Saturday, June 16, 2018

Piranha Balls

Shirley Oliphant's dream is to take her grandkids on a picnic in a Rolls-Royce. Her husband, the old KO, finds just the car, a 1974 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow once owned by a Mr Van Buren, who brought the car back from Africa. Since his death, seven years ago, the Rolls has been sitting in Mr Van Buren's garage, keeping a secret. A deadly secret. And the old KO is about to discover that secret, and unleash it.

Africar by Martin Price is kind of like a steampunk version of the Langoliers. The slow setup aggravated me a bit, but, when the action finally begins, the terror is rather gruesome, especially when the creatures dig in.

While I think this story would have been better as a flash fiction piece beginning with the old KO working on the car, skipping the conversation with Liversausage, I did appreciate the details about his marriage and the accident...added an extra layer of anguish to the ending.

There are also a couple of excerpts from two other stories included, which look promising.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Friday, June 15, 2018

*TRIGGER WARNING*

When a six-year-old girl is abused and left for dead by a pedophile known only as the "Rabbit Man" due to the claw marks left on her body, police follow every lead but reach only dead ends.

Hungry for justice, her grieving father abandons wife and child on a harrowing journey deep undercover into Miami's sex offender colony under the Julia Tuttle Causeway. His purpose is simple: to find the "Rabbit Man" among them, and put him in the ground.

Months later, with no one to trust and the pedophiles he lives among growing suspicious of his actions, he learns nothing is simple where the monsters live.


Where The Monsters Live by Duncan Ralston touches on a deeply disturbing subject, but does not use the violation of children as a plot device. There are no graphic details. This story, instead, focuses on the helplessness and soul-searching of a victim's father and what he is willing to do to restore his peace of mind. In a way, his family suffers more from his quest for revenge than the actual crime.

Even though this is a work of fiction, it's not difficult to imagine a parent going through this exact thought process, dealing with all the frustration and emotional trauma of the pedophile getting away with hurting a child. The ending is an emotional roller coaster, with a couple of shocking twists. I'm glad Ralston chose to take the story in that particular direction.

There is also a short story included afterwards...Baby Teeth is so absolutely disturbing, I don't think any woman with fertility issues should read it. I don't think any pregnant women should read it either. However, if you enjoy horror which causes psychological trauma, be sure to read it.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Saying Goodbye To The Past

You can go home again, but sometimes you really, really shouldn't. 

Jessica Bates is a successful paranormal investigator with a new network TV deal, a boyfriend she loves, and no idea of the trouble she's about to find herself right smack in the middle of. 

Nobody told her the location of their latest episode and investigation site. Because they knew she'd never come with them if they did. Twenty years ago, Jessica's high school burned to the ground, killing all her friends while she watched. Now there are reports of strange noises and odd activity in the abandoned school, and the town has hired Jess's crew to figure out what is causing the disturbances. 

What they find is worse than they ever imagined. 


Reunion by John G. Hartness is the best ghost story I've read in a very long time...it has EVERYTHING! The setup has a steady pace, increasing the suspense as the backstory is revealed in pieces. When the paranormal activity kicked in, I was genuinely on edge, wondering if anyone would make it out alive. There is more than one twist in the plot, before the story ends. I wasn't able to predict any of it, and it's increasingly difficult for me to find stories which surprise me anymore.

Hartness writes with such a thrilling style, it's easy to visualize everything in the story...I think Reunion would make a fantastic horror movie.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Monstrous

A man, walked on his entire life by others, discovers his wife's infidelity, and decides to do something about it. After a deadly encounter in an alleyway he must look into the depths of himself to find the line unseen, and face the horror beyond.

The Line Unseen by Joe Hart has all the elements of classical horror: drama, suspense and psychological terror. Even though this is a short story, Hart's characters are well-developed, adding a gut-wrenching depth to Tim's misfortune. The details in every scene emphasize the dread and panic Tim is feeling, until the grotesque nightmare overwhelms him.

I'd love to see this story get some screen time.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

When Fear Consumes You

Jippa by KM Zafari is a flash fiction piece based on a nightmare the author once had. The descriptions are well-written and the imagery is terrifying. The use of "Jippa" for the title is a perfect choice. The setting is similar to cultural folklore, capturing the horror of allowing fear to be all-consuming.

Let me also take a moment to say, Zafari should've put the author's note AFTER the story. The note had nothing to do with the tale itself.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Monday, June 11, 2018

Appetite For Destruction

If you had the chance to hit the reset button, would you?
If a stranger told you they could take away your cancer, would you let them?
If paradise was gifted to you, a new life, a house by the lake, more money than you could imagine, and a wife for whom you would eventually love, would you agree to take that deal?

There is only one condition. In 20 years you must give something back. You don’t know what that something is, and you never will until you need to give it. 

All debts need paying in the end.

Everything has its price.


The Debt by Mark Lumby (author of Most of Me, Lord of the Harvest, Rats in the Loft and Bag of Buttons) is a visceral story about a young man named Jack Monday. Jack owes $500,000 to a pair of loan sharks, and, in order to pay off his debt, he essentially sells his life (not his soul) to a rather perverse man who calls himself Francis Dupont. What level of perverse, you may ask? Think: family orgies, torture, slaughter...all manner of depravity.

