When James S. Murray first tried to sell his debut novel, his experience was one that’s painfully familiar to many new writers. Murray spent a year completing his manuscript—a science fiction-tinged horror tale about bloodthirsty subterranean creatures awakened by the construction of a new subway line beneath New York City—and then sent it to practically every publisher and agent in town. The responses were disheartening, to say the least.
“Awakened was the hardest I’ve ever worked on as a single project, no joke,” Murray says. “I spent a year writing it and polishing, getting it into great shape. I wasn’t on TV, I had no connections, I didn’t have a cousin [in the publishing industry] or anything like that. So I sent out probably 100 career letters and the manuscript to every publisher out there. I sent it to every literary agent out there. And it got returned to me, unopened, by every single one.”
Murray shelved his novel and went on to a successful career in comedy and television, serving as senior vice president of development for NorthSouth Productions and co-founding the comedy troupe the Tenderloins. Fourteen years after his first attempt at publication, he tried again—but with vastly different circumstances and results.
When Alice develops a hunger for human flesh she unwittingly unleashes an ancient evil only she can stop. As Detective Lazarus races to get to the bottom of these horrid crimes he discovers a sinister connection between the killer and himself.
The Big Thrill caught up to author Gerald Dean Rice to learn more about his latest horror novel, PART-TIME ZOMBIE:
Which took shape first: plot, character, or setting?
The plot was the first piece that came together. I wanted to write a story where something was happening on every page. I wanted no or very few down moments so there would be action of some form on every page.
By Azam Gill
Internationally bestselling author, multiple Bram Stoker Award finalist, and produced screenwriter Michaelbrent Collings’ latest thriller is set to receive the critical acclaim his last novel, Predators, inspired: “Parts of this book will replay in your head over and over again. The scenes will stick in your brain, and reach out to you in the middle of the night when you least expect it…a fantastic exploration of the human condition…”
TERMINAL is structured around an employee, a cop, a prisoner, a stowaway, and a madman waiting at the Lawton bus terminal—mostly late-night travelers and employees lumping the graveyard shift.
But when a strange, otherworldly fog rolls in, the night changes to nightmare. Something hides in the fog. Something powerful. Something strange. Something…inhuman.
Soon, those in the terminal are cut off from the rest of the world. No phones, no computers. Just ten strangers in the terminal…and The Other.
The Other is the force in the mist. The Other is the thing that has captured them. And The Other wants to play a game.
The rules are simple:
1) The people in the terminal must choose a single person from among them. That person will live. The rest will die.
2) Anyone who attempts to leave the terminal before the final vote will die.
3) The final vote must be unanimous.
Two determined bowhunters, lured by what they believe is a magnificent trophy book elk, search a remote and forgotten corner of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, only to discover an ancient demonic entity hidden away from the civilized world…until now.
The region was considered by the First Nations People to be sacred and forbidden due to its dark and secret history. Most of the locals have always respected this, but the obsession, the delusion of harvesting a trophy animal makes some men cross boundaries.
Join the two hunters on their unique adventure and witness the horrifying evil that is awakened to bestow humanity a glimpse into its accursed future.
Their world, the earth . . . nothing will ever be the same again.
The Big Thrill caught up to author Russ Meidinger for a quick Q&A about his second novel, SKUDAKUMOOCH:
By George Ebey
Caitlin Starling brings us an unsettling tale of terror with her much-lauded debut novel, THE LUMINOUS DEAD.
Gyre Price lies her way onto a solo caving expedition on a mining planet, following the promise of a hefty paycheck and a skilled topside crew to keep her company and help her survive the dangers she’ll face below ground. Instead, she gets Em.
Deceitful, single-minded, and dangerous, Em won’t hesitate to put Gyre in danger to further her own ends. Gyre refuses to die for Em, but finding a way to stop her means staying in the depths of the cave a little longer. And yet the deeper she goes, the less certain Gyre is that she’s alone underground. The way out is long and treacherous, and Em and Gyre might just need each other to survive…
Starling’s debut has earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly, along with favorable comparisons to Andy Weir’s The Martian and Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation. The Big Thrill recently caught up with Starling to discuss her chilling new story.
By George Ebey
Author Russell James brings us a new tale of terror in his latest book, THE PLAYING CARD KILLER.
Brian Sheridan is plagued by dreams of murder—women strangled with a red velvet rope then left with a playing card tucked in the corpse. But then one of his nightmare’s victims shows up on the news, dead, Brian fears he himself may be the unwitting killer. Detective Eric Weissbard thinks the same thing, and starts to build a case to get Brian behind bars for being the Playing Card Killer. But there’s more to these slayings than either imagines. Brian finds that his family tree has yielded some truly poisoned fruit: an unknown brother with a penchant for murder. Tyler is willing to frame Brian for the crimes, unless Brian wants to join Team Playing Card Killer.
The Big Thrill recently caught up with James to learn more about this exciting new story.
A Power Beyond Belief…
A Girl Far From Home…
Katie Liberman is your typical 18-year-old college student…or at least that’s what her family thinks. Picking up five years after the events of A Taste of Home, Katie has dropped out of school and embarked upon a dangerous quest to find Kurt Jimmerson, the New York City attorney responsible for her family’s werewolf curse. Unknown to her, the attorney’s grip on the ‘City That Never Sleeps’ is tighter than imagined and she’ll need any and all help available to be victorious.
But…where do you find friends when you’re Far From Home?
