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Weldon Writes ... Almost a Blog

Jeff Menapace: The Success and Struggle

Jeff Menapace and his copy of ZIPPERED FLESH 3.

Jeff Menapace is a Philly-born horror/suspense author who has won acclaim for his best-selling Bad Games series of novels, among his other work in fiction and nonfiction. His novella Sugar Daddy was the 2011 recipient of the Red Adept Reviews Indie Award for Horror. His novel Numb, while containing some elements of horror, is a dark noir thriller sure to please readers of suspense. And Side Effects, a psychological thriller, introduces us to his series character FBI agent Maggie Allen.


And apparently, he longs to pet a lion!


Jeff is an approachable, amiable guy, and was more than willing to spend a few minutes with us to answer a few questions.

Your Bad Games trilogy has been quite successful, now optioned for future feature films. Not bad! Did you intend to write a trilogy from the start, or was it happenstance?

No way did I intend to write a trilogy from the start! I wrote book one and was able to land an agent with it (this was nearly 10 years ago) and he immediately asked me for a sequel, stating that pitching two books instead of the one would help land a publisher. So, I got hard at work on the sequel, completed it, gave it to my agent, and he loved it. But then of course came the inevitable: “Any chance for a third? A trilogy would be fantastic.” I think my reply was something (politely) along the lines of “No f*cking way. I killed everyone; they’re all dead.”

I soon parted with my agent (on good terms) and went the indie route, and Bad Games and Vengeful Games sold very well. I was hit with lots of letters from readers asking for a third book. So, I totally sold out and whipped up a third. Nah, I’m just kidding. I balked on the idea of a third, and the last thing I wanted to do was sell out and write a cheap imitation of the first two books. Eventually, however, an idea did come to me, and slowly but surely, book 3, Bad Games: Hellbent was born, and now, believe it or not, roughly five years later, book 4, Bad Games: Malevolent is due out late this summer. Never say never, I guess.

Do you work from an outline or just wing it?

I work from a rough outline. I generally have an idea of what I want to happen, but more often than not, once the characters begin to develop, they take on a life of their own. At this stage, quite often the story will change from my original intentions. It’s rare that a story goes exactly as I intended. I guess you could say it’s kind of like having several routes to a destination. I’ll get there eventually, but I often change routes mid-way, if that makes any sense.

So, why horror?

Well, apart from the standard answer I’m sure most give about always being a weird kid whose mind constantly wandered towards the dark side (and it’s assuredly true in my case) I think the thing I like about horror is the primal feeling it instills in us. It forces us to live in the now. I believe people spend so much time worrying about the past and future that no one embraces the now (and I’m certainly guilty of this too). But when you’re scared shitless, it kind of forces you to live in the now, you know? It’s exhilarating.

Do you really think the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the best movie ever?

Unquestionably, unequivocally. It is so raw and gritty and real. No twists, no backstory (and none asked nor welcomed) just true in your face terror. It’s freaking brilliant.

Stephen King or Clive Barker?

Yeesh! Tough one. I think Misery is one of the best novels I’ve ever read, so it’s hard to go against, King, but Barker is just so … I don’t know how to describe it. His mind—there’s no scale to describe his brilliance. His way with words. I’ve often said that many writers have a style that is imitate able if you read them enough. I don’t think anyone can imitate Barker. He’s one of those writers that makes you both elated and jealous. Elated because you just read a particular passage that was brilliant, and then jealous because you know you’ll never write anything that good LOL.

And, with Side Effects, you've now started a mystery series with the FBI agent Maggie Allen character. Is this a natural progression from your horror writing? What do you see as different about the two genres?

I’m always trying to branch out into different genres, and I love serial killer/police procedural thrillers. Red Dragon by Thomas Harris is another all-time favorite of mine. So, I wanted to give the genre a shot. I am extremely proud of Side Effects and think it’s one of the better things I’ve written, however reception to it has been mixed. Stephen King once said a writer is often the worst judge of his work, and maybe he’s right in this case LOL. Still, I like the book quite a lot, and I really like the characters Maggie and Morris. I think with some editorial tweaking of book 1, there’s a solid series ready to take off someday.

What has been you're greatest challenge as a freelance writer?

Technology! I am exceptionally stunted in the tech department. I still have a flip phone! If it was up to me, I would just write all day and let someone else handle all the tech/marketing stuff. But alas, I cannot, and it can be, as you say, a challenge.

If you could go back in time and start over, what would you have done differently?

That’s a tough question. I think it’s human nature to always wish we did something “different” in the past. But I believe we grow just as much, if not more so, from our mistakes and failures. Obviously, there are little things along the way I wish I could have done differently, but that’s life, isn’t it? How else do you learn?

Your short story “Worm” is included in the Smart Rhino Publications anthology Zippered Flesh 3. What do you find most satisfying about writing short fiction?

