Author Interview – Brian Rathbone

Twitter’s been a great venue for me to find fellow writers and share our unique senses of humor. One of the funniest I’ve come across is Fantasy author, Brian Rathbone. His quick one-liners always crack me up and made me very curious about the man lurking behind all those dragon jokes. And so, without further delay, here’s what I was able to find out. 

Hi, everybody! I’m Brian and I’m weird but it’s okay. I promise.

Some writers come to writing later in life, almost accidentally, while others have been honing their skills from a very young age. How did your journey as a writer begin? What were some of your favorite books as a child and can you tell me a bit more about your children’s book, “The Silliest Dragon”?

As a kid, I hated reading. It was a forced act lumped in my mind with homework and making my bed—things to avoid at all cost! Then I read a Wrinkle in Time. It was unlike anything else I had read, and I was able to get lost in it. My tastes soon shifted to fantasy and series like Dragonlance, The Belgariad, Incarnations of Immortality, and other requisite fantasy reading of the 1980’s and 1990’s. I knew from that point that I would someday write my own stories, it was something I told my wife of 25 years on our first date, but it took some time and a couple false starts before the magic could happen.

May, 2005, in the Atlanta Airport, I inherently knew my time with my current employer would soon end. I flipped open my laptop and started writing a story I’d been thinking about for 15 years. It took another five years to have any success, and more than a decade to produce the twelve books that currently make up the World of Godsland fantasy series.

SILLY_cover-gpThe Silliest Dragon was also the result of workplace drama. After a meeting that left me so angry I could barely contain myself, I drove home and somehow managed to channel my rage and disgust into a message of hope, laughter, silliness, and love (I really have no idea how or why that works.) My friend Matt Ostrom is the one who really brought The Silliest Dragon to life in two dimensions, three dimensions, and even augmented reality. The 3D printed Silliest Dragon is the first of my characters I can hold in my hand. How cool is that? And the Silliest Dragon AR app lets The Silliest Dragon come to life whenever the camera is aimed at a print copy of the Silliest Dragon.

The little purple guy has become very popular in the India as well as the US, and now he has two more books coming out.

The Silliest Dragon Goes to School
The Silliest Dragon Goes to the Zoo

Speaking of dragons – you Tweet about them a lot! Clearly they are your favorite mythical beast. But, what about unicorns? I hear you spend a great deal of time thinking about them, too. Where do they stand in the Brian Rathbone Universe?

Unicorns are a dangerous subject. Very pointy… In all honesty, I find dragons easier to write in a credible way, although my horse training experience would seem more relevant there than with dragons, but that’s not how it has worked out. I may find a way to work the magical creatures into my fiction at some point, but mixing them with dragons just seems like a vet bill waiting to happen.

My tweets, while inspired by my fiction, have a flavor and personality all their own. When throwing things at the wall to see what sticks, unicorn jokes almost always stick. This is why so many of them end up as short-order cooks in little “hole-in-the-wall” places. It’s just physics.

Setting a mood for a story is one of the most important parts of writing, but what about setting the mood for yourself as you sit down to write? Do you have a special time and place, or maybe some music you like to put on to get your creative juices flowing for a good session?

My process is to walk and work on the scene in my mind until it plays smoothly, taking hand-written notes along the way. I will often listen to classic and progressive rock to set the mood. The Wind Blew Them All Away by Transatlantic is a particular favorite. When scene plays like a movie in my mind, I sit down and try to get the scene to go from my brain, through my fingers, and into keyboard. That never works. I muddle through anyway leaving a trail of typos and errant tildes just for flavor. I then go back through my hand-written notes and make sure I didn’t miss any gems. Repeat this process four to five times per writing day, and I can complete a rough draft in three weeks. I then bask in the glory of being a writer for a week or two before knocking myself back down a few pegs during the editing process.

Despite all the memes that keep screaming at authors to be writing during every waking moment, all occupations require some downtime. When you’re not writing, what activities allow you to relax and regroup?

I’m weird. Have I mentioned that? I haven’t written fiction in three years. When I write, I tend to binge write. I fight and scrape to find dedicated blocks of time where I can concentrate and write more cohesive novels. In some ways, writing fiction is how I regroup from the other things I do, and vice versa. Professionally, I am a technology generalist, programmer, inventor, tinkerer, and computer networking jack-of-all-trades. I’ve written software that manages the manufacturing of sofas, fruit salads, and car mirrors. Sometimes I get them mixed up. If your sofa tastes funny, don’t blame me, it’s closer than it appears.

I also write technical non-fiction, mostly for state and federal agencies regarding the mapping and expansion of broadband internet access in underserved areas. Telling dragon jokes on Twitter is like a vacation from it all, and I don’t get to spend nearly as much time interacting these days as I would like.

