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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Casting Call: Tom Leins on the Actors who Could play Joe Rey, the Gunrunner, Slattery and Wila

Who should play your protagonist on TV or in a movie? What is it about them that makes them suit the character – attitude, similar characters they’ve played or appearance or something else?

James Norton as Joe Rey

The protagonist of my new book Repetition Kills You (and my previous book Meat Bubbles & Other Stories) is Joe Rey, a cut-price private investigator, who regularly works as muscle-for-hire to make ends meet. Regular readers may recall that Rey has already had the Casting Call treatment, so I won’t go over old ground here, suffice to say, I picked James Norton – based on his performance as Tommy Lee Royce in the tremendous UK crime drama Happy Valley. The intensity that Norton brought to the role was hugely impressive, and while he was involved in some breathtakingly callous scenes, he was also a master manipulator who displayed a real toxic charm.

Repetition Kills You is a literary jigsaw puzzle. The book comprises 26 short stories, presented in alphabetical order, from ‘Actress on a Mattress’ to ‘Zero Sum’. Combined in different ways, they tell a larger, more complex story. Given the sheer number of characters that weave in and out of the various story strands I was spoiled for choice when selecting characters for this feature. They may not be the obvious choices, but these were the ones that elbowed their way into the Casting Call!

Charles Dance as The Gunrunner

The Gunrunner appears in the story ‘Machine Gun Etiquette’, when he hires Rey to retrieve his estranged daughter, Shivonne. If you can imagine Charles Dance with a firearm fetish and a floral-patterned rayon shirt, and you are in the right ballpark!

I always enjoy Dance’s imperious tone, and it would work especially well here, as he talks down to Rey – not a man who enjoys being talked down to! Dance was great in Game of Thrones, but it is his stint as Conrad Knox in Season 3 of Strike Back that resonated more strongly with me when casting this particular role.

Casting Call #2 - Tom Leins - Repetition Kills YouMark Bonnar as Slattery

In the Paignton Noir series, Rey encounters a number of increasingly unhinged father figures, ranging from Wet-Look in Meat Bubbles to Cantonese mobster Malcolm Chung in the forthcoming Boneyard Dogs. In Repetition Kills You, Slattery comes closest to filling this role, albeit in a far more innocuous manner. He runs a sleazy, unsuccessful bar on a near-derelict industrial estate, and Rey and he enjoy an uneasy, unspoken friendship.

Mark Bonnar has worked on some of my favourite British TV shows in recent years (Line of Duty, Unforgotten, Catastrophe) – performing vastly different roles each time – and I think he could effortlessly tap into the shifty, defeated quality that Slattery brings to all of his scenes. The crime dramas may have displayed his sinister side, but the excruciating dark comedy in Catastrophe is a good reference point too – not least the scene where he hires a transsexual prostitute.

PJ Harvey as Wila

Wila appears in the story ‘Howl’, which is the longest piece in Repetition Kills You, and one of my favourites. I don’t want to give too much away, but Wila is a Polish lounge singer with a murky – possibly dangerous – past, who Rey is hired to hunt down.

I’m always surprised that PJ Harvey hasn’t done more film work (her sole acting credit seems to be Hal Hartley’s 1998 movie The Book of Life, which I have never seen), as there is no one quite like her out there. In truth, I’m not sure how well a Dorset-does-Polish accent would work, but I think it is important to have a singer in the role, to make it convincing!  

(Trivia: the song Wila sings mid-way through the story was inspired by ‘Dirge’ by Death In Vegas (which had Dot Allison on vocals), rather than a PJ Harvey track, but I’d love some PJ material on the soundtrack, as I’m a big fan.)

Tom Leins also did a casting call for Meat Bubbles & Other Stories.

