Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason, better known as the Sisters of Slaughter, worked real hard to make sure we wouldn’t be bored this month. October 1st saw the dynamic duo release two books. Isolation is a novella about a haunted mansion on a cursed island, and one of my next anticipated reads. Tapetum Lucidum, the other release, is 349 pages of unbridled mayhem.
Tapetum Lucidum takes place over the course of about three days, culminating on Halloween night. How appropriate! Some young adults plan to spend the night just outside of the town of Brush Mill. Their plans, which mainly revolve around adult beverages, go awry when they awaken an ancient evil. The rest of the novel details an increasingly escalating siege by creatures from Native American lore.
We meet a plethora of characters from all walks of life in Brush Mill, and although there are a few front runners, there is no clear main character. We get to know everyone a little bit, get to know some of their personal dramas, and get to see what specifics they encounter when the murderous green-eyed monsters begin to lay waste to their town. In case their moniker didn’t make it clear, the Sisters of Slaughter make it quickly and glaringly obvious that no characters are above a brisk and grisly demise.
In case you wondered where Garza and Lason came up with such an intriguing title as Tapetum Lucidum, they define it as the eye shine present in animals, typically with above average night vision, that you sometimes see reflected back at you at night. Besides being an awesome sounding title, it forecasts some of the best imagery in the story. Leading up to a lot of the most fast-paced and savage action sequences, characters witness what appear to be floating green lights. This generally inspires a little bit of awe, but also some confusion, as it’s too late in the year for fireflies, before our townspeople are inevitably set upon.
As we near the ending, we get a resolution that is equal parts manic and cinematic. The final action sequences are written in a way that allow the reader to vividly picture every little thing that is occurring, including some gruesome displays we might wish weren’t so vivid. At times, the action moves so rapidly that the resolution of the plot can be a bit hard to follow, and I found myself retreading through some passages to clear them up.
If you go into this book looking for a gore fest where bad stuff happens, I can tell you that you won’t be disappointed. The monsters and lore involved, which I’ve intentionally left vague, are sprinkled pretty sparingly through horror as a trope, at least in my experience. As a result, it winds up being a fresh and, dare I say, fun story about a small town banding together to fight monsters.
Dead Head Reviews (DHR): Thank you so much for giving us your time, Jonathan. I was so excited when you first announced the revival of Weird Tales. How did you become Editorial Director?
JONATHAN MABERRY (JM): I was first approached to write a story for the re-launch of Weird Tales, which I did –a swords and sorcery piece called “The Shadows Beneath the Stone”, a sort of grateful nod to the sorts of things I liked reading from the magazine’s earliest runs. Then they asked me if I would help gather more stories to flesh out the first issue. I agreed, but only on the condition that I have a free hand in curating those tales. I got the go-ahead and began mapping out my editorial plan.
DHR: The last issue, 362, was published a few years ago. Marvin Kaye is an editor for the latest issue, 363. Did he or any other previous Weird Tales editors speak with you before taking on the task?
JM: I had a completely free hand in selecting the stories. I’ve only ever met Marvin once, but I worked on my own to curate the stories and poetry for the relaunch.
DHR: What challenges, if any, did you face to get this magazine published?
JM: Well, Weird Tales has a rather interesting history. There are many inarguably great things about it, but it comes with a fair share of baggage. Some of that baggage speaks to the evolution of our culture. When WT was launched in the 1920s, things like racism, sexism, and homophobia were much more common. People of color had very little voice and very little agency with which to protest the godawful ways in which they were represented in all aspects of popular culture. Same goes for women, who were often marginalized to the point of being there to be either sex objects, helpless waifs to be rescued, or femme fatales. And if rare cases when anyone from the LGBQT communities appeared in those stories, they were treated as vile, weak, or as figures of fun. Even as a kid reading WT I noticed those things, and was particularly sensitive to them because my own father was a sexual abuser, racist, and was very homophobic. I saw that evil firsthand, and was subjected to all of the cowardly justifications for those actions and beliefs.
Now, this is not to say that these elements were present in all of the various incarnations of Weird Tales. They were not. Notably in Ann VanDerMeer’s award-winning tenure. That was a golden age of enlightened storytelling. However there were other issues –certainly not of her making—that marred the end of that run. Politics and bad choices caused Ann to leave, and the magazine suffered and then folded shortly thereafter.
So, all of this baggage was stacked up by the time I arrived. I’m not here to be an apologist, or to try and time-travel to undo wrongs. What I am doing, however, is honoring those things that made Weird Tales so great at so many times in its long history.
Oh, and one thing…some people seem to have gotten the wrong impression by my occasional comments about making sure WT isn’t polluted by sexism, racism, and homophobia. They think that means that I’m afraid of buying stories that shine a line or those issues or include them as part of the overall story. Hardly. All you have to do is read the first story I commissioned for WT, which is Victor LaValle’s scathing “Up from Slavery” in issue #363. What I won’t buy for WT are stories where it’s clear that authors whose own racism, sexism, and homophobia doesn’t shine through in their writing. We’re two decades into the 21st century. Wake the hell up.
DHR: Well said. I absolutely loved LaValle’s story. It set the tone for the rest of the magazine. What do you hope to achieve with this magazine?
JM: I love weird fiction. I love horror, thriller, fantasy, mystery and other genres that can be woven together into a tapestry that tells a compelling and unexpected story. I will do my level best to find voices from around the world who have unnerving and beautifully-written tales to tell. At the same time I’ll be showcasing new voices and innovative new styles. For example, not every sword and sorcery story will be a blood bath or feature coiling monsters; some may be more subtle in the way they approach the violence and the dark magic. And so on. I’ll be including poetry and flash fiction, because those forms of storytelling actually benefit from their brevity –less of a battle and more of a quick knife in the dark. And I’ll tap some of today’s most successful writers to revisit dark worlds they’ve already created for us, such as having Dacre Stoker (grandnephew of Bram Stoker) and his writing partner, Leverett Butts, spin us a new Renfield tale set in the world of Dracula; or have Robert McCammon write a prequel to his frightening novel They Thirst; or have Steve Niles take us back to the chilling events of 30 Days of Night. And I’ll be bringing in writers from around the world, because fear is part of the human experience, and I want to hear how scary stories are told by voices other than those here in America.