When I’m not doing those things, I really enjoy online auto racing—the more realistic the better. I’ve been known to take a car with dragons painted on it to victory lane. You should see the burnouts!

Godsland-Bundle-webI know there must be several works in progress going on. Can you tell me what’s up next for you and about any recent releases? Where can people learn more about your work?

I’m so excited to begin the fourth trilogy in the main Godsland story line. This trilogy will complete the primary story line. I also have a sequel to Dragon Airways to write, and I have an idea I’ve been honing for a couple years now for a stand-alone fantasy novel that is more suitable for traditional publication. While I haven’t written any fiction for years, I have continued to hone the characters and stories in my mind. It’s always fun when I get to brain dump a nearly completed novel.

Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to share a bit of yourself with my readers and me.

Thanks to you and your readers for playing along.

Brian is stalkable on Twitter as Fantasy Author @BrianRathbone. You can find Brian’s work on his website www.brianrathbone.com or visit his Google Play Store.

Book Review – Thirteen Days By Sunset Beach by Ramsey Campbell (2018) Flame Tree Press

Though not entirely oblivious of Ramsey Campbell’s name and work, I am hard-pressed to recall what stories or novels of his I’ve read in the past and I know I have. Likely way back in the 80’s when I easily devoured a novel a week and paid little attention to the author’s name. When I saw this book on the list of titles I’d be getting with the other Flame Tree Press ARCs I requested, I was pretty excited to refresh my memory on Campbell’s work.

As a fan of the genre and the monstrous beings that inhabit it, I quickly picked up on what Ray, his wife Sandra, and the rest of their family were about to encounter on the Greek island of Vasilema during a two-week-long family vacation. Over the course of the holiday, Sandra – who is dying – finds herself feeling rejuvenated while her teenage grandchildren act like dark and brooding teens forced to endure quality family time in a family that seems hell-bent on squabbling among themselves.

I struggled a quite bit with the dialogue, the main reason I gave it 3 instead of 4 stars. At times it didn’t seem to flow as naturally as it could have and I kept wondering if maybe I was having a hard time because of a difference between British layout vs. American. One too many times I found myself puzzled over who was speaking or thinking what was being said by a particular character didn’t come across as being age-appropriate.

Other than that, Campbell handles the subject matter well and in such a way that other readers, maybe not so familiar with it, will find themselves deeper into the novel before they realize where the danger lurks. Despite knowing, I was still pulled in wondering when these people would come to their collective senses and take some precautionary measures to protect themselves and not leave poor Ray floundering all alone with his suspicions. How is Ray ever going to be able to convince them that there’s more going on that just make-believe stories and local legends? Is he going to be able to protect his wife, children, and grandchildren from any of it? Will they be able to get off the island before it’s too late?

I found Thirteen Days By Sunset Beach a very unique take on the genre – something that is increasingly hard to come by. For that reason alone would recommend it to others who are looking for something outside the normal hum-drum way of presenting it.

3 out of 5 Ravens

The Raven Scale
1 Raven:  Ew. Yuck. Don’t Eat That.
2 Ravens: Bread Crumbs, A Bit Dry & Flavorless, But It’ll Keep Us Alive.
3 Ravens: Peanuts, Popcorn, And Cat Kibble! Nom-nom.
4 Ravens: Pizza Place Dumpster After Lunch! Hell, yeah!
5 Ravens: Holy Shit! Fresh Road Kill, Dudes!

Book Review – The Sky Woman by J.D. Moyer (2018) Flame Tree Press

In all honesty, when I saw the cover, “Ugh, I’m going to have to slog through Science-fiction”, I wasn’t really looking forward to reading this book. But, being as when I received the ARC from Flame Tree Press and said I’d write up a review for my blog, I felt an obligation and I try and keep my word no matter how difficult it may be. Turns out, it wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be at all.

Car-En is on a mission, an exploratory mission to Earth in the 28th century. She, and others like her, have explicit order not to intervene with what now passes as intelligent life on the planet. Of course, how dull a story would it be if Car-En followed directions? She soon finds herself involved with the inhabitants of the small village of Happdal who are suffering from what appears to be radiation poisoning as well as the threat of invasion from another nearby settlement. Car-En just can’t resist the urge to help them in some small way. That small way is going to land Car-En into a heap of life-threatening trouble.

Moyer has created an incredible and detailed vision of Earth’s future that I found original and refreshing. He also kept the technical aspect of traditional Science-fiction down to a manageable and easy-to-understand level, Science-fiction for Dummies, in a way. That’s a wonderful thing in my book as that’s my biggest problem with the genre. I have a very hard time picturing future technology. The majority of the story is told from Car-En’s perspective and as she’s on Earth where all our modern gadgetry and beyond is a thing of the very distant past, it really helped me get into and understand what was going on. It was all very much like a Fantasy novel in that respect.

