A message to would-be hackers

Hi guys.

There’s nothing here to hack into. It’s a writer’s blog with a few links to other sites.

But knock yourselves out. I guess if you’re trying to hack this site, you’re probably not trying to hack something that might actually have some importance.

Oh, and good luck.

(Not really. Go fall off a cliff and drown or something.)


It turns out that I’ve never really done a post about this book aside from the announcements that it was coming, a cover reveal, and that it was released. (At least not one that turns up on a search of the blog for the title.) So here’s the first.

THE NEVER ENDING NIGHT was inspired by something I read by Richard Laymon – not so much the story, but a title. Laymon wrote something called ENDLESS NIGHT. Maybe you’ve read it? It’s about a girl who is sleeping over at a friend’s house when killers break in and slaughter the entire family. She kills one of them and then is on the run from the remaining killer, who is hunting her in order to not leave any witnesses. It’s been a long tiime since I read it, but I remember when I picked up the title that I had a completely different expectation of the content. I thought it was going to be about a supernatural event where the night doesn’t end.

It wasn’t, so I wrote that book, instead. What I came up with was this tale of a neighborhood block where many of the men leave for work early, so when the sun doesn’t rise, they are on the road and most can’t get back home. For reasons.

I started writing in an epistolary style (I think I’m using the term correctly); the first draft was written as diary entries from a teenaged girl. She’s describing the neighborhood, the neighbors, her friends and her family, and generally wishing that her dad was home and working out possible reasons for the nighttime to continue. But, as I found that style device to be too limiting to tell the story of this block through the eyes of only one character, I shifted to other points of view and added a bunch of material between the diary/journal entries.

So many people seem to have fantasies about what would happen if the world ended or collapsed, and I used my story to explore some of them. No one is ever the “bad guy” in their own story, you know? They might know that what they are doing is wrong, but they have their reasons. And in their mind, their reasons are compelling enough to justify their actions.

Or maybe some people ARE just evil. Typical sociopaths or psychopaths. And we don’t know who they are, until they show their faces.

They may even be your neighbors.

That’s where I went with THE NEVER ENDING NIGHT. It’s not my favorite of my stories. But whenever I reread it (not often recently), I always have the thought that it’s better than I remembered it being.

Here is author Steven M. Moore’s review of the 96 page novella:

“I don’t know what caused it, but the title says what happened…for weeks. NIce little twist to have Beth, the main character, writing in her journal most of the time, although this might not be appropriate for young adults. Reminded me a bit of King’s Cell (or something like that), because cellphone service goes out in this one too. A bit of King’s flavor too. Consider it instead an allegorical tale about how the worst of humanity can rise up and cause mayhem and murder in desperate situations. We scratch the thin veneer of civilization and are surprised at what we find beneath!”

THE NEVER ENDING NIGHT, available only on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited in ebook form.

THE CAVE – My First Novella

I thought I’d write a bit about my first e-novella, THE CAVE.

The Cave

THE CAVE is a coming-of-age type of story told mostly in first person (though I occasionally shift POV’s to show things through the eyes of a couple of bullies, and these sections are told in third person). It’s a technique I’ve seen used a bunch of times in thriller novels, especially those with a strong central character, like Elvis Cole or Alex Delaware. When Jonathan Kellerman shifts away from Delaware’s POV, for example, he also shifts to third person for Milo Sturgis’s sections. I’ve always liked that style, but I know that others don’t care for it. Too late for this one. It’s been in the wild since something like 2015.

I can’t remember when I even started this 83 page novella. I know it was a long time ago. Maybe in the early 2000’s? Maybe even in the late 90’s? I do know I was stalled out on Chapter 7 for a long time. I would come back to it, add a few words, delete them, repeat, repeat. For whatever reason I couldn’t come up with a direction. I didn’t really know where I was going to end up with it.

I think part of it was I had locked myself into thinking of it only in terms of the book that inspired me to write it, Richard Laymon’s THE TRAVELING VAMPIRE SHOW. I was trying to follow that story, trying to do what Laymon did.

And it was when I stopped doing that – when enough time had passed between me reading Laymon’s book and working on this story – that I just relaxed and pantsed the rest of the story. I didn’t worry about the end; instead, I just wrote what happened next.

And the end became clear to me as I progressed. That seems to be how it usually works.

