Saturday, October 31, 2009

Invisible Fences, (Cemetery Dance), by Norman Prentiss

Norman Prentiss' debut is a haunting tale of reminiscence and regret, of how things thought laid to rest long ago still lurk at the bottom of our souls. His prose is smooth, nearly flawless, and his narrative voice invokes a Gothic, literary tone. Best of all, the chills lie solidly in the strength and substance of the story, rather than something tacked on in pastiche at the end.

Nathan's earliest childhood memories consist of boundaries, both invisible and real. Early tragedy framed their lives, scarring both their parents: his father, prone to cautionary tales told to keep he and older sister Pam out of trouble; his mother, agoraphobic and withdrawn. However, trouble finds Nathan regardless, and eventually the entire family moves away to start not-so-new lives elsewhere.

Years later, both parents have passed on and Nathan – the one who stayed around – is saddled with the responsibility of tying up their affairs. A monumental task faces him: cleaning out a house not only stuffed with decades' worth of accumulated junk, but also saturated with memories, stories...and something else that has come creeping back to remind him of all the things he thought he'd left behind.

A popular tag-line of contemporary horror reviews is that: “John Doe offers the SCREAM (or whatever) that's been missing from horror lately!” At the risk of engaging in this hyperbole, in his first solo work, Prentiss really HAS offered something often missing from horror fiction: an ACTUAL story. The chills are there, but they are subtle, part of the characters and their existence, rather than an affected trope. This is the mark of a writer who will enjoy a long, successful career and critical acclaim.

Visit and pre-order “Invisible Fences” today, before supplies run out.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Theatre of the Macabre, (Skullvines Press), by Roy C. Booth

From the internationally award-winning playwright who brought Brian Keene's “Terminal” to the stage comes a trilogy of one-act plays perfect for the late October chill. In “Theatre of the Macbre”, Roy C. Booth offers chills, thrills, and spots of humor and cynicism as well. Even in one acts, these tales are quick, tasty bites that will leave a shiver under your skin long after you've read them.

In “Smoking Will Kill You”, cruel irony deals an appropriate hand to an arrogant, dismissive psychiatrist and his scheming wife. In “He Who Gets Laughed At Last”, a pompous comedian with no real talent goes to extreme measures to get a laugh, only to discover the last one is on him...forever. Perhaps the best, most satisfying tale is found in “Death Under Gaslight”, where three robbers get more than they bargained for, and a classic, Gothic character plays a pivotal role.

Pick up this collection and enjoy the laughs, screams, and cries...if you dare.

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“Black Train”, (Leisure Fiction), by Edward Lee

Leisure's latest offering, a reprinted version of “Gast”, (Camelot Books), is staple Edward Lee – sexual, disgusting, revolting...and obsessively readable all the same. As he did in “The Golem”, Lee crafts sympathetic characters readers connect to, gives them realistic circumstances, then drops them into the middle of hell. This is why his work is so attractive: his characters tug readers into the farthest reaches of “suspension of disbelief”, pulling them down his twisted rabbit hole.

When Justin Collier pulls into Gast, Tennessee, he's hoping for a respite from his divorce proceedings and an escape from dreary reality. He's got a book deadline to meet and a canceled Food Network show he'd like to forget. On the hunt for a final entry to round out his book on beer, the Food Network's former “Prince of Beer” is looking for some time alone.

What he finds, however, is a physic hot-spot of lust, nightmares and decades old evil. The Branch Landing Inn is the former home of Harwood Gast: Civil War railway baron, Confederate supporter, and icon of evil. Unspeakable acts helped build his railroad, his fortune bankrolled by darkness. The rusting remains of those tracks still run behind The Branch Landing Inn. Gripped by ghostly desire not entirely his own, at the mercy of demonic residue, Justin is about to take a ride he may not survive.

Perhaps Lee's greatest strength is not the gore and sex, but writing such likable characters. Collier is a confused mini-celebrity ambivalent about what little “fame” he owns, escaping from a dry, loveless marriage, which makes him the perfect target for Branch Landing's haunts. Also, as horrible as Gast is, just as horrible is the resigned malaise the owners of the hotel reside in, forever trapped in the house's cyclical, erotic emanations. Either way, there's enough substance here for everyone...if they've got strong stomachs, that is.

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"Magick & Misery", (Black Bedsheet Books) by Lincoln Crisler

Crisler's new collection of dark fiction offers well crafted tales that are enjoyable enough to read in their own right. His talent with the mechanical craft of prose is undeniable, and his stories wield a distinctive, uncompromising edge. To enter Lincoln's world is not to tread lightly, because very often that “bad thing” you fear so much waits just around the corner, hungry and lurking.

