This collection is a not-so-friendly neighborhood of stories. Chad Lutzke has crafted all the pieces in this collection around ordinary, everyday people, places, neighborhoods, relationships, and then taken them to strange, and at times very dark places. Often, it’s the matter-of-fact reactions, the unexpected ways the characters play off one another and interact, that are most disturbing.
On page three of Hayley Scrivenor’s excellent Dirt Creek, the body of 12-year-old Esther Bianchi is exhumed from a shallow grave. From there we journey back a few days and watch as her disappearance, and the subsequent investigation into it, causes ripples through a small Australian town.
I know small towns, because I’ve lived in them my whole life. Scrivenor may be writing about Australia and I may be living in Alabama, but location is the only difference between her rural and my rural. If you’ve never lived in a small town, Hayley sums up the experience perfectly with one sentence:
Everything and everyone touching everything else.
I about shouted “Hallelujuah!” when I read that, because it’s so true. That line comes near the end of the book, and rang so true after having spent several days in Scrivenor’s creation, watching how the characters’ lives and decisions wind around each other in an ever-tightening noose of comfort and danger.
Scrivenor tells her story through a variety of characters, including poor Esther’s parents, her friends Ronnie and Lewis, the detective struggling to learn the town and find the killer (all while dealing with a recent loss of her own), and finally with a collective voice — a “We” — employed to give the perspective of the community as a whole. These are people you will suspect, pity, grow frustrated with and weep with. These characters are the lifeblood of the town and the lifeblood of this story.
Esther’s death is a tragedy, but it’s far from the only one this town suffers in a matter of hours and days. Scrivenor makes you feel each one, makes you wallow in the waves of hope and despair, forces you to feel the impact of Esther’s death. Thankfully, we also get glimpses of the impact Esther’s life had on those around her. She is a small but necessary light in this otherwise grim tale.
I can’t wait to see what Hayley Scrivenor does next. Dirt Creek is highly recommended.
The dead don’t walk.
There is a place secluded by an untenable smog, a 30-foot drop lake, and shrouded with acrimonious fungi. Some say it is the place the devils dance on moors. Others say at this ancestral residence, The House of Usher, they can hear the worms in the earth, craving flesh.
Even When You Try
She insisted from the first time we met — which was after work, at a diner on Melrose, looking at each other down the counter and speaking at last — that she was the reincarnation of Marilyn Monroe, and in the end I did believe her. At first, I didn’t know what she meant. I hadn’t looked at her eyes enough. I hadn’t yet discovered the mole she kept covered with make-
up. She was an exhibitionist, sure, and beautiful, and could do things to you with her voice the way MM could (or so they say), but I didn’t really know what it meant for someone to live every day like that, being someone else, someone who’d died, who’d killed herself. I didn’t know she’d beg me to take her to plays and at intermission look for erudite men who (like Arthur
Miller, the first husband) might be playwrights. She’d say, “Let’s go talk to that guy — the one with the wool jacket.” Because she was so pretty, the guy would’ve already noticed her and didn’t mind our approaching him, didn’t mind talking to us, or to her. I didn’t know it would mean that even when we were just walking down Santa Monica Boulevard she’d be looking for guys with faces like that baseball player, Joe DiMaggio. It was sad how desperate she was, as if looking for her first love, or only love, or a father she’d lost. She’d wear dresses the wind could move easily, and she’d stand over grates in the street (LA does have a few) waiting for her dress to be blown up by the wind and paparazzi to appear suddenly and take pictures, but it never happened. She just stood there waiting. She hung pictures of Robert Kennedy and John Kennedy — both of them — in our bedroom on Helena Court, and looked at them sometimes; but when she did, it made her cry, though she wasn’t sure why, she said. She hadn’t known Bobby all that well, she said. When she was unhappy, the sex was great, as if she could forget herself just a little, but I also know she wanted, in the middle of it, to call me by a name other than mine. She never did. She didn’t want to be that cruel even if the entire thing — being a famous person instead of just a girl from the old housing tracts of Torrance — was a living hell for her, even if I didn’t matter really who I was because I wasn’t any of the guys she actually wanted and needed, any of the guys who could have kept her from killing herself and didn’t. I just wasn’t, so when the time came, I helped her with it. It was the least I could do.
Bruce McAllister is an award-winning West-Coast-based writing coach, writer in a wide range of genres, consultant in the fields of publishing and Hollywood, workshop leader and an “agent finder” for both new and established writers. As a writing coach, he specializes in all kinds of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and screenplays.
