The Sons of Thunder – Director’s Cut!

Coming first quarter of 2023, the uncut, unabridged version of The Sons of Thunder, first released in Cerberus Exploitation: A Grindhouse Triple-Feature! This version is more than 5K words longer, and has a new epilogue, an expanded intro, and an all-new introduction from the author, yours truly! As the cover may suggest, this story is pure thrash-metal, an eploitative/pulp/grindhouse movie in book form. Keep your eyes peeled!

Rock ‘n’ Roll, baby!

\m/ -_- \m/

MOOBS: Limited Edition, Signed & Numbered Chapbook

You may or may not have heard about my chapbook, MOOBS. This story has appeared in Breaking Bizarro from Death’s Head Press, and in an updated form in Books of Horror Community Anthology 3: Vol. 2. But this limited edition has been updated once again, and is the definitive version, far better and more polished than its previous iterations.

Limited to 150 copies, once these are sold, that’s it. It’s gone forever. There won’t be any more of them. I’ve still got some, so if you want one, you need to email me at, let me know how many copies you want, whether you want it personally inscribed or only signed, give me your shipping address, and your PayPal address so I can send you a payment request. These are $15 each, shipped to the lower 48. If you’re overseas, you’ll have to cover the shipping on top of the cost of the book.

It’s hilarious, it’s twisted, it’s fucked up. Bizarro-horror-comedy-sci-fi at its best. Don’t miss out on these!


A Nothing Writer from a Nowhere Town—Chris Miller

a nothing writer

from a nowhere town

sits lonely in his castle

all the beauty


hopes and dreams

they crowd in

suffocating and intoxicating

he needs

what is eating him


to live

he loves

he sorrows

he rages and weeps

so easy

so damned hard

and meanwhile

he stands from his throne

surrounded by the beauty

the uncertainty that should not be

and he walks

on the razor’s edge

the delicate balance

the tortuous steps

as each makes him bleed

he smiles through his tears

knowing it’s worth it

unsure he knows anything at all

for what can

a nothing writer from a

nowhere town know

but heartache

Cyber-Exploitation and other made up words…

Cerberus is thrumming along with our new project, CERBERUS EXPLOITATION: A Grindhouse Triple-Feature, due out later this year. My story in it (I’ve got a title, it may still change) goes from Bladerunner style cyberpunk, to Mad Max style insanity, to 3 From Hell (the ending) intensity. I’m currently at around 25K words. I was shooting for 30K total…not gonna happen. Sorry. This baby will be 35K at least. There’s just no way around it. I will, however, hand it over to Patrick C. Harrison III and M. Ennenbach (the other two-thirds of Cerberus, click their names and check out their sites) when it’s complete and let them see if there are areas they think can be cut down, so we’ll see, but I like my action scenes big, intense, and from multiple angles. Hard on the old word conservation that way, but oh well. It’s a great story anyway, and regardless what length it comes to in this book, I think you’re all going to love it.

My upcoming collection, being published through Death’s Head Press, has settled on a title: Shattered Skies~stories~. It is edited and the next step is formatting and cover art. No date for the release yet, but probably later this year. 10 stories, some horror, some not, all I’m proud of. In fact, the stories chosen to open and close the collection are not horror at all. But you’re going to have a suspenseful good time with this book when it lands. We’ve got crime, cosmic horror, apocalypse horror (more than once…hell, more than twice), literary drama, cyberpunk action…this is why you can see I just wanted to go with ‘stories’ as the subtitle. It isn’t a horror collection, though it has plenty of horror stories in it. It’s a mixed bag, showing the three main things I’m into: horror (duh), crime/noir, and sci-fi. And I’m a suspense writer first, not a horror writer first, so it makes sense my collection should be an amalgam of my different tastes and styles. I cannot wait to hear what you all think of it.

Anyway, that’s it. I don’t have any great reveal you haven’t already heard me talking about. When I finish the cyber-exploitation story for Cerberus, I’m going back and doing a novella to a short novel set in my as yet unpublished Neptune 9 universe, and M. Ennenbach will be doing one as well. The two stories will end in the same place and the same moment from each main character’s perspectives, and set up the universe to go forward from there. Then I’m starting over on WAKING UP THE DEVIL, my noir/action novel I’ve been tinkering with for some time. I finally figured out the right combo, and with all that I already have written, much of that can be salvaged, and the whole thing will be better for me having started over. So there’s plenty on the horizon. In the next year or so, after we get some more solo work out, Cerberus will be back with CERBERUS NOIR, as only we three would be able to do. Don’t expect what you’re expecting there. You’ll be wrong. Just hang in there, it’s going to be epic.

Until next time, folks, take care, and long live the three headed beast.


CERBERUS RISING is now in audio!

Cerberus Rising, the collaborative collection from myself, M. Ennenbach, and Patrick C. Harrison III, is finally available in audiobook through Audible, iTunes, and Amazon! All of us—and a good many of our readers—consider this some of, if not THE, best writing any of us has ever published. Narrated by the wonderful voice actor Daniel Caravetta—who narrated my novels THE HARD GOODBYE, THE DAMNED PLACE, and THE DAMNED ONES—proves once and for all he is in a league all his own as he covers these nine very diverse tales, employing accents and emotions pitch perfectly to infuse the listener into the experience. And that’s what it is—an experience. We have a terrific foreword included here (and read by Caravetta perfectly) from the Splatterpunk Award Winning novelist Christine Morgan, author of Lakehouse Infernal and The Night Silver River Run Red, a dedication to everyone’s favorite horror fan Brad Tierney, and, of course, the nine novelettes and three poems covering the themes of Cabin Fever, Letters, and Chaos. Check it out in the car on your commute, listen at home in the dark (or the light, but what fun is that?), or do a total immersion experience reading the Kindle or paperback while listening along to the audio. Any which way you choose, you’re in for the very best ride of the year in the book Lisa Lee Tone of Bibliophilia Templum says “isn’t just a book, it’s a psychological experience”. We hope you enjoy and, please, leave a review when you finish. They really help!

Thank you so much for all the support and keep reading!


The LIES about me and The Dark Tower

Sirs Mikesalot Perriwinkle Ee-bock and Patricia Cornhole Hairy Son are a pair of fine writers. They come up with fantastical stories, beautifully and authentically written. Their stories and characters are believable even when they are so fantastical that you’d normally dismiss the notion outright. Such is the power of their prose.

So much so that they have manufactured an outright fiction that neither Lovecraft nor Machen before him could have conjured: the idea that I, the noble and dashing Chris Miller, liked the Dark Tower movie.


I can hear your chortles in harmony with my own. Ridiculous, isn’t it? There are even memes being generated online, not unlike a big studio campaign for its next summer blockbuster movie. There are stories about me saying I loved the movie, that I thought it was the best thing ever, all of it. And yet, for such a ridiculous notion, it somehow lives on.

The Dark Tower had already been out a couple of years by the time I finally saw it. I always said it should have been either a series of very long movies, or serialized into a TV show on one of the premium streaming services to do it right. When I realized they had taken the WHOLE series and melted it down into a single 90-minute experience, I wasn’t thrilled. I understand that the movie is meant as a sequel to the books, and with the circular nature of the series, I thought this could work in its favor for whatever necessary changes they had to make, but not trying to mash it all into an hour and a half. Once I saw that, I was turned completely off. But, my son wanted to see it, and I have a macabre sort of curiosity, so I picked up the blu-ray for $5 online. When it came in, me and the kids popped it in and watched. My daughter hated it (even without reading any of the books), but my son thought it was cool (mostly the slow motion bullet/action sequences).

But what did I think?

I said at the time, and I’ll say it again here: As an adaptation of existing material, it was pure shit. BUT, as ‘just a movie’, I’ve seen worse. I’ve seen worse. Read the words. Know them. Understand them. I’ve seen worse doesn’t mean it was good in any way. Like, sticking my hand in dogshit would be bad, right? But you know what? I’d rather stick my hand in dogshit than into a river of molten lava. Wouldn’t you agree? Dogshit will wash off, but with lava, you won’t have a hand to wash off (and let’s not even get into the physics of what would happen to your lungs or skin being so close to bright red lava that you could stick your hand in there, it’s just an analogy). Yet, somehow, this has translated into The Dark Tower being my very favorite movie simply because it isn’t my most loathed.


So, even though the movie is a total mess, it does have some decent production quality in parts. Not all the way through. It’s incredibly uneven. Idris does a good job as Roland, but has little to do. Matthew as the Man in Black should have been utterly brilliant, but somehow he just wasn’t. Wasn’t even good, honestly, and he’s a great actor. Maybe it was the directing, maybe he was high, but he seemed completely lost the whole time and no one would tell him how to get home.

It was sad, really. There’s so much great material there to adapt, much of it ripe for cinematic interpretation, but it falls flat on every front. I think most of the hard core hate for the movie comes from the love the series has, how people had to follow it for around 30 years to finally see it come to its conclusion (well, not really a conclusion, but you get it), and so they had a certain expectation in their minds of what it ought to look like on screen.

The movie doesn’t even come close to that.

All of this said, have I seen movies that are worse? Yes. Yes, I have. Ed Wood made a string of them, and while they do have the benefit of unintentional humor, I think we all agree that TDT had a much more competent production, even with all its problems). The old Crawling Hand with Michael Caine. Jaws The Revenge (Jesus H. Christ). There are some real stinkers out there, and while The Dark Tower has certainly earned its place amongst them, it’s hardly at the very bottom of the pile. That is not to say I enjoyed it (Mikesalot and Patricia, I can see you plotting!), but merely taking a more realistic view of the movie (it cannot be called a film). It’s hated because the books are so loved. Were there no books, people would still have disliked the movie, but the psychotic vehemence with which they despise it would be absent. That’s a fact.

That’s. A. Fact.

So, that’s the true story. Patrica and Mikesalot are funny little fuckers, but they’re selling you “Fake News” here, and I feel it my civic duty to inform the public that you are being had.

Guys, I love ya. Now get bent.

Chris Miller 10-17-2020

Cerberus Rising in Audio

I’ve been listening to the various stories in Cerberus Rising by myself, M Ennnenbach, and Patrick C. Harrison III in audio, and it’s an understatement to say they’re good.

They’re freaking outstanding.

We have nine stories in all in this beautiful book of perfection. Three themes, three stories per theme, nine novelettes. They are:

Cabin Fever

Insides Out

Into the light

50 Words for Writer’s Block—a Decline


The Final Correspondence of Thomas Baker Wolfe

Baptized by Lethe

Blame Jonathan Swift


The Incident at Barrow Farm

Taking the Loop

Day 69

We couldn’t be more proud of these stories…or so we thought. When we started hearing Daniel Caravetta’s readings of these stories, we saw them catapult into the stratosphere. They stand on their own weight, but the fine voice acting and inflection from Mr. Caravetta just sets them all apart in a way that you’ll have to hear to fully appreciate.

There are two stories left to be produced, but the other seven have been nothing short of brilliant. When you hear them, you’ll understand of what I speak.

Are you an audiobook fan? If not, why not? I’ve always loved to have stories told to me, even from childhood with my grandparents and parents, and hearing a skilled actor perform them is all the better. But that’s me. What are your thoughts? What are your favorite audiobooks, and who are your favorite narrators? Mine are Frank Muller, Will Patton, Mare Winningham, Rosario Dawson, Santino Fontana, Matt Godfrey, and, of course, Daniel Caravetta.

I’d love to hear from you. Actually, all three of us would love to hear from you. Send us an email or connect on social media or just respond here. You guys are the best. God bless.

And keep reading!

Chris Miller—10-3-2020

Criminal Leanings

I’ve got some things brewing I wanted to share with all you fine folks, if you’ll indulge me. I hope it sounds intriguing to you…

I am—and have been for a very long time—a huge fan of crime fiction. Novels, movies, doesn’t matter. I adore it. And I’m not talking about the Scorsese greats (though I love them too), but really gritty, not-Italian-Mafia-crime fiction. Think Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Jackie Brown by Tarantino. Think Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard. Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, Rock-N-Rolla by Guy Richie. Sexy Beast with Ben Kingsley. Narc by Joe Carnahan, and his visceral classic, Smoking Aces. How about some absolute favorites of mine like Fargo (both the movie and the series), Blood Simple, Suburbicon, Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski, No Country For Old Men, Miller’s Crossing, and The Ladykillers by the Coen Brothers (and there are even more from that pair of utter geniuses). A History of Violence by David Cronenberg.

And many, many more.

I think you can see the kind of stories I’m talking about. It’s crime, some of it is gangsters, but it’s not like The Godfather or Goodfellas or Casino. A different element, something grittier. The Mafia movies usually are plenty gritty and grim, but these are guys in the life, usually competent in so much as one can be competent in such a role. But my favorite crime stories are the ones where there are strange and bizarre characters, people getting involved with criminal elements and getting in way over their heads as they watch what they set in motion careen off the rails, completely out of control. The crazier the set up, the characters, and the resolution are, the better. I like to call it “batshit crime”, my own genre invention.

And that brings me to the point. If you follow me, you know I’m an author. While I often tout myself as a suspense writer, most of what I’ve written falls clearly into the horror genre, and there’s a reason for that: I love horror. A suspense writer can have a great deal of fun with horror, and while most horror has some suspense, I usually want to see it cranked well past an 11 and settle somewhere around a 93 (on a scale of 10, mind you). Crime fiction, on the other hand, ONLY works when you can ratchet up the suspense and really get into who the characters are, likable or not.

One of my books, The Hard Goodbye, is just such an exercise. One of my most well-received but also least read efforts, it’s the one novel of mine that cannot be categorized as a horror story. It’s sprinkled with horror elements, but I think most people feel the suspense is horrifying, and so they will say it’s “kinda horror”, even though it really isn’t. There isn’t a single “likable” character, all of them are scumbags to varying degrees, and they’re all caught up in a sordid web of lies, betrayal, theft, and murder.

I love that kind of story. Absolutely love it. Crime, like horror, has the benefit of freedom in that you can show the worst side of humanity in bold, blatant realism. You don’t have to have a protagonist who is a good person, don’t have to have redeeming qualities in the characters, and you can cut loose with absolute chaos on the screen or page and it will entertain. I love the no holds barred approach to this kind of fiction, and I think that most horror lovers would/will as well if they dive into it and give it a chance.

I’ve published five novels now, and one novella. Of those five novels, only The Hard Goodbye is not a horror story, though plenty of horrifying things occur on the pages, starting on the very first. And lately, I’ve been watching and reading plenty of this type of crime fiction and, well…

You guessed it! It’s got me itching to get back to another crime story. Gritty, dark (The Hard Goodbye was called the darkest book ever read by more than one reviewer), but above all fun, I’ve wanted to come back to this type of story for a while, but with the weak sales of The Hard Goodbye, in spite of the extremely high praise it has received (Ray Garton and Jonathan Janz both enjoyed the hell out of it), it’s kept me focusing more on horror stories. And I haven’t run out of those, but I’ve had a list of several ideas building over the past couple years for more “batshit crime” fiction, and thus, this post.

I’m about halfway through a new story which will likely be a short novel (like The Hard Goodbye was) called WAKING UP THE DEVIL. There is nothing supernatural here, nothing horror, no monsters lurking beyond the veil, no ancient gods trying to reign havoc over the earth in the late 1870s, nothing like that. It’s small town, big crime.

And it’s mean.

I’m loving it, I’m loving how it’s coming together, I love the suspense, I love writing big action sequences, and I can’t wait to get it finished and into everyone’s hands. But I’m worried about it’s reception being like The Hard Goodbye was. I may approach crime-specific publishers with it as it is certainly a step outside of the horror community, even though that community would eat it up if they tried it. But more than just this new novel, I’ve got two more well developed ideas for other “batshit” crime novels, and a western that is the same type of crime story, plus two collaborations that both involve crime. That’s five new novels/novellas I’ve got brewing, and none of them are horror. Problem is, I’m an established horror author!

So, I’d love to hear from all of you. Seriously, here on the blog, on Facebook or Twitter, wherever. I want to hear from you. I want to hear your thoughts on this type of crime fiction and how you feel about it next to horror. Do you want to follow an established horror author who is “expanding” into crime fiction as well? Make no mistake, I’m not giving up horror at all. I’ve got some ideas for more horror stories, short and long alike, but they’re further out on the horizon. Jeff Strand, who is a genius prolific author of everything from YA to horror to comedy to crime (and sometimes a mixture of all), mentioned to me once that as someone much more established than I am (he writes for a living, which is the dream), when he writes something that’s not horror, his sales plummet. That’s not why we write what we write, but it is certainly a factor.

What I’m driving at is this: do you—horror fans—also like crime fiction of the sort I described at the outset of this post? Or do you specifically stick to horror? If so, why? Is it because you like the darkness, the terror of it all? What if I told you that crime fiction of the kind I’m speaking can be equally horrifying and intense? Would you be willing to follow your pal Chris into some of these stories?

I’m not a pen name guy. Chris Miller is my real name. And I’m not going to use a pen name for different genres. Part of that is vanity—I want credit for whatever I write—and part of it is simply I’m not going to start over from scratch building separate audiences. I see no reason why the two audiences can’t be one, or at least merged.

What are your thoughts? Again, I’d really love to hear from you. You can email me here, comment on this post, or comment on the links on social media. Give me your thoughts and your reasoning, for or against. Love you guys.

And keep reading!

Chris Miller—9-26-2020

We Are Cerberus

Cerberus Rising, our first collaborative effort (and there will be many more), is available now in print and ebook. It has some of the best writing—maybe even the best—that any of we three have ever done. Who are the three of us, you ask? Well, I’m thrilled you inquired.

M. Ennenbach (Mike, not Marcellus)

Patrick C. Harrison III (that’s ‘the Third’, not “Aye! Aye! Aye!”)

Chris Miller (that’s…me…not Mike ME…me me)

Follow the links to our respective websites and give us a follow, and be sure to check out our other publications while you’re there. But while I’ve got you here, I want to take a few minutes to talk to you about Cerberus, our book, and why you need it in your life.

About a year ago, Mike and I were discussing collaboration. We had just endeavored to work on a sci-fi/cosmic horror book together (one we’ll get back to before long) and we talked about the process of collaboration. Patrick (henceforth PCIII—or PC—in this post) was and is someone we both respect a great deal as both an author and a person. In the course of this, we started talking about doing a book, a sort of collaboration, but where we each wrote our own stories. We wanted to feel like it all belonged together, like a cohesive piece, but also distinct like our own writing.

Then we talked about getting PCIII involved.

Ah, the trembling. Both of us were and still are good friends with PC, best friends, even. But our cigar-chomping pal tends to put out an aura of unapproachability. The cigar, the crossed arms, the scowl, it’s all there, ever-present, ever-intimidating.

Plus, he’s just a great writer. It was for this reason we wanted him in the book, along with the fact that he’s our good buddy. But, how to approach him? How to broach the subject in such a way that he would be interested and, God-willing, agree to be part of the project?


That’s right, some good ol’ liquid courage turned out to be just the ticket. The three of us decided to meet in Rockwall, TX at a really neat Irish pub (I can never remember the name, but Mike and PC always seem to know, so ask them) and have a meal and hang out. We got some sort of Scottish Eggs (it’s a hard-boiled egg entombed within sausage and then deep fried and served with some sort of jelly sauce or another—delicious). I think I had a Philly Cheesesteak as my main meal (or was it a French Dip?), but that’s not what’s important. Neither is the way my pinky stuck out (sticks out?) every time I raised my glass of beer to my lips.

So, after we ate, the three of us retired to the patio out back with our brews and had a cigar and some terrific conversation. Now mind you, Mike and I had been steadily shoveling buckets of beer in front of PC the whole evening, trying to lower his guard as much as we were trying conjure our own nerve. The man is so stoic, so granite-hard, I was starting to believe this whole approach was going to be a bust.

The evening churned on, conversation moving from music, to movies we liked, to books. We began discussing not books that were out in the wild that we enjoy, but books that were not. We talked about the kinds of collections and anthologies that we wanted to read. Everywhere you turn there’s another themed anthology with anywhere from ten to twenty authors all writing about a similar theme. Nothing wrong with those, but they’re everywhere, and it also puts a limit on what the reader gets from each author, what they can showcase. If one author writes a zombie story for one anthology, you don’t really get a feel for them as an overall author. If that story was good and you wanted to check out more from them, you gotta go find other anthologies, all of varying degrees of quality, so on…

We wanted to see an anthology (or collection) with a shorter author list, but with more diversity from each involved. At some point the alcohol finally pierced through PC’s diamond-hard surface and the scowl faltered. There were even a couple of smiles (expertly cloaked by the cigar), and Mike had reached the point where the jokes were flowing and his rapier wit was cutting us to pieces.

Then, finally, we asked him.

“Patrick, please, sir, might you consider joining your talents with ours? Might you bless us with thine presence on papyrus that shares our ink? Might you, sir?”

