Hunted Highways (Dark Tide Book 12) by Carver Pike, Lucas Mangum, and Rowland Bercy
Crustal Lake Publishing (January 26th, 2024)
“B.I.R.D.S.” by Rowland Bercy Jr.: In “B.I.R.D.S.,” a 2023 reimagining of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic, a group of friends embarks on a cross-country trip, unwittingly stirring a vengeful avian onslaught. Raquel, Robert, Karen, and David face chaos and carnage, learning that appearances deceive and the price of their actions can be deadly. This bone-chilling tale weaves a narrative of suspense and consequence in a world where birds are not what they seem.
“Dracula and the Devil Walk Into a Bar” by Lucas Mangum: After a team of hunters raid their fortress, Dracula and Lucifer hit the road in search of a new place to call home. They stop at a roadside bar in an unincorporated locale to meet with a vampire named Mina. All three creatures of the night have the potential for violence. And none of them can resist the call of bloodshed. The people in this wood-paneled, neon-lit establishment are about to meet Hell itself.
“Road Wrath” by Carver Pike: For Melanie and her friends, this fun-filled trip to tour their favorite college campus is about to take a violent and macabre turn. If only they’d kept driving, if only they’d stayed far away from that rest stop, if only they’d been more polite when they encountered the creepy old couple. Now, it’s too late for apologies. Road Wrath is coming.
(Interview conducted by Rick Hipson)
CEMETERY DANCE: Alright gentlemen, to kick things off, can you walk us through the hashing out process of when the idea for this trilogy collection came to be? I am imagining a typical late night of debauchery, shenanigans and possibly some forms of bribery, but I’m also willing to accept I may be wrong about this.
CARVER PIKE: Ha! I wish I had an exciting story for you. Yeah, the three of us took pills in Ibiza, woke up on a yacht surrounded by dead bodies, and said, “We should write about how we got here!” Then we bumped chests, put pen to paper, and voila!
No, in all seriousness, I was on a road trip to Myrtle Beach when I got the email invite from Joe at Crystal Lake. He said I could bring on two other authors and we could hash out an idea for this book. I instantly had a road trip horror story in mind and pitched that overall theme to Lucas Mangum since we’re good friends and were already collaborating on a book. He was all in. Rowland and I were still doing the Written in Red podcast with Aron Beauregard and Daniel Volpe. We’d yet to work on a project together, and he’s a great author and close friend of mine, so he was an easy choice as our third member.
ROLAND BERCY: Carver and Lucas had actually invited me to participate in the collection, so sadly, late-night antics or bribes were never an option. Looking back now, I’m slightly disappointed that some debauchery or shenanigans were not part of the deal…
LUCAS MANGUM: I’m a lot mellower than I was when I started in this business, so sadly, no debauchery to speak of when this project came together. Joe at Crystal Lake contacted Carver about doing one of these Dark Tide books with two other authors and Carver contacted Rowland and myself. Because I’m a fan of Carver’s work and have wanted to work with Crystal Lake Publishing for a while, I agreed to the project pretty much right away. Rowland was soon to follow. I came up with the road trip horror theme, as I’m a fan of road movies like Devil’s Rejects, Easy Rider, and Natural Born Killers, and we three decided that was a good jumping off point.
When working out your individual stories and deciding what you would write, were there any initial or ongoing meetings to ensure you weren’t crossing roadways, so to speak, when it came to ensuring each story stood out uniquely on its own while keeping with the themes of road trip hell?
LM: Oh, yes. We started a group chat on Facebook where we tossed around ideas, gave each other updates, motivated each other, and cried on each other’s shoulders. We still utilize the group chat today as we draw nearer to the book’s release. Carver and Rowland are good guys, skilled writers, and savvy on the business side. I like to think my experience brings something valuable to the table too.
CP: We were all in touch the entire time and kept a Facebook Messenger group going. We brainstormed with each other throughout the journey and a couple of us, if not all three, changed our entire story at least once. The original idea I had when on that trip of mine was scrapped after writing a good 5k words or so. It had an interesting premise but was probably more suited for a standalone novella or novel. I know Rowland had a few ideas he considered.
RB: Fortunately, we each had unique concepts from the beginning, so there was no confusion. We kept in touch through the group chat on Facebook, updating each other on the status of our individual tales as we worked on them.
So, were you aware of what your other two passengers in this collection were writing as you were writing your own tale? I’m wondering if there was any sense of competition in outdoing the others?
CP: I think we were all aware because of those brainstorming sessions, but there was never a sense of competition as far as I could tell. We’re all pretty chill. If anything, we were all eager to help one another when ideas were needed.
