Chilling Chat Episode 156 Christine Verstraete

Christine (C.A.) Verstraete enjoys putting a little “scare” in her writing. She follows the murder trial and offers a twist on the infamous 1892 Borden murders in her book, Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter. She also looks at the murders from the viewpoint of Lizzie’s doctorC.A. Verstraete in her latest, The Haunting of Dr. Bowen. Other books include a young adult novel, GIRL Z: My Life as a Teenage Zombie, and books on dollhouse collecting and crafting. Christine’s short stories have appeared in various anthologies including: Descent Into Darkness, Happy Homicides 3: Summertime Crime, Mystery Weekly, and Timeshares, Steampunk’d, and Hot & Steamy: Tales of Steampunk Romance, DAW Books. She is an award-winning journalist published in daily to weekly newspapers, and in various magazines. Her stories have received awards from local and national newspaper associations, and the Dog Writer’s Association of America.

Christine is a smart and accomplished lady. We discussed historical horror, her writing style, and Lizzie Borden.

 

NTK: Welcome to Chilling Chat, Christine. Thank you for chatting with me today.

CV: My pleasure and thanks for taking the time to talk.

NTK: You have a background in journalism. How has this influenced your writing?

CV: It makes me more detail-oriented, I think. I’m used to looking things up and doing research.

NTK: Did this help you when writing Lizzie Borden: Zombie Hunter?

CV: I did do a lot of reading and finding research of the period. The real autopsy reports and crime scene photos actually inspired the book idea.

NTK: Wow! The autopsy photos inspired the plot?Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter by [Verstraete, C.A.]

CV: If you read the autopsy reports detailing the injuries and look at the photos, it’s plausible (in the horror sense) to think why else were they hit in the head? It was an awful, brutal crime, so I guess this gives a better reason than the standard hate/greed/family dysfunction/dissatisfaction.

NTK: What made you portray Lizzie as a hero?

CV: Using that [zombie] premise, I thought Lizzie had to have a good reason to kill, other than being a monster herself. What if she was trying to protect her town and her sister from this unbelievable evil?

NTK: Were you influenced by some of the historical horror novels like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter?

CV: I hadn’t read ALVH until later, but loved it! I really enjoyed the movie.

NTK: You have an interesting take on the case and an interesting “What if?” Stephen King has spoken of how he uses “What if?” when thinking of an idea. Is that how you write? Do you look at a situation and say, “What if this happened?”

CV: I wish I was as prolific-thinking as him! My ideas seem to come out of nowhere, then I stew on them a bit and see what they develop into. I have to get excited about the idea to stick with it.

I guess I’m so structured in news-writing that fiction is looser—in the idea stage, anyway.

NTK: Your style is very crisp and direct. What writers have influenced you?

CV: It’s probably the news background. I know I don’t like reading or writing, long, meandering sentences. I loved reading Royko in The Chicago Tribune. Grew up on King who, of course, can be rather wordy at times. (Laughs) I went through different periods of loving different authors, classic and contemporary—Dean Koontz, Heinlein, loved Saul Bellow too.

NTK: I have to ask. Who do you prefer? King or Koontz?

CV: Probably King, as I’ve probably read more from him. I loved that he did a sequel to The Shining (and it did well.) The recent It movie was fun too.

NTK: Did King get you into horror?

CV: Well, I grew up on Creature Features on TV, the Crypt Keeper, Night Gallery, and reading King. (Laughs) Salem’s Lot is a favorite I still like to reread now and then. I just picked up a copy of Carrie to read again after many, many years.

NTK: Are these your favorite horror novels? What are your favorite Horror TV shows and movies?

CV: The TVs shows, I just mentioned are favorites.

NTK: Do you watch The Walking Dead?

CV: Yes—when I can. It’s addicting! [As to books] I also really liked reading I Am Legend and plan on reading Matheson’s other books. It’s writing that makes you savor the sentences. I love old creepy movies, even the corny ones—and, anything with Vincent Price!

NTK: Vincent Price starred in many historical pieces. Is that what got you interested in that type of horror?

CV: Most likely. He had that mesmerizing voice. I also liked Edgar Allan Poe. I still remember seeing The Tell-Tale Heart at the theater. One scary movie!

The older movies really got me hooked, classics like Dracula, Frankenstein, and Bride of Frankenstein. And, The Wolfman of course.

I guess after all that; it made sense that I finally turned to writing creepy stuff!

NTK: What’s your favorite Edgar Allan Poe story or poem?

CV: The Tell-Tale Heart. I recently re-read The Black Cat, also very eerie and still packs a punch. Maybe, that’s why I like putting a little twist in stories, like I did in Lizzie Borden: Zombie Hunter and, the sequel, Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter 2: The Axe Will Fall.Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter 2: The Axe Will Fall by [Verstraete, C.A.]

NTK: You write creepy things. Do you also create creepy things? You make miniatures. Have you ever built a haunted dollhouse?

CV: (Laughs) Yes, I’m that twisted. I do enjoy creating Halloween miniatures. I had fun doing my first Halloween dollhouse and thinking how creepy I could get. Far as I know, nothing has moved of its own accord in there…yet. I am planning another haunted house but less gory this time.

NTK: Cool! You spoke of Lizzie Borden and the sequel. Do you have other work concerning Lizzie and her time period?

CV: There’s also a companion novella, The Haunting of Dr. Bowen, told from the viewpoint of Lizzie’s doctor and neighbor. He was the first official on the murder scene, and I wondered how could that, and the city’s bloody past, have affected him? It’s kind of a ghostly love story as well. I wanted to try something different and had fun writing it.

NTK: What does the future hold for you? Do you have plans for new work?

CV: Oh, the mind never rests, you know. (Laughs) I have a longer short story that I may re-edit and put out again. I was toying with some ideas for book 3 for Lizzie. I love writing about the characters.

The first book, Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter, follows the trial and real-life events with the addition of zombies, of course. I had to follow more fictional events in the sequel to continue the story, but I liked coming up with a new weird angle to the story.

A big thrill was [when] the newspaper in Lizzie’s hometown did a story on the book when it first came out. That was fun.

NTK: Do you think the Lizzie in your universe is cursed?

CV: She’s fighting evil and learning that her father may have been part of that evil…you can’t get more cursed than that. That could be why she feels obligated to do what she can, even when everyone blames her for the horrors. Much like in real life, she was acquitted but still treated as a pariah and considered guilty.

NTK: As you know, Season 13 of HorrorAddicts is CURSED! Do you have a favorite curse? If so, what is it?