The lack of pressure to know that when the story is finished it’s finished. When embarking on a novel, you know you need a certain amount of words in order to reach novel territory, but with a short story, the tale can be told in as little as a few pages. I mentioned Misery earlier as one of my favorite novels. King stated that he meant the tale to be a novella, not a novel, but as he got going, the story ventured into that “is it a novel or is it novella?” length, and I suspect (though I could be a zillion percent wrong) it’s why he inserted the Misery novel Paul Sheldon was writing while being held captive by Annie Wilkes into the entire novel itself. Otherwise it would have been too short.

What advice would you offer writers concerning marketing their books?

Huh. I guess the best thing to suggest, other than writing good stuff, is to develop a decent following via social media and a mailing list. A mailing list is very valuable. Also, I cannot stress enough the importance of good editing and a professional-looking book cover. Do not skimp on these! They are worth every penny.

When it comes to writing, what’s on your bucket list?

Not sure. Gathering with a bunch of my peers I respect for cocktails and laughs? Seeing my work on the big screen? Tough to say at this stage in my career.

Imagine you’re lost in the Canadian wilderness, fully dependent on your self-preservation skills. You’ve managed to start a fire. If you could have two other writers hovering around your campfire, who would they be?

You said Canadian wilderness. Their health care is better than ours. So, I wouldn’t worry. Seriously though, I’d probably want Hemingway to bring the booze and the party atmosphere, and then maybe Poe. He’d love Hemingway’s booze, and getting inside his head would be an experience unlike any other, I think.

One last question, just for fun, knowing you’re a fan of the Three Stooges. Moe, Larry, Curly, Shemp, or Joe? And why? (And no fair saying you like them all!)

Larry. He was a Philly boy, but also one of the greatest reactive actors ever. Next time you watch an episode, watch Larry’s face during a scene that doesn’t involve him directly. He’s always in the moment. Next, in order of favs, would be: Moe, Curly, and Shemp. F*ck Joe. Couldn’t stand him.

I wasn’t a fan of Joe either. Too much of a wimp and never funny.

Thanks, Jeff. Great interview!

You can learn more about Jeff and his work at his website, Read his story, "Worm," in ZIPPERED FLESH 3.

(This interview was originally published in the July/August 2017 issue of Suspense Magazine.)
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Jack Ketchum: Master of Mayhem

It’s hard to believe that Jack Ketchum’s debut novel, Off Season, was released back in 1980. The controversial book, involving grotesque acts of cannibalism, immediately garnered fans in the horror world, even though the original publisher abandoned support for the novel. Today, the book is a classic in horror literature, and Jack his written more than 20 novels and novellas since then. He has won several Bram Stoker Awards, and five of his books have been produced as films—The Girl Next Door, Red, The Lost, Offspring, and The Woman.

Not surprising, Jack always has projects in the works, and has recently collaborated a good deal with director, writer, and actor Lucky McKee. I was thrilled that he was willing to take some time to answer a few questions.

You’ve had a fruitful relationship with Lucky McKee, including the recent collaboration, The Secret Life of Souls. How did you two hook up, how did it come about?

Lucky knew about my stuff and wanted to option Red for himself to direct and The Lost for his buddy Chris Sivertson and by way of introduction he sent me a copy of May. I’d just returned from some Con or other with a stack of what turned out to be amateurish, bad DVDs from various people, and waiting on my desk was a DVD by this guy named Lucky, so I figure, after watching half a dozen of these things, this has gotta be more of the same. I mean, the guy’s name is Lucky.’ So after a week or so I get to feeling guilty and watch the rest of this drek, and the last one I watch is May. Good grief! this is the real deal! Brilliant movie! So I get hold of my agent and tell her let's get back to him right away, he wants to option Red and The Lost if the price is anywhere near right, he’s got ’em. Turned out Luck and I are simpatico as all hell, very much on the same page as to what we want from our stories, our people, our themes. So we decided to work together on some original pieces. Which turned out to be The Woman, I’m Not Sam, and The Secret Life of Souls, with a couple of short pieces in the bargain.

You’ve used a number of pseudonyms, particularly when you were writing for men’s magazines early on. For new writers, what are the pros and cons of using pseudonyms, from your experience?

I don’t see any cons, really. After a short while you get used to answering to Joe or Agnes just as you would your own name. The pros, of course, are usually a matter of hiding—for whatever reason. With the men’s mags way back when I’d have three or even four stories in the same issue sometimes, so rather than have it look like I wrote the whole damn magazine, I’d use my real name and pseudonyms. Some folks, when they’re writing in various genres, like to hide their Evan Hunters from their Ed McBains, for instance. I hid behind Jack Ketchum for Off Season because I was worried my parents would freak at the extreme subject matter, which actually didn’t turn out to be a problem, and so I could sell it more easily masked as the ex-agent Dallas was known to be. But then the thing sold so well I figured, nobody’s going to be looking for a new book by me, but Jack’s another story.

When asked who the scariest man in America was, Stephen King answered “probably Jack Ketchum.” Who do you think is the scariest writer in America today?

Well, let’s see, Donald Trump really didn’t write The Art of the Deal, did he. I’ll have to think about that one ... hmmmm ...

Apparently you did a good deal of research on cannibalism before writing “Off Season.” How much does research play in your writing these days?

