[Double-Feature – Interview] – Stephanie Evelyn

By Brennan LeFaro

Stephanie Evelyn published her debut novel, The Cult Called Freedom House, Sophia Rey Book One, on November 17th 2019. 

Brennan LeFaro (BL): Stephanie, as a brand new author on the horror scene, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Stephanie Evelyn (SE): I was born and raised in San Jose, CA but I’ve experienced it to its fullest. My family and I are moving to Pennsylvania next year. I’ll be near a ton of Central Pennsylvanian horror authors like Bob Ford, Brian Keene, Wesley Southard, and more! 

When I’m not doing my real job, writing, my day job is in marketing at a cyber security company. I have a degree in Film and Digital Media and I’ve been an acrylic painter since I was fifteen years old. I have two kids, a Scottish husband, a husky named Rocko, and a cockatiel named Lucy. I also practice Buddhism.

BL: Welcome in advance to the East Coast. Who or what are some of the influences that got you started writing?

SE: I have an affinity for dark stories, whether they be true or fiction. When I obsess over something or a subject, I am so far down in that rabbit hole that I don’t come back for months sometimes. 

For example, I have seen almost every movie and documentary on The Manson Family and read Vincent Bugliosi’s book Helter Skelter. Not to be mistaken as my agreement with anything The Manson Family has done, but that level of evil and darkness that can live inside human beings fascinates me because it’s so far from what I am. 

I do read Stephen King books and those have been quite inspiring. William S. Burroughs and Hunter S. Thompson are major influences for me. It’s not just books either. I love film and one of my favorite directors is Stanley Kubrick. All of these mediums, all of these artists, everything they represent have influenced me. That’s naming the big guys. 

I have to say that the horror and writing community on Twitter has been the most encouraging. I listen to the This is Horror podcast and Ink Heist. All the writers I have discovered through these podcasts have changed my life and my outlook on writing and what it means to be a writer.

BL: I can get behind a lot of those names. Can you share some your writing routines and habits?

SE: I wish I could be a positive model for this question but currently I don’t have a structured writing routine. All the writing podcasts I have heard and all the writers who are highly successful, they all say the same thing: set a time to write when you can’t be disturbed and commit. I didn’t quite do this for my novel The Cult Called Freedom House. Being a mother, a wife, and having a career in marketing, I would sometimes wake up early in the morning and write, I would write during my lunch time in a conference room, I’d write late at night, and I’d write on my weekends. That’s my routine for now.

BL: I hear you. Making time for family is huge. Sometimes you just have to get your writing in literally wherever and whenever it will fit. What factors went into your decision to self-publish?

SE: Everyone who knows me well knows that I am very impulsive. I have always been and sometimes it has got me into trouble, mainly when I was younger. But, being impulsive has its upsides. When I have an idea to do something, I won’t back out. I do it. 

I wanted The Cult Called Freedom House to be available to the public as soon as it was done and edited. I didn’t want to wait and I didn’t want to go through the cycles of rejection that I hear about. And it’s not because I’m bothered by rejection. I know it’s part of being a writer and I have submitted short stories to different presses and I have been rejected every time. I wanted my novel to be available immediately so that I can write the next one.

BL: That’s admirable. Kind of a this baby is coming out whether the world is ready or not mentality. What kinds of things have you been doing to self-promote?

SE: The promoting has been so much fun. I’m in marketing so I guess that’s not a surprise that I enjoy the marketing piece of it all. I did something unique and also scary. I posted each chapter of my book as a blog post months ago. I would publish each chapter and post to my blog. The people who were reading it then loved the story and they reached out to me and talked to me about it. I realized then, that I wasn’t bad as a writer. These readers wanted more and that’s what counted. It kept me accountable to finish it. 

Once I finished it as blog posts, I took it down and started to self edit. Back in May 2010 I only had 60 Twitter followers and now I am close to 600. I worked really hard on social media to connect with people in the horror and writing community. The key is not to make it all about yourself. I think that’s the way of a good life overall. I started buying and reading indie horror authors’ books and making YouTube video reviews on those books. In October, I did a call for short horror story submissions that I could read on my YT channel to help other authors gain visibility. It’s really about being a nice person online. I am grateful for the friends I have made like Laurel Hightower-Wells, Shane Douglas Keene, Bob Ford, and so many more. If you are kind and true, people will want to promote your stuff because they like you as a person. And you should be good at your craft, that too.

BL: You’ve mentioned it a couple times already. The online horror community really is an amazing niche. Were there any factors that made you want to incorporate cult horror into your debut novel?

SE: I have an obsession with cults and it’s not because I like what they do to others or even how they destroy themselves. I just like dark stories because it’s so far removed from my life. I am also a fan of all horror subgenres. I’ve heard other writers say, “write what you would want to read,” so that’s what I did.

BL: Your short story series, Escaping Hell, as well as A Cult Called Freedom House, both spend a lot of time on the theme of family. Was this a conscious decision?

SE: I love that you asked this because I didn’t even realize that. So, it was not conscious. What I can say is I come from a very large Hispanic family. Family has always been important and a big part of my life growing up and my life now. My aunts and uncles are like parents to me. I am close with all my cousins as well. I couldn’t be more of a daddy’s girl if I tried. 

In The Cult Called Freedom House, Sophia’s dad is so my dad. There are characteristics that Sophia’s dad has that my dad doesn’t. My dad is not a cop and my dad is alive and well. But all the personality traits described are my dad. I have a great relationship with my mother and I’m an only child (best thing ever.) 

Unfortunately, like everyone, I have experienced toxic family members that complicate our lives. I know people who suffer from Narcissistic Personality Disorder and I have read many books on the subject. My Buddhism has helped in these areas.

BL: Can you share any future plans for Sophia Rey?

SE: I will only share that Book 2 will most likely be titled: Sophia Rey Book 2 The Coven of Retribution.