That was Mike, who’s balls were big enough to approach PC with our proposition, but only by transforming into a really butchered version of Tiny Tim.

But anyway, it worked.

I stepped in and rambled a few incoherent sentences about writing and togetherness and actualization. I have no idea what I said, and I can only assume it was that PC found amusement in our deteriorated absurdity. Perhaps he took pity on Mike and I, and you know what? I’ll take it. Pity is underrated.

In any event, he agreed. “Let’s do it,” he said, and Mike and I both peed in our chairs, squeeing like young women at a pop concert for whoever the current heartthrob is (I have no idea who’s popular in music).

We had a rough outline of what we wanted, too, and laid it out. Three authors. We each come up with a prompt. Then we each write one story for each prompt.

9 novelettes.

Mike, sage that he is, already had his prompt together—Cabin Fever. Patrick wanted to think for a bit on his, and I had about fourteen swirling around, each of which I thought inferior to the others. But at the end of the night we had a solid idea for a book, still lacking two of the prompts—both of which would come within a week or two—but we had a vision. Diversity, even though we’re three straight white guys (can’t help how we were born), was the name of the game. We wanted to highlight our strengths, but also challenge each other, to take chances, to write stories we normally wouldn’t, and to approach the material in ways perhaps not inside our comfort zone.

Before we left for the night, we had our waitress take a photo of us out there on that deck with our cigars and hoodies and jackets (it was December 23rd and I, for one, had extremely hard nipples). We threw our arms around each other, each of us blissfully unaware of the coming pandemic that would reduce us to elbow bumps in a couple of months, and showed our pearly whites. Well, I don’t think PC did…or did he?

We posted the picture to Facebook and our dear friend and the most awesome horror fan of all time—Brad Tierney—commented under it with what would become a sort of identity to the three of us.

Brad’s comment was: ‘Cerberus’.

That was it. WE were Cerberus. Cerberus would write this book (and many more in the coming years) as a collective, but also as individuals. Mike is a Poet. PCIII is a Master of Horror. And, people tend to call me a Master of Suspense (makes me smile every time). So that was who we were. Once PC and I figured out our prompts for the book—his was ‘Letters’ and mine was ‘Chaos’—we were off to the races.

I’m proud of this book. We are proud of this book. And I think you’ll find yourself enamored with the brilliant ideas and prose of both Mike and PCIII, and you might even enjoy my stories as well. Who knows? But the only way to find out is to click the link at the top of this post and fetch yourself a copy to read for yourself.

We hope you’ll try it out. We hope you’ll leave a review, regardless how you feel about it. But most of all, we want you to experience the same magic we discovered as we traveled through nine levels of Hell.

Cerberus rises. Rise with us.

Chris Miller—9-19-2020


I’m aggravated. You could even say pissed off.

Well, Chris, come on, you can’t just say something like that and then not elaborate.

Yeah, yeah, I know. So, you want to know what pisses me off? What pisses off a writer in the so-called “community”?

Readers who equate a work of fiction to the author’s personal character. That’s right, and for once, it’s not my own work in question here. I’ve been called all sorts of names by reviewers who’ve read my books: psychopath, pedophile, homophobe, racist, you name it. And it’s all 100% horseshit. But when I see reviewers heaping that nonsense on other writers—especially in the horror genre—it, well…

It pisses me off.

Most people have no clue how much effort goes into writing a novel. They don’t know the months, sometimes years, dedicated to constructing the very best story you can. Sure, readers have every right not to enjoy your hard work, and they have every right to voice that they do not like it, but there should at least still be a little respect for the author’s efforts, even if it isn’t to your taste, and there should certainly be respect for the author as an individual. It’s entirely possible that the author failed on every front as a storyteller, and it’s fair to say so, but it is not fair to equate the thoughts, deeds, and actions of fictional characters to the personal character of the author.

When I see a brand new work of fiction come out and I begin reading, I’m learning about a person, but I’m not learning about the author, necessarily. I’m learning about a character or characters they have created. People who are not them. So when those people who are not the author do or say or think something off-color, cruel, or outright evil, my reactions to those behaviors are directed towards the character, who isnot the author.

Unfortunately, many seem incapable of taking the same approach. In the age of ‘cancel-culture’ and the constant hunt for what to be outraged over next, people have started to equivocate the content of fiction with the personal constitutions of creators of fiction. They take umbrage to a racist character in a book saying racist things. They take umbrage with characters written true to their station in life and geographic locale, the sort of locker room banter we all remember hearing growing up. But if you write those kinds of scenes accurately, you’re called a bigot. It’s insane, but it’s also very, very stupid. Sure, you have every right to seek outrage at every turn, but please know that the rest of the world is laughing at you and your pathetic sensitivity over MADE UP PEOPLE, for eff’s sake!

I’m getting even more confounded that the particular writing “community” that I’m involved in is the horror one, and for a group who supposedly loves scary stuff and lots of blood and guts, they sure will have a ridiculous hissy fit if an animal is harmed in a story. People? No problem. Even children? Mostly, though a dead kid still doesn’t rise to the level of outrage a harmed animal will in their minds. That’s sick. Not the fact that a HORROR WRITER wrote something HORRIFYING in their HORROR book, but that a reader can get so wound up over the content that they end up writing really shitty reviews (that take them all of five minutes to write as opposed to the months or years the author took in writing their novel) attacking the fact that there are HORRIFYING things in a HORROR novel.

Get bent!

If you don’t like horror, don’t read it. If you don’t like extreme horror, then don’t read that. If you personally have an issue reading about harm coming to children or animals, that’s a perfectly reasonable and understandable thing, and nothing to be ashamed of. But when you read something that isn’t a good fit for you and you review it, stick to the writing. If it’s poorly written, say so. If it’s poor character development, say so. If it’s just not engaging or exciting, say so. Maybe it just wasn’t a good fit for; say so. But stop going into reviews of books you didn’t like and attacking the author personally, or trying to equate them to the characters they created.

Somewhere along the way some idiot decided that characters have to be likable for a book to work. Bullshit. They have to be relatable, they have to be believable, but they do not have to be likable. Not at all. It depends on the story being told whether there will be any likable characters or not.

If an author writes a racist character who uses a racist slur, that is believable and realistic that a racist would use that sort of language. Same for a sexist character or any other kind of bigot. What do you want, Klan member characters written as being politically correct SJWs? What the fuck is going through your brains? Why is it so hard to recognize the difference between trying to write realistically for the story you’re telling and who the author is as an individual?

I don’t care if you like this post. I really don’t. I’m sick of seeing this happen to good people in the “community” (the quotation marks are there on purpose), and yeah, I’m saying something about it. Your mistake of reading something that doesn’t sit well with you or isn’t your cup of tea is your fault, not the author’s (I’m obviously speaking to books you dislike because of content, not the writing itself). I get that some people may not want to read about a character who is racist or a homophobe or a misogynist. It’s ugly stuff. That’s fine. If you come across that in a book, I can see it being a turn off and you should even make mention of that in your review, that it’s something you personally can’t handle reading. Fine. But don’t go call the author a bigot. Fuck you for that. Seriously.

Fuck. You.

Let me clarify once more here—this is not about me. It’s happened to me before, but it’s been a long while and that’s not what prompted this post. I’m not ‘defending my honor’, lol. It’s another author who I know, who I know to be a decent, kind, bleeding heart, getting a review that calls them a bigot. Them, not the character(s) in the book. And they are far from the only ones getting inundated with this nonsense. We all get bad reviews. I’ve gotten some really negative ones that are on my writing before. I have thick skin and I can take criticism and I use that to better my craft. But I’m real sick of being told what an author is “allowed” to write about, how “real” they can get. Eat a bag of molded hotdogs and get the hell out of here with that crap. You don’t like it, fine. But keep your self-righteous indignation and phony ‘outrage’ to yourself. It’s a book. It’s made up. Talk about the writing, talk about the characters and their development, talk about the pacing, the prose, the payoff. Is Stephen King considered a pedophile or a racist for having written IT? I mean it, go read that book, you self-important cretans. You going to throw him under the bus too because he wrote about awful characters doing awful things?

I didn’t think so. Anyway, my blood is up, I need to pick up groceries, and I’m starting to ramble. Eat my shorts. Love you guys. Well, some of you, anyway. The rest of you give this a second read.

Chris Miller—9-13-2020

September 12, 2020

Some minor news!

It’s three weeks in a row we’re meeting here, and I can hardly believe it! The consistency is just mind-blowing, isn’t it? To think, three times in three…

Whatever. It’s not that impressive. Lots of people do this WAY more consistently than I do, have a robust newsletter each month—or even two or four times a month—and they always have new, on the horizon projects to talk about. Sometimes, when I see the go getters really pumping out the business side of writing (the marketing and networking), I get overwhelmed. Just watching how much they’re doing makes me realize just how much I’m not getting accomplished.

But, we’re in the middle of fixing that, right?

As it happens, yours truly here actually does have a bit of on the horizon news, and I’d love to share it with you. We’ve got a few things to cover, so let’s dive into the first.

The Cerberus Rising audiobook is 1/3 complete and it is sounding outstanding! Daniel Caravetta, my long time narrator—he’s narrated three of my novels and now CR—is nothing short of brilliant and he just turns in a fantastic performance with each outing. To say he’s impressive is an understatement and even borders on insult. The first third of the book is stories dealing with Cabin Fever, and let me tell you, you can feel the walls closing in as you listen to Mr. Caravetta perform our words. It’s haunting, intense, and glorious. I can’t wait to share the finished product with the world.

Next up on the horizon, and this one just a bit further out than the new audiobook, I’ve been invited to co-write a crime novel with a very respected crime novelist, screenwriter, and journalist. I’m keeping the details vague for now, since I haven’t quite decided on saying yes or no to this project. I want to do the project very much, but have to read what’s already there to see if it speaks to me. I’ll be doing that very soon and if some magic starts to gel, I’ll be sharing it with you guys. What’s interesting about how this came about is that I’ve been planning to write a couple of crime novels after I finish my collection of horror and suspense stories, which is my current work in progress. I’ve got some ideas swirling around for some really dark, grimy, maybe even blackly hilarious books, and I’d also like to establish myself as more than ‘just’ a horror writer (not that there is anything wrong with that if you are, just saying I want to show that I’ve got more than one bag of tricks). And as those ideas have been percolating in my head, along comes this respected author with a third to half of a crime novel with a really cool story, and says, “Hey Chris, you want to finish this book with me?” Wow doesn’t cover it. Very cool to be invited, and having read this author before, I’ve no doubt the story is going to be good, and I’m hopeful I’m able to contribute to it.

Finally, even further out on a more distant horizon, some news about M. Ennenbach and myself and the collaborations we’ve been working on, both old and new. If you follow me on social media, you’ll likely have at least a passing awareness of a project Mike and I call NEPTUNE 9. It’s an epic space thriller/cosmic horror jaunt far into the depths of our solar system. If you’re not familiar, here’s the quick recap: I wrote novelette of 11K words or so for this idea I had. Then I expanded it to over 30K words thinking that it would make a fine novella. And, it did…except it still felt like something was missing. I sent it to Mike, and in a couple of months we had over 100K words and were still going strong. We’ve got plans to make it into a several book series, but have pulled back and are regrouping now with what part of the story we want to tell at a time. As we do that, we’ve come up with another really cool project that may well tie into N9 and be a mixture of crime, tragedy, cyberpunk, and just a dash of cosmic horror. Not sure exactly when we’ll get started on it, as we are both working to finish up a some other projects right now, but it’s coming and I’m looking forward to it as both Mike and I stretch out into different genres.

Not sure what else there is to rattle on about, and I just crossed the 785 word mark, so I’m probably losing you (being it’s the current year and all and no one has an attention span anymore), so I’ll wrap this up. Big things coming, lots of great stuff and ideas are flowing, and I look forward to chatting with you guys in the comments about anything at all. For all the folks out there who have supported Cerberus by buying Cerberus Rising (linked earlier in this post), THANK YOU! If you’ve read it, please consider going to Amazon and leaving a review. Good, bad, ‘meh’, doesn’t matter, and it doesn’t have to be long, just a few words, a couple of sentences will do it. It really helps and we really appreciate you!

Take care, you fine folks, and never stop reading.

Chris Miller—9-12-2020

Cerberus in The Panic Room (and more)!!!

Cerberus howled Thursday night with Xtina Marie and James Longmore, talking about our new book of nine novelettes, Cerberus Rising. It was a total blast, as always, being on with these great folks, and if you missed it, you need to unscrew that in your life and take a gander (with your ears) right here.

In other news, I’ve made some good progress on my novella,Waking Up the Devil. It’s a dark noir story with lots of action and loads of suspense, and it’s going to be in my upcoming collection of short fiction (if you liked my short novel, The Hard Goodbye , you’ll love this one). I’m still trying to decide the title for the collection and it’s down to two possibilities, and it also hinges on whether one of the stories will be in this collection or not. I submitted one I’m really proud of to an upcoming anthology that got put on hold due to the pandemic, and it’s still in limbo. It’s a little long for the call at 11.5K words, but they loved the story and are still kicking around whether to include it or not. If it does not go in that collection, I’ll use it as the title, which will be A Magnificent View: and other perspectives. I really like that title and feel it really grasps the breadth and variety this collection contains. However, if they decide to take it and that story isn’t in my collection, I’ll title it Waking Up The Devil: and other mistakes. I love that title too, but just a little less than the first. We’ll see, but either way, the collection is going well and I can’t wait to see it out in the world. Most of the stories will be brand new, also, so if you’ve been following me for a while and checking out the anthologies I’m in, you won’t have a bunch of ground to reread, which is cool. At least I think so. I hate getting a new collection only to find I’ve already read most or all of the stories elsewhere at some point, so I’ve spent months writing shorts and novelettes and working on this novella to offer something that is almost 100% new fiction. I’m hoping to see it published in 2021. I’ve already pitched the book to a publisher, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

I’m curious about something and hope you guys will reply here on the blog or email me here with a ‘yay’ or ‘nay’. I said last week I want to make this my central hub eventually where people can keep up with and interact with me. So, I was considering doing a flash fiction story here maybe once a month. Nothing big or fancy, just 500-1500 words or so. They’re fun to write and—more importantly—I can write those in just a little bit of time and still have plenty to work on my longer stuff. Is that something that would interest folks here? Again, please let me know, and feel free to make other suggestions as well.

Speaking of flash fiction, there’s a new anthology of drabbles and flash fiction coming out next month called DARK HALLOWEEN. This will the the fifth and (I think) final book of the Dark Holiday series from Macabre Ladies, presented by Eleanor Merry. Eleanor has put together some great books through the last year, both her own work and in the anthologies she’s been assembling with Cassie Angler, and I’ve been privileged to be included in them. For this outing, I did something fun: I made a little trilogy of flash stories (about 500 words each), depicting an event I’m confident everyone will recognize, but from three perspectives you’ve never seen it from before. When you folks read it, I think you’ll chuckle and have fun, and maybe even get a shiver or two up your spine.

Anyway, that’s about all that’s happening right now. At least all I can think of at the moment (it’s 7:23am and I’ve been up for an hour, working on my second cup of coffee). I won’t keep you any longer, but do make sure you subscribe to my blog here so you get these updates. I’m still working out how to relaunch my Newsletter (which you can subscribe to here on my website), but for now, you can get most of the same info right here, so sign up.

Thanks for stopping by, folks, and remember…never stop reading.

Chris Miller—9-5-2020

Where the heck have I been?

I’ve kind of been absent—both here and on my Newsletter—for a good while, so we’ll call this a “soft reboot” of my blog, what do you say? I could start with an introduction, except you’re reading this on my website, so I feel like you must know who I am, at least. But—for all three of my followers—I’ll just assume you landed here by accident and can’t figure out who the hell I am. So, let’s get off on the right foot, shall we?

“Hi, my name is Chris Miller, and I write horror and suspense fiction.”

THREE FANS: ”Hi Chris!”

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s dive in!

So, what have I been up to these past months? If you take a stroll back through my blog here, you’ll find the random update (none very recent, either), but mostly you’ll find book reviews. I was doing this for a while on every single book I read that I enjoyed. I enjoy doing reviews, and thought I could share my love of books on my website, give some other authors a little boost, and maybe help drive some traffic to my own books as well while I was at it. Why not, right?

That didn’t work so well, at least not in the way I had hoped, and I also started to get burned out on writing up reviews. Or, more to it, I was getting burned out on writing all around.It was like the very process of writing seemed to become a burden, and I’d never experienced that before. It’s usually an escape, cathartic and healing, even when I may not feellike doing it. But these last months have been a different story. The pandemic, the unleashing of allthe assholes on earth at once (at least it seems that way), personal and work problems…it’s just been a nightmare. While I’ll look back fondly on 2020 as the year I released my first western, I will notbe looking back on 2020 proper with any kind of fondness whatsoever.

I’ve been largely working on my first collection of short fiction most recently, which I dived into after completing work on my part of Cerberus Rising (which kicks ass and you can get right here). Novelettes and short stories and novellas, oh my! I’ve been working on so much short fiction, both for my own works and for anthologies, that I’ve started to wonder if I’ll have trouble going back into long form. Ugh. And it’s been slow going much of the time, too. Maybe not for everyone, but for me, 2020 has really brought me down, and I find more and more I have been staring at a blinking cursor rather than punching keys.

I’ve tried everything. I tried abandoning a couple works I was in the middle of and started new things, gone back to a couple older projects, took a break for over a week, etcetera. A time or two, this seemed to work, at least initially. But then things would come grinding to a halt again. Being in the midst of all of this—and riding my backlog of projects that have been coming out through this year—I’ve been getting more and more nervous about my writing and wondered if I’d lost my mojo forever.

That’s a scary thing for a writer. Truly frightening, especially when you’ve started getting a modicum of recognition and garnering a bit of a following. And that, my friends, is why this space has been largely inactive in recent months. I just…didn’t have anything to give an update on.

But you know what? I don’t think I’m anywhere near the only person dealing with that. Certainly not the only writer, but wordslinger or otherwise, we’re all going through this level of hell known as 2020 together, and it’s taken it’s toll on us all. We’re going to make it through this, and for us creatives, remember: keep on shoveling, even if all it seems like you’re doing is moving shit from one place to another. You gotta keep on mining, and eventually you’ll start to uncover some gems.

Thankfully, I’ve started to pick up steam again, and I’m getting close to having my first collection completed. Only this morning, I was able to pitch the book to a publisher—fingers crossed on that one! So, hang in there, and try to hold me accountable. You can email me from my site here, just click the ‘Contact’ tab and get in touch. Send me questions, maybe some suggestions on what kind of content you’d like to see here. I want this to become my main hub one of these days where I can talk with fans and you guys can talk with me and we can cut out all the dramatic, nightmare bullshit that is Facebook and Twitter. I just want to be me, and I just want to get to know all of you. So drop me a line, say hi, convince me the world is flat, I don’t care. There’s one place the Coronavirus can’t get us, and that’s on the internet, so let’s use it!

Take care, my friends, and keep reading. We’re far from being done here.

Chris Miller—8-31-2020

BOOK REVIEW: Dead Aware: A Zombie Journey by Eleanor Merry

Unique, original zombie drama…and so much more!

Ever heard of a zombie story where the zombies aren’t only brain-dead, blood-thirsty monsters? One told largely from the perspective of two zombies? Two zombies who are in love and separated across a vast distance in the middle of the world collapse?

I hadn’t either, and the thought never crossed my mind that I ever would, but Eleanor Merry has delivered just such a story, a hybrid of a road story, self-discovery, romance, and horror. This is her first novel, and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome.

It takes a lot for me to pick up and read a zombie novel. Not because I hate the genre, there are plenty of classics out there, but because of the vast quantities of terrible ones. It’s a sub-genre so saturated, it has become difficult to burn away all the dross to find the gems inside.

Merry, however, has delivered just such a gem. Max and Clara are separated because Max had to take a trip across Canada just before the virus hits that sends the world into chaos. Both he and Clara end up succumbing to the virus, and reawaken, reborn without memories of their former lives and little motor skills or understanding. But, as they navigate through this strange new world, memories begin to return, even rudimentary speech, and they find their identities as they struggle to find each other from so far away.

You soon come to care for the main characters, and as the journey progresses, we meet several other characters along the way, some wonderful, some evil, and others in between. The fact that Merry has turned a zombie novel into an allegory for racism was something I truly never expected to see, and it ended up really working for me. All of these elements came together to take a genre story that is inarguably tired for a great many people around the world and turn it into a dazzlingly original drama hidden within the confines of a horror novel. This was a brilliant spin on the whole thing, effectively turning zombie fiction on its head, and all I can do is give Ms. Merry a standing ovation and a hearty, “Bravo!”

If you like zombie novels in general, this has all the things you’re looking for. The gore is never over the top, but there are two or three scenes where I shuddered from the descriptions on the page. If you like road stories, there’s a terrific one in here as Max, taking the young newly-turned zombie Jay along with him, makes his way home to his wife. If you like suspense stories involving shady government and military types, you’ve got that, too. And, if you have a soft spot for some heartfelt romance, it’s littered all across the pages of this purely entertaining debut novel.