Tom Leins is a disgraced ex-film critic from Paignton, UK. He is the author of a trio of novelettes, SKULL MEAT, SNUFF RACKET and SLUG BAIT, and two short story collections, MEAT BUBBLES & OTHER STORIES (Near To The Knuckle) and REPETITION KILLS YOU (All Due Respect, an imprint of Down & Out Books). His short stories have been published by the likes of Akashic Books, Shotgun Honey, Near to the Knuckle, Flash Fiction Offensive, Horror Sleaze Trash and Spelk Fiction.

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

Fun fact: Kelli says, “I was an editor and reviewer for over a decade, until they found out I was writing on the side—then they all fired me and told me to work on my own fiction. They were right.”

Teeth - Kelli OwenSR: Practice pitching: tell us what your new book is about in 50 words or less.

KO: In TEETH, I completely reinvented vampires—making them real and explaining all previous beliefs or behavior with science, fact and history.  As part of modern society, they endure all the prejudices and problems any minority faces. Add a serial killer, who may or may not be a vampire, and stir well.

SR: Was there a specific issue or incident that really motivated you to write this particular story? What was the prompt?

KO: Originally it was a conversation that led to a dare between me and another writer—one of us writing vampires, the other werewolves. We shelved the ideas and forgot about the dare. But vampires had crawled into my muse’s peripheral vision and I found myself debating the fang gang on a number of occasions. For over a hundred years they had remained basically the same, so what could I possibly do to make my vampires different?

And again, I moved it aside and went on to other novels. During that time, I dabbled in podcasting, where I vented weekly about the injustices and insanity that I saw in our society and smeared all over social media. And two years after that initial dare, the muse said, “Oh hey, I have an idea…”

SR:  Is your protagonist more likely to go insane or end up in prison?

KO: TEETH has an ensemble cast of characters. There are several teens dealing with the prospect of becoming a vampire—one is afraid of losing friends, one has a parent who hates vampires, and one is well-adjusted and fine, mostly. Then we have the cat and mouse of our serial killer and the detective, weaving in and out of the various storylines. For the purpose of this question, I’ll answer for the detective.

Detective Connor Murphy would absolutely end up in prison first. He’s very open-minded and perfectly fine with the idea of vampires, even standing up for their rights. But if something were to rattle his psyche, I’m fairly certain he’d react with action rather than snapping mentally.

SR: What’s one thing that you and your protagonist have in common?

KO: Much like me, he would never judge an entire group of people, but rather the individual. A minority committing a crime doesn’t make a guilty race or gender, but rather an issue, a criminal, on a personal level. I was raised that way, Connor was written that way.

SR: If you were the right gender could you have a romantic relationship with your protagonist? Why or why not? Would it be a good relationship?

KO: Connor is a stand-up guy, a loving husband, a good cop, and an all around great human. We could totally date based on that. Would I do well as a cop’s wife? (Note: I literally drew a breath through my teeth debating that question.) I’m going to have to be honest and say it would depend on what department he was in and where we lived. Small town detective where things usually don’t happen? We’d be fine. Larger city with more crime? I think I’d worry too much.

SR: What’s your protagonist’s greatest fear? Why?

KO: Something happening to his family. As a detective, he’s used to crime and criminals, and he is generally the one to deal with them and get them off the street. But he also knows how very real that danger can be before caught. The idea of it touching his family, affecting them in any way, would likely give him sleepless nights and a need to do his job even better. Off the record if need be.

SR: Is there something you hope the reader carries away with them after they’re done reading? An insight or philosophy that you wanted to come through in your work?

KO: Actually, yes. While I don’t generally have any type of lesson or moral, TEETH absolutely has a social statement written into it. In my opinion, the reasons for the prejudices and problems that minorities face in this country every single day can be reduced to fear or ignorance, or both. So much hate is based on not knowing the facts, so much is because the minority in question is outside the wheelhouse or knowledge or personal experience of the haters. If we could just open up a little. If both sides simply took two steps toward the center, they may be close enough to listen. Not necessarily agree, but at least they could listen. No one said you had to agree with everyone, but being able to listen to an opposing view and accept it as its owner’s, is part of being an adult, and it’s vital to a sustainable community.

