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Weldon Writes ... Almost a Blog

Mystery Writer Jeff Markowitz Talks About Murder, Mayhem, and the Mystery Writers of America

Jeff Markowitz is the author of the darkly comic mystery, Death and White Diamonds, as well as three books in the Cassie O'Malley mystery series. Jeff is a proud member and supporter of the International Thriller Writers and Mystery Writers of America, and is always open to discussions about the craft of writing, wherever he may be. He can often be found at conferences, readings, and other writers' events. Jeff was happy to answer a few questions for us.

 

Let's talk for a minute about your most recent novel Death and White Diamonds, which won a Lovey Award and a David Award. It's a departure from your Cassie O'Malley books. What sparked you to step away from that series?

 

I have tremendous respect for authors who write series and keep their stories fresh and smart. But my preference as a writer and as a reader is for stand-alones. I love starting a new story with no preconceived notion of what kind of story it's supposed to be (other than good, and perhaps funny, and hopefully publishable). So, when I came up with the idea for Death and White Diamonds—a man who isn't certain whether he killed his girlfriend—I knew it was a story that I needed to write.  

 

Did you ever have one of those days? You know the kind, when nothing seems to go right? Richie's girlfriend suggests a romantic getaway, promising him a weekend he will never forget. So why can't he remember what happened when he finds her lifeless body on the beach? Richie is fairly certain he didn't kill his girlfriend, but his memory is hazy. One thing is clear. When Lorraine's body is found, he's going to be the prime suspect in a murder investigation. If her body is found.  Disposing of the body turns out to be harder than Richie could have imagined. Losing it, however, is easy. Did you ever have one of those day? And we haven't even gotten to the bad part yet.

 

Your first novel, Who is Killing Doah's Deer, the first in your Cassie O'Malley Mystery series, was published in 2004. You retired in 2018. How did you find time to write before you retired?

 

I wrote Who is Killing Doah's Deer at 5:30 in the morning before heading off to work. I wrote A Minor Case of Murder nursing a cup of coffee in a coffee shop waiting to drive my then-teenage son home from fencing practice.  I'm not exactly sure when I wrote It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Murder. The point is, we find the time for things that are important.

 

I'll let you in on a little secret. Now that I'm retired and it's easier to find the time, I find it harder to maintain my writing routines.

 

Before retiring, you were heavily involved in services for children and adults battling with autism. You were the President and Executive Director of the Life Skills Resource Center. Has this experience impacted your writing in any way?

 

My professional work taught me how to observe and describe behavior, how to determine the function of behavior by examining the relationship among antecedents, behaviors and consequences. That's surely had an impact on how I structure scenes. But it's a very small answer to a very big question.

 

Except for one short story, I've never written fictionally about an individual on the spectrum. But I spent 43 years creating community-based programs, services and supports for children and adults with autism. That experience shaped my values and impacted everything in my life, including, in ways I may never be able to articulate, my writing.

 

You're currently the President of the New York Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America. I'd like to spend a little time discussing your involvement with the MWA and its benefits. I think the readers of Suspense Magazine would be interested in learning more about the MWA. Let's start with, why join?

 

As writers, we spend an inordinate amount of time engaged in conversations with imaginary characters. Now and then, it's a good idea to talk to real people. MWA has lots of people, more than 3000 of them at last count, and, in my experience, if you buy the first round, they're happy to talk to you.

 

To be serious for a moment, the reason to join is to become part of a vibrant community of writers (mysterywriters.org). Members participate in the activities and events that best meet their needs. For example, in the New York Chapter (mwany.org) we have monthly meetings that include social and informational elements. We bring in guest speakers who talk about aspects of the craft and the business of writing. We administer a mentor program and a scholarship for aspiring writers. We hold write-ins and readings. We speak at libraries. We participate actively at mystery conferences and at book festivals.

So, there are many good reasons to join. But perhaps the best reason to join is that your voice matters. By becoming a member, you help shape the writing community that we want to become.  

 

The New York Chapter extends beyond New York. What states are included in your regional chapter?

 

MWA, nationally, is divided into eleven regional chapters. When you join the national organization, you also become a member of your regional chapter. The New York chapter covers New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware and West Virginia. The chapter has 660 members.

 

What personal satisfaction do you get as the President of the Chapter?

 

Quality, in any organization, happens when you have the right balance between forces that promote change and forces that promote stability.  When you have too much stability and not enough change, you become stagnant. When you have too much change without stability, you have chaos. Listening to members and finding that balance is how I view my role as Chapter President. So, I'm proud to build on the good work of the many Chapter Presidents who have preceded me without being limited by the way we've always done something. I get great personal satisfaction when the chapter tries something new and members tell me they like it.

 

You often do readings at various events—for example, Noir at the Bar. Many writers would like to perform at readings but are hesitant because they fear speaking in public. Any advice?

