Wednesday, November 22, 2017

There's A New Monster In Town, His Name Is Tommy

I first stumbled across Elias Witherow at the Creepy Catalog section of Thought Catalog. That is where I discovered the scariest monster I've ever encountered in the horror genre: Tommy Taffy. Freddy, Pinhead...even those goblin things from Phantasm don't compare to The Third Parent, so when Witherow finally released a full-length novel featuring the terrifying visitor, Tommy, I had mixed feelings. Part of me was excited because Elias Witherow is an excellent story-teller who could put the Crypt Keeper to shame, but the Tommy Taffy stories truly gave me nightmares for months. I didn't even want to answer my door whenever someone knocked.

No one knows where he came from. No one knows what he wants. No one dares ask about his strange physical abnormalities. For a quiet suburban neighborhood, things are about to change. And it starts with a knock at the door.

Follow his rules. Don't call the police. Listen to his lessons. That's what Jack and his family were told. Held captive in their own house, they must face a growing storm of mental and physical trauma as they try to just stay alive.

But even if Jack can survive the horror of his childhood, will his tormentor ever leave him alone? And who is he really?

Who is Tommy Taffy?

The Third Parent by Elias Witherow is not the same story featured at Thought Catalog. As a matter of fact, there is a point in this story that refers to the first Tommy Taffy tale in past tense, so it's established that this Tommy nightmare takes place after the first one. Unfortunately, that means Tommy has been terrorizing more than one family for decades. I was well aware of Tommy's perversions and brutality before I began this story, but readers who are not familiar with the monster Tommy Taffy need to mentally prepare's not so much the level of violence, as much as the sick logic Tommy applies to his "lessons." If you think the horror genre has lost it's edge, I dare you to read this.

I wrote about Elias Witherow back in May of this year, but I thought this time I would invite him into the Lair for an interview...

Q. How did you end up writing for the Thought Catalog?

A. They actually reached out to me a while ago and asked for permission to post some of my NoSleep stories. I agreed and I kept in touch with their editors. When the time came to publish my first book, I approached them to see if they were willing to do that. They agreed and I’ve been publishing with them ever since.

Q. Have you written for any other websites or magazines, etc.?

A. I mostly stick to T.C. and the NoSleep reddit. I’ve submitted things in the past to a couple magazines, but nothing really came of it. I write a lot for the NoSleep Podcast though, and I’ve worked on the Darkest Night Podcast as well.

Q. What is the first story you ever published?

A. The first short story I ever published was this little piece of flash fiction called “horse/8min”. It wasn’t much, but it made it into the final cut of my short story collection that I published about a year later. 

Q. Do you consider yourself a horror author or do you just write stories that happen to scare the crap out of other people?

A. I think I do consider myself a horror author. But there are many aspects of horror besides the clichés we are used to. I like to write about horrible things. What shape or form they come it can vary drastically. Like the book I’m working on now wouldn’t be considered by the genre as “horror”, but there are some truly awful things that happen in it.

Q. Where did the idea for Tommy come from?

A. I’m honestly not sure where Tommy Taffy came from. I remember I was driving one day, not really thinking about anything, and he was suddenly there. Everything from his laugh, to his personality, to how he looked…it all was just…there. And I knew I had to write a story about him.

Q. Have readers seen the last of Tommy or is there a chance he will be terrorizing another generation on a different street?

A. I’ll never say “never”, but for now I think Tommy has to go away for a while.

Q. Do you have plans to turn any of your other short story series into a full-length novel?

A. Well, I did that with my short story “Feed the Pig”. I turned it into a full length novel called “The Black Farm”. As for the other short stories? Yeah, I’d love to. I don’t know if it’ll ever happen, but I’ve been kicking around some ideas. The hard part is picking one.

Q. Do you have any career plans/goals as an author?

A. The dream is to write full time and support myself purely from that. If I could do that, I think I’d be the happiest guy in the world.

