Dead Head Reviews (DHR): How did you get involved with The Old One And The Sea?
Liam “Pais” Hill (LPH): Lex, the author, got in contact with me
and asked me if I wanted to be involved. I did, but rules dictate that if I’m
going to work with someone then they have to best me in a challenge of the
mind. Lex chose to challenge me to a game of Ker-plunk which he won.
DHR: Ha, well thank god for that. How long have you been an illustrator for?
LPH: When I was like 6 I used to draw a comic about sweet corn. So I suppose since then.
DHR: Who are your influences?
LPH: I love cute simple stuff. Adventure Time has been a massive inspiration for me. Before then
maybe things like the Tamagotchi
artwork or the simplified versions of things on pre-3D games consoles.
DHR: Haha, I haven’t heard anyone talk about Tamagotchi in so long! Your art matches this story perfectly in
both tone and emotion. Were there any challenges to achieve this?
LPH: I had to befriend an eldritch horror and then tried to use
my experience to that.
DHR: Hmm…sounds spooky!x Are you a fan of Lovecraft?
LPH: I am, I’ve read a load of his stuff and ended up in quite a
few Lovecraft-ish projects. I’ve recently done art for a comic called The Exchange that has similarly
Lovecraft vibes (though again, twisted to be quite rather than terrifying).
DHR: Did you go through many drafts on the appearance of our
protagonist? For me, his nose is what makes it all perfect.
LPH: I would’ve sketched a load of versions first. I might’ve
even sent them by Lex to choose one, I can’t remember.
DHR: To piggyback off of a previous comment, your choice in
color and shades gives these stories a pleasant vibe. What went into deciding
those two things (the color and shade)?
LPH: I used to be rubbish with colour stuff, so I’ve spent some
time researching what looks good and what looks purposely bad. There’s tons
more texture in this than my previous stuff as I used paint-brush like brushes
on my tablet.
DHR: The results show. When creating Oolu, what did you use for
LPH: I took the unthinkable, unseeable horror that is Cthulhu and
I made him cute.
DHR: Ha-ha, well, you nailed it. Of the twelve illustrations,
which one would you say is your favorite and why?
LPH: The one that ended up as the cover. I had a few passes at
that and I’m happy I didn’t settle on an older version. The original I sent to
Lex was pink, but he requested that it has a more normal blue sky, which in
hindsight was a good idea.
DHR: Is this the first time that you’ve created anything
LPH: I’ve previously mentioned The Exchange, I’ve also done a couple of songs with my band Modern
Day Dukes based on his stories (Dagon and Me & St John).
DHR: Now that sounds pretty awesome! Did you and Lex see
eye-to-eye on your original concepts?
LPH: Yeah I think he digs it. If he didn’t, he didn’t say, which
is a very British move. But yeah, there wasn’t tons in the way of changes he
wanted, he seems really happy with the result.
DHR: One of my favorite illustrations was Chapter Seven’s. Where
Howie is transformed into a Deep One. He kind of looks like an X-Men character.
Was that image something that appeared in your mind right away?
LPH: I normally draw things quite flat. With that one I wanted to make it a bit more action-filled so it has a bit more perspective than the other images. Kind of like a sneak attack in drawing form.
DHR: Chapter eight’s illustration is the same on the cover of the
book. Where Oolu is standing in the sea and Howie stands atop a ferries wheel’s
cart, while both stare off into the sea. How did you guys decide on using that
as the cover?
LPH: I sent it to Lex and he was like ‘that’s the cover’.
DHR: That image absolutely sums up the entirety of the story. What
do you typically do artwork for?
LPH: My usual game is comics. This is the first time I’ve done a
kids book and I’d like to do some more.
DHR: Do you have any future projects we should keep an eye out
LPH: I’m always working on too much. Right now there’s the Slug Café cartoon, the Marg the Butter Warrior
choose-your-own-adventure stylebook and a ‘zine of short stories.
DHR: Those sound intriguing! I watched an animation you did on
your YouTube page. It made me want to see more of your work. Can we anticipate
any more animation from you?
LPH: I have more planned that I have time right now. I’d love to
regularly put out animations but it’s very time-consuming, you have to be
pretty confident in the joke if you’re going to spend a few weeks animating it.
DHR: That’s a good point. You definitely need to be dedicated to
the jokes. Would you like to make a shout-out to anyone?
LPH: Shout out to Liam ‘Pais’ Hill who is me. He’s always got my
DHR: Ha. What a swell guy! Thank you for sharing with the world
your beautiful art, and letting us know how your mind works.
Dead Head Reviews (DHR): Lex, thanks for giving us your time. When Ginger Nuts of Horror revealed the cover for The Old One And The Sea, I was instantly interested. Let’s start off with an easy question. Are you a fan of Lovecraft?