 

If you have an opportunity to read at an event, just get up and read. It's a great way to become part of a supportive community of writers and readers. It will make you a better writer. And it's fun. So, get over it. Really, just get over it.

 

I worry sometimes that we place too much emphasis on the importance of meaning.  That we have made reading too practical.  (It is, I admit, an odd thing to worry about, but I worry, nonetheless).  Because a love of the written word owes as much to how words sound as to what they mean.  Books come alive when you hear the rhythm and the melody of the words on the page. 

 

On a similar topic of sorts, you often attend writers' conferences. I first met you at the Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity con several years ago, and we had some interesting

discussions over drinks. I know you also attend the Deadly Ink convention. What do you find most valuable about taking part in these events?  

 

In 2005, I was debating whether I could afford to fly to a mystery writers' conference in Chicago. A friend gave me a wonderful bit of advice. "If you want to be a real writer, you have to start going to the places where the real writers go." And so, I went to Love is Murder. I attended the "official" panel discussions in the conference meeting rooms, and the "unofficial" discussions in the bar.  I met authors, editors, publishers and readers.  I became part of a community of writers with similar goals.

 

Love is Murder is no more (more's the pity) but I attend two or three writers' conferences every year. And my reasons have not changed much since my first writers' con—to attend the official panel discussions in the conference meeting rooms and the unofficial discussions in the bar. To catch up with authors, editors, publishers and readers. To celebrate my membership in the community of writers.

 

Looking back, what would you have done differently to enhance your writing career? 

I have made my share of mistakes, and I'm not shy about discussing them, but looking back, I don't think I would have done anything differently. I did what I could do at the time, balancing my work life, my writing life and my personal life. We talked earlier about the benefits of joining Mystery Writers of America. I joined MWA in 2004, but I didn't participate regularly until 2014 so I didn't take full advantage of my membership. I would advise aspiring writers to take full advantage of every opportunity that comes their way to enhance their writing career.  

 

Can you tell us about your current project?

 

Hit or Miss combines a coming-of-age story and a detective story. It's inspired by a true crime that took place on Long Island, NY in 1970. I'm currently shopping the finished manuscript.

 

When you're twenty-one years old, it can be hard, under the best of circumstances, to balance the demands of your father and the desires of your girlfriend. For Ben Miller and his girlfriend Emily Bayard, circumstances are far from perfect. Emily's mother, Mrs. Rosalie Bayard, has been murdered. Ben's father, a detective in the Fifth Precinct catches the case. It's not long before evidence suggests that Dr. Bayard may have hired a hit man to murder his wife.

 

Hit or Miss is set against the backdrop of the cultural and political unrest associated with the war in Viet Nam. As Detective Miller conducts the homicide investigation and Dr. Bayard attempts to keep an affair with his secretary secret, Emily and Ben find themselves attracted by the politics and lifestyle of the counterculture. Hit or Miss raises questions that were important in 1970 and still resonate today—questions about the rights of free speech and assembly, about equal rights for women and about end-of-life decision-making.

 

And, last question, what do you enjoy most about writing?

 

With every book, there is period of time when I carry the story around in my head. I nearly forget that I'm the only person who knows the story. Then I start to get the story down on paper. The characters begin to assert themselves, forcing me to rethink the story. And if I'm lucky, there comes a time when the story that's been stuck in my head, gets stuck in a reader's head. That's what I enjoy most about writing. 

 

Thanks, Jeff, for spending a few minutes with us!

For more on Jeff Markowitz, check out his website at jeffmarkowitz.com.

 

 

This interview was originally published in the Summer 2019 issue of Suspense Magazine.

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From Semi-Pro Skateboarder to Horror Writer: Meet Shaun Meeks

Shaun Meeks was born and raised in Toronto, and still lives there with his partner, Mina LaFleur. They run the business L'Atelier de LaFleur, which specializes in hand-finished couture corsetry and accoutrements. Shaun was formerly a semi-pro skateboarder. Now he enjoys sharing his nightmares in his writing—and scaring the hell out of his readers! His short stories have been published in many magazines and anthologies, including Haunted Path, Dark Eclipse, Zombies Gone Wild, A Feast of Frights, Insidious Assassins, Someone Wicked, Zippered Flesh 2, and Zippered Flesh 3. He is also the author of the books The Gate at Lake Drive, Down on the Farm, and Earthbound and Down.

Thanks, Shaun, for hanging out with us for a few minutes. To say you have a passion for horror is an understatement. What was the first horror novel that you found truly frightening?

 

I was in grade four, and I went to the corner store near my house to pick up some new comics. But when I saw this book cover—all silver, gray, and black with a faceless head on it—I had to pick it up. I already knew who Stephen King was, but I had never heard of The Shining before. The movie was something I hadn't even known about, but when I read what the book was about, I was sold and luckily I had enough money in my pocket to buy it.