The POV switches between characters, with the story belonging just as much to Francis and his family as it does to Jack and his family. There are many difficult choices to be made throughout the book, and it's maddening to guess what path each character will choose. Once again, Lumby has succeeded in writing one hell of an original storyline.

While The Debt works as a stand-alone, I sincerely hope Lumby will consider writing a sequel...I'd love to see a good battle between granddaughter and grandfather.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Screwing With The Dead

How much would you pay for a night of passion with your favorite celebrity?

After her untimely passing, the body of a world-renowned actress falls into the hands of an unscrupulous restorative artist. Using the funeral home in which he works as a den of sexual depravity, he auctions off a once in a lifetime opportunity with one of Hollywood’s most beloved starlets.

One bidder, however, has something else on his mind.


Dead Heart by Brandon Ford is a story about loving the dead, in more than one way. The author had an interesting (and rather sickening) idea, but Ford never really went anywhere with his horrifying theme. There is POV switch between characters as the dead actress exchanges hands, and I think it is a mistake. I wish the author had stayed with Carl's storyline and given him the same treatment bestowed on the bodies of the deceased...or maybe switch to Abe's POV. John Smith could have at least been a necromancer or anything other than a lovesick loser. As is, the ending is dull compared to the rest of the story.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Friday, June 8, 2018

Incomplete

Pietro believes it shouldn't be that difficult to kill his work mate. After all, his is a dangerous job. And indeed, when he's up there on the top of the wind tower, and the storm is raging, it seems everyday rules no longer apply. Yet...


The Wind Tower by Peter Rey should come with a warning for those afraid of heights...the descriptions are dizzying. Two guys climbing to the top of a wind turbine with a storm coming is nerve-racking enough, but knowing one of them has murder on his mind makes for a rather distressing suspense story.

Unfortunately, the ending leaves a LOT to be desired. It's as if the author simply stopped writing at a certain point. I think, at the very least, there should have been some kind of epiphany or closure to Pietro's inner struggle. The story seems rather pointless without a proper ending.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Throwback Thursday Review

From Robert S. Wilson's debut collection WHERE ALL LIGHT IS LEFT TO DIE. When those with a special gift can catch your soul in that dark realm between here and hereafter and bring you back to life, who will save us all from the jealous void?

Every now and then, I need to remind myself why I became a fan of the horror genre. It wasn't because of the monsters (real or perceived) or the violence and/or gore...it was the unknown.

Robert S. Wilson takes the biggest unknown - death - and terrifies readers without monsters, gore or violence...just the darkness waiting to snatch the dying light.

In this story of a catcher, one who brings others back from death, he himself has to be rescued by another catcher. He also falls in love with someone he has caught. Eventually, the unknown catches up to him, and he can't ignore it any longer.

Great flash fiction for fans of The Twilight Zone or Tales From The Darkside.


As always,
AstraDaemon

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Should've Used A Paper Map

After Jimmie uploads an update to his GPS, the device develops an attitude and starts calling the shots. During an outing, its obsession with Jimmie becomes dangerous for him and his girlfriend as the GPS subtly formulates and implements a systematic plan to take Brenda out so it can have Jimmie all to itself. Jimmie finds himself in a nightmarish predicament and is fighting for survival, resisting the mounting calculated threats and blackmail. The machine evolves into an entity, and its kisses… are deadly.

Kisses, Suzi by Joanie Chevalier is a suspense-thriller about a man having supernatural issues with his GPS. Considering some of the weird stories circulating about Alexa, this story is all the more frightening. The author mixes horror and science fiction for an intense evening drive, as Jimmie struggles to regain control over "Suzi" before Brenda realizes the danger right in front of her. The ending left me wondering if the GPS is the real cause behind Jimmie's problems.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Dirty Money

Emerson Cartwright is a wealthy, respected business man. He’s also a man with an obsession. Doctors, therapists, hypnotists, nothing seems to help him fight the compulsion to pick up found change, to hoard every coin he and his family has every held. When he discovers a hidden letter from his great grandmother, he begins to wonder if this family quirk stems from a sinister deal made long ago. Emerson desperately wants to break the cycle and shed the burden of this obsession, but the price he needs to pay may be too high.

A Slave To The Coin by Debra Dunbar appears to be a short story centered on a man suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder. I could feel the pressure from Emerson's compulsion to pick up any coin he sees. The family superstition about money is a nice touch as well, but Emerson's suffering runs much deeper than he realizes. The very end is a shocking heartbreak.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Monday, June 4, 2018

Ink and Blood

A dead writer asks you to help him kill. He’s not asking for complicity in a murder, however; he’s asking for vengeance. 

The target is a monster of a man who did terrible things to the writer’s family. 

The choice is yours: finish the story and help administer justice, or put the tale down unfinished and leave the monster’s fate in someone else’s hands?


