Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Helicopter Mom From Hell

The Last Word by Michael J. Evans is a story about a mother who is so rotten, she torments her daughters, even after death. Ramona, the eldest daughter, refuses to mourn for her mother, which enrages her mother's spirit even more. If I witnessed even one of the events that take place, I would have immediately called in a professional to deal with it. I can't, for the life of me, understand why or how Ramona could be so flippant about everything. While the story is captivating, I couldn't stand the ending.

I've already mentioned in a previous post I have vivid and detailed dreams, including night terrors, some of which I call serial dreams because they can span anywhere from a few nights to weeks, months and years...kind of like having my own television show in my head and I am the central character. Often these serial dreams have evil entities I couldn't get rid of right away, so I had to deal with them every time I slept, until I found their weaknesses.

There was one entity in particular I couldn't get rid of...I tried all kinds of tricks from the many dream books I had researched (this happened before Google existed). Out of desperation, I decided to try the fight-fire-with-a-bigger-fire approach. My dreamself conjured up another entity to fight the first one. (I don't mean conjure as in summon, just visual manifestation within the dream.) It worked, and, unlike most horror stories, my plan did not backfire on me and the conjured entity dissipated.

Having experienced this, I wonder why characters in horror stories don't try something similar when faced with a major supernatural threat. You'd think the characters would be more open to trying new things to help themselves. If I found myself in Ramona's situation, I'd call on help from another departed relative. It's a thought, anyway...

As always,

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Mirrors Might Be The 2018 Theme

Queen Joanna by Kate Danley is a short horror story full of suspense and drama, with a touch of the supernatural. Both Joanna and King Stephen are tormented by the darkness looming over their arranged marriage. I am impressed with how well-developed the characters are. Danley's writing style is best described as a blend of Phillipa Gregory and Bram Stoker. I'm definitely interested in reading more from this author.

I've read horror stories for so many years, I've noticed a pattern among the frightening creatures and evil objects in fiction. Not only have I noticed common themes rise and fall in popularity, but I've also observed authors seizing classic elements and twisting them into their own disturbing visions, much like mad scientists spawning monstrous new life in their towers and dungeons.

There have been the changes between traditional monsters: vampires, werewolves and zombies, all vying to be the top threat, but, thanks to modern day authors, vampires can walk in daylight, werewolves can control their shape-shifting and zombies can have relationships with the living. An unfortunate side effect to these changes has been a softening of these monsters' images, such as glittering vampires, teen werewolves playing sports and zombie comedies.

With this domestication of the big three, it's not surprising that other monsters rose up to take their rightful place in modern horror: Bigfoot, Cthulhu and Pennywise, just to name a few. Soon the monsters gave way to evil objects, often possessed: cars, dolls and mirrors...again, just the tip of the deadly iceberg.

Of course, literature moves in waves and cycles, and, thanks to the creative sick minds of horror authors, even when a familiar theme returns, it's usually more disturbing than the last encounter with readers...which is what makes horror my favorite genre.

As always,

Monday, January 29, 2018

Darkness, Darkness and More Darkness: The Madness

Horror In The Clouds by Scott Shoyer is a departure from the author's usual zombie novels, and not at all what I've come to expect from his standard of writing. The prologue is fantastic and pulled me in, only to bore the crap out of me with Damien's feelings of inner turmoil. The story picks up a bit once his family reaches the twisted town of Derleth, but everything is filled with darkness and madness...dark darkness and the kind of madness that makes the townsfolk go mad. While concentrating on the descriptions of the darkness and madness, Shoyer neglects the development of his characters. Did I mention the threat of darkness and madness taking over the world?

There are a few redeeming aspects to this story, such as the leviathan in the clouds, the description of the otherworld and the history of the Ancient Ones. The ending also has more action than the rest of the book combined, pulling me back into the story the way the prologue had in the beginning. The epilogue made me wonder if this novel is a stand-alone or the first in a series, but I personally have had enough of the Madness.

I don't know why I keep reading Cthulhu-Lovecraft type of stories. I end up having the worst kind of night terrors...leviathans hiding below the surface of dark waters, reaching for me with their tentacles. I try to shape-shift into a dragon to fly away, but those monstrous bastards have quite a reach. Sometimes I'm having an OBE and I feel like something is hunting me in the clouds, so I race back to my body, always fearing I might get caught one night.

I've always wondered what happens to the authors who write these stories. Do they start seeing shadows where shadows shouldn't be? Do they ever look up at the sky and feel like something sinister is closing in on them? Maybe it's like that scene from In The Mouth of Madness, where the author is being manipulated...

As always,

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Need More of Moreland

Dark Needs by Brian Moreland is a diverse collection of five horror stories:

THE DEALER OF NEEDS adds a supernatural twist to a story of addiction.

OFFSPRING is a story of desperation with an extremely dark and shocking ending.

HOLOMORPH is more science fiction than the other stories and is a frightening look at the possible future of social media.