Q. Who or what influences your writing?

A. King was a huge influence, from a literal standpoint. As he is with most of us. Other influences stem from personal experiences I’ve had or things I’ve witnessed growing up.

Q. Do you have any writing rituals, such as playing specific music or anything else to set the mood?

A. Yeah for sure. I always put on some dark ambient music before I sit down to write. I can’t do anything with lyrics and prefer some kind of groaning undertone while I work.

Q. What would you like your fans to know about you? What do you want to tell new readers discovering you for the first time?

A. I want my fans to know that if they have any questions or comments or just want to say hi, then feel free to message me on my author page. I’m a pretty friendly guy, I promise haha. I love talking with readers and hearing about their experiences. It’s great fun and I like feeling connected to my base. As for the new readers? Just finish the book/story before casting your stones haha.

Thank you for stopping by, Elias!

As a matter of fact, The Black Farm is on my personal reading list, so we will definitely be seeing more of Witherow in the near future.

As always,

Sunday, November 19, 2017


Sean T. Page is a regular here at the Lair. I recently discovered that he's written a couple of shorts I hadn't read yet. I began this month with 1975...seems only right to include another of his stories, Embarrassment, before November ends, especially with Thanksgiving around the corner.

This flash piece begins with a pregnant Tracy, shunned by her Irish/English family because Glenn, the baby's father is Black. There's so many levels at work here, from the issue of teen pregnancy to racism to family drama, and then Page throws in a paranormal twist.

I'm still crying...

Bless these authors who use their talent to help others.

As always,

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Date Night

Cinema 9 by Simeon Gregory is the third story I've read by this author, and this is definitely my favorite of the three. Badger is okay and Wooden Nickel is brilliant, brutal story, but Cinema 9 has me in such a twist, I'm not sure I'll ever be able to go to a movie theater again. Not only did Gregory offer up a setting any reader can relate to, but he created an original monster with terrifying abilities. I have so many unanswered questions, but I always enjoy an author who leaves me wanting more.

As always,

Friday, November 17, 2017

Judging A Book By Its Cover: The Art of Labat

When searching for stories on a site such as Amazon, many readers pass over titles without even reading the book's description, simply because of the cover. Whether it's an overused stock photo, or a lackluster illustration, a bad cover lowers the author's chance of making a good first impression. In a bookstore (yes, they still exist), where books are often faced out, the front cover determines whether the customer turns the book over to check out the summary and quotes on the back.

The cover is kind of like a snapshot of the story within...the first step in setting the mood for the reader. If the cover doesn't appeal to readers or connect with them in some way, some readers will approach a story with a bad attitude and possibly be more critical of editing issues, etc.. Regardless of genre, most folks will agree: illustrations capture the imagination better than a photograph.

With that in mind, periodically, I will be breaking from my reviews and interviews to feature some of the best visual artists I know...

New Orleans, Louisiana has a reputation of being one of the most unique cities in the U.S., with a history steeped in a rich blend of art and culture, so I'm not surprised that someone as talented as L.M. Labat comes from such a place. Labat has been previously featured as an author, here in the Lair, but her talent reaches far beyond the written word. Not only did she design her own cover for her book, The Sanguinarian Id, the novel also includes several of her illustrations within.

Whether inspired by her own struggles of a broken family life, her near-death experiences or just images sprung from the dark corners of her imagination, Labat has found a way to weave together her knowledge of medicine, psychology and the occult into visual artwork that captivates and enchants the minds of viewers, showcasing her various techniques. Her labors in literature and illustrations serve as a coping mechanism for her ongoing nightmares, as well as entertaining many horror fans.

If you are an author or publisher looking for an artist for your next book jacket, or just a collector of interesting pieces, you can contact L.M. Labat at her Facebook page for more information.

