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The EC Archives: Shock SuspenStories, Vol. 1 [Aug. 24th, 2016|09:13 am]
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The EC Archives: Shock SuspenStories, Vol. 1The EC Archives: Shock SuspenStories, Vol. 1 by Al Feldstein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This gorgeous, full-color omnibus collects six issues of SHOCK SUSPENSTORIES, hokey thrillers in the inimitable EC style. Each tale comes with a twist ending that might have been original and startling in the 1950s but is now more likely to elicit embarrassed giggles and eye rolls than shivers. Most of the twists come in the form of karmic comeuppance: A bear hunter with a bear skin rug in his cabin is killed by a bear and turned into a human skin rug — Noooooooo! Some twists, oddly, require no punishable transgression on the part of the characters and seem to come out of the blue just to be mean: A man accidentally contacts a beautiful alien woman on his monitor screen, over time they talk and fall in love, she finally crosses the galaxy to be with him on Earth, and it turns out she’s actually 200 feet tall — Noooooooo! Of more interest are the morality plays that appear in each issue, EC-style, twist-ending examinations of thorny societal topics like police brutality, violent nationalism, and racial and religious bigotry. In one, an anti-Semite and his friends harass, beat up, and ultimately kill a Jewish couple who move into his neighborhood, only to discover he himself is adopted and actually Jewish, at which point his friends turn on him and beat him just like they did to the couple — Noooooooo! The earnest hokeyness is part of the charm of revisiting these old comics, of course, and fans of the twist-in-the-tale style of suspense and horror will get a kick out of this collection. The introduction by Steven Spielberg, who grew up as a nerdy kid who loved the escapism of reading EC comics, is quite touching.

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Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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The Scariest Part: S.J.I. Holliday Talks About BLACK WOOD and WILLOW WALK [Aug. 23rd, 2016|07:00 am]
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bw1_original

This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is S.J.I. Holliday, whose first two novels in the Banktoun Trilogy, Black Wood and Willow Walk, were both just released in the U.S. Here’s the publisher’s description of Black Wood:

Something happened to Claire and Jo in Black Wood: something that left Claire paralysed and Jo with deep mental scars. But with Claire suffering memory loss and no evidence to be found, nobody believes Jo’s story. Twenty-three years later, a familiar face walks into the bookshop where Jo works, dredging up painful memories and rekindling her desire for vengeance. And at the same time, Sergeant Davie Gray is investigating a balaclava-clad man who is attacking women on a disused railway, shocking the sleepy village of Banktoun. But what is the connection between Jo’s visitor and the masked man? To catch the assailant, and to give Jo her long-awaited justice, Gray must unravel a tangled web of past secrets, broken friendship and tainted love. But can he crack the case before Jo finds herself with blood on her hands?

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for S.J.I. Holliday:

I was mulling over what to write for this blog, and whether to tell you about my latest book (Willow Walk), or the first one in the trilogy (Black Wood) — both of which have only recently been made available in the US. I thought — what do readers of this blog really want to hear about? It became immediately obvious… You want to hear about that time that the guy who was fixing my roof told me there was a ghost in my house, right?

Thought so.

Picture the scene — I’m writing Black Wood — my first novel set in the fictional claustrophobic Scottish town of Banktoun. It’s a psychological thriller, with some police procedural in there and a hint of the supernatural — they sort that leaves you wondering if it’s real or just in your head (my favourite kind). Anyway, I’m in my very old house (built c1900), which we are still in the process of fixing up. It’s been months of awful work with builders and all sorts of dodgy tradesmen (I could tell you a few horror stories about that) — and I am finally ensconced in my fantastic little room, lined with books shelves, a comfy couch, a real old fire. I’m writing about this old creepy cottage — Black Wood Cottage — where my main character, Jo, has returned to after many years. It’s in a state of semi-abandonment, with creaky floorboards, whistling water pipes and doors that have a habit of slamming shut. I’m listening to one of my favourite CDs (yes, I’m in my 40s, I still like CDs… and vinyl, but that’s another story) — it’s called “Dark Side of the 80s” and it’s all The Cure and Sisters of Mercy and Echo and The Bunnymen (it’s the best CD ever — you should buy it). I’ve just thoroughly creeped myself out with a whispering ghost type part, when there’s a knock on the door…

“Hi, I’m just back round to get the first instalment of the cash so I can buy the felt for the roof.” Smile. “How’s your daughter today?”

