[Double-Feature – Interview] – S.H. Cooper

By Garrett Witt

Dead Head Reviews (DHR): Hello, S.H. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today. We are excited to have you here. 

S.H. Cooper (SHC): Thank you! I’m frankly shocked anyone would want to take the time to interview me, but very happy to be here!

DHR: We’re so happy to have you! Congratulations on your release of The Festering Ones. Can you tell us how the response has been so far? 

SHC: It’s been really positive so far! The reviews have started to come in and it’s getting some really great feedback. People seem to be digging some Lovecraftian vibes and the mostly female cast of characters. It’s actually been a huge relief because this is my first long form fiction release and I was very worried it might not hold up against my short stories, which is what I’ve built my little horror corner on online. 

DHR: I also enjoyed those elements. We need more stories with mainly female characters. Can you tell us what was the process of creating the story? What was your inspiration behind it? 

SHC: It wasn’t initially meant to be anything more than a one off short, which was the story Passit, Florida that I uploaded to Reddit under my username, Pippinacious. After I finished it, though, all of these ideas of what exactly happened in the town of Passit started swirling in my head, which led to a spin off story and then the first chapter of The Festering Ones. Passit itself came about as a coping mechanism after my sister, who I’m very close to, moved away. I dealt with feelings of distance and loss through the characters. Once that was established, the idea of throwing eldritch beings and a cult into the mix just kind of fell into place. I’d wanted to do something along those lines for a while, but had never quite known where to go with it until The Festering Ones developed. Obvious influences would be Lovecraft (who I’ve never actually read, but because my best friend is a huge fan, I’ve done a lot of research into the lore), games like Bloodborne and Silent Hill, and Stephen King. 

DHR: It’s amazing how writing can be used as a coping mechanism. I’m always wondering if a story is personal to the author or just imagination. Do you think there could someday be a sequel to The Festering Ones?

SHC: Oh definitely! I plan to do a series of books set in the same universe, some of which will include Faith, others that will act as standalones.

DHR: The cover art is by Elderlemon Design. What was it like working with Kealan and finding the perfect cover art for you story?

SHC: Kealan was amazing to work with. I had about 50 artists contact me after I posted a request for cover artists on Twitter, but his work really stood out. There’s this quality about it that instantly reads “Horror” and that’s what I wanted. I’m very happy I went with him. He was very receptive to suggestions, quick with communication, and put up with me hemming and hawing over the title font for literal days. We went through a couple of ideas in writing, then he developed the first cover, then came revisions, and after a few tweaks, the actual cover came to life! I think, all told, it took about three weeks to get it just right and as soon as I had the final design, I was shoving it in people’s faces, shrieking about how much I loved it.

DHR: It definitely fits the story perfectly. It’s one of my favorite covers to date. Do you prefer absolute silence when writing? Or do you like having background noise? 

SHC: Silence. I need to hear the narrator in my head in order to get anything done.

DHR: I’m the same way when reading. The slightest noise can cause me to lose my attention to the story, sadly haha. Are you currently working on anything at the moment? 

SHC: Haha. Hahaha. Ha. Oh god, I am currently working on TOO MANY things at the moment. I have two longer form horror stories that I plan to start on, I’ve just put out a casting call with my friend and co-writer, Elijah Gabriel, for a new fairytale retelling audio drama series we’re planning, I have the second season of the horror comedy podcast, Calling Darkness, gearing up soon, and I’m querying agents with a YA fantasy novel. In addition to writing, I also voice act for podcasts like the aforementioned Calling Darkness, The Glass Appeal, Copperheart, and Radioverse

DHR: You sure seem to have a full plate. All of these sound very cool. Could you tell us more about your podcast, Calling Darkness?

SHC: Calling Darkness is a horror comedy that follows six women who come together for an acting seminar, only to accidentally summon a demon. We like to say it started a joke that we accidentally on purpose took too far. I co-wrote the series with Gemma Amor and we were lucky enough to have Kate Siegel from Haunting Of Hill House perform as our narrator. The focus, first and foremost, is on the various women and their relationship with each other. It was important for Gemma and myself to create a variety of realistic, flawed characters while still playing with all the most fun tropes horror has to offer. A point of pride is that it is a strongly female-led endeavor. Written by women, produced by women, with a majority female cast. I find that there is still some resistance to women in horror, so to have had a hand in creating a well received, female-led podcast is pretty amazing. I’m extremely proud of our show and everyone involved.

DHR: When did you realize you wanted to be a writer? 

SHC: I’ve been writing since I was very young. It’s really something I’ve always done. The novel I’m shopping around now is one I first wrote when I was eleven. Twenty years later, I was finally able to rewrite it so that I’m happy with it and hope to have it traditionally published. 

