THE BIGFOOT FILES| Chapter Two: Dweller

Oddly enough, Bigfoot was not the original creature that author Jeff Strand had in mind for his Bram Stoker Award-nominated horror novel Dweller.

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“The concept of ‘the story of a lifetime friendship between a boy and a monster’ came to me before the actual monster,” said Strand in an exclusive interview for The Bigfoot Files. “I’d originally thought it would be a reptilian creature that lived at the bottom of a well. But that was too limiting for a book that covered sixty years, and I wanted the readers to fall in love with Owen, so I switched to Bigfoot. Well, something like Bigfoot. There’s a scene where they watch the Patterson-Gimlin film and try to figure out if Owen is the same type of animal. That gave me the whole forest to play around in and made the monster much more cuddly.”

Of course, since Dweller is a horror novel, Owen the Bigfoot is not as cuddly as Strand would have you believe.

Released in 2012, Dweller is a tragic tale of friendship between one lonely human named Toby and one lonely cryptid that Toby names Owen. What makes Dweller a cut and a slash above the average creature feature is that the novel chronicles a heartfelt relationship between human and beast over a period of six decades, starting with their first encounter in 1953.

Dweller is quite a remarkable feat of storytelling because of the time frame, but also because Strand’s tale is as tender as it is terrifying. Eight-year-old Toby initially encounters the creature (who he later names Owen) in the woods behind his home, but their friendship doesn’t begin until seven years later when Toby is a bullied, socially awkward teenager. Their ensuing encounters spark a relationship that Strand is able to ground in reality.

To me, one of the most poignant aspects of Dweller is why Toby chooses the name Owen for the Bigfoot creature. Strand writes:

“Owen – the human Owen – was the closest Toby had ever come to having a real friend.”

Toby had met a boy named Owen in sixth grade, and for about three months they played together every day until an incident ended their friendship. So, Toby has no friends now. How sad is it that the boy turns to a monster just to have a friend and then names it after the only human friend he ever had?

Owen’s story is even sadder as illustrated in the prologue of Dweller. A runt offspring, Owen is orphaned after watching humans kill his family. Owen runs from the killer humans, and Strand writes:

“When he stopped running, he wept.”

That last line of the prologue always gets to me. Can you imagine a young Bigfoot weeping — not crying, but weeping — after humans kill his family? It’s a heartbreaking moment.

One of the more interesting techniques employed in Dweller is Strand’s use of chapters titled “Glimpses,” which cover years of time in the lives of Toby and Owen in just a few pages. For example, in Chapter Eleven, Strand chronicles 1964 to 1972 in eight pages by describing a moment or two during each year. The glimpses are a surprisingly effective way to show time passing and to develop the characters.

One of my favorite glimpses in the book is when Toby is showing photographs from the iconic Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot film to Owen. Toby thinks that Bigfoot shares a resemblance to Owen, but Owen disagrees. It’s such a “real” moment.

Dweller is among my top ten favorite novels of any genre, not just horror. I became an instant fan of Strand after reading it and have followed his eclectic career ever since. Known as a master of blending horror and comedy, Strand has written more than forty books, but Dweller remains my favorite (and probably always will). Strangely, his one mainstream romantic comedy Kumquat is my second favorite of his novels followed by the devastatingly dark Pressure.

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Jeff Strand

I asked Strand if he believes in Bigfoot.

“I think the overwhelming majority of Bigfoot sightings are hoaxes or just mistakes,” Strand replied. “When I see a shaky video of an indistinct blur viewed through thick forest and the cameraman is saying, ‘That’s Bigfoot! Oh my God, that’s Bigfoot!’ I have to be skeptical. It’s easy to see what you want to see, and it’s easy to fool people, so I believe that very few Bigfoot sightings are legitimate. But ‘overwhelming majority’ doesn’t mean ‘all.’ As with aliens, I don’t believe or disbelieve either way — I’m open to the possibility. But I have not seen anything to make me say, ‘Yes! They exist!’”

I also asked Strand why he thinks Bigfoot continues to remain so prevalent in pop culture today.

“It’s just a fascinating idea, that there’s a creature living out there that may or may not be real,” Strand explained. “It’s mysterious and a little scary. Bigfoot is credible enough that you don’t have to be a complete whack-nut to think, ‘Well, maybe ….’ There’s way freakier stuff living in the oceans. So, he could be out there, and yet nobody has ever caught one or provided conclusive evidence that they exist. Even if you’re a hardcore skeptic, it’s a fun mystery.”