“Oh…” *confused face* “I don’t have a daughter.”

“Sorry, my mistake. Was she a friend’s little one then? The girl who was here yesterday?”

“Yesterday?” *racks brains for rational explanation* “Oh — next door had their grandkids round. They were making a bit of a racket in the garden…”

*Roof man slowly backs away from the door, points at a space next to the dining room table* “No… she was sitting on the floor. She was… right there.”

ACTUAL SHIVER DOWN SPINE.

“Um, OK.” *trying not to panic* “Are you sure? I mean… there definitely wasn’t a little girl here yesterday…”

*With wavering voice* “I’m telling you. She was there. Next to the table. Just doing some colouring.” *Pause* “Look, I have to go now. I’ll be back to finish the job in a few days.”

*Rising panic* “Wait… WAIT!”

Oh, he’s gone…

So now I’m in the house on my own. Well, at least I thought I was. I decide the best way to deal with this is to put it on Facebook (obviously). “This weird thing just happened… the roofer reckons we have a ghost. LOL” Within seconds, I get a private message from a friend who came to a recent barbecue at our house: “Was it a little girl? In your dining room? Don’t worry, she’s happy.”

Well…

You can take what you want from like. The roofer did come back, by the way. He was still pretty shaken up. He said he’d discussed it with his wife, and she’d told him he probably sees ghosts all the time, what with all the houses he visits, he just hadn’t realised before. VERY reassuring! We went down to the church in town that had a gift shop and purchased a little angel ornament. I put it on the mantelpiece and left it there. It made us feel better, and I can’t say I ever saw anything… but neither of us walked through that room with the lights off again.

We live somewhere else now. A new place. No way we’ll have any ghosts here, I thought. Until another friend asked what the land was used for before they flattened it and built these new flats. I looked it up… a Victorian school.

S.J.I. Holliday: Website / Facebook / Twitter

Black Wood: Amazon / Barnes & Noble

Willow Walk: Amazon / Barnes & Noble

S.J.I. Holliday grew up in a small town near Edinburgh, Scotland. She spent many years working in her family’s newsagent and pub before going off to study microbiology and statistics at university. She has worked as a statistician in the pharmaceutical industry for over sixteen years, but it was on a six-month round-the- world-trip that she took with her husband ten years ago that she rediscovered her passion for writing. Her first novel, Black Wood, was published in 2015 and her second, Willow Walk, is out now. The third in the trilogy, The Damselfly, will follow in early 2017.

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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The Inner City [Aug. 20th, 2016|11:05 pm]
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The Inner CityThe Inner City by Karen Heuler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Heuler’s collection gathers fifteen prime examples of her hallmark surrealist stories. Each one takes a recognizable character in a recognizable setting but follows the situation through to an absurd, dreamlike extreme. There’s a lot of sly humor to be found in these stories — a woman buys a fish at the supermarket only to discover it’s still alive and can grant her three wishes; an officer worker notices she’s gone bald and that a colleague who’s after her job has come to work wearing her hair; a vegetarian succeeds in bringing supermarket meat back to life, Frankenstein-style — but there’s a darker side to them, too, one that often borders on the horrific. My favorite of the bunch, “Thick Water,” is a remarkably sinister tale of suspicion and paranoia among human explorers on an alien world, in which all of the explorers but one are transforming. It’s an extraordinary piece of work, but then so are all the stories collected here. THE INNER CITY is a dark and delightful treat for anyone who likes their fiction engagingly weird and deeply human.