Any of that sound interesting to you? Trust me, it is. The author writes in a voice all her own, and though I’ve never been to Canada myself, I could see its beauty and variance vividly in my mind’s eye. There’re moments of terror, of sadness, of frustration, of humor, and excitement.  It’s not a long read, but it feels complete and I’m glad I decided to invest the time in it, and I look forward to more from this terrific new author.

You won’t regret it either. Find it in print and digital here.

BOOK REVIEW: The Magpie Coffin by Wile E. Young

The first of the “Splatter Western” series from Death’s Head Press really opens with a bang, both for the novel itself and the series as a whole.

Salem Covington is on a mission of brutal revenge after some vicious heavies kill his old teacher. But what they don’t know is Salem is far more vicious still. With his Gun (yes, capital ‘G’) whispering to him, he hunts them down one by one, a younger hostage-who-becomes-companion riding with him.

I don’t want to give much away. I went in pretty blind, only the back of the book blurb informing me of what I was in for. Young did not disappoint. The characters were well-drawn, the setting of the old west was vivid but not overwhelming, and the action was brutal and shocking. Let’s just say Salem Covington doesn’t let pesky things like morality and conscience bring him down.

I enjoyed this book very much, even though I started with SW#2, Hunger on the Chisholm Trail by M. Ennenbach. This pair of fine Splatter Westerns has sparked a hunger in me for more like them, and I can’t wait to see the rest of this series out for the world to devour.

Seriously great, and it’s apparent from this work how much Young has grown in his craft. He’s one to watch, but THE MAGPIE COFFIN is one to read. And now.

Find it in print and digital here.

BOOK REVIEW: Hunger on the Chisholm Trail by M. Ennenbach

Death’s Head Press, a relative newcomer to indie horror publishing, has started a series of books called “Splatter Westerns”, releasing one per month or so right now. First, we had Wile E. Young set the tone with THE MAGPIE COFFIN, doling out brutal carnage across the old west. And the second effort–this one from Mr. Ennenbach and titled HUNGER ON THE CHISHOLM TRAIL–shines brightly as the perfect mix of the western and the horror story. In fact, it isn’t even so much a balance between western and horror, it’s a western story that involves a supernatural creature, and it hits on all points.

In 1872, weary cattle-drivers driving up to Kansas from Texas are looking forward to some respite at the sleepy town of Duncan, which is located in what would later become Oklahoma. Along the way, they encounter a beast of legend–the Wendigo–and carnage ensues. Meanwhile, drifter Karl Beck is being held in Duncan by the sheriff so that he can sort out some minor business. Duncan is bustling along, the brothel and saloon readying for the cattle-drivers. Little do they know of the carnage that has happened on the plains, and what even then was headed their way.

This novel, Ennenbach’s first, hits the ball out of the proverbial park. There is a very large cast, which rounds out the old west nicely with nuanced characters and a really wonderful setting. All of the characters are well-developed and engaging, and quite varied. The main character, Karl Beck, is a particular treat (and I hope we get to see more of him down the road!). The dialogue is crisp and the action is fast and mean. The author isn’t known for being a horror writer, but he sure managed to tell one hell of a brutal tale here.

The plains, to use a cliche, run red with blood. The monster is vicious and wicked, even chilling my spine with the very few words it speaks throughout. The thought put into this story, the characters and their relationships, all of it culminates in an epic western tale of terror that leaves gore streaked across the pages and had my heart racing.

It ALSO manages a rather brilliant sense of humor throughout.

Easter eggs abound with references to many in the indie writing community, so if you’re a part of it or know some who are, you may pick up on those. It also features one of the most cinematic action scenes I’ve read in recent history. I don’t want to spoil it, so I won’t, but that monster can hop!

This book is a home run on all fronts. Great characters, terrific pacing, chilling scenes of terror, and characters you can really root for. I loved every second of it, and I think you will, too. M. Ennenbach has penned a beautiful, heartfelt, thrilling look into the old west, and gives us a twist unlike any other western I’ve ever read. Being the author’s first novel, I cannot WAIT to see what he has in store next! This is hands down one of the very best books I’ve read this year, and it should rocket straight to the top of your TBR pile.

Giddy up, partners. This one’s a winner. Get your copy here.

BOOK REVIEW: A Thousand Miles to Nowhere by David Curfiss

An impressive zompoc novel packing some real emotional punches throughout and likable characters.

It seems like I say this a lot when I review a zombie book, but it’s still generally true (since there are so many of them out there): I generally am not into zombie fiction. That said (again, lol) I DO still read some of it, and I DO still come across some real gems in the subgenre. A THOUSAND MILES TO NOWHERE is certainly one of the gems.

There are plenty of battles with the undead here, but the bulk of the book doesn’t focus on that, nor does it only focus on a small group of survivors scavenging and avoiding the zombies (though that occurs too). This one focuses mostly around Matt, and his psychological struggles from both his past and present, the weight of everything bearing down on him whether it was in his control or not. This internal struggle is central to the story, and it was a fascinating study, well-written and believable. To find something of this depth in a genre famous for stench and gore was a real breath of fresh air, and I found myself wanting more.

Another great aspect to this one is the inclusion of a pregnant woman and her baby, which really heightened the suspense in the final act and lead to some emotionally horrifying moments during the climax. Curfiss never pulled a punch, but I never felt like anything was gratuitous either. Again, hats off on the superb writing here.

This has all the standard fare zompoc aficionados look for, plenty of action and gore, but it is elevated by it’s well-drawn characters and superior writing in general. Had this one come out back around the turn of the century, it may well be known as the quintessential zompoc book instead of Brian Keene’s THE RISING. Very different books, but this one was on par.

Recommended to any fan of horror, and even those looking for a psychological drama, providing you’re cool with the zombie apocalypse as the backdrop. Bravo! Find it in print, digital, and audio here.

Plague Update

I know many of us out there are stuck at home, staying safe or under self-quarantine. I’m still working for the moment, but I’m being as safe as I can be and trying to avoid coming within 6 feet of anyone. I’m in small-town East Texas (Winnsboro), and even here people are showing up to our grocery store at 7am and waiting for the delivery trucks to come in. Things are hardly making it from truck to shelf before they’re getting snatched up. Diapers were gone (luckily, I found some at the Dollar Store), and there are shelves for wet-wipes and Lysol and hand sanitizer that are completely empty. In fact, it reminded me of those old pictures from Soviet Russia or the USA during WWII. Of course, there are still plenty of other items. You can get all the glitter and crafts you can stand and no one has made a run on doorknobs yet, so when you can’t wipe your dirty ass and have no food left, chew on some of that stuff.

I’m going to be honest with you folks: this is starting to get scary. Hell, it already IS scary. People are panicking. Others are arrogantly scoffing at the whole thing and calling it a “hoax”. Full-scale insanity is happening with morons doing the “Coronavirus Challenge” licking doorknobs and toilet seats while they film themselves, which is not only stupid but also damned irresponsible. If they DO catch it, they could then spread it to those who are the most at risk with this virus, but hey, you’re famous now, so it’s all worth it, right?

I’m frustrated. I’m nervous. I’ve got three kids I’m looking out for as well as my wife and I. And now, with everyone facing potentially being sent home for a mandated lockdown (I don’t know if this is 100% true, but I keep hearing it from people in the medical field that it’s coming), we’re looking at a situation I’d have never believed would happen in the modern world. A lot of folks can work from home, and that’s great, but a lot MORE people cannot. Manual labor is vitally necessary to keep the economic wheels turning, and all of that is about to come to a grinding stop. Much of it already has. And for how long? Who the hell knows for sure? All of this is new, so we’ll just have to ride it out and see.

Luckily, for now, my family and I are healthy and relatively safe so long as we follow the CDC directives (and ALL of you should be), and I’m grateful for that. It’s also my son’s birthday today. 8 years old. And I’m as proud of him as a dad could be. So, I’m trying to focus on those things. We still have food to eat and shelter and lights and clean water. As things turn grimmer and grimmer, let’s try to focus on the good and the beautiful things in our lives, things that bring us pride and joy. Our kids, our spouses and partners, our art, the things that make life something we can enjoy rather than all the things that terrify us and leave us depressed and anxious. I’m not saying I’m doing a great job of it, but that’s what I’m trying to do. I hope you’ll join me because we’re all in this together. Share this rambling, largely useless post around if you like. Maybe if enough of us do our best to focus on all the good in our lives, the world might brighten just a bit.

And that will be good for all of us.

BOOK REVIEW: The Skin Factory by Lucas Pederson

Really unique idea, well-executed YA.

The premise for THE SKIN FACTORY by Lucas Pederson is certainly a unique one: a teenage boy is killed when his abusive father accidentally hits him a little too hard in the wrong place, and he’s put on his “path” to the afterlife. But an entity steals him off his path and takes him to the factory, where souls are kept as slaves to build human bodies they call “units” to be possessed by other creatures to silently take over the world. Then he escapes and sets out to find his sister and mother and protect them from a coming apocalypse.

At first, I’ll admit, it took me a bit to get used to the writing style here. This wasn’t Pederson’s fault, it was my own, as I went in having never read him before and assuming this was going to be an extreme horror novel based on the title and cover only. That was my bad. What it actually is is more of an after-life-coming-of-age, dark fantasy, Young Adult novel. Once I got past my preconceptions, I really fell into the groove of the story. The main character says a lot of silly things throughout like “holy poop-nuggets!” and “donkey-nipple” and the like, and while they seemed jarring at first, the father into the story I got, the more it really seemed to fit this sixteen-year-old boy.

The dialogue is good, the pacing is steady and never lets you breathe for too long, and the characters are pretty well drawn. The backstory and the mythos of the tale are both unique and set the stage nicely for things to play out. It seems like there might be more to the story, though I’m unsure if the author is planning this to be the start of a series. I hope he does, as I’m interested in where it’s all heading.

The only real critique I’d give here is that the climax seemed slightly rushed, but let me add a caveat: I listened to the audible version of this book, and right before we get to the climax, I went on a trip out of state for a few days and didn’t get to continue on the book until I returned, so it’s entirely possible that could have added to that feeling that it rushed a bit towards the end.

That aside, this was still an entertaining diversion and I’m glad I checked it out. Pederson is a solid writer I’m eager to read more from. I think you’ll dig this one, and the audiobook (if that’s your thing) is well-produced and finely narrated. I’d recommend this one to fans of dark YA fantasy and those into non-extreme horror. Find it in print, digital, and audio here.

BOOK REVIEW: A Coin for Charon by Dallas Mullican

A solid police procedural thriller with some flair.

A COIN FOR CHARON is a rather interesting thriller. Fundamentally a police procedural, we follow Marlowe Gentry, a detective with a hard past with haunting demons, as he pursues a serial killer known as The Seraphim, who is both gentle and brutal with his victims. Choosing them because of their sadness or suicidal state, he puts them to sleep before dispatching them, then arranging their innards in a brutal religious ritual, one meant to bring the victim peace so they may go on to Heaven.

On the periphery of this main plotline, we have Max–a dying cancer patient who hasn’t told his family of his ailment, even after they leave him–and Becca–a psychiatrist who treats people like Max to cope with what they’re going through. At first, as the story is still in the early stages, I had no idea how Max of Becca’s story arcs fit into the bigger picture. I was thrown for a bit because we switched from the procedural to Max, and it seemed completely unrelated, and then Becca, too, seemed out of place. I started to wonder if I had accidentally picked up the wrong book, but as the story continued to unfold, we see how first Becca is drawn into the story from the periphery, and later, Max. It was THIS aspect of the novel that set it apart for me. The procedural plot was all solid, but it wasn’t anything particularly new. However, the powerful moments of Max’s emotional struggles were charged with heartache and desperation, and it was very compelling. In fact, I found myself tearing up a time or two as his situation becomes more and more dire. I cared about Max more than any other character in the book.

The prose is neither over the top nor is it simplistic. It services the genre very well without being devoid of flair. Very straightforward for the most part, but touching on some more poetic moments in some of the softer parts of the novel. The dialogue was believable and helped drive the narrative forward. All in all, this is a solid read that left me curious to see more from Mullican.

If you’re a fan of Michael Connelly type police procedural thrillers, you should give this one a chance. The orbiting stories around the main plot that ultimately come crashing into the forefront of the narrative help set this one apart as something that stands solidly on its own, and I think anyone looking for a good mystery-thriller will have a good time with this one. Well done.

Find it in print, digital, and audio here.

BOOK REVIEW: White Death by Christine Morgan

A superior piece of historical horror fiction.

It’s 1888, and the residents of the small community of Far Enough are under siege by a massive blizzard. Exposure and the elements are relentless and uncaring as more and more of the townsfolk succumb to the bitter cold that just won’t seem to stop. But there’s something out there in the blizzard, something big and mean and intelligent.

And it has teeth.

I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll leave you with that brief description so you can dive into all that this book has to offer. It’s a western, but that’s merely the setting. It’s a survival-against-the-elements story, which had this been the whole of the tale, would have been plenty harrowing. But it’s also a terrific creature feature, effectively using only glimpses and the weather itself to keep the thing(s) in a murky outline. The creatures, in fact, are hardly on the page when compared to the rest of this sprawling story, and this worked to make their few appearances–and their vicious carnage–all the more terrifying.

The suspense here is well-done, expertly woven into the tale organically, utilizing ignorance of the unknown and the personal lives of all the many and varied characters to ratchet up the tension throughout. There was never a moment where I felt I could relax, even in the quieter scenes, because the threats of both beast and nature were constantly hanging over me, and I knew that at any moment something bad could happen–and often it did.

This was the first thing I’ve read from Christine Morgan. From what I had gathered about her writing from others in the business and her fans, I understood her to be a writer of extreme horror (one of her books is titled, SPERMJACKERS FROM HELL, for crying out loud), and while that may be the case of much of her other work, it is not the case here. There is gore, to be sure, but nothing on a level I would consider extreme. That isn’t to say it isn’t capable of making you squirm, however. The descriptions of what the blizzard was doing to the people, the effects on their bodies, was horrifying. Tears that crystalize into ice on the face, sometimes freezing the eyes shut, the colors of the skin as it succumbs to the cold–and much more–had me writhing uncomfortably (in the best possible way) in my seat. Then the vicious attacks from the monsters with their huge fangs and claws were equally intense. Yet, ALL of this plays out in a very palatable manner to a wide range of readers.

Christine’s prose was the most impressive part of the whole book. Again, this was my first experience with her work, and I’m convinced she is nothing short of a masterful storyteller. The words flowed together like an easy current, the jargon of the times coming off as naturally as if she were describing a modern cell phone. The dialogue was equally on point and powerful, and it’s striking how well she utilizes that dialogue to help build the tension of the story as some of the characters fall into a sort of cabin fever madness as they’re holed up in frozen shacks with nightmares crawling through the snow outside.

I actually felt COLD as I read, bundled up comfortably in my coat. That’s how effective her writing is.

This one is an absolute winner and has made an instant fan out of me. If you like horror, historical fiction, survival nightmares, this is the book for you. It’s accessible even to sensitive readers, but don’t let that fool you into thinking you’re not in for a harrowing read…you are. Settle into the cold old west and take a fantastic ride through the frozen plains.

Just steer clear of the Wanageeska.

Find it in print, digital, and audio here.


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BOOK REVIEW: Gristle & Bone by Duncan Ralston

My second outing with Duncan Ralston was an eye-opening, dread-filled experience, but in a good way.

Within these pages, Ralston has penned a collection of short work that positively drips with dread. That was the thing that kept coming to me during this entire read, that Ralston is masterful at building dread. Which is quite different than suspense, but no less enjoyable. Something in the way he strings the words together, the way things unveil themselves to the reader, slowly peeling back the layers until you’re presented with stark horror and shocking revelations.

None of the stories felt like they didn’t belong, like they didn’t measure up to the others. That’s impressive in collections. Usually, there will be at least one story that seems to be the nadir, standing out against the others because it just doesn’t belong. Not the case with Gristle & Bone at all. From the beginning with BABY TEETH and all the way through the final novella, SCAVENGERS, each story has been loved and crafted specifically to create that lead weight of dread that descends your throat and settles so deep inside it feels as though it’s in your knees. The characters are all lovingly and truthfully drawn, believable, and flawed. They make decisions like you or I would, and even if it’s a different choice than you’d have made, you see why they made it anyway. That’s good writing when you can empathize with characters with whom you disagree or even are vile. And we get the full spectrum here.

Ralston’s prose is, frankly, unmatched. It’s liquid, polished, and flows like a mighty current beneath a seemingly still surface. So much is happening, so much being conveyed. It’s a real craftsman at work here, and it was a joy to consume. The only other author I could compare the prose of with Ralston is Clive Barker. It’s in a similar vein, though Duncan has his own voice, and it sings through all the terror.

There are extreme stories in here, but not all of them are. Just be warned before diving in, if extreme horror or frankly written, explicit sex is not your thing, then skip this. If, however, you’re not bothered by such things, I think you’ll have a great time with this collection. YMMV, but I really enjoyed it.

Well-written, transcendent, full of dread, Duncan Ralston’s GRISTLE & BONE is a winner. Don’t miss out on the writer who is sure to be the future of horror. Find it in print, digital, and audio here.

BOOK REVIEW: Ghost Mine by Hunter Shea

A well-written western with lots of heart…and teeth.

I’d never read Hunter Shea before, but I’d heard about him plenty. In fact, we can all blame Jonathan Janz for my discovery of Shea, though it was completely indirect and unintentional. A little over a year ago, I discovered Janz’s writing, and when I looked up Flame Tree Press to discover more of his titles, I kept seeing Hunter Shea’s books popping up. His name came up more and more as I have become more immersed in the horror community on social media, and I finally decided Flame Tree and all these other folks raving about his work couldn’t be wrong.

And they weren’t! GHOST MINE is a terrific western and also a great siege/standoff story with ghosts and ghouls from beyond the veil. I really loved the characters, perhaps Teddah most of all. They were written with nuance and depth, genuine emotion and raw energy boiling out of them all. And they were VARIED! This is nice, as sometimes authors get caught up so much in one character, it seems to bleed onto all the others in the story. Not the case here. Each character is an individual with their own history and world view and strengths and weaknesses. The interplay between them all is also a masterclass in characterization. I can’t stress enough how well-drawn the characters are here, and I think that was the strongest part of the novel.

The story itself was interesting, and it takes its time to reveal all of what’s going on. This works to the readers’s advantage as we get to revel in the mystery of what’s happened and is still happening in Heckla. As the tensions rise and new truths are revealed, we’re carried away into what turns out to be a strong climax with a perfect wrap up after the denouement.

I’ll be checking out more of Shea’s work directly, but in the meantime, if you’ve been on the fence about GHOST MINE, don’t be. Just check it out. It’s a lot of fun. You’ll feel the tingle of excitement, the intoxication of mystery, the chill of terror, and you’ll manage to laugh out loud a few times as well.

Great fun, GREAT characters, and come on…who doesn’t like a good old western? I give it 4 out of 5 stampeding horses. Find it in print, digital, and audio here.

BOOK REVIEW: Catfish in the Cradle by Wile E. Young

Wile E. Young makes a splash in the East Texas bayous with his debut novel, CATFISH IN THE CRADLE.

Grady Pope is an aging and lonely man. His wife passed away a few months back and his daughter has gone missing. As he goes through the motions of his life in Uncertain, Texas, his daughter returns in the midst of giving birth and his life is turned on its head.

This book has a little of everything in it. There’s the terrific setting (which happens to only be a couple of hours from where I live, so I really enjoyed reading about the familiar setting), warring senses of duty and revulsion to family, a cult, and monsters living under a lake. There’s plenty of East Texas flavor here, present in both the characters and in the prose, and Young has a good feel for the slower pace of this area of the world, in the way they speak and interact. I was pleased that even though this book is told in first-person POV from Grady Pope’s perspective I still was able to connect with Luc and Gideon and some of the other characters. They were well-drawn and you could feel the cautious nature of Grady’s relationship with these characters, which fit well with his own personality. And being that the book is from his POV, we really get a good feel for Grady himself, his flaws and his nobility and his weariness.

The monsters–and indeed the story itself–is clearly inspired by Universal’s THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, but that’s pretty much where the similarity ends, as Young merely uses that as a sort of framework to tell his own unique tale. The setting, the story, the characters, and the horror are all from Young’s mind, and these Deep Folk stand on their own as a new and exciting monster with a mythos I would like to see Young develop further and explore in future works. The creatures have a history and some very interesting lore fused into the story and if you like the setting as much as I did, you’ll realize just how well it all fits together. I can see a great prequel story just sitting there waiting to be told, and I hope it happens one day.