So…what do I hope to achieve? I intend to make this new incarnation of Weird Tales the very best it can be.
DHR: You’ve certainly started out on the right foot. Were you a fan of the magazine growing up?
JM: I was introduced to Weird Tales by L. Sprague de Camp, the author who brought Robert E. Howard’s fiction back decades after that author’s suicide. De Camp was a mentor of mine as a teen and young adult, and I spent time at his house learning about writing, and about the history of weird fiction. He had an enormous collection of original issues of Weird Tales and lent me many copies in the mid-1970s. I’d already started reading the Lancer Books reprints of Conan, and reprints of CL Moore’s Jirel of Joiry, and was hooked on swords and sorcery; but de Camp introduced me to HP Lovecraft, Manly Wade Wellman, Seabury Quinn, and many others. I was a fan from the first issues I read. That has never changed.
DHR: Now that is an interesting history within itself—your mentor and how you are adding to the cannon of WT. Do you have a favorite Weird Tales author?
JM: It’s a three-way tie, I’m afraid. I absolutely loved the occult detective stories, notably Manly Wade Wellman’s Judge Pursuivant and Seabury Quinn’s Jules de Grandin; but also the heroic fantasy of Robert E. Howard’s King Kull.
DHR: What do you think about Lovecraft’s work?
JM: I have something of a love-hate relationship with Lovecraft, and I know that there is some heresy in saying it. I absolutely love the Cthulhu Mythos tales, but I dislike much of what I’ve read about Lovecraft the man. He had deep intolerances that I can’t excuse as merely being ‘of the time’. And, I also think some of the best Lovecraftian stories were written by other writers, such as August Derleth, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, and other contemporaries. But also many Cthulhu stories written in the years since, such as those by Brian Lumley, Mike Mignola, Joanna Russ, Stephen King, Yvonne Navarro, Caitlín R. Kiernan
Ramsey Campbell, Thomas Ligotti, Poppy Z. Brite, Gregory Frost, Richard A. Lupoff, Elizabeth Bear, and many others. Lovecraft created something amazing, and I will forever admire his vision, and also his generosity in allowing other writers to play with his strange toys.
That said, there are works of Lovecraft that I dearly love. “At the Mountains of Madness” is a classic, and a particular favorite of mine. Others I deeply admire are “Dagon”, “The Dunwich Horror”, “The Shadow over Innsmouth”, and a generous handful of others. Of all his work, though, I most love his poetry. And that is true, too, of Robert E. Howard. I always felt they were at their best when conjuring dark verse.
DHR: The latest issue’s cover is a tribute to the October 1933 issue. I absolute love that. Margaret Brundage, the illustrator for that particular issue, fascinates me. I take it you are a fan of her as well?
JM: I used to have Margaret Brundage covers framed on my walls. She was able to conjure such dark magic with her art, while also creating enduring pieces of art.
DHR: Agreed. Abigail Larson did the front cover as well as the inside back cover for the latest issue. She’s a fantastic artist! How did you decide on using her?
JM: Naturally, as a teenage boy I was attracted to the scantily-clad women (such as on the covers of the November 1935 and March 1938), but I quickly matured into appreciating those covers that captured the sinister moods of the stories. Favorites include the ‘Priestess of the Labyrinth’ cover from January 1945; ‘Beyond the Threshold’ from September 1941; the ‘Avenger from Atlantis’ cover from July 1935; and the December 1935 cover, ‘The Hour of the Dragon’, because a woman was rescuing Conan. Rather a nice twist for an issue with a Conan cover.
My all-time favorite Weird Tales cover, though, is actually Hannes Bok’s brilliant skeleton at a writing desk from November, 1941. I felt a real kinship to that one, and it was one of the few WT covers I had framed that was not by Brundage. The other was Harold S. De Lay’s January 1941 ‘Dragon Moon’ cover.
DHR: Ha, that skeleton at the writing desk is surely very relatable to many writers. And, please forgive my ignorance, but is the picture on the inside back cover from a particular story?
JM: Nope. Just another deliciously creepy piece of art by Abigail Larson.
DHR: This issue has a phenomenal lineup of authors: Victor LaValle, Josh Malerman, Lisa Morton, yourself, Sherrilyn Kenyon, the sensational poet Stephanie M. Wytovich, and a few more. They really represent the diversity and expansiveness of the new wave of weird fiction. Did it take a while to cultivate all of that talent?
JM: Once I was asked to curate the first issue I knew at once who I wanted in the first issue. Just as I have a clear vision for the next few issues. However, each writer was carefully chosen and the stories they wrote for us are amazing.
DHR: Speaking of which, your story, The Shadows beneath the Stone, was killer! When history-fiction is done like your tale, it only makes me want to read more. Was that story influenced by anything in particular? Is any of it based off of historical people or events?
JM: I’ve always had a deep interest in the politics of the Crusades, and have included elements of the Templars story in some of my novels, notably Assassins Code. And my love of folklore, which I’ve explored in a number of my nonfiction books (Vampire Universe, The Cryptopedia, They Bite, and Wanted Undead or Alive) informed my desire to give the main character, Julian Gunn (aka Julian Touched by God) a knowledge of what my grandmother used to call the ‘larger world’. I love stories that combine folklore with action. The Hellboy comics by my friend Mike Mignola are perfect examples, and the ‘John the Balladeer’, or Silver John, stories by Manly Wade Wellman, also blend folklore, horror, monsters, and action.
DHR: The descriptors and dialogue come off seamlessly. Did your story require a lot of research?
JM: I did quite a bit of research, but I’m almost always in research mode. It’s fair to say that I’m a research junkie.
