Tag Archives: horror stories

Festivus Book Pimping – Fathomless by Greig Beck

 

The countdown to Christmas is well and truly on, but pimp on I must! Today, it’s multi-award-winning author Greig Beck and his wickedly frightening Fathomless. Yeah, we’re all gonna need a bigger boat.

Duuun-dun… duuun-dun… dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun…

What?

fathomless

Okay, so from the cover alone (‘nother shout-out to Dean Samed of NeoStock), it’s clear we’re talking shark story here – think Megalodon. Yep, you know, that’s been instinct for millions of years… but have they?

That’s the premise of Fathomless (Cohesion Press), and Beck kicks it out of the park with his tale. Now before we go further, full disclosure. As I’ve mentioned, my reading for pleasure took a back seat to work this year, so a lot of what I’ve read has involved novels I’ve worked on, and Fathomless was one of them. But here’s the thing, it’s not often that I’ve had to get up from my desk and take a breather because the story was freaking me the hell out. With Fathomless, I did that three or four times. Nope, can’t handle the tension, time to take a break and calm the hell down. Three passes I made of this story, and each time, even when I knew what was coming, my pulse quickened and the voices in my head (yes, there are many) were yelling at the characters to swim faster, dammit! (Actually, there were a lot more swear words, but you get the picture.)

So despite me having edited Fathomless, it’s one of my picks of the year for horror books.

From the back cover:

Jim Granger is searching for a place of legend. Known as ‘Bad Water’ by the island’s elders, it’s reputed to be home to many dangerous creatures. Through a seam in a cliff face, Jim finds what he seeks. He also finds, too late, that the water demon he was warned about is horrifyingly real.

Today, Cate Granger is following in her grandfather’s footsteps. Along with a team of scientists and crew, she accidentally releases a creature from Earth’s primordial past into today’s oceans. Nothing is safe on or below the water.
The story essentially has two parts. The first being Cate and her crews trek deep beneath the Earth’s crust to an immense underwater ocean that’s been suspended in time. Traversing the sea in a damn small sub, they discover marine life once thought extinct. They also discover the Megaladon.

Beck uses that instinctual fear that’s been loaded into our DNA from the beginning of time – fear of Alpha predators (and boy, is the Meg one hell of an Alpha), and added a touch of claustrophobia into this first section, because… why not? And there’s no natural light down there, so much of what’s happening does so in complete darkness.

There are at least three scenes in this section that had me freaking out. Yeah, sharks are one of my biggest fears. Living in Australia can do that to a person. The second part takes place once the Megalodon has been released into today’s oceans, with Cate and part of her crew (plus some newbies), going out to hunt the shark. Not all goes according to plan.

This is a killer book, and if you’re looking for a tale that will amp up your tension, and have you questioning whether you really should go back into the water, then Fathomless is the book you need to be reading. Or gift it to someone who loves that spinchter-clenching form of thriller and terror.

You can read a review of Fathomless here.

Recommended for lovers of horror, suspense, thrillers, and plain ol’ ‘holy crap, swim faster, swim faster!’

 

 

 

Festivus Author Pimping – Hank Schwaeble

Happy Festivus! Today I will be pimping author Hank Schwaeble. Yes, I did just read that sentence back but I’m gonna roll with it (minds and gutters, people). The reason for author over book pimping is there are two titles of Hank’s that I’ve read this year, and you need to be reading both of them.

It was American Nocturne where I was first introduced to Hank’s work – a collection of short stories that definitely sit on the dark side of fiction. Hell, it’s horror at its best, and I’d wondered why Hank’s writing hadn’t been on my reader earlier. I mean really, the man’s a two-time Bram Stoker award winner, so… mea culpa.

American Nocturne

Now before we delve further, both titles I’ll be discussing here are put out by Cohesion Press, of whom I’m the editor-in-chief, but as I’ve only managed to read eight books this year due to workload (I stopped counting when I hit four million words – that’s right, four million), there’s going to be some crossover between work and reading outside of work.