BEAST OF WINTER is flash fiction with a strong folklore element, but it's not nearly as good as the other stories.

CHASING THE DRAGON is reminiscent of cultural mythology, with a difficult lesson to learn for a modern man.

I enjoyed reading this collection so much, I wish there had been more than five stories.

Addiction is its own demon...thankfully, it's one I haven't had to deal with personally, but it is a struggle I have witnessed among friends. It's not always a substance addiction...sometimes it's an unhealthy relationship, sometimes it's a self-destructive behavior...hell, what addiction doesn't wreck the other aspects of an addict's life?

The idea that addiction could be made worse with a supernatural element is soul-crushing. It also present the chicken-and-egg question: which comes first? Would an addiction open one up to a demonic attack? Or would a demonic encounter drive a person into something they wouldn't normally do?

Gotta love these stories that find a way to make everything worse...

As always,

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Long Lost Friends

The Mortality of Morris Meridian by Steven Pajak (author of the Mad Swine series) is a novella about a reunion of two veterans while Morris is dying from cancer. The author takes a bit too long to introduce Harrison into the story and I'm concerned potential readers would give up before they even reach the flashback, which is the heart of the story. I think the combat memory could've functioned as a stand-alone story without any of the hospital scenes. Harrison is such an interesting character, I think Pajak could write a mini-series about his travels through the years.

While I don't have any friends quite like Harrison, I know what it's like to reunite with someone unexpectedly, after many years have gone by. A boy I hung out with as a child in Virginia reappeared in my life years later in Hawaii. I don't have the words to describe the joy I felt bumping into a friend I didn't think I would ever see again in my life. We didn't fall in love and get married, or anything like that, but knowing there are some bonds that cannot be broken by miles or time keeps me hopeful about the randomness of life.

As always,

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Cat Came Back, The Very Next Day

Bijili by Sharath Komarraju is a short story set in Palem, India and the second story to be featured by this author in the Lair this month. Bijili begins with a suicide note and the narrator contemplating memories of his life. The subtle reference to the story Rescue drew me closer to Mahender and his conflicting emotions, only to be utterly horrified at the details of his life. The supernatural element left me with so many questions.

One of my biggest fears is that one day I will start seeing things and not realize I am seeing things. This presents a huge problem in the case of a horror scenario. What if I find myself in a surreal situation and I don't react because I think I've lost my mind? What if I do react and it turns out I was delusional and did great harm to myself and others?

I've dealt with a similar issue when it comes to dreaming and waking. I have vivid and extremely detailed dreams, which can make a false awakening a nightmare in itself. I've read about a couple of reality checks someone can perform to find out if they are awake or dreaming. One test is simply to smell something. The human brain can be fooled into hearing, seeing, feeling and tasting things, but supposedly the brain can't perceive a scent that isn't there. However, I've also read a small percentage of people do dream about scents.

The other test is to read something in the dream. Again, I've been informed it's next to impossible to read words because the attempt causes a dreamer to wake up. I've found this to be true with one exception: I once read the word "cow" in a dream. Unfortunately, I became so excited at having been able to read my first dream word, I woke up right after.

Of course, being able to tell dreaming and waking states apart might not help with seeing things while you're awake, which brings us back to square one...

As always,

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Craigslist Is Full of Psychos

Bad Moon Rising: Blood On The Bayou by Hervey Copeland is far better than I anticipated. This story is kind of like a modern day Deliverance, minus the rape. The beginning is a little slow, but, once the horror reveals itself, the desperation of Troy propels the story at a break-neck pace. I was so consumed with the hunt, I had forgotten the details of the intro and managed to be surprised by the ending.

I lost count years ago of how many times I told myself, "I'd never do that," when reading a horror story. I blame the characters for being gullible or too trusting, assuring myself I couldn't possibly be that stupid. Oh, the lies we tell ourselves just to get from one day to the next...

I've done almost all the things that are used to begin a scary story: I've walked alone at night, I met someone from online, I've given out all kinds of personal information...if I looked at myself and my decisions the same way I look at fictional characters, I would have screamed my throat raw by now: "What the HELL are you thinking?!"

To make matters worse, I've been in some truly psychotic situations, such as being stalked for three and half years in college by a guy who chased me through a parking lot one day...or the time another guy drove onto my yard during the night and tried to force his way into my place, and I found out later he was wanted in three states.

I watch the news, I have a functioning brain, but I still manage to convince myself that horror stories are what happen to other people...

As always,

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

When Memories Haunt You

You're Not Welcome Here by Jill Van Den Eng is a fantastic ghost story. I didn't think too much of it at first, but as soon as I reached the major plot twist, I sat straight up and rushed to see how it would end. Without giving anything away, this is so much more than a simple haunting. Having the story narrated by the dead mother/wife is the perfect choice. This might make my top ten list for 2018.