NEXT UP | Chapter Three: Swamp Monster Massacre. I review the horror novel Swamp Monster Massacre by Hunter Shea, featuring an exclusive interview with the author about how the Bigfoot legend inspired his story and how the book changed his life.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

RELATED LINK:

THE BIGFOOT FILES | Chapter One: The Idea of Bigfoot

 

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Book Review: Quoth the Raven, edited by Lyn Worthen

Book Review: Quoth the Raven edited by Lyn Worthen

When I was around ten years old, I came across the story The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allen Poe.  That was my introduction to his work, and I loved it.  Over the years, I read more of his stories and eventually his poetry and enjoyed it all.  He’s in my top ten list of favorite authors, and more than one of his stories would be in my list of favorite short fiction.  When I was offered the chance to read and review Quoth the Raven, an anthology of retellings of Poe’s stories by contemporary authors, I responded with a resounding yes.

Quoth the Raven by [Fallon, Amber, Azariah-Kribbs, A.A, Worthen, Lyn, Gorman, Amelia, Bollinger, Aryan, Ellis, Brian, Weaver, Donea, Abela, Chris, Ahern, Edward, Rich, Emerian, Tiffany Michelle Brown, Vicki Weisfeld, Gregory J. Wolos, Sidney Williams, R.C. Scandalis, Karen Robiscoe, Tonia Kalouria, John Kiste , Melanie Cossey, Matthew M. Montelione, Kenneth C. Goldman, Steven R. Southard, Kara Race-Moore, Stephanie L. Harper, Susan McCauley, Sonora Taylor, Lauryn Christopher, Sarah Murtagh, Lawrence Berry, Frank Coffman]This anthology features prose and poetry, mostly modern day reworkings of his stories, but some stand out as original ideas written following his style.  “The Cellphone,” by R.C. Scandalis, for example.  That one is a poem patterned after Poe’s The Raven.  While the new poem is a humorous exploration of someone who has become a slave to his smart phone, it follows the rhythm, meter, and rhyming pattern of The Raven.  It was inventive and it often made me laugh.

Other works by Poe were heavily mined for this anthology.  The Cask of Amontillado, which is my favorite of his stories, is given a contemporary voice in four different tales.  My favorite of the retellings of Cask is “The Montresor Method,” by Hugh J. O’Donnell.  It was a clever take on the classic tale of revenge that uses a physical copy of Poe’s story as a plot device.  O’Donnell did a good job of capturing the feel and essence of Edgar Allen’s voice and I enjoyed reading his story.

My favorite poem by Poe is The Bells, and I was pleased to see that one of the selections used that as a basis for a new work.  “The Tones,” by Amber Fallon follows the pattern of The Bells in an exploration of alarms, ringtones, sirens, and other similar sounds heard frequently in today’s world.  I liked it almost as much as the original it’s patterned after.

Several other of Poe’s more famous works are retold, including The Masque of the Red Death, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Black Cat, and The Purloined Letter; some appearing more than once.  Aside from the works I mentioned already, one that stood out for me is “My Annabel” by Emerian Rich.  “My Annabel” is a retelling in prose form of the poem Annabel Lee.  I really liked it.  Like O’Donnell, Rich did a great job of capturing the feel of Poe’s voice and style, and it read like something he might write today, were he still alive and (spoiler) a fan of George Romero’s work.

I enjoyed reading Quoth the Raven.  There were definitely selections that stood out more than others, but for me, there wasn’t a single dud in the book.  I would recommend the anthology to anyone who enjoys dark-themed stories.  Those who love the work of Edgar Allen Poe will enjoy seeing how the authors translate his tales into contemporary society.  However, one doesn’t need to be a fan of Poe to like these stories and poems.  Quoth the Raven is a fine collection that any fan of horror fiction should enjoy.  It’s available on Amazon both in paperback and for the Kindle.  Give it a read; you won’t be disappointed.

Disclaimer:  I was provided an electronic copy of the book so that I could read and review it.  I received no money for the review, and the opinions stated therein are my own.

Book Review: Revenge of the Vampir King by Nancy Kilpatrick

Book Review: Revenge of the Vampir King by Nancy Kilpatrick

Content Warnings: This book contains graphic descriptions of rape, domestic abuse, and torture.