BL: That’s quite the tease. I can’t personally wait to find out more. Are you working on anything else at the moment? Anything else you’d like readers to know about you?

SE: I am working on Book 2 in the Sophia Rey series. That is my main focus and my goal is to have it published in the early part of next year. I have short stories I work on and submit to presses but my priority is Book 2 in my series.

BL: Well, I thank you for taking the time to talk to us, and we all wish you the absolute best of luck with your fantastic debut novel.  Where can people find you online?

SE: People can find me late at night roaming around graveyards, oh wait, you mean where can they connect with me. I’m on Twitter and Instagram under the name IamSterp. How did I get the nickname Sterp? My husband is hilarious and always gives me a hard time, and one day he was  making fun of me and just called me Sterp. Friends starting calling me that too and it’s now become a term of endearment. I’m also on Facebook as SterpBriggs. My website is iamsterp.com.

My debut novel The Cult Called Freedom House is available on Amazon:

I received a copy of the e-book from the author for review consideration

[Double-Feature – Review] – The Cult Called Freedom House

By Brennan LeFaro

Readers, prepare yourselves, for The Cult Called Freedom House is now upon us. Stephanie Evelyn has unleashed her debut novel upon the world, and so long as you think you can take it, you don’t want to miss it. 

Evelyn introduces us to Officer Sophia Rey, our protagonist who comes with a bit of baggage. We get to know a bit of her backstory, but I suspect there may be more to unpack in future adventures. In this, the first book in the series, Sophia Rey is investigating the disappearance of a teenager named Samantha. Despite Rey being the titular character, we spend a great deal of time with Samantha.  One does not find it over difficult to empathize with the situation Samantha is running from, or the one she’s walking into. We’ve all been that teenager looking for our place in the world. 

Maybe it’s the parent in me, but I found myself wanting to take Samantha under my wing. The story hinges on Sophia Rey going undercover to infiltrate Freedom House, not only to find Samantha, but to bare witness to any illegal activities the cult may be party to. The scenes where Sophia is initiated into the house, and makes attempts to contact her unit, are dynamically paced and terrifyingly tense. Then again, there are a lot of moments that are going to have you on the edge of your seat. 

This novel has all the makings of a bullet thriller, but what Evelyn puts her characters through knocks it much more neatly into the realm of horror. The book is full, seriously full, of bad things happening, and doing so in a graphic manner.  The cult leader, Cyrus, is a miserable hunk of human being, that latter term being applied rather loosely. What makes his characterization work so well is how real he feels. Not to accuse Ms. Evelyn of anything as untoward as being part of a cult, but the novel reads like she certainly did her research. 

By the time you close this book, I expect you’ll find yourself stunned and emotionally ravaged. Also, please note that I’ve already anticipated you adding it to your wish list. If you have an interest in cult horror, or even if you just have a strong stomach and enjoy a horror story with well-developed characters, The Cult Called Freedom House needs to be on your radar. I, for one, can’t wait to see what horrors Stephanie Evelyn has to unveil to us next. 

5/5 stars

I received a copy of the e-book from the author for review consideration

[Review] – A World of Horror

By Elle Turpitt

The premise of this book is absolutely fantastic – to seek out as many different stories from as many different countries as possible. And though there are a couple of stories from countries very familiar to Western horror readers, more come from places likely unfamiliar to English speakers. Inside this anthology, readers will find stories from Japan, Ukraine, Nigeria, Singapore, Sweden, Philippines and more. And each, in their own way, is an absolute delight.

I am constantly blown away by anthologies, the sheer dedication of the editors and the talent of various authors, gathered in one place, but this is a collection taken to the next level. The variety provides something unique, allowing readers to delve into the myths of places they might perhaps never visit.

Personal favourites – Honey¸ set in the Chernobyl exclusion zone, where strange creatures roam. The Shadows of Saint Urban, about the dangers lurking in the shadows, and the madness found within, which feels almost like it could be a Carpenter movie. How Alfred Nobel Got His Mojo, where Nobel discovers the true extent of dynamite’s destructive powers. Sick Cats in Small Spaces, about bottles found in the Australian outback, and the spirits trapped within.

The Disappeared, The White Monkey and Warashi’s Grip are also worth mentioning, for the topics and characters explored in each story, but really, every single story is beautifully crafted. They are haunting, eerie, and completely enthralling.

Guignard has done a fantastic job of bringing together these stories, and his small introductions for each one provides the reader with a little taste, an appetizer for what they are about to read. There wasn’t a single story that felt weak in the anthology, and it’s definitely one of those collections where every reader will have their own favourites.

This is an anthology every fan of good horror should seek out. Each story offers something different, and it’s a book well worth lingering over, as delightful to taste as a fine meal, with stories to get under the skin and view the world in a different, darker tone.

[Review] – The Pale White

By Brennan LeFaro

Oh dear me, I’ve made a terrible mistake.  I’ve heard such wonderful things about Chad Lutzke since stumbling upon the indie horror community, and I’m just now reading my first book by him.  To be fair, I’ve read and enjoyed the short fiction contained within Night as a Catalyst, as well as his Patreon page and various anthologies, but I’ve simply waited too long to see what this guy can do in his element.

From page one we get to see why the novella is Chad Lutzke’s go-to format.  We are dropped straight into a developing situation with little set-up and no warning.  The story sucks us in right away and we get to know Stacia, Alex, and Kammie, three girls who have been kidnapped and are part of a sex-trafficking house.  In horror, we often hear that sometimes the scariest thing is when we don’t see the monster, and this is how Lutzke operates. He could have grabbed us by the heartstrings by evoking graphic imagery and detailed depictions of what these girls have been through, but it’s the implication that grabs us and instills us with a primal fear.  Early on in the story, there is a sentence long description regarding loss of innocence that had me feeling that this might be too heavy.

