Online Issue 17: “Living My Best Life”

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This issue begins and ends with mourning. We mark the passing of long-time reviewer and crime fiction enthusiast, Theodore Feit, with his final review.

We’re also reeling with the fresh pain from the news that Evie Swierczynski has passed away after her fight with leukemia. Many years ago, I was hired to travel to Philadelphia and interview Duane Swierczynski for a magazine feature. I got to meet his children and Meredith. I’m lucky enough to say I’ve known Duane for many years, and yet I do not know him and his family well … and yet Duane’s posts over the past several months have made many of us feel as though Evie was a part of our family, because he captured her spirit and shared her with us all.

All I really know today is that their grief is unfathomable. In the days and weeks ahead I’ll be thinking of Duane, Meredith and Parker as they begin the unfathomable journey forward without Evie.

One thing Duane mentioned months ago was that Evie always said, “Living my best life.” For her, it was a statement of sarcasm in response to misfortunes. (DS FB June 7)

May we all cherish the moments we have and truly live our best lives.

Scroll down a bit and you’ll see a list of ways to pay tribute to a loved one’s memory.

Sticking with the Music Theme

Paul D. Brazill’s Supernatural Noir is out in stores now, and he’s sharing his new work’s playlist with us.

Author Interviews

Kelli Owen talks being a Nerdy Klutz, how that impacts her zombie apocalypse plan, and what a vampire story has to do with prejudice.

Brian Lindenmuth chats with Terrence McCauley about writing westerns.

Robert White talks about Thomas Harris, David Lindsey and Martin Cruz Smith, his protagonist’s biggest fear, and how real life events inspired Northtown Eclipse.

When The Hunger Games and The Handmaid’s Tale Collide: Barbara Winkes talks about her Dystopian tale, Cypher.

Reviews:

Sandra Ruttan takes a look at In The Galway Silence, the latest Jack Taylor novel by Ken Bruen.

Brian also has a horror review column up, just in time for Halloween.

And, in sad news, the review of The Line by Martin Limon marks Theodore Feit’s final review. Our condolences to Gloria on Ted’s unexpected passing last month. He was a long-standing reviewer who was committed to sharing his love of books, and will be missed.

Actors Wanted

Tom Leins picks the Actors who Could play Joe Rey, the Gunrunner, Slattery and Wila.

To Be Read Features

Wondering what some of your favorite author are reading these days and hoping to crack open soon?

What Do John Verdon, Annette Dashofy, Gwen Floria, Eric Beetner and Kyle Mills Have in Common? JJ Hensley talks recent reads and more.

J.L. Abramo talks about global events that impact his current reading, works by Erik Larson and Bryan Burroughs and his hopes for new Tim O’Brien novels.

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Eclectic Mayhem – Halloween Horror Edition

I spent October reading horror. Here’s a couple of quick take reviews.

Cockblock by CV Hunt (Grindhouse Press) – I’ve been a fan of CV Hunt for a couple of years now. I missed it back in June when it first dropped but scooped it up with the quickness when I was prepping my reading list. The President is delivering a speech across all technologies that turns men to mindless rapists. The only way to stop them is a shot to the balls. Cockblock is a fresh take on the zombie story, one for the Me Too era. It also acts as a critique on the pervasiveness of technology and how quickly information can spread. The world created here is a patriarchal system cranked up to 11 with women leading the larger resistance that must take place to stop the President. It veers from the horrific to the humorous while maintaining a relentless drive forward. This is a very zeitgeisty novel without being overly obvious. Highly Recommended.

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Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix (Quirk Books) / My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix (Quirk Books): Grady Hendrix, with these books, writes what I’ll call horror with a light touch. They largely maintain a sense of fun, even through moments of genuine horror. There is nostalgia for the 70s/80s horror boom (an era we know Hendrix likes) without feeling like regurgitations or reproductions. Horrorstor is a haunted house story where the “house” in question is an Ikea knockoff store called Orsk (included are product descriptions that get increasingly more horrific). My Best Friend’s Exorcism seasons in some 80s nostalgia (never over the top) and brick by brick builds the great relationship between the two girls, building the the titular exorcism that will test them.