Author and seasoned paranormal investigator C. Derick Miller discussed his latest horror novel, FAR FROM HOME, with The Big Thrill:
By George Ebey
Michaelbrent Collings sends chills our way in his latest horror novel, PREDATORS.
Evie Childs hoped the all-expense-paid trip to Africa would give her a chance at adventure. Maybe it would even let her forget a past that haunts her, and find safety from a husband who abuses her. But when a group of “freedom fighters” kidnaps her safari tour group, intent on holding them for ransom, the adventure turns to nightmare.
Now, Evie and the rest of the survivors must travel across miles of the harshest, most dangerous environment on Earth. No food. No water. No communications. And they’re being hunted.
A pack of Africa’s top predators have smelled the blood of the survivors, and will not stop until they have fed. Because in this place, you can be either one of the prey, or one of the… PREDATORS.
The Big Thrill recently checked in with Collings to learn more about his terrifying new tale.
Every nation of the globe has unique tales to tell, whispers that settle in through the land, creatures or superstitions that enliven the night, but rarely do readers get to experience such a diversity of these voices in one place as in A WORLD OF HORROR, the latest anthology book created by award-winning editor Eric J. Guignard, and beautifully illustrated by artist Steve Lines.
Enclosed within its pages are 22 all-new dark and speculative fiction stories written by authors from around the world that explore the myths and monsters, fables and fears of their homelands.
Encounter the haunting things that stalk those radioactive forests outside Chernobyl in Ukraine; sample the curious dishes one may eat in Canada; beware the veldt monster that mirrors yourself in Uganda; or simply battle mountain trolls alongside Alfred Nobel in Sweden. These stories and more are found within A WORLD OF HORROR.
Enter and discover, truly, there’s no place on the planet devoid of frights, thrills, and wondrous imagination!
The Big Thrill caught up with author and editor Eric. J. Guignard to discuss his latest anthology, A WORLD OF HORROR:
Keisha Taylor lived a quiet life with her wife, Alice, until the day that Alice disappeared. After months of searching, presuming she was dead, Keisha held a funeral, mourned, and gradually tried to get on with her life. But that was before Keisha started to see her wife, again and again, in the background of news reports from all over America. Alice isn’t dead, and she is showing up at every major tragedy and accident in the country.
Following a line of clues, Keisha takes a job with a trucking company, Bay and Creek Transportation, and begins searching for Alice. She eventually stumbles on an otherworldly conflict being waged in the quiet corners of our nation’s highway system—uncovering a conspiracy that goes way beyond one missing woman.
New York Times bestselling author Joseph Fink took time out of his schedule to discuss ALICE ISN’T DEAD, the novel that expands on the story told in the hit podcast of the same name which has had over 6 million downloads in its first 10-episode season:
In 1939, on a remote Pacific island, botanical researcher Irene Greer plunges off a waterfall to her death, convinced the spirits of her dead husband and daughter had joined the nightmarchers–ghosts of ancient warriors that rise from their burial sites on moonless nights. But was it suicide, or did a strange young missionary girl play a role in her deteriorating state of mind? It all seems like ancient family history to Julia Greer, who has enough problems of her own. A struggling journalist, she’s recovering from a divorce and is barely able to make rent, let alone appeal the court’s decision to give sole custody of their daughter to her ex-husband. When her elderly great-aunt offers her an outrageously large sum to travel to this remote island and collect samples of a very special flower, as well as find out what really happened to her sister Irene all those years ago, Julia thinks her life might finally be on an upward swing. But she finds the island isn’t so quick to give up its secrets, and the longer she stays, the more the thin line begins to blur between truth and lies, reality and the fantastical…until she finds herself face to face with the real reason why the island is taboo….
Award-winning author J. Lincoln Fenn spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing her latest thriller, THE NIGHTMARCHERS:
Charlie is a Husker on the prowl in the New Hampshire wilderness when he falls in love with one of them: a girl named Jill. Loving Jill means leaving the Husk clan, with its gruesome cannibalistic rituals, and that will be far more difficult – and dangerous – than Charlie could have foreseen.
It’s only in New York City that the secret to ending his terrible cravings may reveal itself – if it doesn’t kill him and everything he has grown to love first.
A darkly imagined tale, all the more frightening for its apparent ordinariness and plausibility, Husk is guaranteed to leave readers shaken, stirred – and chilled to the bone.
“The story is at once tender, brutal, fantastic, and vibrantly real. A unique and splendid novel.” ~Booklist, starred review
Award-winning author Dave Zeltserman took some time out of his busy writing schedule to meet with The Big Thrill and discuss his latest thriller, HUSK:
A car lies at the bottom of an icy ravine. Slumped over the steering wheel, dead, is the most critically acclaimed horror writer of his time. Was it an accident? His son Milo doesn’t care. For the first time in his life, he’s free. No more nightmarish readings, spooky animal rites, or moonlit visions of his father in the woods with a notebook and vampire make-up.
Or so he thinks.
Milo settles into a quiet routine—constructing model Greek warships and at last building a relationship with his sister Klara, who’s home after a failed marriage and brief career as an English teacher. Then Klara hires a gardener to breathe new life into their overgrown estate. There’s something odd about him—something eerily reminiscent of their father’s most violent villain. Or is Milo imagining things? He’s not sure. That all changes the day the gardener discovers something startling in the woods. Suddenly Milo is fighting for his life, forced to confront the power of fictional identity as he uncovers the shocking truth about his own dysfunctional family—and the supposed accident that claimed his parents’ lives.