It completely depends on the piece. Some demand a lot, some not much at all. I spent a year researching Cover before I even sat down to start, and The Girl Next Door was almost like taking dictation, it just flew right out of me. Same now as ever. Lucky and I did a good deal for Souls, but almost none for I’m Not Sam. My solo stories too. It varies greatly.

How has your previous experience in acting informed your writing, especially your work with movie adaptations of your books?

I’m of the opinion that pretty much anything you do in the arts informs everything else you do in the arts, feeds into it. Acting, saying the same lines over and over to yourself until they’re memorized, you learn a lot about rhythms, about emphasis. I did Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming, for instance, where he insists right in the text where the pauses in your dialogue should be, which tells you what he wants emphasized. You learn a lot about the interplay of characters’ voices. My dialogue’s much the better for having done that I think.

What’s your worst nightmare today?


What’s your definition of success?

Doing what you love doing, and getting paid for it sufficiently to get by.

When writing, do you listen to music or have something in the background to spur your senses?

I need complete silence in order to hear what the words sound like—that rhythm and emphasis again. And I can’t be looking at anything either. I’m too easily distracted. In the hills of New Hampshire I tried working in front of a window—and and became quite the bird-watcher.

What’s at the top of your bucket list?

Damn! what was her name again?

One last question, just for fun. If you could rewrite/remake any horror movie, which one would it be?

Maybe Karloff and Freund’s The Mummy. That opening is terrifying. But then it settles for the occasional eerie sequence and dramatic lighting. And Karloff’s undeniable presence.

Thanks Jack! Great talking with you.

For more on Jack Ketchum, visit his website at

(A version of this interview was also published in the Nov./Dec. 2016 issue of Suspense Magazine.)
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Meet Horror Writer & Ferret Lover Jezzy Wolfe

Jezzy Wolfe is an author of dark fiction, with a predilection for absurdity. A lifelong native of Virginia Beach, Jezzy lives with her family and quite a few ferrets. Her poems and stories have appeared in such ezines and magazines as The World of Myth, The Odd Mind, Twisted Tongue, Support the Little Guy, and Morpheus Tales. She has also been published in various anthologies, such as Graveside Tales’ Harvest Hill, The Best of the World of Myth: Vol. II, Library of the Dead’s Baconology, Western Legends' Unnatural Tales of the Jackalope--and, of course, several Smart Rhino anthos. We love her style!

Jezzy was a founding member of Choate and at one time cohosted the blogtalk radio shows “The Funky Werepig” and “Pairanormal.” In addition to her brand of humor and horror fiction, she maintains both a blog and storefront for ferret owners and lovers, known as FuzzyFriskyFierce. Visit Jezzy on her author’s blog at, on her ferret blog at

Jezzy was more than happy to spend a few minutes to talk with us. Enjoy!

You've written three short stories for Smart Rhino (“Locks of Loathe” in Zippered Flesh, “Luscious” in Zippered Flesh 2, and “Agnus Dei” in Insidious Assassins). And your story, "All Will Turn to Gray," will appear in Zippered Flesh 3. Do you find writing horror fiction more rewarding than other writing? Why horror?

Horror challenges me. I gravitate to it, like a delicious, freshly brewed pot of coffee. Horror gets your pulse racing (also like a delicious, freshly brewed pot of coffee). It reminds you to be grateful for being alive ... and for not being one of the unlucky schmucks you're reading about. I am personally fascinated by what is not known and not seen--things mysterious and sometimes beyond comprehension. Supernatural tropes really grab my attention. Slashers freak me out as well, simply because they are often in very plausible scenarios. But I do not feel it is an easy fit for me, as I'm the dork who goes to the theater and laughs at the jump scares, and makes silly comments. It's knee-jerk. Maybe it's a response to fear (although you will find that I'm not the bastion of wit and humor when I'm walking through a haunted house attraction). So when I can manage to produce a story that is legitimately creepy and unsettling, I am a bit surprised. As well as giddy. In that way, I do find horror more rewarding, because it is against my nature, and therefore more an act of discipline.

Your humor always impressed me as snarky. Well, maybe not snarky—unique and dark. Do you consciously incorporate humor into your writing? Or does it happen naturally?

I have to fight to NOT be a smart-ass when I'm writing. And that's almost precisely what it is. I'm that way off screen as well, constantly making wisecracks. There are things I've written where I gave myself permission to be as ridiculous as I wanted, and those particular projects are more comedy than horror. Perhaps something akin to really enthusiastic bizarro, even. But if I want to produce something that really chills the reader, it's a challenge to keep a straight face. It's natural for me to write for laughs, and more of an exercise in restraint if I'm writing for screams.

Do you think writing blogs has impacted your other writing? If so, how?

Absolutely. I'd never considered seriously pursuing writing until after I had blogged for a few years. I used to do all my blogging on Xanga, which was a blogging network that successfully merged blogs with social networking. Users interacted a lot more on sites like Xanga. It wasn't about a thumbs up or shares. It didn't even have private messaging when I first started blogging ... that came around later. Users gravitated to groups that represented their interests, and communicated directly with those group members, not by status commentary, but by actually visiting those user pages, reading the posts, and commenting on those posts. And Xanga was well populated with poets and writers, some of whom were actually published and in print. I enjoyed those interactions, and they helped me find my voice. Over time, I went from silly commentary to poetry to short fiction. That was where I found myself as a writer.