DHR: One last thing about your story. I love Harimella, your crow character. Could you see yourself owning, or perhaps, befriending a crow?
JM: I’ve always loved crows. My grandmother had one, and there’s a family of them living in a palm tree outside of my condo. And, although I have a small dog, I could not in good conscience keep a bird as a pet. They are born to fly. I rather like meeting them here and there and making the acquaintance of the occasional crow.
DHR: Is there anything you can discuss right now about what is in store for the future for Weird Tales?
JM: We have a lot of great stuff lined up for the next few issues, including original tales by Charlaine Harris, Robert McCammon, Joe Lansdale and Kasey Lansdale, Seanan McGuire, Marie Whittaker, Rena Mason, Usman T, Malik, Marguerite Reed, Weston Ochse, Gregory Frost, Lee Murray, Gabrielle Faust, Tim Waggoner, Jewelle Gomez, Fran Wilde, Heather Graham, Gaby Triana, Jacopo della Quercia, Yvonne Navarro, and others. And poetry by Allesandro Manzetti, Anne Walsh, Linda Addison, Bruce Boston and others. Plus we’ll be doing some special issues, including one with stories written by teens. Weird Tales is back –dark, strange, and a hell of a lot of weird fun.
DHR: It certainly sounds like it. I’m sure others would agree with this, but we’re all in for a hell of a treat with what’s to come of Weird Tales.
From the beautiful cover—illustrated by Abigail Larson—to the back cover of a typewriter with a pair of bloodshot eyes, this issue is worth your time. The cover itself is a tribute to Margaret Brundage’s October 1933 cover of a mysterious woman, dressed in black and wearing a mask that, at the top, forms into a bat with stretched wings. The front-inside cover, with a quote from Stephanie M. Wytovich, underneath a black-and-beige illustration, further reassures the reader that, yes…this all feels so right.
The table of contents page, with its graphic of an alien, wraps it all up to say, lets begin Volume 68. Number 1. Issues 363.
Before we jump into the first story of the lot, we have a friendly message from one of Weird Tales’ editor (should be a familiar name, boys and girls), one Marvin Kaye! In it he brings us up to speed about Jonathan Maberry’s role as the new Editorial Director, who has served as nothing short of invaluable. Also, Mr. Kaye breaks down a few stories in this issue, as well as mentioning how H.P. Lovecraft would surely nod his cap to a few stories that are direct influences of his works. One last thing Mr. Kaye mentions, is how due to the amount of backlog material, this is a un-themed issue. Future issues will contain themes such as Fire and Ice, Swords and Sorcery, a special Theatre issue dedicated to his late friend Brother Theodore, and my personal favorite, a Nikola Tesla theme.
Victor LaValle’s story, Up With Slavery, knocks it out of the park. It sets the tone for the nth coming of Weird Tales, and it does it with the feel of the old stories set in the modern world. The title conjures up nasty images of the darker side of humanity. However, like any good weird fiction story, there’s a veil to this reality. Without giving anything away, its choice in familiar characters gets any Weird Tale fan excited and hopeful for the future. It would make previous readers as giddy as new ones.
Next up, By Post, by Josh Malerman. A guy gets a package with nothing in it. It’s from his friend. Totally normal, right? They’re both jokers, and lately, like many of us, as we grow up life gets in the way from hanging out with our buds as much as we once had. Sometimes that’s not such a bad thing. Sometimes it’s devastating. What Connor, our protagonist, soon learns is that some friends are worth keeping and others…not so much.
Lisa Morton’s A Housekeepers Revenge could have been published in the heyday of Weird Tales. You’re not too sure what to expect at first, yea we’re immediately sucked into the story of our protagonist, but…we don’t understand the why.
The why is the most important aspect of this story. It’s what drives our protagonist, Carmen, to do what she does. And she does it, for the most part, well. What I found to be the most exciting thing about this story were the gods controlling the major event, which creates the antagonists to do what they did. Which then forces Carmen to make a decision that brings us to the very beginning of the story.
The Shadows beneath the Stone by Jonathan Maberry is set in 14th century Scotland. I particularly enjoyed this story due to my love for history and it’s unique setting. This is a great example of how dark magic and historical fiction can compliment each other without being anything but original. I promise you, even if you aren’t interested in reading historical fiction, you won’t regret reading this one.
A couple secondary characters set up the story nicely. Everything happens in real-time where, at one point, the protagonist takes over. From that point on we go on edge and eventually…what we waited for comes to be. It’s gory in all the right places, full of action in all the others. Plus, it ends in a very satisfying way that creates a full picture.
This magazine is graced by Stephanie M. Wytovich’s poetry. The first time I read her was in this magazine. Five of her poems are scattered throughout the pages, and the one that blurred everything around me, magnetizing my entire focus, were the first two lines in A Woman Who Still Knows How to Die.
“My body is a full freezer of spoiled meat
My spirit, a bevy of leftover sobs”
I reread those two lines…I don’t know how many times. The rest of the poem, along with the other four are great, but those two lines alone made me say: “Whoa…this poet…this is a poet I need to learn more about.” Those two lines alone filled my throat, gut, and mind with morbidity and hypnotism.
I-O-U by Sherrilyn Kenyon is a quick story that leaves no room for loose ends. It sets up the scene and characters. You know who you like and dislike right away. And when it’s all said and done, we get what we want.
Pay Day, by Hank Schwaeble comes off as a fun story about a couple of school boys—our protagonist and a bigger schoolmate he owes money to for being his body guard. They’re conversation appears on the exterior to be one thing, but all the while, gears are turning in the background. What lies ahead for the two boys is something you’d read about…in a Weird Tales magazine or on the new Creepshow.
The last of the flash fiction is Distant Drums by Marc Bilgrey. I know I can’t be the only one feeling this way, but is there more of this world published anywhere? Honestly, this magazine covered many areas in the wonderful horror spectrum, and Bilgrey brings to this issue an incredible peek into a dark fantasy/horror set in lower Manhattan. He described just enough of well-known characters, while maintaining a well-paced story. It could be easily speculated that the ending was only a prequel to an even bigger plot.
