunities. I’m not bashing self-publishing, not at all! I’m in awe of writers who have managed to kick ass with it and become very successful. I’ve found it’s just not for me.

ITM: I think it takes a certain breed of writer to do well self-publishing. I see so many mistakes made and it usually has to do with writers trying to pinch pennies. A good editor and cover artist are worth their weight in gold. I also think there’s value in getting rejections and forcing you to up your game as a writer. Would you agree?

WS: Absolutely. I made the unfortunately made the mistake of not being as thorough with my editing as I should have been with my first novel, and it was pointed out to me in a few early reviews. It was incredibly embarrassing. I had to take it down and fix everything. And yes, rejections are a major part of getting better. Not everyone is going to knock it out of the park the first time out. Hell, it took me over ten years before I sold my first book to a publisher, and now I’ve sold three in the last year. Like anything creative, it takes time to hone your craft.

ITM: If you could turn back the hands of time and go back, what about the publishing process would you do differently?

WS: For me, I think I would have waited to find a publisher for my 2018 novella CLOSING COSTS. I was in a bind and really needed to have it out by Scares That Care Weekend in Williamsburg, VA, and I didn’t have much of a choice but to put it out myself. I honestly didn’t expect it to get the attention it did, but the attention it has gotten and still gets makes me very happy. If I could go back, I would have a bit more patience and seek out a publisher for the book, who could help me get more eyes on the story.

ITM: Do you think you’ll ever go back and “re-write” that story?

WS: Nah. I love that story just the way it is, warts and all.

ITM: They say it’s not about what you know but who you know. Would you agree with this statement? Who helped you along the way and what did they do?

WS: It’s absolutely the case. It’s incredibly difficult to get anywhere in this business without getting out there in the world and meeting people. You have to meet other authors and creatives, fans, potential fans, editors, booksellers, and bookstore owners. I was incredibly fortunate early in my career to meet some other authors that were a lot more known in the business than I was at the time. They welcomed me into their group and now they’re some of the best friends I could ever ask for. Meeting them completely changed my life for the better, so much so I met my wife through them and eventually moved to Pennsylvania from Indiana, where my writing career has absolutely elevated to places I would have never gotten to had I not met these people. I don’t say this as a brag or to show off. I say this because if you are an aspiring writer, you have to get out there and introduce yourself. You never know who you’re going to meet. It might change your life.

ITM: I agree. There’s no such thing as a degree on how to be a successful author. There is so many talented writers out there that don’t know where to turn and they end up stumbling around the writing world blindly.

WS: And I hope those writers eventually find a community they can be a part of. It can be a very lonely profession, which is why it’s so important to step out of your comfort zone and shake some hands.

ITM: What would you say are the biggest challenges you face today being a writer?

WS: The biggest challenge is not enough time in the day to write. Right now, I’m working ten hour days at my day job, and by the time I get home at night, I’m bushed. But that’s no excuse. You have to get the words out, even if they’re crap words. They can always be fixed later.

ITM: Truer words have never been spoken. All the greats will tell you the same thing. Just get the words out. There are very few Stephen Kings and George RR Martins that can simply write and make a comfortable living. For the rest of us, it requires a day job. This makes it challenging to find time to write.

WS: I’d love to be a full time writer one day and have my wife be my sugar momma, but I live in the real world, and my wife doesn’t put up with that nonsense. She’s incredibly supportive, but she knows how to get me off the couch into my desk chair when I’m not feeling like it. Stories don’t write themselves.

ITM: What role has social media played in your successes?

WS: Social media is absolutely vital to any author’s success. Without it, you’re dead in the water. It’s the best way to keep involving yourself in the reader’s lives. It’s the best way to promote your work, to put yourself out there, to let readers know what kind of person you are beyond the photo and bio in the back of the book. As an entertainer, you’re selling yourself as much as you’re selling your product. I truly enjoy meeting and communicating with readers and fans of the genre. I’m always happy to talk shop or gush about a book or movie I love.