Ghost Writer by Nick Wisseman is a flash fiction story revealed through the last written request of a dead man. The narrator describes events leading up to a devastating conflict with his killer. Not much in the way of action, but this piece is written in the style of Edgar Allan Poe, which is sure to appeal to classical horror fans.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Integrity vs. Insanity

The zombie apocalypse is underway, and Reggie is facing his worst nightmare. The question is, as the metal and wood of the shotgun warms under his grasp, whether or not his love is strong enough?

Daddy's Little Girl by Tee Morris is a flash fiction story about the struggle between a father and daughter. Reggie just wants his family back together again, but he's already failed them once and he's not sure he can keep his word. The author's depiction of the undead is very unusual.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Five Minutes Of Fear

My buddy Bryan liked to collect dolls...

Naturally, people made fun of him for it...
that a man his age would have such a childish hobby...

Bryan didn't care... He loved his doll collection...
and doted on them like they were his own children...

Little did he know, his obsession would be his undoing...


The Peruvian Doll by Christopher Kai is a frightening piece of flash fiction. Bryan's friend is a cop, but nothing in his career could've prepared him for the horror he finds in Bryan's bedroom. The descriptions are grotesque and the action is surreal. In the end, a life-altering decision must be made. Not the doll story one might expect.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Monday, May 28, 2018

A Rose By Any Other Name

Before the attacks, Rose’s life was simple.

Before there was mass violence in America, she was a university student in Liverpool.

Before her roommate was savagely attacked, she wanted to make the world a better place.

That was before the zombie outbreak.

Now, Rose and her best friend Lyra are forced to flee their flat and find refuge onboard a yacht with a group of armed survivors. Although safety seems likely on the open sea, it’s only a matter of time before a new outbreak occurs.


First Light by Kody Boye is Book 1 in The Daylight Cycle Series. The story is told from Rose's POV, giving readers the personal experience of survival across two continents and one ocean. Her quest to feel safe takes her farther away from everyone and everything she's ever known, and Rose suffers a great deal mentally and physically, even when she isn't fighting for her life. The author does an excellent job of detailing the main character's progressive PTSD, as well as the way her inner struggle complicates her interactions with other survivors.

Rose is someone I can respect, but Lyra is another story. I am not happy with the way she takes credit for keeping Rose alive, even when Rose is obviously capable of taking care of herself. Granted, the two young women needed each other to stay alive in their initial escape from Liverpool, but Rose appears to have a better grasp on their new reality than Lyra does. It's almost as if Lyra attempts to punish Rose for becoming independent and deciding to join the militia at Fort Hope.

Even though I am impressed with Rose's journey, literally and figuratively, I am concerned with her current attitude. I'm afraid she's going to create more problems for herself, if she doesn't get a grip on her emotions. Hopefully, she will find comfort in the key information revealed at the close of the first book.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Only Took Me Four Years

SPOILER WARNING: This review is for the fourth book in a series. I've tried to avoid revealing key details, but if you click on the author's name, you will find an interview with Harbinger as well as brief reviews of the first three books.

I've finally managed to read all four books in the Undead Rain series by Shaun Harbinger. I began the series in 2014, so I had to reread the first three. I've read hundreds of zombie stories over the years and I've seen a lot of repetition within the genre. However, this series has always managed to stand out, due to Harbinger's unique twist on the undead.

Wildfire, the fourth book in the series is the best one yet. I am so impressed with this series, I would love to see it become a television show. Alex is an outstanding character who has adapted both physically and mentally to his new reality. The hybrids are a thrilling way to amp up the danger factor. Last but not least, the effects of the vaccine on the various virus mutations creates several possible outcomes for all involved. Harbinger has thought of everything: horror, suspense, drama, mystery and even a touch of science fiction.

I feel sorry for Alex. While he still struggles in certain situations, he never half-asses anything, yet he's the one who often bears the brunt of everyone's frustration and anger. Anyone can be a hero when everything is going your way and everyone loves you, but Alex insists on doing the right things in the worst circumstances, often with others undermining him...a hero is the purest sense.

Even when he discovers the fate of his family, Alex decides to keep fighting. I'm excited for the fifth book...new characters, a change in setting and the promise of a terrifying battle of species. I hope Harbinger doesn't go soft in the end.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Thursday, May 24, 2018

When The Cold Does Bite

A military team is dispatched to locate the source of a strange radiation in Antarctica. They find far more than they bargained for and quickly become locked in a battle for survival with monsters straight out of legend.

Attack of the Yetis by Eric S. Brown is snow-covered carnage in the form of Yetis vs. soldiers. However, Brown creates his own version of this popular creature of legend, with a surprising mix of horror and science fiction. There is no joy to be found in these pages, only action and death...but the battle scenes are amazing.

I'm hoping Brown might consider writing a sequel to this novella, or maybe even a prequel. I have so many unanswered questions about these Yetis.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Cost of Free Will

Three weeks after Daniel moved to Hampton Falls, his friend Jack mysteriously goes missing. The last place he was seen was outside Old Man Winters house on the outskirts of Town. Ten years have passed and Jack is still absent from their lives. 


