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The Scariest Part: J. S. Breukelaar Talks About ALETHEIA [Apr. 18th, 2017|07:00 am]
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This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is author J. S. Breukelaar, whose new novel is Aletheia. Here is the publisher’s description:

The remote lake town of Little Ridge has a memory problem. There is an island out on the lake somewhere, but no one can remember exactly where it is — and what it has to do with the disappearance of the eccentric Frankie Harpur, or the seven-year- old son of a local artist, Lee Montour.

When Thettie Harpur brings her family home to find Frankie, she faces opposition from all sides — including from the clan leader himself, the psychotic Doc Murphy. But Lee, her one true ally in grief and love, might not be enough to help take on her worst nightmare. The lake itself.

Because deep below the island, something monstrous lies waiting for Thettie, and it knows her name.

A tale of that most human of monsters — memory — Aletheia is part ghost story, part love story, a novel about the damage done, and the damage yet to come. About terror itself. Not only for what lies ahead, but also for what we think we have left behind.

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

I can’t tell you what the scariest part of writing Aletheia was, because it will spoil everything. You who have read the novel, know that about a third of the way in, the unthinkable happens. And that was the scariest part for me, not just because it was terror incarnate, but also because I didn’t plan it. Hand to God. I’m not being coy. I had totally different plans for Thettie Harpur, for everyone. But the story had to do itself. And that’s how it played.

That was fucking scary. I mean not just what happened, and how irrevocable it was, and how horrifying it was, and how my bleeding fingers made me write it in the second person. Scene by scene. Blow for blow. How even as I was writing it, I had no idea how bad it was going to get, and it got bad. It got very bad. I hated myself for even writing it. I scared myself. The tooth hurts.

And then, after it was written, I had no idea, really, what to do. How to go on after that, emotionally, psychologically, and artistically. How would I tell the rest of the story? I had already set up the parallel narrative — Thettie and Lee’s point of view in alternating chapters, but now what? I can’t go into it too much more, except to say, I was finished.

But the story wasn’t. It couldn’t end at that moment of total narrative collapse, but it was really difficult for me to see beneath its broken structure at that point. And there was another thing. It wasn’t just the story that had broken. It wasn’t just the characters who were looking at me in gobsmacked revulsion at what I’d done to their world. I was looking back at myself, and wondering what the story, as I’d told it, made me? I wanted to tell the characters that the story had broken my heart, too.

Stories have a way of biting the hand that feeds them. And the only way to go on is to bite back. Except I wasn’t sure how. I didn’t even really know what had happened. There I was with a story in shards, and I had no real idea of the logistics of how this terrible, plot shattering thing had happened. And I think it was that that allowed me to continue. I had set up a kind of unspeakable crime, but one of a nature so dualistic that the supernatural part of it remained a mystery, even to me. So, while the rest of the characters went about trying to figure out the true crime, I knew my job was to fathom the horror, the horror beyond the cruelly banal, beyond the everyday evil. And I knew that the only place I’d find it was beneath the lake.

So that’s how I managed to find my way back into the story. I went back out on the lake, and I bit Time right in the ass. I split the chapter I’d written before the terrible turn into two parts, leaving the first section in Part 1 and resuming the chapter in Part II, but I switched to present tense. I picked it up right in the middle of a storm on the lake out near the island, the island that was the clue to everything. To all the pain and all the hurt, the island that Time forgot so it had nothing but Time. In fact, the second scariest part was writing the ending. As I’ve spoken about elsewhere, the gifted author/publisher and my friend, J. David Osborne, read an early draft of the novel. It had most of the scary parts in it — including the shock turn halfway through. But my meta-fictional detective work was flawed, and I came up with a false ending that David didn’t buy. So that sent me back to the beginning again. And that was really scary. Not just the fact that I’d thought I’d finished the damn thing, and was scared as hell of looking at months of rewriting, but also because I had to go deeper. Deep into my own heart and dark thoughts in order to come to terms with what the island was, and what it always had been. I thought that I’d get away with just going to the second half of the novel, the part where it gets all messy and weird. But that didn’t do it. I had to go back even further.