ITM: Have you always been comfortable in the world of social media or did you have to warm up to it? What was it like when you saw your first unsolicited positive review? Every author has to deal with negative reviews. Some writers die slowly one negative review at a time. How do you deal with those and keep your sanity?

WS: Like everyone else, I’m addicted to my phone and social media. I’ve always felt comfortable with it.
Funny story. I remember waiting for any review to pop up for my first novel, THE BETRAYED. I waited and waited and waited, and then one finally popped up on Amazon. I was over the moon…and then I realized it was from my mother. I love her to death, but I made her take it down. Totally embarrassing. But yeah, I do remember those first few with a big smile.
We all get negative reviews. It happens. Even the greats get them. You can either ignore them or use them to make yourself better. Just depends on what type of person you are. I’ve gotten a few very crappy reviews, but I realized it just wasn’t their taste. All you can do is move on.

ITM: Many readers are introduced to new authors through sites such as Goodreads. I know you’ve explored Goodreads, particularly the Horror Aficionados group. What would you say is your level of interaction there? Are you able to gauge how much sites like GR help in introducing you to new readers and generate sales? Are there any other groups that have been beneficial?

WS: I do spend some time on Goodreads, mostly checking reviews of my work, especially ones of my new book. Goodreads is a fantastic source for readers and writers alike for opinions of what and what not to check out. And it’s definitely helped generate sales, and all the great Bookstagramers out there are a big reason why. I really love what they’ve done over the last few years, growing a community of horror fans looking to get into new books they would have otherwise never had access to. They’re brought to Goodreads, and a new world is opened up. I love it.

As far as groups go, I haven’t posted much outside of the particular thread that was created for me this month at the Horror Aficionados. I plan on getting to know the other threads and becoming a regular from here on out.

ITM: You should. You’re one of those guys that “gets it”. You know that you can simply jump on these groups and only hawk your books. People don’t like to be sold. They tend to buy from people they like. That’s why I love that you get it and aren’t afraid to show people that you’re a horror fan, first and foremost, just like them.

WS: Man, nothing makes me happier than to nerd-out about a book or movie that I love and finding others like that. And there’s nothing that annoys me more than getting a Facebook friend request, and that person immediately ask you to buy their work. Come on, buy me dinner first before going for third base. Geeze. But I get it. Everyone just wants to be noticed, but it’s all in how you go about it. You’re selling yourself as much as you are your work. Like Seth Gecko said in From Dusk Till Dawn: “Everybody be cool. You, be cool.”

ITM: For many readers, their first introduction to your work will be the story we’re reading for our group read on Horror Aficionados, ONE FOR THE ROAD. What can you tell us about how this story came about?

WS: The idea for ONE FOR THE ROAD came about well over ten years ago. As I had mentioned before, I’ve been a musician most of my life, so even when I switched over to writing fiction, it was only natural to incorporate my experiences into a story. Now granted, I never was in a touring band, but I knew plenty of others who were. After I had moved back home from Atlanta, one of my closest friends from school, Nathan, had joined a band and was touring the country. They were scheduled to have a show in my hometown, so naturally I decided to put the guys up for a night. They stormed into my apartment, ate all my food, took over my bathroom, and proceeded to talk badly about one another behind the other’s backs. I don’t think they hated each other, but imagine spending month after month looking at the same four guys, trapped in a van, only eating warm ham sandwiches every day. I would probably hate my best friend after a few weeks of that. The story of ONE FOR THE ROAD isn’t about Nathan or that band, but it was inspired by them. As far as the story itself, I wanted to write something completely unhinged, something absolutely outrageous and bizarre, a story that once the action got going it didn’t stop. I always write with a very structured outline, but with this one I just kind of let my imagination go wild, and I think it shows. It’s gross and funny and uncomfortable, and I love it. I hope everyone that picks it up has as fun reading it as I did writing it.

ITM: They say write what you know, don’t they? I think some of the very best stories come out of author’s experiences where they then let their imagination run wild.