A sequence of events guide Daniel towards this house again as if this brick and mortar wants to give up its secrets. What he discovers will unlock the truths to his past, present and future. He must gamble between the love of a family he knows and the family he never had. Choices have to be made, but who can he trust?


A relic stored within the bowels of the basement wants him. It’s a mirror, and it will steal away his soul until it can take no more. Daniel will be tested by the evils that reflect back at him; he will loath what he sees, but his heart will beat like a man sick in love. He will learn how to use the energy it emits, but with its abuse come dark prices.


Can Daniel control the darkness that pulses through the mirror? Or is it merely manipulating him? Whatever happens, he must never leave the mirror unattended, must guard the relic against the evils that want to pass through from the other side. 

Can Daniel trust the children?


Most of Me by Mark Lumby is a cautionary tale about free will and the consequences of choices. Daniel once again finds himself in front of the ominous house from his childhood. As a boy, he wisely chose to keep his distance, but, as an adult, he makes the unfortunate mistake of stepping through the red front door. In a similar manner to such movies as Insidious and Occulus, Lumby builds suspense by hinting at the real horror with key details cleverly scattered throughout the story.

Although I am a fan of Mark Lumby, I am a little disappointed with the quality of the novel. I don't usually get hung up on typos, but there are so many mistakes throughout the entire book, I have to address the sloppy editing. I am concerned readers new to the author's work will be turned off and not bother to finish the story. The ending is mind-blowing and completely shocking, but I know a lot of horror fans that won't bother to finish the book.

I really hope Lumby hires an editor to polish this novel. He has an excellent writing style, but all the errors weaken the delivery. I suggest readers begin with Lumby's short stories and, perhaps, they will be forgiving about the poor editing and enjoy the complicated storyline.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Friday, May 4, 2018

Fighting Tooth And Nail

Aatu is eighteen years old, a respectable landowner, and about to marry the girl he loves. The south coast of Finland provides everything his little village requires.

It’s a peaceful life, until a band of ex-Crusaders land on the shore. With the harsh winter and lean times approaching, they cannot be allowed to stay for long. When their priests disturb things best left alone, Aatu fears a minor annoyance will become a disaster.

Aatu’s people turn to the old ways to fight the enemy, to teeth and claws instead of swords and spears. Though they are outnumbered and unused to fighting, Aatu is about to discover that wild wolves are not the most fearsome predators in this land, and even the most peaceful people can become ferocious in defense of the ones they love.


By the Light of the Moon by Blake Smith is a mix of historical fiction and the supernatural, although the author does take huge liberties with the historical part. I'm reminded of both movies Pathfinder and Kingdom of Heaven, with an original version of a familiar creature included. The story is not as predictable as one might think.

In addition to surprising readers with some rather dramatic scenes, Smith fleshes out her characters with details about personal relationships, as well as family history. By the time the end battle is over, readers will be left breathless and torn.

I will be adding this story to my Top 2018 list.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Just Burn The House Down

Jimmy Turner is terrified. Very frightening things are happening in the neighborhood and he can’t figure out why. The Maggots Underneath the Porch is a powerful coming-of-age novella circa 1975. In the midst of a mid-West group of teens who are collecting baseball cards and beer cans, experiencing the cultural impact of JAWS, playing little league baseball, blasting guitar God rock music on ghetto blasters, a ravenous abomination is about to unleash death and mayhem on their unsuspecting rural community! Will any of them survive? And how many in the town will become victims before its carnage can be stopped? Beware the lurking danger that festered and formed amidst the rotting filth of The Maggots Underneath the Porch!

The Maggots Underneath the Porch by Patrick James Ryan is not that difficult to imagine happening in real life, for a variety of reasons. Ryan does an amazing job of describing ongoing events, creating an interest in the characters and layering one tragedy on top of another. The result is a horrific outburst, forever altering young Jimmy's life.

Unfortunately, after the major horror is revealed, the story ends shortly after. I am disappointed with the small amount of action. I lost count of how many times I physically gagged while reading this story, but I pushed through the graphic details, expecting "mayhem" to be unleashed all over the town. Instead, the story remains centered on Jimmy's household. There also wasn't as much carnage as I was led to believe.

I wish Ryan had put as much effort into the ending as he did with the rest of the story, but, for the record, the author kept me both engrossed and grossed out to the very last page. Even if this story doesn't sit well with some readers, I encourage horror fans to try some of Ryan's other stories.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Supernatural Science Fiction

Six strangers find themselves on a subway train that seems to have no destination. Defying logic and reason, this train has no beginning and no end. These six strangers will find themselves pushed to the limits, overcoming fear and suspicion of their fellow passengers as they attempt to explain the unexplainable circumstances of being trapped on an endless train while trying to find a way off before it's too late. It's a train ride they'll never forget, if they survive.

The Last Stop by Matthew Hanover is a weird tale about a group of people trapped on a moving train. The reactions of the passengers are believable for that situation, with realistic dialogue and intense interactions between the characters. The various theories tested by the group kept me hooked, even though the setting is a single train car. The references to The Twilight Zone is a fantastic touch.