The first thing that needs to be said is that the physical versions of these books are gorgeous and are worth owning. Horrorstor is designed to look like, in part,  a store catalog. The paperback version of My Best Friend’s Exorcism looks like an 80s VHS tape.

It’s almost the kind of think you hate to say but, these two books might be a good fit for folks who say they don’t really like horror. Both Highly Recommended (though I liked My Best Friend a bit more).

 

 

The Last Safe Place by Rob Hart – Hey, remember that time Rob Hart, author of the successful Ash McKenna series, wrote a zombie novella? Wait, what? It’s out of print now but he did. In The Last Safe Place Rob Hart places his zombie apocalypse survivors on Governor’s Island in New York. They have cobbled together a surviving, but not necessarily thriving, community. Then shit goes wrong, as it always must. Clocking in at a little over 100 pages, it is the perfect length for Hart to get in, establish some characters and their relationships and dynamics then quickly jump to a couple of zombie action sequences. It’s lean, mean, and moves quick, exactly the way you want a story like this to be. Recommended

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Lost Films edited by Max Booth III and Lori Michelle (Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing) – One of the things that I appreciate about this anthology, and what the fine folks at PMMP are doing, is that it can, in no way, be considered run of the mill. It’s unlikely they will ever publish an anthology with some general theme, like Haunted Houses. With them you get anthologies about haunted films, haunted sounds, or pizza horror. And that original starting point pushes the authors out of their comfort zones some, with some strong fiction as a result. Recommended.

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Review: Creatures of Want and Ruin by Molly Tanzer

What if the scariest childhood stories you ever read were real? What if the horrors that haunted those pages stepped into your adult world and threatened to destroy your home and family – everything you’ve ever loved?

Would you have the courage to face your fears and find a way to conquer your fears and save the world?

51lydagc9rl-_sy346_I can imagine this being the driving concept behind Molly Tanzer’s Creatures of Want and Ruin. The story is told in three main parts; Susan’s, Ellie’s and Fin’s. While we start off with a snapshot of Susan discovering what’s happened to her friend, Ms. Depth, we’re soon brought into Ellie’s world. The enterprising bootlegger is independent, resourceful and soon forced to fight for her life when she tries to help a man who appears injured, who then tries to kill her.

Saying too much about the specifics of the women’s roles would risk spoilers. At it’s core this is a story about the high price of selling your soul to a demon, and the unintended horrors that ensue when people embrace evil. It isn’t just the horrific elements and supernatural aspects of the story that wreak havoc; embracing evil threatens families and relationships with tragedies that are all too real.

Creatures of Want and Ruin is a horror story about battling ancient evils. Tanzer takes her time to develop her characters and their dynamics as the plot unfolds, and the pace and intensity build to bring us to the climax. Tanzer blends the fantastical and horrific with the real world in a way that make you feel as though you could turn a corner and find one of those oily mushroomy things growing in the woods behind your home, threatening to erupt with demonic force or swallow you whole.

That alone is an accomplishment. Tanzer goes deeper, though. Like the strange growths networked beneath the earth on Long Island that she writes about, there are threads of other stories and themes that are also being told. Fin and Ellie are both strong women who must take heroic actions. I think one of the crucial things of note is that, although this story is set during Prohibition, it centers on strong women who are not inclined to run to a man to solve their problems for them. These women are learning to stand up for themselves and others and are not willing to be pushed around by the people who try to coddle or control them. They are characters that resonate in the wake of the #metoo movement.

There are other timely themes at work. Those who have embraced the demons are anti-immigrant and are responsible for assaulting anyone they don’t feel has an acceptable bloodline. Even those born in America are attacked if their parents are foreigners.