The residents of Happdal are of Nordic descent, adding a very mythical and down-to-earth element to the plot and characters. It makes you feel as if you’re in the ancient past and distant future all at the same time. They were well-rounded and realistic and I instantly cared about what was happening in the village and with its residence. Car-En’s curiosity became my own as she watched from various hiding places. It helped a great deal that the lead here was female, too. It made her much more relatable to me.

All in all, The Sky Woman is a great and very satisfying read no matter if you’re into Science-fiction or not.

4 out of 5 Ravens

The Raven Scale
1 Raven:  Ew. Yuck. Don’t Eat That.
2 Ravens: Bread Crumbs, A Bit Dry & Flavorless, But It’ll Keep Us Alive.
3 Ravens: Peanuts, Popcorn, And Cat Kibble! Nom-nom.
4 Ravens: Pizza Place Dumpster After Lunch! Hell, yeah!
5 Ravens: Holy Shit! Fresh Road Kill, Dudes!

Author Interview – Isobel Blackthorn

As a female author of Horror, you quickly come to realize the genre is very much dominated by male writers. I find that odd as women have been in the business of writing Gothic Horror since the 18th century and that a woman, Mary Shelley, penned one of the great masterpieces of horror with her novel Frankenstein.

With that in mind, I am always thrilled to land an interview with a fellow female writer of the genre and this month that woman is Isobel Blackthorn!

  1. Setting a mood for a story is one of the most important parts of writing, but what about setting the mood for yourself as you sit down to write? Do you have a special time and place, or maybe some music you like to put on to get your creative juices flowing for a good session?

CABIN SESSIONS FRONT COVER 4 800x500 For years I thought I needed to set the mood for myself in order to write. When all I really needed was to have pen and paper, my sofa and solitude. I have to be alone. Living alone means I am always in the mood for writing and I dip in and out all day long from the moment I wake up until I stop to make dinner. I write at a leisurely pace. I try not to care about output and I don’t mind occasional interruptions. I cannot write anywhere other than my home, which means wherever I happen to be living as I move a lot. Two things put me off writing. Music and barking dogs. Silence is king.

 

 

  1. Every writer started somewhere. Can you tell us a little bit about what prompted you to become a writer? Was it childhood dream or something you fell into more recently? Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?

I have always wanted to be a writer but it was a secret desire, even secret from me for many decades. In my late-teens I toyed with song lyrics. Then it was little bits of poetry. Friends and others encouraged me, told me I had talent but I didn’t believe them. In my mid-twenties something reared up in me, an urge, a surge of creative impulse. It was the 1980s and I was living in Oxford surrounded by literature. I began to talk to my friends about wanting to write fiction and I did make a half-hearted attempt at a novel. I had no idea what I was doing or how to go about it. None at all. Back then, there were no creative writing degrees. If there had been, I would have been the first to enroll. Lacking a mentor or any sort of guidance, I gave up. Life took me in other directions.

A few years later, I was living in the Canary Islands, Spain. I was living in the grand old house of my boyfriend, and he was the first to really believe in me as a writer. He was about to travel to Indonesia to buy an old wooden boat and sail it back to Spain to sell for a fortune. He wanted me to travel with him and write the memoir. What an adventure! What an opportunity! Only, I still had no idea how to write creatively. Even though I yearned to do it, I had no confidence, no self belief. I did go with my beau to Bali, but finding myself in an awfully dangerous situation there, I fled to Australia. The next time I felt an impulse to write was in the mid-1990s. Again, I had a go at writing a novel. Three chapters in, I gave up. Every now and then the impulse would rise up in me, only to die back down deflated.

Finally, in 2007, I was employed by a literary agent as her PA. My luck had changed. Suddenly I had someone who truly believed I could write. By then I had a PhD so damn straight I could write! But there is an ocean of difference between academic and creative writing. Another stroke of luck, the best, was I made friends with an author who agreed to be my mentor. His belief in my writing was transformational. It was incredibly affirming and validating and by then I was in my late forties and oh so hungry to learn. Now, I feel I am making up for lost time.

  1. Taking breaks from the intensity of work is important to everyone. What sorts of activities do you enjoy doing that aren’t related to writing. Hobbies? Travel? Maybe jumping out of airplanes?

I knit. I have my cat for company. I go for walks and have coffee with friends. I visit family, friends, sometimes travel. You can imagine from my answer to your last question that I don’t have a big desire to do anything other than write, but people are important to me.

  1. As a Horror writer myself I am often asked how I can write such things and doesn’t it keep me up at night. (It doesn’t.) What sorts of things scare you?