I wouldn’t say there’s anything extreme about this book, but it certainly does have some good gory moments. The prose never lingers on or splashes in the viscera, but Young has no problem showing you some hideous visions through his words, so fans of the wet stuff–like me–won’t be disappointed. That said, it’s only in moments, and the real horror here, at least for me, is the relationship between Grady and his new grandson Lincoln, who is growing rapidly and changing into something less than human…though there IS some humanity there, at least for a while. This emotional exploration was one of the better parts of the novel and served to offer up more dread and horror than any of the well-written action scenes or any of the stalking, creeping sections as the suspense builds.

Good characters, a great setting, and a new and fun riff on an old monster story makes for an exciting and easy read. I’m a fairly slow reader and I managed to get through this one in just a couple weeks, and it might have been half that time if it weren’t the holidays and my family wasn’t so busy getting ready for that. The pacing is good, the story is interesting, and there are some undeniably fun scenes within.

Extreme horror fans should still find plenty to like here, and horror fans who prefer their stories less moist and more psychological will certainly be able to hang with this one. Not terribly long, but a solid story, well told, and most importantly, entertaining throughout.

4/5 stars. Take this one with you next time you’re out on the lake. 😉 Find it in print and digital here.

BOOK REVIEW: The Moore House by Tony Tremblay

A solid possession novel with a few clever twists.

THE MOORE HOUSE by Tony Tremblay is set up much like a haunted house story. There’s an old house that locals avoid, lots of deaths within its walls, and a mystery surrounding why. But instead of ghosts, we have a demon, and a Catholic priest with a team of “empaths” are brought in to first investigate, then exorcise the house.

The action in this novel comes in quick and sudden bursts throughout. One minute the characters are standing around talking, the next there’s a ferocious attack. These jarring scenes actually work really well in the context of the book, acting less like ‘jump scares’ and more like an in-your-face way of letting you know never to get too comfortable here. Bad things are happening, and worse beings are behind it. Tremblay doesn’t let you forget it, either.

The pacing was solid from start to finish. This isn’t a slow burn story, but it’s staged similarly to one, the main difference being the ferocious acts of violence that reach out and snatch you by the throat when you least expect it. For this reason, THE MOORE HOUSE moves along at a brisk clip, building the tension as the mystery unfolds before us.

Speaking of mysteries, I was also struck at how this novel also moved much like a detective novel from the 40s. Replace Sam Spade with Fr. McCloud, throw in some disgraced nuns with psychic abilities, and you’ll have an idea of what I’m talking about. I really enjoyed this procedural aspect to the book, the search for clues and to just exactly what the name of the demon within is so that the rites of exorcism can be utilized at their fullest strength.

And that’s where things really go left.

The climax of this story was very satisfying, throwing in some twists I didn’t see coming and I doubt you will either. Tremblay keeps you on your toes as to what the motivations of the various characters are, especially towards the end, and it all served to elevate the suspense and keeping me on the edge of my seat. It’s quite a gripping finale, replete with hand-wringing action and suspense.

The prose is good, the dialogue serving the story well, especially in that ‘mystery novel’ aspect, as they way the people converse reminded me of some older Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammet books from many decades past. But none of it rings untrue to the characters and works rather well here, though the setting is modern.

Not your typical ‘haunted house’ story, THE MOORE HOUSE ups the ante by introducing ravenous demons (and some interesting mythos surrounding their creation) in place of disembodied souls, giving the novel a set of teeth far sharper and tearing than it might have otherwise. The characters are flawed but believable, and though some are clearly hypocrites, you end up rooting for them anyway. Why? Because they’re human.

4/5 stars to THE MOORE HOUSE. A story of possession of both person and home, a mystery/detective story cloaked in a cape of horror from the supernatural. If you like stories like this, you’ll be right at home. And both gore lovers and haters alike can be assured, this one is up your alley all at once. The gore is minimal, but when it happens it is striking and horrifying. Not too much, but enough syrup to keep the pancakes tasty.

Don’t miss this one. It’s easy to see why it was nominated for the Bram Stoker award. Find it in print, digital, and audio here.

BOOK REVIEW: Unbortion by Rowland Bercy, Jr.

WOW is about all I can say as I dip my fingers in Holy Water and cross myself.

This is a short story, maybe a novelette (I listened to the audio version, which is right at 1 hour), but manages to pack in some of the most disturbing imagery I’ve come across since reading Jack Ketchum’s OFF-SEASON. The story begins with a baby in its mother’s womb being aborted. Not only is this hyper-sensitive territory, but the author ups the ante by writing the scene from the baby’s point of view. It’s peeled apart and torn to shreds as it wonders what is happening to it and why its mother is throwing it away and doesn’t want to love it. Then the baby’s remains are tossed into a dumpster with some leftover spaghetti.

And that’s just the beginning!

The baby isn’t dead, however. It’s never explained why this baby is unkillable but reading as he or she (it’s never given a gender) crawls and slops its way across town in search of its mother and looking for other suitable “hosts” is nothing short of horrific.

There’s not much room for character development here, being so short, but there’s enough to make it passable. In fact, I have very few critiques to offer here, and the main reason I gave it four stars instead of five is simply because of the subject matter. The abortion scene is fittingly horrifying, and the casual, calloused way the baby is thrown away honestly made my guts twist up. I don’t know (and don’t care) what the author’s views on abortion are, but he certainly didn’t present it as anything less than monstrous. I appreciate this approach in the current culture, not trying to gloss over what’s happening to the baby in the womb, but at the same time it is a subject that really affects me personally (a private thing), and because of the unpleasantness of it, I knocked off a star. That may not be entirely fair, I’ll admit, but I’m trying to be as honest about this book as I can.

That said, the writing is very strong here, and if I may make a note about the audiobook itself, it’s nothing short of brilliant in terms of production. There’s subtle music throughout, adding to the story much the way a movie’s score does, and certain sounds like ringing phones or people screaming or–most chilling–the baby saying MOOOOOTTTTHHHHEEEERRRR are all done with sound effects to great effect. I wish more audiobooks took this approach as it really immerses you in the atmosphere of the tale.

Strong writing, merciless and horrifying, with a refreshing presentation on a touchy cultural subject. Any fan of extreme horror will likely enjoy the hell out of this little tale, and I’d recommend it to most readers with a bit of a trigger warning attached due to the subject matter. Well done extreme horror! Find it in print, digital, and audio here.

Great Review of my latest novel, THE DAMNED PLACE, from Tristan Drue Rogers!

Absolutely WONDERFUL review for my newest novel, THE DAMNED PLACE, by author and reviewer Tristan Drue Rogers! I’m speechless with this review, and I don’t mind telling you about the rosy blossoms blooming high on my cheeks. Check it out. The book can be purchased via the link in Tristan’s review or by clicking the ‘Books’ tab above! And while you’re checking out his review of my work, check out his own novel, BROTHERS IN BLOOD.

Enjoy the review here.

BOOK REVIEW: Jerry’s Book Sucks: The Book by Jay Sigler and Justin M. Woodward

You’ve heard the term “popcorn movie” before, right? It basically means the movie is a big summer (usually) blockbuster full of action and special effects and actors who look sexy covered in sweat and grime, huge setpieces, exciting shootouts and explosions, and while the heroes may go through a bit of hell, they triumph in the end. What it does NOT mean is that the movie is going to be some life-altering examination of character and humanity full of quiet heartache and a slow pace. That’s what the Oscars are for.

JERRY’S BOOK SUCKS: THE BOOK is a “popcorn book”, and that is not meant as an insult on any level. It knows exactly what it is, what it’s trying to accomplish, and the general laws of physics and human nature be damned. It sets its eyes on the goal, jumps in the car (or on its horse 😉 ), and floors it. Full speed ahead and hang on for the ride. THAT is what this book was for me. A big, bold, ambitious, and satirically hilarious big-budget Hollywood action fantasy that basically takes all the ingredients from a dozen totally different recipes and tosses them all in together for a glorious cauldron of steaming hot fun. Oh, and don’t forget the kitchen sink…that’s thrown in there, too.

Jerry is an overbearing bore, and Rob loses a bet playing darts with him. His bane for losing is that he must edit and publish Jerry’s book–which has no title–since Rob had self-published a book of his own before. The problem is, Jerry’s book, well…it sucks. It’s about Jerry, who has renamed himself Gary in the story, and how he has to stop the vicious bat-monster Bob–curiously close to Rob’s name. There’s a girl in the mix who’s been taken, and Gary goes on a quest to find and save her from the nefarious Bob before he hurts her AND before he amasses the power to control the entire universe. Along the way, Gary enlists Helen, a woman who works for him–and has been turned into a gelatinous goo with an eyeball in it–and an otherworldly gnome by the name of Ryan, King of the Foopians (just read the book).

We travel across time, across space, to other planets, other galaxies, other dimensions, and even Hell! There’s absolutely NO place this book doesn’t go with its sprawling adventure, and along the way we get a handful of Footnotes from Rob, the editor, where he explains how Jerry has taken some real-life situations and written them into the book, but he’s always changed it to make Bob/Rob look bad. Oh, and Jerry has written himself/Gary as an obnoxious, know-it-all, perfect male specimen who makes other men green with jealousy and makes women’s panties eject into the nether with lightning speed at the sight of him.

We can tell Rob hates Jerry, and his footnotes throughout really drive that point home. However, in spite of all this, Jerry’s book really DOESN’T suck. I mean, sure, strip away the scathing satire and the fact that we’re reading a book edited by a guy who hates the author, and this wouldn’t work so well. But in the framework of how the story is presented, it ends up being a home run. There’s fun to be had on every page, laugh out loud moments assail us at every turn, and there’s simply no predicting what will come next. How do you predict that an elderly woman with a talking tit will turn into goo after a fall and spend the rest of the story in one bottle or jar or another in a holster on Gary’s hip, end up screwing herself (literally and hysterically), and pleasure a lusty demon?

Answer: you can’t!

Jay Sigler and Justin M. Woodward have created an absurdist masterpiece here, a mixture of bizarro fiction, sci-fi, and high fantasy, and I for one have never come across anything quite like it before. I do hope I get to experience something like it again if the authors decide to continue Jerry’s sucky books story. When it ended, I wanted more.

Its got action, its got comedy, its got romance, its got an army of talking yard gnomes, its got time travel, portals to other worlds, and a berry that turns you into a walking cellphone to people across the galaxy. And so much more.

Your life will not be changed here. You will not reach some epiphany about life and humanity. You will not break down in tears (except for those of laughter), but what you WILL walk away with is the memory of some of the best fun you’ve ever had ‘twixt the covers of a book. I mean that. Lots of laughs, lots of WTF moments, lots of action and explosions and shootouts and even a pretty damned good rap battle.

If any or all of that sounds appealing to you, snag this up. It’s a hell of a lot of fun, and who doesn’t like a good belly laugh or 800? I know I do, and I had a great time with Jerry’s Book Sucks: The Book. You will too.

Now, go buy the foopin book. Find it in print, digital, and audio here.

BOOK REVIEW: Kill Whitey by Brian Keene

A fast, fun, mean ride where crime/noir and slasher meet. Lots of messy charm!

KILL WHITEY by Brian Keene dropped the transmission into low gear and floored it from the very beginning. The whole time I was reading, I felt like my head was pinned to the headrest behind me and I couldn’t lean forward…and I never really wanted to. The ride was too exhilarating.

We have Larry, a blue-collar guy and regular Joe, who falls for a beautiful Russian stripper named Sondra. She works at a shady gentleman’s club and, after the first outing to this place with his pals from work, Larry finds himself drawn back time and time again to watch and lust after the beautiful woman. The place is owned by Whitey, a big Russian guy with white hair, and one of his friends claims he’s part of the Russian mob, though the other’s don’t believe him.

Only, they should have. After a night at the club where Sondra didn’t show and some strange activity is happening with the security folks of the joint, Larry and Darryl find Sondra hiding under Larry’s car outside and they help her get away. The Russians are really pissed off by this, and they’re coming, led by Whitey, whom they soon find is almost as indestructible as Jason Voorhees.

The fun never stops. At least if you find violent shootouts and fights to the death with severed limbs and blown apart organs fun. And I do. Fun AF. And KILL WHITEY delivers it in spades. It’s set up like a crime/noir, replete with the naive protagonist and sultry femme fatale and a bad guy who neither knows how to quit nor is capable of doing so. The story of precisely WHY Whitey and crew are after Sondra is never fully clarified. We get Sondra’s story and we get Whitey’s, but it’s never confirmed which (or if either) were being fully truthful. And this helps add to the conflict and suspense of the tale. The uncertainty in Larry’s mind plays out wonderfully confused and infuriated and conflicted.

Keene’s simple, straight-forward approach at prose is on display here, and as always, it just works. It reads easily and rings true. I especially appreciate his showing the cracks in Larry’s moral shell as the story goes forward and he’s worn down by panic and survival and doubt.

It’s fast. It’s fun. It’s mean. And it’s totally badass. If you like slashers and crime/noir, this is for you. It’s got it all, and it’s executed with lots of heart throughout. Once the action gets rolling, which is pretty early on, it never lets up. For me, THAT’S how you tell a story.

Another fine outing from Keene. Find it in print, digital, and audio here.

BOOK REVIEW: The Hungry Ones by Chris Sorensen

When I first read THE NIGHTMARE ROOM by Chris Sorensen, I was struck at what a powerhouse debut it was. The pacing was just right, the building tension getting tauter and tauter as the story progressed, and the ending blindsided me and blew me away. I was LITERALLY astonished, and it remains to this day as one of the best “ghost stories” I’ve ever read. I knew from the start this was going to launch a series, as it was subtitled THE MESSY MAN SERIES, Book 1. This struck me as interesting because as much as I adored The Nightmare Room, I just couldn’t see how the story could progress and go further.

I needn’t have worried. In the more than competent hands of Sorensen, the sequel to his hit debut, this one titled THE HUNGRY ONES, the story not only goes forward but does so in new and interesting ways. Here, we have a lady who’s purchased a dilapidated motel which was the sight of a brutal shot-gun massacre two years before. She’s about a week away from opening when the family from the first book stops by and she rents out a room to them, and unkowingly awakens something sinister lurking on the grounds of her motel. Actually, SEVERAL somethings.

Where Peter and his wife were the main focus of the first book, they take a bit of a back seat in this outing. They still have significant roles, and the version of Peter who is now part of The Messy Man is integral to the story, the real focus here is on his son Michael and the motel owner Jess.

Sorensen structures his books much like an onion, and as we dig into the tale, layers are peeled back one at a time, revealing more and more to us, drawing us in with mystery, and then surprising us with another great finale.

I was privileged enough to be able to read the first couple of chapters of this for Chris many months ago when he reached out to ask if I’d look them over and give him some feedback. The opening is focused on The Maple City Butcher, who is looking for a drink desperately late at night. This is the same guy who shoots up the motel, and here we get a bit of a look into the man that sets everything in motion for this story. I was captivated by this character and instantly wanted to know more. Then after this sinister opening, we meet Jess as she’s readying her new motel for business. Again, I was instantly struck with how her character connected with me, like a very sweet person who saw me standing on the street, nervous and confused, and took my hand to lead me where we needed to be. And ultimately, I was hooked. When the couple of chapters Chris sent over for me to peruse were over, my heart sank knowing it would be some time before I’d get to finish this tale.

It was worth the wait. While not quite as fresh and without as big of a twist ending as the first, this was still a terrific sequel. And it IS a sequel, one where the reader will certainly need to have read the first book to understand what’s going on. There aren’t any lengthy recaps to catch us up on previous events, but there are plenty of spoilers to the first book, so if you’re reading this and interested in getting this book, stop, go buy THE NIGHTMARE ROOM, and read it first, THEN get this one. It’s the only way to consume this work.

I was initially a bit confused by certain sections that jumped back in time, retelling events from the motel from the past, but soon I caught on and ended up quite enjoying these leaps in time, which filled out the story nicely. Like in the first book, the pacing is spot on and the tension keeps winding up tighter and tighter until the chain snaps in a violent whipcrack at the end, setting us up for yet another sequel to come. Now that I’ve seen Sorensen’s deft handling of a story I was convinced couldn’t work beyond a single book, I’m more than eager to see where this story goes from here. And speaking of sequels, this one has all the elements of the very best ones: MORE. More ghosts, more characters, more seedy situations. It really ups the ante nicely.

I’m not a huge “ghost story” fan in general. I’ve liked a good bit of them, but it isn’t the subgenre I typically am drawn to. But Chris Sorensen’s pair of books display the height of the genre, hitting all the right notes at just the right tempo with just the right amount of passion. For this reason, I can heartily recommend THE HUNGRY ONES to anyone who enjoys a good supernatural suspense yarn. There’s very little gore in either of these books, so the squeamish should be fine, but be sure to have a Xanax handy because this story will put your stomach in knots.

Just do me (and yourself) a favor: read THE NIGHTMARE ROOM first. If you don’t, you’ll be lost, confused, and in dire need of explanation. Plus, you don’t want to spoil the ending to that first book before reading it. It’s just too perfect.

I listened to this one on audio, and Chris did his own narration here excellently, just as he did in the first book. Terrific audio production.

THE HUNGRY ONES is the very best kind of sequel, returning us to characters we already love, introducing us to new ones we can cheer for, and takes the story in new and interesting directions. Just remember to hang on for one hell of a ride. Find it in print, digital, or audio here.

BOOK REVIEW: Darkness on the Edge of Town by Brian Keene

I’ve read quite a bit of Keene’s work over the years. Nowhere near all of it, but a fair amount. Something I’ve learned along the way with him is that there is a REASON he’s a legend in the horror community. His characters connect with the reader, come across less like the ideas from someone’s imagination but rather like real individuals. He’s got some grand ideas about multiple worlds and different dimensions and God and the devil and other gods and creatures and so on.

Of the books of his I’ve read, I still say Ghoul is my favorite, but much of that is the fact that I just love coming-of-age stories, especially when they’re set back when I was growing up. So Ghoul has that going for it ON TOP OF being just a terrific novel. But…I have found what I would consider my favorite Keene this side of Ghoul, and that would be DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN.

We have that awakes to find that some sort of darkness has surrounded it from above and at all sides, and anyone who ventures into the darkness never returns, but their screams can be heard from time to time. The darkness also seems to be showing things to people when they get close; things that scare them sometimes, other times loved ones enticing them to come just a little closer. But whatever the darkness is, it’s evil, and a strange homeless man in town seems to have kept the darkness from coming inside of the town. He’s held it at bay with magic. But the darkness can still play with their minds.

I wasn’t so sure about the premise here when I started, though Keene has never let me down. It seemed a lot like The Mist by Stephen King to me, but once I actually started reading, I saw that it was entirely its own story, having little to do with King’s story. This was really a terrific powerhouse of a novel, pulsing with increasing dread throughout all the way to the bitter, breath-stealing ending.

Let’s talk about that ending for just a second, without giving anything away. The novel builds a little slowly, but I wouldn’t call it a slow burn. We’re dropped right into the craziness from page one and hear about how it came about. We watch as people in town are growing more and more paranoid, their morals are deteriorating, their sanity is crumbling. It’s leading to what I was expecting to be an apocalyptic finale. But it takes a different turn, and I really think it was the right choice. It’s more of an unknowing ending. There’s a sprinkling of hope, but there’s also gallons of forboding doom as well. The fact is, we don’t know what’s going to happen. And there’s no need for a sequel to come along and tell us (though I’d read it in a heartbeat if one came along), because in the context of this story, it’s just a perfect ending.

Stephen King said this book was a terrific short novel. I have to agree. For some, the ending seems anticlimactic. But I disagree. The battles being waged in the characters’s minds is where the suspense came from and the ramping up of tension from the situation of the darkness is nearly secondary. Because of this, I thought it was a terrific book with a terrific ending that would have been cheapened if done any other way, and I’m thankful that Brian has such a Keene (pun intended, wow, that joke came out of nowhere) eye for such things.

If you like horror, get this. If you like Keene, get this. If you like character-driven studies in human psychology during a stressful event, get this. For me, it hit all the right notes. In fact, it was so good I immediately went out and got another Keene novel to rip into next. I rarely do that, reading the same author multiple times in a row. But Keene’s books are something special. Read this, and find out why. Get it in print, digital, or audiobook here.

BOOK REVIEW: Full Brutal by Kristopher Triana

My first Kristopher Triana novel will NOT be my last. This is extreme horror done right.

Kim is a beautiful and popular 16-year-old cheerleader with suicidal thoughts and a general pessimism for life in general. She wants something new to change her perspective, to make her feel alive, and she decides that based on what her friends have been telling her, sex is the answer. But sex alone isn’t enough for Kim, who likes to set herself apart. Instead, she sets her sights on her sex-ed teacher and finds him all-too-willing after a few gentle nudges.

Nothing changes in her perspective, but she soon finds she quite enjoys making her teacher squirm in fear of being found out. What follows is an increasingly depraved descent into cruelty and madness, blood-soaked and full of fun twists.