I am one of those idiots that was warned repeatedly not to screw around with a Ouija board, but I did it anyway. During my college year, there was a night my curiosity got the best of me. It didn't help that I had a friend who was obsessed with the movie The Craft. To this day, I'm grateful we used the board at her place and not mine.

We attempted to contact any random spirit, but nothing happened. This is when I have another attack of stupid: I decided to try to use it myself...I felt the centerpiece pull away from me and screamed bloody murder. Adding to my horror, every book and movie my friend owned proceeded to spill forth from her living room shelves, surrounding us in chaos.

We fled from the room, running into her bedroom, jumping on the bed and holding onto each other like frightened little children. It remained quiet and uneventful for several minutes, so we ventured back into the living room, threw the board into the outside garbage and never spoke of it again.

Nothing more ever happened, but I've been fearful of those boards ever since.

As always,

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Stranger In The Room

Shadows by David M. Mannes is about a father and daughter who seem to be suffering from sleep paralysis hallucinations, until it becomes apparent that other families are suffering from the same strange visits by the short gray people. The flashback story added another great level to the mystery and the suspense reaches a truly frightening level. The ending pissed me abrupt, major cliff-hanger...a number of questions left unanswered. Not sure if this story will be part of a mini-series.

When I was a little girl, I woke my mother up in the middle of the night and told her there was a monster in my bedroom. Most parents would automatically assume their child had a nightmare, but my mother, as told by her, said I look so utterly terrified, she knew with absolute certainty something was in my room.

Lo and behold, there was indeed a monster in my room, sitting on the inside windowsill. A lizard had somehow made its way past the window screen. I've had sleep paralysis and night terrors my entire life, so I'm sure that had something to do with mistaking a small lizard for a monster.

The point is, my mother believed me. However, on a separate night, when I told my dad there was a vampire in my room, he did not believe me. To this day, I've always wondered who in the hell was that man standing in my room...

As always,

Monday, January 22, 2018

Actress, Author and Mother of Dragons [Interview]

The first interview at the Lair for 2018 brings you Mary Lynne Gibbs. This actress has appeared in several episodes of the series, Star Trek: Osiris, the ongoing series Vampirism Bites and The Last Broadcast, just to name a few of her television and film credits. She is also the author of The Maiden's Courage and the Jericho Cycle series: Jericho Rising and Jericho's Redemption. Last but not least, she is a creative native from Detroit, Michigan who rescues and raises bearded dragons.

In many ways, Gibbs is much like her character Alexandra Gardner from The Maiden's courage: strong-willed and determined, complete with sword (and a violin too). Her young adult fiction has proven to be inspirational to young girls trying to find their own voices. If Gibbs were a book, she'd be a choose-your-own-adventure story.

Fortunately, Gibbs had a break in her busy schedule and came to the Lair to answer a few questions for the curious...

Q. Which came first, acting or writing? Do you keep them separate or are they connected in a way? 

A. Writing came first. I’ll always call it my first love.  I was in 5th grade when my first poem was published. I moved on to fiction from there. I didn’t start acting until high school, and took a break for a few years before I jumped back in. I believe acting helped me be a better writer, particularly with dialogue. Though I no longer act, I’ll always remember what I’ve learned.

Q. Your stories have strong female characters…is this to draw readers from a certain target audience, or do you simply write what you know? 

A. My goal is to write relatable characters, whether they be male or female. Joss Whedon was asked, paraphrased, “Why do you write strong female characters?” His answer was, “Because you keep asking me that question.” I guess I feel the same way. Men are expected to be strong. Women, not so much. Strong is strong, regardless. 

Q. You’ve written both dystopian and fantasy stories within young adult fiction…do you prefer one genre over the other?

A. I definitely prefer fantasy. The magical escape is definitely something we need nowadays.

Q. Do you feel it is easier to write for your female characters than your male characters or do you approach all of them the same way?

A. Experience tends to dictate that I’d write female characters easier. If I write a male character, I like to get a male point of view to make sure I get him right. 

Q. What kind of stories do you enjoy reading when you’re not busy with writing and everything else?

A. I try to read whatever I can get my hands on, but I lean toward the different subgenres of fantasy. Especially urban fantasy.

Q. Are there any authors who inspire you?

A. L J Smith (creator of The Vampire Diaries) really set me on the path to writing YA myself. On the adult side, Diana Rowland, Jaye Wells, Kim Harrison, & Yasmine Galenorn have been nothing short of amazing. 

Q. What is your writing process? Do you listen to music? If so, do any of your stories have a specific soundtrack?

A. As far as my writing process, I’m a hybrid between “pantser” & “plotter.” That means I make a loose outline, but wing it the rest of the time. 

Every story has its own playlist on my iPod. Whenever I feel stuck, or need extra inspiration, I pop my ear buds in & listen to that specific playlist. I’ve made “soundtracks” for my stories since I was a kid. Back then, I had to use cassette tapes. It’s a LOT easier now! 

Q. Do you go to conventions as an author? What kind of interactions do you have with your fans? What kind of feedback do they give you?