Stephen Graham Jones writes:

Plot isn’t a line your story follows, it’s a chart of your characters’ decisions. And it’s only ever seen in the rearview mirror… [When things go wrong], back up, look for a place where the story should have branched, and keep backing up until you find it. Sometimes all the way to the point of conception. Then conceive better.

That was me. I had to go right back to the point of conception. Back to the second scene in the very first chapter, where Thettie steps on a hideous grin-shaped crack in the pavement that is no longer there, but re-cracks at her approach. Spider-webbing the shiny new mica surface right down to the soil, its weed-choked grin just as lying and leering as if she had never gone away at all. As if she’d stayed in Little Ridge with her beloved cousins Frankie and the wild-at-heart Cassie, and Frankie had never gone to war to get caught up with the crooked Doc, and Cassie had never stolen that credit card that brought deGroot vengeance down on her Sweet Sixteen, and Thettie had never let her two young sons go out on the lake alone — as if none of that had happened, and things had stayed rock ’n’ roll forever.

There is a point in the novel where one of the characters realises that s/he is the lake monster after all. That there has never been another. The scariest part of writing is that. That moment when you realize that you are the scariest bit. You are the reason to be afraid. That the fear is in you, and of you. And it knows your name.

J. S. Breukelaar: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Aletheia: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell’s / IndieBound

JS Breukelaar is the author of the novels Aletheia (Crystal Lake Publishing) and American Monster (Lazy Fascist Press), as well as the collection No Bunnies, out in October 2017, also from Crystal Lake Publishing. Her stories and poems can be found or are forthcoming at Gamut Magazine, Lightspeed, Nightmare, Lamp Light, Juked and elsewhere, including the anthologies, Welcome to Dystopia and Women Writing the Weird. She lives in Sydney, Australia with her family.

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

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The Scariest Part Turns Three! [Apr. 14th, 2017|01:57 pm]
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Three years ago today I launched my blog feature “The Scariest Part.” In that time, I’ve had some truly amazing authors write guest blogs about their new works of horror, dark fantasy, dark science fiction, and suspense.

I’m happy to say “The Scariest Part” is still going strong! I’m always on the lookout for more guests, so if you’ve got something coming out soon that fits the bill please send me a query. All the information you need can be found right here.

P.S. The great majority of my guests so far have been authors, but I’d also love to host filmmakers, comic books writers, and game designers!

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

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Lunacon 2017 [Apr. 3rd, 2017|09:32 pm]
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Surprise! I’m going to be at Lunacon this weekend! Alas, I can only be there on Saturday, April 8th, but you can still find me on programming at these times:

10:30 AM – Reading (Dutchess). I’m not sure what I’m going to read yet. Maybe something from the novel in progress?

11:00 AM – Telling the Monster’s Tale, with Darrell Schweitzer (moderator), Elektra Hammond, Pauline J. Alama, Nicholas Kaufmann, Kate Paulk (Hudson). This is a writing workshop in which we’ll be focusing on writing from the monster’s perspective.

12:00 AM – Confronting the Monster, with Orin Davis (moderator), Bob Eggleton, Chris Adams, Terence Taylor, Matthew Shean, Rick Bowes, Nicholas Kaufmann (Grand Ballroom G). This should be a very fun and informative panel on “the monster within” and how it informs our work.

That’s a lot of monster talk for one man, but hey, when something’s in your wheelhouse… In fact, they also initially put me on a 7 PM writing workshop called Children Are Afraid of Monsters, along with the venerable John Langan and others, but I’ve had to let the convention know that unfortunately I won’t be able to stay late enough to be part of it. You’re in good hands with Langan!

This is my first time attending Lunacon, and I’m excited to see what it’s all about. If you can’t make it to any of my events Saturday morning, you’re sure to see me wandering around the convention until late afternoon. Come say hi!

