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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.

BIG ANNOUNCEMENT!!!

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.

THE HARD GOODBYE audiobook is LIVE!

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.

Deuces.

Limbo…

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!

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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.