[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.

[Double-Feature – Bonus Interview] – Liam “Pais” Hill

By Patrick R. McDonough

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?

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 references?

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 Lovecraft-related?

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 for?

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 back.

DHR: Ha. What a swell guy! Thank you for sharing with the world your beautiful art, and letting us know how your mind works.

You can follow Liam on:

Twitter: @highgreendawn

Instagram: @highgreendawn

FB – /highgreendawn

[Double-Feature – Interview] – Lex H Jones

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!). 

You can follow Lex on:

Facebook: /LexHJones

Twitter: @LexHJones

Amazon author page: US Link

Amazon UK page: UK Link

[Double-Feature – Review] – The Old One And The Sea

By Patrick R. McDonough

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.