CV: I do love the old gypsy curse in the classic Wolfman movie…Larry Talbot’s a monster, but you can’t help but feel his pain and feel sorry for him until the curse is broken…

NTK: That’s a terrific curse. Thank you, Christine. I’ve really enjoyed chatting with you.

CV: I’ve enjoyed chatting with you. Thank you.

Addicts, you can follow Christine on Twitter at @caverstraete

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Chilling Chat Episode 155 Courtney Mroch

C. Le Mroch is the horror nom de plume for Courtney Lynn Mroch. Courtney is the C. Le MrochAmbassador of Dark and Paranormal Tourism for Haunt Jaunts, a website for restless spirits.

 As C. Le Mroch, she’s published The Shadow Stalker and edited the anthology, Shadow People and Cursed Objects: 13 Tales of Terror Based on True Stories…or are they?

When it comes to horror, Courtney has great taste. We discussed several things, including: horror/comedy, writing, and her unconventional anthology.

NTK: Welcome to Chilling Chat, Courtney! Thank you for chatting with me.

CM: Thank you so much for having me!

NTK: “Haunt Jaunts” used to be a paranormal travel site and radio show but has recently changed. Tell us about “Haunted Headlines” and what those entail.

CM: Haunted Headlines is a new weekly series of posts and videos I started doing in April of this year. In the posts, I share all sorts of Haunted Headlines I’ve come across for the week. Then, I highlight the best—which to me usually means the funniest or most outrageous—in a video. I post these to HJ’s YouTube and Facebook pages.

NTK: What got you interested in “Haunted Headlines?” Have you always enjoyed humor and horror?

CM: Oh, yes! Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE straight horror, the kind that terrifies and lingers long after it’s been consumed, but I also love humor. The Haunted Headlines were sort of a whim. Around April Fool’s Day, I made all sorts of prank headlines. And, I’m always sharing paranormal, horror, and Halloween related links on my social media. The light just sort of clicked to get a green screen and combine it with pictures and funny commentary about the stories I come across each week. Well, to me, it’s funny. Not sure if others share my same humor.

NTK: When did you become involved in horror? How old were you and what drew you to the genre?

CM: I think I was three when I got my first taste of horror. It’s actually one of my first memories. I couldn’t sleep or something. That part, I don’t remember. All I remember is being up late, wandering out in the living room, turning on the TV, and finding an old horror movie on. I have no idea which one it was. I turned it on during a scene with a dungeon and stone spiral steps and scary music. I’m not sure if one of the characters screamed or if I did, but my dad came racing out to find me up watching it and was livid. I think because that whole incident terrified, yet intrigued me, horror was like this forbidden no-no. And I was always the kid who had to touch the stove to find out for myself if it was hot so…I’ve sought out horror ever since. Part of me thinks I’m on a quest to discover that old movie. I’ve watched A LOT of horror movies but I never have figured out what that movie was…yet.

NTK: I hope you find that movie. What’s your favorite horror/comedy?

CM: Horror/Comedy…that’s a tough one. Shaun of the Dead always comes to mind and so does Zombieland. But, after streaming Tucker and Dale vs. Evil a couple years ago, I think that’s now my fave. I wasn’t expecting to like it and found myself laughing out loud and cracking up.

NTK: Are these films among your favorite movies?

CM: Actually, those are not among my favorite horror movies. My faves are: A Nightmare on Elm Street, Dawn of the Dead (2005), Night of the Comet, and The Night of the Hunter with Robert Mitchum (which isn’t technically horror but it scared me.)

NTK: I love the “Night” theme there. What are your favorite horror books?

CM: As far as books, it took me forever to read because Stephen King’s IT because it creeped me out so bad. It’s always a sentimental fave. Dean Koontz’s Phantoms also ranks up there high on my list.

NTK: I have to ask. Do you prefer King or Koontz?

CM: It’s such a tough choice between King and Koontz. I like them both for different reasons. Depends on the mood.

NTK: What about TV? What shows do you like?

CM: I think we now have access to some of the best horror TV shows in the history of the Boob Tube. There are so many great modern shows. Loved the first few American Horror Stories. Haven’t been as crazy about the rest, but I’ve watched. All except Hotel. Couldn’t make it through that one. Gaga for Netflix’s Stranger Things and Dark. Loved The Kettering Incident and Black Spot on Amazon Prime. The French version of The Returned was also stellar. I liked the psychological aspect. I also like Tagged and Scream.

NTK: Do these movies, books, and TV shows inspire you when you write? What inspires you?

CM: I’m not always inspired by other books or TV shows/movies when I write. Life usually provides fodder. Or friends will make some random comment that sparks something. Although, I do have to say a Twilight Zone episode (“The After Hours”) inspired my forthcoming book, Reaper Pines, about an abandoned town where mannequins were once manufactured.

NTK: What’s your writing process like? Are you a planner or a pantser?

CM: PANTSER!!! Unequivocally! (Laughs.)

NTK: So, you just sit down and go from there? No outline?

CM: I usually have some nugget that sparks me and I run from there and let it do the driving. I just do the typing.

Shadow People and Cursed Objects: 13 Tales of Terror Based on True Stories...or are they? by [Carl Barker, Black, Alice J., Charman, Barry, Dicken, Evan, Ealy, Sean, Karabin, Keith, Lin, S. Mickey, Rich, Emerian, Teutsch, Ken]NTK: Let’s talk about your anthology, Shadow People and Cursed Objects: 13 Tales of Terror Based on True Stories…or are they? What inspired you to create this anthology?

CM: The idea for the anthology came about after I learned [the film] The Fourth Kind was not actually based on true events and the true filmed events supposedly included in the film were just other actors too. I thought it’d be neat to have something where readers could try and figure out if stories were based on true ones or not. So, I guess that IS an instance where a movie inspired me. (Laughs.)

NTK: Your story, “The Gypsy’s Curse,” is included in the anthology. What made you write the story?

CM: I honestly don’t remember what inspired me to write “The Gypsy’s Curse.” All I really remember about writing it is I did it shortly after we moved from Phoenix, Arizona to Jacksonville, Florida. I think I was going through a gypsy phase, or maybe a curse phase, or maybe both. (Laughs.) But, that story was one that just wrote itself as soon as it hit.

NTK: Speaking of curses, Season 13 of HorrorAddicts.net is CURSED! Do you have a favorite curse? If so, what is it?