Fin’s husband and his entourage are also used to convey a message. They are the idle rich. Indulged. Unaware and unconcerned about anything other than their own entertainment.

There are a lot of important truths Tanzer’s story highlights. The real genius is that it never does this at the expense of the story. At no point did I ever feel like a character got on a soap box and preached to the reader (although there was a sermon, but it was part of the story). In fact, it was the forward thinking of these women that was a key part in addressing the threat the demons posed. Like all great stories, the core of the characters informed their choices, which had a direct bearing on the plot and its resolution.

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.”

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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.

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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 leemurray.info

Review: The Fragile Ordinary by Samantha Young

614af1ibwhl-_sy346_“I am Comet Caldwell.

“And I sort of, kind of, absolutely hate my name.”

Thus begins Comet’s journey in The Fragile Ordinary. Comet is a 16-year-old girl from Scotland with two disinterested parents who prefers escaping into the world of books or writing poetry to socializing. This can get her in a bit of trouble with her friends, Vicki and Steph, who are trying to pull her out of her shell. When a new boy at school makes Comet’s heart beat faster and her skin turn redder than its ever been, Comet struggles to understand and control her response to Tobias King. When King is assigned the seat next to her in one of her classes and they have to work on a project together she discovers there’s much more to the American “bad boy” than meets the eye.

Comet’s story is relatable for many teens who are trying to figure out who they are and struggling to adjust to the changes that growing up brings. Young walks a very fine line, presenting these teens as real without overusing curse words or overemphasizing some of the teen perils that are touched on. From Comet to Tobias to Vicki to Steph, all of the main characters in this book will have to grapple with who they are and what they want from life to some extent, and teens will relate to the challenges they’re facing themselves as they figure out their plans for the future. Bullying is a reality at school, and nobody pretends to have the perfect answer for how to deal with the problem. Just going through the thought processes for the decisions that Comet and others make may help some readers feel as though they aren’t so alone, and may give those struggling with similar issues ideas for how to resolve their own problems.

Family issues are front and center. Comet’s disinterested artsy parents are more wrapped up in each other than anything else and are anything but typical. Her neighbor is more of a parental figure than Kyle or Carrie, as Comet has been instructed to call Dad and Mom. As Comet gains confidence she confronts her parents about how they treat her, and comes to terms with what that means for her relationship with them moving forward.

Tobias comes off like a bad boy and definitely has an attitude. Once Comet starts to get to know him, all of the reasons for his anger make sense. I don’t want to say too much there because of potential spoilers, but this was a really believable and compelling part of the story. Both Comet and Tobias are dealing with imperfect parents and coming to terms with how their parents have – for better or worse – shaped their lives. Tobias also has family in town, and his cousin has a bad reputation. When his cousin’s mom is diagnosed with cancer things spiral, and both Tobias and Comet struggle with how to help him.

The dynamics between the three girls are also pretty interesting. Comet is better friends with Vicki than Steph, who is self-absorbed and likes to be the center of attention. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine a future where Comet and Steph have completely drifted apart. One of the things Comet really has to think about throughout the story is how her decisions (to withdraw, stay home and read, not go to parties or socialize) are affecting her friendships.

Overall, Comet matures and blossoms in this coming-of-age story, while grappling with some big decisions and big problems. Whether you’re a teen whose drifting apart from your more sociable friends or someone who’s being bullied or worried about a peer who’s having serious family problems or a parent trying to understand your teenager, you’ll find some keen insights woven into the fabric of this engaging story.

Tattoo Tuesday with Nik Korpon – interview

QueenOfTheStruggle_144dpiBrian Lindenmuth: What was the first tattoo you ever got and why did you decide to get it?