 

I started to read it, tearing through the pages so fast. I think part of what scared me about the story was how I saw bits of my own father in Jack Torrance, a man fighting his demons and losing. I brought the book with me to school and was sent to the principal's office. They used words like "pornographic" and "disgusting trash," and threw my copy out. Luckily, the local library also had it and I took it out from there, but only read it at home. I had already been into monster movies and horror things before then, but this was the first horror novel I read that gave me nightmares.

 

Your novel, The Gate at Lake Drive, is a great monster story. (And the cover is super, too!) What's your recipe for a memorable monster?

Really depends on what you're going for. Making one scary—the stuff of nightmares—is just fun. To do that, I usually think of what frightens people. Deep-sea life, spiders, demons, the dark—these are things I'll splice into a monster so that, on a deep level, the elements strike a chord of fear within the reader. I love the idea of monsters with slimy tentacles, coarse hairs, a multitude of eyes, and a nest of sharp, deformed teeth. The trick is making the reader imagine what it'd feel like to be face-to-face with the monster. The idea of feeling the repulsive skin touching your own, the overwhelming odor of rot that lingers on the thing's flesh. That's what I want readers to be thinking as they read.

But what about the monsters that truly hate or can't change what they are, the ones that you pity? I enjoy playing with that theme—the monster that is hunted and feared yet proves to be the character with which the readers relate. The humans who shun or hunt the creature prove to be the real monsters. Having a reader relate to the monster isn't always easy, but it's great when it works!

 

So, which is the better monster, Alien or Carpenter's The Thing? 

  

For me, without a doubt, it would be Carpenter's The Thing. When I saw this movie for the first time, alone in my dark house (everyone else sleeping), I was terrified. There is nothing simple or easy about the creatures in The Thing, nor is it the actual monster effects that make it overall better. The idea of sitting next to a monster, hidden as a friend, and not knowing who you can trust, is the true greatness of the horror in this. Yet, when the monster is revealed, each time looking different and freaky in a Lovecraft sort of way, the sheer imagination of them raises the terror to an all new level. No scene in Alien can come close to comparing to the dog or head spider scene.

 

Some of your work hints at Lovecraftian themes. How has Lovecraft impacted your fiction? Why do you think Lovecraft has such an appeal today?

 

My introduction to Lovecraft didn't come from his books; it came from Stuart Gordon's movies (mainly Re-Animator and From Beyond). Those movies, and a few others, eventually led me to his books. When I started with Lovecraft's stories, I started at the beginning, and was not as hooked on them as I was his later work. I think, like all of us, Lovecraft grew into a much better writer the longer he was at it. His themes on fear, isolation, change, and the unknown are the things that really appealed to me and helped to shape some of what I write. They are simple themes that are universal, and I think that's why they still stand today.

 

What horror novel by another writer do you wish you had written ... and why?

If there was only one I had to choose of the many I wish I'd written, I think it would have to be Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. I know this is not the scariest book, or one of the most horrific books ever, but for me, it was a book I read at a young age that stuck with me throughout the years. I remember the first time I read the book, a few weeks before Halloween, and I felt as though I was in the story. I would lie out on the grass by my house, reading it, and hoping the stories I had started to write by that time would be as perfect as Bradbury's were. I still hold on to those hopes. Fingers crossed.

 

Besides Stephen King, who is your favorite author? Maybe some unsung horror hero?

 

One of my favorite horror writers I discovered awhile back is Gemma Files. Not only is she a local writer from my hometown of Toronto, but she writes the kind of horror I love. I think the first story I ever read of hers had appeared in one of the editions of The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror, which led me to look for more of her work. The one that I picked up first was a collection of her short stories called Kissing Carrion. There are some real favorites in there that spark my own drive to write.

 

Another favorite would be Christian A. Larsen. He is someone I started reading in 2012 when we both appeared in the Zippered Flesh 2 anthology. I loved his story, "The Little Things." It seemed like every anthology accepting my stories, he was in as well, which had me reading more and more of his work. Not one of his stories disappointed. When he released his first novel, Losing Touch, I was there on release day to grab my copy. I find some writers are good at short stories, some excel in novel or novella length. With Losing Touch, Chris showed he had the skill to do both, keeping the reader engaged from word one to the end.

 

What horror cliché or trope bugs the crap out of you?

 

One of the first ones that comes to mind is any movie where there's a creature, especially zombies or vampires, and someone in the group gets bitten and hides it from everyone, only to turn at just the wrong moment. Does anyone not see that coming a mile away every time this cliché is used? I think that's what made a movie like 28 Days Later so unique. The change happens so fast, there's never a chance to try and hide it.