If the author can be this creative with just a short story, I'd love to read a novel written in this style.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Some Kids Will Put Anything In Their Mouths

A therapist meets with a very odd little boy.

Don't Bite by Joshua Scribner is a flash fiction piece about a little boy with a dark secret. The story isn't as straight-forward as you might expect. While the ending is somewhat predictable, the reason for the boy's actions is a surprising take on a bit of folklore.


This story reminded me of the time I bit a bully in the first grade. We lived in Alaska at the time and we were on the school playground, so we were pretty bundled up.

The kid was about three years older, in the third grade, and bigger than anyone else on the playground. He terrorized everyone, not just me. That day he had cut in line in front of me, and I finally snapped...grabbed his arm and chomped down. I bit him so hard, even with his poofy jacket and all his layers, I left teeth marks on his skin. He cried. I gloated.

I had to take a note home, explaining what I did. My dad asked me why I bit the kid. I told him how I had been bullied for months and had enough, but I knew I was too small to take the boy in a fair fight, so biting was the logical choice in my 5 yr old mind.

My dad told me not to bite anyone else and taught me some self-defense moves...

As always,
AstraDaemon

Monday, April 30, 2018

I Feel Jacked Up

Zack, Zack Goldman, pleased to meet you. I'm a runner. I know you don't know what that is. It's better if I just show you. 

See this wire? Yeah, this one here coming out of my arm. This is my connection to the net. You probably don't know that one either. I'll get to that. 

There was a time when wireless was the way to go. Everything connected in what they used to call clouds. The world was easier then. 

Then we found true virtual reality. Jammed that shit straight into our brains. Wireless wasn't fast enough. We're talking full on change in perception of worlds here. The MMOs that people used to play were immersive, you were part of their world. Kid's play. 

The net changed all that. World Dynamics created the first neural net. A virtual world built in the user's mind. Sure, it was electronic, and computers were a key component. Hell, you have to have a deck as part of your interface. But when you are logged into the net, the physical world is the world your programming creates. 

Sure, it's all still data, nothing but 1s and 0s. It's your user interface that sets the stage and builds the world you see. Like I said, I'm a runner. In the old world they might have called me a hacker. I specialize in data retrieval.

And I'm late. So, if you will excuse me, I have work to do.


The Nothing's Child by Jon M. Jefferson is a science fiction story wired with suspense. I felt really dumb at times because of all the tech talk, but I still enjoyed this sci-fi mystery. Zach is hired for a run, a job he thought had been successful. Much to his surprise and dismay, several groups of people are hunting him afterwards. Once Zach figures out what happened to his team, readers are introduced to yet another enigma.

Sometimes I felt like the narrator explained too much...I would have preferred more action. However, Jefferson created such a believable futuristic lifestyle, I think Zach should have his own series. I would also like to know more about the child. If the author leaves this as a stand-alone, I'm going to be pissed.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Nothing Is What It Seems [Interview]

Mists of the Dead by Travis Adkins resembles a blend of Warhammer fantasy, zombie horror and Monty Python humor. This is nothing like Adkins previous work, Twilight of the Dead and After Twilight...more like something one would find in a hardcore RPG session. There is a lengthy setup as characters are introduced one by one, while Warrel the Suave has several detailed interactions in the process of preparing for a lengthy journey with a famous wizard.

Once the travel party is underway, I almost died laughing at the name of the God of Crossroads, but I managed to keep reading. The variety of creatures they encounter is amazing and the descriptions are so good, at times I felt I was right there with Warrel and the others.

The novel is well-written and has a lot to offer readers, but there were times I struggled to get through the slow pace. I had several false starts in the reading process because I needed to be in the right mood for this genre mix. I also disliked Warrel quite a bit...he has such a high opinion of himself, very irritating...but his annoying qualities made him a more interesting character.

I asked Adkins to stop by the Lair to answer some questions about his latest release to offer more insight into Mists of the Dead...





Author Travis Adkins with his wife, Rebecca.
Q. Mists of the Dead is quite a departure from your writing style in Twilight of the Dead, or any of your previous work, for that matter…where did the idea for this story come from?

The idea began, very roughly, as a short story I started writing to go into Permuted Press’ Undead Anthology volume 2 or 3, (wherever it would fit,) way back in the day. It had the characters Warrel, Kogliastro, and Gumgen, and began on the Smuggler’s Trail. Characters had no backstory, and the story itself was going to be straight-up swords & sorcery versus zombies.

But I abandoned it. I don’t like sitting down in front of my computer and just “making up” a story as I go along. It feels too cheap—like I’m cheating the potential reader. It feels no different than when you were a kid at bedtime, or sitting around a campfire, and asked a grownup to tell you a story. Some people are better at it than others, but nonetheless there is a flood of improvised stories that in the end mean nothing. They have no substance. I don’t want to contribute to that, which is why I’m nowhere near prolific as I’d like to be.

But, it seems, no idea of mine stays abandoned forever. In my mind, over time, the characters grew, new situations were presented, and the world expanded. I keep a plethora of notes and outlines. My notes are probably as long, if not longer, than the novel itself. I add notes to stories every day. And only when the story was fully-formed, and had meaning, and had structure, did the urge become irresistible to sit down and put it together. I think that’s mainly why I don’t consider myself a writer—I’m more of a “story-putter-togetherer.”