Social media was supposed to unite us. Ignoring the advertisements and celebrities, it was meant to make the world a smaller place for people, to bring us closer together, to make distance unimportant. But sometimes, it seems all it’s done is curl hatred into a cone, which can be used as a megaphone of hate or fear or lies to the masses. We should get along better. Or at least try.

SR:  If hell was watching one movie over and over and over again, or listening to one song over and over again, what would the movie or song be for you? For your protagonist?

KO: Probably an unpopular opinion, but my hell would be the movie A Christmas Story. My ex father-in-law was a big fan, and actually watched the weekend marathon once. I don’t mean it was on the television while he went about doing other things, I mean he actually watched it. Over and over and over. Fourteen times one year was enough to ruin it for me forever.

My protagonist would probably be drenched in torture if forced to watch Mall Cop or some other comedy, which makes fun of the uniform he proudly wears.

SR: Roadtrip. What’s on your protagonist’s playlist? Yours?  (changed slightly from karaoke because I couldn’t pinpoint it)

KO: Connor was in high school in the 90s and while he may be a police officer now, he once thought he’d be something else. Anything else. He’s got an entire backstory that never hits the pages, but I can tell you he still listens to industrial and grunge, with a strange blend of Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails and everything in between.

I on the other hand, am very eclectic, though most believe I’m a metal head. Yes, I loved rock before it was segregated into the double fistful of subgenres, but it’s more than that and can includes anything from Mötley Crüe to Linkin Park, Chris Cornell to Breaking Benjamin. And just when you think you’ve figured out my tastes I’ll pull out The Avett Brothers, Pink, or maybe Fleetwood Mac. I do have links to playlists on the sidebar of my website—8tracks.com let’s you listen to the playlist I listened to while writing a particular piece of fiction (playlists are titled by book).     

SR: What’s the first book you remember reading that had a huge impact on you? How did that story affect you? How do you think it shaped your desire to be a writer?

KO: Frankenstein. Always and forever. I was in kindergarten and brought home the little kid’s watered-down version. It immediately struck me as sad because the monster wasn’t the monster. My teacher explained that’s how Mary Shelley wrote it and a lightbulb went off in my head. I’d heard you could be a doctor or lawyer or fireman, but writer? That was a thing you could actually choose to be? Done.

How I ended up the darkened path that separates horror from thriller likely started there as well. Beyond that, my mother enjoyed horror movies, and my father’s bookshelf was rife with fodder for a darker imagination—introducing me to both Koontz and Lovecraft, which sent me searching for everything in between. My parents never told me to read something lighter or nicer. They never frowned on me asking the scarier questions or my “what if” scenarios. And I’ve been chasing the idea of the monster not being the monster since that day in kindergarten.

SR: What detail in your writing do you obsess over the most? Character names? Locations? Description? Dialogue? Research?

KO: My first thought was research, because I would never want someone in the character’s profession to tell me I did something wrong. But that’s not an obsession, that’s just required. Locations, on the other hand, oh my.

I’m freakishly methodical about the locations I use. It’s born of the idea that everything must be logical, and ring true, and never pull the reader from the world I’ve created. So I’m always extremely careful with the physical layout of the story—the locations of action. I’ve drawn maps for imaginary towns. I’ve printed Google maps for actual towns. I’ve clocked how long it takes to get from A to B. And I’ve made several of those locations important to the story itself, such as in FLOATERS, with the location of both the graveyard and the burial grounds on Wisconsin Point. In TEETH, I simply had a drawn map for my town, so I knew where every single thing I described was, but also everything I didn’t mention but may have needed—just in case.

SR: What do you think the hardest emotion to elicit from a reader is? Why?

