Online Issue 14

TSP OI14 coverAuthor Lee Murray talks about her novelInto the Sounds, and how traveling has shaped her life and writing, the actor she’d pick to play her protagonist for the series and her faithful author assistant, Bella.

Stuart R. West drops by to talk about his faithful companion, Zak, and his novels Secret Society (which may be one of the most original takes on a serial killer story) and how a real-life ghost town inspired Ghosts of Gannaway.

Jon O’Bergh is back to share the music his characters in The Shatter Point would listen to.

S.D. Hintz is also giving us the goods on the nosey neighbors who inspired The Witching Well and the reason he may just live in the creepiest house, ever.

ICYMI, Brian talked to Steph Post and Nik Norpon about their tattoos. And there’s a new story up at Zombie Cat: Waiting on the Stress Boxes by David Hagerty.

Goldilocks and the Dark Barometer

Every now and again, someone writes about the darkness that permeates Young Adult fiction. This leads to speculation about whether it is too dark, and summaries on the topic. I could do likewise, but I felt  already did that so well, I don’t need to.

What I did decide was that I would focus on reading some popular YA authors and titles and see what I thought. So, reads over the past few months classified as YA have included Nightwolf, Salt, The Fragile Ordinary, The Forest of Hands and Teeth

Out of all of these offerings, Nightwolf is probably the darkest. Salt has monsters and The Forest of Hands and Teeth has zombies, but Nightwolf focuses on real horrors some kids today live with, and although it isn’t pure noir, there is a sense of hopelessness and futility that permeate the story. It isn’t what I’d call cheery. The other titles have varying degrees of hope – for resolution of problems, for overcoming difficult situations, for the future. I didn’t find any of this unrelentingly dark.

Now, your mileage may vary. But here’s the thing. Young people are dealing with a lot of crap. We did, too, in our day. They’re trying to figure out who they are, what they want out of life and what others expect of them. They have to make decisions that will shape their entire future. And they’re looking at a war of words between politicians that might lead to war with North Korea and all kinds of other crap going on that could change their future. They want to assume control of their lives but they aren’t adults, so they’re caught between taking responsibility for their actions and having limited authority for their choices.

And everything they do is presented on social media for all the world to see.

Frankly, the stuff I’ve heard about via the kids over recent years has been numbing. They are far more aware of a lot of crap than I ever was. And I specifically started watching The Walking Dead because their biomom was watching it with them when they were eleven. Brian and I always felt we should have some sense of what they were watching and being exposed to so that we could have informed conversations about it, so a show I’d resisted watching became part of our regular viewing. (And they had some good seasons, so for a while it wasn’t a chore at all.) Frankly, if they can watch that when they aren’t even teens, it’s got to be pretty damn hard to top that level of darkness in fiction.

People read for all kinds of reasons, and one of those reasons is to escape. Another is to learn about things they otherwise wouldn’t get answers about. And another is to help them process things they’re dealing with.

Hells bells, I’m just glad to see young people reading. You want to read dark? Read on, I say.


Review: Salt by Hannah Moskowitz


Review: The Fragile Ordinary by Samantha Young


Review: Creatures of Want and Ruin by Molly Tanzer


Review: The Middleman by Olen Steinhauer


Review: Walking Shadows by Faye Kellerman


Review: Robert B. Parker’s Colorblind by Reed Farrel Coleman


Bye Bye Kindle Boards

From their new terms of service:

“You agree to grant to KBOARDS.COM a non exclusive, royalty free, worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual license to reproduce, distribute, transmit, sublicense, create derivative works of, publicly display, publish and perform any materials and other information you submit to any public areas, chat rooms, bulletin boards, newsgroups or forums of KBOARDS.COM or which you provide by email or any other means to KBOARDS.COM and in any media now known or hereafter developed. Further, you grant to KBOARDS.COM the right to use your name and or user name in connection with the submitted materials and other information as well as in connection with all advertising, marketing and promotional material related thereto, together with use on any other VerticalScope Inc. web sites. You agree that you shall have no recourse against VerticalScope Inc. for any alleged or actual infringement or misappropriation of any proprietary right in your communications to KBOARDS.COM.”

You have to email and ask for all your information to be removed. Always nice for some assholes to come along and change the terms of service after the fact so that people’s information is already being sold. Jerks. Time to sign off.