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Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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Reading at the Night Time Logic Reading Series This Sunday [Aug. 15th, 2016|08:45 am]
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It’s short notice, but I’m reading this Sunday with Karen Heuler! Here’s the official release:

Night Time Logic brings a Mid Summer Night’s Darkness to KGB Bar

Karen Heuler and Nicholas Kaufmann join Night Time Logic for a Sunday night reading.

Sunday, August 21 at 7 PM
KGB Bar
85 E 4th St (between 2nd Avenue and Bowery) in New York City

About the Readers

Karen Heuler’s stories have appeared in over 90 literary and speculative magazines and anthologies, from Alaska Quarterly Review to Clarkesworld to Weird Tales, as well as a number of Best Of anthologies. She has published four novels and two story collections with university and small presses, and her last collection was chosen for Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2013 list. She has received an O. Henry award, been a finalist for the Iowa short fiction award, the Bellwether award and the Shirley Jackson award for short fiction. In October, Aqueduct Press will be publishing her next collection, Other Places, which follows women facing strange circumstances on this world and others.

Nicholas Kaufmann is the Bram Stoker Award-nominated, Thriller Award-nominated, and Shirley Jackson Award-nominated author of General Slocum’s Gold, Chasing the Dragon, Dying is My Business, and Die and Stay Dead. In addition to his own original work, he has also written for such properties as Zombies Vs. Robots and The Rocketeer. His new novel, In the Shadow of the Axe, is due out soon. He and his wife live in Brooklyn, NY.

About Night Time Logic

Night Time Logic is an occasional reading series showcasing exceptional fiction of all kinds hosted by Daniel Braum, author of The Night Marchers and Other Strange Tales. Past guests have included Angela Slatter, Matthew Kressel, and Victor LaValle. More about the series can be found here.

And here’s the Facebook event page, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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Man with No Name [Aug. 14th, 2016|11:23 am]
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Man with No NameMan with No Name by Laird Barron
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This slim volume contains two exemplary tales by the inimitable Laird Barron. The first, the novella “Man with No Name,” is an excellent reminder that nobody captures the mystery and disorientation of being caught up in unknowable supernatural forces like Barron does. Hints of a much larger and more terrifying backstory pepper this tale of a Yakuza enforcer, a popular professional wrestler, and a terrifying excursion into the liminal realm between the worlds of the natural and the supernatural. It’s an amazing piece of work, filled with darkness and disquiet.

The second story, “Blood & Stardust,” is somewhat lighter in tone, an astute and often amusing take on mad scientists and their creations. Barron shows a deep sense of compassion for his narrator, despite her many crimes, and infuses the story with his trademark hints of a wider and scarier world than we’re aware of.

Both stories provide ample evidence of why Barron is widely considered one of the finest horror authors working today. This small, two-story collection is a must-own for Barron fans, and not a bad place to start for those looking to experience his ghastly and arcane cosmos for the first time.

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Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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Read “The Rest is Noise” For Free at Nightmare Magazine [Aug. 10th, 2016|08:37 am]
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Nightmare cover

“The Rest is Noise” is now available to read for free on the Nightmare Magazine website! So is an author spotlight Q&A with yours truly.

The entire issue is available for purchase as an e-book for just $2.99, and of course you can subscribe to Nightmare Magazine for just $23.88 a year. Check out the website for more info.

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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Aickman’s Heirs [Aug. 8th, 2016|10:03 am]
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Aickman"s HeirsAickman’s Heirs by Simon Strantzas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Robert Aickman’s stories were all about the irrational and the unknowable. The authors in this homage anthology put those same qualities to good use in fifteen intriguing tales of the unknowable’s intrusion upon seemingly normal lives.