CM: Oh, that’s a great question! There are so many intriguing alleged curses, right? This is a bit of a spoiler alert but, there is another story in Shadow People. It’s in cursed up Jack’s about the Busby Chair. I had never heard of that person until I read that author’s story, which is titled, “The Busby Chair.” It’s by Alice J. Black.

The Kennedy Family Curse also intrigues me. They’ve certainly had their fair share of sorrow!

NTK: What does the future hold for you? What do we, as readers, have to look forward to?

CM: Well, I’ll have Reaper Pines coming out soon. That’s a horror novel about a couple stranded in a ghost town with possibly haunted mannequins and an escaped mental patient. Hopefully, that’ll be available in mid-September. I also have a couple of Haunt Jaunts guides in the works: Schooled by Ghosts: What Ghosts Can Teach You and Macabre Museums.

NTK: Courtney, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you for sitting down with me.

CM: Naching, THANK YOU SO MUCH for this wonderful chat.

Addicts, check out Haunt Jaunts on Facebook and Twitter. And, join us for the next episode of Chilling Chat in the coming weeks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chilling Chat Episode 154 Crescendo of Darkness with Emerian Rich

Emerian Rich is the author of the Night’s Knights Vampire Series. She’s been included in many short story anthologies and also writes romance under Emmy Z. Madrigal. She is the horror hostess of HorrorAddicts.net and Editorial Director for the San Francisco Bay Area magazine, SEARCH. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and son. Find out more about Emerian at: http://www.emzbox.com

Our lovely horror hostess is a real scream. She took time out of her busy schedule to chat with me about Crescendo of Darkness, editing and publishing, and the new HorrorAddicts.net submission call.

NTK: Welcome to Chilling Chat, Emz. Thank you for chatting with me.

ER: I am so excited to be on here. I never get to chat with you except about HorrorAddicts.net business.

NTK: Crescendo of Darkness is the eighth book in the HorrorAddicts.net series of anthologies. How did it come about?emz1small

ER: I had been thinking about doing a music-themed horror anthology for a while. I had read A. Craig Newman’s “Circe’s Music Shop” back in the 90s—Yes! The 90s!—as part of a crit group I was part of online. The story stuck with me. I just loved it. So when Jeremiah Donaldson E-mailed me to say he wanted to do a music anthology, I said, “Yes! Under one condition…We have to have this guy’s story in the book.”

NTK: So, “Circe’s Music Shop” set the bar for the anthology?

ER: Yes, in a way. However, Jeremiah has a much different view of music than I do. He knows more about guitar/rock and you will see that a lot of the stories go down that road. For me, music is more melodic and dramatic. My favorite stories in the anthology are the ones that put off a spookier piano-y vibe. I think we got a really nice mix because we were both reviewing them.

NTK: Did you look for stories to surround “Circe’s Music shop?” What was your criteria for the stories you chose?

ER: We did not look for stories that fit with A. Craig’s. He might have put the idea in my head but, when we were reading, we just graded them by how much they moved, scared, or touched us. We were open to all interpretations. HorrorAddicts.net Press has a system for populating our anthologies. We have a team of four readers. The Editor, me, and two others from staff. We all read and grade. Whichever stories get the top grades, we publish. The Editor has veto power and can fight for one if it’s not in the top of the list but, mostly, the highest graded ones (meaning the ones that all of us enjoyed) are the ones that ultimately get into the book. Except yours, which won an award when graded by pros. Congratulations, by the way.

NTK: Thank you! “Audition” was a fun story to write for the Next Great Horror Writer Contest and I’m so honored to be included in Crescendo. We have another NGHW finalist included in the anthology. What attracted you to Daphne Strasert’s story?

ER: Well, as you know, we were only allowed to publish one story from the competition, that being yours, which we felt was the best out of the group. However, we allowed the other contestants to submit something else. When Daphne’s new one came in, I was happy to see it, because she is also a great writer. We graded hers just as all the others and she rang in to the top grades as well. I can’t speak for the others on the submission team, but for me, not only was Daphne’s so different from the others—starring a music box, not an instrument—but it’s also a really creepy story. Daphne’s voice is so fresh and contemporary. I could see this story being made into a movie like The Ring.

NTK: There are fourteen authors included in the anthology and you have a wonderful variety of stories. Can you give us a quick run-down of what the reader can expect to see within these pages?

ER: First, we have a good number of guitar-based stories. Your story, “Audition,” “Circe’s Music Shop” by A. Craig Newman, “Loved to Death,” by Sam Morgan Phillips, “While My Guitar Gently Bleeds,” by Benjamin Langley, “Six String Bullets,” by Cara Fox, and “A Whisper in the Air,” by Jeremiah Donaldson really reflect the cover. Then, we have piano themes in “Solomon’s Piano,” by Jeremy Megargee and “They Don’t Make Music Like That Anymore,” by Kahramanah. There are cursed objects like Daphne Strasert’s, “The Music Box,” and Sarah Gribble’s, “The Legend of Crimson Ivory.” “Lighthouse Lamentation,” by R.A. Goli involves a haunted lighthouse, while Calvin Demmer’s, “Keep the Beat,” is about a cursed village. H.E. Roulo’s, “Become the Music,” is about a child who is allergic to music and my story, “Last Lullaby,” is a re-imagining of the Phantom of the Opera tale.

NTK: Emz, as I mentioned before, this is HorrorAddicts.net’s eighth anthology. What made you become an editor and publisher?

ER: I’m not sure when I fell into all this. When I was in my 20s, I had a local ‘zine called Dark Lives. I would publish horror/goth authors and artists. In the early 2000s, I decided I better stop and get to work on my own novels. When I started HorrorAddicts.net as a podcast, I never even dreamed it would be what it is today. As you know, we are populated by fans and the staff that come to help spread the horror goodness. We became a blog and a site and a lifestyle for so many craving horror that publishing just seemed like a natural progression. Also, I love reading horror and I read so much by authors that haven’t been published before that I’m like…THIS is the stuff I want to read. But if no one is publishing it, then it can’t be enjoyed by other horror enthusiasts like me. I’m really interested in publishing things I like that may not fit the mainstream publishing system. Cool things I haven’t heard before. New ideas that aren’t the same rehashed formula we get in industry anthologies.

NTK: So, what is your favorite kind of horror? What movies, novels, and TV shows do you enjoy?

