Tuesday, December 31, 2019

TOP 2019 FICTION


Here is my end-of-year compilation of the stories which really impressed me in 2019, everything from short stories to stand-alone novels, book series and novellas:

TOP 2019 SHORT STORIES

INSULAR by Jamie Stewart presents the concept of being so wrapped up in our own heads that we miss something very wrong happening right in front of us, and made such an impact on me, I also recommend TRICK OR TREAT by the same author. You will definitely see Stewart in the Lair a third time in January 2020.

A GOOD PAIR OF EYES by Matthew Buza is a crime drama mixed with supernatural horror, and the story scared the crap out of me with the vivid descriptions. If you like movies such as The Grudge or Unfriended, you're going to love this short horror story.


THE CAT ON ALPINE ROAD by Keith Knapp is full of suspense, and the cat, Buckshot, is magnificent. If you love the cat, General, from the movie Cat's Eye, you'll enjoy Knapp's story.

PHILOPHOBIA by Sin Ribbon is a short story about a man attempting to resurrect his wife. I'm so intrigued with the town itself, Ribbons could probably create a few more stories with the townsfolk, particularly with Mrs. Becca's church and Lisa Common.

EASY.GONE. by Daniel J Ings is terrifying. I can't imagine what Mr. Yan was thinking, selling such a dangerous item as the pocket-sized Necronomicon to a kid with a huge chip on his shoulder.

I JUST WANT TO DIE by Nicholas Wolff mixes horror, sci-fi and drama to create one of the best apocalyptic outbreak scenarios I've ever read! Wolff has taken the plague subgenre to a new level.

I'M ALL ALONE AND IT'S GETTING DARK by Brandon Lee Hayes is a story told from a child's POV. He wakes up from a nightmare to pee and finds the babysitter missing. (This story made me think of the illustration of a toy bear using a sword to defend the sleeping child from a monster.) Roosevelt is the kind of bear I'd want my kid to have.

THE HIKE by Sarah Gribble is far better than I expected. I thought it would be a group of people getting attacked by a werewolf, but it's so much worse, and there's far more to the story.

PARK CLOSES AT DUSK by D.W. Nathan is the best short story I've read by the author. For some reason, I thought I would be reading a vampire story, but the creatures Nathan has created are much more terrifying. If you like Ghoul by Brian Keene, you're going to love the nightlife in this park.

THE TUNNELERS by Geoff Gander is one of the best stories I've read in 2019, even though this story was published in 2011. Halfway through reading, I googled legends of the First Nations to figure out which parts are historical and how much of the story is a creation of the author. What I found convinced me Gander is Lovecraft reincarnated.


TOP 2019 NOVELS

ONE OF US by Craig DiLouie is a very emotional drama set in 1984. The horror element is the way the characters treat each other: deplorable. I've often commented in my reviews about the definition of a monster...DiLouie wrote an entire novel about the debate over what defines a monster.


TOOTH & CLAW by Dave Jeffery (author of A Quiet Apocalypse) is one of the best werewolf stories I've ever read. The author has blended folklore, crime drama and horror with an excellent balance of action and suspense to create one hell of a thriller!

EMILY ETERNAL by M.G. Wheaton is one of the best science fiction novels I've read in a long time, and one of the most creative stories I've read this year. This thriller is told from the POV of the artificial consciousness, a five-year science experiment attempting to save humanity. Basically, the author has combined a crime drama in an E.L.E. setting with a sci-fi coming-of-age battle for survival.

THE FOREST by Julia Blake centers on the villagers of Wyckenwode and the Forest, filled with secrets which have affected the lives of every generation. Blake has skillfully woven folklore, suspense, drama and romance together to create a detailed coming-of-age tapestry. I haven't been this moved by a fantasy novel since the last time I read Ursula K LeGuin.



TOP 2019 SERIES

Grinning Skull Press has a GRAVE MARKER series, eighteen so far, and I recommend all of them. One in particular, THE MEMOIR OF DARIUS FISCHER by Ezekiel Kincaid mixes theology, mysticism, folklore and more with the precision of a master.