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

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Cold Skin [Apr. 3rd, 2017|08:13 am]
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Cold SkinCold Skin by Albert Sánchez Piñol
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An alternately brilliant and frustrating novel, COLD SKIN reads like a fever dream. Piñol has lots to say about war, colonialism, the cyclical nature of history, and man’s inhumanity to man (and woman) in this allegory of a mostly deserted island being attacked nightly by strangely humanoid sea creatures. I enjoyed the novel very much, but I found myself stymied at times by two important elements. First, the prose is often too spare for its own good, which may or may not be a translation issue. Piñol is an excellent writer, frequently utilizing delightful or deeply profound turns of phrase. However, there are also times when I felt the thinness of the prose left certain important themes, actions, and motivations less deeply explored than I would have liked. The second is that our protagonist, a nameless first-person narrator, is no better than the antagonist, the madman Gruner with whom he is trapped on the island. It left me with little to root for other than the sea creatures themselves, which may have been Piñol’s point. I felt this way until the novel’s absolutely perfect ending, which to my surprise relies on this very moral disconnect to work so perfectly. In the end, COLD SKIN is one of those novels that stays with you and keeps you thinking about it for days afterward. It’s extremely well written, despite the spareness of the prose, and worthy of its praise from authors like David Mitchell and Yann Martel. Highly recommended to anyone interested.

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

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The Scariest Part: J. H. Bográn Talks About POISONED TEARS [Mar. 28th, 2017|07:00 am]
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This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is author J. H. Bográn, whose new novel is Poisoned Tears. Here is the publisher’s description:

Retired Dallas private investigator Alan Knox dislikes New Orleans so much he won’t even drink Abita, the local beer. It all goes back to the day his knee and his promising pro football career were wrecked in a Superdome game with the Saints. But when his estranged son calls and asks for help finding a missing fiancée, the guilt-ridden Texan heads for the Big Easy where he soon finds himself in trouble up to the tops of his snakeskin boots.

What starts off as a missing person case turns into a hunt for a serial killer who uses exotic poisonous animals to dispatch his victims. Painfully aware he can’t go it alone, Knox joins forces with an over-the-hill journalist and an unfriendly police detective as he navigates the dark streets and seedy bars in search of his prey.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for J. H. Bográn:

When I conceived the idea for a serial killer using poisonous animals to disguise the deaths as accidents, I knew I had to deal with creatures. I chose the ones that scared me the most! Although I can’t list them here, I can refer to the first one as the cover artwork already gives it away.

The structure scorpion usually appears on any top ten list of dangerous creatures, and I researched it extensively and it became the protagonist of the very first scene I wrote for my novel Poisoned Tears.

The scene shows my killer looking upon the first victim, a woman in her twenties, bound and unconscious lying on the floor. Then I go into the details of handling the scorpion and making the little animal sting the woman. Without emergency medical treatment she’s as good as gone. The killer makes sure she doesn’t get any.

Several of my writing friends commented on how ominous and scary the scene was, one even compared it to something out of a Stephen King novel — with my apologies to Mr. King.

The subsequent revisions included a change on the identity of the victim (which created a problem as they were from different places and even races). I also varied the length and various details that were cut, brought it back, cut again, rewritten, left unused, and then brought back again at the behest of my editor. As you can see, I played with all of its details except one: its placement. I was adamant about using that scene as the opening sequence for I deemed it the perfect attention grabber.

Later I showed the opening chapters at various writing workshops with publishing professionals, the feedback came in two extremes. There were ones who loved it, others not so much. A publishing professional shared her comments from the heart. “It’s a turn-off for me when I see women my age murdered on the first page,” she said.

The above comment made me realize that the scene, as polished as it was by that seventh draft, was the scariest part of the book. In an almost metaphysical sense, it scared me as well, when I feared the scene would stump the book’s road to publication.

Exceptional times call for exceptional circumstances, right? By the time I signed a contract with Rebel e-Publishers, I reached a compromise: Keep the scene, but in a different place in a later chapter. As it turned out, the first scene I wrote for Poisoned Tears became the one that went through the most changes before it saw the light of day. Now I’m just hoping readers, the ultimate critics, enjoy the book and that particular scene.