Nik Korpon: First one I ever got was the line-drawing of a guardian angel on the inside of my left bicep. I’ve always believed in angels and demons and ghosts but I had this weird experience when I was 18. I got into a fender-bender with this women and was really angry, only to realize 10 seconds later that if I hadn’t bumped into her, I would’ve gotten t-boned by another car and likely died. Her insurance info didn’t go through when I filed the report so I tried to track her down, but she didn’t exist (according to what she’d given me). I thought she was an angel and that feeling stuck for a long time, though that might’ve just been teenage neurosis. She probably just didn’t want her insurance to go up because of some dumb kid.

What was that first experience like?

Not bad. I think I was awkward because I didn’t know what you were supposed to do when getting tattooed.

Tattoos can capture a memory, or are representative of a feeling or a person. What is your most meaningful tattoo, and why?

I have a big lion head that goes across my chest and down past my sternum. I got it for my son based on a book we read when he was little, about a daddy lion and his cub, and it’s the most meaningful one that I have. I also really like the Hitchcock stuff I have on my leg.

What was your last tattoo?

Last finished tattoo was probably a banger on my leg that we all gave each other when a friend from out of town came back to visit the shop. I’m still getting the lion finished, seven years later, because I don’t have any free time.

When will you get your next one?

I was hoping to get my ribs covered up with a big panther and shark, but I think it’ll have to wait till my kids get a bit older and I have more free time. I live an hour from my old shop and (unfortunately) don’t get down there often. Or anywhere, for that matter.

Any tattoos you regret?

Not any that I explicitly regret, but ones that I wouldn’t do the same. But they’re all representative of some part of my life.

What do your tattoos say about you?

They’re as random and scattered as I am. They’re almost all traditional, but some have a ton of significance and some were just slow days at the shop and “I’m bored. Y’wanna put something on me?”

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“I forgot to mention this tattoo, but I love it. It’s the cricket bat from Shaun of the Dead, which is one of my favorite movies ever and, to my mind, one of the most perfect screenplays ever written.”

How do others react to your tattoos?

I had both sleeves about fifteen years ago and I’d get tons of looks. This was before Miami Ink and before tattoos got super popular. All my friends and roommates were artists so within my group it wasn’t a big deal (they were all more heavily tattooed than I was) but other people would look at me sideways, sometimes cross the street. I got lots of scared looks when I was traveling through Eastern Europe because it was mostly Russian mafias and whatnot that were heavily tattooed. Now it’s no big deal.

What do tattoos bring to our culture?

Ideally, they tell stories visually. That’s what always attracted me, especially with Japanese tattoos. They’re works of art and they change the viewer to understand what they mean, to really study them. I’m out of the loop now (I left the shop four years ago) but in the five years I was there, we saw a huge shift toward Instagram tattoos—like those dandelions that dissolve into birds and arrow line-drawings—and lots of text. Stuff that doesn’t require any thought, that’s just immediately understandable. It’s kind of a bummer, but it kept the lights on so…

Do you have a go to tattoo person/shop? Give them a shout-out!

I worked at Saints and Sinners in Baltimore for five years and those dudes make incredible tattoos. Most of mine were done by Christian Beckman (who is the namesake for the character in Stay God, if anyone’s read that). Anyone in Baltimore should go get tattooed there.

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Bio: Nik Korpon is the author of The Rebellion’s Last Traitor, Queen of the Struggle, and The Soul Standard, among others. He lives in Baltimore.

Tattoo Tuesday with Steph Post – interview

Walk in the Fire CoverBrian Lindenmuth: What was the first tattoo you ever got and why did you decide to get it?

Steph Post: I got my first tattoo, a lotus flower on my back, on my 18th birthday, on my first real road trip. I had always been fascinated with tattoos as a kid and knew they would become a part of my life as an adult. My family was less than thrilled. I called my mom from Atlanta on my birthday and the first thing she said was, “I know what you did and I don’t want to hear about it.” Fortunately, she’s gotten used to my tattoos by now.

What was that first experience like?

