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The Scariest Part: Mark Sheldon Talks About SARAH KILLIAN: THE MULLETS OF MADNESS [Jul. 9th, 2019|07:00 am]
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This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is author Mark Sheldon, whose new novel is Sarah Killian: The Mullets of MadnessHere is the publisher’s description:

Have you ever woken one morning with a burning, insatiable desire to go out and kill someone?

Sarah Killian, notorious serial killer for hire, and cohort assassin, Mary Sue Keller, are back on assignment for the Trusted Hierarchy of Everyday Murderers (T.H.E.M.) After receiving an ominous warning from a mark-gone-wrong, it becomes clear that Nick Jin — Sarah’s former nemesis — is still at large and singling Sarah out.

Sarah and Mary Sue are dispatched to Tennessee to discreetly kill off an accused family of KKK organizers, but their true mission is to lure Nick Jin into a trap. But will Nick Jin — who always seems several steps of T.H.E.M. — see their bait for what it is? Either way, one thing is guaranteed: blood will be shed.

In the spirit of Sidney Sheldon, Dean Koontz, and Joss Whedon, The Mullets of Madness is a truly unique blend of horror, suspense, and espionage.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Mark Sheldon:

When I wrote the first book of the Sarah Killian series, Sarah Killian: Serial Killer for Hire, it was not an easy headspace to get into. Being a violent sociopath, Sarah is not exactly a pleasant corner of my psyche to explore. And the fact that it was written in first-person narrative made it even harder to disassociate myself from the character and her point of view. I had to take frequent breaks from writing the first book to work on other projects just to clear my head and get into a healthier head-space, so to speak.

The second Sarah Killianbook, The Mullets of Madness, went much smoother — I wrote it in one go without taking any breaks — probably partly because Sarah’s targets in this book were alleged KKK members as opposed to high school students, so her moral justification was slightly easier to swallow.

So, for my own sanity if nothing else, I tend to try to steer away from the introspective analysis of where Sarah comes from in my mind. It’s also why I gave her such a snarky edge — she had to be someone that you hate to love, otherwise she just wouldn’t be readable.

That said, Mullets of Madness lent itself some nice opportunities for gore as I expanded on the world that Sarah lives in, and one in particular comes immediately to mind.

In the first book, we learned that Sarah works for a secret organization of professional killers for hire — the Trusted Hierarchy of Everyday Murderers (T.H.E.M.) T.H.E.M. contracts Professional Serial Killers (P.S.K.’s) such as Sarah to perform covert contractual killings. When on assignment, Sarah will be placed into a community for months — sometimes years — at a time establishing two separate personalities: the “dupe” persona, the everyday person she pretends to be while on assignment, and the profile of the “killer,” who will commit the murders and then disappear at the end of the mission, to be forever labeled an unsolved crime. The covert necessity of Sarah’s assignments makes the Sarah Killian books a unique blend of slasher horror and espionage.

In The Mullets of Madness, I got to explore what happens when T.H.E.M. needs to dispose of a body that they don’t want to be found. While on assignment, Sarah gets attacked in her hotel room by an agent of her nemesis, excommunicated T.H.E.M. assassin Nick Jin. Sarah manages to thwart the attempt on her life but is left with the inconvenience of a corpse that the hotel’s housekeepers undoubtedly would have some questions about.

Fortunately, T.H.E.M. is always prepared. I admit I took an unhealthy macabre delight with inventing the Bond-esque gadgets that T.H.E.M.’s extraction team utilized to dispose of the inconvenient hotel room corpse — in fact it’s one of my favorite examples from both books of how horror and espionage can be blended together.

The morning after Sarah’s attempted assassination, two inconspicuous, blond-haired, blue-eyed, business-suited men with briefcases arrive at Sarah’s hotel room — the Yuppy Aryan Twins, as Sarah refers to them. While Sarah nonchalantly watches Saw on pay-per-view, the Yuppy Aryan Twins proceed to remove various tools and gadgets out of their briefcases, which they then use to dismantle the corpse, piece by piece. After each body part is removed the Yuppy Aryan Twins place the appendage into a device similar to those vacuum-suck-storage bags you can buy on infomercials, except these are a little more heavy-duty than the as-seen-on-TV models. With the T.H.E.M. model, you place an average-sized foot into the bag, and the vacuum compresses it down to the size of a tennis ball, which can be easily transported off of the hotel property without raising suspicion and properly disposed of elsewhere. Then all that’s needed is a bit of cleanup, and not even a Dateline blacklight would yield any clue that anything had happened in that hotel room.

