Please welcome AJ Colucci to the blog! AJ is the author of the new thriller The Colony (out Nov. 13th) and was kind enough to take some time to answer a few of my questions. Also, we’ve got a copy of The Colony up for grabs, so be sure to check out the giveaway details!
You spent 15 years as a newspaper reporter, magazine editor, and corporate writer. What made you decide to take the plunge and write a novel?
Time, really. I had left the workforce to raise my kids and found that I suddenly had time to write. It’s incredibly hard working all day and then coming home to write fiction. I have enormous admiration for those authors who have the mental energy to work two careers, because getting published is a full-time job. I’m lucky that my husband was very supportive and cheered me on for the five years it took to get my book out there.
The Colony comes out on Nov. 13th. Will you tell us a bit about it?
The book is about a deadly new species of ant that is secretly planted in Manhattan and eventually attacks the city. It sounds very sci-fi, but all the science in the book is based on fact, and the ant behavior reflects the true capabilities of Argentine fire ants and African driver ants. The story follows two divorced entomologists who are brought together to stop the invasion, and their journey across the dangerous, panic-stricken streets of New York in search of a queen before the army nukes Manhattan. It’s a real race against the clock. There’s quite a bit of gore, suspense and scares – in a good way of course.
I love that The Colony deals with something that most people don’t even think about as a huge threat: ants! What made you decide to write about ants, as opposed to other creepy crawlies?
Ants are amazing. Not just how they work together to take down prey, which is pretty horrifying, but their organizational capabilities are so far ahead of any other species. Unlike humans, a colony will basically run an entire community –cleaning, foraging, building nests, defense – without anyone in charge, no one giving orders. It’s called collective decision-making, and it makes ants the most likely insects to stage a coordinated assault against a city of humans. Depending on the species, their victims can be blinded, stung to death or asphyxiated. They make zombies and vampires seem rather pleasant.
What’s something that you find truly terrifying?
Innocence turned evil. Stephen King is a master at this. The most innocuous characters, such as children and pets, are terrifying villains because it’s so unexpected and disturbing. Seeing a five year-old wield a knife or a friendly dog rip open a throat takes people far outside of their comfort zones.
What are some of your biggest literary influences?
Stephen King for sure, and of course, Michael Crichton. It sounds cliché, so many authors mention the two but they truly set the bar for their genres. In my early years, I was captivated by dark, imaginative writers like Roald Dahl, George Orwell, Shirley Jackson and Kurt Vonnegut. Since I started writing thrillers, I’ve been reading books by authors like Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Daphne du Maurier, Nelson DeMille, David Baldacci and Ken Follett.
What are you reading now?
I just started The Snowman by Norwegian author Jo Nesbo. So far, it’s pretty scary. I just finished Lord of the Flies because I hadn’t read it since I was a kid. It’s great to go back and read the classics as an adult, when you can appreciate them even more.
What makes you want to set aside a book in frustration?
If it’s boring. I love a book that’s extremely well-written, but when language becomes more important than plot, when the story drags along because it takes six paragraphs to describe a rabbit, I lose patience. I like writing that is crystal clear, not convoluted or cryptic, so that I have to read the pages over again to understand what just happened or what the author means.
How about movies? Any recent favorites or recommendations?
Honestly, I don’t have a lot of time for movies or television. When I’m not writing, which is most of the time, I’m reading. Although I do enjoy downloading classic movies with my kids, watching them discover my old favorites, everything from The Blob and THEM! to Star Trek, Back to the Future and Terminator.
When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
I spend weekends with my family. We go on a lot of outings – nature walks, the beach, New York City. Writing takes so much mental energy, you need to pull away and concentrate on something else to keep your thoughts and ideas fresh. I agree with the sentiment expressed by Francoise Sagan, “I shall live badly if I do not write, and I shall write badly if I do not live.”
Does your family do anything special for Halloween?
Halloween is big at my house, and we usually have a party for the neighborhood kids. Our lawn is full of tacky cemeteries, spider webs, and giant blow up creatures. You can sometimes find a severed arm or bloody knife in the bathtub, maybe a head floating in the fish tank. It’s all good.
Is there anything else that you’d like to share with us upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
My next book is darker, scarier than anything I’ve written. To me, The Colony is a fun beach book with a lot of thrills and chills, but this one should be read at night, alone in your room, and definitely with the lights on!
Keep up with AJ: Website | Twitter | Facebook
Please welcome Jennifer Hillier back to the blog for the Scare-a-Thon! Jennifer is the author of the thrillers Creep and Freak, and I was happy to catch up with her. Also, be sure to check out her books, because they’re awesome, and perfect for a creepy Halloween evening!
Jennifer, welcome back to the blog! Since the last time we talked, you released your 2nd novel, Creep. Speaking of Creep, it was super creepy (couldn’t help it)! For those that haven’t read the books, will you tell us a bit about the series?
CREEP is my debut novel, a psychological thriller that stars Dr. Sheila Tao, a sex addicted psychology professor who has an affair with her student, Ethan Wolfe. When Sheila tries to break off the affair, Ethan shows her his true colors, and she discovers that he’s a psychopath.
FREAK is the follow up to CREEP, and it follows the characters (everyone who didn’t die in CREEP) a year later. That’s about all I can say without spoilers!