WS: Absolutely! I’ve always heard that Richard Laymon always started a book with a simple idea and just let himself go wherever his imagination took him. It’s not something I’m comfortable doing all the time, but for this particular book it worked.

ITM: Another one of your stories, CLOSING COSTS, was a fast, furious, and fun little romp. It was actually the first story that introduced me to your work. Some readers have made the complimentary observation that this one may have been your “coming out party” because your writing style made a big leap forward. Would you agree with that statement?

WS: Absolutely! CLOSING COSTS was one of the first things I started working on when I moved out to Pennsylvania. Before that, I only had my novel THE BETRAYED, which was written nearly ten years before. I didn’t do the normal thing by starting on short stories. I jumped head-first on a novel, and I really had to discover how write in the long form before the short. That probably wasn’t the best way to go about it, but, hey, that’s my journey. CLOSING COSTS was definitely a new horizon for me. I spent years trying to develop a writing style that was comfortable and stylish but not overly purple or wordy. It was a lot of fun to write, but a lot of work, and it was an interesting challenge to write someone of color, which I had not done up to that point. I still really love CLOSING COSTS and it’s usually one I point to when someone asks what’s a good place to start when looking through my work.

ITM: What can you tell me about the origins of that one and why do you think it resonates so well with readers?

WS: To be honest, I can’t remember the true origins of CLOSING COSTS. It was yet another idea from many years ago. I think it was sparked by a friend of our family who is a realtor back in Indiana (who also makes a small appearance in the book). I remember having the idea spark up probably ten years or so ago and having to go over to his home and sit with him to get notes on the day to day life of a realtor. I think their job is fascinating, and I can’t recall anyone ever writing about them, so I gave it a shot.

As far as why it’s resonating with readers? I’d like to think the protagonist, Hershel Merkley, is a pretty likable, relatable character, dealing with everyday problems at home and at work. He’s very dedicated to his wife and giving her the best honeymoon he couldn’t give her many years before. He’s put through the ringer in that story, and I think as the reader you’re really rooting for him to make it through to the other side unscathed. I loved writing Hershel.

ITM: So this would be a case of going outside your comfort zone and having to do research to write about something that you may not be familiar with. Which method do you find more enjoyable?

WS: Honestly, I kind of enjoy doing the research. It can be frustrating at times, especially when you just can’t find what you’re looking for, but ultimately, in the end, anything that can give the story authenticity is worth the time put in.

ITM: You have contributed to many short story anthologies, including EULOGIES II, CLICKERS FOREVER, and DIG TWO GRAVES. Can you give us a little info on how you became involved with these projects? Do you have a preference between short story length, novella and novels?

WS: EULOGIES II contains probably my favorite short story I’ve written to date, BY THE authors THROAT. It was a story I had written specifically for a Cemetery Dance contest in which people could submit flash fiction stories to their message board, and they would voted into a chapbook. I was really proud to have made it into the top ten. After not making it in the chapbook, I had sold it maybe two more times to various other publications that happened to go out of business right after signing the contract. Ultimately it went to Horror World’s EULOGIES II: TALES FROM THE CELLAR, where I got to be alongside some of my absolute favorite authors like Piccirilli, Braunbeck, and Moore. It was a real treat.
My story in CLICKERS FOREVER called FOR YOU, ANYTHING was based in the world of J.F. Gonzalez’s fantastic apocalyptic novel PRIMITIVE. Brian Keene was gathering up stories for the late author’s tribute anthology, and he had not yet received anything based in the universe of that novel. He asked me to write one, and I’m really pleased with how it came out. I’ve always said Keene, Gonzalez, and Lebbon were my big three that made me want to write, and it was honor to provide my take on Mr. Gonzalez’s work.
I had recently begun to work with Jarod and Patrick over at Death’s Head Press on my upcoming short story collection, and I was asked to help round out the upcoming DIG TWO GRAVES Vol 2 revenge anthology. Luckily I had a story I had been wanting to write for a long while now and this was the opportunity to get it out of my head. The story, which is more of a novelette, is called CATALOG, and it’s about an Italian immigrant who believes he’s having his ‘American Dream’ being taken from him. I’m really interested to hear what people think of this one. It will be out on July 15th.