KO: Happiness. Happiness is so personal and so internal, it’s almost impossible to elicit that full, deep, warmth in fiction. You can scare someone by triggering their fears. You can make someone uncomfortable and nervous with atmosphere or anticipation. You can make someone laugh with a good joke or big personality. But to make someone actually feel happiness? Sure, if you propose marriage to them in writing maybe. But as a story? As an outsider reading a story? Even a happy ending isn’t happiness, it’s just relief—being content or glad for the characters.

SR: Did you set yourself a specific writing challenge with this book? What was it, and what was the reason?

KO: As I mentioned above, the driving questions for me was, “how do I make my vampires different?” Once I had that figured out, the story needed to portray that within the confines of its own challenge, which was to present the current social climate from a neutral ground—showing the extremes of both sides of various topics. I believe I succeeded on all counts, and I’m thrilled and humbled that my novel is receiving wonderful reviews due to the characters, world building, and yes, the vampires who are very different than everything that’s come before them. 

SR: Are you drawn to things that are really popular or wary of them? Do you find it helps you to market your work if you’re familiar with what’s currently selling or do you ignore all of that and focus on what you’re interested in?

KO: It’s not that I ignore what is popular, because I do pay attention to what’s going on out there. Back when I was starting out and everything was print, no ebook, and publishing houses, no self or vanity publishing, there was an 18-month rule. In general, if something became popular (say vampires), you were warned off of trying to get in on the wave, because by the time it was written, submitted, accepted, edited and published, it would be 18-24 months later and the popular craze had likely moved on to something else by then.

The advent of ebooks and self-publishing makes it much easier to jump on the current fads and bandwagons of genre, trope, or metaphor, but years of ignoring those have been burned into my soul. So I tend to write the stories my muse needs to tell. Those stories are not always delivered by the monster of the week, or even carried by the metaphor of the month. And when they do seem to fit what’s going on around them, it’s purely accidental. My stories tend to be about the people rather than the issues they face—the situations only test them, teach them, or otherwise help them grow.

SR:  Is there something you’ve experienced that’s affected your view of life? Tell us about it and how it changed you.

KO: Absolutely. The death of my father.

I was unable to do anything creative for quite a while after we lost him, finally forcing myself out of my cave by acknowledging he wouldn’t want me to wallow. My view on a lot of every day things has changed in the shadow of his memory, and my ability to deal with certain dark aspects of life have been tainted by the touch of real death.

Do I still write thrillers and horror? Yes. There’s just a slight turn on my dial, which I don’t even know if my readers can see or if it’s only noticeable to me.

SR:  If you have to live in a potential natural disaster zone, would you pick blizzards, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes or volcanic eruptions? Why? If you had to describe your protagonist as a weather system, what would they be?

KO: HA! I grew up in northern Wisconsin. On that big old temperamental body of water we call Lake Superior. I’ve suffered the extremes of blizzards and forty below (before windchill), and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But that doesn’t mean I would choose any of those others over it. I at least know how to deal with the blizzards, so I’ll stick to those.

My protagonist? As a detective, he’s methodical but flexible. If he were a weather system it would be the lava flow after the volcanic eruption, the flooding after the hurricane. Something calm and predictable, after something more violent and unforgiving.

SR: It’s the zombie apocalypse. You have to pick a weapon from what’s currently within 10 feet of your present location. What will you defend yourself with?

KO: I’m all good! I actually have swords and a blow-dart gun within reach. My office, affectionately referred to as The Morgue, is decorated with bookshelves, horror movie memorabilia, Universal monster trucks and horror Hot Wheels, Living Dead Dolls, scary and/or creepy knickknacks, and yes, a sword rack with a katana, two wooden practice swords, and a blow-dart gun on it. I’m going with the sword.

SR: How long will you survive in the zombie apocalypse? How long will your protagonist survive? Why?