I've never found that blogs such as Wordpress embraced the best of blogging. Yes, you get broader traffic and visibility. But the interaction is not there. Wordpress is not so much a communal experience, not like old school Xanga, or even Livejournal. That social interaction helped me immensely. But that's just me.

Which authors have most influenced your writing?

I really started getting into horror as a teenager, reading Christopher Pike (known for novels such as Slumber Party and Chain Letter) and Richie Tankersley Cusick (author of goodies such as The Mall, Silent Stalker, and Someone at the Door). I still have all those books, in fact. They've all been read so many times, the bindings are worn out.

As an adult, one of my very favorite voices is Barbara Michaels (better known as popular mystery author Elizabeth Peters, who has sadly passed on). I have every title she produced under that name. Her books had a distinct formula that I was quite fond of, and they were always incredible entertaining. Locked, secret attic rooms full of a history kept hidden under five (or 50) years of dust? Sign me up for that! Egyptology, Greek mythology, and twisted bloodlines discussed over scones and clotted cream? Mmmm, yes please.

I'm also a huge fan of Nicci French, which is a pen name for a man and woman team that writes psychological thrillers. I love the language and atmosphere of French novels, and I'm convinced that bad brain chemistry is every bit as terrifying as what others perceive as horror. What's scarier than the brain's inability to distinguish facts from fiction? After the year we've all had, I think we can agree that nothing is more terrifying than bat-shit lunacy.

So ... um ... ferrets??

Hell yeah! Ferrets are my people! I mean, if ferrets ever could be people. Those frenetic little furbeasts must be my totem spirits. I find them as inspiring as they are entertaining. Don't get me wrong, I like a good cat or dog. They're cool. But ferrets? Everything about them is a celebration. They relish just being alive. Many live unexpectedly short lives due to unavoidable diseases, others meet tragic fates as a result of their dogged determination and curiosity. Still, let them out of their cage, and it's like someone handed them the winning lottery ticket. They jump, they chatter, they play with you. They are jubilant, engaging, endearing. All in a tiny, slinky package with big eyes, long whiskers, and a helluva lot of 'tude.

So yes. Ferrets. I can't see me ever being without them. They give me levity and hope. If pets are antidepressants, ferrets are antidepressants and an IV drip of caffeine, with a helium chaser. I love those crazy freaks!

I could use a cup of coffee now. How about it?

I usually have a cup of java in my hand as if it's glued there. Maybe something a bit more lubricating ... like a great bourbon?

Thanks, Jezzy. Looking forward to working with you again soon!

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An Interview with JM Reinbold, Founder of the Written Remains Writers Guild

JM Reinbold is the Founder and Director of the Written Remains Writers Guild, located in Delaware but with a membership that extends beyond the state. JM is a champion of all writers, and developed the Guild as a teaching/learning and networking environment for professional (and semi-professional) writers in various genres.

Smart Rhino Publications published the anthology Someone Wicked: A Written Remains Anthology back in 2013, highlighting not only the work of members but the fiction of selected friends of the organization. Smart Rhino will also publish another Written Remains anthology, A Plague of Shadows.

JM agreed to answer some questions for us regarding the Guild--and we hope you'll learn something from her dedication to the writing profession!

What was the genesis of the Written Remains Writers Guild? What exactly does "written remains" mean?

Way back in 1995, a year before I graduated from Neumann University, I founded the Written Remains as an open writers group so that writers I’d met and worked with in college could continue to meet after we graduated. The name--The Written Remains--has a dual meaning. First: It refers to the written word. Written words remain in some form, physical or digital, long after the author of those words has departed this world. Second: The Written Remains refers to the grand visions of stories that exist in writers’ minds and what actually appears on the page are the written remains of those grand visions.

Someone Wicked is actually the second Written Remains anthology, and a third anthology is in the plans, another Smart Rhino publication? What are your chief intentions for publishing stories by Guild members?

Our members are all accomplished writers. Some are under-published and, if not under-published, then their work hasn’t always received the attention and recognition it deserves. My chief intention in publishing stories by our Guild members is to create opportunities for publication for our members, to produce unique/unusual anthologies of high quality writing, and to market them vigorously in order to bring our members’ work to a national/international audience.

How has Written Remains helped you improve your own writing and enhance your career?

We have a couple of writing groups within the Written Remains. There are some very talented writers in those groups and they have read and critiqued my work, given me good suggestions for improvement, and challenged me to continually grow as a writer. In addition, I teach workshops and classes sponsored by the Guild. Having to teach someone else how to do something is possibly one of the best ways to gain a deeper understanding of the material. Our Guild members are a huge resource of writing, editing, and publishing knowledge, and that’s just scratching the surface. We all learn and benefit from that knowledge. Also, as Guild Director, Written Remains is my platform. I’m always amazed at how many people know who I am, what I do, and have read my stories because of my work with the Guild.