What are some of your biggest inspirations in your writing (authors, novels…)?
Writers who inspire me:
Stephen King, because like most writers in my genre and generation, I cut my teeth on King growing up.
Chuck Palahniuk, for his ability to write so sparsely and still say so much, and for his ability to infuse social commentary into a fictional story.
Novels that inspire me:
Joseph Finder’s PARANOIA, which me kept me guessing till the very end, and will soon be a feature film starring Liam Hemsworth and Harrison Ford!
Chelsea Cain’s HEARTSICK, the first novel that introduced me to a seriously badass female serial killer.
What are a few things you consider truly terrifying?
Clowns, porcelain dolls (they look like dead little girls to me!), and Hannibal Lecter.
What’s one of the scariest books you’ve ever read?
IT, by Stephen King. Everything about that book gave me chills, because the main characters – all children – were so real to me that their fears became real to me.
How about one of the scariest movies you’ve seen?
Definitely The Exorcist, because the Catholic girl in me wonders whether that could really happen! Paranormal Activity would be a close second.
Are you a Halloween kind of gal? If so, how do you celebrate?
I love Halloween. I love the pumpkin carving, the costumes, the candy, and the love for all things spooky. I usually celebrate by watching scary movies while handing out candy.
What’s next for you? Anything you’d like to share about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
I’m happy to announce that my third novel will be out from Simon & Schuster/Gallery books in 2014! The working title is MAGNOLIA, and it’s a psychological thriller about one of the US’s worst serial killers, who was never caught. He’s now 82 years old and getting bored playing Bingo in the old folks home, and so he decides to come out of retirement for one last hurrah. I can’t wait to dive into this story. I’ve written a synopsis but don’t have an outline, and so I’m excited to see how everything unfolds.
Keep up with Jennifer: Website | Twitter | Facebook
Pulsing with the dark obsession of Radiohead’s song “Creep,” this taut thriller—Jennifer Hillier’s superb debut—rockets from its seductive opening to a heartpounding climax not easily forgotten.
If he can’t have her . . .
Dr. Sheila Tao is a professor of psychology. An expert in human behavior. And when she began an affair with sexy, charming graduate student Ethan Wolfe, she knew she was playing with fire. Consumed by lust when they were together, riddled with guilt when they weren’t, she knows the three-month fling with her teaching assistant has to end. After all, she’s finally engaged to a kind and loving investment banker who adores her, and she’s taking control of her life. But when she attempts to end the affair, Ethan Wolfe won’t let her walk away.
. . . no one else can.
Ethan has plans for Sheila, plans that involve posting a sex video that would surely get her fired and destroy her prestigious career. Plans to make her pay for rejecting him. And as she attempts to counter his every threatening move without her colleagues or her fiancé discovering her most intimate secrets, a shattering crime rocks Puget Sound State University: a female student, a star athlete, is found stabbed to death. Someone is raising the stakes of violence, sex, and blackmail . . . and before she knows it, Sheila is caught in a terrifying cat-and-mouse game with the lover she couldn’t resist—who is now the monster who won’t let her go.
Sitting alone in a maximum-security prison cell, Abby Maddox is a celebrity. Her claim to fame is the envy of every freak on the outside: she’s the former lover of Ethan Wolfe, a psychopath who allegedly left more than a dozen dead women in his wake and nearly added Seattle professor Sheila Tao to the tally. Now Abby, serving a nine-year sentence for slashing a police officer’s throat in a moment of rage, has little human contact—save for the letters that pour in from demented fans, lunatics, and creeps. But a new wave of murders has given Abby a possible chance for a plea bargain—because this killer has been sending her love letters and carving a message on the bodies of the victims: Free Abby Maddox.
Jerry Isaac will never forget the attack—or his attacker. The hideous scarring and tortured speech are daily reminders to this one-time Seattle PD officer, now a private investigator, that he is just lucky to be alive. Abby Maddox deserves to rot in jail as far as Jerry is concerned. But she alone may possess crucial evidence—letters from this newest killer—that could crack open the disturbing case. Can he put the pieces together before Abby’s number one fan takes another life in the name of a killer’s perverted idea of justice?
Please welcome Regan Summers back to the blog. I loved her first book, Don’t Bite the Messenger, and her new one, Running in the Dark, is out today!
Regan, I adored Don’t Bite the Messenger, and Running in the Dark is out this week! Will you tell us a bit about it? What is Sydney Kildare up to now?
Thank you so much, Kristin! I’m so pleased to be here.
RUNNING is out today, in fact. Sydney is, to paraphrase the Cheers intro song, learning that making her way in the world today’s taking everything she’s got. Dissatisfied with early retirement (from working as a courier for vampires) and pursued by a homicidal sucker, she’s accompanied Malcolm Kelly to Santiago, Chile.
They’re dating, sort of, while she maintains a low profile and Malcolm works as Master Bronson’s proxy in his southern territory. There are issues. Syd’s working for a small courier shop to pass the time. Adjusting to being at the bottom of the food chain, in a foreign country no less, is difficult for her. If you’ve ever been the new kid in school or tried to adapt to a strange city on your own, it’s like that. Except there are also a couple of very interesting figures from Malcolm’s past running around, making things uncomfortable. In addition, something’s turning Santiago’s vampires into mindless killers and, despite her best efforts at keeping her head down, Syd’s right in the middle of it.