KO: While there are weapons near me, I will be handing those off to someone else. We’ve had the zombie apocalypse conversation in our house. My job is to think outside the box, plan, prep, deal with food and wounds, and stay inside—out of danger. I’m a klutz, and the idea of me getting hurt because I tripped on grass is just too funny to allow it to become truth. Though even inside I’ll be armed, albeit with a more manageable weapon for indoors. Hint: it’s a lovely little clawed weedkiller that’ll take care of those undead brains no problem!

My protagonist? As a detective he’ll be armed and well prepared for such an event. But as a good guy with a big heart, if anything takes him down it will be trying to help someone who is beyond his aid. Until that point, he’ll do great.

SR: Everyone needs an outlet to help them recharge. What hobbies do you have outside of writing?

KO: I’m going to ignore the obvious answers of “reading” and “conventions” because all writers should do and list those. They are powerfully magical for the muse. Instead, I’ll move right on into the fun and bizarre.

For downtime, to recharge, I’m a super nerd. I play both “Magic the Gathering” and “Dungeons and Dragons” (long enough that in my mind it’s D&D, not AD&D—the other nerds will get that), as well as any number of board and card games. Interaction is good fodder for the characters in my head.

When I’m working on something and need to reboot, I’ll work out the logistics of a scene or issue I’m having while loudly playing Guitar Hero. Note, loudly. I complain if they turn the movies up too high, but you can bet my Guitar Hero is growling out on at least 75 on the televisions 100 max volume setting—and on expert no less, because there have been many scenes to work out over the years and I’ve actually gotten good at it.

SR: You strike it rich. What charity are you going to create or support?

KO: I already give to a couple specific charities and if anyone wants in feel free—scaresthatcare.org and stjude.org. I would absolutely up those amounts, but to create something new?

A health insurance fund for writers.

I’m not sure whether or not it would just take care of medical bills or would perhaps pay a portion of their insurance (because the cost of insurance in this country is ridiculous). I would have to bring in, create, and discuss with my panel of experts (who could become the board of directors). The sheer number of times I’ve seen a writer struggling with medical bills or medical surprises is boggling. If given a bottomless wallet, I’d like to do something to alleviate that situation.

SR: Now for fun, if you were stuck on a deserted island and found that magic lamp with a genie and the genie had the power to bring any character in any of your books to life to be your companion, who would you pick and why?

KO: Mark from WHITE PICKET PRISONS. He’s a truly good guy with a solid heart and loving soul, and we’d get along great. Just as important, he’s capable. I’m on a desert island? I don’t just want a companion, I want some I can talk to, play with, but who can also build shelter, hunt, and help us look way better than any of those couples on Naked and Afraid. I’d like to succeed, survive until that freighter goes by and sees our S.O.S. signal, so Mark is definitely my choice.

SR: And if the genie would only bring characters from works by another author to life who would you pick to spend eternity on that deserted island with?

KO: Stu from Stephen King’s THE STAND, and for almost the exact same reasons. The only additional thought would be that I didn’t write him, so I don’t know him. It would give us lots of things to talk about as we get to know a stranger’s memories.

SR: Do you have any special events coming up? Where can people catch up with you in person or on a podcast?

KO: I actually just shut down my podcast, The Buttercup of Doom, but the episodes are still available to my patreons. In general, I can be found on kelliowen.com — and from there you can find my Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Patreon. With the death of the podcast, I’m going back to blogging more often on the website, and have recently created a Facebook group for my readers and fans to get insight, goodies, and enjoy random conversation. I’m out there, all over social media, and easy to find. Come find me!

 

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Born and raised in Wisconsin, Kelli Owen now lives in Destination, Pennsylvania. The author of over a dozen books, she’s attended countless writing conventions, participated on dozens of panels, and has spoken at the CIA Headquarters in Langley, VA regarding both her writing and the field in general. Her works include the novels TEETH, FLOATERS, and SIX DAYS, novellas WAITING OUT WINTER, WILTED LILIES, and FORGOTTEN, more of both, as well as her collection BLACK BUBBLES. Visit her website at kelliowen.com for more information.