The writing is uniformly beautiful, although this reader will admit to finding a few of the stories frustratingly oblique. Regardless, there were many standouts for me, including Brian Evenson’s “Seaside Town,” which makes great use of the dream or nighttime logic that Aickmann reveled in; Michael Cisco’s “Infestations,” a surreal meditation on identity, voyeurism, loss, and insanity; John Langan’s “Underground Economy,” which mixes exotic dancers and insect mating rituals; Malcolm Devlin’s “Two Brothers,” which I found to be one of the more straightforward horror tales in the anthology, and as a result one of the most effective; Nina Allan’s remarkable novelette “A Change of Scene,” which does a great job of keeping the reader off-balance; and my favorite of all of them, Nadia Bulkin’s “Seven Minutes in Heaven,” in which our narrator discovers she’s part of a terrible secret reflected in a children’s game she used to play.

Bulkin’s story is outstanding and well worthy of the Shirley Jackson Award nomination it received. As is AICKMAN’S HEIRS, which won the Shirley Jackson Award in the anthology category. Editor Simon Strantzas has created something special with this anthology, a rich compendium of extraordinary and strange tales that I hope will find the many readers it deserves.

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Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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“The Rest Is Noise” in August Issue of Nightmare Magazine [Aug. 1st, 2016|08:25 am]
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Nightmare cover

My story “The Rest Is Noise,” which was originally published in the anthology Dark Fusions (PS Publishing, 2013, ed. by Lois Gresh), is being reprinted in Nightmare Magazine this month! This is good news, because I think “The Rest Is Noise” is one of my very best stories, but Dark Fusions wasn’t read by many people. Now it has a chance to reach a much wider audience! My story will be joined by other works of fiction by Amanda Downum, G. Neri, and Lara Elena Donnelly, as well as non-fiction from Livia Llewellyn, Lisa Morton, and John Joseph Adams.

“The Rest Is Noise” will be available to read for free on the Nightmare Magazine website starting August 10th. But if you don’t want to wait, the entire issue is available right now as an e-book that can be purchased from the website for a mere $2.99. You can also subscribe to Nightmare Magazine for just $23.88 per year. It’s a cool magazine and well worth it!

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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Disappearance at Devil’s Rock [Jul. 18th, 2016|10:47 pm]
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Disappearance at Devil"s RockDisappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another masterful novel by one of my favorite contemporary authors! Tremblay’s suspenseful suburban Gothic about a young boy’s sudden, unsolved disappearance reminds me of the classic film PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK, as well as the recent film LAKE MUNGO and the better parts of Tana French’s uneven disappearance mystery IN THE WOODS. The plot is actually more complex than in Tremblay’s previous novel, A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS, and admirably straddles the line between crime novel and ghost story. But as usual it’s Tremblay’s richly drawn characters who make the novel so indelible. We care deeply about Elizabeth Sanderson and her young daughter Kate as they deal with all the questions, doubts, and insecurities that come in the wake of Tommy’s disappearance. Tremblay’s deep compassion for his characters shows as he skillfully doles out clues to Tommy’s fate. Nothing in this novel plays out the way you think it will, and I mean that in the best way possible. Every new Tremblay novel feels like a gift. I can’t wait to read what he writes next!

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Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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The Scariest Part: Kristin Dearborn Talks About STOLEN AWAY [Jul. 12th, 2016|07:25 am]
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9781935738848-Perfect.indd

I’m thrilled to welcome my friend Kristin Dearborn back to The Scariest Part this week with her new novel, Stolen Away. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Trisha will admit she’s made a few mistakes in her life but that checkered past is behind her. She loves her kids, even if it’s tough being a single mom. But her loyalties are put to the test when her infant son disappears in the middle of the night, and his big sister says a monster took him.