The Big Thrill caught up with author Michael Barsa to discuss his debut novel, THE GARDEN OF BLUE ROSES:
Douglas Wynne offers up a mysterious blend of music, mythos and mirrors in CTHULHU BLUES, the latest entry in the SPECTRA Files series, which wraps up a trilogy that began in Red Equinox and continued in Black January.
Don’t worry if you’re not up on the world of H.P. Lovecraft. There’s no need to be versed in the lore of Lovecraftian horror to appreciate the book or the series.
While it’s rich with Easter eggs, it’s accessible to anyone who loves action with a magical tinge. “You don’t have to get all of the references to follow the story, but there are all kinds of fun little nods to my favorite horror writers, to various systems of occultism, and to the great city of Boston,” says Wynne, who appropriately hails from Massachusetts where Lovecraft set many of his tales.
CTHULHU BLUES begins with strangeness swirling around Wynne’s heroine, Becca Philips, the urban explorer who became involved with the cosmic-monster-battling SPECTRA in Red Equinox.
It’s 3:33 a.m. as the book opens, the point where recurring nightmares plague Becca, and soon she’ll be facing a new villain and a plot that threatens to unleash all new cosmic terror and extra-dimensional horrors tied to effects from her experiences in previous books.
Readers can expect an experience just as engaging as previous books, which have drawn high praise for the new approach to the Lovecraftian world.
The Big Thrill recently posed a few questions to Wynne about the trilogy, his writing, and this new novel, CTHULHU BLUES.
The Wade House has been reduced to ash, but the dreams that plagued Becca Philips and Jason Brooks when they slept in that abomination continue to haunt them. After years of facing trans-dimensional monsters in the service of SPECTRA, a few lingering nightmares are to be expected. But when Becca starts singing in her sleep—an ancient song that conjures dreadful things from mirrored surfaces—she fears that the harmonics she was exposed to during the Red Equinox terror event may have mutated not only her perception, but also her voice. It’s a gift—or curse—that she shares with a select group of children born to other witnesses of the incursion.
While a shadowy figure known as the “Crimson Minstrel” gathers these children to form an infernal choir, something ancient stirs on the ocean floor. And Becca, hearing its call, once again finds herself running from an agency she can no longer trust, into the embrace of cosmic forces she can barely comprehend.
The Big Thrill spent some time with CTHULHU BLUES author, Douglas Wynne, discussing his latest novel:
Brutalized bodies have been showing up in the deep woods of northern Maine. The only evidence found are gigantic footprints in the snow. Native American game warden John Bear believes the killer is a WENDIGO, A malevolent manitou capable of taking possession of a human body and driven by a constant craving for human flesh. All John has to do is convince his fellow law enforcement officers what they are dealing with. In the meantime, the body count keeps rising.
Author Vaughn C. Hardacker spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing his latest novel, WENDIGO:
How does this book make a contribution to the genre?
This book melds three genres: mystery, thriller, and horror, each of which have a message for us. There is, however, a single underlying theme in all three: the eternal battle between good and evil.
For over four decades, Steve Rasnic Tem has been an acclaimed author of horror, weird, and sentimental fiction. Hailed by Publishers Weekly as “A perfect balance between the bizarre and the straight-forward” and Library Journal as “One of the most distinctive voices in imaginative literature,” Steve Rasnic Tem has been read and cherished the world over for his affecting, genre-crossing tales.
Dark Moon Books and editor Eric J. Guignard bring you this introduction to his work, the first in a series of primers exploring modern masters of literary dark short fiction. Herein is a chance to discover—or learn more of—the rich voice of Steve Rasnic Tem, as beautifully illustrated by artist Michelle Prebich.
Included within these pages are:
– Six short stories, one written exclusively for this book
– Author interview
– Complete bibliography
– Academic commentary by Michael Arnzen, PhD (former humanities chair and professor of the year, Seton Hill University)
– … and more!
Ben McKelvie had a good job, a nice house, a beautiful fiancée . . . until a bloodthirsty shapeshifter took everything away. Ever since, he’s been chasing supernatural phenomena all across the country, aided by dedicated zoologist Lindsay Clark, and wealthy cryptozoologist Richard Severance.
Now they face their deadliest challenge yet. In the New Jersey Pine Barrens, a man named Henry Drexler operates a private compound called Välkommen, which is Swedish for “welcome.” Indeed, Drexler welcomes all visitors—so long as they’re racists, neo-Nazis, or otherwise in cahoots with the alt-right. But Drexler is no mere Hitler wannabe. Once he was Severance’s mentor, and his research may well have summoned a monster to the Pine Barrens.
To find out the truth, Ben and Lindsay must enter the camp incognito. There, under the watchful eyes of Drexler’s bodyguards and sociopathic son, they will learn that the most dangerous beasts lurk in the human heart.
Author Bill Schweigart took time out of his busy schedule to discuss THE DEVIL’S COLONY with The Big Thrill:
Rainbeaux Le Blanc is a woman running from secrets into mystery. A Remote Viewer with the Defense Intelligence Directorate, she discovers they are working with a demon known as the Blasphemer. Rainbeaux leaves the DID and tries to hide. But The Blasphemer finds her and turns those closest to her against her. Rainbeaux must face and defeat something she doesn’t understand, that can swat her like a fly.