I never had a length in mind. I was just writing until it was done. Looking back, I can see lots of avenues to explore further in order to lengthen it from its ~25K words to a full-length novel. Back then I was a short story writer trying to write longer. Now I seem to comfortably fall into the 40-60K range on most of my stories. I have learned to write novels through just doing it.

So getting back to the novella, it is the story of four boys, joined by the “hot” neighborhood girl who everyone has a crush on, as they find and explore a cave. But the cave is not simply a cave. I won’t reveal more about its nature. The kids face off against the challenges of exploring the cave and against neighborhood bullies as they keep their discovery a secret, grand dreams of creating the type of roadside attraction that we’ve all visited on road trips and vacations filling their thoughts.

Here’s a brief excerpt:

Bike riding was boring, but at least it was something to do.

I’d been doing a lot of riding that summer, sometimes by myself, but mostly with my friends. We were like a little gang of four back then. We’d been pretty tight since we were little kids. It was serendipitous that we were all about the same age and in the same grade and lived in the same residential neighborhood. It was almost like destiny that we all should meet and become such good friends.

I remember riding up the street and seeing Donny Schultz playing with his younger sisters in the muddy ditch in front of their house. It was just too good to pass up, and of course I stopped and made friends with him. We were in the same grade and we hit it off pretty quickly. Then the two of us became the three musketeers when, on a different day, Bill Meyers stepped out from around the side of his house and called out, “Hi there!” as we rode our bikes past. Just like that.

Jim Mason came later. His family moved into our neighborhood when we were all around nine years old, and it was immediately apparent that our trio was to become the “Fantastic Four.” We even called ourselves that for a while.

Anyway, we spent a lot of time riding our bikes around the neighborhood. It was what we did for fun back in those days, simpler times when electronics and video games were just not entertainment options that were available for us. Instead, it was baseball on the empty lot, playing army and building forts with scavenged wood, and bike riding.

We rode everywhere, even a bunch of places that if our parents knew where we’d gone, we’d have gotten in a lot of trouble. Mostly, however, we rode on the new bike trails which the city park district had so thoughtfully installed near our neighborhood. The trails were safe and provided a smooth surface for maximum speed. We knew those trails like the backs of our hands.

But as well as we knew the trails and the forested land, we held out for surprises, always hoping to find one around the next curve. And did we ever. Because it was on one of those rides that we found our cave.

I was totally stoked about the discovery, as were Bill and Donny. I mean, how could we not be insanely excited? It was a cave! People paid to get into these things. The wonders we would find down in that hole in the ground!

Jim, who we called Mase, was more stoic about it, but he was like that about nearly everything. Except girls. He’d get excited about girls. Mase was our “chick magnet;” he was tall, handsome, athletic, and a little cocky. In eighth grade (okay, we weren’t there yet, but we’d be starting it in the fall) being a little cocky and sure of yourself went a long way. Not that the rest of us were trolls or anything. I was maybe a little too thin, Donny a little too short, and Bill a little too weird, but we were okay. It was simply taking us longer to come into our own.

Anyway, back to our cave. We found it when Donny had to take a leak during one of our rides. He pulled off the path, dumped his bike behind a tree in the tall weeds, and wandered off into the forest preserve to do his thing. Bill, Mase and I circled back, parking our bikes. We watched the path for a while, but no one was coming up it. During the week, it was often very quiet like this.

Bill’s face broke into an evil grin, and he signaled to us that we should sneak up on Donny. It wasn’t the first time we’d done that sort of thing to each other, so I knew exactly what he wanted to do, and so did Mase. We ditched our bikes next to Donny’s bike and crept back into the woods. We didn’t know exactly where he was, but figured it wouldn’t be too hard to find him.

And there he was. But he wasn’t pissing on a tree, like we expected. He was bent over the ground, digging at it with his hands.

“Aaargh!” Bill shouted, practically throwing his stocky frame into the small clearing with enough force to make the ground shake just a little. Mase and I grinned at each other and stepped out of the woods.

Donny hardly noticed, until Bill tapped him. He jumped, startled, and looked at us as if he didn’t know where we had come from.

“Geez, Donny, didn’t you hear me yell when we came out of the woods?” asked Bill.

Donny didn’t answer directly. Instead he said, “Look at this! Look what I found!”

We looked. Donny was pointing at a hole in the ground. When we got closer, we could feel cool air rushing out of it.

“A cave!” I exclaimed. “How cool is that?”

Donny turned back to it, pulling at the dirt around the opening. “I can’t see down too far, but listen to this,” he said, dropping a golf ball-sized rock into the opening. We listened intently to the sound of the rock hitting something…then going on, and on, and on, until we could no longer hear it. I could visualize it bouncing down an incline.