I’ve read my share of extreme horror novels, and generally speaking, I like them. It’s rare that I LOVE one, but I usually have a good time. I often find that the writing or story or characters take a back seat to the moist squirts and disembowelments and the like in extreme horror, so I usually kind of treat them the way I would a popcorn action flick: turn my logic reactors off in my brain and just settle in for the fun.

However, FULL BRUTAL doesn’t suffer from ANY of these ailments. The writing was tight and flowed extremely well, the story was interesting and unique, and the characters all rang true, none more so than Kim, who tells us the story in first person, not shying away from any of the brutality and sadism she inflicts on those who think she’s their friend. What was fascinating to me was, as sick and depraved as this girl is, you find yourself rooting for her as her escapades get increasingly more vile and horrific. You don’t want her to get caught. You want her to figure out a way to deal with her ‘situation’ (no spoilers, read the damn book!). You want her to turn everything on its head and convince everyone she’s as innocent as she says she is. All while feeling like you need to run to the confessional for cheering on such rotten individual.

That’s the brilliance of this blood-soaked book: you’re rooting for the bad guy. You IDENTIFY with her. There’s a good deal of social commentary here, much like with Caroline Kepnes’s YOU (though infinitely more depraved), and Triana deftly weaves this into his tale of debasement and butchery. Watching as Kim manipulates literally EVERYONE to her whim and fancy is nothing short of brilliant, further adding to the appeal of this character who, by all rights, should be utterly reviled by any sane human being.

This isn’t what I’d call a slow burn, but it does take its time getting to the gory bits. However, there’s plenty of gooey goodness (or not-so-goodness) from the get-go, so the extremes are on display early here. But when the blood starts to flow, a mighty Amazon river of the red stuff floods the pages and does let up one iota through to the last page. In fact, it just keeps getting more and more and more intense and squirty and stomach-turning…all in the best possible ways.

The dialogue is good, the characters–especially Kim–are very well drawn and believable, the pacing is excellent, and it delivers in exactly the way you’d want an extreme horror novel to do: in dripping–and apparently delicious–chunks. There’s a good reason this gem won the 2019 Splatterpunk award. It earned it.

This is extreme horror, so reader beware if this is not your taste. The extreme content isn’t going to be for everyone. But, if you’re into this or think you might like to give it a try, I highly recommend this book to you. As far as extreme horror novels go, this would be my second favorite of all time, right behind (and I mean just a foot or two away) OFF SEASON by the late and great Jack Ketchum. It’s that good.

If this is a genre you enjoy, you’re in for a REAL treat…and Kim is a fine cook. Find it in print, digital, and audio here.

NEWS & The ScareFest!

In Lexington, KY, September 12-15, this year’s annual ScareFest convention is happening, and I’ll be there at booth 48 with the Deadman’s Tome group selling copies of all my novels and my novella. With me will be titans such as James Watts (author of THEM), Richard Rumple (author of TRAIN OF BLOOD and others), and Tony Evans (author of BETTER YOU BELIEVE). We’d love it if you could come out and visit with us, take photos with us, and buy some books! HINT: we’ll even sign and inscribe them for you!

This year’s celebrity guests at the event are the ever outstanding Bruce Campbell of EVIL DEAD fame (among myriad other wonderful flicks), Skeet Ulrich of SCREAM fame, Lori Petty from TANK GIRL (and a lot of others), and Felissa Rose from SLEEPAWAY CAMP. So long as we aren’t moved, my understanding is that our booth is right there where the celebs will be, so we’re hoping for lots of traffic. I’ll have ten copies EACH of: THE DAMNED PLACE, A MURDER OF SAINTS, THE HARD GOODBYE, and TRESPASS. I know Mr. Watts will have copies of THEM, Rumple will have copies of his books, and the same with Mr. Evans. These are all great people, and we’re sure to have an absolute blast. I will be there both Friday and Saturday, though I have to get back on the road early Sunday morning, so I won’t be there for that day, however, I believe some of the others will be. So, come see us. Hang out. Buy some books and support your up and coming authors. Write reviews. Tell others about their books. But most importantly, don’t miss this event!

BOOK REVIEW: Of Foster Homes and Flies by Chad Lutzke

An incredibly powerful coming-of-age story that sticks with you.

This was the first thing I’ve read by Chad Lutzke, it will NOT be the last. At first, I was trying to figure out just what the genre here was. By the time it ended and I was wiping the tears from my eyes and literally saying “THAT WAS AMAZING” out loud to an empty room, I realized the best way to define this book is “emotional horror”.

There are no creeping boogeymen, no monsters, not even any real human villains, other than we get the impression that the boy’s mother may well have been one of sorts. But the way this builds the tension up to a fever pitch as the boy is hoping to place or win the coming spelling bee while his mother rots in their living room takes you to places of childhood fear and angst that all happen on an emotional level. It was truly brilliant.

The prose was perfect for this. I really felt like I was reading a memoir written by a child, but without any lack of sophistication on the writing front at all. It just connects to you the way your kid’s story might if they were pouring their heart and soul out to you. Masterful seems too trite, but I guess I’ll use it, because that’s what this was.

Not a word is wasted in this brief–but perfectly executed–masterpiece. Every note rings true, and I can’t imagine a single person not adoring this, regardless of taste. It’s that good.

Don’t miss this one. I finished this days ago, and I cannot stop thinking about it. I’ll likely revisit this one several times, which is not something I do very often. 5/5-stars. Find it in print, digital, and audio here.

BOOK REVIEW: Castle of Sorrows by Jonathan Janz

A well-done follow-up to THE SORROWS, CASTLE OF SORROWS takes us back to the island where Castle Blackwood sits ominously with its lurking, horned beast and hardly lets you breathe.

Ben finds himself heading back to The Sorrows after his mother is murdered and his baby daughter is kidnapped. He instantly knows it’s Gabriel, the beast from the island, and ends up on the island with some FBI agents, all while some gangsters follow them out there with intentions of killing all but the widowed Mrs. Blackwood so they can extract an arbitrary fee that her son incurred from them before dying on the island a year ago. No one believes Ben about the monster that lurks the island, but they’re all about to find out just how wrong they were to ever doubt him.

So the setup happens early on, wasting zero time getting things moving along, and before we know it, we’re back on the island. For about 7/8 of this book, the monster is (mostly) only spoken of or seen in shadow or periphery. But don’t take that to mean nothing is going on. There’s a hellacious gun battle on the island with the agents and the gangsters, and chaos reigns while Ben tries to stay alive and find his missing baby girl. Eventually, the cast is whittled down to the essentials, and the horror of Gabriel is unleashed.

Janz knows how to get the action moving briskly, and he does a good job of it here. There’s never a moment to get slow down here, though we do get some more history with the Widow Blackwood, her husband, and the fearsome Gabriel. Much of this book reads like a strange mobster movie in an odd setting, but the undercurrent of horror and our knowledge of what happened on the island before and what is certainly lurking there for our characters now helps to amp up the tension. When the monster finally does show up and things explode, the horror is as visceral and intense as the first book was, mirroring some aspects, but managing to give us a unique and new story to sink our teeth into that’s a lot of fun.

Claire, who met Ben in the first book and was a major character, is hardly in this one, even though she’s married to Ben now and they have a child together. However, Janz didn’t just forget about her, and when she and her role come into view, we have what may well be the set up for a third Sorrows book, something I hope I’m not wrong about. As different as this book was from its predecessor, it fits nicely into this ongoing story, and would serve as a terrific “Empire Strikes Back” style sequel, a perfect second entry in what I hope will be a trilogy.

I’ve read and reviewed now 8 Jonathan Janz novels, including this one, and he is consistently good. Even great. I’ve yet to be disappointed in his work, and I like that, like Stephen King or Lee Child, I can always pick up another of Janz’s work and instantly feel right at home. There’s no awkward period getting used to the writing before I really get invested; it happens right from the first page. And thus far, he hasn’t missed.

If you liked The Sorrows, Castle of Sorrows is a must for you. The climax is quite gripping, perhaps not as much as the first one, but it’s close, and further, it’s the epilogue that really grabs you by the short and curlies, gasping for air. And it makes for quite a sinister entry.

Another no-brainer for not only fans of Janz, but for newcomers as well, though I do recommend reading the first book before this one because you’ll be lost otherwise. This is a full-blown sequel, not a stand-alone novel, but it’s a fine entry you don’t want to miss. Find it in print, digital, and audio here.

BOOK REVIEW: Haven by Tom Deady

An exceptional coming of age horror novel. Weighty, but never boring, this is exactly MY kind of book.

A young man, disfigured and shamed, is sent to prison for 17 years in 1961 for murders he claims he never committed. Now free, he comes back to his hometown of Haven, Massachusetts to start his life over with the help of his friend and mentor, Catholic Priest, Father McCarthy. The chief of police Crawford put this guy away in 1961, and immediately wants to put him back, while his own son terrorizes some younger boys in town. But is something more afoot in Haven? And why do there never seem to be any roadkill left near the lake?

That’s more than enough of a taste for this terrific tour-de-force of a novel. The characters in this book ALL ring true and cause you to fall in love with them or despise them from your very core, depending on which one it is. The writing is very natural, not over the top, and straight forward. The prose is gentle, but effective, the dialogue never fails to come across as authentic, and the tension starts on page one and doesn’t stop building until the final one. I’ve read plenty of terrific books over the years, and I’ve come to adore the coming of age horror sub-genre. Stephen King’s IT is often what I consider the standard bearer, along with Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon (though not horror), and HAVEN takes its place amongst the titans of the genre and is clearly comfortable there. The novel never tries too hard to impress, but does so anyway page after page.

I really enjoyed the straight-forward storytelling here. As I said before, Deady never goes over the top, never abandons the naturalistic style he employs, and this is one of the books greatest strengths. Deady has no need to impress you. He’s already done it with this masterful work. The story is both simple, yet deep, spanning decades while still feeling intimate and immediate. The stakes are high, but they are presented in such a way that only a handful of characters are aware of what’s happening, keeping that intimacy I described front and center throughout.

This is not an extreme horror novel that revels in buckets of gore and depravity. This is about real-to-life small town folks facing down something far more powerful than themselves. And that’s part of its beauty. What would YOU do if you found yourself face to face with the horror this book presents? I think for most of us, Tom Deady has shown precisely how the average Joe would react.

This novel has a very mainstream appeal, while still feeling like very much its own thing. It isn’t trying to be something it isn’t, not trying to copy anything else. There are elements here that pay homage to the greats of this sub-genre, yet it manages to be completely its own, unique story. And while there IS a monster (along with some human monsters as well), nothing supernatural is present here. I like supernatural, and think this kind of story is a fine fit for such an approach, but by avoiding the supernatural, Deady manages to wed this tale to reality in such a way that even the unnamable beast within the pages seems frightfully plausible. And I was never quite able to shake that. This speaks to magnificent, understated writing.

If you like horror in the vein of Stephen King at his best when writing about children, you’re in for a treat here. AND you’re in for something Mr. King hasn’t given us already. At no point did I feel like I was reading a riff on anything else, but still appreciated its sense of knowing whom its peers are, respecting them, and doing its own thing.

If you’re not a horror fan, you’ll likely still have a great time with this book. It isn’t overly gory, though it is suspenseful throughout, and the characters are drawn in such a way that you’d want to follow and know more about them even if this were a cozy, romantic mystery. But never fear, horror lovers, there’s still plenty here to get your hackles up.

There’s nothing to consider here, other than the format you want to read this book in. Print, digital, audio, all are available, so there’s literally ZERO excuse to skip this one. And if you do, you’re the lesser for it. Find it in print, digital, or audio here.

BOOK REVIEW: Shackled by Ray Garton

Ray Garton always delivers, and SHACKLED is no exception.

A tabloid reporter uncovers a scheme where children are being kidnapped and brainwashed and forced into the sex/pornography industry, under the guise of what appears to be Satanism. A pastor’s son is taken, and he teams up with the reporter and some others to get to the bottom of this nasty web of seediness and get his son back.

I’ve been trying to decide how I would classify this novel. Garton is likely most well known for his brilliant horror novels LIVE GIRLS and RAVENOUS, and he’s pumped out several other gems like THE NEW NEIGHBOR and THE LOVELIEST DEAD. I’ve read the sequels to LIVE GIRLS and RAVENOUS, both of which are top quality as well. He also writes some thrillers, like TRAILER PARK NOIR (delightfully twisted little tale) and others, and while the story falls more in line with the thrillers in his bibliography, I’ve just about decided this one must be considered horror.

SHACKLED is brutal, unflinching, uncompromising, and devastating. Garton slaps you around for a while, knocks the wind out of you, and while you’re on the ground trying to recover, he gives you a nice triple-kick to the gut to make sure you don’t forget him. And it was absolutely perfectly executed. You get to know a young girl and a very young boy who’ve been abducted and not only do you begin to care for them, but you actually come to love them. The main character shifts to a supporting role in the final third and this transition not only worked but felt seamless and was a nice break from the norm of watching your MC make it out unscathed. This guy is VERY scathed by book’s end.

There are several unexpected developments along the way, the cast of characters is large and diverse, and Garton’s signature frankness when it comes to depravity is on full display here. All aspects of this book work very well. While it was first published in the late 90s, I actually didn’t feel it was terribly dated, even with the now outdated state of the internet chatrooms and such that lead our characters to uncover the sinister goings-on. It is a novel of its time but transcends that time very well because the characters are so well drawn that it all rings true. Horrifyingly so.

There were parts of this book that were hard to read, not because they were poorly constructed, but because Garton was making sure you looked at what he was showing you, reminding you that this kind of thing DOES happen in the real world, and all too often. The mechanics of the baddies’ cover story may vary, but unfortunately, this is an all-too-real situation for many victims in the world, and I feel like he wanted to make me look at it and get me angry. And it worked. You want to get your hands on these vile villains, wring their necks, pull out their tracheas, and THEN get nasty with them. The idea that there are people so soulless in the world is haunting, and that reality is still weighing on me since finishing the book.

If you’ve read Garton before, you’re aware of his talent. I couldn’t be more pleased with my latest read, and if you haven’t read this one yet, I urge you to do so. You’ll have to grit your teeth more than once, hold your rage in check, but the way it all pans out is glorious and masterfully written by a true great in the genre. I don’t think anyone should miss this, but be warned: Ray Garton doesn’t blink. So don’t think you’re going to stare him down, especially in this one. Find it in print, digital, and audio here.

5/5 Stars.

UPDATE: 7-25-19

So, I’ve been super busy and it looks like I’m not going to get the Newsletter out for July. That’s okay, I’ll have a double portion for the August Newsletter to fill everyone in. In the meantime, we’ll just share a few things here.

THE DAMNED PLACE has been released! On July 6th, Black Bed Sheet Books released my epic, coming-of-age horror novel, and it looks absolutely phenomenal. Coming in at 582 pages, this is a thick, hefty tome you can easily spend several days or even weeks lost inside and get an introduction to The Damned Trilogy. I’ve gotten the second installment, THE DAMNED ONES, back from the editor. I’ve got a couple scenes to rework to get things just right, but it will be done before long and I’ll present it to my publisher. My goal–which may or may not be the goal of the publisher–is to see this second installment released between 6 and 12 months from the date this first one was, which will put it coming out sometime between February and July of 2020, giving enough time for THE DAMNED PLACE to get established and gain readers eager to see what’s coming after the sinister cliffhanger ending and thirsty for more, but not so long that it has faded from memory. So, that’s my goal. We’ll see if the publisher wants to do it that way or not. I’ll certainly keep everyone informed on the progress of that book as it develops.

In the meantime, I’ve written another novel earlier this spring/early summer, a secret project which should release early in 2020. I can’t say much about this book, what it’s about, or even the title, but I will say this about it: it is a standalone novel that also crosses over into my other work, and anyone up to date with my other books will get a little grin on their face when they see how it ties in. I’ve also written a brand new novella that I’ve done a couple of drafts on so far, and I plan to do one more before it goes to an editor. I’ll be getting it out for submissions later this year (that’s the goal, anyway), but have no projection as to exactly when it might come out as of now. Again, I’ll report on it as soon as I know one way or another.

I’ve been invited to contribute to an invite-only anthology in the past few days, and I’m currently working on putting together a short story. Though it was invite-only, there is still not a guarantee it will be chosen for inclusion, so cross your fingers and say a prayer for me that I knock this one out of the park. So far, it’s coming along fantastically, so I’m optimistic.

Aside from all of that, I’m still aiming to start the third novel of The Damned Trilogy this fall (once all these other works are finalized and off my plate). I want to start that one with a completely cleared writing schedule. I’m sure that something will come up along the way, maybe a new short or two, and I’m also in talks with a couple of other authors about co-writing some things with them, so in all likelihood I’ll be working on that alongside THE DAMNED TOWN, but I aim to at least start it with 100% of my focus on that novel. It will bring a close to The Damned Saga, but also springboard several other works, which you’ll just have to wait on to see the beautiful tapestry I’m attempting to construct here, so keep an eye out.

And, of course, I’ve got another five or so novels and novellas planned in the coming years beyond this. As with all my work, all of them will take place in the same universe, with characters popping up across all of them, but these will be standalone, one-off novels where I can experiment and grow in my craft. Keep an eye out for some new things with all I’ve got coming. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed!

And that’s about all. Plenty is happening, but I’m so busy at the moment that I can’t lay it all out for you, for which I apologize. Watch your inbox in August for the new Newsletter where I’ll have even more exciting news to share, and while I’ve got you, go grab yourself a copy of THE DAMNED PLACE if you haven’t already (and don’t forget to check out my other offerings, all of which can be found here). THE DAMNED PLACE can be found here, and I do hope you’ll leave a review, be it positive, negative, or meh. They really help, and provide valuable feedback for me to make my future work as good as it can be.

Take care, do some reading, and God bless!

BOOK REVIEW: Ghost Walk by Brian Keene

A follow up to Keene’s DARK HOLLOW, GHOST WALK is a fun horror romp which could almost stand on its own from the previous work. We have the same setting–LeHorn’s Hollow and the surrounding area–but this time it isn’t the saitor Hilineous, but something much worse and (pun intended) darker trying to come through into our world. Adam Senft from DARK HOLLOW is in an insane asylum after killing his wife from the first book after she was impregnated by the devilish saitor, and now several years after that, Ken Ripple is putting on a Ghost Walk attraction for Halloween…but the darkness is about to break through into our world right under their noses.

Levi Stolzfous (sp?) comes along and, as per his usual appearances in Keene’s work, he’s the only one who understands what’s happening and has a plan to stop it. Everyone comes together in the end–after much convincing–to help stop the darkness from ending our world, but it will come at a great cost.

Keene’s work resonates with me because he knows how to just tell you a story. He isn’t preoccupied with trying to pen what snobby literary critics will see as something all high-school juniors should have to read in class, and that’s a good thing. Nothing against the literary classics that seem to transcend time and genre, many of them are great. But so are stories like this one, just a straight forward horror story about average people–aside from Levi, that is–coming together to combat evil and save the world. These are the kinds of stories I love to dive into, a place to escape for a few hours at a time and just enjoy having Uncle Brian tell me a fun story that raises my hackles.

This is no sweeping epic like Swan Song or The Stand where humanity is facing the end of the world. This is a smaller story, and I think its size actually lends to its likability. The whole focus is on just a few characters in a small, rural area in PA, but the stakes are no less high. The entity in this book is kept sufficiently obscure and mysterious, while at the same time we are given enough backstory–and tie in information from several of other Keene works and my over-arching mythos–to understand its malevolence and give us a firm grasp on what’s at stake should it succeed in breaking into our world. So, we have this small group of characters in this small, unassuming town, facing down what will absolutely destroy us all…and in the end, the only ones who ever know are the few who were involved.

Keene’s brilliance breaks through multiple times in this book, where he masterfully displays his ability for character development in just a few short passages. More than one character we get to know just a bit during the set up of the story, and he makes these people thoroughly likable and sympathetic. Then, as suspense is building, he rips the rug out from under us and gives us a shameful and/or horrifying reveal about the character that makes us blanch, but we can’t ignore the person’s better attributes we’ve already come to know. This dichotomy leaves us both feeling for the victims and sort of nodding to ourselves, thinking, “Yep, you had that coming!”. I love little touches like this, adding depth to the people we’re reading about. Note that I said people because adding these 3rd dimensions to them elevates them from mere characters to real people, and when you can achieve that, you’re connection to them deepens and their fates have far greater impact.

Keene’s dialogue here is in fine form, allowing the people to engage in realistic conversation rather than going for polished–but ultimately phony–one-liners and quick wit. This is another aspect I appreciate, futher wedding the story and the people within it to the real world, which always adds tension and also keeps us engaged because it’s very much like being right there with them on the page. In the real world, not everyone is a fast-talking Sam Spade with perfect wit, and it’s nice to see this reflected in literature sometimes.