Author Richard Rowland Billingsley spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing his novel, TRANCE LOGIC:
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
This is the beginning of a series. I hope readers will get into the strong characters, and want to follow them through many more adventures. I also hope that readers will be introduced to new ideas and concepts they hadn’t heard of or considered before.
By Anne Tibbets
CHILLS begins with an unexpected snowstorm at the onset of summer, in a small town in Connecticut. Police detective Jack Glazier finds a body that appears to have been the focus of a ritual murder. As the snow continues to fall, isolating the town from the rest of the world, Glazier teams up with Kathy Ryan, an occult crime specialist. Together they must uncover the secret behind the sacrifices, or die trying.
“CHILLS itself is a standalone novel,” author Mary SanGiovanni says, “however, that being said, my plan is to use those characters—particularly Kathy Ryan—in other books in the future. Since a lot of my work crosses back and forth between thriller and supernatural horror, a specialist in the occult could appear in future books of either type.”
SanGiovanni, with a dozen horror and thrillers publications under her belt, treats the occult, and all that surrounds it, as a treasure-trove of inspiration.
“I think occult spirituality and religions are a great gray area for writers, because so much has been shrouded for centuries in mystery and the suggestion of the unknown. Many religions that fall under the occult speak of monsters as either a literal or figurative representation of evil, temptations, fears, and punishment. Therefore, the occult makes a pretty good backdrop for the kind of story CHILLS is.”
The trick to using the occult in fiction, SanGiovanni says, is in the use of factual details.
“To make the occult group and their practices in the book more believable, I provided a mix of truth and credible fiction, things people have heard of or think they’ve heard of. Part of it was consistency: religions that deal in the supernatural believe strongly in an order or logic to how the supernatural works. I think any fictional occult religion needs to have its own consistent internal logic, certain immutable tenets around which all else is created.”
By J. H. Bográn
I’ve always believed that the best place to enjoy a horror movie is in a theater. You can have all the technical gizmos in the world, but your living room will never provide that added layer of uncertainty that only comes in a large, dark room surrounded by strangers. Of course books are different. Reading a novel outside on the porch will not be as eerie as reading a horror story by nothing but a night lamp. Especially if it’s a book such as THE PRISONER OF HELL GATE.
In the Hell Gate—a narrow strait in New York City’s East River—lie the sad islands where, for centuries, people locked away what they most feared: the contagious, the disfigured, the addicted, the criminally insane. Here infection slowly consumed the stricken. Here a desperate ship captain ran his doomed steamship aground and watched flames devour 1,500 souls. Here George A. Soper imprisoned the infamous Typhoid Mary after she spread sickness and death among the privileged.
George’s great-granddaughter, Karalee, and her fellow graduate students in public health know that story. But as they poke in and out of the macabre hospital rooms of abandoned North Brother Island—bantering, taking pictures, recalling history—they are missing something: An evil presence watches over them, and plots against them.
Dana I. Wolf is a pseudonym created by J. E. Fishman. We caught up with the author, and of course the inevitable first question was: Why a pen name?
Author names are a kind of branding. To tell you the truth, I’ve never been too fond of my actual last name, under which I wrote a bunch of thrillers. It’s evocative of, well, fish.
Since this new book was a supernatural thriller, a new genre for me and one I hope to pursue with other books, I thought it would be better—and the publisher agreed—to brand it with a different name. Even so, I’m not hiding. It’s an open secret.
How did the idea for PRISONER OF HELL GATE come about?
If you can believe it, it came from a listical! I saw a piece on the Internet—complete with pictures—about abandoned islands, and the piece mentioned that North Brother Island once housed the notorious prisoner Mary Mallon, better known as Typhoid Mary.
I thought all those hospital buildings—vine-encrusted, falling to dust—would make a great setting for a horror story. I immediately pictured a small boat full of twenty-somethings who land on the shore and naively set out to explore the ruins. Unbeknownst to them, Typhoid Mary lives. And she’s holding a grudge.
By Anne Tibbets
THE MONSTER UNDERNEATH brings to life the inner workings of a serial killer, and shows the lengths to which a psychic prison therapist will go to convict him.
Sound terrifying? It is. One has to wonder, with the premise of THE MONSTER UNDERNEATH being so dark, how an author climbs out of the darkness when he or she finishes writing for the day.
“It’s interesting that you ask that question,” answers author Matthew Franks, “because Max Crawford, the protagonist of MONSTER UNDERNEATH, has his own way of staying grounded while navigating the often nightmarish dream world. Whether it’s a friendship bracelet his daughter Katie made for him or a brief conversation with his wife Jessica, Max has tools to bring himself back to the real world and shake off the dark places he finds himself in through his work.”
“I’d have to say something quite similar helps me climb out of the darkness of writing horror,” he adds, “My own family keeps me grounded so spending time with my wife and daughters helps me separate from the terrible things that arise in a story.”
A fan of horror authors Stephen King and Clive Barker, Matthew Franks also credits writers like William S. Burroughs, Ken Kesey, J.D. Salinger, Tom Robbins, and Aldous Huxley as influences. These inspirations are easily detectable in Frank’s gripping and engaging supernatural thriller, which touches on themes of delusion and moral ambiguity.
“One of my favorite scenes is when the relationship between Max and Knox finally comes to a head near the end of the book,” says Franks. “Being able to set it in Knox’s dreams was especially fun because I was able to add supernatural elements to illustrate what’s going on his mind. Another favorite scene would be their final confrontation, which I can’t say much about because it would be a spoiler!”