“Sounds deep,” said Bill. “We gotta check this out.”

“How are we gonna do that?” asked Mase. “That hole’s not big enough for a person to get into. Even for Donny.”

“We’ll dig it out,” said Bill. “We’ll come back later with shovels. And rope. Lots of rope. Then we’ll go down and see what’s in there.” He lay down next to the hole, and reached his arm into it. “Feels like dirt as far as I can feel – oh!” His body moved into the hole, his arm disappearing into it up to the shoulder.

“Geez! Something’s got him!” Mase exclaimed. He grabbed Bill and started to pull. Donny and I started to join him but I noticed Bill laughing.

“Here,” I said. “Let’s shove him in there. Give whatever’s got him some help.” Mase looked at me like I was nuts, but a glance at Bill’s face told him that Bill was jacking around. I grabbed his feet and tipped him up toward the hole. Mase grabbed on to help, pushing a bit harder than I would have.

“Hey!” shouted Bill. “Stop it, you’re forcing my face into the dirt!”

“Well, we thought whatever was pulling on your arm would pull it off if we didn’t shove you through that hole,” I said. “Before it starts pulling our legs.” That was one of my mom’s favorite expressions – “pulling my leg” – she always said it when someone was kidding her. The others knew it well.

“Okay, I give. Lemme up!” he said. We released him, and he pulled his arm out of the hole and scrambled to his feet. “Gotcha though,” he said, brushing himself off. His blond hair was longer than any of ours, and he rubbed his hands through the unruly mop, just filling it with more dirt.

“Just Mase. I saw you snickering,” I said. “Your hair’s full of dirt now! You look like a zombie or something that crawled out of a grave.”

Bill shook his head like a dog, and bits and pieces of grainy soil flew out, hitting me in the face. “Well, let’s go home and get shovels. We can start digging today!” he said, so excited by our discovery that a little crud in his hair wasn’t going to bother him.

So that’s what we did. We rode as fast as we could back to Bill’s house, and absconded with a spade, a regular shovel, a pickaxe, and a couple of smaller garden shovels. Then we rode swiftly back toward our discovery. Who’d pay attention to a bunch of boys with digging tools, especially ones riding into a forest preserve? Apparently no one, fortunately for us.

We began digging, most of the dirt falling into the hole. By the time we had to leave to get home for dinner we had a pretty good-sized hole opened into the ground.

Donny was the last one to quit working on it. When he stood up, he looked like he was all camouflaged up for war games, what with all the dirt around his face and hands. With his military-style haircut, I could imagine him as the tough sergeant that he always pretended to be when we played army. I wondered if we all looked as dirty as he was.

He pointed at the hole. “Should we cover it up?” he asked.

“I don’t think so,” Mase said. He dusted himself off and checked his hands and arms for signs of too much grime.

I agreed. “If we cover it over and someone falls in, it’d really be our fault. I don’t know if I want to have to worry all night about that happening.”

Bill wasn’t so sure. “If we leave it uncovered, someone else will find it,” he said.

Donny sided with Mase and me. “It’s late, and we haven’t seen anyone back in here. I think it’s better to just leave it open.” He looked into the hole. “Sounded real deep, too. If we cover it up, it’d be like one of those punji pits, but without the sharp sticks.”

“I think if someone falls in there, they won’t need sharp sticks impaling them to be seriously hurt. We need to leave it open,” Mase said. His tone implied that his was the last word on that particular subject.

“I’m thinking we can get through that opening now,” said Bill, looking down into the orifice. “A little more picking at the sides and we won’t even get real dirty.”

“Rope, and some old blankets or a plastic tarp,” I said. “That’s what we need tomorrow. That way we can loop the rope around that big ol’ tree right there,” I pointed to the biggest tree at the edge of the clearing, “and drape the blankets over the sides of the hole. Then we can slide right down without ruining our clothes. And it’s rocky, once we get past this topsoil.”

“Flashlights, too,” said Donny. “And maybe some candles. Or a torch.”

“A torch is out,” said Mase. “How do we make one that would stay lit? But my dad has this really powerful lantern-type light we use when we go camping at our club. I’ll grab that if I can. It’s got a big battery.”

“Someone should stay up top,” I said. “Just in case we need to send them for help. Who’s it gonna be?”

