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Friday, October 31, 2014

Horror Review: The Deep by Nick Cutter

If you thought last year's The Troop was dark and horrifying, then get ready to reevaluate your definition of darkness, because Nick Cutter is about to drag you down to a whole new depth of horror. The Deep is extraordinarily dark, doom-laden, and depressing . . . unrelenting in its horrors. This is a book that makes the most of its cramped, claustrophobic, underwater atmosphere, making you sweat alongside the characters.

More than that, Cutter does a better job of layering in multiple horrors than just about any author writing today. The cover blurb calls this a novel where The Abyss meets The Shining, but that's barely treading the surface of what's really here.

It all begins with one of the most horrifying apocalyptic plagues ever to come our way, an insidious disease known as the 'Gets. Imagine a cellular-level form of Alzheimer's, a disease that begins by making you forget simple things like where you left your keys; which progresses to the point where you forget things like how to drive; which gets so bad that you forget how to walk and to talk; and ends with your body forgetting how to breathe or circulate blood.

Layered on top of that is the nightmare of a child's disappearance, an event that continues to haunt Luke, long after his marriage dissolved and he secretly gave up hope of ever seeing his son again. Cutter does a phenomenal job of making you feel Luke's guilt and sorrow, to the point where you share in his terror as nightmares come to life deep beneath the ocean. What's more, Cutter so deftly blurs the lines between reality and nightmare, between reality and the sense of otherness, you're never quite sure how much is mere nightmare and how much is something else . . . something darker . . . something more supernatural.

Bridging those two layers is the sinister mystery of ambrosia, the miracle substance being harvested at impossible depths in hope that it may serve as a universal cure - not just for the 'Gets, but for things like cancer and more. Nobody knows where ambrosia comes from or what it really is, but Luke soon discovers that what's a focus for the obsession for his genius brother is also a channel for the madness of everyone else aboard the underwater Trieste research lab. Again, the story is so carefully told, you're never sure what's really happening and what's just the madness talking, whether there really are living, breathing orifices in the walls, and whether it's all in their heads.

Like I said, this is a book that's unrelenting in its darkness and its doom-laden depression. It's the kind of book over which you'll find yourself lingering, not because you want to put it down, but because you literally need to step away and look up into the light from time to time. There's no down time, no softer moments, no humor to relieve the tension - just an unending series of horrors that get under your skin and infect you with Cutter's brilliant madness.

If I were to have one complaint about the novel, it's that the ending seems a little too familiar, but I still like what Cutter did with it, particularly with the ominous final scene. Atmosphere, horror, strong characters, a deep mystery, and that unsettling fear of what's real - The Deep really does have it all, and does it all very well. In terms of emotional impact, I can't remember the last time I read a novel that resonated so deeply, or so strongly. The Deep is pure, unadulterated, unrelenting horror at its very best.


Hardcover, 400 pages
Expected publication: January 13th 2015 by Gallery Books

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse by Naomi Shaw (GUEST POST)

If you’re someone for whom The Walking Dead has become can’t miss TV on Sunday nights, you certainly aren’t alone. The show continues to set record after record for non-sports cable TV viewership, including 17.3 million people for the Season 5 premiere.

And if you’re a big fan of the show, you’ve probably spent a bit of time contemplating how you’d handle the survival situations in which the characters find themselves. In that situation you certainly aren’t alone again. Part of the excitement of watching the show is the ability to contemplate how you’d handle a zombie apocalypse.

Surviving the Invasion

As shown in the infographic, you’ll need a plan to improve your chances of surviving the zombie apocalypse. While much of making it through a disaster situation involves your ability to “adapt and overcome,” some planning ahead will increase your odds.

Step 1: Finding a Safe Spot

Popular media has taught us three things about zombies. They‘re not smart. They’re drawn to cities where there’s plenty of food (i.e., human survivors). And they don’t do well with stairs or large bodies of water. So when looking for a spot in which to remain safe from a zombie horde, consider these four options from the infographic and the Pocket Ranger.

  1. Government facility. Places like the underground facility in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia or the Raven Rock Mountain Complex along the Pennsylvania-Maryland border are designed to withstand any type of attack – war, zombie, or otherwise.
  2. Remote state parks. Try hiding on an island, such as Cayo Costa State Park in Florida, or inside a cave structure, such as is found in Longhorn Cavern State Park in Texas.
  3. Fortified building. As shown in The Walking Dead, converting a prison into a zombie-proof fortress takes some work, but it’s a great option … as long as other human survivalists don’t start a war over it.
  4. Bomb shelter. If you have enough supplies inside, you might be able to wait 5 to 7 years inside the shelter, in which time all the zombies likely will have rotted away by the time you have to come outside again.

Step 2: Preparing Supplies

Preparing a set of supplies is important to your survival chances too. Consider these four must-have supplies, as outlined by the infographic and the Ready.gov Web site.

  1. Water. Humans must have clean water to survive, so keep bottled water on hand, as well as a portable water purification system for your emergency kit.
  2. Food. While people can survive much longer without food than water, a lack of food equals a lack of energy … which equals an inability to outrun zombies. Keep non-perishable food on hand.
  3. First aid supplies. In a disaster situation poor hygiene and a lack of medical care could turn a simple scratch into a life-threatening situation. Clean bandages and anti-bacterial ointment are needed in your kit.
  4. Clothing. If your shelter is compromised during an attack, staying warm will be tough. Keep multiple pieces of clothing available, so you can wear layers.