Do you have particular plans as to how many you’d like to write in this series, or will you just see where Sydney takes you?
Oh, Syd’s got all kinds of ideas for where she’d like to go, and how fast (read: very fast). I can barely keep up. I’ve actually finished the first draft of a novel revolving around a side character introduced in RUNNING IN THE DARK (I’ll let you try to guess who), and I’m tentatively planning two more Syd and Mal books. These are not yet contracted so I can’t make any promises, but I’d like to write more.
Vamps are definitely the focus of your stories, but if you had to write about another supernatural creature, which one would it be?
I like contrast, seeing how creatures with conflicting ideologies, values or needs bounce off of each other, so it would probably be a couple of creatures. I’m developing a story now – it’s set in the old West – where overlapping cultures have distorted each other’s mythologies. It’s kind of like cowboy-priests versus spirits behaving badly. Very fun. Lots of research.
Read any good books lately?
Yes, thank goodness.
THE HIGH WINDOW by Raymond Chandler. One of my absolute favorite writers. I read him exclusively on paper and savor every line of dialogue, every strange encounter, and every brilliant description. GUNMETAL MAGIC by Ilona Andrews. This is a side novel that exists alongside the Kate Daniels series. It’s a fascinating urban fantasy world with surprising twists, great humor and emotional gut-punches. I like it very much.
What’s one of the scariest books you’ve ever read?
I used to babysit for a family that lived in the woods. There were no other houses within sight. They had these giant built-in bookcases. Dark wood, beautiful. They were also full of Stephen King. I’m not sure which book was the scariest, but reading those in a sleeping house while the winter wind scraped branches across the windows was the most heart-pounding reading experience I’ve ever had.
Also they had like six kids, all small and blond, and they were creepy as hell.
Halloween is coming up fast! Do you celebrate?
This entire year has gone by fast. The house is fully punkin’d out, and we’ll take the four year old trick-or-treating. Last year he was the Dread Pirate Roberts. This year he’s Spiderman (with a sword, because he’s still transitioning from the DPR).
What’s next for you? Is there any other news you’d like to share?
I’m working on the next Syd and Mal book. RUNNING IN THE DARK has a few dark moments. This one is heavy enough that I’m actually taking a break from writing it. In the interim, I’m working on a near-future science fiction story. I don’t want to say too much about it, in part because I’m not yet sure how it will go, but I will say that the world has become disconnected. And condominiumized.
The only piece of news I can share at the moment is that I’m contributing – as my other self, Hillary Jacques – to the urban fantasy anthology CARNIEPUNK, coming from Pocket next year. The line-up is Ah-Maze-Ing: Rachel Caine, Jennifer Estep, Seanan McGuire, Rob Thurman, Delilah Dawson, Kelly Gay, Kevin Hearne, Mark Henry, Jackie Kessler, Kelly Meding, Allison Pang, Nicole Peeler and Jaye Wells. It’s going to be crazy fun.
About Running In the Dark
After surviving a vampire turf war in Alaska, vampire courier Sydney Kildare is back behind the wheel and working under an assumed name in Chile. She doesn’t speak the language, doesn’t know the city and—worst of all—has to drive a crappy car.
What she does have is Malcolm Kelly, her sort-of boyfriend and manager of the city’s vampire population. But with Malcolm preoccupied by bloodsucker business—and a gorgeous vampiress from his past—Sydney feels more alone than ever.
But Sydney has more than her love life to worry about. She’s got vamps on her tail, mysterious deliveries that leave death in their wake, and old enemies targeting her to get to Malcolm. Turns out he’s got a history more deadly than she ever imagined, and she’ll have to use ever
I’m thrilled to have author John Skipp on the blog. John has numerous editing credits to his name and is also the author of more than 12 novels, not to mention a Bram Stoker Award Winner! John was kind enough to answer a few of my questions and we’ve also got a copy of Psychos: Serial Killers, Depraved Madmen, and the Criminally Insane, an anthology edited by John, up for grabs!
Please welcome John to the blog!
I distinctly remember reading The Light at the End when I was a teenager and thinking I was getting away with something, and it immediately prompted me to attempt to track down everything you wrote.
Thanks! I’m glad you didn’t get caught, cuz they’ll kill you for that shit! (laughs) When I was a kid, I lived for the books, movies, music and art that filled in the blanks on the official whitewashed version of the world. And vowed I’d do my best to honor that lifelong rite of passage.
How do you think horror has changed from its heyday in the 80s, and what do you think of the changes?
1) Horror’s greatest cultural triumph is that it’s spread its impact into every other genre, for both better and worse. A staggeringly frankness with regard to violence, mental illness, and alarming things in general has replaced the genteel mannerisms of the good old days, in everything from crime to westerns to literary to you-name-it, upping the voltage across the board.
Meanwhile, monsters are the go-to metaphors in sexy romance (cuz we’ve all got a little monster in us that’s dying to get laid). Even our cartoons have become blackly-comic salvos of exploding-head festoonery, in ways that would have been unthinkable 20-30 years ago.
The bad news for horror as a genre is that it’s no longer the only place you can go for those kinds of thrills and information. But that just means you gotta step up your game. This is, in many ways, a good thing.
2) Past that, my favorite change is the rich influx of powerful female voices. It broadens the map by roughly 51%, and takes the boy’s locker room tang out of the air.