 

I think the only other one that is used way too much for a cheap scare is the "is he/she dead" cliché. The monster/killer/alien is apparently killed, but instead of continuing to beat, stab, or shoot it, they stop, walk over to make sure it's dead only to have the baddy get up and wreak more havoc. Every time I read or watch one of those scenes, I just imagine how I wouldn't stop until there was no doubt the thing was dead.

 

Let's talk about short fiction for a minute. You've published a collection of your short stories, At the Gates of Madness. Your stories have also been published in anthologies, including many published by Smart Rhino Publications. What's your strategy for writing a short story?

When I'm writing a new story, most days I have no idea what it's going to be about or how it'll end. Often all I have is an opening, just a line, or maybe a full paragraph—and the story is born from there. People think that everything I write is plotted out and outlined well in advance. It's really not.

When I wrote "Treats," which appears in At the Gates of Madness, the story was simply going to be about an older man on Halloween night, reflecting on his life and his loneliness. A group of vicious teens were going torment the man until he snapped, and he would attack those harassing him. What I ended up writing was a bizarre, very different monster story that many have said is one of the vilest things they've ever read. I remember, when writing the story, that it took a sharp turn. I didn't see that coming.

From time to time, I write something for a themed anthology. "Taut," which appeared in Zippered Flesh 2, is a good example of that. I knew the theme was about body modification, so I sat down intending to write a story about suspension. That was as much as I knew when I started. I had no idea who the characters would be, where the story was going, or how it would end. That's the way I prefer to write a short story—allowing the story to become what it wants to be.

 

With all that in mind, what would you advise a new fiction writer concerning tailoring a tale?

Whenever a newer writer asks me for advice on writing a short story, I tell them four things.

 

Number one: Grab the reader right from the start. Whether it's jumping into the action or simply writing something that's striking, you need to give them a good punch right off the bat. Hook 'em and reel 'em in.

Number two: Give the reader a great punch at the end. Don't end the story with a cliché like and then he/she woke up. Nobody likes that.

Number three: Make sure your characters' actions make sense. Don't ever make a character do something that nobody would do in real life. We see it all the time in movies, those moments where you think, "Why would they go in the basement! Get out of the house!" If you can explain the reasoning behind the action though, then do it. But re-read that section and, if it sounds forced, cut it.

Number four: Don't over-explain! All too often, I see writers over-explaining things, especially through dialogue. It's sloppy writing to have a character explain the cause of some unexplainable event when there's no way he/she could possibly know the cause. Use scenes, actions, and descriptions to push the plot, and let the reader take it from there.

 

Okay, now let's talk about editors. What do you find most rewarding about working with editors? Most frustrating?

 

I have worked with so many great editors over the years, and only one or two experiences stand out as unpleasant. The best thing about most editors is how they've taught me to be a better writer. Showing me what works and doesn't work, what common mistakes I make—that teaches me how to improve. At one time, I used to throw the words "that" and "had" into my stories like they were punctuation.

 

Most frustrating is the few I've worked with that won't listen to why a scene has to be the way it is. In one of my stories, I wrote about an abusive man who says some of the cruelest things to his wife. The editor told me it wasn't realistic, that nobody would ever speak like that. But when I told the editor that it was something I heard firsthand, they still tried to cut it. Luckily, the publisher agreed with me. I've also had some issues with characters saying some unsavory things. Some editors have said that being offensive in today's climate makes people steer clear of your books. I don't believe in censorship when it is something important to the story, so in the case where this was an issue that wouldn't be let go, I declined the offer of being in the book, and included the story in one of my own collections.

 

What has been your greatest challenge as a writer?

 

The greatest challenge has been trying to get my work out there to as many people as I would like. I've tried social media advertising, giveaways, special offers, free books to reviewers, and getting into anthologies with big name publishers. I've done interviews with a few different magazines, vloggers, and podcasts, but the writing industry is a hard nut to crack. I'm happy with the success I've had, but it's my dream, as well as for many other writers, to quit my day job and write full-time. I have more novel ideas I want to write than I have time, so having the time to write them would be nice.

 

What advice would you offer new writers about marketing their work?

 

Be careful would be the first. I think many new writers think that social media is the way to get your work out there to a massive audience. They get their Facebook friend's list up to 5000, and then start bombarding people with page "likes," sharing links to their books once an hour or on each of their friend's pages, and just push way too hard. I did the same thing when At the Gates of Madness came out. I was so excited to have my book read that I did everything I could to let people know where they could buy it.

 

I think another thing to stay away from is the paid option to "boost" posts on Facebook. If you have a page for people to "like," paying to promote a post actually hurts any other posts you make. It's a strange algorithm that chokes the rest of your posts. The trick to getting more people to see your posts is to create more engagement. Share things to you page wall, and tag where each source comes from. Get people involved, and then use the page to advertise your book once a week or less and you might see a rise in sales. And show your personality, not only your work. Other ways to get your book noticed are doing book conventions, offering free copies for honest reviews, and being visible and accessible on places like Twitter and Goodreads.