J. H. Bográn: Website / Amazon Author PageFacebook / Twitter / Goodreads

Poisoned Tears: Amazon / Barnes & NobleSmashwords

J. H. Bográn, born and raised in Honduras, is the son of a journalist. He ironically prefers to write fiction rather than fact. José’s genre of choice is thrillers, but he likes to throw in a twist of romance into the mix. His works include novels and short stories in both English and Spanish. He has also worked on scripts for motion pictures and domestic television in his home country. Poisoned Tears is his third novel in English and has already garnered positive reviews and recommendations. Jon Land calls it “a splendid piece of crime noir,” while Douglas Preston says it’s a first class roller-coaster ride. He’s a member of The Crime Writers Association, the Short Fiction Writers Guild and the International Thriller Writers, where he also serves as the Thriller Roundtable Coordinator and contributor editor for their official e-zine, The Big Thrill.

 

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

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The Scariest Part: Bracken MacLeod Talks About 13 VIEWS OF THE SUICIDE WOODS [Mar. 21st, 2017|07:00 am]
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This week on The Scariest Part, I’m delighted to have as my guest my dear friend Bracken MacLeod, a very talented writer whose debut collection is titled 13 Views of the Suicide Woods. Here is the publisher’s description:

From the author of Mountain Home and Stranded, comes Bracken MacLeod’s first collection of short stories.

These stories inhabit the dark places where pain and resignation intersect, and the fear of a quiet moment alone is as terrifying as the unseen thing watching from behind the treeline. In the titular story, a young woman waits for her father to come home from the place where no one goes intending to return. A single word is the push that may break a man and save a life. The members of a winemaking community celebrate the old time religion found flowing in the blood of the vine. A desperate man seeking a miracle cure gets more than a peek behind the curtain of Dr. Morningstar’s Psychic Surgery. A child who dreams of escaping on leather wings finds rescue in dark water instead. Looking back over a life, a homeless veteran must decide to live in the present if he wants to save his future. In a Halloween Hell house, a youth pastor must face the judgment of a man committed to doing the Lord’s work. Fiery death heralds the beginning of a new life. A man who has been carrying pain with him his entire life gives up his last piece of darkness. And a still day beneath the sun illuminates the quiet sorrow of the last feather to fall.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Bracken MacLeod:

For me, the scariest part of 13 Views of the Suicide Woods is a common thread weaving throughout almost all of the stories, which is the sense of being swept away by inevitability. What I mean is the feeling of powerlessness in the face of something dark and undeniable, which in that moment cannot be undone or overcome. It’s not the moment where things begin to go wrong, but the one where a person becomes conscious that things have gone wrong and there’s no way back. It’s the realization of it.

Several years ago, I was driving home from a friend’s house after a late night out gaming. It was about half past two and I was dead tired and had an hour on the road still ahead of me, so I was trying to get home quickly. But it was snowing, and I was going a little too fast in the storm and lost control. The car started to fishtail and while I was doing my best to correct the slide, it just kept getting worse. And before I realized how bad things had gotten, I was spinning completely around at 60 miles an hour on black ice headed for the median strip. I wasn’t sure when I hit the snow bank in the middle of the interstate whether the car was going to stop, or flip and roll into oncoming traffic. All I did know was that there wasn’t a thing I could do to prevent the car from sliding into it. The direction I was headed in was inevitable and the outcome — whatever it would be — was beyond my ability to alter.

We go through life focused on all the things we have planned, the things we’re doing right now, and then, all of the sudden, that instant arrives and you’re spinning out into the median — out of control, out of time, out of options. The only thing there is to do is hold on to the wheel, ride that moment, and hope it isn’t your last.

That’s the feeling I mean.

At some point in almost every one of the stories in 13 Views of the Suicide Woods, there’s an interval where the main character has this realization that they’re being swept away in the tide of something more powerful than they are. The choice they have is whether to swim with or against the current pulling them down. But by the time they grasp what’s happening, none of them can stop it.

If I were pressed to pick the very scariest of these moments, it would happen in the titular story. There’s a scene at the beginning where a character named Skip has gone to the woods intending to kill himself (he feels drawn there — more on that in a minute). He ties a noose, climbs a tree, and scoots off the end of the branch with the rope around his neck. And in that moment, as he’s falling, he understands with perfect clarity that this action is irreversible. He’s done a thing which has set the end of his agency in motion, and it’s too late for second thoughts. He chose to hasten inevitability and the existential realization is terrifying to him.