A. I go to conventions whenever I can, but I tend to have more interaction with other authors there. My interactions with fans happens on social media. I have one young girl who is especially vocal about my work. We talk quite a bit. She adores my writing, & wants to be a writer. Knowing I inspire her like that thrills me. 

Q. What are you working on now and what are your future plans for your writing career?

A. I’m currently querying agents for a manuscript about a high school senior cursed to the role of dragon slayer, & getting ready for a rewrite of an adult novel about a cake decorating vampire hunter. In 2018, I’ll be appearing at Grey Wolfe Scriptorium for a book signing, as well as different vendor events around Kentucky. 

Many thanks to Mary Lynne Gibbs for stopping by!

As always,

Sunday, January 21, 2018

A Cautionary Tale

99 Cent Deal by E. B. Sullivan begins with Ruth mulling over her musings at work, and it feels like she is speaking directly to the reader...kind of like a conversation one might have to pass the time when business is slow. Sullivan makes it easy to connect with the cashier, as if the reader is in the store with Ruth.

While she's working, a piece of eye candy walks in and drops a cashier's check on the way out. Ruth proceeds to have one hell of an internal struggle about keeping it. Her drive to Vegas is full of suspense, and I began to freak out along with Ruth. Despite her good fortune, I grew more anxious with every chapter. Ruth's choices disappointed me to say the least. The ending came as a surprise.

When I first began reading for fun as a child, my favorite genres were mythology and fables...stories with lessons. On occasion, I found the moral of the story to be debatable. There were always lessons to be learned, but sometimes I disagreed with which ones were more important. I suppose my discomfort with certain aspects of a story influenced my take on the ending.

I once read a story about a monkey bride, with a "don't judge a book by its cover" theme, but it ends with the bride becoming beautiful after she is thrown into a wall. One Thousand and One Nights has a story about a guy's fart...still unsure about the lesson. Don't even get me started on myths: damned if you do, damned if don' is basically the result of a series of mistakes.

As always,

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Saturday Short: Shattered

Shattered by Scarlette D'Noire is about a young woman's undying love for her sister. A good portion of the story is devoted to the woman crying over memories of her sister. I think a brief history of the hospital might have made a better hook. I also think the story would've benefited from a more detailed description of the hospital itself. Much of the story read like a rough draft.

Giving a critical review is never easy. I know some "reviewers" delight in tearing apart authors' hard work, and crushing their dreams of a writing career, but reviewers like that usually live under a bridge and eat goats. I, on the other hand, want authors to do their very best, in order to readers a better selection of fiction to choose from, so I try to make suggestions when I can.

I feel like a broken record, but I can't stress enough how important it is to have proper editing. Typos can be forgiven, but a poorly written story can ruin the best plots. I'll never understand why some authors get so defensive over constructive criticism because those butt-kissing reviews from family friends are not going to help improve their writing.

The authors who truly appreciate honesty, for better or worse, are the ones who are most likely to become well-established authors with an ever-growing fan base.

As always,

Friday, January 19, 2018

Friday Flash Fiction

Voices in the Wind by Joshua Scribner is a flash fiction piece about a man and his history with tornadoes. Scribner delivers a story as powerful as a force of nature in a matter of minutes. I love the originality and look forward to reading more from this master of short stories. Scribner has been one of my favorite authors for years now, and a regular at the Lair.

I love reading, but some days I'm lucky to get five minutes to myself, so I've really enjoyed all the authors releasing short story singles through Amazon. With the shorts and flash fiction, I'm guaranteed variety and my own buffet of authors to choose from. Regardless of what mood I'm in, I can usually find something to give me the literary fix I'm looking for.

Unfortunately, many of my favorite short story authors have stopped writing for one reason or another and it's been difficult finding serious story-tellers to take their places...however, I have a few anthology reviews coming up for those of you looking for your next quickie, so keep checking back.

As always,

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Hire An Editor, Save A Story

The Fog Wraith by Lucas Leuzzi centers around a pond with a secret. The setup is long and unnecessary, followed by little-to-no action and a poor use of suspense. The characters are severely underdeveloped, even for a short story, and the author should have put more effort into the flashback within the journal. The pond's history could have made a good horror story, but a professional editor is the only one who can salvage this.

Most people probably think a short story isn't important enough to require a professional editor, but I think if you're seriously considering writing as a full-time career, you need to invest in making a good first impression. With all the stories readers have to choose from, the last thing they want to deal with is poorly written fiction. Win a reader over and you have a possible fan for life.

Editors do so much more than correct spelling, punctuation and grammar. They can help with character development, storyline pacing and the setting. Freelance editors aren't as expensive as you might think they are. Keep in mind, they want your story to succeed as much as you do. They want to make a good impression in the literary community as well. Best of all, a freelance editor works for the author, not a publisher. You can't accomplish your best writing by yourself.

As always,

UPDATE 1/21/2018: The author re-released the story to eliminate my Amazon review, after he ranted at me on Facebook.