As always,

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Kings of the Dead

Kings of the Dead (Revised and Expanded) by Tony Faville opens with Zombie Hunter Cole explaining how the zombie apocalypse began nearly a year prior, with the swine flu mutating into a zombie virus. This character actually acknowledges the existing zombie genre, and describes how that affected the survival preparations of his group. The story is divided up by dates, so it’s easy to follow the timeline; Cole is essentially writing journal entries.

I love reading zombie novels by authors who pay attention to what the zombiephiles discuss in the realm of “What If,” but when the characters are so well-prepared as Faville’s, it makes for a slightly boring apocalypse scenario. The first two dozen pages didn’t have much action, so I began to resent Cole for rambling about how awesome his survival group was, until he mentioned they came across some zombies that were running just as fast the survivors. In the beginning, he had made it a point to say that they were shamblers – great hook by the author, but I felt like it took too many pages to get there.

Over a few months time, Cole’s group has to move their location, one of their members is displaying unusual behavior even though he does not appear to be infected, and they have reason to believe the military is actively using chemical warfare in an attempt to stop the zombie hordes. What begins as a slow trickle soon gushes into some gut-wrenching gore, and suspenseful battle scenes.

Faville has created an interesting balance between the struggle for survival, and the desire for a “normal” life, with elements of deviancy such as cannibalism. The story is filled with twists and turns, and his imagery ranges from breath-taking to repulsive. None of the gore was overdone, as is the case in some novels where it’s tossed in just to shock the reader. Slow to advance, the story does evolve into a more familiar horror thriller, complete with complex character relationships, and a bloody payoff for patient readers. (And, I LOVED the reference to “The Postman.”)

As always,

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

All Aboard

The last thing Dawn remembers is being alone on her bed, waiting for her husband to come home. Now she’s in total darkness, on a cold concrete floor. And there seems to be something with her.

Ghost Train by Joshua Scribner (an author who has been previously featured at the Lair here and here) is one of the best short stories that he has ever written, and the most original ghost story I've ever read. The suspense is perfect. PERFECT. Once the mystery behind the ghosts is resolved, Dawn's last moments are bone-chilling. I wouldn't mind the same story retold from her husband's perspective.

Ghost Train is a truly frightening ride.

As always,

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Choose Your Poison

It's been six years since the dead rose up from their graves to walk among us. In that time, the rules for survival have been altered dramatically. They are about to change yet again, as Alex and Eve, while scavenging for supplies, make a startling discovery that will forever change the rules of engagement between the undead and the living.

MUTATION by Michael J. Evans is one of the very best zombie stories I have ever read, period. The fantastic use of suspense had me sitting on the edge of my chair, literally. The two main characters, Alex and Eve, make a startling discovery while scavenging, which changes the rules of engagement between the undead and the living.

If zombies aren't your sub-genre of choice, check out my review of another Evans story, For The Preservation of The Species. Once you're familiar with the stories of Michael J. Evans, you'll realize he doesn't think much of the survival of the human race...however, horror fans will enjoy every sickening moment.

One of my favorite aspects about Evans' writing style is his ability to create scenarios that have never crossed your mind, but, once they have, his storytelling will leave you questioning your will to live, should you find yourself in one of his life-altering nightmares.

As always,

Monday, November 13, 2017

Never Text And Drive. NEVER.

Speed Bump by Sam Galbraith left me feeling so sick...nothing like real-life horror to bring the pain. In this case, the author had two layers of drama and suspense in the form of a bad relationship and a woman who texts while driving. One mistake leads to another. Poor Meatloaf.

I definitely recommend this story to all readers.

As always,

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Executioners Return

After one hundred years of silence, The Hand of Death is on the radar again – and Franklin is assigned to deal with the situation. Part of a team, they discover it’s not just Jorick who’s involved, but also the Tormentor, Kateesha. In a battle against legends, what can go wrong? Celebrate Shades of Gray’s eighth anniversary and read the attack on Oren’s den through the Executioner’s point of view. 