Step 3: Picking Your Weapons

Now for the fun part: Selecting exactly which weapons you want to make use of to battle zombies. With so many options, different ones will appeal to different people, depending on your personality. Consider these four general options.

  1. Long-handled weapon. A baseball bat or hockey stick will work in crushing the zombie skulls, while keeping you out of the monster’s reach.
  2. Bladed weapon. The Walking Dead’s Michonne has almost certainly made the Samurai sword the most popular zombie-killing weapon on the planet. And having a second knife on hand is important for close combat.
  3. Crossbow. If Michonne’s weapon isn’t the most popular on The Walking Dead, it’s because of Daryl’s crossbow. Crossbow arrows are silent, will work well over a great distance, and can be retrieved and used many times.
  4. Gun. The gun is popular because it works over a long distance and you can carry a lot of bullets, because they’re small. But it’s loud, which will draw zombies.

With the basic zombie survival skills in your mind, you’re ready for anything. You’ll be prepared if you have to escape the zombie horde at some point in the future. Or you’ll be ready to more intelligently critique the actions of your favorite character on The Walking Dead.


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Naomi Shaw was a stay-at-home mom of three gorgeous babies for the last 6 years, but now that all her kids are in school, she's starting up her career again as a freelancer. Check her out at https://naomijshaw.jux.com/.

Tough Travels – Monsters

Every Thursday, Nathan (over at Fantasy Review Barn) leads the gang in touring the mystical countryside, looking for fun and adventure. His Tough Traveling feature picks one of the most common tropes in fantasy each week, as seen in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynn Jones, and invites us to join in the adventure. All are invited to take part, so if you're joining the journey late, no worries . . . we'll save you a spot in the caravan.

This week’s tour topic is: MONSTERS

MONSTERS are likely to lie in waste areas, caves, and old ruined cities. You can usually detect their presence by smell.

Once again, we have to go back and start with the classics, particularly Tolkien. Between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings you've got Smaug the Golden, Gollum (or Sméagol), the Balrog, Shelob the giant spider, and the Ringwraiths (or the Nazgul). So many contemporary authors have been influenced by those monsters, either paying them homage our outright following upon Tolkien's legacy.




R.A. Salvatore is one of those authors who have paid homage to Tolkien's creations, with his greatest monster being Lolth, the Spider-Queen. To be fair, Lloth was created by Gary Gygax as a monster of Greyhawk,but it's Salvatore who made her his own and made a character out of her through The Legend of Drizzt. The entire underground city of Menzoberranzan is dedicated to her worship, complete with a spider-shaped building where her priestesses are trained, called Arach-Tinilith.


This may be stretching the definition of fantasy a bit for some, but I'd argue that Stephen King's Dark Tower Saga is one of the defining fantasy epics of our generation. As for monsters, King is certainly generous with them, offering up Shardik the mechanical, malfunctioning, insane bear who guards the beams; and Blaine the Mono, the sentient, insane, murderous monorail that tries to hurl the ka-tet to their doom;




As far as current fantasy sagas go, the corelings (or demons) of Peter V. Brett's Demon Cycle are one of the most intriguing and most menacing monsters around. Rising each night to feast upon humans, the each have their own strengths, based on the element from which they arise - water, rock, fire, clay, snow, wind, and more. Of them all, the rock and fire demons are by far the most fearsome, although the mimic demon has a creepiness of its own.



Finally, sticking with the them of current fantasy sagas, I'm not sure there's a monster more interesting, more fearsome, and more imaginative than the Chasmfiends of Brandon Sanderson's Stormlight Archive. Fifty-foot long crustacean-like creatures, they scrape their way through the chasms of the Shattered Plains, requiring entire armies to subdue them and harvest the gemhearts inside.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: The Devil's Detective by Simon Kurt Unsworth

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

As part of this month's Halloweird Creepfest, I will once more be focusing on some horror-themed pre-publication releases.

The Devil's Detective by Simon Kurt Unsworth
Expected publication: March 3rd 2015 by Doubleday

Thomas Fool is an Information Man, an investigator tasked with cataloging and filing reports on the endless stream of violence and brutality that flows through Hell. His job holds no reward or satisfaction, because Hell has rules but no justice. Each new crime is stamped "Do Not Investigate" and dutifully filed away in the depths of the Bureaucracy. But when an important political delegation arrives and a human is found murdered in a horrific manner—extravagant even by Hell's standards—everything changes. The murders escalate, and their severity points to the kind of killer not seen for many generations. Something is challenging the rules and order of Hell, so the Bureaucracy sends Fool to identify and track down the killer. . . . But how do you investigate murder in a place where death is common currency? Or when your main suspect pool is a legion of demons? With no memory of his past and only an irresistible need for justice, Fool will piece together clues and follow a trail that leads directly into the heart of a dark and chaotic conspiracy. A revolution is brewing in Hell . . . and nothing is what it seems.

The Devil's Detective is an audacious, highly suspenseful thriller set against a nightmarish and wildly vivid world. Simon Kurt Unsworth has created a phantasmagoric thrill ride filled with stunning set pieces and characters that spring from our deepest nightmares. It will have readers of both thrillers and horror hanging on by their fingernails until the final word. In Hell, hope is your worst enemy.


I was fortunate enough to nab a digital ARC of this last week, and I must say it's one of the most exciting, most intriguing titles of the coming year. If it can deliver on at least a portion of its potential, then it should be one heck of a read.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Indulging the Dark Side By Gail Z. Martin (GUEST POST)


With this year's Halloweird Creepfest soon to come to an end, I am delighted to welcome back a fantastic author who has graced our presence on more than one occasion, Gail Z. Martin!