Aside from the action, readers will also appreciate Matthew Frank’s attention to character authenticity in THE MONSTER UNDERNEATH, particularly while building the mind of a serial killer.
When I was a kid, my parents gave me a dumbed down version of Dracula. It was the last book on my open-sided metal bookshelf, and I could see the cover from my bed. I remember clearly how the Count’s pale, grease-painty face would light up when lightning flashed during storms, and I remember pulling the covers over my head and telling myself there was nothing to be afraid of. Eventually I had to hide the book somewhere in the middle of the shelf, but even then I could feel it in there, looking at me.
Years later, when I was maybe 13 or 14 and visiting family in London, Tobe Hooper’s adaptation of Salem’s Lot came on the BBC, and I watched it with my sister. That night, while everyone else was asleep, I woke with a terrible case of food poisoning—a bad batch of fish and chips—and saw one of the murdered kids from the story floating outside, pale and black-eyed, scratching lazily at the third floor window of my grandparents’ flat. I was scared beyond the point of consolation that night, but the fear didn’t last—or it did, but in a way I found incredibly attractive and compelling. It was stories like Dracula and Salem’s Lot that dragged me into the field of horror, and I’ve never regretted it.
Since then, I’ve read dozens of vampire novels—most hopeless horror junkies have. Richard Laymon’s Traveling Vampire Show, Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s The Strain, Dan Simmons’ Carrion Comfort, Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, and many, many others. Each comes at the topic with its own agenda, and in some ways that’s the real lure of the vampire story—it’s adaptable. Some of the vampires drink blood, some drink energy, some drink fear. You can go anywhere with it, and you see even more evidence of this in movies like Let The Right One In, 30 Days of Night, The Lost Boys, and even in the Blade series. Hell, look at the Twilight books and movies and you’ll see how the simple equation of vampires with teen angst and sexuality can move mountains. Small mountains, maybe, but really, really profitable ones.
By Anne Tibbets
Beware the rustle in the bushes—NORTHWOODS brings to life the hidden terrors in the forests of Minnesota, where two law enforcement officers stumble upon a horrific scene.
The second installment of Bill Schweigart’s horror series, NORTHWOODS, follows Ben, Lindsay, and Alex, three traumatized investigators with a personal history dealing with this horror, as they pull the reader along in a quest for the truth—and survival.
Full of thrills, spills, and gore, readers who loved The Beast of Barcroft will be pleased to see how the team has learned from their past, though not without paying a price.
During Ben’s final confrontation with the beast, he felt the presence of his dead father. When NORTHWOODS begins, a full year has passed since the events of The Beast of Barcroft and Ben’s been chasing that feeling in some less-than-healthy ways,” says Schweigart. “Lindsay gained some newfound confidence after her encounter with the beast, but she’s not making the best choices either. They’re the best of friends now, but even friends keep secrets.”
“As for Alex, he is perhaps the most shaken. He returned to his childhood home in the Northwoods of Wisconsin to recover from his injuries, but he becomes embroiled in the same family conflict he’s faced all his life: torn between the reservation he grew up on and the pull of larger world. Worse, he senses something terrible is coming. As happy as he is to see Ben and Lindsay again—his friends are the only other people who can possibly understand what he’s been through—Alex knows trouble follows them.”
As well as delving into the team’s psychological battle, NORTHWOODS has plenty of what horror readers love – a killer monster. Schweigart wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, the Jersey Devil,” he says, “I’ve loved these sorts of creatures since I was a boy, before I even knew they were called cryptids. And I love normal animals that grow to enormous sizes, like massive sharks or giant squid, or even something as simple as a regular critter that shows up where it’s not supposed to.”
But NORTHWOODS doesn’t have just any “regular critter”—take heed, and fear the cryptid.
By Amy Lignor
The mighty character of the werewolf is something booklovers turn to for excitement, following the in-depth stories of those who live with the gift and/or curse of the midnight howl.
In W.D. Gagliani’s WOLF’S BLIND, homicide detective Nick Lupo is injured in an explosion. He should heal—after all, he is a werewolf—but something keeps him from shifting. Vulnerable, he must find a way to survive while being hunted by his greatest foe, a Maffia boss seeking a brutal form of revenge.
I had the honor of speaking to Gagliani for The Big Thrill this month.
The suspense/thriller genre is expansive. What made you want to explore the “darker side” of human nature?
I began reading (in Italian) early on, then leaned toward Sci-Fi/Fantasy. My father loved Jules Verne, so I fell into that orbit first. Then, I stumbled onto British thrillers and was captivated with their literary approach and straightforwardness. I saw my first Bond film at the age of five. (Yes, my parents were very liberal on that score.) I was in grade school when they took me along to The Godfather, Dirty Harry, Midnight Cowboy, The Wild Bunch, and many other inappropriate movies. I’m grateful. They opened up my horizons. Goldfinger made me a Bond fan for life, and in late grade school I found Ian Fleming. At that point, I already wanted to be a writer. I wrote my first werewolf tale in the fourth grade classroom. The teacher—a nun!—read it to the class. I was gravitating toward the darker themes even then.
But then I ran into a movie based on a Richard Matheson novel, and after further detective work, saw that he crossed over from thrillers to horror. In searching, I found James Herbert and loved his horror novels (The Rats and The Fog), and in search of similar thrills, I stumbled on someone whose second book was on a grocery store paperback rack. Salem’s Lot by newcomer Stephen King. I was then lost to horror.