One other poet, Tori Eldridge, graces three pages with her poem, Amelia Delia Lee. It was incredibly catchy with lines like:
“Oh how delicious these raw creatures are.
How they slip down so easy, like oysters on par.
I must have another or ten or fifteen.
I’m really that hungry, not greedy or mean.”
This poem had everything: comedy, a full story, and it ended in a way that there is no doubt about it, it’s a weird fiction poem. Just like Victor LaValle’s story, this had a lot of weight on its shoulders. In the sense that, had this been anything but a satisfying poem that fills (the belly, hehe, kidding!) you up, it would have been a bit disappointing. Wytovich and Eldridge have certainly set the bar for what to expect from future poets – a white noise of creepy macabre with subtle hints of horrible beauty.
Four pages await your eyes after Amelia Delia Lee. An ad for a Cthulhu Mythos anthology (I personally love it and think it adds a nice touch to the feel of the magazine), a beautifully colored illustration of Crom from Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian world, an open submission call for a 1500 word or less Weird Tale about the mysterious woman from Margaret Brundage’s October 1933 cover (window closed on September 2019), and another beautiful colored illustration by Abigail Larson.
Issue 363 is not only an exceptional magazine to read and excite weird fiction and horror fans, it demonstrates just how wide the spectrum of it’s author’s voices are today. It’s track record of talent (from Farnsworth, to Brundage, Lovecraft, Bradbury, Maberry, and LaValle) speaks for itself. It will leave you to bleed, wrap up the wound it inflicted, only to have you beg it for more.
You can follow Weird Tales on:
Main Website: weirdtales.com Facebook: /weirdtalesmagazineonline
Dead Head Reviews (DHR): Thank you for giving us your time,
Andrew. I’ve followed you and Sinister Horror Company for a few years now. I’m
so happy you have a collection through them. Tell us about My Dead And Blackened Heart.
Andrew Freudenberg (AF): Thanks for talking to me! Well… it’s a
collection of some of my dark tales, ranging from a gentler weird to full on
splatterpunk. We wanted it to showcase a variety of styles, as I tend to write
across the full spectrum of horror. There’s an emergent theme of parenthood,
which largely happened by accident, but there it is. It’s by no means the only
topic within, but I think its one of the main ones.
DHR: The parenthood theme totally works, though. What’s it like
working with Justin Park (the man behind Sinister Horror Company)?
AF: I can’t speak highly enough of Justin. This collection
certainly wouldn’t exist if it was not for him. He approached me with the idea,
helped me with story choice and editing, worked with me on the cover, and did
all the technical hard graft that goes into putting something like this
together. He gets things done and makes up for my slightly unfocused nature!
He’s also been a great friend and sounding board through the stresses of this
project. Actually, were I religious man, I’d like to nominate him for
DHR: Ha…to Saint Justin Parks! You were born in France, that
much I know. Were you raised there as well?
AF: No, my parents are English, and were just working in Europe
at the time. I was only about three months or so old when we came back to the
DHR: I know a lot of writers have
their spouse be their beta reader. That isn’t the case for you and I. Do you
have a few constant beta readers?
AF: I have a few good friends that I’ve been leaning on for a
while, but it’s not necessarily always a part of my process to use any one
particular person. I’m fairly erratic in that respect.
DHR: You often refer to your wife as your Ninja Wife. Is an
interesting or funny story attached with the origin of her nickname?
AF: I can’t remember when I started calling her that. It may
have had some origins in the fact that she used to do kickboxing, but really
it’s just a comment on her ridiculous ability to do almost anything. When she’s
not flying off to deliver a keynote on neuro-diversity, climate change or
collaborative software development, she’s marching down the Strand banging a
drum with Extinction Rebellion or negotiating a high figure software company
sale. She also used to be a diving instructor. In between all that we are
raising three boys, so yeah… she just is a Ninja!
DHR: In the ABOUT THE AUTHOR section it says you dabbled in the
global techno scene during your twenties. Care to expand on that?
AF: Sure. I have always dabbled with music. In my teens it was
more band style, writing and recording a bunch of songs. We weren’t a live act
but actually put together quite a few songs. I sang, with my brother on guitar
and cousin on bass, and various other friends on drums and more guitars! Unfortunately
life got in the way, as it does, and we all went in separate directions. When I
discovered sequencing, the dance scene and the associated hedonism, I just
wanted to get involved.
I started a
record label and we put out about 15 12” singles, on vinyl, by ourselves and
various other people. Back then it was a lot more complicated than it is now,
as you couldn’t run virtual instruments, so needed an actual studio, and it was
pre-internet, so you actually had to ship physical media around. We made some
pretty well received tunes.
I also got involved with Tribal Energy, an underground party organization, and
ended up co-promoting their monthly party night, ‘Club Alien’, for about 1000
people in various locations in London. We also toured it around the UK and did
a few things overseas. One of the highlights for me was DJing in the New State
Circus building in Moscow, where we provided the soundtrack for a big event
promoted by a rather shady ‘business collective’.
We had a lot of great experiences, got to be on bizarre things like MTV news
and The Big Breakfast, be in various publications ranging from MixMag to the
Sunday Times, and meet a lot of interesting people. It was a fun time.
DHR: Oh wow! Sounds like something you could use as writing
material for a story. We both share a love for metal. Who are your favorite
groups (new and old)? By the way, I’m jealous of all the bands you’ve seen
AF: Oh, don’t get me started! OK, I’ll try and be brief. Deep
Purple was my first love, perhaps because it was the first metal, (not sure it
gets called that now), that I was introduced to. Of the old school though,
Black Sabbath are definitely on the top of my list. When Metallica, Slayer and
the thrash wave came along, I was also a fan. I saw Metallica with Cliff Burton
three times, the last just before he died. They were such a great live act at
that point. Slayer’s ‘South of Heaven’ tour at the Hammersmith Odeon was
immense, Faith No More at the Brixton Academy was amazing. The eighties were a
great time for me gig wise, not that I’ve stopped! Other bands I adore include
Slipknot, Rammstein and System of a Down. Gojiira are in my top ten right now.