“Where did the idea for the story come from,” though was your question. And the best answer I can give in a short amount of space is, there is a multitude of ideas wrapped in a skin of plot to hold them together, and bones to give them structure. In many ways the events and situations are an allegory for my autobiography.

Q. When I read this story, it kind of reminded me of the Gotrek & Felix books from Warhammer. Which genre influenced you more: fantasy or horror?

Every genre influenced me, but certainly fantasy and horror are at the forefront. Also, in the interest of sharing equal time: the unsung genre that most contributed was Victorian poetry and prose. It was verse I had never truly explored until I met my wife, who teaches Victorian literature, and so I desired to read the books she taught so as to better converse with her on the topic. For many years I did not write; I only read. And read and read and read. I read everything from many genres. Nothing did not disinterest me. But when it came to Victorian prose, I was absolutely smitten. I found publishing houses that helped give me my fix: Norton and Broadview republish the classics, and a company called Valancourt releases the really obscure stuff.

In your first question you addressed the different writing style, and I think this is a good place to explain it. This writing style is my default now. It’s how I see words structured when I’m forming paragraphs in my head. Mists of the Dead was so Victorian, in fact, that the final editor (and owner of Henchman Press,) Leo Champion, asked me to break up some of the longest paragraphs—paragraphs that sometimes went on for pages. The ideas and concepts of a Victorian paragraph are meant to be ingested—and ruminated upon—as a whole. (Similar to how I say Kurt Cobain’s songs are meant to be understood.) I was resistant at first to break up my paragraphs, until Leo said, “The Victorians have been dead for a hundred years.” And then I understood I needed to poke my head up a little further from antiquity.

Q. Did you have a specific audience in mind when you were creating the character Warrel? Why did you choose someone like him to share this adventure?

I made a bard because, especially in Dungeons & Dragons-type fantasy, they are generally considered jacks-of-all-trades. I needed a protagonist who thinks, sees, and feels, questions everything, and wants to learn as much as he can. A bard takes interest in all things and has a grasp of many topics. And in Warrel, I wanted to make the quintessential bard—a poet, a musician, a romanticist, an acrobat, quick-witted, silver-tongued, and able to seduce anyone or anything—every hallmark of a bard, and make the character feel real, not just a caricature for a roleplaying session. What would a bard be like in the flesh?

I said earlier the book functions as an allegory, and one of my intentions writing it was to present a kind of humanist philosophy. Now Warrel isn’t the best humanist, because this is a story and he is a bard, but he learns and he thinks and he feels.

Q. What was your process for creating this world and the characters who live within?

I’d say more than half of my exposure to the fantasy genre comes from games—tabletop and video. And these games have many sequels and the worlds within stretch for eons without any real change. Sure, there are wars and other calamities, but nothing is ever invented. And I always questioned, “Really?” Why are these worlds stagnant for so long? You could look at a map, and aside from geopolitical changes, the landscape is generally the same.

So for my world, and in keeping with my Victorian theme, the first rule was: Change. And I don’t think it’s difficult for a reader to understand. This is every fantasy world you’re familiar with, with the exception that it’s finally entered an Age of Steam. They have railroads, telegraphs, and rudimentary photography. If it dips its toes in Steampunk, it’s only incidentally. I wanted to explore, much in the same way of Victorian controversies, the fear of all this newness, and in a fantasy setting what all this innovation means for magic users. Which species will thrive under the weight of technological progress, and which will succumb?

Q. Do you have plans to do anything more with this particular world?

I have notes and outlines for several other novels that occur on Erda. They’ll take place all around the same time. Different characters, some overlap.

I’m currently working on a novel called Wickhaven. In a departure from the narrative structure of Mists of the Dead, it will have several point-of-view protagonists, including a paladin of a dead god, an archer from the Gold Wall, and Bartolio, the half-dwarven librarian cleric we saw in Nimbo’s shop.

Q. What else can readers expect from you in 2018?

By request I wrote a story, (after a month of outlining and research,) for an anthology by Thom Brannon and Rob Pegler called Wizards of Mass Destruction. It should be out this year.

Thank you for sharing!


If you're not a true fan of the fantasy genre, don't even try to read this book...otherwise, prepare yourself for one hell of an adventure.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Monkey Scratch

The green hell that is the Netherlands East Indies in 1859 is a dangerous place—but soldier of fortune Patrick "Blackie" Boyle is a dangerous man. Trapped between Malay fanatics on one side and Dayak headhunters on the other, menaced by sinister sorcery and entranced by a beautiful jungle queen, Blackie will need all his formidable skill as a fighting man to survive!

Red Shadows, Green Hell by David Hardy is a short story about a man facing a multitude of threats in an unforgiving terrain. There is a lot of description about the setting, but the characters lack any real depth. This makes it difficult to dig into the plot, and gives the impression the author is better suited for writing movie scripts, rather than a story.