My preference lately has been novellas. It just seems like I’ve been having a lot of success writing in that format, but I do have several novel ideas that need to be voiced. I do love a good short story though. It always feels nice to complete something small, especially when the story already has a home waiting for it.

ITM: You’re starting to rack up an impressive catalogue with two release here back to back. I know its like asking you which one of your children is your favorite. So, I’ll try to do it in a different way. Which story of yours do you recommend to someone who has never read your work and why?

WS: I would absolutely recommend CLOSING COSTS. It’s much more of a straight forward horror story. I’m obviously very partial to my latest work ONE FOR THE ROAD, but it’s pretty out there. If you like weird then have at it!

ITM: Some writers have to follow a strict routing and can only create while writing in their special designated area on a set schedule. Others drag a laptop around with them and take advantage of any free moment their day may present. Give me a breakdown of your day and how you create the next Wesley Southard masterpiece.

WS: I just try to write when I can, but I prefer to do it at home, in my office, at my desk and beat-up computer chair. I get my best work done while working on the first draft in my office. I can second and final draft anywhere. Depending on the weather, if it’s a nice cool day, I like to take a small table and edit on my front porch. It’s especially nice when it’s raining.

ITM: Do you outline your stories before writing them?

WS: In the beginning I didn’t, but now I absolutely do. I carry a notebook with me to work every day, and any time I have down time, I’m always taking notes. I just prefer to have the story laid out in front of me so when the time comes to start it, I can get to work and not have to overthink it.

ITM: Stephen King has the spooky house in Bangor surrounded by the wrought iron fence with gargoyles. Do you have anything crazy at your house that makes parents clutch their children when they see you coming?

WS: Unless they’re afraid of all my hockey memorabilia, not really, although I hope the brand new Stanley Cup Champions garden flag in my front yard will make some tremble in fear. I dig all the scary and weird stuff, but it’s all mostly up in my office or on my t-shirts. We have a pretty normal place.

ITM: Yes! Congratulations of your Blues winning the Cup. My RedWings haven’t been relevant for a few years now, so I’ll have to bask in your glory. What type of cool stuff do you have in your office?

WS: All of my hockey memorabilia is set up in my basement with my “hockey” tv. My office is just full of my books and art prints from Alan M. Clark, Alex McVey and Steve Gilberts. And my Game of Thrones House Bolton flag (because they had the coolest flag and Ramsay was a great villain). I have a lot of signed albums and other pictures, but non of them are hung up. I’m waiting until we move into our own home so I can them on the walls.

ITM: We met at StokerCon. What was your impression of it and do you have plan to go next year? What about other cons?

WS: StokerCon was fantastic! I was invited to tag along with Brian Keene for the weekend, and it did not disappoint. I originally wanted to go to meet my favorite author in the world, Graham Masterton, but unfortunately he had to cancel. I still had an amazing time nonetheless. I was able to finally meet other writers and editors in person I had only known online, and it was a real treat. I wish I could make it to next year’s show in Britain, but it’s just not possible. I am definitely going to try to hit up the following year in Denver.

ITM: Do you have any interesting stories from StokerCon? Other than you trying to be polite and choke down the drink I bought you? Ha ha. Did you get to meet McCammon, Monteleone, F. Paul Wilson or Maberry?

WS: I got to meet one of my all-time favorite writers John R. Little that weekend. I just adore his work and own all of his books. I literally brought every one of them for him to sign, and seeing his face light up from that was a treat. He’s such a great guy. If you haven’t read his work, I would suggest checking him out.

ITM: What are you reading these days?