Revenge of the Vampir King (Thrones of Blood Book 1) by [Kilpatrick, Nancy]In Revenge of the Vampir King, Nancy Kilpatrick blends horror, paranormal fantasy, and erotica to explore the relationship between love, tragedy, revenge, and what it means to be a family.

Through the centuries, an immortal war has raged between the Sapiens and Vampirii. The world is bitterly divided between the two races.

After a successful attack against the Sapiens, the Vampirii return with an unusual prize: Valada, the daughter of the Sapiens King.

Hell-bent on the ultimate revenge, the Vampir King Maorte devises a hellish plan of manipulation—make the princess fall in love with him and betray her father—never suspecting that he will fall into is own trap.

As dark secrets are uncovered, new alliances are formed. Valada and Moarte must learn to trust each other in order to settle old scores, bring about lasting peace, and save their kingdoms and, perhaps, themselves.

The plot is gripping, seamlessly pulling the reader along on a tense journey. The pacing is excellent, with no time to become bored. There are plenty of twists and turns, with shifting allegiances. One thing is for certain, you never know exactly what will happen next. Each new conflict feels enormous, raising the stakes ever higher.

The characters are complex. Each has a multitude of motivations. Flaws and strengths motivate each and motivations are clear and realistic. This gives the book a sense of real-world conflict. Characters aren’t evil for evil’s sake (though some are undeniably evil).

Valada, who has suffered under a lifetime of abuse, struggles to orient herself in her new position, constantly doubting her place with others, but never herself. She’s a strong heroine and saves Moarte every bit as much as he saves her.

Moarte is a man of two worlds. Though he leads the Vampirii, he is half Sapien as well. Reconciling those differences may bring him to conclusions that have profound ramifications for his life and his kingdom.

Kilpatrick forges an ambitious, unique world, fearlessly diving into fantasy world building without looking back. Revenge of the Vampir King is all the better for it. We are thrown right into the world, rather than given a hesitant introduction. The universe is immersive from the start. There is clearly a rich history, leaving plenty to discover throughout the plot and in future installments to come.

Kilpatrick’s writing flows well. There are moments of profound description and lovely prose, particularly with regards to the romance. She accomplishes the difficult feat of getting out of the way of the story itself and leaving the reader to be sucked in, as if they aren’t reading at all.

Filled with dark themes, Revenge of the Vampir King challenges the standards of romance, pushing the limits of love with blood and betrayal. If you’re looking for a book that you can’t put down, this is a sure bet.

Book Reviews: Tales from the Lake Volume 5

Tales from the Lake Volume 5
Review by Daphne Strasert

Once a year, Crystal Lake Publishing releases an anthology of the best stories the horror community has to offer. It is a pleasure each and every year, but has been getting better with time and notoriety. This year’s collection was curated by Kenneth W. Caine, pulling stories from over 750 submissions into a thoughtful and harrowing book of dark desires and hidden horror.

Though the stories in Tales from the Lake Volume 5 are not themed in the traditional sense, they form a cohesive unit. Threads connect each to the others as if the authors had conspired to give the anthology its unique flavor.

Of the many excellent contributions, some stand out to me as spectacular.

“A Dream Most Ancient and Alone” by Allison Pang features an unlikely friendship between a young girl and a mudmaid who lurks in the remnants of a nearby pond. Their relationship deepens despite the chilling nature of the creature. Pang’s novel take on the subject matter and vivid, emotional writing give the story an extra edge to make it stand out in the anthology. The ending that will make you shiver for all the right and wrong reasons.

“Twelve by Noon” by Joanna Parypinski brings true fright to the collection. The tense, terrifying tale of a group of lost teenagers and the sinister farm where their car breaks down packs all the punches of a blockbuster horror film in the short story format. Personally, I’d like to see a whole trilogy of movies based on Parypinski’s fantastic concept, hopefully with all the suspense intact.

In “Starve a Fever” by Jonah Buck, dread builds from the start and drags you along through every backwoods turn. You can’t stop reading, even as you fear you know what will happen. Buck possesses an extraordinary imagination and incredible storytelling ability.

My favorite story in the anthology, and the one that I found personally most chilling, was “The Boy” by Cory Cone. Cone’s description of a mother’s worst nightmare come to life is morose and moving. He takes the reader on a journey of madness and terror as you fear for the woman, the boy, and the outcome that you both hope for and fear. Madness lurks everywhere and love makes monsters of us all.