I AM THE NIGHT by Ruth Miranda is a companion story for her Blood trilogy, and narrated by Marcus. This installment offers fans of the series his perspective on events leading up to his confrontation with Caius, as well as the beginning of his relationship with Marianne.

THE BEAUTIFUL ONES series by Kody Boye follows the POV of a sixteen year old girl, Kelendra, chosen to keep up genetic standards for the Glittering City. The society Boye has crafted contains elements similar to the Hunger Games and The Handmaid's Tale, while retaining the author's skill in using personal drama to draw readers into his disturbing creation.


TOP 2019 NOVELLAS

IT NEVER DIED by Joshua Scribner is the author's best story, of the 100+ stories I have read by Scribner. This isn't just a supernatural story, or a karma/revenge plot, this is the ultimate reincarnation tale!

A QUIET APOCALYPSE by Dave Jeffery (author of Tooth & Claw) is a very different kind of post-apocalyptic story. There are no zombies, nothing supernatural of any kind...only people enslaving other people. After an illness renders most people deaf, the hearing are hunted down to become servants for the newly hearing impaired. Those born deaf are given a much more terrifying treatment, as they are blamed for the virus which causes the loss of hearing.



Special thanks to all of you who share my review and interview links and help get the word out about all the great indie authors and small presses! There are tons of great stories to read in horror, science fiction, fantasy and suspense, but many readers are afraid to try the unknown.

Have a safe New Year's Eve, and be sure to come back in 2020 for even more fantastic recommendations!

As always,
AstraDaemon

Monday, December 30, 2019

Fantasy Writers Fighting Cancer


Fantasy For Good: A Charitable Anthology
edited by Richard Salter

First and foremost, the proceeds from the sales of Fantasy For Good are donated to the fight against colon cancer. This is the second in a series, following Horror For Good, and both have raised a standard for charity anthologies.

This anthology brought me back to my childhood, when I fell in love with fiction, particularly the fantasy genre. In addition to many well-known authors, readers are also introduced to many other talented writers...it's like a buffet for the imagination: sword & sorcery, fairy tales, paranormal, etc.

The number of stories within is well worth the price, and readers can feel good about giving to a charity at the same time. However, what truly impressed me is the variety and originality of each and every story. Not once was I able to predict an ending, and when you read as much as I do, that, in itself, is an amazing feat.

I recommend this anthology to readers of all ages, and if you're not a fan of the fantasy genre, you will be after reading Fantasy For Good.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Sunday With Scribner: Insurance

THE PREMIUM by Joshua Scribner is centered on a man planning a trip with his wife and two young daughters. A telemarketer keeps calling to offer an insurance policy, but Sam refuses to hear him out. After three strange dreams, he finally realizes why it is so important to make an informed decision, rather than a decision based on fear.

The ending is a little abrupt, but the twist is awesome.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Saturday, December 28, 2019

The Worst Customer Service


The Phone Company
by David Jacob Knight

HELLO, I AM THE TETHER - The Phone Company has been around for a long time. As civilization grew, so did PCo’s power, slowly spreading its lines across the continent. Today it’s in everything. It’s in the air around us.

I CAN TRACK YOUR KIDS FOR YOU - Now PCo is building a cell tower in the isolated town of Cracked Rock, Montana, bringing with it infrastructure, opportunity, and the world’s smartest phone: the brand-new Tether.

I CAN SPY ON YOUR NEIGHBORS - But the Tether isn’t just a phone. It knows everything about you. It can give you anything you want. It can even connect you with the dead.

ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS GET CONNECTED - As the Tether digs up the town’s dirtiest skeletons, one father must make a stand to save what’s left of his family, his town, and humanity itself—or succumb to his own desires.

THE TETHER: I’M NOT TECHNOLOGY


PCo is a phone company that hands out "Tethers" to the townfolk of Cracked Rock. The apps are truly frightening - scarier than any horror monster. In addition to the extremely disturbing nature of the technology, there is a madness within this story that reminds me of Stephen King's Needful Things (a thought I had BEFORE one of the characters actually referred to the apps as "needful things").