WS: Right now I’m splitting time between Wrath James White and Kristopher Rufty’s MASTER OF PAIN and Robert Ford and Matt Hayward’s A PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS. After that I’m onto James Newman and Mark Steensland’s IN THE SCRAPE. Lots a co-written books lately.

ITM: WJW and Rufty are serious at throwing around the splatter, some of the best in the business. You’ll like IN THE SCRAPE. Newman knows how to do coming-of-age tales.

WS: I actually just finished it. I really enjoyed it a lot. Newman and Steensland have great chemistry.

ITM: Your Top 5 horror movies of all time?

WS: Oh, man. Let’s see if I can narrow this down.

  1. From Dusk till Dawn
  2. The Thing
  3. A Nightmare on Elm Street
  4. Predator
  5. Aliens
    ITM: I can’t argue with any of those.
    WS: I would hope not! They’re all classics!

ITM: What can us fans expect coming down the pike from you in 2019 and beyond?

WS: There are lots of things to look forward to. Right now my main focus is finishing up my collaboration with author Somer Canon called SLAVES TO GRAVITY. Then after that I’m hoping to get started on a novella called BOUGHT THE FARM, and get back to work on my novel in progress CRUEL SUMMER. As for what’s already under contract, the closest thing to release is my novelette CATALOG which will be out on July 15th in the anthology DIG TWO GRAVES Vol 2 from Death’s Head Press, and my short story collection RESISTING MADNESS which will be out either later this year or early next year from the aforementioned press. I’m really excited about that one. It’s thirteen short stories, five of which are previously unreleased, and a brand new twenty thousand word novella (the title story). I’m really thrilled with how that novella came out, and I can’t wait for people to get their hands on it.

ITM: I really appreciate you letting me grill you for the ’ol blog and look forward to chatting with you in the future, my friend.

Next, After Lucifer – Daniel Rhodes

Next After Lucifer is literary horror from the 80s. You remember literary horror? The plots may not have always made sense. You weren’t always happy with the endings. They had a bad habit of being anti-climactic. But, damn, the ride was always rewarding. This was an era when editors weren’t an option. If you got published, your shit may not have been the greatest story out there, but there weren’t going to be typos on every page. Horror was king in the 80s. Everyone was trying to find the next Stephen King or pump out the next Exorcist. So, solid literary writers, that couldn’t make a living in their crowded genre, gave horror a go. Chances are, Daniel Rhodes was one of the aforementioned herd. I had never heard of him before, but what the hell? I’ll give it a go.

The book falls right in the meaty curve of what I previously defined. Next After Lucifer follows an English couple, Professor John McTell and his wife Linden, that vacation in a rural French village near the ocean. Up on a hill is the old ruins of middle-aged castle rumored to be home to a Knight Templar, Guilhelm de Courdeval, who was burned at the stake for conjuring up a little demonic naughtiness. Professor McTell, always the curious, academic type, hikes up to the ruin and happens upon Courdeval’s evil book of sorcery with a little help of the recently released occultist’s soul. As you can imagine, John brings the book back and, as he’s slowly unlocking it’s secrets, becomes an unknowing pawn in the sorcerer’s evil plan. I liked Next After Lucifer. It’s got that nice, slow burn you’d expect from 80s horror. The characters are interesting, yet sometimes they can blur together and you have to stop and think who this person is. Don’t expect lots of non-stop action and gore. This is all about a slow build of atmosphere, character development, and dread. Recommended for fans of Charles L. Grant, J.N. Williamson and fans of other similar 80s horror writers, as well as occult/demonic possession/Knight Templar horror mish-mash.

3 1/2 Don’t Drink The Demon Waters out of 5

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In The Scrape – James Newman and Mark Steensland

If it’s one thing James Newman knows how to do, it’s write an engaging coming-of-age tale. MIDNIGHT RAIN and ODD MAN OUT are as required a readings as is BOY’S LIFE when it comes to COA. With IN THE SCRAPE, I think him and Steensland have reached new heights. IN THE SCRAPE is as raw, gritty, and disturbing as ODD MAN OUT, but also has the rollercoaster journey paved with danger and pitfalls like MIDNIGHT RAIN.