I would never tell someone to stop writing, but I do include criticism and suggestions from time to time.

If you're going to sell your stories on Amazon, customers have the right to post honest reviews.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Put Down The Tide Pod

The Spider by Amy Cross is a story about a crotchety old man named Edward Moss, recently widowed, slowly going insane over a spider which appears to be immortal. I admit, under the circumstances presented by the author, I had my suspicions about the spider's origins...kept me hooked, despite the many slow moments with the old man's thought-monologues. The horror story he is reading is also an excellent touch. While this story doesn't meet the expectations I have for the author, based on her previous work, the unexpected ending made this novella worth reading.

I've often become a fan of an author only to lose interest due to a change in genre, writing style or both. The first time this happened, it was Stephen King. Loved everything he wrote in the 1980s and some of the 90s, but, one day, during a stopover at an airport, I read The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon and I realized King no longer frightened me. The author who instilled my love of horror had become another relic from my younger years.

Anyone who has followed King's career knows his writing has expanded in every direction of horror, many sub-genres...settings spanning modern Maine to kingdoms in other worlds...monsters in various forms...every story had its own unique flavor. Some say he sold out...but, maybe, in this new age of online warfare, hashtag protests and Tide-pod eaters, even an author like King can't compete with the horror of real life.

As always,

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Something Something Something

The Death Machine by Tony Rabig doesn't really go anywhere, ever. I'm not sure why it is listed in the horror genre on Amazon, when it's clearly missing key components such as suspense and action of any kind. It's as if the author wrote an esoteric essay and tried, unsuccessfully, to disguise it as flash fiction. I normally enjoy thinking stories, but this one is all thinking and no story.

I appreciate authors who attempt to do more than merely entertain with their creations, but every now and then, I stumble across an author who seems only interested in letting readers know what a deep-thinker he is...or how smart she is...and they seem to miss the entire point of storytelling. It's not unlike a movie filled with amazing special effects and zero plot.

When approaching fiction in any genre, readers expect to be entertained. Reading is not something that can be done passively...when such an effort is put forth, it's only natural to want something in return. The number one reason most people read fiction is to escape reality and experience something new. Who wants to go through a door, only to find themselves in an empty closet?

As always,

Monday, January 15, 2018

When Gaming Takes Over Your Life

Dead Pixel by Jeremy Kush is an unusual flash fiction piece about a guy playing a virtual reality game for the first time, while he live streams the event. Some readers may have a difficult time visualizing this story...the typos don't help...key words are misspelled, adding some confusion as to what the gamer is actually seeing. The macabre nature of the game provides a good hook, but this story would be better suited for a film short.

Every so often, I come across a short story which would be better off in some other form...either a novel, a television episode or a full-length movie. Sometimes it's the format of the story that needs to change, but other times I think an author needs to change their writing profession. I know authors who are fantastic at short stories, but couldn't write a novel to save their lives. There have even been a few writers who I thought would do better writing screenplays. Regardless of the situation, most of them have great story ideas which deserve more attention.

As always,

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Wanting More From Stories

Dark City Dark Night by Abe Evergreen is a fast-paced story about a man in a dystopian society trying to save a little girl from a deadly virus. Readers are only given a glimpse of his surroundings: an automated city, divided into sectors, populated by desperate and fearful people. Society has been ravaged by one virus strain after another and scientists are struggling to create new vaccines. Most people die from the various strains, but those who don't are extremely violent. Virtually nothing personal is revealed about the main character or his family. I would've like to find out why the man never wears a mask as everyone else does.

I don't mind having unanswered questions about a story or a character. There's no rule stating readers need to know everything about a backstory. I think leaving the history of a setting unexplained helps keep the focus on the characters, and giving the characters secrets keeps us hooked in hopes we will find the answers we are seeking. Through this process, we are more likely to feel we experienced a story versus being told what happened.

As always,

UPDATE: This is the first story in a mini trilogy. Read my review of the second story here.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Motivated by the End of the World

Reserves by Jason Torfin is a post-apocalyptic tale told from a sheltered and bed-ridden young man. While not much physical action happens, the mystery of his father's vision, and the survival prepping that follows, is quite captivating. I wish there had been more interaction between the family members, but the lack of conversation emphasizes the isolation surrounding the narrator.

The father in this story made me think of the father in the movie Take Shelter. Both had visions of a horrifying future event, but the character in the movie had limited financial means and everyone thought he was going crazy. However, both men are equally determined to save their families. One train of thought leads to another...

If we have a vision, suggesting the future has already been decided, what's the point of trying to change it? Greek mythology is full of people who try to change events, only to become the ones who cause the very thing they're trying to avoid. Is it possible to dream of an event that will take place, but with details which are yet to be determined?