Now Trisha has to face the full truth behind the one-night-stand that produced Brayden in all its scaly torridness — Brayden’s father wasn’t human and isn’t interested in sharing custody. However, even though DEMON has pulled this stunt many times before, he made a mistake when he chose Trisha. The one thing she won’t do is give up her son without a fight. Along with her ex-boyfriend, Joel, Trisha is dragged back into the seedy underworld in a desperate fight to reclaim her son, only this time she’s got a lot more to lose.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Kristin Dearborn:

I am not a mother, so I wonder if I’m even qualified to speak on the topic. I am a woman who lives in a culture where motherhood is valued above all else, and who has observed the cultural experiences of many mothers. For me, the scariest part of Stolen Away is the intersection of motherhood and one’s identity as a woman. And the demons.

Another light, fluffy post from Kristin Dearborn.

Let’s look at some of the premier examples of demon fiction over the past few decades. William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist. Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby. Paul Tremblay’s Head Full of Ghosts. There are going to be spoilers here, so if you haven’t read them, maybe stop now.

How often do demons target men? I feel like there must be some manly demon possession stories, but I can’t think of any off the top of my head. Most often, we read about and watch beautiful women reduced to something monstrous by a demonic invader. The trope relies on women being virginal and innocent (à la Regan in The Exorcist.). Also, lest we forget, women have the whole original sin thing hanging over their heads. Tremblay plays with all of these tropes in Head Full of Ghosts though in his case, there’s no demon there, just a mentally ill girl. His book works because we’re all so conditioned through decades of this trope that the family in the book and the viewers of the show within a book, The Possession. Movies more than books are guilty of this sin, I can name a dozen mediocre horror flicks where teen girls are cursing, over-sexed McGuffins while the manly men fight to bring them back to their virtuous states.

Motherhood in horror is another place where women get the short end of the stick. From evil mommy tropes (think Carrie), to body horror (Cronenberg’s The Brood) mothers have it rough in the genre. The mother in horror is either a demonic entity controlling the players, or someone without identity, existing only to keep her children alive (and sometimes both!). The titular character in Rosemary’s Baby highlights this: she is a brilliantly rendered character who struggles to come to terms with the changes of her body during her pregnancy, with the changes in her relationship with her husband, and the cult of Satan worshippers who have her primed as their vessel.

Trisha Callahan is a recovering addict. She never knew her father and her mother died when she was younger. She’s got two kids from two different guys, but never really got a chance to grow up herself. When a woman becomes a mother — becomes pregnant, even — everyone suddenly feels like they have the ability to weigh in. Wait periods on abortion. Unhelpful counseling. Uninvited touches in the supermarket. Questions. Once the baby is born, there are judgements on breastfeeding and how early they talk and what kind of food they eat (better be organic and growth hormone free) and do you read to them? How much screen time do they get? In some ways, every woman is Rosemary Woodhouse as the cult grooms her to be a host for their baby.

DEMON takes away Trisha’s choice when he drugs her and rapes her. There’s a moment early on in the book where Trisha is terrified the media will make another Casey Anthony out of her when her son goes missing. The scrutiny of women is bad enough without demon possession.

I tip my hat to all the moms out there, especially the ones who’ve had to raise kiddos on their own. Hopefully Trisha’s story rings true to at least some of you, less the demon bits and more the womanhood pieces.

Kristin Dearborn: Website / Twitter / Facebook

Stolen Away: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell’s / IndieBound / Raw Dog Screaming Press

If it screams, squelches, or bleeds, Kristin Dearborn has probably written about it. Kristin has written books such as Sacrifice Island (DarkFuse) and Trinity (DarkFuse), and had fiction published in several magazines and anthologies. Stolen Away was recently a limited edition offered from Thunderstorm Books, which sold out. She revels in comments like, “But you look so normal…how do you come up with that stuff?” A life-long New Englander, she aspires to the footsteps of the local masters, Messrs. King and Lovecraft. When not writing or rotting her brain with cheesy horror flicks (preferably creature features!) she can be found scaling rock cliffs or zipping around Vermont on a motorcycle, or gallivanting around the globe. Kristin’s latest DarkFuse release is Woman in White.

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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