Gran ParksTons of things scare me. I cannot watch most horror movies. Even the music puts me on edge. Although I love Tarantino. I am not so easily spooked as I used to be. I used to be terrified of the dark and being alone in a house at night. I’ve lived in haunted houses and managed to eliminate the ghosts through my own force of will, but it was unnerving having things switch themselves on right beside you. I come from a long line of occultists, Spiritualists, healers. I stay away from horror because I do not want to invite that sort of energy into my life. Which might make anyone reading this ask what kind of self-respecting horror writer am I? I write dark psychological thrillers and satire. I like the line between horror and comedy. The British movie, Sightseers, for example. I like my horror twisted. I don’t want to be terrified. I want my mind bent out of shape a little, the way it is when you find yourself siding with the killer. I’m going to plug Gerri Gray’s Amnesia Girl, as a great example of the horror I like. And I love gothic horror of the No Rest for the Wicked kind, too! HellBound Books is a comfortable place for me to be because they publish a diverse range of quality horror and there is something for all horror tastes.

  1. I’ve always got a work in progress. Do you have anything in the works that you can give us a hint about and where can people find out more about your already published works and about you?

I have another two works of dark fiction in the pipeline. One is a gothic mystery set in the Canary Islands. The other is a Noir thriller, erotic romance style. I am very excited about this one. I don’t want to spoil the surprise but it sizzles! I am always pushing the boundaries, exploring new styles and genres. To date, I have five novels published by small presses, along with a short-story collection and my memoir.

They are all on Amazon and you can read excerpts, reviews and more on my website. https://isobelblackthorn.com/ All my fiction packs a punch and most contains occult themes. I can be found on:

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Lovesick.Isobel.Blackthorn/

Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5768657.Isobel_Blackthorn

Twitter @IBlackthorn

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/isobelblackthorn/

Pinterest https://www.pinterest.com.au/isobelblackthor/

Tumblr http://isobelblackthorn.tumblr.com/

Movie Review – A Boy & His Dog (1975)

Starring Don Johnson, Susanne Benton, Ron Feinberg, and Jason Robards. Directed by L.Q. Jones. Based on a short story by Harlan Ellison.

This little blast from the past was brought to my attention by my husband. He’d seen it before and thought I’d enjoy it so we sat down with a huge bowl of popcorn and off we went into the post-Apocalyptic world and the journey of well, a boy and his dog.

It’s 2024 and mankind has managed to remain alive, though far from civilized, following World War IV. Women seem to be at a premium because young Vic (Don Johnson) is horny as hell, but luckily for him his mind-reading, psychic talking dog, Blood, can sniff out a female from miles around. The two bicker constantly (mentally, of course) and no one but Vic can hear Blood advising, warning, and generally annoying Vic. All Vic wants to do is get laid. All Blood wants is to be fed. Despite their squabbles, they are a team and survive for and because of each other.

Eventually, Blood sniffs out a fine, ripe female for Vic at what passes for a town in 2024 and Vic is just about to make his move when danger befalls them all. A group of raiders descends on the place along with what are called Screamers. We never see these so-called Screamers, we just know they apparently glow green, scream, and kill everything in their path. After surviving the attack, Vic and Blood are ready to move on while the girl (Quilla) wants to return home to a place known as the Down Under. (No, it’s not Australia – but apparently a vast world located deep underground.) In order to escape from Vic (who wants to keep her around for sex) Quilla bashes him on the head, but Vic will not be so easily put off. He insists on perusing her and it is at the entry to the Down Under that he and Blood part ways. Blood keeps warning him that it’s a bad, bad, bad idea to go down there and agrees to wait for Vic to return, at least for a little while.

The boy really should have listened to his dog.

This movie is so 1975! It has a very Mad Max meets Fallout feel to it. There aren’t any special effects to speak of, just a weird bit of post-Apocalyptic shoot ‘em up fun about one young man’s struggles to get laid in a world gone to hell and a heaping helping a justice served in the end. This was a fun film that I really enjoyed. Not mind-blowing but certainly worth a watch if you’re looking for something a bit off the beaten path.

Raven Rating: 3 Caws.

The Raven Scale:
1 Raven: Yuck! Don’t eat that.
2 Ravens: Bread crumbs, but it’ll keep us alive.
3 Ravens: Oh, hey! Peanuts, popcorn and cat kibble!
4 Ravens: Lunch time pizza place dumpster. Hell, yeah!
5 Ravens: Holy Shit, Fellas! Fresh Road Kill!

 

Movie Review – The Open House

The Open House (2018) – Netflix. Directed by Matt Angel & Suzanne Coote. Starring Dylan Minnette, Piercey Dalton, Patricia Bethune

I went into this film completely blind. I didn’t watch the trailer. I’d only heard about it from another Horror movie fan in passing. Honestly, I don’t even remember what they said about it. I only remembered the title.  I had no idea whatsoever what it was going to be about and didn’t read a single review.