Thanks, JM. We're looking forward to the next Written Remains anthology!

For more information about The Written Remains Writers Guild, visit the website at Or check out the Facebook page. You can also go to JM's website to learn more about her own ventures.  Read More 

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Austin Camacho Talks About the Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity Conference

Austin S. Camacho is the author of five novels in the Hannibal Jones Mystery Series, four in the Stark and O’Brien adventure series, and the detective novel Beyond Blue. His short fiction has been published in a number of anthologies. He started the publishing company, Intrigue Publishing, in 2012. The man is incredibly busy!

Austin is also the chief organizer behind the Creatures, Crimes, & Creativity conference (C3). I've attended the conference for the last three years, and will be attending again this year. C3 is being held this year on September 8 - 10 at the Sheraton Columbia Town Center in Columbia, MD. The conference brings together readers and writers of all genre fiction, including mystery, suspense, thriller, horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and paranormal fiction. This year, expect to see Jeffery Deaver, John Gilstrap, Jonathan Maberry, and many other esteemed writers.

Austin loves to talk about the conference and its success. He was happy to give us a few minutes to answer a few questions.

What inspired you to first start C3, knowing how much was involved in the planning?

For years, we enjoyed small regional mystery writer/fan events like Love is Murder in Chicago and Magna Cum Murder in Indianapolis. We never understood why there wasn’t one like them in the Mid-Atlantic States with so many great writers. We actually asked the Love Is Murder team if we could do a spinoff Con patterned after theirs – Love is Murder East. When that plan fell through, we decided to pretty much do it anyway, under a different name. They had opened to all crime fiction (thrillers, horror, and suspense) and, since I knew a lot of those writers who were dabbling in sci-fi, fantasy and paranormal, we opened the aperture even further.

What would you tell folks who are debating on attending? What should they expect?

If they’re writers, I’d tell them there’s no better promotional or networking opportunity. The chance to learn from the masters is priceless. It’s a chance to speak on panels to an interested crowd without the expense of Thrillerfest or the giant mob at Bouchercon. You get to chat with fans and other authors at the meals – which are all included in the registration fee. They’ll be part of two huge book signings, both open to the public. They’ll be able to get a professional, videotaped interview at no extra cost. And we promote the attending authors as best we can: on our website, in the program book, and on our Facebook page.

If they’re avid readers, I’d mention the chance to meet great writers, up close and personal. Aside from the keynotes and panels, we’ll interview two local authors at meals. And everyone gets a goodie bag filled with magazines, books, pens, notepads, and our exclusive anthology filled with stories written by attending authors. That alone is a priceless keepsake of the Con.

The conference seems to have more authors in attendance each year, judging from the website ( What are you looking forward to the most this year?

Yes, the C3 Con keeps on growing. It is a little different each year and I always look forward to what’s new. But what I look forward to MOST is the reunion with so many friends I rarely see. For me, the best parts of the Con take place during meals when we all sit together, and at the bar after dinner, when we get to chat informally. I learn so much from best-selling authors, and it’s a kick to offer what I’ve learned to aspiring or newly published writers.

What have you learned from the past conferences?

We’ve learned how to make the schedule better, and how to assign the right people to the right panels.

We’ve learned how to run registration more smoothly.

I personally have learned that the biggest names in fiction writing are often the kindest, most open and helpful people, and easiest to work with.

And I’ve learned that storytellers – whether they write mystery, thrillers, horror, suspense, science fiction, fantasy, or paranormal stories – have a great deal in common, and face all the same challenges in creating fiction that readers will want to get lost in.

Thanks, Austin. We look forward to seeing you at C3 this year!

For more information about Austin, visit his website. If interested in attending C3, check out the website to get a flavor of the activities during the conference.

(This interview was adapted from an interview with Austin last year, originally published in the Smart Rhino Publications e-letter.)  Read More 

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Print Books Are Not Dinosaurs ... Yet

For the past few years, digital devices and e-books have gained great popularity in schools and homes—and most school-age children have access to the technology. Smartphones and iPads proliferate in many of our schools. Many educators believe that print books will soon become obsolete—or at least decrease in use—as children mature in a world ruled by technology.

Yet, so far, this hasn’t been the case. According to Scholastic’s 2015 Kids & Family Reading Report, the print book is not dead yet. Most students have read an e-book—61% in 2014 compared with 25% in 2010. However, for students ages 6–17, print books are still preferred—65% compared with 60% in 2012, and 77% who had read e-books said that the majority of books they read (especially for pleasure) were in print.

A preference for print books may be a growing trend in our society overall. According to the Association of American Publishers, e-book sales have steadily declined since 2012. Comparing AAP survey results from January 2015 and January 2016, sales of paperback books grew 4.3%, while e-book sales declined 24.9%. (However, in the same period, sales of hardback books fell 18.7%.)

According to a 2015 survey of librarians by the School Library Journal, 56% of schools in the U.S. reported that they include e-books in their libraries, but only 6% of librarians reported a high student interest in e-books. Their observations show that, while students may use e-books for research and school projects, they prefer print books for pleasure reading. They appear to prefer a book “in hand”—there is an apparent physical, tactile element to reading.

