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Weldon Writes ... Almost a Blog

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?

 

I prefer to mostly wing it with a very loose plan for where things are headed. I don't always have a choice; novels like Dweller, Wolf Hunt, and The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever, which were written for "big" publishing houses, were outlined beforehand because the editors made me do it before they would give me any money. But, in general, I like to know the ending and a few steps along the way while leaving myself open to whatever ideas pop up as I'm writing.

 

Jean-Claude Van Damme or Chuck Norris?

 

Who would I invite over for cookies and tea? Van Damme, I guess.

 

What has been your greatest challenge as a freelance writer?

 

I'm lucky enough to do this full time, but no one book generates enough income that I can ever sit back and relax. As soon as I finish a book, the financial clock starts ticking again and I need to dive into the next one. It would be nice to say, "Woo-hoo! I just finished a novel! Time to celebrate with a couple days of video games and Netflix!" but ... nope.

 

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

 

Hmmm. I have to weigh the amount of fun I had playing with my Star Wars figures versus how much they'd be worth if I'd kept them in their original packaging. I had Boba Fett, dude! You know what, I have too many fond memories of creating adventures for those guys. So I guess I'd still play with my Star Wars figures. Beyond that...it's tough to say which forks in the road would've led to a better outcome.

 

The Three Stooges or the Marx Brothers?

 

I have nothing against the Three Stooges, but Marx Brothers all the way. As a kid, I'm not sure there was a movie I watched more times than Animal Crackers.

 

Maybe you deem this a cliché, but do you see your work as cathartic—for yourself and your readers?

 

For me, no, there's not much in the way of exorcising of personal demons in my work. Even in the rare occasions when I pull from a real-life event (the infamous "contact lens" scene in Sick House) it's not really cathartic. On the readers' side, I do sometimes get fan mail from people who say that my books helped them get through a tough time—usually because of the entertainment value, but occasionally they'll point to a specific element. But "writing as therapy" doesn't really apply to me.

 

Beyond adult horror, you've written YA novels. Do you find it difficult to shift gears, or do you just tap your inner child?

 

I find it very easy to shift gears. Part of what keeps writers' block away for me is being able to work on different types of projects at the same time. In my adult horror, I'll write from the perspective of a depressed widower, a devoted mother you don't want to mess with, a savage serial killer, a socially inept customer service representative, etc. so it's not jarring at all to switch to a teenage boy.

 

Clowns. Werewolves. Barbecued clowns. What's the next trope you want to skewer?

 

Clowns again? I've obviously got the short story collection Dead Clown Barbecue, and a clown costume plays a key role in my novel Blister, and in the four-author collaboration Draculas, I was responsible for the sections from the POV of Benny the (Vampire) Clown. But I've never done an all-out scary clown novel. I've got the title but somebody will swipe it if I blab it here. It's also time for me to tackle a giant monster novel.

 

You've written a ton of short stories. Your short story "The Fierce Stabbing and Subsequent Post-Death Vengeance of Scooter Brown" is included in the Smart Rhino Publications anthology A Plague of Shadows. What do you find most satisfying about writing short fiction?

 

I can do experimental things with the narrative that I wouldn't want to do at novel-length. "Rough Draft," for example, is a story where the real story is in the side notes that the (fictional) author is making to himself. The joke in "Deformed Son" is the completely unsatisfying nature of the big reveal. In short stories, I can be darker, weirder, and sillier, because I only have to carry the premise through a few pages instead of 300. Oh, I still prefer writing novels, but I think some of my strongest work is in short story form.

 

What advice would you offer writers concerning marketing their books?

 

Since social media plays such a large role these days, it's important to provide content beyond "Buy my book!" If you follow me on Twitter, you'll certainly see "Buy my book!" but there are far fewer of those than jokes that have nothing to do with self-promotion. Obviously there are writers who reach a success level where people are following them just to hear book news, but those writers aren't getting marketing advice from an interview with somebody like me.

 

I agree, online self-promotion should go beyond "Buy my book." It would be nice to see more subtlety in the marketing. On another note, what's your advice for working with editors?

 

Don't be precious about your material. Sometimes you'll agree with the changes and sometimes you won't, but it's important to choose your battles. In my novel Stranger Things Have Happened, I was asked to cut out an entire chapter, and almost all the jokes out of another. I cringed and shed a metaphorical tear as I complied, but after I had some distance from the heartbreak, I agreed that, yes, this was the right choice. The editor isn't always right (I've been the victim of "This is how I'd write the book!") but neither is the author.

 

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

 

I'd love to write an epic. A big-ass, 1000+ page doorstop of a novel. If somebody wants to cover my living expenses for a couple of years, I'll get right on it.

 

One last question, just for fun. What is the most stupendously stupid horror movie you're ashamed to admit you enjoyed?

 

In the crowd I hang with, there's no shame in enjoying a stupid horror movie!

 

True. I have a strange fondness for Basket Case—the stop-animation alone is truly horrendous and hilarious!

 

Thanks, Jeff.  Looking forward to your next book!

 

You can follow Jeff (safely at a distance) at his website, Gleefully Macabre, at https://jeffstrand.wordpress.com/. You can also find him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/JeffStrandAuthor

 

 

Check out Jeff's story, "The Fierce Stabbing and Subsequent Post-Death Vengeance of Scooter Brown," in Smart Rhino's A Plague of Shadows: A Written Remains Anthology.

 

(This interview was originally published in the Summer 2018 issue of Suspense Magazine.)

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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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