The Phone Company could easily be the result of a three-way between Stephen King, Steve Jobs and HP Lovecraft, but it is the twisted creation of David Jacob Knight. As with The Pen Name, Knight has a talent for perverting reality into a nightmare that you'll never forget.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Friday, December 27, 2019

From Slave to Gypsy


The Barefoot Queen
by Ildefonso Falcones

Set in Spain, 1748, this story is about a recently freed Cuban slave, Caridad, wandering the streets of Seville. She meets Milagros, a gypsy who sweeps Caridad into a society full of romance and art, passion and dancing, until the gypsies are declared outlaws by a royal mandate.

This is a family drama rich with historical content, and the multiple overlapping POVs add an intense layer of suspense. I had no idea how it would end, even when I was down to the last page.

With three strong central female characters (Milagros Vega, Ana Vega and Caridad), the title of Barefoot Queen could apply to anyone of them. Caridad, a former Cuban slave living among gypsies, realizes that even though she is free of the tobacco plantation, it takes more than a document to truly feel free. Milagros learns the value of family by surviving the nightmare that is her marriage, and Ana becomes stronger than even she could imagine when she fights tooth and nail against the imprisonment of the gypsies. Melchor (Ana's father, grandfather to Milagros and the man who brings Caridad into the gypsy fold) is the one who ties the fates of the women together.

I love how all the characters struggle to find their place in the world, without losing who they are inside. The details of the gypsy culture creates a deep texture to the various storylines. More than once I cried while I was reading this novel...it's impossible not to feel the emotions of the characters.

I recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.


As always,
AstraDaemon

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Throwback Thursday: Holiday of the Dead

38 holiday-themed zombie stories from new and established authors...

Over 500 pages crammed full of flesh-eating horror and dark humor from the cream of UK, US and Canadian talent. Theme parks, serial killers, seaside resorts, Christmas, Thanksgiving and fishing trips.



HOLIDAY OF THE DEAD is this a great sampling of some of the best authors from the zombie genre, but an incredible showcase of what the horror sub-genre has to offer. Too many people think zombie stories are comparable to zombie movies, when, in fact, undead stories have evolved far more than the undead in the film industry.

This anthology exceeded my expectations...various locations, an array of holiday settings - everything from weekend getaways to major holiday celebrations, and some of the best zombie action I've ever read.

I would definitely put this collection in my top ten list for anthologies.


As always,
AstraDaemon

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Santa the Decapitator

A CHRISTMAS TALE by Travis Hill is one of the most horrific stories I've read this year, thanks to the suspense build up. The story within the story will likely mess up any child, and some adults as well.

I can't help but wonder if the events are supernatural or if Santa is a legit serial killer.

Please don't be the kind of jerk parent who uses this story to get your kids to behave.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Kids Are Scary

EVE by Matt Shaw is somehow darker than anything else I've read by the author. Considering I've read Octopus, I am surprised at my reaction to the ending. I'd rather take my chances with the pack from Full Moon than this little girl. Seriously. She scares the crap out of me. I'm never going to look at snowmen the same way again. Damn.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Monday, December 23, 2019

North Pole Nightmare

SECRET SANTA by Edward Lorn is a horror short with a touch of dark humor at the very end. Typical older brother screwing around with the younger brother, but so much sinister.

This is pretty messed, considering Krampus isn't even involved in this one...

As always,
AstraDaemon

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Trilogy of Tinsel Terror

THE HORRORS OF CHRISTMAS by Michael Whitehouse is a collection of three short tales:

A CHRISTMAS FEAST centers on a dinner guest who wonders why he can't smell any food.

THE ADVENT CALENDAR is one of the best horror stories I've ever read, and I would love to see this made into a film.

THE CHRISTMAS TREE is a cautionary tale.