ER: I like classic horror. By classic, I don’t mean I always have to crouch by the light of the black and white set, straining my eyes to make out the grays of the darkly lit forest, I mean what we think of as classically spooky. The shutters banging, the ghost in the tower, the creaking doors, and melodramatic music. The Woman in Black, The Others, and Ghost Ship are some of my favorites. For TV, I am more into humorous horror themes like Reaper and Dead Like Me. But, I’m also a fan of shows like Ghost Whisperer, The Others (TV show from the 90s), and Midnight Texas. Reading is a whole different story. I really like Anne Rice and Andre Neiderman. My favorites of those two are Anne’s Pandora and Andrew’s Bloodchild. But, it’s been so long since I’ve been able to just sit and read for fun, it’s hard to pin any new author’s down. I am either reading shorts for anthologies reviewing a book for the show, or working on my own stuff. Oh, for the days of laying in bed or on the porch swing and reading! I want all those bored hours from my childhood back!

NTK: Do you write classic horror? Do your books and stories fit in that category?

ER: Now, that is something I haven’t been called on! Wow. I never thought about that. I have written a book like that, Artistic License. A woman inherits a house where anything she paints on the walls comes alive. My vampire work would probably be considered more like dark urban fantasy. Gritty, street kids, and Hell kind of stuff. However, now that you mention it. I think my love of classic horror is really coming out in my work in progress. I am re-imagining Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey in modern times. The heroine is now a goth girl who adores horror media. So, I’ve been injecting lines from movies, excerpts from classic books like The Grey Lady by Elizabeth Gaskell, and Witch House by Evangeline Walton, and even creating a little myself when seeing through the character’s eyes. Jane Austen is thought of as a romance writer but, this book (while it does have romance in it) is more like a love letter to all my favorite horror creators.

NTK: As you know, Emz, Season 13 is CURSED! We’ve talked about your favorite horror, what is your favorite curse?

ER: This is so tough! Omg…so many to choose from! Well, I can’t give you just one. I really like studying the curses surrounding the Titanic. I think it’s fascinating and just can’t get enough of the conspiracy theories there. I really like the Egyptian and mummy lore and the scarab devouring thing creeps me the hell out. But the coolest curses, I think, are the book curses. The ones we’ll be talking about later in the season about the books that have curses written inside them…“Those who lay their eyes upon this manuscript and have not pure intentions, shall be struck down by their maker,” kind of stuff. I had something happen to me in real life where I witnessed someone unable to read or decipher a book. It was a magick book that had an inscription in it about if the person didn’t believe or wasn’t pure of heart, they would not be able to read it. I could read every word as plain as day but, she was like…“What does it say? Is it some sort of code?” Really made an impact on how I consider book curses today. If that could work, why wouldn’t a curse in a book work?

NTK: What awesome curses! And, speaking of books, HorrorAddicts.net has a new submission call coming up. Could you tell us a little about Kill Switch and what you’re looking for?

ER: Yes, Kill Switch is Dan Shaurette’s brainchild. I will be looking for interesting, new, Black Mirror-like stories. I think Dan will have a more sci-fi accepting view, but they all must be horror, so I’m looking forward to reading some really great things. Tech horror is so interesting because we are living in an age where things like implanted chips and bionics are so close to us. Tech is going so fast and it’s not even the future anymore. It’s NEAR future. How will your tech terrorize the world?

Something new we are trying is a blind submission process. We will be grading stories before we know who wrote them. I’m interested to see how that turns out.

NTK: What does the future hold for you, Emz? What do we have to look forward to?

ER: Wow…you do ask the hard questions huh?

My goal is to keep writing and publishing unique and exciting horror with new ideas that we can all geek out on. Also, I plan to continue to support new horror writers and get their voices heard.

NTK: Thank you for chatting with me, Emz! It’s nice to talk to the lady behind the scenes of our favorite podcast and blog.

ER: Thank you for the interview! It’s rare that I get to be on the other side of the couch!

Crescendo of Darkness is available for purchase now. The submission call for Kill Switch ends on October 31, 2018.

Chilling Chat Episode 153 Lori Safranek

Lori Safranek spent several years as a newspaper reporter in Nebraska before trying her hand at fiction writing. In addition to her Freaked Out series, she’s contributed to the anthologies Simple Things, Final Masquerade, Dead Harvest, Fifty Shades of Decay: Zombie Erotica, Cellar Door II, and Slaughter House: Serial Killer Edition. She also contributed a short story to Tim Baker’s novel, Unfinished Business, and has published stories in The Sirens Call eZine.

Most recently, Lori put her sideshow characters into the Zombie Apocalypse with her story, “Freaked Out Zombies,” which was featured in Tales from the Zombie Road.: The Long Haul Anthology.

Lori has a great sense of humor and a quick mind. We discussed several things, including: her past occupation, the creation of characters, and her love of zombies.

NTK: Hi, Lori. Thank you for chatting with me today.

LS: No problem!

NTK: You were a newspaper reporter before you became a fiction writer. How did this occupation shape your work?

LS: I believe, and found to be true, that every person has a story to tell. An interesting story! So, I love hearing those stories, from the person I sit next to while waiting for a haircut to an old college friend. If you listen, everyone has done something that makes a great story.

Fiction of course, can be anything I create, but I tend to call from the stories I’ve heard over the years and use them for inspiration.

NTK: Did these stories inspire your Freaked Out series?

LS: Yes, in a lot of ways. I met a woman tattoo artist on a visit to New Orleans. She was pretty much covered in tattoos, but I also met a young man who is in the Guinness Book of World Records as being the most tattooed man ever. His name is Matt Gone and he was a cook in Cooper’s, a great bar/restaurant in the French Quarter. He, like so many people, left the city after Hurricane Katrina. He’s been on TV many times. He’s a very nice guy. Anyway, their willingness to devote themselves to all this beautiful artwork inspired my character, Smudge, The Tattooed Man in the Sideshow.

The Snake Handler, Lily Dean, came from a cousin’s love of snakes. And, my fascination with the snake handling churches back in the Appalachians. I’d see TV shows about those churches and found it fascinating. And, I’ve written articles about people who own snakes and how they keep it safe, etc.

Steiner, the owner of the Freak Show, his name comes from a bar in the neighborhood I grew up in. My parents thought that was hilarious.

NTK: You also have a character called Marie. Where did she come from?

LS: Oh, Marie! I have to admit, she’s got a lot of me in her. Sassy, fat, and not willing to be ashamed about it. But, years ago, I found a graphic I was going to use in some artwork I was doing. It was a painting of a fat lady from the circus, her name was “Sweet Marie.” I fell in love with the image. She was eating in the painting but her hands were dainty and she was quite pretty. So, when I decided to do a Fat Lady, I made her lady-like and sexy, and also confident. That was important to me. I made sure Marie wasn’t stuffing food in her face on stage. And, I made her have a successful online video cam career, because wow, do you realize how many men are into big girls? I never knew until I joined Facebook!