Indulging the Dark Side
By
Gail Z. Martin

It’s Halloween. Time to put on a mask. But in reality, most people wear a mask all year around. That mask is the way we present ourselves in public, and sometimes, even in private. Some people never take the mask off… ever.

Horror feasts on the dark side of human nature, and the face behind the mask. Crime dramas and murder mysteries also thrive by revealing the darkness beneath the façade. All good drama flirts with the concept, delving more deeply in some genres than in others. And as we have lost our innocence as a culture, we now expect to find some hint of a dark side even in our heroes, and cynically look for the shadows in those who desire to lead. In epic fantasy, magic and supernatural creatures often appeal to a character’s dark side. And urban fantasy’s fascination with things that are not as they seem—vampires, shape-shifters, and magical creatures who fool mortal senses—play to our fear of the dark side.

Often, social masks are protective coloration, so it’s intriguing to writers to strip them away and see what’s underneath. We project confidence, success, wealth, and certainty because we’ve been told that like attracts like. We’ve also learned, usually the hard way, that it’s dangerous to let most people see vulnerabilities. That includes insecurities, old hurts, self-doubt, fear, and weakness. Everyone has weaknesses, but most people spend a lifetime figuring how to hide them.

In many cases, those vulnerabilities have rational roots. People tend to be insecure if they don’t believe they’ve mastered something, or have not had that mastery validated by others. Fear is a logical response when facing a person or situation where we can sustain real damage. We know from watching nature that predators seize on weakness, so it’s instinctive not to show our soft underbellies. Shame is a huge motivation to deny the existence of the dark side, even to one’s self.

In general, a dark side is something concealed because on some level, the character knows that the desire or action is not legal, moral, or ethical, and would be disapproved of or punished if known. The bigger the gap and incongruity between the public face and the dark side, the more horrific the dark side seems. That’s why it always seems worse when someone we’re supposed to be able to trust, like a member of the clergy, a cop, or a teacher has a dark side that harms the people he or she should be protecting.

We tend to equate the Seven Deadly Sins with our dark sides: Pride, Lust, Greed, Sloth, Gluttony, Envy, and Wrath. That’s because the dark side, our shadow self, has a lot in common with our Id. The Id is the product of the lizard brain, the primitive instinct, the utterly selfish desire. We can try to contain it and moralize it into quiescence, but it’s always there, lurking, looking for a way to get out. The dark side is strongest when its existence is denied. That’s why people whose identities are all bound up in looking good, having social respect, and standing in a place of moral superiority tend to fall the hardest to their dark sides, which they desperately deny, even to themselves.

Fear and scarcity can bring out the dark side. When a person fears for his life, when everything is on the line, he may reach into the dark side to tap into the jolt of temporary energy provided by the wrath lurking there. Zombie and apocalypse stories tap into this tendency, stripping away the social constraints that require us to wear our masks, giving us permission to take them off.

Where it gets interesting for me as a writer is when a character not only acknowledges his or her dark side but names it and owns it, refusing to look away or pretend it doesn’t exist. That act of courage drastically reduces the power the dark side has over a character. It would be naïve to believe that naming the darkness makes it go away completely, but if the dark side is named and owned, it can be monitored and safeguards can be created to control it.

Some of the best fiction places characters in jeopardy that strips away their resistance to the dark impulses, giving them a sequence of undesirable choices and rationalizations to tap into their dark side. We learn a lot about characters from where they draw the line in the sand, the point at which they would rather die than act in ways that they find morally abhorrent. And for those characters who fail to draw a line, who will do anything to survive, we watch in fascination, wondering which type of character we would be if put in a similar situation.

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My Days of the Dead blog tour runs through October 31 with never-before-seen cover art, brand new excerpts from upcoming books and recent short stories, interviews, guest blog posts, giveaways and more! Plus, I’ll be including extra excerpt links for stories and books by author friends of mine. And, a special 50% off discount from Double-Dragon ebooks! You’ve got to visit the participating sites to get the goodies, just like Trick or Treat!


Trick or Treat: Enjoy an excerpt from Coffin Box, one of my Deadly Curiosities Adventures short stories here: http://www.ascendantkingdoms.com/short-stories-and-more/the-deadly-curiosities-adventures-2/coffin-box/excerpt-from-coffin-box/

And a bonus excerpt from Wicked Dreams, another of my Deadly Curiosities Adventures here: http://www.ascendantkingdoms.com/short-stories-and-more/the-deadly-curiosities-adventures-2/wicked-dreams/excerpt-from-wicked-dreams/

And a second bonus excerpt from Ice Forged, Book One in my Ascendant Kingdoms Saga here: http://www.ascendantkingdoms.com/books/the-ascendant-kingdoms-saga/ice-forged/an-excerpt-from-ice-forged-book-one-in-the-ascendant-kingdoms-saga/



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About the Author

Gail Z. Martin discovered her passion for science fiction, fantasy and ghost stories in elementary school. The first story she wrote at age five was about a vampire. Her favorite TV show as a preschooler was Dark Shadows. At age 14, she decided to become a writer. She enjoys attending science fiction/fantasy conventions, Renaissance fairs and living history sites. She is married and has three children, a Himalayan cat and a golden retriever.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Horror Review: Tall, Dark, and Wriggly edited by D.K. Jernigan


"What is it about tentacles that capture the imagination like nothing else? From The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife to the eldritch horrors of Lovecraft, what horrifies us often arouses us, too."