I think THE ADVENT CALENDAR should've been the last story, to finish with a strong ending. In any case, I definitely recommend this holiday collection to horror fans.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Bah Humbug

THE MERRY CHRISTMAS GHOST by Dennis Warren is about a woman who has to live in a haunted apartment due to financial constraints. The story would have flowed much better if the author chose one voice to narrate. As is, I can't say I was entertained.

This story is listed under young adult fiction, but I wouldn't even recommend this to the teen readers I know.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Friday, December 20, 2019

Stalked in the Mall

CHRISTMAS SHOPPING by Angel Gelique is a short story about a young girl who is harassed by a man who can't stand being ignored. Jilly wishes she had left when her friend stood her up, but now she has to survive being chased during her shopping trip.

I had zero expectations because I've never heard of this author, but the ending is outstanding and completely shocking, especially the very last paragraph. Makes me wonder what happened to Jilly the last time she faced stranger danger...

As always,
AstraDaemon

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Throwback Thursday: Christmas

A VERY ZOMBIE CHRISTMAS by Rebecca M. Senese is a shopping nightmare...with the undead.

Surprisingly, the first half of this story was written in a somewhat serious manner. Melissa is working at a department store, when a zombie outbreak begins in the shoe department. She witnesses one of the other employees get bitten and join the ranks of the infected, but she has a hard time convincing her co-workers that they have a zombie problem — everyone else just thinks it’s the customers acting crazy during their Christmas shopping.

The first person to believe Melissa is a young man named Danny who helps her gear up with what’s available (alas, no guns), and together they fight their way to the security room, where a few other survivors have managed to reach safety. During their search, the story takes a funny twist when Melissa realizes the zombies still have memories of shopping, and have retained their instincts to seek out a sale.

Perfect holiday tale for the horror fan in your life.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Blown Away!

THE PACK by Matt Shaw is as awesome as the first book, and I just about lost my mind with the special appearance of two characters from another Shaw series. While FULL MOON is a horror-suspense story, this last installment is more of a mystery-thriller, with an abundance of flashbacks and double-crosses to keep readers guessing about the pack's future until the very last page.

I'm really glad I finished the series, and I feel sorry for anyone who gave up after reading THE DEN. I love how Shaw is writing multiple series set in the same horror universe. Kind of like Stephen King's cross-overs, but, instead of just referencing his other stories, Shaw is using his creations to drive his unyielding terror deep into his fans.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Team Michael

THE DEN by Matt Shaw isn't much of a story as just a peek into the daily lives and in-fighting of the werewolves from FULL MOON. After all the action in the first book, this installment is like a fart in the wind. There is one extreme moment, which had me screaming and cursing, but the rest is just Michael brooding over Jason being the alpha. Shaw could've have easily used this as an epilogue for book one, but for less than a dollar...fair enough.

I do wish the werewolf characters were more developed though. Shaw has provided minor backstories, but their personalities are so flat, with the exception of Michael, I'm not impressed with them in human form. Michael is extremely sick and twisted, and yet I find myself rooting for him to take over the pack because Jason is coming off as a fop, and the sisters are just so bloody decadent...Michael is more likely to provide entertainment for the readers.

I've already purchased THE PACK, so I'm in this to the end.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Monday, December 16, 2019

High Maintenance Werewolves

FULL MOON by Matt Shaw is one of the very best werewolf stories I've ever read. My main reason for loving this novel is the variety of characters. Usually this genre has the same stereotypical wolves and humans, but the author has created several interesting personalities among both groups. Shaw also brutalizes and exploits those same characters in his usual savage and shocking way.

Shaw's portrayal of the werewolves as self-entitled snobs is a rather refreshing change from the usual portrayal of uncontrollable beasts. The determination of the humans, although largely ineffective, is also far more entertaining than the self-pitying types. While the run/hunt is not an original horror concept, Shaw does a great job keeping readers tied down to the very last page.

I knew going into this, Full Moon is just the first book in a trilogy, and I can't wait to continue...I'm hoping maybe the priest will make an appearance...