I’m the product of many influences, but the majority of them featured that thrill of danger—describing conflicts in which the stakes were survival itself made me want to write. When I realized I really liked werewolves, everything clicked.
Could you give a bit of background on your protagonist Nick Lupo and where the “vision/muse” came from?
Nick Lupo is based on me in many ways. An only child, a loner, one with a vibrant inner fantasy life but a hint of darkness, too; an Italian-American household with parents born in Italy (survivors of World War II bombings), growing up in the 70s, developing a narrow but rich interest in music—those all describe me. I was always fascinated by cops and detectives. I watched just about all the PI and cop shows of the time period (Starsky & Hutch, anyone?) And I had that constant reader’s interest in thrillers.
The titles in the Wolf series have each been unique stories that scared, thrilled and excited. Could you give readers a look into your newest, WOLF’S BLIND?
WOLF’S BLIND is the next in the Nick Lupo series, and it follows the book in which Lupo found himself caught between two groups of antagonists: a kind of intentionally clichéd, old-fashioned Mafia family looking to take over the local Indian casino (on the reservation where Lupo’s lady friend works as the doctor), and the super-secret Pentagon faction dedicated to government takeover called “Wolfclaw,” because its leaders are werewolves. This new book has a more personal feel because it brings back an enforcer for the Mafia family who now seeks revenge on Lupo, but in true super-villain fashion, he wants to derive some enjoyment from it. Think of the classic short story, The Most Dangerous Game, by Richard Connell and you’ll get a sense of where this is going. Meanwhile, Jessie is targeted and has to summon her own inner darkness, and Lupo’s partner, Rich DiSanto, is falling into a rabbit hole of dangerous sex lured by Heather, the lovely werewolf who is also aligning herself with the wife of the Mafia family’s new boss.
What did being raised in both Italy and Wisconsin–two completely different locations—add to your imagination?
I like to think I have a wider world-view because I’ve seen other places and cultures. On a personal level, my parents’ stories of nights huddled in the air raid shelter under Allied bombing after Italy’s surrender in 1943, were vivid enough to stimulate a lot of side plot action/parallel stories of several of my books. Basically, the parallel story started out being about Nick Lupo’s own youth, but eventually it became apparent to me that I had to reach back farther, to his father and grandfather. Their stories revealed themselves to me and I found them very interesting on their own. Fortunately, I had left enough interesting tidbits about the elder Lupo behind in the first book, so I was able to create a whole secret life, and follow Lupo’s father through his own journey. But none of this would have been possible if I didn’t have a great sense and memory of growing up in Italy or in certain parts of Wisconsin, Kenosha and Milwaukee especially, which I blended to form the setting.
Is there a specific piece of advice you offer to other writers just starting out?
Honestly, it’s a cliché, but I think anyone who wants to write should read, read, and read some more. Read what you love and sample everything else. I didn’t mention my long-time interests in nonfiction, military history, Egyptology, alternate history, crime, the occult (of course), etc. I also advise anyone who wants to write to sit down and do it. Don’t put it off. It wasn’t until I made myself sit and produce, with an almost daily writing schedule, that I managed to get my novel production time down from nine years per book (Wolf’s Trap) to nine months (Wolf’s Gambit), to eight, seven, and eventually six months for more recent titles. Without the concerted effort of a regular writing period or a deadline, it’s difficult to “find time” to write; one has to “make time.”
Are there other genres you wish to explore, or projects in development?
My thriller, Savage Nights, has a thread of paranormal (a psychic element) but is otherwise straightforward dark crime and suspense. I want to write more thrillers, and a sequel is percolating in the back of my mind. My Great Belzoni tale is about to be slightly expanded and published in Italy as the start of a pulp fantasy series featuring the proto-Indiana Jones, Giovanni Battista Belzoni, who was a grave-robber but also interested enough in actual scientific discovery to have made astute observations. I have a Civil War Steampunk fantasy that began life many years ago, but I see that one more as a possible novella series—Steampunk is a genre I’d like to spend some time in. I’m working on a straight horror mash-up with David Benton, my frequent collaborator, so even though that’s still horror, it’s a bit more occult. Lastly, I’m working on a high concept novel that will blend fantasy, horror and crime.
Are you a writer who likes outlining the story beforehand, or one that gets that burst of imagination, sits down and immediately begins?
I’ll straddle a fence here and say that, for me, it works best when I do both. I find that a “loose” outline is helpful, but I will intentionally leave gaps so the plot can go its own way, and I absolutely let the characters determine their own fate. I need to have a direction, and a hazy ending is helpful, but otherwise I feel that readers will be more likely to be surprised by twists in the plot if those twists also surprised me. I know my inner process imposes a structure on the plot almost subconsciously, so it may not actually be as freewheeling as it seems while I’m doing it.
Talk werewolves. What’s the best?
I gravitated toward the tragic hero of The Wolf Man, Larry Talbot. He (Lon Chaney, Jr.) also appeared in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, and when I saw it on late night television, I was hooked. I guess I was attracted to the idea (and fear of) becoming a monster. A 1958 SF movie I saw when I was about nine scared me to death in an existential way: Meteor Monster, aka Teenage Monster. A meteorite turned a kid into a monster (not a werewolf) very much against his will, and for some reason the tragedy of it really bit deep. The kid’s pain at being shunned by everyone worked on me. Mind you, it wasn’t a very good movie, but it’s theme was magnified by my youth and situation (I was still learning to adapt to living in the U.S. and learning English, so I was already somewhat of an outsider.) I Was a Teenage Werewolf also affected me.