Hardy's writing style is most likely to appeal to fans of the black and white adventure movies from the 1940s...maybe.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Friday, April 27, 2018

When The Dead Come Calling

It's 1869 and in the town of Lazarus, California, the dead don't stay that way. Luella Pembry arrives in town with a plan to stop the Risings taking place, for a price. Haunted by her own dark past, she enlists the aid of Sheriff Drake to help her find out what is causing the Dead to rise. Together, they race to unravel the mystery that threatens the town.

Lazarus by Lori Titus is a supernatural novella filled with mystery and suspense. Titus once again reveals her talent for creating a metaphysical drama, not unlike a terrifying soap opera. In this case, Luella comes to Lazarus to help them with their undead problem, but she finds herself drawn into a family history full of betrayal, deceit and murder. A ghost from the past requests Luella's assistance in tying up a loose end...with a noose. Luella knows she will likely die in the process, but she never refuses the dead.

I'm not necessarily a fan of stories set in this time period, but Titus avoids getting caught up in an elaborate setting and, instead, focuses on the characters and their interactions with each other. The result is a well-paced thriller about several dark secrets buried within the town.


As always,
AstraDaemon

Thursday, April 26, 2018

A Good Day To Die

Canton was a quiet, little town in the middle of nowhere until the night the monsters came. The Sasquatch emerged from the woods surrounding the town to wage war upon its residents. Now only the local sheriff and a group of young geeks might have a chance at stopping the Sasquatch from drenching the streets of the town red with the blood of anyone unlucky enough to be in their path.

Day of the Sasquatch by Eric S. Brown is a brutal novella about the battle between townies and the legendary Bigfoot. The violence is graphic, the action is nerve-wracking and the outcome is devastating. Brown offers up just enough background on his characters to make each of them relatable or endearing in some way, then he splatters the pages with their brains and guts. Gotta love an author who doesn't show favor to any of his characters.

The POV rotates between the appearances and confrontations with the Sasquatch in different parts of town, revealing to readers just how screwed everyone really is. Knowing more than the various groups of people had me screaming bloody murder through most of the story. The ending is like a kick in the face, after crawling through an obstacle course full of corpses.

If you are a sensitive reader, move along because Eric S. Brown is here to remind everyone how traumatizing the horror genre can be.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Blood and Food [Interview]

I've been on Instagram for just over two years (@astradaemon) and it's been the most positive experience I've had with social media to date. I've met people from all over the world, viewed countless amazing photographs, but, most importantly, I've found more authors!

One such author is Ruth Miranda from Portugal. She liked something I posted, so I viewed her gallery to see what she is about...the lady has a great mix of food and books. (Who wouldn't be interested in that combination?) I traveled from her IG account to her Amazon Author page and one story caught my eye...

'Chaos' Nilsson has it all: a successful career in the music industry, fame, money, the girl. 
He also has a monkey on his back, brought about by the visions that plague his mind and haunt his every waking moment; visions that will only be quietened when he numbs himself with generous amounts of alcohol and drugs.  
After an accident that nearly costs him his life, he embarks on a journey of self discovery, in search of his roots and the secret to the blood coursing through his vein.

Blood by Ruth Miranda is so much more than a horror story with supernatural creatures. This novella is a family drama centered around a young man named Caius, who has recently survived an extremely traumatic experience and he now requires therapy. During his sessions, Cai reveals he is suffering from brutal visions...memories of life he's never lived. He soon realizes his family has been keeping several secrets from him, the kind of secrets that tear apart loved ones and destroy lives.

Miranda alternates between the visions and Cai's sessions, creating the right amount of suspense to lure readers in, only to be faced with blood, teeth, lies and deceit, as Cai attempts to find the truth behind his many "gifts." The story pours along rather quickly with the visions continuing, even as the young man travels far from home.

The cast of characters and the detailed lore behind each one is making the wait for the sequel excruciating...so I decided to kill some time by inviting Ruth Miranda to the Lair...


Q. Where did the idea for Blood come from? Did you do any research for your characters’ special traits?

It actually came from the photo used for the book cover. I was playing around with ideas for another book cover when I happened upon that image, and suddenly, a story came into my mind, the main characters already very defined. I did not research any traits, used mostly my own life experience.

Q. There are so many layers to this story…do you have a specific message you are trying to get across to your readers?

I don’t think so. My main goal with Blood was to entice the readers into start making up assumptions in their minds, as to what was going on. I actually started doing that before publishing the novella, by sharing teasers on my Instagram that really helped spike up curiosity. But in the end, maybe what I am trying to say with this story is that perhaps nothing is thicker than blood?

Q. Why did you choose to write within this sub-genre of horror? Is this also what you prefer to read?

I read everything, except sappy romance. My favourite authors are Stephen King, Agatha Christie, Donna Tart, Anne Rice. But I mostly write in the Paranormal genre, usually Paranormal Romance, or Paranormal Fantasy. I do like to mix up several sub-genres, but to be honest, I never looked at Blood as horror, to me it was a Paranormal Urban Fantasy, very much like my previous novels, The Preternaturals Series – although these are very much romance infused, and Blood lacks that.