Marie’s tattoo of wings on her back comes from my nephew’s wife, who has the same tattoo and I love it.

And, the reason I had the other character attack Marie out of jealousy was representative of how women are so often jealous of one another. We think it’s based on attractiveness but Marie weighs nearly 500 pounds! And, she’s still pulling in male fans all the time! It makes her attacker so jealous she comes to hate Marie. I think that’s so sad. Marie is my favorite character in the Freaked Out series.

NTK: Do each of your characters allow you to explore a different theme?

LS: Yes, they do. My snake charmer, Lily Dean, is a lonely person. She’s rejected by her father because she refused to use her abilities to trick churchgoers, thus making her dad and the preacher money. When Lily Dean shows up in the Side Show, she’s down to her last dollar and all she cares about is feeding her snakes. She needs a family and luckily, she is hired and pulled right into the Steiner group. Marie mothers her, of course.

One of the things about the series is that I have Steiner insist that all his freaks be honest. No trickery. If you say you can charm snakes, no tricks! Lily Dean can use her mental powers to get the snakes to do what she wants them to do. Smudge, the tattooed man, can prove his tattoos really do move around on his body. And Jason, that Alligator Man, does indeed have skin that looks like alligator hide. He has a medical condition (I looked it up, it’s real!) that causes his skin to look that way.

NTK: How much control do you exert over your characters? Some writers are god-like and decide everything their characters do, while others give their characters more free will. Where do you fall in the spectrum?

LS: They really don’t give me that much choice, the little devils! They tend to do what they want. I’m kidding. But, it does feel sometimes like the character takes over. I can have a plan in my head, but I start typing and suddenly the character is smarter than I gave them credit for or possessing traits I never even knew about. That is a wonderful feeling for a writer.

NTK: So, they become real not just to you but to the reader as well?

LS: I hope so. I have people tell me they really love Marie. And, my husband thought Smudge was a very authentic character. Smudge is a rather rough guy, covered with tattoos and very tall and built. And, he swears quite a lot. He reminds me and my husband of some of my family members, which is why he says it’s a realistic character. It’s hard not to use those characteristics, I think.

Oh, but I did get a bad review on Amazon, that said Marie was a terrible book because it was obvious the writer (me) had never been fat. Of course, I’m pretty darn big and I have no idea what she meant. Evidently, Marie did not seem real to that reader. I got a kick out of that, though.

NTK: What got you interested in freakshows? Why did you use this as a background for your horror?

LS: Good question. My good friend, Jim, is constantly going to rock concerts and when we were in college, he would often stop by my house after the concert to give me his review. One night, he tofreakshow-lori-safranek-7ld me about this really different opening act that was a freakshow. It included fire eaters, sword swallowers, people who could hammer nails into their tongues—all kinds of things. It was called the Jim Rose Circus. I thought that was amazing. It seemed after that this Circus was everywhere I looked. I watched a documentary about it, read a couple magazines about it. Pretty soon, I couldn’t get freak shows out of my head.

I also read a true crime book about a man who was known as “The Lobster Man” (Grady Stiles.) His son and wife conspired to kill him. It was a fascinating look into the circus world.

I kept thinking about the freakshows and like I said, I had that Marie graphic. One thing led to another.

NTK: Do you find your newspaper background affects your style? Hemingway and Jack London wrote like reporters. Do you write with a Who, What, Where, etc. mentality?

LS: It really does affect my fiction writing and sometimes that’s not a good thing. It can become dull. My editors have told me to “add description!!!” more than once. I sometimes challenge myself to be flowery and overly descriptive just to kind of break my “just the facts, ma’am” style. I don’t really enjoy reading overly descriptive fiction though.

Having been a reporter also impacts my ability to suspend disbelief when reading and writing horror. I’m often thinking, “Wait! That could never happen!” And, of course, it’s FICTION! Anything can happen! (Laughs.)

NTK: Were you interested in horror before writing the Freaked Out series?

LS: Sure. I had a couple short stories published in horror anthologies before I wrote Marie. And, I’ve read horror all my life.

I’m not into horror movies, though. They scare me too much.

NTK: Who are your favorite authors? Who inspires you?

LS: That changes over time, I think.

The last few years, I’ve read a lot of zombie fiction, which I love. Mark Tufo is wonderful, of course, I love how he tempers the violence with humor. His characters are well done, too. David Simpson is a new favorite, really good writer.

I’ve always been a big mystery fan, and people like Lawrence Block (who writes dark stuff) influence me.

One of my biggest influences, since I’ve been on Facebook, is Trent Zelazny. He’s been a good friend and his writing is unique and just inspires me to strive to write more clearly and with less muss and fuss.

NTK: Is Trent related to the writer, Roger Zelazny?

LS: Yes, Trent is Roger’s son.

NTK: Are zombies your favorite monsters?

LS: Yes, zombies are my favorites but I do like vampires. I was really into werewolves for a while. Zombies, though, they’re the big deal.

NTK: What is it you like most about zombies? Is it the apocalyptic aspect?

LS: That is really important to me, it creates great tension, of course. I like the driving hunger of zombies. Shoot them in the guts, they keep seeking brains! Chop off their arms, still, they move forward! It’s hard to survive them. I don’t like fast zombies, really. I like them slow and dumb. Like my men. (Laughs.)

NTK: You recently wrote a short story about zombies featuring your Freaked Out characters. Tell us a little about that?

LS: Now, that was fun! David Simpson, author of the Zombie Road series, created an anthology where he allowed writers to use his world to write a short story. He invited fans, whether they were writers or not, to contribute. The proceeds went to the Wounded Warrior Project, which is a great organization.

I love David’s books which are about a group of truck drivers, mostly vets, who survive the apocalypse and travel to Oklahoma to set up a small town. These truckers are resilient and smart. Anyway, I used my characters, Jason, Blade the Sword Swallower, Lily Dean, Smudge, and Gypsy the psychic/medium. Jason, Blade, and Gypsy were traveling to pick up Lily Dean and Smudge in an RV. They bring weapons (Blade’s swords and knives) and in exchange, get some fuel to get back to their fellow freaks who are holed up at Marie’s home.

David’s characters are all so down to earth and pretty tough and mine are really…um…freaky! It worked pretty well, though.