 

I'm always fascinated with what scare horror writers. What's your worst nightmare?

 

I'm not really someone who has many fears or worries. I think if you focus on negativity, worry about things too much, you have a strong chance of attracting those very things to you. There are worries I have, usually involving my kids, and how stressed they sometimes seem, as well as their safety, but nothing I would consider a true fear or nightmare. So, I think I would say that I can offer what my worst reoccurring nightmares are. I think dreams are a sign of what we fear subconsciously anyway. I like to use my bad dreams as fodder for my stories, so anyone who has read my work might be able to figure out that I have nightmares of isolation, abandonment, unsafe heights, and unknown things in the shadows. I don't wish I only had nice, safe dreams though. My nightmares always give me something fun to write about.

 

One last question. If you could rewrite or remake any horror movie, which one would it be? And why?

 

If I could rewrite or remake any horror movie, I think it would have to be The Stuff. I know it seems like a strange one to pick, but when I was watching it the other day, I wondered what this movie would be like made in today's world of social media influencers. When I watched it as a kid, I thought it was silly that so many people would go crazy over something like that, but with how things are now I think it would go over even better. We live in a world where everyone wants to jump on the next big thing. They want to go on Instagram with their black ice creams, unicorn drinks, and whatever other food is trendy. The Stuff would be a social media wonder, and I think it would be how I would tackle a remake of it.

 

Thanks, Shaun, for such an informative interview. We look forward to reading more of your work!


For more on Shaun Meeks, visit his website at http://www.shaunmeeks.com/ and his Amazon bio page at https://www.amazon.com/Shaun-Meeks/e/B007X5KZLO/.

 

This interview was originally published in the Spring 2019 issue of Suspense Magazine.

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Suspense/Horror Writer Billie Sue Mosiman Talks about the Craft of Fiction

We were all greatly saddened to hear that Billie Sue Mosiman has passed. She was always supportive of so many of us in the writing community, and her work was enjoyed by readers around the world. Billie was an incredible woman, a wonderful friend, a powerful creative force, and a champion for female horror writers everywhere. This interview was originally published in the November/December 2018 issue of Suspense Magazine, shortly after her death. It's unfortunate that she never had the chance to read it in print.

 

Billie's Night Cruise was nominated for the Edgar Award and her novel Widow was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Novel. She was a prolific writer—although largely suspense/thriller novelist, she often wrote horror short stories. Billie had also been a columnist, reviewer, and writing instructor. I'm glad I had the opportunity to interview her before she passed … and hope you find the following inspiring.

 

You've been writing professional since the early '80s—more than 60 books and probably more short stories than I can count. What persuaded you to write in the first place?

 

I was always a reader and went through a lot of books as a youngster. Then one day a man in a suit came to my grandmother's house. He looked so grand I sat around listening in the living room while they spoke. I discovered he was a Dean of a University and I knew you had to be educated to do that. I was smitten by an intellectual. I thought, yes, that is what I want to be. Just like this man.

 

My family had never gone to college, but, at thirteen, I knew I would. And it would be grand. Of course, I wanted to go to learn how to be a better writer. I had faith and determination. I went to my little blue diary and wrote in it: When I grow up, I want to be a writer.

 

What authors inspired or influenced your style?

 

I loved Steinbeck, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jim Thompson, Bradbury, and a raft of others. It was a few years of reading before I came upon genre books and loved them too, reading each author's entire works.

 

Your work often bridges the gap between suspense and horror. A prime example, I think, is your novel Night Cruising, an Edgar Award Nominee. How much of this wedding of horror and suspense is intentional, and how much is simply "I write what I enjoy reading"?

 

The books are organic in the way they turn out. My work was always graphic and I didn't think I owed anyone anything. I was free to write the novels as they came to me. So sometimes they were called horror, but were unlike straight horror.

 

Your novel Widow was also nominated for a Bram Stoker Award. The story involves a female serial killer and a male copycat murderer, and apparently you did a lot of research for the book. You even interviewed exotic dancers. Likewise, your novel Wireman was based on true crimes in the Houston area back in the late '70s. How much research is required for your fiction? How do you go about it?

 

Sometimes it takes a lot of research. If I don't know something I won't write about it. I didn't know how detectives worked so I asked questions of another writer's chief of detectives' husband to build my own in Wireman. Some books are purely imaginary, set in places I've lived or traveled to. But if I don't know something I make sure to research it.

 

You've also been an editor, most notably of the anthology Frightmare—Women Write Horror, which also garnered a nomination for a Bram Stoker Award. You've always been a champion for female writers, especially those in the horror and suspense genres. What led you to start this particular project?