The Shark Is Roaring: The Story of Jaws: The Revenge by Paul Downey
BearManor Media (August 2022)
200 pages; $37 hardcover; $27 paperback
Reviewed by Blu Gilliand
I haven’t seen it, but I’ve seen the house that it bought my mother and it’s marvelous. — Michael Caine
Paul Downey opens The Shark Is Roaring: The Story of Jaws: The Revenge with this quote from Michael Caine, and I think it’s the perfect summation of the movie’s place in the Jaws franchise — it’s the one people think the least of, including many of the people who worked on it.
Cults: Inside the World’s Most Notorious Groups and Understanding the People Who Joined Them by Max Cutler with Kevin Conley
Simon & Schuster (July 2022)
416 pages; $22.63 hardcover; $14.99 e-book
Reviewed by Haley Newlin
We’ve seen it for generations: a well-spoken, charismatic person derails the ingrained ideals of humanity. Take the most horrific war leaders of World War II, like Adolf Hitler or Benito Mussolini. Both men, with bloodied hands and a lack of empathy to such outlandish extents that many have argued exemplified psychopathy, not only led their armies down a wretched road of antisemitism, barbarity, and murder but did so with their recruits’ eagerness and even enthusiasm.
The same question is often asked throughout history, whether regarding dictators, crime bosses, or cult leaders: Why do people go along with this?
We wanted to let you know about our summer eBook sale! The following five titles are on a Kindle Countdown Sale which ends August 7! We plan to make these eBook sales a quarterly event, to highlight our impressive eBook backlist, and raise more awareness for these fine works of horror and dark fiction!
Voices at midnight can be unsettling, especially if you didn’t think someone else was in the room, or if it’s a dreaded phone call that wakes you from a peaceful sleep. In this debut collection from Christopher W. Clark, disturbing voices will tell you:
- how to make offerings (of a sort) to lake monsters
- or, directions to strange old churches and their weird congregations
- or, what you must do to avoid the gaze of Black-Eyed Susan
- or even, about the secrets of old roads and their evil hitchhikers.
Listen to Voices at Midnight at your peril…
They shouldn’t have run.
There are three of them, Sam, Lila and Paul—young travelers with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and yet, everything to lose. Their visit to Iceland has invigorated their senses…until the carnival. There, a single punch is thrown. A man lies dead on the ground. Blood speckles Sam’s bruised knuckles. In a blind panic, they flee the scene and disappear down an unpaved road, winding through the barren landscape.
Soon they find an empty cabin, the perfect place to hide. Twilight turns to night. All is still. It is then that the travelers realize they are not alone. Something is lurking out there. In the dark. They can hear its growls. And to the creature, the guilty and the innocent taste exactly the same.
“Like [The Fallen Boys], this new piece takes relatable actions and emotion – in this case anger, jealousy and panic – and spins them into horror that is as tragic and effective as anything based in the supernatural… And then, just about the time we’re locked in to thinking this is a straightforward piece about how a moment of anger and aggression can change everything, Dries flips the story upside down, turning it into a shocking and violent siege story that kick starts an adrenaline-fueled finale.” – FearNet.com
Midnight Rain is a dark coming-of-age novel in the vein of Robert McCammon’s Boy’s Life and Stephen King’s “The Body” (Stand By Me). It is a tale of growing up in the South, a reflection of boyhood and all its wonders, and the story of how one boy deals with a terrible secret that threatens to tear apart both his family and hometown.
1977… In a small town called Midnight, North Carolina, twelve-year-old Kyle Mackey ventures toward a strange new world called manhood… Kyle’s older brother Dan is going away to college. The night before Dan’s flight leaves for Florida, Kyle visits what he calls his “Secret Place” — an old shack in the woods bordering Midnight.
But Kyle stumbles upon something that proves his favorite spot in the world is neither as private nor as innocent as he once thought…
It begins with the naked, battered corpse of a young woman. And, standing over her, a man Kyle knows…
“A smashing dark debut that kept me turning pages.” – Ed Gorman
The dark space inside our head, where reality mutates, where the people and places we trust no longer exist. This is the landscape of eternal terror, inhabited by creatures we can’t even name. It is the place we fear, and the place we belong, where our private horrors endure…
James Cooper has rapidly developed into one of the most distinguished writers of contemporary horror fiction of his generation. His stories possess a rare insight into human nature and capture the voices of those who feel at odds with the world, their strange tales resonating long into the night, leaving the reader profoundly moved. The stories collected here offer a unique view of the family dynamic and are frequently disturbing. Don’t say you haven’t been warned…
What makes a haunted house? The unsettled spirits of the dead? Or the unsettled spirits of the living?
When Joey Lodge sustains a severe brain trauma, his delusions take the form of an alien spirit that guides him in the creation of a haunted house. He begins to populate the house with ghosts of his choosing, from family members to criminals, until the line between fantasy and reality blurs and even his delusions start fighting back. As terror in the house ratchets up to a maddening pitch, the alien spirit has one shocking revelation still in store…
As always, thank you for your support!
