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

Idiots

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

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.