I saw them at the Academy earlier this year and they were amazing.
DHR: You’ve definitely seem some legends. Black Sabbath is on
the top of my list as well (praise Ozzy!). You’re in a group full of writers
(Adam Neville being one of them) that you occasionally hang out with. Who makes
up the group and what do you all tend to discuss?
AF: I’m not sure that we are a ‘group’, as such, just a bunch of
horror loving British writers who are lucky enough to get to hang out from time
to time! When Adam and I get together, which is actually quite often at the
Download metal festival, music tends to dominate the conversation! Some of the
others that I consider friends and see from time to time, with apologies to
those I forget to list, include Justin, of course, Tracey Fahey, Duncan
Bradshaw, Steve Shaw of Black Shuck, Kit Power, Rich Hawkins, Priya Sharma,
Penny Jones, Laura Mauro, Georgina Bruce, Paul Feeney, Rob Shearman, Kitty Kane, Matt Shaw, Ben Jones, Phil
Sloman, Jonathon Butcher, Steve Harris, Alison Littlewood… the list of
amazingly nice people just goes on and on. It’s an embarrassment of talent! We
talk about all kinds of things, but it would be fair to say that the
conversation is dominated by books! Again, I have to apologize for leaving
people out of this list. I’ve genuinely never known such a large group of
DHR: I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to quite a few of those
authors. All stand up people! My Dead and
Blackened Heart is your first collection. Where did the title come from?
AF: It’s a story that I had published a few years ago. As a
title, I just felt it expressed the protagonist’s internal state, and when this
collection came along I thought it was worth reviving. The story itself is in
the hardback version of the collection.
DHR: I absolutely see that being a sort of driven theme
throughout the fourteen stories. Why did you publish through Sinister Horror
AF: They’ve been friends for years and I’ve watched them go from
strength to strength. There was something that felt a little pre-ordained about
working with them, and when Justin asked, I bit his hand off! They take their
place as a small press seriously and their releases just get better and better.
DHR: I couldn’t agree more. A lot of these stories seem to be
centered on fatherhood. The front cover and interior illustrations were by one
of your boys, Xavier. Did you intentional go in focused on the fatherhood
AF: Not really. It’s been an emergent theme over time. It’s no
coincidence that I started taking this writing business more seriously while
the boys were all small, and certainly parenthood is part of my everyday
existence. It took a while before I realized that I was clearly harboring some
pretty extreme concerns! It made sense to put some focus on that in this
collection, and Xavier’s cover was just the icing on the cake.
DHR: This collection has a range of horror sub-genres: dark
sci-fi, zombies, and I believe you could make an argument that at least two of
these stories qualify as splatterpunk. Were there other stories that didn’t
make it out of the cutting room?
AF: Yes. There were a few more undead stories that could have
been included, but would have taken a toll on the variety I think. Other things
didn’t quite fit or go well in the running order. There’s plenty more in the
DHR: Everything I’ve read by you makes me only want to see anything
you have to offer. So I’m all in! What sub-genres do you tend to gravitate
AF: I genuinely like a variety of horror, as long as it’s well
done. I like more cerebral slower weird, I like the Mythos, I like some extreme
horror… I’m pretty open-minded in that respect, both as a reader and a writer.
DHR: What active writers in the horror community influence your
AF: It’s more, which active writers do I hope are influencing me
subconsciously to some extent?! I love Adam Nevill’s work. It’s smart and well
written, and the darkness seems to come from a genuine place of dread. It’s
relentlessly dark too. I’ve always admired Rich Hawkins for similar reasons. He
maintains an absolutely grim tone that I love. He’s also a genius at describing
monstrous beings, something which I’m really yet to attempt to the same extent.
Priya Sharma, Tracey Fahey and Laura Mauro, are all friends whose work I admire
for their ability to bring the darkness with a lightness of touch that in no
way lessens the shadows lurking beneath the surface. Really, there’s so much
good work out there.
DHR: There certainly is a lot of good work out there. We’re all
lucky to be living during this time to enjoy so many great stories. My two
favorite stories in this book are Milkshake
and Meat Sweets. That particular
world had a lot of tones and emotions: anxiety-fueled-bat-shit-crazy insanity,
disturbing, and after reading Meat Sweets
I said, “That’s a fucking story!” Will you write a story in that same world
AF: I’d like to. It’s such a fun and horrible world to write.
They are both stories that just gushed onto the page, so being in that almost
channeling state would be nice! I’ve given some thought to a prequel and your
question has me wondering what’s next for Moses, so watch this space!
DHR: Oh man…please do! One of the stories, The Cardiac Ordeal, involves a child going missing. It’s any
parent’s worst nightmare. Was it hard to write or did you reflect on your kids
and kind of compartmentalize reality from your fiction?
AF: I tend to dive in and wallow in the darkness when I’m
writing, and its only later that I realize just what a hard lot in life I’ve
given my characters. A lot of the things that I draw from real life insert
themselves subconsciously as detail, and those are usually the hardest to go
back to. I don’t find them hard to write though, perhaps because of some kind
of compartmentalization, as you mention.
DHR: You have a few stories about gangsters as well as soldiers.
What is it about those two topics that draw you in?
AF: The gangster in question had what was coming to him. That’s
all I can say! I said recently that when you write in a war setting, you come
with a horror bonus built in. War is horror and it doesn’t take much to push
that into an interesting dimension. I think soldiers, because of the
experiences they have, can be quite damaged, and I take some inspiration from
that. I tend towards historical wars and enjoy writing in that world. Having
said that I do have a half written Gulf war story that I may have to get back
DHR: I’d be very interested
to read that. I believe this was in Hope
Eternal, but you mention people in Massachusetts and then specify people in
Boston. What gives, man? You got a problem with my tribe? Ha, I kid, of course.