Brothers Jake and Matthew live with their abusive, alcoholic father after their mother left them when they were younger. Jake and Matthew long for the day when they can escape their everyday life of hell and reunite with their mother in California. They haven’t heard from her since she left. They have no idea where in California she lives. All they know is they can’t take the abuse anymore. They want a normal life in a loving household and to do that, they have to take care of their father before he takes care of them – PERMANENTLY.

Jake and Matthews plight is as real and raw as it gets. You feel so bad for what they have to live with that you actually start rooting for their plan to work. Newman and Steensland’s collaboration is seamless. You can’t tell where one writer ended and the other started. Like a well oiled machine, IN THE SCRAPE is a fast 100 pages. I wolfed it down in one sitting. I simply couldn’t put it down. If you’ve never read Newman or Steensland’s work, IN THE SCRAPE is a great place to start.

5 Rolls of Duct Tape out of 5

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The Revenant – Brana Lobel

Life is moving fast for Portia. After getting out of a bad relationship, she spends all of her energy concentrating on her career. The last thing she expected was to meet someone who would take her breath away at a cocktail party. Chris did exactly that and three weeks later, she did exactly that by moving in with Chris at his Brooklyn apartment. Life is hectic. They both work long hours and, many times, the couple don’t see each other very much. Chris’s photography keeps him out at various times of the day and when he’s home, he’s spending lots of time in his dark room developing film. Meanwhile, Portia is not only getting used to the relationship, she’s also getting used to the apartment. Strange sounds randomly emanate from no discernible location within the apartment. After a few unnerving incidents, Portia discovers that they built the apartment on a location where a former residence used to set… and that residence had an evil history.

The Revenant is old-school horror, which is what you’d expect from a story written in 1979. You won’t find non-stop action or pages drenched in blood. What you have is a slow buildup of dread and unease, nice, slow character development, and an interesting backstory that takes its time to unfurl. They often called this style Quiet Horror and Charles L. Grant used to be the master at it. If you’re a fan, The Revenant is a nice representative. Pick yourself up a copy and have a taste of the way horror used to be.

4 1/2 Rolls of Haunted Film out of 5

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Closing Costs – Wesley Southard

Do you ever wonder whatever happens to those people that win the lottery? Do you assume that they’re sitting on a beach somewhere soaking up the sun and counting their money? More often than not, they piss away their dough and end up being broke only a few years after winning the lump sum. For Harris Whitecomb, he builds a huge mansion in the middle of nowhere Indiana before getting his head chopped off by one of his sons. Ever since, the Whitecomb house has been a realtor’s nightmare. I can’t imagine a multi-million dollar house is easy to sell in rural Indiana, especially one with a past like this. But, low and behold, for Hershel Merkley, his ship may have just came in in the form of a Russian filmmaker who has more money than he knows what to do with and is looking for a lavish, quiet place away from everything. Now all Hershel has to do is seal the deal. Ahh…wouldn’t you know it, there might be more to this house than meets the eye.

This is my first read of Wesley Southard’s work. I met him at StokerCon 2019, which prompted me to pick up a couple of his offerings. CLOSING COSTS was my first one and I like it. Wesley’s young, but the guy has the chops to be in the upper echelon of horror writers. He has a fast and furious writing style that borders on the minimalist side that’s pretty popular right now. People aren’t writing those 500+ doorstoppers anymore, unless your last name is King or Hill. Novella length seems to be the big sellers now and many authors are stripping away those page after page of descriptive prose for the lean and mean approach to accommodate the market. For me, I still like my books to have more meat on the bones and, yes, this is a preference thing. For people that like their reading to fall into less than a 100 pages, CLOSING COSTS is a fun, adrenaline paced read that will scratch your itch. While I like his writing, I still would’ve liked to have seen a more fleshed out story. CLOSING COSTS seemed to be over for me before it even got started. That’s my only complaint. So its all about what you’re looking for. I have no doubt that Southard can continue to grow as a writer and make a dent in the horror scene, and I’ll be right there reading him as he does.