The story is emotional, but it’s incredibly engaging and there was no way I was going to close The Pale White without finding out what was going to happen to these girls.  Most of the action presented here deals with the aftermath of the girls escaping from anywhere from 1-10 years of captivity, back into a big, loud, scary world. Lutzke uses this book as a vehicle to explore the nature of someone who has been closed off from society for so long psychologically preparing to rejoin the world.  Even the character who has been away for only a year is reluctant to believe the group won’t be blamed for any wrongs done to them, a very apt commentary on our current society’s habit of victim shaming. Especially, when those victims are women.

The Pale White roars along, cramming a full length novel’s worth of material into 98 pages, mainly by cutting anything resembling fat, and not giving the audience a moment to recover after dropping something particularly hard-hitting.  As much as the ride through this story was unforgettable, I have mixed feelings about the ending. Without major spoilers, everything wraps up very neatly in a manner that doesn’t quite line up with the gritty and very real quality of the rest of the story.  It felt moderately disconnected, but there was also a palpable sense of relief after eighty-odd pages of trauma.  

Lutzke has achieved quite a feat with The Pale White.  The social commentary is very current and, to the right eyes, scathing. However, even if looked at through a completely apolitical lens, it’s just a good story.  I cared about all the characters, I held back my Lutzke tears with great effort, and I did it all in one sitting because I just couldn’t put the damn thing down.

[Review] – Greenlight

By Patrick R. McDonough

The Synopsis

Jack Archer (Chase Williamson – John Dies at the End, Victor Crowley) is a filmmaker that dreams of shooting a full-length picture. But in order for him to do that, he either needs money to produce one, or get someone to back the feature for him. Only, nobody wants to invest their money in this first-time director. 

His short films aren’t good enough…for most. Bob Moseby (Chris Browning – 3:10 to Yuma, The Book of Eli, Sons of Anarchy) feels differently about that. He has a meeting with Jack, runs through some questions, and hires him. Things are turned up a notch when Moseby informs Archer that he has no other option but to film a real murder.

 My Thoughts

The first two scenes hook you in with the promise of everything a good film should: anticipation, a peek into the protagonist’s mind, and a reason to root and care for said protagonist. Jack—a somewhat-reserved, starving artist—embodies what many up-an-coming creatives are like. Him and his best friend Sam, reminiscing about past shitty movies they worked on, and talks about his dreams with his girlfriend Shantel, all point to Jack being a lovable loser–a good guy that never seems to have luck on his side. 

Both Jack and Shantel are artists. She, a novelist, and he, a screenwriter. They believe in each other but are under restricting financial parameters. During a dinner between them and Shantel’s parent’s, her forthright father speaks his mind about Jack not making any money and what he thinks of him. It was interesting to watch the conversation unfold, adding a layer of tension to Jack’s life. 

Greenlight is a slow-burn sort of film with moments that will run down anything in its path. That’s what made this movie feel so organic. So real. Its fluctuating cadence. The pressurization within Jack builds up from the very beginning on a subconscious level, all the way through to the more obvious and in-your-face battle of Jack wanting to run and Moseby forcing him to carry out his plan.

The movie was so engrossing that I felt as if I were a fly on the set. Secretly knowing Jack’s dirty little secret and what he had to do. The acting, filming, directing, editing, and effects make it clear that this is a film worth visiting time-after-time. It’s a film that deserves to be in film schools, to be studied, and viewed with an analytical eye. Jack’s character development is as scary as it is rewarding. It shows the true horrors that someone can face when given an opportunity to make their dream become a reality.            

Chase Williamson led this film with the precision of a seasoned veteran. Caroline Williams (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Hatchet III) is a name that any horror fan should love and adore, and her portraying of an indie horror film actress is both ironic and amazing. Her performance woven throughout the story provides necessary beats of humor and complexity. Chris Browning is a personal favorite of mine. He’s an actor that hasn’t gotten as many big roles as I believe he deserves. He personifies the cool-tough guy that you want to befriend. Yet , you know it would be a bad idea to cross him. Victor Turpin (Shades of Blue, See Dad Run) adds fuel to this inferno of a film with his brilliant performance. Shane Coffey (Starry Eyes, Aquarians) made me want to pull him out of the screen and tell him everything would be ok. His depiction of Jack’s best friend was fantastic. Nicole Alexandra Shipley (Wishing for a Dream, Sable) did a stellar job and what she had to offer was nothing short of necessary with tying off a few loose ends. And lastly, Evanne Friedmann’s (Awkward, Lara) performance was perfect. She’s the girl-next-door. If the girl next door had a heart of gold but didn’t let anyone walk over her.

As far as the writing and directing go, Graham Denman could not have done a better job. Like Jack Archer, this was his first feature. The film is a well-oiled machine that needed no fine-tuning. Part of me wonders if Greenlight was inspired by any real events in his life. Denman is a name that you should store in your memory banks. This guy isn’t going away for a long time. I’ll be patiently waiting for his next film. 

Greenlight comes in at one hour and twenty-four minutes. From start to end it doesn’t loosen its grip. It leaves you satisfied, with a smile. It’s due to be released in early 2020. If my praise isn’t enough to convince you to watch this in theaters, then maybe the two awards it won at Shriekfest (for Best Thriller Feature, and Best Male Performance in Feature Film) in LA this year, will. Greenlight deserves praise from your average movie-goer to film buffs alike. It’s a damn good film. I loved it and I know you will too.

Where You Can Follow for Updates

Twitter: @Greenlight_Pic

[Interview] – Ink Heist Pt. II

By Patrick R. McDonough

Dead Head Reviews (DHR): Welcome back, folks! This is part two of our conversation with the boys from Ink Heist. For those who didn’t read Part I yesterday, I strongly recommend “unfucking” that . Let’s get a little competitive for this question, boys. If you two are on a Horror Quiz gameshow. Who’s winning? Who has a more expansive knowledge of the genre?