NTK: You said you don’t watch horror movies. Do you watch Zombie movies? What about The Walking Dead?

LS: I don’t watch The Walking Dead. I watched a couple episodes and I didn’t like it. I do like Z Nation, even though it can be silly as hell. I recently binge-watched iZombie. It’s a pretty interesting concept, but not realistic based on the usual zombie tropes of unthinking zombies. The main character eats brains, but also other foods, which isn’t normal for zombies. It’s good, though.

And, zombie movies—I loved Sean of the Dead and The Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse. And, of course, the George Romero movies.

My favorite, horrifying horror movie I really enjoyed was 30 Days of Night. Awesome.

Psycho was the first horror movie I saw and it scared the pants off me. I was about 12.

NTK: What are your future plans? What do we have to look forward to?

LS: I have a couple ideas for books but the first idea just hasn’t blossomed and I may have to give up on it. The other is about the zombie apocalypse but it’s a comedy. And, I’ll keep writing short stories, which I enjoy so much. My stories have been published in a few anthologies.

NTK: In your story featuring Smudge, he must deal with a curse. And, as you know, Season 12 of HorrorAddicts.net is CURSED. Do you have a favorite curse? If so, what is it?

LS: I think curses have to be individual. As in, if I wanted to curse someone, I’d have to know them a little and make it their worst nightmare.

If someone wanted to curse me, they’d say, “Lori, you are cursed forever to watch sports on television, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year!” I would just curl up and die.

I think, with most people today, the worst curse would be to make their cell phone not work. Or, only work sporadically.

NTK: (Laughs.) Thank you for the chat, Lori.

LS: Thanks so much!

Chilling Chat Episode 152: Valjeanne Jeffers

valjeanne-jeffers-author-picValjeanne Jeffers is a graduate of Spelman College and author of ten books including Immortal and Mona Livelong I and II. Her work has been published in numerous anthologies including, Fitting In: Historical Accounts of Paranormal Subcultures, Sycorax’s Daughters, and The City and Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler. She was honored as a “Seer” by the HWA Diverse Works Inclusion Committee in 2016 and is a screenwriter for the horror anthology film, 7 Magpies (in production.)

Valjeanne is a remarkable woman. During our interview, she shared some interesting facts about her early life, creating characters, and her upcoming projects.

NTK: Thank you for chatting with me, Valjeanne. You have a varied background. Your parents are English teachers and you have an MA in Psychology. How does this inform and affect your work?

VJ: Because my parents were English teachers, I came in contact with writers at a very early age. They were in and out of our house wherever we lived. I remember my mother cooking for them…poets, writers, artists and I got a chance to sit in on their discussions.

NTK: Wow! What writers?

VJ: This was years ago, so I can’t remember very many names. Quincy Troupe was one I remember. Another regular visitor to our house was Eugene Redmond. I re-connected with him about nine years ago and he published me in his anthology Drumvoices Revue (poetry.) It’s been a huge honor because my poetry appeared in an anthology with some really famous folk.

We did have a library and I was reading Richard Wright and Chester Himes from age 9 or 10. The authors I read had a huge impact on me. Himes and Wright’s use of magical realism influenced my writing horror and science fiction.

NTK: Did this interest in Himes and Wright lead to your writing Mona Livelong: Paranormal Detective?

VJ: Yes, and I had other influences. Mona Livelong is an urban novel. And, Robert Beck (believe it or not) and David Goines brought this out. You know Robert Beck as “Iceberg Slim.” He’s notorious for his anti-heroes but he’s also a brilliant writer.

Tananarive Due and Brandon Massey are also huge influences, especially when it comes to writing horror.

NTK: Which of their works are your favorite?

VJ: For T. Due, it’s My Soul to Keep (the series.) For B. Massey, it’s Within the Shadows and into the Dark.

NTK: You’ve spoken of Stephen King and Dean Koontz as favorite authors. Which one do you like best?

VJ: Stephen King. Definitely. He has been a huge influence.

NTK: Which of his books do you like the most?

VJ: The Talisman and The Dark Tower: The Drawing of the Three.

By the way, earlier, you asked about how my MA affects my work. It helped me construct personalities and also “character careers.”

NTK: What made you choose the career of “paranormal detective” for Mona?

VJ: I had been toying with the idea of a paranormal detective for a while and I decided to take the plunge and just do it.

NTK: What’s the process of creating a character like that? Do you decide what she’ll do and won’t do? Do you decide what powers she’ll possess?

VJ: Characters for me are based on people I have known and sometimes, those I see on TV that week. I take someone and add and subtract the things I feel they should have. And, some, (Tehotep from Immortal, for example) come straight out of my unconscious. Both Mona and Karla (Immortal) are based upon a young woman who babysat me in California. She was coping with the death of her mother and brother and raising her two remaining siblings.

NTK: Did Tehotep come from a dream? Or, did he just come to you?

VJ: Tehotep came to me in waking dreams, bit by bit. As far as their [character] abilities go, that’s a process of imagination. Since I decided early on that Mona would be a sorceress, I had to decide what she could and couldn’t do. Her powers had to be limited. If that makes sense.

NTK: Let’s talk a little about Sycorax’s Daughters. How did you become involved in that project?

VJ: Two of the editors, Linda Addison and Kinitra Brooks, contacted me. They said they were publishing Sycorax’s Daughters and asked if I’d be interested in submitting something. Of course, I said yes!

NTK: How did it feel to be included among such original voices? Sycorax’s Daughters is an anthology like no other. All the writers are women of color.

VJ: I was blown away! We made (are making) history and to be a part of this—it’s incredible!

NTK: It was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award.

VJ: Just to be nominated was incredible.

NTK: Could you talk a little about 7 Magpies?

VJ: Yes. What would you like to know? It’s still in the works.

NTK: Is it an anthology film? What is the significance of the Magpies?

VJ: It’s a film anthology. Each person involved contributed a story or poem. We got the Magpies from the creator, Lucy Cruell. It’s based on a nursery rhyme. “One for sorrow, Two for joy, Three for a girl, Four for a boy, Five for silver, Six for gold, Seven for a secret never to be told.

I contributed an excerpt from Immortal III: Stealer of Souls to the film. All the screenwriting will be done by screenwriters Lucy chooses. Here’s a description of the film from the website:

“The first horror film anthology written and directed by Black (or African-American) women. Authors include: Tananarive Due, Sumiko Saulson, Eden Royce, Crystal Connor, Valjeanne Jeffers, Linda D. Addison, and Paula Ashe. The directors are: Lucy Cruell, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nicole Renee, Robin Shanea, Lary Love Dolley, Meosha Bean, and Rae Dawn Chong.