 

I saw so many anthologies on the market in horror and it always appeared to have a predominance of male writers. I have nothing against them as some are the best in the world. But where were the female writers? I knew for certain there were great women writers being ignored. I decided I'd do something for them. I'd pull together an anthology that gave them a voice. I think I was angry. I never backed down from a fight and I thought it was past time for a fight. The women came through and I was so proud. I did not add my own work. It was for them.

 

As an editor, what do you look for in a story? What gets you to "yes"?

 

If it excites me and if it catches me in the first three paragraphs. I don't like info dumps or overly wrought work or stories with no point. I'm kind of exacting about those things.

 

Your novel Moon Lake involves a lake monster, but the focus is on the teenage lead characters. Is this the closest you've come to a YA novel? If so, was this meant to attract a younger audience?

 

It was meant as an adult read, but I see how it would appeal to a teen. I'm part kid myself so I'm not surprised I end up with novels meant for a younger reader.

 

You've also written a memoir of sorts, Alabama Girl: Memoir of a Writer—Part 1. What motivated you to write your own story? Is there or will there be a "Part 2"?

 

My mother was such a towering personality in my upbringing and a disruption to the family. I had her and my dad living in my large home when they aged, but each day was like I was twelve again and my mother was the queen in my life. I don't know if I have the heart to write the second part of that book. My son, our only child at the time, died in a house fire. Other terrible things all living creatures confront happened and I just didn't think I could face writing about it. So it may never happen.

 

Do you think about marketing at all when you're in the "creative mode"?

 

Nope. I never had to do that and I can't start now. I just write stories.

 

From your perspective, how has publishing changed over the years? Where do you think it's headed?

 

Publishing has lost its way. The Amazon digital phenomenon started it. Anyone who wanted to write a book did. Those who hadn't read enough. Those who hungered for fame before they knew the rules of grammar. And so forth. We all know what happened. People got used to free digital copies. Why should they pay? Publishers, in some instances, did a rights' grab from authors then overpriced the market. The film and TV scripts have overtaken the reading of books. I weep for the whole scene and hope one day things return to normal. Normal being more than three major publishers, higher advances, more promotion, sharing digital rights with authors, and so forth.

 

We are not tradesmen. We don't make art except with words. From our minds to yours we share worlds. It's an honorary endeavor and as serious as can be. That's what I learned from the great authors who came before me. The world needs stories and novels. People need them. They may not know it, but I do. Since the caveman wrote on cave walls, we should have known now important a life of letters can be.

 

Looking back, what would you have done differently? In short, what advice would you offer a young writer following in your footsteps?

I doubt I'd done anything differently except maybe slowed down publishers who pushed me for the next book. My advice to young writers is to be true to yourself. If you like mystery writing and someone pushes horror onto you, balk, back-peddle, do anything you can to stick with what you love. Read tons of books, of all kinds. Write like a mad person. Trust your gut. And never, never give away your Life of Copyright. If someone wants to give you a million bucks for it to one of your books, trust you can get $1.2 million from some other publisher who won't steal your copyright. Besides being productive, you must be smart.

 

And, last question, what do you enjoy most about writing?

 

Being lost in the story and nothing else exists. Thinking how others feel when they read my words. 

 

 

We miss you, Billie.

 

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Jeff Strand: The Marriage of Humor and Horror

If you're looking for a unique (if not twisted) blend of humor and horror, Jeff Strand is the man. Nominated four times for the coveted Bram Stoker Award, Jeff has more than 40 books under his belt, and apparently has many more yet to spring from his tilted brain. Just the titles of some of his books tell you much about the man—Dead Clown Barbecue, Blister, A Bad Day for Voodoo, Everything Has Teeth, The Sinister Mr. Corpse, and The Severed Nose, just to name a few. He has been the Master of Ceremonies of the Bram Stoker Awards banquet for years, and is a familiar face in horror circles.

 

Jeff became a full-time writer in 2015, and would probably write even more if he wasn't so addicted to videogames and Spider-Man comics. But he did find time to talk with me about … well, stuff.

 

 

You're trapped in a cave with Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, Pinhead, and Chucky. Is it party time or dying time?

 

Dying time. I could fend off Jason, Michael, Freddy, and Pinhead, but Chucky pushes it over the top. Avenge me.

 

I've always believed horror and humor are kissing cousins. You apparently share that opinion. Why do you think that lip-locking works so well?

 

A lot of perfectly innocent jokes involve really horrible things. (DOCTOR: "I've got good news and bad news. The good news is that you've got three days to live." PATIENT: "That's the good news? What's the bad news?" DOCTOR: "We've been trying to call you for the past two days.") Horror/comedy just takes that one step further.