Hulu Programming Campaign for Letterkenny

Now, Brian’s new favorite show is a Canadian show called Letterkenny. The first two seasons are on Hulu, and he wants them to get all the seasons added. So here’s hoping some of you will have a full appreciation for the quirky humor and jump on the bandwagon. Season 1 has a running joke starting episode 2 that has payoff in the final episode of the season…. just brilliant. These clips have nothing to do with the ostrich fucker, or my favorite joke about a certain book, or even the super-soft birthday party, but they do help set the tone of the show.


Now, this one… maybe not young kid friendly. But a great illustration of ‘show not tell’ writing. I know exactly what Wayne and Daryl think about Squirrely Dan’s revelation about his sexual experience without so much as a word from either of them.



Stuart R. West’s Beloved Pit-Bull mix, Zak

Secret Society cover2

Fun Fact: “A decade or so ago, I was in a “country-funk-alternative-comedy-improv” band. We actually achieved a bit of notoriety in Kansas City for our short shelf life. I took the stage in pajamas, ate cereal and kitty litter, wore a variety of hats, sung, and “tried” to play the saxophone.


Many authors have a trusted four-legged friend who supports them (or disrupts them) during their writing day. Tell us about your author assistant.

0618171158-00Oh, man, you had to ask this question. Yes, I used to have a four legged assistant. Zak was special. From day one when we adopted him (found rummaging through a trash bin), he stole our hearts and the upholstery on our furniture. As a half pit-bull terrier, he had an uphill struggle, much prejudice wherever we walked. But he never bit anyone. (Well, there was that one cable guy, but he SO deserved it).

I became a full-time writer five years ago, sorta dropping out of society. Zak was my loyal, loving companion, always at my feet through eighteen novels. Yipping at me when he deemed a walk was necessary. I knew him better than anyone and he knew me and my schedule.

Last year was rough. He tore a ligament in a back leg that couldn’t be healed. Six months of operations, constant watch, and keeping him confined didn’t pay off. He lost the leg. For two months after that, he was happy and healthy again. Then it happened to the other leg.

zak with haremStill a healthy dog, we put him through another operation to repair the ligament with bolts and surgery. Again, it got infected.

The saddest day of my life, we had to put him down. For six months, I couldn’t write, not without him at my feet. I still mourn, still cry over my lost writing companion. But he lives on in my heart and I’d like to think somewhere else as well.

I miss you, buddy. Please raise a glass to my faithful friend, Zak. “Tink.”

Check out Stuart’s interviews about Secret Society and Ghosts of Gannaway

_MG_0556 - Version 2Stuart R. West is a lifelong resident of Kansas, which he considers both a curse and a blessing. It’s a curse because…well, it’s Kansas. But it’s great because…well, it’s Kansas. Lots of cool, strange and creepy things happen in the Midwest, and Stuart takes advantage of them in his books. Call it “Kansas Noir.” Stuart writes thrillers, horror and mysteries usually tinged with humor, both for adult and young adult audiences.

If you’re still reading this, you may as well head on over to Stuart’s blog at:

(Psst…for those easily bored, read this aloud in a Morgan Freeman voice. I promise we’ll get through it easier that way.)


How Bella keeps author Lee Murray on her toes when she’s writing

Fun Fact: “A big lover of cheese, I have been lucky enough to have lived for several years in some of the most significant cheese locations of the world, beginning with my home country of New Zealand, then England (home of Red Leicester and Wensleydale), France (my favourite is still the Tome de Savoie) and America’s Dairyland, Wisconsin, famous for its cheese curd and Montforte Blue.”


My author assistant since April 2018 is Bella. She’s an 8-month-old Jack Russell-Shih Tzu cross with a penchant for adventure and causing trouble. The perfect antidote for depression, Bella’s main job is to encourage me to get up from my desk and stretch my legs at frequent-frequent-frequent intervals, a task she takes very seriously by bringing me balls to throw. She tends to go crazy whenever the postie stops by, no doubt in anticipation of new books to be added to my to-be-read pile, since Bella recognises the importance of reading to a writer’s craft. Occasionally, she’ll hop up on my office chair, squeezing herself into the gap between my back and the chair back. This spot serves the dual purpose of providing me with a lovely warm lumbar support, while also allowing her a sneak peek at my latest plot twist. She barks any time I’m too long on the phone, a gentle reminder that I have a book to write. She also makes short work of any pages that might land on the floor, saving me a trip to the rubbish bin. And recently, she ate through a TV remote in a not-so-subtle reminder that, in her view, the book version is always better than the movie, and for that reason I should keep at it. I’d already completed INTO THE SOUNDS by the time we adopted Bella, but she was my assistant while I wrote INTO THE ASHES, the final instalment in the Taine McKenna adventure trilogy. I hope Bella’s influence shows and, like her, the latest adventure is high-speed and action-packed.