After the sudden death of his father, Logan and his mother, Naomi, move into Naomi’s sister’s vacation home in the mountains to get away from it all and try to rebuild their lives. The house is huge and gorgeous. Only problem, it’s also for sale. The Sunday after the mother and son move in, there is to be an open house. The realtor sends them off for the day and tells them in no uncertain terms to not return until after five o’clock. While they are away strangers come and go. Upon their return, the realtor’s assistant is still in the house doing a quick, last minute walk-thru. He hurries away as soon as he finds out they’re back.

Shortly after, the weirdness begins. Logan hears strange thudding sounds coming from the basement but finds nothing and no one down there when he investigates. The water heater, also in the basement, keeps shutting off. The two local people Naomi and Logan have met seem to have an unnatural interest in what’s happening at the house. One neighbor, Martha, appears to be lying about the death of her husband. Another is found prowling around the outside, peering into windows. What’s going on here? Who are these creepy people and what’s up with the water heater? Even when the police are called in they don’t seem too concerned or interested in what is obviously breaking and entering. They chalk it up to just some neighborhood kids having a bit of fun.

I had no hopes going into this beyond what anyone would hope for in a movie – to be satisfactorily entertained and I was to a degree. It’s far from the greatest things since sliced bread and the red herrings thrown in to keep the viewer off track on who is really causing all the problems were well done. Unfortunately, the viewer is never given a solid solution or explanation of the goings on. There seems to be a lot of backstory missing about the house, the neighbors, and maybe even the neighborhood in which is stands. We never find out much of anything and are just left with a wide open sore. You almost get the feeling that this is not a simple case of home invasion, but that the entire town is somehow in on it, but you’re never told why if that’s the case. The ending was full of one predictable cliché after another.

It’s wasn’t a TERRIBLE movie or what I feel to be a waste of 90 minutes, but it fell pretty flat when it comes to offering a satisfying resolution and stepping outside your standard Horror tropes.

Raven Rating: 2 Caws.

The Raven Scale:
1 Raven: Yuck! Don’t eat that.
2 Ravens: Bread crumbs, but it’ll keep us alive.
3 Ravens: Oh, hey! Peanuts, popcorn and cat kibble!
4 Ravens: Lunch time pizza place dumpster. Hell, yeah!
5 Ravens: Holy Shit, Fellas! Fresh Road Kill!

Author Interview – Jason Brant

  1. For me, writing has been a life-long passion. When did you first get the writing bug and what were some of the earliest stories you wrote about?

I never even considered writing fiction until I was 30. No shorts or abandoned novels or anything. I was miserable working a government job and I just up and quit one day. While sitting around my house, enjoying unemployment, I stumbled across JA Konrath’s blog and read up on self-publishing. A few weeks later, I was typing away every day. It sure beats working for the government.

Ash1-ebook-webThe first piece of fiction I ever worked on was a novella titled Echoes, which centered around a man who gained telepathic abilities from a traumatic brain injury. It sucked. But I published it anyway, because I didn’t realize how bad it was at the time. A year or two later, I took it down and rewrote it into a novel titled Ash which is now the most popular work I have.

The second story I attempted was my West of Hell series. I haven’t gone back to them since I finished them, so I can’t imagine they’re any good either. (Note from Pamela – I’ve read the first two books in the West of Hell series and really enjoyed them. Need to get Book 3 one of these days.)

 

  1. You frequently mention your Asher Benson series and it seems these books are the ones people are most familiar with, but what about your three standalone novels? Could you tell me a bit more about those?

The Gate is a sort of Lovecraftian story that pokes fun at ghost hunters. It was my first novel and a total blast to write. Monsters and douchebags. My kinda story.

The Dark is set in the same universe as The Gate, but isn’t a sequel. It revolves around a living darkness that descends upon the city of Aberdeen, MD. Anyone caught without a light source dies a horrible and nearly instantaneous death. This book is the one that kind of put me on the map for a lot of people and allowed me to pay my mortgage.

Aces High is a novel co-written with romance and fantasy author Elle Casey. She’s brilliant and a NYT bestselling author, so who knows why she agreed to write a book with me. I imagine she regrets that decision to this day. The book is very different from my other stuff and is more of a young adult novel than anything else. Elle is hilarious and her humor runs rampant throughout.

  1. Not only are you a writer, but you have several podcasts. How did Drinking With Jason, So Bad It’s Good, and most recently Final Guys come into being.

I initially started Drinking with Jason to meet other authors. Typically, I don’t do book signings or conventions, so I’m a bit on the outside when it comes to knowing others in the community. The podcast was a good way to spend an hour talking to my peers. Unfortunately, I don’t do the show as often as I should because scheduling artists for interviews is akin to herding cats.