“Not me,” said Donny, knowing that usually we’d work things so he would be the odd man out. “I found it.”

“What about Rick?” said Bill. Rick was his younger brother. “Maybe he’d agree to stay up top if we promise to let him come down later.”

“Okay by me,” I said. “That way it won’t have to be Mase.”

“Me? Why me?” said Mase.

“Well, you’re the coolest of us four. If something happens we wouldn’t want the coolest guy to be down there in trouble with us. We’d want you up top so you can get all the chicks later.”

“Ha ha,” Mase said. “I’m going down in there too.”

“How much dirt do I have on me?” I asked, standing up and holding out my arms.

“A little,” Donny said. “How about me?”

“Same as usual. You look like that character in the Snoopy cartoons, but you always look like that,” I teased. “Doesn’t your mom give you hell about how dirty you get?”

“Nope,” he said. “She just figures we’re building something in the woods or whatever.”

We located our bikes and mounted up for the ride home. Four guys, riding along the streets, mostly hands-free except on the steepest part of the hill and on the corners, that was us.

“Guess it’s obvious, but hey…no one’s gonna tell their parents about this, right?” I asked.

“Not a chance,” Bill said. “I’ll threaten Rick with death if he says a word.”

“No way,” Donny agreed.

“I know mine would freak if they knew I was going spelunking,” Mase said.

“Spe-what?” Bill asked.

“Cave-exploring,” I clarified. Mase gave me a look that I interpreted as, you don’t always have to be the smartest one of us. I shut up.

“Spelunking. New word,” Bill said. “After we spelunk the cave,” he started, pointing with his free hand to Mase, “we’ll have to set up a stand and sell tickets. We’ll make a fortune.”

“Yeah,” agreed Donny. “But we’ll have to, like, build some catwalks and string lights down in there and such. Build some stairs going down.” Donny was practically salivating at the idea of building all that stuff. You could see it in his eyes. The wheels were turning. The ideas were flowing and he’d probably have schematics drawn up by tomorrow.

I didn’t want to throw a wet blanket over the talk, but I had to ask. “How do we get the electricity down there?”

“A generator, probably,” Donny said. “I’ll swipe some wood from those houses they’re building.” I nodded. That was how Donny got the wood for most of his projects. Our forts were mostly built with stolen lumber.

“We’ll be the guides, right?” Mase asked. “I mean, every cave tour I’ve ever been on has had a guide.”

None of us either thought of, or brought up, the fact that we didn’t own the land, and we didn’t have a spare generator. Nor did we know anything about insurance or safety issues, or dealing with the government. We had a cave, and we wanted to exploit it. Who cared about reality?

My own excitement was bubbling over. I thought that I’d hardly sleep that night knowing that the next day we’d go back and begin our exploration.

If you like it, the only place to buy it currently as an ebook on Amazon. It’s priced to sell at $0.99. Here’s the link: THE CAVE.

Thanks for reading!

An Author to Watch For: Noelle West Ihli

My introduction to new author Noelle West Ihli was through a BookBub deal for her first novel, THE THICKET. I had no expectations; I’ve read a lot of new authors, some better than others, but the premise of her debut intrigued me. A haunted house attraction has drawn quite a crowd from the community – lots of young people, including Norah, the main character, who was roped into dragging her younger, horror obscessed brother to visit it. She’s upset. She wants to be with her friends, and more specifically, with the young man she likes and wants to hang out with.

When her brother is taking too long to get through the attraction, Norah moves on to wait for him outside. Except he never comes out. But someone does – a killer who murdered her brother while everyone thinks it is part of the show. The question is, will he (or she) strike again?

Cool premise for a novel, and Ihli pulls it off beautifully. Her plotting and her prose kept me in the story, and I felt connected to all the characters and wanted to find out what would happen to them. The tension escalates throughout the book, and it resolves in a satisfactory manner.

My review on Amazon said that I couldn’t wait to read Ihli’s next novel, and lo and behold, here it is. ASK FOR ANDREA is a unique story, again about a serial killer, but really about his victims. And here’s the catch: it’s about them after they are dead! The story follows the murders and the subsequent “existence” of three victims of a killer who uses a dating service to attract his victims.

That existence is incredibly interesting, in my opinion. I mean, in some ways it’s a very mundane existence. After all, they can’t do much beyond making lights flicker or a computer fritz out. But as the story progresses, we are treated to the tale of what they experience as they follow their respective paths, and how they do influence the resolution of the story.