This seems also to be true for college students. A new study, recently reported in Tech Times, indicated that 92% of those surveyed preferred print books over e-books. Interestingly, of those who preferred e-books, many expressed concern over the environmental consequences of publishing paper books.

Our teachers use digital books in their classrooms more and more. The next generation of students, taught how to use technology at an early age and now entering our lower schools, may change reading habits. But it’s too early to tell if they will have a greater affinity for e-books. So we are left to wonder how trends will change in the future of education. Most likely, students (and ultimately adults) will develop the ability to use both mediums—print and electronics—for accessing information and enjoying the “fun” of reading. Perhaps this dual ability will positively affect the literacy of our students.

But it’s clear from current research that print books are far from extinction.

First published in The Source for Private School News, Vol. 16, No. 3.

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Meet Bram Stoker Award Finalist James Dorr

Indiana writer James Dorr’s The Tears of Isis was a 2014 Bram Stoker Award® nominee for Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection. His other books include Strange Mistresses: Tales of Wonder and Romance, Darker Loves: Tales of Mystery and Regret, and his all-poetry Vamps (A Retrospective). Also be on the watch for Tombs: A Chronicle of Latter-Day Times of Earth, a novel-in-stories due for release from Elder Signs Press in spring 2017. Dorr, an Active Member of HWA and SFWA, has seen his work published in more than 500 publications, from "Alfred Hitchcock's Magazine" to "Xenophilia."

If you're familiar with Smart Rhino's anthologies (and we certainly hope you are!), you may remember his stories "The Wellmaster's Daughter" in Uncommon Assassins, and "Labyrinth" in Insidious Assassins. His story "Golden Age" will be published in Zippered Flesh 3, now in production.

James was happy to spend a few minutes to talk with us. Enjoy!

Your book The Tears of Isis was a Bram Stoker Award finalist in 2014 for the fiction collection category. Your stories have appeared in many anthologies, including Smart Rhino's Uncommon Assassins, Insidious Assassins, and the upcoming Zippered Flesh 3. Do you prefer the short form over writing novels? What's the allure for writing short stories?

Allan Poe wrote in his essay, “The Poetic Principle,” that “a poem deserves its title only inasmuch as it excites, by elevating the soul.” So, a true poem must necessarily have a certain brevity. “That degree of excitement which would entitle a poem to be so called at all, cannot be sustained throughout a composition of any great length. After the lapse of half an hour, at the very utmost, it flags--fails--a revulsion ensues--and then the poem is, in effect, and in fact, no longer such.” There are such things as epics, of course. But to Poe, despite the need for unity for a work as a whole, such a work in practice becomes a series of shorter poems, though perhaps not so much through the fault of the poet as that of the reader.

Nevertheless, I think I agree with what Poe is getting at--that at best the “good bits” will be interspersed with duller parts in a reader’s perception. And judging from Poe’s own works of fiction, I think he means for this to apply to prose as well. So as to my own work, yes, at least as a writer I prefer short stories to novels. I often write horror (I also write fantasy, sf, mystery, and even some humor I should add, as well as poetry), which I see in part as a study of character under unnatural stress. And while I love diversions and atmosphere and descriptions and explanations to help as intellectual support, I think there is an emotional center which only can be sustained for so long. Now, not everything I write is that exciting--“Golden Age” in Zippered Flesh 3, for instance, is written as a measured reflection. But even there I think there is an emotional core, and a puzzle perhaps for the reader to discover through empathy with the narrator, of why the story should stop where it does. But the point is still that it does stop, that to carry it farther would weaken the effect as a whole.

So that’s the challenge I find in short fiction, again as a writer, to write as much as a story needs to drive its point through, and not a word more. Because what should come after is the reader’s own addition, through his or her own thought, to what I have written.

Speaking of novels, your book Tombs: A Chronicle of Latter-Day Times of Earth is scheduled for release later this year. Can you tell us a little about the novel?

"It had been a time when the world needed legends, those years so long past now. Because there was something else legends could offer, or so the Poet believed. He didn't know quite what--ghouls were not skilled at imagination. Their world was a concrete one, one of stone and flesh. Struggle and survival. Survival predicated on others' deaths. Far in the future, when our sun grows ever larger, scorching the earth. When seas become poisonous and men are needed to guard the crypts from the scavengers of the dead. A ghoul-poet will share stories of love and loss, death and resurrection. Tombs is a beautifully written examination of the human condition of life, love, and death, through the prism of a dystopian apocalypse."

This is the publisher’s blurb on Amazon, condensed perhaps but fair enough (and positively flattering in that last sentence!). But there’s something to be said about structure too. Tombs is written as a novel-in-stories, or what’s sometimes called a “mosaic novel,” one not so much presented as a continuous narrative, from start to finish, but rather assembled from independent chapter stories. Some in fact were published before (two even appear in The Tears of Isis, while a third story there, while not in Tombs, is set in the same universe). The idea is there’s a larger story, in this case that of the world itself. But the approach to it is oblique, as if through, say, a series of snapshots in a photo album from which the reader might assemble a more complete picture in his or her own head.