I’ll say too, this is the third or fourth of Keene’s novels I’ve read which features Levi Stolzfous, and far and away it’s my favorite of them. He doesn’t show up right away, letting the story set itself up organically, but when he enters the tale, he sort of becomes the focus, though there are several other main players. I really feel this story lent itself to Levi’s character very well and felt like a natural fit that worked really well.

This one is less extreme in its violence than DARK HOLLOW was as well. There is some gore, but it’s minimal, and there are no graphic sex scenes or any of that (I recall a very steamy and graphic lovemaking scene in DH, as well as some very graphic sexual violence), so this story should lend itself well to a more casual reader of horror than its predecessor. I also loved the crossover mentions of characters from my very favorite Keene work–and one of my all-time favorite books period–GHOUL. Easter eggs like that are something I live for, and it was most welcome here.

So, you should definitely read this one. If you haven’t read Dark Hollow, I’d say it’s a good idea to start there, as you’ll have a much greater understanding of the events in this book, however, I don’t feel it’s entirely necessary. There is enough backstory and information in this book to fill in what’s relevant for the story that the reader shouldn’t get lost if they’re ignorant of DH, but I still think it’s a good idea to read them both. DH is a terrific book in its own right, but keep in mind the subject matter and style is quite different between the two. DH borders on extreme horror in some aspects, though I’d say it never quite goes all the way into the sub-genre of “extreme horror”, but GHOST WALK does not tread the extreme at any point. Very different tone between the two, so keep that in mind.

If you like Keene, you’ll enjoy this. If you have NOT read Keene before, this isn’t the one to start with, but it should definitely be included in your first haul from the book store. This is a fine horror story with some terrific characters and manages a thrilling tight-rope walk over the threat of an end of the world apocalypse and a small town chiller. And masterfully so. There’s a reason Keene is considered a master of the genre, and it’s on full display here. Don’t miss it. Find it in print, digital, and audio here.

BOOK REVIEW: Children of the Dark by Jonathan Janz

I read a lot of books, and for the most part, I enjoy what I read a great deal. I’m not a professional reviewer, I don’t get paid for this, it does nothing to help my own standing as an author. I read because I love to read, and I review the books I read because I understand what a monumental thing it is to write a novel. I understand WHY people write stories. And because of that great effort, I think a book deserves to get reviewed when it has been read.

But the truly great joy of reading isn’t when you find a book that you enjoy, or even that you enjoy a great deal. The truly great joy is when you stumble across one of those rare gems that rises so high that all the other books you’ve read for the past several years literally pale in comparison, even including those you gave 5/5 stars to because you enjoyed them so much. Books that set themselves apart as not only “very good”, but genuine literary masterpieces.

CHILDREN OF THE DARK by Jonathan Janz is one such book. If I were to try and make a list of my top ten favorite books of all time, the task would likely prove undoable. However, there are a handful that I always refer to as being in my “Top 5” or “Top 10” favorites of all time. Books like THE SHINING and IT by Stephen King, THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER by Tom Clancy, AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS by H.P. Lovecraft, THE BOOKS OF BLOOD and THE HELLBOUND HEART by Clive Barker, GHOUL by Brian Keene, LORD OF THE FLIES by William Golding, PSYCHO by Robert Bloch. And there are many others. MORE than 10, in fact, but we all know top ten lists are always comprised of many more than their stated number. So, for me, an actual list of my favorite 5 or 10 or you-pick-the-number would be impossible to compile.

What I CAN do, however, is name some books that would be in my top ten, should I ever try and make a list. The ones mentioned above would be among them, but as of finishing this book earlier today, I have another to add to that list. I’m a Janz fanboy, I’ll own it, I’m not ashamed of it. The man writes consistently with a level of quality that is missing from most authors out there, including some of my heroes such as King and Barker and Garton and McCammon, and I’ve become convinced Janz couldn’t write a bad book–or even a MEDIOCRE book–if the lives of all humanity depended on him penning a stinker.

CHILDREN OF THE DARK joins classics such as IT and BOY’S LIFE as fantastic coming-of-age stories, specifically about young men, and in my mind is every bit as good as those. In some ways, better (I always appreciate when an author decides to not include a train-style gang bang of six 11-year-old boys boffing an 11-year-old little girl as a symbol of passing from childhood innocence into young adulthood). The storytelling is quite literally magical in its delivery, not unlike McCammon’s masterful effort in BOY’S LIFE, yet the level of dread and suspense surpass that one and even that of IT, with its sinister cosmic shapeshifter Pennywise in hot pursuit. I felt like the people and the town were people and places I knew, had spent my life in and around, and I was utterly and completely sucked into the story. The teen angst, lust, passion, fears, ALL OF IT rang so true it might have been myself I was reading about on the pages.

And Janz never takes us to the expected places. There were several times in this book–particularly in its latter half–where I was sure, just SURE, that all the characters involved would make it out. Close calls, sure, but they’d make it. Kids can’t die, right? Loving, doting parents don’t get offed, right? People we’ve watched struggle and claw their way to getting their lives in order for the betterment of those around them and who depend on them don’t croak, right? There has to be a joyful, happy ending in all of this horror…


Nope. Not here. There’s literally no point in the story that you can trust one of your favorite characters will pull through. The threat is there, as in any good suspense story, but here, no one is safe. There’s no one you can look at and say, “Yeah, he/she is going to make it and they’ll have a magical forever-after”. The monsters are merciless, the human villains all-too-tangibly real. The menace is a living thing, palpable and touchable, and it keeps coming and coming and coming and you can’t breathe or even think because these characters, these PEOPLE you’ve fallen in love with and care about as much as anyone in your real life, may well die in horrific, life-altering ways right before you as the scenes materialize in your mind and play out like the greatest stage play ever put on in the history of the world.

No, I’m not being over the top. I’m trying to convey to you the stirring and shifting emotions that were conjured within me as I read this wonderful book, one that I now proudly proclaim to be amongst the ten (who’s really counting here?) best novels I’ve ever read in my lifetime. It seems I’m not alone in my praise for this book, as it seems to be widely well received by most who’ve read it. And every bit of that praise has been earned with interest due to the author for creating such a magnificent work of art, that I scratch my head, jaw hanging loosely, wondering how on Earth I–or anyone else, for that matter–could ever create something so profoundly moving and intense all at once, never falling too much to one direction or the other, always maintaining the perfect balance of horror and magic. It was THAT good.

This is the eighth of Janz’s novels I’ve had the pleasure of reading. Before this one, I was always saying THE NIGHTMARE GIRL was his personal best and the one to beat if it could be done. Yet, Janz HAS topped it (I have no idea which he wrote first, I’m merely going on the order in which I read them). And from what I’ve been hearing online, a sequel to this is coming. I have no clue how he could possibly top this one, but I have confidence in the man and his writing. I can’t wait to see what’s coming next, what the Children are doing, and how Will Burgess will confront them this time.

Buy this book. Buy it for yourself, your friends, your neighbors, your local cops, EVERYONE. This is the kind of book that ought to be required reading (if we’re going to make that a thing) for everyone in their early teen years.

I’ll stop here, simply because I’ll embarrass myself with fan-boy gushing if I continue. He’s a favorite author of mine, right along with the titans of the literary world, and I’m fond of all his work. But I’m telling you, this one…THIS one is something extra special. Don’t miss it.

Infinity/5 stars. And yes, I mean that. Find it in print, digital, and audio here.

BOOK REVIEW: Dust Devils by Jonathan Janz

Vampires have taken many forms throughout the centuries since the myth surrounding them came into being. Often they’re portrayed as noble gentlemen, full of charm and chivalry, and more recently they’ve been portrayed as moody teenagers, either rocking torn jeans and leather jackets or–worse–SKINNY jeans and sparkling skin. There’s also a plethora of other types who’ve fallen somewhere between these incarnations, making it clear that the vampire–at least as conjured in the minds of authors and filmmakers at the forefront of popular culture–is capable of shifting its form into many different archetypes as writers strive to keep the mythical creatures relevant and fresh.

For myself, I’ve always preferred the more monstrous imaginings of the beasts. And make no mistake, beasts they certainly are, no matter how they are portrayed or how the unfathomable gold flakes–somehow embedded in their skin and ONLY visible in sunlight–sparkle beneath the open sky. We’re talking about monsters who hunt people and drink their blood. About abominations who force victims to drink blood from their own flesh so as to turn them into immortal creatures of the night, damning their souls and unnaturally sustaining themselves on the flesh and blood of the innocent. Ray Garton’s masterpiece LIVE GIRLS comes to mind when I think of the monstrous vampire, which is still one of my all-time favorite imaginings of these undead fiends. Sex show dancers giving more than just a happy ending to the voyeurs who frequent their establishment, while running a night club which serves its vampiric patrons cocktails of blood while excited partyers are turned horrifically or devoured entirely in the back. THAT is the kind of vampire I like to read about and see in my movies, no matter the popularity of pale heartthrobs with a CGI sheen. You can keep that crap, thank you very much.

In Jonathan Janz’s DUST DEVILS we are treated to the kind of vampire that vampires are SUPPOSED to be: unsympathetic, ruthless, soulless monsters.

We start out right in the thick of the action with our protagonist Cody watching from afar as the vampires roast and devour a family. He soon encounters a young boy named Willet who wants revenge on the monsters for killing his family. Cody too wants revenge because the vampires–who use the cover of a traveling band of actors–have seduced his beautiful but also shallow and cruel wife away from him to become a star in their shows, where she’s ravaged sexually on display for entire towns to watch. It’s 1885, and in the wilds of New Mexico, the law is sparse and no one will believe what the creatures are.

Then the vampires are hunting down Cody and Willet as they flee from town to town, all the while trying to formulate a plan to take them down and kill them all, at any cost.

I’m a HUGE fan of Jonathan Janz. If you follow my reviews either here or on my website, you’re quite aware of that. As this is my seventh outing into the mind of Janz, I’ve come to expect strong characters with real human interactions and pains that elevate the stories above their basic premise and deliver literature that grabs hold of you deep down and pulls at your heartstrings while coating you in a thick film of glorious gore and wince-inducing descriptions of pain and suffering. DUST DEVILS is no different. It starts off with a bang and it never lets up for an instant. The setting in the Old West was perfect for this story, removing widespread communication and the presence of overwhelming law and order from the equation so that we get to focus on our wary hero as he attempts to rise to an occasion he neither wants nor is prepared for. While Janz doesn’t spend too much time on describing the glorious horizons or the gritty landscapes in the way classic westerns tend to do–making the environment another character in the story–I didn’t think it was necessary for this book. It wouldn’t have added much. We all pretty much have a good idea of what the New Mexican desert would have looked like in 1885, and Janz knows this. So instead of retreading that territory and giving us redundant descriptions of what we already know is all around the characters, he keeps the focus on the action and the pursuit. And I, for one, am glad he did so.

There’s hardly a moment to breathe throughout this bloodbath. The pacing was intense and the characters were formed just so to keep things galloping along and providing surprises and twists along the way. Yet, in spite of this breathless pacing, we still get a terrific character study of a young man who feels inadequate and like a failure to his father, his hero. We also get a terrific arc in Willet, the young boy who has lost his entire family and though he is consumed with revenge, is still a sweet boy with a good heart deep down.

There’s also the terrific Marguerite, who comes into the story in its second third and brings a powerhouse female protagonist who helps to bring even further intensity to the story as feelings between her and Cody develop.

Old West Vampires may well be a new favorite iteration of the creatures for me, and their uncompromising viciousness and cruelty is what makes them so strong as antagonists. Nobody cares about vampires hunting deer in the Pacific Northwest, sparkling beneath the sunlit sky, I don’t care HOW many teenage girls squeal and fawn over them and their Native American werewolf competitors! Sigh…that’s another story, though. For DUST DEVILS, we’re treated to a terrific feast of monsters rending the flesh of cowboys and prostitutes and families, and I found it to be purely and absolutely succulent (pun intended).

For fans of vampire novels, jump all over this one. For Westerns, if you can appreciate horror with your wide open skies, dive in. For anyone else, please, for the love of God, develop some frigging taste and start reading Jonathan Janz’s work immediately to cleanse yourself of such fragile sensibilities. And why not start with DUST DEVILS? It isn’t my favorite Janz novel, but that’s hard for me to really explain, because they’ve all been 5-star blockbusters as far as I’m concerned, and this one is no different.

Crack open the canteen of the neck of the person next to, grab a few sips, and read DUST DEVILS. Now. Find it in print, digital, and audiobook here.

BOOK REVIEW: Reception by Kenzie Jennings

Terrific characters and some smart twists send this gory family drama into the stratosphere.

RECEPTION is about Ansley, a woman who’s been trying to ease herself off of Benzo after getting a prescription and getting hooked. She’s estranged from her family, but her little sister Shay is getting married, and Ansley is determined she can be there on her sister’s big day. The event is held at a remote resort, no cell signal, and Ansley isn’t sure if her growing discomfort is from her withdrawals or if something more sinister is going on with her little sister’s new in-laws.

TERRIFIC, ferocious debut novelling follows! This book was funny, quirky, well-written, cleverly plotted, and absolutely merciless. It takes its time setting up the location and the characters, but never in a boring or dragging way. The opening is a great hook, and the following chapters develop characters we care for and get attached to. When the action takes off, it’s explosive and surreal, with gore galore and lots of cringe-worthy moments.

The dialogue worked particularly well, flowing naturally and effortlessly, the way real people talk. More than once there were truly chilling lines delivered from some of the villains, and some great “one-liners” are popped off here and there, which add some levity to the grim proceedings.

And the humor…it’s just a perfect fit here. Without the humor, I’m not sure this story would have worked so well. We all have experienced these issues with family and the drama that develops in them, and watching our heroine smart-ass her way through digs from family and other wedding guests was a delight. Then, when things turn sinister, the jokes continue to come and add a level of absurdity to the proceedings, which heightens the tension, rather than causes it to lag. Kenzie Jennings has a firm grip on how to deftly walk the line with horror and comedy, allowing them to blend here to something absolutely natural and perfectly suited to the proceedings.

There is plenty more I could say as I praise this debut novel from an author we should ALL be keeping our eye on, but I fear I may spoil the story, and I dare not do that to you. It’s just too good, and I don’t want to take from you the joy of experiencing this novel in its fullness. If you like horror, cannibalism, comedy, fish out of water stories, etc., you’ll LOVE this gem from Ms. Jennings. I can’t recommend it enough and urge you to go fetch a couple of copies. Read one, give another away, and pass the word.

THIS is how you release a debut novel…teeth bared and fists swinging. Don’t miss this. Find it in print and digital here.

BOOK REVIEW: Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay

DISAPPEARANCE AT DEVIL’S ROCK by Paul Tremblay is the third novel I’ve read by this author and by far my absolute favorite of his work.

This is an interesting horror story. And it IS a horror story, just not in the buckets of blood, constant big baddie chasing you down the hallway sort. This is subtle horror, and it’s effective. A young teenage boy goes missing, and his mother and sister and the police work to not only find him, but as information and evidence starts coming in, try to understand and make sense of the bizarre events leading up to his disappearance.

I’ve been a fan of Tremblay’s writing style since I first tried him out with CABIN AT THE END OF THE WORLD. I enjoyed that book, but it didn’t make me stand on my chair and proclaim it as the next greatest novel in American literature. I read A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS afterward, and enjoyed it quite a lot, more so than CABIN, but still, not life-changing for me as I’d expected from all the rave reviews. The only times anyone spoke about Disappearance at Devil’s Rock around me, it was usually in a critical sense, as though this book were Tremblay’s nadir…and I couldn’t disagree more. I’m so glad I finally tried this one out because it was the perfect marriage of Tremblay’s style (which I’m a big fan of) with a story that flawlessly meshes with that style.

I was on the edge of my seat throughout. The suspense was palpable, but again, without there being a constant threat of some monster or psychopath looming nearby. The suspense was deeper than that, finding its source in the hearts and minds of the grieving and terrified mother and sister, in how they deal with the information they find, and how (if at all) they pass it on or utilize that information. And then it all leads to a wildly unexpected and shocking event, told from so many different perspectives that I was never totally sure exactly what really happened, and that was the point: neither did anyone else.

It was this masterful approach that makes DISAPPEARANCE work so well. Being inside the minds of the grieving, the information filtered through their skewed and biased perceptions, and for me, it all came together like a beautiful spell of dark magic.

This book has catapulted Paul Tremblay very high on my list of author’s to follow, more so than Cabin or Ghosts. I know everyone loves those books, and I liked them both a good deal, but this one…THIS ONE is the masterpiece. My jaw is still slack. When a book really blows you away, the way you feel after? That’s me.

Can’t be recommended enough, and because this horror doesn’t rely on blood or menace virtually at all, I can safely recommend it to anyone of any stripe. You’ll find yourself engrossed in a human story of tragedy with so many bizarre elements that by the end you’ll find yourself frightened.

5/5 stars. This book is phenomenal. Find it here.

BOOK REVIEW: The Haunted Forest Tour by Jeff Strand and James A. Moore

Jurassic Park with mythological monsters and demons rather than dinosaurs, astoundingly fun!

I’ve read several books by Jeff Strand, but nothing as yet from James A. Moore. I’m going to rectify that soon, as I just had one of the most bang-up fun times a person has any business having with THE HAUNTED FOREST TOUR. Basically, we have a forest spring up in the middle of the desert out of nowhere. It’s infested with monsters of ALL stripes–you name the beast, it lives here–and naturally, a few years later a corporation sets up trams to take people on tours around the forest. Now, for the first time on Halloween, a tour is set to go INSIDE the forest. What could go wrong?

All of it. It ALL goes wrong. But not for the reader, fortunately, as we get to enjoy the carnage of the poor passengers and tour guides and one tough-as-nails tram-driver. Jeff Strand’s humor bleeds through, mostly in the dialogue, with some fantastic laugh out loud lines throughout, and the action never wanes for a second. The authors know how to build suspense and keep the action coming with frenetic energy, and we get to hang on for a wild, awesome ride. The only thing missing was having Arnold Schwarzenegger stroll in wearing camo with cut off sleeves, sporting an obscenely large machine gun, and saying, “Get down!” before lobbing a couple thousand rounds from a magic “everlast” magazine and ‘thwunking’ a few explosives into the foliage through the attached grenade launcher. But, we get pretty damned close.

This is a popcorn book, and it was never meant to take itself too seriously, and because of that this story is total over-the-top fun from beginning to end. A book doesn’t need to make you think philosophically or fundamentally challenge your worldview to good; first and foremost it should entertain, and Jeff Strand and James A. Moore deliver the fun with buckets of blood and a barage of gunfire and myriad monsters, which will leave any fan of action movies and suspense/horror stories cheering for more.

Gobs of fun (and all other kinds of fun) to be had here, don’t miss this! Great summer read.

5/5 stars. Find it in print, digital, and audio here.

BOOK REVIEW: Night of 1,000 Beasts by John Palisano

A fun, lightning-paced bloodbath on a mountain in Colorado.

This was a really enjoyable romp of wild horror. Some friends go skiing in Colorado, and after an avalanche, they start seeing different sorts of animals which seem to be hybrids with humans. And they’re big and mean and have sharp teeth and claws as well.

The monsters are varied and the action literally never stops throughout, not letting you breathe. This book relies on its premise more than it does its characters to compel the reader, but it works, and that isn’t to say the characters are uninteresting. They are. It’s just that the story is king here, and keeps things clipping along at a few light-years per second, all the way to the final pages.

Like horror? Don’t miss it. If you’re not into horror, the gore and savage fights to the death may not sit well with you, but I’d say buck up and read it anyway. It’s a whole lot of fun. Find it in print, digital, and audio here.

BOOK REVIEW: The Silence by Tim Lebbon

Really cool and emotionally driven snapshot of the beginning of a new and frightening world.

I’d had THE SILENCE on my radar for some time but hadn’t pulled the trigger yet mostly because I just had so many books on my TBR list and something else seemed to be in front of it for some time. When the movie landed on Netflix, I had tentatively decided not to watch it until I had a chance to read the book. Well, my wife is a fan of horror and thriller movies, and enough people were buzzing about this one that I relented and we watched the movie. It was good. Very well made and had some great suspenseful scenes. It was inevitably being compared to A QUIET PLACE because of the similarity of theme, but I felt they were both very different stories that stood on their own, people can pick their favorites.

So, after seeing the film, I finished up a couple books I was reading and got THE SILENCE to read. VERY glad I did. The movie was good, the book is an instant classic. The family unit in the story and the shifting POV from the daughter to the father was a perfect approach to tell this frighteningly realistic take on a world overrun by monsters. The characters felt like a real family, people we care about, and they never once took a false step or did anything that seemed unreasonable or unrealistic to who they were. The dialogue was damn near perfect. And the pacing was a masterclass in building suspense.

By the end of the novel, I was grinning ear to ear. Nothing about the book knocked me out of my chair. There were no twists that came in and turned everything on its head and made my mind reel. It’s not that kind of story. But what it shows is so frighteningly real and plausible, that I started looking around in the trees and powerlines for “vesps” perched and listening. THAT is how effective the story and the writing within this book was for me.