Exciting. I’m not one of those people who likes to brag about how they don’t feel pain or how tattoos don’t hurt. They can damn well hurt. But I don’t remember how the first one felt at all (whereas I can still remember what it felt like to have my elbow drilled…). I just remember feeling excited about the process and also a bit like I was coming into my own.

Tattoos can capture a memory, or are representative of a feeling or a person. What is your most meaningful tattoo, and why?

Oh, wow. Every tattoo of mine has meaning. That’s why I get them, as a record, in a way, of an experience or a time in my life or something that I was feeling and wanted to hold on to forever. Many of them have a meaning in themselves in what they depict and others are simpler and represent a time and place. One of my favorite tattoos is a gorgeous fox piece on my right leg. The fox is my spirit animal and so this image represents me as a whole, rather than marking out just one facet of my life.

What was your last tattoo?

I was tattooed a few weeks ago, actually. Just a small piece on the inside of my arm. It’s a line from The Little Prince and reads “But if you tame me, then we shall need each other.” It’s in honor of all the dogs that have come into my life and passed on (and two in particular who left me this past year) and also explains how I feel about the intense connection I have with the dogs I’ve shared my life with.

When will you get your next one?

Who knows? I usually get tattooed about every six months, though lately it’s been stretching out to once a year or so. I’m not hanging around tattoo shops so much like I used to. I do have my next tattoo in mind, and it will be a big one, but I almost always sit on a tattoo idea for months and months before committing to it. So, we’ll see…

Any tattoos you regret?

Nope.

What do your tattoos say about you?

That I’m badass? No, seriously I think they express the things I value most in life. Tattoos can never be lost, can never be taken away from you. They can fade somewhat or acquire their own scars, but you own them in a way that you can’t own anything else. I’ve never been one to show off my tattoos or to get tattooed just for fun or the hell of it. It’s always an intensely personal experience, which is sort of how I approach everything in life, I suppose.

How do others react to your tattoos?

I’ll tell you, it’s a lot easier to have tattoos now that they’ve become so popular. It didn’t used to be so acceptable, especially for women. Years ago I had a lot of people, strangers always, who told me that I was going to hell or would never find a guy and would never amount to anything. This happened a lot when I was waiting tables back in North Carolina. I’d be like “here’s your sweet tea” and some lady would say thank you and then tell me how it was such a shame, because I could have been such a pretty girl without all those tattoos. The absolute worst was when, for a time there, people felt like they could just come up and check out my tattoos. I almost decked a guy in the grocery store once for trying to lift up the back of my shirt to see one of my tattoos. That hasn’t happened in a long while, though. I think I’ve gotten enough now that people are too intimidated. Or maybe I’ve just perfected my “back off” look, finally. 🙂

What do tattoos bring to our culture?

Tattoos used to be the mark of an outsider. And of being part of a tribe of outsiders. In a way, I miss that concept, but I also love that now more people feel that it’s okay to express themselves, in whatever way they may choose. So I think tattoos indicate an openness to, quite literally in some cases, wear our hearts on our sleeves. Tattoos let us share ourselves, oftentimes our most true selves, in a language this is both simple and transcendent.

Do you have a go to tattoo person/shop? Give them a shout-out.

I don’t and very much wish I did! My latest go-to guy, Sean Williams, who did quite a bit of my more recent work, left St. Pete and I moved as well, so I’m still looking for someone local to have that tattoo connection with. But since so many of my tattoos have been acquired while traveling, I have work from too many artists to even remember. I love working with one artist for a time, but I also love picking up work from artists all over the country when the time and place is right for a new tattoo.

Bio: Steph Post is the author of the novels Walk in the Fire, Lightwood and A Tree Born Crooked. She graduated from Davidson College as a recipient of the Patricia Cornwell Scholarship and winner of the Vereen Bell award, and she holds a Master’s degree in Graduate Liberal Studies from UNCW. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, a Rhysling Award and was a semi-finalist for The Big Moose Prize. She lives in Florida.