I’ve published some amazing women over the past couple years: books by Laura Lee Bahr (Haunt), Violet LeVoit (I Am Genghis Cum), Mikita Brottman (House of Quiet Madness), and Jan Kozlowski (Die, You Bastard! Die!), as well as shorts by Kathe Koja, Amelia Beamer, Angela Carter, Joan Aiken, Mercedes M. Yardley, Kim Harrison, Maggie Stiefvater, Mehitobel Wilson, Francesca Lia Block, Charlaine Harris, Justine Musk, Lisa Morton, Poppy Z. Brite, Elizabeth Massie, Danielle Trussoni, Athena Villaverde, Leah Mann, Leslianne Wilder, Livia Llewellyn, Margaret Irwin, Alethea Kontis, Tessa Gratton, Nicole Cushing, Melanie Tem, Alice Henderson, A.C. Crispin, Kathleen O’Malley, Marcy Italiano, and my own daughter, Melanie Skipp.
And in film, I’m very excited about the Viscera Film Festival, showcasing short horror films directed by women. This is a much harder glass ceiling to plow through, as witness the miniscule percentage of female horror directors getting features greenlit. But I can’t wait to see Mae Catt’s first feature, and am psyched for more movies by Kate Shenton, Hadas Brandes, Tyrrell Shaffner, Rebekah McKendrey, Karen Lam, and a couple dozen others I could name. Also loved Danielle Harris’ feature directing debut, Among Friends, which opened the festival this year.
You just won a shiny new 2011 Bram Stoker Award for your anthology Demons: Encounters with the Devil and his Minions, Fallen Angels and the Possessed! What do you look for when putting together an anthology?
I like to break it up, like a great mix CD. Some fast ones. Some slow ones. Sad ones. Funny ones. Stunningly violent ones. Whisperingly subtle ones. Totally fucking weird ones. All up and down the scale. That’s how you demonstrate the range of the literature.
Past that, I just have to truly love the story, and/or feel that it nails its part of the equation just right.
What do you like to see in a good horror novel?
I wanna be gripped from the opening paragraph, and not let go of till the punch of the last. I wanna go on a nightmare road trip with a firm, knowing hand at the wheel. I want surprises. I want my ass kicked. I want it to be great, and deliver as promised. I want to fall in love.
What makes you want to set aside a book in frustration?
In a word: tedium. The second I get bored, and start to skim, that book is in serious trouble. Redundancy – saying the same thing over and over – gets it tossed to the floor with a resounding thwunk. Predictability. Lack of passion or forethought. Shallowness. Joylessness. Pomposity. Cliched half-assery. Disrespect for the reader’s intelligence. Padding. Padding. Padding. Any and all wasted words.
There are 1,001 ways to screw the pooch. But bottom line? The worst thing a book can do is make me feel like I’m wasting my time. (Important note: genuine fun is not a waste of time!)
How about a few of your favorite authors?
Aside from the big list of women above? The authors who’ve had the most formative impact would be Dr. Seuss, William Goldman, Rod Serling, Edgar Allan Poe, John Brunner, John Gardner, Robert Anton Wilson, Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Joseph Heller, Hunter S. Thompson, Alan Watts, and Cody Goodfellow. Past that, the list of writers I love gets ridiculously long. But I could, indeed, go on all night.
I hear you’re transitioning from novelist to filmmaker? Will you tell us a bit about that?
Sure! This is totally my path, as of now. Bringing wild, provocative, original horror to the screen. Shooting the kinds of low-budget, high-octane movies that I think horror fans might be pining for, and that Hollywood will want to expensively remake almost immediately thereafter. (laughs)
I’m working with an amazing young director/film editor named Andrew Kasch, who I met when he interviewed me for his epic documentary Never Sleep Again: The Elm St. Legacy. And we are going to town, with several features in development, and an astounding team of techs, business people, and creatives behind us.
Our latest co-directed short film, Stay At Home Dad (from a jaw-dropping script by Cody Goodfellow) is currently picking up big laughs and awards on the festival circuit. (We just scored Audience Bronze at the prestigious Fantastia International Film Festival last month, and are competing at both Shriekfest and the L.A. Horror Fest over the next three weeks, with more to come.)
On top of that, my latest solo book is Sick Chick Flicks, a collection of fem-o-centric horror screenplays just released in trade paper by Cemetery Dance. These are three of my favorite movies-in-the-making (including Rose: The Bizarro Zombie Musical). But just the tip of the iceberg, in terms of what we’ve got planned.
And October 16th sees the release of The Dark, a new novel by Scott Bradley and Peter Giglio, on my publishing imprint Ravenous Shadows. I mention this not just because you should read it, but because – like the rest of the Ravenous Shadows line – it would make an awesome motion picture.
Bottom line: I won’t be writing any new novels anytime soon. My focus is on making films, and editing books. That sounds like plenty to me.
You seem like a pretty busy guy! When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
Walking the exquisite hills of Eagle Rock with my dog, Scooby Hamilton. No phone. No nothing but Scoob and the little things that happen around us. Those hour-long moments of quiet peace and equilibrium go a reeeeeal long way toward balancing life. Past that, eating and laughing and enjoying the people I love. Taking in the good shit. What else is there to love?