4 Protective Rings of Salt out of 5

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Of Foster Homes and Flies – Chad Lutzke

Denny is a 12-year-old, only child to a widowed, alcoholic mother. Denny is making the awkward transition from being a boy into manhood. His mother isn’t much help, as she’s usually well on her way to polishing off her daily bottle of vodka by the time he gets home from school. With a nasty tongue and a quick right hand that often follows the verbal onslaught, his mother is a real piece of work, one that Denny often makes excuses for, but understandably finds hard to love. He gets through his days with one goal in mind – the upcoming spelling bee. He chickened out of it last year and, ever since, has had to live with that regret. This year, he vows it will be different. Not only will he compete in the bee, but he’s determined to win. And that’s what he’s thinking about on this morning when he finds her silent in her recliner with the TV blaring. This is nothing new. Most mornings she’s passed out cold from her vodka induced sleep. However, this morning, it’s not the case. This morning, she won’t be awake, because she’s stiff as a board dead in the chair. The only sadness and disappointment that Denny’s feeling is that her death will prevent him from competing in the upcoming contest and he can’t allow that to happen.

It’s rare you run across a perfect book. OF FOSTER HOMES AND FLIES is one of those books. Chad Lutzke has flown under the radar for a couple of years before this release. Ever since, he has steadily climbed up the ladder and for good reason. OF FOSTER HOMES AND FLIES is a warped coming-of-age tale he writes in the First Person/Present Tense format. When I say warped, I mean warped in the way we as adults would think about what transpires, but not warped if you were viewing it through an abused and awkward 12-year-old’s eyes. In fact, that’s where Lutzke shines. His narrative is spot-on and flawless for the character. This causes the reader to get sucked into the story and you feel horrible for Denny and all the shit he’s had to endure throughout his childhood, all of which he’s rationalized to be normal. OF FOSTER HOMES AND FLIES is heartwarming and horrific, all in the same breath. I found that I couldn’t put the book down and read it in a single sitting. It would surprise me if it didn’t have the same effect on you.

5 Blueberry Pop Tarts out of 5

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Bleed Away The Sky – Brian Fatah Steele

Bleed Away The Sky is the latest cosmic horror offering from Brian Fatah Steele. The weird girl, Audrey, learns that she has a half brother and they go on a cross-country adventure to get to know each other. What she doesn’t know is that she is the last of the Crimsonata, a hereditary power that is passed on down from mother to daughter that keeps Cenobite-like creatures from crossing over into our world. Unfortunately, her mother died when she was a little girl and she has no idea about these powers that are laying dormant within her. Without Audrey “flowing”, the creatures are slipping through into our world and wiping people out. A secret government X-file-like agency is investigating these murders and the strange happenings. They all merge together and attempt to save the world.

The premise had promise and I went in with high expectations. Brian has ability, there’s no doubt. There were some good things in BLEED. Unfortunately, the execution needs some work. While the creatures were good, the constant description of them using the same words was tedious. Audrey’s legacy was definitely an interesting thread that I would have liked to learn more about. The fact that her and her brother seemed to take the world going to shit all in stride seemed to be a misfire. There seemed to be too many times where they easily accepted the ultra extraordinary without much resistance. Some of the characters had a little bit too much of cartoonish qualities to them and blew out any suspension of disbelief for me. A little too one dimensional without depth. Another was where was the military and/or police during all of this hell breaking loose? There were just too many areas that needed tightened up for me to enjoy this one. I really do think Brian would’ve benefited with more proofreaders going through BLEED to point out all the discrepancies so that he could’ve tightened up the story. I do feel that, if that had been done, BLEED could’ve been that much more.

2 Dormant Traits that aren’t Blue Eyes out of 5

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