Rich: That’s a good question! It sounds like a cop out answer, but I think it could go either way. There are a lot of movies and books Shane knows about that I don’t and vice versa. We’re always recommending stuff to each other for that reason. But if I were forced to choose, I would obviously have to pick myself right? [laughs]

Shane: I think the outcome would be thus: if we’re talking cinema or TV, Rich will kick my ass handily every time. Until recent years, I’ve never been a huge fan of visual media, not even when it comes to horror, always preferring the written word or song over film or TV. Rich is much more well-versed in the visual aspects of the genre. When it comes to fiction, I tend to believe the results would be exactly the opposite, for the simple reason that I am way older than Rich and have had a lot more time on this planet to compile a raw, uneducated sort of knowledge on the subject that only a similar amount of time and devotion could hope to equal. That said, I have mental issues that get in the way of memory sometimes, so I often have to dig for things in the dusty past.

DHR: Fair assessment, fellas. Is there a dream guest you would like to have on the pod? I’m talking the biggest names in horror. It doesn’t even have to be an author. For example: Rob Zombie, John Carpenter, or perhaps C. Robert Cargill.

Rich: That’s a great question! On the literary side of things, I think it would be cool to do a joint interview with R.L. Stine and Tim Jacobus. Their work together on Goosebumps inspired many people as kids to not only become readers, but become interested in horror for the first time. Robert McCammon would also be another dream guest of mine. Also, I think everyone would love to talk to Stephen King and Joe Hill.

As far as other horror creators, Rob Zombie I feel would be a really interesting guest as well as Eduardo Sanchez, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, Barbara Crampton, Guillermo Del Toro, and Robert Kirkman. And how could I forget Kane Hodder, and Robert Englund? I also think it would be cool to talk to Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles as they wrap up the 15th season of Supernatural. I could probably continue on for a few hours!

Shane: Hmm, Peter Straub and Clive Barker both come to mind, as do the great Joe Lansdale and Ramsey Campbell. And if we’re totally dreaming, Shirley Jackson and Jack Ketchum. I don’t have a lot of interest in King or Hill just because every major, non-indie rag out there has had one or both of those guys a number of times now and it begins to feel pretty cliché after a while.

As for others. Art the Fuckin’ Clown, baby! In all seriousness, it would have to be someone with a lot of knowledge/credits in the realm of storytelling to interest me. Rob Zombie, Chelsea Stardust, and Jeremy Saulnier all come immediately to mind.

DHR: Any of those guests would make for such a fun show! What type of horror sub-genre do you tend to gravitate towards?

Rich: I love all types of horror and don’t really have a “go-to” sub-genre, but I do have a particular fondness for horror stories that mix elements of crime and noir as well as traditional horror stories. John Foster’s Mister White is one of my all-time favorites and one I think needs a lot more attention. Another excellent one is Alan Baxter’s novella, Manifest Recall. I pretty much love everything [laughs]. I also like books that mess with traditional structure, like Brian Kirk’s Will Haunt You or Marisha Pessl’s Night Film.

Shane: Much easier to tell you what I don’t gravitate toward than what I do. I don’t tend to dig steampunk even if it’s horror flavored. I don’t do heavily romance or erotica themed work, and urban fantasy, unless you’re Alan Baxter, it’s a hard sell for me too. Otherwise, the sky’s the limit as long as there’s a good, well-written story involved.

DHR: Do you have a preference when it comes to books? Kindle, hardback, or paperback?

Rich: I don’t have a preference and will read in any format. I will say that Kindle formats are easier for reviews because I came up with a color coding system using the highlight feature that makes it A LOT easier to take notes and look up later. As far as my personal books, I usually prefer physical copies. I’m a big collector of vintage horror and nothing beats hunting for them in various bookstores.

Shane: In most cases, I gravitate toward Kindle, just like Rich, though I take that step further and apply it to my own books. I have a limited amount of space so digital normally wins out when available. The huge exception being first edition paperback horror of the ‘70s and ‘80s.

DHR: I’m right there with you two. I have a fondness for collecting paperbacks, as well. Do you tend to listen to music while reading or is silence your soundtrack?

Rich: I usually read in silence. As far as writing, I usually listen to playlists I’ve made on Spotify. I traditionally listen to stuff like punk, hardcore, indie rock, pretty much any “underground” genre.

Shane: Silence in all instances. Reading, writing, reviewing, whatever else. When music is playing it owns my attention fully even if I fucking hate it. Maybe especially if I fucking hate it.

DHR: Favorite author(s)?

Rich: Oh, too many to list! If I’m going with contemporary authors, these are some of my favorites: John F.D. Taff, John Foster, Ania Ahlborn, Laird Barron, Josh Malerman, The Sisters of Slaughter, Hunter Shea, Alma Katsu, Brian Kirk, Alan Baxter, J Daniel Stone, Gabino Iglesias, Jonathan Janz, Kathe Koja…I could go on forever. The Horror genre is full of incredibly talented authors and it’s a great time to be a horror fan. Some authors that recently released their debut that I’m really excited about following are Laurel Hightower, Shaun Hamill and Caitlin Starling.

Shane: Jack Ketchum, Caroline Kepnes, John F.D. Taff, Lee Child, Megan Abbott, man, so damn many. And they’ll all be different ones tomorrow. Except Ketchum. He’s been at the top of the list since 1984 so that’s not likely to change soon.

DHR: Favorite horror-based film maker? And do you have a favorite horror television series?

Rich: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead immediately come to mind. They’ve released 3 films so far – Resolution, Spring, and The Endless – which are all essential viewing as far as I’m concerned. I also love Robert Eggers, Ari Aster, Jennifer Kent and Ana Lily Amirpour. It goes without saying I love the films from some of the obvious masters, but I figured I’d list some newer directors. Not strictly horror, but I think people NEED to check out Shane Carruth. He only has two films at the moment – 2004’s Primer and 2013’s Upstream Color – but they’re just stunning. Particular Primer, which was made on a budget of $7,000 and is probably the best time travel film out there.