Online Issue 15

 

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Darrin Doyle’s short story collection, Scoundrels Among Us, hit shelves this week and Darrin is here to talk about the common thread that ties these stories together. “A lot of fiction contains somebody doing something bad or wrong, but often they’re making bad decisions for themselves (or to themselves). My collection features many folks (mostly men) behaving in creepy, questionable, violent, or otherwise unseemly ways.”

I found the collection to be a celebration of the absurd and highly entertaining. Darrin also shares what’s on his TBR pile – including works such as Louise Erdrich’s The Plague of Doves, Christine Schutt’s All Souls, Christine Sneed’s The Virginity of Famous Men and Katie Chase’s Man & Wife.

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Hunter Shea admits his love for Real Housewives and talks about the scariest night of his life and inspiration for Creature. Hunter also talks about his cats, Iris and Salem, in this author assistant feature.

Judy Penz Sheluk talks about her writing companion, a pup named for a character from NCIS: Gibbs

James Oswald talks about writing from the female perspective, insights from social media and claims to be “rubbish” at performing one specific author task.

Reviews:

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse reviewed by Sandra Ruttan

Scoundrels Among Us by Darrin Doyle reviewed by Sandra Ruttan

Solemn Graves: A Billy Boyle World War II Mystery by James R. Benn reviewed by Theodore Feit

The Sinners by Ace Atkins reviewed by Theodore Feit

A Book To Look Up

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What is ‘voice’ anyway?

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Thoughts on Horror

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I suspect there could be as many conversations about what horror is as there are about what noir is. Laura Lauro’s tweets pointed me to the Aeon.co article by M.M. Owen, which is well worth a look.

“Horror is what anthropologists call biocultural. It is about fears we carry because we are primates with a certain evolved biology: the corruption of the flesh, the loss of our offspring. It is also about fears unique to our sociocultural moment: the potential danger of genetically modifying plants. The first type of fear is universal; the second is more flexible and contextual. Their cold currents meet where all great art does its work, down among the bottomless caves on the seabed of consciousness. Lurking here, a vision of myself paralysed in the dirt, invisible to those I love.”

 

Hunter Shea admits his love for Real Housewives and talks about the scariest night of his life and inspiration for Creature

Fun Fact: Hunter says, “I’m actually a big Real Housewives fan!”

SR: What’s your new book about?

Creature coverHS: Creature revolves around a couple, Kate and Andrew, struggling with Kate’s debilitating illnesses. Her quality of life is rapidly deteriorating. Andrew as a caregiver is doing the best he can, but he’s running out of hope. After Kate receives a powerful new treatment, Andrew takes the summer off from work and rents their dream cabin by a lake in Maine. It’s a perfect place to heal and relax, but nothing goes as planned. Strange sounds in the woods and rocks being thrown at the cottage are the harbingers of worse things to come.

SR: Was there a specific issue or incident that really motivated you to write this particular story? What was the prompt?

HS: This is a very autobiographical book for me. My wife suffers from a host of autoimmune diseases that had made our lives, at times, a living hell. When Flame Tree Press approached me about writing a book for their premier horror line, I wanted to draw on our experiences, weaving real life with palpable horror. Readers seem to really feel Kate’s real terror and are equally scared of what’s circling the cottage.

SR: What’s the scariest experience you’ve ever had?

HS: The scariest and worst night of my life was back in the mid-1990s. My wife had been in the hospital for a few months and wasn’t getting better. One night, the doctor came in and told me she would most likely not make it through the night. They asked if we’d like a priest to come in and administer last rites. I was literally numb, along with sad, mad, confused and terrified. It was the longest night of my life. The good news is, she DID NOT die that night and is still by my side twenty years later.

SR:  Your protagonist has to flee the country. Where are they headed to and why that location?