Keep up with John: Twitter | Facebook
Please welcome Darynda Jones to the blog! Darynda is the author of the Charley Davidson urban fantasy series (and more!) and the 4th book, Fourth Grave Beneath My Feet will be out on the 30th. Darynda was kind enough to answer a few of my questions, and there’s also an excerpt of Fourth Grave Beneath My Feet, so be sure to check it out, and hey, there’s a giveaway too (right under the excerpt)!
Darynda, your story is a very interesting (and busy!!) one, and it’s led to five books in two years (with your YA release, Death and the Girl Next Door), four in the Charley Davidson series! Will you tell us a bit about Charley?
Absolutely! Charley Davidson series a female PI who was born the grim reaper. Since the age of five, she’s been helping the departed solve the mysteries of their deaths so they can cross. Now she does the same for the living as well. In the meantime, she has to deal with a being more powerful, and definitely sexier, than any specter she’s ever encountered. He haunts her every move and Charley discovers that dodging bullets isn’t nearly as dangerous as falling in love.
Fourth Grave Beneath My Feet will be out in just a few days! When you started writing the series, did you already have an idea of how many books you wanted to write?
All I knew is that I wanted it to continue, and my editor wants the same thing! (I’m so lucky, it’s unreal.) So the series is open-ended, just as I’d envisioned.
What do you love most about writing urban fantasy/paranormal romance?
The freedom. I love how a writer can mold her characters into absolutely anything. The only rules are those the writer creates for her world. Oh, I also love superpowers.
Have you ever thought about who you’d cast if your books were to become movies? If so, who could you see cast as Charley and the gang?
There are so many actresses I could see playing Charley, oddly enough, like Jessica Alba or Olivia Wilde. But Reyes is much harder. I originally based him on Jason Behr. He has become darker and rougher than my original image, but I still think Jason could play him. He is an actor with a wide range of acting abilities. I could definitely see Melissa McCarthy as Cookie and Jim Beaver as Uncle Bob. Oh! And Shemar Moore or Columbus Short as Garrett Swopes.
What are some of your favorite authors? Any major influences?
I read in just about every genre there is, but I do read a lot of paranormal. I love me some WARDen (JR Ward), probably most of all. I love Jeaniene Frost, Jackquelyn Frank, Kresley Cole, Kerrelyn Sparks, Julia Quinn, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Jane Austen . . . so so many. I could go on for days. My major influences were Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, Stephen King, Johanna Lindsey, Edgar Allen Poe, Anne Rice, and many more.
What are you reading now?
Right now I’m reading Storm Front by Jim Butcher, Kiss of Steel by Bec McMasters, and Killing Floor by Lee Child. I’ve actually started two of these on audiobooks. I LOVE audiobooks. James Marsters (Spike from Buffy) is reading Storm Front. I love his voice!!!
If you could read one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
Lover Awakened by JR Ward. I love Zsadist. Sigh….
When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
I read or watch TV. I love to go back and do marathons of my favorite TV shows. I study the character and story arcs, how the writers ratchet up the tension, how they make me cry. Even when I’m not writing, I’m working. LOL
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events?
Well, Fourth Grave Beneath my Feet comes out October 30th, and Death, Doom and Detention (the 2nd in the YA series, Darklight) comes out March 5th, 2013. Right now I’m working on Fifth Grave Past the Light which will drop July 9th, 2013. I’m loving this story!
Fourth Grave Beneath My Feet EXCERPT
With renewed energy, I pulled back onto Academy— after hitting a
drive- through for a mocha latte— and had just started for home when
my phone rang.
“Yes?” I said, illegally talking on the phone while driving within the
city limits. Scoping for cops, I waited for Uncle Bob to stop talking to
whomever he was talking to and get back to me.
My uncle Bob, or Ubie as I most often referred to him, was a detective
for APD, and I helped him on cases from time to time. He knew I
could see the departed and used that to his advantage. Not that I could
“Get that to her, then call the ME ay- sap.”
“Okay,” I said, “but I’m not sure what calling the medical examiner
ay- sap is going to accomplish. I’m pretty sure his name is George.”
“Oh, hey, Charley.”
“Hey, Uncle Bob. What’s up?”
“Are you driving?”
“Have you heard anything?”
Our conversations often went like this. Uncle Bob with his random
questions. Me with my trying to come up with answers just as random.
Not that I had to try very hard. “I heard that Tiff any Gorham, a girl I
knew in grade school, still stuff s her bra. But that’s just a rumor.”
“About the case,” he said through clenched teeth. I could tell his teeth
were clenched because his words were suddenly forced. That meant he
was frustrated. Too bad I had no idea what he was talking about.
“I wasn’t aware that we had a case.”
“Oh, didn’t Cookie call you?”
“She called me a doody- head once.”
“About the case.” His teeth were totally clenched again.
“We have a case?”
But I’d lost him. He was talking to another officer. Or a detective. Or
a hooker, depending on his location and accessibility to cash. Though I
doubted he would tell a hooker to check the status of the DOA’s autopsy
report. Unless he was way kinkier than I’d ever given him credit for.
I found his calling me only to talk to other people very challenging.
“I’ll call you right back,” he said. No idea to whom.
The call disconnected as I sat at a light, wondering what guacamole
would look like if avocados were orange.