As far as horror television, for my money, the best stuff is coming from outside the US. Marianne, Black Spot, Les Revenants, Dark and Jordskott are captivating television shows that are dark, ambitious and essential. All of those are available on streaming as well for anyone interested.

Shane: Jeremy Saulnier (some argue him to be a straight crime director but some are wrong), Benson and Morehead, Zombie, always with the Rob Zombie, The Soska Sisters, Damien Leone, Stardust.

TV: I’m in full agreement with Rich: Foreign TV is kicking America’s collective asses when it comes to horror pretty much across the board, with Black Spot and Dark being huge favorites. The one American exception to that statement is the brilliant rendering of Creepshow on Shudder.

DHR: I wish I had Shudder just to watch Creepshow. I love the first two films. What horror-based podcasts do you listen to?

Rich: I’ve been listening to them more lately, but my go-to’s are Final Guys, This is Horror, The Horror Show with Brian Keene and a new one that just launched-Staring Into the Abyss. I also just started listening to The Bastard Title with Angel Luis Colón which is fucking great. It’s not strictly horror, but it IS one of the best literary podcasts you’ll find online.

Shane: Pretty much the same subjects as Rich across the board here, adding on Aaron Mahnke’s Lore.

DHR: Duly noted. Is there a tradition that you have during October? Any particular book, movie, or show you tend to watch on Halloween?

Rich: No real traditions, but I do love everything Halloween and watch and read anything horror I can get my hands on. As a kid though, I watched Ernest Scared Stupid almost religiously. I think I need a rewatch of that soon. I wrote about it years ago for SF Signal and had a blast.

Shane: Not historically speaking, no, but I do have a new-ish tradition over the last three years of watching at least 31 horror films in October, and I almost always re-read a favorite King novel in the witching month, but didn’t get to it this year. Too many great indies out there to let small fries like SK get in the way.

DHR: Ha-ha. Of all the 80’s/90s slashers, if they all had a Super Smash Bros. type battle, who do you think would come on top?

Rich: In the real world? Jason. Even though his head was alive SPOILER ALERT he did best Freddy. As far as I’m concerned, there is no other answer.

Shane: Anyone Kane Hodder has ever played. Though that trio from The Devil’s Rejects would give him a damn good run for psycho cred.

DHR: Wow, Shane. I didn’t even consider the Firefly family. Nice answer! Do you decorate your house for Halloween?

Rich: A little, but nothing too extreme. I do have some plans for future Halloweens though!

Shane: Not really. Our interior decor is horror-centric year round so not much to do there, and we avoid decorating the exterior in hopes of avoiding giving anyone the mistaken impression that we want them ringing our doorbell with something other than a pizza.

DHR: Yesterday you guys talked about a new project where you’ll be releasing original content from invited-authors. The first being John F.D. Taff. Could you recap that?

Rich: We’ve always wanted to publish original fiction, so it’s been a long time coming. We came up with a format that celebrates “spontaneous creation”, and we just let the authors run wild with whatever moves them. John’s story was fantastic and we have two more already lined up that we’re incredibly excited about. We’re taking things slow right now so we don’t over-extend ourselves, but it’s an aspect of the site we expect to grow rapidly as we move forward.

Shane: See my answer to question one.

DHR: You both are book worms. Is it unreal for you to be interviewing authors you love?

Rich: It was at first. Most of our early guests were writers that we were already familiar with from our years covering the community, so we were pretty comfortable as we found our footing doing the podcast. As I mentioned, the authors that we cover are extremely supportive and friendly, so any jitters we have are entirely our own. We also run a pretty informal format, so I will say it has been a bit unreal getting to know our guests outside of a traditional interview setting. We usually come up with a few talking points to keep things organized, but mostly it’s just a friendly conversation. For anyone thinking of running a podcast or even branching out into interviews, go for it. Most authors are happy to connect with readers, so it’s definitely worth it.

Shane: There have been some more surreal than unreal moments, but for the most part, it’s all very chill. Many of our guests have been people that one or both of us has known for years and whose work we know as well as the insides of our eyelids. The more unreal ones are coming in the forms of some future guests that will be guaranteed to knock your fucking socks off. Wait for it…

DHR: I am absolutely excited to see what’s to come. In one of your episodes you mentioned a co-written story, possibly of novella length. Can you tell us anything about that?

Rich: I don’t want to spoil too much since we’re still in the early stages, but I can say it centers around an incredibly fun protagonist Shane created for another project. It has a pretty terrifying witch, magic mushrooms, a curse and plenty of mayhem. It should be a lot of fun and it’s unlike anything the two of us have tried writing before.

Shane: What he said.

DHR: Again, I cannot wait to see what you two are cooking up! Would you like to make a shout-out to anyone?

Rich: Oh man, now I know how people feel at those award shows

[laughs]

. I hate to forget someone, so I’d like to just give a shout-out to all of our guests and anyone that has ever visited Ink Heist, whether it be through the site or the podcast. None of this would be possible without all of you and we’re proud to be a part of such a tight-knit community. Though I will give a special shout-out to Erin Al-Mehairi and Tony Rivera and Sharon Lawson of Grey Matter Press. They were some of my earliest supporters when I first started reviewing horror fiction, even before I really “established” myself as a reviewer. Also Brian Kirk and John F.D Taff for trusting us with their innovative releases for their respective books this year.

Shane: Yeah, man, pretty much everyone who has supported us over the course of the last 7 years, both jointly and separately and, always, of utmost importance, it’s the readers and audience members who come back week on week, share all our tweets, talk about the website and podcast. We couldn’t do any of this without those people and we are indebted to them forever.