As always,
AstraDaemon

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Sunday With Scribner: Supernatural Thriller

UNIMAGINED by Joshua Scribner is horrifying, especially if you're a parent. I've been stalked, and I'm a mother, so this story really freaked me out. The mom has an anxiety disorder, her daughter has an imaginary friend, and her ex-husband doesn't believe anything she says.

When Scribner reveals the supernatural twist, I was desperately hoping for a happy ending, or a not-so-bad ending, but Scribner takes this one to a really dark place. I'm shook.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Lock ALL of the Doors!!

DUPLEX by Michael James McFarland is something I read years ago, but my original review appears to have disappeared without a trace. I decided to reread the novella, since the author's book, Wormwood, has always been one of my favorite apocalypse stories.

First, the late night noises. Then, the shocking discovery of a videotape showing Dan, his wife and his daughter sleeping in their beds. He sets up a camcorder to try and catch the intruder, but he doesn't bother to check the tape...until his wife and child go missing. By the time he figures out what has happened, Dan has become a prisoner in his own home.

The psychological aspects of this story are horrifying enough, but McFarland takes the story further by adding a supernatural element. I want this story to be made into a film. This is the kind of suspense-thriller Hollywood needs to redeem itself. Even if you're not a horror fan, you need to make time for this novella.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Friday, December 13, 2019

Homeless Hell

Beneath the city of Boston, evil is gathering.

Journalist Daniel Finley is determined to save the impoverished of the world. But the neglected part of humanity has a dark side too. While living under a bridge with the homeless for six months, Daniel witnessed something terrifying. Something that nearly cost him his sanity.

Now, two years later, he’s published a book that exposes a deadly underground cult and its charismatic leader who preaches a dark prophecy. Down in the abandoned subway tunnels exist unimaginable horrors that hunger for human flesh. And in a church of darkness, the cult’s numbers are growing. Soon Daniel’s worst nightmares are coming true. A fanatical army is rising to shed blood on the streets of Boston.

THE SEEKERS by Brian Moreland is an updated version of the story formerly titled The Vagrants. While I enjoyed the original, this version is a thousand times better. This is now a story I can recommend to all horror fans.

Daniel Finley is a journalist who lives under a bridge for six months as a vagrant, while gathering research for a book that he plans to write. However, during his time with his homeless group, another group shows up. The "Seekers" are a cult, recruiting more followers, but Daniel does not fully realize their purpose.

Two years later, after he published his book, not only does the cult reappear in his life, but he finds out that his father is in debt to the local Irish-American mafia. Too late, Daniel finds himself in a territorial battle between the two groups, and what he discovers just might be the death of him.

Just when Daniel manages to escape one danger, he finds himself in a much worse situation. The ending is great, but I wouldn't say no to a sequel.

Brian Moreland does a fantastic job of taking a real issue and turning it into a horrific nightmare with a demonic twist.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Ings Is Awesome!

PINK HANDCUFFS AND HYPNAGOGIC IMPS by Daniel J Ings is entertaining and, towards the end, downright amusing. I love the concept of having to behave oneself or be marked for bad behavior. The ending is totally mint.

This is not at all what I expected from the author, after reading EASY.GONE and THE THINNING, but Ings has impressed me so much, I've already pre-ordered his new short, DON'T PICK UP THE PHONE.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Confusing Crap

THE WITCHING HOUR by D.G. McIntosh is a confusing piece of crap. The narration keeps changing between third and first person. Reads like a rough draft, but doesn't have an ending.

No connection between the old man's death and the three murder victims. No explanation for anything. I'll be damned if I know what the purpose of the story is supposed to be, but it's certainly not a horror story in any sense of the word.

Junk like this is why indie authors get such a bad reputation.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Furry Crime Noir

Eric Bear thinks he has escaped his violent past, but when crime boss Nicholas Dove threatens Eric's beloved wife Emma Rabbit, Eric has no choice but to do what he asks: find a way to remove Dove's name from the Death List. Problem is, no one knows if the Death List really exists. Nevertheless, Eric gathers his old team together - sadistic male prostitute Sam Gazelle, sweet but dangerous Tom-Tom Crow, and wily Snake Marek - and they set off to find the elusive list.