Despite the difficulties with getting into the right headspace for Sarah, writing these books has been a rewarding experience and I look forward to further exploring how horror and espionage can be merged in the next book.

Sarah Killian: The Mullets of Madness: Amazon / Facebook page

Mark Sheldon: Facebook / Amazon Author Page

Mark Sheldon is the author of the Sarah Killian series, Sarah Killian: Serial Killer for Hire! and Sarah Killian: The Mullets of MadnessPrior to Sarah Killian, Mr. Sheldon has self-published Mores of the Maelstrom, a collection of short stories, and The Noricin Chronicles, a twelve-part sci-fi novel series that could be best described as a combination of Harry Potter, The X-Men, and The Da Vinci Code. Mr. Sheldon lives in Southern California with his wife, Betsy.

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

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My Necon 39 Schedule [Jul. 8th, 2019|08:45 am]
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It’s almost time for Necon 39! From July 18th through July 21st, I will be returning to the famed “summer camp for horror writers” in Portsmouth, Rhode Island for my 18th year! Here’s my schedule while I’m there:

Friday, July 19th

9:00 a.m.     Mini-Golf (a Necon Olympic Event)
I won the gold medal in mini-golf last year, and I look forward to defending my title!

8:00 p.m.     Meet the Authors Party
I’ll be signing books all night, and will have a small selection of titles on hand to sell as well.

Saturday, July 20th

4:30 p.m.     It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! Writing Superheroes in the 21st Century
Rachel Autumn Deering, Christopher Golden, Carol Gyzander, Nicholas Kaufmann (M), Errick Nunnally, Charles Rutledge
Following with this theme, Superman’s tagline used to be, “Truth, Justice, and the American Way,” a phrase that could be interpreted very differently today. Yet superheroes aren’t just persisting in 2019, they’re thriving. Our authors tell us how.

9:00 p.m.     The Infamous Necon Roast
Once again Jeff Strand and I will be co-hosting the annual Necon Roast. Who will be sitting in the hot seat this year? You’ll have to be there to find out!

Sunday, July 21st

11:00 a.m.     Necon Town Meeting
Come tell me and the rest of the convention committee what we did right, what we did wrong, and what you’d like to see next year.

I helped put together the panels again this year, and I’m very proud of how they turned out. Click here to see the full Necon 39 program.

See you at Necon!

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

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The Scariest Part: Daniel P. Coughlin Talks About SATANIC PANIC [Jul. 2nd, 2019|07:00 am]
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This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is author Daniel P. Coughlin, whose new novel is Satanic PanicHere is the publisher’s description:

Satanic Panic, a mass hysteria created in the nineteen-eighties, has returned to a small college town in the Midwest. Ritualistic murders and the presence of the occult have bled below the surface of the town in the form of icy accidents and other coincidences. And when three lifelong friends find themselves on the radar of a killer — and leader of a satanic cult — they must fight for what’s good without being seduced by the evil that possesses their campus.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Daniel P. Coughlin:

Satanic Panic is a book about the progression and lineage of sin from inception to seduction to destruction. The scariest part about this book was presenting characters that make a steep departure from morality, but that a reader can still sympathize with and follow along their journey. Creating protagonists that need to be quickly connectable before being presented with moral conflict is not easy. The perception of Satanic Panic’s characters is left to you, dear reader, but know that many frustrating hours went into the “what if’s” of creating compelling characters that are flawed by age, new freedoms and basic biology.

The central characters are three friends who grew up together, Brock, Lance, and Brianna. Since an early age they’ve shared just about everything and are now budding into adulthood. Their bond is tight, but their bodies are developing sexually and they know each other too well to ignore their lustful thoughts. Honesty is something that they honor deeply and therefore, as maturing young adults, they will initiate the topic of lust and romantic feelings for each other. Quickly, they concede that attraction exists. Can they experiment without cracking the foundation of their bond, or should they suppress their secret desires?