It was that blurb intro that first caught my attention and convinced me to give Tall, Dark, and Wriggly a read - despite its somewhat corny title and cover that leads little to the imagination. What we have here are four stories edited by D.K. Jernigan, spanning the genre spectrum from science fiction to horror, and from romance to erotica.

D.K. Jernigan opens things herself with A Bargain - the strongest, most interesting, and most well-rounded story in the collection. A coming-of-age romance, this one has a decidedly faery tale feel to it that works. It's a tale of life by the sea, of not fitting in, and of finding oneself in a bargain of a very unusual nature. There's some real drama and suspense here, with an erotic element that's far more sensual than explicit, putting a tentacle twist on mermaids.

Chained to the Wheel by Angelia Sparrow is the one story in the collection that I didn't care for. Not that there's anything wrong with Sparrow's writing - in fact, I've enjoyed her work before - but I simply don't get the appeal of 'cyber' tales. That disconnect from physical reality robs the tale of all drama and suspense for me, negating any sort of threat or peril. I know, I know, there are very often real-world consequences to life online, but they just hold no appeal for me.

The first of two interstellar sci-fi tales, A Home Among the Stars is, by far, the strongest in terms of world-building and cultural exploration. Gryvon presents us with the tale of a young man rescued from the religious intolerance of his homeworld and thrust into a whole other situation. I really liked the evolution of Aaron's character, and found him to be quite enjoyable. The romantic tentacle encounter is teased early on, and looms over much of the story, but it's still a pleasant surprise in the way it finally takes place. The ending didn't quite work for me - it just asked too much of the reader in terms of suspension of disbelief - but that doesn't ruin the overall effect.

Finally, Deadline is the one story that actually opens with the tentacle romance, and then goes on to explore the consequences. Peter Hansen explores themes of sexual orientation and xenophobia in a story that starts out bold and fun, and then becomes much darker. While the characters were a bit thin, and didn't really engage on an emotional level, there was some genuine suspense here that made me wonder if or how it would all be resolved.

Overall, Tall, Dark, and Wriggly wasn't quite the collection I expected - I would have enjoyed some darker, more horrific themes - but it was an interesting read that I suspect will have some cross-genre and wide-audience appeal.


Kindle Edition, 115 pages
Published May 9th 2014 by Storm Moon Press

Saturday, October 25, 2014

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

Here we are, nearing the end of October,and the end of our Halloweird Creepfest. A lot of activity haunting the ruins this week, including:
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Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

As much as I've been trying to cut back on the review requests, what with everything else going on in my life lately, Backlash by D.L. Thomas is one I couldn't resist. Seriously, he had me at "a modern day combination of Indiana Jones and MacGyver, leads a team on an epic treasure hunt."

Martha Wells is an author I've been meaning to read for years, so when Lauren from Skyhorse Publishing offered up a paperback copy of Stories of the Raksura, I knew it was finally time. It's being promoted as a book that probes "the politics of gender and inequality . . . feature strong, compelling female protagonists," which is a cool bonus.

Finally, I'll admit to being disappointed when I got turned down for an ARC of Blue Labyrinth on Edelweiss, especially since I had the pleasure of interviewing Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child last year, so I was exceptionally pleased when Sonya from Grand Central offered up a copy. I have the digital copy all loaded, but will likely wait for the hardcover winging my way before I dive in.

  

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf:

The Deep by Nick Cutter
Slow going on this one. Great atmosphere and genuine chills, and while I am enjoying it, the story is extraordinarily dark, doom-laden, and depressing . . . unrelentingly so.

Lives in Ruins by Marilyn Johnson
A real-life exploration of lives and civilizations found, quite literally, in the ruins of history. 

Willful Child by Steven Erikson
Taking a break from Malazan, Erikson offers up an entertaining spoof of the whole "mankind-exploring-space-for-the-good-of-all-species-but-trashing-stuff-with-a-lot-of-high-tech-gadgets-along-the-way" overblown adventure.


  

What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Horror Review: A Stake In Murder by Donald Allen Kirch

I get a lot of review requests from authors who are trying to be the next big thing, who are desperate to sell themselves as doing something completely new and original. That's cool, and I appreciate the effort, but sometimes I just want to sit back, settle in, and explore a book that's comfortably familiar. Horror is one genre in particular where, more and more, I find myself looking for authors who appreciate the classic approach. No offense to those who prefer their horror urban and romantic, but I like is bloody and monstrously evil.

That brings me to Donald Allen Kirch. While I've only had the pleasure of reading one of his titles, Reich was indeed a classic tale of vampires, Nazis, and the very essence of evil - a novel that hearkened back to the days of F. Paul Wilson. Still Waters is another of his on my must-read list, combining old world pulp, Egyptian mummies, and the Titanic. That brings us to his latest, A Stake In Murder, which presents us with another classic vampire novel that owes as much to Stoker as it does The Night Stalker.

This was, to put it bluntly, one hell of a lot of fun. Kirch puts a bit of an Eastern spin on his vampires, incorporating some of the darkest elements of the Aswang from Filipino folklore, but keeping them largely recognizable as Dracula's descendants. I particularly liked the elongated feeding tongue, which he puts to insanely effective use in a scene involving the oral violation of a pregnant woman and the consumption of the triplets inside of her. Yes, that picture of visceral horror forming in the back of your head is spot-on!

Perhaps one of the most effective, most memorable aspects of the novel, however, has nothing to do with the monsters. Kirch displays a fantastic talent for creating and defining unique characters who immediately either endear themselves or creep right under your skin. At first I thought he was laying it on a little thick with both Captain Matheson and Sebastian Hemlock, but there was a distinct moment when both characters clicked for me, becoming the kind of protagonists you desperately want to follow through to the end of their story.