Okay, so now we have that out of the way – American Nocturne. There’s a definite noir feel to the stories in here, especially with the title story, which kicks off the collection. There’s so much to love about this collection, and while each story is so very different from the last, it’s Schwaeble’s voice, his storytelling that holds this collection together. Oh, and the twists he delivers with some of the stories are done with such a deft hand, it will have you rereading for an altogether different experience of the story (like two books for the price of one!). You can read a full review of American Nocturne over (here) over at review site Smash Dragons.

The next book of Hank’s is the novel The Angel of the Abyss, and if this cover doesn’t make you want to rush out and buy it, then you and I need to talk. Out the back. In a dark alley.

This is the third in the Jake Hatcher series, but can definitely be read as a standalone. I hadn’t read the previous two novels (Damnable and Diabolical), but I was immediately drawn into the tale of Jake Hatcher – military vet come demon hunter. But Hatcher is well on Hell’s radar, and as demons are wont to do, they mess with him every chance they get. And that’s half the fun, trying to sort the lies from truth while attempting to stop the one hell of a demon taking human form and walking the earth once more. As I’ve come to expect, the twists and turns in this book keep you guessing, they make you think, and there’s not much better than reading a book that involves you, that asks you to take the journey with the characters, because they know just as much as you do about what’s happening.  Hatcher is a brash, sarcastic, takes-no-shit character who despite his protestations, wants to do the right thing. He just happens to get thrown into the crapper a lot. There’s black magic, demons, cults, secret military installations… yeah, it’s a heap of fun!

angel-of-the-abyss

You can read reviews of The Angel of the Abyss here and here. But trust me when I say, you’re in for a hell of a ride with this book, and there are more stories due in the series… and it’s only going to get nasty… or nastier.

Both books are highly recommended for lovers of horror, military horror, supernatural, and thrillers.

(Both covers were created by the amazing Dean Samed of Neostock. Check out his work.)

Review: Dying Embers by M.R. Cosby

It’s review time again!! And in light of my previous post, I’ll write it any damn way I please! Huzzah! So let’s try doing this one a little differently. Why? Well… why not?

Imagine if you will that I’m a rather portly town crier who loves the sound of my own mead-thickened voice. Gold brocade hangs by a thread from my dirty red coat and wilted plumage sprouts from my tricorne hat. *burps* S’cuse me. My breeches are more grey than white, and my scuffed boots are in desperate need of a shoemaker and some elves.

The bell tolls… “Hear ye, hear ye! The first book review for 2015 is that of Dying Embers by MR Cosby!”

As I duck the throw of rotten fruit and sidestep the splash from chamber pots being emptied from second-storey windows, I remove the heavily-stained parchment from my back pocket… Where’d I put my bell?

“Disclaimer! Said reviewer has met Martin Cosby once at his book signing. She arrived late and all the wine had been guzzled! She’ll know better next time. She and Martin interact on Facebook, usually in the form of deriding their cock-up of a prime minister and the embarrassment that is their government! Onwards to review!”

Dying Embers

Dying Embers is the debut collection from MR Cosby, published through Australian small press, Satalyte Publishing. Comprised of ten short stories, Dying Embers is the first I’ve read of Cosby’s work and it is fine storytelling indeed.

The horror genre encompasses such a diverse range, and more often than not Cosby’s stories sit well on the side of psychological horror. And he delivers this well.

We begin with The Next Terrace, and this sets the tone for most of the stories within. Here we meet the very staid Robert and his friend, Terry the risk-taker. It’s on a visit to Robert’s grandparent’s home that things take a weird little turn. As with most young boys, a hole in the wall that leads to the adjacent terrace is too difficult an adventure to refuse. That night, Terry cajoles Robert into following him through, but Robert takes a step or two then freezes. It’s what happens afterwards to the two boys that has the reader wondering. Cosby doesn’t quite come right out and tell you what’s going on, but rather leads you through a maze of clues to the denouement (spoiler-free!). I quite liked this story, and it set me up to the style of storytelling Cosby employs.