 

Speaking of humor in horror, your Andrew Mayhem series is a hoot. The titles alone are ... um ... unique: Graverobbers Wanted (No Experience Necessary), Single White Psychopath Seeks Same, Casket for Sale (Only Used Once), Lost Homicidal Maniac (Answers to 'Shirley'). So, how much (if at all) of Andrew Mayhem is Jeff Strand?

 

Almost none. In fact, when I first created the character, the most important element to me was that he had two young children that he was responsible for when he was off doing dangerous things, and I don't have kids. The other key factor was that he was a guy in his thirties who didn't really know what he wanted to do with his life, which was never the case with me. I've always been laser-focused on the whole "I wanna be a writer!" thing. He's a fun character to write and I love the guy, but he's definitely not a stand-in for me.

 

Wile E. Coyote or Yosemite Sam?

 

Yosemite Sam having a temper tantrum is one of the funniest things animation has ever produced.

 

What, in your opinion, was your "break-out" novel?

 

Pressure. I was worried about it at the time because I'd established myself as the horror/comedy guy and now I was publishing a "serious" novel. I thought readers might shout "Stick to the jokes, Funny-Boy!" But it ended up being my most popular book by far, and got me my first Bram Stoker Award nomination and my first mass-market release. Dweller was my second "serious" novel, but some later books blurred the line to the point where I wasn't sure how to categorize them.

 

Do you work from an outline or just wing it? Read More 

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The Evolution of Flash Conwright

https://www.amazon.com/Plague-Shadows-Written-Remains-Anthology/dp/0998519626/

Smart Rhino Publications, in collaboration with the Written Remains Writers Guild, just published the anthology, A Plague of Shadows. The book includes diverse stories and poems about "haunts and the haunted," written by the WR guild members as well as guest writers. One of my stories, "Vindictive," is in the mix.

 

The chief character of the tale is Francis "Flash" Conwright, a hit man who also happens to be a serial killer. I introduced the character in a tale titled "Welcome to the Food Chain," which centered around the theme of steamed crabs. Yep, crabs. (And Conwright is allergic to shellfish.)

The story was published in several publications before landing in the Smart Rhino anthology, Uncommon Assassins. Conwright was first described in a bit of dialog at the beginning of the story:



"Flash, huh?" The fat man leveled his eyes at the slender man sitting across the table from him. "Why do they call you Flash? Like that comic book guy in the red tights?"

 

"Something like that. I don't like to waste time," Conwright said. "I was a high school track star. Got the nickname back then. That was in another life, a distant time."

 

 

I liked Conwright so much that I resurrected him in "Right Hand Man," which brought more of his somewhat sick humor to the forefront. He proved to be a more fully developed character in this story, and it was a hoot to write. The story appeared in the first Written Remains anthology published by Smart Rhino, Someone Wicked.

 

So, Conwright reappears yet again, this time in A Plague of Shadows. Here he faces a pesky, vindictive ghost that attempts (and succeeds to some degree) in ruining his business. I added more to this story involving Solomon "Solly" Ventura, who is Conwright's liaison for orchestrating contracts with their clients. Solly has contacts in organized crime, but particularly likes assigning Conwright with freelance work. He and Conwright have been friends for years, and I think their dialogue adds humor and a better glimpse at their relationship. At least, that's what I was striving for in the story.

 

Don't be surprised if Conwright shows up in any of my future work. I really like the guy! 

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A Plague of Shadows: A Written Remains Anthology--Now Available!

 

Smart Rhino Publications just released its latest anthology, A Plague of Shadows: A Written Remains Anthology. We'd published one other anthology, Someone Wicked, with the Written Remains folks. That anthology was so well received and reviewed, Smart Rhino was happy to work with the guild again, this time focusing on stories on "hauntings and the haunted." Not your traditional ghost stories, mind you. We were striving for stories slightly (or majorly) beyond the norm. We weren't disappointed.

 

Some of the early reviews for the anthology were impressive!

 

"The tales in A Plague of Shadows are captivating and entertaining. Put simply, they are amazing. Without doubt, this collection of ghost stories is the best anthology I've read in years."

— Tony Tremblay, author of The Moore House and The Seeds of Nightmare

 

"This collection of 20 stories will leave you wondering what lurks in the gloom behind that half-open closet door or in the mists that shroud the streets in the wee hours of the morning. … Would send shivers up M.R. James' back and have Poe reaching for extra lamps. I recommend it highly!"

— JG Faherty, author of The Cure, The Burning Time, and Carnival of Fear

 

"A Plague of Shadows is this year's 'don't-miss' anthology. Some of the stories creep up on you, while others come at you full force. In the end, all of them will lurk in the back of your mind, just waiting for the lights to be turned off."

— Shaun Meeks, author of Shutdown and At the Gates of Madness

 

"This is the kind of book writers and readers need. Writers need it because it showcases their work and readers because it offers fresh perspectives on complex subjects."