One example is a book written more than sixty years ago--and one of my favorite novels of all time--Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, in this case assembling a “history” of the colonization of Mars through a series of stories, strung together with shorter vignettes. There are other examples in non-science fiction/dark fiction/fantasy contexts such as Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club or John Dos Passos’s USA trilogy. But the thing is, this is one way around Poe’s dictum, above, of being able to sustain a core idea--intellectual, aesthetic, emotional--only for so long.

So why not, then, an assemblage of ideas? Of corpse-trains that ply bridges crossing a great river, bearing a city’s dead, braving attacks from flesh-eating ghouls. Of rat-catchers, gravediggers, grave guards, and artists. Of Mangol the Ghoul, of musician-lovers Flute and Harp who once played back a storm, of the Beautiful Corpse. A city consumed by a huge conflagration, a woman frozen for thousands of years. A flower that eats memories….

And in the center of all, the great necropolis, the Tombs.

What do you find most difficult about freelance writing? The most rewarding?

The difficulty, frankly, for me is getting ideas. Not that ideas alone may not abound, but an idea-cluster that I can write a story around is a more difficult matter. My “muse,” as it were, is a nasty one who does not give things easily but must be wrestled into surrender. But then the joy, when that idea comes, the exhilaration of putting its various parts together, and realizing when I’ve finished a story that I’ve created something worth creating, that’s the reward. The grind of marketing will come later, and there’s a joy too when a story sells, especially if to a major market, but still the real reward for me is the creation itself.

What advice would you offer a novice writer looking to submit short stories to anthologies, magazines, or online venues?

Some, I’m sure, will have been heard before, perhaps many times: Perseverance. Don’t quit your day job. Those are the clichés, but they’re still true, that most writers aren’t going to make much money until they’ve been at it for some time, if even then. This is especially true for short story writers (I won’t even think about poets), unless you really, really persist and are willing to write in a number of genres (one person I know, for instance, has made a fair amount ghosting stories in woman’s confession magazines, but that’s not the route we’re taking here). But that doesn’t mean you can’t make some money, several hundred, perhaps even a few thousand dollars a year, if you can sell consistently to the highest paying markets. But most of us won’t.

For us lesser ambitions (in my case I look on money from writing as supplemental income, which I report as business income at tax time, but some years I’ll actually report a loss), be aware of markets when they open, especially anthologies. is one source on the internet, the Submission Grinder another--a third is Duotrope which I still use, although they charge a subscription fee these days. Consider joining groups like the Horror Writers Association and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. But also look for pages on Facebook for horror and science fiction writers and fans and, if you can, go to sf/horror conventions--these are ways you can meet other writers, as well as editors, and they can meet you. Cultivate friendships and listen for gossip.

But most important: Enjoy what you're doing and strive to do your best. Follow your bliss, to repeat that cliché. Be proud of your work, but be practical too--if an editor advises you to make changes, take it seriously. But remember it’s still advice, especially as you gain more experience, and the one you must please, ultimately, has to be yourself.

Sage advice. Thanks, James.

For more on James and his work, check out his blog at

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Armand Rosamilia Talks About Horror

Armand Rosamilia knows quite a bit about horror writing. His work has appeared in many publications, including his story, "Creeping Death," in the Smart Rhino anthology Zippered Flesh: Tales of Body Enhancements Gone Bad! He's also written a good many novels, including his Dying Days series, Chelsea Avenue: A Supernatural Thriller, Middletown Apocalypse, Dirty Deeds, and others. We were thrilled to have a chance to talk with Armand about one of his favorite topics--horror writing.

Zombies seem to be the rage, especially with the success of The Walking Dead TV series. You've written a good deal of zombie fiction, particularly in your Dying Days books. What do you think is the appeal?

It depends on the person. Some readers love zombie fiction because it is a mirror held up to society. Some think it foreshadows our future. Some think it is an analogy for the way the world is today, and is falling apart. For me, I just think zombies are really cool. I love reading about them and, as a kid, I loved watching zombie movies. So I can see the entertainment value of them first and foremost.

You're an incredibly prolific writer. Where do the creepy, often bizarre ideas come from?

I read a lot. Always have. Dean Koontz books started me on this journey at 12. I read mostly nonfiction now and watch Discovery Channel Investigation shows. The real horror is all around us, and is easy to tap into as an author. I have so many ideas for novels and shorts I'll never get to, and it would be a large chunk of my day just to write them all down. Whenever I don't have a specific contract on my desk and I'm able to add whatever I want to my writing schedule I simply tap into my brain and see what's at the front of the ideas and if I'm excited about writing it right now.

What's your latest (or impending) release? Can you tell us about it?

I always have a few projects on the horizon. I just released Green River Blend: A Supernatural Thriller with Devil Dog Press. It is a story about coffee. Yep, coffee. A mysterious man opens a coffee shop in a small Florida town and, when the residents get addicted to his coffee, strange things begin to happen. Beta readers said it was very much Bentley Little-ish, and I agree. When I began writing the novel, I was looking for that exact feel to it.