Excellent writing, great characters, and an all too plausible vision of an apocalyptic overrun of the world by creatures never meant to see the light of day. If any of that appeals to you, don’t skip this one. If you’re looking for a balls to the wall Mad Max style horror story, look elsewhere. This one scares you because it makes it all too real.

5/5, highly recommended. And I might even say this is one to check out in movie form first, which is never my normal recommendation. I feel like I’d have enjoyed the movie less had I read the book first. As it was, I was able to appreciate each one much more for the order I read them in.

Find the book in print, digital, or audiobook here.

BOOK REVIEW: House of Skin by Jonathan Janz

What is this one, the sixth Jonathan Janz book I’ve read? I can’t remember off hand at the moment, but that sounds accurate. And if you’re waiting with bated breath for me to come across one of his works I don’t think was just absolutely terrific (all his others I’ve read have been 5-star gems for me), keep waiting. It hasn’t happened yet.

In this outing, Janz treats us to a family outcast with dreams of writing the next great American novel. His uncle Myles Carver has passed away, and though he never knew the man, Paul has inherited his estate. He moves to the house–Watermere–with aspirations to break free of the family banking business and establish himself as his own man his own way and write a great book. Only, it doesn’t really come together for him…at least not consciously.

Paul meets Julia after a time and is instantly taken with her. Her beauty is stunning and his recent breakup with his girlfriend has him longing for companionship. But when she reads the pages of something he doesn’t remember reading–a horrifying novel which is basically a retelling of horrific events in their town of Shadeland from decades past which he could NOT have known about–she throws the pages in his face in a fit of disgust and rage Paul isn’t able to understand. Their budding relationship is already crumbling, and the strange happenings in the house and the nearby woods have Paul reeling.

As local thugs harass him and he begins piecing together his family’s past–and that of Watermere–Paul comes to realize a horrible truth about the past and the unknown members of his family. Lust and passions rise as an almost immortal creature in the form of a beautiful succubus named Annabel–with connections to his uncle and to Julia–comes crawling out of the past seeking blood and rebirth.

This one read very much like a haunted house story in many parts, made all the more apparent by the main character reading through Peter Straub’s GHOST STORY early in the tale. But it’s much more than that. Weaving in snippets of the past with multiple characters over several decades, Janz knits together a tightly plotted gothic tale of lust and terror through his singular command of prose. We can feel the desperation in both Paul and Julia, as well as that of several of the sideline characters, as the horror builds with the suspense and onion layers of information from the past and the present peel back to reveal the abominable evil coming forth in the story. And man, does it pack a wallop!

As with his other works, Janz draws believable characters who make decisions that seem fully authentic and who come across likable or despicable, depending on which we’re discussing. You give a damn what happens to them, as you might a friend or relative, and he successfully has us rooting for them all the way to the bitter, blood-soaked end.

The setting was effectively creepy, the situations organic, be them absurd in moments or terrifying, and the descriptions spot on. As in all his other works, Janz once more managed to make me squirm in my seat as I read with his vivid narrative voice, though this time not so much from a description of pain, but one of gag-inducing horror (sex and maggots do NOT mate for a pretty picture!).

Yeah, yeah, I’m a fan of Janz. Sue me. The man writes excellent horror novels…no, scratch that, I’m not putting him in a box. He writes excellent NOVELS. Period. He has all the talent of King and Barker combined, and he couples this with the electric and breathless pacing that Dean Koontz is famous for in some of his earlier work, creating a voice and style all his own and utterly engaging. I’ve said it before (probably more than once), and I’ll say it again: JONATHAN JANZ IS THE NEXT BIG DEAL IN HORROR! It’s only a matter of time before we see him explode into the stratosphere and everyone from Hollywood to Bollywood is clawing for the film rights to his work. Mark my words.

And you know what? I don’t even think we’ve seen his best work yet. They say that often the best writers only get better at their craft over time, and I feel Janz in certainly in that category. This particular book is one his older ones (perhaps even his first being reprinted recently, though I’m not certain of that), but I’ve read enough to see a growth and progression to his work that is unmistakable. I can’t wait for more.

Perhaps the greatest praise I could give another author would be to predict that, long after they’ve passed from this world to the next, their work will live on, continue to be sought after for use in other mediums, and have a lasting impact on history and literature. Think of Stoker, Poe, Machen, Matheson, Irving, Bloch, and many others. Jonathan Janz will ABSOLUTELY stand amongst them. And he deserves it. Buy it in print, digital, or audio here.

May 2019 Newsletter is out!

This is just a brief notification to let anyone know who follows me here to be sure and sign up for my monthly newsletter. May’s just went out this morning. On the home page and on the contact page (and maybe a couple others?), if you scroll down toward the bottom, you’ll find the link to sign up. Then you’re all set to get the news from me every month on what’s happening in my little world. Some (many, actually) announcements will be listed here as they happen, but the newsletter has more information and links, so don’t skip out on it. It also has links to all my social media and everywhere you can follow me. Take care, and thanks for checking in!


BOOK REVIEW: Rotten Little Things by Justin M. Woodward

Another terrifically creepy outing for Justin M. Woodward!

Monica suffers from schizophrenia, but her husband Jacob and son Zack help her keep herself focused on the fact that the tall man she sees haunting her day and night isn’t really there. But one episode after another, a change of medication, and an unexpected pregnancy help to send her reeling into a spiraling well of madness from which even those who love her most may not be able to pull her out of.

This is book two in the Tamer Animals series by Woodward, which also has a crossover with his novel The Variant. If you’ve read the other books in his bibliography, you’ll feel right at home here in the south with the whispers of evil and cults and Satan worship in the woods. The imagery in this novella was stark and compelling, the characters people we could really care about and root for, and of course, it has the Woodward twists that catch us totally unawares and leave us on our backs, gasping as we race ahead for more.

An excellent entry in the series, and an excellent novella all around. Fans of Woodward will not be disappointed, and newcomers may find a new favorite to keep their eye on as he continues to release more material. I know I have, and I can’t recommend him, or this book, enough. Get it in print, digital, and audio here

BOOK REVIEW: Notches by M. Ennenbach

Once in a great while, we stumble across a work of literature that transcends not only our expectations but genre and definability itself. NOTCHES by M. Ennenbach is one of those works, and it cannot be stressed enough that reading this collection will not only entertain you, but it will awe you as well.

The collection starts off with a story of subtle horror with BLUE. It’s a quiet piece, and while it’s short and fast-paced, it also manages to work as a slow burn, and by the end, we are not quite sure what has befallen our protagonist entirely, but we feel his pain and loss as we read his words to his sweet love some distant place away. With NOISES we are treated to a masterful and beautiful tale of love lost and a life felt to have been wasted. We can see the life was indeed NOT wasted, but we understand and care for the character so deeply that we feel his pain as uniquely as if it were our own. The ending is at once heartwarming and horrifying as the rug is pulled from under us in what can only be described as a masterclass in misdirection literature. We even have an epic poem on offer here with PERSEPHONE, as gods and humans mingle and search for love and the sacrifices we make for desire.

WINDOWS is a standout with a look into the mind of a broken person, broken by life and those who should love him the most, and where that might lead a person. But keep in mind, your experiences are never alone and unique to you in this world. The final three stories are comedies, dark comedies, and you’ll find yourself doubling over with laughter at the deadpan genius of these tales. COFFEE TRIO is perhaps my new favorite short-story of all time, about a man in love with coffee, and his dealings with an unfortunate tweaker along with three major points in his life. Simply brilliant doesn’t cover how wonderful this story is.

And there’s several more. NONE of the tales in these pages are yawners. Not a single one. I am typically a very slow reader, even when I quite enjoy a book. It’s why I listen to so many audiobooks. It usually takes me a long time to finish a physical book. Not the case with NOTCHES. Putting the book down was not only difficult but at times damn near impossible! The stories, the characters, the dialogue (more on this in a minute) are all masterfully orchestrated works of art, culminating in stories that transcend and defy genre entirely.

Speaking of the dialogue, the last two stories are quite heavy with it. In fact, the next to last story is ENTIRELY dialogue, no descriptors outside of what the characters are saying at all, and it was brilliant. At no point are you lost or confused or lacking information to formulate a clear picture in your mind. The last story is likewise done, and equally masterful. This is evidence of an author who, while new on the scene, has an absolute grasp on their craft and is flexing their literary muscles to a jaw-dropping extent, all without ever seeming to break a sweat.

So, it’s obvious I’m a fan of both M. Ennenbach and NOTCHES. There simply isn’t a negative critique I can give to this book. Death’s Head Press has picked up another gem with this collection, their first to be released as a newly formed Press, and it could not have been hit further out of the park. I encourage you to get this on your Kindle or snatch up a paperback as soon as you can, and dive into what I’m calling the VERY BEST collection of 2019, and quite possibly well beyond. I don’t see this one being topped anytime soon, that is, unless Mr. Ennenbach decides to drop another one on us soon. And I’m praying he does.

I can’t wait for more from M. Ennenbach. I’ll be snatching up anything and everything he releases henceforth if it even contains a modicum of the brilliance NOTCHES contains. I don’t think the man knows how to write a bad sentence. And for this to be a debut release, well…I can’t imagine what we’re in store for in the future.

Brilliant author. Brilliant collection. Brilliant stories. Incredibly good writing. 11 out of 5 stars. Get yourself a copy and discover what I have: the best new writer on the scene. On ANY scene. Pick it up in print and digital here.


For any of my fans and followers who’ve been keeping up with my blog here or my monthly newsletter, you’re probably aware that in late February my agent began submitting my novel THE DAMNED PLACE, the first of a trilogy, to publishers. We sent it out to Flame Tree Press, Severed Press, Haverhill House, Crystal Lake Publishing, Beacon, and a half-dozen others. We gave it a full two months, basing the time on Flame Tree’s alleged turn-around on their website submissions page. Once that time had passed, we started nudging all the presses we sent the manuscript to, gently reminding them of who I am and inquiring about where my manuscript stood in the process. For a week, we got no response. Anyone who has been traditionally published understands the need for patience, but also understands the frustration of waiting and waiting and waiting, hoping to find out something one way or another on the work you’ve invested so much time and energy into, just hoping someone will look at it and give it a legitimate chance.

It’s honestly like waiting for the stars to align just so in the heavens, for just the right press, at just the right time, with just the right editor happening to look at your work at the right moment in their lives where your story really connects with them. That’s one reason why it’s so difficult to get forward in this business, because you’re up against so much competition and so much of it depends wholly on good luck and better timing.

Well, yesterday, May 3, 2019, it would seem a few stars aligned for me. The venerable Nicholas Grabowsky of Black Bed Sheet Books (check them out here), with  the unwavering encouragement of my agent Becky, decided to take a look at THE DAMNED PLACE.

We signed a contract last night for BBS to publish my novel, the one which I call my current Magnum Opus, the first part of a wild trilogy which establishes a huge multi-universe in my literary world. I could not be more excited. This is a BIG deal for me, and I’m hoping and praying and crossing my fingers that it does well enough to justify the second book coming through the same press. It’s already written, ready to go.

So that’s my news! I’m going to be a Black Bed Sheet author with my best work to date. They receive something close to 500 submissions every year during the small window of time they are open to them, and only publish roughly 10 of those titles every year. And I managed to be one of them. I’m humbled and honored and flabbergasted all at once. We haven’t gotten any details on release, if it will be this year or next, but of course, you’ll be the first to know once I do. I’m super excited about all of this, and if you’re as thrilled as I am, don’t forget to check out my other work in the meantime before THE DAMNED PLACE hits shelves!

Find my other work here, and let’s raise our glasses to the future!

BOOK REVIEW: The Dark Game by Jonathan Janz

My fifth foray into the mind of Jonathan Janz was, as I’ve come to expect from this author, worth every penny.

We have a group of writers here called to a secret retreat by an eccentric author who, while not prolific, has won every award there is, not to mention fortune and adoring fame. The game is fairly simple: all the authors have to write something completely new and fresh, and it must be in the horror genre. Problem is, most of them aren’t horror authors. Yet, with a guaranteed publishing contract with one of the Big 5 houses in New York, and a $3,000,000 prize, no one is eager to walk away.

But nothing is as it seems. As the bodies start piling up, and the remaining contestants start to piece together what’s happening, all while dealing with haunting shame and guilt for their past sins, the eccentric host is slowly revealed to be something much more sinister than merely a condescending and cruel critic.

What can I say about Janz’s writing I haven’t before? I’m not sure I’m able to be fully original when speaking of his work since discovering him, so forgive me if I fall on a few tropes here. The man is, quite simply, one of the best in the business. And that’s the God’s honest truth. I’ve long been a fan of several names you’ll find quite familiar: Stephen King, Clive Barker, Joe Hill, Robert McCammon, Dean Koontz, etc., etc. You know all those names and like me, are probably tired of hearing them all the time (though we all seem to run out and snatch up their latest releases…well, all but Koontz, but you get my point). Jonathan Janz is not only worthy of their company, he rises above them in many ways. His stories are always original, his characters always fully realized, and his prose always pitch-perfect. I could go on, but I’m no gusher (*radio from HQ squawks* “Chris Miller is a liar, over…”).

One thing Janz has managed to do to me with all his work I’ve had the pleasure of devouring is make me squirm in my seat. Whether through descriptions of things which are horrifyingly painful or merely uncomfortable, or in many cases LITERALLY scaring (something very hard to do to me with a book), Janz knows how to use his pen to evoke feeling and emotion, and he does so effectively here. Seriously, TRY reading this or another of his books without moaning and shifting your seated position at least once due to what’s on the page. I dare you.

So, should horror fans check out THE DARK GAME? What are you, an idiot? Of COURSE they should! Horror fans can’t go wrong with him. Should NON-horror fans check him out? Again, your stupid is showing. Yes, EVERYONE, of ANY persuasion should check into his work. While it may be horror, this is not just buckets of gore and creepy shadows. This is a real story about real people thrust into a terrifying situation where the past that’s been haunting you is finally catching up…and no one is safe from or immune to it. That’s a human story ANYONE can connect with. And I encourage you to do so.

5/5 stars once more to Jonathan Janz for THE DARK GAME…it may be a trope for me to praise the man, but sometimes the tropes are true. Be sure to get the book in digital, print, or audiobook here.


So, ACX (audiobook creation exchange) has lied to me on the past two audiobooks I’ve had produced. When I commissioned the great Tim Halligan to narrate TRESPASS (available here) back in early December, he knocked it out in little over a week. I approved it and it went to QC over two weeks before Christmas, at which time ACX declared (as they have on all my audiobooks) that it will go from QC to then be prepared for retail at Audible, iTunes, and Amazon. The whole process should take 10-14 days. Well, liar-liar, pants on fire, it FINALLY became live in very LATE January of this year. They blamed it on the Holidays, and I gave them a pass. Well, in late February/early March I commissioned the equally great Daniel Caravetta to narrate THE HARD GOODBYE. He assured me he would have it done by the end of March, and he made good on his word (as well as doing a phenomenal job on the production). It was approved and sent to QC and retail preparation at the beginning of April. I’m a bit of an obsessive type, so I would go and check on the production page daily–usually multiple times daily–despite my knowledge that as soon as it goes live they would be emailing me to let me know. None of that matters to an obsessive, of course, and I charged ahead checking and refreshing the page throughout April, keeping my anxiety level at a fever-pitch and chipping away at my already whithering patience. Then, FINALLY, last night about 6PM (April 22, 2019), I get the EMAIL from ACX letting me know my title was live on Audible, iTunes, and Amazon!

Now, some perspective…

This is the fourth audiobook I’ve commissioned, and the fifth that my work is featured in (my pal Nicholas Catron commissioned the anthology he put together Killers Inside with my short story IN THE HOUSE, which you can find here) and they have varied in length considerably. The first I had commissioned was A MURDER OF SAINTS (available here), narrated by Tim Halligan like TRESPASS was. This is my longest published work to date, and the overall length of the audiobook was 11 hours and 40 minutes. The second audiobook I commissioned was my short story FLUSHED (available here), narrated by the wonderful SW Salzman. This one came in at just 34 minutes total. In BOTH cases–representing my longest and shortest works in audio respectively–from the moment I hit “approve audiobook” to the time it was live and for sale, no more than 9 days passed. Well within the 10-14 days promised. TRESPASS took close to a month and a half, despite only being 2 hours and 11 minutes long. And while THE HARD GOODBYE came through faster than TRESPASS did, it still took every bit of 22 days, despite being merely 4 hours and 53 minutes long. And this time, the only holidays involved were Good Friday and Easter. While I find these holidays absolutley legitimate, I’m fairly certain ACX doesn’t do much of anything on weekends, and I’m sure they’re heathens anyway, so that doesn’t count as an excuse.

But what are you gonna do? If you want to have an audiobook produced and have it distributed on Audible and iTunes (by FAR the largest markets for audiobooks), there isn’t much in the way of other options BUT to go through ACX, especially if you’re a nobody slub like me. So, I grit my teeth and bear it, and keep pumping content out. Despite all my frustrations and the lengthy process of having audiobooks produced to compete in this ultra-fast-growing market, I’m proud to announce that THE HARD GOODBYE is available on Audible, iTunes, and Amazon, and you can get it now right here! Daniel Caravetta is a fantastic narrator, and after checking out his work on THE HARD GOODBYE, you should check out his work on THEM written by my friend James Watts here. I suspect he is going to become one of the great readers of our time, and a highly sought after talent. I count myself lucky to have had the opportunity to have worked with him.

And that’s about all for now, folks. No new news on submissions for THE DAMNED PLACE yet, and THE DAMNED ONES is still with the editor. I’ve written a new short-story for an upcoming anthology, but that one isn’t coming for many months, perhaps not before next year, so I’ll save the details on that one for later, except to say it is my first foray into Lovecraftian Horror, and I think you’re going to really dig it. I’m also about a quarter to a third into a splatter western novella a publisher approached me about writing, and it’s coming along beautifully. More on that one later when I can release the details.

You guys and ghouls take care, and don’t forget to check out my entire library of work, all available in Kindle, all but one in paperback, and five of which availible in audio. It’s all right here.



Well, we’re sitting here at that stage in the writing and publishing process I call “limbo”. THE DAMNED PLACE has been out for submissions for over a month now, still no word back from any of the publishers. This isn’t unusual, of course. This part of the process often takes more time than writing the novel takes, but still, it’s a source of misery for any author out there. When you get your book finished and polished and edited, you’re eager to get it out there, see available for others to read, to start getting the public feedback. At least I’m that way, anyhow. And even when it gets picked up and you sign a contract, it’s usually still anywhere from 6 to 18 months before it’s released. You can compare the process to watching grass grow. Only slower.

Meanwhile, the sequel, THE DAMNED ONES, is finished and I’m working on revisions. There’s a good liklihood I’ll have it finished this weekend, or by the following at the latest. Then it will go to the editor to make it ready for submissions. My hope is that by the time it comes back from the editor, I’ll know something on the first book from one of the publishers. If it gets picked up, then I can let them know I have a sequel ready to send over to them. If not, well, we’ll just keep chugging along and find it a home eventually. It’s a long and arduous journey from typing that first word to seeing the finished product in print, and we’re at the longest section of that journey now. I know some of my fans have been following my updates about these books for some time now, some as far back as August of 2016 when I started writing these two beasts which were originally intended to be one long novel that finally grew far beyond what was feasible to have in a single tome. I’ll continue keeping folks updated along the way here and in my newsletter (which I hope you’ll sign up for here on my website). In the meantime, click here or the “books” section above and peruse my current offerings with links to all. There’s plenty there to keep your blood running cold. 😉

As a side note, THE HARD GOODBYE’s audiobook is complete and in the QC department with Audible. It should be available for download in the next couple of weeks, three at the outset. Daniel Caravetta, who narrated THEM (the incredible debut novel from James Watts, which I highly recommend and is available here) handled the narration here, and he did the finest job I think anyone in the world could have done. Just fantastic. I really think you’re going to enjoy this dark little gem, and can’t wait to have it available in audio now.

So, that’s pretty much it, guys and gals. I’ll check back in when the audiobook is out and when I have updates on my other work. I’m going to be busy for the next several years with lots of new projects, a couple of which I’ll be co-authoring with some other amazing writers. More to come on that down the road. In the meantime, take a look at the promotional cover I had made for THE DAMNED PLACE. If you like what you see, and are looking for a great cover to be made or any kind of graphic arts work to be done, look up Becky Narron on Facebook. She does a fine job!


BOOK REVIEW: Apostate by Nicholas Catron

APOSTATE by Nicholas Catron is a fast-paced, wickedly fun urban fantasy which rubs elbows heavily with horror.