Among the strongest stories: “Old Stooping Lugh”, a story of Irish gangsters, betrayal...and old, monstrous legends that refuse to die; “The Gambler”, a melancholic nod to old grifters passing on from this world to the next; “Redemption”, an darkly ironic tale about a horrible future in which you can get a “return” on the investment of marriage; “Pete Does What Needs to Be Done”, a twist on teenage rebellion and hard choices, and easily the best tale in the collection, “The Seven O'Clock Man”, a chilling take on boogie-man stories everywhere, co-written with author Allex Spires.

One thing that must be acknowledged is that Crisler is a writer yet to hit his prime. His handle on the mechanical craft is sound; none of these stories are badly written, and are well worth the read. He reads like a writer still searching for his voice, however, and occasionally his tales reach for twist endings that don't quite land. His latest collection, however, is fun, at times chilling, and well worth it. Time spent in Crisler's dark world is not time wasted.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Interview with Joe Schreiber, author of “Star Wars: Death Troopers” and “No Doors, No Windows”

Joe, thanks for taking the time to speak with us today. First, tell us about yourself. How did you find your way into writing?

I’ve always written stories, all the way back in grade school. Except for a brief time in my childhood when I wanted to be a Hollywood stuntman--probably encouraged by the movie Hooper or my Hal Needham Stuntman Set--writing is the only gig I’ve ever dreamed of in any serious kind of way.

Now, for the question probably lingering on many minds right now: why write a Star Wars horror novel? How did it come about? Did you pitch the idea, or vice versa? Did you burn through any absolutely horrible ideas first: like vampire Ewoks, or chainsaw toting Wookies with hockey masks?

My editor at Del Rey was also very involved in the Star Wars expanded universe books. They’d been kicking around the idea of a Star Wars horror novel for a while, and when they mentioned it to me, I pretty much started begging for a walk-on. The only real advice I got from the outset was that they wanted George Romero in the Star Wars universe. I did one outline that nobody liked very much, but once I got that out of my system, we were in business. We’re saving the chainsaw Wookiees for the sequel.

What was it like getting to play in a galaxy far, far away? Was it a dream come true, or just an interesting opportunity?

It was huge, fantastic fun, like getting invited over to play with the kid who has all the coolest toys and lets you play with all of them for as long as I wanted. From the beginning it was a blast, and it never stopped being a great time.

You have another novel debuting alongside “Star Wars: Death Troopers”, “No Doors, No Windows”. Did you write both at once? If so, how did a typical during that stretch look?

No Doors goes way, way back for me. I actually started writing it before Chasing the Dead came out, back in 2005, and put it aside until I felt ready to work on it…a process that went on for several years of rewrites and revisions. In contrast, Death Troopers was done in an extremely intense, sustained burst of productivity. They both just kind of came into the finish line around the same time. The astute reader may find a bit of crossover between them, however.

Have you always been a Star Wars fan, or did you find yourself in need of research before launching into this one?

Like a lot of people my age, I loved the first three films and acted out all the scenes on the playgrounds of my youth…back when you could make up the details yourself. When it came time to actually write within that universe, though, the research that I did came from the massively detailed chronology and reference guides that Lucasfilm provided, and it was essential to doing solid work and staying true to all the things that make the franchise great.

I saw on your blog you'll be writing a novel based on the TV Series “Supernatural” (one of my favorites, which puts that book on my wish list, BTW). How did that come about?

I was chatting one day with Chris Cerasi, the licensing editor at DC Comics, about doing a Batman novel, a Silence of the Lambs type thing where Bruce Wayne goes out and does detective work on a cold case. Nothing much came of it, but then Chris emailed about the Supernatural novel and I pitched him a few ideas. We found one that we all liked and I got cracking.

You're a working and writing parent of two children. What would you say are the ups and downs of this?

That’s a great question. Having kids definitely brought certain common fears into sharp focus, and as a parent I’ve been able to tap into a lot of that in a very visceral sense in some of my books—all my greatest fears have to do with something bad happening to my children. Before that, I think my sense of personal jeopardy was a more nebulous thing. It ain’t so nebulous anymore. And kids are a great audience. My kids, especially, have an insatiable appetite for narrative. It’s like nonstop batting practice.

The other side of the coin is, you now have these small people who rely on you not to mess up, financially, emotionally, physically. There’s no more sense of, wow, I’m publishing books now, bye-bye day job. You need to think unselfishly, and historically, writers aren’t so good at doing that.

Are you much of a Con-goer? What conventions – if any – can you be found at?

I’ve been to San Diego and I hope to go back, maybe next year. The New York Comic Con is fun too. It’s exhausting, though. It’s that sense of total sensory immersion, like being dropped into a constantly bonging pinball machine of nonstop pop culture.

You've already signed for another Star Wars horror novel, scheduled to release in 2010. Does this mean readers can expect a whole line of Star Wars horror novels?