If you could have lunch with one writer, living or dead (they would be alive for lunch) who would it be, and why?
I’d love to just sit and chat with Tim Powers. I’ve met him, but only at a convention and never had a chance to really relax and talk. Also, if I’m allowed to cheat a little, I think I’d enjoy convening a roundtable of British thriller folks: Ian Fleming, Alistair MacLean, Jack Higgins, Desmond Bagley, and Duncan Kyle.
W.D. Gagliani is the author of the novels Wolf’s Trap, Wolf’s Gambit, Wolf’s Bluff, Wolf’s Edge, Wolf’s Cut, Wolf’s Blind (upcoming), and Savage Nights, plus the novellas Wolf’s Deal and The Great Belzoni and the Gait of Anubis. Wolf’s Trap was a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award in 2004. He has published fiction and nonfiction in numerous anthologies and publications such as Robert Bloch’s Psychos, Undead Tales, More Monsters From Memphis, The Midnighters Club, The Asylum 2, Wicked Karnival Halloween Horror, Small Bites, The Black Spiral, and others. His book reviews and nonfiction articles have been included in, among others, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Chizine, HorrorWorld, Cemetery Dance, Hellnotes, Science Fiction Chronicle, The Scream Factory, The Writer magazine, Paperback Parade, and the books Thrillers: The 100 Must Reads, They Bite, and On Writing Horror. The team of W.D. Gagliani & David Benton has published fiction in venues such as THE X-FILES: TRUST NO ONE, SNAFU: An Anthology of Military Horror, SNAFU: Wolves at the Door, Dark Passions: Hot Blood 13, Zippered Flesh 2, Masters of Unreality (Germany), Malpractice: An Anthology of Bedside Terror, Splatterpunk Zine, and Dead Lines, along with the Kindle Worlds Vampire Diaries tie-in Voracious in Vegas. Some of their collaborations are available in the collection Mysteries & Mayhem.
To learn more about W.D. Gagliani, please visit his website.
By George Ebey
In his newest novel, THE BEAST OF BARCROFT, author Bill Schweigart brings readers a true tale of terror.
Ben McKelvie believes he’s moving up in the world when he and his fiancée buy a house in the cushy Washington, D.C., suburb of Barcroft. Instead, he’s moving down—way down—thanks to Madeleine Roux, the crazy neighbor whose vermin-infested property is a permanent eyesore and looming hazard to public health. First, Ben’s fiancée leaves him; then, his dog dies, apparently killed by a predator drawn into Barcroft by Madeleine’s noxious menagerie. But this killer is something that couldn’t possibly exist—in this world.
With some grudging assistance from a curator at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and the crackpot theories of a self-styled cryptozoologist, Ben discovers the sinister truth behind the devilish creature now stalking the locals—but knowing the beast of Barcroft and stopping it are two very different animals.
The Big Thrill recently caught up with Schweigart to learn more about this chilling new story.
Tell us a little about THE BEAST OF BARCROFT. Based on the description, it feels like it has a supernatural vibe. What most interested you in writing a story with this theme?
You are correct—there is a supernatural vibe to it, but the novel takes place in a very grounded setting. In THE BEAST OF BARCROFT, something is stalking the residents of Arlington, VA. When Ben McKelvie survives an attack in his own backyard by an animal that has no business being in Arlington, no one believes him. But when neighbors begin turning up dead, Lindsay Clark, a curator from the Smithsonian’s National Zoo is brought in. Ben soon convinces Lindsay that there may be more to this creature than meets the eye, and with the wild theories of a wealthy cryptozoologist, they discover the truth about the Beast of Barcroft.
The story grew very organically. I love the network of trails in Arlington and I’ve always wanted to set something there. It’s this secret circulatory system right under everyone’s noses, in the shadow of Washington DC, weaving between the neighborhoods. Then two things happened in quick succession a few years ago: my father passed away and I read an article on the history of the area, and there was a blurb about the actual Beast of Barcroft. Forty years ago, something actually terrorized the neighborhood. Cats and dogs were killed, wild screeching filled the night, and the local media ran stories like: “What is it that screams so in the dark hollow of Four Mile Run?” In the end, a civet was captured and took the blame. The blurb was only a couple of sentences long, but it was the lightning bolt that brought everything to life for me. In my version of events though, I move the action to the present day and my beast is considerably more terrifying than a civet.
By Toby Tate
Blackbeard the Pirate was a walking paradox. He was just as likely to shoot one of his own crew members in the knee (which he once did), as he was to personally nursemaid that same crewmember back to health. In fact, it was said that Blackbeard, AKA Edward Teach, had even taken bullets for his crewmen during their frequent battles with the Royal Navy.
So how then did this notorious scallywag, from 1716 to 1718, develop such a reputation for brutality? Well, that’s where the paradox comes in. Teach was known to be as fierce a fighter as he was a lover. According to most accounts, he indeed had a woman in virtually every port. It was said that he would become so infatuated with women that he married several of them and by the time of his death had something like eighteen wives.
In the meantime, he would scuttle ships, take their cargo for his own, and leave their crews marooned on deserted islands. Blackbeard and his crew once created a blockade of Charleston Harbor and threatened to execute prisoners, send their heads to the Governor, and burn all captured ships if his demands for supplies were not met. Yet history has it that a man he had taken prisoner became sick and was on the verge of death, so Teach allowed him to go free in order to get medical attention. The pirate eventually got what he wanted and left Charleston Harbor without firing a shot.