It’s the use of denouement through Cosby’s stories that work well… but I’m not a fan of it for every story. I, too, have used it, and it’s a great storytelling tool, but it doesn’t work for all stories, and I believe (note: my opinion) that it shouldn’t be for all stories within a collection.

The thing is, the storytelling is bloody good. Cosby either tempts you into the story, or drags you in, but either way you’re living the world of those of his characters. I found this to be especially the case with La Tarasque and Abraham’s Bosom, both of which paint the landscape and surrounds of the story beautifully and works wonderfully as a juxtaposition to the horror.

Both of those stories were in my favourites of the collection, as was In Transit. This story, about a businessman who values his travelling time and expenses as not only a deserved luxury, but a way to spend some time away from his family; not that he dislikes them, mind, it’s just… hey, we all need a break, right? But things, just small things really, start to seem a little off to Pendleton. The demeanour of other passengers, travelling ‘economy’, and a gate that doesn’t exist… but does it? It’s this slow build of tension via the reveal of these little anomalies that had me list this as a fave.

Another favourite was Building Bridges, but this was also tinged with a bit of disappointment. It would have been my pick of the collection had it not been for the denouement. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Brentwood is a man trying to connect with his family (especially his children) after suffering a debilitating illness. A trip to the museum to see the dinosaur exhibit seems a good place to start, but after losing track of his family, or rather being accosted by an odd homeless man, he spends his time chasing after them. But Brentwood finds himself in an altogether different place; there are dinosaurs sure, but not quite like he expected. Cosby works the off-page building of tension here very well, and I was racing along the darkened corridors with Brentwood. And even I knew (like Brentwood) that the “dinosaur expert” he encountered was a little… off. As was the “dinosaur” the expert was waxing lyrical about.

It’s the chase though, toward the end of the story that really had me racing through the words – a sure-fire sign that the tension is done extremely well. And as the monster closes in… ZAP! We’re in denouement. Noooo! I wanted to see that final confrontation, to feel the fear, the terror as it closed in and got all nasty on Brentwood’s arse. Now don’t get me wrong, the denouement works to finalise the story, it just didn’t work for me. Especially after the terrific build.

noooo

And that’s where, for me, the collection didn’t quite pack the punch I was after. As a friend of mine said: “It didn’t hit you in the feels.” Thing is, the stories are extremely well told, and the tension and horror of the situation is conveyed with a lot more skill than others I’ve read. Cosby knows how to tell a tale. For me, though, it’s the visceral side of the horror genre that has its claws sunk into my heart.  Again, this is personal taste, and mine runs to the bloody side of things.

So, overall, this is a very well-written collection of psychological horror that sits well within its genre. If you’re looking to tease someone into the wonders of horror without the splatterpunk most associate with horror, then this is the collection to get them started on their journey of horror-love. For those who like some blood and gore with their horror, this probably isn’t the collection for you, HOWEVER, there are some damn fine tales within that are well worth the look.

On a Goodreads scale I give this a four-star for the art of storytelling.   

4 stars

 

Women In Horror – Wielding The Axe Against Stereotype (Part One)

Yes, this will be a two-parter… just bear with me. Last year I penned a post on women in horror, which detailed my experiences as a female horror writer. As Screaming Ink has now slipped into the ether (may she wreak havoc wherever she goes!), I thought I’d revive the post here. In the next few days part two will go up. So without further ado, part one…

I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves.” Mary Shelley.

February heralds the third annual Women In Horror Month. Established by Hannah “Neurotica” Forman in 2009, her manifesto is part call-to-arms, part raising awareness and support for those of us with the ‘XX’ chromosome who read, write, act, film, and love the horror genre.