As always,

Friday, January 12, 2018

Guessing The Author's Intentions

The Others: Fit For Duty by N.M. Sinclair is more like flash fiction, and far too brief. It felt as though I was reading a summary rather than an actual story. I think the author has a very intriguing hook with the silver-haired woman, but there are only a couple moments with the character and hardly any action at all. I have no idea what Sinclair had in mind when writing this, but, instead of picturing an alien race invading from another planet, I imagined a race of silver-haired fae attempting to reclaim the Earth from humans.

Sometimes I wonder if I look too hard for a twist or if I read too much into an insignificant detail. I don't know if it's the result of the many different genres I read, or the multitude of stories I've read in the past forty years (been reading since I was 4 yrs old). I rarely accept a story at face-value. I'm often trying to guess how it will end.

I remember writing a poem about writer's block, and several people thought I had written a poem about murdering someone. I don't think I make that kind of stretch with any of the fiction I read, but sometimes my guesses are so far off, I have to reread a story to see where I went wrong.

As always,

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Damn. Just...damn.

The Fire of Night by Brad Lenaway is an excellent short story and, if the author reads this, please consider making this a novel or even a series. The setting is in the future, after a war between the U.S. and North Korea. Although briefly mentioned, the political backstory is fascinating. I'm not sure I've ever read something so devastating and believable. This is a story I recommend to all readers, regardless of your genre preference.

I really don't want to get into politics, especially on my blog, but considering the current political climate, this story is frightening in ways I don't want to dwell on. I'm old enough to remember the Cold War, so the threat of a nuclear attack has always been in the background of my life.

I am so used to picturing myself in the middle of an apocalyptic event, I'm not sure I've ever considered what it would be like to hear and see events unfold from a safe distance. I do remember how surreal it felt to watch the 9/11 attacks unfold on live TV, but the attacks were limited in targets and affected area.

If you were in space, would you even bother to complete the mission, knowing NASA probably didn't exist anymore?

As always,

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Babysitter Deserves A Raise

Silence by Meg Hendry reminds me a little of the movie, Boogeyman. I like this story, but it feels rushed in some places, and I think Hendry could turn this into an excellent horror novel if she wanted to. I also think Hendry could have included a detailed flashback of what happened to the other children in the house.

This story reminded me of a family I babysat for during high school. The had a baby, a 3 yr old and a 4 yr old. As disgusting as it might sound, I didn't feel comfortable leaving the kids alone when I had to use the bathroom. Luckily, the bathroom had plenty of open space, so we weren't crowded. Anyway, I sure as hell wouldn't leave a little kid alone in a house that has something dark and sinister lurking in the freaking hallway.

As always,

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Some Kids Suck

Reborn by Robert Atkins is an unusual coming of age story with a supernatural twist. I think it would've worked better as flash fiction, without the lengthy set-up...took quite a while to get to the action and, even then, one of the characters started monologuing just as things become somewhat interesting. Despite the backstory, I didn't feel anything for any of the characters, so I couldn't get into this story.

This used to be my favorite sub-genre in the 1990s. After 9/11, zombies became my favorite monster, although the people in zombie stories are usually worse than the infected. The way my perspective changed from one decade to the next, I'm not surprised. Some monsters symbolized the inner struggle of the individual, while the rest represented society and the issues we have as a group, and I am more interested in how people interact with each other...especially characters tossed into apocalyptic situations.

As always,

Monday, January 8, 2018

Cutting Revenge

Reflection by Will Hunter is a short story, but would probably work better as flash fiction. Sabeth's life follows a self-destructive pattern, so many of the scenes are repetitive and unnecessary. However, the idea that one's reflection could have its own thoughts and feelings, including hatred and rage, is pretty damn scary. While underdeveloped, the psychological aspects of the story give an interesting depth to the frightening problem Sabeth has to the mirror.

Some people are afraid of clowns, ghosts...usually some sort of entity...I've always had a fear of mirrors and glass. I've never had an issue with my own reflection, but the idea that one day my mirror self might move out of sync is terrifying enough to prevent me from staring too long.

When I was in my early 20s, I had a recurring nightmare of little demons (kind of like the ones in The Gate) trying to pull me through a mirror. I became convinced, if they ever succeeded in the nightmare, I would never wake up. I was lucid enough to try and change events, such as offering the demons ice cream (a friend suggested that I try something ridiculous), but they only grew infuriated with my efforts to change the dreamscape.

I never did get rid of them on my own...another dream entity showed up, more frightening than the little demons...he scared them away. That particular entity haunted my dreams and nightmares for YEARS...but it's a story for another time...

As always,

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Question Everything

Rescue by Sharath Komarraju appears to take place in India. The story has several ups and downs as the tragic family history is revealed. Although the reader is led to believe Vali's mother has come back to save her from a terrible fate, the scene with the well made me question Ratna's true intentions. The conversation between the father and the doctor also had me wondering if Ratna's perception of events is a result of mental illness. The author uses misdirection to amplify the horror of uncertainty, and the choice of the girl's name, Pravallika, is the perfect touch.