RB: Yes, I was aware of the stories being written by Carver and Lucas, but I didn’t feel a sense of competition. Instead, I was focused on writing a strong story that could stand alongside theirs. They both have been writing for much longer than me, so my only competition was with myself. After completing our stories and reading each other’s, I felt a sense of relief wash over me. It was like a heavy weight had been lifted from my shoulders, and I felt a sense of accomplishment.
LM: Beyond the initial ideas, we didn’t keep up much with what was happening on the page in our stories, but I did feel a sense of competition with myself. I mean, I usually do–I think this comes from being a former distance runner–but knowing Crystal Lake’s readership would likely introduce my work to a slew of new readers, I wanted to outdo everything I’d done before.
When did you first get to read the final drafts of the other two stories, and what was your reaction and thoughts after reading them?
CP: We were writing our stories right up to the deadline, as we all had several other projects going on at the same time, so we didn’t swap stories until right at the end. It was pretty cool how all the stories turned out. Both of my co-authors are excellent writers, and they nailed it. Hopefully mine can keep up with theirs.
LM: I read the other stories before Crystal Lake went through with their edits, but I plan to do another read of the anthology as a whole once I get a physical copy. I have a love/hate relationship with reading on screens. That said, the stories impressed me a lot. They’re different than mine (and from each other), but we have that unifying theme of the road tying everything together. I think it will be a fun, varied read for people.
Carver, as for your entry, “Road Wrath,” which takes place on a trip to a college campus, there’s so many angles one could take in a destination bound to be chaotic on a good day let alone under your devious pen. What made you go with such a familiar backdrop, and what themes can we expect to explore with you in this one? I’m guessing regretting one’s poor decision making might be one of them.
CP: The idea for “Road Wrath” came about while on one of my many trips back and forth across West Virginia, where I live, to visit medical specialists. I saw this old, metal, kind of ’70s hippie-style camper being pulled by an old pickup truck. I imagined an old couple in the cab of that truck, who spend their days traversing the highway and cursing travelers they deem disgusting or vile. The curse comes via a creature they keep locked up in their camper. And soon-to-be college kids seemed like the perfect target.
The themes in this one would definitely be good VERSUS evil, man VERSUS monster, and courage. Finding a strength inside you didn’t know existed. And, of course, we can throw in regretting one’s poor decision making.
Do you have any college-related stories of your own that may have veered a bit too dangerously close to a choice gone horribly wrong?
CP: No, I didn’t attend college. I joined the military straight out of high school and just never got around to it. I feel super lame for saying this, but I can’t think of a single story to tell.
And Rowland, your story, “B.I.R.D.S.,” an homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s classic tale, is no small endeavor. What does the acronym stand for, and what does it mean for you to reimagine such a classic?
RB: Revealing the meaning behind the acronym would spoil a crucial twist in the story, so I won’t give it away here. You’ll have to read “B.I.R.D.S.” to uncover its significance. When I first started writing my story, I didn’t intend for it to be a retelling of Hitchcock’s famous psychological horror film. But as the plot unfolded, I couldn’t help but notice some similarities between my story and Hitchcock’s 1963 natural horror-thriller. I’m hesitant to claim that my story is a reimagining of The Birds, as it may come across as arrogant, but I can’t help but feel that it bears some similarities.
For those of us who are familiar with Hitchcock’s Birds, what surprises await us in your rendition?
RB: An infamous conspiracy theory that many assume has already been implemented by shady government officials or people in power.
Lucas, your entry into this anthology, “Dracula and the Devil Walk Into a Bar,” is a brilliant title all on its own. I love the concept of Dracula and Lucifer teaming up and then bringing another vampire, Mina into the fold of their road trip. Obviously, Dracula is a century-old classic with too many creative interpretations to count, but what does your story bring to the lair of Dracula we may not be expecting?
LM: While I did take some cues from the original novel, I wanted to bring more of comic book and manga sensibilities to my story. I set out to take these classic characters and put them in circumstances more absurd, more violent, and more modern than previous texts envisioned. The story is incredibly irreverent, but I did it out of love.
Also, Lucas, I gotta ask you — as someone who sat in the audience at the Scares That Care Gross Out Contest last April with tears running down my face at your sick and hilarious eyeball story, can I expect some of the same over the top fun-filled insanity in this story, too?
LM: Oh, dear. You’re thinking of the other Lucas M(illiron). I was throwing axes with Kenzie Jennings, Rowan Hill, and Laurel Hightower that night. By the time the Gross Out started, I was ready for bed. Lame, I know, but like I said, I’ve mellowed out a lot.