Q. For some reason, many of the authors I know are chefs, bakers, etc., even if they write in different genres. Do you think this is a coincidence or do you think there is a serious connection between food and the written word?

I see books and writing as food for the mind, so yes, I think there’s a bit of a connection there. I love cooking, but I mostly love eating, and I have a slight obsession with feeding my family balanced meals with the occasional treat. I’m also very much of a wine lover, which goes together so well both with books and food, doesn’t it? I think they all come together in the end. The first novel I published actually delves a bit more into food, it’s a Mystery Romance and food does play an important part in it.


Q. You seem to be equally passionate about cooking and writing. How do you find time for both?

Well, I am a stay at home mom, so I can indulge in writing all day long while my son’s at school. And seeing that my husband works full time, I think it’s only fair I get to do the cooking on work-days. Most of my food is every day, simple fair, and because I can afford the time, I usually spend a bit playing around with food, so I get to serve something that is nourishing but also delicious and interesting to eat. As for my writing, even when I’m lying down to sleep, I find myself coming up with stories, or lines, sentences and even whole chapters that end up in paper the next day, after they’ve stewed in my head. But not working outside the home does provide me with time for all this.

Q. The Lair has a lot viewers who will enjoy your new Blood series. Is there anything else you would like them to know about your writing? What do you have planned for the rest of this year?

I plan to write another two novellas related to Blood this year, focusing both on events that come after those taking place in Blood and those before it. I am also working on an Arthurian saga, two volumes are already written and am on the third and hopefully final one, but I don’t think these will be published before the end of the year, probably only by 2019. These also connect with Blood in a sense that some characters overlap, and the “universe” created for them is the same, as it is with The Preternaturals Series. So there’s still a lot of work ahead for me, which is great, I love what I do!

Thank you for visiting the Lair!


I will be keeping track of Ruth Miranda as the new titles come out, so readers can expect to see more of her work here in the future.

As always,
AstraDaemon



Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Don't Date Co-Workers

An old injury, a co-worker and a cat - with an ending that will shock all three of them.

Bernard is a successful, but broken, middle-aged car salesman with a smooth plan in mind. Nancy is an attractive co-worker who invites him to her home for her own special plans. A short story with a strange and surprising horror-filled twist.

And there's only one witness that can tell the story.


The Hand by J.F. Watership is strange and somewhat predictable, but oddly entertaining in a way only horror fans will appreciate. Nancy is socially awkward, Bernard appears to be anti-social and the cat is more of a distraction than anything. All I can say without giving away any spoilers is this: if I had read this kind of story in my 20s, I would have been afraid to go anywhere with anyone.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Monday, April 23, 2018

Like Finding a Turd On Your Lawn

In this short tale of brutality, a teen, living in a world gone awry, contemplates his vicious lifestyle.

Cursed by D.W. Nathan is more of an enigma than anything. A group of boys are torturing another boy as they drag him off to be killed. The story is narrated by one of the cruel boys, but not much is revealed. Readers aren't told much about their "lifestyle." The setting is dystopian, but it's unclear why the kids seem to have the run of the place. There is a moment suggesting people have turned into cannibals to survive, but, again, the narrator focuses mostly on the state of the victim.

I think Terry could've provided a better ending than the narrator's half-assed epiphany. I even thought something supernatural might happen at the top of the hill, but, no, the author dragged readers up those rocks for a fart-in-the-wind ending.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Best of All Possible Worlds

Cara Sheels is a gifted scientist, and she’s discovered time-travel. She uses the invention to go into the past and to alter just one thing that should change the world, saving it from an inevitable demise.
But in Cara’s haste, she never considers what could happen if she succeeds, changing the past, changing our future. When she returns, what awaits her in the new timeline? What terrifying consequences might have brought back?


Portals by Brian Spangler is a time-travel story with a similar paradox as in The Time Machine (H.G. Wells), but Spangler creates an original approach to the problems brought up in the science fiction genre. The author also describes a variety of futures generated by Cara's efforts in the past, each one with its own devastating outcomes. I'm surprised Cara doesn't just kill herself, but I'm also wondering why the characters never seem to take the universal paradox into consideration.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Scary AF

It’s four in the morning and Emily is heading home on a London Underground train. But the Night Tube is running slow tonight – delays caused by a signal failure, as usual.

The train stops again, stuck in a tunnel between Tube stations. And then the lights go off. The motors cut out. Silence from the driver.

All the doors slide open at the same time, exposing the passengers to the tunnel.

To let them out? 

Or to let something in?


Signal Failure by David Wailing is not a story you want to be reading on the subway. Wailing took an inconvenience and turned it into traumatic nightmare. Although, I'm still unsure what exactly took place in the tunnel and the fate of the train remains a mystery, the suspense had me in a full panic. Not much detail is given about the passengers, but I feared for them, just the same.

I am pleasantly surprised at how Wailing transformed a common horror theme into a very original and extremely terrifying story. I couldn't help but wonder if Emily's mother experienced something similar. I would LOVE to see Signal Failure become a movie.

As always,
AstraDaemon