I've often wonder why readers are so quick to believe what is being revealed to them through the POV of the narrating character. Isn't it possible, for one reason or another, the character is mistaken about events? Maybe the character is lying to herself and, as a result, feeding misinformation to the reader.

I've always known, if enough time is spent with a character or a group of characters, readers become sympathetic and attached to that POV on a personal level...but I've only recently realized that readers are also likely to be biased in favor of the main POV as well.

Is it the author manipulating our emotions or is it simply human nature to choose a character to root for?

As always,

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Whispers In The Dark

Voices In The Sea by N.C. Brooke is a dark spin on a creature often found in folklore, but rarely found in horror. The author uses a few slight-of-hand details to keep readers guessing, which is pretty clever, considering the story begins in the present and then travels to the past. I thought I knew which characters would be safe, but I was fooled. By the time I realized what kind of monster the author conjured up, the story finished.

Brooke did such a great job twisting mythology into a nightmare, it seems a shame this is only a short story. I think there is a potential to turn this sailor's tale into a novella.

The first week of January appears to have a monster theme. I'm always amazed at the various sources authors use to inspire their writing. Some ideas come from news headlines, some stories are based on more personal experiences. Other authors take the fairy tales of our childhood and transform them into the nightmares that haunt us even as adults.

Nothing impresses me more than an author who can take something old and turn it into something new...always expanding the genres.

As always.

Friday, January 5, 2018

What Makes Something Evil?

Orphan Annie by Razz Popo has a great mix of suspense and action, but what I enjoyed the most is the way the author blurred the lines of what defines a monster. On one hand you have an organized sex slave ring, on the other hand you have a little girl with demonic tendencies and a creepy talking doll. In the story, a couple of pedophiles find Annie at a playground, in the middle of the night, by herself. They figure she must be from a broken home of some sort, and eventually, after some strange interaction with the child, Annie decides she wants to go back to their "funhouse" and play with them.

I love the way the author reduces the pedophiles to generic nicknames given by Annie, and there is an extra disturbing layer added when Annie's POV takes over the narration. Although it's pretty obvious Mister and Captain made a fatal mistake when they crossed paths with Annie, there is some uncertainty about Annie's blood lust, so it's not as predictable as you might think. Despite how much is revealed, Annie's true nature remains a mystery. I'd love for Popo to write another Annie story...she's one of the most fascinating characters I've ever found in horror.

This is one of those stories that begs a closer look at how we decide what is "evil" or who is a "bad guy." I'd like to think we can all agree that raping children is evil and no one will shed a tear for the fates of Captain, Mister or any of the other sick garbage in the "funhouse." But what about Annie? Of course, I cheered as she turned the place into an epic bloodbath, but one cannot ignore what she is capable of, or her inner struggle between self-control and rage...and that doll. Let's agree for the rest of this discussion, they are all monsters.

Let's also agree that a monster is a creature which carries out horrific acts. If the monster is simply acting out it's nature, is it still evil? A vampire needs blood to survive. If it kills, are all the kills an act of evil, or does killing humans performing unspeakable acts make it okay? If a victim lives a life that we find despicable and cruel, is it murder or justice when they're killed? What does it say about us when we find ourselves cheering on a monster we would normally never want to meet?

The many questions that follow a good story are the very reason I keep coming back to this genre. To a casual observer, horror is about blood and terror, suspense and brutality. To a true horror fan, the genre is ripe with psychological and sociological aspects that explore every aspect of individuals and society...and we love a chilling thrill.

As always,

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Consumed by Horror

The Consuming by Rhonda Hopkins isn't easily characterized as a ghost story or a haunted house. In fact, I think it's more a story about estrangement and denial. If you take out the paranormal elements, you have a tragic drama centered around a young woman trying to make sense of her family's buried past. Her uncle becomes a broken man due to his unwillingness to remove himself from a toxic situation, which leads to his eventual death. Unfortunately, Serena seems to suffer from the same affliction.

My only complaint is the abrupt ending. Hopkins takes readers into a dark place, filled with troubled spirits, only to abandon readers to their own conclusions. I might have overlooked this if more history had been revealed about Jesse, Edgar and Gretchen. I feel like Hopkins left me locked in the library.

I first began reading horror in the late 1980s due to ongoing night terrors (ex: I would see corpses trying to crawl through my ground-level bedroom windows at night)...a face my fear type of decision was made by me. There has always been something cathartic about exposing my imagination the genre. Reading about different kinds of monsters keeps my monsters at a safe distance.

So, someone like Serena in The Consuming is a mystery to me. I wonder how on earth a person could choose to stay in strange house alone after seeing a corpse. I'm not even sure if I'd have the presence of mind to grab my car keys as I hauled ass out of the damned house. Hopefully, I'd have my phone to order up an Uber.

However, the big question, the deciding factor in the hauling-ass plan is: how bad does something have to be before a person is convinced the supernatural and/or unnatural threat is real?

I once asked zombiephiles if they would believe the dead had become undead before or after the zombies were breaking down their doors. Something to think about...