Whoops. That’s what I get for eating infused gummies while writing my questions!
As working class authors who are no stranger to road trips and hopping from hotel to hotel especially during convention season, I would love to hear about the worst road trip you guys have ever taken, assuming they weren’t all sunshine and roses.
RB: On my journey to Texas Authorcon last year while driving in the far-left lane at 75 mph, I noticed pieces of rubber flying into the air behind the car through my rearview mirror. One of my tires had blown out. The car began to veer off course, but I somehow steered it across four lanes of traffic onto the shoulder on the right side. Called the rental agency and they told me they couldn’t send someone out because I was on the freeway. In this Texas summer heat, there was no way I was going to attempt changing a tire by myself. On a flat. I drove across the median, my was car surrounded by thousands of large grasshoppers jumping through the grass. It was a surreal experience as I continued driving with these insects all around me. Roadside assistance eventually arrived and replaced the tire. Rental agency advised me to drive to the nearest Enterprise for a new vehicle, but when I got there, they were completely out of cars. They directed me to a shady mechanic, where my donut was finally replaced and I could continue on to the convention. It was a nightmare.
LM: I once drove a 26 foot Penske truck from East Texas to Philadelphia. Ten minutes into the trek, I got caught in a strong wind and almost lost control of the truck, so I spent the next twenty-five hours going extremely slow and trying to avoid a panic attack.
CP: My worst road trip ever was when I was an erotic/romance author and was driving from a small town in Maryland to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, for a book signing/convention. I’d flown to Maryland and rented a car. I was with my then-assistant and one of my best friends, Kendall. Kendall and I spent the night in Maryland with our friend with plans to drive to the convention the next day. A huge storm kicked up that afternoon and the wind was so strong they closed all the bridges we needed to cross to get to Pennsylvania. We spent the whole day and evening trying to find a way around the storm but every bridge we came to was closed. Night fell and our GPS took us into some really creepy areas. We were on some strange back roads and our phone data kept dropping. We eventually made it to Gettysburg, but what was supposed to only be a couple hours drive and get us there by like 6 or 7 p.m. ended with us arriving after midnight and missing the meet and greet party.
What do you think it is about the idea of an adventurous road trip that provides so much great cannon fodder for worst case scenarios?
CP: I think it’s the fact that you’re far from home, usually with limited supplies, and totally counting on your cell phone provider and your vehicle to make it to your final destination. People disappear all the time and the easiest place for that to happen is in a place nobody expects you to be. So one detour, one visit to a strange roadside attraction, one stop at a cabin or an unfamiliar restaurant or bar can lead to some pretty scary situations.
LM: I think it’s the element of being somewhere unfamiliar. It can be a lot of fun, but all it takes is one thing to go wrong to take things into Texas Chainsaw territory.
RB: Road trips have endless opportunities for things to go terribly wrong. You could end up getting lost and hunted by a family of mutated cannibals. Or maybe you’re just driving home with your sibling from college, only to be pursued by a creature that comes out of hibernation every 23 years to feast on human flesh for 23 days. And let’s not forget the possibility of being stuck in a traffic jam while last night’s Taco Bell suddenly decides to make an appearance, lol.
I’m curious what’s everyone’s favorite road trip book or film gone horribly wrong?
LM: The Hitcher has got to be up there given Rutger Hauer’s chilling performance and a gutsy decision the writers made in the final act. I also like how John Skipp and Craig Spector describe all the driving scenes in their book Animals.
RB: Jeepers Creepers is definitely my top pick among road trip movies gone wrong. It’s a classic, and I may or may not have a small crush on Darry.
CP: The first one that comes to mind is the movie Joyride. It combines the fun fear of road trips gone bad with the old childhood fascination with prank calls. When a couple of college kids goof around on a CB radio and prank a dangerous truck driver, they find themselves the prey in a sick game of cat and mouse. Oh, and the original The Hitcher scared the hell out of me as a kid. Rutger Hauer was awesome in that one.
What’s one thing you will never do on a road trip again that you may have once thought was a good idea?
CP: I’ll never again pick up a hitchhiker. I made that mistake once when I picked up a woman at a gas station. This was when I lived in Florida, so it wasn’t a road trip, I just saw her looking miserable and desperate at a gas station on my way home from work. She was stranded. I offered her a ride and she got into the passenger seat with several plastic bags. It was clear right away that she had issues. She was either on drugs or was just out of her mind. All she could tell me was she needed to go to her boyfriend’s house who lived near the railroad tracks. She led me one direction, said she was wrong, then led me someplace else. She was completely lost, had no phone or phone number, and I was starting to get really creeped out. This went on for probably a half hour to an hour before I suggested she go into a gas station and ask the cashier for directions. She did. I felt really bad for doing this, but I had no idea what else to do to get this woman out of my car, so I quickly put her bags near the gas station door, and left. I still feel bad about it, but she scared me. Everything about that situation felt wrong. So… yeah… never again!