I finally shifted my attention to the dead kid in my backseat. He had
shoulder- length blond hair and bright blue eyes and looked somewhere
between fifteen and seventeen.
“You come here often?” I asked him, but my phone rang before he
could say anything. That was okay. He had a vacant stare, so I doubted
he would have answered me anyway.
“Sorry about that,” Uncle Bob said. “Do you want to discuss the
“We have a case?” I said again, perking up.
“How are you?”
He asked me that every time he called now. “Peachy. Am I the case? If
so, I can solve this puppy in about three seconds. I’m heading down San
Mateo toward Central in a cherry red Jeep Wrangler with a questionable
“Hurry, before I get away!”
I’m thrilled to have author Lee Collins on the blog today! Lee is the author of The Dead of Winter, coming up on Nov. 1st from Angry Robot Books, and he was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.
Please welcome Lee to the blog!
Lee, your brand new book, The Dead of Winter, comes out Nov 1st from Angry Robot Books! Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us a bit about your journey?
When I was in the first grade, my school library hosted a local children’s book author who told us that the author’s magical question is “What if?” At the end of the presentation, I distinctly remember telling myself that there was absolutely no way I wanted to be a writer. I harbored a rather intense dislike for my grammar lessons, and the thought of spending all day writing sentence after sentence seemed repulsive. This mindset persisted all the way through high school, even as I discovered how much I enjoyed writing poetry. Once in college, I was briefly distracted by the siren song of a music degree until I discovered that such a degree is more reading sheet music (which I can’t do at all) and less jamming with other musicians. After reading Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, I decided that writing might be a fun thing to do after all, and not even a formal university English program could discourage me.
Will you tell us a little something about The Dead of Winter?
The Dead of Winter started out as a synthesis of a Warhammer Online character and a Morpheus Tales call for Western-themed horror. Cora (then named Miriam) and Ben Oglesby sprang into being more or less fully-formed, bounty hunters who specialize in eliminating other-worldly threats. After I wrote a short story for my Morpheus Tales submission (which appeared in Issue IX), they hung out in the corners of my mind, waiting on me to come up with something else for them to do. A year or so later, I stumbled across some American Indian lore about something called a wendigo, and The Dead of Winter began to take shape.
She Returns From War, the 2nd book in the series, comes out early next year. When you began writing The Dead of Winter, had you already planned on it being a series?
I hadn’t, actually. When I first wrote the ending, I intended the book to be a stand-alone title. I had a vague notion of how a sequel might end but lacked the in-between events to get me there. After The Dead of Winter reached the editors’ desks via Angry Robot’s Open Door Month, I realized I might need to have a sequel synopsis on-hand in case they came asking. They did, and I sent them my synopsis with fingers crossed.
You must have done something to please the Cover Gods since you scored covers by Chris McGrath! Do you feel like the covers do justice to your stories?
Absolutely! Chris did a fantastic job of capturing the mood of each book as well as the spirit of Cora Oglesby. Two things in particular stood out to me about them. In The Dead of Winter’s cover, I was absolutely blown away by Cora’s expression. I’m not one to precisely visualize my characters when I write, so to have a face staring back at me that so perfectly embodied her essence was almost eerie. The other thing that really grabbed me was ominous air surrounding the She Returns From War art. Instead of Cora and Ben fearlessly confronting their enemies, Chris evokes a feeling of creeping danger, a threat just beyond the edge of sight. It’s brilliant.
What made you decide to set the books in the Wild West?
The decision grew out of the Morpheus Tales call for horror-themed Western submissions. It seemed like a fun idea to me. With the semi-structured government, multiple threats to one’s life from both nature and man, and the diverse array of people, the Old West really is a great setting for all kinds of speculative fiction. Why more books don’t explore the possibilities of this rich landscape continues to baffle me.
What’s one of your favorite aspects of that time period?
I really enjoy the great expanses of the unknown that press in on the edges of human settlements. Even today, with all of the interconnectivity technology brings, there are still great swaths of land in the American West that can make you feel completely and utterly alone. To have that wilderness on the other side of your wall when you sleep at night gives rise to all kinds of imaginings about what may be crawling out of some unknown hole.
What do you like most about writing fantasy?
Quite simply, the fantastic. In my creative writing program, we weren’t permitted to write genre fiction. Every short story had to fall into the bowl of Literary fiction (yes, I’m pretty sure it was capitalized). One of my instructors even admitted that most of the stuff we read as examples of short stories was published by university presses for consumption by other universities. My senior year, I tried to incorporate some paranormal aspects into a workshop story and was told I had to rewrite it before the class could see it. The experience rankled.
What are some of your biggest literary influences?
For The Dead of Winter specifically, I must credit Larry McMurtry, Hirano Kouta, and Stephen King. In a wider shot, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Karen Russell, Orson Scott Card, and George R.R. Martin come into frame.
If you could read one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
I keep trying to come up with something profound for this one, but I always end up back at Stephen King’s Duma Key. I’m not sure what it was about that particular book of his, but it really resonated. The setting, the characters, the monster, the lore…all of it was spot on. I read it on the bus into work one winter, and the feeling has really stuck with me.
On a personal note, when you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
I have been an avid gamer since the age of four. I even took a month break from writing She Returns From War last January because my girlfriend’s parents bought my Skyrim for Christmas. Perhaps not the best arrangement of priorities, but the manuscript was still delivered by the deadline. I’m currently absorbed in XCOM: Enemy Unknown when I’m not playing The Secret World or another MMO with my girlfriend.