As always,

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Cornfields Have A Bad Reputation

Lord of the Harvest by Mark Lumby joins the sub-genre of cornfield stories in horror. Although the origin story of the corn creatures remains a mystery, the build-up of suspense is excellent. Nothing like telling someone not to do something to ensure they do exactly that. Unfortunately for Richard, the townsfolk think he's crazy and his son is too concerned with financial problems to see what's right in front of him...or behind him...or reaching for him.

While I enjoyed this story, I thought too much time is wasted on Richard arguing with Ewan. I wish the author had included the incident with the local priest, maybe even included his POV to reveal what happened prior to Ewan's argument with his father.

Regardless, I look forward to reading more of Lumby's stories.

If someone tells us, "Stay away from such-and-such restaurant, the service is lousy," we're likely to avoid the place, but if someone says, "Stay away from such-and-such place, something evil lives there," we flock like idiots with our cameras, hoping to film a video that will go viral on YouTube.

I've always wondered if it's a case of disbelief and wanting to disprove any folklore, or if it's the opposite: believing and wanting everyone else to believe as well. If it's the latter, why in the hell would you want to make some horrific discovery?

I often think reading a lot of horror stories gives people an unhealthy amount of self-confidence, leading us to believe that we'd never be that guy. We believe we're prepared for all kinds of terrifying situations because we've read so many different stories - some of us have even survived real life horror. What if that thought process is exactly what leads us into our own personal cornfield?

As always,

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Self-sacrifice vs. Self-preservation

Road Trip by Elliott S. Clark is a very short story about a horrible accident that happens during a road trip and leads to an even more frightening discovery. I don't know whether to categorize this as a slasher story, a ghost story or even a zombie story...or all of the above. I like the different reactions of the four characters, but I can't help wishing the story would've continued just a little longer. I'm left with so many questions.

What we think we would do in a situation like this and what we would actually do are usually two different things, if we're honest with ourselves. "But if we used common sense, there wouldn't be a story." True enough, but if given just two choices, save yourself or save your friends, how long would it take for you to decide?

I'd like to think that in an effort NOT to damn my soul, I wouldn't bail on my travel companions, especially if they are more than just friends (certain people in my life will always have priority over everyone and everything else). However, I wonder if there's a point where a person can call it a hopeless situation without a doubt and just cut one's losses without burning for it.

A couple of dreams I had in the past have left me questioning how well I really know myself. In one dream, some monsters were chasing me and dozens of others up a steep hill. I somehow managed to get my hands on a shotgun. Every time I had a monster in my sights, some idiot would get in the way. I did kill the monsters without shooting anyone else, but, I was so pissed off, I told the other survivors, "Next time you get in my line of sight, I will shoot through you." Nice.

In another dream, some very cruel and sadistic people were torturing another person. I stood at a distance, undetected, and thought, "Better them than me." I woke up shocked at how easy it was to come to that conclusion. I felt zero guilt in the dream...and yet, when I'm awake, I can't stomach the thought of doing nothing if someone is being victimized in some way nearby.

I think I have it all figured out, until I read a story like Road Trip, and I have mixed feelings. Part of me curses the character who bails on her friends, while another part of me cheers on her self-preservation.

Last but not least, how did corn fields get such a sinister reputation anyway?

As always,

Monday, January 1, 2018

New Year, New Review Format

Midnight Monster by Ashlie Harris is a flash fiction piece which is surprisingly entertaining. Perfect reading for the current freezing temps, actually. Very little is revealed about the victim or the monster, but the terror of being chased from one hopeless situation into another equally hopeless situation is more than enough to feed the imagination.

This year I'm going to be trying out a new review format in hopes of generating some discussions in the comments section, or, at the very least, generate some deep thoughts within my viewing audience. I began writing reviews because I wanted to share my reading experiences, but somehow I let my reviews devolve into glorified book reports.

I became so focused on describing the stories and commenting on the authors' writing styles, I left out the best part of reading: projecting myself into the dreams and nightmares the authors create. I react to the characters as if I knew them personally. I decide what I would do in their places. I judge, I problem-solve, I scream and curse when the characters deviate from my own reactions and decisions. I never ever simply read any story...flash fiction, novels, series...they're all destinations and they all deserve more than a postcard review.

That said...

I always wonder what kind of exposure the characters of a story have had to the horror genre. Does fictional horror even exist within a horror story? I ask because I'm wondering what in the hell the main character in Midnight Monster thought could be accomplished by yelling at the scary noises...or throwing a hairbrush. If something ungodly showed its face at my window, I wouldn't wait for it to make its way into my bedroom. I wouldn't run to someplace isolated and hope for the best.

Sometimes I'm not sure if the monsters in these stories are that frightening, or if the terror comes from "watching" characters practically commit suicide with their lack of critical thinking skills. Many of these characters seem like "fork in a toaster" type. We know it's not going to end well, but we can't look away.

As always,