DHR: Eleven?! Wow, that’s impressive. Could you possibly tell us anything about this secret novel?

SHC: Well, it’s not really so secret! I’ve always been a huge fantasy fan, having grown up on Tolkien, games like Baulder’s Gate, and in the Underdark with Drizzt Do’Urden. My novel is a young adult medieval fantasy told from the perspective of 14 year old Mary McThomas, a girl with the impossible dream of becoming a knight, like her father. After he’s critically wounded in an ambush, Mary and her brothers set out to find a cure. At its heart, it’s a tale of family, love, and perseverance. Really not so unexpected since I’m known for my wholesome horror stories.

DHR: I’ve noticed you talk a lot about your parents on twitter, is it safe to say they have a big influence on your writing? 

SHC: Oh yeah. Not only are they my biggest support system, they’re also my biggest fans and first beta readers (and as much as I’d love to say they only ever have glowing reviews for me, they can be some of my most constructive critics, which is probably preferable). They’ve both directly inspired stories, such as The Ringing In My Ear and Bad Feeling, and indirectly inspired them from life lessons, family history, and just being a constant positive presence in my life. They receive the first dedication in all of my books. My siblings, husband, and pets also feature prominently in my work as they have had just a big an impact on me becoming who I am as a person and a writer. Most of my stories have some element of my life included in them, and it’s often in the form of a character based on a loved one or a memory. 

DHR: Is there anyone you’d like to shoutout or any last thing you’d like to say?

SHC: Lots of people! I’ll try to keep it condensed, otherwise it’d be a long list: The casts and crews of Calling Darkness, The NoSleep Podcast, and Thrown Together Productions, the Ladies of Horror Fiction, and all the folks behind Dead Head Reviews.

DHR: Sarah, Thank you so much for your time. We can’t wait to see what you come out with in the near future! 

[Review] – Dear Laura

By Ell Turpitt

A year after her best friend’s disappearance, Laura receives a strange letter, offering a clue to Bobby’s whereabouts if she gives him something personal. Laura, not knowing what else to do, does as she’s asked, and continues to do so, exchanging her humiliation for coordinates, pushing her into a quest for closure while her pen-pal becomes more and more obsessed.

Gemma Amor is the author of the story collection Cruel Works of Nature, and co-writer for Calling Darkness, my favourite podcast. Although I haven’t read her collection, I knew from the podcast how talented a writer she is, so it was no surprise to me that I was completely absorbed in Laura’s story.

Laura is desperate to gain closure on Bobby’s disappearance, not just for herself but for his family too. And she takes so much on her young teen shoulders, realising quickly she has gone too far to back out. Her whole world is dictated by this mysterious man, even when she tries to forge a life for herself, even when she tries to take control, it doesn’t work.

Dear Laura is a novella about cruelty and obsession, about love and the desire to please. Laura convinces herself that pleasing the mysterious X will result in her discovering what happened to Bobby, and perhaps Bobby himself, and although a unique story, her character and actions are so believable and relatable, even when the reader feels she needs to take another path, it becomes hard to argue against the one she travels. And, eventually, the threat isn’t just against her, but her family, her husband and her son, and like many other women, Laura takes that on by herself, determined to protect them, even if she couldn’t protect Bobby.

It’s hard not to feel for Laura, not to want to reach through the pages and hug her, tell her everything will be okay, because no one else is willing to. No one else seems to look upon the teenage girl and realise something is seriously wrong. She isolates herself to protect them, and continues her quest on her own, a quest that spans decades. The book alternates between past and present, and each twist and turn has an affect on the reader, leaving them squirming and desperate to read on, to discover how this resolves, if it ever does.

Don’t make the mistake I did. Make sure to start reading this when you have the time to read it all, because my biggest regret with this book is that I wasn’t able to read it in one sitting. Laura is a formidable character, strong and determined, and able to carry the reader through everything, making them as much as a hostage to the story as she is. And the realism of the events, the reality of it all, adds to the power of the novella itself.

A fantastic tale, gripping and harrowing. Definitely not one to miss.


[Review] – Halloween Fiend

By Jason Cavallaro

This is the first of what will be a 5-book series of reviews for Grindhouse Press (Thanks Grindhouse!).  You will just have to stay tuned to find out what the other 4 books are.
C.V. Hunt is a writer that should AT LEAST be on your radar if you’re into dark fiction.  She has published many books, but her breakout novel, Ritualistic Human Sacrifice simply must be experienced.  Even if you don’t like it (but you will), you won’t likely forget it.  Halloween Fiend is short, even by novella standards.  So, my review will match:  This is like Trick ‘r Treat meets Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery.  I can’t sum it up better than that, and if you’re one of those people that are waiting for an excuse to read Hunt’s work, this would be a good one to start with.  It’s engaging and suspenseful throughout, and the plot is simple but thought-provoking.  And the end…*shiver*
Now that I’m thinking about it, now would be a good time to start reading Grindhouse Press stuff if you haven’t started already.  Just from the sheer volume of books these guys release, (they have GOT to be the most prolific horror publisher) you will find something to like.  They published the Splatterpunk award-winning Full Brutal by Kristopher Triana last year, so don’t worry about quality.  This isn’t an ad for Grindhouse.  I just genuinely admire their commitment to this brand of top tier horror fiction.