The actual police procedural element is strong, and ties in nicely with the monster chase, a formula that will be immediately recognizable to fans of Grimm. Behind that is a nice layering of back stories, involving the origins of our vampire, and his first encounter with Hemlock. By the time all the elements come together in the bloodcurdling climax, you'll find yourself with just as much A Stake In Murder as Matheson, Hemlock, and their colleagues. Great, visceral, classic horror with just a bit of a folklore twist.


Kindle Edition, 154 pages
Published August 7th 2014 by Double Dragon Publishing

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Tough Travels – Elves

Every Thursday, Nathan (over at Fantasy Review Barn) leads the gang in touring the mystical countryside, looking for fun and adventure. His Tough Traveling feature picks one of the most common tropes in fantasy each week, as seen in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynn Jones, and invites us to join in the adventure. All are invited to take part, so if you're joining the journey late, no worries . . . we'll save you a spot in the caravan.

This week’s tour topic is: ELVES

ELVES claims to have been the first people in Fantasyland. They are called the Elder Race. They did not evolve like humans, but sprang into being just as they are now.

For starters, how can you talk about elves and not mention The Lord of the Rings? Arwen, Elrond, Galadriel, and Legolas are some of the most prominent and most memorable characters from Middle Earth. Essentially immortal, impossibly beautiful, and possessed of inhuman senses, they are wise old guardians of the land who have slipped slowly away into secrecy and hiding. Tolkien was hardly the first to write about elves, but he defined them in a way that would inspire the genre forevermore.



As important as Tolkien is, however, my first exposure to elves was through the Dragonlance Chronicles by Weis and Hickman. Divided into the Qualinesti and the Silvanesti, the elves here owe a lot to Tolkien's influence, but are very much a race in their own right. Alhana, Laurana, and Gilthanas are undoubtedly the most memorable of the elves, but it's the appropriately named Tanis Half-Elven whose inner turmoil and racial struggles really add something unique to the tale.




Of course, if you're going to talk about the Qualinesti and the Silvanesti, then you also have to talk about their dark, underground dwelling Drow of The Legend of Drizzt. Theirs is an incredible sort of anti-elven civilization, with a race of subterranean dark elves who live in the caverns of Menzoberranzan and worship the Spider Queen. Drizzt Do'Urden, a heroic exile from Menzoberranzan, is the hero of Salvatore's never-ending saga, bringing with him a different exploration of the racial prejudices faced by Tanis Half-Elven,



The first fantasy saga I can remember to do something a little different with the concept of elves was Guy Gavriel Kay's Fionavar Tapestry. Featuring both light elves (lios alfar) and dark elves (svart alfar), Kay's elves are almost Nordic in nature. The light elves are the most like Tolkien's, existing in a beautiful northern land that they're wrapped in a perpetual mist of protection, but the dark elves are something else entirely - small, warped, disgusting creatures that eat men and elves alike.



Another author to put a different spin on elves is Tad Williams with his Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy. Here, the Sithi are largely what we'd expect - long-lived, fair-skinned, and magical - but they have a decided Asian influence in their names, their clothing, and their culture. They're a mysterious, mythical race, but their history has a huge role to play in the fate of the world.





Finally, we have to circle back to Tolkien's elves once again and talk about The Sword of Shannara, which puts elves (and elf stones) at the forefront of the tale. While Brooks has been accused (unfairly, I think) of simply retelling Tolkien's classic, there's a mythology here that's quite unique. The elves of Brooks' tale are the last of the worlds magical creatures (although they are no longer immortal), living in one of two communities - that of the sky elves and that of the land elves.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: The Secret Lives of Twin Peaks by Mark Frost

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

As part of this month's Halloweird Creepfest, I'll be focusing on some horror-themed pre-publication releases. This week's is probably my most anticipated release since . . . well, since I mentioned The Scarlet Gospels on week one!

The Secret Lives of Twin Peaks by Mark Frost
Expected publication: Autumn 2015, by Pan Macmillan

The Secret Lives of Twin Peaks reveals what has happened to the people of that iconic fictional town since we last saw them twenty-five years ago and offers a deeper glimpse into the central mystery that was only touched on by the original series.

Of the acquisition, Mark Frost says, ‘This has long been a dream project of mine that will bring a whole other aspect of the world of Twin Peaks to life, for old fans and new. I couldn't be more thrilled.’

Jeremy Trevathan, Adult Publisher at Pan Macmillan, comments, ‘I’m incredibly excited about this project. I was at Penguin twenty-five years ago when we published The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, which was a huge success. The Twin Peaks TV series was ground-breaking and iconic and hasn't dated one iota. The reach of television into popular culture today is more extreme than it was then and I’m sure millions of people will, like me, be massively intrigued by the new series and by a new novel that will help explain the intervening story.’

Editorial Director, Julie Crisp, adds, ‘I was hooked as a teen by Twin Peaks when it made television history in the 90s with its gripping plotlines, quirky characters and twisting storyline. It’s no wonder it’s kept such a loyal following over the last twenty-five years and, like every fan, I can’t wait to see what Mark and David serve up this time alongside the cherry pie!’