NTK: What did you think of the adaptation process? Was it difficult bringing your excerpt to the screen?

VJ: Actually, I looked at what Lucy wanted and chose stories I felt were appropriate. She picked the Immortal III excerpt. That one was my favorite too.

NTK: What does the future hold for you? What work do we have to look forward to?

VJ: Quinton Veal (my cover artist and guy) and I are planning on releasing Scierogenous II: An Anthology of Erotic Science Fiction and Fantasy. Scierogenous I was well received.

I’m also writing Mona Livelong: Paranormal Detective III: The Case of the Vanishing Child.

NTK: Will you include horror stories in Scierogenous II?

VJ: Maybe. We’ve got a great crew so let’s see what they come up with.

NTK: As you know, season thirteen of HorrorAddicts.net is CURSED. Do you have a favorite curse? If so, what is it?

VJ: Sorry, I don’t have one.

NTK: If you were to have Mona face a curse, what would it be?

VJ: (Laughs) Girl, I don’t know.

NTK: (Laughs) Ok, thank you for chatting with me, Valjeanne. It’s been a pleasure.

VJ: Thank you so much.

NTK: You can find Valjeanne’s work at the following link:

http://tehotep.wixsite.com/immortaliiiaudiobook

And, you can follow her on Twitter here at: @Valjeanne

Chilling Chat Episode 151: Tara Vanflower

 

taraTara Vanflower is a vocalist whose music has been described as ambient, experimental, and darkwave.

In October 1994 she became a vocalist for darkwave outfit Lycia. She married fellow band member Mike VanPortfleet.
Her debut solo album, This Womb Like Liquid Honey, was released in 1999. This was followed in 2005 with My Little Fire-Filled Heart.

Vanflower appeared on the Type O Negative song “Halloween in Heaven,” off their 2007 album, Dead Again.

She has also appeared with side projects Black Happy Day with Timothy Renner, Secondary Nerve with Daniele Serra and numerous collaborations including Oneiroid Psychosis, Numina, The Unquiet Void, Falling You, and Methadrone. The majority of her creative energy is spent these days writing. She has released Lives of Ilya and Violent Violet Part One and Two and will continue the Violet Series with several installments in the future as well as several other series that are still unfinished.

Tara is a fascinating woman and was kind enough to sit down me recently. We discussed the past, her writing, relatable fears, vampires, and her favorite curse.

NTK: Hello, Tara, thank you for chatting with me today.

TVF: Thank YOU!

NTK: You have a background in music. Do you feel it inspires your writing?

TVF: Yes. Though I also think that writing has inspired music. When I work with Lycia, I am generally given a piece of music to write to, so sometimes the music itself inspires the lyrics. But when I do solo music a lot of times, I take something I’ve written and build the sound around that.

I will say, other people’s music is an integral part of my writing though. I generally have a soundtrack of music in my head that sets a mood within the story.

NTK: What band do you listen to the most?

TVF: Wow, as of late I would say Chelsea Wolfe and Soft Kill. I listen to Drab Majesty and Black Mare as well. A lot of the music that inspires me is played by the same bands I’ve been listening to for decades now.

NTK: Did music get you interested in horror?

TVF: Not really. As a child, for some reason, my parents let me watch stuff on television that I probably shouldn’t have been watching so young…seeing as how it scared me a lot! But, I was always drawn to the old vampire films and The Omen…scared me to death but I was drawn to it.

NTK: Is The Omen your favorite horror movie? If not, what is?

TVF: I had a lot of detailed dreams when I was young about the apocalypse. I can still see some of the images in my head when I think about them. So, The Omen REALLY scared me. It’s definitely one of my favorite films. But, my all-time favorite movie is The Shining. Everything about that movie is perfect to me.

NTK: Is it the dream-like quality of The Shining which attracts you?

TVF: I love that aspect of it. I also love the lighting, the score, the absolute desolation. My favorite scene in the film is where Wendy finds Jack’s manuscript…pages and pages and pages of the same line over and over and over…and you realize right then he had been gone for a very, very long time. To me, that notion is absolutely terrifying. That this whole time she thinks he’s been more or less normal but THAT was going on behind her back. For me, one of the scariest things is the idea of losing touch with reality. It’s probably why I suffer from anxiety so much. (laughs)

NTK: You’ve spoken of your fears regarding writing and have said, “I rarely talk in detail about my editing because, truthfully, I’m insecure about it. Music I know and I’m comfortable with, for the most part. Writing? It’s like opening a diary. I am always fearful of people drawing conclusions and assuming things about what’s in the story. It’s hard to let go. It’s hard to put yourself out there to be cut down.” This statement resonates. It’s like Jack’s typewritten pages in The Shining. His writing bares all. How do you use your fear and anxiety to frighten others?

TVF: That is all something I really struggle with and it’s hard because I have a pretty supportive base for my music. So, venturing off into writing has been scary, but also rewarding obviously. I think there’s a lot of moments in my books where the characters have to confront things about themselves, their situations, etc., that most of us either get to avoid or are forced to deal with and do so poorly. I think I write a lot of my own insecurities into characters (fear of death, getting older, physical insecurities, etc.) probably as a way to deal with it myself. I don’t know if I’m scaring others or scaring myself! Most of my horror, I would say, is almost more internal. That whole, “losing touch with reality,” thing I mentioned earlier…afraid you’re going to lose yourself and never come back from it. I also have moments where actual monsters are confronted, but I think the characters’ bigger horror moments involve confronting their own fears and realities. There are moments in a couple stories I actually went through, though amplified. I hope people relate to those types of fears.

NTK: Speaking of relatable fears, what’s your favorite horror television show and what’s your favorite horror novel?

TVF: Oh man, my favorite horror novel? Is it too cheesy to say I really just like dorky vampire books? (laughs) I just love it. I don’t care if it’s “good” writing or bad. Same for films. I’ll literally watch anything vampire related and find something enjoyable about it. As for good horror shows, I really enjoyed The Leftovers, which to me is horror. I like Carnivale a lot. I don’t know, to me, “horror” is a bit like being detached from reality rather than blood and gore and such. The Walking Dead, for example, was great but has gotten…um…not as great the past few seasons.

NTK: Are vampires your favorite monsters? Do you admire the way they deal with the types of fear you’ve spoken of?