— Paul Dale Anderson, author of The Instruments of Death series

 

"Gloriously dark and gripping, the stories and poems in A Plague of Shadows will burrow under your skin and make themselves at home. Highly recommended!"

— Christina Sng, Bram Stoker Award winning author of A Collection of Nightmares

 

"All the speculative fiction stories—whether they concern ghosts, engineering malfunctions, post-apocalyptic, cultural beliefs, and crime sprees—are exciting and compelling to read. Each story should be read in one sitting to appreciate the twists, turns, and surprise endings."

— Frank Hopkins, author of Abandoned Houses: Vietnam Revenge Murders

 

"Shadows take many forms: from past mistakes to uncertain futures, from unresolved relationships to unanswered questions. The shadows in the pages of this anthology are guaranteed to prey on your psyche and leave you gasping for breath."

— Suzie Wargo Lockhart, Executive Editor at Digital Fiction Publishing Corp.

 

 

As with Someone Wicked, we decided to publish fiction and poetry from WR members as well as guest authors, like Graham Masterton, Billie Sue Mosiman, and Jeff Strand. Here's the table of contents.

 

 

Starving Time -- Jane Miller

 

Bark of the Dog-Faced Girl -- Maria Masington

 

The Stories That We Tell -- Billie Sue Mosiman

 

For Number 11 -- Carson Buckingham

 

Bottom of the Hour -- Phil Giunta

 

Powder Burns -- J. Gregory Smith

 

Neighbors From Hell -- Graham Masterton

 

Finding Resolution -- Patrick Derrickson

 

The Fierce Stabbing and Subsequent Post-Death Vengeance of Scooter Brown -- Jeff Strand

 

On the House -- Jacob Jones-Goldstein

 

No Good Deed -- Gail Husch

 

Haunting the Past -- Jasper Bark

 

To Heart's Content -- Shannon Connor Winward

 

Twelve Steps -- Jeff Markowitz

 

Song of the Shark God -- JM Reinbold

 

Dollhouse -- Jennifer Loring

 

The Black Dog of Cabra -- J. Patrick Conlon

 

The Angel's Grave -- Chantal Noordeloos

 

Vindictive -- Weldon Burge

 

A Hanger in the World of Dance -- Stephanie M. Wytovich

 

 

We're very proud of A Plague of Shadows, and feel privileged to once again provide a venue for authors who create incredible fiction. We hope, if you read the book, you'll enjoy it and would be willing to post a review on Amazon, B&N, or wherever you like. Every review helps! The more support Smart Rhino receives, the better we're able to continue providing an outlet for great fiction.

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Book Review: The Moore House by Tony Tremblay

Take a cup of Matheson's The Legend of Hell House, a cup of Blatty's The Exorcist, and a heaping tablespoon or two of the movie Poltergeist, and you have the basic recipe for Tony Tremblay's The Moore House. Only the basic recipe, however. Tremblay, like any great chef, knows how to add his own tasty ingredients to make the novel his own. And a satisfying, delicious meal it is!

 

The novel starts with a gruesome scene involving a homeless man, and the horror and suspense are unrelenting from there. But I think the book works best because of the interplay and complicated relationships of the main characters (three nuns who are empaths and a priest experienced in exorcisms). All of them are flawed characters—perhaps the priest, Father MacLeod, most of all. Tremblay skillfully manipulates the reader by putting us in the minds of the three empaths (a nice trick there). Father MacLeod, on the other hand, comes off as self-serving and despicable, a character impossible to like. But, in the context of the story, wholly believable.

 

The pacing of the novel is perfect—I found it to be a fast and enjoyable read. The characters, despite the bizarre plot, are realistic. The story is horrifying. If you love horror fiction, this book definitely belongs on your bookshelf. I can't wait to see what Tony writes next—maybe a sequel to this??

 

One last note: If you're a character in a Tremblay novel, you probably don't want to be a police officer. Just sayin' ...

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The Escalating Market Battle Facing Small Indie Publishers

The current Smart Rhino Publications library!

Smart Rhino Publications just completed a Kickstarter campaign for the upcoming anthology, A PLAGUE OF SHADOWS. We reached 178% of our goal, which is absolutely fantastic! We can't thank our supporters enough.

But, you may ask, why a Kickstarter campaign at all? Well, truth be told, small indie publishers are having a rough time of it in today's market. Perhaps the market is overloaded. Perhaps fewer people are buying books. It could be any number of factors. In light of those difficulties, small publishers now have to revise their marketing strategies and find alternative ways to increase funding. Crowdfunding is one of those ways.

Many independent publishers have folded in the past few years for lack of funding and various other reasons. That in itself is sad. But, sadder still,  Read More 

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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  Read More 

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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  Read More 

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