The layering and complexities of pulling off a three-way sexual experience without insulting the reader’s sensibilities was a challenge especially since the conflict is presented very early in the book. Translating my vision into an effective experience for the reader was daunting. Good people conducting extraordinarily bad behavior is the basis of much storytelling, but crafting the complex nature of a relationship into a violent story needed finesse and precision. Wanting the reader to understand the devolving morality was key in understanding the voice of this piece. Evil is real. Evil is hungry. Evil will take everything. Before this evil devours the soul it shows its innocent attributes. “Its just sex, we’re being mature about it” segues into “who said this was wrong?” Once the characters lose their sense of morality their souls become subject to attack, both metaphorical and literal. Designing this kind of a relationship into the structure of a story about a murderous satanic cult was another terrifying strain.

College age loss of innocence paired with satanic sacrifice is a pretty blunt story idea so the book needed forms of relief at times. Dark humor seemed to fit. Flawed human beings self-destructing can be comedic.

So long as it’s you we’re talking about and not me.

Satanic Panic: Amazon / Powell’s / IndieBound

Daniel P. Coughlin: Website / Twitter

After graduating from high school in Watertown, Wisconsin, Daniel P. Coughlin joined the United States Marine Corps and served four and half years as an infantry Machinegunner in an Amphibious Raider Unit (Fox 2/4). After being Honorably discharged, Daniel attended and graduated from California State University at Long Beach. While studying screenwriting under the mentorship of acclaimed writer Brian Alan Lane, he also interned and served as a script analyst for his favorite director, Wes Craven. Daniel is the author of six novels and an anthology of short fiction. Daniel is a proud member of the Horror Writer’s Association (Los Angeles chapter). He holds a professional certificate in Technical and Professional Writing from Cal State Dominguez Hills and a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from Full Sail University.

 

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

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My Best Friend’s Exorcism [Jun. 27th, 2019|09:33 am]
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My Best Friend's ExorcismMy Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love this novel! It’s frightening and suspenseful, but also funny, charming, and at times delightful. Grady Hendrix writes teenage girls so convincingly I can only assume he was one in a previous life. At the heart of MY BEST FRIEND’S EXORCISM is Abby and Gretchen’s friendship, with all its ups and downs, frustrations and challenges, moments of deep connection and moments of supernatural terror, and because Hendrix portrays that friendship so realistically in its complexity, it keeps you invested throughout. The exorcism itself, when it comes, is both hilarious and profoundly emotional, and the end of the novel is beautiful. I can’t recommend it enough!

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

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The Scariest Part: Elizabeth Hirst Talks About THE FACE IN THE MARSH [Jun. 25th, 2019|07:00 am]
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This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is author Elizabeth Hirst, whose new novel is The Face in the MarshHere is the publisher’s description:

Kenzie is twenty-five, with two degrees and no job prospects. When her parents offer her a job curating their museum, Ettenby’s Log Palace, she accepts out of desperation, despite their history of family conflict. She arrives praying that her secrets will stay buried, and her hard-won mental health won’t relapse. Once at the Log Palace, Kenzie is fascinated by an unsettling collection of junk dolls found on the property. As she follows the thread left by the collection, she discovers a history of poltergeist activity, witchcraft and death on the small island housing the museum.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Elizabeth Hirst:

The Face in the Marsh started as a vivid nightmare, the kind that causes you to jolt awake in the middle of the night, heart racing, veins filled with pure lightning. I tell this story a lot when I’m at conventions, recounting how I saw and felt the museum, the staring of the carvings, the decaying little people made of pieces of discarded junk that crawl around under the surface of a still, lily-covered marsh. In my nightmare, I was there, living my main character Kenzie’s most terrifying moments. And yet, that wasn’t the scariest part.

Even in those early stages, I knew that the museum collection menacing Kenzie, the shack across the river, and the strange way that Kenzie could pop through reality like a cut in a film were only symptoms of something larger. Even in the nightmare, the carvings and the little mechanical people had only scared me because I knew there was something behind them, something animating them that was vast and empty and hungry.  That emptiness is mirrored in Kenzie herself, and for a long time, it lived in me.