What Eric learns will forever change the way he thinks about his life, his family, and his town.

AMBERVILLE by Tim Davys is a crime noir with stuffed animals. I chose to read this book based on the cover. A teddy bear near a street lamp really captured my attention. All the characters are stuffed animals that live in a place where only stuffed animals exist. It sounds stupid, but it is surprisingly interesting.

This plot is like Animal Farm meets Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The names of the characters took some getting used to, but when Eric talked about the chauffeurs driving around at night, I couldn't put the book down until I found out what was really going on. Their personalities are quite dark, and I love the twist at the end!

One of my favorite parts is the animal getting beat and coughing up stuffing. Surprisingly intense with several unexpected twists. Not for children.


As always,
AstraDaemon

Monday, December 9, 2019

Sci-Fi Dystopian Future

REPLICA by Stephen A North is a devastating sci-fi dystopian future, with a dark revelation and a satisfying ending. I've read this once before, but I enjoyed reading this flash fiction piece as much as the first time.

I'd really like to see North write more sci-fi shorts.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Sunday, December 8, 2019

A Brother's Wrath

FAVORED SON by Joshua Scribner is a story about loss, regret and revenge. The author could have skipped a lot of the mom's introspection and made this a flash fiction piece. The ending is great, and definitely worth the effort of reading through the slow setup.

On a more personal note, Heath is a total dick. I don't believe for one moment he ever felt any remorse.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Saturday, December 7, 2019

When Fiction Is Prophetic


In a future uncomfortably close to the present day, the apocalypse has surpassed all expectations. Hideous demons roam the streets in an orgy of terror, drawing pleasure from torturing humans as sadistically as possible. Ira, a young San Francisco artist, becomes involved with a strange group of scientists and philosophers desperately trying to end the bloody siege. But the most shocking revelation is yet to come...

DEMONS by John Shirley is a book I've read more than once, and I've enjoyed this story every time. I don't understand why this novel bombed with horror fans when first released. I've always felt Shirley created an amazing origins story for the demons. Many readers complained about the mix of comedy and horror, and I can't help but wonder if they actually read the book or just skimmed through it because there's nothing funny about seven clans of demons terrorizing the planet. When the source of the demonic invasion is revealed, the author uses a metaphysical twist to expose the worst humanity has to offer. Just imagine if a group like the Illuminati were Cthulhu worshippers.

This novel is two books bound together. The second part takes place nine years after the first one, with most everyone in denial about what happened around the world. Unfortunately, another group is making a new attempt to allow the demons back into our world, using pesticides to induce a mass murder as a form of sacrifice. Some of the details are quite similar to real life events, giving Shirley's story the appearance of a prophetic warning.

If you enjoy horror movies such as Lord of Illusions or Hellraiser, you should give this novel a chance.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Friday, December 6, 2019

Hiking Into Hell

BIGFOOT TRAIL by Eric S Brown blends folklore and the supernatural into this brutal battle, setting this story apart from others in this crypto genre. The author immediately begins with the slaughter of some campers, following up with forest rangers, hikers and more, leaving readers to wonder if anyone will make it out of the woods alive.

If you're looking for deep characters or complicated storylines, move along. This is written for action fans who appreciate all the different ways Bigfoot can destroy anyone foolish enough to enter the forest of death.

I also recommend reading Brown's HUNTERS, as well.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Thursday, December 5, 2019

A Different Kind of Punk

THE MAZE'S AMULET by Auctor Trevel is kind of like Harry Potter mixed with Nightbreed. The author has created one hell of a dark fantasy dystopia about a moonpunk witch trying to keep her business going despite a serious illness and threats from a demonic mobster. (All of this takes place after a war of magic with creatures from another realm.)

The relationship between Elza and Noah is reason enough to read this novella, but the criminal element adds to the drama and suspense. The magic duels provide some intense action scenes, and the interactions between characters provides readers with more details about the society they now live in.

The ending is somewhat unexpected, but I LOVED the extra Elza backstory. Great touch!