I honestly don’t know. I was certainly grateful for the opportunity to do another book. We’ll have to see what happens.

Any devices: movies, books, television shows, music – that helped put you in the right frame of mind for Death Troopers? Personally, I think the novel's beginning invokes a very creepy, chilling “Aliens” vibe.

I did end up putting together a playlist of songs to go along with Death Troopers, and although I don’t write to music, I spent a lot of time listening to it during the editing process. Alien is certainly a big influence on my view of the “dirty” future, with all its untrustworthy technology and corporate branding. For the Star Destroyer, I kept going back to the hotel in The Shining. I also spent a lot of time looking at pictures of old shipwrecks, big sunken freighters, getting a sense of the emptiness and why it’s so scary on a low, fundamental level.

Any other future plans or ideas you're toying with?

I’m co-writing a screenplay now. It’s something completely different—a Western, of all things. And I’m outlining a new horror novel which I think will freak a great many people out in a couple years.

Final question: Halloween is coming up. What are the Schreibers going as?

My daughter is going as Belle, from Beauty and the Beast. My son is going as Mario from Super Mario Brothers. I’m just the scary writer guy. Every day is Halloween for me.

Thanks for spending some time with us, Joe.

Thank you!


“Star Wars: Death Troopers”, (Del Ray Books), by Joe Schreiber

No lightsabers. No Jedi. Nothing but dark space and the things shambling after you on a derelict Star Destroyer. They are hungry and dead, but not mindless. They are growing. Evolving. Planning...and very, very angry. They are swarming everywhere, and they have one desire – to feed.

Blasters just aren't going to work, this time.

Zombies are the current “big thing”, inspiring everything from literary romance/horror “mash-ups” (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), to film satire (the upcoming Zombieland, starring Woody Harrelson). Given this, it was only a matter of time before zombies took on the next frontier, infecting a place “far, far away”. In many ways the result is a standard “zombie novel”. Joe Schreiber writes it well, however, invoking a cold dread new to the Star Wars universe. There are genuinely creepy moments here, almost verging on those found in the original Alien, and Schreiber's spin on zombification is fresh enough.

Existence aboard the Imperial prison barge Purge is miserable. Jammed-packed with the most ruthless killers in the galaxy, crewed by a spineless figurehead, with a warden's guard led by a near sociopathic commander, woe to the simple smuggler or con artist confined within its depths. For Kale and Trig Longo – smugglers whose father has just died in the barge infirmary – existence is just another word for “living hell”. For sympathetic, fed-up and disgusted infirmary medic Zahara Cody, it's simply another example of the Empire's unending cruelty.

When Purge drops out of hyperspace because of an unknown malfunction and encounters a dead Star Destroyer, “living hell” takes on new meaning. A disease floats through the cruiser's stale air, and infects within minutes. Those infected die within hours and soon after rise to feed on the few survivors. Solitary confinement and even death soon becomes preferable to what lies in wait, deep in the dark holds of the dead Star Destroyer, drifting in space.

No lightsabers, Jedi, or mystical Force, and new hope.

Visit Joe Schreiber at and

“No Doors, No Windows”, (Ballantine Books), by Joe Schreiber

“No Doors, No Windows” is intense, chilling, and at times hallucinogenic; a story of madness carried down through the generations. In many ways, it tells the classic Gothic tale of a house stained by a decades old evil, warped by the lingering spirits of the dead. Debuting alongside Schreiber's “Star Wars: Death Troopers”, “No Doors” adds to an impressive resume, making him a name to watch in horror.

After his father's funeral, Scott Mast can't run away fast enough. Being back in New Hampshire brings up painful memories, and it's hard being around his failed brother Owen and his only son Henry. What Scott wants most is a return to his ordered life writing Hallmark greeting cards in Seattle; to leave the wreckage of his family behind.

When he discovers his father's partially finished manuscript, however, Scott refuses to leave without digging for answers to questions he hadn't even known existed. His father, the stoic Frank Mast – a writer? Not only that, the story appears to be horror, about an old house back in the woods, a place called Round House because of its strangely shaped interior.

When Scott learns the house actually exists, he becomes obsessed with uncovering his father's secrets. In his search, Scott discovers dark things hidden in his family line. An obsession with creation is a Mast curse, as they are doomed to re-tell a recurring dark tale that has no end...and no mercy. In a moment of foolhardy inspiration, Scott resolves to finish his father's story, but as he moves into Round House, so do the ghosts haunting his family.

In many ways, “No Doors” is the archetypal haunted house story: a place tainted by evil and family secrets, dangerous snows that lay siege to those haunted, and a failed writer who not only becomes obsessed with finishing a dangerous story, but also goes off his medication to do so. However, Schreiber tells the story well, and he layers his twists and reveals his secrets with the controlled pacing of a seasoned writer, making this an excellent take on a traditional tale.

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