Also, my brothers and influences, Josh Malerman and John F.D. Taff. Those guys mean the world to me and their support has been a bottomless well for me.

DHR: Shane and Rich, again, thank you for letting me interview you! Dead Head Reviews loves your podcast, and wishes it to have many long years.

Rich: Thanks for having us, it’s been a blast!

Shane: It’s been great being here. We’ll do it again someday!

[Interview] – Ink Heist Pt. I

By Patrick R. McDonough

Dead Head Reviews (DHR): Shane, Rich, thank you so much for giving us your time. Ink Heist as a review platform has been around a little bit longer than your podcast. Could you both tell us about the history of how Ink Heist was formed and how the podcast eventually came to be?

Rich: Thanks for having us! We’re honored to be here and honestly it feels a bit surreal anyone would want to interview us [laughs]. To answer your question, Ink Heist was formed for a variety of reasons. The short version is that Shane and I just really wanted to work together. We built up an online friendship way back when we first launched our own respective blogs, The Horror Bookshelf and Shotgun Logic.

The longer answer ties into the first. I started The Horror Bookshelf about 5 years ago in 2014 (wow, I can’t believe it has been that long!) as a way to sort of get back into writing. I used to do album reviews and interviews for a few music websites, but I was starting to get back into reading horror and figured I should just make that my focus for a site. It started off slow with me just reviewing books I already owned. Over time, I slowly built up the site and making contacts to get ARC’s. It quickly grew much larger than I ever dreamed and I even have some blurbs in a few books, which was always surreal to me. I was happy the site was doing so well, but it also quickly became way too overwhelming for me to handle on my own. That’s when I decided I would be interested in starting something completely new and also to branch out into crime and noir, which was hard to do since I kind of locked myself into horror only based on my site’s name. By that time, Shane and I had already become friends (I forget how it even happened honestly, hopefully he can help me out!) and he was pretty much the only person I thought of when I was thinking of potential partners. The rest as they say is history!

The podcast was something we always wanted to do, but I think both of us were way too nervous to start. We’ve told the story on the podcast, but essentially the actual start of the podcast is 100% attributed to John F.D. Taff. He approached us about doing a cool “behind the scenes” series for his serial novel The Fearing, sort of like the Game of Thrones aftershow. Shane and I jumped at the chance because we are huge fans of John’s work and after some initial brainstorming, Taff asked if it was going to be audio. Well, you don’t turn down the King of Pain, so we said yes and that was just the push for us to get started. We owe him everything for giving us that nudge we needed to get over our anxieties about starting a podcast.

Shane: Well, Rich did a pretty good job of answering that for both of us, but I’m your huckleberry. I started Shotgun Logic in 2014 and subsequently got picked up to write for This Is Horror, Horror DNA (formerly HorrorTalk), Hellnotes, Gingernuts of Horror, and a few others. Point being, I got myself so fucking overwhelmed I damn near walked away from it for good. But I didn’t want to do that. I started doing this as a labor of love and I was still in love. I was just falling apart at the seams trying to take on the load I had. So I decided to start weaning myself from those other sites, going from writing for them all the time to just writing for them sometimes, which I still do to this day, for the most part. The idea was that I would rededicate myself to Shotgun Logic which, by this time had become a fucking ghost town, replete with tumbleweeds and creaky saloon doors. But at this point, I realized that while my passion for writing was still in full bloom, I had fallen out of love with Shotgun Logic. It was too much for me and I determined that I would probably quit later that year. That was in the Spring of 2018. Then I started talking to that fucker, Rich Duncan, and determined that he was in much the same boat and we decided, given that we were both passionate about the pursuit, we would join together and help shore each other up. I’m pretty sure that was in May, and Ink Heist was born in June. That’s right. When we make a decision, we don’t fuck around. We get down to business and get things done. For the most part, Rich told you the rest of the story in his answer.

But let me also tell you about some goals we have, and some dreams, while I’m at it. By the time this releases, we will have published our first story, a drenching piece by John F.D. Taff titled “Love Tap.” It’s the first in what we intend to be a long run of stories as part of what I call the “Ink Heist Initiative”, though it has no official name other than “Ink Heist Fiction” yet. The reason I call it that is, for us, it is an initiative, one to get talented new authors writing and to publish those already established indie authors we love, who, in spite of that, still often struggle to find a venue. But we don’t believe in the words “in exchange for exposure” and that’s the only time you’ll ever see one of us use them. We currently pay our authors a decent semi-pro rate and will continue to do so until, at some indefinite future date, we can pay them the going pro rate. Authors cry, sweat, and bleed for their creativity and it’s a goddamn crime to ask them to do it for free. If they’re not good enough to pay, they aren’t good enough to publish. We make no profit from it and we want none. We merely want to keep/get good authors writing and readers reading, the two goals we are most dedicated to and the ones we will bleed ourselves out for if we have to. We also, in the dream arena, would like to eventually anthologize the stories we publish and get them into the hands of an even larger and more diverse audience. But, fucking baby-steps and all that. And shit. I just wrote you a goddamn book for one question. Boy did you fuck up inviting me to this party.

DHR: Ha-ha! When Rich first sent me your answers, I was both surprised and filled with glee. Long answers with substance are never a problem here! I imagine you both wrote up a list of people you wanted to interview on the podcast. Who was on it and did you have a similar list to one another?

Rich: It’s funny you mention that because we absolutely have a list! It’s a long list, but a lot of the episodes we released started from that list and we are always adding to it. I don’t want to give away the entire list – mainly because it’s incredibly long – but a few of the guests we have planned for the future or hope to have on are Caroline Kepnes, Kathe Koja, Richard Thomas, Karen Runge, and Joe Lansdale to name a few. I’m sure Shane will give you some names too.