If you're into dark urban fantasy fiction, this may be right up your alley.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Tantrum From Hell

TYPHOID MARY by Charlie Dalton begins with a scream, literally. A woman hears wailing from her neighbor's house, and finds something which drives her insane.

A little girl named Mary is the sole survivor of her foster family's murder. Nadine is the police officer who needs to interview her, and realizes Mary can be frightening when she doesn't get her way.

The ending is horrifying.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Bloody Stumps

WHAT WE KILL by Howard Odentz is a mystery-thriller centered on four friends who can't remember the night before:

One has a triangle burned into his forearm.
One has lost her pants.
One is missing his glass eye.
The last is covered in blood.

As images of big, black eyes and the cries of sheep haunt their addled brains, the town fire alarm and police sirens can be heard in the distance.

What is happening to them? What is happening to their pristine town?
What's more, why can't they remember any of it?
What . . . what did they do?

Even though the story moves at a steady pace, alternating bits and pieces of memory with backstories of their adolescent lives is quite maddening. I read the book in one sitting because I had to know what in the hell happened to them. The ending is completely worth the effort. I think this story would make a great movie.

At first, I couldn't stand the narrator's constant need to explain their family situations and relationships with one another, but when a huge secret is revealed towards the end, I understood why the author laid out every detail of their personal issues.

Odentz has a special gift for mixing young people and family drama into horrifying stories, in the most surprising ways. Not only do I recommend this novel, I also suggest reading his stories, SNOW and BONES.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Monday, December 2, 2019

Meet S.O. Bailey [Interview]

I discovered author S.O. Bailey playing short story roulette on Amazon, and found THE WHITE MAN. His writing style appealed to me, so I went on to read BARE BONES, which is currently one of my favorite Bailey stories. Continuing with stories such as JOGGER, RUBBERNECKERS and TERRALING, the author proves his comfort with a variety of genres, while demonstrating a knack for good ol' fashioned storytelling. MALDITO is no exception...and also the reason I decided to invite Bailey into the Lair...


How did you get into writing?

I consumed many books --mostly science fiction-- as an adolescent, but I didn’t realize that I wanted, and would become, a writer, until I was twenty-three years old and attending Weatherford College in Texas. By that time I had been in the Army Reserves for five years as an Intelligence Analyst, and held odd security and correctional officer jobs. I point this out because there is daily report writing involved for those types of positions, and I often found myself in charge of editing everyone’s reports before being submitted to the official record. I knew I excelled at report writing, but that’s miles away from fiction. Fast forward back to college again »» I had a couple fantastic professors that were also writers--Miss Erwin for English and Miss ICan’tRememberHerName for History--who told me that I had a good “writer’s voice”. Miss Erwin challenged me to submit an editorial I had written for class to the local newspaper for extra credit. I did and it was published. Then I did four more times, and all five were published. I didn’t know exactly how, but I knew absolutely that my new passion for writing would be a part of my career. After a bit of life and crap jobs, I began writing short stories at thirty years old.

Did you deliberately choose the horror genre, or is that just the natural direction of your stories?

Horror is fun isn’t it?! I think that’s why most of my stories are naturally more macabre. Reading a little bit of Stephen King didn’t help either. I don’t intend to adhere to any particular genre though, I have stories waiting in line at many different aisles. The horror line is the longest, however, and those customers are impatient, and some hold weapons that I fear they’ll use if I leave them waiting too long.

Your writing style has a strong folklore influence. Does this make storytelling easier or are you trying to breathe new life into a classic construct?

You know, I honestly had no idea I was doing that. I just use the voice I have to tell stories the way I like them to be told, with hopes that a few other people will enjoy them too. To be even more honest, you guys and gals--the readers--are much better than I am at categorizing the fiction I write, and I like it that way. I love reading the different interpretations. So, I’ll keep tossing the stories out there and let y’all (Texan) decide where they settle. Perhaps my Irish ancestors are a bit of my influence.