Like Kenzie, I am bisexual. I grew up in a rural area where even the offbeat straight kids had a hard time getting along, and where nobody understood people like me. When I realized my own sexual orientation, I searched for years for somebody, anybody that could act as a positive role model, who could show me that I could grow up to be the successful person that I always wanted to be. I found only criticism and misconceptions from the people that were supposed to look out for me.

Feeling like my only choice was to forget about being bi or to face a bleak future, I tried my hardest to forget. Doing so came with a price, and that price was a facelessness that dogged me in all aspects of my life. ‘Just be yourself’ was the cruellest and most confusing thing that anyone could say to me during that time of my life. They might as well have been saying, ‘Just step in front of that firing squad. You’ll be fine. They’ll love you.’ Deep down, I knew who I was, and I was thoroughly convinced that I was a monster. But I summoned my own monster, just as Kenzie did, and as I think we all do in different aspects of our lives.

The scariest part is that there is a monster out there that distorts our features until we can’t see our own face in the mirror. It slowly alienates us from everyone we love, until the bonds are so eroded that all we feel is emptiness. It isolates us from human emotion, as if we are trapped behind glass that no one else can see. It leeches away our sense of self-worth until we are just a hunk of colourless goo that might as well be anything else, some water or a goose or a few pieces of junk that rattle around at night. That monster is real, and it steals faces every day.

I tend to write stories from start to finish with characters and themes in place but no clear idea of what the end will be. I dive into the mystery in the same way that readers will, and much of the tension in my writing is derived from the fact that when I was writing it, I also did not know what would happen. I did not know if Kenzie would kill her parents or save them. I did not know if she would conquer the faceless void or surrender to it. Writing this book meant stepping out in front of that firing squad not knowing if the guns were loaded. It meant staring into the faceless void that destroys so many queer people, wading through it and finding out what happens.

Did I come out on the other side? You’ll only know if you read the book.

Sweet dreams.

The Face in the Marsh: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Kobo / Chapters Indigo

Elizabeth Hirst: Website / Twitter

Elizabeth Hirst has loved fantastic fiction since her father read her The Lord of the Rings and other classics as a young girl. She has worked as an animator, online game writer and founder of her own small publishing label, and during that time, representing the people, places and culture of Ontario has remained close to her heart. Find her at the beach, the museum, or watching cartoons with her husband Robin.

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

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The Scariest Part: Tracy Townsend Talks About THE FALL [Jun. 18th, 2019|07:00 am]
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This week on The Scariest Part, I’m happy to welcome back author Tracy Townsend, whose new novel is The Fall. Here is the publisher’s description:

An apothecary clerk and her ex-mercenary allies travel across the world to discover a computing engine that leads to secrets she wasn’t meant to know — secrets that could destroy humanity.

Eight months ago, Rowena Downshire was a half-starved black market courier darting through the shadows of Corma’s underside. Today, she’s a (mostly) respectable clerk in the Alchemist’s infamous apothecary shop, the Stone Scales, and certainly the last girl one would think qualified to carry the weight of the world on her shoulders a second time. Looks can be deceiving.

When Anselm Meteron and the Alchemist receive an invitation to an old acquaintance’s ball — the Greatduke who financed their final, disastrous mercenary mission fourteen years earlier — they’re expecting blackmail, graft, or veiled threats related to the plot to steal the secrets of the Creator’s Grand Experiment. They aren’t expecting a job offer they can’t refuse or a trip halfway across the world to rendezvous with the scholar whose research threw their lives into tumult: the Reverend Doctor Phillip Chalmers.

Escorting Chalmers to the Grand Library of Nippon with her mismatched mercenary family is just a grand adventure to Rowena until she discovers a powerful algebraic engine called the Aggregator. The Aggregator leads Rowena to questions about the Grand Experiment she was never meant to ask and answers she cannot be allowed to possess. With her reunited friends, Rowena must find a way to use the truths hidden in the Grand Library to disarm those who would hunt down the nine subjects of the Creator’s Grand Experiment, threatening to close the book on this world.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Tracy Townsend:

I’ve always been a little bored by Tolkien’s Ents. Don’t get me wrong. They have qualities that interest me: their vastness of size and mind, their sense of elevation beyond human concerns, their physical prowess. But their disinterest in the world beyond their forest, their stubborn slowness, their refusal to act until pushed, hardly inspire my imagination. In their cool nobility and remove, they are merely reactive characters.