Lee talks about Into The Sounds here, and shares her casting call for the novel here.

Lee-15-Head-BWLee Murray is a ten-time winner of New Zealand’s Sir Julius Vogel Award for science fiction, fantasy and horror. Her books include the military thrillers Into the Mist and Into the Sounds, and supernatural crime-noir titles Hounds of the Underworld and Teeth of the Wolf (co-authored with Dan Rabarts). She is proud to have co-edited nine anthologies, one of which, Baby Teeth, won her an Australian Shadows Award in 2014. She lives with her family in the Land of the Long White Cloud. Find her at

Online Issue 7

Kevin Wignall talks about his new novel, To Die in Vienna, which is going to be a major motion picture starring Jake Gyllenhaal and I weigh in with my review.

Chris Roy chats about his short story collection, Her Name Is Mercie, and his journey to publication.

Jo Perry has a big author event coming up this weekend – find out more here where she talks about her new work in progress and what Neil Diamond has to do with hell

Or learn more about Jo Perry’s upcoming event here, where she talks about the four-legged friends who keep her company when she’s in the office in her Author Assistant feature.

Plus: Reviews of Cult X and The Shadow Killer.


I could weigh in about the hated book of the week but really, what’s the point? Making posts about how it’s getting all the press and word of mouth just adds to its profile. The simple truth is that I think a lot of publicists and authors are lacking motivation and ingenuity to promote books. It’s easy to be jealous of the name that gets all the attention, but there are venues such as this one, Toe Six, and Underground Book Reviews and more that offer meaningful ways to raise an author’s profile. Would you rather people go to your website and see what you have to say about yourself, or see that you’ve been interviewed in different places? Doesn’t that make you look more important?

I have reached out directly to approximately 60 publishers and publicists asking specifically to interview an author or letting them know about feature opportunities here, which are free. All they take is a little bit of the author’s time.

My return rate for people taking me up on invitations or opportunities is down to about 19%. And the majority are authors. A publicist could get promotion for every book they have coming out in the months ahead. Instead, the odd few who respond tell me to go to NetGalley to get ARCs. (Man, I have ARCs out my wazoo and I can only read a couple books a month. And my priority is authors I’m interviewing here. I think I’ve officially reached the point where I won’t even ask an author for an interview if I have to contact a publicist, because my return rate there is 2% so it just isn’t worth my time.)

So don’t whine about not being profiled. Stop bitching about the lack of attention for small press books when there are places out there trying, and having a devil of a time getting authors interested in chatting about their books. It isn’t just about Toe Six. I was having a hard time getting people lined up for Spinetingler. My return rate there was sitting at about 30% before it ended.

The next time you want to post about how sad it is to lose places that publish short stories and how awful it is that only a few big books get the big press while these other good books get ignored? Places like Spinetingler and Toe Six live or die on the interest level. If nobody wants to be interviewed there isn’t much of a point in doing issues, is there? And if nobody is buying your short story collection when you publish it or investing in advertising on your site then how do you fund the issues?

The question for me is should I invest in promoting someone else or my own book? And maybe all the time I spend doing this is best served sitting on the porch with my dogs. Ultimately, maybe people just want something to complain about. The same people upset about JP and BC’s book could instead be spreading the word about a great book they’ve read and liked, about feature interviews with authors on sites all over the internet.

Or the gripefest can roll on for a few more days.

Practice pitching. That way, when life hands you lemons you’ll have good aim and free ammunition. ~ Sandra Ruttan

In other words, life is what you make of it. And we could take that approach to publishing and turn it upside down. The real reason people don’t do it? I can only guess it’s because they’re still hoping for that mainstream acceptance and their day to have all the attention.

Want to do an interview or a feature? Email toesixpress @ with ‘author feature’ in the subject line.