But our list is actually the same. Shane and I are based on opposite coasts, but we are pretty much in constant contact every day. We use a lot of web-based tools to make Ink Heist go. We chat daily through Discord and then any sort of lists or plans we use to brainstorm go into various types of Google services like Drive, Calendar, etc. That’s one of the things that I think has really attributed to Ink Heist’s early success. Shane and I were friends before, but we got to know each other REALLY well as we went through the rigorous process of forming the framework of Ink Heist. We share a lot of the same ideals and our vision for Ink Heist is the same, so that made things extremely easy. I consider Shane one of my best friends and I think that friendship is one reason we are able to keep Ink Heist focused and why people have been enjoying the podcast.

Shane: Yeah, that answer covers it. Since we’ve been keeping the list, we’ve pretty much been of the same mind about who we want to try to get on at any given time, and we’ve had pretty great success with getting the authors we’re shooting for, including managing to get some bucket-list level authors who have either been on the show, or agreed to be at some future date. Also, I implicitly agree with that last sentence of Rich’s. I also consider me to be one of my best–wait, I mean Rich. I also consider Rich to be one of my best friends.

DHR: As a listener, it’s very evident that you guys trust each other and are best friends. I agree, it’s probably the biggest component in shaping the tone and flow of the show. So, just to kind of go into a little more depth of something you two touched on: How has the response from the pursued authors been?

Rich: The response has been universally positive. One of the great things about the horror community, which I’ll touch on later, is it’s very supportive. So far, every writer we’ve contacted has agreed to be on the show. I think for one thing, they’re excited to be able to talk about their work with readers and a podcast format makes it a little bit more personal. I can only speak for myself, but I was very nervous about approaching some of our guests. That was more on me though as all of the writers have been very generous with their time and are happy to support the blogging community.

Shane: It’s been a great experience so far, but that doesn’t come as any surprise to me. As involved as Rich and I have both been in the community for the past 6-ish years online, I already knew its members to be open and willing to share of themselves or their knowledge/availability, so I suspected going into it getting guests was going to be one of the easiest parts of the whole endeavor, and that has proven to be true. Honestly, though, early on I prepared a mental list of people who I thought would be difficult or impossible to get to be on the pod. Turns out even at that, I was completely wrong. We’ve approached some top-shelf level talent since we jumped on this train, and we have yet to encounter anyone who said no.

DHR: Piggybacking on the last question, how has the response been from the horror community?

Rich: Incredibly positive, kind of like with the authors we’ve approached. The horror community is very supportive of each other and that’s one of the things I love most about it. That’s one of the things that makes it truly special and we are honored to be a part of it. Shane and I are novices at this and are still working out some kinks and getting comfortable with speaking “on camera”. That’s why we are very humbled every time someone says they love our show and share positive feedback on social media. We’re just two average guys who love horror, so the fact that people are interested in what we have to say is humbling.

Shane: My thoughts on this are, the pod could have gone one of two ways right out the gate. A) Nobody listens to us and Ink Heist as a podcast dies in obscurity, or B) we get a shockingly positive and overwhelming response from the community and, as a result, we both end up with stars on the Walk in Hollywood. Well, as it turns out, neither one of those things has come to pass, so what the fuck do I know? That said, the response has been humbling, and every week, just as they start to freeze up again, the response to the podcast comes along and melts our frozen black hearts all over again.

DHR: Keep shooting for the (Hollywood) stars, ha. When it came to the technical aspects of the pod—recording and editing—were there any difficult challenges?

Rich: This question is more for Shane as he handles all of the editing for the show, but there were some minor issues. Hell, there still is! Sometimes when we mute ourselves to cut down on background noise we forget to unmute when we start talking [laughs]. However, those issues have been getting less and less with each episode. A lot of it was just getting used to doing it. We kind of jumped in feet first and figured it out as we went, otherwise I think we would have been stuck in the planning stages for a long time.

Shane: Shit, are you asking this just to fuck with my head? Haha! It seems like every time I turn around I’m tripping over something new, unexpected, and torturous to learn my way around. Every other episode I encounter something new in the world of recording magic that I don’t know a fucking thing about. Fortunately, the open-source software I use for editing (hats off to Audacity) has been around for a long time and is well documented by experienced users, among the most primary of them, other podcasters. So it generally isn’t difficult to find an answer to a problem when I encounter it and I’ve become ten times better and faster at it than I was when I started. The more fun technical difficulties have been via Skype, where we record our episodes. We’ve had some good times there. For example, we had Josh Malerman on. Fucking huge name, right? We go to start the episode and I forgot where the goddamn record option was. Took me what felt like forever to find it, and the whole time Fuckng Malerman and Duncan are laughing their asses off at me. That is just one example of many. I once had a one-sided conversation with my living room window, having forgotten that my mic, at that time, was stationary and it was behind me. Yeah, good times. We’ve yet to see the last of our recording and editing follies, I’m certain.

DHR: Rich, during those moments of you guys getting stuck in an unmute-state are hilarious. Shane, me? Mess with your head? No (maybe) way! That episode with Malerman was fantastic. A few episodes ago, you had no guest. It was just the two of you talking to one another. Did you both learn something about each other from that episode?

Rich: That was a fun episode and thank you for mentioning it! As far as learning something about each other, I don’t think we really did. Like I said earlier, Shane and I talk every day through chat, so we already knew each other extremely well. I think the biggest thing we learned from that episode is that we could create a show with just the two of us and no guest. That episode was more or less an experiment for us to see if that was possible. Let’s face it, a lot of our episodes are successful because of our guests and the great insight they bring to the show about their writing process and the behind-the-scenes information about their work. Shane and I thought we’d get maybe 20 minutes out of a solo episode, but we ended up going for much longer than that. We just talked about some horror topics we were both interested in and had a blast doing it. Being our first one by ourselves, we were worried listeners wouldn’t be interested in us just talking to each other, but we were surprised when it became one of our most popular episodes.