So Bad It’s Good is just to express my love for bad movies. It’s an enormous amount of work with no return, but we have a blast doing it. It also suffers from painfully bad production quality, just like the movies we’re enjoying.

Final Guys is an idea I’ve had for a few years now, but finally decided to pounce on in 2017. I consume an enormous amount of horror and haven’t had an avenue to talk about it. Jack and Hunter suffer from the same horror obsession, which made them perfect for co-hosts. We have a lot of fun doing it and between the three of us, we’re able to curate a ton of movies, shows, and books which is hopefully useful to our listeners.

  1. Rumor has it you’re working on some new material. Can you give us a hint at what this is and when it might be ready for the public?

Devoured1-ebook-web I’m close to finishing the fourth book in my series, The Hunger. It’s actually the beginning of a new three-book arc that I’m hoping to finish by the end of the summer. After that, I have more to write in the Asher Benson series and have several ideas for standalone novels.

  1. Where can people find out more about all things Jason Brant?

www.authorjasonbrant.com is the best place. You can find my books and social media links there, along with my stupid side projects. And www.finalguys.com for the podcast and a bunch of horror movie and book reviews.

 

Bloody Good Horror Books Reviews “Dark Hollow Road”

About a month ago I sent a copy of “Dark Hollow Road” to Renier Palland of Bloody Good Horror Books seeking an honest, unbiased review. This morning, I was thrilled to see he’d posted one. This is probably the first review I’ve gotten from someone who has absolutely no personal investment in anything to do with me and I so appreciate his 100% honesty!

“Dark Hollow Road” by author Pamela Morris is a genre-specific paranormal tale with a substantial baseline. It features child abuse – not gratuitous – revenge, and redemption. The latter two elements can be misconstrued in most literary works, but Morris treats these literary elements with a gentile decadence, turning them into solid plot devices and powerful plot development. The novel, which is reminiscent of “The Blair Witch” in certain aspects, contains a deluge of paranormal and haunted house allusions. The antagonistic protagonist, Mary, reminded me of a neo-noir Carrie with similar, albeit completely different “powers”.

Morris feeds the reader a spoonful of youthful fear, i.e. Children become the go-to narrative in the novel. I’ll always refer to Stephen King’s “It” as the ultimate Jungian and totemic Freudian child horror story. Novelists have tried, and failed, to live up to the gratuitous and mind-numbingly terrifying world of “It”. It’s the magnum opus which most authors attempt to reach throughout their careers. Morris came close, but not close enough. “Dark Hollow Road” is imbued with so many paranormal and literary homages that it’s difficult to critique the novel as a stand-alone story. I found myself reminiscing about several works during the read-and-review process.

What does this mean exactly?

Firstly, it means that Morris is a masterful writer. Secondly, Morris tried her utmost best to create a familiar horror setting, yet failed at the finish line. And lastly, Morris delved into the psyches of childhood fears and childhood imaginations to create a slightly garden variety work of literature.

I wouldn’t go so far as to label it as unique or even fresh – Morris stepped into a genre-specific swamp throughout most of the novel. It’s as if she drew too much inspiration from too many areas, bundled it all together and created a horror author lovechild without knowing who the parents were. “Directionless” would be the best adjective to describe the novel.

As far as characterisation goes, Morris never misses a beat. Her characters are full, robust and weighty. This, combined with a good ear for dialogue, creates a gratifying novel with a terrifying amount of veracity. Morris knows her characters, and most importantly, they know her. Plot development, climax and denouement were all on par. Not excellent, but good enough to not be detrimental to the overall narrative. I would have liked to have seen more symbolism and perhaps a touch of social commentary. Horror novels are like measuring sticks for the societal psyche – it’s important to tell a story with enough social commentary to stop it from going blind and bland. Morris’ writing style and technique are similar to the above mentioned technicalities – good, but not great. I do believe that the novel required slightly more robust editing. It felt loose and frayed at the ends. With a proper, firm edit, “Dark Hollow Road” would have been a much stronger novel. The structuring was also off-kilter and there are quite a few set pieces that didn’t belong in the novel. It would have been more powerful without them.

I do think that Morris is a splendid author with natural control over her characters and their stories. It doesn’t always pan out while one writes the novel, nor does it float to the surface during editing. Sometimes, just sometimes, a novel can contain too much for its own good. Although this might not have been Morris’ best work, there’s definitely room for improvement. She could easily surpass Nicole Cushing if she focuses more on the directness of her novel and uses an iron fist during the editing process.