I’m an avid supporter of recognising women in horror – hell, I am one; what I find sad and a little irritating is the need to raise awareness of the contribution women make to the genre. That we should have to push to be heard/read/taken seriously et al, because of our choice of genre is a bloody sad indictment on the industry(ies) and society.

I didn’t make the conscious decision to write horror; when I began putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), horror was what flowed, and I was damn happy about that. But I admit, I did think long and hard on my publishing name, and had a long back-and-forth with my buddy and fellow horror writer, Mark Farrugia, on the issue. AJ Spedding is genderless, and even at the beginning of my fiction writing, I understood the perceived societal belief that horror is the ‘man-cave’ of the genres. Would my horror stories be more readily accepted as AJ instead of Amanda?

Surely, we’re well past the point where ‘women in horror’ are relegated to scream queen status—don’t get me wrong, I love a good(bad) 70s B-grade horror flick—but am I deluded in my thinking that being a writer of merit is enough? Is my horror-writing success dependent on whether I have boobs? As far as I’m aware, they’re not sneaking off to write my next story while I sleep (kind of like ‘The Elves and the Shoemaker’ only much classier).

I went with the name my parents gave me because of the little lady in my life. What message would I be sending my daughter by using my initials so I’m not immediately recognised as female. I want her to grow into a proud, strong woman who doesn’t put up with misogynistic bullshit. That starts with me.

zombie crop

So here I am, Amanda J Spedding, female horror writer, who has too often been on the receiving end of ‘The Look’ (you know the one, part disbelief, part confusion and yep, a little touch of horror) when I tell people the genre I write. The Look is usually followed by: “Really? No.”

Just last week I got ‘The Look’ again from the parent of one of my daughter’s classmates when she overheard me talking to a friend about an upcoming publication. “You’re a writer? How exciting!” she enthused. “Do you write children’s books or romance?”

Really? Those are my only options? Would she have offered the same genre-choices had I been swinging the Y chromosome? I doubt it. “No,” I told her with Zen-like calm. “I write horror.” Aaaand, there it was – The Look. I’d hit the double-whammy, you see. Not only was I a woman writing horror, I was a mother, too.

It’s the follow-up questions I most enjoy: “Good heavens, why?”

Now, The Look and I have been sparring partners for a good few years, so depending on how high the eyebrows rise and how far the jaw drops, I spout one of two replies: a) “It’s so much easier to explain away the sacrificial goats/virgins/widdle kittens; or b) “So I don’t become a news report that ends with ‘and then turned the gun on herself’.”

I went with my goat-response (my two cats know where I sleep). Before the woman could grab her child and flee, I asked why she thought I wrote children’s books or romance, and not any other genre. When she gave her response, I saw the realisation of her misogynistic remark settle in her eyes. “Because … you’re a woman.” There it is. She was embarrassed, which wasn’t what I wanted – education and awareness is key here if women are going to be taken seriously as horror writers.

This parent is a well-educated professional (and perfectly nice), but like most of society, has the ill-conceived belief that women don’t write horror; or that if we do, we’re not all that good at it, I mean, we grow and sustain new life and are classified as nurturers (Aileen Wuornos, anyone?), we couldn’t possibly know or understand true horror (again, Aileen Wuornos, anyone?). Society seems hard-wired into the ‘men write horror’ credo.

At a recent birthday party, I was sitting with my husband and a few fellow horror writers when one of the guests assumed my husband was the one who wrote. “Nope,” my husband told him. “That’d be her,” he grinned as he pointed to me. I don’t get offended (unless the response is offensive), nor do I go on a rant to explain the prodigious amount of female horror writers in the industry. I’m a writer. Horror is my genre. It’s really quite simple.

Enter stereotype number two: “You don’t look like a horror writer.” Now I’m not sure what a horror writer is supposed to look like (I didn’t get the memo). But we come in all shapes and forms: short, tall, blond, brunette, bald; a diversity of ethnicity and beliefs, and, surprisingly … drum roll please… female and male. Shocking, I know. We’re just like everyone else, it’s more we tend to exorcise our ‘demons’ onto the page. It’s a hell of a lot of fun.