Grade:  B

I received this book for review consideration.

Jason’s Contact information:
Twitter:  @pinheadspawn

[Review] – Doll Crimes

By Becca Futrell

Doll Crimes is a book that I will never ever read again.

Hear me out. This was my introduction to Karen Runge and wow, her writing absolutely blew me away. Every single word that landed on paper was perfectly crafted and led the story into a direction I never expected. To add onto the praise, Karen Runge’s way with words makes it extremely easy to envision what’s going on. So, why will I never read this book again?

Because it hurt too damn much the first time and I don’t think I can take that much emotion a second time. Honestly, there’s zero enjoyment reading this book, but quite frankly, that’s the point.

Warning: This book is filled with triggers. From drug usage to sexual abuse towards a child. Doll Crimes is an extremely dark read.

Doll Crimes is told in a first-person narrative. I don’t believe you ever even learn the character’s name, which in terms of this story, makes sense. Our main character barely even knows her age; she goes anywhere between a young child to a teenager.

This unnamed main character is living day-to-day, motel-to-motel, with her mother. With absolutely no permanence or consistency, things tend to go rough for the two. Unnamed character provides the reader with a lot of anecdotes; all of which show their journey in life thus far.

It’s hard to discuss Doll Crimes’ synopsis without providing spoilers. Even after reading the synopsis provided to me, I still felt like I went into this book completely blind and that’s the perfect way to go into this one. I had zero idea how sinister Doll Crimes’ path would go, and at times even questioned if this book was going anywhere at all.

It’s not until over half-way through that you realize what’s going on. And honestly, this build-up and character development adds so much more to the story. If Karen Runge would have gotten straight to the point than I don’t think Doll Crimes would have hit the emotions half as hard as it did. I would also like to point out that this is coming from a reader who doesn’t typically like a slow-burn.

No matter how difficult Doll Crimes was to stomach, it was still worth the read. It’s not everyday that a book gut punches you with emotion. Karen’s writing is beyond impressive, and I’m so excited to check out her other work.

I received this book from the publisher for review consideration.

[Review] – The Cult Called Freedom House

By Ellen Avigliano

Where do I even begin?! The Cult Called Freedom House is a stunning debut novel from Stephanie Evelyn (aka Sterp). It was one hell of a crazy ride from its first page to its last. It is a smart, fast paced, edge-of-your-seat detective murder-mystery thriller, and one you won’t want to put down. At its core though, it truly is a horror novel, and make no
mistake, this is not a book for the faint of heart. The Cult Called Freedom House is what you would get if the old school Wicker Man and every episode of Law & Order: SUV had a love child, and then that child was raised by The Silence of the Lambs. It’s weird and over the top, and you know what? I am so here for it; I was so engrossed I finished it in a single day!