The title, “Ask For Andrea,” refers to a sign in a bar that alerts women to a service that will help them if they are in an abusive or unsafe situation, to help them extirpate themselves from the situation if necessary. It is one of the first things that one of the victims (Meghan, I think, if I recall correctly, but maybe it was Brecia) notices on her meet-up with the killer. But she doesn’t use it; instead she ends up as a victim. Still, it ends up being an apt title for the novel, and I will let you discover why.

Like her debut, Ihli’s sophomore effort is well-written and carefully plotted, and her characters are masterfully drawn. Plus, she gets extra points for these inventive, original tales.

Like my Amazon review said, I can’t wait for her next one.




(I started thinking about characters, and had this idea to write a short bit to see if I can make the reader care about a character in an undramatic situation and with only his thoughts and perspective. I couldn’t get it out of my mind, so yesterday I banged out this 1300+ short story. You be the judge of whether I succeed in getting you to care about young Mr. Crowder. )


(click on the title to read the story…)


I woke up this morning to a Facebook post by George Adamczyk about inspiration. Specifically:

How do you get your inspiration for story ideas?

1. Spontaneous Creation – it just comes to you

2. Sub-Mission – think of an idea that a magazine or anthology is looking for

3. Dream Factory – it comes from a dream you had

4. Couch Potato – just sit around wracking your brain for a seed that can blossom into a novel

5. Lottery Ticket – keep scratching away until you come up with a winner

Chris Stenson (one of the authors featured in The Gates Of Chaos) added a 6th: reading other people’s work.

I said that my inspiration came from 1. and 2. with the rare occasions that a story grows out of a dream. But then when Chris made his comment, I realized that most of my written works have come from reading something else.

Richard Laymon has always been a favorite of mine. I can’t really explain why; I don’t necessarily feel like he’s a great writer. If anything, his prose can be a bit juvenile with its obsession with sex. Almost lewd. But his characters work for me, and his stories often inspire me to try writing something similar.

For example, I started writing my novella THE CAVE after reading Laymon’s THE TRAVELING VAMPIRE SHOW (one of his best, in my opinion). I loved the idea of kids exploring a circus/carnival that comes to their town. Kids exploring things hits home – we did a ton of exploring as kids when our world was smaller. An empty lot in our neighborhood overgrown with trees and serving as a drainage area for our part of the neighborhood was a vast jungle filled with adventure. The cornfields around our area were unending fields of tall green stalks, rising above our heads. The woods at the end of the street and the dirt road leading to an untrustworthy bridge (for vehicles, not bicycles). We dreamed about finding adventure. And what could be more interesting to a group of kids than finding a cave?

Another Laymon story was called ENDLESS NIGHT, and while it wasn’t what I thought it would be from the title, I took that title and wrote my own story that ended up being called THE NEVER ENDING NIGHT. It is nothing like the Laymon title that inspired it, but deals with the mystery of what might lurk behind the closed doors of homes in suburban middle America.

Then there is Edward Lee and his book CITY INFERNAL. The idea that there was a city in the underworld, called Mephistopolis, I think, that was powered by suffering gave me an idea to write something about human suffering being a more practical goal than simply evil for evil’s sake. Oh, it’s still evil, but it serves a purpose. From that idea came my short novel RECIPROCAL EVIL.

William Malmborg is one of our contemporaries as writers. Malmborg has a delightfully twisted imagination, having written JIMMY, DADDY’S LITTLE GIRL, and THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH THE OUIJA BOARD. He also wrote TEXT MESSAGE, which follows the story of a college girl in a suburban shopping mall during a snowstorm who has become separated from her little sister (she ditched the little girl to meet up with a boyfriend) and begins to receive text messages threatening to hurt her sister if she doesn’t perform multiple degrading acts around the mall. It gets more voyeuristic and more violent, and. well, I think Bill is going to re-release it at some point in the near future, if it sounds like a good read (which it definitely was for me).

It wasn’t so much the story that inspired me but the setting. I was inspired to pick a public location in which to set a story. Also, the voyeuristic aspect of the story intrigued me and I wanted to use it as well. I remembered laying on the bed in a hotel and staring up at the smoke detectors and sprinkler system fixtures on the ceiling, and thinking how easy it would be to install those little cameras in them. And between that and Malmborg’s story, I had the basis for my novella THE INN.