AF: Ha! No, it was The
Last Patrol. I don’t really know. I’ve been to America at least 20 times,
but never Boston! I’m not sure if I was watching ‘The Wire’ at the time, or if
the character’s medical background seemed to fit in with Boston somehow. No
DHR: Ha-ha! I’d love to be your friendly tour guide if you end
up in my old stomping grounds. Your last story, Beyond The Book, it isn’t a long story so I’ll do my best to keep
it spoil-free, but what it offered was a look into a crystal ball that I NEVER
even thought about. It never really hit me until I read that story. It made me
stop and wonder if any of this shit—Facebook, Twitter, and all the other social
media platforms—will matter when I’m an old man? Or if they’ll exist when I’m
old and gray.
AF: I don’t think we’ll ever be rid of it now, which is
unfortunate in a sense. I think that today’s platforms may well exist when we
are old and grey, but beyond that it’s very difficult to anticipate what
curveballs technology and society will throw at us. We may end up connected in
quite different and increasingly bizarre ways.
DHR: That’s true. It’s pretty tough to make an accurate
prediction of future technological advances. Before you go, would you care to
make a shout out to anyone?
AF: So many people, but I’ll keep it simple. My family for
always supporting me in what I want to do, my writer friends for their
continued support and community, Justin Park for making this all happen and
last but not least, Jim and the Ginger Nuts of Horror for being a cornerstone
of the UK horror scene.
DHR: Andrew, it’s always a pleasure to talk to you!
AF: Thanks for having me! I look forwards to our next encounter!
Dead Head Reviews (DHR): Thank you so much for giving us your time, Shani. You and your husband Zacch run Creepy Sweets from your home. Is your house a horror fan’s paradise? As in, do you have horror everything everywhere?
Shani Sibrian-Boyes (SSB): We would love to have horror decor cover every square footage of our home, but at the same time, we live a simple life and we tend not to decorate very much. But of the decor that we do have, it’s 50/50 horror Inspired.
DHR: When was Creepy Sweets founded?
SSB: February 2018, after a quick 30-minute decision of what to do with all the leftover cupcakes!
DHR: How long have you been a fan of horror? Was there one particular film that planted the horror seed?
SSB: I’ve been a horror fan for as long as I can remember. My earliest memory is when I would watch Silence of the Lambs with my dad, it was our favorite to watch.
DHR: You both have fantastic taste. Your menu consists of all things Halloween, creepy, bloody, and weird. You just checked off every box for us at Dead Head Reviews. What are your popular sellers?
SSB: The popular cookies are the Bleeding Heart, the Jason Heart, Baphomet, and Sam’s Treats. The popular cupcakes seem to be Cupcake Monster and Bride of the Cupcake Monster.
DHR: You state on your website that “…if you don’t see a creepy enough treat on our menu, just let us know what your idea is so we can create a custom order for you, we LOVE your ideas! And we might keep them on the menu!” First off, what has been the creepiest and or strangest treat you’ve been requested to make? And what is the creepiest and or weirdest item on the menu that you or Zacch invented?
SSB: Hmmm, I had to think of this for a bit, I usually don’t get many requests that weird me out, but in specific, I am afraid of dolls. So when I’m asked to make a Chucky face and Annabelle face cookie, I am pretty mortified! But the Chucky face cookie has been popular so I added it to the menu. In my opinion, the creepiest thing I feel I invented was the Leatherface cupcake. It’s a vanilla cupcake with raspberry filling and vanilla butter cream, topped with a fondant decoration to resemble a dirty and bloody face!
DHR: Yea…that ones absolutely creepy! Do you make treats for pets? If so, mind telling us a little bit about that?
SSB: Unfortunately I am restricted from pet treats with my food license.
DHR: Awe, bummer! Zacch taste tests your recipes. How do I sign up for that job?
SSB: LOL! I require my taste testers to have a good palate and be able to differentiate flavors. I usually send test items to close friends so they can send me their feedback. Once I’m happy with results, I release the treat publicly on my menus!
DHR: Ha-ha, I kid of course. That sounds like a well-implemented system. On top of regular sugar cookies, creepy cupcakes, and cakes, you make Keto cookies. Were they recently introduced to the repertoire? Are they a popular item?
SSB: Yes keto cookies were introduced over the summer of 2019 while I, myself, was executing the keto diet. I had noticed that I had an increasingly daily sweet tooth and my options were very limited as to what sweet treat I could eat during the keto diet. I had to make everything for myself instead of buying something ready-made. After testing recipes, I began selling the option to make the cookies keto, and it’s been pretty popular! I had noticed that keto had become very trendy, along with vegan, but I understood keto a lot more, and decided I wanted to help provide an option for people to have creepy keto cookies, and it’s worked perfectly!
DHR: Very cool. Your business is located in Corona, California. I know you do deliveries within that area. But do you ship across country? Or even internationally? If so, how do you keep your product fresh?
SSB: Yes! However, I can only ship cookies and fondant toppers at this time. My cookies stay fresh for up to 3 weeks, and the way I ensure that is that I bake each order a few days before it needs to be shipped.
DHR: In that case, I plan on trying some of your cookies out ASAP! Speaking of trying your cookies, looking through your online menu, my mouth is salivating. I particularly would love to try the Vanilla Voorhees, Sam’s Sweets, and The Phantom cupcakes! Do you have a favorite cupcake? Does Zacch have a favorite?
SSB: I love each and every one of my creepy cupcakes equally, like they are my children. I definitely favor my cupcakes over my cookies because they got me started in this business. Zacch’s favorite cupcake is the one he created which is the Cupcake Monster!
DHR: The Cupcake Monster is pretty cool for any horror fan! Your Baphomet cookies look SO deliciously cute. I have to imagine those things are super popular. On top of that, I see you have a Death’s Head Moth on the menu. I am a HUGE The Silence of the Lambs fan. Do you have a favorite Hannibal Lecter film or book?