TCCFH follows Officer Sophia Rey, a police woman with a troubled past, and Samantha, a 14 year old runaway from a broken home. Samantha seeks comfort, solace, and stability and is the perfect target for any cult. Officer Rey wants to save the world to fill the hole in her life that a desperate loss created, and that drive is what makes her the perfect candidate to go up against the cult. I’m not going to rehash smaller details or give yet another summary, because the less you know about the plot and what’s coming, the better off you are. Truly, half the fun of wading through these dark waters is not being able to see they’re shark infested!
Fair warning to the squeamish: there is a lot of potentially triggering content within these pages. This book has some truly brutally violent scenes, a fair amount of uncomfortable sexual content, domestic/child abuse, body horror, and….well…anything else more specific would really be a spoiler. Suffice it to say, I almost lost my lunch a few times, but was too emotionally invested in the story to let that deter me from continuing on at a rapid pace (one may also in general consider me a glutton for punishment, or perhaps a reader with a masochistic side who likes to suffer for the sake of The Art HAHA!).
The characters and their motivations are realistic and plausible, and well-crafted. Main characters Sophia and Samantha are relatable and sympathetic. They make great examples of how trauma affects everyone, but each of us process it in wildly different ways to cope with its existence. The villains are about as low-down and dirty as you could ever want; they are some of literature’s most lecherous, vile, despicable creatures! Cyrus and his crew are repugnant, despicable, and truly heinous, and their actions are reprehensible.
Freedom House itself is located in beautiful, sunny, laid-back California which makes an interesting backdrop for a creepy, sinister cult itself. California warmth and sunshine are a stark contrast to the scary underbelly of this cult. The hippie chic aesthetic of Freedom House is bright and “whatever man” on the outside, but lurking deep within its walls are the most horrific and harrowing of scenes.
This book is clearly well-researched and the cult lore/principles are firmly rooted in reality, which quite frankly only aids the terror. As with any cult, the manipulation tactics of the members within Freedom House are expertly employed on one another as well as new recruits. What appears to be a welcoming, free-flowing family on the surface really has its own terrible secrets at its center. Unlike other horror or crime novels I have previously read, the disturbing sexual content is not used as erotic fodder which I found to be a refreshing change of pace. Sexual content used as a plot device is there to add realism and drive home the point of just how awful humans can really be to one another. The abuses and behaviors the characters face are not glorified for simple entertainment value. Even the most brutal scenes are finessed in such a way that readers understand the implication of an action’s consequences, but never witness “The Act Itself.” The real terror throughout is the terrifying psychological impact on the characters and the reader as together we witness the unfolding of
each salacious event.
All of these ingredients together make for a truly delicious debut novel that you can really sink your teeth into. Make no bones about it, Stephanie Evelyn is pouring a solid foundation to cement herself as one of the greats in horror/thriller writing. She truly has a gift! The second installment in the Sophia Rey series is arriving in early 2020, and I seriously cannot wait to get my hands on it.

I received this book from the author for review consideration.

[Review] – Camp Red Moon

By: Regi Caldart

R.L. Stine is back once again! Audible released this 4-story full cast audio anthology back in October as a part of their monthly Audible Originals. Because I’m always ready for some more Robert Lawrence in my life, I immediately downloaded it. I saw that he wrote the first story and that the other three tales came from more recent authors of middle grade horror whom I am admittedly not as familiar with. However, given how creeped out I got at some of the stories, I’ll have to track down more of their work! Let’s break down the campfire tales: 

The Werewolf in the Woods – R.L. Stine 

This is Amber’s first summer at Camp Red Moon, and she and her friend Mariah are a little bit concerned about their mutual friend, Peter. Peter is easily frightened, which makes him an easy target for bullying camp counselor Danny. As the howls get louder each night, Amber grows more and more worried about what Danny will do next to elicit a reaction… 

It’s pure R.L. Stine in the vein of the original 62 Goosebumps novels, but astonishingly not the strongest entry in the anthology. That doesn’t make it any less fun, though. 3.5/5 

The New Camper – Dan Poblocki 

Richard is just coming into his own at Camp Red Moon when Sammie, his new bunkmate, knocks on his door one day. However, Sammie is truly not as meek and timid as he seems, and Richard’s world rapidly turns upside-down. 

The creep factor is real with this one. By far the strongest entry in the anthology, The New Camper is equal parts horrifying and engaging. You can’t stop listening because you simply aren’t sure what will happen next. I can safely say that I’m going to find some more of Dan Poblocki’s works to see what else he does. 4.5/5 

Battle of the Bots – Justin Reynolds 

Jackson dreams about robots, and he specifically chose to go to Camp Red Moon because it has one of the best robotic programs in the state. He co-captains the robotics team with Morgan, a frequent winner of the battle bot championships. But something isn’t right with the opposing team this time around. They seem almost…inhuman. 

I found this story less horror and more sci-fi, but it follows the same pattern you come to expect from a Goosebumps-style story: the beginning, the middle, and the twist. The twist to this was pretty fun, I think, and it was one of three possibilities I had come up with as the story went on. As I understand it, Justin Reynolds is a newer author, but I look forward to seeing more of his work! 3/5 

The Ghost in Cabin Six – Ellen Oh 

Steven and his new step-sister, Callie, are at Camp Red Moon for the summer to bond. Steven has been there multiple times, but this is Callie’s first time at camp, first time making smores, first time for everything, and she’s doing it all mostly for the likes. When one of the counselors tells a campfire tale about the ghosts that haunt Cabin Six, Callie gets the idea to go and see it for herself while dragging Steven along for the ride. But what they find is something they wish they hadn’t. 

Ellen Oh is known for her middle grade and YA books in addition to her non-profit organization We Need Diverse Books. Though her story is the only ghost one in the whole anthology, it 

creates a vivid picture of just how small actions can snowball into something much larger. It didn’t get under my skin the same way as The New Camper, but it’s definitely stuck with me. 4/5 

The anthology is really well-suited to listening to with young horror fans ages 9 and up, but note that there is a little bit of swearing. You could also listen to it on your own under the covers at night. Who am I to judge? Overall: 3.75/5.