Robert Walker mentioned in that same FB thread that sometimes challenges can be the source of inspiration. I’ve also found inspiration in these sorts of challenges. Write a story to fit an anthology’s theme. Or writing contests, like the ones we used to have at the Book and Candle Pub, where we’d be given a starting sentence and/or six words to build any sort of story around. My novella ODD MAN OUT began its life as a 1600 word short story that used an opening sentence and six assorted unrelated words. I increased the word count to something around 37K when rewriting it. Now it’s also inspired a sequel (complete but untitled). My story DEAD OR ALIVE was a 2400 word story about a detective who escapes a vampire enclave in Los Angeles, also written for a Pub contest. That story first grew into a trilogy of related longer short stories (averaging about 8000 words each) and then another short story, then two more novels/novellas (finished but not edited completely) and a third novel or novella in progress today. Only the first trilogy of stories has been published, but I’m getting there with the others.

Another source of inspiration was an old shared world from the Horror Discussion Group on Delphi. The moderator of the forum created a town called Addison Falls, along with a group of settings and common characters that were free for anyone to use. I wrote a longish short story (about 11K words) in that world, called “The Ghost Train.” And then finally I finished a 60K novel, as yet untitled, also set in that world, using some of the common characters, some ‘proprietary’ characters (with permission from their creator) and several new characters of my own. I recently did a reread and quite enjoyed it. I wonder if others will enjoy it as well.

Finally, my own characters seem to be inspiring me. I started a novel called “College Horror Story” which really kicked into gear when I realized that it was set at the same college as RECIPROCAL EVIL was set at. And THE INN has now inspired a prequel/sequel that I am at the beginning stages of writing. I suspect that I’ll lengthen other short stories in the future and see what comes out of them.

Inspiration seems to come from all over the spectrum for me, but the common theme is the written word. How about you? Do you have any thoughts or stories about what inspires you? Feel free to drop me a comment. Thanks!


There’s a thin line between a story that’s entertaining and one that’s simply disgusting and vile. Some can walk it, some can’t. For many, it doesn’t matter. The more extreme the better. For me, it does. I’m not into a gross-out for the sake of being grossed out. I don’t like torture for the sake of torture.

Recently I saw a movie called DAZED AND CONFUSED. I grew up in those times, went to high school in the 70’s. But I really didn’t like the movie as much as people kept telling me I would. I didn’t find it as funny as something like ANIMAL HOUSE or HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE, or even WEEKEND AT BERNIES. It went overboard. I didn’t find the vandalism that cool any more (even if I was with someone once who “landscaped” a teacher’s yard with his 69 Mustang). I didn’t relate in any way to the torture and abuse of the incoming freshmen. That wasn’t part of our experience. I felt like it didn’t need to be in this movie, and wasn’t funny. Sometimes a creative work tries too hard.

I’ve been reading a lot of positive things about Carver Pike’s Diablo Snuff series, but mostly just about how much someone liked it or how sick it was.  As I generally don’t like “sick,” I shied away from the series.  But Carver being the generous and giving guy that he is, he featured my novel Reciprocal Evil on his YouTube show, “First Chapter Freakshow.”  I figured that the absolute least I could do in return was read a couple of his books.  

I am glad I did.  A Foreign Evil is Book One of the Diablo Snuff series, and The Grindhouse is Book Two.  I would categorize both as ‘erotic horror’ with extreme elements.  But the extreme bits aren’t the focus; if they had been, I don’t think I would have enjoyed either book as much as I did.  These books are about their characters.  I’ve come to realize that characters are the most important thing for me in any story, not just horror.  I have to care about the characters to care about the stakes.  And these books do a superb job of making me care.  

The first book finds its protagonist in Mexico, at a resort for a bachelor party.  He’s an understated guy with depth that sets him apart from his buddies.  He’s not above the good times, sex and partying, but for him, it’s not enough.  So when he escapes to a little restaurant or cafe across from the casino where he is staying, it doesn’t seem odd at all.  I would probably be doing the same thing.  

At that cafe, he is more or less ‘picked up’ by a beautiful Latina, and their connection is immediate.  The more he gets to know her, the more attracted he becomes, to the point where he can’t leave her.  They can’t go to his room, because his roommate has already claimed it with a prostitute.  He doesn’t have the funds to spring for another room, and they can’t go to her place because of her roommates.  But she knows the perfect place: a push button.  And that’s where the horror starts.