That one is scariest for me because while a person might walk into a bar with a gun, or an airplane engine could fail, those events are out of my control and largely unpredictable (to the extent that they’re extremely rare occurrences). However unlikely, one’s participation in them is forced; no one chooses be to a part of those experiences. Skip slipping off the branch is deliberately stepping into the void and letting go of control. As someone who occasionally experiences what the French call, L’appel du vide, it’s a terrifying idea to me. Standing on the edge of some high place, I often feel the pull in my body to just step out. I’m not suicidal, but the feeling is there, physical and intrusive. It’s my mind that prevents me from turning the wheel into the side of the underpass entrance or taking that step off of the subway platform. But then, I am not a dualist; my mind is a consequence of my body, and that’s what frightens me. Like a babysitter getting a call to check on the kids, the will to live and the death drive are coming from the exact same place.

Sigmund Freud wrote that “the aim of all life is death.” That is literally true to the extent that nothing living will continue to exist in that state perpetually. It’s the intersection where deliberate survival meets the inevitability of mortality that is the scariest part.

Bracken MacLeod: Website / Amazon Author Page / Facebook / Twitter

13 Views of the Suicide Woods: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell’s / IndieBound

Bracken MacLeod is the author of the novels Mountain Home, Stranded, and Come to Dust. 13 Views of the Suicide Woods is his first collection of short fiction. Stranded, released last year by Tor Books, has been nominated for a Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a Novel. He lives in New England with his wife and son, where he is at work on his next novel.

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

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Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Vol. 1: The Crucible [Mar. 16th, 2017|10:44 pm]
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Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Vol. 1: The CrucibleChilling Adventures of Sabrina, Vol. 1: The Crucible by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was a huge fan of Aguirre-Sacasa’s AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE (please release the second volume already, you guys!), so when I heard he was also writing CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA I was psyched to read it. It didn’t let me down. In fact, it was everything I’d hoped for and more!

Aguirre-Sacasa moves Sabrina the Teenage Witch’s story to the 1960s, the decade her character was first introduced, in order to keep it separate from the contemporary setting of AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE (although she appears briefly in that one, too), and it turns out to be a great choice. Instead of feeling dated it feels classic, adding a special layer to the story’s atmosphere. I was particularly pleased with Aguirre-Sacasa’s decision to make Sabrina and her aunts’ magic Satanic in nature rather than making them Wiccans or “white witches.” Sabrina herself remains decent and good-natured, even when she’s sacrificing a goat in the woods, and Salem, her talking-cat familiar, steals all his scenes with excellent wry commentary. Add cameos from Betty and Veronica and the return of classic back-up story villainess Madame Satan, and I’m champing at the bit for volume two. Hopefully I won’t have to wait too long.

CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA is a must-read for fans of horror comics as well as fans of the classic character — just keep in mind that this is about the furthest you can get from Melissa Joan Hart territory.

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

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Weird Detective [Mar. 15th, 2017|08:01 am]
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Weird DetectiveWeird Detective by Fred Van Lente
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A police murder investigation in contemporary Brooklyn intersects with H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos in Van Lente’s scary, funny, and highly enjoyable WEIRD DETECTIVE. The Deep Ones, the Great Race of Yith, even shoggoths and the Starry Wisdom cult all make cameo appearances, but the real star of the show is Detective Sebastian Greene, who knows more about these things than anyone else on the force. The reason for it is one of the comic’s most inventive twists. Van Lente skillfully avoids the usual cliches of Lovecraftian homage — there’s no secret spell book that must be found, no mentions of Cthulhu or any of his Great Old One pals — and delivers a fun take on the classic material that’s perfect for fans of Lovecraft and horror. Cat owners will particularly appreciate the scenes of a telepathic conversation with a house cat.

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

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And Here We Go… [Mar. 13th, 2017|04:39 pm]
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IN THE SHADOW OF THE AXE On Sale! [Mar. 7th, 2017|08:47 am]
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The e-book of In the Shadow of the Axe is 50% off at Smashwords for a limited time! Use the code RAE50 at checkout.

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

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