Unfortunately, we often hear about tourists vandalizing sacred spaces. Is MALDITO based on any particular headlines or are you trying to warn people not to be dicks when traveling?

The idea behind MALDITO is an easy one to explain without giving away any spoilers, because, like most of them, it turned out completely different than I imagined it would. My wife Ashley and I were in Mexico on a company paid vacation (like in the story) because (like in the story) she’s a badass saleslady and always makes the President’s Club. That’s pretty much where real life ends in the story, the characters weren’t based on us.

One evening, we were in the back of a taxi that was returning us to our resort, and I thought, What if the driver keeps driving past our hotel? Where would he take us? What would I do? “What if” is how most of my stories begin. My imagination took off and I envisioned a tourist main character who choked the driver from the backseat (a freakin’ hero), causing the taxi cab to wreck, and the death of the driver. The police arrive and ultimately the main character is arrested and thrown into a Mexican prison. I thought of how interesting it would be to research Mexican jails, and really put the hero through hell during his stay at one.

If you’ve read MALDITO, you know that it’s nothing like this at all, and I couldn’t tell you how I made the gigantic leap from the story that never happened to the hell that Eric got himself and his wife Nancy into.

To answer your question, after I made the leap, Eric was a necessary “dick” and the warning was a byproduct of the story. It’s always frustrating to see tourists disrespect local customs and superstitions.

While MALDITO is my current Bailey favorite, BARE BONES is a close second. Without giving away any spoilers, where did you get the idea for that story?

Although BARE BONES eventually progressed as naturally as most of my stories, it had the least natural inception. After completing THE WHITE MAN, TERRALING, and JOGGER, I simply decided that I wanted to write a monster-in-the-woods kind o’ story. I had no idea what, or who, the monster would be initially, and my pen didn’t hit the paper until the (How did some of the reviewers put it?) sinister and grotesque relationship between Walter and Maynard came to mind. The odd couple seemed original, and perhaps shocking, which are two very important goals I attempt to achieve whenever writing in the horror genre. I have much more fun with the antagonist characters, which lends to your first question, and probably why most of my stories are currently in the horror vein.

If you had the opportunity to option one of your short stories into a movie, would you? Which one?

Hell yes. As much as I would love to see Walter and Maynard on the big screen, MALDITO needs to be a movie.

Any chance of a full-length novel in the future?

For sure. I’ve written about 20,000 words of what should be my debut novel, Shadow Grove, where you’ll meet the Loggins family. They’re an awful bunch on the outskirts of Esel, TX, who live by their own laws, and may be connected to some of the city’s most heinous crimes. I’ve set it aside for now while I work on my short stories, and I may have a couple collections released before the novel, but I’m excited to get back into the ring with some of the nastiest characters I’ve ever created. My fingers are crossed for the end of 2020, but I won’t rush it.

What can readers expect from you in 2020? Do you think you might make an appearance at one of the Texas conventions?

My first short story collection, Love Letters, will be released in the beginning of 2020. It will include some already published stories, and plenty of new ones. Then, I plan to use that same approach and trickle out a handful of short stories (and/or novellas) leading up to my follow up collection. After that, I may or may not be ready to release Shadow Grove. I won’t make any of the 2020 convention dates, but you can look out for me in 2021!

Where can fans follow you?

- @sobaileygram on Instagram is the best place to follow me. Maybe someday I’ll get back onto Twitter and Facebook.
- www.SOBaileyBooks.com for somewhat of a blog.
- You can also follow my Amazon author page: Amazon.com/author/sobailey.

One last question: did you ever solve the mystery of the moving cement blocks?

It’s funny you should ask. I thought that it may have been my neighbor’s teenage daughter, using the blocks to help her hop back over the fence, and sneak back into their house; it turns out she’s out of town. Also, it’s the strangest thing, every time I replace the blocks behind the shed where they were, they end up on the opposite side of the backyard again. It doesn’t matter if I go back inside the house for one hour or one minute. The blocks move. As I sit and provide answers to your questions, I’m staring out of my bedroom window, and the blocks are there, mocking me.

As always,
AstraDaemon