HS: I think Kate would look for someplace that is filled with life. I’m thinking the streets of Barcelona. She’s been sick and shut in for so long, she craves for the beauty and fun of life. She would love to walk down Las Ramblas, tour the architecture and revel in the nightlife.

SR:  Is your protagonist more likely to go insane or end up in prison?

HS: Kate could certainly go insane. Dealing with chronic pain and illness takes as much a toll on the mind as it does the body. Not to mention, some of the medications to treat these things can also play tricks with your mind. For Andrew, I’m thinking prison. He’s filled with so much rage at what’s happening to his wife, if he stopped his punishing running routines, he would eventually lash out at the wrong person and find himself in some serious trouble.

SR: What’s your protagonist’s greatest fear? Why?

HS: Andrew’s is quite simple – Kate dying. She’s the center of his universe and he can’t imagine life without her. For Kate, the exact same thing, namely because she doesn’t want to hurt her husband by not being around for him.

SR: Is there something you hope the reader carries away with them after they’re done reading? An insight or philosophy that you wanted to come through in your work?

HS: I wanted to give readers a glimpse into real life with autoimmune diseases. It’s a very real horror that is largely misinterpreted and misunderstood. The constant swirling of emotions is as real as the brute pain and fatigue. But I also wanted to show that people with these diseases deeply love and live everyday. Oh, and dream cottages in the woods are not always what they seem. ☺

SR:  If hell was watching one movie over and over and over again, or listening to one song over and over again, what would the movie or song be for you? For your protagonist?

HS: I have seen so many bad movies, it’s so hard to pick just one that would be my vision of hell. I think Tom Cruise’s horrendous version of The Mummy might do my soul in. I hated that one so much, it made me furious. How dare they destroy my beloved Universal monsters? Music wise, definitely Call Me Maybe. That’s an ear worm of a song that needs to be exterminated.

SR: What’s the first book you remember reading that had a huge impact on you? How did that story affect you? How do you think it shaped your desire to be a writer?

HS: The first ‘big people’ book I read as a kid was, not shockingly, Stephen King’s Night Shift. I absorbed those stories like a sponge. I was already a huge horror movie fan, but that book solidified me as a lifelong horror reader. As a horror writer, I don’t think you could have a better inspiration than King. An entire generation of horror creators owe their careers to that man.

SR:  What’s the best thing about writing?

HS: Just being able to settle into your made up world and do literally anything you want with it. I love tucking myself away and hearing the sound of my fingers tapping on the keys of my computer. In a world where we are constantly bombarded by sounds and images and a million distractions, writing is forced quiet and reflection time. It’s very meditative and quite relaxing…at least until you have to write action sequences and it can be an adrenaline rush.

SR:  What’s the worst thing about writing? Is there a worst thing?

HS: There’s always a moment when you think to yourself, “This book is crap. I can’t believe I just spent all this time writing utter garbage!” Working past that feeling is both the worst and best. I enjoy the whole process of writing, from the first draft to editing round number ten.

SR: What detail in your writing do you obsess over the most? Character names? Locations? Description? Dialogue? Research?

HS: It’s all about the characters. If you can’t make compelling, relatable characters, its game over. You can craft the perfect location, the scariest monster of all time, the most terrifying plot twists. But if you don’t have characters that readers cheer or jeer, all is lost.

SR: What movie or TV world do you wish you could live in? Why?

HS: Oh, I would desperately want to be the third wheel to Mulder and Scully in the X-Files. Give me a gun, cell phone and access to a monster a week and I’d be in heaven, even though said monsters would try to kill me. I’d be happy to be Scully’s sounding board and shoulder to cry on. 😉

SR: Everyone needs an outlet to help them recharge. What hobbies do you have outside of writing?

HS: If I’m not writing, I’m reading. My TBR and current read pile next to me is a dozen books, with so many more locked and loaded on my Kindle. I also love going to the movies. The Alamo Drafthouse theater by my house is a godsend. Beer and movies is the perfect combo.