RATING: 4 out of 5

Overall, I’m happy with this and he makes some great points about hitting the editing process a little harder. It’s very difficult to edit properly when I’m at a place in my career where I don’t have access to a professional and experienced editor. Maybe some day soon that will happen. Of course, there are aspects I don’t agree with either – my writing isn’t about symbolism or making social commentary, for example. I’m just telling a story. May the reader take from it what they will. But, you know what? 4 out of 5 stars is NOTHING to sneeze at and I think that’s something to be pretty damn proud of.

Movie Review – Hereditary (2018)

Directed by Ari Aster. Staring Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd, and Gabriel Byrne.

With all the ranting and raving I’d heard about this movie from so many different directions, I figured this has got to be awesome. Super scary, people leaving their lights on, afraid to look in the shadows, the whole nine yards.

So, to celebrate my Hubby’s birthday, he wanted to go see this movie. Of course, it’s not playing anywhere near us anymore, so the next logical choice was to hop on the motorcycle and make a whole day of it by riding to a theater 115 mile away. We decided to catch the first available show at 11:15 so headed out at 7am to give us plenty of time to stop for breakfast and get to the theater before it got too ungodly hot outside.

Four hours later with snacks and cold drinks in hand, we settled into comfy chairs and were prepared to be scared.

Annie Graham’s estranged, secretive, and controlling mother, Ellen, has passed away and quite frankly, Annie seems less than upset about it. Very soon after, Annie starts seeing what she believes to be her mother’s ghost. Her son, Peter, 17 and daughter, Charlie, 13, are also acting strangely and seeing their grandmother’s spirit. The only one seemingly immune to all of this is their father, Steve. Peter becomes plagued with nightmares and hallucinations. Charlie decapitates a dead bird for one of her strange little dolls – a foreshadowing of things to come.

Forced to take his sister to a high school party, Peter must later try and rush her to a hospital when she eats some cake with peanuts in it and goes into anaphylactic shock. Charlie opens the car window in an attempt to get some air, sticks her head out and BAM! is decapitated by a telephone pole. That moment, and her mother’s utter agony over the death of her daughter, was the most shocking and gut-wrenching part of the film for me.

The real insanity of the family comes full on after that, as little by little Annie begins to unravel the true, non-material legacy her mother has left behind. It’s bizarre and twisted and gruesome to say the least.

But, was it scary? Would I be keeping an eye on the shadows for weeks to come? Would I insist on sleeping with a light on? Would every waking moment find me haunted by images and thoughts of this alleged “…uncommonly unsettling horror film whose cold touch lingers long beyond the closing credits.” Would this “scariest movie of 2018” hunt me down even in my sleep?

Um, no. Not so much. And to rank it up there with The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby goes beyond the absurd.

I’m a big fan of weird stuff. I’ve dabbled in the occult since the day my grandmother decided I needed a Ouija board for my 13th birthday – yeah, you read that right. I’ve read hundreds of novels about vampires, witches, ghosts, demons, and all things that go bump in the night. I teethed on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Outer Limits. I grew up watching Twilight Zone and Kolchak: The Night Stalker. I’ve read even more novels and non-fiction books about the subjects. I know what I find frightening and disturbing. Hereditary isn’t it.

It’s not even that I don’t ‘get’ what was going on in the third and final act. I get it. I know what old Gramma Ellen was all about. But, I was never scared. There wasn’t even a single jump scare. Actually, kids, I may have dozed off for a couple minutes at one point. Hubby wasn’t impressed either. He wondered if maybe it’s because neither of us are of the Christian persuasion. We both liked A Quiet Place better, even with its myriad of logic flaws. At least it had some real suspense and jump scares going on.

In fact, there were two far more frightening events that day than this movie. First, the very sudden, tire-squealing stop we had to make on the motorcycle and second the last half hour of the ride home through a cold and torrential thunder and lightning storm. Any idea how painful rain drops are on your bare arms and face at 50 mph?

2 out of 5 Ravens.

The Raven Scale:
1 Raven: Yuck! Don’t eat that.
2 Ravens: Bread crumbs, but it’ll keep us alive.
3 Ravens: Oh, hey! Peanuts, popcorn and cat kibble!
4 Ravens: Lunch time pizza place dumpster. Hell, yeah!
5 Ravens: Holy Shit, Fellas! Fresh Road Kill!

Author Interview – K.T. Katzmann

K.T. Katzmann, a fan of Lovecraft, Dr. Who, and Columbo, writes about monsters! How could I NOT want to delve deeper and find out more about this already interesting fellow author?!

Pamela: I’ve been writing for as long as I’ve been able to string letters into words and words into sentences. When did your writing bug bite and what was the first story you can remember creating?