In my thriller, DIABLERO, I tried to stick as close to the real Edward Teach as I could, instead of the bloodthirsty maniac seen in movies or the whimsical caricature read about in books. But I guess that’s why they call it “creative license.”
By Derek Gunn
Let me begin this article by saying that this book is great. I wasn’t too sure what to expect as the blurb gives very little away. I contacted the author for a copy to read and he offered me a hardcopy or e-copy. For speed and expediency I went for the e-copy and quickly began to regret my haste. This one would have had no trouble muscling some room on my bookshelf, already crammed with only the best books—I have little room to accommodate a lifetime of reading. The book begins with a scene I thought was going somewhere else and then everything changes.
Conroy is a small town in Mississippi. Set in the fifties at the end of the Korean War, the story is steeped in small-town prejudice, ancient hatreds, and dark secrets. As if to symbolize its own dark underbelly, the town is hidden under fog during the day from the pungent effluence of the local pulp mill and kept in line by the town’s most powerful citizen—the Judge.
Into this dark setting we are introduced to Corinne Ford, and independent, certainly in terms of the 1950s anyway, young nurse who has come to Conroy to marry the man she helped nurse back to health on the battlefield. However, she soon realizes that the man she fell in love with is not the same as the man who left Conroy to go to war; his past is unwilling to let go so easily.
The SHIVAREE of the title refers to a custom where the groom is taken from his new bride on the night of his wedding, deposited some miles away and he must spend the rest of the night getting back to her. Innocuous enough, though hardly a fun time. The re-interpretation of this custom by his old lover, though, is far more harrowing and permanent.
This book builds the tension well. We are treated to flashbacks in the story to explain how the horror began, why it flourishes in Conroy, and why people act as they do. The flashbacks are well integrated into the story. You don’t feel as though the main storyline has been put on hold at any time but sufficient time is taken to drop clues and lay the foundation for the finale.
If your glance at October on the calendar suggests it’s time to pick up an eerie thriller, you’ll want to give serious consideration to Laura Benedict’s new gothic tale CHARLOTTE’S STORY. It’s the second book in a series of standalone gothic novels that began with Bliss House.
The tales focus on a haunted Virginia house, and what better excursion can you ask for in Halloween month?
This tale unfolds in 1957. Charlotte and Preston Bliss have just inherited Bliss House from Press’s mother, Olivia. Bliss is not on the agenda, however. Four deaths follow, deaths that seem to have rational explanations.
It’s soon clear Charlotte will have to pursue a dark truth, and readers come to understand that Bliss House promises its residents what they want but delivers more than they expect.
Laura, author of several more supernatural suspense novels, including Devil’s Oven, a modern Frankenstein tale, recently answered a few questions for the The Big Thrill about her work and the haunted house genre.
What spurred the idea for CHARLOTTE’S STORY, a prequel to your recent Bliss House? Was a book set earlier planned all along, or did an idea just arise that wouldn’t stop haunting you, so to speak?
I see what you did there! Writing a gothic haunted house novel has been on my to-write list for years because I love the genre. Before I even wrote one word of Bliss House, I knew I wanted it to be a series. It’s a house that’s filled with stories, yet in every one the house is the primary, and most critical, character. My challenge was to determine which stories were compelling. I wanted the origins of Bliss House to be revealed slowly, and the only way to do that was to work backwards in time, and it has been a real challenge to try to figure out how much to reveal with each book. As for CHARLOTTE’S STORY, I’ve always wanted to write a gothic with the feel of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca—a sense of a woman’s deep emotional isolation and the overwhelming sense that something from the past is messing with her present.
Readers familiar with Bliss House may recognize Charlotte as the mother of Randolph Bliss, who is a prominent character in Bliss House. She gets small mention, but it was she who eventually sold Bliss House out of the family—and for very good reason. CHARLOTTE’S STORY is the story of how she comes to grips with being part of the Bliss family and living in Bliss House. Her first test is the death of her adored four-year-old daughter, Eva, so it’s a pretty tough journey.
MOTHER OF DEMONS is the sixteenth novel of the writing pair Len Maynard and Mick Sims, who publish as Maynard Sims. It is their tenth supernatural novel and sixth with Don D’Auria at Samhain.
Many of your novels revolve around the mysterious Department 18. Tell us about that.
Department 18 is a secret unit of the British government that investigates paranormal and supernatural events in the UK but also globally. It had its own website before it was mysteriously hacked, perhaps a jealous competitor or, perhaps, dark forces in high places. Now its secrets lurk within the author website at www.maynard-sims.com, where there is a full history and some case files for review. MOTHER OF DEMONS is a Department 18 novel.
The series ranges far and wide. What can you tell readers about the earlier works?
Department 18 series kicked off with Black Cathedral. The book introduced Robert Carter and the team, led by Simon Crozier. Investigating the disappearance of a corporate management team lost on a bonding weekend on a deserted island leads to the chase and eventual battle against a 400-year-old satanic alchemist called deMarco.
Night Souls continues the Department 18 story with a quest to vanquish psychic sexual vampires. What begins as a seemingly routine poltergeist investigation leads to the discovery of the Breathers, a species of vampire-like creatures that feed on human souls. They have evolved over the centuries and now are split into two warring factions. Both are a threat to mankind.