By the black lodge, if the news just doesn't keep getting better and better! Having Lynch and Frost follow up on Twin Peaks a quarter of a century later is awesome, but having a book to fill in those gaps is utterly amazing. Wow. Suddenly, I'm a little less bummed about Matt Haley's failed attempt to write a Season 3 graphic novel for inclusion in the Twin Peaks box set.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Halloweird Creepfest Feature with Krista Grabowski

What Rose Saw by Krista Grabowsk
An Excerpt

The bell over the door rang, and Maggie’s family walked in. Pain stabbed Rose’s heart. Maggie’s mom pushed Maggie’s stroller, her shoulders slouched, her head down. Rose thought she must be melting under her gray cardigan and long skirt. Why would somebody wear that on a day like today? Maggie’s dad walked next to them. Rose smelled the liquor on him from where she sat, but he walked steadily, cocky as ever. He wore a white polo shirt and khaki knee-length shorts. On his head was a cream-colored Panama hat with a black band on it. Her daddy used to have a hat just like it.

Daddy never left home without his. She used to swipe it off his head when he was holding her, and put it on her own. If he was sober, he thought it was funny. He’d clap and tell her to dance with it on. If he was drunk, he didn’t think it was so funny, and would knock it off, often hitting her head and knocking her to the ground. Rose gripped her glass of milk.

“Well, good morning!” said Mr. Brown, as he set the rag on Rose’s table. He stood and offered his hand to Mr. Hopkins. Rose noticed Mr. Hopkins sway a bit as he offered his hand in return.

“Hello, Mr. Brown. Good day to you.”

Mr. Brown glanced down at Maggie. “How’s the little princess today?” Maggie seemed to be sleeping. Mr. Brown looked to Mrs. Hopkins for an answer but she simply looked at her husband, expressionless.

“She good,” Mr. Hopkins answered. “She got a pair of lungs on her though; I can tell you that. Definitely a healthy girl.”

The men chuckled, and Mrs. Hopkins smiled meekly. Rose noticed the purple edges of a bruise peeking out from underneath her hair on one side of her face. She watched, her breath shallow with fear, as Mr. Brown continued talking to them.

The bell over the door rang again, and a young woman entered the bakery with her Yorkie terrier.

“Mornin’, Miss. I’ll be right with you,” Mr. Brown said to her. She looked at the selection in the cases as he continued speaking to Mr. Hopkins.

“You know Rose Johnson and Joey Gray?” Mr. Brown asked, motioning to them at the table. Mr. Hopkins turned toward them. He glanced at Joey and reached his hand out.

Mrs. Hopkins didn’t speak, but her husband greeted Joey. “Yeah, I know Joey. How goes it my man?” He slapped palms with Joey and looked at him out of the corner of his eye as his eyes fell on Rose. They lingered a little too long for her comfort. Mrs. Hopkins remained silent, but Mr. Hopkins responded with, “Oh yes, I know Rose.”

The stabbing pain returned in Rose’s chest.

“She’s our neighbor. Nice to see you, Rose. How’s your mamma?” His head teetered on top of his neck, and he winked at her. Joey watched his every move but stayed silent. Rose couldn’t take her eyes off Mr. Hopkins, towering over her with a sleazy smile on his face. This man out for a walk with his family on a sunny Saturday morning, this man out to buy something sweet for his family—this was the same man she heard beating his family, day after day. This was the man who was capable of hurting his own family, the people he was supposed to love the most. Her heart raced, and her skin crawled.

“I think I know what I want,” said the woman with the dog. She set her purse on the counter next to the register, sending a vase filled with flowers crashing to the floor. Glass shattered, water flowed, and stalks of delicate, bell-shaped purple flowers lay scattered on the floor. Everyone turned in the direction of the noise, everyone but Mr. Hopkins and Rose. Mr. Hopkins glared at Rose with those sick, evil eyes in a way that sent a chill throughout her body.

The woman’s dog put its nose in the spilled water and sniffed the flowers.

“Don’t let her eat those,” Mr. Brown shouted. “They foxgloves. They pretty, but they poisonous to animals.”

Rose sat, terrified, unable to breathe, her eyes glued to Maggie’s dad. A warm stream of urine ran down her legs and onto the floor, soaking her dress and pooling on her chair and the floor. Tears of fear and embarrassment filled her eyes. Mr. Hopkins smiled and winked at her, rejoicing in her misery. She looked down at the mess she had created.

“I sorry, Mr. Brown. I sorry,” she said.

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This is the part where I'm supposed to tell you a little about who I am. How do you do that in a few sentences? It's always a challenge for me, but here it goes. First, and most importantly, I'm the mother of two children, both teenagers. One just started college this year and the other just started high school this year. Two very different, but completely wonderful, people. And then there's my cat – Auggie. He's my shadow, appropriate because he's black.

I work a full-time job with a health insurance company to pay the bills and pursue my writing and editing passion every spare moment. Besides “What Rose Saw” I have one other published short story titled “Daddy's Girl”. It was published under a pen name, Sonia Fogal, by James Ward Kirk Fiction in their Indiana Horror Review 2013 anthology. I am Assistant Editor for James Ward Kirk Fiction and also do freelance editing.

What Rose Saw” is the first in a series that I'm currently thinking will have five installments. I'm currently working on “What Joey Saw”, which will look at the same situation that is given in “What Rose Saw”, but from Joey's perspective. We'll learn his background and what the events that unraveled in “What Rose Saw” mean to him because of his background. Each installment will do the same thing but from a different character's perspective.

I am very excited about a new endeavor I am beginning on November 1. I can't say what it is right now but it's awesome! If you friend/follow/contact me at any of the links below you'll hear the big announcement!