K.T.Katzmann K.T.: An elementary school creative writing class gave me the infection, and by eight I was binding comic books out of printer paper and staples. Imagine really trashy derivative Goonies/Monster Squad pastiches. I tried writing prose, but my Mom would read them to her friends over the phone in silly voices, so I stopped for about half my life. I threw all my creative juices into role-playing games, which left no evidence behind with which my mom could embarrass me.

It was years later, at one of these sessions, that writing dug its claws in again. During one exceptionally, mind-bendingly boring game I found my mind searching for any form of entertainment possible. I’d been thinking of a fan fiction premise on and off that week, so I just started typing in the middle of the game.

I’m told I had a disquieting grin on my face the whole time.

By the end of the session, I’d written a full chapter. I learned how to post it online, made it big on a major fan blog, and attracted fans who taught me by critiquing my writing. I was eventually getting ready for my next fiction, laptop out in an IHOP, when I had a revelation.

I was preparing to write about two popular background characters who never even had speaking lines. I’d created their entire relationship and personalities in my head. I suddenly wondered: why the hell didn’t I start making up my own things and just publish it for real?

And, I swear, one day I’ll come out about my fan fiction account name. People are still posting comments about that last one needing an ending…

Murder with Monsters Pamela : I see you are a fan of Lovecraft as well as Dr. Who. Monster detectives seems a far cry from either of those. What inspired you to write “Murders With Monsters”?

K.T.: I grew up loving detectives. I may have been the only nine-year old in my class devouring Murder, She Wrote and Columbo. My parents got a little worried when I got my hands on a Barbie Dreamhouse and immediately had Barbie throw Ken off the roof for the insurance money.

I also love monsters, including all the really obscure ones. Almost every urban fantasy book, however, translates into “That One Kind of Stuff is Real AND NOBODY KNOWS.” I started to wonder what life would be like if everything was real and everyone knew.

Laurel K. Hamilton set the last ball rolling. There’s a line in one of the Anita Blake books where the hero’s partner comments about a dragon being around. “That’s ridiculous,” she says. “Dragons were never native to the North American continent.”

That’s a brilliant line. And all that stuff was churning around one day when, in a role-playing game, my friend said I could make any type of character and design their entire world with no limitations.

Within five minutes, I had a Jewish vampire detective stuck for eternity with a horrible name and late teenage looks. Mildred Heavewater had sprang fully formed from my head as she appears on the pages now. Another five minutes, and I’d sketched out a world where Cthulhu could address the UN and the Jersey Devil was a reality show star.

Pamela: Many writers I’ve interviewed find they write best to a certain type of music and even create playlists for their current work in progress. Is this sort of thing true for you as well or are you more a “I need silence” kind of writer?

K.T.: I have ADHD, so I get distracted really easily. I can’t listen to Pandora or the radio; figuring out new lyrics distract me. Sometimes even familiar old lyrics get me; I start thinking up new interpretations of whatever the hell Ronnie James Dio is screaming about between the “Yeah” and the “Look Out!”

Instrumentals are great. They occupy the wandering part of my mind. There’s an experimental instrumental prog rock band called Ozric Tentacles, and they do wonders. Almost all of “Murder With Monsters” was written to their album “The Yum Yum Tree.” I’m listening to it as I type this.

Pamela: Beyond “Murders With Monsters”, what other publication have you been part of? Can we look forward to another novel soon?

K.T.: Sequel time! The second Night Shift Files mystery should be out by the end of the year. Mildred has to catch an inhuman spree killer of unknown species she put away decades ago. The only catch is, he’s somehow still sitting in an asylum as the bodies carved up to his old M.O. pile up! I get to flesh out different monster types in this one, like New York’s faerie population and the shoggoth refugees. Turns out shoggies are huge fans of Mr. Rogers. Who knew?

book 2  In the meantime, Mildred also appeared in the anthology “Candlesticks and Daggers,” where I experienced the joy of writing a Columbo episode with vampires as both the sleuth and the victim.

I’m also going to appear in “1816 – The Year Without a Summer,” an anthology of historic Cthulhu fiction. I’m gleefully cooking up one of the nastier things I’ve ever written. I even get to briefly rescue from obscurity a beastie from Lovecraft so unknown, my editor originally thought I’d made him up! Check out the Kickstarter campaign! 1816 – The Year Without A Summer

 

Pamela: Where can readers find out more about you and your work?

K.T.: I tweet at @iwritemonsters about monster fandom, teaching in Florida, and geek parenthood. My as-yet irregularly updated website is www.iwritemonsters.com. It has a current list of all the anthologies I’ve appeared in, as well as essays like using “The Babadook” as grief therapy and reviews old 70’s Bigfoot shows.

Thanks so much K.T. for taking part! Learning more about you was great fun! Folks – be sure and check out K.T.s website, seek him out on Twitter, and heck, while you’re at it – buy a copy of his work!