The second book begins with a spoiler for the first book, so let me skip to the main part.  Tobias “T.K.” Tantrum is attending a pricey writer’s retreat at a hotel with a lot of history, the most important to him being that his idol, horror writer Melvin Morose, wrote some of his best work there and died there.  But things in the hotel are not what they seem; ghosts seem to haunt the halls, and the guests are unnaturally horny and randy, for lack of a better way to put it.  Tobias meets a fellow author, one who writes erotica, named Angelica, and much like the protagonist of the first book, he soon can’t imagine live without her.  But his experiences seem much more frightening than the others’ experiences, including Angelica. Tobias can’t help but realize that this place is far more than just a writer’s retreat.  It, and its proprietors, want something from them that they aren’t prepared to give.  And he’s the only one who realizes it.

I came to care about these characters very quickly, which is the mark of an excellent book.  I also became invested in the overarching story quickly: just what is Diablo Snuff?  What’s the purpose?  Of course, I am hooked and will have to read everything in the series.  The stories are reminiscent of some of John Everson’s erotic horror novels in Carver’s use of that type of content, though a bit more graphic, and with a bit more extreme horror bits thrown in.  The extreme stuff never felt gratuitous.  It was necessary for the story.  These are some of the better horror novels I’ve read this year, and certainly some of the most horrific.  They will likely stay with me much longer than most of the other ones I’ve read, in part because I found these characters to be likable when they’re supposed to be likable.  That’s a problem with a lot of horror for me; that the main characters are often as unlikable as the villains of their stories.  I want someone to root for, and Carver Pike certainly gives that to his readers.

Carver Pike walked the thin line between a great story and something that achieves nothing more than shock and gross-out. And he does it with flair. It’s worth reading, even if you’re not a fan of extreme horror generally.




Review of Lucy Leitner’s OUTRAGE LEVEL 10

A contender for the best book I’ve read in 2021, and unexpectedly so. I thought it was going to be horror — more to the point, extreme horror. Instead I was treated to a dystopian nightmare where cancel culture and “defund the police” were taken to their absurd extremes.

In this one, ex-hockey player Alex Malone is suffering from brain trauma from his playing days while fighting addiction and alcoholism. After his rehab, he gets a job with the police force as a cop. It’s a dead-end job, one where he is abused and disrespected. His job is reduced to checking permits and licenses at various business establishments as he fights through CTE-induced episodes of rage and blinding headaches. He’d end it all if he could figure out a way to do so, but in this new society with regulations and safeguards at every turn, it isn’t easy.

After an experimental treatment for his CTE, he begins remembering stuff – but they’re not his memories. And they aren’t pleasant. He’s remembering the torture and murder of “super-seniors,” a forgotten generation suffering from diseases of the brain. After meeting a compassionate nurse and a social media star, he investigates, and, well, the truth is more shocking than he thought possible.

This book made me think in a way that few books have. It made me reconsider my own beliefs and positions, because I generally fall on the side represented by the extremes in this book. And that’s what great stories should do – make you think and question…something. Did I change my mind based on anything in this vision of the future? Not really, because as I said, the story takes it to absurd extremes. But still, it forced me to think about these issues and that makes it a great book in my view. (Take a look at Dan Simmons’ FLASHBACK, a book with a similar take on the positions of the so-called “left.”)

Ms. Leitner can flat out write, and that doesn’t hurt in making this a five star read for me. She creates well-drawn characters so well that I was trying to picture the actors and actresses who would play them in the movie version. She made Pittsburgh, a place I’ve never visited, come to life to a point where I could visualize the buildings and the streets. And she does this while never once pulling me out of the story with poor writing or poor editing.

I’ve written a lot of post-apocalyptic stories (none yet published) and this is the level of quality I strive for. Well done! (not exactly a mini-review but hey, I was excited about this story.) I’ll be reading Lucy Leitner‘s next book, and her previous book. She has me as a fan as long as she keeps writing and telling stories like this.

Dyson’s Long Weekend!

We finally got away to one of our favorite places: Saugatuck, Michigan.

Saugatuck is a small lake town, set on a widening of the Kalamazoo River just before it empties into Lake Michigan. It’s a trove of shops, restaurants and bars along with a vibrant arts community represented by local artists and artisans, along with a community theater. And did I mention the boats? Lots and lots of boats!

There are no brand-name hotels in town; for those, one must travel back to the interstate highway (I-196) or to Holland, the next town to the north (which is what we did). But there are plenty of quaint little motels/hotels/inns and bed-and-breakfasts throughout the town if that’s what you’d rather do. (They’re pretty much fully booked through the summer.) Also, plenty of cottages, homes, condos and townhouses are available for vacation rentals.