What’s one piece of advice that you would give to a struggling writer?
Struggle on. As the immortal President and First Tiger Hobbes once said: “Until you stalk and overrun, you can’t devour anyone.” Also, it helps if you find yourself some other pack members to help you on the hunt. Everyone knows that the bigger and juicier the wildebeest, the more help you need bringing it down.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
I have a few projects on the radar at the moment. One is a science fantasy set in Soviet Russia, and the other is a (probably) young adult urban fantasy with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon influences. Naturally, I’m also ready to move forward on a third book in my current series.
Keep up with Lee: Website | Twitter
I’m thrilled to welcome Nancy Holder as part of my series of interviews with Bram Stoker Award winners past and present! Nancy was kind enough to answer few of my questions, and I have a copy of her new Teen Wolf book ON FIRE to give away, so be sure to check out the details at the end of the post!
You’re a 4 time Bram Stoker Award winner, including a 2011 win for The Screaming Season and are the author of a jaw dropping number of books (over 30!!). Did you always have an interest in writing? Will you tell us a bit about your journey?
I was always writing stories as a little girl–I wrote an entire fantasy novel in the sixth grade–but I wanted to be a ballet dancer. I’m short and not built like a classical dancer, but I pursued that dream until I had a bad injury. After that I decided to have a normal life with a steady career–and wound up dropping out of grad school twice because I was too busy writing! So it was meant to be.
Most of your novels deal with the scaries in one way or another. What are some things you find truly frightening?
I’m a huge chicken. When I’m writing horror/scary, I watch a horror movie every morning. I made a play list like a menu and select what to watch on what day. But I have to watch them as soon as I get up because it takes me all day to get over them. I can’t watch scary movies at night. They’re too scary! J-horror/Asian horror terrifies me the most. It’s just sooo creepy and it’s usually structured differently from American horror. And I love EL ORFANATO, a Spanish horror movie. The director, Juan Antonio Bayona, was scheduled at one time to direct one of the TWILIGHT movies. I wish that had come to pass!
You’ve written quite a few young adult titles. What do you like most about writing for teens?
When I write for teens, I write about people, same as my beloved Joss Whedon. Adults are just teenagers who’ve been around longer. For teens, it’s about discovery, learning, growing, changing. All potential scary topics!
What are some of your favorite writers?
Some of my favorite writers are: Leanna Renee Hieber, Suzanne Lazear, Gretchen McNeil, Stephen King, and my oftimes collaborator, Debbie Viguié.
If you could read one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
I would reread The Haunting of Hill House, my favorite novel. S-C-A-R-Y. And it holds up beautifully after multiple readings.
I read something about ballet dancing at age 16. Will you tell us a bit about that?
I dropped out of high school to move to Germany to study dance at a German music school (like a trade school for the arts–kind of like our performing arts schools.) My father died while I was gone so I came back and finished American high school, then went back to Germany. But eventually I became a writer!
When you’re not writing or teaching, how do you to spend your free time, when you manage to find some? How do you juggle a busy writing schedule with a busy family?
I cram in work whenever I can. I can’t wait for “the Muse” to pay me a visit. Example: my daughter switched schools and now I have an 80-mile a day commute. So I listen to audio books. That makes the time fly. A good thing about being so busy is that I can’t second-guess myself. I write more from the heart, and that’s a good thing!
Halloween is right around the corner! How do you and your family celebrate?
We just had a spooky sleepover blowout at Disneyland. My daughter’s birthday is October 28th and we look upon Halloween as a season, not a day/night. No one does Halloween like the Holder women!
What’s next for you? Is there anything you’d like to share about upcoming projects or events?
News: I have a lot of cool stuff coming out, including a Buffy tribute book called BUFFY: THE MAKING OF A SLAYER. That’s out in December. I’m part of a new publishing company called GothicScapes. Our first book, UNDEAD FOR A DAY, is out now. And HOT BLOODED, the next book in the Wolf Springs Chronicles series, comes out in December.
Keep up with Nancy: Website | Twitter
Here’s my roundup of book news (and other fun stuff) around the web for the week! Sometimes I add stuff throughout the day on Friday, so be sure you check back over the weekend too!
Interviews and more:
Excerpts and such:
Fun stuff (some book-related, some not):
Also, the October Scare-a-Thon is in full swing, so be sure to check out what we’ve got going so far,and keep an eye out for spotlights on more horror authors and Bram Stoker Award winners in the coming days!
Please welcome the wonderful Clay and Susan Griffith to the blog! They are the authors of the Vampire Empire series (and much more) and are here to tell us about their 5 scariest graveyards! Also, they’ve got an awesome giveaway going, so be sure to check that out too!
What Scares Us blog tour
Our Top 5 Scariest Graveyards
By Clay and Susan Griffith
It’s no secret we love graveyards. They play a supporting character in almost all our books. Our lead characters spend contemplative moments there, learn a bit of their history, fight to the death occasionally, and even fall in love among the ancient stones. Graveyards reek of danger and death at night, but by day they record lineage and offer a glimpse into life. To us that remains a vital reason for our continued fascination with them.