The last time I was here using Nick’s space to talk about the scariest part of my novels, I wrote about creating monsters — the aigamuxa, nightmarish ogres with eyeballs in their feet — that are villainous and dangerous while still being sympathetic in The Nine. Active creatures. Advocates for themselves and the wrongs they have endured. As terrifying a threat as they posed, they are as “human” as the actual homo sapiens they live among. Now, with my sequel The Fall, I look at my world’s other sentient race, the lanyani, with a different sense of fear.

The lanyani are my answer to the Ents. They are not the noble guardians of the forest. They are the grasping, starving, furious remnants of a wilderness that used to be: the weeds growing up through the cracks in humanity’s world.

What do you do when something that doesn’t breathe air, that doesn’t bleed, that doesn’t have organs to pierce or bones to break, decides it wants to go to war with you? What can you do against beings that looks at your flesh and blood and think of it as nitrogen and phosphates they will use to enrich their growing empire’s soil? How do you negotiate with a thinking, planning, organized species that sees cleansing the world of human grime as the only rational solution for its own survival?

You can’t. You don’t. Because you’re dealing with aliens.

“Alien” tends to be a word we reserve for use in science fiction, not a fantasy series like mine, but it’s the word that fits the lanyani best. It derives from the Latin “alienus” — “belonging to another.” The lanyani belong to a world where flesh is weakness, something that can’t be grown through sheer will, shaped and planed, shed and reformed, hardened and thickened as the fiber of their arboreal bodies can be. They can tunnel through the earth, turn their bodies into weapons, survive crushing blows and severed limbs, split themselves to reproduce, and lie dormant long past the point we would imagine them dead. These creatures belong to an entirely different biology, and with it, an entirely different way of seeing the world.

And they’ve decided they don’t need us. Not anymore. The lanyani have learned to use our world, because nature rewards opportunists. They are thieves and fences, drug dealers, con artists, and mercenaries. So what if it is dirty work? They were born in the dirt. It’s where they thrive. And they know that if only they can claim enough of that soil for themselves, they’ll choke out humanity like a thicket full of kudzu. We might beg for their lenience, but it would make no difference.

Nature isn’t big on the concept of mercy.

The scariest part of The Fall is up to each individual reader to decide, of course. That’s the beauty of books. But for me, the story’s deepest terror lies in the fact that this time, the danger humanity faces doesn’t need our empathy or demand an equal place in our society. It doesn’t want to redress issues of social justice, or punish the wealthy and wicked for making slaves of its kind. It doesn’t even want an apology.

It wants to pull us up by our roots.

The Fall: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell’s / IndieBound / Audible

Tracy Townsend: Website / Twitter

Tracy Townsend is the author of The Nine and The Fall (books 1 and 2 in the Thieves of Fate series), a monthly columnist for the feminist sf magazine Luna Station Quarterly, and an essayist for Uncanny Magazine. She holds a master’s degree in writing and rhetoric from DePaul University and a bachelor’s degree in creative writing from DePauw University, a source of regular consternation when proofreading her credentials. She is the former chair of the English department at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, an elite public boarding school, where she teaches creative writing and science fiction and fantasy literature. She has been a martial arts instructor, a stage combat and accent coach, and a short-order cook for houses full of tired gamers. Now she lives in Bolingbrook, Illinois with two bumptious hounds, two remarkable children, and one very patient husband.

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

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Rat Queens, Vol. 6: The Infernal Path [Jun. 12th, 2019|09:25 am]
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Rat Queens, Vol. 6: The Infernal PathRat Queens, Vol. 6: The Infernal Path by Kurtis J. Wiebe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

THE INFERNAL PATH is very welcome return to form after a confusing vol. 4 and a disappointing vol. 5! Our foul-mouthed adventurers are back with an all-new mission to save their old adventuring chum Sadie’s kingdom from an army of orcs under the sway of the truly disgusting “fleshers.” Sadie is a great addition to the team, even if only a temporary one for this arc, and her blatant flirtations with both Orc Dave and Hannah are hilarious — especially considering Sadie has been transformed into an owl.