Saugatuck has a rich history, going back to when the timber industry was a major industry in Michigan. There was a small lumber town built closer to Lake Michigan called Singapore, Michigan, which had the local sawmill. When Chicago, Illinois burned to the ground in the Great Fire, most of the lumber to rebuild came from across the lake in Michigan, and companies clear-cut the woods, leaving only the cottonwoods, which weren’t a desirable type of wood.

Then the winds off the lake brought the sands inland, creating large sand dunes up and down the coast of western Michigan. With no wooded areas to stop it, the sands piled up, eventually burying the town of Singapore. I’m told that the last time any of the town was visible was the summer of 1975, when the top of the church steeple was still visible. Apparently only three buildings were left by then, the rest having been “slid” up the frozen Kalamazoo River and set into place in… you guessed it… Saugatuck.

I have lots to say about the trip, but not so much for this blog. What I wanted to say was that while visiting a store, I found a series of 7 books written by local author G. Corwin Stoppel. They’re mysteries, all featuring the town of Saugatuck prominently in their stories. I started to read the first book the night I bought it, and I liked it enough to buy the rest on my last visit to town and to that particular store (which was, oddly enough, not a bookstore). I liked the characters and setting immediately, and I was happy to support a local author. They appear to be self-published, and I have found several typos and awkward turns of the phrase in the first book (so they could use some better editing), but I’ll overlook that sort of thing if I’m given a good story, which so far, THE GREAT SAUGATUCK MURDER MYSTERY has done.

It’s a great area to live in, and even a nicer area to retire to, if you can afford it. I’d love to be able to afford it, but if I can’t as a dentist, it’s highly doubtful I’ll ever be able to as a writer in retirement. Still, it’s nice to dream…and I did get a good story idea out of this visit.


Another “Dyson Goes To The Movies” post!

I’ve never been a huge fan of zombie movies in the past. I mean, I saw NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and liked it, but it didn’t grab me like it did so many horror and zompoc fans. Also I hadn’t read a lot of zombie fiction.

But there was a lot of indie zombie fiction out there. I read most of the SLOW BURN series and Amanda Hocking’s zombie books back at the beginning of the indie revolution in self-publishing. And one led to another, and another, and pretty soon I was wondering about some of those movies I’d not watched.

So I watched WORLD WAR Z. It was interesting. An entertaining movie with a good cast and a seemingly big budget. Then I watched some others, including the excellent TRAIN TO BUSAN and SHAWN OF THE DEAD. That last one led me to watch HOT FUZZ and THE WORLD’S END, all of which I enjoyed quite a bit.

So on to another series I had never paid much attention to: RESIDENT EVIL movies. The first and second are available on Prime, so I was watching by myself one night and chose the first one.

And I kinda liked it! It was fun. Great unseen villain in Umbrella Corporation. Mysterious set-up where Milla Jovovich finds herself alone in a house with another guy and seemingly no memories of who she is or where she is. As she prepares to leave, soldiers break through the windows and… Well, suffice it to say that there are zombies and lots of them. And it ends with a shot of Jovovich’s character alone in a room, waking up, pulling sensors and IVs off of her virtually naked body, and wandering into the streets to find…

So of course I had to try the next movie. RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALYPSE is set shortly after the end of the first movie and starts promisingly enough as they close the city, not allowing anyone to exit. And of course a group of people who aren’t zombified are trapped inside and have to fight their way out. And Jovovich’s character (Alice) is now on the streets as well, trapped in the city by herself. Raise the stakes a bit with a little girl, the daughter of an important scientist, who also ends up trapped within the walls of Raccoon City (which disappointingly has no raccoons, as far as I could tell).

I was expecting another fun movie. Some of the acting was meh, but really, in a movie like this, who cares? It’s when the story gets weird and contradicts itself. And turns back on itself, then finally just goes over the top and turns a zombie movie into something else — still with zombies, but more about what the corporation has been up to.

Which could have been fine, but that’s not what I was expecting. At times it’s just silly and dumb, which also could have been fine, but in this one, it just didn’t work all that well.

Still, should I feel embarrassed that I sort of had fun watching it? I don’t know if I’ll go on in the series, but one never says never when streaming movie services are involved. If the mood strikes me…

Meanwhile, I’ll keep reading zombie fiction here and there and see what pops its head up above the crowded indie zombie apocalypse fiction scene.