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