SSB: The Baphomet Cookies are definitely very popular, the design was inspired by my friend’s crochet work of little baphomet stuffed animals. Her website is www.plurdenland.com My favorite film has to be between The Silence of the Lambs or Red Dragon, I can never choose just 1!
DHR: Those plushies are so adorable! As far as the aforementioned films, they are both excellent films and novels! Speaking of great cookies and books, I’d be hesitant to try that incredibly well-crafted Necro-Nomm-Icon! I’d only be hesitant because I know what happens when that book is opened—I’ve seen the Evil Dead films—never mind if they’re consumed! Do you ever get lost in conversation about horror films with your customers?
SSB: Definitely, I enjoy talking with my customers in general so I know what they like, what inspires them, and what occasion they are celebrating. Whether it’s a 10 year old boy celebrating his birthday with a whole Jason theme party, or a couple celebrating an anniversary with their love of a favorite horror film that brings them back memories of their early dating days.
DHR: I want my next birthday party to be Jason Voorhees themed! I adore your fondant cupcake toppers and 3-inch vinyl stickers. Do you ever get compliments on them?
SSB: As individuals, I feel they’re not acknowledged as much as the cookies and cupcakes. But they get their fair share of compliments every now and then.
DHR: Horror is clearly a big component in you and your husband’s life. Do you both have a horror film or show that you two MUST watch during Halloween?
SSB: We always try to watch a film we’ve both never seen before but for Zacch, his must watch is “The Exorcist”. For me, I don’t have a preference, as long as it’s a great classic film!
DHR: Do you decorate your house for Halloween?
SSB: We usually do! But this year has been so busy for us that we haven’t been able to decorate quite yet! However, as soon as we do, we leave the Halloween decorations up year-long.
DHR: Sounds like my kind of neighbors. Are there any traditions you have during October?
SSB: The only tradition we have so far is to celebrate our anniversary, we got married on Halloween Day 2015. We always take vacation during the last week of October to spend time together.
DHR: That’s awesome! Any exciting plans for Halloween?
SSB: We are going to a symphony orchestra concert to see the 1920s silent film “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”.
DHR: Wow…that sounds like so much fun. Are you a fan of A Nightmare Before Christmas?
SSB: I would say I’m a lover of NBC but not as much of a hardcore fan as I’ve seen others who are very dedicated!
DHR: Oh boy, yea, some people are obsessed with it. Shani, thank you again for your time. You’re an incredibly talented artist. It’s people like you and your husband that put a massive smile on my face. I love horror, and I can see you two do as well. You are part of my tribe. Keep up the incredible work!
SSB: Thank YOU very much! I loved the range of questions, it really helps put all the pieces together to show why we do what we do to bring creepy treats to creepy humans!
Nightfall (Nightmareland Book 1) – by Daniel Barnett
5 out of 5
Darkness has come suddenly. One moment the sun is there, the
next it’s gone. People are losing their minds. Terrible things are happening.
And no one knows why. Nightfall sets up for something as ambitious and devastating
as The Stand. I’m ready. Are you?
Ritual – by Steve Stred
4 out of 5
Disturbing and haunted, Ritual paints the picture of a demon-worshiping cult and its chosen one. I would like to see this story expanded one day, because a good series of frights could come of it. Cults are scary enough without the actual summoning of demons to pile against your rattled nerves. There’s a world of horror to explore here.
69 – by Tim Meyer
5 out of 5
This one got my attention right from the start. Then it grabbed me and held on for dear life, shaking and clawing at me all the way. Damn, was it fun. The suspense is top notch, the scenes of horror are perfectly executed, and the memories that haunt the characters are genuinely horrific.
Strange Tales of the Macabre – by E. Reyes
3 out of 5
Collections serve as good introductions to new authors. Though they may not always be comprised of winners, they generally provide a significant view on what you can expect of the writer. With Strange Tales of the Macabre, Reyes shows his best abilities through Home Invasion (think Elmore Leonard goes Don’t Breathe) and The Haunted Circus Ride (healthy in Autumn/Halloween feels). I look forward to checking out his Halloween collection, as well as his upcoming full-length.
Out Behind the Barn – by John Boden and Chad Lutzke
3.5 out of 5
I felt like there was a lot of promise with this novella,
but the overly brief chapters and sometimes uneven pacing left me feeling
underwhelmed. The ending was also a bit flat for me, lacking excitement.
Devouring Dark – by Alan Baxter
4 out of 5
With a vibe of the Darkness comics, this novel reeled
me in with a great introduction and premise. Though I felt like the payout was
lacking – there wasn’t nearly enough action – there was still enough to love
about Devouring Dark and its characters that I would like to read a
In Dreams We Rot – by Betty Rocksteady
3.5 out of 5
While this started off great, it gradually declined. If it wasn’t bizarre and gross, it was scattered and unsteady. Still, the good stuff was good enough. I will look for her next release to read.
Frostbitten: 12 Hymns of Misery – by Steve Stred
4 out of 5
This starter collection opens strong and closes strong. It
shows Steve’s early work in fantasy and sci-fi, which I really appreciate
(seeing as I feels he most excels there). I’ve been working my way through
Steve’s library this year and I won’t be stopping after this book.
Before You Wake – by Adam Neville
4 out of 5
This was my first time reading Neville. His name having been memorized due to the success of The Ritual (which is still on my TBR list). After reading these three shorts, it’s safe to say I like his style and want to read more of his horror. Though the third story didn’t do anything for me. I really enjoyed the first two (especially the one that opens this small collection). The gothic vibes on that story were wonderful, and I loved the premise of the second one. I have another two collections of his on my phone, and I will be starting them soon, I’m sure.
Andrew Freudenberg’s first-ever collection contains fourteen stories, published through Sinister Horror Company. One story didn’t work for me. Not due to the writing, not due to the character development, but due to the story ending sooner than I would have liked. That’s a personal preference, and others will disagree with me. That being said, Freudenberg knocks it out of the park with quite a few stories. This book comes out October 26th, so as usual, I’ll be brief and spoiler-free. These are my favorites:
Something Akin To Despair shows a future of space exploration through Warminster’s eyes. It tackles a few questions that many of us wonder about: space exploration and colonization, and robotics. This story is like vodka, you know what you’re getting into, but the impact of its effects sneak up on you with a bite.