What's the weirdest or spookiest thing that's ever happened to me? Hmmm. Guess I've been pretty lucky in that department. There was a time though, when I was still living at home, I was probably about 18. I was sitting in the den with my family; we had just returned from a movie I think. We were just sitting there talking, all of us in the den, when we heard footsteps in the basement. (The den had an open “wall” that consisted of a railing leading down to the basement, so every sound in the basement was easily heard in the den). As we were all staring at each other, we heard the basement that leads from the basement to the backyard open and close. We continued staring at each other for a minute, then my dad went downstairs to check it out and found nothing missing or disturbed. There was nothing missing or disturbed in the rest of the house either. Spooky!

Follow/friend/contact me through any of the methods below.

My personal Facebook account
My Twitter handle: @authorkclark
Email: authorkclark@gmail.com
My editing services website

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I recently co-edited an anthology I'm very proud of – Terror Train.

The Terror Train rides, from city to city, from village to village, through states, across rivers and mountains. If only it could tell its tales of grisly murder, of demonic pacts, black holes into different dimensions and portals to other realms where the ghosts of train robbers hunt in perpetuity for that elusive bullion filled carriage that cost them their immortal souls. Behold the terrors the train has witnessed, see firsthand the horrors it has lived through and when you get on board, pray, pray you've entered the right one, on the right track, the one that does not lead to oblivion...

Terror Train contains stories by new and established authors, with a guest story by William F. Nolan.

All aboard!

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What Rose Saw by Krista Grabowski
Kindle Edition, 42 pages
Published October 3rd 2014

One man terrorizes his family and neighbors. Everyone knows but no one says anything. Through the innocent eyes of childhood, Rose sees things she knows are wrong and doesn't understand why people watch in silence. This story is about her fight to deal with a reality she doesn't understand.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Horror Review: Figures of Fear by Graham Masterton

Having completed my literary journey through this stunning collection, my only question is how the hell have I not read more Graham Masterton before? Figures of Fear is an anthology of 11 tales that, for me, had the same impact as Stephen King's Night Shift or Clive Barker's first Books of Blood. It's a short story collection that opened my eyes to a new must-read author, leaving me giddy with anticipation for more, more, more!

Ex-Voto kicks things off with an interesting, classic sort of horror story about strange lands, misunderstood artifacts, the power of prophecy, and the perils of ignoring it. Nice twist at the end.

What the Dark Does is a fantastic story, full of atmosphere and chills, that really gets at our primal fear of the dark . . . and of what the dark disguises. Trust me, you'll never look at that shadowy bathrobe hanging behind the bedroom door quite the same way ever again.

Saint Brónach’s Shrift is an interesting story about guilt, choices, and the consequences they have. Definitely a sad ending to this one, almost a cruel sort of twist that really hit me hard and made me pause to think the whole thing through.

The Battered Wife is the one story in the collection I didn't care for. I felt the end was cruel, and seemed to blame the wife for her abuse, but since it came from the Shadows and Light anthology, which was published to benefit the Women's Aid charity in the UK, I'll give it the benefit if the doubt and assume I missed something. Regardless, it's another on the theme of choices and consequences.

The Night Hider is the first of two back-to-back portal stories, this one about a haunted wardrobe that is revealed to be the very same wardrobe that haunted C.S. Lewis and inspired his classic children's epic. I'll be honest, I loathed Lewis' saga for the saturation of Christian allegory, and thought the ending was the cruelest, most pandering thing I'd ever read as a young man, but Masterton manages to provide both a summary and a justification for what Narnia represents . . . and then goes all dark on us with the ending. Fantastic stuff.

Underbed is, by far, my favorite story in the collection, partially because I see so much of my childhood self in it, and partly because I loved the ending. Martin is an imaginative young boy who likes to slip under the covers and imagine he's an astronaut or an explorer, working the darkness and the claustrophobia into his fantasies. One night, he goes a little too far, and crawls out of his fantasy into a real adventure that takes him even deeper underbed, into the land of fear and darkness. The ending is quite sad, an all too plausible tragedy . . . with one last scene to follow that grabs hold of the dagger in your heart and twists it with devilish glee.

Night of the Wendigo got off to a slow start for me, and doesn't approach the power or the stylistic majesty of some of the other stories here, but was still a solid 'classic' story of monsters in the night. A lot of atmosphere to this one, with some quick scenes of brutality that are extraordinary in their impact.

Spirits of the Age was a rather surprising tale, part traditional ghost story, and part historical exploration. It all begins with the ghost of Queen Victoria wandering the darkened halls of Osborne House, spotted out of the corner of the eye or at a distance. When Michael finally manages to confront the regal old woman, and we find out precisely why she's returned . . . well, it's a mystical bit of historical reinvention that's handled very, very well.

Witch-Compass is probably my second-favorite of the collection, a story that's gleeful in its darkness and playful in its malicious evil. At its heart are familiar themes of being careful what you wish for, and of wishes having a price, but Masterton goes completely over the top and takes Paul completely over the edge with a tale that will leave you feeling guilty about every chuckle.

Resonant Evil is a bit of a weird story, relying so heavily as it does upon the study of synaesthesia, but it slowly builds to a climax that's both creepy and clever. You're not quite sure whether it's a ghost story or a tale of madness, until the final reveal, when an already dark tale gets darker still.

Beholder is the saddest of the lot, a story that's very much about theme of beauty being in the eye of the beholder. When Fiona accidentally catches a glimpse of her distorted reflection, she's initially horrified, but decides that too many beholders must have looked upon her and stolen away her beauty, leaving it trapped inside their eyes. If you think you can imagine the lengths to which she'll go to get her beauty back . . . well, you're halfway there.