SR: You strike it rich. What charity are you going to create or support?

HS: I’m going to buy a huge motor home and travel the country  distributing books and teaching people the importance of literacy. If you look at people in history that have made a lasting impact, they were all voracious readers. Their love of the written word and curiosity fueled them to change the world. In a day and age where attention spans are dwindling, we need to reconnect with books and deep learning.

SR: Do you have any special events coming up? Where can people catch up with you in person or on a podcast?

HS: I’ll be bopping all over the place on blogs and podcasts and live events in support of Creature. Stay tuned by visiting me at www.huntershea.com to follow everything.

 

Hunter Shea talks about his trust author assistants, Iris and Salem, here.

 

Hunter Shea Headshot 2016

Hunter Shea is the author of over 20 books, with a specialization in cryptozoological horror that includes The Jersey Devil, The Dover Demon, Loch Ness Revenge and many others. His novel, The Montauk Monster, was named one of the best reads of the summer by Publishers Weekly. A trip to the International Cryptozoology Museum will find several of his cryptid books among the fascinating displays.

Author Assistants: How Iris and Salem Inspire Hunter Shea

Hunter Shea Headshot 2016Fun Fact: Hunter says, “I yearn to be a long haul trucker because I love motoring down the highway so much.”

When you have two cats, nothing in your house is untouchable or sacred. It’s virtually impossible to keep them off of anything. Thankfully, my cats are very different from one another, each with their own specialty. How do they help me with writing? Hmmmm, let’s explore.

IrisFirst there’s Iris. She’s a 12 year old Calico (at least we think she’s 12. She was a shelter cat, so we can never be sure). She’s very small and quite agile. I’ve watched her leap onto my top shelf from a sitting position with no problem. She’s also a home wrecker, as in she delights in destroying our stuff. I try to keep her out of my writing room, but she always finds her way in. And when she does, she spends all her time knocking all of my horror memorabilia off the shelves, scattering them everywhere. Sometimes, the anger I feel towards Iris is channeled into my writing, so in that sense, she’s quite helpful. She also likes to attack people, especially in the dark and when you’re asleep. She’s the real monster in our house. Walking down our pitch-black hallway at night, tense because you’re waiting to see if your ankles will be scratched, is real fear. You have to experience fear to convey it with your writing. Thanks Iris!

SalemOn the flip side is Salem, a black cat as big as a cougar who thinks he’s a dog. He plays fetch, rolls over to be pet on his tummy and is the most gentle, yet clumsy, cat you’ll ever find. After a rough writing session, he’s right there, purring, waiting to be pet. There’s no better stress relief than petting a beloved cat or dog or even hamster. He’s also great comic relief. Being such a big cat, it’s amusing to watch him try to leap up to the window. He has about a fifty percent success rate. Salem is my bud, so much so that I wrote him into my book, The Jersey Devil. And yes, no harm befell my fictional Salem. I couldn’t do that to the big guy. One very good thing about him – he can’t get onto my shelves and wreak havoc. He’s more floor bound, and that suits us both just fine.

So yes, my two ‘writing assistants’ are quite different and inspire me in their own way. I’ve written articles and blog posts about them in the past, and for that they are exceedingly helpful. Just watching the things they do can give me inspiration or a break from the insanity of ‘people life’. They both have it pretty good in the Shea lair, and we’re happy they’re members of our family. Even when Iris bites our toes while we’re sleeping.

 

Hunter Shea talks about his latest novel, Creature, here.

 

Creature cover

Hunter Shea is the author of over 20 books, with a specialization in cryptozoological horror that includes The Jersey Devil, The Dover Demon, Loch Ness Revenge and many others. His novel, The Montauk Monster, was named one of the best reads of the summer by Publishers Weekly. A trip to the International Cryptozoology Museum will find several of his cryptid books among the fascinating displays.

 

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.