Lex H Jones (LHJ): Very much so. In fact I think I was a fan of his before I’d even heard of him. What I mean is, his influence is there in so many of the things I’ve always loved, that even as a child I was a fan without knowing it. Ghostbusters is a prime example of this.
DHR: Do you have a favorite Lovecraft story?
LHJ: Either the “Dunwich Horror” or “The Colour Out of Space” (I’m spelling Colour with a U, I’m British.) I love Dunwich because it feels like it could be an Arthur Machen story, Machen being an author whose work influenced Lovecraft and you can see it here. It’s almost like a love-letter to one of Machen’s best tales, “The Novel of the Black Seal”. And Colour is a rare Lovecraft story in that it completely stands alone without any massive links to the wider mythos. You can read that (or watch the upcoming film) without knowing any of the rest of it and it’s absolutely fine.
DHR: I think “colour” is how Lovecraft spells it too. That’s actually my favorite as well! If you could meet one Lovecraft character, which would it be? And if you could visit one place from any Lovecraft story, where would it be?
LHJ: I’d quite like to meet any of the sailors who encountered Cthulhu in the original “Call of Cthulhu” story. I love hearing sailors talk about sea monsters and weird stuff that happened out on the ocean. As for places, I’d like to see Innsmouth, if it was safe to do so!
DHR: Innsmouth would be a trip!Jim “Ginger Nuts of Horror” Mcleod introduces your book. Who approached who for that?
LHJ: I asked him, and I was so glad he agreed. At the start of my writing career, Jim gave me opportunities (and still does, I should add) to write articles on the Gingernuts site, which brought me exposure I’d never have gotten otherwise. I’ve had a lovely friendship with Jim ever since, and his support of the horror community is ceaseless. So when I decided I wanted an expert on horror to write an introduction to this book, there was never anybody else I’d have approached.
DHR: That makes sense. I was really happy to read his intro. You follow Jim’s intro with your own. In it you told the kids who were reading, or being read to, that us older readers say we know the history of Lovecraft and his mythos, but that’s just what older readers say. That there was a truth hidden under what the older readers know. That was brilliant. Is that how you typically look at life?
LHJ: I do believe that what we know, or think we know, changes all the time. In science, our understanding of human history, of social values. For anyone to stand and say what THEY know right now is absolutely right and can’t be questioned is always like building your house on sand. When it comes to fiction, I’m also a big believer in the allowance of different adaptations. If you don’t like the latest one, that’s fine, but that doesn’t mean nobody else will. So the introduction was a way of covering both of those points.
DHR: Very clever. In the book Lovecraft’s mother, Sarah, calls him Howie. That made me giggle. It still makes me giggle thinking of him as Howie. Did it have a similar effect on you?
LHJ: The name adjustment was a way of softening him. This is a very, very fictionalized version of Howard, it’s in no way based on his real life. But even so, I don’t think the man himself, even when we think of him as a child, would be a particularly likeable character. So along with writing him how I needed him to be, keeping the key elements of who he was, I changed his name to go along with that character change.
DHR: I couldn’t agree with you more. I think the real Howard would be a bore. You brought into this story characters and settings from various Lovecraft tales. How many drafts or storylines did you have before landing on the one in the book?
LHJ: I started writing the book about 3 years ago, so that should give you some idea! I wanted to do a balancing act between making this a rich, full world that Lovecraft fans would recognize, but not going so far as to have a reference or Easter Egg on every page. Eventually I settled on the idea of a rundown seaside town as the setting, which I’d name Innsmouth, and then brought in the black reef from “Dagon”, and just used that as the primary basis. We do see Ry’leh later on, of course, and there are references to various other bits of the mythos throughout.
DHR: That was so cool seeing all those in one story! If you were Howie, would you have done anything different if you were in his shoes?
LHJ: I don’t think I was as brave or curious as he is. I wouldn’t have been climbing a black reef in the middle of the night to see if I could find a giant monster.
DHR: Ha-ha! Few would. In real life, Sarah Philips had a puritanical approach towards her son, Howard—little to no affection. In your book she’s the opposite. In real life Lovecraft’s father went mad and ended up in a psychiatric hospital in Providence. In your book, Lovecraft’s father never came back from fighting overseas during WWI. I found those two alternative historic events to be perfect and exciting. Was it challenging to reimaging their past and were there any specific reasons for why you crafted them into what they are?
LHJ: Similarly to what I said about the name change, it was about softening. I needed Howard’s father to be absent, as that loss is key to the story. But this is a children’s book; having him in an asylum just doesn’t work. And the other key theme about the book is about accepting who you are, not being afraid to be different etc. I didn’t want to have the tired old trope of the ‘mean old discouraging mother’ figure. I wanted her to be the opposite of both that trope and who she was in real life. But again it’s important to point out that this story is in no way biographical.