Asher is an apostate. The Prophet, the one all of humanity serves, is actually the anti-Christ, and when Asher discovers incontrovertible proof of this, he leaves the Inquisition, a group of heavily trained gestapos who serve the Prophet and keep his laws enforced. Any religion which doesn’t serve the Prophet has been outlawed. The Bible has been outlawed. Everyone has an RFID chip in their wrist or forehead with which they are tracked and use to spend credits. But there is also a resistance, and a young hacker stumbles across information which can bring the anti-Christ down and usher in the second coming of Jesus.

But everyone is after it now. Only Asher, who feels weak and unqualified, can help Maria, the young Hacker. But standing in his way is the hot on their heels Inquisition and a multitude of demons walking the earth. It seems even God has abandoned Asher, but when the time comes to fight, he finds a strength he never knew he had.

Talk about a bang-up fun time! I enjoy a good urban fantasy, and the mixture here with biblical lore and wild demons is about as much fun as a person can stand. The action takes off right away, and you’ll be hard pressed finding a place to slow down and breathe for a second. It just doesn’t stop. On display here is Catron’s liquid prose which I’ve been a fan of for some time now, but also a character in Asher that has a major transformation in his arc, making him all the more compelling. He’s weak, unsure, bumbling sometimes, but as the story progresses he changes and becomes something more and rises to the occasion to save the day.

There is some spectacular gore inside as well. I’m a horror guy, and while this story isn’t really a horror story, there are scenes within which certainly fall into that category nicely. The relentless action keeps your knuckles white, and the characters are likable (sometimes hatable) and relatable.

There’s not enough good to be said about APOSTATE. It’s an original story within the confines of familiar subject matter. It’s lightning-paced. It’s exciting throughout. And it’s the ONLY place I’ve seen a demon and a human have…an intimate moment? All seconds before a fight to the death!

Don’t pass this one up. Settle in for a fun read you won’t regret. APOSTATE hits all the right notes.


Since I’m a technological ninkumpoop, I’ve been posting “blogs” completely wrong on my site here. So thankfully, I’ve figured out (quite by accident) how to properly do this, so I’ll come along once in a while and drop samples and book reviews and rants and thoughts and whatever else here, and you’ll actually get notified now. God help me in this digital age…and I’m not even OLD! God help me when I am.

So, keep your eyes peeled. I’ll be around.

PROLOGUE from THE DAMNED PLACE, coming soon!


November 19, 1989

Chester Laughton paid no attention to the smell.

It was there, and it wasn’t as though he couldn’t smell it, it was simply not registering in his mind as odd. It should have been registering, though. It was a subtle kind of awful. Underneath the smell of the rotting leaves and damp earth. The carcasses of innumerable insects and small animals. Even the trees themselves seemed to be more rotten here than the rest of the woods.

Sure, you could always find dead trees in the woods. You didn’t even have to look that hard. They’d be scattered about, here and there, limbs broken off and hanging at forty-five degree angles from the splintered joint, the fingers of branches in a frozen, eternal grip of the dirt.

But here it was different. Almost all of the trees, dead. Or at least dying. Well on their way to joining their wooded brethren in stoic afterlife.

Chester glanced around. He still wasn’t paying any attention to that smell. Beneath the surface of the rest, but only just.

After assuring himself his buddy Mike wasn’t around, he produced a small stainless steel flask out of the inside pocket of his hunting vest. He twisted the top and flipped it over on its hinge. He glanced once more all around to see if Mike had wandered back into his area.

He hadn’t.

Chester grinned to himself, an involuntary reaction to the excitement of ingesting whiskey. He turned the flask up and arched his back as he guzzled down two big gulps of the amber drink. His eyes watered slightly as the evening sun pierced through the treetops and landed on his gaze. Also from the whiskey.

It was stout stuff.

He brought his head back down after the gulps and issued a satisfied sigh, replete with smacking lips and a weathered tongue that lapped any excess alcohol off his shaggy gray facial hair.

He recapped his flask and replaced it in his pocket. He gave his vest a pat over the area the flask rested, like thanking an old friend for being there for you when you really needed someone to listen. Then he pulled his rifle off of his shoulder and swung it around to a more ready position. Muzzle down. Loose grip. Safety on.

Chester was fifty years old. He stood at five feet and ten inches, and the girth of his ever-expanding belly rounded him out to appear to make that measurement seem almost spherical. His beard, which hung from his face in a scattered, mad-scientist abandon, hung from his chin to just above his ample male bosom. He was wearing camouflage overalls and an orange hunting vest and cap. He was carrying his favorite hunting rifle that day, the Winchester .30-.30, with a large, black Bushnell scope mounted to the top.

He and Mike had risen early that morning and spent the pre-dawn hours making their way into the woods. It was only about two miles outside of their little town of Winnsboro, Texas. But the hunting was typically damn good here. Deer and rabbits especially seemed to like to call the place home. They’d parked their trucks on the side of an old dirt-top road, half in the ditch, half out, and made their way into the darkened forest.

They’d made out OK, too, that morning. Mike had bagged a six-point buck, and Chester had shot a couple of rabbits. The .30-.30 was way overkill for the rabbits, so he had aimed for the head. The first one he’d hit a little below the target and turned what could have been a nice stew into nothing more than a pink mist and a furry red spot. The second had been on target, though. Head gone, body intact.


On the first rabbit, his hands had been shaking. He hadn’t had a drink yet that day to really get him going. He remedied that promptly, his hands steadied off, and his aim had become more true.

They’d cleaned their morning kills back at Mike’s house and packed the meat into a couple of large coolers with ice. Then they’d headed back out after a few afternoon beers before the evening hunt. Chester hadn’t called his wife to let her know where he was or when to expect him. There was no reason to. He was the man of the house. And he’d had to remind her and their boy of that again the night before.

He had put about eighteen beers in his gut after three heavy glasses of Kentucky Deluxe whiskey. It was cheap stuff, but it was strong and it got the job done. His wife was watching some shit on the television in their single-wide trailer home that he’d cared nothing about. He had wanted to watch the evening football scores. He had a few bets down with the guys at The Whet Whistle, the bar on the edge of town. She hadn’t wanted to change the channel. She’d been very interested in the show she had on. Some cooking nonsense with fancy spices and some faggot in a white hat with a sissy voice.

“Can’t you check them tomorrow in the paper?” Cheryl Laughton had asked him. “I don’t wanna miss this.”

“I’ll check it tonight on the TV,” Chester barked at her as he snatched the remote off the arm of the couch where she was sitting. “Nobody gives a shit about these faggot dinners.”

Cheryl frowned and looked to the floor in deep frustration.

“They ain’t faggot dinners, Chester, they’re fine meals,” she said, her Southern drawl flattening out her I’s and further simplifying her contractions. “I bet you’d like them if you try them sometime!”

“Bet you’d like my cock in your asshole if you tried it sometime, but you ain’t doing that neither, so shut the fuck up.”

Cheryl stood from her position on the couch. Her teeth were clenched. “You’re such a bastard, Chester Laughton!” she yelled at him. “I can’t never do nothing I want!”

Chester grinned. His chest rose and fell in quick succession as he quietly chuckled, never looking at her. He was staring at the television.

“Can’t never my ass,” he said as the laugh died off. He was still staring at the TV. “Can’t never make a real dinner ‘round here, neither. Can’t never pick up the goddamn clothes. Can’t never pick my whiskey up at the store. Just what in the hell do you do around here all day, anyhow?”

He still hadn’t been looking at her.

She shook her head and clenched her fists closed and opened them again and again.

“You go fuck yourself, Chester. You sure as shit ain’t fuckin’ me tonight, you fat drunk!”

She’d moved to go around him and back into the kitchen. He still wasn’t looking at her. Wasn’t even seeming to acknowledge her.

As she’d gone past him, she knocked the beer in his hand out of his grasp and it tumbled to the floor. Foam and piss-colored liquid splashed out onto the carpet.

Her eyes went wide suddenly.

“I’m sorry, Chester!” she’d said quickly. “I’ll clean it up!”

Now Chester was looking at her.

“You damn right you will, you bitch!” he screamed. “You’re gonna clean it up, alright!”

He’d grabbed her at the base of her neck, squeezing tightly on the soft area beneath her skull. Then he’d swung her around and threw her to the floor. Her face was right over where the beer had spilled.

“Clean it up, bitch!” he screamed.

He grabbed a wad of her hair and started rubbing it into the floor, mopping the beer with it as he did.

“You clean it up, good!”

Cheryl had begun crying at that point.

He shoved her hair around in the beer a few more times then stood up and kicked her in the ribcage. All the air in her lungs blew out in a pitiful gasp. Tears were streaming down her face now, and snot and phlegm dripped from her nose and mouth in strings. She had begun to cough.

“Goddamn whore,” Chester had said and spit on her. He’d turned from her and headed to the kitchen. Down the hall past the kitchen, their son’s bedroom door opened. Ryan Laughton stood in the doorway, staring at his father. There’d been a mixture of fear and fury in his boy’s eyes. Chester could see the faint twinkle of tears in the corners of his son’s eyes.

“Get back to bed, boy,” Chester had snapped at him and pointed to the door beyond him. “You ain’t supposed to be up.”

“I heard momma scream, daddy,” Ryan had said.

“You mind your business, son!” Chester barked at him. “Now get your ass in bed!”

But Ryan hadn’t.

To Chester’s bewilderment, his son had defied him and stepped into the hallway and marched right past him and went to his mother, completely ignoring his father.

Chester had watched him go, his mouth agape and eyes wide in furious wonder.

“You OK, momma?” Ryan had asked as he reached her and knelt beside her. “Are you hurt?”

“Get the fuck back in bed, I told ya!” Chester screamed.

Ryan’s mother raised herself up on an elbow and wiped the snot and tears from her face. Then she put a hand on Ryan’s arm.

“Do what your father says, baby,” she’d said to him. “Go get in bed. I’m alright.”

But Ryan had shook his head.

“You don’t look alright,” he said, and glared at his father.

Ryan was eleven years old, and already was as tall as his mother’s five feet and four inches. He was big too. Not like his father, with slabs of fat hanging and bloating every which way. Ryan was strong. He played outside most days after school and enjoyed physical education at school. His young body was muscular and one day he would be someone to be reckoned with.

Unfortunately, he thought he already was.

Ryan had stood quickly, his hands clenching into fists. His eyes bore into his father’s.

“Don’t you touch her again!” he’d shouted.

Chester had laughed out loud at this. He’d turned from his son and opened the refrigerator and fetched himself a beer to replace the one in the carpet and Cheryl’s hair. As he turned back towards them, however, grasping the twist top to open his brew, Ryan was suddenly there. He’d swung a fist at his father and caught him across his left cheek. Wasn’t a bad hit either, Chester remembered. It had hurt.

But it also had pissed him off.

Chester proceeded to smack the bottle in his hand across his son’s face, bloodying his nose and mouth. When Ryan had hit the floor, Chester kicked him in the stomach three times.




Then he opened his beer. Cheryl had been screaming and crying again, her arm reaching towards her son. Some foam from the disturbed beer spewed up from the lip of the bottle as he opened it. He had held the beer over his son and let it rain on his gasping and bloody face.

“Be sure you clean that up, you little son of a whore,” he’d said in a measured and calm tone.

Then he’d gone to bed.

When he rose that morning, Cheryl had been lying next to him and Ryan had been in his bed. Both had cleaned up the spills and themselves. They’d been right where they were supposed to be, and he knew they always would be. Sometimes wives and kids needed lessons, and he considered himself a pretty good teacher.

Now, he and Mike were out in the woods for their afternoon hunt. The sun was dipping low on the horizon and daylight would be gone before long. They had less than an hour before they would need to be back at the truck to get going at last light.

Chester looked around again, knowing Mike didn’t mind drinking but didn’t appreciate being in the woods with someone carrying a loaded deer-rifle and drinking alcohol. But he didn’t see Mike anywhere, so he repeated his moves from earlier.

Rifle slung onto shoulder.

Dig out flask.

Open top.

Drink liberally.


He issued another sigh of satisfaction and took a deep breath. He could smell the whiskey coming off his breath and his beard. He could smell the leaves, the trees, the smells of the woods. He could smell the…

What the hell is that? he thought.

He finally noticed the smell. It was subtle. It almost seemed to blend in with the rest of the scent of the woods. Almost like it belonged. The dead leaves. The damp earth. The rotting branches and trunks. Dead insects and animals.

And this other thing.

He looked around, trying to identify where it was coming from. He sniffed at the air like a dog for nearly a minute before deciding it was coming from his left. He began to move that direction.

Twenty feet. Thirty. Fifty.

The smell was getting stronger. Whatever it was, he was on the right trail now.

He moved further into the woods in the direction of the smell. He was faintly aware of the fact that he was moving further and further away from the road, their trucks, and that the sun was going down faster now. He needed to find Mike and start heading back.


He pushed the branches of a mostly dead dogwood tree out of his way and stepped around it. Ahead, he could make out the shape of…of a…

A house?

He stepped closer now, squinting his eyes in the diminishing light. It was definitely an old house. The woods had grown up around it, all the way up to it on all sides. It was an old, dilapidated place. He guessed it had been built in the late 1800s, possibly the early 1900s, but no sooner. Lots of rotting wood on the sides adorned the place, and the windows were mostly busted out, however, a few still had panes in them. Some were only half missing, their sharp, razor-like pieces standing there like threats.

Come on in. I dare you.

Chester was aware of the thought, the words, but had no idea where it had come from. He had no desire to go inside the house. He only wanted to find his friend and get the hell out of there before it got too dark to find their way back. But still, he’d heard it. It was there. In his head, but not coming from his head.

He shivered.

It was getting cold, and he needed some more whiskey to warm him. That was all.

He pulled his flask out again and took three huge gulps. Then he looked all around the side of the house. The stairs to the porch were splintered and smashed in places, but seemed sturdy enough near the edges. The porch itself led around to the right of the house and then turned and followed on to the back. To the left was a large column-shaped portion of the house that rose into the trees to a point which seemed to be a third level. Half-shattered windows and graying wood siding stood silently before him.

And that smell.

It was stronger here. Much stronger. A breeze was blowing through the trees and carried through the missing and busted windows of the columned area of the house. The smell was on it, coming from inside.

Probably a dead animal, he thought.

But this smell didn’t really fit that. It seemed like something that belonged with death, but not death itself. It had a metallic scent to it. Almost a tang.

“Mike?” Chester shouted from the base of the stairs.

There was no answer. Only the breeze gliding through the pines and oaks and dogwoods.

And the smell.

“Mike, we gotta get going!” he shouted. “Where you at?”

He was met with more silence.

He raised his foot and took a step up on the stairs. He moved cautiously, putting his weight on it a little at a time until he was sure it would hold him. It seemed solid.

As he climbed the stairs, his eyes fell on the door. An ancient thing, hanging three-fourths open, its hinges rusted. There were the shattered remains of some old stained glass in the center, now just a few pieces remained, the intersecting and serpentine wire that separated the parts still standing defiantly.

Another gust of wind blew through the house and out the front door, hitting him in the face. The smell was on it, stronger than ever now. It was accompanied by something else. It took him a moment to place it, but once he did, he was sure it could be nothing else.

Shit and piss.

“Mike?!” he called again. His heart rate was rising steadily now. Another shiver went down his spine, but the thought of warming himself with the whiskey that still sloshed in the flask in his hand was the farthest thing from his mind.

Where the hell is Mike?

“Mike, quit fuckin’ around, we gotta get!”




He reached the top of the stairs. He glanced around a few times before stepping onto the landing. There was nothing. Dead leaves and limbs littered the porch in spite of the awning over it, but aside from that, there was nothing. He took a step toward the door.

“Mike, I’m gonna kick your a—”

His foot broke through the landing in front of the door. He tripped and his flask flew from his hand and into the house. It clanked and clattered loudly on the hollow floor within. He put his other foot out to catch himself, his hands beginning to flail in involuntary defense. His other foot crashed through the floor as well.

He was teetering forward now, his arms in full revolt. He managed to get his first foot out of the hole, but the second foot was also trying to free itself at the same time, as if operating on its own, completely independent of the other. He came crashing down into the door. It screeched and howled in protest as it swung inward the last quarter of the way and smacked into an eons-old wall inside.

Chester crashed down finally, half in and half out of the door to the house, the wind whooshing from him as he did. His rifle clattered to the porch behind him. He heard a sound of glass shattering and began to absently curse in frustration. The scope would be ruined.

“Son of a bitch!” he snarled through clenched teeth as he was getting his breath back.

He looked back through the door and saw the two wooden craters in the landing beyond where his feet had crashed through and shook his head.

Daring, are you?

It was that voice again. Inside his head, but not from it.

He swung his head around again to look into the house now. He squinted his eyes, the darkness of the house contrasting with the last vestiges of light outside.

The smell hit him again. And strong.

He took a moment, blinking to help his eyes adjust. The stench was so strong now it was covering up everything else.




He started to push himself up and noticed his hands were on something wet. His brow furrowed as he looked down at his palms. A dark, viscous fluid covered them, and it took a moment before his mind registered what he was seeing.

His hands were covered in blood.

It was bright. Fresh. Still moving across the floor of the house.

“What the fuck?” he croaked as he looked into the house again. His eyes had adjusted, and God help him.

In front of him was an entryway about ten feet deep. At the end of that, the hallway separated to the left and right, leading to opposite areas of the house.

And sitting in the middle of it was Mike.

He was sprawled out, his right leg bent at an unnatural angle, the left jutting straight out towards Chester. His eyes were opened wide and his jaw was dangling wide and crooked. It was horribly out of alignment, like something had knocked it loose from the joints and tried to twist it around to the back of his head. His tongue flopped limply from behind several shattered teeth.

And his chest and stomach, all the way down to his crotch, were ripped open. Blood was everywhere. Mike’s intestines were splashed in the blood in front of him and some were torn open, the somewhat digested waste spilling out from some of them. He could see his flask glint in the dim light just in front of the spattering of insides, partly coated in blood.

Chester screamed.

It was a shrill, maddened sound. Something you would expect to hear from a hysterical woman in one of those old movies from the thirties or forties. But here it was, screeching out of a fifty year old Texas man.

He began to scramble to his feet. His gut and chest were covered in Mike’s blood. As he stood, he tried to paw at it and wipe it away. It went nowhere. It just smeared and soaked into his clothes with every batting motion.

He was on his feet now. His heart was thumping in his ears so loud he couldn’t hear himself breathing, the frantic huffs like a galloping animal, nor could he hear himself screaming.

A shadow moved to the left of Mike’s body.

I was hungry. Soooo hungry.

In his head again. That voice. It wasn’t his.

Stick around, Chester. I’m making seconds!

Chester’s last tenuous grasp on sanity snapped. He turned and ran for the stairs and the woods beyond, screaming like a dying hyena the whole way. He tripped over the holes in the landing and rolled painfully down the stairs, snapping several planks in the process. He hit the ground with a loud thump, but he could hear nothing but his thrumming heart, pounding in his ears.

And that voice.

Where do you think you’re going?! it growled at him from somewhere deep within his mind. I need meat!

He howled another hissing, silent scream as he got to his feet and bolted as fast as a fat man could for the woods. It was by mere coincidence that he happened to be running straight for his truck, though that was still a good mile and a half or more through the trees. He was just running. Away. That was the only place he wanted to get to.


As he sprinted, he saw some faint movement behind him in his vision’s periphery. Only a blur. A shadow. He pumped his fat legs as fast as he could. His rifle was gone. He had nothing to defend himself with.

And Mike…

Oh, God, what happened to you, Mike?

He recognized this voice. It was his. His internal talker. The one that reasoned with him. The one that reminded him of what he needed to do when the wife and boy got out of line.

But this voice was whimpering now, just as he had begun to do while running. He was crying. No, he was sobbing. Big strings of mucus were running from his nose and tears were streaming his cheeks and catching in his beard. Had he been more aware, he might have realized in this moment how much he resembled his family from the night before.

Yet, at this moment, however, the only thing Chester Laughton was aware of was running as fast as he could. To that special place. That place where there was safety and sanity.


He was heaving now. His fat frame hadn’t exerted itself in such a manner since he was in high school, and it was vehemently protesting everything he was putting it through now. But he didn’t stop.

Another shadow moved, slower this time, to his right and slightly behind him.

Don’t you want some meat, Chester?

That voice was back.

Don’t you want seconds?

He screamed again, snot strings flying from his mouth. He ran for what seemed like an age. He was heaving and panting and sobbing all at the same time.

The shadows quit moving. The voice was gone now. But still he ran. He ran all the way back to the dirt-top road and came out about thirty yards from their trucks, sitting silently in the moonlight. He turned and ran for them, night almost fully upon him.

He had made it. He’d managed to get away from that thing. From that place. He didn’t know what he was going to do, but all that could be decided later. He needed to get home and get cleaned up. Then he needed to get some whiskey in him. A lotof whiskey. Yeah. That would do the trick. That would calm him down. Then he could decide what to do. Who to tell.
Or tell anyone?

He was almost to his truck when his foot slipped in the dirt. The last thing he saw before blacking out was the bumper of his truck rushing up to meet his face.

He had made it.