Our favorite cemetery for so many reasons that it garnered a starring role in our Vampire Empire series is the one at Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh, Scotland. Its history is legendary, and it is a disturbing place no matter the time of day. The stones there are dark with age, going back to 1561.
Plague victims are buried there, thousands of them. No matter where you walk you are literally walking upon the dead. This is the place where body snatching became famous, where Resurrection Men dug up the recently deceased to deliver them to surgeons. Bodysnatching became such a thriving business people were forced to take drastic measures to ensure their loved ones remained interred, literally caging the body with mortsafes or placing guards at the grave.
Everywhere you turn your eyes in Greyfriars, they alight on something intriguing, something impressive, or something morbid. On a clear fall day you can see the shape of Edinburgh Castle as it crouches atop its great hill. We were married in its shadow at Greyfriars Kirk, and it remains a place of wonder and magic, and also a place of fright.
There are countless cemeteries in heavily populated New York and New Jersey, each one unique in its own way. One that sticks in our memory is a graveyard of the Presbyterian Church in Westfield, NJ that opened its gates in 1868. The church looks quaint from the main road until you spy the cemetery with its worn wrought iron fence and flat faced stones.
The graveyard contains approximately 1,130 graves, including veterans of the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and both World Wars, although burials date as early as 1730. As with many colonial cemeteries, the gravestones in those older sections all face east, perhaps to meet the resurrection of the sun each morning. The old stones jut up from the ground like angry spines, brittle with age.
In the town of Saugerties, NY, the cemetery at St. Mary’s of the Snow is not very old, but it is changing every day due to the earth itself shifting tombstones around. Or perhaps something underneath writhes, trying to get free.
One of our scariest graveyards is the Old Burying Ground in Beaufort, NC. It is nestled in the heart of the small seaside town. Burials here date from before 1724, with more than seventeen varieties of undated cypress wooden markers. Archeologists found numerous unmarked graves from victims of an Indian battle in 1711. Skulls were noted to have been cleft from tomahawks.
It is a sad little graveyard since there are numerous small graves of children to remind us that times were very hard. One grave is simply marked “little girl buried in rum keg” and it is always decorated with small gifts and tokens of remembrance. The story is of a child who went on a voyage with her father but sadly died on the way home. Unwilling to bury her at sea because of promise to his wife, her father placed his daughter in a keg of rum to return her to the arms of her mother. She was buried in the keg at the little cemetery.
In our own hometown of Raleigh, we have a historic cemetery called Oakwood. It seems to stretch for miles. In Oakwood, old and new residents mingle from the Civil War era to the newly plotted. Which reminds me, we have an appointment this week to choose our own plots there. Scary mausoleum optional though preferred
Please welcome Sarah Fine to the blog today! Sarah is the author of Sanctum, the new young adult fantasy just out on Oct. 16th, and the first of the Guards of the Shadowlands series. In this post, she gives us her dream cast if Sanctum were to hit the big screen, and we’ve got a copy of Sanctum up for grabs for one lucky winner, so be sure to see the details at the bottom of the post!
Hypothetically speaking…the cast for Sanctum
Lela: Naya Rivera would be a lovely Lela. And I can’t take credit for this pick—I have to give a shout out to the Bookittyblog for coming up with this one!
Nadia: Another Bookittyblog suggestion, but really, I couldn’t think of a better one. Evan Rachel Wood is a perfect Nadia.
Malachi: Ah, he’s really impossible. But Drew Roy would be a good start. Malachi’s the one I most struggle with! Okay, honestly, in my head he looks more like this …
…but really. This dude’s a model, not an actor (it’s Garrett Neff, if you’re wondering).
Ana: Zoe Saldana for Ana. She’s a little old to be Ana, really, but truly, she’s as close to ideal for the part as they get.
Raphael: Eddie Redmayne
Juri: Goran Visnjic for Juri … well, Juri is hard to cast for reasons you’ll understand if you read the book, but Goran would be a start, I suppose.
Sil: Hiroyuki Shimosawa
And finally, I want to show you a character who doesn’t actually appear in this book, but who is so clearly developed in my mind that I can’t help but share him with you. He’s the only character whose physical appearance actually IS based on a real-life actor!
Takeshi Kaneshiro as … well, himself. Sort of. Takeshi. *sigh*
Keep up with Sarah: Website | Twitter | Facebook
“My plan: Get into the city. Get Nadia. Find a way out. Simple.”
A week ago, seventeen-year-old Lela Santos’s best friend, Nadia, killed herself. Today, thanks to a farewell ritual gone awry, Lela is standing in paradise, looking upon a vast gated city in the distance – hell. No one willingly walks through the Suicide Gates, into a place smothered in darkness and infested with depraved creatures. But Lela isn’t just anyone – she’s determined to save her best friend’s soul, even if it means sacrificing her eternal afterlife.
As Lela struggles to find Nadia, she’s captured by the Guards, enormous, not-quite-human creatures that patrol the dark city’s endless streets. Their all-too human leader, Malachi, is unlike them in every way except one: his deadly efficiency. When he meets Lela, Malachi forms his own plan: get her out of the city, even if it means she must leave Nadia behind. Malachi knows something Lela doesn’t – the dark city isn’t the worst place Lela could end up, and he will stop at nothing to keep her from that fate.
Purchase: Amazon | B&N