DHR: Was the coins to call Oolu (Cthulhu) your own creation? I can’t remember that in any of Lovecraft’s stories.
LHJ: I remember playing a videogame, I think it was a Mythos-based one, where part of a ritual involved throwing a large metallic disc into the ocean to summon something. I liked this, and it’s a very Lovecraftian idea, but the image of Howie struggling with this great big disc just didn’t work. Also the story necessitated him finding more than one. So the disc shrank and multiplied in the planning stages, and became coins instead.
DHR: It seriously had me wondering if this was a creation straight from Lovecraft. Bravo on your part for that! The cover and illustrations at the beginning of each chapter were created by Liam “Pais” Hill. How did you two end up collaborating?
LHJ: I met Liam through a mutual friend. As well as being an artist, Liam is part of the underground rock music scene in Britain, via his band the Modern Day Dukes. Our mutual friend KC, of band The Idol Dead, introduced me to Liam when he knew I was looking for an artist, and we just went from there. Even from his very early sketches, I could see that he was going to capture exactly what I had envisioned.
DHR: You two make a perfect team. Can we expect any more adventures from Howie in the future?
LHJ: Well…. I am writing at least one more book in this series, possibly two. The next will be based on “At the Mountains of Madness”. But it’s not a sequel, as such, and Howie only has a cameo in it. The same goes for the potential third book. They’re not going to be more adventures with Howie, but rather more stories that take places in the same world he lives in.
DHR: Oh man! I’m already sold. Was this the first children’s book you wrote? How has the experience been so far?
LHJ: This was the first, and I really enjoyed it. It’s a very different animal to the stuff I usually write, and it felt like something of a mental pallet cleanser.
DHR: Do you have children of your own?
LHJ: No I don’t. I have a niece and nephew, and my sister just told me this week that my niece cried at the ending, which is lovely.
DHR: Wow! That’s truly beautiful that you could create such a reaction. Laura Mauro created an Oolu and Howie plushie. How did that come about?
LHJ: I’d seen her make plushies for different literary events, and I asked her if she’d be kind enough to make some for the book! She’d already written me a cover blurb, so I knew she was fond of the book and familiar with the characters. She was gracious enough, as she always is, to agree and now those toys sit on my ‘Published Work’ shelf.
DHR: She’s incredibly talented, that’s for sure. If someone were interested in buying those two plushies, where could they go to order them?
LHJ: Well unfortunately, they can’t. Laura only made those two for me. Although I think a couple of people have contacted her and asked if they could pay her to make some for themselves, so it’s always worth asking! Worst she can say is no, but Laura being Laura, she’d always be polite about it.
DHR: Ha-ha, so I asked her, and I’m getting me an Oolu and Howie to add some cuteness to my writing desk! What was the process like writing a children’s book, compared to the typical fiction you write targeted toward adults?
LHJ: I had to explain things in a different way than I would for adults, and also focus on the things that a child would focus on to make the story interesting. But to do all that without being patronizing. It wasn’t easy, which is probably why it took so many drafts!
DHR: Were there any parameters you kept at the forefront of your mind, i.e. word count, structure, or pacing?
LHJ: With regards to word count, I just wanted to tell the story, and then see how long it was. As it turned out, the length was just right, so that didn’t need much work. The pacing was more of a focus area. The book has something of a melancholy feel to it, so telling the story at too heady a pace would lose this.
DHR: Are there any other children’s books targeted for a younger audience that you are fond of?
LHJ: I particularly like When a Monster Calls. Both the book and the film adaptation are fantastic, emotional punches to the gut. Living proof of the fact that children’s stories, the best ones in fact, don’t need to be all happy and rainbows and unicorns. Those stories are fine too, but they’re like a candy. Nice whilst it’s there, but not great at providing long-term satisfaction the way a good meal does. Stories that have that emotional punch to them, those are the ones that matter. And that’s equally true for children as it is for adults.
DHR: That’s such an interesting analogy. I love that. Besides horror, what genres do you typical read? Write?
LHJ: I do also like fantasy, crime, and historical fiction. I’m quite varied in both my reading and my writing.
DHR: Is there anyone you would like to make a shout-out to?
LHJ: Everyone who was involved with the book! Please check out Liam’s twitter page ‘Highgreen Dawn’ for more of his work, The Ginger Nuts of Horror for all things horror on the internet, and the works of Laura Mauro and Taylor Grant.
DHR: Thank you Lex, for this beautiful story and for taking the time for this interview. I’m looking forward to future stories of yours and reading The Old One And The Sea to my boy, Philip (oh the irony!).
This book made me feel like a child, and I mean that exclusively in every complimentary way imaginable. Let’s start with the idea of the book itself. It’s about a young Howard Phillips Lovecraft as a child. It’s before he was a writer. And like the author’s (Lex H Jones) introduction before the first chapter, Old Readers think they know the truth of Lovecraft. About Cthulhu. About the relationship he had with his mother and what really happened with Lovecraft’s father. You see, New Readers typically can accept new truths.