WARNING: This story contains spoilers for the novel Shades of Gray. Not recommended as a stand alone.

Franklin: The Promise by Joleene Naylor is another story set in the world of Amaranthine. This particular tale contains crucial spoilers, so, if you haven't read Shades of Gray, but you intend to, go read the novel first. Usually, it's safe to read Tales of the Executioners as a mini-series, but this is an exception. You have been warned.

After reading the other stories in this mini-series, I could appreciate the Executioners' roles even more. Naylor has put an incredible about of thought into the details of her Amaranthine creation. I've read a few other series with multiple full-length novels, as well as short story features, but very few can come close to the complexity of this vampire world.

Most of the time, the Executioner tales have been a mix of drama, suspense and even romance, but this time, the story is quite horrifying and the ending nearly brought me to my knees.

A cartoon vampire on the “haunted house” advertisement catches Greneth’s eyes. Then, a couples-only discount sweetens the deal, if he can find someone to take. Griselda seems the perfect choice, but when she starts asking silly questions – like just what is a haunted house, anyway? – and talking about so-called real ghosts, he wonders if he’s made the right choice.

Greneth: Halloween Hijinks by Joleene Naylor began somewhat light-hearted and slowly turned into a dark and guilt-ridden situation. I don't understand why the female vampires in these stories give the males such a difficult time about most everything. I'm thinking it has something to do with the time period they lived in as humans. The interactions between the Executioners give away more about the characters' personalities than their inner thoughts. A sociologist could have a field day in the Citadel.

I enjoyed the haunted house setting, rather than the typical assignment setting. I would like to see more origin stories about the female vampires.

As always,

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Is This A Joke?!

What is the most dire situation have you been in? Jaffrey Concoost is just starting to build a life in the city when an unlikely event takes place, he and the rest of the employees gets to be part of an act of crime. With only a single reason to hold on to dear life, will he be able to continue his journey, to buy a house, a new car, and make his dreams come true?

Three Dead Bodies by Damien Cords is another editing nightmare. I found this story looking using an Amazon horror search, but this is a drama at best. Impossible to relate to the main character in any way, as his thoughts are all over the place. Describing the antagonist as a "mysterious black man" over and over shows a serious lack of effort. I could go down a list of writing atrocities, but I'd rather move on to the next item on my list.

As always,

Friday, November 10, 2017

Bloody Hell, Hire An Editor

Steve is out for revenge.He has endured three years of bullying at his place of work. So arriving unannounced at the Christmas works do and armed to the teeth he makes sure this will be a Christmas they will never forget.

Bully by C.S. Hassall is a difficult read due to multiple editing and formatting issues. I'm not sure if the author tried to write a legitimate a story or just bang out a revenge fantasy. Steve definitely comes across as a disgruntled employee, but Hassall spends more time describing the setting than revealing his character's thoughts and feelings. A flashback would have given the story more depth.

I think this story had potential, but it appears the author published a rough draft.

As always,

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Off The Beaten Path

After dark. In the park. A warning ignored.

What could go wrong for two college students looking for a little alone time off the beaten trail? After all, they're not hurting anyone. Right? The inhabitants of the Clearing would disagree.

The Clearing by A.M. Rycroft is a thrilling piece of flash fiction. If it wasn't for the warning sign spotted by the couple, I wouldn't have guessed who the inhabitants would be. Even when they did make their appearance, I was still caught off guard. I loved the ending, but the story left me with so many questions. I think Rycroft needs to send more characters into The Clearing or write another story centered on the security guard...maybe the same story, but from his perspective.

Rycroft is definitely an author I will have to keep on my watchlist.

As always,

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Don't Touch The Wildlife

Sarah would do anything for the tiny newborn orphan creature she found. The only problem is what to feed him when it turns out he has a taste for flesh.