Next up, A Bitter Parliament. A couple travels get away to a wooded area, away from modern tech and constant distractions. Just for a weekend. This isn’t a romantic getaway, however. Soon, our protagonists find themselves in a vortex of shit.
Milkshake is where Freudenberg ups the ante. I’m still in shock from what I read. It’s one of those stories that, when you play them back in your mind (it won’t leave mine, this one or it’s sequel Meat Sweets) it’s cut deepens.
It’s the story about a young man who is taken in by unfamiliar blood family. He discovers a jarring reality that sets him down a downward spiral.
The Cardiac Ordeal: Shane and Linda are your run-of-the-mill couple, husband and wife with a young one. A single phone call turns Shane’s world into a chaotic, confused, hell. When he hits rock bottom, he discovers lower layers of damnation.
Meat Sweets, the sequel to Milkshake. Starring Moses and Marylyn. Two familiar names that we learn a little bit more about. Since the events of Milkshake Moses has acquired a new facility, new equipment, and more knowledge about his craft.
But what happens when he puts all of those book-learning to good use? That’s exactly what you’ll find out.
Scorch is a pretty great title to sum up its events. It’s exactly what a title should do. Intrigue the reader. Define the tone. And sum up the story. It’s done with a single word. What rests in the hands of Toby and Lisa is up to fate. So far, they’ve gotten themselves tossed aside by their parents, stole a car, and found themselves living on the streets…until they come across a bricked-and-boarded house.
In The Teppenyaki of Truth, Turner is a bad guy. You know the type. Not a gangster, but not your normal civilian. He’s someone who messes with people, free of consequences…that is until he meets Koboyashi. He teaches Turner the points of fine cuisine and the ways of how the world truly works.
Hope Eternal stars Derek Chambers—an English soldier, surely with PTSD. Who wouldn’t be after the crazy shit he and his men are forced to deal with on a daily basis. He gets some horrible news, compelling him to find his little girl. What he finds instead opens his eyes to one certain answer. His path in life.
Beyond The Book hadto be a strong story because it’s the last story of the collection. If it didn’t do a good job, then that’s the last thing the readers will remember. Luckily, Freudenberg nailed it. It was SO good! It raised questions, as the first tale did, about humanity, friends, family, and one question that never really crossed my mind. Will Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media matter or even be around when we’re old and gray? Even if it is, will any of it mater?
I’d read this book if it had another seven stories in it. I’d read it if it had thirty. Freudenberg has an interesting way of telling stories. Whether it be about military, underground bad guys, supernatural beings, and crazy backwood rednecks, he always writes a good story.
When I first approached Freudenberg to review this book, he offered it to me because he knew I’m a soon-to-be father. He knew that it would speak to me on that level (it can most certainly be appreciated by any and all that love horror, though). There were some stories that made me wonder how I’d handle the situation with Philip (my son). Freudenberg’s debut collection deserves a place on your (digital or physical) bookshelf. The more time that passes and the more I reflect on this book, I only come back to one conclusion. I smile and think: That was a good book.
Every time I read something by Joe Hill, I’m kind of struck by his talent as a horror writer. This is the fourth novel of Hill’s I’ve read, and the one to me that comes closest to his father’s work. NOS4R2 (NOS4A2 in the US) feels, in some places, very much like a Stephen King novel, but it travels different roads, concentrating on different elements. Noted, there are also references to well-known Stephen King works in here too, but it adds to the story. It makes it feel like Roland and his ka-tet could wander onto the scene at any moment to help our heroine defeat the Wraith.
Of course, there is no appearance by Roland, but nothing lacks because of it. The characters in the novel feel completely and utterly real. Vic is surrounded by male figures dominating her life. She grows up with a semi-abusive father, who she utterly loves, escapes from a traumatic encounter into the arms of Lou, and later has a son. Trying to raise him, Vic has to try and reconcile her ideas of what she thinks is real with what she knows is real. Hill really builds up the creepy, eerie feeling of the situation. Never quite sure how things are going to unfold, allowing us to see more than Vic. Yet still, we remain in the dark to feel completely helpless as she moves through the novel, while the shadow of Charlie Manx looms over her. The suspense is high, and Manx, as a villain, is so terrifying because he feels real. He’s one of those villains that does monstrous things, while convinced he is doing the right thing.
NOS4R2 is an eerie novel that carries you right through as if you were racing along on a Raleigh bike, leaving you tense even after completion. It might even make you freak out the next time you hear Christmas songs out of season.
Jake loves his little brother Matthew, and would do anything to protect him. But despite the dangerous, persistent bullies always hovering around them, the biggest threat they face is their own father. The two boys hatch a plan, intending to run away to California to live with their mother. But not everything goes according to plan.
In the Scrape is a coming of age story, reminiscent of Stephen King. At points, it feels like one of King’s more grounded tales, though much more tightly packed. The two authors involved have put together a story that feels familiar, yet has their own unique spin on it. The twists in the story feel natural, but the reader is still kept on the edge of their seat, wondering if it’s heading in the direction they think it is. It’s one of those stories that manages to get you right into the head of the main character, rooting for them as they move along, understanding every action they take, even when it’s downright stupid.
It’s a story damn hard to put down, with everything building up to a climax which will change the lives of every character we’ve come to know. Each scene feels like a building block. The way POV is used, it’s handled really well, not slipping out of Jake’s perspective even once.
In some places, it is a hard read, the horror coming through in the reality of the situation, in the way the boys are treated by those supposed to protect them. There might not be clowns haunting the sewers, but it doesn’t make it any less terrifying, and Jake and Matthew are as endearing as Derry’s Losers Club. This is story well worth reading. A tense, gripping five star read.