Stereotypes suck, and more often than not, they’re way off-base. No one woman is a stereotype, just as no one man is. We’re all individuals, and we each come with our own qualities and our own crap. I’m sure male authors who write romance are subject to the same genre-prejudice, but I don’t write romance, I write horror and I love it. I love putting my characters in terrible situations, pushing them to (and often past) their limits, and giving them shitty decisions to make. I want to invoke the ‘what would I do?’ response in the reader; I want their heart to hammer, their gut and their sphincter to tighten, and I want them to be compelled to turn the next page all the while dreading it. That’s my rush.

(From comic ‘The Road’; script: Amanda J Spedding; artwork: Montgomery Borror; lettering: Nikki Foxrobot)

I’ve read a lot of posts lately about the under-representation of women horror writers (here’s another); how horror anthologies are skewed toward male authors over female. Peter Tennant from Black Static has broken down some of the anthologies he’s read here. It makes for some interesting reading. There are, however, always exceptions to the rule: one of the first horror anthologies I was in: Festive Fear (Tasmaniac Publications), had 7 female authors out of the total of 14 – a 50/50 split seems pretty rare, though.

There are some fantastic female horror writers about, especially in Australia, and I was lucky enough to be mentored by the truly gifted and extraordinarily nice, Kaaron Warren (she’s a mum, too). What I learned from Kaaron was invaluable – and that she’s smashed through that ‘man-cave’ wall and is setting up house, continuing to pave the way with the likes of Gemma Files, Sarah Langan and Sarah Pinborough, only brings more recognition and awareness to the ability of women in horror.

As member of the Australian Horror Writers Association (and former committee member), I love this genre – it’s where I like to lay my machete, and we encourage and support anyone, regardless of gender to join our community. And a great community it is. There’s no gender bias – we’re writers, plain and simple.

Changing the preconceived ideas of women in horror is going to be a long, hard slog, but the skill and talent I’ve seen out there will break down those walls. Women have been fighting for equality for … well forever, really, and when it comes to writing, it’s been an uphill battle.

When Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, many believed it was her husband Percy Shelley and Lord Byron who had more than a hand in it – Germaine Greer tackles one such moron here (although I don’t agree with her assertion Frankenstein is crap). Then there’s the HG Wells vs Florence Deeks plagiarism debate on The Outline of History, and the alleged assertion Macmillan & Company passed Ms Deeks’ manuscript on as they wanted a male author. (Note: all Ms Deeks’ litigations were summarily dismissed, but there seems to be an overwhelming amount of evidence to support her claim). Scroll to the bottom and read here; and the author of this post – Jonathan Bailey – states Deeks lost her court cases based on her gender.

So to finish this … essay off, where does that leave us? With an amazing amount of female horror writing talent, and a growing awareness of the strong and wickedly loud voice of women horror writers. Publishers, editors, readers, film directors, producers et al, will see an ever-increasing number of women’s names attached to the horror stories they’re reading, and they’d better sit up and take notice.

I’ve only been writing horror for three years, and I’m proud to say that to date, I’ve never experienced gender-bias in the industry (that I’m aware of). I’m also proud to shout from the rooftops that some of my strongest supporters are men: my amazing husband Eddie who supports me (and my genre) wholeheartedly, my Dad (who’s too frightened to read my stuff but demands a copy of every publication), my brothers (who are both proud as) and the three men with whom I share this blog (big up Marty, Mark and Dave!).

Fighting against the gender bias in publishing, and the misogynistic generalisations of horror being a man’s world is an ongoing battle, but one that is seeing a lot of play in the media. Here’s hoping it’ll give those who need it, the kick up the bum they deserve. As for me, I’ll continue to write the best horror that I can, safe in the knowledge that I have the unending support of my friends and spec-fic community – no matter the chromosomes they carry.