Tales from the Lake Volume 5 is an exploration of the lost and found. Whether losing someone before their time or keeping a loved one long past theirs, the stories explore the horror of finding what was meant to stay hidden.

Book Review: It’s Alive: Bringing Your Nightmares to Life

It’s Alive: Bringing Your Nightmares to Life
Ed. Joe Myhnardt and Eugene Johnson, Crystal Lake Publishing

4/5 stars

What If? That’s how this collection of essays opens. What if some of the best authors in the business decide to pass on their expertise to those following in their path? Answer: You get this book, an invaluable selection of hints, tips and sometimes, demands on everything from character creation to plotting to submission. For me, as well as the writing tips, I enjoyed the sections dealing with creating and editing anthologies and also how NOT to speak to an editor.

Advice is given and yes, some conflicts as writers have different methods, eg plot v character, one or two drafts or multiple. It’s up to you to take what you want from this – or not, although there is one golden rule that ALL promote – show not tell.

With each essay, it was as if the author(s) were sat in the room with you, chatting about their craft as to an equal. All remember where they came from in writing terms, there is no superiority, no patronising or condescension. They are us and hopefully, those who read this will one day become them.

Book Reviews: Fantastic Tales of Terror: History’s Darkest Secrets

With history, unless you saw it for yourself, you can’t know if a story is strictly true or if it has a darker story lurking in the shadows. History may contain any number of untold mysteries and secrets. Perhaps communist werewolves reached the moon before Apollo 11. Maybe a sinister creature actually caused the Hindenburg disaster. Who is to know? Except… maybe you.

Allow me to introduce Fantastic Tales of Terror: History’s Darkest Secrets, a horror anthology by Crystal Lake Publishing. Inside you’ll find stories of famous events and historical figures told through the grim lens of 23 spectacular horror writers. The anthology includes both established and emerging authors, guaranteeing that you’ll find an old favorite and someone new to love.

The settings extend from the prehistoric to the near-present, subjects from the pioneering inventions to mythic figures, and themes from comedic to disturbing. All, however, are incredible feats of imagination.

Though each piece is worth reading in itself, several stood out as exceptional among the rest.

“Mutter” by Jess Landry (a contestant from the Next Great Horror Writer Contest!) explains the events that led up to the Hindenburg disaster and gives a wondrous origin story for one of America’s most famous cryptids. Lanrdy’s writing, as always, overflows with vivid description and excellent characterization. She hides an amazing twist in the story and brings everything to a thought-provoking close that stuck with me long after I set the book down.

Mort Castle’s story, “Rotoscoping Toodies”, reveals a surprising past for Walt Disney and some of his most successful works. The life-like characters and interesting premise drew me in from the beginning. But the true reason this story stuck with me was the dark ending and horrifying implications.

Lastly, “Sic Olim Tyrannis” by David Wellington was my favorite inclusion. In a market saturated with zombie stories, this was a refreshing take on an old and over worn genre. Vivid descriptions brought the setting to life and Wellington managed to imbue the story with emotion despite using no dialogue.

If you love history, dark tales, or both, Fantastic Tales of Terror: History’s Darkest Secrets is an engaging and worthwhile read.

BOOK REVIEW: Triple Axe by Scott Cole

Triple Axe by Scott Cole is an outrageous grindhouse exploitation novel packed with plucky porn stars, frozen sex toys, and a B-movie vibe straight from the gritty screens of 1970s drive-in theaters.

Triple Axe coverReleased by Grindhouse Press on July 2, Triple Axe is about Jesse Jinx, a porn star who dreams of starting up her own film company, one that treats the actors more fairly and respectfully.

The problem is a killer is on the loose, using an ice-cold sex toy to dispatch porn stars at an alarming rate. The villain’s motive is as equally outrageous as the plot.

Likable leads Jesse and her friends Selina and Foxy Roxoff are survivors, not victims, and decide to protect themselves with, you guessed it, axes.

Triple Axe never takes its plot too seriously and works as a horror-action-comedy. Imagine Uma Thurman’s Bride character from Kill Bill if she were a porn star fighting off serial killers instead of international assassins. Now, multiply Uma by three.

I could tell the author had loads (sorry) of fun creating names for the porn actors.

At 89 pages in length, Triple Axe is a quick read with an over-the-top climax (sorry again) and a feel-good female empowerment theme.