Night Time Logic is the part or parts of a story that are felt but not consciously processed. Those that operate below the conscious surface. Those that are processed somewhere, somehow, and in some way other than… overtly and consciously. The deep-down scares. The scares that find their way to our core and unsettle us in ways we rarely see coming…
Hello and welcome. My name is Daniel Braum, I am an author of strange tales, a term I use for stories written in the spirit of Robert Aickman, stories which explore the tension between the psychological and supernatural. These stories are often but not always of the quiet or literary kind. In this column, which shares a name with my New York based reading series, I explore the phenomenon of Night Time Logic and other notions of what makes horror and good fiction by looking at the stories of my favorite authors along with the work of new voices.
My previous column with author Venita Coehlo explored ghosts and folklore specific to India. Brenda Tolian’s stories are also setting specific all of them intersect with a place called Blood Mountain which you will learn about in our conversation.
In a perfect world, mothers are kind, gentle beings who protect their children at all costs. The catch, however, is that a mother must be selfless and nurturing in every role — an inevitability doomed expectation.
In Katrina Monroe’s They Drown Our Daughters, the prologue in the 1800s sets the stage for a mother’s fierce fortitude in the wake of familial turmoil. But, things turn for the worse, and an unexpected, somewhat accidental tragedy unleashes the curse that haunts five generations of women.
Endymion or The State of Entropy: A Lyrical Drama by Kurt R. Ward
Self-Published (July 2022)
88 pages; $21.99 hardcover
Reviewed by Joshua Gage
Kurt R. Ward has privately published numerous poems as well as a recording of his jazz compositions for solo piano. His newest collection of poetry is Endymion or The State of Entropy: A Lyrical Drama.
Horror was in a time of transformation in 1994. John Skipp and Craig Spector’s final novel, Animals, had been published the previous year. The original Splatterpunk era was over. Necro Publications and the underground hardcore horror fiction wave was a couple of years ahead. Cemetery Dance had spearheaded the small press revolution, but it was still gaining momentum. The biggest thing in the genre, other than King and Barker of course, was the Dell/Abyss line of postmodern horror paperbacks.
I liked some of the Abyss titles and authors. Poppy Z. Brite and Kathe Koja were and are favorites. I liked Brian Hodge and Dennis Etchison. However, the books began to wear on me after a while. It seemed like some of the writers were trying too hard to be hip. I didn’t care for novels by Tanith Lee, Nancy Holder, and Jessica Amanda Salmonson. I lost faith in the Dell/Abyss brand and stopped buying the books.
I dug the hell out of Laurel Hightower’s previous book, Crossroads. It had that heart I am always looking for, a fair amount of “messeded up,” and an attitude that took zero percent of my guff. So, of course, when I found out that she had a new one coming out, and that it involved Mothman, I was down as a clown in D-town.
Upgrade by Blake Crouch
Ballantine Books (July 2022)
352 pages; $19.20 hardcover; $14.99 e- book
Reviewed by Dave Simms
Evolution can be a fascinating topic for thrillers, science fiction, and horror. One thing is clear: it almost never ends well. Just ask Dr. Moreau.
However, the evolution of Blake Crouch has been a pleasure to watch and the only danger to society is keeping readers up past their bedtimes.
From the weird brilliance of the Wayward Pines trilogy to the beautiful horror of Dark Matter, Crouch has carved out his own path in strange, dark thrillers.
If it weren’t for all the wicked haunted house scenes and terrifying entities in Home Before Dark, I’d say Riley Sager’s latest release, The House Across The Lake, is my new favorite of his.
Zatanna: The Jewel of Gravesend by Alys Arden and Jacquelin de Leon
DC Comics (July 26, 2022)
208 pages; $16.99 paperback
Reviewed by Joshua Gage
Alys Arden was raised by the street performers, tea-leaf readers, and glittering drag queens of the New Orleans French Quarter. She cut her teeth on the streets of New York and has worked all around the world since. The Casquette Girls, her debut novel, garnered over one million reads online before it was acquired by Skyscape.
Jacquelin de Leon is an illustrator and comics artist currently located in San Jose, California. She graduated with a BFA in illustration and entertainment design from Laguna College of Art and Design. Since graduating in 2015 she has become an illustration brand, self-publishing multiple books and working full-time to produce for her online shop and her YouTube channel. When not working on major projects, her favorite subjects are vivid and magical mermaids, sultry witches, and tattooed punk girls with colored hair. Their most recent graphic novel is Zatanna: The Jewel of Gravesend.