There was a lot of hilarious stuff that wasn’t recorded and that’s the first time “donkey laugh” entered the Ink Heist lexicon.

Shane: Well, for one thing, it was in recording that episode I learned how to make Rich donkey laugh. Since then, any time we’re off air I exercise that ability profusely. Rich has come to dread talking to me. If you wonder what a donkey laugh is, pay me $100 and I’ll make him do it on air.

DHR: Anyone out there have a Benjamin? Folks, we’ll be back tomorrow with the second part to this lovely interview. Stay tuned!

[Review] – The Sea Was A Fair Master

By Elle Turpitt

Flash fiction is a very hard beast, hard to do and difficult to do well, and it’s hard not to be in awe when it’s done as brilliantly as Calvin Demmer’s collection, The Sea Was a Fair Master.

This collection of 23 very short stories covers a wide range of scenarios and characters, meaning there is something for almost everyone in here. They’re all dark, drawing from the dregs of humanity and envisioning characters you really wouldn’t want to meet down an alley late at night. The prose is handled skillfully, and every word counts, as it really should in this form.

The collection kicks off with the creepy, eerie On the Seventh Day, an atmospheric story about a ship at sea. It sets the tone for the rest of the novel, and raises the bar so high it feels almost impossible for the stories that follow to exceed it. But they really do. Yara is heart-breaking and sweet, The Snakes or the Humans? shows how far one man would go to avenge his loved ones, The Guests keeps the reader guessing throughout.

Other highlights for me include Revenge of the Myth, Voodoo Child and the title story of the collection, The Sea Was a Fair Master. But each story collected deserves its own praise, for the depths of the characters to the expertly handled plot twists, to the sheer imagery presented before the reader. These are tales of darkness, but they are also tales of family and love, drawing the reader in and leaving them begging for more from each story.

This is a fantastic collection, one which can easily be dipped in and out of again and again, layered and deep and downright creepy.  

[Review] The Fearing Series

By Brennan LeFaro

2019 has seen so many high points of horror, and one of the most anticipated pieces is coming to a close.  On November 12th, John F.D. Taff is poised to drop the fourth and final installment of his serialized novel The Fearing. It is set to weigh in at 527 total pages and took Taff a span of years to plan, work on, and bring to fruition. Initially, it seemed too lengthy for traditional publishers to touch, and with the input of big names like Josh Malerman and Ray Garton, Taff came to the realization that he couldn’t cut it down without losing parts that were crucial. The Fearing was going to need to be a doorstop in order to tell the whole tale. Thankfully, in stepped Grey Matter Press, who Taff had worked with previously. The two sides worked together to find a solution and agreed to publish the complete novel, serialized in four parts.

Part one, subtitled Fire & Rain, was released on July 9th to great acclaim within the horror community. It drew inevitable comparisons to other novels containing apocalyptic fare, such as McCammon’s Swan Song and King’s The Stand, but readers quickly noted that it stood apart from these giants. For one thing, there was no communicable disease or nuclear war on page one. Instead, The Fearing sets up an air of mystery. The characters introduced are spread throughout the United States, hinting at the epic nature an apocalyptic novel typically has, but we only meet a handful of characters and the scope somehow feels simultaneously sprawling, but small. By the time 100 pages have passed we’ve met our protagonist, we’ve met our villain, we’ve been thrust full-force into the action, we have little to no idea what is going on, and we want more.

Part two, Water & Wind, was released on August 20th to anxious readers everywhere looking to find out what happened next. Part two is mainly about making everything a little more clear. Our characters begin to theorize what’s happening to the world, and it clicks but it’s far from complete. We meet new characters, and it’s immediately apparent that big things are to come for them. We also start to realize just what our antagonist is capable of and, although it’s not unfurled, that he has a plan. Book two also serves to up the ante in every conceivable way, including an unforgettable ending. Some truly awful things happen, and Taff settles back to assure us that we might be halfway through, but it only gets worse.

Book three, Air & Dust, was released on October 1st  It presents a little bit of a contrast to the first half of the story.  The main people, originally spread across the country, begin to come together and so our action is a little more centralized. This entry could have easily been 100 pages of set-up for book four, but Taff includes some excellent moments of character development, as well as some of the best depictions and embodiments of fear come to life present in the entire series. 

And so we arrive at book four, subtitled Earth & Ember. Picking up the final installment was a bit terrifying.  Not only because of the content, but because the expectations for the story’s outcome were impossibly high.  Taff had designed a unique and original event and then populated the world with living, breathing characters.  The readers had invested months eagerly turning pages, itching to discover how it all turns out.  Lucky for us, and for the first time in four books, our fears were unfounded.  Our story is resolved in a satisfying manner, questions raised throughout four books are answered, the terrifying imagery we’ve come to expect and anticipate is ever-present, and the characters we’ve come to care about are handled in a way that lets us close the book and feel sated.
Someday I hope to hold a copy of The Fearing in my hands that collects all four entries in one volume.  This work deserves that treatment.  However, it is difficult to argue with the brilliance in releasing this in a serialized fashion.  I am currently writing my fifth review of the series or its’ various portions.  If the whole thing came out at once in July, I may have loved it, but I likely would not have been writing about it, talking it up, and communicating with other members of the horror community about it for almost five straight months.  Releasing a piece at a time has kept Taff’s master class in horror relevant and in the public eye for an extended period of time. It’s also hard to discount just how well this book breaks itself into pieces.  There’s never a dull moment.  

With all the methods of distribution available to authors and indie presses, I truly believe Taff and Grey Matter have tapped into something special. I would not be surprised if we see more authors attempt releases in this fashion in the coming years.  Will they all be successful? Maybe, maybe not.  Would just any work lend itself to the process as well as The Fearing does? Not likely.  Am I excited as hell to see all the different ways this trend could be handled and adapted? You bet.