TVF: Vampires are definitely my favorite monster and have been since I was pretty little. I guess because I’ve always had a fear of time passing.  I can remember being very small and sitting in my bedroom thinking about how everyone was getting older and going to die, and I made myself cry. Geez, cheery little kid. But for me, vampires have always represented absolute power. No fear of death. No health problems. Control of their environment. I’ve always sort of been jealous of that, I guess, because those are my biggest fears. I’ve always seen them as more of a sympathetic character, at least a lot of them. Some of the ways they’re portrayed are obviously more “evil” and less “human,” but I’ve always preferred the more human vampires, at least those are the kind I identify with. I envy their power and timelessness but also see the angst all that would cause, which I also relate to being the Gloomy Gus I am.

NTK: Do you bring “human” quality to the vampires you write about?

TVF: I do. To me, it’s just more interesting trying to figure out how a being with limitless time and a whole lot of power would deal with the same sort of human emotions and frailties we have. They have to have the same questions…why am I here, what is my purpose, where do I belong, etc., and to me, it’s interesting thinking about that. What would a being think who has killed countless humans, seen more years than any human gets to see—how would they react to change? What would be new or surprising to them? It’s all fascinating to me. A being that’s jaded and yet still discovering something new through someone else’s eyes unexpectedly. It’s all interesting. Of course, they would have the same types of existential questions humans have. Or, they would be deluded that they are all powerful. Or, varying degrees of both. It’s interesting to consider it all. I try really hard to make my characters react like people actually react. I try to put myself in their shoes and react the way which seems logical and natural to them.

NTK: Essentially, you’re creating a vampire philosophy. So many people ignore that aspect when creating vampire characters. I have to ask—what did you think of Twilight?

TVF: What did I think of Twilight? (laughs) Well, I actually read the books and thought they were entertaining enough. There are many holes and aspects that are illogical and cheesy to me, however, they were “fun.” The movies are great cheese! And, anytime I’m surfing the channels and they’re on, I stop if I can. Do I take it seriously? No, but I applaud Stephenie Meyer for doing her thing and getting hers. The bottom line is, I’m not one of those snobs that has to only like things that are “cool.” So, I can appreciate all levels of awesomeness, from Only Lovers Left Alive to Twilight.

NTK: You have a real appreciation for vampires. Let’s talk about some of your own. Earlier, you spoke of dreams. Violent Violet came from a dream. Can you describe the creative process from dream to printed page?

TVF: Dreams have a major impact on my life. I have really detailed dreams like movies all the time. So, a lot of times, I’ll tuck them away for future use. I had a dream one night that my friends and I were hanging out and this ominous stranger was around and vampires were running amuck. It was so detailed, again, I can “see” the places in my head still, and when I woke up, I started recalling it to my husband. About halfway through, I just said, “Man, I’m just going to write this.” It was too cool to let go. Parts of Violet Misery were also from a dream, i.e. the creepy pumpkin farm out in the middle of nowhere. I draw tons of inspiration from dreams.

NTK: You spoke of apocalyptic dreams. Do you plan to write an apocalyptic story or book of your own?

TVF: I haven’t really thought about writing in that sort of style yet. I think it might be too bleak for me at the moment. (laughs) It’s something I seriously dread, especially now that I have a kid. I don’t like thinking about being in scenarios like that. I just get panicked thinking about keeping my child safe anyway, let alone imagining what I’d have to do during a zombie apocalypse. (laughs) That having been said, who knows! Everything I write from music to lyrics to books are all about love and death.

NTK: What do you have planned for the future? Any new books, stories, or music?

TVF: We are halfway through the next Lycia recording and I have a couple solo songs coming out on comps and I contributed some vocals for some other bands. I have three books currently in the editing process which I plan to release at the same time because they’re related. And, then a couple after that to release. I have some vague ideas for future books but have been sort of avoiding them because I know they’re going to be complicated with interwoven characters and timelines to figure out. All of my books are interconnected with characters so it can be confusing trying to put them all in the right place at the right time. (laughs) I’ve got a full plate!

NTK: As you know, Season 13 of HorrorAddicts.net is CURSED! Do you have a favorite curse? If so, what is it?

TVF: Oh boy! I don’t personally believe in curses! Is that bad? However, my husband has teased me in the past that someone cursed him because, back in the 90s, I made these ragdolls and stuffed them with all his hair he shaved off. That sounds super creepy now, but I didn’t think so then for some reason! Anyway, people bought these things and in the course of a couple years, tons of really bad things happened. Life altering things. The joke has been that someone took one of those dolls and cursed us.

NTK: Tara, thank you for chatting with me and putting yourself out there with your writing. It’s been a pleasure.

TVF: THANK YOU! This has been exciting for me because it is my first interview about writing. I’m so thrilled to be included.

Book Review: Varying Distances

The first page of a fiction collection is an introduction to a writer’s mind. The further you go, the deeper you delve into their psyche. In this manner, you can reach any world of their invention and join any journey they imagine. Ray Bradbury and Somerset Maugham were masters of short fiction. If you were to combine the work of these authors with a dash of Rod Serling, you’d have Varying Distances by Darren Speegle.

Speegle’s stories range from the bizarre to the fantastic. He is well traveled and the stories reflect several cultures, both in setting and flavor. The first forays into his collection seem to begin with his unconscious mind and slowly work forward to the conscious. It’s much like a sleeper awakening from a dream. The first story in the collection, “In the Distance, a Familiar Sound,” is as poetic and disjointed as the character searching for the meaning of consciousness. Linear time doesn’t exist.

Each story gains clarity as you move through the pages. Against his will, a painter is commissioned to capture the soul of his subject on canvas, contractors in Iraq encounter a strange and menacing vehicle, Halloween is explored through the eyes of a god-like being, a hitman has trouble discerning between human and machine, a man finds he cannot escape the horror of his past or the people who populate it, an addict sees parallels to his life no matter what country he visits, a woman leads a man to Germany and a haunted house, a man searches for the beast which murdered his aunt, and a confused taxi driver must take a man to his destination.

My favorite story, “For Love of War,” falls in between the fog and clarity. The contractor in the story falls in love with the woman who saves him and discovers she’s more ethereal than mortal. Speegle’s prose borders on lyrical and you can easily imagine this story as a ballad.

“A Puddle in the Wilderness,” is a frightening story. In this tale, aliens masquerade as backwoodsmen alà Deliverance. Pity the poor couple who fall prey to them. (Warning: mature themes are addressed here.)

If you’re a lover of the bizarre, you’ll love this collection. Step inside Speegle’s mind and stay a while. The worlds within are amazing.