The Foundling by Renee Lee is a frightening story for many reasons. Elwood, the creature, is terrifying, but Sarah's nonchalant attitude to his disturbing characteristics is possibly more frightening. I love the originality of this story, but I felt Lee spent too much time on Sarah's inner thoughts and not enough time on Elwood and his supernatural nature. The author sort of breezed through the creature's interactions with visitors to the house. I would have like to read more about Thomas and his alone time with Elwood.

All in all, the story is an excellent reminder to leave wildlife in the wild.

As always,

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Backup Plans For Backup Plans

Insurance by Matt Darst is a short piece written for charity. All proceeds will be donated to Stand Up To Cancer. The story is a blend of science fiction and crime drama, and well-done at that. Every bit of this time travel journey came with a surprise, avoiding the typical clichés and plot devices. Usually, I have trouble following the timelines of stories in this sub-genre (no pun intended), but Darst does an excellent job of connecting the dots for the reader to travel along.

Of course, when I read something I enjoy this much, I always want more, but I feel pretty strongly that Darst should create a full-length novel for his character Lash. Seems a shame to create something so elaborate just for a short story.

As always,

Monday, November 6, 2017

Should've Put The Trash Out

House Warming by Ryan Arnold is a flash fiction piece filled with more than one horror. I had a pretty good idea of what Mason had really been up to, but I wasn't prepared for the turn of events. I expected something along the lines of a haunting, but this is much worse...not unlike The Grudge. I'm really impressed with how much story Arnold fit into just a few pages. You could read this in a matter of minutes, but the visuals will stay with you for a long time.

As always,

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Never Stray

The Beast In The Cave by H. P. Lovecraft is something I decided to read just to take a break from modern horror. Just being lost in an underground cave would be enough to terrify me, but the narrator is soon surrounded in darkness, seemingly hunted by something. The ending is almost a relief, until one realizes that Lovecraft ended the story before the situation is truly resolved.

It's not always about Cthulhu and friends...

As always,

Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Details Will Kill You

The Old Callow House by Nathanial Edwards has a serious formatting issue that is sure to turn off many readers, which is a shame because this is one of the best abandoned house stories I've ever read. I had no idea why the previous owners disappeared or what would happen to the three teenagers who dared to explore the inside. When one of them has an epiphany about the floor plans, I freaked out as much as the character did. I wouldn't mind reading another story centered on this house.

As always,

Friday, November 3, 2017

Behave On Those Field Trips

Shiny Happy People by Kelly Martin left me with so many questions, I wish she would write another story about Charlie Parrish...perhaps, a prequel. In any case, this is a great suspense story that took me for a quite a ride. I would recommend it to any reader, but I think fans of Stephen King will really love the nod to one of his classics. As a child, I remember being warned to be cautious around the carnies...after reading this, I may never set foot in a carnival again.

As always,

Thursday, November 2, 2017

"Kept His Ass Closed" (sic)

The Penn by Christina Charles is another fine example of why authors should use a professional editor. I don't care if it is a short story...this took some serious effort to read through to the end. This could have been a decent revenge story if more effort had been put into the writing process. I can't tell you how hard I laughed when I read "kept his ASS closed" (instead of eyes) in a prison story!

I wouldn't recommend this one to any reader. It's as if the author didn't care enough about her own work to attempt to clean it up.

As always,

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Below Ground = Death

1975 Year of the Zombie by Sean T Page actually begins in month nine. There is a definite divide between the Marines and everyone else. Even with the tremendous amount of supplies and the many layers of security, bunker fever sets in and increases the level of suspicion and conspiracies among the various groups within the underground compound. Survivors begin to disappear from the steel sanctuary, and a technician is tasked with finding the missing people. During his search, it becomes obvious the bunker fever is much worse than anyone can imagine.

While I appreciate the originality of the story and the unexpected turn of events, this is not necessarily Page's best work. I miss the action and horror I enjoyed so much in Meta-horde. I think Page's creative writing skills are best enjoyed in the form of a novel, rather than a short story.

As always,