The loose threads of the previous storyline are still present. Dee remains concerned about the aftermath of waking the god N’rygoth, while Hannah, Violet, and Betty are worried that the evil, alternate version of Hannah is still out there causing trouble, which makes THE INFERNAL PATH more of a transitional story than part of the major arc. Still, it’s pretty great. Kurtis J. Wiebe’s writing is as sharp as ever. I’m getting more used to Owen Gieni’s art, but there were still a few panels where I couldn’t quite tell what was happening.

This volume also includes the “Neon Static Special,” a one-off cyberpunk adventure with an alternate version of the Rat Queens in a futuristic setting, but it’s not all that great and doesn’t bring anything special to the table. The Rat Queens work much better in their natural D&D-on-crack setting. I’m looking forward to the next volume!

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

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X’s For Eyes [Jun. 9th, 2019|04:14 pm]
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X's For EyesX’s For Eyes by Laird Barron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This highly enjoyable novella starts off almost as a twisted, satirical take on THE VENTURE BROS., drawing from the same source material — THE HARDY BOYS, JOHNNY QUEST, DOC SAVAGE — before diving into the cosmic weirdness and ecumenically cursed families we’ve come to expect from Laird Barron. An entertaining, pulpy romp, but with the author’s tongue planted firmly in cheek throughout.

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

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Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones [Jun. 2nd, 2019|06:24 pm]
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Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your BonesScary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones by Alvin Schwartz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The stories in this third volume of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series are definitely a step up from the second volume, and include a handful of stories that are on par with the first. They’re a little more advanced, too — a little longer and a little more complex, but still great for kids. My favorite is “Maybe You Will Remember,” a story about a girl on vacation with her mother in Paris when her mother falls ill and the girl is sent by the hotel doctor to fetch medicine for her. But when she returns, no one at the hotel recognizes her, no one, including the doctor, remembers her mother, and the hotel room they were staying in looks completely different. There’s an air of Robert Aickman’s “strange stories” to this one — that is, until Alvin Schwartz posits a rational explanation involving a city-wide conspiracy, which saps all the fun. Stephen Gammell’s illustrations are more on point than ever in this volume, perhaps the best he’s done for the series. Some of them are truly frame-worthy.

I’m very glad I finally got to read these books, even if I came to them forty years too late. It’s a treat to read the stories that were so formative for so many of my friends. On a more academic level, it’s interesting to see what scares young readers compared to what scares adult readers. There’s not a lot of atmosphere or detail to these stories, for example, but there are lots jump-scare climactic surprises and recurring tropes like cemeteries, unexplained noises, and vengeful spirits looking for items that were stolen from them. I will leave what this might mean up to greater minds than my own. All in all, I found reading Schwartz’s trilogy to be a charming and rewarding exercise.

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

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More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark [May. 31st, 2019|11:42 am]
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More Scary Stories to Tell in the DarkMore Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I found the stories in this second volume of Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories series to be less memorable or interesting than the stories in the first. Still, one story stood out above the rest for me, and maybe even above the stories in the first volume: “The Drum.” It’s about two little girls, sisters, who find another little girl in the middle of a field playing with a drum, out of which come a little mechanical man and woman. The sisters are so taken with this drum that they ask if they can have it. The girl tells them she will give it to them only if they act really bad at home, which they do, drawing on the walls, breaking dishes, even beating the dog with a stick (monstrous!). Their mother begs them to stop, threatening to abandon them to “a new mother with glass eyes and a wooden tail” if they don’t. But the girls don’t stop, the other girl never gives them the drum (“I never meant to give it to you. It’s just a game we were playing. I thought you knew that.”), and of course waiting for the sisters at home at the end is their new mother. There’s something so eerie about the dream logic (or really, nightmare logic) of this story that it got under my skin and stuck with me.

As for the other stories, they’re easily read and quickly forgotten, at least by this reader, who is admittedly way too old to be reading these books. But as a friend of mine pointed out, the books are really about Stephen Gammell’s beautiful, creepy illustrations. If I were a small child, those illustrations would scare me a lot more than the stories would. Anyway, on to the third and final volume!

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

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