Here’s the thing, though. Cthulhu, or Oolu, as he’s called in The Old One And The Sea, isn’t this big terrifying alien set to kill us all. Howie, as his mother affectionately calls him, is a boy with practically no friends. With the exception of Mr. Derleth (Sarah Lovecraft’s friend), Howie doesn’t seem to have much social interaction. But that’s ok because Mr. Derleth is an interesting person. Like Howie’s father, he fought overseas. He was in The Great War. But unlike his father, Mr. Derleth returned home.
Howie’s mother encourages him to never stop asking questions, to be the best he can be, and reach for the stars. But what happens when old stars appear and unlock the door to weirdness? With the appearance of an emerged black reef and strange coins to call upon the mighty Oolu, Howie does just that, accidentally.
Oolu and Howie don’t communicate in conventional ways, yet they understand each other. They were meant to be best friends. Oolu teaches Howie so many wonderful things. About the cosmic wonders, the history of humans, and Oolu’s place in our…er, his world.
This book has a lot to offer, from the incredible artwork by Liam “Pais” Hill, to the beautiful descriptors. Lex reimagined Lovecraft and his most notorious character in such a fantastic way.
The first time I heard about this story, I was apprehensive with a hint of optimism. But now, if Lex told me he would come out with future stories about Lovecraft or *insert author name* then I would, without a doubt, be excited. His story put a smile on my face while reading it and still…when I think about it, my take away is that he truly offered the world a gift. Books like this don’t come around, in this format, really ever.
But it’s kind of more than that. This book doesn’t sugar coat the world. And children’s books shouldn’t. What kind of lesson would that be? Let’s face it, this is horror. So like any good horror story, really any good story, it teaches you a lesson. It also does something to your emotions towards Cthulhu that I never ever (ever, ever, ever) imagined I’d feel for the giant creature. Sympathy. Congrats, Lex, you’ve got me sobbing mentally like a little boy over a fictional alien that, by all accounts, has been a titanic-sized threat towards our entire race for the last ninety-three years.
This was the first book I’ve read by Lex, and it certainly won’t be the last. It is without a doubt one of my favorites. Ever. Yes, it is targeted for children, but at the same time, if you don’t have kids, or don’t feel like reading them this and holding it as a secret (how could you do such a thing, you monsters!), then go for it.
Take a lesson from Howie and Oolu and communicate with each other. Let the adventure of one of the greatest authors unfold before your eyes. If you read this to your kids (really any kids), it will surely entice them to explore the more complex stories of Lovecraft, and they’ll go in knowing that Oolu isn’t such a bad guy after all. Which will lead to more questions about all the other things in Lovecraft’s and our universe. If you take away one thing from this book and or review, let it be this: the moment you stop asking questions, is the moment you stop learning
I received The Old One And The Sea from Lex H Jones for review consideration.
My name is Jason Cavallaro (parents didn’t give me a middle name…so lazy) and this is my first review for Dead Head Reviews. Before we begin, allow me to explain a few things about my reviews. Firstly, my reviews are very short. This is by design. When I’m reading someone else’s review, I don’t want a play-by-play of main plot points, so I won’t give you one. As a matter of fact, you can skip the review altogether and just scroll down to the grade if you want. Furthermore, I use a lettered grading system:
A: Near flawless. A book that I will beg others to read.
B: Very good. I will recommend to others.
D: Did not like
One key here is that “A” grades are rare. Only 5-10% of books that I read will receive this grade. Conversely, “D” and “F” are also rare. Another thing to note here is that a “C” isn’t what I’d label a “bad” book. I say this because on a star rating system, 3-stars is considered to be a subpar rating and that isn’t the case here. Ok, enough of that. Carnivorous Lunar Activities (love that title) is my first book by Max Booth III, although I’ve been aware of him for a while now. His podcast, GHOULISH, is fun if you like awesome stuff. His off-kilter sense of humor is certainly on full display in this one. The obvious comparison would be to fellow horror/comedy writer Jeff Strand, and I mean that in the best way possible. Max does the ultimate balancing act here by constructing a story that is fun, but still manages to shock. Much of the story is narrated in past tense, which was a sneakily smart way to lull the reader into a false sense of security. Another thing that I liked about this book is that there is a short list of characters, but all are drawn well. Too often, stories get cluttered up with extraneous characters. Not the case here. It’s a simple, fun story, done well, with good writing. Werewolves + blood + dick jokes + beer equals…. Grade: B
I received a paperback of this book from the author for review consideration.
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 FreedomHouse, 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
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.
I received a copy of the e-book from the author for review consideration
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.
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.
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.
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’sdue 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.