Next up is my crime thriller Dirty Deeds. I won a Kindle Scout contract with it. Look for it the end of January. I'm excited about it because I've never strayed this far from what I normally write. The advance readers love it, so it will definitely turn into an ongoing series.

Thanks, Armand, for giving us some background on your incredible work!

For more information about Armand, visit his website.

(This interview was originally published in the January 2016 issue of the Smart Rhino Publications e-letter.)

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<B>Talking with Chantal Noordeloos, Author of Coyote the Outlander</b>

Chantal Noordeloos lives in the Netherlands, where she spends a lot of time arguing with characters (aka writing). In 1999, Chantal graduated from the Norwich School of Art and Design, where she focused mostly on creative writing. There are many genres that Chantal likes to explore in her writing. Currently steampunk is a focus of hers, leading her to write her Coyote novels about a female bounty who faces bizarre challenges.

But Chantal's "go to" genre will always be horror. "It helps being scared of everything. That gives me plenty of inspiration," she says.

Chantal is one of Smart Rhino's favorite writers, and we always enjoy talking with her. She gladly provided the following interview--which captures much of her inherent wackiness. Enjoy!

Your Coyote novels, Coyote the Outlander and Coyote: The Clockwork Dragonfly, are uniquely steampunk. Coyote is a strong and fascinating heroine. How much of Coyote is Chantal?

Ha! You caught me there. There’s quite a lot of me in Coyote, more so than any other character I’ve written so far. I think that also has a lot to do with that she’s an old role-play character of mine, from back in the days that we played Dead Lands.

There are a great deal of differences, of course. I can’t shoot a gun to save my life (in all honesty, I would more likely shoot myself than an opponent) and even if I could, I don’t think I’d have it in me to kill anyone. In a fight of flight situation … well, let’s just say I do the worst … I freeze. *cringes*

So, not so much the heroic bounty hunter, more the useless cannon fodder. If the *insert scary monster here* Apocalypse should ever happen, I would be among the first to die—and I probably won’t even die with dignity.

But at least I get to live vicariously through Coyote, right? Right? *bites lip*

Where I think we’re similar, she and I, is that Coyote has my zany outlook on life, and my sense of humor. One could argue that all characters I write have "my sense of humor" since, ehm … I wrote them, but that’s not exactly true. There is a difference between what I write and how I am in real life—there are plenty of characters I’ve written where I thought: "Dude, wtf is wrong with you?" Not sure what that says about my own mental state, but there you have it.

Coyote reflects how I feel about subjects such as inequality. She also mirrors some of the awkwardness I felt as a young girl/woman for being a tomboy. When I write Coyote, I base her very much on the parts of my personality that are confident, yet at the same time I give her some of my own insecurities, too. I would say she is the braver version of me—one who doesn’t care what anyone thinks.

Your novel Angel Manor is straight up horror. Do you think your writing will lean more toward that genre in your future work? Read More 
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<B>Liz DeJesus, Writer of Modern-Day Fairy Tales</b>

Liz DeJesus loves taking familiar fairy tales themes and giving them new twists--if not turning them upside-down. She is a novelist, freelance author, writing coach, and poet. If you enjoy the retelling of fairy tales, be sure to check out her work--including Jackets, First Frost, Glass Frost, Shattered Frost, and several others. Her story, "Sisters: A Fairy Tale," was published in the Smart Rhino anthology, Someone Wicked.

Liz agreed to talk with us about her work--and, as always, we enjoyed the conversation!

Let's start with the easy question for you. Why fairy tales?

It goes all the way back to my childhood. I was bullied as a kid throughout most of my childhood and fairy tales were a safe haven for me. Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, and Charles Perrault. Their books and stories all conveyed the message that I could have hope and that things could get better for me. I needed that message so badly at that time in my life. So I read them over and over again just to keep myself afloat. It took a while but things did eventually change for me.

So that’s the main reason I always gravitate towards fairy tales. In life and in my writing. Besides, it’s so much fun to play with these stories!

I love reimagining these fairy tales. I especially adore writing fairy tale retellings. I like to think about what it would’ve been like to have been in their shoes. Cinderella, Snow White, Red Riding Hood … just to name a few.

I remember the short story I wrote for the Someone Wicked Anthology, "Sisters: A Fairy Tale." It’s a fairy tale retelling of the story "Toads and Diamonds." That was a lot of fun to write. I got to see two sides of a story I always wanted to know more about.

With The Frost Series (First Frost, Glass Frost, and Shattered Frost), I use fairy tales as the foundation of the story. What if Snow White and all these fairy tale princesses had children? What happened to those children? Bianca Frost is the main character of the series and she’s a witch as well as a descendant of Snow White.

In my collection of short stories, Mugshots, I use fairy tales once more except that this is a modern retelling of Snow White, Red Riding Hood, Alice in Wonderland, and Goldilocks and they all commit crimes that land them in jail. Sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll! Believe me, I had WAY too much fun writing that particular book.

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