RB: In the past, I would always choose to sit in the backseat during long car rides. However, I soon discovered that the frequent sharp turns and sudden stops left me feeling nauseous. The constant movement and jostling of the car made it difficult for me to find a comfortable position.
LM: I think just being selective with who accompanies me on the road. Make sure I know I can spend more than a few hours with someone without going crazy. I’ve definitely made the wrong choice in companions before, which just made things tense and uncomfortable. From now on, it’s immediate family and close friends only.
On a more tasteful note, guys, what are your must haves to bring with you on any long road trip to ensure best results whether it’s something to eat, something to read, or something for comfort or otherwise?
RB: As I embark on a road trip, my must-haves include a carefully curated selection of audiobooks, preferably within the horror, or fantasy genre to keep me entertained and alert throughout my journey. And what’s a road trip without some good tunes? My trusty Kate Bush Pandora station is a must-have for setting the perfect mood. Last, but not least is snacks. An abundance of snacks — sweet, savory, salty — I pack them all.
LM: I always make sure to bring audiobooks and plenty of water.
CP: I always have to have a notebook and pen. Half the time I don’t get around to using them, but if I need to write and don’t have anything to write with, I’ll go crazy. Usually I just end up using my phone’s memo pad. I love Tootsie Roll Pops on long road trips. Lots of water. Oh, and I’ve been addicted to these Mexican street corn flavored almonds. That’s a good road trip snack. And, yes, I like to bring a book or my kindle.
Okay, we readers have our bags are packed, our excitement is high, and our sense of adventure is amped up as we wait by the door for our ride to show up. Without letting us peek at the map, tell us what we can expect from traversing down the highway you three road warriors have prepared for us in this anthology?
CP: This trip you’re going on will have you fending off a fiendish flying menace, visiting a roadside bar with some quite colorful and deranged customers, and trying to escape the “Road Wrath” curse. I’m so terrible at those kinds of summaries, Rick. Why did you do that to me?! Ha!
LM: All gas, no brakes. These are fast-paced stories that you can read in one sitting, full of monsters, mayhem, and (if you’re listening) a barrel of laughs.
RB: A harsh learned lesson about the consequences of taking what does not rightfully belong to you, illustrated by a gathering of feathered fowl that are anything but friendly, with a twist ?.
Assuming we survive this trip from hell, is there anything else of yours we should be looking out for in 2024?
LM: In April, I’m publishing a book called Barn Door to Hell, which is about a family who’s kept a demon in their barn for several generations in exchange for healthy crops. The evil escapes, turning its victims into psychopathic scarecrows. Then, in October, I have a book I can’t formally announce yet, but it’s with a publisher I adore, and from a stylistic standpoint, it should appeal to fans of my Splatterpunk Award-nominated novella Saint Sadist.
RB: I have a few things. I’ll be releasing the dramatized audiobook for Dr. Parasite hopefully in Feb. 2024. Completely with sound effects and background music.
Then in March 2024 I am part of a Collaborative Exquisite Corpse Tale titled Zombacon, a splatterpunk horror comedy novella composed of the written work of thirteen authors with each author writing his/her chapter before passing the story to the next author in line.
Also, March 2024 I have a story in an anthology titled Does the Dog Die? which features 17 tales that may or may not end bloody for our furry friends. Each author will decide the fate of the pooch featured in their story.
Also, I have a story in Folkloric: Tales of Folklore and Horror, an anthology slated for release by Sentinel Creatives I believe in June 2024.
Lastly, I hope to release a small collection of three short stories I’m working on in the last quarter of 2024.
CP: Yes, Jack Bantry from Splatterpunk Zine just released Splatterpunk’s Basement of Horrors. That has such an awesome lineup of authors. My story in that one is called Do You Have Splatterpunk? I think you’ll get a kick out of that one.
I’m also trying to finish up my full-length novel version of Cannibal Caviar which was originally a short story in a book called Exits, also published by Jack Bantry.
The fifth book in my Edge of Reflection dark fantasy series is almost done. It’s tentatively titled Repressing Rage.
I’m working on the prequel to Scalp, my parasitic head lice book, and should have that wrapped up in 2024.
Hopefully I’ll have a few other projects completed.
Thank you so much for doing this interview, Rick!