There are several common themes in Figures of Fear, primarily those of portals, hidden worlds, the consuming power of fire, and the consequences of our choices. Don't go looking for happy endings or big moral lessons, though, because these are dark tales, with dark conclusions, and even darker twists to follow. A perfect collection for fans and newcomers alike. Just astounding.


Hardcover, 208 pages
Expected publication: March 1st 2015 by Severn House Publishers

Saturday, October 18, 2014

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

Here we are, halfway through October,and well into our Halloweird Creepfest. A lot of activity haunting the ruins this week, including:

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Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

The Beauty by Aliya Whiteley is a title I was originally offered back in August, but which just landed in my inbox this week. Described as a book that shakes up the New Weird, in which the beautiful and the terrible exist side by side, it encompasses post-apocalyptic science fiction and horror.

The After House by Michael Phillip Cash is a new release that, if I can, I will do my best to work into this month's reading schedule. Michael has been kind enough to gift me with most of his new releases, and the idea of a haunted 300 year old cottage with a secret occupant lurking about definitely caught my eye (as you can expect).


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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf:

• The Deep by Nick Cutter
The 'Gets is one of the most intriguing (and terrifying) plagues ever unleashed on humanity, and that's just treading the surface of this underwater ocean horror.

• Not Quite the Classics by Colin Mochrie
Whose Story is it Anyway? Sometimes you just need to laugh, and for that reason Canada's own funnyman recreates classic stories in 'Whose Line' fashion.

• Figures of Fear: An Anthology by Graham Masterton
Halfway through this stunning collection, my only question is how the hell have I not read more Masterton before? So far, 'Underbed' is my personal favorite.


What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Horror Review: In the Shadows of Children by Alan Ryker

In the Shadows of Children is a slow-burning tale of forgotten fears, family secrets, childhood tragedies . . . and the boogeyman in the closet. Alan Ryker takes his time getting started, slowly building a backstory for his protagonist and building the atmosphere of his childhood home, but it's all necessary to create the sense of mystery needed to drive the story forward.

This is a short tale, even for a novella, so it's hard to talk about much of the plot without getting into spoiler territory. The set-up is pretty simple, with a young man returning home to deal with the death of his mother, and being forced to confront the long ago disappearance of his younger brother. The house unsettles him, triggering fragments of memories, but it's not until a voice calls to him from the closet that he begins to remember why he fled that bedroom for the freedom and security of a college deliberately far away.

It's a creepy tale, with some really effective moments, both creepy and ordinary. It's at the point where Aaron calls home to talk to his son about the boogeyman that story really gets interesting, and it's with the twist that follows that Ryker provides the ultimate payoff. Aaron is largely unlikable as a protagonist, and while we sympathize with him, it's hard not to blame him for the role he played in that childhood tragedy. Oddly, that coldness is why the story works, making us confront what lies In the Shadows of Children.


Kindle Edition, 61 pages
Expected publication: November 11th 2014 by DarkFuse

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Halloween is a State of Mind by Lisa von Biela (GUEST POST)


Welcome to the first guest post of this year's Halloweird Creepfest, featuring Dark Fuse author Lisa von Biela!


Halloween is a State of Mind
By
Lisa von Biela

I love this time of year, and if you’re reading this post, I imagine you do, too. It’s that Bradbury time of year, all magic and fallen leaves. It’s that time when everything is mysterious, everything is possible. No wonder so many great horror novels are set in the fall (or mention the fall—Bradbury could never resist getting a fallen leaves reference in, even in a novel set in the summer!). It’s a state of mind to take with you and enjoy throughout the year.

It’s the state of mind that lets you imagine the smell of burning leaves. Breathe it in, that wonderful sharp-sweet smell drifting from somewhere off in the distance. You can just see the leaves swirling in the twilight, alight with hungry flames. They’re riding the heat currents among pinpoint orange embers. Watch the embers wink out, each in turn. You can see that, can’t you?

It’s the state of mind that lets your imagination carry you away. Did you just hear a rustling in the dark over there? Is it leaves? Is it a rat—or something else? It’s coming closer, isn’t it? Quick! Glance toward it if you dare. Did you see something lurking just at the edge of your vision? Did something move in the shadow there? What do you think it was—something innocent, harmless?

Or maybe something dangerous, something demonic?

What scares you? Ghosts, gliding beside you on a trail of ether? Skeletons, bones clicking as they follow behind, holding you in the focus of their dark, empty eye sockets? Or something more predatory, something built from fears uniquely yours?

Did something just touch the back of your neck? Was it cold, clammy? Did it singe like fire? Was it sharp or was it soft? Will you spin around to face it—or run like hell, never looking back? (Personally, I’d run like hell.)

That chill in the air, that chill in your spine. That’s what makes this time of year so special—conjure it up whenever you want to, when you need a Halloween fix. Enjoy the season!


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Lisa von Biela worked in Information Technology for 25 years, and still claims there is no application she cannot break in testing. She left the field to attend the University of Minnesota Law School, graduating magna cum laude in 2009. She now practices law in Seattle, Washington. One of her legal articles, a research piece published in the Food and Drug Law Journal, was cited in an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Just after the turn of the century, Lisa began to write short, dark fiction. Her first publication was in The Edge in 2002. She went on to publish a number of short works in various small press venues, including Gothic.net, Twilight Times, Dark Animus, AfterburnSF, and more.

She is the author of THE GENESIS CODE, THE JANUS LEGACY, ASH AND BONE, BLOCKBUSTER (coming January 2015), and SKINSHIFT (coming June 2015).